Duke is technically 31-5 a year. But everyone knows that 60 percent of these losses do not count. The Blue Devils at the top are a completely different and much worse team without Zion Williamson, and when he is in the lineup, they are 28-2 and have no losses since January 14th. That's a scary fact when you're one of them. In the remaining four rounds of the NCAA tournament, the teams lined up against Duke, but that does not mean it's time to despair. Zion's Duke can be defeated . Gonzaga did it. Syracuse has made it. And the state of Florida, Virginia, Louisville, North Carolina, and UCF have all come close to shaking it off. The question is, how?
The most obvious weakness of Duke is the shooting from the outside. They only make 30.7 percent of their three as a team, with none of their starters reaching more than a third. One way they can beat them is for their boys to go far beyond the average of 24 per game, as is the case with Syracuse in their 95-91 OT victory at Cameron, where the Blue Devils 43 Attempting to do so, Duke lacked Cam Reddish in this game – the closest match to a trusted outside rifleman – but the Syracuse zone is still tailor-made for a team like Duke, as he at least tries to keep the ball out of the interior , This is what it looks like when Zion is in the bow where they want to give him (or anyone else) a chance to shoot:
And if Zion is inside, as if he's here at the free throw line, it's surrounded by orange jerseys :
Tre Jones, who scores only 23.2 percent from the year, is the weakest link. UCF was close by, showing a willingness to leave the point-keeper alone to reinforce Williamson, and Jones responded by only three points to three. Of course, Zion is Zion, and he has absolutely proven that he can catch this ball in the middle of the zone and be strong for two, even when the defense raves him. Or, alternatively, here's a particularly inventive way he can defeat the zone:
But the three are the path of least resistance, and there teams want Duke to go. Of the 43 three-pointers, Duke had suffered this Syracuse loss, they made only nine of them. This is good news for Duke's next opponent, Virginia Tech – a team that NC State notoriously held at just 24 points in a February game. The defense of the Hokies Zone is ready and willing to give up some distance shots when it comes to leaving opponents out of the basket. In the season, 50.4 percent of their opponents' attempts were three, more than anyone in the country except Monmouth.
The consequence of being forced to relatively low percentages limits sales as Duke will kill you if there are slight opportunities in transition. In order to do this, it must always be clear from enemy offenses where Williamson is on the ground. Reddish and Jones are not bad times either, but Williamson is particularly gifted in detecting when a passport should be thrown or when a ball handler is prone to robbery. After that, it's academic. When a team hands over the ball to Duke, you can just close your eyes and add two points to the scoreboard.
(For what it is worth, is potentially Elite Eight opponents Michigan State is one of the worst remaining teams that are holding on to the ball and playing off 18.9 percent of their offensive assets Virginia Tech is an average, while possible Final Four matchups Michigan and Gonzaga are the top two.)
As you may have noticed, Zion Williamson becomes the focus for everyone to be against Duke. Despite all the attention he has received this year, no one has yet figured out how to stem it. He may also sabotage his sneakers. Zion will score, whether Duke wins or loses and whether it's a blowout or a close. Basically, he had not a bad game all season, he got double-digit numbers every night and usually picked up a whole lot more.
But all of Duke's other players had at least one opportunity to fight and force them To make the games, and not Zion, teams can help hang around. The loss of the 74-73 tournament in North Carolina is ideal here. (Yes, it's still a loss, but only because the heels shot from three to 15 percent.) Only three Blue Devils counted in double digits that night – Zion went from 19 to 19; R.J. Barrett went 5 for 15; and Tre Jones went 5 for 14. Williamson and Reddish led the way in a two-point win against Louisville in February, while Barrett managed only a 4/14 night and Jones 2: 10.
For teams that Clogging Less Well Playing with Zone, it can be hard enough to play a strong one-to-one defense against Duke's four other players – or, more accurately, almost enough to defeat them , Barrett, Reddish, and Jones are all people who struggle with consequences, but not with confidence-they're quite willing to shoot out of areas where they're not so successful-and perhaps a stifling, switch-friendly defense like the state Michigan is possible in the kind of mistakes and bad decisions that swing a game.
But finally there is the small thing to score with Duke, which is possibly the hardest task of all. We've already covered your propensity to theft, and Williamson and Javin DeLaurier are first-rate blockers. But also from the outside the defense of Duke is painful for the opponents. Teams account for only 29.8 percent of their three against the Blue Devils on average.
Gonzaga scored 89 points at Duke earlier this year, but lately there really was only one scorer, which got Duke in trouble – driving a powerforward guy just as comfortably or shooting from the bottom. Louisville's Jordan Nwora and Virginia's DeAndre Hunter are adjusting this bill, but in their last game it was Aubrey Dawkins of UCF who apparently owned the key to unlocking Dukes D.
Dawkins, who scored 32 points in just 18 strokes, was able to lose Reddish with sudden off-ball speeds, hit Barrett several times on drives and overwhelm Jones when the point-keeper switched to him. As Dawkins went down 7 out of 11 and 5 out of 7, he knew how to use umbrellas to open, and barely hesitated to shoot when he got the ball. In my favorite UCF action from the game, which they used a couple of times, Dawkins would leave the color immediately after another teammate joined, and the brief moment of Duke confusion that caused it would be enough to exploit it ,  The launch of catch-and-shoots is crucial for any team that wants to beat Duke. The Blue Devils will not give players more than a chance, and wasting those odds makes an already steep battle even steeper. On Friday it will be the supporting shooter of Virginia Tech, Ty Outlaw and Ahmed Hill, who can swing the game with a hot series. And in this potential Elite Eight match, it's going to be fascinating to see if Michigan gunner Matt McQuaid can rip Duke the way he made Michigan's famous defense in the Big Ten Championship game.
UCF's Unfortunate Role At the end of the second round, everyone realized that Duke is not invincible – even the third-best team from the American Athletic Conference could contest the tournament's favorites with a photo finale, if they make an intelligent game plan , This makes Duke no less scary for an opponent. They still have the strongest weapon in college basketball, almost complete possession over the area around the basket, and quick defensive hands with a seemingly cautious skill to take the ball away. But Duke also has weaknesses, however small they are when playing best. If the Blue Devils fail in the next four games, a team will have to face all the flaws and exploit them without mercy.