After two non-televised exhibition games and the pre-season coach’s interviews from Tobacco Road, we have some idea of the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s team. If you attended the annual Duke Oyster Roast on Hilton Head a few weeks ago, this may sound familiar, because Alan and I were the after dinner entertainment. Well, maybe “entertainment” is a bit of a stretch, but Alan and I had a very enjoyable time.
Austin Rivers will be missing from last year’s team but that is not necessarily all bad, because that means getting back to basic Duke Basketball– wearing down their opponents with extra ball movement, find the open man on offense, and play forty minutes of overly-aggressive defense. In short, playing fundamentally sound basketball. As talented as Rivers was, he struggled, at times, in all of these categories and it affected team chemistry. As a matter of fact, because of the lack of proven post players, Miles Plumlee, who was a first round pick by Larry Bird for the Indiana Pacers, may be missed more.
As a reward for returning for his senior year Krzyzewski seems to really be committed make Mason Plumlee the team’s focal point. ‘My coaches aren’t coaching balance. They’re telling the perimeter players to feed Plumlee (which would be the first time in years Duke has run its offense from the inside-out.) I thought we were too balanced a year ago,” Krzyzewski said. “I’d rather not have it be as balanced. I don’t think you win if everyone on our team scores 12 points a game. I’d like Mason to score 25 a game.”
If Plumlee scores 25, Krzyzewski would like Kelly to score 20. The versatile Ryan Kelly has been more effective shooting from the perimeter than he has inside, spent the summer with Plumlee on the camp circuit. Both went to the Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy in Chicago, where they competed against fellow ACC big men Reggie Johnson of Miami and C.J. Leslie of N.C. State. Kelly and Plumlee performed well enough to earn invitations to the July LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. There, Plumlee teamed up with Florida State’s Michael Snaer, another candidate for the title of best player in the ACC. “When he was on my team, we were killing it,” Snaer said. “We were killing it.”
Duke is hoping Plumlee and Kelly perform as well in the ACC as they did on the summer circuit. Beyond their talent, they form a rare duo of two seniors in the one-and-done era. “Older, really good players are the best thing a coach can have in college right now,” Krzyzewski said. “You always want the young, great player, but if the seniors are outstanding and they have game experience and are 22 or 23 years old, which our guys are, it gives a different dimension to your team.”
We have heard this before, but it has more weight this year because Quinn Cook is the kind of pure point guard Duke has not had in several years. Back in the day, Coach was a point guard for Bobby Knight at Army and he has a special affection for guards—especially point guards. Given his limited range (unlike say Laettner or Boozer), the key for Mason to average 20 points or more is Quinn and his ability to break down a defender, penetrate and get Mason the ball in his comfort zone. Remember how much MP2 scored when Kyrie Irving was healthy? So far the reports are mixed. Quinn was terrific in the Durham Pro-Am Summer League but so far has struggled in the two exhibition games. In contrast, the two freshman have been very impressive but Alex Murphy, the presumed starter at forward, has not. Curry has a mysterious leg injury, the source and seriousness of which is a better kept secret than who is responsible for the Benghazi disaster.
At this point, there are more questions than answers about this Duke team. However, if everyone stays healthy, Plumlee, Kelly, provide senior leadership, the defense improves, Curry hits his threes, the true freshmen Sulaimon, Jefferson, plus the red shirt freshmen Murphy, and MP3 mature into strong contributors, Thornton and Hairston accept their status as role players, and Cooke regains his high school form, this team should be a contender for ACC and NCAA titles.
I did not see either game, but looked at the box score for both (only short form for Western Washington), which revealed what I thought was some interesting stuff. Of course, a box score can only tell you so much, and tells more about the offense than the defense. It is now recognized that Duke’s main weakness last year was defense. I thought Austin was better defensively (by year’s end) than Bill does. [Also offensively, but that’s another story] The losses of Gbinje and Miles will not improve the defense. We haven’t heard much about his transfer, but I thought he’d be a key player this year. Dawkins was simply a defensive liability. Suliamon comes to Duke with a defensive reputation, and Jefferson has drawn praise for his defense and long wing span. Defense remains a real litmus test for how this team will do this year.
Duke started the same lineup in both games: MP2, Ryan Kelly, Alex Murphy, Quinn Cook and Rashid Suliamon. Jefferson was the best reserve. Mason has been terrific and Suliamon the best of the rest. Cook has not morphed into the point guard we need yet. Kelly had one great game statistically and one where his other stats were good, but an 0-7 shooting game against Winston-Salem State was not impressive. Curry is hurt (but hopefully recovering) while Alex Murphy, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton have been statistical disappointments.
Duke 69 Winston-Salem State 45
Curry did not play in the first game; but played 17 minutes in the Winston-Salem game (1-9 from the field including 0-4 from 3 point land). He’s legitimately rusty. Of the rest of the bench, only Amile Jefferson had an impressive stat line. The two juniors, Tyler and Josh Hairston played sparingly and did not have a field goal between them. Tyler played 14 minutes and picked up 4 fouls in that time without even taking a shot. He had an assist and a turnover with two boards and 2 steals. He was also 4-4 from the line. Josh played 15 minutes and was 0-3 from the field, but had 6 boards, an assist and a block. He was 1-2 from the line with no turnovers. That’s is less than hoped for, especially against the likes of Winston-Salem State. Amile played 22 minutes (starters minutes — more than Alex Murphy, who only played 14 minutes. The big minute guys were Mason (33 minutes); Suliamon (31), Ryan (29), Cook (25) and Jefferson (22). Mason had an excellent stat line (except foul shooting, which was 6-8 in the opener). He was 7-7 from the field and 5-9 from the line. He had 10 boards, 2 blocks, an assist and a steal (with no turnovers). Heady stuff; but no one else followed suit.
Bad shooting: Duke was 1-17 from behind the arc (that is not a misprint). Overall 25 – 64, which is under 40%. Cook (1-4 from behind the arc) made Duke’s only 3 pointer. Kelly was 0-2; Murphy 0-2; Suliamon 0-5; and Seth 0-4. I thought the players who took Duke’s shots was revealing: Suliamon took 13 (team high), Jefferson 10, Seth 9 and Quinn Cook 9. Kelly was 0-7 from the field and 5-5 from the line. He did have 8 boards, 3 assists (good stat), 2 blocks and 2 steals without a turnover. Murphy didn’t play much for a starter and his stat line may reveal why. He was 1-6 from the field without getting to the line. He had 2 turnovers against an assist and 2 steals. Suliamon seems the find of the pre-season. Throw out his 0-5 from behind the arc and he was 6-8 from inside the arc. Two turnovers and 2 assists and 3 boards. One missed free throw. Quinn Cook, upon whom I believe Duke has to rely, is not delivering as hoped for. He was 4-9 — 3-5 inside the arc, but with no free throw attempts. Only 1 assist with 3 turnovers and no steals. Duke had 11 assists and 9 turnovers — against Winston–Salem State. The assist turnover ration was a bad harbinger last year and continues to warn of a major Duke weakness. This was not a box score that breeds optimism for the formidable tasks which lie ahead (Kentucky on November 13 for example), but it is still very early.
Duke 105 Western Washington 87 (written the day after the game)
All raved about Sulaimon’s debut (he started in place of Curry, who did not play). He had 18 points in the first half — 20 for the game — on 6-9 from the field and 6-7 from the line (2 of his field goals were 3 pointers). [Duke was 6-14 from 3.] A stat that jumped out at me was Mason going 6-8 from the line. If he can shoot 75% for the year, it would be big. He had 22 points on 8-14 shooting. He took the most shots of any Duke player; the only other player with double figure attempts from the field was Quinn Cook, who played the most minutes (32) and had 13 points on 4-10 from the field and 4-5 from the line for 13 points (meaning he made one 3; but I couldn’t tell how many of Duke’s 14 attempts from 3, he actually took). However, he had 6 turnovers to only 3 assists. This needs to change if he is going to be the “point”. Note Cook’s 5 rebounds was good (picking up the slack for the absent Curry?) Duke shot distribution told something. After Mason (14) and Cook (10), it was fairly evenly distributed: Kelly 9; Rashid 9; Amile Jefferson 7; Alex Murphy 5; Hairston 3 and Thornton 2. Tyler hit a 3. Josh was 4-4 from the line with one field goal and 5 boards.
Kelly led Duke in assists with 4. As a team, Duke had 16 assists against 18 turnovers — troubling shades of last year. Of the 18 turnovers, Mason with 5 and Cook combined for 11 of them. Suliamon had 3 assists. WWU had 14 steals to Duke’s 8. Suliamon and Thornton had 2 steals each. WWU had 15 turnovers against 10 assists. Early in the season for everyone, even Division II National champions returning a full complement of starters.
Duke won easily because of a vast height advantage, which allowed easy baskets inside (Kelly and Mason were a combined 14 for 23 (add 13 for 15 from the line, meaning Kelly was 7-7), a rebounding superiority (41-34) and fouled out WWU’s best inside players. Kelly had a stellar stat line: 6-9 from the floor and 7-7 form the line for 22 points, meaning he had the remaining 3 Duke 3 pointers. He had 6 boards to go with 22 points on 9 field goal attempts. That is efficiency!
Amile Jefferson turned some heads and got a bit of press. He was 5-7 from the field and 3-6 form the line for 13 points. He drew kudos for his interior defense (7’1″ wing span; though very thin). He and Hairston got the Marshall Plumlee’s minutes. Duke played only 8 (if you include Todd Zafirovski’s cameo, 9). DBR gave kudos to Alex Murphy’s all around game; 3-5 (0-2 from the line) for 6 points.
The Season Starts
Most teams are optimistic about their fortunes at this time of the year. I believe this will be an interesting season, where Duke has a chance to become a really good team. The exhibition games throw some cold water on that optimism, but to remember they are exhibition games and it is a long season where players develop. Duke has the coach who can develop players and a team. I do think there will be some disappointments early in the year until this team begins to jell and grow.
Duke 68 – Clemson 40
If you just saw the 25-10 halftime score, you might have thought it was just another bowl game. Actually, the Clemson Bricklayers played Duke last night in Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Blue Devils were up two touchdowns and a two point conversion. Duke also started slowly going OH for eight and it was ten minutes into the game before they got a double digit working margin. As we know, tough defense has been the key to every good team Coach K has had because it keeps the game close whenever the shots aren’t falling. Fortunately, tonight it was the defense plus a poor shooting team shooting terribly. It was so bad that Ryan Kelly actually outscored the entire Clemson team 12-10.
Unfortunately, Ryan “tweaked” his ankle at the end of the first twenty minutes and did not play (but was on the bench) in the second half. Hold your breath folks because this is the same right foot that he injured at the end of last year—and we all know what happened to the team in the last four games without him. Tonight it didn’t matter as Quinn Cook (may I remind you before he does that Alan was the first non-professional scout to predict his greatness) picked up the slack in the second half. Saturday’s game in Raleigh against State will be another matter. Hairston, Murphy, and Jefferson filled in for Kelly. Both freshmen again showed flashes of a skill upside that, candidly, Hairston has never shown. What Hairston does have, however, is experience and tenacity, and toughness.
Coach K commented on playing time:
“With a senior really good player there is major separation, especially when the other guys are freshmen. There is separation of talent and experience. Whereas, when you have a team that doesn’t have that there is more of a chance of equal minutes, stuff like that. You just have to manage the game differently. I do that with every team that I’ve had, including the Olympic team. Not everyone got equal minutes there either. There was separation between LeBron [James], Kobe [Bryant], Carmelo [Anthony], Chris [Paul], [Kevin] Durant. So they played a lot of minutes. I think any coach, to be successful, he is going to play his best players the most minutes. The neat thing is that our guys are practicing well and had really good minutes tonight. I’m not sure of the status of Ryan for Saturday so that means there isn’t separation, so they will have opportunity. The experience they got tonight will be helpful.”
- The season may hang in the balance as the physical health of Kelly and Curry become more apparent. This is a team where the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Granted Mason Plumlee, Quinn Cook, and Seth Curry are the obvious cornerstones, but I have contended for about as long as Alan has talked about Cook that Ryan Kelly is the difference maker on this team. While Mason’s defense, defensive rebounding, and passing are POY quality, the rest of his offense and free throw shooting have returned to last year’s level. For Booker the Younger to play you to a statistical draw is not a good omen. To be sure, some of that has to do to how Duke is being defended but that is to be expected as the season progresses and teams figure how to try to beat you. Really good, versatile teams make adjustments to various defensive schemes—and Duke is versatile. Sulaimon has hit the freshman wall offensively and he has to break through it pretty quickly—especially if Kelly is not 100% because Ryan is the matchup from hell. Between he Cook, good spacing, good three point shooting, and MP2 down low, how do you defend this team?
- Curry made the play of the game when driving left as the clock was winding down, he whipped a left handed shovel pass all the way across the lane to Cook in the right corner for a touchdown or, if you prefer, uncontested three. Quinn was a close second with a drive and hesitation fake that turned the foot taller Booker into a frozen statue as Quinn finished with a dipsy-doodle layup. Impressive, but we have seen that move before. I have never seen a pass like Curry’s before—just hope he wasn’t aiming at MP2.
- Just when I commented on Duke being such a good free throw shooting team, they become very ordinary.
- Saturday’s game against North Carolina State, the pre-season favorite to win the conference, worries me.
- In the second half of the game, this team morphed from “Mason’s team” (in the early going); to almost Kelly’s team (as his subtle and valuable contributions became more visible) into Quinn Cook’s team. With Kelly out for the second half; Mason being offensively thwarted; Seth not reaching double figures; Tyler hitting only one shot (but it was a big one) and Rasheed continuing his shooting slump (but great defense and 7 boards), Quinn took over the Duke offense in the second half, stabilizing it and providing the scoring punch. He had 20 points just in the second half on an array of jaw dropping moves to the basket where he finished dexterously (I dissent from Bill’s selection of play of the game, opting instead for Quinn’s drive where he beat two Clemson defenders — one with a crossover and the other faking the crossover — for the layup), solid outside shooting, and superb ball handling which controlled the game. In that half alone he was 9-12 from the field including 2-3 from behind the arc. Overall, he scored 27 points with 5 boards, 5 assists and 4 steals. Only 1 turnover in 35 minutes. While his offense drew superlatives from the announcers, Quinn’s defense was superb and galvanizes the whole team on defense. Duke played superior defense all night, with smooth switching and allowing Clemson very few open looks (which they were consistently missing).
- Is it just me, or has Mason’s game lost some of the fluidity and effectiveness of his early season play, which had the media describing him as a Player of the Year candidate. To me, he has not looked like a POY in the last three games. His early season foul shooting success has declined, as has his post effectiveness. He is still a phenomenal rebounder and adequate defender, though I think his defense has also regressed a bit in the last three games. He is playing a lot of minutes (36 last night; the most of any Duke player) and running hard all the time. If Kelly misses significant time, Mason is all Duke really has in the front court.
- Bill is so right about Kelly’s being so valuable for the many things that he does, and the amazingly complete player that he is. Unfortunately he is also so valuable because — contrary to Coach K’s pep talk evaluation — Duke has inadequate bench strength in the forecourt. Hairston can take a charge, but so far has contributed very little else. On the perimeter, he cannot stay in front of anybody (embarrassing, actually), he is not a consistent rebounder (0 defensive rebounds), and he has been (so far) a poor shooter from outside of 8 feet, and seems to be without a go to move. He played 16 minutes with only a single board and 1 point (0-1 on a jump shot). He is not developing, and is an upper clansman. Jefferson, on the other hand, looked agile, energetic, and athletic in his 9 minutes (5 points, 3 boards and a steal). I anticipate that he will begin to take Hairston’s minutes. Murphy had a put back (but missed the free throw) in his 5 minutes. Marshall missed both free throws awarded to him in his cameo (2 minutes in garbage time). The redshirt freshmen have yet to make a significant contribution. If Kelly is hurt, Duke will have a serious problem.
- NC State is a BIG GAME! As pre-season favorites (but with a bad loss to Oklahoma State; and a Big Ten Challenge loss to Michigan) the Wolfpack will be sky high for the game in Raleigh. Even with Kelly, this will be a tough game. State’s TJ Warren is a 6’8″ freshman who is shooting lights out, and is the leading candidate, at this stage of the season, for ACC freshman of the year). They have scoring and power inside (CJ Leslie and Richard Howel) and scoring with outside shooting on the perimeter (Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood and freshman phenom Rodney Purvis). Bill should be worried about this game. I would not be surprised if the betting line were even or Duke an underdog. A win would be a significant accomplishment — on a par with Duke’s November triumphs.
DUKE – WAKE FOREST
Living in the beautiful Lowcountry has many advantages, but it is SEC territory so last night the South Carolina-Florida game had television precedence over the Duke-Wake game. From the box score, the highlights on goduke.com, and talking to Alan, it is obvious that the seniors Plumlee (32 pts, 9 rebs) and Curry (21 pts) put the team on their backs (with an assist from Cook).A win is a win, and Wake plays better at home (win over N.C. State) they have been a .500 team. While experienced seniors played like we have become accustomed, the lack of defense and the inconsistent play of Jefferson and Sulaimon are disappointing developments and must improve. The blunt truth is that so far without Kelly, Duke is not a top team.
If you analyze the numbers, it is easy to see that the Blue Devils could have lost this game. Duke is not going to go 2-14 from three point land every game but Plumlee is also not going to go 8-10 from the line.
- “I don’t know if Mason Plumlee is the best player in the league, but there’s no player who’s more important to his team” , coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “There is no substitute for him.
- Amile Jefferson and combined for six rebounds and two points on 1-of-3 shooting. But Hairston turned in some big hustle plays down the stretch. He blocked Harris’ jumper with the score tied at 66 with three minutes left, then came up with rebound of Plumlee’s block of Harris in the closing seconds.
Is the glass half full or half empty? Always among life’s tantalizing questions, and certainly apt when applied to a discussion of last night’s Duke victory. Half full: Duke won its first ACC road game (0-2 against NC State and Miami) in an arena where Wake had not lost an ACC home game this season. Half empty: Duke was pushed to the limit by a team that is 158th in scoring; 154 in field goal percentage; 232 in rebounding and 276 in assists per game, with a 10-10 record (now 3-5 in ACC). Wake has lost to: Iona and Richmond, with its last game being an 18 point loss to Georgia Tech (Tech’s only ACC win). On statistics, Wake should have been pounded by Duke, as on January 5 when Duke won by 18 in Cameron.
Half full: Mason had the offensive game of his life scoring 32 points on 12-15 from the floor; 8-10 from the line with 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks (one was at the most crucial time) in 36 minutes. Half empty: 7 turnovers. Half full: Mason and Seth carried the team (Seth scored 21, playing 37 minutes). Seth was 6-11 from inside the arc and 6-7 from the line. Half empty: 1-6 from behind the arc. Half full: Quinn had 12 points, 7 assists, 4 boards and a steal. Half empty: 1-5 from behind the arc and 3 turnovers.
Half full: Duke as a team was 26-40 from inside the arc and 17-22 from the foul line. Half empty: everything else.
The worst of half empty: Duke was a sieve on defense. Wake shredded Duke from everywhere except the bonus sphere (3-11). Subtracting the 3s, Wake shot over 50% (22-41), with way too many being obscenely open looks and layups. Duke was 2-14 from behind the arc; had 15 turnovers (2 more than the 13 assists); got no scoring from the bench; worse, got regressive games from Rasheed and Amile after both had shown signs of emerging as consistent and productive players to pick up the slack from Kelly’s absence. After the Big 3’s 38, 37, and 36 minutes, Coach K was searching for (and not finding) productive players. Amile: 19 minutes, 0 points 4 fouls. Rasheed: 24 minutes, 6 points, and 3 fouls (limited his minutes). Tyler: 22 minutes with 2 points. Josh: 14 minutes with 2 points. Alex: 6 minutes with 0 points. Marshall: 4 minutes with 0 points.
Half full is difficult to sustain. The promise of the Maryland game was eroded. Saturday at Florida State (2pm; ESPN) is the next play.
North Carolina State 85
For Duke to have any chance to win the ACC regular season championship, they had to beat N.C. State tonight. For the second game in a row the Blue Devils came out focused and aggressive t as Sulaimon set the tone with an aggressive and powerful drive, dunk, foul, free throw, then a three on the next possession. The State players seemed stunned as the threes kept falling (10 in 20 minutes) and the Blue Devils played their best half of the year, ending up 58-37. The only concerns were that Duke was shorthanded (Josh Hairston was out with an infected arm);Cook, Curry, and Jefferson each had two fouls; Duke could not sustain that level of three point shooting; and the Wolfpack was too talented to continue to be beaten so badly.
Predictably, in the next twenty minutes, Howell put the Pack on his back, Duke’s stopped falling, and the Wolfpack kept chipping away at the big lead. Fortunately for Duke, Howell got in foul trouble then fouled out with a few minutes to go on an unintentional flagrant foul as he hit Mason in the chin with an elbow as he tried to clear space for a drive. And we know Duke knows how to close out games—put the ball in the hands of Curry and Cook.
Mason Plumlee had 30 & 9 ( 12-16 free throws) and played the best game of his career—especially in the second half when State made their sustained charge. He dunked, he defended, he drove and he simply dominated. Curry checked in with 26 as he continued his improbable and amazing injury plagued play. And Cook was again the straw that stirred the drink. He even hit an incredible basket while on the floor after almost losing the ball under the basket. When it is going you way, everything seems to go in.
The team continues to adjust to the loss of lost Ryan Kelly. Jefferson continued his high energy and feisty immersion and education into Big Boy Basketball.. With Hairston out, Murphy played significant minutes of solid defense, had a high light dunk, but was only 2-4 from the line and a bagel from the field.
- An amazing stat: Duke has been ranked number 1 in one of every five games during Coach K’s tenure.
- The win gives Duke record of 20-2. This is the Blue Devils 48th 20-win season, the 17th straight and the 29th for Krzyzewski.
- Plumlee’s free throws defy the scientific laws of physics, geometry, and shooting technique. How can a basketball maintain a flat trajectory for 15 feet without falling of its own weight?
- I had to buy the DirecTV Full Court Package to watch the game, which was telecast by Raycom not ESPN. It was like a throwback telecast from the sixties: small picture, fuzzy analog not high definition, third tier announcers, and only the same dumb ESPN commercials repeatedly looped over and over and over again. If it wasn’t Duke playing, I never would have watched a minute of the game.
While watching one of Duke’s most spectacular offensive explosions, it was hard to ignore Duke’s lack of defense in the second half. True, the Pack (especially Richard Howell) shot extremely well, even with a hand in the shooter’s face. But that hand wasn’t there very often, and State had an out-of body-shooting night in the second half (maybe poetic justice after Duke’s first half out-of-body shooting). For the first twelve minutes of that half, the Pack shot 85.7%! State scored 48 points in spite of a power outage at the end after both Howell and CJ Leslie had fouled out. Duke simply did not defend with any efficiency, allowing clear drives to the hoop, open shots, and put backs underneath. With 4 and 1/2 minutes to go, State had cut the lead to single digits. The game turned on two plays — Howell’s unintentional flagrant foul followed by Mason’s amazing block on a CJ Leslie lay up as State was charging . With 3’41 to go, State had the ball, trailing by 11 with Howell, who had scored 7 of the last 9 State points, in position to do damage. Instead of damage, Howell fouled out, giving Duke a deuce on Mason’s two free throws and the ball. Big play! Still State wouldn’t die and clawed back to a single digit game. Even after Howell fouled out, Leslie torched the Duke interior. With a minute and 20 to go, Leslie had a point blank put back when Mason rose for a gorgeous block. Cook came up with the ball. Game over.
Duke’s offensive first half was spectacularly efficient, shooting over 60 % with 10 3s (Seth and Quinn had 8 of the 10). Seth had 18 points in the first half; Mason 15 and Cook 12. Offensively, the second half was different. Duke failed to make a single 3 pointer in the second half (finished 10-24), but made the crucial foul shots in a foul plagued second half. Critically, Duke had 18 assists and only 7 turnovers (Thornton had 6 in only 18 minutes). Both teams were missing key players and struggled with mounting foul trouble. State had only 7 scholarship players (played with 6 until Leslie fouled out in the last minute) and Duke only 8 (played with 7; Marshall made a less than a minute cameo). Duke was 31-42 from the line and really won the game there in the second half. Mason led Duke in that stanza with some wonderful offensive moves and dropped in another 15 for his 30 (9-11 from the field and 12-16 from the line). Pretty impressive, and those points went along with 9 boards, 2 blocks and an imposing presence. He played 40 minutes. Wow! Curry, Sulaimon and Cook all played 35 very productive minutes, though Sulaimon was quiet after his game opening outburst. Cook had a gaudy game with a hummer of a stat line: 21 points on only 8 shots (6-8 from the field including 4-5 from behind the arc and 5-6 at the line). Add 4 boards, 4 assists and a block against 1 turnover and you have a wonderful game from your point guard.
Still the lack of defense has to give pause. State was missing its point guard and had to play with a (touted) freshman, who has not logged many minutes this year. But Tyler Lewis played 39 minutes yesterday with 6 assists and no turnovers. State made 10 straight baskets from the field to start the second half, and began to punish Duke near the rim. Josh Hairston isn’t getting much love this year, but his interior defense and toughness were sorely missed yesterday, especially in the second half. He should be ready for Boston College on Sunday. It was a great game to watch and a significant win for Duke.
Duke 62 – Boston College 61
THE MAESTERO (plus Cook, Plumlee & Sulaimon) STEAL ONE.
Don Henson, a tennis pro in Winchester, taught me a lot about the game and the game within the game. One of his truisms was that good, well coached players make more “lucky shots” than average players. The same holds true for basketball teams. Over the years, Duke and Carolina have won more close games than other teams they play. Tonight was a good example. If I told you that BC only scored 27 first half points, how many points would you think Duke, which has been averaging 40 first half points, was ahead? O, nada, none. UNBELIEVEABLE!
I kept waiting for a Duke run that never came. Oh, they had a mini-run in the second half but went colder than the Boston weather before for Coach K gave Mason and Cook gave the opportunity to steal a win in a situation that seemed hopeless. With a few minutes left, I had noted “out fought and out played, an inexplicably discouraging loss”.
When Duke opened a 6 point lead in the second half, I thought that the Devils would put the game away. But then they went cold again, scoring just one free throw over a 4:30 minutes span while allowing BC to get hot and surge to 5 point lead with 2:15 to go—as the students went wild in anticipation of storming the court after the anticipated upset.
Now pay attention boys and girls and you will again learn why watching Duke Basketball is so much fun! Coach K called a timeout. He drew up a play designed to get Quinn Cook a three point shot from the corner, which Quinn drained. Then Plumlee took over. Fouled hard on a defensive rebound, he hit a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left to tie the game at 61- 61. BC’s Joe Rahon put a 3-point attempt off the top of the backboard and Plumlee was fouled hard as he grabbed the rebound. He missed the first but hit the second.
62-61 Duke. 25 seconds to play.
After a BC timeout, Duke, surprisingly, stayed small and quick—MP2 and four guards. On the out of bounds, Thornton was on Hanlan, who was hot and figured to take the last shot and Sulaimon was on the powerful Anderson, who figured to screen for him. On the pick, Sulaimon switched to Hanlan, which is the matchup Coach K wanted and Sully, anticipating a right handed drive, cut it off and forced the talented freshman into an off balanced shot that was way off the mark. There was a scramble for the ball but Thornton somehow denied Anderson a tip in or rebound and Mason was in the middle of the scrum for the loose ball as time expired. The gamble payed off, because Thornton was left guarding Anderson, a powerful forward who had about a foot advantage on him, as he rolled to the basket but Hanlan was feeling it all game and was not about to give the ball up.
After the game, Mason Plumlee said: “Coach, he knows what to do. He knew Anderson was going to set the ball screen, so he put Rasheed on Anderson.” The rest was up to the players, who embrace moments like this.
- Mason Plumlee, was not flawless, but he again played with a passion that almost willed the Blue Devils to a win. After going 3-4 from the floor with the game on the line, I will make no more comments about his free throw shooting. BTW, Rasheed Sulaimon is playing with similar intensity and passion much earlier in his career.
The harbingers of an upset were all there. The last time all five of the top ranked teams had lost in the same week was 1992. [Btw, Duke held the top spot after the loss in ’92 and went on to win the NCAA tournament!] The announcers were bordering on hysterical as they kept reminding the viewers that only Duke of the top 5 had not lost this week, and if BC could hold its lead, the week in 1992 would be duplicated. Even the announcers understood the story would be a BC win. Duke had a bad shooting night; BC played with passion verve and confidence (though not shooting well in the first half, got hot in the second). BC players who had not accomplished much — Eddie Odio and Dennis Clifford — contributed big time for BC, to go along with excellent performances from emerging stars Ryan Anderson and Oliver Hanlon. But Duke alone among the top 5 held on by a fingernail and avoided the upset. In my opinion, this was a much bigger win and accomplishment than the schedule will make it seem, when read later in the year. After all, it was just a win against a team that is 10-13 on the season and 2-8 in the ACC. But, against all odds, Coach K and the team managed the win. Bill is so right in focusing on the timeout that Coach K called with 2:15 to go, Duke down 5 with the ball and looking lost on offense and the shot clock winding down to 16. 1:58 left when Cook, who had been failing to finnish around the rim all night, swished the 3 from the corner. Mason recorded a block on Hanlon’s layup, but Anderson rebounded and missed a short jumper, which Cook rebounded. Duke timeout with 1:04 left and down 2. Anderson fouled Plumlee with 47 seconds left and Mason drained both free throws to tie the game (big shots!). BC”s youth got them when Rayon, with an open look from the 3 point corner, hit the top of the backboard, which Mason rebounded with 25 seconds left and was fouled by Odio. After he gave the Devils the final one point lead, Duke’s defense, as described by Bill, forced Hanlan into a bad shot that missed. Actually, Duke’s defense was excellent for most of the game (with a major lapse in the latter part of the second half when BC came storming back from down 6 with 8:57 to play to tie the game with 5:20 left and take the 5 point lead with 2:15 to go).
BC shot 50% in the second half, but could not hit from behind the arc (0-6; meaning that BC was 13-20 inside the arc in the second half. The Duke defense faltered, but BC made some tough shots too). Duke’s stout first half defense wilted in the latter part of the second half. It was Mason (38 minutes) with 19 (12 in the second half; 7-10 from the line for the game) and Seth (38 minutes) with 18 (10 in the second half; a pair of 3s and 4-4 from the line) that carried the Devils all game. Quinn (37 minutes) had a less than stellar outing going 0-8 from the field inside the arc (0-2 in a scoreless first half) and committing 4 turnovers. However, he had 3 big 3s (3-4) in the second half for 9 points, which was critical for Duke. Rasheed struggled offensively (though he defended and rebounded very well), scoring only 4 points in 23 minutes. Thornton contributed and was on the court for 30 minutes, the fourth most of any Duke player.
What of the Kelly replacement effort? First, Amile played only 11 minutes — and Alex Murphy only 6 (no score) — neither saw any meaningful action in the second half (3 points and 4 boards for Jefferson; ). Did Jefferson get hurt? Earn his way into the Coach K doghouse? There is a story there that does not seem to be reported anywhere. Josh played 17 creditable minutes and demonstrated his growing value to the team (even made a medium range jumper).
It was a desultary Duke performance made palatable by the 1 point win in the context of all the other top 5 teams (+ Arizona at # 7) losing. Next play will hold our attention: UNC at Cameron on Wednesday (9pm on ESPN) .
Duke 73 – North Carolina 68
It was Coach K’s 66th birthday tonight but this game might have aged him several more years and when he looks in the mirror this morning, he might even see a few white hairs. I know I did and will.
Coming off an embarrassing loss, a proud, well coached team usually rebounds with a good game. That is what Carolina did tonight and in the first half as Duke helped them by playing like they did against Boston College for thirty- eight minutes. UNC was ahead the entire twenty minutes. But UNC ain’t BC. In addition, Roy Williams had a surprise present for K. He started four guards with McAdoo, drove the lanes, and played energetic, effective defense.
The Blue Devils were fortunate to only be down four points at the break as Cook, Sulaimon, and Thornton created what little offense Duke had while Plumlee and Curry were basically missing in action. To start the second half, it appeared Duke was in a lot of trouble as Mason received his third foul in the first thirty seconds. Josh Hairston subbed for Plumlee and lo and behold Duke suddenly played with more sense of urgency. A more aggressive defense produced an 11-3 four minute run that gave them a lead they never relinquished. When MP2 returned, he was a different player. Carolina didn’t help their cause by rushing jump shots– and we know how missing threes often gives an opponent quick, easy scoring opportunities. Despite that, Carolina never quit and the second half looked more like a typical Duke-Carolina barn burner.
It wasn’t over until it was over, because Plumlee, Cook, Curry, and Sulaimon played extended minutes with four fouls. However, Duke, capitalized on some breaks and played better—especially at the foul line where they were 17-23 vs. the Heels 13-23. While this is a down year for UNC, Hairston, Bullock, and Strickland, and McAdoo are very talented players. On a given night, this team is capable of beating any ACC team.
In his press conference Coach K had some interesting comments about what a great rivalry Duke-Carolina is, how fortunate he has been to be a part of it, that the coaches and players respect one another and, in many cases, handle the pressure of the intense rivalry better than the fans. Also, he commented that collective anger can be a positive emotion that allows a team to raise the level of their play and fight through fatigue.
Roy Williams assessment of Duke: “I Congratulate Duke. There is a reason why they are No. 1 in the country, because they are really good. They got off to a great start this year playing the most difficult schedule in the country and they played great, then Ryan Kelly went down. For two or three games they were all out of whack, but they have been playing great lately. We will get a chance to play them again. Hopefully we play a little better and they play a little worse.”
- Without Kelly, every game can be a challenge. However, these players have unusual chemistry, are very resilient, and have the ability to find a way to raise the level of their play to meet the moment.
- Duke had only one more basket than turnover (12-11) in the first half.
- While Mason played like the POY in the last fifteen minutes, he made a careless fourth foul and could have been called for his fifth on several other occasions. McAdoo probably made a mistake by flopping rather than standing and taking the contact on these close calls.
- While Josh Hairston played well, he inadvertently got an assist on Mason’s fourth by taking an ill-advised (no, no, what are you thinking) three that unsurprisingly produced a clanking, long rebound that MP2 dove for and, in doing so, fouled a Carolina player.
- You can see Sulaimon playing with more and more confidence as he moves with determination and versatility, demonstrating he is a five tool player. After the game, he said: “I have no more excuses. It’s February now and I’m not a freshman anymore. I’ve got to step up and help my teammates out. The great thing about this team and this coaching staff is they have confidence in me and they have the belief in me that I can do it. And if they believe in me, why shouldn’t I? I’m just ready.”
- Who suggested that Duke might need a new shoe company? Curry, who twice had to leave the game when the cushions in his shoes blew out.
Duke won! That is the single most important fact that emerged from a fascinating (but not very well played) and typically intense Duke-UNC game. The game demonstrated to me that Duke is not as good as the other top tier teams, and yet has a wonderful 22-2 record on Valentine’s Day. I think Coach K is doing it with mirrors and blue smoke, as demonstrated in both BC and last night’s games. As Bill points out, Carolina came out with attitude; created by having been fully embarrassed at Miami (yes, we know how that feels). Duke, on the other hand, came out as if winning at home in Cameron against a flawed team was guaranteed. Duke was simply awful in the first half at both ends of the floor, except for about a 5 minute stretch near the end of the half, where you could see the defense (finally) tighten. Bill called me at half time (I know what substance into which I was crying; not sure about Bill). We both said, it is amazing that Duke is as close as 4 points down after having played as they did. Truthfully, if Carolina had made a fair percent of the wide open looks they had, Duke would have been down 12 or 14. The sad fact is that, by Carolina standards, the ‘heels are a shockingly inept team. Heart? Yes. Skilled players? Some but substantially fewer than we are used to? But something is missing. Leadership? I think. They don’t play together as a team on either end of the court the way we are used to seeing Roy Williams coached teams play. My Carolina friends are beginning to whisper about Ole Roy (which is actually shocking). Inept? In the second half, UNC was 2-10 from behind the arc and 9-17 from the free throw line (barely above 50%) and only 10 for 24 inside the arc. Those stats (and the Duke counterparts) tell the tale of the game’s outcome. In the second half, Duke was 5-12 from behind the arc and 13-14 from the line (12 clutch free throws in a row coming down the stretch). Duke shot 7-13 inside the arc in the second half (meaning that virtually half of Duke’s 25 second half shots came from behind the arc).
Carolina played with only 6 players (if you do not count the cameos: Hubert 1 minute, Tokoto 3 minutes, Johnson and Simmons 4 minutes). Duke played with 7, but Josh Hairston logged only 9 minutes (Cameos by Murphy 3 minutes and Marshall 1 minute); so one could argue 6 also. At game’s end, the Duke Core Four (without Kelly) — Mason, Cook, Curry and Rasheed — all had four fouls. Rasheed and Curry led Duke in the second half with 9 points each; Cook and Mason had 8 apiece. Mason had an efficient second half going 3-5 from the field with 4-4 from the line with 6 big defensive rebounds (after only 1 defensive rebound in the first half). Quinn carried Duke in the first half (10 points on 4-6 shooting) and took control in the second half. Duke as a team, however, had only 9 assists against 17 turnovers. Bad ball handling and some very careless passing (especially in the first half). Cook had 5 of the turnovers, but only one in the second half, but only 2 assists for the game. K wants him to score more, and he certainly did last night even though he was 0-3 from behind the arc (6-9 otherwise and, critically, 6-6 from the free throw line. Rasheed was a star in the second half (3-5 from the field including 1-3 from 3 and 2-2 (clutch if you remember) from the line. He also had 5 assists against 2 turnovers in the second half. Curry had a rare off game, but returned to form in the stretch and contributed handsomely on both ends. Tyler was also a major contributor especially on defense where he guarded the much bigger Bullock well. He also was 3-4 from behind the arc in 28 minutes (5th most on team). Duke went with 4 guards and Mason (Josh for a few minutes also), which was another Coach K “mirrors and blue smoke” strategy. Rasheed played 38 minutes to lead the team; Quinn 37 and Mason 35 were the others over 30 minutes played. Curry was 29 and Amile logged 20 minutes; mostly in the first half before K went to the four guard offense. Amile played 20 minutes and snared 8 rebounds, but his only statistic in the second half was one rebound and one foul. Tonight was a prime example of how much Duke misses Kelly and how miraculous it is that Duke keeps winning without him.
Next Play: Maryland on Saturday at College Park (never a walk in the park). ESPN @ 6pm.
DUKE 81 – MARYLAND 83
Coming off three games in six days, one of which was against a team that had beaten them, another a near death/loss experience in Boston, the other against arch rival North Carolina, Duke was playing against a Maryland team which had a week to prepare and needed a win to have any hope to make the NCAA Tournament—and a team the Blue Devils beaten 12 of the last 13 times. Yet, getting virtually nothing from Mason Plumlee (4pts. & 3rebs.), the rest of the players fought back from a ten point deficit with just 3:30 left only to lose in the last seconds. As Coach K has said, without Kelly Duke is a good but not dominating team. A loss is a loss but, personally, I am more proud of the team tonight than I have been after some of the this year’s wins. And if we get Ryan back and he is a shadow of his former self, look out because the rest of the squad is becoming deeper and more confident. As the Maryland fans rushed the court, I am reminded by Alan that that at the end of the Carolina game, Coach K kept the students from rushing the court for the same for the same reason Battier kept his players from celebrating after the “Miracle Minute” win at Maryland thirteen years ago.
Maryland played well and deserved the win and, believe me, when they depart the conference, they will never play Duke or Carolina again in the regular season. Feelings about the defection run very deep. Just listen to Coach K on what he thinks: “We don’t look at any rivalries; we look at each opponent the same. I’ve said that every time I’ve come here. I have a great deal of respect for Maryland. If it was such a rivalry they’d still be in the ACC. Obviously they don’t think it’s that important, or they wouldn’t be in the Big Ten. I respect their basketball program and the job their coaches have done and their players have done over the years. We’ve had some great games with them, but we have great games against a lot of people. A lot of people want to beat us, and they’re one of them.
Let’s look at the record:
- Duke leads the all-time series with Maryland 113-61, including a 55-16 mark in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
- Duke is 54-21 against Maryland under Coach K.
- In the regular season, Duke is 100-56 against Maryland. Duke is 12-5 against the Terps in the ACC Tournament and 1-0 in the NCAA Tournament.
- Duke has won six straight games against Maryland and 12 of the last 13 meetings.
Maryland was a founding member of the of the Atlantic Coast Conference, whose original members were Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wake Forest. Until Maryland’s president decided to leave the ACC and join the Big 10 (which will have 12, then 14 teams–apparently math SAT’s are not a requirement for entry), the only other defection was South Carolina, which seceded in 1971. That was triggered by Frank McGuire, the basketball coach who won the 1955 NCAA Championship with the Tar Heels. He had a lingering, free floating hostility toward UNC and the ACC, in part, because after Carolina was found guilty of major NCAA violations in 1961 (and rumors of point shaving by some UNC players), Chancellor William Aycock forced McGuire’s resignation. Dean Smith, his assistant coach, was selected to replace him and the rest is legend.
I must confess that I have conflicted feelings about Maryland. My father, who was the first member of his family to attend college, went there during the depression. He played baseball and remained a loyal supporter of the school. When I was a teenager, Maryland became a football powerhouse under Jim Tatum, who left Maryland in 1955 for North Carolina. (Tatum assured my father and others at a Terrapin Club meeting he was “going nowhere” at the same time The Washington Post presses were printing with the story of his leaving for North Carolina.) During Tatum’s tenure, Maryland played twice in both the Orange Bowl, the Gator Bowl, went undefeated and in 1951 and was ranked # 1 beating Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. It was an exciting era for me as my dad was an officer of the Terrapin Club and we went to all the games as well as bowl appearances. On these trips and other occasions, I was able to spend time around the players, most of whom were really nice guys. One of the them, quarterback Lynn Beightol was hired by my dad after he was the final cut by The Green Bay Packers (they kept Bart Starr). He and I eventually started Forecast Furniture, a manufacturer of upholstery in Winchester, Va. [Here is an inside look at the recruiting process: Lynn was a very highly recruited QB (75 offers) from Cumberland, Md. On his recruiting visit to Notre Dame legendary coach Frank Leahy told him: “Son, if you come to Notre Dame, you will start as a sophomore, be an All- American as a junior, and win the Heisman trophy as a senior.”]
It was a simpler and more innocent time. Fans did not feel a need to be part of the show (there was very few televised games) and I cannot remember “hating” or in any way vilifying any opponent. And I have never thought about vilifying my coach or the players. Against the Terp home loss to Virginia, Maryland fans were chanting things so terrible about Coach Mark Turgeon that his wife and two sons left the Comcast Center. Tonight, it was simply, F-—k you, Plumlee. Sometime over the years, the frustrated Terp students and fans have obviously crossed the line of acceptable partisan civility. I think it had to do with the feeling that the ACC was Carolina Centric. For sure, ‘Tobacco Road” took on a new meaning when the Terps and other schools went to The Triangle to play back–to-back games against UNC and Duke or State or Wake in both the regular season and the ACC Tournament and, more often than not, lose. In addition, the ACC Tournament was often played in North Carolina, because, frankly, there was more passion and fan support for college basketball that produced sold out venues. Lefty Driesell, then Gary Williams, exacerbated the hostility and animosity by often being a conference runner-up, not winner, and continually complaining about referee and conference bias. As one observer commented: “ When Maryland plays Duke or Carolina, the fans act as if they are the resentful, angry illegitimate children at a family reunion.” The fact of the matter is that over fifty years, Duke and Carolina were the best thing that happened to Maryland Basketball as they were the only two teams that continually sold out the Maryland Fieldhouse.
[A footnote for football fans: Jim Tatum and Bud Wilkinson both learned the intricacies of the then innovative Split-T offensive system as assistants to Don Faurot during WW II at the Iowa Pre-Flight School. Later, as a condition for Tatum to became head coach at Oklahoma, he had to hire Wilkinson as assistant head coach– a prescient, brilliant decision by the school. In 1947, the next year, Tatum jumped to Maryland, and Bud became head coach. Ironically, the two assistants went on to more fame than their teacher, who was at Missouri. Tatum’s impressive career was cut short by an untimely death in 1959 of misdiagnosed Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Wilkinson, on the other hand, stayed his entire career at Oklahoma and would become one of the most celebrated and revered college coaches of all time. His teams captured national championships in 1950, 1955, and 1956, and amassed a 145–29–4 (.826) overall record. The centerpiece of his time in Norman was a 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957, an NCAA Division I record that still stands today. Bud’s son Jay Wilkinson was an All- American football player at Duke and recently published a book of his father’s letters to him.
Bill really said it all for this game. Duke was exhausted and heroic, but ultimately lost. The exhausted part (Coach K is not an excuse maker; so, when he talks about his team being exhausted it has the credibility of truth rather than rationalization) is revealed in two telling stats — rebounding and defense (part of a defensive lapse is excessive fouling). Consider that Duke was simply hammered on the boards. Maryland out rebounded Duke 37-17; Duke had only 4 offensive rebounds for the game. Maryland shot 67% in the second half (1-3 from behind the arc). Duke’s defense was shredded by the Maryland penetration. Maryland went to the line 31 times in the second half (2-3 in the first half and 23-31 in the second). Both Mason and Hairston fouled out. Duke had no answer for Maryland’s inside presence. Amile and Alex each logged only 8 minutes a piece (Amile didn’t score; Alex scored — 4 points). Hairston had his best game at Duke and looked less lost on offense. He was a good offensive player in high school, and some of that showed yesterday (finally). Marshall made a one minute cameo in which he turned the ball over and had a defensive lapse that led to an open Maryland layup. That’s why he was limited to one minute.
Duke scored 47 points in the second half, which is a potent offensive output. Rasheed had a brilliant second half (16 points, including 7-7 from the line) after being scoreless in the first half. Quinn had a big second half, with 11 points and 5 assists. He had 3 turnovers though in that half and 5 for the game. Curry was terrific. But Duke simply could not defend in the second half giving up 48 points. Quinn said, ““They were either getting a good look, or it was a foul, (and then complained about the refereeing which Coach K will not appreciate). That quote really said it all about Duke’s defense.
Duke gets a 5 day breather before traveling to Va Tech next Wednesday night (9 pm ESPN) followed by a return match in Cameron against BC next Sunday. The last Feb game is against Virginia in Charlottesville. March brings Miami to Cameron on March 2, followed by a trap game against Virginia Tech before traveling to Chapel Hill for UNC Senior night. A lot of next plays. It would be nice if the March ones take place with Kelly in the lineup or at least returning to the court.
Bill points out that I found it significant that Coach K stopped the fans from rushing the court after beating Carolina. You don’t rush the court when you are ranked # 1 (in one poll anyway) and beat an unranked team, even if it is Carolina. Great insult. Reminds me of one of my favorites from “Casablanca”. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) is ingratiating himself with Rick (Bogie). Candor is his card, “Rick, you despise me, don’t you?” Rick’s devastating response, “Well, I suppose I would if I thought about it.”