Duke's mix-'n'-match perimeter a winner to date

Feb. 10, 2014 @ 10:30 PM

Duke senior guard Andre Dawkins made a combined 10 3-pointers when the Blue Devils battled Pittsburgh and Syracuse Jan. 26 and Feb. 1.

He followed that up with a 17-point night against Wake Forest last Tuesday.

On Saturday night at Boston College, Dawkins played only eight minutes and attempted just two shots.

Does that mean the redshirt senior has landed in the proverbial doghouse which, by the way, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said doesn’t exist? Hardly.

Duke won 89-68 at Boston College and the fact that the Blue Devils did it without input from Dawkins is a sign of their strength on the perimeter.

Heading into a rivalry showdown with North Carolina on Wednesday (9 p.m., ESPN/WRAL), the No. 8 Blue Devils have started four different players at their two guard positions.

Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Matt Jones have all drawn starting assignments this year as Krzyzewski, with input from associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski, mixes and matches combinations to find the group playing its best.

“Wojo has done a great job of working with those guys all year,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s very unusual.”

That unusual use of the guards explains what happened to Dawkins at Boston College. He wasn’t bad, Krzyzewski said. Rather, the group on the court was that good.

“Andre didn’t play much against. Boston College because that one group just got it defensively,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s been a plus for our team.”

At different times this season, Sulaimon, Cook, Dawkins and Jones have seen their minutes fluctuate. That Duke (19-5, 8-3) is in its usual place among the nation’s top 10 teams, in the hunt for an ACC title, is a tribute to those four players’ talents and their unselfishness.

“You are able to absorb a guy not playing as well because another guy might be there,” Krzyzewski said. “The strength of our team is our depth on the perimeter.”

That’s why Dawkins can go from a seven-minute, three-point game against UCLA to a starting assignment and 20 points against Eastern Michigan in consecutive December games.

Sulaimon didn’t play against Michigan on Dec. 3 and saw only five minutes of action in Duke’s next game on Dec. 16 against Gardner-Webb. He started but played only 12 minutes, with two points, in a Jan. 11 loss at Clemson.

But over Duke’s last six games, Sulaimon has averaged 28.8 minutes per game and has had four double-figure scoring nights.

It’s all about finding what works best and the four guards are just fine with that.

“It’s been great,” said junior point guard Quinn Cook, who was replaced by Sulaimon in the starting lineup two games ago. “We love the competition and we are all happy for each other, whether you’re a starter or a non-starter. We all have our personal battles. But we are all smiling. Whatever coach wants us to do we are all happy with it. That’s what makes it so good.”

Cook, it should be noted, responded to his being dropped from the starting lineup by scoring 21 points in 26 minutes off the bench at Boston College on Saturday night.

Senior Tyler Thornton is the experienced leader of the guard group, having been named a senior captain last summer.

Thornton has started 14 of Duke’s 24 games and, while his 3.2 scoring average pales in comparison to Dawkins (9.5) and Sulaimon (9.1), his positive contributions are appreciated by Krzyzewski.

His lack of turnovers stand out. In 83 combined minutes over Duke’s last four games, he has zero turnovers.

But his fine play goes beyond the stat sheet, Krzyzewski said.

“He really helps everyone else,” Krzyzewski said. “He can communicate while the game is going on. It’s not a strength of ours. While the game is going on to react to all these situations. Not stop action, but as its flowing and you see things. Tyler probably does the best job of that.”

Even Jones, the freshman guard, drew praise from Krzyzewski for the Boston College game. In just six minutes of play, Jones hit three shots, grabbed a rebound and didn’t commit a turnover.

Thornton said the road to making this unusual approach successful began last summer when the players held pick-up games without coaches present.

“Then in practices this season everyone was the star in practice or having a week where they were playing great on the perimeter,” Thornton said. “At any point, any one of our guys can go off and make a big impact on the game. That’s the advantage that we have and our coaching staff knows we have. Everybody is unselfish, not focusing on playing time or wanting the ball. It just helps us.”