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Big wins for Duke over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech seem to have erased the sour feelings of the three closes losses suffered to Virginia (65-63), St. John’s (81-77) and UNC (82-78). The Blue Devils played excellent basketball during their last two wins, with Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski pulling strings and moving pieces around the chess board for motivational (sitting Trevon Duval and starting Alex O’Connell) and tactical (shift to a base zone defense) purposes. Grayson Allen has played his best basketball of the ACC schedule in the last two outings, and it’s no coincidence that has happened with his move to more of a point guard role. With Allen’s shot faltering, he became too one-dimensional as an off-guard threat and allowed defenses to slack off him and focus their efforts on slowing down other players. It neutralized one of Duke’s strongest offensive threats and made the nation’s No. 2 offense in terms of efficiency a little easier to defend. After putting the ball in Allen’s hands, he is averaging 24 points and six assists and looks like he’s rejuvenated for the final five regular season games and at least two postseason games of his storied career at Duke.
THE BYE BYE RACE
Duke, at 9-4 in conference, is now tied for second in the ACC with Clemson, and the teams will face off at Littlejohn Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. That matchup would give the winner sole possession of second place as well as the tiebreaker while jockeying for positioning in race to the ACC Tournament. All teams are gunning for one of the top four seeds to secure a double bye. UNC (9-5), Louisville (8-5), Miami (7-6), Virginia Tech (7-6) and NC State (7-6) are all within striking distance of the Blue Devils should they falter down the stretch. There is a big jumble of programs within 2 1/2 games of each other from the No. 4 to the No. 11 seeds, so any loss moving forward could be devastating for Duke’s seeding. There are five games left in the regular season for the Blue Devils, and three of them are at home.
Allen at point guard
Coach K worked some magic by moving Allen over to the point guard position, freeing up passing lanes and moving Trevon Duval off the ball into more of a shooting and attacking role. The offense has looked much more free-flowing, even without the services of Marvin Bagley the last two games. Opponents are now having to work off an entirely new look Duke offense for game planning purposes. It’s been enough of a wrinkle to provide big wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, but will it be enough for Duke to take down No. 11 Clemson on the road on Sunday? Stay tuned.
When will Bagley return?
Freshman phenom and ACC Player of the Year frontrunner Marvin Bagley has missed the last two games with what the team has termed a “minor” knee sprain. Holding him out has been deemed precautionary by the program, and Coach K, Wendell Carter and Grayson Allen are all expecting Bagley back soon.
Zone defense permanent?
Coach K said Duke’s base defense will be zone moving forward. The Blue Devils have played some of their best defense of the season in the 2-3 zone, and time is running out for the team to suddenly find its groove in man-to-man.
Top recruit visits Duke and UNC
The No. 12-ranked player in the country according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, power forward E.J. Montgomery, took an unofficial visit to UNC and Duke this week. He is expected to also take official visits later this spring before making a final decision during the early signing period in April. Most indications are that Duke is the favorite, but Montgomery has yet to name a leader.
David Cutcliffe has yet to make any public statements about his search for a new defensive doordinator, and all indications are that the search process is ongoing. With the Blue Devils starting spring practice in late March, expectations are that the hiring will be official sometime within the next week or so.