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Three points: Cohesive team play will help Duke men's basketball start its season with a win against Jacksonville

Tyrese Proctor had seven points and three rebounds in Duke's exhibition game against Fayettville State.
Tyrese Proctor had seven points and three rebounds in Duke's exhibition game against Fayettville State.

Head coach Jon Scheyer's inaugural season kicks off Monday as Duke takes on Jacksonville in its first regular season game of the year. The Blue Zone has three keys for a Blue Devil victory:

High-pressure defense

Head coach Jon Scheyer made a startling move in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night when he directed his team to play a full-court press against Fayetteville State. As a result, the Broncos’ toughest enemy on the court was not graduate student Ryan Young’s fake-outs or junior captain Jeremy Roach’s ball management—it was the clock. With their defense spreading across the whole court, the Blue Devils were able to slow the tenacity of the Broncos and thus run down the threatening 30-second shot clock. Full-court defense is rare in college ball—but it might be just the kind of secret weapon that Scheyer can employ to make his first season a successful one. 

After a second-place finish in the ASUN last season, the Dolphins' greatest strength is their shooting. In 2021-22, the Blue Devils banked 48.9% of their field goals and 36.8% of their threes; Jacksonville made 45.0% and 34.7%, respectively. Redshirt senior Kevion Nolan will undeniably be leading the Dolphin pod upstream against the No. 7 Blue Devils on Monday, and it will be crucial for Duke to stand its defensive ground. Playing aggressive defense might be its best game plan.

Swift ball movement

Given the number of fresh faces on this year’s roster, it is almost surprising how smoothly this team already plays together. Blue Devil camaraderie is not just evident in post-play huddles—in which the five players really do gather like brothers—but also in the electricity which accompanies their every possession. Based on Wednesday’s performance, the ball is likely to find its way through the rim through the hands of graduate Jacob Grandison or by way of freshmen Mark Mitchell or Tyrese Proctor. By continuing to pass the ball with force and precision, the Blue Devils can enable their shooters to reach their full potential. When Duke works as a unit, it runs like a well-oiled machine. Against Jacksonville, this slickness will be key in achieving the blow-out win expected of Duke, who is favored by just under 20 points; the Blue Devils simply need to pass the ball. 

Rack up points from the foul line

6-foot-8 Mitchell made a statement in his collegiate debut on Wednesday—including his five-of-five free-throw mark. In fact, Young, Roach, Grandison and sophomore Jaylen Blakes had a similar showing from the stripe: None of them missed a foul shot. Duke ended with 14 points from the line. If the Dolphins do manage to put the Blue Devils in danger, every free throw will make a difference. To do this, Duke needs to continue to drive at the basket, a strategy which in and of itself will serve the team well. Out of the 82 points it scored against Fayetteville, 42 came from the paint; the Blue Devils are strong when they are able to lobby shots from inside. If it sticks to its strengths, Duke should be able to keep the Dolphins between a rock and a hard place on defense: Either the Blue Devils land their layups or draw fouls to put them on the stripe.

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