Duke: ACC Outlook

Austin Rivers has been great, but someone on Duke needs to get his teammates more involved.

Record to date: 12-2

Strength so far: Inside game. Mason Plumlee has averaged 11.9 points and 9.9 rebounds on 63% shooting and his brother Miles has added 7.3 points (on 67% shooting) and 6.5 boards in 17.9 minutes a game. They have over 45% of Duke’s rebounds (230, or 16.4 per game) and 66% of their blocks (46 of 68). Mason has 29 assists (fourth on the team) and the two have committed just 49 fouls between them (3.5 per game). If there’s a knock on either, it’s their foul shooting: Mason is shooting 40% (32-of-80) and Miles 22-of-34 (65%). Duke is shooting 68% from the line as a team and it would be 77% without them. Still, they’ve had a huge impact and given Duke the kind of balance it hasn’t had in years.

Needs improvement: Defense. Already, Duke has allowed opponents to shoot 43.9%, which would be the worst it has allowed since 2003 (44.4%). Luke Winn did his weekly power rankings, at SI.com, and he broke out some stats from Synergy Sports Technology:

My dig through Synergy Sports Technology’s stats yielded two noticeable ways in which the Blue Devils are struggling to contain opponents:

• Their transition defense has dropped from 0.835 PPP (which put them in the 95th percentile last year) to 1.000 PPP (in the 64th percentile).

• They’ve struggled to contain pick-and-roll ballhandlers, too, going from 0.638 PPP (90th percentile) to 0.822 PPP (28th percentile).

While it’s a problem, there aren’t too many teams in the ACC that can hurt Duke from an offensive standpoint. But it’s a problem, particularly on the perimeter, for Duke and will likely continue to be one against teams with good guard play.

Most important player: Austin Rivers. He’s had a pretty good freshman campaign so far, averaging 15.1 points on 44.2% shooting (42.3% from three). The only issue is he has just 30 assists (one more than Mason Plumlee) to 32 turnovers, adding 12 steals, one block and 2.6 rebounds. Despite perceptions about Austin Rivers’ ball-hogging, five Duke players have taken between 96-156 shots this season and those five have between 102-212 points each. As a point of comparison, J.J. Redick took nearly a third of Duke’s shots in 2006 and had over a third of their points.

Reason for optimism: The Blue Devils’ offense is good enough to outscore most ACC tams. Duke has faced some of the better offenses in college basketball (seven of the top 38), so their defensive numbers are a bit skewed. And the Blue Devils won’t see many more offenses like that (just four ACC offenses rank in the top 50 and six in the top 100).

Reason for pessimism: No one is creating shots for others. Rivers and Seth Curry, Duke’s primary ball-handlers through 14 games, have combined for 72 assists and 71 turnovers. Mark Watson over at Blue Devil Nation talked about the rest of the Duke players standing around and watching, waiting for someone to make a play against Temple. Too much 1-on-1 play, as Watson pointed out, has been an issue and has led to some of Duke’s struggles with turning the ball over.

Surprising stat: Duke’s opponents have scored 62% of their points from two-point range; only two teams allow a higher percentage scored from two. That’s because Duke’s opponents score just 20% of their points from three (327th nationally) and 17.8% from the foul line (276th).

Most likely wins (12): @GT (1/7), UVA (1/12), @Clemson (1/15), Wake (1/19), @Maryland (1/25), FSU (1/21), Miami (2/5), Maryland (2/11), NCST (2/16), @BC (2/19), Va. Tech (2/25), @Wake (2/28)

Most likely losses (2): @UNC (2/8)

Toss-ups (2): @Virginia Tech (2/2), @FSU (2/23), UNC (3/4)

Best-case scenario: 14-2.

Worst-case scenario: 12-4.

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