Steve Wiseman joins STP to help us get some better insights on the upcoming basketball mega-showdown with Duke. He is currently a sportswriter with The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC), as well as The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) covering ACC sports (mainly Duke).
DanSwany: Offensively, Duke will sometimes struggle from beyond the three-point line. Against Eastern Michigan, they were 5 of 24, against Hartford they were 5 of 26, and against Yale they were 5 of 21. Duke still wins those games by 30 or 40 points, so the bad shooting didn’t affect them. What are they doing offensively to counteract the poor shooting from the outside and will they be able to overcome that in ACC play?
Steve Wiseman: A couple of things are at play here. Duke excels at turning defense into offense by generating steals that lead to easy transition baskets. That helps make up for poor 3-point shooting. Secondly, while Coach K isn’t opposed to his guys taking 3-pointers, he’s also happy when they make the extra pass that leads to an even better shot. Lately that’s meant bypassing a 3 for an easier shot inside. All that said, Duke will need to improve its 3-point shooting to beat the better teams on its schedule, like Texas Tech and the top ACC teams.
Swany: Looking at Duke’s stats and how they’ve played, their only negative is the loss to Gonzaga where they simply allowed the Bulldogs to make too many buckets. They didn’t force turnovers and the Blue Devils allowed the Zags to make 10 of 19 from the 3-point line. Since that time, Duke has been elite in holding opponents to 39% or less in eFG%, and they’ve forced to turn the ball over on about 30% of their possessions. What has Duke done on defense to make those things true?
Wiseman: This is the best defensive team Duke has had since the 2015 NCAA championship squad. It starts with Tre Jones out front. He’s an excellent on-ball defender and sets the tone for things defensively. Williamson, Barrett and Reddish are all long, lean, athletic players who disrupt the passing lanes and guard the rim well. Marques Bolden is the last line of defense inside and has been an improved shot-blocker this season. It has all come together well, with the exception of the first half against Gonzaga. Duke played strong defense in the second half of that game, which allowed it to erase the 17-point deficit and nearly win.
Swany: Every college basketball fan knows about the superstar duo of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Yet, who is the heart, soul and team leader on this Blue Devils squad?
Wiseman: Juniors Jack White and Javin DeLaurier are the co-captains even though neither is a regular starter. They have experience in the program and aren’t shy about getting in the ears of the freshmen when the need arises. But the aforementioned Tre Jones has already emerged as a leader. His defense and ability on offense to keep everyone involved are strong traits. He benefits from his older brother, Tyus, having spent that year at Duke as well. Tyus and Tre are close so Tyus shared things with Tre that gave him a head start on his Duke career.
Swany: Coach K is still going strong at 71 years old, what do you see firsthand that makes him such an excellent coach each and every season to keep Duke in the elite status of the college basketball world?
Wiseman: I started covering Duke in 2010 and the things that’s impressed me the most about Coach K is his ability and willingness to stay modern. He doesn’t attempt to fit players into his system. Rather, he takes the talent he has each season and figures out the best way to win with it. Last year it meant playing zone defense when he’s traditionally been a man-to-man coach. This season he’s using the 5-out motion offense many NBA teams utilize because trusts this freshman class to make good decisions with the ball.
Swany: Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett; one-on-one… who you got?
Wiseman: I’ll take Zion because he’s such a unique talent. Barrett is going to be a great pro and can score from more areas on the court. But Zion is such a strong player and he also has a surprising amount of finesse to his game. He has quick hands which allow him to steal the ball in one-on-one defensive settings too.
Swany: How do you think this game plays out on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden with Duke versus Texas Tech; what is your prediction of the outcome?
Wiseman: I’m impressed by how well Texas Tech has played defensively. Duke presents multiple match-up problems to teams in man-to-man sets so I want to see how Texas Tech handles them. They’ll need to communicate very well while handling switches. The Tre Jones-Matt Mooney matchup will be great to watch if they are guarding each other. Mooney’s TO rate is 24.8. With Jones’ defensive ability, that could lead to the kind of easy baskets Duke uses to fuel its transition offense. I see Texas Tech limiting Duke’s offense but still see the Blue Devils winning a close one. Let’s say 78-70.
Swany: I’d like to thank Steve for agreeing to join me, and for giving us such outstanding answers to our questions. He did not hesitate when I reached out for him to help us here on STP. You can follow him on twitter @stevewisemanNC. Steve and I both agree that this will be a great game on Thursday night in NYC. Don’t miss it, and Wreck ’em Tech!!!