With Duke punching its ticket to the Final Four for the first time since 2015, the Blue Zone breaks down its 78-69 Elite Eight win against Arkansas with one player, one word and one stat:
One player: Mark Williams
Arkansas presented an interesting challenge for Duke, giving them a three-guard lineup with no true center. Their tallest player, Jaylin Williams, stands at 6-foot-10 and has the ability to work from the perimeter. These types of matchups are ones that Duke center Mark Williams has struggled with in the past. Against Virginia Tech in the regular season, a team that lines up similarly to Arkansas, Mark Williams was pulled from the game early, playing just 12 minutes after some early struggles. His matchup, Keve Aluma, scored 25 points that game, much of which came in the first half when he was lined up against Williams.
That is why Mark Williams was a huge X-Factor for this game; if he could get over his past struggles with smaller matchups, his offensive upside would greatly benefit the Blue Devils. Early in the game, his impact was easily recognizable. The Virginia Beach, Va., native was swatting shots, tipping in missed baskets, and had an impressive euro-step move on a fastbreak after a steal by Jeremy Roach. He also added in 12 rebounds and three blocks, and he shot 100% from the field on six shots. While he wasn’t the leading scorer, his presence absolutely changed the game, leading Duke into the Final Four.
One word: Adjustments
In Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game, the Blue Devils were destroyed by Hunter Catoor’s shooting display and meanwhile forced shots from beyond the arc rather than hunting for open spots. The Arkansas game displayed perfectly how the team has grown in that area. Duke took just 10 3-pointers, hitting four of them. Most of their points came in the paint, as they hunted matchups, used size to their advantage, and rarely forced up bad shots. Because of that, they finished the game outscoring Arkansas by 12 in the paint, with a 54.7% clip from the field.
On the defensive side, Duke again used their matchup advantage. Mark Williams and Paolo Banchero protected the paint well, allowing just 34 points. For a sizable portion of the second half, the Blue Devils returned to the zone defense that helped them back into the game against Texas Tech and found similar results. Forcing teams like Arkansas and Texas Tech into perimeter shots, knowing that their 3-point percentage is well below average, is the perfect defensive scheme. For Duke, it allowed them to pull away in this game, finding a lead as big as 18 late in the half. The adjustments made by the Blue Devils’ coaching staff throughout these games have been a huge part of this tournament run.
One stat: 15 turnovers
While it is easy to ignore all the negatives in light of such success, Duke still has areas that it must clean up before the trip to New Orleans. There has been some sloppy play from the Blue Devils that has led to unnecessary turnovers, especially at the beginning of games. Against Texas Tech, it resulted in an early eight-point deficit, the score being 12-4 with 14:48 left in the first half. Again Saturday night, the Blue Devils came up empty on their first two possessions, with Jeremy Roach and AJ Griffin each turning the ball over. As the team inches closer to a potential championship, they need to come out firing right away to not run the risk of letting their opponents get comfortable before they do.
There were five players on the team with more than one turnover, with Banchero being the only one with significant minutes to hold just one. Ill-advised passes and out-of-control drives resulting in charges resulted in extra possessions for the Razorbacks, allowing them to take nine more shots than Duke by the end of the game. While the defense held strong, Arkansas still finished with 21 points off of those turnovers. Opponents will continue to get better from here, each one winning their own region and coming with championship aspirations. Each one will be better prepared to force the Blue Devils into uncomfortable plays. The team has matured greatly since the start of the tournament, and one of the last pieces that needs to come together is cleanliness on the offensive end.
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