Final Four Preview: Duke Blue Devils

For years, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has used a variety of sets to maximize the skill sets of his stars. This year has been no different. And while much of the 2021-22 season saw the Blue Devils primarily playing out of basic concepts (i.e., ball screens, drive and kicks, etc.) in the half court, Krzyzewski has leaned on his Horns playbook in the first four games on this year’s NCAA Tournament. Let’s go inside the XsOs.

Horns Elevator

Probably the most-discussed Duke Horns set this March has been its elevator action for AJ Griffin. What makes this set so effective is that, even though the defense knows it’s coming, there are still scoring options based on how the defense plays things.

  • In Frame 1, if the defense (x4 or x5) doesn’t show on the elevator screen, there’s a look from deep for the shooter.
  • In Frame 2, if the defender (x5) shows, there’s a slip to the rim (or, if the defense switches, then a smaller defender is guarding 7-footer, Mark Williams).
  • In Frame 3, if everyone plays the elevator action correctly, the ball handler is still left with the entire right side to make a play for himself.

Horns Ball Screen

In Paolo Banchero, the Blue Devils have a 6’10” guard who can make a play in the pick and roll. And when given space to operate, Banchero has the skill to score it himself or the IQ to make a play for a teammate. 

Duke Blue Devils - Horns Ball Screen - Powered by FastModel Sports

If the defense switches, the opponent’s big is left trying to stay in front of the quicker Banchero. If a stunt or show comes from a help defender, Banchero has shown the ability to find the corner shooter. The skilled passer can also drop it to Williams for a finish at the rim.

Horns Flex

Duke also ran plenty of flex action out of its Horns package to continue working the ball into the elbow and post areas.

Duke Blue Devils - Horns Flex - Powered by FastModel Sports

Paolo Post Ups

During their four-game run in the tournament, when the Blue Devils needed a bucket, they’ve actually used something other than a Horns action. With Banchero typically matched up against a smaller defender, Duke has used Wendell Moore as a screener to get Banchero the ball in the mid-post. 

Duke Blue Devils horns elevator

In the West regional final, the Arkansas attempted to deny Banchero the ball on the post entry. Instead of forcing the issue, the Blue Devils simply ran a weak side pin down drawing away the help defense. Then they proceeded to throw over the top of the post defender for a look inside for Banchero.

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Duke faces a familiar opponent in this Saturday’s semifinal vs North Carolina. It’ll be interesting to see if the Blue Devils go to their favorites, or if they’ll have something new in their game plan for the Tar Heels.

Want more Xs & Os from Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils? Check out my Coach K playbook over at


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