Despite No. 1 ranking, Duke needs to get better fast

Duke is No. 1 but has work to do. Grant Halverson/Getty Images

If you were to look on any sports website I can guarantee there is either a mention of Duke on the main page, or a Zion Williamson highlight. The thing about Duke basketball is that, yes, they are good, but they aren’t great. The Blue Devils rank 62nd in the nation in field goal percentage shooting only 50%, and 121st in 3PT field goal percentage with 37.2%.

For the sake of this article we will focus on their top 3 ranked freshmen. Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish come into the season with the expectations of going 1, 2, and 3 in the upcoming NBA draft. While every fan loves to watch Williamson, I believe Barrett is the real No. 1 prospect even with him shooting just 30% from 3-point range. Williamson is shooting 33% from 3, but with his ability to fly, he has his FG% at a staggering 82%. Reddish is the purest scorer on the team with 44% from 3 and a 40% field goal percentage. He takes the most 3’s per game which at this point is warranted. He has 2 other dynamic playmakers to lean on, and his percentage will absolutely keep teams honest, but this will not last long if the entire team can’t make free throws, contested and/or uncontested shots. Coach Mike Krzyzewski understands this very well.

“If there is space, the more space we give the harder it is to defend. The thing about space is that in order for it to be validated you have to be able to hit a shot. That’s why the stand still 3pt shot is a shot that EVERYONE on this team HAS to hit," he said.

Some will call bull; how can Coach K expect everyone from Marques Bolden to Mike Buckmire to be able to hit open 3’s? Practice. Practice. Practice.

“When I coached the U.S. team I talked to them about hitting stand still 3’s,"  Krzyzewski said. "Kobe Bryant said ‘coach I never get a stand still 3’. I said you will get stand still 3s. ‘I’m always double teamed.’ You won’t be double teamed because LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and those guys will be on the court. You’re going to get open 3s. Then all of a sudden he didn’t hit them. Then he’s in every night shooting 1000 shots and that’s not an exaggeration……….the free throw and the stand still 3 you’ve got to be able to hit.” 

Duke is currently ranked 277th (62%) in free throws and 121st (37%) from 3. If they want to make a serious run at this year’s championship they need to get better fast. The ACC is a power house and never a cake walk. Duke will also play in what is probably the strongest Maui Invitational line up to date. Arizona, Auburn (9), Gonzaga (3), Illinois, Iowa St., San Diego St., and Xavier will all be quality tests for Duke regardless of when they play. Defenses will adjust if Duke is unable to improve their efficiency. With only 3 games into the season it may be premature to call them busts from 3, but if Duke can’t hit them then the three freshmen are going to have a long season; which might even result in the three of them slipping in the draft.  

Follow Christopher Elias on Twitter. (@304_Chris)


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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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