Duke Basketball
Duke basketball gave up 18 threes and allowed The Citadel to score 81 points, but they still won by 26. It’s a major boost before Gonzaga. (Photo Credit: Robert Willett/The News & Observer/rwillett@newsobserver.com)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 6 vs The Citadel

We’re back and sorry for the delay – I had to cover the Northwestern-Providence game in the Legends Classic and then schoolwork decided to hit me with a 2×4. Regardless, here’s to watching a non-conference game while waiting for a flight * cheers *. More importantly, though, Duke basketball is 6-0 heading into their Black Friday showdown against No. 1 Gonzaga.

This was supposed to be a tune-up before the Blue Devils headed to Vegas, but credit to The Citadel, because they kept this game close for the first 24 minutes of the game. The Bulldogs hit 10 threes in the first half, down just 52-42 at the break. At the start of the second half, the teams once again traded buckets, before Duke pulled away around the 16-minute mark.

The best Blue Devils on the night were Paolo Banchero and Wendell Moore Jr. – with the pair clearly becoming Duke’s 1-2 punch. Banchero and Moore combined for 50 points on 18-for-33 shooting, adding 16 rebounds and 15 assists. Duke basketball won 107-81 in a game where the defense was not its usual self, but its offense was the best it has been all year.

Takeaways

1. Wendell Moore Jr. has cemented himself as the lead guard

There were question marks surrounding Moore’s offensive upside after an underwhelming sophomore season. The junior has since answered the bell, appearing much more confident on the ball and serving as the catalyst for this Duke basketball offense. Through six games, the junior co-captain leads the team in assists per game (5.7) and is the second leading scorer (17.5) and rebounder (6.3). Moore is also the team’s best defender, with his length frustrating opposing guards and wings alike.

Moore has quieted the doubters and been Duke’s most consistent and important player to date. He was solid against Kentucky, making a couple small mistakes, but the game against Gonzaga on Friday will tell us a lot about how far he and this team can go.

2. Paolo Banchero is the best player on this team, but can he score at all three levels?

I’ve touted Banchero as a 6-10 guard since he arrived on campus at Duke, and I’ll stand by that. While his back to the basket game and mid-range arsenal are elite, he has yet to impress from beyond the arc. I figured the Seattle native to be virtually un-guardable at the collegiate level, but the fairly consistent three point shooting he showed in the prep school ranks hasn’t translated to Durham. However, he still has time to become a threat from distance – he’s shooting 31.3% from distance on three attempts a game. Again, Banchero is so good at everything else that he doesn’t need his three-point shooting to be that good, but in games against Gonzaga and ACC opponents, it would be nice to see him stretch the floor.

3. Duke’s defense struggled for the first time, was this a one-off?

I don’t want to say unequivocally that this was a one-time situation, but the Bulldogs did make 18 threes at a 52.9% mark, so sometimes you just have to tip your cap. The Blue Devils of course had their fair share of late rotations that led to open threes, yet The Citadel also made some really tough, contested jumpers. Duke still registered eight steals and five blocks – pretty low by the team’s early season standards. If those late rotations and defensive miscommunications roll over to Friday, however, then there’s a point of concern. For now, though, the sample size isn’t big enough to panic just yet.

4. Who will be the consistent scorer off of the bench?

The starters of (Moore, Banchero, Trevor Keels, Mark Williams and Jeremy Roach) combined for 85 of the Blue Devils’ 107 points. While it’s great to know the starters can get to their spots on the floor and feel comfortable, a lack of great depth off the bench leaves some room for concern. Both Joey Baker and A.J. Griffin have shined off the bench at points this season – and Griffin is still recovering from a knee injury – but neither have provided Duke with consistent scoring. Back-up center Theo John’s minutes are invaluable on the defensive end, but he often doesn’t get enough touches to warrant a large scoring tally. The aforementioned trio will need to provide productive minutes on both ends of the floor, because Moore, Keels and Banchero can’t go a full 40 minutes every game.

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