Duke Basketball: Will Blue Devils' Defense Improve in 2014-15?

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2014

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 21:  The Duke Blue Devils mascot flexes in the first half as the Blue Devils take on the Mercer Bears in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 21, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

A Round of 64 loss in the NCAA tournament is never acceptable at Duke, especially when it comes at the hands of a massive underdog like Mercer.

The main culprit for the Blue Devils’ disappointing end to the season was a defense that hampered their effectiveness throughout the entire year. In fact, Duke finished 116th in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, which is particularly disappointing considering it was second in the country in offense.

This could have been a Final Four team with even a mediocre defense.

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 04:  Miles Overton #20 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons drives between defenders Jabari Parker #1 and Josh Hairston #15 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 4, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

What’s more, the Blue Devils allowed opponents to shoot 45.6 percent—the team’s worst mark in more than 20 years—and had a forced turnover rate of 12.1 per game. Never in Mike Krzyzewski’s career has a Duke team put forth a worse forced turnover rate.

Coach K discussed his disappointment in the defense and attributed it to a lack of leadership, via Laura Keeley of The News & Observer:

Yeah, we could play better defense, and we could do all this, but, fundamentally, the thing that we missed was on-the-court leadership, play after play. And, to me that’s critical. And we were never able to develop that, and so, as a result, other things aren’t developed as well.

Duke fans everywhere want to know if the defense will be better in 2014-15.

As dynamic of a player as Jabari Parker was, he was not the best defender. His running mate, Rodney Hood, had the ability to defend anyone from the point guard to the power forward spot at times, but he wasn’t always fully engaged on that end of the floor.

Additionally, the offense figures to drop off a bit, at least until the freshmen get their legs underneath them. But losing Parker and Hood may be a blessing in disguise on the defensive end.

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 01:  Tyler Ennis #11 of the Syracuse Orange drives to the basket against the defense of Quinn Cook #2 of the Duke Blue Devils during the first half at the Carrier Dome on February 1, 2014 in Syracuse, New York.  Syracuse defeated D
Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Quinn Cook was a borderline disaster trying to prevent penetration from opposing perimeter players.

Rasheed Sulaimon took significant chunks of playing time away from Cook in the second half of the year because Sulaimon was simply the better defender. Throw Tyus Jones’ lateral quickness and overall athleticism in the mix, and the guards should be much better on that side of the floor.

On the wing, Justise Winslow is about as renowned as a recruit can be in terms of defense, and athletes like Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye will give some depth on the perimeter.

Yet, it is Winslow who should have Blue Devils fans most excited. All of the buzzwords typically used to describe prototypical athletes at the small forward position apply here: lengthy, versatile, explosive, athletic, etc. He can shut down point guards, shooting guards, small forwards—even the occasional power forward—and could anchor Duke on the defensive side.

Just because the outside defense will be better doesn’t mean everything is fixed.

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 12:  Justise Winslow #10, Jahlil Okafor #15 and Tyus Jones#6 pose for pictures before the game against the World Team on April 12, 2014 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

After all, Duke finished an abysmal 193rd in the country in total rebounds per game and didn’t have much of an interior presence at the rim. Easy putbacks and inability to challenge in the paint certainly contributed to the high opposing shooting percentages we saw.

However, Amile Jefferson came on strong during the second half of the season, and he should see even more time throughout the 2014-15 campaign. Of course, adding the top center in the 2014 class in Jahlil Okafor won’t hurt either. 

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports praised Okafor’s game in a way that should ease the worries of Blue Devils supporters when it comes to rebounding:

Between Jefferson and Okafor, Duke will have two potential shot-blockers and rebounders anchoring the paint. Winslow will also help on the glass.

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 16:  Anthony Gill #13 of the Virginia Cavaliers and Amile Jefferson #21 and Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils go for the ball during the finals of the 2014 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

So, if we are asking if Duke’s defense will be better or not next year, the answer is a resounding yes. There is really nowhere to go but up statistically, and Krzyzewski has all the pieces in place for an athletically dominant squad that should thrive on that end of the floor. 

As long as the offense is even 70 percent as effective as it was last year, Duke should advance much deeper in the NCAA tournament.


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