Stating that the Hurricanes have had the Blue Devils’ number in recent years would be an understatement.
Miami has defeated the Blue Devils four times in their last six meetings and holds a 3-1 record against Duke at home in that span, despite being the lower-ranked team in each matchup. The Blue Devils will be looking to buck the trend Monday, when they attempt to penetrate the Hurricanes' stifling defense and defeat Miami on the road for the first time since 2014.
No. 5 Duke will look to sustain its offensive rhythm on the road and win its second-consecutive contest away from home when it does battle with the 25th-ranked Hurricanes Monday at 7 p.m. at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Fla. The Blue Devils fell 55-50 in last season’s road matchup, and have failed to surpass the 70-point plateau at Miami in each of their four tries since 2011.
Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel believes the Blue Devils need to continue to play through their freshmen big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. in order to break through their recent offensive drought against the Hurricanes.
“We’re going to be focusing on [the inside] every game because that’s where our strength is,” Capel said. “We feed the ball to them and see what the defense does. If it’s one-on-one, please, let them go to work. If not, we’ll move the ball around and get the next best shot.”
Contrary to the last few seasons, Duke (15-2, 3-2 in the ACC) should have the size necessary to compete with Miami (13-3, 2-2), a team that boasts five men listed at 6-foot-10 or taller, including its leading scorer, 6-foot-11 Dewan Huell, who averages 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest. Bagley and Carter have showed the ability to outrebound anybody in the nation, and have dominated the paint this season. The duo has combined for 21 double-doubles already, and the freshmen will need to stay on their toes against an athletic Hurricanes team.
More talented opponents have yet to catch up to Bagley, though, who has been more dominant since the start of conference play. The Phoenix native has averaged 24.8 points and 13.8 rebounds in five ACC games, including a 30-point, 11-rebound performance Saturday against Wake Forest. Bagley now has five 30-point double-doubles on the season, and three of them in the last three weeks.
Although the Blue Devils have constantly dominated the interior offensively, Duke has struggled to convert from beyond the arc consistently for much of this season. More notably, preseason All-American Grayson Allen’s sharpshooting ability has yet to appear during conference play. The senior captain has converted on just 20.0 percent of his 35 attempts from downtown in that span and is coming off just his second game without a made field goal since his freshman season.
Despite not scoring Saturday, Allen took fewer shot attempts in the contest and seemed to shift his focus towards his defense, opting to defer some of the perimeter shooting load to freshmen Gary Trent Jr. and Alex O’Connell.
“I just keep going for shots,” Allen said. “Keep shooting and keep shooting until I get the rhythm. Defensively, if I’m only shooting the ball five times, there’s a lot more energy on defense so I can contribute a lot more on that end of the ball and get deflections, rebound and push and get these guys in position to score.”
O’Connell has shown the ability to knock down threes at a consistent rate during limited minutes this season. The Roswell, Ga., native leads the Blue Devils with a 53.6 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc and has taken advantage of increased minutes with sophomores Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier out nursing respective knee and hamstring injuries.
The freshman sharpshooter set a career high with 13 points in Saturday’s victory and has now converted on 4-of-6 3-point attempts in his last two games. With DeLaurier and Bolden likely out again Monday, Duke will need O’Connell to fill in minutes off the bench and use his consistent shooting to create space for Bagley and Carter to operate in the post.
On the other side of the ball, the Blue Devils will need to continue to improve defensively. After sagging off on the perimeter and allowing opponents to beat it with the 3-pointer, Duke seems to have found its rhythm in the last few games. The Blue Devils failed to keep their first seven Power-5 opponents under 78 points, but have held their last two to an average of just 61.5 points per contest, partly due to an increased defensive focus during practice.
“A lot of our focus has been on defense and just fundamentals and movements,” Allen said. “We’re not doing a lot of pounding and going against each other. It’s a lot of if the ball’s here, where are you, and just sliding and being in the right position and making sure everyone is talking. In practice guys are moving their feet a lot better and there’s an extra focus on defense that I don’t think was there a week or two ago.”
Duke will need its perimeter defense to stand strong against the Hurricanes. Without tight defense, Miami’s shooters have the ability to spread the floor and create defensive nightmares for opponents. Sophomore Dejan Vasiljevic leads the Hurricanes with 33 made 3-pointers on the season. Freshman Chris Lykes and Anthony Lawrence III can also knock down threes, both men have converted on better than 40 percent of their attempts from downtown so far.
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Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113. Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.