Since Marvin Bagley’s injury in a loss at North Carolina, Duke (23-5) has reeled off four straight victories. Matt Norlander explored the reason for the Blue Devils’ success in the absence of their freshman phenom in an article for CBS Sports.
Bagley, the ACC’s leader in points (21.2) and rebounds (11.4), remains day-to-day since sustaining a knee injury on Feb. 8.
However in that time span, Norlander points out Duke’s defense has become stinger thanks to utilizing more zone.
But let’s get back to what Duke has become without Bagley on the floor. It’s downright shocking, considering Bagley is a capable defender. Without him, Duke is adapting almost exclusively to zone principles, as opposed to sporadically deploying the tactic and using it for second-half rallies earlier in the season. Duke allowed 80 or more points in 10 of its first 24 games. Among the teams who hit 80: Portland State, Boston College, South Dakota and St. John’s.
But now, the past four without Bagley, Duke’s giving up 58.5 points per contest. Competition should be noted ( Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Louisville), but two of those teams are NCAA Tournament-bound. Holding foes to 58.5 is a massive leap for a team that’s shot up from ranking in the 70s in defensive efficiency at KenPom in January to No. 27 as of Thursday morning. Duke ranks No. 3 overall at KenPom.com.
In fact, you have to go all the way back to the early 1980s for the last time Duke has had a stretch of defense like this.
No Bagley, no big deal. Duke’s won the past four without him by an average of 17 points. Duke’s kept its past three ACC opponents under 60 points. That hasn’t happened since 1981, when Krzyzewski was in his first season with the Blue Devils. Astounding, and certainly something that is soothing concerns over Bagley’s sabbatical.
Norlander adds that senior guard Grayson Allen (28 points, six 3-pointers vs. Louisville) getting his groove back with Bagley out is an added bonus and will benefit Duke during March Madness.
The return of Bagley combined with a rejuvenated Allen could be a championship formula for Duke if the pair can learn to play to each other’s strengths.
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