No. 4 Duke focuses on improving as Fla. Atlantic pays a visit
Twice in the three previous seasons, Duke didn’t taste defeat in men’s basketball until the calendar turned to January.
This year’s Blue Devils, ranked No. 4 in the preseason Associated Press poll, got an early taste of winding up on the wrong end of things Tuesday night.
That 94-83 loss to No. 5 Kansas, though, gives the coaching staff a chance to reinforce lessons in a way that only losing can allow.
“It was a great game for us,” Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “Playing against a team that has that much talent, it exposes things you need to work on,” Wojciechowski said.
After arriving home at 5 a.m. EST from Chicago following the Kansas game that didn’t end until nearly 1 a.m. Wednesday, the Blue Devils didn’t practice on Wednesday. They gathered for an afternoon practice Thursday in anticipation of facing Florida Atlantic tonight (7 p.m., ESPN3.com).
Intensity and focus are two of area the coaches stressed the Blue Devils (1-1).
“Obviously, we thought we played well in spurts (against Kansas),” Wojciechowski said. “Other times, we’d get a four- or five-point lead and let our foot off the gas pedal. Kansas capitalized.”
Duke led 42-40 at halftime and the game was tied at 79-all with less than three minutes left before the Jayhawks pulled away for the win.
One of the glaring areas where Duke struggled was in rebounding as the Jayhawks held a 39-24 advantage. Only 6-8 freshman Jabari Parker, who scored 27 points, had a strong night rebounding. Parker pulled down nine.
But fellow 6-8 forwards Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson combined for only five rebounds.
“Learning gamesmanship, orchestrating time and score in a game and rebounding basketball are huge areas of improvement for our team,” Wojciechowski said.
The key to improving in rebounding, in particular, is to take a team approach. The Blue Devils only have one player, 7-0 redshirt sophomore Marshall Plumlee, taller than 6-9.
Plumlee is a reserve this season. His older brothers, Miles and Mason, were first-round picks the last two NBA drafts. A major reason was their rebounding abilities.
With no player like that in the post this season, Duke will focus on getting contributions from everyone.
“A lot of rebounding, especially for our team with its size, is going to be group rebounding,” Wojciechowski said. “We need our biggest guys to rebound and we need all five guys on the floor rebounding. Everybody has to rebound and that’s a point of emphasis for our team.”
Another is team defense, which broke down late for Duke against Kansas. That allowed the Jayhawks to outscore Duke 15-4 over the final three minutes of play.
Kansas hit 56.7 percent of its shots by taking advantage in the post for easy baskets. The Jayhawks only attempted eight 3-pointers, making three.
For as good as Duke is playing offensively, it will focus on delivering at the other end as well.
“They shot (nearly) 60 percent from the field,” Wojciechowski said. “That’s not winning basketball. You can’t give up that many points. We were disappointed in our defense. That’s an area we have to improve significantly soon. We can’t be a team that looks to outscore people.”