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UCF v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Each year after the season ends I tell myself this is this last year I’m going to preview and recap basketball games as a hobby, and then fall rolls around and, well, here I am.

For the second year in a row, Kansas starts its season at the Champions Classic without a warm up game against a Division 1 opponent beforehand. That’s unfortunate for the purpose of this preview, because Duke is basically a brand new team this year, and because of that it’s tough to know exactly what to expect.

Early indications seem to be they’ll try to run their offense through freshman Matthew Hurt at the high post:

I’m not terribly worried about this for a couple reasons. First, while Hurt is no doubt a talented player, he’s most known as a good outside shooter. For obvious reasons, starting him at the high post with the ball in his hands a lot will reduce his 3-point attempts.

Second, unlike the Brandon Ingram clips in the video above, Kansas has no need to stick to the guy passing it into the high post, because Tre Jones is a horrible 3-point shooter. He shot just 26 percent from three last year, and his release is slow enough that Kansas will be able to get out and challenge him anyway.

Third, take a look at the shots Brandon Ingram gets there. A bunch of floaters from the middle of the lane against defenders shorter than him. Maybe the argument is Hurt can get around Silvio De Sousa or David McCormack (or maybe Jalen Wilson), but I’ll take a bunch of floaters from a freshman, and also trust that regardless of how advanced his feel for the game is, he won’t have the ability to pass Duke to a win in his first career game.

Duke might not do that, of course. Can Cassius Stanley provide some slashing from the perimeter last year and create looks for opponents, similar to what RJ Barrett did last year? Will Duke dump it down low to Vernon Carey, even though Kansas has one of the best low post defenders in the country? Who knows!

The big key, as it likely will be all year, is whether Duke will let whoever the four-man is guarding operate on the perimeter and shoot threes. If so, it could force Kansas to play a bit smaller than they want or force one of the three freshmen into a bit more playing time than they would want. Having Carey in the low post and Hurt in the high post, however, likely plays more into the Jayhawks’ hands. Or talons.

Defensively, it starts up top with Tre Jones. Although he’s limited offensively, he’s one of the better defenders in college basketball. He’ll put a lot of pressure on Devon Dotson up top and is smart enough to take advantage of any lazy passes around the perimeter. Of note, Duke has tended to ice their ball screens as of late (apologies for not embedding. Technical issue). For a brief explainer, icing a ball screen is forcing the ball handler away from the screen (which is usually to the sideline), rather than to the middle. For a more in depth look, watch this video. It’s probably a good defense to try against Kansas, at least at this point in the season, because beating a good iced ball screen generally relies on either a good shooting screener or a lot of good ball movement.

Players to Watch

Tre Jones, sophomore guard

Jones’ abysmal shooting was already covered, but he was also a rare low turnover point guard as a freshman, with a turnover rate under 15 percent. Now, how much of that was because he got to pass to Zion a lot and had RJ Barrett dominating the ball? Probably a lot.

Matthew Hurt, 6-9 freshman wing

As mentioned above, Hurt will probably be the tip of the spear to Duke’s offense. If Kansas can force him into the high post and body him with their bigger fours, that will be a huge win for Kansas. If he floats to the perimeter and hits a couple threes, this might be who Marcus Garrett is tasked with guarding. Also of note, Self coached him with USA Basketball, so hopefully has an inside track on how to guard him.

Alex O’Connell, 6-6 junior wing

Maybe an off the board pick here, as O’Connell hasn’t gotten a ton of playing time in his first two years and supposedly isn’t expected to much this year either. However, O’Connell has shot over 41 percent from three in his first two seasons and is by far Duke’s biggest outside threat. If this game is a 2-point battle, I think Kansas has a much better chance of winning, so Coach Ratface will (or should) probably elect to give O’Connell some minutes to try to make an impact.

Keys

  1. The point guard matchup - Duke needs Jones to outplay Dotson to win, and they especially need Jones to shut down Dotson defensively.
  2. Turnovers - Kansas took care of the ball exceptionally well in their exhibition games, but even though Duke isn’t the turnover forcing team it was prior to the 1 and done era, it’s still a high quality division 1 opponent. Given KU’s issues with spacing, the ability to just put shots up and let their rebounders go get it will be important.
  3. Coaching - Bill Self has had Ratface’s number the last couple times they have played, both on the scoreboard and in terms of making adjustments. I trust him to make the right adjustments again.

The Pick

I’m going to keep track of my picks against the spread this year, because I want more people to know how dumb I am:

It’s pretty tough to know exactly what is going to happen given all of Duke’s new pieces (and KU’s for that matter), but I don’t think the Blue Devils have the shooting to take advantage of a potentially spotty KU help defense, and with Vernon Carey inside I think Duke is going to probably try to play Azubuike straight up, which will be a bad idea. Give me the Jayhawks in a low scoring 71-65 win.

Spread at time of pick: KU-2

Record ATS: 0-0