Will Duke’s 3-Point Woes Cost Blue Devils National Title?
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
In today’s era of small ball, the 3-point shot has become an important part of many teams’ offensive strategies. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke are usually no exception. The Blue Devils have been one of the nation’s more effective 3-point shooting teams on an annual basis. Not in 2019.
The Blue Devils are shooting 31.1 percent from behind the arc and rank just 313th in the nation (there are 351 Division I programs in the country). That makes Krzyzewski’s Duke team one of the worst 3-point shooting teams around. With the recent trend in shooting from long-range, will the Blue Devils ineptitude prevent them from winning a national championship?
Consider Duke’s long-range shooting in its two losses this season. The Blue Devils dropped a thriller to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational back in November. Krzyzewski’s troops attempted only 13 shots from behind the 3-point line and made just five (39 percent).
Duke’s other loss came at home against Syracuse. The game went to overtime where the Orange outlasted the Blue Devils 95-91. The big difference? Duke’s 3-point shooting. The Blue Devils shot just 9-of-43 from 3-point range for a whopping 21 percent. That simply won’t cut it. Syracuse is currently 15-6 overall and 6-2 in the ACC. The Orange are a tournament team, but there are plenty of teams better than Syracuse and the Blue Devils still have to play a few of them (Virginia and North Carolina for starters).
The Blue Devils even got into a dogfight with Georgia Tech – yes, Georgia Tech – when Duke hit just 2-of-21 3-point attempts. Hard to believe, but yes Duke shot 9.5 percent from behind the arc. Can they win a national title shooting so poorly from downtown?
History says probably not. Since the 2001-02 basketball season, there have been 10 national champions out of the total 17 that have shot at least 37 percent from 3-point range. Those 10 champions also made 51 percent of their 2-point shots. In last year’s national championship game, champion Villanova hit exactly 37 percent of their 3s (10-of-27). The team they beat, Michigan, shot a paltry 3-of-23 (13 percent) from 3-point range.
The poor shooting doesn’t automatically disqualify Duke as a national title contender. Of those past 17 national champions, there have been seven that fell short of the 37/51 percent club. North Carolina shot 35 percent on 3s and the 2013 Louisville Cardinals hit 33 percent from behind the arc. The reason that all seven of those teams were able to win a national title was defense. All seven ranked in the top-15 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Duke yields 65.9 points per game, which ranks 42nd in the country. When adjusted for points allowed per 100 possessions (adjusted defensive efficiency), the Blue Devils rank sixth in the nation (87.9). Michigan, Virginia, and Texas Tech – all-tournament teams – are the top three.
The other saving grace for Duke is its scoring talent. As a team, Duke shoots 60 percent on its 2-point shots. They have a collection of athletes that can simply score. The Blue Devils average over 87 points a game led by R.J. Barrett (23.5 ppg) and Zion Williamson (22.0). Add in Cam Reddish (12.8 ppg) and Tre Jones (8.1 ppg) and the Blue Devils have likely four first-round picks in the next NBA Draft.
Yes, Duke does not shoot well from 3-point range, but the Blue Devils do too many other things very well to be disregarded as a potential national champion. And, that is just where they might be in April.