There has already been some shakeup in the NCAA Top 25 rankings. The Duke Blue Devils have claimed the number one spot, just two weeks into the college basketball season. This was a bit of a surprise as Duke had several question marks heading into this 2019-20 season.
Duke’s Impressive Start
Duke has one of the best defenses in the country, mainly due to their ability to turn opponent’s over. At one point this season, Duke had forced more turnovers than allowed field goals made. Currently, they have allowed 131 field goals and forced 123 turnovers. Teams will be very successful creating a turnover about as often as they allow a basket.
This defensive success is led by Tre Jones, one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball. His ability to disrupt opposing offenses and make it hard to just initiate an offensive set is remarkable. Jones plays all game long (when the result is in doubt) and guards for 94 feet. Typically, players that do this do not have large offensive roles, but that is quite the opposite with Jones.
Additionally, Cassius Stanley and Wendell Moore have added physicality and athleticism to the wings. They have both responded well to challenges on the defensive end. The other freshman, Vernon Carey, has been better than expected defensively, as well. He has protected the rim well and grabbed every rebound near him.
Since most of Duke’s minutes are taken by freshmen, it is safe to say this defense will continue to improve. This will be important because defense can alleviate most offensive concerns. Last season, Duke relied on their sheer athletic ability to defend, but this year they utilize team defense and rotations to a much higher degree.
Vernon Carey has been nothing short of remarkable to start his college career. If he continues his current pace, he will find himself in the lottery at the absolute worst.
Carey has displayed a wide array of offensive abilities. He has shown post moves from both blocks, a midrange game against zone defenses, and the ability to knock down the long ball. To be so polished at such a young age is rare. It does not hurt to be built like a truck, as well.
Tre Jones has shot the ball quite well so far, except the last game against Georgetown. Jones dropped a career-high 31 points against Georgia State, which may surprise people that watched Duke at the end of last season. Jones has always had a lethal mid-range game and been a decent three-point shooter. He injured his shoulder last season and after that, his jump shot was never the same. He seems to be healthy and back to himself this year.
In general, Duke has had someone different step up every game. Through six games, they have had a different leading scorer four times. This is important for continued success because foul trouble and injuries are a given throughout the season, so the ability to score with different people in different ways is huge.
Cassius Stanley has been better than anyone thought. Stanley is averaging 14 points per game and they all seem to be clutch baskets. He performed his best under the brightest lights when it is most necessary. The most surprising part is that he is shooting nearly 54% from three-point range, which is still a weak spot for Duke.
Wendell Moore seemed to have his coming out party against Georgetown in the final of the 2K Classic. He is a very physical wing with a good ability to get to the rim. As he continues to find his comfort level, Duke will continue to improve.
Areas for Improvement
Matthew Hurt has struggled to meet expectations in his young career. He has yet to find his rhythm and looks very uncomfortable on the floor. In the last game against Georgetown, Hurt only played five minutes, all of which came at the beginning of the first half.
Hurt has slow feet and a slender frame. As he continues to spend time with Duke’s strength staff and adjusts to the college game, the scoring will come. He is a great shooter who can score from all levels. At some point this season, he will have a monster game for Duke. He will be another major weapon when he finds his groove, which will take Duke’s offense over the top.
One of the major concerns for Duke this year is their frontcourt depth. Behind Carey, the rotation is Hurt, Javin DeLaurier, and Jack White. Hurt’s struggles have limited his minutes and he is unable to compete with the more physical bigs. Delaurier has a difficult time staying out of foul trouble. White has been outstanding defensively, but he is a true forward and does not have the size to play the five spot for the Blue Devils.
Carey is carrying the load offensively, but the most important thing he can do for Duke is staying out of foul trouble because there is no help behind him. If Duke struggles, it will be because of foul trouble in the frontcourt.
Lastly, Duke is still just shooting 33% from the three-point line. They have some good shooters and that percentage should rise throughout the season. Luckily, Joey Baker has taken a major step forward and played some significant minutes in big games. Alex O’Connell will need to find some consistency again then Duke will be able to take the next step. This team is vastly improved from last year, in terms of outside shooting, but that percentage should be on the rise because they are better shooters than they are showing.
Duke’s Season Outlook
All-in-all, Duke has surpassed expectations so far. Most of the freshmen have looked excellent and the defense has shown the ability to help Duke survive offensive cold spells. If anything is similar to last season, it is the competitive nature and never say die attitude this roster possesses.
Surely, Duke will not go undefeated and will take their lumps throughout the season, but the framework is being built to have a successful season. Teams that can defend always give themselves a chance and that is exactly what Duke has done. As of now, Duke and Louisville have separated themselves in the ACC.
The next team will come on the road against Michigan State in the Big Ten ACC Challenge. A Tre Jones versus Cassius Winston rematch from the Elite Eight last season is enough to make any college basketball fan salivate.