Evaluating the Blue Devils at the Quarter-Pole Mark

By Jack Drapkin

Before I even discuss how the team has fared, what has gone right and wrong for them in the early going, I want to say how much fun it’s been to watch these guys play. Not since the 2015 title team, granted that was only three years ago, has a Duke team been this much fun to watch. Just like that team, they are never out of a game and always seem to save their best basketball for late. Now at 10-0, can the Blue Devils maintain this style of play and continue escaping with close victories after playing to the level of their competition? Well, if their play against South Dakota is any indication those days may be behind us sooner than we thought.

While we have spent a ton of time early-on this season marveling at Grayson Allen’s shooting prowess and Marvin Bagley III’s innate ability, the Blue Devil defense is still going to be the difference maker for this unit. Defense is a five-man responsibility unlike the offensive end of the court. The Blue Devils have struggled to defend consistently, particularly in the first half of games. 

The difference between good and great teams, but also young and old ones is the ability to play with a consistent level no matter the opponent. For these Blue Devils thus far, it seems no matter who the Blue Devils play the first half is going to be close. Much of this is a result of a lack of communication at the defensive end of the court to start games. However, while they gave up a trio of early treys against South Dakota, the defense looked much better in the first half, limiting them to only 30 first-half points. A sign that the defense may be improving in these first half situations.

There is another factor that I would like for you to consider as to why they have struggled to guard in the first half, Coach K. You see, has been experimenting much more often with the man-to-man defense in the first half before switching over to the 2-3 when its needed in the second half. This is not to be misconstrued as a bad thing either. It is essential that the Blue Devils can play at least some man-to-man when they get to ACC play. They will need to play it in case a team gets hot shooting beyond the arc and they need to mix up the look for example. Anyways, Coach K hasn’t had much practice time recently with all of the travel and early games, so look for the man-to-man defense to improve after the first handful of ACC games.

In short, while it’s been fun star-gazing over the early offensive returns of this prolific group, don’t overlook the defense, it may just be the difference between them raising a banner in April or not.

Wendell Carter Jr. | A 5 Game Synopsis

By Jack Drapkin

Let’s take a look at the freshman’s big start to most likely his only season in Durham. Outside of the opener against Elon, where he placed himself in early foul trouble, he has scored in double figures each game this season. With per-game averages of 13 points, nine rebounds, two assists and three blocks, Carter has been filling up the stat sheet early on in his freshman campaign. So what has made Carter Jr., so effective early on in his career? Two words size and relentlessness.

While Carter Jr. does possess a quality basketball IQ his early success has been based on his ability to establish himself in the paint. In a situation where plays are rarely run for him, Carter Jr. and his frontcourt counterpart Marvin Bagley III have managed to score their points in a variety of manners. Some via screen and roll, others via post but Carter Jr. has scored a bunch of his points just cleaning up the offensive glass. He has a great righty jump hook, that he uses once he establishes himself in the low block. In addition, if left open behind the three-point line he is able to connect from long range though it’s still an area that needs development.

On defense, Carter has been a shot-blocking machine. With almost three blocks per game and a six-block performance against Southern, it’s safe to say Carter has been comfortable on this end of the court. He displays great timing when it comes to his shot-blocking instincts and knows when to get off his man to for the weak-side opportunity. Playing the center position in the Duke defense provides ample opportunity to contest shots at the rim. One area to note, the teams have been much smaller on average than Duke to start the season, outside of Michigan St. Let’s see if this trend continues as we move into conference play.

While Carter Jr. has gotten off to an outstanding start, there are a couple of areas of concern to keep in mind as we move further into the season. Primarily, the aforementioned foul trouble is an area young bigs tend to struggle with in addition to ball security as he has turned it over two times a game. Finally, how he responds to size will be a question mark as he had some struggles to score in the paint against the size of Michigan St.

There is no question Wendell Carter Jr. is a good player, his play in conference and overall consistency will determine if he is a great player.

Business is Boomin’ for the Blue Devils

By Jack Drapkin

The Blue Devils led by Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval looked fantastic in the Champions Classic matchup against Michigan State on Tuesday night. Much of the talk prior to the game had been about the frontcourts of the two teams but the Duke backcourt stole the show. Between Grayson’s 37 points and Duval’s 10 assists, the Blue Devils backcourt was dominant.

Let’s talk about just how great Grayson Allen was in this game. He may have finished with 37, but he led all scorers with the quietest 14 points in the first half as well. He connected on SEVEN three-pointers, not even including the two times he was fouled beyond the line and connected on all six free throws. He hit huge shots, namely the big threes at the end of the first half and the pull-up from the top of the key. Most importantly like Duval, he remained composed throughout the game.

Speaking of Trevon Duval he was absolutely tremendous. The fact that he can’t shoot *yet* speaks volumes to how good he is right now. His ability to explode and get to the basket is reminiscent of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. But how many freshman point guards can put up 30 assists and 4 turnovers?!? He has exceeded expectations early on in the 2017-18 season and with his poise I fully expect it to continue.

Lastly, and this is mostly for myself, but I figure some of you will enjoy this..get you a teammate like Jordan Goldwire. Goldwire is somehow consistently more excited than the person who makes the given play.

The Blue Devil backcourt is going to be a ton of fun to watch this season.

3 Keys to Watch in this Weekend’s Tune up Games

By Jack Drapkin

Look we all know Duke’s real season begins every year with the Champions Classic. It is a great measuring stick for the team to see where they are at in relation to the other great teams in the country. This year is no different, as they will go in as the #1 team against #2 Michigan State. Besides the fact I think Michigan State and Tom Izzo deserve the #1 ranking, they are a more experienced team with all of a top-5 recruiting class from last season including the electric Miles Bridges, returning. Michigan State is also one of the few teams who will be able to match Duke’s size, with their combination of Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson, and Gavin Schilling. But before getting too carried away with the excitement of this matchup I wanted to give you guys a couple of things to pay attention to in this weekend’s matchups against Elon and Utah Valley.

Shooting

I can’t seem to stress this enough, this is the first time in the last five seasons at least, where I have legitimate question marks about how the team will shoot. We know what Grayson Allen is capable of, but he will be the lone shooter who teams have to respect. Despite shooting 49 times from behind the arc in the first two games, Duke has only made 15 of those attempts or 30%. Even more concerning is the fact that Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. have accounted for 12 of those makes alone. Speaking of Gary Trent Jr., he has looked outstanding in the exhibitions, knocking down 64% of his looks on a variety of shots. If Duke is going to have success as we move deeper into the season, Marvin Bagley III and/or Wendell Carter Jr. will need to be at least respected from beyond the arc.

Defense

I have the loved the defense I have seen from the Blue Devils early on this season. They have been aggressive, active and in-sync on that end of the court. If this continues this weekend look for the bigs to continue leading the charge. The athleticism and ability to switch has been a real difference maker and could be a key for Duke in the matchup against Michigan St.

Rotation

Pay attention to the minutes distribution in the 1st half, it will be a good indicator of who will play in the Michigan State game. Since I am expecting both of these games to be under wraps by the 2nd half, who plays in the first half will be the true indicator. In particular, see how many people come off the bench in the first half and what is the order. In particular, the minutes of freshmen point guards, Trevon Duval and Jordan Goldwire will be key as the Blue Devils will want to keep Grayson Allen at the two as much as possible.

I’ll be back early next week to recap these two games and preview the Michigan State in detail. Until then check out our great content on the Youtube page, Dealing with the Devils!

Duke Basketball’s Projected 2017-18 Rotation

By Jack Drapkin

Thanks for tuning in or for those returnees coming back. For the remainder of the season, I will be primarily writing about the Dukies to go along with our new channel, “Dealing with the Devils“. So since they just played their first exhibition of the season against D2 Northwestern St., I figured it would be a great time to take a look at their rotation in this game and try to extrapolate what this means moving into the regular season and then conference play.

*Note this was written under the assumption that Duval’s suspension would not affect his playing time in the regular season.*

First off, the starters Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. have a ton of suffixes in their names. Besides that, it’s four freshmen and a senior who have a ton of athleticism and length. Shooting still remains a concern for me with this team and this group as while we know Grayson is knock down, the other four while capable, still have question marks. More importantly, defensively this team has a chance to be one of the better ones Duke has had in recent years. With the size and athleticism combination as well as depth Duke should play a lot more man pressure this season and at times even full court or 3/4 court press. Then again, we said many of the same things in anticipation of last year’s injury-riddled campaign.

Now to the bench, which has been a sore spot for Duke in recent years. The first two players off the bench in the first exhibition were Marquese Bolden and Javin DeLaurier. With each man standing over 6’10” the Blue Devils are clearly going to play big this season. I thought Javin looked much improved, as he nailed a 3-pointer and looked much more comfortable out on the court. The reason the first two guys off the bench was a key to me is because Coach K rarely plays more than 7 so these could be the last two guys getting meaningful playing time.

Some last thoughts here on the rest of the roster. A surprise to me was freshman point guard Jordan Goldwire being the 8th man into the game. It appears based on his early entrance that he is inline for backup PG minutes allowing Grayson to remain at the two spot. If true, this is a big development for the Dukies as it enables everyone to remain in their natural spots when Duval goes to the bench or inevitably gets in foul trouble. Finally, I was surprised at how late 2nd-year man Jack White got into the game, I thought he could emerge as a key role player this year but may have to bide his time instead. Anyways, let me know what you thought as we move into our 2nd exhibition game today at 1:00.

Will Coach K Finish 38 and Done at Duke?

by Jack Drapkin

With Coach K approaching his 38th season at Duke and 43rd season overall it’s fair to wonder will this be it for the greatest coach of all-time. A recent knee surgery is just the latest in a long line of surgeries for Coach K. Many of which have been for his oft-injured back. Ask anyone with a back ailment and they’ll tell you, those don’t get better with time.

Look in all honesty, I was poised for last year to be the one in which he walks away. After a dominant regular season and championship run, I figured it would be the right time for Coach K to step away. Wait, that didn’t happen? Oh, nevermind that’s right, his team was injured right along with him last season.

Wait, that didn’t happen? Oh, nevermind that’s right, his team was injured right along with him last season.

To me, this is about how much punishment one man can endure.

With over 1,000 career wins and 5 national championships, Coach K deservedly will have the right to decide when he wants to call it quits. At some point, however, you have to wonder why does he continue doing this to himself. You can clearly see him in pain on the bench during games. And, at times especially last season

You can clearly see him in pain on the bench during games. And, at times especially last season he rarely got off the bench during games, allowing assistant coach Jeff Capel to walk the floor.

I certainly don’t hope this is Coach K’s last season in Durham but if it is, our expectations as fans have only been exceeded during his time at Duke. Thank you K.

How will Grayson Allen be Remembered?

By Jack Drapkin

Grayson Allen began his freshman year in obscurity. Buried on the bench behind a pair of NBA guards in Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, Allen didn’t see the court much. That began to change with the dismissal of junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon. Allen became the 8th man in the rotation and a 27-point breakout performance against Wake Forest soon followed. Inconsistent play and minutes would restrict Allen’s role from growing much from that point on.

However, as you all know that would prove to not matter as Allen came up huge in the Final Four games against Michigan St. and Wisconsin. Ultimately playing his way into being a deciding factor for the championship team.

Next came a sophomore season in which he led the team in scoring at 21.6 ppg and alongside Brandon Ingram, lead the Blue Devils to a respectable Sweet 16 loss against Oregon. This set up the National Player of the Year conversation that bled into the beginning of his junior season.

Allen obviously was not able to live up to that hype. He battled an ankle injury throughout the season and shot below 40% from the field for the first time in his career. He also battled his own emotions. Costly tripping incidents led to a 1-game suspension for Allen who would be stripped of his captaincy.

With a freshmen laden group, the Blue Devils will be looking for Allen to provide some veteran leadership this season. The question is does he have it within himself to provide that for his young teammates in their first season of college basketball?

It’s up to you Grayson, how will the Blue Devil Nation remember your Duke career.

Jayson Tatum is Healthy and Talented

For all the hoopla surrounding the Duke Freshmen trio, it should have been a given that their debuts would spark media interest. And while we are still waiting on Harry Giles, the debuts of Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden have occurred. Bolden, has gotten off to a bit of a slow start due to a combination of conditioning and a lack of playing time. Tatum, however has been the opposite. He has played in three games since returning and the returns have been outstanding especially when you exclude his first game back against Maine. In total he has averaged 15 points and seven rebounds in the the three games so far. He has done so while showcasing a full array of offensive tools, especially from the mid range area, where he has already demonstrated a Kobe-like turnaround fadeaway jumper.

The more surprising and profound impact has been on the defensive end of the court. He has used his length and athleticism to make plays throughout his time on the court, showcasing an ability to have quick hands and create turnovers. A very intelligent player, it has been rare to find him outside of position even as he gets his feet wet in the college game.

More importantly, I think his debut made a lot of draft pundits remember who he is as a player. Since he was on the bench in the early part of the season and his peers were all having success (Check out Lonzo Ball, Lauri Markkanen, and Jonathan Isaac) he was sliding down draft boards. Yes, this is early in the season and you can debate the merits of draft boards in December but this was indeed happening. Now healthy and thriving on a extremely talented Duke team expect to see Tatum resume his place in the Top 5 of the draft.

What’s Wrong with Grayson Allen and Why is Luke Kennard so Good?

By Jack Drapkin

If I were to tell you at the beginning of the season that a returning Duke guard would be leading the team in scoring while shooting at a ridiculously efficient rate, you would have most likely said that’s Grayson Allen. Instead as you’re aware of by now, that player is Luke Kennard who is averaging a cool 18 points a game while shooting (.55/.88/.52), (field goal, free throw, three point percentages). In many ways he looks like a completely different basketball player than he was a season ago. Yes, the shots from deep are now falling but that was always the book on him as a player even if he did struggle from outside as a freshman. Instead however, he is simply a much more confident player, able to attack the rim with better finishing ability this season, and convert from the line when fouled. Kennard has emerged as the go-to scorer the Blue Devils have needed this season with Allen struggling from the field.

And boy is he struggling…The raw stats are actually quite similar between the two of them. 18ppg/6rpg/3.6apg for Kennard while Allen is at 15ppg/6rpg/3.4apg. The difference becomes quite clear when you look at the way Allen has been shooting. He is now 22-64 from the field and 8-35 from deep. Yuck!

Now Coach K has offered up the excuse that he is only playing at 50% right now and therefore should be given some slack. Now, since I am not in that locker room we’ll have to take the GOAT at his word and I’ll just discuss what can be seen on the court. For one, this is easily the most passive Grayson Allen has ever been. He’s passing in transition, never done that before, on drives to the basket he’s looking for kick outs. Now, I’m not saying he never passed before, it’s just clear that the aggression in his drives and the score first, score second mentality is not there like it used to be.

Hopefully Grayson can find his groove in the non-conference slate, because it is scary to imagine how could this team could be with a good Grayson Allen and the return of the walking wounded.

 

Duke Moves on to Real Test with Kansas

By John Scott

Coach K played everyone last night. Maybe that was Coach J. Or Is it a whole new Coach K.  After two seasons of having so few players to get on the court, Coach K has a bench but  is he determined to learn how to use everyone? Last night yes; this evening no. Again way too early to tell what K is thinking as he needs to integrate the three super freshman and prepare for Kansas on Tuesday. Grand Canyon kept it competitive for most of first half and then Duke slipped it into another gear. Frank Jackson, the remaining super frosh, needs to show he can handle the point.That will keep G Allen at the two. Both can score. Synergy will be interesting especially when you throw in Kennard and Matty Jones. They are certainly hoping Jackson matures this way as there is not an obvious point guard.

Ten minute mark of first half Duke 20-19.  14 minute mark in second half Duke up by 27.  Game finishes with Duke winning by 35. Look for the bursts as Dukies can apply full court pressure and hit lots of three point shooters. Not certain yet how to look at this game. Not great start to this game. But just too much talent and Grand Canyon not enough horses. So early questions. One, who is the point guard in tough games? Two, Did K have to play Kennard and G Allen nearly the whole game? It took a long time to see the bench this evening and it seems he wastes opportunities to learn about other players who have talent. Three, where do the three injured fresh fit in? Good that we can watch real basketball. It is off to the Garden for Tuesday against Kansas. Not to mention Kentucky versus Mich St.

Duke 2-0