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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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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