Duke Basketball, Coach K Need Boost From Bench

    Duke basketball needs a boost from the bench. The Blue Devils are a tournament-caliber team, but Coach K has his work cut out for him.

    February 2, 2016

    Has Coach K lost his touch?

    We’re going to just cut through the nonsense and just go ahead and say, “No. That’s ridiculous.”

    But what’s going on with Duke?

    The Blue Devils don’t struggle. They certainly shouldn’t, not with a roster that includes seven McDonald’s All-Americans. Not with Grayson Allen, who has blossomed from a bench guy last season to a 20-point scorer this year. Not with Brandon Ingram, who is a great second option.

    So what’s the issue? Why is Duke not only vulnerable but straight out disappointing?

    The answer is a lack of depth, something that might seem strange with so much talent on the roster.

    The raw talent is there, but blending guys together to work as a team, that isn’t always easy. Mike Krzyzewski has been one of the best at doing just that, but the plan doesn’t always work. Sometimes you need a player like Amile Jefferson, who has played just 10 games this year, to be your glue guy. You need players who fill a role perfectly, and that simply hasn’t happened this season.

    Duke is coming off a national championship season. Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow were men among boys, and they were the kinds of players a team can lean on when things are going bad.

    The Blue Devils don’t really have that this year. For as talented as Allen and Ingram and the rest of the guys might be, there isn’t a superstar who can bail out the Dukies. That hasn’t developed just yet. Allen could be that guy, but it takes time.

    That said, struggles for a team usually happen early. Nobody plays February basketball in November, and that’s why early upsets are no big deal.

    At Duke, losing in late January is stunning, and dropping three straight and four of five is positively unheard of. The Blue Devils are out of the top 25 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, and their schedule is going to get a lot tougher very soon.

    Louisville, Virginia and North Carolina are coming up in the next 19 days, and there won’t be much time for Duke to regain its swagger.
    So how does Coach K fix this in the short term?

    It starts with Duke just making shots. Duke is making 50.4 percent of its shots in its wins this year, but in the losses, that mark drops to 40.8 percent. In the Blue Devils’ last four losses, Duke is actually shooting 44.5 percent from the field, but everything is coming from the starters.

    And when players get tired, the first thing to go is their legs. When your legs go, shots start missing.

    Here’s the key number for Duke right now: 30.

    That’s the total number of bench points for the Blue Devils in their last five games, four of them losses. Even in the win over North Carolina State, the bench only came up with five points. Krzyzewski is basically using a six- or seven-man rotation, and it’s wearing his guys down.

    The answer is two-fold. Coach K is going to have to deepen his rotation by a player or two, even if it means turning to Sean Obi for more than a couple of minutes a game. He already has gone to a zone to take some of the pressure off his guys, but now he needs to steal some minutes along the way.

    Having last weekend off should help with fatigue in the short term, but massaging the bench—and getting better production out of that bench—will be huge for Duke going forward.

    This is a program built for March, but the return of Jefferson before the NCAA Tournament will be huge. His boot is off, and he’s trying to get back.

    Duke is still a tournament team, and it should be able to weather the storm for a few more weeks. It needs to build some confidence, but the talent is there.

    Coach K hasn’t lost his touch, but he does have his work cut out for him. The good news is, he knows how to fix the problem.

    MORE: AP Top 25 Look Ahead

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