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When Duke Does This, Success Usually Follows

Balanced scoring makes Duke even tougher

Michigan State v Duke
GREENVILLE, SC - MARCH 20: Wendell Moore Jr. (R) celebrates with Michael Savarino of the Duke Blue Devils following their win against the Michigan State Spartans in the second round game of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 20, 2022 in Greenville, South Carolina.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

When Duke trailed Michigan State by five points with just under five minutes remaining in their win-or-go home NCAA matchup, the Blue Devils didn’t narrow their offensive focus to put the ball in the hands of a single, presumably best, player.

Instead Duke turned to a pair of strengths it relied upon all season, one much-discussed, the other virtually unremarked.

Duke’s defense, always a touchstone under Mike Krzyzewski, has wavered throughout the season, sometimes at the most inopportune moments. One consequence was a repeated stress on learning how to finish games, to make the stops that separate victory from defeat.

The defense came through at winning-time against Tom Izzo’s Spartans, fulfilling that season-long quest.

After taking a 70-65 lead, MSU managed only six more points the rest of the way. Meanwhile Duke got 20, four per minute, in an 85-76 win.

And that’s where this Duke team’s unheralded but exceptionally balanced scoring attack also came into play.

During the last five minutes, as during the season overall and the Michigan State game specifically, Duke got significant scoring from five players. In fact each Blue Devil on the floor added either a layup, a free throw, and/or a 3-pointer. That while one of its double-figure seasonal scorers, AJ Griffin (10.3), was sidelined by injury in the late going.

Paolo Banchero — who engendered near-fawning admiration from announcers Grant Hill, Jim Nantz and stale stylist Bill Rafferty – contributed four points during that decisive stretch. But so did Wendell Moore on 4 of 4 free throws.

And Duke’s starting forwards were eclipsed in the late going by guards Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach. Keels had six of his 12 points in that span coming off the bench. Roach added five. Each hit with a 3-point dagger.

Sophomore Mark Williams, supplying an intimidating defensive post presence rarely seen in Durham, chipped in a free throw along with a pair of rebounds in the late going.

That multifaceted attack was typical of the ’22 Devils, key to their leading the ACC in scoring for the 18th time since 1985, the third time in 5 years.

Balanced scoring is one of the least-recognized traits of this Coach K squad, though an increasingly common strength in recent years. In this century, eight of 22 Duke teams boasted five double-figure scorers. Five of the last 10 Blue Devil units featured five-pronged offenses, including the ’22 unit.

This is quite uncommon at other ACC schools. For instance, no other ACC team matched that broad range of reliable scoring options in 2022. No ACC program boasted five double-figure scorers in 2021, either.

Looked at another way, these Devils are the sole ACC group that managed the five-faceted offensive feat out of the league’s last 30 teams. That makes the point without reaching farther into the past.

About one Blue Devils team in three since 2001 has been so balanced offensively. Then again, Krzyzewski and Co. did win their first three national titles with a similar point-producing profile.

Duke Teams Under Mike Krzyzewski With 5 Double-Figure Scorers
Level of Achievement Secured 5-Plus Seasons
ACC Tournament Champs 15 4 1992, 2000, 2001,2017
Sweet 16 Participants 26 9 1991,1992,2000,2001,2004,2013,2016,2018,2022
Elite Eight Participants 16 6 1991, 1992, 2001, 2004, 2013, 2018
Final Four Participants 12 4 1991, 1992, 2001, 2004
NCAA Champs 5 3 1991, 1992, 2001