Duke Basketball: How Blue Devils Match Up with UCLA at Each Position
The Duke basketball team has already faced off against Kansas, Arizona and Michigan in nonconference play and still has one marquee test remaining in Madison Square Garden versus UCLA on Dec. 19.
A victory would mean the Blue Devils split their four notable games before the ACC slate begins, but it would also mean they won their last two. That type of momentum going into a difficult conference schedule would be important.
Let’s dig into how Duke matches up with UCLA at each position. Yes, starting lineups can change and Mike Krzyzewski’s has been somewhat fluid this season, but we are going to use the starting five from the Blue Devils and Bruins most recent games for this exercise.
Quinn Cook vs. Jordan Adams
UCLA doesn’t necessarily utilize a true point guard in the starting lineup with Jordan Adams and Norman Powell in the backcourt, but let’s give the nod to Adams here.
Adams may be the Bruins’ best player, and he hasn’t disappointed in the early going. He is averaging a team-high 21.6 points a game to go along with nearly five rebounds and three assists a game. He is shooting better than 50 percent from the field, 37 percent from downtown and 86 percent from the free-throw line.
Adams also rarely turns the ball over and is playing lockdown defense. His 3.3 steals per game can attest to that.
Quinn Cook is also playing some of the best basketball of his career for Duke. He leads the squad in minutes, is scoring nearly 15 points a night and has a 3.5-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.
Despite Cook’s impressive play this year, the advantage goes to UCLA. Adams is a much better defender than Cook and is the go-to scorer for the Bruins. Cook is a better distributor and true point guard because that is his role, but Adams is the better overall player.
Tyler Thornton vs. Norman Powell
Many thought the shooting guard position (as well as third-scorer role) for Duke would belong solidly to Rasheed Sulaimon, but Krzyzewski has given more time to Tyler Thornton lately because of his defense.
The Blue Devils have played much better on that end of the floor since Thornton was inserted into the lineup. He may only be averaging three points and two assists a night, but his lockdown defending and timely three-pointers have given the Blue Devils a much-needed lift, especially against Michigan in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
His counterpart Norman Powell has done a little bit of everything for UCLA in the early going. He is averaging 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and nearly two steals a game, and he's shooting 58 percent from the field. Thornton is the better long-range shooter, but Powell is a better pure scorer and does more for the Bruins on offense.
Thornton has thrived in his defensive-specialist role, but Powell is simply the better player. He is formidable on defense and a more dangerous scoring threat.
Rodney Hood vs. Kyle Anderson
This is the best matchup on paper between these two teams, and it almost isn’t fair that we have to give an advantage to either.
Rodney Hood has thrived in his role alongside Jabari Parker. He is an excellent scorer who can find the basket from the inside, mid-range and behind the three-point line and can create his own shot off the dribble. His 19.3 points a game can attest to that. He is also automatic from the free-throw line and is shooting an impressive 59 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from downtown.
Kyle Anderson isn’t quite the scorer that Hood is (14 points a game) and can’t create off the dribble as effectively, but his overall game is slightly better at this point. He is a better rebounder (nine per game to Hood's five) and is UCLA’s best passer even from the small forward spot. Anderson is averaging better than seven assists a night, and the offense often runs through him because of his distributing skills.
Both Hood and Anderson have had some turnover issues, but that is to be expected considering how often each has the ball. Despite Hood’s status as a better scorer, Anderson is a better defender, rebounder and passer and gets the nod by the slightest of margins.
Jabari Parker vs. David Wear
Sorry David Wear, but this isn’t really a contest.
Jabari Parker is not only the best player on Duke, he is arguably the best player in the entire country. This tilt in Madison Square Garden won’t be the last time he laces it up in the world’s most famous arena with so many NBA teams salivating over his game.
Parker is a tremendous scorer (22 points a night), and much like his teammate Hood can find the basket from anywhere. He has no trouble banging around down low, beating defenders off the dribble or shooting over the top. He is also Duke’s best rebounder (nearly eight per game) and has been the closest thing to a rim-protector Krzyzewski has this season.
The fact that Parker is shooting 55 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range shouldn’t be overlooked either, with all the defensive attention he draws every time out.
Wear has been a solid contributor for the Bruins and can score and grab rebounds on a fairly consistent basis. There is nothing wrong with his game, and he can stretch the floor with outside shooting. However, he simply isn’t in Parker’s league.
Very few are.
Amile Jefferson vs. Tony Parker
Duke’s big-man rotation has been in flux all season between Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee and Josh Hairston, but Jefferson is probably the best of the bunch.
He is a solid scorer and rebounder (six points and four rebounds a night) and has made a blistering 73 percent of his shots. Granted, most have been from right in front of the rim, but he still has to convert the easy looks to earn more playing time.
Tony Parker arrived at UCLA as a highly regarded recruit but didn’t make the immediate impact many expected. However, he is gradually becoming more of a contributor (seven points and six rebounds a night) and is seeing the floor for more minutes.
Parker isn’t head-and-shoulders above Jefferson, but his higher ceiling gives him the nod here. He is also better at protecting the rim on the defensive end, and should at least challenge the likes of Parker and Hood when they attack the basket.
Duke 81, UCLA 75
Despite UCLA’s advantage at four of the five starting positions, Duke will take this game in Madison Square Garden.
Every position battle is close except Parker’s, and the Blue Devils’ combination of Parker and Hood is better than anything the Bruins have at their disposal. Duke’s superstars will shine under the bright lights.
Duke also has a deeper bench and seems to be putting forth better defensive efforts recently. Look for the Blue Devils to slow down UCLA’s attack and pull ahead with critical baskets down the stretch from Parker.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.