Duke basketball: Projecting year two of the Jeremy Roach era

Duke basketball guard Jeremy Roach (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Duke basketball guard Jeremy Roach (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Will Jeremy Roach become an elite ACC guard as a Duke basketball sophomore?

In the current one-and-done times, it is rare to see a former five-star recruit return for a sophomore season in college. Jeremy Roach is currently going through his first real preseason as a Blue Devil. Due to COVID-19, he was unable to work with the Duke basketball coaching staff and be around the entire team last summer with all the safety protocols and precautions.

The transition from high school to college seems to always be more difficult for point guards. Roach had a rollercoaster freshman year, but year two of the Jeremy Roach era should allow him the opportunity to elevate his game to the next level.

As alluded to in the opening line, it is rare that Duke has the same point guard in back-to-back seasons. In 2015, Tyus Jones left for the NBA Draft after his freshman year. In 2016, Derryck Thornton transferred to USC. In 2017, Frank Jackson left school after declaring for the NBA Draft. In 2018, Trevon Duval departed for the NBA after just one season. The streak finally broke when Tre Jones decided to return to school in 2019.

Coming back for his sophomore season was the obvious choice for Roach. He didn’t come into Durham with the reputation of being a surefire one-and-done talent. He showed flashes of eventually becoming an NBA point guard, but he first has to establish himself as a reliable point guard at the college level.

Areas of improvement for the second-year Duke basketball floor general

Consistency is something that plagued him and the entire Duke basketball team in 2020-21. Jeremy Roach started 18 of the 24 games but averaged just over eight points per game and just under three assists per game. He also struggled with turnovers, averaging exactly two per game, and fouled a lot on the defensive end.

It is not common to see a point guard in the ACC’s top 10 in total fouls.

Where Roach showed the most inconsistency was with his outside shooting. He made just 26 of 83 attempts beyond the arc, which is just over 30 percent. He had some games where he shot the ball with confidence and knocked down multiple 3-pointers. He also had some games where he couldn’t make anything.

In a game on the road against Pitt, he went 0-for-6 from downtown. But in a late-season matchup with Syracuse, he shot 4-for-5 from 3-point range.

One thing I would like to see more of from Jeremy Roach is his ability to attack.

A major component of being an effective point guard is putting pressure on the defense. That is done by constantly trying to penetrate the defense and get to the middle of the lane. This forces the defense to collapse and opens up opportunities for 3-point shots, lobs, and cuts to the basket. It will also create more foul-shot opportunities, which is an area that Roach needs to improve.

Roach shot a grand total of just 40 free throws in his freshman season. One of the most shocking statistics from last season was that he attempted just two free throws in the entire month of February. He went seven straight games without a single trip to the foul line. This shows that he settled for jump shots and didn’t trust his ability to get all the way to the rim and finish around bigger defenders.

He is listed at 6-foot-1, which does make it difficult to be a reliable and consistent finisher around the basket, especially when you can throw a lob to a 7-footer like Mark Williams. Roach has to be more aggressive going to the basket and trying to earn easy points at the foul line.

The Blue Devils had multiple games last season where they had very few free throw attempts as a team. Winning the free throw line is a major ingredient in being able to win the game. Turning the tide in the 2021-22 season starts with Roach putting more pressure on the defense and making a point of getting to the foul line.

From an offensive standpoint, Roach’s best game came in a loss against Virginia Tech. He scored 22 points and went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. The only negative was that he totaled just one assist.

Roach never really was able to find the right balance between being a scoring guard and being a facilitator. He led the team in assists, but he never really got close to a double-digit assist game.

His ability to distribute the ball and be a playmaker will be a serious factor in Duke’s level of success this season. Roach has a few more pieces around him this year, so he should be able to put that playmaking ability on display. If he shows that he can run the team, make good decisions, and get his teammates involved, he has the chance to take a big leap in his sophomore season.

There is no question that Roach can score and get a bucket when he needs to. He will need to be more aggressive attacking the paint and more consistent with his outside shot. But he did show the ability to break defenders down off the dribble, create his own offense, and make high-level passes.

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I fully expect Jeremy Roach to turn his game up a notch and become one of the better point guards in the ACC this season.