Duke Basketball Playbook: 2016-17

Welcome to  the Duke Basketball  Playbook 2016-17 season preview.

Mark your calendars for the game dates, fire up the Hi Definition 4-D Flat Screen TV, and buckle your seat belts. This year shapes up to be a National Championship for Duke to lose—and that is not just my opinion— as this is as talented, diverse, deep, and experienced a team as any in Duke’s remarkable basketball history. Having said that, there are three caveats: chemistry, injuries, and luck. Unlike other years, an injury will be less devastating than say last year, but chemistry and luck are the random, heartbreaking decisions of the basketball gods.

What to look for:

  • Defense will be much, much better with the depth and talent to press and trap anywhere, anytime. And we all know a good pressing/trapping defense produces exciting, easy offense.
  • Will Grayson Allen play hot but with a cool head? He will be a target for physical and verbal abuse. It will be interesting to see if he is given the calls that are normally awarded All American players or will his reputation as a hot head have negative influence on the referees?
  • Luke Kennard is playing with much more confidence and has been a scoring machine in practice and in exhibitions.
  • Matt Jones’ defense, which is near and dear to Coach K’s heart, will keep him on the floor for significant minutes.
  • Jefferson’s maturity and savvy will be the glue for a much improved front line.
  • Jason Tatum reminds me of Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes who won championships at UCLA, The Warriors, and The Lakers and may be the most talented player on the team.
  • Marques Bolden looks like the defensive basket protector we have been looking for since Sheldon Williams (Okafor was not a strong defender) left the post as is, perhaps, Harry Giles, who has not played in a year because of knee issues.
  • Frank Jackson is a younger less physical version of Grayson Allen.
  • Chase Jeter has looked good against D-2 players but still has to prove that he can fight for position and finish at the rim against D-1 players.
  • Jack White is an Australian similar to former Dukie Lithuanian Marty Pocius –a talented European style player.
  • Javin DeLaurier is my sleeper star in the making. His physical attributes are off the chart—a bigger, smarter version of Corey Maggette. The question is when will his basketball skills catch up with his athletic skills?
  • All the other players are practice player “projects”.
  • Final comment: With this much talent is only one ball enough to keep everyone happy?

Duke 94 – Marist 49

 Duke 96 – Grand Canyon 61

This weekend the Blue Devils started the season with Jayson Tatum,  Marques Bolden, and Harry Giles—the larger half their vaunted freshman class and projected one-and-done first round NBA draft picks– on the bench in matching golf shirts and sweatpants with a variety of enigmatic knee/ leg/ankle/foot injuries, the severity of which is somewhat of a mystery. We know Giles is recovering from multiple knee surgeries and is being brought along cautiously. The other two are “day to day or week-to-week” ….whatever—but then that is a troubling reminder of the initial prognosis last year for Amile Jefferson, so keep your fingers crossed. It could be this way for a while. Tatum is probably closest to returning, and was expected back by now before suffering a setback. Bolden will be reevaluated this week. However, Coach K did disclose that none are likely to return this (busy) week, which after Kansas includes Penn State on Saturday and either Cincinnati or Rhode Island on Sunday.

Against Marist and final thirty minutes against  Grand Canyon, it did not make much difference. However, Tuesday we are no longer in Cameron playing  Marist Grand Canyon, Toto, we are in The Garden playing Kansas—and it is not a dream.

Defensively, The Blue Devils looked a lot like last year until Frank Jackson came in for Chase Jeter. Then the four guards plus Amile Jefferson took charge of both ends of the floor and more or less put the game away by half time. In a lineup line this, the guards have to rebound and they did that and much more. It was a different team even though they only shot 11-29 three’s & 21-31 from the line. Jeter has improved from last year but he is not yet a front line talent for a top ten team while Allen, Kennard, Jones, Jackson, and Jefferson are. Allen had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Jackson 21 points, Jefferson 15 points and 7 rebounds, Luke Kennard 14 points and 6 assists, and Matt Jones 11 points and 5 assists as five members of the Blue Devils’ six-man rotation finished in double figures.

Krzyzewski  commented: “I like my team a lot. We just have to keep getting better, and then once all these injuries are taken care of, at some time, we can become a different team. Right now, we have to be this team and not think about who we could be.”

Injury update: Forward Harry Giles, who has yet to play in a Duke uniform, is still not ready to come back after a knee scope. Wing Jayson Tatum, who was expected to suit up for the opener, was available because he prematurely returned to practice after spraining his foot. And forward Marques Bolden, the latest Blue Devil to be affected by the team’s bizarre injury bug, sat out nursing an unspecified lower-leg injury. “It wasn’t an event,” Mike Krzyzewski said, addressing Bolden’s injury. “It’s too difficult to explain. He’s getting better. We gotta be careful not to try to get these guys coming back too soon. We’re just going to shut those guys down for a while. We can’t go through the whole year with lingering injuries.”

Comment: If you did not watch the Duke win over UNC Thursday night, you missed an impressive, thrilling game that demonstrated once again what an exceptional  job Coach David Cutcliffe has done with the formerly moribund football program. I watch the team with  additional interest this year because Daniel Jones, the Blue Devils outstanding freshman quarterback, is from Charlotte and our daughter Kristin prepped him for his SAT tests. She had told me what an impressive young man he is and glad he chose Duke over Princeton.

Alan Adds:

It feels as if the two opening games were a continuation of the exhibition season, with the first real game this Tuesday against Kansas at Madison Square Garden (the late 9:30 pm game after Kentucky and  Michigan State on ESPN).  Coach K emphasized that “this team consists of nine players right now and it is a very good team.  We can win with this team.”   Coach K said that when the injured players returned the team would be a different team and he would coach that team then, but not at the present.  Right now he is coaching a team of 9.  While he gave everyone minutes against Marist, one can see how he will play this coming week by his use of the 9 man rotation against Grand Canyon.  His 9 consisted of a 6 man rotation + very minimal contributions from Antonio Vrankovich  (6 minutes), Javin DeLaurier (5 minutes) and Jack White (4 minutes).  The starting team consists of all returning players, including Chase Jeter.  Bill and I have very different evaluations of Chase so far this year, but a true evaluation has to await the three games against quality opponents that Duke will play in the next 8 days.  Chase has been a defensive force against the opening lesser competition, blocking shots (2 against Marist and 3 against Grand Canyon; he also had 3 steals against GC).  Against Marist the minutes were fairly evenly divided among the rotation of 6, but against GC, 3 players  played almost the entire game — Grayson, Luke, and Matt.  They were out of the game collectively for only 10 minutes.  Grayson and Luke played the entire game until garbage time (last 3 minutes).  Matt sat out only 4 minutes (he and Frank Jackson remained in the game during the last 3 minutes).  Amile played 29 minutes, Frank Jackson 25 and Chase 22.

The Defense

Duke has played many different defenses, but the staple is a pressing and trapping aggressive man to man.  Against Marist, Coach K kept the substitutions coming for most of the game so each player could go full out on defense and get a quick rest.  Duke played some zone (ineffectively) in both games.  The defense was a bit different when Coach K had only one big in the game (whether Chase or Amile) than when both were in together.  With only one big, Duke switched on every screen and made it nearly impossible for Grand Canyon to penetrate the perimeter.  It was Duke’s half-court defense at its best.  GC was a far better team than Marist, and jumped out to a 15-9 lead with 12 minutes left to play in the first half.  Then Duke kicked it up on both ends of the floor and for the next 15 minutes (12 in the first half and 3 in the second half) played beautiful basketball on both ends of the floor.  Duke held GC to 12 points in the remaining 12 minutes of the first half.  The guards rebounded well and the Devils ran at will.  Then, human nature took over as Duke’s lead stretched to 29, and the Devils got sloppy on offense and lazy on defense. GC dropped the lead to 19, exposing Duke’s transition defense, and profiting from some careless ball handling and bad shot selection.  Then Duke returned to form, finishing the game well (with Vrankovich, DeLaurier and White on the floor for the last 3 minutes).

The only two minor quibbles: 1) Duke had some bad lapses in transition defense; 2) Duke is committing team fouls putting the two opponents in the bonus and double bonus early in periods (Jeter and Jackson committed 4 against GC and Grayson 3; DeLaurier 4; Jones and Kennard 3 against Marist).  Before the injuries, Coach K made the point that the team was deep enough to avoid individual foul trouble, but wanted the team to concentrate on not putting teams in the bonus with team fouls.  Still a work in progress.

The Backcourt

Duke’s backcourt has looked world class, with time being apportioned among 4 players.  Each has had superb moments.  The ball handling is being handled by committee with each of the four (Luke a bit less) initiating the offense at different times.  It is clear that one motivation for Grayson’s return is to develop his point guard skills for the next level.  Matt has been a Jon Scheyer like point; very steady and an accurate shooter.  He has played very well in the opening games.  But the revelation is Frank Jackson.  He is not shy about shooting both from deep and off the drive (accurately), and has been a superb ball handler.  Moreover, he might be the best one to one defender on the team.  He hustles, as do they all, and looks as if he will be a very significant contributor this year.  Duke will not miss Derryck Thornton (this year).  This has the potential to be a great back court.  Foul shooting, which has been a bit off — even from Luke and Grayson — at crunch time will be key.

The Front Court

Duke’s weakness may be the front court until some or all of the injured freshmen return to the rotation.  Amile is so mobile, mature and steady that it makes us wonder about how last year might have gone had he not been injured.  Coach K said he was trying to do a bit too much in the first game as senior (actually post-grad) leader.  He is so solid.  However, Kansas is big and mobile, and will be a challenge for Duke’s depleted front court.  Chase is the other big in the rotation.  His offense has been a bit inconsistent, but I have seen his confidence grow as he develops his skill in the post.  Neither replacement is ready for prime time.  Javin is big and athletic, but still a freshman who will develop.  Vrankovich is intriguing.  First, he is over 7 feet, and, second, he has deft hands and more athletic ability than I first observed.  Duke will need him if the injured freshmen take a significant time to heal and return.

But when the freshmen do return, that Duke team (as opposed to “this” Duke team) should be awesome.  Tatum is 6’8” and can score from both perimeter and interior; in the half court set or in transition.  I believe he will be a star on both ends this year.  Bolden had one terrific exhibition game, but has not played since.  He is a true center at 6’10” with the bulk and skill to dominate (or at least hold his own) even against Kansas type opponents.  Giles is, of course, the most intriguing.  He has not played in over a year, but was the consensus #1 high school player before his ACL injury last November.  He had made progress in his rehab when he had a setback, which required additional arthroscopic surgery.  There is no time table for the return of any.  Coach K has emphasized the danger of bringing each of them back too fast (both Tatum and Giles sustained additional injuries after returning to practice).  He is reputed to be a superb interior defender and rim protector.

We will know much more about this team after Kansas, Penn State and either Cincinnati or Rhode Island in the next 8 days.

Duke  75 –  Kansas 77

Although this was a tough but not surprising loss, it demonstrated once again why Duke Basketball is so compelling. The Blue Devils played so poorly for the so much of the second half as Kansas controlled the game and was ahead double digits with about five minutes to go that I was going to write that these players would be lucky to have a .500 record in ACC play. Grayson Allen was about oh-for-the-night, the Devils were in foul trouble, the Jayhawk backcourt was scoring seemingly at will and dominating all phases of the game. Then, Allen started scoring like he did last year, Kennard and Jackson made plays and shots and Duke unexpectedly and inexplicably made a run to tie the game. The fact that Frank Mason made a jumper over Matt Jones in the last seconds was disappointing but appropriate as he was the dominant player the entire game. But that was almost incidental as the game was another reminder how a Coach K team can be outmanned, outplayed yet almost pull out a seemingly unwinnable game. In the long run, it might be  a motivational wake-up call for the players to realize they are not invincible or even unbeatable. Grayson, for instance, had his worst game of the season a year ago against Kentucky in this very venue and recovered to have an All-American  season. This injuries have left the Blue Devils with just a six-man rotation and a clear size disadvantage in the frontcourt. Throw in a tough, veteran Kansas team as an opponent and foul trouble that ended up costing Amile Jefferson the game’s final minutes, and it was, frankly, a surprise that Duke had enough in its tank to tie the game. As talented as Duke’s players are, mental toughness is their defining characteristic.

And that makes Duke’s narrow loss all the more impressive. There’s a reason Krzyzewski said he was encouraged afterward. Grayson Allen, banged up and frustrated, didn’t play his best yet scored a three and a layup to bring the Blue Devils within three points with a minute to play. Then, Frank Jackson, Duke’s only healthy freshman, hit two monster three-pointer. Luke Kennard led all scorers with 22 points on the night. Even the at-times awkward Chase Jeter got a compliment from his coach for how hard and well he played.

“I think we’re a good team — otherwise we’d get blown out of here tonight,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But we’re a limited team right now. We’re not who we imagined ourselves to be. But that’s not an excuse. That’s just the way it is. We’ll see what happens when we get guys back. I think these experiences are good. “We didn’t lose because we were short-handed tonight. We lost because Kansas played better than us and (Frank) Mason is a big-time winner.”

“Overall, it was good for us,” Krzyzewski said. “You learn a lot from (playing) at this level of the game.”

Alan Adds:

While Duke lost a heartbreaker on a buzzer beater by Kansas, Duke fans can take plenty of solace from the loss.  Duke played with only six players (De Laurier played less than a minute as the seventh), all of whom were in foul trouble throughout the game.  I will not talk about the way the game was officiated (Bilas did that beyond reason).   Coach K was clear Duke did not lose because they were shorthanded; Duke lost to a team that simply played better.  Shockingly, Duke had all the attributes of a team badly coached: 16 turnovers; six players committed 22 fouls; Duke could not defend the interior (Kansas was 31 for 47 from inside the arc); and could not protect its defensive board (Kansas had 14 offensive rebounds, most resulting in Jayhawk points).

Duke lost the game in the first 10 minutes of the second half, after leading by 5 at the break.  Coach K’s insight was “Kansas really knocked us back at the start of the second half.”  Duke was terrible on defense and sloppy with turnovers on offense.  “We can play good defense, but we were not.  We were stagnant.”   Coach K called several timeouts to try and get Duke straightened out, pointing out that offense is adversely affected when the team plays lazy defense. Then, Coach K said, at the 10 minute mark his team came out of its funk, “boom! We played really good basketball for the last 8-10 minutes.”  In that time, you also saw Duke’s fighting spirit (remember last year’s outmanned team) and player adjustment.  In the last 10 minutes both Frank Jackson and Grayson Allen came alive to bring Duke back.  Kennard was the player of the game and at this stage of the season, looks to be Duke’s best player.  He led the team in scoring (22), rebounding (5) and assists (5) plus having the only blocked shot by a perimeter player.

The Backcourt

In the first half, Duke turned the ball over 11 times against only 4 assists (but led by 5).  Frank Jackson did not score in the first half and seemed lost (0-2; 0-1 from deep), but he came alive in the last 10 minutes of the game to look like Duke’s point guard of the future.  I would be more sure of that if he had had at least one assist.  Duke turned it over on its first 2 possessions of the second half and continued to be sloppy in those first 10 minutes.  Then Jackson asserted himself in the last 10 minutes, scoring 11 points on 3-3 shooting including 2 3s — the last of which dramatically tied the game with 7 seconds left.  He played 30 minutes.  In the second half Duke got 2 assists from Jefferson, 3 from Kennard, 2 from Grayson and 1 from Matt Jones.   Matt played all 40 minutes and had a superb game with 11 points (4-7 from the field and 3-5 from deep) to go with 3 boards, 2 assists (0 turnovers) and a steal.  I did think he got tired at the end, but he supplied valuable leadership.  Kennard’s numbers are even more impressive when closely studied.  He scores when Duke needs him (6 in the first half when Duke led; 16 in the second half to keep Duke in the game).  In 35 minutes, he was 7-10 from the field, including 2-4 from 3land and 6-6 from the line.  He committed less than four fouls (3).  He and Grayson Allen (2) were the only Duke players who did not foul out (Jefferson) or have four fouls at game’s end.  Until the last few minutes, Grayson had what Coach K called “a frustrating game”.   He noted that Grayson seemed to expect to be fouled on his drives.  “You can’t do that”, said Coach K.  He also noted that Grayson played hard with the ball, but not without it until the end.  The he started moving better and Duke became cohesive.  Kansas’s defense on Allen was simply outstanding.  Tellingly, Allen was only 1-7 from deep (4-15 from the floor and 3-4 from the line for 12 points in 38 minutes.  While he had 3 boards, 3 assists and only turned it over once, it was not an All-American or Player of the Year game for him.

The Frontcourt

Both Chase Jeter and Amile Jefferson had really good first halves and weak second halves.  Jeter is playing well, but still has deficiencies — 5-10 from the line and an inability to finish at the basket (turning an easy deuce into 50% foul shooting).  In the first half, Jeter was 4-6 from the line and 1-1 from the field for 6 points, 3 boards, 2 blocks and a steal.  He did have 3 turnovers and committed 2 fouls.  In the second half, Jeter continued to play good defense, but his offense deserted him.  He was 0-3 from the field (all right under the hoop) and 1-4 from the line.  Still, he is much improved from last season.  Coach K reminds us that he just turned 18 and is very young for a sophomore.  Jefferson, too, had a desultory second half and overall a disappointing game.  In the first half, he was 4-5 from the field and 3-5 from the line for 11 points with 4 boards.  In the second half, he missed his only shot from the field; was 1-2 from the line for only a single second half point and he failed to haul in a single rebound in the second half.   In 30 minutes, he committed 7 turnovers before fouling out.  Kansas beat Duke badly on the interior — especially its offensive rebounding.  If Kansas had not been 2-17 from 3land and 9-19 from the line, Duke would have been blown out.   Clearly the return of the freshman bigs — Bolden and Giles — will go a long way to changing Duke’s interior fortunes.  Tatum will add firepower and defense.  But that is then; this team that played Kansas is now.

Assessment

Duke gained valuable experience playing against a Kansas team that will be (barring injury) one of the nation’s top teams this year.  As Coach K said, “we learned a lot”.  This team has fighting heart, firepower and enormous potential.  This was a great game and no reason for any Duke heads to hang.

Duke 78 – Penn State 68 

Duke 75 – Rhode Island 65 

What in the name of  Dr. James Naismith is going on? Have the basketball gods decided that Coach K has won too many games and titles and that injuries are the only way to level the playing field and keep the “hate Duke” fans from acting like millennials after the recent presidential election? The potential starting front court for a lot of NBA teams was on the Duke bench dressed for a GQ photoshoot not a basketball game–then Chase Jeter goes down and is carried to the dressing room. The only time Grayson Allen leaves the court is to limp into the dressing room for medical attention. After the Penn State game, Amile Jefferson, last year’s devastating casualty, cuts an ESPN interview short saying he has to go ice down to get healthy for the Rhode Island game. I used to be amused when former Redskin Hall-of-Fame Coach Joe Gibbs would say a key player was “nicked” only to learn that John Riggins was at Sibley Hospital in traction until noon Saturday. Of course, John being John, he played the next day and gained about 150 yards. The Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski played the second half last week’s game against the Seattle Seahawks with a punctured lung. Seemingly yesterday crippled Chase Jeter even made a few cameos on Sunday. At this level, players do what they have to do. 

Whatever is going on, this Duke team played against Penn State like it is depleted, nicked, and tired. Grayson obviously is  “nicked”  ( toe and/or foot) and is clearly not himself  as he cannot hit a three, run, or explode very well but is dead solid from the foul line where he can shoot flat-footed. Fortunately, these players are West Point tough and they have each other’s back. Jefferson was the MVP demon at both ends, posting back to back two double doubles; Luke Kennard is playing with more confidence and consistency and scored enough points to replace Grayson’s ten point offensive shortfall; Matt Jones and Frank Jackson also chipped in at crucial times. However, it was the defense that set the table for gutting out this impressive win.

 Make no mistake, Rhode Island is a very talented team made up of a tough, city playground type players (coached by Danny Hurley) much like St. Johns, which used to give Duke such a difficult time in Madison Square Garden. Raise your hand if you thought Duke would win wire-to-wire. I wasn’t even sure at halftime that the Blue Devils were going to win. Some people never learn. 

Bottom line: It was a very impressive win that even Dick Vitale didn’t see happening until it was apparent to everyone else. 

Additional Comments:

  • Krzyzewski said Grayson Allen was playing at about 50 percent because of a toe issue. While his scoring average is down Coach K said it was one of his best passing games. Grayson even mentioned to assistant Jon Scheyer: “You know, coach, it’s amazing what you can see when you can’t shoot.”
  • Turf toe or whatever injury Grayson Allen has is of concern, because this type of injury often takes a long time to heal. However, even at less than full speed, Allen is a tremendous asset on the floor.

Note: I will be travelling the rest of the week. We will post a summary a week from today.

Alan Adds:

The Hall of Fame Tournament did not appear to be favorably placed in Duke’s schedule — third game in 6 days; fifth game in 8 days; four injured front court players, including the 3 highly rated freshmen.  Duke had only six rotation players, and Chase Jeter was hurt early in the first game, leaving Duke with essentially a rotation of five for the entire tournament.  Back when Bill and I were undergraduates, Duke’s team — also small, playing a non-existent rotation — was nicknamed, “The Flaming Five”.  Duke’s team in this tournament took on that persona, and may have even improved on it.  As it turned out, Duke’s participation in this tournament was, in my opinion, crucial to the development of this team and its chances for a National Championship.  Here’s why:

This Duke team played beautiful basketball as a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor.  One picture is worth 1,000 words.  Against Rhode Island, Duke took 60 shots.  The even distribution of those shots — Jefferson and Jones 13, Kennard, Allen and Jackson 11 each — is symbolic of a team with five valuable players who know how to play together.  Duke struggled from 3 land [6-21; but consider Luke was 4-5; Grayson and Jackson were 0-9 and Jones 2-7], but shot well over 50% from inside the arc and 15-17 from the foul line.  Each of Duke’s five played extremely well at both ends of the court, almost without relief.  The bench provided only 12 minutes [Chase 8 minutes and Vrankovich 4].  Kennard and Matt Jones played the entire 40 minutes, while Grayson came out of the game briefly (listed as a minute, but really only a few seconds).  Frank Jackson sat for 7 minutes, mostly because of picking up his 3rd foul early in the second half.  Amile sat for 4 minutes, almost all of that time after he picked up his third foul.  Jeter played those several possessions well, but as Coach K said, “we needed Amile on the floor”.  Of course, Duke did.  He had 17 points and 15 rebounds, controlling the defensive boards and Rhode Island’s excellent interior game.  He was even 1-1 from the foul line, completing a 3 point play.  In the first game against Penn State, Amile had 15 boards to go with 16 points and four blocks [but 4-10 from the foul line].  Perhaps Jefferson is most valuable as a coordinator of the defense and defender.  He is playing at the same high level that he played at last year before he was hurt.  Luke had a monster game; Rhode Island could not defend him.  He scored 24 efficient points, taking only 11 shots [ 8-11; 4-5 from deep; 4-4 from the line] to go with 7 rebounds and 2 assists.  Rhode Island could not guard him with a big, and so eventually went small.  That played into Duke’s hand on defense, allowing Duke to switch every screen.  Duke played admirable defense, holding a good team to 65 points.  Matt Jones is Duke’s glue.  He is the best defender, reliable outside shooter, leader and hustle playmaker.   He scored 13 points on 13 shots (4-13; 2-7; 3-4 from the line).  Coach K is unstinting in his praise of the defensive contributions of the combination of Jefferson and Jones.  As Coach K pointed out, Grayson is unable to push off his toe, which has adversely affected his shooting, but not the rest of his game.  Grayson guarded Mathews, one of Rhode Island’s best scorers, and effectively took him out of the game.  Coach K said it was Allen’s best passing game, and he is a rebounding guard (5).  Allen scored 10 on 3-11 from the field; 0-5 from deep; and 4-4 from the line.  He had 3 assists and 2 steals to go with his rebounding.  He may not be shooting well, but he is playing heroically.  Frank Jackson has been a revelation.  One feels secure when he has the ball in his hands, and he seems unguardable.  In his 33 minutes, he was 4-11; 0-4; 3-4 from the line for 11 points.  He is a great defender and athlete, who has that knack of delivering in the clutch.  The injured freshmen will have to live up to their press clippings to be considered more valuable to this team than Frank Jackson.

Coach K, Jefferson and Kennard all echoed the same theme in the post-game press conference.  This team has amazing inner toughness fueled by the strong bond among this group of players.  They share the ball and play cohesive defense.  In some ways the team reminded me of the 1970 to ’73 Knicks.  Each player is good enough to command a double team, and when it comes that player finds the open man.  If it doesn’t come, points go up on the scoreboard.  Coach K said that the team is getting more comfortable with small ball, “which is neat.  They are playing beautiful basketball.”  Yes, they are!

Duke 78 – Michigan State 69 

It never gets old for Duke fans and infuriates Duke haters. Coach K finds a way to win games even when his players, for whatever reason(s), do not have their “A” game and probably should not win. Since Alan gives a very comprehensive coverage of the game, I am going to take the time to hit the pause button and reflect upon some astonishing historical data of which you might not be fully aware—or fully appreciate.

Tom Izzo is one of the very best recruiters and big game coaches in basketball. However, Coach K owns him. Just look at the record. The irony of this particular loss was not lost on Tom Izzo. If there had been one recent thread in his inability to beat Duke, a drought that is now almost 12 years, it was that so many of his veteran Michigan State teams were derailed by Duke’s very young, very raw talent. Izzo didn’t have to mention Kyrie Irving’s 31-point explosion in 2010, or the Final Four loss to the Blue Devils’ freshmen in 2015, but it was clearly on his mind. And as Izzo reflected upon yet another loss to a Triangle powerhouse – that makes 13 straight now against Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams – he could only shake his head that his team built around four talented freshmen was utterly undone by a six-man Duke rotation that had only one freshman and all the poise Izzo is accustomed to being able to rely upon. “Usually they’re the team with the younger guys and we’re the team with the veterans,” Izzo said.

Matt Norlander

CBS Sports column:

“One of the truly ridiculous streaks in sports that refuses to die. It might continue so long as Mike Krzyzewski is still coaching. There’s no evidence to suggest otherwise.

We need to reflect on, and talk about, the insanity of Duke’s nonconference home winning streak. It’s now at 130 games. One-hundred-and-freaking-thirty. I can’t quite understand how it’s gotten to this point. No team from outside the ACC has won at Cameron in almost 17 years. Five-star players being recruited by Duke now were not born the last time the Blue Devils lost at home to a non-league opponent.

The 130 number is 89 more than the program currently with the second-best home non-con winning streak (Wichita State), which sits at 41 in a row. Dominant programs almost never even hit 50 straight. Jon Scheyer, an assistant on K’s staff, was 12 years old the last time Duke was beaten at Cameron by a nonconference opponent.

And even when you account for how many unnecessary buy games Mike Krzyzewski has scheduled over the eras, and there have been many, it’s still ridiculous. Duke’s Tuesday night win moved the program to 16-2 all time in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. A lot of those games have come on Duke’s home floor against ranked Big Ten competition. Nine ranked teams, including programs such as IndianaOhio StateGeorgetownWisconsin and Stephen Curry’s Davidson‘s group (twice), have all tried and failed.

And just 16 of the 130 wins over the past 6,123 days have been decided by single digits, the most recent coming on Tuesday night. For nearly 17 years, a Duke win at home over a non-ACC opponent has resulted in a single-digit spread 12 percent of the time. That’s almost as absurd as the streak itself..

Nobody can clip the Blue Devils. The last team to do it? Mike Jarvis’ St. John’s team all the way back on Feb. 26, 2000, an aberrational, very late out-of-league game. Duke only lost by one point (83-82), and was ranked No. 2 in the country at the time. St. John’s wasn’t ranked, but the win acted as a slingshot to a No. 2 seed in that year’s NCAA Tournament for the Red Storm. “When somebody asks me about some of the most significant accomplishments of my life, I point to that game,” former St. John’s coach Mike Jarvis said. A program that lost at home to pitiable Delaware State (and what’s that about?) on Tuesday night — that’s the last non-ACC college hoops franchise to get K in Cameron.

“We had some huge wins, winning the Big East, winning the NIT championship and cutting down the nets,” Jarvis told NCAA.com. “Honestly, that day was probably just as special.”

That Duke team had Shane Battier, Jay Williams (he was Jason Williams back then) and Carlos Boozer. St. John’s had (ready for these names?) Erick Barkley and Bootsy Thornton, who hit the winning shot with 13 ticks to go.

The streak is obviously the longest in program history — and one of the longest in college basketball history — as it’s long since outlasted Duke’s near-13-year run from February of ’83 into December of ’95, when the program went 95 in a row against non-con opponents without dropping a home tilt. 

Krzyzewski’s all-time home win percentage is .888, with a record of 494-62. That’s including quality competition within the ACC. Non-conference win percentage at home for K, all time? I couldn’t find the exact numbers, but it’s got to be north of 98 percent. The NCAA.com article linked above cites merely three home non-con losses for Duke between 1983 to present day. Phenomenal. This column of dominance is the most underrated aspect to Krzyzewski’s mammoth coaching legacy. Even if you account for all the cupcakes, you still occasionally should slip up, and it just doesn’t happen. Duke is nearly unbeatable in that building.

And guess what — this streak is going to live on well into 2017. Because Maine and Tennessee, the only non-conference opponents remaining on Duke’s home schedule this season? Yeah, they’re not walking out of Cameron Indoor as victors. The streak’s going to grow to 132, gestate for another 10 months, and then likely continue through all of next season.

Most of the folks who love to hate Duke enjoy the Blue Devils most when they watch them lose in the NCAA Tournament. But that happens almost every year. Seeing Duke fall at home to any team is rare enough. Dropping a home game to a non-conference team has become college basketball’s version of Halley’s Comet, only there’s no promise we’ll see it again before Coach K decides to retire. 

Alan Adds:

Let’s talk about Duke’s defensive performance in the second half, which was impressive and really won the game for Duke.  In this game, Duke was outshot; out-rebounded; missed 9 of 20 from the foul line (previously a major strength);  Matt Jones and Luke Kennard combined for 1-13 from behind the arc; while Matt scored only 2 points playing a full 40 minutes.  Duke played only 6, with Jeter playing 21 minutes (spelling Jackson for 13 minutes; Jefferson for 5 and Grayson for 3).  Luke joined Jones as a 40 minute Iron Man.  As Coach K said, “they came to wear us out; and by the end we were worn out.  Our older guys know how to win when they are tired.  I have a group of tough kids.”

With 14 minutes left in the game, the score was tied at 48.  Michigan State scored only 9 points in the next 8 minutes and 38 seconds as Duke played simply outstanding defense,  The Spartans had only 57 points with 5 minutes and 22 seconds left to play.  Moreover, Michigan State made only one more basket in the next 2 and a half minutes while Duke extended its lead to 14 (73-59) with only 2 minutes and 45 seconds left to play.  Human nature took over and the Spartans scored 10 in garbage time, but never made it close.   Duke’s transition defense was suspect in the first half and toward game’s end, but during the crucial spurt, Duke’s defense was devastating.

Duke was efficient offensively from inside the arc, but unusually abysmal from deep (7 – 26)  and the foul line where Allen missed 2 (5-7), Kennard missed 2 (3-5), Jefferson missed 3 (3-6) and Matt Jones (0-2).  The winning spurt for Duke came with the game tied at 48.  While Duke’s defense stifled the Spartans and turned Michigan State over, the Duke offense picked up steam.  Grayson made a layup on a gorgeous feed from Jackson and was fouled.  Jeter subbed in for Jefferson with 13:38 to go.  Coach K went to Jackson (“just a feeling”), who scored on a jumper and a nifty drive.  Luke hit a jumper and Allen was fouled on a drive and made both foul shots for a 10 point lead.  Jefferson came back in for Jeter when he committed a foul with 10:51 to play.   Michigan State made 1 of 2 and then hit a 3 to reduce the lead to 6 with 10:20 to play.  That turned out to be the Spartans’ last gasp.  A gorgeous Jackson 3 with a hockey assist from Kennard and a wondrous assist from Allen was sandwiched between a Kennard steal and a Kennard block to push the lead to 9.  It got back to double digits when Jefferson made 1 – 2 from the line and Duke was never seriously threatened from there.

Allen led Duke in scoring with 24 in his 37 minutes, but on 21 shots. He was 2-5 from deep in the first half and 3-6 in the second.  Overall he was 7-21, which means 2-10 from inside the arc with 4 turnovers.  The Spartans played Allen (and Duke in general) well on the drives.  The offhand help came and frequently disrupted the dribble drive causing a few turnovers.  Grayson is heroic, especially on the defensive end and protecting the defensive back board (4).  He is not able to practice — not a minute, said Coach K.  This may be a reason that Allen is not shooting this year as well as he did last year.  Coach K is hoping to get Allen some rest and back to health.  Matt Jones played the entire game, which Coach K described as “a spectacular 2 point performance.”  Jones played the freshman Spartan star, Myles Bridges, and essentially took him out of the game.  Bridges fouled out in his 34 minutes, being held to 11 points on 4-13 shooting.  Coach K lauded Jones as one of the nation’s best defenders, and emphasized Matt’s 4 steals as disrupting the Spartan offense.  He guards the best scorer on the other team and he is “only about winning”.   He just couldn’t make wide open 3s (0-6) or a foul shot (0-2).  Kennard was absolutely brilliant (if you discount his 1-7 from behind the arc).  Coach K said he has been healthy only for the last 3 weeks and that he “is as consistently good as anyone on the team.”  In his Iron Man 40, Cool Hand Luke went 8-18 from the field — meaning 7-11 from inside the arc — and grabbed a crucial 6 boards.  Jackson had a great second half after being limited to 12 minutes in the first half by foul trouble.  He logged 27 minutes scoring a very efficient 11 on 6 shots  [5-6; 1-2 from deep without getting to the line] to go with 4 good rebounds and a block.

On the interior, Amile Jefferson had another simply great game, while Chase Jeter became a valuable contributor.  Jefferson does it all: defends the post, is a dexterous help defender, rebounds like a demon, and scores in the post.  If he could only be an adequate foul shooter.  In 35 minutes, Jefferson had yet another double double scoring 17 [7-12 but only 3-6 from the line] to go with 13 boards, 3 assists and a block.  He is having a great season and providing real leadership.  Chase played big minutes (21) and played “the best he has played,”  said Coach K.  He scored 4 on 2-2 from the field (a nifty post move and a put back) to go with 4 boards, a block, and some good defense (though not without a lapse or two).  Coach K lauded his upper class players as having earned their way to their current (star?) status.  The three upper class players all have won a National Championship and provide the intangibles.  Coach K pointed out that “this was not inherited wealth”; they had to earn everything that they have so far accomplished.”

The injured freshmen are making progress.  Jayson Tatum was reported to have a very good work out.  “He’s close”, said the coach.  While the other two — Harry Giles and Marquis Bolden — are “getting close, it will be a while.”

Duke 94 –  Maine 55

#3 North Carolina loses to Indiana, #1 Kentucky loses to UCLA in Lexington, uber-freshmen Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden return for #5 Duke—Game On!

It has been an injury plagued but nevertheless impressive start of the season for the Duke 8-1 team that has been missing three potential starters as they have only lost to a highly rated Kansas on a last minute shot. Well, today Tatum and Bolden played while Grayson Allen and Frank Jackson watched from the bench beside Harry Giles, who is said to be ready to play for real sometime this month. If you thought these freshmen, as talented as they may be, are in mid-season form, think again. Even against  2-5 Maine, they were rusty and as for most of the first half, the defense was definitely subpar.

Going forward (assuming everyone stays healthy), it will be interesting to see how Coach K manages the lineups and the minutes. This team will potentially be nine players deep, can go big, small, or hybrid. However, sometimes a team can be too talented. You can only play five players at a time and there is only one basketball. Will Grayson, picked as the preseason Player of the Year, resent or embrace Kennard’s increased offensive productivity or Tatum, who is not bashful, taking a rebound and going coast to coast, or Frank Jackson being touted by announcers as the best athlete on the team?

Year after year, one of the fascinating aspects of Coach K’s teams is that they generally overachieve. If this one just plays to its talent, it probably wins another NCAA Championship. If not…. However, managing these egos cannot be more difficult or challenging than coaching the pros on an Olympic team.

Other Observations:

  • Coach Krzyzewski: “Grayson needs more than one game out, but hopefully he’ll be ready by Tuesday,” noting that Allen is dealing with a form of turf toe. “We think Frank Jackson will be ready to go for Tuesday—he has a little bit of a sore foot. He’s played an unbelievable amount of minutes.”
  • Duke’s nonconference home winning streak at Cameron is 131 games. No team from outside the ACC has won at Cameron in almost 17 years. Players now being recruited by Duke were not even born the last time the Blue Devils lost at home to a non-league opponent.

Alan Adds:

No one looking at the Duke schedule in October could have foreseen what a watershed event in the Duke season, the Maine game would turn out to be.  Coach K finally listened to Bill and gave Grayson Allen a game off to rest his turf toe.  He (Coach K; not Bill) explained that Grayson’s turf toe is on the side not right under the toe.  Certain positions of the foot in play cause considerable pain, but it is not constant pain and is healing.  Grayson will play in the next game against Florida on Tuesday in Madison Square Garden (aka Cameron North).  Frank Jackson was also rested, apparently with a sore foot, and as Coach K said, “he has played a ton of minutes”.  He too will play on Tuesday.  It was “watershed” because of the long anticipated debut of both Jayson Tatum and Marquis Bolden, and the start of reintegrating them (and Harry Giles) into a team that has already formed.  It is sure to present some unique problems, but it would be hard to find someone better equipped or more experienced in handling such “problems” than Coach K (think USA Basketball).

The game itself was a tale of two halves (almost; really 15 minutes and 25 minutes).  In the first half,  Duke’s defense was slow, lacked intensity, and the offense was also a bit off.  As Luke Kennard admitted afterward,  “We started a little slow. We gave up some shots we shouldn’t have given up. We didn’t play our kind of defense, and didn’t share the ball as well as we should.”  Duke played much better defense in the late first half and most of the second half to simply take the heart out of Maine.

The Freshmen

Jayson Tatum started along with veterans Jefferson, Jones, Kennard and Jeter.  As Bill said, the rust was evident, but so was his enormous skill and basketball intelligence.  The veterans and Jayson played almost the entire first half.  Jones and Kennard did not come out (20 minutes).  You might note that they were the only two guards available with both Jackson and Allen indisposed.  Jefferson played all but a few seconds and Tatum played 18 of the 20 minutes.  Kennard (20), Jefferson (11) and Tatum (8 – on 2-7 from the field including 1-2 from deep and 3-4 from the line) scored 39 of Duke’s 46 first half points.  Tatum added 2 free throws in the two minutes of the second half that he played before cramps finished off his debut night.  There is no doubt that he is the real deal.  He was aggressive to the basket and earned 6 free throw attempts in addition to his 8 boards and a block in just 20 minutes.  It was a bad moment seeing him on the floor holding his leg, but Coach K was clear in the press conference that there was no re-injury.

Marquis Bolden played his first 7 minutes in the first half, replacing Jeter (who logged 13 minutes).  He played another 5 minutes in the second half before retiring for the game.  Coach K said he had not done much for five weeks and he simply ran out of gas.  Bolden looked rusty but extremely agile, athletic and talented.  In 12 minutes, he scored 7 (3-5; 1-2 from the line) while hauling in 5 boards and blocking a shot.  He also committed 3 turnovers.  Contrast to Jeter who, in twice as many minutes, scored 4 points, grabbed 1 board, and committed 5 turnovers.  Bolden looks as if he will be a significant contributor if he is allowed to work himself slowly back into game shape and the rotation.

Harry Giles is, according to Coach K, “getting closer.”  He participated in 5 on 5 drills for the first time.  While his reputation (based on solid performance) is extremely high, we should anticipate a reasonably long re-integration.  Unlike Bolden, who missed a few weeks, Giles has not played in almost 13 months.  In some ways, the more measured reintegration of the heralded freshmen with the over achieving veterans helps Coach K answer the potential problems that Bill insightfully described above.

Javin De Laurier took Tatum’s 2 minutes in the first half (grabbing 2 boards in that cameo) and 13 in the second half, in which he was 1-1 from the field and 1-2 from the line to go with 3 more boards and a block.  He may not contribute significantly this year, but he will be a valuable player for Duke for several more years.

Jack White played 10 minutes (9+ in the second half) scoring 4 and grabbing 4 boards.  Like Javin, he could be a significant contributor in the years to come.

The Backcourt

Scoring wise, it was the Luke Kennard Show.  The statistics are eye-opening.  Luke played 34 minutes (the last 6 minutes of the second half both he and Jones were on the bench.  So, who was Duke’s point guard and primary ball handler?  Stay tuned!) scoring 35 [11-16; 4-9 from 3land; 9-9 from the line] to go with 8 rebounds, 2 assists and a block.  9-9 from the foul line is an incredible weapon.  Jefferson (4-4), Tatum and Luke were 18-19 from the stripe.  They also pulled down 25 boards among them.

Jones is, in my opinion (and Coach K’s) the soul of this team.  He also played 34 minutes, but took only 4 shots and hit 1 of 2 3s for 3 points.  It is easy to notice that Jones shoots (he is well over 40% from 3land) when Duke needs a hoop, but not at all when Duke is rolling comfortably.  He is a superb defender, and reliable, if not fancy, as a ball handler.  Both he and Luke left the game with 6 minutes to go.  The ball handling duties then fell to Amile Jefferson.  While it creates smiles, it is telling when your primary big guy is also a very competent (and Amile looked very confident, and has apparently been practicing the role) ball handler.  Remember Coach K used Danny Ferry and Shane Battier as ball handlers against the press in the past.

The Frontcourt

Amile was (once again) superb, even though he missed a double/double by one rebound.  He set his personal record for points with 20 (8-11; 4-4 from the line) to go with 9 boards, 4 assists (I don’t know how many were from his point guard position) 2 blocks and 2 steals.  Jefferson is getting better and better, exuding confidence and leadership.  Right now he IS the Duke front court against upper echelon competition.

Jeter started, playing 13 minutes in the first half and 9 in the second.  His 5 turnovers are a problem.  He will have to play better in order to stay in the rotation.

Antonio Vrankovich continues to impress (but do remember the level of competition).  In 13 minutes, he was 4-5 for 8 points with 3 boards, 2 assists and  a block.  Not shabby.

Summing Up

It was a watershed day because of the return of Jayson and Marquis, the superb performances of Kennard and Jefferson, and the positive prognosis for Harry Giles.

Duke 84 – Florida 74

Does anyone doubt that Jason Tatum is the real deal and makes this Duke team much better at both ends of the court or that Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard have improved more in one year than any two Duke players in memory? Anyone who was concerned that there is only one ball (and I’m talking about myself) does not have to worry when all the players share the ball as well and as often as these Blue Devils did tonight. They had 16 assists and, at times, moved the ball with breathtaking precision and speed.

And player rotation. What rotation? When Amile Jefferson is working on 24 points and 15 rebounds, Luke Kennard on 29 points, uber freshman Jayson Tatum on 22 points 8 rebounds, 3 steals, an assist and a block, Grayson on 8 assists, and Jones is a shut-down defender who does not look for his shot, who, other than for a breather,  would you want to sit? And this was in Madison Square Garden against #21 Florida, not in Cameron against some overmatched soft touch. So far, Jefferson is putting up better numbers with more efficiency than any post player in Duke’s history and Luke Kennard is making scoring points look like he is casually playing in a rec league pickup game.

After getting a facial on his  first couple of shots, Jason Tatum realized this is not high school anymore, kicked his game up a couple of gears, and put on a sophisticated clinic of finesse forward offense. He has one of the best soft shooting touches you will see in a man of his size–heck, any size. Yes, I am definitely a buyer of this stock.

Other Thoughts: 

  • Grayson Allen is either still hurting and/or lost his some confidence in his shot. You can see he is not nearly as explosive as he was last year and his jump shot just isn’t there. However, his assists led to 20 points and while he is shooting like Alan Silber, he is seeing the floor and passing like Tom Brady.
  • Marques Bolden was the only player who did not look happy. Two fouls in two minutes is not Duke Basketball.
  • Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke teams are 29-10 at Madison Square Garden.  The Blue Devils lead the all-time series with Florida 13-4.
  • Florida young coach is Michael White, son of Duke Athletic Director Kevin White.
  • Dick Vitale is a nice, generous man who loves basketball but a little of him goes a long way.

Alan Adds:

Duke in Cameron North (aka The World’s Most Famous Arena — Madison Square Garden) playing a ranked opponent in the Jimmy V Classic —  it just doesn’t get much better than that in December college hoops.  But for the Blue Devil faithful, it was indeed much better.  Amile Jefferson had his best game ever and is serving notice of just how good a player he has become.  Luke Kennard was so efficient that at least one commentator has said he is in contention for National Player of the Year.  But the finest Blue Devil holiday plum was the return to form of Jayson Tatum.  While those three handled the scoring, Grayson Allen was a superb ball handler, passer, rebounder and defender even though he scored only 6 points.  Matt Jones did not score at all, but again was a defensive standout, secure ball handler and leader.  Frank Jackson had a slow game and may be hurt more than has been advertised.

The rotation

When practice began and all except Harry Giles were healthy, Coach K said his starting lineup was: Jefferson, Allen, Jones, Tatum and Bolden with Kennard and Jackson coming off the bench first.  With the injuries, Coach K moved Luke into a starter, and alternated between Jackson and Chase Jeter as the fifth starter (with Jackson securing the starting role after a couple of games).  Against Maine, Tatum (20 minutes) and Bolden (12 minutes) returned, though both looked rusty.  If you thought that return would lengthen Duke’s bench, it did not do so last night.  Bolden played 2 minutes (picked up 2 fouls) and Jeter only a minute (1 foul and 1 turnover).  The rotation was essentially 6 with Tatum replacing Jeter as the 6th man (he will be a starter going forward).  Jackson played 20 minutes — only 9 in the second half when he failed to score or have a statistic besides 0-1.  In the first half he scored 3 (1-4; 1-2 from deep).  Coach K pointed out that this team is not practicing — “our practices are just shooting and walk throughs”.  Bolden is not practicing; Tatum did not practice before the Maine game and has had only one practice after.  He was in St. Louis at the funeral of his great grandmother on Monday.  Jefferson was at the funeral of his grandmother, who is the woman that brought him up.  So neither was at the Monday session.  Allen is not practicing and Jackson is dinged up as well.  The good news is that Harry Giles is close to ready.  He has not played in contact, but Coach K suggested (with reservations) that he can be back “before Christmas”.  Vrankovich, DeLaurier, and White did not play at all.

Tatum

Against Florida, Tatum moved into the starting lineup — in reality he didn’t do it until the last 8 minutes of the first half.  Jayson replaced Jackson after 4 minutes and 9 seconds had elapsed, but was still out of sync.  He had his first 3 shots blocked and looked insecure.  He played 3 and a half minutes before Coach K took him out and told him, “We need you to play like you can play.”   With a bit under 9 minutes to go Jayson returned to the game and began to “play like he can play”.  He immediately made a layup, got rebounds, played good interior defense and then made the play of the game.  He made a great steal and superb pass that ended up in a Jefferson layup to put Duke ahead by a point.  Coach K said the play turned the game around and turned Jayson around as well.  From there on he was superb.  In the last 9 minutes of the first half he scored 6, grabbed 4 boards, and had 2 blocks.  In hindsight, one could have said, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”  Jayson simply took the game over (with Kennard) in the second half.  After playing 12 minutes in the first half, Jayson did not miss a shot in his 17 second half minutes [4-4 from the field; 8-8 from the foul line for 16 second half points and 22 for the game].  In the second half, Jayson grabbed 4 more boards, handed out 2 assists and had another block.  As Bill said, he is the real deal.  He will not be playing for Duke next year.

Kennard

Kennard has been Duke’s best player so far this season.  Any speculation that the return of the freshmen can push him from the starting lineup is being dispelled by his play.  How is this for efficiency: 29 points on just 16 shots [11-16; 5-7 from deep and 2-2 from the line] to go with 3 assists, 2 steals and a rebound (the box score says only 1 board, but I seem to remember more).  Luke simply took the game over.  Allen hit him with some great passes, which Luke converted to keep Florida at bay throughout the second half.  He has a great sense for the game and is an all-around scorer.  Luke got a 2 minute blow in the first half, logging 38 valuable minutes.

Jefferson

Amile played his best all- around game ever (though his defense against Kaminisky in the 2015 championship game was his most important game so far).  He played 39 minutes (replaced by Jeter for just a minute in the first half) of simply scintillating basketball.  He is so unselfish and such a leader.   Coach K called a play for him in the second half, and Jefferson told him to call it for Jayson instead because he had the hot hand.  That is the attitude that leads by example and makes a winning team.  Jefferson and Kennard carried the team in the first half.  In the opening stanza, Amile was 8-10; 2-2 from the line for 18 points to go with 8 boards, 2 blocks, an assist and a steal.  He played the entire second half, going 3-4 for 6 points; adding 7 more  boards and 2 more blocks.  Coach K’s called it his greatest game, and lauded him as “a basketball player”, meaning he can do it all, including handle the ball.

Allen

Grayson had an off game shooting and is clearly hampered by his turf toe.  He was 2-10 [1-5 from deep and 1-2 from the line], but he found other ways to help his team.  In his 35 minutes, Allen had 8 assists to lead the team, and some of them were simply exquisite.  Coach K thinks he is “trying too hard, but he will be fine.”  After Saturday’s game against UNLV, Duke has exams, which means time off for Grayson to rest and the team to practice.

Jones

Matt played 36 minutes without scoring [0-4; 0-2 from deep without getting to the line], yet he is so valuable.  He played great defense, had 3 boards, a steal, an assist and a block.  I think he will benefit from the exam break.

Jackson

Let us see how he plays against UNLV on Saturday.  He looked very out of sync against Florida.

Next Game

The first time Duke has played UNLV since the great win in 1991 in the semi-finals of the NCAA.  In Vegas on Saturday at 5:15.

Duke 94– Las Vegas 45

Holy Player of the Year, Batman. Grayson Allen is finally healthy–34 points in 29 minutes! The kid was on fire with his whole repertoire: uptown high flying, trampoline dunks and acrobatic drives, downtown and all-around-town threes. If you missed the game, click on goDuke.com for the highlights. UNLV probably made a mistake by roughing up Allen in the first minutes, pushing him around and then even choking him in a scrub. Mistake, big mistake. This is Grayson Allen 3.0. He channeled his aggression into scoring, rather than getting even.

This game was the 25th anniversary of Duke’s coming of age upset win over Jerry Tarkanian’s undefeated #1 seeded UNLV 79-77 in the semi-final game of the 1991 NCAA Championships. It was sweet payback for the previous year when UNLV embarrassed Duke 103-73 for the National Championship. What a difference twenty-five years makes and what a great 25 years it has been for Coach K and Duke basketball!

Coach said before the game that with all its injuries, Duke was in October mode rather than December mode because so many injured players still have to be brought up to speed, including Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson, and Grayson Allen. Well, Duke is starting to get healthy and have the practices it hoped for entering the season. Despite all that, today the Blue Devils were in mid-season form and put on an offensive and defensive clinic —a scary thought for future opponents. Allen and Kennard combined for 50 points, outscoring UNLV by themselves. The team  shot 60% from the floor, had 18 assists, and forced the Running Rebels into more travels than assists.

It appears that with Jefferson and Tatum in the game, the Blue Devils will run a double high post at the foul line, leaving the low post open for drives or cutters. Both big men are very good ball handlers, passers, and put the ball on the floor with confidence. Amile had another double-double and Jayson is 2000 version of Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes, who was an integral part of  championship teams at UCLA, Golden State, and the Lakers.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves but this team has demonstrated they have the talent, feel for the game, and chemistry to have a very, very exciting, special season. For sure, it should be fun to be a Blue Devil fan. Buckle up!

Other Comments:

  • Harry Giles is scheduled to be activated for game play on December 19th against Tennessee State in Cameron. If he remains healthy and is nearly as good as advertised, Coach K will have an embarrassment of talent at his disposal. Even if Giles is not totally healthy, the distribution of minutes will be interesting. So far, it is hard to imagine another Big Man being as productive as Jefferson has been or any combination of guards being as prolific scorers as Luke Kennard and a healthy Grayson Allen or any power forward being as versatile and lethal as Jayson Tatum or as good a defender and savvy a veteran as Matt Jones. So even as promising as Frank Jackson is or big and athletic as Marques Bolden (who appears to be the only unhappy bench camper) is, whose minutes should be dramatically cut?  I’m sure the coaches will sort it all out without getting heartburn.
  • Highlight Reel: Frank Jackson had an sensationally athletic dunk off a missed shot that was only the third runner up to two of Grayson’s and Luke Kennard gave up and open floor layup for a blind drop off pass to a trailing Jayson Tatum. Its unselfish plays like this that establishes a tight bond between teammates.
  • My buddy and (among other talents) sports aficionado Peter, who lives in Las Vegas, was at the game. His   take: “UNLV was simply outmatched, outplayed, out coached, and out classed.”
  • With all the good, young announcers working for ESPN, why is the ubiquitous Dickie V still doing so many college basketball games? The guy will not shut up and let the viewers enjoy the game. While Vitale enthusiastically drones on and on about his buddies Tony Bennett, J Lo, Reba, Brooks & Dunn etc., he might have noticed that a basketball game was actually being played.

Alan Adds:

When Jake Rupert owned the Yankees in the midst of their Ruthian domination in the 1920s, his idea of a perfect game was, “The Yankees score 8 or 9 runs in the first inning, and then slowly pull away.”  That is a fair description of Duke’s annihilation of UNLV yesterday.  I want to talk about Duke’s smothering defense and amazing performance in the second half (at both ends of the floor).  In the first half, Duke played great defense until the contested shot went up, then Coach K said that Duke started to try and run on the break too early.  The result was loose ball rebounds that went to the Runnin’ Rebels, who turned those loose ball rebounds into open 3 pointers (UNLV made 3 in a row like that).  At the intermission, Coach K said, “don’t worry about running except on turnovers.”  The result was one of the most outstanding and efficient halves that a Duke team has played.  Duke held UNLV to 19 second half points, playing amazing team defense.  Don’t ever wonder why Matt Jones is on the floor even though he is not scoring; he leads the perimeter defense and can guard all positions.

Most of UNLV’s 19 came when the freshmen were playing.  You can see that neither Tatum nor Bolden is yet comfortable with Duke’s switching and help defense to negate an opponent’s drive, when the adversary gets past the perimeter defense.  Watching Jefferson, Kennard and Jones do that was like watching Balanchine’s NY City Ballet.  It was really beautiful.  The Rebs got no open looks on the interior and were only 6-25; 2-9 from deep and were only 5-9 from the line in the last half.  Duke’s second half offense was equally breathtaking, shooting 70% from the field (21-30) with 12 assists on the 21 baskets.  Grayson was 4-4 from deep and Kennard made his only 3 point attempt in the second half.  Jackson was 1-2; only Jones (0-4) was off from behind the arc.  Duke had 12 assists against only 7 turnovers.  Duke humbled UNLV on the boards, but that is partly explained by how few defensive rebounds there were for the Rebs to grab.  Coach K was excited because “we played with passion.”  Coach K had the team watch the tape of the 1991 victory over the Runnin’ Rebs in the National semi-finals “so we would know we were playing a proud opponent.”  Of course, no Duke player had yet been born when that game was played.  But, the passion in this team was evident from the opening tip-off.

The Rotation

Vrankovich and Justin Robinson did not play (the Admiral was in attendance), while Jack White logged 4 garbage time minutes; and, Javin DeLaurier played 8 minutes (all in the second half).  Marquis Bolden is obviously: 1) not in game shape; 2) rusty; and 3) talented with a huge potential to shore up Duke’s inside game.  He played 13 minutes — 8 in the first half (he is part of the rotation, while the others mentioned above are not), scoring 6 on 3-5 shooting and looking competent in the low post.  However, he also had 3 turnovers and committed 2 fouls in that abbreviated stint.  Unfortunately, he reminds me of Okafor on the defensive end.  He hasn’t yet picked up on the help and switching, but he is so athletic that it is fair to project that he will do so this year.  In the first half, Kennard never came out; Allen was out for a minute and Jefferson for 2.  The rest of the minutes were evenly divided among Jones (11), Tatum and Jackson (10 each).  Jeter started (he is from Las Vegas) but played only 6 minutes.  For the game, Kennard played 34 minutes (garbage time started when he came out for the first time with 6 minutes to go), Jefferson 30 and Grayson 29.  Jayson Tatum logged 24 minutes and played well down the stretch after struggling early.  Matt Jones played 23 minutes and Jackson played 20 minutes.  Jeter played 9 minutes in the second half (15 for the game), but is not showing enough to keep in the rotation once Bolden is in game shape.  And that is not even yet considering how Harry Giles’s playing time will be allotted.

The Front Court

For now, Jayson Tatum is playing in the forecourt and playing big.  He grabbed 5 boards (tied for second on the team) and 2 blocks and 2 steals to shore up the interior.  He also got hot late in the game and finished with 13 points [5-11; 1-3 from deep and 2-4 from the line] to go with 3 assists.  The rust is coming off; he is a big time player.  Jefferson was simply superb, notching another double-double 10 points [4-6 from the field and 2-2 from the line] to go with 12 boards.  He also had 5 assists to lead the team in that department against only 2 turnovers.  Coach K now uses him to help break the press because of his reliable ball handling.  Bolden, Jeter, and DeLaurier are works in progress.  Bolden has the most upside potential, but has a ways to go.  Then there is the intriguing prospect of Harry Giles’s return.

The Scintillating Back Court

Kennard and Allen had Player of the Year-like games.  Allen appeared to be back in his All-American form as Bill described above.   How is this for a gaudy stat line:  34 efficient points on 16 shots [12-16; 6-9 from deep; 4-5 from the line] to go with 4 rebounds an assist and one highlight dunk.  Grayson practiced for the first time since the Kansas game before this game and said after the game that he is almost 100% (UNLV would rather not see him at 100% then if this was “almost”), and should be fully recovered by the next game in 10 days.  Kennard’s stat line was every bit as gaudy: 16 points on 12 shots [6-12; 2-5 from 3land; 2-2 from the line] to go with 5 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals and 0 fouls or turnovers.  What a one-two punch! In the back to go with Jefferson and Tatum up front.  Frank Jackson played an excellent 20 minutes scoring 9 [4-5 from the field; 1-1 from deep] with 2 assists, 2 steals and a rebound (2 turnovers).  Jones scored only 2 in his 23 minutes [1-5; 0-4 from deep] to go with 3 boards; 3 assists and 2 steals.

The Status of the Team Going into Exams

Duke has 10 days before playing Tennessee State (who lost in overtime yesterday to NC State).  Coach K said the team will use the time to study, get healthy, and get the reps in practice of the returning players playing with each other.  Tatum and Bolden had only practiced twice before the UNLV game; and Allen only once.  Everyone, including Harry Giles, participated in the last practice for the first time.  Giles did not scrimmage, but is playing contact one on one and is running well.  Coach K said, “he is coming soon”, but cautioned about expectations: he hasn’t played a game in 13 months.  “There will be a period of adjustment”, said K.  It will be exciting just to have Giles start back adjusting.  If he re-integrates smoothly, he will be a major force in Duke’s interior defense.

It’s all a pretty exciting prospect for the coming conference wars!

Duke  65– Tennessee State 55

Christmas almost came six days early for Tennessee State as all the Duke players except Luke Kennard shot for much of the game like they had pulled too many exam week all-nighters. Finally, a too-close-for-comfort game was broken open midway through the second half with a 25-5 run. Freshman Jayson Tatum, who was a non- factor in the first half, played an instrumental role in the second half. He finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 14 points and 9 boards. Three of his defensive rebounds led to assists for triples on the other end—two by Kennard and one by Allen– which ignited the decisive run.

TSU is the kind of team top seeds are likely to meet in the NCAA Tournament and often give bigger, better known programs trouble– think Belmont and Lehigh. They are older, more mature players starting three redshirt seniors and two juniors who just nine days ago were able to take N.C. State into overtime. Since these type of teams are overmatched, they limit possessions by taking their time on offense, play defense with a physicality that’s hard to match, and do not take plays off. This slower, more patient approach often frustrates younger, more celebrated opponents.

Fortunately, Luke Kennard’s 25 points, solid defense, and Jefferson’s 18 boards kept Duke in the game until other offensive help arrived. Among other contributions, Jayson Tatum made consecutive 3-pointers to stretch Duke’s lead to 20 with a little more than seven minutes left in the game. Jayson started  slowly. He scored only two points over the first 31 minutes, but found other ways to help his team by playing tough defense, rebounding, blocking shots, and making steals—namely, playing Duke Basketball.

Coach K commented: “He did dirty work in the second half. . . . That was a big game for him. . . . Be a player. If you define yourself by a shot, you’re not going to be a real winner. You define yourself by the score. Any player who defines himself by the score, will find a way to win.”

Harry Giles, Duke’s most celebrated freshman recruit, who has not played in a real game for more than a year, made his first competitive appearance tonight as a Blue Devil. He played four uneventful but apparently healthy minutes as he works his way and confidence into competitive shape.

Other comments:

  • The UNLV game aside, Grayson Allen is not yet shooting as well as last year. He even missed three free throws.
  • Duke left a lot of points off the scoreboard by missing an uncharacteristic 13 free throws.
  • What a pleasure it was to have the always knowledgeable and informative Doris Burke as the TV analyst.

Alan Adds:

Coach K said he told his team that Tennessee State is just like a team The Devils will draw in the NCAA tournament.  The visitors play a tough cohesive team defense and rebound aggressively.  The Tennessee team defense showed up in the first half.  Duke’s terrible offensive first half was about half of the opponents’ defense and half of simply missing open shots.  To give an idea of how off Duke was, consider that if we subtract Luke Kennard’s 3-3 first half, Duke shot 4-22 (and missed 6 foul shots).  The game was interesting to us because of: 1) the rotation, which foreshadows how Coach K will proceed with his returning injured freshmen; 2) Kennard’s superb performance; 3) Jason Tatum’s terrific second half after an unproductive opening stanza; 4) Duke’s excellent defense when the veterans are on the court.

The rotation

Coach K wants to win games.  He was very clear: “I am not about individuals; this is about the group and about winning.”  He emphasized the individuals need to think about winning and fitting in.  I loved his quote that Bill recited above.  Good players define themselves by the score of the game.  He used Tatum as an example.  Tatum played only nine minutes in the first half, missing both of his long range attempts and turning the ball over twice.  In the second half, he played every minute and turned the game Duke’s way.  But K was also clear that Tatum is still growing.  When the team went to him in the high post as the game wound down, he passed up some open shots (three Coach K said).  The other wounded freshmen made brief appearances in the first half — Giles for 4 uneventful and unimpressive minutes (to be expected) and Bolden for 6 frustrating minutes (especially frustrating on the defensive end).  Jeter contributed 10 minutes — 6 at the end of the first half when Duke took the lead by 5 after trailing by 5; and 4 unproductive in the second half.  Surprisingly, Jackson played only 13 minutes (4 fouls) — 7 in the first half and 6 in the second.  He has only practiced once because of the academic requirements.  Only 6 players scored for Duke and 3 of them each had only 5 points (Jones, Jefferson and Jackson).  The starters logged heavy minutes, especially in the second half.  Kennard was only out for a minute.  Grayson played 35 minutes, Jefferson 33 and Jones 31.  Tatum played the entire second half for a total of 29 minutes.

The Defense

Duke played good defense all night, though Tennessee State penetrated to the basket more easily early in the game. In the second half, Duke’s defense turned the game, getting consecutive stops and turnovers.  Duke trailed 36-34 with 15 minutes left in the second half. Eight minutes later, Duke led by 20 (59-39).  Duke gave up 3 points in 8 minutes while scoring 25.  Coach K said in that stretch, Duke played beautiful basketball.  Jefferson and Tatum protected the rim and Duke’s defensive backboard.  Tennessee State got only 4 offensive rebounds in the entire game (and it is a good rebounding team). Jefferson pulled down a career high 18 boards.  Tatum had 9 rebounds and 2 blocks.  The defense was porous when Bolden anchored the middle and Giles was understandably uncertain.  Jeter looked good in the first half and wholly inadequate in the second.  When Duke led by 20, Coach K replaced Jefferson and Jones with Jeter and Jackson.  A minute later the lead was down to 15 and Jefferson and Jones returned to the game.  The veterans make the defense … for now.

The Offense

Aside from the dramatic spurt that blew the game open, Luke Kennard, and Tatum’s second half, Duke’s offense was worse than merely ragged.  Luke was quite amazing, scoring 24 on just 10 shots (7-10; 3-5 from deep; and 7-8 from the line) to go with 3 boards and an assist.  He carried Duke in the first half (11 points on 3-3; 1-1; and 4-4 from the line).  While Jayson scored only 2 in his 9 first half minutes, he notched 12 in the second half for a team second high 14 (4-11; 2-6 — they were daggers — from deep and 4-5 from the line).  Allen was also a double figure scorer with 12, while it was not a good shooting game for Grayson (2-7; 1-6 from behind the arc; and 7-11 from the line), he was terrific in the rest of his game.  He pulled down 5 boards, and handed out 2 assists without a turnover.  Jefferson was uncharacteristically missing shots he usually makes and was a disaster from the foul line (2-7 from the field and 1-8 from the line). Matt was also reticent and off (2-8; 1-4 from deep for his 5 points).  Jackson was 2-6 (1-3 from deep) for his 5 points.

Yet for those 10 –12 minutes in the second half, the offense hummed and it didn’t matter who shot.  The ball moved with spirit and purpose.  As Coach K said, the point is not who scored but that Duke scored.

The end of Non-Conference

Tomorrow Duke plays Elon before Conference play opens against Virginia Tech at noon on December 31, 2016.  Duke fans are savoring the possibilities of 2017.

DUKE  72 – ELON 61

Before James B. Duke rescued a struggling campus in Durham, North Carolina suffering from an identity crisis—named and renamed Brown School, Union Institute, Normal College, Trinity College—by establishing the $40,000,000 Duke Endowment, Elon University, which  apparently did not suffer from any such personality disorder, beat the whatever-your-name-is school seven times. It’s amazing what a large endowment and name change can accomplish because since the 1924 personality transplant and cosmetic surgery, Elon has not beaten Duke in basketball. However, tonight the Phoenix must have been suffering from dyslexia and not realized whom they were playing, because at the half they lead 35-34.

If anyone thought a Coach K team would let an opponent from the Colonial Athletic Association continue to shoot 50% from the three point line again in the second half (try 12.5%), they haven’t been paying attention. Nevertheless, this was the second unimpressive and troubling game for the highly ranked Blue Devils. The highlights were Matt Jones defense, Jayson Tatum’s sophisticated game, Luke Kennard’s scoring, and Amile Jefferson’s free throw shooting (9-12). If the Blue Devils had shot the same percentage from the foul line as they did against Tennessee State, it would have been a two point game. On the other hand, there was Marques Bolden’s continuing to struggle defensively and the question of how far Harry Giles has to go to live up to his reputation.

However, by far the most perplexing question is: What’s going on with Grayson Allen? He has been struggling with a foot injury and inconsistency and to add insult to injury has gone from a Player-of-the-Year candidate to designated Punk-of-the-Year candidate with one more unnecessary tripping incident. If you watch the replay in real time, not slow-motion, you will get the better perspective of the speed and physicality of the action. There is contact with a driving Steve Santa Ana who clamps Grayson’s arm between his arm and body, throwing Grayson off balance. In attempting to stabilize himself while doing a 180, an angry Allen throws a leg into the back of Steve’s leg knocking him to the ground. While an adolescent retaliation to tough, physical play, it was a misdemeanor not a Draymond Green or Cris Paul type felony. But Allen plays for Duke and Coach K, so the reaction will be a firestorm of indignation and demands for a pound of flesh—or more. And because video tape replay is ubiquitous, ESPN announcers and sports writers being who they are, and social media being what it is, this incident will live as long Duke is in the hunt this year—and longer.  In the short term, Duke is not a national contender without Grayson Allen 3.0 being at least Grayson Allen 2.0. So far, except for the UNLV game, he is not. Allen is finally physically healthy but, after tonight’s post foul meltdown, his emotional health is a huge question mark. Just consider the toll that the white hot light of the media contributed to the deterioration of Tiger Woods’ golf game. Alan has some very interesting comments on the impact of the Grayson Allen situation upon the team.

Fortunately, this team has enough depth to make adjustments for a missing-in-action player. In just  a few games Jayson Tatum has not only shown flashes of an exceptionally sophisticated offensive skill set, he also plays the entire game with a maturity seldom seen in a freshman. However, the three players that are keeping this 12-1 team together are the senior co-captains Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, and sophomore Luke Kennard. Luke’s scoring obviously has filled the stat sheet void left by Grayson’s travails and Amile’s double/doubles are clear evidence of his contributions. But a lot of what Matt contributes doesn’t show up on a stat sheet. It doesn’t track dives on the floor or tipped or stolen passes or forcing a ball handler to set up the offense near mid court or dribble with this weaker hand. Jones never takes a rest on defense and when a team threats Duke, he’s usually the guy who steps up with a play that gets the team back on course and in control. He’s truly become a coaches’ player, one the fans may overlook but a savvy coach covets.

Alan Adds:

Grayson Allen

Everything that happened in this game pales in significance in relation to how the team will react to the Grayson Allen trip redux (again).  In my opinion, this is one of those events that has the capacity to derail the entire season. I eschew a discussion of what either Coach K or the ACC should do in this situation.  My focus is on how this incident can or will affect the fortunes of this team going forward.  Anyone who has seen Allen’s post-game interview knows how deeply affected and ashamed he was.  It was painful to watch.  As readers knows, I have unbridled respect and admiration for Coach K, but listening to him at the post-game press conference had me cringing.  Not intellectually, but emotionally.  I wanted to turn him off because some his words made me very uncomfortable.  Some were, however, words of wisdom.  Coach K said we have all done stupid things that have hurt ourselves.  That makes one feel bad.  But when the stupid thing you do hurts not only yourself, but your family or in this case your team, you feel much worse.  Coach K was clear: this was a team captain who knows he let his team down in the game for sure, and maybe for the season.  Duke had a 32-24 lead when the incident and technical foul occurred with 4:15 left in the first half.  Duke scored no further field goals and only 2 points on Kennard’s 2 free throws to trail 35-34 at the half.  It was a terrible game for Grayson even before the incident.  He scored one 3 in his 13 first half minutes and failed to score at all in his 9 second half minutes.  He was 1-8; 1-6 without getting to the foul line to go with 3 boards and 2 second half assists.  We will have to see how this shakes out.  It is not necessarily a disaster, but it is surely a potential one.

The Rotation

Bill’s analysis is superb.  The only aspect I might add is about Harry Giles, who played a perfunctory 2 minutes in the first half.  He logged 4 in the second half, scoring his first collegiate point (1-2 from the line with a rebound).  However, he is already moving better and showing some confidence.  I predict Giles will take less time than expected to begin to positively impact this team.  But for now the rotation was as thin as ever.  In the second half, Frank Jackson played 16 minutes.  Grayson’s 9 and Giles’s 4 were the only rest the main five were given in the closing stanza.  Tatum played 19, Kennard 18, and both Jones and Jefferson played 17.   In the first half, Marquis Bolden appeared for 3 minutes (and gave up 2 open 3 pointers on defense) without registering a statistic.  His defense is behind in spite of how athletic he is. Chase Jeter played 7 first half minutes, but 0 in the second half. Frank Jackson played 13 minutes in the first half for a starter’s playing time of 29 minutes in the game.   Tatum led the team in minutes with 38, followed by Kennard with 36, Jones 34, Jackson 29 and Jefferson 27 (only 10 in the first half while Coach K gave Jeter, Bolden and Giles a few front court minutes.

The front court

Jefferson sparkled in the second half as Duke put the game away.  After a scoreless first half (4 boards), he was 2-2 from the field and 9-12 from the line for 13 second half points (and 3 more boards).  Jayson Tatum should be described in both front and back court sections.  Although his shot is still not where it will be — in his 38 minutes he took 22 shots, scoring 18 points (7-22; 0-4 from downtown and 4-4 from the line) — he was quite amazing.  He led Duke in rebounding with 8, blocks with 4 and assists with 3.  He had 2 steals (2nd to Matt Jones’s 5).  Giles will supply some added support in the front court as the season progresses.  Whether Jeter and Bolden will provide significant support this season is up in the air.  Coach K pointed out that Elon centers were given open looks from behind the arc and made 4-4.  Jefferson was victimized once; Bolden twice and Giles once, all in the first half.  Elon was 7-14 from 3land in the first half, but when the defense tightened up, 1-8 from downtown in the second half.  Jefferson did give up a 3, but the defense was back to being Duke.

The backcourt

Kennard was again superb leading Duke in scoring with 21 points on 17 shots [7-17; 2-4 from 3land; 5-6 from the line], grabbing 7 boards (same as Amile) to go with a block and a steal.  Matt Jones was absolutely superb with 5 disruptive steals and some solid second half defense.  In his 34 minutes he scored 9 on 6 shots [4-6; 1-3 from behind the arc] to go with 6 boards, an assist and a block.  Jackson picked up Allen’s minutes, scoring 7 in his 29 minutes on 2-5; 1-3 from 3land and 2-2 from the line.  He has been hampered by some physical problems and exams; so has only practiced once recently.

The Conference

The ACC will be brutal this year, and winning on the road will be difficult.  Duke opens ACC play on New Year’s Eve day at noon against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.  Phase 2 of this season begins.

Hi Folks:

I have received some criticism about my comments on the Grayson Allen tripping incident. Let me be crystal clear: It was wrong, it was juvenile, it was puzzling. Allen needs to be more mature, more disciplined and, probably, needs professional counseling. However, they were poor sportsmanship not vicious thuggery. No one was even close to being injured. When you consider the totality of his academic and athletic accomplishments, his personality, and how well liked he is by his teammates, I do not understand how a few seconds of flawed emotional judgement out of twenty years of exceptional accomplishments justifies the outpouring of  the volume of acrimony against him, Coach K, and Duke Basketball. I am confident that between the coaches, his teammates, and the university, Grayson will survive this firestorm.

Below is a very thoughtful piece by Al Featherston on Grayson that I hope everyone will take the time to read or even re-read. The only thing I would like to add is that just viewing the edited version of the three tripping incidents does not tell the whole story. Grayson has demonstrated that he plays very hard but fair and also takes a lot of punishment. As the commercial says, “He takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Prior to all three incidents, there was contact and, in two instances, physical aggression against Grayson that was missed or overlooked by the refs. I’m sure that was the trigger for the retaliation.

As an example of the current state of sports journalism, I am also including a link to a CBS piece on the most hated Duke Basketball players.

Alan adds:

For me, Featherstone hits the problem in the heart of the bull’s eye when he wrote: “Like Allen’s first two trips, the play wasn’t that noteworthy – other than it was the third time such a play involved Allen.

Even worse, in my mind, was Allen’s reaction to the play.  Frankly, he went berserk.  Assistant coach Jon Scheyer had to muscle him to the bench, all the time, mouthing “Calm down.” But for about 30 seconds, Allen was out of control. I’m not sure where his anger was directed – at Santa Ana? At the refs? At himself?

We actually need to know about those 30 seconds and what was in Grayson’s mind that triggered such an out of control reaction.  It’s the key to solving the problem.  Was he feeling victimized or berserk at himself for undoing all of the off-season good in two shockingly stupid seconds.  Featherstone is right that the play and technical foul were no big deal.  Bill is right.  No one was even close to being hurt; it wasn’t the type of thuggery that we see routinely in games; and it wasn’t deliberately sneaky as say Chris Paul was with Julius Hodge (deliberate shot to the groin while they were just standing there).  Nevertheless, those defenses miss the point.  This is the third time and after much public scrutiny, outcry from fans and media; and much soul searching and correction by Grayson.   When it happens again, followed by a meltdown that was clearly seems to be some type of diagnosable disorder, we have a very serious problem — for not only Grayson, but for Duke’s season.

I don’t see a Grayson defense in the social media.  It can only keep the flames high.  We know there are stupid people who fan the flames of disparagement (Proven rather dramatically in the past few months). This is an internal problem, and whether it is solved in a way that saves Grayson, his future and the Duke season remains to be seen.

Concern For Grayson Allen

Only a handful of people fully understand what happened to Grayson Allen against Elon but how he responds is critical.

by Al Featherston

Mike Krzyzewski once talked about the problems he faced in dealing with the great Christian Laettner.

Laettner was an intense and combative player. Those qualities were what lifted him to greatness. But they also made the Blue Devil star difficult to deal with. Several of his teammates complained that Laettner was as tough on his teammates in practice as he was on opponents in games. Freshman Cherokee Parks had some particularly ugly run-ins with Laettner in 1991-92, while fellow All-Americans Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley admitted that there were times that they almost hated Laettner.

Krzyzewski knew what was going on, but he had to walk the fine line between controlling Laettner’s fire and extinguishing it. His metaphor is that dealing with Laettner was like tending a furnace in the basement of a building – the trick was to use the fire to heat the building without burning it down.

In Laettner’s case, Krzyzewski never let the building burn. He controlled the fire well enough to earn two national titles and four straight Final Fours in Laettner’s four seasons.

Well, it doesn’t take a fire fighter to understand that K’s building is smoldering today.

A quarter century after Laettner, Grayson Allen brings a very similar fire to the Duke program. His aggressiveness and combativeness is what lifts him from good to great. When controlled, Allen is like a force of nature on the court, asserting his will and dominating the game.

Unfortunately, Allen’s fire has not been as well-controlled as Laettner’s inferno. The older Duke star really only lost control once in his career, when he tapped the chest of fallen Kentucky center Aminu Timberlake in the 1992 East Regional title game. It was not a dangerous or vicious blow – certainly not the “stomp” that Duke haters like to call it. But it was an expression of Laettner’s frustration and a moment when he lost control.

It was also the only in-game loss of control by Laettner in his career.

The problem in Allen’s case is that he’s lost it three times in the last season-and-a-third. He first tripped Louisville’s Raymond Spalding last Feb. 8 in Durham. It was easy to see what caused the play – Allen was bounced to the floor on a driving layup attempt without a foul call. He clearly reacted out of frustration.

And while his trip was inexcusable, it was not as inherently dangerous as the blow that sent him flying to the ground.

If that had been the end of it, Allen’s trip would have been as obscure as the elbow to the face that he took from Louisville’s Jaylen Johnson in the rematch with Louisville later that month (a blow that didn’t earn Johnson a technical foul or a suspension).

But Allen followed his Louisville trip by tripping FSU’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes in the final seconds of Duke’s victory in Cameron. This one was different. Allen and Rathan-Mayes were jawing as the clock ran down on the Blue Devil victory, when Allen stuck out his leg and tripped his antagonist. It was almost a playful action – except such action has no place on a college court – especially not from a player already involved in one tripping incident.

Suddenly, Allen was the most famous tripper in America – the subject of countless diatribes on ESPN and on other outlets. He was universally condemned (even vilified) and many were outraged when the ACC failed to do more than reprimand the Duke star.

Allen was contrite in public, apologizing profusely and promising that he had learned his lesson. For the first 12 games of the season, the tripping problem seemed to be behind him. There was much more emphasis on his struggles to overcome an injured toe.

Then came Wednesday night in Greensboro.

Allen’s trip of Elon’s Steven Santa Ana was deliberate and inexcusable. As Santa Anna drove for the basketball, Allen clearly bumped him, drawing a foul. But when Santa Ana ended the play by making a flailing attempt to get a shot off (a move Allen attempts time after time) it got ugly. Their arms locked and Santa Ana’s momentum spun Allen around.

It was during that spin that the Duke junior stretched out his leg and tried to trip the Elon guard.

Like Allen’s first two trips, the play wasn’t that noteworthy – other than it was the third time such a play involved Allen.

Even worse, in my mind, was Allen’s reaction to the play.

Frankly, he went berserk.

Assistant coach Jon Scheyer had to muscle him to the bench, all the time, mouthing “Calm down.” But for about 30 seconds, Allen was out of control. I’m not sure where his anger was directed – at Santa Ana? At the refs? At himself?

Krzyzewski didn’t want to talk about the incident after the game, other than to call the play “inexcusable” and to report that he had forced Allen to personally apologize to Santa Ana and Elon coach Mike Matheny.

The next morning, Duke released a statement from Krzyzewski, reporting that Allen was suspended indefinitely.

Obviously, this creates concern for the Blue Devils going forward. Their next game will be Dec. 31 at Virginia Tech, which is likely to be a ranked team at that point. Without Allen, a tough game becomes even tougher. After that are two gimmies – home games with Georgia Tech and Boston College.

But concerns for Duke going forward have to be secondary to concerns about Allen’s future. Krzyzewski made it clear Wednesday night that he is concerned for the kid and getting him on track is his primary concern.

It would be easier to deal with if Allen was a simple thug.

But he’s not. He’s a well-spoken young man and an academic All-America. Unlike Laettner, he’s not disliked by his teammates. On most occasions, he’s exactly the NCAA’s ideal “student-athlete.”

Except when he’s not.

It would take a psychiatric professional (which I am NOT) to judge the roots of Allen’s apparent anger issues. But those issues – whatever the cause – have to be addressed … and corrected.

I honestly believe that’s why Krzyzewski suspended Allen “indefinitely” – rather than for a set number of games. His suspension will not be dictated by the schedule, but by Allen’s response to his Wednesday night meltdown.

I’ll be honest … it scared me.

I may be an alarmist here, but I recall a number of ACC players who had mental issues. There was Wake Forest center Loren Wood – a player Krzyzewski once asked the Crazies to lay off, who after a breakdown in Winston-Salem, recovered to help Arizona to the 2001 national title game (a loss to Duke). There was Ray Harrison, a guard from Greensboro who once beat out David Thompson as North Carolina’s prep player of the year. Harrison had a great junior year for UNC, but had issues the next year and struggled.

Then there was Mike Wilkes, a forward who helped Virginia to one of the great upsets in ACC history – a victory over UNC and Charlie Scott in the 1970 ACC Tournament. Friends were bothered by Wilkes’ bizarre behavior off the court and one night he melted down on the court, showing up with a shaved head, putting himself into a game, then having a meltdown in the locker room. Wilkes died very young of mysterious causes.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Allen’s problems are anywhere near that level … or even that he has serious issues at all. I just want to be sure he doesn’t have such issues … and I feel sure that Krzyzewski has the same concern.

Allen’s future is more important than the future of this Duke basketball team.

Duke will be fine. I just hope Allen is.

DUKE  75 – VIRGINIA TECH 89

When I saw Duke opened the ACC regular season with an away game at Virginia Tech, I thought: “Not good.” And when Grayson Allen was suspended, I cringed because the Hokies (11-1) usually have been a tough out in Blacksburg plus new coach Buzz Williams had assembled and honed a team of talented players who can match up with and beat any team in the country. Unfortunately, today that team was Duke which, playing without the suspended Grayson Allen, was about as out of synch as you will ever see a Coach K team. However, even with Grayson playing, it is doubtful the result would have been different– only closer, because the truth is the Hokies played inspired, exciting, even superb team basketball and dominated Duke in all phases of the game.

The Blue Devils, on the other hand, contributed to their own defeat. The freshman had a rude awakening to life on the road in the ACC, where veteran players and observers can tell you that no win is easy or assured. (Example: Carolina lost on the road to bottom feeder Georgia Tech today.) When a team shoots as poorly Duke did, it hands an athletic opponent the opportunity to run off easy baskets, get the crowd into the game, and suddenly, shots become tougher to make, (you think) the calls aren’t going your way, and the entire tide and trajectory of the game changes. The only thing worse than the Blue Devils’ offense was their defense. There was no weak side help, the Hokies drove and scored like it was a playground pick-up game, and there were too many open threes that hit nothing but net. The shellacking was so bad that the Blue Devils not only never had a lead, they never even made one of their patented runs at the lead.

The number tell the story: Duke shot 42%; Va. Tech shot 55%. Duke had two players ( Kennard 34 pts. & Tatum 18 pts.) in double figures; Va. Tech had six players in double figures. But the truth is this loss should come as no surprise, because Duke has not played very well in their last three games. Unfortunately, I fear that the game pointed out how important Grayson Allen is to the chemistry and efficiency of this team–not only offensively but also defensively and emotionally. Krzyzewski said after the game that he did not want to talk about when Allen might return but noted that the junior is no longer a co-captain. He also noted that breaks for exams and vacations can have a negative effect upon the cohesiveness of a team with young players and players returning from injuries.

Jayson Tatum took a half to adjust to life on the road before playing like we have come to expect. Frank Jackson, who also started, does not appear to have fully recovered from his unspecified ankle/foot injury. Harry Giles (4 points and 8 rebounds) looked more comfortable playing 13 minutes but is obviously still working his way back in shape and feeling his way back from his serious injury. Marques Bolden in his 3 minutes looked more and more like a project.

Suddenly, this team has gone from a Final Four contender to one with more questions than answers: 1) When will Grayson Allen return and will that have a positive or negative impact? 2) What did Luke Kennard mean when he said that some players not as invested in the team as they should be? 3) Why did Frank Jackson walk away from Captain Amile Jefferson in the Tech game when Amile was trying to make a point? We have seen this movie before and Coach K has usually found a solution but he has never had four highly-hyped freshmen projected first round picks, three of whom are underperforming.

There will be two home games against Georgia Tech and Boston College for the Blue Devils to recover from whatever ails them before they hit the road again against Florida State and Louisville.

Alan Adds:

After the Elon game, I wrote, “Everything that happened in this game pales in significance in relation to how the team will react to the Grayson Allen trip redux (again).  In my opinion, this is one of those events that has the capacity to derail the entire season.”   Nothing that transpired in Blacksburg changes my feeling.  Even Coach K seemed on the ropes in one of his least insightful post-game press conferences (essentially admitting he did not have insight).  When Coach K was asked how long it would take this team to jell and become cohesive, Coach K simply said, it can happen quickly or it can take a long time.  Sometimes a team never jells; we call them losing teams.”  He did say that team building was not a science and is “a beautiful part of the game”.  Other signs that Coach K is (temporarily) lost.  He said, “I do not want to talk about Grayson” before announcing Grayson has been stripped of his captaincy.  Coach K said, “Duke is not playing as one.  It’s not selfishness; it is a lack of familiarity because of the constant interruptions — injuries, Grayson etc.

Take Heart; All is Not Lost

We might all remember Duke’s last two National Championship seasons.  In 2015, Duke was riding high at 14-0 when the wheels came off in January,  On January 11, Duke got bombed on the road by NC State 87-75.  We all expected Duke to rebound ferociously at home after the loss (a Coach K trademark).  Instead Duke got blown out in an even worse performance by Miami 90-74.   Coach K got that ship righted, turning a woeful defensive team into a defensive force by tournament time.  In 2010, Duke was struggling in January.  A most embarrassing loss came in DC against Georgetown on January 30, with President Obama in attendance, when the Hoyas destroyed Duke 89-77 (the game was not that close).  Duke actually lost twice in January besides to Georgetown — at Georgia Tech and at NC State.  Coach K got the ship righted and Duke went undefeated in February; and only lost one more game on its road to the NCAA championship.

Preseason, I wrote that defense would define the Duke season, pointing out that Duke has not been Duke defensively for a few years except for the tournament run in 2015.  Coach K had hoped to run and press with his loaded roster, but there has been no chance to do that because of the interruptions.  Duke could not have looked worse defensively against Virginia Tech.  In my opinion, much of that is caused by Grayson’s absence.  Grayson has been great on the defensive side — he is an excellent on the ball defender, excellent help defender, excellent defensive rebounder, and provides excellent pressing.  All of that was missing yesterday.  In my opinion, the absence of practice time for the whole rotation together is largely responsible.  That’s good news because it is fixable.  Right now, the freshmen all either look lost on defense or are prone to making a mistake in a particular defensive rotation.  A couple of times, Duke played solid defense for 25-26 seconds before allowing points.  I believe the defense will get better, though it will take time and a healthy full roster.

Duke won the second half 44-42 (although the Devils were really never in the game).  Kennard played 18 minutes of the second half, scoring 20 points (9-11 from the line) in the closing stanza.  Kennard was heroic.  In 38 minutes he scored 34 [11-19; 3-6 from deep; 9-11 from the line] to go with 7 rebounds (third on the team behind Amile (12) and Harry Giles, yes Harry had 8 boards in 13 minutes.  Jayson Tatum scored 18 points in 38 minutes (19 minutes in each half), but his game was a tale of two different shooting halves.  Jayson was 1-7 from the field; 1-3 from deep and 4-4 from the line for 7 points in the first half; 5-7; 1-2 for 11 second half points (but 0-2 from the line).  He needs to be more consistent and to concentrate for all 30 seconds on defense, but he is rounding into game shape.  This was only his 6th game.

Finally, for me anyway, the best news of the game was the visible progress that Harry Giles is making.  He played 7 productive first half minutes [2-3 for 4 points to go with 3 boards].  In his 6 second half minutes, he grabbed 5 boards and dished out an assist.  He did commit 3 fouls in that half.  Coach K said, “he gets tired.  He is not in game shape and gets winded.  He is doing now what pre-season is for.  In short, as Coach K said, “he is learning on the job.”  Giles, reputed to be an outstanding interior defender, is still looking lost on defense.  Coach K acknowledged as much, but pointed out that Giles has not participated in the team’s defensive drills.  I keep seeing good signs from Giles, and if he can take a productive place in the rotation, it could transform Duke’s season back to its lofty pre-season goals.

The Rotation

Jones, Kennard and Tatum played 38 minutes and Jefferson played 37.  They are the four usual starters.  Jackson played 24 minutes.  His 3 first half fouls limited him to 7 minutes (0-1) in the opening stanza.  Jackson played 17 second half minutes, committing only one more foul and going 3-8 from the field (0-1 from deep) for 6 points.  He had a rebound and a turnover.  Very troubling is Jackson failed to record an assist or get to the foul line. I suspect he is playing injured because without Grayson, he is desperately needed.  However, Duke needs much more out of him.   Duke needs much more out of Matt Jones as well.  In 38 minutes, Jones scored only 4 points on 2-8 from the field; 0-4 from deep, and they were wide open 3s; and 0-1 from the line.  He did have 2 blocks and a steal.  Critically, he was AWOL in the second half, failing to score (0-2;0-1) without a rebound, steal or block.  In the past, Jones has hit big shots when Duke needed a basket.  Not yesterday.  Amile scored 9 in 37 minutes (but only 2 in the first half where he was 1-4 and 0-1 from the line).  He collected 6 boards in each half.  It was not a bad game, but it was not up to the standard he has met so far this year.

The bench was thin, led by Harry Giles’s 13 minutes.  In the first half, Jeter, Bolden and Jack White each logged 3 minutes.  Bolden pulled down 3 boards (rebound a minute) and missed 2 free throws.  Neither Jeter nor White recorded a statistic.  Neither Bolden nor White even played in the second half.  Jeter logged another 3 minutes with a rebound and a foul.  That is essentially a six person rotation (Giles is the 6th man) in Grayson’s absence.  Bolden has been disappointing so far.  Jeter has played himself out of the rotation.

Looking Ahead

It is still — perhaps more than ever — a season on the brink.  Coach K said Duke has had 3 subpar games in a row, playing without cohesion since the impressive win against UNLV on December 10.  The ACC is going to be unforgiving this year.  Wins on the road will be treasured, and losses not unexpected.  Florida State got the most impressive road win this year, beating UVA in Charlottesville yesterday.  The Tar Heels learned about ACC road games in Atlanta, bowing to lowly Georgia Tech.  This is not the season we all hoped for so far, but take heart; all is not lost.

DUKE 110 – GEORGIA TECH 57

No, that’s not a typo but that’s also no indication of how the game started. Tech went up 4-0 off two easy baskets. Be honest, were you thinking like Alan and myself, “Oh my God, it’s Virginia Tech all over again.” Actually, this was a classic reality check game: a huge underdog upsets a top ten team at home and goes on the road to play a top ten team that just got blown out on the road by an unranked team. With the season maybe teetering on the brink of imploding and Coach K going on a multi-week post operation sabbatical, you knew there were going to be some changes. Harry Giles started and Grayson Allen came off  his one game (but two week) suspension and bingo, Coach K had the team he had been envisioning all along. It was Grayson’s evolving point guard abilities to push the ball up the floor, break down defenders, see the entire floor, and score or pass to an open teammate that got the Blue Devils going tonight. As talented and deep as this team is, Grayson Allen is the straw that stirs the drink and makes this team as lethal as a Molotov Cocktail. Allen finished with 15 points, 7 assists, 3 boards, 1 steal in 27 minutes. All the threes that didn’t drop Saturday in Blacksburg were dropping early and often tonight in Cameron. 0-4 went to 9-4 in a heartbeat, then 29-11, and 61-30 at the half. The Yellow Jackets went to the locker room at the break looking as if they had been zapped by a can of Raid Spray.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Duke’s future this year was that seven players scored in double figures including Harry Giles, who had a double/double in the first start of his career and displayed some of the explosiveness and athleticism that made him the nation’s top recruit. After a Saturday game against Boston College, we will know more about the true trajectory of this team with a road trip to Louisville and a home game against Florida State. If they pass that test with no injuries or losses, Duke fans can breathe a lot easier. As most of you know, Mike Krzyzewski will have surgery Friday to remove a fragment of a herniated disk from his lower back, which just recently flared up. Tonight his facial expressions reflected more than discomfort. He appeared to hobble on his left leg, at times leaning back on the bench with that leg extended and clutching it. It will be the fifth surgery in nine months for Krzyzewski who will turn 70 next month. Last offseason, he had knee replacement and hernia surgeries as well as a pair of procedures on his left ankle. “I’m a little bit accustomed to listening to doctors’ orders and doing it the right way,” he said. “I’m tired of it. I’m not tired of coaching basketball, but I’m tired of not being healthy.” Despite the his age,  recovery from this type of operation can be relatively quick for someone who’s healthy and Jay Bilas said that he has never seen his former coach be as enthusiastic about coaching as he was this fall. However, I can attest to the fact that back issues at any age are serious and usually are managed not resolved.

Other Comments:

  • Jay Bilas was one of the commentators tonight. Unlike J. Williams and Seth Greenburg, who were in the studio, Bilas made a lot of sense when talking about Grayson Allen’s one game suspension. Jay said that the Jim Swofford, the ACC Commissioner, let Coach K make the decision and that he was sure Coach K talked to his athletic director and president about his decision.  Further, Jay, who played and coached for Krzyzewski (while he was getting his law degree), said in all his years he had never seen anything like the tripping incidents and that there is nothing in the rule book about it and he thought it was time just for everybody to just (shut up and) “Let the kid play”.
  • Jayson Tatum, who only had a few points in the first half, but ended with 19 said: “Coach doesn’t want me to just be a scorer, but an all-around player, help the team any way I can. I may not always hit the shots but I can always play defense, I can always rebound. He and Giles, who played AAU ball together, also demonstrated an unusual passing chemistry together as, obviously, do Allen and Kennard.
  • For the first time this year Marques Bolden looked like he belongs in the rotation. BTW, it looks like there will be an eight man rotation with everyone getting periodic breathers. Alan will go into more detail.
  • Welcome to the 2017 ACC season on the road: Virginia Tech gets blown out by a recovering N.C. State, Louisville gets beat at Notre Dame, Virginia loses at Pittsburg, and North Carolina  squeaks by Clemson in Littlejohn in over time.

 

Duke 93 – Boston College 82

Duke won the first half 53-34 with Amile Jefferson. Duke lost the second half 40-48 without an injured Amile Jefferson. What does that tell you? It confirms what Alan and I have long contended: namely, that Jefferson may be as valuable as anyone on this team and this is a huge challenge— at least until Giles and Bolden adjust to the fact that they are not in high school anymore and there are a lot of talented basketball players in the ACC. Fortunately, that is not the case for Jayson Tatum, who stepped into the breach— hitting a now-you-can-breathe-easier three, four straight foul shots, and making a monster Big Boy rejection at the rim–  scoring nine points in the final 4 1/2 minutes to save the most embarrassing, and unexpected collapse since The Warriors lost a 24 point lead to The Grizzlies Friday night.

Duke had six players in double figures, and a seventh, Luke Kennard, with 9 points. Grayson Allen had 12 points and 11 assists. He would have had a few more if Giles and Bolden adjusted faster to a pick and roll. I wonder if Grayson got credit for an assist when the threw an out of bounds pass ball from under the basket off the back of an unsuspecting a BC player and caught it for a layup?

With Allen operating the point, whether after a missed or made shot, the ball moves up the court much faster and often catches opponents before they get set defensively—much like Carolina’s very effective secondary beak. Add to that Grayson’s natural aggressiveness and innate ability to see the entire floor and you have another dimension to this offense. And speaking of offense, when the threes are dropping like in the first half, the game seems easy. When they are not, as in the second half, the outcome can become dicey. Other than missing Jefferson, the difference in the two halves was that the assist ratio was 15-5. That indicates that in the final twenty minutes, the shots were rushed and contested, not a result of ball movement. Axiom: Passes travel faster than players.

Obviously, Amile Jefferson’s injury (He injured the same foot as last year. The  MRI revealed he suffered a sprained ankle, not a fracture, as had been previously feared.) is just another unanticipated challenge to what has seemed like, perhaps, another star-crossed season. As previously mentioned, Giles and Bolden need to mature fast—hustle and defend the rim like the impressive athletes they are,  and understand how the game is being called. Today, they both fouled out  and Tatum moved to center for the last for four minutes.

Other Comments:

Jeff Capel will settle in and do a fine job coaching this team. However, no one can energize/scare/intimidate/inspire a faltering team like Coach K and I have a hard time believing he would have let the Blue Devils almost blow a twenty point second half lead.

When everyone is hot and an opponent is being blown out, sometimes it is easy to forget who your money shooters are. Luke Kennard let his teammates share the spotlight but when the Eagles were making their run, he came off the bench cold. Shooters—unless your name is John Havlicek–have to shoot to stay warm. When you need points, I like the ball in Grayson or Luke’s hands and Jayson as an option at the high post elbow.

When everyone is hot and an opponent is being blown out, sometimes it is easy to forget who your money shooters are. Luke Kennard let his teammates share the spotlight but when the Eagles were making their run, he came off the bench cold. Shooters—unless your name is John Havlicek–have to shoot to stay warm. When you need points, I like the ball in Grayson or Luke’s hands and Jayson as an option at the high post elbow.

Alan Adds:

With 1:51 left in the first half, Duke led by 25 points at 53-28 when Jefferson went down.  With 2:23 left in the game, the Eagles had cut the lead to a mere 7 points.   It was a dicey time. Duke had scored only a single field goal since Giles hit a jumper at the 11:25 mark to give Duke a 22 point lead.  Duke then proceeded to turn into the Duke team of the Virginia Tech game (and the two previous games).  The shots — many of them very open looks — stopped falling.  The ball stopped moving.  Kennard missed 3 shots, including a 3; Jackson missed a pair of 3s; Jones missed a pair of 3s; Allen missed a 3; Tatum missed 3 shots (including a put back attempt) before making Duke’s only field goal in that stretch, a layup with 4:14 to go.  If the offense was horrible, the defense was even worse.  After playing the best defense of the year (before Jefferson’s injury), Duke returned to the Virginia Tech game defense.  The Devils gave up scores on 11 straight possessions.  The transition defense was non-existent; resulting in easy BC baskets. The Eagles penetrated for uncontested or barely contested layups out of the half court set. Tatum, Grayson and Jones all committed fouls, permitting BC to score.  Giles, who had only 1 foul in the first half, fouled out with over 3 minutes to go.  Bolden committed 4 fouls in his 7 on court minutes.  Tatum finished the game with 4 fouls.   I thought I saw Jeff Capel morphing into Pete Gaudet.  But he didn’t.  He calmed the team down and set them up to win the game.

Capel made the important point in his press conference  — Duke made winning plays when it mattered.  Tatum emerged as a team leader with amazing heart.  He hit the game saving 3 to move the lead back out to 10 with 1:59 left to play.  He made 4-4 crucial free throws, and took over the center position after Giles fouled out.  He had 3 needed defensive rebounds and a block.  Capel pointed to good foul shooting to keep Duke safe: Giles was 4-4; Tatum 4-4; Jackson 2-4 (but made the front end) and Kennard (1-2, but made the front end) down the stretch.  Capel’s coaching point is that Duke played winning basketball in situations that cannot be replicated in practice; therefore the game was a positive.

The Frontcourt

Duke missed Chase Jeter yesterday!  Capel started Giles, Jefferson and Tatum and they were absolutely superb until Jefferson went down.  The rotation kept everyone fresh — Jefferson played 13 minutes; Giles 10, Tatum 16 and Bolden 4 in the first half.  Giles was impressive going 3-5 with 3 boards for 6 points.  Jefferson was superb with 11 points on 5-7 shooting and 2 boards and 2 assists.  He anchored the superb defense.  Tatum was smooth, scoring 9 [2-3; 5-6 from the line and was key on defense with 3 steals and 2 boards and a block.  He gets better with every game.  Bolden looks lost, but is now at least hustling.  He runs the court well, but committed 3 fouls and a turnover in 4 scoreless minutes in the first half.  Duke went small a few times with Jayson moving to power forward or playing with 4 guards and a big.

The wheels came off a bit in the second half without Jefferson.  Giles was asked to play more minutes at a high level than his current condition allows.  He was just gassed in 14 second half minutes (made necessary by Jefferson’s injury, Bolden’s foul trouble and Jeter’s injury-absence).  The result is that transition defense suffered because he is unable (yet) to run full out on every play when playing substantial minutes.  His defense really suffered and he committed fouls that come from a tired player not moving his feet.  Yet, he is undeniably getting visibly better with each outing.  His one turnover came when he tried to go behind his back in the lane.  Just trying that move impressed me.  He is going to be a dominant front court player this year.  He finished with 12 points, 5 boards, a block, an assist and a steal.  His defense will come around, you can already see his improvement, which I predict will accelerate as he gets in game shape.  Bolden in 7 minutes, made 2 crucial foul shots and stole the ball (good); but he failed to get a rebound, committed a turnover and missed his only shot (bad).  If Jefferson is out for an extended period, Duke will need good minutes from Bolden and/or Jeter.  Of course, Tatum is living up to his reputation and becoming a team leader.  He played 30 minutes, and, except for 5 turnovers (he’s still a freshman learning what he can and cannot do in the college game), played a scintillating floor game.  He scored 22 on 9 field goal attempts [6-9 from the floor; 1-2 from deep, which was the game saver; 9-10 from the line] to go with a team leading 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 4 steals.  He was not less than heroic.  Whether from small or power forward, he will anchor the front court if Jefferson misses extended time.

The backcourt

Grayson Allen’s return to the backcourt has been inspirational and impressive, if not publicized.  He is now the established point guard (with Jackson) as he was not before his suspension.  He makes the Duke offense go.  He is becoming a facilitator, who shoots and scores when Duke needs him.  He played almost the entire game (37 minutes), shining in the first half with 9 assists.  He finished the game with 11, but, as Bill pointed out, his teammates denied him several beautiful assists by failing to convert (or even catch) some splendid passes.  His five turnovers remind us that he is still new at the point.  Most of his turnovers came as help defenders deflected the ball on his drives into the lane. Though his long range shooting was off and he missed his only 2 foul shots, he scored 12 points [6-9; 2-6 from deep and 0-2 from the line].  Grayson added 5 important rebounds and 3 steals to his floor game.  Luke had his first underwhelming performance of the season in the second half.  He was efficient in the first half logging 12 minutes (limited by his 2 fouls and Duke’s big lead), scoring 8 on 2-4 from the field; 1-2 from deep; 3-3 from the line to go with an assist and a steal.  But in 16 second half minutes he was uncharacteristically quiet.  I attribute that to the big Duke lead in the opening 10 minutes.  Kennard shoots only when Duke needs his points, and by the time they needed his points in the second half, he was badly out of rhythm, scoring only a single point and missing 3 of his shots — 1 from inside the arc; 1 from deep; and a free throw (1-2 at the line).  He did pull down 4 important rebounds (Tatum also had 4 to lead Duke’s second half subpar rebounding).  Frank Jackson was an important contributor.  He scored 15 in his 25 minutes [4-9; 2-6 from deep and 5-8 from the line].  It is still troubling when a point guard fails to record an assist.  He missed all 4 of his field goal attempts in the second half (0-3 from deep) but hit crucial free throws [4-6 down the stretch] even though he missed 2.  Matt Jones logged 36 minutes (second to Grayson), playing wonderful defense and scoring 10 [4-7; 2-5 from deep].  The backcourt is not a Blue Devil worry.

Next Play

Duke will play Florida State (unbeaten in the conference with wins over Virginia in Charlottesville, Louisville and Virginia Tech and ranked nationally) in Tallahassee on Tuesday night.  This will be a huge challenge (especially if Jefferson cannot play), and may tell us much about this team.

Alan Adds:

The high point of Duke’s season thus far came in the game after the very low point against Virginia Tech last Saturday.  Of the Virginia Tech game, Coach K said simply, “We were awful.  I was awful.  There is nothing to be gained from that game.  Just flush it.”  But Coach K pointed out that the loss to Virginia Tech was “the end of us patch working.”  It was the end of “do we have enough guys” and the end of players logging such extended minutes.  Duke was unselfish and on fire.  There were 24 assists on 39 baskets.  In the first half, the veterans — Kennard, Allen and Jefferson — led the way along with yesterday’s most effective freshman, Frank Jackson.  In the second half, the freshmen showed why they are so hyped — Tatum, Giles, and Bolden — along with Matt Jones.  This is the team we had hoped to see when the season began.  The starting lineup against Georgia Tech is the one Coach K had hoped for — Giles, Tatum and Jefferson up front with Allen at point and Kennard in the back court.  Jones and Jackson substituted on the perimeter and Bolden up front.  It was delicious to watch.  The only slight quibble is the freshmen are not yet there on defense, but you can see the defense improving (Ga. Tech was pretty awful on offense; so the next games will offer better tests).

The Rotation

Coach K said he wanted to establish the 7-8 player rotation, and did so.  His first substitutions were after 4 minutes had been played; Jones and Jackson replaced Tatum and Giles.  Bolden played only 3 minutes in the first half, so that when Giles (9 first half minutes) and Bolden were not in the game, Duke played with Jefferson in the middle and four perimeter players (Tatum is both — a true swing player).  In the second half, Coach K gave his veterans a rest.  Kennard played only 7 second half minutes without scoring (0-1), while Jefferson and Allen played all of 10 minutes while giving the freshmen much needed floor time.

The First Half

Kennard had a simply dazzling first half, logging 19 minutes and scoring 16 efficient points on 6 shots [6-6; 4-4 from deep] to go with 4 boards and a steal.  Grayson found him with some beautiful passes.  Grayson’s return was something special.  It is as if corrections and therapy for the “tripping” syndrome have made Grayson see his role on this team more clearly.  He is the starting point guard (experience that he will need for the next level).  In 17 first half minutes, Grayson handed out 7 assists while scoring 15 points on 4 field goal attempts [3-4 from the field, including 2-3 from deep and 5-5 from the line].  Getting to the line is the result of the point guard’s penetration, which starts the offense.  Grayson was also superb on the defensive end of the floor with good (maybe better than just good) on the ball defense, 3 boards and a steal.  His demeanor was excellent.  Our fingers will remain crossed for the remainder of the season.  Amile played 17 minutes, grabbing 5 boards and scoring 8 points [2-4 from the floor and 4-6 from the line].  Matt Jones played only 7 minutes because of foul trouble (3 in the opening stanza), hitting 2-3 from deep for 6 points.  The freshmen played well, but none better than Frank Jackson, who came off the bench with Matt.  He was a scoring machine, lighting it up for 12 points in 13 minutes [4-6 from the field; 3-5 from deep and 1-1 from the line] to go with a board, an assist and 0 turnovers.  Giles played 9 minutes and led Duke in rebounding with 6, while going 1-5 from the field for 2 points.  Tatum also scored only 4 first half points in 15 minutes [1-5; 0-3 from deep; 2-2 from the line] but played a wonderful floor game and is improving on defense (not all the way there yet, though).  Jayson snared 3 boards, had 2 steals, 2 blocks and 2 assists.  Bolden played only 3 first half minutes without a statistic.  Duke had 12 assists on 20 field goals (20-37).  If you subtract Duke’s 5-13 from deep, Duke hit 15 for 24 from inside the arc.  It was some offensive display in the first half.

The Second Half

In some ways, the second half was even better for Duke as the team started to evolve into the team that Coach K had hoped for in the pre-season.  The scrubs — Vrankovich (7), White (5), Robinson (2) and Pagliuca (3) — played a total of 15 minutes (out of 100).  Neither Allen nor Kennard made a second half field goal (Grayson had 2 points on foul shots).  Jefferson scored 6 with 2 rebounds [2-4 from the field and 2-2 from the line].  The second half belonged to Giles, Tatum, and Bolden.  Tatum was unstoppable.  In 13 minutes he poured in 15 points even though he was only 1-4 from deep and 0-1 from the line.  He made all 7 of his field goal attempts from inside the arc to go with 3 boards, 2 blocks 2 steals and 2 assists.  Giles also had an amazing second half (perhaps the best news for Duke in a game filled with good news).  He scored a point a minute (8 in 8 minutes; on 4-7 shooting) while adding another 6 boards for a total of 12 (and his first college double double).  Even better is how quick he looked around the court.  He got several deflections on passes.  As Coach K said, his athleticism is not all the way back, but it is coming.  He raced for the loose balls he had created, but did not come up with them.  Still, you can see him getting comfortable on the court.  Coach K said the most important thing is Giles getting used to contact.  Tatum hit him with a couple of beautiful looks.  They have played together before.  Marquis Bolden had his first good game, logging 12 second half minutes, in which he went 2-4 for four points to go with 4 rebounds and a block.  He will be the 8th member of the rotation.  Matt Jones played well in the second half.  In 12 minutes, he scored 8 on 3-6 shooting [2-4 from deep] while grabbing 4 rebounds and handing out 2 assists.

The coming games

While this was a great Duke game, one game does not a season make.  However, it  was great to see a division of both minutes and scoring, which should not be undervalued.   No player logged as much as 30 minutes:  Tatum led with 28, Jefferson and Allen played 27 and Kennard 26.  Frank Jackson played 24 minutes, Jones 19, Giles 17, and Bolden 15.  The scoring was really balanced.  Tatum led the scoring with 19, followed by Kennard with 16, Jackson and Allen with 15, Jefferson and Jones with 14, and Giles with 10.  This is a great model for moving forward.

Coach K will be sidelined, but remain involved.  There are tough games coming up in a conference that is unforgiving (see yesterday’s results; not to mention Ga. Tech’s win over UNC).  Coach K gave the perfect response for watching the next games, “We will see how we grow.”

Duke 72 – Florida State 88

For the first ten games of the season this Duke team was more than the sum of the parts. Suddenly, down a key player—maybe the indispensable player– and a head coach, they are less than the sum of the parts. Make no mistake, energized by eleven straight wins Florida State is a big, talented, athletic, deep team playing with the confidence of a Final Four team. Florida State ran, shot, defended jumped, and dunked all over the seemingly overmatched, under sized Blue Devils, who were as bad defensively as the Seminoles were good offensively. How bad was it? Seventeen turnovers including Allen, Tatum, and Giles air mailing passes to fans in the stands, Jeter called for three seconds in the lane when he was, apparently, afraid to put a rebound back up at point blank range and couldn’t locate an open teammate, Tatum and Bolden, our highly touted big men, playing only a total of 14 minutes. There were times that it looked like the Globetrotters against the Washington Generals.

I’m not ready to say that this is 1995 all over again, but this season could get very ugly, very quickly unless the team rediscovers a lot more chemistry, precision, moxie, and plays fundamentally sound basketball. Unfortunately, there is another difficult assignment Saturday as Duke plays at Louisville. We will learn a lot more about the resilience and direction of the season after this game.

Alan Adds:

There was definitely a hole in the Duke basketball donut last night.  The middle of the Duke team — the center position, the rim protection, the rebounding, any offense from the post — was missing.  Coach Chapel said “We could not keep them out of our paint.  They lived in the paint.  We need to do a better defensive job as a team there.”  Competition for the Understatement of 2017 ends in January!  The Duke perimeter defense was a sieve, leading to Duke being dominated off the glass on both ends.

Duke was overwhelmed in every aspect of the game.  Florida State used 12 players efficiently.  Kennard played 40 minutes; Tatum 38 and Jones 36.   Those three scored 54 of Duke’s 72 points.  Kennard was again heroic scoring 23 [8-15; 2-6 from deep and 5-6 from the line] to go with 3 boards, 2 assists and a steal.  He committed only 1 foul and had only 1 turnover.  Tatum was also heroic scoring 21 [7-17; 3-6 from 3land; and 4-5 from the line] to go with 4 boards and a steal.  Duke was loose with the ball (and the Seminoles played outstanding defense, stripping Duke’s drivers quite frequently).  Tatum had 4 turnovers without an assist.   Matt picked up 4 fouls while playing good defense and scoring 10 [4-8; 2-5 from deep without getting to the line].

Grayson played only 26 minutes, being kept out for the last minutes because of a blow to the head.  He had a curiously bad shooting game while making some nifty dishes, but also turning the ball over.  He took only 6 shots [2-6; 0-3 from deep; and 5-7 from the stripe] for 9 points, while handing out 5 assists and committing 3 turnovers.

The hole in the middle, created by the absence of Jefferson, was monstrous.  Harry Giles was supposed to step into Jefferson’s shoes after 24 minutes against BC.  However Harry played only 5 minutes in each half.  He scored 5, and had 2 boards and 2 turnovers.  AWOL on defense.  The other heralded freshman big, Marquis Bolden, played only 4 first half minutes (0 in the closing stanza) while committing a foul and a turnover.  I do not think he is, as was projected, a one and done.  That left the bulk of the minutes played in the middle to Chase Jeter (26 minutes).  Chase played creditably, but was overwhelmed underneath on the boards and defense.  He has not elevated his offensive skills.  He grabbed 6 boards (tied for team lead) but scored only a point [0-2; 1-2 from the line]. Frank Jackson was, essentially, the Duke bench.  He logged 21 minutes and also grabbed 6 boards.  But he scored only 3 (3-4 from the line), missing all 5 of his shots; 4 from deep.

This is a fairly desperate time for a team that had National Championship hopes pre-season.  The one picture is worth a thousand words for yesterday was Jefferson on the bench with a boot on his foot.

Duke 69 – Louisville 78

After the Florida State game, I wrote that recently this Duke team is less than the sum of the parts. After today’s loss, we should consider the possibility that perhaps this Duke team is the sum of their parts and the parts just aren’t that good. Look, Louisville is a very good defensive team that, uncharacteristically, hit seven big threes at critical times to secure a win from a Blue Devil team that never played for any extended length of time as though they could win the game. Only Allen (23 pts. 9 rebounds, 1 assist) and Kennard (17 points) scored in double figures. There were 18 turnovers and only 8 assists. Allen leads the ACC in assists per game with 9. So why start Jackson, a freshman and a very good spot up three point shooter, at the point on the road? The offense never looked in synch as there was very little ball movement and too much aimless dribbling around on the perimeter. My old buddy All Prep Ep called to say that Duke looked like intimidated boys playing men and that Coach K stalking the sidelines in his blue suit exhorting his players and screaming at the refs was worth ten points a game—maybe more!

The hole in the middle left by Amile Jefferson and his double-double numbers is not a pot hole, it is a bottomless sink hole because, except for a few flashes, no one has been able to fill it. Replacements Harry GilesChase Jeter, and Marques Bolden combined for 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 fouls. Excuses for highly touted Harry Giles lack of consistent productivity or hitting free throws now goes beyond not having played in a year. And a little of Chase Jeter  goes a long way as Anas Mahmoud took advantage of Jeter’s extended presence by having a career game (17 points and 11 rebounds). The fact that Jeter is playing significant minutes is a good indication that the coaches assessment of Marques Bolden is the same as Alan’s and mine—he is a raw talent but not yet ready for ACC play. Usually reliable Jayson Tatum never fully adjusted to Cardinal defense or the way the game was being called. (Note: Jayson, you are not a star playing high school anymore. You are not going to get all the calls so shut up and play). Luke Kennard scored most of the time he had the ball in his hands at the right place, but there were not enough of those times.

After Saturday’s loss, Duke interim coach Jeff Capel said that Jefferson’s ability to come back is on a day-to-day evaluation. Duke’s next game won’t come until next Saturday (at home against Miami). So with seven more days to heal that bone bruise, help may be on the way.

What to say about Grayson Allen? Today was a sort of flashback to last season’s shooting guard numbers. In virtually every game since his suspension, while doing anything and everything the coaches have asked of him–run the point, play shooting guard, rebound, play defense against all size players– he has played harder and more aggressively than anyone on the floor. He does not back down. However, in doing so, he does not avoid contact and dives onto the floor and into the stands for loose balls. In short, he is a highly competitive, physical player who takes and gives a lot of punishment. Opponent’s fans boo every time he touches the ball and the television announcers and social media look for every possible slow-motion replay to opine if he may have made another dirty play. I realize Grayson brought this on himself and am not going to defend the indefensible–but enough is enough!  Give the kid a break. He is not a thug, no one was injured—or even close to it. He is an outstanding student  on track to graduate in three years and a well-liked teammate. If you somehow could administer  Sodium Pentothal to all those who boo and/or harass Grayson, I wager virtually all would say they would want him on their team. A case in point: Rick Pitino said that Allen’s past tripping incidents were simply a mistake and had a different opinion when asked about the treatment of Allen away from home. “Everybody always says, ‘He only sat one game. You can bury a young man. Believe me, that kid is paying the price in different ways. You hear it in the crowds everywhere he goes.”

Other Comments:

  • I was very relieved and encouraged to open Monday’s DBR website and read an  article by Al  Featherston, the most knowledgeable journalist writing about Duke Basketball, which included the following observation:  “Just a moment to digress. While I understand the initial wave of criticism – and even the national debate as to whether Allen deserved a longer suspension – the continued post-suspension focus on Allen has moved from the outrageous to the despicable. ESPN’s attempt to generate new controversy with the slow-motion breakdowns of the screening collision in the Boston College game and his collision with the FSU assistant coach while scrambling for a loose ball are ridiculous. And the response to the blows to his face that Allen suffered in the Louisville game – one ESPN columnist essentially said that he deserved everything he got – was disgusting.”
  • Looking from afar, Dr. Alan Goldberg, an Amherst, Massachusetts, sports performance consultant, says Allen clearly has lost control of his emotions when he trips opponents. “Any time our emotions steer our ship, we always end up on the rocks. Our emotions make us stupid. You can be very, very intelligent, but when we get emotional they highjack us.” That Allen is “acting out” is unacceptable, he says, but “not unusual behavior” when dealing with high-profile, high-intensity athletes. “You don’t think of consequences when that stuff happens, you just react,” Goldberg observes. “One needs to take responsibility for that kind of behavior: Realize that it’s a serious problem, and he needs to work on it and that no one can do it for him.” 

Alan adds:

Grayson Allen was not less than heroic against Louisville.  With the crowd booing every time he touched the ball, Grayson played with verve, heart, and aggression.  He may be becoming JJ and Laettner-like in letting the home crowd fuel his performance.  Not only did he score 23 points on only 11 shots [6-11; 2-3 from deep; 9-12 from the line], but he led Duke in rebounding with 9!  Giles was second with 6 (all in the second half).  Jeter in 17 minutes managed only 2, for example.  The stat sheet gives Grayson only 3 assists, but his passing is excellent (one does not receive an assist if the player receiving the superb pass does not catch it or score the open look after catching).   The flaw, and it did hurt Duke, is his turnovers (Grayson committed 6 of Duke’s 18).  Let’s remember this is the first time that Grayson has ever been a primary point guard.  It has to be his position at the next level and he is growing in the role as we watch, and doing so in a difficult public setting.  He has earned and continues to earn my admiration.

The Bottomless Sink Hole

Bill points out that Jefferson’s absence has created a bottomless sink hole.  He is so right.  While Duke played with more passion and heart against Louisville than in the most recent beating from Florida State, there were too many similarities to ignore. After the Florida State game, I wrote: “There was definitely a hole in the Duke basketball donut last night.  The middle of the Duke team — the center position, the rim protection, the rebounding, any offense from the post — was missing.  Coach Chapel said “We could not keep them out of our paint.  They lived in the paint.  We need to do a better defensive job as a team there.”  Competition for the Understatement of 2017 ends in January!  The Duke perimeter defense was a sieve, leading to Duke being dominated off the glass on both ends.

Nothing really changed against Louisville.  Coach Capel pointed out that Duke has given up 92 points in the paint in its last two games!  He also accurately said, “This is not just on the bigs.  The perimeter is allowing penetration first.”  So true.  The rotations to defeat the pick and roll are simply coming too slow or not at all.  Duke makes the first rotation smoothly, but not the secondary ones.  So offensive interior passing is allowing open layups.  It is not all Jefferson’s replacements, but it is a lot.  Neither Giles nor Bolden have the basic defensive idea yet (though you can see Giles starting to get it; just not on every play).   When Duke did prevent the Cardinals from scoring on the first attempt, the Blue Devil inability to defend its own backboard gave Louisville a plethora of put backs and second chance opportunities.  Yes, that is part of missing Jefferson.  Giles is a ferocious rebounder, who looks as if he can be a force on the boards (when he is finally in game shape).  Duke’s hidden positive was Giles’s second half performance.  After a desultory first half — 7 minutes only with one missed shot and 1 rebound; though he did have 2 blocks and a steal, demonstrating his athleticism — he played 12 second half minutes, grabbing 5 boards while scoring 7 [3-4 from the field, but only 1-4 from the line] and adding a block.  How well he has developed by mid-February will be almost (well almost is a stretch) as important as getting Jefferson back.  But the performance of the other Duke bigs is jaw-droppingly below the reputations of the players coming in.  Bolden, a projected one and done, logged only 5 second half minutes [did not get on the court in the first half], committing a foul, but otherwise not scratching in the box score.  One and done?  Jeter played 17 minutes without scoring!  He corralled 2 boards and blocked a shot while committing 2 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, and missing his only free throw, the front end of a 1 and 1.  The only consolation for me is that he reminds me of Jefferson as a sophomore.  DeLaurier made a return from the injury list and recorded a block against 2 fouls and 2 turnovers in 7 minutes.  Another non-scoring big!  Jeter, Bolden and DeLaurier did not score; nor did Giles in the first half.

The Thin Backcourt

Frank Jackson played only 10 minutes making 1 (a 3) of his 5 shots.  He again had 0 assists against a turnover and 3 personal fouls.  He played only 3 minutes in the second half, missing both of his shots and committing a turnover.  As Bill emphasized, Jayson had a disappointing game, which may be about his going up against a level of competition that is higher than he has experienced.  In 31 minutes he scored 11 on 11 shots [3-11; 0-1 from deep, but 5-6 from the line] to go with 5 boards (4 less than Grayson) and a steal.  He had no assists against 3 turnovers.  This left the minutes and the scoring to Duke’s central threesome — Grayson (36), Kennard (39) and Jones (36).  Matt scored only 8 [3-5; 1-2 from deep and 1-1 from the line.  He had 3 boards, an assist and a steal against only one turnover.  His plus/minus stats lead the team.  Duke does much better when he is on the court than off.  Kennard had a quietly efficient game scoring 17 on 10 shots [6-10; 1-3 from 3land; 4-4 from the stripe] to go with 4 rebounds and 3 assists (against 3 turnovers).  Although he took only 2 shots in the second half, he made a 3 and all 4 foul shots.

The Jeffersonian Conclusion

Without Jefferson, and with the non-development of the freshmen bigs, this year’s Duke team looks a bit like last year’s thin-rostered overachievers, except without the saving grace of last season — Marshal Plumlee.  This has such a last year feel, with Duke fans hoping for Jefferson’s return for much of the year before he was officially out for the season.  If he returns, Allen continues to improve his point guard skills, Giles develops (and Jayson goes back to being Jayson), Duke still has a chance to have a really special year.  That is a lot to ask, but it is not impossible.  However, without Jefferson ….

Duke  70 – Miami 58

A Duke team that had scored 50 points for the third straight half of play just two weeks ago against Boston College tonight struggled to score only 25 desultory first half points in Cameron to fall behind by 11 points against Miami, a team that had beaten them four of the last six times. Having lost consecutive ACC games to Florida State and Louisville, the Blue Devils were clearly looking at falling not only out of any national ranking consideration, but also into an inept, irrelevant abyss from which there might be no return. And to make matters more troublesome, they were not playing with any discernable urgency, determination or passion—and Coach K, still recovering from back surgery, was unavailable to work his halftime and sideline magic. Seldom a has talented Duke team looked so out of synch and lost both offensively and defensively.

Interim coach Jeff Capel started the second half with the seemingly odd combination of senior co-captains Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones beside freshmen Marques Bolden, Jayson Tatum, and Frank Jackson with first half starters Kennard, Allen, and Giles relegated to the bench—hardly an offensive juggernaut lineup. How many of you were thinking: Jeff, are you out of your mind? The season is probably hanging in the balance, you bench three players likely to go in the first round of the NBA Draft?

What happened next was one of the most amazing transformations since Clark Kent went into a phone booth and came out as Superman. Well, Matt Jones came out of the locker room, not a phone booth, but the transformation was about the same as he played as an impressive and transformative ten minutes I can remember from a Duke player. He defended, stole passes, didn’t miss a shot (three threes), and led a rejuvenated five oddly matched Blue Devils to an improbable  eleven minute 29-4 run to totally turn the game around and, perhaps, resuscitate the season.

It was a Heimlich maneuver that saved a choking patient. Of course, Matt had help. A rejuvenated, suddenly athletic and effective Marques Bolden looked like Shane Battier in his last game at Carolina, running around, challenging players, and causing confusion and chaos — a major reason the second half defense so discombobulated the Hurricanes. Amile was a demon on defense and the boards. Jackson had 10 points and 4 assists running the point, splitting  defenders for athletic drives, and Tatum scored 12 timely points.  We all have come to expect defining Duke a run somewhere during a game, but I cannot remember one as unanticipated, inexplicable, and sustained as this one. 

In one bold, improbable, gutsy lineup change, Jeff Capel became Coach Capel. He said of the first half: “We weren’t tough, we didn’t do it together, we got down and maybe tried to do some things on our own. Because our defense was so poor, we were not able to get out in transition. Miami even did all this even with Amile Jefferson making his first start since the Boston College game.”

A reality check: As exciting, important, and impressive as this win was, it points out that every game is forty minutes long and, as Miami learned, twenty minutes of good play will not beat top teams. Unless this win is a teachable moment and a rebuilding block to better, more consistent offense and defense, it will be just an exciting memory that meant nothing in a very, very disappointing season.

Other Comments:

By chance or on purpose, Grayson Allen is being tested. Tonight, he was physically bounced around several times, one time opening a cut near his eye, another time painfully dislocating his little finger. On every occasion, he reacted maturely.

It was a pleasure having Jay Bilas be one of the announcers. He invariably tells us something we didn’t know about the game or a team.

Alan Adds:

My game ball goes to Jeff Capel, which is not to say that Matt Jones wasn’t also amazingly deserving.  Jeff took a clear eyed look at how his players performed in a desultory first half and trusted his instinct as to half time adjustments and player personal.  Frankly, Coach K could not have done a better job.  Capel saw the desultory performances of Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles in the first half.  Luke and Grayson played 17 minutes without recording an assist while going 3 –12 combined from  the field and 0-4 from behind the arc. While they led Duke in scoring that half by getting to the foul line.  Allen was 2-8 from the field; missing all 3 attempts from deep, but going 3-4 from the line for 7 first half points; Luke was 1-4; missed his only attempt from deep while hitting all 4 of his foul shots for 6 first half points.  Neither started the second half.  In my opinion, the reason was the lax defense that the team and each played on the perimeter.

Miami got to the rim with ease, penetrating on pick and rolls that made the Devils look as if their feet were encased in cement.  Capel said that Duke had a great week of practice.  Jefferson finally practiced for one day, and certainly was not expected to play 34 scintillating minutes on his return.  Amile tried to join practice on Thursday, but could not really go.  He participated on Friday fully for the first time.  Duke finally practiced with a full complement of players and Capel expected an excellent performance.  But that did not materialize in the first half.  Duke was not tough, did not play together (“trying to do too much individually”), and played shockingly inept defense, which closed down Duke’s running game (more difficult to run when you are taking the ball out of your own basket to initiate the offense).

Capel knew Duke needed energy.  He saw Bolden bringing it in practice.  “He had a great week of practice.  He worked his butt off and had a great attitude.  That carried over into the first half where he played 12 minutes, scoring 4 [2-3] and grabbing 3 rebounds.  He was energetic on defense, as Bill emphasized.  Jackson also scored 4 in 12 first half minutes [2-4; 0-1 from deep] with an assist and 0 turnovers.  Capel looked at the good play from Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden in the first half and turned to them to start the last stanza.  Pretty guts move for an interim coach.  The third starter after the break was Matt Jones, but not because of his first half play.  In ten opening stanza minutes, Matt was scoreless without an assist or rebound.  His only first half stats were a foul and a turnover.  Capel ingeniously put him in to start the second half, and it is hard to imagine a better coaching decision.  Capel said that Coach K had advised him to trust his instinct (as Capel did last year when Coach K could not make the trip to Georgia Tech, and Capel turned that game around by going to a zone defense), which Capel said he has no trouble doing, and then proved it.  Game ball!

Not far behind are Jones, Bolden, Jackson and Jefferson (and let’s not forget about Jayson Tatum).   Matt Jones turned the game around in a heartbeat to start the second half.  In the first minute, Jones stole the ball for a layup; two minutes later, he stole the ball and sunk a 3 to put Duke back in the game.  In 19 second half minutes, Jones scored 13 on 100% shooting [5-5; 3-3 from deep] and had 3 steals and 2 tough rebounds.  He led the resurgence of the Duke defense, which (inexplicably) became glue like, holding Miami to 22 second half points.  Everyone played great defense but none better than Marques Bolden.  He has a big body, runs really well, and was intense in his defensive concentration (which is completely new for him, in my observation).  He was a revelation, and together with Jones and Amile, he stopped the Miami pick and roll offense.  It was dramatic.   He played 11 second half minutes for a total of 23 game minutes.  He scored 8 [4-6] with 4 boards.  He clearly replaced Giles in the middle.  Giles played only 8 game minutes — 5 in the first half, where he picked up 2 quick fouls.  He got the 3rd in his 3 second half minutes.  But because of Bolden, Duke did not miss Giles.

Jackson was also a revelation at point guard.  In 24 minutes, he dazzled with acrobatic drives, deft ball handling and superb hustle and defense.  He handed out 4 assists without a turnover while scoring in double figures (10) [4-7; 0-1 from deep and 2-3 from the line.  He added 2 steals.  Tatum had a superb second half after scoring only 2 points in the first half while committing 2 fouls and a turnover.  However, he was a key in the second half where he scored 12 points in 15 minutes while grabbing 2 rebounds and blocking a shot.  In 25 game minutes (he fouled out in the closing seconds), he was key with 14 points, 3 boards.  His foul shooting is reliable (5-6) and his ball handling is improving as he learns what he cannot yet do against this higher level of competition.

Which brings me to Amile Jefferson and his incalculable contributions to this team.  He played a team high 34 minutes, hauling in 12 rebounds, while anchoring the Duke defense.  He is clearly not all the way back physically, but his mental and leadership contributions are above and beyond.  Capel called him the most valuable player in college basketball.  “He does so many things that do not show up on the stat sheet, and his stats are really impressive (he’s still averaging a double-double even though he only scored 5 against Miami).  Capel lauded Amile’s basketball IQ and communicating skills.  “He can make adjustments to our defense in real time.  Others do it at a time out or with the coach; Amile does it in real time within the flow of the game.”

Grayson is playing hard, but his shot has gone missing.  He failed to score in 11 second half minutes.  For the game, he scored 7 in 28 minutes [2-9 from the field; 0-3 from deep and 3-4 from the line] to go with 2 assists and 2 turnovers.  Jackson’s improved play takes some pressure off Grayson.  Kennard scored 11 in 29 minutes [3-8 from the field; 1-3 from deep and 4-4 from the line] to go with 5 rebounds, a block and a steal.

Duke’s rotation was limited to 8 (with Harry’s contributions quite limited).  There is a quick turnaround for tomorrow night’s game against NC State at Cameron.  For all the reasons that Bill identified, this will be another big game.  This is so much fun — a season perpetually on the brink.  Very exciting for me.

DUKE 82 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE 84

Duke may be talented but they are not a good team. They kept proving it in the last nine games. Good teams do not turn a potential 12-15 point lead into a 6 point lead because they cannot execute in the last 30 seconds of the half. To add insult to injury, good teams do lose their 6 point lead in the first four minutes of the second half. Good teams move the ball on offense, not stand around, then go one-on-one. When they are in the bonus situation, good teams do not stop driving and instead jack up contested threes. Good teams do not lose a 9 point lead with seven minutes left at home. With the game on the line, good teams do not have a power forward get a rebound and try to go coast to coast and dribble the ball off his foot. Good teams know passes travel faster than dribbles. Good teams do not let teams that lost by 51 points at hated North Carolina leading to four losses in five games hang around because if they have the best player on the floor and a three point line, anything can happen. Good teams close out an opponent not let them go on a  20-5 run.  Good Duke teams do not lose in Cameron!

Saturday night, twenty five-minutes of  good basketball was enough to win. Tonight, it wasn’t.

Other Comments:

  •   One of the problems is that Grayson Allen is a shell of his former self. Despite a sensational up and under drive, he was 1-9 for threes, 2 assists, and 1 rebound.
  •   Another problem is that Duke missed 7 free throws and was 8-28 from three point land.
  •   But the biggest problem was that Duke had no defensive answer either beyond the arc or in the lane for freshman sensation Dennis Smith, who led the Wolfpack to their first win in 22 years at Cameron.
  •   Tonight, Coach Capel started the five players that turned the Miami game around. Until he solves the problem of  player rotation, the players understand and accept their roles, develop chemistry and to play Duke Basketball, it will continue to be a frustrating, disappointing season.

Alan Adds:

Apparently I am not the only person who has no idea of how to analyze last night’s wholly aberrational Duke home performance.  Coach Capel’s press conference lasted for all of a minute and 54 seconds (please, return the game ball I gave you last game).  The reporters could not even formulate questions after Capel’s shell shocked softly spoken barrage of clichés.  And no wonder after the second half that Duke played, even though the Devils were still in a position to win the game with 5.3 seconds to go.  How bad was the Duke offense in the second half?  How about 2-14 from behind the arc, which Capel correctly pointed out were mostly wide open looks (Grayson 0-4; Tatum 0-2; Kennard 1-3; Matt Jones 1-4; and Jackson 0-1)?

So, do not let anyone tell you that NC State played good defense; they did not.  Duke, once again, was dominated in the paint.  Ted Kapita, a reserve who averaged 5 ppg in the previous 15 games and who played only 19 minutes, scored 14 points and grabbed 10 boards.  Abu, in 36 minutes, scored 19 on 8-12 shooting and hauled in 9 boards.  They dominated Duke’s bigs, including Jefferson.  With the game on the line — Duke led by a point with 2:47 to go, Duke missed open 3s by Kennard, Allen and Tatum (taking the clock down to 50 seconds, by which time Duke trailed by 6).  NC State missed 4 consecutive free throws (The Wolfpack were 11- 20 from the line in the second half.

Don’t let anybody tell you that NC State is not a bad team; they are) to open the door for Duke.  With Duke down 1, Tatum turned freshman and dribbled the ball off his foot as he rushed up court (Wooden: “be quick, but don’t hurry!”) to seal the defeat.

The Freshmen

It was apparent why none of the vaunted Duke freshmen were pre-season freshman of the year; Dennis Smith was. Jayson Tatum produced enviable statistics, but I do not think the stats tell the real story.  Tatum scored 16 on 14 shots in 31 minutes [7-14; 1-4 from 3land; 1-2 from the line] to go with a team leading 9 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.  In the second half, Jayson and Luke Kennard were virtually Duke’s only offense. Tatum played the entire closing half, scoring 11 on 11 shots, while grabbing 7 tough rebounds.  However, in the last 6 minutes, Jayson seemed try and take over the game in lieu of the team concept.  He missed 3 layups (on spectacular moves) and a 3 before committing the last turnover. He did grab the rebound off Matt’s desperate 3, creating the 3 point play that brought Duke within one.   Freshman giveth…

Jackson played an efficient 13 minutes in the first half, making his only shot (a 3) and dishing out 2 assists without a turnover.  In the second half he made 2 layups while missing his only 3 and turning it over twice without an assist.  Duke had only 4 assists in the entire second half.  Bolden played 18 minutes for 2 points (1-4) and 3 boards.  He played only 8 minutes in the second half (2 points and 2 boards).  He is active on defense.  Giles continues to confound.  In a scintillating first half performance of 9 minutes, he scored 8 (4-5) while grabbing 6 rebounds!   But in the second half, where Duke was being dominated in the paint, he was AWOL [5 minutes without scoring, committed 2 fouls and a turnover, while missing the front end of a crucial one and one].

The Bigs

Amile played 28 minutes [5 points on 2-3; 1-2 from the line with 5 boards], but only 12 in the second half [failed to score, missing his only shot, and grabbed only 2 boards] as Duke struggled big time.  He is clearly not yet all the way back.  Together with the inconsistent play of the freshmen bigs, Duke had a real weakness in the middle.  Yet, Duke got pummeled when Capel chose to go with only 1 big and Tatum as the power forward.  Serious issues for Duke going forward.

The Veterans

Only Luke Kennard really showed up.  He tried to carry Duke in the second half, scoring 14 of his 20 when Duke needed it the most.  He did not start and played only 27 minutes — 15 in the second half.  In the second half he was 3-5 from the field; 1-3 from deep and 7-7 from the line to go with 2 steals a board and an assist.  He committed 4 second half fouls and two turnovers.  He had 4 first half rebounds and 3 first half assists.  Matt Jones played a team high 34 minutes (17 in each half), but was far more effective in the first half [8 points on 3-5; 2-4 from deep and 2 boards] but the clock struck midnight in the second half for his shooting [1-6; 1-4 from deep] when Duke needed his offense.  His defense is never in doubt.

It appears to me that the public furor surrounding Grayson Allen has taken its toll.  He did not start and played only 26 minutes scoring 13 on 13 shots [4-13; 1-9 from deep and 4-5 from the line].  He had only 1 board (for a great rebounding guard) and as many turnovers as assists — 2.  His defense has also suffered.  In the second half, when Duke struggled, he was 1-6; 1-4 from deep, scoring only 4 — 2-2 from the  line — in 14 minutes.  His decline is very much part of the Duke problem.

Going forward

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DUKE 85 -WAKE FOREST 83

Holy Paul Newman, Batman, Cool Hand Luke is alive and well!  It is unanticipated moments like today that explains our fascination with and enjoyment of Duke Basketball —you never know when you will see another I-don’t-believe-what-I-am-seeing athletic performance. When was the last time you saw a college player put a team on his back in an important road game and score 30 points in the second half while not missing a shot? The nation’s preseason No. 1-ranked team entered Saturday having lost three of its previous four games and winless on the road. The Blue Devils were but a fading version of the team that had started the season 11-1. Earlier in the week, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, still recovering from back surgery, called the team to his house and did a number on them. Among other things, he barred them from using their locker room at Cameron Indoor Stadium and forbade them from wearing Duke gear in public.

Badly outplayed and lethargic most of the game, the Blue Devils gradually remembered how to play winning basketball:  Ball movement, make an extra pass, and get the ball to the hot hand—in this case Hot Hand Luke– then play lock-down defense. Duke ended the game with a 15-4 run, punctuated by Kennard and Grayson Allen cashing 3-pointers as part of nine straight points to close out the game and save Duke further humiliation– for now. Kennard’s 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left gave Duke its final margin and also put the Blue Devils ahead for the first time in the game since it was 18-17. Allen, who was continually hassled and taunted by both a sold out Joel Coliseum fans and some Wake players, had a measure of revenge by scoring 19 points on five treys, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.

The Blue Devils have little time to enjoy this improbable—and in most ways undeserved– win as they travel to Notre Dame, where even their best teams have had a rough time, for a Monday night game. The question is whether this improbable win was a reset, a turning point in the season, or just a one-off explosion?

Other Comments:

  • Coach Capel gets another game ball for calling time out and drawing up the baseline curl play that put Luke Kennard in a position to have an open, game winning three.
  • Luke Kennard’s sensational second half: 30 pts, 10-10 FG, 6-6 from 3-pt range, and game-winner….just hope Coach K didn’t hurt his back jumping up in the air when Luke hit that final three.
  • While Duke was in foul trouble, seldom-used sophomore center Antonio Vrankovic played meaningful and productive minutes.
  • I really dislike the one-and-done era. As good as Jayson Tatum and the other freshmen may sometime be, they need to stop believing their press clippings and reading about their projected draft positions. Take Luke Kennard for example. He came to Duke after breaking all of LeBron James high school scoring records. He was good but inconsistent last year. After a summer of maturing and working of his game, he is now, as a sophomore, the best player on the team. Jayson has been impressive when he plays within the offense. However, when he chooses not to do that, he hurts the team. His ineffective domination of the offense helped Duke  squander its lead against N.C. State on Monday – Tatum went 0-for-4 during that stretch, then dribbling the ball behind his back and off his foot on the final possession. It wasn’t an issue at the end today, because Tatum fouled out with seven minutes to go after turning the ball over attempting to lead a fast break. That left the upper classmen free to play within the offense. This team needs Jayson Tatum, teammate, not Jayson Tatum, auditioning for a lottery pick.

Alan Adds:

I am still on my first cup of coffee, savoring Duke’s gutty miraculous win after playing 36 minutes of basketball that called for a descriptive adjective from the excremental world.  For those 36 minutes, Duke’s defense was even worse than it had been in recent games.  The Blue Devils gave up open shots from the perimeter and layups on the interior.  Duke had only 2 steals in the entire game and only 2 blocks.  While the game was called tightly (but without advantage for either side, in my opinion, in spite of Wake’s advantage going to the foul line — 32 attempts to Duke’s 20), Duke fouled at an alarming rate (17 fouls committed in the second half; 30 for the game).  It was only in the last four minutes of the game that Duke’s defense not only looked suddenly competent, but played with a fiery passion that shut Wake down when it counted.  Wake scored only 2 in the last 4:11 — a mid-range jumper with 2:11 to go.  Duke’s offense was clunky in the first half, mostly because good shooters were missing open shots and Duke was turning it over.  Kennard committed 2 early fouls and was limited to 13 first half minutes where he actually missed 3 shots from the field (he made his only 3 point attempt) and 2 from the foul line (1-3) for just 4 points.  Duke scored 53 points in the second half; astoundingly 30 by Kennard.  Duke’s remaining second half production was Grayson 8; Tatum 6; Jefferson 4; Jones 3; Giles and Jackson 2 each.  It was the Luke Kennard Show!  He played the entire second half (much of it with 4 fouls) keeping Duke in contact with the Deacons in the second half.  In the first 16 minutes of the second half, he had 19 points, but Wake still held a 10 point lead with just under 4:00 minutes to play.  Then, everything changed.

Harry Giles

The Duke defense tightened and stopped Wake’s straight line drives.  Suddenly Duke knew how to defend the pick and roll.  Tatum had fouled out; Jefferson, saddled with 4, played only 6 minutes in the second half.  So, what happened?  With 4:01 left in the game and Duke trailing by 10, Harry Giles came into the game and remained on the floor to the end.  He was fabulous with his energy on defense.  He protected the rim and guarded Wake’s formidable big man, John Collins.  With Duke down by a point and 26 seconds remaining, Wake’s Woods missed a three and Harry grabbed the critical rebound. Then, he set the low post pick to free Kennard for his game winning three. After Luke’s dramatic shot put Duke ahead by a deuce, Wake had one more chance on a drive to the rim by Crawford, which Harry blocked with a second to go.  That is the Harry Giles that Duke was hoping for.

The Fabulous Last 4 Minutes

Luke Kennard put on a show for the ages, with great team play from every Devil on the court.  Luke scored 11 points in under 4 minutes.  He hit a 3 with 3:43 to go and a jumper in the paint with 2:41 to go (Duke down 5).  After Wake’s only score in the last 4 minutes at 2:11, Luke answered with a 3 at the 1:51 mark (Duke down 4).  With 55 seconds to go, Luke started a drive, whipped a great pass to Matt Jones, who fired to Grayson for a dramatic 3 (Duke down 1).  When Woods missed and Giles rebounded, Duke called time out and set up the dramatic winning shot on a set play, fueled by a perfect pass from Matt Jones.  Giles’s block sealed the deal on a miracle finish.

Coach Capel

Jeff Capel deserves kudos, not only for the perfect final play drawn up at the time out with 25 seconds to play, but for creative substitution pattern in the second half necessitated by Duke’s foul trouble.  Capel called on Antonio Vrakovich, who gave Duke 6 productive minutes (a dunk some good interior defense while committing 4 fouls).  Tatum fouled out, playing only 11 minutes in the second half (21 for the game); Jefferson had 4 and played only 6 minutes in the second half; 14 in the first half.  At game’s end, the only Duke players in the 7 man rotation who had not fouled out or had 4 fouls were Jones (3); Kennard (2); and Jackson (2).

The Front Court

With the exception of Giles’s heroics in the last 4 minutes, the front court was woeful.  The defense gave up layups and open dunks at the rim.  How dramatic is this statistic:  The front court players committed 19 fouls (Tatum 5; Jefferson 4: Giles 4; Vrankovich 4; and Bolden 2 — in only 3 first half minutes) while scoring 20 points (Tatum 8; Giles 6; Jefferson 4: and Vrankovich 2).  Duke’s season will not flourish unless the front court returns to championship caliber play.  It is clear that Jefferson is not the same player he was before the injury.  If he heals completely and returns to pre-injury form and Giles continues to progress (and Tatum listens to Bill’s wise counsel), the season could still be a success.  But time is running out and progress is frustratingly slow.

The Backcourt

Frank Jackson gets real kudos for running the team in the late game heroics.  He scored in the first half (7 of his 9 points) and was the glue for Duke in the second half.  In my opinion his best statistic was 4 assists without a turnover.  He is very athletic and defends pretty well.  Matt Jones shot terribly (1-10; 1-8 from deep) but is so valuable to this team that he was on the floor for 39 minutes.  Capel singled each out for praise in his post-game conference.  Grayson is still coming to grips with the ferocious backlash to his tripping incidents.  For me it is beyond imagination, but it is real and will continue on the road for the rest of the season.  Grayson seems to be learning to deal with it.  His 19 points were key to the Duke win.  He’s a gamer, who I predict will return to last season’s form.

Going Forward

It is hard to look past the next very tough test on Monday night against Notre Dame in South Bend.  Duke’s play will have to improve for the Devils to be competitive.

DUKE 84 – NOTRE DAME 74

Duke had a lot of reasons to lose this game: They haven’t won in South Bend in this century (January 1995), Notre Dame coach (ex-Duke assistant Mike Brey) was 5-1 against his mentor, Duke has never had a defensive answer for Bonzi Colson, Jefferson fouled out with four minutes to go, Kennard went out a minute later—and to top it off, this was the second away game in two days. However, when you hold an opponent to shooting 42% from the field, shoot 52% yourself, hit 23-24 free throws and outrebound them 37-25, you take the raucous students out of the game and dramatically improve your chances of winning.

This may not have been the Blue Devils best game of the year (Kansas was. Degree of difficulty) but it was the most important and best played game since Christmas break.  Pundits have recently written that this is Luke Kennard’s team. As well as Luke has played, I disagree. To win, this team cannot be one man’s team. This is the Jefferson, Jones, Kennard, Allen, Tatum, Jackson, Giles, Bolden etc’s team. Successful Coach K teams have always played to their strengths, covered their weaknesses, and been mentally tough. First and foremost, they must play better team defense. Then collectively, they must understand the offensive pecking order. Luke and Greyson are the first two scoring options, should look to take the most shots, and make opponents pick their poison on whom to double. If together, they score 40-50 points, the rest of the team only need to score 25-30 to win. Jayson Tatum is a multi-skilled talent, who had a huge game: 19 points and 14 rebounds but 5 turnovers. However, he is a freshman and this is not his team. To play winning basketball with these players he needs to focus as much on defending and rebounding as offense where he is the third option and needs to discipline himself to initiating his offense from the foul line in. If I see him get a defensive rebound and not pass the ball forward to a guard, I am going to mentally scream: “You are terrific wing player, but a bench point guard.” Tonight, he did it again–made another turnover at mid-court with guards in front of him. Jefferson, who is playing more like his pre-injury self, is the fourth option, especially when he has a slow player guarding him. Matt Jones is the utility man, who can do, and is comfortable doing, any job –as he demonstrated tonight. Actually, given the disparity in the stats, the Blue Devils should have won by more than ten points. They made uncharacteristically little, dumb mistakes and turnovers like Giles committing a foul under the basket when the ball was being dribbled at half court or Kennard losing his man on an inbounds play because he was complaining to the ref about the call.

When Jefferson fouled out with four minutes to go and a five point lead, Harry Giles replaced him. Obviously, the Blue Devils desperately needed to see the heralded Giles. Well, the first thing he did was miss a point blank put back at the front of the rim. From then on he played like the Harry Giles we had have been looking for– he had four points and five Big Boy rebounds. He even went two for two at the foul line.

Hopefully, this team is coming together. I have had the feeling that Grayson Allen is still the key to this team. He has gone from being the preseason college cover boy Player-of-the-Year to playing poorly through a painful toe injury, to having a self-inflicted emotional meltdown in front of the ESPN sports world, to being the most reviled player in college basketball, to adjusting to being the number two scoring option, to assuming the responsibilities of playing the point. That’s a lot for a twenty year old to deal with—and a team to digest. To his credit, Grayson demonstrated more maturity when the Wake players roughed him up and was the first player to embrace Luke after his game winner at Wake, indicating he is a team first guy. This is a different team when Grayson scores 21 timely points like he did tonight and against Wake Forest. I sense that Allen is coming to grips with his fall from grace and being reviled by channeling his inner JJ Redick– realizing the best way to quiet the boo birds and trash talkers is to get his groove back and Make Plays. The team wouldn’t have been in a position to win at Wake or the Dome if he hadn’t taken and hit his shots.

Other Comments:

  • While the fans were all over Grayson with booing and signs (Funniest: The Tripper vs. The Gipper), the Notre Dame players, unlike the Wake Forest players, just played the game with a little trash talking or physical hassling.
  •  Dan Dakich, a former player and coach at Indiana, was one of the announcers. I thought he made some savvy comments. Alan disagreed but then Alan thought the key to the game was leaving Coach K in Durham, because he had never won at South Bend.

Alan Adds:

Harry Giles

With 4:23 to go, Jefferson fouled out, being replaced by Giles, who had picked up 4 fouls in just under 5 minutes.  After Farrell made the first one, Duke’s more comfortable 10 point lead was cut to 5.  I could feel the apprehension in my fan’s soul building as Notre Dame took back the momentum.  Kennard and Giles were saddled with 4 fouls (Tatum, Allen and Jones all had 3).  Duke had gone cold from deep (1-5 in the second half), and, as Bill points out, ND has had Duke’s number since joining the ACC and especially in South Bend.

In the last 4 minutes — but more specifically in a fabulous two minute stretch — Giles and Duke’s superb foul shooting won Duke’s best win of the season (better than the last second loss to Kansas, Bill).  Tatum pushed the lead to 7 with a jumper and after Beacham missed, Tatum drove, but missed a tough shot.  Harry grabbed the offensive rebound, but looked hesitant as he missed the put back. He did not let the miss bother him.  He defended Colson really well, but Kennard committed his 5th with 3:04 left.  Flueger’s first reduced the Duke lead to 6, and when he missed the second, Harry grabbed the rebound rather emphatically.  Giles’s athleticism led Coach Capel to extoll his ball screen defense when it really counted.  When Grayson missed a jumper, Giles grabbed the board and dunked with a flourish with 2:42 remaining.  When Farrell missed a layup (Harry moved over to protect the rim) Giles grabbed the defensive rebound.  Then on offense, he posted up Colson and drew the foul and calmly sunk both free throws to give Duke a 10 point lead with 2:29 to go.  It was the first two of Duke’s 12 straight made free throws down the stretch — Giles 2; Jones 2; Tatum 2; Jackson 2; and, Allen 4.  It was reminiscent of how Duke closed out games in 2015 with Tyus and Quinn’s reliable ball handling and foul shooting.  Duke’s ball handling was far from reliable with both Tatum and Jackson turning it over as The Irish put on a desperate press.   When Farrell missed a critical 3 with just under 2 minutes left, Giles once again cleaned Duke’s defensive glass (Duke up 8 with 1:57 left).  If Giles can begin to play substantial minutes at that level, the Duke season may yet be salvageable.

The Rotation

Duke’s bench was very thin — Giles played 9 minutes and Jackson 15, missing his only shot, but making 2 crucial foul shots.  He scored 2 without an assist; played some excellent defense down the stretch, but turned it over twice.  Giles’s 4 points led the bench in scoring (total bench points:6).  Vrankovich played 2 minutes, committing a foul and a turnover.  The five starters all played heavy minutes with Jefferson fouling out in 31 minutes and Kennard in 32.  Thus, Jones with 38 minutes, Tatum, 37, Allen 36 were on the court for virtually the entire game.  Tatum and Jones were simply scintillating.  Jones was superb; it will make a huge difference in the remainder of the season if Matt can add this kind of offensive efficiency to his defense, hustle and leadership.  In his 38 minutes, Jones scored 16 on just 6 shots [5-6 from the field; 1-2 from deep and 5-5 from the line] to go with 5 boards, 3 assists and a steal with only a single turnover.  He was simply superb. Tatum returned to being a team player and ferocious defender.  He anchored Duke’s back line and pulled down 14 rebounds (11 on the defensive end) to go with his 19 points.  Capel said they had been working with Jayson to make his moves to the basket without hesitation.  He really did that today, torching ND’s senior defender Beacham with an assortment of dazzling moves around the hoop.  Capel also praised Tatum’s defense and said that his working so hard on the defensive end was the key to his improved offense.   He scored 19 (his first collegiate double double) on 14 shots [8-14; 0-1; 3-3 from the line], while dishing for a couple of assists and getting a block and a steal.  The only drawback was he committed 5 of Duke’s 15 turnovers (Duke had only 11 assists).  Jefferson logged 31 minutes, but it is hard to ignore how his stat line has diminished since his return from injury.  He scored only 6 — including Duke’s first 4 points [3-7 from the field and missed his only foul shot, the front end of a 1 and 1].  This means that in the remaining 37 minutes of the game (or his 29 minutes on the floor) he scored only 2 points and grabbed only 4 rebounds.  He seems to be moving well and running the floor enthusiastically.  He will, I predict, return to form.

The key to the Duke offense is still Kennard and Allen.  I agree with Bill that Grayson seems to be regaining his mojo and is returning to his leadership role and reliable scorer.  He scored 21 points on 13 shots [6-13; 3-7 from deep; and 6-6 from the line] to go with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block.  He is still learning the point and did commit 3 turnovers.  But he was calm and superb.  Kennard drew much defensive attention after his magical second half against Wake.  He scored 16 on 11 shots [5-11; 1-2; 5-5 from the line.  He had 4 boards and an assist that was other worldly, saving the ball out of bounds to Allen through an ND defenders’ legs for an Allen 3.

Going Forward

Capel was optimistic; he said that Duke had gone through “the storm”, and showed a new toughness and resiliency by going into 2 sold out hostile gyms and winning both games.  Duke’s defense was good against Notre Dame.  Capel said the team aimed to close down the straight line drives to the basket and to not over-help.  Notre Dame is small.  Let’s see if Duke’s defense continues to improve as the Devils get to practice and to grow in continuity.  Capel said he thought there was a carryover from the last 4 minutes of the Wake win, and that now that all the key players were healthy and practicing, Duke will improve.  Now comes three home games, starting with Pittsburg on Saturday (1pm on CBS).

DUKE 72 – PITTSBURG 64

Pittsburg is a better team than their record. Even though the Panthers have no natural point guard, the large, talented, mature (read grown men, of which there not many playing anymore in the ACC)  front line featuring Young and Artist, who took half the team’s shots, are a matchup nightmare for Duke’s undersized starters of two forwards and three guards. For this configuration to work, the defense needs to create turnovers and bad shots leading to fast breaks–plus making a lot of threes. Even though the game was tied at the half, I still thought the Blue Devils were in good shape because they were playing with energy and verve on both ends of the floor and they had open shots that were on target but just not falling–Pitt shot 50%; Duke 40%. Allen and Tatum together had only a  5 points. How long can this last? There had to be a Cameron progression the mean. Another good indicator was that Duke’s man, while undersized, was forcing turnovers and shot clock violations. Frank Jackson started for Jones, who injured his ankle in practice, played most of his minutes, and who is getting more and more comfortable and consistent.

Holy Grant Hill, Batman, his parents didn’t have “one more son” for the Cameron Crazy’s but Hot Hand Luke has a brother!  Earlier in the week I checked in with my pal Pete, a former fraternity brother and soccer player, who retired to Durham and is very plugged into the Duke sports scene.  He said that he agreed with my assessment that Grayson Allen is basically a good kid working through a bad situation and was “coming to grips with his fall from grace and being reviled” but that he was not “channeling his inner JJ Redick” because, as talented as he is, he is an entirely different personality. Rather, he said Allen is a basically a very competitive but shy kid who is emerging from a very dark time-tunnel and beginning to relax, restructure his game as a facilitator/scorer, and increasingly playing with his former passion and confidence. However, Grayson’s late game clutch shooting in the wins at Wake Forest and Notre Dame, were just a warm-up for today. With the score tied and only eight minutes to go, Allen went into UNLV mode and broke the game open by scoring 18 points (6 rebounds & 6 assists)  to put an exclamation point on Coach K’s return to the bench. When you have two players who can score 30 points in twenty minutes as Kennard did at Wake and another who can score 18 in eight, then add a Tatum potential double-double, the defensive glue co-captains of Jefferson & Jones, plus Thomas and Giles off the bench, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how potentially lethal this team can be.

Other comments:

  • When Coach K came out of the tunnel and onto the floor for the first time since his surgery, he received a Standing O from all 9,314 in Cameron. The student section bowed in unison. Coach bowed in return and the crowd went wild.
  • The victory was Krzyzewski’s 500th win at Cameron Indoor Stadium as the 69-year-old pulled to within 12 victories of 1,000 in his career at Durham. Those numbers prove that my buddies All-Prep EP and Johnny Tar Heel must know what they are talking about when they say that Coach K is worth ten points a game.
  • In his press conference, Coach K noted that ESPN misinterpreted his disciplining of the players. It was not a punishment.  Coach K said, “whatever happened with my team was the start of a process.  It’s  called team building.  I went through it every year as a cadet many times and as an officer in the military.  You don’t get better by doing the same thing over and over again.  Everything we did that week was team building.  Before the Wake game, the team was back in the locker.  I won’t tell you the story, but it’s beautiful because it was team building.  That’s what we do.  It wasn’t about punishment; it was about getting rid of bad habits. You don’t get rid of bad habits easy.  Habits are hard to get rid of, and you have to do things.”  Coach K credited his staff for running great practices, and concluded, “we got better after the loss to State.  We won a tough game against Wake; we won a tough game at Notre Dame.  We won a tough game today. We are tougher and more together.  It wasn’t about attitudes.”
  • Two great men were in the house: Dick Groat, Duke’s greatest basketball player (if you don’t believe me look it up) and most accomplished athlete, did the radio for Pittsburg and Grant Hill, Duke’s most admired basketball player, worked the telecast for CBS.
  • I was having dinner Thursday night at Ocean Prime on the Phillips Golden Mile in Orlando when I noticed a man at the next table with a shock of  snow white hair who looked familiar. When he got up to leave, I was struck by how tall he was. I asked our waiter if that was Coach Bobby Knight, and, by golly, it was. When he was out of hearing range, I whispered: “Say hey, Bobby, thanks for recommending Coach K to Duke AD Tom Butters.”

Alan Adds:

Duke’s offense became incredibly efficient in the second 10 minutes (8:32 to be exact) of the final half, putting up 30 points (6-9 from deep; 8-8 from the foul line; and 2-3 from inside the arc) to win the game.  Duke did not really stop Pitt in that stretch, but rather outscored the Panthers (who scored 21 in the same span, which is pretty good offense).  It was Duke’s shooting in the end that prevailed because the other statistics in the second half do not tell an uplifting story.  Pitt’s advantage scoring in the paint in the second half was 22-6.  Pitt had the advantage not only in second chance points (6 to 2), but also in fast break points (2-0).

The Rotation

Duke’s rotation was once again very thin.  Allen and Kennard both played all 40 minutes.  In the second half, Tatum played without substitution and Amile was on the bench for under a minute.  Matt Jones played 7 minutes in each half; he was the only sub in the second half.  Jackson played 14 minutes in the last stanza; 27 for the game.  In the first half the bench consisted of Bolden (1 minute; no stats), Jones for 7 minutes (no stats) and Giles (7 minutes), 15 total minutes with only Giles scoring.  What is the Giles story?  He was an offensive weapon in the first half scoring a dunk on a great lob pass and a nice 12 foot jumper, (2-2), and made his only foul shot.  He never saw the floor again, but his 5 points were the only bench scoring besides Matt Jones making 1 of 3 foul shots in the second half. Matt was clearly hurt, but gave the team what he had, which Coach K noted was valuable even without impressive stats.

Jefferson (10 points), Kennard (8 points) and Giles (5) scored 23 of Duke’s 28 first half points.  Jefferson scored 5 in the second half and Kennard just 2, though they both played the entire second half.  Grayson’s 18, Tatum’s 10 and Jackson’s 8 (he was huge down the stretch, just a bit overshadowed by Grayson’s coming out party) scored 36 of Duke’s 44 second half points.  Tatum was amazing in the second half [3-4 from the field; 2-2 from 3land; 2-2 from the line] to go with 3 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block without a turnover.  Jefferson is rounding back into form; he was a rebound shy of a double-double [15 points and 9 boards.  Allen was, of course, simply amazing scoring 21 [6-13; 5-11 and 4-4 from the line, after a 1-4 first half], to go with 6 rebounds and 6 assists (2 turnovers).  As Bill points out, he looks like he is having fun again.  After all, it is a game!

The Magical 8:32 Run

Duke was down 43-42 when Jackson started the run with a 3, which resulted from blocked shots by Jefferson and Tatum followed by a tough rebound by Allen.  45-43.  Tatum made 2 foul shots, but fouled Young, who also made both.  47-45 with 7:58 to go.  Allen drained a 3 with 7:23 to go.  50-45.  Nix put back an offensive rebound for Pitt.  50-47.  Grayson responded with an acrobatic lay-up.  52-47.  Duke gave up an easy layup to Artis.  52-49 with 6:10 left.  Jackson hit another 3 with 5:50 left.  55-49.  Young hit his jump shot.  55-51, which Jackson matched with 4:57 left.  57-51.  Tatum made a steal and Grayson finished it off with a 3 with 4:19 to go.  60-51.  Duke then had its only lapse during this period.  Jefferson and Tatum both committed fouls, which Pitt capitalized on at 3-4.  60-54.  Kennard fouled Artis on a drive; Artis completed the 3 point play. 60-57 with 3:10 left.  Grayson hit another 3 with 2:58 left to stretch Duke’s lead to 63-57.  Duke gave up an easy dunk to Jeter.  63-59.  Then came the key sequence.  Jefferson made a sensational block on Jeter’s next layup attempt and Tatum corralled the rebound with a little over a minute left.  Grayson missed a 3, but got his own rebound, and received the return pass from Tatum, launching a 3 with 52 seconds left.  It should have missed, but the high bounce off the rim fell through, icing the game for the Devils.  66-59.  If that shot misses, the game very easily could have turned out differently.  Duke cemented the win with 6-6 clutch foul shooting (Tatum the first 2 and Allen the final 4) in the closing seconds.

Next Play

Carolina in Cameron next Thursday followed by a Saturday home game against Clemson at 1pm — just 36 hours later.

Duke-Carolina Week

A rivalry with deep history and significance.

by Al Featherston

I attended my first Duke-North Carolina game in 1960.

That was the semifinals of the ACC Tournament in Raleigh’s Reynolds Coliseum.

It was a great introduction to the best rivalry in all of sports. UNC was a powerhouse – so good that ACC player of the year Lee Shaffer was the third best player on his own team (behind Doug Moe, the best all-around player in the ACC in 1960, and York Larese, the league’s best shooter). Duke was kind of up-and-down in its first season under young coach Vic Bubas — mostly down against UNC, losing three meetings by 22, 26 and 25 points.

But the Devils, getting a splendid game from forward Carroll Youngkin and from center Doug Kistler (who became my high school coach) jumped to an early lead in the Tar Heels in Raleigh and grimly held on for a 71-69 victory. One night later, Duke beat Wake Forest with Len Chappell and a balding sophomore guard named Billy Packer, to win the school’s first ACC championship.

As significant as that 1960 tournament matchup is in the rivalry, I think the real turning point in the Duke-Carolina saga occurred a year later.

The Feb. 4, 1961 matchup at Duke Indoor Stadium marked the moment when Duke-Carolina became a great basketball rivalry. Oh, there had been plenty of significant games between the two schools before that night, but I think most fans and the media still regarded the football rivalry as more significant.

That changed on Feb. 4, 1961.

For one thing, it was the first time the two teams ever met with both ranked in the top five – No. 4 Duke vs. N0. 5 UNC (in the coaches poll, it was reversed – No. 5 Duke vs. No. 4 UNC). For another game, the game featured volatile sophomore Art Heyman, a celebrated prep star from Long Island who had signed a letter-of-intent with North Carolina, but after a fight between UNC coach Frank McGuire and Heyman’s stepfather, re-opened his recruitment.

Bubas swooped in and stole Heyman from the Heels.

McGuire never forgave him.

Art Heyman became the first hated Duke basketball player. And nothing that Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, J.J. Redick or Grayson Allen ever endured was close to the abuse that Heyman faced … most (but not all) spewing from the program that he spurned and its fan base.

In his first freshman game with UNC (freshmen could not play varsity ball in those days), Heyman was subjected to a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse. He ignored it and was leading the Blue Imps to a lopsided victory over the Tar Babies (yes, that was the name given to UNC freshman teams) when Heyman was cold-cocked by UNC’s Dieter Krause, precipitating a brawl that ended up with Duke freshman coach Bucky Waters pounding UNC coach Kenny Rosemond into the scorer’s table.

That was just the prelude to the 1961 matchup in Durham.

There was an ugly atmosphere that night. It started in the freshman preliminary game, when there was a brawl that left UNC with just three players available for the final minute of Duke’s lopsided win. There was a near-brawl in the first half of the varsity game – precipitated (Heyman claims) when Moe kept spitting on him. Krause, who was buried at the end of the UNC bench, rushed onto the floor as Heyman and Moe squared off. That’s what almost sparked the brawl.

Then there was the incident as the two teams left the court for halftime – through the same exit in those days. A male UNC cheerleader was slapping the Tar Heel players on the butt as they passed him. He also swatted Heyman in the butt –and the Duke star responded by turning and shoving the kid to the floor. Upstairs, a UNC fan saw the incident and filed assault charges against Heyman (the case was thrown out of court the next week).

But that was all just setup for the final seconds. Heyman, completing a magnificent performance (36 points on 11-13 shooting against the best defender in the ACC, Moe) had Duke in position to claim the win when Larry Brown, who was once slated to be Heyman’s roommate in Chapel Hill, raced for a meaningless layup.

Heyman foolishly grabbed him.

Let’s get this straight – he didn’t hit Brown or undercut him or throw him to the ground and in any way hurt or endanger him. The 6-5 Heyman wrapped both arms around Brown and hugged him, holding him upright.

Brown responded by throwing the basketball in Heyman’s face. Then he threw a punch that landed on Heyman’s face. Before Heyman could respond, Donnie Walsh (a future NCA executive) jumped off the UNC bench and slugged Heyman from behind.

From that point, it devolved into the wildest brawl in ACC history. Heyman threw a punch at Brown then turned to chase Walsh, who delivered his dastardly blow, then turned and sprinted away like a coward. Heyman’s chase was impeded by first dozens and then hundreds of students, who poured onto the floor and began fighting each other. It took more than 10 minutes to clear the floor and play out the finals seconds of the game (an 81-77 Duke win).

The officials, in their game report, blamed Heyman for starting the fight. Bubas was so outraged by that report that he had his game-film developed in record time and convened an extraordinary press conference to show reporters that Heyman was the victim, not the instigator.

Commissioner Bob James, who had been struggling to crack down on brawling at ACC games (most of it precipitated by McGuire’s teams), came down hard on everybody involved – Heyman, Brown and Walsh were all suspended for the remainder of the ACC season.

In my mind, that game launched Duke-UNC basketball toward the stratosphere of sports rivalries. It didn’t happen overnight – even after that memorable night – but the sustained excellence of the two programs has made Duke-Carolina the greatest rivalry in college basketball.

I sometimes quibble with the Duke SID people over one remarkable stat. They are fond of pointing out that either Duke or UNC have been ranked in every matchup since Feb. 27, 1960 – a week the ’60 Tar Heels temporarily dropped out of the AP poll. Beating Duke by 25 in Durham was enough to lift UNC back to No. 16 in time for the next meeting six days later in Raleigh. One or the other has been ranked for every meeting since.

That’s correct as far as it goes.

But the AP poll – the writers’ poll – was not the only poll. The rival United Press International polled the coaches’ and that poll was every bit as authoritative as the writers’ rankings.

And North Carolina never dropped out of the UPI coaches’ poll that season. The Tar Heels were No. 12 the night they faced Duke in Durham.

That means that the last time neither school was ranked was Feb. 25, 1955 – that’s 62 years and 157 straight meetings in which one or the other (but usually both) are ranked. Can anybody site another rivalry that’s even close to that number when it comes to national relevance?

The two programs have remarkably similar accomplishments – both have five NCAA titles; UNC had 19 Final Fours to 16 for Duke; Duke has 19 ACC championships to 18 for UNC; they are third and fourth in all-time wins – second and third when it comes to NCAA Tournament wins.

ESPN recently ran a story mentioning that over the last 96 Duke-Carolina games, both teams are 48-48 and both teams have scored EXACTLY 7,437 points in that span.

That’s parity.

Of course, Barry Jacobs pointed out Wednesday that dominance in the rivalry does swing back in forth. It all depends on what time frame you are going to choose. For instance, over the entire history of the rivalry, UNC has a substantial 134-108 edge.

But look at just this century and Duke has the edge – 25-13.

Coach K is 43-39 vs. UNC.

Coach K is 16-10 against Roy Williams at UNC (he was 4-1 vs. Roy when Williams was at Kansas, so 20-11 overall).

Since UNC swept Duke in 2009, Duke has pretty much dominated the series, winning 11 of 15 matchups this decade. Barry pointed out that Duke has a much better record in recent years in the first matchup of the year than in the second … and also a slightly better record against UNC in the Smith Center than in Cameron.

All in all, a wonderful rivalry.

***

Now for the elephant in the room.

There was a time when Duke-Carolina was thought to represent the best in college sports.

Duke was perceived as the great private institution, playing basketball at a high level while maintaining the highest academic standards. UNC was the “public ivy” maintaining similarly high standards at one of the nation’s best public schools.

And after the 1961 ugliness, the rivalry was conducted on a very collegial level. Duke and Carolina recruited the same players; those players often scrimmaged against one another; players from both schools hung out at the same Durham barber shop; and the coaches – no matter their private doubts and frustrations – almost always maintained a façade of respect and good fellowship for their rival.

That was before we found out that North Carolina was running the longest and most widespread academic sham in NCAA history. UNC AD Bubba Cunningham acknowledged earlier this week that the Heels cheated – he’s not denying the crime, only that the NCAA rules don’t allow that organization to punish them for it.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that it has changed my perception of the rivalry. I can’t look back on the two great games in 2005 (one thriller won by Duke, one won by UNC) without thinking that most of the stars for the Heels that year where hiding in fraudulent classes – indeed, Rashad McCants has bragged that he NEVER went to class that semester.

It will be interesting to see if the NCAA has the power to punish UNC for its cheating ways or whether the Heels can get away with it.

But the scandal has had another tangible impact on the rivalry – the two programs, which used to be mirror images of each other, are now on very different paths. Duke has relied very heavily on one-and-done talent since 2011, while UNC has not been landing the kind of guys who go one-and-done – and when they do (in the case of Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo), those kids stay in Chapel Hill longer than expected.

Roy Williams said earlier this week that he’d like to recruit like K – but can’t, because of the scandal and the possibility of NCAA punishment.

“It’s not by design,” he said. “All the guys they’ve got, we tried to recruit also.

There is no question about that.”

He pointed out that he did get one-and-done talent early in his tenure at UNC. Marvin Williams in 2005 and Brandon Wright in 2007 were both one-and-done players.

“We’ve been in a time period here where it’s been difficult to get the top 10, top 20 recruit,” Williams explained. “I’m just going to hazard a guess – I have seen something one of my assistants made up – our first 10 years here, we recruited 26 McDonald’s All-Americans and the last three years, we’ve recruited one – Tony Bradley.

“Justin [Jackson], Joel [Berry] and Theo [Pinson], they all committed to us as juniors and then when the junk started, there has been a lot of negative recruiting, there have been a lot of questions asked, It’s been harder for us to get those kinds of kids.

“I’m not against them. We’ve had Marvin Williams and Brandon Wright. I’d love to have those guys right now. It’s been harder for us to get past the negative recruiting, harder to get some families past the stuff that’s been going on.”

UNC had remained competitive with players recruited before the scandal exploded with the release of the school’s own Wainstein Report. But Williams has also benefited because his top players have stayed beyond their peers.

For instance, senior forward Isaiah Hicks was rated the nation’s No. 14 prospect in 2013 (according to the RSCI, which averages recruiting rankings). Almost every other top 25 player from that class – including No. 16 Joel Embid (one-and-done), No. 24 Tyler Ennis (one-and-done) and No. 25 Cat Barber (three-and-done) are already in the NBA.

In the junior class, No. 9 ranked Justin Jackson is the highest-rated player in the class that’s still in school. No. 15 Theo Pinson is the second-highest.

So Williams has the benefit of an experienced team.

“There is more than one way to skin a cat,” the UNC coach said. “I remember a long time ago, we played George Mason in the 2006 NCAA Tournament and they had four fifth-year seniors and we had three freshmen in the starting lineup and they beat us

“There are different ways, but this is not by design. I saw Jayson Tatum play many times. I saw Harry Giles play many, many times. It’s just the way it has happened.”

That’s Krzyzewski’s explanation too.

“It’s not like we have an option where we think everybody is going to go one and done,” he said. “But if they’re good enough, they go. Some guys stay and some guys go.”

Indeed, players make different choices. After the 2015 national title, freshman point guard Tyus Jones was projected as a late first-round pick. He decided to go – and as expected, he was picked in the first round. A year later, sophomore Grayson Allen was projected to go late in the first round. He elected to stay for his junior year …. although freshman teammate Brandon Ingram did go pro – Duke’s seventh one-and-done since 2011 – and was picked No. 2 in the draft by the Lakers.

K doesn’t regret his recruiting decisions and he doesn’t think any of his ACC rivals would mind having to deal with one-and-done issues.

“I think any program in our conference, if they had an opportunity to get a youngster who was given those accolades and was perceived to be a one-and-done, people, would go after that guy,” he said. “Nobody is going to pass over talent. We are not and I do not think they will.”

Despite the difference in recruiting approaches, Krzyzewski thinks the rivalry is as good as it’s ever been, thanks to the historical foundation it rests upon.

“Their program and our program have pretty much stood the test of time,” Coach K said.

UNC might have to deal with some difficult times if their battle with the NCAA goes badly for them. They may even lose some of that glorious history that makes the Heels one of the nation’s blueblood programs.

But for right now, Duke-Carolina is still what it has been since early February, 1961 – the best rivalry in all of college basketball, for sure … and in all arguably in all sports.

DUKE 86 – NORTH CAROLINA 78

The greatest rivalry in college basketball once again lived up to its billing. With former greats Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick, and Danny Ferry watching with the Duke students from the bleachers, there were 17 lead changes, 9 ties, and neither team led by more than 8 points. To beat this big, deep, very talented #8 Carolina team,  #18 Duke needed serious scoring from their big three: Kennard, Allen, and Tatum plus defensive support from Jefferson and Jones as well as productive minutes from Thomas, Giles, and Bolden—not to mention nerve shattering support from the Cameron Crazies.

Well, the Blue Devils were hitting on all cylinders, the maestro was on the bench, and the house was rocking! The numbers tell the story. Both teams shot 52.5% from the field, but the Blue Devils hit 9 more threes and made 13 of 16 free throws while Carolina was only 10 of18 and, surprisingly, out rebounded 31-29. In contrast to the North Carolina State game, the Blue Devils closed out a very tight game against a potential Final Four team like a serious title contending team should. This was the kind of performance, Duke fans have been waiting for.

Luke Kennard (20 pts) has been consistently carrying the scoring load all year. Jayson Tatum has impressed everyone with his exceptional skill set but has been, frankly, freshman inconsistent. Tonight was no different. In the first half, he had no points, a few rebounds, a few assists and a few defensive lapses, so he sat more than usual. (“Coach challenged me to attack the rim strong. I got my opportunity and I fed off that and my team did and we just kept on going.”) But in the second half, he patiently played like an upper classman– within the offense, picking his spots to exploit mismatches, and scoring 19 points to go with 9 rebounds and 5 assists.

However, the straw that stirs the drink for this team is Grayson  Allen. In the last three games, we have seen Grayson emerge from a very dark time tunnel of his own creation, gaining confidence, taking and making important shots, and starting to enjoy playing again. You can see it in his face and in his body language. Tonight, it wasn’t just one or two important shots. It was back to the future, Grayson Allen 2.0 (”When Coach tells you to shoot the ball, you shoot the ball”). Allen was on fire the entire game with 7 threes and 25 points. One was right before the buzzer to close out the half  40-39 Duke, another midway into the second half when Duke was down five and Carolina threatening to pull away, the third was over Jackson with about a minute left to put the Blue Devils up 80-75. Then there was the exclamation point: a give-and-go one handed dunk from Jefferson.

North Carolina is fun to watch. Their frenetic primary and secondary break is programed to wear teams down and run them into the ground. However, I think their egalitarian, let-everyone-touch-the ball and take the shot works against them in close games at crunch time. Duke, on the other hand, is autocratic so that with the game on the line, the ball ends up in the hands of the best playmaker. We have been watching this scenario play out for decades.

Other Comments:

  • A reality check. Carolina was without Isiah Hicks and his 12.8 points and 5.6 rebounds, which means UNC played Duke close in Cameron without its third-leading scorer and rebounder.
  • Coach K commented that both teams played very well and both deserved to win…that it was a “players game” and that “maturity, continuity, and preparation” were responsible for his team’s recent improvement.
  • Tatum’s three pointer with :37 seconds left was a wide-open look, but careened off the left side of the rim for the kind of long rebound that so often fuels the Tar Heels fast break game. However, Matt Jones beat Berry to the ball and snatched it away at the top of the key. That and two steals are typical of the kind of hustle plays Matt has been making for four years.
  • Grayson has gone 20-of-41 from beyond the arc in Duke’s four-game winning streak. He is just the third Duke player to make at least six 3s in back-to-back games against North Carolina (Jason Williams and Trajan Langdon were the others).
  • After the game the Duke players went to the stands and high fived the students. I thought it was interesting that no player appeared happier or more exuberant than Harry Giles, who only played ten minutes but had 6 points, two rebounds, and 1 block.
  • Frank Jackson is really improving. He had 11 points and 2 steals in twenty minutes.

Alan Adds:

Finally!  This is the Duke team that we have been waiting for since October.  Even though there is a caution not to make too much out of the game, there is a desire to celebrate the growth of this team under difficult circumstances that was so visible last night. It was just a great ACC basketball game in which both teams were simply superb.  This is also how sports and competition are supposed to be; each adversary competing hard and bringing out the best in the other.  Coach K emphasized the friend part of the fierce-friendly competition.  Jeff Capel’s father has been diagnosed with ALS.  The coaches on both sides wore ALS awareness buttons, and the two coaches are planning a joint supportive event.  Coach K said, “the guys on the other bench are good friends and great guys.”  The level of competition and sportsmanship reminded me of the Australian Open finals between Federer and Nadal where the quality of the competition reached the highest level and was equal to the respect, admiration and friendship that each competitor had for the other.  A great advertisement for sport, and affirmation that Duke-UNC rivalry is the best in sports.

It is apparent how tremendous Duke’s big 3 — Allen, Kennard and Tatum — played, but Coach K put his finger on how Duke won.  Rebounding.  Duke held the bigger ‘heels even in rebounding.  Everyone dug in.  Tatum led Duke with 9; 7 in his quite amazing second half.  Carolina is lethal in transition and is an offensive rebounding juggernaut.  Duke did a pretty good job against the UNC transition offense, and a superb job protecting its defensive board.  Carolina had only 7 offensive rebounds (of course, they were shooting so well, that there were not that many rebounds to fight for).  Jefferson did not really score in the entire game (he made 2 foul shots with 2 second left in the game for his only points), but anchored Duke’s defense and played Kennedy Meeks really tough.  In 30 minutes, Amile had 6 boards (to Meek’s 5) and played (admirably) much of the second half in foul trouble (his 3rd came with 17+ minutes left).  Another key was Duke’s defense played without fouling, which was a key.  Jefferson had 2 fouls in the first half, but got rest (and time without being challenged to foul) because Giles (8 minutes; 4 points on 2-2 from the field and 2 rebounds) and Bolden (7 minutes and a rebound) gave Duke valuable minutes in the first half.  In the second half, with Amile hampered by his foul situation, still played 16 minutes and grabbed 4 boards (0-1 from the field with an assist).  Giles played only 2 minutes in the second half, adding a field goal to make him 3-3 for the game with 6 points and 2 rebounds and a block in his 10 game minutes.  Bolden made only a cameo in the second half.  It was Tatum who took over the inside game for Duke when it counted.

The Big 3

Jayson Tatum’s second half deserves scrutiny because his play was epic.  After failing to score in 13 first half minutes, he scored 19 points in 19 second half minutes (5-11 from the field; 2-4 from deep; and critically 7-8 from the line]!!!  He hauled in 7 boards, an assist and a block while committing only a single turnover and a single foul.  That deserves a “Holy Something” from Bill.  Duke scored 46 points in the second half with only 6 points coming from other than the big 3 — Jackson 2 (2-4 from the line); Giles 2 and Jefferson’s 2 rather meaningless foul shots at the end.  The Big 3 put up 40 points in the second half [playing the entire second half, Kennard scored 10 on 4-7 from the field; 2-2 from deep to go with 3 rebounds and 3 assists; while Allen in a foul limited 14 minutes scored 11 second half points on 4-6 shooting including 3-5 from deep].  They were amazing.

The big three got scoring support from Frank Jackson in the first half.  He scored 9 in 12 first half minutes (4-4; 1-1 from deep) to go with 2 boards and an assist without a turnover.  He added 2-4 from the line in 8 second half minutes for 11 points.  He is handling the ball better.  Matt Jones played the entire second half without scoring and still may have won the game for Duke.  He made timely and dramatic steals, played terrific defense and snatched the offensive rebound of the game.  With 1:02 left, Berry’s 2 free throws drew Carolina with a single possession (80-77).  Jayson missed a crucial 3 with 37 seconds to go, and it looked as if UNC had corralled the rebound, but Jones miraculously snatched the rebound giving Duke the ball.   Jackson was fouled and made the first to give Duke a two possession lead with 27 seconds left, but he missed the second.  Tatum made the game sealing rebound of the miss and then made both foul shots after Britt had to foul with 16 seconds left, giving Duke a 6 point lead 83-78.  Coach K said Jones has been “unsung” for 4 years, “but we know his value.”  He played the entire second half, demonstrating Coach K’s assessment of his value.

Next Play

Like an NCAA tournament, Duke has a 1 pm game on Saturday at home against Clemson.  Coach K pointed out the obvious.  A game like this dramatic effort can give you a loss in the next game because it takes so much out of the team, and there is a desire to stay in the beautiful moment.  When asked if Jayson had controlled his emotions better, K responded that Tatum was very emotional.  So much so that he missed a defensive assignment after making a great goal.  Insightfully, K said that when you do something so good and satisfying, you want to stay in that moment.  But Carolina comes at you so fast, that not getting to the next play immediately can cost.  It is the same with winning a big time ACC game, like this one, and having to leave that very pleasant moment to prepare for a Clemson team that will come into Cameron hungry.  Coach K: “let’s see if we can handle that.”

DUKE 64 – CLEMSON 62 

What a difference a day makes. Thursday night the Blue Devils were hitting on all cylinders and played their best basketball. This afternoon, they were only hitting on one or two cylinders and played some of their most ineffective basketball since the final eight minutes against N.C. State. The Blue Devils were up 29-18 at the half  thanks to seven threes and the fact that the Orange Paws couldn’t shoot the ball from a boat and hit the ocean. They were 1-15 at one point. However, I never feel comfortable when the threes come early and easy, especially against an overmatched opponent, because players seem to be lulled into thinking the game is just a stress-free scrimmage. Not today. Pass the valium.

Once again, credit Luke Kennard for putting the team on his back and carrying them to victory with 25 points, which included 12 of the last 16 and Coach K for, well, being Coach K. He called a timeout 68 seconds into the game with his team down 0-4 because he thought his players were not focused. That reset resulted in better focus and an eleven point halftime lead. Then, deep into the second half, a quick 9-0 run gave the Tigers their first lead since the opening minutes. Then, Krzyzewski employed a patented Coach K tactic. He shed his jacket like he was taking off a warm-up suit, jumped from his chair to make the point that a seventy year old man four weeks after back surgery was more into the game than his players and the listless Cameron crowd. His Blue Devils responded, as Luke Kennard drilled two three pointers on Duke’s next two possessions, the crowd came alive, and the Devils never trailed the rest of the way. He also believed  Grayson Allen, who badly turned his ankle in the first half, was also fatigued and not himself. He liked Kennard’s matchup, so called plays almost exclusively for him—similar strategy as against Carolina, just Kennard rather than Allen—nice to have choices like that!  And Luke was, once again, The Cool Hand. In about nine critical minutes, he reeled off 15 consecutive points. This is how empty the tank was:  No other Blue Devil scored in double digits. Freshman Frank Jackson, who had 8 points in just 14 minutes, was the only other efficient scorer. The bottom line: Thank goodness Duke was playing Clemson, losers of eight of its last ten games, in Cameron.

The unsung hero again was Matt Jones who played 38 minutes, much of it guarding Clemson 2016 All-ACC star Jaron Blossomgame. Matt held Jarom to 3-12 shooting, for 7 points, 11 below his season average. He also was a major reason the Tiger never got a shot off in the last six seconds, when they could have tied or won the game.

After the game, Coach K made this seemingly curious statement: “This was our best win. You had a really good Clemson team which is desperate for a win…I’m not saying we’re a great team, but we are a team, and we are getting better. And we’ve been very tough.”

Other Comments:

  • I assume Coach meant that in this game, his players overcame fatigue, not shooting or defending well for forty minutes yet still found a way to win. That is his definition of “tough”. The dramatic difference in quality of play in the Carolina game and the Clemson game exposed the obvious weakness of this team. When Kennard, Allen and Tatum are playing well and the perimeter shots are falling, this team plays better defense and can beat anyone. However, when the threes are not falling, this team can lose, because there is little low post alternative production. Before Jefferson’s injury, that was not the case. He was averaging a double/double. Not now! Although Duke pulled ahead early on today, the Blue Devils scored only six points in the paint in the first twenty minutes. The three Duke big men combined for just two points but accumulated five fouls. They also allowed redshirt freshman Elijah Thomas to camp under the basket, where he scored 9 points and had 7 rebounds. Despite Jefferson playing at less than 100 percent, Coach K does not trust freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, who have only exhibited flashes of their potential, to make more than cameo appearances. Duke is at their best with a three guard, two forward configuration. That makes them a small team but makes Jayson Tatum a mismatch nightmare for a power forward because he can take that big man to the perimeter where the air is thin. If Jayson is successful in exploiting that matchup, it may force the opposing coach to substitute a small forward, which negates the team size advantage and whom Tatum can overpower down low. And then, Duke’s most effective sixth man is Frank Jackson, another guard. So, despite the Carolina win, this team is vulnerable to being overwhelmed by say, a Florida State or any other big physical team. So the questions are:
  1. Can this team go very far in two tournaments with a short rotation without significant, productive minutes from Giles and/ or Bolden?
  2. Are Giles and Bolden injured, not in shape, or just overrated and not ready for prime time?
  3. What happens if there is an injury to one of the six starters?  Is it 2016 all over again?
  • Clemson was trying to join North Carolina State as teams earning their first victory at Cameron since 1995 – and just the fifth win here in their history. 

Alan Adds:

Duke’s best win of the season

Coach K was so erudite, insightful and wise in his post-game press conference, that I yield the first part of “Alan Adds” to him.  Rhetorically, he asked if the press perceived a different feeling in Cameron during this game from what was experienced on Thursday against UNC. The arena, the fans and the team were clearly not as emotional.  Coach K said that his team is human and the fall off of emotional energy after such a heroic performance is human nature and normal.  “But in order to win, you cannot be normal.  You have to fight human nature.  After the first half lead of 11, Coach K said “rationalization sets in.  We got a lead; this is a bottom tier team we’re playing; and we are playing at home.  We can’t really lose.  Rationalization equals relaxing.  “It’s what you have to fight in order to win a national title or a gold medal.  To be really good you have to beat it.  I know that because I’ve been in it more than anyone else.  And, I’ve lost because we haven’t beaten it.

“It’s not about attitude or being ready to play.  It’s about how much do you have in the tank — not always physical; it can be emotional; that is the toughest tired to fight through.  I knew this would be our toughest game, and it is our best win of the season.”

The Second Half Malaise

Duke gave up 44 points while scoring 35 in the final stanza.  The entire Duke team — Duke’s only bench in the second half was Jackson’s 6 minutes and 2 points (on a great clutch floater in the lane) — outside of Kennard scored only 15 points. [Jefferson 6; Tatum 5 and Allen 2]. Grayson got 3 minutes rest; Kennard 2 and Jefferson a brief moment, while both Jones and Tatum played every minute of the second half.  Duke toughed it out under difficult circumstances.  Jefferson was valuable anchor of the defense, grabbing 7 second half rebounds and blocking 2 Tiger shots.  He was also 3-4 from the field, though missed his only foul shot.  Tatum contribute a crucial 3 and an interior goal for 5 second half points, to go with 2 boards and a block.  0 assists.  Matt was 0-1 but contributed a crucial steal and some great defense on Clemson’s star, who he held to 1-5 shooting for just 2 points in the second half.  Coach K said Duke kept going to Kennard because he liked the match up.  Luke scored his 20 second half points on only 9 shots [5-9; 3-5 from deep; and crucially 7-9 from the line] with a board, a block and an assist.  Duke had to really suck it up as the clock wound down.  With 10 minutes to go, Clemson took the lead at 45-44.  Duke fought back (when it would have been easy to fold) and led by 7 with a little over 2 minutes to play.   Clemson scored off an offensive rebound; Grayson missed a 3 and Clemson scored again on a layup by Thomas, who completed the traditional 3 point play after Grayson’s foul (why?).  62-60 with a minute and 10 left to play.  Luke made 2 clutch free throws (64-60) before Thomas (who was a beast all night) made a layup (oh those points given up in the paint!  Clemson had 9 second chance points to 0 for Duke in the final half) to bring the Tigers within 2 with 37 seconds left.  Jackson missed a 3 and Thomas grabbed the board with 14 seconds left.  Clemson had the ball with 6 seconds left and a chance to win with a 3, send the game to overtime with a 2, or lose without a score.  Coach K said he did not call a timeout because he did not want to give Clemson a chance to set up a play.  Duke doubled Mitchell (Clemson’s scoring star in this game) and Kennard made a superb defensive play getting his hand on a pass and knocking it out of bounds.  He almost won the game right there.  Duke doubled Mitchell again, who had scored 20 for The Tigers.  They forced him to go into the backcourt to receive the inbounds pass with 4 seconds left.  Matt did a great job and Mitchell never got a shot off.

Coach K pointed to the endgame as evidence that his team is gaining in toughness.  “In the last 4 games we have been very tough.”

Goals for the Last 6 Games

ACC standing are interesting; all is still up for grabs.  UNC, UVA have 3 losses;  Louisville, Florida State and Duke have 4 losses while Notre Dame and Syracuse have 5 losses.  Using tiebreakers, Duke is 5th — one spot out of the double bye for the ACC tournament.  Coach K was asked about his goals for the next 6 games, but he declined to consider the question.  He said no goal setting now; he and his team are too tired.  They need a day or so away from basketball, he said.  However the schedule is formidable — Duke has away games against UVA (this coming Wednesday), Syracuse, Miami and the final game on UNC’s senior night;  Duke hosts Florida State and Wake.  The last 2 games are Florida State at home and Carolina in the Dean Dome.  So Duke plays 3 of the 4 teams ahead of the Devils in the standings. Whether Coach K is willing to say or not, the first goal is a double bye in the ACC tournament.  The real goal is to continue to improve, and as Bill points out, to more fully integrate Giles and Bolden into the rotation as effective players.

More Wisdom from Coach K (applies to more than basketball)

Even though Matt Jones scored only 6 points — all in the first half (2-3 from deep in the opening stanza; 2-4 for the game), Coach K values him highly as a great defensive stopper, and as a leader on the floor.  He may be “unsung” he said, but “we know his value.  He knows his value.   You have to understand your value and not let somebody else determine your value.  If you understand your value, you will do your job well.”  He analogized it to the woman who is responsible for the locker room’s upkeep.  She knows her value and does a good job.  Matt’s value is his toughness, not only as a lock down defender, but also as the teammate, who is toughest mentally, who fights through fatigue, whether emotional or physical.  Coach K knows Matt’s value, which is why Jones was on the floor for the entire second half.

Pretty cool season so far.

DUKE 65 – VIRGINIA 55 

On a night when Kennard and Allen went 5-19 from the floor of John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville against Coach Tony Bennett’s famous Pack Line Defense, the Blue Devils nevertheless took another impressive step toward being the team they were predicted to be at the beginning of the season. Fortunately, offensively Jayson Tatum had another “career” second half as he scored 28 points to go with 8 rebounds. What was even more impressive was that after the Devils scored  (gasp) just 21 first half points, 18 of Jayson’s points came from matching his height, 6-7 from way beyond the three point line in what we refer to as “JJ Land”. However, this performance didn’t surprise me as much as the fact that the Duke defense, led by Matt Jones, held the Wahoos to shooting 37% from the floor and 25% from three point territory. During this six game winning streak, the Duke defense has gradually improved from subpar to pretty darn good. Not only that, Harry Giles played a season high 19 impressive minutes. After replacing a foul plagued Amile Jefferson late in the game, he dove on the floor for a pair of steals and gave the Blue Devils a much-needed jolt of energy. Giles continuing development means that together with Frank Jackson, Duke now has a legitimate seven man rotation. (What, you really expect Coach K to play use more than seven players at this time of the year?)

Even though this Virginia team is not powerful offensively, they were 18-6, ranked #14 and, despite having the worst haircut, has one of the best point guards in the conference. So, in many ways this was as impressive and encouraging a win as the team has had– road game, two leading scorers had off night, closed out a tight game with, let’s just call him a the third Cool Hand Brother, and tough defense. To quote the PGA commercial “ These guys are good!”

As Jay Bilas pointed out, a key to the effective Duke defense was Coach K utilizing a 1-2-2 three quarter court zone press which slowed down the offensively challenged Cavalier half-court offense by shortening the shot clock. Coach K pointed out that a halftime adjustment of spreading out the offense and moving the ball faster somewhat neutralized the Pack Line Defense and created more open shots, which Tatum capitalized upon. He also pointed out the fact that when Tatum is playing strong defense and rebounding well, he is stronger and more aggressive offensively. It’s a maturing mindset that results in his recent game changing second half performances.

Other Comments:                                                                                                               

    • Grayson Allen reinjured his left ankle just before the half. He had it taped and played most of the second half. However, Coach confirmed that both  Jefferson and Allen are not totally healthy but that hopefully by March they will be 100%.
    • Most of the season, Jayson Tatum has been much more effective scoring inside than outside. However, the last few games, he has been much more accurate from long range. It doesn’t surprise me because he has one of the most classic shooting motions you will ever see—best observed when he is shooting free throws. Anyone who shoots nearly 90% from the line has a shooters touch.

 

 

    • Through all the good, bad, and indifferent games this season, Duke’s starting players have been an exceptionally accurate free throw shooters. Tonight, they were 18-20, most of which came as they protected their lead to close out the game.
    • Virginia’s Tony Bennett is an admirable coach. He recruits and coaches the right way and obviously gets the most out of his talent. Duke has arguably three first round picks, Virginia none. I can’t remember the last UVA player to leave school early for the NBA draft. Nevertheless, Coach Bennett’s teams are a tough out and always one of the top teams in the ACC.

Alan Adds:

With both Allen and Jefferson playing hurt, which limited their scoring ability — in the second half, Jefferson was scoreless and Allen had 2 points — Jefferson with 3 first half fouls; the first half offense totally out of sync (only 21 points on 2-14 from the field for Allen, Kennard, and Jackson), committing 8 turnovers; the Blue Devil outlook at halftime was dim.  The second half was very different.  Coach K made adjustments to the offense, which turned very efficient, scoring 44 points (44 points against UVA in a half is a feat!).  Jayson had an extraordinary half, playing the entire 20 minutes, he scored 21 points, including 5-6 from deep.  “He had a few minutes that separates the ordinary player from the outstanding one”, Coach K said.  Kennard contributed some clutch foul shooting (9-10 all in the second half), scoring 13 in the final stanza.  Tatum and Luke combined for 34 of Duke’s 44 second half points.  With about 2 minutes to go, Duke led by four when Jayson hit back to back deep 3 pointers to push the lead to 10 with 1:56 to go.  Coach K pointed out how huge those two shots were.  “We went from a 2 possession game to a 5 possession game (K counts each possession as 2 points), which required UVA to foul in an effort to get back into the game.  Coach K took Jefferson out so he had 5 excellent free throw shooters on the floor when Duke was on offense — Luke, Grayson, Matt, Jackson and Jayson.  A Duke strength this year has been at the free throw line.  Duke was 10-10 in the last two minutes, including Luke’s 6-6 (Jackson’s only 2 points and 2 by Jayson were the 10).  For the game, Jayson was 6-6 and Luke 9-10.  As a team Duke was 18-20 (Giles had the other miss — 1-2).

The Rotation

Jefferson and Giles divided the minutes at center almost evenly — 21 for Amile and 19 for Giles.  Giles’s continuing development is critical for Duke’s post-season chances. He is clearly coming along.  Coach K said he is in November in terms of his development.  It was a big game for him with 5 points and 3 rebounds.  Bolden added 2 minutes and had another ferocious block, a rebound and a foul without scoring.  Frank Jackson was the only other reserve in action contributing 13 minutes (10 in the first half).  His 2 foul shots in the last minute of the game were his only points.  Bench scoring for the game — 7.  In the second half, Giles’s 7 minutes (spelling Jefferson) and Jackson’s 3 (spelling Grayson) were the only bench minutes in the second half, and 3 points on foul shots — Jackson 2 and Giles 1 — were the only second half bench points.  Matt Jones scored 5 big points in the second half, and was again an outstanding contributor.  Coach K called him the “unsung hero” of the last 3 weeks’ resurgence.  He held the Clemson star in check with his defense and did the same with UVA’s go-to point guard, Perrantes.  Jones made Perrantes work hard and shoot a lower percentage than usual.  Coach K said Perrantes did not play poorly, but was not real good either.  Matt got the credit.  Duke’s defense was awesome throughout.  Even hurt and offensively challenged as a result, Amile still anchors the defense.  Giles’s defense is impressively improving (which is why he was on the court for 19 minutes, and committed only 1 foul).

Grayson’s performance is troubling because he is obviously hurt.  In 33 minutes his numbers were very un-Grayson like — scoring only 5 points [2-10 from the field; 1-6 from deep and critically failing to get to the foul line] while grabbing only 2 rebounds.  He had a pair of assists and a turnover.  Kennard was glue, even though he did not shoot well from the floor.  He was money from the line and grabbed 7 big defensive rebounds [ 3-10; 1-3 from deep] with 3 assists for his 16 points.  He and Jayson combined for 44 of Duke’s 65 points.

Coming Down the Regular Season Stretch

Duke has the most difficult remaining schedule of the ACC contenders.  Wake visits Cameron on Saturday.  Then Duke has away games against Miami and Syracuse before facing Florida State at home and UNC on Senior night in Chapel Hill.  After the last 3 weeks, Duke is facing that gauntlet with quite a bit of confidence.

DUKE 99 – WAKE FOREST 94

Today, we had an math class in Cameron Laboratory. The subject was a regression to the mean or mean reversion. Wednesday night Duke scored 65 points, Virginia 55. Today Duke scored 99 points, Wake Forest 94. This might be called the converse– progression to the mean or mean progression. Cliff notes: Over the course of the season Duke should average scoring in the low 80’s and opponents scoring in the low 70’s.

Or, you could call this the shootout at the Cameron Corral—a lot of shots hitting their mark. Once again, Duke had no answer for John Collins (31 points, 15 rebounds), and could not keep the Demon Deacon guards out of the lane. So, the halftime adjustment was to defend the three and live with two’s: “In the second half we just switched everything. We can’t go zone, our ball-screen defense stinks, let’s switch and if they want to try to take advantage of us inside, at least they won’t be driving and they’ll be two-point shots. It was a good trade. It got us tougher offensively. The defensive rebounds led to some aggressive offense.”

Fortunately, the Blue Devils have more fire power—six players in double figures, Cool Hand Luke in the clutch, and The Maestro managing the strategy. Frankly, it was the substitution of  freshman Jackson midway in the second half that sparked a Duke run to break open a very tight game. Then at closing time, getting the ball in the right hands staved off an embarrassing upset as Wake has not won in Cameron in this century—really, since 1997.On the other hand, Coach Manning and/or the Deacons, in the last two minutes when they were in position to win or tie, never got the ball to Collins. Go figure.

Coach K assessment: “I think guys are settling into their roles and understanding what is expected of them. At the end of ballgames, we’ve been really tough. We’ve made winning stops, winning free throws, winning shots, and it hasn’t been one guy. Really, in all the games, all the wins, the last three, four minutes we were a little bit better than the team we’ve played. And that shows toughness. It has to do with getting healthy. Everyone is at practice now, although I’m holding back Jefferson and Allen to help them heal from lingering injuries.”

Kennard said it was all about the players being exactly who they are and becoming comfortable playing together. “Honestly, we don’t have specific roles. We’re playmakers. That’s what coach recruited us to be, that’s what he wants us to do. … We’ve learned who each other is and what each other can do and we’re really connecting with that. That’s why we are starting to win a lot.”

Co-captain Amile Jefferson summed up the team’s attitude and mind set: “All of us—freshmen to seniors–we came here to play in pressure situations on a big stage. We came here to make big plays. We came here to win games.”Other Comments:

  • The fact that a team with a record as mediocre as Wake Forest can shred the Blue Devil defense and take Duke down to the wire both at home and the on the road is not an encouraging sign. We will learn if this and the Clemson game were anomalies when Florida State comes to town in a week.
  • If Giles and Bolden think they are ready to play in the NBA, they are not looking at the video tapes of the same games I am.
  • Karen wrote: “Can someone please tell me why the Duke players wear the initials KB on a patch in the upper right side of their jerseys?  None of the announcers has mentioned it.” Peter M and Jimmy H both responded that former Duke President Keith Brody, who was close to Coach K, recently died and the initials are in his memory.

Alan Adds:

Throughout the year, we have observed Duke’s defense as being a somewhat porous, and being exploited in both the lane and defending the rim.  Against Wake, Duke’s defensive weakness — especially on the interior — was on full display.  Duke gave up 47 points in each half!  Duke did stop the Wake 3 point attack for the most part (5-15) but allowed Wake to shoot 30-54 from inside the arc.  While Duke did “switch everything in the second half”, which was the “least bad” defense that Coach K could conjure, Duke did not stop Wake very often.  Wake’s scoring per possession was even higher because of the number of offensive rebounds that produced second chance points.  Wake had 15 offensive boards to Duke’s 21 on its own defensive board (the last few of the game for Duke were key).  When Wake realized that Duke was switching everything, it gave Collins the opportunity to set the screen, and then roll to the basket.  That meant he was defended by a guard.  Hence the frequent picture of 6’2” Frank Jackson guarding 6’10” Collins in the post.  When Duke went to help Jackson with a double, Collins got the assist.  When the double did not come or was late, Collins scored.  Switching everything might have been the least bad option, but it does not appear to be the defensive answer.  Given two of Duke’s last 4 games are against teams with huge and effective front courts — Fla. State and UNC (who dismantled UVA last night in an awesome display of inside power — Duke’s interior defense is going to have to be better for a great end to this season.

Of course, as woeful as the defense was, the offense was better than superb.  Duke scored 52 points in the second half, and needed all of them.  It was an impressive display.  Duke shot 36 for 61 from the field, including 13 – 27 from the bonusphere, and 12-14 from the line (including the game winners at the end).  Duke had 19 assists against only 7 turnovers.  Wake’s reputation as an inefficient defensive team was proven to have been earned.

The Interior

Welcome back Amile Jefferson!  Coach K said he is still “limping around” and not practicing, but in this game he returned to his pre-injury offensive form.  And, he won the game on defense in the closing minutes, worked hard throughout the game while staying out of foul trouble.  Coach K limited his first half playing time to 13 minutes so he was fresh to play all 20 minutes of the second half.  Amile had 16 points on 7-10 shooting from the field to go with 2-2 from the line (the first, the front end of a 1 and 1 was the most crucial shot of the game).  He not only had 7 tough boards, including the crucial one at game’s end, but also had 5 blocks, including the crucial one at game’s end.   Welcome back, Amile.

In the first half, Marquis Bolden played his best basketball since arriving at Duke.  He earned 6 minutes of playing time and scored 6 points (2-2 from the field including a beautiful lefty hook) 2-2 from the line with a rebound and an assist.  On the down side, he committed a foul and a turnover.  The statistics don’t demonstrate the inconsistency.  After a great basket, he committed a silly foul 30 feet from the basket.  After a terrific dunk, he lost his man (Collins, of all Wake players), who scored on a wide open dunk.  Still his athleticism is obvious and Coach K praised his minutes.  Giles committed 3 fouls and a turnover to go with 1-1 from the field in his 4 minutes, which was disappointing considering the progress we have been seeing from him.   Neither played at all in the second half.  Coach K said, “I would have used them more in the second half, but we had something, and I was afraid to lose it.  If I had played either, we would have had to defend the ball screen differently; we could not have switched everything.”  Amile’s amazing defense and play at the end confirmed Coach K’s decision.

Jayson

It is hard to know whether to write about Jayson Tatum on the interior, the perimeter or separately.  He was Duke’s best defensive rebounder with 6 (7 overall tying him for team lead with Jefferson), and scored an efficient 19 points on 11 shots in his 35 minutes [6-11; 3-5 from 3land; and 4-4 from the foul line].  He does get beat one on one from the perimeter on defense, but he is a ball hawk and amazing athlete.  Let us enjoy him while we can, he is special.

The backcourt

Kennard had a great all-round game, but it was his breathtaking second half that needs to be fully appreciated.  In the second half, he scored 15 points in 17 minutes.  He missed only 2 shots (both 3s) going 1-3 from behind the arc.  It was his dazzling 5-5 on intricate drives and mid-range pull ups that kept Duke in position to win.  He also pulled down 3 second half rebounds, one of which was crucial, and handed out 2 assists without a turnover.  He played the entire first half scoring 8.  Once again Matt Jones provided crucial leadership, clutch shooting and toughness.  In 35 minutes, he scored 10 [ 4-7; 2-4 from deep] to go with 2 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal while being charged with only 2 fouls.  Grayson logged 28 minutes (12 in a better second half after an ordinary — subpar for Grayson — first half.  For the game, Allen scored 11 [3-8; 3-6; 4-4] but most good stats came in the second half where he hauled in 4 boards and passed out 3 assists, in addition to 2-4 from the field including 2-3 from deep.  He did miss his only foul shot, the crucial front end of a 1 and 1 with 1:02 left in the game and Duke leading by 1..  Coach K said the injury is affecting him — it distracts a great athlete — and he has to give Grayson time to heal to be effective in the post-season.   Frank Jackson picked up some Allen slack and was superb in the second half.  In the closing stanza, Jackson scored 9 points [3-5 from the field including two crucial gorgeous layups; 1-3 from deep and 2-2 (also crucial) from the line in 12 minutes.  He also had 2 assists, 2 rebounds and 0 turnovers.  For the game, he played 22 minutes, scoring 12, adding 3 assists without a turnover.  He was huge in the end game, and Duke’s only substitute in the second half.

The Crucial Winning End Game

Duke led by 12 with 12:07 left to play after Tatum hit a deep 3.  Duke simply could not stop Wake from there, even though Duke kept scoring enough to maintain a shrinking lead.  With 3:06 left, Wake had cut the lead to 2.  Jefferson made a great layup, but Wake responded with a traditional 3 point play on Jefferson’s foul. 91-90 with 2;29 left.  Kennard and Crawford traded baskets. It was 93-92 Duke, when Grayson was fouled with 1:02 left and missed the front end.  Collins rebounded, but Duke’s defense rose from the dead to make the winning stand.   Tatum defended Crawford’s layup attempt spectacularly, got the rebound and was immediately fouled with 31 seconds left.  He made them both. 95-92.  Crawford again drove the lane and this time was turned away by Jefferson, who also grabbed the crucial rebound and was fouled.  Duke up 3 with 14 seconds left and Jefferson on the line for 1 and 1.  The first one was crucial, to be sure.  Jefferson made them both.  97-92.  Game over.  Jackson fouled, made a pair with 8 seconds left and Crawford closed the scoring with a meaningless lay-up.  A salute to Jefferson, Tatum and defense in the last minute!  Wow!

A Duke Feel-Good

Jeff Capel’s father, just diagnosed with ALS, was on the bench as an honorary coach.  Coach K said it was not just a good moment; it was a great moment.  The team gave the elder Capel the game ball.  Coach K talked about the Duke culture and the student-athletes’ love of Duke as empowering that culture.  Tyus Jones and Okafor were in the audience.  Coach K explained that older players (peers; not coaches) have to instill the culture in the younger guys.  He pointed to Quinn Cook and Marshall Plumlee, who did that in the past; and, to Matt and Amile who do it for this team.  He said it is the love of being at Duke; of being proud of being Duke students, not just Duke basketball players, that makes the culture so effective.

DUKE 75 – SYRACUSE 78 

Although Duke had won an impressive seven games in a row, they had demonstrated an unimpressive, disconcerting tendency to play to the level of their competition and tonight they paid a painful price by losing a game that should not have been decided by a final shot. Syracuse does not offer the offensive matchup problems that a Carolina, a Florida State, a Louisville, or even a Wake Forest does. However, Syracuse is very well coached, does play good defense, and this year every ACC team is dangerous at home—especially when home houses 36,000 very loyal fans, the team is on the bubble to be selected for the NCAA Tournament, and the basketball gods decide, “Sorry Duke, tonight is not your night. We are going with the other guys” as two bad jump shots bank in anyway. How many times do we point out it is not a good idea to let any team hang around and stay close, because late in a tight game, strange things can and do happen.

Up eight points at the half, the Blue Devils should have been up about eighteen or twenty as they threw or kicked away five fast break opportunities and missed shots they normally hit. In addition, how many teams can you beat shooting just 38% from the floor and putting them on the line for 25 easy points? If nothing else, this game exposed the Blue Devil weaknesses—poor defense (giving up 78 points!), lack of a rim protector, and lack of an inside game. Golf Pro David S. mentioned that this Duke team does not seem to always play with the same passion he has been used to seeing. That was demonstrably true for about thirty minutes of this game. While Tatum (19pts. 13 rebs, 6 assists) carried the load in the first half, and Kennard (23 pts, 7 rebs, 5 assists) and Jefferson (14 pts. ) in the second, Grayson Allen was terrible in both halves, going  2 for 11.

Other Comments:

  • With just less than eight minutes to play, Kennard, Frank Jackson and Grayson Allen all had picked up four personal fouls, further handicapping the man-to-man defense.
  • It is apparent that neither Jefferson nor Allen can jump normally off injured feet and/or ankles. Despite being at point blank range, Amile never dunked the ball and Grayson looks like he is shot putting his threes.
  • The other disconcerting reality is that the Blue Devils close the regular season with a murder’s row schedule—at Miami, Florida State, and at Carolina. And speaking of Carolina, last night they thoroughly dominated #7 Louisville 74-63 in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are a mature, deep, well-balanced team with healthy, skilled players at every position who, unlike some other years, play with almost as much passion and pride on defense as offense. They are well-positioned to make a serious run at both the ACC and NCAA Championships.

Alan Adds:

Readers know my admiration for Coach K is extreme.  However, I thought he was way off in his press conference, focusing on Duke’s poor first half transition offense (blowing what should have been easy scores five times) rather than the second half defense.  He said the problem was more human nature (they were desperate; we were not) than Xs and Os.  I disagree.  Duke has, and has had this year, a serious Xs and Os problem on defense.  This is not new, though Duke’s second half defense against The Orange might have been its worst defensive performance of the year.  Syracuse is a bubble team with 12 losses on the season.  The Orange played 3 players for all 40 minutes (Battle played only 33).  They did have 2 centers, but neither is an All-Star.  Against that level of achievement, consider these second half statistics: 1) Duke “held” Syracuse to 53 points (that’s a rate of 106 for a 40-minute college game); 2) Duke allowed Syracuse to shoot 17-24 from the field (71%, including 4-5 from deep); 3) Duke’s primary defense was to foul the Syracuse driver – The Orange went to the line for 17 second half attempts (made 15); 4) Syracuse was in the bonus with 13:08 left in the second half and the double bonus with 8:50 left.  The Duke foul trouble took away much of the defensive aggressiveness that was on display in an outstanding first half defense.  5) Duke forced only 8 Syracuse turnovers for the entire game.

Duke again switched everything, of which Syracuse took full advantage.  Lydon or Thompson would set the pick for Gillon.  When Duke switched, Amile was guarding Gillon on the perimeter, while Grayson or Jackson was on Thompson, who rolled to the post or basket.  Gillon gets by everyone, but it is easier for him to get by an big on the perimeter.   If no help (or really late help), he laid it in (sometimes getting fouled in the process). The Syracuse big in the post had a huge advantage over the shorter Duke defender.   When the driver made the pass, interior layups seemed to follow (with the foul).  If Jayson or another gave help to the guard defending in the post, other Orange players drove the open lane for easy layups.   Duke hardly stopped Syracuse in the second half; Syracuse only missed 7 shots and got a plethora of offensive rebounds.   If the Duke defense does not become more efficient in the near term, the specters of Lehigh and Mercer may make an appearance.

Duke’s offense was hampered by the woeful shooting of 3 of its vaunted perimeter marksmen: Allen (2-11; 1-6 from deep); Jones (1-6; 1-5 from deep); and Jackson (0-4, all from deep).  With 45 seconds to go and Duke leading by 2 (75-73), Grayson missed a wide open 3 that would have iced the game for Duke.   Grayson, Jackson and Jones were a combined 3-20 (2-16 from deep).  Jones did not get to the line (Grayson 3-3; Jackson 2-2). Tatum had, as Bill described, a wondrous first half (but scored only a deuce in the second half), and both Kennard and Amile had terrific second halves. Tatum and Jones played all 40 minutes; Kennard 37.  The only other Duke player besides the starters and Jackson (4 fouls in 15 minutes) was Harry Giles, who had one of his best games.  In 11 minutes, he was 3-3 from the field and grabbed 4 boards, while committing only 1 foul.  Bolden did not play.

All contenders have 3 games left.  UNC leads the conference by 2 games (3 losses).  Four teams are 10-5: Duke, Florida State, Notre Dame and Louisville; Miami is 9-6.  Duke plays Miami (away at 4 pm on Saturday); Florida State at home; and UNC in Chapel Hill.   Thus, Duke’s final 3 foes have conference records of 12-3; 10-5; and 9-6.  Murders row without a viable defense (wrote the criminal defense lawyer).

DUKE 50 – MIAMI 55

FG: 32%, 3 PT: 24%, FT: 33% = 50 points. If this Duke team cannot score a lot of points, they probably cannot win because they do not consistently play good defense. Injuries, lack of practice time together, squad makeup, no true point guard, or chemistry may be the reasons that down the stretch and in a position to win against N.C. State, Syracuse, and now Miami, this team has imploded not exploded. For Duke fans, watching this happen has been as difficult as trying to spell Krzyzewski.

Because of his lingering ankle injury, Grayson Allen did not play today and Harry Giles started in his place. While he and Bolden rebounded well, neither proved capable of defending the rim. The other freshman, Frank  Jackson, provided an impressive scoring spark but made three critical turnovers that led to six easy points. However, shots of Kennard and Tatum, which have been dropping, suddenly are bouncing and/or rolling out not in. When this inevitably happens, we know that the trademark of Coach K’s best teams—lock-down defense, execution, playing smart, and closing the game out—is the antidote. The most discouraging aspect of this team’s recent losses is an inability to execute The K Playbook of Winning Basketball: win the first and last four minutes of each half, make a sustained, backbreaking run that gives you a good cushion, attack the basket, get to the line and hit free throws, and play fundamentally sound, smart basketball to finish off an opponent.

Additional Comments:

  • After the game, Coach K said he doesn’t know if Grayson will play Tuesday: “I won’t know until then. Same thing, I gotta make a decision on Amile.  I don’t know. Amile, is not running because of his injury and I didn’t play him most of the second half.” This is the dilemma: Jefferson and Allen are shells of their former selves. Injuries heal with therapy and rest. Next week it is Florida State and Carolina. The following week it is the meat grinder of the ACC Tournament. The following week is the NCAA Tournament. Duke cannot win the regular season and probably will not qualify for a bye in the ACC Tournament, so there is the possibility of multiple games in a row. No matter the outcome, the Blue Devils will be in the NCAA draw. Does Coach K hold Jefferson and Allen out next week and, perhaps, for some or all of the ACC Tournament and challenge Giles and Bolden to step in and prove they are really NBA ready? Or….?
  • You  know it was a rough day when an opponent torches Matt Jones for 25 points—almost half his team’s points. And to add insult to injury, late in the game, Matt’s man scores a touchdown on an out-of-bounds three quarter court pass (made possible because Jefferson couldn’t jump high enough to prevent the throw) for a touchdown/dunk.
  • Duke’s 50 points were its fewest in sixteen years.

Alan Adds:

Duke, scorned in the pre-season rankings, takes on UNC tonight in its final regular season game, having secured a double bye for the ACC tournament and an unexpected top 10 ranking in the national polls.  Oh wait!  That’s the Duke women’s team, which goes into its final game tonight with a season record of 23-4 (3 losses in the ACC—all between January 12 and January 26).  Why am I writing about the Duke women in an email about Duke men’s basketball?  You know if you watched the completely disappointing performance of the men’s team against Miami (not to mention Syracuse and NC State)?  It was Duke’s worst offensive performance in many a moon – especially in the second half, where Duke was 11- 37 from the field and 4-14 from deep.  The abysmal foul shooting also contributed to the loss.  Amile and Giles were a combined 0-4 from the line. Both of Jefferson’s misses were the front end of a 1 and 1, and (worse!) were the only Blue Devil free throw attempts of the first half.  Giles missed 2 crucial free throws (his only attempts) with :37 seconds left and Duke trailing by 5.  Jackson (1-2) missed with the score tied at 39.  Luke missed the third of a three shot foul (2-3 for the game) with :29 seconds left, failing to cut the lead to 4.  And Duke has been a great foul shooting team.

Coach K, in his press conference, emphasized Duke’s fragile health as the main reason for the disappointing performance.  He was clear that Grayson would be held out until he is healthy and can play with his customary verve.  That could be until the NCAA tournament.  Coach also pointed out that Amile cannot run because of his injury, which resulted in Amile’s spending most of the second half on the bench.  He played 21 minutes (2-2 early in the first half for his 4 total game points) grabbing 5 defensive boards, but turning it over 3 times (0 assists) and committing 3 fouls.  Without either Grayson (completely) and Amile (mostly), Duke played 4 freshmen (along with Matt and Luke) in the second half.  Coach K said Giles and Bolden played well, but have essentially no big game experience.  He explained they are both “just cutting their teeth” in the 16th ACC game.  The result, said the coach is that there is more continuity on defense than on the offense.  The coach thought the team defended well, holding Miami to 55 points.

I am not sure that Coach K’s explanation is the real (or at least not whole) story.  Duke’s rotation has been very thin this year, with Allen, Jones Tatum and Kennard logging huge minutes all season long.  It is an axiom of basketball that tired players miss shots that are usually made.  Certainly, that was the case with Duke’s shooting last night.  Kennard and Tatum again played all forty minutes.  Tatum was 0-7 from long range, scoring 8 inefficient points on 16 shots (4-16) without getting to the foul line in the entire game.  He is playing hard, grabbing 7 boards, handing out 2 assists with a block and a steal without a turnover or committing a foul.  Tired players miss shots that are usually made.  Kennard scored 16 points on an inefficient 20 shots [6-20; 2-6 from deep; 2-3 from the line – no free throws until the last 29 seconds of the game).   I think he had more of his shots blocked by Miami than in the rest of the season and he had his pocket picked more than once for turnovers that became easy Hurricane layups.  Jones has logged 983 minutes for the season (2nd to Kennard’s 1024), and I believe his huge minutes are beginning to be reflected in his declining performance.  In 37 minutes, Jones scored only 4 points (2-9; 0-3 from deep without attempting a foul shot) with 3 assists and 3 turnovers and a steal.  He missed critical 3s down the stretch.   A vaunted defender, Jones was simply torched last night by Bruce Brown who scored 25 of Miami’s 55 points.  Brown penetrated to the goal easily throughout the game.  When Duke trailed by 3 with :05 seconds to go and Miami inbounding, Brown beat Jones for the full court pass that produced the game deciding layup.  Tired players not only miss shots that are usually made, but also are late defending and rebounding as fatigue saps the reflexes and stamina.

Jackson shot well and played well, but he is not the sure ball handler that a point guard needs to be.  Nor is Jones.  Nor is Grayson.  The absence on the roster of a true point guard may be what has kept this team of McDonald’s All-Stars and potential NBA lottery picks from reaching its potential.  Before the game, I wrote to a hoops junkie friend that I thought Coach K had to play Jayson at small forward and go with two bigs.  With Grayson out, Coach K started two bigs — Amile and Giles.  Duke defends better with 2 bigs, although the second rotation is late or non-existent.  When the pass goes to the roller, Duke is getting a good double to stop the layup, but leaving the hoop open for the next pass for a layup when the second rotation does not arrive (Jayson is a major offender in this defensive lapse).  But for most of the game, Tatum was the power forward.  Miami did serious damage late in the game with its offensive rebounding.

Two potential lottery picks who have disappointed (understatement here) are Giles and Bolden.  Both played extended minutes against Miami.  Bolden played 14 minutes without scoring (0-3), but grabbed 4 rebounds and blocked 3 shots.  You can see his potential.  Giles logged 19 minutes, showing what a good rebounder he is, by grabbing 8 for a team high.   He was 1-4 for 2 points with a block and a turnover (only 1 foul, which may be important if he is learning not to foul; he has been hampered by foul trouble).  He is, so far, all potential without the kind of performance that this team needs from him.  He is clearly improving.

It seems Coach K has recognized that the regular season – and maybe even the ACC tournament – is not salvageable.  Coach K’s emphasis is clearly focused on the NCAA tournament.  It will be interesting to see how he prepares for it with 2 very difficult regular season games remaining – Florida State on Wednesday in the last home games for (at least) Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson; and UNC on Senior night in Chapel Hill next Saturday.

I don’t think things have looked this dark all season for Duke’s post season challenge.

DUKE 75 – FLORIDA STATE 70 

Raise your hand if the you saw this coming. Shame on you who didn’t, because you obviously haven’t either been following Duke long enough or you haven’t been paying attention and reading Duke Basketball Playbook. How many times do we have to tell you: Coach K’s teams rarely lose three games in a row, especially when that game is in Cameron. At their best, Florida State has the talent and the size (their starters are taller than all but one NBA team) to beat anyone—but, apparently, not on the road where they are 3-6 in ACC play.

While this was obviously a coming out point guard party for Frank Jackson (22 points playing a healthy Grayson Allen role), equal billing goes to the team defense, a retro Amile “double-double” Jefferson (14 pts & 11 rbs), Jayson Tatum (15 pts. 9 rebs) and Luke Kennard (17 pts. 6 rebs). Last week we referred to the discouraging aspect of the team not executing The Coach K Playbook of Winning Basketball (win the first and last four minutes of each half, make a sustained, backbreaking run that gives you a comfortable working margin, play good defense, attack the basket, get to the line, hit free throws, and play fundamentally sound, smart basketball in the final minutes.)  Obviously, Monday the student-athletes went to class and paid attention, because  tonight the defense held the Seminoles to 42.5 % from the floor, won the start of the second half with a sustained run to expand an 11 point halftime lead to a 19 points to give the Blue Devils a large cushion, and held on by Tatum and Kennard making plays down the stretch. Amazingly, the Blue Devils also matched the Seminoles 38-38 in rebounding as well as hitting three more threes and free throws.

It has been pointed out many that this team lacks a true point guard and that when healthy, Allen fills that role pretty well. Tonight, Jackson was the action (that’s a pun) that filled that role and what a scintillating exhibition it was. He was just unstoppable for periods of the game. Likewise, Tatum has matured into not only a potent offensive force (K: “We went to Jayson on some iso’s late and he came through. You don’t call plays (for him), he makes plays.”) but also plays bigger than he is on defense. He had nine boards, made a thunderous, LeBron James-like trailing block of a fast break layup  and swooped in from the weak side to swat a jump shot out of the hands of a Seminole.

While this game was not actually as close as the score, it featured the coming of age of Frank Jackson, the resume building of Jayson Tatum, and the steady scoring and all-round play of Luke Kennard, and demonstrated what a different team this is when Amile Jefferson is anywhere near one hundred percent. It was his first double-double since December against an imposing front line. “My mark has been a player who hustles, who works hard, who does the dirty work,” Jefferson said. “Fighting, putting my heart out on the floor at Cameron one last time was incredible. It was about not pacing. That’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been injured. I’ve been playing but I’ve been playing not to get hurt, thinking about my foot, thinking about the pain. Tonight I was going to go out and give it all I’ve got. Once I did that, I forgot about the pain.”  That pretty much sums up Duke basketball.

Coach K pointed out in his press conference that in this league a lot of games are close and if you win the last few possessions, you are “great”, but if you lose two games on the last possession, you are in a “slump”. Actually, he thought his team played hard and well in losses against both Syracuse and Miami but just lost those final possessions and in this league, road games are tough to win. There is another school of thought that thinks that Kennard, Tatum, and Jones have tired legs from playing so many minutes. However, we all know Coach K has the old army attitude that if you can breathe, you can fight, and he has won over 1,000 games, five NCAA Championships and counting. So, who are you going to believe?

Other Comments:

  • Coach K commented on how fortunate he has been to have Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones to coach for four years. Incidentally, for those of you with an institutional memory, Amile’s uncle is Truck (as in: built like a) Robinson, very tough, eleven year pro who led the NBA in rebounding in 1977-78.
  • Dick Vitale is a nice, generous man but has become a real distraction for those of us who want to focus on the game being played and not listen to him reminisce about his friendship with Frank Sinatra or whatever extraneous thought meanders from his mind to his mouth.

Alan Adds: 

In the first 11:19, Duke scored only 12 points!  For the next 12 minutes and 42 seconds (8:19 in the rest of the first half and the first 4 minutes and 23 seconds of the second half) Duke played its best basketball of the season on both ends of the court, going from a tie score (12-12) to a 19-point lead (49-30).  In that span, Duke outscored the Seminoles 37 to 18.   Duke’s Killer J’s — Jayson, Jackson and Jefferson — led the way on offense, while Duke played locked down switching defense while defending the rim with passion.  The announcers, complained about the Seminoles missing attempts at the rim.  But all of those attempts were hotly contested, which is what caused the misses.

Defense and Rotation

Duke’s first half defense was breath taking.  Amile seemed all the way back, and it had a huge impact.  He led Duke’s spirited protection of its rim, and hedged out dramatically in defending ball screens.  He helped the defense succeed in its major strategic goal — keeping Rathan-Mayes out of the paint and from dishing out assists, as he has done all year for the Seminoles.  While he scored (11 in the second half), he had only 1 assist in the entire game.  It was unabashedly gratifying when Coach K, in his press conference, said exactly what I had written down in my notes.  Duke played superb defense – best of the season – until Florida State wore the Devils down.  Duke tired, and fatigue’s impact on the Devil defense was profound and perceptible.  Duke held on, but we all had “that feeling” as the 19-point lead shrunk to 5 by game’s end.  It wasn’t as if Duke was ever actually in danger of losing because the Devils – led by Jackson and Tatum – kept scoring enough to keep the lead at several possessions all the way to the end.  Duke hung on, though clearly tired.

The Rotation

In the second half, Kennard, Tatum played every second; Jackson was out for 1 minute; Jones for 3; and Jefferson for 5.  The entire bench was Grayson Allen for 8 minutes (scoring Duke bench’s only 2 points of the game) and Giles for 1 minutes.  For 4 minutes, at game’s end, Duke played with Jayson Tatum as its center and only big (Coach K wanted all good foul shooters at the end as Florida State pressed and fouled).  Coach K pointed out that Duke did not turn the ball over against the press, which was a big factor in Duke’s successful end game.  In the first half, Allen also played 8 minutes (0-2; 0-1 from deep); Giles 4 (1 offensive rebound and 1 foul) and Bolden 2 (1 foul was his only statistic).  0 points from the bench in the opening stanza.  The starters were Duke’s team last night.

  The impact on Duke’s Second Half 

Duke gave up 47 points; committed 10 fouls, 6 turnovers with only 3 assists; and gave up 10 offensive rebounds to Florida State as against 12 defensive rebounds.  As Coach K said, “They wore us down.”  But Duke had the heart and talent to hold on without real drama.  Tatum and Jackson were spectacular.  Coach K said that in the last 10 games, Tatum has elevated his game.  He was tremendous driving to the basket against the Seminoles.  Coach K praised not only his scoring, but also that he is Duke’s best defensive rebounder (9 for the game; 8 were defensive; 6 in the second half when he and Kennard were Duke’s leading rebounders) and has become a much better defender.  “If you could see tape, you would see how wide he gets and how he is quick to help,” said the Coach proudly.  Dickie V’s (virtually) only game related comments were his hysterical discovery of Frank Jackson as a talented player.  Coach K was also on that bandwagon, pointing out that Jackson has exploded in the last two games and is virtually a starter.  He logged 33 minutes in the game.

Going Forward

The regular season ends Saturday in Chapel Hill.  Even if Duke were to win, a top 4 seed (and double bye in the ACC Tournament) may be out of reach.  Coach K was frank that his emphasis is on getting Grayson healthy and the team ready for the NCAA tournament.  If Amile is really all the way back and both Tatum and Jackson continue to shine, it might be an interesting tournament.

Duke 83- North Carolina 90

Once again the Duke and North Carolina basketball teams proved why this game is billed as one of, if not the, greatest rivalry in all of sports by playing another exciting contest that had more lead changes (23) than Price-Waterhouse could keep track of. The outcome was determined by the fact that Duke had no defensive answer for Joel Berry, who had a career game by hitting five early threes and closing out the game by finishing at the rim for 28 points on only 14 shots — and the fact that Isaiah Hicks, who did not play in the first game, exploited the smaller Blue Devil line-up for 21 points and 9 rebounds in just 22 minutes . But that’s what this Carolina team, which has no one-and-done players, brings to the floor–a deep, experienced, well-balanced team. Stop Justin Jackson and Joel Berry can get you. Stop Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks can get you. And visa versa.

To win games against Carolina, or any top team, this relatively small but talented and potent Duke team must score more than 80 points by winning  the lines—at the foul line and beyond the three point line—and defend well enough to hold their opponent to less than 80 points. One out of two won’t do. Tonight, the Blue Devils executed  the game plan well until the last five minutes when they appeared fatigued, missing half their free throws and a few critical shots that rolled out not in. In the final analysis, the Blue Devils have little depth or margin for error and Jayson Tatum challenge is to consistently play big and strong at both ends. Tonight, the senior Hicks overpowered the freshman Tatum, making 7 of 9 shots.

The good news is that this away game, also senior night against one of the top four teams in the country was (like Syracuse and Miami) very winnable. More importantly, Jefferson and Allen appear to almost  fully recovered from their injuries. In addition, Luke Kennard (29 pts) continues to be a scoring machine, Frank Jackson has matured into another offensive force, so Duke now has a four lethal offensive threats,  and Jayson Tatum (4-13) had an off  night. Also, the Blue Devils never stopped competing. They were first on the floor for loose balls. Grayson had the hustle play of the game—much like his coming-of –age play against Wisconsin in the NCAA Final–diving on a ball at half court. Only this time he rolled over and somehow on his back threw a perfect pass to Tatum for a dunk.

The bad news is that candidly Harry Giles is a good rebounder but lost playing man-to-man defense (and a fouling machine to boot) and Marques Bold is just not ready for prime time. And Matt Jones’ shot is on vacation. Fortunately, his defense is not.

Other Comments:

  • Carolina had 19 assists (7 by Theo Pinson) and Duke only had 8. Look for Duke to have a true point guard next year.
  • Duke, which had the most difficult schedule in the conference, has a very difficult draw in the ACC Tournament. They have more wins against top 50 RPI teams than any school in the country yet are a five seed in the same half as Louisville, and Carolina. Don’t get me started on the ACC expansion that was constructed for football centric television money reasons, that geographically has teams from Syracuse and Boston to Miami (do all the non-revenue teams fly to away games? No wonder tuition is $60,000+ and rising), because I am an old ACC guy where there were natural rivalries between comparable schools within a bus ride of each other that played twice and the tournament meant a ticket to the NCAA  32 team draw.

Alan Adds:

This was simply a great college basketball game.  Coach K said it was like the first game in that “both teams were worthy of winning”, and both teams played superb basketball.  Despite being on the short end of the final score, Duke can take much positive from the game.  As Coach K said, “we’re getting better.”  Bill may be overly optimistic when he says Grayson has almost fully recovered.  Coach K allowed that he is getting better, “but is still not there.”  Grayson did not start and played only 23 minutes [14 points on 2-4 from deep and 8-11 from the line] and did not attempt a field goal from inside the arc and had only a single rebound.  He is still not the spectacular driver, rebounder and defender that he has been in the past.  His recent improvement, and more importantly his continued improvement before the Big Dance is a big positive.  Duke played evenly against perhaps the most talented and deep team in the country on their home floor at Senior Night for 36 minutes.  It was championship basketball.   Carolina’s depth juxtaposed to Duke’s lack of depth made the difference, in my opinion.  The ‘Heels played ten (not counting the senior starters who do not usually play), got valuable contributions from 7 players (and Britt, who had a difficult night).  Duke played 7 (Bolden, who played less than a minute, is not included) with a minimal contribution from Giles (13 minutes with a point while committing 3 second half fouls in a span of 26 seconds), and sub-par play from Allen (injured) and Matt Jones (26 minutes without a point or a rebound, but 2 steals).  Kennard (28 points in 39 minutes) carried Duke as Berry (25 points in 36 minutes) carried UNC.   Tatum had a difficult night at both ends – in 30 minutes, he scored an inefficient 13 points on 13 shots [4-13; 2-4 from 3land and 3-4 from the line] with 5 boards 2 turnovers and an assist.

But, in my opinion, Duke is only a Grayson return to form and Harry Giles consistency away from being a potential final four team.  Giles was significant in the first half, but non-existent in his foul plagued second half cameo.  His second half absence played a bigger role in the Duke loss than may meet the eye.  Amile played 36 minutes but was not the efficient rebounder he usually is with only 6, 2 on offense.  He was tied with Frank Jackson who led the defensive rebounding with all 6 of his.   Jackson was excellent in his 32 minutes, scoring 15 on 9 attempts [4-9; 1-3 from deep; and 6-7 from the line].  His driving got him to the rim and the foul line.  But, in the decisive moments, UNC won because of its offensive rebounding with Giles on the bench.  He adds substantially to Duke’s interior presence and depth when he plays as he did in the first half.  Whether he can up his game to do that in the post-season is critical for Duke’s chances for a NCAA run.  A Grayson who can drive, rebound and defend, in addition to shoot, is a must for Duke to be the team envisioned in the pre-season.

I thought Duke again got tired at game’s end, and the Devils’ superb play deteriorated.  Allen’s 3 pointer drew Duke within 1 with 4:07 left (79-78).  From that point, Duke was inefficient, that may have been caused by fatigue – a few players playing huge minutes over the course of the season.   Duke gave up a layup to Berry, Tatum missed 1 of 2 foul shots, Luke missed a 3 point attempt, Tatum committed a foul, and Berry drained a 3 making it 83-79 with 2:07 left.  Grayson missed a pair of free throws leading to a Berry layup with 1:42 left (85-79).   Each team’s Jackson missed a 3 and Duke had the ball with 45 seconds left when Jayson also missed a 3.  Luke got a great rebound and passed to Grayson who was fouled; he made the second after missing the first.  85-80 with 35 seconds left.  Duke had to foul, and Berry made 1 of 2 (his miss was crucial, keeping it a 2-possession game at 86-80.  Luke made a dazzling layup and foul shot reducing the lead to 86-83 with 24 seconds left.   That was Duke’s last gasp.  UNC went over the top against the press for an easy layup (88-83); Luke missed a 3 and Amile had his offensive rebound blocked by Hicks, who then made both foul shots to complete the game’s scoring.

Coach K wants to “do a great job in Brooklyn and then on to the Big Tournament.”  In Brooklyn, Duke (#5 seed) plays the winner of Clemson-NC State game in the second game of the afternoon on Thursday, March 9.  The winner plays Louisville (4 seed) on Friday, with the winner projected to meet UNC (#1 seed) in Saturday’s semi-finals.

DUKE 79 – CLEMSON 72

Late in the first half, Johnny Tar Heel texted me: “Is this game as bad as I think it is??????  I’m not watching. Just saw the score”.

It was as Duke’s fouling and poor shooting kept the Tigers in the game. Fortunately, the Blues Devils made a run in the first five minutes of the second half to go up by nine as Tatum put on a show, Luke started being, well, Cool Shooting Luke, Jackson provided energy, and Clemson demonstrated why they have now lost eleven games by seven points or less.

The only other thing I can say is that Alan’s analysis is so very thorough, comprehensive, and accurate that he speaks for both of us.

Alan Adds: 

Duke’s win was satisfying, but does not give off much optimism for the remainder of the ACC tournament; and in my mind, diminishes the expectations for The Big Dance.  It is the bench and the rotation that was troubling in the midst of some clutch performances by all the Duke starters.  Duke got less than no help from the bench.  After the UNC game, I wrote that Duke only needs the return of Grayson to last year’s form and the emergence of Giles as a competent support for the interior to become the team that was envisioned in the pre-season.  Against Clemson, Duke had no bench and both Allen and Giles looked completely lost for differing reasons.  The entire offensive contribution from the bench came with 12:25 left in the first half, when Grayson hit Giles with a beautiful pass of the pick and roll for Giles’s lay-up.  That was it!  The Duke bench scored just those 2 points.  Giles played 5 minutes; 4 in the first half where, after his hoop, he committed 3 fouls in 26 seconds.  In his brief cameo in the second half; he committed another foul.  Bolden played 3 first half minutes without any productivity and had the ball stripped from him embarrassingly, which led to an uncontested Clemson layup.  He did not see the floor after that embarrassment.  Vrankovich played a minute in each half and grabbed a board.  Grayson played only 12 minutes, his shortest time on the court since his freshman year.  He committed 3 fouls (one the controversial technical), was 0-4 from the floor; 0-2 from deep with one rebound.  Coach K attributed Grayson’s bad day to both injuries and foul trouble.  Grayson can’t go full in practice, and K opined that throws off his timing.  His deep attempts were on target, but short.  The starters played all but 22 minutes (Giles 5; Bolden 3; Vrankovich 2; and Grayson’s 12).  There is great concern that Duke may not have enough left in the tank against Louisville this afternoon.

The starters were heroic and outplayed Clemson.  Kennard played 39 minutes and had a dazzling second half after a terrible first half (1-9 from the field; 1-5 from deep for 3 points to go with a single rebound and a turnover in the opening stanza).  In the second half, he scored 17 on 11 shots (8-11; 1-3 from deep; strangely he did not get to the foul line the entire game); 4 boards; 2 assists and a steal. He was one of Duke’s 3 20 point scorers.  Tatum, who also played 39 minutes, took a step up and looked like a sure lottery pick despite going 1-7 from deep.  He scored 20 on 15 shots (7-15; with 9 rebounds and 4 assists (the pass to Matt Jones for a crucial layup was a highlight).  He was 5-5 from the foul line including the last crucial 4 in a row in the last minute that clinched the game.  Jayson scored on acrobatic drives, he muscled defensive rebounds, and made superb decisions and passes.  His defense is getting much better.  Perhaps the star of the game was Frank Jackson, who is taking Grayson’s minutes and playing absolutely lights out basketball.  Except for missing 2 crucial free throws with a chance to make it a 7-point (3 possession) game with 1:52 to go, he was amazing.  In 35 minutes, the freshman scored 20 points on  only 10 attempts (7-10; 2-2 from deep; and 4-7 from the line) to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists and the great game opening steal for a layup.  As Coach K said, if you add Grayson’s proven ability back into the mix, Duke has 4 players who are so dangerous and difficult to defend.  Amile played superbly, notching a double double in 31 minutes (4-7 from the field; 3-4 from the line for 11 points; and 10 rebounds).  He anchored the Duke defense with 2 blocks and a steal.  He also had a pair of assists.  Amile would have played the entire second half, but was in foul trouble, finishing the game with 4.  Duke’s defense was superb when he was on the court (before he picked up foul # 4; then he had to be tentative and Clemson took advantage).  However, when he was on the bench, Clemson scored at will.  Matt Jones was solid in 34 minutes, playing excellent defense and making 3 steals.  He scored 6 on 2-4; 0-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line.

Matt Jones was quoted as saying Duke was having a hard time with its identity.  Coach K said that even though it is so late in the season, “we’re still evolving.  We are still getting better.”  But even he admitted, “I don’t know who we are.”  Tellingly, he admitted, “we need 7-8 guys.”  They had only 5 yesterday, and today face a rested Louisville team that is better than their #4 seed in this tournament.

DUKE 91 – LOUISVILLE 77 

With Duke down double digits, Louisville scoring at will at the rim and Duke starters in foul trouble, Coach K took a deep breath, grimaced, apologized to Bobby Knight, crossed himself, and called for a 2-3 zone defense. No one was struck by lightning but the momentum of the game changed dramatically. The Blue Devils got some stops, Luke Kennard, who was laboring on his worst shooting game of the year, suddenly heated up like a microwave—and about as quickly as you could say “ Bad face lift and hair plugs, Ricky” the Blue Devils took over the game, then put it away like a top team should.

In his Clemson post-game press conference, Coach K spoke about how this team was still searching for its identity. Frankly, I don’t know what that means but I do know these players can score a lot of points and if they can play enough defense to hold an opponent in the low 70’s, they have a pretty good chance to win. Today was a classic example of how defense and missed shots can change the entire rhythm, momentum and outcome of a game. Missed shots not only lead to good offensively opportunities but also gives an adrenalin rush when the resulting possessions result in seeing the ball going through the basket. And one thing we know is that Kennard, Tatum, Allen, and Jackson can all score a lot of points– fast.

However, an opponent must also co-operate in their own demise as the Cardinals did by not attacking the zone with patience, missing free throws, and making dumb mistakes. For instance, Coach Pitino subbed seldom-used David Levitch to apparently provoke Grayson Allen. He grabbed his arm then shoved him after the whistle. Allen had the sense to walk away with his hands in the air. On the very next play, Levitch knocked Allen to the ground on a three-point attempt. Allen hit all three free throws to cut the lead to 64-61 with nine minutes left. Think what you will about Grayson Allen but Coach K  and his teammates “have his back”,  love his passion for the game, and are energized and thrilled when he plays well.

One of the most difficult challenges in sports is to be playing a game or match and be out of rhythm or timing (as opposed to being “in the zone”) and, in the midst of that pressure, being able to have the presence of mind to ignore the fear of failure, find your stroke, and keep shooting. Well, Luke Kennard did exactly that in front of thousands of people and a national television audience to produce a breathtaking reversal of form and provide his team with the winning margin.

Alan Adds: 

Duke’s exciting win over Louisville yesterday may have been Duke’s most important performance of the year.  Louisville is a Final Four quality team.  Duke won with heart, head and passion; but even more importantly with its bench!  Grayson led the bench in scoring and passion with 18 points in 28 minutes [5-12 from the field; 2-3 from deep; 6-7 from the line] while grabbing 4 boards.  Giles played his best game at Duke and providing 15 minutes of solid interior play.  He scored his 4 points in his 9 first half minutes (2-3), grabbed 2 defensive rebounds, had a steal while committing only 1 foul.  In the second half, he added a rebound, 2 assists and a block in his 6 minutes.  Important and impressive contributions.  Bolden played 4 second half minutes and was part of the play that changed the game.  He was first to a loose ball after a critical Louisville missed dunk, and made a great outlet pass ahead that led to an easy deuce in transition that changed the game’s momentum.  Yesterday, Coach K had the “7-8 guys we need”.

After the Clemson win on Wednesday, I wrote that “Duke’s performance does not give off much optimism for the remainder of the ACC tournament, and, in my mind, diminishes the expectations for The Big Dance.  It is the bench and the rotation that was troubling in the midst of some clutch performances by all the Duke starters.  Duke got less than no help from the bench.  After the UNC game, I wrote that Duke only needs the return of Grayson to last year’s form and the emergence of Giles as a competent support for the interior to become the team that was envisioned in the pre-season.  Against Clemson, Duke had no bench and both Allen and Giles looked completely lost for differing reasons.”  The return to form of Grayson especially, but Giles and Bolden as well were as important to Duke’s post season prospects as was the superb win.

Duke got spectacular performances from Kennard, who scored 24 points in the game; 18 coming in the second half when he came alive as “Cool hand Luke”, including 10 in a row in the 3-minute span from 6:33 to go to 3:29 when Duke closed the gap and took the lead for good.  He was 7-16; 3-8 from 3land; 7-9 from the line.  He also led Duke in rebounding with 10.  Coach K said that one of the keys to the win was the defensive rebounding of Kennard and Tatum in the second half.  For the game, Kennard had 8 and Tatum 6 defensive boards.  The bigs only retrieved 6 defensive boards altogether in the entire game (Jefferson 4; Giles 2; Bolden 0).  Tatum was equally as spectacular as Kennard, leading Duke in scoring with 25 points [9-15; 1-2 from deep; 6-8 from the line] and was almost a point forward.  His defense gets better by the game.  He is, in short, becoming a beast.

Matt Jones’s shot has gone south, and as a result his minutes are beginning to shrink.  He has played a ton of minutes this year and the possibility exists that fatigue is catching up with him.  He failed to score in 23 minutes (0-3; 0-2 from deep) without getting to the line.  He had a board and a steal.  Coach K said he was trying to rest Jefferson — who had played so hard and well against Clemson’s big men — limiting him to 25 minutes.  Amile scored only 2 [1-3] with 6 boards (2 offensive) and a block.  He will be desperately needed today against UNC’s huge front line.

Coach K said it was a “fun game to coach”; “I felt like a little kid”.  He said he just let them play, by running motion offense without calling set plays.  He was joyous at Giles’s best game and that he is having fun again.  Although he down played the impact of his decision, I believe Coach K deserves the game ball for his decision to go zone with a little over 6 minutes left to play. The decision was “any port in a storm.  We could not stop Louisville in transition with the man to man.  I don’t know if my team was tired or what, but they [Louisville] missed shots and it changed the tempo of the game.”  It surely did.  However, on the game’s final play where Louisville had the ball down 3 with time running out, Duke played man to man. “It was the defensive possession of the game.  We went man so we could switch everything to defend against the 3, but without fouling.”  Duke never gave Louisville a decent opening.  It was a highlight of a defensive stand.

What a game!  Who knows how much Duke will have left in the tank for tonight’s semi-final against UNC?  I suspect we will all be watching.

DUKE 93 – NORTH CAROLINA 83 

Coach K said that this team was still searching for its identity. Frankly, it is still a mystery to me as to exactly what that philosophical/psychological intangible means but by the end of March Madness we know if this team overcomes injuries, over-hyped implosion and resurgence of a crucial player, Coach K’s absence, and finishes the season as the team everyone thought it would be.  In the meantime, we will just have to settle for these last two games, because for the second day in a row the Blue Devils accomplished the improbable, if not the impossible. They came back from what seemed like certain defeat to beat two of the best teams in the country.

The Tar Heels controlled the first half by exploiting their size advantage, where they posted 49 points, outscoring Duke 32-10 in the paint. Those 32 points on the interior were only two fewer than UNC scored in the entire loss at Duke a month ago.  The 49 were 6 points more than the 43 they scored in an entire game against Virginia in Charlottesville. It was a near death experience as only Grayson Allen’s four threes and a late run to reduce the margin from 13 to 7 kept the game from being decided in the first twenty minutes.

The start of the second half was just as bad as the Blue Devils trailed again by 13 points with fifteen minutes remaining when Joel Berry committed an imprudent fourth foul and went to the bench. Duke increased its defensive intensity with a very effective three quarter court pressing trap which curtailed the momentum of the Tar Heels fast pace and suddenly defensive stops entirely changed the momentum of the game as Duke outscored Carolina 29-11 during the next eleven minutes to lead led 77-72 with 3:30 remaining. Even with Berry back in the game, Carolina could not play with the same confidence with which they started the game and Duke closed out one of the most improbable, even, heroic wins of Coach K’s career.

Watching this unanticipated turn of events was incredulous, because North Carolina is such a talented, deep, big team that will be a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. How did it happen:

Duke got production from seven players. I still contend that Grayson Allen is the straw that stirs the drink—he had 5 amazing assists leading to 14 points– for this team and makes it a true contender. His ability to aggressively attack the basket, see the entire floor, and make the pass to an open Kennard, Tatum, Jackson, or, tonight even, Giles adds an entirely different creative lethal dimension to this offense. And speaking of Giles, tonight was the second consecutive game he has shown any sustained indication of being the player he was touted to be. In one frantic span of 83 seconds, he scored on an alley-oop, dove for a loose ball, forced a turnover, and pulled down a defensive rebound. Of course, the big four of Tatum, Kennard, Allen, and Jackson are all capable lighting up the scoreboard. When you drop 93 on a number one seed in the ACC and NCAA Tournament, you truly are a contender.

Other Comments:

  • Other than Duke, the team that I most enjoy watching is North Carolina—and it has been that way for an most of my life. Their players all have sound fundamentals (plus great looking pastel uniforms) and the relentless non-stop primary/secondary break, even after made baskets, is just beautiful basketball. Also, Roy recruits and develops his big men to be the hub of an extremely productive offense. Meeks and Hicks are good examples as they bear little resemblance to the players they were as freshmen. If Carolina can’t run past you, they set up a half-court offense is an egalitarian, big man centric system looking to over-power you. Threes are an afterthought. Duke on the other hand, is a free-wheeling, free form, attack and kick three point centric offense letting talented players identify and exploit mismatches. The other interesting  differences between the two Hall of Fame coaches are defense and game management. Coach K stresses defense to the point that if you don’t at least try to play it, you don’t get off the bench. Coach K manages the game by feel—especially when to call timeouts– while Coach Williams manages by the numbers and likes to save his and let the players deal with the momentum challenges of the game.
  • The stats tell the story.  As Jay Bilas pointed out, to beat a team like North Carolina, Duke has to win at the foul line and the three point line. Tonight, it was 33 to 14 and 10 to 5. Game, set, match!
  • Defense is the talisman for this talented but undersized Duke team. After shooting 55.6 % in the first half, UNC shot only 28.6 % in the second half.

Alan Adds:

From Tuesday, February 27 through Friday, March 10, Duke played Florida State, UNC before three games in a row against: a desperate Clemson team needing a win to make it to the NCAA; Louisville and UNC again.  Duke won 4 of those 5 and played well in the loss.  Coach K said, “we’re getting better.”  “We’re getting to know each other.”  What a wonderful stretch.  Duke showed so much heart and passion in the two comeback wins against Final Four caliber teams.  Finally, the 2016-17 Blue Devils are looking like a complete team.  As Dana O’Neil (ESPN) wrote:

“This game was not won by a single player. It was won because Allen hit four 3s in the first half and Kennard scored 10 in the second. It was won because Jayson Tatum finished with 24 points but also seven rebounds. It was won because Frank Jackson nailed a three to give the Blue Devils the lead. It was won because Amile Jefferson endured the thankless task of dealing with Carolina’s bigs all night and emerged the victor. And it was won because, in one frantic span of 83 seconds, Harry Giles scored on an alley-oop, dove for a loose ball and forced a turnover and pulled down a defensive rebound.”

UNC is a deep team that wanted to press Duke and wear the Devils down by “winning time” at the end of the game.  Shockingly (to me anyway), it was Carolina that got worn down.  I think Duke is just in better physical condition than the Tarheel players.  How else do you explain the disappearance of UNC’s formidable inside game in the last 10 minutes of the game?  Carolina, who shot 56% in the first half (18-28 from inside the arc), could manage slightly less than 29%, going 9-28 from inside the arc in the second half.  Moreover, Carolina stopped defending efficiently as the ‘Heels had done in the first half.  Duke scored 51 second half points, shooting 59% from the field (5-8 from deep).  Carolina committed 16 second half fouls (tired players foul more) allowing Duke 23 attempts from the free throw line (20-23; 13-14 in the first half).  The Carolina Bigs may simply not be in shape.

Ole Roy is a Hall of Fame coach, but in my opinion, he was completely outcoached in this game.  Not that he isn’t wonderful, but Coach K’s unique genius is worth points to Duke by his coaching regardless of who is on the other bench.  Duke was down 13 with 13:53 to go in the second half after Meeks made yet another layup.  Jayson drove the baseline for a spectacular dunk.  Coach K called time out.

Few coaches would stop the game after a potential momentum building play like the Tatum dunk.  He said that he coaches by feel and that “I know my guys”.  He wanted to give them a breather.  The next play was, according to Coach K, “the play of the game”.  Grayson grabbed an 50-50 ball offensive rebound after a Tatum miss, and hit Luke, who got off the three point attempt faster than I have ever seen anyone do.  He was rising as he caught the ball; swished it as he was fouled.  He made the free throw for a four point play that reduced the Carolina lead to single digits (51-47).  Duke rolled from there.

Tatum stole the ball and fed Allen for a 3.   Luke grabbed a contested defensive rebound and fed Frank Jackson for a great layup.  Down 2 (63-61).   Jackson and Hicks both missed (tired?) and Jefferson rebounded.  Luke made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 63 with 10:21 to go.   Carolina regained the lead for the last time on a Britt layup.  Then Duke took its first lead with 9:02 left when Giles grabbed a defensive rebound and Grayson fed Frank for a 3 to give Duke a 66-65 lead.  Giles blocked Meeks; Luke hit a jumper; Giles got a defensive rebound.  Duke led by 3 and never trailed again, though Carolina tied the game at 70 with 6:29 to go.  Then, it was what Bill and I call “winning time” – the last minutes of the game.  Frank’s tough layup restored Duke’s lead (72-70).  Then came the sequence of the game for me.  Justin Jackson committed an offensive foul; Grayson found Luke for a dagger 3 (75-70). When Justin Jackson responded with a drive down the lane (which had been so kind to Carolina in the first half), Giles blocked it!  And then Giles streaked down the court where Grayson found him with a long alley oop that Giles went to the ceiling for and athletically dunked it.   It was a play that said Giles is ready to contribute big time.  Duke by 7 with 5:31 to go.  Duke’s defense held (Giles had another block) until Britt scored with 3:46 to go.  Coach K put the foul plagued Amile back in and he scored on a superb post move to stretch the lead back to 7.  With 2:51 to go, Amile blocked Pinson’s layup attempt and Jayson scored on a thunderous dunk with 2:19 to go.  Game almost over (Duke by 9).  The teams traded 2 made free throws before Frank Jackson pulled down a defensive rebound and was fouled.  He made them both and Duke led by 11 with 1:34 left.  Giles back in grabbed a key defensive board from a missed Justin Jackson free throw, was fouled immediately and made both free throws.  Duke by 10.  Matt Jones scored his only 2 points swishing both foul shots to stretch Duke’s lead to 12 and the game was effectively over.  Carolina simply couldn’t score (good defense; but tired?)

Duke now has a bench; in fact, a really good bench.  Grayson played 30 minutes, scoring 18 points (12 in the first half where he and Jayson Tatum – 18 of his 24 points came in the first half – kept Duke from being knocked out early).  Grayson was 4-5 from 3 for his 12.  In the second half, he was more distributor, notching 4 more assists (5 for the game) including the amazing floor length pass to Giles for the critical dunk.   Giles’s statistics are, in my opinion, simply dazzling.  In 15 minutes, he grabbed 7 rebounds (6 protecting Duke’s vulnerable defensive board) blocked 4 shots (as a team UNC blocked only 2 for the game), scoring on a tip-in in the first half and the amazing dunk and 2-2 foul shots in the second half for 6 points in the game.   Fabulous bench contributions.  Bolden got in for a minute in the first half to try and stem the Carolina onslaught inside, but committed 2 fouls in less than a minute and returned to the bench for the remainder of the game.

Coach K told Giles that he needed to bring enthusiasm.  “Just be enthusiastic and the rest will take care of itself.”  Giles is listening.  Coach K said he wanted Giles to be athletic and not so mechanical (play instinctively).  Giles and Jefferson were on the floor together for a period.  When Tatum is also there, Duke’s lack of size disappears.  “This gives us much more versatility, helps the zone, and adds to our inventory,” said K.  He also acknowledged that this is a team that “can’t defend inside very well”, but has been outstanding at defending (as well as shooting) the 3.  He said a team has to win certain aspects of the game; can’t win every aspect (i.e. rebounding and defending in the paint).

With an effective bench, the rotation allows Duke to stay fresh.  Kennard logged 39 minutes (he is a workhorse, who does not seem to be wearing down).  He scored 20 points on only 7 shots [4-7; 2-2 from deep and a gaudy 10-10 from the line].  Jayson played 36 minutes scoring 24 on 15 shots 1-4 from deep but 7-7 from the line.  That’s 17 for 17 combined.  Jayson also grabbed 7 boards (6 on defense).  Same as Harry, but who played 19 fewer minutes.   Otherwise there was a balance in the rotation that has not been possible before.  Frank Jackson continues his wonderful season; in 30 minutes, he scored 15 points on 11 shots [4-11; 2-5 from deep; 6-7 from the foul line].  He also had 5 rebounds.  Amile played 28 minutes before fouling out with 8 points [2-4; 4-6] and 4 rebounds.  He and Matt (reduced playing time to 21 minutes – 2 points on the 2 foul shots at game’s end) are the heart and soul of Duke’s defense.

Fourth game in four nights against Notre Dame.  I have some idea of how Duke might feel.  I watch the games riding my exercise bike (hour and 40 minutes), but never ride 2 days in a row.  I know how my legs felt this morning after 3 straight hour and 40 minute rides.  LOL!  It will be worth watching tonight at 9 on ESPN.

DUKE 75 –  NOTRE DAME 69

If this Duke team came to New York in search of an identity, they found one at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn—2017 ACC Champions. In an unprecedented four games in four days, in successive contests the Blue Devils came from 13 points down in the second half to beat both #10 Louisville and #6 North Carolina, then from 8 points down with ten minutes to go to beat #20 Notre Dame. This was Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s record breaking 14th –and most unexpected—title.

After the Carolina win, Alan asked me which of the other finalists I would like to play. I picked Notre Dame, because unlike Florida State, they do not present a size problem. Playing Notre Dame is like Duke playing themselves and except for Bonzie Coleson, for whom Duke has never had an answer, the Blue Devils have better players and athletes. The challenge was to win the lines—foul and three point—where the Irish also excel and fighting fatigue.

Duke started the game with the pedal to the metal, appearing as fresh and efficient as they ever have. However, the Irish made a late run (sound familiar) to only trail by four points when it felt like it should have been about ten. Then, the Irish took control of the second half (more familiarity) to go up by 8, and I thought: “Boy, I don’t believe this. Duke is getting Duked”.

Well, not exactly. The Blue  Devils somehow found the energy and will to ratchet up their defense and shoot their way back into a one point lead. At  that critical juncture, the most publically under-appreciated but indispensable player made the two decisive, winning plays. With the shot clock running down, Tatum drove the lane, collapsing the defense, and passed to Matt Jones, who has been in a shooting slump and had not made a basket all game. No problem. Without hesitation, the co-captain nailed a three to make it 71-67 with :50 seconds to go. Then, the Irish pressed hard and, when not successful, fouled without penalty (Duke was not yet shooting free throws). On the final inbounds play that mattered,  Jones, the senior defensive specialist, took the ball from an official near midcourt and yelled: “Jay.” From the “I” stack, Jayson Tatum immediately broke down court and Matt hit the 6 ft. 8 in. freshman gazelle for a touchdown dunk (and foul).  That is how a talented, composed championship team closes out a game.

No matter what happens in the NCAA Tournament, this roller coaster of a season has once again given us another exciting journey and up close look into how a world class coach manages and molds a group of exceptional student-athletes into a cohesive unit where the ethos is teammates unselfishly trusting each other to accomplish something bigger and more important than themselves. How fortunate are we to be along for the ride?.

Other Comments:

  • In the last month or so, freshman Jayson Tatum has taken his game to an entirely different level and is emerging as one of the most talented, productive players in Duke history.
  • The same can be said, except it has been all season, for sophomore Luke Kennard, who was named the MVP of the tournament. Not to take anything away from Luke but Jayson should at the very least have been the co-MVP. However, for some reason the votes are collected before the game ends. It reminds me of the year Daniel Ewing was voted the MVP, when JJ Redick caught fire late in the game, nailing threes from NBA territory, rescuing Duke from certain defeat. Makes no sense.
  • Before the ACC Championship game, Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger was asked if the Irish were happy to play Duke. He responded: “Oh man, we want them.
  • This was Duke’s first ACC title since 2011. It beat three ranked teams—and the odds. If you are interested, according to kenpom.com: When Duke trailed Louisville, 61-49 on Thursday, its win probability, was 7.2%; when it trailed North Carolina, 61-48 on Friday, its win probability was 5.7%; and when Duke trailed Notre Dame 56-48 on Saturday, its win probability was 16.8%.
  • There is a CBS report (fake news?) that Duke is now a projected 1-seed (don’t bet the farm) after winning four games in four days to win the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils picked up neutral-court victories against Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame in the past three days to give them a total of 12 top-50 wins (Michigan State is 51st) and eight of those came away from home. Even with eight losses, which would be the most ever for a No. 1 seed, Duke has put together a profile deserving of that spot.

Alan Adds:

This week, Coach K’s “team building” bore delicious fruit.  This was such a team effort by a group of players that have faced injury and adversity throughout the year.   Coach K thought that the adversity had drawn the team close together.  He attributed the ACC championship to that closeness paying off; a special kind of closeness born from the season’s adversity.  Both Jefferson and Kennard spoke of Duke’s staying poised and “strong”, even when ND knocked them back by speeding up the game to make its second half run.  Amile tellingly put it after the game, “I’m so proud to be on this team with this group of guys when we’re becoming pure.”  (Isn’t that a great word choice?) Both Matt Jones and Luke Kennard each explained, “we came to Duke to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”  Amile and Luke said the theme for the week was “we’re not going back to Durham without this championship.”

Coach K was asked at the press conference, “how did you do it?”  I loved his response, “I don’t know.  My team has taken me on this journey that you could not plan. … This journey is so different (and he pointed out that he has been on quite a few terrific journeys in the past).  How cool at 70 to be on a journey that I’ve never been on.”

Duke’s offense was as good as it gets in the second half.  Duke shot 67% and if you omit the 2-5 from deep, Duke shot 14 for 19 from inside the arc.  No wonder Duke didn’t get many offensive rebounds!  Notre Dame stayed in the game two ways – offensive rebounds and Duke turnovers (Grayson had 6 of Duke’s 12).  The Irish had 16 more field goal attempts but made 2 fewer for the game.  Duke had no answer for Bonzie Coleson (29 points and 9 rebounds), but shut down the rest of the Irish.  Beachem was the only other ND double digit scorer with 15.  Matt Jones was ferocious on the defensive end, playing a major part of holding Vasturia to 2-9 from the field for his 5 points.  Matt’s shooting woes have been well documented and his playing time has decreased as a result.  Against Notre Dame, he played 31 minutes, taking only 2 shots, but making what Coach K called “the shot of the game.”

With less than a minute to go and Duke leading by one, Jayson drove the lane and was cut off.  With the shot clock winding down, Tatum found an open Matt, who put up a 3 in rhythm and without hesitation.  Swish!  4-point lead.  Game almost over.  Beachem scored leaving ND down a deuce with only 25 seconds left, and pressing for a steal or a foul to prolong the game.   Jones triggered the inbound, and like an NFL quarterback lofted a long pass to the streaking Tatum.  The sailed over Tatum’s head into his outstretched hands for a dribble and the game sealing dunk.  Let the celebration begin.  When asked about Jones “coming through” after not shooting well, Coach K was effusive.  “Matt was coming through for us the entire game.  He and Amile turned the game around defensively.  … There are valuable things that players do to win the game that only people who want to look deeper will see.  Matt does valuable things for us.”

The Duke bench outscored the ND bench 14 to 2.  Grayson had a difficult game (those 6 turnovers), playing only 21 minutes with 10 points [4-9; 1-5; and 1-1 from the line] with a rebound and an assist.  In a stretch of a minute and a half in the second half, Grayson turned it over 4 times, including 2 offensive fouls.   Coach K went with Jackson rather than Allen down the stretch.  Giles played well in the first half, going 2-2 from the field and snaring 4 rebounds with a block.  However, he had problems in the second half with a turnover, a blown dunk (the ball slipped out of his hand on the way up with no one around him) followed by a frustration foul.  In what turned out to be a second half cameo (10 minutes for the game), he had no positive statistics, gave up a layup and committed a turnover.  Jefferson played the rest of the game, and played it superbly.  In 35 minutes, he scored 14 points [7-8; 0-1 from the line] with 5 rebounds and 3 critical blocks.  Frank Jackson was a force in his 26 minutes, scoring 9 on 4-6 shooting (1-1 from deep) while grabbing 4 boards.  He is a very good rebounding guard.

Duke got an amazing game from Tatum [39 minutes; 19 points on 7-11; 7-9 from inside the arc; 5-7 free throws; and 8 rebounds.  He was an irresistible force (as Bonzie was for the Irish) for which ND eventually had no answer.  In a memorable play with 1:51 to go in the game, Tatum blocked a Vasturia layup, grabbed the rebound and dribbled the length of the court for a spectacular basket.  Coach K: “How the hell did he do that?” That play gave Duke the positive energy to close out the championship game.

Both Bill and Coach K are right when they said that he should have been a co-MVP with Luke for the tournament.  Luke was the official MVP and was again clutch in his 38 minutes.  It was not his best shooting night, scoring 16 on 13 shots [6-13; 2-5 from deep; 2-3 from the foul line].  Notre Dame kept him off the free throw line (compare 2-3 against ND with 10-10 against UNC).  Yet when Duke needed points, Luke was reliable in the final portion of the game.  Coach K had trust in “his guys”.  Duke ran “motion”, which is free-lance without set plays for the last 10 minutes of the game.  “They own motion more than when running plays.  They took the ownership and made it work, said the coach.”

It’s now on to the NCAA tournament with a huge accomplishment already in the bank.  Coach K was unconcerned (perhaps even oblivious) to where Duke will be seeded and who they will play.  “We paid no attention to standings, seedings, or ranking during the year.  It was just about us – our team.  When asked if Duke should have a #1 seed, the coach responded, “whatever they decide is all right – just let it happen.”  Duke could not be heading to The Big Dance in better position to make a run.

DUKE 87 – TROY 65 

Duke started fast, was never seriously challenged but, nevertheless, the game was a lot more competitive  than the score. These mid-major teams are dangerous (think Lehigh, VCU, Belmont), because there are more talented, skilled athletes of all sizes and shapes playing basketball at all levels than any other sport and, with the three point line, no lead is really safe. However, every time Troy closed to within single digits, the Blue Devils had an answer.

Two disconcerting notes were: characteristically, a less than stellar interior defense but effective three point defense and, uncharacteristically, missing 7 of its first 17 free throws to let Troy hang around at different points of the game. All in all, it was a relief to see that after just last week winning an unprecedented four successive ACC Tournament games Thursday thru last Sunday, the Blue Devils were fresh and took the opponent seriously.

Other observations:

  • Jayson Tatum had 18 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks, & 4 steals. While he has developed a terrific chemistry with his teammates and taken his offensive game to another level, his improved defense and rebounding is even more impressive. His block at the end of the half was a hugely impressive play—both physically intimidating and psychologically damaging.
  • While Kennard (3-12, 8 pts, 1 bloody nose) was Cold Hand Luke for about the only time this year, Grayson Allen, coming off a subpar game against Notre Dame, more than made up for it by not missing a shot in the first half and scoring 21 points, to go with 4 assists, 5 rebounds in 28 minutes. [Note to Allen critics: How many All-Americans and pre-season Player-of-the Year candidates would have the attitude he has had, not starting but coming off the bench?]
  • Matt Jones, who for the last third of the regular season, appeared either not 100% healthy or worn down by all the minutes he has had to log, played like his old self for the second game in a row, scoring 14 points, to go with 3 steals and 3 assists.
  • With the maturation of Frank Jackson, Duke’s guard rotation of Kennard, Jones, Jackson, and Allen (and sometimes  Tatum) presents a nightmare for opposing defenses. And speaking of  defenses, Coach K occasionally  employs a 2-2-1 three quarter court zone press and a 2-1-2 or 2-3 just to slow down and/or confuse an opponent on a run.
  • Harry Giles regressed and was replaced not by Marques Bolden but rather Antonio Vrankovic, who is not a physically talented but is just a large and has better instincts.
  • Duke appears to be well positioned to make a serious run in this NCAA Tournament.

Alan Adds:

Duke plays South Carolina tomorrow for a trip to the Sweet 16.  Be warned: this will be a very tough game – much tougher than it appears on the surface.  First, this will be an Away game for Duke.  Only 100 miles from the South Carolina campus, the arena will be packed with Gamecock supporters.  UNC is also playing there, and we know how supportive of Duke the Tarheel fans will be.  South Carolina is a fierce defensive team that applies full court pressure and loves to run.  They wore Marquette out so completely that a tight game turned into a runaway.  The Gamecocks outscored Marquette by 21 in the second half (scoring 54 points).  The Gamecock defense (their calling card) forced Marquette into 18 turnovers and to commit 20 fouls.  In a conference with many great players (think of Kentucky’s impressive roster), the SEC Conference Player of the Year is Sidarius Thornhill, who will be a load for Duke to deal with.  Last night he had 29 points and 11 rebounds to dominate the game.  His high scoring sidekick, D.J. Dozier had 13 of his 21 points in the second half.  Frank Martin’s team will try to do the same to Duke – press, force turnovers, make Duke foul, and try to wear Duke down.  No Duke fan or player should take this team lightly.

Against Troy, Duke played well (Coach K said that at least four times in his press conference).  He was insightful when asked about the Duke defense.  Duke did a good job defending the three, which was Troy’s chief weapon.  “We’re a good defensive team; not a great one.  We are a better offensive team than defensive.”  He pointed out that Duke’s subconscious mindset is “we can outscore you.”  For this game, and the ACC tournament, Duke used a few defenses to good effect.  Duke employed a zone (I did not hear any announcer recognize that or mention it) and a defense that is called “32” – a 2-2-1 zone press.  It was very effective in the second half when Duke gave up only 27 points.  Coach K said the zone and trap “stopped their driving and stood them up.  They had good momentum.”  Duke’s defense – led by Tatum – carried the day.  Jayson was astounding; 9 of his 12 rebounds were defensive.  His 4 blocks were inspirational; and Duke stole the ball frequently (Jayson 4; Matt 3; Jackson and Jefferson 2 each.  Even Harry had one.) for easy baskets in transition.

Giles played only six minutes.  When asked why Giles did not play more, Coach K pointed to the contrast between Harry’s performance in the ACC tournament (a major piece of Duke’s success) and last night’s lackluster performance [3 fouls, a missed lefty hook air ball; and a turnover].  Coach K: “He didn’t play well.  Did you watch the game?”  Giles picked up two quick fouls, which Coach K said affected him.  “He was young tonight.  We still have confidence in him and he will play more.”  Vrankovich seems to have replaced Bolden as 8th man.  He gave 4 good minutes, including a nice offensive tip in.

Sunday vs. South Carolina for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen at Madison Square Garden (only a mile from where I live).

DUKE 81 – SOUTH CAROLINA 88

Looking at South Carolina Coach Frank Jackson, it is not surprising to learn that in his younger years he moonlighted as a bouncer and that is the kind of defense his team plays—rough and tough. The Gamecocks played stronger, more aggressively, and with more intensity and, consequently, did something you don’t often see opponents do to a Duke team. They totally took the Blue Devils out of their game– and bounced them out of the tournament.

After a really aesthetically ugly first half, where South Carolina took 36 shots to Duke’s 18, the Devils were still up 30-23. However, in the second half the Gamecocks capitalized on Duke’s deficiencies: lack of a true point guard, lack of team size, and defensive inefficiencies on the way to a twenty minute smack down. The Blue Devils were like a drowning man with the tide coming in. How can the same players shoot 20% and score 23 points in one half, come out fifteen minutes later, shoot 71% and scored 65 points in the next? Unbelievably, that’s more points than they have scored in almost ten entire games this season. Sometimes the basketball gods decide you guys have won enough, the other guys deserve this win.

Close games come down to stops and shots. Teams that do that and make them win, those that don’t lose. It just goes to show what can happen when a team gets on a run in a friendly arena. A friendly, frenzied crowd—and this was a South Carolina arena packed with Gamecock supporters and Duke deniers/haters (i.e. UNC fans from the first game)– can fuel a momentum and adrenaline rush that carries a team to perform beyond their abilities. How else to explain (except for one very talented scorer) a usually offensively challenged team scoring almost three times as many points in the second half than the first?

Coulda, shoulda, woulda…but no excuses. That’s the fascination of sports—anything can happen. South Carolina took charge of the second half and totally dominated the entire court. Congratulations to a very deserving team on a well-deserved victory.

Other Comments: 

  • Amile Jefferson, as he has this whole season and his whole career, gave everything he could in his final performance. He finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. The same can be said for co-captain Matt Jones’ stellar four year career.
  • The last two games, Luke Kennard has not been himself. Perhaps, essentially carrying the team on his back through most of the season when various teammates were unavailable, finally wore him down. My wife is of the view that effort of four straight games in the ACC Tournament—three of which were come from behind victories—left the seven players entirely depleted.
  • It is interesting that in all his recent press conferences, Coach K took Grayson Allen and one other different player to answer questions. It was as if he was saying to the national press: “Take a second, good, long look at this young man and how well he is now handling himself. In four short months you and social media have helped make an All American Player-of-the-Year candidate into a hated Punk-of-the Year candidate. As you see tonight, he is in reality a pleasant, thoughtful, well-spoken, and well-mannered young man who a few times reacted emotionally and immaturely to action on the court in full view of national television that were blown way out of proportion but has overcome all the intense scrutiny to play some of his best basketball.”
  • As disappointing as this loss was, it should not obscure the larger issue of how fortunate we are to support the university that produces the Gold Standard of NCAA Basketball. It’s not only that they win but also the way they compete and the true student-athletes with which they win. I will leave it to Alan to sum up another exciting season except to say my memories of this season will not be this loss but rather coming from behind on successive days to beat Clemson, Louisville, North Carolina, and Notre Dame to win the ACC Tournament—and beating North Carolina two out of three times.

Alan Adds:

South Carolina Game

I had a bad premonition when Bill called to say that Wisconsin’s win over Villanova made Duke’s path to the Final Four easier.  My first part of Alan Adds after the Troy game was a big warning about how tough the South Carolina game would be (I feel like Cassandra!). The game itself reminded me of the 2006 Sweet 16 loss to LSU when Duke (#1 seed) had two first team All-Americans (JJ and Sheldon Williams).  LSU just smacked Duke around physically, and Duke could not respond.  Exactly what happened yesterday.  South Carolina was so physical at both ends of the floor.  Defensively, they forced 18 Duke turnovers – a season high.  Offensively, the Gamecocks grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.  They forced Duke into fouling (Duke committed 26 fouls in the game) with Tatum, Kennard and Jones fouling out.  Jefferson finished the game with 4.

South Carolina’s physicality wore The Blue Devils down.  Coach K said it was by far the most physical game of the season.  “We got worn down.  It was a complex second half with our foul trouble.”  In the second half, Duke simply withered defensively after playing terrific defense in the first half.  The Gamecocks shot 20-28 in the second half (4-5 from deep) and 21-23 from the line.  Duke gave up 65 points in the second half (rate of 130 for the game). Duke’s short rotation really caught up with this team.  Duke played basically with 6 + Harry Giles’s 9 ineffective minutes.  I agree with Bill that Luke finally showed the effect of playing 1341 minutes this season. He seemed to me a tick slower in the last few games in his offensive moves, which enabled teams to defense him, as they could not for most of the season. He and Matt Jones were simply asked to do too much when injuries thinned the ranks of effective players.  It was a disappointing loss and ending to a season that was interesting, if not heroic.

The Season

Despite the lofty pre-season predictions which were never realized, I do not believe this season should be classified as disappointing.  This was a terrific group, who played with amazing heart through a huge amount of adversity.  This was a championship team — it won the ACC championship, that should glow for a long time.  Duke beat four teams in four days; 2 ranked in the top 10; and the win over UNC gave Duke the season series.  This makes a fitting case for seeing this season as a success.  Jefferson became won of Duke’s All Time greats with his performance this year.  Matt will be remembered (I predict he will be on the Duke coaching staff sometime in the future.).  Grayson and Luke were not less than heroic.  Jackson developed wonderfully.  Jayson was a joy to watch; he will be a wonderful pro and will go high in the lottery.  If Giles, Bolden, Jeter had been able to contribute as had been anticipated, it would have been a better season, but the fact is that each, hampered by injury, was a major disappointment.

I am not yet ready to even consider next year and who may or may not return.  Guaranteed that Jones, Jefferson and Tatum will not be back.  Grayson and Luke will have a decision to make.  Ditto Giles (of course he’s nowhere near ready, but a few million dollars can turn, and has turned, heads).

I had so much fun writing these post-game emails with Bill.  It heightens my enjoyment of the game as I watch while riding my exercise bike; it renews my lifetime friendship with Bill; and I love the writing and analysis.  Thank you for reading.  I hope we are all back writing and reading next year.In conclusion:

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

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

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

Thank you for allowing us to share our thoughts with you this season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Adds:

 

It is hard to overestimate they hype surrounding the 2016-17 edition of this Duke team.  Five returning members of the rotation, including pre-season All American selection, Grayson Allen and 5th year senior and captain, Amile Jefferson is a great start.  Matt Jones and Luke Kennard return along with Chase Jeter.  Semi Obi, Antonio Vrakovich, and David Robinson’s son, also return, though they played sparingly or not at all last year.  To that mix is added an outstanding freshman class with highly rated prospects.  The key to that sentence is the word prospects.  For example, Chase Jeter was a McDonald’s All-American and highly rated prospect, whose play last year did not reflect his high school reputation.  Prospects!  Duke has four McDonald’s All  Americans in its 6 man class:  Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marquis Bolden and Frank Jackson.  In addition, Javin DeLaurier and Jack White (Australia) are also potential contributors.  That said, this Alan Adds analyzes the two pre-season exhibition games — the first was against Virginia State on October 25 and the last against Augustine on November 4.  The Duke rotation was dramatically affected by the rehabilitation status of players as well as injuries.  Neither Harry Giles nor Jayson Tatum played in either game.  Matt Jones logged only 3 minutes in the first game because of a tweaked hamstring.  Grayson left the lineup twice with minor injuries.  Semi Obi is still rehabbing from off-season surgery.  Marquis Bolden was held out of the second exhibition games for benign reasons.  The minutes allotted in the early games begin to give some clues as to what the regular season rotation might look like — at least in the beginning.

 

Virginia State –Duke started an almost all veteran lineup: Jefferson, Allen, Jones, Kennard started along with freshman Marquis Bolden in the middle.  The rotation included big minutes for Frank Jackson (required because Matt played only the first 3 minutes before his hamstring curtailed his night), Chase Jeter and Javin DeLaurier, which made a rotation of 7.  Kennard played 36 minutes and led the team in scoring with 30 points (8-17; 3-10 from deep, and critically 11-12 from the free throw line).  Jackson logged 31 minutes, scoring 17 on 6-10 (4-7 from deep and 1-2 from the line).  He had 4 assists, but a troubling 5 turnovers.  Jackson’s 10 shots were the second most behind Luke.  No other Duke player hit double figures in shot attempts.  Jefferson played 28 minutes and Bolden 25.  Bolden scored 13 on a gaudy 5-7 from the floor and a disappointing 3-7 from the line.  He and Jefferson dominated the boards, as expected against this level of competition.  Amile was only 1-4 for 2 points but had a slew of boards.  Grayson also scored an efficient 13 in 22 minutes on 8 shots (4-8; 3-6 from deep and 2-2 from the line).  Chase and Javin backed up the Amile and Marquis.  Chase played 21 minutes and while only 1-5 from the field, he was an encouraging 6-8 from the line for 8 points.  Javin played 18 minutes and impressed by hitting both field goal attempts, but was only 3-6 from the line (but he got to the line by being aggressive).  Jack White logged 12 scoreless minutes in his Duke debut.

 

Augustina — last year’s Division II champions, but lost 3 key players from that team.  They had no real big guys, so Coach K elected not to play Marquis in favor of experimenting with new combinations against a small lineup.  Nine players saw significant minutes (10 if you include Justin Robinson’s 7 minutes).  A slight surprise was the 14 minutes that Antonio Vrankovich played (going 0-2 from the field but 7-8 from the line; he also had 4 turnovers.  I do not believe he will be a contributor this year).  Coach K started his five veterans including Chase Jeter.  Matt Jones played 28 minutes (most on the team and very good news for his hamstring), while Grayson logged 24; Jefferson and Frank Jackson 23 and Chase 20.  That is a 6 man rotation augmented by Jack White’s 16 impressive minutes and Javin’s 13.  Giles, Bolden, Tatum, and Obi did not suit up or play.  Duke had 4 double figure scorers, led once again by Luke’s 17 points.  He and Jackson were again the only players who attempted double figure shots.  Luke was 7-13 (2-6 from 3land and 1-2 from the line); Jackson was 5-12, including 2-4 from deep and 4-5 from the line; critically he had 0 turnovers in this game.  Grayson scored 16 on 9 shots (3-9; only 1-5 from deep but 9-12 from the line.  Amile was 3-7 from the field and 3-5 from the line.  He had many boards but quite a few (4) turnovers.  The revelation was Chase Jeter.  In his 20 minutes he did not miss a shot going 5-5 from the field and 5-5 from the line for 15 points, a slew of boards. Jack White also impressed in his 16 minutes, going 3-4 from the field including 2-2 from deep for 8 points.  Javin played 13 minutes scoring 6 on 3-4 shooting, but causing horror by going 0-5 from the line.

 

The Season Begins

 

The season opens with Marist on Friday and Grand Canyon on Saturday (really like two more exhibition games) before playing Kansas on November 15.  Duke has 8 games in a little over half a month this November, and some of them are against very good teams.  What can we expect in the early going?   Coach K has said he expects Jayson to be ready, which would leave only Harry Giles and Semi on the unable to play shelf.  Coach K’s report on Giles is encouraging.  He said Harry was back to playing 5 on zero (which is where he was when he had his setback last month) and anticipates his return by the end of the month.  Do not be surprised if it takes a substantial amount of time before Giles is back to his exalted form.  These first two games will give Coach K his first chance to see the whole team (except for Harry) together.  Therefore, even though against inferior opponents, the first two games should be interesting and informative.

 

The Key to the Season, in my opinion

 

Defense!  Duke (except for the latter part of the championship 2015 season) has not been the defensive juggernaut of yore in the recent seasons.  This year’s team has enormous defensive potential, but we know it takes time — sometimes years — for teams to become that dominating cohesive defense that creates offense.  Coach K has said he will play an aggressive trapping and pressing man to man, and has acknowledged he has not had the horses or depth to do so recently.  Coach K is also experimenting with playing just one big, which he says allows Duke to switch everything, making it very difficult to penetrate to the basket.  He did that in the second exhibition game and Augustina had trouble scoring at all.   However, morphing into a great defensive team will take time, but Duke has the defensive talent to realize the kind of defense needed to (dare we say it) win a National Championship.  But that is down the road.  Duke’s sights should be set on winning the regular season conference championship and the conference tournament (not done in a few years, even in the last championship season).

 

There is every reason to be excited about this season.

 

 

Next game: Friday: Marist 7:00pm. ACC network / streaming on goduke.com

 

 

 

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