After the completion of a road trip full of disappointment and two difficult opponents, many Blue Devil fans are likely breathing a sigh of relief that the team’s next game is in Durham against an unranked team.
But recent history—coupled with memories of Miami’s last visit to Cameron—point to signs that Saturday’s game could be another tough test for Duke rather than an easy bounce-back win.
The No. 18 Blue Devils will face the Hurricanes at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium likely still without head coach Mike Krzyzewski and likely still devoid of co-captain Amile Jefferson, who interim head coach Jeff Capel described Monday on the ACC’s weekly teleconference as “still day-to-day” with a right-foot bone bruise. After back-to-back losses against Florida State and Louisville, Duke has had a week off to prepare for its effort to return to .500 in conference play after falling below that mark through at least five games for the first time since 2007.
“We’re coming off of two straight losses to two very good teams on the road in hostile environments against a very good Florida State team and a very good Louisville team,” Capel said. “I think we’ve done some things to get better. It hasn’t equated in wins but it’s part of the process of growing as a team. We have to do a lot more.”
This year’s Miami squad brings a balanced attack without flashy stars, as the team does not have a single player ranking in the top five of any major ACC statistic. But Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga—who picked up his 600th career win last week—has been known for strategizing his way to upset victories despite being outmatched in talent. During Larrañaga’s last trip to Cameron two years ago, his team combined hot shooting with a solid gameplan to defeat the eventual national champions in a 90-74 rout.
Saturday’s mid-January matchup also falls during a time in which Duke (14-4, 2-3 in the ACC) has historically played its worst basketball as of late. The team is just 2-7 in games held between Jan. 10 and Jan. 21 since 2015.
Leading the Hurricanes (12-5, 2-3) will be a trio of guards that are the team’s only double-digit scorers. Senior Davon Reed is the team’s best offensive player, averaging 15.2 points per game, and is followed closely by junior Ja’Quan Newton and freshman Bruce Brown, who average 14.7 and 10.9 points per game, respectively.
The team makes up for its lack of offensive depth inside, though, with its team-wide emphasis on lockdown defense.
Miami is the second-best in the ACC and 12th-best in the nation in terms of points per game allowed, giving up an average of just 61.5 points per contest.
The Hurricanes held Pittsburgh to just 46 points during a blowout win Saturday after losing a tough battle against then-No. 20 Notre Dame during which they held the Fighting Irish—who average 81.1 points per game—to just 67 points. In its most recent game Wednesday, though, Miami fell victim to a streaky shooting night at the hands of Wake Forest and ended up allowing 48 points each half—more than the Panthers scored in 40 minutes last week.
“My coaching staff has been delivering the message of how important defense is to winning and our players have been very receptive,” Larrañaga said Monday. “There’s no question our two seniors [forward Kamari Murphy and Reed] have been just absolutely terrific at the defensive end of the floor.”
Jefferson’s anticipated absence will likely prolong the Blue Devils’ recent struggles inside.
Highly-touted recruit Marques Bolden has failed to score a field goal in his last 23:02 of play, sophomore Chase Jeter has not scored from the floor since Dec. 10 against UNLV and freshman Javin DeLaurier saw unexpected playing time Saturday against Louisville after missing about a month due to injury.
Rookie forward Harry Giles has shown some improvement in recent games, but most of the No. 1 recruit’s scoring opportunities have come on uncontested dunks rather than Giles’ playmaking or paint skills.
What this means is that in order to find success against the Hurricanes, the bulk of the burden will yet again be on Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard, who scored 40 of the Blue Devils’ 69 points against the Cardinals and have carried the team offensively so far this season.
Miami does not possess nearly the same interior firepower on offense as Louisville or Florida State, but it does excel in one area that Duke’s last two opponents exploited with great success—offensive rebounding.
The Cardinals and Seminoles combined to outrebound the Blue Devils 25-17 on the offensive glass—leading to 32 second-chance points—and the Hurricanes are well-poised to only add to Duke’s frustrating rebounding tendencies. Led in the post by Murphy—who averages 7.8 rebounds per game—and backed by four more players averaging at least four boards per contest, Miami is third in the ACC in offensive rebounds per game and tied for the 20th-best rebounding margin in the country at +7.4.
On defense, the Jefferson-less frontcourt quartet has been caught missing switches and leaving opposing post players wide open on the baseline, resulting in 92 points allowed in the paint during the team’s last two matchups. Duke’s defensive sluggishness was on full display Saturday against the Cardinals, when the Blue Devils allowed center Anas Mahmoud to nearly triple his season scoring average and notch a career-high 17-points.
Following six days off, Duke hopes practice pays off and it can feed off the home environment after ESPN’s “College GameDay” to bounce back.
“We have to be stronger. We have to be mentally tougher,” Capel said. “Hopefully we have a great crowd Saturday night against a very good Miami team that’s coming off of a really good, really impressive performance.”
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