Three points: Crashing the boards, points in the paint essential for Duke men's basketball against La Salle

Freshman forward TJ Power prepares to take a free throw against Bucknell.
Freshman forward TJ Power prepares to take a free throw against Bucknell.

After a win against Bucknell, No. 9 Duke men’s basketball is back in action Tuesday to take on La Salle in Durham. Before the contest, the Blue Zone is here with three keys to a Blue Devil victory:

Crash the boards

The first several games of a season are formative in nature, used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a given team and solidify lineups or tactics. This holds true for the ninth-ranked Blue Devils, whose weaknesses were made abundantly clear in their lone loss against Arizona. Perhaps the most striking of these shortcomings was Duke’s disheartening performance on the glass as it lost the rebounding battle by a double-digit margin.

There has been steady improvement since then, with the Blue Devils out-rebounding both Michigan State and Bucknell. Players like freshman forward Sean Stewart have seen their minutes increase to this end, and it has paid dividends so far. Against a short team like La Salle, who frequently field up to four guards at once, Duke should be able to control the glass from the tip. If it is able to do so, the Explorers will have a difficult time shutting down the transition play of the Blue Devils and will struggle to put up second-chance points. Duke would thus control a lion’s share of the possession and could pull away early. 

Points in the paint

La Salle is a comparatively small team, with four guards under 6-foot-5 all averaging over 30 minutes a game. The Blue Devils can expect floor spreading and 3-point shooting on the defensive end and should look to punish the Explorers in the paint on offense. Duke will undoubtedly have several mismatches to work around on offense, and without a true rim protector, La Salle will have difficulty contesting the interior. Be it forwards posting up or guards on the dribble-drive, the Blue Devils’ ability to attack inside will be the primary difference in this game. Duke has the skill at every position to play both short and big, meaning that it has the capacity to rack up points in the paint and also knock down threes at a high clip. Taken together, it possesses the versatility needed to win these early season games. If the Blue Devils are able to apply pressure around the rim at will, they should have no trouble putting away the Explorers. 

Share the wealth

In order to build on the momentum from the previous two games and carry it through its non-conference schedule, Duke could stand to do a bit more experimenting. Having one of the most talented freshman classes in the country, shuffling minutes around and trying new combinations could prove instrumental in the Blue Devils’ success against La Salle and beyond. Guys like Stewart and fellow freshman forward TJ Power have seen fewer minutes than the freshman guards, but they certainly have the ability to produce when given the nod. This team has impressive depth at every position, so taking advantage of that fact should be a priority for Duke now and in the future. The creation of new and interesting lineups can allow for a different flavor of Blue Devil basketball, which would help to ensure a win over the Explorers Tuesday. 


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