Avenging a loss from earlier this season, the ACC tournament number one seed Duke Blue Devils defeated a pesky Miami Hurricanes squad 80-76 – advancing to the championship game tonight against Virginia Tech.
The Blue Devils were led by sharpshooter A.J. Griffin (21 points and seven rebounds) and Paolo Banchero (18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists). During the win marked just the fourth time in the last 25 seasons that a Duke freshman had multiple double-doubles in the ACC tournament; The other 3 freshman were Zion Williamson, Marvin Bailey, and national champion Jay Williams.
Miami’s ability to create off the bounce with their three-guard line up was a factor throughout the game, and will cause havoc during the Big Dance. The Canes were led by ACC 1st team selection Kameron McGusty who scored a game high 24 points on 11-19 shooting and added seven rebounds. The difference may have been Duke’s stifling defense on crafty combo guard Isaiah Wong, who fouled out with 7 points after shooting just 1-11 from the field, including 0-3 from downtown.
Duke made it a point to feed the paint early and the often throughout the semifinal, allowing Banchero to cause the mismatch in the pick-and-roll offense. There is no secret, Banchero is most effective when attacking the paint – looking to impose his will at 6’10, 250 pounds. Against Virginia Tech, who spoiled any hopes of a grudge match against North Carolina, Banchero can expect double teams to come his way, which is where the other studs – specifically A.J. Griffin, will have to be efficient on the outside. AJ may indeed be the most important link on Duke’s title run. Arguably the best shooter on the court, Griffin has to be involved in the offensive scheme. His ability to create off the dribble, attack the lane with physicality and force the defenses to respect him from deep gives him a unique advantage anytime he crosses half court.
Offense isn’t the issue for Duke. Where Duke can take it up a notch better is on the defensive end. There are durations, as in the opening eight minutes against Miami, where the team lacks intensity and killer instinct. After being punched in the mouth the Blue Devils did respond. With all the weapons at Duke’s disposal, from the interior to the unsung hero off the bench and momentum changer Jeremy Roach, the Blue Devils can beat you multiple ways. A defensive minded Duke, is an unbeatable Duke.
Against Virginia Tech Duke will have to neutralize Keve Aluma, who can score at any spot on the floor. Aluma is good at posting up and hitting the turnaround bank shots, which he perfected against the Tar Heels who had no answer for him. Expect Duke to attack Aluma early to get him in foul trouble. The Hokies can shot from outside, as they did in their semi-final win going 9-20 from deep. The motion offense led to 14 assist, with a remarkable 13-14 from the charity stripe. Duke can’t afford to settle for threes, they’ll need to attack the paint, which is their bread and butter.
Catch the action starting at 8:30 ESPN.