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Next Up - Florida State

How will Duke do after the near meltdown against Wake Forest?

Wake Forest v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 15: Alondes Williams #31 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons drives between Wendell Moore Jr. #0 and Theo John #12 of the Duke Blue Devils during the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 15, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
  • Date: 2/19
  • Time: 6:00
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ESPN

When Florida State upset Duke Tallahassee exactly a month ago Friday, Leonard Hamilton started John Butler, Naheem McCloud, RayQuan Evans, Caleb Mills and Anthony Polite. He also brought Malik Osborne off the bench. Matt Cleveland got 22 minutes.Cam’Ron Fletcher got 16, Wyatt Wilkes got five and Tanor Ngom got one.

Fast forward to this week’s win over Clemson, which broke a six-game losing streak for FSU. Starters?

  • Butler
  • Ngom
  • Wilkes
  • Cleveland
  • Evans

McCloud, Polite, Osborne and Mills are all gone with injuries although Mills could return. Even if he does, though, he’s not like to be 100 percent. Injuries have devastated this team.

So Duke should have an easy time of it Saturday evening, right? Well, not so fast.

First, Duke has had a surprisingly tough time at home this year. Georgia Tech gave Duke a game. Miami and Virginia won while Clemson and Wake Forest nearly did. Even Campbell had a solid outing.

So we wouldn’t bet on an easy win.

First, FSU presents some unusual challenges. How many teams can suffer serious injuries and still have three seven footers? Only Roy Williams could match Hamilton’s fetish for collecting big men but in Hamilton’s case, they’re mostly to put around the basket to suppress scoring inside and if Duke isn’t hitting shots away from the shotblockers, that could be a real problem.

Ngom is more in line with Hamilton’s usual tendency to just put big guys under the basket. He’s not a major offensive threat, averaging just 4.3 ppg. Against much shorter Clemson he scored just six points and you may have noticed that impressive PJ Hall drive and dunk that no one could stop.

Butler is different.

He’s quite thin at 190, but the 7-1 Butler is mobile and has three point range. He’s quite promising. When he matures he could be a huge pain.

FSU’s main offensive threats now are Evans, Cleveland and probably Fletcher off the bench (he had 17 against the Tigers). Wyatt can shoot though and it wouldn’t surprise us if Butler had a good night.

Another guy to keep an eye on: Jalen Warley. He’s not necessarily playing a lot as a freshman but the guy is clearly talented as you may have noticed in the first Duke-FSU game.

Another thing to keep in mind from the Clemson win: Butler, Ngom and Wilkes all finished with four fouls while Cleveland and Warley finished with three each. That kept the Tigers in the game as they got to the line 36 times. Good thing since they only shot 38.6 percent.

As you probably know, Hamilton’s defensive system is based on rotating fresh guys in and keeping the pressure high with the big guys gumming up the works if you get past the perimeter defenders.

Butler is reasonably mobile but we don’t think Ngom is and the third big, 7-0 sophomore Quincy Ballard, is still playing minimally despite the opportunities afforded by injuries. We expect Hamilton has had to make some adjustments and may have ratcheted back on the pressure somewhat. The only two athletic defenders he has in reserve now are Warley and Fletcher.

For Duke, it’s going to be interesting to see how Mark Williams deals with the bigs. Down in Tally, he played 34 minutes, got 15 points, seven boards and three blocks. It’ll also be interesting to see how Paolo Banchero does. At times he struggles against big teams. Down there he had 20 points, with almost half of those from the line. He also had 12 boards and four turnovers (as did Wendell Moore).

One thing we see Banchero do, and distressingly frequently, is to drive into the lane and try his spin move.

He gets stripped a lot when he does that. We’re not telling the coaching staff anything they haven’t seen, obviously, but we wish he’d stop it. You can almost see the pick coming in slow motion when he does it. You can be sure that this has been scouted to death which is why they’re always ready to strip him when he does it.

Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin combined to shoot 6-15 with just three free throw attempts. A bit more controlled aggression would be nice but, again, you go into the lane against this team and you’re going to run into very tall, long-armed defenders. There’s no way around that.

Duke obviously has a great chance to win - Draft Kings has it at Duke -15 - but there’s no way around the fact that Cameron hasn’t been as lethal as it usually is. We’d like to see Duke come out and just throttle FSU from the start, but there are no guarantees of that and it’s easy to wish for when you’re not the ones who are busting your butt to make it happen.

All we see is what’s in front of us. No one knows the physical aches and pains much less the mental ones. We should remind you of Andre Dawkins and his struggles at Duke after his sister died. What we don’t know is way more than what we do.