Duke's depth and its importance

Feb. 20, 2014 @ 12:16 PM

Watching No. 1 Syracuse’s stunning loss to Boston College and later seeing No. 4 Arizona pushed to overtime before escaping Utah with a win, a familiar theme emerged.

Both are ranked in the top five and both are national championship contenders. But both are also extremely limited in depth.

Of Syracuse’s five starters, four played 40 minutes or more in the 45-game that included overtime. The only starter who didn’t, Rakeem Christmas, played 39 minutes. C.J. Fair played all 45 minutes.

The only Orange reserve who played double-digit minutes was Michael Gbinije with 15.

In Arizona’s overtime win, Kaleb Tarczewski and T.J. McConnel each played 40 minutes. Nick Johnson (38 minutes) and Gabe York (36) were close behind.

Foul trouble limited freshman forward Aaron Gordon to 20 minutes, so sixth-man Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played 31 minutes off bench.

Basically both the Wildcats and Orange are six-man teams. Arizona lost Brandon Ashley to a season-ending injury. Same thing happened to Syracuse with forward DaJuan Coleman.

So why all this Arizona and Syracuse talk on the day Duke travels to play rival North Carolina?

Because Duke is proving the opposite of the Orange and the Wildcats and that fact could make a difference in the NCAA Tournament next month.

The No. 5 Blue Devils routinely play nine or 10 players in the first half of games. The minutes are spread more evenly.

In Tuesday night’s 68-51 win at Georgia Tech, only two Duke players (leading scorers Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood) played 32 minutes or more. Four other players – Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton – saw their minutes in the 20s.

A seventh player, Andre Dawkins, played 10 minutes.

But that was a blowout where Duke led by as many as 19 points in the first half. So let’s look back at Saturday’s 69-67 win over Maryland.

Parker played 39 minutes, Sulaimon 35 and Jefferson 34. But seven players played 14 or more minutes.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reintroduced his five-in, five-out line change substitution pattern for the Georgia Tech game. He’s used it before this season and won’t use it all of the time. But it shows the depth Duke possesses that other teams don’t.

“It just keeps everybody involved,” Krzyzewski said. “It gives guys a chance. It tells guys we haven’t given up on them and we’ve got a chance. I think that’s a good thing. It’s not something we are going to do every game. But we want our guys to be ready.

“We try to keep their confidence levels up. That’s part of it.”

And, regardless of what happens tonight at Chapel Hill or in Saturday’s rematch with Syracuse at Cameron Indoor Stadium, that part of Duke’s game figures to be a factor as the Blue Devils navigate their way through the NCAA Tournament.