Duke looks to build on change in offense against NC State

lkeeley@newsobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

— There were many takeaways from Duke’s 69-64 win Monday against Virginia, and Rasheed Sulaimon pointed out one on Friday that some may have missed.

“The offense that we put in, we shared the ball a lot better that game,” said Sulaimon, referring to Duke’s motion offense, a departure from the set plays the Blue Devils had relied on in past games.

No. 23 Duke (13-4, 2-2 ACC) will get a chance to fine-tune its offense against N.C. State (11-6, 1-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Cameron. Neither team has played sharp defense thus far – expect plenty of points.

Back to Sulaimon’s point, the Blue Devils have recorded 12 assists in each of their past three games, victories against Virginia and Georgia Tech and the loss at Clemson (in Duke’s first ACC game at Notre Dame, the Blue Devils recorded eight assists in the loss). The Virginia game was different, though. Quinn Cook leads the ACC with an average of 5.9 assists per game. Against the Cavaliers, he recorded two.

Cook was one of four players to record two assists, along with Rodney Hood, Amile Jefferson and Sulaimon (each played at least 24 minutes and no more than 29). Four other players – Jabari Parker, Tyler Thornton, Semi Ojeleye and Andre Dawkins – turned in a single dime as well. And that’s how the Blue Devils got to 12.

Cook logged seven against Clemson and five against Georgia Tech. So Sulaimon was right: As a team, the Blue Devils did share the ball much better Monday night than they had in previous efforts.

Also better Monday night was what Duke calls its fight – effort wasn’t an issue, as it had been in past games.

“When we beat Georgia Tech, I thought we relaxed,” Cook said. “We went up to Clemson and took a game off. No disrespect to them, they beat us, they wanted it more that day, but we weren’t there. We’ve got to just keep pushing, keep pushing and keep getting better.

“Were tired of Coach yelling at us about energy and fighting. Coaches should be coaching just basketball, I don’t think they should be coaching attitude and fight. I think everybody’s attitude is great, I think Monday was a big step, and we’ve got a big one tomorrow.”

The only way Monday’s game against Virginia – which was a must-win for Duke, Sulaimon said – could have been better is if the Blue Devils would have stayed strong down the stretch, instead of allowing the Cavaliers the 13-1 run that enabled them to take the lead in the final minute of the game. The Blue Devils were able to come back – the first time they’ve done that in the second half of a league game – but Cook dismissed the notion the tight win was somehow more beneficial.

“I would rather play well and win by 15,” Cook said. “That would help us more.”

But a win is a win, he added, and at .500 in the conference, Duke needs all the wins it can get. The Blue Devils have the right opponent coming into Cameron – the Wolfpack hasn’t beaten a Mike Krzyzewski-coached Duke team in Cameron since Feb. 6, 1988 (the losses Pete Gaudet collected in 1995 are applied against his record, not Krzyzewski’s, per an NCAA ruling).

“We just have to get a win,” Sulaimon said. (He did say, “Wow,” when told of the streak.) “We’re 2-2 in the conference, and that’s mediocre. We’re a program that’s not built on mediocrity.”

How they match up

By Laura Keeley

Point guard

Soph. Quinn Cook (6-2, 180) vs. Fresh. Cat Barber (6-2, 170)

To avoid being repetitive, let’s get this out of the way up top: Duke struggles to defend (ranking 103rd nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency, yielding 100.5 points per 100 possessions to an average offense). N.C. State, though, struggles even more (ranking 126th, with 101.6 points per 100 possessions). There aren’t standout defenders on either team. So we’re left with lots of offense.

Cook has been Duke’s third-best player, leading the ACC with 5.9 assists per game, and his 3.03:1 assist-to-turnover ratio would tie a school record set by Steve Wojciechowski in 1997. Barber has been slightly less consistent for N.C. State.

Edge: Duke

Shooting guard

Fresh. Matt Jones (6-4, 200)/Soph. Rasheed Sulaimon (6-4, 190)

vs. Jr. Desmond Lee (6-4, 200)

Lee has struggled in ACC play, shooting 25 percent from the floor (6-of-24), and he has logged more turnovers (eight) than assists (seven). Sulaimon, for the first time this season, was a dominant force on offense last time out, aggressively looking for and creating his shot.

Edge: Duke.

Small forward

R-Soph. Rodney Hood (6-8, 215) vs. Soph. T.J. Warren (6-8, 215)

Hood is Duke’s most complete player, blending offense (he averages 22 points per game in league play) with passable defense (he did an admiral job on Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, especially in the first half). Warren is a scorer, no doubt, as he leads the league with an average of 22 points per game. But like Lee, his production took a dip when conference play started, as Warren is shooting 37.5 percent from the floor in the past four games. His three assists and 12 turnovers are concerning, too.

Edge: Duke

Power forward

Fresh. Jabari Parker (6-8, 235) vs. Fresh. Kyle Washington (6-9, 225)

Parker hasn’t performed lately at the same level he had earlier this season. He has been settling for jump shots more often, normally step-back jumpers that have been contested by big defenders. He’s shooting 30.4 percent from the field during ACC play and 25 percent from 3-point range. He’s still extremely talented, though, and will command the attention of the N.C. State defense. Washington isn’t significantly bigger than him, a change of pace from the likes of Daniel Miller and others he has been guarding recently.

Edge: Duke

Center

Soph. Amile Jefferson (6-9, 210) vs. R-Sr. Jordan Vandenberg (7-1, 245)

A clear size advantage for N.C. State. But it takes more than size to be a factor on the court. After showing promise post-foot injury, Vandenberg has failed to be an impact player for State lately. Jefferson, meanwhile, is coming off his first career double-double (10 points and 15 rebounds) against a talented Virginia frontcourt.

Perhaps Parker summed it up well: “You look at their roster, we don’t really see a big impact. More importantly, (our) bigs just need to show up.”

Edge: Duke

Bench

Andre Dawkins has game-changing potential with his 3-point shooting. Duke went 10-deep last game, with nine players playing at least 10 minutes. State’s bench has Ralston Turner and Lennard Freeman – not quite the same as Dawkins and Sulaimon.

Edge: Duke

Coaching

There are only a handful of coaches that would even be in consideration to get this edge over Mike Krzyzewski. Mark Gottfried is not one of them.

Edge: Duke

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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