March Madness: Duke's guide to surviving the ACC Tournament
Duke is the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s ACC Tournament after going 16-4 in the regular season.
However, the Blue Devils enter the postseason with a chip of their shoulder after falling to North Carolina in Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game. How Duke responds to that adversity this week in Brooklyn could go a long way toward how they ultimately finish this season.
Duke’s first test of the postseason will be against Syracuse, who blew out Florida State on Wednesday afternoon.
However, the Orange will be without star player Buddy Boeheim. He was suspended for a “flagrant act” in Syracuse’s win over FSU on Wednesday.
Duke beat Syracuse by 20+ points in each of its previous two meetings this season. Assuming the Blue Devils get pas the Orange on Thursday, tougher tests will await in the semifinals and, potentially, the championship game.
Here’s Duke’s survival guide for the ACC Tournament:
Get back to playing well defensively
Duke allowed a season-high 94 points in its loss to North Carolina over the weekend. That loss to the Tar Heels was also the first time Duke has lost by more than 5 points this season. The Blue Devils completely broke down defensively, allowing four different UNC players to score 20+ points.
Duke has been a much better defensive team than that throughout the year, but it will have to prove that the UNC loss was simply a one-game aberration.
Take the pressure off Paolo
Paolo Banchero has been Duke’s No. 1 offensive option all year, but that doesn’t mean he has to be the only option — especially when opposing defenses have keyed in on stopping him. Banchero was less efficient over the second half of the season and appeared to be frustrated at times during the UNC game — even before the Tar Heels pulled away.
The more Banchero’s teammates can take off his plate, the better. His true shooting percentage is down to a solid-but-not-spectacular 54.5 percent. He’s also an underrated passer and is capable of impacting the game in ways beyond just scoring.
Find more shots for AJ Griffin
While Banchero’s efficiency has waned in recent weeks, Griffin’s has risen to impressive levels. He’s had an exceptional freshman campaign and is now shooting 48.3 percent from 3-point range. He’s been remarkably effective as both a play-finisher and a ball-mover — he has just 21 turnovers in 700 minutes of action this season.
If Duke can find ways to get Griffin more opportunities, the offense will be better for it. He’s averaging just five points per game in Duke’s losses this season. That number balloons to more than 11 points per contest in wins.
Settle on effective 7th man
The importance of depth traditionally lessens during March, but Duke will still need contributions beyond its rock-solid six-man rotation of Banchero, Griffin, Mark Williams, Wendell Moore Jr., Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach. Settling on a consistent seventh man to count on deep into March — whether it be Theo John, Joey Baker or someone else — will be imperative.
Avenge previous losses
Duke will potentially face No. 4-seeded Miami and No. 3-seeded North Carolina a potential title game. Duke already has a loss to both the Hurricanes and the Tar Heels this season. The Blue Devils will need to find a way to turn that into a psychological advantage rather than a hindrance — especially in a theoretical championship game vs. North Carolina.
Duke is 10-4 against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament since Coach K took over in Durham.