Duke Scouting Breakdown

The Duke Blue Devils entry from the Hoop Vision Tournament Bible.

The following was initially written for the Duke section of our Hoop Vision NCAA Tournament Bible. In light of the tournament cancellation, we will be releasing these team breakdowns exclusively for Hoop Vision PLUS subscribers.

Duke (25-6), #5 kenpom

This year’s team is not nearly as talented, at least from an NBA perspective, as recent Duke teams. And yet according to predictive metrics they performed like a top-five team in the country for most of the year, albeit with a few particularly bad losses mixed in.

The Same Coach K System

From an X’s and O’s perspective, this year’s iteration of Duke has been similar to typical Mike Krzyzewski teams. On offense, the Blue Devils don’t run particularly complex sets or actions; they use the horns formation for elbow handoffs, spread ball screens, and Hi-Lo action. When in their basic flow offense, the offense revolves around Tre Jones ball screens and Vernon Carey post-ups.

The relative simplicity of the offense creates good spacing around the perimeter, but several players on the roster don’t have the shooting gravity to hold defenses accountable to cover that spacing. Regardless, elite offensive rebounding has Duke in the running for finishing the season with their 12th straight top-10 ranked offense.

Programs ranked in the top 10 in AdjO 5+ times since 2009:
  1. Duke — 12

  2. Kansas — 7

  3. Gonzaga — 5

  4. North Carolina — 5

On defense, Duke has played Coach K’s preferred style: Pressure man-to-man. They deny passes and pressure the ball to disrupt offensive flow, while still being one of the nation’s top teams at taking away the three-point line. In ball screen coverage, Duke looks to ice the ball handler and keep the ball out of the middle — but it’s been a weakness at times for the Blue Devils. Clemson and Aamir Simms had success in pop and short roll situations against Duke.

NC State and Markell Johnson’s ball screen offense forced Duke to switch to zone for the majority of their second meeting.

An Underrated Duke Freshman?

It seems rare for a five-star Duke freshman to be underrated nationally — particularly in the wake of the buzz around given to last year’s freshman-led team — and yet Vernon Carey has achieved that feat.

Carey is not considered an elite NBA prospect, but he is an extremely difficult cover for college defenses. He has good touch and quickness in the post, and fights hard for deep position, forcing Duke opponents to often front or double team. He’s also capable of facing up to drive from the elbow area.

The biggest issue with Carey has been staying on the floor, as he commits 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes of playing time. When in foul trouble, Duke doesn’t have a second big that commands anywhere near the defensive attention as Carey. It fundamentally changes the way teams guard Duke and places the burden on Tre Jones to create.

The Role Players are One-Dimensional

Carey and Jones have been the stars for Duke, while Cassius Stanley and Wendell Moore have provided relatively consistent minutes as athletic wings. But after that, the roster is full of solid offensive players who struggle on defense or, naturally, solid defenders who struggle offensively.

Matthew Hurt and Joey Baker have been the two best shooters on the roster, but defense has limited their playing time. Jack White and Javin DeLaurier are strong positional defenders, but not threats on the offensive end.

The inconsistent play of the bench even led to some significant minutes for walk-on (and son of David Robinson) Justin Robinson at the end of the season. To flip things in a more positive way, Duke does have several different options and skill sets off of the bench depending on the opposing team’s personnel and style of play. But the overall lack of consistency of those different options is a potential issue.


Duke annotated scout video

  1. Vernon Carey (0:00)

  2. Ball screen defense vs Clemson (1:13)

  3. Offensive set plays (2:29)