Like North Carolina, Duke came into this season fresh off a Final Four appearance with aspirations of making it back to college basketball’s biggest stage.
And like their Tobacco Road counterpart, this Duke team hasn’t quite lived up to the preseason hype, slowly sliding down the AP poll until dropping out altogether earlier this month.
This iteration of the Blue Devils has a prototypical one-and-done build, with four first-years in the starting lineup led by one veteran floor general in junior guard Jeremy Roach. With first-year head coach Jon Scheyer at the helm, Duke has struggled to string together wins in conference play, losing four of its last 10 ACC matchups.
Duke boasts one of the tallest rosters in college basketball, and it has influenced the team’s style of play. While Roach and first-year Tyrese Proctor share ball-handling duties, the offense runs through first-year center Kyle Filipowski.
The seven-footer from Westtown, N.Y., is agile for his size, being able to space the floor, slash to the basket and distribute the ball. Plus, he’s only elevated his game as the season’s gone on, averaging 18 points and 11.8 rebounds over his last six games. Few ACC teams rely on one player as much as Duke relies on Filipowski — when he’s on the court, 29 percent of Duke’s possessions result in a Filipowski make, miss or turnover.
Several talented big men complement Filipowski in the frontcourt. Dereck Lively II, a 7-foot-1 first-year, has blossomed into an elite rim protector while Ryan Young, a graduate transfer from Northwestern, is one of the most efficient offensive rebounders and low-post scorers in the country.
Two talented first-years in Mark Mitchell and Dariq Whitehead are significant contributors as stretch forwards. Mitchell is a solid defender and converts his 1.5 3-point attempts per game at a 39.4 percent clip. Whitehead, a consensus 5-star recruit, possesses big-time potential but has been hindered by nagging injuries throughout the season, most recently spraining his left leg in a loss to Virginia Tech on Jan. 23.
While most players in the Blue Devils’ rotation aren’t afraid to shoot the ball, they don’t rely too heavily on 3-pointers. In fact, only 32.5 percent of Duke’s total points come from 3-pointers, which is in the bottom third of all Division I teams. Part of this could be the team’s subpar 3-point shooting percentage of 32.5 percent.
Another factor dragging down Duke’s offense is their ability to take care of the ball. The Blue Devils have a negative turnover margin, and that issue has been especially apparent in losses — they committed 21 turnovers in a 24-point loss to N.C. State on Jan. 4.
But for what Duke lacks in offensive cohesion, they make up for in stifling defense. The Blue Devils allow an average of only 63.7 points per game, the program’s lowest mark since 2010.
Scheyer likes to utilize a full-court press, and his team is exceptionally good at forcing their opponents to take tough shots. While the Blue Devils don’t force a remarkable amount of turnovers, they lock down the perimeter and crash the defensive glass hard.
Against a team like UNC that also grabs a lot of rebounds and struggles to consistently make 3-pointers, winning the battle for the boards and running a patient offense could be the key to coming out on top on Saturday.
@dthsports | email@example.com
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.