Duke Basketball
Duke basketball was back in action on Tuesday night in what could be Coach K’s final game in the Garden. The Blue Devils beat Kentucky 79-71. (Photo by Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 1 vs Kentucky

Quick opening sidebar

This is going to be a new series where I recap every Duke basketball game. If you know me, or if you watched any episode of the Jimmer Range podcast, you know I bleed Duke blue. In an effort to not bombard co-workers and family members with longwinded conversations surrounding the most recent Blue Devil result, I have been afforded the opportunity to recap every game.

An expeditious recap

Well, it wasn’t quite like the 118-84 bludgeoning Duke handed Kentucky the last time they played in the Champions Classic, but the Blue Devils handled business against the Wildcats on Tuesday night, winning 79-71. The night cap of college basketball’s most hyped opening slate provided in both entertainment and drama. We of course had Mike Krzyzewski’s – likely – final appearance in Madison Square Garden. We had chirping, sporadic halfcourt sets and Kentucky center Oscar Tshiebwe going for * 12 * offensive rebounds. Let’s get into some of my positive takeaways and concerns for the Blue Devils.

Positive: Trevor Keels

It will be harped about all week, but if anyone’s stock improved the most over the game’s 40 minutes, it was five-star freshman Trevor Keels. The Clinton, Maryland native was the best player on the court for both teams. The 18-year-old poured in 25 points on 10/18 shooting. Billed as the best shooter on this team, it was surprising that he shot 25% from distance, but on a night where the Blue Devils were horrible from deep, I give it a pass. Keels kept Duke in the game when Paolo Banchero and Wendell Moore went out with cramping problems – we’ll get into that later. Like Jay Bilas said, Keels is basically a linebacker masking as a combo guard for one of the country’s best programs. I’m excited to see what damage Banchero and Keels can do the rest of the season.

Concern: Defensive rebounding

As already mentioned, the 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe snagged 12 offensive rebounds – he had 19 total on the night. I understand that this was never going to be a good matchup for Duke sophomore center Mark Williams, but I didn’t think it would jump out this much on the box score. There were points where the 7-footer’s length didn’t seem to matter on the glass because Tshiebwe had either already positioned himself backside or, in some cases, already grabbed the ball. Krzyzewski’s pair of centers, Williams and Marquette transfer Theo John, combined for nine total rebounds, with only five defensive rebounds. That can’t happen.

Positive: Junior year Wendell Moore

The most important thing for Wendell Moore this season is going to be playing within himself. There were points last season where the Charlotte, North Carolina native tried to do much because this team needed more weapons. This year he isn’t forced to do that. He looks much more confident, much stronger and more athletic.

That play can speak for itself. No one put a body on Moore, he followed the shot and capitalized on the opportunity. Not shown was a second half play where Moore drove baseline and hammered the rim with a one-handed dunk. Theo John had come to set a high ball screen, with Tshiebwe choosing to force a hedge rather than offer help to Kellan Grady. Moore read the play, drove baseline and finished with authority. It was the easy and right read, but two years ago, he probably would’ve forced himself into the high pick-and-roll, so it’s an improvement.

Overall, it’s plays like that which make me more confident in Coach K relying on Moore as a playmaker for this squad. He found Banchero earlier in the game on a slip to the rim. He hit two really tough, contested mid-range pull-ups in the first half. He scored 12 points on 6/10 shooting, adding four rebounds and three assists while serving as the team’s primary wing defender. On the night, Moore guarded Wheeler, TyTy Washington, Kellan Grady, Davion Mintz and even some of Kentucky’s frontcourt when the Blue Devils went small ball. Overall, I was really happy with Moore’s performance.

Concern: Cramping

Never thought I would have to type this out, but I have a genuine concern about cramping and hydration for this Duke team. Like, what happened? First it was Banchero going back to the locker room for fluids, then it was Moore. Keels then had to come out for a brief stretch – no pun intended – to get looked at. Needless to say, this can’t be a point of concern for the rest of the season, but at least Duke’s social media team was able to poke fun at it.

Positive: Paolo Banchero is as advertised

We can keep this short and sweet: Paolo Banchero, at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, does things with a ball that no one at his size should be able to do. Just watch the tape.

The Seattle, Washington native dropped 22 points on 7/11 shooting and knocked down eight of his nine shots from the charity stripe. He gave Keion Brooks Jr. the work all night. His mid-range jumper looked elite. Sometimes Banchero can take a few too many dribbles, but I’ll live with that if this is his nightly production. He also grabbed seven rebounds and had two steals, with only one turnover to boot. The potential No. 1 pick certainly played like it on opening night.

Concern: Free throw shooting and 3-point shooting

It was another typical summer of Duke basketball, so rumors swirled that this team could shoot it from distance. Once again, I was let down. The Blue Devils were abysmal from deep, knocking down just one of their 13 attempts from three. That three by the way came from Keels on a step-back with the shot clock winding down, arguably the toughest shot you can take in basketball. So, that’s not what we love to see. This is too small a sample size to begin freaking out but if this becomes a consistent theme, it goes without saying that it’s a point of concern for Krzyzewski and his staff.

Secondly, free throw shooting is a semi-concern. The Blue Devils shot 69.6% from the charity stripe on 23 shots. That’s a fine percentage but Blue Devil guards missed the front end of a one-and-one on three occasions, with all three misses leading directly to a foul on a Duke big man. The trio of big men, Banchero, Williams and John, each picked up an over-the-back call after fighting for a rebound on the misses. It’s the little stuff like that which could hurt the team come conference play, not only in foul trouble but leaving points on the board.

Positive: Duke looked comfortable in a game full of concerns

Myself and the Duke faithful can point to several things, but the reality remains: this was the opening game for a young Duke team, and despite all the troubles, they beat the No. 10 team in the country by eight points. This team had stretches where their three best players all missed time because of cramping. They shot horrifically from distance. But their defense looked really, really good. They were in Kentucky’s face all night. They didn’t back down. This team has loads of upside and will be a really fun watch for the rest of the season.

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