Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Meet Duke - 2009 Edition

First, brief apologies for the extended holiday absence. I was traveling for two weeks, and had other things to occupy my time. I will catch up with the HD boxes from the games I missed (Loyola MD, Va Tech) hopefully toward the end of this week.

On to the meat of this post. College basketball fans often have, for lack of a better term, jersey bias. They assume that, for example, Pittsburgh will always be a tough, hard-nosed defensive team, because that was their rep under Ben Howland when they first became a regularly good team about 10 years ago. Doesn't matter if both this year and last year (and the year before that, to a certain extent), the Panthers are a team that has won more with offense than with defense - people will always think of them as defensive stalwarts.

Duke gets its fair share of jersey bias as well. Because of the last few years, the Devils are usually regarded as a team that relies on the three, is weak inside, gets pounded on the glass, etc. Listen to commentators talk about Duke's prospects for the season overall, and some combination of those themes will be presented. Those themes may have been applicable to Duke in years past. But this season, at least so far, it's pure jersey bias - take these players out of the Duke jerseys and put them in someone else's, and the story would change instantly.

With that in mind, let's meet the 2009 edition of the Duke Blue Devils, and learn a little bit about how they've won so far. First, let's look at the offense. This may come as a shock to some, but of all the four factors, the one that the Devils have been best at thus far is offensive rebounding. Duke has collected a superb 42.3% of its own misses, good for 10th in the nation/7th in the major conferences/2nd in the ACC. Partially as a product of good offensive rebounding, and partially as a product of several talented slashers who can pass and finish around the basket, Duke's 2 point field goal percentage is also excellent - 55.6%, good for 18th/12th/2nd. Quite sensibly (and again, partially as a product of good offensive rebounding), Duke has been focused more on interior scoring than outside shooting - Duke takes just 32.6% of its attempts from outside, which is way down at 183rd in the country. Despite relatively poor outside shooting, Duke's EFG% is a very respectable 39th in the country due to more limited 3 point attempts and terrific inside shooting. Finally, Duke has excelled in getting to and converting from the line - the Devils are 25th in free throw rate and 24th in percentage.

On the defensive side, this is a more "typical" Duke team, with some wrinkles. As usual, three-pointers and assists are very difficult for opponents to come by. Opponents shoot just 27.4% of their attempts from outside and get assists on just 43.6% of their field goals, good for 25th and 8th in the country, respectively. These characteristics, more than anything else, have been the hallmarks of Duke defense in the last 6 years - Duke has never finished outside of the top 10% of all teams in either category, and is typically in the top 10 (in 2005, Duke was the best in the country in both). The other category at which the Devils have excelled thus far is steals - Duke takes the ball away on almost 14% of its opponents' possessions, good for 16th in the country. On the four factors side, Duke is very good in all categories - 28th in shooting against, 31st in denying offensive rebounds, 29th in forcing turnovers, and 60th in limiting free throw opportunities. The defensive rebounding improvement has been huge, as that's been an area of decided weakness for Duke in the past - 281st in 2005, 304th in 2006, and 216th in 2008. All these factors put together have given Duke the 5th best defense in raw terms (and best in adjusted) in all of the country.

So that's Duke so far. One of the keys to the remainder of the season will be whether the rebounding will hold up. Duke hasn't had to play front lines with the size that teams like UNC, Wake, FSU, etc. throw out there, and the Devils' ability to keep those teams off the offensive glass will be key to keeping up this defensive success. Tonight's opponent shouldn't be too much of a test in that regard - Davidson is not particularly large and not particularly good on the offensive glass.

No comments: