It was a week of ups and downs for Duke women’s basketball. The Blue Devils opened their ACC tournament run with a tight win against North Carolina, a squad which swept Duke in the regular season. The victory in the conference quarterfinals meant that the second-seed Blue Devils would move on to the semifinals, where they played No. 3-seed Virginia Tech.
In its third matchup against the Hokies, Duke was promptly trounced. The final score was 58-37 in favor of Virginia Tech, and the Blue Devils put up double-digit points in just one quarter, scoring 12 in the third. By all measures, it was a tremendously ugly game. Duke started strong, but ultimately the defense it has so heavily relied upon all season long was not enough. Hokie guard Georgia Amoore was automatic from three, shooting 6-for-8 from behind the arc.
While the loss was disappointing for Blue Devil fans, it was far from unexpected. Duke played the same basketball that it has all year, and lost the same way too. The Blue Devils are heavily reliant on their defense, and when they get stuck in shootouts against teams with high powered offenses and talented scorers like Amoore or ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley, Duke’s game starts to unravel.
Looking specifically at Saturday’s semifinal contest, the offensive struggles were evident throughout. The Blue Devils’ shot selection went from bad to worse as the game wore on. By the midway point in the matchup, Duke was putting up deep, low-percentage threes. The Blue Devils had 15 attempts from behind the arc on Saturday: Exactly one of them went in. Duke’s typical designed offense, consisting of high screens and quick passes, struggled due to Kitley’s ability to close out space in the midrange.
That sort of offensive inconsistency has been a common thread all year, especially in losses. The Blue Devils have put up an average of just 47.7 points per game in their defeats this season, compared to an overall average of 63.1 points. Even that number is well below the league average. Duke sits in just the 42nd percentile in points per game, according to Her Hoop Stats.
Now, let’s compare those numbers to other, similarly-ranked teams. For brevity’s sake, we will just look at the teams ranked immediately above and below the 13th-ranked Blue Devils in the AP poll. Directly above sits Texas. The Longhorns have averaged 74.8 points per game this year, and even in losses have put up an average of 65.75 points.
The team that resides in the fourteenth slot in the AP rankings, Ohio State, has been similar this season. The Buckeyes have averaged 80.8 points per game and sit in the 98th percentile nationally for scoring offense, per Her Hoop Stats. In their losses, they have still managed to record 56.57 points per game.
Both Texas and Ohio State, two teams ranked directly above and below Duke, respectively, have averaged more points in their losses than the Blue Devils have in their wins. This Duke defense may be one of the best in the country, but its offense is severely lacking. As we just saw above, that is especially true in comparison to other teams considered to be of the same caliber as the Blue Devils.
When the NCAA tournament rolls around in a few weeks, that subpar offense is going to be Duke’s downfall. The Blue Devils can skate through the first round or two on their defense alone, as they have for much of the season. However, when the field gets narrower in the Sweet 16, Duke is going to struggle against teams that can consistently play solid defense and score. Right now, ESPN’s Bracketology has the Blue Devils projected to meet LSU in the third round of the tournament, barring any upsets. The Tigers are currently ranked third in the country in scoring offense, and also sit in the 35th spot for scoring defense.
If Duke does end up playing LSU in that round, the Blue Devils will more than likely lose. Duke has struggled to win games that come down to fourth-quarter shootouts. It lacks the offensive consistency to put up the points required to win those high-scoring games. The defense can do a lot, but as we saw on Saturday, it cannot do everything.
The championship window certainly will not be shut come next season, and perhaps with the development of shooters like Ashlon Jackson and the addition of a scoring wing with incoming freshman Jadyn Donovan, the Blue Devils can rebuild their offense and become one of the better scoring teams in the country. Until that happens, however, Duke is most likely looking at relatively short tournament runs and losses to high-flying opponents.
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