North Carolina State v Duke

Passing the key factor in Duke’s recent run of offensive success

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It’s taken some time, but the Duke Blue Devils have become more comfortable playing without senior forward Ryan Kelly.

After struggling from the field in their first three games without Kelly, shooting 37.9% from the field (1-2 record with losses at N.C. State and Miami), Duke has shot 52% or better in each of the last four games. In their 98-85 win over the Wolfpack at Cameron on Thursday night, Duke shot 53.8% and knocked down ten three-pointers.

Duke shooting 61.3% from the field in the first half may been seen as a “perfect storm” of sorts, but 14 of their 19 made field goals were assisted. The Blue Devils have done a better job of finding quality looks for each other and that’s been a key factor in their offensive executions in wins over Florida State and N.C. State.

“Yeah, we can’t start any better than we have in the past two games,” noted head coach Mike Krzyzewski after Thursday’s win. “We would love to have Ryan back, but we have learned to play with this group. I am not saying we are a great team, but we are a good team now with this group.”

Mason Plumlee made all five of his first-half field goal attempts (5-of-6 from the foul line as well) and guards Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon combined to shoot 10-of-16 from beyond the arc. And while the three-pointers didn’t fall in the second half (0-of-7) Duke got to the foul line, shooting 22-of-28 in the final 20 minutes.

Duke shooting better from the field overall and from three has been a factor in their recent success, but their improved distribution of the basketball (18 or more assists in three of the last four games) should not be overlooked either.

“Mason has played well all year long, he knows more is on him with Ryan out,” said Krzyzewski. “I think we are all getting more comfortable with Ryan out. With Amile, Murph gave us really good minutes tonight. It is a different team offensively than it is with Ryan.”

Duke doesn’t have the scoring at the four that they had when Kelly was on the floor, but after some tough times early they’ve adjusted. And that will make Duke a better team when the senior returns to the lineup.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

BUBBLE BANTER: Key Atlantic 10, Big East bubble games

Kelan Martin, Kyle Alexander
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

Butler (KenPom: 41, RPI; 67) at Seton Hall (KenPom: 31, RPI: 37), 6:30 p.m.
LSU (KenPom: 53, RPI: 76) at South Carolina (KenPom: 45, RPI: 28), 7:00 p.m.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (KenPom: 51, RPI: 62), 7:00 p.m.
Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 48, RPI: 30) at George Washington (KenPom: 71, RPI: 34), 7:00 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt (KenPom: 35, RPI: 58), 9:00 p.m.
No. 14 Iowa State at Texas Tech (KenPom: 59, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
Michigan (KenPom: 46, RPI: 56) at Minnesota, 9:00 p.m.
Washington (KenPom: 80, RPI: 57) at Utah (KenPom: 44, RPI: 16), 9:00 p.m.
San Diego State (KenPom: 65, RPI: 47) at Fresno State, 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ben Simmons, LSU get tested at South Carolina; more important bubble matchups

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: LSU at South Carolina, 7:00 p.m.

LSU attempts to stay atop the SEC standings when they travel on the road to face South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been very tough at home this season and they’re trying to form a potential four-way tie in the conference standings if they’re able to win this one (and Texas A&M wins tonight). It will be intriguing to see how Ben Simmons fares against South Carolina’s stingy defense.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: Saint Joseph’s at George Washington, 7:00 p.m.

An important game in the Atlantic 10 as Saint Joseph’s heads to the Smith Center to play surging George Washington. The Colonels have won three straight games as they try to stay with VCU and Dayton and make a move to tie the Hawks in the league standings. CBT’s Rob Dauster will be in the building for this one, so make sure to follow him on Twitter for updates.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. No. 21 Baylor will have a tough one in the Big 12 when they go on the road at Kansas State. The Wildcats just knocked off Oklahoma and the Octagon of Doom is a very tough place to play, even if Kansas State is struggling in the standings.
  2. No. 16 SMU will try to stay in the lead in the American as they host Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane could really use a road win like this for its postseason chances.
  3. An intriguing Pac-12 contest tips as Washington heads to Utah. The Pac-12 standings are a mess right now, but these two teams still have a chance to make one final move for the regular season title if they start building momentum now.
  4. In the SEC, Alabama hosts No. 15 Texas A&M, a team that has lost three of its last four games. The Aggies will be favored in this road contest, but this one could be interesting because of Avery Johnson’s unique connection to Texas A&M. Avery Johnson Jr., a transfer guard sitting out this season at Alabama, played for the Aggies last season, so he could have some useful tips for his dad on slowing down Texas A&M’s potent offense.
  5. No. 20 Providence will be looking for revenge when they head to Milwaukee to face Marquette. The Golden Eagles currently sit eighth in the Big East standings, but they did win on the road by a point over the Friars earlier this season.