Game: Michigan at Duke (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
Date: December 3rd
Location: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham NC
#6 Duke Blue Devils (6-2)
Season so far: Duke began the season as a top five team, but the early season slate has been tough and the Blue Devils already have two losses. Given that those two losses were to Kansas and Arizona — both top-five teams — there isn't much shame in either.
The Kansas game was a slugfest throughout, in which Duke kept pace with the Jayhawks in part thanks to a big opening half from freshman sensation Jabari Parker. However, Parker fouled out in the second half and Duke collapsed late. The game was tied at 79 with just over three minutes to go and from there Kansas would outscore the Blue Devils 15-4. Both teams shot the ball well (57 and 58% eFG%) and avoided turnovers (both had a 13.3 TO%), but Kansas held a large advantage on the offensive glass and getting to the line.
The Arizona game was much the same, with Duke and Zona trading baskets until about midway through the second half when Arizona went on a run to push the lead to ten points. Duke wouldn't get closer than five points the rest of the way. Duke was the better team at holding onto the ball (16.4-23.9 TO%), but lost badly in the other three of the four factors with Arizona putting up an eight percent advantage in eFG%, pulling in 30.8% of its OR chances, and putting up a nearly 25% advantage in FT Rate.
The other game of interest on Duke's early season schedule was against Vermont, which narrowly missed upsetting the Blue Devils in Cameron. How did this happen? Vermont shot the lights out with an eFG% of 64.8 (only 4/13 from outside) and a TO Rate of under 10%. Despite big advantages in offensive rebounding and FT Rate, Duke needed a free throw with six seconds left to secure the win.
Dangermen: Jabari Parker (6'8 Fr.) is the big name to know. A sure-fire one-and-done player that has the talent to be the top pick in next spring's NBA draft, Parker has immediately stepped into the top role in Duke's offense. His usage rate is through the roof at 33%, which is the 21st highest nationally. Parker is averaging 23 ppg with an eFG% of 61.2 and he has hit half of his 28 3PA. He is going to be a matchup nightmare for whoever Michigan sticks on him.
As if having to deal with Parker weren't enough, Rodney Hood (6'8 So.) will also be out there roaming the wings. While he is less used (23.2% usage rate), his numbers are eerily similar to Parker's. Hood has an eFG% of 70.1 (!) and has hit 13 of 22 from outside. He isn't nearly as good a rebounder as Parker, but he gets to the line more effectively (67.1 FT Rate) where he hits 82% of his shots.
Making sure both these outstanding wings have the ball is Quinn Cook (6'2 Jr.), who is playing the largest share of minutes on the team and dishing out assists at a rate of 29.1 (with a TO Rate of 14.5). Cook can shoot effectively from all over the court with a 56/38/84 percentage split.
Game Keys: Michigan has had a few tests thus far in the season, but Duke should be the stiffest yet. Dealing with the combo of Parker and Hood on defense is going to test the defensive development of Michigan's three wing players, as well as give us a glimpse of how effective the 1-3-1 zone can be when deployed against a talented lineup like this.
The game will be an especially important one for Mitch McGary, who Michigan needs to have a very big game. Not only does Duke lack a post presence to deal with McGary on defense, but the Blue Devils have been a sub-par offensive rebounding team (256th nationally at 28.7% OR Rate). The Wolverine defense is going to have to make sure that what missed shots it does force turn into transition opportunities going the other way, and not second chance points for a team that hasn't shown the ability give itself a lot of those chances.
Past that, Michigan is going to have to adjust its shooting quickly in a harsh road environment. Cameron Indoor is no place for the faint of heart, and Michigan is a very young team without the force of personality that Trey Burke brought that could steady the ship when things got rocky a year ago.
Nik Stauskas has been Michigan's primary scoring threat this year, and his status for this game is still up in the air after missing the Coppin State game following an ankle injury suffered against Charlotte. If Michigan is without Stauskas it will look for big contributions from Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert, neither of which have shown the ability to consistently produce this year.
Also, keep an eye on Derrick Walton, who has shown a knack for defense and rebounding so far this season. If he can make life hard on Quinn Cook and grab a few defensive rebounds that turn into fast break opportunities, it could help Michigan get the scoring runs to keep pace or get up on Duke.
Outlook: Michigan is going into one of the most hostile environments in college basketball with its go-to scorer questionable with an ankle injury and its all-American caliber post player still working back to 100% from an off season back condition.
Michigan has the firepower to keep things close throughout, and that should happen. However, late in the game the difference will be that Duke has its man in crunch time, and Michigan still doesn't. Duke should win this game late after Michigan fails to capitalize on a couple of opportunities and/or wastes a couple possessions in the final three minutes.