One of famous author Malcolm Gladwell’s best known theories is the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of concentrated practice to become a master at something. His research reveals that this idea holds true over many separate fields including music, athletics and even coaching. There is no substitute for concentrated practice if you want to be great no matter what the subject area.
The Duke men’s basketball team has run head on into this problem late in the year. Despite being highly touted coming into the season as the unanimous No. 1 overall team, the Blue Devils have not been able to get their practice time in and have suffered as a result. Duke has dropped back to back games on the road to teams that the Blue Devils had no business losing to. This has left doubts in the minds of fans as to whether Duke will be able to get things on the right track before the NCAA tournament.
The problem that has led to these defeats is very simple. The Blue Devils simply have not been able to practice enough together as a team. They have been beset by injuries all year as freshmen Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles all were out until December, star Grayson Allen has been dealing with foot and ankle injuries all season and post anchor Amile Jefferson has also been forced to sit out some games. Even legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski missed a month of action due to back surgery. Only two players, rising star Luke Kennard and Matt Jones, have played in every game this season.
These injuries have severely disrupted the team’s chemistry as Krzyzewski has been forced to reshuffle lineups as well as offensive and defensive strategies depending on who is available. At the beginning of the season with Tatum out and Allen severely limited, Kennard established himself as the team’s best player, taking over games and putting up dominant performances.
Tatum’s return forced the ball out of Kennard’s hands more often as Tatum is also a ball-dominant scorer. It took an adjustment period for Tatum to work himself into the flow of the offense and stop trying to take defenders one on one. This also presented problems on the defensive end as Tatum has primarily played power forward despite being undersized for the position, which meant he was easily overpowered in the post at first. The freshman has done a good job adjusting but still faces problems when forced to guard physical opponents.
Duke, in general, has had a tough time dealing with opponents who have point guards who are effective in the pick and roll. Pick and roll defense requires the entire defense to be on the same page and move in sync to stifle the threat. When watching the Blue Devils play, the two main defenders often seem confused on what to do, which often leads to easy baskets for the offense. North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith shredded the Duke defense to the tune of 32 points and six assists, mainly through pick and rolls.
It may be too late for the Blue Devils to figure things out by the time the NCAA tournament starts. At this point in the season, many teams know their identity and what they have to do to win, while Duke is still struggling to work those things out. The Blue Devils need to get their 10,000 hours of practice in together to truly become a team capable of winning it all.