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NC State aims for a breakthrough against first-place Duke

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Duke should just let us have this one, if you ask me.

NCAA Basketball: Wofford at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Duke is unique in the college basketball world because its star players are one-year rentals while its spend anywhere from 10 to 15 years on campus. This season, the Blue Devils traded in Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and RJ Barrett for Vernon Carey, Cassius Stanley, and Wendell Moore. Meanwhile, stalwart presences like Jordan Goldwire, Javin DeLaurier, and Alex O’Connell have a combined 34 years of experience.

It’s a mix of unbridled star power and anonymous competency that you will rarely see matched elsewhere.

Duke Offense

2020 Blue Devils Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Blue Devils Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 116.1 (7) 54.0 (22) 18.3 (121) 35.4 (16) 33.9 (143)

The nature of Duke’s attack can change significantly from year to year in adjusting to the strengths of its latest crop of all-star freshmen, but amid all that you can always count on the Blue Devils’ offense to be good. Mostly because it’s run by guys who will be in the NBA pretty soon. I find that tends to help.

Sure it’s artless and cynical and tedious but throwing Nike-branded sacks of cash at mercenaries every year sure does get results.

In league play, Duke ranks first in effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage, and the Blue Devils have eschewed the three-pointer this year. For one thing, the Blue Devils lost a ton of perimeter production off of the 2019 edition; for another, their best player is a mountain of a power forward who presents an incredibly tough matchup in the paint.

Duke isn’t a bad perimeter shooting team by any means (64th in 3FG%), it just prefers to start things with Vernon Carey inside and go from there. That is working out just fine. The Blue Devils shoot it well and also rebound their misses at a high rate, which is a deadly combination. They’ve had problems at times with turnovers, but that hasn’t been nearly enough to derail their efficiency.

Starters

Tre Jones (6’3, 185) — Jones remains an unreliable jump shooter but there’s no question he’s made significant strides overall as a sophomore—his shooting numbers have improved despite a higher workload. Given his size, his 49% shooting on twos is pretty good. He’s also improved his assist rate while drawing more fouls off the dribble.

Cassius Stanley (6’6, 193) — His game still needs refinement, but his athleticism is so off the charts that it’s often good enough by itself. He’s been excellent inside the arc (55.2% on twos) and good enough outside (33.3%) to keep opponents honest. Not surprisingly, he draws a lot of fouls, adding plenty of value that way because he’s a 74% free throw shooter.

Wendell Moore (6’6, 213) — Injury trouble has derailed Moore’s freshman season the extent that it’s not worth reading too much into his numbers. Lately he’s worked his way back into the starting five and was excellent at UNC, going 5-7 on twos. His scoring is coming around a bit, as he’s at nearly 49% on twos in league play, up from his season average of 44%. Don’t expect him to take many threes (if any).

Matthew Hurt (6’9, 214) — Hurt is incredibly efficient and probably could have taken a star turn elsewhere, but instead plays in something closer to a support role at Duke. He’s shooting 40% from three while hitting 57% of his twos and nearly 79% of his free throws. He also rarely turns the ball over.

Vernon Carey (6’10, 270) — How anybody is supposed to stop a guy this big, I do not know. Most haven’t. He accounts for a huge chunk of Duke’s shots and already has attempted 262 two-pointers, to go with 168 free throw attempts. He draws nearly eight fouls per 40 minutes and is a monster on the glass at both ends.

Bench

Joey Baker (6’7, 208), Alex O’Connell (6’6, 190), Jordan Goldwire (6’2, 185), Javin DeLaurier (6’10, 237), Jack White (6’7, 222). Duke does not lack for bench options this season, though only Baker and O’Connell tend to take active roles in the offense. Baker is shooting 42% from three, while O’Connell is struggling. For whatever reason, O’Connell is taking a quarter of Duke’s shots while he’s on the floor which is less than ideal.

Goldwire, DeLaurier, and White make up the Anonymous Brigade. All three are infrequent shooters, each accounting for no more than 11% of the shots while on the floor. (Twenty percent is an average workload.) The score efficiently in their limited opportunities, but their jobs tend to lie elsewhere.

Duke Defense

2020 Blue Devils Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Blue Devils Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Defense 88.4 (6) 45.2 (27) 21.6 (47) 28.0 (173) 30.4 (136)

As usual, Duke ranks among the best in the country at suppressing perimeter offense; it’s one of the more impressive things that the Blue Devils have made routine under Coach K. Only 27.5% of opponents’ attempts this season have come from three, which is an incredibly low proportion in this day and age. The national average is over 37%.

Generally when teams aren’t taking a lot of threes, it’s because they have a decided advantage in the interior to exploit instead. That is definitely not what’s happening here. Duke’s paint defense is excellent—opponents don’t prefer those shots, but don’t really get a choice.

Suppressing threes goes a long way toward sapping the volatility from an opponent’s performance, which helps ward off upsets. It’s a great way to live if you can manage it.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Duke by eight.