Duke is back in action Tuesday against Gardner-Webb at home, getting another taste of what the Big South has to offer. After Saturday's display, we have three key points that can guide the No. 7 Blue Devils to a big win.
More of Moore
If Duke wants to prove its strength against Gardner-Webb, it will need Wendell Moore Jr. The junior forward has undoubtedly made his mark on the team with his immediate impact on the court and through his guiding role as captain. This early in the season so much can go wrong—there have been several missteps on the books already for Duke. This specific roster of Blue Devils has been playing together since early summer when head coach Mike Krzyzewski brought them all in to build chemistry. Yet, they only just started playing in games that count, so the players are still looking for someone to show them how they must work as a unit. With Moore’s presence on the court, any player who sees minutes can pull out a more cohesive game.
Within ten seconds of tip-off at Saturday night’s match against Campbell, Moore faced a knee injury—causing coaches and fans alike to worriedly wonder what that would mean for the Blue Devils’ performance. They were right to be concerned because the Fighting Camels ended up leading Duke 18-8 within the first six minutes. The importance of Moore is that he’s successful in the paint, and he can provide defense when needed. His co-captain Joey Baker could provide that, but Krzyzewski uses him for his spot-up shooting skills—meaning that his area of expertise is more niche than Moore’s. After seven minutes of game time, Moore’s return to the court noticeably led the Blue Devils to put up more cohesive play and take back their lead within five minutes.
Three is key
It’s crystal clear—3-pointers are the easiest way to rack up points. When Duke played Kentucky last week, the Wildcats landed fewer field goals than the Blue Devils but still managed to stay competitive through their seven made threes. Duke put on a stern show, working hard and strategically through all forty minutes of play. However, the Blue Devils' higher number of shots and field goals compared to Kentucky’s meant that the team had to put in a colossal amount of energy to best the Wildcats, which could’ve been much simpler if they could have registered more threes.
When the Blue Devils competed with Campbell this week, they struggled initially with their 3-pointers—missing a good deal and allowing the Camels to rebound and push the ball to their end. It should be a given that if Duke misses the three, they must be more aggressive to grab the offensive rebound. The roster quickly noticed this void needing to get filled, as the second half saw better team rebounding. Given that it took an entire half to put in the work in rebounds and make 3-pointers, it’s evident that the Blue Devils must fixate on perfecting these areas.
All in the head
Ahead of the Veterans Day Weekend Showcase, it was not much of a secret that Duke had a shot to defeat both of their opponents in landslide victories. Yet, that's not necessarily what went down on both Friday and Saturday nights. During the first half, Army constantly managed to hang onto the tails of the Blue Devil lead, staying within ten points of the score until the very end of the half. Campbell inched even closer to Duke's authority, managing Duke's lineup overhaul for a moment and entering halftime trailing only four points behind the Blue Devils.
Considering that Duke took down a top-10 program but struggled to settle a considerable lead from their arrival on the hardwood this weekend, there may be some mentality issues lingering. Although the Blue Devils took back their game in the second half of both matches, their first halves raised many concerns for whether the team is first-rate as the hype suggests. Come Tuesday night, Duke will have to show up with its mental game warmed up and ready to hit the floor running. A match against Gardner-Webb should begin with what should've happened right away last weekend—immediate control. The Blue Devils just need to come in and execute that.
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