Duke embarks on its postseason journey Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. Before the 2:30 p.m. tipoff, the Blue Zone takes a look at how the Blue Devils have changed since last year's tournament:
Coach K’s farewell tour
Last year, the 26-5 Blue Devils traveled to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the ACC tournament. Ranked No. 9 in the country and No. 1 in the ACC, they hoped to capture a final ACC title for former head coach Mike Krzyzewski in his farewell tour. The Blue Devils shot the lights out and almost scored their way to a title. They converted 47.8% of their attempts from the floor and dropped 88 points against Syracuse. Facing Miami, Duke finished the game with 80 points on 50% shooting. Even in the championship game, which resulted in a 15-point loss at the hands of Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils converted on 49.0% of their field goals. Ultimately, they were unable to earn Krzyzewski his 16th tournament title, one of the few missed opportunities to create a storybook ending.
In their three ACC tournament games last year, the Blue Devils did not rise to the occasion defensively. In their first-round matchup against familiar enemy Syracuse, Duke allowed Jimmy Boeheim to explode for 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field, and his tip-in with 3:38 to go gave the Orange a one-point advantage. However, a clutch 3-pointer from Jeremy Roach with 1:08 saved the Blue Devils from an early exit. Against Miami, Kameron McGusty’s 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting allowed Miami to stay close. Once more, the Blue Devils rallied in the final minute, as Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin converted clutch free throws to seal the win. In the final, Duke took its matador defense to an extreme, allowing the Hokies to shoot 50% from the field and were ran out the gym.
Wendell Moore Jr.
By far the most effective Blue Devil in Brooklyn last year was Wendell Moore Jr., who hit shots at will. The future Minnesota Timberwolf scored 26 points against Syracuse, 17 points against Miami and 11 points against Virginia Tech. In the three games, he shot 47.5% from the field while averaging five rebounds and two blocks per game. Had Duke played better against the Hokies and won, Moore would have had a strong case to win ACC tournament MVP. He carried that momentum into the NCAA tournament, where he averaged 12.8 points per game on 46.7% shooting from the floor.
In his rookie season as head coach, Jon Scheyer has led the Blue Devils through some rough patches in ACC play. After tough away losses to Wake Forest, N.C. State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami and Virginia Duke has found its momentum towards the end of the season. With wins in their last six ACC contests, including a 62-57 road win to sweep the season series with North Carolina, the Blue Devils are now back in the AP Poll once more at the No. 21 spot.
“I feel that’s given us a lot of confidence,” Scheyer said on the late-season winning run at a media availability ahead of the ACC tournament. “We’ve watched film and learned from each one. It’s given us an older group heading into the postseason.”
Duke’s defense has mightily improved this season, with the Blue Devils currently sitting 31st in the country in points allowed per game at 63.8. Led by freshman center Dereck Lively II, who has become a defensive goliath in the paint, Duke also ranks third in the ACC with 4.7 blocks per game. It also protects the glass extremely well, collecting 26.6 defensive rebounds per game. ACC Rookie of the Year Kyle Filipowski, tied for 32nd in the nation with 9.2 rebounds per game, has been an instrumental part of the Blue Devils’ success. In the postseason when pressure increases, defensive prowess is amplified, and Duke can use that to its advantage.
Guard Jeremy Roach earned his stripes in March Madness last year, putting the team on his back against Texas Tech. In the last 2:18, he converted back-to-back jumpers to extend the Duke advantage to five points and put the game out of reach. This year, the junior from Leesburg, Va., has averaged 13.1 points per game on 41.4% shooting. After missing time with a foot injury, Roach finally seems to be back into the full swing of things. In his last five games, he has scored 16 points per game while dishing out 4.2 assists. For the Blue Devils to make it far, he will have to be at his best in March once more.
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