Three points: McCain's 2-point shooting, minimizing turnovers key for Duke men's basketball against Notre Dame

Freshman guard Jared McCain shoots a three in Duke's loss to North Carolina Feb. 3.
Freshman guard Jared McCain shoots a three in Duke's loss to North Carolina Feb. 3.

After a disheartening loss to its Tobacco Road rivals Saturday, the Blue Devils return home to take on Notre Dame Wednesday evening. Before tipoff, the Blue Zone breaks down three keys to a Duke victory:

McCain at the rim

Freshman guard Jared McCain entered the season marketed as a pure shooter. His range beyond the arc is what earned him a win in the McDonald's All-American Games’ 3-point contest along with lottery projections. 

While the deep ball is certainly still the cornerstone of the Sacramento, Calif., native’s offensive skill set, a stretch of weaker shooting has demonstrated McCain’s incredible craftiness at the rim. In his past five games, McCain is shooting the three-ball at a 34.4% clip — certainly not bad, but perhaps slightly lackluster for the near 40% average he has on the season. During this stretch however, the 6-foot-3 guard has converted on an impressive 61.3% of his 2-point attempts. McCain utilizes excellent body control to consistently establish positioning on the interior and fight his way to layups over much larger defenders. 

Looking back at Duke’s last faceoff against Notre Dame — about a month prior to its Wednesday contest — scoring was headlined by sophomore forward Mark Mitchell’s 23 points and senior guard Jeremy Roach’s 18. These points came on a combined three makes at the perimeter. Seeing the Fighting Irish’s vulnerability at the rim, the Blue Devils would benefit from leaning into McCain’s continually developing ability to drive into high-percentage attempts.

Protecting the rock

On average, Duke’s ball security has been elite on a national level. It ranks 14th among Division I schools in fewest turnovers per game and 13th in assist-to-turnover ratio. That is not to say the team has not faltered in this department. The Blue Devils’ January road trip to South Bend, Ind., saw them concede 11 turnovers. They were lucky enough to see Notre Dame largely fail to convert in transition, only finding five points off turnovers. In Duke’s recent rivalry loss, however, the impact of poor ball security was far more potent. 

The Blue Devils also turned the ball over 11 times against North Carolina. The Tar Heels pushed effectively against Duke’s weak defensive effort in transition, resulting in 19 high-momentum points. It is hard to imagine that the Irish will not come into Cameron Indoor Stadium hunting for misreads in the passing lanes and looking to take the rock coast-to-coast. 

Maintaining intensity

After the Blue Devils fell to North Carolina in the first bout of their series this season, the headlines were obvious: the Tar Heels simply wanted it more. 

Head coach Jon Scheyer highlighted how intensity on loose balls was the point of difference. North Carolina was hungrier to get them and showed no hesitation in immediately finding openings to convert on its battles for possession. While Duke may have put more raw talent on the floor and even made more field goals, the disparity in attitude ultimately drove a nine-point loss. 

Moving into Wednesday’s matchup and the following nine-game stretch to close out the regular season, the Blue Devils will need to work toward this mental shift. Their roster still remains one of the most talented in the country. Talent, however, will only manifest into wins if it is backed by competitiveness. Notre Dame is walking into Durham looking to stop a six-game slide and earn its first ranked win of the season. If Duke fails to come out with intensity, an upset might be on the horizon. 


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