ACC Basketball

Blue Devils crush Wolfpack

(Photo by: Jerome Carpenter/WRAL contributor).

Maybe it’s because he’s been at Duke forever, maybe it’s the fact he now only recruits McDonald’s All-Americans and a trained monkey could win 20 games with a roster full of McDonald’s All-Americans or maybe it’s the fact he has traditionally just played man defense and on offense he doesn’t overcomplicate things and let’s his players play…whatever the reason is, I’ve kinda forgotten what a great coach Mike Krzyzewski is…until this season. 

When the Blue Devils lost those two games in 48 hours back in early January, Coach K knew an adjustment had to be made, as it became apparent that his freshman-heavy team would never be able to dominate in simply man defense. 

So against Louisville he shocked the basketball world by playing a 2-3 zone for nearly the entire game. The move paid off as they shut down the Cardinals. 

Yet, the coaching staff didn’t adopted the “one size fits all” philosophy and throughout the year, he has put in a new game plan defensively for each opponent.  We’ve seen Duke switch from man-to-man to zone within games, often from possession to possession. We’ve seen soft presses, trapping and even the rarely used 3-2 zone. 

Against NC State, one of the hottest teams in the ACC, who had just dominated Pittsburgh the night before, the Blue Devils threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Wolfpack. 

Playing a tough three-quarters press, with trapping elements, the Blue Devils forced the ball out of Anthony Barber’s hands. Yet once the ball got past half court, you never knew what you would get. Duke showed 2-3 zone, a little 3-2, a 2-2-1 and I swear I saw a little box-and-one. 

In all honesty I was confused sometimes, but so were the Wolfpack. The variety pack defensive strategy completely shutdown NC State. 

A night after Barber and Trevor Lacey sourced Pittsburgh for 56 points, they looked like third graders trying to play basketball against the varsity team Thursday night. 

Lacey scored just four points, hitting 2-for-8 from the floor, reaching the FT like just once. Barber was even worse. He struggled to find lanes to attack and often looked confused about what he should do next. He was shutout for the game, missing all seven of his shots. He was eventually knocked out of the contest by a perfectly set Amile Jefferson screen. The Wolfpack failed to communicate all game, so it was fitting that Barber got rocked because his teammates left him hanging. 

Of course offensively the Blue Devils were just as good as their defense. Shooting 59% from the floor in the first half, Duke put the game away by halftime, 49-22. In the second, they clearly took the foot off the gas, patiently milking the shot clock in just about every possession in the second half. They extended the lead to as much as thirty before eventually winning it 77-53. 

Like he always does, Justise Winslow set the tempo early, abusing the Wolfpack big men. He scored nine in the games for six minutes (finishing with 11). Quinn Cook and Jahlil Okafor weren’t asked to do much, but scored 15 and 10 each. Tyus Jones dished out a handful of sweet assists, finishing with a team high eight. 

Yet the highlight for any Duke fan had to be the play of Marshall Plumlee and Greyson Allen. The third Plumlee was a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor, nearly all of his buckets coming via dunks, while Allen was all over the place, hitting a three, skying for a put back, finishing with 10 points, three assists and three rebounds. My favorite play by Allen though was midway through the second when standing under the basket, with no running start, clearly out-jumped three NC State front line players for a rebound. 

Ralston Turner lead the Wolfpack with 16, but he’s the only one to have a good game, as NC State heads home to await their fate (either a 8-9-10 seed) 

Duke advances to the ACC semifinals, looking like a team on a mission. Next up is a third match up with Notre Dame.  

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