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Historically, Duke Is Not A Great Rebounding Team - And Doesn’t Need To Be

Duke’s formula has worked pretty well.

Appalachian State v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 16: Paolo Banchero #5 of the Duke Blue Devils battles James Lewis Jr. #25 of the Appalachian State Mountaineers for a rebound during the first half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 16, 2021 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Mike Krzyzewski’s teams paced the ACC in rebound margin a mere four times in his first 41 years at Duke, most recently 2010. (The others were 1986, 1988 and 1989.)

In this season’s early going observers commented unfavorably on the Blue Devils’ being outrebounded in six of their first 10 games against Kentucky, Gonzaga, Ohio State and a group of overmatched opponents. Duke did not do too well on the offensive boards either.

Despite winning all but one of those games, rebounding discrepancies were rightly cause for concern. But not alarm. Taken in isolation rebound margins or other stats can be distressing. Taken in context with other factors such as turnovers forced, however, or field goal percentage defense, they’re reflective of a strategic balance.

Duke adjusted after its early board deficits, outrebounding its three ACC opponents prior to Wake Forest and its last four rivals overall. Through Jan. 6 the Blue Devils ranked seventh in the ACC in rebound margin (Wake Forest outrebounded Duke 36-29 overall and doubled Duke’s on the offensive end, 10-5 - and lost by 12).

In the loss to Miami, a smallish team which does not accent static interior defense, Duke held a 44-30 edge in rebounds, 13-10 on the offensive end. But the Hurricanes countered in part by forcing 17 turnovers, 12 more than they committed.

When the Devils are playing good defense – a quality that’s languished with recent squads dominated by one-and-done babes – they’re quite disruptive from the perimeter inward. Duke paces the ACC in 2022 in turnover margin.

Admiring Elon coach Mike Schrage, a former director of basketball operations under Krzyzewski, called Duke’s approach “the point of attack defense”.

This disruptive strategy produces an annual edge in forcing turnovers, feeding a perpetual appetite for fast break points. Most Blue Devils on the court may bring the ball upcourt this year, promoting fluidity and uninterrupted aggression.

“If we can run, we’re going to run,” Krzyzewski said a few weeks ago. As a result Duke leads the ACC in scoring in 2021-22, as it has in five of the past dozen seasons, with 83.3 points per game.

Rebounding doesn’t always need to be a strong suit if balanced by other compensating virtues. Three times since 2010, the year Duke won the NCAA title with current assistants Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith manning the backcourt, the Devils gained fewer than 31 percent of their rebounds at the attacking end.

That’s not necessarily a fatal flaw. The ’15 national champs got 30.99 percent of their rebounds on offense. That group combined with the other previous low OR producers since 2010 to win 83 percent of the time (93-19).

The current season is also among those exceptions — in 14 games through the Miami loss Duke was 12-2 despite a mere 27.39 percent of its boards coming on offense. That’s the fewest in at least 13 years as it clamps down defensively.

“Defense is really the key to our team,” Krzyzewski said after Duke subdued Georgia Tech. Miami coach Jim Larranaga says the best way to measure team defense compared to opponents is defensive rebounds plus turnovers forced.

Do keep in mind that half of the schedule remains to be played, and that teams stressing defense tend not to crash the offensive boards but to fall back quickly to protect their own basket. That was part of Larranaga’s winning formula in beating Duke at Cameron, as Krzyzewski noted.

BOARDOM PREFERRED
Duke Rebounding Since 2010 Season
(Through Games of Jan.8)
Year W-L Rebound
Margin/G
ACC
Rebound
Rank
Percent
Rebounds On
Offense
2022 12-2 3.5 7 27.39
2021 13-11 1.8 7 31.96
2020 25-6 5.7 2 31.67
2019 32-6 4.8 2 31.72
2018 29-8 8.1 2 32.59
2017 28-9 2.6 7 29.08
2016 25-11 -0.6 12 32.79
2015 35-4# 5.4 4 30.99
2014 26-9 2.0 9 35.13
2013 30-6 -1.1 9 27.90
2012 27-7 2.6 5 31.88
2011 32-5 2.7 5 32.55
2010 35-5# 6.2 6 37.31
# Won NCAA title.