DURHAM, N.C. -- As if Duke’s string of 13 straight double-digit wins to open the season isn’t enough for opponents to worry about. What coach Mike Krzyzewski is developing in Cameron Indoor Stadium should give the rest of the ACC pause.
He’s got a lineup that can match just about any unit in the nation. The question is can any lineup match his?
So far this season, as Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils march unimpeded toward his 1000th career victory, that answer has been no.
Duke has won by an average score of 25 and nearly matched that in its 85-62 victory over Boston College on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Eagles got a dose of why those many Duke lineups work.
If the Blue Devils need to go small, as they did against the Eagles when their 7-foot center Dennis Clifford picked up two first-half fouls and played just five minutes, they had no problem making the transition.
Freshman Justise Winslow just slid from his small forward spot to power forward. Winslow is a better scorer than Amile Jefferson and generally gives Duke an offensive advantage. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Winslow is still strong enough to hold his own against bigger opponents on defense too.
The added benefit is the Blue Devils surround center Jahlil Okafor with another perimeter shooter. Okafor scored a career-high 28 points despite the Eagles’ physical play. When they put too much focus on trying to stop him inside, the Blue Devils were busy hitting nine 3-pointers.
“With how dominant he is, it definitely opens things up for guards and wings on the perimeter,” Tyus Jones said. “There’s only been one game where he didn’t get doubled. When he’s scoring the way he’s scoring, it just demands a lot of attention.”
What’s got Krzyzewski’s attention now is the Blue Devils tendency to give up too many offensive rebounds. Boston College had 18.
He’s working on a solution for that, too. He rolled out Marshall Plumlee and Okafor in the same frontcourt for the first time all season in the previous game against Wofford on Dec. 31.
“We’ve got a lot of different pieces and can throw a lot of different lineups out there,” Jones said. “It keeps other teams off guard and off balance when our lineups are changing. It just shows how deep are team is and how versatile we are.”
BC guards had some success early beating Duke’s pressure and attacking the basket. It’s been one of the weaknesses Jones and Quinn Cook have shown this season, as Duke has allowed 25 points to Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson, 22 to Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright and 19 to Toledo’s Julius Brown before giving up 22 to Olivier Hanlan on Saturday.
Krzyzewski’s answer to that has been Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones as the team’s best on-ball defenders. The penetration that powered the Eagles early on dried up with Sulaimon and Matt Jones on the floor.
“We are longer and taller on the perimeter and more athletic, really, with those two guys in,” Krzyzewski said.
They effectively shut down Aaron Brown, the Eagles’ leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, to a scoreless first half before he finished with 11 points.
When Krzyzewski uses them both in the same lineup with Plumlee, it could unofficially be labeled Duke’s defensive unit.
“Marshall can be an outstanding defender because he's athletic and can play the ball screens differently than Jah [Okafor]," Krzyzewski said. "He can blitz them and trap in them. It gives us a different look, and I think once Grayson [Allen], gets experience he can do that, too.”
That would make for another lineup, which would give Duke another option and give another headache to its opponents.