A tweet released by the team Friday listing Tre Jones as "probable" to start has raised the hopes for Blue Devils fans who initially thought the floor general could be out for the season.
However, whether or not Jones steps on the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday at noon against Georgia Tech, the second-ranked Blue Devils have adjusted well and proven their mettle in wins against Virginia and Pittsburgh and should expect much of the same against the Yellow Jackets.
“With Tre [Jones] out, you have seen many different guys step up at many different times. Today it was [Jordan Goldwire] and Marques [Bolden],” said R.J. Barrett following the victory over the Panthers. “They stepped up big time today. In the Syracuse game, it was Alex [O’Connell]. Our team is so good that we can’t just rely on a certain amount of guys.”
For Saturday’s contest, the focus will be on scoring through ball-movement and second-chance opportunities. Against the Cavaliers, Duke (16-2, 5-1 in the ACC) had a season-low six assists, led by Barrett’s three dimes. Although the stat improved against a lesser opponent in Pittsburgh with 15 assists led by Zion Williamson’s seven, it was still below the season average of 18 assists-per-game.
Against a stingy Yellow Jackets defense that is allowing conference opponents 67.0 points per game, the Blue Devils cannot get trapped into making bad decisions and taking poor shots. What should alleviate the pressure is opportunities off the offensive glass. Georgia Tech plays three players under 6-foot-6 while Duke’s primary scorers are all 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-11 without Jones.
The Blue Devils, who are fifth in the nation in offensive rebounds per game, should be able to feast down low. Georgia Tech (11-8, 3-3) ranks 211th in rebounding margin at -0.3 and allowed an injury-ravaged Notre Dame team to rebound 44.4 percent of its missed shots. Although the Yellow Jackets squeaked out a 63-61 victory to end a two-game skid, Williamson and Bolden will likely have plenty of opportunities for high-percentage putbacks.
Williamson should register another efficient outing—he went 11-for-13 for 25 points against the Panthers—while Bolden, who is averaging eight rebounds per game in the last three contests and playing some of his best basketball, should thrive.
“I just took what the defense gave me. If the shot was not there I didn’t force it. I am surrounded by great shooters and great players,” Williamson said. “I can just kick it out and I know my teammates will make plays.”
Defensively, with Jones out, Duke has resorted to a zone defense for stretches of the game to stop opponents. Typically, a strong shooting team can outshoot a zone defense, but luckily for the Blue Devils, Georgia Tech is one of the few team more inept than Duke at shooting the deep ball, connecting on just 30.8 percent of attempts. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets have turned over the ball on 23.6 percent of possessions in league play, which should generate the lethal fast-break opportunities that have led to viral highlight plays.
The one player the Blue Devils need to focus on is Jose Alvarado, who leads Georgia Tech with 13.8 points per game. In its three ACC wins this season, Alvarado has averaged 16 points per contest. Duke did a great job of stopping Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson of Pittsburgh, both of whom have a similar skillset as Alvarado.
If Jones plays, expect Alvarado to be shutdown by the Apple Valley, Minn., native’s relentless on-ball pressure. Otherwise, Alvarado, who is shooting 52 .6 percent from deep over his last four games, may have some space to give the Yellow Jackets a chance to defeat Duke for the first time since 2010.
“With Tre out we’re a different team, so I thought the zone was good. The best thing for us, it kept McGowens and Johnson off the free throw line and I can’t believe they didn’t score a point from the free throw line because they’re such good drivers,” head coach Mike Krzyzweski said. “The zone kept them out and we’re lucky they didn’t hit some shots and we hit some and we won.”
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