Fresh off of double-digit losses to N.C. State and Miami where they gave up a horrific 1.23 PPP, the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils went into the Yum! Center to play No. 6 Louisville.
And despite the fact that the Cardinals run the exact kind of ball-screen oriented offense that has been giving the Dookies all kinds of fits this season, Coach K’s club posted a resounding, 63-52 win over Louisville.
That’s not a typo.
This isn’t a typo, either: Duke went zone on the Cardinals, and while much of Louisville’s undoing was the fact that they shot just 29.5 percent from the floor and 4-for-25 from three, it was that defense change that really made the difference. Duke took what had been their Achilles’ heel this season — defending pick-and-rolls — and nullified it against a team that can’t shoot by packing in a 2-3 zone.
Few coaches in the country are as stubborn about the defense they are going to play as Coach K is about man-to-man, and that’s what made the change so surprising. It’s not exactly shocking that a team that struggles to guard on the perimeter decides to play a zone, it’s shocking that Duke does.
The biggest question coming out of this game is where these two teams go from here. This win doesn’t change the fact that Duke has a brutal three-game road trip coming up: at St. John’s, at Notre Dame and at Virginia. And it also doesn’t change the fact that they have some serious issues on the defensive end of the floor. They can zone St. John’s, but Notre Dame and Virginia have enough shooters that zoning them will be difficult.
So which is it? Does Coach K go back to his extended man-to-man defense or try to ride this zone as long as it is working?
For the Cardinals, the question is whether or not Duke just unveiled, on national television, the key to beating them. When Rick Pitino was asked on Friday how his team could become better shooters, he told reporters they needed to “be reincarnated”. Can the Cardinals find a way to beat a zone, or, at the least, get enough consistent perimeter shooting from Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear to make teams pay for packing in their defense?
College basketball, man. Just when you think you have something figured out, Duke goes zone.