Freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. has had a fantastic start to the ACC season, averaging 15 points and 7.8 rebounds per game on 70.4 percent shooting from the floor in the Blue Devils’ three conference wins.
But Wednesday night, he’ll receive arguably his hardest test yet.
No. 2 Duke will travel to McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech at 9 p.m., looking to keep its perfect ACC record intact. The Yellow Jackets are one of the more physical teams on the Blue Devils’ schedule, ranking third in the conference in blocks and first in personal fouls.
Carey and company can only try their best to repeat a dominant inside showing at Miami, in which Duke totaled 64 points in the paint en route to a 95-62 victory.
“We just played that game at a real high level,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the team's win against the Hurricanes. “And Miami’s good—with our depth, we wore them out a little bit…. We got transition buckets, and we scored off of our defense, and that leads to makes in the paint. And we shared the ball real well—the last two games I think we’ve had 20 and 23 assists.”
Forwards James Banks III and Moses Wright are the leaders of Georgia Tech’s intimidating post defense, placing second and sixth in the ACC in blocks, respectively. Banks’ 2.8 blocks per contest are good for the 15th-best mark in the nation.
While it’s the Yellow Jackets’ big men that shine brightest on defense, it’s actually the team’s guards that lead them on the offensive end of the floor.
Sophomore Michael Devoe leads the team with 16.9 points per game, fifth in the ACC. But it’s junior Jose Alvarado who the Blue Devils (13-1, 3-0 in the ACC) really have to worry about.
Alvarado has only appeared in seven games this season while dealing with an injured ankle, but in those seven games, the Brooklyn native is averaging a team-high 4.4 assists and 2.3 steals per contest. And in Georgia Tech’s 96-83 win against North Carolina, it was Alvarado who led the Yellow Jackets (7-7, 2-2) with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor and 4-of-6 shooting from outside, adding eight assists and six steals as well.
Sadly for Alvarado, he’ll likely be guarded by the lockdown Blue Devil combination of Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire throughout Wednesday’s matchup.
“Well, [Goldwire] has just grown,” Krzyzewski said following the victory against Miami. “He values the ball. Another game [with] four assists and no turnovers. He's just making simple, really good plays and he can pressure the ball. He and Tre love playing with one another, not just for one another. That depth on the perimeter has helped us. Tonight nobody played—we hardly ever have anybody play 30 minutes.”
Despite their strengths, there’s a reason the Yellow Jackets lost five of their previous seven games prior to their win against the Tar Heels. Head coach Josh Pastner’s squad ranks dead last in the ACC in 3-point field goals and second-to-last in 3-point percentage. That, combined with the most turnovers in the conference, can make it challenging for Georgia Tech to score enough points to keep up with top-tier offenses.
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For the Blue Devils, replacing the production of Wendell Moore will also be a focus entering the contest. Moore broke a bone in his shooting hand against the Hurricanes and will be out for the foreseeable future following surgery Monday afternoon.
Krzyzewski, however, isn’t worried that the freshman forward’s absence will cause increased pressure on the rest of the roster.
“There’s no pressure on anybody,” Krzyzewski said in the ACC's weekly teleconference Monday. “We don’t have a rotation. We play nine, 10 guys and so it doesn’t put pressure on anybody. It just means that guys will play a few more minutes. We’re not replacing a position or a part of a certain rotation. Our guys have fought to be themselves when they’re out on the court, so they don’t have to change anything. And then we’ll wait [for] Wendell coming back and being 100 percent in a little bit.”
Following the trip to the Peach State, Duke will return home to take on Wake Forest Saturday at 8 p.m. The Blue Devils’ next ranked matchup isn’t until Jan. 18 against No. 13 Louisville.