Wednesday, January 21

Duke Rediscovering the Recipe for Success

Sorry Duke haters, but this isn't the same Duke that has flamed out in March in recent years. This team is much more similar to the Battier-era teams. Incredibly balanced, with depth, and an emphasis on defense. It seems like ages, but it's only eight years since Duke's last title and really only the second incarnation of a team since that championship. Whether Coach K learned from his experiences in Beijing or from the failures of his previous teams is debatable, but this team is a far cry from the J.J. Redick-led teams that always fell short.

All three of Duke's championship teams have been headed by three well-rounded players. The '91 and '92 teams were led by Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. The 2001 championship team was led by the triumvirate of Shane Battier, Jason Williams, and Mike Dunleavy. This year's trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson display many of the same characteristics. Balanced scoring, capable of setting up their teammates, and active defense were trademarks of the championship teams and this group as well. If anything, the Redick era (so often tied to Coach K's March failings) was the anomaly.

The 2005-06 season was Redick's last in Durham and most prolific, but by the end of the season he was worn out. At this point in that season, he was in the midst of playing 40 minutes per in three straight games. In the last three games for this year's team, they've had three different leaders in minutes and no player has played more than 38 minutes. While Redick's minutes would peak in the month of February at 39.13, the effects weren't felt until March when his scoring plummeted to 22 ppg despite a season high 19 shots per game. With Redick assuming so much of the scoring responsibility and the offense being set up to create shots primarily for him, it led to their eventual eventual sweet 16 dispatch at the hands of LSU, when Redick shot only 3-18 from the field and tied a season low with only 11 points. JJ was the team's leading scorer in all but six games, with Shelden Williams as the leader in the other six (as well as a couple games where the two tied). This year's team has already had five different Blue Devils top the scoring column, much more similar to the 2001 team.

All of this does not mean Duke will be cutting down the nets in April, but they are better suited for a long stay come tournament time. Currently, Kyle Singler leads the team in scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals but with the emergence of Gerald Henderson and Nolan Smith, the team's attack has become far more balanced. One area of concern heading forward has been the team's assist to turnover ratio, at just over 1/1 (259/252). Reserve David McClure is the only player with a ratio above 2/1 at 2.3/1. This year's team is not as good as the previous championship teams, but they are cut from the same cloth.

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