Following a crushing loss at home to Miami, Duke men's basketball heads westbound Wednesday for an in-state matchup at Wake Forest. Before then, the Blue Zone takes a look at three keys to the game as the Blue Devils look to get back in the win column:
Duke is coming off of a loss to a Miami team with a lot of veteran players; the Hurricane squad has four six-year seniors, three of which were featured in the team’s starting lineup Saturday against Duke. Wake Forest has also used its older players to boost itself to victory in recent games, with graduate students Alondes Williams and Dallas Walton providing consistent shooting and offensive control on the floor in key moments.
But Duke boasts a younger squad. Quite a few of its standout players—including Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels—are freshmen, while Joey Baker represents the sole senior on the team and only Theo John gets consistent minutes as a graduate student.
The Blue Devils looked like a young team Saturday against Miami. One stat from the matchup—Duke's -12 turnover differential—demonstrates a developing sense of composure and control from some of the younger Blue Devils in stressful situations and big-time ACC matchups.
Baker and Wendell Moore Jr., Duke's captains, can help the team play more calmly and find its confidence Wednesday against Wake Forest. By setting an example with their play and communicating with their teammates during the game, the captains can help the younger Blue Devils follow their leads and build off of their experience to finish cleaner and with more confidence.
Tone down the turnovers
Turnovers haven’t necessarily been an issue for the Blue Devils all season, despite what Saturday's game against Miami may suggest. Duke had a season-high 17 turnovers against the Hurricanes, while Miami finished with only five. Wake Forest has also had its fair share of turnovers recently, racking up 22 against Florida State and 13 against Syracuse.
It is possible that Duke's sloppiness against Miami may have been just an indicator of some rust—the team recently took a 12-day COVID-19 pause—and that the Blue Devils can lower their 9.9 average turnovers per game going forward. But if the Blue Devils want to get an offensive edge against a defensively strong Wake Forest squad, the team needs to exhibit much stronger control on offense and play with more confidence.
Duke also needs to fight for more steals when the opportunity arises against Wake Forest. The Blue Devils only earned two steals against Miami; they’ll need to apply extra defensive pressure and remain agile throughout the match to successfully force a high number of turnovers and turn steals into productive offensive finishes.
The Blue Devils took a few games to find an offensive rhythm this season. Many of their closer victories early on were marked by strong defensive performances, with the blocking capabilities of sophomore center Mark Williams and the team’s agile, on-ball defense on full display.
However, the Demon Deacons also enter their matchup against Duke with a couple of strong defensive performances under their belts. The team held Florida State to 24.2% shooting—15-of-62 from the field—last Tuesday, marking the first time a team has held the Seminoles to below 30% shooting since the 2016-17 season. The Demon Deacons have held 10-of-16 opponents to below 40% shooting this season, including Syracuse, who shot only 36% overall against Wake Forest Saturday.
If both teams struggle to dominate offensively, Wednesday’s game will be low-scoring and a matter of who can sink more shots when the limited opportunities present themselves. The Blue Devils coming out confident and relaxed will help more of their shots fall, and if Banchero and Moore find their rhythms early on, offensive production can improve for Duke.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.