Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Summer Buzz: Duke Blue Devils
By Eamonn Brennan
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject: Duke . Up next? Kentucky.
After all, it's a new era in college hoops. Back-to-back title winning teams have always been a rarity in the sport, but the one-and-done era is something different. Compared to the pre-2006 NBA rule change, the talent level isn't nearly as watered down. But because so many of those talented young players leave after one season, it's hard enough to build a title contender with the requisite veteran verve. Building a dynasty? It would seem impossible.
Still, that's exactly what Duke has positioned itself to do. So how do the Blue Devils follow through?
Simple, really: If Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and company want to become the first team since Florida to win back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007, all they have to do is ... change absolutely everything. No sweat, right?
It's not something you'd suggest for a team that just won a national title and returned two of its top three scorers for likely All-American seasons. In Duke's case, though, it's true. The Blue Devils won the 2010 NCAA title with a plodding tempo, a slow-down offense, and the overpowering offensive rebounding prowess of Brian Zoubek.
Zoubek, like fellow senior Jon Scheyer, thrived in a down-tempo role. Zoubek was far too slow to get to both ends of the court in a fast-paced game, and needed time at the offensive end to gain the rebounding position that allowed him to keep so many Duke possessions alive. Scheyer was far better suited to a cautious, precise offensive attack, the style that allowed him to turn the ball over so infrequently during Duke's title run.
The result was the No. 249-ranked tempo in Division I hoops, a pace that saw Duke play about 65.5 possessions per game. With Zoubek, Duke had the seventh-highest offensive rebounding percentage of any team in the country, culminating in a dominant NCAA tournament.
Scheyer and Zoubek defined Duke's style. They're gone now. And so Duke, as a matter of sheer efficiency, must change.
That change will be most noticeable in the backcourt. Top recruit Kyrie Irving already has Mike Krzyzewski talking about pushing the pace, a style he adopted (and then discarded) after his work with up-tempo guru Mike D'Antoni coaching the U.S. Olympic team. Seth Curry will add to that speed, and hot-shooting sophomore guard Andre Dawkins could be the perfect spread-the-floor candidate. Scheyer was a great, if limited, college player; Irving and company could arguably be even better.
Filling Zoubek's shoes will be less easy. That task will fall to Mason and Miles Plumlee, two athletic bigs who are at their best in the open court. The loss will also likely force Singler to play more power forward, making Duke considerably smaller -- and considerably quicker -- at the forward positions.
All of which adds up to a pretty enticing scenario: Coach K's familiarity with the fast-break offense, a lightning-quick point guard wreaking havoc in the open court, two multi-talented All-Americans playing off the ball, and a host of role players filling the lane and crashing the boards. That doesn't just sound successful. It sounds fun to watch.