Game Preview: Duke

The biggest and most anticipated game of the year is here for Florida State: Duke. Just that one word makes my skin crawl; Duke. 

The Blue Devils come into the game following a thrilling overtime victory over rival North Carolina, and now have a day of rest to get ready for one of the best teams in the ACC. Granted, so does Florida State following their win over Miami, but the ‘Noles’ best players didn’t play 30+ minutes (except for MJ Walker, who played 30 exactly).

It’s a top-10 matchup on primetime television on another Monday night; for those that can’t pay the absurd Cameron Indoor prices, you can watch on ESPN at 7 pm.

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Duke Breakdown 20-3 (10-2)

Coack Mike Krzyzewski had to replace a ton of talent from last year, losing Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Marques Bolden to the NBA Draft. As Duke does, they replaced them with more balanced talent: Cassius Stanley, Wendell Moore Jr, Matthew Hurt, and Vernon Carey Jr have all stepped in and played some great basketball, with Carey, in particular, having a stellar season.

Cameron Indoor is usually an incredibly tough place to play, but Duke has slipped up against Louisville and Stephen F Austin this season. Florida State will have to overcome an incredibly hostile environment and the Cameron Crazies, something they’ve already seen a few times this year at Indiana and Louisville.

Statistically, this Duke team is absolutely elite. 83.1 PPG is 2nd nationally, and they’re doing it mostly from inside the arc. They’ve made the 7th most 2-pointers, and are making them at a 54.2% clip. When Duke does decide to shoot a 3, they’re not too shabby at that either, making 34.9%. If a shot misses, they have guys that will clean up the offensive glass and get those second-chance points, something that won them the game in Cameron two seasons ago. Their two flaws offensively are turnovers and free-throw shooting. Coming off of a short rest while playing against an opportunistic defense could spell trouble for Duke, as they are turning it over 13.3 times per game, while tired legs usually lead to worse shooting, and they’re unspectacular from the line at 69.7%.

Defensively, this is an elite team as well. Allowing just 66.1 PPG, while teams shoot 41.7% from the floor and 29.1% from 3 against them are great numbers. The Blue Devils are top-10 in total blocks, top-25 in total steals, and top-50 in turnovers forced. They’re an average team when it comes to fouling, but being that this game is in Durham, I can’t imagine we’ll see anyone in blue foul out.

Scoring-wise, they’re led by Vernon Carey Jr, the freshman big man out of Ft. Lauderdale. He is averaging 17.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG (2.8 ORB), 1.1 APG, and 1.5 BPG on a 58.2/38.5/63.3 shooting split. He may be shooting 38.5% from downtown, but he’s taking 0.6 attempts from deep, hasn’t made one since the Pitt game at the end of January, and is 1 for his last 8 dating back to December 6th. If he wants to shoot outside the paint, LET HIM. His 59.3% shooting percentage inside the arc is… ridiculous. He’s scoring 1.081 points per possession on post-ups, according to Synergy, which is in the 88th percentile, and 47% of his possessions are on post-ups. FSU has yet to play a low-post threat anywhere near his caliber, so it’ll be interesting to see how they play him. His 12.6% offensive rebounding rate is one of the better marks in the conference, as well.

The true leader of this team is point guard Tre Jones, who surprised many be returning for his sophomore season. He’s averaging 15.8 PPG, 4.o RPG, 6.6 APG, and 2.0 SPG on a 44.2/32.9/74.2 shooting split. Jones was the reason Duke beat UNC; his 28 points are the most he’s ever scored against an ACC team, and at one point had scored 15 straight for Duke. He did play 42 minutes though, and that’s a massive workload for a college athlete. What kind of fatigue he shows against a pressuring defense is going to be interesting,

Cassius Stanley is not far behind in scoring, averaging 12.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.1 APG on a 49.0/33.9/75.3 shooting split. 37% of his rebounds are coming on the offensive end, so he’s going to be another player Florida State has to keep off of the glass. 57.5% of his shots come in transition or on spot-up opportunities, so it’s not like he’s doing anything spectacular to get his points.

6’9″ forward Matthew Hurt is their last scorer in double figures, averaging 10.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 1.0 APG on a 49.2/39.5/75.0 shooting split. 32% of his shots come on spot-up opportunities, but he has the talent to play inside or out. He could be a mismatch nightmare is guards switch on to him, but has struggled recently.

Usually, I just list the main contributors, but this is Duke, let’s go all out.

Wendell Moore Jr has missed some time with injury this season and been in and out of the starting lineup, but the talented freshman is still averaging 7.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.0 APG, and 1.0 SPG on a 45.5/40.0/71.8 shooting split. He plays his role well as a spot-up shooter and secondary playmaker, and his shots are spread all around. Transition is his biggest offensive weapon, although he spends time as pick and roll ball-handler, as a spot-up shooter… for a 5th man, this is a perfect player.

Joey Baker is the best 3-point shooter on the team at 41.9% on 3.0 attempts per game. FSU always seems to have one random white guy off the bench go crazy against them, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Baker.

Alex O’Connell is Duke’s most inefficient player offensively at just 40.4% from the floor and 26.7% from downtown. He’s that scrappy Duke player they always seem to have.

Jordan Goldwire is their Swiss army knife of a player. Despite having the lowest usage rate on the team and not having gaudy stats, his box +/- is through the roof. He’s the player that is always going to draw the clutch charge or big rebound when it’s needed.

Jack White has started a few games for Duke recently, but only averages 3.9 PPG and 3.5 APG. He can hit the 3, but has only hit 4 of his last 13 attempts from distance and doesn’t actually play a lot once he’s in.

Javin DeLaurier is the last need to know player and is another guy that seems to always be there when a rebound is needed, and he’s averaging 3.8 RPG in just 13.3 MPG.

Duke Offense

The Blue Devils are designed to get Carey the ball in the post in the half-court. Because of the gravity, he draws though, Duke has plenty of capable shooters that’ll make teams pay for helping too much on defense. 7 of the 10 players of the steady rotation guys are shooting greater than 33% from 3, which is absolutely enough to not draw extra attention into the post.

Because they’re coming off of an overtime win over North Carolina and have just a day of rest, I’m expecting a lot of dead legs from Duke, which means being short on some shots. I don’t think they’ll be ice cold on jumpers, but I am banking on them having a lower percentage than normal.

Their inbounds plays especially are designed to get Carey the ball as much as possible before the defense can rotate, but here are a few quick hitters from when they go away from that.

This Syracuse clip is a good one to look at, considering FSU’s inbounds defense is also a zone. Carey does a good job of just sliding in between the defense and getting an easy look. Duke has already taken advantage of FSU’s inbounds defense before, so the ‘Noles will have to communicate to make sure things like this don’t happen.

This was just complete miscommunication, something Florida State should have learned from last year. This lob play will be one to look out for in late-clock scenarios.

Ignoring the bald heads in the beginning, again this is just poor communication from the defense. This is a simple screen where no one switches or tries to get out on the shooter, and he has a WIDE open look.

For the most part though, Duke usually inbounds to one side, then swings it around before getting Carey isolated in the post.

This offense just has so many options where you can’t focus on stopping just one guy. Even if you can find a way to slow Carey, someone else is bound to have a big night, that is why Coach K built the team this way.

Duke Defense

Because Duke actually has depth this year, they’re able to run a lot more man-to-man than they have in the past. Just 29 possessions this year from Duke have been zone, and 29 points have been scored on Duke in those possessions, which isn’t great. They seem to only run zone when Vernon Carey is in foul trouble, so they can try and hide him on defense, and even when they move him to the bench, DeLaurier does a good job of directing traffic from the middle. Here are a couple of clips of Duke’s zone in case they try to surprise FSU.

When in their man-to-man sets, they rank among the best in every category, except defending against the roll man in pick-and-rolls, putback opportunities, and off-ball movements.

Starting with defending against the roll man, the Duke big defender tends to follow the ball-handler, so he can really be beaten by bigs than can pop out to 3 (hello Malik Osborne).

On this play, Tre Jones is lackadaisical getting back to his man, which forces Carey to continue following the guard with the ball. Because the Louisville big stays at the arc, he’s wide open by the time the ball finds its way back to him.

This is another thing Duke will do occasionally, where they try to “ice” the ball screen, or force the ball handler from not taking the screen and go into the big. The Louisville big reads it well by slipping as Carey steps up and gets an open look off of the pass.

Duke’s guards can get caught behind on off-ball screens from time-to-time, and it forces them to either gamble or be caught behind the play since their defense isn’t like FSU’s, as FSU just switches EVERYTHING to where it almost looks like a zone.

On this first one, Cole Anthony receives two down screens to get him a decent look at a jump shot. Tre Jones was still just behind him, but if Jones gets caught on players like Vassell or Walker, something like this could happen. Florida State may not have a ton of sets in the half-court that are similar to this, but they do have a few inbounds plays that have these kinds of off-ball screens, just running across the baseline. I’d absolutely expect some of those same motions integrated into this game.

Here, the Duke defender is slow to react to the pin-down, then tries to make up for it by going for the steal. This gamble is costly, and Clemson gets an easy bucket before anyone from Duke can help.

Florida State Breakdown

The Miami game couldn’t have gone much better for Florida State. The first half was a little closer than expected, but the Seminoles really tightened up on defense to run away with the game. It was also one of their best performances offensively, shooting 53% from the field, 50% from 3, and 16/17 from the free-throw line. The Seminoles will need a similar offensive performance to beat Duke, as Duke has only lost this year when the other team shoots 48.3% or more from the field. The two times the Blue Devils won with the opposing team shooting greater than 48.3% were Georgetown and UNC when neither could make a free throw if their lives depended on it.

The ‘Noles are the best free-throw shooting team in the conference and Top-10 nationally, shooting 77.7% from the stripe. Should the ACC refs allow them to shoot free throws, they’ll be able to keep themselves in this game. Getting to the free-throw line has been a little bit of a struggle at times this season. Some of it is due to passiveness, some of it is due to uncalled fouls. However, this shouldn’t discount the fact that this is the best shooting FSU team we’ve seen in a long time.

Florida State is shooting 40.6% from 3 in conference play, which is second in the conference, and 36.5% through the season, which is Top-45 nationally. This is the best FSU has shot from 3 since 2013/14 when they shot 38% from 3, but the college basketball 3-point arc was moved back this year, making it even more impressive.

This team is incredibly balanced offensively, with 8 different players having led the team in scoring at some point this year, and 8 players between 5.2 and 13.5 PPG.

If FSU has a go-to scorer, it’s Devin Vassell, who has emerged as a lock-in first-round pick in the NBA Draft with his 13.5 PPG and defensive ability. He can score at will from every level on the floor, leading the team in 3-point shooting at a blistering 41.9% from deep.

Patrick Williams has had two great games back-to-back against North Carolina and Miami. His athleticism and length are off the charts, but his scoring ability is becoming more and more refined as the season progresses. He and Vassell are bringing the mid-range game back, and Williams is looking extremely confident pulling up for jumpers.

Trent Forrest is the stat-stuffer he’s always been, and his defensive ability will be put on full display against Tre Jones. He’s also been playing his best basketball recently and will have to lead a young team in a hostile environment.

This team was benefited by not having to play their main guys much in the second half against Miami. Only 4 players played 20+ minutes, and 3 of them were at 20, 23, and 24 minutes. The rotations were handled perfectly by Coach Hamilton to not only comfortably win the game, but get his key guys the rest they need to take on Duke.

FSU wins games by forcing turnovers and being active on the defensive end. They challenge every pass, contest every layup (NO EASY LAYUPS), and fight for every possession. This allows them to break out in transition for highlight plays and get the momentum on their side. The ‘Noles are top-25 in turnovers forced, top-20 in steals, and top-12 in blocked shots, despite not having a true interior presence. They are a major help defense, which can catch them out of position from time-to-time.

What they do defensively to distract/deter Vernon Carey is going to be fascinating to watch, considering FSU has yet to play a low post threat anywhere near Carey’s caliber.

Injury Report

Florida State

Barring something happening in the Miami that wasn’t reported, Florida State is fully healthy.


Although guys have sat out here and there for Duke with injury, they also appear to be fully healthy.

Projected Starting Lineups

Florida State

G: Trent Forrest

G: MJ Walker

G: Devin Vassell

F: RaiQuan Gray

F: Malik Osborne


G: Tre Jones

G: Cassius Stanley

G/F: Wendell Moore Jr

F: Jack White

C: Vernon Carey Jr

Keys to the Game

Use the Depth

Duke is going to show fatigue at some point, it’s almost a given considering they’re coming off of an overtime game. FSU uses their depth to wear teams down in the second half, even when the game looks close in the beginning. If Florida State can keep it close in the first half, they’ll be able to send out wave after wave on the bench, something Duke CAN match, but not on par with the quality of talent like Florida State has deep in the bench.

Spread the Floor

Teams haven’t shot well from the floor against Duke this season, but when they do, they give Duke a great fight. Getting near that 48.3% from the floor mark is an easy statistic to focus on, yet FSU has made a habit of winning games by breaking trends. Scoring less than 60 vs UVA and winning, turning it over more than UNC and outrebounding UNC… it’s almost something they want to do; break the mold.

So the focus here is to make those shots from outside. Make Duke’s defense second guess whether they should help off of their man to stop the driving lanes that should be there. This will also draw a few more fouls than usual, which is always welcome.

Bother Vernon Carey Jr

Carey is a phenomenal talent, and there are multiple ways to try and attack him. They could try and size up by putting Dominik Olejniczak and Balsa Koprivica on him, but they haven’t been great defensively this year, so I don’t know whether that’s the move. You could let Malik Osborne try and hold his own, but Carey is a mountain of a man at 270 pounds. Probably not the move either. What Florida State will likely do is throw double team after double team at him while playing smart help-side defense where they can still jump passing lanes. Carey turns it over 2.1 times per game, so he can be bothered.

Unless Tre Jones looks fresh, I think Carey will be FSU’s main focus on their defensive gameplan.


Duke opened as 8.5-point favorites, which… is surprising. Just by transitive process, FSU beat Louisville on the road who beat Duke on the road… I was expecting somewhere around 3.5 in Duke’s favor. The over/under was set at 148, which is a good number, but I’d say over if anything. Both teams could come out extremely tired, but they each have ways of scoring without jump shots and want to get out in transition. If Florida State can slow Duke’s fast tempo down, they’ll have a great chance at winning this.

I see this going one of two ways, either Florida State wins on a game-winner/buzzer-beater, or Duke wins by 8-to-10. That seems to be the way every Duke/FSU game goes. I would love if the ‘Noles could come out firing like the Louisville game and dominate from start to finish, but that’s incredibly unlikely.

If this were a neutral site game or in Tallahassee, I’d pick FSU to win since I believe they’re the better team; but because it’s in Durham, I think Duke will win this game, somewhere around a score of 79-70. There’s a lot Florida State has to overcome, and I honestly have no clue how they will fare against such a dominant low post threat. Hopefully, I’m wrong, nothing would make me happier, actually. For some reason, Duke has been getting a ton of love despite a Quad 3 loss at home to Stephen F Austin, and I’d love if FSU could crash that party.

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