Duke vs. Kansas takeaways: Blue Devils show what life without Zion, RJ Barrett will look like

NEW YORK — Duke vs. Kansas was supposed to be the undercard of the 2019 Champions Classic, but you wouldn’t have known that by looking at the audience Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. This crowd wanted to see it all.

The seats were filled early, and they watched the Blue Devils claim their first victory of the post-Zion era with a 68-66 decision over KU.

DECOURCY: Don’t be quick to overreact from Champions Classic

Here are three takeaways from KU-Duke:

Cassius Stanley may be just what Duke needs

The Blue Devils entered the year assured the point guard position was in excellent hands with Tre Jones returning as a starter from last year’s Elite Eight team. They know freshmen Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt are exceptional talents who’ll be productive in the frontcourt.

The wing positions, though — so important to Duke’s traditional style of basketball — seemed less certain.

Stanley was the No. 37 prospect in the 2019 senior class. That doesn’t often guarantee immediate greatness. And Stanley probably isn’t ready to be a superstar. But he is ready. He showed that by attacking the rim twice in transition during a second-half Duke surge. He underscored that with a confident, no-hesitation 3-pointer from the left corner that followed.

Stanley finished 5 of 6 from the floor for 13 points. He isn’t likely to have that sort of performance every night, but he proved he belonged near the top of the Devils’ rotation.

Duke’s veterans picked it up

Last season, guard Alex O’Connell and forward Jack White found themselves adjacent to the two best talents in college basketball and never seemed to fit in with the cool kids. White averaged 4.1 points and 27.8 percent 3-point shooting in 20 minutes per game. O’Connell averaged 4.2 points in 14 minutes and shot 37.5 percent on 3s.

Those are not the kinds of performances they are capable of delivering, and they won’t be enough for this team to succeed. But each player looked more comfortable without Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett nearby, making everyone in the arena aware that the ball was always better off in their hands.

O’Connell scored nine points despite shooting only 1 of 5 on 3s. White was not as strong offensively, but he added a needed bite to the defense that peaked with his devastating block against Ochai Agbaji with 8:10 remaining in a tight game. He nearly came up with a steal with 2:08 remaining and Duke ahead by a point, but then he challenged Devon Dotson’s layup, rebounded the miss, and then grabbed an offensive rebound of O’Connell’s missed 3-point attempt. That possession ended with guard Tre Jones’ layup for a 64-61 lead with 1:33 left. White was astoundingly aggressive in the decisive minutes.

Senior power forward Javin DeLaurier was a bit less successful, failing to play assertively when the got the ball near the rim. He had a clear dunk attempt available near the 9-minute mark of the first half, but opted instead for a difficult layup that missed; if he’d gone for the slam he would have been challenged by Udoka Azubuike; that was a missed opportunity to put an early second foul on the KU big man.

That’s an issue that will need to be addressed.

Azubuike must figure out this double-team thing

Duke doubled Doke with a big man on just about every time the ball was entered to him in the low post. And it’s not like those Devils double-teams were executed like they’d been choreographed on Broadway. Matthew Hurt, most often the player applying the squeeze, often was slow moving into position.

Azubuike, though, seemed to wait for the double to arrive instead of taking advantage of the slow approach with a quick scoring move or pass that would catch Hurt out of position. And when he was doubled, Azubuike didn’t then find the open man. He most often wound up abandoning the ball, and Kansas had to restart its offense.

Big 12 coaches named Azubuike their preseason player of the year. He is a powerful, experienced player with great hands and a high motor, and he’s in tremendous condition. But he never has averaged even 14 points. He’s not going to beat that figure by taking as few shots as he did against Duke. And he’s not going to get more shots if he doesn’t discourage those doubles by either powering through them or defeating them with scoring passes.

He finished 3 of 4 from the field for eight points. That’s not what KU expected from its big man.

Source: Read Full Article