Duke’s offense continues to hum, even without Coach K


Following Monday’s gritty road victory at Notre Dame, Duke improved to 4-3 in games coached by Jeff Capel.

That includes two road wins — no easy feat in the mighty ACC. Mike Krzyzewski is supposed to return sometime in early February. However, after seven games, let’s take a look at how the Blue Devils have functioned on offense with Capel manning the ship.

OpponentPointsFG%PacePoints per 100 possTOV%
Boston College9355.4%83.6110.718.6%
NC State8246.9%74.1110.811.4%
Wake Forest8548.3%70.4121.418.3%
Notre Dame8451.9%70.9118.318.9%

In this run, Duke has scored below 70 points just one time — the loss at Louisville, a team that ranks No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency. Without adjusting for pace, the Blue Devils have averaged 79.3 points per game and have scored 80-plus points four times.

According to Sports-Reference, the win in Durham against Miami was the only game that Duke played at a pace under 70 possessions; the Devils have averaged 73.3 possessions per game under Capel, which is more than the first 15 games of the season — 72.4 — when Coach K was on the bench. In fact, the win over Boston College, which featured 83.6 possessions, is the high-water mark of the season in terms of tempo.

Duke, so far, has scored 555 points with Capel solo on the sideline on 513.3 possessions, which roughly translates to 1.08 points per possession. That’s pretty good. Duke is loaded with talented players, so it’s no real surprise that it continues to score a lot of points. Shocking, I know.

This team has had its troubles, though. The Blue Devils scored fewer than one point per possession in losses to both Florida State and Louisville. Both of those teams, however, are outstanding, and Duke was without Amile Jefferson — a hyper-critical cog in its motion offense — for those two games.

I know we love to lionize coaches, regardless of the sport or level of play. However, while coaches have a lot of in-game value — game-plan execution, drawing up plays out of timeouts and managing the rotation — ultimately these contests are decided by the players on the floor.

Duke has struggled at times on offense while Krzyzewski rehabilitates, but the Devils have also dealt with injuries to key players, foul trouble and a schedule that ticked up in conference play.

The win over Miami looks increasingly important, considering the overall mediocre performance offensively. This game was played at a more mellow pace; it featured just 67.5 possessions — the third-lowest number this season for Duke. The Blue Devils made just five three-pointers and posted a turnover rate of 21.6 percent. Basically, they shot poorly and turned the ball over one out of every five possessions.

The numbers are skewed, perhaps, because Duke’s first-half performance was so bad. The contest turned around in the final 20 minutes, though, when Duke scored 45 points, and according to Synergy Sports, scored on 14 of 24 (58.3 percent) half-court sets. Miami, on the other hand, scored on just seven of 33 half-court sets, per Synergy, in the second half.

The power of the three-pointer is astounding, too. In two of these three losses, Duke shot below 30 percent from deep: FSU and NC State. It’s also amazing to see that in the win over Wake Forest that Duke shot 48.3 percent from the field; however, the Blue Devils posted a sizzling effective field-goal rate of 60.2 percent. This is because they connected on 14 of 31 three-pointers (45.2%). Half of their made field goals that game came from beyond the arc.

Kennard, especially, was prolific in the matchup. His off-the-ball movements were crisp as Duke ran him off a myriad of screens. He curled into the paint on brush screens, drawing contact and fouls, and freed himself for catch-and-shoots off back-picks and pindowns. Capel gave him some single-double looks that allowed Kennard to read the defense and choose his own patterns. This is super challenging to defend. Wake somehow lost him a couple times, which simply can’t be an option against Kennard, who is shooting 52.1 percent on catch-and-shoots this season, per Synergy.

On the Duke’s final play of the game, Matt Jones ran a dummy down-screen; Kennard lunged in that direction, which forced Mitchell Wilbekin to lean that way before Kennard sprinted in the other direction off a baseline screen from Harry Giles. Grayson Allen cleared out to the opposite wing, and bam — a clean catch-and-shoot for Kennard, which proved to be the game-winner.

As a team, Duke has shot a collective 52-of-144 from beyond the arc during this stretch — 36.1 percent, which is right around where the Devils have been all season (36.7 percent). However, if you pull out the Wake performance, Duke shot just 33.6 percent on three-pointers (38-of-113).

Duke still has a long way to go as a team this season, but after all of the sky-is-falling-in-Durham talk a week ago, this team has ripped off two road wins in the ACC. The rotation is still somewhat of a question mark, but it appears that the Blue Devils are getting close to finding an eight-man mix of players for a stretch run. The return of Coach K should help, too.

But before any dreams of a magical March Madness can coalesce, Duke needs to take care of business Saturday against slumping Pitt, before moving on to you know who: North Carolina next Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.