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StLouHoo's Preview:

GameDay

Duke Blue Devils

It's a clash of #1 (AP) vs #1 (Coaches) in this highly anticipated and highly promoted clash of national contenders. Duke's been battling injuries the last two games, bringing them back to seemingly mortal status, with an overtime loss to Syracuse taking a little shine off the occasion. Will Duke's stars get hungry enough after last week's struggles to carry the day?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, January 19th, 6:00 pm ET
Location:Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC
TV:ESPN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:
TAPE:Ranks Duke #2, predicts a 70-68 Duke win, 57% confidence
KenPom:Ranks Duke #2, predicts a 71-69 Duke win, 55% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#5 RJ Barrett, 6'7" 202, FR
32.7 mpg, 23.4 ppg, 4.1 apg, .317 3P%
SG#15 Alex O'Connell, 6'6" 183, SO
14.4 mpg, 5.2 ppg, 0.9 apg, .381 3P%
SF#2 Cam Reddish, 6'8" 218, FR
23.6 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, .382 FG%
PF#1 Zion Williamson, 6'7" 285, FR
26.8 mpg, 21.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, .662 FG%
C#12 Javin DeLaurier, 6'10" 234, JR
15.4 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, .886 FG%
Key Reserves
PG#14 Jordan Goldwire, 6'2" 181, SO
8.7 mpg, 0.7 ppg, 0.8 apg, .000 3P%
F#41 Jack White, 6'7" 222, JR
26.1 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, .390 FG%
PF#50 Justin Robinson, 6'10" 202, JR
4.3 mpg, 1.8 ppg, 0.6 rpg, .615 FG%
C#20 Marques Bolden, 6'11" 250, JR
18.5 mpg, 5.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .589 FG%

 

The ABC's of Duke:

A) Yes the trio of Top 5 wings are as good as advertised. RJ Barrett was the #1 overall recruit last year (per 247sports) and projects as the #3 NBA Draft pick this summer (per NBADraft.net). Cam Reddish was the #2 recruit and projects #6 in the draft. Zion Williamson was the #5 recruit and projects to be drafted #1. These three are all legit basketball players, all multi-positional wings with a ton of versatility and natural scoring gifts. Zion has become the sensation due to his highlight dunks and measurables (he's built like an offensive tackle), but he's also an excellent player with good game IQ and fundamentals. Barrett is the lead dog, leads the team in shot attempts at almost 20 a game. Cam Reddish has faded a bit in the pecking order, had more of a quiet season, but is still averaging over 13 points a game, and while he's struggling to finish in traffic, his 36% 3-point shooting makes him a good floor spacer, especially as 3-point shooting is the one area Zion and RJ have struggled (27% and 32% respectively). Ken Pomeroy ranks Zion and RJ the #1 and #6 players nationally so far this season.

Defending them will be a team assignment, though Diakite, Key, and Hunter are uniquely suited to man them up, possessing the combination of size, athleticism, and experience that could check the wonder-triplets' natural talents.

Now about their other 5-star recruit...

B) Tre Jones' potential absence introduces a host of questions. Tre Jones, Duke's 5-star freshman point guard, is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. He has an absurd 5.7-1.0 assist:TO ratio, grabbing 2.1 steals a game and triggers a number of additional turnovers by pressuring ball-handlers into bad passes that his athletic teammates could grab. Duke was able to ditch last year's 2-3 Zone experiment and return to K's man defense roots in large part because Jones was an ideal defender at the point of attack. This Duke defense, ranked Top 5 nationally, is predicated on their ability to generate turnovers and harass ball movement, preventing opponents from getting to run their sets in a patient half-court manner.

What might Duke's defense look like without Tre Jones at the top of the key (AC joint separation vs Syracuse, listed as doubtful for Saturday)? Would we see some zone in his absence? And who might be the offensive facilitator?

We're expecting O'Connell to get the start in his stead, as the sophomore 2-guard played the most minutes against Syracuse of any of the candidates. Goldwire could see some time but will be over-matched against UVA. Duke could opt to go supersized, play 2-big with Bolden at the 5, DeLaurier at the 4, and the trio of wings at the 1-3. However, with O'Connell in the lineup, expect to see RJ Barrett, a gifted ball handler for a player his size, take on more of a floor-general role while letting Reddish and Zion take on the primary scoring responsibilities; that also lets O'Connell staying in his lane as an off-ball floor spacer.

Or maybe Jones takes after the Mongoose and refuses to let silly things like a major injury keep him from a single game. If he does play, expect him to be less than 100%. The injured shoulder was on his shooting side.

C) They want to play at the rim. This team is not a shooting team, making only 31.8% of their 3-point attempts collectively, 267th in the country. The only member of their star freshman class putting up a respectable percentage is Cam Reddish at 36%, who was trusted to hit the game winner at FSU. The rest shoot poorly for future NBA'ers (Barrett is at 32%, Zion at 27%, and Jones at 29%). Alex O'Connell is a reliable gunner as a secondary option (potentially starting this weekend) as a 38% shooter (leads the team). Neither of their centers are a stretch threat, and backup PG Goldwire is 0-12 on the season. Combo forward Jack White had been shooting over 38% before this week, but suffered a disastrous 0-10 (that's not a typo) shooting night from range against Syracuse, dragging his season percentage down to 33%. They still take an average portion of their shots from deep, and when you factor out their many fast break opportunities, you realize that when forced into the half-court they tend to settle for the jumper more than they maybe ought to.

Conversely, this team both wants to and can play at the rim; their 2P shooting percentage 3rd best in the country. They're out in transition for about 24% of their shots, and that's reflected in their breakneck offensive pace which ranks 11th fastest in the country. That's their ideal situation, to score off a primary or secondary break. In the halfcourt, though, the Devils are very effective in a variety of downhill sets, be they isolations, pick-and-rolls (with or without a pass), or put-backs. Really the only 2P action they struggle with is the post-up, but they utilize that so infrequently anyways.

 

Their Season To Date

Duke is 14-2 on the season, and 3-1 in the ACC. They narrowly lost a thriller to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational title game, and had good non-conference wins over Kentucky, Indiana, Auburn, and Texas Tech. They opened ACC play with safe wins over Clemson and Wake Forest before injuries to key players led to a tight win at FSU and an overtime home loss to Syracuse.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Dominate the turnover battle. This one cuts both ways. Duke's defensive excellence this year begins with their elite ability to take the ball from their opponents, leading the nation in steal rate. We mentioned above that Tre Jones has been a significant catalyst to this, but the long, athletic wings behind him have certainly proved adept at using their reach and instincts to make passing lanes treacherous. Once that possession is turned, Duke is off to the races to finish for an easy 2, and even our vaunted transition defense is going to struggle stopping their gifted finishers off live-ball opportunities. Best not to even give them a chance. The Hoos are among the nation's best in ball security, but have occasionally proven susceptible to pressure teams (13 TOs from the rotation vs Marshall, 12 vs VCU). The removal of Kihei's splint should help, as the cast looked to negatively affect him in those games, where he coughed up 7 total TOs between them.

Meanwhile, if Tre Jones is sitting or even playing hurt, Virginia needs to pick on their ball movement when we can force them into half-court sets. Duke's offensive TO rate is good but not elite (59th nationally), and they do give up live-ball steals at a pretty mediocre rate (6.3 a game), and that's with a healthy Tre Jones at the helm. UVA isn't playing for steals quite as aggressively as we did last year, but we're still opportunistic, and an inexperienced Duke team missing their elite PG should be a target of said opportunity.

2) Limit 2nd chances. The Devils are killing teams on the offensive glass this year, 6th nationally in offensive rebounding rate, grabbing 38.5% of their misses, and second chance putbacks account for a healthy 12% of their points. This is a collective effort as well, with Zion, Bolden, and DeLaurier all posting individual O-Reb %'s over 12% (anything over 10% is considered very good). They're being opportunistic by trailing on ball-screen actions, setting a pick for one of the Big 3, then as that wing attacks the basket while bringing the screener's defender with them, the screener trails the play, gets into space for a miss, and quickly converts the put back. It's a pick-and-roll with a missed shot instead of a pass. Less common but still effective are offensive rebounds on fast breaks, where the ball-handler puts the shot up regardless of how good a shot they have, trusting that a very athletic wing or big is behind them to clean up their mess on the secondary break. The Hoos need to have extreme discipline ensuring that the screeners and secondary breakers don't get left unattended where they can use their size and hops to get easy second looks. Getting stops on the first shot is going to be hard enough... we need to hold them to no more than one shot per possession whenever possible.

3) Reduce Duke to a 3-man show. Virginia has done a remarkable job this season taking opponents' supporting casts out of the game. To have a chance at Cameron, they'll have to do the same. Containing Zion, Barrett, and Reddish will be a tall enough task in and of itself, but that can't come at the expense of guys like O'Connell, White, DeLaurier, or Bolden having breakout games thanks to our help defense leaving them open. O'Connell, DeLauier, and Bolden were all solid recruits who, at other schools, likely would've been feature players given big minutes from the get-go; at Duke, however, they've sat behind rent-a-pros and been directed to be deferential, only taking part in the scoring when absolutely wide open. Glue-forward Jack White has a green-light to shoot, and while he rewarded his coaches for that liberty with an 0-10 stat line against Syracuse on Monday, he was shooting 38% from 3 prior to that, so he must be honored on the perimeter.

If we get beat because the future Lottery Picks decide to do Lottery Pick things, that happens, even against other great teams like Virginia. But we can't let players #4-7 be the X-Factors that put Duke over the top. Virginia will be tempted to help on the Big Three, but that can't mean we're giving up easy looks to the rest of the players off the extra pass or offensive rebound. Don't lose sight of those guys, hold them to the barest minimum of offensive contributions. And at the other end of the floor, attack them and see if they're truly up to the task of defending UVA's own cadre of future NBA players.

(P.S. - The less said about Jordan Goldwire and Justin Robinson, the better. I'm sure they're fine kids and teammates, but they're in Durham to be glorified scout teamers. If they're allowed to make a mark in this game, I'll be beyond disappointed.)

 

 

Predictions:

Duke will put three future NBA players on the floor at the tip. But Virginia is one of the few ACC teams who can do the same. Duke's Big 3 are obviously elite talents, but I could make an argument that we're actually rolling out more future NBA'ers than the Blue Devils with Jones out, if I want to be bullish on the futures of Diakite, Key, and/or Huff to make that leap in a year or two (and yes, I acknowledge the difference between their ready-made Top 5 picks and our mid/late-first rounders and future year pros).

Duke hasn't seen an offense like ours since November. We protect the ball. We move pieces frenetically all over the board and force defenses to be incredibly sound with assignments and rotations; how well is this Duke roster equipped to play 30 seconds of defense against the most diverse, intentional offense UVA has had in a generation? Duke's defense, if without Jones, may still be good but I can't imagine it's going to still be Top 5 good. Virginia's offense continues to improve weekly, and with Clark getting healthy, Key getting comfortable, and Huff gaining confidence, there's no reason to think we can't score effectively in this game.

On their offensive end, Duke's Big 3 may be the most impressive core of talent UVA has faced in decades, even better than the title-winning 2015 squad headliners of Tyus Jones, Justice Winslow, and Jahlil Okafor. Like it or not, they're going to do some damage. The question becomes (a) can they do it efficiently, without too many costly mistakes, and (b) will they get any help? If Virginia's defense can force them to play half-court offense (and our offense needs to help here by not giving Duke transition opportunities), and we can goad those stars into making enough errant passes or ill-advised prayer shots, limiting them to one shot per possession, then the Pack Line should do to Duke what other good defenses like Texas Tech (held Duke to 0.84 ppp) or Syracuse (1.0 ppp) were able to, keeping Duke's scoring ceiling in the 60's for the night.

I'm bullish. This is a Wahoo team I'm willing to bet on right now. I don't care if it comes with an asterisk due to Jones being out, Virginia is going to make a statement in Cameron on national TV this weekend.

Hoos Win 72-65