Can Duke basketball justify the hype? Michigan State will likely be a check in three key areas.

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Mike Krzyzewski has by no means had a recruiting haul like this. That’s to not say this 12 months’s Duke staff can but be measured in opposition to its coach’s finest — that will likely be determined in March. But no Blue Devils squad has had the identical degree of incoming expertise as this group, led by Marvin Bagley III, the category’ high participant, and together with Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr — a complete of 4 freshmen ranked within the high ten of the 2017 recruiting clbad.

Pair that group with Grayson Allen, a senior and a candidate for nationwide participant of the 12 months, and you’ve got a staff with nationwide title aspirations. But will that hype be justified the subsequent 5 months? Tuesday night time will present a key litmus check with a matchup in opposition to equally stacked Michigan State in Chicago. Here are the three keys to look at:

[Miles Bridges is again at Michigan State, and that’s good for school basketball]

* The advantages of a shortened bench. Through its first two video games, Duke’s freshman have been on the ground a complete of 268 minutes, which represents practically 70 % of all accessible minutes. Normally, relying that closely on incoming expertise could be troublesome, however when a category is so extremely regarded, Krzyzewski is aware of it’s best to offer the keys to the season to his newbies. Allen and Javin DeLaurier, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, are the one veterans to have performed vital minutes, although that may change when sophomore Marques Bolden absolutely recovers from strep throat.

Though went deep into his bench for spurts throughout wins in opposition to Elon and Utah Valley, Krzyzewski figures to use a seven-man rotation at most. That’s in line with his technique over the previous a number of seasons, when reserves accounted for about 25 % of the staff’s minutes. The staff is bodily ready for it. As Allen informed reporters following the staff’s 99-69 win in opposition to Utah Valley: “Honestly, our guys are in great shape, so if Coach only goes with five, we’re able to go with five because of the shape we’re in,”

* Defensive enchancment. Defense hasn’t essentially been a Duke specialty — through the previous decade, simply 4 of its squads have ranked within the high 25 nationally in defensive effectivity, per KenPom.com. Perhaps unsurprisingly, two of these groups (2010 and 2015) gained the nationwide title. Based on its ease switching ball screens at each place, this staff has related lockdown potential.

Bagley and Carter — who stand 6-11 and 6-10, respectively — seem as comfy guarding the perimeter as they’re on the block. Even DeLaurier has additionally proven he can swap on opposing guards with out creating a considerable defensive mismatch. That distinctive capacity to modify every part ought to badist the Blue Devils tightly guard the perimeter whereas additionally hamstringing offensive effectivity throughout the arc, which has all the time been a problem for previous Duke groups. Opponents transformed practically 50 % of their two-point photographs final season. That will change in 2018.

* Keep pairing Bagley and Allen on the identical facet of the court docket. Nineteen of Allen’s 22 factors in opposition to Elon got here within the first half, and of that whole, 17 had been the results of being on the identical facet of the ground as Bagley. It’s a pairing we should always anticipate to see all season — Allen curling round a Bagley display screen, or utilizing a choose past the three-point line whereas Bagley sinks to the put up. Defenders aren’t able to single-covering Bagley, and so they can’t give Allen — a profession 39 % shooter from deep who’s making an absurd 67 % this season — any house on the perimeter.

During one possession in Bagley’s debut, all 5 Elon defenders had been keyed on Bagley down low, every with a minimum of one foot close to or planted firmly within the paint. All it took was a move to DeLaurier, who badped the ball to Allen, who splashed a three-pointer. Allen’s defender was too involved with badist protection to contest an open perimeter shot.

That’s why taking part in Bagley and Allen collectively ought to yield one of many nation’s most effective lineups. Bagley, who was incessantly swarmed and doubled by Utah Valley defenders, confirmed a knack for accurately pbading to a ready teammate past the three-point line.

There is a hazard to relying this closely on freshmen for fulfillment. But Krzyzewski clearly believes the expertise can navigate the so-called freshman wall and make a run for a nationwide title. Based on preliminary showings, that confidence is perhaps rewarded, however a recreation in opposition to a staff as proficient because the Spartans will present us extra.

More school basketball:

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