X-Factor: Roach's leadership, versatility will be vital for Duke men's basketball at Phil Knight Legacy

Jeremy Roach currently averages 12.2 points per game.
Jeremy Roach currently averages 12.2 points per game.

The Blue Devils head to Portland, Ore., this week for the Phil Knight Legacy, in which they will first play Oregon State. Ahead of the competition, the Blue Zone looks at a player from Duke's first two matchups—the second of which will either be against Florida or Xavier:

Duke: Jeremy Roach

He may not be making headlines just yet, but Jeremy Roach is by far the most vital piece of this Duke squad. The sole captain for the 2022-23 season isn’t posting the flashy numbers or marquee performances fans saw in last year’s Final Four run. But he continues to make a difference with his leadership and consistency. As the playmaker running head coach Jon Scheyer’s elite offense, Roach’s versatility and toughness make him the rock of this Blue Devil team on both ends of the court. His communication abilities keep his team in line, while his energy and relentless work ethic earn him respect from peers and opponents. With the big road test that the Phil Knight Legacy provides, his core leading values will be important to guide a young team that is still figuring out its rotation and the weight each player contributes.

Though he may not receive the same level of media attention as freshman phenoms Kyle Filipowski or Dereck Lively II, the 6-foot-2 junior guard is still making substantial contributions when Duke is on the court. Thus far this year, he has notched 61 points through 12.2 points per game, stats that put him behind just Filipowski on the leaderboard. Like the Roach the Blue Devil faithful know from Duke's last post-season run, he leads the team with nine 3-pointers. But perhaps his most impressive stat line is his assists. With 18 on the season, it's evident he has selfless play and great court vision for setting teammates up to add points on the board. And it's not just flexible attacking looks he adds to the team—defensively, he is just as much of a unit, with six steals so far, averaging out to 1.2 per game. In having the most playing time of any Blue Devil this season, Roach has made it easy for Scheyer to find him as a key cog in the Blue Devil machine.

As they travel to Portland, Ore., during the Thanksgiving holiday, this Duke squad will see high-level competition that will test their individual capabilities and team chemistry. While there are other veterans whose experience and wisdom will be crucial, Roach, the sole leading player from last season, exists in a league of his own. 

Oregon State: Jordan Pope

The leading scorer may be the Beavers’ sophomore forward Glenn Taylor Jr., but with the height of Filipowski and Lively in the paint defensively, he will not likely be the Blue Devils' most significant problem. Instead, the thorn in Duke’s side will probably be Jordan Pope, a guard out of Oakley, Calif., whose freshman campaign is already off to an electric start. Making 22 out of 45 field goal attempts with a 40.0% 3-point mark, his sharp shooting from outside the paint is lethal. Pope is currently on a four-game double-figures streak, which includes tallying 14 points in Oregon State’s last outing against Portland State Saturday. While he has 62 points on the season thus far, his greatest offensive contribution comes in his playmaking via assists, already notching 15 this year with a 3.8 game average. Defensively, he is a problem for any opponent with his tough play, earning him 1.8 steals a game. Pope has been a major contributor in the Beavers’ first four games, helping them to a 3-1 record early on in the season.

If his pre-collegiate career is any indication, Pope could be a serious problem on the court. Becoming the third all-time leading scorer in his high school in just three years on the team, he averaged double-digits in points in every single season he played. He helped lead his team to a Grind Session championship, a premier high school basketball circuit, as a sophomore and was selected to the All-Grind Session First Team as a senior. As a testament to his quiet presence yet massive impact, he was selected as the Under the Radar Player of the Year in his conference.

Duke will likely have all eyes on Taylor with his elite shooting, but Pope could prove to be just as much of a threat. In particular, his 3-point conversions could pose a problem, keeping the Beavers in winning conversation longer than they should be. With several talented forwards and centers taking care of the paint on the defensive end, the Blue Devil guards will need to lock down the perimeter to keep Pope’s shooting in check and come away with a victory.

Florida: Colin Castleton

For the first time since 2017, the Blue Devils will once again face off against a worthy SEC adversary in Florida. Scheyer was the only one present for the last clash between these two teams, and the last outing ended in an 87-84 victory in Duke's favor after the team pulled away from a first half in which the Gators led. While Duke has the potential to pull away another victory this time, Florida will not go quietly.

Leading the charge for the Gators will be fifth-year forward Colin Castleton. A two-time second-team All-SEC selection, the Deland, Fla., native is once again leading his squad with 101 points in just four games this season and averages 25.3 points. Shooting at a clip of 55.1% from the field, his offensive game will be an extreme challenge for the Blue Devils. And as if that weren’t enough, his defensive skill set is even more impressive—Castleton averages 6.8 defensive rebounds and 3.3 blocks a game. Duke will need to utilize balanced scoring and quick ball movement to get around Florida’s star player. 

Xavier: Zach Freemantle

While Xavier will likely not be as big of a challenge for Scheyer’s squad, it is still somewhat of an unknown entity for Duke, given that the two teams have not met since December 2008. Nonetheless, the Musketeers have a few players that could pose some problems in a potential meeting with Duke, namely senior Zach Freemantle. The 6-foot-9 forward out of Teaneck, N.J., averages 15.5 points a game for Xavier, converting 60.5% of his field goal attempts. As a forward, he doles out more assists than the average player, leading his squad with five per game. His skill set and height also make him a rebounding machine, already tallying six offensive and 23 defensive rebounds on the season. And his defensive domination may prove the most threatening for the Blue Devils, with 1.5 blocks a game.

Freemantle clearly has head coach Sean Miller’s confidence as he leads the way with 131 minutes played. While Duke will likely make quick work of the Musketeers, shutting down Freemantle will be a necessary element of the victory.

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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