The Blue Devils are making their 12th Final Four appearance under Mike Krzyzewski, but this is a much different team than others Coach K has taken to the last weekend. This isn’t a group led by experienced guys like Bobby Hurley or Johnny Dawkins or Christian Laettner or Shane Battier or J.J. Redick. The 2K15 Blue Devils are all about the kids, about freshmen like Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, all of whom can take over games.
Strengths: Duke can take teams apart inside with Jahlil Okafor bringing a variety of post moves to the floor, and he has the skills at both ends to take over the game. This is a team that can score. It was one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, and it does great work inside and out. Okafor is a man who shoots nearly 70 percent from the field, but guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones can both light it up, and Justise Winslow is enjoying a strong run in the tournament. All of those guys are quick and can break down opponents off the dribble. Defensively, Duke does a good job on the boards and is disruptive in the passing lanes.
Weaknesses: The Blue Devils can be a bit streaky from the perimeter, and the youngsters can force things at times. They’ve gotten better as the season has progressed, but this is a group that needs some things to go well for them or they start to hang their heads a bit. They can be a bit careless with the ball at times – especially Okafor – another sign of a young team. Getting consistent play from guard Matt Jones has been a bit of a headache, and backup bigs Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee don’t bring a lot of post skills to the floor. When Okafor is out of the lineup, Duke’s offense goes to the perimeter.
How They Beat Teams: Duke loves to push the tempo, but the Blue Devils are willing to play at whatever pace an opponent wants because it knows it has the horses to battle. Pounding the ball inside is usually Option 1, and Okafor can get opponents into foul trouble. Cook and Jones keep pressure on defenses to come away from the bucket, and their ability to attack and get to the free-throw line is key. Duke as a whole is great at getting to the line, and that’s critical late in games.
How They Get Beat: When the Blue Devils get into a dogfight or run into foul trouble, their lack of quality depth can be an issue. They only run about eight deep, and Plumlee and Jefferson aren’t offensive players. When Duke isn’t making free throws and the guards press and try to do too much on the floor, that’s when trouble starts. Duke has only lost twice since Jan. 17, and both of those losses came to Notre Dame, so this is a supremely confident team, but the Blue Devils haven’t played many tight games and can stumble.