Long a proponent of position-less basketball, even Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted Tuesday his point guard is just that -- a point guard.
Freshman Tre Jones enters No. 1 Duke’s Wednesday night game with No. 8 North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium averaging 8.7 points per game.
North Carolina’s freshman guard Coby White averages 15.7 points per game.
Those scoring averages only tell part of the story of a one-on-one battle that will go a long way toward determining who wins round one of this year’s Duke-UNC rivalry games.
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“Tre is a little bit more of a so-called point guard,” Krzyzewski said.
While White is a scoring point guard, Jones is adept defensively and in distributing the ball on offense to Duke’s primary scorers, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson.
Different players, same position, both possessing the ability to impact the game in big ways.
The 6-5 White has started all but one game for UNC (20-5, 10-2 ACC). He’s made 43.6 percent of his shots, including 38 percent of his 3-pointers. Only 6-8 senior forward Cam Johnson (16.3) averages more points for the Tar Heels.
UNC teams are known for getting the ball up the court quickly for a shot in live ball situations no matter how an opponent’s possession ends. Krzyzewski said White is as adept at doing that as anyone he’s coached against in this game.
“He does it in a different way because he’s a scorer,” Krzyzewski said. “After he advances it, if you lose him he’s an outstanding shooter. He’s been one of the best players in the league and in the country really. He’s the real deal.”
At 6-2, Jones has earned praise for his play while succeeding in different areas for the Blue Devils (23-2, 11-1 ACC).
He’s second among Division I players nationally, and No. 1 in the ACC, in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.59). Jones averages 5.39 assists per game, making him the only player in the country averaging more than five assists per game while also maintaining an assist-to-turnover ratio above 4.0. That stat caught Williams’ attention.
“I can’t imagine any one is better,” Williams said. “He gets the ball to his guys and he doesn’t turn it over and he can score.”
Jones has turned in double-figure scoring performances in four of Duke’s last five games. He had 13 on six of nine shooting from the field when the Blue Devils topped N.C. State 94-78 last Saturday for their ninth consecutive win.
Jones’ defense sets him apart and is why Krzyzewski considers him the team’s most valuable player.
He plays 31.8 minutes per game for Duke and averages just 1.8 fouls per game while recording 1.9 steals per game.
“He puts pressure on the ball from the point guard and makes it hard to get into any offensive set that you want,” Williams said. “He can do it on the other side of the 10-second line. He doesn’t have to wait until you get down 20 feet from the basket. So he disrupts you offensively. He can also keep you in front of him. He doesn’t get beat on the drive. So really he give them the opportunity to deny the passes to the wings, deny the passes into the post because he can stay in front of the ball.”
UNC counts on White to get them points. But Jones has proven time and again he can shut down scoring guards.
Jones guarded Shamorie Ponds when Duke beat St. John’s 91-61 on Feb. 2. Ponds averages 20.1 points per game but made just 3 of 11 shots for 11 points with five turnovers against Duke.
Three nights later, when Duke beat Boston College 80-55, Eagles guard Ky Bowman went 5 of 17 from the field while scoring 11 points. He averages 19.5 points per game for the season.
White has turned in some stellar scoring performances in ACC play, pouring in 33 points when UNC beat Miami, 88-85 in overtime on Feb. 9 and 27 points in a 103-82 UNC win over Virginia Tech on Jan. 21.
How he fares while facing off against Jones will be one factor that determines which team wins Wednesday night.