Three points: Ball security crucial for Duke men's basketball in ACC tournament finals against Virginia

Dereck Lively II protects the rim in Duke's ACC tournament semifinal win against Miami.
Dereck Lively II protects the rim in Duke's ACC tournament semifinal win against Miami.

No. 4-seed Duke plays in its 35th ACC title game Saturday night, taking on No. 2-seed Virginia in a rematch of the Feb. 11 controversial overtime contest. The Blue Zone has three keys for the Blue Devils to win their second-straight revenge game:

Share the rock

As the Blue Devils continue to blossom offensively, a balanced attack has become their bread and butter. In its recent dominant win against Pittsburgh in the ACC quarterfinals, Duke recorded a season-best 27 assists as four out of five starters had double-digit performances. Led by freshman point guard Tyrese Proctor, who set a personal record with 10 assists on the night, each and every Blue Devil became an offensive threat as the Panthers struggled to contain them. Duke did not stop sharing the wealth after defeating Pittsburgh, continuing its quick ball movement and elite play-making against Miami in the semifinals. This time around, the Blue Devils’ 16 assists helped them evade a strong Hurricane defense to advance to the ACC championship game. With four starters once more scoring double digits, Duke used its offensive weapons with precision to avenge the beating it took in Coral Gables, Fla., just more than a month earlier. Now, as the Blue Devils prepare to face off against the Cavaliers with a title on the line, utilizing each and every player on the court will be crucial.

Reduce turnovers

The last time Duke faced off against Virginia, maintaining possession was a big struggle. Giving up a season-high 22 turnovers in the 69-62 loss on Feb. 11, the Blue Devils’ offensive woes in large part contributed to their ultimate demise. Since that fateful day, Duke has taken much better care of the ball. However, against a Cavalier team that is currently ranked ninth nationally in scoring defense, the Blue Devils cannot afford to turn the rock over on low-percentage plays. Instead, patience will be a virtue if Duke can slow down play and take time to find open looks with a good chance at conversion. In large part, smarter playmaking will fall onto the shoulders of Proctor, whose growth over the course of the season has created a lethal point guard capable of competing at the NBA level. With his high basketball IQ and court vision, the Blue Devils would do well to follow his lead on the offensive end and work as a team to make solid plays that get points on the board.

Regular-season revenge

Every Cameron Crazie remembers Duke’s last outing against Virginia in vivid detail. With mere fractions of a second left to play and the game all tied up at 58-58, freshman phenom Kyle Filipowski went up for a dunk in the paint to try and give the Blue Devils a much-needed victory against a top-10 opponent. In the process, he was blocked by the Cavaliers’ Reece Beekman and Ryan Dunn in what seemed to be, and was originally called, a foul. Even though Filipowski could not convert on the shot, Duke fans waited with baited breath as two free throws seemed imminent. However, after review by the officials, they determined that the foul either did not happen or occurred after the buzzer, a call later deemed by the conference to be an “incorrect adjudication” of the rules. Despite fighting for the win in overtime, the Blue Devils ultimately fell short. With the ACC championship game providing an opportunity for redemption, Duke needs to play with a chip on its shoulder. It worked against Miami in the semifinals, and it can work against Virginia, too. If the Blue Devils can play with the aggression and determination of a team scorned, they can give the Cavaliers a run for their money in pursuit of head coach Jon Scheyer’s first ACC crown.

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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