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Jeremy Roach continues to excel in initiating the offense in Duke men's basketball's latest win

Sophomore guard Jeremy Roach is averaging 6.6 assists over the last five games.
Sophomore guard Jeremy Roach is averaging 6.6 assists over the last five games.

LOUISVILLE, KY.—In a program with as storied a history and filled with as much NBA-caliber talent as Duke, it’s easy to glance past the guys who didn’t sprint out of the gate. The guys who didn’t start the season with 20-point games, who don’t protect the rim with stadium-rocking blocks or shoot from downtown with lethal accuracy. But the guy who has glided under the radar has also quietly developed into the player that makes the Duke clock tick. 

Jeremy Roach is that guy, and maybe it’s time for the Duke faithful to start watching. 

“He's really one to respect of everybody, and maybe the most—he respects who he is,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after their game Saturday.

His teammates have shined under the spotlight, and Saturday’s 74-65 road win against Louisville was no different. With Paolo Banchero collecting another double-double like they’re trading cards and AJ Griffin going a mind-boggling 5-of-5 from three, Roach yet again had to play second fiddle to other Blue Devils’ storylines. However, every musician knows that the harmony is just as important as the melody, and as of late Roach has played in perfect harmony for Duke. 

Against the Cardinals, Roach was the cool under pressure distributor the Blue Devils needed as Louisville mounted a furious comeback. While a huge rebounding effort from the likes of Banchero and Mark Williams certainly helped Duke’s case as the Cardinals rallied from a 16-point deficit to eventually tie the score, surges of smooth offense let Duke build a win over the course of the game, never conceding a lead. Roach was at the center of all of that, controlling the flow of play and keeping the Blue Devils’ offensive momentum going while playing nearly the full 40 minutes. In Duke’s opening 14-2 run, he collected two assists, and as the Blue Devils started to pull ahead after letting the Cardinals come back in the second half, he found Griffin for the first of the back-to-back triples that got Duke out of the woods once and for all.

See, the Blue Devils have many that can finish, but it all starts with Roach. The sophomore has grown into a true point guard and the catalyst for the team-focused offensive strategy Krzyzewski has seemed to use this season. With Banchero and Williams dominating in the paint and Griffin stepping into a pure shooter role, the question of who would run point seemed unanswered. For a while, it looked like Wendell Moore Jr. would fill that role, but now Roach is filling it.

“We had [Moore] running the team and [Roach] playing off, and we switched that back [after Keels’ injury]. And Jeremy has really responded, and he’s been a key factor for us,” Krzyzewski said.

Earlier in the season, Roach lost his starting job to freshman star Griffin, but after Trevor Keels got injured against Florida State Jan. 18, he once again joined the starting lineup, and he has more than risen to the occasion. Averaging 6.6 assists per game in his last five, Roach is in the 99th percentile per CBB Analytics, and, in total, he has 33 assists and four turnovers, good for an 8.25 assist to turnover ratio, 100th percentile or the best in the NCAA at his position. Additionally, an estimated 31.9% of the field goals while he’s on the floor are assisted by him, which is the most on the team and also in an A+ percentile of 98th. In short, Roach is elite, and even disregarding stats, watching him flex his adept dribbling and vision makes that clear. 

Saturday, Roach tallied five assists to just one turnover. And while a turnover is a turnover, Roach’s one tally against was a travel call, not the kind of egregious errant pass that makes you question decision-making. Seeing as he’s coming off consecutive nine-assist games, there’s little doubt that Roach is a responsible ball-handler. Plus, aside from what’s contained in the boxscore, Roach was also clearly a leader on Louisville’s court, directing traffic and carrying the ball, a sight that has gotten more common as he’s gained confidence. 

“He's been a leader,” Krzyzewski said. “He really has a lot of confidence in who he is.”

When it comes down to it, Roach doesn’t often put up dazzling scoring numbers. In fact, he had nine Saturday, and his last “big” scoring game was an 11-point showing in Duke’s final nonconference matchup against Elon. But he doesn’t need to score to make a significant impact on the game. Duke’s two best lineups in conference this season in terms of point differential per 100 possessions include Roach at point guard, per CBB Analytics. 

While this could simply be a factor of his time played at the position before lineup changes, it’s interesting to note that in its last five games, as a percentage of field goal attempts, Duke takes 21.4% more free throws with Roach on the court than off, and Duke’s opponents take 4.1% less free throws with him on. These stats are in the 100th and 68th percentiles, respectively, and what they signal is that, while the Blue Devils generally play clean basketball, with Roach on the court they also play so effectively that their opponent is forced to foul them to slow them down. 

Duke will have a real dilemma on its hands when Keels returns from injury. On one hand, it could return to the lineup it had before, but on the other, that would mean diminished minutes for a player who is coming into his own to Duke’s benefit. Regardless of who starts both will see significant playing time, but there’s no doubt Roach has turned into a special player for the Blue Devils. 

Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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