Duke Basketball Playbook: 2017-18

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

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

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

What to look for:

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

2016-2017

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

2015 compared to 2017-18

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

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

The Backcourt

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

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

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

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

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

The Front Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 88 – Michigan State 81

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whetting the Whistle

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

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

Duke 97  – Elon 68

Duke  99 –  Utah Valley 69

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

  • 1 overall 2018 prospect R.J. Barrett committed to Duke over Oregon and Kentucky. Barrett is the star of the 2018 Class  and gives the Blue Devils their third five-star pledge in the class, to go with Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. Duke now boasts the No. 1 overall recruiting class for 2018, leap-frogging cross-state rival North.
  • Keep an eye on Alex O’Connell. He is the skinny white kid with the 1940’s retro haircut who has more animated fun on the bench than most Cameron Crazies but, more importantly, makes things happen when he gets playing time. I suspect that Bolden, DeLaurier, and O’Connell will be the eight man rotation.

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

Front Court

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

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

Backcourt

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

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

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

Tuesday night promises to be so much fun.

Duke 88 – Michigan State 81

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 78– Southern 61 

When top ranked 4-0 Duke meets unranked 0-4 Southern in Cameron, you expect a blowout not a game that is tied twice in the first half. Blame youth, travel fatigue, a hangover from the big win, whatever… Surely, a relatively painless learning experience for essentially a group of teenagers from whom there will always be surprises– especially when the only non-teenager, Grayson Allen scores 10 points, not 25. More importantly, the good news is that there was no damage to  Bagley’s eye and he was his usual mesmerizing self. So, let’s discuss what we know so far.

Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter are the most talented and productive big man combo Duke has ever had. Individually, they are more talented than any freshman power player Duke has ever had. They are interchangeable playing the high/low post, are unselfish, and are both double/double machines. This is the strength of the team and it will go as far as they take them. Trevon Duval has been a wonderful point guard and has demonstrated a fearless instinct for the timely, big play. However, his jump shot and free throw shooting need work. (Calling Chip “The Shot Doctor”  Engelland ‘83). Until Gary Trent gets more comfortable, Grayson Allen, who appears to be on a redemption mission, is the only lethal three point threat and, like tonight, that makes any game potentially more difficult, because close games are usually decided by the team that makes the most threes. When these two are on fire, these Blue Devils are lethal.

This team is deeper than most of K’s teams and he appears ready to use DeLaurier, Goldwire, Bolden and O’Connor. We will see if that continues as the schedule gets tougher. DeLaurier, a marvelous athlete and developing basketball player, is a defensive disrupter. Bolden looked better tonight but is still a question mark. Under recruited Goldwire is surprisingly capable as a short term breather sub. In limited minutes, O’Connor has demonstrated more of a feel and understanding of the game than the others. He definitely is fearless, a better shooter, and is much more athletic than he looks.

Other Comments: 

  • After playing zone in beating Michigan State, Duke played man-to-man tonight with disappointing results. Stay tuned.
  • The fact that Blue Devils finished with only 14 assists, a season-high 15 turnovers, shot just 4 of 20 from 3-point range, and 24-37 from the line demonstrated that this team has some work to do to continue to consistently beat top teams.
  • Grayson Allen was taken down on a fast break by a flagrant foul and just walked away without showing any emotion. Whew!  While he had a quiet scoring night, Grayson did have a SportsCenter highlight moment when, after a Bagley monster block spiked the ball well past midcourt, Allen ran the ball down, dribbled, took the ball around his back to avoid a defender, elevated, and laid the ball up with his left hand.
  • Mike Gminski ’80, an All-American center, number seven pick in the NBA draft, and outstanding student, was an announcer. While probably too low key for many in today’s audience, he is a throwback in that he doesn’t talk unless he has something pertinent to say. 
  • Reloading: During the just concluded early commitment period, Duke announced the signing of three probable one-and-done athlete/students: R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish– all rated by ESPN as a five-star recruit and ranked among the 10 best overall prospects in the nation.
  • Thankfully, NBA commissioner Adam Silver ’84 is in talks with the players union to eliminate the one-and-done rule. Stay tuned.

Alan Adds:

Coach K hit the nail on the head to explain Duke’s unsatisfyingly sluggish performance against an 0-3 team that had been blown out by mediocre opposition in its first three games.  “They thought it would be easier than it was.”  Early on, Duke was leaking out instead of all rebounding defensively, which caused Coach K to call a time out before 3 minutes had gone by.  “We did not play together tonight either on offense or defense.  When you don’t play together, you gravitate toward the individual effort.”  “We were out of character tonight.  Something was missing.”  However, Coach K was careful to warn that press and fans should not make more of the sluggish performance than is warranted.  “We want to be who we have been.”

Coach K pointed to a lack of practice mandated by NCAA rules as one reason for the sluggish performance [email me if you want me to explain the hyper technical requirement that prevented Duke from practicing on Wednesday or Thursday following the Michigan State win].  And Grayson pointed to a favored Coach K insight, “sometimes you have to overcome human nature.”

As Bill pointed out, the game showed that Duke has much work to do on its man to man defense.  This is a team of excellent individual defenders, who have the potential to become an effective defensive team, but that potential was well disguised last night.  Part of that was Southern shooting well from deep (5-11 from deep in the second half).  Contrast that with Duke going 0-9 from behind the arc in the second half – Grayson 3; Trent 2; Duval 2; Goldwire 1 and Bagley 1 (4-20 for the game).    Duke’s foul shooting improved in the second half (12-16; Bagley was 1-1) but was a disappointing 12-21 in the first half where only Wendell Carter shot better than 50% (5-7); Bagley (4-8);  DeLaurier, Allen and O’Connell were 1-2.

The Starters

The starters played between 28 and 32 minutes with the game decided by Duke’s huge superiority up front.  Carter had the game of the night notching a double double in only 28 minutes.  He scored 20 [7-9; 1-1 from deep and 5-7 from the line] to go with 11 rebounds and 6 blocks [only Giminski had more in a game as a freshman in Duke history].  Oh yes, he also handed out two assists and had a steal.  Bagley played a game high 32 minutes before fouling out.  There is no missing his special athleticism, yet I think he has not yet shown all he can do.  He also grabbed 11 rebounds with his third double/double in 4 games [19 points on a team high 12 shots – 7-12; 0-1; 5-9 from the line].  He also had 2 assists and added 2 blocks.

Grayson and Duval played 30 minutes and Trent 31.  After the Michigan State magnificent shooting performance, Allen was 0-6 from deep for the game.  He scored 10 on 3-3 from inside the arc to go with 4-5 from the line (3-3 in the second half).  He had 4 boards and led Duke in assists (4 tied with Duval) and turnovers (3; tied with Wendell).  Trent had an uncharacteristically bad shooting game and failed to get to the foul line (3-11; 2-6 from deep), but made up for it with his rebounding and hustle.  He grabbed 10 boards and earned Coach K’s praise.  Trevon “Tre” played better in the second half (tied for Duke’s second half high scorer with 7 (Grayson and Bagley each had 7 and Carter 6 in the last stanza) and avoided a turnover.  He had 10 for the game, including his first 3 pointer – his only points in the first half.

The Bench

Marques Bolden played all of his 11 minutes in the second half, where I thought he looked rusty and a bit lost on the court.  He was totally out of sync on defense, and I thought tentative on offense (his travel on what should have been a power dunk is a dramatic example).  He scored 4 [1-3; 2-4 from the line] to go with 2 boards and a turnover.  Let’s hope it is just a slow recovery from strep throat, but I fear he is the same disappointing player this year as he was last year.  However, my analysis might be wrong since not only Bill (above), but Coach K in his press conference praised Marques, “Marques gave us a big lift in the second half.”  It will be especially interesting to see how he performs in the 4 games during this coming week.

DeLaurier continues to draw oohs and aahs for his athleticism (he had one block from behind on a Southern runout that was almost LeBron like), but his statistics were meager.  In 12 minutes (6 in each half), he missed his only shot and was only 2-4 from the line for his 2 points.  He had 2 boards, an assist, a turnover and that block.  He was first off the bench.

Alex O’Connell is a pleasant surprise.  He scored 5 in 14 minutes [1-2; 0-1 from 3land; and 3-4 from the line.  He brings good energy to the game.

Goldwire played 8 uninspired minutes missing both of his 3 point attempts (his only shots) while making one steal and committing a turnover.

Vranovich (1 minute), and White (3) played cameos while Jordan Tucker and Robinson did not play.

Next week – 4 games

Furman on Monday night before Duke travels to Portland for 3 games in the Phil Knight tournament celebrating his 80th birthday.  It is a cool tournament (actually two separate tournaments – Duke is in the Motion bracket while UNC is in the other tournament called Victory).  On Thanksgiving Day, Duke plays Portland State, then things get interesting.  Assuming a Duke win (“they thought it was going to be easier than it was” is a warning against such assumptions), the Blue Devils face the winner of Butler v Texas on Friday.  Texas has the superb freshman center, Mohamad Bamba (Duke lost that recruiting battle).  The four teams in the other bracket are Florida, Ohio State, Gonzaga and Stanford.   The final game is on Sunday.  Every team plays three games.

Duke 92– Furman 63

The start of the game was delayed for fifteen minutes because at six o’clock a second floor fire alarm went off and the entire building was evacuated. Fortunately, it was a false alarm but after the delayed start, the Blue Devils appeared as though they had evacuated without their warm-up suits, because they again started cold, playing unimpressive basketball as Furman got into the lane for one good look after another, making five of its first six shots. Nevertheless, when your team beats a good, veteran Southern Conference team with a terrific point guard by 29 points, how critical can you be? [Warning: I am evaluating this team by a standard only previously applied to the 2001 and 1999 teams.] Well, the fact of the matter is that the Blue Devils were actually behind for about ten minutes before Duke’s man-to-man defense forced four turnovers in the next six minutes and went on a patented 20-6 run. During that stretch freshman  Marvin Bagley dominated offensively and defensively. He scored 11 points in two minutes on a variety of shots, blocked a shot, stole the ball, picked up 2 assists, and even accidentally tipped in a basket for the other team.

This team has demonstrated that they have all the individual parts to be a multifaceted, dominating team. However, except in spurts—even against Michigan State—they have not been a well-oiled machine.  For the second game in a row, the firm of Bagley & Carter dominated down low, Trevon drove the lane at will but Allen, who had not practiced due to being “banged up”, and Trent did not score well. It will be interesting when the Double-Double Brothers come up against a really large front line how they react and adapt and if Coach K stays with the man-to-man defense as he has for most of the last two games or goes more zone which was so effective against the Spartans. The truth of the matter is that the undefeated, #1 Duke has yet to play a game with balanced scoring, which they will soon have to do. They have, however, improved one major weakness—free throw shooting.

When DeLaurier, who brings so much energy and athleticism to the party, is in the mix, the defense may even be better. And O’Connor, who looks like a freshman pledge whose hair was the victim of a hazing incident, sure appears to be the sleeper of the freshman class. He has a rare feel and instinct for the game. Bolden still appears raw and in need of maturing. Even against this level of competition, Goldwire seems in over his head and I would not be surprised if Allen, who had six nice assists tonight, plays the point when Duval is rested and O’Connor plays the shooting guard.

Duke extended their streak of consecutive non-conference home wins in Cameron to 136.

Alan Adds:

Coach K was well pleased with last night’s effort against a good Furman team.  His assessment was the team played hard and well, and most importantly, “played together – on both ends of the court.”  He was asked if the Furman was a statement game after the disappointing effort against Southern last Friday.  K responded with a quip, and then made the serious point that it was “more like we got back to playing the way we are supposed to” and the way the team has played all year.  He pointed out that the team had two really good practices after not being able to practice after the Michigan State game.

Even though Duke gave up easy drives during the game’s opening minutes and a raft of threes toward the end of the game when Duke switched to a zone defense with mostly substitute players, Coach K was pleased with the defense.  He said the game plan was to take away Furman’s three point attack, so when Davis (Furman’s talented point guard) got into the lane, the help stayed with the shooters leaving him open to create and score.  The adjustment was subtle.  Coach K said Furman was “a right handed driving team”.  We started out forcing them right and got burned.”  When Duke started forcing them left, the defense stiffened and the lead grew consistently.

The Bench

The rotation is longer now than it will be in the conference season, and it is where the competition for playing time exists.  The starting lineup is set.

First off the bench is Javin DeLaurier, who continues to impress me greatly.  What I appreciate about his game is his energy on defense.  He is quick enough (and has the intensity – motor) to guard the perimeter and still protect the rim when one of his teammates is beaten.  I do not believe any other Duke big has shown that capability, even though both Carter (especially) and Bagley are formidable defenders.  Javin logged 17 intense minutes, scoring 6 (3-3; 0-1 from the line), grabbing 6 boards and blocking 4 shots, and making 2 steals.  Interestingly, when Grayson picked up his 3rd foul early in the second half, DeLaurier replaced him, making a lineup of 3 bigs + Tre and a Gary.  I liked this lineup defensively.

Bolden earned Coach K’s praise in his 12 minutes (2-3 from the floor and 2-2 from the line) for scoring 6 points, grabbing 2 boards and having a block.  He was yanked, however, after a cameo in the first half when he completely lost his roll man on a Furman screen and roll, creating a wide open (embarrassing) layup.  In fairness, DeLaurier had one almost identical defensive lapse.  Bolden moved well and is a potential contributor.  Potential.

Alex O’Connell logged 12 scintillating second half minutes after remaining on the bench in the first half.  He made the most of his opportunity scoring 10 [4-5 from the floor; 2-3 from deep] with 2 boards, an assist (sweet interior pass) and a block (the skinny kid has hops).  He was very impressive on several levels.  As I have written previously, he reminds me of Grayson as a freshman.

Jordan Goldwire played 13 minutes without scoring [0-2 from deep] with an offensive rebound, an assist, a steal against a turnover and a foul.  Vrankovic (3 minutes), White (4 minutes) and Justin Robinson (1 minute) made cameos.  Tucker did not play (again).

The Starters

The Backcourt

This was a coming out party for Trevon Duval, who was nothing short of sensational on both ends of the court.  In 26 minutes, he scored 18 [9-12; 0-2 from deep] to go with 4 boards and 4 assists.  He dominated some aspects of this game, and could be heading for a Tyus Jones like season.  He has an uncanny ability to snake to the rim and finish acrobatically.  Trent played a game high 31 minutes (he is trusted by Coach K) scoring 9 [4-8; 1-3 from 3land] to go with 3 boards, an assist and a turnover.  He is on the court as much for his defense, rebounding and energy as his shooting.  He had a pair of steals.  Grayson, who did not practice, had a bad shooting game, but was still valuable.  He led Duke with 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals, even though he scored only 5 in 28 minutes (only 8 second half minutes after playing the entire first half) [2-9; 1-4 from deep without getting to the line].  His defense is always played on high energy.

Bagley and Carter

Both Bagley and Carter had substantial size advantages over the Furman bigs.  Both exploited their size advantage and skill to allow Duke to dominate on the inside.  Carter played only 24 minutes, scoring 14 [6-7 from the floor; 2-4 from the line] to go with 9 boards a block and 2 assists.  Bagley played 29 minutes grabbing 8 boards and scoring 24 points on a team high 15 shots [8-15; 1-3 from deep – 3 attempts, really; and satisfyingly 5-6 from the line].   With the game still close in the first half, Duke went to him on the low block 4 straight times for 4 straight scores and an end to the competiveness of the game.  Coach K has emphasized that neither is a traditional big – they are complete basketball players who happen to be big.  One of the splendid aspects of them playing together is the skill each has to pass.  They like to pass and are making a formidable inside presence.

The PK tournament and Big 10 Challenge

Duke will fly to Portland tomorrow for 3 games in 4 days.  Duke’s second game will be against an undefeated team that has received votes in the ranking whether Texas or Butler wins.  Florida (#7 in both polls) is the highest rated team on the other side of the Motion Bracket.  They play Stanford first. Gonzaga (#17 in both polls) plays Ohio State.

If Duke reaches the championship game on Sunday (11-26) evening at 7:30, they will travel back to Durham on Monday before flying to Bloomington on Tuesday for Wednesday (11-29) night’s game against Indiana.  Whew!

Duke 99 – Portland State 81

Duke 85 – Texas 78

You could sense this kind of result developing for weeks. Another slow start, porous defense, poor free throw and three point shooting. But for the first time, add a big, talented Texas front line that neutralizes this team’s primary strength and, “Durham, we have a problem”.

After each Elon, Utah Valley etc. game Coach K starts his presser by saying what a good, well coached (but unranked) team Duke just beat without commenting on the Blue Devils weaknesses. Because I was at dinner with our son’s family in Washington and only occasionally stole a look at my smartphone, I was spared the actual disappointment of watching Texas taking and expanding their lead. Down fourteen midway through the second half, I finally I turned it off so that I could enjoy the fine Italian Cuisine.

What!!  Duke won? No way! Fortunately, I taped it or I wouldn’t have believed it. Grayson came alive playing the point before fouling out to lead a rally that got the Blue Devils even. (May I quote from our last blog: “Goldwire seems in over his head and I would not be surprised if Allen, who had six nice assists tonight, plays the point when Duval is rested and O’Connell plays the shooting guard.”) The freshmen took it from there. First, with the score tied and ten seconds remaining, Bagley, who had only hit two shots from La-La Land in his brief Duke career, decided it is a good idea to launch a three which missed and O’Connell then Carter miss tips as time expired in regulation. Think it would have been a better idea for Trent to take the three and MBIII try the tip? However, that was about the only mistake the big guy made as he went for 34 & 15. After huddling with the coaches, Bagley and Carter predictably set up in the low post and flushed dunks on pinpoint passes from Tre Duval against Texas’ backup front line (Bamba and Sims  had fouled out) to win in overtime.

You really have to hand it to these freshmen, so far they have mastered the art of living dangerously. And if they have the tenacity and talent to rally against good teams like Texas while missing 14 free throws, and going 3-18 from three point land, I sure like their chances if they ever master the boring art of shooting free throws.

Other Comments:

  • How impressive was this win? It was the sixth best comeback in Duke basketball history. And it was another lesson that for a Coach K team “It’s never over until it’s over”.
  • Bagley’s 34 points on Friday tied J.J. Redick’s single-game scoring record by a freshman.
  • At this point, North Carolina is a better “team” than Duke.
  • Jay Bilas was one of the announcers. He is the best at college basketball.

Alan Adds:

Overall impressions:

Duke will play Florida (#7 in both polls) on Sunday night at 10:30 for the championship of the Motion Bracket of the PK 80 tournament.  Florida prevailed 117-111 over Gonzaga (#17) in a double overtime thriller that ended early in the EST Saturday morning.  Duke’s defense will be tested.

Duke 85 Texas 78

The first and most important takeaway from the initial two games of the PK 80 tournament is that Duke’s defense is in shambles and whether or not it can be improved is the key issue for the early (or late) season.  The second takeaway is this team has heart, resolve and an unstoppable force in Marvin Bagley III.  In spite of Texas’s unimpeded stampeded to the rim for easy layups, Duke came back from 16 down with 7:29 to go in the game and forced an overtime (in a game that should have been won in regulation).  The third takeaway is the dramatic increase in Alex O’Connell’s playing time.  He entered the Texas game with 10:05 left to play and Duke down 16 (14 really since Bagley made 2 free throws during the substitution).  He played the remainder of the game and all 5 minutes of the overtime and was a major contributor.  For the last 2 minutes of regulation for all of the overtime, Duke played 5 freshmen (except for Javin’s about 5 second cameo).

Duke 99 Portland State 81

A friend of mine minted the perfect description: “The Portland State game was ugly.  Like a 300-pound bully finally beating up an exhausted depleted kid.”  When Bill called at half time, here’s what I told him: “Portland State played such beautiful offensive basketball – it did not matter whether Duke showed man to man or zone, the Vikings penetrated at will for easy layups, passed the ball on the interior through the Duke bigs for dunks or kicked out to allow for success on a high percentage of open looks from 3, and did not commit a single turnover against Duke’s pressure – and Duke was hanging in the game only because of the tremendous size advantage of their bigs down low.  That made a strong pull to root for Portland State!”   Duke gave up 49 first half points (probably making Coach K pull out tapes of the infamous Vermont game from seasons ago).  The Vikings played a first half that you could not help but admire, even though they could not stop Bagley, Bolden and Carter on the inside, and so gave up 45 points to the Blue Devils.  Duke led by only 3 with 10 minutes to go, and then blew the Vikings out as the Portland State front line began to foul out and wilt against Duke’s superior size.  Not a very impressive win.

More In Depth Thoughts

Texas

There were three phases to the Texas game: the first 33 minutes that were excruciating for Duke fans to watch as Texas completely outplayed Duke; the last 7 minutes of regulation where Duke – led by Grayson Allen – made a furious comeback; and the last 2 minutes of regulation (I know, overlap) and the overtime where 5 freshmen stormed to victory.

The first 33 minutes

Duke has been a defensive disaster so far, this season, and Texas exploited that completely.  Duke’s transition defense stunk.  Texas guards blew through the man to man for easy layups.  [Rotation seemed like a dirty word].  When Duke went to the zone, Texas carved it up like a Thanksgiving Turkey.  If Texas had made open 3s (4-23 for the game), it would have been a blowout.  Duke did not shoot well (1-6 from 3 in the opening stanza) (8-15 from the foul line in the first half.  Carter and Bagley were 2-7).  Duke was beaten on the boards; played on their heels defensively; and, looked ragged on offense.  Best news – Alex O’Connell played 29 minutes and Bolden 12 (remember this was an overtime game so there are 225 minutes to distribute).  Neither packed the box score, but both were valuable, especially O’Connell who grabbed 6 rebounds.  It looked as if Duke were a thoroughly beaten team.  Then came the turnaround.

The last 7 minutes of regulation

Down 14 with 7:47 left, Grayson Allen ignited Duke.  Saddled with 3 first half fouls (all good calls), Allen played only 7 scoreless minutes in the first half.  His spirit and fight reminded me of his freshman performance against Wisconsin the championship game.  He shot and passed Duke back into contention.  [Texas’s uninspired shot selection also helped.]  Carter went 1-2 from the line to reduce the margin to 13.  Alex grabbed a superb rebound of Carter’s missed second free throw and hit Trent with a pass, who gained an assist when Grayson took the pass and hit a 3.  Duke down 10.  Bagley got an offensive rebound and scored on a layup.  Grayson made an ensuing steal, and fed Bagley for a dunk.  Duke down 6. Texas and Carter traded baskets (great assist from Marvin).  Texas stretched it to 7 before Grayson again made a great feed to Carter for a dunk.  Duke down 5.  After Texas again went 1-2 from the line, Allen again fed Carter for a dunk.  Duke down 4.  Carter stole the ball and eventually received another Allen assist for his dunk.  Duke down 2.  Bagley got a rebound and penetrated for the tying basket.  Grayson snagged the defense board, charged down court, and fouled out on an offensive foul with 1:57 left to play.  Duval, who had the worst game of his Duke career replaced him for the last 7 minutes of the game.  With 1:43 to go, Duke gave up another open layup on a drive.  Duke down 2.  Trent missed a 3, but Duval got fouled.  He missed both with a chance to tie.  Bamba blocked Bagley’s attempted layup to tie the game, but Duke got the offensive rebound and called time out with 35 seconds to play down 2.  On a set play, Gary Trent Jr. drove the lane, scored on a difficult finish, got fouled (by Bamba, who fouled out on the play; a huge play for Duke) and knocked down the free throw.  Duke’s first lead since the opening minute of the game.  Duke up 1.  Duval fouled Coleman, who made 1-2.  Texas horrible foul shooting opened the door for the Duke comeback.  Bagley missed a 3 (strange last shot) and neither O’Connell nor Carter could convert offensive rebound attempts.

The Overtime

Duval had his first good minutes of the game.  Texas was forced to play small and went zone to try and protect.  After Bagley made 1-2 from the line, Duval hit two straight perfect passes over the zone to Bagley for dunks.  Duke up by 5; Texas came out of the zone and fought back.  Roach penetrated for a layup.  Duval committed a foul.  Jones penetrated for another open layup.  Duke up 1 with 1:31 left.  Bagley hit a layup on an assist from Trent.  Carter fouled Coleman who again missed 1-2.  Duke up 2 with 43 seconds left, when Carter made the play of the game.  He fought for offensive rebound; missed; got his own miss back and dunked emphatically.  Then Carter blocked Texas at the other end.  Game over.  Duke up 4 with 15 seconds left.  Bagley was 1-2 and Trent 2-2 from the line when Texas had to foul.  Bottom line: it was all Bagley.  He had 12 of Duke’s 16 overtime points (Carter’s dunk and Trent’s 2 foul shots were the only other Duke points in the overtime).  Carter also gets kudos.  It was a feel-good, heart-stopping win.

The Box Score

Bagley was sensational, logging 38 minutes, scoring 34 [12-19; 1-2 from deep; 9-13 from the line] to go with 15 boards, 2 assists and a steal.  Wow!  Trent scored 17 in his 37 minutes [5-14; 0-6 (wow!); but 7-7 from the line] to grabbed 8 (yes 8) rebounds and handed out 3 assists without a turnover.  A terrific under the radar game.  Carter was Duke’s third stud, playing 39 minutes, with 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals and 2 assists.  He scored 14 (none more important than his last deuce) [6-9 from the field, but a disappointing 2-6 from the line].  Allen played only 25 minutes because of foul trouble.  His 18 second half minutes were scintillating with 5 assists and 3 rebounds.  Tre had a terrible game for 38 minutes.  He was 2-9 from the field; 0-3 from deep; 0-4 from the line for 4 points.  He had 6 turnovers and as many assists.  He did log 3 steals.  Two of his assists in the overtime were crucial.  Javin had a statistical impact in only 5 minutes [ 2-2 from the line; 2 boards and a block]; Goldwire played only 2 minutes with a steal.

Portland State

Coach K’s insight: “We assume we are playing Sunday night in the championship game; for Portland State their game was today.  In the second half, the game became our game today.”  I did not see it that way.  I thought Duke was still terrible in the second half until Portland State just wore out as their (sort of – 6’8” and shorter) bigs fouled out.

Coach K said the 3 bulwarks of the team are Grayson, Marvin and Tre.  The support is Wendell, Gary, Javin and Marquez. I think you can add Alex O’Connell to support. Duke went to the zone because the man to man was embarrassingly porous.  Coach K thought the zone slowed the game down (which it did), but I thought Portland was extremely efficient against the zone too.  Coach K pointed out that man to man defense takes a long time to become efficient, and said Duke has played good man defense “at times, but not today.”  Carter played a great second half.  Both Alex and Bolden played well off the bench.  Alex had 9 points in 13 minutes while Marquez had 8 points and 10 boards in 18 minutes.  Javin played 8 minutes.  The starters were led by Tre Duval (his best game) with 22 points in 37 minutes [7-14; 1-2; 7-9 from the line].  His 5 turnovers are a concern.  In 34 minutes, Marvin had another double/double with 15 rebounds and 18 points [6-12; 0-2 from deep; and a disturbing 6-12 from the line].  Carter played only 21 minutes – inexplicably, only 7 in an ineffective first half – scoring 16 [7-8; 2-2 from the line] to go with 10 boards, 2 assists and 2 blocks without a turnover.  He played an effective second half. Grayson scored 14 in 34 minutes but is not shooting well [2-7; 1-6 from 3land is the bad number; 9-11 from the line is the good number].  Trent played 30 minutes.  He is a reliable foul shooter.  He scored 11 on 2-8; 1-5 from behind the arc; but 6-6 from the line.

Florida

Should be another test of our young defense, and another step in this team’s necessary growth.  Worth watching. In spite of (in my opinion, unjustified) #1 ranking, this is a team full of potential as well as youth-driven holes.  It has been so far, and promises to continue to be, a fun team to watch.

Duke 87  –  Florida 84

Nike’s trademark is “Just do it.” Well, this young and talented Duke team “Just did it”. Over three consecutive, improbable games, they grew up before our eyes and won the Phil Knight (turns) 80 Tournament. Talent is one thing. Mental toughness and resiliency are another. This Duke team now has both. And ,oh yes, while the defense is still a work in progress, the art of free throw shooting was suddenly off the chart (19-20).

Two days after coming from 16 points down in the second half to beat Texas, the Blue Devils did themselves one better, erasing a 17 point second half deficit to nip # 7 Florida 87-84. After being outplayed and behind for most of the game and trailing the very impressive Gators by ten with  just over four minutes to play, Marvin and the Miracles closed the game on an 15-2 run. After Marvin (with occasional help from the Miracles), carried the team to within shouting distance of the Gators, the overlooked Gary Trent stepped up to make the winning plays with a steal and four free throws as Wendell Carter added a dunk for emphasis. Then, in the final seconds the Devils play inspired defense to deny the Gators a final, potential tying shot.

Florida, who is very well coached by Duke Athletic Director Kevin White’s son Mike, is a terrific three point shooting team and as Jay Bilas commented: “fun to watch”. They have averaged over 100 points a game this season. After the Gators scored 54 points in the first half, Duke actually held them to only 31 second half points, hit two more threes, and went 19-20 (Bagley was 9-10) from the free throw line. Bagley was sensational going for 30 & 15, while Carter, who only played 21 minutes because of foul trouble, just had 6 & 7. However, DeLaurier (6 & 5 with two steals)  and Bolden (2 & 3 with 2 assists) filled in admirably. Alex O’ Connell hit a three but something changes whenever he and/or DeLaurier are in the game–somehow their energy and style disrupts an opponent’s rhythm and concentration. This team has developed a solid eight man rotation and is so lethal, with so many weapons that they can play poorly for extended periods, then explode. Some shots are more important than others and Grayson Allen, who since the Michigan State game has not been shooting particularly well, seems to have the capacity make those important shots or passes for that shot.

It will take some time to process what we have watched and fully appreciate how this team is evolving. Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess, but you have to like the trajectory.

Other Comments:

I sure jinxed North Carolina by calling them a better “team” than Duke. They were smoked by Michigan State, only scoring 45 points. Explanation: I only meant that they were playing better as a team, not that they were more talented or actually better.

Bill Walton, who called the Michigan State-North Carolina game, was a great college basketball player but as an announcer is insufferable. He talks over the action with trivia and occasional facts often unrelated to the play. Hint: Bill buddy, this is television not radio.

Alan Adds:

What can you say about these Cardiac Kids (or as Bill created, “Marvin and The Miracles)?  The comeback against Florida is worth an in-depth analysis because it just might be that Duke realized its full potential in the second half (for at least 10 minutes and 15 seconds).

Duke’s first 30 minutes

How do you explain a first half where Duke could not and did not defend at all?  Florida rolled to a 53 point first half [18-36 from the field; 7-13 from behind the arc; and 10-11 from the line].  The Duke defense has not been defending well against mediocre and pretty good teams.  Florida is better than anyone Duke has played so far, including Michigan State.  For that half, Florida seemed faster, quicker and smarter, going through the Duke defense like a hot knife through butter.  Duke played well offensively (Bagley had 18 points to go with 8 boards; Duval and Grayson each scored 11 to account for 40 of Duke’s 49 points (Duval 2; Carter 0; O’Connell 3; Bolden and Javin 2 each had the remaining 9 points).  Duke’s bench was efficient in the first half – Bolden played 12 minutes, Javin 8, and O’Connell 5.  Each played well.  O’Connell hit an important 3; Bolden was 1-2 (neat lefty hook) with 3 boards and 2 assists.  He did not play in the second half (hmmm).  Javin had 4 boards, scored a basket on 3 shots, including a 3-point attempt that looked like a defective Cape Canaveral launch.

The Rotation in the Second Half

I agree with Bill that Duke’s rotation of 8 in this game will be the Duke rotation for the conference season.  However, in the second half, it was all on the starters.  Javin logged only 4 second half minutes (2-2 from the field with a rebound), limited by his 4 fouls (2 in the first half).  Alex also played 4 minutes without any statistics in the box score.  That was it for the bench.  The starters played 92 of the 100 second half minutes.  Grayson (40 minutes for the game) and Marvin (39 for the game) played all 20 minutes of the second half, while Duval (35 for the game) played 19 of the 20 second half minutes.  Coach K had said that these 3 are the foundation of the team.  Each played well (especially in clutch situations), but Trent (35 for the game; 17 in the second half) and Carter (16 second half minutes after having been limited to 5 first half minutes while picking up 3 fouls) were each heroic in Duke’s comeback.  Allen scored only a single three in the second half, but what a three it was.  On a great pass from Tre, Grayson gave a shot fake, stepped to the side and swished the 3 to bring Duke within 3 with 3:07 left.  Trent scored only 4 (4-4 on the most clutch foul shots at the end), but was a star defender, rebounder and ball handler.  Carter failed to score in the first half, came alive in the Duke comeback.  He had three big boards down the stretch and scored 6 in a row (his total output) in 2 minutes to keep Duke close.  Bagley was sensational, scoring 12 in the second half [4-7;and 4-4 from the line] to go with 7 boards and a key block.  Coach K said he is the kind of player that K has coached on the Olympic team.  Duval had a super game against Portland State and has been a standout in the early season.  However, he had his first bad game against Texas and his slump continued in the first half of this game.  He shot 1-5 including 0-3 from deep in the first half, but turned it around in the second half, especially on the defensive end.  He was 2-5 from the field, making his only 3-point attempt, and critically going 4-4 in clutch free throw situations for 11 points; 9 in the second half.  Remember, Tre missed all 4 of his crucial free throws in overtime against Texas.  He made the key steal of the game with 1:43 left and Duke trailing by a point, stripping Florida’s superb point guard, Chiozza and fed Trent who was fouled as he penetrated.

Duke’s Second Half Defense

Duke held Florida to 31 second half points, a dramatic turnaround from the first half.  Duke defended more intensely and held Florida to 35% shooting (including 1-7 from behind the arc).  Duke tightened up, but it should be noted Florida started to miss the same open shots that went down in the first half.  The Law of Averages is real!  When the Duke juices started to flow, the defense became what we hope it will be consistently as the season rolls on.  For the last 11:15, Duke gave up only 12 points.  With 10:15 to play, Duke was down 17.  I attribute the transformation to emotion.  Duke finally saw defeat staring them in the face and began to play defense with ferocious intensity.  Defense is, of course, about intensity and desire.

Duke’s Astounding Comeback – The fun part of the game

While Duke began to cut into the 17 point lead, the Devils still trailed by 10 with only 4:35 left to play as Hudson once more penetrated for a Gator layup.  Duval rebounded a Grayson 3-point attempt and made a circus layup.  Hudson missed a jumper; Carter grabbed the board; Bagley was fouled on his way to the hoop and made both shots.  Duke down 6 with 3:43 left to play.  Carter, coming alive finally, got a key block that led to an outlet to Duval, who made a great pass to Grayson for his only second half three. Duke within 3 with 3:07 left.  Florida’s Allen and Bagley traded baskets (Trent on the assist to Bagley); Duke still down 3 with 2:25 to go.  Trent rebounded a Florida miss.  Bagley scored on a great feed from Carter.  Duke down 1 with 1:43 to go.  Then came the defensive play of the game when Duval stripped Chiozza and fed Gary.  Duke’s first lead at 85-84, when Trent made them both at 1:12.  Trent fouled Hudson with 54 seconds left for Duke’s 9th team foul.  It was crucial that Florida was not yet in the double bonus when Hudson (the Gator’s star with 24 points) bricked the free throw (how crucial was that!) and Bagley rebounded.  However, Duke, with a chance to put the game away, responded with a terrible offensive possession, committing a 24 second violation with 25 seconds to go (how terrible was that!).  Florida with a chance to tie or win with 24 seconds left.  Then, Gary Trent, Jr. forced a turnover from Hudson and was fouled.  With 9 seconds left, he swished both clutch free throws.  Duke’s defense was superb for those 9 seconds and Florida did not get off a tying attempt.

ACC- Big 10 Challenge – Indiana on Wednesday, November 29

Duke’s 9th game in 20 days is in Bloomington on Wednesday.  It is the last game in November.  December features cupcakes and the beginning of Conference Play.  No Duke fan could be disappointed so far.

Duke 91  – Indiana  81

Marvin and the Miracles brought their sold out coast to coast cardiac arrest show to Indiana’s rocking Assembly Hall, one of the most challenging venues in college basketball. Coach K schooled the young team by forcing them to play man-to-man defense for the entire closely contested second half, challenging them to again finally play good man defense in the closing minutes and pull out another win. Until that point, Indiana was shooting about 70% from the floor and the Blue Devil nation could be heard pleading for a zone as employed late in the first half when it helped Duke take a four point lead. Fortunately, when you can call on the firm of Allen & Bagley at the end of close games to play a two man isolation game and have Trent (96%) and Allen (90%) shoot free throws, you have a distinct advantage.

In all seriousness, for about thirty-five minutes a game, this is not yet a good defensive team and with the three point line, you best not let any opponent hang around because anything can happen at the end of a close contest. You just cannot expect to outscore every team every night. On the other hand, Coach K is all about winning championships and championships are usually won by the team that plays the best defense and has the best guard play.

Speaking of guards, every time Grayson Allen made a mistake or went to the free throw line, the student section gave him the JJ Redick treatment. They booed and heckled him, sometimes yelling expletives. And when he made a tough basket, they groaned. But Grayson had the best answer to his critics.  As has been the case this year in close games, Allen has produced the most significant play at the most critical time. Tonight, he caught the ball at the wing, pump faked, got his defender to jump in the air, then stepped behind the 3-point line to hit the shot. It put Duke up by four points.

Coach K’s assessment: “We are exhausted. They have such a will to win. This is our ninth game in 20 days. Ten of those days we’ve been on the road and five road games and they’re dead right now. They certainly played those five minutes at the end with an incredible will to win.” He also complimented on the job former Wolfpack Archie Miller is doing in his first year at Indiana and how much the Hoosiers have improved since their first game loss to Indiana State.

Miscellaneous Comments:

The last two  top-ranked teams to play in Assembly Hall lost.

Duke (9-0) has dominated in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. It now holds a 17-2 record in the Challenge’s 19 years.

Duke held Indiana without a field goal for the last five minutes and their big man Davis, De’Ron  was 4-9 from the free throw line. And speaking of one of my favorite subjects, Bagley has dramatically improves his charity shooting. Carter has been good from day one. A very positive development.

It is obvious that Coach is committed to Marques Bolden as he is often the first substitution. And he is responding by playing with more energy and overall commitment. At a critical point, he knocked the ball away a mid-court and beat a smaller man to the floor for the ball. That will earn him more playing time.

Gary Trent makes all kinds of plays. He came in as a shooter but even when he has not has a good statistical shooting game, he has been able to make important shots at as well as finding other ways to contribute to a winning effort—and he has only missed one free throw all season.

Carolina rebounded nicely from the Michigan State drubbing and played well in defeating Michigan. Make no mistake, they will be a tough out in ACC play.

Alan Adds: 

Duke’s Defense

I felt as if Coach K was talking directly to me at his press conference.  During the early stages of the game, I was fulminating at the porousness of Duke’s man to man defense.  In the second half, Duke opened with a man to man defense allowing Indiana scored on 10 of the first 12 possessions.  Coach K explained how fatigue subtly undermines defense.  The premise is self-evident, but the detail is illuminating.  “We got back at nine in the morning on Monday and flew out Tuesday after classes.  This team is running on fumes.  When they are tired, they don’t talk.  They do not talk!  They talk to themselves and that’s how we played most of the game.   We wanted to win, but we were in ‘this is what I have to do’ instead of ‘this is what we have to do’.  When you talk, you command yourself to more decisive movement.  You might switch but if you don’t talk, it’s soft.  But If you yell, your body responds.  That’s one of the things we have to teach is to be able to talk and command when we are tired.”  Coach K pointed out that in all of the games, the defense in last 10 minutes is better, and explained.  His four freshmen are just learning how to manage a game.  The need to learn to play in 4 minute stretches.  The defense at the end is better because they know “this is the last four minutes. We’ve been the better team in the last four minutes.  It’s a good four minutes to be the better team.”

Coach K recognizes the defense has a long way to go.  “We need time to fix things.  With a young group, our habits not well defined yet.  Only way to develop a habit is to practice. We need to get more definition on how to run our offense and our defense.  We are a work in progress, but a good work in progress.  We are learning habits.  The main habit we learned in this stretch is how to win.  Not a bad habit to develop.”

Ok, Coach, I’m mollified… until the conference starts.

The Rotation

The starting lineup is playing big minutes, even though the bench seems talented and efficient when in the game.  Coach K said he needs to develop a starting unit.  “The primary people to develop are the people who will be playing big minutes in close games. If you don’t get those people ready to play big minutes in big games, you won’t win.  It is intense training for starters.  I’m trying to develop my unit, and then we’ll bring in Marques, Javin and Alex.  But I want my starters to know how it feels to play 30 minutes and win.  I think that’s what you need if you are going to win big.”  Coach K’s “3 stalwarts” – Duval (38), Bagley (38), and Allen (40) played 116 of a possible 120 minutes.  The bench produced five points.  DeLaurier  had a basket for a deuce in 10 minutes; only four in the second half. O’Connell  scored 2 points in 7 minutes; only 2 in the second half.  Marques (1-2 from the line for his only point) played 9; 5 in the second half, but made what Coach K called “the play of the game” when he dove on the floor to secure a loose ball that seemed to belong to Indiana.  With 7 minutes to go in the game, it sparked Duke.  “Ironically, we said at half time, if we dive on the ball we’ll win.  I’ wouldn’t have bet on Marquez to be the guy, but he did.”  He likened it to Grayson’s dramatic loose ball grab in the 2015 National championship game.  “It sparked the whole team.  Marquez also contributed 2 steals and a block.  I am watching his defense improve dramatically.  I am slowly climbing on the Bolden bandwagon.

Carter is, as advertised, a beast.  He eventually fouled out, but recorded a double/double (18 points and 12 boards) in only 24 minutes.  Trent is in a shooting slump (0-6 from deep; 1-8 before he scored a crucial basket on a great feed from Marvin at the end).  He is Duke’s best foul shooter so far (5-5 last night; over 20 straight on the season).  He received praise from his coach, who pointed out that freshmen who hit a shooting slump, do not keep playing at a high level.  “That’s not Gary.”  He’s made key steals and been at his best when the game has been on the line.

Grayson was back to being Grayson last night.  He scored 21 on 12 shots, including 5-5 from the line.  His step back 3; a fade away 2 and assists to Bagley were critical in the win.  Marvin led Duke in scoring with 23 [10-15; 0-2 from deep; and 3-4 from the line] to go with 10 boards.  Duval chipped in with 15 and had 6 assists without a turnover.  Only Trent (9 points) of the starters was not in double figures.

Winning Time

The score was tied at 75 with 4:45 to go.  With 2 minutes left, Duke led by 9 and the game had been won.  It started with Indiana’s big man, Davis, missing a pair of free throws after being fouled by Carter.  Grayson got the rebound, to Tre, who found Carter for a dunk and a 3 point play the old-fashioned way.  78-75.  After Davis made 2 foul shots, Grayson hit his step back 3 that was a dagger.  81-77.  Davis missed 2 more.  Grayson fed Marvin for a basket at 3:16 and a 6-point lead.  Trent then made his critical basket and foul shot on a great feed from Marvin for a commanding 9 point lead with only 2:24 left.  Grayson then sealed the deal with his step back 2 for an 11-point lead with only 1:33 remaining.  Game over.

Assessment at end of November

This team has shown heart and poise in winning 9 games in 20 days, including taking down #2 (then) Michigan State, (#7 Florida) and establishing a winning habit as the games wind down.  Usually freshmen need to learn to win.  This team will improve its play, but the heart and will to win are good signs.

Duke 96 –  South Dakota 80

Coach K has often declared that Grayson Allen is not a good shooter, he is a great shooter. To prove the point, Grayson had one of those games today like the ones recently against Michigan State and last year against UNLV. For the first ten minutes or so he outscored the entire South Dakota team on a variety of shots as the Crazies chanted “Grayson’s winning”, ending up with 25 points in 26 minutes. What is often overlooked, Allen is also a very good defender. Today, he held Matt Mooney, the Coyote’s leading scorer and coming of a 30 point game, to three points.

The Blue Devil defense was  pretty good in the 56-30 first half. However, it was sloppy the 40-50 second half. Coach took part of the blame by saying that he didn’t help his team as much as he could have the second half because he played his bench 46 of those available 100 player-minutes and that the biggest thing he has to develop is his starting five and he spends most of his time developing these five. They’re the guys who will play together and need to develop chemistry. But today, he wanted to get minutes for the bench. So, a lot of the sloppy second half was him making a lot of changes.

Javin DeLaurier and Alex O’Connell are two young reserves who are really fun to watch. Both bring an uncommon combination of energy, enthusiasm, and athleticism to the floor. Alex is a natural shooter and Javin, an exceptional 6’10” athlete, has developed a much better touch as you can see in his free throw mechanics—and they will both be back next year.

A double/double is usually noteworthy unless your name is Marvin Bagley, in which case it is what you average. Wendell Carter usually does the same but he keeps getting called for silly touch fouls and that  recently has limited his playing time. After rarely turning the ball over, the last few games Tre Duval has been uncharacteristically sloppy in his ball handling. Gary Trent is struggling to find his jump shot—he even missed a free throw today—but it has not affected other phases of his game. Bolden and Goldwire remain an uneven work in process.

After ten games, two-cross-country flights, and two big second-half comebacks in 22 days, the Duke Blue Devils are 10-0 and ranked #1 .

Other comments:

  • Coach K: “I think what we’ve learned is we have two of the exceptional players in America in Marvin and Grayson, We’ve won and we’ve played, at times, great but at other times, young. Hopefully we play great more than the other, and we have, but we’ve gained a lot of experience. It’s been really good; can it be better? Yeah. Can it be worse? Hell yes, it can be a lot worse. It could be a hell of a lot worse than it can be better.”
  • Tre Duval: “It’s tough, definitely tough. Doing work, doing homework on the road, on the bus and the plane. “Study hall after big games, big wins, but it’s all part of it and it’s something I can deal with.”
  • Corey Alexander, the outstanding UVA guard in the early 1990’s, was a knowledgeable

Alan Adds:

Duke’s 10th game in 22 days was a tale of two halves.  In the first 14:11 of the game, the Blue Devils played an almost perfect game in building a 26-point lead (46-20).  Grayson and Bagley III were jaw droppingly dominant.  Grayson returned to his Michigan State form, scoring 25 — 19 in Duke’s 56 point first half outburst [8-11; 4-5 from 3land 5-6 from the line] to go with 4 boards and 2 steals in just 26 minutes. He took only 2 shots in the second half (hitting a 3 and going 3-4 from the line).  And, as both Bill and Coach K noted, Grayson was the primary defender against SD’s best scorer, who was kept completely ineffective.  Bagley, in 28 minutes (only 11 in the second half) scored 19 on an efficient 11 shots (8-11; 1-2 from 3land; and 2-4 from the line) and grabbed 12 boards to go with 2 steals and 3 blocks.  This kind of performance was what led Coach K to emphasize, “We have 2 of the exceptional players in America.  The third member of the trio that Coach K has identified as the heart of his team, Tre Duval, had a scintillating first half (6 assists; a single turnover), but was a bit sloppy in the second half (2 assists and 3 turnovers).  He played 16 minutes in each half, scoring 14 (5-8; 1-2 from behind the arc; 3-4 from the line.  He continued his defensive ball hawking with 2 steals.  Coach K summing up, “We’re 10-0 with this schedule.”

Carter played only 16 minutes, picking up 2 first half fouls. He had 6 (3-8) and 4 defensive rebounds.  Coach K conceded that Trent did not have a good game.  He hasn’t been shooting well, and that continued against SD (3-10; 1-3; and shockingly missed his only foul shot) in his 24 minutes.  Coach K thinks his shooting slump finally got to him in a way it has not in big games.

Coach K started to develop his bench in the second half.  Bolden and O’Connell logged 17 game time minutes, while Javin played 15 and Goldwire 14.  Javin’s game is worth talking about because he scored 13 points (5-6 from the field and 3-4 from the line) to go with 9 rebounds and 2 assists in those foul plagued 15 minutes.  His time on the court ended with his 5th foul.  Alex gives a good feeling and energy even when he does not light up the box score (4 points, but 3 turnovers).  O’Connell has surprising hops and grabbed 3 rebounds.  Marques is an enigma.  He shows such promise and then seems to have brain cramps.  He was 2-4 with 3 rebounds, but his 6 turnovers – traveling and being stripped by the double team – tarnished his play.  He is improving, and has the potential to really add firepower to this team.  However, he needs a better basketball IQ to go with his high energy.

It is worth noting that for the last 25 minutes and 49 seconds of the game, South Dakota outscored Duke 60-50.  Each team scored 10 in the last 5:49 of the first half; SD outscored Duke 50-40 in the second half when Coach K was giving his bench players desperately needed minutes.

The positive that I took from those scintillating first 14 minutes was the high level of Duke’s man to man defense.  Duke switched everything, but this time there were no easy lanes to the basket.  SD made some long shots, but Duke – at least against this level of competition – dramatically improved its man to man team defense.  The bigs protected the rim as they have not previously.  It was team defense, even on SD’s leading scorer.  With a 26 point lead, it is human nature that the intensity of the defense faded — giving up 50 second half points to a team like South Dakota is not scintillating defense.

There are two more games before exam breaks:  St Francis (Pa.) on Tuesday night at 9 followed by the conference opener at BC next Saturday (Dec. 9) at noon.

DUKE 124 – ST. FRANCIS 67

If this had been a prize fight, it would have been stopped before the  71-34 half and declared a TKO. Anyway, there is no way I can top Alan’s take on the game so I will only add a few comments:  a school-record 34 assists… Gary Trent Jr.(anyone who can hit 90% from the free throw line can shoot the basketball) hit 4 of 6 threes. … Allen,  who had been nursing a now “100 percent” wrist injury, hit all his seven shots…When Allen and Trent are both hitting threes, this is a much more lethal offensive team…Javin DeLaurier looks more and more that if he is patient, he will be a breakout college star…Marvelous Marv had a “what else is new” double/double…Actually what else is new is that Nike is naming a building on their Beaverton, Oregon campus after Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Alan adds:

I do not want to underestimate the quality of the Blue Devil performance because the opposition simply was not big enough or talented enough to truly compete.  I told Bill that it reminded me of the Globetrotters when they were a great basketball team – Goose, Marquis et. al – playing the Washington Generals.  It was that big a mismatch, except that St. Francis was picked to win their league.  It was an amazing performance by Duke, even if the opposition had been The Little Sisters of the Poor.  The big 3 (Coach K’s designation; not mine) – Bagley, Allen and Duval – were superb.  Duval had 9 assists and 0 turnovers.  He is special.  His turnovers are sometimes breathtaking attempts.

Coach K used the second half to give his bench minutes.  No player played double figure minutes except Bagley (11).  Jordan Tucker was the second-high scorer in the second half.  DeLaurier, O’Connell and Bolden continue to impress.  Bolden put up career numbers (17 points) and many good moments on both ends.  However, the diminutive size of St. Francis makes me want to see a similar quality performance against a quality team before I know he can be counted on in crucial moments.

In short, it was a great tune-up for the Conference competition that begins this Saturday.  As Coach K said, “We are 11-0; now we are 0-0.”  Noon on Saturday,

 Duke 89 – Boston College 84

Well, you sensed this was going to happen, hopefully sooner or later. Marvin and the Miracles came out flat again but this time ran out of miracles in Chestnut Hill. The irony is that it looked as though they had pulled out another miracle by rallying from ten down in the second half to take a four point lead with three minutes to go– and the ball. Winning Time: Hit a shot and Duke goes up by six or seven points. Rather than getting the ball to the right player, the wrong player took (for him) a low percentage three. BC took the rebound, hits a three, and it’s a one a one point game. That’s a five or six point turnaround. What a difference! At some points in a game, some shots are more important than others. This was one of those junctures and this was one of those shots. Close games are determined by players who know how to make winning plays and close out a game. Duke fans are used to having their players make them. However, inexperience, poor defense, and the basketball gods finally determined “enough is enough” as the Eagles outplayed Duke for the last 180 seconds– as well as most of the game. That doesn’t often happen to seasoned Duke teams. As a basketball fan, you have to admire how well the Eagles played in executing their game plan.  They certainly deserved the win.

What this game really demonstrated is that as talented and deep as this team is, it is still young and inexperienced. For every opponent, this is their biggest game and although more talented, the Blue Devils cannot come out flat thinking they can turn it on at will at any time. They have to play hard and smart on every possession. Why create a foul lane violation costing one point with a 90% (Trent) shooter on the line? Why make an intentional flagrant 1 foul in the last minute which gives the opponent two shots and the ball? Duke was in the bonus with 16 minutes to go, in the double bonus with nine to go. Why not pound the ball into the paint where the Blue Devils have a distinct advantage? Duke turned the ball over two times in the game’s final three minutes, while Boston College’s Jerome Robinson hit two clutch 3-pointers.  Why was Duke outscored  and outrebounded in the paint by a team playing four guards and a backup center?

To further put this loss in perspective, Boston College (6-3) played out of their mind at home. Duke (10-0) got only 15 from Bagley, 14 from Allen, and 10 from Carter– and still were in a position to win. For sure, a wake-up call/teachable moment. As always, Next Play!

The numbers tell the story:

Duke      BC

32           31    2’s

  8           15    3’s  

34          35    rebounds

13           18    assists

11            17     turnovers

10            3     steals

Other Comments:

  • How bad was the Blue Devil defense? Boston College entered the game ranked 265th in the nation with a three point conversion rate of less than 32 percent. Today, they shot 58%. 10 of Boston College’s 35 rebounds were offensive rebounds that led to 15 second chance points.
  • Ky Bowman (Havelock, NC), the fearless 6’1” point guard who almost had a triple/triple (30-10-9), turned down a football scholarship at UNC to play basketball at Boston College. So far, the sophomore has gone for 33 against UNC and now 30 against Duke. How can a player this good, growing up in your backyard, not get a basketball scholarship offer in his own state?
  • The good news: Freshman guard Gary Trent Jr., seems to have found his shooting touch. He finished with a season-high 25 points for Duke.
  • The Blue Devils made their late run with Javin DeLaurier on the floor. Unfortunately, he fouled out in the final minutes.
  • It was the 3,000th game for the Duke basketball program. Krzyzewski had been going for his 500th win away from Cameron Indoor Stadium, and his 400th regular-season ACC win. Duke had been 20-2 against BC all-time, and 16-1 in ACC play, with the other loss coming in Boston in 2009. Since then, the Blue Devils have beaten the Eagles 11 times in a row.

Alan Adds: 

Alan is lost somewhere in Margaritaville (aka Key West) and will file his report when he recovers.

Hey, he emerges: “I am sitting sipping coffee and watching the sun sparkle on the water in Key West. After watching the game here with my friend Josh Treem (a Baltimore lawyer and reader of DBP) I told him that I would never watch another game with him.  It must have been his fault (Duke Law; not undergrad).  Of course, I received email right after the game from my BC law partners asking when this DBP edition would be available.  I will recover and send the Alan Adds on the BC game in the near term.”

DUKE 104 – EVANSVILLE 40 

‘Twas a few nights before Christmas, but let’s not get snug in our beds and have visions of a championships dancing in our heads. Let’s remember Duke beat St. Francis 124-67 before losing to Boston College 89-84 and next up is undefeated #11 Florida State, who always plays Duke tough. Lose that game and the Blue Devils are 0-2 in ACC play before the new year begins—a tough conference hole to climb out of this early in the season.

Obviously, the Duke coaches had the players use these eleven days to reflect upon the fact that they cannot count on outscoring every team every game and that making a commitment to team defense is all that is keeping them from living up to their hype and being an every game dominant team. Even with their two injured key starters, the 10-2 Purple Aces (can’t wait to learn whom this name offends) would be overmatched. Without them, the game could have been called a no-contest TKO at the 58-18 half. However, the new normal in college basketball is that better not take any team for granted as #5 Carolina learned tonight as Wofford accomplished what Clemson has never, ever been able to do—beat the Tar Heels in the Dean Dome!

Starting slowly has been a problem for these Blue Devils and tonight was no different. They started with an ineffective half court man-to-man as the Aces match the Devils shot for shot. After three minutes, Coach K apparently decided that he seen this movie too many times, so he substituted Bolden, O’Connell, and Goldwire and called for a full court press. Duke not only got stops, they got blocks and steals, turning both into fast breaks. Game, set, match as Duke went on a breathtaking 69-18 run over the next twenty minutes.

When a pressing defense is going well, scoring becomes easier. Conversely, when it is not played well, scoring becomes easier for the opponent. Tonight, the Blue Devils looked like the Golden State Warriors. Bagley and Carter were 5-9 from beyond the arc, even Robinson was 2-4. That’s as many as the entire team made against Boston College. If Marvin and Wendell can hit around 40% consistently from beyond the arc, this big man very high/low set makes a team that leads the country in scoring all the more offensively lethal. More importantly, if they can defend and share the ball like they did tonight–the Blue Devils blocked nine shots, had 32 assists, and forced 21 turnovers turning them into 39 points — they are competing on an entirely different level.

Team captain Grayson Allen spoke like the veteran that he is by noting: “I’m definitely happy with tonight. Hopefully, we don’t have short-term memory loss and don’t forget it all. But that’s the best game of team defense we’ve had. What we did tonight has to become our habit, something we do all the time, tired or not, making shots or not.” 

Javin DeLaurier did not play because he had a minor hamstring pull so Justin Robinson, David’s son, took his spot in the rotation. Coach K referred to him as JRob, a valuable force multiplyer (attribute or a combination of attributes that dramatically increases the effectiveness of a group, giving a given number of troops or other personnel the ability to accomplish greater things than without it) for the scout team. 

Alan Adds:

In the friendly confines of Cameron, against a depleted team of less athletic and smaller players, Duke played as close to a perfect game – including defensively – as a college team can.  This was a wonderful improvement from the porous defense Duke displayed against Boston College eleven days ago, and would be cause for unmitigated celebration if Duke hadn’t played close to a perfect game against St. Francis (124-67) just 3 days before the woeful performance against BC.  After the St. Francis game, I wrote, “I do not want to underestimate the quality of the Blue Devil performance because the opposition simply was not big enough or talented enough to truly compete.  I told Bill that it reminded me of the Globetrotters when they were a great basketball team – Goose, Marquis et. al – playing the Washington Generals. It was an amazing performance by Duke, even if the opposition had been The Little Sisters of the Poor.”  The point is that while this game was a satisfying in every aspect for Duke fans, the real issue for this team is whether it can play real defense against teams the caliber of Florida State (next game, in Cameron, on December 30).

Jacob Rupert, who owned the Yankees in 1920s, said his favorite type of game was when the Yankees scored 9 runs in the first inning, “and then slowly pulled away.”  Duke’s win over Evansville was like that.  The offense was dazzling (32 assists on 39 field goals; Duval and Goldwire had 15 assists between them and only a single turnover).  Carter scored 27 points in only 18 minutes of action.  Duke shot lights out (62% from the field; 62% from behind the arc; and, 77% from the line (it would have been 10-11 if Tre had not gone 0-2 on the first possession of the game).  However, it is the defense that deserves our scrutiny.

Evansville scored on 3 of its first four possessions and led 7-5 after 2:42 of play.  Coach K yanked Duval, Trent and Carter in favor of Bolden, O’Connell and Goldwire.  The change in the intensity of Duke’s defense was immediate and endured for the next 20 minutes in jaw dropping fashion.  Consider:  for the last 17:18 of the first half until 17:18 remained in the second half – 20 minutes of basketball – Evansville was held to 11 points!  Duke’s full court pressure flummoxed Evansville point guard challenged offense for steals and transition runouts (The Purple Aces were playing with the third string guards because of injuries to their 2 best ones).  Duke had 13 steals and 9 blocks (Bolden 3, led the way; Bagley 2; O’Connell, Carter, Vrankovich and Justin Robinson each had one).  Total domination.

Coach K was pleased that his team “played hard”.  He said the team practiced hard – emphasizing an improved defense – and played the way it has been practicing.  Evansville was leading the nation in 3-point accuracy (53%) coming into the game.  Coach K’s defensive plan was to limit the Evansville 3-point attack.  Evansville was 1-6 in the first half from 3 (late goals made the second half stats look respectable, but Duke was deep into its bench, playing zone, when the Aces hit a few).  The Aces scored only 3 2-point goals in the second half, and shot only 30% from the field for the entire game.

It is worth noting that the bench made some spectacular plays and was playing hard regardless of the score.  With the game well in hand, Goldwire dove into the stands to save a ball heading out of bounds, made a circus pass for recovery that led to Alex’s clean jumper.  Bolden made a superb block, which led to a full court pass to the streaking O’Connell for the dunk.  Bolden had 6 boards, 1 fewer than team leading 7 by Carter, and played excellent defense, making good switches and protecting the rim.  In my view, this was a significant improvement.  Bolden will be an important piece of the puzzle moving forward, I predict.

Justin Robinson got more playing time than usual (and praise from Coach K) because a tight hamstring kept Javin DeLaurier out of action.  Coach K said it wasn’t serious and that Javin will be ready for Florida State.  Let’s hope the entire Duke team is ready.  A second conference loss would be a bad sign, omen and result.

Duke 100 -Florida State 93

I don’t know about anyone else but I may need a new pacemaker, because the one I have is about worn out watching Marvelous Marv and the Miracles living life on the edge. How does a team expect to rally again in the final minutes when all four starting freshmen have four fouls, cannot defend, consistently hit free throws (56%) or threes (27%) ? Apparently, Santa didn’t bring them cliff notes on defense and the break wasn’t long enough for the coaches to help them. Holding an opponent to 49 halftime points is not a recipe for winning games unless you can hold them to only 44 until  the last three minutes of the game, then shut them out—and score 55 yourself. 100 beats 93. That’s the heart stopping “Let’s keep the fans in their seats and the ratings up” approach they used against  Indiana, Portland State, Texas and Florida. Well, three minutes of defense is better than nothing—or was it just a regression to the mean of threes or had the Seminole players arms gone dead jacking up 32 long threes. Whatever the reason, both teams played well enough to win: The game was tied seven times, saw fourteen lead changes, and not a single double-digit lead.

In an interesting role reversal–Duke had a size advantage and Florida State relied on threes:  Bagley & Carter together out rebounded the entire Seminole team 37-35, while the Seminoles made more threes 15-8. That’s a 21 point differential–and factor in Bagley & Carter only making 7-17 free throws. How does a team overcome the disparity in these offensive imbalances?

Well, you start with Marvin Bagley having a marvelous, historic 32 point and 21 rebound game; Wendell Carter adding 14 and 16; Allen going for 22 and 6 assists; Trent chipping in 13; then Duval coming alive and taking over in the last five minutes to be responsible for 13 of Duke’s final 16 points. Alex O’Connell was the only effective bench player. In nine minutes, he made an important three and a creative baseline drive and assist to an open Allen for a three. He clearly is earning more playing time.

One of the lessons from the loss to Boston College was that the offense is most effective attacking the rim or running through Marvin Bagley and not falling in love with quick threes. Any three is a higher percentage shot when created as a by-product of attacking or kicking out an offensive rebound. During winning drive, of  the Blue Devil’s final twelve field goals, all but one were drives, layups, or dunks. Another lesson was how to play with fouls. “You’ve got learn how to do it,” Krzyzewski said: “Over the years, we haven’t been a team that when a kid gets two fouls, we take him out and sit him, like it’s some kind of commandment. They have to learn. You’re not going to win a game without your big players. Tre came in some in the first half with two and played like he had two. I told him ‘you can’t do that.’ I’d rather not have you in the game. Then he got four and I told him you can’t play this last four minutes like you did in the first half. Be smart and be a man.” Duval just did that and took over the game. This is yet another example of Coach K being such an terrific in-the-moment bench coach. He has the capacity in real time to process the action and know how to give his player and team the confidence to make winning plays.

Other Observations:

Question: What does that tell you if you start a game playing zone and take the lead, then go to man-to-man and lose the lead, then (because of foul trouble) go zone in the last minutes and win the game?

  • After the Evansville blowout, Coach K referred to this team so far as being like a beach house—pretty to look at but questionable whether it is strong enough to stand up to a hurricane. Well, these players have proven that they are not only very, very talented but are also mentally very tough. Enjoy each game like you are watching your precocious child grow up, because if they ever learn to play decent defense, they will be champions. If not, enjoy the show!
  • Whatever happens, relish watching Bagley’s performances. He is a once in a lifetime talent. This was the first 30-20 game by a Duke player and just the fourth 30- 15 game under Coach K – Bagley has three of them (34-15 vs. Texas; 30-15 vs. Florida), with Christian Laettner (33-16 vs. Maryland in 1992) the other.
  • “It’s just heart,” Bagley said. “Whenever I see the ball bounce off the rim or a loose ball, I just want to get it for my team, to help my team in any way possible. Just jump up and fight for it and get every ball. That’s how I play the game.” He also has the athletic gift to bounce off the floor like a pogo stick. How many times have we seen him go up for a shot or a rebound, then go right back up for the ball before an opponent can gather himself to jump?
  • Carter recovered from an unnecessary fourth offensive foul, which had announcer and former player Clark Kellogg apoplectic in disbelief, to take a critical charge in the last minutes.

Alan Adds:

I echo Coach K, “ “It’s tough to describe that game. It was an amazing game. We couldn’t stop each other. The will to win was evident every second by both teams. They had magnificent performances, we did. If it would have gone a couple of more minutes, they might have won. It doesn’t get much better than what you saw today.”

It was a valuable learning experience for Duke’s young (for the four freshmen on the court at crunch time, each playing with four fouls, it was only their 14th collegiate game).  Coach K emphasized things one might not think about.  Playing in the first ACC game in Cameron, the crowd was a great 6th man.  “The crowd is going nuts after a Duke run, and time out.  The euphoria of the moment is incredible.  It is hard to get back to “next play” after the time out.  This group got to experience that about 3 times, and was able to continue on and win.”  Coach K called that a huge psychological moment for his group.

Tre Duval

Tre had a very difficult game in the early going.  He picked up two quick fouls, which limited both his playing time and his intensity when he came back into the game.  He played only 9 first half minutes as a result and scored only 5 points.  He was still tentative in the second half, picking up his fourth foul with 12:54 left in the game, a life time.  After the lesson, Coach K imparted (described by Bill, above), Tre returned to the game with 9:54 left.  I believe his play in the remaining time – he played the rest of the game – could be the under-the-radar moment to transform this team.  Coach K said that when Tre was on the bench, Duke’s offense did not execute quick enough, and the shot clock got them a couple of times.   Coach K told Tre to “No plays; just go.”  “And he went!”

With 6:27 left, he fed Carter for a layup; at 5:47 he fed Bagley for a dunk.  With Duke trailing by 4 with 4:53 left, the Seminole defense backed off and dared Tre to hit a trey. He hesitated and drained it to bring Duke within one, and then hit a twisting penetrating layup to give Duke a 1 point lead with 4:21 left.  He missed a layup and another 3-point attempt (the Seminoles again left him open, daring him to shoot) before he hit a jumper to tie the game at 93 with 2:58 left.  Duval hit Carter with a great pass for a dunk with 2:30 left for a 95-93 lead.  Tre then hit another twisting layup with 1:41 left, giving Duke a 97-93 lead.  After Bagley went 1-2 from the line, Tre fed Carter for the emphatic game sealing dunk with 22 seconds left.  You can see why Coach K said, “And he went!”

The defense

The way Duke practiced in order to try and increase its defensive efficiency was that the first group could go on offense only after a stop, steal or turnover (on the playground, it’s called winner’s out).  For the first 6 or seven minutes Duke played superb defense, but couldn’t stop Florida State’s outside shooting even though the shots were contested.  The Seminoles did not penetrate as other teams have done, and did not get into the paint.  Somehow, the Seminole hot shooting in the face of good defense took Duke’s intensity. The Seminoles began to drive and score in the paint.  Duke’s defense dissolved into giving up 49 points in the first half.  Phil Coffer had 22 in the first half [his dad played 11 seasons in the NFL and his mother started under Pat Summit at Tennessee – good pedigree].  Duke’s zone was a shade more effective than the man to man but Florida State scored almost at will throughout the first half.

At winning time, Duke had to play zone in the effort to protect the four freshmen, each playing with four fouls (none fouled out!!!).  Duke did a “decent job”, but as Bill pointed out, the law of averages (and perhaps the intensity of the game and of the moment) caught up with the Seminole outside shooters, who finally missed 3 in a row deep 3s down the stretch.  With 3:30 left, the Seminoles had 93 points.  3:30 later, Florida State still had 93 points.   Perhaps the defense’s best play of the game was Carter drawing the charge with 2:08 left to play.  It was a great play – gutsy too since Carter had four fouls at the time, and Duke led by only 2.  Coffer missed a 3 and Angola missed 2 from deep, as Duke iced this wonderful game.

The rotation

Coach K explained why he kept his starters, playing with 4 fouls, in the game.  “You won’t win without your best players in the game.  They have to learn how to play hard with four fouls.  You cannot simulate this in practice.  The result was very little participation or help from the bench.  In the second half, only Alex O’Connell played much (8 minutes; 3 points (1-2 from deep) and two assists – one to Grayson that was beautiful.  DeLaurier played 2 minutes and Bolden 1.  The bench only scored 3 (on Alex’s shot) for the entire game.  Grayson played 40 minutes; Marvin 39 (a 1 minute break in the first half).  Trent played 37 minutes (19 in the second half), while Carter logged 33 minutes (17 in the second half).

The offense

Duke rebounded like crazy, but shot abysmally.  One of the reasons for Duke’s astounding number of offensive rebounds, is the astounding number of missed shots.  Duke was 2-12 from deep in the first half.  For the game, Grayson was 3-10; Duval was 1-5; Trent 2-9.  Others attempted 3s as well: DeLaurier 0-1; Bagley 1-2 (and the one he made from the corner was a biggie); Goldwire 0-1; Alex 1-2.  Duke had 18 more rebounds and controlled the backboards.  When all is said and done, it was the domination of Bagley and Carter on the boards that was the biggest fact in Duke’s win.  Bagley grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, seven in the second half. Carter had 7 offensive rebounds while FSU had only nine for the game.  However, Carter and Bagley missed 10 free throws between them, which is ugly.  Grayson gives Duke what it needs when the Devils need it.  He scored 22 (5-9 from inside the arc and 3-4 from the line) to go with a game high 6 assists (2 turnovers) and 3 boards.

The Season

This was an excellent win, but think about how devastating a second consecutive ACC loss – this one in Cameron – would have been.  Duke travels to Raleigh next Saturday.  The key to this season will be how Duke does on the road in the ACC.  It sure is being fun.

Duke 85 – N.C. State 96

In the beginning, North Carolina State Coach Everett Case created Tobacco Road Basketball. He brought the passion and players of Indiana hoops to the old Southern Conference (which had been basically a football centric conference) that in 1954 morphed into the Atlantic Coast Conference. In all, he won ten (Southern & ACC) conference titles, initiated the iconic Dixie Classic Tournament, the now common practice of dimming lights to spotlight player introductions, cutting down the nets after a championship, and, at the end, instructed his body to be laid facing US Highway 70 so he could “wave” to later Wolfpack teams as they traveled to play North Carolina, Duke, and Wake Forest. This passion and intensity for winning basketball games produced a competitive response from the neighboring schools: the UNC/Frank McGuire 1957 32-0 NCAA Championship team (of New Yorkers), the ten year Duke/Vic Bubas (a Case protégé) era of the 1960’s national prominence, the seemingly endless North Carolina/Dean Smith dynasty (briefly interrupted by the David Thompson/State years and the Jim State/ Jim Valvano Show & National Championship), and now the record breaking Duke/Coach K era of the 1990’s forward. Other schools—Maryland, Virginia, Georgia Tech– have had a season or so in the sun but more often than not for the last sixty or so years a successful season was determined by just upsetting Duke or North Carolina. However, a visiting team’s degree of difficulty is nothing compared the ferocity of rivalry between State, UNC, and Duke. These alums and fans live next to one another and revel in each win against a bitter rival. Unless you have lived there, you have no idea of the intensity of the feelings. It’s partly a southern thing: Dukies are Damn Yankees, State is an agricultural school of farmers, Chapel Hill people are arrogant, elitist aristocrats who run the state. It goes on and on. And to add insult to injury, N.C. State, whose coach started it all and had won more Conference & National Championships of any ACC school not named Duke or North Carolina, has been the school left behind in the ESPN hype that it’s only a Duke-Carolina rivalry. So, this game tonight was yet another reminder to ignore the records (Duke has won 46 of 56 meetings since 1991) and the betting line, anything can happen between the Tobacco Road rivals.

Marvin was Marvelous but the Miracles weren’t. This game demonstrated again that there are a lot of college players who, if not well guarded, can shoot the basketball, that Duke gets every team’s best shot, that ACC games are as intense as NCAA Tournament games, and that you do not want to face a talented team that has just been blown out and embarrassed in their previous game. While the Blue Devils are nationally ranked #1 in offensive efficiency, they are #75 in defensive efficiency. They have improved their free throw shooting, but  are not a consistently good three point shooting team, and defensive basics like blocking out  and weak side help might as well be a foreign language. As offensively talented as this team is, they cannot expect to win if there are 16 turnovers (Tre Duval 8; Bagley 5), Grayson scores in single digits, Bagley, Carter & Company are out rebounded, and they twice foul three point shooters. All these truisms are painful, fixable, teachable moments but there is a reason all recent NCAA Tournament champions have been manned by seasoned upper classmen, not young lottery picks who haven’t been in a college program long enough to learn how to play team defense.

Let’s be clear: State played smarter, harder, and more maturely than Duke. The Wolfpack Defense was exactly that. It disrupted everyone’s offense except for Bagley. The Pack are obviously talented and more than deserved the won. It is difficult to understand how they were just blown out at Notre Dame by thirty. But perhaps the college basketball season is mirroring the rest of the country: Donald Trump is president, no top team is undefeated, and Clemson is in first place in ACC Basketball. UNC and Duke both have one win and two losses. North Carolina lost to Florida State in Tallahassee and to UVA in Charlottesville for the fifth straight time. If you haven’t noticed, Virginia coach Tony Bennett is one of the best coaches in the country. How he wins with the talent he has is amazing. Maybe parity is coming—even to Tobacco Road. But it is a long season until March Madness and usually healthy talent and good coaching prevails.

Other Comments:

  • Tobacco Road name: Before league expansion, N.C. State, Wake, Duke, and Carolina were within 25 miles of one another and visiting teams often played a two game road trip. Hence, the name was lifted from the famous Erskine Caldwell novel about tough southern times of subsistence farming in the depression as an allegory for the difficulty of scratching out a win against these Carolina teams.
  • In its last three trips to PNC Arena as a #2 nationally ranked team, the final scene was the same for the Blue Devils: Duke headed to the locker room as a sea of red rushed onto the floor like their team won the national championship.
  • Reverting to type: Coach K commented that Duke is not deep and in tight games you have to have your best players on the floor. DeLaurier and O’Connell played briefly but got a quick hook because of mistakes. Marques Bolden had a sprained knee and did not play. Stay tuned.

Alan Adds:

UVA beat UNC in Charlottesville yesterday 61- 49.  The “Heels scored 49 points against a very good defense in 40 minutes.  In the second half. NC State scored 53 points against a porous Duke defense in only 20 minutes.  This is now a continuous and fundamental problem.  Duke cannot defend.  Some quotes from early games against quality opponents [I love to quote myself; I once did it in a brief to the United States Supreme Court] shows how serious and continuing the problem has been and is.

Pre-Season:  The issues will be team chemistry and DEFENSE!  One of the reasons that the last two NCAA champions have had no “One and Done”s is that it takes time (years) to become a great defensive TEAM.  In 2015, Duke became that great defensive team in time for the NCAA tournament.  It was a turnaround – remember that while Duke won the National Championship that year, it did not win either the ACC regular season or tournament.  So, no doubt Duke has talent (top six plan to play in the NBA next year), but whether that talent coalesces into a great team remains to be seen.

Texas : The first and most important takeaway from the initial two games of the PK 80 tournament is that Duke’s defense is in shambles and whether or not it can be improved is the key issue for the early (or late) season.  Duke has been a defensive disaster so far, this season, and Texas exploited that completely.  Duke’s transition defense stunk.  Texas guards blew through the man to man for easy layups.  [Rotation seemed like a dirty word].  When Duke went to the zone, Texas carved it up like a Thanksgiving Turkey.

Florida: How do you explain a first half where Duke could not and did not defend at all?  Florida rolled to a 53 point first half [18-36 from the field; 7-13 from behind the arc; and 10-11 from the line].  The Duke defense has not been defending well against mediocre and pretty good teams.  Florida is better than anyone Duke has played so far, including Michigan State.  For that half, Florida seemed faster, quicker and smarter, going through the Duke defense like a hot knife through butter.

Indiana:  During the early stages of the game, I was fulminating at the porousness of Duke’s man to man defense.  In the second half, Duke opened with a man to man defense allowing Indiana scored on 10 of the first 12 possessions.  Coach K recognizes the defense has a long way to go.  “We need time to fix things.  With a young group, our habits not well defined yet.  Only way to develop a habit is to practice. We need to get more definition on how to run our offense and our defense”.

I note that Duke had the practice time in December, playing only 3 games (2 competitive ACC games).  It does not seem the practice time has improved the defense.

Fla. State: The way Duke practiced in order to try and increase its defensive efficiency was that the first group could go on offense only after a stop, steal or turnover (on the playground, it’s called winner’s out).  For the first 6 or seven minutes Duke played superb defense, but couldn’t stop Florida State’s outside shooting even though the shots were contested.  The Seminoles did not penetrate as other teams have done, and did not get into the paint.  Somehow, the Seminole hot shooting in the face of good defense took Duke’s intensity. The Seminoles began to drive and score in the paint.  Duke’s defense dissolved into giving up 49 points in the first half.

BC:  I could feel the lack of Duke intensity from the opening tip off in the first half.  Defense is in large measure about intensity.  Duke scored 84; 41 in the first half – offense was not the problem.  Duke was beyond terrible defensively in the first half, giving up 48 points.  Duke started in a man to man, which BC’s back court simply ate up with ball movement.  On BC’s first three 3-point attempts, there was not even a Duke defender in the TV picture at the moment of release.  Once, BC established its blazing heat from beyond the arc (11-16 in the first half for an unworldly 69%), the brilliant BC backcourt penetrated at will.  Duke was forced to a zone, which has been a game changer for Duke in the early season going.  Duke’s zone, for example, turned the Michigan State game around.  I do not think Duke got one stop in its zone defense.  BC attacked it brilliantly – the medium range game that BC’s guards played to destroy the zone was like watching a Balanchine ballet.  Duke looked like the audience (in watching Springtime for Hitler).

NC State: Let’s remember NC State has been mediocre or worse so far this season, losing to Northern Iowa 64-60; UNC-Greensboro 81-76; Notre Dame 88-58; Clemson 78-62; and Tennessee 67-58.  State scored over 62 in those games only once (76 in the loss to UNC-Greensboro).  The Wolfpack were 0-2 in conference play going into the Duke game.  Against that team, Duke “held” NC State to 55% shooting in the second half (18-33; 15 -26 inside the arc, meaning NC State only missed 9 from inside the arc), and 96 for the game.  Moreover, Duke committed 21 fouls, providing the Wolfpack with 21 free points (21-23 for the game).  While the offense floundered (Bagley had 20 of Duke’s 44 second half points) with shoddy guard play – 10 assists against 16 turnovers (8 by Duval), it was the defense that left Coach K without eloquence or explanation in the press conference.   He was, of course asked about Duke’s defense.  “What do you want me to say?  We were horrible defensively?  We have to work on it…We played crappy defense.  If we don’t fix it, we’ll lose again.  I’ll tell you, it’s not working.”  Duh!

Duke did not get any offensive punch from its backcourt.  Grayson played 39 minutes, scoring only 8 points (3 in the critical second half on his only made 3; he was 2-4 from the floor without a 3 point attempt and 1-2 from the line for 5 first half points).  In the critical second half, he was 1-5; 1-4 from 3land.  Duke will not win without a more efficient Grayson.  Trent was 4-14; 1-5 from deep; only his 5-5 from the line got him to double figures (11 for the game).  Duval, although scoring 18 on 8-14, but 1-4 from deep, had 3 more turnovers than assists, hardly star point guard performance.  Duke as a team was 3-15 from deep (1-6 in the first half).  The decrease in accuracy from deep has been a trend.  Grayson and Trent were efficient from behind the arc in the early going, but have seemingly gone south from there.

Before I close, let me leave some hope.  Duke got blown out in embarrassing fashion at Raleigh in their 2015 championship year; Duke was routed in D.C. by Georgetown by almost 30 in 2010 (also a championship year).  There is much talent on this team; so, it is too early to give up on the Blue Devils, but this team will be more disappointing than last year’s team (I am in the minority in thinking last year was not disappointing) unless the defense coalesces, the fouling diminishes, and the bench lengthens.  Duke got 4 points from DeLaurier as its only bench points.  He played only 15 minutes, but fouled out at crunch time.  The Devils play their 3rd ACC road game on Wednesday against the worst ACC team (Pittsburgh).  A loss there is almost unthinkable.  The operative word in that sentence is “almost.”

DUKE 87 – PITTSBURG 52 

Maybe the Blue Devils needed a game like this, maybe not. If it is a let’s get serious, confidence building game, that is one thing. If it makes them over confident again, that is another. So far, Duke has not played well after a big blowout. That is a sign of a young team. Initially, their ACC schedule appeared to offer a soft take off:  At Boston College, Florida State, at N.C. State, at Pitt, Wake Forest , at Miami. Of these, only Florida State, and Miami appeared formidable. Well, rookies, welcome to the ACC!

Whatever transpired during the last three days—embarrassment, long film sessions, tough love practices—it paid off. The Devils  were much more energized and animated at both ends of the court. They yelled when they made a defensive stop. And after one offensive possession early in the game, the players slapped the floor, like some of Duke’s best defensive teams. ”You could hear a lot of the players, everybody actually, calling out screens,” Bagley said. ”Just everybody was talking and connecting and that allowed us to be more alert and to move as one, that really helped us a lot tonight.” Duke Jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back. They held Pitt (8-9, 0-4) to just 24 points in the opening half. The Blue Devils limited the Panthers to shooting 33%, forced 15 turnovers, had 11 steals, 5 blocks, and 21 assists. The only thing that the team did not do well was shoot free throws: 7-18= 39%. You cannot afford to leave that many points off the board against good teams.

With Bolden and DeLaurier in street clothes, Coach K surprisingly substituted early and often using O’Connell, Robinson, White, Vrankovic, and Goldwire. Robinson had 3 three’s, O’Connell 2 as all of the bench players looked comfortable and played well. I am really impressed with everything about Alex O’Connell except his weight and his haircuts—must be a fraternity pledge thing. After Saturday’s game, the players better put on their Big Boy uniforms because the competition  gets bigger and better as they go to Miami, which will be one tough exam that will tell us a lot about the “process” that Coach K keeps emphasizing — learning winning habits and becoming a formidable team.

Grayson Allen, who has not played well in the two losses, was more aggressive and effective but is still not shooting well. When he misses free throws, you know he is struggling. On the other hand, Tre Duval three point shot is improving and Gary Trent is shooting with more confidence. However, as we all know, none of that will matter if the team does not play effective defense.

Alan Adds: 

I guess Duke got time to practice because the Devil defense was transformed.  Marvin concurred, “we have been talking about the last couple of practices. Starting the game off very well on defense and continuing to do it for 40 minutes … that was our big focus. That is what we did all practice on defense. We did that tonight and came out with a win.”   The game was 4:05 old before Pitt scored its first point.   Pitt did not break into double figures until half of the first half had been completed (10:01),  After 17 minutes had been played, Pitt had only 13 points!  You get the idea.  The Devils forced 10 turnovers, including 6 steals and 3 blocks in the first half.  The only downside in the defense was that 4 players finished the first half with 2 fouls – Allen, Trent, Carter and Duval. Duke kept up the intensity (though human nature drained just a bit), except for one brief stretch in the second half when more fouling caused a hiccup.  With less than a minute gone by in the second stanza, Carter picked up his 3rd.  Tre committed his 3rd 22 seconds later.    With only a bit over 2 minutes gone by, Carter committed foul # 4.  Less than 30 seconds later, Grayson was called for his 3rd.  To add insult to injury, Coach Capel was given a technical, which was Duke’s 5th team foul before 5 minutes of the second half had been played.  Duke’s once 30 point lead had dwindled to 17 when Coach K called time out.  Pitt was done after the time out.  First the starters and then the reserves quickly restored order and put the game away.  Aside from that 5 minute lapse, Bill correctly points to the Devil foul shooting as the only other negative.  Duke was 2-6 in the first half (Bagley 1-2; Duval 1-3 and O’Connell 0-1), and 5-12 in the final stanza (Bagley a shocking 1-6; Allen and Justin Robinson (each 1-2 had the other misses).

Duke’s scoring was balanced with 6 players in double figures and Alex O’Connell with 8.  Tre Duval bounced back with a terrific game.  In 26 minutes, he scored 14 on 5-8 from the field including a gaudy 3-5 from behind the arc to go with 3 assists (only a single turnover).  Bagley led the scoring with 16, but he was uncharacteristically in efficient, taking a team high 16 shots (7-16; 0-1 from deep and 2-9 from the stripe) to go with a team high 4 turnovers.  However, he dominated the boards, grabbing 16 in only 29 minutes.  He was the focal point of Pitt’s defense, which freed up the others to give Duke a superb offensive performance (50 first half points was impressive).  For the game, Duke had 21 assists and only 6 turnovers.  Wow!  Trent had a superb shooting night in the second half.  He scored 14 for the game in a game high 30 minutes; 11 in the second half when he flashed his medium range game to put Pitt away (5-8; 1-3 from deep) to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal.  He played 18 second half minutes and was Duke’s best player in the last period.  He made a 3 in the first half.  Grayson played well, but is still off from behind the arc.  He scored 11 in 29 minutes, but was 2-9 from 3land and 1-2 from the line.  Inside the arc he was 2-3 to go with 4 rebounds; 4 assists (0 turnovers), a steal and some high energy, team inspiring defense.  Both Carter (10 points in 16 minutes) and the Admiral’s son (called JRob) were valuable.  JRob was an eye opener for me. Yes, in his 18 minutes, he hit 3-5 from deep; 1-2 from the line for his 10 points, but it was his energy on defense that caught my attention.  Everyone hustled and moved, but JRob was amazing.  He defended the rim (3 blocks) altered shots, made the right switches; and, erased bad plays of others.  I predict he will make it into the rotation – he will if he can play as he did tonight against top competition.    Alex scored his 8 in 16 minutes on perfect shooting (3-3; 2-2 from deep; oh, that missed free throw) to go with 2 tough boards and some energetic defense.  I have it on good authority that he has criticized Bill’s haircut in retaliation.  Goldwire contributed 16 solid minutes.  JRob’s ascending star eclipsed the absence of DeLaurier and Bolden.  How the rotation develops from here will be interesting.

Wake Forest at home on Saturday at noon is next up before what is shaping up as a crucial game at Miami on Martin Luther King’s Birthday at 7 pm on ESPN.  Is the defense really improved, or was it just that Pitt, like St. Francis and Evansville, did not have the horses to compete, as the top teams do.  Only time will tell.  Next Play.

DUKE 89 – WAKE FOREST 71 

No Coach K. No problem. Marvelous Marv had 30-11 (his 14th double-double in 17 games), Carter another double-double, Allen 8 assists & 12 rebounds but only 2 points, Trent  five straight threes as the team shot 52% from out there, (gasp) 79% from the line, and swept all the stat lines. However, there were some interesting un-Coach K like moves by substitute head coach Jeff Capel. He went primarily to a zone early on and pretty much stayed with it for the entire game and used more bench—JRob, Goldwire, O’Connell, White, and Vrankovic. The Blue Devils were active in the zone, deflecting several passes and holding Wake, a potentially explosive team, to shooting only 44% from the floor. For my taste, Alex O’Connell, despite a slim frame and bad haircut decisions, continues to demonstrate the rare combination of enthusiasm and multiple skill sets that enable him to be a game changer, much in the energetic way Grayson Allen was in the NCAA Championship game against Wisconsin. Today, immediately upon getting on the floor, Alex hit two consecutive threes to help gain separation from Wake. Jack White was the other reserve that showed well– he is big, strong, and savvy enough to play multiple positions. In the second half, he subbed for Carter and more than held his own. As soon as Bolden and DeLaurier recover from injuries, Duke will have a deep bench.

Grayson Allen says Duke prioritized getting the ball inside early and often: “We’re going to be focused on that every game, because that’s where our strength is. We feed the ball into them and see what the defense does. If it’s one-on-one, let them go to work. If not, we’ll move the ball around and find the next best shot. Attack, attack and don’t stop. Our bigs are so powerful, they’re going to challenge defenders at the rim and draw fouls.”

Monday night’s game at Miami will be a major test for this team. 

Other Comments:

  • Coach K is a flight time decision for the Miami game.
  • Bagley and Carter are getting more comfortable at the line. Both have a solid stroke and a soft shot. Trent continues to gain more confidence as he demonstrates the scoring touch that made his scholastic reputation.
  • Gary Trent was feeling so badly, he was a game time decision. However, he played 31 minutes and hit his consecutive threes after coming to the bench and throwing up in a bucket.
  • G Man (Mike Gminski), the reliable All American center from the 1970’s and pro-typical Duke student/athlete, was one of the announcers. He is sort of the anti-Dickie Vitale—lets you watch the game and only makes appropriate comments at the right time.
  • It has been 21 years since Wake Forest has beaten Duke in Cameron.

Alan Adds:

The Blue Devils were an awesome team at home in Cameron against a Wake Forest team that is not among the conference’s elite teams.  There were many aspects of the win that are worth extolling.  Bagley is amazing.  He only came out of the game when in the last 2 minutes when Duke’s lead was hovering around 20.  In 38 minutes, he scored 30 (11-21; 1-3 from deep; and valuable 7-8 from the line) to go with 11 boards; 3 assists; 3 blocks and 4 steals.  Some stat line, even though he took 21 shots and had 3 turnovers.  He and Grayson played almost the whole game, coming out only in the last minutes of garbage time.  Grayson is having trouble with his shot (0-5; 0-3 from deep; with his only points coming on 2 free throws early in the first half.  Capel, in his post-game press conference praised Allen for his effort, attitude, and all-around game on both ends.  “He showed leadership and maturity.  He was tremendous.  He was always about the team.”  He led the team in rebounding — more than either Bagley or Carter (12); and  in assists (8), more than Duval. Gary Trent was so sick that whether or not he played was a game time decision.  Yet he played 31 minutes and scored 19 on only 8 shots (6-8; 6-7 from deep – wow!; and 1-2 from the line) to with two tough rebounds, 2 steals and an assist (without a turnover).  He has played 3 great halves in a row, and seems to have returned to form.  Without Grayson’s shooting, Trent becomes a crucial factor.  Carter had his way while he was in there, but again had foul trouble, fouling out in 28 minutes of play.  He had the same number of rebounds as Bagley in 10 fewer minutes of playing time.  He was lethal from deep (2-4), but only 1-5 inside the arc; 7-10 from the foul line.  He and Bagley were collectively 14-18 from the stripe – a pleasant trend.  The only other double figure scorer was Alex O’Connell who had an amazing hot streak in the first half, scoring 12 points in 9 minutes of first half action.  He had 13 for the game (15 minutes), but his first half was his scintillating moment (3-4; 2-3 from deep and 4-4 from the stripe) to go with a rebound and a steal.  Tre Duval played well and continues to improve his outside shot (1-1 from deep) but not at the rim or inside the arc (0-5).  In 29 minutes, he had 6 assists with only a single turnover and 2 steals.  The bench scored 15, meaning that besides O’Connell’s 13, only Goldwire’s layup gave Duke points from the bench.  It might seem as if Capel used his bench more than Coach K, but that is belied by the stat sheet.  Besides Alex’s solid performance, the bench made only brief cameos to give the starters short breathers.  Jack White led the bench (besides O’Connell) in minutes with 7; he had 3 boards and played solid defense in the back line of the zone. Vrankovich (6 minutes) and JRob (4) spelled Carter.

Duke’s defense was efficient after the first few minutes.  In the early going, Duke was torched in its man to man defense as Wake hit open 3s.  As Bill points out, Capel went to the zone.  “We took another step on defense today building on the Pittsburgh game.  At Pittsburgh, we played primarily man to man; this game, zone.  The zone slowed them down and took away their penetration.  We stayed in it.  Everyone played hard.”  Usually shooting is the way to beat a zone, but Duke’s back line wings were very active coming out to guard the wing shooters effectively.  This is two good efforts in a row on the defensive end.

The road is hard everywhere, but exceedingly difficult in the ACC.  With each team having only a day’s rest (NCAA tournament schedule), Duke faces a tough Miami team, smarting from a road loss at Clemson, on Saturday, in Miami at 7 on Monday.  It will be a revealing test for the newly improving defense on the road against a ranked team.  I think I’ll watch.

DUKE 83– MIAMI 75 

On a night when Marvin wasn’t Marvelous and, except for Wendell Carter, the Miracles were playing off key, Duke found themselves down 13 points and ten minutes away from a  long, very depressing plane ride home. As a matter of fact, Coach K looked as though he just might change that to a bus ride. Seldom have the these young, talented Blue Devils appeared so out of sync, even lethargic. The Hurricanes had forced three turnovers during a 16-0 run as the Devils went nearly eight minutes without a point and, to add insult to injury, Bagley missed four free throws. The never self-contained Miami players preened and mimed for the camera and crowd as though the game was already over. The ‘Cane players should have done their homework.

Coach K took his coat off. When the players still didn’t get the obvious (Look, I’m working harder on the sidelines than you guys are on the floor) message, he called a time out. After a few choice words, Duke switched to a more effective zone defense that cut down on the guard penetration and made the ‘Canes, who like to drive, hesitant and indecisive. Gary Trent stepped into the spotlight and became the Marvelous One by draining consecutive threes and suddenly the Blue Devils were transformed into that unbeatable team performing another miracle finish. It is difficult to process in real time what we saw. For the first time in this young year, these young Blue Devils displayed some of that Comeback Black Magic they showed late last year against Michigan State, Portland State, Texas, and Florida. Against one of the best defensive teams in the country, it took Duke just  a few minutes to erase the lead and tie the game at 66-66. The rejuvenated Devils continued on a breathtaking 30-9 run over the last eight minutes. Game, set, match, and suddenly a very stunned, quiet crowd at the Watsco Center Arena in Coral Gables.

Gary Trent commented after the game: “They were playing harder than us. We were soft. We were playing like little kids. We had to pick it up and we did. Like our coaches said that we have to play like grown men, so we played like grown men in the last eleven minutes.”

As implausible as this (yet another) comeback was, it should not obscure the fact of how poorly the team played for all but ten or so minutes: 19 turnovers (notably none in the last ten minutes), missing 11 free throws, and not blocking out, which led to easy dunks. It is playing Russian Roulette to let any  ACC team stay within a few three point shots  of the lead. These young players have to understand that no matter an opponent’s record, home or away all teams bring their “A” game against Duke and this inconsistent play, while providing  excitement, is not the benchmark of a championship caliber team. If you’re losing games to Boston College, NC State, and falling behind Miami, you’re probably not winning the ACC Tournament or running the table of six straight in the NCAA Tournament. And for all the starters, this is their one-and-done last chance.

Other Observations:

When Marvin Bagley went to the locker room early in the first half grimacing and holding his right wrist in what appeared to be a serious injury, the season passed before our eyes. Actually, Bagley had collided with a Miami player shortly after the opening tip and later said, “It was a freakish thing that happened.” After initially being unable to move his dislocated shoulder, he was able to pop it back in himself. Still, trainers took him to the locker room for an examination to make sure the injury wasn’t more extensive. In response, Wendell Carter seemed to take it personally and  just dominated the paint until Marvin returned. The twin towers stats: Carter 15 -14 and 4 blocks, the last one a critical block and snatch at the rim– one of the most impressive defensive plays of the  season. With Duke up three and 1:36 left, Miami’s 6’11” Dewan Huell drove to the basket with only Carter in front of him. Wendell  went up with him and not only blocked the shot but snatch the ball clean from Huell’s grasp. Bagley’s numbers were 13-12.

  • While Grayson Allen is experiencing the worst shooting slump of his career, it has never affected his hustle or other aspects of his game. For example, with just four seconds remaining before halftime, he hit the floor for a loose ball, quickly passed to Trent the 3-point line. Gary nailed the shot at the buzzer, giving the Blue Devils a 42-40 lead.  When his shot comes off vacation, Trent and Duval continue to hit 40% of their threes, and they play anything approaching forty minutes of decent defense, this becomes an even more lethal team. Whom do you double team? And speaking of defense, in the critical final minutes all five player slapped the floor in the time honored Blue Devil WoJo reminder to really get serious about playing defense.
  • Under Coach Jim Larrañaga, Miami has been a tough ticket for Duke. Before tonight, they were  5-3 against the Blue Devils, including a 3-1 record at home.
  • The sellout crowd included 37 NBA scouts, but Alex Rodriguez, formerly a Miami baseball player, and girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, formerly Jenny from the Block, got more attention.
  • My old racing buddy Tom called to tell me watching this Duke team is like watching Silky Sullivan race –you can never count either one of them out. [Silky Sullivan: An American thoroughbred race horse in the late 1950’s  known for his come-from-behind racing style. His name is now a term used in sports and politics for someone who seems so far behind the competition that they cannot win, yet they do.]

Alan Adds:

“Almost Perfect Basketball

Duke scored first in the second half to take a 44-40 lead with 19:30 left in the game.  The next Duke points came 8 minutes and 15 seconds later on a Trent layup to cut the Hurricane lead to 10.  Duke still turned it over and gave up easy Miami baskets so that with exactly eight minutes left in the game, the lead was 13; the Blue Devils looked dead in the water (exactly as they did against NC State and earlier, BC).  Then the magic took hold the way it only does in the movies.  Coach K said, “to win we had to play almost perfect basketball, which we did.”  Before we examine the offensive blitz, let’s consider the defense.  Duke went to a zone, but the Devils had mixed in zone defenses with the man to man earlier in the game, without any particular success.  Duke subtly changed its zone in the last 11 minutes, so that the 2-3 was played almost like a 3-2.  The back line wing came all the way out to play the wing shooter.  Trent and Bagley were terrific in the zone, very active.  Grayson was an absolute star, not only covering the perimeter guards, but flashing into the lane to make the pass to the high post virtually impossible.  He stole the one high pass to the post for a thunderous dunk that kept the Devils rolling.  Carter was amazingly active in the middle, deterring penetration and blocking 3 – yes 3 shots down the stretch.  Coach K: “Our zone kept them out of the paint and we eliminated their second shot opportunities when they missed (a dramatic turnaround from the first 32 minutes of the game).  It was, as Coach K pointed out, that the team really played together, talked, moved and was superbly active.  Trent, in the post-game interview, correctly credited the defense for initiating the attitude that turned the game around.  Coach K emphasized that it was the switch in attitude – doing it together; thinking outside one’s self – that transformed the dismal performance into a work of art.

The Eight Minutes

Duke scored 9 points, reducing the 13 point lead to 4 in just 1:35 – 2 consecutive 3s by Trent, Jr. followed by Bagley’s 3 point play the old fashion way.  Huell missed a contested (by Carter) dunk; Bagley rebounded and then added 3 including making the foul shot.  Grayson then made his steal and dunk to bring the Devils within 2.  Carter blocked a layup by Bruce Brown.  After a Grayson foul, Tre rebounded a Miami missed 3; Carter made a gorgeous post move for a deuce and a tie game with 5:12 left.  Carter blocked Lonnie Walker and Trent grabbed the rebound as he was going out of bounds and threw it off Miami to retain possession.  Plays like that one — Grayson’s steal; as well as Grayson’s amazing play at the end of the first half where he stole the ball with four seconds left; dived on the loose ball and passed from the floor to Trent for a 3 at the buzzer — are the plays that change attitude and win games.  Coach K said “Those plays don’t make it onto sports center, but they are the plays that tell the tale.”  Sports Center, by the way, showed all three. Duval hit a twisting layup for a 68-66 lead – the same kind of drive attempt that was blocked more than once earlier – with 4:40 left.  Grayson rebounded a Brown 3 point miss; Carter missed the layup, but Trent grabbed the board and hit Duval for an open 3 point attempt.  Swish!  Please notice that Duval has been on fire from deep after a prolonged deep shooting slump.  71-66 with 3:28 left.  Miami dominated the boards, scoring on its 3rd offensive rebound; followed by a Duval foul, which resulted in Miami making 1-2 from the line.71-69 with 3:02 left.  Carter scored on a layup with 2:48 to go, but then committed a foul on Huell’s 3 point play.  73-70 with 2:20 to go.  Bagley missed and Miami rebounded, followed by the biggest defensive play of the game; Huell had his shot blocked by Carter; the ball moved and Trent delivered the dagger from deep with 1:16 to go on a great assist from Tre.  Walker missed a 3 and Trent grabbed the rebound with 54 seconds left.  Miami began to foul, which paid off when Tre missed the front end of a 1 and 1 twice within 5 seconds, but redeemed himself both times grabbing the offensive board.  He put back a layup with 47 seconds left, giving Duke a 78-70 lead.  Miami missed a desperate 3 leading to a pair of foul shot makes by Trent to ice the game at 80-70 with 36 seconds left.  Seven and a half minutes of almost perfect basketball.

The Bigs

My player of the game – despite Trent’s fabulous 30 point performance – is Wendell Carter.  He single handedly kept Duke in the game in the first half with 11 points and 10 rebounds (a double-double in the first half).  In the last 6 minutes, he had 3 blocks, scored 2 baskets and grabbed a key rebound.  In 34 minutes (18 in the second half), he scored 15 (7-11; 1-3 from deep; 0-2 from the line) to go with 14 rebounds (team high), 4 blocks, 3 assists (and 3 turnovers).  The Marvelous one had what was an off-night for him that would be a stat stuffer for others.  In 37 minutes (all 20 of the second half), he scored 13 (5-10; no 3 point attempts; 3-7 from the line) while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists.  He was charged with only one foul.  In fact, Duke committed only 10 fouls for the game – 5 in each half, a significant improvement.  JRob logged 9 minutes with his only entry on the stat sheet being the foul he committed (only two minutes in the second half).

The Perimeter

Tre was simply terrible until he was amazingly wonderful.  He had 5 turnovers before the magic appeared in the final minutes.  He picked up two quick fouls early and played only eleven first half minutes.  In thirty full game minutes he scored 17 (7-11; 2-2 from deep; 1-4 from the line).  He had 8 assists – some quite amazing.  He mirrored Duke’s performance from early ugly (5 turnovers and late wonderful).  Trent had the best game of his career, shooting the lights out at the most critical moments.  His 30 points is a career high (9-14 from the field; 6-9 from 3land; and 6-8 free throws) to go with 5 important rebounds, 3 assists and a steal.  If Carter was not the MVP, Trent was (and most think so).  Grayson still cannot get his shot to fall scoring 5 points in 38 minutes and not getting to the foul line at all (0-0).  He shot 2-9; 1-6 from deep, but played great hustling defense, making 5 steals and handing out 3 assists.  The turnovers for Duke were ugly and troubling.  The backcourt was sloppy with 13 (Grayson 4; Trent 4; and Duval 5).  Carter contributed 3; JRob 1 and Marvelous 1.

The Bench

Goldwire played 3 minutes in the first half, scoring the only Duke points off the bench.  Jack White made a 1 minute cameo; JRob and O’Connell each logged 9 minutes – though each played only 2 minutes in the second half.  Coach K relied on his starters.

Coach K and the Team

In the huddle, Coach K reminded the team of the Portland tournament and the comebacks against Texas and Florida (I wonder if he mentioned Michigan State), and encouraged, “let’s make this like Portland.”  And they did.  Duke fans experienced all the emotions of an up and down game; it is pretty cool when the satisfying ones come at the end.

DUKE 81- PITTSBURGH 54

Maybe it was the humiliation of being surrounded by thousands of opponent’s students storming the court. Maybe It was just not liking the feeling of losing. Maybe it was the realization that they can’t always outscore the other team every game. Maybe it was the realization that at this level forty minutes of good defense makes for easier baskets and less stressful wins. Whatever the case, for the first time this season you had the feeling that this team was as motivated to play defense as they were offense. It was truly a three dimensional win  for the Blue Devils: defense, inside and outside scoring. They hit  12-of-26 from beyond the arc: Gary Trent, Jr. 5-for-7, Grayson Allen 4-for-10 and the other three starters all made one triple apiece. Then, there was aggressive, in-your-face-ball-denial, mostly man-to-man defense that produced 15 turnovers, 8 steals, 7 blocks, and 3 ten-second violations.

While the defense wasn’t perfect, it was certainly a step in the right direction. And speaking of steps, an impressed Coach K used an interesting analogy: “Defense is like learning to dance. If you would see somebody in a defensive stance walking down the street, you’d cross the street because you wouldn’t want to pass that person. Your body doesn’t just do that. Your body doesn’t move naturally like that. It has to learn how to dance. . .. We’re trying to teach them how to dance defensively. The music of defense is talk. If you can get five guys talking, then maybe you can dance together, and you can win. Wendell and Marvin are such good students of the game; they want to learn so much. So many of these kids when they come from high school, they haven’t watched tape. They’ve watched tape of when they dunk or do something spectacular and they put mix tapes together and put all kinds of music, but they don’t watch their foot movement, they don’t watch when they commit a silly foul, they don’t watch what they do on the help side on defense and so when they come here, and we’re not the only program, but they have the opportunity to be educated about the game. And our two big men really want to learn about the game, and they’re very, very smart. It’s on them because they want to do it and they’ve been a joy to coach, those two guys.” Grayson Allen added: “That’s the type of defense we want to play. Trust the pressure and get out and run. Let Trevon and Jordan control the point guard and the wings can get out and contest. That leads right into our offense. I’m having fun playing defense, trying to get steals and deflections and help the team that way. We’re getting so much better at it. We work on it every day and we want that to be part of our team.”

In a sense, Carter has been viewed as Robin playing in the shadow of Bagley’s Batman when in fact he is also a very impressive, multi-talented basketball player, who is playing with more and more confidence and versatility. Part of it may be that he has lost 10-15 pounds, is quicker on his feet, and wiser using his hands when defending. Today he has 21 points on 9-10 shots, 8 rebounds. Likewise, Gary Trent has settled into a lethal three point shooter. The hero of the Miami comeback was 5-7 today. In his last nine games, Trent has shot a scorching 35-of-64 from beyond the arc.  Mike Krzyzewski thinks his recent shooting exploits stem from work on the other side of the ball. “He’s playing faster. He’s playing better defense. We’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks on our foot movements on defense, And it helps on offense because as you move your feet, you get wider, you get quicker. You get much better balance. He’s played well all year, but the last two weeks he’s played outstanding basketball.”

The bottom line is that this defensive progress will mean little if the Blue Devils do not take care of Wake on Tuesday, then beat the conference leading Virginia on Saturday.

Other Comments:

  • Just wait ‘til next year! Say what? Duke has just reloaded (again).  The YouTube and social media  dunking sensation Zion Williamson surprised the prep experts and  committed to Duke Saturday night. This gives the Blue Devils four of the top ten recruits in next year’s class: R.J. Barret, Williamson, Cameron Reddish, and #1 point guard Tre Jones. “Duke stood out because I felt most comfortable with the players and the legendary Coach K. The players brotherhood represents a family. Tre kept telling me I had to come, because this class will accomplish great things.” I usually do not pay much attention to recruits until I see them play together at Duke, but because Zion gets so much press here in South Carolina, I had no choice.  The 6’6″, 275 pound Zion is an amazing athlete–all muscle and has similar skills that LeBron James had at the same age. As a matter of fact, in recruiting him, Coach K said he would use him like he did LeBron on the Olympic team. All this is very promising as long as these players have the same attitude as this year’s freshmen.
  • Good news: DeLaurier is back. Bad News: Bolden is not back.
  • Dick Groat, the first great Duke basketball and baseball player, was honored at half time. While I do not think it is fair to compare athletes of different eras,  Groat, who played both professional basketball and  baseball before focusing exclusively on baseball, was the 1951 & 1952 college basketball Player-of-the Year and later  an all-star shortstop with the Pittsburg Pirates. Although he was offered a professional baseball contract by Branch Rickey after his junior year, Dick chose to return to Duke to get his degree (different times) and become the first college basketball player to lead the country in scoring and assists. Along with Ace Parker and Dave Sime, Dick Groat is certainly in the running for the best athlete in Duke’s history. However, if longevity is the tiebreaker, Mr. Groat wins.

Alan Adds:

After dismantling Pitt once again, the Blue Devils face a daunting week.  On Tuesday, Duke travels to Wake (I think we have definitive proof that all ACC road games are difficult) in what might be called a “trap” game.  UVA, leading the conference without a loss, visits Cameron next Saturday at 2 pm.  I believe this week will give us a better reading on this 2017-18 edition than the mauling of a winless team in disarray at home.  The game was tied for the first 37 seconds before Duke pulled away.  The first half was terrific and will be analyzed.  Duke’s lead maxed out at 34 with a little over 13 minutes to go in the second half before Coach K called off the dogs and gave his bench significant playing time.  Nevertheless, the improvement in the defense that has been visible since the NC State loss is palpable.  Coach K summed it up succinctly, “Since the N.C. State game, we’ve gotten better defensively. You didn’t need much to get better defensively from what we did in our first three ACC games, but we’re working at it. All I’m trying to do is have our guys get better, and I think we’re getting better.”  Duke went to a ¾ court zone press to completely disrupt the Pittsburg offense.  The press created turnovers, steals and (this is an amazing stat) 3 ten second violations.  Occasionally Duke disrupted its own defense by deflecting the ball, but giving up Pitt points in the ensuing scramble.  In that defensively superb first half, the Devils forced 11 Pitt turnovers (6 steals).  Pitt shot well, when able to get a shot off (10-20 from the field; 4-8 from deep; and 2-2 from the line.  Those are acceptable shooting numbers, but in this case Pitt was down by 22 at the half (48-26).  Pitt shot 50% from the field, but scored only 26 first half points and trailed by 22 points at the break.  Critically, the Duke starters committed only a single foul (Grayson) in the opening stanza (O’Connell and Goldwire each committed one in five minutes on the court).  Great defense; weak opponent.

Duke’s offense was in full domination mode in those first 20 minutes.  Duke was 10-15 from the floor inside the arc.  Going 7-13 from 3land, actually brought the first half shooting percentage down to 61%.  The starters went 7-11 from deep, with Trent leading the way (3-4) while Bagley and Carter were each 1-1 (can you imagine how demoralizing to a defense that is!).  Duval hit his first three when he was wide open from a gorgeous pass from Grayson. He missed his other attempt; Grayson was 1-3.  The Devils had 9 assists (Duval 4; Grayson 2) against only 5 turnovers (Duval 3)

It was an overwhelming performance that left Coach K perky in his press conference.  He finished his short opening statement with, “I thought we played well. And that’s it. Not much to elaborate on, unless you come up with some amazing questions, which would give me the opportunity to do that. So, it’s on you. Usually I sing and dance up here beforehand, but now I’m going to let you do that.”

The Bigs

The first half statistics tell the story.  Combined, Bagley and Carter scored 27 of Duke’s 48 points on 10-12 shooting (2-2 from deep) and 5-7 from the foul line.  Collectively they had 11 boards and 3 blocks (all Carter), 3 steals, 2 assists with only a single turnover (Carter).  Bagley logged 15 minutes: 12 points (4-5; 1-1; 3-5 from the line) with 6 boards and an assist.  Carter’s stats were even better: In 18 minutes, he scored 15 points (6-7; 1-1; 2-2) with 5 boards and those 3 blocks.  If he stayed to play with next year’s highly ranked freshmen, he would have a shot at National POY (but of course that is just a dream).

The Perimeter

Like Carter on the interior, Trent is playing superbly on both ends.  In 19 minutes, He scored 11 (4-7;3-4 from deep) with a board, assist and steal.  No negative stats.  Tre Duval played 16 minutes, dishing out 4 assists and playing some absolutely outstanding pressure defense.  He scored only 3 (1-2 from deep) and turned it over 3 times.  Grayson logged 15 hustling defensive minutes (2 big steals, some deflections and near miss steal attempts).  He began to come out of the shooting slump later in the game.  He missed 2 free throws (an uncharacteristic 2-4 from the line) to go with a dunk and 1-3 from deep.

The Bench

The bench was a non-factor in the first half.  DeLaurier (first game back), O’Connell and Goldwire each played 5 minutes; JRob 2.  The bench was (0-3; 0-2 from deep with no foul shot attempts); O’Connell took 2 shots; both he and Goldwire misfired on their only attempts from deep.  Other than that, De Laurier grabbed a rebound while Goldwire and O’Connell each committed a foul.  Since the bench did get extended minutes in the second half, it is worth giving a whole game look.  DeLaurier in five energetic second half minutes, committed 4 fouls, missed his only shot, but grabbed 2 rebounds and had 2 blocks.  First game back.  Goldwire (8 minutes) and O’Connell (9 minutes) continued to misfire. (Alex 0-2; Goldwire 0-3).  Vrakovich scored the only bench points on a hook shot (1-3 in 5 minutes with 2 rebounds). The Admiral’s son also played 5 minutes, committing 2 fouls and a turnover for his only statistics.  Jack White looked the best of the bench players, playing nine second half minutes and snaring 4 rebounds, handing out a great assist for a Grayson 3 and getting a block.  He had an assist and a turnover.

Coming Up

Duke’s first goal is the ACC regular season championship.  A loss this week, especially to UVA at home would move that goal out of reach.  Big week, in my opinion.

Duke 84 – Wake Forest 70 

After starting conference play giving up 89 and 96 points in two road losses to Boston College and N.C. State (as well as 93 in a home win against Florida State), the Blue Devils have  now won five straight by holding their opponents to an average of 64.4 points per contest. Tonight’s interesting stats are: Duke forcing 21 turnovers, 11 steals, and hitting 30-39 from the line. Surprisingly, the Devils were outrebounded 37-71 as Doral Moore, the much improved Demon Deacon’s 7” 1” center, had 18 points, 12 rebounds and just flat outplayed Bagley in the first half. Of course, it helps that those five straight wins were against cellar dwellers Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. Nevertheless, in this league a win is a win—especially on the road. Just ask Carolina and Clemson.

DeLaurier and O’Connell were rotated early and often and, until Bolden recovers, that seems to be the rotation. Both had their moments especially Alex, who again demonstrated his instinct to make things happen on both ends of the floor. He had 7 points and 2 steals and was rewarded with 20 minutes of playing time as Tre Duval was oh-for-the-game and sat out the last ten minutes. I look forward to watching him play more minutes next year. He may be a latter day Grayson Allen type. Coach K pointed out that young teams and young players are inconsistent and Duval has played very well most of the time–but not tonight.

Saturday’s game in Cameron against Virginia and their famous “pack line” defense will be a real test for Batman and Robin. Tonight, Wendell “Robin” Carter continued to impress with the sophisticated versatility of his offense—he can score from anywhere on the floor– and physical defense. Grayson Allen showed that he doesn’t have to score a ton of points to impact the game. When the game was relatively close, he was diving on the floor for loose balls and making passes that would make Bobby Hurley proud.  In addition, at halftime he told Carter to be more aggressive in getting a body on the taller  Moore, who had been cleaning up on the offensive boards… get the short rebounds and not to worry about the long ones. He  would come down and get those.

As for the Virginia game, I suspect that low post scoring will be more difficult than we have been accustomed to and the game will turn on how well the perimeter players are scoring—and the Blue Devils maintain their newfound enthusiasm for defense. Fortunately, Gary Trent has settled into not only a deadly three point shooter but also is playing as efficiently and effectively as any Blue Devil.

Asked if he had been looking forward to the Virginia game Chairman Mike said: “We stay in the now. No looking ahead, no looking behind.” [CliffsNotes: Next Play!]

Alan Adds:

UVA comes to Cameron on Saturday (2 pm; ESPN), ranked #2 in both polls, with only one loss (early to West Virginia), unbeaten in the conference with perhaps the best defense in the nation — (Clemson managed just 13 second half points last night while getting run out of the gym in Charlottesville).  13 points in a half!!!  Duke’s improvement, especially on the defensive end, has been palpable, but achieved against less talented opponents.  UVA is the best team that the Devils have played so far, this season, and will give us a valid benchmark on the that palpable improvement.  In some senses, it is a regular season-determining game.  Duke’s chance for a regular season ACC title is dependent on beating the Cavaliers.  Given that situation, Wake was a classic “trap game”, but Duke did not get trapped.  (One Duke player explained, “it gets old seeing the other team’s fans storm the court” as happened with BC and NC State).

In a weird way, this was a game of two completely different halves for Duke.  In the first half, the perimeter led the team, while Duke’s vaunted bigs were completely outplayed.  In the first half, Duke retrieved only 8 defensive boards, while the Demon Deacons had 11 offensive rebounds – 5 by their impressive 7-foot center, Doral Moore (who turned those 5 offensive rebounds into 10 first half points).  One announcer mentioned in classic understatement, “Maybe Duke should put a body on him!”.   Bagley played only 12 minutes (2 fouls), scoring only 4 (2-5; 0-1 from 3land; 0-1 from the line) and had only 3 boards, while committing 2 turnovers.  Carter (17 minutes) was Duke’s inside presence with 7 points, 4 boards, 2 assists and a block (2 turnovers).  But, Duke was still outrebounded 22-14. The ineffective interior play was more than offset by effective defense, which forced 15 turnovers, and shut down Wake’s vaunted 3 point shooting (1-10). Wake stayed in the game by being efficient from inside the arc (11-20 – helped by Moore’s 7-7 shooting from the floor).  Duke drew 13 Wake fouls, but missed 5 free throws (9-14; Duval 0-2; Bagley 0-1, the front end of a 1 and 1).   Grayson (19 minutes) and Trent (18 minutes) were all-world at both ends.  Trent scored 10 on only 4 attempts (3-4; 1-1 from deep; and 3-4 from the line) while Grayson hit for 13 (4-7; 2-3 from 3land; and 3-3 from the line) to go with 4 boards, 3 assists (some were amazing) 2 steals and outstanding defense and hustling leadership.  It was on a par with his performance against Michigan State.  While Tre had a 17-minute miserable half (0-5; 0-2 from deep; 0-2 from the line), O’Connell picked him up, scoring 5 on 2 shots; one from deep and making 2 key steals in 7 minutes.

The second half was different.  Carter (34 minutes – 17 in each half) and Bagley (18 second half minutes) took control of the game and the interior.  Carter was Batman to Bagley’s Robin.  Carter finished with 12 boards and 23 points on 9 attempts making 6, including 1-2 from deep.  At the foul line, he put the Deacs away, drawing fouls (finally fouling Moore out) and converting 10-13 from the line (7-9 in the latter stanza).  He is improving at a rapid rate and has become Duke’s go to rim protector and defensive rebounder.  Bagley finished with a double/double (11 rebounds; 16 points (4-9; 0-3 from deep; and a gratifying 8-11 from the foul line (8-10 in the second half – 80%).  In fact, Duke won the game by forcing fouls.  Both Bagley and Carter were so effective at drawing Wake fouls and then converting.  Duke was 30-39 from the line outscoring Wake by 19 (Wake was 11-13) — more than the margin of victory.  The perimeter’s scoring wasn’t needed and the defense forced only 6 second half turnovers.  For the game Wake had 11 assists and 21 turnovers.  Allen finished with 17 points in 37 minutes, while Trent scored 19 in 38 minutes.  Trevon was limited to 7 minutes in the second half as he continued to struggle missing all 3 of his second half shots.  Alex played 13 valuable second half minutes.  In the last part of the second half, Grayson ran the point when Alex joined the starting unit without any drop-off.

The bench was Alex and DeLaurier, who brings energy and athleticism and fouling.  Once again, he fouled out in 12 minutes while dunking once, grabbing 3 rebounds and making a steal.  Bolden has not played in a long time and nobody has mentioned his physical condition.  I find that a bit ominous.

Duke’s defense has consistently been improving.  Coach K said, “we’ve been practicing like crazy.  We are starting to move our feet well in both man to man and zone defenses.  The team is enthusiastic.”  As I have written from before the season started, how this team fares in the long run will depend on how defensively efficient it becomes.  Duke’s defense was very good against Wake.  UVA on Saturday will be THE TEST!

Duke 63 – Virginia 65 

Batman and Robin showed up today but the Miracles didn’t. And speaking of showing up, in the first half Virginia not only showed up, they schooled the Blue Devils how to execute both offensively and defensively—they sure aren’t Pitt or Wake. The Cavaliers are a well-oiled machine. They held Duke to 22 first half points. Early in the second half, the Devils were down 13. That’s like about 26 to anyone else, because Virginia’s Pack Line D is essentially the defensive version to the Princeton Offense– it’s a way to methodically execute sound fundamentals to neutralize, tire, and discourage a more talented team. In those first twenty minutes, Gary Trent, Grayson Allen, and Trevon Duval combined for 6 turnovers and just 6 points on 3-of-16 shooting. (Q: Where is Luke Kennard when we need him? A: Sitting on a bench in Detroit.)

After assessing the first twenty minutes, Coach K switched to a zone (which is not a four letter word in my vocabulary). It temporarily confused the Cavaliers and they missed shots. Duke took advantage and made a run. They first tied the game after a bizarre possession in which Carter’s attempted lob from beyond the arc to Bagley went in the basket as Marvin simultaneously drew a foul on the post-up. On the ensuing in-bound play, Carter took a perfect lob and finished with a slam to tie the game at 39—a five point turn around. After the run, the Blue Devils had scored 22  points –as many as in the entire first 20 minutes– in just 8 minutes to take a two point lead.

It was a dog fight from there on but the Cavaliers made winning plays and Duke didn’t. In a span of about five minutes, Duke got two of a possible eight points from the line, going from a three-point lead to a four-point deficit. Ty Jerome intercepted a long, imprudent Tre Duval pass, then made  a dagger of an NBA three—a five point turn around and a five point lead. Offensively, Duke was hitting on only two cylinders (Bagley 30 points, 14 rebounds; Carter 14 points, 15 rebounds), had 16 turnovers, and went 5-11 from the line, four (three times during the game’s final eight minutes) of which were the front end of one-and-ones. (I must point out the obvious: Missing free throws had nothing to do with Virginia’s defense.) Given these stats, it is somewhat amazing that the game was as close as it was.

Congratulations to Virginia, they were the better team and deserved the win. The Cavaliers came into the game winless in its last 17 trips to Durham and having gone 1-4 in their last five games against the Blue Devils. Make no mistake, Coach Bennett is one of the very best coaches in the country and his teams are always a tough out. In a sense this was payback. You may recall that in two of those recent Duke wins, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Ty Jones hit the heartbreaking, dagger threes that closed out hard fought games.

Other Comments:

  • Duke got just six minutes from its bench, none in the second half. Krzyzewski said the reason he didn’t play any of his reserves in the second half was partly due to injuries and illnesses. He said O’Connell had been sick, DeLaurier has a tight hamstring, and Bolden, who warmed up with a knee brace, is close but not there yet. More to the point, he added:  “If we want to win something really big, your best players have to play a lot of minutes and I think that’s what the regular season is about. We are preparing for that and hopefully we’re in it in March.”
  • The obvious assessment is that unless the defense keeps improving and the guards don’t consistently start producing more points, March will be a disappointing month. As good as they are, Bagley and Carter cannot carry this team on their backs through the rest of the season and two tournaments. Duval has to stop running hot and cold and turning the ball over so much as well as improve his foul shooting. Trent has to forget this game and play like he did in the last four. Grayson Allen may be the key. He is doing everything well except shooting the ball. That prolonged slump is puzzling in that it is not consistent with his performance of the previous three years. What this game showed is that Virginia is more than the sum of their parts and Duke is not. It will be interesting to see if the Blue Devils can become at least the sum of their parts.
  • Tobacco Road isn’t as rough as it used to be: Duke and UNC lost at home on same day for the first time in 44 years.

Alan Adds: 

John Wooden (without false modesty) once said, “give me five very good players and I will beat your five excellent players.”  He did know a little something about the concept of “team”.  Yesterday, UVA’s five very good players were a better team than Duke’s five excellent players, and deservedly won a crucial and highly entertaining game in Cameron.  Each team had its superb moments; it’s just that the Cavaliers’ came at the end of the game.  Each team had its deficiencies; it’s just that Duke’s came at the end of the game.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (in reverse order) 

The Ugly (the First Half)

UVA is simply a better team than any Duke has faced this year.  The freshmen laden Devils were overwhelmed by the skill and cohesion of the opposition in the first half.  It was as if the freshmen had never seen a team like Virginia (and in truth they hadn’t).  Virginia’s offense was constantly moving, patient, and made Duke play its man to man defense deep into the shot clock.  Duke broke down late in the shot clock.  Duke had no idea of how to attack the Pack Line defense and was unable to get out in transition.  Coach K suggested that Virginia’s offense tired Duke, which led to ineffective offense.  Duke was 0-7 from behind the arc; every starter missed (Carter and Trent twice).  It is worth noting that almost all of the guards’ attempts were contested  The freshmen turned it over with rapidity (8 times), partly because they had never played against a defense that active and cohesive (the word of the day in analyzing this game).  Finally, the bench was non-existent.  O’Connell played 3 minutes for Duval (who had a “deer-in-headlights look throughout much of the first half.), and was immediately beaten back door on defense and then committed a foul.  DeLaurier spelled Carter for 3 minutes and committed a foul, but got 2 rebounds.

The backcourt was awful.  Grayson did not score in the first half (0-5; 0-1 from deep; 0 free throw attempts), had 0 assists but 2 turnovers.  Duval did score (1-4; 0-1 from deep; and 0-1 from the line – the front end of a 1 and 1) with 3 assists and 2 turnovers.  Trent led the backcourt in scoring with 4 (2-7; 0-2 from 3land without a free throw attempt), but had 2 turnovers without an assist.  None of the 3 registered a steal.  Contrast with the UVA back court of Jerome and Guy (39 of 40 first half minutes), who combined for 17 first half points – Guy had 10 on 4 shots – including 4-4 from the line and a couple of steals.

The Bad

After a dramatic turnaround and scintillating comeback (see The Good infra.), Duke led by 3 with 7:30 left in the game.  Then, Duke’s youth and Virginia’s experience showed.  Carter missed the front end of a 1 and 1 (the same as a turnover if you think about it).  Hunter penetrated for a layup; Trent missed a 3; Hall hit Jerome for a 3.  Carter turned it over, but Marvin got several offensive rebounds, the last spectacular one of which tied the game at 53 with 5 minutes left (winning time).  Hunter penetrated for a deuce; Carter missed the front end again leading to a feed to Hall from Jerome.  Duke closed to within 2 on a Duval long pass to Bagley (the success of which may have inspired the ill-advised attempt to do the same with Carter with a minute left).  Duke could not gain possession after a dramatic block by Carter – UVA retrieved two crucial offensive rebounds, which culminated in a three by Guy.  60-56 with 2:25 to go.  Carter grabbed another board after a superb block by Duval, which led to a Bagley dunk.  Duke down 2 with 1:35 left.  Duval rebounded a Guy miss with 1:00 to play and Duke down 2.  He fired long to Carter, hoping to repeat his success on the great outlet to Bagley earlier – but not long enough.  Jerome stole it, and then calmly hit a 3 from very deep.  UVA 63 Duke 58 with 39 seconds left.  Bagley missed a quick three, which UVA rebounded.  That seemed like the game until UVA missed the front end of two one and ones to seemingly give the Devils life after the death certificate had been issued.   Grayson missed a three badly, but UVA missed the front end again.  Bagley hit a 3 with 8 seconds left.  Duke down 2.  But Guy hit both free throws after Duke fouled for the final margin.  Gallant effort, but UVA made the plays and Duke didn’t.  The Duke backcourt was missing in action for this game.  Grayson scored 5 in his 40 minutes; Duval 6; Trent 8.  Collectively, the trio was 1-8 from behind the arc with 10 of Duke’s 16 turnovers.

The Good

Duke learned!  This team can compete with any team in America.  Down 13, after UVA hit a 3 to open the second half, Duke stormed back behind a solid zone defense, a few welcome UVA misses, and some superb offense, both in transition and in the half court set.  The offense revived against the Pack Line – actually shredded it.  Duke shot 59% in the second half and 50% from deep (17-29; 4-8 from deep).  Duke lost the game at the foul line (3-8 in the second half, including the front end of all 3 one and ones) and on turnovers.  Duke had another 8 in the second half, but if you add in the 3 front end misses from the line, it is 11 futile trips.  Duke showed much heart and the dynamic inside duo was superb.  Marvin almost did it all himself.  He was heroic, playing the entire game; scoring 30 (13-18; 2-4 from deep; 2-3 from the line to go with 14 rebounds.  Carter returned to being a superb Robin, scoring 14 while scoffing up 15 rebounds and blocking 4 shots with a crucial steal.  He was 6-11, but only 1-3 from deep and depressingly 1-4 from the line.

Prospects for the Season

In practical terms, Duke’s chances for the regular season ACC crown evaporated with this loss.  The remaining goal is to get one of the 4 double byes (which go to the first 4 places in the regular season) for the ACC tournament.  Then comes the tournaments, which will eventually determine how this team is evaluated.  [I count last season’s ACC tournament win as something special even though the Devils flamed out early in the NCAA.]  Duke is still learning and has the most daunting part of its schedule remaining, beginning with a quick turnaround against Notre Dame tomorrow night.  Still left to play are UNC (2); Louisville, Virginia Tech (2).  Plenty of tests to evaluate Duke’s learning curve.  The good news is that Coach K could legitimately say (as he did in his press conference), “we got better today.”

Duke 88 – Notre Dame 66

On a once in a Blue Moon night when Marvin isn’t Marvelous, but the Miracles are, and you got a glimpse of how much more offensively lethal this team can be when the guards are scoring. Gary Trent, Grayson Allen, and Trevon Duval, who scored just 19 points against Virginia, combined for 52 points tonight. And it was a good thing, because Bagley had an rare off night (4-14) 12 points and Carter’s minutes were somewhat limited by foul trouble.

Do not be fooled by Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey often looking as though he was recovering from a rough all-nighter, because he sure can coach.  Since the former Coach K assistant took over the Notre Dame program, the Irish are now 5-5 against the Blue Devils and Brey is the only former Blue Devil assistant to earn a victory over his former mentor. Tonight, the Fighting Irish, playing without injured preseason ACC Player of the Year Bonzie Colson and veteran point guard Matt, lived up to their name and kept within upset distance until the Blue Devils made an 18-0 run midway through the second half.

Unlike the Virginia game, Coach K used Bolden, DeLaurier, White and O’Connell off the bench. Surprisingly, it was seldom seen Australian sophomore forward Jack White (5 points, 7 rebounds) who demonstrated a toughness, determination, strength, savvy, and skill set to undoubtedly increase his playing time. Not only did his energy, hustle, and productivity endear him the Cameron Crazies, Coach K made a point of going onto the court after an Irish time out to enthusiastically congratulate him, but also, after the game, ESPN interviewed both he and Grayson Allen.

And speaking of Grayson (18 points, 8 assists, 1 steal), I think his offensive inconsistency is due to two factors: 1) He is an emotional, instinctive player, who, because of his previous well- publicized incidents, is being very careful to keep his emotions in check. 2) Playing with the uber talented big men Bagley and Carter that he never had before (plus Trent), he is being too careful to be a good captain and teammate. He feels his role has changed and he does not have to be a big time scorer. While he is not inhibited on defense and is certainly the most committed defender, the combination of these two factors keeps him from playing flat out, balls-to-the-wall [Term used by fighter pilots when accelerating quickly, the throttle is pushed all the way to the panel and the throttle lever (ball) actually touches the panel wall.] offense like he did against Wisconsin and Michigan State (when Bagley was out with an injury). I was pleased and encouraged with  what we saw tonight. It was the first time this season since the Michigan State game that he looked relaxed and was really enjoying himself. He was loose as a goose, smiling,  high fiving Trent and hugging Jack White as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. To achieve the next level of excellence, all the guards have to shoot like they did tonight but to win championships, Grayson has to play more aggressively on offense. After all, he is a senior, the captain, and has done it before.

Other Comments:

  • Jay Williams thinks that this is a zone team.
  • The Blue Devils lead the all-time series, which began with a 1965 matchup in Chicago Stadium, 22-7 and won 17 of the first 19 meetings between the two schools.
  • Next game: Saturday 12:00. Duke – St. Johns in Mr. Silber’s neighborhood but also on Fox TV.

Alan Adds:

With Notre Dame in disarray (5 straight losses) with crippling injuries, and Duke coming off a close loss to UVA, the stage was set at Cameron for a blowout!  But, it did not happen in the first half.  Notre Dame hung in there, aided by 7 Duke turnovers and 8 fouls in the first half.  Duke’s offense was efficient, scoring 42 in the opening stanza, but the defense was not.  The Irish, a very low scoring team since the injuries, got layups as well as 9 offensive rebounds to hang around.  The first part of the second half was more of the same, with the Blue Devils giving up easy scores, but staying in front with efficient offense.  Then, with 9:21 left, everything changed and the Duke defense went to work in astonishing style.  Both Carter and Duval were in foul trouble and The Fighting Irish had chopped the Duke lead to 6, 58-52 on Gibbs’ 2 free throws (Duke’s 4th team foul).  Then, Tre hit the biggest shot of the game, a wide open 3 (perfect assist from Grayson).  As I have noted, Duval’s 3 point shooting has improved fairly dramatically in recent games.  He does not shoot them often (and, happily, only when he is wide open), and teams are daring him to shoot because of his early season deficiencies.  ND never had a smell of winning after that shot.  The offense was magical, but – though unheralded in post-game reports – so was the defense.  Duval had a great steal followed by a great assist for Carter layup.   Then Grayson made a superb steal and dunk.   Notre Dame made a jumper, but Grayson answered with a 3.  Duval committed his 4th foul with 10:19 left, and Duke leading by 12 after Gibbs made both free throws.  Jack White replaced Duval.  Bagley had a superb block at the rim (followed by White’s 3).  ND missed 4 straight contested jumpers; Duke denied the Irish the offensive rebounds, which Notre Dame had been capitalizing on earlier.   With 4:04 left, Duke was leading by 30 – 86-56 before the Irish scored again.  In sum, Duke held the Irish scoreless from 10:19 to 4:04; and to only 4 points in the 8+ minutes from up by 6 to up by 30!  That is defense that deserves unstinting praise.

The announcers do not seem to follow the game closely or know what is important to the team’s development.  Bolden made his first appearance in 6 games, and played 14 minutes.  While he was rusty (2 fouls and a turnover), he also showed some good stuff (3 rebounds; an assist and a block).  He had been in the game for many minutes (and 2 commercials) before he was noticed.  Shame on Bilas.  An efficient Bolden is actually a big deal for Duke going forward.  I guess the announcers are unaware of that.  Jack White was, of course, a revelation.  He has been playing well in his previous cameos (mostly as a rebounder and energetic defender).  In 14 minutes he was 2-3 from the field including 1-1 from deep, to go with 7 rebounds.  DeLaurier played eight minutes (2 fouls; he is a fouling machine which diminishes his potential value).  However, he grabbed 2 boards, was 1-1 from the field and made a block.  Hopefully, both Bolden and DeLaurier will become more valuable as they knock the rust off.  O’Connell had a fruitless cameo [0-2 in 5 minutes].

This is such an intriguing team. They can be freshman frustrating with mistakes on both ends , yet dynamic when things are clicking.  After the St. John’s game this Saturday – it is a great sports day in New York with the Millrose Track meet at the armory as well – the schedule is fierce.   UNC at Chapel Hill next Thursday will be another game that reveals how well the Devils are developing.  Two ACC road games next week (Georgia Tech) before a stretch of 4 ACC home games, including a crucial matchup with Louisville.  We are going into the last month of regular season play before the tournaments and it is still hard to gauge this team’s ability against quality opposition.

DUKE  77- ST. JOHNS 81 

Maybe, winning all those close games early in the season with miracle finishes was not such a good thing after all. Maybe, it made the freshmen believe their press clippings. Maybe, they are worried about their draft status. Maybe, they are just an overrated team. Maybe, baby…whatever… the inability of this Duke team to beat the teams they should on the road is troubling. Their weaknesses—casual to awful defense, too many careless turnovers, inconsistent point guard play and free throw shooting—have not shown much improvement and, after half a season of available film, every opponent is well prepared on how to play them. Those of us who have watched  Duke play over the years are only too aware that St. Johns has always been a difficult opponent for the Blue Devils. Their players are born, bred, and raised on the playgrounds of New York —therefore, savvy, instinctive one-on-one players. Consequently, if the game comes down to the wire, they have an advantage of pulling out a close game. As we have stressed before, don’t let any team hang around too long, because there are a lot of very good but underpublicized players of all shapes and sizes—and the three point lines is a great equalizer.

In the first half, Duke’s man-to-man defense got beat so many times for dunks on the same high pick-and-roll that I thought my television was stuck on a permanent replay loop. It didn’t seem to matter as long as Trent was knocking down threes until he didn’t, the Johnnies did and Bagley was on the bench with four fouls. One bright note was Wendell Carter’s (14 pts, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks) inspired defense that sparked the rally from eleven down in the last eight minutes. Hopefully, he and Bagley have learned a lot from these four losses.

To add insult to injury, St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds, who torched the Blue Devils for 24 of his 33 points in the second half, was sensational. After Duke briefly took a one-point lead with 1:34 left in the game, Ponds scored the game’s next five points, including a contested NBA three pointer as the shot clock expired that put St. John’s up 77-73 with :38 seconds left.

In his revealing press conference,  Coach K had a decidedly different tone and demeanor than after the previous three losses: “The very first thing, congratulations to Chris (Mullin) and his team. They’ve been involved in a lot of really close games in the conference. I know it’s been frustrating for them, but they were the better team today… Shamorie Ponds was terrific, but also, they played with an enthusiasm and a togetherness that I’m sure Coach Mullins liked. It was tough for us to defend them… I thought they made us look bad, but we made ourselves look bad. The first 32 minutes of this game were not worthy of Duke’s program. I saw blank stares, no communication and players playing like five individuals… The play was disgusting, really… No matter what we said, nothing worked with our team – until the last eight minutes, and then we had a chance to win. You can say ‘why?’ Look, I do not know why. I can tell you that wasn’t the group that I have coached all year. And they were a very frustrating group to coach today, because they did not respond to anything. We were a tough team to coach today. This team’s play was unacceptable. At halftime, at a timeout, you’ve got to respond. And when you don’t, then you’re into your own stuff for whatever reason that is. Whether you’re not ready or you’re sick or whatever. You got to give it up. We didn’t give it up, and the team that was deserving of winning, won. It made the loss, because we came back, all the more frustrating. But the basketball gods understand, in most cases, who should win. So losing when you had a chance to win after not playing well, we got what we deserved.”

He all but dropped the mike as he exited the podium.

P.S. If I were a gambler, I would double down on the Carolina game.

Alan Adds:

In my world, the Duke-St. Johns game was not the most important sporting event of the day; rather it was the Millrose Games track meet at The Armory on 168th Street – an annual event for me.  Of course, writing the DBP made getting to the meet for the early events an impossible option.  I told my guest that we could probably leave before the game ended because Duke would simply blow the unworthy Red Storm out of the Garden.  I told him “St. Johns has lost 11 in a row; lost its best player; and simply does not have the size or talent to compete with Duke.  Duke should lead by 20 at the half and win by twice that.”  Yes, I really said that.  No matter how hard Coach K tried to focus his team on competing against a team that had the capability to beat the Blue Devils – “we did not overlook St. Johns” — it is clear that the players felt as I did.

While Duke held a first half scoring advantage, it was clear that the Devils were being thoroughly outplayed.  Only Trent’s 4-5 from deep (and Bagley’s 1-1) kept Duke in front.  Bolden had a nice 6 minute stint in the opening stanza, scoring 4 points (2-2) and grabbing 4 rebounds.  Possibly good news.  The Red Storm got every loose ball while Duke looked lethargic and really uncaring.  You could feel the “we’re going to win by 40” mentality right from the start.  I texted my daughter at about the 15 minute mark that Duke was winning but playing terribly.  The defense was virtually non-existent.   Switching on the pick and roll was a distant memory as the Red Storm got to the rim for absolutely uncontested layups on multiple occasions (See Bill’s accurate pithy comment above).  It was actually jaw dropping to see the lack of anything resembling cohesion on defense.  However, twelve first half turnovers – many unforced or careless – was the most revealing first half statistic.   Even though ahead by 7 at the break, you knew that the Duke attitude had to change if Duke was to win.  We now know it did not change until with 6:36 left to play and Duke down 11 (68-57).  Then, with their backs to the wall, the young Devils finally showed a sense of urgency that had been sorely lacking for 32 minutes.  Duke came charging back behind Tre Duval.  He hit a key 3 from the corner; a driving layup; and handed out a nifty assist to Carter’s layup to cut the lead to 4 (68-64).  Carter had 2 superb blocks in a row, to finally defend the rim.  Distressingly, Duke gave up an offensive rebound after forcing another Red Storm miss, which allowed St. Johns to stretch the lead back to 6.  Duval responded with another driving layup cutting the lead back to 4.  Carter rebounded the next Red Storm miss (Duke was finally contesting the Red Storm jumpers) before Bagley launched a contested 3 that missed.  Trent fouled Ahmed, who sank both.  Duval again scored on a driving layup to cut the lead to 4. Bagley made a superb steal and fed Trent for a 3 to bring the Devils within 1.  After the Red Storm turned it over against Duke’s press, Trent was fouled and made a pair to give Duke a 73-72 lead.  But alas, it was not maintained.  Ponds penetrated for a layup.  Duval responded with an acrobatic drive and was fouled with 1:09 left.  He needed to make both to give Duke the lead.  He’s only a 60% foul shooter, and — in the game’s defining moment — he missed them both.  Duke defended stoutly with yet another superb block by Carter, but the Red Storm snagged the game’s most critical offensive rebound; followed by the game’s most critical shot – a long 3 by Pond with 38 seconds left.  Grayson answered with his own 3 with 35 seconds left, but that was Duke’s last gasp.  St. Johns made foul shots and Duke didn’t (Bagley 1-2 with 21 seconds left, leaving Duke down 2) and that was all she wrote.

The Defense

It was yet another terrible performance by Duke.  St. Johns shredded the Duke man to man; and when Duke went zone, the Red Storm was even more successful.  Duke made its run in a man-to-man defense that started trapping the ball screens.  Only Carter’s rim defense was exemplary (4 blocks; 3 in the second half comeback).  Coach K lamented that Duke didn’t talk and really didn’t defend energetically, giving up 49 second half points to a team with 11 consecutive losses.  Worse, in spite of a height and athletic advantage, Duke gave up 16 offensive rebounds, many of which led to St. Johns scores, negating Duke’s occasional effective defense against the initial possession

The Offense

Duke turned it over 18 times in the game.  Bagley had 6; Duval 4; while Grayson and Trent turned it over 3 times each.  This was not aberrational.  In the last 6 games, Duke has averaged 16 turnovers.  Coach K, still lamenting, pointed out that Duke has not been strong with the ball and that many of the turnovers were unforced.   “I don’t know why”.    Moreover, the turnovers led to easy St. Johns scores.  It was not pretty.  Grayson reverted to horrible (but for the key 3 to answer Ponds’s 3 with 35 seconds left).  He was 1-7 from the field (1-4 from deep) 4-6 from the line.  He had 2 assists against 3 turnovers with 0 steals or blocks.  Two rebounds.  Not senior leadership.

Foul Shooting

In the second half, Duke had three 1 & 1 opportunities.  Bolden missed the front end (his second half performance of 4 minutes was also promising; he got 2 more boards and a block); followed by Grayson missing the front end.  Trent connected on the first to earn a bonus shot, which he missed.  Out of a potential 6 points, Duke got 1.  Duke was 20-29, but if you omit Carter’s 8-8 it was 12 -21.  That’s simply not winning basketball in close games.  Duval miss was symptomatic of the malady.  Point guards need to make foul shots down the stretch in close games, especially if your team has the lead and the other team is forced to foul.  Duval’s 60% make rate is an Achilles heel.

Evaluation

Coach K said it all: “This was a tough team to coach today.”  He had zero answers in his press conference.  It does not create optimism for the remainder of the season.  UNC on Thursday followed by a tough stretch in the conference.

Duke 78- North Carolina 82 

Durham, we have a problem. When a Duke team is embarrassed in the Garden on national television by a Big East also-ran team, then Coach K, whose team’s rarely lose two in a row, can’t motivate them to play smart and hard for forty minutes of decent offense and on defense, they don’t block out, rebound, and are out hustled by an outmanned Carolina team, what can you say?

I say congratulations to my buddy Johnny Tar Heel, you non-believer, your team deserved the win. I also say that the first half looked like a basketball version of the Eagles vs. the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Neither team could (or would) stop the other—the score was 49 to 45. Then, inexplicably, in the second half, the Blue Devils came out flat, could not (or would not) match Carolina’s energy and determination as the Heels went on a 23-8 run while the often perplexed Blue Devils only scored 29 second half points. However, with eight minutes to go, Duke suddenly decided to play effective man-to- man defense, protect the rim, and closed a double digit deficit to three. But then the Blue Devils couldn’t hit the shots to sustain the run and pull off a miracle comeback, which they apparently used up last year in the first eleven games. An example of how poor the Duke defense was—they gave up 11 threes, only forced 2 turnovers, and despite their size advantage, was outrebounded 20-11 on the offensive glass.

Surprisingly, Coach K  substituted early and often. And the good news is that Marques Bolden played the best 17 minutes of his Duke career as he looked like a very polished and confident player, while Alex O’Connell played 18 minutes and had 11 points. Question: Why did O’Connell have more points in less than half the playing time than Grayson Allen, who had 6 points in the first three minutes but only 9 for the game?

Possible explanations for these four disappointing losses are youth and inconsistent point guard play. The 2015 Championship team had Ty Jones, who wasn’t athletically flashy but was not only a very mature game manager and team leader but also made clutch game changing and game winning shots. Tre Duval, on the other hand, can be effective and flashy going to the basket but has not been a consistently steady floor general.

Once again, Duke is loaded with teenage one-and-done NBA first round lottery picks who have not and will not be in college long enough to realize how much four and done players want to beat them and, unlike high school, they have to play hard and smart for forty minutes, not twenty-five or thirty. This isn’t fantasy basketball, where stats are all that matters. You put four teenage freshmen in this position and on this stage, no matter how uber-talented they may be, there’s no telling how consistently they may play. They may struggle at the start, as they did against St. Johns. They may struggle at the end, as they did at home against Virginia. They may play well but not be able to find another gear when an opponent does as Carolina did tonight. Or they may learn to savor moment, the bright lights, the screaming fans, and rise to the occasion to be at their best in those moments, as  Jones and Allen and their teammates did in 2015.

Whatever the explanation, time is running out for this team to discover that talent alone does not win games and titles. It also takes  commitment, effort, and chemistry.

Other Comments:

  • DBS subscribers wrote: This team plays no defense and has average guard play. Makes u crave the old model – the one Villanova and Carolina have quietly executed – the K model from 15 years ago… Not loving the one-and-done mode (aka. temps).  2015 was great – but I think an outlier…Ironically, the Tar Heels beat Duke tonight by playing Duke Basketball.
  • There is a reason the Duke-Carolina rivalry is so compelling: The difference between these teams is amazing. Since 2010, Duke has won 13 of the 19 contests between these two teams, but across the decades the advantages have evened out. In the last 101 meetings, North Carolina holds a 51-50 edge in victories and a two-point edge (7,847 to 7,845) in points.

Next play.

Alan Adds:

The most revealing statistic for me is that in the second half, Carolina outrebounded Duke off Duke’s defensive board.  Duke retrieved 13 defensive rebounds while the Tar Heels grabbed 15 offensive rebounds in the second half.  Coach K agreed that it was the most significant aspect of the game.  With 6:31 left in the first half, the Blue Devils led by 12 (40-28).  With 9:30 left in the game, Carolina led by 10 (72-62).  In that 17 minute stretch, Duke reverted to the desultory basketball that has led to upset losses.  Primarily, Duke was completely outhustled in that stretch.  The (as Bill likes to call them) “Washed Out Blues” dominated both backboards in spite of being dramatically outsized, and retrieved every loose ball.  Pinson was everywhere defending, rebounding and driving through the defense for easy assists.  It’s hard to know what to make of this team when they play in significant stretches like this.  Inconsistent is the only valid evaluation of this team so far.

Coach K acknowledged that for a long stretch in the game “we were awful.”  We didn’t execute in the second half what we had diagrammed at intermission.   When that happens, you get confused.  Confusion on offense led to poor transition defense and the 22 point swing in Carolina’s favor in that 17 minute stretch.

Crunch Time

Duke crept back into contention beginning with Wendell Carter’s 3.  Alex hit a 3 and Bagley made a steal, Grayson was fouled.  Even his foul shooting has diminished; he missed the second shot, leaving Duke down by 5.  Each team missed shots and was sloppy without scoring for almost 2 minutes until Marvin got another rebound and passed to Tre who was fouled on his way to the hoop.  He made them both; Duke trailed by 3 with 4:56 to go.  Carolina got 4 offensive rebounds on the next possession but were thwarted with great rim protection and a dramatic block by Carter.  With 3:23 left, Trent missed a 3 that would have tied the game, and the Tar Heels closed out the game from there.  Duval committed his 5th foul (he played only half the game because of foul trouble), and Cameron Johnson buried a 3.  Grayson missed, then committed a foul (Berry made them both).  Trent’s 2 free throws cut the lead to 6 with 1:10 left, but Grayson and Alex missed 3s before Marvin scored on a dunk to cut the lead to 4 with 35 seconds left.  Berry left the door slightly open when he missed a foul shot, but Grayson turned it over, and that was that.

The backcourt

The backcourt was Duke’s undoing.  The three starters – Allen, Duval and Trent – could not defend or shoot, but they did foul.  Each had 2 in the first half.  Duval fouled out in 20 minutes while Allen (40 minutes) and Trent (35 minutes) had 4 each.  Duke forced only 2 turnovers for the game.  Allen was 3-9 (2-8 from deep and 1-2 from the line) for 9 points.  He had 4 boards, 7 assists and only 2 turnovers.   Trent scored 16 on 6-11; 2-5 from deep and 2-2 from the free throw line (he was more effective in the first half with 9 points on 6 shots (4-6; 1-1 from deep).  Tre made all 5 of his free throws, but was 0-3 from behind the arc and only 2-6 inside it for his 9 points to go with a checkered floor game (5 assists, but 4 turnovers).  Defensively, the Carolina backcourt scored at will (Berry had 21; Williams 20; and Johnson 18).

The Bigs

Marvin was magnificent, but cannot do it alone.  He played 39 minutes grabbing 16 rebounds (11 on the defense) while scoring 15 on 7-13 from the floor and 1-2 from the line.  He had 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal without a single foul.  Carter had only 5 boards and 10 points in 28 minutes. He did not get to the foul line (a telling statistic for me), going 2-3 from deep and 2-4 from inside the arc.  He committed only 2 fouls; he was simply not the beast he has been all year – not his energetic self at all.

The Bench

Marquis Bolden was a revelation in the first half.  He logged 17 game minutes; 9 in the opening stanza where he went 4-4 from the floor (0-1 from the line) to go with a block.  He added an assist in the second half.  It was his best game at Duke so far, and leads to a tantalizing hope that he can infuse some energy into the defense and rebounding.  Alex played 18 minutes (7 in the opening stanza where he scored 5 and got 2 rebounds), in part because of Duval’s foul trouble, and in part because of his effective play.  He scored 11 for the game (more than either Grayson or Duval) on 4-8; 3-5 from deep and ended with 3 rebounds.  Javen DeLaurier, once again produced startling foul stats: 1 minute played; 2 fouls committed.  Jack White had a shot blocked in his 2 minutes.

The Unfolding Season

Coach K seemed sort of satisfied with the improvement from the St. Johns debacle.   “We played better.  We played hard [I dissent for a substantial part of the game] and got good bench.  It is clear to me that this group of superb players has not yet become a good team. I got a hint that Duke may try and play bigger (with only two guards and Bolden seeing more time).  Whether it will or not is why they will play, and we will watch, the rest of the season.

Next game is in Atlanta against Georgia Tech on Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. ESPN

Duke 80 – Georgia Tech 69 

Although a win, this game was a microcosm of the of the season’s five losses and near losses. Playing a zone press and starting Bolden (for Bagley resting a “minor knee sprain” suffered in the Carolina game as a “precautionary measure”), and O’Connell (for Duval benched presumably for erratic play), Duke won the first half 43-26 and lost the second half 37-43 against one of the worst teams in the ACC. Without Bagley, and substituting liberally, the Blue Devils played an aggressive, inspired, effective first half and appeared to be in a position to cruise. However, there are times this team is just incapable of playing forty minutes of fundamentally sound basketball. Up 26 points in the second half, how do they allow Tech to make a 25-2 run and then cut the margin to twelve points to put the game in jeopardy? Solve that problem and we have a different team.

The good news is that Bolden has developed into a big, athletic player who looks like he belongs on the floor. He has a wide body with hops and a decent touch in the post. O’Connell is very athletic and can definitely shoot the three and score the ball. DeLaurier is super athletic and defensively disruptive but foul prone. Jack White has proven he can be a useful sub. Despite opinion to the contrary, these players have the talent and the desire to play meaningful minutes.

The mystery of Grayson Allen 4.0 is that, as in the Michigan State game, he is a different player when Bagley is not on the floor. Tonight, his offensive aggressiveness set the tone for the fast start. Grayson scored 10 of Duke’s first 16 points, made all 10 of his free throws, and had 6 assists. It appears that with or without Bagley, the team is better with Grayson leading the team from the point and Tre Duval coming off the bench. In addition, you just cannot have ball in Tre’s hands at the end of a tight game, because he is not a good free throw shooter. (BTW Duke was 21-26 = 81% for the game). In those circumstances, Allen or Trent on the line is the money play.

This year, there is no super team: Virginia, Villanova, Purdue, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Kentucky all lost this week. Despite three close losses in the last five games, Duke still has the time and the talent to fix what ails them–defense and guard play–and win championships. All they need to do is play decent defense and, just as importantly, have dependable guard play, and finish games off like they did at the beginning of the season. Duval needs to forgo the spectacular and settle for being the steady, consistent facilitator (an assist to turnover ratio like the first ten games) for all the talent around him. The offense needs to go through Bagley and Carter. Throwing the ball into the post is not the same as throwing it into a black hole. They are good and willing passers and will redirect if double teamed. Inside/Out produces more open shots than passing around the perimeter. And Grayson Allen needs to regain his aggressive offense 2.0 mojo. Improvement in just two of these areas would produce a lot more than just the three or four points by which they have lost games. I was surprised Coach K had not yet brought the public hammer down on this team. He usually makes a dramatic change when a team is under performing. Perhaps, tonight was an indication of more changes to come.

Other Comments:

In his presser, Coach K expressed some interesting insights into his assessment of this team: Sunday night games are tough because of the rhythm of our week. Sunday is a low energy day—a day of rest. There are no parties on Sunday night…Any team in the ACC is capable of making a run during a game. Sustaining it is difficult…Bolden is playing well but, because he was out five weeks, is no yet in game shape and is most effective in short stretches…He coaches offense, defense, and communication. The toughest to teach is communication, because young athletes generally don’t like to talk, they like to do– but talking is essential to playing good defense.

Next game: Virginia Tech @ Cameron. Wednesday 7:00pm. ESPN2

Alan Adds:

Coach K notwithstanding, playing on Sunday night does not explain Duke’s schizophrenic character in this game as well as other games this season.  “Tired” — “when they are tired they talk less” and the defense suffers, — also seems like one of the desperate defenses I have had to use in trial.  It is mid-February and Duke has played 25 games.  Giving credence to the need for players coming off of injuries to play and practice enough to get in game shape, like DeLaurier and Bolden, does not explain Duke’s schizophrenia.  Duke was a fabulous team in the first half and a stagnant out of sync team in the second half.  Duke was superb in the first half on both offense [43 points on 53% shooting from the floor; 4-9 from deep; 7 offensive rebounds; 11 assists against 6 turnovers (still a problem)] and defense [playing a ¾ court trap that fell back into a zone all the way, the Blue Devils hounded Georgia Tech, holding the Jackets to 26 points on 28% shooting, 2-10 from deep, getting 7 turnovers (3 of them steals), and allowing the Yellow Jackets only 4 offensive boards.]  The second half was as bad as the first half was superb.  Duke scored only 19 points from the field in the second 20 minutes on 32 % shooting – 3-7 from deep for 9 of the points and 5-18 from inside the arc for the other 10.  5-18!!!  (Grayson 1-7; 1-5 from 3land; Trent 1-5; the 1 was a crucial 3, his only second half attempt from behind the arc; Alex 0-1; Duval 3-7, including a 3 on a gorgeous feed from Grayson that was the shot of the game, but with 0 assists; Bolden 1-2; and Wendell 2-3).  Duke held on to win from the foul line in the second half, scoring 18 on 21 attempts (Grayson 10-10; Carter 5-6; Trent 2-2; DeLaurier 1-2; and Duval missed his only attempt).  Duke had only 5 assists (one by Goldwire at the end) against 5 turnovers.  Grayson had 2 of each in the closing stanza.  Tech blocked 4 Duke shots, mostly when the guards drove the lane.  Once again, Duke could not protect its defensive back board, giving up 12 offensive rebounds to the Jackets (Duke got 12 defensive boards, meaning Georgia Tech retrieved half of the caroms).   Tech had 9 assists and only 3 turnovers.  Duke’s second half – against a team that has been injured and beaten consistently – is in character with the inconsistency that has been consistently (sorry!) on display.  Okagie was the Engineers engine (sorrier!), scoring 15 second half points.  Duke did nothing special to defend him; in fact, it seemed as if Duke’s zone played off him rather than concentrating on defending him.

The Bigs

Carter was superb; perhaps his best all-around game (in his hometown); Bolden had an excellent first half scoring 6 in 14 minutes and grabbing 5 boards and making a nifty pass for an assist.  Coach K emphasized that Marques is not yet in “game shape” after missing 5 weeks with his injury.   In 11 second half minutes, he was 1-2 and grabbed 1 board while turning it over once.  Promising.  De Laurier played 18 energetic minutes (10 in the second half) scoring 3 (1-1; 1-3 from the foul line) to go with 6 rebounds, a block and 2 steals.  He committed “only” 3 fouls.  The only down side to Duke’s inside play was the failure to defend its own back board in the second half.

The Backcourt

Grayson played virtually the entire game (39 minutes), but went back into his shooting slump from the field in the second half (1-7; 1-5 from deep, missing his last 4 in a row), but was Duke’s most valuable player (10-10 from the line) and stabilized the Blue Devils to end the Tech run.  Trent played 30 minutes (limited in the second half  by foul trouble; he finished with 4) scoring 15 on 4-11; 2-2 from deep, meaning he was 2-9 inside the arc; and 5-6 from the foul line.  He had 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals against a single turnover.  The time he was forced to the bench by foul trouble was not a good time for Duke.  O’Connell started and had a very good first half.  He logged 22 game minutes (14 in the first half where he hit a 3 — 1-3; 1-2 from 3land — and grabbed 2 rebounds to go with an assist and a block).  In the second half, he was less effective, missing his only shot, but grabbing 2 more boards.  Duval played 25 minutes scoring 9 on 4-8; hitting his only 3, which I repeat was the shot of the game, staunching a Tech run that had cut the lead to 12; and 0-1 from the line.  He played 15 of those minutes in the second half, scoring 7 of his 9 in that stanza with 3 rebounds, but 0 assists.

The Second Half Slump

With 10:53 left in the game, Duke led by 25 (63-38).  Duke started missing and turning it over.  Seven minutes later, Tech trailed by only 12.  In that stretch, Trent missed 3, Grayson and Duval one each, Trent committed a foul, and both Carter and Bolden turned it over.  Duval missed the front end of a one and one, but Duke’s foul shooting (Grayson, Carter and Trent) plus Duval (a 3, a layup and a tip in) kept the slump from turning into a legendary disaster.

Going forward

The goal is one of the four double byes in the ACC tournament.  Duke, in 3rd place in the ACC (8-4) is in control of its destiny, but faces the hardest part of the schedule.  Louisville and UNC are a half game behind Duke (each 8-5); Virginia Tech, coming off a thrilling road win at Virginia, is 7-5 (as is Miami, whom Duke does not play again).  Clemson is in 2nd place at 9-3.  Duke has 6 ACC games remaining: Virginia Tech (2), UNC, Louisville, Clemson and Syracuse (6-6).  I believe the next 6 games will be season defining.

Duke 74- Virginia Tech 52 

Tonight was yet another example of why we are fascinated with Duke Basketball: Marvelous Marv is still on the IR list. Virginia Tech (18-7, 7-5) is coming off their biggest win of the year against #1 Virginia in Charlottesville. So, what’s Duke gonna do? Coach K, who just turned 71, decides to take a page from the good old days and go back to the future by playing small ball with aggressive guards Grayson Allen 2.0 and Gary Trent 1.0 leading the way as the team finally discovers (necessity is the mother of invention) playing defense—zone at that— is actually fun and that threes beats twos.

“Next man up” replaced “next play” as the mantra for the last two games. Tonight, a finally healthy Javin DeLaurier was that man and he distinguished himself with athletic dunks and hyperactive defense as Coach K apparently listened to Johnny Tar Heel and substituted liberally (for him). Of course, the steady Wendell Carter’s 13 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, & 2 blocks took care of  low post play.  

Here is the unexpectedly impressive piece of the puzzle: Against a team averaging 82.7 points per game, the Blue Devils held the Hokies to a season low 52 point  on 42.9% shooting and outrebounded them  36-19. That included 11 offensive boards which gave the Devils an 18-2 edge in second-chance points. Who saw that coming? Now, the questions is: Has necessity taught these 1.0 players that defense is a necessary component for them to reach their potential? And does Grayson Allen realize that he is the straw that stirs the drink for this team? Even though Tre Duval started (after starting against Georgia Tech, Alex O’Connell only played puzzling mop up minutes), Allen handled the ball more and it sure paid off as he had 6 assists to go with his 25 points. Duval, playing mostly off the ball, had 10 points & 3 assists but 4 turnovers.

Coach K’s  post-game press conference is usually interesting and instructive. Tonight, he complimented is team for “playing 40 minutes of good basketball…that Grayson Allen is our leader. We’ve had him off the ball a lot. He’s trying to lead from there, but the ball’s not in his hands. With the ball in his hands, he can make plays, he can call plays, he’s in more command. These last two games, that’s a big change for us. That’s what we need to do. We like the look with Allen running the point and Duval on the wing because it gives us chances for wing penetration, which has been largely lacking this season…Javin, who had 7 points, 4 rebounds & 1 steal, played with reckless abandon, attacking everything, tipping loose balls, keeping possessions alive.” Then, he said the words I never thought I would hear him utter: “We will play a lot more zone; that’ll be pretty much our primary defense– complemented by man. (Bobby Knight just threw a chair across the room).

Next game: Sunday @ Clemson. 1:00 ACC Network. 

Alan Adds: 

I disagree with Coach K: Duke’s first 8 and a half minutes in this game were cringe-making,  Duke turned the ball over 7 times in that short span.  And Virginia Tech shredded the Duke zone with 3s and layups.  Duke shot well from the perimeter, but did not take a lead until 7 minutes had elapsed.  Coach K was sufficiently alarmed (disgusted) with his zone defense, that with 11:14 left, he replaced his entire back line in the zone – Carter, Bolden and Trent – with White, Vrankovich and DeLaurier.  With 10:21 left in the first half, Duke led by only 1.   Then the Hokies started to miss open layups while Trent and Grayson began to bomb from the perimeter.  In my opinion, Virginia Tech’s 28 first half points were more about the Hokie misses than the Duke defense.  However, the Duke coaching staff made a key change to how the zone was operating and it worked like a charm.  In the first half, the Hokies threw the ball into the high post and operated freely from there.  In the second half, the off perimeter defender – Duval or Allen (Trent plays in the back line), dived into the middle to disrupt the high post.  They began to turn the Hokies over making the Hokie hub of the offense suddenly its weakness.  The Duke defense was beautiful to watch after the change.  DeLaurier gets much credit for that.  His defense then fueled his offense; he scored all 7 in his 13 second half minutes.  Offensively, Duke simply shot the hearts out of Virginia Tech.  You could see the hopelessness in their body language as Duke pulled away in the second half.

Duke’s Big 3 were Carter, Allen and Trent.  Only 5 Duke players scored last night.  Carter was simply awesome.  In 31 minutes he scored 13 [5-9; 1-2 from deep and 2-4 from the line], grabbed 13 rebounds, blocked 2 shots and handed out 4 assists (some great passes; one to DeLaurier that was a highlight).  He had 4 turnovers, but they came during Duke’s opening minutes.  He simply beat the Hokies up inside.  Allen and Trent were absolutely superb, and played virtually the entire game until mop-up time.  Trent (an under rated rebounder) scored 19 on only 11 shots [6-11; 5-9 from 3land; 2-2 from the line] to go with 5 key defensive rebounds from the back line of the zone.  Grayson was a sight for sore eyes.   He was the player last night that we anticipated and hoped he would be this year; a joy to watch.  Without Marvin in the lineup, Grayson (except for the second half against Georgia Tech) has been his sophomore year self.  Let’s see how that goes when Bagley returns because that could tell a tale about this team for the post-season.

Tre had a difficult stretch in those first minutes where 3 of his 4 turnovers occurred, but then he righted his ship.  He played 33 minutes and was terrific defensively on the perimeter of the zone.  He made a pair of 3s, but continues to shoot erratically [3-10; 2-6 from deep, and a gratifying 2-2 from the line (he’s only shooting 60% from the line)].  He had 3 assist, but 4 turnovers.  Bolden did not score in his 16 minutes; nor did White in his 9.  No one else did.

The Blue Devils moved into a tie for 2nd in the conference with Clemson (9-4); Sunday’s winner will have sole possession of 2nd.  UNC (9-5) and Louisville (8-5) each have 5 losses.  One of those teams will not get a double bye in the conference (that Virginia has wrapped up).  This is a season where anything can still happen.

Duke 66 – Clemson 57 

Without Marvelous Marv, there are no Miracles. There are just different backups taking turns stepping into the spotlight as we wait impatiently for the leader of the pack to return. Today, it was Grayson Allen scoring almost half Duke’s 35 first half points while Carter, DeLaurier, Trent and Duval shored up the defense until Carter and Trent took turns bringing down the curtain on a disappointed and deflated Tiger Nation (#10. Really?).

Playing in the always difficult venue of Littlejohn Coliseum, the Blue Devils led for most of the second half and even went up by ten with seven minutes to go but were obviously running on fumes when even contested point blank shots rimmed or rolled out, allowing Clemson an opening to tie the score with two minutes left. The Clemson students were celebrating as if the game was over and you wondered if this Marveless team could find a way to finish off a close road game. It was Carter and Trent who answered “Yes we can!” and made the winning plays. Wendell’s shots in the paint finally rolled in not out and Gary, who up to that point was not shooting well, came through with a three and free throws to make the margin deceiving. However, to be fair, the decisive play of the game may have been a boneheaded foul on a difficult, rushed three by Trent, who converted the three free throws.

It appears these three Marveless (sorry, I love puns) games, have forced Grayson to channel Allen 2.0 and the 1.0 freshmen to mature. In a mano a mano contest down low, Carter got more determined and tougher as the game went on finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds & 3 blocks. Javin DeLaurier, who started, only had only 2 points but 10 rebounds, 1 block, and was praised by Coach K for his overall impact on the game. Trevon Duval finished with 12 points and four steals that led to easy points. Grayson Allen had 19 but only 2 in the second half. However, he was very active defensively and has been both the scoring ( 22.3 points, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals) and emotional leader in these last three wins. The Blue Devils  outrebounded the Tigers as well as holding them to shooting only 42% (24% in the final 20 minutes).

The best news is that all the players appear to be enjoy mixing a 2-3 zone with a trapping 1-2-2. Allen and Duval have become a formidable duo at the top of the zone—with each recording four steals in the win—and are long and athletic enough pressure guards and prevent dribble penetration. The addition of the disruptive DeLaurier into the rotation has also been a plus because of his ability to stay in front of quicker players on the perimeter and also battle post players down low.  The zone is not only more effective, it is not as enervating as playing man. And then there is this — the Devils made  22 of 26 free throws. That’s 85%, folks—and they were all needed.

Other Comments:

  • Bolden, White, and O’Connell played limited but productive minutes.
  • This was an important game because the winner has sole possession of second place in the ACC standings. The loser fell half a game behind North Carolina for fourth place.
  • Krzyzewski said Bagley’s right knee sprain is improving. The coach said he’s unsure when Bagley, whom I believe was shooting jump shots in the warm-up in civilian clothes, will be back, but “it’ll be soon.”

Next game: Wednesday. Louisville. 9:00pm. ESPN

Alan Adds:

There was a moment when I believe this edition of The Blue Devils morphed in attitude. Future games will determine whether this is so.  Duke led by 10 (57-47) with 7:06 to go when Trent hit a 3, and it looked as if Duke had created sufficient separation to win going away.  Instead, however, adversity struck; Duke went over 4 minutes without a point, missing jump shots, interior shots, and offensive rebound attempts.  Clemson clawed back and with 2:54 left, had cut Duke’s lead to 2 (57-55).  The next possession was critical, but Duke turned it over on a lazy pass by Grayson to Carter, which Reed swiped.  Time out at 2:18.   Clemson, with Littlejohn rocking, tied the score on an easy – because of lax defense — layup.  What I saw next was the moment of metamorphosis.  With the arena in an absolute frenzy, Trent was perfectly calm as he threw the ball to Tre, who just as calmly brought the ball up court as if it were practice.  There was absolutely no panic; just a quiet confidence in the visible body language.  That was “my moment”.  With 2 seconds left on the shot clock, and 1:33 in the game, Trent had just a spec of room to shoot a corner 3, and was fouled by Spencer.  Bad foul?  Maybe, but also a foul forced by the ball movement and Trent’s past clutch 3s under pressure.  Then Trent did what winning players do; he made all 3 free throws;  Duke defended solidly at the rim and then grabbed the critical (and hard fought) rebound with 1:19 to go.  With the shot clock again running down, Grayson this time made the successful pass to Carter, who made a great post move for a layup and a two possession lead with 46 seconds left.  Although Carter missed the free throw that would have stretched the lead to 6, he made the defensive play needed (how many times have Bill and I written that about Carter this year?) with a block at the rim, which Grayson rebounded with 29 seconds left.  Then Duke continued to do what winning teams do; close out close games from the free throw line (remember Quinn and Tyus?).  Grayson made a pair, and Carter did likewise seconds later to complete the winning 9-0 run that followed “my moment”.

The Defense and the Bench

Duke played zone the entire game, frequently running a ¾ court 1-2-2 trap after made baskets.  Coach K lauded the team’s defense and rightly so.  This was the best Duke’s defense has looked against an elite team all season.  Clemson has been excellent from behind the arc, and Duke chose to attempt to stop DeVoe and Reed, Clemson potent deep shooting backcourt.  Devoe played all 40 minutes; made a crucial 3 after 7 misses from deep and 2 from inside the arc, while Duke forced 5 turnovers from him.  Reed was out of the game for only 1 minute and was curtailed from the perimeter (3-14; 1-6 from deep; only his 6-7 from the line got him to double figures – 13).  Coach K said his players talk more in the zone then when playing man to man, making the zone more effective.  He has also made some intriguing changes from the team’s earlier zone play.  Trent and Grayson have switched positions, with Trent moving to the outside on the back line while Grayson teams with Duval up front.  Duval is a very effective perimeter defender in the zone and earned Coach K’s playing time with his defense in the zone; he played all 20 minutes of the second half and 18 in the first half.  His defense is why Alex was limited to 2 minutes of playing time (all in the first half).  Grayson played the entire game, and is instrumental in the zone becoming effective.  Tre and Grayson teamed to stay on the shooter in center court and still defend the high post at the foul line.  Both Trent and DeLaurier (who is a superb zone defender) were both active in moving out to guard the long shot from around the foul line extended. This forced Clemson into its worst outside shooting night of the season.  Carter and DeLaurier were a bit bereft of outside help when Clemson penetrated, but defended heroically.  A word for DeLaurier – Coach K had many laudatory ones in his press conference.  Javen played 17 minutes of the second half while committing only a single foul! 30 minutes for the game with only 3 fouls. (Shades of Brian Zoubek’s senior year value).   Bolden played 7 valuable minutes in each half.  In his 14 minutes, he was perfect from the field (2-2) and from the line (1-1) to go with 3 rebounds and 2 blocked shots while committing only a single foul and no turnovers.  Jack White is also an active defender in the back line, and aggressive rebounder.  He played 7 minutes (only 2 in the second half) with a basket and a rebound.

Heading to the ACC Tournament

How will the return of Marvin III impact the Duke defensive improvement?  Will the new found confidence without Bagley translate into more efficient performances with him in the lineup from his teammates?  Coach K, the sports writers and I all think so.  UNC is playing its best ball of the season.  Clemson will be a tough out once its point guard returns from concussion protocol (2 consecutive losses without him), and may be better than its record when that happens.  And though Notre Dame is only 6-8, the Irish will be a tough out also, if Bonzi Colson is ready to play, as some say he will be.

What a season so far!  With 4 games left, nothing (except UVA winning the regular season) is certain.  Duke (10-4) plays Louisville (8-6) and Syracuse (7-7) at home before visiting Virginia Tech (8-6; looking for payback at home for the humiliation in Cameron).  Then Senior Night for Grayson against UNC.  Carolina (10-5) plays at Syracuse (7-7) and home to Miami (7-7) before the season finale at Cameron.  Clemson (9-5), which lost 2 games in a row without their point guard, is likely to have him back for its stretch run, which includes Wednesday at Virginia Tech and a revenge rematch at home with Florida State (8-7).   The teams are too closely packed and too many games remain to make any predictions.

Duke 82– Louisville 56 

So sports fans, Marvelous Marvin Bagley, the freshman POY candidate, is out indefinitely with a knee injury. What to do?  No problem. Coach K takes something old, something new, and makes the opponents blue. That would be Grayson Allen, the only senior,  a zone (Bobby Knight just threw a chair across the room), some talented, motivated bench players, and playing a full forty minutes of basketball. LOL. Suddenly, Duke has four straight wins.

It all starts with defense. Let’s call it an Amoeba Zone (trademark pending), because it assumes all kind of shapes and forms as it contests threes, tips passes,  protects the rim, surrounds loose balls, and rebounds like Spiderman. The formerly defenseless Blue Devils held their third straight ACC opponent to fewer than 60 points for the first time since 2010—and they started nailing their free throws. Playing time has increased for Javin DeLaurier, Marquise Bolden and Jack White. Marquise Bolden has become a bad man down low, scoring eight points to go with five rebounds. He, DeLaurier and Jack White gave Duke 18 rebounds in 50 combined minutes. Allen and Duval on top of the zone are long and athletic disrupters of offensive efficiency. Duval, whose offensive role has been diminished, has responded by doubling down and thriving defensively. Tonight he has only 6 points but 6 rebounds, 5 steals, and 4 assists.

Without Marvin taking up so much space and oxygen, Wendell Carter has shown what a polished, sophisticated talent he is.  He can score, rebound, block shots, and pass. With Marv out, Wendell has more space to operate, but also gets double teamed more get so when he’s crowded like that he can still make a play by passing out of double teams, hitting cutters.  In these four games Bagley has missed, Carter has 55 points, 42 rebounds, 12 assists, and 12 blocks. Then there is the straw that has been stirring the drink: Grayson Allen 4.0 unleashed. No longer struggling to be sure his young, talented teammates are happy and productive, Grayson (28 points)  is doing what Grayson does best—play joyful, aggressive  “balls to the wall” basketball. [Editor’s note: Term used by pilots when accelerating quickly, the throttle is pushed all the way to the panel and the throttle lever (ball) actually touches the panel wall.]

The impressive stats: Rebounds: 44 to 30. Free throws: 15-16. Steals: 10. Blocks: 5. The unimpressive stat: 15 Turnovers.

The question is whether Duke has reached this level of defensive efficiency merely because the players have grown up or the zone has worked– or whether Bagley’s absence has something to do with it. Once Bagley is  back on the floor, it will be equally compelling to see how the roles and chemistry between Allen, Carter, and others evolve, or devolve.

Do we have Marvin and the Miracles or The Supremes?

Alan Adds:

After last Sunday’s Clemson game, I wrote: “There was a moment when I believe this edition of The Blue Devils morphed in attitude. Future games will determine whether this is so. … Clemson, with Littlejohn rocking, tied the score on an easy – because of lax defense — layup.  What I saw next was the moment of metamorphosis.  With the arena in an absolute frenzy, Trent was perfectly calm as he threw the ball to Tre, who just as calmly brought the ball up court as if it were practice.  There was absolutely no panic; just a quiet confidence in the visible body language.  That was “my moment”.   “ Duke continued to do what winning teams do; close out close games from the free throw line (remember Quinn and Tyus?)”.  Against Louisville, as Bill pointed out, Duke was 15-16 from the line (Carter, 5-5; and Trent (4-4) led the way.

The first “future game” was last night’s season-best performance against Louisville.  The Cardinals only lead was 2-0.  Duke shot 52% in the first half (11-17 inside the arc; 6-16 from beyond it).  Each of Duke’s 3 double figure scorers was efficient.  In 30 minutes, Carter scored 18 on 10 shots (6-10; 1-1 from deep – he’s 50% from behind the arc for the season; and 5-5 from the line) to go with 9 rebounds (8 on defense); 3 blocks and a team leading 6 assists.  Wow!  Grayson was beyond amazing, playing the entire game until it had been salted away (a team high 37 minutes).  His energy at both ends of the court is worth watching closely.  He was 4-5 from inside the arc; 6-15 from deep; 2-2 from the line for his 28 points.  Trent scored 11 on only 8 shots (3-8; 1-4; and 4-4).  There was no fall off when the reserve bigs entered the game.  Bolden was a force in his 16 minutes – you can feel him getting into shape.  He had 8 points (4-5 from the field) 5 boards and a block.  His development has been long awaited, and could be a vital cog in a post-season run.  Javin played 19 energetic minutes before fouling out (his fouling is still a problem), with 8 rebounds and 5 points (2-3; and 1-1 from the foul line) to go with an assist, a steal and a block.  Three turnovers and 5 fouls show there is more improvement to come from him.  He is a great defensive catalyst when he is in the game.  Jack White provided valuable minutes – he is an aggressive rebounder at 6’7”, grabbing 5 in his 15 minutes.  He was 2-4 from the field for 4 points.

But, as Bill rightly emphasizes, the defensive improvement in the past games has been beyond dramatic.  Duke’s zone is different from other zones (though it has a lot of what makes the Syracuse zone so successful) and has been augmented by its ¾ court trap after some made baskets.  Coach K moved Grayson from the back line to the perimeter, where he and Duval have been simply outstanding.  Duke went to take away Louisville’s 3 point attack, which was accomplished.  The wings in the back line of the defense come all the way up to the foul line extended, making almost 4 perimeter defenders.  White, Javin, and Trent have been extremely effective in closing out on perimeter shooters from there, and have still been able protect the defensive backboard –especially DeLaurier and White.  That defense exposes the corners and the interior, but the lethal Cardinal shooters were outside.  Carter, Bolden and Javin were heroic on the interior.  Louisville missed a bunch at the rim, but each was ferociously contested (and, there were those 5 blocks!).  In my opinion, what is infusing the zone with panache is Trevon and Grayson up top.  They have been so active (in the press as well) in not only covering the shooters, but in stopping the middle (high post) that is the weak spot in a 2-3 zone.  Years ago, Shane Battier described a Coach K defensive adjustment as “Shane, run around”.  This zone is for Grayson and Tre to “run around”.  They are ballet-like in moving to guard the seemingly open man, no matter where he is.  The energy expended on the defensive end by those two is game-changing.  Trevon had 5 steals and 6 rebounds – he and Grayson have been great had snatching the long rebounds that had previously been turning into offensive rebounds.  Louisville was held to 36% shooting.  Let’s notice one more critical advantage to the way Duke is playing this zone.  Duke had been fouling at a prodigious rate, which impacted its defense in different adverse ways.  Duke committed only 11 fouls (5 by DeLaurier) in the entire game against the Cardinals, who never were in the bonus in either half.  Carter was the only other Duke player with more than 1 (he committed 2 in 30 minutes).  This is a huge, if subtle, beneficial adjustment made in the zone.

One game is insufficient to really know if “my moment” is the catalyst to a post-season reminiscent of the 2015 team, but the early returns are promising.  In 2015, the defense came together in the post-season, which produced the National Championship.  This defense is coming together.  Coach K was chuckling at the suggestion that Marvin’s return would scuttle the resurgence.  “If Brand came back, I’d play him”.  “We’ll figure it out.”  What a bright turnaround for the defense in the last 4 games.  Lots of questions to still be answered, but optimism is breaking through.

DUKE 60 – SYRACUSE 44 

At times, tonight’s game set basketball back fifty years– at the 27-16 halftime break both teams were for 0-20 for threes and the final score of 60-44 looked more like a recent NFL score. Duke alone has scored or nearly scored 100 points or more nine times  this year. To add insult to injury, Dick Vitale was on the mic sounding like an annoyed senior citizen who had missed the Early Bird Special, constantly hyper-talking over the action and even complaining about the length of the game because he hadn’t yet eaten dinner. Hey Dickie V, it was only eight o’clock.

The good news is that Marvelous Marv was back in action and Grayson adjusted his game. Instead of draining rainbow threes, he threw Tom Brady like rainbow fades to Gronk er Bags. Unfortunately, they only counted two not six points. 13 steals & 17 turnovers: I don’t know if these teams are that bad or if  this Amoeba Zone (trademark pending) is that good but Duke has suddenly won five straight games and held the last four opponents to less than 60 points. In the shot clock era, that’s an impressive statistic. In addition, the bench rotation of Bolden, DeLaurier, and White are more just than providing a breather for the starters. Marquis Bolden.( 7points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal in only 12 minutes) is a much different player than last year. Playing with a broken nose and refusing to wear a protective mask, he is a real man on the boards. Marques has developed a lethal jump hook and hits his free throws. Super athlete DeLaurier is one of the reasons that this defense is so effective. And four big men are finally defending the rim like big men should. The team was 14-16 from the line and finished off an opponent like a top team. However, before anyone dusts off shelf space in the trophy case, let’s wait until we see the results of the next two tough games.

Other Comments:

Duke has as talented a starting four as any team in the country. Unfortunately, the former starting point guard, Tre Duval, has become an offensive liability but, fortunately, a defensive asset. The same could be said for DeLaurier or White, except they know their offensive limitations.

Coach K addressed the allegations of agent corruption and noted there is a huge difference between the Arizona head coach allegedly overheard on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to star ‘Zona freshman POY candidate Deandre Ayton and Wendell Carter’s mother’s name appearing on a sports agent’s spreadsheet as a dinner expense. Duke vetted the situation: Carter’s mother called Coach K to alert him to the 2016 agent meeting. She said her husband didn’t like the guy and left right away. Being a southern lady, she waited a little longer before leaving, neither of them having eaten a bite. Duke called in the compliance folks, did due diligence, talked to the Carters, and the NCAA before Athletic Director Kevin White issued his statement  yesterday. Wendell didn’t seem overly concerned as he had 16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and four steals.

Next Game: Virginia Tech @ Blacksburg. Monday @ 7:00. ESPN

Alan Adds:

Monday night – a quick turnaround, but precisely the schedule to be faced in the NCAA tournament – Duke plays what, in my opinion, is a classic trap game (think St. Johns) against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.   Why is it a classic trap game?  For Duke, the biggest game of the regular season is next Saturday (Senior Night for Grayson) against UNC.  The winner gets 2nd place in the regular season and possibly a #1 seed (depending on what happens in the ACC tournament) for The Big Dance.  And it is, after all, Carolina (who beat Duke at the Dean Dome earlier in the month).  It will be hard for these freshmen to stay focused on Monday’s game with UNC looming.  Moreover, it is only 12 days since the Blue Devils humiliated the Hokies in Cameron by 22 points — without Bagley III.  Let us remember that in the game prior to that humiliation, Virginia Tech went into John Paul Jones arena in Charlottesville and handed the Cavaliers their only ACC loss this season in overtime.  After it, the Hokies beat Georgia Tech and Clemson before losing badly last night to Louisville.  The Hokies are 20-9 overall and 9-7 in the ACC.  They are playing for their tournament lives, and it is their Senior night.  Hokie Coach Ahmad Hill: “We owe [our fans] a ‘W’, And we also owe our seniors to send them out in the last home game with a great win. And we owe Duke, because the last time we played them it wasn’t a good game. We look forward to Monday.”  A classic trap game!  Duke better come with intensity.

The good news is that Duke has come with intensity in every game since the debacle against St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on February 3 (even though Carolina beat Duke in the Dean Dome five days later).  UNC was the beginning of Duke’s late season resurgence, which has been sparked largely by the metamorphous of the defense (inspired by Hall of Fame coaching) from a team giving up 90+ per game to a team holding ACC teams under 60.  Duke’s zone is something to watch, and apparently Bagley did during his healing time on the bench.  He played the back line of the zone very well.  So do DeLaurier and Jack White (who has been a rebounding revelation – 4 in 7 minutes last night plus a block).  Bolden has been not less than brilliant on defense when spelling Carter in the middle.  Carter has grown by leaps and bounds during Bagley’s absence.  On defense he has been Duke’s best rim protector since The Landlord (Sheldon Williams) and he has (miraculously) stopped fouling.  In fact, one of the revelations of the zone has been the diminution of the multitude of fouls Duke was committing in the man to man.  Duke had only 3 fouls in the first half and 10 for the game – Syracuse had only one free throw in the bonus situation all night.

Duke approaches the last two regular season games, the ACC tournament, and The Big Dance as a really good defensive team that has a dynamite bench.  (Shades of 2015?).  The zone with the ¾ court trap created 13 steals (8 in the first half).  Coach K moved his defense to emphasize stopping the outside shooting of the Syracuse backcourt (who play the entire game).  The perimeter did just that while the interior defenders were impressive even when Syracuse got close to the basket with their bigs.  The 7 foot Chukwu had 3 big dunks in the first half, but Duke adjusted.  He did not score in the second half, and fouled out in just 24 minutes trying to guard Carter.  Duke can go nine deep, and has received superlative bench play from DeLaurier (17 minutes), Bolden (12), White (7), and some from Alex (6).  The most interesting development is the substitution of DeLaurier for Duval, which Duke did several times.  The zone was even more effective with Bagley and DeLaurier on the wings in back with Trent and Grayson out front.  DeLaurier is such a wild card with his energy and athleticism.  You can see him getting better and being more confident in every game.

So, what happened to the perimeter offense, hot during Bagley’s absence, when he returned last night.  Trent in 31 minutes led the backcourt with 7 points (2-11; 1-6 from deep; 2-2 from the line – the only foul shots attempted by the backcourt); Duval in 25 minutes scored only 3 (1-8; 1-5 from deep without drawing a foul) and Grayson in 38 minutes scored only 6 (3-9; 0-6 without getting to the line) all slumped badly from recent performances.  Grayson said the Syracuse zone keyed to stop the perimeter (the 2 zones operated in almost precisely the same way).  But unlike Duke’s zone, Syracuse had no answers inside. Grayson had 6 assists, Duval 3 and Trent 1 setting up the interior offense. In 31 minutes, Bagley (welcome back!) had a monster game inside with 19 points (8-9; no attempts from deep; and 3-4 from the line) to go with 7 boards.  The only rust he showed was in his 3 turnovers.  Carter was even better.  In 32 minutes he scored 16 – 10 in the second half (5-11; no 3s; but 6-6 from the line) to go with his team high 10 boards, 4 wonderful assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks.  That stat line draws a Wow!  Bolden played 12 minutes (6 in each half) and continued being a revelation.  He scored 7 on 2-2 from the field and 3-4 from the line to go with 6 rebounds (shades of Brian Zoubek) and a steal.  Those 3 scored 42 of Duke’s 60 and drew the fouls that depleted and undermined Syracuse’s interior defense.

Duke heads into the homestretch of the season clicking on all cylinders.  But the trap comes up on Monday.

Duke 63 – Virginia Tech 64 

Welcome to the Yin & Yang Duke Blue Devils. Finally, they start to play good defense then suddenly, they can’t play good offense. Who would have thought that with Bagley back, they would struggle to score 63 points? (Alan: He called it: A trap game) Rule number one: Do not let any team hang around-–especially on their home court. Rule number two: when you get a team down, close them out! Ahead virtually the entire game (except for the important final four seconds), Duke had multiple opportunities to put this game away. At closing time, the Devils inexplicably just could not execute their offense and score points. They led by 9 points with five minutes left, but Virginia Tech, to their credit, ended the game on a 13-3 run. Rule number three: With time running out, a slim lead, and two 87 % free throw shooters, do not in-bounds the ball to a 60% free throw shooter. It’s late in the season to be making these mistakes. It leaves one wondering whether this is a just a talented group of one-and-doers or a very good but young and inconsistent college team– a pretty pretender or a tough contender?

The stats tell only part of the story. While Allen had 22 points, 11 were in the first six minutes and chalk up 5 of his 6 turnovers as assists to the Hokies. Bagley and Carter, usually high percentage shooters as well as unselfish, willing passers basically got in each other’s way and could only score on dunks. Late in the game, both Allen (after 26 straight) and Trent missed free throws, Allen turned the ball over twice, was called for an silly offense foul– and the ref missed a foul committed on Carter on a critical struggle for an offensive rebound. Any game when Allen and Tent only hit 5 of 22 threes, only two players score in double figures, the team commits 18 turnover and gives up 5 steals, one would think Duke was blown out. The good news is that with all this ineptness, defense kept the game winnable until it didn’t.

Who is the fifth starter? If Luke Kennard had stayed another year we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But he is in the NBA and no matter who is the fifth man, Duke is much easier to defend because a defender can slough off Duval or DeLaurier or White and double the post or the wings. Tre Duval’s inconsistency—he can thrill you one minute and make you want to tear your hair out the next — makes him the weak offensive link. However, in the zone and zone press, he has become invaluable and it is apparent Coach K has placed all his chips on Tre. O’Connell is fearless and has multiple skills but if Coach K is was going to commit to him, he would have by now.

Then there is Bagley. It’s only two games back from missing four games but he has been the been the player formerly known as Marvelous Marv. ESPN announcer Dan Dakich, a former Division I player and coach had some controversial but not altogether inaccurate comments (edited for redundancy): “I know this is blasphemy, but I can see in 18 minutes why Duke was able to go on a run when he was hurt…You hate to say that about a kid (but not really), he is about himself.,, He gets the ball, it doesn’t come out. He doesn’t play defense. He’s a terrific talent, don’t get me wrong. Defensively, you can see Virginia Tech has really made an effort to go at him. Now he’s going to rebound, he’s going to do some decent things, no question.”

Dan played for Coach Knight at Indiana and later coached there, so he should know better than to judge a player after just 18 minutes of one game but to go on and on with personal judgements like this about an 18 year old kid on national television is just a sign of the times. However, fair or not, Duke played differently and effectively without him. However, over the entire season a fair assessment is that for as talented and publicized as he is, Bagley has been an unselfish team player. Could and should he be a better defensive player. Yes! Is he coachable and will he be. Yes and yes!

This was just one painful but teachable moment. Next play!

Next game: Saturday. North Carolina @ Cameron. 8:15 ESPN

Alan Adds:

At half time, with Duke leading by 7, I texted the following to Bill: “11 team fouls and 7 turnovers in the first half.  Different from last 5 games.  I have a queasy– trap game – feeling!”  I wish I did not feel so Cassandra-like.  A trap game it was.

Duke did not have its customary energy.  Coach K: “We didn’t play with energy; it is what I was most worried about.  We just didn’t have it.  You could tell because we were irritable on calls.  It was as if we were asking for calls.  We didn’t play like we have been playing.  We didn’t act as we normally act.”  Coach K attributed it to his team being tired – Clemson last Sunday; Louisville on Wednesday; Syracuse on Saturday; before last night’s encounter.  But with the exception of Louisville on Wednesday, it is the schedule Duke will – could – face in the second week of the NCAAs.  I believe “classic trap game” is a more accurate analysis.

Turnovers and bad shooting was what the lack of energy caused.  The defense was good, but Duke committed many more fouls than in the last 5 games. The Hokies made as many foul shots (15-19) as Duke shot (11-15).  Duke’s defensive plan was to make Virginia Tech a half court team, “and we did that except for when we turned it over,” explained K.  Grayson and Trent, who were 12-24 against Syracuse shot 7-25; 5-22 from 3  (Trent 1-7; all from 3; Grayson 6-18; 4-15 from deep) last night.  Grayson (6-7 from the line) scored 22 in all 40 minutes (11 in each half).  Bagley (36 minutes) was Duke’s only other double figure scorer with 12 (5-9; 2-2 from the line) and grabbed 7 rebounds.  He is clearly not all the way back.  For the first time ever, he was subjected to negative comments from the TV booth.  Btw, I do not believe that criticism is valid, except for the part on defense.  Duval, who did not start (DeLaurier did) scored 7 in 24 minutes (3-5; 1-2 from deep; and – hide your eyes – 0-1 from the line.  He committed 4 fouls and had 3 turnovers (2 assists).  Carter was held to 5 in 24 minutes  (2-5; 1 air ball from deep; 1-2 from the line). He had a team high 8 rebounds, but a very sub-Carter game.  Trent was also held to 5 points in 37 minutes (2-3 from the line to go with 1-7 from deep); a very sub-Trent game.  DeLaurier played only 14 minutes (2-3 for 4 points; no foul trouble); Bolden also scored 4 in his 14 minutes (1-3; 2-2 from the line) to go with 4 rebounds and 4 assists, plus a block. White and O’Connell each hit a 3 in cameo appearances.

Most troubling was Duke’s performance at “winning time”, the last 5 minutes of a game.  With 5:21 left in the game, Duke led by 9 (60-51), and had a chance to stretch the lead to double figures when Wendell turned it over, and then committed a foul on the defensive end.  Duke scored only 3 more points (Grayson 3-4 from the line).  Turnover by Alex, missed shot by Bolden, missed layup by Bagley, foul by Allen.  Grayson made a pair of free throws for Duke’s final score (63-58) and stole the ball with 1:46 left.  Then the wheels came completely off.  Grayson turned it over twice and committed a foul. Trent turned it over.  With 25 seconds left, Duke led by 1 when Trevon was fouled and missed the front end of the 1 and 1 before the Hokies scored with 4 seconds left to win the game.  Coach K said, “I’m not blaming Trevon.”  He then proceeded to say, “You have to hit them.  That’s winning plays.”  Sounded a bit like blaming Tre.  It was a pretty awful performance at winning time.

The loss makes Saturday’s game against arch rival, UNC, who has demonstrated they know how to close out a close game, critical.  A win and Duke secures second place in the conference, and the coveted double bye.  A loss and there is a chance that Duke finishes 5th and out of the double bye.  Cassandra is predicting a resurgence in Cameron.

DUKE 74 – NORTH CAROLINA 64 

Duke vs. Carolina may not be, as Jay Bilas exclaimed, the greatest rivalry since Athens vs. Sparta. However, it has lasted longer, has had more exciting, heart stopping, heart breaking moments and while no combatant has died, some observers have been known to need a defibrillator—and tonight was no different. Duke played the first half  like they did in the last eight minutes against Virginia Tech. They couldn’t hit a three and even reverted to their early season inept free throw shooting, converting only 4 of 14. The half mercifully ended with Duke fortunate to only be behind 35-25. Then, down 12 points with only about ten minutes left and staring at an embarrassing, season defining defeat, the Blue Devils suddenly morphed into  the kind of offensive powerhouse they were thought to be at the beginning of the season, scoring practically at will and engineering a twenty point turnaround—down ten at the half, up ten at the final horn. How to explain the difference in the two halves? It’s simple: Get stops, hit shots. Carolina did that in the first half, Duke did it in the second half. Obviously, the second half is the more important one—as Duke learned last month in Chapel Hill.

At halftime, coaches attempt to make strategic adjustments and make constructive reminders/criticism. As Coach K explained later, it was as simple as this: “Take the pianos off your back. Take the pressure off. Play with a smile on your face. I’m not going to call any plays. Everybody touch the ball. If you see a play, make a play. Get comfortable and don’t forget, tonight is not only Grayson’s last game at Duke in Cameron.” However, there was also what turned out to be the critical strategic move that makes players love him. Coach K rolled the dice and put the ball into the hands of struggling, recent non-starter Tre Duval, who missed a crucial free throw in the last minute at Blacksburg and had not played or shot well in the first half of this game. Holy Bobby Hurley, Batman, Tre Duval turned into the point guard of the first eleven undefeated games of the season.

Finally, Marvin and the Miracles were re-united, playing and singing Together Again! Suddenly, Tre played like the strong, penetrating point guard he was reputed to be with Bagley being the primary beneficiary of passes for easy dunks, which energized the big fella into a relentless POY beast tape (21 points & 15 rebounds) and creating space for Allen (15 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals) and Trent (3 threes) to have open looks. Of all people, Duval and Bagley hit threes to fuel the rally. Bingo, a huge momentum shift: Cameron was rocking, the Blue Devils were rolling, and Carolina was shooting like they had tar on their hands as well as their heels.

Despite the recent offensive inconsistencies, the good defense (after a porous start, Duke is now ranked 10th in the nation in defensive efficiency) has kept this team in games. Holding Carolina, a team averaging 84 points a game to 20 points under their average is impressive. Consider this: Duke missed 11 free throws (some the front end of one-and-ones), 16 threes, only scored 25 first half points, and still beat  #9 North Carolina by 10 points.

However, without the Tre Duval (7 points, 6 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers) of the last quarter of tonight’s game, it is hard to see Duke as a Final Four team. They are a team that can lose to any ACC or NCAA Tournament team. But, this year that seems the story of all the teams. It’s anyone’s title to win.

Other Comments:

  • In his post-game press conference, Carolina Coach Roy Williams was obviously disappointed but gracious—especially in his comments about Grayson Allen’s career. His team does not have a lottery pick or, perhaps, even an NBA first round pick. They are certainly disadvantaged by not having a big man who can match up against Bagley or Carter. Nevertheless, his team outplayed the Blue Devils for about thirty of the forty minute game. Give Ol Roy credit. He can coach em up. His system works no matter whom he plugs into it.
  • And speaking of coaches, the ACC is loaded with outstanding coaches, who will undoubtedly be a demand from other schools or the NBA.
  • Duke senior Grayson Allen and freshman Marvin Bagley III were named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Men’s Basketball team, as announced today by the conference office.  Allen has earned a spot on the team in each of his four years as a Blue Devil. To be eligible for consideration to the All-ACC Academic team, a student-athlete must have earned a 3.00 grade point average for the previous semester and maintained a 3.00 cumulative average during his academic career. Duke has had multiple honorees in 11 consecutive seasons and 30 times since the inception of the All-ACC Academic team in 1962-63.

Note: Since Alan will be in Switzerland on business next week, we will not cover every game, rather just a summary after the ACC Tournament.

Alan adds:

Carrying Coach K’s pianos on their backs, produced opening half statistics that were genuinely desultory.  Duke shot 1-10 from behind the arc (Alex at 1-2 had the only “make”; Grayson was 0-3; Trent 0-3, while Bagley and De Laurier (true) each missed their only 3 point attempt.  You could feel Duke fans’ hair being pulled out as Duke missed consistently from the line (4-14).  Duval was 0-3 from the line (1-2 from the field) for 2 points in his 7 short disappointing first half minutes – 0 assists.  Grayson led Duke’s first half scorers with 7 (3-9; 1-3 from the line) while playing the entire first half (he played the entire game until Coach K took him out with 22 seconds to play so Cameron could give Grayson Allen his due after four terrific years).  Carter had just 2 points (1-5 from the field), and Bagley just 3 (1-3, including that 3 point attempt; and a horrendous 1-4 from the line).  Carter, Bagley and Allen each had committed 2 fouls.  It was not a half to inspire Blue Devil fans.

Then came redemption, resurrection, and a season defining win over UNC in what we all think is the best rivalry in sport.  The stats for the rivalry are simply head scratching.  The teams have split the last 90 games – in almost half, both teams were ranked in the top 10.  It was, in large measure the dynamic freshman combination of Marvin and Tre Duval that orchestrated this dramatic win.  The two reminded me of Kyrie in his first 8 games as a freshman, setting up Mason Plumlee with his drives and dishes. Duval lit it up in his 14 second half minutes on both ends of the court.  Defensively, he had a block and a steal.  He set up Grayson’s 3 crucial second half steals with his relentless pressure in the trap.  His forays to the basket not only led to 6 assists and 5 second half points on 2 shots (1 a huge wide open 3 that Carolina dared him to shoot; that 3 ignited Duke’s comeback).  Not a single turnover.  Bagley then showed his fight and determination pouring in 18 second half points (8-9, including 1-1 from deep and 1-1 from the line) to go with 11 second half rebounds and 2 blocks in his 33 minutes.  As Coach K said, “he put us on his back!”  Trent hit three huge 3s to score 13 in his 36 minutes.  Duke scored 49 second half points on 60% shooting (18-30, including 8-15 from deep); and 5-6 from the line.  Both Carter and Bagley each made their only three point attempt of the second half.  Tre was 1-1 also.  Grayson (2-4) and Trent (3-7) made UNC pay for leaving Duke’s previously hapless shooters open.

However, it is Duke’s defense that is now carrying this team, which is jaw dropping, considering Duke’s learning curve and the resort to the zone defense.  UNC played well against the zone in the first half, but in the final stanza, started missing the open corner 3s that the ‘Heels were making in the first half.  Duke disrupted UNC with its ¾ court press in the second half.  UNC not only turned it over against the press, but got into their half-court offense later than usual, which cost Carolina in offensive efficiency.  Duke held UNC to under 40% shooting in each half and under 25% from deep.  In the second half, the Blue Devils forced turnovers and blocked shots at a devastating rate – 12 steals for the game and 8 blocks.  Duke committed only 5 second half fouls (3 by Carter) allowing UNC only one second half free throw attempt, a miss by Pinson.  That, in my opinion, is a crucial stat.  Duke gave up only 29 second half points.  Berry was held to 6 for the game (0-7 from deep).

The bench contributed valuable minutes.  DeLaurier 12 minutes (9 in the first half); Bolden 17 and Alex 14 allowed Duke to remain fresh.  Grayson said “nobody was tired.”

I criticized Duke’s performance against Virginia Tech on Monday at “winning time”.  Duke fought back from a 13 point deficit to tie the score at 60 with 6:32 to go.  UNC scored only 4 points the rest of the way, and 0 in the last 3:18.  Duval hit a jumper; then he stole the ball and hit Trent with a pass that led to a 3 (65-60) with 5:10 to go.  Duval had a wonderful assist for a Bagley dunk after a Berry 3 (67-62 with 4:20 left).  After Maye missed a jumper under heavy defensive pressure, Duval found Carter, who buried a 3 (70-62 with 3:35 left).  Pinson scored Carolina’s last points on a jumper with 3:18 to go. (70-64).  Johnson and Maye each missed before Grayson grabbed Maye’s miss and passed to Duval, who drove and dished to Bagley for a resounding dunk (72-64 with 1:26 left).  Grayson then stole the ball twice and made his final two free throws with 37 seconds left for the final margin.

The ACC tournament begins this week.  Duke has finished second (13-5) and has a double bye into the quarterfinals on Thursday (March 8) at 7 against either Pitt, Notre Dame or Virginia Tech (I predict Notre Dame).  If Duke wins, the Devils play the late game on Friday (9 pm) against either Miami or North Carolina (I predict the ‘Heels).  The Championship game is Saturday night at 8:30.

The DBP will publish just one edition for the tournament, which will be a tournament wrap and NCAA pre-tournament wrap.Congratulations to the University of Virginia on a rare accomplishment: Winning both the ACC Regular Season Title and the ACC Championship!

ACC Championship Summary

Congratulations to the University of Virginia on a rare accomplishment: Winning both the ACC Regular Season Title and the ACC Championship!

Watching Virginia play North Carolina for the ACC Championship was a bitter sweet experience. On one hand, I loved the fact that it was old school basketball vs. old school basketball. Neither team had a one-and-done player but rather a mix of talented but not lottery (or, perhaps, even first round) picks who have stayed in school and worked diligently on their game and their coach’s team first approach. On the other hand, my loyalty to Duke made me envious that Duke was not one of the teams, because I felt they have the most talent.

The final chapter of this season is yet to be written but no matter the outcome, Coach Tony Bennett, whom against all odds—his individualistic personality and adherence to boring fundamentals his father/coach taught– has established himself as one of the very  best coaches in college basketball. Certainly, for the better part of ten years, he has done more with less than any other college coach. And I am envious that UVA and Carolina fans have had the joy of watching players like Berry, Maye, and Pinson grow and develop as players and people– just as I did with Laettner, Hurly, Hill, Battier, and  JJ etc. I love the talent Coach K has recruited these past several years but not the fact that we have not and will not have the opportunity to watch them mature.  This is not a criticism of Coach K. Any coach wants the best talent available. I blame it on the  NBA collective bargaining agreement.

DUKE 69 – NORTH CAROLINA 74

What a difference a day makes. Tonight’s game was the mirror image of last night’s games: Carolina started like Duke and Duke started like Carolina as they fell behind 18-7 in the first ten minutes. Except for a few runs, Carolina veterans, playing their third game in three nights, thoroughly outplayed Duke’s young team in every phase of the game. You cannot make 18 turnovers, give up 18 offensive rebounds, shoot 6-23 from three point land, and expect to beat North Carolina. Nevertheless, in the last five minutes the Blue Devils made an 18-0 run to get within three with a minute to go but it was too little, too late against too good a team to pull off a miracle finish.

You have to hand it to Coach Roy Williams. He had his team pumped and primed with a terrific game plan and they executed it with the  patience, precision, tenacity, and hustle which we have come to expect from Tar Heels teams over the last fifty or so years. While earlier in the season this team actually lost to Wofford, they nearly won a National Championship in 2016 and did win one  in 2017. The core players, Berry, Pinson, Maye, and Williams have seen, experienced, and done it all. They are seasoned veterans who have grown up and matured in the program for three or four years and that experience showed tonight. They are smart and talented and are well schooled in the subtle aspects of the game. ‘Ol Roy is often criticized for not being a good game coach but he sure knows how to get his players to play the Dean Smith North Carolina Way!

While Duke may be loaded with NBA lottery picks and Carolina has, perhaps, one or two first rounder picks, in these three games the Tar Heels have been the better team as they have outplayed Duke for about 75 of the 120 minutes. Pinson, Berry, and Maye are playmakers—they can pass, shoot, create, and defend. Duke, on the other hand, is just learning to defend and holding this explosive Carolina team to only 74 points would normally be good enough to win the game. While Carolina’s tight, savvy, man-to-man defense was terrific, Tre Duval’s severely sprained his ankle early in the game did not help the Blue Devils execution on either end of the floor. After going to the locker room, he returned but did not appear to have his usual explosiveness or lift and made five turnovers and scored no points. But those are the breaks of the game and a team either makes an adjustment or not.

What makes this basketball rivalry so compelling is that for decades, both programs have been so outstanding, nothing can be taken for granted except that neither team ever gives up—and half the time one of the teams and their fans have gone home disappointed.

Next play.

Other Comments:

  • In losing to UNC, Duke lost the opportunity to be a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  • The multi-talented Theo Pinson, who can play the point, rebound, guard bigger or smaller men, and score, is having a terrific senior year and tournament. Staying four years has certainly been beneficial for his game. I am going to miss him.
  • Last year, Duke beat Carolina in this same game and yet the Tar Heels went on to win the NCAA Championship.
  • Exactly 27 years ago, in the 1991 ACC Championship game, North Carolina beat Duke by 22 points and yet that team went on to win the NCAA Tournament.
  • In the five years I have known Johnny Tar Heel, he has never thought Carolina would beat Duke. Two days ago, he emailed me from half way around the world in Myanmar that Carolina would win by five. He must have consulted the Oracle of Delphi.

Alan Adds:Duke 88 Notre Dame 70 in the Quarter-Final

I was not able to watch the Notre Dame game (not televised in Switzerland and was played between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m. Zurich time) but the box score and play by play indicate one of Duke’s best performances of the year.  Grayson had a blazing hot start (5-5 from deep) and Marvin simply took over the game scoring 33 points with 17 rebounds.  Tre Duval had 11 assists (6 turnovers) in 34 minutes as the Duke defense stifled the Fighting Irish in the second half  (only 33 points, while Duke put up 47).  Bonzie Colson had an excellent game from the high post, scoring 20 and grabbing 10 boards, but Duke accomplished its primary defensive mission by shutting off the Notre Dame 3 point attack (5-23 for the game, including 2-11 in the second half).  The relatively easy win put Duke into the semi-finals against the Tar Heels for their second game against each other in less than a week.  Optimistic was a fair adjective for the Devil outlook against Notre Dame, playing its third game in 3 days.  But optimism turned to pessimism in the early going against Carolina.

Duke v UNC in the Semi-Final

It was a superb game, but there is no doubt that UNC outplayed Duke in every phase of the game from start almost to the finish.  Yet, significantly, Duke made a gallant run at the end, to make it close.  The key statistic that tells the story is that Carolina had 17 more field goal attempts than Duke did (UNC took 71 shots to the Devils’ 54).  As Bill (Coach K and everyone else) pointed out, that was the result of Duke giving up 18 offensive rebounds to the ‘Heels (9 in each half) and turning the ball over 18 times (10 in the first half).  It was a disappointing loss any way it gets analyzed, yet there is nothing about this game that should make Duke an underdog, in the improbable event of a rematch in the NCAA tournament.  Carolina is a team on the rise and it would not surprise anyone to see ‘Ole Roy and his band in the Final Four.  Ditto for Duke.  Ditto for UVA, which plays exceptional defense and beautiful (thoughtful) offense.  The Cavaliers outplayed Carolina almost precisely the way Carolina outplayed Duke.   It is a season where many very good teams have reasonable Final Four aspirations.  As you know, I believe that defense wins championships, and I have been extremely impressed with how Coach K has brought this defense along – a exclusively a zone defense, for the first time in his long coaching career – to the point where it is actually this team’s calling card.  Absolutely amazing.  No one would have predicted such a defensive change in philosophy last fall, but it is that kind of flexibility in thinking, philosophy and execution that makes a person extraordinary – in any walk of life.  Duke is so lucky to have such a man at the helm.

The Defense

Even though Duke’s defense was somewhat shredded by UNC’s offense, which attacked the Duke zone with an offense featuring a high post at the foul line, Duke’s defense was actually excellent against this extremely well-coached UNC offense.  Duke’s game plan with the zone was to take away Carolina’s 3 point shooting, which has been the Tarheel chief scoring feature this season.  Duke held the ‘Heels to 3-15 in the second half (20%) and under 30% for the game from deep.  Coach K said the defense should have been good enough to win, but for the turnovers.  I would have added “and giving up so many offensive rebounds”.  In fairness, many of the rebounds UNC retrieved from the Duke defensive boards came when Duke players got to the ball at the same time, resulting in the ball popping free.  Many of Carolina’s offensive rebounds were long – over the Duke bigs.  However, the bottom line is Carolina was quicker to the ball, played with more intensity, and (except for the last 5 minutes) outhustled Duke.  That was not Duke’s failure as much as Carolina’s highly emotional intensity.

Yes, Carolina played terrific offense through the high post, exploiting the hole in the zone there.  However, as Coach K pointed out Maye and Pinson are about as good as it gets with players capable of shredding a zone from the high post.  Each is a superb passer from that spot as well as accurate shooter if left open.  The same is true of Bonzie Colson, who set up there for Notre Dame on Thursday in the quarterfinals.  Yet Duke held the high-scoring ‘Heels to 74 and Notre Dame to 70. He said Duke’s zone would be ready in the NCAAs.  One subtle change that adversely impacted the performance of the Duke zone was Tre’s lack of quick mobility after his injury (on both ends, actually).  He returned and played his heart out, but I did not think he was the same player after he miraculously returned.  It is the quickness of the perimeter defenders that is designed to defend the high post, but it was somewhat missing last night.  Grayson said, “Me and Tre have to do a better job on the high post from the top.”  Coach K understood how the injury slightly slowed Duval when he said that “the injury had an impact”.  Of the future, K said of Tre, “We’ll be good if he’s good.”  Duke depends on the top perimeter to “contest” when the ball goes into the high post.  If the perimeter cannot do so, the ball gets into the high post without “contest” from the outside perimeter. Then, with the back outside defenders up high to contest attempted 3s from around the foul line extended, UNC is 2 on 1 against the middle defender – Carter or Bolden (in the first half; he had only 1 minute in the second half).  They were heroic – Carter had 4 blocks – a couple crucial and some truly remarkable — but UNC still made the zone pay.  The zone did transform for Duke’s desperate stretch run.  Coach K’s team has been practicing adding a trap to the zone, and that is what Duke went to during the comeback.  With 5:33 to go, UNC led by 16 (72-56).  UNC did not effectively score again!!! [I don’t count Pinson’s 2 free throws with 3 seconds left].  Duke did not lose the game because of its defense.

The Offense

UNC won the game with its defense, offensive rebounding and sheer hustle-desire.  Duke turnovers were the direct result of superb Tarheel defense.  UNC got their hands on many Duke passes, even when they did not result in turnovers.  Duke was sloppy (Tre couldn’t really go after the injury) with only 13 assists against the 18 turnovers.  Only 4 Duke players scored in the entire game.  Grayson (40 minutes), Marvin (39) and Trent (38) played almost the entire game.  Carter and Duval each logged 30 minutes.  Bolden had 2 blocks and a rebound in his 7 minutes (only 1 in the second half).  Alex played 9 minutes (only 3 in the second half) with 0 points and 2 turnovers.  Javin played only 6 minutes (4 in the second half), committing 2 fouls for the total of his stats for the night.

Trent led Duke in scoring with 20, leading the comeback by going to the basket instead of launching from 3. He was 7-16 from the field; 2-7 from deep and 4-4 from the line.  He added 6 rebounds and 3 steals for his best all-around game in a while.  Marvin had 19 points (7-13; 0-1 from deep; and 5-6 from the line to go with 13 boards (team high) and a block.  He did turn it over 4 times, however.  Grayson scored 16 (4-11; 4-10 from deep, which means he took only 1 shot inside the arc; and 4-5 from the line.  He grabbed 4 rebounds, had 4 assists, 4 turnovers and committed 4 fouls.  Carter had a superb second half after a less than scintillating opening stanza.  In 16 second half minutes, he scored 11 of his 14 (3-4 from inside; 5-6 from the line.  He had 9 boards for the game.  Tre did not score (0-6 from the field; 0-3 from deep; without getting to the line).  He had 7 assists, but 5 turnovers.  The bench was essentially non-existent in the second half (9 total minutes for 5 positions).  I credit a superbly coached UNC defense and game plan.  Unfortunately, UNC deserved to win.  Btw, hats off to Johnny Tarheel, who predicted the outcome in advance.

Duke’s Comeback

Grayson cut the 16 point lead to 13 with a 3 at the 5:20 mark.  After a Trent steal and a Duval turnover, Grayson hit Carter for a layup with 4:18 to go (Duke down 11).  Bagley was fouled when he grabbed his second offensive rebound in the sequence and made both foul shots with 3:34 left.  Bagley blocked Maye, but Carolina retained possession, missed 3 shots after having retrieved 3 offensive rebounds on that single possession before Grayson stole the ball from Pinson.   But Pinson drew an offensive foul from Marvin before Johnson missed a 3, which was rebounded by Bagley; when Trent missed, Carter grabbed the offensive rebound, hit Duval who found Grayson in the corner for a 3.  Duke down 6 with 1:47 left.  Berry missed a 3, but Williams got another Carolina offensive rebound.  Duval stole it from May (perimeter help from the top against the pass into the high post) who got it to Trent for a critical 3.  Duke down 3 with 50 seconds left.  Carter made a great defensive play and stole the ball from Maye with 24 seconds left.  Grayson committed an offensive foul with 17 seconds left before Duke’s defensive pressure forced a Pinson turnover with 11 seconds left.  Grayson tried to fake Maye off his feet from 3, but Luke did not bite and Grayson’s desperate off balance miss was all she wrote.

Coach K acknowledged his team has “an incredible will to win” but came up short in the face of giving up so many offensive rebounds and turnovers.

Grayson’s flagrant foul

I saw it a bit differently – in a way that I have not yet heard mentioned.  Grayson was coming back down court to the Duke offensive end with his back to the Carolina basket when he was inadvertently run into from behind.  His immediate reaction was a hip check.  Whether it should have been called a flagrant foul or not, I leave to Jay Bilas, but what I am sure of is that it was not a deliberate attempt to impede; rather, it was an instinctive reflex from being run into unexpectedly from behind.  Coach K’s dry comment was, I thought, on the money.  When one writer asked him about it, his response was, “Do you think that was the only hip check administered in this game?”  In Shakespearean terms, “Much Ado About Nothing”.

NCAA Tournament

Coach K was positive about Duke in the NCAA tournament after the UNC game.  “We are ready for the tournament.  We played well against Notre Dame.  We are better prepared than a month ago and we are better for these two games in Brooklyn.”

Let’s hope for a mirror image of last year: Duke beat UNC in the semi-finals of the ACC tournament, but UNC won the National championship.  I also point out that in 2015, Duke was also beaten in the semi-finals of the ACC tournament (by Notre Dame) before winning the National Championship. ☺

Duke is the #2 seed in the Midwest and opens against Iona (15th seed) on Thursday.  If Duke wins, the Blue Devils meet the winner of Rhode Island (#7) against Oklahoma (10) on Saturday.  It’s a one weekend, four team tournament.

DUKE 89 – IONA 67 

What a difference a week makes. Last week in the ACC Tournament against North Carolina, Tre Duval severely injured his ankle and struggled through the worst game (0 points, 5 turnovers) of his brief but up and down career. Today, Tre Duval looked like a totally different player—the point guard he was advertised to be. All season long, teams have practically begged Tre to shoot the three so they could double down on Bagley. Early in the game, Tre hit four threes in a row, drove in control, and played with the purpose and confidence of a seasoned point guard.  While, like a lot of mid-majors, Iona is loaded with guards but undersized front court players, it was Tre Duval his backcourt teammates Allen and Trent, who dominated play and fueled this win. Of course, Bagley and Carter made their usual contributions. This might have been the most polished and complete offensive game the Blue Devils have played this year—and, despite the rather porous first half defense, held Iona, a team that averages over 80 points a game, to under 70.

What makes the NCAA Tournament so compelling is that any team can win any game. Buffalo not only won its first ever tournament game, they humiliated highly touted but ethically challenged  #4 Arizona and proving that there are basketball gods who attempt to fix what the seeding committee rendered asunder. (Virginia, everyone’s #1 seed presumably had to go through Arizona or Kentucky and Cincinnati just to get to the Sweet Sixteen, while Duke has to beat Michigan State and Kansas to get there. Carolina has the easiest bracket. It appears that the seeding committee rewarded the programs that bend/break the rules and punished the programs that have better academic and admission standards.)

The ACC had a disappointing first day. North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Miami all lost. Whatever you say about the ACC though at least it’s not the PAC-12, which didn’t make it out of Thursday night .

Reggie Miller, one of the greatest shooter in NBA history hitting 2,560 3-pointers in his 18 year career with the Indiana pacers, and an outspoken announcer had some interesting comments: Duke was the most talented team in the field, the refs were judging Grayson Allen  differently than other players but he should not stop playing with an “edge”— embrace it as Reggie himself did his entire career.

Alan Adds:

Duke opened with fire, and fire power in the opening half.  The offense has rarely been better.  Bagley, Tre and Grayson played all 20 minutes while Trent and Carter were each spelled for 5 minutes (DeLaurier 7 and Bolden 3).  The Devils shot 62% from the field (21-34) and 56% from deep (9-16, led by Duval’s 3-4; and Bagley’s bomb).  Duke had 14 assists on 21 field goals (Duval 6 and Grayson 5; each with only 1 turnover), and dominated offensively from the perimeter and the interior.

Defensively, the Blue Devils can revel over their second half performance, but not how it played in the opening stanza.  In the first half, Iona shredded the zone early.  Iona shot 55% (16-29) and 4-9 from deep.  The Gaels had 13 assists  on 16 baskets.  Almost no field goal attempts – even the missed shots – were contested.  Duke’s transition defense was lazy and gave up some long passes and scores.  Iona scored 39 points in the first half.  Duke’s great offense made it easy to overlook the defensive shortcomings.

However that all changed after the halftime intermission.  Duke’s defense was simply superb in the second half.  Iona got almost no uncontested looks, and Duke began to turn the Gaels over.  What happened?  Coach K said that Jeff Capel, at the half, suggested a tweak to the defense that turned the tide, but did not say what it the tweak was.  I’ll take a crack at it.  It was not dramatic, but it seemed to me that Duke employed a half court trapping defense that really bothered Iona.  It stopped the transition offense, created turnovers, and pressured the Gael guards, who, I thought, tired — partly as a result of the intense pressure.  Once Iona went into its half-court offense, Duke brought its outside back defenders up even higher to contest the 3s that had been falling, while at the same time, the perimeter player away from the ball dropped down to defend against the pass into the high post.  Iona was 1-15 from deep and scored only 20 second half points in the first 16 minutes.  Duke was able to rest its starters as the lead ballooned.  Carter played only 9 second half minutes; Duval 11, Bagley 12, Trent 13 and Grayson 16.  The bench got experience – playing good defense, though the offense drooped a bit with the bench on the floor.

Duke was able to rest its starters while the Rhode Island Rams, Duke’s opponent tomorrow (Saturday), beat Oklahoma in a tense overtime game.  Perhaps an advantage for the Devils.  The Rams had a terrific regular season going 15-3 while winning the regular season A-10 title and achieving a top 25 ranking (22 in the final coach’s poll).  However, RI slumped a bit at season’s end, losing 2 of 3 regular season games and the finals of the tournament (to Davidson, who also beat them in the regular season finale).  Nevertheless, it would be dangerous to underrate RI (two ESPN prognosticators picked RI to upset Duke), because of their talented and very experienced backcourt.  We will find out Saturday whether the Duke season has ended or it is on to the Sweet 16 next week.

DUKE 87 – RHODE ISLAND 62 

Duke started slowly, fell behind, then switched Grayson to the point and with ten minutes to go went on a 28-7 run to lead 45-28 at the break. These first two tournament games were against small, guard oriented teams which were severely overmatched down low. However, in both game all three Blue Devil guards were hitting, so the outcome was seldom in doubt. For health and/or strategic reasons, Duval and Allen appear to be sharing ball handling duties. It is paying dividends as Duval’s turnovers are down (3 in the last 5 games) and he is much more accurate from beyond the arc (a regular season 27 per center is 5-for-9 in these two NCAA tournament games).

The team appears to be maturing, peaking, and comfortable, even embracing, the spotlight. I think the two main catalysts are the switch to the zone and Grayson Allen being the steady leader, who has become the straw that stirs the drink for this talented team. He knows that scoring is not usually an issue with these teammates, so leads by putting that last on his to-do list and showing other ways to play winning basketball. However, the fact that the players adapted so well switching to the Amoeba Zone (trademark pending) has definitely been the catalyst for the team playing at another level. It makes them more efficient and is less enervating. Since the change, they are holding opponents to an average of under 70 points a game while scoring in the 80’s.

If this team avoids foul trouble, Allen, Trent, and Duval continue to hit threes as they did in Pittsburgh, and  Duval values the ball, continues to defend with energy, controlling Carter and Bagley inside is going to be nearly impossible. As far a depth is concerned (at tournament time, Coach K defines depth as two bench players), the Blue Devils are getting quality minutes from Marques Bolden, who is the most improved player on the team, and Javin DeLaurier. 

A note of caution: Even though Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley said: “They played an A-plus game. They looked like an NBA team out there with their size and length in this tournament”, Duke has yet to meet a team that comes close to matching them in size or talent. That all changes next week. 

The win was the 1,099th victory of Krzyzewski’s career, pushing him past former Tennessee woman’s coach Pat Summitt for the most Division I wins ever in either men’s or women’s basketball. It was also the 93rd in the NCAA tournament for Krzyzewski — 17 more than Roy Williams, his counterpart at archrival North Carolina, and 28 more than Dean Smith, who tortured him during his early years at Duke. This will also be the 23rd time he’s coached the second weekend of the tournament. Twelve of those previous 22 trips resulted in Final Four appearances, five of them in national championships. “I’ve won a lot of games, and that’s great. But I’ve had a lot of great players, coach at a great school, and am in good health. I’ve got two new knees and two new hips, so basically I have a new body.”

March Sadness:

As had been well documented, #1 University of Virginia had a stunning, unprecedented first round loss to #16 University of Maryland-Baltimore County. What three time national coach of the year Tony Bennett said after the game just demonstrates he and his program is held in such high esteem: “I told our guys, we had a historic season. A historic season in terms of most wins in the ACC. A week ago we’re cutting down the nets and the confetti is falling. And then we make history by being the first one-seed to lose. I’m sure a lot of people will be happy about that. And it stings. I told the guys, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. That’s the job.”

March Madness:

There was even more carnage Sunday: #2 North Carolina, a 10 loss team which this year apparently can only play well against Duke, was decisively defeated by #7 Texas A&M; #11 Syracuse, which many did think should have had a bid, beat media darling #3 Michigan State in one of the ugliest games of the year; #7 Nevada rallied from 22 down to stun #2 Cincinnati; #9 Florida State rallied to beat #1 Xavier;

#5 Clemson blitzed #4 Auburn by 31. The selection committee should consider another line of work. Even a casual fan would not have seeded the tournament so that Villanova, Duke, Michigan State, Kansas, and Purdue–all arguably #1 seeds—were in the same half of the draw.

Occupy the Sweet Sixteen: Even though highly seeded Virginia and North Carolina lost this weekend, four ACC teams—Duke, Florida State, Clemson, and Syracuse–comprise 25% of the teams remaining. Unfortunately, three—Duke, Syracuse & Clemson– are in the Midwest bracket.

Alan Adds:

After a stress-free win, where Duke played what might have been its best game of the year at both ends of the court, it might be easy to overlook, Coach K’s coaching genius early in the game.  Duke started sloppily.  Duval was at the point and Duke turned it over 5 times in the early going.  Tre missed his first 3 and with only 4:12 having elapsed and Duke trailing 9-5, Coach K sent DeLaurier in for Tre, moving Grayson to the point.  The turnovers stopped, and the defense tightened, but Duke still was not scoring.  Tre returned after a shade over 3 minutes on the bench with Duke still trailing 11-10.  In a little over a minute, Duke took the lead and never looked back.   Coach K said that the team was “a little nervous” at the start and did not get the looks they wanted.  When Tre re-entered the game, he was the Tre he has been in the last few games (since the second half of the season finale against UNC), and the offense began to roll as well as it has all season with Tre and Grayson sharing the initiation of the offense.   In the next 5+ minutes Duke moved the lead from 1 to 17 (35-18) and the game turned out to be basically over.

The Defense

This might have been Duke’s best defensive game all season.  The zone was very efficient after the first four minutes.  Rhode Island had 9 points after 3:58 had been played.  In the next 16 minutes, the Rams tallied 19 points for a total of 28 at the half.  Rhode Island’s high scorer all season (and in the win over Oklahoma) was Jared Terrell.  (for the year, he averaged 17 ppg and hit 75 3s).  Duke’s defensive game plan was to keep him off the 3-point line and shut him down.  In the first half he scored a single point (0-5 from the field; 0-2 from deep; 1-2 from the line.  By the time he did any damage, it was late in the second half and the game was over.  He scored 9 in that half for a total of 10.  Grayson said, “we gave up a 3 early, and then we were really good.”

The Zone was agile, mobile and even hostile in protecting the rim.  Rhode Island could not get the ball into the middle of the zone because of the zone’s mobility and the play of the perimeter player away from the ball.  The length and quickness of the Duke defenders (and especially credit Marvin Bagley whose defense on the back outside of the zone is improving almost magically) gave Rhode Island no uncontested shots from deep.  Occasionally, the Rams did get the ball to their interior, where they met fierce opposition at the rim. Carter, Bagley, DeLaurier and Bolden altered Ram attempts and protected the rim as well as Duke has done all year.  Coach K concurred with Grayson, “our defense was really good.”  He pointed out that Duke is not giving up free throw attempts to the other team in the zone.  The Rams did not get to the double bonus in either half, committing only 15 fouls for the game (4 by Carter).

It is true that Rhode Island was too small to effectively attack the rim. Defending as the tournament continues will be a much taller (no pun intended) order.  Still, the defense jelling into dramatic efficiency is a great sign and reminds me of how the 2015 national championship team jelled on defense to make its championship run.  Justice Winslow’s defense led that turnaround.  I have the feeling that Bagley on the outside and Tre on top are analogous catalysts.  However, before we leave the defense, let us recognize that Grayson has been playing simply outstanding perimeter defense.  He gets long rebounds, deflects passes to the post, and is the floor general on the defensive end as well.

The Offense

The first half (after the four minute mark) produced absolutely beautiful basketball.  The Devils shot 54% from the floor and had 8 assists on 15 hoops.  The perimeter was 6-12 from deep (Bagley missed 1 so the team was 6-13).  After the first flurry of turnovers, Duke had only 2 more in the half.  The offense flourished from both the perimeter and the interior with balanced scoring.  Trent and Grayson played all 20 minutes, while Bagley played 19.  Carter had two fouls and played 12 excellent minutes.  Duval played all but the 3 minutes early, described above.  All of Duke’s 45 first half points came from the starters and were equally distributed among them.  Trent scored 11 (4-8 from the field; 3-6 from deep); Duval 10 (3-8; 1-3; and 3-3 from the line – I thought when he made all 3 after being fouled on a 3 point attempt, his confidence rose visibly); Carter 9 (4-4 from the field and 1-1 from the line); Bagley 8 (2-3 with his only miss being a 3 point attempt, and 4-5 from the line.  He is turning into a reliable foul shooter – what a bonus for Duke); and Grayson 7 (2-5; both goals were 3s in his 3 first half attempts from deep; he was 1-1 from the line – a four-point play).  Grayson does not shoot unless Duke needs points.  In the second half when Duke did not, he attempted only a single shot (1-1 from deep), 10 points for the game.

Duke, led by a phenomenal performance by Bagley, was never threatened in the second half.  Bagley scored 14 second half points on 6-7 shooting from the floor, including his only 3 point attempt of the second half and 1-2 at the line.  All the starters were in double figures at the end – Trent 18, Carter 13, Duval 11 and Grayson 10.  Duke shot 57% for the game and 10-21 from deep (50% in the second half) and 79% from the line.  It is hard to quibble with a performance like this one.

The Bench

Coach K has now established a 7 man rotation (De Laurier and Bolden).  White, O’Connell, Goldwire and JRob were strictly confined to mop up time.  Bolden had 6 rebounds and an assist in 11 minutes, scoring 2 on 2 free throw attempts.  DeLaurier played 18 minutes (1 minute less than Carter) and had a gaudy stat line – 6 points on 2-2 from the field and 2-4 from the line to go with 7 rebounds and outstanding defense in the zone.  He is still fouling (3) and turning it over (2), but he brings energy and speed when he comes in.  Duke’s bench has become a valuable asset.

On To Omaha (Midwest Regional)

First, Syracuse’s upset of Michigan State sets up another “trap” game for Duke.  Duke will take the court for its Sweet 16 game against Syracuse on Friday, March 23 in the late game (9:37 scheduled start). Duke handled Syracuse easily (60-44) in late February and could face #1 seed Kansas in the elite 8, should the Blue Devils again beat the Orange.  That is just the situation the team faced when playing St. John’s in New York and Virginia Tech in the penultimate regular season game.  I worry about Duke looking ahead to playing whoever has won the early game when Kansas faces Clemson in the other Regional semi-final that will tip off on Friday at 7:07.   Let us hope that this team has learned its “trap game” lessons.

Virginia and Xavier, both # 1 seeds, did not make it to the Sweet 16; nor did #2 seeds UNC and Cincinnati; nor did # 3 seeds Michigan State and Tennessee; nor did # 4 seeds Arizona, Wichita State and Auburn.  The ACC was involved in losing and defeating a #1 seed (Florida State took down Xavier with a great late game rally). The ACC (Duke, Clemson, Florida State and Syracuse) and Big 12 (Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas State) each have four teams advancing (who could have predicted that the ACC would have four teams advance and that UVa and UNC would not be among them?); The SEC (Kentucky and Texas A&M) and Big 10 (Purdue and Michigan) have two each.  The Big East (Villanova), Missouri Valley (Loyola), Mountain West (Nevada) and West Coast (Gonzaga) conferences each have one.  The # 1 seeds still left are Villanova and Kansas; #2s are Purdue and Duke; #3s Michigan and Texas Tech; and #4 Gonzaga).

Handling “The Vicissitudes of the Tournament”

In my business, I have to discuss “the vicissitudes of litigation” when the client and I are deciding whether a proposed settlement of a case is superior to going to trial.  Trial, like this tournament, offers spectacular rewards and devastating defeats (disasters), and in some sense is unknowable prior to the trial.  Both Tony Bennett, after UVA’s shocking loss, and ‘Ole Roy, after UNC’s equally shocking humiliation appeared at difficult press conferences.  Both ACC teams had been heavily favored and had reasonable Championship aspirations, which were devastatingly demolished unexpectedly.   Bennett’s press conference was remarkable.  Bill quoted some of it above, and I wrote to several UVA friends (and ex-wife) how proud they should be of such a candid wise and eloquent understanding of life and some of its unpleasant lessons.  Coach K actually praised Bennett’s post-disaster press conference in his post Rhode Island press conference.  Class recognized class.  On the other hand, ’Ole Roy’s press conference sounded like the “before” part of a “before/after” mental health advertisement.

DUKE 69 – SYRACUSE 65 

If you predicted this result halfway through the season, raise your hand: Duke’s defense and free throws win a Sweet Sixteen Tournament game. The Blue Devils forced 16 turnovers, 8 steals, and hit 20-28 free throws to squeeze, not peel, a win from the Orange!

This game was a coaches chess match. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim had the advantage of being the Zen Zone-Meister who, while they coached the USA basketball team, turned his buddy Coach K onto some of the nuances of his pride and joy defense. He also had the advantage of practicing against it all these years. Syracuse is anything but a scoring juggernaut, so they play tenacious defense and methodical, boring offense. So, ever resourceful Coach Boeheim made a few changes from their regular season game in Cameron. He strategically positioned and coached his players to attack the underbelly of Duke’s zone and beat them on the boards, which they successfully did until the Blue Devils made a late first half run—aided by ‘Cuse big men foul trouble- to take a seven point lead into the locker room.

Unfortunately, in the second half, Duke came out flat or trap or young or whatever and Syracuse quickly cut into Duke’s lead. Then came the turning point of the game. Coach K called a timeout, ripped off his jacket, and tore into his team with some constructive Chicago Criticism. Fortunately, the TV feed didn’t capture it verbatim. That wasn’t necessary, K’s body language told the story. The rest of the game mostly resembled the pace and accuracy of a game from the 1950’s as the Devils could get ahead but not gain comfortable separation. As we have often stressed–and this tournament certainly proved– you cannot allow a lesser team hang around, because with the three point line and officials being human, anything can happen. Fortunately, ‘Cuse just did not have the consistent firepower to take advantage of Duke’s guards awful (5-26) three point shooting.

Ultimately Duke prevailed by Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley repeatedly imitating Joe Montana and Dwight Clark  and throwing passes over the zone, (unfortunately, they only counted for two not six points but the embarrassment factor doubled the pleasure), Carter started rebounding like the real man he is, and Trent finally sealed the deal with a deuce and two free throws. In limited minutes, Bolden and O’Connor both made a few critical contributions. But in a close  game like this, every positive play is critical to achieving a win.

Other Observations:

  • Coach K had an interesting response to a question about what he thinks about when his players miss so many open shots. He said that he always tells his players to keep shooting and don’t think back, think forward. His example was Grayson not letting the misses affect the rest of his game. He had 8 assists, only 1 turnover, a critical late game two, three free throws, and made a strategic foul at the end of the game.
  • Tre Duval was a disappointing non-factor. He only had 4 assists but 3 turnovers, was 1-7 from the floor, and 1 steal. That is probably why Grayson Allen ran the offense.
  • Bagley has already been named a first-team All-American by Sporting News and the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA). Should he earn first-team honors from the Associated Press (which is released next week), he would become the 22nd consensus first-team All-American in Duke history and the 18th under head coachMike Krzyzewski.

Alan Adds

As predicted in my last “Alan Adds”, this was truly a “trap” game for Duke.  My definition of trap is where circumstances (past record; Vegas line etc.) make the favorite subconsciously believe in an inevitable victory.  The result is that the other team wins all the loose balls; 50-50 plays; shooting goes off; and upsets happen (See Duke v St. Johns and Virginia Tech in the regular season; UVA, UNC, Xavier and others in this tournament).  Syracuse was emotionally charged and intense while Duke was not.  For example, in the first half there were 15 rebounds off Duke’s defensive glass; Syracuse corralled 9 of them.  The Orange got every loose ball.  Yet, Duke persevered.  The difference from the catastrophic trap game that nailed UVA and UNC was that Duke won!  Kudos to Coach K for riding this team to a win under surprisingly tough circumstances (the timeout at the start of the second half, as Bill points out, was an attitude changer).

The Defense

Duke’s main game plan was to take away Syracuse’s 3 point shooting.  This was accomplished throughout the game (The Orange shot 31% from deep; 14% in the second half).  While Duke played excellent defense in the first half, holding Syracuse to 27 points (in spite of all those offensive rebounds) and forcing 12 turnovers, while committing only 5 first half fouls, Boeheim’s offensive design shredded the Duke zone in the second half.  He is a great coach.  The Orange were 13-18 from inside the arc in the second half and drew 11 Duke fouls.  Fortunately for the Blue Devils, Syracuse stunk from the stripe (60%; 9-15) and the 3 point line (1-7).  Syracuse scored 38 second half points, probably their best offensive output in many a moon.  After forcing 12 first half turnovers, Duke had only 2 second half steals and the Orange had only 4 second half turnovers.  The starters all played the entire second half, except for Carter, who was spelled by Bolden for just 3 minutes.  Duval played all 20 second half minutes after logging only 11 in the opening stanza.  Duke relapsed on defense in the second half.

The Offense

Syracuse’s zone was quite effective, but might not have been if the Duke guards had been able to hit the many wide open three point opportunities presented.  Duke had an advantage on the interior (especially when Chukwu was forced to the bench by foul trouble trying to handle Duke’s bigs; he was able to stay on the court for only 29 minutes), which forced the Syracuse zone to pack it in and leave Duke’s guards open from behind the arc.  But the Devils could not take advantage.  Consider Duke was 2-18 from deep in the second half – Grayson was 1-10; Trent 1-5; Duval 0-3 —  5-26 for the game.  If Duke shoots anywhere near its season average, the game is a blowout.  Such horrendous 3 point shooting cost UVA and UNC dearly, while Duke managed to survive.  Duke moved the ball against the zone and was patient.  The results were checkered, but sufficient.  The Blue Devils had 13 assists and only 7 turnovers – a measly 2 in the second half.  Duke shot free throws (20-28; 9-12 in the second half) better than The Orange (11-17; 9-15 in the second half).  Duval was a liability in his 31 minutes (1-7 from the field; 0-3 from deep without getting to the foul line) with 4 assists, but 3 turnovers. Aside from his 2 points and a deuce from Bolden, all of Duke’s 69 came from the 4 other starters: Bagley had 22; Grayson, 15; Carter and Trent, 14.  Grayson had 8 assists with only a single turnover.  Although his shot failed to fall, Grayson ran the team with aplomb and leadership.  Bagley was brilliant in the second half with 13 of his points and all of his rebounds in that stanza.  Strangely, he had only 1 defensive rebound.  He was unable to get back to help under the defensive board when he stretched out to cover the perimeter shooter in Duke’s zone.  In 39 minutes he was 8-12 from the field (and the recipient of many of Grayson’s assists on lobs for dunks) and 6-8 from the line.  He sucked up much of Syracuse’s defensive attention.  Carter (33 minutes) was 8-11 from the line (putting Chukwu in foul trouble); 3-6 from the field to go with 12 boards (8 defensive), a block (seemed to me he had more than one) and a steal with only a single turnover.  Trent was 5-13 from the field; 2-8 from deep, and a glorious 2-2 from the stripe.  He also contributed 5 boards.  He had a crucial deuce in addition to the game winning free throws.

Winning Time

Duke kept the lead throughout the second half even though it occasionally shrunk to a single point.  Basically the lead stayed between 9 and 3 throughout the second half.  With 4:13 to go, Duke had a 9 point lead on Grayson’s jumper from inside the arc.  That lead should have been safe, but was not.  After a timeout, Brissett got inside the zone for a layup (62-55 with 3:53 left).  Carter missed a jumper, but Bagley was fouled when he rebounded the miss.  When Bagley missed the second foul shot, Duval fouled Howard for Duke’s 9th foul of the period (double bonus from there on). Howard missed the front end of the one and one.  Bagley missed a layup and the Duke defense was lazy giving up Syracuse’s only three of the second half to Battle (63-58 with 2:22 left).  After a timeout, Trent missed a wide open 3 with 1:59 left; Brissett missed a layup, but Duke gave up the offensive rebound to Chukwu.  Brissett then hit a jumper to cut the lead to 63-60 with 1:26 left.  Trent responded with a drive and tear drop with only 51 seconds left (65-60).  Carter inexplicably fouled Howard well away from the hoop; Howard’s two foul shots cut the lead back to 3 with :41 seconds left.  Syracuse was forced to foul.  Grayson made a pair (67-62 with 21 seconds left).  Battle missed a 3, but Duke gave up another offensive rebound when Dolezaj tipped in the miss.  67-64 with 13 seconds left.  Grayson was fouled and (gasp!) missed the front end of a one and one.  With 7 seconds left, Coach K ordered the foul rather than allow the Orange a three point attempt that would have tied the game.  Howard missed the first and made the second.  Trent was fouled on the inbounds with 6 seconds left and dramatically made both to finally assure Duke’s win.  It was not vintage Duke at winning time.  But neither was it “losing time”.

The Bench

DeLaurier, Bolden and O’Connell all played about 5 minutes in the first half and contributed.  Duke stretched out to the lead when Alex replaced Duval.  He grabbed 2 key rebounds and made a great pass to Grayson for a 3; he also had a steal, but missed his only shot and committed a foul.  Only Bolden played in the second half.

Kansas on Sunday

Duke takes on the #1 seed, Kansas, who looked pretty awesome for most of the game against Clemson.  Winner goes to the Final Four.  I am hoping to write more than one final “Alan Adds” this season!

Next game: Sunday: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Duke. 5:05 pm. CBS.

DUKE 81 – KANSAS 85 

Coulda, shoulda, woulda… Up three with :30 seconds to go, this was a game Duke could have won, should have won, would have won– usually wins. But Kansas got stops, made a shot and Duke didn’t. Carter couldn’t convert at the rim, Kansas made a clever pass out of a double team and Mykhailiuk, who was only 2-8 and missed his last two, made an NBA three.  Still the Blue Devils would have won but Allen’s hanging, hard bank shot at the buzzer bounced around then off  of the backboard and rim multiple times before falling harmlessly to the floor. Those are the breaks of the game and the bottom line is that Kansas had Newman (32 points), made more 6 more three points shots and outrebounded Duke 47-32. Only 9 steals and forcing 18 turnovers kept the game in question. Kansas methodically carved up Duke’s zone and Newman was hot and Duke’s guards were not. When Tre Duval is Duke’s leading scorer, you know it was not a normal night on the hardwood for the Blue Devils. Considering all the stats, it is rather amazing that the game actually went into overtime. However, Carter’s foul trouble culminating in a very questionable fifth foul, probably was the critical development of the game– a  player averaging almost a double-double for the season was limited to just twenty-two cautious minutes that only produced 10 points and 2 rebounds.

The truth is that this very talented but young team has been inconsistent all season losing to Boston College, N.C. State, Virginia, St. Johns, Virginia Tech, and UNC twice. Only the exceptional talent of Bagley, Carter, Trent, Allen, and, sometimes, Duval enabled them to obscure the fact that the maturity and cohesion developed over years of playing in a program usually wins close games. Every talented team, even one with Marvelous Marv, occasionally runs out of Miracles. Tonight, a tough, experienced Kansas team had the edge in maturity and the execution—and the basketball gods decided tonight was their night.

Alan adds:

This was a truly wonderful college basketball game.  That one sentence almost entirely sums up my post-game feeling.  I couldn’t find sadness, though I am sorry for the season to end a week sooner than I would have liked.

I didn’t think there was much of a difference between the quality of the two teams.  If they played a best of 7 series, I believe there would be a 7th game.  However, for last night’s game,  I’m not sure the analysis of the game is more complex than Newman’s shots went in (he scored all of Kansas’s 13 points in the overtime) and Grayson’s did not.  The game was there for Duke to win in regulation.  The Devils led by 3 and had the ball with a little over 30 seconds to go.  Carter got a superb look up close, and if the shot falls, Duke wins.  But, as we know, it did not.  But what cost Duke the game was the next defensive effort.  Graham started to the hoop going right and passed out to Mykhalliuk set up just above the foul line extended.  In the Duke zone, it is the place where the back outside defender comes out to contest the three or drive the shooter off the line.  Carter did not do that.  He took a step toward Mykhalliuk but then inexplicably retreated to cover the corner, leaving the shooter amazingly wide open.  Tie game.  Kansas defended Bagley when it counted and Grayson was heroic, but his shot did not go in.

In the overtime, Duke was crippled when the controversial block-charge call went against Carter for his fifth foul with 2:49 left and the score tied at 76.  Duke scored only 6 in the overtime (I am not counting Grayson’s last 3 when it didn’t matter; Duke actually scored 9 in the overtime), and none after Duval’s jumper tied the game at 78 with 2:36 to go. Duke turned it over 3 crucial times in the overtime after that.  Bagley took only 1 shot (2 points) and Duval went 2-3 (the other 4 points), but his only miss will be remembered.  With Kansas up 81-78, Duke had the ball with 52 seconds to go. Grayson passed to Marvin in the post; Marvin made a beautiful touch pass to Duval in the corner, as the defense began to collapse on him.  With :36 seconds left, Duval was wide open in the corner with a shot he had to take.  Had it gone, the game would have been tied.  With the clock winding down, Duke had to foul and the game dragged to its sorrowful conclusion.  The Duke shortcoming was illuminated in the rebounding statistics.  Duke was a terrific rebounding team all year, yet, Kansas simply manhandled the young Devils off the boards.  The Jayhawks corralled 17 offensive rebounds (Duke had 22 defensive rebounds) while whipping Duke on the boards 47-32.  Partly Carter’s foul trouble, but really just Kansas’s desire.

This was an interesting team all year with amazing talent, but full of the inconsistency of youth.  Perhaps the last game (especially Grayson’s play in it) was the perfect encapsulation of the season – a splendid, yet disappointing, performance that was punctuated by joy, admiration, frustration and ultimately failure.  But, it was a fun ride.  I have no complaints about Duke basketball’s 2017-18 season!

In Conclusion:

As the fortunate and appreciative beneficiaries of our education at Duke University, Alan and I again close the season with a short historical narrative that may give some insight into why we have such pride and affection for our alma mater and why we take the time and make the effort to stay in touch with alumni and friends through the love of the game of basketball.

Folklore has it that after Princeton University declined James Buchannan Duke’s offer of a very generous bequest with the caveat to change the name of the school to Duke University, he established the Duke Endowment with $40,000,000 and made the same offer to little, nearby Trinity College with two caveats: change the name to Duke University (after his father Washington Duke) and build it to look like Princeton. When Mr. Duke died a year later in 1925, he left the Endowment an additional $67,000,000. Adjusted for present value, Mr. Duke’s total gifts would amount to more than $1.5 billion today.

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 former President Brodhead’s 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.

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

A case can be made that Duke has come further, faster than any Top Ten University. Athletic Director Eddie Cameron was a major catalyst. He had the foresight to see that excellence in athletics was quickest way to attract national attention to a young, ambitious university. In 1930, he hired football coach Wallace Wade away from Alabama following his third national championship with the Crimson Tide. By the mid 1930’s Duke had a powerful football team that attracted national attention and played in the 1938 and 1942 Rose Bowls. From $400,000 of the proceeds of the 1942 Rose Bowl (played at Duke because of concerns about Japanese attacks on the West Coast), Mr. Cameron built Duke Indoor Stadium (fittingly renamed Cameron Indoor Stadium), which was, at the time, the second largest basketball arena (next to the Palestra in Philadelphia) in the East. Fortunately, the legendary Dick Groat matriculated shortly thereafter and a great basketball tradition was established, then embellished by Vic Bubas in the 1960’s, Bill Foster briefly in the 1970’s, and for the last thirty-eight  years the living legend Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

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

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

I join Bill in saying what a pleasure our writing has been for us.  I have reveled in the effort and enjoyed the camaraderie with a treasured friend (and ex-intramural doubles partner – 58 years later it still rankles that we lost in the finals!).

We thank you for allowing us to share our thoughts with you this season.   Next Play.

 

 

 

 

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