As we said earlier, this is not the Florida State team we’ve become used to seeing so that has to be the basis for any comments on Duke’s performance.
With that in mind, there were still a lot of positives for the Blue Devils Saturday.
First was Duke’s defense which at times was overwhelming. Florida State had trouble simply getting shots off. There were multiple shot clock violations and several last-second attempts to beat the clock.
FSU has issues to be sure, but Duke’s defense was truly impressive.
Part of this has to do with Jaylen Blakes being on the court for 30 minutes. He’s a superb defender but his offensive output has been hit or miss. Presumably he earned the start because he was solid all-around but particularly on defense. We don’t know who expected him to shoot 6-11 and 4-6 on threes for 17 points.
Probably not many people expected Kyle Filipowski to have such an off night: he didn’t score in the first half at all, only took four shots the entire game and finished with six points and five boards. And fellow big man Dereck Lively had as many fouls as points, rebounds and block shots combined.
So how’d they pull this off?
First, superb defense. And second, Duke’s depth was really valuable. Tyrese Proctor came off the bench and while he didn’t have a huge game statistically, he was more focused on aggression, which is a good sign going forward. And Ryan Young had a brilliant game: he hit every shot he took for 20 points, grabbed 12 boards and battled Florida State’s more athletic front court - actually outplayed them all - in a brilliant turn.
And finally, there was Dariq Whitehead.
Whitehead has struggled to return to an elite status since his summer foot injury. Well he’s almost there.
He still has some work to do but we’re seeing a guy who is able to impose himself on the game in a way that no other Blue Devil can.
Duke’s depth produced 46 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and just two turnovers.
Now that everyone is more or less healthy - Jeremy Roach aggravated his toe but came back in the game after - Duke has a ton of flexibility.
They started the game with a big lineup and went to a small one when the bigs were struggling.
So far this season, Duke’s defense, as we said, has been really, really good. Offense?
It hasn’t caught up.
On Saturday it made some important strides.
As we said in our post-game article, we’re seeing one more thing, more and more, that’s immensely promising.
Duke has periodically had just brilliant ball movement. At times the ball moves unbelievably fast - Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Open shot!
The Blue Devils have won so far by having superior defense and steady offense. But the offense is evolving and perhaps Scheyer, who was a brilliant shooter in his day and who played on a championship team that placed a premium on three point shooting, presumably coaches out of his own experience.
In other words, he - again presumably - likes the three.
Duke hasn’t always hit it this year but when it works, it changes the offense. And if Duke can identify a consistent threat from outside, defenses won’t be able to pack it in. And when that happens, Mark Mitchell, Whitehead, Roach and Blakes, not to mention Filipowski, are going to be very hard to keep out of the lane.
And as a knock-on effect, Lively and Young will have much more room to work with and a lot more opportunities inside.
In short, the win over Florida State wasn’t perfect and Duke has work to do. But you can see the pieces slipping into place.
And you can reasonably expect the defense to remain a major pain for everyone.