During the previous two seasons, Duke coach John Danowski used the star system to fuel his offense - almost everything ran through All-America attackmen Matt Danowski and Zack Greer. The Blue Devils are using the same offensive system in 2009, but it's now built on balance and a team concept.
A year ago, an opponent had a reasonable chance of beating Duke if it could stop or control Danowski or Greer. But who do you stop now? Do you face-guard attackmen Ned Crotty (21 goals, 47 assists) or Max Quinzani (41, 10)? Or do you concentrate on shutting down midfielders Zach Howell (23, 19) or Brad Ross (20, six)?
And which midfielder do you take on in the second group? Is it Mike Catalino (19, two) or Will McKee (15, six)?
These are some of the decisions sixth seed North Carolina (12-5) will have to make Sunday when the Tar Heels face the third-seeded Blue Devils (14-3) in the second quarterfinal game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"There aren't many teams that like the upbeat tempo like we do, but they are right there with Virginia," said Dom Starsia, coach of the top-seeded Cavaliers. "I haven't seen any other team attacking other teams, banging the ball around like Duke.
"We are the No. 1-seeded team, and I know it's based on an entire season and body of work. But I almost feel like I have to apologize because I don't think any team is playing better than Duke."
No one can blame Danowski for having run most of his offense through Greer and his son, Matt. It was like having Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The younger Danowski finished with a NCAA-record 353 points in his career, and Greer finished with 206 career goals, also an NCAA record.
But one-dimensional teams normally don't win championships. They usually come close, as Duke did in 2007 before losing to Johns Hopkins, 12-11, in the national title game. The Blue Devils were eliminated by Hopkins, 10-9, in the NCAA semifinals a year ago.
It was neither Danowski's nor Greer's fault. Both times, Duke was outplayed by Hopkins.
"I don't think anybody could turn their nose up at Matt Danowski and Zack Greer," Starsia said. "If I were starting a team, they would be the first two players I'd like to have."
That's true. But one-dimensional teams become easier to defend. Sometimes, when the stars are performing, the others stand around and the offense becomes stagnant.
"You have to be aware of the personalities of those stars players, and if your team can absorb those personalities," Towson coach Tony Seaman said.
That was never an issue at Duke, and it certainly isn't one this season. The Blue Devils have standouts like Crotty and Quinzani, but Howell is just as dangerous. The Blue Devils are deep in the midfield, and every player has a green light to go to the goal.
"Their guys are moving the ball around, and everybody is involved in the offense," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said.
John Danowski said: "Last year, our second midfield struggled with injuries and illnesses. Every team has a good first midfield, but you have to have a good second one to be really competitive.
"We have a good bunch of athletes who like each other, like being around each other. Some years guys buy into what you're teaching, and some years they don't. That's what makes it surprising and fun. When you build a team, you hope it goes a certain way. We have a good group."
But Duke isn't all about offense. The Blue Devils have shown a lot of grit on defense with starters Mike Manley, Parker McKee and Ryan McFadyen. Duke has scored 204 goals this season and allowed just 132. A lot of the goals have been scored in transition when defensemen have started fast breaks by scooping up ground balls.
The Blue Devils seem to be peaking at the right time.
"They are moving the ball well now, and they are so unselfish," Starsia said. "They are more balanced, and it's more of a team concept because their defense is playing extremely well, and creating some opportunities. That's a good lacrosse team."