DURHAM

The path to get here hasn’t always been smooth but Duke finds itself aligned well to capture all its goals as the college basketball season enters 2020.

Ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press poll, Duke is No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced analytical ratings system. Currently No. 3 in defensive efficiency and No. 8 on offense, Duke (12-1, 2-0 ACC) is the only team nationally in single digits in both of those key KenPom.com categories.

Ohio State, at No. 4 in defense and No. 10 in offense, is the only other school in the top 10 in both.

Among ACC teams, Duke’s strength on both offense and defense sets it apart. Louisville (11-2, 2-0 ACC) is the only league team close to the Blue Devils. The Cardinals are No. 12 in offense and No. 5 in defense.

Reigning NCAA champion Virginia (10-2, 2-0 ACC) is No. 1 in defensive efficiency but is No. 175 in offense.

N.C. State’s No. 9 offensive rating nationally is comparable to Duke’s No. 8. But the Wolfpack (10-3, 1-1 ACC) is No. 111 defensively.

Duke is also the ACC’s top team in the NCAA’s NET rankings, coming in at No. 7.

Among ACC teams, Duke’s strength on both offense and defense sets it apart. Louisville (11-2, 2-0 ACC) is the only league team close to the Blue Devils. The Cardinals are No. 12 in offense and No. 5 in defense.

Reigning NCAA champion Virginia (10-2, 2-0 ACC) is No. 1 in defensive efficiency but is No. 175 in offense.

N.C. State’s No. 9 offensive rating nationally is comparable to Duke’s No. 8. But the Wolfpack (10-3, 1-1 ACC) is No. 111 defensively.

Duke is also the ACC’s top team in the NCAA’s NET rankings, coming in at No. 7.

Two months of ACC games remain to be played before March and the NCAA tournament. But looking at the big picture so far, Duke looks like one of the nation’s best teams and, as usual, a strong contender for the Final Four and the NCAA championship.

“It is a team that knows what they do can contribute to winning and that it is important,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That is why I have said from the start that it is more of an old-school team. We have depth and we have good attitude, really good attitude. They are working hard. You can tell that they pull for one another. We just have to keep that going and keep getting better.”

Using a combination of traditional and advanced statistics, compiled by KenPom.com and Synergy Sports Technologies, here’s a look at what Duke has produced in the season’s first 13 games.

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SHOOTING

Although Duke is far from an elite shooting team, the Blue Devils excel at getting to the rim for high-percentage shots.

That’s why despite a team shooting percentage of 47.5 that’s No. 41 in the country, Duke’s No. 7 in points per game (83.3).

Vernon Carey Jr.’s play inside gives Duke strength on offense. The 6-10 freshman center averages a team-best 17.9 points per game and has made 61.3 percent of his shots.

His 142 field-goal attempts lead the team. He has made 80 of his 128 attempts in the lane within five feet of the basket. That includes 15 of 21 (71 percent) on offensive rebound put-back shots.

As a team, Duke has made 53.3 percent of its 2-point attempts. That’s No. 64 nationally and better than the national average of 49.1 percent.

Duke has made 34.8 percent of its 3-point shots (No. 104 nationally), just above the national average of 33.2 percent.

Freshman Matthew Hurt leads the team with 49 3-point attempts. He’s made 20 for a strong 40.8 shooting percentage.

Reserve Joey Baker has made 17 of 39 (43.6 percent) of his 3-pointers while Cassius Stanley is 10 of 25 (40 percent).

In ACC play, it will be interesting to watch how many teams double-team Carey leaving Duke’s shooters open.

DEFENSE

Duke has allowed teams to score .851 points per possession, which, as mentioned earlier, is No. 3 in the country.

Opponents have made just 29.9 percent of their 3-pointers and are shooting 41.2 percent overall.

The Blue Devils have blocked 15.9 percent of opponents shot attempts, well above the national average of 9 percent. Only Florida State (17.8 percent) and Virginia (17.1) are better among ACC teams.

Duke has ended possessions with steals 12.6 percent of the time, good for No. 19 nationally. Florida State leads the ACC at 13.8.

Carey leads Duke with 29 blocked shots, and Tre Jones has a team-best 22 steals despite missing two games.

BALL MOVEMENT

Duke has recorded assists on 53.9 percent of its made baskets, which is only 119th in the country and just above the national average of 51.8 percent. That sounds pedestrian but doesn’t display the entire picture here.

Jones averages 7.4 assists per game, tops in the ACC and No. 7 in the country. He’s an elite passer.

Lately, Duke is finding other ways to get the ball inside, notably utilizing high-low post-to-post passing lately. Hurt is out front, passing the ball down low to Carey or reserve forward Javin DeLaurier.

Carey excels at drawing fouls, leading to free throws. He has been fouled 8.3 times per game. Only Marquette’s Markus Howard (8.4) has been fouled more frequently.

No assist is awarded on free throws, of course. But Duke’s ability to move the ball and get it down low to Carey, Hurt or DeLaurier is important and a big key to its offensive success.

CONTROLLING THE BOARDS

Rebounding is another strength for this year’s Blue Devils and will play a role in how much success they have in March.

Duke averages 10 more rebounds per game than its opponents (41.8 to 31.8). Carey’s 9.0 rebounds per game lead the team.

The Blue Devils have recorded offensive rebounds on 38.9 percent of their missed shots, No. 5 in the country in that category. The national average is 28.3.

Conversely, Duke’s opponents have only recorded offensive rebounds on 25.5 percent of their missed shots.

BALL PROTECTION

The Blue Devils turn the ball over on 18.5 percent of their possessions, lower than the national average of 19.7 but No. 8 among ACC teams.

Tre Jones’ 25 turnovers are the most among Duke’s players. Part of that is to be expected since he handles the ball more than any other Blue Devil. But he could improve there. His one turnover in 24 minutes against Boston College on Tuesday night is more like what Duke needs.

Freshman Wendell Moore’s 30 turnovers are inflated by his seven-turnover game against Georgetown in November.

He showed promise by not committing any turnovers in Duke’s back-to-back wins at Michigan State and Virginia Tech last month. He only had two in 25 minutes against Boston College, so perhaps he’s getting things under control.

Carey and Hurt are protecting the ball well and avoiding turnovers, a good sign for the freshmen big men.

Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. (1) blocks a shot by Boston College’s Derryck Thornton (11) during the second half on Tuesday, December 31, 2019 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.


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