Blue Zone

X Factor: Can Gary Trent Jr. continue his red hot shooting against Louisville?

After winning three straight, Duke and its defense seem to be peaking at the right time. In their last two wins, the Blue Devils shut down both Virginia Tech and Clemson, marking the first time since 2015 that they have held two consecutive conference opponents to fewer than 60 points. 

Duke will welcome Louisville to Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday at 9 p.m. The Blue Zone gives one player from each team that could be the difference in the game: 

Duke: Guard Gary Trent Jr.

Louisville is a very strong defensive team, but has been relatively more vulnerable from beyond the arc than inside the paint. That could open the door for Trent to continue his hot shooting. Although the freshman was a little off against Clemson, he has still shot nearly 50 percent from long range in conference play.

If Trent can get back on his tear, he and Grayson Allen could continue to be a two-headed monster beyond the arc. If the Blue Devils want come away with a win, they will have to be strong from downtown, especially if Marvin Bagley III remains out of the lineup with knee sprain.

Louisville: Forward Ray Spalding

Duke’s newly-minted matchup zone defense has helped it nail down opposing 3-point shooters. But it wasn't quite as strong against post players against Clemson. Six-foot-9 forward Elijah Thomas was efficient in scoring 13 points and grabbing 15 boards for the Tigers Sunday, helping them outrebound the Blue Devils. 

A 6-foot-10 forward nearly averaging a double-double, Spalding could be a similar force for the Cardinals Wednesday. Spalding is fresh off a sparking performance against UNC in which he dropped 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, and will look to continue that momentum against Duke. 

Thoughts on the AP poll: Duke rises all the way to No. 5 after week of carnage

The bottom fell out of the top 10 this week, with seven teams losing at least one game, and Duke took full advantage as one of the biggest risers. The Blue Zone recaps another AP poll shakeup.

Michigan State stays put after roaring past Wildcats

In a week full of surprising losses, the second-ranked Spartans looked like they were well on their way to the most stunning result yet when they fell behind 43-16 at Northwestern Saturday afternoon. They still trailed by 21 with less than 17 minutes left in the game, but put the clamps down on defense to hold the Wildcats scoreless for more than 11 minutes during a 24-0 run to take the lead. Michigan State wound up outscoring Northwestern 38-11 in the second half of their 65-60 win.

The Spartans remained at No. 2 with a number of first-place votes, still sitting behind top-ranked Virginia, which won a tough road contest at Miami this week.

Duke skyrockets with key road win

The Blue Devils did just fine in two games without Marvin Bagley III this week, blowing out Virginia Tech at home and then outlasting Clemson in a physical top-15 matchup Sunday afternoon on the road. The Tigers went on a 10-0 run to tie the game with less than two minutes left, but Duke answered with a 9-0 run to close it out, sparked by three free throws from Gary Trent Jr.

Duke jumped from No. 12 all the way to No. 5, capitalizing on losses by Cincinnati, Purdue, Texas Tech, Ohio State, Auburn and formerly No. 11 Clemson. North Carolina became the third ACC team to join the Blue Devils and Virginia in the top 10, moving up to No. 10 on the heels of a five-game winning streak.

Villanova rebounds with top-five victory

Mired in a bit of a slump with two losses in their previous three games, Villanova responded with a convincing 95-79 road win at Xavier Saturday in a matchup of the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the country. The Wildcats shot 16-of-34 from 3-point range in the victory and kept themselves in contention for the Big East regular-season title.

The win helped Villanova stay put at No. 3 despite a road loss at Providence earlier in the week, and the Musketeers did not suffer too much either thanks to the carnage beneath them, staying put at No. 4.



1. Virginia

2. Michigan State

3. Villanova

4. Xavier

5. Duke

6. Texas Tech

6. Gonzaga

8.  Kansas

9. Purdue

10. North Carolina

11. Cincinnati

12. Auburn

13. Wichita State

14. Arizona

15. Clemson

16. Ohio State

17. Michigan

18. Rhode Island

19. Tennessee

20. Nevada

21. West Virginia

22. Saint Mary's 

23. Houston

24. Middle Tennessee

25. Florida State

Take of the week: Despite success, Duke is not better without Bagley

Every week, the Blue Zone will make a take on college basketball. This week's hot take is in from staff writer Andrew Levy, refuting recent claims that Duke is a better team without its top recruit in the lineup.

I do not think this team is better without Marvin Bagley III. This is not a case of the Ewing theory, Bill Simmons’ theory where a team plays better without its star player. Bagley is a top-five player in college basketball and before his absence the Blue Devils had the second most efficient offense in KenPom history. However, while Duke is not a better team without him, Bagley’s time off has helped reorient the Blue Devils for better success when he returns. 

Since Bagley has been out, Grayson Allen has been the primary ball handler for Duke. Allen’s usage rate this year and his player efficiency rating during conference play have both been the lowest of his career. Since Bagley’s injury, both Allen’s usage rate and efficiency rating have gone up a full point. Against North Carolina the Jacksonville, Fla., native attempted just one shot in the paint and only two free throws. In the three games since Bagley’s knee injury, Allen has been more aggressive offensively, averaging about three shots in the paint and six free throws per game. 

With Bagley out of the starting lineup, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been able to tinker with the lineups and give more minutes to his bench. With Trevon Duval struggling, Krzyzewski initially went with the starting lineup that included Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell. Bolden, who is second on the team in block percentage, has given Duke an extra defensive presence with his increase in minutes. With the shift to zone defense, Krzyzewski has relied more on Jack White and Javin DeLaurier for key minutes for the low wing positions in the zone. Since Bagley’s absence, Duke has jumped from 78th to 41st in KenPom’s adjusted defense rankings. 

The removal of Bagley from the lineup has given an increased confidence to the players around him. Allen has been much more aggressive without him in the rotation. Duval has since returned to the starting lineup and has been much improved, cutting down on his turnovers and even chipping in with 12 points against Clemson. The role players also have been given a chance to develop in time for both the ACC and NCAA tournament. Considering all the development behind the scenes for Duke, the injection of Bagley back into the lineup should give an added boost to a team on the rise, not regress the team back to its state before his injury.

Beyond the arc: Duke rides Allen, strong defense to its biggest road win of the season

After falling to North Carolina, No. 12 Duke has now rattled off three straight wins with a 66-57 victory at No. 11 Clemson Sunday. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats from the win and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways: 

1. Duke can handle playing on the road 

Heading into Sunday’s contest, there were serious questions as to whether Duke could handle playing on the road. The Blue Devils looked rattled after consecutive road losses to St. John’s and North Carolina, but they stepped up in a hostile environment against the Tigers. 

Duke had every chance to fold late—it squandered a 10-point lead, leaving it facing a tie at the two-minute mark. But the young Blue Devils stood tall, finishing the game on a 9-0 run to come away victorious even with the crowd roaring at Littlejohn Coliseum. Duke has just one regular season road game left, at Virginia Tech Feb. 26. 

2. Blue Devil defense is for real 

Ever since Duke transitioned to a matchup zone defense Wednesday against Virginia Tech, it has looked like an entirely different unit. The Blue Devils have allowed an average of under 55 points per game against two strong offensive teams in the Hokies and Tigers. 

Certainly, Duke’s scoring has gone down as well, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski must be thrilled about the turnaround his once-shoddy defense has undergone. The Blue Devils will have to keep up this pace if they want to have a chance to make a deep run in March. 

3. Duke can win without Bagley

With Marvin Bagley III on the floor this season in conference play, Duke has given up nearly 74 points per game on average. In the last three games without him, the Blue Devils have yielded fewer than 60 per game. Certainly, the offense has taken a dip, dropping about 10 points per game, but Duke has netted four points per game better without him. 

The Blue Devils have been playing a different style on offense, allowing more space on the floor for Grayson Allen to work and get out of his slumber. Although Bagley being out might not be what Duke fans want, so far, it has produced better results for Duke. 

Three key stats: 

1. 22-of-26 from the line

Duke got to the line early and often, and didn’t squander its opportunities. Despite struggling at times from the charity stripe this season, Blue Devils missed just four free throws. Gary Trent Jr. nailed three in a row in the closing minutes to seal the deal. 

2. 19 points from Allen

With Bagley off the floor, Allen has had more room to operate as an offensive threat, and he has certainly cashed in on that opportunity. Although he was quiet in the second half, he finished the game with 19 points to lead Duke. 

3. Marcquise Reed shoots 3-of-14 from the floor

Duke came into Sunday knowing it would need to shut down Reed, and it did just that. The Tigers' leading scorer finished just 3-of-14 from the field, including 1-of-6 from deep. As a team, Clemson shot just 25 percent from the floor. 

Looking forward:

This can only be seen as one of the biggest wins of the year for Duke. 

Even without Bagley, it overcame its road demons and locked in on defense. The Blue Devils are at the best position they have been in all season: in control on both sides of the floor. A sweep of the rest of the regular season schedule could very well be in store. 

HALFTIME: Duke 35, Clemson 34

CLEMSON, S.C.—Following his big outings in wins against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, senior Grayson Allen has made his mark all over a back-and-forth contest Sunday afternoon. 

Through 20 minutes of play from Littlejohn Coliseum, No. 12 Duke leads No. 11 Clemson 35-34 in a crucial conference contest behind 17 first-half points from Grayson Allen. Neither team led by more than six points in the opening half and both sides struggled through various stretches of sluggish play. 

The Blue Devils got off to a slow start and did not hit their first shot from the field until an Allen triple at the 14:54 mark. Although Duke looked to play through freshman Wendell Carter Jr. early in the game, the Tigers aggressively denied entry passes and warded off the paint from penetration. Carter finished the first half with just two points on a pair of late free throws and had a minimal impact on offense. 

But Clemson allowed the Blue Devils to stay in the game due to its inability to defend without fouling. Duke connected on its first 11 free-throws and Allen, in particular, lived at the foul line with a perfect 7-of-7 mark. Allen was able to find his stroke from beyond the arc once again and hit a pair of triples. 

After Clemson stretched its lead to 25-21 with seven minutes remaining in the half, Duke’s captain began to take control of the game with a 7-0 run of his own that was punctuated by a thunderous transition slam. Only one Blue Devil outside of Allen finished the half with more than three points. 

Playing without Shelton Mitchell—who suffered a concussion in the Tigers' loss to Florida State—and already without senior Donte Grantham, Clemson went to a score by committee approach and used strong ball movement to beat the Blue Devil zone. The Tigers assisted on 11 of their 13 made field goals. Forward Mark Donnal led the way for the home team with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting off the bench. 

Here are a few observations from the first half: 

  • Head coach Mike Krzyzewski opted to start sophomore Javin DeLaurier in place of Marques Bolden against the smaller Tigers lineup with Marvin Bagley III out again due to a knee sprain. 
  • Krzyzewski went deeper into his rotation Sunday afternoon, as Alex O’Connell and Jack White also saw time on the floor. 
  • White got on the scoreboard with a rare blow-by past a defender for an easy dunk. 
  • Freshman Aamir Simms ignited a mostly tame Clemson crowd with a posterizing dunk on DeLaurier. Simms finished the half with eight points and helped battle Duke’s bigs down low.  
  • Allen was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul when he grabbed Marcquise Reed’s jersey to prevent an easy fast-break opportunity. 

Key three: Duke's offense needs to continue running through Grayson Allen

After one of its best defensive performances to date this year, No. 12 Duke will travel to take on No. 11 Clemson Sunday at 1 p.m. The Blue Zone gives three keys for the Blue Devils to come out on top: 

Continue to play through Grayson Allen

After a myriad of struggles throughout conference play, senior Grayson Allen finally seems to have found his stroke. 

With freshman Marvin Bagley III out nursing a mild knee sprain, Allen has stepped up over the last two games, grinding out his best two performances of conference play. Despite shooting woes in Sunday’s 23-point outburst against Georgia Tech, Allen showed a level of physicality that has been nonexistent for much of the season, getting to the line 10 times and converting on each opportunity. 

The Jacksonville, Fla., native finally turned in a vintage Grayson Allen shooting performance Wednesday, when he tied his season-high with seven made 3-pointers in a 25-point performance. Duke will need to continue to ride the veteran's hot hand and feed him when possible against Clemson, which has been particularly prone to giving up 3-pointers.  

Lock down the perimeter

Clemson predominantly attacks its opponents from the perimeter, and have done so with success. 

The Blue Devils will especially need to watch out for Gabe DeVoe, who leads the team in 3-pointers and 3-point shooting at 43.4 percent. Especially with guard Shelton Mitchell likely out with a head injury, if Duke can shut down the Tiger’s primary perimeter threat, they will likely not be able to recover. 

Clemson does not have a player taller than 6-foot-9 and could struggle getting to the basket with 6-foot-11 Marques Bolden and 6-foot-10 Wendell Carter Jr. patrolling the interior.

Dominate on the glass

Playing against a relatively undersized Clemson team, Duke will especially need to take care of business on the boards. Although the Blue Devils will be without their leading rebounder in Bagley, they still have Carter, who has averaged nearly 10 rebounds per game in the post. 

Duke will also need its perimeter players to step up and be aggressive on the boards. The Tigers' abundance of 3-point attempts will likely also lead to a plethora of long rebounds, which the Blue Devils struggled mightily to corral with in a road loss to North Carolina.   

X Factor: Can Wendell Carter Jr. and Duke score inside against Clemson?

After downing Virginia Tech Wednesday night, Duke will travel to Clemson Sunday to take on the No. 11 Tigers. The Blue Zone gives one player from each team that could be the difference in the game. 

Duke: Forward Wendell Carter Jr. 

It's a foregone conclusion: Duke will get open shots from deep against Clemson. Although the Tigers have one of the best defenses in college basketball, they have been vulnerable from beyond the arc, something Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. should be able to exploit, especially with how how they have been and Marvin Bagley III's status for Sunday still uncertain. 

But whether Duke can penetrate and score inside the arc will determine its fate Sunday. Wendell Carter Jr. will be key to the Blue Devils' efforts inside the paint Sunday, and will have to grapple with forwards David Skara, Mark Donnell and Elijah Thomas down low. 

Without Bagley on the floor, Carter has posted back-to-back double-doubles, including a 19-point, 10-rebound outing against Georgia Tech on Sunday. Especially if Bagley is out, Duke will need that sort of production from the freshman big man if it wants to flummox Clemson's stout defense. 

Clemson: Guard Clyde Trapp

After star guard Shelton Mitchell went down with a scary head injury Wednesday against Florida State, the Tigers will likely be without him on Sunday. That leaves Clemson thin on guard depth—where Clyde Trapp comes in. 

The freshman has carved out a role for himself off the bench after hardly playing at the beginning of the year, playing 13-plus minutes in his last four ACC games. He was the only guard to come off the bench against the Seminoles, so it figures that he will have to assume a starting role. Trapp was not highly-touted coming out of high school, but has shot the three-ball well in a very small sample size this year, shooting 6-of-14 from beyond the arc. 

Trapp will have to grow up fast if the Tigers want to walk off the court Sunday with a win. 

Beyond the arc: Duke's new matchup zone defense stifles Virginia Tech

Without freshman star Marvin Bagley III for a second consecutive contest, it was the Grayson Allen Show as Duke easily dispatched Virginia Tech 74-52 Wednesday night in Durham. The Blue Zone gives three takeaways and stats from the game and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways

1. Everybody do the lineup shuffle

Sunday night in Atlanta, it was Alex O'Connell and Marques Bolden making their first starts of the season as Trevon Duval came off the bench for the first time. And with Bagley still out, Bolden was among Duke's first five against the Hokies, but Duval, not O'Connell, began the game on the floor.

Nonetheless, it was a mashup of players filling in—although all of the Blue Devil starters besides Bolden played at least 31 minutes, five others played at least four minutes despite only getting seven points from that group, all from Javin DeLaurier. O'Connell played just four scoreless minutes. 

2. Super G's

While the world may be paying attention to the Super G races on the slopes in South Korea, there were a pair of Super G's inside Cameron Indoor shooting the basketball. Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. carried the offensive load for Duke, and Allen's performance was arguably his best since putting up 37 points back in November against Michigan State. 

The Blue Devils may lack depth in the shooting department, but if Allen and Trent continue to shoot like they did against Virginia Tech, teams will have little choice but to spread their defense—likely leaving more room for Bagley and Carter to operate inside.

3. In the zone

There's no question about it: Duke's defense has struggled for most of the season. But holding one of the ACC's most explosive offenses to just 52 points is a huge step in the right direction. The Hokies shot just 42.9 percent from the field on the night and in the second half, made only nine field goals. 

Much of this was due to a Blue Devil adjustment, as they shifted to a 2-3 matchup zone that they had yet to show in a game this season. Duke took away the lane, forcing Virginia Tech into eight turnovers after intermission following a two-turnover showing for the Hokies in the first half.

Three key stats

1. Shooting their shots

Without Bagley's dominant offense in the post, the Blue Devils need to find scoring elsewhere. Wednesday, a large portion of it came from Allen and Trent, who combined to shoot 12-of-24 from beyond the arc and 15-of-28 from the field. The duo was consistent all night long, combining for just three turnovers—and Virginia Tech had no answers.

2. We're gonna slow it down just a little bit

Duke has a penchant for being a high-scoring team, but its 74 points was the second-lowest scoring output all season. Yet, the Blue Devils were efficient, averaging 1.21 points per possession with an average possession time of 23 seconds. And with Duke being effective in the half-court zone defense, it might benefit from slowing the game down just a bit going forward.

3. Crash the glass

If it wasn't enough that the Blue Devils were efficient on offense, they had plenty of opportunities to do so. Duke controlled the rebounding margin 36-19, tallying 11 offensive boards which turned into 18 second-chance points. The Hokies aren't necessarily the biggest team, but it was impressive nonetheless. And outside of Carter's 13 rebounds, it was a team effort on the glass. 

If the Blue Devils are getting extra opportunities and holding their opponents to just one shot per possession, that's a recipe for success.

Looking forward

The next one will be arguably Duke's toughest road test of the season, as the Blue Devils venture south to No. 11 Clemson Sunday afternoon. Including a matchup in Greenville, S.C. two years ago while Littlejohn Coliseum underwent renovations, Duke has lost three of its last four on the road against the Tigers. Clemson dropped an overtime battle with Florida State Wednesday night in Tallahassee, and the Tigers may be without Shelton Mitchell, who appeared to suffer a head injury in the final seconds. 

Either way, a win would put the Blue Devils in the driver's seat for the No. 2 seed in next month's ACC tournament with just four more games in the final 13 days of the regular season after Sunday.

HALFTIME: Duke 36, Virginia Tech 28

Without big man Marvin Bagley III for the second straight game due to a mild knee sprain, Duke relied predominantly on offense from beyond the arc to hold a lead at halftime.

The Blue Devils are in front of Virginia Tech 36-28 through 20 minutes, led by hot shooting from guards Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. from deep. The duo has combined for 27 points and has knocked down 7-of-13 3-point attempts.

Wendell Carter Jr. stepped up on the boards in the absence of Bagley, picking up six rebounds in the first half. Although he was successful defending the paint and crashing the offensive glass, Carter Jr. had trouble keeping control of the ball, with four turnovers.

The Blue Devils had impressive ball movement in the first half, capitalizing off drives to the basket by Allen and freeing up Trent to hit several triples. But when the Blue Devils misfired on catch-and-shoot opportunities, the Hokies took advantage and kept the game tight. Duke relied heavily on 3-pointers, scoring 24 of its 36 points from deep.

The two ACC foes went basket for basket—the Hokies answered Blue Devil triples made by Trent and Allen with open layups and triples of their own in holes in Duke's zone, but the Blue Devils closed the half on a 7-0 run behind five points from Allen to open up a cushion heading into the locker room.

Here are a few observations from the first half:

  • In the first 10 minutes, Duke had eight turnovers, but it had none in the next 10 minutes. 
  • Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White came off the bench early, as Vrankovic batted the ball multiple times to give the Blue Devils offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities. 
  • Duke crushed Virginia Tech on the boards, outrebounding the Hokies 21-9.
  • Although the Blue Devils are shooting worse than 50 percent in the first half, 18 of their 26 attempts are from 3-point range, and they made eight of them.

Key Three: Duke needs to play consistent over 40 minutes

After shaking up the starting lineup for the first time all season, the Blue Devils will look to build on Sunday's victory against Georgia Tech when they take on a pesky Virginia Tech team coming off a road-victory against No. 1 Virginia. The Blue Zone gives three keys for a Duke victory:

Start off the game strong

One of the biggest keys to not only winning a regular season game, but succeeding in March, is to get off to a hot start. Despite being 2-2 over the last four games, Duke has been able come of out of the gates quickly and gain an early lead.

In each of the past four games, the Blue Devils have taken a lead at halftime into the locker room. While, Duke has been able to extend those first-half leads to double digits, the Blue Devils have struggled closing out halves and sustaining those leads. 

If Duke can learn to play consistently for a full 40 minutes, the quick starts will help them become a contender to win the tournament come March. 

Control the glass

Over the course of the season, Duke has been the nation's top team in offensive rebounding percentage. However, in the last three games, the Blue Devils has been held to two percentage points less than their season average. Duke has especially struggled on the defensive glass during as its last three opponents have averaged about 17 offensive rebounds against the Blue Devils. The nation's leaders in offensive rebounds per game, West Virginia, currently grab about 13 offensive rebounds per game.

On Wednesday, Duke is playing a team that currently ranks 171st in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and a measly 308th in offensive rebounds. If Duke is able to create second chance points on offense and limit them on defense, Duke should be able to cruise to a victory.

Play through Grayson Allen

For the first 24 games of the season, Duke saw the same starting five go out for the beginning of the game with Trevon Duval at the point. However, with Duval’s struggles we saw the return of Grayson Allen as the primary ball handler on the team and successful results ensued.

After going through almost a season-long slump, we saw flashes of a pre-season All-American candidate in the game against Georgia Tech. Allen was able to get off to a quick start in the contest, scoring nine of the team’s first 16 points. Not only was he able to score, but because he was the team’s major ball handler he also chipped in six assists.

The game against Georgia Tech was the first game Allen had over 20 points since the game against Florida State on Dec. 30th. In order for Duke have to achieve its goal of an NCAA championship, the Blue Devils will need Grayson Allen to lead the team through the tournament. If he needs to be the team’s primary player in order to return to form, head coach Mike Krzyzewski should allow him be the main ball handler while Duval sorts through his struggles.