Blue Zone


Thoughts on the AP poll: Duke jumps to No. 4 after a rough week for Oklahoma and the Big-12



After another upset-filled week, the AP poll looks different, with carnage in the Big-12 causing shifts: 

Duke moves to No. 4, top three stay put

After coming away with a tight road victory against then-No. 25 Miami and handily beating Pittsburgh Saturday, the Blue Devils moved up one spot to No. 4. The top three ahead of Duke remained the same, with Villanova at No. 1, Virginia at No. 2 and Purdue at No. 3. A clash between the Blue Devils and the Cavaliers looms on the horizon. Virginia will travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday at 2 p.m. in a battle that figures to be a make-or-break for Duke’s regular season ACC title hopes. 

Carnage abound in the Big-12 

It was a rough week at the top of the Big-12, to say the least. Ex-No. 4 Oklahoma lost twice to unranked teams—getting blown out by Kansas State and falling in overtime to Oklahoma State Saturday. Trae Young struggled from the field in both games, especially against the Cowboys, shooting 14-of-39 from the floor, helping send the Sooners tumbling to No. 12. Ex-No. 8 Texas Tech also fell twice to unranked Texas and Iowa State, sending them crashing to No. 14. After the carnage, No. 5 Kansas sits atop the conference at 6-1, ahead of second-place No. 7 West Virginia. 

Florida jumps into poll, Wichita State, Arizona State fall

After a rocky start to the season, Florida has jumped into the rankings at No. 20 and the top spot in the SEC with wins in nine of its ten games. Their last time out, they downed then-No. 18 Kentucky on the road behind 17 points from Jalen Hudson. Kentucky also lost at South Carolina earlier in the week, sending it falling out of the poll for the first time since 2014. 

On the other hand, early season darling Arizona State has imploded in Pac-12 play, falling to Stanford on the road for their fourth conference loss in seven games this season, sending it down to No. 21 The Sun Devils’ defense has struggled, giving up at least 84 points in three of their four losses. Ex-No. 7 Wichita State has also shocked many with two straight losses to unranked competition, sending it falling to No. 17. 

———

COMPLETE RANKINGS: 

1. Villanova

2. Virginia

3. Purdue

4.  Duke

5. Kansas

6. Michigan State

7. West Virginia

8. Xavier

9. Cincinnati 

10. North Carolina

11. Arizona

12. Oklahoma

13. Ohio State

14. Texas Tech

15. Gonzaga 

16. Saint Mary's 

17. Wichita State 

18. Clemson

19. Auburn

20. Florida

21. Arizona State

22. Tennessee

23. Nevada

24. Rhode Island

25. Michigan



X Factor: Can Grayson Allen stay hot at Wake Forest?



After romping Pittsburgh, Duke will make the short trip to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest in its final tuneup before a titanic matchup against No. 2 Virginia Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Zone takes a look at one player from each team that could be the difference-maker.

Duke: Guard Grayson Allen

After struggling to find his shot throughout the entirety of conference play, Allen finally got his attempts to fall consistently against Pittsburgh on Saturday. Six minutes into the game, he was fouled hard when going for a breakaway dunk by Kene Chukwuka. The eventual flagrant foul got Allen jawing off, something he said added to his fire—and it showed. 

Allen finished with 16 points after shooting 5-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-10 from deep, by far his best performance in ACC play. Allen's intensity and fire also translated to Duke's defense, which brought a level of intensity that had been absent at times this season, forcing 11 first-half turnovers. If the Blue Devils' senior captain can keep up his hot shooting from deep and trademark fire that had been absent previously, Duke can become a much scarier team against the Demon Deacons and moving forward. 

It will be a great opportunity for Allen to keep up his confident play—Wake Forest has been particularly susceptible on the perimeter, ranking No. 327 in the nation in allowing opponents to shoot nearly 40 percent from three-point range. 

Wake Forest: Guard Keyshawn Woods

In Duke's 89-71 win against Wake Forest earlier in the month, the Blue Devils struggled to defend the perimeter, especially against Woods. The 6-foot-3 guard came off the bench and scored 15 points in 21 minutes, nailing three triples in the process. 

Shooting almost 44 percent from deep this season, Woods will be a focus of Duke's defense, along with the rest of Wake Forest's deep array of sharpshooters. The Demon Deacons have struggled to defend the perimeter, but have been very good at attacking from deep—they have shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range as a team this year. 

Duke will also have to look to contain guard Bryant Crawford, who dropped 21 points despite a poor shooting effort in the Blue Devils' previous matchup against Wake Forest. 



Take of the week: Duke needs to run a zone defense to prime itself for a March run



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 staff writer Andrew Levy: 

Trailing 66-62 with six minutes left in the game against Miami on Jan. 15, Duke was in a familiar scenario. 

The Blue Devils once again found themselves down to a conference opponent, on the road, and in need of a critical stop. Instead of running the man-to-man that Duke is normally accustomed to, head coach Mike Krzyzewski opted for a zone. 

The end result: Grayson Allen extended the zone to the 3-point line, poked the ball away on a pass and ended the play with an emphatic dunk. In a critical juncture of the game, Duke felt more comfortable with getting a stop playing in zone than a man-to-man scheme. 

In the Blue Devils’ illustrious history, they have primarily been a man-to-man team. 

It was easy for Duke to develop the much needed chemistry for a man-to-man defense when it was recruiting players to stay for four years. But in recent history, with Durham becoming a magnet for one-and-done players, the Blue Devils have thrown in zone defenses in order to compensate.

When it won the NCAA Tournament in 2015, Duke started to play more zone defense than normal. During the 2016 season, Duke threw in an unconventional 1-3-1 defense to take advantage of Brandon Ingram’s length. Even this year against Michigan State, Duke mostly ran a zone defense and held a potent Michigan State offense to shoot 36 percent from deep and forced 17 turnovers. 

Some might point to the Blue Devils' success in a full-court press that transitioned to a man defense against Pittsburgh Saturday as a reason to continue to try and develop a sturdy man defense. But the Panthers have the potential to be one of the worst ACC teams in history—they rank a putrid No. 264 in the country in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's offensive efficiency ranking. 

In order to succeed in future ACC games as well as the NCAA tournament, Duke should choose to primarily run its zone. The Blue Devils' ability to force turnovers out of the zone will allow them to overcome their slow starts to games and hide their deficiencies against the pick-and-roll. 



HALFTIME: Duke 48, Pittsburgh 26



It would have been easy to overlook Pittsburgh after Duke beat the Panthers by 35 on the road just 10 days ago, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils came out as fiery as ever Saturday afternoon.

Duke has kept Pittsburgh in check with an aggressive full-court press at Cameron Indoor Stadium and holds a comfortable 48-26 lead through a half of play, led by its freshmen big men in the post. Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III have combined to score 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting. The Panthers have had trouble getting set in their halfcourt offense and have turned it over 11 times, though they are shooting 50.0 percent from the field when they have been able get a shot up. 

The Blue Devils scored the game's first seven points, capped by a 3-pointer from Marvin Bagley III with no Pittsburgh defender near him, and Duke led the entire half.

With the Blue Devils leading 15-10 about six minutes into the game, Grayson Allen jumped a passing lane for a steal and bolted down the lane for an apparent breakaway dunk. But Pittsburgh sophomore Kene Chukwuka clipped him from behind, sending Allen to the ground for a hard fall. 

The senior captain bounced back up and cursed at Chukwuka before knocking down a free throw, setting up a 23-7 run for Duke. The next time Allen got a steal with nobody between him and the basket, Panther junior Jared Wilson-Frame let him go for the one-handed slam.

Gary Trent Jr. has also continued his recent hot streak, knocking down three of his four 3-point attempts—including one in the closing seconds—and taking 11 points into the halftime locker room.

Here are a few observations from the first half:

  • Sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier came off the bench to return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the Blue Devils' last three games, playing five scoreless minutes.
  • Although Duke has used a lot of the bench, with DeLaurier, Alex O'Connell and Jordan Goldwire each playing at least five minutes, none of the Blue Devils' reserves have scored.
  • At the first media timeout, Duke played a video on the scoreboard at Cameron announcing Apple CEO Tim Cook will be this spring's commencement speaker.
  • Parker Stewart has continued to emerge as Pittsburgh's top scoring option, finishing the half with 11 points after he scored a career-high 23—more than half of the team's 45 points—in a loss at Syracuse last week.


Key three: How can Duke dominate Pittsburgh once again?



After three straight ACC wins, Duke will look to continue its winning ways against Pittsburgh at 4 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Zone gives three keys to the game for the Blue Devils to come out victorious: 

Dominate the boards 

Duke has been one of the most dominant teams in college basketball when it comes to rebounding. The Blue Devils are second in the nation in rebounds per game and first in offensive rebounding percentage, recovering almost 40 percent of their misses. Those offensive rebounds are vital in creating easy baskets, especially for a team that can be shaky from the perimeter at times. 

In fact, this Duke team has lost the rebound battle only twice all season—in their two losses against NC State and Boston College. The Blue Devils' job will only be made easier with the absence of Pittsburgh forward Ryan Luther. The 6-foot-10 forward was leading his team with 10.1 rebounds per game before going down with a foot injury that has left the Panthers thin up front. Duke will need to exploit this advantage if it wants to blow out the Panthers like it did earlier in the month. 

Defend the 3-point line

This Pitt team has been reliant on the three ball for over 35 percent of their points this season with two of its starters—Marcus Carr and Parker Stewart—in the ACC’s top 25 in 3-point percentage. However, in its last matchup against Pittsburgh, Duke managed to hold the Panthers to a woeful 18.2 percent from the 3-point line on 22 attempts.

Carr and Parker combined to go 1-of-8 from deep, and the rest of the team couldn’t pick up the slack. For the Blue Devils, it was an uncharacteristically good performance, as they usually defend the three poorly and depend on their offense to bail them out. Closing out hard on Pittsburgh shooters and forcing them into contested shots is absolutely vital for Duke going forward. 

Win the turnover battle

In Duke’s victory over Miami, the Blue Devils almost shot themselves in the foot by turning the ball over 19 times. Duke has generally been decent in protecting the ball–its 11.9 turnovers per game ranks 55th in the nation—but it has had poor stretches at times. One of the reasons why Duke dominated Pittsburgh so thoroughly in their last meeting was because Duke forced the Panters into committing 15 turnovers while only committing six of their own, while forcing 11 steals. 

Duke is at its best when it can get out in the open court and take advantage of its superior athleticism to generate open shots. Pittsburgh is one of the worst in the country in terms of taking care of the ball, and Duke needs to capitalize on that weakness in order to get out in transition as often as possible.



X Factor: Can Duke continue its success from the perimeter against Pittsburgh?



 Duke: Trevon Duval

Trevon Duval’s solid season has been flying under the radar behind the constant 30-point, 10-rebound performances by fellow Blue Devil Marvin Bagley III. Duval has averaged 12.5 points and 6.3 assists per contest and has been a rare true-point guard at Duke this season. The New Castle, Del., native thrives at penetrating off the dribble, but his recent ability to knock down the three ball has made him even more of an offensive threat. After starting the season converting on just seven of 42 attempts from beyond the arc, Duval has found his rhythm of late. Over the last three games, Duval has nailed six of his eight attempts and has answered some of the doubts about his early season shooting woes. 

With Grayson Allen in the midst of his worst shooting slump of his career—draining less than 20 percent of his three-point attempts in conference play—Duval's improvement has been magnified. If Duval can convert from downtown with consistency and makeup for Allen’s struggles, the Blue Devils will still be able to effectively space the floor and give freshman big men Wendell Carter Jr. and Bagley more room to dominate down low. Duval hit three of his five attempts from downtown in Duke’s 87-52 blowout win at Pittsburgh last week, and the Blue Devils would like to see a similar performance at home Saturday.

Pittsburgh: Jared Wilson-Frame

Jared Wilson-Frame has provided a lot of leadership and stability for a young Pittsburgh team that started five freshmen against Duke in last week’s matchup. The 6-foot-5 junior has provided a spark off the bench for the Panthers, and actually leads all healthy Pittsburgh players with 12.5 points per contest. The Panthers have been unable to get anything going offensively during conference play, scoring more than 54 points just once in six contests. In order for Pittsburgh to get its first win of conference play, it will need its most consistent scorer to come out in full force Saturday. Wilson-Frame led the Panthers in scoring against the Blue Devils last week, with a 17-point performance, and has two of the top three individual offensive performances of conference play for Pittsburgh, which has had just one player in double digits combined over its last two conference games.



Duke in the NBA: Jayson Tatum helps Celtics mount 22-point comeback



Just past the midway point of the 2017-18 NBA season, the Blue Zone takes a look at which former Blue Devils are making an impact in the league.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: 

Tatum and the Celtics had a light week, with four days off following their trip to London. While there, Tatum played a pivotal role in the Celtics’ comeback victory against the 76ers. After failing to make his presence felt in the first half, the 19-year-old rookie made his first five shots of the third quarter, in which which Boston outscored Philadelphia 37-22.

Tatum finished the game with 16 points, and the Celtics mounted a 22-point comeback to win 114-103. He chipped in another 10 points in Tuesday’s home loss to the Pelicans, which snapped Boston’s seven-game winning streak.

In other news, Tatum announced Saturday that he has become a father. He posted a picture of his newborn son, Jayson Tatum, Jr., dressed in Duke gear on Instagram.

Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics: 

Irving has developed a reputation for his clutch scoring, and for good reason—the 25-year-old guard ranks among the league’s best in clutch time efficiency. 

But in Tuesday’s 116-113 overtime loss to the Pelicans, Irving missed a crucial free throw and a late three-pointer which led to the Celtics’ defeat. He did, however, finish with 27 points despite shooting 8-of-24 from the floor. In Boston’s London victory against the 76ers, Irving contributed 20 points and 7 assists.

In the latest All-Star fan voting tally, Irving was in first place for Eastern Conference guards by over 800,000 votes, so it would appear that the Duke product will once again be starting in the All-Star Game.

The Celtics will meet the 76ers again Thursday night in Boston.

Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers:

Rivers has missed the last nine games with an Achilles injury, but that did not stop him from making headlines Monday night. During the Clippers’ win against Houston, Rivers was involved in an altercation with Rockets guard Trevor Ariza that culminated in the police being called when ex-Clipper Chris Paul led a group of his teammates through a back entrance into the Los Angeles locker room after the game.

The Clippers, who have won five games in a row (including double-digit victories against the Warriors and Rockets), will host the Denver Nuggets Wednesday night.

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers: 

Ingram played a huge role in last Thursday’s surprising upset of the San Antonio Spurs, leading his team with 26 points. He suffered a minor left knee sprain Saturday in the second quarter of the Lakers’ win against the Mavericks, but he does not expect to be out for long. 

The Lakers will head to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder Wednesday night.

Justise Winslow, Miami Heat: 

Winslow returned to action Sunday against the Bucks after missing 14 games due to a knee injury. The young forward played a limited 13 minutes and recorded three points, four rebounds, and four assists. The following night he played 21 minutes, scoring four points to go along with six rebounds and four assists.

The surging Heat will visit the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday evening.

J.J. Redick, Philadelphia 76ers:

Like the Celtics, the 76ers only played two games this week due to their trip to London. In their matchup with Boston, Redick drilled five threes and scored 22 points. Monday night, he played an large part in Philadelphia’s upset of the second-seeded Toronto Raptors, scoring 15 points, but sustained a leg injury in the fourth quarter of that contest and is expected to be sidelined for 10 days to two weeks.

The Sixers will take on the red-hot Celtics, who have won seven of their last eight, at the TD Garden Thursday night.



Beyond the arc: Win against Miami shows Duke's Jekyll and Hyde nature



No. 5 Duke secured its third consecutive ACC win in their 83-75 road triumph against the Hurricanes. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways

1. Duke's grit returns

The second half of Monday’s contest against Miami exhibited both Duke’s clear vulnerabilities and utter dominance. For over seven minutes in the beginning of the second half, the Blue Devils failed to score a point. In this dry spell, the Mike Krzyzewski-led squad committed six turnovers and missed all six of their attempts from the line. 

Any hope of a tough win on the road seemed to be lost with the Blue Devils facing a deficit of 13 points with only eight minutes remaining, until a switch appeared to flip for the team. Then, a red-hot Gary Trent Jr. drilled consecutive attempts from beyond the arc, sparking Duke to end the game on a 30-9 run and its first ACC win on the road. The Blue Devils' grit, which seemed to be its hallmark in the beginning of the season, finally returned.  

2. Trent shines

Coming off of a remarkably efficient performance of 19 points on just 8 shots in Duke’s 89-71 rout over Wake Forest, freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. delivered the best performance of his young career against Miami. The freshman led all Duke scorers with 30 points, the highest total of his young career. Trent Jr. connected on six three-pointers in the game for the second straight game, including an electrifying make as time expired in the first half—and yes, he did call bank. If Trent stays hot, the Blue Devils' offense could be a whole lot more potent going forward, with a perimeter game to match their interior dominance. 

3. Allen’s ongoing shooting slump

Once again, Grayson Allen appeared to lack confidence in his shot, converting just two of his nine field goal attempts. The senior has scored just seven points in his last two appearances, the lowest two game points total Allen has tallied since his freshman campaign. Despite his scoring drought, the Blue Devils’ captain has continued to be a playmaker, showcased most strongly in his highlight reel steal and assist sequence leading to Trent Jr.’s buzzer beater. 

Three key stats

1. Duke’s free throw woes persist

The Blue Devils made just 10 of their 21 free throw attempts, good for an abysmal 47.6 percent clip. Entering Monday night, Duke had the No. 214 free throw percentage in the nation. The trio leading the team in attempts—Marvin Bagley III, Trevon Duval, and Wendell Carter Jr.—all have shot below 70 percent from the charity stripe, and they combined to connect on just four of their 13 free throws on Monday.

2. Bagley III disappears offensively

Scoring just 13 points matched up against a talented Miami frontcourt, Bagley accrued his lowest scoring total of the 2017-18 season, aside from his injury-shortened performance against Michigan State. Although the freshman sensation was quiet, Duke’s other three freshmen starters in Carter Jr., Trent Jr, and Duval all stepped up in a major way. This was encouraging for the Blue Devils, as their offensive success appears to be less solely focused on the success of Bagley. 

3. Limited bench involvement

In 22 combined minutes Justin Robinson, Alex O’Connell, Jordan Goldwire and Jack White combined for three points, one rebound, and one turnover. The disappearance of the Blue Devils’ bench is alarming—a consistent rotation of only five players may be dangerous. Duke will have to get Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier back on the floor if it wants to have the deep bench it needs to make a deep March run. 

Looking forward:

The Blue Devils’ comeback victory over Miami displayed the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this year’s team. One moment, Duke looked lost under pressure, seemingly letting their inexperience take over. But the teams sheer talent can overwhelm opponents in a flash and produce breathtaking finishes, powerful blocks and thunderous dunks. This volatility means that the Blue Devils are susceptible to dropping games they shouldn’t—like against Boston College and North Carolina State—but it also makes Duke a terrifying team to play against. 



HALFTIME: Duke 42, Miami 40



CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Looking for a marquee road victory against a traditionally tough opponent, the Blue Devils got off to a shaky start when freshman Marvin Bagley III exited the court early in the game with an apparent wrist or shoulder injury.  

But the freshman returned minutes later during the next media timeout and the Blue Devils weathered a hot start from the Hurricanes to stay in the game. 

No. 5 Duke leads No. 25 Miami 42-40 after 20 minutes of play at the Watsco Center, after Grayson Allen dove for a steal in the final seconds and Gary Trent Jr. banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Blue Devils are led by a double-double from freshman Wendell Carter Jr. already with 11 points and 10 boards.  

After the early injury, forward Lonnie Walker IV connected on a pair of triples to give the Hurricanes an 8-4 lead. The Blue Devils responded by spreading the court and pushing the pace with freshman Trevon Duval, who finished the half with seven points and three assists.

The Blue Devils went on a 9-0 run fueled by guard Trent to push the lead to as many as seven. Despite Bagley’s slow start from the field, Trent found open space in the Miami defense and ended the half with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting. 

But the Hurricanes responded almost immediately with a quick 9-1 run of their own to retake a 24-22 lead. Miami used its aggressive defense to pressure Duke’s ball-handlers and forced nine Blue Devil turnovers in the first half. 

After struggling to score early in ACC play, the Hurricanes got much of their offense in transition and outscored Duke 21-2 on fast-break points. Miami took advantage of the Blue Devils’ carelessness on offense and finished a number of possessions with breakaway dunks.  

Duval and classmate Carter helped the Blue Devils regain control late in the half as each connected from beyond the arc against a scrambling Miami defense. The duo then linked up for an alley-oop slam coming out of a timeout. As a team, Duke finished the first half 6-of-12 from deep. 

Here are some other observations from the half: 

  • Playing against one of the biggest teams in the nation, the diminutive Chris Lykes has looked comfortable running Miami’s offense. The guard is Miami’s leading scorer at the half with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting. 
  • Duval’s 3-point stroke continues to improve and the freshman looks much more comfortable on the perimeter in Duke’s most recent games. 
  • Allen is off to another cold start, with just as many turnovers as points: three.


Key three: Miami has one defensive liability that Duke needs to exploit



Coming off of two straight conference victories against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, the No. 5 Blue Devils will travel to South Beach in hopes of beating the No. 25 Hurricanes in their house for the first time since 2011. Here are three keys to the game: 

Attack Chris Lykes

Playing for a weaker offensive ACC team which has only averaged 73 points, freshman Chris Lykes has been a standout point guard this season, giving his team a reliable scoring option. While his offensive game is polished and elite, the same cannot be said for his defensive efficiency. Only standing at 5-foot-7, Lykes is a defensive liability for an otherwise strong defensive team that ranks No. 7 in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rankings. 

Against a tough defense, Duke can get look to get its offense going by attacking Lykes with Trevon Duval, who stands eight inches taller and more than 20 pounds heavier than Lykes. This will kill two birds with one stone by exploiting Miami’s defensive weakness while simultaneously getting Duval involved, which has been a key for the Blue Devils' offense all season long. 

Keep the bench involved

For the past two games, Duke’s bench has stepped up with sophomores Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier out due to injuries. Throughout this stretch, freshman Alex O'Connell has stood out, stretching the floor and averaging nearly 11 points per game. Against Pittsburgh, sophomore Justin Robinson also scored 10 points in two rebounds and three blocks. 

These contributions from the reserves have been crucial to Duke’s success so far, especially since senior captain Grayson Allen has struggled with his shot, only averaging seven points per game in the past three contests. With such a thin bench, the Blue Devils will need strong contributions from O'Connell, Robinson and even Antonio Vrankovic to come away victorious. 

No easy baskets

Though Duke boasts two of the best bigs in college basketball in freshmen Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., Miami’s forwards sophomore Dewan Huell and Junior Ebuka Izundu, standing at 6-foot-11 and 6-foot-10, respectively, will challenge the Blue Devils down low. While Duke should try its best to play mostly a clean non-contact defensive game, the Hurricanes have shot an abysmal 63 percent from the free-throw line, and Inzundu has shot a horrendous 38.9 percent from the charity striple. 

Open dunks and layups for the Hurricanes can swing momentum their way quickly, especially since the game will be played in Miami, so the Blue Devils should limit those potential runs by making the Hurricanes earn their points from the charity stripe. As long as the Blue Devils are careful about avoiding foul trouble for late in the game, this strategy could prove effective if used correctly. Carter has struggled in particular with fouls, so perhaps