Duke Basketball: FT shooting, shot selection are Blue Devils’ kryptonite

(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball team won’t stay undefeated too much longer unless the players not named Cam Reddish improve their accuracy from the charity stripe and reduce their ill-advised shots.

It could happen as soon as today when the No. 1 Duke basketball team faces No. 3 Gonzaga in the championship game of the Maui Invitational at 5 p.m. EST. It may not happen until ACC play begins in January. It’s even possible it won’t happen until March or the beginning of April.

But one thing’s for sure: If the Blue Devils fail to convert even two-thirds of their free throws and continue to sometimes settle for bad shots, losses in close games will eventually ensue.

Although 5-0 Duke squeaked by No. 8 Auburn, 78-72, on Tuesday night in large part due to junior center Marques Bolden finally unleashing his inner beast, the game didn’t have to be so close in the second half. Had the Blue Devils hit a few more foul shots in the first half when they had a double-digit lead, they may have shaken the confidence of the Tigers enough to put the game away before the break.

More from Ball Durham

For instance, when Duke held a 22-8 advantage coming out of the second TV timeout, freshman R.J. Barrett missed an and-one opportunity that would have pushed the lead to 15. Instead, the Tigers followed his miss by going on a quick 6-0 run, closing the gap to eight and building their confidence as a result. Also, Bolden missed back-to-back foul shots that would have extended the lead to 15 with less than five minutes remaining in the first half.

These little missed opportunities add up.

As a team, the Blue Devils are shooting a much-room-for-improvement 64.3 percent from the foul line (currently ranks 267th in the country). And if it wasn’t for a 15-for-16 mark from freshman forward Cam Reddish, the team would be shooting 59.1 percent.

As for other shots, this Duke team certainly has the athleticism and passing skills to find easy ones. However, the Blue Devils continue to occasionally settle for difficult ones.

It isn’t a rarity to see them attempt three-pointers early in the shot clock and heave up prayers in traffic. The latter is particularly true for Barrett, who is able to score in bunches but is also able to miss in bunches. As it stands, he has knocked down less than a third of his attempts from beyond the arc for the season and only 42 percent of all his field goal attempts.

While Barrett has the skills to take over a game at any moment, he also the potential to cost the team a game if he doesn’t limit his shots when he doesn’t have a hot hand.

Even fellow freshman Zion Williamson is starting to sometimes opt for attempts that aren’t likely to go in. After shooting an unbelievable 82 percent from the field in his first three games, the viral sensation is just 9-for-19 across two games in Maui. And Williamson has hit only two of his seven three-point attempts for the season. Also, he has only made 62.1 percent of his free throws (a potential issue considering he so easily draws fouls and is currently tied with Barrett for the most attempts on the squad).

As a team, the Blue Devils have made a respectable 36.0 percent of their shots from downtown. Again, though, that has a lot to do with the sweet stroke of Reddish. Taking out his 17-for-40 mark, the rest of the team has made only 33.3 percent from three.

Look, this Duke team is obviously sensational. Freakishly talented. Fast. Smart. Willing to play defense. Willing to dive for loose balls. They get along. And they have only trailed for 38 seconds of the season thus far.

But the Blue Devils were just seriously tested for the first time of the season against Auburn. And they will be seriously tested again, likely as soon as today. The only chance they have to pass all the tests that lie ahead — obviously asking a lot of any squad led by freshmen — is if they are more careful with the shots they choose to take and are able to knock down a significantly higher percentage of their foul shots.

Next. Celebrities who love Duke basketball. dark

Simple as that.