The Duke Blue Devils once again have the look of a team with national championship DNA. In this case, the specific strand of DNA comes from the same band of brothers in a particular family. Tre Jones is not the first member of his family to propel Duke into the Elite Eight.
All you have to do is go back four years ago, to the last time Duke made the Final Four and won it all.
Many will remember Grayson Allen’s clutch minutes against Wisconsin in the 2015 national championship game. Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor were also indispensable pieces of Mike Krzyzewski’s one-and-done national title team. This 2019 Duke crew is trying to replicate that feat and is now halfway there, with three wins down and three to go in the NCAA Tournament after Friday night’s victory over Virginia Tech.
If you were to pick out one common link between 2015 and 2019 Duke other than the omnipresent Coach K, you have to go to one place before and above anyone or anything else: A Jones brother is leading the charge.
Tyus Jones was Duke’s best player in that national title game against Wisconsin, and he — more than Okafor or Winslow — was the most unflappable player on that Duke team. If one is to talk about “national championship DNA” in relationship to this 2019 Duke group, Tre Jones — Tyus’s younger brother — stood out as the key reason the Blue Devils survived a tremendous performance from Virginia Tech.
The Hokies’ game plan was sound: Make Tre Jones hit threes. Jones was not a strong 3-point shooter during the regular season. He very rarely made threes in bunches.
Friday night, he was a strong 3-point shooter. He made threes in bunches.
Duke's 3-point shooting was bad tonight… except for Tre Jones.
That's the March X-factor performance which advances teams in brackets against good opponents.
Jones 5 of 7 on 3s
Non-Jones: 1 of 12 on 3s
— Matt Zemek (@MattZemek) March 30, 2019
Duke missed more threes from non-Jones sources after that tweet was posted. Virginia Tech was wise to continue to let non-Jones players shoot long balls, but it needed to get on Jones’ shooting hand after his first three makes. It did not, and that made all the difference.
This next tweet puts Jones’s display in fuller perspective:
This is the first time since Nov. 19 that Tre Jones has made more than one 3-pointer. He’s made five.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 30, 2019
The alchemy of a successful March run depends on having a star such as Zion Williamson and a second star such as R.J. Barrett who can and will draw a lot of attention from a defense, but as everyone could see on Friday night, a deep run in Bracketville also depends on players rising above their normal level of play or doing things they often didn’t do in the regular season (if not both).
Sometimes, a superstar does this, as Danny Manning did with Kansas in 1988 or Kemba Walker with Connecticut in 2011. Sometimes, it’s an obscure role player such as walk-on Tim Henderson, who saved Louisville in the 2013 Final Four national semifinals against Wichita State. Sometimes, it’s a player who resides between those two extremes… such as Tre Jones.
Tyus was a better and more luminous college player, but both Jones brothers have displayed a knack for owning the bright lights in late March. Winning DNA is something every program and coach “Jones” for, but only Duke has the Jones factor right now.
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