The Duke men’s basketball team has established itself as a national championship contender behind a squad of young NBA prospects.
Here’s a midseason report card for the Blue Devils before the UNC-Duke matchup in Chapel Hill on Feb. 5.
The sheer size of the Blue Devils’ frontcourt is overpowering for most opponents. Headlining this group is first-year phenom Paolo Banchero, a rim-running power forward that can also stretch the floor. Banchero leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 17.6 and 8.3 rebounds a game.
Alongside Banchero is one of the best defensive players in the country in sophomore Mark Williams. The 7-foot-1-inch center was recently named to the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Watch List and blocks an ACC-best 3.3 shots per game.
Rounding out the frontcourt starters is first-year forward AJ Griffin, whose 3-point shooting ability provides a nice spark for the Blue Devils’ offense. Coming in behind that group is sharp-shooting senior Joey Baker and graduate forward Theo John, who both provide solid minutes off the bench.
Duke’s starting backcourt has undergone multiple adjustments this season, though some combination of first-year Trevor Keels, sophomore Jeremy Roach and junior Wendell Moore Jr. occupies both guard positions.
Keels turned heads when he scored 25 points against Kentucky to open the season, but he’s struggled with inconsistent shooting ever since. On Jan. 18, he injured his lower leg in a loss to Florida State and missed the following two games.
Roach and Moore have served as the floor generals in Keels' absence. Both are adept playmakers who rack up assists in the Blue Devils’ high-powered offense. Moore leads the team in assists with 4.6 per game, while Roach’s 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio is among the best in the ACC. On top of that, Moore is one of the best scorers on the team, with the ability to slash and hit shots from deep.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski is known for playing with a tight rotation, and that holds true in his final season.
Since Griffin was inserted into the starting lineup earlier this month, Roach and Baker have typically been the first players off the bench. Behind those two, there’s not much depth. John has seen his minutes significantly decrease since the start of conference play, and graduate transfer Bates Jones has been used sparingly.
The Blue Devils undeniably boast one of the best offenses in the country. They do just about everything well, from playmaking to shooting to the fast break offense. They share the ball and limit turnovers, leading the ACC with 18 assists per game and ranking third in the nation with a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The scoring is mostly driven by Banchero and Moore, but just about every player is willing to shoot from behind the 3-point line. Of Duke’s eight consistent rotation players, six have attempted at least 50 threes.
In addition to having a defensive anchor like Williams, Duke makes opponents uncomfortable on the perimeter. Moore has particularly made perimeter defense a point of emphasis this season, and his efforts are a huge part of why the Blue Devils have held their opponents to under 30 percent shooting from three.
Biggest Weakness: Away Games
The biggest criticism one can levy against Duke is its lack of success during away games. The Blue Devils have gone into enemy territory just four times this season — the fewest of any ACC team — and they have lost two of those games.
On the other hand, the Tar Heels have played exceptionally well in the Dean E. Smith Center this season, winning their first 12 home matchups. But despite each team's contrasting level of success at home and on the road, as any college basketball aficionado knows, anything can happen for the sport's biggest rivalry.
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