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(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 12 Virginia Tech

Duke Basketball
A second-half rally earns Duke Basketball an ACC-opening win against Virginia Tech 76-65. Freshmen Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin (21) starred. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 12 Virginia Tech

It was a tale of two halves as Duke (11-1, 1-0) was able to defeat Virginia Tech 76-65 in their ACC Basketball opener. The Blue Devils jumped out to an early 13-4 lead behind eight points from the ever-consistent Wendell Moore Jr. It felt like Duke could run away with it, but that was just my naivete talking as the Hokies (8-5, 0-2) stormed back behind All-ACC big man Keve Aluma – who had 17 of his 25 points in the first half. Duke found themselves down by 4 at the break and in some real trouble. The second half didn’t start much with the score at 42-34 before freshmen Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin took over the game. The frontcourt duo combined for 36 points on the night as the Blue Devils retook the lead and never looked back.

It wasn’t comfortable, nor was it perfect, but Duke got their first ACC win in front of fans in over 600 days – and that just feels good. Let’s get into some takeaways:

Frontcourt pairing of Banchero and Griffin may be recipe for success

The 1-2 punch that was Banchero and Griffin on Wednesday night might be a little glimpse at late game scenarios for this Duke team come February and March.

Banchero as a face-up five is truly a matchup nightmare for opposing bigs. In the second half, he recorded 17 of his 23 points as he played bully ball on the interior against Aluma and Virginia Tech. However, the finesse that makes Banchero’s game so attractive wasn’t the thing that got it done on Wednesday. Instead, it was his strength and size that gave him an opportunity to finish through the chest of his Hokies opponents. Such a performance is something I hope Coach K and Banchero point to as the way for the freshman to set the tone offensively and get into a rhythm early. We know he has a great mid-range game, but sometimes he just needs to force the issue in the paint.

We know Banchero can do this:

Give me more of this:

Sure, the two possessions don’t look totally different, but when Banchero is backing opponents down onto the low block, it affords him the opportunity to space the floor and then eventually get those mid-range looks. Despite my constructive criticism, he’s still the most talented player on this squad – plus he does stuff like this too.

Now onto Griffin because his emergence for this team in the last four days has been immense. He has arguably been Duke’s best shooter outside of Joey Baker, so his ability to step out and spread the defense is invaluable. The 6-7 wing is beginning to play with confidence and is becoming another impressive weapon for Coach K’s arsenal. He tallied 13 points on an efficient 5-for-7 shooting, including a crucial late-game step-back 3-pointer to help Duke regain double- digit lead.

Both freshmen are really gifted offensively as exceptional dribblers for their size and can score at all three levels. Ultimately, Krzyzewski may have found his go-to frontcourt line-up as the season wears along.

The conundrum: Opponents’ small ball line-ups and the role of Mark Williams and Theo John

With the Banchero-Griffin tandem being so incredibly dynamic, it presents us with a new predicament: what to do with Mark Williams and Theo John?

The pair of centers only played for 12 and eight minutes, respectively, with only one shot attempted between them. Schematically, neither really fit into the game that Virginia Tech would have Duke play, but it was unfortunate to see both fall out of the rotation so fast.

It’s also not been the first time it has happened in the early stages of this season. There were times in November where the Blue Devils took the floor and it became apparent, rather quickly, that the game was not suited for the 7-footer Williams. While he is a tremendous lob threat and greater interior protector, he’s not a center that is going to get position in the paint easily. He’s not really a dump down threat the way Banchero and even Moore is. That’s becoming a problem for Duke. On the flip side, when opponents can so easily force Williams and John to defend the 3-point line, it leaves the Blue Devils vulnerable in the paint – and with a team that struggles rebounding the ball – it can’t happen.

Wendell Moore Jr. continues to impress

This is becoming a recurring takeaway in these columns, but Moore’s leap from sophomore to junior year has taken this Duke squad to the next level. If you look past the pair of frustrating turnovers late in the game, Moore was fantastic. The 6-5 wing played 39 minutes, tallied 18 points, four assists and four rebounds on 6-for-9 shooting. The Charlotte (NC) native is looking like the ACC Player of the Year and balanced nights like these only warrant more praise – especially from yours truly.

The ‘Cameron Brotherhood’ uniforms are the best in college basketball

I mean these are just spectacular.

The Blue Devils released their ‘Brotherhood’ uniforms – a nod to the culture of the program that goes beyond Cameron Indoor – a couple of years ago and I thought they couldn’t get better. They certainly outdid themselves with this one. The retro Duke Basketball logo on the shorts, the traditional Duke blue, the gothic lettering, it really doesn’t get better. And the Blue Devils are now 1-0 in the uniform.

***

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