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Powerful Duke May Duke It Back To March Madness

Duke is getting into their groove again. Can they make it count in March?


The Duke Blue Devils have maintained their late-season surge after Coach K’s departure. Duke had an assist percentage over their first 18 games of 54.7%, which would place them just within the top 90 nationally. On the other hand, that percentage over the previous 12 games is 60.3%, which would place the Blue Devils among the top 20 teams nationwide.

There is obvious growth from game to game. Kyle Filipowski put on his most complete performance of the season, scoring 29 points and making four triples, both of which were career highs, despite suffering a road defeat to Virginia Tech two days after that victory against Miami. The following Saturday, Duke easily defeated Georgia Tech courtesy to a season-high 24 assists and a 55.7% shooting percentage from the field. Later that night, Roach, Proctor, and Filipowski combined for 54 points to help Duke hold off Wake Forest.

State Of The ACC

Duke was able to get the crucial baskets to fall down the stretch even against North Carolina, where it only managed to shoot 39.3% from the field. As the score was tied at 53-53, Roach reverted to the closer position and scored eight of the Blue Devils’ final 10 points to secure the victory with a score of 63-57.

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But as seen by Duke coughing it up 43 times in total in road defeats to Miami and Virginia the following week, the offensive development has not been linear. Filipowski had his worst performance of the year in the latter game, whilst the former was a rout from the opening tip. The rookie had 0 points at the end of the game, and his evening was ruined by a contentious final play that had an impact on the ACC standings.

Back On Track?

But the rise has persisted over the past five years. For the past four weeks, the Blue Devils have perfectly cut off the ball, spread the floor, and located open shooters. They have also built a level of trust that only comes with greater practice. After all, Duke has a solid 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio during its current five-game winning streak, and Roach connected with Mark Mitchell on the game-winning triple against Notre Dame.

Even Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead, two of its top recruits, are beginning to shine.

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Lively put up a defensive performance against Armando Bacot and North Carolina, but his lob threat on the other end has also substantially improved. Over the past five games, the native of Philadelphia has averaged 8.2 points while shooting 75% from the field.

To his credit, Whitehead has improved as a perimeter shooter ever since he was able to play against Virginia on February 11 after suffering a lower leg injury. The freshman is shooting 50% from outside the arc over his last five games, and he is beginning to attack the basket with the same force that made him one of the most sought-after players in the 2022 class. He still needs to work on his shot selection, but it takes a lot of selflessness to accept a supporting role when you have always been the guy.

Clearly, the parts are coming together. From Mitchell to Ryan Young to Jacob Grandison, this team is playing some of its best basketball of the year. Nonetheless, the Roach-Proctor relationship has been the driving factor.

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The two have worked exceptionally effectively together over the past month or so despite having very distinct skill sets. The Australian is closer to being a true floor general since he leads fast breaks with ease and skillfully scans the court off pick and rolls. The captain, on the other hand, excels at attacking closeouts and finding his places in the middle. He can also pass, as evidenced by his 11-assist performance against Virginia Tech.

Duke’s Road Ahead

A recurring trend at Duke has been the pairing of two outstanding point guards, with Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones in 2014–15 offering the best case study and providing as an appropriate parallel for Roach and Proctor. Before Jones came in as a freshman, Cook, a seasoned veteran, started at the point for two years. But, the captain delegated those responsibilities to the Minnesotan, and the pair flourished on their way to a national championship.

Now, understand that Duke is not one of the front-runners for the championship. Hey, the Blue Devils only need to defeat North Carolina in order to get a top-four seed (and a double-bye) in the ACC tournament that will take place in Greensboro, North Carolina, the following week. But come March, it might be a risky one given the way Duke is playing, and more specifically, the way its guards are playing.

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