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Duke is short-handed and incomplete and plenty scary

probably wasn't a foul
probably wasn't a foul
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: 2 p.m. ET, Saturday, Jan. 23



Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Duke vitals

Record: 14-5 (3-3)
RPI: 31
Pomeroy ranking: No. 20
Best win***: 79-71 over VCU (KenPom No. 29)
Worst loss: 77-75 to Utah (KenPom No. 71)

(***Best win or loss based on opponent's Pomeroy Rating, not the scoring margin.)

Adjusted tempo: 69.7 poss/40 minutes (ranks 162nd)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 120.6 (ranks 4th)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 100.4 (ranks 123rd)

Duke roster
Duke schedule
Duke stats 2015 2016

The Duke offense and starters

Duke Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2014-15 56.6 (4) 16.3 (35) 35.8 (32) 39.8 (97)
2015-16 55.0 (17) 14.4 (8) 36.7 (26) 42.8 (45)

Duke looks uncharacteristically human this season, but it ain't for a lack of efficient scoring. If the Blue Devils' ranking holds, it'll be the eighth straight year in which they've finished with a top-10 offense. Coach K can coach him some offense. (It also helps to have great players all the time.)

The Blue Devils are hurting for depth, in general, and specifically at forward, in the wake of Amile Jefferson's foot injury. That setback hasn't done anything to stall this offense, though; the Blue Devils simply changed course, leaning more heavily on their jump shooters. They have plenty of good jump shooters, so this is fine.

In the absence of Jefferson, Duke has a couple of bigs who rarely contribute to the scoring. The Devils are led by Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram, Luke Kennard, and Matt Jones--that's three wings and a lanky guard/forward (Ingram) who is plenty comfortable scoring from outside. Here's a look at how Duke's reliance on the three has changed since Jefferson went down in December:

With Amile (9 games) 33.4
Without Amile (10 games) 41.9

The national average in this category is 35.2%.

While Jefferson has never been a primary contributor for Duke, he at least afforded the Blue Devils the pretense of an inside-out attack. Now they're not even bothering with that charade, since the only option is the mouth-breathing sack of uncoordinated appendages otherwise known as Marshall Plumlee.

So Duke has essentially gone from 218th in 3FGA/FGA ratio to 46th. That's a big shift to the three-ball, but Duke has the luxury of changes like this. They have enough versatile players along the perimeter to handle it without a hiccup, and that's what they've done. In the 10 games since Jefferson got hurt, the Blue Devils have had just two sub-par games from beyond the arc. They've hit at least 34.8% from deep in the rest.

Of course, a heavy reliance on any one thing can be a killer. Against Syracuse, Duke was only 10-37 from three, and that sunk it. Additionally, this version of Duke is not nearly the same threat on the offensive glass as the one that includes Amile Jefferson, who is Duke's best offensive rebounder by a wide margin. Jefferson was having a career year in that category.

With him, Duke rebounded 39.6% of its misses; without him, they're grabbing only 34%. That's still well above average, but they've gone from elite in this category to simply pretty good. NC State's offensive rebounding percentage this season is 39.1, for example, and that ranks 10th in the country. Duke was a tick better, and it had great shooting on its side as well. That Blue Devils offense was frighteningly robust. Now it's a tad less so, though not much, because this team's shooters haven't gone anywhere, and the key to all basketball things is first and foremost that whole shootin' deal.


Derryck Thornton (6-2, 175) -- Thornton hasn't exactly been the revelation for Duke that Tyus Jones was in 2015, but that's no slam on the kid--approximating Jones' role and production in the offense is no easy task. Thornton is proving a capable, albeit infrequent outside shooter. His struggles fall into the standard Short Guy Problems category, which is to say that he is only 38-100 inside the arc. (That's 38%, for those of you who paid $5 to receive your college degree through the mail from UNC.) And that is real dang bad.

Grayson Allen (6-5, 205) -- Although Allen spent most of 2015 buried on the bench, he was effective in the opportunities he did get. This year has seen his workload increase just a bit, and his minutes increase a ton. In a way it's reminiscent of T.J. Warren's ascent from super-sub to the star of NC State's offense. Allen has been tremendous across the board: he's shooting 84.3% at the stripe, 53.8% from two, and 41.1% from three. The accuracy from outside helps to open up dribble penetration opportunities, and he's outstanding at drawing fouls.

Matt Jones (6-5, 200) -- Jones is shooting a career-high 39.8% from three this season, but like Thornton, he's struggling to make shots inside the arc. That's not out of character for him; it's been a problem in each of the last two years. He is an above-average jump shooter and not much else.

Brandon Ingram (6-9, 190) -- Ingram is proving worth every ounce of the hype he earned in high school, as he's shooting well both inside and out. His size makes him particularly tough to stop on the perimeter and he has the touch to make opponents pay for lapses in concentration. His athleticism and reach pay obvious dividends--he's second on the team in block rate and first in steal rate. Still, his deficiencies--namely, his rail-thin frame--are often on display at the defensive end. He can be overwhelmed by bigger and stronger players, and he wasn't much use against Syracuse while the Orange grabbed offensive rebound after offensive rebound. That's not his fault, to be fair. He's much more a three than a four, it's just that Duke has no alternatives at forward right now.

Marshall Plumlee (7-0, 250) -- The latest in a long line of empty buzz cuts wearing a Duke uniform. Man I can't wait for his younger brother, Mullet Plumlee, to finally get to Durham. Marshall is having himself a fine season, relatively speaking, though he remains an afterthought at the offensive end. He'll make a high percentage of his twos, he just doesn't take many of 'em. He's also gotten more free throw attempts than field goal attempts this year, which is impressive. Good offensive rebounder who needs to be better at the defensive end, especially right now.

The Duke bench and defense

Reserves: Luke Kennard (6-5, 180), Chase Jeter (6-10, 240). I'm putting Jeter in the mix here but it's probably a little generous. The freshman big man, who was a top-20 recruit, has found only sporadic playing time up to this point. When he is on the floor, he's rarely a scoring option. He also commits an average of 9.5 fouls per 40 minutes, which is nuts. Earlier this month he managed to foul out against Clemson in only four minutes of playing time.

So Duke's bench basically is Luke Kennard. Kennard is taking on a heavy workload with mixed results: he's 61-66 (.924) from the free throw line and hitting 56% of his twos, but he's making only 30.8% of his threes. That free throw percentage suggests his outside shooting will come around sooner rather than later.

Duke Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2014-15 46.5 (70) 18.6 (204) 30.2 (125) 24.0 (4)
2015-16 48.1 (112) 18.4 (172) 32.9 (284) 25.5 (10)

Since Duke began trading more heavily in one-and-dones, its performance has become more erratic at the defensive end of the floor, as have the team's overall results. The Blue Devils struck gold last year with a trio of elite freshmen that helped form a top-15 defense and led them to a national title. The year prior, Duke finished 116th in defensive efficiency and flamed out with losses to Virginia and Mercer to end its season.

I'm not saying this Duke team's season will end like the 2014 group's did, but unbalanced teams rarely make a lot of noise in March. The Blue Devils are skewed heavily toward offense; they're elite at scorin' the ball and a liability in the stoppin' of the scorin' of the ball.

What sticks out immediately is their defensive rebounding, and here again it's clear the Blue Devils are different without Amile Jefferson. With him, Duke grabbed 68.7% of opponents' missed shots, which is below average but decent. Without him, they're at 65.4%, which is an abysmal number in this era of the ever-disappearing offensive rebound. Like, worse-than-90%-of-college-basketball-teams bad. In conference play, they're dead last in the league.

Jefferson is the best defensive rebounder they've got. Plumlee does a solid job, but it simply ain't enough, since he needs to cover for the undersized dudes around him. That's a lot to ask of a guy, even if that guy is seven feet tall.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Duke by two.