During Duke’s five-game win streak after a sluggish 1-2 start in the ACC one thing, in particular, has continued to improve for the Blue Devils: Half-court defense. That defense continued to show steady signs of improvement on Monday as No. 17 Duke controlled the second half and slowed down No. 18 Pitt on its way to an 80-65 ACC road win at Peterson Events Center.
Jabari Parker scored 16 of his 21 points in a great first half for the freshman and Andre Dawkins added 20 points on 6-for-7 shooting from beyond the three-point line, but this game was more about Duke’s improved half-court defense than their efficient half-court offense.
During a 10-possession defensive stretch in the second half, Duke pushed its lead to 64-51 with a little over five minutes remaining as the Blue Devils held Pitt to 0-for-8 shooting from the field and two turnovers during that stretch.
The Blue Devils have allowed an average of 58.4 points against them during the five-game winning streak after allowing 69.3 points against them during the 1-2 start in the ACC and much of it has to do with finding more of a consistent rotation and getting maximum defensive effort on a more consistent basis.
Although Jabari Parker still has work to do on the defensive end, he has gotten better on rotations and help defense. Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson are giving good interior minutes defending the paint and rebounding. Rasheed Sulaimon is out of his early-season slump and getting more minutes, meaning Duke is adding another aggressive and athletic perimeter defender into the equation.
Duke still has to work on transition defense and other minor nuances of help defense, but the way they limited Pitt senior Lamar Patterson tonight was impressive. Duke did a nice job making sure Patterson didn’t get comfortable roaming off of high ball screens and their hedges and help rotations were noticeably better than early in January.
The Duke of a month ago wouldn’t have held Patterson to 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting, but this Blue Devils team is starting to forge a stronger identity on the defensive end and it gives Duke a chance in the ACC if they can win against Syracuse.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.