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Key Three: Duke men’s basketball will have to adapt without Tre Jones against Virginia

Cam Reddish's likely return will help Duke Saturday.
Cam Reddish's likely return will help Duke Saturday.

Duke will play its first full game without Tre Jones on Saturday, when they will host Virginia. The Blue Zone breaks down three aspects of the game that could tilt the contest in the Blue Devils’ favor as they look to keep their undefeated ACC record intact:

Adjust to Tre Jones’ absence

Just a few minutes into the Syracuse game, Tre Jones, the NCAA’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio and Duke’s floor general, was taken out for a shoulder injury. Later that night, it was announced that Jones suffers from an AC joint separation and is out indefinitely. Although a lot of the hype this season has been around the freshmen who are better scorers, true Blue Devil fans know how much is lost without the glue of the game. 

Without the ideal middle man between Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s instructions and their execution on the court, there will need to be more effort for effective communication. With Coach K on the sidelines, Jones’ basketball IQ helped navigate the team through real-time decisions on the court. The other players are going to have to step up and set each other up for some good looks. 

Shooting against another strong defense

Earlier this week, top-ranked Duke received its second loss of the season, this time against an unranked team, and the biggest issue was the lack of 3-point makes. The strong defense from the Orange forced the Blue Devils to take shots they weren’t comfortable with. Unfortunately, this obstacle is already back to bite the team again. However, Cam Reddish should be back from the flu this time around, and maybe Jack White will get back in his game and offer more than 0-for-10 beyond the arc. 

No. 4 Virginia’s defense currently lies as the second best in the nation. Throughout their season thus far, the Cavaliers have shut down other teams, only twice allowing over 60 points to opponents. This is bad news for Duke, because not only does lead scorer RJ Barrett make most of his shots in the paint, but sits econd biggest scorer, Zion Williamson, also likes to rack up points for the Blue Devils in the same manner. Although Duke is gifted offensively, in terms of 3-point percentage, the Blue Devils are 235th in the nation. According to the numbers, the outlook for this Saturday’s game isn’t looking as good as it has against other teams this season. But then again, Duke wasn’t supposed to win by 34 points against the formerly higher ranked Kentucky. 

Perimeter shooting

Defense will be incredibly important in this game, especially because the Blue Devils are already going to be limited on relying on their three-point shots. If the points for Duke are going to come in at less of a rate than they usually do, then the Blue Devils will need to make sure that their opponents are falling behind with them. This will be tough against shooters like Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome, who each knock down 40 percent or more of their 3-point looks.

Although Duke’s overall points per game far outpace that of Virginia’s, the Cavaliers’ 3-point percentage dominates. The Blue Devils have a 31.8 3-point shooting percentage from deep, while the Cavaliers have a total of 40.8. If Duke’s defense puts pressure on these players by crowding the paint, the Cavalier shooters will have less of a problem stepping outside of the arc to make the shots they need to outscore the Blue Devils. Duke has a defensive disadvantage now that Jones is out—his dedication to his defensive position was shown on Monday when he injured himself diving for a loose ball. Again, other players will have to step up to cover defense as well as Jones did.