Is Coach K’s Obsession With One-and-Done Players Hurting Duke?

Duke, the vaunted college basketball program of fundamentals, defense and pretension was absolutely horrendous on defense in their Elite Eight game against Kansas. Duke Coach Krzyzewski, known for creating teams that play rugged man-to-man defense, was humbled this year by having a team unable to track players and were forced into playing an elementary zone defense. His team featured four Freshman that are likely all destined for the NBA after the season. This one-and-done strategy is the antithesis of the Duke way of basketball but is a template Coach K has chosen to pursue. His 2018 recruiting class features three of the top players in the country, and it is certain all three plan on bolting for the NBA as soon as their mandatory year is up. While this strategy has allowed K to rack up top recruiting classes, it has come at a great cost to their ability to play defense, and furthermore, win games.

For example, after finally getting the upper hand against Kansas with 5 minutes left in the game, they successfully shift their 2-3 to match Kansas’ overload.
However, this shift leaves the bottom left of the court wide-open and plays directly into Kansas’ hands. Malik Newman simply runs along the baseline and Duke completely fails to track. They leave five players stacked on one side of the court, and completely fail to account for Newman swinging to the weak side.
This poor communication and simple understanding of a pedestrian offensive scheme leaves a lights-out Kansas shooter (Newman is hitting at over a 50% from three so far in the tournament) a wide-open three at a critical point in the game.
In addition to the blown set outlined above, Duke allowed Kansas to tie the game with under 30 seconds remaining by failing to guard every player on the Kansas team. When Svi Mykhailiuk, shooting 41% from three for the season, receives the ball, the Duke defensive is caught standing and staring. Not only is Svi open, he is left with the option to pass to an open De Sousa down low, an open Vick in the corner, and a wide-open Newman on the weak side. Even Devonte Graham, who just passed to Svi, has found himself open due to his defender being shockingly out of position, guarding no one 40-feet away from the basket.
These blown assignments go against everything Duke basketball was built upon. While annoying and hateable, they were scrappy teams that played the game “the right way.” It appears Coach K is sacrificing this traditional system to chase high-profile one-and-done players that lack the time, patience and discipline to learn basic defensive schemes. This bizarre lack-career move certainly makes it easier to watch them wash out of the tournament with a team full of future lottery picks, while programs that focus on fostering 3-4 year veterans (Villanova, UNC) consistently outperform the Blue Devils.

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