Duke’s tournament run ended Sunday evening as the team lost to Michigan State 68-67 in the Elite Eight. The Blue Zone breaks down three key takeaways, three key stats and looks forward for the Duke squad:
Three key takeaways:
1. Lack of bench production
With Duke’s freshman class being as talented as it is, it was no secret going into the season that it would be Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson carrying the bulk of the offense. However, it was also clear that the Blue Devils needed production off the bench to defeat high-caliber teams; after all, it was Jordan Goldwire’s pestering defense and Alex O’Connell’s sharp shooting that helped propel the team to an ACC Championship. But during the last three NCAA tournament games, Duke’s bench production went virtually to zero. At one point in the Blue Devils’ matchup against the Spartans, forty-five straight points were scored by freshman alone for Duke.
2. Inexperience finally catches up to the Blue Devils
With numerous one-and-done prospects choosing to play under Coach K year after year, Duke’s basketball program has come to lack the veteran presence that other elite programs such as North Carolina and Virginia have. Especially without Duke alumnus Grayson Allen in the lineup for the Blue Devils this year, Duke’s offense and defense primarily runs through its four talented freshmen. While the Blue Devils have performed well under pressure for most of the year—and even escaped their previous two tournament games by a margin of two points or less—perhaps the concern of inexperience surrounding such a young team, at last, proved its worth tonight. A missed assignment, a missed free throw and numerous turnovers in the final minutes of the game brought the Blue Devils down against an experienced, albeit less talented, Spartan squad.
3. End of the line for several Duke freshmen
Duke’s Elite Eight loss to Michigan State could mark the last collegiate game for Williamson, Barrett, Reddish and perhaps Jones. With Williamson, Barrett and Reddish likely being lottery picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, there is a good chance they will declare, leaving Krzyzewski with a hole to fill for next year’s roster. This season was one to be remembered for potential top-three picks Williamson and Barrett, with Williamson winning ACC Player of the Year and Barrett breaking Duke’s freshman all-time scoring record. It will be interesting to see whether Jones declares for the draft or not, which could have a huge impact on how next year’s roster meshes together.
Three key stats:
1. 0 fast break points
The Blue Devils are arguably at their best when they can get out into the open court. Too often this year has a lob to Williamson or a breakaway Barrett jam been a catalyst for the Duke offense, beginning runs that stretch leads into double digits. However, the Blue Devils had zero fast break points against the Spartans, producing just four steals throughout the match compared to a season average of 9.5.
2. 17 turnovers
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The Blue Devils coughed up the ball 17 times in their loss to the Spartans, seven of which came from Barrett and five of which came from Williamson. In the first half alone, Duke committed 10 turnovers, which converted into 15 Michigan State points. Five more turnovers in the final five minutes of the game prevented the Blue Devils from gaining any momentum on the offensive end, giving the Spartans more opportunities to capitalize.
3. 61.5 percent from the free throw line
Free throw shooting has plagued the Blue Devils all season, who rank 244th in free throw shooting percentage out of all Division 1 teams. While Barrett’s missed free throw in the final seconds of the game will be scrutinized the most, the team as a whole missed five out of their 13 free throws. Those free points from the line are often the difference in a close game, and had the Blue Devils paid more focus and care into their shots from the stripe, their season finish could have been a completely different story.
While Duke’s season is over, the team must begin preparing for next year. In particular, it is likely that at least Williamson, Barrett and Reddish will be declaring for the 2019 NBA Draft, leaving a gap to be filled. The Blue Devils do have several recruits secured, including the third ranked player in the Class of 2019, Vernon Carey Jr., but they look to pursue additional pieces, including prospect Matthew Hurt. Duke will still have the majority of its players returning, including Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell and Jack White, and this offseason will be a time for those players to improve their games.