Duke Report

Duke Basketball: Is it Time to Use a Zone Defense?

Mike Krzyzewski, USA Basketball

Photo via USATODAY

Times in the ACC are changing. As the conference expands, new schools are bringing new concepts and styles of play to the league. As this transition begins, does it mean Duke Basketball also needs to change? More specifically—should the Blue Devils incorporate a zone defense?

A zone defense isn’t a foreign concept to Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils have rarely used it over the years, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t familiar with how it works. As coach of the U.S. Olympic Team, Krzyzewski regularly faces opponents who try to use a zone defense to stop Team USA. He also has a close friendship with Jim Boeheim, an assistant on the Olympic Team coaching staff and the architect of the 2-3 zone defense at Syracuse.

Between Syracuse joining the ACC this season and Louisville becoming a member of the conference next year, the Blue Devils are about to face two teams that regularly use some variation of a zone defense.

Coaches often talk about the difficulty in preparing to face a team that plays zone defense. Indiana’s players talked about how they didn’t know what to do against Syracuse’s zone when they faced the Orange in the 2013 NCAA tournament because they were so unfamiliar with it. Their confusion showed as Syracuse upset the No. 1 seeded Hoosiers on their way to the Final Four.

The top priority for Duke will be figuring out how to execute when playing against a zone defense. But if the team was to begin practicing its own zone, wouldn’t that help them learn the best ways to attack against a zone?

This doesn’t mean the Blue Devils need to abandon the aggressive man-to-man defense they currently play, but they will be more prepared in the long run if they have the ability to transition to a different defense depending on particular game situations and the opponent.

However, learning a zone defense is not a simple concept. It requires different positioning and communication by your players. It also impacts the way the team reacts to particular offensive sets. Adding a zone defense to your repertoire isn’t something you can do in the middle of the season—it’s something that a team needs weeks to practice, meaning this offseason is a great time for Duke to start.

Man-to-man will always be the preferred defense at Duke as long as Mike Krzyzewski is the head coach. Overplaying the passing lanes and extending a team’s offense out past the three point line is part of Duke’s identity. And based on the success Duke has had, there’s no reason for that to change.

But to make the Blue Devils more prepared for anything they face, whether it’s during the regular season or postseason, it’s time for Duke to add a new wrinkle to the defense.