Utah Utes Basketball: Beating Duke the Irish Way

Utes Head Coach: Larry Krystkowiak
Larry Krystkowiak

Breaking news: The Utah Utes play the Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet 16!

Okay, I know that isn’t news unless you have just returned from being stranded on an island, Cast Away style. But, that isn’t the point. The Utes need to find a way to win against the Blue Devils. To do that, I looked at the three close battles Duke lost – twice to Notre Dame and once to NC State. I don’t have the tape, but there are some tendencies the Utes should look to exploit. (I am not just referring to scoring more points.)

Jahlil Okafor – He is expected to be a big part of this game. He is the single most important part to both teams’ game plans. He is also part of the first tendency. Free throws. Okafor averages seven free throws per game. He only makes 51.6% of them. In each of these loses, Okafor shot seven or more free throws. In both the games against Notre Dame, he only made 4 of 15 free throws. On an assumption all the free throws occurred after a missed shot, that would be a 10 point swing. The Utes have at minimum three bigs that can foul. Many would say they have five each to give. I would say Bachynski and Poeltl have four each. Olsen can give up five. But, there are a lot more guards and forwards on the Utes roster.

If the Utes want to win, many are saying that the bigs need to be able to play Okafor one-on-one. I would argue that is true; however, I would like to see a little double teaming by the Utes. Specifically, the Utes should double team with the pure intention to send Okafor to the line. Ever heard of Hack a Shaq?

Wait, don’t double team. Utah needs to stay on their defensive assignments. Duke is one of the best three point shooting teams in the nation, shooting almost 40% from the line. I expect the Utes will be pushing the Blue Devils off the three point line with the plan of forcing mid-range jump shots. In 2 of the 3 loses, Duke shot 17% and 26% from the three point line. This eliminated almost 30% of Duke’s offense. If the Utes can’t slow down Okafor (How about some foul trouble for Okafor? Not happening. He averages 2 fouls per game.), at least shutdown the three point shot.

Finally, it really does come down to scoring points. The Utes need to convert on the offensive end of the floor as they have to this point in the tournament. The two biggest components of the offense have been three point shooting and getting to the free throw line. I expect the three point shooting to continue. The free throw shots may be the issue with Duke. The Blue Devils just aren’t very devilish on the defensive end. Duke opponents only average 9.8 free throw attempts per game. In the games Duke lost, Notre Dame and NC State averaged 23.6 free throw attempts. Foul trouble for Duke could be deadly with their lack of depth. Find a way to get to the line Utah!

Beating Duke. It will be one difficult task, but it isn’t insurmountable. Just follow my game plan:

  • As far as Okafor, don’t double him often. Just make sure and send him to the free throw line when the Utes do double team him.
  • Keep Duke off the three point line by staying on top of defensive assignments. Chase Duke off the three point line.
  • Keep scoring on offense. This must include getting to the free throw line and causing some foul trouble.

There you are Coach Krystkowiak, enjoy the free game plan courtesy of TornBySports.

About the author

Grant Bagby

Since moving to Utah in 2005, I have changed from following all sports in D.C/Virginia to following all sports in Utah. I am a Chicago Bulls fan first (Born and raised by my father), but I am also a hardcore Jazz fan with 7 years of being a season ticket holder under my belt. I started TornBySports to write about the BYU/Utah Rivalry after Max Hall ran his mouth.