This Sunday (5 PM, FSN) the Blue Devils host Boston College in a matchup of two teams coming off buzzer-beater victories in their previous games. Duke's win on the last-second layup of David McClure has been all over the news with controversy about an error in clock operation. What the tired conspiracy conversation has missed was a Blue Devils team that had controlled a strong opponent for 35 minutes, winning the battle of the boards 40-24. Boston College, meanwhile, needed a 22 footer from senior Sean Marshall to knock off Florida State at home, 85-82. It was their second game without one of the premier shot-blockers in the nation, Sean Williams, who was dismissed from the team for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. BC bounced back from a blowout loss to Clemson in their first game without Williams, but coach Al Skinner is still looking for a suitable replacement for Williams' 32.2 minutes/game.
Against FSU, Williams' place was taken by 21 unremarkable minutes from 6-10 junior John Oates, who had just two points and one rebound. Reserve center Tyrelle Blair (6-11, Jr) played 14 minutes, with four points and two rebounds. The night belonged to sophomore guard Tyrese Rice, who had 26 points and six assists, and to Marshall for his last second heroics. The reality is that BC is now a three man team, receiving 20 points each against FSU from Rice, Marshall, and senior swingman Jared Dudley. They relied on the long range shot significantly more against FSU (33.9% of shots) than they have the rest of the season (28.3%). While this was a moderately effective strategy- they hit 7 of 18 from beyond the arc, including Marshall's game winner- in the long run the poor shooting of Rice (30% 3pt on the sesaon) may force the Eagles into a dribble-penetration offense.
It is clear from the game logs that this is exactly the strategy that the three wing players have been taking in the absence of Williams. Despite the lack of an interior presence, BC managed to get to the line for 29 free throw attempts (not including the necessary foul by FSU with 16 seconds left), which was considerably more than the Seminoles. Duke's strategy should be clear, featuring Jon Scheyer, Demarcus Nelson, and McClure preventing the dribble penetration and three point shooting of the three BC guards. So far this season, Duke has limited opponents to just 27.9% from 3-pt (4th in nation) and has been successful at avoiding fouls, as opponents have a free-throw rate of just 27.1% of all possessions (23rd in nation). If these two trends hold true, Duke's #1 ranked defense should have no trouble holding the BC offense in check.
When Duke has the ball, a dribble-penetration offense may also be a wise strategy, hoping to get Marshall or Dudley into foul trouble early. McRoberts and McClure should also be able to assert dominance on the offensive glass- even with Williams the Eagles were ranked 269th in the nation, rebounding just 63.9% on the defensive end. Facing a defense not particularly adept at forcing turnovers, Greg Paulus should have no trouble continuing his improved point guard play and leading the Blue Devils to victory. Duke, 70-55.