The Duke Blue Devils sit at 3-2 and are ranked 21st in the nation. That obviously is not ideal for any Duke fan, but there is some promise. The Blue Devils just knocked off the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a game that was never in doubt.
The Fighting Irish just controlled Kentucky for 40 minutes and were battle-tested with close losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. Many people believed Notre Dame would win this game, as evidenced by the large line change in Las Vegas. However, Duke looked much closer to the team we expected to show up at the start of the season.
Adjustments for the 2020-21 Duke Blue Devils
Duke Blue Devils Season Update
Duke struggled mightily with Michigan State and Illinois, losing two home games for the first time in a million years. However, it was the games against Coppin State and Bellarmine that sounded the alarm a bit more. Yes, they won those games but they did not look good doing so and struggled to pull away.
With the losses, for about 75 of the 80 minutes played in those games, Duke’s opponents had full control. That is something rarely said about teams playing Duke.
Duke’s offense has not been great. The first time they broke 70 points in a game against a power conference school was against Notre Dame in their best game of the season. However, the issue is not a lack of talent, rather a lack of unity.
This issue is one that is very common with young teams this year. The pandemic limited the amount of time teams could spend together. Teams with brand new rosters will struggle because team chemistry has not been built.
However, I do believe there is a more tangible issue leading to the struggles on offense. Mike Krzyzewski seemed to use the offense that he used with guys like Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, which essentially is no offense. When you have two stars like that, you can roll the ball out and say go get a bucket. This team does not have someone like that. Jalen Johnson could be like that but does not know it yet.
The lack of a true offensive system meant that Duke’s best players were not in great positions to score outside of isolation. Look at any of the first four Duke games. The play typically was some initial action to get a player open and then maybe a ball screen follows but nothing else. That is too much standing around for a team with a lot of offensive ability.
He is called the greatest coach of all-time for a reason. Coach K responded to the lack of production by putting in more sets and getting the offense to flow outside of a Matthew Hurt mid-post isolation.
Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward have looked fantastic in the last two games. They have been aggressive and look very comfortable scoring. Hurt has lit up opposing defenses who have no ability to stop his one-legged fadeaway. However, as mentioned in their preseason recap, I predicted Jaemyn Brakefield to be the unsung hero of this team. To toot my own horn, that has very much happened.
Brakefield has provided so much energy, paired with a great shooting touch, guard skills, and a big body. With increasing minutes, Brakefield continues to shine. It will be nearly impossible for Coach K to keep him off the floor at this point.
Krzyzewski implemented a system that gets his offense going. Obviously, there is skill all over the court. However, he removed the chance for any stagnation and created a great flow to this offense that gets guys like Roach, Brakefield, and Steward attacking downhill.
Don’t Sound the Alarm for the Duke Blue Devils Yet
Duke was excellent against an experienced and tough Notre Dame team in their first road game. The offense looked much better. The minutes were allocated mostly appropriately. My one ask would be to have Mark Williams on the floor more because he has such a positive impact.
By the start of 2021, Duke will have only played six games. That is really tough for a young team. However, the space in the schedule allows time for Johnson to come back healthy for the long ACC stretch.
Krzyzewski seems to have solved some of the major concerns that have appeared early on. However, his next big task will be reimplementing Johnson into the lineup. As long as they keep this player movement and allow Johnson to attack downhill and make plays for others, the sky is truly the limit. Not the roof (shout out to my UNC Tar Heels fans).
Embed from Getty Images