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Duke’s Statistical Profile Bodes Well For The Young Blue Devils

Precocious certainly. Greatness? Possibly within reach but that remains to be seen.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Duke
 Dec 20, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) drives to the basket against Texas Tech Red Raiders center Norense Odiase (32) in the second half of the Ameritas Insurance Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

We talked earlier about some individual marks being chased by this year’s Duke team.

But basketball is a team sport and some of Duke’s team statistics a dozen games into the season are just as jaw-dropping. With multiple games left against the Virginia’s and North Carolina’s of the ACC universe, it’s likely that these statistics will see some slippage.

Speaking of the ACC universe, as of December 30, Duke, NC State and Virginia Tech are the NCAA’s top three teams in points-per-game differential, with Virginia in fifth place.

Duke has scored 91.6 points per game, while allowing 63.8. That’s a margin of 27.8 points per game.

Again, highly unlikely that Duke can sustain that. But the ACC record for scoring margin is 24.8 ppg set by the legendary 1999 Duke team. NC State is second, 21.8 ppg in 1973. That was not their title team but rather the undefeated team that was unable to play in the post-season due to probation.

Duke was plus 21.5 in 1998 and plus 20.2 in 2001.

Only four times in ACC history has a team had scoring margin in excess of 20 points per game and Duke has three of them.

All four of those teams were offensive juggernauts and Duke’s 91.6 points per game is in line with the highest-scoring teams in ACC history.

Surprisingly, both Duke and ACC scoring records pre-date the shot clock and the 3-point shot. You can probably win some bets if you know that the highest-scoring team in Duke history was the 1965 team, which put points on the board to the tune of 92.4 points per game.

Vic Bubas was the coach and that team featured a quartet of double-digit scorers, Bob Verga (21.4), Jack Marin (19.1), Steve Vacendak (16.2) and Hack Tison (11.7).

That 1965 team defeated Virginia 136-72, the most points ever scored by a Duke team and the most points scored by anyone in an ACC game; NC State scored 144 twice in non-conference games.

Yes, David Thompson was involved in both.

That 1965 Duke team allowed 77.8 ppg, making a scoring margin of 14.6 ppg.

Duke also passed the 90-ppg threshold in 1999 (91.8) and 2001 (90.7).

The ACC record is 92.9, set by David Thompson, Tommy Burleson and company back in 1973.

Curiously, ACC scoring peaked back in 1976, at 85.1 points per game. It was 74.9 last year. As recently as 2015, Duke led the ACC with a modest 79.3 ppg. No ACC team has scored 90 ppg since Duke in 2001.

On the other side of the ball, Duke is approaching historic highs in blocks and steals. Duke leads the nation by a wide margin with 8.1 blocks per game and ranks second nationally with 11.5 steals per game.

Maryland holds the ACC block record, with 6.72 in 2004, just ahead of Duke’s 6.67 the following season.

This looks like a school record ready to fall.

As does the steals record, 10.4 per game in 2001.

Five Blue Devils had at least 50 steals that season, led by Shane Battier’s 82.

But the ACC record of 12.7, established by Maryland in 1999 seems out of reach.

Duke holds the ACC record in turnover differential, 7.4 in 1998.

Duke is sitting at less than five this season.

So, that’s a no.

Duke also has no realistic chance of matching school records in field-goal percentage or rebound differential.

That leaves us with one final category but it’s a big one.

Duke has never had a perfect season. But Duke has had two one-loss seasons.

To be more accurate, Trinity has two, 8-1 in 1909 and 6-1 in 1912.

Apples and oranges, obviously.

Since getting serious about this sort of thing and moving to the Southern Conference in 1928, Duke has had four two-loss seasons.

Duke went 18-2 in 1930, ending its season with a loss to Alabama in the Southern Conference Tournament. There were no postseason tournaments in 1930.

Eddie Cameron’s last team went 22-2 in 1942 but did not play in the postseason. The NCAA Tournament only went eight deep in 1942 and Kentucky got the southeast invite.

The 1992 team went 34-2, with regular-season losses to North Carolina and Wake Forest. We all know how that season ended.

Duke went 37-2 in 1999, winning a school-record 32 straight games and posting the best winning percentage (.949). And we all know how that season ended.

Duke’s 1986 team matched the 1999 team with 37 wins—three losses-but also lost in the title game. Duke won 35 games in 2001, 2010 and 2015, all title seasons.

Ironic, I suppose.

Given the strength of the ACC, ending the season at one loss or 37 wins seems unrealistic. But after a few years of desultory defense, it is encouraging and inspiring to see this season’s young lineup challenging so many defensive superlatives.

If they can keep that up, it bodes well for March.

And perhaps April.