Duke basketball pitfall No. 2: Lack of depth and ballhandlers
Coach K has never been known for going deep into his bench, and this season looks to be no different. It will likely be another eight-man rotation with Jaylen Blakes and Bates Jones picking up some minutes. The 1998-99 and 2018-19 Duke basketball teams were also eight-man groups, but in both instances, the starters were responsible for the vast majority of the offense.
This was especially so with the earlier team. Outside of the top six with Corey Maggette as the first one off the bench, the Duke basketball reserves only scored two points and grabbed four rebounds in 32 minutes between their two games at the Final Four. In contrast, Michigan State’s bench played 69 minutes with 24 points and 16 rebounds while UConn’s reserves played 43 minutes with 17 points and eight rebounds. Including Maggette’s contributions in that title contest, the nonstarters only gave 24 minutes with eight points and one rebound.
Trajan Langdon and William Avery played 38 minutes apiece in the final after seeing 37 and 35 minutes, respectively, against the Spartans. UConn used a lot of full-court pressure and multiple long, athletic defenders on Duke’s guards, and while the Huskies didn’t really get after it to force turnovers, they wore on the only two ball-handlers Duke basketball had that season. Chris Carrawell initiated some offense, but primarily in the half-court, and didn’t bring the ball up the floor outside of transition opportunities.
Avery was only 3-for-12 for the game and scored two points in the second half including some missed shots inside. Duke basketball finished the game going 2-for-9 over the final minutes and missed some easy opportunities at the rim and on open shots throughout the contest. Langdon was forced into traveling on the second to last possession down only one and didn’t get a shot off as time expired, surrounded by three Huskies. He looked exhausted after the game and was visibly frustrated by the physical play during it despite his great effort in defeat.
This season’s Duke basketball team looks similarly challenged. Keels is better served concentrating on his own offense rather than running it for others. And while Wendell Moore is capable of bringing the ball up the floor as the point, it didn’t start well for him last year in a similar role.
Moore seemed to press, not sure when to get others involved or seek his own shot, and would often barrel into the lane for a foul or turnover. He eventually got hesitant and would float on the perimeter, jacking threes and getting away from the strong, athletic game driving to the hoop and hunting rebounds that he needs to play.
This leaves a lot of pressure and minutes on Jeremy Roach. He has to play with the knowledge that his presence is imperative for what Duke basketball wants to do this season. Roach has to stay out of foul trouble, get others involved first and foremost, and then look for drives to the basket leading to kick-out and second-chance opportunities. Ideally, he will make a run at Bobby Hurley’s records for assists in a single season and assists per game as Duke has the pieces, but they will each have to produce at the level they are capable of to get the Blue Devils to where they want to go.