Duke basketball: Why Matthew Hurt is no breakout candidate

Duke basketball forward Matthew Hurt (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball forward Matthew Hurt (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports) /

Past expectations deny a Duke basketball player from serving as a surprise.

Duke basketball sharpshooter Matthew Hurt could prove this season to be the nation’s most improved sophomore. And the 6-foot-9, 235-pound stretch-four could turn out to be the most valuable player for the 2020-21 Blue Devils, who begin at No. 9 in the AP Top 25 and are still slated, for now, to tip their season by hosting Coppin State at 2 p.m. Saturday (ACCNX).

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The nation’s top breakout sophomore, though? Nope, not exactly. See, Hurt does not quite fit the mold for this intangible trophy, at least not in the eyes of 247Sports national analyst Eric Bossi this week:

“Everybody’s definition of a breakout player is a little bit different. Former five-stars, guys like Matthew Hurt at Duke, N’Faly Dante at Oregon, or Scottie Lewis at Florida, could be in line for a big improvement this year. But it would also be pretty expected for a former McDonald’s All-American to show why he got those honors.”

If not for his five-star status, it seems Hurt might’ve been one of Bossi’s 10 second-year breakout candidates: Kansas’ Christian Braun, Auburn’s Devan Cambridge, Syracuse’s Quincy Guerrier, Louisville’s David Johnson, Ohio State’s EJ Liddell, West Virginia’s Miles McBride, Maryland’s Donta Scott, Texas Tech’s Terrence Shannon, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, and Michigan State’s Rocket Watts.

Here are the criteria Bossi laid out:

“For my purposes and for my list of 10 potential breakout sophomores, I like to set some ground rules. For this list, you can’t have been a five-star prospect in high school, you have to have scored less than 10 points per game as a freshman, and lastly, you can’t have played more than 25 minutes per outing during your first season of college.”

Hurt does check two of those three boxes. As a not-so-powerful power forward who arrived last season with heavy expectations due to his prolific high school outings and a No. 12 ranking on the 247Sports 2019 Composite, the heralded talent from Minnesota averaged 9.7 points across 20.5 minutes per game.

Playing time became increasingly sporadic for Hurt down the stretch.

Now that the 20-year-old has added some power to his game by putting on 20 pounds or so in the offseason while working on his explosion, Hurt should be in line for a permanent starting gig, increased minutes, and extra opportunities to display his silky flick of the wrist from deep.

As a freshman, Hurt led the Duke basketball team with 42 makes from beyond the arc, knocking down 39.3 percent of his attempts.

On the other hand, in order to enjoy the fruits of his labor, Hurt may have to start games at the five-spot. Of course, in order to successfully hold down that spot as the season progresses into ACC play, he will need to demonstrate his supposed enhancements as a rebounder and defender. Last season, he averaged only 3.8 boards, 0.7 blocks, and 0.5 steals.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt if Hurt, who received three votes for Preseason ACC Player of the Year but was somehow not even a Preseason All-ACC selection, is able to pull off more of the wizardly passes he displayed as a prep. Last season, he averaged only 0.9 assists.

What about the other sophomore on the Duke basketball roster?

One might think Bossi should have listed — or at least mentioned — small forward Wendell Moore. That said, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore did land on the Preseason All-ACC Second Team despite his mediocre averages last season: 7.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 0.9 steals across 24.0 minutes per game.

Maybe the All-ACC tag disqualified the versatile wing. Or maybe it was the fact Moore, like Hurt, was at one time a five-star recruit; he dropped to a composite four-star and fell to No. 29 in the rankings during his senior year at Cox Mill (N.C.).

Yet like Hurt, there is little doubt Moore could attract attention as a “most improved” second-year weapon. His two keys to doing so will be to boost his 3-point shooting percentage (21.1 last season) and cut down on his 4.1 turnovers per 40 minutes as a Duke basketball rookie.

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