How Jeremy Roach, Paolo Banchero pushed Duke beyond Texas Tech

As Duke pushed through to the Elite Eight with a win over Texas Tech, the Blue Devils put together one of their top offensive performances of the season. Considering the opponent and the win-or-go-home stakes, this was a brilliant showing, especially from Paolo Banchero and Jeremy Roach.

Matched with the No. 1 defense in the country, Duke scored 1.17 points per possession (58.3 eFG%), while shooting 13-of-17 on attempts at the rim, according to Bart Torvik’s shot data. In terms of points allowed per possession, this was Tech’s worst game of the 2021-22 campaign; it marked just the second time this season that the Red Raiders allowed over 1.1 points per possession.

Overall, Duke shot 51.9 percent from the floor, which is the highest single-game field goal percentage vs. Texas Tech’s defense this season. The Blue Devils were 21-of-35 on 2-point attempts: 60 percent, which is the second-highest single-game 2-point shooting percentage against the Red Raiders this season, too.

Banchero displayed his entire skill set. He bullied and spun around every defender Texas Tech threw at him. It was a masterpiece from the Seattle native, who pumped in 22 points (7-of-12 FGA), drained three 3-pointers, dished out four assists and pilfered three steals.

Roach, meanwhile, continued his inspired play of late. The sophomore guard simply lived in the paint against a defense that’s hellbent on keeping any and all ball-handlers away from the rim.

Roach vs. The Switch

Jeremy Roach is on one right now. With Mike Krzyzewski needing someone to take over primary ball-handling duties, Roach is playing the best basketball of his life.

Roach went for 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting (7-of-10 2PA) and dished out four assists. Similar to the Michigan State win last week, Roach made every big play down the stretch.

Before the season started, I wrote about the importance for Roach to come on as a downhill driver for Duke’s half-court offense.

Regardless, the development of Roach will likely factor into the overall ceiling of this team. Duke has the athletes and enough talent to be really good and win a bunch of games. If Roach makes strides as an initiator (when called upon) and spot-up threat, then he’ll provide another important offensive gear as a lead ball handler.

Well, it’s happening now.

Texas Tech switches 1-5 and funnels every action on the sides of the floor away from the middle and towards the baseline. It’s not easy, but one of the ways to unlock this vaunted defense is to create automatic switches with a ball screen and then pick at the matchup.

The Blue Devils aren’t doing anything crazy here; it’s simple 1-5 pick-and-roll. When Bryson Williams, TTU’s center, switches out, Roach isolates, uses his hesitation handle and gets downhill for a drop-off pass to Mark Williams.

Looking at Roach’s final stat line, I picked out 20 “Game Events,” which consists of 11 field goal attempts, five assists and four turnovers. (Roach went 1-of-2 on FTA, but his two trips to the line came on an and-one finish and a late-game take foul, with him missing the front end of the 1-and-1.)

This handiwork from Roach included some CP3-inspired efforts while attacking the ball-screen switch. On this possession, Roach lulls Bryson Williams with his dribble, gets to his spot and lofts in an elbow jumper.

Zeroing in on “Game Events” that came vs. a pick-and-roll switch — usually with one of Texas Tech’s big men (Williams or Kevin Obanor) switched out — Roach had 10 events vs. a switch, which resulted in a total of 15 points.

      • Field goal attempts: 5-of-6 FGA, 10 points
      • Assists: 2 assists, 5 points
      • Turnovers: 2 (both off passes)

This is really good stuff from Roach, especially if you factor in game and time situations.

Observing these events (FGA, turnovers, assists) paints only a portion of the picture, though. I didn’t chart every secondary (hockey) assist, nor potential assist from Roach — possessions where the second-year guard worked a switch and made passes that didn’t directly result in points.

Once again, Roach gets Williams on a switch. The 6-foot-8 Williams sags off Roach, almost goading him into shooting a 3-pointer. Roach doesn’t take the bait, though. Instead, he attacks the space, which gets Tech’s defense moving and looking at the ball. Wendell Moore Jr., a savvy off-ball mover, shakes up the wing, catches a pass from Roach and drives left — building up even more advantage.

By the time the ball finds Banchero, he gets to attack a bent defense, which is really bad news for Texas Tech and the rim, apparently.

Paolo, The Cartographer

Banchero’s court mapping is so advanced. He’s seeing the floor and all nine of the other pieces on it in real time: where they are currently and where they’ll move depending on his next decision.

The locations of AJ Griffin and Mark Williams are of the utmost importance for Banchero, too. He wants to create kick-outs to Griffin and lobs or drop-off passes for Williams in the paint.

Here’s more two-man game/spread pick-and-roll with Roach and Banchero, which results in Williams head-tapping on another defender.

This is insane stuff for a 6-foot-10, 250-pound teenager. It’s one thing to be able to scan the defense; however, it’s an entirely different ballgame to make reads and live-dribble passes. There’s absolutely zero processing delay: see man, hit man.

One of the other things that stands out is Bachero’s ability to sense help coming to him at the nail.

Duke comes out in its standard Horns set here; Roach dribbles left off a screen from Williams and gets another switch. Banchero lifts over for a pass and immediately drives right, no hesitation. As this happens, Davion Warren commits a no-no: he helps off the strong-side corner, shading Banchero at the nail. That’s especially risky vs. Griffin, a lights-out 3-point shooter.

As usual, Griffin and Banchero are on the same page here, like they’ve been all season. With Warren helping at the nail, Griffin relocates deeper in the corner, thus creating a little more real estate for him to launch from deep.

Banchero’s reading multiple layers of the court and taking chances with his passes. Somehow, Banchero has found the ideal mix. In 37 minutes of actions — with high usage (23.6 percent) and a large creation load — Banchero had just one turnover vs. Texas Tech, one of the best teams in the country at creating steals.

Currently, Banchero has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s also averaging 3.9 assists per 40 minutes.

Once again, Banchero attacks from the middle. He starts left, only to spin back right, which is arguably his signature move (apologies to the stutter rip). As he spins, though, Clarence Nadolny shows help at the nail. Banchero, however, senses or sees this coming, moves the ball to a spot that’s out of the defender’s reach and hits Griffin for another relocation 3.

According to CBB Analytics, Banchero has assisted on 38 field goals for Williams this season, along with 19 on Griffin field goals. This means 48 percent of Banchero’s total assists have gone to either Williams or Griffin.

Finding Synergy: The Devils Is In The Details

Duke’s offense is clicking at the moment — due in part to how well the pieces fit together. It’s important to have talent, but developing a rhythm vital, too. That flow is what amplifies an offense beyond the sum or its players.

Let me tell you: Duke has some pretty good players on this roster.

Banchero is the fulcrum of everything in the middle of the floor. Now Roach is emerging as another playmaker — attacking with a live dribble and making good decisions. Those efforts are aided by the fact that he gets to play with Williams and Banchero, two guys who possess gravity as screeners.

Defenses must react depending on how and where Banchero and Williams roll or slip. Williams is the lob threat, while Banchero glides into vacant areas and attacks the space.

Of course, AJ Griffin augments these looks as the most dangerous floor-spacer (45.4 3P%) in the tournament.

Williams threw down four more dunks in the win over Texas Tech. The 7-footer is up to 91 dunks on the season, which ranks No. 2 nationally, behind only Cliff Omoruyi of Rutgers (93). A dunk is a high-percentage field goal attempt that counts for only two points, but hit on enough slams and there will be a cascading value-add for the offense.

I thought this late-game possession highlighted the gravity Williams has a vertical lob threat. With Duke trailing by one point, Roach gets a pass from Griffin and isolates on the wing. Kevin McCullar sets up in his “no-middle” stance — ready to push Roach to the baseline. McCullar, however, is counting on back-side help, which never arrives.

With Mark Williams in the lane and on the weak-side of the rim, Bryson Williams is afraid to shade over to the other side of the paint and help McCullar, which would in turn leave Williams unattended at the rim. Instead, Roach glides in for two, with the help much too late.

Wendell Moore Jr., an excellent hit-ahead passer, is the kickstarter for Duke’s transition game. In the half-court offense, though, with Roach or Banchero controlling things, Moore starts buzzing around.

When he’s off the basketball, Moore doesn’t remain static. He moves with a purpose. As a result, Moore’s random cuts and relocations can quickly turn into points.

According to Synergy Sports, WMJ has scored 1.58 points per possession on cuts (80.8 FG%) and 1.2 points per spot-up possession (62.2 eFG%) this season. These are excellent numbers, by the way: 93rd percentile in spot-up efficiency and 96th percentile in cut efficiency.

Trevor Keels has the ability to find a groove in this capacity, too. After a strong outing vs. Michigan State, Keels played a more marginal role against Texas Tech. There’s still lots of basketball left, though. Keels could still find his moment. He certainly doesn’t lack for talent, either.

Geometric Patterns — Via Jeremy Roach

During the win over TTU, Roach did a wonderful job observing the floor and took whatever advantage was given. Matchups and schemes boil down to geometry in the half court. Roach spotted all of the angles.

On this possession, Duke runs its “Buckeye” set, with slice/stagger action on the weak side. Theo John sets the slice screen for Keels, which Tech switches — placing Williams on the Duke guard. Keels clears to the corner, taking Williams with him. Banchero and John set staggered screens for Griffin, which occupies the weak-side help defender. Adonis Arms is in no-middle position, ready to funnel Roach baseline; however, all of his teammates are tied up or out of position. Roach spots this and pounces, slashing downhill for a layup.

This is how you find the fly in the ointment of Texas Tech’s seemingly impenetrable defense.

One of the other ways to attack Texas Tech’s defense is with secondary offense — going early before this crew can sink its teeth and lock up.

This is something Kansas did well against Texas Tech in the Big 12 title game, too: hustle, run the floor and quickly get into actions.

Elevators (Me & You)

Throughout the 2021-22 season, the Blue Devils have mixed in some Elevator Doors action for their offense. In these Elevator sets, Duke will come out in a Horns alignment (both bigs lifted above the foul line) and one of the off-ball wings — Griffin or Moore — will move to the paint and then race up the middle of the lane. As that happens, Banchero and Williams come together for a double screen.

It hasn’t always worked, but Duke at least has in-game reps with the action. That includes a possession against Florida State — another 1-5 switch defense.

During the Second Round win over Michigan State, Duke went to its Elevator action with an after-timeout (ATO) play call. This time, though, as Griffin lifted up through the doors, Michigan State center Julius Marble hedged out to deny an open 3. Quickly, Duke countered and slipped Williams behind Marble.

With the defense lifted and Moore spaced to the weak-side corner, there’s zero back-side help and Williams finishes with relative ease.

For the Texas Tech matchup, Duke ran same variation of its Elevator action on five different possessions — an amount that would please Big Boi and Andre 3000.

Similar to the MSU game, Duke ran it for the first time just before halftime. Arms was actually in decent help position, but he scrambled back out to Keels, thinking Roach would skip it to his backcourt running mate. This left the wrong man wide open in the middle: Banchero for two points and the foul.

In total, the Blue Devils scored on two of these Elevator possession: 1.0 points per possession. On both occasions, it was Banchero who slipped out and found points.

However, on one of the other possessions, Roach was able to take advantage of a lifted/no-middle defense. As he drove to the rim, he created a wide-open 3-point opportunity for Keels.

All Flex, Zone: Theo John

One of the concerns for Duke heading into this game centered on how it would defend the stretch frontcourt of Bryson Williams and Kevin Obanor. Frontcourt spacers and 5-out offenses have given the Blue Devils troubles this season.

Moreover, these offenses take Duke out of its base defense. The Blue Devils want to guard pick-and-roll action by having Mark Williams drop. From there, all other actions are funneled in his direction. (They’ll Ice side ball screens, too.)

Marcus Santos-Silva, another key cog in Texas Tech’s frontcourt rotation, played only eight minutes in this game. It’s the first time since early December that Santos-Silva — who doesn’t stretch the floor like Obanor and Williams — played fewer than 11 minutes in a game.

When Santos-Silva was in, Duke could let Williams drop against ball screens, while the veteran center rolled into a crowded lane.

On the flip side, it’s a dangerous strategy to drop as a defender when the screener is willing to pop beyond the arc for a 3, as opposed to diving into the paint. It’s a deal-breaker against some teams, too.

The Red Raiders even attacked Banchero with these pick-and-pop concepts, including this drag screen look from Obanor.

When Mark Williams adjusted and started to hang tighter to the opposing 5/screen-setter, the lane opened up. One of the most ferocious rim protectors in the country (11.6 percent block rate) is now 20+ feet from the basket.

On this possession, Texas Tech runs two-man game with Terrence Shannon and Bryson Williams, which forces Mark Williams to play high. Shannon is far too explosive to expect Bates Jones to stay in front of him without any help.

Mark Adams even called some designed pindown action for his center, which forced Mark Williams to chase and guard in space.

The Blue Devils needed to make a change on the fly. Duke could’ve opted to switch more 1-5 and/or shifted Banchero to center in a small-ball lineup. That’s not what happened, though.

Instead, with about 15 minutes to play in the second half, Coach K and his staff threw a curveball at Texas Tech: a 2-3 zone defense.

As the Blue Devils emerged from a timeout, Theo John rejoined the game — now as a back-line anchor for Duke’s zone. John was the man for this moment, too. He doesn’t offer the same rim protection as Williams, obviously, but he’s physical in the paint and an excellent communicator.

At times this season, Duke has mixed in some 2-3 zone defense; however, the results aren’t super encouraging.

While in zone, Virginia and star power forward Jayden Gardner punished the Blue Devils during an early-February win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Before season started, I wrote about Duke’s potential as a zone team — mostly because it’d keep them out of pick-and-roll rotations. I was wrong on that assertion; it hasn’t really been a part of the defensive portfolio. According to Synergy Sports, less than five percent of Duke’s half-court defensive possessions this season have been in zone.

Early in the season, Duke really only used zone as something to blow up an opposing after-timeout play.

During the meat of the ACC season, it was mostly a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency tool. Again, the results weren’t great.

However, with the slate wiped clean in the postseason, the Blue Devils went to the zone and it helped get them back in the game — when they needed it most.

According to my own charting, Duke ran 16 possessions of half-court zone defense; Texas Tech scored 15 points (3-of-4 FTA) on these possessions (0.94 PPP). The Red Raiders shot just 5-of-14 (35.7 FG%) against the zone, including 2-of-7 on 3-point attempts. They also turned the ball over twice.

This is what postseason basketball is all about: being nimble and willing to adjust in the game.

The stakes have never been higher. Arkansas is next for Duke. The Razorbacks are coached by Eric Musselman, one of the best game-to-game adjusters in the college coaching ranks. He’ll have something cooked up for the Blue Devils.

However, this Duke team is playing loose and confident. It’s clear: much has changed within the span of a few weeks. And with Banchero, the Blue Devils have the ultimate trump card.

Duke basketball and Coach K are in the homestretch — on multiple fronts. It’s a lot to process, but there’s no time for all of that. Now, with only 1-3 game(s) remaining, all that’s left is a shot at immortality.

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