Blue Zone

Duke men's basketball 2017-18 player review: Wendell Carter Jr.

Wendell Carter Jr.

Season breakdown:

Entering the season as a top-five recruit, Wendell Carter Jr. established himself as one of the nation’s most dominant big men despite often being overshadowed by fellow freshman Marvin Bagley III in the early going. 

Carter broke out of the gate with a dominant November. The Atlanta native tallied seven double-digit scoring games and five double-doubles over his first nine games. Carter especially showed up when his team needed him most. In four non-conference games against power-five opponents, Carter recorded three double-doubles including a 12-point, 12-rebound outburst against then-No. 2 Michigan State in the Champions Classic.

The six-foot-10 forward carried his dominance into conference play. Carter began a stretch of 19-consecutive double-digit scoring games on Dec. 9th against Boston College. Over that stretch, the freshman found his zone alongside Bagley. Carter accumulated 10 double-doubles on the season, including three 15-rebound performances. 

Carter also stepped up during Bagley’s four-game absence due to a mild knee sprain. Carter averaged 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest in his absence, showing the capability to match up against the best big men in the nation.

Results relative to expectations:

Despite being a top-recruit, Carter managed to avert the spotlight for much of the season with Bagley’s decision to reclassify and join the Blue Devils prior to this season taking the attention of much of the media.

Carter instantly emerged as one of the nation’s best and humblest big men, bucking the trend of recent Duke freshman centers Marques Bolden and Chase Jeter struggling to find their rhythm. 

The Atlanta native impressed with his ability to control the glass on the interior on both ends of the floor. Carter used his 260-pound frame to convert down low with high efficiency. The freshman also excelled defensively, quickly becoming the Blue Devils’ best shot blocker, averaging 2.1 blocks per game on the season.

Carter also fits the mold of a modern NBA player with his ability to convert from distance. The big man drained 41.3 percent of his 46 attempts from beyond the arc on the season, using his range to stretch the floor and exert his dominance on both ends of the floor. 

Check back tomorrow for a review of Javin DeLaurier's season. The Blue Zone has already reviewed Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III and Marques Bolden's campaigns.

Duke men's basketball 2017-18 player review: Marques Bolden

Marques Bolden

  • Year: Sophomore
  • Height: 6-foot-11
  • Position: Center
  • This year's stat line: 3.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG
  • The Blue Zone's projected stat line: 1.5 PPG,1.1 RPG, 0.1 APG

Season breakdown:

After struggling to make an impact during an injury-riddled freshman season, Marques Bolden had to be effective while on the court this season in order to carve out a role for himself alongside star freshmen big men Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III.

Bolden took advantage of extended minutes during non-conference play in order to showcase his improvements on both ends of the court. The DeSoto, Tex., native opened eyes with an eight-point, 10-rebound performance on Thanksgiving Day against Portland State, filling in for Bagley who was in foul trouble. 

Bolden's signature performance came less than two weeks later on Dec. 5th. The 6-foot-11 center took advantage of an undersized St. Francis (Pa.) squad to record his first-career double double. Bolden accumulated a career-high 17 points and 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes of play.

These performances helped Bolden earn a role as one of the first Blue Devils off the bench in conference play. 

Although Bolden missed almost all of January due to a knee-injury, he picked right back up where he left off after his return. Over the final 12 games of the regular season, Bolden logged more than 10 minutes in all but one contest, while converting on 75.8 percent of his 29 attempts from the field. 

Results relative to expectations:

Bolden exceeded expectations in his sophomore season, beginning to play more like a former top-20 recruit, while eliminating comparisons to Chase Jeter. 

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Bolden was his increased strength. Bolden was much more of a force in the interior on defense this season, constantly affecting opposing players' shots before snatching defensive rebounds off the glass. 

On the offensive end, Bolden used his 250-pound frame to back down defenders and drop the ball in the basket. The Desoto, Tex., native also added a hook shot to his increasingly diversified skill set, which helped him make an impact against some of the bigger centers Duke faced in the ACC.  

After taking a big step forward in his sophomore season, Bolden has put to rest any concerns about his ability to play at a high enough level. The Blue Devils will most likely enter the 2018-19 season with Bolden starting at center, hoping that he can continue his rapid growth during the offseason.

Check back tomorrow for a review of Wendell Carter Jr.'s season. The Blue Zone has already reviewed Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III's campaigns. 

Duke men's basketball 2017-18 player review: Marvin Bagley III

Marvin Bagley III

  • Year: Freshman
  • Height: 6-foot-11
  • Position: Forward
  • This year’s stat line: 21.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.5 APG
  • The Blue Zone's projected stat line: 15.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG

Season breakdown:

When Marvin Bagley III reclassified in order to play for this year's Duke squad, he immediately became the No. 1 overall recruit in his class, making the Blue Devils title favorites.

Bagley lived up to the immense hype from day one, putting up 25 points against Elon to break the Duke freshman scoring record in a debut performance. Bagley didn’t take his foot off the gas, as he put up 9 double doubles in 11 non-conference performances, including back-to-back 30-15 performances to spark come-from-behind victories against Texas and Florida. 

It was more of the same once conference play started. In a victory against Florida State, Bagley dropped an eye-popping 32 points and 21 rebounds, becoming only the third freshman in 20 years to do so. He would finish with three more 30 point games—four including his domination of Notre Dame in the first round of the ACC tournament—just one of the Duke freshman records that Bagley broke. 

On top setting the mark for 30 point games, Bagley set the Duke freshman record for rebounds, rebounding average, double-doubles, 20-10 games, and dunks on his way to being just the second freshman to be named ACC Player of the Year. 

In a season full of dominant performances, his second half against UNC in the final game of the regular season stands out. With Duke down by double digits entering the second half, Bagley scored 18 of his 21 points in the final 20 minutes to defeat the Tar Heels and put an exclamation point on his regular season.  

Results relative to expectations:

Bagley was an offensive juggernaut all season for the Blue Devils, living up to the hype in almost every way. 

But there’s one facet of his game that could have used improvement: his defense. Bagley has all the tools to be an excellent individual defender, and when he’s locked in, he can defend across all five positions. But those moments were few and far between. 

There were points in the season where Bagley looked lost on defense, and that combined with his sub-par rim protection meant that he couldn’t anchor Duke’s defense in the same way Wendell Carter Jr. could. In fact, when Bagley went down with an injury that cost him four games, Duke rattled off four straight impressive wins and questions emerged about whether Duke was a better team on defense without its star freshman. 

However, Duke’s defensive resurgence was in large part due to head coach Mike Krzyzewski's commitment to running a zone defense, and the Blue Devils didn’t have the same kind of offensive firepower with Bagley off the court. Overall, Bagley put together one of the best individual seasons in program history—exceeding even the lofty expectations set for him. 

Check back tomorrow for a review of Marques Bolden's season. The Blue Zone has already reviewed Grayson Allen

Duke men's basketball 2017-18 player review: Grayson Allen

Grayson Allen

Season breakdown: Allen's career featured the highest highs and lowest lows any college basketball player could experience, with a starring role in a national championship his freshman year before a series of tripping incidents and a steep drop in production as a junior. It culminated with what could have been his greatest moment yet, a potential game-winner at the end of regulation in Sunday's Elite Eight that rolled around the rim twice before spinning out.

As the lone senior and solo captain on a team with four freshmen starters around him, Allen started off the year strong with a career-high 37-point showing against Michigan State in the Champions Classic and shot 17-of-26 from long distance in the first three games of the season. But the 6-foot-5 guard quickly cooled off, finishing at 37.0 percent from beyond the arc on the season.

Allen shared ball-handling duties with freshman point guard Trevon Duval and shined again during a four-game stretch of ACC play when Marvin Bagley III was sidelined with a knee injury. He averaged 23.8 points during that span, but only scored at least 20 in three other conference games.

Allen shot poorly in the final weekend of his career in two games in Omaha, Neb., and finished just shy of 2,000 career points, ending up at 1,996 to settle in at 12th on the Blue Devils' all-time scoring list.

Results relative to expectations: Allen was credited by both his teammates and coaches as an effective leader who helped bring one of Duke's youngest teams ever together, and his guidance nearly carried the Blue Devils all the way to the Final Four. But his performance on the court did not reach the lofty expectations his preseason first-team All-ACC selection. 

Although Allen had his moments of glory, they came few and far between, and he was never the best player on the team or the focal point of its offense as many expected—that title belonged to Bagley. He still earned third-team All-ACC recognition and played well enough to be picked at some point in June's NBA Draft, but never reached the consistent level of play he achieved during his sophomore year at the peak of his production.

Check back later for the rest of the Blue Zone's player reviews. 

Beyond the arc: Should Duke have switched to a 1-3-1 zone?

After a run to the Elite Eight, Duke's season ended with a 85-81 overtime loss to No. 1 seed Kansas. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats from the loss and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways:

1. Should Duke have switched to a 1-3-1 zone to start the second half?

In a head-scratching move by legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils began the half in a 1-3-1 zone. In the first half, Duke in their regular zone held the Jayhawks to just 33 points—seven below their season average. It was clear: that zone was working. 

After halftime, Krzyzewski tried to make some adjustments to the zone by running a 1-3-1—which led to disastrous results. Kansas came out strong in the second half, storming out to an 11-3 run. A major weakness of that particular zone is the corner 3-pointer, which was where the Jayhawks excelled all game, and especially in the final 20 minutes. 

2. At the end of regulation, Krzyzewski does not call time out and goes with Allen isolation

After Kansas hit a stunning 3-pointer to tie it up with 25 seconds left, Krzyzewski opted not to call a timeout and let his team play. Instead of putting a play in place to create the best shot possible, he put the ball in his senior captain's hands. 

While Allen has had success taking the final shot in the past, Duke had taken the lead late in the game not from just having his guard go 1-on-1, but rather from the pick and roll.  Allen was able to get a decent shot off at the end of the game, but maybe the Blue Devils could have gotten a better shot if they regrouped before the final possession.

3. Despite struggling in his last game, Grayson Allen is an all-time great Blue Devil

In his final game in a Duke uniform, the senior guard was underwhelming. He shot 3-of-13 from the field, including 22 percent from beyond the arc, and only managed four assists. 

But Allen has been the consummate college basketball player and has been a great Duke player in his career. He is a two time All-ACC player, 4 time Academic All-ACC honoree, a conference champion, and a national champion. This game and his struggles in the tournament should not overshadow the fact he has been one of the best players in Blue Devil history.

Three key stats:

1. Duke shoots 24.1 percent from deep

In Omaha, Duke just could never find its rhythm from beyond the arc. On the season, Duke was a strong 3-point shooting team, but the Blue Devils finished just 7-of-29 against Syracuse and Kansas. Once more, the team's two most prolific shooters from the regular season, Allen and Gary Trent Jr, finished a combined 4-of-19 from deep. 

2. Kansas outrebounds Duke 47-32

Going into the game, Duke was dominant on the boards. The Blue Devils ranked 5th in the country in team rebounding percentage and 1st overall in offensive rebounding percentage. Kansas was a below average team rebounding the ball, ranking in the middle of the country in offensive rebounding percentage. But it was the Jayhawks who were able to control the glass, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and outrebounding Duke by 15.

3. Bagley attempts just nine shots 

Despite the fact that Marvin Bagley III played 44 minutes, the freshman star only managed to take nine shots. Kansas constantly doubled him on the low block and forced him to pass it out off a double-team. 

Looking forward:

Despite the tough loss, Blue Devil fans have plenty to be excited for next year. Duke could lose every starter from this year, but with the recruiting class coming in, there is not too much to fret about. 

Krzyzewski has recruited the number No. 1, 2 and 3 recruits in the country, as well as a top-5 point guard from the Class of 2018 in Tre Jones. The Blue Devils should also have some depth with Marques Bolden, Alex O’Connell, and Javin DeLaurier all likely returning to Durham. Allen and others will be missed, but expectations will be very high once again for Duke. 

HALFTIME: Duke 36, Kansas 33

OMAHA, Neb.—With a trip to the Final Four on the line, top-seeded Kansas and No. 2 seed Duke are locked in a tight one. 

Behind a balanced effort, the Blue Devils lead the Jayhawks 36-33 at the half. Neither team is shooting well from long distance, but Duke held a slim advantage for most of the half thanks to the efforts of freshman Trevon Duval.

After the Blue Devils opened up a four-point lead early in the first half, the Jayhawks responded with a 10-4 spurt of their own to regain the lead. The largest lead in the hotly contested first half has been four points.

In front of an electric crowd, both teams got off to cold starts at a frenetic pace—missing 11 of their first 12 shots combined. The Jayhawks opened the game doubling Marvin Bagley III on catches near the basket, forcing the Blue Devil guards to beat them. 

Early in the game, Duval did just that, slicing to the basket and spotting up on the perimeter. The guard scored seven early points and helped Duke build a small lead. The freshman also brought intensity on defense and is the Blue Devils' leading scorer with 13 points. 

Fellow freshman Gary Trent Jr. struggled to open the game, as his cold spell from beyond the arc continued. After missing his last three triples against Syracuse, Trent missed his first five 3-pointers Sunday. But Trent found the range on a look from deep before halftime and has nine points on 4-of-10 shooting after 20 minutes of play. 

On the other end of the floor, Kansas tried to use guard Lagerald Vick in the middle of the zone, but the junior struggled as he forced ill-advised lobs and tough floaters. Despite getting hammered by Duke in the paint by a 24-16 margin, the Jayhawks got their offense by hitting shots from beyond the arc. 

Kansas hit four triples in the first 10 minutes of the contest, with Graham and Mykhailiuk hitting a pair apiece.  Although guard Malik Newman came into the game playing some of his best basketball of the season, the sophomore has been held mostly in check by the Blue Devils. 

After 20 minutes of fast-paced basketball, the Blue Devils will need to clamp down on the Jayhawks' perimeter weapons to clinch their trip to San Antonio. 

Here are a few other observations from the half: 

  • Freshman Wendell Carter Jr. has had an extremely quiet first half and picked up a pivotal third foul with more than four minutes to go before halftime. 
  • Sophomore Marques Bolden displayed some good two-way basketball with a block on one end leading to a dunk for himself on the other.  
  • On the other hand, sophomore Javin DeLaurier got the early hook from head coach Mike Krzyzewski after stepping out of bounds on offense. DeLaurier played just three minutes in the first half. 
  • After playing in front of a decent-sized Duke contingent Friday, the Blue Devils are playing what feels like a road game in the CenturyLink Center—with Kansas fans holding roughly a 70-30 advantage over Duke. 

Key three: Duke needs to attack the interior against Kansas

After squeaking out a win against Syracuse Friday, Duke will face No. 1 seed Kansas Sunday for a chance to make the Final Four. The Blue Zone gives three keys for a Blue Devil victory: 

Attack the interior

Kansas boasts a strong weapon down low in sophomore center Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike used his 7-foot, 280-pound frame to bully Clemson Saturday, accumulating 14 points and 11 rebounds in a Jayhawks win. 

But Azubuike is the only Jayhawk taller than 6-foot-9, so at times, Duke's freshmen big men Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III will have mismatches. Azubuike has also been prone to foul trouble, averaging 4.5 fouls in his last two tournament games. If Duke can get the sophomore center in foul trouble, Bagley and Carter should have space to go to work down low. 

Contain the deep ball

Kansas ranks fourth amongst power-five teams in three-point percentage, shooting 40.5 percent from downtown as a team. The Jayhawks' usual lineup boasts four guards who can stretch the floor with their shooting ability. 

Six-foot-8, 205-pound senior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has been particularly lethal, knocking down more than 45 percent of his looks from deep. One of the biggest question marks Sunday will be if Bagley or Carter can get out to cover him on the perimeter without leaving Azubuike open down low. The Jayhawks also have two more players shooting better than 40 percent from downtown in Devonte` Graham and Malik Newman, so Duke will likely be punished by zone lapses.

Allen needs to continue to lead

Playing alongside four freshmen, Allen’s leadership has been invaluable to this year’s Blue Devil team. 

Duke’s youth has shown at times throughout the season in the form of defensive lapses and an inability to close out games, but Allen has seemingly righted the ship since taking over as the primary ball-handler in mid-January. Despite not shooting well against Syracuse, Allen rallied his team defensively after allowing the Orange to cut a seven-point halftime lead to just one out of the break. 

The Jacksonville, Fla., native also ran the offense efficienctly, racking up eight assists and 15 points. Duke will need Allen to continue to lead if they want to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2015.

'There is so much violence': Grayson Allen expresses support for protests against school shootings

Thousands of students and Americans are protesting gun violence Sunday at marches in Washington and cities around the United States. This movement is not lost on senior Grayson Allen, who commented on the topic a week and a half ago.

On March 14, Allen and freshman Marvin Bagley III were asked to comment about high school kids walking out of class protesting gun violence. Bagley deferred to the team's captain for a response. Allen said he thought the protests were "great" as long as they were "pushing for some type of positive change."

"As far as, picking something to change, I'm honest and open enough to say, I don't know," he said. "But something—there has to be a change in something that we do as people, something we do as a country, because there is so much violence, so much of it is affecting families. So much of it is just unwarranted and senseless, that is really—it's troubling."

The protests today were sparked by a shooting in a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida—Allen is also from that state.

Here are his full comments:

"I think one of the things is that there's obviously a problem when you see so many—so much violence in your country. As far as, picking something to change, I'm honest and open enough to say, I don't know. But something—there has to be a change in something that we do as people, something we do as a country, because there is so much violence, so much of it is affecting families. So much of it is just unwarranted and senseless, that is really—it's troubling. It's really troubling. 

"And anybody who knows it or follows it, you have to kind of be moved by it, because you see how much of a problem it is, and how really heartbreaking it is to see just loss of lives over nothing, over senseless violence. So, I think, you know, the protests are great. You know, as long as we're pushing for some type of positive change, but, again, I can't sit up here and say I want a certain thing to be changed. I don't know exactly what it is."

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.