Blue Zone

Beyond the arc: Duke picks up another ugly win against Syracuse

It wasn't as pretty as Duke's first two wins in the NCAA tournament, but the Blue Devils managed to squeak by Syracuse 69-65 to advance to the Elite Eight. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats from the win and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways

1. Duke stays mentally strong down the stretch

Before Friday, the Blue Devils hadn't won a game by five points or fewer since November in the PK80 Invitational, losing six such games in a row. But they finally made the key plays to finish when it mattered, as Gary Trent Jr. sank a runner in the paint with less than a minute to go and then two free throws with seven seconds left to seal the victory.

2. Grayson Allen is Duke's most comfortable ball-handler

Trevon Duval had a setback after an impressive pair of performances last weekend, only managing two points and three turnovers against the Orange. Allen became the Blue Devils' primary ball-handler for much of the game and had eight assists with just one giveaway, delivering several accurate lobs to Marvin Bagley III for dunks.

3. Survive and advance

Duke certainly didn't play anywhere near as well as it did last week in a 25-point blowout of Rhode Island, shooting very poorly from the field and getting outrebounded in the first half. But the way the Blue Devils won doesn't matter in the NCAA tournament, and they will live to see another day.

Three key stats

1. Duke shoots 5-of-26 from beyond the arc

Neither Allen nor Gary Trent Jr. had efficient nights at all against Syracuse's 2-3 zone, with Allen launching 14 3-pointers—including many from several feet behind the line—and only making three. The Blue Devils only shot 2-of-18 from long distance after the break, but still managed to emerge victorious.

2. Duke grabs 10 second-half offensive rebounds

A lot of those missed triples in the second half were mitigated by the Blue Devils' many offensive rebounds, including six from Bagley. Duke scored 17 second-chance points, four more than the Orange—which proved to be the final margin of the game.

3. The Blue Devils only commit seven turnovers

For the most part, Duke stayed disciplined against the Orange's zone, working the ball carefully into the middle or behind the zone to a big man on the baseline. The Blue Devils' seven giveaways were their fewest in a game since Jan. 10 at Pittsburgh.

Looking forward

After all of Duke's ups and downs this year, the Blue Devils are one of the last eight teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, just one win from a berth in the Final Four in San Antonio. To get there, Duke will have to beat the top seed in the Midwest, a veteran Kansas squad that will be playing a virtual home game in Omaha, Neb., just a three-hour drive from campus.

HALFTIME: Duke 34, Syracuse 27

OMAHA, Neb.—Vegas might have had the Orange as heavy underdogs entering Friday's regional semifinal matchup, but don't tell that to Jim Boeheim's squad.

With 20 minutes in the books at the CenturyLink Center, Duke holds and advantage on conference foe Syracuse, leading 34-27 in a Sweet 16 battle. The Midwest region's second seed has struggled to contain the Orange, surrendering three triples after Syracuse managed just 16 first-half points in the season's first contest at Cameron Indoor last month.

If there was any question whether this all-ACC rematch was going to be yet another defensive slugfest, the first few minutes suggested otherwise—the Blue Devils and Orange scored a combined 20 points in the first five minutes, hitting eight of their 14 field goal attempts.

But with two of the four best defensive teams left in the NCAA tournament on the floor, the offensive pace slowed as the Duke and Syracuse zones tightened up. The Blue Devils forced 12 turnovers in the half despite allowing the Orange to shoot better than 42 percent from the field.

After falling behind 17-14, however, Duke picked up the offensive pace thanks to Bagley. The star freshman logged five points in less than three minutes as the Blue Devils snagged their first lead since the game's opening minute. Bagley combined with classmate Wendell Carter Jr. to score 17 of Duke's points before intermission.

Out of the under-four media timeout, Grayson Allen canned a pair of free throws to ignite the Blue Devil offense in the final few minutes of the opening stanza. With a 10-0 run in the last 5:20, Duke seized control of the lead as it headed to the locker room.

Here are some other observations from the first half:

  • Syracuse's Marek Dolezaj picked up a third foul at the 7:57 mark, sending him to the bench for the rest of the half. The Orange typically use just seven rotation players.
  • Trevon Duval once again led the charge for the Duke offense, sparking the Blue Devils with three first-half assists.
  • Duke struggled to control the glass against a long and tall Syracuse side, with the Orange leading the rebound battle 19-12.
  • The Blue Devils are taking advantage of a big disparity at the charity stripe: Duke is shooting 11-of-16 at the line, while Syracuse has taken just two free throws.

Key three: Duke needs to attack Syracuse's big men inside

Fresh off a thumping of Rhode Island, the Blue Devils will face off against a familiar foe in Syracuse for the right to head to the Elite Eight. The Orange, which was not expected to make it into the tournament by many, let alone this far, will look to continue its run after a shocking win against Michigan State. The Blue Zone looks at the three keys to the game:

Connect from long range

With Syracuse’s suffocating guard play at the top of key in a zone, entry passes into the paint are very difficult to come by for opposing offenses as the shot clock winds down. The Spartans were forced to chuck up 37 threes and connected on just eight. Although Duke’s big men are certainly more heralded than the likes of Jaren Jackson Jr and Nick Ward, the Blue Devils were forced to shoot 18 threes in their slog of a 60-44 victory Feb. 24, making just two. 

Senior captain Grayson Allen struggled in particular, going 0-of-6 from deep. If the Blue Devils hope to establish more of a separation on the offensive end this time around, Gary Trent Jr. and Allen must be firing on all cylinders as they have been thus far in the Big Dance and Trevon Duval needs to hit the occasional deep jump shot to keep the defense honest.

Attack Syracuse’s big men

Much like Duke, the Orange has a thin bench, which may be a point of emphasis of attack for the Blue Devils' offense. Primary big men Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu both found themselves deep in foul trouble against Michigan State, both playing with four fouls at the end of the game. Either fouling out would have threatened the effectiveness of the zone and certainly stemmed the upset bid.

If Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter hope to find easy buckets, especially in the later stages of the game, they need to attack early and often. Instead of settling for mid-range jumpers or floaters, the freshmen duo needs to take the ball to net, initiating contact and forcing the officials to make calls. Although they may not see results early, the aggressive mentality might certainly pay dividends later in the game.

Continue strong defensive play

If Duke's offense is hitting shots and dominating inside, there should not be much pressure on its defense— the Orange offense is ranked 140th in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rankings. However, if the game is tight down the stretch, the Blue Devils must look to stop freshman forward Oshae Brissett, as they did a month ago. 

A Duke squad that was just grasping the zone concept held Brissett to just 15.4 percent shooting and six points while forcing six turnovers. The 6-foot-8 post player is averaging just under 15 points nearly nine rebounds and only 1.8 turnovers per game. If the Blue Devils can recreate that defensive intensity once again and pair it with a much better offensive performance, they should find themselves playing on Sunday for the right to fly to San Antonio for the Final Four.

X Factor: Duke needs Gary Trent Jr. to get hot from deep to beat Syracuse zone

After dominating in their first two NCAA tournament games, the second-seeded Blue Devils are heading to Omaha, Ne., to face 11th-seeded Syracuse Friday night in the Sweet 16 matchup. The Blue Zone gives a player for both teams that could be the difference in the game:

Duke: Guard Gary Trent Jr.

So far, Syracuse has had its way defensively in the NCAA tournament, surrendering less than 60 points in all of its three games—all close victories. Nearly a month ago, the Blue Devils barely managed to reach the 60-point margin, just hitting it in a 60-44 victory. In that game, Trent made just one of his six 3-point attempts, finishing just 2-of-11 from the field overall.

To beat the vaunted Orange zone, opposing guards need to be able to make outside shots. Otherwise, the zone will collapse on the post, swallowing up potential scoring opportunities. Trent—Duke’s best 3-point shooter—is the team’s top option to do damage from beyond the arc. As the season has progressed, it is clear that the Blue Devils are nearly impossible to stop offensively when they hit their 3-pointers, and Trent is the one most capable of doing so. If the Columbus native is on, expect it to be a Sweet 16 romp for Duke.

Syracuse: Center Paschal Chukwu

Standing at 7-foot-2, Chukwu is the only player Syracuse can throw at the Blue Devils who is taller than their stellar frontcourt freshman duo of Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III. 

In the February matchup, though, the Orange’s starting center spent just 24 minutes on the court due to foul trouble, significantly inhibiting Syracuse’s defense. Without Chukwu bearing down in the paint, Carter and Bagley succeeded as the only Duke players to reach double-figures.

Chukwu is the Orange’s leading shot-blocker—averaging more than 2.5 swats a game—and even when he misses, the junior often affects shots just due to his pure size. Against a Blue Devil offense that has dominated its two opponents, Iona and Rhode Island, in the paint, Syracuse will need Chukwu to stay out of foul trouble to keep up with Duke’s frontline. 

Chukwu’s size also allows him to be a force on the defense boards, which will be important in neutralizing the nation’s ninth-best offensive rebounding squad to limit its second-chance opportunities Friday.

The Devil's in the Details: A look at how Duke got to the Sweet 16

They say the devil is in the details. But in Durham, the Blue Devils are in the details—and numbers. 

Each week, the Blue Zone will dissect five key numbers from last week's action in Duke sports, whether they be historic or underwhelming. This week, let the numbers take you inside how both Blue Devil men's and women's basketball reached the Sweet 16: 


Men’s basketball outscored Iona and Rhode Island by a combined total of 47 points this weekend in the NCAA Tournament’s first and second rounds. The Blue Devils defeated the Gaels 89-67 Thursday and punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 with another dominant 87-62 victory against an experience Rams squad.

Find out the whole story—Trevon Duval heats up to spark Duke men's basketball's first-round win vs. Iona AND  THUNDER RHODE: Duke men's basketball steamrolls Rams to advance to Sweet 16


Freshmen big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr took advantage of a Rhode Island team without a starter taller than 6-foot-8, helping the Blue Devils blow out the Rams. The duo dominated the interior, combining for 35 points while converting on an extremely efficient 87.5 percent of their shot attempts in the contest. 

23.5 percent

Duke held fourth-seeded Georgia to shoot just 23.5 percent from the field in its dominant 66-40 win Monday. The Blue Devils spurted to a 21-point halftime lead after outscoring the Bulldogs 20-2 in the second quarter. Georgia could not buy a basket in the period, converting on just one of its 19 attempts, a mere 5.3 percent conversion rate.

Find out the whole story—Duke women's basketball routs Georgia to advance to first Sweet 16 since 2015


Freshman Trevon Duval has recorded 15 assists over the Blue Devils' two games this weekend. Duval arguably had his best all-around performance of the season against Iona Thursday when he poured in 19 points while accumulating eight assists in the contest. The New Castle, Del., native sparked the Duke offense early with his perimeter shooting, converting on a career best four 3-pointers in just five tries. 

Find out the whole story—Trevon Duval heats up to spark Duke men's basketball's first-round win vs. Iona 


After a pair of victories in the opening weekend, things will certainly get tougher for women’s basketball. Duke will face a top-seeded Connecticut team Saturday that has scored 211 points through its first two tournament games, including a tournament record-setting 140 in a first round victory over St. Francis (Pa.) in which it scored 94 points in the first half.

The Blue Devils have lost their last eight games against the Huskies and have not come within 15 points in any of them. 

Duke in the NBA: Quinn Cook shines while filling in for Stephen Curry

With teams making late pushes for the playoffs and the season winding down, the Blue Zone takes a look at what some former Blue Devils are doing in the NBA: 

Quinn Cook filling in exceptionally well for Curry

Quinn Cook is in a place he probably never expected when he signed with the Warriors: emerging as one of the team’s top scorers. 

With Stephen Curry out due to an ankle injury, Cook has taken full advantage while running the offense for the Warriors. He has dropped 20-plus points in his last three games, including a 28-point outburst Saturday in a win against the Phoenix Suns. Cook has been particularly hot from deep, nailing 12 of his last 22 3-point tries. 

The Warriors would still certainly like Curry back—they have dropped four of six games without him—but Cook has gone above and beyond expectations in replacing him. Curry expects to return Friday against the Atlanta Hawks. 

Jayson Tatum heating up for Celtics

After a slight dip in performance in January and February for the rookie sensation, Tatum has gotten his shot back. 

Tatum dropped 23 points in just 27 minutes in a loss to New Orleans Sunday, going 9-of-14 from the floor. Overall, Tatum is averaging 15.3 points per game in seven March contests, shooting nearly 40 percent from deep and scoring in double digits in every game but one.

Tatum also presented Duke commit and current high school senior R.J. Barrett with the Gatorade National Player of the Year award earlier in the week. 

Irving and Ingram still out

Ex-Duke star and fellow Celtic Kyrie Irving has been out with a knee injury for the past four games, although the injury does not appear serious. The injury has been described as merely "left knee soreness” and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said he was close to being able to play against the Pelicans Sunday, but is still out Tuesday night against the Thunder. 

"I think he feels better and better," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “He just doesn't quite feel 100 percent. So until that point then he'll be out. There was a chance that he would play (against the Pelicans). He just didn't quite feel that. And, again, we're going to make sure that he feels that way.

Irving has been an elite scorer for Boston this year, dropping 24.4 points and dishing out 5.1 assists per game. 

Second-year Lakers forward Brandon Ingram has been out since Mar. 1st, when ex-Duke star Justise Winslow collided with him, straining Ingram’s left groin in the process. He will begin to practice this week while the Lakers are in New Orleans before their matchup Thursday night. 

Ingram had improved significantly in his second season with Los Angeles, averaging 16.2 points per game behind a 38.0 percent 3-point shooting clip. 

Jabari Parker back to making impact for Bucks

After missing extended time due to his second ACL tear, Parker’s playing time has steadily increased and he has begun to make more of an impact. 

He threw down two huge dunks against the Hawks Saturday, scoring 15 points while paying 21 minutes in a Milwaukee win. 

Parker returned to action Feb. 2 and has shown no ill effects from the injury thus far. Parker has played between 21 and 25 minutes in every game in March thus far for the Bucks, which currently hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Take of the week: Duke is going to be the next national champion

Every week, the Blue Zone will make a take on Duke basketball—whether that take may be hot, cold or lukewarm. This week's take is in from Likhitha Butchireddygari:

I've been a non-believer for most of the season.

Each win, I took with a grain of salt and each loss, I attributed to larger structural issues of a young team. In fact, I had Duke losing in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State in my bracket. But, now, after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, I am very confident that the Blue Devils will win the national championship. 

After being placed in one of the toughest regions, Duke's road to San Antonio seems to be clearer than ever. 

Some teams that could have beaten the Blue Devils' have imploded in dramatic fashion. Michigan State's loss to Syracuse took out one of the Blue Devils' most competitive opponents in the Midwest region. UMBC's Cinderella win took out of one of the strongest contenders for the title, Virginia, which was the only team to win at Cameron Indoor Stadium this year. 

No. 2 Cincinnati's, No. 3 Tennessee's and No. 4 Arizona's losses in the same region put the Blue Devils closer to victory. Second-seeded North Carolina's unexpected loss to Texas A&M also increase Duke's chances.

Then, there are the teams that would give Duke a run for its money had their tournament performance not been so poor. In the midwest, Kansas barely squeaked past No. 8 seed Seton Hall. In the South, Kentucky made zero 3-pointers against Davidson, only beating the No. 12 seed by five points. In the East, Purdue's loss of its powerful center Issac Haas has left the team struggling—only beating No. 10 Butler by three.

In the West, Gonzaga blew its 15-point lead against Ohio State in the middle of the second half, winning the game in the final minutes with six points. Michigan has been an absolute mess since the start of the tournament. After a lackluster performance against No. 14 Montana, Michigan only won against No. 6 Houston on a buzzer-beater after playing with a 35.6 field goal percentage. The team has also had significant foul trouble—its best player, Mo Wagner, had four fouls in both games and two other players fouled out against Houston.

Compared to these teams, Duke has had a very strong performance in the first two rounds. The Blue Devils' once-absent offense has flourished with Trevon Duval on top of his game, while their defense has continued to be suffocating. Rhode Island was a good test for Duval, as it was one of the most opportunistic defenses in the country, but failed to get Duval and Duke's offense out of sync by forcing takeaways. 

The Blue Devils are arguably playing the most complete basketball they have played all season. 

Now, this isn't all to say that Duke will have an easy time winning the national championship. There are still very clear barriers in its path in Villanova, which cruised past its first two opponents, and Kansas, but it's hard to see a victor coming out of the left side of the bracket. 

But right now, the Blue Devils are the best bet in the country to do it. 

Beyond the arc: Duke's offense is cruising into the Sweet 16

Second-seeded Duke wrapped up its opening weekend of the NCAA tournament with a dominant 87-62 win against No. 7 seed Rhode Island. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats from the win and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways:

1. The Blue Devil offense is cruising

There were clearly some question marks down the stretch of the regular season and into the ACC tournament whether Duke’s scoring would return to early-season levels. The Blue Devils scored more than 70 points just once in their final five games before the NCAA tournament.

But with 178 combined points in two tournament contests, it’s clear that Duke should have little problem finding the bottom of the net, even against tougher opposition.

2. And don’t forget about the defense

For as good as the Blue Devils have been offensively, their defense has yet to take its foot off the gas. 

The Rams shot worse than 40 percent from the field Saturday and they scored just 28 points before halftime. Duke may not have Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense, but it appears that Coach K’s newfound zone scheme may be similarly effective—especially with one of the tallest and longest lineups in the nation.

3. Upset avoided

It’s already been a wild first weekend in the NCAA tournament, so Duke can at least take a deep breath knowing that it will make a third Sweet 16 trip in the last four seasons. Three top-four seeds have been knocked out already, with potentially more upsets to come, but the Blue Devils will be on their way to Omaha, Neb. 

Three key stats:   

1. 56.9 percent from the field and 47.6 percent shooting beyond the arc

Against a small group of Rams, the Blue Devils had little problem finding offense from all over the floor Saturday. Wendell Carter Jr. led the way with a perfect 6-of-6 effort, knocking down all of his 2-point shots plus one more at the charity stripe. Marvin Bagley III wasn’t far behind, hitting on eight of his 10 tries, and Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. took charge of the long-range barrage, combining for seven treys.

2. Nine turnovers in the final 33 minutes

Similar to Thursday’s first-round game, Duke came out just a bit too amped against Rhode Island and made  some bad mistakes in the early going. But about halfway through the first, the Blue Devils settled into the contest and limited giveaways as they went on a 23-5 run to blow the game wide open.

3. 19-of-24 at the charity stripe

If offense wasn’t even enough for Duke, the Blue Devils got plenty of free points as they repeatedly pounded the ball inside and earned trips to the line. But unlike in past contests, Duke capitalized, missing just five free throws all game. And a bright spot going forward was a 4-of-5 effort from Trevon Duval, who had struggled at the line in pressure situations earlier this season.

Looking forward: 

Either way, Duke will now get the opportunity to double down on a victory from earlier this season when it faces either No. 3 seed Michigan State or 11th-seeded Syracuse in the Midwest regional semifinal Friday night. 

The Blue Devils took out the Spartans at the Champions Classic in Chicago Nov. 14 by an 88-81 margin—but played much of that contest without Bagley. Duke rode a dominant defensive effort to top the Orange just last month in Durham 60-44. 

HALFTIME: Duke 45, Rhode Island 28

PITTSBURGH—Once again, Duke looked out of sorts early against an underdog, but its defense and a late surge has pushed it well ahead. 

The second-seeded Blue Devils have taken a comfortable 45-28 lead against seventh-seeded Rhode Island at PPG Paints Arena behind a strong defensive effort and more impressive perimeter shooting. Despite laying through a sore left Achilles' tendon, Wendell Carter Jr. scored nine points, while Gary Trent Jr.’s 11 points and three triples have steadied Duke on the perimeter. The Rams shot just 36.7 percent from the field and buried three triples. 

The Blue Devils were hampered by a barrage of turnovers early against one of the best teams in the country at forcing giveaways and looked nervous as they allowed the Rams to take a 7-2 lead.  

It started out early, with Trevon Duval dribbling it out of bounds off his foot and Carter coughing it up in the first few possessions. Duke never really got out of its funk until a timeout almost midway through the half. The Blue Devils were down 11-10 with five turnovers through eight minutes. 

But then Duke’s offense finally woke up, going on a 23-5 run right after that timeout, started by a Carter dunk and continued by a 3-point parade. Trent knocked down three triples and senior captain Grayson Allen hit an and-one 3-pointer and another triple to help Duke surge ahead by 17 points. The Blue Devils only turned the ball over two times in the last 13 minutes of the half.

Here are a few observations from the first half:

  • The officiating crew has been quick to blow whistles against Duke’s big men for charges in the paint. But the Blue Devils adjusted and started taking more outside shots and making post moves under control.
  • The Blue Devils have controlled the glass against a tiny Rhode Island team that has no rotation players taller than 6-foot-8, outrebounding the Rams 19-14. 
  • Duval was quickly benched after his misplaced dribble, but has come back to the floor and played 17 solid minutes, dishing out three assists to just one turnover and scoring 10 points, including a deep 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds left to wrap up the half.
  • 6-foot-8, 286-pound Andre Berry is larger than most post players Duke has seen this season, and it gave the Blue Devils some trouble. He scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in just nine minutes. 
  • Head coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t dipped into his bench much, with just Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier coming off the pine.