The Duke Blue Devils showed a little defensive muscle in their 75-60 win over Virginia Tech on Thursday. Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston were inserted into the starting lineup and both proved to help the Devils on the defensive end. Thornton has consistently been terrific in off ball defense and as of late has been terrific on the ball by backing off a little bit and using his strength to cut drivers off. Hairston brings a lot of energy and more mobility at the power forward spot, something that Duke had been lacking with Ryan Kelly and Miles Plumlee. I don’t believe Duke can play with both Hairston and Thornton on the floor for too many minutes because of offensive limitations, but I like the defensive tone to start the game.
To go along with Thornton and Hairston I believe Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee have both showed signs of good defense throughout the season. Miles Plumlee seems to have mental lapses at times and Ryan Kelly needs certain matchups to be successful, but overall both are least capable of decent defense. The guys that need to step up on the defensive end are Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry and Quinn Cook. The improvement defensively from those three guys will go a long way in deciding just how successful this team is over the rest of the season.
The next test for Duke brings the Miami Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are in their first season under former George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga. Miami arguably has the third or fourth most talented team in the ACC, but has struggled so far this season with a record of 13-7, and 4-3 inconference play. But they have their reasons with Reggie Johnson missing the first half of the year, Julian Gamble being out for the season, and DeQuan Jones’ eligibility issues. Just as they were starting to settle in at full strength, Kenny Kadji missed their last game against Maryland. According to his twitter feed, Kadji has been cleared to play against Duke. You look for something to jump out at you with Miami and the only thing I really see is they shoot over 20 threes a game and connect on a solid amount at 36%. They’ve been pretty mediocre in all other statistical categories and have had a disappointing year so far. That being said, the Canes are finally healthy and have won three in a row, including two on the road. Like I said, Miami has a lot of talent and is not someone to take lightly. Let’s hope that the Blue Devils aren’t looking ahead to Wednesday’s matchup with North Carolina.
Team Scouting Report
PG- #0 Shane Larkin Fr.- This was Malcolm Grant’s spot the last two years, but Larranaga has decided to move Grant off the ball and give the keys to Larkin. He has struggled a bit this year; shooting under 40%, averaging 2.5 assists and 2.2 turnovers. Larkin is quick with a good jumpshot, but is undersized at 5’10” 160. This is a chance for Duke to use Quinn Cook more as he should be able to matchup with Larkin.
SG- #3 Malcolm Grant Sr.- Grant has had a really disappointing senior season since being moved off the point and his numbers are way down from last year. He is shooting 36% from the field and his assists and free throw numbers have also decreased. I talked about points per shot being a great indicator of how good a player is on offense and Grant has dropped from 1.40pps last year to 1.15pps this year. Grant is another short guard at 6’1”. It is important that Duke doesn’t allow Grant to shoot open jumpers.
WG- #1 Durand Scott Jr.- Scott has probably been Miami’s best all around player. While lacking a consistent outside jumper, Scott can score, pass, defend and rebound. Scott does have good size and my guess is that Duke will use Austin Rivers on him. Rivers was very good in guarding Dorenzo Hudson and Erik Green, and will need to be on his A game to stop Scott.
PF- #35 Kenny Kadji Jr.- Kadji is big at 6’11” 250. He and Johnson combine to make a massive front line. Kadji is a good athlete and comes in averaging nearly 12.5 ppg, 6 rpg, and 2blkpg. Over his last 7 games, he has been a monster, averaging 18 points, 7 boards and 2 blocks. Duke is really going to have its hands full with Kadji and its going to be important for Ryan Kelly to play big on defense and pull Kadji outside with his jumper on the offensive end.
C- #42 Reggie Johnson Jr.- Johnson missed the first half of the season with a torn ACL and has struggled with weight issues and conditioning since coming back. When he is right he can be a terror, but right now he just seems to be too out of shape. Plumlee will give Johnson a lot of problems with his size, length and athleticism. Look for Duke to run Plumlee rim to rim to wear Johnson out. Expect to see Johnson on the bench in foul trouble.
G- #4 Trey McKinney-Jones Jr.-McKinney-Jones is a sharpshooter of the bench with some size for the Hurricanes. He will rebound and defend as well. McKinney-Jones does have good size and quickness something that Duke has struggled with.
F- #5 DeQuan Jones Sr.- Jones is a tremendous athlete that just hasn’t figured out the basketball part. His impact is mostly felt in transition, on defense and on the glass.
G- #15 Rion Brown So.- Brown, like McKinney-Jones, likes to shoot the ball from deep and has size. Not the overall player that McKinney-Jones is though.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
It’s been a disappointing year so far for Miami. The injuries, the coaching change and team chemistry have contributed to Miami not playing as well as they are capable of. I fully believe with a completely healthy squad for the whole year that Miami would be in the NCAA Tournament. The best thing for Miami is to just get healthy, go on a roll and go win the ACC Tournament, something they are definitely capable of. As for this game it’s going to come down to Duke’s effort and defense. If Duke doesn’t give Miami’s shootersopen looks and can contain Kadji then should win rather comfortably. I look for Duke to build off their performance against Virginia Tech and take this one. My vote for player of the game goes to Austin Rivers, but I really think this could be a good opportunity for Quinn Cook to get some valuable minutes and have a good game.
DUKE: 79 MIAMI: 66
photo credit Gerry Broome/AP
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