Duke men’s basketball faces its first game of the ACC/SEC Challenge Wednesday against Arkansas. Ahead of the game, the Blue Zone takes a look at three areas that may help the Blue Devils come out on top:
Hit the ground running
A nagging problem has recently reared its ugly head for the Blue Devils. In several outings this season, the squad has looked sluggish in the opening 10 minutes. This has allowed opponents to hang around or even pull away in the first half, and has somewhat sullied otherwise dominant performances from the young team. Following an unbecoming start in its previous outing against Southern Indiana — one which saw Duke trailing at the half to an opponent that is bringing up the rear in the Ohio Valley Conference — it has become painfully clear that the Blue Devils will need to arrive in Fayetteville, Ark., with a fully revved engine. Against the Razorbacks, Duke can ill-afford a sputtering effort out of the gates.
This game against Arkansas marks the first true road test for the Blue Devils, making it all the more imperative that they play with energy and composure in the opening minutes. This match is not a given. In spite of recent results, Arkansas is indeed a strong squad that should not be taken lightly. If Duke fails to establish itself early, the game may well slip away before it settles in fully. However, if the Blue Devils are able to hit the ground running from the tipoff, they have the talent to take down the Razorbacks.
Spread the floor
Against an Arkansas defense that has been wholly disappointing through seven games, Duke should have little difficulty putting points on the board. The Razorbacks have allowed 75.3 points per game this season, placing them in the bottom third among Division 1 defenses. This total can largely be explained by their perimeter defense, allowing opponents to shoot threes at a 35.1% clip (also bottom third in D1). As such, the Blue Devils would do well to exploit this weakness behind the arc.
Duke has no shortage of talented shooters on the roster, boasting the likes of freshman guard Jared McCain and senior guard Jeremy Roach — both with 3-point percentages above 40%. Look for the Blue Devils to spread the floor against Arkansas, and expect the aforementioned guard tandem to be at the center of their efforts.
As important as it is for Duke to hit threes, it is equally important that it locks down the perimeter on defense. The Razorbacks boast several proficient shooters, with three starters shooting at or above 40% from beyond the arc. Although the team as a whole has struggled to sufficiently establish the three ball as of yet, with solid shooters at its core, the points will inevitably follow. As such, the Blue Devils must be quick on the close out, and should put a hand in the face of any would-be shooter.
Forcing Arkansas to look to the paint for their offense will open up countless opportunities for Duke to log a strong defensive possession, and will limit scoring substantially. In this way, the Blue Devils can dramatically reduce the impact of playing away from home. Should Duke play strong perimeter defense, its roster should prove to be too much for the Razorbacks.
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