Duke Basketball Playbook: 2015-16

Retrospective & Preview:

Welcome to the fifth edition  of the Duke Basketball Playbook. Before we preview this year’s team, let’s reflect upon last year’s season. Four highly rated freshmen joined with three upper classmen to win the 2015 NCAA Championship. Okafor, Jones, and Winslow combined with Cook, Jefferson, Jones, and Plumlee for most of the regular season playing minutes. However, perhaps, the most difficult, critical decision was Coach K stunning dismissal Rasheed Sulaimon from the team after the Notre Dame game, because that gave the up-to-then forgotten fourth freshman Grayson Allen valuable playing time and confidence which led to his spectacular game changing five career minutes against Wisconsin. The other important change was making Jefferson a sixth man, replacing him with Matt Jones and moving Winslow to power forward. In retrospect, strategic adjustments have been par for the course during Coach K’s career and one of the primary reasons we are so intrigued by Duke Basketball and enjoy analyzing the moves he and his staff make. At this point in the season, not even the coaches know how the players on this year’s young, deep, talented team with fit together or if, ultimately, the chemistry between them will develop to the point they are true contender. As always, there will be joy and excitement in the journey, which starts this Friday against Siena on ESPNU then quickly gets much tougher.

Based on only one scrimmage and two exhibition games, here is my assessment of the players:

Amile Jefferson & Marshall Plumlee are both playing stronger and more confidently—like the senior leaders they are. Look for a lot of high-low post play with Marshall setting massive picks at the elbow of the foul lane and Amile doing his Spider Man impression down low.

Matt Jones is the jack-of-all-trades who holds the team together by doing whatever needs to be done—somewhat reminiscent of a smaller version of Shane Battier. His ability to neutralize an opponent’s best non-post scorer (ref. Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker) is an overlooked component of Coach K’s most effective defensive schemes.

Grayson Allen is the most dynamic, exciting, versatile player, and, if he stays healthy, the best playmaker on the team—perhaps, one of the best in the country.

Luke Kennard is the most mature and polished of the freshmen. Impressive feel for the game.

Brandon Ingram is the most highly rated of the newbies. Coach K is praising his skills like he did Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor so….. but so far, I am more impressed with his defense and ball handling than his shooting touch. He appears to be more of a scorer than a pure shooter and because of mismatches will spend a lot of time at the foul line. He creates havoc as the point on a 1-2-2 zone (yes, look for more switching defenses) and on out-of-bounds plays. At 6’10’ but stick thin, he can play all five positions.

Derryck Thornton is no Ty Jones pass first, shoot when he game is on the line point guard but a better defender. Look for point guard by committee.

Chase Jeter has gained weight (remember most of the freshmen have been attending summer school and working out) and playing with increasing confidence. He will be a valuable blue collar, front line sub…. would do well to model himself after Amile Jefferson.

Sean Obi, the Rice transfer, is big and strong which should come in handy against physical teams if Plumlee gets in foul trouble.

Antonio Vrankovic has been injured but looks like a 7 foot project—a more skilled Brian Zoubek .

Justin Robinson, David’s son, has had little playing time and looks like a red shirt candidate.

ALAN ADDS:

Last Year’s Championship, and this Year’s Expectations.

Last year’s freshmen driven team exceeded all expectations by season’s end.  Let us not forget what, in my opinion, was the primary reason for Duke’s National Championship –- by tournament time, Duke’s early season defensive inconsistencies had been transformed into what was, arguably, the best and most consistent defense in the nation.  In my opinion, Justise Winslow was the major reason that occurred.  Notwithstanding Billy King, Shane Battier, Tommy Amaker, Grant Hill and Wojo played just a tad of defense, Justise’s second half of the season may have been the best defensive performance by a Duke player.  A second crucial reason for Duke’s success was its game closing ability when leading.  Duke had not one — but two — top point guards to handle against desperate trapping pressure with Tyus and Quinn, who each shot over 90% from the foul line to close games.  That was a critical component to last year’s great won loss record and National Championship.

Once again, Duke has the # 1 rated incoming freshman class, and there is temptation to expect a season similar to last year’s.  The danger for Duke fans is that unreasonably high expectations can make for an artificially disappointing season.  This is not last year’s team.  The 2015-16 Devils return only one starter and four players from last year’s team, and those returning players did not score much [Jefferson, 6.1 ppg; Matt Jones, 6.0; Grayson, 4,4; and Marshall, 2.2].  Each of these returners has the potential to turn into a substantial scorer, but none have actually done that yet (though Grayson’s performance in the Final Four leads to great optimism).  The good news is that defense was their calling card.

There are seven newcomers, though two of them do not figure to be relevant this year.  There are four freshmen (3 McDonald’s All-Americans – Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter and Luke Kennard — plus Derryck Thornton, who reclassified to join Duke with a year of high school eligibility left).  Semi Obi is a transfer from Rice, who practiced with the team last year, but is just eligible.  In 2013-14, he was a Conference USA All-Freshman Team Selection, averaged 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game (led conference in rebounding) while playing in all 30 games.  He led Rice in points scored (342) (with a .591 shooting percentage) and rebounds (279).  I like that he was a member of 2014 C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll.  After all, it is Duke.

In short, this is a team with unlimited potential, but has a long journey to fully grow into that potential.  The early season schedule is a killer, though should help prepare this young team for March, and, hopefully, April.  After two warm ups against Siena (next Friday) and Bryant (Saturday), Duke plays Kentucky (in Chicago on 11-17), VCU and the winner of the Georgetown-Wisconsin game in Madison Square Garden November 22 and 24, Indiana in the ACC-Big 10 challenge on December 2, and Utah in Madison Square Garden on December 19.  Whew!

The Big Guys

Jahlil is gone and Duke’s inside game will be different.  Scoring is likely to come more from the wing and perimeter.  Coach K has said he has designed a new offense and a new defense to play to the strengths of this year’s players.  Amile Jefferson had an outstanding defensive game against Wisconsin, and is a senior.  Seniors have always been special on Coach K teams (see Quinn Cook last year).  My gut tells me Amile will have a breakout year in scoring, rebounding and leadership.  If he can just shoot better from 15 feet and beyond, he will be a weapon.  Marshall has looked formidable in the pre-season and has fully matured.  Will he play more and be able to sustain that same intensity?  They are the two senior captains who have been defensive minded assets.

The newcomers are Chase Jeter (6’10” heralded freshman) and Obi.  How Coach K will mix and match, who has what talents to blend and make the team efficient, is part of what the early season will tell us.  I’ve seen Jeter play twice.  He could not hold his own against the huge front line of the World in the US v World high school all-star game.  He is very mobile and quick for a big.  He will develop; the question will be how fast and whether it will be this year.  Semi will demonstrate the competitive difference between Conference USA and the ACC.  If he can build on his freshman year at Rice, he will be a huge asset.  He has not played much in the exhibition games.  In short, there is lots of potential for Duke to have an efficient inside game on both ends, but nothing is certain.

BACKCOURT

Matt Jones is the only returning starter.  Duke transformed when he replaced Jefferson in the starting lineup last year.  He has been Duke’s best perimeter defender, and seems poised, in his junior year, for a big leap in offensive production.  The other returning guard is the hero of the Final Four, Grayson Allen.  Based on those two games, expectations are very high for Allen.  He has scoring potential (dropped 27 on Wake), but still only averaged a bit over 4 ppg. last year.  Will his defense match what Quinn was able to give last year?  Early signs are a resounding “yes”.

The freshmen guards will be a key.  Duke has only one point guard on the roster, Derryck Thornton, and he really should be a high school senior this year.  He has to stay healthy for Duke to have a chance at a really good season.  How he grows into his potential and how soon will have a lot to do with Duke’s season.  I think the key will be whether he can be a great (or at least good) on the ball defender, as Duke’s great point guards have been in the past.  Part of Quinn’s exceptional senior year was his development as from an inadequate to a superior defensive player.

Duke’s other freshman guard is Luke Kennard.  I’ve seen him play a few times now, and I believe he will leave a great legacy as a Duke player, I just don’t know if it will be this year.  He’s 6’5” and more athletic than he appears at first.  For example, he was for 3 straight years the Ohio Group II offensive football player of the year as a QB. He was a fantastic scorer in high school, moving into second place on the all time list (LeBron is third).  He’s academically superior and has excelled at community service in high school – in short, a perfect example of a Duke student-athlete.  He has been prominent in USA basketball and led the USA team against the World.  He played the most minutes (25), and was the high scorer (26).  I was impressed with his defensive effort, his ability to get to the rim, defend in the open court and help on the interior.  He showed me an all around game and passion in the way he played.  I am giving the same prediction about Luke that I did about Quinn before his freshman year.  [I was wrong for the first year, but last year clinches my status as prophet].

BRANDON INGRAM

Brandon is the number 4 rated freshman (ESPN), a 6’9” skinny scoring wing.  He is considered likely to be a one and done, though he seems awfully slight (190 lbs.) to think about the NBA.  Pundits have predicted he will be Duke’s best scorer this season.  Though 6’9”, he is a perimeter player with an ability to get to the rim and to fire from deep.  The pre-season predictions from those watching practice are that he will start.  I admit to having been a bit underwhelmed by him in the US v World game.  In the pre-season his exceptional athleticism on the defensive end had coaches and commentators praising him.

In some ways he mirrors the season, can he be what last year’s freshmen were, developing because they committed to the team and each other?  I don’t think Jabari and Hood ever made that complete leap (hence, Mercer).  It should be an entertaining and interesting season.

ADDED FEATURE

Al Featherstone wrote a long, thorough analysis of the making of Duke’s five championship teams on dukebasketballreport.com. It is too good an historical tutorial not to reprint:

“Five NCAA Championship teams and five transformations – either in rotation or, in two cases, a radical change in the style of play over the course of the season. I could cite a dozen other teams that changed significantly over the course of the season – the 2009 team that I mentioned; the 1986 team that played half the season with Danny Ferry starting at center because Jay Bilas was hurt; the 1989 team that saw the emergence of Laettner late; the 1994 Final Four team that developed freshman Jeff Capel late … at least a half dozen more.

True, some of those transformations were dictated by injury (the 2001 makeover, for example), but many were simply Coach K tweaking his lineup and his rotation to maximize his talent (as in 2010 for example).

My point is that the Duke team we see play in the next few weeks may be very different than the one we see in March. This lineup offers Coach K a lot of options and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t try them all out over the next couple of months.

How will he rotate his true post players – Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, Chase Jeter … and maybe Sean Obi later? Freshman Derryck Thornton is the only true point guard on the roster, but Coach K has other options at the position – maybe Luke Kennard plays there? Brandon Ingram is going to play somewhere – probably on the wing, but at some point does he become the “power forward” (as Winslow did a year ago)? How will Coach K mix-and-match his many talented wings – Allen, Matt Jones, Kennard and Ingram?

A lot of options there and I’m sure we’ll see most of them over the course of the season. That’s why I think it’s so futile to try and guess the starting lineup and the rotation for the start of the season.

Whatever lineup/rotation starts next month in the opener against Siena, there’s very likely to be a different one in January when Duke opens ACC play at Boston College and a new one again in March when the Blue Devils pursue another back-to-back title.

The coaches are still watching it all develop, still unsure of how the team – the lineup and the rotation – will eventually break down? That process is often impacted by injuries that change things as the season wears on, but quite a few seasons are shaped by the gradual development of individual players and by team chemistry.

Just take last year’s team, for example.

2014-15: The One-and Done team

When practice began a year ago, it was predictable that Jahlil Okafor would play in the middle. There was a lively debate over the summer as to whether Tyus Jones would start at point guard or come off the bench behind senior Quinn Cook or whether the two smallish guards would share the backcourt.

There was also junior Rasheed Sulaimon returning as a likely starter. The big question was whether he would supplant Cook or Jones in the starting lineup or perhaps be part of a three-guard rotation – a move that would likely send freshman Justise Winslow to the bench?

By the time the season opened, it was clear that Coach Mike Krzyzewski was committed to playing Jones and Cook together. Winslow was also in the starting lineup, while Sulaimon came off the bench, but saw significant playing time. Not surprisingly, freshman Jahlil Okafor and junior Amile Jefferson started in the post.

But here’s the funny thing … the team that started the season was very different from the one that cut down the nets in Indianapolis six months later.

Yes, Okafor was still the anchor in the post and the Cook-Jones partnership flourished in the backcourt. But by the end of the season, Winslow was starting at the “power” forward spot, while defensive ace Matt Jones was starting at “small forward.” Jefferson was coming off the bench. So was freshman Grayson Allen, who spent the first two months of the season buried on the bench.

Sulaimon was off the team.

It was a very different lineup and rotation than we saw in October. Heck, it was a very different rotation than the one we saw in January. The style of play also changed over the course of the season, at least defensively. Duke started playing man-to-man, but playing it very erratically. By midseason, the man-to-man defense was such a disaster that Coach K switched to a primary zone defense for the first time in his career. But by March, the man-to-man was back and Duke playing it at a very high level.

And here’s another funny thing – the evolution of last year’s team is the rule for Krzyzewski-coached teams … not the exception. In fact, let’s take a look at his first four national championship teams and see how they evolved (and why). `

1990-91: The First Title

When Duke opened the 1990-91 season against Marquette, the starting lineup included juniors Christian Laettner and Brian Davis, sophomores Bobby Hurley and Thomas Hill and freshman Grant Hill. Sophomore Billy McCaffrey played 30 minutes off the bench and senior Greg Koubek played 20. The eighth man, freshman Tony Lang, played eight minutes.

That lineup and rotation would fluctuate all season.

It almost always contained Laettner, Hurley and Grant Hill (although the freshman was limited briefly in early January with a broken nose). But the last two starters – and the order of the rotation — changed frequently. Thomas Hill started 23 games. McCaffrey started 21. Davis started 11 games. Coach K experimented with twin towers as junior center Crawford Palmer started nine times. Lang, a slender 6-8 forward, started eight times.

By the team postseason rolled around, Krzyzewski had settled on Thomas Hill and Koubek as the fourth and fifth starters.

The choice of Koubek was kind of curious.

The 6-6 swing man saw his role and his playing time almost disappear in December and early January. He did have a 14-point outing in a blowout win over Boston University, but in the other 10 games between December 1 and January 16, Koubek scored the grand total of six points and averaged single digit minutes – even though many of those games were lopsided blowouts.

Late in that stretch, the Duke Chronicle ran an article grading the Duke team. Koubek received the lowest grade on the roster – a C-plus. Krzyzewski was furious. He set up a locker room meeting with the Chronicle sports staff and proceeded to verbally blast the young sports writers.

Maybe it was just a coincidence (or maybe it was a F-you moment from the combative coach), but in the first game after that tumultuous locker room meeting, Koubek played 18 minutes in a win at The Citadel. The next time out, he played 19 minutes (with nine points and six rebounds) in a homecourt rout of UNC. A week after that, he scored 14 points in a rout of Clemson. And a week after that, Koubek got his first start of the season at Notre Dame. He started 13 of the team’s final 18 games, including all six in the NCAA Tournament.

By the time the Final Four rolled around, Coach K was basically playing a seven man rotation. The five starters, McCaffrey and Davis got major minutes. Palmer and Lang got off the bench, but only for very brief relief roles.

Duke’s first national championship team ended up as a very different team than the one that started the season.

1991-92: Back-to-Back

A year later, Krzyzewski returned four national championship starters and added heralded big man Cherokee Parks. K had to replace Koubek, the only senior on the ’91 team, plus sixth-man McCaffrey, who transferred to Vanderbilt, and Palmer, who transferred to Dartmouth (interestingly, both McCaffrey and Palmer would win first-team all-conference honors at their new schools).

It’s hard to imagine a more stable situation. Davis slid into the starting lineup and Duke famously went wire-to-wire as the nation’s No. 1 team, winning a second straight national title by beating the Michigan Fab Five in Minneapolis.

But the 1991-92 season was anything but stable. The issue was injuries – few Duke teams have had to battle as many injuries as the ’92 Devils.

It started in the opener, where Parks replaced an injured Laettner as the starting center. Lang was also out early as senior Marty Clark, redshirt freshman Kenny Blakeney and freshman center Erik Meek were the three major players off the bench that first night.

That didn’t last long. When Laettner and Lang returned, Blakeney and Meek saw their minutes shrink to almost nothingness (except there were a lot of blowouts and they did get plenty of garbage time). In competitive games, Coach K basically played an eight-man rotation with Parks, Lang and Clark getting minutes off the bench.

That changed again when Hurley broke his foot in a Feb. 5 loss at UNC.

Duke’s next game was at No. 22 LSU, which featured Shaquille O’Neal in the middle.

Coach K responded by moving sophomore Lang into the starting lineup and shifting Grant Hill from forward to point guard. The versatile sophomore responded with 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Laettner outplayed Shaq for the second straight year as the Devils escaped an extremely hostile environment in Baton Rouge with a win.

That lineup lasted until Grant Hill suffered a severe high ankle sprain in practice in the days before the Feb. 26 matchup with Virginia in Cameron.

Blakeney actually started at the point that night, but he played just 15 minutes, giving way to Hurley – who returned just 21 days after breaking a bone in his foot. The next time out, Hurley returned to the starting lineup and played 36 minutes in a huge win at No. 4 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion.

Grant Hill returned for the regular season finale against UNC, but even though he played well off the bench, Krzyzewski seemed to like the new rotation with Lang sharing the starting lineup with Laettner, Hurley, Davis and Thomas Hill. Grant Hill became a super Sixth Man – a role he played as Duke won the ACC championship by routing UNC and through the NCAA Tournament – including the famous 104-103 overtime victory against Kentucky.

Grant Hill didn’t start that game, but he did play 37 minutes off the bench. By that point, Krzyzewski was close to playing a six-man rotation – Clark and Parks played a combined seven minutes against the Wildcats that afternoon. Neither Blakeney nor Meek got off the bench.

I would call that the finishing rotation of the 1992 team, although it was complicated by another injury – Davis sprained his ankle in the semifinal victory over Indiana and was only able to go 10 ineffective minutes off the bench in the title game. Grant Hill returned to the starting lineup for the finale against Michigan’s Fab Five.

Obviously, injuries had a lot to do with the evolution of the 1992 team, but whether because of the injuries or not, the rise of Tony Lang and the shortening of the bench were very real changes in what was expected to be a very stable team.

2000-01: Changing on the Fly

If the 1991-92 team appeared stable at the outset, the 2000-01 team looked like it would be nearly set in stone. True, ACC player of the year Chris Carrawell was gone from the nation’s No. 1 team in 2000, but heralded freshman Chris Duhon was on hand to fill that gap. The other four starters – and sixth man Mike Dunleavy — were all returning and so were almost every other player on the 2000 roster.

And, as expected, the 2001 Blue Devils were a remarkably stable team – the same starters almost every game (sophomores Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, senior Shane Batter and redshirt senior Nate James) with Duhon getting major minutes off the bench. It was basically a six man rotation for most of the season – backup big man Matt Christiansen was the closest thing to a seventh man, but he averaged less than eight minutes a game.

Then everything changed.

In Duke’s last home game, Boozer broke his foot. A team that critics said was too small and without the depth to compete for the national title, suddenly became much smaller and much thinner.

Of course, we know that Coach K responded with his single greatest coaching moment – reshaping the lineup (not only did he replace Boozer with a three-headed monster of Casey Sanders/walk-on Reggie Love/Christiansen, he also had Duhon and James swap roles – with Duhon moving into the starting lineup and James becoming the Sixth Man), but also transforming the team’s style of play – turning the Devils into a pressing, running, 3-point shooting machine.

The result was a 10-game winning streak to close the season, starting with a shocking victory over No. 6 North Carolina in Chapel Hill and continuing with a dramatic victory over No. 11 Maryland in the ACC Tournament in Atlanta, a rout of UNC in the ACC title game, and East regional wins over UCLA and Southern Cal in Philadelphia.

Boozer made a token appearance in Philly and was able to play a significant role again when Duke matched up again with Maryland in the Final Four in Minneapolis.

The funny thing about 2001 is that even with Sanders starting at the end, Boozer was playing the most minutes. So this is one Duke championship team that ended up with a very similar lineup/rotation as it started.

Yet, it terms of style of play, the team that beat Maryland and Arizona in the Final Four was a very different team than the one that opened the season.

2009-10: Slowing Things Down

The only Duke championship team that changed more over the course of the season was the 2009-10 team.

A special prize for anybody who can name the five starters in Duke’s 2009-10 season opener against UNC Greensboro.

Give up?

Well, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are easy. And Miles Plumlee at center is not too tough if you remember that his younger brother Mason – expected to start in the middle that year – was out with a broken wrist as the season started.

But does anybody else remember that the fifth starter was Olek Czyz?

The 2010 Blue Devils returned two clearcut starters from the Sweet 16 team of 2009 – Scheyer and Singler. Smith had started 21 games as a sophomore, but he lost his starting job late as Coach K transformed that team in February — replacing Smith at the point with Scheyer and moving freshman Elliott Williams into the starting lineup. Smith also missed the last two games of the regular season when he suffered a concussion due to a brutal pick at Maryland, but he had already lost his starting job before that.

Krzyzewski did have to replace the team’s best player – first-team All-ACC pick Gerald Henderson, who left a year early for the NBA, and Williams, who transferred to Memphis.

Coach K also had a number of players with starting experience up front – senior forward Lance Thomas (16 starts in 2009), sophomore center Miles Plumlee (2 starts) and senior center Brian Zoubek, who actually qualified as a returning starter with 17 starts in 2009.

But Zoubek played little role in the early part of the 2010 season as Coach K built the team around Scheyer, Singler and Smith. Thomas quickly seized another starting role, but the center job mostly went to Miles Plumlee – we thought at the time that he was holding it for his heralded younger brother, who was slowed by preseason injury.

Zoubek averaged close to 14 minutes in the first half of the season, although his most productive performances came in blowouts. But between the ACC opener against Clemson on January 3 and the February 10 game at UNC, the Big Z was merely a minor factor. Over that 12-game stretch, he averaged 13.8 minutes a game, contributing 2.8 ppg and 4.7 rpg.

He ended the stretch with no points and three rebounds in the win at UNC.

Mason Plumlee played 27 minutes in that game (7 points and 9 rebounds). It seemed his time had come and the freshman big man would be in the starting lineup for the Maryland visit to Cameron three days later.

Instead, it was Zoubek starting in the middle and contributing 16 points and 17 rebounds in 22 minutes as Duke beat the Terps 77-56.

From that point until the end of the season – a stretch of 16 games – Zoubek not only started at center, but he played like a man possessed, averaging 9.7 points and 13.3 rebounds in 24.9 minutes a game.

But it would be a mistake to claim that Zoubek was the reason that Duke won 15 of those 16 games. Duke won because Krzyzewski rebuilt the team to take advantage of Zoubek’s emergence … or you might say that Coach K revamped his style of play to take advantage of the things that Zoubek did well.

Early in the season, Duke was still playing a variation of the style that Coach K installed after Boozer was hurt in 2001. The Devils extended their pressure man-to-man, shot a lot of 3-pointers and tried to force tempo.

That style did not really suit Zoubek. At 7-1, 260-plus pounds, he wasn’t quick or agile even when he was healthy (which is wasn’t for much of his career). He never attempted a 3-pointer.

Zoubek WAS very big, very strong and he had great hands. He proved to be the best offensive rebounder in college basketball when he finally got extended minutes late in his senior year.

To emphasize Zoubek’s strengths, Coach K slowed his team down to a sedate tempo, so that the big man could keep up. He also pulled back his defense – not quite into a zone, but more into a sagging man-to-man that allowed Zoubek to stay in the middle and protect the basket.

That’s how Duke was able to grind out a 61-59 victory over Butler in the title game. Zoubek played 31 minutes, pulled down six offensive rebounds and blocked two shots – plus, he was in position to ruin Gordon Hayward’s short baseline jumper than would have given the Bullogs the lead with seconds left. Zoubs not only made the Butler star shoot an almost impossible rainbow over his outstretched arm, he also turned around and rebounded the miss.

So that’s five championship teams and five transformations – either in rotation or, in two cases, a radical change in the style of play over the course of the season. I could cite a dozen other teams that changed significantly over the course of the season – the 2009 team that I mentioned; the 1986 team that played half the season with Danny Ferry starting at center because Jay Bilas was hurt; the 1989 team that saw the emergence of Laettner late; the 1994 Final Four team that developed freshman Jeff Capel late … at least a half dozen more.

True, some of those transformations were dictated by injury (the 2001 makeover, for example), but many were simply Coach K tweaking his lineup and his rotation to maximize his talent (as in 2010 for example).

Duke  92 – Siena 74

Duke 113 – Bryant 75

While the 2015-16 season officially started with Siena and Bryant trading the honor–and national exposure– of playing Duke in the iconic confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium for being consecutive non-conference losses 117 & 118, the real season starts Tuesday against Kentucky. So, anything we think today must be taken within the context of basically talent mismatches in exhibition season.

First, you must be aware that for 2015-16, the NCAA made rule changes designed to speed up the game and establish a better balance between offense and defense. Not to bore you with the details, but the rule pertaining to hand checking will be heretofore be referred to as the Greyson Allen straight to All American rule, because, if he is not injured (and that is a big if), that is what he will be. Allen’s NCAA Championship five minute game changer against Wisconsin was no fluke. The kid has big time game. He is not only an athletic freak who can run and jump and finish but also can shoot (90%+ from the line), pass, and play defense. If you liked Dawkins and Hill and JJ, you will love Greyson, because he really, really enjoys playing all aspects of the game. And the new rule will guarantee him 8-10 points from the line.

Right now, it looks like a seven man and a boy rotation, because Derryck Thornton hasn’t yet made the transition from high school. But who needs a point guard when you can give the ball the Allen or Ingram and have MP3 set a high pick. BTW, Brandon shot 1-9 threes against Siena but was 4-6 against Bryant. Why the discrepancy? Between games, Coach K pointed out that although he was 6’9”, there still was a difference between shooting with a man flying at you and letting the game come to you and shooting an open three.

The good news: Coach K’s better teams won by attacking the basket scoring, getting fouled, or passing to an open man for a three; getting to the free throw line and hitting free throws; and playing good defense which led to easy offense.

The not so good news: Siena and Bryant scored 74 & 75 points. The defense was inconsistent and Bryant, in particular, was hot from beyond the arc. Nevertheless, remember last year’s team became a championship team when the defense jelled.

Some observations:

  • Four more reasons to keep enjoying Duke Basketball: The verbal commitments to Duke’s Class of 2016—three big men and a true point guard– signed letters of intent Wednesday, cementing their decision to join the Blue Devil program next fall. Together, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier make up the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, which would be head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s third in a row. Giles and Tatum are slated as the No.1 and No. 2 overall recruits in ESPN’s Class of 2016 rankings. “We’re ecstatic about the class,” Krzyzewski said in a press release. “The very first thing is that they’re four outstanding young men who come from great families. They’re players who can play right away. This group, as far as talent is concerned, is at a high level and their talents are complimentary. All of them can get better, too, so we’re very excited.”
  • Seven foot center Antonio Vrankovic made a four minute cameo playing ahead of Obi tonight. In scoring four points, he appeared to have good hands and footwork and ran the floor with surprising speed. His father is Stojko Vrankovic, a retired Croatian professional basketballplayer, who also played five years in the NBA.
  • As thrilling as the one-and-done talent is, I get a special satisfaction and delight in watching four year players like Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee develop as players and people.
  • Clemson is not the best football team in the country and Carolina in not just the twenty some best team. As a matter of fact, I am picking UNC to beat Clemson for the ACC title.

Alan adds: 

The two preliminary games in the pre-season tournament were illuminating.  We saw the 2015-16 Blue Devils for the first time, and gained an inkling of how the rotation will begin, the type of defense to be played, and where scoring and rebounding are likely to come from this season.  While it was unthinkable that Duke would actually lose either game, it is worth noting that in the other bracket of the 2K Classic, Georgetown lost to Radford while # 17 Wisconsin was beaten by Western Illinois.  However, under the weird “tournament” format, the two losers, Georgetown and Wisconsin will play next Friday instead of Western Illinois v. Radford.  The winner will play the winner of Friday’s Duke v. VCU on Sunday.  But, before we look ahead to the coming week, including Tuesday night’s game against # 2 ranked Kentucky, let’s see what was disclosed in the wins over Sienna and Bryant in the last two days.

After the Sienna game, Bill asked me who I thought Duke’s best player was and would be for the season.  Bill was touting Grayson after his 20 point opening half and jaw dropping athleticism.  My response was, “clearly, Brandon Ingram.”  Of course, it is irrelevant; the issue is how this team develops, not who becomes the go-to guy.  Nevertheless, Ingram’s potential is breathtaking.  But so is Grayson’s.  In both games, Grayson was a man among boys.  His 54 points (26 against Sienna and 28 against Bryant) mark the second most ever scored by a Duke freshman in his first two games (55 by Johnny Dawkins).  He defended, rebounded, passed (6 assists against Bryant) and was 17-18 from the foul line.  The question is how he fares against athletes of his own athletic quality.  Ingram shot poorly in the Sienna game and well against Bryant.  Ingram seems more scorer than shooter (though it is way too early to really tell) and has breathtaking versatility.  He may end up as the primary ball handler and distributor.  He has an easy calm and amazing athleticism.   He is going to be a great defender eventually with his 7’3” wing span, and had a plethora of deflections.  In any event, how good Duke becomes this year will depend on the development of these two budding stars.

The Rotation

In both games, Coach K started the four returners — Marshall, Amile, Matt and Grayson — with Brandon.  Only three reserves saw extended time — Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton.  Sean Obi played 4 minutes against Sienna and 0 against Bryant.  Vrankovic played 4 minutes against Bryant (scored 4 points) and a brief cameo in the first game.  The Admiral’s offspring did not play.

The core trio consists of Grayson, Brandon and Amile.  Grayson played the most, 32 minutes in each game.  Brandon played 28 minutes against Sienna (15 points, 5 boards, 2 blocks and 2 steals) and 24 against Bryant (21 points, 3 boards, 2 steals and a block).  Amile had a double-double in each game (32 minutes, 19 points, 12 boards against Sienna; 24 minutes with 11 rebounds and 11 points in the second game).  The supporting trio — Matt Jones, Marshall and Luke Kennard — will see a lot of court time and will be crucial to how this team grows.  Jones had a spectacular first half against Bryant scoring 19 on 5-6 from behind the arc.  He played superb defense throughout and was a reliable ball handler, shooter and rebounder (Sienna: 26 minutes, 10 points. Bryant: 22 minutes scoring all his 29 points — career high — in the first half on 7-9 from the floor including 5-6 from 3land).  Marshall was much improved in the second game.  In the first, he was an effective inside presence, but collected 4 fouls in his 20 minutes (9 boards, 2 blocks, 2 assists and 4 points).  Against Bryant, he stayed on the court for 28 minutes committing only 2 fouls (8 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks).  He was a presence, but the competition in both games was especially suspect on the interior.  The Kentucky may disclose whether he can perform at a high level against the best competition.  That game may be more important for Marshall than for any other Duke player.  Luke has not shot well, but you can see how valuable he will become as he gets experience.  He came alive toward the end of the Bryant game.  Against Sienna, he scored 9 points in 26 minutes; against Bryant 11 in 22 minutes.  He can do everything on the court — handle, defend, pass and rebound.  Although he did not shoot well (1-5 from behind the arc against Bryant), he will be a major contributor as the season progresses.

The Critical Reserves

Chase Jeter was the primary reserve in the front court for the first two games, but did not receive as much playing time as the first seven (Thornton is the 7th).  Chase logged 11 minutes in the opener (5 rebounds; 3-4 from the foul line, but 0-3 from the field for 3 points), and 16 minutes against Bryant (7 points, including 3-3 from the line; 4 boards and a block).  He is slight and may have trouble on the interior against big talented front courts such as Kentucky’s.  Still at the moment, he is the only back up to Jefferson and Plumlee.  His development into a contributing player against front line opposition will be one of the keys to Duke’s season.  However, an even more important key is the development of the only true point guard on the roster, freshman Derryck Thornton.  Thornton struggled mightily in the first two games.  Before one gets too down on his disappointing performances, it should be remembered that: 1) he reclassified from being a high school junior after Tyus submitted his name to the NBA draft; and, 2) he was busy finishing up his high school academics this past summer and was not with the other freshmen in summer session.  Notwithstanding that, even a casual observer could see his defense is suspect — he loses concentration as the shot clock (new — 30 seconds this year) winds down. His help is slow in coming.  In 22 minutes against Sienna, he was 1-8 from the field (1-4 from downtown) with only 2 assists and 5 points.  In the second game, Coach K played him more, 27 minutes, in what appeared to me as an attempt to build his confidence.  He had 4 points on 2-9 shooting (0-2 from behind the arc), but contributed 4 assists.  I believe he will improve during the year, but unless the improvement is dramatic, Duke will be without a true point guard against top competition at critical moments.  If we remember the stellar point guard play of Tyus and Quinn last year — especially at the end of games — we can see what a challenge point guard play will be for this team this year.  However, let us remember Coach K has solved this problem before (moving Scheyer to the point inn 2010 is the best example, but also remember the insertion of Elliot Williams at the point several years ago).

The real season begins this week.  First Kentucky (ESPN @ 7:30 EST)

DUKE 63 –  KENTUCKY 74

The eleven point differential is not a proper indication of the difference of play between these two storied programs. Had it not been for the play of the veterans—Plumlee, Jefferson, and Jones—it would have looked like Duke vs. Bryant. Coach Cal had done his homework and funneled Grayson Allen into the teeth of his big athletic front line. The versatile Grayson never adjusted his game to a plan B or C. The lack of driving success apparently shook his confidence the entire game, because he even missed two of three free throws. Coach K commented succinctly that when you’re put in a position when you’re ‘the man,’ rather than the fifth option, it’s different.

And the inexperienced Brandon Ingram was in early foul trouble and never was a factor. Without the two best playmakers (Allen and Ingram entered Tuesday’s game averaging a combined 45.0 points per game) and no pure point guard, the Blue Devil offense struggled shooting  just 40%. And you know what that means—lots of easy offense for an opponent. Had Plumlee, Jefferson not had career games, the score would have been much more embarrassing.

It will be interesting to see what Coach K does and which players respond in a positive manner.

I was sick before the game and watching it was no tonic, so I will leave the details to Alan.

Next play.

Alan Adds

Let’s do the unpleasant assessments first, with an understanding that the thrashing at the hands of the Wildcats may well prove to be a godsend for the ultimate development of this team.  Last night was the perfect example of a reality check, and dramatic notice that as good as this year’s freshmen actually are, they are a long way from ready to play at a championship level.  That does not mean that in March they won’t be ready, but it is clear that these freshmen are not last year’s, and right now they are not as good as Kentucky’s (I saw this dramatically last year in the high school All Star game of World v US.  Duke freshmen Brandon Ingram, Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter all played for the U.S and were overwhelmed by the World, who featured Jamal Murray (All Star game’s MVP) and Skal Labissiere — also Simmons of LSU).  While the underclassmen looked lost, the upper class players had excellent games.  Marshall Plumlee had his best game ever at Duke and looks as if he will have a noteworthy senior year.  I have predicted that Jefferson will have a break out year and he made me look really good last night.  Coach K has said that Matt Jones is the leader of this team (as Quinn was last year).  Matt was superb.

Doris Burke is one of my favorite color commentators for college basketball.  She made a point about Grayson Allen’s drives where he held the ball in one hand and successfully drove against Sienna and Bryant.  “I don’t think he will be able to get that shot off against higher level competition,” she said.  It did not take Kentucky long to enshrine her as a prophet.  It was as if the clock struck midnight for the star of last season’s Final Four.  He was 0-9 in the first half.  His jumpers were contested and his drives to the basket thwarted by superb defense.  It was all summed up in his turnover in the last seconds of the first half, where Duke had a chance to cut the lead to a respectable 2 or even a 1 point deficit (score was 35-31).  Not only did Grayson lose the ball but it led to an easy last second Kentucky basket that finalized the first half at 37-31.

In the first two games, Duke’s offense was powered by not only Grayson, but also freshmen  Ingram and to a lesser extent Luke Kennard.  Together with freshman Chase Jeter, the three McDonald’s All Americans also failed to score in the first half.  0 points from those 4 was close to incredible.  Things did not improve in the second half (the two half scores were eerily similar — Kentucky scored 37 points in each half; Duke 31 in the first half and 32 in the second).  The defense was underwhelming, regardless whether Duke played zone or man to man.  The Wildcat trio of guards got past the Duke perimeter defense with depressing ease, while the Wildcat bigs dominated the glass after the first 10 minutes of the opening half.  Duke’s transition defense was weak; in contrast, the Devils did not have a fast break basket until the waning moments of the game.  On offense, the absence of a point guard was a dramatic deficit.  Duke substituted the freshman point guard Derryck Thornton early because Duke looked so disorganized in the half court with Matt Jones, Grayson and Ingram on the perimeter.  He improved the offense but only marginally; hitting for 5 in the first half.  Thornton actually had his best game, but is still a long way from being a competent ACC point guard.  Still the rest of the team was so out of sync that he logged the most minutes (29) of anyone outside of the three upper classmen who fought so valiantly to keep Duke close.  After 2-3 and 5 points in the first half, Thornton was 1-4 in the second half with 4 turnovers against 3 assists (7 points).  Tyus, come back!  Btw, Tyus is not playing with Minnesota (did not suit up last night and is not hurt).  In 11 games, he has been on the court twice — once for 13 minutes — for a total of 14 minutes (0-2 from the field and 1-2 from the line for his only NBA point so far).  And while we are “btw”, Rasheed was superb for Maryland last night (37 minutes, 7 assists and 10 points including a dagger 3 at the end).

The Backcourt

Matt Jones was the only Devil who performed well, actually he was almost heroic.  In 35 minutes, he scored 16 (3-6 from downtown and 3-4 from the line) with 2 boards, 2 assists and breathtakingly 0 turnovers.  He simply had absolutely no help.  Grayson’s final line was 6 points (2-11; 1-3 from downtown and shockingly — after 17-18 in the first two games — 1-3 from the foul line) 4 turnovers (1 assist) and four fouls.  Ugh!  Duke’s other perimeter players were not much different.  Brandon (welcome to big time college hoops) played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble; he had 4.  In that short time he was 1-6 from the field (2-2 from the line) for 4 points and 4 turnovers.  Ugh!    With the exception of not committing either a turnover or a foul, Kennard was equally as terrible.  In 14 minutes, he was 0-6. Ugh!  And it should be noted that except for Matt Jones, the backcourt was as woeful on defense as on offense.

The Frontcourt

Marshall and Amile were not less than heroic; Duke’s only firepower.  Marshall played more minutes by a ton than he had ever played before (36 minutes) posting a double double (12 points and 10 boards), with 6 blocks (yes, 6), an assist, 0 turnovers and committed only 2 fouls.  The only downside was at the line (4-8). Wow!  If he can do this all year against this type of competition, he might turn out to be the best Plumlee to have played at Duke.  He was amazing.  Jefferson’s performance might have been even better.   In 35 minutes he also posted a double double (15 boards and 16 points on 7-8 from the field and 2-4 from the line).  He committed only 2 fouls.  But there was no substitution support for those two heroes.  Chase Jeter’s impact was a bit less than negligible.  He played only 4 minutes (I think Coach K saw he was overmatched by the Kentucky front line) but managed to commit 3 fouls and a turnover in that time.  Not ready for prime time yet.

Assessment or Reality Check

It will be interesting to see how Duke responds in the next three games, which all take place within the next week.  On Friday, Duke plays VCU in Madison Square Garden.  VCU is good (not top 25, but good), and it will be a fair test to see how the freshmen and Grayson rebound from their Wildcat debacle.  If Duke wins (think about what a loss would feel like), there is a Sunday finals against the winner of Georgetown- Wisconsin.  Georgetown lost to Radford (who in turn was humbled by VCU) and last night to Maryland.  Wisconsin crushed Sienna after losing to Western Illinois (who?).  Duke needs to win this tournament to recover confidence and begin to address the myriad of weaknesses that Kentucky was able to demonstrate.  Finally, next Wednesday, Duke plays Indiana (at Cameron) in the ACC-Big Ten challenge before a 17 day layoff.  The first fair assessment can probably be made after this coming week.

I wrote in the pre-season DBP that unrealistic expectations for Duke could make the season artificially disappointing.  The good thing about the Kentucky game is to make expectations for this season more realistic.

DUKE  79-  VCU  71 

Tonight for about thirty minutes, visions of Mercer and Leigh, not sugar plums, were dancing in my head—but, fortunately, Christmas did not come early for VCU.

I was interested to find out what kind of motivational buttons Coach would employ. Predictably, he didn’t start my man Grayson Allen. Allen entered the game after a few minutes on fire—six quick points—and never looked back. Gone was the one dimensional offensive mind set of a game past. Instead, Grayson utilized his full repertoire of shots and scored a career high 30 points to go with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.

Here is what ESPN had to say: “What Allen displayed Friday night was special. There were quick-catch 3-pointers, lightning-fast open-floor moves, and savvy, opportunistic drives. There were athletic, hanging finishes in traffic the likes of which only a handful of college players can make. And there were timely plays on both ends: a big block and subsequent steal on back-to-back possessions during a crucial stretch early in the second half, a simple, quick reversal to set up Jones for a 3 to make the game 65-58, and the cool spot-up Allen buried to extend that lead to 10 less than three minutes later. It was a complex and skillful display with a straightforward message: Allen is what we thought he was. Which is to say: really good.”

Let’s give Coach K the last word: “The response that Grayson had from Kentucky is huge. I think it’s spectacular, to be quite frank with you. A lot of kids would question themselves, and he never did. We have a standard on our team that we tell each other the truth. So, you confront it. He didn’t play well against Kentucky. He didn’t have a good look, and he didn’t adjust. That was his first big-time start, too. It’s not like Grayson is this combat veteran. So I was hard on him, but honest. And he’s fine.”

Observations:

  • Coach mixed and matched a tight seven man rotation until the Blue Devils, interestingly enough, pulled away with MP3, the MVP against Ky, on the bench.
  • Derryck Thornton, who started for Allen and played 39 minutes, had what Duke fans hoped was breakout game with 19 points, 4 assists,3 turnovers, and 2 steals.
  • It tells you something that Luke Kennard, who was oh/no from the floor still played 19 minutes and was in the game for the winning run.
  • Matt Jones again proved it is not always how many you score but when you score them.
  • What does it tell you that this team has given up 74, 75, & 71 points. I’d say that the defense is a work in process. –or that they shot 19-34 from the line. Deduct Allen’s 8-9 that’s 11-29. Another way to look at it is Duke left a lot of easy points off the score board. Can’t afford to do that in close games.  It is obvious that defense, ball handling, and free throw shooting are areas than need improving.
  • Don’t want to pick on Brandon Ingram but he needs a reality check and get a lot stronger and heavier before he thinks about the NBA.
  • Duke as not lost back to back games since 2009.

Alan Adds

While last night’s game produced much good stuff, and a significant amount of less than good (read bad), the second part of the second half had the feel of a watershed moment for the development of this 2015-16 team.  Coach K said that Duke is not really a team yet, it’s developing towards becoming a team.  He described what I call a watershed moment.  Duke was down six with 13:34 left in the second half when Matt turned the ball over.  Coach K said that “things could really have gone south” at that moment.  Instead the Blue Devils turned up the defense — which had been porous in the first half, and not more than barely competent in the opening minutes of the second half — to surge to a very satisfying win.  “From that moment on, we played at a different level.  VCU played better than us up to that point.  We played better than VCU from that point on.”  Coach K pointed out that Duke closed out this game with defense rather than offense (meaning missed foul shots).  The missed foul shots did not adversely affect the defense.  Brandon missed a bunch, but got key defensive rebounds right after.  It was dramatic improvement during the game.  Coach K’s insight was that when you can do that during the game instead of at a film session after a loss, the group is developing into a team.

The Good

Bill has already sung the “Grayson was wonderful” song, and so he was — in every aspect of the game.  In addition to his 30 points, Allen had 6 crucial defensive rebounds to with 3 assists, a steal and a block.  Grayson made one move in the open court on a fast break that was jaw-dropping.  Flying down the left side of the court, he made a Euro jab step to the left and then, without breaking stride, flew past the defender going right.  “I learned that move from Tyus last year.  He kept blowing by me with it in practice, but he kept teaching it to me.”  Even more than Grayson’s superb rebound from his Kentucky debacle, the best aspect of the VCU game was the dramatic development of Derryck Thornton.  Only Grayson (37) and Amile (34) played more minutes than Thornton’s 31.  Matt Jones also played 31 minutes.  Thornton would have played more, but was in foul trouble, finishing the game with 4.  Coach K had to take him out with 5:30 to go when he picked up his 4th.  All breathed a sigh of relief when he reentered the game in the last 2 and a half minutes to steady the offense at “winning time”.  In spite of 3 turnovers, he is becoming a reliable ball handler as well as a proficient shooter and scorer.  His final line was 19 points on 7-11 shooting (2-3 from behind the arc and 3-5 from the line) to go with 4 assists, and 2 steals.  He is still inconsistent on defense, but his improvement last night was a great sign for Duke.  Coach K pointed out that he brings personality to the team, and has earned respect from his teammates.  “He played strong, and his mistakes did not rattle him.  He’s not afraid.” He is both humble and well spoken.  It was so clear that Duke’s half court offense is subpar without him.

Matt Jones played an excellent second half after seeming to miss his usual fire in the first half.  He made 2 dagger 3s (2-6 from behind the arc) scoring 10 on 4-11 from the floor.  He contributed 6 boards and 3 assists, but turned it over 4 times.  Amile was good, if not as scintillating as he was against Kentucky.  He was the glue to beating the VCU press by giving Duke an extra reliable ball handler on the floor.  In his 34 minutes, Amile had 3 blocks, 7 boards and an assist to go with 2-3 from the floor.  The big negative was 2-7 from the line — a couple of those misses were at “closing time”.

Marshal logged only 21 minutes, going 2-2 from the field for 4 points to go with 3 boards, 2 steals and a block.  He committed only a single foul; he has been foul free this season (except for the Bryant game where he picked up 4).  While Marshall is strong around the defensive hoop, he was not quite agile enough to give Duke good interior defense.  VCU was scoring at will inside in the first half (where Marshall logged most of his playing time) with passes from the penetrator to their bigs at the rim.  Marshall will play more, but this team created a need for Duke to go smaller on defense.

The Interesting

Duke made its winning run with four perimeter players and Amile.  This allowed Duke to switch on every screen, which was the reason the defense went from porous to efficient.  Duke also stopped running set plays for this group and went to free lance motion offense, which also was a major factor in the win.  Coach K said that when the two bigs were on the floor, the interior got jammed.  That lineup also allowed Duke to use Amile quite a bit to get the ball up the floor against the press without turnovers.  I do admit that  my idea of beating the press is not just avoiding the turnover, it is making a pressing team pay by breaking the press for an easy layup; Duke did that only twice — once with Matt and once with Grayson.  Otherwise, Duke just went into its half court offense.  On the other hand, frustrating VCU by avoiding the turnover was significant.

Luke Kennard was one of the four perimeter players on the floor at crunch time (Matt, Grayson and Thornton were the others).  He logged 20 minutes even though his shooting woes continued (0-4; 0-3 from behind the arc, but 2-2 on crucial foul shots).  He had 4 boards and 0 turnovers.  He was on the court at “winning time” for two reasons.  The first is 0 turnovers.  He is a reliable ball handler, not always in evidence for Duke last night.  The second is that he is an excellent defender and rebounder.  It was not coincidence that Duke’s defense finally looked competent only when Luke was on the court.  Coach K wanted to send the message that Luke is a valuable and good player regardless of whether or not his shot is falling.  All agree that it is only a matter of time before the ball starts going in for him.

The Bad

The early defense was cringe-making.  VCU shot 12-19 from inside the arc in the first half — most on point blank uncontested layups and put backs.  On offense, Duke’s backcourt is turnover prone — Matt 4, Thornton and Allen 3 each.  The stat sheet says Brandon had two turnovers, but I seem to remember several more.  Brandon, projected as a possible one and done as the # 3 rated entering freshman in the nation, did not look ready for being more than an important role player.  In 26 minutes, he scored 8 on 2-7 shooting from the field (0-3 from downtown) and that atrocious 4-11 from the line (without the last 2 that he made when the game was over and only 22 seconds were left, it was 2-9).  He just might have played his way out of the starting lineup.  He and Marshal (of the seven man rotation) were on the bench when Duke made its run.  Chase Jeter never played.  It is clear that Coach K thinks Jeter has a long way to go before he will be a significant contributor.

Next Play

Sunday afternoon at 1 pm (ESPN) in the finals against Georgetown (lost a week ago to Radford, a former girls school in rural Virginia) but who beat Wisconsin rather handily.  Go figure. Who needs the NFL?

DUKE 86 – GEORGETOWN 84

Georgetown Coach John Thompson III played at Princeton for legendary Coach Pete Carril, whose  teams not only led  the nation in scoring defense twenty times but also taught the most fundamentally sound offense –commonly referred to as the Princeton offense–known to the game of basketball. It was an offensive system consisting of frequent ball reversal, precise movement without the ball, and well-timed back-door cuts which frustrate more talented opponents into impatient errors that often led to head shaking baskets and stunning upsets. John returned to coach at Princeton before replacing his father at Georgetown.

I mention this because the last time Duke played Georgetown was January 21, 2006, when unranked Georgetown upset No. 1 Duke by shredding its defenses with his version of the Princeton System and, consequently, thought this would be an interesting test for the young Blue Devils.

TEST GRADES: 

Grayson Allen  A+  What more can you expect from the kid. Averages 30 points in the tournament on all manner of shots, to go with 4 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals, hustles, fights bigger players for rebounds, gives the ball up to open teammates, is perfect from the line. “Thirty-two points on 12 shots is crazy,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s just a crazy, crazy stat.”

Derryck Thornton  B+  In these two games, Derryck grew up right before our eyes. When he went to the bench in the second half with foul trouble, there was no theme to the Duke offense. Greyson might as well have been sitting also as his he didn’t get the ball at the right time or in the right spots.  He missed his last two important free throws but was 8-10 for the game.

Matt Jones  B    Matt could not score any points and deserve to be on the floor. His play on the baseline in the 1-3-1 zone down the stretch was critical. And, of course, he had three game changing threes (courtesy of Greyson) in the second half run.

Luke  Kennard  B-  Except for free throws (where he is 8-8),  Luke can’t seem to throw the ball in the ocean from a row boat. Other than that temporary glitch, he is a mature presence beyond his years. And you know he is a player because Coach has him on the floor at critical times.

Chase Jeter  C+   When his man went right by him for a lay-up, I thought “Not ready this year”. Then he makes a terrific low post move and ends up with 4 points and 2 rebounds in five minutes and I thought “Yes, this year”.

Brandon Ingram  D  The incredible shrinking man. Right now he is neither a shooter or a scorer. Getting  stronger would help his game a lot. He is sometimes helpful on defense but even then he does not appear to hustle all the time. Let’s see how he reacts to not starting, because Coach says: “Brandon is not even close to playing where he should be playing. He’s been knocked back with that physicality and level of attention and competitiveness. We need him (to be the player he can be.)”

Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are grown, mature men and you know what you will get from them every game. Unfortunately, Marshall’s game is hindered by the new touch foul rules. The last two games he seems to get called for a foul before the center jump or leaves the scorer’s table.

Coach K  A+  –  What else is new? His management of Grayson after the Kentucky game, of bringing Thornton along, mixing and matching his personnel, switching from a man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, then, when that didn’t work, to a 1-3-1 (with Jefferson on top not down), which facilitated the second half separation run is why he is THE MAESTRO. (Eat your heart out Johnny Tar Heel).

OBSERVATIONS:

  • Giving up 84 points does not usually win games. Like last year, defense will be the key to winning any sort of title.
  • Half court shots at the end of each half– one went in, one didn’t. It is much easier for a left hander to get off a contested shot going left with the sideline as protection from a defender than a right hander going left. Try it sometime.

Alan Adds:

 

Assessing After three tough games in six days on Neutral Courts

 

Duke played, in Coach K’s words, “three hellacious games” in six days.  He added, “This team needs the time to grow.”  Matt and Amile each started for only half a year; otherwise there are no players on this team that ever started a game for Duke prior to the season.  Coach K assessed, “We are a good team; and we hope to grow into a really good team, but we are not a juggernaut.”  Clearly, the three heralded McDonald’s All-American freshmen have had a rocky start.  Both Chase Jeter and Brandon Ingram have been knocked back by the level of physical play and defensive attention.  Luke Kennard has been 0-for the last 3 games from behind the arc in spite of his reputation as a long range shooter.  However, he is contributing more than Chase or Brandon because of his ball handling skill, hustle, defense and rebounding.  The upperclassmen have therefore had a lot placed upon them.  Coach K said that Matt Jones “trying to do everything for us” and as a result it wears on him.  Amile and Marshall have been effective in their own way, but foul shooting for them has been a problem coming down the stretch.  For example, Marshall retrieved a great rebound and was fouled with Duke up 6 and only 1:23 left to play.  On the line for 1 and 1, he had a chance to make it a 3 possession game if he made the first.  Miss the first and it has the same effect as a turnover.  Marshall missed and Georgetown was still alive.

 

Grayson, of course, has been fantastic and amazing.  Coach K said that against Kentucky, Grayson did not adjust when Kentucky loaded up against him at the rim.  He was trying to get his shot off instead of trying to score.  After the game, Coach and Grayson looked at film to show Grayson what his face looked like.  Coach K asked, “Is that how you want to look?”  Grayson was astounded at his down demeanor on the court.  Coach K said, “you win by how you look and act.  Your teammates see how you look; the opponents see how you look.  It is the responsibility of your best players to look confident and to lead.  Grayson did that this weekend in the Garden.”

 

Derryck is Duke’s point guard for this year, and is improving with every game.  Coach K: “He’s 18 years old!  Are you kidding me?  He’s really really really good.”  However, it cannot go unmentioned that he remains inconsistent on defense (something that can be said about the Duke team so far this year).  Whether or not Grayson can continue his amazing play will depend on whether Duke finds some balance to its offense.  Coach K said that Grayson will be consistent only if the team is balanced.  Otherwise defenses will be able load up on Grayson.

 

In spite of being waxed by Kentucky, Duke fans should be pretty pleased with the season’s start.

 

Georgetown

 

Duke’s youth showed, especially in the first half, but Duke got its sea legs in the last 8 minutes of the first half, actually taking the lead with 1:11 left on Matt’s 3.  Then youth showed and Duke gave up 8 points in the last 47 seconds (Grayson foul and Chase turnover), including the desperation heave at the buzzer.  Only Thornton played all 20 minutes of the first half.  Only Grayson (11 points) and Derryck (8 points) — 19 of Duke’s 32 points — kept Duke in the game.  Duke’s foul woes were already apparent.  Marshall had picked up 3; Amile and Derryck 2.

 

Duke came out on fire in the second half.  After a Georgetown opening hoop pushed the Hoya lead to 7, Duke ran off 8 points in 1:26 to take a 1 point lead — a Plumlee dunk on a great feed from Matt; Grayson and Matt each nailed 3s.  Down by 1, Duke ran off another 10 straight on 3 foul shots by Grayson, a Plumlee dunk on a wonderful assist from Grayson,  another Jones 3 pointer, and a dunk by Amile on a feed from Matt for a 9 point lead with 12:48 to go.  The wheels came a bit off for Duke at that point when Derryck picked up his third foul and went to the bench for the first time in the game.  He sat for a little over 6 minutes.  In that time Duke made only one field goal and the lead had shrunk to 3 when Thornton re-entered the game with 6:52 to go.  With 6:17 to go, Duke’s lead was 1.  Duke stretched the lead to 8 (welcome back, Derryck) with only 2:11 left on an Amile layup; Grayson’s 2 free throws and a 3 on a sweet assist from Derryck.  But the young Devils could not close out the game in Duke style.  Remember last year when Quinn and Tyus shot 90% from the line and did not turn the ball over against the press?  That was last year.  The lead was still 7 (3 possessions) with a minute to go.  Jefferson missed a free throw with 58 seconds left that would have restored the 3 possession lead; instead the lead was 6.  Inexplicably, Duke fouled.  So did the Hoyas and the teams traded foul shots.  With 36 seconds to go, Duke still led by 6. All Duke needed to do was not foul and not give up a 3.  Just guard the perimeter to contest the 3 and whatever, do not foul.  Brandon fouled.  Derryck’s 2 foul shots restored the lead to 6, but with 20 seconds to go, Duke gave up a long 3 that was not really contested.  Now it was a 1 possession game.  Derryck made 2 free throws, so Duke led by 5.  With 9 seconds left, the Hoyas nailed another 3 that was not truly contested.  The rest is history; Thornton missed 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, but he had an excellent contest on the Hoyas’s last desperation 3 that would have won them the game.

 

The Defense

The first half was truly a defensive disaster.  Georgetown shot 57%, but critically, the Hoyas shredded the Duke defense from inside the arc (10-14).  The only way Duke could stop the easy penetration was by switching to a zone.  The 1-3-1 (with Amile at the top) proved effective in the second half, and helped stifle Smith-Rivera who had been getting to the rim at will.  Still, the Hoyas shot 55% for the game and 41 % from behind the arc.  Duke will not win games against top competition with that kind of defense.  Whether the defense improves dramatically as it did last year, or remains a huge defect as it did 2 years ago remains to be seen.

 

The Rotation

 

Matt and Grayson played 38 minutes; Thornton 34 and Amile 31.   Marshall was limited to 24 minutes (4 points on 2 dunks from great feeds; 6 boards, an assist, a steal and a block) before fouling out.  Brandon, still having offensive woes, played only 16 minutes.  He is not shy, hoisting up 7 shots (2-7; 0-1 from 3land; 1-2 from the line) for 5 points.  He had 2 steals.  Coach K said that Brandon has not adjusted to the physicality yet.  He came in with the biggest reputation and got “knocked back” by the defensive attention he receives because of his high school reputation.  “He is not playing close to what we need from him.”  Luke Kennard played 14 effective minutes, scoring 8 on 2-2 from inside the arc and 4-4 from the line.  He still can’t get the 3ball going (0-3), but all are confident it is just a matter of time before his 3s start falling.  Chase logged only 5 minutes, but in the second half, he was key with 2 big boards and 2 field goals (missed the free throw that would have given him a 3 point play).  Coach K described him as a grape not yet ready to be plucked from the vine.  He has a great attitude and will eventually be a significant contributor.  If Marshall and Amile keep committing fouls, it had better be this year.

 

Amile has played well, scoring 8 (2-5; 4-6 from the line) with 8 rebounds and excellent defense.  Importantly, he gives Duke a solid ball handler against the press.  Matt is key at both ends of the court.  He was only on the bench in this game for 2 minutes.  He is having trouble scoring on offense (3-13; 0-6 from inside the arc and 2-3 from the line), but has made critical 3s (3-7) for 11 points to go with 4 boards, 3 assists.  He committed only 1 foul and 1 turnover.  He is Duke’s glue.  Derryck scored 14 on 3-6 from the field and 8-10 from the line.  He had only 2 assists, but only 2 turnovers.  His upside is Duke’s hope for the season.

Grayson’s stat line had Coach K speechless.  32 points on only 12 shots.  “Maybe we should get him more shots,” said the Coach wryly.  Dickie V was back to his annoying self as the color guy (thank god for the mute button), but he had one insight that might prove prophetic.  He said that Grayson, with his full tilt energy and amazingly varied scoring, reminded him of John Havlicek.  What a compliment!  Of course, the former Ohio State and Celtic great did it for more than 4 games.   We’ll see.

Next Play

Four games in two weeks — Yale (Wednesday) and Utah State (Sunday); Indiana on Wednesday and Buffalo on Saturday.  Then a 10 day exam break.

 

DUKE 80 – YALE 61

Would you have taken the over or under on Duke falling behind 0-9 to Yale in Cameron? Maybe it should be called the Ivy League Offense, because Yale ran the “Princeton Offense” better than John Thompson’s team did Sunday. Or maybe Duke’s man defense was worse tonight. Whatever the explanation, the opening minutes were disturbing enough to take away Duke fans appetite for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Once again, Duke’s man-to-man defense was shredded and the pain did not end until Duke reluctantly went to their 1-3-1 defense, which coincidentally also turned the Georgetown game. The unindicted co-conspirator for those first fifteen painfully puzzling minutes was an atypically passive Greyson Allen. Coach K had commented that the freshmen had to step up to help lighten his scoring load, because it is not sustainable for one player to score 40% of the points. So by design or circumstance, Greyson was scoreless until Coach had seen enough and switched to the zone. Co-incidentally, the players started to look for Greyson and he became more aggressive- que Scott Van Pelt for some ESPN SportsCenter Greyson Allen highlights.

There may have been a method to madness as early substitutions Ingram and Kennard plus starter Thornton hit threes to get the Blue Devils on the scoreboard. They were also effective defensively with Kennard making the play of the game by diving for a loose ball and in one motion throwing a blind half court ball to Greyson for an uncontested dunk. But then Luke was also an all-state Ohio quarterback.

The Good News/ Bad News:

  • Duke spotted the same Yale team, who upset defending NCAA Champion UConn at home last year,  9 points and still won by 21– but that margin is in no way a fair indication of the competitiveness of the game.
  • Grayson Allen had 5 assists, 4 more than point guard Derryck Thornton. No one claims freshmen are consistent.
  • Brandon Ingram, who seemed more animated/motivated coming off the bench for the second time, had 15 points– but none of them were outside of four feet. The oxygen gets thin for him on the perimeter unless he is going to the basket.
  • Oxymoron: Luke Kennard is 14-14 from free throw line but 4-23 from three point land. Which is reality? Answer: Anyone who shoots that well from the line has a shooting touch and  will soon light it up from the floor. Example: Allen, who is 41-45 from the line is over 50% per cent from the floor.

Observations: 

  • Allen had only (for him) 14 points but added five assists, five rebounds, a steal, and enough floor burns to satisfy even Wojo.
  • Amile “Spiderman” Jefferson and Matt “Mr. Utility” Jones and Marshall “Muscleman” Plumlee constitute the tough, blue collar backbone of this team.
  • Matt Jones has developed into Grayson Allan’s “Wing Man”. On Allan’s forays to the basket, Matt just follows to an open space and, if Allen is blocked gets a pass for an open three. It’s a new play called: Kentucky Option. It has been a tough week for Jones off the floor, as his grandfather, the main male figure in his life, died Monday. He was still able to lead Duke with 17 points, shooting 7-of-11 from the floor.
  • An unusual number of the referee calls made you want to hit the replay button.
  • How many times have you seen Duke players diving for loose balls while opponents are leaning over reaching for it. Who wins that scrum?
  • This was win number 1023 for Coach K and 119 straight versus non-conference foes in Cameron.

 

  • Pay close attention to these next six games for clues as how Coach K and his staff assess and determine the best roles for this young talent.

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

 

Alan Adds:

 

If you love the game of basketball, it was hard not to completely admire Yale’s opening salvo against Duke at Cameron.  The Bulldogs simply played beautiful basketball in carving up the Duke man to man defense.  It could have been an offensive coaching clinic (with Duke defenders playing the role of the Washington Generals!).  Coach K thought his team was tired from last week’s schedule, and said that his team wasn’t talking as it usually does.  Duke, he said, played hard, but there was something missing.  His first substitutions — replacing Amile and Thornton with Brandon and Kennard — stemmed the tide.  The Coach then switched (not reluctantly, I submit) to the 1-3-1 zone (misidentified at first as a 2-3 by the announcers).  “We went to the 1-3-1 because we couldn’t keep Mason out of the paint.  The zone changed the game.

Defense

The last two teams — Georgetown and Yale — have good patient penetrating offenses.  Coach K said those teams had returning players and their offense was way ahead of Duke’s man to man defense.  Coach K recognizes that Duke will be beaten if the man to man is the primary or only defense Duke plays this year.  In the past, Duke has had senior leadership to teach the Duke man to man.  Coach K said watching the Marquette (coached by Wojo) – Arizona State (coached by Bobby Hurley) play each other reminded him that he had 8 years of the best possible on the ball defense at the point.  But, the coach said that neither of those two excellent defenders were excellent in their freshman season (Coach K said it took Wojo 2 years to get it).  He simply does not have the personnel to play the man to man as Duke has done in the past, but Duke is not giving up that defense either.  “We can get better, but we need time to practice.  We haven’t had time to practice in the last week.”  Coach K also said that the team has worked very hard on the 1-3-1 zone in practice all year because that defense fits Duke’s personnel very well, “especially when we have all the bigs in”.  Grayson was lauded as being “unbelievably active on the wing in the 1-3-1.  By the time Yale figured out how to play against it, the game was over.

The Rotation

I believe that Coach K is still tinkering and learning about his team.  Although he didn’t start, Brandon Ingram not only changed the game, but also played the most minutes (34) of any Duke player.  He is still a work in progress (but the progress is becoming more apparent).  Although he is still having trouble with his shot (1-6 from behind the arc; and 0-1 from the line), he contributed in very meaningful ways last night while scoring 15 points (6-10 inside the arc) with 5 boards, 3 assists, a steal and a block against committing only 2 turnovers and 1 foul.  Brandon is active on the defensive boards, on defense in the paint and is a terrific defender at the top of the zone.  Luke Kennard was also a major contributor in his 23 minutes, scoring 12 points (2-8; 2-6 from downtown and, importantly, 6-6 from the line.  While he made 2 from deep, he is still not shooting up to his reputation.  However, Luke played outstanding defense with 3 steals while committing only 1 foul.  He also had an assist without a turnover.  When those two freshmen entered the game, they gave Duke “some pop” — a dose of emotional energy that changed the game.

Matt Jones had a very solid game in his 32 minutes, as did Grayson.  Derryck Thornton played only 22 minutes.  I believe Coach K knows his team has to learn to play without its only true point guard this year.  One of the very good aspects of this game was that Duke looked fine on offense with Grayson and Matt in the backcourt.  Matt (who was grieving the loss of his grandfather, with whom he was very close) was lethargic in the first half (4 points on 2-5; including 0-2 from 3land), but turned it on in the second half (5-6 from the floor; 3-3 from behind the arc).  He had 17 for the game to lead Duke in scoring.  His solid floor game produced 3 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals, and some effective defense against only 1 turnover.  Grayson also played 32 minutes, dishing out 5 assists against only 1 turnover while scoring 14 points on 4-10 shooting (0-2 from 3land; but 6-6 from the line).  He also snared 3 boards and had a steal.  He did whine about the fouls called on him, and he picked up his 4th with 9:48 left in the game.  Coach K left him in because it is a learning experience that you cannot simulate in practice.  Grayson played well down the stretch without committing foul number 5.  Derryck in his most limited role recently, played well enough on offense (but was victimized in man to man defense as he has been frequently this year).  He committed 3 fouls in his limited playing time.  He was smooth on offense with 6 points on 2-4 from the floor (1-2 from 3land and 1-1 from the line).  He had an assist, a steal and 2 blocks (how cool for a guard!) against only 1 turnover.  Duke cannot thrive with Grayson scoring 40% of the team’s points.  Against Yale, the scoring for Duke was balanced — Matt, 17; Brandon, 15; Grayson 14; Luke, 12 and Amile 9.

The Duke bigs were disappointing in the first half.  Amile had a single point on 1-2 from the line and only 2 boards in the first half.  Marshall had 3 boards but 0 points.  Worse, Yale was dominating the Duke defensive backboard and scoring at will in the paint (26 of 36 points in the first half).  The second half was a totally different story.  The Duke bigs (including Brandon) simply overwhelmed the Bulldogs. In the second half, Amile scored 8 on 4-6 from the field and pulled down 10 boards.  In his 25 minutes, he was 1 point shy of a double double and played outstanding second half defense in the zone — whether up top (when Brandon was on the bench) or in the back line.    Marshall played 26 minutes and in the second half scoring 5 points (a dunk on a great assist from Grayson — 1-2 from the field; and 3-5 from the line).  For the game, Marshall contributed 2 steals and 2 blocks, but also turned it over twice and committed 4 fouls.  Chase Jeter made a 5 minute cameo, scoring a bucket on his only shot, but missing a free throw.  He had a block and a steal; not bad for 5 minutes.

Coach K’s Interesting Presser

He likes his team, but understands that it is a much younger team than last year’s team (even though the ages are similar).  He understands that youth is reflected in inconsistent play.  Coach K said that it would take a while for all of the pieces to play together at a high level.  “We won’t get everyone playing well together for a while.  Getting consistency is growing up.”  Coach K said the task was to keep growing, and that this team “has a lot of growing up to do.”  Interestingly, Coach K said that, unlike last year, “I am the consistency.  This team needs that from me and my coaching staff, but I have told them that I am the consistent aspect for now.  I need to be consistently present and passionate at every huddle, every timeout, every practice — that every second matters.  That’s what this team needs from me.”

Coach K also said that any team that plays for four minutes without timeout or substitution is a tired team.  Duke had a 10 point lead and had played more than 4 minutes without stoppage.  Coach K said in a more competitive game, he might have called a timeout, but he wanted to see if his team could play tired, so it was over 6 minutes until stoppage.  Coach K said, “we didn’t — couldn’t — do it.  We didn’t lose the lead”, but Duke couldn’t sustain its level of play.  He said he did it because that is something you can’t teach in practice; it requires a game situation.  He has always said that how you play when exhausted is one of the key aspects to winning.

All in all, the Yale game was a valuable growth experience for this young Duke team.

DUKE 85- UTAH STATE 52

Nothing like a little home cooking on Thanksgiving break for 9,314 of your closest friends. Today was the most complete game these Blue Devils have played. Coming into the game, an athletic but undersized Utah State was an undefeated 4-0 –in the state of Utah. Nevertheless, the Blue Devil man-to-man defense was very effective while Jefferson and Plumlee dominated the paint. Ingram again started in place of Thornton, who has not distinguished himself these last two games. However, it was a coming out party for another freshman, Luke Kennard, who shot like the player we have been expecting to see— 4-5 threes and 22 points.

Krzyzewski said after the game that Kennard hadn’t brought his shot speed up to the speed of the college game. He pointed to the free throw line – where the game is the same speed in high school and college — and Kennard is 18-for-19 from the charity stripe. During live game action, though, Krzyzewski said Kennard needed to move quicker and get ready to shoot quicker. “The ball comes to him at different times than it did in high school,” Krzyzewski said. “Just shooting at the speed that he is going to need to at this competition. You’re not in the right lane anymore; you’re in the left lane.”

I guess my foremost takeaway from this game is how much satisfaction and pleasure I derive watching  seniors Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee play. Maybe it is that they realize this is their last year, maybe it is that they want to show the Crazies how much they have learned and grown in their time here, maybe they just want to show the younger guys how Duke plays the game. But there is no denying that they play with a joyfulness, verve, and confidence that most of the one-and –doners don’t. Damn, I really miss that about contemporary college basketball.

Observations:

  • The normally friendly Cameron rims were not very accommodating today. Greyson’s first three shots that normally go in, rolled off or out and the basket rejected other shots that usually seem to fall.
  • Seth Greenberg, the former Virginia Tech coach was one of the announcers.He is very knowledgeable and highly entertaining. However, the only thing he never talks about is why he refused to offer scholarships to Hokie All-American Dell Curry’s sons Stephen and Seth. He did offer the opinion that Brandon Ingram was more effective as a four than on the perimeter.
  • This was win number 1,024 for Coach K and 120 straight versus non-conference opponents in Cameron.

Alan Adds:

It is hard to find any fault with Duke’s beat down of Utah State yesterday.  If you want to quibble, Utah State penetrated the Duke defense at will…for about 5 minutes.  Then Duke clamped down and played serious man to man defense.  Coach K went to the 1-3-1 zone for exactly one possession (a wide open Utah State 3 from the corner ended that defense for the game), and then stayed with the man to man, even showing serious pressure from time to time.  Duke’s excessive fouling at garbage time at the end of the game (Obi and Vrankovic committed 5 fouls between them in a collective 6 minutes) and sloppy play (with two walk-ons) were the only other blemishes on an otherwise season’s best performance.   Because the outcome was never in doubt, Duke’s full rotation got a look.  Nobody played more than 29 minutes (Grayson and Amile).  Marshall logged 27, Luke Kennard 26, Brandon 25 and Matt 24.  Thornton played only 19 minutes (4 fouls limiting his playing time) while Chase Jeter had a 13 minute stint.  Jeter shows potential — he is fluid and can score — but he is lost on defense and not yet confident on offense.  He is not ready for crunch time yet.  There were some gaudy stat lines in a game where Duke looked very efficient on offense, suffocating on defense and dominating on both backboards.  Beat down was a fair description.

There was much good news for the Devils, but none better than the performance of Luke Kennard.  He looked confident and smooth, dropping 22 points on 7-9 from the field (4-5 from 3land and 4-5 from the line).  He added a steal, a block and an assist.  Except for being beaten badly on his first defensive play on entering the game, he was a valuable defender.  His only downside was 4 turnovers; yet he is an excellent and reliable ball handler.  It would not be a shocker to see him in the starting lineup against Indiana.  Both Brandon and Derryck, who have each started games, had ineffective offensive games.  Brandon had some moments, while Derryck had a lackluster game overall.  He was missed 10 shots before he hit a final driving layup during garbage time (1-9 from the field including 0-1 from behind the arc; and 0-2 from the line), and wasn’t a whole lot more effective on defense, the four fouls being an accurate indicator.  Derryck did dish out a pair of assists and had a steal.  Brandon was a valuable contributor, but is not yet shooting well or scoring.  His confidence has been shaken, I think, as he took only 4 shots from the field (2-4), but got to the line for 6 attempts (4-6).  He is becoming a better defender (2 blocks and a steal) and was effective on the glass with 6 rebounds (3 on offense).  You still get the feeling that, like Kennard today, he has breakout talent that will boost the team.  So much of this year’s accomplishments will depend on the continuing growth of the freshmen, which includes becoming consistent contributors.

The four veterans had superb games.  Matt scores really only when the team needs him.  He took just 6 shots today (2-6; 2-4 from 3land) for 6 points.  He is the glue to the defense and the team leader.  You know he is there when the going gets difficult.  We are getting so used to Grayson’s outstanding play that 22 points on 15 shots doesn’t seem like the big deal it really is.  Grayson was 8-15 (2-5 from deep; 4-4 from the line), but that hardly tells the whole story.  Grayson plays with such energy and leadership.  His defense is excellent and his stats beyond scoring are admirable.   He pulled down 5 rebounds, dished 2 assists without a turnover, and had a steal and a block while committing only 1 foul.  That is efficient basketball, but might not have been the most efficient performance of the game.  Amile is a candidate for that award.  His shooting was almost perfect — 6-7 from the field and 1-1 from the line for 13 points — and the rest of his game was as good or better.  He pulled down 9 tough rebounds, and added 2 blocks, 2 steals and two assists without committing a foul.  While Amile was nearly perfect in shooting, Marshall was actually perfect (3-3 from the field and 3-3 from the line for 9 points) and added 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals and an assist while committing only 2 fouls.  Duke just dominated on the interior.

Next Play is the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Indiana at Cameron (9:30 pm on ESPN).  I will be traveling for the next two games, causing the DBP to be possibly a day or two later than usual.

DUKE 94 – INDIANA 74

Holy Kevin Durant, Dickie V!  Brandon Ingram finally showed us more than a few flashes of what all the hype is about by scoring 18 points on a variety of shots in twelve minutes of the first half and playing by far his most complete game of his brief college career. To use a couple of Coach K’s favorite words, he played with a verve and enthusiasm that had him sprinting back on both ends of the floor and even animated and involved on the bench. At halftime Jay (aka. Jason) Williams, the former Duke All American guard, explained that Ingram has not had his hands up anticipating a pass so that he was not physically or mentally ready to shoot. Tonight he did and boy, what a difference.

While the Hoosiers (aided and abetted by Duke’s sometimes inattentive defense) shot, well like you expect Hoosiers to shoot (over 50%), other aspects of the game like defense and rebounding apparently left with Bobby Knight, who must have had heartburn last night. The Blue Devils ended up shooting 53 % from the field, 46 % on 3’s, and 82%  from the line. Duke out rebounded Indiana 38-25 and turned it over only six times, an impressive statistic for an up-tempo game like this one. The Devils had more offensive rebounds (19) than Indiana had defensive rebounds (17). And while we look at the blue collar statistics, let’s give it up for Amile Jefferson, who gives it up on every minute of every play to make stats like these the rule, not the exception.

Indiana made an impressive run early in the first half to go up by six before Duke made an extended one of their own punctuated by Grayson Allen’s shot of the night—maybe the year– to end the half. On a patented drive into the lane, Allen lost his footing around the foul line, slipping as he flung the ball with two hands, from waist level, over his shoulder. With his back to the basket, Allen couldn’t see the ball hit the backboard and bounce into the net. As my old tennis coach once counselled me: “Good players make more lucky shots than bad players.”

As the teams jogged past each other to head to the locker room, Coach Krzyzewski was bumped by an Indiana player at halftime. Krzyzewski took exception and spoke with Indiana head coach Tom Crean before leaving the floor. Whether coincidence or not, the Blue Devils came out to the second half as if they wanted to prove a point. The blue Devils rattled off a 9-0 run to begin the period, doubling their halftime lead to 60-42. On the defensive end, the they held Indiana without a field goal for the first 8:29 and seemed to win every loose ball

Every game won’t always be like this, at least not right away– not for Ingram, not for Duke. This is part of a process, one that does not necessarily have a smooth progression forward. But, to channel an old Elvis Pressley song: “It was a night. Such a night. What a night it was!”

In the Duke-Utah State blog, I mentioned how much I missed watching four year players like Jefferson and Plumlee mature and hated that the NBA takes players before they are ready for the unstructured NBA lifestyle—too much time, money, women, drugs etc. A good example is Jahlil Okafor. By all accounts is a good kid and never got into any trouble at Duke. Now a 76er, he personally is doing very well on the court—despite playing for an undermanned and winless team. Off the court appears to be another matter. There are the  press reports about Okafor’s extra-curricular activities: Stopped by police driving 108 mph on the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia; had a gun pointed at him during a dispute outside of a Philadelphia club in early October; refused service at the bar for having a fake ID; TMZ released a video of Okafor punching an obnoxious fan outside of a Boston club early Thanksgiving morning.

“Look, Jah is one of the great kids,” Krzyzewski said. “Pros need to have security. When we’re with the U.S. team, we have security for everybody because all of those guys are targets. You’ve just got to be smart about that. He was not. He apologized. He is being punished. Look, anybody who pictures that kid as some bad kid, you’ve got to be kidding me. He is one of the most loving, good kids… But he did a couple stupid things. Okay, knock him, suspend him, let’s move on. But let’s not characterize him as that. He is not that. That kid is a special, special human being. And he is a pretty damn good basketball player in addition, too.”

And speaking of former players, Rasheed Sulaimon is playing for Maryland this year. Whatever the circumstances surrounding his dismissal from the team last year, this much is apparent: He stayed in school,  finished the semester, which had to be awkward, even difficult, and graduated. He and is part of one of the best back courts in the country. Rasheed had an outstanding game in the loss to Carolina Tuesday night and seemed at ease among the hostile Chapel Hill crowd, even chatting amiably with Marcus Paige during breaks in the action.

Observations:

  • What’s wrong with Matt Jones and Grayson Allen playing the point?
  • Imagine how good this team would be if Brandon Ingram continues to play anything like he did tonight and  Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard continue to gain confidence.
  • Duke  played primarily a man-to-man defense tonight but slipped into a 2-3 zone a few brief times.
  • This was win number 1,024 for Coach K and 120 straight versus non-conference opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The last time Duke lost a home nonconference game was Feb. 26, 2000 when St. John’s escaped with a narrow 83-82 win.

Alan Adds:

This was obviously Duke’s best overall game of the season.  My only caveat is that, having seen Indiana in previous games, THEY CANNOT GUARD ANYONE!  Leaving aside the Hoosier wreckage, there were some genuinely positive things for Duke beyond the offensive outburst from Brandon and the superb floor game played by Matt Jones.  Duke had 18 assists against only six turnovers.  Duke’s assist leader had 8 — Amile Jefferson from the post.  What a great statistic that is.  Grayson was Duke’s second leading assister with 3.  In many ways, Jefferson took over the game, dominating the backboard and creating havoc with his interior defense. If I believed in such merit as POG (I don’t), it would be Amile.  But this is a team game and Duke had a great team game.

Coach K seemed to be narrowing the rotation.  Only 7 played.  Chase Jeter did not play even though Coach K said Duke has 8 starters and Duke’s lead was as large as 25 — rarely below 20 in the second half.  I don’t know the story behind Jeter’s benching, but I do suspect there is a story. {Editor: Same as MP3 only getting 20 minutes–Indiana played small]  The rotation is definetly shortening. Even in the blowout, Grayson played 38 minutes and Matt 37.  Both had fantastic games on both ends of the court.  Grayson had 16 (7-11; 2-2 from the line), missing his only 3 point attempt.  He had 5 boards and 3 assists.  Matt took the most shots (19; 11 from behind the arc).  He was 9-19; 5-11 for 23 points and some in your face defense.  Amile played 35 minutes and Brandon logged 32 in his offensive breakout.  He was 10-15, including 4-6 from behind the arc for 24 points and 6 boards.  He should have had a block on which he was called for a phantom foul.  He is valuable on defense, but still has lapses that allow easy layups.  His improvment is palpable.  He has the potential to play the same role on this team that Mike Dunleavy played on the 2000 team.  Duke then went only 6 deep because Dunleavy was so versatile.  Brandon has that same potential because he has a perimeter game and an interior game.

Marshall played only 20 minutes, accumulating 4 fouls in that time.  When he was out, Brandon was the other big.  Marshall was strong while on the floor though limited to 4 points.  He had 5 rebounds.  Kennard logged 22 minutes as his long distance shooting woes returned (after his last breakout game).  He was 3-10 (1-5 from behind the arc for 7 points to go with 4 boards, 2 assists and a block.  He continues to impress with his floor game, ball handling and defense.  He is becoming a lock down defender.  He played the fifth most minutes.

Derryck was limited by Coach K to 16 minutes.  He can surely score — 12 points in 16 minutes on 4-5; 1-1 from behind the arc and 3-3 from the line.  So, why isn’t he playing more?  My guess (opinion) is there are two reasons.  First, Derryck is turning the ball over without reconrding assists.   Point guard skills include running the offense and making teammates better.  He had a single assist against 2 turnovers.  The second aspect to his game that needs (dramatic) improvment is his defense.  He loses track of his assignment and gets beaten by his man moving without the ball with some frequency.  He is young, but his minutes seem to be diminishing.  It would not surpirise me to see this team play with a rotation as small as 6 at crunch time because of Brandon’s versatility.

Duke won by a blowout, but it is hard to ignore that Indiana — especially in the first half — penetrated with ease.  The Hoosiers shot 54% in the first half and finished the game at 51%.  In the second half, the Duke help at the rim improved as the defense tightened — especially when Brandon was in the game as one of the two bigs.

All in all, it was a definite step forward.  Duke will need that in the ACC.  UNC looked awfully good dismantling Maryland.

 

DUKE 82- BUFFALO 59

A game scheduled for 5:15pm on Saturday is not the main attraction, it’s not even the opening act, it’s a local band playing for free. Nevertheless, you never know what you will see or hear. What we saw was Brandon Ingram’s game and attitude continue to develop and mature right before our eyes. Let’s face it, Brandon has to be going through more than the normal freshman adjustment period. He is from athletic mother load of Kinston, North Carolina, normally a feeder system to Chapel Hill, who played on an AAU team coached by fellow Kinstonian Jerry Stackhouse, whose attitude hastened Dean Smith’s retirement– and who probably has more tats than all the freshman class put together. Well, the last two games Brandon has looked and played like he is getting much more comfortable at Duke–not only has he scored practically at will, he also has hustled, played hard at both ends of the floor, and bonded with the home crowd by urging them to raise the noise level to the roof.

Neither team shot well and Buffalo hung around until Duke switched to a 1-3-1 zone. Coincidentally, Duke’s offense heated up and the margin doubled.

Grayson Allen had an “off” night”—only 22 points, 11 rebounds plus lumps, bumps, and floor burns usually associated with a cage fight. I guess the definition off and “off” night for Greyson is twenty some points, and an “on” night is thirty some. If both Allen and Ingram have “on” nights against top flight competition, Luke Kennard starts scoring as advertised, Thornton continues to improve, and Jefferson, Plumlee, and Jones, continue to play as they are now, this team plays at an entirely different level. At present, Chase Jeter is getting little playing time and is not distinguishing himself when he does. So, this is a versatile seven man rotation. What else is new? Let’s hope no one gets hurt.

Miscellaneous:

Ø  Duke freshman forward Justin Robinson, the son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, will redshirt this year.

Ø  This was win number 1,025 for Coach K and 121 straight versus non-conference opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The last time Duke lost a home nonconference game was Feb. 26, 2000 when St. John’s escaped with a narrow 83-82 win.

Ø   Despite three NCAA Championships, Coach K has not been ACC Coach of the Year since 2000. Go figure.

Ø  Duke now takes a 10-day break for final exams and will return to the court against Georgia Southern Dec. 15 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Alan Adds:

It was hard to take Buffalo seriously, given the defections, injuries, and league that Buffalo plays in.  One felt the spread should have been in triple figures.  The game started as if Duke players felt that way even as they tried to take Buffalo seriously.   But, Buffalo demanded to be taken seriously by out hustling Duke in the early going, getting every 50-50 ball while playing the game like it actually was for them — the biggest moment of each Buffalo player’s athletic life. Of course, the huge talent disparity wore Buffalo down and it is fair to say there was never a single moment when any knowledgable fan thought Duke might actually lose.  At the end of the first half when Duke led by 10, it felt like a moral victory for Buffalo.

Brandon was, as Bill described, absolutely scintillating — especially in the first half.  But I want to highlight the play of Derryck Thornton, who played like an experienced point guard.  In 24 minutes, he had 0 turnovers to go with 5 assists.  Moreover, he was 4-4 from the line and 2-4 from the field (0 attempted 3 pointers) for 8 points, while committing only a single foul. These are excellent numbers even though the competition was inferior; the issue will be whether he grows into playing like this against the highest level of competition.

As Bill pointed out the rotation is only 7 players.  Jeter is not getting any playing time (3 minutes,) missing both of his shots and committing a foul in that cameo.  Marshall is starting, but he is not playing the minutes that the other starters are.  In 23 minutes (no foul trouble), he was 1-2 from the line and 0-2 from the field for a point to go with a board, a block, a steal, and a turnover.  The key stat for Marshall was 4 assists.  Duke had only 10 assists (Grayson got the other one).  Luke is still having trouble with his stroke (and now his drives) after a break out game.  He was 2-7 (1-3) from the field in his 15 minutes and 2-2 from the line for 7 points.  He is valuable on the floor, snaring 3 boards in his short stint and playing excellent defense.

The reason it appeared that Grayson had an “off night” is because he was wretched shooting from the field.  He had, in his 36 minutes, 15 field goal attempts, of which 3 were from distance.  But he made only 5 — 1 from distance (each at 33%).  The reason he is still accorded star status is the rest of his exceptional game.  He was 11-13 from the foul line, a great statistic from any standpoint, and he snared a game high 11 rebounds — all defensive.  In short he kept Buffalo off its offensive glass.  In addition, he played great defense while committing only a single foul.   Both he and Brandon took 15 shots, but while Grayson was off, Brandon seemed, and was, on fire.  He played 38 minutes of scintillating basketball, which is corroborated by his statistics — 8-15, including 2-4 from 3land and 5-7 from the line.  In addition,  consider he collected 8 rebounds (3 offensive), made 2 steals and 4 blocks, while committing only 3 fouls.  3 turnovers is the only negative in yet another breakout game for him.

Matt and Amile were simply solid.  Amile was limited to 28 minutes by his foul trouble (ended the game with 4), but was offensively efficient going 5-6 from the field and 3-4 from the stripe for 13 points.  He also had 8 boards, many of them very tough rebounds.  Matt seems only to score when Duke needs it.  He made one 3 pointer, but it came at perhaps the only crucial moment in the entire game.  He logged 32 minutes grabbing 4 rebounds and scoring 8 points on 2-8 (1-4 from behind the arc) from the field and 3-4 from the line for 8 points.  He is so steady and is the go to guy at crunch time.

It is a very interesting team.  Conference play, which starts in January, will be defining — especially conference play on the road.

DUKE  99 –  GEORGIA SOUTHERN  65

The big news tonight is more clarity about Amile Jefferson’s injury. The underrated but perhaps the most irreplaceable player on the team sustained a “non-surgical” break of his right foot in a practice scrum for a loose ball and is out “indefinitely”. Without Jefferson, Duke has six players who will play the majority of the available minutes and a seventh, Chase Jeter, who isn’t ready for prime time or, even tonight, non-prime time. In his first minutes, he lost the ball on an inbounds play, bricked a lay-up, missed an ally-oop, lost his man on defense, and then fell down in the paint. However, as K pointed out, he has only just turned eighteen and because of the difference in physicality and speed the transition from the high school game to the college game is much tougher for big men than guards. What about Sean Obi, the large Rice transfer? He was never mentioned.

Most telling about the severity of the situation was Krzyzewski’s reaction to a question suggesting that this year’s numbers challenge (with seven available useful players) is similar to last year, when Duke won the national title with eight scholarship players. Krzyzewski quickly cut off the question. “We were never in this situation. Not even close…not even close because we had more experience. And we had  Okafor, we had Winslow, and we had guards. We had eight good players.”

Jefferson’s broken foot will be in a hard cast until he returns from Duke’s holiday break on Dec. 26. At that point, he will be re-evaluated and  be fitted with  a walking boot. The timetable for his return is unknowable. “Tune in for the next episode,” Krzyzewski said, “We can start a series right now of  “What the hell is happening with the Blue Devils. We have to keep the ship afloat while he’s gone. We don’t have many guys. . . . We have to take a look at what we do on defense because not every team is going to play four perimeter guys. We can score if two variables are addressed: having tired legs and being in foul trouble…. not being in the game. So, we have to think of ways of us staying out of foul trouble and having fresh legs.”

The Good News: Brandon Ingram continued to mature and impress almost geometrically (ref: In his last three games, Brandon has scored  73 points,  28 rebounds, 6 blocks, and a season’s worth of highlight plays for most players. Those are All-American numbers. Tonight, he had a double- double punctuated by a couple of SportsCenter worthy highlight dunks; old reliable Matt Jones just keeps doing all the big and little things in an impressive manner; MP3, a big, physical post presence, almost had a double-double; Derryck Thornton keeps improving; Luke Kennard, who came with a big time scoring reputation, is doing everything but that well (Coach K swears he is often the high scorer in practice but, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to transfer that to real games); Grayson Allen had another “off” night: two missed foul shots, (only) 18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 4 take downs, plus 2 head shots.

The Bad News: With Jefferson, the Blue Devil defense has not been your first choice to take to the Big Dance. Without Jefferson, you might be going stag. It can be beaten off the dribble and is weak in the paint—but it is still early in the season.

Miscellaneous:

  • Brand, Boozer,  Irving, Ryan, now Jefferson all sidelined by foot injuries. Coincidence, drills, or shoes?
  • This was win number 1,026 for Coach K and 122 straight versus non-conference opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The last time Duke lost a home nonconference game was Feb. 26, 2000 when St. John’s escaped with a narrow 83-82 win.
  • Next game: Saturday, December 19. Utah @ noon @ MSG on ESPN.

 

Alan Adds:

Over the weekend, I wrote to Bill: “Reasonable Duke goals at exam break (before Amile’s break):  [note the prescient comment about “especially if there is any kind of injury”] Lowest, but still acceptable and probably the right goal for this team:  3rd in the ACC; Semi-Finals of ACC tournament; Sweet 16, maybe elite 8. The rotation of 7 is too few, especially if there is any kind of injury. However, I agree there is a terrific (possibly magical) upside to this team (and his name is Brandon Ingram).  If the last two games are the beginning of the arrival of a star, who blossoms [Now we can say last 3 games], Duke could step up to the level of the top tier of teams.  The defense will jell then, Grayson would have room to flourish, and the interior would be pretty solid.  Nice holiday thought.”

Of course, Amile’s injury is a significant blow to this team, and calls into question “ the interior would be pretty solid”.  How large a blow depends on when he is able to return and if he can return to the level of his early season play (something neither Kyrie nor Ryan Kelly were able to do when each finally returned from their respective foot injury).

The game against Georgia Southern is not a good measuring stick because of the immense discrepancy with Duke in talent and size.  However, it is certainly interesting to see how Coach K tried and will try to survive in the interim.  He did not sound optimistic, but realistic,”if dad gets laid off, the sons have to go out and get jobs.”   The three most productive and important players (you might say core) played over 30 minutes — Grayson 35; Matt 33; and Brandon 31.  Coach K is trying to see if he can add to the core from the next 3 players who all logged 22 minutes or more — Luke played 29 minutes; Derryck 27 and Marshall 22.  No player committed more than 2 fouls this game.  The only other two players to see action were Jeter (I love he wears # 2) and Obi (who made only a cameo of 4 minutes, and got his first Duke points — 1-1 with a rebound for 2 points).  As Bill described, Chase looked lost in the first half, but played better in the second half.  In his 17 minutes, he was 1-2 with 3 boards a steal and a block.

Whether Duke “survives” in this mode will, I believe, depend on Luke Kennard beginning to play to his potential.  That just means his shot has to start going in.  In his 29 minutes, he was 1-7 from behind the arc — opening 0-4 in the early going.  His shot selection was not the problem; he was open and he took the shot he was supposed to take.  Actually, he was tied with Brandon for the most shots of any Duke player (4-13 and 2-2 from the line for 11 points).  He also pulled down 5 rebounds and handed out a pair of assists.  Even though he was called for a backcourt violation, Luke showed some amazing ball handling skills grabbing a loose ball in a scrum and dribbling dexterously.  My take is that if he can be the deadly shooter that he was projected to be, Duke will not only survive, but thrive.  Derryck is showing great improvement on both ends of the court.   In 27 minutes, Derryck was the model of efficiency.  A cautionary note is the level of opposition.  Thornton was 5-8 from the field including a dazzling 3-3 from 3land but only 2-4 from the line for 15 points to go with his 4 defensive rebounds and 4 assists.   Marshall is going to be an enigma.  He can be a force, and was last night against the much smaller Ga. Southern team, but he is not athletic enough to guard the paint.  He missed 4 of his 5 foul shots while converting 4-8 from close in.   He had 11 boards and 2 blocks, but also 4 turnovers.  Even though he committed only 2 fouls, he logged the sixth most minutes on the team (not starter minutes, even though starting).  It will be interesting to see how Coach K distributes the minutes on Saturday against Utah, a big athletic team that has been ranked this season.  It will be a big test for Marshall.

Duke’s core was fabulous against an undermanned and defenseless (Georgia Southern could not play any defense at all) team.   Brandon was All-World.  Suddenly you can see why there was a one and done aura about him in the pre-season.  In 31 minutes, he looked like Larry Bird.  The closest one could come to finding a flaw was his 6-9 from the stripe.  He scored 26 on 9-13 from the field (2-4 from deep) while leading Duke in rebounding with 14 (8 on offense).  He had 2 assists, a steal and 2 blocks without turning it over at all and committing only 1 foul.  Some stat line.  Utah will be an illuminating test because of the heightened level of competition.  Grayson is impressive even when he is not scoring over 30 points on 12 shots.  He played a game high 35 minutes, sitting out when he got hit in the face inadvertently.  He actually missed 2 free throws (4-6 from the stripe) and 3 from behind the arc (2-5 for a paltry 40%).  He scored 18 on 6-11 from the field (which means 4-6 from inside the stripe) to go with 7 boards, 5 Utah The downside was the ease with which Georgia Southern scored on uncontested layups, that Duke shot under 60% from the line (19-32) and had 7 turnovers in the first half.

Next play will tell us much more about Post-Amile Duke on Saturday in Madison Square Garden.

 

DUKE  75-  UTAH 77

When your daddy is missing-in-action, the number one son is sick, the tallest, most talented baby brother doesn’t seize the moment, you only shoot 30% from the floor, and you’re outrebounded 56-38, you’re cruisin’ for a losin’.

Despite being shorthanded and behind most of the game, the Blue Devils  made a patented n 18-2 run midway into the second half to build a 49-44 lead. Starting  the run, there were no post players on the floor as Ingram, Jones, Allen, Kennard and Derryck Thornton made it work. It appeared another improbably Duke win was teed up—in the lead with the clock running down, the star Utah center on the bench with four fouls, and Duke in the foul bonus situation. With five to go, center Jakob Poeltl came back and was the difference by blocking three Blue Devil drives and scoring at the other end as Duke did not score a basket in the last four minutes. And yet, and yet, the Duke defense held on the last possession and the score was still tied at the end of regulation. Then, falling behind by five in OT, a breakout brilliant performance by Luke Kennard (aided and abetted by a Ute clinic on defensive mindlock), Duke almost rallied tie again at the buzzer as Brandon Ingram missed an uncontested finger roll drive at the rim.

Except for Luke Kennard (24 points in 27 minutes off the bench), the Blue Devils shot horribly, were badly outrebounded, and played inconsistent defense—zone or man, it didn’t matter. Nevertheless, and this is what is so compelling about Coach K’s teams, they never stopped fighting and somehow almost salvaged a win.

Without Jefferson, Duke is in for a challenging month or two. However, Grayson will recover, Brandon will be more confident and assertive, Luke demonstrated he has the talent and temperament to be a go-to playmaker. Thornton is talented but a work in progress, but Jeter is way behind the other freshmen. However, by tournament time (assuming Jefferson fully recovers and no one else is injured) this will be a much more formidable team. Meanwhile, the lineups and playing times are a work in progress. Coach K replaced Jefferson with freshman Luke Kennard in a victory over Georgia Southern. Today, he opted to start another freshman, point guard Derryck Thornton, who was 2-13 with 4 assists in 42 minutes.

Miscellaneous Observations: 

  • Patience while the pieces come together.
  • Watching Grayson playing like a shell of himself today reminded me of Bob Verga, the Duke All-America guard, whose regular season’s average was about what Allen’s is (without the three point line), in the 1966 NCAA Tournament semi-final between Duke and Kentucky. Bob had a strep throat and only scored 4 points as Duke lost 83-79. However, Pat Riley’s Kentucky (star Pat Riley) had the dubious historical distinction (made into a movie) of being the first all-white team who played (and lost) to an all-black team Texas Western (star “Bad News” Barnes) in the NCAA Finals. How do I remember that? I was there for that heart breaking loss at College Park, Maryland. I thought this was the year for Coach Bubas to win our first NCAA Championship. It was a very, very talented team: Bob Verga, Jack Marin, Mike Lewis, Steve Vacendak.
  • As much as Mike Krzyzewski gets credit for how he’s adjusted to the one-and-done era of college basketball, we forget that he still does an incredible job of developing players who stick around. We saw it last season with Quinn Cook and we’ve seen it this season with Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, and Matt Jones.
  • In Madison Square Garden, Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski teams are 28-10.
  • Next game: Elon December 27 on ESPNU.

 

Alan Adds:

What an interesting game!  I had a Bob Verga image from how Grayson looked in the first half, and was smiling when I read Bill’s first draft referencing it.  There were many really bad things about this game as well as a lot of good things.  Thus “interesting” is my adjective of choice to describe the game.  The first really bad thing is Duke lost to a genuinely terrible team.  Do not be fooled by Utah’s ranking or 8-2 (coming into the game) record.  Utah’s two losses were telling.  Miami beat them handily by 90-66 and Wichita State (5-5) stomped them by 67-50.  Moreover, the Utes committed 19 turnovers, played lackadaisical defense (except for Poeltl defending the Utah rim), committed 26 fouls, and had enough crunch time brain cramps to give Duke a chance to win that the Devils never should have had.   They may improve — Poeltl is the real deal — but so far this year they have been mediocre (terrible contrasted to expectations).

Bad Stuff

The bad stuff begins (and almost ends) with Duke’s terrible shooting.  One might look a long time to find a game when Duke shot under 30% from the field and only 8-26 from behind the arc (28%).  Coach K said, “If we had shot a little better…They blocked some layups at the rim, but we missed a lot of open shots.”  The coach revealed that Grayson had been sick for two days and wasn’t sure he could play at all up until game time.  Coach K, shaking his head in admiration, “and he played 37 minutes, but he wasn’t the same guy.”  In those minutes, Grayson was 3-18 including 1-7 from behind the arc and astoundingly 0-2 from the line.  He missed the front end of a 1 and 1 with a little over 3 minutes to go in regulation and Duke down 3.  He missed his first 3 shots in overtime and finished the extra stanza 1-5 (a layup) and missed a chance for a 3 point play by missing from the line with Duke down 4.  Duke divided the bulk of shots among Ingram (16), Matt (19) Grayson (18) and Thornton (13).  Collectively the four were 17 for 66 (6-23 from 3land).   Utah’s defense was porous and Duke got to the rim with ease, but the layups that usually fall seemed to roll out.  Matt and Grayson each had sure layups miss.  Derryck was blocked at the rim, but also made some great moves that he just did not finish.  He scored only 8 on 2-13, 1-4 and 3-4 from the line, but did have 4 assists against only a single turnover in his 42 minutes.  Matt played every second of this overtime game (45 minutes) in case you do not think Coach K relies on him.  He was 6-19 including 2-6 from 3land and 4-4 from the line for 18 points.  Brandon was heroic, yet missed the two most important shots of the game.  In his 42 minutes, Brandon scored 15 on 6-16; 2-6 from 3land and 1-2 from the line.  He had 5 boards, 3 blocks, 3 steals while committing only 1 turnover and staying out of foul trouble.  With 33 seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 60, Brandon had an open three (game winner?).  With 3 seconds left in the overtime, he missed an open (defender flopped and didn’t get the call) finger roll from 4 feet that would have sent the game to a second overtime.  Coach K said he felt bad for Brandon and knew Brandon would beat himself up.   He said losing was not his fault.  “Really good players want the ball at that time.  Brandon is a really good player.”  Coach K was also feeling sorry for Grayson’s illness induced bad shooting day.

The rotation is really short.  Marshall was the fifth starter and it was one of his least efficient games.  He played 26 minutes before fouling out with 3 points (1-1 from the field and 1-2 from the line) with 4 boards, 2 blocks, 2 assists (Duke only had 10) and a steal.  His defense made us understand how valuable Amile is on that end of the court.  Coach K said Duke had depth on the perimeter, but only 3 bigs, one of whom is “still developing”.   Amile was the best of Duke’s big men, so “it is much different without Amile.”   Duke started in a man to man and, after building an 8-2 lead, gave up 5 straight easy layups (4 by Poeltl).  Duke switched to a 2-3 zone, which was immediately shredded by a long 3 and layups behind Marshall.  Duke went to the 1-3-1 without any noticeable improvement.  Ultimately, Duke’s man to man became its primary defense; and was much improved in the second half.  Jeter may be “still developing”  but he is not developing in competition on the court.  He played only a cameo of 6 in effectual minutes, missing his only shot from the field as well as both of his foul shots, while committing 2 turnovers and 2 fouls.  Still developing means “no help yet”.  So, Duke essentially played 45 minutes with the five starters and Luke Kennard.

Good Stuff

The good stuff is a combination of Duke’s grit, determinations and fight to go with Luke’s really nice 27 minutes.  In the first half, Luke was barely visible until the end.  He missed his only shot (a 3), but in the last 1:04 of the first half, drove and was fouled, making 5-6 from the line.  In the second half, Luke contributed 9 points in regulation. He missed another 3 early, and then began to score with 10 minutes left.  He made a layup, a tip-in, a 3 pointer, and another layup when he followed his own 3 point miss.  He was all over the court in the last 10 minutes grabbing rebounds and hustling for loose balls.  The overtime was simply Kennardtime.  He scored 10 of Duke’s 15 overtime points (Brandon 3 and Grayson a layup).  Luke was overall 5-9 from the field (2-5 from 3land) and an incredible 12-13 from the foul line.  He had 8 boards to lead Duke in rebounding to go with a steal and 0 turnovers.  Luke was not less than heroic in the the last minute of the overtime.  He began to drive and get fouled (not the smartest defense by Utah, which held a comfortable lead).  He was 6-6 from the line.  Duke was down 6 with 6 seconds left when Luke let go a long 3 (swish) and was fouled, converting the 4 point play bringing Duke within 2.  He scored 9 points in the last 1:03 of the overtime.  Welcome to the beginning of fulfilling expectations, Luke.

Coach K affirmed he was proud of his team’s fight.  Duke displayed championship grit and never-say-die fighting spirit.  “I’m not disappointed; this loss had nothing to do with lack of effort.”  He said that his guys did lots of wonderful things in the game and especially  “in the last minute or 45 seconds, our guys did some incredibly good things.”  Since Duke did not score in regulation after Luke’s three gave Duke a 60-55 lead with 4:14 to go, Coach K was talking about the overtime and Luke.  He also praised the Duke man to man in this game.  “The man to man got us back in it.  Going into the game, I did not think we could defend them with our man to man.  But our man defense has lots of switching and has some zone principles.”  The man to man defense forced Utah into the turnovers that kept Duke in the game.

In the long run, this game could mean the emergence of Luke Kennard.  Amile is in a cast, which the Duke medical staff hopes to replace with a walking boot after the holiday break.  If Amile comes back playing as well as he was when injured and Luke’s coming out party is enduring (as Brandon’s has been) rather than a flash, there is still much hope for a satisfying season.

DUKE 105 – ELON 66

What can you say about a game that was 70-31 at the half?

Until Jefferson returns, this season will be a roller coaster ride. When the threes are dropping, the game will look easy. When they are not, it won’t.

Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen will be the keys. If Brandon can play like he has the last few games against the top tier teams like he has against the Georgia Southerns and Elons of the world and Grayson can return to his pre-flu form, Duke can play with anyone. Matt Jones is the glue who can hold the team together, because he is spectacularly unspectacular. He does everything consistently well. Luke Kennard looks like his role will be a John Havlicek type sixth man who comes off the bench to provide instant offense. MP3 is the enforcer who needs to stay out of foul trouble. Derryck Thornton is a shoot first point guard. At crunch time, look for Grayson Allen to play the point. He can penetrate and score or dish with the best. Chase Jeter just has not demonstrated he can consistently contribute meaningful minutes in the low post.

  • Other Observations:
  • Meadowlark Lemon, the “clown prince” of basketball’s barnstorming Harlem Globetrotters, whose blend of hook shots and humor brought joy to millions of fans around the world, died. He played for the Globetrotters during the team’s heyday from the mid-1950s to the late-1970s, delighting fans with his skills with a ball and a joke. Traveling by car, bus, train or plane nearly every night, Lemon covered nearly 4 million miles to play in over 100 countries and in front of popes and presidents, kings and queens. He averaged 325 games per year during his prime, that luminous smile never dimming. NBA great Wilt Chamberlain, who actually played a year with the Globetrotters, said: “Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen.”
  • Speaking of “sensational, awesome, incredible”, if you have not been watching Stephan Curry play this year just  Google “Steph Curry highlights”. He is playing the game at a level not named Michael Jordan.
  • Duke-Kentucky drew 3.12 million viewers. Duke-Indiana 1.7 million in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in which Duke is 15-2. Matt Jones older   sister,  Jordan, is an All American and (no surprise) two time SEC Defensive player of the year at Texas A&M.
  • Next game: Wednesday Long beach State. 4:00 on ESPN3

Alan Adds:

Unlike running or ski racing, where performance is measured by objective (time) standards, playing a competitive sport directly against an adversary makes performance harder to measure because your performance is so dramatically impacted by your opponents performance.  When Duke blows out a Bryant, Sienna or Georgia Southern, it is difficult to rate Duke’s performance to speculate on how good Duke really is.  That is the backdrop of assessing Duke’s blowout win last night against Elon, whose players were physically no match for the McDonald’s High School All-Americans who now suit up for the Blue Devils.  Nevertheless, I was particularly heartened by the way Duke played.  The Blue Devil offense looked as if it had been choreographed by Balanchine, dropping 70 on Elon in the first half.  After the first five porous minutes — Elon had 12 before 5 minutes had elapsed by shredding Duke’s man defense for open layups; that is 96 ppg if multiplied by 8 — Duke began turning Elon over regularly and the game was over in the next few minutes.  Interestingly,  Duke’s defense tightened when Jeter replaced Plumlee at that 5 minute timeout.  Elon stopped scoring then.

Coach K raved about his team’s practices after Xmas holidays.  He had time to work with the team “to personalize” some of how Duke will play in Amile’s absence.  K pointed out that Duke would now have only a single big on the floor.  He said this allowed Duke to space the perimeter more and (critically) to have the big post up lower (closer to the hoop).  The spacing allowed Duke to drive to the hoop, which Brandon, Grayson, Matt and Derryck did with success.  When Elon packed in to protect the rim, Duke was on fire from the perimeter, dropping 9 three pointers on Elon in the first half.  Coach K didn’t channel Balanchine to describe the offense, but he made my Balanchine point dramatically: “we had so many run outs where the ball moved so fast, you didn’t know who scored; just that we scored.”  I think that’s how Balanchine would have choreographed the fast break!

Coach K called off the dogs at half time, “no fast breaks unless on an open court turnover”.

Grayson and Brandon outscored Elon by themselves in the first half 35-31.  Grayson had 15 in that half and looked energized.  Because of his leaping ability, he is able to gather himself and square up to the rim while he is in the air.   Suddenly difficult shots become easier because he is squared up and freed up close to the rim.  He was 6-12 from inside the arc on circus shots, and 1-3 behind it.  Coach K said that while Grayson was recovering, he was not fully recovered from the flu.  Allen was bedridden for several days after the Utah game and lost 9 pounds.  He seemed to tire in the second half, playing less than normal and scoring only 2 points.  In 28 minutes, he handed out 5 assists, made 3 steals while turning it over only once and committing only 1 foul.  Brandon was All-World, dropping 20 on Elon in the first half.  In four games he has gone from “hasn’t yet adjusted to the speed of the college game” to a likely lottery pick next spring.  Not bad in four games against less than top flight opposition.  He was simply a man among boys against Elon.  In 31 minutes, he had a virtually flawless stat line (he missed a free throw for a flaw) scoring a game high 26 on only 16 shots (11-16; 3-6; and 1-2) and controlling Duke’s defensive boards (10 of his 11 rebounds on the defensive end).  He added 3 steals and an assist without a turnover.  Everyone contributed.  Matt, as usual, played the game high number of minutes — 35.  Coach K does not seem to feel comfortable without Matt and his defensive tenacity on the floor.  Here is why: in 35 minutes, Matt scored 17 on only 11 shots (6-11; 3-7; and 2-3 from the line) while grabbing 6 boards and dishing out 3 assists with only a single turnover.  Luke did not start, but played as many minutes as Grayson (28) and continued his exemplary play.  He grabbed 6 boards, handed out 4 assists, made 2 steals while turning it over only twice.  He contributed 18 points, second high scorer on the team after Brandon, though when the top 4 scorers contribute 26, 18, 17 and 17, you can call the scoring balanced.  Though Luke was only 5-12 from the field, 4 of his field goals were 3s (out of 8 attempts), and Luke was 4-4 from the line.  He is on pace to be Duke’s all time best foul shooter.   He is 38-40 for the year; just about 95%.  Derryck played 32 minutes and you can see his confidence grow.  He played more minutes (32) than any other player besides Matt.  He scored 12 (5-11; 1-4; and 1-1 from the line) to go with 3 assists, a steal, a block and 2 boards with only a single turnover (a big statistic for Thornton).

This game is the first time that I have been impressed with Chase Jeter.  He contributed to the big run with shots (2-3, though he’s still raw when he gets the ball), rebounds and defense.  Even though Marshall had a double double in only 20 minutes of action (3-6 from the field and 4-6 from the line for 10 points to go with 11 rebounds; 5 on offense), I thought Duke was better with Jeter on the floor — at least at the defensive end.  He is simply much more mobile on defense than Marshall.  BTW, in the first half Duke missed only 19 shots, but collected 12 offensive rebounds.  Chase contributed 15 minutes, grabbing 5 boards and scoring 5 (all in the first half).  Of course, until Jeter (wearing # 2 of course) can perform at such a high level against highly regarded opponents, the rotation will be essentially 6 until Amile returns.

Amile had the cast removed and is in a walking boot.  While there is no timetable for his return, Coach K was pleased that the healing is proceeding apace and there have been no setbacks.

Long Beach State tomorrow and the ACC schedule begins on Saturday against BC.

DUKE 103 – LONG BEACH STATE 81

For the first fifteen minutes, I was wondering who were these imposters wearing Duke uniforms? The Blue Devils were down eight points when the Grayson Allen we have been waiting for the last two games recovered from his post flu blues to turn the Blue Devils into the Red Hot Devils and sparked a patented 22-4 run to bracket halftime. It was Grayson in his All-American mode: 33 points (24 in the final twenty minutes), 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and a defensive trailing hustle play that had him flying off the court and, in a Bo Jackson imitation, halfway down the tunnel to the dressing room. One of his assists was a drive and pass to Marshall Plumlee under the basket for a no look, two hand, back hand jam (shades of MP2) that brought the house down.

Unsurprisingly, it was Matt Jones (21 points, 5 assists) and, surprisingly, Derryck Thornton (19 points, 5 assists) who played his best game, that kept The Beach Boys from running away with the first half. I always feel that if Duke can stay within a single digit deficit, Coach K’s half time attitude and strategy adjustments will turn a game around. This was classic Krzyzewski basketball: attack the basket, get into free throw penalties, hit  a high percentage (28-32 today) of free throws, protect the ball, attack defensively by overplaying and cutting off the passing lanes, create turnovers, and turn steals into easy fast break points. Simple concept but difficult to execute with any degree of consistency.

The disconcerting news is that the Devils were out rebounded and the defense gave up 81 points—that’s enough points to win most games. Duke will not score 100 points against every team. And, oh yes, K used basically a six man rotation as Chase Jeter once again could not keep up with the speed of the college game, got a quick hook and did not re-enter the game until the outcome was no longer in doubt. Obi had a one minute cameo at the end.

Other observations: 

  • Long Beach State Head Coach Dan Monson: “I brought my two boys with me. They’re the only two guys on our bench that didn’t have a turnover today…You can’t simulate that kind of pressure that Duke put on us… I really appreciate Coach Krzyzewski letting us come in here. It’s an honor to play in iconic Cameron against this historic program. I just wish we would have played a little bit better.”
  • DBP fan Jack Simermeyer writes: Did you notice that Marquette extended Steve’s contract to the 21-22 season? In addition, Cris Collin’s Northwestern team is off to the best start in school history at 13-1 and Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State is currently 10-3 with wins over Belmont (no easy feat) NC State, Creighton and Texas A&M.
  • My wife observed that she feels encouraged when she knows there are millennials like Marshall Plumlee, who has many employment options, volunteers to serve the country in the military.
  • This was win number 1,028 for Coach K and an incredible 125 straight (that’s 16 years folks)wins versus non-conference opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
  • Next game: Saturday, January 2. Boston  College @ 4:30 on Comcast or Fox South. 

Alan Adds:

The Duke offense reminded me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde against Long Beach State.  After a 70 point half against Elon, The Blue Devils laid 61 on LBS in the second half.  Add a closing run in the first half and you had to endure Hyde only for the first 16 minutes of the game.  Endure is the correct word.  With 4:06 left in the first half, LBS led by 6.  Luke, Brandon and Grayson were a combined 1-12 from the field; Duke was being out rebounded 16-6; and, LBS won every 50-50 ball.  LBS was shooting 52%; if LBS was not foul and turnover prone, Duke would have been behind by 20.  After only 3 and 1/2 minutes, Duke had committed 3 fouls and trailed 10-5.  Enter Jeter for a seemingly immobile Plumlee.  Chase gave up a put back basket even though he had inside position; turned it over twice and committed an offensive foul in a minute and a half.  Marshall came back in.  Then with 3:46 left in the first half, it all changed.  Duke outscored LBS by 12 in that span even though the Devils only made 2 field goals (a 3 by Grayson and a bucket by Kennard).  Duke made 11-12 from the line to take control of the game.

When asked about Duke’s explosive second half, Coach K pointed out that scoring from the foul line is scoring without the clock moving.  Makes for a high scoring game when a team fouls as much as LBS did.  The second half marked the return of Grayson Allen to health and stardom.  “Thank God for Grayson,” Coach K said at the press conference, “he rescued us.”  K pointed out that Grayson was a complete offensive player because he can score in all 3 important ways: from behind the arc, from inside the arc, and he has the knack for getting fouled and is a superb foul shooter.  He was 15-17 against LBS, but the real surprise was that he missed 2.  Allen played 35 minutes scoring 24 of his season high 33 points in the second half.  Coach K said Brandon could also do that and that Luke was on his way to that status.  Duke has scorers.  As Bill pointed out, Derryck had an amazing shooting game and played well over all.

Duke played its shortest rotation of the year.  Obi had a minute at the end.  Chase got several minutes at garbage time for a total of only 9 minutes in the game and failed to score.  So, it was basically a 6 man rotation with Luke playing 21 minutes off the bench (he missed a foul shot and is now 40-45 for the year from the line).  He had 2 field goals (1-4 from behind the arc and 1-2 from near the rim) to go with 4-5 from the line for 9 points.  He also contributed 4 defensive rebounds, a steal, an assist and a block.  After that, it was the starters, who each played from 30 to 38 minutes.  55 of Duke’s 64 shot attempts were evenly divided among Matt (14), Grayson (15), Brandon (14) and Derryck (12).  Marshall was 3-3 which along with Luke’s 6 attempts constituted the other 9.

Matt was again a virtual Iron Man (remember he played all 45 minutes against Utah) logging 38 minutes, scoring 21 on 6-14; 4-7; and 5-6 from the line. Critically, he dished out 5 assists, against 0 turnovers.  He also corralled 4 boards to go with a steal and a block.  Coach K has called him the heart of the team.  He is Mr. Reliable and Mr. Clutch.  He doesn’t garner the splash that Grayson and Brandon get, but he may be Duke’s MVP.  Grayson and Derryck were superb.  Matt, Grayson (6) and Derryck (5) handed out 16 of Duke’s 18 assists.   Thornton played only 30 minutes (he picked up his 3rd foul in the first half), but is really coming on as a ball handler and as a defender.  He was 8-12 (2-3 from 3land) for 18 points.  He has a very reliable jump shot, good shot selection (the key) ,and made some acrobatic drives to the rim.  He also committed only one foul in the second half with 5 minutes to go.  His progress is a welcome development.

Brandon did not have a good shooting game (5-14; 2-7 from behind the arc), but in his 35 minutes played an excellent floor game.  He made both free throws, collected 5 boards, a steal and handed out an assist without a turnover.  He deflected balls and played some terrific defense.  Marshall played 31 minutes, adding 2-2 from the line for a perfect shooting night and 8 points.  He was Duke’s main rebounder with 10 and blocked 2 shots.

Coach K was very satisfied with the 11-2 pre-conference schedule.  Now the conference season starts with a trip to BC on Saturday.  It is a wide open ACC it seems to me.  UVA and UNC are the top two teams.  Other teams that seem formidable are (along with Duke) Florida State, Louisville, Miami, NC State and perhaps Notre Dame.  Next Play.

 

DUKE 81 – BOSTON COLLEGE 64

The Blue Devils started sluggishly, played well in spots, and came away with a road win against one of, if not the, weakest ACC teams. And, by the way, Duke was the only ACC team to win Saturday on the road.

The good news is that although there were a few moments of concern, no one appeared to be injured. However, Grayson Allen took a header—what else is new– on a fast break slam but played on. Thereafter, he was unusually passive offensively but that may because he was playing most of the second half with three fouls. There was no let up defensively as his line was 17 pts, 9 rebs, 5 assists, 3 stls. The other goods news is that Ingram (25 pts, 9 rebs) and Kennard (17 pts) stepped up in the second half and played like veterans. Since Jefferson’s injury, Kennard has scored 24, 18, 9 and 17 to average 21 ppg. Nevertheless, points, while welcomed, are the least of Amile Jefferson’s contributions to the team.

The bad news is that Jefferson is in a walking cast but cannot put any weight on it.

As Alan points out, Thornton played less minutes than any starter or the sixth man, Luke Kennard. He had two, then three quick fouls because he had difficulty defending Eli Carter, who is an impressive player. I have felt for some time that Grayson, Matt, and now Brandon and Luke can penetrate better off the dribble than Derryck and are better defensively, so what is the point of a “traditional” point guard? Anytime Duke needs points, give the ball to Grayson, the best playmaker and foul shooter on the team, and let him do his thing. It worked last year with Ty Jones.
Other Observations:

 Christian McCaffrey, the sensational Stanford sophomore running back who was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, is the brother of Duke senior receiver Max McCaffrey. They are the grandsons of Duke athletic legend Dave Sime. If you missed the Rose Bowl, go to YouTube and type: Christian McCaffrey 2016 Rose Bowl Highlights to view video highlights of Christian’s record breaking performance: 368 all-purpose yards– and had another 73 yard touchdown run nullified because of a needless holding penalty twenty yards from the goal line. McCaffrey smashed Barry Sanders’ long standing NCAA record for all-purpose yardage in a season – an amazing 3,864 yards. When I first read about Christian, I was interested in seeing him in action for a variety of reasons not the least of which that I was curious to know what kind of runner could survive the punishment in this day and age as a running back, a receiver, a punt and kick-off returner. At first, I was unimpressed. He looked like a smallish walk-on who only suited up for home games and didn’t appear to run particularly hard or fast. Boy, was I wrong. The really great athletes never look like they are trying hard. Christian has a unique style all his own. He sort of patiently glides along with short steps, reads his blockers until he sees and opening, accelerates quickly through the opening, then in the open field changes lanes to avoid tacklers without losing speed. He has about four gears of speed and rarely does he take a direct hit. Christian reminds me of a combination of Frank Gifford’s graceful patience and Gayle Sayers’ open field redirection illusiveness.

 Mike Gminski was one of the announcers who was his usual intelligent, knowledgeable self.

 This was win number 1,029 for Coach K.

 Next game: at Wake Forest. Wednesday January6@ 7:00 on ESPNU
Alan Adds:

The first half was a tiny microcosm of Duke’s offense during Amile’s absence, and showed how teams may try and defend. In recent games, Duke has shredded defenses by driving the ball for efficient offense — a large part generated by drawing fouls and converting. BC packed its defense in to stop the drive in favor of giving up open 3 point looks. Duke could not put the ball in the ocean from behind the arc in the first half. After 7 minutes and 10 seconds had elapsed, Duke had scored a whopping 6 points and trailed 12-6. Duke made only a single 3 in its first 12 shots (2-13 for the half after Matt hit a 3 with under a minute to go giving Duke separation). With 6:55 left in the first half, and Duke clinging to a 1 point lead (18-17), the complexion of the game changed completely. After missing its first two free throws early (Matt and — gasp! — Luke), Duke made 8 straight free throws beginning with Chase Jeter sinking a pair. Duke got fouled on drives after turning BC over — Luke hit both of his and Grayson made 4 in a row to give Duke a 9 point lead. Then the shots started to fall and BC never reduced the lead to single digits again. In the last 3:47, Duke hit 5 baskets from the field from 4 different players, including the aforementioned 3 from Matt. Brandon hit a dunk and a jumper (also missed a 3), while Luke scored on an acrobatic lay-up followed by Grayson’s dunk. Four of the baskets came on assists (Marshall to Grayson; Matt to Brandon twice; and Brandon to Matt for the 3). In the second half Duke was 5-10 from 3land. It was quite beautiful.

My big question is “What is the Derryck Thornton story?” No mention of any problem in Coach K press conference or in any articles, but Derryck played only 15 minutes, when he has been playing starter minutes in all of the recent games, He scored one field goal; a missed 3; and a free throw, a steal, an assist and a rebound). However, he turned it over 3 times early, and played little after that.

Coach K noted that Duke had not played any efficient defense against Long Beach State, but thought the defense was basically very good — if not consistent — against BC. He acknowledged that the BC mini-run in toward the end of the second half (reducing a 21 point lead to 11) was fueled by Duke’s vulnerability to the backdoor cut. Coach K also said he thought the defense got tired in the last 5 minutes and stopped talking. The rotation was very short (again) since Derryck logged only 15 minutes and Jeter’s appearance was limited to a cameo (6 minutes; about 3 in each half). The four other starters (Derryck started) played heavy minutes and Luke logged 27. Coach K singled out Marshall for praise even though he did not score from the field and was 1-4 from the line in his 34 minutes. His stat line was modest: 5 boards, an assist plus 2 steals. Coach K said that Marshall has become the voice and leader of the defense (taking up some of the slack caused by Amile’s absence). “He kept us coordinated.” Also only 3 fouls in 34 minutes.

Duke has 4 scorers, any one of which can erupt for big games. Against BC, all had efficient games. Brandon led the way with 25 points on 18 shots in his iron man stint of 40 minutes (9-18; 4-9 from 3land; 3-4 from the line) to go with a spectacular floor game. Brandon had 9 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Matt, who is now being acknowledged by the media as the glue to this team, was efficient in his 38 minutes, scoring 16 on only 10 shots (5-10; 3-7 from 3land and 3-5 from the line) to go with 3 steals, 2 assists 2 rebounds and a block. In his 39 minutes, Grayson was even more efficient, scoring 17 on only 8 shots (5-8; 0-1 from behind the arc; and 7-8 from the line). His floor game was simply dazzling: 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He fouled Carter out of the game and played terrific defense. He made one play where he stole the ball and outran the BC defense while dribbling. He made acrobatic shots in the lane. Coach K called him “a unique player; really, really good”. Note that those 3 starters were out of the game for a combined 3 minutes! This is a short rotation!

Luke had a simply outstanding game, even if his 3 point shot is still missing in action (1-5). He played 27 scintillating minutes, showing great dribbling skills and acrobatic skills around the hoop (scoring on two twisting right hand floaters). He was 6-6 from inside the arc and 2-3 from the line for his 17 points. He also grabbed 5 boards and handed out a couple of assists and made a block.

On Wednesday, Duke journeys to Wake Forest, which has a very long front line, a deep bench, and has been playing surprising well. It will be a revealing test for this thin but talented team.

DUKE 91- WAKE FOREST 75

Ever since Amile Jefferson was injured, Duke fans have been apprehensive about what would happen in games when one of the starting six got in foul trouble. Well, they found out tonight in spades as both Matt Jones, then Grayson Allen received their fourth foul early in the second half on two John McEnroe (“You cannot be serious” ) calls. But these kind of things will happen—especially on the road. Situations like this really test the maturity and mental toughness of players and the coaches. Score that Duke 2 (team & K), Wake 0 (Thomas, team & Manning), because the turning point of the game probably occurred when Devin Thomas, who had been virtually unstoppable, stopped himself by committing an unnecessary technical—his third foul—and a seat on the bench. When Devin returned, he quickly picked up a fourth and another frustrating view of the game from the sidelines. For some reason, Coach Manning let Duke, led by Luke Kennard and Marshall Plumlee, take the game over without reinserting his senior star until the game was out of reach.

Coach K has talked about letting his stars play with three or four fouls in the pre-conference games so that they learn how to play with fouls. Tonight, for eight tenuous minutes, he alternated his two irreplaceable players so that one of them would be available for the final critical minutes—but both were on the floor as neither fouled out.

The good news is that Ingram (17 pts) , then Kennard (23 pts) stepped into the breach. Luke, in particular, has developed into a terrific penetrator off the dribble and is the best free throw shooter in the conference. However, it was Marshall Plumlee (18 pts) who was ready, willing and able to be a finisher off feeds from a variety of players. And speaking of all important free throws, Duke was 25-27; Wake was 12-20. Once again, the winning Coach K strategy was making more free throw than the other team takes. And, oh yes, Grayson Allen had 24 points on 10 shots in only 32 minutes.

Rising to this kind of challenge in this kind of hostile environment will accelerate the development of the freshman so that when Jefferson returns, the Blue Devils will be a more formidable team.

Other Observations:

  • My basketball buddy, Johnny Tar Heel contends that Coach K is worth ten bench points against Roy Williams. Well, tonight he was worth about fifteen against Coach Manning.
  • Krzyzewski: “It didn’t look good, let’s put it that way. There were times we couldn’t defend or rebound. We tried a 1-3-1 and a 2-3. Nothing worked… Our guys just fought and fought… We shortened the game, played smart and looked for match ups. …Marshall was sensational 7-7 and 4-4…Luke was terrific…It was a great win, a big time win.”
  • Plumlee: ”There was some locker room talk (at halftime) but the underlying theme was, coach believes in me just like he believes in every one of us. And when you have belief of your teammates and a great coaching staff, you feel like you can take on the world.”
  • With all the focus and publicity on one-and-done players, it does one’s heart and head good to watch Marshall Plumlee, a fifth year medical redshirt but always an enthusiastic and supportive teammate, have the well-deserved success that he is having this year. Incidentally, the last time I can remember a Duke center not missing a shot from the floor and the line was Laettner against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. However, the degree of difficulty of Christian’s was much different.
  • Next game: Virginia Tech. Saturday January 9@12:00 on ACC Network.

Alan Adds:

It was a tale of two completely different halves.  Leaving Duke’s devastatingly efficient offense for the moment, the first half was a defensive nightmare for the Devils even though Duke had a 50-47 lead at the half.  Duke could not guard anyone (47 points in a half is porous defense) and could not rebound the ball.  Devon Thomas, Wake’s center, had a huge first half, completely outplaying Marshall, who had 0 rebounds and 0 blocks while scoring 4 points and picking up a pair of fouls.  Devan scored 17 in the opening half; Duke had no answers for him.  There were 17 caroms of Duke’s defensive boards — Wake got 10 to Duke’s 7, scoring on second (and third) chance points on the few times that Duke made Wake miss.  Wake, in addition to killing Duke on its offensive boards, shot 55% in the first half (15-25 from inside the arc).  The Deacons had 11 assists on 18 hoops, while Duke headed to obvious foul trouble, committing 11 in the opening stanza.  Duke’s superb offense negated the stunningly porous defense with some excellent shooting.  Grayson had 17 in the opening half (6-7 from the field; 2-3 from 3land; and 3-4 from the line) while Brandon was also scintillating, dropping 14 (4-8; 2-3; 4-4) on the Deacons.  Duke shot 60% (18-30; 5-10 from behind the arc; 9-10 from the line. Luke contributed 8 points on 3-5 shooting and 2-2 from the line.  He missed his only 3 and never tried another.  He became a driver with a delicate touch at the rim with either hand.

For Duke fans, the second half was nail biting pleasure.  The worm turned when, with 18:06 to play in the closing half, Devin picked up his third foul (a technical).  For all intents and purposes, it dramatically slowed his otherwise amazing night.  He made only 2 field goals in the second half, missing both free throws.  He made one of his two field goals, cutting Duke’s lead to 2 with 9 minutes to go.  He had played sparingly after the technical (his third personal — in college, technicals are also counted as personal fouls), and picked up his 4th foul with 8 minutes to go.  By the time Manning reinserted him into the game with less than 3 minutes to go, it was already over.   Duke held Wake to 28 in the second half  — 26 after Wake’s opening layup cut the lead to a single point.  Duke’s foul trouble, brewing in the first half materialized in the second when both Matt Jones and Grayson picked up a fourth foul very early in the half.  Each played a bit less than usual because of the foul trouble.  Grayson (32 minutes) had 7 second half points (a 3; 2 misses from inside the arc and 4-4 from the line), while Matt (26 minutes) had his least productive game of the year.  He scored the opening deuce for Duke in the first half, and did not score again (1-8; 0-6 without getting to the line).  After the game, Coach K revealed that Matt had turned an ankle in practice.  K said that the team had to be very careful because it was so thin.  “We are on an edge all the time.”

The shortness of the rotation was clearly a factor.  Jeter logged only 7 minutes (a foul was his only entry in the box score); Obi made a cameo at the end of the first half (a rebound, a turnover and a foul), necessitated by Duke’s foul trouble.   Brandon played a superb floor game, even if he only scored 3 in the second half (1-5 from the field; 0-2 from 3land, and 1-2 from the line in the second half), claiming 5 boards, making 4 blocks, and making 3 steals while handing out 3 assists.  He is so valuable on the floor (39 minutes to lead Duke in minutes played) even when he is missing his shots.  Derryck played 29 minutes, looking good in the first half; not so much in the closing stanza.  He was 2-4 (1-1 from 3land) for 5 points in the first half.  He scored on a layup in the second half that was quite spectacular, but was otherwise 0-4 from the field, finishing with only 7 points.  He handed out 2 assists in the first half, but 0 in the second.

The stars of the second half, and perhaps the game, were Marshall and Luke.  Coach K lauded Marshall has “sensational; not just good, but perfect.”  He was 7-7 from the field and 4-4 from the line as he finished quite spectacularly and gave Duke a presence on the boards that the Devils sorely lacked in the first half.  In just the second half, Marshall was 5-5 on flushes and 4-4 from the line.  He finished the game with 7 boards and 2 blocks — 5 rebounds and both blocks coming in the second half.  With Devan either on the bench or his defense limited by his foul problems (he eventually fouled out), Marshall simply took over the inside game on both ends of the court.  Coach K pointed out that Duke really has not had that kind of post presence this year.  He was also sensational on the defensive end, receiving high praise from Coach K for Duke’s defensive turn around in the closing stanza.  Marshall logged 34 minutes overall and only committed one foul in the second half, finishing with 18 for the game.  He only came out in the last two minutes when Coach K wanted his 5 best free throw shooters on the court.  Although Luke has played well and been a substantial scorer since Amile went down, I thought that this was his best game to date.  He demonstrated athleticism that has not been discussed much.  He has not been able to drill the 3 ball, even though his reputation coming in was as a long range shooter.  He never attempted a 3 after he missed his first (his shot selection is good; it is hard to understand why his 3s are not falling), but he put on a clinic of how to drive to the basket either scoring, getting fouled, or both.  He played 32 scintillating minutes and was spectacular in the second half after a very good first half.  In the second half he scored 15, but all of them came in the last 10 minutes of the game when it really counted and when Duke pulled away.  You could say he took over the game, slithering through the Wake defense for an array of breathtaking drives (he scored with either hand) and going 9-9 from the line when he was fouled.  He was 4-6 from the field in the closing stanza.  His stat line for the half is quite amazing: 4 boards, 3 assists, and a steal without a turnover.  He is playing great defense and is a force off the boards.  His emergence has been how Duke has compensated for Amile’s absence.

This team is becoming quite lovable.  Coach K said, “We are a good team, but not yet a really good team.”  “This was a great win for us, considering the circumstances.  We played a great second half and faced a lot of adversity.  He said that how Duke played in the second half was not the game plan.  He said you have to adjust to what the game gives you.  This game gave Duke the driving lanes in the second half.  “We spread the floor to drive; not for one guy.  We were looking for favorable match-ups for the drives.  You have to adjust, and this team adjusted on a high level tonight.”

DUKE 82 – VIRGINIA TECH 58 

Duke got off to an uncharacteristically fast start racing to a 15-4 lead, played twenty minutes of their best defense by holding the Hokies to 28% shooting from the floor, and never looked back. Leading 50-23 at the half, they suddenly appeared sluggish and played the final twenty minutes on cruise control. Unfortunately, it was more cruise than control, because they were outscored 35-32. The key to the fast start was Ingram and Allen hitting two threes apiece, then everyone attacking off the dribble. Consequently, the Blue Devils were into the bonus in the first five minutes and the double bonus after twelve minutes—and you know what that means.

Brandon Ingram’s rapid development  has been well documented. However, less expected and even more interesting and meaningful due to Jefferson’s injury has been that of Marshall Plumlee. Granted the last several games, except for Devin Thomas, he has not been facing premier big men but nevertheless he has played like a man among boys. Today he had 21 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks. Without Jefferson, MP3 is the only low post presence so he has more room to maneuver, and his teammates are looking for him. Where his confidence shows the most is at the foul line. Today, he was 9-10. That follows 4-4 against Wake. His stroke and touch at the line has been become very sound. The numbers are from a player who scored only 87 points all of last season. He scored more points this week than in the entire 2014 season. “I’m fortunate to play with some really talented teammate who draw a lot of attention,” Plumlee commented. “When you have guys like Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen getting into the lane every possession, they draw a lot of attention and that leaves openings for me or another teammate.”

Other Observations:

Duke held a moment of silence in honor of late former coach Bill Foster, who died this week at the age of 86. Here is a heartfelt and accurate remembrance of  Coach Foster by a Duke alumnus: “As the coach of the Duke men’s basketball team in the mid to late 1970s, he resurrected a once proud but by-then sadly atrophied Duke basketball program from the malaise of the post-Bubas era into a formidable force. Through his leadership Duke reached the dizzying heights of the NCAA championship game, recruiting and leading luminary Devils like Jim Spanarkel, Mike Gminski, Gene Banks, Kenny Dennard, John Harrell, Bob Bender and others.  He was coach during my Duke tenure, often seen walking on the quad, affable and happy to chat when he wasn’t in a hurry.  Each of his eyebrows had a triangular peak in their middle, giving him a physical look of the Blue Devil himself.  While I never understood his departure, seemingly at the peak of his coaching career for the decidedly less prestigious South Carolina, he tilled and fertilized the soil from which Coach Mike Krzyzewski would later harvest considerable bounty.  Our thoughts are with Shirley, his daughters and friends during this difficult time of mourning and reflection.

  • While most focus on Brandon Ingram’s increased offense output, I suggest that his defensive improvement is even more impressive. Consider today’s line: 16 pts, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, 2 assists and the fact that the most emotion and excitement  the normally self-contained freshman showed was when he successfully took an offensive charge. Now that’s someone who is listening to his coach!
  • Who goes the length of the court faster, with more purpose, and finishes more emphatically than Grayson Allen?
  • Speaking of finishing at the rim, Grant Hill was at the game.
  • Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, whose wife is a dedicated basketball fan, also attended and drew cheers when introduced during a timeout. His team went 15-1 to earn a bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
  • Next game: at Clemson. Wednesday 7:00pm on ESPN2

This week-end, Alan attended a conference in Park City, Utah. His flight was diverted because of weather and I didn’t get home until late last night. He has a pressing issue at his firm this morning and suggested I fly solo today.

DUKE  63- CLEMSON 68

 One play rarely determines a game. However, one play can often change the momentum of a game and set the stage for other plays that do.  Tonight, at the end of the first half with the shot clock off and Duke up by four points with the ball, Thornton shot a three with 10 seconds to go. (Every high school point guard knows that you start the dribble drive with ten seconds to go to get fouled or pass to an open player. In no case do you give the opposing team the opportunity to rebound a miss and score) and Clemson rushed the rebound down the court where Ingram committed his third foul. Big rookie mistake, make that two big rookie mistakes, because Ingram, for whom Clemson had no answers, had scored 15 first half points and was a second big defender and rebounder.

Then, with thirteen minutes to go Brandon committed a silly fourth foul and with ten minutes to go, Plumlee received his fourth foul (two of which were for moving picks). This is not Duke basketball. Since the Blue Devils started the game draining six threes and  10 of 11 shots  to take the 28-16 lead, it looked like an easy outing and they were not as aggressive as usual– and the Tigers were. Then on the road and in foul trouble, the Tigers got hot, hit threes and the Devils went cold. Plumlee mishandled a dunkable pass, Luke got stripped a few times, Grayson missed two free throws (one of which was the front end of a one and one), and Clemson kept offensive rebounds alive. You could sense tide going out– a winnable game slipping away. Belatedly, Grayson Allen sparked a furious rally that was too little, too late. The stats tell the story: Duke was outrebounded 33-21 and were only 2-7 at the foul line (after averaging 20 made free-throws per game) versus 12-13 for Clemson. So, the bottom line is that except for the first seventeen minutes and two of the last three minutes, Duke played neither smart nor well.

Coach K had a testy assessment: “Our foul trouble, there is no answer to it. We don’t have alternatives. (Jeter had five fouls in four minutes on the floor.) Those guys  have to stay out of foul trouble.”

Next game: Notre Dame @ Cameron. Saturday @ 2:00pm. ESPN

Alan Adds:

Perhaps we should give Brad Brownell, Clemson Coach, much credit for a great defensive game plan.  Perhaps Coach Brownell has noticed Coach K’s strategy has been to win by drive and foul shooting when the game is on the line.  Clemson gave Duke the open perimeter shot and closed down the driving lanes without committing fouls.  Duke did not shoot a foul shot in the first half and only 7 for the game.  Clemson had 5 blocks in the second half (the two in the first half were both made early against Derryck drives), effectively shutting down Duke’s driving game.  In the second half, Duke was held to 28 points (11-29 from the field; 4-11 from behind the arc).  Luke Kennard was held to a single field goal in the second half without getting to the line.  Previously unstoppable around the rim, Luke was completely neutralized in the second half, after an 8 point (3-6; 2-4) first half.  He finished playing 30 minutes scoring 10 on 4-11 (1-5 in the second half, missing his only 3 point attempt).

Even though he piled up 3 fouls in the first half and a 4th early in the second, Brandon logged 34 minutes, but the foul trouble ended his effectiveness on both ends of the floor in the second half.  After a scintillating first half where he scored 15 on 8 shots (6-8; 3-3), Brandon missed all of his 3 shots from the field, making a foul shot in 2 tries for 16 for the game.  Because of the foul trouble, Brandon played less aggressively on defense.  Duke played a lot of zone because of the foul trouble, but the zone was ineffective because foul trouble mitigated Duke’s normal aggressiveness.

Duke was up 12 with 6:32 left in the first half.  In the next 3 minutes, Duke missed all four shots, committed 2 fouls and a turnover.  The defense, which had been efficient fell apart allowing Clemson to score on consecutive possessions – four field goals and two free throws.  Only Brandon kept Duke in front, dropping in 3 straight field goals (including a 3 pointer) for 7 straight points, leaving Duke with a lead of 6 with 1:51 left.  But Brandon, great as he is, is still a freshman.  In the last 1:21 of the half, he committed 2 fouls (the last one with 1.6 left in the half) and a turnover.  Duke missed its last 2 three point attempts (Luke and Derryck) while Clemson scored 4 to cut the lead to 2.  As Bill astutely points out, the last 7 seconds put Duke in the hole.

Clemson completely dominated the interior as Landry Nnoko outplayed Marshall.  In 36 minutes, Marshall scored 7 (3-5 from the field and 1-2 from the line) and pulled down 9 boards.  But Nnoko got several critical offensive rebounds to allow Clemson to score after Duke had an initial stop.  Marshall could not defend him.  Chase Jeter set a record for fouling out in 4 minutes of startling inefficiency.  Matt Jones, who has been Mr. Clutch and Mr. Reliable was neither, though he played excellent defense until the last part of the game.  Matt missed a foul shot with 1:41 to go that would have tied the game and an air ball on a 3 that also would have tied the game with 6 seconds left.  In 33  minutes he was 2-6 (1-5 from behind the arc) and missed his only foul shot.  Clemson closed him down from driving and he just missed open 3s.

Coach K kept Derryck on the bench for much of the second half (perhaps as a result of his bonehead play at the end of the first half, but 1-6 from the field may have contributed).  He played only 24 minutes, scoring 8 on 3-9 from the field (2-5 from 3land), but hauled down 4 boards and handed out 3 assists.  He had his first two drives swatted away; it looked to me as if that dented his confidence.  Duke was led by Grayson in the second half.  After scoring 5 in the first half, Grayson kept Duke in the game in the second half with 12.  In 39 minutes, he was an efficient 7-9 from the field (3-4 from 3land) but uncharacteristically missed both of his foul shots.  He was heroic in defeat, I thought.

It is hard to win on the road in the ACC as favored visiting teams are learning.  Duke has a small margin for error given the lack of depth.  This will be a challenging season with a very difficult schedule in February.  Amile is clearly needed.

DUKE 91 – NOTRE DAME 95

Duke fans, we have a problem. 1.) Coach K often makes a change when he is not happy with the way his team is playing and 2.) His teams rarely lose two games in a row, especially the second one in Cameron. 3.) After a rough, tough road trip, it is always a pleasure to come back home to friendly faces, friendly voices, and home cooking—and that is what Cameron Indoor stadium and the Crazies provide. However, up 50-45 at the half, I noted: “Have uneasy feeling I seen this game before—Wednesday night.” Wish I was wrong. In both games, the Blue Devils started fast with threes falling, did not play good defense, key starters got into foul trouble, opponent got hot, Duke goes cold, falls behind, makes a furious rally, only to fall short.

Jay Bilas made a cogent comment after Ingram’s fourth foul: “ You can get a basket back but you can’t get a foul back”. That should be one of the tattoos Brandon’s forearm. Nevertheless, in 29 minutes, he had 25 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 assists. Sure could have used him for forty minutes. Luke Kennard (30 points,8 rebounds, 1 steal) started in place of Derryck Thornton.

Anytime you let a team hang around, anything can happen—especially it seems, if it is Notre Dame. Three of the Irish prayer threes at the buzzer went in, Jackson, who was the player of the game, missed a short jumper on a crucial possession badly but it hit flush the four inch extension attaching the rim to the backboard, died, and dribbled into the basket. The last Irish free throw missed so badly it bounced to a Notre Dame player. These breaks are what makes college basketball so exciting.

Notre Dame outrebounded the Blue Devils 38-33, and finished with 18 second-chance points to Duke’s four. “Any stop is a big stop. When the ball is missed, get it, because there’s a good chance they’ll score if they get it,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said, referring to that discrepancy in second-chance scoring as “the story of the game.”

The good news is that Ingram and now Kennard are playing lights out basketball to augment Grayson Allen. The bad news is that for whatever reason, Matt Jones has regressed and Jeter is not ready for prime time. I love Matt Jones’ game but what would possess him to take the last game tying three from over near the tunnel to the locker room when he had Allen, Ingram and Kennard also on the floor spotting up for a three?

This team can score on anyone but, unfortunately, anyone can score on them. Until Amile Jefferson is back and approaching something like  full strength, every game is a question mark, because there is little margin for error.

Other Thoughts:

  • Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey is the only one of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s assistants to beat him. He’s done it three times in the last 12 months.
  • This was Duke’s first home loss in just over a year, since Miami’s win on Jan. 13, 2015. The Blue Devils lost for the first time this season when scoring at least 79 points. They were 14-0 when scoring that many points, and 0-3 when failing to reach the 79-point mark.
  • This was a matchup of two of Division I’s most efficient offenses, with the Irish ranking second and the Blue Devils fourth in Ken Pomery’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. Notre Dame shot 50 percent — almost exactly what they arrived shooting as a team — while Duke finished at almost 52 percent. “We executed on offense, but defensively, we just didn’t execute,” Kennard said. “We didn’t keep the ball out of the paint. We didn’t rebound very well. Defensively, we’ve just got to pick it up a little bit.”

Next game: Syracuse @ Cameron. 7:00pm on ESPN

Alan Adds:

Almost like a mirror image of the loss to Clemson, Duke displayed extremely efficient offense, but a startling lack of defensive intensity, which combined with what can fairly be described as a disaster protecting its defensive backboard, led to a second very tough conference loss.  Duke gave up 50 points in the second half, allowing the Fighting Irish to shoot 52 % from the field for the game (5-9 from behind the arc in the last stanza, after a 2-7 first half), which included a parade of layups under the Duke basket as well as 18 second chance points.  Even so, Duke led by 88-87 with 47 seconds left after Grayson drained 2 free throws.  Duke gave up points on the next 3 Notre Dame possessions, the big one coming on an offensive rebound by Auguste.  With 35 seconds left, Colson scored on a conventional 3 point play (foul on Kennard); Matt missed a long (ill-advised?) three, and Jackson dropped in two free throws after a Kennard foul.  Marshall made a dunk to cut it to 2; and Jackson was fouled by Derryck with 4 seconds left.  When Jackson missed the free throw, Duke had life for a second, but Auguste grabbed the final Irish offensive rebound to seal Duke’s second straight conference loss.

Coach K was clear “the biggest thing was second chance points.  It was hard to get stops, but when you get them, you have to rebound the ball.  That was the main factor.”  Coach K emphasized that many of the rebounds were in Duke hands before the carom ended up in a continued Notre Dame possession.  When asked what Duke could do better, Coach K laughed and said, “catch the ball; close your hands around it and protect it.”  He jokingly asked the reporter who had asked the question if he could do that and if he had any eligibility left.

In assessing this Duke team (with or without Amile), Coach K said “this is a good team, but not that good.  But we are called Duke and we are coached by me.”  His implication was clear that his team is not as good as its early season ranking.  “We have a small margin and need to pay attention to detail.”  He pointed out that with better foul shooting and defensive rebounding, Duke could easily be 5-0 in the conference instead of 3-2 with the truly difficult part of the schedule still in front of them.

While Coach K was effusive in his praise of Notre Dame as a team and both Colson (“he was magnificent; he’s a really good player”) and Demetrius Jackson (“he’s a pro; he has control of the game; he is perfect mentally”), it should be remembered that this Notre Dame team has lost to Monmouth, Indiana and Alabama outside of the conference and to Virginia and Pittsburg in the ACC.  Before last night, Notre Dame’s only status win was over Iowa (The Irish also beat Illinois for 3 big Ten wins).  Notre Dame is as challenged defensively as Duke; hence the 186 points scored.  In short, ND is not nearly as good as Coach K lauded in his press conference.

It is time to ask the question, what has gone wrong with Matt Jones.  In many ways, his decline is the difference between Duke winning close games and losing them.  Matt played the full 40 minutes last night, but again did not have a Matt-like performance.  He scored only 8 on 8 shots; was 2-5 from 3land and unexpectedly missed both of his foul shots.  He got only 3 boards and handed out 3 assists against 2 turnovers.  He committed only a single foul, but did not really help keep ND out of the paint or off the boards.  He is still taking the critical shot, but he is no longer making it, as he did earlier.  Duke will have a long season if Matt does not regain his early season form.

The rotation grows ever shorter.  When Bill and I were at Duke, the team featured “the flaming five” (yes, I can name them but will spare you).  Last night, Duke played basically only 5 players.  Derryck logged just 14 minutes; Obi 2 and Jeter less than a minute.  Derryck missed his only 2 shots; made both free throws, and basically was in the game only when Brandon was on the bench with 4 fouls.  Obi was first big off the bench, and was fouled snaring a tough offensive rebound, but missed both free throws (negating the rebound; it was as if he didn’t get it). He never reappeared.  Marshall played 39 minutes.  His game dramatically improved in the last nine minutes of the game after he had been badly outplayed for the first 30 or so.  He was 4-6 on dunks and missed his only free throw, and grabbed 9 boards.

Duke had 3 big-time scorers, whom the Irish could not stop.  Brandon played terrifically when he reentered the game after being benched with his 4th foul (again).  Against Clemson, the foul trouble limited him; against Notre Dame, he was heroic.  He scored 25 points (11 in the second half) in his 25 minutes on the court.  However, his defense (indeed the entire Duke defense — whether in zone or man) was less aggressive than usual because of the danger of foul trouble.  Grayson logged 39 minutes scoring 18 on 5-11 from the field (2-6 from 3land) and 6-7 from the line.  He led Duke with 6 assists against only a single turnover.  Luke played 37 minutes and was outstanding, scoring a career high 30 on 16 shots (10-16; 4-6 from 3land and 6-7 from the line).  He was Duke’s second best rebounder with 8.  Coach K said, “those three kids can really score.”  Matt has to make it, “those 4 kids can really score”.

Winning in this conference this year will be difficult, but the games are exciting.  Will Amile come back to rescue this otherwise thin rotation?  Stay tuned.  To ESPN on Monday night at 7 when Syracuse invades Cameron.  Nothing will be easy this year.

DUKE 62 – SYRACUSE 64 

Three in a row! Losses that is. If you can’t consistently defend, rebound, or score, you usually can’t win a game. Without a career game by Marshall Plumlee (19 points,  17 rebounds, 4 blocks), it would have been a blowout. Duke did not play well enough to win this game. Nevertheless, they again rallied but could not close the deal when, unlike two years ago, they got no help from the refs on two no calls on Matt Jones at the finish. Also, Greyson Allen’s three at the end of the half was correctly disallowed only after a video review—the ball was out of his hand but still barely on his fingertips.

At his press conference, Coach K was as clearly furious —but under control—at the referees swallowing their whistles at the end. He said the no call on Matt Jones’ rebound was an “amazing last play that was not rewarded… …the game can be incredibly great and rewarding or incredibly cruel and unfair. You can play hard and not rewarded… over the years, we have been very fortunate at being rewarded…recently not so much… right now this team is undermanned and under aged.

Luke Kennard, who went for thirty against Notre Dame was OH NO! for the game. Duke looked like they never saw a 2-3 zone before. Suggestion: either pass the ball around the perimeter faster than the defender can move  or put Brandon Ingram in a high post at the foul line, pass the ball to him, let him face the basket  to shoot, pass, or drive. The zone either has to collapse on him, leaving the guards open or he is free to do his thing. By the way, Brandon has to man up to the fact that he is playing power forward (and all the big boy defense and rebounding that requires) not a perimeter forward.

Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game and a team has to adjust to that reality. But some injuries  have more impact than others. To channel and update Al Featherstone: Duke is 6-4 without Jefferson, losing one-possession (in the last 30 seconds) games to Utah, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Syracuse, none of which are confused with a top team. It is not biased to say that with Jefferson in the lineup, the games would not have come down to that or if it did, the Blue Devils would have lost all four games. Coach K pointed out how a few more free throws and/or one more defensive stop or foul call may have made the difference in all the games. That’s the difference between being 6-0 and 3-3. That’s the league though. Overall, except for Carolina, there’s not much difference in the teams. And it’s likely to remain that way for the rest of the season.

The Blue Devils need to figure some things out until Jefferson returns and Krzyzewski can start rebuilding the team for the postseason. That means winning the close games that have so far been eluding the Blue Devils.

Other Thoughts:

  • The Blue Devils made their comeback much more difficult by not being aggressive and not being in the bonus situation at the end of the game. Consequently, in the last fifteen seconds Coach Boeheim had his team foul Allen twice without putting him on the line and taking valuable seconds of the clock.
  • It is the first three-game losing streak for No. 20 Duke since the 2006-07 season. This will also surely break the team’s streak of 166 straight weeks in the AP Top 25 Poll.
  • Grayson Allen needs some personal one and one time with JJ Redick or Bobby Hurley. There are times like tonight that Allen goes ten minutes or so without taking a shot. The defense cannot be that good. He is the best scorer, best penetrator, best finisher, and best passer. There are times that the alpha player must just demand the ball and take over the game like he did scoring 9 points in the last few minutes of the first half.
  • Next game: Saturday @ North Carolina State. 2:00pm. CBS

Alan Adds:

Coach K said after the game that the game gives you great times, but also cruel ones.  “We’re going through the cruel right now.”  As Bill pointed out, Coach K described this Duke team as “undermanned, under aged, and doing a good job.  The team has fought, and is playing well but hasn’t been rewarded.”   He said losing should make you appreciate even more what you have accomplished in the past.  He might have been talking to DBP readers.  Pre-season, I wrote that Duke fans could spoil enjoyment of this season by unreasonable expectations.  Without Amile, Duke is a middle of the ACC pack team (and there are a lot of good teams in the middle of the pack); not a contender for conference or (gasp!) national honors.  Duke can neither defend nor rebound.  When Duke cannot shoot, as happened last night, the Devils will lose to a mediocre (yes, I mean Syracuse) team that had lost 7 games coming into last night, including a shocking loss to St. John.  Wisconsin and Georgetown beat Syracuse along with the first 4 ACC teams the Orange faced — Pitt, Clemson, Miami and UNC.  I temper that assessment because of the return of Boeheim to the sidelines that has marked a Syracuse turnaround.  Remember 1995 and Gaudet taking over for Coach K; Duke sank like a stone.

If, as a fan, you like close exciting games going down to the wire and the last possession, this game was for you.  If, as a fan, you like well played beautiful basketball, this game would turn your stomach.  It was by any measuring stick and ugly game.  Duke could not defend at all.  Syracuse, as other teams have recently done, got to the rim with impunity.  At crunch time, Thornton tried to defend Silent G at the top.  Roberson (who grabbed more rebounds last night — 20 — than any other visiting player in the history of Cameron) set the screen.  Thornton lost Gbinije, but did not switch to the roller, Roberson, who was then free on his way to the hoop.  From there, Roberson either scored or dished for an easy deuce.  Duke’s zone was tentative.  Without Amile and more of a presence than just Marshall (who was heroic and played his best game ever), Syracuse dominated the paint (as did Clemson and Notre Dame).  Syracuse out rebounded Duke off the Duke backboard — 26 offensive rebounds for the Orange; 24 defensive rebounds for Duke.  Coach K said, “obviously, rebounding is a weakness for us with four perimeter players.”  Marshall had 17 boards; and Brandon 11; no other Duke player had more than 4.  So, in common with the games since Amile’s injury, Duke could not defend or rebound.  But, Duke usually made up for such weakness with great scoring.  Not last night.

Coach K pointed to a combination of great Syracuse defense and Duke missing wide open shots.  The Orange zone was tremendously effective in thwarting Duke’s driving game.  While the wings were active in closing out Duke’s 3 point attack from the corner, the zone was most effective in closing off Duke’s previously effective driving game.  The telling statistic is that Duke shot only 9 free throws — 8 by Marshall (who missed 3) and 1 by Grayson.  At the end, Grayson forced some acrobatic drives to score, but missed (and I thought was fouled) the critical driving attempt with 7 seconds to go and Duke trailing by a point.  Matt got the rebound and was fouled, though it was not called (even if called it would only have been Syracuse’s 6th; so, it would have been non-shooting, but Duke would have had a few seconds to try and win the game).  Coach K called the last plays “amazing” and admonished reporters to watch it.  He used the word seven times in his press conference.  He thought Matt and Grayson had made great winning plays, but “didn’t get rewarded.”  With the driving lanes closed, Duke shot from the perimeter, launching 37 three point attempts, but hitting only 10.  Luke played 28 minutes and — after heroically scoring 30 against Notre Dame — failed to score going 0-9 from the field (0-7 on open shots from behind the arc) and failing to get to the foul line.  Matt wasn’t much better shooting 2-11, all from 3land.  He played 32 minutes and finished the game with four fouls.  He has logged huge minutes this season, and I think he is wearing down.  His production has plummeted, and it is hard to find a different reason.

Derryck played an undistinguished first half (0-2; failing to score), but made 2 crucial 3s down the stretch when Coach K had him playing for the ineffective Luke.  Still, he cannot defend, and is not a classic — or even effective — point guard (1 assist and 2 turnovers).  In total he played 22 minutes scoring 6 on those 2 three pointers.  Obi played 2 minutes, committing 1 foul to get in the box score.  Marshall played the other 38 minutes at center and had the game of his life — 19 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks.  He was 7-11 from the field and 5-8 from the line.  His two misses with 5:38 to go and Duke trailing by 5 were his only bad.  The ‘cuse scored a three right after to take its biggest lead of eight with 5:21 to go.  Then Duke mounted its patented furious, but not quite adequate, comeback.  Also, Marshall had 11 offensive boards, meaning he was less of a force protecting Duke’s defensive board (grabbing only 6).  Small quibble, but given Duke’s glaring weakness protecting against offensive rebounds, worth mentioning.

Grayson played well in spurts.  In 38 minutes, he was 7-15 from the field; 3-8 from deep; made his only foul shot for 18 points.  But it was not a Grayson like game because he had only one rebound (he has been a great defensive rebounder this year) and only one assist.  Syracuse did a terrific defensive job on him, and he still scored 18 and almost brought Duke all the way back.  Brandon played the entire game (40 minutes) with a double double — 13 points and 11 boards.  Still, Brandon won’t be a lottery pick on the basis of this game.  He was 5-12; 3-8 from deep and shockingly did not get to the line in 40 minutes.  He led Duke defensive rebounding with 7, but couldn’t keep Roberson off the glass or out of the paint.  My take is Brandon was so worried about fouling that his aggressiveness was absent — especially in the paint on defense.  He simply was not the disruptive defensive force that he has been for much of the season.

Duke has three straight road games — next Saturday at NC State; followed by a Monday game in Coral Gables against Miami.  It will not be easy for the Devils to stop the bleeding.

Duke 88- North Carolina State 78 

Everyone will sleep better tonight on the Duke Blue Planet as the one man and five boys team started slow but finished fast. To no one’s surprise, Coach K made a few changes: Luke Kennard started for Derryck Thornton and he took a page from Dean Smith and switched defenses back and forth from a 2-3 zone to a man-to-man to a zone press to no avail as State shot lights out (6-9) from three point land while Duke shot like the lights really were out (3-14).

In the second half (probably because Allen and Plumlee both had two fouls) Duke played mostly zone and State was 2-12 while Duke was 7-11. (Is that an indication of a trend?) The Blue Devils seemed more comfortable in the various zones in the second half and defended the three better which led to better rebounding off misses and more open floor fast breaks. And speaking of fast breaks, Grayson Allen is just sensational in the open floor—fast, elevates, hangs, finishes strong. He is not too bad in the half court sets either as he leads the team in assists. Check out this line: 34 minutes, 28 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists.  Brandon Ingram (27 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) held up his end. Luke Kennard chipped in 12 points and Matt Jones proved that it’s not necessarily how many points you score but when you score them as it was his eight strategic points which gave the Devils  separation from the Pack. Unfortunately, Derryck Thornton just cannot seem to get over the rookie hump. He played for 20 minutes but made several mistakes which might have been critical in a different game. At one point Plumlee, let him know he needed to stop freelancing.

The three point shot is a game changer in more than the obvious one. When they go in, a team often looks and thinks like they are playing better than they actually are. And when they don’t, an opponent often gets a demoralizing fast break. In either scenario games can dramatically turn in a few possessions. Most teams cannot stay hot from beyond the arc for forty minutes and when they stop falling, a team often is impatient and does not run a half court set well.

It appeared to me that Duke’s better defense in the second half (aided by Cat Barbour losing some quickness due to an leg or ankle injury) and a more methodical offensive approach turned the momentum of the game. Passing the ball around the perimeter leads to contested threes. Penetration and kicking to an open player leads to uncontested threes. Grayson and Brandon are lethal off the dribble. Once they get past their man and/or penetrate a zone, the scoring options– especially shooting threes– are much easier. Allen and Ingram are going to get their twenty some points a game. The others just have to go to an open spot and wait for a pass if the penetrator is double teamed.

Other Comments:

  • Monday’s road game against Miami will be a stern test an indication if the State game was a false positive.
  • The winning number are: Duke +2 on threes; +3 on rebounds (after being beaten on the boards in each of its past three losses); +6 on free throws (made 14 of 18); +3 on steals; and +2 on blocks.
  • Jefferson was out of his boot and into a sneaker. Coach K says the bone has healed but he’s not there yet but working on walking right, exercising in pool… still thinks he is out for a “a while”. (If you can figure out what that means, drop me a line.)
  • NC State shot 6-of-9 (.667) from beyond the arc in the first half, the second straight game a Duke opponent shot 66.7 percent from beyond the arc in the opening half of a game. In the second half, Duke allowed the Wolfpack to shoot just 2-of-12 (.167).
  • Next game: Monday @ Miami 7:00 ESPN

Alan Adds:

Duke had a four day stretch of practices after losing to Syracuse, and Coach K said they used those days efficiently.  “We were well prepared.  We put in many new things that you cannot do in just a day or two.”  He was referring to Duke’s unique defensive effort with varied defenses (shades of Vic Bubas).  Although this was a tale of two completely different halves, Coach K saw it a bit differently.  “When the ball goes in, it looks as if you are playing better than the other team.  I don’t think NC State played better than Duke in the first half; they just shot better.”  At halftime, I told my daughter exactly what Coach K said he told the team.  Essentially, if Duke kept playing as in the first half and stayed the course; the law of averages would catch up with the Wolfpack in the second half.  And indeed it did.

Duke played one of its best halves of the season, thwacking the Wolfpack 52-35 in the closing stanza.  Duke was on fire from the filed in second half (17-24; 7-10 from deep — after a 3-15 first half from deep —; and 11-13 from the free throw line).  Duke had 10 assists in the second half.  It did not hurt the Blue Devil cause that State was simply missing the same shots in the second half that connected in the first half when Duke gave up 43 points.  Grayson and Brandon had 26 of Duke’s 36 first half points, but Grayson was only 1-5 from behind the arc while Brandon (1-2); Luke (1-5); Derryck (0-2) and Matt (0-1) were all cold from deep.  The supporting cast was not supporting until the second half.  Brandon played like a lottery pick after the intermission.  He logged 39 minutes, and poured in 15 second half points on 6-8 shooting from the field that included a dazzling assortment of drives, dunks and tip-ins to go with 3-4 from deep.  He finished the game with 25 points on 16 shots to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block.  He was phenomenal.   Grayson was Brandon’s equal, playing 34 minutes, sitting out only a few minutes after picking up his 3rd foul.  After keeping Duke within contact in the first half, Grayson played a fabulous team game after intermission.  He was 4-5 from the field on dextrous and acrobatic drives, and 4-4 from the line for 12 second half points — for a game high 28 (on 17 shots).  He played much better defense in the second half and finished the game with 7 rebounds (4 in the second half) and 7 assists (5 in the second half) with only a single turnover (in the first half).  He was phenomenal.

Coach K rightfully singled out Matt Jones for his clutch shooting.  After a scoreless first half (continuing a five game drop off from his early season play), Matt erupted for his only 8 points of the game in the later part of the second half.  With the score tied at 56 and 10:57 to go, Matt hit a crucial 3, then handed out an assist for a Brandon dunk at the 10 minute mark, and followed it up with another 3 with 9:26 left to give Duke a 10 point lead (Grayson had a layup in there with an assist from Brandon).  Matt added two clutch free throws with a little over 2 minutes left.  His 36 minutes were important for Duke.  Perhaps this end game burst signals Matt’s return to form.  Marshall was amazingly stalwart.  He is in great physical condition as demonstrated by his 39 minute stint of full out running the court and playing hard.  He sat only for the last 1:18 of the first half (Obi logged an uneventful 1:18) and cemented the Duke defense when it was effective.   He scored 10 on 3-4 from dunk land and 4-6 from the line, to go with 8 rebounds (6 on offense) 2 assists, a steal, a block and critically 0 turnovers.  Right now he is the Duke interior.

Luke’s game has declined after a brilliant stretch.  In 31 minutes, Luke scored 12 on 4-12 shooting (2-8 from deep) and 2-2 from the line.  Luke was 2-7 in the first half (1-5 as previously noted).  Derryck basically only played to give the perimeter players short rest.  He continues to make freshman mistakes on both ends of the court, but Coach K needs him to spell his perimeter players.  In his 20 minutes, Derryck scored 5 but (key for a point guard) had 3 turnovers without an assist.  However after a 1-3 first half with 2 misses from behind the arc, he made his only shot of the second half, a pretty critical 3.

Coach K said that he had used the long week of practice to prepare for both games — Monday against Miami, a stern test.  He then looks forward to another long stretch to practice.  All are hoping for Amile’s return, which seems likely from reports but is still without a time table.  Bill, I think this means mid to late February, for what it is worth.

DUKE 80- GEORGIA TECH 71

Because he was not feeling well, Coach K remained at home in Durham and did not travel to Atlanta for the game. After watching Tech play over the top of what was generously labeled a zone defense and score 28 of their 40 points in the paint while shooting 58%, I was not feeling well myself as the opening twenty minutes were very painful to watch. I cannot remember a Duke team looking this inept on defense, even though the 2012-14 teams were also defensively deficient.

Fortunately, Coach Capel switched to  man-to-man for the entire second half. It seemed to energize the team and kept Brandon Ingram down low for defending (4 blocks) and rebounding (10). Without Jefferson and Ingram playing on top of  the 1-3-1 or 2-3, Duke is very undersized down low so Tech, a mediocre team at best, scored 40 first half points at will.

Of course, Greyson Allen scoring  27 points (7 rebounds & 4 assists) the easy way as his jump shot returned from vacation (7 threes) made a second half comeback much easier. As we know, there is a yin and yang to defense and offense that is the difference between winning and losing. Derryck Thornton (15 points) started for Luke Kennard and played perhaps his best game until the last few minutes when he neither managed the clock nor the ball well. And Luke, who leads college players in free throw percentage, sure came in handy in the last shaky two minutes.

The good news is that, despite the explosion of social media hatred, Krzyzewski is expected to be back for Saturday’s game against the Wolfpack. The not so good news is the return of the boot to Amile Jefferson’s injured right foot. He isn’t expected to be ready for the game against N.C. State or Monday’s with Louisville.

Other comments:

  • Grayson Allen fouled out. The refs were watching a different game than I was. Grayson  certainly was not given the respect that the ten Wooden finalists, of which he is one, usually are. He was constantly getting roughed up and held but was called for defending himself. Nevertheless, he needs to be smarter about those situations
  • Stand-in Coach Capel appeared to be attempted to use a larger rotation but abandoned the idea when the reserves quickly demonstrated why they are seldom seen on the floor in prime time.
  • To be successful, this team needs to get better defensively with or without Jefferson. In 2012, Duke ranked 81st nationally in adjusted defensively efficiency, giving up an average of 0.97 points per possession. In 2013, Duke ranked 31st (0.93). In 2014, Duke ranked 116th (1.02). In 2015, Duke ranked 12th (0.92). And this year, Duke currently ranks 145th out of 315 Division-I teams (1.02). And the NCAA tournament fate of those Duke teams, in order: lost in round of 64 (Lehigh), Elite Eight (Louisville), lost in round of 64 (Mercer), National Champions and, if in the field, to be determined.
  • Next game: Saturday North Carolina State 2pm @  home. ESPN.

Alan Adds:

While the first half looked just as awful as the last 6 games — Duke’s defense was almost non-existent, Duke was dominated in the paint on both ends of the floor; holding close only on long range shooting — Duke’s scintillating second half on both ends of the floor soothed the panicking brows of the Devil faithful.  Everyone, especially Coach Capel, agreed that the metamorphosis was engendered by the change in Duke’s defensive strategy.  Capel modestly hid behind “we”, but it surely seemed as if it was his decision.  Capel said that Coach K had the team well prepared — “we’d been practicing for Georgia Tech since Saturday” — and therefore knew the team could withstand Coach K’s absence.  He also added that the team worked exclusively on a zone defense in preparation for the Yellow Jackets, and did not practice man-to-man at all.  But the man to man changed everything.  Compare the two halves.

In the first half, Duke allowed Ga. Tech to shoot 16 for 23 from inside the arc.  Even with 2-8 from behind it, Tech shot over 58%.  Duke gave up 28 points in the paint (40 overall) and was thoroughly out rebounded on both ends.  Only Grayson’s 3-4  and Matt’s 2-4 from behind the arc kept Duke close (Duke was 6-13 in the opening half — Brandon was 1-3; Derryck and Luke each missed their only 3 point attempt).  But, Duke was only 6-16 from inside the arc where Ga. Tech controlled the paint.  Duke trailed by 1 with over 2 minutes to go in the half, and did not score again.

The second half saw the return of Duke basketball.  The man-to-man defense was fierce and shut down the Yellow Jackets.  Plumlee and Brandon restored order under the Duke defensive backboards — Brandon had 7 defensive boards in the second half, while Marshall grabbed 4.  While Brandon had a terrible shooting night (3-15; 1-3 behind the arc), he played a wonderful game.  On defense he blocked 4 in the second half, shoring up Duke’s interior defense. The Jackets could not contain his drives, continuously sending him to the line.  He had a double-double in his 39 minutes (14  points, 7-8 from the line; 10 boards).  Marshall, in 31 minutes, came within a dunk (or the two free throws he missed in his scoreless first half) of a double-double.  He was 4-4 on dunks in the closing stanza and garnered 12 boards in the game (4 offensive) to help Duke regain control of the interior in the second half.  He probably would have logged even more minutes if not for foul trouble (he finished with 4).  That gave Chase Jeter 8 minutes.  While he looked more comfortable and contributed a hoop and a key rebound, he still committed 4 fouls in his 8 minutes.  Vrankovic was Capel’s choice (over Obi) for a single minute — a foul and a turnover.

Besides, Chase and Vrankovic, Duke’s only substitute was Luke Kennard who scored 8 in only 15 minutes.  He was on the floor at the close of the game for his foul shooting (4-4).  He missed his only 3 as his shooting woes from deep continue.  Derryck Thornton’s outstanding second half contributed to Luke’s playing fewer minutes.

Duke’s run was a thing of beauty, followed by some fierce defense to control the game.  With 11:47 left in the game, Duke led by 1.  With 9:15 left, Duke led by 10.  The streak included 2 layups by Thornton, Grayson’s three, a jump shot for two, and delicious dump off to Marshall for a dunk.  With 10:04 left, Ga. Tech hit a field goal, giving them 55 points and a 7 point deficit.  The Jacket’s next score came with 5:22 left, cutting Duke’s lead back to 15.  Duke did not close the game out smoothly, however.  Last year, it was Tyus and Quinn that controlled the game’s end.  Last night, Derryck showed that, even though he played a wonderful second half, that he has much to learn.  Derryck logged 30 minutes and was key to Duke’s win.  After a dismal first half — 2-3 inside the arc, but 0-1 from deep with 0 assists — he finished the game with 15 points on 7-11 shooting (1-3 from deep).  He dished out 3 assists as well.  He made crucial shots and was an offensive force and did not commit a foul.

Matt played 39 minutes, scoring all of his 6 points in the first half on 2 long range shots.  He was quiet in the second half on offense, but anchored the efficient defense.  He is still not the offensive force that he was earlier in the year.

Grayson was not less than heroic, playing one of his best all-around games while shooting lights out — especially from deep.  In 37 minutes he was 7-10 from deep (only 2-7 from inside the arc and 2-2 from the line) for his 27 points.  His energy sparked Duke all over the floor in the second half.  For the game he had 7 boards, 4 assists and a steal.

After the NC State game on Saturday, the schedule turns brutal: Louisville and Virginia at Cameron, followed by Louisville and UNC on the road.

DUKE 88-  NORTH CAROLINA STATE 80 

Duke responded to finally returning to the friendly embrace of Cameron and the Crazies for the first time in three weeks by hitting a season high 14 three point shots to go with 24 free throws—and they needed all of these advantages to beat a resilient N.C. State team, which the elusive Cat Barbour kept in the game. Just when the Pack would close the gap, the Blue Devils would rally with a basket or run of their own. Grayson Allen’s 28 points and 4 assists were not surprising, but Luke Kennard, who came off the bench on fire to add 26 well-timed points, was the other missing bookend today as Brandon Ingram only had 14 points ( 7 rebounds & 4 fouls).  Marshall Plumlee had 12 rebounds but, as usual, Duke was outrebounded 38-29.

Derryck Thornton started, played well, and did a surprisingly good job defending Barbour in the first half. However, in the second no one could stay in front of the Cat as he continually created offense with points or assists. That seemed to effect Thornton’s offense as he suddenly became casual with a couple of passes on successive possessions, which let the Pack close the gap and quickly had a nice view of the game from the sidelines. This may have been a blessing in disguise as Luke had his ‘A” game until he also inexplicably made a freshman mistake and threw the ball away on an routine out of bounds play. So, despite all the offense, frustrating freshman mistakes contributed to a making it a closer game than it should have been. During the last few minutes with the Blue Devils clinging to a slim lead, Coach K switched Grayson Allen on Barbour and with some help from his friends, the Pack’s offense packed it in. On the other hand, the Blue Devils cashed in from the charity stripe where they were in the double bonus.

This game was a classic example of Coach K’s Winning Basketball 101. When threes are falling, the game is seductively easy. However, as the game winds down and the basket seems smaller, a team wants to be in the bonus, preferable double bonus, situation with the ball in the hands of the best foul shooters. Otherwise, a winnable game can slip away. How many times have we seen Duke win this way? Hundreds. Nerve wracking, but it never gets old.

Ingram and Jones  both were in foul trouble in the second half. That probably contributed to the Blue Devils abandoning the man-to-man and employing a rotation of mostly zone schemes—utilizing a mix of 1-3-1, 2-3, and full-court pressure. Whatever the reason, I think a variety of defenses covers for some of this team’s defensive weaknesses. Until Jefferson  returns (update: limited practice but not near full speed) these players need all of the tricks in Krzyzewski’s tool belt to win games.

Other comments:

  • You had the feeling that this might be Duke’s day when, late in the tight second half, a  deflected ball in the congested lane rolled to the perimeter into the hands of a solitary Grayson Allen, who had time to check his feet and drain a three.
  • Blue Devil fans  survived a scary moment midway through the first half, when Allen stepped on Barbour’s foot and turned his ankle while driving to the basket. Allen lay on the floor clutching his right ankle in pain and limped noticeably as he left the court. Fortunately, he returned a few minutes later.Also, MP3 lost on sneaker but played several possessions without it before leaving the game. His temporary replacement Chase Jeter is showing some signs of improvement.
  • No player on the floor was even born the last time N.C. State beat Duke with Krzyzewski on the bench at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  It was 1988. However, the Pack did beat them in 1995 when Coach K missed most of the season with back surgery.
  • If you haven’t heard, Louisville’s president voluntarily banned the team from all post season play. The Cardinals are under investigation by the NCAA for supplying “party girls” (aka  prostitutes) to recruits and players. Coach Rick Pitino, who himself was involved in a sex scandal six years ago, claims he knew nothing about it. Apparently, the “plausible deniability” defense is not limited to political figures.
  • Next game: Louisville Monday 7:00 ESPN

Alan Adds:

The Duke season really starts now:  Louisville, UVA, Louisville, UNC and Florida State in succession, with the second Louisville game and UNC on the road.   What did the win over NC State yesterday auger for this coming gauntlet?  First, it is hopeful to see freshman disappointments beginning to thrive.  Derryck is now Coach K’s guy, who will start against Louisville and presumably for the rest of the year unless he plays himself out of the lineup.  Although scoreless in the first half (0-2 from the field and 0-1 from the line), Derryck showed some flashes of maturing into a valuable player.   He played outstanding defense on Cat Barber for 14 minutes and 19 seconds, dished out 2 assists and had 3 steals (0 turnovers).  Unfortunately, with 5:41 to play in the first half, Derryck went under the screen and Cat hit a 3 to ignite; he scored 9 in the last 5:41 of the half.

In the second half, Derryck scored all 7 of his points in the game (2-2 from the field; 1 from deep; and 2-2 from the line).  All points Duke desperately needed.  The two turnovers at the start of the second half and some sloppiness down the stretch remind us that he is not only still a freshman, but one who would be playing in high school if he had not reclassified.  Coach K recognizes how much his development will mean to the rest of the season.  This is especially true as Matt’s offensive drop off continues, while he is still playing many minutes and contributing in significant ways.  In his 35 minutes, Matt scored only a 3 pointer in the first half, finishing the game 1-5 from the field and adding a foul shot in the second half (1-2).  He handed out 6 assists (3 in each half) and grabbed 3 boards.  He had 2 turnovers, but both were in the first half.  This team needs the offense that Matt was giving it early in the season.  A word about Chase Jeter.  Though he played only 4 minutes — all in the first half — he showed a little something.  He scored a nice hoop, and grabbed a tough rebound.  He was called for a block that the announcers agreed might have been called a charge.  His downside came when he was gifted with a good pass on a screen and roll and drew the foul.  However, missing both free throws, as he did, is the functional equivalent of a turnover.  Still, I see the signs, and if Chase could come on a bit in the late season, it would be a godsend for this team.

Marshall played the entire game, but for Chase’s 4 minutes in the first half.  Marshall’s stat line was accumulated almost all in the first half (3-5 for 6 points; 7 boards; a block and an assist).  He was 1-4 from the line in the second half for 7 points.  However, he solidified Duke’s defensive backboard (with Brandon) grabbing 5 defensive rebounds for a total of 11 defensive boards, plus his lone, but oh so valuable, offensive rebound of Brandon’s only missed free throw, that led to a Luke 3 for a Duke possession of 5 points.  That was the back breaker.  Brandon was solidly consistent, though not as spectacular as he has been in some games.  He picked up his second foul with 8 minutes to go in the first half and sat out the rest of the half.  Even in his abbreviated time, he scored 7 on 2-4 (1-2 from deep) and 2-2 from the line to go with 4 rebounds.  He picked up his third foul within the first minute of the second half.  Coach K elected to keep him in the game, and he played every minute of the second half without picking up his 4th foul.  Coach K made much of this in his post-game press conference.  He said playing through foul trouble and staying efficient was a learned skill, and he said Brandon was learning.  Against Clemson, Brandon did not play well after the fouls mounted.  Last night he was critical even though his shot was entirely missing in the latter stanza (1-6; 0-2 from deep).  He drove and got fouled; going 6-7 from the line (4-5 in the second half).  He accounted for 7 boards, 3 assists and 2 critical blocks for 14 points.  He was, in his 32 minutes, the glue while Grayson and Luke simply starred.

When Luke shoots as he did against State, Duke is hard to beat.  Luke took the most Duke shots (15), converting on 9 of them (6-11 from behind the arc) and 2-2 from the line for 26 points in 32 minutes of action.  Luke was valuable besides his scoring, adding 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals for a superb game.  He was unstoppable.  Grayson was even more unstoppable, scoring 28 points on only 11 shots.  The eleven shots is deceiving because I do not think a drive to the basket that draws a foul is counted as a missed shot.  Grayson was a Wolfpack sinking 12-12 from the line (10-10 in the second half when it really counted).  He missed only a single minute of playing time (when we all held our breath as he writhed in pain with a rolled ankle) and handed out 4 assists.  It was, in my opinion, and All-American performance, reminding us of his pre-season NIT play.

With 15:39 to go, the score was tied at 52-52.  State scored only a deuce in the next 5 minutes, and by then trailed by 13, with Luke and Grayson doing all the Duke scoring.  It was the winning stretch fueled by really aggressive and excellent defense.  Duke held on from there with clutch foul shooting (but defense that inexplicably turned porous).

For what it is worth, I think UVA has found its mojo and is now not only the best team in the ACC, but may be the best team in the country.  My reason for that conclusion is UVA has found it defense.  For most of the season, it has been missing.  But in the last 3 games, the Cavaliers have held opponents to 47 points (Louisville at Louisville); 47 points (BC at home) and 50 points (Pitt at Pitt).  The Louisville game will tell us much, and the next few games will define Duke’s season.

DUKE 72 –  LOUISVILLE 65 

Louisville beats #1 Carolina at home, then loses to unranked Duke on the road. Go figure. Oh, I guess the Hookers didn’t make the traveling squad. Sorry, cheap shot. Just couldn’t resist….

If you were told that Grayson Allen had scored 19 points in the first 20:15 of the game, then gone scoreless the final 19:45, how much would you have bet that Louisville had won? Personally, I would have bet the ranch–and would be looking for a place to bunk.

To quote that famous politician/comedian Bernie…err… Larry on SNL, this game was “HUGE, YUGE, WHATEVER” for Duke. Similar script as the State game. To repeat: “This game was another classic example of Coach K’s Winning Basketball 101. When threes are falling, the game is seductively easy. However, as the game winds down and the basket seems smaller, a team wants to be in the bonus, preferable double bonus,  with the ball in the hands of the best foul shooters, attacking the basket, not cranking up threes. Otherwise, a winnable game can slip away. How many times have we seen Duke win this way? Hundreds. Nerve wracking, but it never gets old.” And speaking of old, this was the 1,000th game in Cameron—and, thanks to free student seating in the late 1950’s, then satellites, Alan and I have enjoyed watching a great many of them.

Tonight, the Blue Devils went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line in the final 3:13. However, for some inexplicable reason the game was in the hands of freshmen—Thornton and Ingram. For every “No, No give the ball to Grayson or Luke” there was a “Yes, Yes, Nice Play!”

One thing for certain, the man-to-man defense has gotten better—and that was the catalyst for the win. Duke’s defense was terrific during the first 20 minutes, holding the Cardinals to shooting just 31.3% from the floor. Even better was Grayson Allen, who had almost half of Duke’s points as the Devils went to the locker room leading 35-24. In the second half, neither the defense nor the offense were are as efficient but when the game was on the line, the Blue Devils didn’t fold, they prevailed both defensively and offensively. For the entire game, Plumlee, who was a beast in the paint and Ingram, whose 7’3’’ wingspan and athleticism make up for a lack of heft, were formidable doing the thankless but necessary blue collar job of defending and rebounding in the paint. Consequently, Duke outrebounded Louisville 33-32, while committing 13 turnovers– solid stats against a team that relies on rebounds and its press to generate much of its offense.

Coach K assessment of the game: “Not a good win, a great win….Somehow, while they were tired and beat up, our group just showed incredible toughness and won. No X’s and O’s, they just earned it… A couple [of] weeks ago, I think we lose this game by 15 points.”

Other comments: 

  • You had the feeling that this might be Duke’s night when, late in the tight second half, Luke Kennard drove, got tangled up with Plumlee and the ball ricocheted off several arms, hands, or other body parts, and ended up in the basket. Don’t know who got the basket and who got the assist.
  • Like the NC State game last Saturday, Duke led most of the way, 35 minutes’ worth of lead, with three minutes tied. The visitors led only 2:01 and never by more than the two-pointer they scored to open the game.
  • I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Grayson Allen certainly is not given the respect by the referees that the ten Wooden finalists, of which he is one, usually are (given). He was constantly getting roughed up, held, and hitting the floor– and not getting the calls. He was again called for retaliating. Nevertheless, Allen needs to be smarter about these situations. Bob from Georgia writes to ask if anyone keeps stats of how many times Grayson hits the floor?
  • And finally, with respects to Simon and Garfunkel: “Here’s to you Amile Jefferson, the (Blue Devil) Nation turns its lonely eyes to you! What’s that you say, Mr. Jefferson, your just a game or so away”. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!
  • Next game: Saturday #3 Virginia @ home  4:30 ESPN

Alan Adds:

Without question this was Duke’s best and most important game of the season because this was a game where you could see the team growing before your very eyes.  Duke has fallen out of the top 25 because the schedule has turned out to be shockingly easy (no wins over a ranked team until Louisville).  In yesterday’s AP poll, the 25th place team got 132 votes.  Duke’s only opponents who even received votes were Indiana (91) and VCU (10).  Duke got 14 votes (30th).  Louisville, on the other hand, has had a terrific season, coming into the game in first place in the ACC and 13th in the AP poll with a great win over UNC.  It came down to “winning time” for the young and undermanned Blue Devils, and the team played like, well, like Duke.  Coach K said “We’re becoming ‘this Duke team’, whatever that is.  It is happening and it is good.”  Let’s talk about the game first, and then “becoming ‘this’ Duke team.

Duke had a superb first half at both ends of the floor.  Defensively, Duke was as good as it has been all year, holding the Cardinals to 31% shooting (1-7 from deep, but only 9-25 from inside the arc) and many of the Cardinals scores came on offensive rebounds (first 3 Louisville hoops were on put backs; Louisville didn’t score from the field until more than 7 minutes had gone by).  Grayson was on fire from deep.  He and Marshall accounted for 24 of Duke’s 35 points in the opening stanza.  When Grayson and Brandon hit back to back 3s to start the second half, Duke led by 15.  Then Duke hit an almost inevitable cold streak — 4 turnovers and 3 missed shots — while Louisville got hot.  Louisville shot 75% in the second half for the first 12 + minutes of the second half, taking a one point lead with 6:13 to go.

For several minutes the game see-sawed with neither team able to open a more than one possession lead.  The game was tied at 60 with 3:46 left when Duke became “this Duke team”.  Grayson missed a 3, which Marshall rebounded spectacularly as he was fouled.  He made them both!  Lee made only 1 of 2 for the Cards (Duke 62- Louisville 61).  Coach K then put the ball in Brandon’s hands.  He was, in effect, the point guard (Coach K said that allowed Derryck to be a shooter), and then Brandon started right to use a screen from Marshall.  I thought it reminiscent of Coach K’s strategy against Wisconsin in the finals — give the ball to Tyus and let him be Tyus.  Last night, he gave the ball to Brandon and let him be Brandon.  Ingram drove to the hole, was fouled, and made them both (64-61).   Marshall and Brandon combined for a wonderful interior defense and crucial rebound.  Brandon drove to the hole, was fouled, and made them both (66-61).  Dennis Mitchell was fouled, but made only 1-2 (66-62 with 1:44 left).  Matt made a good base line move to get fouled (a good offensive set with ball movement got him the ball in good position).  He made them both (68-62 with 1:19 left).  Brandon grabbed another hard fought defensive rebound when Lee missed a 3.  Derryck made an amazing shot as the shot clock expired for what should have been “the dagger” — 70-62 with only 35 seconds left.  Then Derryck turned freshman.  Needing only to defend the three point line, Derryck fell 4-5 feet back and Lewis swished a 3 to keep Louisville alive, if on life support.  Derryck then missed 2 free throws.  Coach K reminds us that he’s only 18, but is improving.   Luke hit the winning free throws with 7 seconds left.  “This team”, at least on this night, played winning Duke basketball, which seemed to absolutely thrill Duke’s Hall of Fame coach.

While Marshall’s stat line in the second half was pretty flat (the foul shots were his only score, and he got credit in the box score for only a single defensive board), he was the emotional presence, who made the Duke defense formidable at winning time.  He played 35 minutes, sitting only for 5 minutes in the first half.  He is playing terrific basketball partly because he is in phenomenal shape and so can compete intensely every second he is on the court.  Chase is showing some signs.  In his 5 minutes, he scored a hoop and pulled in 3 boards with only one turnover and (of course) a foul.  You can see Derryck grow, but inconsistently.  As I wrote last game, Coach K has made the decision to go with Derryck as his point guard.  Derryck played 29 minutes, while Luke logged only 20 minutes.  Thornton is a work in progress.  He had a basket in each half (4 points on 2-5; 1-3 in the first half) but was 0-2 from deep and 0-2 from the line.  He had 2 assists, a steal and a block, but 4 turnovers.  More than anyone, he has to continue to develop for this to become “this Duke team”.  While Luke had an undistinguished first half (1-4; 1-2 from deep) with 3 points and a single board, he was very much a part of winning time in the second half, in spite of Louisville seeming to score whenever guarded by Luke (more great offense than bad defense).  In the second half, Luke scored 8 on a layup, a 3, and 3-4 from the line.

Matt played 32 intense minutes and was the key to Duke’s defense when it was effective.  Though only 1-4 from deep, the one was crucial.  He also scored a critical layup and was 3-4 from the line for 8 points to go with 3 assists.

Duke was powered by Grayson in the first half and Brandon in the second.  Grayson scored 19 on 12 shots, but as Bill points out, 0 points in the last 19:45 of the half.  He was stymied effectively on his drives, but continued to hustle and play energetic defense.   However, it is Brandon’s praises that have to be sung.  He played every second of the game, scoring 18 points on only 9 shots (14 in the second half, most at closing time, and from the line).  Just as important as his offense, was Brandon’s emergence as an interior defensive and rebounding force.  He garnered 10 boards and was largely responsible for Duke holding its own on the backboard.  He is such a crucial element for Duke to become “this Duke team.”

The schedule is now amazingly demanding.  Duke gets a rest until next Saturday when UVA comes to Cameron, ranked 7th and coming off 3 spectacular games.  Then Duke goes on the road to face Louisville in a rematch and to Chapel Hill.  So, Duke faces #7, #9, and #13 in a row that could define the season (plus Fla State and Pitt after that are hardly breathers).  So the season is now, as John Feinstein might write, “on the brink”.

DUKE 63- VIRGINIA 62

The Virginia basketball team hasn’t beaten Duke in 20 years playing at Cameron, where they are 8 for 59 lifetime; Rasheed Sulaimon beat them there two years ago with a last second three; Ty Jones repeated the heartbreak scenario last year in Charlottesville; and today is Coach Krzyzewski’s 69th birthday. How much karma is that to carry onto the court? So what chance did the  Cavaliers really have?  Actually, quite a lot: The law of averages, a seven game winning streak, ranked #7 in the country, playing Coach Tony Bennett’s nightmare, pack-it-in defense—and Duke having, for their program, a down year. However, in the end the basketball gods gave us a memorable, even heroic, ending that brought honor, if not satisfaction, to both teams.

What a finish! With 27 seconds left and Duke up one point, Allen, an 85% free throw shooter, inexplicably missed two freebies in a row. With 10 seconds left, Malcolm Brogdon rose to the occasion and somewhat casually tossed in a difficult, no look behind-his-head layup to give the Cavaliers a 62-61 lead… Next play… At the other end, Allen took a handoff from Marshall Plumlee in the high post, dribbled and spun through traffic and kept driving toward the basket. “I felt like I had the lane, and I felt like I had my man one-on-one,” Allen said. “I knew he was going to be strong and body up, so I just knew I was going to go through that and go to finish.” There was contact between Allen and Shayok, and, with only seconds left, a contorted, falling backward, suspended but descending Allen released the ball with one hand. The red border around the backboard indicating “game over” lit up just as Allen’s shot banked cleanly through the net—and Cameron exploded.

An amazing finish to an amazing a game!

This is why we love watching and writing about Duke Basketball. No matter the talent level, the culture of Coach K’s teams is never give up, never top trying. This team is young and talented but undermanned. Written off after losing four of five  conference games and falling out of the national rankings for the first time in this century, they never have been an easy out. There have been no blowouts. They have been in every game. All the losses are down to the wire. They continue to learn and improve. And they now have beaten two ranked teams in a row. Win or lose, what’s not to like and admire about these players?

This was Virginia Coach Bennett’s defensive dilemma: Whom  do you put your best defender on? He can’t guard both Allen and Ingram. Coach Bennett, who as good a defensive coach as there is in the country, started the game with Brogdon Allen and Ingram torched the Cavaliers in the first half. He switch him on Ingram during the second half. That meant that Brogdon wasn’t guarding Allen, who started getting into the paint for points or assists. It also meant Virginia was playing four guards and Duke started controlling the boards. (Lost in the late game drama is the fact that Duke outrebounded Virginia 24-10 in the second half). Using the massive frame of Plumlee for high ball screens to drive against the Cavalier defense, Allen and Ingram wound up with 23 of Duke’s 32 second-half points. Grayson stats were: 15 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals. One stat not charted was the number of fouls his aggression initiated that put the Blue Devils in the one & one with ten minutes to go and the double bonus with eight minutes to go. Unfortunately, the Devils atypically only converted 9-16, one more than the Cavaliers. But then, if they had shot free throws like they usually do, the game would not been as exciting.

As lethal and scintillating as Ingram and Allen were, it was a team victory triggered by their improving defense. The last two games Matt Jones has been the unsung hero. He defended Louisville’s Damion Lee and Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and still scored 14 points; Marshall Plumlee has been a rock rebounding and setting high picks; Thornton keeps improving especially on defense and limiting turnovers; and Luke  Kennard can explode off the bench at any time.

One more thing. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it. Grayson Allen is not given the respect by the referees that the ten Wooden finalists, of which he is one, usually are (given). He is constantly getting roughed up, held, and hitting the floor– and not getting the calls. On his winning drive, there was contact at the top of the key, when he elevated, and when he was hanging in the air to take the shot. According to the new rules, those all were fouls.

Quotes:

Grayson Allen: “It’s really surreal for me, this being my dream school and just a moment like that is something you dream of. When you’re a little kid, you do it hundreds of times in your driveway.”

Ty Jones (who was at the game with Jahlil Okafor): ” Just so happy for him. That’s my brother. I’m his biggest fan. It was a lot of fun to watch.We threw  Gatorade on him, mobbed him, and everything like that. It was like I was a part of the team  again. It was a lot of fun.”

Coach K: You guys (the press) don’t enjoy them (the team) as well as you should because you try to make them like another Duke team. You should just enjoy them as this Duke team, like I am, and you will see a lot of really neat things….Well you know, in earlier games, we were good for periods but we weren’t as tough as we are now. There are certain portions of the game where I don’t care how you draw up your offense or defense, you just have to be tough. You have to fight through tired, fight through somebody not playing as well and get them going at that point. We weren’t able to do that, like make on the spot corrections, whether it be with toughness or attitude. When I say attitude it’s not attitude like bad attitude, I mean you’re into missing the shot or a mistake that you made. It’s not the right attitude. We’ve talked about it, we’ve met on it, and they’re doing it now. It has paid off.”

On potentially redshirting Amile Jefferson: “Not right now. Again, if he was not able to play, then we would ask for that, and I think he would qualify for that. But, I don’t want to go there right now. It has been two months, though, and that’s why what our guys have done is remarkable. I am very proud of them and we just have to stay healthy. Here’s the thing: it’s healing great, but then we try limited basketball stuff at a slower speed, so he has never done anything game speed, and he has pain. … If he tries to play at full speed with that, he can’t do that. He’s frustrated like crazy and we’re frustrated for him. I’m being completely honest with you about it. He’s trying, but it is not coming around.”

Alan Adds:

Bill said it all so well.  I will delve a bit outside of the offensive heroics of Brandon (18 straight points for Duke at the end of the first half and beginning of the second – 25 points on 22 shots) and Grayson, which were so obvious and appreciated.

First, like last year, the Duke defense has morphed from porous to efficient.  Duke played a really good man-to-man for the whole game.  However, we should not forget how many wide open 3’s the Cavaliers missed.  That wasn’t great defense; that was a bit of luck.  But overall, Duke shut down the penetration from the perimeter, rarely done this year by the Devils.  The bench played only 13 minutes (Chase 1, yanked by K after a basket interference; and Luke 12 (0-1 with 1 rebound) and failed to score.  Luke’s lack of playing time is interesting, given his terrific play in recent games.  In my view, this was a tribute to Derryck Thornton and his startling improvement.  It’s not showing up in his shooting yet (2-8; 0-3 from deep and 0 free throw attempts — both hoops came in the first half), but he is becoming the glue to Duke on both ends of the floor.  He shut down Perrantes, who was shooting over 50% from behind the arc for the year.  When I say shut down, I  mean shut down; Perrantes was not even able to  launch a single attempt from behind the arc.  Thornton played really tough on the ball man to man, holding Perrantes to 8 points and only 2 assists (and forced 2 turnovers).  Derryck could not come close to doing that earlier this year.  Moreover, he has steadied the offense.  He had 4 assists and 0 turnovers.  Even more importantly, his stewardship of point guard, has allowed Matt to return to doing what he does best (which is not running the offense).  Coach K’s coaching genius is showing up in Derryck’s continued improvement and contributions.  He played 34 minutes.

Matt’s 36 minute return to what he does best —  superb defense and clutch scoring — was more than welcome.  He had some game against the ‘Hoos, making Brogdon work hard for every point (yes, Brogdon scored 18 points, but it took him 16 shots to do  it — 7-16; 1-6 from deep and 3-3 from the line).  The Virginia back court, great 3 point shooters, had only a single 3.  As Coach Bennet said, “you aren’t going to win many road games shooting 2-11 from deep.”).  Welcome back, Matt.  He has been defensively heroic taking on Lee in the Louisville game and Brogdon yesterday.  Let’s hope he can do the same against Marcus on Wednesday.

Grayson was held in check in the first half (4 points), before making us groan in despair at the missed free throws (7–11 from the stripe) and exult with the spectacular acrobatic finish.  Coach Bennet: “I thought he walked.”  He did.  Coach K: “I thought he was fouled.”  He was — twice.  But let us not overlook Grayson’s amazing floor game.  He had 7 assists against only 1 turnover, and he hauled in 7 boards — tying Marshall for most defensive boards with 6.  He took only 11 shots for his 15 points.  He even gave great post-game interview.

The unsung heroics were not limited to the perimeter.  Duke’s interior was absolutely superb in the second half after giving ground in the opening stanza.  Brandon (38 minutes) did not have a rebound in the first half, corralled 7 in the second half after Coach K’s half-time exhortations to him.  Here is the stat of the game for me: UVA had only a single offensive rebound in the second half.  As Coach K said in his press conference, “We got every defensive rebound in the last 10 minutes.  Marshall in 39 minutes, dominated inside in the second half (not bad in the first half either).   He finished with 10 boards (7 in the second half), 5 points on 2-3 and 1-2 from the line.  He is also having a great year and is more valuable to his team than his (impressive) stats show.  The test for the interior will be even sterner on Wednesday night against Carolina.

Coach K was simply ecstatic not only about the win, but about his team’s progress and growth, which has been quite worth watching.  From what Coach K has said about Amile, I offer this:  I think the team has stopped waiting for Amile to return and is now prepared to go the rest of the season without him.  It has made for a different and positive mind set.

There is no tougher game for the Devils than venturing into Chapel Hill as they will do on Wednesday.  This is still a very tough stretch with away games this coming week against the ‘Heels and Louisville.  What a season!

#20 DUKE  74  –  #5 NORTH CAROLINA 73

There have been a lot of fantastic finishes and unexpected upsets in the Duke-North Carolina basketball rivalry but I cannot remember a more surprising one than this slow motion outcome. There was nothing sudden, shocking or spectacular about it. Rather, it was a gutsy, grinding, mature performance by the young Blue Devils (three freshmen, one sophomore, and one senior) against the veteran, highly ranked Tar Heels. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the finish left both the Carolina players and fans in the Smith Center drained in stunned, silent disbelief at Carolina letting this game slip away.

Duke was behind most of the game. Brice Johnson was having a career game–27 points & 17  rebounds in just the first thirty minutes. When Matt Jones sprained his ankle after playing nine minutes, the Blue Devils were down to five effective players, none of whom had ever played meaningful minutes in the intimidating Dean Dome. But tonight, these five were enough. Ahead 68-60 and controlling the boards with less than seven minutes remaining, Carolina appeared to have the game uncomfortably in hand. Plumlee had four fouls and Johnson had been unstoppable. However, Duke had their forty minute men, Brandon Ingram (20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists) and Grayson Allen (23 points, 7 rebounds). Duke kept running a pro set, isolating one of them on the weak side of the floor, letting them, in one of Coach K’s favorite demystifying coaching terms “do their thing”, which resulted in scoring points or kicking to Luke Kennard for a crucial three. However, as we know all too well, you need to put an opponent away, you don’t want to let them hang around, because anything can happen—and it did tonight. Suddenly, it was a one possession game. Then, unbelievably, neither Johnson or Paige, the Tar Heels two best players, touched the ball nor did Coach Williams call a timeout (he obviously didn’t watch the end of the Duke-Virginia game) and Carolina’s offense came up empty on the last two crucial possessions.

Game, set, match, nightmares.

My buddy Johnny Tar Heel, who played one year at Carolina, contends that Coach K is worth ten points coaching against Roy Williams and that this year he even stopped watching Carolina play, because they cannot shoot the three—or as he says: “They can’t throw the ball at the ocean and hit water”. Turns out he was wrong, tonight Coach K was worth fifteen or so points and right, the Heels were  1-13 from behind the arc.

While Ingram and Allen were the television interviewees after the game, the other three players had indispensable roles: Marshall Plumlee had 11 contested points, 7 rebounds, and played smart, tough defense despite being saddled with four fouls for the last seven minutes; Luke Kennard, replacing Matt Jones, had 15 points (3—4 threes) and played solid defense; Derryck Thornton did not shoot well but had no turnovers, 2 assists,2 steals, and 1 block. He has developed into a very good defender (helped neutralize both London Perrantes & Marcus Paige) and blocked Joel Berry’s last shot of the game. Perhaps the most overlooked development of this team is that in these two wins against ranked opponents, their man-to-man defense has been the a critical factor. Tonight, despite being out rebounded 46-34, it held the Tar Heels to 27 second half points on 34% shooting—a huge improvement from the beginning of the season.

After the game, a crestfallen Roy Williams said he didn’t call a timeout on the last possessions because he relied on the principles he learned from his mentor, the legendary Dean Smith. He quickly added that he took full responsibility and wasn’t blaming Coach Smith. In all fairness, Mike Krzyzewski usually subscribes to the same philosophy that in critical situations, it is an advantage to trust your players to make the right decisions while the defense is disorganized and not set. However, in the Virginia game the ball was in the hands of a seemingly indecisive freshman Derryck Thornton, so Coach K called a timeout to set up a play to get the ball in the hands of Garson Allen or Brandon Ingram. It was a savvy call. Tonight the game was in the hands of Joel Berry not Marcus Paige. To quote The Dude  in  “The Big Lebowski”,  a legendary 1998 movie:  “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.”

Other Thoughts:

  • Bad news: Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Jones sprained his left ankle ”pretty badly”.
  • Good news: There is precedent for five being enough. In the late fifties, Duke was down to five useful players, (Bob Newcomb, Paul Schmidt, Bucky Allen, Bobby Jo Harris, and Bob  Vernon), who developed into an exciting, formidable team and were dubbed “The Flaming Five”. Perhaps, this team will be the reincarnation of “The Flaming Five”.
  • After the game, Bill from Bethesda emailed me an cogent comment: “Teams take on the personality of their coaches, and Duke is tough/gritty and Carolina is a little soft.”
  • What is the Euro-Step? An announcers term for too many long steps on a drive that isn’t called. (ref. Grayson Allen’s winning basket against Virginia.)
  • Grayson Allen made the Regional all American academic team.  Puts him in line for National honors.
  • Next Game: Saturday @ Louisville. Noon on ESPN.

Alan Adds:

The surrounding feelings induced by the (understatement comes here) “unlikely” victory was deliciously captured by Grayson in his postgame interview on TV.  The announcer’s first question was something like, “how did you win that game?”  Allen’s rueful sort of goofy smile said it all, as he shrugged, unable to explain.  I’m in a similar boat.  Carolina killed Duke.  It was plain to everyone watching.  The ‘Heels devoured the backboard; Bryce was unstoppable; Matt was injured after playing a scoreless 9 minutes (0-3; 0-1 from deep with 1 rebound); and Marshall picked up his fourth foul with more than 10 minutes left in the game.  From that point forward, commentators overused the word “grit”, but it was the correct modifier for “this Duke team”.  Other than Matt’s 9 minutes, and Chase Jeter’s 5 (a cameo 2 minute appearance in the first half; and 3 minutes in the second while Marshall sat on the bench after foul # 4), this year’s version of “The Flaming Five” went the distance.  Amazingly, Duke played with more energy, more intensity, and really efficient defense in the second half, especially toward the end of the game.  Grit:  Duke played through “tired” for what felt like a miraculous win.

Duke was seriously overwhelmed on the interior in the first half.  UNC retrieved 10 offensive boards to Duke’s 9 defensive rebounds; shot 18-30 from inside the arc (1-8 from deep; the Tar Heel weakness that cost them) and 7-8 from the line for 46 first half points.  Porous is a kind adjective for Duke’s first half defense.  Duke stayed in the game with offense.  Marshall and Luke had 20 of Duke’s 42 points (10 each).  Luke came off the bench for Matt and kept Duke in the game (4-6; 2-3 from deep).  Grayson, who played all 40 minutes had 13 in an offensive display (4-9; 1-3 and 4-5 from the line).  Brandon had a woeful shooting first half (2-10; 1-3; and 2-2 for 7 points), but was heroic on the boards (6; no one else had more than Marshall’s 3) and defending.

In the second half everything changed.  Duke held UNC to 27 second half points and, led by Marshall, Brandon and Grayson’s 5 second half rebounds, held the UNC even on the boards.  For reasons still to be determined, Bryce didn’t get the ball much in the last 10 minutes of the game (some speculated that he tired defending Brandon on the perimeter) while Duke played tenacious defense on the perimeter.  In fact, it was on the perimeter that Duke won and UNC lost this game.  Grayson and Thornton simply shut down the UNC backcourt with in-your-face defense.  For me the key matchup was Grayson and Paige.  They guarded each other for most of the game.  UNC depends on Paige as the veteran backcourt leader and clutch scorer.  In 35 minutes, Paige could only manage 2-10 from the field and a hang-your-head 0-5 from deep.  His 3-4 from the line gave him 7 points for the entire game.  He was also forced into 3 turnovers (3 assists) without a rebound or a steal.  Contrast that with Grayson’s 20 points, including 5 of Duke’s last 8 points to go with 7 boards and 2 steals in 40 minutes.

Coach K said that Duke was out of sync, forcing bad shots in the second half, after Thornton’s 3 drew Duke within 1 in the opening seconds, .  After the first media timeout, Coach K said Duke got good looks for the rest of the game.  It kept looking as though the ‘Heels would put the game out of reach.  With 6:49 to go, UNC stretched its lead to 8 but Duke’s grit kept the Devils in contact.   In the next 1:30, Brandon, who also played every second of the game, made 3 straight amazing hoops (suddenly the announcers were talking “green room” — please shut up) to bring Duke back within 2 with 5 minutes to go.  Bryce dunked (again) before Grayson scored on a traditional 3 point play to make it a 1 point game with 4:19 to play.  Paige went 1-2 from the line (bad miss at that juncture) to put Carolina up by 2 (71-69) with a few ticks under 4 minutes left.  Brandon and Berry traded missed 3s before Luke hit the shot of the game — a 3 from the corner with only 2:40 left to play — to give Duke a 72-71 lead.  It was Duke’s last field goal.  Carolina’s last points came with 2:08 left on (yet another) offensive rebound by Jackson, who made a slick pass to Meeks for the layup.  Down to “grit” for sure.  Brandon missed a jumper, which Carolina rebounded, but Marshall stole the ball from Paige with 1:15 to go.  Think about that sentence and that play!  Grayson was fouled by Berry with 1:09 to go.  Visions of Grayson on the line against Virginia somehow seeped into my head, but Grayson coolly sunk them both for the winning margin, with 1:09 to go.  With only 52 seconds left, Duke defended Meeks brilliantly, causing him to miss a layup that Grayson rebounded.  After Duke took 27 seconds off the clock, Grayson missed a desperation 3.  That left the game’s final play for Derryck Thornton to showcase his newly visible defensive prowess, shutting down Berry’s final attempt.

Marshall was quite amazing in the second half, even though he scored only 1-2 from the line after his 10 point (5-5) first half.  He re-entered the game with 4 fouls and 6:49 left to play.  Duke was down by 8 at that point.  Marshall shored up both Duke’s defense and rebounding, absolutely changing the game.  Amazingly, Carolina scored only 5 points in the last 6:49.  Which team was supposed to tire from lack of depth?

Brandon had an extraordinary game, with 13 second half points for a game total of 20 on 21 shots (7-21 from the field after 2-10 first half; 2-5 from deep and 4-4 from the line) to go with 10 boards, 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal against a single turnover while committing only 2 fouls.  He is a reliable ball handler who played outstanding defense in the second half while defending Duke’s backboard.  He is reminding me of Grant Hill in how much he provides to the team in so many different aspects of the game.  Finally, Derryck Thornton’s contributions have increased dramatically, but are still under the radar.  He played 32 minutes of scintillating defense.  He has also become the reliable glue on offense, even though his scoring seems to be decreasing (2-9; 1-4 without getting to the line for 5 points).  However, in addition to solid defense — he produced 2 steals and a block, he directed the offense.  Critically, he had 0 turnovers and 2 assists.  Duke’s growing chemistry has coincided with Derryck’s increased playing time and genuinely terrific defense.

Not many (and certainly not I) expected Duke to beat Louisville, Virginia and UNC (on the road) in succession.  It has been an amazing stretch in which we have been privileged to watch a team grow up in dramatic fashion.  It is possible that we will decide Duke must have a pretty good coach to accomplish that.  It does not get easier, especially with Matt looking as if the best that can be hoped for is a return to form by tournament time.  Louisville hosts the Devils at noon on Saturday.   But for a few minutes, let us savor one of Duke’s most amazing regular season wins ever.

Duke 64- Louisville 71 

While there may be no “good” losses, there are some that transcend a cold “L” in the loss column, because the players  demonstrated an extraordinary degree of toughness, heart, and character. After the game Coach K said that he is proud to coach this team, because they are a “damn good Duke team. They fight hard all the time to the very end” adding that Grayson Allen is “one of college basketball’s great warriors.” Today Allen (29 points, 3 assists, 1 steal) fouled out–more on that later– with four minutes to go.

The last four games against ranked opponents (Louisville, Virginia, North Carolina, & Louisville) have essentially been a late season mini-tournament. It would have been a tough test for any of the top five teams in the country, much less a young, depleted Duke team coming off four close, but disappointing losses. Two physical, emotionally draining games in a row are challenge enough, but four in a row are a conference scheduling error. Those efforts took the most toll on the very talented but youngest, skinniest player, Brandon Ingram, who after an extraordinary game against Carolina today had more turnovers (10) than points (8). As a matter of fact, no player, other than Allen, scored in double digits. So how did the Blue Devils team lead for about half of the middle part of the game?

“Next play” is Coach’s mantra. Today, it was “next man” as midway in the second half, Derryck Thornton joined Jefferson and Jones on the bench with what appeared to be a serious right shoulder injury. Luke Kennard was saddled with foul trouble for half the game. Chase Jeter was surprisingly effective with 5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, & 1 steal in 17 minutes. And Marshall Plumlee fought and hustled his way to 12 rebounds. Thornton returned late to defy the odds and score on a left handed drive, then a short jump shot. However, Louisville’s second half defense became very aggressive and physical as the refs let them play that way, the home crowd became energized, Duke went cold, Lee hit three threes, and Grayson was called for fouls four and five.

Now, about the refereeing. It has been inconsistent all year all over the league as the referees struggled with interpreting the new defensive contact rule. But today in the second half, the interpretation went retro as Louisville intensified its full court pressure. The result was that the Blue Devils did not adjust to how the game was being called. I have complained about how physically opponents have been allowed to play against Grayson Allen. Today, in  scramble for a loose ball, Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson swung an elbow and hit Grayson flush in the jaw, bloodying his mouth. Then, after the whistle had blown, Johnson started punching wildly at him defenseless on the floor. Fortunately, a teammate was pulling Johnson away and his fists just churned in the air. The player was assessed a technical but not ejected.(I guess the reasoning is that his punches did not connect.) On Allen’s fourth foul, he was running to receive an inbound pass and was knocked off balance by Lee into another Cardinal player. His fifth was on a drive. Allen had passed the ball and grazed the post defender, the very same Jaylen Johnson, whose feet were clearly not set.  To add insult to injury, Allen was called for a technical foul—Coach K already had received one—for objecting to the call.

Refereeing is difficult at this level. However, I have contended for some time that for whatever reason, Grayson has not been treated the same as other Wooden (only 10 each year) nominees usually are. And for sure, over the years the unwritten rule in both the NBA and college has been that star players are not fouled out of important games on marginal calls.

Other Comments:

  • Matt Jones warmed up but was not allowed to play by Coach K, who felt Matt could not effectively push off on the injured ankle and did not want to risk further injury. Amile Jefferson is still in a walking boot, because the foot is still painful.

 

  • If this game is any indication, Brandon Ingram is neither physically nor mentally ready for the physicality and daily grind of the grown man’s league—the NBA.

 

  • Grayson Allen proved that his winning shot against Virginia was no fluke by making an even more difficult shot from the same place on the floor. Only this time, he did not travel, was not on a forty-five degree angle to the floor but actually lying on the floor while throwing the ball in the basket (without the benefit of the backboard).

 

  • North Carolina bounced back today and trounced Miami at Chapel Hill.
  • At halftime of the Duke game, Roy Williams had an astonishing halftime interview. When asked about Duke scoring 42 points on his team, he said: “I don’t care if we gave up 42 points because we like a fast tempo … I don’t ever care how many points we give up as long as we score more. Think about that for a moment. Could you imagine Coach K saying that—even ever thinking that?

Alan Adds:

I firmly believe that this loss was as important to the growth of “this Duke team” as the three stunning conference wins that preceded it.  Duke was not less than heroic in its effort, but the challenging schedule, the limited roster, and the intensity of the Louisville defense in the last 10 minutes of the game were more than Duke could overcome.  But that heroic effort, in the face of increasing adversity, tells me that this team has grown up to be a formidable force for the post season.  While Coach K acknowledged he was disappointed with the loss, it was hard for him to conceal his admiration and respect that his team had earned from him with its effort in this game.  This is a different team from several weeks ago.

Coach K’s analysis seemed to me right on the money.  He discounted the physicality of the schedule (four games against ranked teams in 8 days) as having an effect.  “It was the physicality of the game not the week.  It was the most physical second half we have been in this year.  We were unable to respond at an appropriate level.  The physicality of the game did not lend itself to us (he cited as reasons the lack of depth, injuries and the difference in experience between the teams).”  While Bill, Brandon and I disagree about the physicality of the week not being an important factor, Coach K’s basic analysis was correct.  I believe this will be a further teaching moment where the team will learn to be stronger and better against the press.  The Louisville press ignited the Cardinals’ comeback.  Duke was pretty good about getting the ball in (Coach K designed several interesting ways to get the ball to Thornton, who was Duke’s key against the press) — not bad, but hardly great.  However, I do not remember Duke beating the press for an easy basket more than once.  If the offense doesn’t make the pressing team pay by scoring with a numbers advantage fast break when the ball gets beyond the pressing defenders, the press will be effective.  The press then can wear out the team being pressed, as Louisville did to Duke’s undermanned team.

I saw many positive signs, but perhaps the most important came from the play of two progressing freshmen — Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton.  Jeter, Duke’s only sub, played 17 minutes (6 in the first half) and was a positive surprise.  He scored 5 points on 1-1 from the field and (gasp!) 3-3 from the line.  In the short stint, he had 2 boards, an assist and a steal without a turnover.  This is really the first game that he made positive contributions.  What a plus for Duke if that continues, especially if Amile does not return for the post season.  Derryck’s value became obvious when he was injured.  Duke led by 54-49 when Thornton was forced out of the game with 9:08 left in the game.  By the time he returned with 3:55 left to play Duke was down 7, 66-59; Grayson had fouled out; and Duke was in deep trouble.  The fight that Duke exhibited in the last minutes are a great harbinger that this season has more left that will compel our attention.  Marshall, too, was heroic, grabbing 14 boards and playing with visible grit and determination.  What a great year he is having!

Duke had a terrible second half (really second half of the second half) scoring only 27 points and going 2-8 from deep (after 7-12 in the first half).  Duke had 11 turnovers in the second half (18 for the game; contrast that with 7 against UNC).  I attribute much of that to Louisville’s ramped up defensive pressure.  While the 3 point shooting fell off, so too did the percentage of open looks versus contested shots.  Because only Grayson was in double figures (19 first half points; 29 for the game), no one else’s statistics are impressive.  Luke and Brandon simply did not respond to the Louisville pressure.  In 36 minutes, Luke was 3-10 from the field; 1-5 from deep and a shocking 2-4 from the line for 9 points.  He grabbed only a single rebound, and fouled out at game’s end.  Brandon had a nightmare game (no talk of green room for him by Dickie V).  I think that is enough analysis of Brandon’s worst game of a brilliant year.

Finally, I disagree with Bill about the refereeing.   Refs are human, and like players and coaches, make mistakes.  Considering the speed of the game, “bad calls” must be tolerated as simply part of the game and can NEVER be used as an excuse, though it is certainly fair to point out bad calls (Grayson’s fifth foul is a graphic example). I do not believe the game was poorly officiated or effected the outcome of the game. I also hate the notion that the stature of the player (star or role player) has any Effect on the call.  Just for the record, Grayson fully deserved the technical that he received after fouling out.  Any lip reader could tell what he screamed at the referee.  While as Coach K said, in the circumstances of the call, Grayson’s reaction was understandable, it is still not what we want to teach or exhibit.

For me, this game was a very positive Duke experience even though, Duke’s 5th loss in the conference and 7th in the season.  Duke has Florida State at Cameron on Thursday; Pitt at Pitt next Sunday; and Wake at home on Tuesday before the final showdown at Cameron for senior night (will that be for Marshall and Amile, or just Marshall?) the following Saturday (3-5).  What a season!

Duke 80- Florida State 65

For a team that statistically ranks as the most efficient offense in college basketball, Duke looked anything but that in the first  minutes as they went 0-9,  then shot 51% for the rest of the game. However, either their defense was terrific or Florida State’s offense was terrible, because the Seminoles were not any better. Whatever the case, the young Seminoles, losers or four straight, in Cameron was just the tonic the Blue Devils needed after the playing ACC Murders’ Row (Louisville, Virginia, at UNC and at Louisville). The Seminoles have no big post presence and their young, athletic players showed little interest in playing defense.

The game progressed from pretty awful to pretty boring as Duke’s offense started cooking and Florida State never cut the lead to single digits in the final twenty-five minutes. The most significant development was that both players injured against Louisville –Matt Jones and Derryck Thornton —started and played well and Duke had  balanced scoring. Neither Grayson Allen (18 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) nor Brandon Ingram (16 points, 6 rebounds) shot a high percentage, but delivered when needed. Marshall Plumlee (my player of the game) had another double-double and leads the ACC in enthusiasm. Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter  played much more confidently. In fact, Chase made the most of his twelve minutes by drawing a two charges, grabbing 5 rebounds, throwing down a dunk, and blocking a shot—a performance that had MP3 chest bumping him ( yes, Chase survived) and the Cameron Crazies chanting his name. He looks and plays as if his time in the weight room is paying dividends.

Winning stats: Duke just 5 turnovers ( 18 against Louisville) vs. 15 for FS, 16 assists, 10 steals, +4 in threes, and +9 in free throws. The Blue Devils were in the bonus situation after ten minutes of each half and the double bonus with 6:30 to go in the game.

Other comments:

  • The Good: Grayson Allen is on pace to have the largest year-to- year increase in scoring average in ACC history as well as becoming the ninth player in school history to lead the team in scoring and assists. Be sure to read on for Allan’s excellent analysis of the team’s development.
  • The Bad: Grayson intentionally tripped an opponent for the second time this season. This time it was away from the action, not called but caught on camera. Well, the hate Duke social media exploded. As I have commented, opponents rough Allen up, it is not always called, historically Duke is thought to be white and “soft”. Allen looks like a choir boy but doesn’t  play like one. He is not a dirty player, just at times, an impulsive one. For sure, he must play smarter when he retaliates.
  • Coach K on Jeter: “You get minutes by earning them and in practice he has earned them. He has been a different kid the last three weeks and his teammates see that. . . . so his teammates get confidence in him.”
  • Nolan Smith,  ACC player of the year season in 2011, was added to the coaching staff earlier this week.
  • Kara Lawson did an terrific job as the color commentator. Her analysis of the game and assessment of the Duke players was as good as anyone has done this year. I was so impressed I looked up her bio. She is from the Washington area, attended Sidwell Friends School (the go-to school for Democratic president’s daughters), played at Tennessee where she majored in Economics, earned a gold medal on the 2008 Olympic team, and played in the WBA.

Next game: Sunday @ Pittsburg 2:00 on ESPN

Alan Adds:

Coach K is justly famous for understanding how to emphasize, promote and develop the concept of “team”.  Indeed, for me, watching Coach K nurture and grow a different group each year is one of the true delights of Duke basketball.  His genius is to understand the personality of each group and coach it uniquely.  This season — and especially the last five games — has been a classic example.  No need to document the hole left by Amile’s injury and the subsequent heart breaking end game failures that led Duke to 4-4 in the conference at the end of January.  But it is worth emphasizing how this group has come together to form an amazing and lovable team.   For example, this team has gone from defensively vulnerable to a defensive juggernaut.  The offense that K designed after Amile’s injury — 4 perimeter players around Marshall, featuring the unique talents of Brandon and Grayson — played to the unique strengths of the remaining players.  For me, it all coalesced in the first half against Florida State.  Duke scored 43 points in just over 16 minutes (Grayson scored Duke’s first points with 16:19 left).  After that Duke shot 50% with 10 assists (4 for Matt; 2 each for Grayson and Luke) against a single turnover.  Defensively, Duke forced 10 turnovers — 6 of them steals, and held the ’Noles to 30 points.  Duke held on firmly in the second half.  Coach K said his team was in great physical shape but got tired in the second half because of the emotion expended.  That emotion is what drives this team and makes it unique.

Chase Jeter has joined the team as an important contributor.  Marshall committed a second foul in the first half, giving Chase an opportunity to build on his valuable performance against Louisville.  He made the most of his opportunity, logging nine first half minutes in which he grabbed 5 boards, blocked a shot, took a charge, and scored 5 points (1-3; 1-2 from the line).  Coach K said that Chase has “gotten it” in the last 3 weeks and has earned his playing time in practice, and that he will play some in the future with Marshall (2 bigs together, as Duke did before Amile was injured).  Chase played 12 minutes (Marshall only 29) and took another charge while playing really good defense.   For me that now makes this team “The Magnificent Seven” .

The pillars, of course, are Brandon and Grayson, who each played the full 40 minutes and led the team in scoring, though neither shot particularly well.  Each of the others are much more than “role players; they each contribute substantially to make the whole better than the sum of the parts.  Grayson led the team in scoring with 18 on 20 shots (7-20; (3-10 from deep and 1-2 from the line), and played a wonderful floor game.  He handed out 5 assists (only 1 turnover), and making 3 steals with 3 boards.  Brandon followed with 16 points.  He was only 2-8, both 3s out of 5 attempts from deep for 6 in the first half.  He was awesome in the second half scoring 10 on 3-6 from the field and a crucial 4-5 from the line.  His defense is so good.  His length stops shooters on the perimeter and he is a force on the interior as well as a dynamic rebounder.  When Derryck’s foul trouble limited him to 6 second half minutes, Brandon (together with Matt) was the primary ball handler in Derryck’s absence.  The green room talk was back (after a short Louisville absence).  In spite of the amazing games that those endurance warriors played, my nomination for the team’s heart and soul for this game was Marshall Plumlee.  He is quietly having a superb season, in which he continues to improve.  He had 13 points to go with 10 boards and some terrific defense.  He and Brandon are now capably defending the paint and Duke’s defensive boards.

Duke is getting terrific upper class leadership.  Matt, who said he was 90% recovered, played 34 minutes of efficient basketball.  As always, he guards the best scorer on the opponent.  He is a reliable ball handler, a clutch shooter, and team leader.  A perfect example was his diving on the floor for a loose ball, getting the time out to keep possession, with less than a minute to go and the game completely in hand.  This team is swimming in heart.  Matt was 3-7 from deep (4-8 overall) scoring 11 while handing out 5 assists and grabbing 3 boards.  Coach K pointed out how much he was missed against Louisville defensively because Lee exploded offensively after Matt’s injury forced him from the game.  Luke also was again a valuable contributor in his 25 minutes.    He was 5-7 from inside the arc, though he missed both his long range attempts and a foul shot (2-3) for 12 points to go with 3 boards, 3 steals and 2 assists.  He too has the fiery spirit.  That is 5 double figure scorers; consider the balanced scoring — Grayson 18, Brandon 16, Marshall 13, Luke 12, Matt 11, Derryck 7, and Chase 3.  Derryck scored 5 in 14 first half minutes.  Foul trouble limited him to 2-2 from the line in his second half cameo before fouling out.  While he is still posting anemic assist numbers (0 for the game), he has improved dramatically on the defensive end and is critical to this team going forward.  The team is growing almost magically.

Duke has 3 games left in this cavalry charge for seedings in the ACC tournament.  The first four get double byes.  Louisville won’t count.  There are five other teams in contention.  UNC is 12-3, with 3 very tough games left; at UVA; Louisville, and at Duke.  Miami is 11-4; while UVA, Duke and Notre Dame are 10-5.  Great finish to the regular season coming up.

DUKE 62– PITT 76

Pitt came into this “Senior Day” game needing to punch their ticket for a trip to the NCAA Tournament. That they did– as well was punch holes in the Blue Devils man-to-man defense, pummel them in the paint, and shoot their lights out from beyond the arc. If it was a fight, it would have been stopped as a TKO well before the final buzzer sounded. Coach K said his players were  tired. He  could see it in the second half of the Florida State game. Welcome to college basketball 2016. After Xavier and Duke lost today, there were 15 losses and counting for Top 25 teams this week. 1,3,4,5,7,8,9(2x), 10,11,15,16,17,19, 23 lost.  Cameron victim Florida State rebounded to beat Notre Dame handily at home, Virginia edged Carolina at home. Notice a trend? However, there is little comfort in these numbers for Blue Devil fans, even though Alan predicted the outcome.

Although no one likes a loss, I am more concerned about the fallout from the overwrought, overblown media firestorm surrounding Grayson Allen’s recent tripping violation(s). They were sophomoric acts, but, hey, he is a sophomore who plays  for Duke, plays hard and well, sometimes sensationally well, and takes a lot of punishment. When he played AAU basketball, Grayson’s jersey was so torn from being grabbed and skidding on the floor, he needed a new one for each  game.

Anyone who watches sports knows that there is a lot of contact, some legal, mostly not, going on against high profile players that isn’t called. And that often the player who retaliates is the one called for the foul. For sure, the refs will be more diligent in monitoring Grayson and the opposing fans will be all over him. Let me state the obvious. If he didn’t play for Duke, neither transgression would have warranted a mention—if it bleeds, it leads is the journalistic truism. Let’s go to the videotape. After the last Louisville game I wrote: I have complained about how physically opponents have been allowed to play against Grayson Allen. Today, in  scramble for a loose ball, Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson swung an elbow and hit Grayson flush in the jaw, bloodying his mouth. Then, after the whistle had blown, Johnson started punching wildly at him defenseless on the floor. Fortunately, a teammate was pulling Johnson away and his fists just churned in the air. The player was assessed a technical but not ejected. (I guess the reasoning is that his punches did not connect.)  

I contend that the Allen extensive coverage is an example the journalistic and fan Duke double standard. If Jaylen Johnson wasn’t ejected on the spot or suspended later by the commissioner for elbowing Allen in the mouth drawing blood, then punching wildly at him, why wasn’t there a journalistic and social media hue and cry for the league to penalize Jaylen? Neither of Grayson’s retaliations  drew blood or caused any injury. It was just immature behavior and poor sportsmanship. Coach K apologized to  Miami  coach, Leonard Hamilton, had a heart-to-heart talk with Grayson after the game, and called the league commissioner the next morning to explain his what happened and how he had handled it. Grayson also issued a public apology. End of story? Not if you play for Duke. But players know what they are buying into when the decide to play for the Blue Devils—a lot of attention, a lot of scrutiny, a lot of fan hostility. This is not an effort to justify Grayson Allen’s actions, it just an effort to put it in perspective. Such notoriety just fueled the competitive fires of Laettner and JJ Redick and helped make them All-Americans. Only time will how this attention will affect Grayson Allen and the rest of the team.

Alan just emailed me that this was Coach K at his postgame presser: “The ACC did right by issuing its first ever reprimand rather than a suspension.  It was a Flagrant One foul.  Nobody gets suspended for a Flagrant One foul. That should be the end of it, but we are Duke, so we have to live with the enduring publicity.”

Next game: Wake Forest @ Cameron 8:00 ACC Network

Alan Adds:

I emailed Bill on Sunday morning that Pittsburg was “a trap game”.  It was somewhat obvious.  Conference road games are always tough, and one on your adversary’s senior night is especially tough.  For Pitt, the season was on the line, as Pitt had lost several winnable games and perceived it needed one big win or fail to make the NCAA tournament.  Last chance!  The crowd was in a frenzy.  Duke had played through an hellacious month.  After a bitter loss (gallant effort) against Louisville, which followed 3 amazing wins against ranked teams, a superb effort against Florida State after the Louisville loss , Duke had the season’s most important regular season game (UNC) coming up.  Grayson had been the center of a media storm, caused by his own dishonorable actions.  I wondered if Duke could summon the intense emotion that fueled the team through that scintillating (and surprising) stretch.

First, Pitt played an amazing game, creating intensity from the Panther tournament situation.  Pitt defended superbly and made pursuit of the ball its mantra.  Pitt doubled up Duke in rebounding, forced turnovers on Duke’s penetration attempts and shot the lights out on Robinson’s Senior night.  Second, as Coach K said, Duke played a game that was “out of character”.  All year long, Coach K pointed out, this team has played its butt off; “we did not play our butts off today.”  “In a long season, these things happen once in a while.  Thank god it’s only once in a while.”  Perhaps Coach K was remembering the 2010 team being blown out in DC by Georgetown in front of President Obama or last year’s beat down by Miami (90-74) in Cameron.  Oh yeah, Duke won the National Championship after experiencing those routes.  Coach K emphasized Duke’s lack of hunger and energy against the Panthers.  “They were hungry; we were not.  Which team would you rather have: hungry or not hungry?”

Pitt “did their thing, and we couldn’t stop it.  They have mobile bigs; we knew that Marshall would have an unusual guy to defend.”   Pitt’s mobile big drew Marshall away from the basket and scored efficiently.  Of course, that left Marshall defending on the perimeter and Duke’s back board very vulnerable.  In 28 minutes, Marshall had only 4 boards with 0 points and 0 blocks.  Duke was simply slaughtered off both backboards.  Coach K’s theme was “we have to move on” and get ready for Wake on Tuesday night.  This team was very tired.  It will be a physical and emotional test of “this Duke team” against Wake.  Duke is now a #5 seed (losing the double bye) in the ACC tournament (actually tied for 4th, but Notre Dame holds the tie breaker).   ND plays Miami and NC State while Duke plays Wake and UNC.  Duke could really use the double bye.  Time to move on from this aberrational nightmare.

DUKE 79 – WAKE FOREST 71

It’s a good thing that Duke, playing their third game in six days, was hosting Wake Forest, a team that hadn’t won in Cameron since 1997 because the way the Blue Devils played, it is doubtful they would have beaten most ACC teams. Marshall Plumlee (13 pts, 17 rebs.), Grayson Allen (30 pts, 5 rebs, 5 stls), and Coach K (burned 1,000 calories running the coaches box) were the only players who appeared to have much gas left in their tank.

The momentum of the close game turned when Brandon chased down Rondale Watson on a fast break and blocked his layup. Grayson patented dive saved the ball before it went out of bounds, flinging it to teammate Luke Kennard. Duke raced to the other end and found Ingram open from the right wing, where he nailed a 3-pointer tying the game at 56-56. Coach Mike Krzyzewski whipped off his suit jacket, turned cheerleader, and urged the already deafening Cameron Crazies to get even louder. Then he started working the sidelines with the energy and enthusiasm of a hyperactive Cameron Crazy. We have seen this scenario before: his players are embarrassed to see their coach working harder than they are. The result was a 12-2 run that was the breathing room for the Blue Devils to close out the game as Wake reverted to form and imploded during the final minutes.

While that was a rare exhilarating moment tonight in a gutsy win, it is difficult to see how this young, thin team goes far in either upcoming tournament. For the first time, Coach  Krzyzewski didn’t sound optimistic about Jefferson returning this year. And even if he does, how fit and effective could he be? This team will go as far as Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram carry them. Even though Grayson scored 30 points, his shooting was streaky, even missing five free throws. Matt Jones tweaked his bad ankle. All the freshmen appear to have hit the wall: Brandon was only 6-17 from the floor; Derryck ThorntonLuke Kennard and Jeter were a combined 2 for 12. Only the irrepressible, Energizer Man MP3 is at the top of his game. Perhaps, as the News Observer writer Laura Keeley suggests: “The best thing for this team is to lose early in the ACC Tournament and be fresh for the NCAA tournament.” Laura is Duke graduate who covered the team for The Chronicle, so she knows to leave that thought in a tweet, not say it in front of Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Other Thoughts:

  • I am a big fan of Grayson Allen both as a player and as a person and think it is a shame two brief acts of emotional, harmless retaliation are presently defining him. Last night, he was the POG as well as in control of his emotions. There were his usual damn the floor burns diving-for-all-loose-balls and daredevil drives to the basket plays. But late in the game, he was racing down the sidelines when a Wake player hip checked him out of bounds onto the press row table, breaking a sport writer’s laptop. It was a potentially volatile situation but Grayson just disengaged himself from the debris, checked his body parts, smiled, and returned to  the floor.
  • J Redick had some interesting thoughts on the role the media role plays in vilifying a Duke player:

“There seems to be this myth of this ‘Duke villain,’ and more often, the Duke villain is white … It goes from Danny Ferry to Christian Laettner to Steve Wojciechowski to Chris Collins to Mike Dunleavy to J.J. Redick to Greg Paulus to Jon Scheyer, and now it’s Grayson Allen. Grayson is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, so is Jon Scheyer, and Greg Paulus, as well as the others.

The media promotes the attitude that this guy is a villain. It was more in reaction to the hate that was already coming my way before I ever really did anything to warrant it. It’s almost like, every time there’s a player at Duke, the media says, ‘You should dislike this guy.’ I can remember being in school my senior year when Greg Paulus was a freshman, and there were numerous articles that year — ‘Greg Paulus is the next hated Duke player.’ The media, I guess, was choosing who we should hate. The media was saying, ‘This guy is the next guy.’”

Why, though? Why does there have to be a next in line? If you didn’t like Laettner, that’s fine. If you didn’t like Chris Collins, that’s fine. If you didn’t like me, that’s fine. Whatever. Does it really have to be like, every, Duke team, there has to be a guy you dislike?

“I get why there is some animosity toward Duke. I don’t necessarily agree with that. But I would hesitate, if I were some people, to anoint someone a villain. Don’t agree with it.”

Next game: Saturday, North Carolina 6:30 ESPN

Alan Adds:

It was almost as if the game were divided into four quarters.  Duke played well enough in the first and fourth quarters to win the game that felt closer than the final score.  What was warming was the way Duke rebounded from the disastrous Pitt defeat (Coach K said it was “an out of body experience” for the team) to show the grit and determination to take control of the game in the last 12 minutes, playing lights out defense.  Grayson shook off the fall-out from his “tripaholic” acts to play a superb game, that was dazzling in his will and intensity (not to mention 30 points).  What is concerning is how porous the defense was in the middle of the game (last part of the first half and first part of the second), Duke’s erratic shooting (10-35 from the field in the first half; 3-10 from deep), and uncharacteristic terrible foul shooting.  Duke was 25 of 38, with Marshall missing 6 in a row after hitting his first five (0-3 in the second half, the last one was the front end of a 1 and 1) and Grayson missing 5 (9-14).  Duke’s bench failed to score.  Matt tweaked his ankle again, and though he returned to the game, Coach K expressed some concern as to how the ankle would be today.

Last night, this team looked gassed to me.  This was Duke’s third game in the last 6 days, with only a day after the Pitt disaster.  In the stretch against UVA, UNC and Louisville, Chase Jeter began to emerge as a contributor.  Unfortunately, he returned to his early season form for the last two games.  Last night in 5 minutes, he committed 2 fouls without a rebound.  He was 1-2 from the line (the one bounced way high before unexpectedly dropping in).  Luke played 21 minutes without scoring — without taking a shot in the second half.  (0-4; 0-2 from 3land in the first half).  Duke was careful with the ball until the second half doldrums, when turnovers began to happen.  For the first 30 minutes, Derryck was scoreless (0-6; 0-2 from behind the arc), but just when you thought he had nothing left to contribute, he erupted for 2 crucial layups and 2-2 on critical foul shots.  Coach K relies on him, playing him 37 minutes.  He plays good on the ball defense.  He guarded Crawford who scored 15, but on 15 shots.  He also had 4 assists against a single turnover.  Still, he is not yet the elite point guard that would really elevate this team.

Marshall was a force, though Wake’s Thomas exposed his lack of defensive mobility.  Marshall grabbed 17 rebounds, many of them crucial and earned by sheer hustle and energy.  He had 13 points (8 in the first half) in 34 minutes, before fouling out with less than 2 minutes to go (could you read his lips after he committed his fifth foul?).  He embodies the spirit of this team — making up for any shortcomings by sheer hustle fueled by boundless energy.  Still missing foul shots is a sign of being tired.  The rest of the scoring was handled by Matt, Brandon, and the irrepressible Grayson.  Matt had a wonderfully efficient game, playing 27 minutes before fouling out.  In addition to being defensive glue, guarding taller players, he scored 14 on 9 shots (4-6 from deep and 2-2 from the line to go with 3 steals.  It might be that the two games he missed because of the ankle (most of UNC and Louisville) may have given him the needed rest to rejuvenate.  Brandon was heroic, but looks as if he is wearing down to me.  He is so talented that it is less obvious.  He has logged prodigious minutes all year and last night was no exception (39 minutes).  He pulled himself together for a game winning second half after a 3-12 first half from the floor.  He scored 15 points on 17 shots, but was absolutely heroic off the boards (11) with 3 steals, 2 assists, and a spectacular block at a crucial (game changing) moment.  Grayson put Duke on his back, willing Duke to the win.  In 37 minutes, he scored 30 on 16 shots (7-16; 2-5 from deep).  He drove and drove and drove.  He was rewarded with 19 free throws, which even though he missed an extraordinary 5, made the difference in the game.  He also had 5 steals and 5 boards.  He was quite simply awesome!

It seemed to me that Duke gets lax on defense when there is a perception of foul trouble in the offing.  With 12 minutes left, Duke started to clamp down on defense, and to get the hustle balls (one led to a Grayson 3 and one to a Matt 3).  But in truth, the last 12 minutes was caused as much by Wake’s terrible play as Duke’s turnaround.  When evaluating this game, let us not forget just how truly bad the Deacons are.  They are not without talent, but they are careless with the ball and have jaw dropping lapses.  There is a reason that Wake has only won a single conference game besides beating (as every team has done) BC.

Coach K said a decision on whether Amile will return this year is imminent.  He reported that Amile can move side to side without pain, but cannot run fluidly yet.  Coach K thinks if he does not play, he will be awarded a red shirt and can play next season.  Let’s see whether several days of rest can restore “this Duke team” to being competitive in the last home game of the season (Senior night for Marshall; Amile?)

DUKE 72 – NORTH CAROLINA 76 

There is no way this game should have been this close. Duke shot 37 percent from the field, was outrebounded 64-29, and missed 6 of 15 free throws. It was the third game in a row that they shot under 40 percent from the field. You can get away with that against a Wake Forest but not a North Carolina or even a Pitt.

The Blue Devils chances took a big hit when Brandon Ingram got into early foul trouble and never got out of it. He had to sit out eleven minutes of the first half, then received his third a minute into the second half and fourth with ten minutes to play. He never got into any offensive rhythm, only scoring 10 points. Fortunately, Luke Kennard picked up some of the scoring slack with 20 points, but no one else other than Grayson Allen was in double digits. Allen had 29 points, but it took 28 shots and even though he attacked the basket in his usual physical, fearless manner, the referees only sent him to the foul line one time. At least three times, UNC scored quickly in a five-on-four situation after Allen went to the floor without the benefit of a foul call. (Memo to the press: Duke doesn’t always get all the calls.) For this team to win, it has to hit threes, which they did tonight(13 vs. 4) AND score more points than their opponent at the free throw line, which they did not (9-15 vs. 20-23). Fortunately (except at the free throw line), Carolina shot just as poorly—but theirs were at much closer range. And then there was the rebounding disparity.

Duke was never ahead and when they made a run to get close or tie the score, the Tar Heels always responded. North Carolina is a much bigger, much deeper, and more mature team that deserved t0 win tonight. My buddy Johnny Tar Heel just texted me: “We were very lucky. K is a magician.”

For sure, Mike Krzyzewski can coach and this year is one of his best jobs. However, this game left more questions than answers for both teams. Coach K can’t coach players who aren’t there and Coach Williams has to coach players who are there but don’t always mentally or physically show up. It’s debatable who has the more frustrating job but not which team has more tournament upside. Next year will be another story as Duke had a full complement of recruits that rivals the Okafor, Jones, Winslow, Allen class—as well as Amile Jefferson (see below).

Other Comments:

  • Grayson Allen has been named as a finalist for the Wooden Player of the year award as well as for both the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award and Oscar Robertson Trophy.
  • Bad news for this year; good news for next year: Duke announced before the game that on the advice of team doctors senior forward Amile Jefferson would miss the rest of the season as his broken right foot has not fully healed. The school will petition the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver that would allow Jefferson to return next year.
  • Duke went to a combination of zones, which were effective, in the second half. However, without Jefferson underneath, I don’t get putting Ingram on top of the 1-3-1. He is the best big defender and rebounder Duke has.
  • John Feinstein, the Duke grad who is the bestselling sports author of all time, has a new book “The Legends Club”– Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and the Story of an Epic College Basketball Rivalry. John’s books are always an easy read. They are like having a one sided conversation with John. I have met them both and I can tell you he is right up there with the just deceased local novelist Pat “The Prince of Tides” Conroy (His wife: “The water is wide and he hasnow passed over.”) as compelling, knowledgeable story tellers. This is an intimate narrative, because he loves basketball and was able to develop a personal relationship with the two younger coaches before they became famous. Dean took more time but that is one of the more interesting aspects of the book. Over his career, John has taken copious notes, which he has kept, but he also intersperses myriads of interviews with those who have survived Dean and Jim. If you are a Tobacco Road basketball fan—no matter what school—this is a must read!

Alan Adds:

Early on Saturday here’s what I emailed to Bill: “I have a really bad feeling about the game tonight, but still some hope.  I went back and re-read our DBP of the first Carolina game.  UNC is so much better, huge and skilled on the interior, deep and experienced.  Duke seems to be running on fumes, with Luke and Derryck both dropping off sharply (especially in scoring).  UNC will be fueled by revenge at having the game essentially stolen from them at the Dean Dome.  I bet the spread favors UNC by a substantial margin.  Still I have hope because: 1) it is in Cameron (though memories of 2012 keep haunting this scene); 2) Senior night for Marshall; Amile??]; 3) Just when you think this team is done, it rises from the dead like Rasputin or You Know Who; and 4) UNC seems to have a character flaw that could, as in the Dean Dome, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  So, I am hopeful.

It turned out to be a pretty accurate analysis, except that uncharacteristically the ‘heels did not “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” when they had the opportunity to do so.  Instead, 3 different ‘heels made 8 straight foul shots to thwart Duke’s last desperate efforts.  The first three shooters for the ‘heels went to the line for the front end of 1 and 1s.  A miss on any of the first ones would have been…but it was not to be.  With 3:22 left in the game, UNC went up by 9 at 68-59 on a layup by Berry.  It was UNC’s last field goal, and set the scene for Duke’s last Rasputin-like effort.  Grayson hit a 3 and then scored on a dunk to make it 68-64 with 53 seconds left.  Carolina missed, but Pinson grabbed the offensive rebound (like a recurring nightmare) and was fouled by Marshall.  He made them both with 26 seconds left (70-64).  Grayson hit another 3 with 17 seconds left — that’s 8 straight points in 2 and a half minutes (70-67).  Berry made both free throws (72-67 with 17 seconds left) before Luke hit a 3 from the corner with 9 seconds left (72-70).  Paige made  2 with 9 seconds left (74-70) before Marshall made a dunk (74-72 with 4 seconds left).  Paige made the final 2 free throws with 1.8 left for the final margin.

Duke had only 3 scorers in the second half to make the push.  [Marshall made a field goal and a foul shot — finally, after 4 misses in the first half; making 10 straight misses going back to the Wake game — for 3 points].  Grayson scored 17 in the second half (6-14; 4-6 from deep; 1-2 from the line); Luke had 10 (20 for the game), and Brandon had 10 in the half even though he could not make his 3s (3-11; 1-5; 3-4).  He played the whole 20 minutes, the last 10 with 4 fouls.  He took only one shot in the first half and did not score. Thornton played only 3 minutes in the second half; I speculate that Coach K knew he needed 3 point shooters, and Derryck has been in a shooting slump for a while.  The coach went with Matt (18 minutes), Luke (19), Brandon (20), Marshall (20) and Grayson (20).  Chase got 0 minutes in the second half.

It will be easier on my soul if I omit any discussion of rebounding, except to say that Carolina out rebounded Duke 30-10 in the first half (Brandon got only a single board in his 9 minutes) and 34-19 in the second (Brandon corralled 6).  Not much else to say, except “Wait Till Next Year” when Duke brings in Tatum, Giles and (hopefully) Amile returns.  Duke’s usually balanced scoring was fatally unbalanced.  Jeter failed to score in 7 minutes.  Derryck hit a late 3 in the second half for his only points in just 15 minutes (1-4 from the field) with 1 assist and1 turnover, 0 rebounds and a steal.  Matt played 36 minutes, scoring 5 in the first half but 0 in the second (2-8; 1-7 from deep without a foul shot attempt).  Marshall scored only 5 in his 37 minutes with just 9 boards.  In his 16 first half minutes, Marshall was 0-4 from the line with a single hoop.  So that left the load to Grayson and Luke.  Grayson was again heroic (11-28; 6-11 and 1-2 from the line) in 40 minutes (he fouled out with only seconds to go).  But the key stat, which is a credit to Carolina’s defense is that Grayson was only 5-17 from inside the arc and did not draw fouls as he usually does.  Carolina lost the first game on the perimeter; the Carolina guards did a much better job this time in Cameron.  Luke returned to form after missing his first few (after going scoreless in a recent game).  In 36 minutes he was 6-13; 4-9 from deep and 4-4 from the line for 20 points.  He also contributed 3 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals against 0 turnovers and only 2 fouls.  He was a star.

Duke is the 5th seed in the ACC tournament, meaning the loss makes Duke play an extra game on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s game between Wake and NC State.  If Duke wins on Wednesday, the quarterfinal matchup will be with Notre Dame on Thursday.  Though 7 is the most conference losses Duke has suffered since the 2006-7 season, this has proven to be a lovable and admirable team.  In hindsight, a season where Duke would compete for conference and national honors was lost when Amile was lost.  Shades of Kyrie and Ryan.  Still post-season challenges are in front of “this Duke team”.  Next Play.

                                                           ACC TOURNAMENT

DUKE 92 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE 89 

This game looked more like a summer league game at North Carolina Central in Durham than an ACC Tournament game in Washington, DC. Offense not defense was the specialty of the day  as  both teams finished shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point range. During our half time call, Alan pointed out that the 53-50 score was going just as Coach K had scripted it:  Since State had played a close, enervating game last night, stay out of foul trouble by letting the Pack run and shoot themselves into exhaustion in the first thirty minutes, then ratchet up the defense in the last ten minutes and close the game out on an exhausted team.

This strategy worked like a charm until  Marshall Plumlee had his nose broken and the Devils squandered a nine point lead. After MP3 (17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) had the blood flow contained and his nose straightened, he returned to play an heroic final five minutes making winning plays on both offense and defense to save the day and an embarrassing collapse.

Luke Kennard started in place of Thornton and scored 20 points. Brandon Ingram gave the NBA scouts an eye full by scoring 19 first half points before twisting his ankle. Grayson Allen had had 19 points 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and another ill-advised technical. Matt Jones has not been the same player since he injured his ankle. Chase Jeter had eight productive minutes.

Other Thoughts:

  • Cat Barbour was virtually unstoppable. If Duke had him at the point, the Blue Devils would be a Final Four team.
  • John Feinstein, the Duke grad who is the bestselling sports author of all time, has a new book “The Legends Club”– Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and the Story of an Epic College Basketball Rivalry. I am reading it. If you are a Duke, UNC, or State fan, it is a must read!
  • Here is John on the ACC expansion: “Expansion has been an ongoing embarrassment for the ACC. On Tuesday, during those thrilling games involving the bottom four seeds, they curtained off the upper deck of Verizon Center to try to hide the emptiness of the building. (The crowd was announced at 7,000, which may have been counting by twos.) Next year the tournament goes to Brooklyn — Brooklyn?No doubt fans from the South will be thrilled with the notion of riding the subway to Barclays Center since there is zero parking there and with the prices they will pay for New York hotels.”

Next game: Notre Dame Thursday @2:00 ESPN

Alan Adds:

It is undeniably difficult to beat another team three times in a season, but Duke accomplished that with its third hard fought win over NC State this season.  It was an entertaining game with offensive fireworks in the first half that were astounding.  As Coach K pointed out, many players were making difficult shots all over the court.  For sure the defense lacked intensity, but the offensive outburst was more about terrific offensive basketball by both teams.  At the half, I told Bill that I thought State would tire in the later stages of the second half; it was their third game in 5 days, and the Wolfpack is just as thin as the Blue Devils.  The State bench played only 25 minutes; Duke’s bench played 27 (Chase played 8 and Derryck, who has been replaced by Kennard in the starting lineup, played 19).  Coach K was adamant in the press conference that he was not worried about Duke’s conditioning or getting tired; rather, his greatest concern is Duke getting in foul trouble.  I also told Bill that Duke was avoiding foul trouble and would be more effective on the defensive end at game’s end.  I think both Duke’s increased defensive intensity and State’s fatigue tipped a close game to the Blue Devil win column.

Coach K said it is the best Duke has played offensively in three weeks, and that “this Duke team” had become a really good team in the last five weeks.  Contributions came from Brandon (scoring only in the first half, but solid defense and great rebounding in the second half), Grayson, Luke, Chase and Derryck.  Only Matt Jones seemed out of sync and has since even before he sprained his ankle against Carolina.  Matt played 27 minutes, scoring a 3 pointer early for his only points in the game (1-5; 1-3 from deep and again did not get to the free throw line).  He had a rebound in each half.  I don’t think he has fully recovered, and it shows in his defense.  Ingram played the entire game with only a single 3 point goal in the second half (1-6; 1-2), but with 4 boards, 3 assists, a block in that stanza.  When Brandon went cold in the second half, Grayson got hot.  In 39 minutes, he scored 19 (14 in the second half) to go with 6 assists (5 in the first half when he was passing more than shooting).  Luke took more Duke shots than any player (10-19; Grayson and Brandon took 14 shots each), but still cannot find his 3 point shot (2-7), and missed his only free throw that would have sealed the game.  He was a star in his 35 minutes.

Marshall, however, was Duke’s most valuable player in this game.  He logged 32 minutes and played some beautiful and tough basketball.  His play when he returned to the game after he (actually is was Matt Jones’s elbow) broke his nose was the emotional catalyst for Duke’s win.  With the game tied at 89, Marshall grabbed a tough offensive rebound after a miss by Brandon and stuffed the put back as he was fouled.  He not only made the foul shot (they were the last points in the game), but hustled back on defense to stop Barber’s drive and create the steal with which Grayson is credited.  Marshall, in his senior year, has been so special for this team.  Chase contributed with 5 points and 3 boards in 8 minutes (more points than either Matt or Derryck scored).  He played well, but was only 1-3 from the foul line and committed 2 fouls.  Duke’s foul shooting improved in the second half (5-10 in the first half) to 14-22.  Derryck Thornton scored his 4 points in the first half on two nice drives to the basket.  He missed his only jumper.  He played 19 minutes (only 8 in the second half).

Duke is back at it tomorrow in the second afternoon game on ESPN against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.  A chance for revenge and an appearance in the Semi-finals.

DUKE  93 –  UNC WILMINGTON 85

Duke played the first half this afternoon like they did in the second half of the loss to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament. Only two rare threes at the end of the half kept the score semi-embarrassing. I don’t know what Coach K said at halftime but apparently Lt. Marshall Plumlee ripped off his face mask, threw it across the room and shouted: “ I’ve got you. Follow me fellas.” Marshall, who played like Clark Kent in the first half, ran out of the locker room / phone booth and played like Superman, flying all over the floor rejecting shots and above the rim jamming in passes and misses as his platoon overwhelmed the Seahawks with a 14-0 run. That surge was the working margin the Blue Devils needed to prevail against the feisty but undersized Seahawks, even though a slippery floor caused Allen two unforced turnovers to keep the score closer than it should have been late in the game. That same wet spot caused Baylor a turnover on their last potentially tying possession.

It was a good thing that Plumlee (23 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) stepped into the breach, because only Grayson Allen (23 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) and Brandon Ingram (20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) produced their normal numbers. Luke Kennard is still a mystifyingly inconsistent freshman (just when you think he has solved the riddle, he plays like he doesn’t know the question) and Matt Jones is either injured or in a slump, because he is not nearly as efficient as last year. Off the bench, Thornton played well and Jeter is no longer a liability. To advance, the Blue Devils need more than two or three players to be hitting on all cylinders.

Other Thoughts:

Ø  To no one’s surprise, Coach K announced that Brandon Ingram is a one and done player. As talented as he is, Brandon is a poster player for needing another year or so in college to physically and mentally mature and get the playing time to work on his game against contemporaries in real time.

Ø  It’s a good thing that Duke went to the foul line 43 times and hit 31, because the Seahawks had 7 more threes, which is a good indication how poorly they were shooting.

Ø  Duke beat Yale by 19 late last year but that was in Cameron with Amile Jefferson. (Suggestion: Please use the 1-3-1 again but with Brandon not on top some of the time.)

Ø  The “Hate Duke” journalistic campaign has reached an absurd crescendo. The Wall Street Journal: “The Complicated Politics of Hating Duke” by a UNC grad; The Washington Post: “The Mount Rushmore of hated Duke players” with pictures; Fox Sports:  “Duke vs. Yale is the worst. Who do you possibly root for?”; Yahoo: “Love Duke? Hate Duke? How do Americans really feel?”  And those are just the articles I stumbled upon.

Next Game: Yale Saturday 2:40 CBS

Alan Adds:

Before the UNC-W game, I texted Bill as follows:  2012 – Lehigh; 2014 – Mercer; 2016 – ?.  What was different?  I watched this game!  I now must admit that for the combined reasons of lascivious activity and overconfidence, I did not watch either the Lehigh or Mercer games.  (My apologies, Coach K; won’t happen again!).  Wilmington played well and was justly praised by Coach K, who pointed out how together Wilmington played and that as double champions of their league (regular season and tournament) a game like this is “what the NCAA tournament is all about.”  Duke gave up 43 points in the first half and 42 in the closing stanza.  Not good defense in either half.  But Duke scored 53 in the second half (44 of those points coming from Marshall, 19 on 7-8 from the field and 5-6 from the line; Grayson 16 including 10-11 from the line — to go with 7 boards (in the half), and 3 assists; and Brandon, 9.  In the second half, Matt scored 5 while Chase (2-2 from the line) and Derryck, who made his only shot on a circus drive, each scored 2.

Coach K said he thought Duke was nervous as the game opened and that Wilmington played harder than Duke in the first half, but not in the second half.  Coach K said that Duke had two of the nation’s most talented players in Grayson and Brandon, but Marshall was most important to the team.  “When he plays well, we have a chance to win; when he just plays ok, we do not.”  He played just ok in the first half, but did transform at half time (the turning point in the game was Marshall taking the mask off). Marshall has to learn not to pace himself, said Coach K.  He did not yesterday.  After his team transforming outburst in the first three minutes of the second half, he asked to sub out of the game.  Coach K said that is the first time all year he has done so.  He played 29 minutes before fouling out with a gaudy stat line and increased stature.  Coach K also pointed out that he could rest Marshall because of Chase’s development.  “Until 3 or 4 weeks ago, when Marshall came out there was a void.  But in the last 3-4 weeks Chase has been filling that void.  Duke is better because Chase gives Marshall adequate back up for a few minutes at a time.  Chase played 11 minutes, scoring 5 (1-1 from the field), but going 1-3 from the line in the first half (2-2 at crunch time in the closing session).  He had 2 boards and a block.

Grayson played the entire game (minus a few seconds at the end) contributing an amazing 10 boards and 5 assists (worth repeating) to go with his 15-17 from the line.  In short, Grayson is astounding even when he does not shoot well (4-12 from the field and 0-4 from behind the arc).  His speed is amazing.  Dribbling with the ball he was outdistancing pursuing defenders while shredding the press.  Brandon played just as well even though his stats were less gaudy (5-10 from the foul line).  In 39 minutes he was 7-12 from the field (1-2 from deep) to go with 9 boards (1 more than Marshall and 1 less than Grayson), 3 assists and 2 blocks.  He has become a reliable defender.  Coach K pointed out that when Brandon has not played well it is because he is in foul trouble.  ACC teams posted him up when Duke was defending, in the attempt to get him in foul trouble.  Wilmington played four guards and could not do that.  Brandon was superb overall with 10 points in the first half and 9 in the second.

Coach K lauded Derryck because of his ball handling against the Wilmington press.  In 24 minutes he scored 5, had 2 assists against a single turnover and had a key block.  Coach K made what I thought was a telling point — Brandon, Derryck and Chase are still only 18 years old.  Each is getting better, but they (and Duke) are very young.  He pointed out that Duke won because of the 23 year old (Marshall).  Duke had only 10 turnovers and kept driving and getting fouled; that is what eventually won the game.  A concern going forward is the play of Luke Kennard.  After a scoreless game against Notre Dame, he had a scoreless second half in this one.  In 18 first half minutes he scored all 5 of his points (2-7 from the field; 1-2 from deep without getting to the foul line).  In the second half, he played 12 minutes and missed both of his shots.  Duke needs him to break out of his slump because when he has been good, he has been very good.

Yale beat Baylor (as I predicted); they are a better basketball team, even if Baylor had better athletes, and perhaps even better basketball players.  I dug out what I had written after Duke beat Yale in November (when Duke had Amile and Yale had its starting point guard and captain, no longer in school or on the team), “If you love the game of basketball, it was hard not to completely admire Yale’s opening salvo against Duke at Cameron.  The Bulldogs simply played beautiful basketball in carving up the Duke man to man defense.  It could have been an offensive coaching clinic (with Duke defenders playing the role of the Washington Generals!).”    Duke could not keep Mason out of the paint (Neither could Baylor; Mason scored 31 yesterday), and so played a lot of 1-3-1 with Brandon on top, Amile in the middle and Marshall under the basket.  Both teams are quite different now.  It should be an interesting game.  A Duke win and a berth in the Sweet 16 would be very satisfying.

DUKE 71 – YALE 64 

This game was a microcosm of the season in forty minutes. When these Blue Devils are playing good defense, they play good offense and can beat anyone. But when they are not playing good defense, they can lose to anyone. In the first twenty minutes Grayson Allen almost outscored Yale by himself as Duke shot threes (9-15) like the Golden State Warriors and took a 48-23 lead into the locker room. In the second half, the Blue Devils understandably went to their “prevent offense” meant to protect their lead by taking time off the clock and limiting Yale’s possessions and probability to close the gap. The unintended consequence was that their defensive metabolism also slowed down and Yale, to their credit, took advantage, started making plays, and became energized—as did the Providence pro Yale crowd.

Holy Collapse, Dickie V! This is how close the game became: Duke’s enormous lead shrunk to 7 with twelve minutes left and to 3 with thirty-nine seconds left. However,  Coach K did his Hall-of-Fame best to rally his team, finally even succumbing to a modified 1-3-1 zone with Brandon on top. It created some consternation for the Bulldog offense and resulted in a few critical turnovers—all of which somewhat neutralized Yale’s offensive momentum. The bottom line is that the young guns –Ingram, Allen, Kennard, plus grey beard Plumlee (10 rebounds & 5 blocks) made offensive and defensive plays and free throws (14-16 for the game) to save an embarrassing collapse that, undoubtedly, would live in CBS/NCAA video loop history as a “not-so-shining moment” counter balance to Laettner’s iconic “one shining moment” shot against Kentucky.

The good news is that instead of cruising to a lopsided victory and thinking they were channeling last year’s team NCAA Tournament success, the players are reminded once again that in order to beat top teams, they must play defense most of the forty minutes at efficient, full speed not cruise control. The inconsistency of winning the first half 48-25 and losing the second half 23-39 is the reason Notre Dame beat them in the ACC Tournament and that UNC-Wilmington beat them by three in the first half of the first round. In addition, experiencing the pressure of the game being on the line in the last minutes with the crowd roaring for an opponent team is a priceless, coming-of-age experience for all the young players. Sophomore Grayson Allen with 29, freshman Brandon Ingram with 25 and freshman Luke Kennard with 13, scored 67 of Duke’s 71 points. Freshman Thornton contributed 2 points, 5 assists &  1 steal and Chase Jeter 2 rebounds, 1 block. The Blue Devils needed all of it.

A teachable moment best burned into a players hard drive.

Other Thoughts:

  • After practice Friday Coach John Scheyer had Brandon Ingram, who went 5-10 the day before, shoot 100 free throw. He hit 67 in a row before missing one.
  • Miami, DukeVirginiaand North Carolina all won on Saturday, giving the ACC four teams in the Sweet Sixteen with the potential to add Syracuse and Notre Dame, who play Sunday, to that group. As a league, the ACC is 10-1 in the NCAA Tournament through Saturday’s games. If you go back to the start of the 2015 tournament, the ACC is 27-6 with one national title thanks to Duke’s win in Indianapolis. Miami, DukeVirginia and North Carolina all won on Saturday, giving the ACC four teams in the Sweet Sixteen with the potential to add Syracuse and Notre Dame, who play Sunday, to that group.
  • This was a record 90th tournament victory for Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. In addition, he has 30 tournament appearances, 5 national championships, back-to-back titles in 1991 & 1992, 12 Final Fours, 66 tournament wins, and a .776 winning percentage.  Not a bad resume.

Next game: Winner  #1 Oregon – St. Joe

Alan Adds:

Duke has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with wins over the 13th seed and the 12th seed; neither of them easy.   In fact, for Duke fans the second half against Yale was excruciating.  Consider that at the 16:29 mark, Duke led 54-32 lead on a tip in by Brandon.  Only 4 minutes later (with 11: 17 left), Duke still had 54, but Yale had cut the lead to 7 (54-47).   Duke stopped the bleeding for a while.  Back in November, Duke had overcome Yale when it unveiled a 1-3-1 zone with Brandon at the top (But with Amile and Marshall also in the zone), which completely flummoxed the Bulldogs then.  With the man to man defense suddenly dramatically ineffective, Coach K went back to the 1-3-1 with Brandon at the top.  It stabilized the game and kept Duke’s lead around 3 possessions.  Coach K praised Brandon’s defense in the zone as “magnificent”.  He shaded Mason and caused Yale’s confusion.  He got deflections. “You can’t practice against that zone unless you have someone with a 7’3” wingspan at the top”, said Coach K.  Coach K’s insight was Duke’s seemingly efficient man to man defense in the first half was “fool’s gold”.  Their very good shooters were simply missing open shots.  They didn’t miss those shots in the second half.  Coach K had trepidations at the end of the first half when he saw the intensity drain from Duke for the last few minutes (Yale scored 6 at the end of the first half).  Grayson hit another 3, and Coach K described him as looking and being in la-la land after it.  He was so success-smitten that he didn’t know who he was guarding (giving up the points) and then committed a very stupid foul.   Coach K described that as “playing young”.

Yale wasn’t giving up.  Coach K was thoughtful about the tournament and the game.  Paraphrasing what he said: The tournament is crazy.  Look at all the upsets.  It is the mind set of every underdog that miracles happen.  We can make one happen too.  Teams never give up because of the  belief they too can create the miracle.  That mindset, he said, actually does produce miracles and it is what makes the tournament so magnificent.   It is the players’ and team’s efforts that are not less than magnificent.  You don’t face this during the year.  He pointed out the attitude produces not only miracles but tough responses, which came from his Duke team yesterday.

THE MOMENT:  With 41 seconds to go and Duke leading by 6, Kennard fouled Sears, who made the first one.  He missed the second but Yale got the tip in (Sherrard got credit, but Marshall actually tipped it).  Yale was under the limit and so had to foul in order to send Duke to the line.  With 39 seconds to go, Brandon stepped to the line for a one and one.  If he missed, Yale would have the ball with a chance to tie.  At the press conference, Brandon was asked what was going through his mind as he stepped to the line.  “My mind just went back to practice.  Coach Scheyer made me shoot 100 free throws after practice on the court after I had gone 5-10 against Wilmington.  He told me that it was likely I would be there at the end of close games.”  Brandon made 67 in a row before he missed in practice.  He made both in the game, and Yale never again was within one possession of the tie.   “Keep listening to Coach Scheyer”, said Coach K as the student athletes left the press conference.

The second half was excruciating because the Duke offense fell apart.  Neither Marshall (0 shots), Derryck (0-2), Matt (0-2) nor Chase (0 shots) scored in the second half.  Luke did not have a field goal (0-2), though he made 2 crucial foul shots down the stretch.  Grayson only took 4 shots in the half (2-4; 1-2 from deep) and made 2 crucial foul shots to ice the game for 7 points.  The offense was all Brandon.  Duke was 6-22 from the field; Brandon was 4-13 (1-4 from deep, but what a one it was!)  and 5-7 from the line for 14 second half points.  He is something!  Both he and Grayson played 40 minutes; Luke 38.  Marshall played 31 and Chase the rest, but Duke had only 2 points from the center position.  Matt had a subpar offensive game, playing only 20 minutes and failing to score (0-4; 0-2 from deep) before fouling out.  However, he and Derryck played savage defense against Yale’s star, Mason, who had scored 31 against Baylor.  Derryck played 23 minutes of valuable basketball.  Mason was held to 8 points (2-12) though he passed like a master to keep the Yale offense moving.  Derryck was 1-2 for 2 points, but his real value was as a ball handler.  He handed out 5 assists against only a single turnover.  He is growing, and at just the right time.  So is Chase.

This was a positive experience for Duke in my opinion.  There is no way to simulate in practice the pressure of a game like this.  Grayson said, “We faced this in the Notre Dame game when we lost a 16 point lead.  We didn’t come together then.  Tonight we knew we had to keep our poise and we came together.”

Next game is Thursday evening in Anaheim in the Sweet 16.

DUKE 68– OREGON 82 

Full disclosure: The fact that my wife not only went to the University of Oregon but also was a cheerleader and is my proof reader had no influence on what I am about to write. Oregon was the deeper, more athletic team with Casey Benson, a terrific point guard (8 assists, 1 turnover,  2 threes to jump start the second half) and a rare combination of vertical and lateral defensiveness. They played at the top of their game and that had a lot to do why Duke did not. Nothing demonstrated  this more than these two events: Plumlee committing two unnecessary fouls in the first five minutes and then with only nine seconds left in the game and the shot clock  about to run out, for the second time  guard  Dillon Brooks just casually threw up a prayer that went in. It was that kind of game, much like the 2011 Sweet Sixteen when Derrick Williams and Arizona’s seldom seen West Coast players showed the country how good they were. Only this time, it seemed like there several Derrick Williams playing for Oregon. Duke was playing catch-up the whole game and never really did. It was not Duke’s night. They shot 32% from three point land vs. 44% for Oregon.

The Blue Devils played hard but Oregon had the talent and the savvy to exploit the Duke weaknesses and negate their strengths. It is no surprise that tonight youth and defense were the Blue Devil’s Achilles Heel. The Ducks had 22 assists to Duke’s 10 and limited Duke to 26 for 59 from the floor. Ingram and Kennard, who had a 13 & 11 double-double, had good games but Jones and Allen did not. Jeter and Thornton played freshman nervous. Watching the game slip away reminded me how much the team and the coaching staff have accomplished this difficult year. As a famous military leader once said, “You fight a war with the army you have, not the one you wished you had,” and when Jefferson was injured, this became a team with very little margin for error. Nevertheless, the team won many more battles than they lost.

The  Duke player who had the best night was Jim Spanarkel, the very knowledgeable and informative game announcer and former All American. Unfortunately, he graduated in 1979.  I cannot say the same for veteran announcer Verne Lundquist, who along with his producers continued the practice of showing Grayson Allen’s two tripping infractions without putting them into any context of the treatment Grayson receives from defenders. To be more fair, they could also include a clip of Louisville’s Jaylen Johnson  swinging an elbow and hitting  Grayson flush in the jaw, bloodying his mouth. Then, after the whistle had blown, Johnson started punching wildly at him defenseless on the floor. But why be fair when perpetuating a media narrative?  To add  currency to the  “most hated Duke player” designation, Verne made a gratuitous comment about an obviously disappointed Grayson not having any of Dillon Brooks (after making a long, unguarded three as the game ended) attempting a mocking celebratory hug as the game ended. Usually, a player hugs a teammate to celebrate.

Alan Adds:

It was obvious, and Coach K stressed it in his postgame press conference, Oregon was simply the much better team last night.  Not only did Oregon shred the Duke defense, which was fatally wounded by Marshall’s first offensive foul within the game’s first minute and subsequent second foul with 14:37 left to play, but the Oregon defense was exceptional.  It was the Oregon interior defense that thwarted Duke’s best drives and allowed the perimeter defense to concentrate on Duke’s outside shooters.  Coach K said Oregon moved both laterally and straight up and down.  “You think you are open for the score, and they are there to block or alter the shot.”  He wished Duke had played better, “but Oregon didn’t let us play better.”

Even so, as the game came down to it, Duke made one last gallant gasp and reduced the margin to 10 when Brandon launched a three that rimmed out.  Coach K said had that 3 gone in and reduced the lead to 7, you never know what might have happened.  One should point to Luke’s great rebounding game, leading Duke with 11 (Marshall had only 5).  Brandon was heroic scoring 24 points, but took 20 shots to do it, and might have taken on more than he should have when Duke was trying to claw back.  Both he and Grayson played 40 minutes; Luke played 38.  Matt again failed to score until the game was well out of reach and virtually over, when he hit a pair of 3s, each reducing the Oregon lead to 13.  But, Matt didn’t score in the entire tournament until he hit one with 3:31 left and one with 2:47 left.  He simply was not the same player in the second half of the year.

Coach K said (and I wholeheartedly agree) that this season was a great, great— not just good — season.   After Amile was lost for the year, Duke could have failed to make the tournament.  But instead, the Devils “fought like crazy” and ran an incredible gauntlet that Coach K said transformed his team.  Duke beat Louisville, Virginia and UNC before losing to Louisville on the road, a gauntlet “ that made us.  But, it also knocked us back.”  Duke won 25 games and made the Sweet 16 with a flawed team that was decimated by Amile’s injury.  While Marshall had a subpar game last night (5 points, 5 rebounds and 0-2 from the line), Marshall’s development made the season.  “No kid improved in one year like he did in my 36 years of coaching.  There is no way we have this terrific year without him.”

Brandon was asked about his position in the draft.  He said he wasn’t even thinking about that.  He’s thinking about finishing school and being with his teammates (brothers he loves).  He said he had an amazing freshman year, coached by a great coach and playing with awesome teammates.  He refused to address the question.  Coach K was asked about his transition to coaching the Olympic team.  He said he still had much to do with this team, helping his players to the next step, whether it was from freshman to sophomore, to what Brandon will do, and to helping Marshall adjust to military life as Coach K did when he was graduated from The Point.

It was a wonderful Duke season, and so much fun for me to write about and share with everyone.  After the tournament concludes, we will do a season finale.

Assessing 2015-16 and Salivating over 2016-17

When I emailed Bill about the logistics for our final edition of this year’s DBP, he responded, “I am all B-Balled out. I left it all on the court.”  I, of course, knew he must have meant the tennis court at Duke in 1960, when we heartbreakingly lost the intramural doubles championship in the finals.  And he might have!  In any event, we have reversed the order because of his fatigue, with Bill concluding with a “Bill Adds”.

Objectively, Duke’s season does not seem as sparkling as had been hoped for when the season began.  The indisputable fact is that Amile’s season ending injury on December 12, 2015 transferred Duke’s national championship aspirations from this past season to next season.  Duke was 8-1, with the team being built around Amile.  Coach K was experimenting with Amile and four guards, limiting Marshall’s playing time to the least of all the starters.  In his last game, Amile had 8 assists from the post.   Although Amile’s injury ended Duke’s national aspirations — we didn’t know that because there was always the tantalizing prospect of Amile’s return to plug the obvious holes in Duke’s roster — the end of national title aspirations is not the prime factor in evaluating the 2015-16 season.  Though Duke finished 6th in the ACC regular season, lost in the quarter-finals of the ACC tournament and dropped out of the top 25 for the first time in almost a decade, I believe this was a remarkably successful season, which turned out to be one of Coach K’s most remarkable coaching jobs.  This roster-thin team beat two #1 NCAA seeds, made the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance, making all Duke fans proud with this team’s grit and determination.  For me, the season is epitomized by the development of the play, grit and leadership skills of Marshall Plumlee after Amile went down.  He led by fierce example even when overmatched in skill level.  He dramatically raised his skill level.  Though others had more natural talent and skill, by season’s end, Marshall was the acknowledged leader, who was both the most important and the most valuable player on the team.  Duke died in the elite 8 when Marshall got into early foul trouble because Marshall could no longer protect the rim unabashedly.  We will all remember the season that he gave us for a long time.  Nowhere was Duke’s grit and determination on more magnificent display than the stretch of games after Duke lost 4 out of 5 league games between January 13 and January 25 (lost to Clemson, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Miami).  Duke then faced a gauntlet of games against top rated teams.  It was here Duke transformed and turned into a completely lovable team to be admired.  In the next two weeks (February 6 to 20) Duke beat NC State, Louisville, Virginia and Carolina (in the Dean Dome) before losing a heartbreaker to Louisville at Louisville.  I think that stretch took a lot out of Duke for the remainder of the season, but it was a stretch of which to be to be enormously proud.

We were privileged to watch Grayson develop into a star of the highest magnitude.  I guess that means that the recruiting class of Okafor, Jones, Winslow and Allen was a pretty good one.  This year’s class — Brandon, Luke, Derryck and Chase — was overhyped as a # 1 recruiting class.   Brandon’s rise to stardom from his early season games was as wonderfully remarkable as Grayson’s rise from 8th man who averaged 4.4 ppg to 3rd team All-American.  Amile’s injury made Brandon learn to play a tough inside rebounding game.  It was satisfying to watch his growth and how Coach K coached him.  We also were privileged to watch the first year of Luke Kennard’s career at Duke, which I predict will be noteworthy.  My guess is he will be a four year guy, who will continue to develop consistency with his overall game.  His shooting, while good, was inconsistent from game to game.  However he proved he can handle, defend, rebound and pass.  Neither Thornton nor Jeter lived up to the pre-season hype.  Jeter was a McDonald’s All American.  When Thornton reclassified, he was highly rated in his new class.  Duke just announced that Thornton is transferring.  He has said he wants to play closer to home.    I believe that he knows that Jackson is the point guard who will take his playing time.

Matt started off very efficiently, but tailed off consistently.  He logged heavy minutes as the team’s best defender and most reliable player.  I thought he began to tire and his statistics dipped.  Then he injured first one ankle and then the other.  This led to a real decline in his play and made the Duke roster seem even thinner when he stopped scoring.  He will be anxious to rebound next year.  Sean Obi turned out to be a major disappointment; it is up in the air whether this was caused by bad knees or there is such a difference in the level of competition between Conference USA and the ACC.  Obi started 30 games for Rice in 2013-14 where he averaged over 11 ppg and 9 boards before transferring and sitting out the 2014-15 season.  But he practiced with the team and was thought to compete for a starting job.  Antonio Vrankovich was not expected to play and did not as was true for the Admiral’s son, Justin.  This leaves Duke with an interesting problem for next year, to be discussed in a moment, or might have been solved with the late breaking news today.

For me, the bottom line is that this team faced an amazing set of obstacles and demonstrated a spirit that made me (us) adopt this team as special.  And now for next year.

Duke loses Brandon to the NBA and Marshall to the Army, but brings in another loaded recruiting class.  Next year’s freshmen are going to be much more like the incoming class of 2014-15 than this year.  Here’s the lineup that has coaches and fans salivating for next year.  Like the Okafor, Jones, Winslow class, these freshman have all played together as integral parts of the under 19 USA winning Basketball teams.  Harry Giles was the #1 rated player in the class as a 6’10” power forward or center.  He tore his ACL in the first minutes of the first game of the season this year.  He immediately transferred from Oak Hill back home and commenced his rehab at Duke hospital with the Duke staff.  He was named to the USA team in the Nike Hoop Summit played last night even though he is not yet ready to play.  That says something about how he is perceived in USA Basketball.  His running buddy is Jayson Tatum, a 6’8” scoring machine, who is a wing forward but can play the power forward if necessary.  He doesn’t have Brandon’s wing span and upside potential, but he could be just as good.  I watched him have two rather mediocre games — both last night and in the McDonald’s game — but am convinced he is the real deal.  I loved his passing and his defense (he’s a ball hawk in the passing lanes).  He has no ego.  When a teammate got hot from 3land, Jayson got him the ball on almost every possession with really slick passes.

Frank Jackson, a 6’4” combo guard also impressed me.  He won the slam dunk contest and was co-MVP in the McDonald’s game.  He went scoreless from the field last night for USA (0-6), scoring a single point, but had 3 assists and ran the team efficiently.  I loved his defense as well (not something usually on display in all-star games).  Last year, a friend who had watched the Peachtree game and practices before the season started last year told me that Derryck was very overrated but that Jackson was the real deal.  That is 3 players in the top 10.  In addition, Duke brings in #17 a 6’8” power forward from Charlottesville, Javin DeLaurier and 6’7” small forward from Australia, Jack White.  And there is one more tantalizing possibility — Marques Bolden, 6’10” center, who is rated as one of the top post players in the class (he looked very mediocre last night) has narrowed his choice to Duke or Kentucky.  Should he choose Duke, that would make an amazing class even stronger.  The problem that I alluded to above is that Duke had already given out its full allotment of  13 scholarships, however with Thornton’s announcement that he is transferring Duke will be able to accommodate Bolden if he chooses Duke.

I look forward to next year for a whole host of reasons.  Most importantly, I love writing these and especially love the enduring connection that our project fosters between Bill and me.  Damn! I wish we had won that intramural doubles final.

Bill adds:

Actually, what I felt  was that it had been a long season and I was B-Balled out. Emotionally, I left it all on the floor of the Final Four and was focused on The Masters Tournament, which is visually really is “like no other”. The finish of the Villanova-North Carolina game was just fantastic. I  loved the way Villanova peaked in the final two games, beating two more talented. And Marcus Paige has always been one of my favorite non-Duke players. Inexplicably, his three point shot has been on vacation for almost two years. Nevertheless, his court intelligence, savvy, and defense made him an invaluable teammate. Then, in the last five minutes of his last collegiate game, he was the Marcus Paige of old– shooting daggers and taking names at closing time. The degree of difficulty of his last shot should have counted double. However, Kris Jenkins  trumped his three and Marcus’ shot will be but a footnote unless you have the Washington Post picture of Paige double clutching in mid-flight as he was releasing the ball.

So, Alan went solo on the wrap-up. I did tape the Nike Summit but after a few minutes lost interest because these events are essentially unstructured pick-up games of would-be lottery picks.  I’m old school and cannot get as excited with potential one-and-doner’s as I can about players like Grant, Shane, JJ, Nolan, Marshall, and Grayson, who stay and play. That brings me to Derryck Thornton, who is transferring “to be closer to home” as if Duke had just moved to Europe. And now Mark Edwards, identified as his Uncle and/or trainer is tweeting with Donald Trumpian frequency alerting the social media world that you can’t trust the Duke coaches, they misled and lied to Derryck about what kind of offense would be run and on and on. Anyone with even a casual knowledge of Coach K knows he runs a Darwinian System and promises recruited players nothing except the opportunity to compete for playing time (ref. Kris Humphries and father’s brief career at Duke). Everyone should take a deep breath and read Al Featherston’s articles in Monday and Tuesday’s Duke Basketball Report.com to track the careers of those players who have transferred from Duke. Here’s the wake-up call: Not every high school hot shot is going to be drafted or  play in the NBA—or even be  a star in college.

But I digress. Make no mistake, as Alan previews so thoroughly, next year shapes up to be one of  justified high expectations and I look forward to it—in the Fall. But I’m not going to fall in love with any of the new players until they stay more than one year.

Let me  close by saying how much satisfaction it gives us—despite a lack of leadership from the Broadhead administration– to share our pride in Duke and enthusiasm for Duke Basketball with all of you and reiterate why we feel as we do and do what we do:

The mission of pursuing excellence in both academics and athletics has been the goal of the university virtually since its inception–certainly since Eddie Cameron was athletic director. It has been a significant reason why Duke University has been and is such 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 also a major reason Duke is viewed as an elite university. It is not just that his and other teams won, it was the way they have won and the kind of players with whom they have won– and graduated.  Not to accept this legacy and not to celebrate and nurture it would be a terrible mistake.

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 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, which was, at the time, the second largest basketball area (next to the Palestra in Philadelphia) in the East. Fortunately, the legendary Dick Groat matriculated shortly thereafter and a great basketball tradition was established.

Legend has it that after Princeton University turned down his offer of a very generous bequest, James Buchannan  Duke endowed Trinity College with $40,000 (over $500,000 in today’s dollars) . 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, developing a world class medical school and hospital, then building  nationally ranked football and basketball teams (not to mention golf, lacrosse, track, and baseball) were the lynch pins of the meteoric rise of Duke University as an elite institution. It could not have happened without all of these elements –and it cannot maintain that unique status without preserving a dual excellence in both academics and athletics.

 

Duke Basketball Playbook: 2016-17 Season

It’s a sign of the new normal (drop-by basketball athlete-student era) when a team with only one experienced upper classman and a bench full of highly recruited but unproved freshmen can be ranked #1 in the Coach’s Preseason Poll. How many times have these coaches seen this team play?  Nada, Zilch, None. This poll is virtually meaningless, except its Duke, Coach K, and a squad full of highly pursued freshmen. Speaking of highly rated freshmen—Dean Smith called them “prospects”– remember Cris Burgess, Joey Beard, and last year’s for sure lottery picks Harry Giles and Marques Bolden? No? That’s because they rarely contributed. BTW, how many Division I offers did Stephan Curry receive? My point is these are teenagers, who knows how they will turn out? And as talented and impressive as Jayson Tatum was from day one, it took until the ACC tournament before he could consistently contribute on a championship level for an entire game at both ends of the floor. Three other notes of caution: Duke’s best teams have always had senior leadership, this team will start only one upper classman–Grayson Allen, and the last two NCAA Champions, North Carolina and Villanova, had no starting one-and-done players.

There are also the three unknowable caveats: chemistry, injuries, and luck. Unlike other years, a Duke injury would be less devastating than say the previous years, but lack of chemistry and bad luck are random, heartbreaking decrees of the basketball gods.

OK, enough with the disclaimers. Now the good news: Count your blessings and enjoy the journey Duke fans, we have seen this team play in exhibitions and it really is impressively big, athletic, talented, and deep. So, the early hype may well be justified.

What to look for:

A big, stronger, deeper Duke team—especially in the front court—but not the typical perimeter oriented three point shooting Blue Devil team. The size of the players should shrink the court and make an opponent’s interior scoring more difficult than in recent years. One thing we do know for sure: Coach K will build the team around his talent, not force a one size fits all system on the talent.

I suspect that a lot of what this team achieves, revolves around the production of Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, and Trevon Duval. Allen is the only senior and if he plays well, the younger players will respect his experience, his seniority, and follow his lead. If not, all bets are off. I have always thought that Grayson was one of the program’s most talented and intriguing players. Certainly, his game changing ten minutes in the second half of the 2015 NCAA Championship as well as his sophomore year confirmed that assessment. Last year, under the pressure of pre-season Player-of-the Year predictions combined with a series of nagging but not debilitating injuries led to a few unfortunate, immature, non-lethal retaliations, the constant re-running and public discussion of which might have crushed the spirit and psyche of a lesser man. Grayson is a 3.8 student who could gone pro after his sensational sophomore year and was on track to graduate in three years. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that he really loves being at Duke, he chose not to leave and is one of today’s rare four-year college stars. Over the summer, Grayson had an operation on his injured foot and followed Coach K’s advice not to touch a basketball for three months. At the recent Midnight Madness, Grayson appeared happy, carefree, and obviously healthy as he hit four threes in the abbreviated scrimmage, won the slam dunk contest by jumping over two cheerleaders– and a third straight Iron Duke award for strength and conditioning in the offseason. All this plus the fact that Coach obviously believes in him—he’s the only team captain—is enough for me to believe he is primed for an outstanding year.

Point guard. Coach K was a point guard at Army. He recruits and is most comfortable structuring his teams to play with a strong point. History tells us that it is hard to win the NCAA Championship without a really good player running the offense (i.e. Bobby Hurley, Tyus Jones) and he appears to have one in the very athletic, multi-skilled 6’3” Trevon Duval. Krzyzewski: “I do know that Trevon is going to have the ball and he knows what to do with it. Will he have it all the time? No, he shouldn’t have it all the time. Will he have it a lot? Yeah.” Trevon is physically more gifted than either Hurley or Jones. Whether he is as mentally gifted and will be as good in the clutch is another question. If he is, this team will be as formidable as advertised.

The Blue Devils are loaded with front court players: Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, and Antonio Vranikovic are all 6’10”, 235 lbs. and over. Because Coach K likes to put the most versatile and complete players on the floor, I suspect he will start a lineup that features Marvin Bagley, the most highly rated, and Carter down low with Duval and Allen at guard, and Gary Trent at small forward. However, depending upon performance and the competition, we will see various combinations with Bolden, DeLaurier, O’Connell, and perhaps Tucker or White getting serious minutes until Coach K settles on the rotation that may be deeper than we are used to and for which some fans pray. Whatever, Coach K has won more Championships than all of us—even more than any active college or professional coach.

Other Comments:

The University of North Carolina has always been one of my favorite schools. I have a number of prep school classmates and other friends who went there. I love the campus, the logo, the colors, the way Dean and Roy teams play. Truly, what’s not to like? That’s why I had a hard time believing the academic scandal until it was an undeniable truth, which was devastating—no required class attendance, papers written by tutors, grading by a non-professor basketball junkie..…When the toothless NCAA recently gave them a pass, the print and social media exploded:

  • “North Carolina never got its day of reckoning for facilitating the most widespread academic scandal in the history of college sports. North Carolina’s basketball program was never going to get the harsh punishment that many college basketball fans thought it deserved.
  • “How in the hell did North Carolina get away with this?”
  • “The NCAA did not dispute that the University of North Carolina was guilty of running one of the worst academic fraud schemes in college sports history, involving fake classes that enabled dozens of athletes to gain and maintain their eligibility.”
  • “The school acknowledged that the classes that were taken were essentially bankrupt of any kind of teaching, learning or supervision … but that was perfectly OK with them. To defend the basketball team, the university had to claim it wasn’t really a university. Sure, they took a shotgun to their academic credibility, but, hey, those championship banners get to stay. The truth is, alums probably care more about hoops anyway.”
  • “What’s stopping a school from setting up a similar “paper course” and making sure it’s open to all students, then sending athletes through it?”
  • “even the most ardent Tar Heel should be outraged by the fraud the university committed

Alan Adds:

There are barriers to our enjoyment of the 2017-2018 season that I want to address.  The first barrier is the pre-season hype that had Duke #1 in the pre-season polls.  The second is, in my opinion, underappreciating last year’s team.  There are a multitude of satisfactions for Duke fans besides the NCAA tournament.  I also caution against an analogy of this year’s team to the 2015 National Championship team because of each’s heralded freshman class.

2016-2017

Duke fans assess last year’s team (also pre-season # 1) as “disappointing”.  I believe a more proper assessment would be that the 2016-17 Blue Devils were heroic, and deserve far more appreciation than has been given.  Duke’s # 1 pre-season last year was largely based on yet another highly rated freshman class – Giles, Tatum, Bolden and Jackson – plus the return of Allen after his sensational sophomore year.  Duke also had returning stars like Kennard, Jefferson and Matt Jones.  Javin DeLaurier was a freshman athlete who would add depth.  However, it did not work out.  Giles, Bolden, and DeLaurier contributed very little because of (hopefully) health issues.  Grayson self-destructed.  Coach K had surgery.  Tatum was hurt early.  Remember Jefferson’s amazing offensive start before he was hurt.  Thankfully, it was not season ending as his 2016 injury had been, but though he returned and played well, he was never the same offensive player as he had been in the early season.  So, the pre-season team that had so much talented depth turned out to have a rotation that was only 6 deep and without a real point guard.  Players logged very heavy minutes all season long.  Duke had a “disappointing” 28-9 record and heroically won the ACC tournament in unprecedented fashion by winning four games in four nights (would most schools celebrate such a season?).  It was a great season to that point!  Then came the meltdown against South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA.  One bad (really bad) half; Duke was ahead at the break, but gave up 65 second half points and simply and finally ran out of gas.  That half should not tarnish what was, in my opinion, a wonderful year for Duke basketball because it demonstrated what is the true Blue Devil value – never-say-die heart and competitive spirit.  It will remain one of my favorite Duke teams.

2015 compared to 2017-18

The four freshmen on the National Championship team – Tyus, Justice Jahlil and Grayson — were, of course, the tournament stars. But, that team had veterans that played significant roles both on and off the court.  Quinn Cook’s leadership is on point.  He moved over from point guard, was the team ambassador to the freshmen from day one, and provided solid on the court leadership at crunch time.  His off the court attitude cannot be overestimated.  Ditto for Amile and Matt.  This team has only Grayson for guidance.  Justin Robinson has, according to reports, been valuable in team building, but the elder statesmen who taught and bonded with the freshmen in 2014-15 do not really exist for this team.  Highly rated (out of high school) Marques Bolden, thought about transferring after his disappointing freshman year, but bravely elected to return, expecting to go to the NBA next year.  Other returners are less likely to make K’s usually short rotation.  Leadership may have to come from other sources.

The reason for the 2017-18 #1 pre-season ranking is four of the top rated eight freshman (ESPN) will play for Duke.  Marvin Bagley signed late and was able to reclassify from 2018 to current eligibility.  He is 6’11” versatile player, who has been described as the best high school prospect since LeBron James. Chemistry!  What will his late signing do to Bolden’s psyche because it just might have pushed him out of the starting lineup.  Duke also signed the top-rated point guard, Trevon Duval.  I have not seen either Bagley or Duval play.  If he and Bagley are as advertised, it gives Duke a top and bottom on offense that should be formidable.  In addition, Duke had signed Wendell Carter (a 6’10” beast, whom I’ve seen play quite a few times).  He’s a stud inside, and a great athlete, who will be superb.  The fourth highly rated freshman is Gary Trent, Jr., a 6’5” swing man who is reputed to be a superb shooter.  He is very good, but not as elite as Carter, in my opinion.  The issues will be team chemistry and DEFENSE!  One of the reasons that the last two NCAA champions have had no “One and Done”s is that it takes time (years) to become a great defensive TEAM.  In 2015, Duke became that great defensive team in time for the NCAA tournament.  It was a turnaround – remember that while Duke won the National Championship that year, it did not win either the ACC regular season or tournament.  So, no doubt Duke has talent (top six plan to play in the NBA next year), but whether that talent coalesces into a great team remains to be seen.

The Backcourt

Grayson, Duval and Trent should get most of the minutes.  

Duke 93 NW Missouri State 60 (Exhibition game played Friday October 27)

Grayson was superb by all accounts, scoring 23 points (9-15; 5-10 from 3land but did not get to the line) in 26 minutes.  He had 5 defensive rebounds and 3 assists.  Duval and Gary Trent each played 21 minutes.  Duval got high grades for his defense and ball handling (held the NW Missou star to 3-14 shooting and had 2 steals to go with 5 assists against a single turnover).  Although he missed both of his 3s, Duval was otherwise 3-3 from the field for 7 points.  Trent shot lights out (as advertised) 7-9 from the field missing his only 2 3point attempts for 15 points.  Jordan Goldwire, a 4 star freshman point guard, brought in more as a practice player and second team point guard, played 16 minutes and Alex O’Connell, a 6’6” freshman shooter, played 14 undistinguished minutes.  Neither scored.

Blue-White game on October 20 (just one 20 minute half)

Grayson, Duval and Trent each played the full 20 minutes – Duval and Trent for the winning Blue team (43-41) and Grayson for the White team.  Trent and Grayson each scored 13 points.   Goldwire also played 20 minutes (3-6; 2-4 from deep for 8 points).  This means the other backcourt players – freshman Alex O’Connell (12 minutes — 8 points including the winning 3 at the buzzer) and Australian sophomore Jack White (6’7”; 14 minutes 6 rebounds) played on the wing.

The Front Court

Bagley, Carter and Bolden should be given most of the front court minutes.

Duke 93 – NW Missouri State 60 (Exhibition game played on Friday October 27)

Duke got big minutes out of the four front court players, who will, I predict, be in the rotation.  Marvin Bagley drew raves for his 23-minute performance scoring 16 on 6-10 shooting, including 1-2 from deep and 3-5 from the line.  He grabbed 6 boards and handed out 2 assists (3 turnovers).  The other starter was Wendell Carter, who also impressed.  In 18 scintillating minutes, he was 5-7 from the field (including 1-1 from deep) for 11 points to go with 9 rebounds.  Both Bolden and DeLaurier each also played 18 minutes and looked good.  Bolden scored 6 on 3-5 shooting, grabbing 5 boars.  De Laurier played great defense and was 4-4 from the field and 1-1 from the line for 9 points while grabbing 7 boards.  Vrankovich, 7 foot returning Junior, played 7 minutes while Justin Robinson played 8.

Blue-White game ( October 20th.  Just one 20 minute half)

Bagley and Bolden played all 20 minutes; Carter 17.  Vrankovich played 11 minutes scoring 4 points and grabbing 3 boards, while Javin DeLaurier, who has grown 2 inches to 6’10”, logged 15 minutes (9 boards!!; 3 points).  Justin Robinson played only 5 minutes; he will not be in the rotation.

Bagley drew raves in his 20 minutes (6-10; 0-1 from deep for 12 points to go with 4 boards).  Carter was a beast shooting 4-7; 1-2 from deep; 2-3 from the line for 11 points to go with 3 boards.  Bolden was less productive (2-6; 0-1 from deep; and 0-2 from the line for 4 points while grabbing 5 boards. DeLaurier’s 9 rebounds and overall athleticism was impressive.

Duke 88 – Michigan State 81

Holy Jim Boeheim, Batman! Coach K goes zone for a full forty minutes!

My old fraternity/basketball buddy Phil called from Florida today to say that he hadn’t been able see the team play and asked if are they really as good as Alan and I have written. After the game, he said he should never have doubted us. So far, this team has demonstrated the talent, resiliency, and, yes, maturity to overcome slow starts, opponent’s runs, and still finish strong. The good news is that J.J. Allen was sensational scoring 36 pts. ( 7-11 threes), the one at the buzzer to end the half put Duke up by four was from Steph Curry’s zip code. Then, with less than a minute remaining nailing a dagger of a three to put the Blue Devils up seven to close out the tough Spartans. The bad news is that Bagley left the game early in the first half because of an inadvertent finger to the eye, went to the locker room and after the half, returned to the bench but not the game. Other than that, the young Duke players responded admirably to the pressure of playing a more experienced, highly rated team in a not exactly friendly environment on national television with the added burden of being without their double-double big man for most of the game.

When was the last time a Duke team dominated the glass, winning the battle of the boards 46-34 (25 offensive rebounds) against a top five team? In a post- game interview, Grayson was asked how he had such a great game and he said: “Tre(von)”, his point guard, who had 17 points, 10 assists, and 6 steals. Gary  Trent had an off night (3-11), missing six threes. However, with four minutes remaining, he hit the three on a sweet assist from Allen that tied the score and fueled the winning run that closed out the game. If he had missed that shot, the result could have been different. Carter had a 12-12 double-double and off the bench DeLaurier was a real disrupter on defense with 4 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks. Marquis Bolden, however, did not take advantage of this opportunity for more playing time. Hopefully, it was a post strep infection funk.

The only obvious weakness of this team continues to be free throw shooting. Other than Grayson’s 8-8, the rest of the team shot Plumlee brother numbers– 50%. Giving up that many points in a close game can potentially jump up and bite this team in the loss column.

In the post-game interview Coach K said that he loves participating against top programs like Michigan State early in the year, because this is a Final Four type venue and either the moment or the other team can defeat you—a priceless experience for young players. Further, that Grayson has evolved from being a good shooter to being a great shooter. He had to learn to be a shooter, then a scorer. Earlier in his career, he spent too much time driving and getting knocked to the floor. However, he is in much better control now. “I felt like I was coaching J.J. Redick. You keep calling plays for him and they work. Grayson was fantastic tonight. Come on. He wasn’t good, he was fantastic.”  Grayson commented: “I’ve played in 90 more games than the four teammates that are out there with me. So I feel a little more comfortable and calm and confident out there.”

Other Comments:

  • This Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago was like a Final Four in November with Kansas beating Kentucky in the nightcap.
  • Tom Izzo is a great coach. However, he is now 1-11 against Coach K.
  • Before the game, Duke wore their “Equality” shirts, while Michigan State wore shirts that said “We talk, We listen.” Alan will have to explain what they mean.

Alan Adds: 

This game was, in my opinion, about the second half, so that is what I will write about. Coach K said, “We faced a lot of adversity against a great team and won a big game.  Not a bad night.”  The freshmen bigs were knocked back early in the game.  There were times when Duke played 4 guards and only one big.  Bagley was Duke’s third leading rebounder with 6 in only 10 minutes.

In the second half, Duke essentially played five players only.  Bolden, Vrankovich and Goldwire played 2 minutes each and O’Connell 1 without scoring a point.  Carter came out for 3 minutes as did DeLaurier.  Trent had a one minute breather.  DeLaurier and Trent played for over 9 minutes each with 4 fouls.  Grayson and Duval played the entire half (Grayson played all 40 minutes).  Allen (23), Duval (12) and Carter (10) scored 45 of Duke’s 50 second half points.  Trent’s 3, which broke a 75-75 tie and Javin’s layup for Duke’s last score after he stole the ball were Duke’s other 5 points. The Duke zone gave up 47 points in the furious second half.

In the second half, we finally got to see the real Wendell Carter Jr. with a double-double in just the second half alone — 10 very tough rebounds to go with 10 points [3-5 from the field and 4-6 from the line].  He also had committed 4 fouls by the end (all in the second half heroically battling the Spartan’s big front line).  He was the stud and beast that I have been describing.  Duval was a revelation.  He’s been really good throughout, but we could see him growing in confidence and efficiency in the second half.  He scored 12 on 5-11 from the field (0-1 from deep; 2-3 from the line), but he ran the team.  He had 6 second half assists against a single turnover.  On defense, he had 3 second half steals and a block.  Grayson was effusive in his praise of “Tre” after the game.  Duval has been transformative.  Finally, Grayson gave us a second half for the ages, scoring 23 points on 13 shots [8-13; 5-9 from deep and 2-2 from the line].  Duke was 8-11 from the line in the second half, which is an improvement over the first half and earlier games.

DeLaurier didn’t score until the end but he was sensational.  With Bolden still sick and Bagley out, DeLaurier was the other Duke big to team with Carter.  He had 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal.  He made the zone work (as much as it did in the second half) and cemented his place in the rotation.  Trent had a subpar game and yet made the play of the game with his only second half basket.  Duke won at what we call “winning time”.  The last minutes of the game.  With 4:12 to go, Duke trailed 75-73.  Carter tied it with a dunk on an offensive rebound after a Trent miss.  Then Grayson missed a three and DeLaurier got the rebound of the game, passed to Grayson who hit Trent for an open 3.  Coach K said that it took guts for Trent to hoist it up after such an awful shooting night.  Splash!  Duke led by 3 with 3:12 to go.  Then came the sequence of the game.  Bridges missed a three and DeLaurier rebounded.  Duval missed a layup; Javin got the offensive board, but missed a put back dunk.  Trent grabbed that offensive rebound and found Grayson for a contested 3.  Duke up 6 with 2:27 to go.  A flurry of misses by both teams before Grayson sealed it with a three with only 70 seconds remaining, putting Duke up 9, and essentially ending the Spartan hopes.

As Bill might say, “Holy Jim Boeheim, Batman, Duke played zone for the entire game (except for one possession).”  I wrote this before I got Bill’s first draft.  That’s a bit scary!  As for explaining the warm up shirts, I decline since I know my limits.

Coach K said he went to the zone because he was worried about Duke fouls.  Duke’s length made the zone work (especially in the first half) and allowed Duke to avoid having anyone foul out (it was close; the game ended with 3 Duke players with 4 fouls.).  Friday against Furman at home and then on to Portland for a three day; three game tournament in the Phil Knight Invitational.  Duke could face real competition in the second and third games.  First game against Portland State on November 23.

It was as Coach K predicted, “a hell of a night.”

 

 

 

 

Whetting the Whistle

 

Duval and Allen will start in the backcourt.  Bagley and Carter will start up front.  Who will the 5th starter be?  Either Trent (going small) or Bolden (going big); it was Trent in the first exhibition game. DeLaurier is more athlete than basketball player at this juncture, but having a 6’10” athlete on the court (especially if he becomes an elite defender) could earn significant minutes.  I believe the rotation will be among these 7.  Jordan Tucker, a 6’7” freshman swing man, who chose Duke at the last minute over Syracuse played only 4 minutes in the exhibition game and 6 minutes in the Blue-White game, which makes me predict a red shirt for him.  Justin Robinson will not make the rotation.  If the rotation extends beyond 7 (which will happen with injury, but, I predict, not otherwise),  Vrankovich, White, O’Connell, or even Goldwire will see some necessary minutes.

 

Enjoy the season and do not let unrealistic expectations take away our enjoyment.

 

 

 

Duke 97  – Elon 68

Duke  99 –  Utah Valley 69

 

Just looking at these scores, you would think: “Ho hum, two easy blowouts”. However, you would be dead wrong as they were against two entirely different teams that presented different challenges and the games were won in dramatically different ways. In the Elon game, Grayson Allen came out like a man on a mission hitting his first six shots as Duke took a 19-3 lead and cruised. At one point, he had outscored Elon 17-16. Against Utah Valley, a team that Friday night lead Kentucky by nine at the half, after eight minutes (and much of the half), Grayson had no points, and Duke was down as much as seven. At the second TV timeout, Coach K switched to a zone and essentially told the freshmen to man up because they were playing against adults (14 transfers and a 24 year old 7’,  250 lb. center) not boys. The freshmen obviously paid attention and grew up before our eyes, as Duke led Bagley & Carter (threes and four blocked shots), began to force turnovers, and went on a 20-5 run over the next five minutes.

 

Suddenly, the Blue Devil fans were no longer blue as Duke was up by seven. The Devils finished the game with 33 points off turnovers.  Marvin Bagley, who moves in the post like George Gervin and has a full court motor like John Havlicek  had his second double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds. In addition, notice how quickly he elevates on his second jump after he misses a shot and how often it enables him to get a second tip or shot. This is a rare talent for someone so big. Three other freshmen also had big nights: Trevon Duval had 15 points and 12 assists, Gary Trent Jr. added 17 points and Wendell Carter Jr. had 12. Grayson Allen finally heated up in the second half with 18 points and several acrobatic drives and dunks.

In all fairness, the Wolverines had to have been exhausted after a road trip that took them from Orem, Utah to Lexington, Kentucky to Durham in a few days. I suspect there aren’t a lot of direct flights from Orem to Lexington and Lexington to Durham.

I have long been fascinated by the way Coach K finds ways to win when his teams often do not have a dominant center or overwhelming size. For decades, the recruiting whisperers have told big men not to go to Duke, because Coach K is guard oriented and doesn’t know how to develop big men. Hello, 2017-18. Look out. Duke has them in spades—and they not only can play, they can run and jump and rebound and shoot and play defense. This team looks more like an NBA team than any since the 1991-92 team.

 

A stroll down memory lane (Carolina and Kentucky fans can stop reading): This was Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th win in his 38 years at Duke, 1073rd overall, the most-ever for a coach in men’s Division I college basketball history. Before coming to Duke in 1979-80, he won 73 games in five years at his alma mater Army. During Krzyzewski’s tenure/reign, Duke has won five national championships in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015 as well as playing in 12 Final Fours, won 12 ACC Regular Season Titles, and 14 ACC Tournament Titles. During his summer break, Coach K has guided the men’s Olympic Basketball team to gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. And BTW, the streak of non-ACC home wins now stands at 134.

 

Krzyzewski’s response. “ I don’t like Duke, I love Duke. I’m so lucky to be here for this time. It keeps you young. I don’t have a timetable for how long I’m going to coach, just trying to be in this moment.  I can’t even believe it. We were 38-47 here in my first three years. There were a lot of people here that didn’t think I would win 1,000 games– me being one of them.”

 

Other Comments:

 

  • 1 overall 2018 prospect R.J. Barrett committed to Duke over Oregon and Kentucky. Barrett is the star of the 2018 Class  and gives the Blue Devils their third five-star pledge in the class, to go with Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. Duke now boasts the No. 1 overall recruiting class for 2018, leap-frogging cross-state rival North.

 

  • Keep an eye on Alex O’Connell. He is the skinny white kid with the 1940’s retro haircut who has more animated fun on the bench than most Cameron Crazies but, more importantly, makes things happen when he gets playing time. I suspect that Bolden, DeLaurier, and O’Connell will be the eight man rotation.

 

Alan Adds:

Nothing we saw in the first two games could diminish the high expectations for the 2017-18 Duke basketball season.  Nothing we saw in the first two games could diminish the eager expectation of Tuesday’s matchup with pre-season #2 Michigan State.  Tuesday promises to be a game that takes a preliminary measure of this year’s freshman dominated team.  Michigan State is big and strong, historically a ferocious rebounding team, and has the leading player of the year candidate in Myles Bridges (6’7” swing man who led in votes for the pre-season All-American team; Grayson was second). Michigan State opened with a 30 point win against North Florida and showed an 8 man rotation.  Michigan State has its own highly rated 6’11” freshman center in Jaren Jackson, who scored 22, and depth and experience at guard.  Duke is flying high after two scintillating team performances.

Interestingly, both Bill and I said to each other that a Duke loss might be the best thing that could happen to these freshmen.  Perspective: Perhaps, the youngsters learned from the first 8 minutes against Utah Valley when they were taken aback by the intensity of the visitors, who led 17-13 after 8 minutes.  Coach K: “In the first four minutes, and our guys were grabbing things with one hand and they were just outplaying us. The second media timeout, we just talked to our team about the fact that this is the way it is. It isn’t like the other games. This is better, you’re going to feel better about playing in a game like this, but we have to play in a game like this, which means we have to be there every play. They really responded.”  Four defensive blocks by Carter, which Coach K identified as the turning point, triggered the turnaround.

In the first two games, Duke played in friendly Cameron against teams that were not an athletic match for the Blue Devils.  Notwithstanding, Duke was impressive – especially on the defensive end.  In the first half against Elon, Duke switched everything 1 thru 5.  Coach K said he could do that only with Amile previously, but Carter and Bagley are so quick on defense (and DeLaurier makes them look slow by comparison) that Duke can switch everything.  Duke also showed more zone against Elon.  Coach K pointed out that Duke is so long that a zone is effective.  “We played it more than we will going forward.”  Against Utah Valley, Duke had 33 points off turnovers.  It will be interesting to see how well Duke defends against competition of the Michigan State quality.

Front Court

Duke is loaded up front.  Wendell Carter and Bagley will start.  Carter had foul trouble against Elon and logged only 16 minutes (11 in the second half).  He had 3 fouls early, but did not foul again.  In the second game he played 31 minutes, scoring 12 [4-8; 1-3 from deep; and 3-4 from the line].  He and Bagley pass and play well together.  Bagley lived up to the hype in the first two games.  He had double doubles in both games and had announcers gushing over every aspect of his game, and treating it as a sure thing that he will be the first overall pick in next spring’s NBA draft.  The only blemish was he is 2-9 from the free throw line.  That has to get better, because he will be shooting a lot of foul shots this year.

Behind the two starters is Javin DeLaurier.  Although he logged only 14 minutes against Elon and 11 in the Utah Valley game, it is hard not to be impressed by his energy and athleticism.  At 6’10”, he is quick enough to stay with point guards, and is a pure rebounder.  I believe he will be a major contributor.  Marques Bolden was too ill to play against Elon, and was projected to miss Utah Valley and Michigan State.  He rallied to play 7 minutes against Utah Valley, grabbing 2 boards and looking as if he will be the 6th man this year.  Finally, Vrankovich (now a junior) has the experience (Croatian National Team), size and IQ to contribute if any of the four are unavailable.  We are all curious to see how the front-line fares against stiff competition on Tuesday.

Backcourt

Trevon Duval is young, but he is playing the point with aplomb.  He had 20 assists – 8 against Elon and 12 last night with only a single turnover.  He picked up two quick fouls last night, but Coach K continued to play him.  “I’ve never been a proponent of ‘you get two fouls and you sit.’ If you do that, I’m going to try to get two fouls on your best player because then you’re going to defend him the rest of the half, I don’t have to defend him. I’ve never subscribed to that, guys have to learn how to play. Now we change defenses to help in that regard, when we went to 12, our zone, but then they have to learn that, the discipline of playing. If they did get a third foul in the first half, then this is the time of the year when we have to teach that.”

The sharpshooters running with Duval in Duke’s 3 guard starting lineup have been really fabulous.  Grayson has been at his best.  He scored the first 8 against Elon, which was a statement this is a new and better year (Elon was the game last year where Grayson melted down in public after committing his third tripping incident).  He scored 19 in the first half against Elon.  Gary Trent has been almost as impressive, scoring 17 in each game.  He is a shooter (4-5 from deep against Elon), but has many other exciting talents.  He is a much better ball handler than advertised and has been a good defender who displays overall great hustle.

The back up to the guards is not yet set.  It seems as if Duke will rest the guards by going big (3 bigs and 2 guards) since there is so much depth and athleticism in the front court.  Alex O’Connell really impressed in both games.  I said to Bill that he will be to this team what Grayson was to the 2015 championship team.  He has so much energy and is a deadly shooter.  In 13 minutes against Elon, he scored 8 on 3-3 shooting (2 from deep) to go with 3 rebounds.  He garnered 5 rebounds and scored 4 points (1-3; 2-2 from the line) in only 9 minutes last night.  In some ways, he is what college sports should be about.  He is having fun, so animated on the bench, and so much energy when given the opportunity to play.

Tuesday night promises to be so much fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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