Duke’s new-look defense will be put to the test Monday in its final home game of the season.
Second-seeded Duke will take on seventh-seeded DePaul in the second round of the NCAA tournament Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After the Blue Devils trounced Winthrop 87-45 Saturday, the Blue Demons outlasted 10th-seeded Oklahoma 104-100 in the highest-scoring regulation game in NCAA tournament history.
Looking to advance to the Sweet 16 in Lincoln, Neb., Duke will look to build off its 21-assist performance against Winthrop in its seventh game without a true ball-handler. The Blue Devils (28-6) should have plenty of opportunities to control the game inside against an up-tempo DePaul squad if they can continue sharing the ball.
“It’s been remarkable how we’ve really had to concentrate [on passing],” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “The 21 assists was an incredible thing, and we’ve got to build off that concept of hitting the open player and making everyone a passer. The thing [we can still improve] is the passing between our post players. If that interior passing will pick up, then we become a very lethal team.”
In addition to setting the tone offensively, the versatility of Duke’s post players will be vital because of DePaul’s proficiency from the outside. The Blue Demons have three guards that score in double figures—Megan Rogowski, Brittany Hrynko and Chanise Jenkins—that can all heat up from outside.
Rogowski has made 105 3-pointers on the season and Hrynko—the team’s floor general—usually finds the open shooter, handing out 5.6 helpers per contest. Senior forward Jasmine Penny anchors the DePaul attack on the interior, averaging 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
“Obviously, they’re a really talented team offensively,” senior forward Haley Peters said. “They have great guards—people who can shoot and attack the basket, [and] their posts are pretty active as well. It’s going to be a challenge and a good opportunity for us to work on contesting shooters, which is something we haven’t done as well as we want to.”
Aggressiveness on both ends of the court from Peters and the other Blue Devil post players will likely determine the pace of the game, Duke also knows that its transition defense will need to show improvement to knock off the Blue Demons (28-6).
The difference in Duke’s 69-53 loss to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament championship game was porous Blue Devil transition defense.
“[The Blue Demons] like to run, [so] I feel very fortunate that we’ve had some games against similar teams,” McCallie said. “That’s where the ACC tournament has proved critical for us. We’ve got to work very hard in transition defense to stop the ball, get the ball under control, and keep them out of the paint.”
Although Duke will be making transition defense its top priority, DePaul will be focused on finding any way it can to neutralize the Blue Devils’ size. Duke will likely have multiple players that are 6-foot-3 or taller on the court at all times, and the Blue Demons are well aware of Duke’s new ability to overwhelm teams on the boards and in the paint.
In addition to Peters and All-American center Elizabeth Williams, freshman reserves Oderah Chidom and Kendall McCravey-Cooper have emerged as viable options for Duke inside. The duo combined for 31 points and 14 rebounds Saturday.
“We’ve played against size, but we haven’t played against the quality of size we’re going to be playing against tomorrow,” DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said. “Elizabeth Williams is one of the best big players in the country. Her and Haley Peters have a great synergy together, a great chemistry together. The Duke team has had to reinvent itself, and I think they’ve done a good job of getting that done.”
The battle between Duke’s interior play and DePaul’s guard play will define the game, but the ability of the Blue Demons to handle their emotions in a hostile environment will also be crucial.
The Blue Devils will be hoping to make DePaul feel less comfortable on Coach K Court than it did Saturday against Oklahoma.
“This gym is similar to our gym—it’s a smaller gym,” Rogowski said. “We were here last year and played a game, [and] we played yesterday. I mean I feel pretty comfortable with the gym. The floor is just like our floor, it’s not a raised floor so I think it’s to our advantage. We are pretty comfortable playing here now.”