Blue Zone


Duke in the NBA: Ingram and Tatum earn spots in NBA Rising Stars Challenge



The Blue Zone recaps another busy week in the NBA for some prominent ex-Blue Devils: 

Tatum and Ingram earn spot in Rising Stars Challenge

After a stellar start for the first half of the season, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum have been named to Team USA for the 2018 NBA Rising Star Challenge, held Feb. 17 as a part of the All-Star game festivities. 

Ingram, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has improved markedly from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign. While his minutes per game have increased, Ingram has seen a marked rise in his field goal percentage and his player efficiency rating. 

Tatum, the No. 3 overall pick in 2017, has received some consideration for Rookie of the Year in a strong first season for the Celtics. After Gordon Hayward's injury at the beginning of the year, Tatum has taken on a much larger role than expected and has ultimately stepped up to the challenge. In 31 minutes per game, Tatum has averaged 13.5 points per game and has shot 44.3 percent from 3-point range, which places him third in the NBA.

Duke is the only school in the Rising Stars Contest to have multiple players representing a college in the game.

Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics

Despite the Celtics' recent struggles, Irving continues to shine. On Saturday, in a matchup between the No. 1 in each conference, the Celtics point guard went toe-to-toe with rival All-Star point guard Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. 

Despite losing in a close one, Irving shot lights-out, scoring 37 points including a 5-of-6 showing from the 3-point line. After the tough loss, the Celtics continued their road trip on Monday, when Irving had a 27 point outing against the Denver Nuggets. Boston's star guard had 10 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter to lead a late push to down the Nuggets. Irving sat Wednesday in a blowout of the Knicks with a minor injury. 

After going 2-2 on the road trip, the Celtics now have just a one-and-a-half game lead on the Toronto Raptors in the pole position in the Eastern Conference. 

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

Jabari Parker is set to return Friday February, 2nd at home against the New York Knicks after missing over a year of action with a torn ACL. Before the injury, the former number 2 draft pick was having an all-star caliber year for the Bucks. He was averaging 20.1 points per game on almost 50 percent from the field. Despite being on a minutes restriction initially, Parker could provide an offensive spark to a team that is currently in the middle of the playoff hunt.

Jahlil Okafor, Brooklyn Nets

After sitting out for a long stretch in December to get acclimated in Brooklyn, Okafor's role has continued to grow. Okafor scored the most points he has since last season Saturday against the Timberwolves, dropping 21 in 24 minutes. 

He came out and played even more Tuesday and finished with 13 rebounds, but had a rough day from the floor, shooting just 2-of-7 and scoring five points. He also scored eight points in 14 minutes Wednesday against the 76ers, helping spark a big Nets' run. Look for Okafor's role to continue to grow on a rebuilding Nets team.  

J.J. Redick, Philadelphia 76ers

Redick returned to the starting lineup Wednesday after missing seven games with a knee injury and was a force when he was on the floor, leading the team in +/- and dropping 20 points on 3-of-4 3-point shooting in a loss to the Nets. Philadelphia had been struggling from deep, shooting below 10 percent from 3-point range in a recent loss to the Bucks. 



Beyond the arc: Allen, Trent lead the way for the Blue Devils against the Irish



After falling to No. 2 Virginia Saturday, Duke rebounded and dealt Notre Dame its sixth straight loss Monday night with a 88-66 win. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways

1. The guards came back

After vanishing against the Cavaliers Saturday, Duke's backcourt exploded back onto the scene Monday. Gary Trent led the way with 22 points, more than the entire Blue Devil backcourt scored against Virginia. Save for an ugly outing against Virginia, Trent has been on fire as of late, especially from deep, and he continued that against the Fighting Irish with six 3-pointers. 

Grayson Allen also bounced back with 18 points on 3-of-6 shooting from deep, while Trevon Duval worked his way into the paint with ease and scored 12 points. 

2. New weapon off the bench?

Jack White left the game to a standing ovation. In conference play. Against Notre Dame. 

Not what many would have predicted coming into the season, but White came into his own in the most meaningful minutes he has ever played in a game. He was used much more frequently than Alex O'Connell off the bench, grabbing many contested rebounds and hitting a 3-pointer that helped spark Duke's decisive second-half run. 

Perhaps he could see more time going forward as a reserve for head coach Mike Krzyzewski—time will tell.  

3. It could be a long season for Notre Dame

Without preseason ACC Player of the Year Bonzie Colson, the Fighting Irish have looked lost. The defense had no answer on the perimeter or on the glass, getting outrebounded 43-27. They showed a palpable lack of size, although they were able to slow Marvin Bagley III for the most of the night. 

Notre Dame also was punchless on offense, lacking any sort of identity and turning the ball over more than is ideal. It could be a very long season in South Bend. 

Three key stats

1. Duke shoots 60 percent from deep

Led by Trent's 6-of-10 ledger from deep, Duke finished 12-of-20 from long range. Allen, Duval, Bagley and White all got in on the action after the Blue Devils had gone cold from deep against Virginia. 

2. Allen scores 18 points

After a dud against the Cavaliers, Allen bounced back with his trademark fire, scoring 18 points and getting the crowd into the game in big moments. However, Allen has still yet to show up in a big game since Dec. 30 against Florida State, something to watch for going forward. 

3. Fighting Irish 7-of-25 from long range

Notre Dame couldn't hit anything from deep, shooting a paltry 28.0 percent from 3-point range. The Fighting Irish's three starting guards finished a combined 3-of-18 from downtown. 

Looking forward

Notre Dame is by no means good without Colson, so it is difficult to draw any sort of meaningful conclusions from Monday's action. However, the Blue Devil defense has been trending up since getting torched by N.C. State Jan. 6. 

The competition hasn't been tough—they haven't played a team ranked in the top six in the conference in scoring offense, but the intensity has been there. Duke's first real test on defense will come Feb. 8 against North Carolina in Chapel Hill.



HALFTIME: Duke 42, Notre Dame 34



Facing one of the smallest and most injury-plagued teams in the ACC, it seems as if Duke has had a plan: get inside early and often.

Behind a balanced effort, the No. 4 Blue Devils are in control at the break, holding a 42-34 advantage against the visiting Fighting Irish, led by 14 points from Gary Trent Jr. After Notre Dame took its lone lead just two minutes into the contest, the hosts erupted for a 15-4 spurt, capped by eight unanswered points in just 2:44 to force an early timeout from Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey.

But even with Cameron Indoor Stadium rocking, Notre Dame did not fade. With a brief switch to a 2-3 zone to counter Duke's size, the Fighting Irish strung together a few stops and hit three straight field goals along with a trio of free throws to cut the Blue Devil lead to as little as three.

Still, the Duke offense stayed hot, allowing the Blue Devils to remain ahead. Trent knocked down two of his four first-half triples in just about 90 seconds to stretch out Duke's cushion.

From there, Brey's squad has done its best to hang around, but Notre Dame—without its top two players in potential preseason national player of the year Bonzie Colson and point guard Matt Farrell—has looked overmatched at times. Although the Fighting Irish got back as close as four points, Trent's hot night combined with a stretch that saw Notre Dame go without a field goal for more than four minutes has put the visitors behind.

Here are a few observations from the first half:

  • It took more than six minutes of game action for Mike Krzyzewski to finally call on his bench, but it was Alex O'Connell and Marques Bolden to check into the game first, with Bolden making his first appearance in almost a month.
  • Jack White scored the only bench points of the half, registering a pair on a putback dunk during his five minutes of action.
  • Thanks to their size advantage, the Blue Devils have gotten a heavy portion of their points either in the paint or at the charity stripe—24, to be exact.
  • After shooting just 5-of-11 at the line Saturday vs. Virginia, Duke has made the most of its free-throw chances so far, shooting 6-of-9 as a team.
  • The Blue Devils are struggling with foul trouble, however, as Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter Jr. both have picked up a pair already.


Thoughts on the AP poll: Duke stays put after loss to No. 2 Virginia



Another tumultuous week in college basketball left change in the AP poll, sending West Virginia to No. 15 and UNC to No. 19. 

Duke, Virginia stay put 

After a gut-wrenching home loss to Virginia, Duke picked up its third loss in conference play but remained at No. 4. The Blue Devils will look to rebound and get more production from their backcourt against Notre Dame on Monday—Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval shot 8-of-26 from the floor against the Cavaliers. With the win, fueled by a smothering defensive effort against one of the best offenses in the nation, Virginia picked up 17 first place votes but remained at No. 2 behind Villanova. 

North Carolina tanks after recent skid

ACC play has not been very kind to the Tar Heels, whose defense is in tatters. After opening conference play with losses to Florida State and Virginia, North Carolina won four straight before falling to unranked Virginia Tech and N.C. State this week, sending them falling out to No. 19 in the latest poll. 

On the season, the Tar Heels rank No. 22 in the country in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings, but gave up 95 points at home to the Wolfpack in an overtime game and 80 to the Hokies on the road. 

Michigan State rises, but future uncertain

After a couple of early slipups in Big Ten play, Michigan State has won four straight to move up to No. 5, but faces serious questions going forward in light of a recent ESPN investigation. An Outside the Lines investigation found a "pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression" about sexual assault allegations at Michigan State—including in Tom Izzo's program. Izzo said Friday that he has no plans to leave the program despite rumors that he would step down. 

Florida, Arizona State continue nosedive, West Virginia tanks

Despite being ranked highly early in the season, both Arizona State and Florida have tanked. This week, the Sun Devils fell to unranked Utah to drop to 4-5 in Pac-12 play and to No. 25 and the Gators fell at home to unranked South Carolina, sending them to the No. 23 spot. 

Big-12 teams had another rough week, with West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas all falling. The Sooners stayed at No. 12 after beating Kansas at home, but losing to unranked Alabama on the road. Kansas fell to No. 7, while West Virginia dropped to No. 15 after falling to two unranked teams, TCU and Kentucky. The Wildcats jumped back in the rankings at No. 21. 

———

COMPLETE RANKINGS: 

1. Villanova

2. Virginia

3.  Purdue

4.  Duke

5. Michigan State

6. Xavier

7.  Kansas

8.  Cincinnati 

9.  Arizona

10. Texas Tech

11. Auburn 

12. Oklahoma

13. Saint Mary's

14. Gonzaga

15. West Virginia

16. Wichita State 

17. Ohio State

18. Tennessee

19. North Carolina

20. Clemson

21. Kentucky

22. Rhode Island

23. Florida 

24. Michigan

25. Arizona State



Key three: Duke needs to play cleaner basketball against Notre Dame



After falling in gut-wrenching fashion to No. 2 Virginia Saturday, Duke looks to get back in the win column Monday against Notre Dame at Cameron Indoor Stadium at 7 p.m. The Blue Zone gives three keys for a Blue Devil win: 

Dominate the interior 

Freshmen Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. have been dominant over the Blue Devils’ last five contests, combining for eight double-doubles during that span. Facing a Notre Dame team with just two players at least 6-foot-9 or taller in its rotation, Bagley and Carter will have a palpable size advantage. 

With junior Grayson Allen still sporadic from the perimeter, look for Duke to continue to play through its big men down low and to win the battle on the glass once again. 

Limit the turnovers

After losing the turnover battle 16-5 against Virginia Saturday, the Blue Devils will need to do a much better job handling the ball to take control against Notre Dame. Freshman guard Trevon Duval has seemingly hit a roadblock of late. 

The New Castle, Del., native has scored just 11 points over his last three games, while committing 10 turnovers during that span, including a costly erratic pass in the closing minutes against Virginia. Duval and the Blue Devils will need to slow down Monday and control the tempo in order to play a clean and efficient game against the Fighting Irish.

Get the bench involved

Duke will likely need to dig deeper into its rotation Monday after getting just six combined minutes from its bench against Virginia on Saturday. Against a top-five opponent, the Blue Devils were hurt by their lack of depth, as starters Marvin Bagley III, Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr., were forced to play all 40 minutes of the contest.

Facing a short turnaround, look for head coach Mike Krzyzewski to give added minutes to Justin Robinson, Jordan Goldwire, Alex O’Connell and Javin DeLaurier early on in the contest to allow his starters to rest up after Saturday’s tough loss.



X Factor: Can Grayson Allen return to early season form?



After losing a tight contest to No. 2 Virginia Saturday, No. 4 Duke will have to rebound quickly with a matchup against another solid conference foe—Notre Dame. The Blue Devils will take on the Fighting Irish in the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor stadium Monday night. The Blue Zone takes a look at one player from each team that could be the difference-maker.

Duke: Guard Grayson Allen

After a glimpse of a bounce back against Pittsburgh, Grayson Allen has slipped back into his extended shooting slump with a sub-average performance against Wake Forest and a game to forget against the Cavaliers. 

The senior guard has shot 34.8 percent overall and 39.1 percent from downtown in his last 10 games, which have included all three losses for Duke this season. Without his shooting ability, an already thin shooting backcourt has become less potent, as Gary Trent Jr has been the only other Blue Devil to display some consistency in knocking down the long ball.

If Allen cannot find his smooth shooting stroke, even more pressure will be placed on the freshman-laden frontcourt, which is already shouldering a heavy load. With two road matchups looming after Notre Dame, including a primetime Feb. 8 matchup against rival North Carolina, Allen needs to start firing on all cylinders soon. 

Notre Dame: Forward Martinas Geben

As is the case with most opponents, the key to stopping the potent Duke offense is limiting Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr in the paint and on the offensive glass. Despite being undersized at 6-foot-6, Bonzie Colson managed to pull down 10.1 boards per game last season and was averaging 10.4 this season before injuring his foot and being sidelined. 

Now, the Fighting Irish will look to the Lithuanian senior to continue on his strong rebounding efforts thus far. Geben has pulled down 8.1 rebounds per game and has stepped up in Colson’s absence. If he can keep the Blue Devils off the offensive glass and shut down one of Duke’s two heralded forwards, it will go a long way to help injury-plagued Notre Dame end a five-game skid.



Take of the week: Wendell Carter Jr., not Marvin Bagley III, is Duke’s most NBA-ready prospect



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 Chronicle staff writer Derek Saul: 

The Take: Wendell Carter Jr. is Duke’s most NBA-ready prospect 

In any other season, Duke freshman Wendell Carter Jr. would be the talk of the town. However, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has perhaps the only other freshman big man in the country who could overshadow the Atlanta native: Marvin Bagley III.

The Blue Devils’ frontcourt duo of Bagley and Carter rates out as one of the most formidable units in the country, with Bagley averaging over a double-double and Carter close to one. Additionally, Bagley has been consistently been placed among the top three potential prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft.

Admittedly, the hype surrounding the 6-foot-11 Sierra Canyon School product is well-deserved, but perhaps there needs to be a greater emphasis on the pro potential of Carter. The “other” Duke forward, who comes in just a bit shorter than Bagley at 6-foot-10, fits incredibly well into today’s style of play in the NBA. 

The diverse aspects of Carter's game make him a particularly intriguing prospect—he is an astounding rim protector and defender, can run the court well and is a ferocious rebounder. Offensively, he is just unfair: Carter  can shake and bake in the post, throw down ferocious dunks, and knock down shots from beyond the arc—he has shot 48.0 percent from long range this season. Bagley has been nowhere near the deep threat that Carter has been. 

Although the difference is slim, Carter bests Bagley in both offensive and defensive rating, which are measures of how many points the Blue Devils score and allow while each is on the floor. Furthermore, Carter  possesses a higher true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage, both measures of offensive efficiency, although he is behind Bagley III in many counting stats, such as points and rebounds per contest.

Carter is an ideal modern big man, and come 2018-19, when perhaps both he and his teammate Bagley are playing professionally, don’t be surprised if Carter shines more brightly than the more highly touted Bagley.



Beyond the arc: Lack of guard production concerning for Blue Devils



Duke suffered its first loss of the season to a ranked team Saturday, falling 65-63 in a heartbreaker against No. 2 Virginia. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats and looks forward for the No. 4 Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways: 

1. Lack of guard production a concern

Duke's guard trio of Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen couldn't get anything going against the Cavaliers' pack-line defense—which supposedly is more vulnerable to jump shots from the perimeter. The guards shot a putrid 8-of-26 from the floor, including 1-of-8 from deep. That won't win many games against anyone, much less Virginia.

The Blue Devils may have to accept that their guards may never take the next step and become a consistent force against top opponents, and continue to lean on Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. It's especially surprising how far Allen has dropped after dropping 37 points on Michigan State in November—he may just have to an accept a role as a Swiss Army knife-type role player as a senior captain. 

2. Team still very young, inconsistent 

Duke looked frazzled in the first half, and despite a furious rally to retake the lead in the second half, they could not make the necessary plays to seal the deal down the stretch. Trevon Duval's questionable downcourt pass late was one of a number of freshman mistakes that the Blue Devils made Saturday, putting the nail in the coffin. 

Carter and Duval also missed key free throws down the stretch, ultimately the difference in the game. Although Duke appeared strong under pressure early this season with many comebacks in the PK80 Invitational, it couldn't survive youthful mistakes like these. 

3. Bagley and Carter: unreal

Despite Duke's struggles in many facets, its two bigs were sensational, combining for 29 rebounds, while Bagley had 30 points and Carter added 14. Bagley and Carter made more 3-pointers, combining for three, though Carter could hardly be credited for his, than the guards did. Especially when they avoid foul trouble like they did Saturday, Bagley and Carter are a truly special pair of post players that have a chance to go down in Duke history. 

Three key stats: 

1. 16 turnovers

Duke turned the ball over a whopping 16 times, while the Cavaliers coughed it up just five times. Against a Virginia team that likes to slow down the tempo, the Blue Devils couldn't afford to waste possessions, but did so Saturday, leaving their death knell sounding. With five, Duval had the most turnovers, but Carter also had four. 

2. 5-of-11 from the charity stripe

The Blue Devils have been inconsistent from the line this season, and Saturday was no different. Duke shot just 45.5 percent from the line, while the Cavaliers shot nearly 80 percent in their nine tries. 

2. Allen scores five points

With Bagley as the new focal point of the offense this season, Allen's production has waned, but particularly on Saturday. Allen has only scored in double digits against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest in conference play. 

Looking forward: 

With a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time in 23 years Saturday, Virginia made it clear: it is now a legitimate national title favorite. The Cavaliers' defense has the potential to be deadly in the tournament, though the Blue Devils certainly pushed it around at times—but not consistently enough to get the job done. This game says more about Virginia than it does about Duke—the Cavaliers have a historically great defense. 

Now, for the Blue Devils, a regular-season ACC title is certainly out of the cards, but this game will certainly serve as a good learning experience. A very young team still has a good chunk of conference play and the ACC tournament to become more consistent on defense and perhaps develop more of a perimeter game on offense. 



HALFTIME: Virginia 32, Duke 22



Duke's efficient but young offense has never seen a defense like Virginia's, and the Blue Devils played like it for most of the first half.

The second-ranked Cavaliers lead No. 4 Duke 32-22 at halftime at Cameron Indoor Stadium, holding the Blue Devils to 37.0 percent shooting. Duke is having some success with Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III inside, but is getting virtually no production from any of its guards against Virginia's suffocating pack-line defense.

The Blue Devils scored on their first two trips down the floor, finding holes in the middle of Virginia's defense for buckets in the paint by Carter and Bagley. But once the Cavaliers settled in and limited Duke's opportunities in transition, offense was hard to come by. Duke scored a mere two points in the next seven minutes, allowing Virginia to take the lead with a 12-2 run.

The Blue Devil backcourt has struggled to stretch the defense with its shooting, as Duke is just 0-of-7 from deep, and point guard Trevon Duval is having trouble starting the offense again after a scoreless outing Tuesday at Wake Forest. The point guard got a floater in the lane blocked by Ty Jerome and has any many points as he has turnovers.

Bagley and Carter have tried to keep the Blue Devils in the game, combining for the team's first 10 points and finishing the half with 16. Carter and Bagley are playing off each other well on the rare occasion they can get space to work in the paint, with Carter feeding Bagley for two dunks.

But Virginia's offense has been effective and efficient to keep Duke at bay, led by sophomore Kyle Guy's 10 points. After Gary Trent Jr. made a breakaway dunk to bring the Blue Devils within two, the Cavaliers scored on their next four possessions to go on a 9-2 run and force Mike Krzyzewski to use a timeout.

Virginia took an 12-point lead on a 3-point play by Jerome with less than four minutes to play, and Duke will need its fourth comeback from a double-digit second-half deficit of the season to avoid its first loss in three weeks.

Here are a few observations from the first half:

  • A day after Marvin Bagley talked about the importance of valuing each possession against a slow-paced team like Virginia, Duke has gifted the Cavaliers a couple of stops with errant post feeds and finished the half with eight turnovers.
  • Sophomore center Marques Bolden is in uniform and available to play after missing six straight game with an MCL sprain, but has not entered the contest.
  • Bagley and Carter are having success when they get the ball in the paint, but they have too often drifted out to the perimeter for three missed 3-pointers.
  • The Blue Devils did not attempt a free throw for the first 17 minutes of the game.
  • Duke's season low in points is 78. It would take a miracle or several overtimes to reach that mark this afternoon.


Key three: How can Duke navigate past Virginia's stifling defense?



After a couple of easy conference games, No. 4 Duke will return to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday at 2 p.m. to face No. 2 Virginia. Here are three keys to the game: 

Ride Grayson Allen

In order to win tough games, teams have to rely on veteran leadership to guide younger players to victory. 

The Blue Devils have missed out on that leadership from sole senior Grayson Allen, as he has only scored in double digits for three of the last six games, none coming against ranked opponent Miami or in Duke’s loss to NC State. Throughout Allen’s struggles, the Blue Devils have been able to rely on freshmen bigs Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. for the majority of the team’s scoring. 

But in the most consequential game of the season yet for Duke, Allen will need to show up against the most efficient defensive team in the nation. Giving the Blue Devils another outside threat and a reliable scoring option will not only help them beat the Cavaliers, but also boost Allen’s confidence for the rest of the season, as Duke will also need his contributions to make a deep run in March. 

Emphasize tough defense

A good defensive team only beats a good offensive team when the offensive team fails to stop their opponents from scoring. 

The Blue Devils, which have scored the most points in the country, find themselves in a peculiar situation facing a Virginia team that has allowed the fewest points in the nation. While it is inevitable that Duke will not score as easily as they are accustomed to against Virginia’s smothering defense, they must make it a point to defend the Cavaliers well to make up for the loss of offensive efficiency. 

The Blue Devils have had issues with their defense so far, ranked No. 70 in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings. While their zone has not yet looked capable of stopping a team with good shooters, they have also struggled in man defense, forcing them to stay in a zone for most games. The Cavaliers, ranked 29th in nation in three-point percentage, have the capability of exposing Duke’s zone Saturday afternoon, so the Blue Devils need to come out with defensive intensity to limit Virginia’s scoring opportunities.

Direct game down low

To beat the Cavaliers, Bagley and Carter need to continue dominating in the paint. A weakness Duke can exploit is Virginia’s lack of size down low. 

Other than 6-foot-10 redshirt junior Jack Salt, nobody on Virginia’s squad has the size and athleticism to challenge Duke’s elite bigs. The Blue Devils rank second in the country for total rebounds per game, while the Cavaliers rank near the bottom. Virginia may force Duke to struggle offensively, but the Blue Devils can give themselves second-chance opportunities if they crash the boards and corral missed shots. 

Duke can also use its rebounding advantage to control the tempo of the game, starting fastbreaks off Virginia’s misses. Duke needs to capitalize on every advantage they have over the Cavaliers to win what should be a highly contested matchup.