In its second contest of the season, Duke dropped their first game in a six-point loss to Michigan State. The team has a ways to go in order to be in a position to compete for an ACC title, and here's what the Blue Zone saw in the Blue Devils' latest matchup:
Three key takeaways:
Lack of scorers
After the first five minutes of the game, it was clear that it was going to be a very poor offensive showing for the Blue Devils. Freshman Jalen Johnson and DJ Steward, who carried the team offensively during the first game, were almost nonexistent. The two that combined for 43 points against Coppin State combined for just 17 last night. If they’re not playing well, where does the offense generate from? The team often settled for jump shots rather than forcing their way into the paint, resulting in a field goal percentage of just 32.3 percent. This young team needs to find more scorers in order to compete with experienced teams like Michigan State in the future.
Before the last two minutes, where the team made a few shots that had little effect on the outcome of the game, the Blue Devils had only made two 3-pointers. Prior to the start of the season, there was chatter that this was the best shooting team Duke has had in recent memory. So far, it has been the exact opposite. In contests where the Blue Devils are much smaller than their opponent and dominating in the paint is not an option, Duke will need to be able to consistently make it from deep. In order to do this, the team will have to learn to run offensive sets and get their teammates open, rather than just chucking threes as the shot clock expires.
At times last night, it felt as though Michigan State could get to the basket whenever they wanted. Most of the time, this was due to the lack of chemistry between the inexperienced and returning Blue Devils. Rather than staying on their man and blocking his route to the paint, the defenders often went for flashy steals and blocks, leaving the next defender to play catchup and eventually resulting in an easy basket for the Spartans. In the same way the offensive needs to be a more cohesive unit, there needs to be more communication on defense or opponents will continue to blow through the Blue Devils.
Three key stats:
While this number is certainly an improvement from the 22 giveaways Duke suffered in their first matchup, it is still sloppy. And this doesn’t account for all of the times the team was lucky Michigan State could not capitalize on their mistakes. This kind of play by the Blue Devils has resulted in far too many easy buckets for their opponents and after jumping out to an early 10-point lead, they seemed to lose focus, resulting in the easy comeback and eventual win for the Spartans.
Taking care of the ball has to start with leaders like Jordan Goldwire, who threw the ball away multiple times last night. In time, the younger players will learn as well. Keeping possession of the ball will not only give Duke more offensive attempts, but will keep the other team from getting easy fast-break scores.
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0-for-16 for Moore and Steward
In the team scrimmage before the season began, Wendell Moore put up 37 points but last night, it seemed like the basket had absolutely no opening for Moore, as he finished not making a shot from the field. Coming out of timeouts, the team even ran sets for him to get open shots, yet he was still unable to find the bottom of the net. Similarly, Steward, who just scored 24 points off the bench in his debut, couldn’t seem to find any openings. Luckily for him, he was able to force his way to the free throw line and shot a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe. Steward and Moore have both flashed their full offensive potential, and Duke needs at least some production from each of them in order to compete.
80% free throw shooting
On the bright side of an overall dark game, the free-throw shooting has improved from last year’s team. In last season’s shocking defeat to Stephen F. Austin, Duke’s shooting at the line was certainly one of the major factors so it is encouraging to see the team converting when they get sent to the line. If they are able to keep things closer in future matchups, an 80% mark will do nothing but benefit them, with close games often coming down to stats like that. An 8% jump from the 72% the team put up last year will be huge down the stretch of the season, as long as the other mistakes are corrected.
The next game is against Bellarmine, who has not yet played this season. The combination of a non-conference team with a lack of experience so far this season should be a great opportunity for Duke to correct its gaping errors displayed in the top-10 matchup and head coach Mike Krzyzewski will undoubtedly have a game plan prepared in order to maximize the potential of this year’s third-ranked recruiting class. Duke has the talent, and it needs to start putting it all together.