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Key three: Duke men's basketball's offense looks to rebound in exhibition finale

Duke's defense, spearheaded by point guard Tre Jones, may have to carry the team this season
Duke's defense, spearheaded by point guard Tre Jones, may have to carry the team this season

Duke underwent a minor scare in its exhibition opener, surviving a late barrage of threes to squeeze past Northwest Missouri State 69-63. Now, the Blue Devils prepare for Fort Valley State in the team's final opportunity to shake off the rust before the Champions Classic against Kansas. The Blue Zone breaks down three key factors as Duke looks to end the preseason on a high note:

Find a go-to guy

With the way the Blue Devils are constructed this season, the end-goal is to have perhaps the most fluid offense Duke fans have seen in years, where there is no go-to man and anyone can produce at a given moment. Right now, however, that doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility.

Maybe as the season progresses, and the Blue Devils finally start finding their rhythm, a truly fluid offense can be achieved. Against the Bearcats Saturday, that didn’t seem to be the case. Duke appeared lost and confused, with seemingly nobody aggressive enough to step up and get a bucket when the offense needed one.

Thus, the Blue Devils need to find their go-to guy that the offense can rely upon toward the beginning of the season. During Countdown to Craziness, that role seemed to belong to Vernon Carey Jr. as the five-star center scored a game-high 15 points. But the big man was nowhere to be found in the team’s preseason opener, playing just 10 minutes and scoring four points.

To have a realistic shot at taking down the No. 3 Jayhawks next Tuesday, Duke needs someone to provide an offensive spark in times of trouble.

Hit from downtown

You probably expected this one. Duke has been dreadful shooting from three so far this year, albeit the sample size consists merely of an intrasquad scrimmage and an exhibition contest. Still, the team’s outside shooting has been so bad in those two games that the numbers remain a cause for concern.

During the Blue and White game, both sides combined to shoot 4-of-25 from beyond the arc. It somehow got worse against Northwest Missouri State with the Blue Devils connecting on only two of their 16 three-point attempts. Of course, three-point shooting was one of the main factors that brought down Duke’s 2018-19 squad. 

Even Matthew Hurt, the Blue Devils’ supposed savior from deep, missed on all three of his three-point attempts Saturday.

If this year’s team can’t find its stroke, it could be a long season in Durham.

Keep up the defensive intensity

During its annual preseason slate, it might be easy for Duke to take it easy on defense and still come out with a blowout win. Against Fort Valley State, the Blue Devils must avoid falling into that trap.

Similarly to my first point, the team’s offense simply isn’t good enough to score points at will. Duke's success this season is going to start on the defensive end, and to play good defense, you need to keep the intensity up from day one.

The Blue Devils were fantastic in that regard Saturday, swarming the opposition for 11 steals. These turnovers led to easy points on the other end, helping to make up for the team’s lack of offensive rhythm. However, Duke still consistently left Bearcats alone beyond the arc—open treys that kept Northwest Missouri State in the game as the game came down to the wire.

As the Blue Devils’ opponents quickly transform from the Bearcats to Wildcats to Jayhawks, mistakes like that could be the difference between a win and a loss.

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