RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson Combine for 50 in Duke's 91-58 Rout over Yale

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2018

Duke's Zion Williamson (1) listens to coach Mike Krzyzewski during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Yale in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome/Associated Press

The Duke Blue Devils protected home court and defeated the Yale Bulldogs 91-58 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.

RJ Barrett (30 points, seven rebounds and six assists) and Zion Williamson (20 points and eight rebounds) led the way for Duke, while Miye Oni had 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a losing effort for Yale.

       

Duke's Transition Game Explosive Enough to Overcome Perimeter Woes

With shooters like Shane Battier, Kyle Singler and Grayson Allen, Duke spent years living and dying by the three-ball.

This year's squad, with a star-studded roster featuring Williamson, Barrett and Cam Reddish, is a different mold—but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Williamson (6'7", 285 pounds), Barrett (6'7", 202 pounds) and Reddish (6'8", 218 pounds) all have size that makes them a nightmare near the basket. What makes them even more dangerous is they can get out and run in transition, whether it be off a made basket or off a turnover.

Entering Saturday night, the Blue Devils ranked 185th in the nation in perimeter shooting at 34.1 percent. On the other hand, per the broadcast, they ranked fourth in transition offense while leading the nation in dunks. Not only that, but they are also forcing 16.2 turnovers per game. All of that was on full display during the first half against Yale.

The Blue Devils overwhelmed the Bulldogs early on, forcing 16 turnovers before halftime. That led to 13 fast-break points and 13 points off turnovers in the opening 20 minutes. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's squad held a nine-point lead at the break despite shooting just 22.2 percent from three, thanks to an opportunistic attack.

That's not to say Duke doesn't have anyone who can knock down a shot when needed. Reddish (39.1 percent from three-point range) and Barrett (38.0 percent) have shown they are both capable of knocking down shots from the outside.

But this team understands its identity. There aren't many teams around the country that can mess with Duke near the basket, and that's something the Blue Devils continue to exploit.

Any team that can take care of the basketball and make it a half-court game has a chance to stay with Duke. That's easier said than done, however, as the Blue Devils' athleticism can be tough to handle. And when Williamson and Co. start running, there's no slowing them down.

     

Free-Throw Shooting Could Cost Blue Devils Come Tournament Time

This talented Duke squad doesn't appear to have many weaknesses, but one of its obvious shortcomings could wind up proving costly.

The Blue Devils entered their tilt against the Bulldogs ranked 279th in college basketball as a result of making just 65.1 percent of their free throws. That rate won't improve any after their latest game, as they shot just 64.5 percent (20-of-31) from the line Saturday.

And this is an issue that is prevalent throughout the roster.

Reddish (77.4 percent) is the only Blue Devil with more than 11 free-throw attempts to be shooting better than 70 percent from the line this season. Sure, it's still early in the season, so the small sample sizes could be heavily influencing the numbers—but this doesn't look like an issue that is going to drastically get better between now and March.

Most notably, Barrett and Williamson have now gone to the line more than 50 times apiece. The results, Barrett (63.3 percent and Williamson (66.7 percent), haven't been pretty thus far. Barrett showed some potential with a 9-of-12 effort against Yale, but he will need to prove that wasn't a fluke.

Duke has been winning by 30 points per game, so its struggles from the line haven't come back to bite it to this point. Oddly enough, the Blue Devils missed only six of their 26 attempts in a two-point loss to Gonzaga last month.

It is possible Duke's talent will be enough to win every game the rest of the way. As a coach, though, Krzyzewski has to be worried about his team's free-throw shooting as games become closer during conference and tournament play.

     

What's Next

Duke (9-1) will have some time off before it gets back in action, as the Blue Devils' next contest is not until Dec. 18 against Princeton. Meanwhile, Yale (4-3) will host Albany on Tuesday.

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