Next up for Duke basketball is Round II with UNC and if Zion Williamson isn’t ready to go, as Coach K suggested, then it will be more difficult for Duke. Even so, the Blue Devils won’t have to get ready on the fly. They’ll know what they have going in either way.
In Durham, Duke couldn’t contain Luke Maye and Cam Johnson as Maye hit for 30 and Johnson 26.
Tre Jone did yeoman’s work on his guy as usual, limiting Coby White to nine points.
There was no getting past the disruption of Williamson's shoe blowout though. For such a young team Duke has had exceptional discipline and focus. The exception has been in-game injuries and Duke, generally speaking, hasn’t adapted well.
That’s not true of RJ Barrett, who has handled basic point guard duties well enough when Tre Jones has gone out but in general? It’s a fair criticism.
We expect Coach K has been thinking about how to deal with Maye and Johnson quite a bit and how to do it without turning anyone else loose.
A couple of notes from the last game: While Maye and Johnson combined for 56 points, Barrett and Cam Reddish partnered for 60.
The difference was that the rest of UNC’s team managed 32 points and Duke’s put up just 12.
Again, the slow to adapt to circumstance theme.
In the games since then, Jack White didn’t play against Syracuse. His long three point slump ended against Miami, where he hit 3-3 and against Wake Forest, 2-5 from long range.
He hit just 2-10 overall, but it’s been pretty clear since Miami that Jack is back. His confidence is much higher than it was. You could almost see him wilt after every miss in that long streak. Since the first UNC game he has scored 21 points. In the three games he’s played in he’s averaged 7.0 ppg.
As for Alex O’ Connell, who has also upped his game, prior to the first UNC matchup, he had scored four points in five games, including just one vs. UNC.
In the four games since he’s scored 46 for an average of 11.5.
It’s overly simplistic to point out that 18 more points would have been enough to have won the first game. Nonetheless, Duke should enter the UNC game with more offensive options than it had in Durham.
The other side of the court is obviously critical as well. UNC’s three primary offensive threats are Maye, Johnson and White.
We’ll take our chances with Jones and whoever he guards. He’s a superb defender and you can count on him. He doesn’t get lit up very often and he’s gone against some great players.
If Williamson plays, even with some limitations, we don't think Maye could score 30 points. He’s immensely admirable but he’s struggled his entire career against more athletic defenders. Williamson would cause him some problems.
We do think that between Barrett, Reddish, White, Javin DeLaurier and possibly Jones, that Duke could do a better job on Johnson.
The third scorer in the first game for the Tar Heels was Garrison Brooks who had 14. He also shot 6-7.
It wasn’t a particularly good game for either DeLaurier or Marques Bolden. Duke’s big men combined for seven points, five rebounds, six blocks and seven fouls.
Brooks had his 14 points and also eight rebounds and two steals.
There is another facto for Duke: Reddish cannot play as he did against Wake Forest. He shot just 2-9 and finished with six points. He’s immensely talented but he also tends to disappear at times. Duke will need a good game from him.
This game is like no other in that it pushes both teams to levels of performance and excellence that sometimes surprise even them.
For UNC, think of Walter Davis’s long shot and Dante Calabria shooting while falling (and hitting). For Duke, think of Jeff Capel’s running three, Fred Lind’s brilliant performance in 1968 and Austin Rivers’ never to be forgotten baiting of Tyler Zeller, rocking him back and forth until the big man couldn’t move forward quickly enough to stop Rivers’ ruthless three point dagger that fell through the net as the clock ran out.
We don’t know exactly what to expect Saturday, but we do know that Duke will be better prepared than it was :30 seconds into the first game.
And keep this in mind too: Coach K said (and his players repeated) that Duke was lucky to beat Wake Forest.
In Duke’s culture, being lucky is part insult and part challenge. Since the end of that game, Coach K has been working on his team, challenging them, pushing them to be what they can be.
Without Williamson, Duke will be at a disadvantage, but we think what you will see on Saturday, win or lose, is Duke basketball. We didn’t see that Tuesday. If we do see that in Chapel Hill, Duke will have a chance.
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