Kansas takes on Duke Sunday in its third consecutive Elite 8. In the Blue Devils, the Jayhawks probably have their most fearsome opponent of the tournament and of this season. Talented on both sides of the floor, beating Duke is going to require Kansas’s best played game of the season.
Duke’s offense ranks 2nd nationally, and most worrisome for Kansas, Duke is the best offensive rebounding team in the country. The Blue Devils rebound 39 percent of their misses, which means even when Kansas forces a miss they’re going to have to work hard to keep Duke from getting another shot. That’s partially why Duke ranks 10th nationally in FG% at the rim, although that’s nothing too new for the Jayhawks, as Baylor, Kansas State, and Iowa State all rank right around the Blue Devils. Still, I don’t think Kansas is relishing the thought of going against 6-11 and 6-10 on the front line, with the potential to bring 6-11 and 6-10 off the bench as well.
Duke’s main weapon is Marvin Bagley. He shoots 65 percent from two and 38 percent from three (although on limited attempts) and he’s also a better passer than his 8.8 percent assist rate would suggest.
Bagley’s number one skill, though, might be how relentless he is on the offensive glass:
He also has a 2nd jump reminiscent of Andrew Wiggins:
He’s a good ball handler, and even though he’s a lefty he’s effective going to his right. When defenses have to respect his jumper, he can get to the basket pretty easily:
And if you let him catch it down low he has a variety of ways to score even if he can’t get to the rim:
I do wonder if Kansas is going to potentially put Udoka Azubuike on him (since Bagley won’t be able to overpower him) and just park him in the lane and let Bagley take as many perimeter jumpers as he wants. It’s not a great idea, especially if Bagley gets Azubuike into foul trouble, but it might be the best way to neutralize him, especially given his rebounding.
Duke also has another monster down low in fellow freshman Wendell Carter. Carter has improved his face up game and his decision making, but his skills are best utilized down low where he can play with his back to the basket.
Carter also has great hands, so Kansas can’t leave him alone on the roll:
If Kansas manages to slow Duke’s two big men, they have to then deal with a collection of talented perimeter players, led by senior Grayson Allen. Allen is efficient both inside the arc (51 percent) and outside (37.5 percent), although the majority of his 2-point shots are either from the mid range or on floaters, as he takes just 14.6 percent of his shots at the rim.
He’s a good leaper, but I think Kansas will be able to stay in front of him and force him into some tough looks. He can make them, as you’ll see in the clip below, but it’s important to guard him 1 on 1 and not overhelp. Would you rather have Allen trying to make this shot, or an easy dump off to Bagley or Carter?
While Kansas can give Allen some room inside the arc, they’ll have to stick to him beyond it. He’s a good catch and shoot guy, but can also make them off the dribble:
It’s fair to point out Allen shot under 30 percent from three in ACC play, but I still think KU’s best chance is to try to turn him into a driver, but if they do they need to be careful about who they help off. Gary Trent is shooting 41 percent from three, but he’s another guy KU should try to turn into a driver, as he’s shooting only 42 percent from two.
Trevon Duval, meanwhile, is shooting 29 percent on 101 attempts, and even though he is an excellent passer he also turns it over quite a bit, so Kansas will want to force him to have the ball as much as possible.
Duke’s switch to zone defense has caused a lot of takes, both hot and not, about their defensive improvement. While the improvement is real, a lot of the inputs have stayed the same (that is, 2 point shooting allowed, offensive rebounding allowed, 3 point attempts allowed, etc).
The Blue Devils allow a slightly lower than average number of 3-point attempts, although after watching them play I believe that is more due to opponent choice rather than Duke specifically reducing attempts. It’s also good news for the Jayhawks that Duke ranks 256th nationally in forcing turnovers, so the Jayhawks should be able to avoid too many empty possessions.
As is normally the case with a zone, the middle is usually pretty open:
Needless to say, Lagerald Vick is going to have to have a nice game. I don’t think Kansas can or should subsist on mid range jumpers, even if they will be open, but it is a nice bailout option for a team that does make quite a few of them:
If Kansas can get any sort of dribble penetration, they should have drive and kick opportunities available, as you’ll see in these two clips:
Despite their size advantage, Duke doesn’t defend appreciably well at the rim. This is partially because their bigs can get lost in rotations:
But, you can definitely score through their big men:
Duke’s also a much worse defensive team in transition (although not terrible by any means), so the Jayhawks will want to take advantage of that as much as possible. Still, in the half court, the keys are pretty well known to anyone who has seen a zone defense: get good drive and kick opportunities, pass the ball well, make a few jumpers, and take a ton of threes.
The keys then are simple, although much easier said than done: keep Duke off the offensive glass, keep Azubuike out of foul trouble, and win the 3-point battle. If Kansas can either keep Bagley in check or keep the rest of the team in check as well as take a ton of threes, they’ll have a chance.