Before its grueling gauntlet in Portland, Ore., No. 7 Duke takes on Bellarmine at home Monday evening. The Blue Zone is here with three key points to a Blue Devil victory:
Coming off a first half where Delaware was able to capitalize on open looks from beyond the arc, Duke needs to be able to close down shooters and be defensively aware at all times. This is especially true against Bellarmine, as its unique style of offense could give the young Blue Devils trouble. The Knights run an offense predicated on constant off-ball movement, which can lead to easy buckets on backdoor cuts if Duke does not stay vigilant in man defense. This offense is what enabled Bellarmine to defeat fellow ACC team Louisville earlier this season and hang with Clemson in its last game. If the Blue Devils do not remain locked in for all 40 minutes, they could fall prey to the same trap that the Knights’ offense presents. Bellarmine is also deadly from beyond the arc, shooting 34.9% from deep as a team. Duke has been elite so far this season defending the 3-point line, allowing opponents to only shoot 20.7%, the seventh-best mark in the country. However, we can chalk up this impressive number partly to the inability of the Blue Devils’ opponents to shoot the 3, something the Knights can do with confidence. If Duke gives up the same open looks it allowed Delaware, Bellarmine could make it a long night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
For yet another game, Duke is matched up against an opponent that trots out a lineup much smaller than the Blue Devils. To be fair to the Knights, there aren’t many teams that can roll out multiple 7-footers in the starting lineup like Duke can with Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively II. This height advantage offers the Blue Devils another opportunity to score in the paint and secure a high number of rebounds, things they have excelled at this year. Duke is second in the nation in rebounding margin, sporting a +77. The Blue Devils will look to build on this number against Bellarmine, whose tallest player in the starting lineup is 6-foot-8. Filipowski figures to have another big night, as he has excelled so far this season against smaller lineups. Although his double-double streak was broken against Delaware, he still put up a team-high 18 points with eight rebounds to boot. Lively also seems to be finding his role on offense, as Duke went to him for lobs early and often against the Blue Hens. Look for the Blue Devils to run the offense through their two freshman big men as they try to overpower the Knights Monday.
Changing of the guards
Four games in, and Tyrese Proctor is starting to look like the guy scouts raved about over the summer and early on in Duke’s open practices. Since the second half against Kansas, he has looked like one of the Blue Devils’ best players, and arguably the best guard on the team. Against Delaware, Proctor displayed his wide skill set, scoring 13 points with 10 rebounds and four assists. Proctor also certainly passes the eye test, as his ball-handling skills and passing ability are unlike anyone on Duke, which is evident when watching him make passes in seemingly impossible windows or cross up a defender. With all respect to junior captain Jeremy Roach, it seems the Blue Devils might be best suited with Proctor initiating the offense. This would be a great development for head coach Jon Scheyer’s first team, as Roach could slide to a shooting guard role and have some pressure relieved with the presence of an elite true point guard.
Duke was also treated to the debut of who should be the best pure shot creator on this year’s team when Dariq Whitehead played his first career game Friday. Although Whitehead struggled from the field in his first game, going 3-of-11, it was clear that he had the ability to knock down tough shots and create for himself in any situation, something that will prove vital against elite opponents and late in games. The emergence of these two highly touted guards will be a wonderful development for the Blue Devils, assuming it continues. Having versatile guards to pair with Roach and its talented big men will make Duke a nearly impossible team to guard, as mismatches will present themselves everywhere. The Blue Devils will certainly try to keep Proctor and Whitehead rolling against Bellarmine, hoping they continue to show this promise.
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