Duke's Dominant Frontcourt Duo Proves Unstoppable and Keys Elite Eight Berth

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2018

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 23: Marvin Bagley III #35 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts following a dunk against the Syracuse Orange during the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at CenturyLink Center on March 23, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Lance King/Getty Images

When an offense shoots as poorly as the Duke Blue Devils did Friday in Omaha, Nebraska, the team usually cannot outlast the Syracuse Orange. But when an offense has Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, trends can be broken.

For the second time in the 2017-18 season, the Duke Blue Devils overcame a terrible three-point shooting night to dispatch their conference foe. Bagley and Carter combined for 36 points and 19 rebounds, propelling Duke to a 69-65 victory and an Elite Eight bid.

The Blue Devils needed every bit of the duo's impact.

Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. connected on only five of their 22 trifecta attempts, and the remainder of Duke's perimeter players missed four tries. The 19.2 percent conversion rate was the fifth-lowest mark Syracuse has held its opponents to this season.

That's a proven recipe for disasteryet Bagley and Carter saved the Blue Devils from joining the wrong side of history.

In the 11 games the Orange kept their opponent shooting 25 percent or worse from deep, they posted an 8-3 record. From 2012-13 to the conclusion of 2017-18, Syracuse was 50-10. Two of those losses, however, happened against the Blue Devils this year.

Both times, Bagley and Carter accounted for more than half of Duke's points. They grabbed 13 total offensive rebounds between the two games. On Friday, the Blue Devils turned the second chances created by the duo into 11 points.

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They didn't do anything particularly unique. No, they simply were more physical and productive in the paint.

Although the freshmen regularly attempt a shot or two from the perimeter, Syracuse's zone defense kept them inside the arc. Bagley and Carter both spent time occupying the high post but otherwise roamed near the "dunker spot" on the baseline.

And dunk they did.

NCAA March Madness @marchmadness

WATCH YA HEAD BAGLEY! 😳 #MarchMadness #Sweet16 https://t.co/oJzd5UhFyN

Bagley's range is remarkable. Not only is he 6'11", but he also has an enormous wingspan and outstanding vertical. He's a highlight reel waiting to happen above the rim.

The left-hander is a special player on the offensive end, and it extends beyond his scoring ability.

Though still a work in progress, he has decent vision. On multiple occasions, once Syracuse collapsed on him in the high post, Bagley found a wide-open Allen on the perimeter. It's not Bagley's fault the senior only turned one into an assist.

Bagley is as challenging of a post player to defend as the college game will see, and that's reflected in the forward breaking a Duke record for points by a freshman.

Because of that production and a projected top-five draft slot, Bagley typically overshadows Carter. While that's an understandable position, he's such a reliable player.

Carter has provided 10-plus points in 29 of his 36 appearances and secured at least eight rebounds in 24 games. His 16 double-doubles on the year ranks second in Duke history and trails only Bagley's 21, according to the school.

The lesser-discussed future NBA lottery pick has a diverse skill set, but Carter isn't as flashy as his teammate. He'll quietly collect rebounds, position himself for an easy pass and layup and occasionally hit a 15-foot jumper or step behind the arc.

He accomplishes all of that with tremendous efficiency. Carter entered the Sweet 16 boasting a 44.2 percent clip from three and 56.9 overall, also hitting 73.7 percent of his free throws.

Yes, Duke's biggest flaws were on display Friday, and they nearly cost Mike Krzyzewski's club down the stretch. Allen and Trent were cold, and the defense sometimes got caught rotating slowlyor not at all.

But the Blue Devils' greatest strengths also made appearances. Bagley and Carter showed their NBA-worthy talent in a situation that typically doesn't end well for poorly shooting teams.

Together, they turned a completely forgettable shooting night into the program's first Elite Eight bid in three seasons.


Stats via Sports Reference and NCAA.com unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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