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Countdown to Tipoff: Previewing Duke and Boston College

Today we look at one ACC blue blood and one bottom-dweller

Central Florida v Duke Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Countdown to Tipoff: 28 Days

Duke Blue Devils

Setting the Stage

The Jackets welcome Duke to McCamish Pavilion on January 8th for its first home game following the winter holiday. The date of this game gives students a great opportunity to check out a marquee brand in college basketball. Last year Tech traveled to Durham for its sole meeting with the Blue Devils and actually held Zion and co at bay for 30 minutes before eventually falling 66-53.

Last year’s Duke team may have boasted the most freshmen talent its storied program has ever seen. However, despite a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Devils fell to Michigan State in the Elite 8. The three-headed monster of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish is gone but some key pieces do return to complement the arrival of another excellent freshman class.

Roster Construction

Key Losses

Zion Williamson (F) – What hasn’t been said about Zion? The 6’7” human wrecking ball captivated the college basketball world last season like maybe no other player has before. Beyond the stats (23 ppg, 9 rpg, 2 apg, 2 bpg, 2 spg) that Duke will have to replace his ability to absolutely take over games with highlight-worthy moments that provided energy in bunches for the rest of the team.

RJ Barrett (G) – If Williamson was Batman, Barrett was Robin as the two combined to form a dynamic duo in ’18-19. He was sometimes labeled a shot chucker, but 23 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game is a stat line you’ll take every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Cam Reddish (G/F) – Sometimes an afterthought on a team that was so heavily dominated by Zion and RJ. Because of that, we probably never got to see his full skillset last year, but he still put up double figures and provided shooting around the ball dominant, aforementioned players. Like the other two, he left for the pros after one season.

Marques Bolden (C) – He was the one true “center” the Blue Devils used last year and improved markedly over the last three years but ultimately chose to move on after his junior season. He wasn’t asked to do much in the scoring department but did supply excellent interior defense (1.7 blocks per game).

Key Returnees

Tre Jones (SO PG) – Like Kentucky, Duke’s freshman point guard has elected to return to school to work on a jump shot that needs improvement. Jones was a facilitator last season, constantly looking to get the other three freshmen great looks and he excelled at that, averaging 5.3 assists per game. He’ll look to create his own shot more this season and improve on a ghastly 26% three-point percentage.

Alex O’Connell (JR G/F) – The best three-point shooter for Duke returns to a team that could have used more of just that last year. He shot the three at 38% and was mainly used as a spot up shooter but figures to see his role expanded this season.

Javin DeLaurier (SR F) – While the three freshmen were doing all the scoring for Duke, DeLaurier was chipping in and doing a little bit of everything else. Offense is not his game, but he provides good length on defense and depth in the front court.

Jack White (SR F) – White had a bizarre 2018-19 season. He started out as one of the better sharp shooters in the nation, making 21 of his first 51 3-point attempts for 41%. But after that, something broke and he lost his confidence. Maybe it was the Syracuse game in which he went 0-10 from deep. He ended up finishing at a just 28% clip from behind the arc and couldn’t provide the shooting in the tournament that Duke desperately needed. It will be interesting to see what player shows up in 2019.

Key Additions

Vernon Carey Jr. (FR C) – The composite #2 overall recruit gives the Blue Devils an excellent inside presence. He possesses a post-game not seen in Durham since the likes of Jahlil Okafor but can also step out and shoot. At 6’11 he has great size and rebounds his position very well.

Wendell Moore Jr. (FR G/F) – Moore is a long and athletic wing that will provide excellent perimeter defense helped by his 7-foot wingspan. Offensively, he’s a slasher who must improve his shot.

Cassius Stanley (FR G/F) – Another composite four-star recruit that provides good size and athleticism at 6’5”. He excels at getting out in transition and like Moore, plays great perimeter defense. His shot is further along than Moore’s but he isn’t a great ball handler yet.

Matthew Hurt (FR F) - A third athletic wing but Hurt’s size at 6’9” and skill make him special. The five-star recruit should be a perfect small-ball four man in Coach K’s offense with an ability to stretch the floor with his shot and also put the ball on the floor to attack the basket. Think Brandon Ingram from past Duke teams.

Keys for the Jackets

Stop the Drive – Like many Duke teams, this one projects to be extremely athletic. Tech should look to force Duke to beat them from the outside where there aren’t many known, reliable threats.

Take and Make the Three – Tech will probably need to hit more than a few threes on their end to be competitive. It is also likely that Duke will look to take away Tech’s strength in the post and challenge them to hit threes which has been a known weakness for past Jackets team. Essentially Tech should “take what the defense gives them.” If it turns out they are overextending their defense, use the back cut.

Slow the Pace – At the risk of this sounding very similar to a key against other talented Jacket opponents like Kentucky, GT simply gives themselves the best chance to win a game like this if it slows the game to a halt and limits the other team’s possessions. This keeps Duke out of its preferred up-and-down pace and limits transition opportunities for a highly athletic team. To do this, Tech must also limit turnovers.

Boston College Eagles

Setting the Stage

Tech travels to Chestnut Hill on January 11th for these two teams’ only meeting this season. Last year, the Jackets beat BC at home in overtime, 81-78 and will look to make it two wins in two years against the Eagles.

Jim Christian is probably entering his eleventh hour at this helm for BC unless he can drastically turn things around this season. The Eagles have made no NCAA tournaments in five seasons under his watch and have finished no better than 11th in the ACC. With the loss of star player, Ky Bowman, Christian was given no favors and looks to be in for another tough season.

Roster Construction

Key Losses

Ky Bowman (G) – Losing a do-it-all guard prior to his senior season would be a crushing blow to almost any program but that is exactly what happened to BC as Bowman jumped for the NBA. Averaging 19.0 points and 4.0 assists per game, he led the team in both categories and was also second on the team in rebounds at 7.5, an impressive figure for the 6’1 guard. A consistent three-level scorer, there is no way to really express just how much this loss will hurt for the Eagles.

Jordan Chatman (G) – Lost to graduation is BC’s 3rd leading scorer at 13.2 ppg. Chatman excelled at getting to basket to draw and knock down free throws with regularity (82%).

Key Returnees

Nik Popovic (SR F/C) – The best returning player for BC, Popovic averaged 14.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in ’18-19 and has good size at 6’11. He will need to provide senior leadership for the Eagles in the upcoming season.

Steffon Mitchell (JR F) – Michell was the defensive stopper for this team last season, leading the team in rebounds and blocks at 7.9 and 1.2 per game respectively.

Jarius Hamilton (SO F) – Hamilton was a big get for Christian back in 2018 as a four-star recruit but was mostly used in a bench role in his first season, averaging 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. A breakout sophomore season from him could go a long way towards helping the Eagles exceed expectations.

Key Additions

Derryck Thornton Jr. (SR G) – Thornton’s long career will finally come to a close at BC. A former five-star recruit, he is now on his third stop after transferring from both USC and Duke. He never really excelled at either school but BC fans are hoping that he can rediscover his talent at a place that truly needs him to succeed. With Bowman’s departure, Thornton will likely be thrust into the starting point guard role and the need for a player who can create for himself and others is there.

Jay Heath Jr and Julian Rishwain (FR SGs) – The Eagles welcome four freshman to campus as part of their 2019 recruiting class with Heath and Rishwain receiving the most acclaim. The will look to provide outside shooting to a team that desperately needs it after finishing 303rd in the nation in 3 pt % last season.

Keys for the Jackets

Defensive Rebounding – One thing BC does possess is good size in the front court with its likely starting forwards and center standing 6’8”, 6’11” and 6’10” respectively. Tech needs to crash the defensive glass to not allow BC to generate any second chance points.

Get Devoe Going- This game looks like one where Michael Devoe could shine. BC doesn’t have a ton of depth or experience on the wing, so playing alongside Jose Alvarado, Devoe should get plenty of matchups that he can exploit.

Contain Derryck Thornton – For whatever reason, whenever Tech plays BC they seem to have somebody go off against the Jackets. Thornton fits the mold of a player who could do just that, so Tech must prevent him from getting hot.