Duke Basketball Playbook: 2014-15

Welcome to the fourth edition of the Duke Basketball Playbook. For those of you who do not know us, Alan Silber, a New York based criminal defense attorney, and I were classmates at Duke who share a love of sports. We appreciate the fact that Duke Basketball has provided us with more excitement and thrills than most fans ever experience and think that talking and writing about them only enriches the experience. In addition to the enjoyment, we are fascinated by the ability of Coach K to achieve such sustained excellence both collegiately and internationally and attempt to analyze and explain how and what he does to make him one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. The playbook is a more polished version of thoughts and opinions we have exchanged with each other and a few friends for decades. The tipping point for a broader audience occurred when Torrey Glass, president of the Duke Alumni Club of Hilton Head, began distributing the blog to its members and the readership exploded exponentially to about 500.

One enduring truth we have learned from observing Mike Krzyzewski is that on the court and in life, it is always—NEXT PLAY! So, I will double down on what I wrote in last year’s season preview. In that memorable scene from On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a physically and spiritually broken ex-fighter, sorrowfully confronts his mob-corrupted brother Rod Steiger:  “It was you, Charley. That night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said: Kid, this ain’t your night. You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender.”

Fortunately, not our problem. For most of the last few decades Duke has consistently been a contender. Most of last year Duke looked like a contender but fell in the finals of the ACC Tournament and had surprising first round loss to Mercer in the NCAA Championship Tournament. However, most schools would be very happy with a 26-7 record (and one in which they led in every game they lost). But, hey, next play—or, in this case, next season during which the Blue Devils should be a more formidable contender because:

This team is potentially as deep, as talented, and as balanced as Coach K has ever had. And most significantly, for the first time since Sheldon Williams graduated, the Blue Devils will have a dominant center (seven foot with a 7’3’’ wing span & 270 lbs.) in freshman in Jahill Okafor (ranked #1 in this year’s recruiting class), Tyus Jones, the #1 rated point guard, as well as Justise Winslow, a projected 2015 NBA lottery pick, and Grayson Allen, a 6’4” shooting guard with a 40” vertical leap. However, as Dean Smith used to say: “We don’t call our freshmen “all-stars”, we call them “prospects”—and you never know (remember Chris Burgess). On the other hand, this crop of freshmen have been playing with and against each other in AAU ball for years, so they are more of a known commodity. And then there are the returning upper classmen: Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Marshall Plumlee, Matt Jones, and Semi Ojeleye, perhaps, the sleeper of the squad.

Consequently, this will be another fascinating year for Duke Basketball fans. One of the most interesting aspects of any season is watching Coach K adjust his offensive and defensive schemes to his fit his team’s talent. This is the most athletic squad Coach K has had since 1999-2000 Brand, Battier, Williams etc. teams. In fact, Krzyzewski stated publically that this team will definitely be defensively different from the teams of the last five years. So look for a more aggressive, pressing defense much like his Olympic and World Cup teams. There will still be the motion offense but probably with less guard dominance, more throwing the ball into the post to initiate the offense, more slashing drives to the basket by the forwards, and less living and dying by the three—although they will be easier to come by because Okafor is a talented and willing passer out of  double and triple teams.  Coach K has been more effusive about the talents of Okafor than any freshman that I can remember and as long as he is on the floor he will be the tent pole around which a variety of players will perform. The one Achilles heel of the freshmen may be free throw shooting, which has always been a hallmark of Duke’s best teams.

Alan and I were puzzled by the fact that Cook, a senior, and Jefferson, a junior, were named co-captains, but Sulaimon, also a junior and a proven, critical playmaker, was not. Rashid is a high energy expressive guy who never met a stranger while the talented but mercurial Cook has a tendency to pout when things are not going his way– and there is every indication that Tyus Jones will start at the point. On the court, Sulaimon is multi-talented, plays bigger than he is, and is Marine fearless. My fraternity buddy Pete, who retired to Durham and is a very knowledgeable and connected Duke sports fan, says that it is Sully, not Quinn or Emile, who hangs with the freshmen and goes with them to the sporting events. So maybe, Coach K is motivating Rasheed to get off to a flying start this year and, like Ryan Kelly, will make Sully a tri-captain at a later date.

Additional observations:

  • One crucial factor about this season has not received much mention: It’s been nearly two decades since Chris Collins’ and Steve Wojciechowski’s voices have been absent from a Duke Basketball practice. With those two longtime Duke assistant coaches having moved on to head coaching jobs of their own, Jeff Capel, Nate James, and Jon Scheyer move up the coaching ladder.
  • Keep an eye on Justise Winslow, who may be the most mature, versatile, and talented player on the team.
  • Undrafted Andre Dawkins won the final spot on the Miami Heat roster.
  • If you have not watched the Duke Football team play the last two years, you are missing an amazing transformation, not to mention hours of excitement. Coach David Cutcliffe and his staff have recruited a squad of very good athletes who have been coached up to become skilled players that are exciting playmakers– any number of whom who can break open a tight game like Crowder, Boone, and Blakeney did against last Saturday against Syracuse.
  • Three Duke graduates have been in the news: Adam Silver (1984), the new Commissioner of the NBA; Senator-elect Shelley Moore Capito (1975) of West Virginia. Her father Archie Moore was a two term Governor, and Rand Paul, Senator from  Kentucky.
  • Don and Martha Mewhort’s grandson Jack Mewhort (Ohio State) was the second round draft choice of the Indianapolis Don (Buzz) was co-captain of the 1962 Duke Basketball team and a Duke School Law graduate. Martha was a Duke cheerleader.

Alan Adds:

None of the pre-season articles and hype focuses on where I think the focus should be.  All the talk so far has been about offense and the need to replace the scoring of Jabari and Hood.  Somewhat fair, but missing the point. In my opinion, last year was not just about the disappointing 3-3 down the stretch, including ACC tournament and the loss to Mercer in the NCAA tournament.  The most important factor in Duke’s disappointing (for Duke and Coach K anyway) season was its porous defense throughout the entire season.  So the question about the highly touted freshman class is: Can these kids make Duke the defensive force that it has usually been during the Coach K era?  I like using what Coach K did with the World Cup team as what I think his model will be for his 2014-15 team.  Last year, K expected to be able to press, trap and create turnovers that would more than make up for Duke’s lack of rim protection and defensive rebounding.  That plan turned out to be a colossal failure for Duke, as we all remember.  Duke was torched early by the likes of East Carolina, Vermont and others.  Coach K abandoned his press in favor of an aggressive overplaying half court man to man defense.  Duke improved, but only incrementally.  It is worth remembering the defensive weakness of last year’s team when getting ready to root for (but also judge) the current squad.  Tyler Thornton was a defensive specialist and perhaps Duke’s best on the ball defender.  Hood was also credited as a defensive stopper.  Both are gone from a defense that could not stop penetration from the perimeter.  The result was opponents shot a high percentage from the interior and lane, Duke committed more fouls than any other year (and shockingly more than most opponents), and Duke had major end game problems that came from the foul trouble and fatigue.  Duke was also beaten up on the boards throughout the season, especially by opponents’ offensive rebounding.  Duke led almost every one of its 9 losses with 5-8 minutes to go.  The perimeter defenders who return are Suliamon, Cook and Matt Jones, all who are reputed defenders (except Cook), but who did not get the job done last year.

This is not meant to be depressing, just a call for realistic expectations as the season starts.  Most programs would be very satisfied with a season like Duke’s 2013-14 season (26-9).  Duke was undefeated at home with major wins over Michigan, Syracuse, Virginia and Carolina.  On the road or neutral, Duke beat UCLA and Pittsburgh, though this was not a good road team.

Like last year (Jabari and Hood), Duke will depend in large measure on newcomers — the four freshmen.  And, it is surely a heralded class.  In a recent 2015 mock NBA draft, Oakfor was # 1 overall; Tyus Jones # 14; and (surprise) Justise Winslow was # 8.  Grayson Allen, the fourth freshman, played with what seemed to be the first team in the first 12 minute scrimmage (Oakafor, Tyus Jones, Cook, Jefferson and Allen).  Allen won the scrimmage on a floater over Plumlee.  So the freshmen may justify the high pre-season ranking, but I still counsel that it all depends on whether Coach K can have his usual effective defense; on whether Duke makes — as Duke historically has — more foul shots than its opponents attempt; whether Oakfor’s presence and Marshall Plumlee’s health and improvement protect the Duke defensive backboard and penetration.  Then, but only then, comes the offense.

I followed Coach K’s World Cup team closely and was fascinated how he created a wonderful team.  I believe the World Cup team will be the model for the 2014-15 Duke team that he will create.  The World Cup team pressed and trapped, living by the turnover-created easy scores.  I predict he will again attempt to defend that way with this year’s Duke team.  Coach K went with 2 point guards — Kyrie and Steph Curry; and a third starter (the star, Harden) who could function as a point guard.  Anthony Davis controlled the interior and Kenneth Faried was an undersized power forward with energy (but no outside shot).  Duke’s two exhibition games were easy wins against opponents that were overmatched athletically, but gave some indication of Coach K’s plans.  In his press conference, Coach K mentioned USA basketball frequently as a model for how Duke will defend this year.  He said that Duke has changed its philosophy on ball screens and that the bigs are more mobile and aggressive.  Among the interesting facts: 1) Duke held Central Missouri scoreless for 8 full minutes in the first half; 2) Duke scored in bunches, but had no 20 point scorers (Justise Winslow was high scorer in both games with 19 and 17 respectively).  Coach has 10 players vying to be in the rotation and all have received praise for hustle and defense; 3) Oakafor is for real; 4) it is going to be a process for Duke to learn to defend, but Coach K is optimistic that this can be one of his best defensive teams; 5) Tyus Jones had 17 assists against 2 turnovers and played very well with Quinn Cook when both played together.  Coach K pointed out that Rasheed was also very capable of handling the ball; and 6) Coach K is happy with this group and is installing new systems both defensively and offensively that take advantage of the specific skills of this team.  He said he will experiment with many combinations during the game, though he plans a consistent starting lineup.

Against Central Missouri (the second exhibition game), six players played more than 20 minutes and may give some clues to how the rotation will work (at least for the initial games).  Winslow played 25 minutes, leading the scoring in spite of going 0-3 from downtown and Tyus Jones logged 24 minutes (6 assists to go with his 11 in the first exhibition game and 5 steals).  Okafor (15 points and 9 rebounds; critically 7-8 from the line to go with 4 blocks), Jefferson (8 boards; 5 points and a disappointing 1-4 from the line) and Cook (12 points, and 2 assists) all played 22 minutes.   Matt Jones, who started while Quinn came off the bench, had 7 points in 20 minutes.  Rasheed had 5 points (1-5 from 3land to go with 4 assists and 2 steals) in 18 minutes.  Marshall had 4 points (1-1 from the field and 2-2 from the line to go with 6 boards an assist and a block in 17 minutes.  They appear to be the top 8 at this point.  Grayson Allen and Semi each logged 14 minutes with Allen producing a gaudy stat line (10 points on 3-4 shooting including 2-2 from 3land and 2-2 from the line to go with 3 boards, an assist and a steal).  Pretty good.  Semi scored 4 to go with 2 boards, an assist and a block.

I predict:

1) Both T. Jones and Cook will start (as long as Cook becomes a consistent defender, something he was not last year), similar to Kyrie and Curry on the World Cup team.

2) Rasheed, who has all the potential in the world, will also start.  His role will be analogous to the one played by Harden on the World Cup team.   Grayson Allen has also filled that role in the pre-season.

3) Oakfor and Jefferson will round out the starting line up.  Jefferson will be asked to be Faried, bringing energy, defensive intensity and rebounding.  Like Anthony Davis on the World Cup team, Oakfor should be Duke’s best player.  I was underwhelmed watching him on defense last year, but they were mostly all star games.  Team defense is another thing. Duke will count on him to be the rim protector and rebounder that were missing last year.

4) Justise Winslow has received high praise.  He has a fully developed and sculpted body and has been a force on both ends.  I think will be the 6th man that K always wants to have, but he may start, like Klay Thompson on the World Cup team (perhaps the team’s most versatile and consistent player).  He will score, defend and give the team a lift.  He will be a significant force this season.

5) Marshall, based on last year, will contribute to the depth of rim protection and rebounding (think Cousins, first big off the bench for the World cup team).

6) It is hard to predict at this stage what the roles of Semi and Matt Jones from last year’s team and Grayson Allen (heralded frosh, but only a top 40 recruit) will be.  Allen’s stats have been impressive and Matt Jones started in the final exhibition game.  Both Bill and I would like to see Semi step into what we see as amazing potential.   All three have had excellent pre-seasons and could well be in the rotation.

I expect this to be a fascinating season, which will give us great satisfaction, excitement (and probably some disappointment as well).  What it really will be is SO MUCH FUN.

The season openers: Presbyterian Friday November 14, 6:00pm on ESPNU & Fairfield Saturday November 15, 8:00pm ESPN3

If you miss seeing the games, read all about it in the next Duke Basketball Playbook!

DUKE – PRESBYTERIAN & FAIRFIELD

When I first started going out with girls, my Mama told me not to fall in love on the first date. Well, she never told me not to be smitten and I am smitten with this Duke team, because I have seen enough to know it is the deepest and potentially the most talented team since the Laettner, Hurley 1991-92 Championship teams. That doesn’t mean it will win championships, because as we know only too well injuries and luck are part of the equation but, oh boy, they are talented, deep, and motivated. Jahill Okafor does a pretty good Tim Duncan imitation, Tyus Jones a pretty good Bobby Hurley imitation, and Justise Winslow a muscular version of Grant Hill. And it is axiomatic that a dominant center and terrific point guard are the keys to a great team. However, even more impressive are the other two components of great teams: defense, ball movement, and chemistry. Petty jealousies can destroy even the most talented teams. We saw an interesting and telling play against Presbyterian when senior Quinn Cook chased down a loose ball and rather than making an easy lay-up and adding to his scoring total, paused and dished to freshman and fellow point guard T. Jones for the uncontested basket.

So far, Duke has only played mismatches and we will know a lot more after the upcoming games against Michigan State, Temple, and Stanford then Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin on December 3rd. But until we hit the inevitable speed bump, let’s enjoy the infatuation phase.

With all this talent, one of K’s toughest decisions is who gets playing time. In last week’s preview, I wrote that of all the guards, Sulaimon brings the most to the floor: a rare combination of talent, size, defense, versatility, intensity, and Marine toughness. More importantly, here’s Krzyzewski on Rasheed, who didn’t score against Fairfield: “He’s making a very big, positive impact on the game and doing it in a way that no one on our team can do exactly like him. In other words, he puts the best pressure on the ball. He’s 6-4 and when he’s doing it, it really takes the point guard’s vision away and they have a hard time getting by him. So our defense gets picked up. And when he brings it down on the break, he’s got a little bit more of a herky-jerky motion. It’s not just straight, he can get by. And when he’s getting by to score, a lot of times he’d get knocked on his butt and that wouldn’t be the play. Now when he’s getting by people, he’s making the play, the play that the team needs.” And on comparing the learning curve and chemistry between the freshmen and the rest of the team to the similarly talented Dawkins, Amaker, Alerie, Henderson, Bilas class: “It’s a different time. The Dawkins class had never met one another before they came to Duke. This group is just way ahead. So much of it has to do with what they’ve done, not just in their high school programs, but three of them have been so involved with USA Basketball. They’ve traveled different parts of the world, they’ve been with other good players, they’ve been well-coached by the USA Basketball staff. They’ve been a part of something bigger than an AAU team or a high school. And I’m not knocking that, it’s just an advantage.

Additional observations:

  • Justise Winslow has most mature offensive and defensive skills; Grayson Allen is the best one-on-one player and has NBA athleticism and skills; Matt Jones and Marshall Plumlee appear to be a much more confident and are the most improved players. Marshall set a Plumlee collegiate record hitting four straight free throws and, when caught outside with the shot clock winding down, nailed a three!
  • Duke has now won 111 consecutive non-conference home games.
  • Quinn Cook‘s 17 points give him 1,004 for his Duke career. He became the 64th Duke player to hit the 1,000 point mark. Only Louisville and North Carolina, with 67, have more.
  • The win is Duke’s 35th consecutive home win, the sixth-largest streak in school history. The record is 46, from January 13, 1997 to February 9, 2000.
  • Rasheed Sulaimon, Justise, Winslow, Matt Jones are all from Texas.

Alan adds:

Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware, or in this case the Duke fan beware — just a little).  There was precious little not to love about Duke’s opening game routs of Presbyterian and Fairfield on Friday and Saturday nights.  My only caveat is that neither of these teams could beat the top high school teams.  Between them they won only 13 games last year (Presbyterian 6 and Fairfield 7).  The level of competition is critical in evaluating performance.  So, my caveat is that while Duke looked All World, let us not unpack our expectations until (at least Tuesday night when the Blue Devils travel to Indianapolis to take on Michigan State — 7pm on ESPN).  It is hard to find anything about which to quibble when your team races scores 109 and 113 in two games (65 points in the second half against Fairfield) with balanced scoring, and displays 10 players with the skill and talent to be productive on the court.  Duke scored 113 and 109 points respectively with no player scoring 20; impressively balanced scoring. Here are just a couple of cautionary thoughts — and I am having to stretch to find them.  Against Presbyterian, in the first half, the first unit did not look defensively sharp, committing 5 fouls in the first 7 minutes and 10 in the first half.  The Blue Hose shot 8 free throws while Duke’s only free throw attempt of that half was a miss (Matt Jones attempting to complete a four point play).   For the game, the first unit was only 2-3 (Winslow 1-1; Oakafor 1-2).  Grayson Allen got to the line more than any other Devil (6-7; Rasheed 3-3; and Plumlee 2-2).  Tyus Jones had more than a few defensive lapses, several leading to easy backdoor baskets in the Fairfield game.  Team defense is a work in progress, and you could see the improvement as play continued.  Duke was devastating on defense in the second half of the Fairfield game.  After last season, I am cautiously optimistic about Duke as a defensive force.

Roster and Rotation

Coach K’s starting lineup was the same for both games, and the starters played the most minutes (except for Jefferson in the first game because of his foul trouble): Oakafor, Jefferson, Justise Winslow, Cook and Tyus Jones.  As he promised, Coach K mixed and matched, though he played the second unit together for long stretches — Rasheed at the point, Matt Jones, Grayson Allen, Semi and Marshall.  Rasheed is the first off the bench and together with Matt Jones got the most minutes of the non-starters.  Grayson Allen had an amazing stat line in the first game, but fouled out in only 13 minutes against Fairfield.  His play is worth discussing.  Marshall has played well (1-1 from 3land; clock winding down).  So has Semi, but for now he’s the end of the bench.  Still every single Duke player looked impressive; this team has the potential for amazing depth.  However, Coach K has never used a long bench.  Still, Duke has the capacity to put enormous defensive pressure on while using a longer bench to keep everyone fresh for end of games.  The press is so much more effective with rim protectors like Oakafor (really impressive on both ends of the court), a muscled up Jefferson, and a much improved Plumlee.  Semi has also looked good defending the interior and Winslow is no slouch defending the interior.

Presbyterian

Offensively, Duke was a machine shooting over 50% from 3 (16-31) 61% overall and 13-16 from the line.  Even better, Duke had 30 assists on 42 field goals and only 9 turnovers (only Winslow with 3 had more than 1).  Cook led in minutes played with 25, scoring 14 points on 11 shots (4-10 from 3land) to go with 5 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers.  He and Tyus played well together.  Tyus and Oakafor (who play so well together) each played 23 minutes, and both amassed gaudy stat lines. Tyus scored 15 points on 8 shots (3-4 from behind the arc) to go with 7 assists, 2 boards and only a single turnover.  Oakafor was even more impressive: 19 points on 10 shots (9-10 from the field and 1-2 from the line) to go with 4 assists (he is a great passer and has wonderful hands) and 6 boards.  I am especially impressed with his team help defense.  He is a key new defensive component.  Duke’s best player has been Justise Winslow.  In this game he logged 20 minutes, scoring 15 on 12 shots (2-3 from 3land; 1-1 from the line) to go with 4 boards, an assist, a steal and a block.  He is a determined defender at 6’6” with a chiseled body and impressive hops.  Jefferson was limited to 16 minutes by his foul trouble (4), but is an impressive rebounder with 10 in his shortened stint.  He had 4 points, but played much more efficiently against Fairfield.

The bench was effective and impressive.  Semi logged 19 minutes, while Grayson Allen played 18, Rasheed 18, Marshall 17 and Matt Jones 13.  Grayson was jaw dropping — he scored 18 points (yes that’s a point a minute) on 7 shots (2-3 from behind the arc and 6-7 from the line (impressive on the drive) to go with 3 assists, 3 steals, a block and a board.  Rasheed was equally impressive as a floor leader and defender.  He had a perfect shooting night scoring 12 points on only 4 shots (4-4; 1-1 from 3 and 3-3 from the line) to go with 4 assists, 2 steals, a block and a board.  Marshall looks as if he can spell Oakafor and bring energy, rebounding and defense to the table.  In addition to his 3 and 2-2 from the line, he grabbed 7 boards, passed out 3 assists, and 2 steals.  Semi had a rough shooting night (1-6 all from behind the arc) while garnering 5 boards and 2 steals (but 4 fouls).

For the last 10 minutes of the game, Duke played a zone defense — each unit played the zone for about 5 minutes.  Hmmmm!

Fairfield

The starters all played between 21 and 27 minutes; the reserves between 19 and 11.  Cook and Oakafor led the starters in minutes with 27 each, Jefferson 24, Tyus 23 and Winslow 21.  All, except Tyus, scored in double figures.  The reserves continued to impress with Matt Jones logging 19 minutes, Rasheed 18, Grayson 13 (fouled out), Marshall 13 and Semi was limited to 11 minutes.  For me, the takeaway was watching the defense improve — it was especially gratifying to watch the intensity and efficiency of the defense, regardless of who was on the floor.  The offense wasn’t bad either.  Duke was 31-40 from inside the arc (9-22 from 3land) and had 22 assists on 40 hoops; only 12 turnovers.

Oakafor is a beast (17 points on 10 shots — 8-10, which made him 17-20 for the two games) to go with 9 boards, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.  The only negatives: 5 turnovers, 1-3 from the line and 3 fouls.  Justise Winslow continues to look like Duke’s best player (if not Oakafor) scoring 18 points on 10 shots (5-7 from the field including 1-2 from behind the arc and 5-7 from the line; he can really drive it) to go with 6 boards, 2 assists, a block and a steal.  He appears to be Duke’s best defender and yet committed only 1 foul.  Quinn was impressive as a defender and scored 17 points on 7-9 shooting (3-4 from behind the arc) with 4 assists, 2 boards and a steal.  Jefferson rebounded from his less than stellar first game with a terrific performance: 15 points on 8 shots (5-8 including a few nifty moves), and was 5-6 from the free throw line, with 9 boards, 3 assists and a steal, while committing only 1 foul.  Tyus came back to earth a bit after a hot shooting first game (6 points on 5 shots — 0-3 from 3land and 2-3 from the line.  He added 5 assists and 2 steals against 2 turnovers.

The bench was terrific, especially Matt Jones and Rasheed.  Rasheed did not attempt a single field goal, nor did he get to the line, but he was impressive on the defensive end with a steal (only 1 foul), and passed out 4 assists without a turnover.  He may not be starting, but as Bill points out, Coach K is being impressed.  Matt Jones scored 9 points on 3-4 shooting (1-2 from behind the arc and 2-3 from the line).  He had 5 boards (impressive) and 2 steals.  Although Grayson fouled out in only 13 minutes, he continues to be a wow factor in the games.  He still scored 9 on 5 shots (1-3 from 3land; 2-2 from the line) to go with a board, an assist plus 2 steals.   Marshall scored 8 in his 13 minutes on perfect shooting (3-3 from the floor and 2-2 from the line).  He collected a rebound and blocked a shot.  Semi scored 7 in his 11 minutes (2-5 all from 3land; 1-2 from the stripe).  All 11 of his shots in the first 2 games were from behind the arc.  He added a board and a steal.  He is going to have to fight for playing time.

Next Play is going to be an exciting game on Tuesday against Michigan State in Indianapolis.

DUKE 81 – MICHIGAN STATE 71 

I was all settled in with my wife and note pad by my side in anticipation of a  cold winter’s night of great basketball in front of our new 60” Samsung high definition 4G TV when OMG! Dick Vitale’s voice came blasting over my surround sound audio system. Damn, I thought the shelf life of his unique announcing style had expired and he had retired to Florida. I know Mr. Vitale loves basketball and all that but why would ESPN use him on a big night of basketball when they have Jay Bilas and Doris Burke? Fortunately, he was more the Venerable Vitale than Dickie V, so I didn’t have to turn the sound system off. But still.. Fortunately, ESPN got the word and Jay replaced Vitale for the second game.

Tom Izzo decided to play Jahill Okafor straight up, not double team him. To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “Mistake, Big Mistake.” No wonder Coach Izzo has only beaten Coach K once. Tyus Jones knows when and how to feed his young/old buddy and Okafor gave a pretty good Tim Duncan finesse lesson to his defender and quickly gave Duke a working cushion they never relinquished as they entire team played to the moment. And make no mistake about, it was a big moment for the freshmen:  Indianapolis double header #3Duke vs #19 Michigan State and #1Kentucky vs. #4 Kansas was a Final Foul like atmosphere—and they did not disappoint.

An interesting and telling moment came with nine minutes to go, when Okafor picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes to go and the Blue Devils up seven.

Tyus Jones showed why the top programs all recruited him and players love to play with him. He is a pass first point guard who knows how to distribute the ball but can also shoot. On the ensuing possession, Jones stole the ball from Michigan State junior Denzel Valentine and fed it to Quinn Cook to start a fast break. Cook dished it back to Jones, who finished the easy lay-up. And on Duke’s next possession, the shot clock was winding down as Jones held the ball. He fired a long 3-pointer, was fouled by Valentine falling to the floor as the ball swished. Jones made the free throw for the four-point play, and, just like that, the Blue Devils were ahead 64-51 with just over eight minutes remaining, a lead they held until Jahill “The Difference” Okafor returned with five minutes to go.

Jones added six more points down the stretch, finishing with 17 for the half (and the game) on 4-of-5 shooting, four assists, and no turn overs. An emotionally retooled co-captain Quinn Cook led all Duke scorers with 19 points and 6 assists (with no turn overs). Okafor added 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Justise Winslow, the other starting freshman, flashed his impressive athleticism with a behind-the-back crossover dribble that created  a slashing layup and took a defensive rebound coast to coast for a highlight fast break drive and basket. He finished with 15 points. Among the other notable numbers is the dispersal of scoring. Unlike last year, one or two players do not have to carry this team.

An impressive win no doubt, but three words of caution: 1) The Blue Devils had trouble staying in front of cutters and defending the interior, a fatal flaw with last year’s team as Michigan State, a tough, veteran team, shot 50 percent from the field (30-for-60). 2)  #4Wisconsin will be a much tougher test. 3) #1 Kentucky wiped out #5 Kansas 72-40.

Additional observations:

  • Tom Izzo is now 1 for 8 against Mike Krzyzewski.
  • Quinn Cook showed why he is starting. He has no fear (nothing new) but is a much more patient contributor with this group of players. Playing mostly off the ball may fit his skill set better than the pressure of running the point full time.
  • The playing minutes reverted to the mean with the starters all logging about 30, except Jefferson who had 20.
  • Rasheed Sulaimon had a stomach virus and was throwing up all day and at half time. Matt Jones played some of Sully minutes at small forward and continued to impress.
  • Grayson Allan only played a minute, took an ill-advised shot, then took a seat on the bench.
  • Krzyzewski was willing to speak about Okafor’ s  potential. “Jah has a chance to be the best one,” Krzyzewski said of all his true low post men. “The only two guys like him, are Elton (Brand)—and he still has to play really well to be as good as Elton, he was the first pick and the national player of the year. And then Booz ( Carlos Boozer) but he wasn’t the focus of the offense because he played with Battier, J. Williams, Dunleavy.  Those three big men are similar. Jah is the biggest one, though. And Jah can pass the best. You can get it to him, and he draws attention. He just has to learn what he can do. He got called for a couple of offensive fouls, and people are going to bang on him. I thought he handled things well. People are going to play multiple guys on him. What they didn’t do tonight was double him. He’ll see that, too.”
  • Question: Is Okafor Tim Duncan’s brother or his love child? (That’s a joke to see if you are still paying attention.)

Alan Adds:

Bill said it perfectly, “an impressive win no doubt”, but there are lots of areas that this freshmen laden team will work on to improve.  I add to Bill’s cautionary words because Michigan State was not at full strength, depleted by injuries — especially among their bigs.  Even so, Duke did not fare well on the backboards.  What was troubling was that although Duke got rebounds directly off the backboard, when the ball was tipped back up, or hit the deck, Michigan State got the ball.  The Spartans stayed in the game by winning every loose ball and making all the hustle plays.  Nevertheless, sometimes pure talent just does win out, which was, in fact, what occurred in Indianapolis.  Let’s savor that pure talent on display, because some parts of that talent were simply awesome.  Duke opened 7-7; pretty good.  What was excellent was the penetration, passing and skill that made almost all of the 7 shots uncontested layups.  Passes to Okafor were perfect, leading to uncontested lay ins.  Okafor is a great finisher.  Duke got to the line for 26 foul shots (20-26) because the Devils were in attack mode.  Duke had 15 assists on 27 field goals against only 8 turnovers (3 by Okafor; 2 by Winslow; and 2 by the subpar Rasheed).  Duke had some great defensive moments (and some not so great defensive moments), the subject of the next paragraph.

In my (oft-stated) opinion, how good this team will turn out to be in March will depend on the defensive prowess that it does, or does not, develop.  The need to improve on last year’s efforts has been universally acknowledged and emphasized by Coach K.  So, how did Duke do against Michigan State?  Pretty well, in my estimation.  I disagree with Bill that Duke’s defensive problems (and they were on occasion glaring) were caused primarily by the inability of Duke perimeter defenders to stay in front of penetrating guards (a flagrant problem last year).  What led to the many uncontested Michigan State layups at the rim was the way Duke defended the pick and roll.  It was sometimes very effective.  The big guarding the screen setter quickly worked with the on the ball defender to create a double team against the ball.  This defensive strategy, which Coach K announced he was deploying,  leaves the roll man open (to be picked up by the rotation, in theory).  Sometimes it worked like a charm.  Duke created 13 turnovers, many out of the double teams, and had 5 blocks (mostly against the roller who receive the pass).  But way too often, there was no rotation to the roller, who was wide open at the rim, while the rim protectors were attempting the hard hedge, which became the double team.  This is a young team, and that will show on the defensive end.  But, I thought Duke showed enough on defense to be optimistic about how this team will develop defensively.   Quinn Cook had a great game, and most commentators will talk about his offense (as will I), but his improvement on the defensive end was obvious and welcome.  Tyus is an energetic on the ball defender, but still has a tendency to overplay and get beaten back door.  Matt Jones played excellent defense.  Okafor (2), Jefferson, Winslow and Marshall combined for the 5 blocks.  Duke pressure defense seemed to wear the Spartans down a bit in the last 5-6 minutes of the game (winning time), even though Coach K shortened the rotation dramatically.

Grayson Allen (1 minutes) and Semi (2 minutes) did not contribute significantly.  Rasheed was ill, which explains both his ineffectiveness and his lack of playing time (12 minutes; a 3 pointer in four attempts — 3 from behind the arc; 2 turnovers and a steal).  Marshall played 9 minutes with a board and a block to go with his 2 personal fouls.  Only Matt Jones provided long term and effective bench play, especially on the defensive end.  In 22 minutes (1 more than starter Jefferson), Matt scored 4 points (1-4; 0-2 from behind the arc — 2-2 from the line to go with an assist while committing 3 fouls.  In short the bench contributed only 7 points (0 for Plumlee, Allen and Semi).  It was a game where the starters played big minutes to win the game.  Quinn and Winslow logged 36 minutes each and put up enviable numbers.  Cook was superb, leading the Duke scoring with 19 points on 12 shots (7-12, including 3-4 from behind the arc and some spectacular drives to score in traffic; 2-2 from the free throw line) to go with a wonderful floor game (6 assists and 0 turnovers plus a steal).  This is not just a freshman team!  Winslow may be Duke’s most talented athlete.  I don’t think Duke has had an athlete like Winslow since Corey Maggette.  He grabbed a rebound, flew down the court with an extraordinary handle, blowing past a defender for a spectacular end to end layup that was simply breathtaking.  Justise had 15 points, 6 boards, 3 assists, and a block, but actually did not have a good shooting night (4-11 including 1-2 from 3land).  He is a great driver and can draw fouls.  He attempted 9 free throws, but made only 6, and had 2 turnovers.  I predict he will become the heart of this team as he grows and approaches his considerable up side.  Tyus Jones soared to the heights in the last 8 minutes of the game after Jahlil picked up his fourth foul, but was a steady heady ball handler throughout.  He was incredibly efficient in his 31 minutes, scoring 17 points (all in the second half) on only 5 shots (4-5, including 2-3 from behind the arc).  He was 7-7 from the free throw line and had 4 assists and 2 steals with 0 turnovers.  Cook and Tyus together had 10 assists, 0 turnovers and scored 36 points on 12 shots.  That’s a pretty impressive backcourt performance against a good team.  Jahlil left the announcers sputtering searching for adjectives and Tim Duncan analogies.  He was certainly impressive in his foul limited 30 minutes, scoring 17 points on 8-10 shooting (1-2 from the line) to go with 5 boards, 2 blocks, 2 steals and an assist.  His team defense is spectacular (and the team defense will improve once Duke learns how to defend the rim when Okafor double teams on the pick and roll).  Having said all that and having to listen to Dickie V rant and drool about him (Bill obviously is more tolerant than I; I first tuned Dickie V out with 11 minutes to go in the first half!  Yikes, he is grating, but I digress), there are areas where he should and will improve.  Three of his four fouls came at the offensive end.  He led Duke in turnovers with 3 and he couldn’t stop the Spartan onslaught on the backboards. He will be the best professional player of the Duke freshmen, but he is not head and shoulders above Winslow and Tyus, or at least was not in Duke’s first real test this year.  There is no doubt that he is something very special.  Jefferson was the starter who played the fewest minutes (21) and seemed less effective than usual with 4 boards and a block while scoring 6 points (2-3 from the floor and 2-4 from the line).  Coach K went with Winslow at power forward for long stretches when Jefferson was on the bench.

Duke plays in Brooklyn tomorrow night against Temple and then on Saturday against either Stanford or UNLV.  The next DBP will be a consolidated report on Sunday.

DUKE 74 – TEMPLE 54

In the first half Jahlil Okafor (3-13) and his teammates (9-26) were looking very ordinary offensively. However, their defense against a city tough Temple team enabled them to still have a 36-26 halftime lead. This would not have been the situation in the last several years and is one the primary reasons to believe that this team can compete on an entirely different level. There are always going to be times that your shots aren’t falling. It is then that defense keeps the game from getting away from you until they do start falling. Early in the second half, after Coach K encouraged his players to keep taking good shots, Captain Cook and his crew heated up and made a run to pretty much put the game away.

“We played without fouling,” said Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Temple attempted just six free throws). “We kept guys in front of us pretty good the whole game and we switched well. And also our big guys protected the bucket pretty well, so they didn’t have straight line drives.”

What I liked: While the freshmen are as good or better than advertised, always hustling and encouraging co-captains Cook, with his second half shooting and Jefferson, with his 8 point & 8 rebounds, led the way through the offensively frustrating twenty some first minutes….Starters Jones, Cook, and Winslow all can push the ball on a break… Justise went Coast to Coast again with another highlight finish…There is balanced scoring because everyone is a good passer. Through four games, Tyus Jones has  23 assists (5.75 apg.)  followed by Cook with 16 (4.0 apg.) .. After a frustrated Okafor was pushed around a bit with no calls, Marshall Plumlee came off the bench and provided a nice tutorial for Jahlil as to how to deal with physical play–get stronger and play tougher… Duke held Temple to 1-of-12 (.091) from beyond the arc, the third game this season the Blue Devils forced a team to shoot .200 percent or worse from behind the three-point line…The announcers were Steve Smith, a two time All-American at Michigan State then a 14 year pro, and Greg Anthony, the point guard for the great UNLV team that buried Duke by 29 in the 1990 NCAA Championship game only to have their undefeated season ruined by the 1991 Duke upset. Both do their homework and have interesting insights into players talents. After one impressive, unique Jahlil move and finger roll basket, Steve mentioned it was reminiscent of George Gervin. For those who do not remember The Ice Man go to You Tube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGaAS0PTZxg) Grayson Allen made it out of the doghouse and again scored a point a minute—6.

Additional observations:

  • Coach K left no doubt  how he feels about Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins. “Johnny was the first great player to commit to me. Johnny is as good a player as we have ever had at Duke.  And he’s a great man.  He’s got the whole package.”
  • When talking again about comparing Okafor to only Brand and Boozer, K also cleaned up the record by mentioning parenthetically that  Christian Laettner “was a pretty good player” but not a true low post center.
  • Sulaimon is not playing well. He is either still feeling under the weather or pressing too hard for more playing time. Matt Jones, on the other hand, continues to impress and Semi Ojeleye does not.

Alan Adds:

In many ways — not shooting, however — this was Duke’s best game of the season.  Duke’s defense was intense and kept breakdowns to a minimum (Duke still is getting beaten back door, but that is the price to be paid for aggressive efforts to get in the passing lanes).  Temple did not score 30 points in either half (26 in the first half; 28 in the second).  The Blue Devils forced 17 turnovers that included 9 steals to go with 5 blocks.  While Duke shot poorly for the first 25 minutes of the game, Duke had 14 assists on its 25 field goals.  They shared the ball with some great passes that are not in the stat sheet because the shot was missed.  At one point, Duke was 4-18 from 3land before Quinn (2) and Matt Jones hit 3 of the last 5 bonus attempts, which put the game away.  While Okafor had a poor shooting first half (3-13), he played his usual shooting game in the second half (4-7), but curiously only garnered 1 defensive rebound (after 7 first half offensive rebounds).  He added 2 blocks — one of which was crucial and contributed to Duke moving out of Temple’s reach. He played only 27 minutes and was clearly not as comfortable as in the first 3 games. Marshall contributed 11 wonderfully efficient minutes (1-1 from the floor with 5 boards and 2 blocks).  It was an impressive performance.  Matt Jones (16) and Rasheed (14) also played double digit minutes off the bench.  Jones continues to defend well with a 3 pointer (in 3 attempts) and 2 assists without a turnover.  You can see Coach K’s trust in Matt building, conversely dwindling with Rasheed.  Rasheed continues to disappoint, though it may still be the hangover from his being ill.  He was 1-5 from the floor (0-1 from 3land) 0-2 from the foul line with 2 boards, 2 turnovers, 0 assists, steals or blocks, while committing 3 fouls. This team needs Rasheed to get well or otherwise turn his season around.  Grayson played 6 minutes (4 of his 6 points came at key times in the first half) while Semi logged only 4 minutes (0-2 from 3land — all of his shots this season have been from behind the arc.) while committing 2 fouls.

Quinn led Duke in scoring (17 points on 6-12 shooting including 3-8 from behind the arc — the last 2 were key, and 2-2 from the stripe) and in minutes played (34).  Quinn is a very good rebounder for a guard (5 for this game) and played superb defense on the perimeter adding 2 steals.  He had 2 turnovers with a single assist.  He is, right now, the unquestioned team leader and is having a banner year thus far.  He has adjusted marvelously to being off the ball much of the time while the steady and impressive Tyus runs the offense.  Although in his 29 minutes, Tyus shot poorly (1-7 including 1-4 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the line for 5 points), he played a superb floor game.  He had 7 assists with only a single turnover to go with 5 boards (he and Quinn garnered 10 boards between them), and 3 steals.  He played excellent (improving) defense and committed only a single foul.  Amile Jefferson had his best game of the season at both ends of the floor.  He played the second most minutes (31) while going 3-5 from the field, snaring 8 boards, handing out an assist, and getting a block.  He had no turnovers.  The only quibble was 2-5 from the stripe and committing 3 fouls.  He is glue on defense.  Justise continues to impress though he is freshman-inconsistent.  What is impressively consistent is his defense, hustle and athleticism.  In 28 minutes, he had 15 points on 8 shots (4-8; 1-4 from behind the arc and 6-9 from the line.  He is a slasher who draws fouls.  Temple only shot 13 free throws as a team; Justise shot 9 (but needs to shoot better than 67%).  Duke as a team was even more inaccurate from the stripe (17-26 for 61%), but made more free throws than Temple attempted (a good sign).  In addition to Winslow’s 3 missed free throws, Jefferson also missed 3 and Rasheed 2 (8 of the 9 misses; Grayson Allen was 3-4 for the other miss).  Winslow plays the whole game at both ends.  He can guard four positions on the floor, and has been used at both forward spots on offense; he handles like a guard (think James Harden when Justise gets it all together consistently).  He added 8 boards (tie for the lead for Duke) with an assist and a steal with a single turnover.  He committed 3 fouls.

Stanford was very impressive in wiping the floor with UNLV.  Many good story lines for this game, but the key is the rate at which the freshmen improve and the team continues to grow defensively.

DUKE 70- STANFORD 59

Five games in nine days in three different cities—welcome to an NBA schedule plus classes. Actually, it is Coach K’s boot training  to condition his team for tournament time. Except for the shooting part, the team passed with flying colors or in coaches words: “A good performance without offensive pretty.”

What have we learned in the last five games? This is a deep and talented team with an exceptionally gifted center and point guard who make everyone else better. Not to mention a power forward who may be the most complete basketball player on the team. And a senior guard who, if he continues to play and shoot as he has, could be the last piece of the championship puzzle. Also, an unsung blue collar player every team needs who is willing to do all the gritty little things that are often overlooked. And then there is a dependable bench, stocked with players who accept the fact that even though they are not starting, they are nevertheless important components of  a winning team.

Additional observations:

  • So far, the defense has somewhat papered over the fact that free throw shooting among the front line is the Achilles Heel of this team. That has to change,
  • because as the teams get tougher and the games closer, free throws are crucial.
  • Speaking of defense, take a look at this year’s assist, turnover, rebounding, and steals differential compared to last year.
  • Matt Jones is a different player this year. When I saw his awkward shooting release last year, I wondered how had the reputation as a good three point shooter. As my old Coach Carter used to say: “This game isn’t ice skating, there are no style points. It’s not how, but how many.” And he has long arms allowing him to play bigger than his height.
  • I don’t know about you, but when Justise Winslow limped off the floor against Temple, Kyrie’s Irving’s injury about the same time of year flashed through my mind.

Alan Adds:

The tournament in Brooklyn was a wonderful coming out party for Duke’s defense.  For those of us still having nightmares about last year’s defense and wondering how the freshmen would adapt to Coach K’s team defense (it is usual for freshmen to have a longer defensive learning curve than offensively), this tournament was a glorious defensive statement.  Duke did not shoot well in either game and yet was never seriously challenged.  Winslow, Okafor and Jones have played remarkably well on the defensive end as have Cook, Jefferson, and Matt Jones.  Duke took away Stanford’s 3 pointers (3-14), held even on the boards, and committed few fouls (Stanford did not reach the bonus in the first half) and only had 14 free throw attempts for the game (12-14), while making 17 (out of 26 attempts; Justise was a disappointing 4-10; Okafor 2-4; and Rasheed 1-3, accounted for 10 of Duke’s 12 misses.  Tyus 3-4 and Jefferson 3-4 accounted for the other 2), more than Stanford attempted.  While Duke shot only 39 % from the field (9-25 from long range), the passing was breathtaking and admirable.  Duke had 16 assists on 22 baskets, and like the night before had many gorgeous passes that did not make the stat sheet because of missed open shots.

Rasheed seemed to return to form against Stanford as Coach K shortened his rotation even further, as he usually does for big games.   Neither Grayson Allen nor Semi Ojeleye left the bench and Marshall played only 5 minutes in the first half.  Coach K elected to use Jefferson to back up Okafor in the second half, but only for about a minute or two.  Otherwise Jahlil played almost the entire second half.  Quinn (39 minutes), Jahlil (34)  and Justise (35) were the center pieces of Duke’s effort.  They left the court only briefly (Quinn not at all).  Tyus (26), Jefferson (24) Matt Jones (18) and Rasheed (19) all contributed significantly.

This, for better or worse, is Quinn’s team.  In his senior year, he has been outstanding and (unlike past years) consistent at both ends of the floor.  Coach K pointed out that Quinn is playing great and deserved the MVP of the tournament award that he received.  He was guarding a 6’6” guard and was outstanding.  He played every second until the last 1:18 of the game, when the outcome had been decided.  In his 39 minutes, he led Duke in scoring with 18 (6-12; 4-9 from 3land and 4-4 from the line) to go with 5 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal with only a single turnover.  It is a joy to watch a player go through hard times, persevere, learn, grow and develop in four years.  We don’t get to see that the way we used to.  Quinn is hungry (no championships in his first three years and lots of criticism) and is leading his younger teammates.

It looks as if there will be a growing debate as to who Duke’s best freshman player this year, as Justise Winslow continues to sparkle.  First and foremost, he is Duke’s most valuable and versatile defender.  He has what the announcers call “an amazing motor”, meaning he displays constant energy with jaw dropping athleticism and a determined will.  He has hops!  When Stanford went small and/or to a zone, Winslow played the power forward in place of Jefferson, along with Okafor and 3 guards.  When Stanford seemed poised to make a run, Winslow’s rebounding and all around play shut Stanford down.  The only thing that stops the superlatives from morphing into big time hype is his lack of shooting efficiency ( 4-10 from the field, but only 2-7 from downtown; and the grievous 4-10 from the foul line).  I (and Coach K) predict his shooting will come around making him a real force this year.  He, Quinn and Okafor were named to the all-tournament first team.  Okafor came up so big when Stanford reduced the Duke lead to 8.  Duke went inside to Okafor, who scored twice in a row to push the lead back to 12 and end the Cardinal hopes.  While he did not shoot well (10 points on 4-10 from the field and 2-4 from the line), he was a beast on the backboard (12 rebounds; yes that’s a double double) an assist, a steal and a block.  He was a superb rim protector, altering Stanford close in shots and showing he has strength and a mean streak in addition to his impressive skills.

Tyus had a subpar statistical game and did not log as many minutes as usual. Coach K feared an energy drain because Duke has played 5 games in 8 days, including 3 big time games in two different neutral site locations in the last 3 days.  Though he was 0-6 from the field (0-3 from 3land and 3-4 from the line), Tyus played a valuable floor game and is improving on the defensive end by leaps and bounds.  He had only 2 assists (1 turnover) but garnered 3 boards and made 3 steals.  He has become so valuable and works so well with Cook.  Jefferson had one of his best games, even if limited by Stanford’s smaller lineup and zone defense.  In his 24 minutes, Amile was 3-6 from the field; 3-4 from the line with 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block without a turnover.  He did commit 3 fouls.  The bench was basically Matt Jones and Sulaimon.  Jones was a revelation.  In his 18 minutes, he contributed a critical times on the offensive end while playing exemplary defense.  He was 4-7 from the field (2-3 from 3land) for 10 points, with a rebound and a steal against 2 turnovers.  Rasheed is not yet statistically there, but he seemed back in harness, especially on the defensive end.  He scored only 6 in his 19 minutes, but both buckets were important (2-5 from the field; 1-3 from behind the arc and 1-3 from the line) to go with 2 assists and a tough rebound in traffic (1 turnover).

All in all, Duke fans could not have asked for a better start to the season.  Duke gets a respite before playing Furman and Army next week.

DUKE 93 –  FURMAN 57

I was in Pinehurst for our annual Thanksgiving family gathering so I recorded the Furman and Army scrimmages which I view as scheduled home conditioning interludes between Michigan State and the clash with #2Wisconsin this Wednesday in Madison. Alan found more interesting aspects of the games than I did.

However, this game did answer a question I have been asking myself: “What’s keeping Grayson Allen off the floor?” (He played just one minute against Michigan State, six against Temple and then not at all against Stanford.) He is much more athletic than JJ, is not worse defensively, and  has a beautiful three point stroke. When Coach K called timeout with :30 seconds left in the half, I thought that if Grayson’s not in, he really is deep in the dog house. Breaking the huddle, Allen and Matt Jones went to corners along Tyus Jones, Winslow and Rasheed Sulaimon. Tyus patiently took time off the clock before passing it to Allen in the corner, and – swish, buzzer! How many times have we seen this movie?

“Grayson might not play for 19 minutes and 50 seconds against” – Krzyzewski paused to come up with a hypothetical – “Wisconsin, and we put him in, and he did it. That was one of the best and most meaningful plays of the afternoon.”

Alan Adds:

I believe most commentators, and even Duke fans, will regard the Furman game as a routine blow out of a vastly inferior team — a “breather” or “laugher” in an otherwise formidable schedule.  There was relief that Duke fans did not repeat last year’s game against Vermont, in similar circumstances where Duke was an overwhelming favorite to beat an inferior team with a losing record.

Let me offer a contrasting view; I believe when the season is done, we will look back on the first half of the Furman game as the moment when you could truly visualize for the first time the connecting path between the amazing potential of a group of extraordinarily talented players to the realization of the dream of team — especially on the defensive end.  Duke played well in the second half, but human nature just toned down the team intensity of the first half that seemed to me to be truly a watershed moment.  What a delicious defensive first half!  Never mind the impressive stats (Furman is another Presbyterian as far as athletic talent goes), but savor Duke’s spectacular aggressive hedges and switches on screens, creating the double teams, followed by the smooth rotations to cover the roller (or screen setter).  I know that Furman is not Michigan State, but you could see the improvement of the rotations to cover the roller.  Michigan State had some success with the roller laying it up and in on the pick and rolls.  Last night against Furman, Duke looked like a ballet troupe the way they rotated to make the traps effective.  Credit Justise Winslow, who is quick, athletic and defensively intelligent.  He was so intense, and helped make the team defense, well, beautiful (hence the ballet simile).  Jahlil, Amile and Marshall were so aggressive in defending the screen with the hard hedge and double team.  When Furman made the good pass against the double team (which was frequently done), Justise, Matt Jones, Rasheed (the starting guards are a little too small to be effective in that role) and the off big man (I.e. Jefferson when Jahlil was the double teamer) were so cohesive in rotation that Furman had to bring the ball back out.

So was some of the passing on offense both beautiful and ballet-like.  There were two that deserve to be remembered.  One was a five pass (no dribble) sequence that ended with Winslow making a touch pass out of the high post to Jahlil for the dunk.  The other — among Cook, Tyus and Amile — ended up as a turnover, but the concept was so deliciously unselfish and creative that it too deserved to be savored.

For the first half, Duke scored 50 on 57 % shooting, with 13 assists (in the first half!) on 20 field goals.  Jahlil (5-7 for 10 points) and Amile (6-6 for 12 points) led the way.  The bigs (totaling 11-13 from the floor in the opening stanza) were the recipients of superb passing for finishing at or near the rim.  It was simply exquisite basketball.  Matt Jones contributed 7 off the bench in the first half as did Justise.  Tyus did not score in the entire game.  Justise did not score in the second half; you can see that he is offensively aggressive only when the team needs him to be (which it clearly did not in the second half).  For the game, Duke shot 57% dishing out 24 assists on 36 field goals against only 7 turnovers.

The starters all played between 23 and 26 minutes.  All the reserves got a good run (between 12 and 19 minutes)  Coach K mixed and matched intensely, trying all different combinations together.  Jahlil led Duke in minutes (26) and scoring with 24 points (first Duke 20 point scorer this year; demonstrating Duke’s balanced scoring so far) on 12-14 shooting to go with 7 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks.  He is one of the best finishers I have seen in College basketball.  He missed his only free throw (Duke was 6-10; Justise 2-4 and Matt 1-2 were the other misses).  Jefferson and Quinn played 24 minutes.  Amile had a wonderfully efficient game, scoring 16 points on 8-9 shooting (he missed a tough tip in attempt) while grabbing 12 rebounds, dishing out 2 assists and getting a steal and a block.  Coach K called Quinn the “key guy” in creating team chemistry.  He had 5 assists against only one turnover, going 4-10 from the field; 3-9 from 3land and gorgeous twisting drive).  He added 3 boards and a steal.  Tyus and Justice played 23 minutes.  Tyus was 0-2 from the floor, but contributed mightily with 7 assists and some very solid defense (improving by leaps and bounds on that end of the floor).  Justise was 2-7 for 7 points (1-3 from behind the arc and 2-4 from the line).  Do not be fooled by Justise’s modest stat line, he is so valuable to this team, especially on the defensive end.

Matt Jones had a break out game, scoring 13 points (4-5 from 3land and 1-2 from the line) in his 19 minutes.  He corralled 3 boards and had 2 assists to go along with some intense defense.  He and Rasheed are becoming a force on the perimeter as reserves.  Suliamon also logged 19 minutes, scoring 9 on 4-8 shooting (1-4 from behind the arc) to go with excellent defense, 2 tough rebounds in traffic and 2 assists.  Semi (15 minutes) and Marshall (12 minutes) were effective substitutes on the front line.  Marshall played defense and got 2 boards to go with 2-2 foul shooting (6-6 for the year).  Semi had his best game, scoring 6 on 2-3 shooting (1-2 from behind the arc, and 1-1 from the line.  He had 3 boards and played great defense.  He was called for two fouls, but the second one was not a foul, just a great defensive play.  Grayson scored 5 (including the set play 3 pointer at the close of the first half) in 13 minutes.  He was forcing shots, hoisting up 7 (2-7; 1-5 from behind the arc), but was energetic on the floor with 3 boards, an assist and a block.

DUKE  93 –   ARMY 73

After watching The United States Military Academy’s basketball team in action, you have to feel that at least this arm of the government is in excellent (pun alert) hands.  Their approach to the game is impressive—and basketball is not even their major. The final score is no indication as to how good and talented a team they are. I’m glad we had Okafor because without him  T. Jones would not have had a double- double and the score would have been much closer. Anyhow, Alan has all the details and I will save my insights for the Wisconsin game.

Additional observations:

  • Army’s effort and performance comes as no surprise to those of us who have observed Coach K over the years. He is emphatic about West Points’ impact on this development: “I remember playing there more so than my first win (as a coach). That’s my base. I wear my wedding ring and I wear my West Point ring with a Duke stone. I’m getting all emotional now. I love West Point. I love the fact that I had that opportunity and then I had the opportunity to coach there. One of the reasons that I’m a good coach here is because of my five years there. They’ll always be in my heart and I’ll always be a West Point-er.”
  • Grayson Allen played more minutes today but showed why he probably has not played more.

Alan adds:

I thought the Army game a bit strange and hard to get a handle on all its significances, both offensively and defensively.  Duke played defense with a lot of energy, but sporadically — not on every possession.  You could see some of the old 2013-14 Duke deficiencies creeping back — shoddy transition defense giving up open 3s and drives from the perimeter.  It’s true that most of this happened when Duke had the game well in hand in the second half, but the opening few minutes were defensively careless before Duke clamped down Duke style at about the 15 minute mark of the first half.  Duke was offensively fluid,  hampered only by its uncharacteristically bad shooting from behind the arc (4-19 for the game; 1-8 in the first half).  If you take away the 3 point attempts, Duke was 27-51 from inside the arc, and a dramatic 15-20 from inside the arc in the first half.   For the game, Duke had 20 assists on 31 baskets; pretty impressive.  Justise Winslow committed two offensive fouls within the first two and a half minutes of the game, had a turnover and a bad defensive play.  He went to the bench with 17 minutes and change left in the first half.  As a result he logged only 12 minutes, and Duke’s defense may have suffered a bit because of his absence.  It was Duke’s superior size that kept Army from being competitive.

Duke had only four players who logged more than 20 minutes, and those four were the only double figure scorers.  Tyus led the team in minutes and in every other way on offense.  He also played some really excellent team defense, but still gets beaten back door on occasion.  However, on offense he sparkled against Army.  In 34 scintillating minutes, Tyus had 10 assists (and many of them were spectacularly beautiful), 0 turnovers, 5 boards and a steal.  He scored 16 points on 3-4 shooting inside the arc and 7-8 from the line.  He still has not found his 3 point shot (1-4), but that is a quibble for such a terrific performance.  Quinn played 30 minutes (He and Tyus were the only Duke players to play more than 26 minutes), scoring 13 points on 12 shots (5-12; 1-5 from behind the arc and made both free throws).  Quinn had 3 steals, 2 boards and 2 assists.   Because Justise was so limited in playing time, Rasheed  got more playing time.  Rasheed played the third most minutes (26) scoring 13 points (4-10; 1-4 from behind the arc and 4-4 from the line to go with 2 assists, 2 boards and a steal.  He was energetic and played excellent defense.  Jahlil was somewhere between awesome and impressive.  In 25 minutes, he destroyed Army (21 points on 8-14 shooting, but only 5-9 from the line) to go with some great passing out of the post and 8 rebounds and a block.  He altered shots, finished dramatically and was an unstoppable force.  The pundits are salivating to see how he performs against Wisconsin’s huge, talented and experienced front line, led by Frank Kaminsky, the 7 footer who had such an outstanding NCAA tournament last year.

Jefferson was a beast on the boards against an undersized team in his 20 minutes — 12 boards, 7 points (3-3 from the field, but 1-3 from the line) to go with 2 assists and a block.  He and Okafor (and Plumlee) were devastating inside against the smaller Black Knights.  Marshall had another incredible stat line.  In his 13 minutes, he was 2-2 from the field; 2-2 from the line for 8 points, with 5 boards and 2 blocks.  Matt Jones was first off the bench when Justise committed his second foul.  He played 18 minutes, scoring 6 points with 2 steals, an assist and a rebound.  Defense is still his calling card, and you can see Coach K trusting him more.  When Coach K finally let Winslow back in the game (6 minutes to go in the first half), Winslow played well, but Coach K limited him (punishment for two quick not so smart offensive fouls?) to not much more than cameos in each half.  Still in his 12 minutes, Winslow  scored 7 points on 3-4 shooting (1-2 from 3land) with a board, an assist and a steal.  Semi (12 minutes) played a good floor game, but Grayson (10 minutes) looked lost and unhappy.  Semi had four boards and an assist, though he did not shoot well (0-2 from the field and 2-4 from the line.  Grayson did not score, missing his only shots — 2 3 point attempts.

Next Play: On Wednesday night, Duke takes on the third ranked Badgers of Wisconsin.  Wisconsin returns four of its starters and all of its bench from a Final Four team a year ago (lost to Kentucky by a point on a last minute long shot by Andrew Harrison).  They feature a huge front line and a first team All- American candidate in the 7 foot Frank Kaminski,  This will be a telling test for Duke’s young and talented team.

DUKE 80 –  WISCONSIN 70

Jahlil Okafor is a wonderful talent but this is Tyus Jones team. He may only be a college freshman and look like a high school junior but he makes plays like a seasoned, senior All-American. Playing before a hostile crowd of 17,279, against a team that made the Final Four a year ago and came in ranked No. 2 nationally, Jones scored 22 points, to go with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. And by the way, it wasn’t a one man show. The guys off the bench kept Duke in the game in the first half. As I was saying, in big games Rasheed Sulaimon’s “have no fear, just attack and take the hill” mentality shows the team how to perform. Marshall Plumlee had productive minutes as did Matt Jones; however, next to Ty Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon was the MVP—especially on a night when Justise Winslow was offensively missing in action until the last minutes when he settled down, hit a three and took a half court out of bounds give-and-go from Jahlil to the basket for an uncontested, demoralizing dunk. And who has improved more than Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee? They have the best field goal percentages on the team and play very effective defense. But more than anything this impressive performance demonstrated the maturity, toughness, depth, versatility, and coolness of this Duke team. And, oh yes, their defense bears no resemblance to that of the last few years.

The coaches also played a part. Jeff Capel, who was head coach at Oklahoma and was especially close to Tyus through his recruitment, encouraged K to go to him more in the second half. Coach called more ball screens for Ty in the second half and Jah encouraged his buddy to shoot more, too, since Wisconsin was sagging off him. Who knew the laid back point guard had this much scoring fire power?

In his duel with the Badgers Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor was outscored 17-13 – but hit 6-8 to Kaminsky’s 5-12. Even when his numbers appear subpar, Jahlil has an impact on the game just being on the floor because his presence creates space and an opportunity for his teammates to operate. The same is true of Quinn Cook. He is in Coach K’s words a “safe harbor” for T. Jones. Quinn’s acceptance of Tyus being the point and controlling the ball has made him a better, more effective player.

The most impressive aspects of the win were: It was in Madison where any Coach Bo Ryan’s teams rarely lose; against a consensus top four team; the defense was terrific; everyone who played contributed; the offense production was terrific even though Okafor’s numbers were subpar. This ten point margin is as close as any team has come to beating Duke.

Additional observations:

  • This was Coach K’s win number 991. In  top-five matchups his Duke teams are 25-13, including 6-6 on the road.
  • Fortunately, Jay Bilas called the game and demonstrated once again why he is the most knowledgeable college basketball analyst on television.
  • UNC lost to Iowa in Chapel Hill.
  • BTW, Louisville joins the ACC this year. They are big, athletic, and very good.

Alan Adds: 

The game had, for me, almost the feel of a Final Four game.  Everyone knew that these two teams seem to be Final Four quality, and this was a major test for each on National television.  Of course, it was not an elimination game, but rather a development and evaluation game (not even a conference game); so not Final Four intensity, but almost.   It was fun to watch as a Duke fan.  After the game, I texted Bill, “Duke’s best win since Kyrie got hurt in 2011 (better than Austin’s dagger against UNC, because of the potential to be a National champion that this team demonstrated in this game).  Yes, I thought Duke looked that good.  It was also the game where Tyus Jones emerged as Duke’s floor leader, announcing his presence on the national scene.  Tyus was not less than superb.  He logged 37 minutes (the most on Duke) scored 22 points on 11 shots and controlled the game to a remarkable extent.  Traveon Jackson may have scored 25 points in a dramatic outing for the Badgers, but he wasn’t even in the same league as Tyus for providing leadership, stability and confidence for his team.  Tyus remarkably had only a single turnover (4 assists).  This was a very special performance.  The guards (Tyus, Quinn and Rasheed) shot 6-9 from behind the arc.  Duke had two rebounding leaders — Jahlil with 6 and (drum roll, please) Tyus with 6.

The second take away from this game is the absolute certainty that Duke’s defense is back.  Duke won, in large measure because they were a much better defensive team.  First, let’s send kudos to Justise Winslow, who logged 32 minutes (second most on the team) and led the stingy defense.  One could say Winslow did not have a good game because he scored only 5 points on 2-6 shooting (though the two were at crunch time), but one would be completely wrong because of the defensive glue and energy Winslow brought to the team.  There is a reason Coach K had him in the game more than any other player besides Tyus.  Duke’s switching was beautiful to behold — look back at my “Alan Adds” for the Furman game, where Duke’s defense looked ballet like in its fluidity.  The quality of the opponent was much higher, but Duke’s defense rose to the occasion.  It was team defense with starters and bench all contributing as an efficient, cohesive, intensely motivated team.  It was simply exhilerating.

Offensively, Duke was on fire, shooting the lights out (30-46; 7-12 from 3land).  Duke had no free throw attempts in the first half and was an ok 8-13 in the second half.  Duke held the huge Wisconsin team even on the boards.

Tyus had great help offensively.  Quinn played 31 scintillating minutes scoring 13 points on only 5  shots (4-5; 2-3 from behind the arc and 3-4 from the line).  Jahlil showed that he can play with any big in the country (well, let’s see about the horde of bigs from Kentucky) by playing Kaminsky to a standstill.  In 27 minutes (4 fouls), he scored 13 on 6-8 shooting.  Jefferson was also terrific in  25 minutes going 3-4 from the floor with 6 boards.  As Bill points out, so much juice to the Duke effort on both ends of the floor came from Rasheed in his 21 minutes.  He was 5-8 (2-3 from 3land and 2-2 from the line) for 14 points (second high scorer on the team) while grabbing 3 boards, handing out 2 assists and making a steal.  Wow!  He led the efficient bench.  Matt Jones played 19 terrific minutes (1-1; and 1-2 from the line) both on defense, where he is really shining and an all around floor game.  The last and 8th contributer was Marshall.  He played only 8 minutes, going 2-3 for four points  with 3 boards.  If you extrapolate those stats out to a 40 minute game, that’s 20 points and 15 boards.  Unfortunately, Marshall also committed 2 fouls (which would limit him to about 18 minutes).  I thought it significant that when Jahlil picked up his fourth foul with about five minutes left, Jefferson came in for Jahlil rather than Plumlee.  The small lineup (Justise at power forward) held the fort.

After a “breather” with Elon, Duke goes to the Meadowlands to play the defending national champions, UConn.

DUKE 75- ELON 62

The good news is Jahlil Okafor celebrated his 18th birthday by going for a school record 25 points & 20 rebounds; however, after twelve days off for exams, the Blue Devils were somewhat sloppy (17 turnovers), inconsistent, and certainly not firing on all cylinders. The bad news is that the starting front court shot 7 for 18 from the line– and that is not an aberration. There are only a couple things that can stop this team: injuries, bad luck, or bad free throw shooting, which has always been a strength of Coach K’s best teams. Please put in a call to Chip “The Shot Doctor” Engelland, who scored 1,000 points as a Duke player from 1979-83 and is a shot guru to the accuracy challenged, because in close games Okafor and Winslow will be spending a lot of time at the line. It must be noted that like other less heralded teams coming into Cameron, under-sized, over-matched Elon competed hard and conceded nothing.

A good example of that is late in the game Rasheed Sulaimon pressed Luke Eddy practically the length of the floor and was called for a foul as Eddy fell  to the floor. Then Sully appeared to give Eddy a shove and he was called for a technical. What the replays showed was that Eddy hooked Rasheed’s arm and attempted to pull him down also. As usual, retaliation got the call. While Sulaimon took blame for the technical (“I lost my cool and made a bone-head play, something that a Duke player doesn’t make. I’m very ashamed and embarrassed at the way I represented this program, myself and my family.”), Rasheed (11 pts, 2 steals, 3 rebs) played another solid game as the first substitution and demonstrated the intensity and toughness every minute he is on the floor. Championship teams need that from their best players.

Additional observations:

The Darwinian basketball principle: there are only so many floor minutes. Caught up in a talent jam, sophomore Semi Ojeleye has decided to transfer. This should not be a surprise as he is too talented to be satisfied with a seat on the bench. Semi hasn’t announced a new school yet, but wherever he ends up, someone’s getting a talented player and a first-class kid.

Alan adds:

Coach K was unhappy with his team’s performance and, as usual, was eloquent in describing the shortcomings he saw.  He said Duke “didn’t do the hard things tonight.”  The hard things he identified are “finishes, talk on defense, be strong with the ball, dive for loose balls.  We didn’t do those things that we have been doing.”  He said this was the result of the lay-off, but also people “telling us how good we are” after the great game against Wisconsin.  Coach K explained that it was normal to have a let down after a great game.  “In order to be really good, you can’t be normal.  Normal stays in the past and wants it easier after some great accomplishment.  Not normal gets hungrier.  We didn’t pass that test tonight.  Human nature beat the hell out of us tonight.  We weren’t as good as we can be, not as good as we are going to be, and not as good as we have been.”  Interestingly, Coach K admonished his team for not following the defensive game plan.  He said this was the first time this year that his team didn’t implement the game plan.  He also pointed to 17 turnovers against only 14 assists.  He was not a happy coach.

With Ojeleye gone, Duke’s rotation was essentially 7.  Grayson Allen played only 8 minutes with 0 shots or points (1 rebound; 1 steal and 1 turnover) and Marshall logged only 10 minutes with 0 shots and 0 points (2 boards; 2 blocks while committing 2 fouls).  Six Duke players logged between 20 (Matt Jones) and 29 minutes (Okafor).  Quinn played a game high 35 minutes with 7 points (3-9 from the field; 1-6 from behind the arc; 0 free throw attempts) 4 assists and a steal against a single turnover.  His backcourt buddy, Tyus Jones fell to earth after his heavenly performance against Wisconsin.  In 23 minutes, he missed his only field goal attempt (4-6 from the line) with 4 assists and an unusual 4 turnovers.  Matt Jones was also subpar, going 1-6 from the field (0-4 from 3land; 1-1 from the line) with 0 assists and 2 turnovers.  It was Rasheed who was the backcourt bulwark.  In his 26 minutes, he was 4-9 from the field for 11 points (1-2 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the free throw line) to go with 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals without a turnover.  Bad incident at the end, but a very creditable game.

Duke’s bigs dominated the undersized Elon team, especially Okafor, who had 10 offensive rebounds.  Coach K said that when Elon went to the 1-3-1 zone it left a small defender on the base line and Okafor took wonderful advantage.  In 29 minutes, he was 10-14 from the floor (5-11 from the line for 25 points) and had 20 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and an assist.  On the “Normal side” he committed 4 turnovers and was dismal from the free throw line.  So were Jefferson and Winslow.  Amile logged 23 minutes going 6-7 from the field (but 1-3 from the line) for 13 points to go with his 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal.  His “normal” was 3 turnovers.  Winslow was 1-4 from the line, but was so valuable otherwise.  In 27 minutes, he was 5-10 from the filed, though only 1-4 from behind the arc as well as from the line.   Thus, as Bill points out, the bigs were a dismal 7-18 from the line.  That has to be fixed.

Though it wasn’t a great performance, it was Duke’s 9th straight win of the season, and once again showcased Jahlil as something very special.  Next play is in New Jersey on Thursday against the defending National champions, the University of Connecticut.  Coach K wants to have his team playing hungry again in that game.

DUKE 66 – UCONN 56

Tonight’s winning numbers are: 25-34, 40-26 & 0. Those were the  free throws attempted and made, (a key component to Coach K’s best teams. this cannot be stressed enough, because it indicates how aggressive the offense is), the rebounding margin, and the number of points for seven foot center Amida Brimah, last seen scoring 40 against Coppin State. Brimah picked up two early fouls, couldn’t begin to keep up with Jahlil Okafor, and fouled out with little impact on the game. Not so for Ryan Boatright, who was a boatload of trouble to defend and handful defensively, responsible for a lot of Duke’s 12 first half turnovers (Duke had only 36 in their first eight games).

It was a contest that demonstrated the versatility, resourcefulness, mental and physical toughness of this team. However, perhaps the most crucial moment was the start of the second half when Duke turned the ball over and UConn scored to cut the lead to three points. A furious Coach K burned a timeout and in his inimitable manner asked his players what the f*** they were doing and requested(?) a better effort. The Blue Devils responded with a 12-2 run to pretty much put themselves in the driver’s seat against a team (minus some key players) that beat Kentucky in last year’s  NCAA Championship game. Nevertheless nothing came easy against a team with a coach as good as Kevin Oliver and a guard as good as Ryan Boatright.

On a night that Cook was offensively quiet and Justise Winslow had Alan wondering at the half if he left his game at exam week, Jefferson and T.

Jones once again proved how valuable they are. Tyus (21 pts & 5 rebs) is the most unassuming bigtime point guard you will ever see and Jefferson (11 pts & 13 rebs) just shows up when the more heralded big men don’t. In the second half, Winslow, obviously responding to Alan’s critique, showed flashes of his talents with three big time plays– a three, a tip-in off a missed free throw, and a fantastic block.

All in all it was a tough, some would say, ugly win against a talented, scrappy team at the Meadowlands, where Duke has played so many memorable games.

Additional observations:

Predictably, Coach K’s rotation has shortened. He is 6-4 against UConn.

*Jay Bilas was one of the announcers and Jayson Williams was one of the halftime anchors. No other school has as many ex-players involved on more levels of college basketball than Duke.

*Jabari Parker has been diagnosed with a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

*Seth Curry is averaging 25 pts a game for Erie BayHawks in the NBA development League and the Miami Heat sent Andre Dawkins down to the D-League in early December. He is averaging 22 pts a game.

*Justin Robinson, the son of legendary center David Robinson, was admitted via early decision and will be added to Duke’s roster next year as a preferred walk-on. (Generally, a player that is recruited for a spot on the team, but there is no scholarship available. Often, the players parents are we enough off to pay the tuition. These players might also have an “off the books” agreement that they’ll get a scholarship when one becomes available.) Justin’s brother is a very talented freshman wide receiver for Notre Dame.

Alan Adds: 

What a strange, but illuminating game this was for Duke.  On the plus side, Bill points to Duke’s size advantage that produced backboard dominance, an offense that went to the line frequently and made a competent percentage, and what Bill didn’t say, but Coach K did – was to compliment Duke’s outstanding half court defense (especially in the second half).  On the minus side is Duke’s continuing woes with taking care of the ball on offense.  After an extraordinary first few games, Duke has “not been strong with the ball” for the last two games.  Duke had 12 (TV commentators) or 15 (ESPN half time stats) turnovers in the first half and 19 for the game against only 10 assists.  Only 10 assists is a telling statistic.  For the first time, Duke faced a team that was quicker and played intense pressure defense.  Duke did not respond well – especially in the first half.  I thought UCONN did not sustain its frenetic defensive pace in the second half, but taught Duke a lesson about the need to take better care of the ball.  The turnovers the Huskie defense produced led to most of the UCONN scoring that wasn’t done by the amazing Ryan Boatright.  He was so good.

But Coach K put it in perspective – Tyus learned a lot tonight on both ends.and did very well indeed.  The other negative from the game was how unproductive the Duke bench was.  First, there wasn’t much bench.  Grayson played 2 minutes; Marshall 5 and Matt Jones 6.  Only Rasheed logged double figure minutes (17), but none of the four scored.  Rasheed missed all four shots and had 5 turnovers with 2 boards and a steal.  Matt was 0-1; Marshall committed 2 fouls in his 5 minutes while grabbing a board, but blocked 2 shots (the one in the second half was a much needed beauty).  It has been a long time since the Duke bench was that unproductive.

The starters logged big minutes, played very well in spots (especially in the second half) and all scored in double figures.  At the end of the first half, I wrote, “Even though Duke led at half; UCONN was the better team, led by the best player on the floor, Ryan Boatright.  Boatright not only shredded the Duke defense, but disrupted the Duke offense with intense defense causing steals and disruption.  Duke’s offense was plagued by 15 turnovers and 8-25 shooting (3-9 from 3).  UCONN had 4 more field goals but Duke thrived from the foul line 11-15. Jahlil and Jefferson controlled the boards.  Jefferson was terrific with 10 points and 7 boards.  Winslow continues to fade.  He was as good as any freshman in the early games, but in last 5 games he has been absent on offense.  Marshall was really inept in the first half.”

As Bill points out, Coach K called time out (with 19:19 left in the second half) after Duke misfired on its opening possession and UCONN shredded the Duke defense for a layup, cutting Duke’s 30-25 halftime lead to 3.  “They were in lala land”, Coach K explained, “I had to wake them up.”  Even so it took another couple of minutes before the intensity turned on and Duke began to pull away.  UCONN scored on another layup and Boatright made 1 of 2 to tie the game at 30 with 18:16 left.  Then Winslow woke up – on both ends of the floor — and Duke turned the game around.  Winslow scored with 17:40 left for Duke’s first points of the half and a 2 point lead.  Duke guarded Boatright with double and triple teams.  UCONN scored once at the 14:33 mark, but did not score it’s 33rd point until the 11:29 mark.   By then Duke had extended the lead to 13 on the strength of balanced scoring with good ball movement.  UCONN had one more run and brought the score to 57-51 with 3:47 left.  Then Winslow took over with a crucial 3.  The Duke lead was back down to 6 with a little over a minute left when Jahlil missed a free throw, and Justise converted a great tip in to really clinch the game.

You get an idea of how much Coach K is relying on his backcourt by the minutes played – Quinn played 39 minutes (same as Boatright) and Tyus logged 38.  Tyus was awesome with 21 points on 5-11 from the field (2-6 from behind the arc) and a critical 9-10 from the free throw line.  Throw in 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals (an uncharacteristic 3 turnovers, but that is more a tribute to the Huskie defense) for a complete floor game and an MVP for the game (in my opinion).  Quinn shot 2-7 from behind the arc (3-9; 2-2 from the line) for 10 points.  His value was very much on the defensive end.  Even though Quinn had 3 turnovers, you could tell that Coach K did not trust his other guards to take care of the ball against the Huskie pressure defense.

Okafor played 34 minutes, scoring 12 points (only 5 shots; 3 field goals 5-11 from the line) and 8 boards.  His passing is wonderful,and he was far more valuable than his stat line showed.  Jefferson was on the court for 31 minutes and contributed a double double (13 boards and 11 points).  He is becoming a terrific leader and dependable player.  Winslow exploded in the second half after being limited by foul trouble in the first half.  He scored 12 points in his 28 minutes , but his return to form in the second half (10 of his 12 and great defense) was a welcome sight for the Blue Devil fans.

A strange but illuminating (and educational) game for the Blue Devils.  Next game is not until December 29 against Toledo in Cameron.

DUKE 86 – TOLEDO 69

Pay close attention Duke fans, we may have the makings of a very memorable season. Watching this young team develop and mature is real treat. While the three starting freshmen are really good and complement each other and any other two players really well, this is a different team when Okafor is on the floor. There are no good choices: double team him and he hits the open man like a Bill Walton, play him one-on-one and he scores in a variety of atypical, creative ways like a Tim Duncan–and he runs the floor like a young Bill Russell.

The Toledo Jahlil Rockets are a talented, veteran mid-major team that made several Vermont type wake up runs at the Blue Devils. Their flashy guard “Juice” Brown (19 pts.)was a handful for whomever was trying to guard him. He and Quinn Cook (20 pts.) were doing so much trash talking that Coach Krzyzewski finally jumped off the bench and yelled, “Hey, Cook! Shut up!” After Brown  blew by Cook on the defensive end for another easy layup, Quinn made an acrobatic behind the back save of a loose ball as his momentum took him into the row of photographers along the baseline. He picked himself up, worked his way back to the court and signaled for the ball like an open wide receiver. Ty Jones quickly zipped the ball back to him and Quinn then nailed the 3-pointer over a slow closing Brown and made one of his weird faces (Tyus: “We don’t really have a name for it. That’s just Q’s look. You know he means business when that look comes on.”) as he ran down the court.

There is no doubt in my mind that one of the critical components of Coach K’s success is his symbiotic relationship with his players. We witnessed an example of that last night. After a transition dunk by Okafor in the second half, Coach K slapped the floor in front of him WoJo style so hard he broke his watch. “My team deserves emotion. They got it and they gave it back, which was a cool thing. The final twenty minutes were our best since the Wisconsin game.” K also commented he did not call any plays in the second half. He had his team only run motion offense so the players would stop standing around and watching Jah do his thing.

Marshall Plumlee is developing into a very productive sub for Okafor, who is very open about the fact that practicing against MP3 is making him a better, more versatile post player. Giving high energy, physical minutes as a substitute, Marshall allows Jahlil periodic rests that allow him to go 100% while he is on the floor as demonstrated by his fast break dunks. And speaking of dunks, Plumlee had a terrific one off an out-of-bounds play. He is playing so well, K said he might play Okafor and Plumlee together against bigger teams.

Additional observations:

  • My only concerns are injuries, defense, depth (Semi Ojeleye is leaving for SMU), and free throw shooting—not necessarily in that order. While Duke shot a solid 73% from the line, that number is somewhat deceiving because the four big men were only 5-12 (42%).
  • Duke extended its winning streak while playing non-conference competition in Cameron  to an NCAA-best 115 games
  • Tonight’s 18 assists are a good indication as to how well these players share the ball. Tyus Jones had eight of the assists with only one turnover, giving him 61 assists and 16 turnovers through eleven games.
  • Bulletin Board material: Last night announcer Len Elmore (ex-Terp) said he thinks Virginia is better than Duke.
  • If you have not been watching Duke football, you have been missing a tremendous coaching job. In the Sun Bowl, several times Arizona State looked like the better team and that they would put the game on ice. However, the Blue Devils fought their way back with a punt return touchdown, a deftly executed fake punt/pass, and a creative reverse with right handed wide receiver Crowder throwing a left handed touchdown pass. In the final minutes, Duke was driving for the winning touchdown when inconsistent QB Anthony Boone threw an interception in the end zone as Duke lost  31-36. While Crowder is a tremendous receiver, he is 5’9”. Throwing a fade to him when you have  6’6” wide receiver Issac Blakeney on the other side defended by a 5’10” DB seems an odd decision. If you go to receiver face guarded by a back-to-the-ball defensive back on that pattern, a back shoulder throw is the percentage play. The pros do it all the time in the end zone. Opportunity lost. Nevertheless, Coach Cut has accomplished what others could not–rescuing Duke Football from the depths of a very long, dark depressing era.

Alan Adds:

There is much to be pleased with, with only a few concerns.  The major concern is the defense looked porous at times — especially in the first half —  bringing back memories of last year’s inability to protect the perimeter.  Duke had few answers for “Juice” Brown, who shredded Duke’s perimeter for 10 points in each half.  Brown is one of the nation’s leading 3 point shooters, but he was only 1-5 last night.  Duke was clearly willing to have him drive as a result of aggressively closing out on him behind the arc.  Weatherspoon was energetic underneath and seemed to play with more passion than Duke’s bigs.  The other concern in the foul shooting of all but the starting back court (Tyus 9-9; Quinn 6-6).  The rest of the team was 7-15 with Okafor being the worst offender (3-6, making Hack and Oak a viable defense at the end of a close game  — which Duke has not yet played).  Amile and Justise missed their only attempt; while Marshall was 2-4 (after hitting his first 10 this season) and Rasheed was 2-3.

Duke played a very efficient second half.  With 18 minutes left, Toledo had drawn within 3 at 47-44.  Okafor exploded for 7 straight and the defense was superb; Duke led by 10 in only 2 more minutes.  For the next 6 minutes, Duke’s lead held between 8 and 11.  At the 10 minute mark, Duke started to pull away slowly.  Toledo never made another serious run and Duke was dynamite down the stretch (Toledo got tired and began to lose players to foul trouble).  Duke relied heavily on Okafor’s superb game and two scintillating games from Duke’s backcourt.  While Tyus continues to get beaten once or twice a game via the backdoor and Quinn could not contain “Juice” on the defensive end, each guard was superb offensively.   Tyus was amazingly efficient, and is, in his own way, as every bit as valuable to this team as Okafor.  Tyus scored 15 points on just 3 shots from the floor (2-3 from behind the arc) and added 4 boards, 8 assists, and 2 steals in 34 minutes.  Wow!  Quinn was almost a match (though his 2 3pointers came on 6 attempts) scoring 20 on 12 shots to go with 3 assists in his game high 37 minutes.  Okafor played 31 minutes (Quinn, Tyus and Jah were the only players to be on the court for over 30 minutes) scoring a career high 27 points (an astounding 12-15 from the field) to go with 8 boards and some terrific passing (only 1 assist, but that is so misleading).  Winslow is tantalizing.  In some ways he dazzles with his skill on both ends.  He is a tenacious defender (he is the team in team defense) and he made on driving move down the lane blowing by a defender and covering 12 feet in a step for the lay in.  Justise played 29 minutes, scoring 9 points on 4-9 shooting (1-2 from behind the arc) and played a valuable floor game — 5 tough boards, 4 assists, a block and a steal.  Amile was a defensive presence in his 25 minutes, though he scored only 2 points in the game on 2 shots.  He collected 8 boards to give Duke superiority on the glass.  Duke’s bench was more productive than against UCONN.  Marshall logged only 6 minutes, but was impressive in those minutes, with his dunk and 2 rebounds.  Rasheed returned a bit to form, scoring 7 in 18 minutes on 2-5 shooting (1-3 from 3land).  However, 0 assists and 3 turnovers.  Matt Jones played 17 minutes (1-1 on a layup in the first half; 0-3 in the second half; 0-1 from behind the arc).

In the first half, Duke jumped out to an 18-4 lead in the first five minutes, playing awesomely on both ends.  As soon as Coach K began substituting, Toledo’s offense got rolling and Duke’s defensive struggles continued through the 18 minute mark of the second half.   All in all it was the next to last tune up before the ACC season begins on Saturday.

Next game: Wofford Wednesday @ 3pm.

DUKE 84- WOFFORD 55

My new basketball buddy Johnny Y, who was a good enough high school prospect to be personally recruited by both Dean  Smith and Bobby Knight and who watches a lot of basketball, wrote me “I think Wofford could prove a test for your boys.” I took notice because the last time he emailed me something like this, Mercer upset Duke in the NCAA Tournament. This time he was only half right as Wofford hung tough for a twenty minutes before the Blue Devils dialed up their defensive intensity and played to their ranking. He also added “Please tone down ur Okafor comparisons….you do a great job…just trying to moderate your enthusiasm a bit. You happened to describe a player that doesn’t exist–nor will he ever exist…  the guy who is a light year closer to your description is only 21 years old and plays for New Orleans and goes by the name “The Brow”.  .  Your thoughts!!!”

Even though he is a Tar Heel, John makes good points. Let me be clear, I wasn’t implying that Okafor was as good as Duncan, Walton, and Russell. I just meant that parts of his game remind me of these great players. I have a very vivid memory of the first time I saw Tim Duncan play against Duke as a freshman and thought “Wow, who is this guy?” Tim was a game changer but not nearly as much so as Jahlil is at the same point of his career. In all fairness, Jah has had had a lot more playing experience. I also pointed out to John that three phases of life and sports are anticipation, the moment, and recall and that I was just trying to get everyone’s attention to savor the moments.

As for being over the top in my assessment, I initially thought Coach K was, but the more I see the more I don’t. And I am not the only one. Here is Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News Observer:

As Jahlil Okafor continued his every-game showcase of why he deserves to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, Wofford coach Mike Young summed him up well: “Gosh, what a poised and polished young person he is. Holy smokes, he’s just a marvelous basketball player.”

Okafor finished with 24 points on 11-of-13 shooting (with eight rebounds), showing no fatigue on the back end of this two-games-in-three-days stretch. Both Monday’s game against Toledo and Wednesday’s game against Wofford provided a simulation of an opening-round NCAA tournament game, and Okafor finished with a combined 51 points on 23-of-28 shooting (82 percent).

Additional Observations:

  • Winslow seems to be finding a comfort level on his offensive role.
  • Coach said Plumlee was playing too well just to be Okafor’s sub and played them together for a short time.
  • Grayson Allen played a few mop-up minutes and looked more comfortable on the court even hitting a long three. Ojeleye’s departure may be his opportunity to earn playing time. He certainly has the athleticism and skills.
  • Mike Gminski, a Duke All American and 14 year NBA player, was one of the announcers. He had interesting comments on Okafor (John, hope you were listening).

Alan Adds:

This was really a tale of two separate halves.  You could understand how Wofford beat NC State from the way they played in the first half.  Duke stretched its 7 point half time lead (41-34) to the final margin of 29.  It is illuminating to inspect each half to account for the difference.  I did not think the difference was so much on offense.  Duke scored 41 in the first half and 43 in the second half.  While the Blue Devils were more efficient in the second half offensively, the defensive intensity in the second half was what made the difference.  You can always tell when Duke is defensively lax because the fouls pile up (fouling happens when defenders don’t move their feet or are too aggressive).  Duke committed 10 fouls in the first half, but only 4 in the second half.  The Devils stole the ball from Wofford 7 times in the second half, but only thrice in the first.  Wofford was 4-7 from behind the arc in the first half and only 1-10 in the second.  Some of Duke’s defensive resurgence can be attributed to Wofford’s fatigue.  The Terriers played with ferocious and fearless abandon in the first half, expending enormous energy to match the effort of the bigger, stronger and more talented Blue Devils.  Wofford simply did not have the same high energy in the second stanza.  But there was palpable improvement in Duke’s defensive effort in the second half.  Makes one wonder what Coach K said at the half.

The second half belonged to the Blue Devils offensively as well.  Each team took 28 shots in the first half (Duke made 12; Wofford 11).  In the second half Duke was 17-24 from the field including 5-8 from behind the arc.  Things are easier when shots go in.  Four Duke starters logged over 30 minutes.  Rasheed played 19 minutes while Amile and Matt Jones played 18 (Grayson Allen played the last 4 minutes of the game going 1-1 from 3).  Quinn again led in minutes played (35), scoring 15 points on 8 shots (3-6 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the line — Cook is shooting over 95% there).  He was 1-3 from behind the arc in the first half (his only shots) and 4-5 in the second half (2-3 from deep).  Quinn played hounding defense while committing only 1 foul in 35 minutes.  The three freshmen played about the same amount (Jah 32; Tyus 32 and Justise 31 minutes).  All performed at a high level.  Okafor was ridiculous, going 11-13 from the field with 8 boards, an assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks while committing only 1 foul.  His only weaknesses seem to be at the foul line (2-5) and in one on one post defense (smaller Terriers scored from there).  He is something, but so is his point guard running mate, Tyus Jones, who simply  controlled the game (without appearing to do so).  He made some amazing passes and corralled loose balls.  He defends.  While he took only 4 shots (2-4; 1-2 from deep), he had 6 rebounds (some were tough in traffic), 5 assists and 4 steals.  All of his high scoring games are against the best opponents.  Only a freshman, he has the poise of a post-grad.  Justise did all his scoring in the first half, when it was needed (16).  He took only a single shot in the second half (missed), but was (as he has been all year) the glue to the defensive resurgence in the second half.  Some small really good signs: Winslow had 7 boards, 2 assists and a steal.  Critically he was 4-4 from the line.  The freshmen continue to impress.

Amile played only 18 minutes, but scored 10 points (4-6 from the line) with 5 rebounds.  He committed 3 fouls, which limited his playing time.  Rasheed is so talented and so exuberant, but a bit out of control.  He led the bench in scoring with 6 (2-4, including 1-2 from 3land and 1-2 from the line).  He had 2 boards and 2 assists, but was also limited by foul trouble (3).  Matt Jones had a somewhat checkered outing failing to connect from the field on 4 shots (2-2 from the line).  He played a valuable floor game with 2 boards and 2 assists, but also committing 3 fouls in only 18 minutes.  Marshall seems to make such a dramatic impact that it is always a surprise that his box score doesn’t seem to reflect that impact.  He played 11 minutes (3 when he was on the floor with Jah for the first time this year), grabbing 3 rebounds and going 3-4 from the line (0-1 from the field when he blew a dunk).  His upside continues to intrigue.  He reminds me (and Mike Giminski) of Zoubek early in the 2010 championship year.  It will be worth keeping an eye on Marshall’s development and his role going forward, which will expand if the Zoubek analogy ripens.

Going forward is the beginning of the Blue Devils’ ACC season.  Next play: BC on Saturday at 4 pm.

Duke 85 – Boston College 62

I don’t know how good Boston College is this year, but they are an ACC team and certainly bigger and probably better than say Furman, Army, Elon and Wofford. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils beat them by 23. However, the most interesting number was 14-17. Those were Okafor’s free throw numbers. I have commented several times that Okafor and Winslow both have too good a shooting motion and touch not to be dependable free throw shooters– and if they aren’t, this could be a fatal flaw for their team. Obviously, the guys have been spending extra time practicing at the line.

The final score was somewhat deceiving, because BC hung tough until a late first half 17-4 run. But that is what this team can do– dial up the defensive pressure, make offensive runs, and wear an opponent down. Sulaimon came off the bench with his patented defensive and offensive adrenalin jolt–and today he was at his best, as were Matt Jones and Plumlee (6 rbs , 4 blocks in eleven minutes).  This being ACC play, BC’s big seven footers played Jahlil tough and rough. His response: a blue collar 28 pts, 8 rebs, 4 blks, and calm, non response/retaliation when elbowed hard (probably unintentionally) in the face. Winslow had 13 pts, 7 rebs to go with tough defense and, naturally, several assorted high wire high lights we have come to expect. Cook was not shooting well but still had 15 points. As usual in blowouts, Tyus Jones had a quiet game. Jefferson only had 17 minutes as Coach K appeared to utilize the versatility of his three bench starters to match the BC player mix on the floor and their unusual 1-1-3 zone.  Greyson Allen keeps getting a few minutes and Coach indicated that as he matures with experience, he will be in the substitution pattern.

Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News Observer reported an interesting back story to today’s game. “When Jahlil Okafor was back home in Chicago during the holiday break, he caught up with an old AAU teammate of his: Jabari Parker. Parker, last year’s freshman phenomenon for Duke, told Okafor, this year’s stud, that the beginning of ACC play was when he hit his scoring drought. After averaging 21.4 points per game in the nonconference portion of the season, Parker posted just seven points in the league opener at Notre Dame and then scored in single digits again three games later against Virginia.”

Additional Observations:

  • Duke celebrated the 75th anniversary of the opening of Cameron Indoor Stadium with a video tribute. The Blue Devils are 825-153 within the friendly confines of their distinctive home court. Boston College is 0-8 there. It was also win number 996 for Coach K—but who is counting?
  • I have never heard Coach so effusive in his praise of a player this early in their career as he is of Jahlil Okafor. (Well, maybe, Grant Hill.) Today, K said in response to Jah’s non-response to being hit flush in the face in the open court by Clifford’s elbow that “Jah did the right thing, he didn’t go bonkers or anything. But that’s him, he is special in every way.”
  • Alan had an interesting and incisive response to Tar Heel Johnny Y’s email comments about my praise for Okafor: “I thought he made good points.  Jah is so astounding in the post that it is easy to overrate the rest of his game.  The rest of his game is not defective in any way, just not up to the level of his post offense.  He usually seems more offensively oriented (probably left over from high school).  His defense [against Wofford] was good (maybe just ok) but without the intensity to really move to help against the drive, and then the quick recovery to his man and the paint.  Bill Russell on defense, he is not.  But he is good.  He is also a good — but not very good or excellent — rebounder.  Anyway, Duke is lucky to have him for this year.  This year’s team is better than last year’s because Jah is simply better (in the college game) than Jabari was last year and Justise is better than Hood was.  Then, add the amazingly underrated Tyus and the improvement of Quinn and Amile, and you have a team that would give Mercer trouble!”
  • Cardale Jones, who will start at quarterback for Ohio State in the national championship game on Jan. 12: “Why should we go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL. We ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” Score that: Honesty 10, grammar 3, intelligence 1.
  • My wife watched the Rose Bowl in the picturesque setting of Pasadena, California with a combination of pride and envy as her alma mater thumped Florida State ( headline “A Total Quack Down”) 59-20 . Pride because of the historic win and envy because she was a cheerleader for Oregon when they lost to Penn State 41-12 in the 1960 Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia in twenty degree weather before mostly Penn State fans.
  • Johnny Dawkins’ son, Aubrey, is a freshman basketball player at Michigan.
  • Mike Gminski was again an announcer. For my tastes, he is a welcome presence who conveys intelligent, interesting and pertinent commentary.

Alan Adds:

Duke displayed its defensive prowess in the second part of each half.  It was actually awesome, and sparked substantially by the bench — especially Matt Jones, but also Rasheed and Marshall.  In the last 10 minutes of the first half, Duke was as good defensively as against Wisconsin and the first half against Furman.  With 10:57 to go in the half, Olivier Hanlon had 9 points on 4 layups and both BC bigs had scored on layups as well.  BC was getting to the rim without real opposition.   Duke changed its defense with Okafor becoming much more active as a rim protector.   Amile played only 5 minutes in the first half because Coach K wanted the smaller quicker line up with Winslow at power forward.  However, when Justise picked up his second foul in the first half, K went with 4 guards — Rasheed, Matt, Tyus and Quinn along with Jah. With 10:28 to go in the first half, Duke led BC by 21-18.  Heckman scored a layup with 7:03 to give BC 20 points.  The next BC score came with 32 seconds to go in the half. BC was 1-2 from the line and Duke committed only 5 fouls in that half.  BC never in the bonus.  When that happens, you know Duke is really playing defense.  In the last 9 minutes, Duke allowed only 4 points.

Both teams opened the second half executing their respective offensives efficiently, but the Duke defense seemed to either rest on its laurels or take a short vacation.  BC scored 18 points in a little over 5 minutes and trailed only 53-43 with 13:09 left in the game.  BC didn’t score again until 8:51 left, and by then The Eagles trailed 67-45, and the game was effectively over.  BC was held without a point for four minutes.  With 7:27 left in the game, BC still had only 47 points, meaning BC scored 4 points in 5 minutes and 42 seconds.  Matt Jones and Rasheed were superb on both ends of the floor, but especially on defense.  They each got more playing time (Matt 27 minutes; Rasheed, 20) than Jefferson (17).  Rasheed hit all 3 of his 3 point attempts to finish with 11 points (4-7), 3 boards, 2 assists and a steal to go with his excellent perimeter defense.   Matt Jones played his best game of the season.  His defense was outstanding, as you can tell by his 27 minutes of playing time — more than Winslow (26) and Jefferson (17) and the same amount as Tyus.  He was 3-7 including 2-4 from behind the arc with 4 boards (his 3rd basket was a tough put back after one of Jah’s few misses) for 8 points.  His development may be unheralded, but is crucial for this team and its defense.  Marshall logged 11 minutes and snagged an amazing 6 rebounds in that stint to go with 4 blocks and 3 points (1-1; 1-2); not to mention an assist and a steal.  He is playing very effectively and with high energy.  My instinct is that he will give real value to this team as the season progresses.

Once again Quinn led the team in minutes played with 36.  His shot was off (5-14; 3-9 from the bonus sphere, and 2-2 from the line), but he was Duke’s second high scorer with 15.  He is defending much better than he did last year, and the minutes he is on the court demonstrates how much Coach K trusts his on the court leadership.  He had 3 boards, 2 assists a steal, but 3 turnovers.  Neither Tyus nor Amile had stellar games.  As Bill pointed out, Tyus scores when Duke needs him, but seems to stay out of the spotlight when Duke is comfortably ahead.  In his 27 minutes, Tyus missed all 5 of his shots, but grabbed 4 boards and handed out 3 assists (with 2 turnovers).  Even though he occasionally gets beaten back door (only once yesterday), he is playing ferocious defense.  Amile was 2-2 in the second half after failing to score in the first.  He had 4 boards to go with his 4 points.

Offensively, Jah and Winslow dominated impressively.  Justise was 5-7 (2-3 from downtown and 1-2 from the line) for 13 points.  One of his scores was a highlight.  He out raced BC for a long rebound, and in one high dribble went past the last defender for a thunderous slam that produce a lot of “Oh Wow”s — even from the announcers.  His all around game was admirable — 4 assists, 2 blocks and 7 rebounds.  He is special.  What to say about Okafor?  He was outstanding from the free throw line 14-17; and reliable from the field (7-11) for 28 points with 8 boards and 4 blocks.  In short, he dominated, keeping BC in terminal foul trouble and Duke comfortably ahead when BC made any kind of threatening move.  When Duke was really good defensively, he was stopping the BC drives at the rim.  But sometimes he seemed lackadaisical and the defense was penetrable.  Still, he is quite amazing.

In a mock NBA draft held this past weekend, Duke’s freshmen were prominent.  Jah was the first pick, Justise was 5th and Tyus 19th.

DUKE  73 – WAKE FOREST 65 

Disclaimer: This game was only televised regionally on Raycom/ACC. Although I have about 900 DirecTV channels, my area was pre-empted by the Clemson-Louisville game. Allan was also blacked out in New York. I accessed the game on ESPN3 courtesy of the GoDuke.com website. However, it was like looking at a 1950’s analog color telecast linked by a rabbit- ear antenna.

If you were wondering what would happen when Okafor had an off night or how the freshmen would play in a conference game on the road, you got your answer tonight. Grad student Devon Thomas schooled frosh Jahlil Okafor in the ways of being a man in the paint, scoring 24 points almost at will as Jah did not resemble the player he has been in the previous thirteen games. Winston-Salem sports writer Ed Hardin critiqued the celebrated freshman as still an incomplete player…specifically, that tonight he dribbled too much under the basket, struggled in traffic, was casually sloppy with the ball, and went to sleep on defense. Nevertheless, Jah patiently only took six shots but still managed a double-double (12pts, 11 rebs). Winslow and Sulaimon carried the team through long, sloppy slogs of mediocre, uninspired basketball but when the Demon Deacons played up to their name and made a run to go up by 2 points with six minutes to go, Quinn Cook, of course, Tyus Jones, and Matt Jones all made clutch three point plays—two the old fashion way, one the new, long range way.

The flip side to all the publicity and accolades that Okafor has received is that he is now a marked man. Coaches like Danny Manning are going to focus on frustrating and stopping him, opponents like Devon Thomas are going to be out to prove he is overrated and that they are just as good—if not better. Jahlil appeared tired and didn’t play with much fire or enthusiasm—and the crowd really let him know it. Better get used to it, Jah. This is Tobacco Road and the ACC!

The Blue Devils were very sloppy with the ball. They committed 14 turnovers (Jah contributed 5) and allowed 20 fast break points. But every time Duke appeared on the verge of letting the game slip away, another teammate hit a big shot. Duke nailed 8 threes to Wake’s 2 and outrebounded the Deacons 37-30. However, the Blue Devils committed 14 turnovers and allowed 20 fast break points.

What to make of the fact that Wake Forest has lost to Arkansas by 30 and Iona but has almost upsetting #5 Louisville and #2 Duke? The ACC has always been tough and while everyone expects that the top tier will dominate, this week shows that, top to bottom, the conference is going to be brutal. For instance, next up N.C. State took it right to Virginia until the Cavs took control late.

Coach K’s reality check: “We have no illusion of us being this juggernaut team or anything like that. We think we’re really a good group of guys who play well… and are a good team that can get better– and we have a great player in Jah.”

Additional Observations:

  • Duke had only won one of its past five ACC road openers.
  • Think ACC road games are tough? Virginia blew an 18 point lead but held on to beat Miami in Miami in double overtime.
  • The Blue Devils, who entered tonight’s game having trailed for 6:13 seconds all season, were behind for 5:06 of this one. They also faced their deepest deficit all year by allowing Wake Forest to jump out to a 6-0 lead.
  • Announcer Mike Gminski (my fraternity brother Don Parson reminds me Mike was an SAE), who knows something about playing center, commented during the broadcast that Okafor’s hands are huge, but he’s still better off using them both.
  • Winning is tough everywhere: Kentucky, a 25 point favorite,  last night pulled out a very close win against Ole Miss in Rupp Arena.

Duke 75– North Carolina State 87

Houston, do we have a problem here? The last two games we seem to be losing altitude. Today, the afterburners weren’t firing. Have the freshmen hit the wall ? Or was this just the jinx of PNC Arena, where Duke has now lost three of their last four  games (two to State, one to Mercer)? Or was this just a reality check and wakeup call for the young Blue Devils? Help me out, here.

Here are some things to contemplate: State didn’t just beat Duke, they dominated them for the last twenty-five minutes. They played like the #2 team in the country and Duke played like an 11-5 team. Recently, coaches and players appear to have devised ways (man up with a strong forward, double with a center) to defend and frustrate Jahlil Okafor and neither he nor his teammates have adjusted very well to the new normal. Jah is not always posting up close enough to the basket, appears slow, indecisive, and the indecision is causing him to make too many turnovers (bad passes, travelling). Jefferson has made a living off  Jahlil being double teamed but today, for whatever reason, he did not start. My axiom: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. T. Jones and Q. Cook are both smallish guards—very good on offense but challenged by defending big, physical guards.

What happened to the juggernaut, double digit winning team of the first twelve games? One thing that happened is that State is big and strong and talented at all positions and they all played well. It started with  Lacey and Turner doing a pretty good JJ Redick impression and  their big men in the front court showing up for forty minutes for the first time this year. N.C. State was a load and would have beaten most teams today. Next game.

There was, perhaps, an telling point with six minutes to go and Duke down nineteen points. Unlike previous unexpected blowouts (games at Clemson and Wake Forest last year, the game in Miami in 2013, the 2011 and 2009 NCAA tournament losses to Arizona and Villanova, the 2010 Georgetown game), these Blue Devils didn’t just roll over. They fought back with an 11-0 run. Three forced turnovers over the next 2:36 had the Wolfpack faithful nervous as Duke cut the lead to 72-64 with 3:00 left to play. Raise your hand if  a “Maryland Moment” flashes through your mind. But the Blue Devils couldn’t sustain their momentum and missed their next four shots. Junior Rasheed Sulaimon, who is the mentally and physically toughest player on the squad, sent a message to the freshmen: “We should have had that toughness earlier, before it got to that big of a lead. We all came together, finally, we all buckled down, and we just kept fighting. We’ve got to come together quicker as a team and get ourselves out of that funk when we sense it happening instead of waiting for it to happen. We’ve got a lot of things we can learn from this. It’s only the 15th game of the season.”

Bottom line: On the road when an ACC opponent and their fans are on fire, defense and mental toughness often are the difference between pulling out a victory and losing. This week Kentucky and Virginia both won and Duke didn’t. Is this Groundhog Day? Have we seen this picture before? Nah, this year Duke has demonstrated they have the  players to potentially be a much better defensive team than in the last few years. Best we let Coach K and the coaching staff solve the problem.

This should get their attention: The numbers tell how bad it was: State shot 55%, (10-16 from three point land, Duke 7-27); Duke 37%. 

Additional observations:

  • The expanded conference really alters the regular season schedule in an unfair way. Very few home and away opponents. Duke’s schedule is the most difficult. Coming up: away games at Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. Only Syracuse and Carolina must return the favor and play in Cameron this year.
  • Since N.C. State moved to the off-campus arena before the 1999-2000, Krzyzewski has gone 7-4 against N.C. State and 2-1 in NCAA tournament games there. To put that in perspective, over the same span he’s 17-1 against the Wolfpack in games played in Durham or the ACC tournament.
  • Anyone notice that everybody’s # 1 Kentucky is also struggling to beat unranked teams. They went double OT to beat both Texas A&M and Mississippi.
  • There are a lot of creative ways to recruit. When our daughter Kristin had her first child, she retired from teaching IB English at Myers Park High School and started a tutoring business so could be at home and set her own hours. One of the students she recently prepped for the SAT’s was Charlotte Latin quarterback Daniel Jones, who  chose Duke over Princeton, Harvard, and Wake Forest. Jones, 6-foot-5, 190-pounds,  led Charlotte Latin to the N.C. Independent Schools Division I state championship game. He completed 151-of-268 passes for 2,949 yards and 43 touchdowns. He also ran 109 times for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Alan Adds:

I apologize for the absence of “Alan Adds” to the Wake edition of DBP, but I was unable to watch the game, and thus left it to Bill’s deft handling of the “disappointing” win.  Yesterday’s game at Raleigh was not only different, it was a resounding wake up call for this very young Duke team.  Writing the DBP “Alan Adds” is way more fun after a Duke win than when Duke gets utterly stomped, as happened yesterday in Raleigh.  Nevertheless, I confess to being less than devastated by the rout.  Here’s a couple of reasons why: 1) Duke has not played well since the exam break, and I believe part of the reason is the team started to believe its press clippings.  The result has been inconsistent play.  Against BC, the Duke defense was superb at times, but also porous at times.  This could be a much needed explanation of the rigors of ACC road games and college ball in general for this freshman dominated team.  Or time will tell.  2) My optimism is fueled by my memory of the Georgetown game in January of 2010 in DC in front of Obama.  Duke was routed by almost 30 points and played one of the worst (and most embarrassing since the 1990 NCAA final) games ever.  However, that was the year that Duke won the national championship.  3) NC State was unconscious in its shooting.  Part of that was porous defense, which allowed countless dunks (failure to rotate) and offensive rebounds (out hustled).  But part was NC State shooting the lights out even when the shots were well contested.  State was 10-16 from behind the arc (5-8 in each half), and shot 18-31 overall in the second half (58%).  Lacey was 5-7 from 3 while Turner was 4-7 (Washington made his only 3).  NC State won’t shoot that well again even if no one guards them. 4) I never talk about calls (well, almost never, since I’m about to do it), but Duke was called for so many offensive fouls that it impacted the Duke confidence.  Duke maintained a 6 point lead with less than 6 minutes to go in the first half.  It could have been more.  Amile was wrongfully called for goal tending on a clean block.  There were several traveling calls.  I believe the refereeing got into the Duke head and caused a deleterious shift in attitude.  Bad calls are part of the game, and Duke needs to be mentally tougher — on many issues, but the refereeing is one of them — if this team is to reach its potential.

It’s hard not to talk about the porous interior defense.  Against Michigan State, Duke was beaten for easy dunks and layups when doubling the post.  The help rotation didn’t come when Okafor left his man to double on the screen.  That lack of rotation to the roller (in pick and roll) was in even greater evidence against NC State than it was against the Spartans.  It appeared Duke had fixed that problem — especially against Wisconsin and later Furman — but that is obviously not the case.  Coach K started a smaller lineup, I believe for defensive purposes, thinking that his perimeter defense would be more secure with Justise at the 4 and Matt Jones guarding Lacey.  However, no one had even a modicum of success guarding Lacey.  Interestingly, Duke made a great run at the end (even though State’s lead ballooned back to 12 at the end.  Down 19 with 5:28 left to play, Duke made a heroic run.  As much as this game was about NC State’s scorching shooting, it was also about Duke’s horrible shooting (open looks).  With 3:10 to go, Duke had crept to within 8 and had the ball.  Duke missed 3 open looks –  Justise missed an open 3; Rasheed missed an open 3 and a layup.  The lead could have been cut to 5, but the next score was by the Wolfpack with 2:26 to go, and that was all she wrote.  Rasheed, btw, had an amazing stretch in the first half (4-7; -1-2 from behind the arc for 9 points), but was 0-5 from the field in the second half.  Justise fouled out, while Rasheed accumulated 4 fouls.  All in all, it was either the clock striking midnight on a young team, or a wakeup call that will enhance the season.  As Bill said, “time will tell” — and pretty soon with a Tuesday night game at Cameron against Miami (9 pm EST) and Saturday’s anticipated match up in Louisville against Petino’s highly ranked Cardinals.

Duke 70 – Miami 94

I want to go back to the future. I want to see the 2014 Duke team that went undefeated and won all twelve games by double digits. It is one thing to lose to N.C State on their home court. It is another to be blown out by Miami in Cameron. This was record breaking: Duke lost at home for the first time in nearly three years; lost back-to-back regular-season games for the first time in nearly six years; lost consecutive games by a dozen points each for the first time since its final two games of the 1995-96 season.

Where did the dominating players from 2014 go? Who are these imposters playing in 2015? They can’t defend the paint or the perimeter and they can’t shoot. Chemistry is a nine letter word not a statement of unity. Okafor is putting up good numbers but not when it counts and is mediocre defensively. Jones and Winslow have basically been missing- in-action. Cook and Jefferson have been doing their part. Sulaimon has fire in the belly but does not always play under control. Matt Jones has recently been a liability. Despite encouraging words from the coach, Plumlee is getting very little playing time.

There are more questions than answers. When Coach K admits he knows something is wrong but hasn’t figured out how to fix it, you have to be concerned. However, one truth is that there are a great many very good basketball players in colleges—like Trevor Lacey and  Angel Rodriguez–, who were not McDonald’s All Americans but who are not intimidated by them or Cameron and who embrace the chance to show their game on national TV.

Jason, a Duke graduate in California, sent us some interesting and thought provoking comments:

“It was a frustrating game to watch. The last few games Jahlil seems to be lacking a spark and the others don’t seem to know what to do when it’s not the Okafor clinic. I find myself wondering if this team has the upper class leadership need to go all the way – to recognize early enough in any given tough game situation that the momentum is shifting away from them, and possess the on- the- court leadership to get the rest of the team to do something about it.  It would have to come from Cook & Rasheed…the hunger to win at all costs. Rasheed recognized the problem in his quote. Sometimes I wonder if these freshman phenoms (not just this year but throughout Duke’s history in the one -and -done era) at the end of it – take consolation that they are going  far after Duke and that affects their deep down desire to win in the moment – in every game. The Duke teams that go all the way have had strong senior leadership. The traditional experience means 4 years of intense competition interspersed with longer periods of reflection and introspection about game experiences like these for the kids.  The phenoms get 5 months of ever increasing pressure at a frenetic pace and much media discussion about their raw talent without a chance to do a little off season soul searching about their own heart and desire. These are just thoughts about it and I’m certain Coach K will use this a learning experience…”sometimes you need to lose in order to learn how to win” kind of moment. The fact that Coach K didn’t seem to be working the refs as much as usual in what seemed to me to be a poorly officiated game tells me that he may be accepting of the team taking a lump or two in this mid-season conference play. Trial by fire maybe to light the spark inside?”

Alan Adds:

At half time, Duke led 35-34, and had held Miami scoreless over the last 3:24 of the half.  Bill and I talked at half time.  I told him, “this is the worst I have seen Duke play; it’s actually worse than the NC State game.”  And that was with Duke ahead.  Then, Duke’s defense allowed Miami 56 second half points.  As I watched the Blue Devils unravel in the second half, I was searching for the definition of shell shocked.  My good Miami friend and lawyer is a Cane devotee.  And she likes action (hence her nickname: Pammy the Greek or PtG for short).  PtG emailed me in the morning to place a wager on the game (If she won she got a Starbucks Soy Latte — good gambler with no taste — for me a dark ale).  My response was a snarky “after a Duke loss you better batten down the hatches”.  After the game, my chastened response was, “a Soy Latte is not sufficient reward for your loyalty to the Canes — we are upping your reward to a bottle of Grey Goose.” (not completely no taste).

Since pre-season, I have been writing that this season will depend on how Duke defends, compared to last year’s defensive disaster.  As Bill points out, Duke defended superbly in 2014 (though better before the Christmas break) with the Wisconsin win standing out.  But 2015 has seen the Duke defense dissolve into last year’s disaster. Neither Miami nor NC State is a top tier ACC team.  Neither Trevor Lacey nor Angel Rodriguez will go down in the history books along side of Bob Cousy or Stephan Curry; yet each looked like a superstar against Duke in the last two games.  Duke was torched on the perimeter by long range shooting and with penetration leading to layups or assists for easy dunks.  Switching?  Rotation?  Where did it all go?  Duke’s transition defense was embarrassing as Miami scored on run out after run out.  Coach K said that he’s known something has been missing since Christmas, but he said he doesn’t know what, and confessed in the post-game conference that he doesn’t [yet] know how to fix it.

Quinn played 38 heroic minutes leading Duke with 18 points on 7-13 shooting (4-7 from deep) adding 6 defensive boards and 4 assists.  Note: he did not get to the foul line in 38 minutes.  Jefferson was obviously motivated by his demotion from the starting lineup against NC State.  In 29 minutes he was 7-9 from the floor with 12 boards.  He was, however, 0-3 from the line (one was the front end of a 1 and 1), which is like adding 2 turnovers to his stat line.  Jahlil’s stat line looks pretty impressive — 15 points (6-13 from the field and 3-5, 60%, from the line) to go with 15 rebounds.  But his defense is ordinary (not bad, but he was not active in help and when he did help it led to easy assist and dunk for the ‘Canes).  Maybe Duke is relying too much on him.  Rasheed had a terrific first half (3-5 from the field including 2-4 from 3land) with 2 assists and 2 steals (1 turnover), but a dismal second half.  He was 2-9 from the field including 0-4 from behind the arc.  He turned it over twice and had committed 4 fouls by the end of his 26 minute stint.  His second half slump coincided with Duke’s.

What has happened to Justise, and to a lesser but significant extent, Tyus.  In the early part of 2014, I wasn’t sure that Okafor was the best freshman on the Duke team because Winslow looked so awesome on defense, on driving, on shooting and on rebounding.  He has regressed since then, but the last two games have been devastatingly awful.  He is 4-19 from the field combined with 1-10 from behind the arc. He missed all 4 foul shots last night including 2 front enders.  He had one great block, but was not a force on the boards or on defense.  Where has he gone?  Tyus isn’t much better (except from the free throw line).  Last night he was 2-9 from the field (0-3 from 3land) and had the same number of assists and turnovers (2).  Remember the confident guard who controlled the game against Wisconsin?  Matt Jones has not flourished since Coach K started him against NC State.  His defensive prowess has turned into fouling and he can’t buy a basket.  Last night he committed 4 fouls in 6 unproductive minutes.  Coach K is not playing Grayson (4 points in 8 minutes, but garbage time) or Marshall (6 minutes).  That means the rotation was down to 6 effectively.  Duke’s foul shooting is an embarrassment (without Grayson last two meaningless shots, Duke was 8-18 from the line; Miami was better from behind the arc!

Saturday presents a chance for complete redemption, or to watch a promising season continue to implode.  The Devils travel to Louisville, where they should be significant underdogs.  Another performance like the last two will drop Duke out of the top 10.  This is a huge coaching challenge for Coach K.  He does have 9 McDonald’s All-Americans to work with, but his team needs substantial retooling in order to reclaim the mojo that it showed in 2014.

Duke 63– Louisville 52

It has been a bad week for Duke University.  Coach K’s undefeated #2 ranked basketball team lost two games in a row and President Brodhead proved once again that he and his administration can’t fund raise and think clearly at the same time. (Google: Duke Muslim call-to-prayer & lacrosse scandal.) Who did you think made the quicker, better decisions to rectify the situation? If you chose President Brodhead, go to the back of the line with the 88 professors.

The last few days we received several interesting emails (see below) about Duke’s recent subpar play. I was as puzzled and disappointed as everyone else and yesterday ran into my Palmetto Bluff basketball guru Tar Heel Johnny Y at the gym. He was actually more optimistic than I was about the Louisville game. He reiterated that Coach K was the best coach in the country and wouldn’t let his team lose three in a row. I said that after a bad loss, Coach K’s MO is to make a change—probably in the starting lineup. At the start of the season, I didn’t think he would start two undersized guards like Cook and Jones, because we know defense is not Quinn’s strong suite. I thought Sulaimon starting at the two would give the team better size, athleticism, and defense. Even if the athleticism, size, and will are there, recent one-and-done phenoms have shown it takes time to truly assimilate the foundation upon which Krzyzewski has built his program. Deng, Rivers, Parker, and Hood never did—and their record proves it. Trevor Lacey and the big N.C. State guards shot over Jones and Cook; Angel Rodriguez and the small, quick Miami guards beat the same two off the dribble and got into the lane with many easy options to score. I mentioned to Johnny Y that I always admired how creative Dean Smith was and marveled at the creative way he switched from man-to-man to zone after made baskets, usually confusing the devil (pun intended) out of most opponents but that Coach K’s only blind spot was at times not facing reality–namely, that some players just cannot effectively play his pressure man defense against bigger and/or quicker opponents.

So, I couldn’t believe my eyes when Duke started their first defensive possession in a 2-3 zone and stayed with it (switching occasionally to a 1-3-1) on made baskets and dead ball restarts – situations that gave them time to set up. From missed shots, they went man-to-man to better defend Louisville in transition. And it worked like a charm as Louisville–the defense, the law of averages, or whatever– had one of those shooting days like Duke has had in the last two outings. Dean, I hope you were watching!

Coach K  after the game: “Louisville and the arena are a great addition to the conference…Long journey, nice stop…A team gets builds confidence thru accomplishment…Just because Duke played zone today doesn’t mean we will every game.”

The good news:

  • Tyus Jones bounced back with a terrific game on both ends of the floor, demonstrating once again that he is the offensive lynchpin of this team and the Yin to his buddy’s Okafor’s Yang.
  • Early in the game when points were tough to come by, Matt Jones hit two successive threes that got the Blue Devils back in the game.
  • Jefferson is the unsung hero of this team. He is the best rebounder and has developed a surprisingly effective array of low post scoring moves. Okafor and Jefferson outscored Louisville 32-24 in the paint.
  • Jahlil is mature beyond his years. After a very physical and potentially explosive loose ball confrontation, Jahlil calmly hugged his surprised opponent and totally defused the situation. He was very patent early on until he had room to operate, then went 8-10 as he is much quicker than most of his defenders.
  • Duke led 30-20 at the half.
  • For the middle twenty or so minutes of the game, Duke played like a Final Four team should.

The not so good news:

  • Justise Winslow is still missing-in-action on offense. Maybe the three recent frightening falls he has taken are limiting him, but he seems tentative.
  • Not all the upcoming opponents will shoot as badly 18 of 61 (30%) as Louisville did.
  • For all his considerable skills, Okafor is not an elite athlete. He usually loses the opening tip and needs work on his defense, rim protection, and rebounding.
  • The two loses are what can happen when you rely heavily on young players: inconsistency… January is cold and hard… another semester begins… relationships begin and end… months of practice wear heavy on the legs and other body parts (notice how many players are wearing knee, leg, and arm supports and braces)… and the beginning of ACC play introduces a new intensity and a new reality.

Reader Comments:

  • From my long time golfing partner Jimmy D: “Your analysis disappoints me. Duke’s problems are not Duke. The problem is the ever increasing level of parity in all sports. More outstanding athletes across the board in all sports. The time of a few teams dominating their sport is gone. Looked what happened in SEC football? Almost every team can beat any other team on any day. This is true in every conference. And because basketball involves the fewest players of any sport, with the exception of ping pong, a few hot players can beat a cold team on any given day. This said: Quit complaining when Duke doesn’t win every game!!!!! Duke is top team and will go far in the NCAA tournament, assuming they don’t lose their first game to a “nobody team”. Miss you and still enjoy your newsletters.
  • From my “Road Warrior” pal, Bucky (One summer, we drove coast to coast in 72 hours): “Even the most talented freshmen can be exploited on defense for two reasons: first, upon entering college they typically rely  mostly on their individual  physical talent to defend and are unfamiliar with the team concept, help defensive schemes required in the  college game; second, for the reason cited above they are also unfamiliar with the five man, team-concept offenses opposing coaches devise to attack their individual defensive tendencies. Although I didn’t watch the Miami game, I would guess that Miami coach Jim Laranaga used these weaknesses to great advantage in planning and executing his game plan against the Devils. You may recall that he took a senior-laden, but lesser talented mid-major George Mason to the Final Four. On the glass half-full side of the ledger, I would guess that lessons emphasized by Duke coaches for months, are now being absorbed by these talented, energetic freshmen and will be learned by tournament time, but not well enough to avoid at least one loss to the my boys who wear light blue uniforms.”

Alan Adds: 

Channeling Aaron Rogers, “Relax”.

This was vintage Coach K’s post-bad-loss adjustments — both strategic and emotional.  Strategically, Coach K was aware that Louisville has not shot well from outside so far this season, and so, addressed the vulnerability in recent games of Duke’s perimeter defense by moving it back toward the basket.  This was true whether Duke defended with man to man or with zone.   Duke’s man to man defense that does not extend out beyond the top of the key is called “11”.  Duke played zone after makes and the “11” after misses; essentially daring Louisville to score outside the paint.  Louisville was 18-61 (30%) including 4-25 from 3land, vindicating Coach K’s strategy.

Coach K insightfully addressed what he thought has been the problem since Christmas.  First, he said Duke’s recent shooting slump had led to a lack of confidence, which had spilled over into the defense.  “Confidence isn’t a pie that you slice; it’s all pervading.” He wanted to give the team something new to be concentrating on.  This obviously seemed to work even though Duke still did not shoot well from the perimeter (4-15 from 3land); but, 17-28 inside the arc (thank you Jahlil – 8–10; and Amile – 6–7).  Second, the Coach thought that “Coach K’s 1,000 wins and other accolades” put an unfair burden on his team, making the team feel as if it had to be perfect.  He addressed it, and it seemed to work.

There were many highlights for Duke Fans, but my special appreciation is for the poise that this young team showed in a hostile environment after two bad — even embarrassing — losses.  Louisville relies heavily on its trapping pressure defense to produce turnovers.  Duke has produced excessive turnovers during its recent slump.  Duke, and especially Tyus, took exemplary care of the ball against the Cardinals pressure; only 3 turnovers in the first half (10 for the game).  Coach K lauded this as Tyus’s best game in terms of controlling it (certainly his best since Wisconsin).  Although he missed his only two 3 point attempts, Tyus ran the show with great confidence and poise: 8 assists against only 2 turnovers; 6-6 from the free throw line in the clutch; 2-3 from inside the arc in 32 minutes.  He has a magic ability to get the ball to Okafor for easy layups (not dissimilar to Kyrie’s ability to get the ball to Mason for the 8 games prior to his injury), and to shred the press with his handle and court vision.

All the Duke starters logged in excess of 30 minutes.  I have a different slant on Justise Winslow than Bill (“shell of his former self”) does because of his contribution on the defensive end.  It seemed to me that he returned to his former energetic and athletic self when Louisville had the ball.  I believe Coach K thought so as well, since Winslow led the team in minutes played with 38; tied for the team lead in rebounds (7; Jah and Amile also grabbed 7).  However, his previously dynamic offense is still AWOL.  In his 38 minutes, he scored only 3 points (a terrific drive in traffic) on 1-4 from the field; 1-4 from the line and 0-2 from behind the arc.  On the opening possession, Winslow drove the lane and was fouled.  However, he didn’t finish a shot that he could (should) have and missed both free throws.  So a potential 3 point play had virtually the same effect as a turnover.  He needed to make that play to restore his offensive confidence.  Next Play!

Duke’s bigs — Okafor (34 minutes) and Jefferson (31 minutes) carried Duke’s offense.  Really profound news is that Jefferson proved a reliable foul shooter at closing time.  Together Duke’s bigs were 9-11 from the free throw line (Jahlil was 2-2), and 14 for 17 from the field!  That is worth a wow!  Moreover, Jefferson is developing confidence in his offensive game (though opponents might begin to notice he only drives to his right).  The guards are starting to look for him because he moves so well without the ball.

Quinn in his 35 minutes (2nd most on the team) had his worst statistical game of the year (2-9 from the field; 2-7 from behind the arc; 1-2 from the line) with only 7 points and 0 assists.  He contributed 5 defensive rebounds and 3 steals while playing terrific defense.  The bench played little and scored only 6 points in total on Matt Jones’s 2 crucial early 3s.  Matt logged 8 minutes while Plumlee played only 6 minutes (without a box score entry).  Rasheed played 16 minutes without scoring, though handed out 2 assists and grabbed a board.  This is, as it turns out, a very short rotation.

Quick turnaround with Pittsburg visiting Cameron on Monday night at 7 pm EDT.  This is a watershed game for Duke.

 

Duke 79– Pittsburgh 65 

After playing three games in six days, home cooking was a welcome relief for Duke’s guards as they found their shooting touch within the friendly sights and sounds of Cameron, hitting 11-23 three pointers. Ty Jones and Rasheed Sulaimon had four each. Quinn Cook, who is a 90% free throw shooter and usually the best from long range, was 1-8 but compensated with a game high 10 rebounds. Go figure. There are very few easy outs in the restructured ACC and Pitt is not one of them.

Jahlil had what was for him, a so-so game and Justise Winslow is according to Coach, “banged up– his shoulder, ribs. He’s taken some blows. I don’t think anything real serious.” You have to consider the source. K is an old West Point guy. “Banged up” to him sort of means you are shot up and bleeding but still have your limbs. I look at a player built like Justise on the floor four times in two games grimacing in pain like Seattle’s Richard Sherman in the Packer game and have to wonder the meaning of “serious” to elite athletes. One thing for sure, Winslow’s offense has been not been the same recently.

Most interestingly, Duke again started playing zone and got off to a good start. According to Laura Keeley, the Blue Devils gave up 35 points on trips that were zone-based, 30 points on ones in man. That is somewhat deceiving, because a number of those were transition points off missed shots, which leads to the symbiotic relationship between offense and defense. The more missed shots, the more chance of fast breaks before the defense can be set. Therefore, the less efficient the offense, the probability is that the defense is less efficient. As Jay Bilas pointed out, Coach has several levels of aggressiveness to his defense from full court to inside the three point line. Recently, whether in man or zone, this team with their undersized guards, has been more effective not extending the perimeter defense further than the three point line. Ok, school’s out for today boys and girls.

Additional Observations:

More and more it appears Ty Jones is responding to the losses more dramatically and effectively than any other player and holds the keys to this team’s success. The other key is Okafor defense improving his defense from a C+ to a B+. That can start by Jah not getting in foul trouble by making silly fouls.

Despite the two recent losses, Coach K’s has been on top of his game in the press conferences. On playing zone: “Jim (Boeheim) texted me after the Louisville game: “‘Where’s my royalty check?”’ And I replied: “After the season. We’ll see if it’s a one-night wonder.”

This was win 999 which sets the stage for winning number 1,000 on the Sunday afternoon game against St. Johns on national television in Madison Square Garden, where Coach K broke Bobby Knight’s record.

Alan Adds:

It was a strange, but satisfying game.  Quinn Cook led Duke in rebounding (10) while Jahlil had more assists (5) than any teammate.  Quinn had a double double (11 points also), but was 1-8 from downtown.  Jah not only had 5 assists, but also a number of great passes that would have been recorded as assists if the game were hockey. Sometimes the assist went to the player receiving Jah’s pass and then finding an even more open teammate.  Jefferson was 4-4 from the line.  Tyus led Duke’s scoring with 22 points on 11 shots (4-5 from 3land and 4-5 from the stripe), but had three turnovers and 4 assists.  Still he controlled the game with his handle and shot making.  In turn, Duke controlled the game by taking care of the ball.  Duke had only 4 turnovers in the first half, and except for an uncharacteristic stretch when Duke could have closed out the game where Duke made 4 sloppy turnovers in a row, an even better second half (10 turnovers for the game against 13 assists).

Duke shot the ball well, which made everything different from the last 4 games.  Duke made 8 more 3 pointers than Pitt (3-10) did on 13 more attempts (11-23 from behind the arc; 4-8 in the second half).  Duke made more free throws (20 of 25) than Pitt shot (8-12).  Jahlil and Amiel were a combined 8-10 (Jefferson 4-4); Cook and Jones were a combined 8-9 (Tyus was 4-5).  Marshall was 2-2; Rasheed and Winslow were 1-2.   Traditional Duke stats.  The offense, in short, returned.

But what about the defense?  It was a tale of two different halves.  Duke was superb in the first half, holding Pitt to 25 points (while scoring 41).  However, all that turned around in the second half.  A Duke assistant coach speculated that having Duke defend in front of the Duke bench (first half) kept the Devils communicating, but that communication diminished when the teams changed ends.  Sounds strange to me.  Pitt was 17-33 (52%) in the second half, including 3-7 from 3land.  The Panthers scored 40 points, and had 11 assists on 17 hoops in the second half.    Duke’s defense, so efficient in the first half, reverted to porous in the second half.  Duke had a 16 point lead at half and kept scoring (38 in the second half after 41 in the first) which hid the defensive lapses in the second half.  For the game, Pitt took 8 more shots from the field (60 to Duke’s 52).

Even while scoring efficiently, Duke was holding on in the last segment of the second half.  With 11:36 to go, Duke was up by 20 points (65-45); with 3:05 to go, Duke’s lead had been cut to 10 (73-63) and again at 1:09 (75-65).  It was a very good win, coming, as it did two days after Duke’s epic blowout of the Cardinals at Louisville.  Once again the Duke rotation was extremely short, really just 6, though Duke got good cameos from Marshall (7 minutes) and Matt Jones (10) minutes.  Marshall had a neat lefty hook shot, a block and a rebound to go with 2-2 from the line in his four minutes.  He also almost fouled out in that very short span (4).  Matt was solid defensively, but 0-2 from the field with a board.  It was only Rasheed (25 minutes) and the starters who played extended minutes.  Justise’s shooting woes continued, though there was some good signs.  He is taking a pounding in the games and was hurt twice, reducing his minutes to 22.  He had 2 boards, an assist, a steal and a block to go with 2-4 from behind the arc (the good sign) for his 7 points (2-7 from the field).  He is visibly struggling, but his early season prowess makes Duke’s upside potential more than its current caliber of play.  The guards logged 38 minutes each, which is telling. Quinn had 2 assists and a steal to go with his double double.  Tyus has an amazing steadiness that controls the game.  As the season has progressed, he is handling the rock more and more (Quinn less and less).  Both were effective defensively in the zone.

Okafor and Jefferson again stood out for Duke.  Jah played 28 minutes (committing 3 fouls) going 5-9 from the field for 14 points.  He added 3 rebounds and a block against 2 turnovers.  His passing was a key to Duke’s offensive resurgence.  Duke’s hot 3 point shooting came because the shots were uncontested; many starting out of the double teams that Pitt threw at Jah.  Duke passed faster than Pitt could rotate, resulting in uncontested shots.  Jah was more important than his stat line would suggest.  The same is true of Jefferson, who continues to mature and improve (I think partially stung by Jones starting instead of Jefferson against Miami).   Although only 2-6 from the field (8 points and 9 boards), Amile was terrific.  He added 3 steals and a block, while playing scintillating defense with 0 turnovers and committing only 1 foul.

Duke seems to have righted the ship, and just in time for three difficult road games in a row (St. Johns at Madison Square Garden on Sunday); Notre Dame and Virginia to conclude January.

DUKE 77- ST. JOHNS 68

A recent poll revealed that 25% of the people believe God plays a divine role in deciding which team wins a sporting event. Count me as a skeptical agnostic—until the last week. Last Sunday Seattle was outplayed and down 16 points in the last six minutes, when suddenly they executed flawlessly and with some timely skill/luck/divine intervention, ties, then beats Green Bay. Today, for twenty minutes Duke was outplayed, outhustled, and looked like they did in losses to N.C. State and Miami. Down 61-51 with 8:30 to go, an historic win played live before a national television audience seemed to be a lost opportunity. I’m thinking the poll was wrong. A Basketball God, unless he is a Tar Heel, wouldn’t let this happen.

Coach K called time out. With Amile Jefferson sitting with three fouls, Rasheed Sulaimon with four, and Justise Winslow hurt and ineffective, he substituted Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones as the forwards. Brilliant coaching move? Divine intervention? Or just Coach K imposing his fighting and never-give-up DNA onto his players and the game? Who knows, but suddenly MP3’s hustle and defense seemed to energize the Blue Devils and they were a different team, outscoring St. Johns 26-7. An unbelievable turn of events, but an appropriate conclusion and exclamation point on a game of this significance! The bottom line is this is why Coach K has won 1,000 games!

Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, and Jahlil Okafor led the way for the Duke comeback, each player had a 3-point play to erase the ten point deficit, and it was the senior Cook, who hit his fourth triple of the afternoon to put Duke back ahead by one. In all, they combined to score 55 points. That’s what seniors and talented freshmen do.

The players St. John’s recruit are usually athletic, playground oriented, and thrive on an up tempo game. Missed shots, open court opportunities, and porous defenses play right into their wheelhouse. When Duke started making shots, giving them time to set their defense, combined with the psychological pressure of losing a lead three points at a time helped turn the tide of the game. In addition, the referees were of little help. Clearly, the three point shot just before the half didn’t beat the shot clock but the rule is that it cannot be reviewed. If play can be stopped the check if a player’s foot is outside the three point line, why can’t replays be used to check the time clock at the end of the half? It can be checked at the end of the game and in overtime this anomaly makes no sense. Also, the defenders were allowed to wrestle with Okafor with immunity in the low post and Jefferson, Sulaimon, and Cook were subjected to fouls that boarded on muggings.

Additional Observations:

  • Duke started the game with their man defense but when the game went south they tried a zone. All to no avail as, during that bad twenty minute period, nothing worked. However, when the Blue Devils made their late, winning move with Plumlee in the lineup, they played mostly a zone. MP3 and Okafor together present an entirely different defensive challenge for an opponent.
  • Win number 1,000 came about 500 miles from Cameron Indoor Stadium, but for Duke it is familiar territory. Madison Square Garden was where K had win number 903 against Michigan State in November 2011, breaking the Division I record previously held by his college coach and mentor, Bob Knight.
  • Wojo: “Mike Krzyzewski is much more than a coach. He is a friend and a role model who shows us the way after we put the jersey away.”
  • Marshall Plumlee formally committed to join the U.S. Army after graduation in the spring of 2016. “It’s a tremendous honor,” Plumlee said. “I’m just blessed to have these passions — basketball and the Army — and to be able to pursue both of them. I love basketball. I love Duke Basketball and I feel like the Army only makes me a better basketball player. I also think playing for Coach K and Duke only makes me a better Army officer.”

Alan Adds:

In the movie, “The Hustler”, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) is the pool champion, and is challenged by talented arrogant newcomer, Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman).  The know-it-all “manager” is Bert Gordon (George C. Scott).  It’s a long game and Felson is winning big in the early going.  Fats goes into the men’s room to recoup.  He shaves, washes splashes cologne on, and comes out looking like a new man.  As Bert Gordon later tells Felson, “at that moment you were ready to lose.”

Duke metaphorically went into the men’s room at a time out with 8:30 left to play, and St John’s ahead by 10 (61-51).  All showered, shaved and splashed with cologne; a new lineup — Marshall and Matt Jones to go along with yesterday’s Big Three, Cook, Tyus and Jah.  In two minutes and two seconds, the Devils made three 3 point plays the old fashion way while getting two big stops, to cut the lead from 10 to 1.  St John’s was “ready to lose”.  St Johns finally started missing (and Plumlee made Duke more effective at rim protection).  Duke took the lead at 5:42 on Cook’s three.  Tyus was fouled on a 3 point attempt and made all three at 2:54 mark for a 6 point lead.  St John’s cut it to 4 a few seconds later, but with 1:17, Tyus drained a 3, and that was the game.

Part of St. Johns’ collapse came from what looked like exhaustion.  The Red Storm starters logged big minutes — Pointer, for example played 40 minutes.  DeAngelo Harrison (Rasheed’s teammate in high school AAU ball) played the least with 35.  The St. John bench failed to score and logged only 15 minutes (Branch played 11).  The Duke high scoring threesome also logged big minutes (Tyus- 39, Quinn-38 and Okafor-37), but the Duke bench was productive, playing a total of 55 minutes and scoring 10 points.  Where the bench really contributed was on the defensive end.  Coach K sung the praises of Matt Jones (24 minutes; 6 rebounds, 2 assists to with 2-6 shooting for 4 points — 0-2 from deep) and Marshall (5 boards, 1-1 on a beautiful put back for his only points) for shutting the Red Storm down in the last 8 minutes.  It was an awesome transformation.  Rasheed logged 16 minutes, ineffective on offense, but energetic on the defensive side (1-3 from 3land and 1-4 from the stripe).  Grayson Allen had a cameo at the end of the first half when K was looking for someone to make a shot.  Allen didn’t in his 3 minutes (0-1; a steal and a turnover).

Coach K said it was unlike any game he had ever coached because it was like three games in one.  In the first seven and a half minutes, Duke looked as if the game would not be close, racing to a 21-10 lead.  The second game started then and lasted until the 8:32 mark of the second half.  That partial game looked suspiciously like a replay of the Miami and NC State games.  After playing almost twelve minutes of awful basketball, in which the defense was totally torched for open shots (St. Johns missed several wide open layups; maybe partially offset by the Red Storm three at the end of the half that clearly should not have counted).  Duke played man; Duke played zone; it did not matter, St Johns scored on everything, while Duke missed open shots on offense.  It was enough to adversely impact digestion.  The second half was even worse.  Duke’s second field goal did not come until the 13:47 mark, when Quinn finally nailed a three to cut the ten point St Johns lead to seven.  With 11:46 to go, Jefferson made Duke’s third field goal of the half to again reduce the 10 point lead, this time to 8.  Plumlee’s stick back was Duke’s fourth and final field goal before the transformative time out at the 8:32 mark.  Duke’s defense up until the time out was beyond porous.  Duke fouled consistently (only 7 in the first half, but 17 for the game — Rasheed (4), Matt (3) and Amile (3) were especially saddled.  St John’s penetrated the zone, and consistently made open mid-range jumpers (8-10 feet) from the interior of the zone.  Much adverse digestive reaction.

Matt Jones and Marshall fixed the defense with energy and physicality.  Coach K gushed over those two in post-game interviews.  Jahlil, Quinn and Tyus were spectacular down the stretch.  Okafor had 10 tough boards to go with 17 points on 7-10 shooting (but a woeful 3-7 from the free throw line);  he was awesome to start the game (8 points in the first 7 and a half minutes; 10 for the half) and a fountain of power and desire after the 8:32 time out.  In that short span, he grabbed four key rebounds and scored 6 points.  What was awesome was his obvious passion, which fueled his taking physical command of the game at crunch time.  Duke’s backcourt had a terrible defensive game and sporadic offense before looking like All-Americans in the last eight and a half minutes.  Tyus was absolutely outstanding, even though he did not shoot well (5-11; 2-5 from deep) and turned the ball over 4 times (high for him).    But when the game was on the line, he was superb.  First, he was 10-10 from the line, 7-7 in the last 8 minutes.  Second, he scored on a layup (3 point play) and the dagger 3 at 1:17 from the corner after a rebound by Jah and a superb assist off the drive by Quinn. 13 points in less than 8 minutes.  Tyus had 4 tough boards and 6 assists to go with a key steal at the end.  Quinn also shot poorly during the game (5-13 from the field; and 2-6 from 3land before making his last 2 — the last one for the lead at 63-62), and turned it around down the game-winning stretch.  He was 3-3 from the line, making it 8 points in the last 8 minutes.

Bill’s comment that 25% believe that some supernatural force controls the outcome of games cannot go unmentioned.  Since I have a Mencken like view (“No one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American People”), I wager that more people believe that Buffalo Wild Wings influences games!  Close, anyway.

It was a grand finish for Coach K’s 1000th win.  Now back to the pursuit of ACC titles and other post-season glories.  The next two games are difficult — Wednesday at Notre Dame and Saturday at undefeated Virginia.  Duke is likely to be underdogs in both games.

Duke 73- Notre Dame 77

My old tennis coach Don Henson taught me some basic truisms that made me a better player and a better fan. Namely, that there are three levels of performance: You have to be able to hit the shot in practice, hit it in a match, and hit it on a big point and, secondly, the better a player is, the more “lucky” shots they make. You have to admire Jerian Grant. He hit a variety of big shots and with the game on the line, made an unbelievably lucky shot, then made the big assist to an open teammate for a dagger three.

Sunday the Blue Devils finished the game off with winning plays; tonight Notre Dame did. Up by ten with twelve minutes to play, Duke came up empty on both ends of the floor. Alan has a terrific analysis, so I will be brief. While this was a loss it, was not nearly the disappointment that the losses to N.C. State and blowout loss to Miami in Cameron were. However, it leaves they question: is this a talented, young team learning lessons that will make them a top tournament contender or are they an overhyped, overrated team?

For all of his graceful offensive talent,  Okafor is  a below average post defender and 58% free throw shooter, whom you do not want at the line with the game on the line. A hopeful sign is that Justise Winslow has started to resemble the 2014 model we admired so much and Ty Jones continues to impress.

However, the truth of the matter is that last night Notre Dame was the better team that played above their talent. Duke too often doesn’t play up to their talent—or, maybe, they are not as good as all the hype.

Bottom line: Duke going 10-20 from the free throw line made this a coulda, shoulda, woulda loss that a more solid, more mature team would have won. At the beginning of the season, someone you know wrote that free throw shooting could be the Achilles Heel of this team. Got to fix it.

Alan Adds:

Duke proved itself to be a young team against Notre Dame, but the loss was not as deflating to Coach K as it might seem to Duke fans.  This is the worst conference start (4-3) since 1995 (and we do not want to think about that year).  Coach said that both teams played winning basketball, which was true for only 29 minutes of the game.  In the last 11 minutes, Duke got to feel what St. Johns must have felt last Sunday when Duke muscled the game away from the Johnnies in the waning minutes.  With 11:00 left in the game Okafor made a layup to restore Duke’s 10 point lead at 65-55.  By the time Duke scored next on Jah’s layup with 5:29 to go, it tied the score at 67.  In between, Duke was hapless (not winning basketball): Cook missed 3 jumpers (2 of them 3 pointers); Tyus missed 2 (1 a 3), Matt missed a 3 as did Rasheed.  Defensively, Winslow committed a turnover and Jah and Rasheed committed fouls.  Okafor hit another layup at the 4:36 mark to give Duke a 69-67 lead, but  Duke never made another field goal and was only 2-6 on critical free throws —  Jah was 1-4; Rasheed 1-2.  Quinn and Tyus (2) committed fouls on the defensive end.  In short, in the last 11 minutes, Duke had only 3 field goals — all by Jah.  Notre Dame, on the other hand, did play winning basketball down the stretch, making 2 amazing plays  — Grant’s miracle with 1:11 left; followed by Vasturia’s only field goal of the game (1-5; 1-3 from 3land), the three from the corner on a great look from Grant , which was the dagger.  Coach K said Matt Jones made a mistake leaving him; he’d rather have had Grant attempting a difficult 2 pointer.  Grant capped a spectacular game with a block on Cook with 28 ticks left.

Coach K emphasized the team’s youth and that this game was about missed opportunities that make the difference between winning and losing when two very good teams play a close game.   He pointed to the between 6-8 finishes at the rim that simply did not go down, and that Duke grabbed 13 offensive boards but only scored 9 points on those second chances. Coach K also pointed to Matt’s defensive lapse on Vastoria’s dagger and, of course, the foul shooting.  Duke was 10-20 from the stripe after being 3-5 in the first half.  Consider that Tyus, Quinn and Justise were 7-7 in the game; the rest of the team was 3-13.  Coach K said, “Jah had a heck of a game.  If he had made his free throws we’d be talking about him rather than Grant as the player of the game.”

Both teams played short benches:  ND’s starters all logged over 34 minutes (Grant 40 and Connaughton 39), except at the center position.  Duke, too, played a very short rotation.  Cook played all 40 minutes (minus a few seconds), Tyus 38 minutes, Jah 36 and Justise returned to big playing time with 30 minutes.  Matt Jones (21) played more off the bench than Amile (17 minutes), while Rasheed played only 12.  Marshall was limited to a 6 minute cameo, looking lost with the ball, unlike his previous court time.  Duke’s bench was unproductive offensively — Rasheed was 1-6 (0-2 from 3 and 1-2 from the line) for 3 points; Jones was 1-4 (0-1 without a free throw attempt) for 2 points, but he had 5 tough boards and 4 assists, and so earned his playing time.  Amile was 2-4 from the field (made his first two shots and scored Duke’s first 4 points), and a disastrous 0-3 from the line.  Very disappointing game for him.

In many respects Jah carried Duke with 17 rebounds to go with his 22 points (10-18 from the field; but 2-7 from the line).  Even Dickie V could ascertain that Jah is not defending well.  Whether it was Jah leaving his man, or the help failing to rotate when he did, ND scored some very easy points at the rim when Jah doubled the ball on pick and rolls.  Quinn had a brilliant first half (5-5; 3-3 from deep) for 13 points.  He was 0-6 (0-3 from deep) with only 2 foul shots in the second half for 15 points.  Tyus had a quiet first half (1-4; 0-1 from deep for 2 points) before going 4-7 (1-2 from deep and 3-3 from the line for his 14 points.  In my opinion the good news from this game is the return of Justise Winslow.  He had 5 (1-3 from the field; 1-2 from deep) in the first half, and I made a note to myself at half-time that he looked smooth and was defending well.  He came alive in the second half shooting 3-4 from the field including 2-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line for 13 points.  My belief is that Duke’s season will depend on Justise reaching something like his potential (think Zoubek in 2010).

This makes the Virginia game on Saturday as important a regular season game as Duke has had in a while.  Duke is 11-11 in its last 22 ACC road games.  A win can restore the season and keep Duke as a contender on the national scene.  Next Play

DUKE 69- VIRGINIA 65 

‘HOOS DAT???  JUST US DEVILS…WE BACK!!!!!

After being undefeated in 2014 but starting 2015 by being upset in two straight ACC games, not closing out Notre Dame, losing a key man, then playing the third game in a row on the road in six days against the #2 team in the country, co-captain Quinn Cook told his teammates that the next twenty minutes against Virginia would determine what kind of season they would have. Down nine points with five minutes to play, Coach K went small to deny Virginia double-teaming options against Jahlil Okafor and switched to a zone to help get out in transition. That coaching change seem to energize a suddenly more efficient and effective Okafor as well as the guards. The Blue Devils scored 22 of the game’s last 29 points over these final minutes. The last fifteen possessions were a three, a layup, a layup, dunk, a two, a layup, a layup, a three, a tip-in, a three, a three, a layup, a three, and a stone cold dagger three by Ty Jones– an impressively improbable performance. How impressive, that’s 43 points in the second half against a team which had only allowed an average of 49 points per game and were ranked No. 1 among 345 Division I teams in scoring defense.

Think what you will about this sometimes inconsistent freshman heavy team, but Duke’s record in their last twenty-two games on the road has been a subpar 11-11. Nevertheless, this is the first Duke team in history to defeat three top-ten ranked teams — Wisconsin, Louisville, Virginia on the road. As Jay Bilas pointed out, while Duke is very talented and won this game, he still considers Virginia is the better team. That may change by tournament time if Okafor stops travelling, missing free throws, and become a beast for forty minutes, Winslow becomes totally healthy and more consistent, Ty Jones remain “Cool Hand” Jones, and Quinn Cook  continues to hit big baskets as well as being the emotional leader.

This was a contest between the two best coaches not only in the ACC but in the country. UVA coach Bennett has no McDonald’s All- Americans. What he does have are big, strong, long, mature basketball players, who stay for four years and learn his system. So, it was basically one-and-done versus all four years. Advantage Coach Bennett. On the other hand, Coach K has not won 1001 games by looking pretty and talking nice.

How tough is it to win on the road in the ACC? Carolina blew an 18 point lead and lost at Louisville and Notre Dame was upset at Pitt. Notre Dame’s last play to win was a rerun of the Duke game, only this time Steve Vasturia missed the three from the corner. Oh well, that’s basketball. Life doesn’t get any easier for the Cavaliers. They go to Chapel Hill, then Louisville.

At a critical moment of the game, with Duke down two points with minutes to play, Winslow drove to the basket. There was a lot of contact as he missed the shot and ended up on the floor with Scott’s foot on his shoulder. Justise grabbed and held the foot and was called for a technical foul. It turned out to be a four point turnaround and possibly game, set, match. In defense of Winslow, there was a lot of contact on the play, he didn’t attempt to wrestle with or injure Scott. He may have just been protecting his injured shoulder and ribs. In any event, all’s well that ends well.

In his press conference Coach K mentioned that playing the zone can facilitate Duke’s running and open court possibilities—if the opponent misses a shot. Certainly, the Blue Devils strategy of taking a page from Carolina’s system and attempting to beat the Cavaliers down the court, even on made baskets, was one of the keys to the game.

As you know, I have been a Sulaimon fan but should have known something was amiss. Going from a starter his freshman year to being a substitute was one indication. Not being named a co-captain with fellow junior Jefferson was another. I liked his fire but noticed that he did not seem to be playing under control all the time. We never know what goes on in practice, or the locker room, class room, or with girlfriends, or family etc. However, there must have been a long history of serious transgressions for Coach K to dismiss Rasheed. I don’t think anyone outside the tight team circle saw this kind of outcome.

After the season, we will look back at this win—considering the circumstances and the setting really one of the most impressive in recent memory– as an important building block in the maturation of a very good Duke team or an anomaly in another inconsistent season of a talented but immature good Blue Devil teams of the one-and-done era.

Additional Observations:

Coach K’s first substitution: Plumlee, Jones, and Allen. Having inherited more minutes by default, Allen has to step up and produce as Plumlee and Matt Jones have done.

Meaningless stat? Tonight’s win was Duke’s second ever against team 19-0 or better. The first was over 34-0 UNLV in 1991 Final Four, on route to Duke’s first NCAA Championship.

Alan Adds:

This was simply a great regular season ACC college basketball game!  It was — at least temporarily — salvation for the Duke season emotionally, and it was surely thrilling entertainment.   However, even though it was a special win, it will not define the season (any more than Austin’s dagger to upset UNC in the Dome defined that season).  There is too much uncertainty for how this team develops in the future with so much of the season left to play.  So I favor “savor” the significant accomplishment, and then on to the rest of the season.  But let us do savor.

There is much to savor.  In importance, I start with the return to form of Justise Winslow.  He single handedly kept Duke in the game in the first half with his slashes to the basked.  He was a force on the court for his 31 minutes (would have been more but for his foul trouble, committing 4).  Besides his 17 points (11 in the first half) Justise pulled down 11 boards (10 defensive; 5 in each half) had 2 blocks, a steal, an assist against 0 turnovers.  If he finally hits his outside shot consistently (0-4; 2 misses in each half) to go with his forays to the rim, he will be unguardable.   He played Anderson when Duke played man and was an interior force when Duke went zone in the second half.  Anderson scored only 11.  Coach K emphasized that Duke could push forward better from the zone, but said “of course, you have to get the defensive rebound in order to push.”  Justise did that for Duke.  Jah was a force, but had only 3 defensive rebounds. UVA had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, keeping them in the game.  In the second half, the Cavaliers got only 5, and two of them were Toby’s failure to score on them with a minute to go.  Those misses and Quinn’s eventual (finally!) rebound were critical to Duke’s win.

Okafor had a dismal first half (2 points and 3 turnovers), completely disrupted by the aggressive and immediate double teams that Virginia threw at him.  Jah became a force down the stretch, giving Duke the interior toughness to match UVA while logging 35 minutes.  He was 4-5 from the field in the second half, including a dazzling last 8 minutes to lead Duke emotionally.  In that stretch, Jah hit a jumper, made a key tip in after Tyus missed a layup, and handed out 3 assists, including the final one at 1:20 to go when he hit Quinn for an open 3 to put Duke up 66-63.  As he did against St. Johns, he powered Duke on the interior for the comeback win.

While Duke’s guards could not stop the UVA guards when Duke played man to man, the ‘Hoos could not defend the Duke guards at crunch time.  Both Tyus and Quinn were heroic.  Each were held to 4 points in the first half (Quinn even missed a foul shot, while Tyus was 1-4 from the field).  Quinn (36 minutes) finished with 15 points on 4-6 from the field in the last stanza including 3-4 from behind the arc.  Tyus (38 minutes) was even better, scoring a total of 17 (4 of 6 from the field in the second half; 2-4 from distance — including the dagger from deep with 10 seconds left).  He also had 4 boards and handed out 4 assists, though he did miss a foul shot (5-6).  Heroic is a fair modifier for Duke’s guards in the second half.

Matt Jones played 24 efficient winning minutes, scoring 9 points (4-9; 1-3 from 3land) to go with 3 tough boards, 2 assists and a block.  Jones played excellent defense, both man to man and in the back line of the zone.  Coach K is relying on Matt more and more as he proves reliable.  Coach K went small quite a bit, which limited Jefferson to 20 minutes (2 points; 2 boards; 0-2 from the line), and Marshall to 5 nondescript minutes — the only 5 that Jah was out of the game.  Grayson Allen played 11 minutes and is not yet confident (0-1; 1-2 from the line with a turnover and committing 2 fouls).  Yet I get the feeling that he will contribute and take advantage of the minutes he will get now as a result of Rasheed having been dismissed from the team.

Duke’s second half offense and shooting can be savored for sure.  Against the fabled “pack line” defense, Duke shot 17-30 from the field including 6-13 from behind the arc in the second half to score 43 points (3-4 from the line after going 4-9 in the first half).  The game was both thrilling and satisfying to watch.  Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

Duke 72- Georgia Tech 66

Unfortunately, this Duke team appears to play up or down to the level of their competition, which is living dangerously. When you can’t blow out bottom feeders like Miami or Georgia Tech in Cameron and can’t consistently defend the paint or the perimeter, you might not be tournament tough. With three point line, if you let any team hang around, crazy things can happen in the last few minutes of a game (ref. Virginia game). And speaking of the Virginia game, tonight the ball was rolling off  the rim, not in the basket, and the threes weren’t falling. Of course, the Blue Devils (even Ty and Quinn) missed foul shots (15-24), some of which were one-and-ones. That’s leaving about 8 or 10 points off the score board.

Fortunately, Duke had too much talent as Winslow (15 pts & 10 rebs)), Cook (17 pts), and Matt Jones(11 pts & 5 rebs)  provided the winning plays. Justice was in rare form at both ends. He even channeled his brother, who is a defensive back at Dartmouth, on some breath taking defensive plays as did Matt Jones, who keeps improving in all ways to help mitigate the departure of Rasheed Sulaimon–and Quinn “Microwave” Cook, scoreless the first half, once again heated up with 17 second half clutch points. Jahlil Okafor had, for him, an average game (14 pts & 8 rebs) as the refs keep letting defenders push him off the low post so he receives passes too far from the basket. Occasionally, he got mad and showed some impressive moves, but was only 5-12 from the floor.

The good news is that Justice Winslow has played the last two games even better than advertised–especially on defense—and that there has been balanced scoring. However, to be most effective, the offense should run through Okafor and with the game on the line, Cook has to be the offensive go-to guy, because he is the most versatile and creative scorer and is a 90%  free throw shooter. For the same reasons, Ty Jones is not a bad second option. However, unless the Blue Devils  start playing better defense, it doesn’t matter because they cannot outscore every team every night.

Coach K commented on the challenges his young team is facing: “I didn’t think we were emotionally at the level we needed to be… Not that our kids weren’t ready to play, but we could not get that level of emotion. It’s human nature and that’s what you compete against. If you want to be really good all the time, human nature is your biggest opponent because you’re up, you’re excited, you’re a little bit worn out. How do you stay consistent? It’s happening to eight kids, four of them are freshmen, for the very first time. They want to do well. Our guys are terrific…they’re working like crazy and I just keep having to try  things. The league is unforgiving in that there’s so many good teams. Sometimes one schedule is more difficult than others. We have a tough schedule. We’re on the road at Louisville, at Syracuse, at Notre Dame, at NC State… It wears on you. To be able to win a game in this manner, that’s what keeps you afloat and gets you tournament ready. We’ve still got a number of games until we are tournament qualified. This was another step closer to doing that.”

Additional Observations:

  • Want to know how Coach Krzyzewski, who will turn 68 next week, has won 1,002 games? Late in the first half, he tossed his jacket, slapped the floor, waved his arms to the crowd, and yelled at the Cameron fans to help his team. He was visibly angry at times during timeouts – whatever it took to get his team going.
  • This win pushed Coach K passed former Tar Heel legend Dean Smith as the winningest in ACC play. He improved to 423-169 in his 35th year in the league.
  • The Yellow Jackets fell to 5-34 at Cameron Indoor Stadium and their only victory here since 1997 came in 2004 – the year they went on to reach the national title game.
  • Having referenced the concept of Divine Intervention in sporting events, I cannot let the ending minutes of the Super Bowl pass without comment. How to explain first, the laying on-the-back reception after the ball bounced around various body parts, then the bone headed play call, and the improbable interception by the undrafted rookie from the University of West Georgia. It turned Seattle fans and bettors into raving manic depressives and New England fans and bettors into depressive maniacs, and non-believers into believers. Welcome to the wonderful emotional roller coaster world of sports!

Alan Adds:

Coach K’s post-game comments (the essence of which is set out by Bill above) had several additional themes.  First, Tyus (2-6; 1-3 from 3land;  0 foul shots) and Quinn (0-4; 0-3 from deep; no free throw attempts) had sub-par first halves.  That changed dramatically for (Quinn 37 minutes) and somewhat for Tyus (38 minutes, which tells you how valuable Coach K thinks he is, even when not playing his best).  Okafor told Quinn at the half, “we need you; you are not playing well.”  Jah said the team is so close that such talk is team building.  Quinn said that he thought his defense had been subpar in the first half, and that as his defense improved, so did his offense.  Though Duke pushed to a 10 point lead with 5 minutes + left in the first half, Coach K was not happy.  The Ramblin’ Wreck scored 2 baskets at the end as a result of careless Duke plays, which got Coach K’s attention.  Even though Duke led, the defense was porous.  Duke did not zone at all in the first half.  Tech shot 54% (3-5 from deep) against Duke’s porous defense.  At half time, I made a note to myself that Jah looked less than energetic, especially on defense.  He was 2-6; 2-4 from the line for 6 first half points.

Duke kept the lead on the play of Justise (10 first half points-4-5 from the field; 1-1 from deep; 1-1 from the line; to go with 6 rebounds) and Matt Jones, who scored 11 first half points (4-8; 1-3 from deep and 2-2 from the line).  You can see Matt’s confidence growing, as he becomes a substantial contributor.  He exudes toughness, and is a defensive presence whenever he enters the game.  At 6’5”, he is long enough to guard bigger players and quick enough to defend point guards. Where he is really making his mark is rebounding.  He was third last night (5; tied with Amile who played 23 minutes, one more than Matt).  Even better than the emergence of Matt, has been the play of Winslow.  I continue to believe that this team can only reach its potential (contender for national title) if Winslow plays the way he did in the early season (when I told friends that Jah — pre-season player of the year, with all that pre-season hype — might not even be the best freshman on Duke.  Then Justise disappeared (injuries played a role, I believe).  But in the last two games he is back, and very worth watching.  He finished with 15 points, making his only second half shot (4-7 from the line for the game).  He led Duke with 10 boards and played superb defense.  If his last two games are a harbinger of how he will play, this was a very positive game for Duke.

Cook was brilliant in the second half even though he was 1-8 from downtown for the game.  He was 5-6 on his scintillating drives and 4-5 from the line.  Jah (33 minutes) played efficiently in the last minutes, but it was not one of his better games.  I thought he was slow on defense (but had one critical block) and just didn’t have the zing.  Tech didn’t double him consistently.  He was missing shots he usually makes.  He is still the centerpiece.  Amile had 6 first half points (3-4) but failed to score in the second half.  Coach K had the ponies on the floor at crunch time (Justise plays the four with the three guards.  Marshall played 8 minutes, picking up 3 fouls.  Grayson made a 3 minute cameo, missing his only shot, a 3 point attempt.

Coach K said the Virginia game was like the Wisconsin game, but Duke didn’t play for a substantial period after pounding the Badgers.  Against, Tech, the Devils ran into human nature (Coach K regards human nature as a formidable obstacle to be overcome), but came out with the win.  The reason Tech stayed close is why we love the game.  Tech had shot 26% from 3land for the season.  Yesterday, they were 8-11 (24 points on 11 shots), while Duke was a tepid 5-18.  If both teams shoot as they have during the season, it is not a close game.  Good teams win even when they do not play well.  Tech was sandwiched between two big games — UVA last Saturday and Notre Dame in Cameron this Saturday.  In my opinion, Notre Dame in Cameron is a big game.

Prior to the Notre Dame game, Alan emailed me this:

Bill- For many reasons this is a very big game for Duke. A second ACC loss at home (creating a 5-4 ACC record more than half way through the season, with 2 games left with UNC) would exceed mere disappointment.  So, this is close to a must-win game.

I am not normally a pre-game optimist, but for this game I am.  Here’s why:

  1. Misreading the Georgia Tech game:Andy Katz of SI said he thought after the week Duke had experienced (St. Johns, Notre Dame, Sulaimon, and Virginia) that the Blue Devils would return to the confines of Cameron and simply blow out the bottom feeder.  He thought the close game was a bad sign for Duke.  Coach K pointed out the power in the universal adversary, human nature, after such a week.  He is correct in spades.  I completely disagree with Katz.  All things considered — including especially Tech’s other wordily 3 point shooting (8-11) in a season where Tech had shot 27%; Duke shot 5-18 from 3 — Duke was tough as nails and showed, in my opinion, championship potential.  What Katz either missed or discounted is the significance of the reemergence of Justise Winslow.  If he is back, as suggested by his performances in the last two games, Duke becomes much more formidable.
  2. The first Notre Dame game:  Was a terrific college basketball game.  Grant performed at the highest level, but even so without the Grant miracle (recovered the deflection caused by Tyus and made a circus shot at the 24 second clock expired) and Matt Jones’s defensive lapse (should have let Grant take a tough 2 pointer in the lane rather than leave the open 3 point shooter; the basket made a two possession game instead of giving Duke a chance to tie in its last possession), Duke was in the game.  Also, let’s not forget Duke’s woeful foul shooting in South Bend.  It would be hard to beat Duke twice in a row anywhere, but doubly tough to do it in Cameron.

Allan- I agree with your assessment and logic, but I caution you, some games have illogical outcomes. Just remember the Super Bowl. Notre Dame is a very efficient three point shooting team and Duke has not been as strong a defensive team we had hoped.

Duke 90- Notre Dame 60

You think the freshmen are finally getting it? Y’all aren’t in high school anymore, TyTy. (ref. Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz) You’re in Cameron and good Duke teams do not lose in their own house. Step up! Play like men! Payback, Baby, Payback!

After understandably being emotionally flat against Georgia Tech, Coach K talked about the importance of young players understanding the interplay between effort, emotion, fatigue, and performance. The Blue Devils started in a man defense, gave up two successive threes, then played one of , if not, the best halves of offensive and defensive basketball I can remember any Duke team playing, outscoring the Irish 50-18. It was a good example of the Ying and Yang of defense and offense. It was like channeling the great teams of 1991-92 or 1999- 2001 and JJ Redick shooting lights out threes. Irish missed shots led to open court opportunities where a healthy Justise was unstoppable. How well was the team playing? Even with Jah on the bench for the final ten minutes of the first half, MP3 again played with strength and confidence and the lead was increased. Duke’s first six 3-pointers went in, seven of eight in the half. Seven of Duke’s eight players scored. Four of them made every shot they took. At one point, Duke was averaging more than two points per possession, literally better than a layup every time the Blue Devils had the ball.

Justice Winslow had 19 points & 11 rebounds, his third straight double-double game;  Jahlil Okafor only played 23 minutes, but put on an offensive low post scoop and hoop clinic with 20 points and 10 rebounds; Ty Jones had 12 points, 7 assists;  Matt Jones added a career-high 17 points; and Grayson Allan had 5 points to go with a Justice Winslow type ESPN Highlight Block on a fast break. I never thought I would say this, but so far Rasheed Sulaimon has not been missed. Duke is playing better without him. Just maybe Coach K knows what he is doing. Matt has more than filled his sneakers, and Grayson is getting the opportunity to do the same. Just pray that no one gets hurt. When Winslow went down and grabbed his ankle, I saw the season flash before my eyes.

Winslow describing Duke’s ideal offensive performance: “We’re running, finishing, or getting in the lane, kicking and making threes. But at the same time, we can setup, feed Jahlil and play off him.”

One of the keys to the quick start and impressive win was Quinn Cook’s defense on his former DeMatha High School teammate Jerian Grant, holding him to shooting 3-10 for only 7 points. Quinn himself had 8 points and 5 assists.

The Blue Devils played a zone the second half and, understandably, didn’t shoot 80 % but still increased the winning margin. Coach K indicated in his press conference that his team would continue to play multiply defenses.

Other Comments:

  • Okafor has scored 10 or more points in 23 straight games, tying the Duke freshman record set by Johnny Dawkins in 1982-1983.
  • Brey spent eight years as a Duke assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff on teams that won the 1991 and ’92 national titles. Brey, who also played at DeMatha for Coach Wooten, now is 2-3 against his former boss.
  • The Blue Devils earned their 18th straight 20-win season and their 30th in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 35 seasons at the school.
  • Morgan Wooten, the legendary DeMatha High School coach of Cook, Grant, and Brey was at the game as well as David Robinson and his son, who will be on the basketball team next year. Another son was a freshman star wide receiver at Notre Dame this year.
  •  Isabella Alerie, former Duke star Mark’s daughter, is a standout 6-3 frontcourt player for National Cathedral School in Washington, DC. What’s up with this? She committed to Princeton.

Alan Adds:

After my wildly successful pre-game prediction, I feel like The Toad from Wind in the Willow (Toad puffed visibly).  Maybe we’ll change Alan Adds to  “Speech by Toad”.

Duke was dazzling.  While the offensive display in the first half was the stuff of legends (it must be memorialized on YouTube by now), it was the Duke defense that that left me with jaw agape in admiration.  Not since the first half of the Furman game (and a lot of the Wisconsin game) has Duke been so cohesive, intense and dominating.  Coach K said that the key was talking and the concept was “together” — did not matter whether zone or man, though Duke was strictly man to man in the first half.  The defense was talking, helping, rotating and was completely “together”.  The coach added that the “together” on defense sparked the offense.  When you are “together” on defense, you are relying upon, trusting, and working with your teammates.  This led to the same “together” on offense.  To make the point dramatically, Okafor played only 8 minutes in the first half — two quick fouls within seconds of each other had him on the bench.  Duke was playing to well for K to put him back in.  When Jah went out with 11:57 left in the first half, Duke had an 8 point lead.  With 4:40 left in the first half, Duke’s lead was 30 (43-13).  In a little over 7 minutes, Notre Dame could only muster four points, while Duke was otherworldly on offense.  All that without Okafor.

I also thought the second half contained at least one defining moment.  In the second half, the Irish began to mount a comeback.  Down 24 at the half, ND fought back to 60-42 with 13:26 left in the game.  K called time out.  Winslow took over the game for a few minutes, and Duke’s lead was restored to 30.  In 70 seconds, he scored a layup and a foul shot, assisted Cook on a layup, and made a layup on an assist from Cook.  His onslaught of energy continued: 2 defensive rebounds, 2 free throws, and then missed a layup; got his own rebound; missed another layup; got his own rebound again in a sequence that ended up with a Jah dunk to restore the 30 point lead with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.  Game unofficially over.

Jah had an amazing second half with 16 points and 8 rebounds (7-9 from the field and 2-2 from the line).  It felt as if Notre Dame wasn’t even trying to stop him.  Winslow logged 31 minutes with 19 points (6-11; 1-2 from 3land; and, importantly, 6-8 from the line) and 11 boards.  Coach K said that Winslow is growing up.  Part of that process, said the coach, is learning to play through injury.  He said Justise is doing that and “becoming the player we always thought he would be”.  The guards were terrific, especially on defense.  Quinn played a game high 36 minutes and deserves the praise heaped upon him by his coach for the outstanding defensive job done on Grant.  Cook had 8 points (3-8; 2-3 from 3land), but more importantly had 5 assists and 0 turnovers.  Tyus is becoming charismatic, I think.  A Duke fan feels comfortable when the ball is in his hands.  In his 34 minutes he scored 12 points on an efficient 4 shots (3-4; 2-3 from deep; and 4-6 from the line — 2 misses for him is shocking) to go with 5 boards, 7 assists and a steal while committing only 1 foul without a turnover.  Together Quinn and Tyus had 12 assists without a turnover.

Matt Jones played the fourth most minutes (27) and drew high praise from his coach.  K called him “a consummate team player”, who brings a tougher character to our team.  His emergence began with the St. Johns game, and “his time is here — right now; not sometime in the future because he brings a unique verve to the team.  He can guard all five positions (though we really don’t want him guarding a center, he can do it), and his teammates love playing with him.”  He scored 17 on 6-9 from the field; 3-5 from deep and a perfect 2-2 from the line.  Amile also had a good game in his 20 minutes (2-3 from the field with 5 boards; but only 3-6 from the line.

Marshall was a force in his 11 minutes (I think all were in the first half when Jah was on the bench).  Grayson is getting his first real chance (16 minutes) and scored 5 on a 3 and 2-2 from the line.  Everyone was talking about the block and Grayson’s athleticism to make it.  Coach said “we haven’t yet seen what he can do, but he is going to help us this year.”

Coach K praised the zone defense in the second half, and said that Duke would continue to play multiple defenses this year.  He thought the Cameron crowd had been tepid in the Ga Tech game, but was at its best yesterday.

Bill’s “heart in throat” moment when Justise rolled his ankle is so accurate.  An injury changes the season, especially on a team with only 8 scholarship players.  I have said that I think UVA is the best team in the country (including Kentucky), but how much that will change because of Justin Anderson’s broken finger remains to be seen.  Next play is tomorrow night at Fla. State.

Duke 73- Florida State 70 

This was a predictable  regression to the mean Trap Game. Play a nearly perfect twenty minute first half in an emotionally and physically draining must win game on Saturday, Monday fly to play the third game in six days– an away game in a hostile arena against a big, strong team and vocal student body which doesn’t like you or your school. The will was there but the bodies were wanting. This kind of situation is a test of  mental toughness and grit–win when you aren’t playing well. The last few years, this is a game that Duke would probably have lost. A prime example of the difference is Matt Jones. In the words of Coach K: “He had a horrible game. But he made the play of the game.” The play Krzyzewski was referring to was a charge that Jones took in the final two minutes, as the Seminoles’ Montay Brandon came barreling down the lane at him. FSU was behind 68-64, and that play temporarily halted their momentum. “I saw a 4-on-1 coming at me,” Jones said. “I saw them coming full speed, so I was like, ‘I’m going to stand here and take it. We work on situations like that in practice, and coach always tells us to go to the middle of the arc, and then let them come to you and be wide. Practice makes perfect.”

Once again, the referees let Okafor get mugged down low, yet called him for two quick fouls and he spent the second ten minutes on the bench. Have you ever seen a Player of the Year candidate get less respect from the refs? And once again, Marshall Plumlee filled in admirably as the Blue Devils increased their lead while their star center was on the bench. And once again Cook (26 pts) and Ty Jones (16 pts, 12 assists, 6 rebs)) led the way. Krzyzewski said : “I think Cook has been our most valuable guy. He has not only been a really good player, but he’s been a great leader. And our guys follow him. He has been one of my better leaders that I have had at Duke. I didn’t know that that would happen this year. Of all the guys, I’m most proud of him. And Ty  had twelve assists and one turnover. He’s had a great month. He’s had a terrific year, but he’s had a great month. Those two guards have been rock solid for us.”

Since January 17th, Duke has won at Louisville, beaten Pitt at home, beat St. John’s in the Garden, lost by four at Notre Dame, beaten undefeated #2 Virginia at Virginia, hung on against Georgia Tech, destroyed Notre Dame, and survived at Tallahassee. During this stretch, the team also dealt with the circus surrounding Coach K’s 1,000th win, the disruption of Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal from the team, and working Grayson Allen into the rotation. I cannot remember a schedule as tough—even unfair compared to other top teams in the league—as this one. Another grueling stretch of three games in six days. Television contracts pay the bills but demand these crazy schedules with little regard for the players as students. 

Other Comments:

  • Dean Smith, one of the greatest coaches in the history of basketball, died at 83. Coach Smith attended the University of Kansas on an academic scholarship where he majored in mathematics, played varsity basketball, varsity baseball, and freshman football, and was a member of the Air Force ROTC. He became an assistant coach at North Carolina under Frank McGuire and head coach in 1958, when McGuire left for South Carolina. His creative innovations (the “Four Corners” was responsible for the introduction of the shot clock), his team’s dominant, classy performances (he only had one losing season), and the players he recruited were the gold standard for college basketball. He and his teams (plus television) are a primary reason the Duke-Carolina rivalry  went from local to national. As good as a coach as he was, he was a better man. He recruited Charlie Scott, the ACC’s first great African-American player, and after he took Charlie to dinner at a popular local restaurant, the color barrier in Chapel Hill and other places in North Carolina was never the same.
  • Coach K on Dean Smith:  “The thing that Dean did the best is that he made men of the boys that came to him. And all those men revere him. They don’t love him, they revere him. That’s his biggest accomplishment. And he has done that better than anybody. I’m proud to be able to say that I was his friend. And I love him, and I love what he built and how he did it. It’s second to none. It’s really second to none. That’s why I don’t like to compare wins, championships and all that. No one could do it any better than him. Linnea and the kids have been incredible while he fought this horrible disease. So God bless him, God bless him, God bless him. We lost a great, great man in him.”
  • Despite saying that Duke would incorporate various defenses, Coach K appeared to stay with his man to man tonight.

Alan Adds:

Duke did not play well against Florida State under truly difficult circumstances.  Good teams win road games under truly difficult circumstances when not playing well.  For that reason, I believe that this Blue Devil win was every bit as impressive as the blowout of Notre Dame at Cameron.  Some of difficult circumstances were pre-arranged — tough schedule, played at what has sometimes been a house of horrors for Duke against the second tallest team in college basketball.  Some of the circumstances occurred when the game began. There was a clear hangover from the Notre Dame game.  Duke’s first four shots were from deep without much passing (0-4).  In the early going, the play looked more like football than basketball.  Michael Ojo, 7’1” with a sculpted body — Jahlil looked small standing next to him — was very aggressive on Jah (though it was Jah called for the fouls).  To give an idea, at the first media timeout (after 4 minutes and 7 seconds of play), the Seminoles led 2-0.  The announcer speculated on a 0-0 game at the timeout and could not recall that ever happening.  He said, “take the children away from the TV set; this is too ugly for them to watch.”.  Duke’s first basket came after the teams had played for 6 minutes and 40 seconds (making the score 8-4 — Jah having made 2 free throws just a bit earlier).  With 11:32 left in the first half, Jah was called for his second foul confining him to the bench for the rest of the half.  Plumlee came in, and Tyus took over.  He sandwiched his own jumper in between 2 dimes to Plumlee (Marshall’s only 4 points in the game came in his first two minutes on the floor).  In his eleven minutes, Marshall added 3 boards and 2 blocks.  I do not think he played in the second half, but Duke went from down 3 when he came in to up 8 at the end of the half.

How bad was Duke offensively in the first half?  Besides Cook and Tyus, who carried the team, Grayson Allen was tied for the third most field goal attempts (1-3 for his only 2 points in the game) with Justise (0-3).  Jahlil, Amile, Matt (0-1) and Justise combined for 0 baskets and 4 points (Jah was 2-2 from the line and Justise 2-4) in the first half.  Excellent defense and the guards kept Duke in front.  Quinn had 13 in the first half and was the recipient of some of Tyus’s 5 assists.  The freshman point guard scored 9 and also led Duke in rebounding (4); Jah had 3.

In the second half, Duke’s defense melted down dramatically. It was as bad as the first half defense against Notre Dame was good. The Seminoles were 15-23 from the floor (3-4 from 3land) and took it to Duke.  Duke made some excellent plays (Winslow blocks, Matt’s taking the charge on a 4-1 fast break at a crucial time), but overall the defense was porous.  The Seminoles got to the rim and made medium and long range shots.  But Duke never lost the lead — though a 14 point lead with 15 left to play in the game evaporated to a single point lead.

So why do I think that this win was as impressive as the win over the Irish?  In a word, because Duke showed a grit and toughness that was unprecedented for this team so far.  The guards were simply superb.  But before we get to those two fabulous performances, let us spread some more credit around.  Jah was 5-5 from the floor in the second half (but 1-3 from the line), and Justise (32 minutes; 1-6 from the field) hit 5-6 from the line at crunch time.  He had 5 tough rebounds.   Amile made his 2 foul shots (2 points; 5 boards for the game in 21 minutes).  Grayson played hard and you can see his confidence grow, but did not score in the second half).  Matt failed to score in 19 minutes (4 boards).

Duke won because Tyus Jones is morphing into the best player on the Duke team.  He has “an old soul”.  He controlled the game for Duke.  He led Duke in rebounding and had 12 of Duke’s 14 assists against 1 turnover, while scoring 16 points (6-13 from the field; 2-4 from deep and 2-2 from the line in 39 minutes.  What is so amazing to me about Tyus is that he only turns it on when Duke needs him.  He’s big in big games.  He is big in big moments within the game.  He is embodying toughness, and his teammates follow him.  So far this season, Duke’s best player.  And he teams with Cook so seamlessly, and finds Cook with great passes.  Cook was also amazing, usually finishing when Tyus finds him.  Cook played the entire game, scoring 26 on 8-15 shooting (4-9 from deep and 6-7 from the line).  Those two put Duke on their collective backs.

Florida State came out so physically that it knocked Duke back.  It reminded me of how LSU beat Duke in JJ and Sheldon’s senior year in the Sweet 16.  LSU just beat Duke up and Duke could not respond.  In what seemed to me a similar situation, this team did respond with grit and real toughness, handled the physicality and found a way to win.  For me, a very good sign; a win that impressed me as much as Duke’s other worldly performance against Notre Dame.

From here on, we cannot complain about the schedule.  It is Wednesday night; Saturday for the rest of the regular season.  Saturday vs Syracuse.  Next Wednesday, a familiar opponent.

Duke 80– Syracuse 72

This team is developing a chemistry and a maturity beyond their years. A large part of this is due to the pre-natural calm and performance of Tyus Jones combined with Quinn Cook’s new found maturity, which now matches his considerable offensive skills. The final piece is that really good teams have a coaching staff who have a great feel for the ebbs and flow of a game, the strengths and weaknesses of their players, and can make real time decisions. But most importantly, coaches who are skilled at making strategic halftime adjustments and convince their players that the changes are the key to winning the game. 

In the first half, Syracuse was ahead 39-36, mainly due to 19 points  by Michael Gbinije, who was a Duke player as a freshman before transferring to Syracuse. At halftime, Duke changed its lineup and defensive assignments: Quinn Cook switched to Gbinije, his freshman roommate and former practice partner, with instructions to go over not under the high ball screens; Matt Jones started in place of Amile Jefferson and guarded Trevor Cooney. Gbinije and Cooney were neutralized and Syracuse shot 38% rather than 48%, the Blue Devils shot 62% not 39% as Duke outscored Syracuse 44-33. (Another example of the inverse relationship between missed shots and an opponent’s offensive efficiency) Of course, the devil is in all the details of the win: Okafor outplayed Christmas with not only with his offensive prowess but also with his improving defense; Matt Jones played 32 very productive minutes (raise your hand if you thought Matt would be this good this soon); Grayson Allen had 5 points and 2 steals in eight minutes; and to seal the deal, Duke was 19-22 from the foul line as Cook and T. Jones were perfect in the last minutes.

Alan makes the interesting point that Duke is a perfect 5-0 since the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon, including wins at Virginia and Syracuse, plus a 30-point home victory over Notre Dame. Is that enough evidence to suggest that the team’s chemistry is better without the talented Sulaimon? Or is it simply evidence that the youngest Duke team in 32 years is growing up late in the season? We know this team is resilient, we know it is poised on the road and in the clutch, and we know that it has the best inside-outside balance of any Duke team in many, many years. And we know, so far so good with only eight scholarship players but the tram cannot afford an injury.

A reality check: This team will go as far as the defense takes it. While the Syracuse win was an impressive one, the defense was less so. Syracuse penetrated and/or got the ball down low far too easily and far too many times. Fortunately, however, about ten contested point blank shots failed to fall. Also, of note is that despite Coach K talking about varying defenses, Duke appeared to played man-to-man the entire game.

Nobody else in college basketball has three road victories to match Duke’s resume wins at Wisconsin (the almost certain Big Ten champ), Virginia (the likely ACC regular season champ) and Louisville. Duke currently has 10 top 50 RPI wins, which is more than anybody else in college basketball (Kansas has nine).

Additional comments:

  • Michael Gbinije, who demonstrated a very impressive and complete offensive repertoire, has scored 20 points in three consecutive games and double-digits in five straight. He’s shot better than 60 percent during that stretch, and better than 70 percent in the past two. If he continues to play at this level, he will be a POY candidate next year. Krzyzewski said: “Look, we recruited Mike because we thought he was good, so that doesn’t surprise me. I wish he had stayed. However, it’s the new normal, about 650 other players transferred last year.”
  • Ty Jones, among other attributes, is as good a rebounding guard for a player of his size as you will see. Tonight, he had 6 rebounds, one less than Winslow. There should be no surprise about Ty’s performance, he started as an eighth grader for his high school team.
  • Duke, once again, sold out the Carrier Dome—35,446 seats. This year, no team in the ACC has played as many tough road games as the Blue Devils.

Alan Adds:

It seems time to look at the season’s goals in relation to the remaining games on the schedule.  The first goal is to secure one of the four byes into the third round of the ACC tournament.  (Teams 5 –10 receive a bye into the second round), which begins on Tuesday , March 10,  for the 4 lowest seeds.  Winning the ACC tournament and going deep into the NCAA tournament are the other obvious goals.  Gaining the double bye is an important step to increasing the odds of a successful run in the ACC tournament.

After Saturday’s games, UVA seems secure in the # 1 seed (11-1 with home games against Pittsburg, Florida State and Virginia Tech; road games against Wake — whom they nipped at home last night by a point — Syracuse and Louisville).  The loss of Justin Anderson seems to have thrown them off a bit (three very close wins since he was hurt).  He may or may not be back for the tournament.

Notre Dame is 10-3 with home games against Clemson, Syracuse and Wake Forest, and road games at BC and Louisville.  Duke is 9-3 with 4 home games against UNC, Clemson, Syracuse and Wake; and 2 road games — at UNC and Virginia Tech.  Duke holds a tie breaker against Notre Dame.

UNC and Louisville are 8-4.  UNC is on the road against Duke, Georgia Tech and Miami; home against Duke, Georgia Tech and NC State.  Louisville is home against Miami, (and in the last two games of the season) Notre Dame and UVA; on the road against Georgia Tech, Florida State and Syracuse.

The point is nothing is decided yet, which is why the win last night at Syracuse was far more than ceremonial.  Coach K made the necessary adjustments, changing defensive assignments and going small.  Amile logged only 14 minutes ( 2 points and 3 boards) compared to Matt Jones’s 32 minutes — 4th most on the team yesterday.  Marshall and Grayson Allen played 8 minutes, with Allen contributing substantially in his time (5 points on a 3 and 2-2 from the line to go with 2 assists, a rebound and a steal).  His contribution was substantial and even more astounding because, according to Coach K, he had injured himself shooting around after practice on Thursday, and was on crutches all day Friday.  He is growing into his role.  Jah earned high praise from his coach.  Duke couldn’t help defensively on Christmas (whom K called one of the 10 best players in the country) because of the outside shooting of Silent G (Gbinije) and Cooney.  Jah outplayed Christmas without much help on defense and was unstoppable on offense.  In his 34 minutes, Jah was 10-15 from the floor; 3-4 from the line with 13 rebounds.  He was the recipient of some tremendous passes on the break. He is such a great finisher. Duke had 19 assists on 27 field goals – Tyus (6), Quinn (5), Justise and Matt (3) and 2 for Grayson.

Coach K credited Quinn’s second half defense on Gbinije while Matt shut down Cooney.  Quinn played 40 minutes, scoring 17 (clutch foul shooting — 7-8) while Tyus played 35 minutes (11 points; 4-4 from the line, including crunch time — not to mention 6 rebounds.  Justise fouled out in his 29 minutes, scoring 12 (3-3 from the line) and pulling down 7 boards.  Duke was 19-22 from the line, which contributed to the win.  Syracuse was heroic, but got 0 points and only 15 total minutes from the bench.  Very difficult to finish with only 5 players.

Duke seems secure unless one looks at what the situation would be if UNC wins at Cameron on Wednesday.  Then, Duke is on the outside looking in.  One of the season’s biggest games is this Wednesday in Cameron against UNC.

Duke 92 – Carolina 90

In many important ways, the two teams and coaches locking arms at center court before the game in a moving memory of Dean Smith said as much about the game, the rivalry, and what college sports should be about as anything else that happened in Cameron tonight.  Wanting passionately to win is one thing, but to RESPECT like this made — or maybe set the stage for— a classic  game in a great rivalry.

Alan & Bill

We live in a world rife with hype and hyperbole– but not when you talk about Duke-Carolina basketball games, because these games are the real deal.  Remarkably, the combined score of the past 79 Duke-UNC games is 6,314-6,306 –advantage Duke. The memories of Dick Groat, Art Heyman & Larry Brown, Fred Lind, Michael Jordan, Walter Davis, Sam Perkins,  Bobby Jones, Phil Ford, Gene Banks, Tate Armstrong, Johnny Dawkins, Jeff Capel,  Chris Duhon,  Joe Forte, Shane Battier, JJ Redick, and Austin Rivers (among others) have given us moments you had to see to believe, because people would think you are making all this stuff up. Before tonight’s game, the results of the last 88 games are 44 Duke and 44 Carolina—and at the end of forty minutes it was 44.5 to 44.5 because the score was tied—another instant classic. Wake up Tommy, this game is going to OVERTIME!

Coming into tonight’s game Duke seemingly had everything going for them: they had won five games in a row, were rank the #4 team in the country, and were playing on the uber friendly Coach K court in Cameron Indoor Stadium. On the other hand, Carolina had been inconsistent and struggling, having had lost four of their last five games. And Blue Devils started like they were going to run the Tar Heels out of the gym and all the way back to Chapel Hill. However, UNC hustled, rebounded, ran, and closed a double digit lead to seven points at the break. Oh well, every team makes runs.

However, in the second half Carolina kept their momentum and took charge as Duke appeared out-of-gas. UNC was up ten with 3:50 left and seven with 1:38 remaining. At this point, Duke looked as dead as road kill. Raise your hand if you believed the moribund Duke team could/would rally from these deficits. Well, the smallest man on the court personally put the Blue Devils on his back and scored nine points in an 11-2 run to tie the score at 81-81, forcing overtime in the greatest rivalry in college sports.

The next five minutes didn’t disappoint. Up three, down three, up three with five seconds on the clock and Carolina on the line. Made the first, missed left on the second shot on a set play as the Heels crash that way for the rebound. Body’s high flying, contact, Paige almost gets the ball but Winslow secures with two hands and taps to Ty Jones in the corner. Game over! As Roy said: “It was a great college basketball game– if you didn’t care who won.” There may be no moral victories but this North Carolina team proved that when they play as hard as they did tonight, they can beat any team. And these young Blue Devils proved once again that they are as good, maybe better, than their hype– and are as tough as they are talented.

As exciting as the game was, it was no masterpiece: too many missed foul shots, too many I-can’t-believe-he-did-that misplays. But a heavyweight fight that goes more than fifteen rounds takes its toll both physically and mentally. However, free throw shooting and defense are still the Achilles Heel of this team. As great a college player as he is, Okafor was 0-6 from the line and the team was an unacceptable 16-31. Fortunately, Duke shot better from beyond arc tonight (63%) than from free-throw line (47%). Cook was nearly automatic from downtown, draining five 3-pointers and locking down Tar Heel playmaker Marcus Paige (“My teammates got it done, I didn’t”). But Tokoto, an amazing athlete (15 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists), made up for Marcus’ subpar performance. He had more points in this game than in his previous three combined. He had been 3 of 15 for 14 points in his last three games.

Here is a very disturbing stat: 15-of-20, 36 points, 19 rebounds. That was the combined stat line of North Carolina’s starting frontcourt. Add in Joel James off the bench and it was 18-of-24 for 42 points and 24 rebounds. North Carolina finished with 62 points in the paint. However, when the game was on the line, Duke’s defense made stops.

Other comments:

  • In the first half, Okafor came down awkwardly and sprained his ankle. He was assisted to the locker room and returned to play the second half. After showering and dressing, he left Cameron a walking boot. Stay tuned.
  • With only an eight man rotation, Duke can go big or small. When they go big, Okafor usually is double teamed, because defenses do not respect Jefferson or Plumlee. If Duke goes small, Okafor usually is not doubled, because with Matt Jones, an opponent has to defend the perimeter. However, going small hurts defending a big front line. Choose your poison. Three beats two—if the threes are falling.
  • For the first time since the Alexander Graham Bell, Dick Vitale did not announce the game.
  • Tweet of the night from Anonymous: “Watched #DUKE vs UNC check, screamed all game check, flirted with cardiac arrest check, massive headache check. #DUKE gets W. = All worth it.

Alan Adds:

Duke’s rotation was very short last night, but the Devils did not falter in the last 8-9 minutes of the game (3:32 in regulation when down 10, and the 5 minute overtime).The big 3 logged prodigious minutes — Quinn never came out (45); Tyus (43) and Jah played 41 minutes — when he returned from the ankle sprain, he never again came out of the game.  This game was hard fought and not always pretty.  Tyus had 6 turnovers and Jahlil had 5.  Quinn turned it over 3 times, making 14 for Duke’s big 3.  Duke had long stretches where Carolina dominated the Devil defensive board, creating additional possessions and put backs.

Winslow continues to be the less heralded spark for this team.  In the first 9 minutes of the game he and Duke were dominant.  Duke led by 12 — controlling both ends of the floor — when Justise picked up his second foul and went to the bench.  When he returned, Coach K observed that Justise wasn’t really mentally ready, and did not play that well.  That is the stretch where things turned against Duke. Justice’s playing time was limited by his foul trouble (4 in his 29 minutes).  However when he is in the zone that he can reach, Duke is a tremendous team, and he was there in the end of regulation and in the overtime.  Duke got terrific minutes from Amile (29) and Matt (27) and that was virtually it.  Marshall logged 7 minutes and Grayson only 4 — all in the first half.

Duke’s backcourt is earning praise as one of the country’s best.  Quinn was dynamic from behind the arc and in his defensive play against UNC’s star (pre-season All American), Marcus Paige.  He was 7-15 from the field (6-9 from behind the arc and 2-4 from the line) to go with 4 rebounds and 3 assists.  He is such a leader.   Tyus was simply spectacular down the stretch.  Coach K said that Tyus had not just special talent, but special qualities.  He has been showing that all season in big games and at big moments. He and Quinn each scored 22 (Tyus was 7-16; 2-5 from 3land and a crucial 6-7 from the line) to go with 7 boards and 8 assists.  K said that when Duke went small — without Amile, UNC could not double Okafor, who made Carolina pay when guarded straight up.  He had 13 boards to go with 12 points (6-11 from the field) 3 assists, two steals and a block.  The downside was 0-6 from the line and 5 turnovers.  He is not simply a talent; he plays with passion and intensity, especially at crunch time.  He is a great teammate.  Amile had 13 points on 5-7 shooting and 5 rebounds.  Justise scored 16 on 6-10 shooting (1-1 from deep) and grabbed 7 boards.  Both Amile and Justise were 3-6 from the line, meaning Duke’s 3 major front court players were 6-16 from the foul line.  Duke was only 3-9 from the line in the overtime.  Someday that will bite, but not last night.

Matt played great defense and pulled down 5 boards.  He was 2-4 (1-1 from deep) for 5 points.  He had an assist and a steal with 0 turnovers.  Marshall grabbed 2 boards in his 7 minutes and Grayson missed both shots, but was 2-2 from the line.

It was simply a classic Duke-Carolina game.  As Coach K said, both teams played well enough to have won.  He is so proud — as we should be — as this teams grows in character and grit.  There is great talent for sure, and there is a lot of basketball left to be played before we can measure this team, but en route they are proving tough and resilient.  They are respecting the game, the opponent, and Duke itself.  It was a great night for Duke basketball and us, the fans.

It will be hard to get up for Clemson on Saturday after a superb effort like this one.

Duke 78– Clemson 56

With a dapper looking Jahlil Okafor on the bench with a protective boot/cast on his injured ankle, Coach K played Russian Roulette with his remaining seven scholarship players as he borrowed a page out of Dean Smith’s (and UConn’s) playbook implementing two different variations of three quarter court presses—a 2-2-1 and a 1-2-2 after free throws—and traps when the Tigers crossed half court. He dodged a bullet as none of the Magnificent Seven (sorry, couldn’t resist the allusion to that wonderful movie) fouled or flamed out as they forced 14 turnovers and 10 steals, many of which led to fast break points and forced the Tiger’s out of their methodical offensive comfort zone. It was the kind of creative move we have come to expect from Krzyzewski when faced with an unexpected loss of a key starter. And while Clemson has not won in Cameron in this century, it was a potential Trap Game following just 72 hours after the physically and mentally draining come-from-behind overtime win against arch rival North Carolina. But a surprise compensatory strategy like this is one of the reasons the maestro has won 1,007 college basketball games.

The trap/press attacked Clemson at their weakness and the players executed it surprisingly well. Actually, the turnovers and steals led to easy baskets for the Blue Devils, which in turn seemed to energize their defensive effort. Winslow more than rose to the occasion with his best game of the season with 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 steals. And the indefatigable Quinn Cook had 27 points, 4 assists as well as continuing his newfound aptitude for and dedication to defense. Ty Jones had 11 points, 9 assists, and 4 steals, while the rapidly improving Grayson Allen scored 10 points in a variety of impressive ways. Much of Matt Jones’ contributions did not show up on the stat sheet as is true of Marshall Plumlee’s physicality and aggressiveness in the paint. When Duke had to execute a half-court offense, it usually went through Winslow, who ended the first half with 17 points as Duke led 42-27 at the break without hitting a single three pointer. The victory makes Duke107-30 against Clemson and 58-4 in Cameron. The Tigers haven’t won at Cameron since 1995.

An emotionally drained Coach K said that “This was one of the best wins we’ve had here in a long time” and that Okafor’s ankle had no structural damage and was getting stronger every day. But he made no promises about Wednesday night’s game at Virginia Tech.

Other comments:

    • Who are the Players of the Year? Easy, the Duke Freshman class.
    • Krzyzewski was asked what he had to teach his precocious his freshman point guard, Ty Jones: ”Talk more. Be more vocal. Be a mother. Tell everyone what to do and where to be. Mothers are the greatest point guards in the world. It’s eat this. Do that. Make your bed. If she has four kids, every one of them is nourished.”
    • Quinn Cook made 3 three pointers, the 37th consecutive game he has at least one made 3-pointer.  He has 74 three pointers on the season. When Cook finally took a seat on the bench with 1:16 left, it was the first time he had been off the floor since the end of the Notre Dame game, a total of 164 minutes. Krzyzewski compared his durability to that of Johnny Dawkins, Chris Duhon, and Bobby Hurley, three never-get-tired legends.
    • Okafor may be a leading candidate for National Player of the Year but he may have a tough time beating Cook out for ACC Player of the Year.
    • If Okafor doesn’t fully recover from his ankle injury, the Carolina victory will be a Pyrrhic victory.
    • The rumors of his forced retirement are greatly exaggerated: Dickie V was back in the house and behind the ESPN microphone.
  • Did you know? The Duke Blue Devils were almost the Blue Titans, Blue Eagles, Polar Bears (yes, really), Royal Blazes, or Blue Warriors. All were options–and none had any more support than the other. The Blue Devil is a reference to the World War I soldiers from France known as the Blue Devils of France. Their uniform had a flowing cape and was known for their courage. They even toured the U.S. raising money for the war effort. However, no one really liked any of the options for the mascot, but student paper editors were in favor of the Blue Devil mascot and so The Trinity Chronicle started using “Blue Devils” in 1922.

Alan Adds:

Coach K called the win “spectacular” — “one of the best wins we have had”.  His game plan was superb.  Duke employed a soft press (3/4 court) in two variations — a 1-2-2 (after made free throws) and a 2-2-1 (that reminded me of the wonderful UCLA press created by Wooden back in the 60s).  The press completely disrupted Clemson.  The key to beating a press is to get easy baskets.  Once an offensive team gets by the first wave, it enjoys a numbers advantage that should produce easy baskets.  The effectiveness of the press is measured by the positive the press produces — steals, turnovers, 10 second violations — against the deficits — easy baskets.  Clemson simply could not attack the press for easy baskets.  Not one!  When Clemson avoided the steal and turnover, the Tigers could do no more than get into its half court set.  To make the point, Clemson tried to press Duke at the beginning of the second half.  Tyus got the inbound and hit Matt with a long full court pass for an easy dunk.  Duke beat the Clemson press in maybe 2 seconds for the easy score.  Clemson never pressed again.  Coach K said that it was natural to fall back from the press into a zone defense.  The zone protected Duke from foul trouble and played against Clemson’s weakness.  Coach K insightfully pointed out that it’s some of what you do (playing good zone defense), but also Clemson missed the open 3s that they did achieve against the zone.  It was a great defense against a team whose strength is not shooting (remember the Louisville game).

Offensively, Duke was dominant.  In the first half, when the 3s were not falling (1-7; Winslow’s only 3 of the game), Duke was 17-26 from inside the arc and 5-5 from the line.  In the second half, Clemson made its only run of the game and with 14:02 left in the game had reduced a 14 point lead to 10 (51-41).  Duke’s response was dramatic — 6-6 from the 3 point line, initiated by Grayson Allen’s only basket of the second half, followed by an offensive explosion that pushed the lead to 30 (76-46) with a little under 5 minutes to go.  Clemson was simply gutted.  For the game, Duke was 23-38 from inside the arc, which is amazing (7-20 from 3land).  Duke had 19 fast break points off turnovers,  42 points in the paint and 15 assists on 30 field goals.

Quinn was jaw-droppingly good in his 39 minutes, defending superbly in the zone and scoring a career high (tied) 27 points on 11-18 shooting (3-7 from 3land and 2-2 from the line) to go with 4 rebounds; 4 assists and a steal.  Coach K lavished praise — “I’m not sure there is anyone in the conference playing better.”  “The relationship between Quinn and Tyus is better than I ever could have expected.  I knew it would be good, but it has exceeded my expectations.”  Tyus logged 39 minutes also, though he had a statistically quiet game — if you can call 9 assists, 4 steals and 11 points quiet.

Justise was all that I have said I thought he could be.  He dominated the Clemson defense in the first half (17 points on 7-11; 1-1 and 2-2) and 6 tough rebounds.  He logged 37 minutes making the zone defense effective with his energy, and keeping Duke’s small team from being dominated on the boards with his 13 rebounds.  He is such a stud athlete.  If he improves his medium range game he will become James Harden.  He was simply amazing and was visibly the best athlete on the floor.

After the Big 3 against Clemson, Duke received contributions from all (almost all, as Amile had a bit of a subpar game).  The bench — Grayson and Marshall — contributed 42 terrific minutes.  Marshall played 24 minutes with 3 boards, 3 points and some real defensive contribution inside in the zone.  Welcome Grayson Allen to the realm of valuable player.  He scored 10 in his 18 minutes and demonstrated his hustle, defensive chops and athleticism.  His first basket was a delicious lob-dunk from Tyus.  He was 2-3 from the field and 3-3 from the line for 7 in the first half.  He played the back line in the zone and you could see his confidence beginning to soar.  Matt played a quiet (on offense) 25 minutes as a starter.  He missed quite a few wide open 3s (1-6 from behind the arc), scored 5 points, but had 5 rebounds and played wonderful defense.  On one play he knocked the ball loose while playing defense, dived on the floor to secure it and in the same motion flipped it to Tyus, who hit Justise for the open court slam.  It was a beautiful play and demonstrated why Coach K loves Matt.  Only Amile was a bit unproductive, logging only 16 minutes (2 fewer than Grayson, which tells us something) scoring 2 points (1-2; the one was the second basket of the game for Duke) with 0 boards; 0 assists; 0 free throw attempts, and 2 turnovers.

Coach K got the most out of Jah’s absence.  First, Jah was a great teammate and really into the game (actually helping Quinn up after a great play).  Second, any thoughts of a let down after the great Carolina win were eliminated by the need to emotionally replace Jah’s presence.  When I heard that Jah was not playing, I actually felt that it worked to Duke’s advantage emotionally.  Finally, the confidence the team has to have after playing so dominantly without Jah will help this team make the leap from very good with potential to the next level.  Coach K is gushing over his team’s development.  As each of the components of the team gains in confidence that is produced by achievement, you can see the team grow.  This Duke team is beginning to remind me of the NY Knicks (circa 1970-73) in their ability to find the open man, trust and rely on teammates, and to collectively defend.  This was a wow game!

Duke 91- Virginia Tech 86

For the second game in a row Coach K played Russian Roulette –but of a different kind. After an very impressive win playing a soft three quarter court zone press against Clemson without Jahlil Okafor, he went back to a man man-to- man defense when the second unit substitutions gave up three quick threes to cut deeply into an eleven point lead and jump started the Hokies.* Sound familiar to the Carolina game? He stayed with the man defense until Duke was down seven points with fifteen minutes left in the game. Then Coach K called a time out, reluctantly switched to what appeared to a straight defend the three 1-2-2 (or 3-2) zone. Four minutes later,  Duke was up two. The game was a cliff hanger and went to overtime but Duke’s superior talent—particularly Okafor, Cook, and Winslow—and a regression to the mean finally caught up with Virginia Tech.

The Blue Devils really dodged my metaphorical bullet as they were lucky to survive when their two weaknesses were simultaneously in play: the inability to defend off the dribble which led to an insanely accurate three point shooting night by the Hokies (12 threes) combined with the Devils missing 11 free throws. However, thanks to Okafor’s 30 points and Cook’s 26 points (6 threes) the Blue Devils shot 59 %. Obviously,  Jah’s “game time decision” was a game changer.

While Virginia Tech’s record places them at the bottom of the league, this is misleading. They are young, small and very well coached as tonight’s game plan demonstrated. They executed well, exploited Duke’s continuing inability to consistently keep opposing guards from penetrating and shot threes like they formerly had only dreamed about in front of a delirious home crowd. It was another arena full of amped up students looking to rush the floor at the end of the game after their team upset nationally ranked Duke, then go back to the dorm, call their parents and friends, and watch it replayed on ESPN SportsCenter–what else is new. This is the new normal version of five seconds of fame.

The bottom line is that this was an ugly but another impressive win precisely because it was an infinitely losable game that was so important. As a coach told me years ago: “Good teams consistently find ways to win close games.” Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Wisconsin all lost yesterday, so the door is now wide open for a two seed in the ACC Tournament and a possible one seed in the NCAA Championship Tournament. Duke just has to keep winning. Easier said than done; but that is why this is so much fun!

Every future opponent, especially an  undersized mid-major that draws Duke in NCAA Tournament,  will attempt to follow the Hokie’s game plan.

Krzyzewski said: “We have had to cut practice so short because of numbers, that’s why you’ve seen slippage on defense. We didn’t play well defensively. Everything we tried, they had a counter to, until the last play of regulation. It’s the second time in two weeks we’ve won an overtime game, and the other team had the ball on the last possession. I’m proud of my guys to be able to make a stop at that time.”

The other stop Krzyzewski was referring to was against  North Carolina. Marcus Paige missed a contested jumper at the end of regulation, and J.P. Tokoto missed a jumper from the baseline in overtime. This one was a lot closer as the ball on the final drive in regulation was less than an inch from falling off the rim and into the basket at the buzzer. Instead, it bounced off.

Even more important than the win was the condition of Okafor’s  injured ankle. Well, he had 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting , a new career-high (in 37 minutes) and Duke needed every one of them. After the game he said that his ankle felt fine, but he didn’t know he was going to play until he got into the locker room before the game. “My coaches had told me to let them know if I wanted to play or not,” he said. “Once I got in the locker room and saw my teammates get ready, there was no way I wasn’t playing today.”

“If he would have said, ‘I don’t think so,’ then we wouldn’t have played him,” Krzyzewski said. “And we would have lost.”

*Like most of you, I didn’t see the start of the game because the Richmond, VCU game went to overtime and I didn’t tap into the goduke.com video soon enough, so I don’t know what went on offensively or defensively when Duke started the game by going up 11 points. It is one reason why I don’t like ESPN not allowing more time between double headers.

Alan Adds:

It was a weird and interesting game, from which I believe Duke takes a lot of positives.  The game was watchable before ESPN by going to goduke.com and clicking on watch live.  So I did see the entire first half as Duke built an 11 point lead after a bit more than nine minutes had elapsed.  I thought it was going to be a repeat of the Clemson blow out, but Duke got sloppy defensively in its 3/4 court press and left Hokie shooters open.  The result was three consecutive threes for VT while Duke committed turnovers.  Once VT was back in the game, all the emotional momentum swung toward the Hokies.

Va. Tech has lost a whole lot of close games; the team is small and young, but has played with admirable heart all year.  Here was their moment!  All the shots were falling (70% in the first half; 12-22 for the game from behind the arc and 12-15 from the line), and the crowd was rabid.  The elements for a monumental upset were fully present.  Frankly, if we weren’t dyed in the wool Duke fans, we would have been rooting for the courageous Hokies.  While Duke was offensively good, Duke seemed lethargic — especially on the defensive end.  It was, as Bill points out, a game that could easily have been lost, as other top 15 teams lost this week (Kansas, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and even UNC).  But, Duke won, and in doing so, demonstrated the character of this team that has Coach K effusive in his praise for the team’s desire to win.  “You can’t coach that, and these kids have it.”

Jah was amazing on offense, playing 37 minutes and scoring a career high 30 points (13-18 from the field and 4-9 from the line).  Coach K singled out Justise for changing the game by his full court drives when Duke was down 8.  He got tough rebounds and was an energetic defender.  In 39 minutes, he scored 15 on 7-12 from the field (0-1 from both 3land and the line) to go with 7 boards, 2 steals and a block.  When he fouled out with 1:21 to go in the overtime and Duke clinging to a one point lead, it seemed a bad moment for Duke’s chances.  But Quinn came to the rescue. After a very quiet first half, scoring only 5 (2-5 from the field; 1-4 from 3land), he exploded in the second half to lead Duke to victory.  Simply, he stepped up the way veteran leaders do, scoring 21 in the second half and overtime (5-7 from behind the arc and a layup; 4-6 from the line).  He closed out on a potential three point shooter at crunch time.  His three with a minute to go in the overtime, after Va. Tech had crawled back to within a point, gave Duke a two possession lead and a strangle hold on the game.  He was quite special, earning K’s praise, “He’s a first team All Conference performer.”  Both Quinn and Tyus played the entire 45 minutes, though Tyus had his worst shooting night (3-10 from the field; 1-5 from 3land without a single free throw attempt).  However, he handed out nine assists and controlled Duke’s efficient offense.  Matt Jones was efficient in his 32 minutes, scoring 7 (2-2 on clutch layups at crunch time and1-2 from behind the arc).  He had key assists, 3 steals and played hard as a starter.

Duke played a very short rotation with Marshall playing only six minutes (0 points; 0 boards; a turnover and 2 fouls) and Grayson only 7 (scoring 4 on 1-2 from behind the arc and 1-2 from the line.    Jefferson played sparingly — 14 minutes; 6 rebounds and 2-4 from the line.  He replaced Jah on defense in the overtime.  As great Jah was (is) offensively, he was a defensive liability.  When he gives help, he was giving up the roll to the basket for easy layups.  I am not sure how Duke wanted to play it (rotation from the weak side, or Jah not defending the ball so aggressively?), but Coach K played offense-defense with Amile through most of the overtime.  The bench played only a total of 27 minutes collectively in an overtime game.

If Duke had lost, it would have been free throw shooting, which was terrible.  Only Cook shot better than 50% (67% is far under his 90% average).  Amile was 2-4 and Grayson 1-2; the only other Duke players to reach 50%.  Justise was 0-1 (failed to convert a 3 point play) and Jah is becoming a Hack-a-Shaq candidate with only 4-9.  Without Quinn, Duke shot 7-16 from the line (compared to VT’s 12-15).  Sooner or later that will bite, if foul shooting by the bigs does not improve.  But the headline was Coach K’s, “My team finally participated at the level worthy of winning.”  And so they did!  A feat worth savoring.

Duke  73- Syracuse 54 

As the season progresses, you want your team to improve by developing chemistry, being resilient, and staying healthy. After a too-close-for-comfort win at Virginia Tech, I was anticipating a strong game in Cameron against Syracuse, which seems to have replaced Maryland as Duke’s second most intense rival. The Blue Devils did not disappoint. The key to beating a zone is ball movement, because crisp passing moves faster than any defender. And one key is to get the ball into the high or low post to a versatile  player who can either score or want to pass to an open teammate on the perimeter. Jahlil Okafor is that man squared. Of course, then the perimeter players need to hit open threes. If they do, game over as it was tonight 73-54. The other key is to defend well so there are plenty of open court opportunities to score before the zone defense has time to set up. Altering man-to-man and zone defenses and applying occasional full-court pressure, Duke prevented ‘Cuse from getting into any offensive rhythm. Of course, it helps when an opponent does not have a true point guard. They only shot 31% from the field. Thanks primarily to Quinn Cook and Matt Jones, Gbinije, who scored a career-high 27 points in the team’s first meeting, finished with 12 points shooting just 5-of-20 from the floor. As a team, Syracuse shot only 31 % from the field.

In the month Sulaimon has been gone, the  Blue Devils have gone 9-0, with three wins over top 15 teams – the same number of such wins they had in the first twenty games with Sulaimon. That is primarily because Matt Jones has taken advantage of his additional minutes and proven so productive as an ultimate, versatile team player that he has earned many of Amile Jefferson’s minutes and Justice Winslow has shot 53 percent from the floor and scored in double figures in the last ten games. Of course, Okafor has scored in double figures in every game and often has double doubles. Cook has been more productive than anyone not named Krzyzewski could have imagined, and Ty Jones plays like a seasoned veteran.

So, Duke has positioned themselves for a terrific stretch run if defense is not a game to game question mark, the Big Guys shoot foul shots like the Small Guy firm of Jones, Cook, Jones, and Allan. However, the biggest impediment may be injuries. Cook turned his ankle, went to the locker room, had it examined and re-taped, returned and immediately hit a three. Okafor, who missed one game with his sprained left ankle, had it tighten up tonight during warm-ups, so he had to go back inside for more physical therapy and a new tape job. How much better (except for free throws) could he have played? And Coach K casually mentioned in his press conference that what was advertised as the “bruised ribs and shoulder soreness” that Winslow was dealing with since January 19 was actually a fractured rib. (Coach is an old Army guy and unless you are missing a limb, you are only “sore” or “nicked”.) Since the Pittsburgh game, Justice has been playing with protective padding under his jersey, and, clearly,  it is better and he has gotten used to the protective vest. And, oh yes, eighth man Grayson Allan has a sprained ankle.

So, going into postseason with a short bench, the need to get and stay healthy is even a more pressing concern than defense or free throw shooting.

Additional comments:

  • I take no delight in noting the team’s success since Sulaimon left as I admired his passion and contributions to the team and the school. It is also noteworthy that he is still in school, going to classes, and registered to go to summer school. This optimizing his options. In addition, in this world of rampant social media where there are apparently few secrets and many untruths in circulation, no one outside the tight Duke Basketball circle seems to know the real story surrounding his dismissal and as far as I know, no knowledgeable person–especially Sully– is tweeting or communicating anything. How tough must it be for Rasheed to stay in school, watch from a distance the success of the team, which was such a major part of his life for almost three years?
  • Joe Lunardi and his Brackatology talk during the game was even more annoying Dick Vitale! To quote Ms. Clinton: At this point, WHAT DIFFERENT DOES IT MAKE? The season isn’t over for another week! That talk is a time filler for ESPN when they have run all the highlights. And speaking of ESPN, will someone tell me how to access ESPN3 or wherever they direct you to see a game whose start has once again been preempted by a previous game lasting more than two hours.

Alan adds:

Wednesday night, Duke plays its last game of the season in Cameron against Wake, and will close the home career of the team’s only graduating scholarship senior, Quinn Cook.  It has been a pleasure to watch Quinn  sometimes struggle, but truly grow in his four year career into a superb clutch performer and team leader.  We used to be able to do that with teams and players regularly before the “one and done” period.  Duke hangs banners for regular season ACC championships, ACC tournament championships, and NCAA Final Four Appearances in the hallowed rafters of Cameron.  Quinn stayed in Durham last summer and worked assiduously on his game and his conditioning.  He said in pre-season interviews that in his three years, his teams had hung no banners in the rafters.  The most success Duke had in those years was a Sweet Sixteen win in his sophomore year (sandwiched between two shocking losses in opening NCAA games).  Quinn was very clear that he was motivated to hang a banner in Cameron in this, his senior season.  Virginia has virtually clinched the regular season title.  Duke will get a double bye in the ACC tournament, which is Quinn’s best chance to hang a banner.  This is one reason that I believe Duke fans should ardently embrace the Blue Devils pursuit of the ACC tournament crown.  It would be a fitting conclusion to Quinn’s career to win that title (which would, of course, insure a #1 seed in the NCAA).  Of course, Duke has aspirations for a deep run in the NCAA, and certainly a Final Four appearance is a realistic goal.  But it would be fitting for Duke and Quinn to win the title in Greensboro (The finals are on March 14).

Duke’s defense returned to excellent against the Orange, which was gratifying after the porous performance against Virginia Tech.  While Coach K ran a man to man defense for virtually the whole game, it had an interesting zone-like tweak to it.  Tyus was the on the ball defender against the Syracuse point guard, but when the ball moved from the point to other Orange players, Tyus moved down into the lane with two purposes: 1) to help against Christmas; and 2) to prevent or make difficult perimeter drives into the lane that had been so successful two weeks ago.  It worked like a charm.  Tyus was there to help Quinn when Silent G tried to penetrate into the lane (also allowing Quinn to close out aggressively); the result that Gbinije was 5-20 from the field (2-9 from 3land) and never made it to the foul line.  Superb defense.  Matt is a truly gifted defender, and Justise has demonstrated a wonderful energy, quickness, and strength on the defensive end.  He steals on the perimeter, defends the rim (3 blocks against ‘Cuse), and comes up with the tough rebounds and 50-50 balls.  Jah had an excellent defensive game against a player, who is an ACC player of the Year candidate, as well as dominant performance on the boards (14; 7 on offense).   It was simply a grand defensive show, if you ignore Duke’s weak defensive rebounding in the first part of the first half.

Offensively, the two halves were completely different.  The game started off beyond sloppy.  Duke turned it over 7 times in the first eight minutes while Roberson scored on 3 straight offensive rebounds in the first 5 minutes.   Then Justise and Jah turned it on, and dominated the Orange on the interior.  Jah was 4-7 from the field for 8 points to go with 8 rebounds (he would have made it to double figures if he had not missed all 5 of his free throws).  He held Christmas to 2 field goal attempts (5 points) while committing only 1 foul.  Justise was even better scoring 15 points on 7-11 shooting (1-2 from 3land) to go with 6 boards.  Two of his misses were wide open at the rim on great feeds from Tyus; so it was really an extraordinary first half for Justise. Jahlil and Justise scored 22 of Duke’s 34 first half points.   The Duke backcourt was as ineffective in the first half as Jah and Justise were dominant.  The rest of the team was 4-23 from the field.  Tyus was off, (1-4; 0-2 0 free throws 1 bd, 2 assists against 3 turnovers).  Cook was 1-5; 0-3; Matt 1-4 1-2; Grayson 0-1; Amile 1-2.  The second half was completely different.

Quinn (34 minutes; out for ankle repairs) made only 1-5 from 3land, but kept his streak of 38 consecutive games with a 3 going.  However, he was 4-5 from inside the arc on some great drives and a floater to go with 6-6 from the line for 17 points.  He added a couple of rebounds, 4 assists and a steal while committing only one foul while playing tremendous defense.  Matt logged 30 minutes and was 2-3 from behind the arc in the second half, scoring 9 overall and grabbing 3 boards.  He is playing starter minutes (Amile, for example, played only 12 minutes).  Tyus played 38 minutes and ran the team effectively, though he had 6 turnovers and 6 assists.  He is quietly a really good rebounder (6 for the game).  He scored six in the second half for 9 points, but his scoring was not needed.  His rebounding was.  Jah was 2-3 from the field in the second half (6 boards; 4 assists, a steal and a block) for 13 points in his 31 minutes.   Justise was 3-5 from the field in the second half, including 2-3 from behind the arc.  He finished with 9 boards, an assist, 2 steals and 3 blocks.  Sometime, he camped in the low post with Jah and sometimes he was dynamite from the perimeter.  He was a force of nature playing all 40 minutes. Clearly the Player of the Game.

Amile scored the only 2 points the bench contributed (27 minutes total) on 1-2 (a layup on a beautiful feed from Tyus in the opening minutes).  He added 2 boards and a block for a creditable — though brief — appearance.  Marshall played only 7 minutes, grabbing 2 boards and handing out an assist to go against 2 turnovers and a 2 fouls in his cameo.  Grayson played 8 minutes, missing his only shot — a 3 pointer — while grabbing 2 boards and handing out an assist (1 turnover and a foul).

Senior night against Wake Forest on Wednesday.  It is a good night to honor Quinn as the team makes ready for the post-season, which we all know will ultimately measure this season.

Duke 94- Wake Forest 51 

It was Senior Night but it was defense and the young guns—Justise Winslow, Matt Jones, and Grayson Allen who were the stars. Justise was the first to explode at both ends of the floor. How many times do you see a line like this: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, & 6 steals from a 6’ 6” forward? We knew that Matt was a very  good defensive player and a terrific teammate whose contributions often don’t  show up on the stat sheet, but who thought he could dribble behind his back, drive the lane, and create off the dribble as well as drain threes? We have heard what a freakish athlete Grayson was and seen flashes of his potential but who thought in the first half, he would outscore Wake Forest 19-15 by himself and end up scoring 27 points in 24 minutes. Well, don’t think the Cameron Crazies didn’t notice and let Wake know it with the chant: “Grayson’s winning!” 

How impressive a team win was it? You could win a lot of money by betting someone that if Jahlil Okafor only scored 6 points and got 4 rebounds and one team scored 94 points, who won the game? However, the good news is that after shooting an air ball on his first free throw attempt, Jah later hit two dead, solid, perfect free throws. One word of caution: Both Winslow and Jefferson turned an ankle that required examination on the sidelines. The Blue Devils have only eight scholarship players and about that many injured ankles. They cannot afford to lose anyone to something more serious. 

Other Comments: 

·       Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Coach Jason Garrett, tight end Jason Witten and running back DeMarco Murray had seats behind the scorer’s table. And then the Crazies chanted, ”Tony Romo, sit with us” – and the QB obliged, heading into the Duke student section at the next-to-last TV timeout. It marked the second straight year Romo and Garrett caught Duke’s home finale – they also were here for last year’s victory over North Carolina.

 

Alan Adds: 

The first half of last night’s Wake Forest game was Duke’s finest of the season, which includes amazing halves against Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Furman, and UVA.  Speaking of the regular season ACC champion Cavaliers, take note that Duke’s defense was UVA-like in its effect.  However instead of the UVA  “pack line” (which includes very hard hedges by perimeter players), Duke unveiled a press that was simply devastating.  Duke stole the ball, forced turnovers, pressured the passing lanes turning Wake ball screens into defensive traps.  Credit everyone, but especially Justise Winslow, who can now be likened to Battier as a defensive presence.  He is all over the court, helping against penetration, trapping Wake ball handlers, getting tough rebounds and diving for steals.  How good was Duke’s defense?  After 10 minutes of play, Duke led 31-5 (extrapolate that out to 124-20 for 40 minutes).  Wake did not crack double figures until there was 6:21 left in the first half.  Wake only scored 15 points in the first half.  UVA like!  Duke called off the press in the second half in favor of a lot of zone, allowing Wake to score 36 points for its total of 51 — a point less than Duke scored in the first half.  Coach K pointed out that while Wake missed everything (“our defense had something to do with that, but they also missed open shots”). 

Duke out rebounded Wake 38-22, with the entire team contributing to Duke’s domination on the boards.  Justise, in 25 minutes, led Duke with 6 rebounds, followed by Amile (5 in 20 minutes) and Quinn (5 in 32 minutes);  5 players garnered 4 each — Marshall in 18 minutes; Jah in 19; Grayson in 24; Matt in 28 and Tyus in 32.  Worth appreciating such an efficient team effort. 

Offensively, Duke shot the lights out, but it started with great passing to find the open man.  [Coach K says it actually starts with efficient defense.  Duke had 22 assists on 34 field goals (21-34 from inside the arc; 13-25 from behind it; and 13-16 from the line).  Of course, Grayson’s stats stand out like a beacon (9-11 from the field including 4-5 from behind the arc — the one he missed was clearly “a heat check”, after which Coach K pulled him — and 2-3 from the line).  Matt Jones had 17 points (15 shots; the most on the team), even though he was 3-10 from behind the arc.  He scored 10 points (and had an assist) in the first four minutes of the second half; scoring 14 in the first 10 minutes of the last stanza.  His defense is truly outstanding, which is why the Duke defense is rounding into UVA like form (sometimes).

 Quinn scored 13 on 12 shots.  Matt (15), Grayson (11) and Quinn were the only players who took double digit number of shots.  Marshall and Amile scored 4, each on 100% shooting (Amile 2-2; Marshall 1-1 and 2-2 from the line.  Jah scored 6 on 2 shots (2-2; 2-3 from the line);  Tyus and Justise each took 8 shots.  Justise was 6-8 (1-1 from 3land) to go with a jaw dropping 7 assists, and 6 steals plus his 6 boards.  Tyus was 3-8 (2-3 from behind the arc and the free throw line). 

UNC in Chapel Hill on Saturday; ACC tournament opens for Duke on Thursday, March 12 (already in the quarter finals) 

As is the custom, co-captain Quinn Cook, who has had a fine career and exceptional senior year, was honored along with former manager Sean Kelly. The Duke Chronicle had a terrific tribute to Quinn that we cannot improve upon (except to remind everyone that Alan touted him as an exceptional talent when he was still in high school): 

IN THE AGE OF ONE-AND-DONE, YOU DON’T OFTEN SEE PLAYERS LIKE QUINN COOK ANYMORE. 

by Daniel Carp The Duke Chronicle 

When Quinn Cook came to Duke, he was an afterthought in a star-studded five-man freshman class that was expected to be one of the Blue Devils’ best in years.

Austin Rivers was the heralded superstar. Alex Murphy was regarded as the guy who could have the biggest NBA upside. Marshall Plumlee was the long-awaited end of his family’s Duke trilogy. 

Cook came to Duke as a quiet point guard searching for his place within the program. Four years later, the wiry senior from Washington, D.C., is the last man standing. The Blue Devil captain will be the only member of his five-man recruiting class to be honored Wednesday night when the Blue Devils play their last home game of the season against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

Forward Michael Gbinije was the first member of Duke’s 2011 recruiting class to go, transferring to Syracuse before the end of his freshman year. Rivers followed later that spring, making the jump to the NBA, where he was drafted 10th overall by New Orleans. Cook’s two remaining freshman classmates, Murphy and Plumlee, both redshirted. Murphy played for just one-and-a-half seasons before transferring to Florida December 2013. Plumlee has one year of eligibility remaining and will play next year. 

Graduation is sometimes viewed as a failure in today’s college basketball world. With more and more players leaving school after one, two or three years to optimize their draft stock, 22-year-old NBA draft picks are sometimes viewed by teams as too old. Cook is anything but a failure. In the one-and-done era, he is a college basketball success story. 

During his four years in Durham, Cook’s game has undergone a complete transformation. His sophomore season was when he flourished as a distributor, averaging a career-high 5.3 assists per game. As a junior, Cook struggled to find a comfortable role with Jabari Parker dominating the ball on offense and Tyler Thornton competing for minutes at the point guard position. 

Knowing that the Blue Devils were bringing in a talented floor general in freshman Tyus Jones, Cook brought a markedly improved 3-point shot back to Duke for his senior season and has learned to be just as dangerous—if not more—playing off the ball than on it. For the first time in his career, Cook is hitting more than 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and is the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.9 points per game. 

But perhaps more striking than the ways Cook has grown on the court is the way he’s grown off of it. Once shy when surrounded by cameras and microphones, the veteran is an eloquent speaker and is one of the team’s go-to quotes for media members. As a junior, Cook was passed over for Duke’s vacant captaincy in favor of redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood—who had been with the team for just one year and had never suited up for a game with the Blue Devils. Taking it as a major wake-up call, Cook strove to become the leader his team needed and has since delivered. 

Captaining the Duke team as a senior, Cook has been responsible for the mentorship of the Blue Devils’ four freshmen, which comprise half of the team’s rotation. As a result, this year’s Duke squad has a level of chemistry that the teams of Cook’s freshman and junior seasons—also led by high-profile freshmen—lacked. That the Blue Devils are poised to post their best regular-season record in Cook’s four seasons is no coincidence. 

There’s no question that Jahlil Okafor is Duke’s best player. Justise Winslow is the team’s most talented player. But as a steadying force on the court and an emotional leader off of it, Cook is the Blue Devils’ most valuable player. 

At Duke, even the most breathtaking talents come and go year after year. In the age of one-and-dones, they just don’t make players like Quinn Cook anymore. 

THE SULAIMON STORY 

The Duke Chronicle broke a story built entirely on hearsay quoting unnamed sources alleging that sexual assault allegations against Rasheed were ignored by the Coach K , the Duke coaching staff, and the Director of Athletics. Despite being burned by the Duke Lacrosse Hoax and the thoroughly discredited Rolling Stone / University of Virginia fraternity gang rape story, the national media is in full  court Woodward-Bernstein-Watergate Smoking Gun investigative mode. Al Featherstone had a very balanced look at what has transpired: 

by Al Featherstone, DBR 

I’ve avoided writing about the Rasheed Sulaimon story because, frankly, I don’t have any inside information. 

But I was a little disturbed by how so much of the media reacted to Monday’s story in the Duke Chronicle, alleging that Sulaimon was involved in two sexual assaults on campus. What bothered me was how many reporters seemed to connect Sulaimon’s dismissal on Jan. 29 with that news and the angry resignation of a student secretary six days earlier. 

Now, such a linkage is possible, but from what we know now, seems unlikely to me. 

Why? 

Because there are two strands to the Sulaimon dismissal story. One is the long-whispered sexual assault allegations. The other strand is the long-running story of Sulaimon’s problems with team discipline and morale. We now understand that he was suspended for the Michigan game Dec. 3, 2013 (before any rape allegations were reported to the Duke administration). From everything I’ve been told, Sulaimon’s mercurial attitude presented a long-term problem for Coach K and the staff. 

Like many of you, I’ve heard of the stormy meeting after the Notre Dame loss, when Sulaimon reportedly met with K to complain about his playing time (just 12 minutes in the loss to the Irish). 

Now ask yourself, which is more likely to have precipitated Sulaimon’s dismissal from the team on Jan. 29: 

— The resignation of the student office worker six days earlier (before both the St. John’s game on Jan. 25 and the Notre Dame game on Jan. 28) … or:

 — The contentious meeting between Sulaimon and Coach K just hours before his dismissal? 

It’s certainly possible that new information will change my perception, but it now looks to me as if Sulaimon was dismissed for his attitude issues, not any long dormant sexual assault accusations. I can’t see where anything involving the assault allegations changed since last March. It seems unlikely to me that the resignation of a student office worker would have suddenly (but not too suddenly …. six days and two games after the fact) have led K to suddenly reverse a year-long course and kick Sulaimon out of the program. 

As for the assault allegations themselves, I have big problems with convicting a young man based on charges that have never been filed – not even with the student conduct office. I understand that often women won’t come forward in such cases, but I also remember the Duke Lacrosse hoax, when the university embarrassed itself by virtually convicting three young men before they were ever brought to trial (on what turned out to be bogus charges). I also remember the University of Virginia’s over-reaction to a story of sexual assault at a fraternity on campus – a story that has since been pretty thoroughly debunked. 

University officials have to walk a fine line between protecting the accusers and the accused in such cases, especially in the current legal climate on campus. I want to get more information in this case before I either condemn or defend the administration for its actions (or inaction) in the Sulaimon case. 

Final word. Excerpt from Sports Illustrated article by Michael McCann, a Massachusetts attorney and the founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law: “While Duke’s refusal to elaborate on allegations against Sulaimon may be unpopular, the university’s approach to media disclosure appears to be the correct one under the law.”

 Duke -84 –  North Carolina 77

This was a very impressive win, because the Blue Devils had a number of legitimate reasons/excuses to lose: The game was in the Dean Dome and the Carolina fans were in rare form; Duke does not match up well against Carolina’s big, physical, and talented front line–especially when Marcus Paige(23 points) plays as well as he did tonight; Duke again hit a cold spell and blew an early ten point lead; Justise Winslow, recently playing his best basketball, was limited to 22 minutes because of foul trouble including two I-can’t-believe-Justise-did-that unnecessary leg kick fouls, one of which resulted in a five point turn around; Okafor only had 14 points and 4 rebounds; and with Duke behind half way through the second half, Ty Jones injured his back on a drive and was unable to get up until assisted to the bench by a trainer and a teammate.

The reasons they won: Coach K started the second half with Jefferson replacing Matt Jones and had him lead an aggressive, full court press which slowed down the Carolina offense and, conversely, energized the Blue Devils to play more aggressively at both ends. As a result, Duke forced 16 turnovers and shot 26 free throws, twice as many as UNC; as in the first game, Ty Jones and Quinn Cook scored 44 points with Ty, after returning from his injury, again taking over the game; with UNC up 51-48 and the big three of Okafor, Winslow, and Jones on the bench for a variety of different reasons, the seldom-seen-in-prime-time lineup of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee and Quinn (Lean on Me) Cook scored eight consecutive points to put Duke in front by five– Duke’s first lead of the second half. This was a sorely needed Duke run that provided an emotional lift and a potential turning point in the game that the young but poised Blue Devils did not squander.

The bottom line is that this game was won by a half time coaching adjustment and a real time feel for the flow of the game decision (Those guys, we’re winning because of those guys,” Krzyzewski told his staff when they wanted to put the starters back in. “Let’s keep them in.”), the mental and physical toughness of any combination of five of the eight man rotation, and the leadership of the youngest, smallest but coolest player on the floor—Ty Jones (24 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals). In big game after big game, Ty has been the straw that stirs the drink for this team. But he could not do it without the complementary talent around him. His partner in crime (to opponents), senior Quinn Cook is having by far the best season of his career and deserves a lot of credit for encouraging and enabling the freshman to run the team (“Every big-time game, he takes it to another level. I’m just happy he’s on my team.”).  Because of this chemistry, they are one of, if not the best, back court duos in the country. With the game on the line, you want the ball in the hands of one of these two players —they have shot 90% from the line. Tonight, they shot 100%.

An emotional but generous Roy Williams praised Duke as  “a really good basketball team” then said: “I have been spoiled rotten. Ten years as an assistant coach, we always won on Senior Day. The first 24 years as a head coach, we won on every Senior Day, and now we’ve lost two of the last three. Whatever I was doing earlier, I need to get back to doing a better job.” He did not mention that Duke has now won three of the last four and five of the last six games against the Tar Heels—and that Coach K has more talented players.

Additional Comments:

  1. In tight, tough games, what a difference a great point guard makes!  And make no mistake, Tyus Jones is playing better in critical moments than any freshman guard in Duke’s history.
  2. It is not always how many points you score, rather it is when you score them. Jah only had 14 points but a significant number of them were at critical times in the second half. Matt and Grayson only hit one three each but they were back to back and fueled the pivotal turnaround run midway in the second half. Talented but seldom used Grayson Allen, who is playing with more confidence with each game, was 1-6 from the floor not only hit a critical three but also in the last precarious minutes outfought two Tar Heels for a loose ball and was 4-4 from the foul line.
  3. Before the game there was a nice moment when UNC honored Coach K with an acknowledgement of his passing 1,000 wins and an appreciation of how Dean Smith was honored in Cameron.
  4. This win combined with Virginia’s loss to Louisville strengthens Duke’s chances of securing a first round seed in the NCAA Tournament. Unless they are upset by North Carolina State or Notre Dame, the Blue Devils road wins against top ranked teams should secure them a number one seed in the East or the South.
  5. It’s worth noting that five of the eight scholarship players on the Duke roster made the Academic ACC team: juniors Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee and  freshmen  Tyus Jones, Justice Winslow and Grayson Allen.

Alan Adds:  

The Blue Devils concluded a simply wonderful regular season by winning 11 straight ACC games after losing to Notre Dame and Rasheed was dismissed from the team.  The growth of the team during this stretch has been palpable and visible.  There are many variable parts to the team, which can adjust during the game to shore up a Duke weakness and/or exploit the opponents’ ones.  This was evident against the Tarheels where Jefferson, who has seen his playing time diminish significantly in recent games, logged 31 crucial minutes and was instrumental to Duke turning the game around.  It would be easy to dismiss Amile’s 3 points (1-3 from both the field and the foul line) but, as Coach K pointed out in his press conference, that would miss the fact that he was “the key guy in our turnaround.”  When Duke went to the full court trapping press, it was Jefferson who effectively trapped and double-teamed in the backcourt.  Duke got a 10 second call and routinely left the ‘heels with 25-6 seconds on the shot clock when their offense finally began.  It changed the pace of the game at both ends of the court.  Amile collected 6 rebounds, 5 on the offensive end. Coach K also pointed out that Matt Jones (only 22 minutes) and Grayson had the confidence to keep shooting even though they were 0-4 and 0-5 respectively.  Each then nailed their only 3 pointer of the game at the crucial time.  Matt’s 3 gave Duke its first second half lead, 53-51 with 11:54 left; and Grayson’s only basket from the field (4-4 from the foul line for 7 points in 11 minutes) came 30 seconds later to give Duke a 56-51 lead.  Both shots were crucial.

Duke was lucky to be down only 2 at the half after going almost 10 minutes without a field goal between Quinn’s 2 three pointers at 12:52 and 2:59.  Duke scored only 3 points in that stretch —  Quinn’s 2 free throws and Amile going 1-2 from the line.  Duke shot only 28% in the first half.  Both teams were far more efficient offensively in the second half, with Duke scoring 53 points and bringing its shooting average up to 46%.  Everyone contributed, but Tyus was extraordinary.  He scored or assisted on 48% of Duke’s points.  I’m not certain of Bill’s comparison to other Duke freshman point guards — Hurley (got to the final of the NCAA), Jason Williams, and Tommy Amaker were also special, but Tyus seems to be in the conversation for sure.  Conclusions about this season will await the outcome of the tournaments.  Duke held its own in the paint (each team had 32 rebounds) outscoring the Tar Heels 32-28 while holding UNC to six second-chance points. In their first meeting, the ‘heels scored 62 paint points including 21 second-chance points.

Okafor played 32 minutes and was 7-9 from the field for 14 points (0-1 from the line) with 4 boards, an assist and a block.  He was effective toward the end of the game when it counted.  Quinn played 38 minutes and Tyus logged 37 minutes.  Most of Tyus’s time on the bench was spent nursing what looked terrifyingly like a serious back injury.  Then, miraculously he was back in the game not only playing, but dominating all aspects.  Quinn scored 20 points on 7-16 shooting (4-10 from 3land and 2-2 from the line) with 4 assists.

Two big second half spurts were the keys to Duke’s win.  With 14:41 to go, UNC led 49-42.  In just a few ticks over three minutes Duke seized a 56-51 lead.  Jah scored; Tyus hit a layup and 2 free throws; Jefferson scored a tip in (his only basket); followed by the two previously mentioned 3 pointers by Matt and Grayson.  In that period, UNC scored only 2 on Paige’s free throws.  The second spurt came after UNC had pulled to within 1 at 60-59 with 8:15 to go.  In a minute and 17 seconds, Jah hit a layup, followed by a long 3 from Tyus and a corner 3 by Quinn (on a great pass from Tyus).  68-59 and Duke held on from there.

Duke was 21 of 26 from the line, but Amile (1-3. His other miss was the front end of a 1 and 1, which is just like a turnover); Winslow (2-4) and Jah (0-1) were 3-8, accounting for all the misses.  With Carolina pressing in the last minute, Jah received the inbound pass with 45 seconds left.  UNC immediately fouled him, and he missed the front end of a 1 and 1.  He was on the bench when Duke next took possession.

It has been a magical regular season, but as we know, the regular season is not as important as the post-season.  The ACC tournament begins on Tuesday.  Duke has a double bye into the quarterfinals on Thursday against the winner of NC State v Pittsburg (7 pm).  The semi-finals are on Friday and the finals on Saturday night.

Duke 77– North Carolina State 53

One of the reasons Coach K has won more than 1,000 college games is that his teams rarely lose two times in a row to the same opponent. Trust me, look it up! After watching his previously undefeated team get absolutely torched 87-75 by State’s guards and big men earlier in the year and watching point guard Anthony ”Cat” Barber score 34 points against Pitt last night, Coach K devised  a three quarter court zone trap/press, then quicker than you can say “Dean Smith”, dropped into a variety of defenses that even former players now analysts Jay Bilas and Jayson Williams  couldn’t agree on. If they couldn’t figure it out sitting in the announcers booth with television monitors, what chance did the State players on the court have? What everyone agreed upon is that it took the ball out of Barbour’s hands, denied threes (only 5 for the night), and confused the State players so that it totally disrupted any offensive rhythm. Meanwhile, all of Duke’s eight scholarship players were on fire. Their lead went from 22-11 to 49-22 at the twenty minute break.

A totally unexpected, breathtaking performance. If it was a fight it, it would have been called a TKO right then and there. Consider this: If Duke had only scored five points in the second half, they still would have won. Who woulda thunk it? Not me. After seeing the first Duke –State game, I was afraid that State was a very difficult matchup for the Blue Devils. However, this is a different Duke team than it was two months ago when they lost by  double digits. We have seen this movie a few times recently—the first half in Cameron against Notre Dame, Wake Forest, and last Saturday in Chapel Hill against North Carolina.

It is hard to believe but Grayson Allen and Marshall Plumlee scored more combined points (23) than Winslow and Okafor (21). Grayson said after the game that he was “finally playing like player that they recruited me to be.” As they used to say in the music business: “Grayson is moving up the charts with a bullet.” I cannot remember a freshman coming off the bench in an important game and making such a variety of impressive plays: threes, drives, jump shots, tip ins, blocked shots, and assists—and he is one freshman who will be back next year. And while MP3 was the beneficiary of perfect assists from both Ty Jones and Grayson, he was in the right place at the right time with a strong physicality that the Blue Devils have been lacking in recent years.

Here is the defensive dilemma for Duke’s opponents: whether or not to double team Okafor. One-on-one he is a strong and creative load for any one player to defend. Double him and he is a willing and accurate distributor to an open man. Winslow, who had nine of Duke’s first eleven points, has honed his three point touch to go with his ability to attack the basket so that with Matt Jones and/or Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils have four forty percent three point shooters on the perimeter. This is a defensive nightmare.

In all fairness, which is not necessarily a feature of the expanded ACC Tournament, it should be noted that State played a tough late game last night which finished about midnight followed by the early game tonight, while Duke was well rested because the top four seeds receive a bye.

Other comments:

  •  To add insult to injury, Barber who had a career game last night against Pitt, not only was held scoreless but left the game midway in the second half after he collided with Duke’s Amile Jefferson and never returned.
  •  Quinn Cook: “It took me three years to finally realize I needed to play defense. I mean, it’s fun. It’s really fun.”
  •  This is an interesting statistic courtesy of Al Featherstone. Duke has played five teams twice this season and has averaged a 24-point improvement in the second game: Wake Forest +8/+43, Notre Dame -4/+30, Syracuse +8/+19, UNC +2 (OT)/+7, N.C. State -12/+24.

Alan Adds:

Coach K echoed Bill (think about that line for a moment) when he said he was worried about this game because State has been playing so well, and Quinn had been sick for a few days.  Neither of them, it turns out, had grounds to be concerned.  Duke played another perfect half of basketball in the opening stanza (like the first half against Notre Dame in Cameron, Wake in Cameron).  Duke scored on 26 of its first 30 possessions in the first 18 and a half minutes of the first half.  Duke was 17-28 (5-10 from 3land and 10-11 from the free throw line) in the first half, and had assists on 10 of the 17 baskets; not to mention 5 steals on defense.  Six Devils scored in the first half (Tyus and Amile failed to score; though Tyus had 6 assists without a turnover): Justise scored all of his 11 in the first half; Matt had 9, Quinn and Marshall had 8, Grayson had 7 and Jah 6.  As good as the offense was (and that was more than just very good), the defense was even better.

Duke employed its zone 3/4 court press, which delayed the State offense and took the ball out of Cat Barber’s hands (Barber had destroyed Pitt on Thursday scoring 34; he failed to score last night).  Duke played far more zone than man to man, with some changes from the usual zone.  Duke used its four guards to defend State’s 3 high scoring perimeter players — Barber, Trevor Lacey (who scored 21 against Pitt; 2 last night) and Ralston Turner (“he got loose a few times” said Coach K to score 13), and let Jah or Marshall defend the paint alone.  In the first half, State was 8-27 (30%) including 3-11 from 3land (27%) and only got to the foul line 5 times (3-5).  Duke forced 6 turnovers while State could only create 4 assists.  The Wolfpack scored only 22 points in 20 minutes.  Marshall said that it was team defense that was sparked by lots of team talking to each other on the floor.  Quinn allowed that it took him 3 years (with Coach K scolding him all the way), but he has finally learned to play defense and to love it.  This team is taking real pride in its defense.  Coach K was sort of agog:  He shrugged and explained that he had put in changes in the game plan, and that his team picked them up so quickly that the defensive performance was “beyond expectation”.

I focus on the first half because with a 27 point lead, the game was effectively over at half time, and Duke’s priorities changed for the second half.  The offense used clock; the defense was about stopping the 3 pointers (as Jay Bilas pointed out, it takes a lot of 2 pointers to reduce a 27 point lead).  NC State actually outscored Duke 31-28 in the second half.  All 8 Duke players contributed and Duke’s scoring was amazingly balanced with 6 double figure scorers.  Who could have predicted that Marshall (21 minutes) would play more minutes than Jah (19) and out score Jah (Marshall 12; Jah 10)?

Only Amile failed to score in his 20 minutes, but that does not mean he was ineffective.  He pulled down tough rebounds (4) and played stellar defense.  Tyus scored only 7 (all in the second half) in 37 minutes with 8 assists and only a single turnover.  Quinn (only 26 minutes) led the scoring with 15 points on an efficient 7 attempts (5-7; 3-3 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the line).  The second leading Duke scorer was Marshall, who had a scintillating game with 12 points (6-6 on dunks) to go with 3 blocks, 2 boards, an assist and a steal without a turnover.  Matt scored 11 in his 28 minutes (3-5 from the field; 1-1 from 3land and 4-5 from the line).  Justise (25 minutes) scored all 11 in the first half; Grayson had 11 in his 21 minutes and played an energetic floor game.  He took the most shots of any Duke player (5-10; 1-4 from 3land) to go with 3 assists, 3 boards and 2 blocks.  His offensive rebound put back was spectacular; Coach K called it the play of the game.  He is coming on.  Jah had 10 points (5 Duke players scored more) on 5-8 shooting to go with 4 boards, an assist and a block.

It was simply a dominating performance.  Notre Dame beat Miami and will face Duke in the late game (9 pm EDT or later) tonight.  UVA vs UNC in the early semi-final.  Hoopefully, this is Quinn’s banner.

Duke 64- Notre Dame 74 

Who were those guys wearing Duke uniforms in the first half? They looked a lot like the guys who lost to N. C. State and Miami way back in the immature days. Playing the way they did last night in the rematch against State for their twelfth straight win, combined with Carolina upsetting Virginia, one would have thought the Blue Devils would be locked and loaded for a prime effort. But the Blue Devils came out casually lethargic against a fired up fired up Notre Dame team with the same game plan Coach Brey has employed in all three games—don’t double Okafor, give him 28 points but foul him at critical times, and guard the three point line.

For twenty-five minutes, only Okafor played well. Then the other players got into gear and played like they had the last twelve games. However, although Duke closed the gap to four points, you cannot expect to make up a fifteen point deficit in fifteen minutes against a good team like Notre Dame.  3-17, 7-14, 22-25. They are Duke’s three point and free throw totals, and the Irish free throw total. They pretty much tell the story of who was on and who was aggressive. While Notre Dame’s defense was good, Duke’s guards had plenty of open looks that just did not go down– and the Devil’s defense was lousy. 

The bottom line is that inconsistent defense and poor foul shooting by Okafor and Jefferson have been the Achilles Heel of this team all season long but a potent offense and 90% free throw shooting by Jones and Cook covered for it. Not tonight. 

I have a friend Larry, who grew up in Cabin Creek, West Virginia and reads our blog. His older brother was the center on Jerry West’s high school basketball team and his son played for Marshall, so has played and watched a lot of basketball. Here is what he wrote me yesterday: 

“West Virginia has used the press all year and has led them to 23 wins. WV doesn’t have a player that could make Duke’s team but the pressure takes teams out of their comfort zone, makes them play faster, eats up the shot clock, causes turnovers and creates havoc. I’m positive that this plan has really helped Duke. They don’t have to play half-court defense for the full 35 seconds, teams speed up their offense and take quick shots and more importantly the players are in disarray and Duke can beat them down the floor for easier baskets. Yes, I’ve really enjoyed watching them play. Great basketball.” 

So, I am not alone in thinking Duke employing a three quarter court trap/press and multiple half–court defenses has been the key to big wins because it requires activity, aggression, and confusion. It will be interesting to see if Duke returns to that strategy in the NCAA Tournament. 

Well, next play. The only consolation is that the season is not over, there will be an extra day for physical healing and reflection, and another a chance for this talented team to fulfill their promise. Don’t forget:

In 1990 Duke lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC semifinals, then went to NCAA Finals.

in 1991 Duke lost to Carolina 96-74 in the finals of the ACC Tournament and still won the NCAA Tournament.

In 1994 Blue Devils lost to Virginia in the ACC semifinals, then went to the NCAA Finals.

Alan adds:

My daughter (Laramie) and I texted after the game.  “L: On to the NCAA.  A: Bad game, for sure; next play.  L: The only bad game is one you learn nothing from!”  Coach K picked up on the same thing in his post-game press conference: “We can still learn from this game.  Next game no more learning.” 

Coach K, while praising ND, said his team simply did not have “it” for the first 24 minutes of the game.  Duke has had “it” most of the year and certainly since the last loss to ND (12 straight wins).  Coach K was more insightful.  “It” has to be earned; “it” isn’t given.  He said Duke did not take “winning” for granted, but rather took “the preparation for winning” for granted.  The preparation for winning includes getting to the right emotional state to perform as …well, as Duke did the previous night against NC State.  If Duke “learns” about the need to prepare to win — especially necessary in the early rounds against much lower seeds (such as Lehigh and Mercer), this game will have contributed to a memorable NCAA run for this year’s Blue Devils.

“It” returned to the Duke effort after the first media time out with 15:24 left to play in the second half.  Coach K said from then on the Blue Devils “played their butts off”, fighting back to a place where they could have actually won the game.  Coach K admired the grit and toughness of the comeback, given how terribly Duke had played.  “It was unbelievable” that we even created a chance to win.  He thought the offense was fine in the second half: “We scored 38 points even though we missed every jump shot.”  Quinn was 2-12 (1-8 from 3land) in 39 minutes, scoring only 7; Tyus played 40 minutes scoring 10 on 4-13 from the field (1-5 from behind the arc and 1-1 from the line.  Matt was 1-4 in 28 minutes for 4 points, while  Grayson was scoreless (0-3) in his 11 minutes (limited by his four fouls).   

Duke’s defense was amazingly porous, which always leads to excessive fouling, and Duke did foul excessively (by game’s end, Grayson and Quinn had 4 each, while Jahlil, Tyus and Justise had 3 a piece). ND was in the bonus with almost 15 minutes to go in the second half.  As Bill points out, Notre Dame won the game by going 22-25 from the foul line while Duke was only 7-14 (6 of the misses were by Jah).   ND shredded Duke’s perimeter defense and drove into the paint effectively, going 23-42 from inside the arc for the game, but actually tailed off in the second half.  ND scored 41 in the first half.  Meanwhile, Duke couldn’t make a shot from the perimeter: Duke 3-17 from 3land (Quinn 1-8; 1-5 for Tyus; Grayson 0-2).  Duke scored only 26 in the first 20 minutes. 

The bench contributed just 4 points in only 28 minutes of play: 2 from Marshall in only 5 minutes of play and 2 from Amile (1-1) in his 12 minutes and 0 from Grayson in 11 minutes. 

So, the scoring came from Jah (13-18) in 35 minutes.  Of course the 2-8 from the line is a starkly negative statistic in the midst of an otherwise gaudy stat line: 8 boards, 2 blocks and a steal.  He carried Duke by himself before finally getting help in the second half from Justise.  It is hard to explain Winslow’s disastrous first half (“it” was seriously missing), but hard not to admire his last 16 minutes when he brought out the “it” in the team.  In 30 minutes for the game (but his production was in the last 15  minutes) he scored 11 (5-8 and 1-1 from the line; no 3 point attempts), hauled in a game high 11 boards, to go with 3 assists, a steal and a block.  He is an athletic marvel, but Duke missed his marvelousness in the first half. 

Duke still had a chance to win at the end.  With 1:48 to go in the game, and Duke trailing by 4, Jah was fouled and had the chance to make it a 2 point game.  The game swung irrevocably when Jah missed them both and Connaughton made an off balance jumper with the shot clock winding down (shades of Grant’s miracle basket at the end in South Bend) at the 1:15 mark.  Duke still had a chance, but Quinn turned it over with 1:08 to go, and missed a pretty open 3 with 28 seconds left that would have made it a 1 possession game. 

NCAA Tournament, which always defines how the season is looked, at is next.  But, when a reporter asked K about last season’s “failure to meet expectations”, Coach K defended his team last year —  “disappointing loss in the tournament but not a failure to meet expectations.”  He pointed out the team had won 26 games and played hard all year.  Still the loss to Mercer is how the 2013-2014 team is defined by us (the fans).  So on to the draw, and March Madness.  Let’s see if Duke will capture “ it” for the rest of the season.  Coach K promised, “We are ready to go to war in the NCAA tournament.”

Duke 85 – Robert Morris 56

Welcome to won or done. This is more like it—and, according to Ed Hardin of the Charlotte Observer, these guys are more likeable than some other Duke teams:

“Some people will never like Duke. Some schools will never like Duke. There are states that probably will never like Duke and there might be countries. But if you’re not aligned with another school and have nothing against alleged evil empires, you ought to like these Blue Devils. Duke freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were accustomed to being the best player on whatever court they stepped. But they play as if they spent their time on the playground looking for an open man. The most selfless of the Blue Devils, of course, is senior Quinn Cook, who slides from point guard to shooting guard to accommodate Jones.” [Note to Ed: this is Duke basketball, the personalities are just less abrasive than say, Laettner, Hurley, and JJ Redick.]

Robert Morris is a smallish but not an untalented team because with good guards—every team in the tournament seems to have plenty–and with the three point line, on a given night, any every team can be a threat. However, this game showed Duke’s many strengths and exposed their two weaknesses. They are lethally diverse offensively but will only go as far as their defense and, perhaps, free throw shooting takes them. When they press, they are better defensively and offensively, because they are continually in motion, take teams out of their comfort zone, and create more get open court opportunities. When they defend inside the three point line or even when forced to run a half-court offense, they are less impressive. Kenny ‘The Jet”  Smith, the ex-Tar Heel point guard, pointed out on CBS, this is the first Duke team in a long time that has eight interchangeable players—that is, all of whom can play more than one position, which makes them very versatile and difficult to defend.

The good news is that the Blue Devils started strong and pretty much kept the petal to the metal until they went on cruise control and Jahlil missed an ill-advised, open court reverse jam ( M. Jones:”I haven’t seen Coach that mad at Jah since practice. It was a little scary.”) that turned into a four point turn around and gave RMU the incentive and momentum to that cut a twenty-two points lead to ten. Coach called a timeout, substituted and Duke, led by Winslow, Cook, Jefferson, and the Jones boys, made a breathtaking, three minute run of dominating basketball to go back up by twenty-two. Marshall Plumlee played more minutes than usual and had a double- double. He brings an energy, enthusiasm, and aggressive athleticism that an adrenaline jolt to the action. If Duke happens to struggle, his talents come in very handy.

Coach K told the media Monday that he recently received a letter from a Duke fan, who claimed to be a member of the Duke Class of ’59.”He gave advice,” Krzyzewski said. “It was really good. He said, ‘What a great team! I love your team’. You know when they say that, the second paragraph is always going to be [critical].”It’s not a bad letter, but then the guy writes: ‘I hope you say three words to your team.’ I’m waiting for the next sentence, thinking what could these magical words be? “‘And they are Belmont, Lehigh and Mercer.” Krzyzewski wrote the fan back, acknowledging the letter and agreeing that he also loves this team. He thanked the fan for the advice, then added: “I’m not going to use the three words you said, but I am going to use four other words: Kansas, Michigan, Arizona and Butler.” Those are the four teams we beat to win the national championship. But I’m not going to use those words either because as much as our guys aren’t going to relate to the three that he suggested, they are not going to relate to the four I suggested.

“I am going to use one word: Duke. This is who you are. Let’s go for it. Let’s be excited. This is your time. Let me get you into your moment. You don’t get into the moments of Duke teams in the past.”

Other comments:

Grant Hill was one of the announcers for the CBS televised game. He is just as smooth off the court as he was on it. And he is no anomaly. Former Duke players seem to be on nearly every big college basketball game. Jay Bilas is on the top commentating team at ESPN. Grant Hill was picked to do the Final Four. Jay Williams joined Bilas on the hoops version of ESPN College GameDay, Shane Battier was hired for the “Big Monday” ACC slot, and Jim Spanarkel was promoted to announce the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. During the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend, three of the eight announcing teams for CBS and Turner Sports feature a former Duke player: Hill, Spanarkel and Mike Gminski. For the regional semifinals and finals, it will be two of the four crews. Studio analyst Seth Davis is also an alum.

Tar Heels fans who are not happy that they so often must hear the voices of Blue Devils can partly blame one of their own. ESPN President John Skipper is a proud North Carolina alum. In case there’s any doubt about his loyalties, Skipper had this to say in classic, tongue firmly-in-cheek ESPN fashion: “Every Duke graduate we hire is enjoying the benefit of working for a Carolina graduate. I am happy to assist in helping them overcome the handicap of their collegiate experience.”

Alan [who must have had a bad night, is in rare form this morning] Adds:

I am just up and have read DBR and most of the links posted there. Then I read Bill’s DBP draft.  It was as if he attended UNC and was writing a cut and paste paper for a no show class. Oh well, why is it always left to me to rain on Bill’s parade when he gets so optimistic after a good Duke performance.  We do know that he is top flight at criticism when the performance is sub-par (“why didn’t Coach K play more three-quarter court pressing zone?”).  It’s tough duty, but someone has to do it.

So, I want to remind us all that Robert Morris (originally an accounting school, named after a famous revolutionary and colonial financial patriot) had no players who were not dwarfed by Jah, Marshall and Amile.  While RMU has talented guards on offense, their preparation did not appear to embrace any effort on the defensive end.  Combined, Jah, Marshall and Amile were 18-23 from the floor.  Not many of those 23 shots were from more than two feet away from the basket.  Amile played the most minutes of the three (29) and scored 10 on 4-6 from the field and 2-3 from the line (the miss was the front end of a 1 and 1) to with 6 boards and 3 assists.  Marshall logged a double-double (first of his career) in his 19 minutes (5-6 from the front of the rim; 0-1 from the line for 10 points to go with 10 rebounds) and played stout defense.  Should we mention again how small RMU is on the interior?  Jah, in 21 minutes, was unstoppable except for the reverse dunk attempt that he missed when wide open.  He was 9-11 (10 if we don’t count the move that lit Coach K’s fuse) to go with 2 blocks, an assist and a steal.  An interesting stat is that he had only 3 rebounds.

We should think of Justise when discussing Duke’s interior — especially on the defensive end.  Winslow led Duke in rebounding with 11 (all defensive) and is the glue to the interior defense.  There were times that Winslow was on the wing when both Marshall and Amile were in the game.  When Duke was blowing out RMU in the first half, neither Justise nor Tyus were scoring (as seems to be their custom when Duke doesn’t need it), but in the second half when RMU made its mini run, the two combined for eight lightening quick points to move the lead back to eighteen within just seconds.  Winslow hit a three (probably the only crucial shot for Duke in the game), then grabbed a defensive rebound, scored on a layup.  After another defensive board and dash up court, he hit Tyus for a corner 3.  You just knew that one was going in when it left Tyus’s hand.  In his 24 minutes, Justise scored only 6 (1-2 from the line) but handed out 7 assists, tying Tyus for team lead.  He added a block, which was breathtaking.  When he performs up to his potential, Duke is hard to beat.

The guard play was excellent — on the offensive end.  Grayson had been too sick to practice all week.  He did log twelve minutes, which Coach K saw as a sign he was returning to health, but he was unproductive, failing to record a positive stat from the field (0-3; 0-2 from 3land) and going 1-2 from the line.  His return to health will be welcome.  The backcourt produced some great shooting and passing.  Quinn had a game that should make the All ACC team selectors (that omitted him) reconsider.  In a game high 32 minutes, Quinn scored a team high 22 on 8-12 shooting (6-10 from behind the arc) and added 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals to complete a superb all-round game.  Although he denied thinking about the opening game tournament losses to Lehigh and Mercer in his freshman and junior years, he made sure that a repeat of those two disasters was not a realistic possibility.  The thought was clearly in the air.  When RMU made its mini-run cutting the Duke lead to ten, the arena video showed the Mercer triumph.  Apparently Justise was offended by that reminder.  Tyus played 31 minutes, scoring 10 on 4-7 shooting (2-5 from 3land) to go with 7 assists, 3 boards and 2 steals.  He is so solid and reliable.  Matt scored only 5 points on 2-5 shooting (1-2 from 3land) but handed out 4 assists and had a board and a steal.  He is unquestionably Duke’s best perimeter defender.

It was a great offensive performance, but against a team that was not a defensive presence.  Tellingly, Duke had 28 assists on 34 field goals, which is amazing. Duke assists: Tyus 7; Justise 7; Quinn 5; Matt 4; and Amile 3.  The big guys, Jah and Marshall had 1 each.  The Blue Devils shot 64% from the field and were 24-31 inside the arc (10-21 from behind it).   Duke turned it over only 11 times.   Bill pointed to the 7-14 foul shooting, which is concerning.  However, none of the 3 starting guards even got to the foul line.  Amile’s (2-3) was the only Duke player over .500 from the line (Jah was 3-6; Winslow and Allen were 1-2; and Marshall 0-1).  It is worth noting that Duke committed only eight fouls in the entire game. But it is also worth noting the game was against a wildly overmatched RMU.

San Diego State on Sunday presents a far greater challenge.  They are coached by Steve Fischer (who coached the Fab Five) and have considerable size inside.  Duke had a superb performance against NC State in the ACC tournament before coming out incredibly flat against Notre Dame.  A challenge to avoid that against SDS after the rout of RMU.

Duke 68 – San Diego State 49 

Two down…on the Houston! 

Unlike the last few years, this young Duke team is on a season ending roll and playing their best basketball—especially on defense. Even the disappointing loss to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament was a teachable moment, because they learned that in tournament play a team has to play forty intense minutes to win. Just look at the carnage among the high seeds: #1 Villanova, #2 Virginia, #2 Kansas, #3 Baylor all are finished playing for the season. In each of these first two games, Duke lead by double digits most of the time but when their opponent made second half runs and cut the margin to single digits, the Blue Devils responded by going into overdrive and a “turn-out-the-lights, the-party’s-over” run. Today, it was another exhibition of flawless efficiency on both offense and defense in holding the Aztecs without a basket for eight minutes while running the margin from seven to twenty-five points. 

I think the most impressive characteristic of this team is that while they all are talented, their talents and temperaments complement one another—and they share the ball as well as the glory. While college freshmen, they have been buddies for a long time. Jahlil Okafor and Ty Jones have been playing together on AAU teams of some sort since they were in the third grade or whatever. Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen have been playing on AAU teams and in All Star games with them for years. So, playing Duke style basketball is not an alien concept for them like would be, or has been, for some other blue chip prodigies.

Okafor unleashed his full repertoire of post moves to dominate the first half by scoring eighteen points. However, as Kenny Smith pointed out, speeding up the pace of the game is a key to beating SDS and Winslow set the pace by rebounding and pushing the ball up the court like a runaway train of a point guard, either scoring on a drive or dishing to Cook or Jones for an open three. And then there was the ESPN Sports Center Special five point turnaround play when Justise flew in from trailing a fast break to spike a layup attempt that Ty recovered, took two dribbles, and hit Quinn in the corner for a three.  

There is winning and then there is winning with style and panache. Sorry Alan, these guys are really good and fun the watch! And no one is having more fun than Mr. Okafor, who was practically dancing in his seat. 

The ACC is having a terrific tournament. Although #2 Virginia lost, #3 Notre Dame, #4 UNC, #4 Louisville, and #8 N.C. State all joined Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. 

Alan Adds: 

Duke had a chance to put the game away before half time, but had a strangely ineffective last two minutes of the half, and saw its 18 point lead with 2:16 to go cut to 13 at the half.  The Duke offensive doldrums of the last 2 minutes of the first half continued into the second half as SDS chipped away at the Duke lead.  With 13;29 to go the lead was down to single digits, and with 11:16 left in the game, the lead had dwindled to 7.  Then the Duke players stepped into a phone booth and shed their civilian clothes.  Within two minutes, Duke scored 4 straight hoops (Quinn a 3 on an assist from Tyus;  Justise made a dunk on an assist from Jah; Grayson made a driving layup; and Tyus made a layup) pushing the lead back to 16.  Then, Jah hit 2 free throws (Duke was 2-2 from the stripe for the entire game),  Matt hit a 3 assisted by Quinn before Quinn made a layup assisted by Justise giving Duke a 21 point lead and effectively ending the game, even though a little under 6 minutes remained. 

Duke was efficient on both ends of the floor, shooting 55% including 6-14 from behind the arc while holding the Aztecs to 33% (2-13 from 3land, but acknowledging that SDS missed several wide open 3s).  Duke played very effective man to man with some pressure.  Offensively, Okafor demonstrated in the first half that he was unstoppable (at least by SDS) shooting 9-12 from the floor for 18 first half points.  Duke notched 10 assists on 17 baskets in the first half, finishing the game with 16 assists. 

The starters carried the load.  The bench contributed only 25 minutes (9 for both Amile and Grayson; 7 for Marshall).  Grayson was energetic, scoring 5 and grabbing a board while being charged with 4 fouls.  Amile and Marshall, who were so devastating against Robert Morris, did not score or grabbed a rebound.  Marshall had an assist.  The starters needed little help against the Aztecs.  Of the starters, Jahlil played the fewest minutes (33) while Quinn played 38.  Matt and Justise played 34 minutes and Tyus 36. 

Jahlil had a fabulous game totaling 26 points on 12-16 shooting (and his 2-2 from the line) to go with 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists and a steal.  He was dominant!  However, he was no more dominant that Justise, who had a superb all around game.  He is the glue to the Duke defense, including defensive rebounding.  He notched another double double scoring 13 on 6-10 shooting (1-2 from deep) to go with 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals (one was a breathtaking snare of a full court pass that was worthy of an all-pro corner back) and 3 blocks.  Two of the blocks were amazing, including the one where he kept control of the ball, pushed a great outlet pass to Quinn, who threw it cross court to a driving Tyus, who got the assist with a perfect pass to Jah for the dramatic finish.  Beautiful basketball.  Justise is reaching his potential as he gets healthier.  Today he — not Jahlil or Quinn — was the CBS post game interview (with Coach K). 

The backcourt played great defense and Duke only turned it over 9 times.  Quinn had 18 on 6-13 shooting (3-8 from downtown) to go with 5 boards and 2 assists.  His 3 that pushed the Duke lead from 7 to 10 was the clutch shot of the game.  Tyus had a tough scoring day (3-9 for 6 points) but handed out 6 assists while grabbing 3 boards and making 2 steals. Of course, when the lead dwindled he had two crucial layups.  Matt had only 1 basket (a 3) on 4 shots.  He was struggling offensively.  Coach K used Grayson for a bit more offensive punch.  When Matt re-entered the game, he made his next 3.  Competition. 

Duke had a great sub-regional in Charlotte.  In the 80 minutes of the two games, Duke had a double digit lead for 61 of those 80 minutes.  On to Houston for the next four team tournament.  Utah awaits on Friday night. 

Duke 63 – Utah 57

 Houston, we had a problem. Two of our primary engines were shut down. But Justise Winslow fixed the problem with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

I was talking to a Duke friend who was impressed by how invincible Kentucky looked demolishing West Virginia. I agreed that they looked terrific but the Mountaineers ran right into the Wildcat wheelhouse by playing an up tempo game and suggested that every team looks unbeatable when swimming with the tide and winning big. However, the real test of a team is finding a way to win when, for whatever reason, it is not hitting on all cylinders and swimming against the tide. Fortunately, it is easier to find a way to win when a team is as mentally tough, as versatile, and multi-talented as the Blue Devils. Utah, a very good defensive team, focused on stopping Okafor and Cook, Duke’s two leading scorers. So Winslow, who celebrated his nineteenth birthday in his hometown yesterday, played like a man among boys  and, as usual, Ty Jones chipped by scoring some timely baskets, which are more important than how many.

It may be hard to believe but defense (Utah only shoot 35%) and free throw shooting (77%. Jones and Cook 16-18) provided the difference. This was the third straight game the Blue Devils have played outstanding defense.

Duke’s mid-season surge started when Coach K moved a now healed Justice Winslow to power forward and replaced co-captain Amile Jefferson with Matt Jones in the starting lineup. This gave Duke a smaller but more lethal offensive and better defensive team. Nevertheless, Jefferson has had his moments. Tonight he had the “Wow” play of the game when he set a pick, rolled to the low double post, received a pass from Ty, faked an overhead pass to Okafor across the lane, which completely turned his defender toward Jah, took a dribble, and flushed a wide open dunk! The entire bench erupted with joy for their co-captain.

History shows that Duke performs better coming off a tough, hard fought win than a blowout. However, with Okafor struggling against the Utah tall, wide bodied bigs, it makes one wonder how he will fare against Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski and the other “Zag big front line that weigh in at  288, 240, and 231. One of them is freshman Damantas Sabonis, the son of the 7’3”Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis, who played for the Portland Trail Blazers, was one of the most skilled big men ever to play in the NBA. Unfortunately, his career was negatively impacted and ultimately cut short by Achilles tendon and other leg injuries that were not allowed to heal properly because of pressure from the Soviet Union to play international basketball.

Additional Comments:

  • Betting is a huge component to the popularity of the NCAA Tournament—as it is to pro football and the Super Bowl. When referees put seven-tenths of a second back on the clock, pulled the players back onto the floor and sent Quinn Cook to the foul line, bettors across the country mostly cheered. A lot of money was won because Cook sank one free throws to increase the Blue Devils’ final margin of victory to 63-57. Most sports books listed #1 Duke as either a five or  5.5-point favorite over Utah. A bet on the Utes to cover would have either won or pushed based on those lines until Cook’s otherwise innocuous free throw changed that. The decision to extend the game helped gamblers and hurt sports books. 83 % of those who wagered on the game bet that Duke would cover the 5.5-point spread. In the first two rounds the chalk players got killed. In this round, they got well as the favorites all covered the spread. Just to be clear, I do not bet on basketball or football games.
  • Krzyzewski has a record 85 NCAA Tournament wins, 20 more than Dean Smith and Roy Williams.
  • Tyus Jones named after Tyus Edney, the 5’8”UCLA point guard, who is semi-famous for going coast to coast in 4.8 seconds to beat Missouri in a 1995 NCAA Tournament game. Also, while in high school he often played on the scout team against the two-time WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.
  • Coach K commented that, because of their attitude, this is one of his favorite groups. They are enthusiastic learners which make the coaching staff more enthusiastic coaches.

Alan Adds:

With the exception of Justise, Duke had a very inefficient offensive game.  Consider only 5 assists against 14 turnovers.  The four guards shot 6-22 from the field (0-5 from 3land, ending Quinn’s streak).  Tyus was 3-9 (0-2); Quinn 2-5 (0-1); Matt 1-4 (0-2) and Grayson 1-4 without a 3 point attempt. Utah played superb defense and shut down not only Jah, but the entire Duke backcourt.  Well almost.  Duke gave up 18 offensive rebounds.  Yet, I never thought Utah would win, although I did think at points in the game that the Utes could win.  The Red Auerbach victory cigar was later in being lit than it should have been.

Why was Duke in such control when the offense was being held in check by the Utah defense?  Because Duke’s defense was absolutely superb.  As good as Justise was on offense (raves to follow), he was even better on the defensive end.  Even though Shane, Billy King, and others jumped on Grant Hill for saying that Justise was Duke’s best defensive player ever, there is a real possibility that Grant is right (or will be if Justise doesn’t leave).  He can guard the perimeter, the wing and even the post.  He is a ferocious defensive rebounder, and a force in the open court.  The pundits are disrespecting Jah for his far below normal offensive output (3-6 for 6 points and missing his only foul shot, a crucial front end of a 1 and 1), but not seeming to recognize the defensive force he was in his 32 minutes.  His only 32 minutes is because he is on the bench at game’s end when Duke is ahead because of his terrible foul shooting.  However, Jah defended the paint admirably.  He’s not a great shot blocker (though he had 2 important ones), but last night he was a great positional defender, whether against the post or the drive.  The entire Duke team completely scrambled the Utah offense and shut down what was previously a good 3 point shooting team.  It was seamless team defense and it was played with excellence and passion, whether in man (mostly) or zone (situationally).  In addition to wonderful defense, Duke was dynamite from the foul line — many of them in win or lose the game situations.  Cook (7-8) and Tyus (9-10), who each played 38 minutes, kept Duke in front even though Duke’s last field goal game with just a bit less than 4 minutes to go in the game.

And then there was Justise!  In his 37 minutes, the only mistake he made — similar I think to Jah blowing the reverse Dunk against Robert Morris — was when he celebrated his second three in a row, while the Ute he was guarding leaked out for an easy layup.  I suspect that Coach K might have used that as a teaching moment, when they were in private.  Justise was the only Duke player who had double digit shot attempts (8-13; 3-4 from behind the line for Duke’s only 3 pointers — the team was 3-9 from behind the arc) for his 21 points.  Put that together with 10 boards, a steal and 2 blocks, while turning it over only twice and committing only 2 fouls, and you have one helluva game.

Matt played 21 energetic minutes, but was inefficient on offense (3 points on 1-4 shooting and 1-2 from the foul line), while Amile played 20 efficient minutes (4 points on 2-4 from the field to go with 4 boards and a steal.  Grayson played only nine minutes, but managed to hoist up four shots (not shy; 1-4 from the field and 1-2 from the line for 3 points).  He continues to give the feeling that before this tournament is over he will make a mark.  He has the guts of a burglar in his offensive efforts and jaw dropping athleticism.  He is still struggling to be efficient.  Marshall was simply overmatched by the skill of the Utah bigs.  He played only 5 minutes, garnering a single rebound, while turning it over once and committing 2 fouls.

Duke had two strange streaks that prevented the game from being a laugher.  At the end of the first half, Duke had a 10 point lead and the ball with 2:50 to go.  A real chance to put the game away in the first half.  But then Duke missed 3 consecutive shots (Jones, Winslow and Cook) while turning it over once, and failing to score the rest of the half.  On defense, Duke committed 4 fouls in that stretch (Okafor 2, Plumlee and Winslow) Bachynski scored 5 on 3-4 from the line and a field goal, cutting the lead to 5 at the half.

In the second half, Duke had a 49-34 lead with 7:33 to go in the game, and started to take the air out of the ball.  It was the winning strategy, so this is not a quibble, but a report.  Duke made only one field goal after that (Justise jumper w 3:44 to go after Utah had cut the lead to 6; he also made the free throw to push the lead back to 9), but stayed in control with clutch foul shooting.  But the defense evaporated.  In a little over a minute, Duke committed four un-strategic fouls (Quinn 2; Tyus 1 and Jah 1) and gave up 10 points to Brandon Taylor (2 long 3s and 4-4 from the line).  Utah needed 3s; Cook honored the Taylor fake drive, leaving Brandon open to sink a three.  It was as if Duke stopped thinking down the stretch.

Nevertheless, Duke won without ever being seriously threatened.  Sunday against Gonzaga for Quinn’s first banner to hang in Cameron, and a trip to the Final Four.  What a season!

Duke 66– Gonzaga 52

Houston, no problems. Everything is  A-OK. We love you but are hitting the road to Indianapolis. And, thanks so much for sending us Justise, because without him we would be heading back to Durham.

The bottom line is these were two very, very impressive team victories. Let’s start with the fact that Jahlil Okafor, who was the ACC Player of the Year and  the centerpiece for most of Duke’s pre-tournament wins, contributed just 15 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 assist, and had 5 turnovers in these two wins. So, if Duke got by a talented #5 Utah team and an even more talented #2 Gonzaga team without  Okafor being Okafor on offense (but an improving force on defense), what does that tell you about the talent, adaptability, and maturity of this team and the adaptable strategy of the coaching staff?  Quinn Cook: “Our coaches, they don’t sleep. They had us so prepared, it’s amazing.”

No matter how good the game plan, players still have to execute. Let’s start Duke’s evolving defense. Gonzaga, the highest scoring team in the country, was held to 14 points in the last 16 minutes. They had 13 turnovers, Duke 2;  Gonzaga only shot 44% from the field but Duke only shot 38% themselves, yet won by 14 points. Is that a misprint? No, because Duke hit 6 more threes and 10 more free throws. All other stats were about even.

The final score is very deceiving. The Blue Devils started like they did in the first Carolina game in Cameron—like it was going to be a rout. But like the Carolina game, Gonzaga slowly fought back to cut a double digit lead to five at the break. Then they started the second half like they were the more determined team and took a quick four point lead. Timeout Duke and a patented Coach K attitude adjustment lecture. Duke regained their poise and took tenuous control of the game. From being up four with about four minutes to play, the Blue Devils just totally dominated their opponent by tight defense and hitting all but one free throw to win by a misleading fourteen points.

In close games, some baskets are more important than others, because they are momentum killers and/or separation points. Of course, Winslow, who wowed the fans and scouts with his driving, shooting, rebounding, defending, and toughness, had more than his share of both but it was defensive specialist and blue collar, jack-of-all-trades Matt Jones who had four big time threes as well as a backbreaking steal and layup to seal the win. There also were more than a few heady, hustle plays: Ty Jones saved a possession by diving out of bounds for a loose ball, and throwing it down on a supine Zag player who had fallen out of bounds. And Jefferson drew a third foul early in the second half by frustrating Sabonis, who had helped Gonzaga erase a five point half time lead. These are plays that excite and energize teammates to impose their will on an opponent. And there is no better practitioner of fighting harder to win than Coach K. Just look at how hard he is working on the sideline. It is a common belief that Guard play wins NCAA Tournament games. Well, Cook (10 points) and Jones (16 points) each played the entire 40 minutes against Gonzaga, had no turnovers, and hit the free throws down the stretch. Their counterparts, Gonzaga’s guards, Pangos combined for 9 points and 5 turnovers.

Additional Comments:

  • This will be Coach K’s twelfth (Duke’s sixteenth) Final Four appearance, matched only by Coach Wooden, whose teams only had to get there in a 32 team draw. Only 68 of the 350 eligible schools are invited to the NCAA Tournament. And Duke is in the Final Four with  a late season run of 20-2 with eight scholarship players, four of whom are freshmen.
  • Let’s hear it for recruiting nationally. The two players from Texas, Justise Winslow and Matt Jones, scored almost half of Duke’s points.
  • During and just after the game, it was just about a paid commercial for Duke University. Ads for the next show “60 Minutes”, aired promoting their  a segment on a possible cure for cancer at Duke University. Say what? A trip to the Final Four and a cure for cancer. You cannot buy that kind of publicity. BTW, the Chairman of CBS Sports happens to be Sean J. McManus, a Duke graduate. And, oh yes, Charlie Rose, an unabashed Duke grad and basketball junkie, made a halftime show appearance with Barkley, Smith and the gang straight from flying back from the Middle East where he had interviewed Syrian President Bashar Assad.
  • The Cowboys QB Tony Romo and Head Coach Jason Garrett were again courtside behind the Duke bench.

Alan Adds:

In the season preview of the DBP in November, prior to the first game, I wrote “In my opinion, last year was not just about the disappointing 3-3 down the stretch, including ACC tournament and the loss to Mercer in the NCAA tournament.  The most important factor in Duke’s disappointing (for Duke and Coach K anyway) season was its porous defense throughout the entire season.  So the question about the highly touted freshman class is: Can these kids make Duke the defensive force that it has usually been during the Coach K era?”  In the first four games of the NCAA tournament, the freshmen (and the rest of the team) answered the question emphatically in the affirmative.   Duke was superb defensively against the Zags, who were statistically the best or second best offensive team in the nation this season.  The Zags, averaging close to 80 ppg were held to 26 points in each half.  Critically, Duke committed only 6 fouls in each half; the Zags never got to the bonus.  Considering how much excessive fouling Duke did as it evolved into the defensive juggernaut on view this weekend, that is a significant statistic.

In the first half, Wiltjer (13) and Sabonis (7) had 20 of the Zags’ 26 [Wesley 4 and Bell 2 completed the Gonzaga scoring].  Coach K deserves a share of praise for his in-game adjustments.  Wiltjer had 5 and Sabonis just 2 in the second half.  It was a superb team effort.  Justise was all over the court providing help defense, whether at the rim or on the perimeter.  While Jah was not a scoring force, he was at his defensive best in Houston, defending against size and skill.  He doubled on drives and still defended the post well and was a force on the defensive board.  Matt and Amile are both superb defenders when each is on the floor.  Duke determined to shut down the high scoring, deep shooting duo of Zag guards — Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell.  Pangos, like Cook is for the Devils, is the heart and soul of the Zag.  He and Bell have started for four years and have won more than 120 games.  Pangos played the full 40 minutes, guarded primarily by Cook (Duke’s switching was a ballet like thing of beauty, so many Duke defenders get credit for Pangos’s frustration).  Pangos did not score in the first half and finished with just 4 points for the game.  Bell finished with 5 (only 3 in the second half).  Duke guards did not help (especially in the first half) when the ball went to the post.  The Zag perimeter game was completely stifled.  When the game was on the line, Duke held the Zags to 2 foul shots and 0 field goals in the last 6:40 of the game.

Duke played with essentially six players.  Grayson made a 3 minute cameo in the first half (0-1) and Marshall played 8 minutes, snagging a rebound.  The starters scored all of Duke’s 66 points, but the 20 minutes that Amile played were significant.  He grabbed 4 boards (3 on offense that were crucial) while playing terrific defense and committing only a single foul.

Cook and Tyus each played 40 minutes of tenacious winning basketball.  While Cook had a subpar shooting game (2-10; 1-5 from 3land), his defense stood out and he made clutch free throws (5-6) for 10 points.  He also grabbed 5 crucial boards and had a steal and an assist.  Most importantly, he now is part of a team that has hung a banner in Cameron.  Tyus had a checkered performance.  He carried Duke in the first half with 11 points on 4-8 shooting (1-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line).  In the second half he was 1-5 from the floor (0-1 from deep; a forced shot) and 2-2 from the line for 15 points.  He took the most shots of any Duke player (13;  Justise took 12) and seemed to me to force things a bit.  However, let us hail his defense and floor game.  He had 3 boards, 2 steals and 6 assists without a turnover.  Think about Cook and Quinn each playing the entire game without a turnover.  Tyus’s great out of bounds save, when he stole the pass as he was flying out of bounds and delicately dropped the ball on the supine Karnowski for Duke to keep possession was, in a sense a play epitomizes what Tyus brings to the table.  He is a winner in every respect.

Matt had his best game since coming to Duke.  He was amazingly efficient in his 28 minutes, tying for the team lead in scoring with 16 points on only 10 shots (4-7 from downtown) to go with 3 boards, 3 steals and an assist.  His defense was terrific.  He and Justise cover so much ground in helping without abandoning the man being guarded.

Jah logged 29 minutes while being held to single digit scoring for the second straight game.  He had an efficient first half scoring 7 points on 3-5 shooting (1-1 from the line), grabbing 6 boards with an assist, a steal and a block.  His second half stats were less than gaudy — 1-5 from the field; 0-2 from the line (including an embarrassing air ball that was a foot short of the rim) and 2 boards.  He did, however, play his best defense of the year against the size of the Zags.  The MVP of the Regional (at least in my opinion) was Justise, who played 32 minutes (it would have been more, but he had his ankle attended to).  In addition to his amazing defense, he eviscerated the Zags at “winning time”.  After a first half that was pedestrian by the standards that he has set in the tournament (5 points on 1-7 shooting from the floor; 1-3 from the arc and 2-2 from the line with a block, a steal an assist and a rebound), he took over the second part of the second half, scoring 11 on 3-5 from the floor; 1-1 from deep and 4-4 from the foul line.  He also grabbed 4 crucial rebounds.

With 4:51 to go in the game, Wiltjer missed a wide open layup at the rim.  The score was 53-51 in Duke’s favor.  Instead of tying the score, the Zags folded and Duke just took over.  Justise made 2 foul shots before the TV time out (55-51).  Coach K implored his team to get emotional and put the game away (according to the TV floor announcer).  Justise did just that.  He was fouled grabbing a rebound and made both foul shots.  Then with 2:53 to go and Duke leading by 6, he dropped the guillotine (a better metaphor than the oft used dagger) on the Zags with a 3 pointer for a 9 point lead.  From there, it was tenacious defense, Quinn making 4 straight foul shots before Matt’s highlight steal and layup.

Justise has become a reliable foul shooter (6-6).  He, Quinn and Tyus were 15-16 (Jah’s 1-3 gave the team 16-19).

On to Indianapolis and Michigan State in the National Semi-Finals on Saturday; tip off at 6:09 EDT.  Next Play

Duke 81 – Michigan State 61

It is common knowledge that the NCAA hierarchy doesn’t get much right– and to start this game at the odd time of 6:06pm (instead of say an even number 6:10pm) is just another example. During the first four minutes, Duke played defense like they did in the first half against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament, falling behind 14-6. Then, after a timeout and wake-up call, the clock struck 6:10pm and the Blue Devils outscored the Spartans 75-50 in the final thirty-six minutes. The Devils might also have taken offense to the Michigan State’s players slapping the floor on defense — a long-time Duke trademark — as a challenge or worse. “That was like a slap in the face to us,” the Matt Jones said.

As in every other win in the tournament, this was a total team win—all eight scholarship players and the coaching staff were hitting on all cylinders. It was a text book example of Coach K’s formula for playing winning basketball—aggressive defense, shut down threes, attack the basket with strength, protect the ball, get to the foul line, and hit free throws. Despite the margin, Duke only had two threes! But they made 17 more free throws, and shot 12 % better from the field than the Spartans. While Duke is more talented and versatile, Michigan State is a very well-coached, gritty and dangerous team that is very accurate from beyond the arc. However, as Blue Devil fans know only too well, if you live by the three, you can die by the three.

This impressive tournament performance has been fueled by an evolving symbiotic meshing of unique, but atypically unselfish talents:  A totally healthy Justice Winslow has helped propel this team to play at a higher level because Jahlil Okafor has not resented sharing the spotlight; Ty Jones is the generous pass first point guard (unless points are needed); Senior Quinn Cook just wants to hang a banner, so decided to love playing defense; Matt Jones is a versatile, blue collar teammate with whom everyone likes to play; co-captain Amile Jefferson, much like Nate James on the 2001 championship team, didn’t resent losing his starting position; Plumlee and Allen are just excited to get on the floor and contribute.

The Raleigh News Observer has a long article on the still-tight lipped mystery surrounding Krzyzewski’s dismissal of Sulaimon and pointing out that it was the turning point for the team. However, it sheds no light on the reason(s) and does nothing, except for repeating the rumors of two unreported sexual harassment incidents, but portrays Rasheed as a model student-athlete. The only thing that is clear about the whole episode is that Coach K knew something we didn’t. But that’s nothing new.

It’s Wisconsin, who did to Kentucky what Duke did to UNLV in 1992, and Duke for the title on Monday night at 9:18?pm. These are two of the best programs and best coached teams in college basketball. There will be a winner crowned but there will be no loser in this championship game. The Las Vegas line is “pick-em”.

  • Other Comments: 
  • Announcer Bill Rafferty must watch my favorite TV show, the highly acclaimed Justified  based on the Elmore Leonard novels about Deputy Raylan Givens, who sometimes bends the rules to achieve the right result, because after a sensational Winslow play he exclaims: “It’s not fair but it is Justise!”
  • Quinn Cook brought some of his point guard skills out of moths ball on a fast break when he faked a behind the back pass, took the ball back up for a layup, which brought the defender up off his feet, then dropped a bounce pass to a trailing Justise Winslow for a dunk—NBA stuff!
  • Grayson Allen demonstrated his extraordinary athleticism when he missed a three but got the rebound and dunked it much to the delight of his teammates on the bench.
  • Krzyzewski’s career record against Michigan State Coach Izzo stands at 9-1.
  • Some Kentucky stuff: Coach John Calipari’s teams have now appeared in six Final Fours: Umass, Memphis, and four with Kentucky, but with only one title win. However, only Kentucky’s appear the record book as his first two were vacated because of recruiting violations. When a reporter asked about Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison, also on the podium, muttered ”F— that n—-” into a live microphone. No wonder Andrew missed shots down the stretch. He missed the fact that Kaminsky is Polish-American. Alan will write more in more depth about the Kentucky player’s reaction to the loss.

Alan Adds:

Even in retrospect, it is hard to believe how dominant Duke was in the final 36 minutes of the game.  Coach K was effusive in his assessment of his team’s play, and of his team’s growth.  The growth is dramatically demonstrable on the defensive end.  Coach K was searching for a word to describe the defensive effort of his team, but had to settle for “terrific”.  He obviously wanted something more superlative, because it was warranted.  Michigan State’s numbers edged toward respectability after Duke led by 20 with a little over 10 minutes to go, when Duke began to milk the clock and play more conservatively (winning strategy again).  But before that, the Spartans were trussed and hogtied on its offensive end.  Come to think about it, the Spartans were not any more efficient defensively against the smooth functioning Blue Devils. Coach K emphasized on hard Duke drove the ball to the basket “ with force”.  The coach pointed out it got the Spartans into bad foul trouble (Duke was in the bonus with more than 10 minutes left in each session), and fueled the defense.  It was, in short, a tour de force for what is rapidly becoming recognized as a special team.  This makes the championship game so special, interesting, and unpredictable, because Wisconsin is also a special team.

I widely predicted that Wisconsin would beat Kentucky.  Kentucky is a team of exceptional athletes who play good basketball.  Wisconsin is a team of really good basketball players.  Notre Dame exposed the Wildcats susceptibility to superior basketball players and an efficient basketball team, but didn’t have the size to finish the job.  Wisconsin did.  Kentucky, in Coach K idiom, did not respect the game.  They were sore losers, disdaining the post game handshake (some players), whining that the season was a waste because they lost, and had Andrew disclosing (not realizing how sensitive the microphones were) his lack of sportsmanship to the world.  On the other Blue Devil hand, this is such a tight team.  When Justise was interviewed and asked about the prowess of the three freshmen in the starting lineup, he began his answer about the freshmen by referencing “the four of us”.  He was not going to allow the interviewer to ignore Grayson.  Team! Team ! Team!.  Coach K sounded like a young boy gushing over his first crush when talking about this team and the absolute joy of coaching the group.  A lot of lessons emerge from yesterday’s two games beyond winning and losing, if anyone desires to learn them.

Justise (29 minutes; only 12 in the first half because of foul trouble), Jah (30 minutes) and Quinn (35 minutes) were a combined 18 for 30 from the floor (including Quinn 1-3 from behind the arc; Justise did not attempt a three).  Justise was 5-7 on drives, but also note the 9-11 from the line to go with 9 rebounds for a game high 19 points.  His improved foul shooting is significant.  He is growing by leaps and bounds on both ends of the court.  Jah is playing defense at a higher level.  Coach said his earlier deficits were the result of his ankle having been injured but he’s healthy now and having great practices.  He was 7-11 from the field (4-7 from the line) for 18 points to go with 6 boards and 2 critical blocks.  Quinn scored 17 on 5-9 from inside the arc and 4-4 from the line.  He had 2 boards, 2 assists and 0 turnovers.  They were the Big Three, but not at all alone.

Tyus played a game high 38 minutes and was, as he has been all year, the glue to offensive efficiency.  He scored 9 on 3-8 (1-3 from 3land, but it was a key one) and 2-3 from the line.  He had 4 assists, 2 boards and a block against a single turnover.  He will have to shoot better for Duke to win on Monday.  Matt (28 minutes) and Grayson (17 minutes) manned the wing for the most part.  Both were hugely valuable on the defensive end and steady and efficient on offense.  Matt scored 7 on 3-8 (0-2 from 3land) and 1-2 from the line.  He had 2 tough rebounds and 2 assists.  Grayson scored 9 and displayed amazing athleticism and energy.  He was 2-6 from the field (0-2 from behind the arc) and 5-6 from the line.  His energy was contagious and the 5 rebounds he retrieved (one led to the dramatic dunk that Bill alluded to) was valuable.  The reserve bigs contributed big time in just a few minutes (each scored a point on 1-2 from the line).  Amile grabbed 7 rebounds in only 11 minutes and played valuable defense.  He also committed three fouls.  Marshall had a block and 3 boards in his 10 minutes.  He brings terrific defensive intensity and is so solid now.  It was a great team effort.

Don’t listen to the pundits.  Wisconsin did Duke no favor beating Kentucky.  Kentucky is a flawed team; Wisconsin is not.  This should be a classic.  What a great season!

Duke 68- Wisconsin 63

Down nine deep into the second half with another championship dream quickly slipping away, the most inexperienced, most overlooked of the young freshmen, Grayson Allen, scored eight straight, difficult points (more points than he scored in all but one of the thirty-two games this season) to singlehandedly bring Duke back from what looked like certain defeat and put the Blue Devils in a position to win their fifth national title. Then with the game on the line, Coach K said:  “Ty  run the high ball screen and be you,” later to comment (with tongue firmly in his cheek) that he thought that had to be considered great coaching. Immediately, the smallest, calmest player with the least fear, Tyus Jones, personally took over and won the game with drives, free throws, and lastly two cold hearted threes, the last of which with 1:24 left on the clock buried Wisconsin. The Blue Devil freshmen scored all of the second half points: Jones 19, Allen 10, Okafor 4 and Winslow 4. Justise finished with 11 points & 9 rebounds and Jahlil Okafor, who had a rough game, scored four critical points that gave Duke the lead.

Of course, none of this could have happened without other less obvious contributions: Unsung hero Amile Jefferson played 21 minutes of terrific post defense on POY Frank  Kaminsky. He had 7 rebounds, 2 assists & 3 blocks; Justise Winslow was again the key to the interior defense; Matt Jones, Quinn Cook, and Grayson Allen held Decker, the hero of the Kentucky game, to 6-15 and 0-6 threes. Late in the game, Coach K looked down the bench, saw Okafor, Winslow, and Plumlee and thought: “Boy, we sure have a small team on the floor but so what, they are doing just fine.”

Defense and free throw shooting, which were the primary deficiencies of this team for much of the year, were strengths in this very impressive championship run. In a halftime interview, Coach K telegraphed his second half strategy—drive hard, get to the free throw line and into the bonus situation. So, when Grayson came in, you  knew what was coming but never imagined he alone would turn the game around. However, it should have not been a surprise that the most unimposing, innocent appearing player known as Ty Stones would finish off the Badgers again. He did it four months ago in the ten point win in Madison, then again in the upset of Virginia in Charlottesville, and on and on. Has been doing heroic stuff like this in close games all season.

In the same season when Krzyzewski won his 1,000th game, when he dismissed a player from his team for the first time in 35 years, he moved past Adolph Rupp with his fifth championship. Only John Wooden has more, but Krzyzewski has done it in a very different era of college basketball, spanning an entire generation, running a much longer race to get there in a tournament that has grown from 21 to 32 to 68 teams. It was only five years ago Duke won a national title in this same building with a team that couldn’t have been more different. That team was veteran, experienced, solid, unflashy. This team was young, with a lots of flashy parts—different is so many ways, but similarly well-grounded personally and in fundamentals.

In defense of Wisconsin, I have long thought that the most difficult aspect of tournament basketball is to play a tough, emotionally draining game and turn around two days later and play at that level again. Tonight was a good example. Wisconsin was clearly playing on fumes late in the game. However, after a tough loss some exhausted, disappointed players and coaches should stay away from microphones. Two nights ago it was Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison making an inappropriate racial oxymoron comment. Tonight it was Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan: ”It was a situation where you just have to be able to handle all the hands and the checking. There was more body contact in this game than any game we played all year, and I just feel sorry for my guys that all of the sudden a game was like that, and I think they’re struggling with that a little bit.” Coach Ryan had no problem with the referee’s calls in the scrum when his team closed out Kentucky. An inconvenient truth is that there were bad calls but they were pretty equally distributed and it was two key Duke players who were saddled with foul trouble for much of the game.

I would encourage everyone to watch the post- game press conference with Coach, Quinn, Amile, Tyus, and Grayson. Anyone who listens to what they say about each other, the coaches, and being at Duke has to be impressed. After that, if they still want to spout off about hating Duke like the talking heads on Morning Joe on MSNBC today, they need to think about what they are saying and why. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter, because the players love Duke and, win or lose, we love the players. 

Alan adds: 

Wisconsin was, in my opinion, heroic.  Hats off to a team with heart and smarts.  Duke had some luck (including some dicey calls), but also as much (or more) heart, smarts and, in the end, more talent.

As Bill pointed out, I believe the effort against Kentucky caught up with the Badgers in the last part of the fourth quarter.  All of a sudden, Duke was playing harder, diving on the floor, and exuding more energy.  In the end, the energy that Duke summoned with its very small defense in the last minutes (4 guards + Jefferson) proved the difference.  Of course no matter how many stops and steals you get, you still have to score on offense to regain the lead and win.  Again, I thought the Badgers were out of energy when Tyus exploded.  [He has been so clutch all year that he has gained the nickname Tyus Stones].  Wisconsin could no longer guard the ball screens (Tyus was pretty open for both threes on very simple screen and rolls).  Kaminsky didn’t get up to guard him, and his defender went under the screens.  Tired.   Who could have predicted the impact that Grayson Allen would have on the game?  Again, he had more energy than the Badgers could muster.  His was a coming out party for next year.  K praised Amile and Matt Jones for their superb defense [Grayson should be added; he was guarding 6’10” guys down the stretch].  He has such hops, he can guard bigs on the interior.  In spite of the lack of length, Duke played great post defense with its guards.

This was one of Coach K’s finest jobs if not his absolute best.  Learning to play really good team defense has been the focus all season long.  Dino Gaudio, on TV, said he had been to the Virginia Tech game and Duke simply could not stop the Hokie guards from penetrating at will.  Three months later, one of the pundits was describing Duke as one of the all-time best defensive teams.  No exaggeration.  Duke’s defense in the tournament was simply awesome.  The defense was constant no matter which of Duke’s 8 was in the game.  The bench contributed especially on the defensive end.  Even though Marshall did not score in his 9 minutes (0-2; what was that lefty hook shot in the first half?) nor Matt in his 23 minutes, they played such wonderful defense.  Amile had one bucket (on his only shot) in his 21 minutes, he had such an outstanding floor game with steals, blocks and critical rebounds.  K said that Amile was better equipped to guard Kaminski because The Tank is not really a center (‘He is like Laettner; he’s just a player.”) and Jah had trouble with him on the perimeter.  The keynote for this team was its versatility.  They could switch all the screens and swarmed to help on the interior.  “8 is enough”.

In spite of the pundits trying to make this a match-up between the two POY candidates.  The game deciding question wasn’t whether Kaminski was better than Okafor (only the Duke press officer could have thought that was a contest).  The only question (since the game is about teams) is did Duke win?  If so, did Okafor’s play help Duke win?  A few nice hoops in the first half to hold even, and, in spite of having 4 fouls, two critical goals down the stretch to push the lead to five makes the answer a resounding yes.  That was truly the only relevant question about Jah and the Tank.

It is hard to fathom what happened to Dekker.  K suggested that Matt Jones and Grayson got up under him and limited his dribble.  I didn’t see that so much.  I saw him miss (by a mile) pretty open threes that he has been knocking down with regularity during the tournament (especially) and during the season.  It was the law of averages plus I think he was drained from his heroic performance against Kentucky and its length.

It was a great Badger season (they had such a tough draw, while Duke was barely tested until the finals).  What I loved about Wisconsin is how they played the game and the heart they showed.  Duke up eight with over a minute to go; the Badgers were, in my opinion, clearly out of gas.  Yet Kaminski nailed a crucial three, they get a stop on Tyus and Hayes scored a duece to make it a one possession game.  You have to completely admire the Wisconsin heart.

But this is the Duke Basketball Playbook, and Duke just won the National Championship.  So, back to Duke.  The championship season and game was a consummate team effort.  The Duke backcourt outplayed the Badgers, especially in the second half.  Quinn scored 6 (all in the first half) on 3-8 shooting (0-3 from behind the arc) playing a game high 38 minutes (Kaminsky played 39 for the Badgers).  His defense was superb and his hustle ignited the younger Devils.  He was a great leader by example in the energy and defense department as the game wound down.  Tyus played 37 minutes and fully deserved his award.  He has, all year, scored when Duke needed him and not when the Devils did not.  Tyus had four in the first half.  Then in the second half Duke needed him, he delivered in heroic style (7-13; 2-3 from 3land and a crucial 7-7 from the line).  Grayson logged 21 minutes (5-8; 1-2 from behind the arc and 5-5 from the line) for 16 points and 2 key rebounds.  His energy and defense turned the game.  A great story line.  His game makes him a crucial piece for next year’s team.

Jah had well documented foul trouble and was only on the court for 22 minutes, scoring 10 on 5-9 shooting.  He missed his only foul shot after an amazing hoop, and grabbed 3 boards.   It was definitely not Jah’s best game, but as Tyus pointed out, he kept his head and heart in the game.  When his number was called he made 2 critical hoops down the stretch.

Justise played 32 minutes, hampered by foul trouble also.  His defense was wonderful even though his offense was not up to the standard he had set for himself in this tournament.  The Wisconsin defense had something to do with that.  He had 11 on 3-9 from the field (1-2 from 3land) and 4-7 from the line.  The game was essentially over when he missed the last two foul shots. He has a fantastic upside and evolved into a special player as the season and tournament wore on.

I thought Coach K out coached Bo (who was not elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday).  As Bill said, the half-time interview with K was illuminating.  Duke committed seven fouls and had its two stars with a pair a piece at the half.  Wisconsin had committed only two fouls even though Duke was driving hard.  K was adamant that Duke had to draw fouls and not commit fouls.  Duke had Wisconsin in the bonus around the ten minute mark.  Wisconsin committed 13 fouls in the second half, while Duke committed only 6, keeping the Badgers out of the bonus.  There were times that Ryan played into Duke’s hands by remaining in a slow down offense when Wisconsin needed points fast.

It is hard to envision a more satisfying college basketball season for Duke fans.  It is to be savored for a long time.

In Conclusion:

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.  His involvement with our Olympic team and USA Basketball brings great even more 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 (even in what might be just one season for some of the freshmen).  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, 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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