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Three points: Duke men's basketball must capitalize on turnovers, improve perimeter defense to beat Pittsburgh

Freshman center Kyle Filipowski steps past a defender against Boston College in 2022.
Freshman center Kyle Filipowski steps past a defender against Boston College in 2022.

After a nervy win at Boston College over the weekend, Duke returns home for a date with high-flying Pittsburgh. The Blue Zone is here with three keys to a Blue Devil win:

Guarding the arc 

In their season thus far, the Panthers have averaged 8.8 threes per game, accounting for a mean 26.4 points in every contest just off shots from downtown. Action behind the arc was a formidable opponent for Duke in its loss against N.C. State last week, with the Wolfpack putting up 30 of its 84 total points from threes. The Wolfpack simply kept shooting, and while percentage-wise it was solid, at 38.5%, it was really the sheer volume of 3-point attempts that meant the Research Triangle rival was able to push itself so far ahead of the Blue Devils. The problem persisted against Boston College, too, as Duke allowed 35.3% of the Eagles’ attempts from behind the arc—18 points—to make the game far closer than comfortable. To squash those potential 26-odd points from the Panthers—who are currently 4-1 in the ACC, having already taken out North Carolina as well as Virginia—the Blue Devils need to amp up their defense around the arc. Head coach Jon Scheyer clearly has no trouble putting his team upcourt; after all, Duke has been running a full-court press on and off all season. Whether it is with a stricter adherence to man over zone or simply more defensive tenacity, the Blue Devils must find a way to stop the 3-pointers that keep soaring over their heads. If the Panthers are given the opportunity to land threes, they will certainly take it, and this will mean Duke may be in serious trouble come Wednesday.

Points off turnovers

The call for Duke to do better with turnover numbers has become an echoing sound. Standing out of nearly every box score from the season is a staggering statistic that has amounted to a per-game average of 13.6 turnovers from the Blue Devils against ACC competitors. The issue with turnovers, however, is not only that Duke has allowed too many, but also that the Blue Devils have failed to take advantage of the turnovers they forced from their opponents in recent games. Against N.C. State, Duke took only two points off turnovers, while the Wolfpack claimed 30. On Boston College’s court as well, Duke lost opportunity, taking just five points from nine Eagles turnovers. Pittsburgh averages 12.7 turnovers per game; in order to claim a victory in this ACC matchup Wednesday, the Blue Devils need to seize their chances and make their fast breaks quick enough to beat Pitt’s defensive lineup—while also, of course, taking the time to ensure the shot falls where it’s supposed to. Turnovers are Duke’s kryptonite, from a competitor’s perspective. To protect its spot in the top 25, this young team needs to learn how to use turnovers to its advantage. 

Back at home

The last two games in which Duke has seen action have been less than excellent—a heavy loss against the Wolfpack and a near-fumble in its most recent play against Boston College exposed the weakest points of the Blue Devils. So far this season, this team has been predictable: Duke stumbles on the road but thrives at home. Since the start of the season, the Blue Devils have worked magic on their home court, never permitting a win from a visiting team—ACC or not. It’s a different story out of Durham, certainly. Until two last-second free throws from freshman center Kyle Filipowski, Duke’s game in Chestnut Hill, Mass., looked as if it might hold Scheyer’s team winless on the road within the conference. To succeed in his first season, Duke’s new head coach will need a lot more than a solid home record, but to beat Pittsburgh, the security of Cameron Indoor Stadium might be just enough.

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