The blueprint to beating Duke? It all comes down to …
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The book is out on how to beat No. 1 seed Duke, and it’s all on the offensive side of the court.
You’re a good or even great defensive team? Irrelevant. Ask eighth-seeded San Diego State, which entered Sunday’s game against the Blue Devils with the second-best scoring defense in the nation, but got blown out 68-49 in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
It’s the only time a team has shot more than 50 percent against the Aztecs (27-9) this season. Moreover, they ranked sixth nationally in field goal percentage defense at 37.9. Duke shot 54.5 percent Sunday.
Still not convinced? Ask Virginia, which has the nation’s best scoring defense. The Cavaliers gave up 69 to Duke in a loss at home.
The Blue Devils (31-4) laugh at your defense.
"They got to the rim a little too easy on us with their guards," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "That hasn’t happened the way it did tonight. … They did a great job of finding the 3-point shooters and all the while throwing in at (Jahlil) Okafor every other time down the floor, and he went to work on us."
No, it’s all about the offense. It sounds simplistic enough, but in order to beat Duke, teams have to shoot at a high percentage.
The Blue Devils have been suspect defensively most of the season, so much so that head coach Mike Krzyzewski has even employed the zone defense for basically the first time in his career at Duke. Teams will get open shots. Making them is the key.
The Blue Devils have four losses this season and in each of those loses the opposition shot at least 50 percent from the field. N.C. State, Miami and Notre Dame twice combined to shoot 52.2 percent from the field and 48.3 percent from 3-point range.
What makes Duke so potent offensively is that for the first time in quite a while, the Blue Devils have a balanced scoring attack. They still shoot the 3-pointer with high efficiency, but they also have the dominant center in Okafor, who is projected to be the top pick in the NBA Draft, in the low post.
Double-team Okafor like North Carolina did in its first game versus Duke and guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones will beat you from the outside. Against the Tar Heels, each scored 22 points and went a combined 8-for-14 from 3-point range.
There’s also wing player Justise Winslow, who is as athletic as they come. He can score inside or outside. He’s a nightmare to guard.
Pick your poison.
"You have, I think, the best low post scorer in the country in Jah, we have good shooter and we have guys who can drive," Krzyzewski said. "So, that’s why we’ve been one of the best offensive teams in the country, because we have those components."
Up next for Duke is No. 5 Utah (26-8), which dispatched of No. 4 Georgetown on Saturday.
On paper, it seems the Utes have a puncher’s chance at toppling mighty Duke in Houston. As a team, Utah is shooting 48.7 percent from the field this year, including a robust 40.8 percent from 3-point range, which ranks seventh-best in the nation.
Duke is a 4 1/2-point favorite.
Should the Blue Devils get to the Elite Eight, either UCLA, Iowa or Gonzaga will be waiting. Of the three, Gonzaga would seem to have the best chance at knocking off Duke.
The Zags have the best field goal percentage in the country at 52.4 percent and the fourth-best from 3-point range at 40.5. UCLA and Iowa shoot 44.5 percent and 43.0 percent from the field, respectively. That won’t cut it.
Duke has the fourth-best scoring offense and the third-best shooting team in the nation.
"It starts with Jah, because you don’t just get penetration with a dribble, you get penetration with a pass and then you get results," Krzyzewski said. "So, you move the defense in and out, and Jah, overall, has done a really good job with the double team.
"It’s been really one of the very good offensive teams I’ve had."
Again, your defense is irrelevant.
Well, except for maybe Kentucky.
Follow Brett Jensen on Twitter @Brett_Jensen