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Meet Duke, which is extremely good and large and terrifying

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Having all this NBA talent makes for quite a show.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Since Duke adopted the Calipari-styled one-and-done approach to constructing its rosters, the teams tend to be unrecognizable year-to-year, both in style and substance. But the Blue Devils are always good, even if the faces are always changing. The roster turnover actually makes it more difficult to dislike them these days, since guys aren’t sticking around long enough to amass a proper amount of scorn. (Grayson Allen excepted, of course.)

This particular version of K’s hired guns is fueled primarily by interior scoring and less so by three-point shooting, which makes sense given that Duke has a couple of ridiculously talented freshmen big men.

Blue Devils Offense

Duke OFF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
Duke OFF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
2018 125.5 (1) 57.3 (20) 15.4 (20) 43.0 (1) 34.4 (166) 32.7 (286) 58.5 (11) 36.4 (109)
2017 121.0 (6) 54.8 (29) 16.3 (41) 31.7 (84) 39.3 (72) 38.3 (129) 53.5 (32) 37.9 (53)

A Duke offense hasn’t attempted threes this infrequently since 2007. The Blue Devils are well below the national three-point attempt rate of 37.5%, but that’s not representative of some sort of grand philosophy change on Coach K’s part, this is just who his team is this year. Duke is constantly remolded to the strengths of its current crop of five-star recruits. This year that strength is on the interior.

Duke lacks the diverse perimeter options it has often had in the past—Allen’s still-excellent contributions aside, the only other volume three-point shooter is Gary Trent, who is hitting a modest 36.5% of his outside shots.

This might be a significant problem for a lot of teams, or at least mildly corrosive, but Duke has mutants patrolling the paint, and collectively it is making enough threes to keep opponents honest. That makes the Blue Devils extremely difficult to handle.

When you couple Duke’s elite two-point accuracy with its nation-best offensive rebounding, it may be the best interior scoring team in the country. Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley are preposterous basketball humans who should already be in the NBA, but until such time, they will continue to terrorize and overwhelm college defenses. Who needs threes when you got fours like these.

Starters

Trevon Duvall (6-3, 186) — Duvall’s freshman struggles amount to his inability to find a jumper—he is only 6-38 from three, and he’s also an underwhelming free throw shooter. But he’s made over 56% of his twos, and he’s done a nice job distributing the ball. Duke generally doesn’t need him to be a great scorer.

Grayson Allen (6-5, 205) — With Duke less top-heavy in terms of its shot distribution, Allen isn’t quite the main cog in Duke’s offense he’s been in the past, but he’s still very much essential. He is shooting a career-high 43.6% from three—this is where the balance helps—and he’s been excellent everywhere else, too. It’s not surprising that such a talented guard is thriving alongside Carter and Bagley, who draw all sorts of attention.

Gary Trent (6-6, 209) — Trent’s strength has been as a jump shooter, which is plenty good enough for this Duke team. His two-point inaccuracy (40.6%) is a rare exception within the lineup, but he doesn’t take enough twos for that to be a problem worth mention.

Wendell Carter (6-10, 259) — He’s making 62.4% of his twos, and for good measure he’s also 7-14 from three. Carter is also a fantastic rebounder at both ends—more productive than Amile Jefferson last season, and obviously far more useful at the offensive end. He’s also an elite shot blocker.

Marvin Bagley (6-11, 234) — You have probably heard by now that Bagley is coming off a 30-20 game against Florida State, and that performance partially tells the story of his immense talent but doesn’t fully do him justice, either. Bagley, like Carter, is a brilliant rebounder at both ends. He is averaging 21.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, and Duke has not exactly plowed through a bunch of cupcakes this season. He is a 67.7% shooter inside the arc and has had at least 15 rebounds in four games. What a nightmare.

Bench

Javin DeLaurier (6-10, 231), Marques Bolden (6-11, 246), Alex O’Connell (6-6, 176), Jordan Goldwire (6-2, 172). Duke relies heavily on its first five but for spot duty, the bench is pretty solid. The bigs are great rebounders and effective scorers, though the Blue Devils ain’t gonna be running any offense through them. O’Connell is 11-22 from three. None of these guys will take a lot of shots, but they’re reasonably effective when they do get opportunities.

Blue Devils Defense

Duke DEF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
Duke DEF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
2018 98.6 (73) 48.1 (86) 16.6 (299) 27.3 (114) 23.3 (14) 38.1 (197) 44.5 (41) 36.0 (223)
2017 96.8 (47) 47.4 (41) 17.3 (253) 29.8 (208) 31.2 (79) 28.8 (10) 48.9 (150) 29.3 (4)

If you’ve watched Duke at all this year, you have no doubt noticed the issues that this group has had at the defensive end. Lengthy stretches of poor defense have put the Blue Devils in some holes this season, but they usually find the offense needed to get themselves out of it.

The basic fundamentals have been lacking, which is the risk you take with a freshmen-led team. Duke has been better defending the interior this season, and it is also blocking shots a lot more frequently, because duh. Tall (and exceptionally talented) teams usually play tall.

The size has also discouraged opponents from venturing into the paint, and in very much atypical fashion for Coach K teams, Duke is forcing/surrendering lots of threes. Despite the frequently changing rosters of recent Duke history, K has never bent here. In the KenPom era (since 2002), Duke’s opponents have never cracked a three-point rate of 30%. At least not until now.

This year may prove totally aberrant—it certainly is within the context of the last 15 years—but K seems at peace with letting his gaggle of 6-10 guys close down the paint, leading Duke’s opponents to settle. (That said, Duke’s perimeter defense hasn’t been sparkling, which is part of it.)

There’s dysfunction at this end of the floor, and they could stand to force a few more turnovers, but when these guys transition to the offensive end, there is no better group in the country. Right now that’s all that matters.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Duke by 10.