RTC Gametime: Key Questions in Duke vs. Kansas

Posted by Chris Stone & Brad Jenkins on November 15th, 2016

College basketball got underway with a pair of hotly contested Top 25 match-ups on Friday night. The heat will rise tonight as the ESPN Tip-off Marathon reaches its climax with the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. Because we’re so excited about what tonight’s headliner has to offer, we’ve gotten the ACC and Big 12 microsites together to preview the event’s evening contest between Duke and Kansas. Questions and answers were provided by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Questions for Kansas

Frank Mason looks like Bill Self's man at point guard. (USATSI)

Bill Self and Frank Mason against a talented Duke team? Sign us up. (USATSI)

The Blue Devils look vulnerable in the paint given all their current injuries. Bill Self teams have traditionally been dominant in the post, but is Kansas equipped to take advantage of Duke’s depleted frontcourt?

Unless something surprising happens, probably not. This game should ultimately be a battle of the backcourts. Although the Jayhawks have historically feasted on the interior by utilizing Self’s high-low offense to find open looks near the rim, Kansas doesn’t have the frontcourt players required to do that this season. Big men accounted for just 19.7 percent of Kansas’ total field goal attempts against Indiana last week, even as starters Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg shot a combined 9-of-11 from the field. Don’t expect that pair to suddenly become high usage players tonight. Lucas is fundamentally sound and more than capable of sealing off defenders for easy looks, but he lacks the post game necessary to be a go-to option. Bragg’s repertoire of post moves is considerably more complete, but his best offense is still played in the mid-range. With a full complement of talented perimeter players, look for Self to base his offense tonight around the likes of Frank Mason and Devonte Graham rather than Lucas and Bragg.

In Friday night’s opener, Indiana was able to shake free for 15 made three-pointers despite the Jayhawks’ supposedly excellent perimeter defense. Duke has four very capable long-range shooters and much of the Blue Devils’ offense is designed to get them open from deep. Can Kansas be more effective in defending the deep shot tonight than it was against the Hoosiers?

Defending three-pointers is a difficult proposition for almost any defense. Very few teams in the country sell out along the perimeter to keep opponents from taking threes, and honestly, it might not even matter. According to some insightful research done by KenPom over the offseason, defenses don’t have much control over how many three-pointers an opponent attempts and they have even less control over how many of those attempts fall. Kansas’ loss to Indiana on Friday was a perfect 40-minute example of this lesson. The Jayhawks didn’t play particularly poor perimeter defense, and many of Indiana’s three-point attempts were contested or taken from NBA range, but sometimes — especially when good shooters are shooting — it just doesn’t matter. Against the Blue Devils, expect Kansas to do much of the same in terms of defending the perimeter. Kansas will pressure the Duke guards and try to force them into tough shots. If those shots go down, then so be it.

Questions for Duke

Grayson Allen Has Blown Up This Season at Duke (USA Today Images)

Duke will need a big performance from Grayson Allen on Tuesday. (USA TODAY Images)

Outside of the accumulation of early season injuries, the biggest question for Duke may be whether the Blue Devils have a true point guard on their roster. How can Duke handle the defensive pressure that Frank Mason and Devonte Graham will undoubtedly put on the ball-handler?

This is certainly a question mark for this year’s Duke team. Even when the Blue Devils get healthy, dealing with opponents that have strong lead guard play could become an issue. This game provides a great opportunity to examine the potential size of this problem for Duke, as Kansas’ veteran backcourt will be a great test on both ends of the court. It goes without saying that much of Duke’s current offense is built around the driving and playmaking ability of Grayson Allen. Just one year ago, Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis gave Allen fits with his tight defense; both Mason and Graham are equally capable of delivering similar frustrations. Allen and Luke Kennard will have to find room (perhaps from screens) to use their height advantages, but it may turn out that Duke will have more of a problem with the Jayhawks’ duo on the defensive end. In Friday’s opener against Indiana, Frank Mason repeatedly got to the basket to score and/or draw fouls. With Duke’s depleted frontline depth, the Devils can’t afford foul trouble.

Although Kansas fell to Indiana on Friday, the Jayhawks’ offense looked like it was able to score at will. With all of the Blue Devils’ injuries, will they have enough scoring punch to keep up on Tuesday?

The answer to this question will offer an interesting dynamic in this game. Without established scoring threats in the paint, Duke’s most effective method for getting points in its first two games has been in transition. That’s not going to be as easy against Kansas as it was versus Marist and Grand Canyon, as the Jayhawks’ experienced backcourt is not likely to be harassed into many live-ball turnovers. When Duke goes small with Allen, Kennard, Jones and Jackson on the floor together, Kansas may have to find offensive rebounding opportunities. But if the Jayhawks crash the boards and come up empty, look for the Blue Devils to attack quickly with their multiple players possessing coast-to-coast capabilities. While playing uptempo may naturally fit the talent of the current Duke roster, it could also be its undoing. Kansas played Indiana to a near-draw in a high-scoring, high-possession game where a bunch of fouls were whistled against both teams. Given its present depth issues, Duke may not be able to survive such a game of attrition. The Blue Devils will have to control tempo more than usual if only to keep its key players on the floor. You can also look for Mike Krzyzewski to play some spots of zone defense to protect against fouls and fatigue.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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