Duke, stacked with blue-chip recruits like Marvin Bagley III and Trevon Duval, is the sort of offensive juggernaut that should be penciled in at least for a Final Four appearance. Four of its five starters score more than one point per play, and the other — Duval — is the team’s most efficient player in isolation, using his length and speed off the dribble to score nearly one point per possession on midrange shots and at the rim. In addition, should an opponent limit Duke’s freshmen, Grayson Allen is in the midst of an underrated senior season, posting the second-highest effective field goal percentage of his career while becoming more efficient throughout the half court (49.6 percent within the arc).

But their propensity to crash the offensive glass ends up having serious repercussions on the ensuing defensive possession.

The team is grabbing 40 percent of its misses, a rate that leads the nation. Going all-in on an offensive rebound leads to 14.5 percent of Duke’s defensive possessions occurring in transition, where the team allows 1.03 points per fast-break play, ranking Duke 189th in Division I, according to Synergy Sports. Since 2011, when the NCAA tournament expanded to 68 teams, only two other Duke squads have ranked outside of the top 150 for transition defensive efficiency, and each were bounced by the end of the first weekend.


It could be more of the same this season, since overzealous offensive rebounding isn’t a recipe for success. Four teams since 2011 have won the national title while also ranking in the top 20 of offensive rebounding percentage: Connecticut (2011), Kentucky (2012), Louisville (2013, since vacated) and North Carolina (2017). Yet, upon reaching the Sweet 16, each of those squads curtailed going for extra possessions and prioritized transition defense. During the last seven NCAA tournaments, 24 of the 28 Final Four squads have significantly decreased their overall offensive rebounding percentages during the postseason.

Year NCAA champion Regular season OREB% NCAA Tournament OREB%
2011 Connecticut 35% 33%
2012 Kentucky 35% 30%
2013 Louisville 30% 20%
2017 North Carolina 42% 36%

The 2015 Duke team provides an example of the adjustments the current Blue Devils can make. They, like this team, also lived on the offensive glass, grabbing 37.4 percent of their misses (32nd in the nation). But once March rolled around, Coach Mike Krzyzewski began to follow conventional wisdom and had his team cut back on chasing possessions, grabbing 24.6 percent of its misses during its title chase.

And it’s not just that 2015 NCAA title-winning team that cut back — Krzyzewski’s squads typically become more conservative attacking the offensive glass once entering the NCAA tournament. Just two continued chasing additional possessions, and both departed the field with a loss in either the first or second round. If Duke were to follow this title-winning blueprint, it’s a matter of cutting three or more offensive rebounds per game.

Year Regular season OREB% NCAA Tournament OREB% NCAA Tournament result
2011 35% 33% Made Sweet 16
2012 35% 30% Lost in first round
2013 30% 20% Made Elite Eight
2014 34% 44% Lost in first round
2015 37% 25% Won NCAA title
2016 34% 24% Made Sweet 16
2017 31% 33% Lost in the second round

The Duke coach will have to decide whether to limit his team on the offensive glass for the sake of a more stout transition and perimeter defense, or hope his Blue Devils undergo an offensive transformation a la Villanova 2016 (in which the Wildcats produced a blistering effective field goal rate of 67 percent during its title run). Duke doesn’t necessarily have to abandon the offensive glass entirely, but they’ll have to ease off or risk being run out of March Madness.

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