Duke Basketball Playbook: 2011-12

Introduction: 

What to look for this year:

There is little doubt that Duke will be very good in 2011-12. Coach K will soon become the winningest coach in men’s basketball and barring injuries or bad luck, the Blue Devils are likely to extend their string of top national 10 finishes — now at 14 in the last 15 years. But will the Devils be good enough to challenge North Carolina for ACC honors? To make another NCAA Championship run?  A lot will depend upon the continued maturation and development of the juniors and Austin Rivers learning there is not an “I” but a “D” in Duke Basketball.

While this team has more talented big men and better depth at guard, it does not have the senior leadership and dependable go-to player as in years past. With the three games played this summer in China and Dubai, we have had a glimpse of what to expect. Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry appear to have made significant improvement in their games– Ryan because he has added weight and muscle to his frame and Seth because he has worked diligently on his point guard skills. It speaks volumes that Seth was chosen as co-captain (along with the Miles and Ryan) as to what Coach K thinks of his attitude, skills, and leadership abilities. Outstanding point guards (Amaker, Hurley, Williams, Duhon, Scheyer) have always been the  straw that stirs the drink for Duke’s best teams. The inconsistent Miles Plumlee (MP1), while an imposing physical presence at center, has always had an exuberant “bull in a china shop” quality to his play and Mason Plumlee (MP2) has yet to be the dominant player his athletic talent promises. While neither player threatens Zoubek’s first three year record of fouls per minute, they do seem to commit a foul or two before they ever leave the locker room. That must change. The coaches talk about the big men being more of a focal point of the offense but the blunt truth is that neither Plumlee can create their own shot so is not a threat away from the basket. Other than passing and rebounding, Mason’s scoring went south after Kyrie was injured as his clever passing set up MP2 for easy dunks. Ryan Kelly, who hit 17 shots in a row last year, is the most versatile big man who may be the key to a special year. Since he has gotten bigger, he can play inside/out and can be a very difficult match-up problem for any defender.

With Curry, Dawkins, Rivers, and, sometimes Kelly on the perimeter I don’t anticipate many looks into the post. We know what kind of shooters Curry, Dawkins and Ryan are. That leaves the highly touted Austin (son of Doc) Rivers. I don’t want to make an invidious comparison but from what I have seen he is not as polished or mature a player or as committed a teammate as Kyrie Irving was in his brief career. (Incidentally, Kyrie is at Duke taking classes this semester—at least until the NBA strike is resolved). While a combo guard, Rivers is undoubtedly physically gifted but not necessarily emotionally mature. In the summer games, he appeared petulant when he didn’t get the calls and often was not an enthusiastic defender. Time and coaching should solve those flaws—but a talented, egocentric freshman (ref. Vince Carter) does not endear himself to his teammates and is a tough coaching challenge.  Tyler Thornton, who is an adrenalin fix for any lethargic team effort, and a bigger, more confident Josh Hairston will be instrumental role players who can give the starters well needed rests that will keep them fresh for the end of games and the season.

While the other freshmen are a highly rated group none appear ready for Prime Time. Quinn Cook is a talented, pure point guard with an opportunity for major minutes but Curry embarrassed him in the recent Blue-White game and we all know that in Coach K’s universe poor defense is a ticket for a nice view of the game from the bench. Alex Murphy, who has been compared to Kyle Singler (such comparisons are often the kiss of death), Michael Gbinlie, and Marshall Plumlee (MP3) are all talented and promising but probably a year away from making major contributions.

Carolina is a runaway preseason #1 pick as they should be. However, Carolina was a very inconsistent team last year before Kendall Marshall became the starting point guard. Marshall distributes the ball so well (reminds me of Jason Kidd in college) that the other players do not have to create their shot, they just catch and shoot. If a team can neutralize Marshall (Thornton and Cook successfully played against him in high school), UNC is a very different team.

However the season unfolds, it should be another exciting year!

Alan adds:

As all the commentators and, indeed, even Coach K and Bill , have said, this is a team with much potential and much talent, but no one who has even approached fulfilling it…yet.  That will be what this season is about.  Who fulfills the as yet untapped potential.  Most of the talk has been about the offense, but I believe that the litmus test for this team will be how it establishes and grows into its defensive identity.  What wasn’t much discussed about the last games in the NCAA tournament, was the impact the insertion of Kyrie into the lineup had on the defense.  Duke’s defense is a cohesive team concept, and it was the defense in the second half of both the Michigan and Arizona games that seemed to lose the intensity that had become a season long trade-mark.  So, I think that how Coach K melds this group into a ferocious and effective defensive unit will tell the tale about the success of this season.  Duke has shot blocking for sure.  Given what the starting lineup seems to be, a serious question will be who can match up with the high scoring wings of the opponent?  If Duke plays 3 guards, can Dawkins fill that role?  Can the perimeter make penetration difficult?  Intriguing questions.  Both Bill and I think Duke will be better toward the end of the year because there is more need for development of play on both ends, and experimentation with lineups and differing combinations than in past years.

I read, as Bill did, that Seth Curry “embarrassed” the freshman point guard, Quinn Cook in the Blue-White game.  I believe that Cook will be a major force at Duke (even if not this year).  I saw him play four times in high school last year (on TV) – twice for Oak Hill and twice in All-Star games (both times with Rivers; they were amazing together,).  I was very impressed with him on both ends of the court.  He is a superb passer and excellent outside shooter.  He displayed a great head for the game and for taking over in the clutch.  Very impressively, he gets to the rim and is both a tremendous finisher and great on the dish.  As optimistic as all are about Seth’s transition to the point, it is a sobering statistic from the August trip that Duke (and also Curry individually) had more turnovers than assists. Cook had (or has, a troubling thought) a knee that was rickety enough to keep him from playing on the August trip.  He played only 13 minutes in the Blue-White game, which means it is possible that his defense is still adversely impacted by the injury (that’s the good and the bad news).  We should all keep an eye on the point guard play.

I didn’t see last night’s streamed exhibition game,  but some interesting observations from the box score are available.  Duke won 87-62, but led by only 5 at the half:

1)      Duke forced 21 turnovers, including 16 steals; but had only 1 block.  Offensively, Duke had 19 turnovers (and 19 assist; Bellarmine had 10 steals.  Duke was only 2-14 from behind the arc (Seth 1-6; Dawkins 0-3; Rivers 0-3; Thornton 1-2)

2)     Point Guard: Seth took 17 shots in a game-high 31 minutes (Austin was second with 10).  7-17,.  Tyler Thornton logged the second most minutes of any Duke player (24) and had 3 assists to one turnover. ;  Tyler had 5 points, 2 boards (1 offensive) and 3 steal.  Quinn Cook had an interesting line in only 11 minutes: 2-2 from the field (driving layup highlighted in the DBR report), 1-2 from the line, 5 assists against a turnover and 2 steals.  I repeat in 11 minutes.  Seth in 31 minutes had 18 points, 5 assists against 3 turnovers and 2 steals.  He had 3 assists against 1 turnover.

3)      Bigs and freshman wings: Bellarmine was very under sized, so no real conclusions (or even tentative conclusions) can really be drawn.  Mason was 8-8 w 9 boards (3 offensive) in 23 minutes.  But Mason has no assists and 3 turnovers, which are somewhat troubling stats.  He had Duke’s only block.  Brother Miles played 20 minutes, 4-6 from the floor with 8 boards (1 offense).  Kelly, who did not start (Alex Murphy did, along with Rivers, Curry and the two elder Plumlees), was 3-6 from floor and 4-5 from the line in 23 minutes.  Only 1 board is the troubling stat.  Hairston and Murphy played 15 and 13 minutes respectively while Gbinije logged 7 minutes.  (5 points among them; Gbinije had 3) (Marshall did not play, suggesting a red shirt may be coming, and that Bill is correct that these three freshman, (and I add Hairston) are at least a year away from contributing.

4)     Dawkins and Austin:  Dawkins played only 15 minutes and was 1-5 (0-3 from behind the arc).  He also had 2 defensive boards to go with an assist and a steal.  Underwhelming; I wonder if there is an underlying story.  Austin is still the enigma that will be really important in how the team grows.  He started and logged 19 minutes.  He was 5-10 (including 0-3 from deep) and 3-4 from the line for 13 points on 10 shots.  He had 3 offensive boards and 1 defensive rebound to go with 1 assist and 3 turnovers.  DBR reports some immature antics.

I am really excited about the season for many of the reasons that Bill expressed so eloquently in his first paragraphs.  There will be highs and lows (as always), and the schedule early on is as difficult as that of any team in the country.  Duke’s normally fast start (has Duke ever lost in November?) might not happen this year, but don’t abandon ship.  This will be a terrific hoops year.

DUKE – SHAW AND THE  PRE-SEASON

The pre-season is over and Jim Sumner’s posting on DBR  covers most of what I was going to write. However, I did see the game in 3-D on  GoDuke.com, so I will add some observations:

Depending on the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent,  there will be more fluid and flexible rotation of starters and players from  game to game and situation to situation. Ryan Kelley is most versatile player  with the highest basketball IQ. The question is whether he can maintain his  strength and energy for thirty some games? Seth Curry is a close second and one  of the keys to the season.  I hope I’m  wrong, but my feeling is that Austin Rivers is talented but overhyped (If he is  thinking “one and done”, he better be prepared to play overseas). Austin does  not have a fundamentally sound three point shot nor is he a dependable free  throw shooter—but he has shown much more interest in playing defense; Andre  “Microwave” Dawkins may be most effective coming off the bench firing threes  (he had three in a row last night) against a zone; Quinn Cook is the most  talented point guard but needs to be a better defender; Mason Plumlee, a  terrific rebounder,  has developed a nice
jump hook to go with his dunk and creative  passing—otherwise his offense is limited; Miles is strong and  enthusiastic but still inconsistent; Tyler Thornton is a high energy APP for  short periods; the rest are spot players until a freshman develop more confidence.  Marshall Plumlee (MP3) has not made an appearance in either exhibition game so  it  appears he has been given a Red  Shirt.

The defense has to get better as Shaw pretty much shredded  the pressing man-to-man last night. But the thing that worries me the most is  free throw shooting. Over the decades, one key to Coach K’s almost 1,000 wins  has been good free throw shooting– particularly at the end of games. This team  has not demonstrated that trait. You don’t want MP1 or MP2 shooting when the  game on the line but one of two needs to be in the game at the end, Kelly is  reliable but only an average ball handler, you want the ball in Rivers hands  because he can break down an opponent but has not indicated he can shoot any  number close to 80%, Thornton is statistically the best but not a starter,  Curry is solid, and Dawkins is good but not a natural ball handler. So, defense  and free throw shooting will determine the degree of success for this season.

Sumner:

Exhibition games serve a lot of purposes. But the most  important is finding out about your team in a non-competitive situation. Of  course, few things about Duke Basketball are non-competitive, certainly not games with another bunch of guys wearing jerseys with different names on them.

But there was a lot of getting-to-know-you in Duke’s  scrimmage wins over Bellarmine (87-62) and Shaw (80-66). There’s a lot being  made in both the local and national media about the loss of Nolan Smith, Kyle  Singler and Kyrie Irving. These are not negligible losses. A Final Four Most  Outstanding Player, an ACC Player of the Year and the first pick in an NBA  draft. Not a lot of precedents for that.

But Mike Krzyzewski has been down this road before; 1987,  following the loss of Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie and David Henderson; 2000,  following the loss of Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, William Avery and Corey  Maggette, the Williams-Dunleavy-Boozer class, the Redick-Williams-Dockery  class. Somehow Duke seems to reload rather than rebuild. Talent has  a lot to do with it. Duke has recruited at least one prep All-American every  class since Dawkins and Alarie came in the fall of 1982.

But there’s more to it than that. Clemson coach Brad  Brownell was asked about this last month in Charlotte. His response was almost  zen-like. When it’s someone’s time at Duke, they’re ready. When it’s Ryan  Kelly’s time, he’s ready. When it’s Seth Curry’s time, he’s ready.” You get the  drift.

So, whose time is it? What do we know about Duke that we  didn’t know two weeks ago? Depends on whether you’ve been paying attention. There’s  been lots of talk on the Duke boards about Duke’s starting lineup, emphasis on  the singular. But I suspect we’ll see a much more fluid dynamic this season,  with players moving in and out of the lineup, up and down in the rotation,  depending on a lot of variables. Playing-time-is-earned-not-given is  coaching-cliche 101. But in Duke’s case, it’s a cliche supported by three  decades of meritocracy. It really does work that way at Duke. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nine different players  started during Duke’s 1991 season, as Krzyzewski replaced three senior starters  from the season before. We all know how that turned out.

None of this is to suggest that we should expect a  well-oiled machine at this point in the season and we certainly haven’t seen  one. Freshman Alex Murphy started against Bellarmine and was the 11th player  off the bench against Shaw. Andre Dawkins came off the bench against Shaw, made  four-of-five three pointers in the first half, got the starting nod in the  second half and promptly went scoreless. We’ve seen lineups with all three  point guards, we’ve seen lineups with only one guard and pretty much everything  in between. Think master chef tinkering in the kitchen.

Duke’s opponents didn’t exactly roll over. Bellarmine won  the D-2 national championship last season, while Shaw captured the CIAA  Tournament. Both are experienced, tournament-tested teams. Both made Duke look  vulnerable at times, confused and tentative. At this point, Mike Krzyzewski seems more interested in  process than results. He stated that he thought Duke played better than the
score against Shaw. “We got the ball inside and got to the line. We left a lot  of points on the floor. We’ve got to complete plays. We played fine. We have to  be more efficient.”

Getting to the foul line was an adventure. Duke shot an  abysmal 11-24 from the line. Krzyzewski says he isn’t concerned. “I don’t make  too much of it. First, you’ve got to get to the line. I have confidence we’ll  shoot it well.” Note that Duke was a solid 17-23 from the line against  Bellarmine.

There certainly were some positives in the two wins. Duke  seems serious about using its size. Duke’s bigs scored 42 points against  Bellarmine, 41 against Shaw, 83 of the 167 total points.

And that was with Miles Plumlee struggling against Shaw,  shooting only 4-10. “I was pretty frustrated,” Plumlee said. “I had a few  opportunities to make things go my way and I made weak plays instead of strong  plays. You only get so many opportunities in a game to start a rhythm.”

But Brother Mason went 6-6 from the field, including a trio  of sweet jump hooks. Krzyzewski says he expects more of the same. “Our guys are  passing the ball to the bigs and we have good stuff called for the bigs. It’s  got to be a strength of ours.”

Freshman Austin Rivers came in for special praise from  Krzyzewski, but not just for his offense. “He did a good job on [Tony] Smith.  He took what was there [on offense] and used his defense for energy.”

Krzyzewski acknowledged that it took Duke some time to  figure out Shaw. Duke led only 34-29 with 7:30 left in the first half. “They  have a pair of guards who are really good. They’re older and experienced and  can really handle the ball. We started keeping people in front of us. We  stepped in more aggressively. Our defense the last 24 minutes was very good.”

Krzyzewski has stated on numerous occasions that this Duke  team can score the ball but needs to prove it can stop the other team. Tyler  Thornton got a start against Shaw for just that reason. ‘Seth has to be our  point guard. We started Tyler for defense not ball handling. Seth is going to  have the ball in his hands.”

Curry had 30 points and ten assists in the two games.

Thornton and freshman Quinn Cook combined for zero points in  29 combined minutes, although they did contribute four assists, three by Cook.  Cook had five assists against Bellarmine, eight total assists in 24 minutes.  But his defense is nowhere near that of Thornton and Duke needs that defense  right now.

Duke also struggled from long range. Excluding Dawkins’  first half against Shaw, Duke is 5-30 on three-pointers in the two exhibition  games. Ryan Kelly didn’t start either game but played 23 effective
minutes off the bench in both, totaling 25 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block and 3  steals. Kelly says things are coming along. “We’re figuring out what we’re  supposed to do. It’s getting better every day. It got better today from where  we were in the exhibition game Saturday. It’s steps forward and that’s all we  can ask.”

Notes.

•Mason Plumlee  completed the exhibition season 14-14 from the field, with 30 points, 17  rebounds and a pair of blocks.

•Mike Krzyzewski said  no decision had been made on Marshall Plumlee, indicating that the youngest  Plumlee brother wouldn’t play much this season. He might not play unless there  is a significant injury in the post rotation.

•Duke never trailed against Shaw and faced  only a 2-0 deficit against Bellarmine.

DUKE – BELMONT

Belmont is a mid-major of lightly recruited players who stay for four years, listen to their coach, practice their threes, and play a very good game of team basketball. So, they fly under the radar dominating a minor conference and winning games by 17 points. Consequently, they are not a team you want to meet in the NCAA tournament as Duke learned in 2008 when Gerald Henderson went coast to coast in the last few seconds to avoid a second first round flame out.

Tonight Duke started slowly but led by nine at the half. They were up by 16 with only about ten minutes to go when the Blue Devils seemed less intense or over confident or just plain fatigued by the Belmont’s ten man rotation. Whatever the reason, Belmont started hitting threes, Duke started making bad, sloppy offensive decisions,  playing less intensely on defense, and making too many turnovers. Suddenly, it was a one point game with less than a minute to go. Curry, who on the previous possession went  to the basket too soon for a turnover, tried again, went up for a contested jump shot but at the last second dumped the ball back behind the three point line to Andre Dawkins ( who was 0-4 from there). He drained as pure a clutch three as you will ever see. Belmont got a quick score. Ryan Kelly sealed the win by making two foul shots, putting Duke up by four. Clark hit a meaningless 3-point prayer at the buzzer.

Curry (16 points, 4 assists) had a heady game until he appeared to tire from the Belmont pressure. Mason Plumlee (13 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists) was a monster on the boards and appears to have developed a go-to offensive move (a hook shot with either hand) to go with his dunk. I don’t know why more big men don’t utilize it.  This is the shot that kept Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul- Jabber) playing in the NBA until he was about sixty. Ryan Kelly (12 points, 6 rebounds) was his usual efficient self. However, it was Tyler Thornton (10 points, 3 steals), who again was the catalyst for so many good things happening and just plays himself into more minutes and right into your heart. That leaves Austin Rivers (16 points). Maybe it is just my reaction to all the hype, maybe it is him saying he wants LeBron James one on one, but I just don’t see all the exceptionalism others do– he is not yet even the best or most valuable player on the Duke squad. Memo to Austin: You are not high school any more, that was last year. This is the ACC.  Sure, you can shake and bake and break your man down but then what?  Then, if you run into a forest on big men pull up for a floater, or if you don’t get a call, don’t just throw up a prayer, pass to an open man. To his credit, Austin’s body language and defense is much improved over that on the China trip so coaching appears to be having an impact.

Over the years, we have been spoiled because we have had a go-to player—most recently, JJ, Scheyer, Nolan Smith—who could be counted upon to protect a lead. But they did it with good ball handling and making free throws, not NBA threes. Threes are great but in the last seconds, free throws are a better bet.

Alan adds:

Midway through the second half with Duke up by 16, the lady I was with went to sleep.  She must have been channeling Austin Rivers, who went to sleep at about the same time.  Unlike Austin, my lady awoke at the right time.  Gracias! (Editor: So, you thought Alan was just a basketball geek.)

Belmont looked like a terrific team for this early in the year.  They played smart cohesive basketball against a Duke team that had greater size and more highly rated talent.  It was a very even game. Duke had 33 boards (11 offensive); Belmont had 33 (10 offensive); Duke had 14 assists; Belmont 15; Duke had 8 steals; Belmont 9; Duke had 19 turnovers; Belmont 17; Duke had 2 blocks; Belmont 1; Duke shot 43% (47.4 from 3) and Belmont shot 47.4% (but only 31.6 from 3 because of their miserable first half).  Duke won the game at the foul line 20-26 versus Belmont’s 16-22.  If Belmont is not as good as they appeared last night, Duke is in for a long season, but I think Belmont is that good.

Mason, of course, had a monster game and really was the dominant player on the floor – especially in the second half.  He is a rebounder.  It will be interesting to see if he can do the same against quality bigs, like Henson and Zeller of UNC.   Doris Burke was singing his praises and actually proving herself a very perceptive commentator.  After that, it was a pretty mixed bag.  Great plays and turnovers; good defensive stands and then sieve like defense–a paragon to inconsistency.   Duke gave up a ton of open looks in the last part of the second half.  Very un-Duke like.  Seth was clutch at times but had 3 turnovers and does not give confidence when he has the ball.  Duke’s point guard play was not that of an elite team.  Quinn Cook looked awful on defense in his 8 minutes (missed both shots and committed a foul).  Thornton looked the best, but even he seemed out of sync on defense at the end of the game, where his defense kept putting Belmont on the line (and eventually Thornton on the bench with 5 fouls).  Duke played essentially a 7 man rotation (Thornton 24 minutes before fouling out and Miles 17 minutes); very thin for this time of the year, and Belmont made Duke pay, looking much fresher down the stretch.  Dawkins was almost a no-show in 21 minutes, until he buried that clutch three from very deep.  What a shot!  But where was he before that?

Now, about Austin.  He looked terrific in the first half.  He was visibly the best player on the floor, and then it was as if he went to sleep in the last part of the game.  He had 5 turnovers against 1 assist (which came in the first half).  I thought his defense went very south toward the end, and his offense was exuberant, but horribly inefficient.   Coach K is banking the season on Austin.   I say that because he logged 38 minutes (Mason 35), but I fear he fatigued (and may not be in great shape after a summer of international ball).  Whatever it was (is), his development will be the bell weather for this team.  He was 3-9 from the floor (2-4 from 3 and 8-10 from the line – 7-8 in the first half), which means he was 1-5 from inside the arc.  5 turnovers is a significant figure for a team that has not jelled in the backcourt…yet.

A quick turnaround for this afternoon’s game.  Unfortunately, I won’t see it live (driving to Boston for a family event), but will anxiously await Bill’s analysis.  What an exciting first game.

DUKE – PRESBYTERIAN

As expected, Duke hammered Presbyterian for Coach K’s win number 902 tying him with Bobby Knight for the most wins by a men’s college basketball coach. It is rather incredible that two men so closely associated with each other hold that record. As sports fans, we are so very fortunate to have witnessed most of his victories and championships.

While the game was a blow out, I thought there were some interesting aspects:

  • Mason (MP2) continues to play with more offensive confidence around the basket demonstrating patience and fakes to create openings for his impressive, soft right and left handed jump hooks. However, his free throw percentage is a Wilt the Stilt or Shaq level embarrassment and might be costly in close games.
  • Curry and Kelly are the most efficient players on the team.MP1, the biggest and best athlete on the team, feasted on an undersized front line.
  • After hitting the crucial three last night against Belmont, Dawkins sort of became invisible as is his want from time to time.
  • Quinn Cook (10 points, 2 assists) is beginning to look more like the talented point guard he is expected to be.
  • Tyler Thornton (2 points & 2 assists) had an atypical quiet outing, but then nothing more was needed.
  • Marshall Plumlee (MP3) again did not make a playing appearance so he apparently is being red shirted but it has had no discernible effect on his interest in the action or enjoyment of his brothers’ performances.
  • As my buddy Pete in Durham points out, all the players are nice quiet kids and except for Tyler Thornton, who is a role player, there is no vocal leader or go-to player on the team.
  • The most interesting development was that for the most of the game, Austin Rivers’ body language was much improved and he was playing Duke basketball– and it had nothing to do with how many points he scored. Austin was his usual aggressive, slashing self, but he was picking his spots rather than forcing the issue and he was playing hard on defense all the time. The impression was that he looked like he enjoyed playing with his teammates as he has five assists (including passing up an uncontested layup to give a trailing MP2 a slam dunk) and no turnovers. However, what I thought most encouraging was his spontaneous, joyous towel waving celebration with all the other players on the bench when Mason drove the base line, went under the basket and made one of his patented no look, back to the basket, two handed reverse dunks, which just about blew the roof off Cameron.

Alan was travelling and did not see the game.

DUKE – MICHIGAN STATE 

On the night that Coach K won his record breaking 903rd game, it was fitting that Robert Montgomery Knight, his mentor, and Jay Bilas, one of his first high profile recruits at Duke, were the two commentators. If you were fortunate enough to watch the telecast, you learned not only a lot about how to coach and play the game of basketball but why Michael Krzyzewski has been so successful.

It is fitting that the opponent for this historic game was Michigan State and their fine coach, Tom Izzo, because his teams always play hard and tough and any win is well deserved. Consequently, the game itself  was not a masterpiece but it was the kind of gritty victory that great coaches win when their offense is only hitting on two or three cylinders. In the first half, Dawkins and Curry kept the Blue Devils in the game by scoring 23 of the 31 points. In the second half, Kelly was a major matchup problem and the defense was a lot tougher down low. The much talked about low post scoring was virtually non-existent but Dawkins (26 pts), Curry (20 pts) and Kelly (14 pts) hit 10 of 16 three point shots and 19 of 22 free throws to carry the offense with 60 of the 74 points. This is not exactly a balanced attack.

  • The talented Mr. Dawkins had a Garden Party (one literary and one musical allusion in eight words) firing beautiful, accurate rainbows, demonstrating why two years ago, I referred to him as “My Man Andre” because I thought he had one of the best three point strokes I had ever seen and that he also had the athletic talent to be a real star. Unfortunately, we have only seen flashes of that talent but not on a consistent basis. Well, undoubtedly he read my blog on the Presbyterian game (“After hitting the crucial three point shoot last night against Belmont, Andre Dawkins sort of became invisible as is his want from time to time.”) but Rivers (1-7) didn’t ( “He was picking his spots rather than forcing the issue…. He looked like he enjoyed playing with his teammates.”)
  • Curry (20 pts) had a team high 7 rebounds to go with 4 steals, 4 assists, and 1 steal to  prove once again that you don’t have to be flashy to be very effective.
  • Duke won despite a few too many knucklehead plays and by the Plumlees: Mason made three ticky-tack fouls including a technical and Miles an inexplicable technical at an inopportune time.
  • Austin (5 pts) had a “Freshman in the Garden” night with some ill-advised drives. In addition, with Duke up three and only seven seconds to go in the first half  (a classic opportunity for a drive, kick and three at the buzzer– how many times have we seen it), Austin drove the lane, was stripped, giving Michigan State  time for a quick two in transition to cut the Duke lead to one point. So, it was a potential 4 or 5 point turnaround. That kind of error often can be the difference in a game.
  • It may sound like piling on but the fact is Duke’s lead went on a 18-1 run in five minutes of the early part of the second half  when Austin Rivers was on the bench and there was better ball movement.      (There is a statistic on the +/- score differential when a player is in a  game. In the pros, Shane Battier is at the top of that statistical  pyramid.)
  • While who finishes a game is more important that who  starts, Duke is just a lot more difficult to defend and plays a lot  smarter and more sufficiently when Ryan Kelly is in the game for MP1. As Jay Bilas commented, he is a European type big
  • A score of interest: #10 Memphis beat Belmont 97-81  tonight.

Listening to interviews with Jay Bilas, Grant Hill, Shane Battier as well as seeing Bobby Hurley, Jayson Williams, Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon, Elton Brand, and Mike Dunleavy at the game just reminds me why I have so much pride in Duke Basketball.

Alan adds:

It was a glorious night for Coach K and for Duke hoops.  I, however, don’t think we should yet get too puffed up about this team (nor down on it).  The ebbs and flows of the game were striking and showed a lot about where Duke is right now.  Amazingly inconsistent.  Michigan State was horrible offensively until the last five minutes (which began to remind me of the ’92 game against Indiana in the NCAA semi-finals).  Michigan missed so many shots in close, and many in the early going were pretty open.  Duke’s interior defense improved as the game went on.  Mason especially got the hang of interior defense later in the game after being backed down and out toughed earlier.

It is worth talking about Mason a little, since his offensive game was not very efficient.  [But, how about that fabulous pass to Kelly for a dunk; and the running right handed hook; ah potential!].  Defensively, he began to make it very hard for the Spartans to get open looks in close.  Duke’s defense is still not up to Coach K standards, but Mason really anchored the back line last night, and should get large credit for that.  He played 32 minutes and 5 big defensive boards.  It was not a stellar night for him, but how he develops will have a lot to say about how this team develops.

Duke got hammered on the boards early, and stemmed the tide when the guards started rebounding and making life difficult for the State bigs after they had first grabbed the ball.  Thornton is a master at that.  Duke had only 4 offensive boards and I don’t remember a single put back point (for a team with 3 guys 6’10” or taller).  Seth and Andre had 1 more rebound combined (10: 7 for Seth) than did the Plumlees (9; Miles 4).  The lone senior on the team, and concededly an excellent athlete, is playing himself out of minutes on the court.  He played only 14 minutes (3 fouls; 2 turnovers and 2 of the 4 offensive boards).

Duke had a new “Big Three” last night.  As Bill points out, Seth, Andre and Ryan played hard and efficiently.  Kelly had an even better game than his stat line.  He is fun to watch because he knows and understands the game so well.  He was 3-3 from the floor; 2-2 from 3; and 6-6 from the line.  That’s 14 points on 3 field goal attempts.  He had 4 boards, a block and an assist with only 2 fouls and 2 two turnovers.  It seems to me he is the real deal as an all around player.  He is improving on defense.  He and Curry are the most consistent and efficient of the Duke players.

Bill has gushed about Dawkins, who had a superb night (not just shooting).  He had 3 rebounds; 4 steals and 0 turnovers to go with 8-15 from the floor (6-10 from 3); 6-6 from the line and some very solid defense (in the second half, especially).  He did that (or something like that) against Bradley last year for what turned out to be a flash in the pan.  If he can play like he did last night, Duke will be really good.  He won’t shoot like that every night, but if he remains a constant scorer and threat, and plays with that kind of intensity, he will have a star year.  It is way too early to jump on that bandwagon, given his history.  But, he has all the tools and seems to have matured into a K-type player.  K must think so too, since Andre played 38 minutes last night.  Stay tuned.

Seth was simply a star.  He was the glue.  I was completely comfortable with the ball in his hands as the game went on last night.  He also logged 38 minutes and did some clutch foul shooting (10-12).  He took only 7 shots (compared to 15 for Dawkins) and scored 20 points (4-7; 2-5 from 3; means 2-2 from inside the arc) to go with his 7 boards, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block.  Three turnovers, but he played some overall floor game.  20 points on 7 shots is efficient.  It seems to me that he will be the leader of this team.

Josh Hairston had a nice 5 minutes and it seemed to me that when he entered the game in the first half, Duke stopped being mauled on the boards.  Bill has accurately assessed Austin’s frustration (think Harrison Barnes for the early part of last year).  He obviously has the tools, and I do note that his offensive woes (huge) did not adversely affect his improving defense.  He played 23 minutes to Tyler’s 18, but it seemed clear that Duke was a better team when Thornton was the third guard for all the reasons Bill pointed out.

Four players played 30 minutes or more.  The rotation was 7 (not counting Cook’s 2 minutes nor Hairston’s 5), with Miles, Thornton and Rivers supporting the four.  Maui will certainly be interesting, as will be the development of this team throughout the season.  A real challenge for Coach K, but he has had some middling success before.

DUKE – DAVIDSON

Concern that this might be ‘Trap Game” because it came just two days after the physical, emotional 903 game with Michigan State (and the fourth game in eight days) against an experienced, well coached, and underrated opponent was confirmed when Davidson led 32-31 at the half. Fortunately, it has been all too familiar script these last few years of two distinctly different halves. One of the reasons Coach K has won 4 National Championships and 13 ACC Titles is to understand how and why he schedules his November and December games the way that he does. His strategy is to prepare his team for a long campaign and part of part of that concept involves his Army boot camp training. Namely, to prepare his teams mentally and physically for two single elimination tournaments in a row when you face a variety of opponents with only a day or two of rest, you need to be drilled to be ready for all kinds of fatigue and adversity. Belmont and Davidson are similar to Butler in that they are mid-level programs, which have recently surprised higher profile teams in the NCAA Championship. So, he wants to give his players the experience of playing against disciplined teams which rely on finesse rather than athleticism and physicality. And, with the three point line, these kinds of teams are very dangerous in close games. In addition, Davidson coach Bob McKillop is a very fine coach whom he respects. In these early contests, Coach K also wants to determine whom he can depend upon for his rotation once the serious ACC season starts.

As we anticipated, Ryan Kelly started for MP1 but pulled a Plumlee by getting two fouls in two minutes and was replaced by (surprise) Josh Hairston. That foreshadowed a slow start as the Blue Devils defense allowed Davidson not only to penetrate but also to have open threes, which kept the game too close for comfort for much too long. Predictably, Duke started the second half with much more defensive intensity and, as we know, good Duke defense usually leads to offensive momentum and patented Duke runs. The Plumlees fueled the run with MP2 (16 pts & 13 rebounds) rebounding and firing a Wes Unseld type two handed overhead pass far down court to a streaking MP1 for a rim shaking reverse jam, which made the Crazies et al shake Cameron.

Some observations:

  • While there is no one “go-to-guy” as in years past, this team appears to be more “Go-to-by- Committee”.  Except for the Michigan State game, where Dawkins was sensational (tonight he was uninspired and unimpressive (5 points in 20 minutes), there has been no one dominate player but rather a number of players contributing in a variety of ways.
  • One of the reasons the game was closer for longer than necessary was that Duke missed 11 free throws and despite a decided size advantage, only outrebounded Davidson 32-31. However, they did force 17 turnovers and had 9 steals.
  • Austin Rivers (17 points & 4 turnovers) was more productive because he was much more judicious about and in control of his drives; however, Davidson does not have the size or athleticism of top twenty tier teams.
  • So far, Curry (17 points & 2 assists) is the steadiest and most reliable performer both on and off the ball.
  • Quinn Cook continues to improve and impress in all aspects of the game—and he is a solid at the line so I suspect we will see him on the floor (with Kelly as the lone big man) at the end of games. For sure, I don’t think we will see MP2 as he was 2-6 tonight and  40% for the season. MP1 (10 points, 4 rebounds) was 6-6.
  • Former Davidson All American Stephen Curry, now playing with the San Francisco Warriors, watched from behind the Wildcats’ bench wearing a customized basketball jersey with Davidson on the front and the back a Duke jersey with his brother’s name and number.
  • Mike Breen, a refugee from the Don Imus Morning Show and presently the New York Knicks announcer, and Doris Burke, a former player at Providence College who really does her homework, were again the announcers. They are a good team.

Alan adds:

For a variety of reasons, I was derelict in my blogging duties yesterday but I will schedule better for Maui.

Two or three items popped out from a review of the box score.  First (and you mentioned it) is the 12 minutes that Cook played, scoring 9 points, including 4-5 from the foul line.  How did he appear as an on the ball defender in those 12 minutes? [Bill: Much improved.]  If he can defend, he will be a force, as I have previously written.  Second, Miles played only 17 minutes (with an excellent stat line) because he collected 4 fouls in that short span.  We need Zoubek as an assistant coach.  Finally, you can see K’s reliance on the development of Austin.  He played 38 minutes (Curry 34, his best player, played less).

On to Hawaii!

DUKE – TENNESSEE

Tennessee reminds me of the St. Johns teams that used to give Duke a lot of problems—athletic players all of whom could put the ball on the floor and get to the basket as well as rebound surprisingly well for their size. That is what the Vols did for most of the first half. As distressing as that was, Duke’s strategy was first to defend three, which they did with great success. For the first time in 461 games, Tennessee, a team that has been average 13 threes a game, had none; Duke had 7. Do the math.  It’s very difficult to beat a good team without hitting threes.

Once Austin Rivers (18pts) gave up making drives to nowhere and the Blue Devils achieved more ball movement, offensive balance (and defensive pressure) carried the day. In the second half Rivers, whose first step is his calling card, pulled up on his drives rather than trying to get to the rim and hit several very pretty tear-drop floaters over interior defenders.  Kelly (17 pts), Curry (17 pts), Dawkins (10pts), and Mason all did their part while MP1 had very productive muscular minutes (especially on defense) in relief of Kelly.

As in years past, this team is relentless in wearing other teams down with tough defense and winning by a war of attrition. The difference is that they have more size in the front court and more depth overall.

Playbook observations:

  • Austin Rivers is still a work in progress. He was 6-for-15 from the field and made too many novice turnovers but was much more efficient in the second half.
  • Mason Plumlee (13 rebs, 8 pts) is not only an elite rebounder and effective shot blocker, he also alters a lot of shots, a statistic that does not appear in the game summary. His offense is better but is it also a work in progress.
  • Ryan Kelly is a very versatile “Moneyball”  player–one who quietly does a lot of things that makes his teammates much better.  He worked on the block in a couple of isolating situations, crashed the glass, and even had a great alley-oop bucket.
  • Ever notice how after a timeout, Duke often scores off a set play
  • I disagree with Alan on Rivers. I believe that for this team to get to the next level, Austin must buy into the total team concept and realize that his teammates are just as talented—even more so in some ways (like three point shooting) as he is– and realize that he does not have to carry this team, just be part of it.

Alan adds:

Tennessee was a fun game to watch.  It was really a tale of different halves even though Duke scored almost the same amount in each half (39 in the first half for 77 total).  Duke played really well in the last 15 minutes of the game, I thought.  In the first half, Duke hung in on 3 point shooting (6-10 with Austin 2-2 toward the end; Dawkins 2-2 and goals from Seth and Ryan).  Tennessee got to the rim too easily both from the perimeter and the interior.  Though Duke had only 2 blocks (Cook and Miles), the interior defense altered a lot of close-in shots, as it did against Michigan State.  Austin saved an unimpressive first half with his two threes near the end.  It gave him 3-9 in the first half,  meaning that he was 1-7 from inside the arc, and was not only not finishing, but not really getting close on his drives.  The Plumlees were 3-9 from the line (Duke 7-14).

In the second half, Duke was 1-8 from 3, but 12-19 inside the arc and 11-13 from the free throw line.  Really efficient offensive basketball without the 3 point shot.  I thought Austin completely turned his game around, and was an unstoppable force going to the basket.  He made Tennessee change its defense and he kept them in foul trouble (they had 4 players with 4 fouls and committed 6 more fouls than Duke.  I believe K understands that this team depends on Austin’s development.  Look at the shots taken: Austin 15; Seth 10 (five makes including 2-4 from 3), Ryan 9 (2-6 from 3, meaning he was 3-3 inside the 3); Dawkins 7 (2-3 inside the line and 2-4 from 3).  Only Austin is not shooting a terrific percentage.  Seth, Dawkins and Kelly were 14-26 (5-14 from 3).  Austin was 6-15.  He missed 2 from behind the arc in the second half but was an efficient 3-4 on some splendid drives and pull ups from inside the arc.  He is an amazing first step penetrator (reminding me of Grant Hill in that regard).  When (not if) his outside shot comes, he will be a wonderful asset to this team.  His upside is enormous.  I think I am more of a fan of his than Bill is.

Mason is growing before our eyes.  Even his blunders are wonderful efforts that ask too much of himself at this point in the year, but if he keeps at it (and I believe K will encourage him), he can develop into an offensive force near the basket.  He’s not quite there, but again, because his upside appears to be so high, so is this team’s.  Curry and Dawkins had wonderful floor games in addition to being offensively efficient.  Seth is clearly team leader, glue, and is developing a smooth and reliable game with his shooting, passing, driving and above all defending.

Duke was much better defensively in the second half.  They did a better job switching and closing off some of the perimeter penetration.  The defense is still not there yet, but with these athletes, the defense is yet another work in progress with a high upside.  Tyler is pure energy and gives a life when he comes in, but fouled out in 14 minutes.  The bench is Tyler and Miles (17 effective minutes).  If we could just give Miles a new set of hands; he has everything else.  Cook played 8 energetic minutes and impresses me (I have admitted a bias in his favor before).  He’s a pure point guard.  In 8 minutes he was 1-3 from the floor; had 2 defensive rebounds, a block, an assist and a steal (also a turnover, which I think came on a drive).  He is secure with the ball in his hands.

Michigan tonight will be interesting, given how Duke’s defense was shredded by Michigan in the last 10 minutes of their second round NCAA matchup last year.  Beilein had Michigan looking impressive last night in knocking off #10 Memphis.  This game will be a challenge for sure.

DUKE – MICHIGAN

Bill is absent (but with leave), and did not want the description of such a superb basketball game to wait until he and his computer reunited.  We talked after the game and he asked me to file for both of us.  So while it is “Alan Adds”, the analysis also includes (without separating) Bill’s analysis.  We were talking as Coach K was being interviewed after the game.  The first thing we agreed upon (and said it moments ahead of K) was that this wasn’t just a very good college basketball game, this was simply a great game, played with ferocious intensity, great skill, and basketball wisdom.  It was two teams really slugging it out physically and intellectually.  As Coach K said, Kansas outplayed Duke in the first half, and Duke turned it around in the second half, outplaying Kansas.  The turnaround was the emotional maturing of Mason and Ryan Kelly in terms of toughness.

In the first half, Kansas outmuscled, outhustled, and out sped Duke.  Duke was only down by four at the half, but both Bill and I (we also talked at half time) thought Duke was lucky to be so close, and that the difference in quality of play was not as close as the score indicated.  Kelly’s shooting was a bit off; Kansas defense was outstanding.  Duke could not crack the Kansas perimeter and was being tested and bested in the interior.  Even more disquieting was the ease with which Duke’s perimeter defense was beaten off the ball.  Yet, there was determined resistance.  The Plumlees and Kelly didn’t give up inside, though they were losing the battle.  Duke’s outside shooting kept the team in the game.  Mason gave some inside offensive presence.  But Kansas had clearly knocked Duke back with its intensity.  Perhaps the telling point was in the first half, Kansas owned the foul line.  Duke’s lack of on the ball defense allowed the penetration that gave Kansas an easy basket or put them on the line.  Duke was shooting from deep, and not getting to the line.

All that changed in the second half, in a dramatic way.  This is coaching.  This is team character.  This is heart.  This was Mason stepping up to have a complete game; his best since coming to Duke.  He didn’t do it on great feeds from Kyrie (as in his high scoring games last year); he did it with post moves and (are you ready for this) proficiency from the line.  Mason’s 17 points came on 7-9 foul shooting as well as 5-10 shooting from the floor (including the full court lay-in that was athletically awesome for a 6’10 power guy).  He turned the fouling and inside game around, commanding the boards and defending Robinson really well.  He had 12 boards (5 offensive).  While he had great help from Ryan Kelly (36 minutes), who was named the MVP of the tournament, it was Mason who transformed the Duke team in the second half.  Kelly also scored 17 points and played a terrific floor game, handling the ball, making good passes, defending, and rebounding.  He deserved the award for the tournament; Mason for the game.  He was on the court for 37 minutes.  He had four turnovers and committed 3 fouls, all offensive.  You could see his determination to give Duke the inside offensive presence needed to give Duke an added dimension.

Though the bigs stole the Duke show from the guards last night, the guards deserve much praise, especially on the defensive end.  Duke played its best defense of the season by far in the second half.  The switching was smooth, and the Kansas penetration was met with fierce determination and partial success.  Even though Curry was kept in check, his steadiness and defense demonstrated how valuable he is even when not scoring.  He had 10 points (2-4 from 3) in 36 scintillating minutes.  Dawkins defended stoutly and hit a key shot at the end.  With Duke trailing 60-58, he hit a deep three to start the Duke 10-0 run, which finished the game.  He played 34 minutes.  Austin was productive and kept Duke in the game in the first half.  He had four fouls, and was on the bench for the last 6 minutes of the game.  He played only 27 minutes and took only 10 shots (he usually leads the team in shot attempts).  What coaching genius led K to keep Tyler Thornton on the floor and Rivers on the bench at game’s end?  Sort of seemed to work, didn’t it?

Bill makes the point (with which I agree) that Rivers attitude is improving by leaps and bounds.  We both thought it significant that Rivers on the bench at crunch time was an enthusiastic cheerleader there without any “why-am-I-not-in-the-game” pouting.  His defense continues to improve; his driving made the Kansas defense adjust, and his deep shooting attempts come when Duke needs a hoop.  He’s getting better and I think Bill is reassessing as Austin shows more Duke/Coach K attitude.  And what can we say about Thornton.  How could I leave this for the end?  He has heart and attitude.  He was so cool when he took his first three from the corner without hesitation.  The last shot was out of fantasy land.  Tyler deserved it for his hustle and attitude.  He played 21 minutes and had 7 points (and didn’t foul out).

Duke played a very thin bench.  Other than Tyler’s 27 minutes, Miles played 8 minutes and Quinn Cook 1 (missing a 3 as the half ended).  Yet Duke’s bench outscored Kansas’s by 9 (Miles had the other bucket; Kansas got 0 points from its bench).

It was a satisfying game for Duke, and a terrific tournament.  They have played 7 games in 12 days and taken on major competition.  I said earlier that Duke could have a rougher November than usual because this team would be playing top competition while establishing its identity.  What a coaching job so far!  This team is reminding me (wishful thinking?) of the ‘70-’73 Knicks, who had five guys playing together, defending and finding the open man.  They were all really good, but anyone could be counted on to take the key shot, rather than relying on one star.  This team has great balance, with all five starters having the ability to take over a game.  Indeed each has done it this year.  A fun team to watch grow.

Bill adds (some observations):

  • Consistent intensity on defense is the primary reason Coach K’s teams have won 900+ games. Other programs like Michigan are catching on; however, it takes a special coach to get Blue Chip players to buy into the concept. I watched some of the UNC – UNLV game last night and was struck by in comparison to Duke and Michigan how casual Carolina appeared on defense. A high powered offense alone cannot win every game anymore.
  • Two successive threes–a clutch potential game winner, then an improbable career shot to seal the win that Tyler Thornton made against Michigan couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player.
  • I don’t know who was voting or what game they were watching but from what I saw, for Mason Plumlee not to make the All Star team, if not MVP, was ludicrous. MP2 a gained another twenty five pounds of muscle and grit against Michigan.

I will be in Asheville on business for most of the week and Alan will be in Key West for a (alleged) legal conference, so we might be able to file anything right after the Ohio State game.

DUKE- – OHIO STATE

Some observations:

  • Ohio State played an exceptional game in front of a crowd of frenzied supporters  energized, in part,  by the hiring of Urban Meyers as their football  coach and may well be a more talented team than Duke. However, the Buckeyes are not necessarily as good as they played and Duke is certainly  not as bad. It is hard to remember a more listless defensive performance   than this one—and we all know defense has been the bedrock for the success      of Coach K’s teams.
  • Mason Plumlee essentially played Sullinger to a draw. He scored 16 points on  7-of-12 shooting, most of them directly on Sullinger, to go with eight boards. Sullinger scored 21 on 8-of-14, and had eight boards of his own.   And, to be fair, many of Sullinger’s made shots were not things of beauty.  Many of them came against someone other than Plumlee, particularly after  his undeserved second foul, and some of the other points came on foul  shouts of dubious origin. Duke’s two-game stretch against Kansas and Ohio  State have arguably featured the best performances of Plumlee’s career.  After out-playing Thomas Robinson in Maui, he can now add a draw with  Sullinger to his resume, and that can only bode well for the rest of the   season..
  • We are  used to the periodic disappearance of Andre Dawkins but to have Ryan Kelly  in the same mode was a first.
  • While  Austin Rivers was a sensational offensive virtuoso for most of the first  half,  I’m not convinced that auditioning for the NBA is good for the team. Dribbling and dribbling and breaking down his man, penetrating and      shooting while ignoring passes to open men on the three point line may  produce highlight film but it also produces a stagnant offense. And in the  second half, the Buckeyes adjusted by funneling Rivers down the lane into  an impenetrable  picket fence defense of a center and two forwards.  It reminded me of  Kyrie Irving’s performance in last year’s Arizona      game – lots of breathtaking moves, lots of points, and lots of teammates  standing around getting cold.
  • The  success of the 2010 championship team was by guards penetrating and  kicking to an open man or Zoubek rebounding and redirecting to an open teammates rather than trying to score himself.
  • Ted  Valentine, the referee, certainly didn’t do Duke any favors. A series of  questionable calls, especially a phantom second foul on Mason  Plumlee helped thwart a second and final, Duke run. Sullinger,  in  particular, was the beneficiary of several “star calls.”
  • As my buddy Tommy noted, there was an atypical lack of Duke player leadership  when it was most needed. No player got the team together and attempted to  rally them.
  • I suspect  that there will be personnel changes and guarantee a much better defensive  effort next week.

Bill and his computer are still estranged, so once again I’m the primary scrivener, but Bill’s input is here and begins with the opening sentence about the game.  We talked at halftime and after the game.  Neither conversation was as much fun as the ones we had during and after the Kansas game.

Bill: “Duke looked as if it had completed playing the three games in three days in Maui yesterday and took the court directly from the plane home.”  Duke certainly looked tired and slow, and was never in the game after the first 10-12 minutes.  Ohio State looked terrific.  Bill and I (not quite grasping at straws) both remembered when Duke had looked just this bad previously.  It was in January of 2010 when Duke traveled to DC and was annihilated by Georgetown in front of Obama and Biden.  Duke did not look any better that afternoon than last night.  Oh yes, said Bill and I consoling ourselves momentarily, Duke won the National Championship that year.

Duke’s defense in the first half was not quite up to the level of awful.  Ohio State shot 60 % from the floor.  That is not a misprint.  Duke “held” Ohio State to 57% shooting in the second half, but the Buckeyes were 5-5 from behind the arc in the second half.  Ouch!  It seemed to me that Duke’s defense went south when Mason picked up his second foul at around the 11 minute mark of the first half.  It took his extra aggression away and Ohio State just rolled.  None of the Duke perimeter players could keep Ohio State in front of them.  Austin might have played the best defense of the starting perimeter.  Damned with faint praise.

Offensively, Duke (except for Austin and Mason) was horrible in the first half.  Neither Dawkins nor Kelly scored (and Dawkins might have been better on offense than defense). K benched them both.  Kelly played only 15 minutes (he wasn’t any better than Dawkins on the defensive end) and Dawkins 19.  Only Austin (37 minutes) and Mason (36 minutes) played their normally allotted time on the floor.  Seth played 26 minutes; no other Duke player played more than 19 minutes.

The stat that stands out for me is that Quinn Cook played 14 minutes, and had 4 assists.  The entire Duke backcourt (not counting Cook) of Thornton (only 8 minutes), Curry, Dawkins and Rivers (total of 90 minutes on the floor) had only 3 assists – all by Austin.  Seth, to give an idea of how much of a non-factor he was, had 0 assists against 3 turnovers (7 points) in his 26 minutes.  Craft completely outplayed him on both ends of the floor.

Bright spots: Austin is developing into a superstar.  He is not there yet, but he is clearly and by a wide margin, Duke’s most gifted player.  He is learning; you can see his development game by game.  He was heroic in the first half when Duke was in contact, and he never stopped his effort, though his decision making deteriorated as the game got out of hand.  Mason is becoming a real offensive presence to go along with superb rebounding and excellent defense.  He too is in the process of becoming a genuine inside force who will command a double team.  Still, 2-5 from the free throw line doesn’t cut it.  Miles had a good game as well in 17 minutes.

K used the second half to give his freshman and Hairston playing time.  Gbinije played 13 credible minutes and demonstrated some real athleticism and defensive intensity.  Cook is the only other Duke player who can beat the defense off the dribble and get into the lane.  He was 0-3 from 3 and had a turnover, but he is defending well (finally) and seems over his injury.  As I have been saying all season, he has the potential to become a force.

Coach K has a history of using losses as focal points for his team’s improvment.  “Everyone knows what to do with a win; winners know what to do with a loss.”  Next Play.  Colorado State.

DUKE- COLORADO STATE

As anticipated, the Blue Devils rebounded from the embarrassing loss to Ohio State with a strong effort at both ends of the floor. Tyler Thornton replaced Andre Dawkins in the starting lineup. Thornton provided on the ball pressure and overall defensive enthusiasm that Coach K loves. The mysterious Dawkins came off the bench firing on all cylinders as he had 15 points and 2 assists in twelve minutes before he left the game with back spasms.

Unfortunately, the Rams were without the services of their seven foot center so they had no player over 6’6’’; however, they are one of the best three point shooting teams in the country. So, predictably Duke took away the three but the Rams hung around for most of the first half with good ball movement and athletic drives. Mason Plumlee continued his more mature, efficient production (except from the free throw line).

The most interesting development was Austin Rivers willingness to focus on something more than the rim on his drives and pass the ball to an open teammate rather than challenging a double team. Announcer Len Elmore, the former Terp center, essentially commented that for Duke to be a top team, Austin had to make the players around him better—and Duke has some terrific shooters but they can’t score without the ball. Consequently, there was less dribbling and much better ball movement than in previous games. Except for Rivers, all of Duke perimeter players (and that includes Kelly) are betterl catch and shoot scorers than creating their own shot—and Rivers can make that happen.

Some observations:

  • Seth Curry only had 5 points but 8 assists and played very effective, intense defense.
  • MP1 is playing with much more confidence and control. It is too bad this is his last year but maybe it will be a Zoubek finish.
  • Quinn Cook is demonstrating glimpses of unusual athleticism and, more importantly, natural point guard skills.
  • Mike Gbinije is another freshman making a case for more playing time as a defensive stopper.
  • Alex Murphy, the 6’8’’ forward, who was thought to be the second most talented freshman, is dressed and on the bench but has not had any minutes since he received a head injury a month or so ago. It makes you wonder if he as well as MP3 are being red shirted.
  • Except for Kelly, Curry, and Thornton, this team is not a good free throw shooting team—and that could be a problem.
  • Kyle Single chose to continue playing this year in Spain for about $1,000,000 rather than play for the Detroit Pistons.

In case you missed it, Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski have been named SI’s 2010 Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year. The only other basketball coaches so honored are John Wooden and Dean Smith.

Alan adds:

What is the fun of watching a game where the team Duke is playing is so obviously physically overmatched?  I find it illuminating to see what Coach K does in that situation.  It’s almost like seeing what goes on in practice.  Who is developing that might help this team in the future – this year, perhaps; next year for sure.  So, Duke’s performance was frequently scintillating, but the level of athleticism of the opposition makes one cautious about reading too much into it.

What’s with Andre Dawkins?  After two fairly dreadful games (0 points against Ohio State), Andre exploded off the bench in the first minutes of this game.  He played only 12 minutes in the first half before being injured, but what a 12 minutes.  Andre was 6-8, including 3-5 from 3 with 2 assists (0 against Ohio State).  That means 3-3 from inside the arc; he passed, defended with high energy and was a force.  Is it only against inferior athletes that he can do this?  We will all spend the season rooting for Andre to develop consistency, especially against big time opponents.  Let’s hope the back injury is not significant.

Mason had an almost perfect first half.  He played 25 minutes overall, but missed the only shot he took in the second half.  He was 6-6 from the floor in the first half, and played with poise and confidence (and some really impressive athleticism).  In the second half, I thought he got a little block happy, and was leaving the floor (frequently without his lingerie – as Rafferty might say).  His floor game was dominant and game-changing: 10 boards; 5 blocks; 4 steals and 2 assists.  Only 1 turnover and 0 personal fouls.  The only negative is his foul shooting, 2-6.  We can talk about Miles in the same paragraph.  He played 19 minutes and had 14 points (same as Mason; only Miles was 4-4 from the line) on 5-6 shooting.  In addition, he had 5 boards, 3 blocks and an assist with 0 turnovers and only 2 fouls.  But before we get too impressed, let’s remember how small Colorado State is as a team.  They had some decent offense inside, but could not really compete with Duke’s bigs.

Kelly had a very sleep walking slow first half and a good (but not as good as either Plumlee) second half.  He and Austin scored all of Duke’s points early in the second half to keep the lead large, even when the defense took some time off.  In 21 minutes, he had 8 points, 3 boards, 3 turnovers and a block.  He uncharacteristically missed 2 foul shots (2-4).  He didn’t feel like the Kelly that was one of Duke’s best players up until the Ohio State game.

Austin continues to improve.  He is pulling up after getting by the first defender to make a pass or do something else helpful.  And, he is really beginning to come on as a defensive player.  He played the most of any Duke player (30 minutes) and was pretty efficient.  He scored 17 on 5-9 shooting (including 3-5 from deep; some from very deep).  He had 2 boards; 2 assists and a steal against only 1 turnover.  He did miss two foul shots (2-4) and committed only 2 fouls.  His ability to get by his defender initially is breathtaking.  He is a superstar in the making.

Seth had 8 assists, 3 boards, 2 steals and a very effective defensive game.  He took 8 shots, but scored only 5 points (1-5 from 3).  A telling negative stat was that Seth did not attempt a foul shot.  Still, he was the glue and played the third most minutes (25).  Tyler played the second most minutes (28) and was pretty efficient.  He took only 2 shots (both missed 3s), but was 5-6 from the line and had 4 assists against 0 turnovers to go with 3 boards and some energetic defense.  He started in place of Dawkins and even though playing more than usual, had only 3 fouls.  Quinn Cook had some defensive lapses and I didn’t think played very well.  He is clearly Duke’s best pure point guard (wasn’t his lob to Miles a pass of beauty?).  He played 16 minutes and had 3 boards.  Silent G (Gbinije) showed some quicks and hops in his 10 minutes.  He may contribute this year before the season is over.  He can defend.

I watched Washington a bit last night as they lost to Marquette.  This is a very athletic team with excellent players and good coaching.  They are better than their record.  Duke does seem to like playing in The World’s Most Famous Arena.  Saturday at noon, I think.

DUKE – WASHINGTON

For about thirty-five minutes, Duke played the most balanced game of this young year. Then, they got sloppy missing free throws, Curry and Rivers fouling out, the Huskies finally getting hot, and a seemingly easy high teen win became too close for comfort. Shooting in the low sixties and/or making 27 of 44 free throws is an invitation to lose. MP2 was the main culprit, missing 9 of 11. This (not lack of athleticism as Dickie V seems to think) is the real Achilles heel of the team, because attacking the basket, getting to the free throw line, then making the free throws, has always been  a benchmark of Coach K’s winning strategy. Just think of how many games Redick and Scheyer (just to name two) salted away.

That said, Austin Rivers (18 pts) is playing under more control and seeing the whole floor better with each game– and that makes for a much more effective offense. The key to the first half run was Andre (aka Microwave) Dawkins, who appears to be more productive/motivated coming off the bench, as he had 14 points in about as many minutes as well as playing aggressive defense.  Ryan Kelly had an atypically poor shooting first half, perhaps because Bill Cowher, the father of his girlfriend, was in the stands but recovered nicely to have 16 points and 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks.

Washington is a talented team whose salient characteristics are offensive rebounding and three point shooting. The three man rotation of MP2, Kelly, and MP1 (plus guards crashing the boards) took care of the rebounding end of the equation and the all the perimeter players choked off the threes (29%).

I recently mentioned that Miles might be having a Zoubek-like surge in him for his final year. Today he was 9 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes (plus 3-4 from the line) against big time competition. More minutes for Miles means the other two big men are fresher for the game and the season plus he is a big, wide athletic presence in the paint.

Some observations:

  • While the team as a whole is a subpar (68%) at the free throw line, obviously Miles Plumlee (30%) is a huge drag on that number. Individually, Curry, Kelly, and Thornton are very good at the line and Rivers (70%) is ok. The first two are the ones you expect/hope will be on the line at the end of a close game.
  • Duke had no defensive answer for Wroten (23 pts) down the stretch. He is a very impressive freshman.
  • Madison Square Garden is sort of a home away from home for the Blue Devils and next to Cameron it is the players favorite court—especially Dawkins—and there are a lot of Duke alums(including Alan) in the Apple.
  • While Curry has had a couple of subpar offensive performances, he was at the point and a catalyst for the early second half surge.
  • Out of necessity, Quinn Cook, the most naturally talented (but untested) point guard, was on the floor at the end of the game and continued to make a case for more playing time.
  • Boy, aren’t we glad Coach K apparently saw the handwriting on the wall released Kris Humphries (Mr. Kim Kardashian) from his commitment to play basketball at Duke (because of demands for guaranteed playing time).

Alan Adds:

Duke played an absolutely great first half, especially defensively.  The announcers kept criticizing Washington’s shooting and claiming there were many open missed shots.  I may have been watching a different game because I saw very few open Washington shots and I thought Duke (all 3 bigs) defended the rim brilliantly, challenging everything inside.  For the game, Duke’s 3 big men had 7 blocked shots (3 for Kelly; 2 each for the Plumlees).  Dawkins had another absolutely brilliant first half (12 of his 17 points).  He is defending now at a high level and had 4 key defensive rebounds (he has bona fide hops).  He was, however, 2-9 from behind the arc with most of those misses in the second half.  Only Kelly repeatedly misfiring for the first 17 minutes of the half and 7 silly turnovers kept Duke from having a 20+ point lead.

The game and Duke’s defense changed dramatically when Mason was called for a foul (I thought it was his third, because I sensed he lost his aggressiveness after the foul, but it was actually his only foul in the game, so maybe it was something else — such as thinking about his foul shooting).  In any event, Duke’s defense started allowing penetration and fouling.  Fouling and foul shots decided the game.  While Duke was only 27-44 (not good, but as Bill points out, without Mason’s numbers, Duke was 25-33, which is respectable), Washington was worse 13-23 (only 4-9 in the first half).  So even with Mason, Duke made more free throws than Washington attempted and had a 14 point margin at the end.  Duke made fewer field goals than Washington on fewer shots.  Duke was 27 for 57 while Washington was 31 for 65.  Each team was 5-17 from 3.  How did Washington get 8 more shots?  I’m not sure.  Duke held a rebounding edge and each team had 14 turnovers.

Duke could not put Washington away, which is disturbing.  Part of that was Washington started making some very difficult shots; and a lot was Duke’s porous perimeter defense, which resulted in both Curry and Rivers fouling out, while Thornton stayed on the floor at crunch time with 4 fouls.  A note about Quinn Cook’s contribution with his floor leadership and ball handling in the last 3 minutes:  When Seth fouled out, Cook ran the team, and with some ball handling aplomb.  He showed a lot of poise for his first action in a tight situation.  He missed two foul shots, but was 4-6 and made the last two when it really closed Washington out.

This was Seth’s third non-stellar game in a row.  We need to see a post-Ohio State comeback for his shooting.  Against Colorado State, he didn’t score, but had 8 assists.  Last night his numbers were only a couple of ticks above dismal. He played 30 minutes before fouling out with 8 points (4-4 from the line keeps his stats above dismal).  He took 5 shots (2-4 from the field and 0-1 from 3).  I think the illuminating numbers are: 5 turnovers against only 3 assists with no steals or blocks.  Seth with no steals!  Very unusual.  Duke needs Seth back after exams.

Austin also played 25 minutes before fouling out.  His game is improving visibly and he is now very close to stardom.  He’s defending better and I haven’t seen the on-the-court petulance that so disturbed Bill in the earliest part of the season.  Five fouls is a result of his more aggressive effort on defense, which I predict will continue to improve.  In those 25 minutes he had 18 points on 13 shots (2-5 from 3 and 4-4 from the line), 4 boards and 3 assists (3 turnovers).  He is slowly turning into a de facto point guard.  He is starting to pull up (even though he picked up a charge on a drive where he gave up the ball nicely, but still crushed the stationary defender). He is an improving passer.

Andre played the most minutes (32) followed by Mason, Curry and Thornton with 30.  Kelly played 27, Austin 25 and Miles 20.  This seems a very balanced team where anyone of 6-7 players can be the player of the game.  What is encouraging is the across-the-board improvement from every contributing player (maybe except Seth, temporarily).  A work in progress to be sure, and a rewarding season so far.  Conference play is not far away.

DUKE – UNC-GREENSBORO

Because of end of semester term papers and exams, Duke played only one game in nearly three weeks against UNC-Greensboro and for most of the first half looked like they all had been pulling all-nighters for too much of that time. If that is true, the good news is that we must assume there will be no academic causalities. The bad news is that for the first fourteen minutes the Blue Devils looked like the 2-9 team. However, after more than a few choice words from Coach K, his team outscored UNC-G 20-10 over the last six minutes, with Tyler Thornton, Austin Rivers, Andre Dawkins, Rivers again, and Ryan Kelly making 3-pointers to go to the locker room leading 45-34.

The second half was an opportunity for some of the freshmen to play extended minutes. Quinn Cook showed why he is an Alan fav. He scored 14 points on a variety of shots and demonstrated a quickness and ball handling ability not seen since Jason Williams and Bobby Hurley. Michael Gbinije was also impressive in a less flashy manner on both ends of the floor, which might earn him more minutes as the season progresses. He had eight points and was 4-4 from the foul line, which was a welcome sight. Other than that MP2 had a monster night (15 pts, 13 rebs, 2 blks), MP1 had the unusual line of 13 rebs, 2 blks and 0 pts, and Rivers continued to play more with with more control and mature judgment.

Some observations:

  • Rivers approach to the game reminds me most of Art Heyman. While Art was taller, heavier, nastier, and a forward, he was always attacking. If Andre Dawkins had that mindset, he would be an All-American. As it is Andre can still light up the scoreboard with the sweetest stroke in the game and is pump faking and attacking the basket more often.
  • Because of shooting less than 40% from the free throw line, MP2 is leaving 5-10 points a game on the floor and off his scoring average—and that will cost Duke some close games. On the other hand, his ambidextrous baby hook shot is a welcome and necessary addition to low post production and more scoring balance.
  • Tyler Thornton continues to start because he provides defensive energy, solid ball handling, and the vocal leadership that Coach K stresses.
  • Ryan Kelly has recently not played his best basketball but still is the most versatile and reliable performer on the team.
  • Mike Gminski, who did the telecast last night,  was a very smart, very efficient, and terrific –if athletically unspectacular–center at Duke. He brings the same qualities to the broadcast booth. He reminds of Ray Scott, the Green Bay Packers announcer during the Lombardi era. Both know the game and only give you pertinent information (Taylor off left tackle for six) without all the extraneous nonsense that interrupts what you can clearly see with your own eyes.

Alan adds:

I didn’t think the game was on television in NYC (and it wasn’t, live), but it was delayed on ESPNU; so, I watched most of the second half,  when Duke was really rolling.  I heard the announcers describing Duke’s horribly sloppy play in the first 15 minutes.  Mercifully, I was spared that, and I appreciated the chance to watch the freshmen (besides Austin) get an opportunity to compete.

I finally saw the Quinn Cook that I had seen last year in high school.  He looked awfully good at the offensive end, and pretty good at the defensive end (lost some concentration toward the end, but seems to have most of his mobility back).  His handle is very good and he makes good decisions (especially for a freshman).  He is without a doubt Duke’s best passer and playmaker.  I saw him for extended periods in the backcourt with Austin last year in high school all-star games.  They play together extremely well, and have the most ball skills on the team.  They worked well together last night.  Austin set Quinn up for an in rhythm 3.  Quinn threw a couple of lobs that were exquisite.  Of course, the level of competition makes it difficult to draw conclusions from the nice performance.  Still a good sign.

Gbinije is very quick and athletic.  I also saw him in high school; one AAU final game in the summer.  He was by far the best player not only on his team, but in the game.  He guarded the best player on the other team (I forget whom, but a very highly ranked guy), and was very effective.  Silent G is defensively and team oriented; very versatile – a slasher with a good handle and fine rebounder for his size.  Last night he played 14 minutes and was 2-2 from the field and 4-4 from the foul line for 8 points plus 3 boards.  That’s 8 points on 2 shots.  Very efficient.  Add that to some serious defensive intensity.  I hope Austin sticks around for a while; this is a hummer of a freshman class. We haven’t even seen Alex Murphy or MP3.

Bad stats: Seth ( 20 minutes) had 4 turnovers and 0 assists.  But he had 4 steals; 9 points (4-4 from the line, but 1-4 from 3 pt land) in 20 minutes.  Thornton picked up 4 fouls, (2 steals and a 3 pointer) in 16 minutes; Seth and Austin ( 26 minutes) 3 fouls each.  Duke missed 10 foul shots in the first half; Mason missing 5 of them.  Kelly missed 3, but made 7.  Austin missed 2.  [Duke was 8-8 in the second half]

Shots:  Austin took the most shots (11; 5 from behind the arc).  3-6 from inside and 2-5 from outside.  Hairston took the next most shots – 8 in only 11 minutes, but made only 2.  Quinn was 6-7 (missing only 1 of his 3 3pt attempts).  Pretty efficient: 14 points on 7 shots.  He also had 2 assists in 18 minutes.  Dawkins had 11 points on 6 shots (3-5 from behind the arc) in a game high 27 minutes.  He also had 4 defensive rebounds.  Mason was 6-8 with a terrific stat line (except for his 5 missed foul shots in the first half).

Duke is 7th in one poll (behind UNC) and 5th in the other (ahead).

DUKE – WESTERN MICHIGAN 

Playing their first game in 11 days and only its second in the last 19, Duke started uncharacteristically fast and raced through an overmatched Western Michigan 110-70. Using ten players, the Blue Devils shots lights out—over 50% from the floor (and the three point line) as well as (gasp) 80% from the free throw line. Here is how hot eight of the ten players were—110 points with Dawkins and MP2 scoring a total of 5 points.

Some observations:

  • Duke      plays at a different speed with Quinn Cook on the floor. Remember, he is      recovering from knee surgery and did not play or practice on the summer      trip to China, so was behind in conditioning and timing. Quinn is      improving every game. Last night he has 8 assists, 0 turnovers, 4      rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block. However, his best play was diving to the      floor, wrestling control of the ball from three Mustangs, and flipping a      prone, no look pass to MP2 for a dunk. That kind of hustle  alone      will get him more playing time. Just ask Thornton.
  • Seth      Curry has played the last few games with an injured ankle. Apparently, the      injury has healed because he had 22 points (3-4 from the arc).
  • Austin      Rivers not only shot well from the floor and hit 6-7 from the line but also      was looking for open teammates on his drives.
  • Tyler      Thornton was 4-4 from three point land and is hitting 50% for the season.
  • MP1      had 15 rebounds and is said to be the best big man in practice. We can      only hope that he has an late blooming “Zoubek” ending to his career.
  • Michael      Gbinije looks like he is going to be a contributor this year and a starter      sometime in the future. He is 6’6”, strong, athletic with a nice shooting      touch. He was 2-3 on threes and has not missed a free throw all season.
  • And      speaking of athletic, ex-Terp Len Elmore, whom I like as an announcer and      has a law degree from Harvard (so should know better), has bought into the      narrative that Duke is not a very athletic team. (Usually, that is      announcer code for too many white players.) Let’s take a look: Mp1 &      MP2? Dawkins & Rivers? Cook? Are you serious? Curry & Kelly don’t      jump through the roof but do understand the game, are in the right place      at the right time, and are athletic enough to be lethal three point      shooters. In addition, Kelly can play the low post, so poses a matchup      problem for any team.

John Feinstein, a Duke graduate and prolific author, has a new book “One on One” which is a must read for anyone who likes college basketball, professional tennis, baseball, or golf—all of which John covered for the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and The Sporting News. It is all the fascinating back stories of his thirty some years of covering sports. What I didn’t know is that his parents were consumed by the arts, not sports. His father was the first executive director of the Kennedy Center and later director of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Opera. His mother had a PhD in music history and taught at Columbia and George Washington Universities. Growing up, their New York city  apartment was often filled with the likes of Isaac Stern (his father’s best friend), Rudolph Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Marian Anderson, Robert De Niro. John, however, was not impressed because his heroes were baseball and basketball players.

Alan adds:

I was only able to watch the first half last night, but really that was enough.  It was an amazing offensive first half (kept in perspective by the fact that Duke was a far superior team both athletically and basketball wise).  I thought Duke played some of its best defense of the year in the first 13/14 minutes of the first half.  The switching and cohesiveness was magical.  Then, the margin grew large enough that it was just natural to relax a bit and the level of defensive intensity diminished.

Bill’s analysis coincides with mine on each of his points.  I, of course, am quite pleased by the performance of Quinn Cook.  Coach K took time at his press conference to explain how serious Cook’s knee injury has been, and emphasized that he didn’t really even begin to practice until October.  His on the ball defense is improving by leaps and bounds.  He is intense.  He is also a pure point guard, and has the best knack of anyone on the roster for running a team and handling the ball.  Perspective is still important because as impressive as Cook’s stat line was last night, he still has to prove himself against elite competition.  Western Michigan is not that.  Barry Jacobs pointed out Duke’s most negative statistic this season — that through 11 games, Duke has more turnovers than assists.  Not a good stat.  Last night, Cook played 23 minutes and, as both Bill and Coach K emphasized, he had 8 assists and 0 turnovers.  He also had 4 boards, a block and 2 steals to go with 16 points (on 12 shots; meaning that he was 3-3 inside the arc).  He was 7-8 from the foul line with only negative stat — 1-4 from 3 land.  As I have been writing consistently, this team needs major contributions from Cook to reach its potential.

The return of Seth to form was warming.  Austin continues to improve and blend.  It was a terrific offensive performance.  Two more games (Penn and Temple) before conference play.

DUKE – PENNSYLVANIA

For years Alan and I have been exchanging phone calls and emails on Duke Basketball because we enjoyed comparing notes on talent and anticipating Coach K’s strategy. We have generally been on the same page—even the same verse. For example, he sent me his “Alan adds” comments on last night’s game before I wrote anything and since it is so comprehensive and parallels my thoughts, I will lead off with it.

Alan writes:

All assessments have to be made with the caveat that (as with Western Michigan), Duke faced a team with less talented (and shorter) athletes.  Penn, however, knows how to play basketball, and many of the Quaker baskets were the result of ball movement, cutting and solid fundamentals.  Duke’s dominance in rebounding, shot blocking, and scoring in close made it easy to watch the game with the eye of an analyst rather than a fan worried about the outcome.  That was never in doubt after Duke built a 16 point lead in the game’s first 7 minutes.  Ryan Kelly had 8 points before Penn even got their warm-ups off.

The post-game comments focused on Duke’s point guard play.  The TV announcers focused on the negative Duke stat of more turnovers than assists, and the evolving point guard situation, which began with Seth as the starter.  Thornton moved into the starting lineup for improved defensive intensity and better and more secure ball handling (but reduced firepower on the floor).  In the last few games, Quinn Cook has been part of the evolution.  The key stat for Quinn is (in the last two games): 17 assists without a turnover.  Now everyone is talking.  K has been positive (“Quinn is playing great”; “when he passes he sees you in places where other people have a hard time seeing you”), going out of his way to praise Cook’s defense (which I believe is still spotty; he loses concentration and then his man, but his on the ball defense has improved visibly as his lateral quickness returns).  K pointed out that Tyler can play off the ball as well as point.  Curry and Kelly both mentioned Cook’s contribution to team growth in the post game press conference.

And, why not.  Cook played 22 minutes (5th most for Duke in the game), with two spectacular finishing layups to go with his 9 assists.  His outside shot isn’t yet where (I think) it will be, based on his high school shooting.  Duke had 12 turnovers with 20 assists.  But take away Cook’s numbers and Duke had 12 turnovers against 11 assists.  Nothing in the numbers or what I have seen so far as changed my assessment that this Duke team needs Cook’s contributions to reach its full potential, and be a contender to beat UNC for the ACC titles (regular season and tournament), and possibly more.  Think of the impact that the insertion of Kendall Marshall into the starting point guard role on last year’s UNC team had.  Cook’s impact won’t be that dramatic, but has the potential to be quite substantial.  It is an extra plus that he and Rivers play so well together.

Special kudos for the efficiency of both Kelly (18 points on 12 shots) and Curry (15 points on 12 shots).  Austin had a quiet game, but should not be overlooked.  First, he is aggressive when Duke needs points, not when Duke is comfortably ahead.  Second, his defense is improving at a really rapid rate (he’s pretty quick and has length to defend guards).  His attitude has improved, and so has his decision making.  We are reminded of his special talents when you see a cross over, like the one he pulled off yesterday, when he faked right and crossed over to going left for a lovely layup, leaving the defense gasping (perhaps partly in admiration).

The minutes give an insight into K’s evaluation of his team:  Austin led with 27 minutes, followed by Kelly with 26 minutes, Curry and Mason with 25 and Quinn with 22.  Dawkins played 20 minutes while Miles and Thornton played 17 minutes.  Dawkins’s shot is still inconsistent, but in 20 minutes he got 4 and had a steal and two assists.  He also had two turnovers and failed to convert on a couple of nice forays to the rim.  His development and achieving consistency is also required for Duke to reach its potential.

So far, a fun team to root for and a fun season to watch.

Bill’s observations:

  • With the earlier move of Thornton into the starting lineup and now the increased minutes for Quinn Cook, I believe we are witnessing the transformation of this team into one with multi-dimensional drive and overdrive capabilities. As Alan points out, if you project Quinn’s last two games assist (8 & 9 with limited minutes) into that of a full time starter, you have numbers that set an NCAA record. Even half of that number is a Duke record. That probably will not happen this year, but you get the idea. Thornton will continue to start and get his minutes because he sets the defensive intensity with his on-the-ball pressure and solid point guard skills (he can also play off the ball on offense). But Cook operates at warp speed and sees the floor like few guards. There are other personnel options (or “packages” as they say in the NFL) depending on the opponent and the game situation that may well make this a more formidable team than many anticipated.
  • No detail is too small. Did you notice Jeff Capel sitting among the players on the bench, not with the other coaches?  Why? Coach K:“We’re taking a look at our chemistry. We evaluate everything, it’s what you should do. Just to make sure we’ve giving them feedback. You can get ingrained with a certain procedure and be a slave to that procedure and it may not be the right thing for this group. So again that was something we evaluated over the holidays is just how we sit on the bench. What are we doing when they come off the court? Who is talking to the guys? Where are guys sitting? That type of thing and we made a couple changes there. We did a lot of evaluation.”
  • Massage received: Kelly threw a behind the back pass on a fast break against W. Michigan that was intercepted. He came out of the game and hardly played in the second half. He had 18 points last night.  MP2 did not rebound well in the opening minutes against W. Michigan and was replaced by MP1, who played well. Last night he has 15 rebounds
  • Duke has always been good at wearing teams down and the depth on this edition has the personnel to do that in spades.
  • Rivers only had 8 points but played more under control and much better defense.
  • Curry is not just a spot up jump shooter. Since the three point line was instituted, the pull up jump shot has become almost an obsolete skill as most player shoot the three or attack the basket. When Seth penetrates he pulls up for the short open  jumper. In most ways, he is the most polished offensive player Duke has.
  • Hubert Davis, the ex- Tar Heel shooting guard,  was the commentator last night (and apparently will be doing Duke’s Sunday night games on the ESPN family of channels). Hubert has done his homework and has an outstanding (and fair) assessment of this Duke team. A terrific jump shooter himself, Davis loves Andre Dawkins stroke (sound familiar), but wonders about his (and MP1) consistency. He notes that this and a positive assists to turnover ratio (take out Quinn Cook’s assists and it is an unacceptable 1:1) may be the keys for Duke to be a Final Four team.

DUKE – TEMPLE

After beating Jimmy Connors at the January 1980 Masters (he had lost the previous 16 matches to Jimbo), the flamboyant Vitas Gerulaitis said: “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row”. Well, Duke was going for ten in a row and was beaten in every phase of the game by Temple, so ….I guess nobody beats Temple ten times in a row.

Listening to  announcer Jimmy Dyke, who isn’t a man of few words or opinions, which he repeats incessantly (Hey Jimmy, it’s TV not radio. We can see the game),  you might think Duke’s perimeter defense was not good tonight and might be a weakness that keeps them from being a top tier team. We all know that Coach K’s defensive philosophy of on- the- ball pressure and over playing the wings, can make a game very easy or very difficult. Desire and hustle is the key. Tonight the defense did not get the job done. Time will tell if Duke has the tenacity and talent to execute this defense against top team with strong guards.

After reading John Feinstein’s “One on One”, I re-read “Forever’s Team”, the story of the players and coaches on the 1978-80 “America’s Team” as well as the next two years and interviews with everyone ten years later. It reminded me of  the rhythms of the course of a long campaign and the inexplicable importance chemistry plays in a successful season. In 1978, it was a young team with nothing to lose. Even after losing a close game to Kentucky in the finals of the NCAA Tournament, they were convinced that they would win the next year. All the starters were back, but the assistant coach left, the players did not prepare the same way over the summer, egos and jealousies came into play, resentment over playing time surfaced, Bob Bender replaced John Harrell as the starting guard, and the next two seasons did not meet expectations. Coach Foster, a complex man to start with, felt unappreciated by Athletic Director Carl James and left immediately after the last game in 1980 for South Carolina. The point is that there are a various and complex reasons and factors beyond talent that determine winning or losing. It is how the coaches and the players deal with the both outcomes that determines the success or failure of a season– and we should understand that and each year enjoy the ride.

Some observations:

  • Wonder why Duke lost: Temple shot 57% from the field, 50% from three point land, the Blue Devils had more turnovers than assists, only MP1, MP2, & Rivers scored in double figures, and  despite a decide height advantage Duke did not outrebound Temple. Inexplicably, Ryan Kelly pulled a Dawkins disappearing act. Was he sick or just overmatched?
  • MP1 (17 pts & 4 rebs, 2 blks) played, perhaps, his best game. MP2, however, did not. Although his stats were good (16 pts & 13 rebs, 2 blks), he failed to convert too many easy baskets at crucial times.
  • Austin Rivers wants to be the go-to player but he isn’t there yet—too many uncontrolled forays to the rim, often leading to turnovers. And the announcers and press hyping him as the best player on the team is not helpful.
  • The game was a reminder that it is a long season with ebbs and flows. Duke gets everyone’s best shot and the Blue Devils are not talented enough to impose their will anytime they need to. However, over the years, you would have made a lot of money betting that Coach K’s teams do not lose two in a row.

Alan adds:

First of all, a tip of the hat in respect for Temple’s well-conceived game plan, terrific coaching, and an all- out emotional effort.  Temple came to play and outworked and outhustled Duke for the full 40 minutes.  A team with no player over 6’6” handled Duke on the boards through sheer hustle and effort.  I never thought, going in to the game, that Duke could lose.  I believe Duke’s players embraced the same fallacy.  And there is no way around it: this was a humbling loss.

Jimmy Dykes  hit the nail on the head before the game even started.  He said, “Duke has a final four offense and a second round defense.”  He was prescient.  As was Coach K, who understood that Duke would have to be able to guard the perimeter one on one (Temple had exemplary spacing).  He challenged his team to do it; they failed that challenge in dramatic fashion.  Duke’s heralded backcourt was completely outplayed on both ends of the court.  But it was the defensive end that was Duke’s real Achilles heel last night.  Temple got into the paint and shot over, around and through the Duke backcourt.  Almost 60% in the first half.  When Duke backed off in the second half, Temple made them pay with some very clutch (if Temple does not make those two clutch 3s at the end, Duke wins) outside shooting.  Temple shot 57% against Duke overall.  You could tell Coach K was flummoxed.  He tried Gbinije; he tried Hairston (not for long; each played only 8 minutes, and they made the 3 shots that they took between them — Silent G took 2 including the  luck 3 that went in off the backboard).  Dawkins was truly awful.  He was non-existent on offense in his 14 minutes (0-3; 1 board; 1 turnover; and 1 foul), but it was on defense that he really failed.  He could not keep any Temple player in front of him, and he could not get up on the shooter.  Whoever he guarded scored.  Cook, whom I have championed, wasn’t any better last night.  He took 4 3 point shots (the most of any Duke player) in his 12 minutes, making one (2-6 from the floor) with 2 assists and a turnover.  But, he too failed dramatically on the defensive end (which explains why he played only 12 minutes).  He looked lost and slow on defense (but he didn’t stand out amongst the Duke backcourt; they all looked that way).  Seth had 5 turnovers (to go with his 6 points) in 30 minutes.  To be fair, he also had 4 steals and 3 assists.  Austin was 3-11, and looked as if he had reverted to the first few games of the year, driving into turnovers.  He only had 2 in the box score, but it seemed to me he was responsible for more.  He played with intensity on defense, but not effectively.  He was thoroughly outplayed throughout.  Thornton had 5 points in 25 minutes and 2 turnovers with 0 assists and 4 personal fouls.  Duke seemed to foul a lot on the perimeter (when they were not beaten cleanly). Curry had 3 and so did Ryan Kelly.

Kelly was also exposed on the defensive end, which may explain why he only played 19 minutes (same amount of time as Miles played).  He had 2 boards and 9 points.  It was only the Plumlees that kept Duke in the game.  We have good things to say here, but the caveat is how much shorter the Temple team was.  Mason had 16 points on 13 shots (including 2-2 from the line) to go with 13 rebounds and 2 blocks in 32 minutes.  He had 7 offensive boards, and Bill is right, that he failed to connect on a few shots right around the rim.  Still he played tough defense, ran the floor, and had 4 assists (but 3 turnovers).  Miles was very efficient scoring 17 points on 11 shots with 4 boards (3 offense), and 2 blocks.  He does everything well, except rebound on the defensive end.  Temple had 12 offensive rebounds (Duke 13).  The game is slowing down for both Plumlees, but especially for Miles on the offensive end.  He looked fully in control when he got the ball down low, and had 0 turnovers with a significant number of touches.

It will be a challenge to see if Coach K can forge this team into a defensive presence.  I looked back to my pre-season comments.  I wrote that Duke’s fortunes would be determined by how well the team grew at the defensive end.  We’ll see if this game was merely a growing pain (“Everyone knows what to do with a win; winners know what to do with a loss.”), or the symptom of a fatal team weakness that will stop Duke from being a force on the National scene this year.

DUKE – GEORGIA TECH 

Predictably, Coach K started a new lineup– MP1 and Cook for Kelly and Thornton—and substituted frequently in the first half. It worked like magic for about ten minutes with Cook running the offense like a latter day Bobby Hurley. Then,  Duke got cold, casual, and Tech closed an eighteen point lead to five at intermission.  In the second half, the Blue Devils could not impose their will on Tech at either end and with five minutes to go, the outcome was in doubt. Curry’s 15 second half points and timely assist to MP2 gave Duke some momentum, then free throws determined the winner as Ryan Kelly was flawless from the line.

Except for the first and last minutes, it was  a pretty unimpressive performance, which reinforced the critique that this a young team lacking leadership, a go-to-guy, and an inability to handle bigger, stronger guards–Rice, Udofia, and Morris had all but 16 of Tech’s points.

Some observations:

  • I have mixed feelings about Austin Rivers. I’m glad he is at Duke but feel some of the hype surrounding him is over the top, in part, due to his being the son of Doc Rivers. Further, he has a Kobe Bryant-type aggressive attitude but he is not Kobe and that he is not yet as talented at this level as he thinks he is. I thought it was interesting that today he was scoreless when Duke opened up an 18 point lead; however, he contributed in other ways like playing  good defense and letting others put up the points. Late in the game,  he made one crucial steal and layup but other than that, Rice scorched him, he had a turnover, blew a layup on a beautiful feed from MP2, and, disconcerting of all, missed two free throws. I have contended that Curry and Kelly, while not spectacular athletes, are the two most solid, dependable, and intelligent players and you want  the ball in their hands when the game is on the line. And until the roles are better understood and accepted –or Rivers cuts down the turnover and hits a higher percentage of free throws — this team can beaten by opponents with lesser talent. Close games can go any which way.
  • One trait I admire is mental toughness. Seth Curry was as cold as Alaska in the first half. In the last twenty minutes, he kept Duke in the game and put the Blue Devils in a position to win.
  • Cook is a creative  playmaker who brings a whole new dimension to the offense. He encourages more motion and movement because he gives the ball up to an open player of easy shots. Plus, he is a good free throw shooter. So, if his knees and defense hold up, I think we will see on him be a catalyst for a more effective offense.
  • Duke was outrebounded by an unacceptable 35-23 but had more assists than turnovers.
  • Making free throws is a lot tougher when the game is on the line–the mouth gets dry and muscles tighten up. Udofia and Rice were 0-6 in the last two minutes when it was  a two point game. On the other hand, Kelly was 10-10 and Curry 3-4 in the last minutes. For the game, MP2 was 3-3—that’s lifetime record of 5 straight.
  • Commentators stress that Duke’s guards lack size, physical strength, and mental toughness. Sounds like a case for Dr. Wojo!
  • Given the problems that Rice, Udofia, and Morris were causing, I was surprised that we see didn’t see Gbinije, hereafter referred to as G-Man2 (in deference to Mike Gminski).

Alan Adds:

Duke’s victory over Georgia Tech was cause of as much concern as was the loss to Temple on Wednesday.  Given how much better a team Temple is than Tech, Duke’s performance against the Yellow Jackets seemed similar in its relativity to excellence – meaning a long way from it.  Once again the Duke perimeter defense looked porous and suspect.  Once again, a swing player was unguardable for Duke.  Glen Rice had 28 points for Tech , coming off the bench after failing to score in Tech’s last game.  He was unstoppable whether it was Dawkins or Austin trying to guard him.  Georgia Tech, who had lost 7 times this season, including losses to Mercer, Fordham and Tulane, shot almost 50% and outrebounded Duke 35-23.

It was only Duke’s presence and competence at the foul line that was Duke’s winning advantage (29-36 for Duke against 12-19 for Tech).  It seems clear that Coach K is still experimenting.  Cook has moved ahead of Thornton in the rotation, starting and playing 27 minutes to Thornton’s 13.  Cook’s only offensive weakness is that his 3 point shot so far is not falling (1-4) and his defense is still suspect.  I think Coach K realizes that he needs better point guard play and turnover free ball handling.  Cook is what he has in that department, and I believe Cook will be given the chance with starters minutes to develop.  The wings are Austin (30 minutes) and Seth (29) with Dawkins coming off the bench to for each (21).  Kelly did not start, but played 27 big minutes and was key at the end of the game.  He scored 21 points on 4 (yes 4) shots from the field.  He was 3-4 (1-2 from 3 land) from the field and 14-14 from the line.  He had five boards.  Mason played 29 minutes and was 3-6 from the field, with 8 boards 3 assists and 2 blocks.  Miles picked up 4 fouls, which limited him to 17 minutes with 3 boards a block and a turnover.  Hairston played 7 creditable minutes.

A big part of the Duke problem was being very cold from behind the arc; missing a myriad of wide open looks (Quinn missed two in a row on 2 great passes from Austin).  Duke was 6-22 (Duke was 17 for 28 from inside the arc), with Seth (2-7); Austin (0-3) and Dawkins (1-5) to go with Cook’s (1-4) firing blanks.  Quinn had 5 of Duke’s 13 assists; Mason had 3.  Duke had only 9 turnovers with Seth and Austin having 3.

The Duke backcourt has looked dissimulated for almost two full games now.  Seth, however, did provide some glue and energy down the stretch.  However, if Duke doesn’t get better backcourt play, the Blue Devils will struggle down the road — especially in February when the ACC schedule toughens.

Virginia comes to Cameron on Thursday for an interesting game.

DUKE – VIRGINIA  

During my talk about the upcoming season to the Duke Club of Hilton Head in October, I was asked other than Duke and Carolina what teams did I enjoy watching. I responded: “Only Virginia, because I think Tony Bennett is the best young coach in the ACC. I really like what he accomplished with the somewhat marginal talent(Scott was out for the season) he inherited”.  If Scott, who so far is the best player in the ACC, had more support tonight UVA would probably have won. Playing Virginia is like playing Princeton or Georgetown—teams that are fundamentally very sound and very patient and usually make an opponent impatient.

Duke trailed 32-28 at the half as Scott had 18 points and the Blue Devils never got into any rhythm missing threes and MP@ going 1-8 from the line. It looked like the passive team that lost to Ohio State and Temple. The only difference was that UVA did not have the big guards that out muscled our guards. They were just being out finessed.

However, Duke played the second half with a great deal more mental toughness, energy, and conviction. MP1 and MP2 played like the athletes that they are;  Thornton ignited the crowd with a terrific drive  followed by a pin point pass to MP2 who had outrun everyone for a thunderous dunk; Seth Curry hit some timely shots; and Austin Rivers made a beautiful assist to MP2 as well as tough defense.

Holding a nine point lead with three minutes to go and Kelly on the line, the wheels almost came off. Kelly missed both free throws, MP1 fouled and suddenly the Cavaliers were back in the game. A well played second half almost was for naught as UVA, trailing by three, had two treys in the last four seconds that missed.

Some observations:

·          At halftime, Coach K made some defensive adjustments to help neutralize Scott and the perimeter defenders continued to shut down the three (3-16). In general the team played with more intensity, resolve, and toughness in the second half, to build a nice lead. However, they did not close the game out like a good team should.

·          Mental toughness is an overlooked trait of winning players and winning teams. A good example of a maturing player is MP2, who was once more embarrassed at the foul line in the first half. He came out in the second half and just took the ball to the basket in a manner that said volumes about how Duke was going to compete in the final twenty minutes. Likewise Seth Curry, who did the same against Georgia Tech, was a playmaker to help the Blue Devils make a run and a working margin.

·          Quinn Cook fired some ill- advised three in the first minutes, had a quick turnover beginning the second half, and was rewarded with just twelve minutes playing time.

·          Andre Dawkins woke up to hit two threes and two foul shots when they were sorely needed in the first half.

·          MP1 played productive minutes but fouled out by being called for two moving screens within minutes of each other. He is old enough, big enough, and smart enough to understand how the game is being called.

·          G-Man2 again had no minutes and one might think he was worth a try in the first half when Scott was torching all the big men. Is he injured, out of favor, or having academic problems?

·          The fact that Duke won (at home) while being out rebounded 34-28, only hitting 8-19 free throws, can be attributed in part to holding UVA to shooting just 39% from the field and having 6  blocks.

·          A win is a win but it leaves one wondering if this team has the versatility, strength, and mental toughness to beat top teams when the threes are not falling.

Alan adds:

Written at half time]

Duke has now played 5 very disappointing halves in a row — especially on the defensive end.  Yuck!  Every (ok, almost every) Duke double team resulted in Virginia moving the ball to find the open man for a wide open lay-up, short range jumper, or high percentage 3.  It was embarrassing.  I think Duke’s defense may have been even worse in the first half than in either Temple or Ga. Tech games.  Dawkins was “embarrassed” on a back door cut.  Mason couldn’t get close enough to Scott to bother him.  Virginia played with poise and Duke did not provide its usual high intensity (force turnovers) defense.  UVa had only 6 turnovers, and most of them were when they tried to do too much as opposed to crumbling to Duke’s pressure.

Duke’s offense looked stagnant.  And the shooting — even when open; actually especially when open as they frequently were — was dreadful from long range (3-13).  If it had not been for Dawkins’ two at the end…

[Written after game’s end]

With about 9 minutes left in the game Duke had a 10 point lead.  Thornton had sparked the run that gave Duke separation.  Duke held on so that with 4 minutes to go, Duke still led by 9.  Then it became a complete breakdown on offense and defense.  Duke scored only 4 points in the last 4 minutes (a jumper by Seth and 2 free throws by Kelly).  Then Duke became very sloppy, turning the ball over carelessly (Virginia’s effort was intense, but their defense was not smothering) and became very porous on defense (after really tightening up in the second half).  The Virginia lack of scoring was attributable to their missing easy open shots.  Dawkins was cleanly beaten back door but Zieglinski missed the lay-up.  And so it went.  Virginia missed.  Virginia got a myriad of offensive rebounds (scoring on 2nd and 3rd efforts).  It was Duke’s third disappointing game in a row.

Duke had 11 assists and 11 turnovers; Virginia had 16 assists and 9 turnovers.  Virginia outrebounded Duke by 7, had more blocks and held Duke to 5-20 from 3.  Mason was superb, except from the foul line (2-10).  Kelly had a terrible last few minutes with two turnovers and two missed free throws and failed to defend the defensive board.  Miles looks good, but fouled out with four points and 3 boards, but looked better than his stats.  Dawkins made 3 shots in a row that were critical and had 10 points in 29 minutes (2-6 from 3).  Seth was the point guard for the end game, and had his best game in a while.  He had 11 points in 34 minutes (1-5 from 3), adding four boards, 2 assists (only 1 turnover) and a block.  Cook was very disappointing.  Good point guards beat the defense off the dribble; Cook could not do that last night.  Austin is playing under control and is clutch.  His defense is improving and he is scoring from in close.  He had 11 points in 29 minutes, and may be the starting point guard.  Tyler is energy and a heady player, but has no firepower.  He made his only shot and had a great pass to Miles for a flush.

This team was growing satisfyingly up until the Temple game last week.  Let us hope it is just a slump.

DUKE – CLEMSON 

After the game, my wife and I were discussing Andre Dawkins. She commented that Andre reminded her of Evonne Goolagong, the wonderfully talented and graceful Australian tennis player in the 1970s and early 1980s.  While she won Grand Slam titles, there were times she played in an inexplicably mundane manner.  She explained it as a “Walkabout”– an Aborigine  journey during adolescence to wonder and live in the wilderness for a period  of time. Well, tonight the enigmatic Andre emerged from his recent two month “walkabout” since the Michigan State game in November to remind us how wonderfully talented he is. And it is a good thing, because Duke spotted Clemson a nine point advantage on a weekend when New Orleans spotted San Francisco seventeen points and lost, Green bay spotted the Giants ten points and lost, and Carolina lost at Florida State by the largest margin in Coach Williams tenure.

The Blue Devils were so bad in the opening minutes that coach K replaced all five starters. When the starters returned, they went on a 15-2 run to more or less take control of the game until the last few minutes when they again failed to close out an opponent in an impressive manner.

Coach K commented: “I’ve been sending a message for two days that if we didn’t have guys playing like they wanted to win at the beginning of the game, we would find guys that wanted to win. After the first eight minutes, everyone decided they wanted to fight and play like they wanted to win. We always get everybody’s best shot. For 25 years we’ve gotten everybody’s best shot so we have to have guys that play like they want to win.”

For two games in a row, Duke has won but not convincingly. However, these are the kind of games that talented teams and the best coaches find a way to win. Fortunately, Coach K has the depth of talent to play multiple combinations as he did tonight.

Some observations:

·          The stats tell an interesting story. Duke was out rebounded, had more turnovers, fewer assists, and fewer field goal attempts. How do you win a game like that?  Duke made 5 more free throws 83% – 50% (MP@ was 4-4) & 4 more threes. That is a 17 point differential.

·          The team is searching for a theme. As we have noted before, this team lacks senior leadership and a dependable go-to-guy. Rather, they have been winning by committee. Rivers wants to be that guy but, so far, lacks the game and judgment. Curry and Kelly are the most solid, dependable players. Last night at the end of the game, they were sharing the point. However, lately Ryan seems to be wearing down and Seth has been slowed by an ankle injury. Cook adds an exciting dimension but is an undependable freshman. Thornton is reliable, tenacious but unexciting. MP2 is gaining confidence with every game but is a liability at the line. MP1 is playing like a dominating presence in the paint. Last night, he had 14 rebounds in 23 minutes. That leaves Dawkins, who could be the key to the season.

·          The referees called two questionable technical. Duke’s Miles Plumlee was called for a flagrant foul late in the second half when he was deemed to have thrown an elbow on a rebound but Clemson’s Tanner Smith, who was all over his back and did a great action job, said Plumlee didn’t catch him with an elbow.  And Dawkins was called for a technical for hanging on the rim after a dunk at full speed. It appeared he was just protecting himself rather than showing off. Those two calls were four free throw and possession. Some games turn on less.

·          Given the success of former basketball players Antonio Gates and Jimmy  Graham (former Miami center) as elite NFL tight ends, MP1 might consider football if the NBA  work out. He has the size, speed, toughness, and doesn’t shy from contact.

Alan adds:

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

The Best of Times:

Duke did not go into the home of an inconsistent but excellent defensive ACC opponent and get blown out, as one highly ranked team did this weekend.  (Florida State upending UNC by 33).  Andre Dawkins showed up big time and essentially won the game for Duke with 5-9 three point shooting.  He scored 24 points on 12 shots.  He also had 2 blocks and 2 boards.  He was why Duke won. Coach K showed why he’s Coach K with his ability to mix and match his 8 man rotation to meet the needs on the court.  Duke has point guard by committee with Thornton playing 12 minutes (0 points; 0-3 from behind the arc) with two assists and a turnover and a steal.  He plays a heady and intense floor game.  Cook played 19 minutes and acquitted himself pretty well on the defensive end after being blown by for a layup, and being benched (with the entire starting unit) at the 4 minute mark.  He was 4-6 (2-3 from 3land) with 2 assists and 2 turnovers.  He still needs consistency, but he is a freshman with a large upside. That means that Seth ran the point for 9 minutes, mostly as the game was winding down (though Quinn went in for Mason when Coach K didn’t want Mason on the foul line in spite of his 4-4 from there tonight).  Coach K trusts Seth at crunch time more than his “real” point guards.  Seth played 31 minutes, Austin 28 and Dawkins 27.  I believe that Coach K thinks these are his best 5.  Duke was 15-18 from the foul line and 4-9 from 3 in the second half (4-14 in the first half).  Miles had 14 boards (8 offensive) and I thought Duke defended the rim well.  The depth up front among the two Plumlees and Kelly is impressive.  Miles played 23 minutes; Kelly and Mason 26 each.

The Worst of Times

Duke had (once again) more turnovers than assists (9 assists; 17 turnovers).
Only Tyler had more assists than turnovers (2-1).  Duke got hammered on its own defensive boards late in the game (reminding one of the UVa game and some others).  Clemson pulled down 18 offensive rebounds.

Austin was shut out from the floor until late in the game when he made 2 nice drives.  He isn’t finishing; he isn’t popping well from the outside, and his ball handling seems less skillful.  He is, however, really starting to play good defense.  He’s still a key (28 minutes) but it seems to me that his confidence is eroding.  He needed some lessons, but now it is time to build him back up because he is potentially the most talented player on the roster.  His regression has coincided with Duke’s slide in quality play (Temple, Ga. Tech, UVa and now Clemson).  His resurgence (or lack) may be one of the real litmus tests for this team’s success.

Duke simply is not shooting well, especially from behind the arc.  Aside from Andre, it was Seth (1-4); Austin (0-2), Ryan (0-2), and Tyler (0-3).  Quinn was 2-3.  He has not shot it well from there, but I know he can and anticipate that his shot will return as his confidence grows.  Duke has to shoot better than it has recently.

DUKE  91 – WAKE FOREST  73

 After two too-close-for- comfort games, the Maestro started MP1 and Dawkins for Kelly and Rivers. We know that starting is a pride thing with players but the more important metric is minutes played and who is on the floor at the end of close games. The starters and the players off the bench all responded very well but let’s remember, this is Wake who lost to N.C. State last Saturday by thirty-five points.

Holy JJ, Batman, who was that smiling kid who was doing a Redick impression in the first half hitting 7 of 12 threes for 21 points? That was “‘Dre all day” as the Crazies chant when Andre Dawkins gets hot. Three impressive games in a row is a good omen for a team searching for a dominant, dependable scorer. When Andre is hot, the defense must overplay him so it spreads the defense and makes it easier for his teammates. I also think it is worth noting that Thornton had 8 assists, most of which were to Dawkins. Kelly and Rivers ended up playing more minutes than the starters and had their best games in some time. Cook, on the other hand, did not and only played 14 minutes. The Plumlees and the defense were just so-so.

Some observations:

·          The statistics bear out the fact that Duke is much better offensively than defensively. However, that is somewhat deceiving because they attempt a lot of threes, which like last night make the winning look easy. However, when they are not falling, the team struggles because the defense does not always bail them out.

·          Ryan Kelly played with a lot of energy and had a very impressive, stat-stuffing game.

·          Andre Dawkins has a natural smile as sweet as his jump shot– as opposed to say Redick, who had the focused demeanor of a “Hit Man”. Maybe it is not in Andre’s nature to be driven to excel all the time. If JJ had 7 threes and 21 points in the first half, do you think he would have taken one shot in the second half?

·          Rivers, on the other hand, is driven. He found out that he wasn’t starting two days ago and was chastened and angered but mature about the demotion:  “I’m bringing it every day for the rest of the year. I really want to do what I can to help the team. These guys have my back and I have their back. In the past, when I had a bad game, no one would talk to me. Here, it’s ‘Austin, we believe in you, you can do it,’ so much positive feedback, especially from the coaches. It’s something new for me. I was pissed off. I wasn’t mad at coach in any way. I respect what he says. I was so angry, I went home, didn’t talk to anybody. My teammates told me that’s not the way to handle it. Pointing fingers and being a coward isn’t going to help anything. Moving forward, whether I start or not doesn’t matter, I’m going to do my best and help the team.”

·          Many of Dawkins threes came with Thornton at the point and Rivers not on the floor. Rivers game often precludes quick ball and player movement and, since Dawkins is basically a spot up shooter, he is disadvantaged. When Rivers recognizes defenses quicker and better and looks to create shots for others as well as himself, this will become an even more lethal offense. It is also my view that to excel on this level and succeed on the next level, Austin Rivers must develop more point guard skills and mentality. He is not big enough, strong enough, or talented enough to be just a scoring guard in the pros. And unless/until he recognizes that, he will not realize his dreams.

Alan adds:

I thought there were a number of story lines from Duke’s relatively easy victory over Wake.  First (and perhaps foremost), welcome back, Austin.  Second, welcome (if not back), Andre; third, hello, Ryan; and (for players), welcome back, Seth.  All four had terrific games.  All four story lines coalesce around Coach K’s familiar, but usually successful, motivational ploys.  Neither Austin nor Ryan started (definite demotions), and both responded with stellar performances.  Austin had his best game (in my opinion) hitting 3-4 from behind the arc and going 6-11 from the floor and 5-6 from the line for 20 points in a team high 32 minutes.  His post game comments show maturity.  I think it was significant that Doc came to watch his son; I think he knew how Austin reacted to not starting was sort of a cross-roads for him.  It could turn out to be the move of the season.  Austin played really hard (if a bit inconsistently) on defense, too.

Seth had a superb game, especially in the second half.  Dawkins explosion in the first half led Wake to defend him intensely in the second half, which opened up the floor for Duke to drive to the basket.  Seth had 4 beautiful drives and played an intense game.  Though his minutes were limited by his 3 first half fouls (19 minutes), he was 7-9 from the floor (0-1 from 3 and missed his only 2 foul shots after the game was out of Wake’s reach), had two assists against a turnover and 3 steals.  Duke is tough when shooting well and 7-8 inside the arc is nothing to sneeze at.  And I will let Bill gush over Dawkins’s first half shooting performance.  He also defended intensely.  Kelly was 8-11 and Duke shot almost 55%, a nice trend.

It was very much a game of two halves.  With the exception of Dawkins’ stunning outburst, I did not think Duke played all that well in the first half.  It was again the defense on the perimeter.  Wake got to the basket rather easily and scored on a raft of layups.  Duke committed foul after foul on Wake’s drives, sending them to the line.  Duke was only 1-2 from the line in the first half, and might have been in trouble if not for Dawkins (and Ryan Kelly, who had 10 of his 20 points in the first half.  Wake seemed to get too many offensive rebounds as well.

Wake fatigued in the second half, and Duke simply had its way.  Duke got to the line 19 times in the second half, controlled the boards, defended much better and spread the scoring around, with Austin leading the way (14 in the second half).  It was nice to breath easily.  Dawkins didn’t score but played hard on defense (though he still gets beat back door occasionally).

Point guard play continues a bit inconsistent.  Thornton missed all 3 of his shots, but had 8 assists (mainly throwing the ball to Dawkins in the first half) and only 1 turnover in 21 minutes.  Cook, tweaked his knee again in practice and only played 14 minutes (after starting).  He hit a 3, a nice layup, but wasn’t as effective leading the team (or defending) as he has in other games.  Coach K is giving Seth his turn at the point as well.  It’s the lineup with the most firepower (Austin, Andre and Seth on the perimeter).  Still very much a work in progress.

After a comfortable win, Fla. State comes to Cameron.  It has the makings of a big game for Duke.  Florida State is rested after its blowout of UNC; Duke has a very short turnaround.  Florida State is very physical and has an outstanding defense.  They are long.  It will be a very good test on Saturday.

DUKE 73 – FLORIDA STATE 76 

Alan’s wonderful opening paragraph (below) puts the game in proper, not partisan,  perspective–it was a compelling college basketball game on a number of different levels and by a number of different standards.

Florida State hit a buzzer-beater prayer three at the end of the half to cut a Duke lead to six, then hit a pure  buzzer beater three to win the game. Duke had no excuses. They led at home for most of the second half but in the end, a defense that held the Seminoles to just 26 first half points, gave up 50 in the second half while scoring just 41 themselves. It is somewhat ironic that a team which usually wins by the three was beaten by a team which only has one player shooting over 40% for the season. Just as the Seminoles got hot in the second half and won, last week Virginia, a much better three point shooting team, did not and lost. But in college basketball, you never know– especially during the twenty-five years of the three point shot.

In a sense, this was a game of men against boys. The Seminoles have three graduate students, a 27 year old Army veteran center, and a lot of seniors. The good news is that Duke played an older, bigger, stronger, terrific defensive team to a statistical draw and the Blue Devils will be a better team for a game like this in that they will be better prepared to win close games the next time.  The  bad news is that they were at home in a position to win like we are used to winning tight games and that the Plumlees scored only 13 points (to go with 13 rebounds) and were exposed defensively at crucial times.

Except for the fact that Duke just couldn’t knock down shots (Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly shot a combined 1-14, many of them good looks), the first half could hardly have gone better for Duke. The Blue Devils outrebounded FSU 22-14, committed only three turnovers, while forcing seven, and didn’t even send Florida State to the line.

In the second half, Duke had an eight-point lead  with ten minutes remaining after a Ryan Kelly 3-pointer, but mostly the score was close with both teams topping the other with key plays.

There were a couple of times it looked like the Blue Devils might have the Seminoles in on the ropes, most notably with the Kelly 3-pointer or when Andre Dawkins hit a 3-pointer from the corner to give Duke a 67-63 edge with three minutes remaining. However, each time, Florida State found a way to get the ball into the paint to score. After the Dawkins 3-pointer, Xavier Gibson had a dunk and Bernard James scored on a layup on consecutive FSU possessions to tie the score at 67. The Seminoles shot an unacceptable 67%  from the floor after halftime.

Austin Rivers, responding to his benching (followed by attitude adjustment talk from the coaches, the players, and his father), was a focused warrior playing his best game of his young career at Duke. Dawkins (14 pts & 4 rebs)  picked his spots for critical plays and Tyler Thornton (5 pts  & 4 assists ) was solid. I assume Quinn Cook is injured. If it is his knee, that is a blow. He could have been a help on the offensive end against the Seminoles.

Some observations:

·          A win could have given the Blue Devils a clear path to the regular season title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. With two games against Carolina and a return match with Florida State in Tallahassee, the journey becomes much more difficult. But in the  convoluted scheduling of the expanded ACC, UNC doesn’t play Florida State again but does get UVA twice. So, the clear path to the regular season is with Florida State.

·          At the beginning of the season, the stated team goal was to have more balanced scoring. In the three losses, the front court did not produce the points to achieve that goal. Part of the problem is that other than Quinn Cook, the Duke point guards are not consistent penetrators. Another is than Kelly is better on the perimeter and not strong enough to muscle a big defender, MP2 plays with more finesse than muscle, and MP1 is more muscle than finesse. If Mason stays next year (and this is why he should), he will become a stronger, more complete player ,and more compelling option in the post.

·          Dawkins had his fourth productive game in a row—a sign of a maturing, focused player. Don’t forget, he came to Duke a year early at 17.

Alan Adds:

If anyone would ask me why I love college basketball as much as I do, I would simply re-play for that person a tape of last night’s game.  It was a great college basketball game.  This was not a final four game; not a tournament game with elimination on the line; not a game for the conference championship; not a great rivalry game; not even a really critical game in any aspect.  Yet, it was a special game in which the players dueled with each other, each team making the other rise to the heights.  Duke did not lose the game; so much as Florida State won it.  I thought Duke played better basketball last night than at any time since before the Temple loss.

Florida State is (obviously) a dramatically improved team.  The Seminoles have lost 6 times including to Harvard,  Princeton and Clemson (also to ranked teams – UConn, Michigan State and Florida).  This was their fourth win in a row (Va. Tech, the blowout of UNC, and Maryland).

I believe that Duke will take much from this game.  Duke held its own on the boards, giving up only 4 offensive rebounds, and had only 10 turnovers.  Duke took 13 more shots from the field and for the first time in a while had more assists (13) than turnovers. There were some down aspects, though.  Florida. State scored 50 points in the second half on 66% shooting (5-6 from behind the arc) and 10-14 from the line.  Duke was fairly awful on defense in the second half after an excellent first half defensively.  However, I thought that Florida State offense was really good.  Dawkins got caught on the last play; he did not know if he was going to have to help on the drive (a foul would have also  probably won the game as FSU was in the 2 shot bonus), and so left the three point shooter open from the wing for the win.  The absence of Quinn Cook, who was said to have tweaked his knee in practice before the Wake game, hurt Duke’s offense, especially in the first half when Duke was stymied (31% shooting) by the smothering Florida State defense.

Coach K went with a seven player rotation – Kelly (24 minutes) and Miles (26) and Mason (30) up front, and Thornton (17 minutes) spelling Curry (36), Dawkins (28) and Rivers (38).  Duke had major foul trouble (mostly caused by the Seminoles’ ability to penetrate and get shots close in to the basket).  Mason, Kelly and Dawkins had 4 each while Seth had 3.  The foul trouble for the bigs made the interior defense porous at the end.

I find it hard to be distraught by the loss.  Paterno’s favorite teaching was “Everyone knows what to do with a win; winners know what to do with a loss”.  Coach K has always been a winner.  If Cook isn’t permanently damaged, I see Duke growing from the effort in this game.  Circle February 23 on your calendar.  Duke v Florida State in Tallahassee.

DUKE  74– MARYLAND 61

Maryland students and fans make the Comcast center a tough, often nasty, venue for Duke. Tonight was potentially more so because before tip-off, the court was named for just retired, scrappy Coach Gary Williams. The Terps started on fire as they jumped to an eight point lead and while their defense was geared to stop Duke’s threes. The strategy initially worked, but it left a lot of space down low and gradually Duke adjusted as MP2, Kelly, and MP1 took full advantage to kept the Blue Devils in the game. Maryland cooled off and Mason Plumlee heated up, scoring almost at will with  pretty, soft ambidextrous hook shots and strong dunks.

Although Duke did not close out the half well, they were up three and, after a sloppy start of the final twenty minutes, finished the final ten minutes in workman like fashion. Mason Plumlee had by far his most impressive game as a Blue Devil—23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block and 5-5 from the free throw line.

The final score is deceiving as several times this game could have gone the other way. Normally, when Duke is missing threes, it is difficult for them to win. While MP2 played like an All American, everyone else settled down, made heady plays (only 9 turnovers), and out fought the Terps for most of the loose balls. Another key was free throws.  Duke was 17-18 and Maryland 11-21. Duke also outrebounded the Terps 33-28, and held them to 40% from the floor while shooting 49% but going 3-16 from beyond the arc.

Some observations:

  • Duke has not lost two games in a row since 2009.
  • Starter Andre Dawkins was a non-factor and did not play much the second half. On the other hand, non-starter Ryan Kelly, was very efficient with 14 points a two of Duke’s three treys.
  • Cook and GMan2 were left home alone as they are sick.
  • Bobby Knight was one of the commentators and listening to him you can understand why he is a Hall of Fame coach.
  • Austin Rivers most impressive attribute is his mental toughness. He was just plain awful in the first half but in the second, let the game come to him and scored several important baskets.
  • As I have commented, I have never understood why MP2 has been such an awful free throw shooter. He is not a brick layer, he has a nice soft touch but inconsistent north south direction, and not enough arc. The last few games, this seems to have changed and he appears more confident.
  • I hope I am wrong, but the last several games have left me with the uneasy feeling that this team may be less than the sum of their parts. No one, especially Rivers, is consistent enough to be the player to take over games. Curry and Kelly are very nice players but complementary players—except at the end of a game. Andre is a sometimes thing. Thornton is solid but not creative. Tonight, Mason was “The Man”  but he had an obvious mismatch that doesn’t exist against Carolina, Florida State, etc. However, this game might give him the confidence to really give the Devils a more balanced offense. Defense is still a big question mark.

Alan Adds:

Concerns for the quality of Duke’s perimeter defense have been voiced throughout this season, but the first 10 minutes of the opening half raised the concerns through the roof.  Maryland went through the Duke perimeter defense as if the Dookies were moving in slow motion.  The Duke double teams were sliced and diced.  Once the Maryland guard got past the on the ball defense, their interior passing made it seem as if the Terps scored on every early possession.   Maryland scored 23 points in the first 10 minutes but (and here’s the key) only 38 for the next 30 minutes as Duke’s defense tightened (and Maryland’s hot shooting cooled off) (The Terps scored only 27 points in the second half).

The really good news was the efficient manner in which Duke closed out the game at “winning time”, which for me is the last 5 minutes of regulation.  Duke was behind 47-45 with just under 5 to play, and took control.  Duke got the loose balls, made the hustle plays, shot fouls almost perfectly (Miles had the only miss as the team went 17-18), and most of all controlled both back boards.  Seth and Austin eschewed the outside shot (after a night of spectacular futility) and drove for easy layups.  It was a bravura last 5 minutes.

Maryland’s game plan was to stop Duke’s 3 point shooting and they did (aside from Kelly’s 2-3; Duke was 1-13 for a whopping 7.6% from behind the arc).  But to do it, Maryland elected not to provide any double teams when Duke sent the ball into the post.  Mason handled the post like an All-American.  He was not less than superb, and was the reason Duke won the game.  His stat line was breath taking.  23 points on 13 shots, including 5-5 from the free throw line; 12 boards; 4 assists and a block.  Only 1 turnover.  Kelly had 14 points on 7 shots (5-7 including 2-3 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the line.  The only other double scorer was Austin, who played a game high 38 minutes.  He was 0-3 from behind the arc, but some clutch beautiful drives in the second half (5-9 from inside the arc.  He also had 5 boards and 3 assists with the same number of turnovers).  However, I thought Rivers was Duke’s best perimeter defender.  Read that sentence again!  It may not look like it from the box score, but he is improving.  How Coach K perceives Austin’s play is reflected in the minutes he is on the court.  Mason and Curry played 31 minutes.  Both Thornton and Dawkins (22 minutes) were defensive toast and had no resistance to the Maryland penetration as P’shon Howard and Soglin beat the first defender with ease.  Andre was not only toasted on the defensive end, he was virtually invisible on the offensive end.  In 22 minutes, he made 1 of 6 shots; 5 of them 3s.  His inconsistency is defining him.  Coach K relied heavily on Tyler Thornton, who played 29 minutes and was 5-5 from the foul line down the stretch.  He had 0 turnovers, but committed 4 fouls.  Duke had 14 assists against only 9 turnovers.

Duke’s trademark in the Coach K era has been to make more foul shots than the other team takes.  Not this season.  While Duke made more foul shots than Maryland (17-11), Maryland shot 21 to Duke’s 18, but was dismal from the line (11-21), and missing the front end of 1 and 1s a couple of times.

Duke may not have a go-to guy, as all the commentators have noted, but they do have 8 starters, any one of which can be “the guy” for the night, as Mason was against the Terps.  Dawkins has been “the guy” a couple of times.  So has Curry.  So has Rivers.  So has Kelly.  Cook, one of the 8 (and Gbinije) were ill and did not make the trip to College Park.  Losing one of the 8 for a game is something this Duke team can withstand better than past ones.

Duke has been so inconsistent on defense, that I share Bill’s misgivings about this team.  Offensively, Duke took advantage of Maryland’s lack of size and the inexperience of the Terp bigs.  That is an advantage Duke didn’t have against Fla. State and won’t have against the premier teams.  So much promise; so much inconsistency.

DUKE  83 – ST. JOHNS 76

This game may be the catalyst for the turning point of Duke’s season—or not—because Coach K was not happy: “We did enough to win, which almost makes me sick to say. I hate saying that. I hate saying that we did enough to win. That’s not who I am and that’s not what this program is. Why are we in this position right now?. “Well, I can tell you: by not playing defense, by not finishing. I think a big part of our team is, we just let up. These kids are more offensive players, and they won’t win big unless they become defensive players who can play offense. That’s bottom line. Up at Maryland, we held them to 60. We played really well defensively, and the first half against Florida State. So, we can do it. It’s just not in our nature. It’s just not in our nature to do it.” And when Coach K is not happy, change is sure to follow.

The Blue Devils ended the first half like they were going to blow out the Red Storm – which featured five freshman starters and no player taller than 6-foot-8 – and get some fine-tuning before ACC play fires back up next week.

Instead, a 20-point first-half lead dwindle to as few as four as a St. John’s comeback exposed faults in both the Blue Devils’ defense and, possible, its mental makeup. Duke shot 7 of 23 in the second half and hit just one of its eight attempts from 3-point range. St. John’s freshman Moe Harkless scored 18 of his 30 and D’Angelo Harrison had 15 of his 21 in the second half.

But Duke ended up hitting its final four free throws to preserve the win. It wasn’t the usual script but it was an ugly win–Duke plays poorly but does the little things late to hold on. Lessons learned—or not. The players have had the summer together on their world tour as well as 21 games of the season to learn their lesson. Maybe it is just that these players—good students and good kids but just too nice.

Alan has a very interesting analysis on the defensive problems. However, I will point out again that games are often determined by three point shooting (or defending them) and free throw shooting (where there is no defense, except not fouling). Duke hit 7 threes (vs. 5 for St. John’s) & 32 free throws (vs. 11).  Dawkins hit four NBA range rainbows in the first half but was 0-4 in the second. All of those misses were off by a fraction of an inch, which reminds us—as the 2010 Butler game did—that the difference between success and failure is a very slim margin.

Some observations:

·          Austin Rivers reminds me of a smaller Art Heyman in that he is a scorer not a pure shooter like Andre Dawkins. And like Art (and unlike Andre), he his mentally tough and wants to take over games in critical situations. He has cut down his blind drives into traffic and has much better court vision. Today, he made much better decisions and was rewarded with 5 assists and would have had that many more if Curry and Dawkins had hit open shots. He was at the point for significant portions of the second half. Very late in the game, Rivers got to the basket for two beautiful drives. Then, he reverted to high school form and drove into traffic and turned the ball over. Like the rest of the team, he is a work in process—but an encouraging one as is Mason Plumlee who had 17 rebounds and  15 points.

·          Quinn Cook, on the other hand, is another story.  The freshman point guard has had a tough few weeks, with his knee bothering him in addition to getting sick. The ailments have negated the momentum Cook had earlier in January, when his strong play earned him a spot in the Blue Devils’ starting lineup.

·          After the Duke Chronicle published an article this week detailing how Duke’s students were not using all their tickets to games, the student section seemed full. Asked about the subject after the win, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was more concerned about the lethargy of his team than anything the crowd did or did not do. “I hate to say anything about the crowd,” Krzyzewski said. “It was us this afternoon. We can be better. Everything can be better.”

Alan adds:

I cannot add much beyond what Coach K had to say to the media after Duke gave up 31 points in the last 12 minutes, and turned a 22 point lead into almost a nail biter (it never got to a 1 possession game, but the outcome was definitely in doubt).  Duke had a huge size advantage inside and took advantage, but Duke’s defense is now acknowledged as inferior for big time teams, and the quality that will keep Duke from being a national force this year.  Here’s what Coach K said:

“We did enough to win, which almost makes me sick to say.  I hate saying that.  I hate saying we did enough to win.  That’s not who I am and that’s not who this program is.  We don’t do enough to win.  We play really good basketball and hopefully we win.  And that’s the story.

“We let up and they didn’t.  I want to win by playing great basketball and to me today was a loss.  I didn’t like today.  If my team doesn’t like today, then we’ll get better.  If my team is okay with today then we’re [my team and I] are going to fight.  I’m not going to change on this.”

Coach K compared Duke’s defense to AAU ball, “You run, you score, I run, I score.  Then suddenly, I don’t score and it’s a 9 point game and it’s not an AAU game today.  That’s not the way it works.”

I do think there was a positive and defining moment for Duke in the late game going.  The lead had shrunk to 7 when Austin gave Duke two tremendously clutch baskets with superb drives to the hole.  He looked like Grant Hill or Jason Williams, just taking over the game with superb athleticism.  A good moment for him to build on.  He is hustling on defense, though still having lapses.  He’s better as a defender than Dawkins, Cook and even Seth, and almost as good as Thornton (who is better than ok, but not up to past great Duke on the ball defenders).

On defense, the opposing guards do not seem to get much resistance to their penetration.  The switches leave room for interior passing resulting in easy layups.  The defense is getting good rim protection from the bigs.  Note how many layups the opponents miss.  The announcers say “missed”, but the bigs are altering shots and making layups difficult even when there is no block.  But that is only some of the time; there seem to be many instances where the rotation is late and the layups clean.  The trademark perimeter tactic of help and recover is not anywhere near the Duke defense we have come to expect.  Duke has good defensive moments (Maryland; Fla State first half etc.), but there is NO consistency and Duke is giving up a high percentage of field goals.  St John’s shot 46% (including 50%; 5-10 from 3)  in the second half.  Most of the St John’s three point attempts were wide open after Duke switches.  And, as the score got closer and the time waned, St John’s began to get many offensive rebounds to score and tighten the lead even when they had missed the first or first two shots of the possession.  Duke also began fouling excessively (losing Rivers ultimately, and limiting both Miles and Tyler’s time on the floor).

Coach K played his starting 5 most of the game, with only 10 minutes from Tyler, 9 from Miles, 8 from Quinn (who looked very rusty with his shooting; 0-3 and awful on defense) and 7 from Hairston.  Miles had 8 points but only 1 board a block two steals, three fouls and a turnover in his short stint.  Tyler was limited by 4 fouls in his 10 minutes, but hit a 3 and was 4-4 from the line with 2 boards, but 0 assists and a turnover.  Dawkins had 14 points in 35 minutes, but 12 were in the first half.  Austin again led in minutes played (37 minutes before fouling out) and was 4-11 (1-3 from behind the arc) with 5 assists (would have been more if some recipients of gorgeous passes had been able to finish) and 3 tough defensive rebounds.  Four turnovers and fouling out are weaknesses he is working on.  Seth played 29 minutes (the only starter under 30) with 9 points on 3-7 shooting, but was 1-4 from behind the arc.  The backcourt was torched on defense and mediocre on offense.  Duke once again had more turnovers than assists (15-14)

Duke’s bigs won the game.  Kelly had 16 points in 31 minutes.  His 10-12 from the free throw line was huge as were his 9 boards.  Duke scored 32 from the line (out of 42 attempts; a huge discrepancy).  St John’s was 11-21; so Duke scored 21 more points from the line.  Mason continued his awesome performances (marred only by 5-9 from the free throw line, a slight regression).  He had 15 points on 8 shots to go with his 17 rebounds.  Both Kelly and Mason had 6 offensive boards each.

It’s too bad Feinstein has already used the title “A Season on the Brink”, because it would be apt for this Duke team.  Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Thursday.  I suspect practices will be intense.

Note: This filing meanders a bit but as most of you must realize, Alan and I write this for our own personal enjoyment and amusement. The fact that anyone else may enjoy it is serendipity.

DUKE  75– VIRGINIA TECH 60 

We have seen this movie many times over the years, but it never gets old. Duke loses a game or plays poorly.  The Maestro shakes up the line-up and the Blue Devils play well and win. Tonight, it was Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton for Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry. Ah, but there was a new wrinkle–a team ban on social media (no Twitter) and a bus ride not a charter flight to Blacksburg, which is isolated in the middle of (nowhere) Virginia, a state for which I have great deal of affection because I spent half my life up Rt. 81 in Winchester, a truly magical place.

Everyone contributed but Kelly, who has some of his best games coming off the bench, and Rivers were particularly impressive. Austin had his best and, coincidentally, most efficient game as a Blue Devil (7-11 for 18 pts, 5 rebs, 5 assists, 1 steal and much better defense) by taking less shots and enjoying it more. He also had one of the more ironic quotes of the season: “Everybody’s so unselfish now and it makes everything fun.”

Coach Seth (I was no math major but 3 is more than 2”) Greenberg played everyone straight up but overplayed the guards to cut down the threes, daring MP2 to beat the Hokies one-on-one. Mason had a subpar offensive night(4-10 for 10 pts, 6 rebs, 2 blks & 1 steal) but, more importantly, continued to be much more accurate (2-2) from the foul  line.  Quinn Cook, who  played a solid 12 minutes, apparently had enough of MP2 missing baby hook shots, so just to show Mason how it is done,  drove across the lane and tossed in a patented Magic Johnson sky hook.

Some observations:

·          It could be that Coach K has decided that he needs a defensive stopper like Billy King and since G-Man2 has been sick, had Josh Hairston audition. Or, he may be looking for a match-up for Harrison Barnes when Duke plays Carolina next week. Whatever the case, Josh made a case for more minutes and Kelly was very effective at the right times.

·          There were a couple of plays that demonstrated that the players got the “defensive effort” message: Rivers steal on a back door play; Hairston on the floor for loose balls; but the most impressive was  Mason Plumlee’s spectacular block foiling a fast break. Plumlee sprinted from one end of the floor to another, outrunning just about everyone, including all the guards. It was a spectacular play, and an inspirational template for the rest of the team.

·           Duke’s run early in the first half came after the usually placid Dawkins made a 3-pointer, then said something to Virginia Tech’s Dorenzo Hudson as he ran up the court and was called for a technical. Minutes before that,  the Hokies were unhappy and chippy with Duke after a foul, so the referees gathered the players together and warned them about physical play and trash talk.

·          Virginia Tech suffered its most lopsided defeat of the season.

·          Max McCaffrey, the son of former Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, committed to play football for Duke. His mother Lisa, a daughter of Dave Sime, the great Duke world champion sprinter, baseball player, and post graduate football player as “lonesome end” (while in medical school), attended Stanford (where she met Ed), on a soccer scholarship. Dave, who was on a 1956 Sports Illustrated cover, was arguably the best athlete (certainly, along with Dick Groat ad Ace Parker, the  most versatile) in Duke’s history. Of course, Ed’s brother was Billy McCaffrey who played an instrumental role on the 1991 NCAA Championship team before transferring to Vanderbilt.

Alan comments: Here’s a bit to follow up on your Dave Sime reference.  Sime came to Duke on a baseball scholarship.  In his freshman year, they took the baseball players to the track to work on speed.  They ran test 100s (yards then; not meters).  Sime ran 9.5 in sweats and baseball cleats (world record then was 9.3); when asked, he did it again. He was in the big time almost immediately, winning the DC indoor 60 in his first meet as a sophomore.  He ran track at Duke in the spring all but one year.  His sophomore year in one meet, he ran 9.3 for the 100 (tied world record); ran 20 flat for the 220 (yards again; run on a straightaway, not curve), and tied the world record in the 220 low hurdles.[Bill notes: I was there. It was a dual meet. A lot of people had come to see if Dave could break the world’s record in the 100. He didn’t and they left. Duke needed points to win the meet and Coach Al Buehler asked Dave to run the 220 low hurdles, which he never practiced. He did, clearing them by about almost a foot and a still breaking the record.] He also won the long jump.  Finally, Duke needed points to win the dual meet (against Navy, I think).  So he took a turn at the discus because Larry Spear, his roommate was Duke’s only discus thrower.  He won the event the only time he threw in competition.  His senior year, he was the ACC javelin champion.  He was the fastest sprinter in the world, but tore a groin muscle just before the ’56 trials.  He never hurdled or long jumped again, but he beat the 56 Olympic champion in several head to head races (Penn Relays was one) the next year.  In 1960, he was in medical school.  He made the US Olympic team in the 100 (meters) and ran on the 4 x 100 relay team.  He won the silver, just being nipped by the lightening starter Armin Hary of Germany.  He told me once (we had girlfriends in the same dorm, and occasionally chatted waiting for them) that he was in lane 1 and Hary in the far lane and he didn’t really see Hary.  He said he would have won if he had been next to him.  In the relay, Sime, anchoring, stormed from behind to catch the Germans and seemingly finally get his gold medal.  Great run, but US was DQed for passing out of the zone on the second leg.  The one year he played baseball for Duke, he was a switch hitting center fielder.  He led the ACC in home runs, RBIs and was considered a real prospect. Years later, I was friends with Bill Lee (Spaceman, the Red Sox screwball leftie; actually a terrific guy – screwball was his public persona), who had to decide if the contract said what had been agreed to on the last night he could file for free agency.  He asked me to meet with Larry McPhail, the GM of the Expos (Bill had been traded to Montreal), and review the contract.  I ran my workout in central park first, and showed up at McPhail’s room in his hotel overlooking the park sweating in my running gear.  McPhail wanted to make me welcome and so started talking about running.  It seems he had been scouting this hot shot prospect who was also a sprinter, Dave Sime, who was a left fielder.  “No sir. He was a centerfielder.”  McPhail “I think he
was a left hand hitter.”  “No sir. He was a switch hitter.”  I got respect.  I never said I went to Duke or knew Sime.  McPhail treated me with respect.  Good and true story. [Bill adds: As a freshman, I had a brief career running track. One of the first days of practice, Coach Buehler had the sprinters warm up by running striders with “Dave”, a tall, red headed sophomore. He said: “Jog, half sped, three quarter speed”.  I was running as fast as I could, so I knew my days as a sprinter were numbered. Of course, the sophomore turned out to be The Dave Sime, so later I didn’t feel quite as bad.]

Alan adds:

Bill’s report is on target.  He immediately focused correctly on the twitter ban. The team agreeing on the social media ban (Let’s do something this season that will give us a reason to tweet after it) is, I think more meaningful than superficial.  It all starts with attitude and passion.  Coach K said that if his team was as unhappy as he was with the St. John’s win, the team would be alright.  They came out as if they heard their Hall of Fame coach loud and clear.  It was easily Duke’s best defensive performance of the year.  Not perfect.  There were some late rotations and missed assignments, but on balance it was a hummer of a defense.  Duke stopped, by and large, perimeter penetration better than the defense has all year.  Credit Thornton and Hairston for sure, but Duke’s best defender last night was Austin Rivers.  Austin is slowly (maybe not so slowly) morphing into a wonderfully solid all-around basketball player.  His stat line last night, as Bill pointed out, was quite amazing, especially since it seems he wasn’t trying to do so much.  In 35 minutes (by far the most of any Duke player) he was 7-11 (3-4 from downtown) with 5 boards, 5 assists and a steal.  He turned it over only twice.  Here’s an amazing stat for me, especially considering minutes played and superb defensive effort: 0 personal fouls.  No mouth (Dawkins could learn); no pouting, no bitching at the refs.  Just encouraging teammates.  Watching Rivers develop, gives one the warm and fuzzies for great coaching (I suspect that includes great parenting) and a kid who said he came to Duke to be coached.  He’s coachable.

I like to see who plays how many minutes and who is taking shots.  I think those stats get you a bit inside of Coach K’s perceptions. I thought those facts were interesting last night.  Shot attempts: Austin 11, Ryan and Mason 10 each.  Hairston took 6 shots in only 15 minutes (he’s not shy), Miles took 5 in only 9 minutes;  I think he had a bunch of missed offensive rebounds.  Curry is still in his shooting slump (2-7; 1-4 from behind the arc), but he is driving the ball and getting to the foul line (6-6).  Duke was money from the line, except for both Hairston and Cook missing the front end of 1 and 1s.  Kelly (3-4) had the only other miss as Duke went 13-16.  Tyler played 28 minutes and Quinn Cook 12.  I think that means the experiment of Curry (23 minutes) at the point is at least on hold, if not over.  After Rivers, Mason (his left hand jump hooks contributed to 4-10 shooting) played 29 minutes and Kelly (playing at the end with 4 fouls) played 28.  He was efficient, scoring his 15 points on 10 shots and defending well.

Outside of Rivers, the backcourt is a pastiche of differing parts.  Thornton took only 1 shot in 28 minutes and had only 1 assist and a turnover.

The good news is he didn’t foul unnecessarily (2).  Dawkins continues to be a defensive liability.  He played 23 minutes and took only 3 shots (making 2; one was a 3).  What is the story with that?  Maybe his 3 fouls (I think all in the first half).  Duke put Va Tech in the bonus early in the first half, but was better in the closing stanza.  Which brings me to Quinn Cook (who, as you know, I have been high on all year).  Cook had his best game so far.  He is a good outside shooter (or was last year in high school), but his shot is not falling.  I predict it will and he will be a star at Duke (though maybe not this year).  In his 12 minutes he had 3 assists (only Austin had more for Duke), and they were beautiful.  As my insight about Zoubek last year, extrapolate Cook’s playing time and his assist statistic becomes impressive. The team is so much more fluid when he runs the point.  He missed both of his 3 point attempts (Austin looks for him because they played together in all-star games last year when Cook was shooting well), but made a wonderful driving layup and the mini hook.  [Btw. Len Elmore’s comments – the hook shot reminded me – are so anti-Duke as to be genuinely annoying]

Other good team notes: 12 assists and only 7 turnovers.  Dawkins (1-1) Austin (4-6) and Kelly (2-4) gave Duke 7-11 from downtown.  However, Curry, Cook and Tyler were 1-7.  Still, I think all 3 are good shooter, though I have no idea why Curry’s outside shot has gone south.

All in all, it was a terrific performance and very much fun to watch.  The question is: was this just a reaction to Coach K’s emotional post-St. John’s tirade, or has the team ramped up its intensity for the season.   Time will tell, beginning with Miami on Super Bowl Sunday.  And I think they also play some team that wears (as Bill likes to say) the pastels (aka  washed out blues) next Wednesday.

DUKE  76 – MIAMI 78

Down 42-28 at the half, this game looked like the Miami varsity versus the Duke junior varsity. Miami ran past, over, under, around, and through Duke, making them appear to be a mediocre defensive team that can be out-quicked, out-muscle and a finesse, jump shooting team that must out score a strong opponent from beyond the arc and at the line. The second half didn’t start much better as Duke fell 16 points behind. Then, Duke pressed and trapped all over the floor as Curry and Cook re-ignited the defense and the offense to fuel a Duke  a run that culminated in putting Rivers, who was about all the offense in the first half,  on the line down one with 14 seconds to go. He only made one but Duke had an impressive defensive effort to deny Miami a shot as the game ended in a tie. All the momentum was with the Blue Devils so the game was there for the taking in the next five minutes. Duke had an opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

In the overtime, the Blue Devils inexplicably snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as Rivers, Cook, and even, Curry (89% for the year) went 0-6 from the charity stripe (which wasn’t so charitable). Still down only one with 20 seconds left in the overtime, Cook drove and threw up a freshman  shot/pass that hit nothing. Coach Collins was seen asking the question for all of us “Why?” We can only think he thought he was fouled. My question is, why was the ball in the hands of the least experienced player with two timeouts and the game on the line?

In his press conference, Krzyzewski said you can’t cheat the game. “We had no energy and they did. For the last 16 minutes of the game, I thought we played really well and gave ourselves a chance to win. But we couldn’t close the deal. They’ve been told not to take anything for granted. Someday, they’ll pay attention. They should listen and they should do. They didn’t. (Do you get the feeling that Coach K is frustrated with his team?) Good teams should play with energy for 40 minutes.” A Duke team should play with energy for 40 minutes – or 45,” Krzyzewski continued. “Go outside and look at the banners. They’re quite a few of them up there. They were not won without energy, without hunger, with … complacency, with(out) people really wanting it.”

Some observations:

·          For whatever reason, Cameron is not the same feared place this year. Starting with Belmont, every good team has played well. Maybe it’s the students, maybe it’s the players, maybe the opponents  are more seasoned. Whatever the reason(s), Cameron and the Crazies are no longer worth 10 points.  Coach K: “The place doesn’t have energy. We don’t, the place doesn’t. We had none, I’m not blaming anyone else. It’s us. We should have energy even if the place is empty. It’s that important.”

·          The blunt truth is that this team is not playing as well as they did in Hawaii and other teams are. Anyone watch Kansas-Missouri last night? Plenty of energy there.

·          Miami is, as usual, talented and physical but still an inconsistent team. However, with new Head Coach Jim Larranaga, (formerly of the NCAA Final Four Cinderella team George Mason) that will change. But, for sure, they are no Ohio State.

·          Reggie Johnson, all 6’ 10” 290 pounds of him is a load with soft hands  and  plays his best against Duke. However, this season he has not scored 20 points in a game– until today. So, Mason Plumlee has to ask himself if he is ready to play in the NBA or does he need another year to get stronger and more polished?

·          Duke’s offensive set for most of the first half was Rivers with the ball on the left wing and the center flashing to a high post establishing a 45 degree pick lane for Austin. Once in the lane, Austin drove to the basket or passed to an open man. It was very effective but the open man was not hitting his shot. I think we will see more of this set and was surprised we did not see it at the end of the game.

·          Dawkins was MIA again and did not play in the seconds half.

·          Until today, Miami had never won in Cameron.

·          Duke has now lost two home games to ACC opponents.

·          Eli, Peyton and Coach Cut. “I never stray too far from what Coach Cutcliffe taught me,” Eli said last week preparing for Super Bowl XLVI against the New England Patriots. David Cutcliffe was the offensive coordinator when Peyton was at the University of Tennessee and then became the coach at Mississippi when Eli played there. Both Mannings have been known to visit Cutcliffe, now coaching at Duke, from time to time, even as pros. Eli went to North Carolina for three days last June during the N.F.L. lockout. Cutcliffe had been examining video of Manning’s fundamentals during his interception-plagued 2010 season. The visit focused on retooling Eli’s footwork, agility, body mechanics and field vision.

Alan adds:

I was on the road and didn’t pick up the game until the final four minutes of regulation with Duke trailing by 4 and then 5 points.  Quinn Cook was the point guard for the entire period that I watched (Thornton, who only played 10 minutes, Dawkins 14 and Hairston 13 did not appear in the game while I watched).  Duke played some excellent defense and up until Cook missed 2 free throws and took that hellacious shot late in the overtime, he looked very good and made the Duke offense seem smooth.  He had 4 assists, but still can’t find his outside shot (0-3 from behind the arc).  Take away the amazing  (not too strong a word) string of missed free throws in the overtime, and this is a well-earned Duke win.  Both Curry and Rivers missed from the field in overtime, but took good shots.  Austin played 43 minutes, and Curry 39, which leads to a suspicion that the overtime misses could have been fatigue induced.  Both put out much energy on the defensive end as well to fuel Duke’s comeback.

While Mason had 13 rebounds, he had only 6 points to go with 4 turnovers and 4 fouls.  Defensively Duke simply had no answers for Reggie Johnson’s interior scoring and his and Katdji’s inside play (collectively 42 points and 20 rebounds.  Austin was Duke’s second leading rebounder with 9.  Miles had 2 points and 4 boards in 22 minutes. Kelly had only 8 points and 7 boards in 26 minutes.  In short, Duke was manhandled inside, in a way that creates apprehension for dealing with Henson, Zeller and Barnes on Wednesday night.

Finally, Duke was 9-31 from behind the arc.  There simply isn’t a lot good to say about Duke’s performance.  It was a bit bitter after the optimism induced by the superior performance against an inferior Virginia Tech team.  This Duke team will test Coach K’s genius.

DUKE 85 – CAROLINA 84

This game was yet another reminder why Duke – Carolina is the best rivalry in college basketball—maybe in all of sports. In your wildest dreams, you just can’t imagine some of the fantastic, incredible finishes. And this game will be remembered as one of the best in the 233 games played. At the end of the first half, Duke had played about as well as they could offensively and were still down 43-40. The Blue Devils were never ahead in the second half—even when the clock showed :00. But Austin Rivers long three pointer was already in the air and found nothing but net changing the final score  to “Duke 85– Carolina 84”, turning the raucous, pastel colored crowd into one of stunned, disbelieving silence—until March 3rd when these two teams play again in Cameron.

You would think that any team that hits 13 more threes than an opponent and holds them to under 50% from the floor would win. However, down double digits for most of the second half, outscored  42-12 in the paint, and getting killed on the boards the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, there didn’t seem to be much hope for the Blue Devils. But with these two teams, history tells us “it’s never over until it’s over”. Zeller (23 pts. & 11 rebs.) is a wonderfully dependable player who played another stellar game until the last two minutes. Then, he inadvertently tipped in Kelly’s three point attempt at the rim (for some  reason, it only counted 2 points), then missed the second of two free throws to give Duke the ball down two with 14 seconds to go. The rest will be burned into the memories of everyone who saw THE SHOT! And if you should forget it, you will see it played for years to come promoting an upcoming game.

I recently told my Carolina buddy Bucky that UNC was so talented that I didn’t think any Duke player could start for them (well, after tonight, Rivers).  However, Duke has Coach K, who somehow instills a “never, ever give-up” attitude to his teams. Sure, this team has been an atypical, enigmatic puzzle, as the loss Saturday at home to Miami proved. Tonight, when the Blue Devils were down ten with 2:30 to go, raise your hand if you thought the Blue Devils would win. Even some of the sports writers, who should know better, had left courtside to go to the media room to file their stories. Well, tonight a 13-2 run snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Whatever Austin Rivers does the rest of his career at Duke, he will always be remembered for this game and this shot.

Some observations:

·          Coach Williams was gracious in defeat: “This one hurts. The kids really played and competed and did some very good things. Duke is awfully good, and I think we are awfully good. Tonight, I think at the same point, it was two great basketball programs, two big-time teams, and they made more plays the last three minutes than we did.”

·          We all know that Krzyzewski is the winningest college basketball coach in history with 919 wins. Williams is one win away from tying the legendary UCLA great John Wooden for 23rd place on the all-time Division I coaching victories list.

·          Before tonight, the series between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils is so close that the combined scores of the last 75 games between them have been decided by just one point. Duke leads the Tar Heels over that span, 5,858-5,857. Krzyzewski is 36-36 all-time against UNC. Williams is 8-9 against Duke. The average halftime lead over the past four games has been a lopsided 16.8 points.

·          UNC leads the all-time series against Duke 131-102, but has lost 5 of the last 6. The Tar Heels are just 15-12 at the Smith Center against the Blue Devils and have won only 5 of the last 14 meetings there. Amazingly, when the first meeting of the season is played in Chapel Hill – as it is Wednesday, UNC is 0-5 during the Roy Williams era. The last time it beat Duke at home in their first meeting of a season was on Feb. 5, 1998.

·          Duke has not lost back-to-back games since February 2009. The Blue Devils are 14-0 following a loss during that span with an average margin of victory of 14.6 points. They have won 10 of those 14 games by double-digit margins. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team is 4-2 in its last five games against UNC in which it lost its previous game.

·          Tonight’s game is the 132nd consecutive game between UNC and Duke in which at least one team has been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. The Tar Heels are No. 5 this week. The Blue Devils dropped to No. 10 after Sunday’s loss to Miami. The last time the rivals met when neither was ranked was Feb. 27, 1960. The coaches at the time of that game were Frank McGuire for the Tar Heels and Vic Bubas for the Blue Devils.

·          Between them, Duke and UNC have accounted for 36 of the ACC’s 58 tournament championships (19 by the Blue Devils, 17 by the Tar Heels) and rank No. 1 and 2 in ACC regular-season wins, ACC tournament wins and NCAA tournament wins among league teams. At least one of the teams has been to the Final Four in 22 of the last 31 seasons and have combined to win eight national championships (four by each school) during that span. Since the ACC expanded to its current 16-game schedule in 1991-92, either UNC and Duke have finished 1-2 in the standings 13 times

ANATOMY OF AN IMPROBABLE WIN

One of the reasons Alan and I take the time to write Duke Basketball Playbook is to attempt to analyze and understand the reasons Duke wins or  losses. In the last few days, we have seen two very exciting finishes in professional football and college basketball. In both instances, plays leading up to the sensational finish are just as important as the long, sensational pass completion or the final winning shot. As Bob Knight said, ‘The object of a coaching is to put your team in a position to be in a position to win”.

In both games two admirable, dependable, productive players, Wes Welker and Tyler Zeller without whom their team would have not been in a position to win, are blamed a for causing for the loss. It is more complicated than that. Any number of plays at various times during the game can be just as important, if not as obvious, in contributing to the loss. Some things are inexplicable, some just are not meant to be. It is the unexpected, the improbable that keep us watching sporting events.

Let’s review the final 2:38 minutes of the Duke-Carolina game.

2:38   Harrison Barnes drives, dips left shoulder into Curry, who is in good defensive position, to create space (offensive foul?) then pulls up for a short  jumper. UNC 82, Duke 72.

2:09   Three point shot attempt by Ryan Kelly. (Air ball? blocked shot? foul?) Despite Henson’s lobbying, referee rules John partially blocked shot, which went out of bounds under basket. In bound to Tyler Thornton at top a key, dribbles to the right wing, fakes a pass into Kelly, and drains a three (that starts the run). UNC 82, Duke 75

1:59   North Carolina Coach Williams calls a timeout to steady his team.

1:52   Mason Plumlee steals the ball from Marshall on right side line, races down the court, passes to Thornton, who redirects past Kelly (who nearly tips ball) to a sprinting Curry.  Seth catches, takes extra step(s), and drains a three right in front of Coach K.  The crowd howls in protest of a no call. UNC 82, Duke 78

1:23   Barnes attacks the basket into traffic, crashes into a well-positioned Kelly in the lane. Offensive charge. UNC 82, Duke 78

1:10   Kelly misses a three from the left corner, beats Bullock to the rebound, calmly pump fakes, hits a jumper from the baseline. UNC 82, Duke 80

:44    Marshall gives a pressing Thornton (whom he played against in high school) a forearm get-off- me swat (no call) to create room to receive the inbound pass. Half court set, pass into Zeller. Mason Plumlee is called for a touch foul as Zeller is backing him down into the paint. Zeller misses the first, makes the second. UNC 83, Duke 80

:20   Timeout Duke. (Krzyzewski didn’t call a timeout at the end of the game against Miami on Sunday when Duke had the ball down two. Freshman point guard Quinn Cook ended with the ball and forced a bad shot.  Duke lost  in overtime.)

:15    Kelly three point attempt.  Zeller accidentally tips the ball near/on rim into the basket. Goal tending three?  The referees confer, rule shot did not have a chance to go in. Two points. UNC 83, Duke 82

:14    Zeller immediately fouled by Thornton, makes the first and misses the second. UNC 84, Duke 82

:14    MP2 rebounds,  Rivers demands ball, dribbles a couple of paces from the Duke bench with Bullock guarding him. Option one, Dawkins can’t get open, so Rivers dribbles to his right, gets high pick from Mason, forcing Zeller to switch.

:o2   Rivers dribbles to right, Zeller in good position with hands held wide to cut off lane and for good balance. Rivers patented forward jab step freezes Zeller, then steps back as Curry is yelling “Go, Go”, rises and shoots over Zeller. Game clock hits :00 just before the three pointer splashes through the net. Duke 85, UNC 84.  An instant Classic.

What to make of this result? Luck, destiny, players in the “zone”,  just a random result– or something else. After the game, Doc Rivers said: “This was a mental toughness game.” Most commentators opined that Carolina out-played Duke and should have won. Another perspective is that a close basketball game consists of forty minutes of runs, responding to runs, and changes in momentum. Duke won the first seventeen and a half minutes, Carolina the next twenty, and Duke the final two and a half minutes. So, a one point game was an appropriate outcome. Was it just the luck of the draw that Duke had the momentum in the final few minutes or is it that the  Duke players may not be as talented as Carolina’s but may be mentally tougher.

You make the call. Next game. Next play.

Alan adds:

I actually think that Bill’s valuable insights apply as much to life as to sport.  Duke’s win (and the Giants over the Pats) was about persevence and hanging in through adversity.  Personelwise, UNC is better (in my opinion), but that is only one factor.  Bill’s point that the first 17 minutes, which belonged to Duke, is underappreciated when the game is analyzed.  Those were critical moments in tone and confidence, which can be, and were, drawn on when things deteriorated.

Today’s game is, in my opinion, a critical game for Duke.  Inconsistency has been the hallmark of this team so far.  It is the biggest challenge to Duke’s improvement and tournament success.  A stinker against St John’s; an intense success against Virginia Tech; a stinker against Miami; and a gutty gratifying performance against Carolina.  [I know that’s not a complete sentence, but if you know the rule, you can break it; I learned that at Duke.]  Today’s game is another classic trap after the huge expenditure of emotion and success against Carolina.  I hope Austin stays Austin and doesn’t think he has morphed into Jeremy Lin.  Today’s game is an important opportunity for Duke to grow into a consistent team.

DUKE  73– MARYLAND  55 

When a sluggish Duke fell behind 10-3 in the early minutes, this indeed appeared to be a “Hangover Game”- that’s the game after an emotionally draining effort and, hopefully, not also the product of what many students felt the morning after the incredible win at Chapel Hill. In any event, when you are on a roll good things happen. In this case, Ryan Kelly, a key in the win against Carolina was in foul trouble early and often. His minutes went to Miles Plumlee, who had the game we all have been waiting for– 22 rebounds, 13 points, 2 steals, 1 block. The game was tighter than the final score; however, the Blue Devils got stronger and more efficient as the game progressed and closed out the Terps in impressive fashion with a 13-2 run.

In a post-game interview, Miles Plumlee channeled Coach K: “We played with energy, we played hard and when we do that, we’re going to play hard on offense and defense. It showed up in the little things. We got loose balls, offensive boards and we just put the game away.” Brother Mason Plumlee finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. It was the first time both Plumlee brothers had double-doubles in the same game during their three seasons together at Duke. Their 32 combined rebounds were one fewer than the entire Maryland team. Duke’s aggressive, trapping defense held Maryland to 37% from the floor and Terrell Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer to  13 points, 9 below his average.

An insight the thoroughness of the Duke approach to game prep, consider this:  To help Duke orient itself after its euphoric win Wednesday against No. 5 North Carolina, the Blue Devils’ coaches showed the team two videos before practice Thursday. The first were highlights from the 1991 Final Four, when Duke stunned the college basketball world by upsetting number one seed, undefeated UNLV in the NCAA semifinals. Two days later, the Blue Devils were focused enough to beat Kansas and win the national championship. The second video was Duke’s 2010 home matchup against Maryland, which also followed winning at Chapel Hill.  It was a career changer for Brian Zoubek, who punished Maryland with a 16-point, 17-rebound effort. Over the next six weeks, Zoubek, a senior, went from being something of an afterthought to an integral part of a Blue Devils team that went on to win the NCAA title. Hmmm, interesting. Can lightning strike twice?

The most interesting development was that Austin Rivers was the only player to player 40 minutes but only took 9 shots for 11 points, 4 assists, and played very effective defense. At the end of the game, he was content  let Seth Curry, who had a hot hand run the delayed offense. That is a sign of maturity. Krzyzewski told Rivers he had contributed outstanding defense and rebounding.

Some observations:

·          Duke wore a specially designed Nike Elite Platinum uniforms—jerseys (made from recycled polyester and are the lightest in the country, weighing five percent less than the standard Nike Hyper Elite jerseys), shorts, and shoes designed for the nine teams that have won NCAA Championships while wearing Nike gear. While not as bad as the Maryland’s Under Armour football uniforms, I thought I was watching a Georgetown game—same washed out grey but indecipherable lettering. Hopefully, it is a one and done Nike promotional event.

·          Mason and Miles combined for 32 of Duke’s season-high 48 rebounds, nearly outrebounding Maryland by themselves. Miles set a career high with 22 boards which is the second highest single-game total in the NCAA this season, the ninth most rebounds in Duke history and the most in the Coach K era.

·          While Duke’s defense has been suspect, consider these stats: Duke held Maryland to 1-of-14 shooting from the three-point line. The Blue Devils have held their last two opponents to one three-pointer apiece and five teams to two three-pointers or less. ACC opponents are shooting just .271 against Duke from three-point range which is the ACC’s lowest percentage in conference play.

·          Duke improved its all-time record against Maryland to 112-61 in a series that dates back to 1926. The Blue Devils have won 5 straight in the series and 11 of the last 12. Duke is 53-21 against the Terrapins under Coach K.

Alan adds:

After what seemed like a continuation of this season’s Cameron Blues (Duke’s only win in the last 3 home games was the St. John’s game, which produced Coach K’s post game emotional outburst – “I count it as a loss”), against an inferior team devestated by the season ending loss of its gifted point guard, Duke morphed back into a team with the will and skill to close out the game efficiently.  The 13-2 closing run was impressive, and padded Duke’s stat line.

The Plumlees simply dominated the inside.  Maryland coach Trugeon said “Their big guys kicked our big guys’ butts.”  It was a premier performance and the first time Miles and Mason had double doubles.  Miles had what is surely his best game ever at Duke (in 28 minutes he had 13 points — 6-10  from the floor — 22 rebounds including 9 offensive, 2 steals, a block against only 1 turnover and committing only 1 foul.  Wow!  Mason and Kelly were both good, though Kelly was limited by foul trouble (4).

I thought the big Duke story and positive was the return to early season form of Seth Curry.  He played 11 minutes of point guard and had a gaudy stat line all around. In 34 minutes he was 7-15 (3-6 from downtown) with 3 assists and only 1 turnover.  He also had 2 steals, played good defense and committed only 2 fouls.  Welcome back, Seth.

Austin played a steady game.  You can tell he’s valued by Coach K because he played all 40 minutes, was 3-6 from downtown with 4 assists against only 2 turnovers.  He was however 2-6 from the foul line and 0-3 inside the arc.  Still he is the glue and, perhaps, the leader.

The Duke rotation was six , with short help from Andre (4 fouls in his 15 minutes tells you about his defense; 1-4 from the field) and only 8 minutes from Quinn, who missed all 3 shots, but had 2 boards and an assist.  Tyler played an efficient 21 minutes (though limited by foul trouble; he had 4) with no turnovers and 2 assists.  Duke had 11 assists against only 9 turnovers.

All in all, a good performance.  The next game against NC State (7-3 in the ACC; only a game behind the 3 leaders tied for first) will be illuminating.

DUKE 78 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE  73 

Are you kidding me! For the second time in a week, Duke, down 20 points with 11:33 to play, makes another improbable–no, miraculous– comeback to defeat historic rival North Carolina State by 5. As my friend Gary said after the Carolina win, “You Duke guys must have strong hearts.” Yes Gary, in more ways than one. I’m at a loss to explain this win. I’ll just say that this is Duke Basketball, sometimes it is inexplicable, and this is why we love it! What an opponent said about Bear Bryant holds true for Coach K: “He can take can take his’n’ and beat you’rn’, and he can take you’rn’ and beat his’n’.”

For the third time this year, a bigger, stronger, more athletic, more intimidating team came into Cameron and literally and figuratively punched Duke in the nose and knocked them all over the floor. It got so bad that Coach K was holding his head in his hands as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. Unlike the other games, it sure looked like this one wouldn’t even be close–and it wasn’t for almost thirty minutes. In some ways, this was more impressive than the Carolina win in that it was a marathon rally rather than a sprint. The Cameron Crazies, who have been criticized this year, deserve a game ball for never giving  up on their team.

How at times can Duke look so bad? The Blue Devils are a guard oriented, three point shooting team. When the shots are not falling, as they weren’t in the first half (2-14), there are often long rebounds and easy transition points– State had 15  in the first half, Duke 0. That was almost the margin. When this happens, the game seems easy and the Blue Devils appear over rated. State just killed Duke on the boards. It looked like boys versus men. However, the three point shot is a lethal, heart breaking, game changing weapon. In the second half, Curry (26 pts) and Rivers (16 pts) started attacking the basket and key Wolfpack players got in foul trouble. Also, when Duke got down by 20, like the Carolina game, they pressed and trapped all over the floor, the Crazies jumped up and down on the bleacher seats, the noise was deafening, and State had trouble handling the pressure.

Coach K said: “That was an amazing win.  It was really one of the more amazing games that I’ve been a part of.  I thought our fans were terrific…they never let us die… it was one of those games in Cameron where the fans and the players were one, and a huge part of the basketball game. We’re not a perfect team, but we’re a good team.  And we’re a team that has always fought and not obsessed about inconsistencies and struggles and all of that. We are 22-4 and we’ve been in the top five of the RPI all year. We have some kids that really fight off and have given us some incredible wins so far this year.”

Some observations:

·          While this was N.C. State’s 14th straight loss at Cameron, first-year coach Mark Gottfried has made a terrific difference with essentially the same players as last year. This team can play with anyone. I hope we don’t get them again this year, because they are very good and will be mad as hell. I was impressed with Coach Gottfried’s strategy of  defending the three. State’s forwards  “show,” or double, on the high-ball screens Duke likes to use to free its 3-point shooters. At Chapel Hill last week, the  Tar Heel defenders typically went under the screen, leaving the shooters more open and Duke made 14  three pointers. Tonight, Duke missed its first nine threes, which contributed to the large first half deficit.

·          Curry injured his ankle the early minutes of the first half,  but came back to lead the rally with 21 second half points. Give a game ball to Seth and the trainers.

·          Dawkins provided an emotional lift, grabbing four rebounds in traffic, going on the floor for loose balls and playing a physical defense that hasn’t always come naturally to him. Krzyzewski added “hopefully that shows him he can do more than just be a shooter.”

·           Austin Rivers called Duke’s 78-73 win over North Carolina State a “weird win, a bad win but it’s a great win at the same time.”

·          We occasionally  receive comments about DBP. A recent one from a good friend and former business associate reads: “I read your  Duke Basketball Playbook with pleasure and amazement at the depth of analysis, which teeters brilliantly on the edge of mental illness.  You might consider a Harvard shout-out to your readers now that Tommy Amaker has put them on the map and his protégé Jeremy Lin is lighting up Madison Square Garden and the NBA.  Old hat for a Blue Devil, maybe, but big news for a Crimson (whatever that is – I still don’t know and I was the sports editor).

For an Ivy Leaguer, Tom makes a cogent sports point. The Jeremy Lin story is one that if you made it up, no one would believe.  Star at Harvard, undrafted, cut from two teams (once on Christmas Eve), bounced around the NBA Development League, sleeping on his brother’s sofa, about to be cut from the Knicks until Carmelo Anthony is injured and Amar’e Stoudemire’s brother dies in a car crash. Then, because the team is short of players, Coach Mike D’Antoni’ is forced to play him and he makes more winning plays in a  week than most NBA player make in their career. Consider this: In a first five starts, Lin, only the second Harvard graduate ever to play in the NBA, has produced more points (136) than anyone since the ABA-NBA merger. However, Linsanity (aka Lin Mania) is about more than that, because it not only is a sports story, it is a political story, and a religious story of a player with an anti-NBA attitude. The obvious comparison is with Tim Tebow but unlike Tim, Jeremy, who is a devout Christian, does not wear it on his sleeve– or more accurately, on his eye black. However this story plays out, it is a welcome relief from the discouraging 24/7 political mendacity dominating the news.

Alan adds:

I followed the game on ESPN game cast, but the game was on in New York on tape delay, by an hour.  So, I knew early in the second half that Duke had won, which made watching the game a completely different (quite pleasant, but without the fingernail biting that makes the experience so riveting and emotional).  Hindsight gives a boost to analysis.

The game changed when Leslie picked up his fourth foul with a shade under 15 minutes left and Duke trailing by 16.  It didn’t seem so at the time., but it changed State’s defensive dominance inside and on the boards.  Howell picked up his fourth with 10:23 to go and the wheels came off for State.  No more shot blocking, and Duke began to drive to the bucket and shred State’s defense.

The Duke backcourt was Curry, Austin and a rejuvenated Andre Dawkins.  Dawkins defended and rebounded, playing 27 minutes– about the same as Cook (9) and Thornton (18) combined.  Coach K said maybe this performance will teach him he is more than a shooter.  He was tough.  Curry was the point guard for 13 minutes, and he was phenomenal (maybe not Jeremy Lin; but just as inspirational).  He played 31 minutes without a turnover.  Duke only had 5 turnovers in the game (11 assists: Curry 2, Austin 2, Tyler 3).  Curry had some terrific stat line: 9-18 (3-8 from behind the arc) and 5-5 from the line.  All in all, it was a wonderful win.  Austin said it was a bad game, great win, and we have to stop doing this.

Duke has 5 games left in the regular season: BC (next in Chestnut Hill), Va Tech and Wake — all at the bottom of the ACC — and two huge games against Florida State in Tallahassee (February 23; might be worth watching) and a rematch against the Washed Out Blues in Cameron (Senior night for Miles).  It is still a season on the brink, but Coach K made the point:  22-4, top 5 RPI all year; not a great team, but a very good one.  Let’s see, when was the last time he said that about his team at this point in the season?  (Hint: Heywood’s shot missed and they cut down the nets in Indianapolis.)

MORE JEREMY LIN ( Hint, Alan lives in New York): Linsanity is beyond the ability to describe.  On February 3, nobody had really heard of him.  Two weeks later, the NY Times today tells the story.  The Knicks didn’t play last night; so nothing newsworthy.  David Brooks has a Jeremy piece on the Op Ed page about sports and religion (Lin is the centerpiece).  A second op-ed piece is about Lin as breaking the stereotype of Asian athletes (by Grace Jen).  The sports page is all Lin.  Landry Fields and Lin (friends since Lin was in high school, who has flourished recently); Lin’s impact on Harlem (by Harvey Araton); Lin’s impact on MSG (they carry the Knick games) — ratings up 109%; Lin’s impact on labor talks between MSG and Time Warner (coverage suspended; sort of a strike); Lin named to play in the All-Star game for first and second year players; Lin’s podcast on the Michael Kay show (I listened; he’s eloquent, funny, honest and insightful, got 800 on Math Sat…for starters) most listened to with clips on radio and Sports Center; and he’s going to be Shumpert’s supporter in the slam dunk contest.  Two weeks!  Seven games.  I caught Wednesday’s game, and he was even better than Seth Curry — 9 assists in the first half.  The game before, when the Knicks came back against Toronto, he drove the lane, got fouled, made a circus shot, hit the free throw to tie, and then calmly sunk a 3 with 0.5 seconds left.  Today is only February 17.  It really is nothing like anything I’ve ever seen.  Oh, and by the way, the Knicks, who were the most boring ineffective team in the league (with sports talk radio calling for the coach’s head) are playing beautiful basketball.  Just a joy to watch.  Lin makes everyone around him better.

DUKE  75 – BOSTON COLLEGE 50 

Fortunately, this game lacked none of the excitement and drama of the N.C. State and North Carolina  games. It was more like a pre-season exhibition game. The Blue Devils exploited their size advantage and, after a sluggish start, went ahead for good midway through the first half, led 30-21 at intermission, and cruised the rest of the way. While the Duke players seemed a bit fatigued and on auto-pilot, they played very good defense holding the Eagles without a basket for more than 14 minutes early on and their season low point total of the season.  Keep in mind, this could have been a dangerous game, B.C. upset Florida State.

Duke has the regular season championship on its racket. All they have to do is hold serve against Florida State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and North Carolina, which is no easy task. However the rest of the season unfolds, this is one of Coach K’s best coaching jobs. Prior to the start of the season, the talk was that this team would focus on its experienced post players. But neither Miles or Mason Plumlee have consistently produced the offense, so Coach K  shifted gears and reverted to Three-Ball, which produced a 23-4 record– but is like playing basketball Russian Roulette.

Some observations:

·          Austin Rivers is growing up before our eyes. He is playing more minutes than any other player, is seemingly (like Hurley) indefatigable, and most importantly, making much better decisions. The question is when will the refs give him the same respect on his drives that they give other stars? Hopefully, before he is injured.

·          Those who contend that Duke has only one player who can create off the dribble obviously haven’t been watching Seth Curry play lately.

·          Hubert Davis, a terrific Carolina shooting guard two decades ago (and Michael Jordan’s nephew), was an announcer for the game. He, like Jay Bilas, is pleasant and comfortable before the microphone, very fair, and very knowledgeable in his assessment of both Duke and UNC. Jimmy Dykes, on the other hand, just can’t keep from auditioning for a coaching job.

·          Prior to today, I had only seen video highlights of Jeremy Lin. He did not develop his unusual court vision, anticipatory instincts, and feel for the game two weeks ago. How could a player with these rare gifts go undrafted and waived so many times? It reminded me of the scene in Moneyball when all the scouts were talking about what a great physical specimen a prospect was and Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) asks: “Yeah, but he play the game.”

·          [Alan]: Yesterday was, I thought, a true test of the phenomenon.  The phenomenon was perfectly defined by a local sports TV station showing one of his D League games yesterday morning (He was quite ordinary).  Yesterday was National TV against the defending NBA champions, renowned  for team defense and on a six game winning streak.  Dallas had obviously done some scouting and determined to defend Lin with hard double teams that did not abate until he got rid of the ball.  These were big mobile talented defenders.  The Lin stat line speaks for itself: his 28 points were actually dwarfed by his 14 assists.  What I thought was special was his defending, especially off the ball.  He seemed to anticipate cuts and disrupt the Dallas offense (sometimes leaving his man, but rightly believing he could do more damage even if he left Jason open for some 3s).  He was shrewd against the hard double, having patience and making Dallas pay when he got through the double team.  He just seemed quicker than everyone else.  Certainly tough enough.  He made believers out of the skeptics, brought the stars back to the Garden (Spike Lee wearing Lin’s Harvard jersey; have you ever seen anything like that?).  But most importantly, he willed his team to the victory.  His post-game statements were terrific.  This game shows us we (not I) can get to where we want to go.  He talks only about the team, yet is candid about himself.  It is one of the best sports stories of the year, and maybe ever.  Let’s hope it is Johnny Unitas all over again.

Alan Adds:

Defense and rebounding were Duke’s keys to a blowout win over BC.  BC is not very good, but Duke held them to their lowest point total of the year on 34% shooting (even though BC connected on 6-18 from 3), and out rebounded  BC 42-20 (BC was limited to 2, yes 2 offensive rebounds).  Coach K was enthusiastic about the defense and the rebounding.  Following up on Bill’s Austin take, he (Austin; not Bill) had 7 boards, all defensive.  Only Miles had more (10-4 of them offensive).  Kelly had 8 (2 offensive), meaning Austin had the most defensive rebounds on the team.  It was a nice win for sure, but Duke did not look smooth, sharp or in sync on the offensive end, though when Duke got the outside shot finally falling (10-22) that was all she wrote.

For the first 15 minutes of the first half, Duke was agonizing to watch on offense, scoring only about 20 points.  Duke took the lead at the 10 minute mark of the first half for the first time, but had scored only 15 points.  The Devils rolled from the 15 minute mark of the first half.  Duke never really took care of the ball yesterday with 18 turnovers (only 14 assists).  Curry, who played another splendid game, was responsible for 6 of them.  Very Linlike.  Mason had his least productive game of the year (perhaps due to a painful blow to the groin and foul trouble), collecting four fouls (3 in the first half, two of those on offense) in his 17 minutes of play, in which he grabbed 3 boards (2 on offense) scored 3 points on 1-5 shooting.  He had 3 of the turnovers in his abbreviated playing time.  I predict he will have a big game against Fla. State.   Kelly had only 5 points in his 30 minutes, the most minutes of Duke’s big guys.  But the backcourt shot well and eventually began dissecting the BC defense.  Austin scored 16 in 32 minutes, was 7-13 from the floor (2-5 from behind the arc) with 2 assists against the same number of turnovers.  He has become an excellent defender, and committed only 1 foul.  Curry was terrific in spite of the turnovers,  with 18 points on only 8 shots in 27 minutes.  He was getting into the lane and was money from the free throw line (7-7) and 4-8 from the field including 3-4 from downtown.

Let us acknowledge the vastly improved play of Andre Dawkins.  He has bought into defending and rebounding, and is demonstrating some toughness.  He played 26 minutes (a telling stat) going 5-11 (3-7 from 3) and collecting 5 boards.  He committed only 2 fouls and had only 1 turnover.  Nice game.  Curry played point for the 12 minutes that neither Cook (13 minutes) nor Thornton (15 minutes) were in the game.  Thornton gives toughness and on the ball defense, but scored only 2 points (took only 2 shots) and was blanked on assists.  However, he committed 0 turnovers and only 2 fouls.  Cook’s minutes were mostly garbage time, but he compiled a nice stat line in his 13 minutes: 4 points, 3 assists and a turnover.  He finally hit a 3 (1-2) and made both foul shots.  He has been an hard to evaluate.  He seems to play better against lesser opponents.

This weekend has NCAA like scheduling: Florida State away on Thursday night (yes, it’s a big game) and Virginia Tech at home on Saturday afternoon.  Tough turnaround.  Of the 3 contenders, tied at the top of the ACC with 10-2 records, only Duke plays the other two, and thus has the toughest schedule.  Florida State will be a fair litmus test for this team in Tallahassee.  This is the next to last week of the regular season, and it is still really exciting.

DUKE 74 – FLORIDA STATE 66

There are the Jimmy Dykes types who like to talk about what this Duke team can’t do, what they aren’t — but I’ll tell you what they are. They are smart, tough, resilient, competitive basketball players who have been inoculated by Coach K’s fire and desire to win and find different ways to do it. No one personifies this attitude more than Austin Rivers, who has grown into a mature, big time playmaker. He’s not just a scorer anymore.

In the first half,  the enigmatic Andre Dawkins had five threes and 18 points in eleven minutes to propel the Blue Devils to a 39-33 lead. However, all three big men were in foul trouble, Curry had 0 points, and you had to think the second half couldn’t be over fast enough. It was a physical war of attrition as Rivers, who had taken over the offense, appeared to have seriously injured his ankle with 11 minutes left. Mason was having a frustrating night, having, among other things, missed another point blank dunk and, due to foul trouble, played limited minutes– and this was the hostile venue in which Carolina had lost by 40. And, oh yes, this was billed as the basketball “Game of the Century” for the Seminoles. So, there were a lot of legitimate reasons why the Blue Devils should lose.

But Miles (10 pts. & 8 rebs) and Ryan (13 pts. & 6 rebs.) picked up the big man slack. Rivers came back into the game and, after throwing up a disconcerting air ball, made several winning plays, none of which was more important than intercepting a long inbounds pass at half court that would make an NFL corner back proud. Down the stretch with the game on the line, Duke ran the more disciplined, precise offense, hit open threes and foul shots, and was the better defensive team (held Florida State to 39.7% overall and just 3-15 threes)  as they pulled away from the Seminoles in Tallahassee in front of a frantic, sold out crowd. During the last few weeks, the boys have become men.

One down, three to go.

Coach K: “It was tough to get shots; our three-point shooting was probably the difference in the game. The two biggest shots in the second half, when they got it down to three twice, were Seth  and Ryan  hitting threes– huge shots.”

Coach Leonard Hamilton: “I thought Duke’s defensive pressure tonight kept us out of any type of offensive rhythm. We fought back several times, but couldn’t get it done. Whenever they had opportunities to get a good look from the perimeter they did (get it done). That’s what good teams do and you have to give them credit for that.  I thought we took care of the ball well but we had too many empty possessions. You have to give them credit for that. They defended our system better than we defended their system.”

Some observations:

·          The Virginia Tech game is like a NCAA Tournament game in that there is such a short turnaround time for the game Saturday at noon. The only difference is that the exhausted Blue Devils probably didn’t get home until well after midnight. Get some sleep, go to class, practice, get some rest, play at noon Saturday. The recipe for an upset.

·          Kelly and Curry both were offensively unproductive in the first half but, nevertheless, had the confidence to hit key shots to preserve the lead and secure the win.

·          Mason Plumlee has been named a Capital One Academic All-America first team selection. Mason has a 3.44 grade point average as a double major in Psychology and Cultural Anthropology. The last Duke basketball player to be so honored was Shane Battier, who earned that distinction in back-to-back years (as has Tyler Zeller) in 2000 and 2001. Ten  Duke players have earned Academic All-America recognition. MP2 picked up his second academic major of Cultural Anthropology this year after being inspired during Duke’s preseason trip to China and Dubai over the summer.

Alan adds:

Leonard Hamilton’s  pithy observation after the game was right on: “They defended our system better than we defended their system.”  This was Duke’ best defensive performance of the season —  real team defense.  Consider that even with Duke’s bigs in serious foul trouble all night (at half time both Plumlees had 3 and Kelly had 2),  Duke limited Florida State’s big guys to a total of 21 points.  Fla. State made only 3-15 from behind the arc (ok, some of it was just bad shooting; but a lot was really intense defense).  Florida State shot under 40% (39.7) for the game.  The announcers attributed the Seminole’s inability to finish at the rim to ineptness, but I disagree; Duke’s bigs contested and altered shots.  The perimeter defense was the best it has been all year.  Seth, Tyler and (yes, this is really true) Andre were absolutely outstanding.  But the Duke anchor on the defensive end is now Austin Rivers.   He anticipates, communicates and moves with grace.  Once again, he had as many defensive rebounds as anyone on the team (4; Miles and Mason also had 4).  It did seem that Florida State got every rebound from their own missed foul shots, and indeed they grabbed 16 of the 41 rebounds off the Duke backboard.  Duke’s defense won the game.  I went back and read some of my own pre-season comments.  I said Duke’s season would depend on its defensive development.  This game was real development.  Now for Duke to display consistency from game to game.  Outside of a devastating 3 point barrage (13-28), Duke got hammered on the offensive end, and indeed lost every other statistical battle.  Florida State out rebounded Duke (41-36), forced more turnovers (11-8) had more blocks (5-1) and shot 21-48 from inside the arc while  Duke was 9-24) .

It was a performance of will, as Bill has so accurately described.  Duke used only 7 players really.  Cook (6 minutes); Hairston (4) and Gbinije (less than 1) almost did not count, and did not score.  Only 4 contributed to Duke’s scoring.  Thornton and Mason each scored only one point.  Mason was limited to 17 minutes in a genuinely subpar performance.  He had 3 turnovers in that short span, but contributed 5 rebounds.  Thornton was a defensive whiz and had 3 boards on the defensive end.  In 24 minutes, he was 0-2 from the floor with 2 assists and 2 turnovers.  Seth has so much heart and even though his shot was missing, still contributed in wondrous ways.  He played 33 minutes (second only to Austin’s 37; Coach K might never have taken Austin out if he hadn’t rolled his ankle), and was a disappointing 2-8 (1-4), but both hoops were huge (a crucial 3 and a drive when Duke really needed to stop Florida State runs).  He only turned it over once (2 assists) and played lock down defense.  Miles opened with a scoring burst — 6 points in the opening minutes, and finished 5-6 for 10 points in 28 minutes before fouling out with a bit over a minute to play.  He had 8 boards and was a presence.  Kelly played 30 minutes, and was critical to Duke’s win, especially in the second half.  He is so efficient with 13 points on 6 shots (2-5 from behind the arc, with one critical 3 that brought Coach K’s praise post-game) and 5-5 from the line.  He had 6 boards, 2 assists and a block against only 1 turnover.  He and Miles had heart and competed with Florida State’s tough front line.  Dawkins was awesome on offense  (6-9 from behind the arc, but 0-3 from 2 point land and 4-6 from the line for 22 points in 21 minutes.  He  kept Duke in the lead in the first half with his 3 ball and played very well throughout.  To me, he
has been a revelation on defense, though still fouls too often.  He had 3, which limited his playing time.

Which brings me to Austin.  I’m not sure I have ever seen a freshman develop the way he has — on both ends of the floor.  If you are a Duke fan, you feel secure when the ball is in his hands.  He scores — 20 points on 6-16 (4-8 from 3) shooting.  While only 4-7 from the foul line, he gets to the line.  He had 4 assists (to lead the team, which had only 12 altogether) and a steal against only 1 turnover (Duke had 11).  And what a steal it was.  Florida State kept getting offensive rebounds when Austin picked off the long pass (he had just missed on two earlier) and that sealed the game.  He has  become the star and the leader.  He will surely be ACC first team and may earn other major post-season honors.  But for now, it is enough that he is Duke’s leader in every way.

The Virginia Tech game on Saturday afternoon is a classic trap game.  The turnaround time is very short.  Duke played with real heart and emotion.  Bringing the same intensity will be difficult, and Virginia Tech always gives Duke trouble.  Don’t take this one for granted at all.

Duke 70 – Virginia Tech 65 

Whew!! Don’t let the score fool you. This game could very easily have been lost. As I pointed out after the Duke–Butler Championship game, “In sports, you never know. Just like this game, who wins and who loses often turns on fractions of inch or so which is affected by pressure and/or degree of difficulty.” Well, it certainly held true today as Virginia Tech was several times within fraction of an inch of upsetting Duke. Hudson’s foot barely on the line on a step back three which was changed to a two; a missed Green shot (identical to the one he hit on the prior possession) and put-back at the buzzer which hit the backboard and bounded off the rim  much like Butler’s Haywood’s last shot. The game and maybe regular season championship was that close to vaporizing. But, as often the case with Virginia Tech, it was not meant to be. Seth Greenberg’s Hokies have always been a tough out for Duke but usually an out nevertheless. Seth is a good coach who makes the most out of players Blue Chip programs often, for a variety of reason, pass on. He hates losing —especially all the heartbreaking ones to the Blue Devils. The blunt truth he is rarely playing with a full deck (of players). For instance, why would Cadarian Raines, after a clean mid-court pick on Tyler Thornton, taunt him while Tyler lies stunned on the floor? It was a boneheaded act and should have been a technical–and Tech was only down three.

Duke played like a fatigued team with tired legs. You saw it most in missed three point shots and drives not getting over the rim. However, in the end, it was defense that tied, then won the game. Thornton was, as usual, very effective, (holding point guard Erick Green to shooting 7-19 and forcing him to travel near center court with 40 seconds left with Duke down 57-58), and for most of the game Rivers and Curry carried what little offense there was—the score was 26-24 at the half and 58-58 at the end of regulation. Because Duke was in the Bonus+ (two shots), the obvious strategy in OT was to attack the basket and get to the foul line, which the guards did. However, it was Miles (15 rebs & 5 pts)  and Mason (9 rebs & 7 pts), playing in tandem (Kelly had fouled out and Hairston was injured), who altered shots, rebounded, and even scored like really good Big Men should that  sealed the deal. On Tech’s final possession, Mason challenged Green’s drive, altered the shot (much like Zoubek did on Heywood) and Miles consumed the missed shot like a bear grabbing his prey. In addition, it was a pleasure to see Mason hit one and Miles two pressure free throws to ice the win.

Krzyzewski made some interesting points in his press conference: He dislikes short turnaround games like this one (36 hours), especially after a physically and mentally exhausting away game; likewise he dislikes Sunday night games –especially away games, because of how it disrupts the life of players; Tyler Thornton, who is like Wojo in that their value does not appear on the stat sheet, epitomizes the grit this team  has–and that all his really good teams had players like them– the more the better the team; Miles Plumlee is a naturally good, athletic rebounder. In the last month, he’s become an exceptional rebounder playing to his natural talent; and Seth Curry is not just a shooter anymore, but a scorer who can create his own shot.

Winning all these close games is exhilarating but sooner or later the Law of Averages catches up with everyone.

Two down two to go (in the regular season).

Some observations:

·          The only skill that Austin Rivers has not totally mastered is free throw shooting (65%). He was 1-2 in the last thirty seconds in regulation (which would have put Duke up by one) and 3-6 in overtime ( which, fortunately, this time did not matter).

·          Miles Plumlee started instead of Mason, the only Duke player to have started every game. As a tandem, they were the dominant difference in the overtime.

·          The Hokies were an awful 7-16 from the foul line in regulation. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that is where they let a big, upset win escape them.

·          The Blue Devils are 16-1 against Virginia Tech in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

·          The baffling Andre Dawkins was missing in action, going 0-3 and 3 turnovers in ten frustrating minutes.

·          Actor Rob Lowe, who played Duke graduate Sam Seaborn on the hit television series “West Wing”,  and his son were in the house with front row seats behind the scorer’s table. It probably was a recruiting trip–for the drama department.

Alan adds:

The defensive resurgence, or perhaps development is the better term, was in evidence against the Hokies, and was the chief reason Duke prevailed.  Let us say wonderful words about Tyler Thornton’s 38 minutes of defensive intensity and leadership, not to mention 5 boards and a steal.  The quick turnaround from Florida State in Tallahassee at night (landing in Durham at 2:a.m. on Friday to a noon game on Saturday) was a real hardship that I believe really affected Duke’s shooting (from outside; 6-24 from 3; as well as in the lane — coming up short on effective drives).  But Thornton, Rivers (41 minutes) and Curry (40+) played the defense that enabled Duke to hold on in difficult circumstances.  Coach K’s post-game remarks lauded the team’s will to win (taking a page from Bill, for sure) and the rebounding of Miles.  But he saved his most effusive comments for Tyler’s defense and leadership; the stuff that does not show up in the statistics.  Those comments were warranted.  He noted that Duke has become a good defensive team (I add: finally).  Va. Tech shot less than 41% for the game and only 33% in the overtime.  Va. Tech was 4-13 from 3 (and one of them was a lucky bank shot — at a crucial time).  Miles played 33 minutes and pulled down 11 defensive boards and 4 on the offensive end.  He also was 3-4 from the foul line, and a couple were when they really counted.  Only one field goal in 3 attempts.  Mason reacted well to his removal from the starting lineup, playing 25 minutes, pulling down 9 rebounds —4 offensive and shooting 3-5 from the field and 1-2 from the foul line.

The key to Duke’s offense was the drive.  With the outside shots contested and not falling, Duke determined to have Seth and Austin get to the rim.  I thought the key statistic was Duke made more free throws (24) than the Hokies attempted (17).  The statistic would have been even more impressive if Duke hadn’t missed 10 — count ’em; 10.  I attribute that more to fatigue, but if Duke does that in the post season, it will bite the team hard.  The Plumlees were 4-6.  The chief culprit was Austin.  The good news is he attempted 17 free throws (that is 1 more than the entire Virginia Tech team), which means his drives are very effective even when he doesn’t score or get an assist.  But  11-17  is a weakness (as Bill has pointed out; perhaps his only remaining weakness).  Va. Tech was even worse and it cost them the game — 7-16.   Austin scored 23 points on only 12 shots (2-6 from 3; 3-6 on drives] with only 1 assist and two turnovers.  But once again, he has become a defensive presence; and let’s not forget his 4 defensive rebounds.  Seth scored 19 points on 15 shots.  He was off from behind the arc (1-6) even when wide open, but was 6-9 on his drives and pull ups.  Btw, wait until Austin adds a pull up and a tear drop to his driving repertoire (come back next season to do that, Austin).

Duke travels to Wake next Tuesday for a late game (9:00 p.m. on ESPN U) before the rematch at home on Saturday at 7 pm on CBS.  25 wins with two regular season games to go.   This has been a very successful season (So far) by any measure.  This team has grown and as it really defends has become a potential force for the post-season.  The Carolina game will tell a lot about that defensive growth.

DUKE 79 – WAKE FOREST 71 

I started to fall asleep midway through the second half with Duke up 23 points. I woke up when the announcer said that there was a 19-2 run and thought “what a blowout”. Then, I saw it was a 6 point game and thought I was either having a bad dream or the players had changed jerseys. Both thoughts were wrong, because it was just another disconcerting case of this team not closing out an opponent—a malady I thought had been cured by the overtime loss to Miami in Cameron.

Kelly, Curry, and Miles Plumlee finally woke up, got serious, and closed out the Demon Deacons in workman-like, if unimpressive, fashion. Kelly (23 pts) stopped the bleeding with a timely drive and free throws– as did Curry. MP1 (aka mini-Zoubs)  rebounded and chased down errant shots in the last minute to make sure Wake did not break Duke’s record for biggest comeback in the last ten minutes in ACC history.

Three down, one to go.

Some observations:

·          The Blue Devils have played a grueling schedule the last three weeks and are showing the physical –especially Rivers’ and Curry’s recent knee and ankle injuries– and emotional  effects of that grind. This is the time of year that separates the men from the boys.

·          The 2011-12 Blue Devils are only the 11th team in ACC history to go undefeated in ACC road play and the fourth Duke team to accomplish that feat. Duke last went undefeated in ACC road games in 1999-2000.

·          Duke shot 47.6 percent from three-point range, marking the 12th time this season that the Blue Devils have shot over 45.0 percent from beyond the arc. Duke hit 10-of-21 three-pointers, improving its season three-point percentage to .389.

·          K has really coached the hell out of this team.  Possibly, his post-game tirade after the St. John’s win was a turning point.

·          Ying – Yang: Mason (8-9 tonight) is much better from the charity stripe lately but now has a hard time finishing plays at the rim.

·          It was a pleasure to listen to and see a healthy, happy Jay Williams, who is transitioning nicely into a second career  in television, doing the game tonight.

Alan adds:

Last night encapsulated Duke’s season (they won; so not bad, right?).  For the first three quarters of the game, Duke’s defense looked sooo good that it was almost breathtaking.  The offense was humming, and Duke fans everywhere relaxed to enjoy the performance.  Bill went to sleep.  In some senses that says it all, and the Wake rally was all his fault.  But, I have to ‘fess up.  Maybe my transgression was worse.  I ride the exercise bike during the games, and so get a pretty intense two hour workout while I watch.  Last night I was tired (late game) and with about 10 minutes to go when Duke’s lead appeared to be commanding, I turned from riding the bike to dinner in front of the last 10 minutes.  As you can imagine, dinner simply did not go down well.  I think that the players’ psyches mirrored Bill’s and mine.  In any event, after Austin’s last foray to the hoop, Duke (and especially Austin) came to a screeching halt.  Austin picked up 3 fouls (uncharacteristic for him; he has become an intense defender who avoids fouling), had 2 turnovers and did not score again.  Worse, the defense became porous. Chennault began to shred the perimeter and score and/or get to the foul line.  (He was 8-10).  McKie came alive and Duke’s schedule caught up with the Devils a bit (3 games in 6 days).  Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry restored order, and while Wake made us all start breathing hard, the admirable comeback never quite got us into the panic pant.

I thought there were some interesting developments, especially at the point guard.  Thornton played 30 minutes, with 7 points on only 3 shots ( a 3 and 4-4 from the line) to go with 2 assists and only a single turnover.  Quinn Cook looked very good to me in his 17 minutes.  He played some terrific defense (looks completely healthy), made both his shots, including a 3 while racking up 3 assists and 2 boards.  He did commit 2 turnovers.  Duke, btw, again had more turnovers than assists (13-12).  Cook and Thornton were on the court together for some 7 minutes.  Interesting.  In spite of the Wake comeback, Duke showed a clear statistical superiority.  Duke made more free throws (21-27) than Wake shot (13-16); out rebounded the Deacs by 11, blocked 3 more shots, had 2 more steals and critically was 10-20 from behind the arc.  Wake wasn’t bad from the bonusphere (6-17).  Curry (26) played fewer minutes than Thornton.  Still, he is part of the heart of the Duke team (Rivers is the other part).  Seth scored 15 on 12 shots (3-5 from 3) with 3 boards and 2 assists; no turnovers.  Dawkins appears to be out of favor with Coach K, logging only 11 minutes, committing 3 fouls and two turnovers in his brief stint.  He launched a trio of threes, hitting 1.  He is the very definition of enigma.

The big guys all played well, but Ryan Kelly was special.  In 31 minutes, he had 23 points on 13 shots (Curry and Austin took 12 each), including 4-5 from behind the arc and 5-6 from the free throw line.  Throw in 8 boards, 2 blocks , and a steal against only 1 turnover, and you have a hummer of a stat line and game.  He played excellent defense and committed only a single foul.  MVP last night.  Miles had some big rebounds in a total of 11, and was a presence — especially on the defensive end — in his 26 minutes.  Mason got to the line and was 8-9 (really!) for 12 points on 4 shots to go with his 7 boards in 22 minutes.

At the start of the season who could have predicted that going into the regular season finale, Duke would be 26-4 (13-2 in the ACC) and 3rd in the polls, with impressive wins over Kansas , Michigan State, UNC, and Michigan?.   Of course all of this is prelude (but, not really, if one is truly a fan).  It is true, if not wholly desirable, that we will remember this season for the Carolina game (ACC regular season championship game), the ACC tournament, and, of course, the Big Dance.  This has been yet another coaching gem by our Hall of Fame Coach.

Duke 70– North Carolina 88 

Congratulations to North Carolina. The Tar Heels came into Cameron with the regular season title on the line and played twenty minutes of their best basketball. Duke didn’t. When the threes aren’t falling, this Blue Devil team can be very vulnerable—even against mediocre teams. However, Duke is still 26-5, has beaten Kansas, Michigan State, Michigan, Washington—and North Carolina. All teams are 0-0 as March (One and Done) Madness tournaments start.

Next game.

Alan adds:

The score is the score is the score, as Gertrude Stein might have written.  But there are some interesting aspects to take heart from, but some to leave us all on the verge of despair.  Despair for a sport, as opposed to economic or health, is a different kind of despair. Duke can take some offensive positives from the second half (Duke won 46-40), and got great interior production from the Plumlees.  Duke had a real offensive run in the second half.  With a little under 6 minutes to go, Duke was down 11 and Seth had a wide open 3 point attempt out of an efficient offensive set.  He missed.  Austin followed by missing the front end of a one and one, and that was essentially the end of any suspense as to the game’s outcome.  Duke did stop the bleeding on the interior; Carolina had only 3 offensive rebounds in the second half;  Duke shot 15 –29 from the field; 4-10 from 3 in the second half.  The game never got close because Duke’s defense might have been even worse in the last half than it was in the first one.

Duke dug a hole for itself in the first half because the ball just wouldn’t go in the basket for prolonged periods .  Consider 9-34 from the field; 2-11 from 3; 4-9 from the free throw line; of the 19 rebounds off Duke’s defensive boards in the first half, Carolina corralled 10 of them.  Duke had wide open looks from the perimeter that just wouldn’t go down.  Carolina’s interior defense foiled Duke (except for Miles in the early going) by contesting and altering shots in the paint.  Carolina hit everything — some because of Duke’s inferior defense, but some were well defended that just went in (think Cook’s defense on Marshall’s last shot in the half) and some were lucky uncalled bank shots that just went in.  And, let’s not detract from the fact that Carolina played a fantastic first half.  That occasionally happens.

But the defense!  Duke’s defense, which had improved greatly in recent games, was wholly absent.  In the second half, when Duke’s offense began to function, its defense — except for one stretch from about 9 minutes to go to 5 minutes to go — was dramatically awful.  Consider, Carolina was 10-13 to start the second half.  UNC was 32-53 from inside the arc (4-13 from 3) in the second half.  Carolina scored on an extremely high percentage of possessions — especially when you consider how many successful possessions were second and third shots.  It is hard to remember a worse defensive performance by any team in a major game that seemed as though it should have been competitive.   How does one square that with recent defensive improvement?  The depressing thought is that Duke can defend against mediocre teams without high level offensive weaponry, but not against elite offensive teams.

Final thoughts on perspective.  It would have been satisfying to have won the ACC regular season championship.  Still, the most meaningful part of the season is yet to be played.  Duke could and should be a # 1 seed if it wins the ACC tournament, especially if Duke beats Carolina in the final.  By finishing second, Duke will have to play Florida State in the semi-finals.  However, the lesson from the women’s ACC tournament is anything can happen.  Duke and Miami (#5 and #6 in the country and first and second in the ACC) each lost their first game in the tournament.  I believe that even if it had beaten Carolina, Duke would not have earned a # 1 seed without winning the ACC (unless someone else besides Carolina wins it).  No chance Duke falls to a # 3 seed; so the ACC tournament is critical for Duke’s NCAA chances.  Let us see how Coach K prepares for the ACC tournament, and how Duke performs next week.  That tournament is now more important than ever and is, in fact, “the next play”.

DUKE – LEHIGH

A promising season that started with wins over Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan, and Kansas, that produced 27 wins, including thrilling come-from-behind wins over North Carolina and North Carolina State, ended with a disappointing loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to #15 Lehigh. Duke had no defensive answer for star guard C. J. McCollum and was uncharacteristically out-hustled and out played by the  Mountain Hawks.

How do you explain the loss?

First of all, there are there are more good players and better coached teams than ever– #15 Norfolk State also upset #2 Missouri.  In retrospect, Duke was a team that was more than the sum of their parts until Ryan Kelly, an irreplaceable part, was missing. Ryan is a subtle, not spectacular, player but his intelligent, efficient, and versatile talents are  easily underestimated and underappreciated. More to the point, he is a 6’10” inside/outside player who is a matchup nightmare. On the perimeter he can hit the three and open both the perimeter and the lanes for Rivers and Curry to drive and score, can take a smaller player into the post, and  also give a the Plumlees a rest t center. His absence changed the chemistry of the team at both ends of the floor. Neither Rivers or Curry were nearly effective since Ryan was injured and, consequently, Duke’s offense was not nearly as efficient. And Andre Dawkins contributed virtually nothing in Kelly’s absence. That’s a loss of about twenty points and eight rebounds a game—even half those numbers would have changed the outcome of the two last losses. However, the trend line was established before the injury to Kelly. After an impressive win at Florida State, Duke barely survived Virginia Tech, was sloppy at the end of the Wake Forest game, was blown out by Carolina at Cameron, and finished the season with three unimpressive tournament games. It was not the finish we are accustomed to, but then Duke Basketball has spoiled us. Coach K’s teams have usually found ways  to win games like this. But tonight, it was not to be. That’s one of the beauties of sports– you never really know. Consider the fate of last year’s hot tournament teams:  Arizona is playing in the NIT and UCONN is one and done.

While we regret the loss, we should keep it in perspective by remembering what a great tournament this is and that over the years, as Sports Illustrated said: “Duke is as much a part of March as the tournament itself. The Blue Devils have reached the Sweet 16 in 11 of the past 13 years, advancing to four Final Fours in that time, and won two national titles. So, we can take pride in our accomplishments and appreciate that Lehigh alumni and fans will remember forever the year that their team beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re not a juggernaut or anything like that,” Krzyzewski said. “We have known that throughout the whole season. You have to do it pretty precise, and we just didn’t play well offensively the last few weeks of the season. Actually we got better defensively, but offensively we just weren’t there.  I’ve been in it for 37 years and it takes you to incredible highs. And it also takes you to incredible lows. Tonight’s one of those lows. But it wasn’t just our doing, they played that well. They played that well. And again my hat’s off to them.”

“In that this is March madness, upsets happen,” Lehigh Coach Brett Reed said. “It’s why the general public and the nation really appreciate this tournament because anything can happen.”

Alan adds:

The first half of the UNC game on senior night appears to have been a major turning point; I think Duke’s dramatic failure and incompetence on both ends of the court completely eroded Duke’s confidence.  This team was never the same again.  From 26-4 on March 2, Duke fell to 27-7, losing 3 of the last 4.  I described my pessimism after the opening round ACC game against Virginia Tech.  Unfortunately, I was prescient.  Last night’s game put a spotlight on Duke’s season long problem — perimeter defense.  McCollum played 39 minutes and took 16 foul shots (by himself).  Lehigh, which did not shoot fouls particularly well made more than Duke took.  Duke took 23 free throws (made 16); while Lehigh made 25 of 37.  Lehigh attempted 37 free throws!  That was the game, and the cause was the porous perimeter.  And, of course, it is impossible not to notice that Duke’s shooting, a season long strength, evaporated after the win against Florida State in February.  Every game after that was a shooting nightmare.  Mason was 9-9 from the field last night.  The rest of Duke was 15-49 (6-26 from 3).  Seth fouled out in 25 minutes, going 1-9 from the floor (1-7 from 3).  In a sense, Seth’s frustration on both ends of the court told the tale.  I agree with Bill that Kelly is glue and so valuable to this team; his absence might have made the difference…in this game.  Another season long trend; Duke had the same number of turnovers as assists last night (12).

This team didn’t quite get there, but provided a season of pleasure and above all effort.  There was no quit in the team.  It will be interesting to see how Coach K tinkers with basically the same squad (if Austin returns) next season.  Quinn Cook has to be next season’s answer (Duke’s Jeremy Lin?).  I also believe that Silent G and Alex Murphy will infuse the team with more athleticism and defensive excellence.  As Coach K said, the sport produces some unbelievable highs and of necessity some bottom out lows.  Last night was one of the lows. It was a promising season, that didn’t culminate in championship success.  The last four games denied Duke the regular season ACC, the ACC tournament and last night’s first round (I don’t care what round the NCAA calls it) exit.  But 27-7 is nothing to be ashamed of.  Even if the end was a bit galling,  Duke has had more than its share of success.  It’s been fun writing this with Bill and sharing it.

The first half of the UNC game on senior night appears to have been a major turning point; I think Duke’s dramatic failure and incompetence on both ends of the court completely eroded Duke’s confidence.  This team was never the same again.  From 26-4 on March 2, Duke fell to 27-7, losing 3 of the last 4.  I described my pessimism after the opening round ACC game against Virginia Tech.  Unfortunately, I was prescient.  Last night’s game put a spotlight on Duke’s season long problem — perimeter defense.  McCollum played 39 minutes and took 16 foul shots (by himself).  Lehigh, which did not shoot fouls particularly well made more than Duke took.  Duke took 23 free throws (made 16); while Lehigh made 25 of 37.  Lehigh attempted 37 free throws!  That was the game, and the cause was the porous perimeter.  And, of course, it is impossible not to notice that Duke’s shooting, a season long strength, evaporated after the win against Florida State in February.  Every game after that was a shooting nightmare.  Mason was 9-9 from the field last night.  The rest of Duke was 15-49 (6-26 from 3).  Seth fouled out in 25 minutes, going 1-9 from the floor (1-7 from 3).  In a sense, Seth’s frustration on both ends of the court told the tale.  I agree with Bill that Kelly is glue and so valuable to this team; his absence might have made the difference…in this game.  Another season long trend; Duke had the same number of turnovers as assists last night (12).

This team didn’t quite get there, but provided a season of pleasure and above all effort.  There was no quit in the team.  It will be interesting to see how Coach K tinkers with basically the same squad (if Austin returns) next season.  Quinn Cook has to be next season’s answer (Duke’s Jeremy Lin?).  I also believe that Silent G and Alex Murphy will infuse the team with more athleticism and defensive excellence.  As Coach K said, the sport produces some unbelievable highs and of necessity some bottom out lows.  Last night was one of the lows. It was a promising season, that didn’t culminate in championship success.  The last four games denied Duke the regular season ACC, the ACC tournament and last night’s first round (I don’t care what round the NCAA calls it) exit.  But 27-7 is nothing to be ashamed of.  Even if the end was a bit galling,  Duke has had more than its share of success.  It’s been fun writing this with Bill and sharing it.

The first half of the UNC game on senior night appears to have been a major turning point; I think Duke’s dramatic failure and incompetence on both ends of the court completely eroded Duke’s confidence.  This team was never the same again.  From 26-4 on March 2, Duke fell to 27-7, losing 3 of the last 4.  I described my pessimism after the opening round ACC game against Virginia Tech.  Unfortunately, I was prescient.  Last night’s game put a spotlight on Duke’s season long problem — perimeter defense.  McCollum played 39 minutes and took 16 foul shots (by himself).  Lehigh, which did not shoot fouls particularly well made more than Duke took.  Duke took 23 free throws (made 16); while Lehigh made 25 of 37.  Lehigh attempted 37 free throws!  That was the game, and the cause was the porous perimeter.  And, of course, it is impossible not to notice that Duke’s shooting, a season long strength, evaporated after the win against Florida State in February.  Every game after that was a shooting nightmare.  Mason was 9-9 from the field last night.  The rest of Duke was 15-49 (6-26 from 3).  Seth fouled out in 25 minutes, going 1-9 from the floor (1-7 from 3).  In a sense, Seth’s frustration on both ends of the court told the tale.  I agree with Bill that Kelly is glue and so valuable to this team; his absence might have made the difference…in this game.  Another season long trend; Duke had the same number of turnovers as assists last night (12).

This team didn’t quite get there, but provided a season of pleasure and above all effort.  There was no quit in the team.  It will be interesting to see how Coach K tinkers with basically the same squad (if Austin returns) next season.  Quinn Cook has to be next season’s answer (Duke’s Jeremy Lin?).  I also believe that Silent G and Alex Murphy will infuse the team with more athleticism and defensive excellence.  As Coach K said, the sport produces some unbelievable highs and of necessity some bottom out lows.  Last night was one of the lows. It was a promising season, that didn’t culminate in championship success.  The last four games denied Duke the regular season ACC, the ACC tournament and last night’s first round (I don’t care what round the NCAA calls it) exit.  But 27-7 is nothing to be ashamed of.  Even if the end was a bit galling,  Duke has had more than its share of success.  It’s been fun writing this with Bill and sharing it.

As the fortunate and appreciative beneficiaries of our education at Duke University, Alan and I  again close the season with a short historical narrative that may give some insight into why we have such pride and affection for our alma mater:

After the endowment gift from the Duke family, President William Preston Few had the extraordinary foresight to take Trinity, a small college of the Methodist church, and  conceive the vision of a great university then enlisting businessmen, academicians, students, and alumni to fulfill his vision. The foundations of his dream were: a strong academic  institution with a religious underpinning , a stunning campus, an extraordinary teaching hospital, and outstanding athletic teams. The new West Campus was constructed in the form of a cross. At the apex of the cross was the magnificent chapel, to the right the library and classrooms leading to the hospital complex; to the left, the student union and dormitories leading to the football stadium. President Few recruited doctors from Johns Hopkins to be the nucleus of the hospital staff and, understanding the national marketing  impact of winning teams, Wallace Wade from national champion Alabama to build a football program.

While the whole is more than the sum of the parts, successful athletic teams have provided the university with free publicity that otherwise would not be affordable– first through print and radio, then through television. The athletic teams have increasingly been the lens through which Duke University is viewed by the general public and which, in turn throws a spotlight on  the rest of an exceptional institution. The truth of the matter is that while Coach K and his basketball program is the latest and most successful in a long, proud history of Duke Athletics, it is not just that his and other teams have won, it was the way they have won and the kind of players with whom they have won– and graduated.

A case can be made that Duke has come further, faster than any Top Ten University. Athletic Director Eddie Cameron was a major catalyst. He had the foresight to see that excellence in athletics was quickest way to attract national attention to a young, ambitious university. In 1930, he hired football coach Wallace Wade away from Alabama following his third national championship with the Crimson Tide. By the mid 1930’s Duke had a powerful football team that attracted national attention and played in the 1938 and 1942 Rose Bowls. From $400,000 of the proceeds of the 1942 Rose Bowl (played at Duke because of concerns about Japanese attacks on the West Coast), Mr. Cameron built Duke Indoor Stadium (fittingly renamed Cameron Indoor Stadium), which was, at the time, the second largest basketball arena (next to the Palestra in Philadelphia) in the East. Fortunately, the legendary two sport star Dick Groat matriculated shortly thereafter and a great basketball tradition was launched.

Legend has it that James Buchannan Duke established the Duke Endowment with $40,000,000 (over $500,000,000 in today’s dollars) after Princeton University turned down his offer of the very generous bequest with the caveat to change the name of the school to Duke University. The gift to Trinity had two caveats: change the name to Duke University (after his father Washington Duke) and build it to look like Princeton.

Whatever the truth, building a campus as beautiful as Duke, establishing rigorous entrance and educational standards, then building  nationally ranked football and basketball teams as well as baseball, golf, tennis, and lacrosse were the lynchpins of the meteoric rise of Duke University as an elite institution (Yale on steroids is how one of President Brodhead’s former students characterized the school). It could not have happened without all of these elements –and it would be difficult to maintain that status without preserving a dual excellence in both academics and athletics.

Alan adds:  Duke has always had athletic teams that presented the university in the light that we all admire.  There have been no academic short cuts to success.  I wasn’t around for the Wallace Wade days, but no person in college athletics has had a more profound impact on his university, college basketball, and the national sports scene than Coach K.  I think it puts the point perfectly that Coach K runs a leadership course at the Fuqua Business school.  He is, in fact, a leader who happens to coach basketball.  He makes us proud because he seems to be able to do everything the right way.  Even his involvement with our Olympic team and USA Basketball brings great prestige to Duke.

I do think his program epitomizes the ideal of college athletics.  His players grow under his tutelage, not just as basketball players, but from boys to men (like Grant Hill; what a wonderful article he wrote on the Fab Five).  There is no coach now active that has his resume as a teacher, leader and icon.  There are other coaches who may be his basketball equal, I believe (Ole Roy comes to mind), but none of them is in the same league for accomplishments as a human being and as, what he really is– an educator.  I’m not sure this could happen at a different institution (Stanford, maybe).  Duke is a perfect blend of the old Greek philosophy of keen mind and strong body.  The basketball program is seamlessly a profound and important part of the university, and enhances all that Duke does and promotes.

I join Bill in saying what a pleasure our writing has been for us.  I have reveled in the effort and enjoyed the camaraderie with a treasured friend (and ex-intramural doubles partner). Thank you for allowing us to share our thoughts with you this season.   Next Play.

 

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