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Chairmen Of The Boards

Duke has had some of its best rebounding teams in the last few years

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NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Washington DC
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils grabs a rebound against Xavier Tillman #23 of the Michigan State Spartans during the first half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Rebound margin rarely has been a focal point for Mike Krzyzewski’s clubs, as is perennially the case for coaches at, say, North Carolina. But lately balances have shifted in Durham, and not only because so many of Duke’s players are like ships passing in the night, here and gone.

One significant difference at Duke has been greater use of zone defenses. Those alignments exploit size advantages and compensate for a lack of experience executing man-to-man principles such as dependence on constant verbal communication.

Utilizing zones, which leave plenty of room for offensive players to evade boxouts, hasn’t crippled Duke’s rebounding. Helping the cause, over the past five years the Blue Devils had the advantage of deploying extraordinary big men, highlighted by the only three players ever chosen both ACC Player and Freshman of the Year in the same season: Jahlil Okafor (2015), Marvin Bagley III (2018), and Zion Williamson (2019).

Teamed with the likes of Justise Winslow, Amile Jefferson, Wendell Carter Jr., and R.J. Barrett, the primary pillars had stout help on the boards. Throw in Jabari Parker, Marques Bolden, and this year senior Javin DeLaurier and freshman Vernon Carey Jr., and there’s been an unusual plenitude of quality rebound-ready big men on recent rosters.

Consequently, in defiance of precedent, three of the five best rebound margins compiled by K squads have occurred in the past half-decade. Duke finished second in rebound margin in each of the past two years.

Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils led the league in rebounding margin just four times – 2010, 1989, 1988 and 1986 – all seasons in which they reached a Final Four.

One might argue it was the strength of two-time ACC player of the year Danny Ferry and team rebounding that led the pair of unimposing late-80s teams to the national semifinals.

In Krzyzewski’s first 39 years on the job, he’s had a player lead the ACC in rebounding a mere four times. Freshmen Bagley in 2018 and Parker in 2014 did it, as did upperclassman Shelden Williams in 2005 and 2006.

Per-Game Rebounding Edges By Krzyzewski Teams
(Asterisk Indicates Led ACC In Rebound Margin)
Reb. Margin Year (Margin)
7 or more 2018 (8.1), 1999 (8.8)
6 or more 2010 (6.2)*
5 or more 2019 (5.8), 2015 (5.3), 1989 (5.4)*, 1986 (5.9)*
4 or more 2007 (4.9), 1988 (4.2)*
3 or more None
2 or more 2017 (2.6), 2014 (2.0), 2012 (2.6), 2011 (2.7), 2009 (2.7), 2004 (2.3), 1998 (2.9), 1992 (2.7), 1991 (2.3)
1 or more 2005 (1.6), 2003 (1.3), 2002 (1.1), 2001 (1.1), 1995 (1.9), 1990 (1.5), 1987 (1.9), 1984 (1.1), 1983 (1.2)
Zero to 0.9 2008 (0.1), 2000 (0.9), 1994 (0.9), 1993 (0.1), 1985 (0.7)
Up to -1 2016 (-0.6), 1996 (-0.7)
Up to -2 2013 (-1.1), 1981 (-1.2)
Up to -3 2006 (-2.7), 1997 (-2.8), 1982 (-2.9)
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