Is Duke ready to challenge for the national championship?
Steve Wiseman thinks so and makes a strong argument over at the N&O. He points to Duke’s offensive and defensive efficiency (only Duke and Ohio State are ranked in the Top Ten in both) and also to Duke’s improved passing and ability to get to the basket. Vernon Carey is obviously a big part of that and has emerged as one of the nation’s best big men.
He also praises Duke’s ability to move the ball, rebounding, and ball protection.
He might have added Duke’s ability to pressure the ball too, even though that’s a subset of general defense. With Jordan Goldwire, Cassius Stanley, Wendell Moore and most of all Tre Jones, Duke can really make life rough for other ball handlers (BC’s Derryck Thornton learned this lesson the other night).
Thing is though, it’s not limited to those guys. It’s becoming an ethic. Even Alex O’ Connell, not previously known as a passionate defender, is getting in on the act. Matthew Hurt is working hard and diving on the floor for loose balls. Carey does it. Javin DeLaurier does it. Jack White does it. Joey Baker may be the biggest hardass on the team. Everyone is putting pressure on the ball.
The other thing that is coming on now is three point shooting. It hasn’t been consistent yet but consider: Baker is hitting 43.6 percent. Moore is at 42.9 percent. Hurt is at 40.8 percent. Stanley is at 40 percent. Jones is at 32.6 percent while O’ Connell is capable but hitting just 27.9 percent. White has proven he can hit threes and Goldwire has started to lately as well.
The biggest surprise? Carey is at 57.1 percent. He’s not shot many but it’s not because he can’t hit them. Clearly he can. He’s just more valuable inside.
The exciting thing to us is just how much more room for improvement Duke has, individually and collectively. We’ve mentioned things like Hurt’s thinness, Moore’s decision making and Stanley’s relative timidity in the lane.
The great news is these things can be fixed.
The other thing to consider: look how far this team has come since November. It’s really gotten better in a hurry. There’s no reason to think it’ll stop now.