Blue Zone

Gary Trent Jr. getting back on track could be the difference in the ACC tournament

After downing North Carolina in thrilling fashion to end its regular season, Duke heads into the ACC tournament starting Thursday as the No. 2 seed. Assistant Blue Zone editor Michael Model thinks Gary Trent Jr.'s play could be the difference in whether the Blue Devils can win the tournament or not: 

After a red-hot start to conference play, Trent enters the tournament on the heels of an subpar four-game stretch. 

The Columbus, Ohio, native finished the season averaging 14.3 points per contest while converting on 42.3 percent of his attempts from 3-point range, but Trent has been unable to find a rhythm down the stretch. Over the Blue Devils’ last four games, Trent averaged just 9.0 points per game and made just 22.2 percent of his triples. 

This could be a cause of concern for Duke, a team that uses its ability to knock down shots from deep in order to provide space for freshmen big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. to exploit its size advantage on the interior. The Blue Devils’ inability to convert from downtown hurt them greatly in their 64-63 loss against Virginia Tech Feb. 26.

Despite being guarded by a man four inches shorter for much of the game, Carter could only muster five points on the contest due to clutter on the interior. Duke missed 20 3-point attempts in that game, and those long rebounds also often ended up being converted as fast-break layups on the other end. 

With a potential rematch against the Hokies or Notre Dame looming in the quarterfinals, the Blue Devils will need Trent to get back on track in order to create space for Bagley and Carter to operate in the post.

The Devil's in the Details: Duke takes down North Carolina in Allen's final home game

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

Each week, the Blue Zone will dissect five key numbers from last week's action in Duke sports, whether they be historic or underwhelming. This week, let the numbers take you inside an early ACC tournament exit for Blue Devil women's basketball and a win against North Carolina for men's basketball. 


The Blue Devils couldn't keep up on the glass against N.C. State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, allowing Wolfpack forward forward Chelsea Nelson to rack up 22 rebounds. The ACC tournament-record board total helped N.C. State win the rebounding battle 47-37 and sent the Blue Devils packing in a 51-45 loss. 

Find out the whole story—Duke women's basketball goes cold in ACC quarterfinal loss vs. N.C. State


Marvin Bagley III has been transcendent this year, and Saturday night was no different—he racked up his 19th double-double of the season in a 74-64 win against North Carolina. Bagley scored 21 points and pulled down 15 boards on a pure 9-of-14 shooting clip. In a four-minute stretch in the second half, he dropped eight points and racked up six rebounds, helping Duke pull away from its archrival. 

Find out the whole story—'A different animal:' Marvin Bagley III's second-half eruption fuels Blue Devil comeback 


Grayson Allen will never play another game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Let that soak in. The senior captain struggled a bit from the field in his final home game Saturday against North Carolina, but still managed to drop 15 points and dish out five assists. 

“Everyone here gave me way more than I could ever give Duke,” Allen said during his postgame speech. “It’s tough when you get a lot of negativity. Y’all helped me find that love again, and y’all are a huge reason why I can stand out here with my head held high with a smile on my face.”

Find out the whole story—'Well done, my son:' Grayson Allen goes out with a win on Senior Night


Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown went silent in Duke's loss, shooting just 25 percent from deep. Greenwell was a woeful 2-of-10 from deep, sending the Blue Devils to a 22.7 percent 3-point clip overall. Duke will have to improve from deep if it wants to avoid an early exit in the NCAA tournament. 

Find out the whole story—Duke women's basketball goes cold in ACC quarterfinal loss vs. N.C. State


Remember how bad Duke looked on defense just a month ago? It got torched for 81 points by St. John's before getting crushed on defense by North Carolina. But the Blue Devil defense has grown up fast, worse than just nine teams in the country in defensive efficiency, according to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Duke looks to sustain that momentum heading into the ACC tournament, starting Thursday night at the Barclay's Center. 

Find out the whole story—Looking ahead: What could Duke's path to an ACC tournament title look like?

Looking ahead: What could Duke's path to an ACC tournament title look like?

With the ACC regular season in the rearview mirror, it's time for fans to turn their attention to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. as the 2018 ACC Tournament kicks off at noon Tuesday. Although Duke's No. 2 seeding means that the Blue Devils will not play until Thursday's evening session, there will be plenty of action before then. The Blue Zone takes an early look at what could likely be another exciting five days in the city that never sleeps.

Wild Wednesday

If things go as expected during Tuesday's opening round, there will be at least two enticing matchups on the second day of play. At noon, No. 8 Florida State will play ninth-seeded Louisville, a matchup that was twice decided by four points earlier this season with the teams splitting their season series. Both teams are hanging on the edge of the NCAA tournament—the Seminoles are currently projected by ESPN's Bracketology as a No. 10 seed and the Cardinals are slotted as one of the last four in, meaning Wednesday's game is probably a do-or-die contest for Louisville. 

In the night session, two of the conference's hottest teams will almost certainly face off. Assuming 10th-seeded Notre Dame takes care of business Tuesday against lowly Pittsburgh, the Fighting Irish— buoyed by the return of star Bonzie Colson—will take on No. 7 Virginia Tech, which has now knocked off the ACC's top two teams in the last month. The winner of that contest will then take on Duke Thursday night, meaning Blue Devil fans should be tuned into what could be the best game of the tournament's first two days.

Tobacco Road Round 3?

There is a very good chance that we could once again see Duke take on North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals. Last year, the Blue Devils exacted revenge on the Tar Heels, winning 93-83 after falling in Chapel Hill just six days prior. Of course, this time around, it would be North Carolina looking to get back after Duke's  win Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But as a result of the Tar Heels' defeat in the regular-season finale, they will have to win games on consecutive days to even get a shot at Duke—and it likely won't come easily. North Carolina scraped by Syracuse in upstate New York just a few weeks ago and fell at home to Miami last Monday. Still, if the Tar Heels roll into Friday night with some momentum, it could make for an exciting battle.

The dark horse

The most interesting team in the mix might be N.C. State, which came up just short of earning a double bye. The Wolfpack will be the No. 5 seed, but they'll avoid playing the Blue Devils, North Carolina and Virginia—the likely favorites—until at least the semifinals Friday. N.C. State has also won five of its last six games entering the postseason and as head coach Kevin Keatts said Saturday, they've "stuffed the [N.C. State] stuff."

See the whole ACC tournament bracket below: 

Beyond the arc: Despite win, Duke's free throw shooting a major concern

After being dead in the water in the first half, Duke rallied in the second half to down archrival and No. 9 North Carolina 74-64 to split the season series. The Blue Zone gives three key stats and takeaways from Saturday's win and looks forward for the Bleu Devils: 

Three key takeaways

1. Free throws are a problem

Even though Duke came away with the win, it nearly shot itself in the foot with abysmal free throw shooting. The Blue Devils shot just 9-of-20 from the line and missed the front end of multiple one-and-ones. Duke is 212th in the country in free throw percentage, a remarkably poor mark. 

Making free throws is absolutely crucial to success in March—this poor performance at the line in such an important game doesn’t bode well going forward.

2. Impressive defensive performance

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has now fully committed to the zone and his decision seems to have paid off. Duke has been on a great run defensively and had allowed just 54.4 points per game in the five games leading up to Saturday night. 

The Blue Devils made multiple highlight reel plays on defense and finished the night with 12 steals and 8 blocks. The zone isn’t perfect, but having capable defense means the offense has a larger margin of error.

3. A tale of two halves

Duke’s offense really struggled for long stretches in the first half. During the first 20 minutes, the Blue Devils made just 1-of-10 3-point attempts, were 4-of-14 from the line and scored just 25 points. 

But faced by a 13-point deficit, Duke’s offense finally came alive in the second half. Led by Marvin Bagley's 18 second-half points, the Blue Devils dropped 49 points on the Tar Heels in the second half. In the final 14 minutes, Duke scored on 16 of their 24 possessions and made 8-of-12 three pointers.

When its offense is clicking, Duke is almost impossible to beat. But it will have to be more consistent if it wants to make a deep March run. 

Three key stats

1. Blue Devils win the battle of the boards

Duke and North Carolina entered the game as the two best rebounding teams in the ACC. In the last matchup, the Tar Heels won the rebounding battle and came away with the victory in large part due to their 20 offensive boards. Duke flipped the script this time around, coming away with more rebounds on both ends of the court. Carter and Bagley were especially active, combining for 11 offensive rebounds. 

2. Six points in a quiet night for Berry 

Joel Berry II was instrumental for the Tar Heels in their win over the Blue Devils in February, but last night, he was nowhere to be found. Berry was just 3-of-11 from the field and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts. He even tossed up an airball early in the game that the student section didn’t let him forget. 

3. Duval's six assists and zero turnovers

Duval has had a very up-and-down season thus far, but he stepped up big Saturday night in Cameron. He helped key Duke’s second-half resurgence, breaking down the Carolina defense and feeding teammates for easy shots. 

Duval finished the night with a team-high six assists and zero turnovers for the first time since November. His efficient performance from the field and active defense—two steals and a block—was enough to overcome his poor performance at the line. 

Looking forward

After committing to a zone, it looks like the Blue Devils have finally managed to stabilize their defense. Duke boasts one of the deepest and most talented rosters in college basketball, but they have been prone to struggle for extended stretches on both ends of the court. The second-half Duke team is capable of winning a title, but the first-half team clearly isn't. 

Take of the week: Marvin Bagley III is not a bad defender—he's a weapon

While Marvin Bagley III is clearly a transcendent offensive talent, some have questioned his defensive ability, including The Chronicle's Ben Leonard. 

ESPN College Gameday's Seth Greenberg also feels this way. On Saturday before Duke downed North Carolina, Greenberg broke down the Blue Devils' 2-3 zone. To show the zone's strengths, he showed a play from the Clemson that had Javin DeLaurier on the floor while Marvin Bagley III was nursing a knee injury. 

But expose the zone's weaknesses, Greenberg used the telestrator to key in on Bagley getting drawn too high up on the wing in the zone and leaving a shooter open in the corner. As the play was shown on the big screen in Cameron Indoor Stadium, I heard a fan yell, “We get it. He’s a bad defender.” 

ESPN personalities, such as Seth Greenberg, have been perpetuating this take for most of the season. But the idea that Bagley is a poor defender is simply not true. 

I will concede that before Bagley’s injury, he did tend to struggle on the defensive side of the ball. But it was not because of his lack of ability, but rather due to defensive scheming. Like most past Duke teams in the past, the Blue Devils started out the season in man-to-man defense. 

Defending the pick and roll is a tough adjustment for most freshmen, especially being thrown into a lineup with three other freshmen who have not defended at the college level before. He was also tasked with guarding the biggest men on the court, who tended to be older and stronger. 

Duke’s transition to the zone has given a chance for Bagley to accentuate his strengths, rather than expose his weaknesses, and the Blue Devil defense has been much improved because of it. In his first game back against Syracuse, the team held the Orange to 44 points, the lowest total Duke surrendered to an ACC opponent since 2011. 

In that game, Bagley had the highest defensive rating among forwards on the team. When Duke beat North Carolina, the power forward from Duke had 2 blocks and added a steal. He now has jumped to have the third-best defensive rating in the starting lineup, ahead of DeLaurier and Wendell Carter Jr.

Duke's switch to the zone has made better use of Bagley’s length and agility. His ability to close out in the corners, bother shooters and have a better defensive rebounding presence has strengthened an already-improving Duke defense. Since his return, the Blue Devil defense has risen in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive rankings from No. 28 to No. 10. 

Bagley isn't a liability on defense—he's a weapon. 

HALFTIME: North Carolina 35, Duke 25

When Duke and North Carolina met just more than three weeks ago in Chapel Hill, offense was the name of the game for the first 20 minutes.

Thus far, however, it's been much more of a defensive battle as the Tar Heels head into the locker room with a lead against their rival Blue Devils.

At the break, North Carolina leads Duke 35-25 anchored by Cameron Johnson's 10 points. Duke has been led by a balanced offensive effort, with eight different Blue Devils registering at least a point while holding the visiting Tar Heels to 38.2 percent shooting from the field.

After the Blue Devils opened the night with the first four points of the contest, the teams went back and fourth on the scoreboard. The lead changed hands five times in the half along with five ties.

Like North Carolina, Duke has had its own offensive woes, hitting just one shot from beyond the arc on 10 tries. Even as the Tar Heels went scoreless for more than three minutes, the Blue Devils were unable to pull ahead by more than four, going up 18-14 on a thunderous Grayson Allen slam.

But with North Carolina finding its offensive rhythm during a 18-5 outburst to take a 5-point lead at 32-23, Duke needed a run of its own—especially with both its starting big men, Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., sidelined by foul trouble after the duo was each whistled twice in the early going.

The Blue Devils were unable to get much going, though, as they missed seven straight field goals in the final minutes of the half and went scoreless for more than four minutes as the Tar Heels stretched their advantage.

Kenny Williams knocked down a triple in the closing seconds to give the visitors the first double-digit lead of the night.

Here are a few observations from the first half:

  • Duke has struggled mightily from the free-throw line, missing five of its first seven at the charity stripe en route to 4-of-14 in the opening half.
  • It's been a slow start to Senior Night for Allen—despite a powerful dunk in transition, the Blue Devil captain has only seven points—which still leads the team—and has yet to knock down a 3-pointer.
  • The rebound battle so far leans in favor of the visitors, with North Carolina currently up by a 29-22 margin.
  • Bagley picked up his second foul of the night with just more than six minutes remaining in the half, and hasn't played much since. Carter got his second just a minute later, and Allen also has two.

Key three: Can Duke keep Carolina off the boards?

After a heartbreaking 63-64 loss to Virginia Tech Monday, Duke will take on its archrival North Carolina in the regular season finale on Saturday night. The Blue Zone gives three keys for the Blue Devils to defeat the Tar Heels: 

Stop Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court. In the Tobacco Road rivalry’s last matchup, Johnson crashed the boards for a season high 13 rebounds—with 6 coming on offense and 7 on defense. Johnson also shot 50 percent from behind the arc, making 4-of-8 triples and contributing 18 points to the Tar Heels’ 82-78 defeat of the Blue Devils.

A zone defense will help the Blue Devils limit Johnson on offense—particularly his presence from deep— but Duke will have to be particularly diligent on boxing out the 6-foot-8. Stopping Johnson from giving the Tar Heels second chance point opportunities on offense will be vital. 

Limit turnovers and maintain zone

Duke's turnovers and inability to play consistent defense allowed the Hokies to come back from a late deficit to beat the Blue Devils on Monday. Duke has been utilizing a zone defense that has only allowed opponents an average of 57 points per game in the last six games—maintaining this elite-level defense will be imperative for the Blue Devils to stop one of the best offensive units in the country. 

Likewise, turnovers have caused issues for the Blue Devils this season. Opponents, such as Virginia Tech, have taken advantage of these easy scoring opportunities to build momentum against a young Duke team. Limiting turnovers against on a deeper and older team will be essential in coming away with a win.

Strong and efficient offense

Although their defense has stepped up big-time, Blue Devils have been in a rut on offense in the past few games.  From beyond the arc, the Blue Devils struggled in their last two games, shooting a combined 21.7 percent from the perimeter. The Blue Devils had similar problems in their inside game that contributed to them shooting close to 40 percent from the field in both games.

In their last matchup, the Tar Heels were able to lock down Bagley down low in the second half and cause Duke issues in the paint. The Blue Devils can't afford to be one-dimensional on offense—they need to get points inside from Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. in the paint, as well as 3-pointers from Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen. If the Blue Devils want a win against North Carolina, they are going to have to up their offense and come out ready to play.

X Factor: Can Grayson Allen get it going against the Tar Heels?

 After falling on the road to Virginia Tech Monday, Duke returns to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday night to take on North Carolina for its final game of the regular season. The Blue Zone gives a player for both teams that could be the difference in the game: 

Duke: Guard Grayson Allen

If there are any lessons to be drawn from the last matchup between Duke and North Carolina Feb. 8, it is that there are going to be a lot of 3-point attempts Saturday. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels combined for 58 attempts from beyond the arc on Feb. 8, with North Carolina connecting on 11-of-33 tries. That means two things for Duke.

First, its guards must be alert and aggressive on the perimeter. Second, its guards need to connect from deep on the offensive end. 

This is Grayson Allen’s last regular season game in a Duke uniform. It’s his last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium and his last time grappling with Joel Berry II and the Tar Heels. And while this season has been filled with inconsistency, the senior’s performance as of late has been encouraging for the Blue Devils. In 17 conferences games, Allen has put up over 20 points just five times. Four of those five times, however, have come in the last six games. 

Yes, as we have seen recently, he scores more points when freshman Marvin Bagley III is not on the floor. But the Blue Devils will be in a much better position if Allen can improve upon his nine-point, seven assist performance on Feb. 8. 

North Carolina: Guard Joel Berry II 

Berry II is the Tar Heel analogue to Allen. It is his last time in a North Carolina uniform and his last chance to beat Duke—which he seems to really enjoy. While the senior did register 21 points against the Blue Devils in their last meeting, that total was inflated by success at the free throw line. Berry II went just 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, uncharacteristically poor for someone whose career average is just under 40 percent. 

After a disastrous end to his senior night in a 91-88 buzzer-beater loss to Miami, Berry II will be looking to close an up-and-down season on a high note. With a Clemson loss at Syracuse and a Tar Heel win in Durham, the Blue Devils and North Carolina would be tied for second atop the conference. 

Duke in the NBA: Irving continues scoring tear

With only a quarter of the regular season remaining, the Blue Zone takes a look at which former Blue Devils are making an impact in the league.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Tatum got off to a hot start in the Celtics’ first game after the All-Star break, scoring 15 points against the Pistons in just 21 minutes and connecting on a pair of threes. He scored 11 the following night against the Knicks, but was held to just five points on 2-of-8 shooting Monday night against the Grizzlies.

The 19-year-old forward has been a vital contributor to the Celtics despite cooling off a bit after a red-hot start to the season. Tatum has played solid defense and held his own against some of the best wings in the game, and will continue to be called upon in the playoffs unless All-Star forward Gordon Hayward is able to return before the season’s end.

Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics

Irving kicked off the second leg of the season by dropping 18 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists in a win against the Detroit Pistons, but the former Duke guard didn't stop there. 

The next night, Irving torched the Knicks at Madison Square Garden for a near triple-double—31 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. Then on Monday night he scored another 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting in a blowout win, handing the floundering Grizzlies their tenth straight loss. He went off again for 34 points in a win against the Hornets Wednesday night. 

In four games since the All-Star Break, Irving has knocked down 19-of-35 shots from deep and has led his team to four straight victories. 

Boston now trails Toronto for the first seed in the Eastern Conference by just half a game. 

Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers

Rivers has played well since the All-Star break, scoring 17 points against the Suns and Nuggets and 14 against the Warriors. The Clippers have gone 2-2 in those games, one of those  losses a close one to Golden State. Los Angeles dropped now-Rockets' point guard Chris Paul's return to the Staples Center Wednesday night, in which Rivers scored seven points. 

The Clippers, however, are now on the outside looking in at the playoff picture—the Denver Nuggets recently passed them for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. After dealing All-Star forward Blake Griffin to the Pistons and losing point guard Paul in free agency, gone are the days of Lob City. The Clippers will now have to retool with their current core. 

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Ingram led the Lakers in scoring Monday night against the Hawks, filling up the stat sheet with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists and helping his team earn its third straight win. He also had a solid all-around game Saturday against the Kings with 13 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists.

After years of being Western Conference bottom feeders, the Lakers have finally begun to pick themselves up off the mat. With their first-round draft pick owed to either the Celtics or 76ers, the Lakers have no incentive to tank and have turned their attention toward developing their young roster. Ingram has been a beneficiary of the team’s new focus, vastly improving his scoring output, efficiency, and rebounding numbers from last season.

Ingram and the Lakers will head to Miami to take on the Heat Thursday night.

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

Since returning to the Bucks’ lineup earlier this month after more than a year of recovery following his second ACL tear, Parker has been gradually reintegrated into Milwaukee’s system. The 22-year-old was recently cleared to play in back-to-back games, and will be on the floor Wednesday night as the Bucks visit the Pistons. Parker scored 14 points on a 5-of-6 shooting night against the Wizards on Tuesday and scored a season-high 18 two days earlier against the Pelicans. He added seven points in 18 minutes Wednesday in a loss to the Pistons. 

Devils in the Details: Greenwell and Brown dominate in their final home game

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

Each week, the Blue Zone will dissect five key numbers from last week's action in Duke sports, whether they be historic or underwhelming. This week, let the numbers take you inside a men's basketball road loss to Virginia Tech and a women's basketball victory against North Carolina: 


In their final regular season home game, Duke's "Splash Sisters" Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown combined for a whopping 53 points to help the Blue Devils down archrival North Carolina. The duo scored just one point less than the entire Tar Heels team, canning eight 3-pointers to help avenge a January upset loss. Duke will look to continue its momentum Friday in its ACC tournament opener. 

Find out the whole story—Duke women's basketball seniors indispensable in final regular-season home game


Up nearly 15 points midway through the first half, Duke looked to be on its way to a resounding victory against Virginia Tech. But plagued by 18 turnovers, the Blue Devils' offense faded late, scoring just 34 points over the final 29 minutes to let the Hokies squeak past them for an upset victory. Duke has scored 66 points or fewer in three of its last four games. 

Find out the whole story—Duke men's basketball's talented freshmen disappear in closing minutes in Blacksburg AND Duke men's basketball doomed by Chris Clarke's late putback in upset loss to Hokies


Duke had won a grand total of zero ACC championships in fencing—until Saturday. The No. 9 Blue Devil men downed No. 2 Notre Dame 19-8 in an upset after blowing through North Carolina and Boston College by a combined 43-11 margin in the opening two rounds. 

Find out the whole story—Duke men's fencing wins first ACC championship in program history


After struggling for most of the season, Duke's men's basketball's defense has shot up statistician Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings, all the way up to No. 13. The Blue Devils' defense had seemed beyond repair even just a few weeks ago—they gave up more than 80 points to both St. John's and North Carolina before going on a five-game winning streak behind lights-out defense. 

Find out the whole story—Duke men's basketball hopes to continue defensive renaissance in road test vs. Hokies


Among all major conference teams, just six rank better than Duke women's basketball in scoring defense this season. The Blue Devils closed the season yielding an average of 56.6 points per game, just a tick worse than the 55.4 points per game they allowed last year, which put them third amongst major conference teams. Duke now looks to continue its defense momentum into the ACC tournament and beyond.