clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Q&A on Duke vs. UNLV

JD King of Duke Basketball Report took the time out to answer some questions for us at MWC, breaks down this season’s roster and explains why this group ranks amongst the top

NCAA Basketball: UNLV at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Duke and UNLV haven’t played each other since battling in consecutive Final Fours in the early 90s and while the rematch has been set for Saturday, Dec. 10 at T-Mobile Arena, the only thing that has stayed the same in 25 years is Coach Krzyzewski.

The two programs went in two completely different directions after UNLV lost in the 1991 National Semifinals to Duke.

The Rebels went from being a national powerhouse in college basketball to playing in just 8 NCAA Tournaments in 24 years, made it past the first round only twice and had a lone Sweet 16 appearance under Lon Kruger.

Since 1991, the Blue Devils have won 5 national championships, played in 8 more Final Fours, made 24 Tournament appearances and has arguably the greatest coach in basketball history.

We chat with for a closer look at the Blue Devils.

Which player match-ups should fans look forward to?

I don’t know your roster well enough to really get into specifics about the matchups - I’m pretty focused on the ACC this time of year - so let me make a few general observations.

First I was really impressed with Marvin Menzies when he brought his New Mexico State team here a while back. He’s a sharp coach and should do well.

As far as matchups go, as I say I don’t know Vegas well enough to tell you a lot so let me focus on Duke’s side.

Matt Jones will guard the best player unless he’s massively huge. Jones is 6-5 and a superb defender despite not being freakishly athletic. He’s just a tough, tough defender.

Normally Grayson Allen would be right behind him but he’s getting over a case of turf toe and is not 100%. Frank Jackson is the best athlete in Duke’s backcourt and he’s a willing defender though still a freshman.

Jones and Amile Jefferson are the guys you’ll need to keep an eye on. Jefferson is the equivalent of Duke’s quarterback. He’s the biggest communicator on the team. Coach Krzyzewski always says he runs three systems – offense, defense and communication. Jefferson is the main guy there.

Luke Kennard isn’t a freak athlete either but he’s a really smart ballplayer and defends fairly well.

Your native son, Chase Jeter, had a rough freshman year but he’s much more steady this season and has done a great job at center with everyone else hurt (Duke just got Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden back but neither guy is in game shape yet. Harry Giles and Sean Obi, both big guys, are still out).

He’s shown signs of being a really good shotblocker and rebounder. He’s still a bit uncertain about taking the ball up in traffic.

Duke now has a solid eight-man rotation and Javin DeLaurier, who is very raw, is an athletic freak. He probably won’t play much but he can be spectacular. Antonio Vrankovic is big and has to develop his body but he’s got real potential. He’s got great hands for one thing and a feel for the game.

With Tatum back, will Duke continue with its 4-guard lineup?

It’s kind of hard to call it a four-guard lineup even though it is. Jones, Kennard and Allen are 6-5 to 6-6 and they’re all versatile. Kennard loves to finish in the lane. Allen can shoot or drive and when he’s healthy, he’s good for a flying block or two a game. And Jackson is also capable of doing big things (he’s been hurt too).

Tatum is the same way. He’s 6-8 but he leads the break (for that matter, Jefferson brings the ball up at times too). He can shoot from anywhere and can get to the basket.

Typically Krzyzewski works guys back in slowly after an injury but Tatum is so obviously great that he may not wait. The question is how to do it. He makes Duke’s offense vastly more difficult to defend. You really have to pick your poison – and that’s with Allen at less than 100%. When he and Jackson are up to speed it’s going to be intense.

With lingering front court injuries, will Jefferson continue to put up the numbers he has?

That’s a tough question to answer. He showed signs of this last year before he got injured. His numbers may go down some as the other more natural scorers get healthy but not his rebounding (although everyone’s minutes could decline).

The bigger question is Bolden. He hasn’t played much but he’s a tremendous rebounder and has a real instinct to follow up. He’s also an excellent shotblocker. Once he’s up to speed Duke’s defense goes up another notch.

Where does this 2016-17 team rank in terms of talent amongst Coach K's former teams?

Great question.

The ‘99 team was immensely gifted with Elton Brand, Shane Battier, William Avery and Corey Maggette, not to mention Trajan Langdon. The ‘01 team had Battier, Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and others. The ‘11 team was loaded. 2015 had a phenomenal point guard in Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook (and Jefferson, Jones and Allen).

This one is right up there. I still think 1992 might be the best though with Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill.

What does UNLV have to do defensively to slow down the top ranked offense in the country, according to KenPom?

Well I think Allen may still struggle offensively because of his injury. You have to find a way to slow Kennard, who has been incredible. Jefferson is a guy who can be defended, but no one has really done a great job other than Kansas. You have to pick your poison, especially with Tatum back. If it were me, I’d look at what Virginia does because it’s pretty effective against Duke.

What disadvantages, if any, does Duke hold going into Saturday's game?

Health. Jefferson, Jones and Kennard have avoided injuries. Allen, Jackson, Tatum, Bolden, Obi and Giles all have issues and Tatum and Bolden are still just barely back. Foul trouble could be a big deal, especially if there are officials who are calling games in a manner Duke’s not really used to. It shouldn’ happen as much later, but this team can get gassed.

Given the history of these two programs, is it fair to consider this a rivalry game 25 years later?

I dunno. Not one of these kids was even born when Duke upset Vegas in 1991.

If you will, allow me a brief memory.

I got to go to that game. It was incredible. The UNC-Kansas game was first and seeing Dean Smith get tossed was a real treat for Duke fans, not to mention Duke didn’t have to worry about them anymore.

The Vegas fans were an experience for the rest of us. The Duke, KU and UNC fans were a lot more provincial. I remember a little old lady in a leather mini skirt and a T-shirt that said the NCAA don’t know diddly, a take off on the Bo Jackson Nike campaign.

When the Vegas team came in the first time, they were hissed and you could tell they were not at ease.

Outside some guys were selling back-to-back T-shirts for like $30 bucks.

The game itself was incredibly tense and good. I had kind of noticed the Rebels weren’t playing that great in the tournament – Georgetown should never have been close – and I thought Duke had a chance. But you can’t imagine how deflating the 1990 game was on our side. Vegas was impossibly great that year.

When Bobby Hurley hit that three to cut the lead back to two, the excitement was incredible. And remember this was when you guys were the hated team, not us. We were the fresh faces then.

So after Larry Johnson balked on his shot, I knew Duke was going to win. When your star is scared to shoot, it makes it tough for anyone else to dare and the best Vegas could do was a long three.

When the buzzer went off...I’ve never seen anything like that. All three fan bases – even UNC I think – were rooting against Vegas. It was an epic moment. Some guy about 70 or so ran up and down the stairs high fiving people. It was an astounding victory and the single best sports event I’ve ever attended. I guess some Duke-UNC games are right there but the stakes have never been as high.

All that said, I kind of miss Tark. I do think a lot of the criticism was fair. He did cut corners, certainly, and did a lot of things he was not supposed to do. But there’s no doubting that he was a great coach and UNLV has never been the same without him.