From the bottom to the top: The long Duke basketball climb out
Duke basketball has the makings to do great things. The Blue Devils just need to maximize the pieces they have and try to do it efficiently. Health is imperative for this team. In particular, Roach, Banchero, and Keels need to be on the floor as much as possible and are virtually irreplaceable. It’s a shame Jordan Goldwire didn’t stick around. Even though he was a role player, he would have made his biggest impact by far this year.
Duke basketball will really have no choice in letting Keels and Moore direct the offense at times, and both appear ready to do so. Hopefully, Jaylen Blakes can steal some minutes, and his fast-tracked development could help alleviate some of the ball-handling issues that may arise, but it’s not to be expected.
Like those other bully-ballers from Duke’s past, this team should rely on its defense. Until that 1999 UConn game where the Huskies shot over 50 percent, Duke held teams to around 38 percent, the program’s best effort since the 1960s. The 2018-19 team was dominant on the defensive end and ranked within the top 10 in almost every major statistic.
When Duke has chemistry and team-building issues to work out year after year, relying on defense, transition, and hitting the boards is a tried and true way to win games (see UNC except for the defense part) while figuring out what works on offense. Banchero, Moore, and Griffin are beasts on the break, and for the latter two, this is an easier way for them to generate points than in the halfcourt.
For Banchero, it shouldn’t really matter where he is playing, and the Blue Devils should use him everywhere to keep opponents off-balance and help with their offensive variation. Like Vernon Carey and Zion Williamson, he can be used on the block or post or in initiating from the outside, more like RJ Barrett or Jayson Tatum. No matter where he’s at, he’s a mismatch and will be Duke’s focal point for sure.
Keels needs to score and, more importantly, score from the outside to keep defenses honest. He’s Duke basketball’s best hope from the outside this season and will need to show he is more than just an average shooter. Thankfully, he is also well-rounded and totaled about nine rebounds and seven assists per game his senior year of high school with a few triple-doubles. There will definitely be times where he will have to run the show when Roach and/or Moore are off the floor, but the Blue Devils will really need his points first and foremost.
There is a lot of intrigue with these Blue Devils because they could do so many different things with who does what and where. There is some ability to be interchangeable, especially on the wings, but there are also some depth issues and hyper-important roles for some players that lack collegiate experience. This hasn’t hurt Duke basketball in the past, per se, but it hasn’t yielded any particular advantage either.
This team has a solid make-up, though. It has some veteran leaders and newcomers to add to a couple of rising sophomores. They have the talent. They have the will and the desire of a legend who is making his final go-round. They have the toughness to do what those other teams could. Let’s hope they have the toughness to do what those other teams couldn’t as well.