The independent news organization of Duke University

Although 8 was enough, the Blue Devils' 6-man rotation is struggling

5 Blue Devils played at least 32 minutes Monday against Miami

<p>Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski played five players 32 or more minutes Monday.</p>

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski played five players 32 or more minutes Monday.

CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Last year, Duke defied the odds and won a fifth national championship with just eight scholarship players and a lone senior leader. Just a few months later, the Blue Devils find themselves with an even shorter bench in the thick of conference play.

And so a familiar question arises: If eight was enough—sometimes barely—can six possibly suffice?

The answer thus far has been a resounding no. Duke has dropped four of its last five games, three of which were suffered at the hands of unranked opponents. The fourth came Monday on the road against No. 15 Miami, by an 11-point margin. If the Blue Devils were sporting a six-man rotation full of experienced players, maybe then they could pull off the seemingly-impossible feat, but with three freshmen playing significant minutes, depth becomes an essential facet of a winning team.

“We’re going to get three guys on 10-day contracts, have try-outs for our student body…. No, we’re just going to try get better,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski quipped. “We’ve got six guys. Our effort was as good as theirs. We’re just not as good as they are. We weren’t out-competed against or anything like that. I’m proud of our guys.”

Depth figured to be a pressing concern heading into Monday’s matchup against the veteran Hurricanes, who boast nine players who play more than 10 minutes per game. And yet, just by examining the postgame box score, the Blue Devils matched Miami in several key areas. Duke out-rebounded the Hurricanes 37-33, scored 11 second-chance points to Miami’s 12 and shot 6-of-20 from beyond the arc compared to the Hurricanes’ 7-of-20 clip.

On paper, the Blue Devils held their own, yet they suffered their most lopsided defeat of the season.

Miami’s veteran savvy was on full display Monday, and with a deep bench for head coach Jim Larrañaga to turn to, the Hurricanes were able to push the Blue Devils around and wear them down. Duke struggled to get any production from its bench—the first basket by a Blue Devil reserve came on a Derryck Thornton layup halfway through the second half—while Miami received a 15-point boost from sophomore Ja’Quan Newton.

With Duke strapped for productive minutes, the Hurricanes represented the opposite end of that spectrum Monday. Senior Tonye Jekiri manned the paint and anchored the defense, and redshirt seniors Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan dominated on the offensive end, tearing apart Duke’s 2-3 zone—an attempt to avoid fatigue. At the end of the contest, all eight of Miami’s players who saw the floor played for more than 10 minutes, which kept the five Hurricanes on the floor at any given time fresh enough to pull away in the second half and hold off a late Duke charge.

“Our guys fought like crazy and they competed and put themselves in a position to win,” Krzyzewski said. “We haven’t played in a game like that all year. It was really physical. Our guys hung in there really well and played through tired. We can’t practice that kind of game because we don’t have the guys. That was the most physical game we’ve been involved in.”

Duke took the floor at the BankUnited Center just two days after playing a tough road contest at N.C. State. With five players playing more than 30 minutes on the hardwood in each of those games, the Blue Devils were running on fumes down the stretch, despite trying to conserve energy throughout the game with the zone.

The result was a Miami offense that ran up and down in the closing minutes, scoring 18 points in the game’s final 4:45 on an endless loop of lay-ups and dunks. 

“We’re not going to quit, we’re going to keep fighting,” freshman Luke Kennard said. “We’re a proud program, a proud team and there’s no quit in the locker room. There’s no solace in the fact that we fought and we lost, but going through experiences like this can only make you tougher.”

Luckily for the Blue Devils, they will have a full week to recuperate before they head south again to take on Georgia Tech Feb. 2. Duke turned in one of its better all-around performances against the Wolfpack after a break from Monday to Saturday, so the extra time to rest and scheme for the Yellow Jackets will likely do the Blue Devils a world of good.

But until Jefferson is able to suit up again and reassume his role as a vocal leader on both ends of the floor, Duke’s six-man rotation will have to simply try to do enough to get by.


Share and discuss “Although 8 was enough, the Blue Devils' 6-man rotation is struggling” on social media.