Blue Zone

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 

Thoughts on the AP Poll: Duke jumps up to No. 5, Michigan State drops to No. 9 after tough week

Despite back-to-back matchups against unranked opponents, the Blue Devils rose in the rankings after losses by Michigan State and West Virginia caused a shakeup in the top five. 

Duke Basketball gets back on track, rises to No. 5

After their shocking loss to NC State last weekend, Duke followed up the defeat with back-to-back dominant wins against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. Against the Panthers, the Blue Devils received much needed assistance from the bench with Javin Delaurier and Marques Bolden both out nursing injuries. The reserves chipped in with 22 points, including a career-high 10 points from Justin Robinson. In Saturday's matchup against Wake Forest, Duke commanded the game throughout,  despite playing without Coach K who was absent due to an illness. The Blue Devils shot 52 percent from three in the contest, well above their season average of 37 percent. With the chaos at the top of the polls, Duke now sits at No. 5 in the new AP Poll. This week, the Blue Devils face a tough challenge with No. 25 Miami on the road Monday, before returning to Durham to take on unranked Pittsburgh once again Saturday.

Michigan State’s struggles continue

Following Michigan State’s first conference loss to Ohio State on Jan. 9, the Spartans Big Ten woes continued this week with another road loss to in state rival Michigan. Michigan State looked to return to form facing unranked Rutgers last weekend, a team that ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring, but they were forced into overtime on their home floor. Michigan State then limped into Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, and were not able to come up with victory. Michigan entered the rankings at No. 23 following the victory. A common theme for both games was turnovers by Michigan State. Against Rutgers and Michigan, the Spartans committed 13 and 18 turnovers respectively. Coming off the tough week, Michigan State’s ranking fell five spots to No. 9. The Spartans are looking to move back up in the rankings this week with games against unranked Indiana and Illinois. 

Oklahoma climbs in rankings after notable wins

Oklahoma’s success against a rugged Big 12 schedule continued with two impressive wins against then-No. 8 Texas Tech and then-No. 16 TCU. Despite the fact that the Sooners currently have the seventh hardest schedule in the nation, they are continuing to meet the challenge. Freshman sensation Trae Young continued to lead Oklahoma, scoring 27 points and 43 points against Texas Tech and TCU respectively. With the two wins against ranked opponents last week, the Sooners moved up five spots to No. 4 in the rankings. Oklahoma once again faces two more challenging opponents this week going on the road against in-state rival Oklahoma State followed by a game against No. 10 Kansas in Norman.



1. Villanova

2. Virginia

3.  Purdue

4.  Oklahoma

5. Duke 

6. West Virginia

7. Wichita State

8. Texas Tech

9.  Michigan State

10. Kansas

11. Xavier

12. Cincinnati

13. Gonzaga

14. Arizona

15. North Carolina

16. Arizona State

17. Auburn

18. Kentucky

19. Seton Hall

20. Clemson

21. Tennessee

22. Ohio State

23. Michigan

24. TCU

25. Miami

Former Blue Devil Jayson Tatum welcomes infant son sporting Duke gear

Jayson Tatum has surprised fans with his excellence on the floor for the Boston Celtics in his rookie year this season, and he revealed another big change in his life off the court this weekend.

Tatum posted on Instagram Saturday that he is the father of a newborn boy named Jayson Christopher Tatum Jr., and though the elder Tatum only spent one year at Duke last season, he left little doubt that his son will be a Blue Devil fan.

The younger Tatum could potentially be the crown jewel of Duke's 2036 recruiting class like his father was in 2016, but Father Time may be taking its toll on the Celtics star already. The 19-year-old did not practice Saturday due to a knee injury he suffered against the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night, but he is expected to be back on the floor before long.

The 6-foot-8 small forward has not missed a game yet this season and is averaging 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest for the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Take of the week: Grayson Allen needs to be Duke's Swiss army knife

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 associate sports editor Ben Feder: 

The take: Grayson Allen needs to be this team’s Swiss army knife

Grayson Allen has had quite the start to the season. Named the sole team captain at the beginning of the year for one of Duke’s youngest squads, Allen made waves when he willed the Blue Devils to victory against then-No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago with Marvin Bagley III sidelined, and was immediately vaulted into the pole position for national player of the year. 

But since then, Bagley has cemented himself as the team’s No. 1 option, and though Allen has hit some key shots, he is not relied upon as he was two years ago, when he was attempting more than 14 shots from the field a game. Regardless, the basket has not been Allen’s friend recently. The past five games, Allen has made just a third of his shots from the field and 23.1 percent from deep.

Despite his cold shooting in Duke’s victories against Wake Forest and Pittsburgh this week, Allen has found different ways to make an impact, registering game highs in both rebounds and assists, something he is capable of in spurts. His 12 boards Saturday against Wake Forest were the most of his career.

Yes, this Blue Devil squad is good right now, and it is also extremely talented. But every great team has that one player who can do whatever is needed on any given night. For Duke’s 2015 national championship team, that guy was Justise Winslow, and right now, the Blue Devils do not have that versatile threat yet. 

That is what they need Allen to do. Whether it is stepping up and making some key 3-pointers, providing a little extra hustle to push the team or transitioning into a point guard to spell Trevon Duval, Allen has proved that he can be the one capable of doing that.

And if Duke wants to cut down the net in April, Allen is going to have to be that guy.