Duke Basketball: Blue Devils Will Go as Far as Defense Takes Them

Tim KeeneyContributor IDecember 20, 2012

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 19:  Quinn Cook #2 of the Duke Blue Devils dives for a loose ball against Miles Asafo-Adjei #22 of the Cornell Big Red during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 19, 2012 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Defense wins championships. 

I'm usually far from a fan of that statement simply because it's overused way too often—you know what else wins championships? Offense. And coaching. And talent. And lots of things.

In Duke's case, though, that infamous cliche might just be the truth. If the Blue Devils play defense like they're capable of, and like they displayed on Wednesday night, a National Championship is obtainable for the No. 1 team in the nation.

Duke's strengths are obvious. 

On offense, Mike Krzyzewski's squad has been nearly unstoppable despite running a six-man rotation most of the time. The Devils are 10th in the nation in points per possession at 1.131. They are 18th in three-point field-goal percentage. They are 16th in assist-to-turnover ratio. They are balanced, anyone can beat you and five out of the six main rotation players can beat you from the outside.

But this much we knew at the beginning of the season.

Well, we knew the Blue Devils offense was going to be its biggest strength. We might not have predicted Quinn Cook's improvement or Mason Plumlee's free-throw improvement, but we still knew they were going to put the ball in the hoop at a good rate.

However, going forward, the key for Duke will be on the defensive side of the ball. 

First, and most importantly, it's simple: Defense leads to offense. 

Again, the Devils don't need much help on offense, but when they are able to force turnovers and get on the break, open shots are inevitable. Considering how they are shooting the ball this year, open shots are going to make them unbeatable. 

Second, the Blue Devils need to find a way to offset their awful rebounding. 

The simple rebounding margin stat can often be misleading, but Duke is 302nd in the country in rebounding percentage at 47.1 percent, which is a better indicator of prowess on the boards.

Marshall Plumlee should help, yes, but he's not going to completely reverse that number. 

Still, you can win games while losing the rebounding battle, and as Duke proved against Cornell, you do that by playing defense and forcing turnovers. 

The Big Red outrebounded the Devils by 13 percent, a fairly large advantage, but since Duke was able to force 25 turnovers (a ridiculous 33.4 percent turnover rate for Cornell), they were able to cut down on the importance of lost shots via the rebound battle.

As a result, Krzyzewski and company walked away with a 39-point win.

Duke obviously won't be playing Cornell every week, but this was a prime example of how defense can make up for the Blue Devils' biggest weaknesses. 

Their shots won't always be falling, and should that happen in March, Duke is going to have to be able to fall back on its defense.