Blue Zone


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.



X Factor: Can Wendell Carter Jr. take advantage of Virginia Tech's lack of size?



Duke bounced back from a disheartening loss to archrival North Carolina with a solid victory against Georgia Tech Sunday. The Blue Devils will look to sustain that momentum Wednesday night, as Virginia Tech will make the trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Zone gives one player that could be the difference in the game for each team: 

Duke: Forward Wendell Carter Jr.

Playing without fellow freshman Marvin Bagley III for the first time Sunday, Carter thrived as the Blue Devils' premier threat on the interior. The Atlanta native poured in 19 points while grabbing 10 rebounds, collecting his sixth double-double in his last nine games. 

The freshman big man should have his share of opportunities playing against a Virginia Tech team with just one rotation player taller than 6-foot-6. Carter will need to step out on the defensive end and protect the perimeter. The Hokies shoot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc, and the Blue Devils have given up their fair share of open looks throughout the season. 

On the offensive end, if Carter does indeed have a mismatch on Wednesday, he’ll need to go to the basket and look to draw contact. After a 1-for-4 outing for the charity stripe against Virginia, Carter has been nearly perfect in his last four games, converting 18-of-20 attempts from the line.

Virginia Tech: Guard Justin Robinson

The Hokies have an incredibly balanced rotation, with its top-five scorers separated by less than 2.5 points per game. 

Robinson has emerged as the leader with 13.8 points per contest after a dominant three game stretch in which he’s averaged 24.7 points, including a 20-point performance in Virginia Tech’s victory against now-No. 1 Virginia Saturday. 

Although he has found success scoring, Robinson will need to take better care of the ball against the Blue Devils, which have thrived in the fast break this season. The Manassas, Va., native has turned the ball over five times in each of his last two games, something he will need to clean up if the Hokies want to take care of business on the road. 



Duke in the NBA: Irving returns from injury, Hood shines in Cavaliers' debut



After a busy trade deadline week around the NBA, the Blue Zone takes a look at which former Blue Devils are making an impact in the league. 

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

After a red-hot start to the season, Tatum has encountered what some are calling the “rookie wall.” His scoring production has significantly dropped off, as well as his three-point percentage. The Celtics have suffered as a team, accordingly, dropping three of their last four, including 20-plus point losses to the Raptors and Cavaliers. In both of those games, Tatum scored in single digits. With the slide, Boston has now lost possession of first place in the Eastern Conference to Toronto. 

It is around this point in the season that all players begin to experience the fatigue that comes with an 82-game season, especially rookies. Becoming a new father is also likely taking an emotional toll on Tatum, so his dip in production is understandable. With the All-Star break looming, Tatum will get a chance to regroup and prepare himself for a strong closeout to his first regular season. 

Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics

Irving missed the first two games of the month with a quad injury, but there do not seem to be any lingering effects. The Celtics superstar scored 28 points Thursday night in an overtime victory in Washington. He also helped Boston mount a 26-point comeback against the Pacers the next night, but the Celtics were unable to hold the late lead and fell just short. Sunday afternoon, Irving faced his rival and former teammate LeBron James as the Celtics hosted the Cavaliers. The 25-year-old guard got off to a fast start and erupted the crowd when he drilled a stepback jumper one-on-one over James after the Cavaliers’ star was unable to do the same on the other end. However, James got the last laugh as the new-look Cavaliers demolished the Celtics in the second half and spoiled Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement day, 121-99. 

The Celtics will look to get back on track when they host the Clippers Wednesday night. 

Rodney Hood, Cleveland Cavaliers

Hood was sent to Cleveland in the hours leading up to the NBA trade deadline Thursday afternoon. The three-team trade, which also involved the Sacramento Kings, was one of a series of transactions made by the Cavaliers in an attempt to revamp their roster following a disastrous month. In a surprising move, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman decided to ship point guard Isaiah Thomas off to the Lakers, where he will play with former Duke star Brandon Ingram. In his first game with his new team, Hood helped Cleveland make a statement as he scored 15 points on 6-11 shooting in a blowout victory in Boston. 

The Cavaliers will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in a nationally-televised clash Tuesday night. 

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

In recent weeks, Ingram has begun to establish himself as a consistent contributor to a Lakers team on the rise. Despite the prolonged absence of point guard Lonzo Ball, the Lakers are winners of seven of their last ten, in large part due to Ingram. 

In Saturday’s loss to the Mavericks, Ingram scored 22 points, including 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range. Last Tuesday, he scored 26 against the Suns, making 9-of-16 field goal attempts without missing a single shot from deep. In addition, the 20-year old was only two rebounds away from recording a triple-double Feb. 2nd against the Nets, posting a 16/8/10 statline. The Lakers’ acquisition of Isaiah Thomas, who averaged almost 30 points per game last season, will reduce some of the scoring load placed on Ingram, but his increasingly aggressive mindset should ensure that he continues to fill up the stat sheet. 

The Lakers will visit New Orleans to take on the Pelicans Wednesday night. 

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

Parker returned to the Bucks’ lineup Feb. 2nd after more than a year of recovery following the second ACL tear of his short career. The former second overall draft pick scored 12 points in his debut against the Knicks on a minutes restriction, and he has registered double-digit points in three of his four games played. As he readjusts to being on the court and as his minutes restriction is gradually lifted, expect Parker’s contributions to the team to grow. 

Milwaukee will host the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night. 

J.J. Redick, Philadelphia 76ers 

Redick has continued to provide consistent scoring and a veteran presence and on an up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers team. Saturday night, he scored 17 points and knocked down five three-pointers in a matchup against his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers. He also scored 18 points last Tuesday in a win against the Wizards. Redick is known for his range, and this season has been no different—his 41.2 percent shooting from deep is among the league’s best. 

The 76ers will host the New York Knicks Monday night.



Thoughts on the AP poll: Duke falls to No. 12, Virginia jumps to top



In a wild week in college basketball, the top three teams in the AP top-25 poll fell. The Blue Zone rounds up how that changed the rankings: 

Chaos leaves new No. 1

It was a crazy week, to say the least. Villanova fell to sudden giant-killer St. John’s and Virginia fell to Virginia Tech, sending the Cavaliers to the top spot in the poll for the first time since 1982. Villanova dropped to No. 3 after their shocking loss to the Red Storm. 

Ex-No. 3 Purdue also lost twice this week, sending it down to No. 6. One of those losses came to then-No. 4 Michigan State, which moved to No. 2. The Spartans were not far behind Virginia in first place votes, garnering 21 to the Cavaliers' 30. 

After skid, Duke falls to No. 12

After their third loss in four games to North Carolina, the Blue Devils dropped from No. 9 to No. 12. With the 82-78 victory in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels jumped to No. 14. Duke got back on track with a  win in its first road game in three tries Sunday at Georgia Tech, but a number of concerns still remain for the Blue Devils. 

Duke struggled mightily on the glass against North Carolina, yielding 15 second-half offensive rebounds and losing the rebound margin despite having a significant height advantage. The Blue Devils have also yet to pick up their second quality true road win. 

Their only win against a ranked team on the road was at then-No. 25 Miami, which fell out of the rankings this week after losing to Boston College. Duke also has picked up three tough losses to the Eagles, St. John’s and N.C. State away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

Cincinnati, Clemson move up the ladder

Despite not having a win against a ranked team this season, Cincinnati has continued to sneak up the rankings, all the way to No. 5.  The Bearcats sit behind just Virginia in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings and have held three of their last five opponents to 48 points or fewer. 

Another sneaky riser: Clemson. Another strong defensive team, the Tigers have rolled off four straight wins since scoring 36 points in a loss to Virginia and moved to No. 11 in this week’s edition of the AP poll. 

———

COMPLETE RANKINGS: 

1. Virginia

2. Michigan State

3. Villanova

4. Xavier

5. Cincinnati

6. Purdue

7.  Texas Tech

8.  Ohio State 

9.  Gonzaga

10. Auburn

11. Clemson 

12. Duke

13. Kansas

14. North Carolina

15. Saint Mary's

16. Rhode Island

17. Arizona

18. Tennessee

19. Wichita State

20. West Virginia

21. Texas A&M

22. Michigan

23. Oklahoma 

24. Nevada

25. Arizona State



Beyond the arc: Aggressive Allen leads Duke to victory without Bagley



Playing without Marvin Bagley for the first time all season, senior Grayson Allen led Duke with a shaken-up starting lineup to a 80-69 victory against Georgia Tech. The Blue Zone gives three takeaways and stats from the game and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways

1. Duval replaced by O’Connell

After weak performances in Duke’s consecutive losses against St. John’s and North Carolina, incumbent starting point guard Trevon Duval was sent to the bench by head coach Mike Krzyzewski in favor of Alex O’Connell. In his two previous contest, Duval averaged a dismal four turnovers and personal fouls per game, while converting on just a .318 clip from the field. Despite O’Connell’s presence in the starting lineup, Duval actually played 25 minutes Sunday, more than his replacement’s 22 minutes.

2.  No Bagley, No Problem

Due to a knee sprain, the Blue Devils’ star forward Marvin Bagley III did not suit up for the contest against Georgia Tech. Marques Bolden got the start in his place. The 6-foot-11 sophomore did a fine job, compiling eight points and six rebounds in his 25 minutes of work. Also benefitting from Bagley III’s absence was sophomore Javin DeLaurier,  who saw his most action since Nov. 14. 

3. Allen takes charge

Senior Grayson Allen, who has struggled to find his offensive game in conference play, seemed to break through against the Yellow Jackets, tallying 23 points, his greatest total in 2018. Although the guard shot just 35.7 percent from the floor, he was unafraid to take it to the basket and knocked down all 10 of his free throw attempts. An aggressive Allen could make Duke’s offense even more potent. 

Three key stats

1. Duval limits turnovers

As mentioned above, one of the primary reasons for Duval sitting was his tendency to turn the ball over. In Sunday’s game, the New Castle, Del., native only coughed up the ball once, a promising development for the Blue Devils.

2. Carter continues paint dominance

Wendell Carter Jr. denied four Georgia Tech shot attempts, the third time he has achieved this mark in his last five games. The freshman forward has been brilliant on the defensive end of late. Carter matched Jahlil Okafor's record for most blocks by a Duke freshman in Sunday's victory.

3. Blue Devils’ defense shines

The Yellow Jackets were only able to muster a .333 overall field goal percentage, along with a putrid .259 percentage from beyond the arc. Duke’s zone suffocated any opportunities their opponent attempted on the offensive end. Georgia tech’s sole bright spot in their 80-69 defeat was Josh Okogie, who scored 29 points and attempted 12 free throws. This is a bit alarming for the Blue Devils, as there seems to be a theme of the team struggling with guards who can get to the hole, a la Shamorie Ponds.

Looking forward

Coming out of their stress-free victory over Georgia Tech, Duke has a few interesting situations to keep an eye on. Perhaps most interesting is if Duval coming off the bench is a one-time occurrence or an ongoing occurrence. On the positive side, Allen’s resurgence offensively was encouraging, and the squad notched their 20th victory of the 2017-18 campaign. The Blue Devils have a challenging upcoming week, with Virginia Tech, who just upset No. 2 Virginia, and No. 16 Clemson on the slate.



HALFTIME: Duke 43, Georgia Tech 26



ATLANTA—Wanting to make a statement following back-to-back losses, the Blue Devils turned up their defensive intensity and suffocated the Yellow Jacket offense to take a commanding lead into the break.

No. 9 Duke’s size advantage coupled with a strong start for Grayson Allen has given the Blue Devils a 43-26 lead against Georgia Tech at halftime at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta. Duke has dominated on the boards and owns a 25-15 edge. Allen also began the game attacking the basket with more energy and has also knocked down two triples. 

Duke is playing without Marvin Bagley III after the freshman suffered an injury against North Carolina, but fellow freshman big man Wendell Carter Jr. has picked up the slack. In his return to his hometown, Carter scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds, including two thunderous alley-oops from Allen that brought the Duke-friendly crowd to its feet.

The Blue Devils began the game on a 9-0 run and never looked back, running the lead all the way up to 19. Josh Okogie was the only Yellow Jacket who could get anything going offensively, tallying 14 points.

Here are a few observations from the first half:

  • The Blue Devils began the game with two changes to the starting lineup, as Marques Bolden filled in for the injured Bagley, but surprisingly Alex O’Connell also replaced Trevon Duval.
  • Duke frequently utilized a 1-2-2 full court press to prevent the Yellow Jackets from quickly initiating their offense and dropped back into a 2-3 zone for most of the half. The press also helped the Blue Devils force seven turnovers.
  • Duke’s zone defense looked more active than in recent weeks, with Javin DeLaurier and Carter particularly providing energy on the baseline.
  • The Blue Devils only shot five free throws in the first half as the Yellow Jackets were called for just six fouls.
  • After being lit up by the Tar Heels from beyond the arc, Duke has limited Georgia Tech to 2-of-10 shooting from the 3-point line. 


Key three: Duke needs to learn to win on the road



Following a disappointing loss to their archrival, North Carolina, the Blue Devils will look to stop the bleeding at Georgia Tech Sunday at 6 p.m. The Blue Zone gives three keys for a Duke victory: 

Learn how to win on the road

This is a young team—everyone knows that. Four freshmen start, which comes with its growing pains and its frustrations. Patience has been preached. 

But, as it stands, there are seven regular season games and less than one month left until the ACC tournament. And right now, Duke is not a good team on the road. Four of the team’s five losses have come away from Cameron Indoor Stadium—it’d be difficult to say that’s purely a coincidence. Whether it's pressure, inexperience, or even a lack of time to gel as a team, the excuse no longer matters. 

The Blue Devils have one month and three more games on the road to learn how to handle playing away from Cameron Indoor. Until that lesson is learned, March might be a very, very long month—and not because they'll be playing games.  

Force takeaways

Another crucial takeaway from last Thursday’s defeat that deserves more attention is the turnover category. Duke is generally a relatively disciplined team with the ball, but its inability to make North Carolina uncomfortable with the ball vastly overshadowed any silver lining that came with Duke’s discipline. 

If a team coughs the ball up two times, they are going to win the basketball game. By spreading the floor and taking so many shots from the perimeter, the Tar Heels hampered Duke’s ability to swing momentum in their favor by generating turnovers. It also enabled North Carolina to take a ton of time off the clock in the second half and take 15 more shots than the Blue Devils. 

Georgia Tech isn't outstanding at controlling the ball, which provides an opportunity for Duke to gain more confidence on defense at getting takeaways, something it will need to do now and down the road. 

Dominate from deep—on both sides of the ball:

A lot of attention was spent on dissecting Duke’s struggles on the glass after its 82-78 defeat to North Carolina on Thursday. From the outset of the contest, however, it was overwhelmingly apparent that the Tar Heels had a particularly simple offensive strategy—shoot 3-pointers, and shoot a lot of them. 

That tactic played out well for North Carolina, which sank 11 triples—a program record against the Blue Devils. Duke, meanwhile, went 9-for-25 from beyond the arc, a mediocre mark against one of the worst 3-point defenses in the country. 

Senior Grayson Allen had himself another quiet outing, finishing with nine points in 40 minutes. Both he and Gary Trent Jr.—the two went 4-for-13 from long distance Thursday—need to hone it in against Georgia Tech, the third-worst team at defending three pointers in the conference. 

The Yellow Jackets don't just struggle at defending the turf beyond the arc—they sit last in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage. Duke needs to dominate the offensive and defensive 3-point battle in order to shake its recent stretch of poor play.



X Factor: Can Trevon Duval get back on track against Georgia Tech?



After a heartbreaking loss to their archrivals on the road Thursday, the Blue Devils will look to rebound and avoid losing four of their last five games Sunday against Georgia Tech. The Blue Zone gives a player from each team that could be the difference in the game: 

Duke: Guard Trevon Duval

Coming to Duke, Trevon Duval was billed as a pass-first point guard who could initiate the offense and would represent a vast upgrade over the combination of Grayson Allen and Matt Jones from last season as a true point guard. 

But the freshman has struggled recently and has had issues taking care of the ball, racking up eight turnovers in his last previous two games, both Blue Devil losses. Duval, who was never billed as a knockdown shooter, has also had trouble from the field and is only shooting 25 percent from beyond the arc this season. 

For Duke to bounce back from back-to-back losses, they will need a steadying presence at the point guard position who can feed the ball inside to the strength of the team, Wendell Carter Jr and potentially Marques Bolden with Marvin Bagley III sidelined by a knee sprain. Duval has started almost every game this season and has earned the trust of head coach Mike Krzyzewski, but will need to take better care of the basketball for the Blue Devils to play up to their potential. 

Georgia Tech: Center Ben Lammers 

The Yellow Jackets come into Sunday's game reeling from a blowout loss at Louisville and rumors swirling around head coach Josh Pastner’s future following sexual assault allegations.

They will need a big game from Lammers, their senior leader, to steady the squad and help settle their nerves  playing against a Duke squad that will likely be on the attack. 

Lammers was a preseason first team All-ACC nominee following a breakout junior season, but has struggled thus far, battling injuries and increased defensive attention. The 6-foot-10 big man is averaging 11.3 points and 8.6 rebounds, both down from last year. 

Lammers will be heartened though by the success that the Tar Heels had on the offensive glass against the Blue Devils on Thursday however, when North Carolina grabbed 20 offensive rebounds. The senior will likely try to emulate that performance on Sunday night—Georgia Tech will need a similar rebounding performance to have a chance against Duke. 

This article was updated Sunday at 1 p.m. to include the news of Bagley's injury.



Take of the week: Marques Bolden needs to play 12-plus minutes per game



Every week, the Blue Zone will make a take on college basketball—whether that take may be hot, cold or lukewarm. This week's take is in from managing sports editor and men's basketball beat writer Mitchell Gladstone:

Every game this season, Duke has rolled out the same lineup—Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. in the backcourt, with Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. down low. That's nice and there is little question those five will be the most important players for the Blue Devils the rest of the way.

But Duke needs to get something from its bench. 

And although I don't think head coach Mike Krzyzewski will find all that much from his reserves, the most critical backup player as the Blue Devils head toward March will be Marques Bolden.

Thursday night, Krzyzewski was not one for praise—except Bolden. The sophomore was the only name he mentioned with any real positivity. 

The sophomore big man played 17 minutes, the most action he's seen since early December, and scored eight points without missing a shot. He was even part of a new three-big lineup alongside Carter and Bagley that could pose challenges for smaller teams—if Duke can get productive offense and rebounding with the trio on the court together.

Outside of his offensive outburst against lowly St. Francis earlier this year, Bolden's scoring output vs. North Carolina was tied for the best of his career and his defensive effort was the only one that stood out on a Blue Devil team that has seemed clueless as to how to stop opponents from scoring.

All that said, if Bolden averages more than 15 minutes down the stretch of this season, I will be shocked. But at least a dozen a night is more than reasonable—in fact, it's probably what Duke needs. It's not fair to ask five guys to play 35-plus minutes every game, and against the Tar Heels, all of the starters except for Duval did just that.

Javin DeLaurier has shown nothing in a year where I expected him to break out. Jordan Goldwire has disappeared from the rotation. Alex O'Connell will give the Blue Devils some shooting, but it's hard to predict when. And the Jack White era was likely short-lived. 

Bolden is the player that Duke needs to turn to. And if he can deliver, the Blue Devils' can reinforce their biggest strength.