The Duke Blue Devils (6-2) play host to the Michigan Wolverines (5-2) at 6:15 ET tonight. What is it going to take for Mike Krzyzewski’s squad to finally pull off a victory over a ranked team this season? I took my best guess:
Outside of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Duke is badly lacking a consistent third option. Quinn Cook certainly has played the part at times, entering the contest averaging a career high 13.4 points a game, but far too many times this year, his high point total has been the result of him taking one (or five) too many shots.
When Cook is on, he can score and create at will. When he is bad, however, you can expect a heavy dose of the following: out of control drives, selfish possessions, poor shot selections, and perpetual head scratching.
If Duke is going to stand any chance in this game, they are going to need the Cook that opens up opportunity for his teammates and takes quality shots throughout. Not only that, but they are going to need him to play at this level all throughout the contest, rather than presenting the flip-flopping tendencies we’ve come to expect this year.
A Fourth Helping Hand
Even if it is just for a little spurt, a fourth double-digit scorer would be huge for the Blue Devils. Back when they beat Alabama, freshman Matt Jones came through with 13 points, including back-to-back three-pointers that sparked a big run. Andre Dawkins has gone MIA since a brief resurgence, but a 16-point performance lifted Duke past Vermont back on November 24th.
Duke has always tended to be a well-rounded team, but this year’s team is reaching absurd levels of reliance on the starters to perform. If just one bench guy can come out and put together a decent scoring performance, it could push the odds that much more in Duke’s favor.
Out of nothing more than a gut feeling, I’m going to pick Dawkins to come through. He has done it before plenty of times in the past, and it is time for the redshirt senior to step up.
Rebounding. The. Ball.
I’ve accepted that the current group of players Duke has will never amount to a strong group of rebounders. All I’m asking for is a half-decent performance on the boards, something that I don’t have to spill my guts out over the following morning. As it stands, the Blue Devils are pulling in 32.6 rebounds per game, which is probably the amount you’d get if you stuck four mannequins on the court that were positioned to do the YMCA dance. The Ottoman Empire is laughing at how bad Duke is at rebounding.
The willingness to box out has been bad. The instincts have been bad. The ability to simply catch the ball and hold on like your life depends on it has been bad. If Duke is finally going to get an impressive win on their resume, they need to turn that around.
Defending the Perimeter
Michigan loves to shoot the three-pointer. With four different players in their primary rotation shooting 34.6% or higher from beyond the arc, they are going to make a concentrated effort to hurt you from there any chance they get and, for the most part, they will.
In their two losses, however, they’ve shot a combined 13-52, which is good enough for 25.0%. It should come as no surprise that these two games have also happened to be two of their three lowest scoring outputs. The third was a 69-point performance in the opener against UML, in which they only shot 18 three-pointers, making five of them.
Should Nik Stauskas find himself unable to play, don’t expect the rate at which they shoot three-pointers to drop at all. It is who Michigan is and that isn’t going to change, especially with freshman Zak Irvin bringing a hot hand into the game (24 points, 6-10 3pt vs Coppin State).
If the Duke defense is going to limit Michigan, it will all start with limiting the perimeter. Their athleticism should serve them well, similar to how it did in the NIT Tip Off, where Alabama and Arizona combined to go just 7-26 (26.9%).
Making Every Free Throw Count
Duke is 72nd in the nation in free throw percentage at 72.9%, which I guess is okay, but we expect a lot more than ‘okay’ when it comes to Duke basketball.
In their loss to Kansas, the Blue Devils shot 16-28 (57.1%) from the line and lost by 11. In their loss to Arizona, they missed six free throws (12-18) and lost by six.
In a game that is, in all likelihood, going to be decided by single digits, every free throw counts, and I’m not sure how I would react to seeing Duke shoot 16-25 from the line and lose by five.
Make your ‘free’ throws and we can all go home happy. The end.