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After dropping four of five games from the end of January to the beginning of February, Duke has turned things around over the last four games. The Blue Devils have been particularly effective on defense, holding Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Louisville well below their season averages. And they’ve done it all without the services of ACC Player of the Year frontrunner Marvin Bagley III, who continues to sit with a mild knee sprain. The 6-foot-11 freshman leads the conference in scoring at 21.5 points per game.
Race for a double bye
The winning streak was timely for Duke, not just for NCAA tournament seeding purposes but also for positioning in the ACC Tournament in early March. No. 1-ranked clinched the top seed on Wednesday night with the Cavaliers’ win over Georgia Tech, so it’s now a battle for the No. 2 seed between group of schools including Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Virginia Tech and N.C. State. The Blue Devils hold tiebreakers over Clemson and Virginia Tech but do not against UNC or N.C. State after dropping games against both earlier this year. Three games remain in the regular season, including against Syracuse at home this Saturday and then games at Virginia Tech and at home against UNC in the regular-season finale March 3.
ALLEN AT THE POINT
Coming out of the North Carolina game Feb. 8, senior Grayson Allen was averaging just 9.75 points in the previous four outings. With head coach Mike Krzyzewski moving Allen to point guard and putting the ball in his hands, Allen’s game returned to form. He has averaged 23.8 points in the last four games and his 127 assists on the season match his career high, set during his freshman season in 2014-15.
When will Bagley return?
Bagley was originally being held out for precautionary reasons with a mild knee sprain, which was expected to be a short-term loss. His absence has now stretched to four games over two weeks. Heading in to Wednesday night’s game against Louisville, Bagley was considered a game-day decision but was ultimately ruled out after the team’s shoot-around. While he was the leader in the clubhouse for ACC Player of the Year before his injury, missing any more time may make voters question whether he did enough in the games he played to win the award.
TOUGH ZONE DEFENSE
Duke’s adjusted defensive efficiency was hovering near the 80s before Bagley went out due to injury. When that happened, Coach K switched to a primary zone defense and it has improved the Blue Devils’ defensive numbers all the way up to the low 40s. The team has mixed in some full-court press that settles back into the zone once in halfcourt, which has given fits to all four Duke opponents since the UNC game. It took a while but Duke’s young roster seems to have finally found a defensive identity even if it wasn’t what Coach K may have wanted before the season started.
2019 RECRUIT VISITS
Duke hosted three-star 2019 sharpshooting combo guard Joe Girard for an unofficial visit Wednesday night, and one of the fastest-rising high school juniors in the country earned a scholarship offer on the trip. Coach K told Girard that he was “the best shooter in high school” and praised the state of New York’s all-time leading scorer for his leadership and toughness.
Cutcliffe names Defensive Coordinators
Duke hadn’t been without Jim Knowles as its football defensive coordinator since 2008, so when he left for Oklahoma State, Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe had to make a decision on who would commandeer an improving unit.
Instead of naming just one person to take over Knowles’ defensive coordinator and linebackers coach duties, Cutcliffe chose to name three people, but he pulled from familiar resources to do it. Assistant defensive coordinator Ben Albert earned a promotion to co-defensive coordinator. Safetie coach Matt Guerrieri will lead the defense with Albert, who also coaches defensive line. Other assistants earned promotions as well, with cornerbacks coach Derek Jones becoming assistant head coach and Zac Roper getting the title of deputy head coach. Cutcliffe also brought in Lanier Goethie to coach linebackers. Goethie used to play for Cutcliffe at Ole Miss and comes to Duke from Louisiana Tech.