Blue Devil Nation spent a lot of time today discussing a disciplined, upperclass laden team that plays a three guard lineup and features a versatile stretch four who can score both inside and out. Very efficient on the offensive end, the team shoots a lot of threes and shoots for high percentage — one of the highest percentage shooting teams in the nation. Along with that great shooting, this team distributes the ball very well, assisting on more than half its made baskets. Rebounding is not this team’s biggest strength, but Pomeroy nevertheless ranks its offense in the top five of the country. The defense isn’t quite where the coaching staff wants it yet, but it’s much improved over last season.
Sound familiar? Well, believe it or not, the above paragraph was written not about Duke but about Duke’s next opponent, the Creighton Blue Jays. Duke will be playing a team that seems to be pretty much a mirror image of the Blue Devils. So is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Well, Blue Devil Nation spoke to Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel and asked him just that, along with several other questions. Here’s what he said:
BDN: Creighton appears to be somewhat of a mirror of Duke. They’re a disciplined offensive team, efficient three guard offense, high volume three point shooters, good percentage. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Coach Capel: Well it is who they are. They are a very good team, they are very efficient offensively, I think number one in the country in offensive efficiency. They have one of the premier scorers in all of college basketball in McDermott — in Doug McDermott. They shoot the ball really well and they do a great job executing. They’re very difficult to guard. We feel like at times we’ve been a very good offensive team, a team who can put a lot of pressure — they put a lot of pressure on your defense, with how well they execute, with their talent, and with how well they shoot the ball.
BDN: Obviously, Doug McDermott is the star there. Is Ryan going to have the primary responsibility to guard him?
Coach Capel: You can’t guard a guy like McDermott with one guy. So, Ryan will be matched up with him but our team has to guard him. We have to do a really good job, we have to have an awareness for him all the time. He puts so much pressure on your defense because of how he’s in constant motion and he’s a very, very hungry scorer.
BDN: With Ryan still recovering from his injury and presumably working on his conditioning, is that going to affect how he can defend a guy like McDermott?
Coach Capel: Well, again, that’s why we have to have everyone, it’s not just going to be Ryan. It has to be everyone, we have to guard him. And knowing that he’s going to still get points. The thing that we don’t want him to do is score a lot of points in a very efficient manner. We have to do a really good job of trying to take away his three point shot and trying to take away his free throws, trying to play him without fouling. But, again, that’s going to be a collective group effort from all of us.
BDN: OK, do you expect Greg Echenique to defend Mason one on one?
Coach Capel: Well, it’s something that they’ve done in the past. He’s very physical, big, and a very good defender. He’s a really good player. I would think they would look at that and hopefully Mason’s able to score and maybe they’ll make some changes. But from watching them on film, with a lot of the guys they’ve played, they have played straight up one on one in the post.
BDN: As big as he is, do you think he’ll be able to push Mason off the block? Is that going to be a thing?
Coach Capel: Well, we hope not, we’ll see. He is big, he’s very physical. But again we have to do some things to help Mason as far as screening and Mason has to do some things moving off the ball, in moving without the ball and get in good position.
BDN: Duke is obviously at its best when Seth Curry is “on.” It has seemed in the past that with short rest he sometimes gets a little tired, I guess because he isn’t practicing, perhaps. How do you feel that’s going to affect this game?
Coach Capel: I think he’ll be fine. You know, we had a situation earlier in the year when we were in the Bahamas where he played three games in a row, and he played pretty well in all three games. And Seth has progressively, his injury has progressively gotten better as the season has gone on. And so we think he’ll be fine. It probably helps that it’s a later game on Sunday. But we do need him to be on and we need him to play well. As we need all of our guys to play well.
BDN: Have he and Ryan been practicing this week, I mean most of the time?
Coach Capel: Yeah. They’ve practiced.
BDN: I guess against an efficient offense like Creighton, Duke’s going to have to play very efficient team defense. Before Ryan got hurt, according to computer websites, Duke was a top ten defense. We’re getting back there with Ryan, now he’s played five games, how close do you think we are to being as tough a defensive team as we were before he got hurt.
Coach Capel: Well, we have to be better, certainly. I think we’ve been pretty good throughout, even when Ryan went out. We don’t pay much attention to what a computer says. We try to pay attention to the results, and we’ve been able to win a lot of games this year because our guys have done a pretty good job and stepped up and done some good things defensively, and especially at key moments in the games we’ve been able to get stops. We think, especially as we have our full roster, we’ve been a pretty good defensive team. But, again, Creighton is the kind of team that they challenge you, they really challenge and put a lot of pressure on your defense. I liken them a little bit to a North Carolina, with the way they spread the floor out, Carolina does, and they shoot the ball so well. Creighton does that, and they have a dynamic player, as dynamic as there is in the country, in McDermott, and so they put a lot of pressure on your defense. Our defense is going to have to be really good tomorrow night.
BDN: Let me ask you about Quinn Cook. The first twenty or so games of the season, he was a great distributor, he was really leading the offense, he was a sparkplug. And then he started hunting his shot more, it seemed like. And then yesterday he came out with eleven assists against one turnover. Which Quinn Cook are we going to see moving forward? Are we going to see the dynamic playmaker or the guy who’s hunting his shot?
Coach Capel: Well, we need to see both. Quinn needs to score, and that’s the bottom line. Even in those early games, those twenty games you’re referring to, he still scored the ball. Quinn’s had a heck of a year, and he’s had a heck of a year because he’s been able to find the right balance with both. He needs to be ready to shoot, and take his shots, he needs to be ready to attack off of ball screens and read what the defense gives. But also, he’s been very good this year in distributing and in running our club, and he needs to do that. He needs to find the right balance between both, which is something that he’s done at a pretty good level all year.
BDN: Creighton plays at a slower pace than Duke. Does Duke have any plan for taking control of that aspect of the game, for making them uncomfortable?
Coach Capel: We want to play the game at our pace, we want to try to control the tempo. Again, we have to do a really good job defensively. We have to get back. They actually push the ball, on makes and misses. They get out in transition, and McDermott does an excellent job in transition of early posts. And so we have to do a good job in transition defense, getting back and setting our defense. And then we have be smart with how we defend them. Who we pressure, how we pressure, where we pressure, help. Our talk has to be excellent, all night long. Our ball screen defense, we’re going to be playing a lot of ball screens on those guys and that’s something we have to have an awareness for.
BDN: Historically, Duke has done very well in these short turnaround games. How do you prepare for a team you haven’t seen on one day’s notice. I mean, how do the players get that preparation.
Coach Capel: Well, it’s easy, to be honest with you. Last night, we talked about, first of all we talked about us, we watched some clips from our games. And then we introduced our guys to Creighton. They watched, probably the second half of that game, back at the hotel. Look, our guys watch basketball all year long, so they probably had a good feel, a little bit, some knowledge of Creighton. And then last night, we watched them and we talked about them. So we started our preparation last night with our guys. And then today. We had a good practice, a spirited practice. We went over them some more this morning. Some more of their personnel, went through some of their stuff on the floor. We’ll do it again tonight. We’ll do it again tomorrow, because we have such a long day. But our guys are used to this. Again, in the Bahamas, it was back to back to back. We had three games in a row and we played three different styles. You play Minnesota, where you have a few days to prepare for, but then you play a VCU team that is very unconventional with how they play. And our guys did a heck of a job then we played an incredibly talented Louisville team. And so in some respects we’ve been at our best when we haven’t had as much time to prepare, and hopefully that can carry over tomorrow.
BDN: Do the players feel like they got a little bit of a monkey off their back, with yesterday’s game?
Coach Capel: I don’t think it was a monkey. I can’t speak for them. We certainly didn’t approach it that way. This program is bigger than one game last year.
BDN: I’m sure. It’s just that they seemed a little bit nervous at first. Are they going to be more relaxed moving forward?
Coach Capel: That’s something you’re going to have to ask them. I can’t speak for them.
BDN: OK, that’s fair.
Coach Capel: I thought we did some really good things yesterday. Albany played out of their minds. They played great so you have to give them a lot of credit. They hit nine threes, which is something they hadn’t done. A lot of those threes were contested threes. So you have to give them credit. But our guys showed a lot of resolve at times, where maybe last year we would have wilted, and given up a lead. But we made some big plays and maintained a comfortable lead throughout the game.
BDN: I’ve heard that in the past few years, Duke has adopted the mindset of “every post-season game is a championship game,” and that’s apparently subtly different from what the mindset used to be. Is that true, and if so, why the change?
Coach Capel: You know, that’s probably something you have to ask Coach. I haven’t been here long enough to know what the philosophy was before and what it is now.
BDN: OK, my last question. A lot of fans and commentators seem to equate depth with game experience. But I’ve heard a lot of coaches say that it really is if you have players on the bench who can step up when they’re needed. Do we have eight, nine, and ten guys here at Duke who are going to be able to step up if needed if something comes up against Creighton?
Coach Capel: Yep, we have enough guys. And we’ve proven that all year. Guys have stepped up and done a good job. You know we had a crisis in the middle of the year when Ryan went out, and not many teams have had a guy that’s that important that’s gone out and that’s missed that many games, and we had guys that stepped up during that time. So if it comes to that, we’ll have guys that are ready to step up and help us.
BDN: Right, thank you very much, Coach.
Coach Capel: Hey, no problem, man.