Duke Basketball Playbook: 2013-14

Alan and I welcome you to our analysis of another interesting and exciting college basketball season for the Duke University Blue Devils.

In that memorable scene from “ On the Waterfront”, Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a physically and spiritually broken ex-fighter, sorrowfully confronts  his mob-corrupted brother Rod Steiger:  “It was you, Charley. That night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said: Kid, this ain’t your night. You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender.”

Well, not to worry Duke fans, you don’t have to be concerned about that sort of thing again this year. While this is a young, inexperienced but talented and deep squad, by the end of the season the Blue Devils  should be a contender for another national title yet again—and here is why:

Over the years, one of the joys of watching Coach K is  appreciating how he adjusts his offensive and defensive game plans to his talent to win so many games. This is the most athletic squad Coach K has had since 1999-2000 Brand, Battier etc. teams (but without a dominant center) so we will see a more aggressive, pressing defense, and a spread offense with an open lane, much like his Olympic team or the current Miami Heat. There will be less ball dominance by point guards and shooting guards, more slashing drives to the basket by the forwards, and less living and dying by the three.

What to look for:

Ø  Are Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood as good as advertised?

Ø  Can the team overcome the lack of a dominant low post player?

Ø  Is Amile Jefferson strong enough to play the post?

Ø  Will Marshall Plumlee, a true big man, be a contributor?

Ø  Can Quinn Cook shut down opposing point guards?

Ø  Will Andre Dawkins become a complete player and fulfill his potential?

Ø  Will Rasheed Sulaimon be more consistent?

Ø  Are freshman Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye ready for Prime Time?

Ø  Will this talented but young and inexperienced group develop the chemistry to reach their potential?

Ø  Will injuries again (Ryan Kelly & Kyrie Irving) keep this team from reaching the Final Four?

Note: JJ Redick starts in the back court with old Wake rival Cris Paul for the LA Clippers; Miles Plumlee is the starting center for the Phoenix Suns; and Mason has been getting minutes off the bench for the Brooklyn Nets.

For a more in-depth analysis: :

At this time last year, we analyzed a Duke team that was a huge question mark as practice began.  Primarily, Duke worried about its backcourt, which had lacked leadership at the point in 2011-2012 (with Thornton, Curry and Cook all failing to run the offense crisply, or defend against opponents’ quick penetrating guards) and had lost its leading scorer, freshman Austin Rivers to the NBA.  Mason was recognized as having great potential — as yet unreached – while Kelly was coming off a serious injury that had ended his (and in some ways Duke’s) 2011- 2012 season.  He completely missed the disappointing post season.  Gjinbe had transferred (to Syracuse; where he appears to have earned a starting job) and Dawkins left the team for emotional reasons.  The end of the 2011-12 season had been ignominious by Duke standards.  Duke flopped down the regular season stretch, being completely blown out by Carolina at Cameron on Senior night, losing to Fla State in the ACC semi-finals, and then being humiliated by Lehigh in the NCAA’s opening (I don’t care what they call the play in round) game as its perimeter defense shredded (yet again) by CJ McCollum.

Lots of great things happened for Duke, which had, in my opinion, a spectacular year in 2012-13 — far above expectations.  Duke was a contender (if not the favorite) for the national championship until Kelly got hurt again (15-0 at the time), even while Curry played heroically on a season long injury that eventually required surgery.  The three senior captains — Mason, Ryan and Seth — set a leadership tone and played with skill and intensity.  The backcourt varied between awesome (against Louisville in the first game in the pre-season tournament) and competent (the second game, the NCAA elite 8 game, in which Louisville completely outplayed Duke).  Quinn Cook made huge strides and controlled the Duke offense.  Rashid Sulaimon stepped in as both a defender and offensive threat (I think he was actually an improvement over Rivers,  because of his defense).  Coach K was asked to compare Sulaimon and JJ  as freshman.  Coach K said, “I can ask Rashid to defend 3 positions; I couldn’t ask Redick to defend even one.”  Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston became adequate — and sometimes better than that — backups.  Freshman Amile Jefferson began to blossom as Kelly’s main replacement.  Only Marshall Plumlee and Alex Murphy failed to make a real impact on a team that was slightly undermanned.  The lack of a major wing force on both ends was a problem all year, with Curry a bit too small defensively, and the lack of a slasher (like Rivers) telling on offense.

So what does 2013-14 look like?  Coach K has indicated that it will not be business as usual; rather he will use his Olympic team as the model.  He explained what he meant by an analogy to Chris Paul, considered by many to be the premier point guard in the NBA.  Coach K pointed out that Paul dominated the ball when playing with the Clippers, but when he had the option of getting the ball to LeBron, Durant, Melo and others, he moved the ball and played differently.  Coach K said that Quinn Cook would not be a traditional point guard this year, but would be getting the ball to the two new stars of the team (who have never played a game for Duke yet), freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood.  Coach K did not say Hood and Parker were LaBron and Durante, but he is as high on these two as I have ever heard Coach K be on a prospect who had not yet played for Duke, except for Kyrie for whom K changed his whole team concept (and he was surely right about Kyrie).   Duke will be swift and small; run and press; and use a larger rotation than has been traditional in the past.  Let’s analyze more closely.

The most obvious question mark for this year’s team is the lack of size in the middle, both defensively (who will defend the rim as Mason and Kelly did last year – the interior defense suffered significantly when Kelly was injured) and creating a post presence on offense.  Duke’s outside shooting (which tailed off after Kelly’s injury) was helped dramatically by the defensive concentration that Mason commanded from opponents in the post.  The second question mark is experience.  Much of the optimism that surrounds this year’s pre-season comes from the addition of  Parker and  Hood.  Both are 6’8″ athletic basketball players.  Hood, who sat out last year as a transfer (from Mississippi State) was named to the SEC All – freshman team two years ago and is said to have been the best player on the team in practice last year.  Significantly, Coach K named him one of the two (now 3 as of yesterday when Coach K named Hairston to join Hood and Thornton as) team captains, even though he is a redshirt sophomore and has never played a game for Duke!  He was invited to tryouts for the USA World University team, but injured his achilles and withdrew.  The achilles is now fine, but reminds us of how injuries — Kyrie and Kelly — derailed two potential national championship teams.  Parker is Duke’s highest ranking recruit since Danny Ferry, and comes with glowing notices about his character as well as his basketball skills.  Both are the kind of slashing scoring, good shooting, solid wing defenders that Duke lacked last year.  Still, Duke’s two stars for this year are both newcomers; so enthusiasm needs to be somewhat tempered.  Duke returns its starting backcourt of Cook and Sulaimon.  Sulaimon had a terrific summer as a starter on the USA under 19 team that won the gold medal.  If he steps up between freshman and sophomore year, as has frequently been done by others, he could be a major force in the college game.  However, he has been pushed by others for his starting spot in the pre-season.  Quinn Cook is a junior, who made dramatic strides between his freshman year (injured and a bit out of shape as a result) and last year, where he had some spectacular games and moments.  But he also had some games with too few of those moments.  He has reportedly been working hard, and aims to bring a consistency to his game that was missing last year.  Coach K has lauded his defensive improvement over the summer, and Al Featherstone thought he might have been Duke’s best player at Midnight Madness (Oct. 18) because of his improved on the ball defense (he forced Tyler Thornton into 6 turnovers in 14 minutes).  Quinn’s outside shot needs improvement, and he needs be getting to the foul line far more than he did last year, though he could be a spectacular penetrator at times.  Quinn, as he has been since he arrived at Duke, might be the biggest question mark of all.  He has the potential to solidify his game, and make Duke a national contender.  So, who will be the fifth starter and who else will be in the rotation.  Coach K said in late September after the first practice that if he had to name starters at that time, Amile Jefferson would be one of them.  He praised Amile and said he had made the biggest improvement over the summer.   The three exhibition games suggest that Jefferson will, indeed, be the fifth starter.

Jefferson has added 25 pounds of muscle and impressed the coaching staff.  He can run,  is very athletic and long, but he was certainly man handled  last year inside as a freshman.  He is Duke’s starting center this year.  (Think of how our Olympic team played when Tyson Chandler was not in the lineup).  Thornton and Hairston have already proved their mettle as valuable reserves in the rotation and each should be even better as co-captains for their senior years.  Solid.  Andre Dawkins returns from his red shirt year with a new positive attitude as a senior.  Coach K has gone out of his way to praise Dawkins, who was the sixth man on the White team at Midnight Madness (the starters were Hood, Parker, Jefferson, Sulaimon and Cook), but he played very little and not well in the exhibition games.  In his years at Duke, he has been inconsistent on offense (sometimes a potent shooter and sometimes a liability) and defensively inadequate.  He has generated excellent press regarding his new attitude, but that has not yet translated into efficient performance on the court.

So what does the rotation look like after the Midnight Madness scrimmage and the two exhibition games — against Bowie State on October 26 and Drury on November 2?  The starters are: Hood, Parker, Jefferson, Cook and Sulaimon.  It is clear that the two seniors, Thornton and Hairston, will play significant minutes based on their performance last year and their experience.  That’s 7.  How the remaining five will acquire playing time will be interesting.

In the Bowie State game, only Hood (28), Parker (24), Sulaimon (23) and freshman shooting guard Matt Jones (20) logged over 20 minutes.  Significantly, Jones had15 points on 4-9 shooting – 2–6 from the bonus sphere.  His impressive stat line included 4 boards, a steal and an assist.  Coach K has praised his defense, and he seems as if he will join the rotation.  Jefferson had 16 points to go along with 4 boards and a steal in 15 minutes of playing time.  Thornton logged a minute more than Cook (15-14) and 4 steals and 4 assists while Quinn 2 turnovers, 3 assists and only 2 points.  Alex Murphy (also 14 minutes), Josh (12 minutes), Ojeleye 11, Marshal 10, and Dawkins 9 rounded out the playing time.  Andre hoisted 7 shots in his 9 minutes (0-6 from 3). Not impressive.

Against Drury (reigning Division II champions, but small), Duke trailed 38-34 at the half before winning handily in the second half.  Sulaimon was ill and did not play.  Six players logged upwards of 21 minutes: Hood (36), Parker (28), Matt Jones (a surprising 28), Thorton 25 and Cook 24 with Jefferson playing 21 minutes.  Only two other players made double digit minutes: Hairston (13) and Ojeleye (10).  Murphy (6), Dawkins (6) and Plumlee (3) seem unlikely to make Coach K’s rotation, early in the season anyway.  Thornton started the game in Rasheed’s place.  Duke had four double digit scorers: Hood with a game high 21 led Duke, while Parker, Jefferson and Cook each had 13.  Matt Jones scored 9.  The box scores suggest Jones will be in the rotation.  That’s 8.

Coach K has broken the team down into 3 categories: Bigs, Wings, and Guards.

Bigs: Parker (that is what K announced, even though Parker was bringing the ball up like a point guard sometimes at Midnight Madness), Jefferson, Hairston and Marshall Plumlee. Marshall is intriguing, and Duke’s only true post player.  He’s now listed at 7 feet; and can run,  rebound and conduct great interviews.  Whether he can defend without fouling will be determined as the season unfolds.  His fouling last year reminded me of the underclass Zoubek.  He would enter the game last year, and either commit a turnover or foul, which returned him to the bench quickly.  Injuries have damaged both of his years at Duke.  Coach K said he thought Marshall might have been in the rotation last year if he hadn’t broken his foot in the pre-season.  He has had post-season surgery, and so may not be fully in shape yet.  Still, if he can play at a high level, and be a significant contributor, Duke’s national stature would be enhanced.  His stints in the exhibition games were limited.  Against Bowie State, he played 10 minutes (5-6 from the free throw line) with 7 points, 2 blocks, and a rebound, but against Drury, he played only 3 minutes (0-2 from the free throw line with a turnover and a rebound.  Not promising.  We will have to see how effective Jefferson is at protecting the rim and scoring inside.  Jefferson has had a good pre-season, but both Bowie State and Drury are undersized teams.  Kansas (2nd game) and Arizona (projected Pre-Season NIT fin as opponent) will be a valid litmus test for Amile.

Wings: Hood, Dawkins, Alex Murphy and freshman Semi Ojeleye;  Alex, now listed at 6’9″, has shown some athleticism and flashes of skill.    However, he did not earned significant minutes from Coach K, even after Kelly went down,  logged the fewest minutes on the floor at Midnight Madness, and has played sparingly in both exhibition games.  Semi is a chiseled 6’7″ wing player who broke the all-time scoring record in Kansas and has had many impressive things written about him.  While his offense has not yet flourished in the pre-season, his defense and rebounding did.  He will be one to watch, even if not this year.

Guards: Cook, Sulaimon, Thornton and freshman Matt Jones.  Jones, from Texas, is a highly ranked recruit, said to be an outside shooter that reminds the Duke staff of JJ (high praise, but I think we might wait and see what is shown on the court).  Jones has earned Coach K’s praise with his defense in the pre-season and has logged 20 and 28 minutes in the exhibition games.  He seems an early season surprise.  All four of the guards should see significant playing time. If Duke can defend the perimeter this year a bit better this year, it may make up for the perceived shortcoming on the interior.

Does that whet the whistle for this season, which kicks off with Davidson at Cameron this coming Friday, November 8?

DUKE 111- DAVIDSON 77

There is a rhyme and a reason as to how and why Coach K constructs each year’s basketball schedule. The season opens at home  against a good, well coached but somewhat overmatched team. And make no mistake, essentially this same group of Davidson players made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year so, this was no cupcake opener. Next game Kansas in Chicago. Who is from Chicago? Jabari Parker, Jon Scheyer,  Cris Collins, and Coach K, who recruits everywhere.

Did we find out any answers to my questions in our earlier season preview blog?

  • Are Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood as good as advertised? Oh my, yes!
  • Can the team overcome the lack of a dominant low post player? Yet to be determined.
  • Is Amile Jefferson strong enough to play the post? Not if he make silly fouls in the first few minutes and is on the bench.
  • Will Marshall Plumlee, a true big man, be a contributor? Yet to be determined, but I like his energy, physicality, and enthusiasm.
  • Can Quinn Cook shut down opposing point guards? He did last night
  • Will Andre Dawkins become a complete player and fulfill his potential? Not if he doesn’t play himself into the rotation.
  • Why is Will Rasheed Sulaimon apparently in Coach K’s dog house? He was “out of shape” and “not practicing well”. Last night should have solved  those issues.
  • Are freshman Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye ready for Prime Time? If playing time is answer, Matt yes, Oly no.
  • Will this talented but young and inexperienced group develop the chemistry to reach their potential? There was a lot of offensive chemistry last night.
  • Will injuries again (Ryan Kelly & Kyrie Irving) keep this team from reaching the Final Four? Unknowable.

Most of the very best players make the game look easy. Parker has wonderful skills and is comfortable anywhere in the offensive set. Hood reminds me of Jamaal “Silk” Wilks of UCLA and the Lakers great Magic Johnson “Showtime” teams. He moves  smoothly and effortlessly and appears more advanced defensively than Jabari. Although their styles are different, Cook and Sulaimon both can break down their defenders. Cook is quicksilver and Sully five yards and a cloud of dust. Several sets were called for Rasheed last night and he either got to the hole or drew a double team and hit an open man.

During my first freshman afternoon at Duke, I walked down to Cameron, then to Wallace Wade Stadium and looked down at the field. There was a player and coach standing at the fifty yard line. The player was throwing at the  goal line flag and the coach was punting at it.  The coach punted closer more times than the player threw. I was amazed. Later, I learned that the player was Sonny Jorgensen and the coach Ace Parker, neither of whose names meant anything to me at the time. I eventually became  lot more familiar with both men.

The reason I bring it up is that Clarence “Ace” Parker died last week and if you didn’t know it, he was arguably the best all round athlete ever to play at Duke. Ace competed in three sports: football, basketball and baseball. From 1934 – 1936, he starred at tailback, doing most of the running and passing for Duke. He was second team All-American in 1935 and consensus All-American first team in 1936. He placed sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1936. Parker was a great open-field runner and one of the best punters in college football at the time. His 105 yard kickoff return against North Carolina is still a Duke school record. Ace also excelled as a baseball player at Duke, playing in 1935-1936– and later was the coach.

Parker was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955. He was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers as the third pick of the second round in the 1937 NFL draft. Sammy Baugh was the only passer drafted ahead of Parker. Parker also played Major League Baseball beginning in 1937, thus became a true two-sport phenomenon, playing both Major League baseball and NFL football in 1937 and 1938. He was also the first of only seven Major League Baseball players to hit a home run as a pinch-hitter in their first at bat.

This is not your father’s Duke football team. This afternoon, red shirt freshman DeVon Edwards scored three touchdowns (100 yard kick-off return, 45 & 25 yard returns of interceptions in the fourth quarter) to lead  Duke (7-2) to a 38-20 win over North Carolina State. If he isn’t the national defensive player of the week, there should be a recount!

Alan’s take:

Jabari Parker jumped center on the opening tip (even with Jefferson in the starting lineup).  That tells something about the fantastical Parker, but also the vulnerability of Duke on the interior.  Although Duke was not playing top 20 competition, Davidson looked like a good team, even if a bit undersized.  For example, Davidson was 23 for 41 on field goal attempts inside the arc (a disastrous 3-21 from the bonus sphere) and out rebounded Duke (31-27).  Of course, Duke had few offensive rebound opportunities (only got 3) as a result of the spectacular shooting.  And spectacular it was!  But it wasn’t just shooting; it was movement — ball and players.  Very few of Duke’s shots were contested.  The half-court offense was virtually brilliant, with the passing creating open shots.  Remember last year when the turnovers and assists were pretty close to even.  Duke had 16 assists and only four turnovers.  Cook, whose fabulous outing will end up being overshadowed by the performances of Hood and Parker, had 8 assists without a turnover to go with his 21 points on only 9 shots (7-9 including 3-5 from 3land and 4-5 from the line).  He drove; he got fouled; he played great defense in a game high 34 minutes.   Cook’s play will be central to Duke’s fortunes this year.  Can he be consistent and compete against the Big Time point guards such as he will face on Tuesday against Kansas?

As Bill has enthusiastically pointed out last year, Doris Burke is one of the, if not the (Sorry, Jay Bilas) most astute color commentators on the air.  She absolutely nailed what was happening on the court, especially on the defensive end.  Duke is not there yet, she advised, but this could be a signature Duke defensive team, as it becomes more defensively cohesive.  She is surely right on the perimeter because of the speed and athleticism of the defenders.  Davidson was efficient when they got the ball inside, but were able to work for very few clean looks from the outside (and they mostly missed even those).  Matt Jones has received much praise from Coach K for his defense.  K said that he was one of the three most defensively prepared freshman to arrive at Duke (the other two were Amaker and Hurley; not bad company).  Reputed to be a deep shooting threat, Jones missed both of his 3 point attempts and was only 1-4 (3-4 from the line) for 5 points and an assist.  Still, he was clearly the 8th guy in the rotation, logging 17 minutes with 3 of Duke’s 7 steals in that time.

The distribution of playing time minutes is illuminating.  After Cook’s 34 minutes, Hood played 33 minutes of jaw dropping hoops.  He is really something special. Hood was 9-10 from the floor with 9 boards, 2 blocks, an assist and a steal.  Parker (only 23 minutes because of some foul trouble) shot 8-10 from the floor including 5-5 for the first half.  Hood was 6-7 in the first half and rued (playfully) the shot he missed or the two of them could have been perfect from the floor in the first half.  As it was 17-20 (5-5 from 3land; 3 for Parker) was awesome!  Parker and Hood set an amazingly high standard for the games to come, and it was breathtaking pleasure to watch.  Tyler Thornton played 28 solid minutes while Sulaimon, whose resurgence was equally awe inspiring, logged 25 minutes and added 7 boards to his 20 points on 9 shots.  Thornton had 6 points (3 shots) while adding 2 assists and a block.  The offensive explosion obscured the lack of effectiveness of Duke’s big guys.  Jefferson played only 11 minutes; most of them were in garbage time at the end after Hood and Parker had left the game to cheers.  Amile picked up two quick fouls while playing lackadaisical defense, which earned him a seat on the bench after about two minutes in the first half (1 hoop on a gorgeous feed from Parker).  In garbage time, Amile really asserted himself and looked efficient (10 total points in 11 total minutes), although he failed to secure a rebound and was 2-6 from the free throw line.  The Kansas game will be as big a test for him as for any player.  Hairston accumulated four fouls in his 10 minutes (0-2 from the field including a 3 point try), no rebounds, no blocks, no steals, no assists.  Based on last year, there are better days ahead for him.  Marshall got two cameos in each half for a total of 5 minutes (1 missed shot; 1 block and 1 board).  Alex Murphy looked good in his 8 minutes with a hoop and a free throw (no misses) and an assist.  Dawkins played 2 minutes in the first half and none even in garbage time in the second half.  This feels like the Ricky Price story.  Ojeleye played four minutes (there goes the Red shirt) in garbage time.  So, it looks like an 8 man rotation with Alex having a chance to play meaningful minutes too.

Kansas is the late game on Tuesday, and it will be a better litmus test for this season’s edition of the Blue Devils.  No one could ask for a better opening performance than last night against Davidson.

DUKE  83-  KANSAS 94

Everyone has wondered how Duke would fare against a big, athletic team. Well, when you only shoot 57% from the line and miss 12 free throws, it is hard to tell because giving away 18 potential points (6 were the front end of one and ones), changes the complexion of and, consequently, your strategy to the game. You won’t beat a good large or small team shooting free throws like that. Another concern is rebounding. The Blue Devils were out-rebounded 39-24 in last night’s game and were even beaten on the glass in their first game against Davidson.

Ideally, the time for a player to put a team on his back is in the last ten minutes of a game, not in the first half. The downside is coaches can make adjustments at halftime, and in the final twenty minutes for a variety of reasons  a hot  player usually cools off  and/or gets fatigued and the rest of the players who have been sort of  uninvolved have to change gears—not an easy task.  Jabari Parker was All World in the first half but the rest of the team never seemed  in synch. Other than Sulaimon and Jefferson, Parker didn’t get much offensive help. Rodney Hood (11 pts.) and Cook (10 pts.) certainly didn’t rise to the occasion. To top it off,  they messed up an exchange on a  critical possession  with a little over a minute to go in a (then) four point game that led to a fast break dunk that fouled out Parker and sealed the deal for Kansas. It isn’t often that you see a Coach K team get outplayed so decisively down the stretch but I am sure it will be a learning experience.

There are many ways to sum up Jabari Parker’s impressive performance. At times, he reminded me of Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce with his quick jab-step and ability to lift and score from anywhere, of Michael Jordan with a fast break hanging drive through three defenders and creatively tossing in a falling down hook shot, and of Grant Hill with his skying for an ally-oop pass headed for the upper deck. He was more impressive than Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins, the most hyped freshman in many years. He outshined Kentucky’s Julius Randle, a contender for the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, said Parker was “sensational.” But most impressive of all was his response to the question: “How would you grade your performance? (27 pts., 9 rebs., 2 stls.) He said: “C-minus. We lost. I want to win. Forget everything else. That’s all I’m looking for is winning. That’s all that matters to me.”

It is early in the season and this is a young, inexperienced squad. The rest of the players are going to have to figure out their roles to complement Batman. Rodney Hood is talented but seemed a bit passive, even intimidated. My nomination for Robin is Sulaimon. Down the stretch (and puzzlingly, off the bench) he proved once again that he doesn’t back down to any challenge. Cook has to become more consistent both offensively and defensively. Jefferson(17 pts.) has to stay energized and garner more than 2 rebounds and no blocks. And, of course, the team has to shoot free throws a lot better, because they are going be on the line a lot.

Comments:

Parker: “ I just need to get a little more experience and be hungry to learn. I’ve got a long way to go. Defense wins championships, and I didn’t show that.”

Hood: “I found myself getting lost in the game a bit when Jabari got hot,” Hood said. “It’s something to learn from. I’ve got to be more assertive. I can’t let the game come to me and just hope for opportunities. I’ve got to go take them and be more aggressive. It’s a learning period for me, too, being at the head of the team.”

DBP:  The only thing more annoying than the new foul rule is Dick Vitale. I’m sure he is a nice, well- meaning man but his constant stream of shouted shop worn platitudes are well past their shelf life  and add nothing to the enjoyment of the game.

ALLAN ADDS:

First of all, the Duke-Kansas game was a terrific early season game.  Stars made great plays, Andrew Wiggins owned the second half in a more understated way than Parker owned the first half, but was impressively efficient in teaming with Perry Ellis to beat Duke.  Parker put on some show, especially in the first half, which Duke ended in the lead.  It was nip and tuck, with the score tied at the 3:50 mark in the second half.  The game demonstrated Duke is a really good team.  In November, Kansas was better.  Last year Duke was better than Louisville in November.

As Bill emphasized, Duke was  disappointingly woeful from the foul line.  But also disappointing was the free throw opportunities Duke’s defense gave Kansas.   Kansas went to the line 35 times to Duke’s 28 (the missed front end of one and ones skews this stat a bit) and made 27 — an 11 point Kansas advantage from the line for Kansas (who won by 11).  In the first half, Duke shot better from the 3 point line (6-12) than from the foul line (6-13).  The fouling was a result of a combination of terrific Kansas offense and defective Duke defense (especially in the paint).  Moreover, Duke was destroyed on the backboard.  Kansas glommed 30 of the 35 rebounds off its defensive board, while Duke managed only 19 of the 28 defensive board opportunities.  Kansas shooting from the field was very efficient; again a combination of excellent offense and porous defense.  In the second half, Kansas shot 16 for 24 inside the arc (1-4 from 3land), which is 67%, and 19 for 26 from the free throw line.  I thought Duke got tired toward the end of the game.  The score was tied at 77 all with 3:50 left, and Kansas scored 17 of the last 23 points in the game.  As amazing as Parker was on offense, and as a rebounder, he was toasted as a post defender — especially by Perry Ellis (9-13 from the field and 5-6 from the foul line for 24 points).  Thornton fouled out in only 20 minutes; Parker in 33 minutes.  Hood, Cook and Sulaimon each had four fouls at game’s end.  While Duke’s defense needs work — especially against teams who have superior interior firepower, credit goes to a superbly coached Kansas offense (it’s also early in the season for the Jayhawks, who rely heavily on freshmen).

Duke’s rebounding woes are even more fundamentally troubling for a nationally contending team.  Consider that of Duke’s 19 defensive rebounds, Parker got 9 of them (also made Duke’s only block of the game).  Duke’s second best rebounder was Thornton (4 — 1 offensive — in his 20 minutes).  Amile, who had an impressive offensive game, retrieved only one offensive and one defensive board in his 26 minutes.  He, too, was toasted on defense in the paint. Hairston has not snared a rebound now in two games, though he only played 9 minutes (3 fouls; 0-2 from the foul line with 1 hoop).  Hood is counted on, like Parker, to be one of Duke’s major rebounders.  He playfully poked fun at Parker after the Davidson game because Hood had far more rebounds than Parker.  Yet, against Kansas, he had only 1 defensive rebound (to go with 2 on offense) in a game high 38 minutes.  Nor was Hood efficient with the ball.  Though he had 5 assists to lead Duke in that category; he also had 5 turnovers to lead Duke in that category.  He was an inefficient 3-8 from the field and 4-7 from the line for 11 points.  It was obviously a very disappointing game for Hood after his brilliant game against Davidson.  Time will tell who the real Rodney Hood is.  How that shakes out will have a large role in what becomes of Duke’s season.

I thought Duke’s fatigue showed on offense as well.  After 6-12 in the first half from behind the arc, the Devils were 1-7 in the second half.  Duke shot 56% from the field in the first half, but fell to 48% in the second half.  Still shooting 52% for the game is not a sign of an inferior offensive or shooting team.  Jefferson showed more than he ever has before, going 7-9 from the field for 17 points.  Quinn had a quiet game. He played the second most minutes (36 behind Hood’s 38), scoring 10 and dishing out 4 assists against only 1 turnover.  He missed all 3 of his 3 point attempts, but was otherwise 4-6 from the field and 2-3 from the line.  I thought he was Duke’s best defender, though the Kansas point guard, Wayne Selden scored 15 in his 37 minutes.  Duke’s rotation was very short in a close game.  Neither Dawkins nor Ojeleye saw any action.  Murphy (missing his only shot, a 3 pointer in 3 minutes), Jones (missing a 3 pointer and 2 foul shots in 4 minutes) and Marshall (1 assist in 3 minutes) made only cameo appearances.  Rasheed came off the bench and was effective, especially in the fourth quarter.  He had 13 points in 28 minutes (fourth most on the team) on 5-10 shooting (1-3 from 3land and 2-4 from the foul line).  He is a force, who plays starter minutes whether he starts or comes off the bench.

While this game showed that the pre-season worries about Duke weaknesses are very real, this is a good Duke team that will get better.  Coach K said, “We didn’t play a bad game tonight; we played well.  We didn’t play well on the defensive end in the second half, and in big moments, we weren’t able to get a stop.  Part of that is they’re good.  They’re really good.”

Next Play

DUKE 97 – FLORIDA ATLANTIC 64

This weekend was a very interesting time for both Duke Basketball AND Duke Football:

  • The nation’s top-ranked recruit in 2014, center Jahlil Okafor and No. 2-ranked point guard, Tyus Jones committed to Duke (over Kansas and UNC). In securing commitments from Jones and Okafor, the Blue Devils landed what some are calling the most significant recruiting “package deal” since Mike Conley and Greg Oden committed to Ohio State in 2005.
  • Rodney Hood was much more aggressive on the offensive end against FAU than he was against Kansas. It seemed in Chicago that Rodney was somewhat reticent and, perhaps, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event.
  • The more I see of Parker, the more impressed I am with not only his basketball skills but also his maturity and the fact that he is a consummate team player. Last night, Rodney Hood was aggressive and  hot so Parker unselfishly helped Rodney have his time in the spotlight. I’m sure he realizes the better Hood plays, the less double teams he will see and the more dangerous his team will be.
  • Rasheed Sulaimon started tonight. I had been puzzled as to why Sulaimon hadn’t started the first two games, because he brings a versatility, physicality and intensity that helps compensates for a lack of front court size. Turns out he has had a head cold and it has been affecting his conditioning and performance in practice.
  • The feel good story of the night was Andre Dawkins, who had 17 points on 5-8 threes.  If you have followed Andre Dawkins perplexing career and have any curiosity why he hasn’t achieved more, you need to read Seth Davis’ article in this week’s Sports Illustrated.  ( I emailed it yesterday. If you didn’t receive it or couldn’t open the link, you may access it on dukebasketballreport.com.)  Seth, the son of ubiquitous cable TV political talking head Lanny Davis, is a Duke graduate and an analyst for CBS Sport as well as a writer for SI.) From the time I first saw him play, I thought Andre had the skills and athleticism to be a super star. His three point shot technique was as pure as any I had ever seen. He would occasionally light it up—two big threes just before the half against Baylor on the championship run and 27 points against Michigan State in the Garden in the game that Coach K broke Bobby Knight’s record. However, he not only didn’t progress, he seemed to regress. Lingering sadness over his sister’s death was mentioned but that occurred in his freshman year. Finally, after a disappointing junior year, Coach K had a meeting with him and told him that he was no longer either helping the team nor even a good teammate and cut him from the team. He would keep his scholarship but not participate in any team events or functions. K advised him to get some professional help (referring him to a mental health expert), regroup, then next year decide what he wanted to do with his life. Well, as you saw last night, HE’S BACK!
  • If you haven’t watched the Duke football team play this year, you are missing a very interesting transformation and a lot of excitement. Coach Cutcliffe has accomplished the impossible. He has turned this moribund program around. They are 8-2, after having spotted Virginia 20 points and won, come from behind in the fourth quarter to beat North Carolina State, and tonight twice spotted Miami  10-point first-half leads, fell behind late in the third quarter and answered with another dominant stretch run, 20 unanswered points over the final 18 minutes to beat the nationally ranked Hurricanes. Hey guys, this is not your father’s Duke football team!
  • Max McCaffrey a sophomore wide receiver on the Duke Football team, who made a difficult, crucial reception tonight, is the son of  Ed McCaffrey, an All-America receiver at Stanford (where he met his wife, Lisa, a soccer player for the Cardinals) and a terrific pro with the Denver Broncos. Billy  McCaffrey, Ed’s brother, was a valuable member of Duke’s 1991 national championship basketball team (before transferring to Vanderbilt) and Lisa is the daughter of Dr. Dave Sime, the premier athlete in the modern Duke era. He lettered in baseball, football and track and field in the late 1950’s and went on to win the silver medal in the 100 meters at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Scott Sime, Max’s uncle, played fullback for Duke in the early 1980s.

Alan adds:

Returning to the friendly confines of Cameron against an overmatched opponent, Duke figured to rebound after the loss to Kansas.  The game gave Coach K a chance to give more playing time to those who had few opportunities to play in the first two games.  The big news, of course, was “The Return of Dre”, The Revitalization of Hood, and the All Around Play of Jabari Parker.

The rotation, as usual, gives some clues as to Coach K’s current evaluation of his team.  I’ve divided into three sections: the stars, the bench, and the cameos:

Stars: Quinn Cook played a game high (again) 30 minutes.  Coach K went out of his way to laud Quinn’s on the ball defense, even while finding fault with it against Kansas.  Quinn scored only 8 points (2-4 from behind the arc, but only 3-8 overall, without a free throw.  However, Quinn had 5 boards (2nd for Duke) and 8 assists.  Efficient.  Parker played 28 minutes in putting up dazzling numbers: 4-6 from 3land to go with 7-13 from the field for 21 points.  The remaining impressive stats demonstrate what an all around player Jabari is: 10 rebounds (lead Duke), 3 assists (only Quinn with 8 had more for Duke), 2 steals, and a block while committing only 1 foul.  Only bad was 3-6 from the free throw line.  While amazing, Jabari’s impressive stats pale in comparison to Rodney Hood’s revitalized game.  Hood scored 28 points in 26 minutes on only 11 shots (that’s efficiency!), including going 12-13 from the free throw line.  He had 3 boards and 2 assists.  Rasheed played 24 minutes, though he was ill with a stuffed nose and flu like symptoms.  Coach K lauded his defense, especially in the second half, though his offense was absent (4 points on 6 shots and a missed free throw).

The Bench: Others who logged double figure minutes were Dawkins (19), Thornton (17), Jefferson (14) and Hairston (12).  Hairston continues to be foul prone, picking up 3 in his short time on the court.  He was 1-2 from the field with 2 boards (his first of the season) and 2 assists.  Efficient, but  for the fouling.  Jefferson also continues to have foul problems, picking up 3 in his short time.  The fouling of the two Duke bigs highlights the deficiency with Duke’s interior defense.  Otherwise, Jefferson had a great line: 8 points on 6 shots; 2-3 from the line; 5 boards, a steal and a block.  Thornton, too, was limited by fouling (3 in his 17 minutes), but had a hoop, a free throw (100% shooting), 2 boards and an assist.  Which brings us to the feel good story of the season so far.  Andre Dawkins played his first significant minutes and lit Cameron up, scoring 17 points in his 19 minutes (5-8 from 3land; 6-9 overall with 3 boards, 2 assists and committed only 1 foul.  Coach K was effusive about Dre’s performance, and disclosed that he was recovering from a back injury.  A very positive (and for me unexpected) development.

Cameos: The end of the bench got some playing time as well: Murphy (9 minutes), Jones (8), Ojeleye (7) and Marshall (6).  Jones was 2-3 (the miss was from 3land).  Ojeleye had a hoop, a board and a block in his short stint.  Alex missed his only shot and only free throw.  He corralled a board, committed a turnover and a foul.  Marshall missed his only shot and committed a foul.  The freshmen seem to be ahead of the red shirts.

On to the Pre-Season NIT, with two games in Durham Monday and Tuesday.  We’ll do one DBP to cover both games. Semi-finals and finals in The Garden.  If form holds, a Duke – Arizona Final.

DUKE  91– UNC ASHEVILLE 55

DUKE  83     —   EAST CAROLINA 74

I have seen enough. While it is not fair to compare players from different eras, Jabari Parker is the most talented offensive  player I have ever seen at Duke and Rodney Hood is the best second scoring option since Jeff Mullins as well as the best left handed player since Jack Marin. What makes Parker so impressive and lethal is that he can operate at any of the five positions from center to point guard. A lot of big men like to think they can play the point, but only Magic Johnson proved it day in and day out. The only first year player to have such a sensational initial impact at Duke was Art Heyman–and he was a sophomore because freshmen were not eligible in the 60’s– but Art was a total different personality and not nearly as collegial a teammate as Jabari. And that leads to another interesting characteristic of this team. The chemistry is terrific. It is obvious that these players really like one another and celebrate each other’s success.

And that brings me to Andre Dawkins. I have always felt that Andre was one of the most truly gifted players ever to wear a Duke uniform and was mystified as to why his career has been so sporadic and never took off. Reading Seth Davis’ terrific Sports Illustrated article and watching the accompanying video, which included thoughtful comments by Coach Wojo. You do not have to be a Duke fan, basketball fan, or a bleeding heart not to be touched by Andre’s journey back from debilitating depression (triggered by his sister’s death) which robbed him, among other things, of the enjoyment of playing basketball. The transformation of Andre’s demeanor is a pleasure to behold and watching the final year of his career at Duke will be fascinating.

The surprise of the N.C. Asheville game was the early insertion of 6’ 8” 235 lb. man child freshman Semi Ojeleye with  the starters. He responded with 10 pts. & 5 rebounds in 14 minutes. With rebounding being one of the few weaknesses of this team, Oje may be a pleasant surprise as antidote. The other surprise was the subpar performance of Sulaimon. Coach attributed it to a lingering cold but I wonder if it has more to do with his adjustment to a different role on this year’s team. Last year, he was the second or third offensive option. With this year’s team, his value will to be as a defensive stopper, strong rebounder, and the being the fourth or fifth option.

The two obvious weaknesses of this team have been defensive rebounding and free throw shooting, both of which contributed to the loss to Kansas. Free throw shooting is the easier fix. The East Carolina  Game demonstrated what can happen when the offense falters, the defense gets sloppy, and an opponent gets hot. The good news is that Parker and Hood rose to the challenge and sealed the victory. Parker made what was the signature play when the lead was cut to two points. After barely missing a very difficult ally oop, he made a block and went coast to coast for a jam. Hood sealed the deal by being perfect (15-15) from the line.

Comments:

  • I like announcers who tell me something I don’t know or at least confirm what I think I know. Doris Burke, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams, and Dino Gaudio (former Wake Forest coach) all played basketball and do their homework. They make watching a game much more interesting.
  • Coach K commented that Parker is unselfish and against Asheville tried too hard to force passes inside and that he would rather see him shoot.
  • Marshall Plumlee was a force against some players his own size. Like his brothers, he is a very good athlete and might surprise some people, if not this year before his career is over.

Alan adds:

Pre-Season NIT Regionals Overview

It was a fascinating two games for those of us watching the development and maturation of a team that has significant potential to be a force on the national scene.  The opener against UNC Ashville was as good an offensive performance as a Duke team has displayed,  Duke’s shooting was off the charts, the result of great ball movement without turnovers.   Yes, there was a little concern over the lack of defensive rebounding, but by and large Duke fans were wallowing in self-satisfaction at the New Devil performance.  It was especially delicious because — in satisfying contrast — UNC was beaten by Belmont!

The amazing run continued in the opening minutes against East Carolina.  Duke went 11-11 from the field and looked like a pro team led by pro caliber players.   With 3:41 left in the first half, Duke led 41-23.  Then the clock struck midnight and for a long period of time, Duke looked completely out of sync on both ends of the floor.  The offense stagnated and resulted in bad shots; East Carolina penetrated from the perimeter (as if they were Lehigh two years ago) and Duke’s switching looked ragged.  East Carolina attacked the rim with great success and even Jabari had a bad turn on both ends of the court.  The Pirates reduced the Duke lead to a mere point twice before Duke restored a semblance of order in the last 7 minutes.  The resurgence was gratifying and showcased Duke’s two emerging stars.  Parker made the physical and emotional plays that turned the tide.  He blocked some key shots at the rim and made the play of the game — blocking the shot, grabbing the loose ball, and weaving through the entire East Carolina team for a monster jam!  Hood was so clutch and efficient, scoring 30 points on only 10 shots, and going 12-12 from the foul line.  He scored 8 of Duke’s last 12 points (Rasheed had the other 4) as Duke escaped with a win and some valuable experience not only about winning close games, but also about the danger of taking your foot off the gas pedal too early.  Coach K put it, “”The last two nights, we’ve played our butts off,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This is not about Duke not playing [well]. … Don’t undersell what they did. We were ready and we played hard. I thought we brought great energy but so did they. This was a really good basketball game.”

UNC Ashville

Duke was so efficient and so smooth that the outcome was never in doubt.  Coach K had a chance to play everyone for more than cameo appearances.  Only Cook (31) logged more than 30 minutes; and only Hood (27) exceeded 20 minutes.  Hood is a model of offensive efficiency.  He scored 18 points on only 8 shots (6-8, including 3-4 from 3land and 3-4 from the foul line).  Cook controlled the game with 5 assists and 0 turnovers.  He scored 10 points on 4-8 shooting, but was 0-3 from behind the arc. His driving was effective and efficient.  Even better was his on the ball defense.  He held Ashville’s leading scorer (averaging over 20 points a game coming in) to a single field goal in the entire game.  Jabari played only 19 minutes, but managed to get up 13 shots in that span as well as to corral 10 boards.  He finished the high scorer with 21 points.  His 6 turnovers were more his attempt to get his teammates points than bad ball handling.

The game showcased Semi Ojeleye for the first time.  He was 2-2 from behind the arc for 10 points in 14 minutes.  Impressively he had 5 rebounds and played excellent defense.  For the first time he looked a potential contributor as the season progresses.   The other double digit scorer was Andre Dawkins, who had 13 points in 18 impressive minutes.  Dre had 3 boards and played excellent defense.

Jefferson committed 3 fouls in his 19 minutes (3 points), but had 6 boards.  His defense in the post and deficiency at guarding the rim are limiting his playing time.  Rasheed played only 13 minutes (Coach K said he was slightly ill).  Tyler also committed 3 fouls in his 16 minutes.  Matt Jones played 14 minutes and Hairston 13 without significant box score statistics.  Murphy was in for 9 minutes and Marshall for 7.   Duke wasn’t pushed and the feeling was of great exhilaration after the game.

East Carolina

Doris Burke is truly a wonderful announcer.  She relished that East Carolina fought back to make the game a very good college basketball game.  She is also savvy about Duke’s defensive potential, and how far the team was from reaching it against the Pirates.  On offense, Duke had real trouble with East Carolina’s zone, which leaves me wondering why Jeff Lebo (coach of the Pirates and former Tar heel star) went back to the man to man for the last 6-7 minutes of the game.  Duke started scoring efficiently again when Lebo made that change.  Once again, whom Coach K played when the going got tough reveals whom he has confidence in.  Hood played 40 minutes, Quinn Cook 38, and Parker 35.  Thornton played 28 minutes before fouling out while Rasheed (still under the weather) played 22.  Surprisingly, Jefferson played only 12 minutes, even though he was 3-3 from the floor with 5 boards in that short stretch.  Jefferson simply cannot defend in the post and is late as a help defender.  His defensive liability highlights the difficulty Duke is having defending the interior and the rim.   Dawkins at 11 was the only other Duke players to log double figure minutes, playing good defense but scoring only a deuce on 3 shots.  Hairston (9), Semi (5) and Jones (2) made cameos.  Semi couldn’t follow up his excellent showing against Ashville.  None of those 3 made a box score impact.  Neither Murphy nor Plumlee left the bench.

The Duke change in fortunes (from up 18) was reflected in the play of Quinn Cook.  He had an all-world first half with 11 points, 7 assists and 2 boards, including some amazing drives.  In the second half, he hit only a single 3 pointer out of 7 shots, with only 3 assists.  His defense returned to the bad old days as he was consistently beaten badly off the dribble, allowing penetration which shredded Duke’s defense.  Hard to explain.  Hood and Parker led the Duke salvation.  Parker had a bad stretch of turnovers and missed shots to go with porous defense, and then turned his game and the game around.  His defense turned super — 6 blocks saved Duke; the dramatic ones came at “ winning time”— he grabbed critical rebounds (9 for the game)  He had 21 points on 18 shots (8-18); not his best shooting game, but one of his guttiest games.  And what can you say about Rodney Hood!  He was an unstoppable offensive machine when it counted, and clutch foul shooter.  He and Parker so complement each other.  They are a joy to watch.

So, much good; some bad, and a wonderful season looming.  Vermont next Sunday before Duke visits Madison Square Garden to take on Alabama in the semi-finals.  The cognoscenti are awaiting a potential final match up with Arizona (a top 5 team with its own heralded freshman).

Next Play.

Duke 91 – Vermont 90

Tonight, I kept thinking I had inadvertently hit the East Carolina game replay button, because I knew Duke couldn’t play such terrible man-to-man defense two games in a row. Then I realized it was Vermont making like Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament several years ago. When you score 83 & 91 points and East Carolina takes you to the wire, then 1-4 Vermont comes within less than a second of beating you in Cameron, there is an obvious defensive problem. What is Jim Boeheim’s phone number? Maybe Duke needs a quick lesson or primer on how to play the Orange 2-3 Zone defense—or not. Coach K lives and dies by man-to-man defense. So, the players better man up because, if not, their practices will make boot camp seem like a walk across the quad. You just can’t outscore everybody every night.

For good reason, Amile Jefferson’s minutes are going south faster than Obamas approval ratings. While Jabari Parker can play any position, he is much more effective offensively  than defensively in the post. Same goes for Rodney Hood. If effort was the sole criteria, Josh Hairston would be the answer but his size and skills are not those of a Final Four forty minute center.  And speaking of minutes, Dawkins and Semi Ojeleye (using Alan’s early on extrapolation theory that if Zoubek played nearly forty minutes, he would lead the nation in rebounding) are averaging about a point a minute and if they played forty minutes…well, you get the idea. But scoring is not the issue. Dawkins is playing significant minutes but the very athletic and strong Semi is still an afterthought. How much worse defensively can he be?

In addition to playing another incredible offensive game, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood get it: “Little mistakes ended up biting us in the butt in the second half. We kept on letting those bad habits get to us. Just talking, communicating, being together, being there. We didn’t show up. You can’t just choose to turn it on when you want to.”

The good news is that the Blue Devils are shooting much better from the foul line—and it has saved them from two embarrassing losses.

Comments:

  • The Blue Devils shot 49.1 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the line, with 16 assists and only seven turnovers. Duke outrebounded Vermont 30-24. Parker had 26 points and 9 rebounds. Hood 22 points and seven rebounds, Cook 14 points and eight assists. Andre Dawkins added 16 points off the bench.
  • Defensively, Duke allowed Vermont to shoot an unacceptable 64.8% from the field and forced only six turnovers. 21 of Vermont’s 35 field goals were via assists.
  • Let’s hear it for the Duke football team. They spotted Wake Forest 14 points, then again rallied late in the game to win and go 9-2. They have playmakers and momentum.

Alan Adds:

In deconstructing this game as part of Duke’s status and growth, I do not believe it is useful to talk about Duke’s efficient offense.  The Vermont game focused scrutiny on Duke’s defense.  How is this for a troubling statistic?  In the first half (when Duke kept the lead with its offense, even though giving up 43 points) UVM shot 15-19 from inside the arc (1-5 from 3land).  The percentage was so high because most of UVM’s shots were open looks at the rim.  In the second half, Duke was virtually as bad — worse when one considers the offensive rebounds that UVM began to collect.  For the game, UVM was 31-41 from inside the arc (3-8 from 3land in the second half).  That’s almost 75 %.  UVM got 5 key offensive rebounds in the second half.  Coach K was direct in his post game comments, “We didn’t talk because we didn’t think we needed to. I don’t think we respected them. When you’re playing this game, you should respect every opponent. One, they’re worthy of respect. . . . But more than that, you should always respect the game. If you respect the game and you give your effort, preparation, fight, night in and night out, then you can look at anybody, no matter what happens and say I respected the game, I gave my best. We can’t say that tonight and that’s upsetting to me because there aren’t many times that I’ve said that about one of my teams.”  Wow!

Amile Jefferson is a major liability on defense.  He was supposed to anchor the interior defense.  In the first two minutes he gave up an easy layup, and Coach K replaced him immediately.  He played only 12 minutes, and picked up 2 fouls while watching UVM players go by him without resistance.  Dawkins, who is a scoring machine (16 points in 20 minutes) is also a continuing defensive liability.  At game’s end, he was replaced by Thornton when UVM had the ball in offense-defense switch.  But Thornton was far from his usual effective defensive presence.  He committed 4 fouls in his 11 minutes, including one that was eye-poppingly dumb.  Duke finally played 35 seconds of sound defense, forcing a desperation 3 from UVM as the shot clock expired; Thornton committed a foul on the shot leading to 3 free throws.  Hairston committed 3 fouls in his 9 minutes.  Duke basically got no help from its bench with Alex playing 4 minutes, Semi, 5 and Matt Jones just a minute.  Marshall did not leave the bench.  Quinn’s vaunted on the ball defense was impossible to see against UVM’s classy point guard, Sandro Carissimo, who scored 16 points on 12 shots while handing out 9 assists.  He got past Quinn whenever he wanted to.  As great as Jabari has been (impressively great so far), he has a long way to go on the defensive end.  He is a shot blocker (but 0 last night), rather than a good post defender.  Ditto Hood, who failed to box out on key rebounds and was part of the porous interior defense that kept giving up open layups and follows (Clancy Rugg, UVM’s best interior player was 9-11 from the field).

While Duke did not win the Pre-Season NIT, the two games illuminated Duke’s defensive improvement, offensive skill, and fundamental weaknesses that will either be addressed or will derail the high pre-season expectations for this edition of the Blue Devils.  Duke had many good moments against Alabama, which is considered a top tier team.  In dropping its second game against a highly ranked foe,  Duke showed both resolve and weakness.   Tuesday is a big test against Michigan in the ACC-Big 10 challenge before Duke is off for a significant amount of time (December 19 back at Madison Square Garden against UCLA).

Duke   66 –  Arizona 72

A team rarely beats Coach K two times in a row, but Arizona did it by going on a 20-5 run at the eleven minute mark to break open a very even game. The good news is that the Blue Devils played better defensively. The bad news is that they faltered down the stretch against one of the biggest, most athletic best teams in the country. My fraternity brother Don, who has season tickets, emailed me that one possible explanation for the recent close games  in Cameron is that Parker and Cook appeared winded and tired in the final minutes of both games.

Another explanation is that Jefferson has been a huge disappointment and the mystery surrounding Sulaimon’ s scoring ineffectiveness. Whatever happened to his three point shot and pull up jumper? Without Mason Plumlee in the low post, his drives are much more defensible—beside Parker and Hood do it better. Coach K commented: “We have talked all year about how we don’t have a center. However, we have good players. We have to figure out how to be good with the players we have.”

To be a contender, this team must improve its pressing defense, which can help neutralize the lack of a dominant center. They did in the first 29 minutes against Arizona and were in a position to win. The interesting and provocative writer Malcolm Gladwell ( The Outliers, The Tipping Point etc.) has a new book, Davis and Goliath. In it he challenges how to think about obstacles and how to overcome them. One example he cites is Vivek Ranadive, a software CEO from India who had never played in or even had seen a basketball game but decided to coach his 12 year old daughter’s National Junior League Basketball team, which was composed of girls with a lot of enthusiasm but few basketball skills. He did it  by having his team press full court, creating chaos, steals, and turnovers. His team made it to the National Finals before losing. Vivek became hooked on the game and now is the co-owner and vice chairman of the NBA Golden State Warriors.

Comments:

The loss was probably my fault. I was in Pinehurst celebrating Thanksgiving with our children and grandchildren. Friday night we had early dinner  reservations. As we left the restaurant, I checked my cell phone and Duke was ahead by three at the half. When I returned to the Homewood Suites, Duke was still ahead. Once I started watching, Zona went on their decisive run. I should never have tuned in, because obviously I jinxed the Blue Devils. You didn’t have to have watched the wonderful baseball movie “Bull Durham” to know that during a win streak, you never change anything.

Unless my eyes deceived me, when Zona was on their run in the second half, Duke actually went to a zone for a few possessions. So this week, I have another suggestion: Why not a Three Headed Center 2—Jefferson, Hairston, and Plumlee? How much worse could the interior defense and rebounding be? Plumlee is big, athletic, and takes up a lot of space under the basket.

The Duke Football team (10-2) continued their very impressive season with another come-from-behind victory and second consecutive win over the North Carolina Tar       Heels. Who would have thunk it. This isn’t your father’s Duke football team.

Duke  79- Michigan 69

Apparently Coach K reads our blog. Let’s recall my comments after the Arizona game: “Unless my eyes deceived me, when Zona was on their run in the second half, Duke actually went to a zone for a few possessions. So this week, I have another suggestion: Why not a Three Headed Center 2—Jefferson, Hairston, and Plumlee? How much worse could the interior defense and rebounding be? Plumlee is big, athletic, and takes up a lot of space under the basket.”

Well, tonight Marshall Plumlee made an early cameo appearance and to quote the News Observer’s Laura Keeley (she’s a Duke grad, so she knows her basketball): “Marshall Plumlee was the first forward sub, and he showed promise in his four minutes. He grabbed an offensive and defensive rebound and made a nice hustle play, throwing a loose ball of a Michigan defender to maintain possession for Duke. Fired up, Plumlee was grabbed around the waist by Hood, who was equally excited. Plumlee made an immediate impact when he entered in the second half as well, about five minutes in. He blocked a LeVert lay-up and finished a nice pass from Cook on the other end. On the Blue Devils’ next possession, Plumlee grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul. Plumlee’s development could by key for the Blue Devils, as he has the size to protect the rim.”

While the Blue Devils were never behind, they also never let Michigan get too close. My man Andre Dawkins’s ability to hit 3-pointers—cold, off the bench—proved a key turning point in the second half. Michigan had cut the Duke lead to single digits,  but in 40 seconds, Dawkins hit back-to-back 3s to put Duke ahead by a dozen with just under eight minutes to play. Then, a Dawkins bucket off the dribble a few minutes later,  pushed Duke’s lead to 57-42.

I will let Alan, who was the first person on Quinn Cook’s bandwagon, tell you about his career night. While the defense (particularly on Nik Stauskas) and Dawkins instant offense set the table, it was Cook who cleared the table with some pretty spectacular point guard offense—and a perfect 10-10 from the line.

Comments:

  • The Blue Devils continued to experiment with their lineup, searching for the best combination of offensive efficiency and ability to defend. The starters remained the same from last week: Quinn Cook, Thornton, Hood, Parker and Josh Hairston. Matt Jones was the first sub off the bench and Rasheed Sulaimon did not play at all. “He knows what he needs to do,” Thornton said of Sulaimon, declining to go into specifics”. Krzyzewski has a similar answer: “He needs to play better than the guys that played tonight.”
  • Parker and Hood had, for them, mediocre nights. Jabari is taking one for the team by playing the post at both ends. He is not an ideal size as a post defender and has to be careful about getting into foul trouble. In addition, it is physically taxing.
  • I don’t want to be a broken record but Marshall Plumlee, while far from a finished product, not only takes up a lot of space in the lane but also gives Duke a muscular athleticism and physical presence—and the ability to block and alter shots. His mere presence on the court changes an opponent’s offense—and energizes the Cameron Crazies. He and Dawkins are real crowd favorites. And don’t forget that he gives the center position five more fouls.

Alan adds:

Optimism for Duke’s 2013-2014 basketball season returned to Blue Devil fans, as Duke defeated Michigan rather handily in the ACC-Big Ten challenge.  The pessimism produced by shoddy defensive performances and late game surges by opponents  (Kansas, ECU, and most important, Vermont) has evaporated with three consecutive satisfactory defensive performances.  While the defense was “satisfactory” — a great improvement — in the Pre-Season NIT, Duke’s defense against Michigan was not less than superb.  It’s hard to fathom that the team that destroyed Michigan’s offense was the same team that gave up 90 points to Vermont.  Rodney Hood said that in the early season each player was trying to stop his man, but now each player is helping out as well, making for a cohesive (Coach K’s word of the night in post-game interviews) defensive effort.

How good was it?  Coming in, Duke game planned to stop Michigan’s high scoring off guard, Nik Stauskas (averaging 20 ppt coming in) and Michigan’s huge center, Mitch McGary (who had sparked Michigan’s run through the NCAA tournament to the championship game last year, and was a pre-season All American candidate this year).  Stauskas faced amazing defense from the combo of Tyler Thornton (20 minutes) and Matt Jones (17 minutes), who made magnificent efforts to keep Nik from even touching the ball.  Result:  0 field goals for Michigan’s best scorer (4 points — 2 of the foul shots were technicals).  Thornton hit 2 huge 3s (though 1 of them was clearly after the shot clock had expired and should not have counted).  McGary scored 15 points, but that turns out to be a misleading statistic.  McGary had more than half of his points (8 to be precise) in the last 1:59 of the game, after Duke’s lead had reached 18 and the game was well out of reach for Michigan.  So McGary had 7 in 38 minutes.  This was team defense — hustle, effort, cohesion and rebounding — without excessive fouling.  Michigan scored 22 points in the first half.  Wow!  Although Michigan finished with 69 points (47 in the second half) that statistic is again misleading, and for the same reason.  In the same last 1:59 with the same 18 point Duke lead, Michigan scored 19 points after the game well out of reach.  So Duke gave up 50 points in 38 minutes while the game was still competitive.  Awesome!  Duke also reined in its defensive fouling, which has been a serious weakness in past games.  Duke put Michigan in the bonus with 10:31 to go in the first half, causing much concern.  But the Devils never let Michigan get to the double bonus, committing only 3 more fouls in the half.  Michigan did not get to the double bonus in the second half either.

Duke’s bench made significant contributions.  Though Dawkins played only 10 minutes and Marshall a season high 6 minutes, both were major contributors.  Dawkins’ two huge 3s in the second half, when Michigan had crept to within 6 points, effectively put the game away by driving the lead back to 12 in about 48 seconds.  Dawkins added a great drive for 8 points (and a steal) in his brief stint.  Plumlee was a force in his first effective appearance on the court in a Duke uniform.  He had 3 boards, a block, a defensive hustle play and a bucket (shades of Zoubek as a sophomore), while missing both free throws and committing one foul.  It was truly a 3 headed center for Duke with Hairston (4 fouls) logging 21 minutes.  Jefferson had his best game at Duke, though he was limited to 17 minutes because he too committed 4 fouls — but, it was a superb 17 minutes (3-3 from the field for 6 points; 6 boards, 2 assists, a steal and a block).  It was also Amile’s first defensively competent performance.  This team is improving rapidly.

The Big 3 — Parker (15 points on 14 shots in 33 minutes), Hood (14 points on 13 shots in 38 minutes) and Cook (24 points on 11 shots in 37 minutes; 10-10 from the free throw line with 9 assists) were the Duke mainstays again, but it was different in ways than earlier in the season.  Though Parker scored “only” 15, he had one of his best all-round games of the season.  He gave Duke inside scoring with superb post offense, and was a force on defense.  He had only 1 turnover, a sharp reduction from past games.  Hood was equally less flashy and equally fundamentally efficient all over the court, especially on the defensive end.  He hit 2 big 3s and had a key block.  But the MVP of this game was Quinn Cook, who scored all of his 24 points in the second half (Duke only scored 47 in the half, making Quinn’s second half scoring more than 50% of Duke’s total).  Cook orchestrated an offense that eschewed the fast break for a deliberate and efficient half-court offense.  I think dialing down the pace of the offense helped Duke concentrate on its defensive improvement.   I’ll refrain from repeating my early Cook predictions of Cook’s value and potential (based on what I saw of him at Oak Hill), and let Bill remind you.

Duke also had an efficient rebounding game, actually out rebounding Michigan.  It was a team effort with Parker and Jefferson leading the way with 6; Hood garnered 5, Cook 4 while Jones and Marshall had 3 each.

The game was a pure pleasure to watch from opening tip to post-game interviews.

 

 

 

 

Duke  74  –  Alabama 64

We witnessed a rare event in this game. Coach K actually went deep into his bench in close game to find a winning combination. It reminded me of the 2001 championship season went he utilized the Three Headed Center  (Sanders, Christianson & Love) in the early rounds on the NCAA Tournament until Carlos Boozer recovered from a broken foot. Now we are in the early part of a new season and Coach is looking for the complementary parts to Parker, Hood, (sometimes) Cook, and Company. Actually, this is looking more and more like Jabari Parker and any four others who will play defense will do.

Coach Bobby Knight, as Alan mentions, is the best college analyst. Listen carefully to him and you will learn a lot about the strategy, nuances, and psychology of the game. He is the anti-Dick Vitale. Here are two examples of his world weary I’ve-seen-it- all understated comments on Jabari Parker:  “Parker is a relaxed and refined talent—a rare combination in any player, college or pro” and after a fall away Michael Jordan late career jumper: “That was pretty good”—all from the great but caustic coach who throws compliments around like a man hole cover.

Just to be sure everyone understood how displeased he was, Coach started two of the senior co-captains Hairston and Thornton. Thornton was outstanding with 5 steals and a key baskets while Hairston proved that he is a reliable short term substitute but not the answer for a starting center on a Final Four team. However, it was freshman Matt Jones who plays long and larger than 6’ 4” who exceled with two consecutive threes and good defensive work that undoubtedly will earned more playing time.

While this game was an encouraging defensive improvement, it was also a disconcerting that when the Blue Devils were up mid double digits, they again were unable to easily close out an opponent—better but not championship caliber. However, especially with the new defensive rules all good teams make runs and to win a team cannot contribute to the runs by making sloppy, dumb mistakes like turning the ball over, fouling, and not blocking out.

Just a suggestion as on how to  decisively closeout  games— give the ball to Parker and get out of the way.

Alan Adds:

I agree with Bill’s friend Don, Duke is having trouble at the end of games because the Big Three are playing so many minutes that they are subtly worn down at “winning time”.  It seems to me that Duke is fouling quite a lot at the end of games.  In this game, Arizona shot 7 free throws in the first half but 19 in the second half.  Same in the Alabama game (14-17 in the second half).  Tired players commit more fouls.

Both Hood and Parker played 38 minutes a piece and are expending intense energy on the defensive end (both playing unnaturally out of position defending the post against bigger players, and rebounding to prevent opposition put backs) in addition to superb offense.  Hood bounced back from a subpar outing against Alabama with a terrific effort against the Wildcats scoring 21 points on 14 attempts (8-14 overall; 1-3 from deep; 4-5 from the stripe) and leading Duke with 8 boards.  However, for the first time this season, Jabari looked like a mere mortal — good player, but only that.  He took 21 shots (0-5 from deep; 7-16 from inside the arc;  5-7 from the line with only 3 boards and 5 turnovers.  His statistics went south as the game got late, suggesting to me that Duke’s fatigue was a factor in Arizona’s game winning surge at the end.  Cook was the only other Duke player to score in double figures (13) and play more than 30 minutes (31).  It seems to me that Cook has consistently had brilliant first halves and good second halves that deteriorate into turnovers, tired defense, and unsuccessful forays to the rim.  In this game, Cook failed to get to the foul line (a telling statistic for me).  While he shot well (6-9 including 1-2 from deep), he had only 3 assists (against 2 turnovers and 0 steals).

 

Neither Semi, Alex appeared in either game.  Marshall was in for just 1 minute against Arizona and 0 in the Alabama game.   Matt Jones, who made substantial contributions on Wednesday, played only 2 minutes against Arizona, while Andre Dawkins was on the court for only 4 minutes (hitting his only 3 point attempt after the game was effectively over).  It seem that these five players are not in the rotation for competitive games.  The pre-season mantra of running and pressing with a long rotation seems to have gone the way of political promises after winning elections.  In the backcourt, Tyler started and played 23 minutes while Rasheed played 24 minutes off the bench.  Up front, Hairston started and logged 20 minutes while Jefferson had 19 off the bench.  Hairston did not attempt a shot but did garner 3 boards (all offensive) and had an assist.  Jefferson missed not only his only shot from the field, but also all 3 of his free throws.  There seems to be consensus that thus far he has failed to live up to Coach K’s pre-season expectations (hopes?).  Sulaimon scored 8 (2-8; but 1-2 from behind the arc and 3-3 from the line).  No rebounds is a telling statistic for him.  Thornton scored 2 points (1-3; 0-1) without getting to the free throw line either.  Of the guards, only Rasheed even attempted a free throw.  Duke has traditionally made more free throws than the other team shot;  Arizona made 21 free throws (26 attempts); Duke shot only 18 (making 12).  Arizona’s 9 point edge from the stripe was significant.

 

 

Duke  74  –  Alabama 64

 

We witnessed a rare event in this game. Coach K actually went deep into his bench in close game to find a winning combination. It reminded me of the 2001 championship season went he utilized the Three Headed Center  (Sanders, Christianson & Love) in the early rounds on the NCAA Tournament until Carlos Boozer recovered from a broken foot. Now we are in the early part of a new season and Coach is looking for the complementary parts to Parker, Hood, (sometimes) Cook, and Company. Actually, this is looking more and more like Jabari Parker and any four others who will play defense will do.

 

Coach Bobby Knight, as Alan mentions, is the best college analyst. Listen carefully to him and you will learn a lot about the strategy, nuances, and psychology of the game. He is the anti-Dick Vitale. Here are two examples of his world weary I’ve-seen-it- all understated comments on Jabari Parker:  “Parker is a relaxed and refined talent—a rare combination in any player, college or pro” and after a fall away Michael Jordan late career jumper: “That was pretty good”—all from the great but caustic coach who throws compliments around like a man hole cover.

 

Just to be sure everyone understood how displeased he was, Coach started two of the senior co-captains Hairston and Thornton. Thornton was outstanding with 5 steals and a key baskets while Hairston proved that he is a reliable short term substitute but not the answer for a starting center on a Final Four team. However, it was freshman Matt Jones who plays long and larger than 6’ 4” who exceled with two consecutive threes and good defensive work that undoubtedly will earned more playing time.

 

While this game was an encouraging defensive improvement, it was also a disconcerting that when the Blue Devils were up mid double digits, they again were unable to easily close out an opponent—better but not championship caliber. However, especially with the new defensive rules all good teams make runs and to win a team cannot contribute to the runs by making sloppy, dumb mistakes like turning the ball over, fouling, and not blocking out.

 

Just a suggestion as on how to  decisively closeout  games— give the ball to Parker and get out of the way.

 

 

Alan Adds:

 

Matt Jones (13) scored more than Rodney Hood (8)!   Jones was the latest to significantly augment Duke’s Big Three (Parker, Hood and Cook).  Different players have done it at different times (Dawkins, Sulaimon for example).  Against Alabama, it was Jones who nailed 2 from 3land in the first half, and then went 5-6 from the free throw line down the stretch to cement Duke’s victory.  Perhaps even more importantly, in his 16 minutes, Jones played excellent defense, grabbed 3 boards, a steal and committed only 1 foul.  At “winning time”, with Hood(21 minutes) and Hairston (20 minutes) having fouled out,  Coach K went with Parker and four guards (Cook, Sulaimon, Thornton and Jones).

 

Duke had a tremendous first half defensively, holding Alabama to 22 points on 9-27 shooting, including holding Alabama’s leading scorer, Trevor Relevord (averaging 18.8 per game coming in) scoreless in the first half.  He finished with 11, including 7-7 from the free throw line down the stretch.  The Blue Devils forced the Crimson Tide into 11 turnovers in the first half, taking five charges in the first half alone, including three on Releford.  Duke’s second half was less successful; Alabama scored 42 in the second stanza on 14-30 shooting, which included 0-5 from behind the arc (14-25 inside the arc is reminiscent of the defense against ECU and Vermont).  Perhaps even more troubling was the Duke fouling, especially in the second half.  The Tide was 14-17 from the line in the last stanza.  Bob Knight, is, in my opinion the best color announcer (even better than Doris Burke).  He repeatedly gave his coaching mantra — the key to holding the lead is to not foul the other team.  In the clutch, Duke put Alabama on the line for four straight crucial possessions.  However, Coach K pointed out that Alabama scored 22 points off Duke’s 19 turnovers.  “I thought our defense overall — in fact, we gave up 22 points on turnovers, okay, and we only allowed 64, so that meant our halfcourt defense was very good. Our halfcourt defense gave up 42 points tonight. That’s the best that we’ve played halfcourt defense.”

 

The rotation was slightly skewed because of Hood’s foul trouble.  He picked up the second one in the first half and only played 9 minutes (3 fouls in 12 during the second half).  Hairston played 20 minutes (2 foul shots but 0-2 from floor, 2 boards, and 2 assists).  He does not seem to have grasped the new block-charge rule yet.  Cook played the full 40 minutes, underscoring Coach K’s assessment of his value to the team.  As a result, Cook seemed to tire at game’s end, leading to uncharacteristic mistakes — ball handling turnovers, missed layups, driving into set defenses at the rim, and fouling Releford.  He had a superb defensive game overall, though.   Parker put on a dazzling offensive (and rebounding) show in his 35 minutes.  He was jaw droppingly superb going 9-12 from the field and 8-8 from the free throw line (27 points), and pulling in 8 boards.  Parker did have 5 of Duke’s 19 turnovers — the Big 3 contributed 12 turnovers overall (Cook 4 and Hood 3).  Duke was careless with the ball, especially down the stretch.  Thornton played 32 minutes and had a great game, proving that scoring in bunches isn’t the only way to be instrumental for your team.  His only field goal was the game changer.  With Duke pressing, Tyler stole the ball and drove for the easy layup, icing the game.  He had four other steals (5 total), 4 boards and 4 assists and played great defense without fouling (only 2).

 

Jones was the “bench”.   The other 3 players who got minutes combined for only a single point (Sulaimon).  Jefferson was restricted to 10 minutes, grabbing 4 boards in his brief appearance, but committing 2 fouls. Sulaimon logged 18 minutes and played excellent defense without committing a foul.  While he missed both his shots from the field (1-2 from the line), he dished out 5 assists.  Dawkins reminded us of his inconsistency.  He played only 8 minutes (0-3, including 0-2 from behind the arc) without distinction.  Neither Ojeleye, Murphy nor Plumlee left the bench.

 

A reporter pointed out Duke’s 18 point lead evaporated to 6 in the latter stages of the second half, and asked, “Q. How do you help a team develop a killer instinct?”  Coach K’s answer was an instant classic, “First of all, by having killers. I mean, that’s the best thing.”  He then pointed out that in college basketball there were always runs and teams frequently cut into big leads with substantial runs.  “Are you suggesting that we don’t have a killer instinct?  Where a team doesn’t fold, it’s spectacular.  A lot of teams in that situation would lose a game. I guess we had enough “killer instinct” to survive and win by ten points.  I’m very, very proud of my team.”

 

 

Duke  79- Michigan 69

Apparently Coach K reads our blog. Let’s recall my comments after the Arizona game: “Unless my eyes deceived me, when Zona was on their run in the second half, Duke actually went to a zone for a few possessions. So this week, I have another suggestion: Why not a Three Headed Center 2—Jefferson, Hairston, and Plumlee? How much worse could the interior defense and rebounding be? Plumlee is big, athletic, and takes up a lot of space under the basket.”

Well, tonight Marshall Plumlee made an early cameo appearance and to quote the News Observer’s Laura Keeley (she’s a Duke grad, so she knows her basketball): “Marshall Plumlee was the first forward sub, and he showed promise in his four minutes. He grabbed an offensive and defensive rebound and made a nice hustle play, throwing a loose ball of a Michigan defender to maintain possession for Duke. Fired up, Plumlee was grabbed around the waist by Hood, who was equally excited. Plumlee made an immediate impact when he entered in the second half as well, about five minutes in. He blocked a LeVert lay-up and finished a nice pass from Cook on the other end. On the Blue Devils’ next possession, Plumlee grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul. Plumlee’s development could by key for the Blue Devils, as he has the size to protect the rim.”

While the Blue Devils were never behind, they also never let Michigan get too close. My man Andre Dawkins’s ability to hit 3-pointers—cold, off the bench—proved a key turning point in the second half. Michigan had cut the Duke lead to single digits,  but in 40 seconds, Dawkins hit back-to-back 3s to put Duke ahead by a dozen with just under eight minutes to play. Then, a Dawkins bucket off the dribble a few minutes later,  pushed Duke’s lead to 57-42.

I will let Alan, who was the first person on Quinn Cook’s bandwagon, tell you about his career night. While the defense (particularly on Nik Stauskas) and Dawkins instant offense set the table, it was Cook who cleared the table with some pretty spectacular point guard offense—and a perfect 10-10 from the line.

Comments:

  • The Blue Devils continued to experiment with their lineup, searching for the best combination of offensive efficiency and ability to defend. The starters remained the same from last week: Quinn Cook, Thornton, Hood, Parker and Josh Hairston. Matt Jones was the first sub off the bench and Rasheed Sulaimon did not play at all. “He knows what he needs to do,” Thornton said of Sulaimon, declining to go into specifics”. Krzyzewski has a similar answer: “He needs to play better than the guys that played tonight.”
  • Parker and Hood had, for them, mediocre nights. Jabari is taking one for the team by playing the post at both ends. He is not an ideal size as a post defender and has to be careful about getting into foul trouble. In addition, it is physically taxing.
  • I don’t want to be a broken record but Marshall Plumlee, while far from a finished product, not only takes up a lot of space in the lane but also gives Duke a muscular athleticism and physical presence—and the ability to block and alter shots. His mere presence on the court changes an opponent’s offense—and energizes the Cameron Crazies. He and Dawkins are real crowd favorites. And don’t forget that he gives the center position five more fouls.

Alan adds:

Optimism for Duke’s 2013-2014 basketball season returned to Blue Devil fans, as Duke defeated Michigan rather handily in the ACC-Big Ten challenge.  The pessimism produced by shoddy defensive performances and late game surges by opponents  (Kansas, ECU, and most important, Vermont) has evaporated with three consecutive satisfactory defensive performances.  While the defense was “satisfactory” — a great improvement — in the Pre-Season NIT, Duke’s defense against Michigan was not less than superb.  It’s hard to fathom that the team that destroyed Michigan’s offense was the same team that gave up 90 points to Vermont.  Rodney Hood said that in the early season each player was trying to stop his man, but now each player is helping out as well, making for a cohesive (Coach K’s word of the night in post-game interviews) defensive effort.

How good was it?  Coming in, Duke game planned to stop Michigan’s high scoring off guard, Nik Stauskas (averaging 20 ppt coming in) and Michigan’s huge center, Mitch McGary (who had sparked Michigan’s run through the NCAA tournament to the championship game last year, and was a pre-season All American candidate this year).  Stauskas faced amazing defense from the combo of Tyler Thornton (20 minutes) and Matt Jones (17 minutes), who made magnificent efforts to keep Nik from even touching the ball.  Result:  0 field goals for Michigan’s best scorer (4 points — 2 of the foul shots were technicals).  Thornton hit 2 huge 3s (though 1 of them was clearly after the shot clock had expired and should not have counted).  McGary scored 15 points, but that turns out to be a misleading statistic.  McGary had more than half of his points (8 to be precise) in the last 1:59 of the game, after Duke’s lead had reached 18 and the game was well out of reach for Michigan.  So McGary had 7 in 38 minutes.  This was team defense — hustle, effort, cohesion and rebounding — without excessive fouling.  Michigan scored 22 points in the first half.  Wow!  Although Michigan finished with 69 points (47 in the second half) that statistic is again misleading, and for the same reason.  In the same last 1:59 with the same 18 point Duke lead, Michigan scored 19 points after the game well out of reach.  So Duke gave up 50 points in 38 minutes while the game was still competitive.  Awesome!  Duke also reined in its defensive fouling, which has been a serious weakness in past games.  Duke put Michigan in the bonus with 10:31 to go in the first half, causing much concern.  But the Devils never let Michigan get to the double bonus, committing only 3 more fouls in the half.  Michigan did not get to the double bonus in the second half either.

Duke’s bench made significant contributions.  Though Dawkins played only 10 minutes and Marshall a season high 6 minutes, both were major contributors.  Dawkins’ two huge 3s in the second half, when Michigan had crept to within 6 points, effectively put the game away by driving the lead back to 12 in about 48 seconds.  Dawkins added a great drive for 8 points (and a steal) in his brief stint.  Plumlee was a force in his first effective appearance on the court in a Duke uniform.  He had 3 boards, a block, a defensive hustle play and a bucket (shades of Zoubek as a sophomore), while missing both free throws and committing one foul.  It was truly a 3 headed center for Duke with Hairston (4 fouls) logging 21 minutes.  Jefferson had his best game at Duke, though he was limited to 17 minutes because he too committed 4 fouls — but, it was a superb 17 minutes (3-3 from the field for 6 points; 6 boards, 2 assists, a steal and a block).  It was also Amile’s first defensively competent performance.  This team is improving rapidly.

The Big 3 — Parker (15 points on 14 shots in 33 minutes), Hood (14 points on 13 shots in 38 minutes) and Cook (24 points on 11 shots in 37 minutes; 10-10 from the free throw line with 9 assists) were the Duke mainstays again, but it was different in ways than earlier in the season.  Though Parker scored “only” 15, he had one of his best all-round games of the season.  He gave Duke inside scoring with superb post offense, and was a force on defense.  He had only 1 turnover, a sharp reduction from past games.  Hood was equally less flashy and equally fundamentally efficient all over the court, especially on the defensive end.  He hit 2 big 3s and had a key block.  But the MVP of this game was Quinn Cook, who scored all of his 24 points in the second half (Duke only scored 47 in the half, making Quinn’s second half scoring more than 50% of Duke’s total).  Cook orchestrated an offense that eschewed the fast break for a deliberate and efficient half-court offense.  I think dialing down the pace of the offense helped Duke concentrate on its defensive improvement.   I’ll refrain from repeating my early Cook predictions of Cook’s value and potential (based on what I saw of him at Oak Hill), and let Bill remind you.

Duke also had an efficient rebounding game, actually out rebounding Michigan.  It was a team effort with Parker and Jefferson leading the way with 6; Hood garnered 5, Cook 4 while Jones and Marshall had 3 each.

The game was a pure pleasure to watch from opening tip to post-game interviews.

Our Hall of Fame coach is in a defensive quandary.  I admit that I was in favor of Duke trying out its zone (Orange) defense last night.  Coach K believes communication will solve this glaring problem.  Maybe, but right now Duke is switching every screen without having rotations that protect and defend against penetration.  A lot of optimism about this coming season seemed to leak out from last night’s embarrassing defensive performance.  But one game never defines a team.  Duke plays Alabama on Wednesday night at 9:30 in the Garden.  Alabama is not considered a strong team.  The other semi-final (Drexel v Arizona) is the early game, with the championship on Friday.  We hope Duke is playing Arizona (if they respect Drexel and the game) in the finals.

Bill is travelling for Thanksgiving, so our next DBP will be a post NIT wrap-up.  Let us hope we have a defensive resurgence about which to report.

DUKE 85 –  GARDNER WEBB 66 

Coming off a two week break for exams, Duke played well offensively but was still inconsistent defensively. When  6’5’’ big body Division II forward Jerome Hill only misses one shot and goes for 22– well, what does that tell you about the interior defense? The harder you work, the luckier you get: Graduate student Andre Dawkins finished his exams a week ago, so he took the spare time to put in extra practice with  assistant coach Wojo. It paid off as he provided  beautiful instant rainbows off the bench—Coach K calls them “momentum threes”– to give the Blue Devils separation from G-W, who early on were doing a pretty good imitation of Vermont.

Jay Williams was doing the analysis for ESPN and he made several interesting observations, including that Duke goes as Quinn Cook goes– in the Kansas and Arizona losses, Quinn was out played by the opposing guard; that last year he could tell how he was going to play by the look in his eyes  but he was more mature and had his emotions under control this year; that as of now because of their advantage on the boards, he picks both Syracuse and Carolina to beat Duke.

Figuring out a rotation pattern to counter the defensive shortcomings is going to be one of Coach K’s greatest challenges. It is obviously a work in process. There are 200 minutes of playing time available in a game. Jabari, Cook, and Parker are going to get the majority of them. The rest are up for grabs.  Thornton and Hairston now start but do not play starter minutes. There is an embarrassment of riches at guard and on the wings but an embarrassment at center. Tyler  Thornton is a tenacious defender and a very versatile contributor but Cook is as important as Parker or Hood; Dawkins is instant offense and when he is on the floor whom do you double team– Andre, Parker, Hood or Cook? Jones, Parker’s buddy, while green, is lanky, and very good defensively; Sulaimon, last year’s freshman star is, for the moment, the odd guard out but that shouldn’t last all season. At center, Hairston is a hustler but undersized and limited offensively and is only starting because Jefferson has been a disappointment; MP3, the only seven footer, is athletic and enthusiastic but green and has only recently gotten off the bench; and Semi  Ojeleye minutes are a mystery. When he gets on the floor he produces and is the only power player who can shoot. He has a nice touch, is the most athletic player on the team as his sensational block tonight demonstrated (unfortunately the announcers were talking and the camera was in pan shot mode)—and at 6’ 7” 230 he is a load and could be an answer against big front lines. Both Parker nor Hood are miscast as anchors of a top defense. Perhaps, unlike previous years, there actually will be more variety in the player rotation.

Notes:

  • Incredibly, Duke has not lost a non-conference game in Cameron since 2000 and played its 222nd straight game as a top-10 team. The Blue Devils are 184-38 (.829) in those games.
  • Alex Murphy did not dress because he is transferring. While big and athletic, Alex never demonstrated the complete skills to be a major contributor and considering next year’s recruiting class only had little to look forward to except a good view of the action and an impressive degree.
  • Amile Jefferson looked more like his hyper active freshman self with 10 rebounds. But he also missed both of his free throws, dropping him to an unacceptable Shaq-like 8-26 for the season.
  • Rasheed Sulaimon played five scoreless minutes. Krzyzewski on Sulaimon’s struggles: “He’s not playing well. You can see it. It’s not about attitude. He’s got a good attitude. He’s a good team player but it’s not going well for him. His teammates are really good with him, he’s really good with his teammates.” Also,  “When Andre’s playing that well, you’ve got to give him minutes.”
  • Jay Bilas was named Broadcaster of the Year by Sports Illustrated.
  •  JJ Redick who was having his best year as a pro, broke his hand and will be out 6-8 weeks…. Kyrie Irving is having an all-star year with Cleveland….Miles Plumlee is starting at center for the Phoenix Suns and averaging almost a double-double…Mason Plumlee is  averaging about 17 minutes a game off the bench and playing well for The Brooklyn Nets…..Austin Rivers is struggling to get playing time with New Orleans.

Alan Adds:

This game is hard to analyze in the course of evaluating the progress of Duke’s season because the opposition did not provide not top tier competition, and the Devils were returning to competitive hoops after a 13 day layoff.  Duke was shockingly sharp offensively in the first half, scoring 53 points with four double digit scorers by half time (Parker 12, Cook 11, Dawkins 11, and Hood 10) with 14 assists (Cook had 9 of them — he was also 4-4 from the field) on 20 field goals.  But, Duke was shockingly porous on defense (again).  While Duke kept control of the game by out rebounding the smaller Runnin’ Bulldogs and forcing turnovers, Gardner Webb shot 63% from the field and 75% (12-18) from inside the arc in the first half.  They penetrated at will and were successful at the rim.  However, that changed in the second half.  While Duke stagnated on the offensive end in the second half, Duke pulled together to play excellent defense.  Gardner-Webb shot only 12-26 (2-9 from 3land) in the second half.  Better.

Once again the rotation (as well as Coach K’s comments) shows how much this team relies on Quinn Cook.  He played 36 minutes, the only Duke player to log more than 26 (Hood and Parker).  Thornton with 25, Hairston with 23, and Dawkins with 22 were the other three players to play more than the 12 minutes that Jefferson played.  Though playing little, the other four reserves had some good moments.  In those 12 minutes, Jefferson led Duke in rebounding with 10 (Parker with 6, Hood and Thornton with 5 were Duke’s other leading rebounders).  Ojeleye did not leave the bench in the first half (the only Duke player so confined in that half), but played 6 effective minutes, with a steal, a block and 2-2 from the line in the second half.  In his first minute on the floor, he was beaten badly on a drive, but looked good after that.  Marshall also had an effective cameo of 5 minutes.  In those 5 minutes he grabbed 3 boards and an assist, drawing specific praise from Coach K.  Sulaimon also played 5 minutes, but they were not “effective”.

Coach K made some fascinating comments after the Michigan game (December 3) that are worth sharing.  “What happens is even though your team has good kids and whatever, they kind of believe they’re already good. But they’re not. They’re not learning all the things that are necessary. I think right now we’re at a point where we understand that. It’s not about bad attitudes or anything. It’s about the changing of roles.  I think our team understands right now that you have to change roles. Quinn Cook had a great game (against Michigan). He had no points in the first half and played really well. That’s what we told him, ‘You’re going to shoot the ball a little more.’ The second half, he was terrific. But he was not more terrific in the second half, for me. He’s had to adjust. He played with three seniors last year. I tell our team all the time, ‘Last year, you guys were in a drama. This year, for lack of a better term, you’re in an action movie. The role you played in a drama, you were good at. It’s a different role.’ I think that’s where Rasheed (Sulaimon) is having a tough time. It’s a different role, and you don’t have these seniors around. How he thinks he’s doing the role is not how it should be done. There are changes like that. We have to run this team not based on ranking and all that. How do we get them along?”

 

In his press conference last night, Coach K singled out Quinn, saying this is his team; he’s the leader.  He said the difference for Cook this year is his maturity.  Last year he could lean on three senior leaders; this year he is the leader.  The minutes that Cook is playing confirm that.  But Cook can still be inconsistent.  He had 9 assists in the first half but none in the second half.  But if Cook ascends to be a consistently elite point guard, Duke’s prospects are promising.

 

After the Michigan game, Coach K had an interesting assessment of Jabari (and his conditioning, which has been a topic here in DBP), “I think eventually Jabari will be able in college to defend every position because he has really good feet. His body type, it doesn’t look like he should have great feet. But he actually can defend the perimeter better right now than the post, because he’s never had to defend (the post). I’m not saying he’s LeBron, but LeBron can defend every position. LeBron’s a better athlete — I don’t know who’s a better athlete than LeBron. There isn’t any, so that’s not knocking Jabari.  I think once he learns what physical shape he needs to be in — he’s still a young man — he’ll be amazingly versatile. Right now, he’s still learning the game and where to position himself before he gets the ball. He’s so confident once he gets the ball, you end up being not as disciplined in some of your movements before you get the ball. Like, (against Michigan on Tuesday), every time he got the ball right on the elbow, he scored. We’re going to try to get him the ball on the elbow but he goes 6 feet out, he ends up taking some shots he can hit but it lowers the percentage of success. It’s not like it’s a bad shot but it’s not as good as it could be. He still hasn’t learned yet how to play in the post.

Q: It seemed like you tried to go to him more in the post  (against Michigan).

A: We put stuff in to get him there. He’d be amazingly difficult to defend. He would demand a double. Then because he can pass … if he didn’t score from the low post, he could get scores. The other thing it does is, if he commands that double … if they load up on you inside, it brings the defense in and that’s where (Quinn) Cook got those open shots (in the second half against Michigan).

Duke still has to prove itself against teams with athletic size on the interior such as UNC, Syracuse and other National title contenders.  The game against UCLA on Thursday at Madison Square Garden should be a more illuminating test for the Blue Devils.

Duke 80 –  UCLA  63

Having atypically (for Duke) lost two games  (and played poor defense in nearly losing two others) before the first of the year, this was essentially another final first term exam in the biggest sports venue in  the country– and nationally televised on ESPN. Another loss and Duke would probably fall out of the top ten rankings for the first time since, oh, about the turn of the century. So, no pressure here. The Blue Devils started fast against a man to man defense, then when UCLA switched to a zone became inpatient and started jacking up and missing threes providing the Bruins with fast break opportunities.  The Duke was lucky to be tied at the half. After the break and obviously some strongly worded half time attitude adjustments, Duke attacked the Bruin zone much more methodically and patiently and played much  better defense. UCLA contributed to their own demise by coming unglued, even missing a wide open dunk that almost bounced to the upper deck. The final grade was an A+ for playing their best basketball of the season at crunch time in the second half and a solid B (with a bullet) for the game.

Holy comeback, Batman! Sulaimon and Jefferson finally started playing like was expected of them—and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We know what to expect from Parker, Hood, and Cook. But productive the minutes from the other two positions have been spotty. When Sully, Jeff and/or Andre deliver, this is a very formidable team which can compensate for the lack of a really big post defender. When they don’t, this is a very vulnerable team. UCLA is a very athletic and talented team with Kyle Anderson, a multi-talented 6’9’’ point guard. The Devils had 9 more rebounds, 9 more assists, and 3 more threes. When the game was on the line, they also played with Final Four poise. Parker, who almost casually plays in another stratosphere, and Hood are so consistently productive that they spoil us. Quinn Cook has always made me hold my breath. However, more and more this year, I’m watching Quinn and thinking:  NO! NO!….YES!! Quinn, you’re becoming the  player Alan has been talking about.

Here are some winning stat lines: Parker had his third double-double with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists; Cook 14 points, 5 assists, and 8 big steals, which should be some kind of record in a big time game; Jefferson 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks; and Sulaimon 8 points ( 2-of-4 3’s), 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and lock down defense.

Comments: 

      • Unfortunately, Dickie V was one of the announcers tonight. As I have said, I like announcers who confirm something I think I know or, preferably, tell me something I don’t know. But when an announcer doesn’t do his homework, it drives me to distraction. Good old Dickie spots Bruce Springsteen sitting with some co-eds and goes wandering off on a riff about nothing consequential. He mentioned a few songs, but not the obvious one: “Glory Days”. What most of us know is that his daughter Jessica is a Duke sophomore and an Olympic class equestrian.
      • Jay Williams did an interview with Jabari Parker for ESPN. All I can say is that this guy is a thoroughly engaging natural on and off the court.
      • Coach K: “The main area he needs to learn is defense. He can be a very special player. He is an outstanding player, but he can become better, and that is my responsibility. That is why he came to Duke, to learn and to become better.”
      • Rasheed Sulaimon was one happy guy in the locker room after. He said he felt like a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders with his performance.  Editor Note: “Amen. Us too, Sully!”
      • Watched the first half of the UNC-Texas game. This is a puzzling team. Big wins, head scratching losses. They got killed on the boards and in transition by talented but unranked Texas and    cannot shoot free throws. As my new Carolina friend John, who really knows basketball, says: “Except for Paige, we can’t hit the ocean from a row boat.” Paige is a lethal scorer with  a rare, wonderful touch. Physically, he reminds me of Stephen Curry—doesn’t look like the proto-typical outstanding basketball player. But what a sweet, soft true shot.

Alan Adds:

In the season opener against Davidson, Doris Burke insightfully opined that this Duke team had the potential to become one of Coach K’s best defensive teams.  The following games seemed to make a hollow mockery of that prediction, as Duke struggled on the defensive end against the likes of East Carolina, Vermont, and Gardner Webb (in the first half) while winning; not to mention the losses to Kansas and Arizona.  But I could hear Doris’s words as I watched the Duke defense in the second half.  First, after being beaten in transition in the first half; Duke shut down the UCLA running game in the second half.  As Parker said in the post game interview, “we sprinted back each time to defend transition”.  Second, Duke defended the rim much more effectively than any other game this year.  Jefferson teamed with Parker (with help from Hood and Hairston) to be a formidable presence at the rim in the second half.  Jefferson had both of Duke’s clean blocks.  Finally, the starting team that Coach K envisioned in the pre-season played scintillating defense to wrap up the game during “winning time”.  With Rasheed and Jefferson joining the Big 3 on the floor, and with Duke ahead by only 8 points with 2:34 left in the game, Duke held UCLA without a point for the rest of the game.  Duke scored 9, and how they scored is a huge welcome back for Rasheed and Amile: 2:03 left when Rasheed drained a 3 (Assist from Cook); 1:27, Jefferson layup (Assist from Rasheed); 48 seconds left, layup by Cook; 32 second left, Dunk by Jefferson (Assist from Rasheed).  Significant: Lock down defense and great ball movement.  Quinn Cook had a brilliant defensive game as did Tyler Thornton, who was matched up against the 6’9” UCLA point guard, Kyle Anderson, a genuinely terrific player.  Cook was visibly the fastest and the quickest player on the court.  He disrupted the Bruin offense with 8 steals, some of them breathtakingly brilliant against Bruin transition.  It was a comforting turnaround defensively.

In Coach K’s rotation the Big 3 routinely play over a combined 100 minutes (last night, Cook played the entire 40 minutes; Parker, 36; and Hood 34 — a bit of foul trouble in the first half — for a total of 110 minutes).  The center and off guard position were almost evenly split.  In the middle, Hairston played 17 minutes and Jefferson 23 (Marshall had 3 dramatically ineffective minutes in the first half and did not leave the bench in the second half).  At off guard, Rasheed played 18 minutes while Thornton logged 19.  Dawkins was in early off the bench, but made only 1 of 5 launches from 3land in his 7 minutes.  Matt Jones played for 2 minutes, while Semi was a DNP.

Parker is everything that Vitale shrieks about (Vitale is so annoying; let him cover UNC games).  Coach K made brilliant half time adjustments on both ends of the floor.  Duke stopped UCLA’s fast break and adjusted to attack the zone effectively in the second half.  Duke is going to see more zone defenses this year, I believe, as will most teams.  The new rules against hand checking are causing easier offensive penetration and excessive defensive fouling (UNC – Texas game lasted over 2 and 1/2 hours).  The zone defense can be effective at denying penetration without excessive fouling, and will be used more frequently this year, I predict.  Advantage: Syracuse.  Will Coach K work more on his zone and use it some?

Duke is off for Christmas holiday break until late December (28th against Eastern Michigan, and the 31st against Elon before the ACC season opens for Duke against Notre Dame on January 4, 2014).

Duke 82  – E. Michigan 59

One of the most fascinating aspects of following Duke Basketball each year is watching Coach K mold and motivate his players into a winning team. At the beginning of the season, he uses the scheduling of non-conference opponents to expose his team to different styles of play and different venues so that he can assess whom he can rely upon in conference play and in the tournaments. However, we only see what is going on in the games. We have no idea what is going on in practice, in the locker room, in the dorms, with girl-friends, or what their parents and friends back home are whispering in their ear. Consider how  he has handled Jefferson, Sulaimon, and Dawkins this year: Tough love, brutal truth, and Darwinian competition appear to be the common denominators in bringing out the best in these players.

What I was looking for today was what  Coach K’s rotation would be and had Jefferson, Sulaimon, and Dawkins actually turned the corner and gotten their heads and games together? The answer was a resounding  Yes! Yes! and Yes! Collectively, they produced 40 points, 19 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. When these three players play at this level, Duke is a  very deep, formidable team. Dawkins’, who is hitting 50 % of his threes, value  is obvious. However, off last year and his recent play, Sulaimon deserves major minutes. In top form, he is the best defensive player on the team and brings more diverse talents to the floor than any other guard. At his best, Jefferson’s rebounding and defense can be the important missing link. While Jabari Parker carried the Blue Devils in the first half, the defense and rebounding showed marked improvement all game long. That wearing pressure undoubtedly contributed to the runaway second half. All in all, it was a terrific final 20 minutes of basketball, during which we saw one of those patented 15-1 runs, a characteristic of outstanding Blue Devil teams of the past.

As Sulaimon, Jefferson, and Dawkins play better,  senior co-captains and recent starters Thornton and Hairston’s minutes diminish. On a team with less chemistry that would be a problem. Not on this squad. Everyone knows their role and what has to happen for them to be a Final Four team. For instance, on the bench Tyler Thornton had as much fun as anyone on the floor,  smiling, dancing in celebrating the outstanding plays of  his teammates Andre, Rasheed , and Emile.

Coach K: “A couple of the veterans early on in October and November, realized the fact that this isn’t last year, it’s like a different play. Last year was a drama, and this is an action movie, or, I guess in some games a comedy or whatever, but you have to assume a different role. Sometimes, people want to stay in what they did and not adapt to what they need to do. We always have to adapt. We all get it right now. It’s never been about a bad attitude. … It’s just about learning. When you start out with a different team early on, you have to give it time to grow.”

And Emile Jefferson: “It’s the chemistry. I think it’s been there the whole time, but we were just working out the kinks. We’re a young team; we’re growing.” Of  his personal struggles, which, after starting the first six games, turned him into a reserve: “I started overthinking things, started taking everything people said literally, and it just got to a point where it was like, I’ve just got to play. I’ve really just been trying to do that, fight down low and just help our guys.”

Comments:

  • Eastern Michigan is no cupcake opponent. In 1996 the Earl Boykins-led Eagles upset Duke in the first round of the  NCAA tournament. This year they are a veteran team and that has played a tough schedule.  And they play a Syracuse type 2-3 zone. While they are not Syracuse, they served a purpose at this time of the season.
  • Just before the opening tip, Rodney Hood, suffering from the stomach flu, ran off the court to throw up. He was replaced by Andre Dawkins but returned to play major minutes. He received IV fluids at half time.
  • This was Duke’s 223rd straight game as a top-10 team and this win was the 109th in a row against a non-conference opponent in Cameron. The last loss was by one point to St. Johns in 2000.
  • Dawkins scored 20 on 6-10 from the floor. More impressively, he played some of the best defense of his Duke career.
  • Duke out rebounded the Eagles 44-27.
  • Memo to Semi: You are a scorer, not an assist man.
  • Sports trivia: Despite current appearances, back in his youth Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame (or infamy) was a very talented athlete. He was a good enough quarterback at Louisiana Tech to start ahead of the more heralded future All Pro Terry Bradshaw for two years.

Alan Adds:

Bill is onto the litmus test of how formidable Duke will be on the National scene this season: it is the development of the supporting cast for Duke’s Big Three.  Parker, of course, was superb scoring 23 points (on 20 shots).  With Hood somewhat under the weather and Cook’s shot on vacation, the game — especially the second half — provided a positive look at the development of that cast — especially Sulaimon, Andre Dawkins and Jefferson.  I analyze who plays minutes for Coach K (and when) because I believe it shows how the coach thinks his players are doing.  It is clear that as good as Parker is (jaw dropping good, it turns out), this is still Quinn Cook’s team.  Even in a blowout, Quinn played 35 minutes (coming out of the game briefly when he tweaked a leg).  Five other players logged 20+ minutes: Parker (27; two first half fouls limited him a bit); Dawkins (26); Hood (25); Sulaimon (22; he might have played more but had 4 fouls by game’s end) and Jefferson (21).  Jefferson was eye-opening.  He grabbed 14 rebounds in 21 minutes to lead Duke by a wide margin (Parker and Hood with 8 were second) and was 5-5 from the free throw line.  As critical as his rebounding was, it was his team oriented defense that I thought stood out.  Jefferson has been an inadequate defender for most of the year, but that seems to be changing for the better.  It was such a pleasure to watch Andre Dawkins in the second half.  His smile just kept getting bigger and he kept playing better — especially on the defensive end.  Like Jefferson, Dawkins has been an inadequate defender for much of the early season; yesterday, he was absolutely terrific.  He even had 2 blocks and 2 steals.  Oh, and by the way, he was 4-4 from behind the arc in the second half (after 2-6 in the first half).  Dawkins was all Duke had from behind the arc (without his 6-10, Duke was 4-19 — Cook was 1-7; Hood 2-7; Jabari 1-3; and Matt Jones 0-2 — while he played only 4 minutes, he managed to take 4 shots in that period of time.  Sulaimon was his old self on defense and hustled all over the court.  Critically, he got to the foul line with his drives, converting 9-11 from the stripe for 13 points.  He also had 2 boards and 3 assists.  Welcome back, Rasheed.

Hairston and Thornton are starting, but they are no longer playing starter’s minutes.  Hairston played only 11 minutes in which he failed to take a shot or score from the line; he had an offensive rebound; 2 turnovers and committed 2 fouls (he is still having trouble with the new charge/block rule).  Marshall played as many minutes as Hairston with a field goal, two offensive rebounds and no fouls.  His downside was a turnover and 2 missed free throws.  He is showing some promise, and might make into Bill’s watch list (joining Amile, Dre and Rasheed).  Thornton logged 14 minutes, handing out three assists, but turning it over 3 times as well.  He was 2-2 from the line with 2 tough rebounds.  Duke needs what he brings to the team, but his minutes will not increase if Dre and Rasheed are as effective as they were yesterday.  Semi played only 4 minutes, but I still predict he will be a valuable player for Duke in coming years.

An optimistic take from the game was Duke’s offense against the E. Michigan zone.  Cook ran the show, handing out 7 assists (and had 5 steals as well).  Duke passed the ball and penetrated the zone with both the pass and the dribble.  When Dawkins erupted in the second half, the zone shredded.  Parker was superb, carrying Duke in the first half (14 points on 11 shots — 1 3 pointer and 5 boards).  In the second half, he allowed the bench to shine (he was only 3-9 in the second half).  Hood, though under the weather and off on his 3 point shot, played well.  He had only 8 points, but 3 assists to go with his 8 boards.  Great effort.  One more tune up (Elon on Tuesday at 1 pm), and then the ACC season begins next Saturday against Notre Dame at 4:00 pm.  Still A Season on the Brink.

Duke 77  –  Notre Dame 79

What happens when you go on the road against a well-coached, well balanced team, your freshman phenom and your defense do not show up, and only two players score in double figures? You lose! This is not the way you want to start 2014, because the score does not indicate the margin by which the Blue Devils were outplayed. Coach Brey and the Irish showed the country on national television how  to beat  Duke this year. And until the defense gets much better, it could be a frustrating season. The good news is that despite all that went wrong, Duke is talented and  deep enough that they were still in a position to tie or win the game in the final seconds—but Notre Dame is not Vermont.

The Blue Devils used a 9-0 run to open a 49-40 lead early in the second half and stretched the lead to 60-50 when Andre Dawkins hit a three from the top of the key. But when Notre Dame went to a small lineup to try to better defend the perimeter, Demetrius Jackson hit an critical three as Duke, which had made 12-of-22 3-pointers (54.5 percent) at the point but finished 0-for-6 for the rest of the game. That, combined with constant defensive breakdowns, led to a 22-4 Notre Dame run and the loss.

The Blue Devils closed within one point twice in the final two minutes, but the Irish didn’t wilt under the pressure. Atkins made a layup after Duke cut it to 72-71, and then Garrick Sherman hit one of two free throws with 16 seconds left. Duke still had a chance to tie or win the game, but Hood, who had a mismatch (like the end of the Vermont game) drove into traffic and was forced into a wild  pass.

Interestingly enough, Jabari Parker, who did not appear to be ill, was substituted for frequently, played only 24 minutes, and was not on the floor during the last three critical minutes. Asked about it, Coach K said: “Jabari wasn’t playing well. For any kid who is not playing well, you should try to find a kid that is playing well. But that happens. Sometimes kids don’t play well throughout the game. He just wasn’t having a good game….Well, he is a human being. He didn’t play well today. That is part of being a freshman. Hopefully he will recover quickly from that.” Interpret those remarks any way you want.

Comments:

  • If you watched the college bowl games and thought the Duke-Texas A&M 52-48 shootout was an outlier, consider Oklahoma 25-Alabama 31, UCF 52-Baylor 42, Clemson 40-Ohio State 35. It might make one conclude that there will be major offensive changes coming to the pro game. Colleges like Alabama, Stanford, and Ohio State, which rely on pounding the ball on the ground behind big lumbering linemen and pass successfully only from play action, just cannot score enough points, especially when they get behind, to beat the wide open spread-the-field teams. The wide receivers are too quick, fast, and allusive—hope you watched Sammy Watkins from Clemson catch 16 passes for 227 yards– and too athletic and the passers just too accurate. This talent is coming in waves to an NFL team near you. And did you notice how many college quarterbacks like Oklahoma’s freshman Trevor Knight are from Texas and how many terrific skilled players are form Florida?
  • The day the harmony died: Phil Everly, whose hits with his older brother, Don, as the Everly Brothers carried the close fraternal harmonies of country tradition into pioneering rock ’n’ roll, died on Friday. He was 74. They were the forerunner and models for the next generations of rock vocal harmonies. The Beatles, Linda Ronstadt, Simon and Garfunkel, and many others recorded their songs and tried to emulate their precise, ringing vocal alchemy. Paul Simon said: “Phil and Don were the most beautiful sounding duo I ever heard. Both voices pristine and soulful. The Everlys were there at the crossroads of country and R&B. They witnessed and were part of the birth of rock and roll.”

After graduation, I lived in Washington and one of my neighbors was Tom Lyons, who started the Cellar Door,  the premier music scene for emerging singing acts in Washington. John was very generous and when there  was a performer I wanted to see, he provided us with a terrific table. I saw the Every Brothers several times up close and personal (there were only 165 seats) in a way you cannot large venues and arenas. They were even more fantastic in person than on recordings.

Alan Adds:

All those good feelings about Duke’s improving defense that was on display against Michigan, UCLA (not to mention Eastern Michigan and Elon) evaporated in 40 minutes of watching Notre Dame simply carve up the Duke defense.  How bad was it?  Consider that Notre Dame was 12-18 inside the arc in the second half (that is 75%).  ND shot 50 % from behind the arc (3-6 in each half), and beat Duke’s defense in every phase.  Duke could not defend the post, with Emile and Jabari being simply toasted by the bigger Irish front line players when playing them one on one.  When Duke brought help to defend the post, ND lit up the Duke defense with back door cuts behind the helping defender.  ND converted 4 straight baseline out of bounds plays with one pass (1 a 3 pointer).  Nor could Duke really defend its defensive glass; ND got 9 of the 22 rebounds off their own missed shots in the first half.  Not so bad in the second half because ND only missed 9 shots (3 from behind the arc).  Hairston played only 9 minutes (3 fouls; 0 rebounds), and Marshall only 4; so defending the interior fell to Hood (38 minutes), Parker (24 minutes) and Jefferson (9 rebounds in 21 minutes; the only Duke player with more than 4 rebounds).  Cook (39 minutes) and Dawkins (18 minutes; 1-4 from behind the arc with 6 points) finished the game with 4 fouls each, while Sulaimon (22 minutes — also hit 1 3 and scored 6 points) had 3.  The fouls cut Dawkins’ playing time. Lots of credit to Notre Dame and former Duke assistant (now ND head coach) Mike Brey for exposing how a team with size and power on the interior should attack Duke.  Make no mistake, it was a bad loss (0-1 in the ACC) where Duke’s weakness were magnified and exposed.  It will probably be Duke’s first week out of the top 10 in several years (107 weeks, I think; the longest streak since UCLA dominance).  Yet, Duke never gave in and demonstrated real fighting heart.  Duke never quit offensively, but two dry spells doomed the Devils.

Hood and Cook were magnificent and carried Duke’s offense.  Cook who played virtually the entire game was 7-14 from the field (3-5 from behind the arc and 5-5 from the line) with 4 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals.  He was heroic, and Hood was even better (8-17; 5-10 from 3land and 6-6 from the line) scoring 27 points with 3 boards and 2 assists.  Duke stayed in the game on 12-28 shooting from 3 and 17-20 from the stripe.  But this isn’t winning offense.  Key statistic for me: Duke had only 8 assists on 28 field goals.  Duke’s offense wasn’t efficient from inside the arc (12-30).  I do remember Amile’s miss of a layup on a great pass as a turning point even before ND made its run.  There was 11:39 left in the game when Dawkins hit the 3 to which Bill referred, giving Duke a 10 point lead.  In addition to failing to get stops, Duke stopped scoring: 11:18 – Jabari missed a jumper; 10:28 — Jefferson missed the layup (60-54); 9:40 — Quinn missed a jumper (60-56); 9:05 — Hood missed a 3 pointer; 8:49 — Hood missed a jumper (60-58); 8:30 — Sulaimon missed a 3; 8:09 — Quinn missed a jumper (ND tied the game at 60 with 8:01 left).  With 5:31 left the game was tied at 64, when ND made a foul shot off a Rasheed foul (65-64 for ND).  5:13 — Jabari missed a 3; 4:39— Hood missed a 3 (68-64 ND); 4:04 — Quinn missed a 3 (70-64).  Duke called time out with 3:34 left, down 70-64.  From there until Hood turned it over with 9 seconds left, Duke scored on almost every possession (Quinn had a miss at 1:19 with Duke down 4, but Duke got the rebound and Rasheed made all 3 foul shots to bring Duke within one), but could not get a stop against ND.  The shooting woes of the heroic Hood and Cook down the stretch might be tied to fatigue since each played almost the entire game.

Perhaps (this is said tongue in cheek), the most significant happening yesterday was watching Jabari’s NBA stock (he’ll be # 1 choice in June) fall at 32 feet per second per second.  In 24 minutes he was 2-10 from the field; 1-5 from behind the arc, and 2-4 from the line.  While he had 4 rebounds, he had 0 assists, 0 blocks or steals and 2 turnovers.  Maybe he’ll stay another year when Duke will have its own power at the center position.

Duke 79 –  Georgia Tech 57

When Duke loses and doesn’t  play well, you can count on two things: 1). Coach K will shake up the lineup and 2). The team will rarely lose the next game. Some people do not think it matters who starts the game. Frank  Ramsey and John  Havlicek  came off the bench for Red Auerbach’s NBA champion Celtics. But that was pro ball. College is different for a variety of reasons. Among other things, the pro games are longer so there are more minutes for a coach to distribute, college players have a more fragile ego, they need more time to get find their rhythm, and if by chance their best player is no longer dependable, they need the floor time to figure out  adjustments.  For whatever reason, Jabari Parker has hit the wall and until he regains his edge or the other players compensate for a full forty minutes, Duke is no longer a contender. Tonight, it took a half–but against a mediocre opponent at home. One thing is for sure, Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook have stepped into the breach– as have  Jefferson, Sulaimon, and Dawkins.

Tonight, Coach K started his five best players. Hood, Parker, Cook, Jefferson, and Sulaimon. Here is what I think we will be seeing: Hood and Cook for almost 40 minutes; Parker, once he regains his mojo, the same; Jefferson gets more floor time, because he is our rebounding version of Dennis Rodman; Andre Dawkins plays more minutes because he has added putting the ball on the floor and defense to his repertoire; Thornton and Hairston back to being role players suited for special situations: and increasing minutes for Marshall Plumlee, because we need minutes from a true center.

Comments:

  • Welcome to the ACC:  N.C. State beat Notre Dame 77-70 in South Bend.
  • Everyone is wondering what is wrong with Jabari Parker? When asked if he was hitting a freshman wall—the college season is longer and more physical than anything the high school or AAU circuits offer—Parker said, “Yeah, I think so. It’s an experience I can learn from. It will get me stronger, to know that every game has to be important. In high school, you have certain games that you don’t want to play.”

My take is that Parker is taking one for the team and playing out of position on both offense and defense. Also, opposing teams are  figuring out how to defend him and it will take some time for Jabari and his teammates to adjust to the new reality. However, he is so versatile it will happen sooner, rather than later.

Krzyzewski really had the most insightful comments: ”People ask me what’s wrong with him. What’s wrong with him, he’s played great this year. It’s unfortunate the way our game is, men’s college basketball, puts so much on these young, extremely talented players to produce at a level that they’re not ready to produce at. But they will produce at some time in their life, hopefully while they’re here. And they’re good, (Kansas’s Andrew) Wiggins and (Kentucky’s Julius) Randle and Parker. They’re 18, 19 years old. They’ve never played at this level, they’ve never played the physicality. They haven’t been as closely scrutinized as everyone is closely scrutinizing them. They’ve been promoted and marketed way beyond what they should be. But that’s the way it is. So, it’s difficult. It is difficult for him. But it’s difficult for those other kids, too. We have to understand that. And Parker is a kid that doesn’t have the luxury of playing with established veterans, like Duke’s most recent freshman phenom. When Kyrie Irving came to campus is 2010, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith were entering their senior years. This year’s seniors are more role players than established go-to guys.”

Alan Adds:

This game was a tale of two very different halves.  At half time, there was a pall over the expectations for the rest of Duke’s season (exaggeration for emphasis is a legitimate literary device — I was taught that at Duke). In the first half, it seemed to me that Duke’s defense was still in South Bend, playing with the exact same type of inefficiency.  After being in the top 10 of the polls for over 6 years (2007 to the first poll of 2014), Duke’s place in the AP poll (17) is only 7 levels above the football team’s place in the final AP poll (24).  At half time, I wrote to Bill, “I genuinely expected Duke to blow Ga Tech’s doors out returning home to Cameron after Saturday’s performance.  I also expected Jabari to bounce back.  Not yet.  The defense looks eerily similar to the Notre Dame game.  Ga Tech was 12-19 from inside the arc.  On offense the Big 3 are 0-5 from behind the arc.  Only Dre’s first shot was good.  Duke was 2-8; the other 3 pointer was Rasheed’s desperation heave.  I don’t have any great suggestions except that Coach K should further study the Syracuse zone.”

The second half restored the potential of the Duke season as the defense clamped down and the offense came alive.  Rodney Hood filled the Jabari Parker role with an awesome offensive game.  He was 5-5 from 3land in the second half and 6-6 from the free throw line in the first half (27 points; 12 in the first half).  The minutes played in Coach K’s rotation tell an interesting tale.  Parker’s woes in this game have been overstated.  His real problem is he is being asked to defend the interior, where he has been overmatched physically at times (ND, Miller, Ga Tech’s big center, Arizona etc).  Last night, foul trouble limited him to 21 minutes — 5 Duke players logged more minutes than he did.  Coach K’s rotation was only really 6 deep.  Four others played single digit minutes without scoring or otherwise impacting the game, and Semi Ojeleye never left the bench:  Thornton (6 minutes, committed 3 fouls, and garnered a board); Hairston (4 minutes, a steal, a turnover and a foul); Matt Jones (2 minutes, 1 foul); and Marshall (2 minutes, one block — a beauty, btw).  The Big 3 in this game, in terms of minutes played (over 30), was Hood (39 minutes), Cook (37 minutes) and Rasheed , yes, Rasheed (36 minutes).  Rasheed played a valuable floor game, intense defense and had 11 points to go with his 5 boards, 2 assists, while committing only 1 foul.  He looked like the valuable player from last year…finally.  Three players logged over 20 minutes: Jefferson (28; 10 boards and 6 points — 7 boards and all scoring came in the second half); Dawkins (25 minutes; 10 points, and some great defense — am I really writing that about Dawkins?).  Dawkins did not shoot well from long range (1-2 in the first half and 0-3 in the second half), but his reputation made Ga Tech commit defensive resources to him that opened the floor for others, including Dre as a driver (5-6 from the free throw line).  Revealing the all court game that Dawkins played is his 3 boards, a block, a steal and an assist without committing a foul.  He was terrific.  Parker was the third player, logging 21 minutes.  In a bit over half a game, he scored 12 points, with 6 boards.  He is not shooting well (0-2 from 3land; 4-12 overall), but is playing hard.  He came out when he committed his fourth foul with 7:53 remaining in the game, and never returned.  For scoring, 12 points in 21 minutes is not as anemic as the pundits are saying.

That said, this is a weak Georgia Tech team that had lost its best player and rebounder, Robert Carter.  So, even the pleasure of the second half must be enjoyed with a grain of caution.  Duke travels to Clemson on Saturday for what has historically been a rough game against a team with size and a defensive mind set.

Duke 59- Clemson 72

This was the worst final 24 minutes of basketball I can remember a talented Duke team playing. How bad was the defense? The Tigers scored as many points in the second half against Duke (41) as they did in the entire game Thursday in Littlejohn against Florida State.  How bad was the offense? Duke only scored 22 points in the second half. Didn’t the football team, score 21 points in the fourth quarter against N.C. State?

However, you have to compliment Clemson. They played inspired, tough basketball, and deserved to win. And K.J. McDaniels was the real deal and was the best player at both ends of the court. Duke had no one that could handle him.

Coach Krzyzewski’s assessment: “We are not a very good team…..We’re not very good compared to who we’ve been. Who we’ve been has been very good. We can’t live in the past; we have to live in the present and figure out how this team can win.”

Comments: 

Ø  One thing I have never understood about Coach K is that he avoids utilizing a zone defense like it was a Dean Smith invention. He did it for a few minutes at the end of the half and only gave up one long three but eliminated the penetration and the Blue Devils rebounded better. Over the years, I know Coach has willed his teams to many victories utilizing a pressing man-to-man defense. Perhaps, this group is just beyond the reach of his considerable will power. How much worse can playing a zone be? Duke was outrebounded 47-26, committed 23 fouls—and that was not an anomaly. Clemson has some athletically freakish athletes but doesn’t it get old game after game watching guards penetrating and allowing mediocre big men in the paint have career games?

Ø  Live by the three, die by the three. The game is easy when the threes are falling, but can be tough as nails when you rely on them too much and they don’t fall. They fell in the second half against Georgia Tech and in the first half today but not in the last twenty minutes– and the offense became stagnant. Or maybe the Blue Devils were gassed chasing the Tigers to the basket.

Ø  Whose team is this anyway? When Cook was penetrating and dishing, there was movement and Duke was scoring. Then, Hood started playing point forward and that worked for a while, even though Cook was getting torched at the other end. I love Hood shooting, but when he controls the ball, how many touches does Parker or anyone else get? Actually, Parker is a more versatile point forward (but not as good a shot). Can’t we have more ball movement and just play together?

Ø  The Duke curse: Georgia Tech beat Notre Dame.

Ø  Seth Davis, a Duke grad, has a terrific new book out on former UCLA coach John Wooden, “A Coaches Life.”

Alan Adds:

This may be the season where Duke basketball fans learn “how the other half lives”.   I think we all came to Coach K’s conclusion as we watched the Clemson game, Duke is simply not a very good team.  While Clemson played really well (as Notre Dame did last Saturday), teams tend to look good and play well when the competition is an inferior team.  We may have to conclude that Duke will be the inferior team in many games (especially ACC road games) this year.

The second half against Clemson was eye-opening for demonstrating the weakness of this team.  Duke shot 8-32 from the field including 3-14 from behind the arc and 3-6 from the line.  Duke shot only 6 free throws after the intermission (8-9 in the first half).  On the other hand, the Tigers were 14-27 (2-4 from 3) in the second half.  Duke was simply pounded on the boards (47 to 26).  There were 28 rebounds off Duke’s defensive boards for the game; Clemson corralled half (14).  Clemson shot twice as many free throws as Duke, in spite of missing the front end of several one and ones.  Remember when Duke used to make more free throws than the other team shot?  Quinn Cook was destroyed defensively as has not happened this season.  He played the full 40 minutes and scored only 8 points (in fairness, he had 7 assists and 3 steals, but he was clearly outplayed on both ends of the court).  Parker had a dismal second half (5 points) — after a 10 point first half, and was badly beaten on the boards and when defending the interior.  Hood carried Duke with 20 points, but garnered only 1 rebound in 33 minutes.  Jefferson had a quiet second half with only 2 boards and 2 points, after a creditable first half (for the game 7 points and 6 boards in 27 minutes).

To give an idea of how thoroughly Duke’s perimeter was destroyed, look at the fouls committed by Duke’s back court.  Thornton fouled out in 23 minutes.  Rasheed committed 4 fouls in the 12 minutes that Coach K had him on the floor.  He was awful.  Cook committed 4 fouls and Dawkins committed 3 in his 20 minutes.

Marshall never left the bench (even when Duke was being manhandled and overwhelmed underneath the basket).  Semi played a minute, and Jones 3.  Hairston logged only 8 minutes.  Coach K does not have much confidence in the far end of his bench.

Duke did go to a zone with a bit more than 2 minutes left in the first half.  It seemed effective for a couple of possessions before KJ McDaniel hit a 3 from the corner (bad zone defense, which left him wide open), causing Coach K to pull the plug on the zone.

After this depressing analysis, it should be remembered that this is still about fun with college sports and our alma mater.  The season will continue to be interesting, even if Duke is not a contender for national or conference honors.  After 6 years in the top 10 in the polls, Duke may not (should not) be in the top 25 at all.  We are back to my undergraduate days where Duke’s football team was clearly better than the basketball team (Sonny Jürgen son was the QB in my freshman year).  But, Duke does have a Hall of Fame coach who has pulled a rabbit or two out of his hat before.   The quick turnaround game against Virginia (Monday) may tell some tale.  Uva just spanked NC State yesterday. I can’t remember when Tobacco Road hoops was so down.  Carolina was thrashed by ‘Cuse; and Wake was crushed by Pitt.  UNC is 0-3 in conference play.  What a strange trip this season is turning into.

Duke 69 – Virginia 65

Some wins, like some shots, are more important than others. 2-2 in conference play is a lot different than 1-3. Another blown lead by not finishing off an opponent in the final minutes and second straight loss could have severely damaged this team’s fragile psyche. And over the weekend Duke and Coach K critics / haters were out in force on the internet and on talk radio reveling in Duke’s woes. We know historically Coach K’s  teams rarely lose two games in a row and after a listless loss, Coach usually makes  changes. Tonight K started freshman Matt Jones in place of  Sulaimon and after four minutes substituted five from the bench a la hockey—and he continued to substitute liberally. Uncharacteristically, K utilized ten players—only Hairston and Ojeleye playing less than ten minutes–  apparently, on the theory that his team was not finishing off opponents because of fatigue.

The strategy worked as Duke led the entire game, was up eight with three minutes to go and seemed to have the game well under control when Cook missed the front end of a one and one. Then, UVA made some sensational plays, the Blue Devils made critical mistakes and, suddenly, UVA was up by one with 22 seconds to go. The  game and, perhaps, the season was on the line. Then two unlikely but deserving heroes emerged as the basketball gods rewarded two tenacious competitors: Jefferson snatched an offensive rebound and falling out of bounds under the basket, threw it to Sully in the corner for a clock beating three that hit the rim, bounced straight up and fell  through the net to put Duke up two. On the other end Jefferson read a patented Virginia set play (which started the second half), skied to intercept a cross court baseline pass, lost it but got it back and was fouled. A forty per cent foul shooter, he hit the first and bricked the second long and flat on the back basket stanchion. It a takes a Cameron bounce, falls forward—ugly but in. Duke wins  69-65. There were no more deserving heroes than Sulaimon (21 points, 2 assists, 2 steals) and Jefferson (15 rebounds, 10 points, 2 assists, 2 steals), who played their best games of the season. And it was needed as collectively Parker (8), Hood (14) and Cook (7) combined for their first subpar game of the season. We have contended all season that this is a deep team and tonight proved it.

The other critical issue is that Duke teams have the reputation and mystique—starting with the 1992 Kentucky game– of winning close games by never giving up—and opponents know that and it makes them nervous. In the final minutes, the Blue Devils play confident and think “next play”. That has not been the case with this young team so, hopefully, tonight is a building block to regaining that attitude.

After the game, Coach K made some interesting and personal comments: “We haven’t been at our best since the start of conference, and I haven’t been at my best since Christmas. That’s my responsibility. We were there tonight, and we were collectively together tonight for the first time in a couple of weeks. It was my responsibility that we weren’t as much as we should have been. But today we were…I’ve had to get more observant with my team. I take responsibility, full responsibility, for those first three games. Everything is on me. Part of it is not seeing some things. And one of the things is, at times, we would get tired because we’re not as big as some teams. So getting more guys in would help. We’ve been playing hard…..Look, we’re human beings. And human beings have setbacks. Also, you don’t get a lifetime membership in the NCAA tournament, just because we’ve been in there and we’ve won it four times. And we’ve been to 11 Final Fours. You have to pay your dues every year. That’s the way it is. It’s a good club. It’s a good club, and it’s tough to get in….We’re starting to pay our dues better. The head coach is going to do a better job. We did a better job tonight. I can do better. I can do better for my team.”

Tony Bennett is a very good young coach and playing his team is like Duke playing a mirror image of itself—they play smart and tough and never give up. However, like Duke, they do not have a dominant center. So, it remains to be seen whether the Blue Devils are really back on track or that they got lucky tonight. One thing is for sure, this is a very different team than the one in the beginning of the year when Jabari Parker was wowing everyone–even his own teammates, who seemed mesmerized and lulled into passivity by his offensive talents. Interestingly enough, Parker was on the bench in the last minutes, but did you notice his face and his reaction when Sully and Jeff finished off the Cavaliers and came to the bench. This is a team guy.

Comments: 

  •  Virginia has lost at Cameron for 16 consecutive games—that is a lot of years.
  •  Sulaimon seemed much more comfortable with the offensively challenged second unit as he took it upon himself to be the aggressive leader on the on both ends of the floor.
  •  You can’t help not to pull for Amile Jefferson, who brings so much energy and enjoyment to the floor, and Rasheed Sulaimon, who plays with such  intensity, purpose and toughness.
  •  Jay Bilas was one of the announcers at the game and Jay Williams was in the studio with Seth Greenburg. All three are really, really good at analysis and giving the viewer a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the teams and what they are trying to do on the floor.
  •  Finally, observing how Coach K deals with disappointment and adversity and manages his team through a long season is a life lesson.

Alan Adds:

With over 3 minutes to go, I was feeling comfortable.  Duke had an 11 point lead at home.  I thought to myself, if anything bad happened from this point, it would be one of the worst losses ever for Duke.  With 2:55 left (after a Justin Anderson 3 on lackadaisical defense) Cook missed the front end of a 1 and 1, which, if he made them both, could have extended the Duke lead back to double digits.  When he missed, I texted Bill — “Don’t be overconfident — many bad signs”. I was prescient since Duke seemed to melt down.  Anderson tipped in an offensive rebound; Rasheed committed a foul (UVA converted); Rasheed turned it over in the open court for a UVA lay up; another UVA layup after a Parker miss (he didn’t take many “good” shots, which may explain 3-11 for only 8 points); Parker foul (UVA converted); Rasheed was fouled and made only 1-2; Thornton fouled and UVA converted both for a 1 point lead with 22 seconds to go.  Duke was then the recipient of two lucky bounces (Rasheed’s 3 and Jefferson’s second foul shot) to hold on to win.  Winning is better than losing, but a look at the second half suggests to me that this game was not that much different from Notre Dame, Ga Tech and even Clemson.

In the second half, Duke’s defense (superb in the first half) returned to being ineffective.  In the second stanza, UVA shot 15-26, including 8-17 from 3land — that means 7-9 from inside the arc.  Duke, which held a 20-14 rebounding edge in the first half was badly out rebounded in the second half 20-11.  There were 17 defensive rebounds in the first half, Duke got 14; in the second half there were 22 defensive rebounds, of which UVA got 10.  Then there is the mysterious Jabari Parker slump.  He just doesn’t seem to be the same player that opened the season with 10 straight 20+ point games.  A lot is shot selection and perhaps some overconfidence which resulted from his sensational early season.  In any event, if he doesn’t return to early season form, Duke will have a difficult time righting the ship. The Big 3 were not so effective against UVA.  Hood had 14 points, but but Jabari had only 8 and Cook only 7 (all scored in a row in the second half) and only 2 assists against 3 turnovers.  Coach K played his bench significantly more in this game.  No Duke player logged over 29 minutes (Hood and Cook, 29; Parker and Jefferson, 28 with Rasheed logging 24), and double digit minutes for others (Matt Jones, 19, Plumlee, Dawkins and Thornton, 12).  I think we will see more of Jones.  Semi made a cameo (2 minutes) and Hairston logged 7.  But the second unit played with spirit and was competitive.  This is a team (and coach) searching for a winning identity.  I believe Coach K when he accepts some responsibility; he’s had tragedy and his face showed it on TV last night.  This remains an interesting season.

Duke 95 – North Carolina State 60

In the movie “Pretty Woman” Julia Roberts goes into a store on Rodeo Drive dressed to the nines, carrying several bags of very expensive clothes from a nearby boutique and says  something to the effect of remember me, I was in here yesterday and you wouldn’t give me the time of day. “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” Well, that is what I thought today when Alan reminded me of the N.C. State players popping off to the press about taking advantage of Duke’s small front line….A piece of advice: Never give an opponent another  reason to play extra hard.

The mood and feeling and intensity of the afternoon was captured best by veteran columnist Ed Hardin. Here is my edited version of his observations:

Krzyzewski came sliding out onto the floor on his knees, slapping the court in anger….he got up slowly. Coach K’s hair isn’t quite as dark as it was and this basketball team isn’t as dominant as some he has had. But for one day, it felt like old times. Maybe the maestro can’t move like he used to, but that doesn’t mean he still won’t demand it of his players now, every single one of them, all day long.

Duke has been a different team the last two games. Beside playing more players, giving a breather to the starters, pressing all over the court (which covers their half-court defense weakness), and wearing down an opponent, here are the other differences I see:

  1. Parker is much more effective, creative, and rested  playing his natural position, forward rather than center. He also realized teams have scouted him and utilized the effective Notre Dame defensive book on him and he needed to make adjustments.
  2. Jefferson has improved dramatically on both ends of the floor and playing to his potential, which allows a). A 40% free throw shooter, he was even was 3-3 from the line.
  3. Sulaimon knows his role with the second unit—he is the first scoring option. Then, when he is with the first unit, he is a much more confident player and has made himself into a physical, attacking,  and effective hybrid scoring/point guard (13 points & 6 assists). On his drives, he takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
  4. Defense was (and is) the key for this team’s success. The game is a just a lot easier when the Blue Devils can utilize their athleticism and speed to score points rather than run half court sets against bigger opponents. However, keep in mind that although the Wolfpack beat Notre Dame, they have an inexperienced back court, a short bench, and has lost three games by thirty points. Further, as we painfully know from the last few years, when an opponent can break this pressing defense, the easy offense goes the other way. For that reason, I still wish Coach K would have a Syracuse style zone defense as a fallback weapon.
  5. The chemistry on this team is exceptional. You can see it in how unselfish they are on fast breaks and in the open court. Uncontested threes are much easier.

Comments:

  • Duke got 33 points off turnovers and steals and outrebounded State 35-32—what say ya now  State big men!
  • In all four of their losses, the Blue Devils have allowed more than 70 points.
  • There was just one full-scale line change (five new players), which came in the game’s opening minutes. However, nine players played at least ten minutes.
  • Question: Semi Ojeleye, the Parade 2013 National Player-of-the-year,  is the best athlete on the team, has an exceptional touch, and is a good student. Why doesn’t he get more playing time?
  • It was Krzyzewski’s 200th career ACC win at Cameron and his 898th overall at Duke, putting the NCAA men’s career coaching wins leader two shy of joining Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim with at least 900 wins at one school.
  • George H.W. Bush, the 41st president who at 89 rarely travels, was in attendance to recognize Krzyzewski for his ”personal commitment and leadership” in work to fight cancer.
  • N.C. State has not beaten a K coached team since 1988 (a 1995 win came while Krzyzewski was on medical leave).
  • Sophomore T.J Warren is a very gifted offensive player with an NBA body.
  • Kendell Marshall (19  points, 14 assists) and Ryan Kelly (20 points) were key players in the Lakers win over the Celtics last night.

Duke 67- Miami 46

A very popular television show back in the day of a more innocent era was Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things”. Well, so do basketball coaches. Miami coach Jim Larrañaga actually told his players on national TV that LeBron James and Dwayne Wade were rumored to be coming and it was a great credit to this Miami program and this team that they would want to see them play. I guess the fact that The Hurricanes were playing Olympic Coach K’s Duke team featuring the highly publicized Jabari Parker was merely incidental. The only reason the Heat players would come to watch Miami play is if they were suffering from insomnia and wanted to fall asleep. The ‘Cane’s style of play sets basketball back about sixty years and scored all of 46 points. Hey, I scored 34 points for Camp Sebago in Maine Inter-Camp  play— a 32 minute game without the benefit of a three point line. Alan will figure out how many points a minute that is in his stats segment.

In all seriousness, this was another building block win for the Blue Devils against a team that almost out zoned Syracuse. Duke was patient and methodical on offense against the Miami zone, defended well, and rebounded exceptionally well (36-25).

Parker demonstrated his exceptional instincts by flashing all over the floor on both ends—his best defensive game of the year. Amile Jefferson (8 pts., 6 rebs, 3 blks, 1 steal) was my co-MVP. His stats do not do justice to how disruptive he was on defense and active her was on offense. You can see his confidence growing and talents showing–same as with Sulaimon. Rodney Hood (the anti-Sherman) was smoothly efficient—especially on defense. Only Quinn Cook  had a sub-par game. No need for Parker, Hood, and Cook to do all the scoring. This young ten deep team is coming together rather nicely.

And, oh yes, need I remind everyone that Miami upset Duke here last year when the Blue Devils were ranked number 1 and that an opponent rarely beats Coach K two times in a row.

Comments:

  • Marshall Plumlee is taking advantage of his recent playing time by being a big, physical defensive presence for the second unit.
  • In addition to James and Wade, Kobe Bryant, Shane Battier, and Ryan Kelly were also in attendance. Kelly brought his Lakers teammate, former UNC point guard Kendall Marshall. James wrote on Instagram during the game he was there to “see Coach K and the young boy Jabari Parker.” 

Alan Adds:

Camp Sebago!  I thought we were serious analysts of Duke’s hoop efforts before Bill alludes to his legendary performance so long ago that no one else can verify it.  Of course, (as mentioned once before) exaggeration for emphasis is a legitimate literary device.  While Miami is surely offensively challenged (and plays a style mandated by its personnel), I believe the Duke defense earned a heap of credit for Miami’s low point production.  It’s the best team defense that Duke has played all year; I do think that using a longer bench has allowed the players on the court to expend more energy on defense.  Duke shot terribly in the first half (4-16 from long range) before enjoying a more fruitful second half (4-9 from 3land).  What helped Duke move out to its 12 point half time lead was — hold on to your chairs — Duke’s domination of the boards.  14 of Duke’s first 17 points came after offensive rebounds.  For the game Duke had 22 second chance points (7 for Miami) and out rebounded the ‘Canes by 42 to 28 overall (15 to 9 on the offensive glass).  Jabari was quite amazing in his 32 minutes, with a double double of 17 points (7-8 from the free throw line — an important stat for him and Duke); 15 rebounds to go along with 3 blocks while committing only 1 foul.  He did have 4 turnovers without an assist (as Coach K says, he still has room to grow).

Rodney Hood and Amile were very effective, each also playing 32 minutes.  Hood is really efficient, a team player, and more valuable than meets the eye.  Consider: 12 points on only 8 shots; 6 key defensive rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals without a turnover (and committing only 1 foul).  Jefferson earned Bill’s vote as co-MVP (if not co-MVP; at least most improved during the season) with a superb effort on the interior.  He seemed even more effective than his stat line.  He committed only 2 fouls, only 1 turnover, and seemed to be much too quick for Miami’s larger front line.  Duke won on the interior.  Marshall backed up with 7 valuable minutes that include 2 tough boards, a block and some nifty defense.  Hairston committed 4 fouls in his 8 minutes (a basket and a rebound).  Semi got in for only the last minute of the game.

Quinn had a really good first half (3-5 for 8 points with 2 assists); followed by some head-scratching miscues in the second half (failed to score), including the dumb flagrant 1 foul.  He is not playing the heavy minutes now that he has for most of the year (26 last night).  Sulaimon logged 23 excellent minutes and seems to be all the way back to being the efficient and reliable player he was last year (9 points on 6 shots with 4 assists; only 1 turnover and committing only one foul).  There was help in the backcourt.  Matt Jones started and played 16 minutes (5 points; 2 boards and some excellent defense while committing a single foul); Thornton logged 13 minutes (a board, an assist and a steal while committing only 1 foul; 0-1 from the field); and Dawkins (2-6 from 3land for 6 points) not only hit 2 timely 3s, but also had 3 steals in his (only) 10 minutes.

It was a long way from a completely polished Duke performance; there seemed to be many mistakes and a lot of almost great plays.  Nevertheless, it was a performance that stamps Duke as a contender in the ACC.  There is a spate of tough games coming up that will illuminate whether or not Duke actually is a contender for conference (and perhaps National) honors.  Fla. St visits Cameron on Saturday at noon (ESPN) before Duke travels to Pitt next Monday (ESPN at 7) and then at Syracuse on Saturday, Feb 1 (ESPN at 6:30).  Next Play

Duke 80 –  Pittsburgh 65

You know a team is on a roll when the center (14 pts, 10 rebs,2 assists & blks) makes plays like a point guard from the top of the key…when a backup guard scores 20 points in 14 minutes…when your defense holds an opponent to 41% shooting… when you finish off an opponent in front of their stunned students and fans like a top team should–but most of all, when you beat a good team on the road. As recently as a few weeks ago, Duke wasn’t able to win on the road against Notre Dame or Clemson. Tonight, against a far better team with a record 12,944 rabid  fans in attendance, the Blue Devils played their best basketball. Defense was the key. Anyone remember the Vermont game?

The Blue Devils demonstrated how lethal they can be when they  play shut down defense and when the offense is hitting on all cylinders. Most team can neutralize one player but Duke has six players who can drop twenty some points on an opponent on any night. All you need is half of them to do that and get fifteen points or so from the other seven rotation players and you score enough points to win most games—if you play decent defense. However, Cook must stay healthy for this team to play at their best.

As always, these recent performances do not take into account injuries, illnesses, girlfriend troubles, academic issues, weather, travel, exams or any of the other myriad factors that can play into a college athlete’s performance. But they do offer a reason not to believe the Blue Devils are developing into the contender we thought they would be..

Additional comments:

  • After the game, chants of “Dre all day” celebrating Andre Dawkins play were heard from the Duke locker room. These guys really like each other and pull for each other.
  • Rodney Hood’s defense on Lamar Paterson (4-14) was the lynchpin of the defensive effort while Parker, Jefferson, and Plumlee cleaned up the boards.
  • Plumlee’s physical presence, strength, and athleticism makes good things happen in the paint and under the boards on both ends of the floor.
  • Parker is not getting the calls most premier players get– and the refs haven’t been doing Sulaimon any favors either.
  • Duke is the biggest draw in college basketball. This week they will break attendance records at both Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center and Syracuse’s Carrier Dome.

Alan Adds:

NC State will probably be seeking credit for this amazing Duke performance against Pittsburg.  Consider the pre-game woofing that State players did, demeaning Duke’s front court and promising to win the game by attacking it.  Ok, that backfired “more than somewhat” as Duke beat the Wolfpack black and blue on the interior.  But that was not a formidable NC State team.  Pitt, on the other hand, was 18-1, has a raft of large skilled front court players, (not to mention some skilled guards as well), and, as a team, cannot be defined as other than formidable.  This was simply a great college basketball game between two teams that played the game “the right way”.  There were possessions in the beginning of the second half where Duke converted on 7 of 9 trips down the floor while Pitt was successful on 6 of 8; yet the defense was terrific.

The quality of play by both teams was extraordinary, but in the end the Duke front court overwhelmed the Panthers.  Yes, that same front court that the Wolfpack chose to denigrate was simply awesome against Pitt.  My highly-praised, unsung hero, Jabari, is all over the defensive court (just a couple of understandable mistakes) and is rebounding like a demon against bigger players.  Not only did Jabari score 21 points on 19 shots in 35 minutes (16 points on 13 shots in the first half to give Duke a small half time lead even as the Devils were outplayed by Pitt), but he pulled down 11 rebounds to go with an assist, a steal and a block.  Coach K says he is the most talented player on the team, but Rodney Hood is playing the best of anyone.  And so he is.  In a game high 35 minutes, he scored 13 points on 10 shots (3-7 from behind the arc; and they were clutch) to go with 4 assists, 3 boards and a steal.  Moreover he played tough gritty defense against Pitt’s leading scorer, disrupting Pitt’s offense.  Those two guys have been doing it for Duke all year on offense, but now their defense is catching up with the rest of their game.  However, the largest improvement for Duke comes from the play at the center position.

Jefferson has been becoming, and now maybe we can say “is”, a force.  He has developed into a major league rebounder (10 in only 27 minutes; he had 4 fouls by game’s end) and was efficient on offense (5-5 from the floor and 4-5 from the line for 14 points.  He also played a great floor game (2 assists with 0 turnovers) on both ends (2 blocks and a steal).  While foul trouble may have limited Jefferson’s playing time, Duke still had the answer when Jefferson was on the bench; that answer was Marshall Plumlee.  Don’t look now, but he is becoming a force.  He had 4 board in 12 minutes to go with an assist and a block.  He brings energy and toughness, and is earning Coach K’s trust resulting in more playing time.  Pitt has an established reputation as a tough rebounding team; Duke won the battle of the boards.  Thank you NC State!

While the front court played consistently well, the backcourt didn’t really get going until the second half; then Duke became awesome.  Aside from Dawkins 2-2 from behind the arc in the first half, the guards did not play well.  Cook did not start (ankle problem), but played 27 minutes.  In the first half, he had a basket, an assist, a rebound and a turnover.  In the second half he scored 7, added 5 key assists to go with 2 more boards.  He re-established the back court.  In the first half, Duke had 6 assists against 5 turnovers; in the second half Duke had 12 assists against 2 turnovers (19 assists on 28 field goals is pretty good).  Sulaimon had 4 assists and played superbly — especially on defense — in his 27 minutes, even though he shot poorly (1-7, though the 1 was a crucial 3).  Oh yes, Andre Dawkins logged a few minutes in this game (15 says ESPN).  Actually he won the game for Duke and broke Pitt’s will.  He was 6-7 from behind the arc; and 1-2 from inside for 20 points in his 15 minutes.  But even more important was when he scored.

This was Duke basketball, as we have come to know it in the Coach K era: Tenacious defense; efficient offense, plus poise and skill at winning time in close games.  With 9:41 left in the game, Duke was clinging to a 1 point lead.  The defensive pressure increased and Duke held Pitt scoreless for almost 5 minutes (Pitt’s next field goal came with 5:49 left and cut Duke’s 13 point lead to 11.  In that stretch, Dawkins contributed a tip-in (of his own missed shot), and 2 3 pointers (both assisted by Cook), while Cook hit his only 3 (assisted by Jefferson, who also was 1-2 from the line in that section of the game).  From there to the end, Duke kept Pitt at bay with efficient offense created by sharing the ball.  Dawkins hit two more 3s (one assisted by Cook and one by Hood), Jefferson, assisted by Cook, hit a layup and converted the free throw for a 3 point play.  Cook made a layup, and Jabari and Cook shot free throws to seal the win.  It was a superb effort all around; easily Duke’s best performance of the year.  Matt Jones played only 6 minutes; Hairston 4 and Semi never left the bench.  The rotation was effectively 8;Tyler played 14 important minutes.  His value does not always show up in the box score.

On Saturday (6:30) there is a game in upstate New York that seems to be attracting some interest.  I might catch that one.

Note: I inadvertently sent the abridged version of Laura’s story on Jabari. Here is the unabridged version:

Duke phenom Jabari Parker has humble alter ego

By Laura Keeley

When the best basketball player at Duke isn’t on the court, he likes to be in his dorm room, watching cartoons. He’s had the same best friend since grade school, and the biggest party they ever attended was a Bar Mitzvah. His mom would occasionally take him and his siblings to the thrift store, where they could learn the value of a dollar and develop a personal sense of style.

Jabari Parker, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound son of a former NBA player, isn’t like most people his age – there are only a handful of freshmen being considered for the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft. But he’s not like other young, elite basketball players, either. Those close to him attribute that in part to his Mormon faith, which Parker calls his base and foundation. His parents, Sonny and Lola, stressed to him that to whom much is given, much is required. On the court, he plays like a man among boys. Off the court, his roommate and teammate, Matt Jones, describes him as a big kid.

In interviews, Parker is quick to deflect attention away from himself and toward the team. Many of his closest relationships have nothing to do with basketball, and he puts aside his fame to connect with people. The mix of youth, wisdom and elite basketball gifts make it hard to define Parker.

“I would say I’m definitely not a person that stays complacent,” he said. “I don’t want to say that I’m necessarily a person that is good, but I’m in the midst of trying to be a good person. I have a lot to improve. Obviously, I’m not perfect, but I just try to do my best everyday, on the court and off the court, just being a good guy and good teammate.”

Basketball is just part of Parker’s life.

“That is what I do, but that’s not who I am,” he said when asked about basketball. “More importantly, it’s the image and the person that you want people to perceive you as. You deal with basketball only some parts of the day. It’s your job to make yourself noticeable in the right ways.”

This year, Parker has been noticed plenty. That’s not new – as the first freshman to play varsity for Chicago prep powerhouse Simeon Career Academy, Parker has had a high-profile for years. The college basketball world followed along as he scored at least 20 points in his first seven games, then had just seven at Notre Dame. Until a 23-point performance four games later against N.C. State and a double-double at Miami, he hadn’t quite regained the scoring production that seemed to come so naturally during the nonconference schedule.

Parker, who is from the South Side of Chicago, is not surprised by all the media attention. He doesn’t appear to be fazed by it, either. He says it’s about what he expected, as his dad, a former NCAA and NBA player, helped prepare him. So did one of the more famous Duke alums: Grant Hill. The two met over fall break at Duke Elevate, a four-day trip to New York organized by Mike Krzyzewski that mixed a few basketball practices with cultural experiences like seeing a Broadway show and visiting West Point.

“When we met at Duke Elevate, he was telling me how it went down,” Parker said of Hill.

That trip was what he mentioned first when thinking back to favorite memories from his first semester. School has made a big impression on Parker, too.

IN THE CLASSROOM

The ability to keep a low profile on campus, Parker says, was part of Duke’s appeal, part of the reason he’s here instead of the other schools that recruited him. His mom said there is a plan in place for him to graduate, regardless of how long he is actually on campus. But while he is at Duke, Parker feels like he can do something that’s impossible when he’s playing basketball: blend in.

“That was one of the main reasons that I came here is because I get my space,” he said. “My name is not as important as another person because they’re just as important in their field. Who am I to them? That’s the kind of attitude that I have because everybody is unique, and you will run into future corporate CEOs here.”

His favorite class last semester was a cultural anthropology course called, “Music as Mirror, Mediator and Prophet.” The professor, Ingrid Bianca Byerly, says the class investigates the role of music in societies.

Byerly, who is teaching at sea this semester, gave her thoughts over a series of emails. She says she is a fan of Duke basketball, though not an avid one. As a graduate student who arrived from South Africa in 1990, she attended games during her six years of school. But she does not follow recruiting, so when Parker showed up on the first day of class, she didn’t know who he was.

“I had NO idea who was walking into my class on the first day of the semester, because he absolutely does not have an attitude,” she wrote. “In fact it was only after a few classes that I realized who Jabari was – and that was really only after someone asked me what it was like to have a ‘superstar’ in my class.”

Byerly said Parker was quiet and diligent, with a sense of humor, always thinking, often amused. When she asked students early in the semester to reflect on experiences in their lives that led them to her class, Parker went first. His classmates followed his lead.

The course ended with Byerly bringing her Nepalese walking-meditation bell, to show how difficult it is to produce a series of clear rings while doing a slow, focused walking-meditation. Parker, who moves so quickly and swiftly up and down the basketball floor, slowed down, way down, in attempts to sync his steps with the rings.

“Very wise for one so young,” Byerly wrote. “A philosopher’s soul in an athlete’s body.”

Byerly will most remember Parker as the ultimate “parable-man.” Never had she seen a student think so often in parables, using them to analyze readings and abstract ideas. Parker thinks in stories, she said, using them to teach and learn.

That’s a habit that can be traced back to his religion.

WITH THE CHURCH

Like nearly all Mormon men active in the church, Parker is a priest, and he spent about two years during high school as a home teacher, making monthly visits to a group of families in the congregation. For these visits, he was paired with his bishop, Joe Cannon.

“And we would teach them a little lesson or share with them experiences that we’ve had and hear experiences that they have had and ask them if there was anything that we could do to help out,” Cannon said. “He was a young kid and sort of learning how to interact with people like that. He was very, very supportive and helpful and would always share one or two things, his insights about whatever we were talking about.”

Cannon has known Parker since he was in grade school, but it wasn’t until high school that he realized the extent of his basketball talent. Many of the people Parker visited had no idea, either.

There was the time they went to a nursing home during the winter holidays, where an elderly woman wanted to hear Christmas carols.

“I’ll be honest; I don’t sing very well. Jabari sings a little bit worse than I do,” Cannon said. “So it would have been very easy for him to say, ‘you know, I’m really not comfortable doing it.’ But as a 15- or 16-year old, he said, okay, let’s do this. And it was great. She loved us for doing that, and he was rewarded for having done it.”

Some of Parker’s favorite visits were to families with young children, and he would sit on the ground and play with them. That’s also what he would do when visiting Cannon’s house for dinner.

“Anything that my kids wanted to talk to him about, a game that they were playing or something that they were doing in school or a TV show that they watched or a video online, he would love to chat about that sort of stuff,” Cannon said. “He was always just a super great friend to my kids and not like a pro basketball player.”

When Cannon was in a serious bike accident during Parker’s senior year and had to have brain surgery, Parker visited him several times in the hospital, bringing the sacrament, the bread and water. Cannon doesn’t remember this – there is a gap of about 10 days in his memory after the accident – but he is proud of his student.

“He does things that I don’t necessarily expect from him or any kid who has the possibilities that he has,” Cannon said. “But I’m always pleased how supportive he is and how much he cares about others.”

OFF THE COURT

Parker tends to be thoughtful, something his high school coach, Robert Smith, noticed right away. It was small things, like staying after varsity games to be the water boy for the sophomore game, or bringing the coach’s wife and daughter small gifts at Christmas his freshman year. As the first freshman to play for Simeon’s varsity team – even the school’s most famous alum, NBA star Derrick Rose, played on the sophomore team – Parker wanted to pay his dues.

“There were times when he was a freshman when he would say, can you be a little bit harder on me than everyone else; I don’t want them to think you gave me anything,” Smith said. “Little things like that.”

Parker grew up around the game – his dad started a youth foundation that included basketball leagues for inner-city kids in Chicago after retiring from the NBA. His mother noticed her son’s extraordinary basketball abilities by the time he was in second grade. When he arrived at Simeon, he was a prodigy.

But he was also a 14-year-old boy.

Early in his freshman season, Parker’s dad picked him up from practice and took him trick-or-treating. During a team camp at Illinois, Smith noticed Parker blowing bubbles in his water.

“I’m looking at him like, he shouldn’t be doing that, but I had to realize that he was only 14,” Smith said. “I had to get some of those things to realize that he was still a kid. You wouldn’t know that when he stepped between these lines, but he still did kid things.

“A lot of these kids have to grow up fast and be so much older, they lose these great days, these childhood days. They lose them because they have to do so much. But he didn’t let that affect him; he was still able to be a child, which was good.”

‘LOW-KEY KID’

Parker still is a kid, according to Jones, his roommate.

“He is very low maintenance,” Jones said. “JP, somebody of Jabari’s stature, you would think that he would want more stuff. But, honestly, he just wants to watch Netflix and be in his room all day.

“He’s probably on the Disney channel,” Jones said. “I just know he’s a big kid. Anything cartoon, Disney-channel affiliated, he’s probably watching it.”

The low-key Parker’s best friend since grade school, Cory Dolins, is a 6-foot, 182-pound sophomore walk-on at DePaul. They met when Parker was in fifth grade, and Dolins in sixth, while playing at Joy of the Game, a gym located in Deerfield, a northern Chicago suburb.

Parker commuted from the South side of the city, while Dolins lived close by. Sometimes Parker would spend the night, and a friendship began, one that would grow stronger despite the fact that they never attended the same schools.

“Personally and socially, he’s been the same,” Dolins said. “Same values. He hasn’t really changed, and that’s always good.”

“We have a lot of similarities that a lot of people don’t see,” Parker said, alluding to their differences (Parker is black, Mormon and from the city; Dolins is white, Jewish and from the suburbs). “We’re both conservative, somebody that wants to give up their time to help others and make other people happy. Yeah, that’s my guy.”

Dolins came to visit Parker at Duke early in the fall, before both of their seasons started in earnest. They hung out, saw a movie. Nothing fancy. Just their style.

“I treat him as another person, as a best friend and not as a basketball player,” Dolins said.

And that’s all Parker wants, just to be Jabari, more than just a basketball player.

“Like my mom told me, people are not going to remember you necessarily for your talent and your skills,” Parker said. “Life moves on. What’s more important is the person that you are, and that’s what sticks into people’s minds.”

Duke 89 –  Syracuse 91

What a great  game! The shootout at the S.C. Corral … the basketball version of a Ali-Frazier fifteen round fight… …Syracuse wins but the Duke mystique lives. It was so good, even Dick Vitale was briefly speechless.

Enough of the hyperbole, let’s go to the post mortem. Duke had no defensive answers for C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, who combined for 52 points and 17 rebounds; or center Rakeem Christmas, who had 10 boards and 6 blocked shots; or Tyler Ennis, who had 14 points and 9 assists; or even Trevor Cooney, who had 14 points on only 8 shots. Despite all that, free throws determined the game—Syracuse shot 15 more free throws and hit a terrific 26-32, Duke a not so terrific 12-17. The Orange men attacked and got to the line and Duke basically countered with 15-36 threes.

Despite all that, the game might have been determined by three calls (Alan and Coach K; “This game is too good to talk about one play,” object to the following comments.) OK, I’ll talk about three plays: The obvious foul on Hoods dunk attempt (note to Rodney: love your game but two hands next time), down one with :15 seconds to go. But just as important was the fifth foul on Parker’s layup that could have gone either offensive, defensive, or (preferably) no call; and Jefferson’s fourth hip touch foul. I will say it again: Parker does not get the referee respect usually given players of his caliber and impact. Tradition has it that a referee does not foul out a star player in the final minutes of a big game on a questionable call. However, to his credit, Jabari does not sulk, he just plays harder on defense—and did you catch his bench involvement in the game after fouling out. He is a no diva, he is a terrific teammate.

The good news is that Syracuse will be ranked number 1 in the polls this week and in their hearts, the ‘Cuse players will know that Duke is number 1A with a bullet and that Parker, Hood, Jefferson, Sulaimon, Dawkins, and Thornton will be better, tougher players for the rest of the season.

Other comments:

  • I still contend that a zone defense should be in the Duke tool belt in situations like tonight when your man- to- man is being abused and in situations like the overtime when you are forced to play four guards and a forward.
  • Duke demonstrated how to attack the Syracuse zone—get the ball into the high post. The next time (three weeks) look for Parker and Jefferson to switch positions. Parker in the high post is much more versatile and lethal with more room to operate and Jefferson is better down low.
  • While after the game, Krzyzewski said: “This game is too good to talk about one play,” during the game, it was another story. He spent a lot of time protesting  no-calls, one of the themes of the night. Coach K was out on the court, hands on hips, outraged at the offensive foul that ended Parker’s night in the second half and slapped his arm toward the refs after the Hood dunk. And assistants Jeff Capel and Steve Wojciechowski lost it over Jefferson’s fifth foul, which was away from the ball.
  • Either Cook is injured or he is in a slump.
  • “Great rivalries don’t have to be built on hatred,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’re built on respect, on a respect for excellence.”

Alan Adds:

The Syracuse coach put it best.  Boeheim said “there have been many great games in the Carrier Dome, but none were as good as this one.”  It became an ESPN instant classic.  If it wasn’t the best regular season college game that I’ve ever seen, it was at least tied for that title.  This was an overtime game that came down to the last shot; 45 minutes of unbelievable non-stop competitive intensity by both teams; two very good teams, each playing their absolutely best basketball of the year; in short, a game played at the very highest level the sport has to offer.  For me, the game was analogous to the Kentucky East Regional championship game in ’92 (Laettner’s “The Shot”).  After Sean Woods’s basket gave Kentucky the one point lead with 2.3 seconds to go, my friend turned to me and said, “You must be crushed.”  I replied, “Are you kidding?  We are watching one of the greatest games ever played; you can’t be sad no matter the outcome.”  I had the same feeling watching the Syracuse game last night.  In ’92 Laettner’s shot went in; last night, Cook’s didn’t.  From the Duke perspective, it is hard to be even slightly deflated from this heartbreaking loss.  Here’s why:

First, Duke played its best game of the season, demonstrating amazing patience and skill on offense, while displaying the heart of lions.  Even Duke haters had to admire the way Duke fought back through adversity and desperate foul trouble.  Coach K was at a loss for words in his press conference to describe how proud he was of the Duke effort.  He was particularly eloquent about the Hood attempted dunk with 15 seconds left in the overtime while Duke trailed by a point.  First, even though the replay showed an obvious foul that was not called, Coach K refused to discuss the ref’s call (“it would have been nice to get the dunk or the foul attempts, but Syracuse would still have had a chance to win the game.”), instead concentrating on what a gorgeous gutty go-for-the-win Hood’s driving dunk was.  “That was a big-time play.”  And so it was.  With Parker, Jefferson and Dawkins on the bench, and with his own 4 fouls, Hood went for the spectacular play.  Duke’s heart will never be in question again this year.

Second, the Duke offense was quite wonderful and punctured the Syracuse legendary zone defense (scoring 78 points in regulation, including 43 in the second half) with 20 assists on 31 field goals (15 – 35 from behind the arc).  Everyone contributed.  Parker had a rough first half (only 4 points on 2-8 shooting), and had his second half curtailed by foul trouble (played only 26 minutes before fouling out); yet he was a force on offense and in effort (stealing the ball from Ennis from behind after he had been blocked at the rim).  He finished with 15 points (11 in the second half in not that many minutes), 9 boards, a nifty assist and 2 steals.  His enthusiasm on the bench, after fouling out, was a quick picture of this team’s chemistry.  Hood played 43 minutes scoring 14 on 11 shots with 4 boards.  He is such a solid player and getting better and more confidence in each game.  Jefferson played 28 minutes before fouling out and was a force.  Consider he had 5 assists to go with his 14 points (9 in the first half, including Duke’s first 5), 7 boards and a steal.  He continues to grow into a quality ACC big man.  Plumlee contributed 10 efficient minutes (2 boards and an assist), but could not contribute defensively (Coach K playing offense-defense with Marshall and Dawkins) in the overtime, when it really would have helped.  Hairston played less than a minute (a turnover).  Duke got great play from its back court (with only one unfortunate exception).  Cook led by playing 40 minutes, controlled the offense handing out 5 assists without a single turnover; but his poor shooting was an Achilles heel for Duke.  Cook was 2-12 including 1-8 from behind the arc, scoring only 7 points.  Rasheed was the Duke star of stars logging 33 minutes, dishing out a team high 6 assists, and scoring 16 on 8 shots (4-7 from behind the arc; oh yes, a couple were pretty clutch; but only 4-7 from the stripe).  Dawkins played 28 minutes before fouling out with 14 points on 11 shots (4-9 from 3land) and 3 boards.  Thornton played 17 minutes and hit those 3 big 3 pointers in a row to rescue Duke from oblivion.  Matt Jones played under a minute.

Third, Duke showed amazing energy for all 45 minutes.  Duke took 18 more shots from the field than Syracuse and pulled down 18 offensive boards.  Duke got contributions from 8 players.  The players on both teams really put on a show!

However, as good as Duke was on offense, Syracuse was just as good in its offense.  As Bill points out, Duke simply had no defensive answers.  How much was Syracuse’s superb offense, and how much was Duke’s defensive deficiency is hard to say.  Duke was definitely not deficient in effort, however Boeheim made a very telling point in his press conference about Duke’s man to man defense.  Duke went to a zone defense at one point in the second half when Gbinije came in for Cooney (Syracuse’s best long range shooter), and it was effective.  Boeheim said he didn’t want Syracuse to have to play against the zone, and he said he “knew” Duke would go back to its man to man defense when Cooney came back in.  So Boeheim sent Cooney right back into the game, and Duke immediately went back to its man to man defense.  But, why did Boeheim want to keep Duke playing its familiar man to man rather than its only-sporadically-used zone?  The answer seem to have been that Syracuse could penetrate the Duke man to man defense at will, which forced Duke into committing bad fouls.  After committing 9 fouls in the first half, the Devils were whistled for 16 in the second half.  Foul trouble bit the Devils hard, but the cause was not how the refs called the game, but rather in Duke’s inability to contain penetration.  With 7:11 to go in the first half, and leading by 2, Duke gave up points to Syracuse on 10 of the last 11 possessions of the first half.  After Parker picked up his 4th foul with 10:45 to go in the game, Syracuse scored on 8 of the next 9 possessions.  In the overtime, only missed foul shots stopped Syracuse from scoring.  Future games will tell whether Duke’s defensive resurgence, which culminated in a spectacular performance against Pittsburg last Monday, will continue or was a mirage.  It might be remembered that The Orange visit Cameron in 3 weeks.  Nothing from last night will have dulled the enthusiasm for the rematch.

This was an emotional game.  It will be interesting to see how each team responds in the next game — Duke plays Wake on Tuesday late.  This game was indeed one for the ages.

Duke – Wake Forest

For about fifteen minutes Wake Forest, a mediocre ACC team minus their best player, put on a clinic on how to attack Duke before the Blue Devils went on a 20-5 run to end the first half. Up until then, Sulaimon and Dawkins were about the entire offense. After that, Duke’s defense stiffened and the offense got in gear.

I am driving to Orlando tomorrow @ 9.

With Quinn Cook in a slump, Thornton started but Sulaimon really played the point. Sully plays offense like the Seattle Seahawks defensive backs play defense. And when he and Plumlee are on the floor at the same time, Duke is has a much more formidable physical presence. When MP3 sets a high pick, he creates space for a three. He should get an assist for the threes at the top of the key. Unless Cook gets a confidence transplant, Coach is going to have to figure something out, because as much as we like Thornton, he is not a Final Four starting point of shooting guard. Sulaimon and Dawkins, who is no longer a defensive liability, are the most lethal duo.

Other comments:

  • It may be that the thought of Tyus Jones, the highly rated point guard who will be a freshman next year, is affecting Cook’s play. Or it may be Sulaimon’s emergence as a more effective penetrator.  Sully said he  started working at the point when he wasn’t playing much and was with the second team and that everything happens for a reason.
  • Someone please tell me why Ojeleye doesn’t get more playing time.
  • The Deacons (14-9, 4-6) haven’t won at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1997 and haven’t beat Duke at all since 2009, losing eight straight.
  • Last night Syracuse only beat Notre Dame 61-55. Jerami Grant and Fair, who combined for 54 points against Duke, combined for just 15, while Tyler Ennis found little room in the lane to penetrate and finished with six points and eight assists.

Duke 89- Boston College 68

Duke played a pretty good version of their Vermont Defense (get beat off the dribble and the back door, let ‘em shoot open threes) in the first half so only held a four point lead at the break. After coaches made a defensive (not picking the Eagles up as high and switching everything) and attitude adjustment  (stop standing around assuming they’re going to miss because you are Duke), the tide came in on an overmatched BC. The subsequent misses led to fast breaks off  missed shots and the game became a runaway. The good news is that Quinn Cook’s offense was back from vacation (21 pts, 3 assists). Sulaimon 6  assists ( some of which were of the “Oh, My!” variety) is really adding another dimension to his and, therefore, the teams arsenal. JP was the beneficiary of many of the passes.

Jabari Parker put on a show for the spectators and the scouts with 29 points and 16 rebounds – each career highs – in 38 minutes. Coach Krzyzewski said: “ Jabari was a monster today. He played more like a veteran tonight in that he was playing so hard, and usually we have to sub him because you get tired. This is really the first game that I’ve seen him where he’s playing so well he played through tired. It’s something that a really good player has to learn to do. You have to keep performing when you’re tired, and he did. ” All that is true, but Boston College players are not Syracuse or Kansas or even Carolina caliber. To his credit Parker (like Singler in his freshman year) has adjusted his game to the needs of the team but at this point he is neither an outstanding three point or free throw shooter. What he has is an outstanding basketball IQ, instinct, and creativity–and underrated athletic ability. How is it that Jabari, playing under the basket on defense is usually the wing man finisher on so many fast breaks?

Other comments:

Ø  Coach K’s admiring comments that Parker “played through tired. It’s something that a really good player has to learn to do. You have to keep performing when you’re tired.” It is an insight into is Army training and his core  philosophy of a short rotation, pressing man-to-man defense that wears down an opponent because they are not as mentally and physically tough as you are.

Ø  Marshall Plumlee did not play (Semi took his minutes), because he strained tendon in his knee. However, it has already improved, and he will be available against UNC.

Ø  Since the Clemson loss, Duke’s winning by an average of 17 points per game in conference.

Ø  Nick Pagliuca, son of the Celtics co-owner, got a few minutes playing time in his hometown.

Alan Adds:

The potential trap game wasn’t, setting the stage  for a big showdown with the Tarheels on Wednesday night (9:00 pm EST).  As always, how Coach K doles out the minutes and who takes shots is illuminating.  Duke basically went only 6 deep against the Eagles.  Marshall was a scratch; four players saw brief action (single digit minutes) and only 1 scored.  Dawkins played only 8 minutes missing both of his shots (1 was a 3), while getting a board and blocking a shot.  Matt Jones scored 6 points (3-3 from the field) in his 6 minutes.  The backcourt minutes were taken by the two starters — Thornton (257and Rasheed (25) — and Cook, who rediscovered his shooting touch scoring 21 in 26 minutes.  Semi played 8 minutes (0 statistics) and Hairston committed 2 fouls in his 2 minutes.

Jabari played the whole game until it was well over (38 minutes) while Hood logged 30 and Jefferson 29 minutes.  Jabari scored his 29 points on 17 shots and Coach K said it could have been more.  Jabari missed a couple of finishes on offensive rebounds and was only 5-10 from the line.  Duke was 14-20 from the stripe; the only other miss was Hood’s (1-2).  Hood logged 30 minutes, scoring 9 points on 9 shots (2-4 from 3) to go with 5 defensive rebounds, an assist, a block, but 4 turnovers.  Jefferson was efficient in his 29 minutes, pulling down 6 boards while scoring 8 points  (3-3 from the field and 2-2 from the line).  He also had an assist and a steal while committing only 1 turnover and 1 foul.  Duke commanded the boards (37-23) with Parker’s astounding 16 leading the way.  Hood, Parker and Jefferson had 27 rebounds among them.  Duke was also smooth with the ball, recording 18 assists (Thornton (6), Sulaimon 6 and Cook 3 leading the way).  Cook took 10 shots (2nd most for Duke in the game), hitting 7 (5-7 from behind the arc) as well as making both free throws.  Welcome back, Quinn.  Rasheed was only 2-8 from the field but they were both 3s (2-4) and hit all four of his foul shots for 10 points to go with his 6 assists.  He has been playing amazing ball.

Besides being Duke-Carolina, this game on the road against the fast improving ‘heels, is a serious test for Duke (and Carolina).

Duke  69 –  Maryland 67

A fitting end to a terrific, historic 176 game rivalry—and Holy Lock Down, Batman, at the end of the night, interior defense saved the game!

During the “Lefty” Driesell and Gary Williams eras no team played Duke with more determination, tenacity, grit, and emotion than Maryland—and the wins meant more to them than any other school. In truth, there were many games that match any with North Carolina. That said about the players, the fans are another story. They were like the poor, distant Yankee relatives crashing a Tobacco Road family picnic, always longing to be acknowledged and respected but, win or lose, never knowing how to behave.

As with the two losses last year, the Blue Devils had no consistent answer for Dez Wells or Mitchell, even though both were saddled with foul trouble, or even newbie Jake Layman. Duke squandered a semi-comfortable lead in the second half by missing 17 of its first 20 shots. Behind for the first times, and the game slipping away, Jabari Parker made two crucial plays: kicking a loose ball to Sulaimon for an open three and then the winning offensive play in the last minute of the game with a determined drive through traffic for an emphatic tomahawk slam, giving the Blue Devils the lead that held up thanks to two stellar defensive stands. On the two final, frenetic series, Wells was stripped, and Mitchell barely missed a hook shot that little Tyler Thornton, directly under the basket, tipped to Jefferson. Emile Jefferson with 12 rebounds, one block, several deflections, and three very timely buckets was again a critical contributor.

Duke shot terribly from the floor (18-54) with just 5 threes, and were out rebounded (38-33).  Only getting to the line shooting 28-34 and the determined defense in the last sixty seconds saved the game.

While a win is a win, the fact that this game against a talented but mediocre Maryland team came down to a teetering ball falling off the rim of beating Duke in Cameron points out the game-to-game vulnerability of this team. Yes, Hood had foul trouble all game, Cook had no assists and 3 turnovers, Dawkins was subpar, Sulaimon wasn’t finishing like he has been, and good shots were not falling, but these things must be overcome. Tonight they were—but barely. In any event, as has been pointed out many times, better coached teams with the more fundamentally sound players usually win close games—as this one and the Syracuse-N.C. State game tonight demonstrated.

  • In his press conference, Coach K said that in the final timeout, he said nothing because the players spoke first and vowed to take ownership of the final outcome. And on Maryland abandoning the ACC for the Big 10 (sic): “Over the years, those players and coaches and the teams that have shared these unforgettable moments, I don’t know what price—what it’s worth, because it won’t be replicated.”
  • Coach Mark Turgeon: “I don’t know how Charles’s shot didn’t go in. Call it the Duke gods. I don’t know what happened….“Yeah, I’m going to miss this like crazy. What a great place to come play.”
  • Cook started for Sulaimon but did not have a good game, carelessly handing out two assists to the Terps.
  • The rotation has tightened. It is a trait Coach K shares with John Wooden. In his book on Coach Wooden, Seth Davis writes that Wooden liked a seven man rotation and   always stressed to his team (whether true or not) they were in better shape than any opponent so  at the end of a game, they would win. Sound familiar?
  • In a postgame interview, Jabari Parker said that anyone who knows basketball understands what a valuable player Tyler Thornton is to this team.
  • Marshall Plumlee had more production per minute than anyone.
  • Next up, a tough week:  Georgia Tech, Carolina, Syracuse.

Alan Adds:

There is an intangible “something” about teams that consistently win dramatically close games, especially when not playing well.  I have come to call that something “integrity”, and it is closely related to how the team is coached (and really by the “integrity” of the team leader — in most cases, the coach).  Duke has perhaps the best example of leadership with integrity.  It was fully on display against Maryland yesterday in a game where Duke did not play its usual offensively efficient game against a team driven to the heights of intensity.  Yet Duke won (even while acknowledging a debt to “the Cameron gods” when Mitchell’s last attempt rolled off the rim).  By any measure, Mitchell should have scored.  He’s massively more powerful than Hood, who was guarding him with 4 fouls, yet, he faded away for a hook shot rather than powering to the hole.  The leadership of integrity making a team of integrity was fully on display in Coach K’s description (as Bill notes above) of the last time out with 1:32 to go and Duke trailing by one.  The players only spoke and committed to scoring and then to get the necessary stop.  Jabari slammed home the game winner 15 seconds later, but it was the commitment to defense that turned the tide.  Wells put Maryland ahead 67-64 with 2:50 to go, but Maryland was never able to score again.

Duke’s offense was well off the efficient form we have been watching since the Clemson game.  Duke leads the nation scoring — 122.9 for every 100 possessions.  Against Maryland, Duke scored at the rate of 1.06 per possession.  Duke has made 132 more 3 pointers than its opponents and 35 more than any other team in the country.  5-24 against Maryland was a disaster.  Thornton (0-4) and Cook (0-2) failed to connect.  Hood, Sulaimon, and Dawkins were each 1-4, while Jabari was 2-6.  Duke had only 6 assists for the entire game (against 11 turnovers).  Of course, it is hard to get assists if the shots do not fall.  But Duke was aggressive, and got to the foul line consistently, where, as Bill points out, Duke won the game.  Jabari was such a force driving, and as a result was 9-10 from the free throw line.  Hood, Sulaimon and Cook were each 4-4, and Thornton 3-4.

The concerns about Quinn Cook continue to mount.  He played only 14 minutes against Maryland, turning the ball over 3 times without an assist.  He did have 2 steals, but he was ineffective and his court time reflected that.  Rasheed logged 35 minutes off the bench, scoring 11, but was not as effective as he has been recently.  Thornton played 27 valuable minutes (but scoring only his 3 foul shots) and Dawkins logged 19, going 1-5 from the field, scoring 5 points. He was not the microwave off the bench that he has been in previous games.  The backcourt scoring that we have seen consistently disappeared against Maryland.

Duke’s concerns at center are diminishing, even though Maryland’s front line out rebounded Duke.  Jefferson took down 12 boards (5 offensive) in his 34 minutes, while scoring 7 (3-5 from the field) with a block and steal (0 turnovers and only 2 fouls).  As Bill points out, Marshall made the most of his 6 minutes (a hoop, 3 boards and a steal).  3 rebounds in 6 minutes is impressive.  Rodney was limited to 22 minutes because of his foul trouble, and scored 11 points on 10 shots with only a single rebound.  It was, of course, Jabari, who stepped into all voids leading Duke to the win.  He logged 39 minutes, scoring 23 points on 16 shots (4-10 inside the arc).  He led by getting to the free throw line and knocking them down.  He had 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal and an assist (on the crucial 3 by Sulaimon as the game was winding down).  He was a force on the defensive boards and defense, yet committed only 1 foul.  He just gets better and better, and works to what his team needs him to do.  The integrity of leadership is fully on display in Jabari’s development.

The schedule this week is daunting, especially with UNC on Thursday night and Syracuse on Saturday.   Of course, this perfectly replicates the dictates of the NCAA tournament.  In order to advance, Duke will have to win two tough games in 3 days (except maybe the first round).  So, it should be a positive experience.

Duke 68 – Georgia Tech 51

In the first half, Duke was on fire at both ends of the court. The Devils forced Tech to start their offense way out near mid court, so they were discombobulated for most of those twenty minutes. On the other end, the Blue Devils hit 7-12 threes and cruised to a 43-27 lead. Then, as in the Maryland game, in the second half their offense went cold and stale and they only scored 25 points. Here is how bad it was: deduct Sulaimon’s 6-6 and  the rest of the team shot 4-14 from the line. Fortunately, Tech is no Maryland, because they only scored 25 points in the final twenty minutes. I would like to think the Duke defense had a lot to do with the lack of Tech scoring but we will find out for sure Thursday and Saturday.

Virtually, every D-1 team has virtuoso athletes who can jump, jam, and sometimes even shoot; however, playing defense and playing together as a team is whole other story. Tech seems to be one of those teams. Running a smooth, team oriented offense appears to be a foreign language. In any event, there was a point early on that I was concerned the Blue Devils would leave their best basketball in Atlanta. Not to worry. As against Maryland, the second half was no offensive clinic as the Blue Devils did not leave forty minutes of their best offensive basketball on the floor in either of the last two games. Hopefully, they are saving a full forty minutes for each of the next two games, because they are going to need it against Carolina and Syracuse.

Although Cook did not start, he seems to be settling  down—even playing lock down defense– and making a case for more minutes. Tyler Thornton, who started at the point, is playing the best basketball of his career and is the key to a resurgent defense. He was a disruptive force all over the court, doing things that do not show up in the stat sheet and that was a major reason for the quick start. And, oh yes, he was 2 for 2 from beyond the arc.

Jabari has become a monster on the boards. Tonight, he had 14 rebounds,  3 blocks, and 1 steal to go with 16 points. The most impressive part of his game is how on any given night, he adapts his roll to what this team needs, even if it is to the detriment of his scoring.

Other comments:

  •   Raycom ACC Network televised the game, so it was not available nationally. They apparently do not use high definition cameras, so it is like watching the game with Vaseline on the lens.
  •  I know Josh Hairston, who seems to commit about a foul a minute,  is a hardworking senior and a good teammate, but isn’t Ojeleye much more talented with three more years—if he doesn’t get discouraged and transfer?

Alan Adds:

It was unquestionably Duke’s best defensive performance of the year.  Suffocating is the appropriate adjective as Duke swarmed the passing lanes, disrupted the flow of the Yellow Jacket offense with traps and double teams that moved quickly and did not give up the drive.  Duke’s porous defense against Vermont and East Carolina seems so long ago.  I believe it is the commitment of Hood and Parker to defensive excellence that is at the heart of this team defense resurgence.  And Tyler Thornton.  In his 27 minutes, Thornton dished out 5 assists (against 0 turnovers — only 1 in his last 6 games; 21 assists in that span), grabbed 3 boards and made 2 steals, while guarding the perimeter with pure ferocity.  Coach K said that the perimeter defense was the best it had been all year.  Tech shot under 40% for the game and coughed it up 13 times.  And it wasn’t just the perimeter defense, Parker (32 minutes) and Jefferson (29 minutes) are so active in the interior that Duke was in control there as well.  Parker’s 3 blocks were intimidating.  Ga Tech’s top 3 scorers were held to a total of 8 points, and the whole Tech team scored only 51 and were limited to only 8 assists..  While Hood’s offense from inside the arc has diminished, he is now defending superbly.  The combination of Sulaimon (27 minutes), Thornton and Hood (34 minutes) have stabilized Duke’s perimeter.  Cook has been an inconsistent defender, but was excellent last night in his 20 minutes (2 assists).  Simply great defense.

Duke’s offense just hummed through the 43 point first half.  In the second half, Duke lost rhythm and basically conserved its large lead, outscoring Ga Tech by only 1 (25-24).  Hood drained 3 early 3s (for his 9 first half points); he had 14 for the game on 4-6 from downtown, but only 1-10 inside the arc without even getting to the free throw line.  Parker was a 6-12 beast on the interior.  He had no 3 point attempts — a far cry from his early season offense, and very effective.  He gives what his team needs.  Sulaimon had an efficient 11; Cook 9 (1-5 from 3, but 3-3 attacking the basket).  Dawkins hit 2 of his 3 pointers in his 10 minutes (2 assists and a board for a pretty impressive 10 minutes).  While Matt Jones failed to score in his 7 minutes (0-2 from the line), he was otherwise very efficient — 3 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block.  Marshall didn’t make the stat sheet but was a presence for 8 minutes.  Hairston did commit 4 fouls in his five minutes, but also contributed an assist and a steal.

No one should be bored during the next two games.

Duke 66- North Carolina 74

Up 37-30 at the break, Duke only needed twenty more minutes of good basketball win this game. However, in the second half Carolina played as though they had consumed Red Bull at half time and Duke played as though they had taken tranquilizers, scoring  only 29 points – an anemic 11  in the last 14 1/2 minutes. Give the Tar Heel tenacity, defense, and energy all the credit. They hung in and hung in, dug in and dug in until they got even, then outplayed Duke in every aspect of the game. Getting outfought by any team—especially Carolina—is a difficult, atypical way for a Coach K team to lose.

The most disconcerting trait of this Duke team is their inability at times, whether it be Virginia, Maryland, or North Carolina, to play forty consecutive minutes  of solid basketball and decisively close out an opponent. On the road, you just cannot let a team and the crowd back in the game—especially an athletic team like UNC in Chapel Hill.

How did this happen? In the first half, Duke played very good defense, Hood, Cook, and Parker were hot, and Carolina couldn’t hit foul shots. In the second half, the roles reversed as Carolina played very good defense, throwing in an occasional 1-3-1 zone (Where was Dawkins?) that appeared to unsettle the Blue Devils as they settled for jump shots, most of which missed creating fast break opportunities. In addition, UNC relentlessly attacked the rim, getting Parker, Hood, Jefferson, Thornton, and Plumlee in foul trouble. And when the score was tied with four minutes to go, the Tar Heels had a go-to guy—Marcus Paige and Duke didn’t. End of story.

Duke’s ugly numbers were 27-63 from the field, 5-12 threes, 7-12 free throws and outrebounded 42-30 as UNC ended up 20-31 from the foul line.

Other comments:

Score the loss as another in a long list of cover jinxes for Sports Illustrated.

The cold fact is that right now Jabari Parker is just a below average college jump shooter. Lately, he is a 50% free throw shooter and when was the last time he hit a three? Teams are giving him jump shots and double teaming the drive.

For Duke to rebound and be a title contender, Quinn Cook has to play aggressively and well at both ends for major minutes. Duke is a different  team with him at the point and at his best with Tyler Thornton coming off the bench.

Marshall Plumlee had more minutes than usual and when he was on the floor, he changed the energy, complexion and physicality of the game.

Alan Adds:

I have to admit that before the game I was worried about the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.  But I pushed the jinx to the back of my mind as Duke played an excellent first half and looked very good for a significant portion of the early second half.  Then, inexplicably (or explained by the impressive Tar Heel defensive resurgence), the wheels came off.  It was eerily reminiscent of the pre-NC State game Duke team that held leads in games before withering down the stretch with inaccurate shooting and a porous defense that sent the other team to the foul line far more frequently than Duke went, while being destroyed on their own defensive backboard (see Arizona, Kansas, Vermont, East Carolina, Notre Dame and Clemson games).  The streak ended in the Virginia game, but not before Duke collapsed again down the stretch until Jefferson’s last second heroics (that could be designated as pretty lucky).  Very disappointing to see all the old weaknesses flare up in what is so far the most crucial game of the season.  UNC and Duke are now tied for third in the ACC with 4 losses; Pitt lurks right behind them with 5.

The clock struck midnight for Duke with 13:52 to go in the second half after Marshall made the first of his two free throws for a 52-43 lead.  He missed the second one.  For the next 7 minutes and 15 seconds — until the official TV time out with 6:37 to go — Duke played its worst basketball.  Quinn missed an open 3; Duke got 4 offensive rebounds on one sequence and got only 1 point (Parker’s second foul shot after missing the first); Hood missed 4 jumpers; Parker a jumper and a layup; Rasheed a jumper and Jefferson an open layup.  Duke also turned the ball over twice in that stretch (Parker and Sulaimon).  Yet after the time out, Quinn made a layup to keep Duke ahead by 4.  Quinn added another layup and a 3 pointer while Rodney finally got one to fall to maintain Duke’s 4 point lead with 5 minutes left.  Duke’s final frustrating stretch came in the next 3 minutes and 4 seconds, where Duke failed to score, giving up the lead and the game.  Quinn missed a 3; Hood missed; and with the game tied at 60, Quinn missed the front end of a 1 and 1.  When Jabari turned the ball over by committing an offensive foul with 1;56 to go, Paige sunk a terrific jumper for a 4 point Carolina lead, and Duke never got another stop.

Coach K played only 8 (neither Matt Jones, Hairston or Semi left the bench), and the team finished with 5 players with four fouls each: Thornton (limited to 20 ineffective minutes by foul trouble — only 1 missed shot from the floor, 0 assists and a turnover); Jefferson (limited to 23 ineffective minutes after picking up his third in the first half — 2 points and 3 boards); Marshall (limited to 16 scintillating minutes in which he was 1-2 from both the field and line, and nabbed 6 boards with a steal and a block);  Hood (16 points in 30 minutes, where he led Duke in the first half and was ineffective and on the bench for much of the second half); and Parker (33 frustrating minutes).  Hood mirrored Duke’s efficiency in both halves.  In the second half, he was 2-10 (1-5 from 3), without ever getting to the foul line.  In the opening stanza, he was “the star of stars, leading Duke with 11 points on 6 shots (1-1 from 3).  Parker, too, had an ineffective second half (game really).  He was 7-14 from the field (0-1 from 3 and 3-6 from the line for 17 points (tied with Cook as Duke high scorer), but in the second half, he took only 5 shots and scored only 7 points.  A telling stat is that Parker had an assist, a steal and 2 blocks for the game, all coming in the first half.  Sports Illustrated Jinx?

The Duke players who did not pick up 4 fouls were in the backcourt — Sulaimon, Cook and Dawkins.  It is hard to understand that when Duke was playing so badly in the second half, why Dawkins didn’t get much action (10 minutes in the game).  He failed to score in the first half (0-3 from behind the arc), but scored 5 on perfect shooting in the second half on 2 lovely drives and a foul shot to complete the 3 point play.  Rasheed had a very difficult game, playing a game high 35 minutes while scoring only 6 points without an assist (2 turnovers).  He was 2-10 from the field (0-4) from 3.  Neither he nor Cook could contain Paige at “winning time”.  Cook, coming off the bench, led Duke in the second half scoring 12 of Duke’s 29 second half points (17 for the game).  All of his assists were in the first half.  He appeared to me to tire, and thus was not as effective at “winning time” as he had been earlier (key turnover, missed layup and missed free throw).

Duke was pounded off the boards in both halves and could not defend the interior in the second half.  Even more tellingly, Duke had only 5 assists for the game; and, achingly, only 1 in the second half.  It was a bad loss.  Duke has 4 games left; 2 are against Syracuse and UNC.  Va Tech next Tuesday;  Wake in Winston before the rematch with UNC at Cameron.  A Season that remains on the brink.

Duke 66 –  Syracuse 60

In all six games Duke lost this year, they were in a position to win all of them with ten minutes to go. You can speculate as to the reasons: inexperience, poor defense, fatigue, choking, bad luck, foul trouble. Well, as usual, Coach K found a solution to the problem: start slow, play good defense, stay out of foul trouble, finish strong, get the close calls—and play in Cameron, where you have not lost a game this season.

Sixty nine year old Syracuse Coach Boeheim’s emotions usually appear to run the “I’ve seen and experienced it all” gamut from laconic to bored as evidenced by his excited response to joining the ACC: “Hey, big deal, we played  in  The Big East all those years”. Well, welcome to Cameron and Duke, Coach B. Tonight, he went absolutely ballistic in the last minute when a call went against his team, rushing almost to mid-court swearing and tearing off his jacket like he was running with the bulls in Pamplona. A double technical and ejection, the first  in his thirty-eight year career, costing his team what slim chance they had left to win. (Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News Observer tweets that if you wondered how many “That’s bulls***!” it takes for Boeheim to draw a technical foul, it’s six.) I guess Hall of Fame coaches get a few freebies.

Actually, Duke could have won more easily as Jabari Parker was a turnover machine in the first half and Rodney Hood (6-15) missed open shots as well as three free throws. Usually a very good free throw shooting team, Duke was  pathetic 13-25 from the line. So, a lot of points were left off the scoreboard.

It was Marshall Plumlee’s play that kept Duke in the game for the first twenty minutes. Unfortunately, leg cramps kept Marshall sidelined for most of the second half.  Coach K said he needs to get used to playing more minutes. (Note: After the Carolina game, I wrote, “When Marshall Plumlee was on the floor, he changed the energy, complexion and physicality of the game…and earlier “ using Alan’s Zoubek Metric, if MP3 played 35 minutes, he would lead the nation in rebounding.” Yes, more minutes, please!

Fresh from being benched for major minutes in the first half and unencumbered by foul trouble, Jabari Parker (19 pts, 10 rebs, 1 blk) was a major force down the stretch, scoring a soaring one hand, mid-air, rebound tomahawk dunk as well as muscling a defensive rebound away from two Orange men and drawing a foul.  Other than the defense, perhaps the key was taking Rodney Hood off the perimeter and into a high post at the foul line. Unlike the first game, the ‘Cuse players stayed on the perimeter players and the 6’9” multi-talented  Hood was able to easily face the basket, shoot a short jump shot, or drive to the rim. Even Dickie V noticed that this was a very effective way to attack the famous Syracuse 1-2-2 or 2-3 or amoeba whatever zone.

Rodney Hood, who didn’t get the foul call in the Blue Devils’ overtime loss at Syracuse three weeks ago, took the charge that helped seal this rematch. After the game, he said: “This is the reason you come to Duke. It’s the reason I left my home state to come here….It’s the basketball gods, I guess. That’s what coach always says. I guess I’ll start believing in them too.”

And then there is a Syracuse writer’s take: “It’s the team, sure. The Blue Devils, forever a collection of those selected rather than recruited…. they have been once more predictably splendid, with this 22-6 edition, fronted by the wondrous Jabari Parker (who double-doubled the Orange with game highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds).. But do not underestimate the power of this cramped den that was built before anybody knew where Pearl Harbor was and in which those Dookies (and maybe Jimmy Chitwood before them) play. Leg room is a fantasy, mayhem is a house rule and the noise that began to buckle the 74-year-old walls at 5 o’clock on Saturday, two hours before the jump, threatens each time the ball goes up to awaken the dead all along the Eno River.

Other comments:

  • In an overlooked irony, the indisputable missed call was C.J. Fair’s foot being of bounds when he started his drive that resulted in the controversial charge call with :10 seconds to go.
  • Rodney Hood was the participant in the two critical plays—one offensive, one defensive– of each of the games with Syracuse.
  • Duke has not lost consecutive regular season games since February 2009.
  • The lynchpin for Duke’s terrific defense tonight was shutting down the Syracuse guards. They shot 3-18. However, forwards CJ Fair and Jerami Grant combined for nearly half the team’s 60 points (29).  They shot 14-27.
  • Coach K is not the only person who can motivate Duke players. After the Carolina game, I wrote whether anyone could  remember when Jabari Parker last hit a three point shot. Tonight, he went 3-3. I’ll take an assist on those nine points.
  • Strangely, Andre Dawkins, a fifty per cent three point shooter who was a major contributor in the game at Syracuse, did not play his usual minutes.
  • Right after the Cameron Crazies chanted “We don’t miss you” at Michael Gbinije, who transferred from Duke after a forgettable freshman season, Parker drove and dunked over him and, to add insult to injury, MG was called for a foul.

Alan Adds:

Whether or not it was a charge is debatable; Hood said, “I thought I was there, but I was shocked at the call in that situation”  So, I guess, was Boeheim.  While he was rueful and charming in his post-game remarks, the fact that he took Syracuse out of a game that had not yet been decided by completely losing his composure (and his understanding of where he was and who he is) is somewhat defining.  Mostly, it defines how important this game was to Syracuse and Boeheim.  Coach K was very balanced in defending Boeheim’s (actually indefensible) actions, “We are old; we still care.”  He lauded Boeheim for his competitive spirit and camaraderie in coaching Team USA together in an effort to defuse the embarrassment that  Boeheim earned last night.  He was truly the game’s goat.  There is also another perspective worth considering.  This is college where coaches are not unlike professors in that they are teaching their student athletes — they are teaching not only how to win, but how to deal with the unanticipated events and actions that life throws at you.  Coaches and professors teach not only by what they say.  In that context, Boeheim’s meltdown was not only out of character (first ejection in 38 years), but also extremely disappointing for someone who has earned his exalted status.

The game was so fabulously intense.  As Coach K said in his press conference, scoring was very difficult, unlike the game at Syracuse.  Syracuse changed up its defense to stay with the shooters when the ball went into the middle of the zone.  Duke changed up its defense, by having the bigs show on the ball screen quicker and with more hedge.  Both teams defended with high energy and skill, infused by amazing desire.  It was Duke’s best defensive performance of the season.  Though Duke was badly beaten on the boards, especially in the first half (Syracuse had 13 offensive rebounds; Duke 13 defensive boards. Ouch!), giving the Orange 14 more shots from the field than Duke took, Duke’s defense held Syracuse to only one more field goal made.  Syracuse was 10-35 in the first half (with a lot of misses near the basket, but which were hotly contested).  Moreover, Duke started rebounding better, giving up only 3 offensive rebounds in the second half.  Duke defended the perimeter better than any other game this year.  Syracuse was 2-8 from 3 in the first half (Cooney 0-3 and Ennis 0-1; Duke transfer Gbinije was 2-4); but was able to hoist only 1 well defended 3 in the second half (Ennis; he missed).  Cook Rasheed and Thornton guarded the perimeter like junkyard guard dogs to stop the penetration.  Duke’s bigs defended the rim — especially Marshall in the first half (2 blocks; 3 for the game).  Jefferson nabbed 5 boards, though played only 21 minutes because of foul trouble (4 at game’s end).  He was 2-2 from the field for 5 points.

Coach K lauded Hood as the player of the game for his defense and his creativity on offense when he flashed into the middle of the zone.  Hood is the fulcrum of the two defining plays in each Syracuse game — in one he was denied the game winner, in the other he prevented the Syracuse game winner.  Coach K smiled as he acknowledged the wisdom-irony of he basketball gods.  “We should be 1-1 with them.”  Yet, it was a strange game for Hood, who logged a game high (for Duke) 37 minutes, and perhaps was most valuable on defense.  He scored 13 points on an inefficient16 shots (6-15; 1-6 from behind the arc; and 0-3 at the line; but 5-9 from inside the arc, usually in the middle of the zone was critical for Duke) to go with 0 turnovers and 7 boards (5 in the first half).   He was Duke’s most reliable ball handler.

Jabari, in Coach K’s words, “played young in the first half; but got older and wiser for the last 25 minutes.  Then he played like a man.” Parker played 31 minutes with a solid stat line of 19 points on only 8 shots (3-3 from behind the arc and 4-6 from the line), with 10 boards, a block and an assist.  However he did have 5 of Duke’s  11 turnovers (4 of Duke’s 7 in the first half). Critically, Parker committed only 1 foul while being Duke’s most imposing force on the interior.  He also launched higher percentage 3 point attempts.  Rather than stepping back to launch, as he has done during his 3 point shooting slump, he was stepping into these 3s inn rhythm.  In short, Jabari was simply superb after he started taking better care of the ball in the second half.

Coach K also singled out Marshall for improved play.  As Bill noted, Marshall logged 15 scintillating minutes in the first half, but was almost a non-factor in the second half because of cramps.  He went to the scorer’s table, but cramped as he was waiting to come in.  If Marshall can get in shape to play more minutes, and plays as he did in the first half against the Orange — and as he did in his 16 minutes against UNC on Thursday, — Duke will be a better team for the stretch run than at any time this season.  That’s a heady thought.  Marshall had 5 boards (4 in the first half); 3 blocks, an assist, and a steal.  However, the best stat may be his 19 energetic minutes without committing a single foul.  Tantalizing potential from here going forward.

Though Sulaimon scored only 8 points in 36 minutes on the court, he was superb in many key aspects of the game.  He was a prime ball handler, handing out 7 assists against only 2 turnovers.  He played lights out defense on Cooney (holding Syracuse’s best outside scorer to 4 points in his 31 minutes), while committing only 2 fouls.  He also grabbed 4 boards.  Thornton also scored 8 points in his 25 minutes on the court.  He is such a spirit on the floor and so efficient.  His 8 points came on 2-2 shooting (1-1 from 3; and 3-4 from the line); he handed out 3 assists and stole the ball 3 times.  Quinn was more checkered in his 23 minutes.  All the guards defended.  Quinn had a rough night from the field, though hit some critical shots at key times.  He scored 9 points (3-4 from the line, having been chosen to shoot the Boeheim technicals), but only 2-11 from the field (2-8 from 3), but they were the critical ones.

Dawkins played only 8 minutes (he has not played much more in the last few games) 0-2 on 2 forced 3s.  Coach K’s bench is shortening.  He played 7 + Dawkins.  Once again, neither Jones, Hairston or Semi left the bench.

The season’s end is looming.  There are many very good teams (including Duke and Syracuse) that could win it all, but no dominant team — no real favorite going in.  Conference tournaments will be exciting and telling.  Duke plays Va Tech on Tuesday, and finishes the next week (off from Feb 25 to March 5) at Wake and in Cameron against Carolina.  That should be a key game for ACC tournament seeding.

Duke 66 – Virginia Tech 48

Good thing Duke was playing Virginia Tech at home tonight, because after a fast start the ball stopped going into the normally friendly Cameron basket. After mostly shooting blanks from the perimeter and the game getting into single digits, Duke put their zone buster, Rodney Hood, in a high post at the foul line and the points came a lot easier. Getting the ball into the high post to a 6’9” athletic forward with a feathery touch like Rodney leaves the defenders with no good choices. Double team him and the wings are open for threes (like in the first Syracuse game). The wing defenders stay home and Hood has the choice of a short jump shot or driving to the basket (like Saturday’s game against Syracuse). Pick your poison. And Virginia Tech is no Syracuse.

The good news is that Duke played good defense. The lynchpin for that was Sulaimon’s defense on the Tech point guards. The rest of the game was pretty forgettable.

Let’s focus on the rest of the season. Unlike the last few years, Duke is injury free. Parker and Hood have played as advertised; Sulaimon has recovered to consistently play at another level from last year; Jefferson has improved dramatically and can score and pass as well as rebound; Thornton, as Alan points out, has proven invaluable in a multiplicity of ways; Dawkins has become a more complete player and has had important explosive moments; only Cook has regressed but Sully, Tyler, and Andre have pick up the slack. The potential wild card is Marshall Plumlee, who has  increasingly played like game changer. I am more and more convinced that when Marshall is on the floor, he changes the energy, complexion and physicality of the game…and  that using Alan’s Zoubek Metric, if MP3 played 35 minutes, he would lead the nation in rebounding.” Yes, more minutes, please!

More importantly, here are Coach K’s recent comments: “Marshall’s a different player than his brothers. He’s a center. Mason and Miles played both positions, but Marshall wants to be a center, a protector of the basket. He wants to be a center, and that’s what he is. He’s athletic, though – all three Plumlee brothers are excellent athletes. It’s taken Marshall some time to  recover from his foot injury and get back that athleticism.  We feel that he’s running and being the athlete he was before, about 17 months ago, right before he was injured at the start of last season. He is a good player, and he’s going to be a really good player. The recovery from not playing and injuries, some kids never recover and get to the level that they should be at. Marshall has worked real hard, and he’s getting there. He’ll have more and more of a prominent role on our team now that he’s reached that level.”

And looking forward: “You know, you’re always preparing for another team, so you don’t take as good a look at you. Part of it is we have to take a look at how we sub. I like our starting unit; they’ve developed a really good chemistry. We need to get Andre [Dawkins] shooting again. During this period Andre has not been a big factor and he should be a bigger factor. Quinn [Cook] should be a bigger factor.  Marshall [Plumlee] has emerged. How do we rotate? We’re not going to just sub five guys.  There’s got to be a rotation. Especially after these last two games, you’ve got the tournament play. Jabari and Rodney have to be out on the court.  What are you resting them for? So we have to get into figuring that out.  What’s good is that a lot of our guys are playing well, we’re getting better.  The main thing is we’re healthy.  We’ve got bumps and bruises. Amile Jefferson’s bumped up a lot, but overall, we can all play. We would have liked to say that during the last three years, that everyone’s ready to play, we have all of our guys. One of the things for this week is to get them healthier, get them in better shape, get them rest, lift, good stretching, good reps without pounding them with physicality. Just gave myself a pep-talk.”

Alan Adds:

It is a big “whew” to be on the other side of such an intense stretch of games.  My big takeaway from that difficult stretch is how impressively Duke’s defense has developed.  Duke has plugged the leaky perimeter that was providing easy access to the rim for Duke opponents.  Duke has been impressive both in protecting the rim (Len Elmore kept saying Va Tech was “blowing” layups, but if one looked closely, each missed layup was hotly contested — shots were altered and shooters distracted and intimidated) and its own defensive backboard.  I do not believe that Duke’s improved perimeter defense and the diminishing playing time for Quinn (11 minutes; 1-5 from the field for 3 points) and Dre (9 minutes; 1-5 from the field for 3 points) is a coincidence.  The biggest transformation of this team during the season has been the ascendancy of Rasheed at a new position for him, point guard.  Tyler Thornton has moved back into importance in the rotation as well as the starting lineup.  Rasheed has been a revelation as an on the ball defender.  He is long, with an amazing wing span, with both quickness and speed.  His ball handling has also been a revelation.  His shooting, while streaky, has been there in the clutch, and he is an excellent penetrator.  Critically, he has teamed with Thornton to plug the Duke defense.  In addition, the duo has brought a calm smoothness to the offense.  Against Va Tech, Duke had 19 assists on 24 field goals — 5 by Rasheed and 7 by Thornton (Hood 4 and Parker 3 had the remaining assists) with 0 turnovers between them.  Duke had only 9 turnovers, but none in the backcourt (Parker 3; Jefferson 3; Hood 2; and Marshall 1).  Thornton played 33 minutes (3rd most, behind Rasheed’s 36 and Hood’s 37) efficient minutes.  While his offensive line mirrors Quinn and Dre (1-5 from the field for 3 points), the rest of his game was superb.  In addition to 7 assists without a turnover and great team and individual defense, Tyler made 3 steals and pulled down 3 boards.  Rasheed scored 15 on 11 shots (4-9 from behind the arc and 3-4 from the line), while grabbing 4 boards and making 2 steals to go with his 5 assists and 0 turnovers.  The Duke backcourt has dramatically improved.  If Coach K can add Dre’s 3 point attack and Quinn’s all around game back into the mix, Duke should be in very good backcourt shape for the tournament run.

As always, the minutes played are illuminating.  The bench is shortening dramatically.  Marshall played more minutes (12) than either Cook or Dawkins.  Jones (4 minutes); Hairston (2 minutes); Semi (3 minutes) were reduced to cameos without any stat line entries (except for a great defensive play by Semi at garbage time, breaking up a lob attempt with sweet athleticism).  Parker is getting more rest from Coach K, playing only 27 minutes.  Only his 0-3 from behind the arc and his 3 turnovers were disappointing.  His 3-8 from inside the arc was less than usual, but the rest of his game was wonderful and should not go unappreciated because of his underwhelming shooting.  Parker grabbed 12 boards (5 offensive), had 3 blocks, 3 assists, and 3 steals and was 5-6 from the line while playing defense with heart.  He and Hood are everything that was hoped for in the pre-season.  Hood, of course, was the offensive leader with 21 points on 17 shots (3-7 from behind the arc; though he did not get to the foul line).  Hood added 2 boards, 4 assists, a steal and a block to make an impressive floor game.  As against Syracuse, his role on offense in the middle against the zone proved pivotal.  Jefferson played 26 minutes and was 3-3 from the floor with 8 rebounds (4 on offense), but committed 3 fouls and had 3 turnovers.  Marshall made yet another huge impression in his 12 minutes — 4 points on a post move and an offensive rebound; to go with 6 rebounds (3 offensive) and a block.  Think about 6 rebounds in 12 minutes!  His potential flowering is the stuff that dreams are made of for the post-season.

Duke’s intensity ebbed and flowed.  With 9:49 left in the first half, Duke led by 20 and had played its most intense pressing defense of the season.  For the next almost 12 minutes (until 1 minute and 53 seconds of the second half had elapsed), Va Tech outscored Duke by 13 points.  Duke’s intensity simply vanished.  It wasn’t until Rasheed hit 2 free throws with 13:10 left in the game that Duke re-established a double digit lead, and then slowly pulled away from the overmatched Hokies.  The Devils get a nice week long break before traveling to Wake on 3-5 and then seeking revenge and the 3rd seed in the ACC tournament against the Washed Out Blues (as Bill likes to call UNC) on senior night.  The excitement is building.

Duke 72- Wake Forest 82

At the beginning of the season I wrote that Duke was again a contender. To play a game like this at the end of the regular season, proved me wrong. This team is  still too inconsistent to make a sustained run in  the NCAA Tournament. Tonight, they shot poorly, were out hustled, got in foul trouble,  even played dumb, and, once again, blew a second half lead. When a good team needs a basket, they run their offense through their best players– for Duke that would be Parker and Hood. When they need a stop, they play lock down defense. When there is a loose ball, they get it. When the game is on the line, they raise the level of their game. The Blue Devils did none of that tonight.

This loss at such a critical juncture of the season is inexcusable and demonstrates that this is a talented but flawed team. End of story.

Of more concern than the game is that Coach K suffered from dizzy spells and light headedness throughout the game and did not do his press conference. He returned to Durham with the team but I am sure he went to the Duke Hospital to be checked out.

A friend of Alan’s sent this which says it as well or better than I can:  “ Before I get your detailed analysis, I want to give you mine. Duke cannot win consistently relying on the 3 point shot. The only inside scorer they have is Parker–Plumlee lacks the talent and experience to make a difference. They also lack an adequate defense against good inside play as borne out in the closing minutes of the Wake game when they blew a 7 point lead. Finally, if the games are called closely by the refs in the Tournament, Duke’s aggressive defensive play will put them in foul trouble.

While virtually all the top teams have flaws, the likes of Virginia, Florida, Michigan and even Wichita State have fewer than Duke. In short the way Duke lost to Wake–not exactly a powerhouse–exposed Duke’s vulnerability.”

Alan Adds:

It is not an accident that last Saturday almost all of the teams in the top 10 lost (leaving Duke at #4 and UVA at #5 in Monday’s poll).  Perhaps Duke succumbed to the same virus as other top 10 teams, but Duke’s performance was more than merely disappointing; it was genuinely awful (See Bill’s analysis above).  However, it would not be hard to put a good spin on the loss by pointing to other devastating Duke near end-of-regular-season losses followed by tournament success in past years. (Yes, but those teams had outstanding senior leadership).  It is hard to figure out exactly what this loss means to Duke’s post season chances.  But, of course, we will try.  Wake was a classic “trap” game, where everything went wrong for Duke.  It was senior night at Wake, who had nothing to salvage from a dismal season — except beating the #4 team in the country on senior night.  Duke was (in my opinion, had to be) looking ahead to the crucial UNC game.  Whether Duke won or lost, it would be in almost the same situation with its post season seeding completely dependent on the outcome of the UNC game.  If Duke beats UNC, the 3rd seed will be secure and UNC will be # 4.  If UNC wins, it will be 3 and could be 2 if Syracuse loses to Fla State on Sunday (Duke could have had # 2 within its grasp if the Orange are again upset).  But basically, this was a meaningless game for Duke, which is exactly how it looked  Duke perceived the game.

Duke did not play well through the entire game, but still had a 7 point lead with 5:44 to go (66-59 after Parker’s slam) when the wheels came off — just as they did against UNC in the final 12 minutes in the first game, against Clemson; and against Notre Dame.  Duke’s defense was awful, and the Devils — once again — were in desperate foul trouble that impacted the end of the game (see Syracuse loss).  The last 5:44 were a Devilish nightmare:  During that span, Duke’s 10 possessions went like this: turnover (Parker), turnover (Jefferson), missed 3 (Rasheed Sulaimon), turnover (Sulaimon), missed lay-up (Quinn Cook), missed 3 (Tyler Thornton), missed 3 (Cook), turnover (Sulaimon), missed 3 (Sulaimon), missed 3 (Andre Dawkins).  By the time Sulaimon broke Wake’s run and hit two free throws with 46 seconds left, Duke was down 76-68.

“Dang thing went south,” said Hood, who struggled to find his shot against the Wake Forest zone, shooting 6 of 14 for 16 points. “I don’t think we played together down the stretch. Once shots didn’t fall and they started scoring, we tried to rush to score rather than being patient.”  Interestingly, Hood also commented that Duke’s practices leading up to the Wake game were bad.  There are some telling box score statistics: Duke had 15 turnovers on offense and committed 27 fouls (mostly on defense).  Wake made more free throws (25 of 37) than Duke attempted (18, making 12).  Tellingly, Duke was 6-27 from downtown, to continue the 3 point shooting slump of the last few games.  This should not have been fatigue after a week off.

Duke had trouble everywhere.  In the backcourt, Cook, again coming off the bench, played 26 unspectacular minutes with 8 points 3-8 from the field (2-5 from behind the arc), but had 4 turnovers and did not help Duke’s porous perimeter.  A couple of the turnovers were genuinely painful.  Rasheed played 30 minutes with 4 turnovers and 2-8 from behind the arc.  He scored 14 and had 4 assists, but was not his usually defensively efficient self.  Thornton logged the most backcourt minutes (32) but failed to score, while adding 3 boards and 3 assists (2 turnovers).  Dawkins scored 7 in only 11minutes (1-4 from behind the arc), but picked up 3 fouls in his short stint.  Still, his energy and scoring from inside the arc make me echo Bill’s curiosity as to why Dre isn’t seeing more court time.  Matt Jones played 6 minutes because of the 3 fouls on Rasheed, but failed to score (0-2 from the free throw line).

Parker played his heart out and with fire and emotion.  He scored 19 on 11 shots (0-1 from 3land and 5-7 from the line) to go with his 10 rebounds for another double double.  Parker was limited to 30 minutes because of foul trouble.  Duke’s foul trouble was profound.  At game’s end: Hood had fouled out, Parker and Marshal had 4, Rasheed Thornton Dre and Amile (in only 15 minutes) committed 3 each.   Such conspicuous fouling speaks volumes about the shoddy defense that Duke played last night.

Marshal saw more court time than Jefferson (17 minutes to Amile’s 15).  Marshal had 6 points to 2 for Jefferson.  Marshal had 7 boards; 3 for Amile.  Marshal had 2 blocks to Jefferson’s 1.  Neither provided the interior defense or rim protection that would have aided Duke.

But none of the above is potentially the worst news.  Coach K suffered dizzy spells and light headedness throughout the game.  He received treatment and did not attend the post game press conference.  Wojo, who did, said it was nothing serious.  We’ll see.  There is nothing about the Wake game that is as important for Duke as Coach K’s health.

Duke 93 – North Carolina 81 

Three days after  playing the most disappointing game of the season against Wake Forest, Duke played their best game of the season tonight against North Carolina.   Jabari Parker (30 pts. 11 rebs.) played like the Player of the Year and Rodney Hood (24 pts.) played like a lottery pick as they scored 54 of Duke’s 93 points. However, the amazing supporting statistic  was the 34-20 rebounding margin backed up by  27-31 free throws—a team effort. And Duke needed all of this because Carolina, although handicapped by McAdoo’s foul troubles, never gave up as Marcus Paige almost singlehandedly kept the Tar Heels not only from being blown out but also within striking distance.

Hopefully, this was a coming of age game for Parker and he has transitioned from a very talented teenager to a dominating, alpha man. Until tonight I felt he thought of himself as first among equals and was reluctant to be a leader of the pack. However, in addition to asserting himself and playing his best game of the year, Jabari also assumed an on-the-floor leadership role by rallying his teammates when a play or a call went against them.

Coach K  started three seniors and substituted liberally in the first half. The strategy appears to have been  to wear Carolina down and keep Parker and Hood out of serious foul trouble, an ongoing, troubling issue that had contributed to many of the Blue Devil second half collapses. This time it was McAdoo who had foul trouble and went to the bench after he committed an inexplicable fourth foul in the first minute of the second half. This development handicapped the Tar Heels on both ends of the floor as Parker and Hood teamed as the go-to guys to take full advantage by driving to the basket and  giving the Blue Devils many second half foul shooting opportunities, which they did not squander.

This season the Blue Devils were 65th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and that number likely won’t get any better after the Tar Heels shot 58 percent from the floor. In so many ways, the game was closer than the final 12 point margin…. and yet in so many ways it wasn’t. The Tar Heels shot nearly 60 percent yet lost by double-digits. So, the cold, hard fact is that Duke needed sensational performances from their stars, wonderful free throw shooting, a monster rebounding effort from Jefferson, and blow-the-roof off support from the Cameron Crazies to hold  off a Carolina team with a player they couldn’t defend to win a game that, despite the margin, perhaps could have gone the other way if not for an offensive goal tending call on a Paige three in the last minutes. The makeup of this team is such that if the Blue Devils go cold or face a team with elite size, will they have the answers? That is why Duke could go Final Four deep in the NCAA Tournament– or be bounced in the first weekend. Stay tuned, get a beer,  and buckle your seat belt for a one and done roller coaster ride.

Some interesting comments and sightings:

  • “No more freshman,” Parker said. “I don’t like being in that category any more. My team needs me to be more than just an 18-year-old. They need someone with experience. It’s time to grow up.”
  • “This is the first game where the two of them were sensational together,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’ve both been good together, but this is the first time they’ve been sensational together.”
  • North Carolina coach Roy Williams said: “Listening to Mike’s comments after the first game, he said they didn’t have ‘it’ and I agree with him, it’s hard to say what ‘it’ is.  But whatever the hell ‘it’ is, Jabari found it.”
  • “I love Duke,” Parker also said. “And I’m very grateful for where I’m at in my life right now. I have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve been very blessed.”
  • In the house: Behind the Duke bench Dallas coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo, as well as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, all sporting  Duke shirts, plus former Oklahoma and Cowboys coach Barry Switzer.
  • My All-ACC team: Jabari Parker- Player of the Year. He is the No. 2 most efficient offensive player in the country (according to Pomeroy); playing out of position, he leads the league in rebounding. Where would Duke be without him? Runner-up: Marcus Paige- Where would UNC be without him and his second half heroics? C.J. Fair- crucial to Syracuse’s season; T.J. Warren- ACC leading scorer but not POY because where is State with him? K.J. McDaniel, the most exciting player in the league and, inch for inch, the best all round player. Coach of the Year: Virginia’s Tony Bennett. Runner-up: UNC’s Roy Williams.

Alan Adds:

Life in Dukeland is just a tad cheerier this morning than it was last Thursday morning after Wednesday night’s Wake fiasco.  It was a fabulous senior night against UNC, a glorious continuation of Duke’s streak in Cameron, payback for the loss in Chapel Hill, and a rebound in the outlook for the post-season.  This was the Jabari & Rodney show with Jabari playing 35 minutes and scoring 30 points (10 for 17;  2-4 from behind the arc and 8-9 from the stripe) with 11 boards.  Hood played 33 minutes and scored his 24 points on only 13 shots (8-13; 3-7 from behind the arc — making him 5-6 from the floor inside the arc — and 5-5 from the line).  Jefferson and Cook each played 27 valuable minutes with Jefferson really helping Duke on the boards with 8, while Cook added 11 points  and 6 assists.  Cook was 6-6 from the free throw line.    Thornton, Dawkins and Sulaimon played 20 minutes a piece, with Thornton fouling out in his 20 minutes without scoring.  Dawkins continues to struggle from behind the arc (1-5) but otherwise contributed with 2-3 from the floor and 1-1 from the line for 8 points (but 3 turnovers and 0 assists).  Sulaimon played well in his 20 minutes going 2-3 from the field (1-2 from 3 and 5-6 from the line) for 10 points.   Parker, Hood Sulaimon and Cook were a combined 24-26 from the line, which is one major factor in Duke’s win.  Hairston logged 10 senior minutes, while Marshal (5 minutes with a board) and Matt Jones (3 minutes) made cameos.  However, in spite of the rewarding effort against UNC, post-season success will turn upon whether the defense can improve.  Carolina shot virtually 60% from the field and 42% from 3land.  Defense will tell the post-season tale for this season, which still seems on the brink to me.

Next up is the ACC tournament, which, in a practical way, will determine how we view Duke’s season because of the inconsistency in the regular season, where 3rd place finishes are hardly prized.  The same is true for UNC and Syracuse.  UVA has had a great season unless they lose on Friday to the 8-9 seed, and flame out in the NCAA.  Duke plays Friday against the # 6 seed (if form holds for the Wednesday and Thursday games), which will be Clemson if Syracuse beats Florida State today; or Florida State, if Syracuse loses again.  If form holds on Friday (Alan, are you daft; this is the ACC tournament), the top four seeds will be in the semifinals, with UVA facing UNC and Duke playing Syracuse.  At the moment, Duke is 3-2 against the top seeds — 1-1 with ‘Cuse; 1-1 with UNC and 1-0 against V-UVA.  UNC is 1-3 — 1-1 with Duke and 0-1 with UVA and Syracuse.  UVA is 2-1 — 1-0 against Syracuse and UNC (both when they were at their weakest point in the season) and 0-1 against Duke.  Syracuse is 2-2 — 1-1 with Duke; 0-1 against UVA and 1-0 v UNC.   The regular season means far less now because of the unbalanced schedule.  In that unbalanced schedule, each team plays four ACC rivals twice and the other ten teams once.  UVA’s four teams played twice were: Fla State, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Notre Dame. Syracuse played Duke, Pitt, Miami and BC twice.  UNC played Duke, NC State, Notre Dame and Wake.  Duke played Syracuse, UNC, Georgia Tech and Wake.  Only Duke played two of the top 4 teams twice.  Key today is the return of Grant to the Syracuse lineup.  Without him, Syracuse was a thin team that could not compete with UVA last Sunday.  With him, Syracuse is again formidable and standing in Duke’s path.  The tournament will define seasons this year.

In any event, since a deep run by Duke in the NCAA is very questionable based on recent inconsistency, an ACC tournament championship would enshrine this campaign as a successful season regardless of what happens in The Big Dance.  This will be a critical and fascinating ACC tournament.

 

Clemson in the Quarterfinals  Duke 63 – Clemson 62

For Duke fans, the only good thing about the quarterfinal game against Clemson is that Duke won (63-62).  Duke’s play was disappointing and showed the flaws that have bugged them all season long, but 1 point does make

a huge difference.   The Duke flaws that surfaced again were: 1) shoddy defense when holding a substantial lead going into the last 10 minutes of games (see Notre Dame, Clemson in Littlejohn, Vermont, Virginia, UNC, Wake Forest, Arizona and Kansas); and 2) failing to hold the lead or put the game away (even though in two of the games on the list, Duke managed to scrape out a win — as the Devils did against Clemson on Friday).  Duke led by 13 with 12 minutes to go and by double digits — off and on— from there until with 5 minutes and 6 seconds to go in the game, Duke was up 56-47.  Clemson had 8 possessions in the last 5 minutes and scored on every single one of them except the last one (3.8 seconds to go and down one).  The only time Clemson scored only a single point was one miss was by McDaniels from the free throw line (he missed the second of a 1 and 1, keeping Clemson from tying).  In the last 10 minutes of the game, Clemson scored 28 points (that would average out to 112 ppg).  In the second half, Clemson was 14-22 from the field; 11-14 from inside the arc.  That is genuinely terrible defense.  Coach K said he thought his team got tired.

Although Sulaimon did not start (neither did Cook; the starting backcourt was Thornton and Dawkins, both seniors), he played starter’s minutes (28 as compared to Dawkins playing just 7 minutes and Cook only 12).  Thornton also played 28 minutes, but the backcourt never looked comfortable or in sync — especially on defense in the last 12 minutes of the game.   Thornton made the defensive play of the game when he stripped Hall, who was driving for the winning layup with less than 2 seconds left.  He was 1-1 from the floor (a 3) to go along with 2 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals.  You can tell that Coach K trusts him and has him on the floor at crunch time.  Sulaimon took ownership of this win at crunch time (yelling at Parker in a clutch situation to just run the play that was called).  Rasheed was the Duke point guard in the clutch.  He scored 14 on 11 shots (1-4 from behind the arc and 3-4 from the line).  He was no better as a defender than the others in the Duke backcourt.  Duke’s defense was sufficiently pitiful for Coach K to play Matt Jones down the stretch on defense (to no particular avail either).  Coach K thinks his best defensive backcourt is Thornton, Rasheed and Jones.  Both Cook and Dawkins are spending more time on the bench because of their lack of defensive ability.  Jones played 11 minutes without scoring, while Dawkins was 0-1 (a 3 attempt) in his scoreless 7 minutes.  Cook had 5 points in his 12 minutes (2-3 from the field 1-2 from 3; no foul shots) to go with 2 assists and a steal.  It is his defense that is relegating him to the bench.  Nothing about this game gives confidence that the Duke backcourt is tournament worthy.

Duke’s front court stepped up impressively.  Duke out rebounded Clemson 34-25 and actually took 12 more shots than Clemson (depressingly each team made 22 field goals).  While Duke shot poorly all game (40%), Hood (35 minutes), Parker and Jefferson (34 minutes each) powered Duke.  Parker did not have his “ ” game going, but scored 18 points on 17 shots (6-17; 6-6 from the free throw line), but had only 3 boards.  Jefferson (3-6 for 6 points; 0 attempts from the line) was the dominant Duke rebounder with 13 (6 offensive).  It was, of course, Hood who made the big play at the end to win, and who also drew the assignment of guarding KJ McDaniel.  Hood scored 17 on 13 shots (0-3 from 3land), but critically was 7-8 from the line including the game tying free throw and then game winning free throw with 3.8 seconds left.  Duke had led for the entire game until Hall scored a go-ahead basket for Clemson with 7.4 seconds left.  Hood made another clutch drive to the hoop where he was fouled (no doubt about it).  Survive and Advance time is here.

NC State in the Semi-finals; Duke 76 – NC State 68

Duke’s defense was schizophrenic (a terrible first half and a brilliant second half), but the Devils returned to offensive efficiency throughout the game.  Duke was every bit as terrible on defense as the Devils had been against Clemson in the first half.  State was 15-21 inside the arc (1-3 from 3land) and 5-6 from the line, and Duke committed 9 fouls (to State’s 5).  Quinn Cook had a nice offensive first half (3-3 including 2-2 from downtown and 2 assists), but he could not contain Cat Barber, the backup State point guard, who also scored 8.  Offensively Duke was efficient and smooth.  NC State shot 68% in the first half and trailed by a point.

Coach K dramatically shortened up the rotation, playing essentially only 6 players.  Matt Jones had a 4 minute cameo — put in to try his hand at guarding TJ Warren who was torching Hood, but had no success.  Plumlee played only 2 minutes in the first half (with a board) and Hairston played 6 minutes with a hoop, an assist and 2 fouls.  Otherwise it was the starters (Rasheed and Tyler in the backcourt) with Quinn coming off the bench to have a superb second half.  Hood and Parker logged 37 minutes each, while Rasheed logged 36 minutes.  Amile played 31 efficient minutes going 3-3 from the field and pulling down 7 boards, handing out 2 assists and getting 2 steals (only committed 1 foul).  Tyler played 25 minutes and was his usual dynamic self in the hustle department.  Coach K pointed to his great hustle play in getting a steal and outlet to Jabari for the game-changing thunderous dunk.  Two great hustle plays  by Parker “energized our defense” said Coach K.  Cook played well and seemed to have rediscovered his shot in destroying State’s attempt to zone Duke.  He had 14 points on 5 shots (3-4 from behind the arc and 3-4 from the line) to go with 3 assists, 3 rebounds, while committing just 1 turnover and 1 foul.  Welcome back, Quinn.  When he and Rasheed contribute as they did, Duke is efficient offensively. (Four double digit scorers)  Rasheed had 16 points on 12 shots (1-3 from behind the arc and an inexplicable 1-6 from the line).  He was dynamic and got it going with his mid-range and driving game (6-9; many really clutch; he shredded the State defense).

Jabari and Rodney were simply superb.  Jabari made huge plays around the basket that were pivotal.  He scored 20 (17th time this season) on 15 shots (0-1 from 3 and 4-7 from the line) with 8 boards.  Hood drew the difficult assignment of guarding the explosive TJ Warren.  He scored 14 on 10 shots (2-6 from behind the arc and 4-6 from the line) to go with 3 assists , 2 rebounds and a block with only a single turnover.  But Duke’s turnaround on defense in the second half was attributable in large measure to the changes Hood suggested in defending Warren.  Coach K said he had “over coached” and had Hood start out guarding Warren on the high side (contesting Warren out high), which resulted in Warren scoring a few easy back door baskets, due in part to an absence of weak side help.  Hood said, “ he beat me a little bit.”  Hood asked Coach K to go back to defending Warren “normally”.  Hood adjusted and the team coalesced defensively.  Hood explained, “we shrunk the floor and got multiple people to help.”  He also said the team made “ subtle adjustments and communicated much better.  The result was a superb defensive effort that limited State to 35% in the second half, and allowed Duke to pull away.  It might have even been a rout if Duke had made some foul shots.  Duke was 12-23 for the game, but really horrible down the stretch.  With Duke leading by 11 with 5:39 to go and Rasheed going to the line for 3, Duke went 5-16 from there to the end (not counting Hood’s last made free throws with 6 seconds left).  In a tighter game, such shooting would have been fatal.

Duke 63– Virginia 72

When I was speaking to the local Duke Club several years ago , I was asked what ACC teams besides Duke did I like to watch?  I said only Carolina, paused, then added Virginia because I was impressed by the job new Coach Tony Bennett was doing with the marginal talent he had inherited, that he was a good fit for a school like UVA,  and that, if he could get quality recruits, Virginia could become a formidable program. Today, I wish I had been wrong because Virginia outplayed Duke in every phase of the game to win the ACC Tournament as an emphatic exclamation point to their the regular season title—a difficult achievement in a deep and talented league.

Here is an interesting stat that tells the story of the game: UVA  shot  27 more free throws than Duke but only hit 66%, so they left a lot of points off the scoreboard. While Jabari Parker made many sensational plays, he only scored 23 points on 24 shots and taking over long stretches of the game resulted in the lack of other player involvement and unbalanced scoring.  Only Hood (13)  and Jefferson (11) also scored in double figures. When Parker is double and triple teamed down low, someone is open. (He only had one assist.)  Too many times he was stripped or had his shot blocked. Time and maturity will correct that  as he cultivates his exceptional talents.

It occurs to me that Duke had more McDonalds All- Americans on their bench than UVA had on the floor and that Virginia is more than the sum of their parts while Duke is this year is too often less than the sum of their parts. The executive summary is that Virginia did what Duke  usually does–beat a more talented team. They out Duked Duke.

The blunt truth is that considering the recent Wake, Clemson and UVA games, it is awfully late in the season for a team to develop the proper chemistry and balance to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament—especially being assigned to the most difficult region. All year long, this team was unbeatable at home but all too vulnerable on the road.

Some observations:

  • Krzyzewski, who received his first technical foul of the year, was as visibly upset, even irate, about the officiating. His postgame comments included subtle jabs about how the game was called. For instance, he noted that Jabari Parker took 24 shots and only three free throws.
  • Amile Jefferson has improved more than any other Blue Devil.
  • Rodney Hood appeared fatigued as he left several makeable short shots woefully short.
  • Andre Dawkins, who has been in a slump, scored 9 points in 7 minutes.
  • Sulaimon had an uncharacteristically frustrating, subpar game.
  • Alan and I agree that watching Duke lose was bad enough but being forced to listen to Dickie V pointless chatter is an 8th Amendment violation (cruel and unusual punishment).

Alan Adds a view of the entire tournament:

The Duke defense as a whole and the backcourt specifically was really found wanting.  The defense played one good half (2nd half against an obviously gassed Wolfpack) and the backcourt played only one solid offensive game (also against said Wolfpack).  Duke played with efficiency in the semi-finals, and with passion in the finals.  Wednesday night’s play in game between Iowa and Tennessee might be worth watching since the winner plays UMass, and the winner of that game plays Duke (absent another first round meltdown against Mercer).

Duke 71– Mercer 78

A  UNC friend, who really loves and knows  basketball, emailed me Thursday: “Better watch out for Mercer…  tougher draw than most would think.”

The better team won. This game reminded me of the Virginia game because they both exposed the flaws that keep this Duke team from being a as good as many people thought they would be—poor defense and difficulty in closing out an opponent. The only possible good news is that if Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood think they are ready for the NBA, they better stop reading their press clippings, talking to their friends,  and watch tape of both games.

Those of us who follow Duke Basketball—that’s almost sixty years for me—are spoiled in that we have experienced more enjoyment over a longer period than almost any college basketball fan. Loses like the last two are tough but the wins far exceed the disappointing loses. Win or lose, I have seldom not been proud of our players effort. The great thing about sports is that there is always another game on another day. Reload. Next play!

Some observations:

  • Unlike the Austin Rivers team two years ago, I do not think chemistry among the players was the problem. For all his publicity, by all accounts Jabari Parker is a better person than he is a player—and he is a wonderfully talented basketball player. All the players are solid people as well as  talented. However, they are not especially well matched as teammates. Because of the lack of an experienced big center, Parker and Jefferson were forced to play out of position. To their credit, they never complained.
  • I talked to a former NBA scout, who gave this assessment: Duke’s offense is inconsistent because they do not have  a dependable point guard who can consistently penetrate…Jabari’s best position is not in the post. The defense is often awful and cries out for switching at the very least from time to time to a zone like Dean Smith use to do and playing Plumlee more. As talented a Parker is, he is just an average jump shooter and fails to quickly pass out of double teams. Hood has a soft touch with exceptional range but is only an average athlete who plays soft. Parker, on the other hand, has a lot of fire in his belly and plays like a man. Both of them would do their long term development a favor by staying another year and working on their weaknesses while playing their natural positions with the complementary players coming in next year.

Alan Adds:

Any analysis of Duke’s 2013-14 season starts and ends with Duke’s defense.  In September, there were high expectations that with the athletes on Duke’s roster, Duke’s defense would be the centerpiece of the team’s achievement.  Coach K analogized his roster to the 2012 Olympic roster (not in terms of talent, he was quick to say, but in terms of being without a true center but with superb athletes), and planned to play the same type of pressing, trapping defense, where turnovers and steals would offset a rebounding disadvantage.  From the beginning, this roster was unable to play a pressing defense without being easily penetrated.  Back in November, after the East Carolina game (Pre-Season NIT regionals), I wrote about Doris Burke’s insight as an announcer, ” She is also savvy about Duke’s defensive potential, and how far the team was from reaching it against the Pirates.”  The defense faltered spectacularly against Vermont in the next game.  I have gone back to read some of our earlier DBP pieces describing the games, and the theme has been consistent.  After Duke abandoned the pressing defense in favor of an aggressive (over playing) man to man, the weaknesses were diminished but still apparent.   Opponents shot an extremely high percentage inside the arc and in the lane.  Duke could not stop penetration and the help was either late or left the weak side open for easy looks and put backs because of faulty rotation.  The inability to stop penetration led to excessive fouling, which gave opponents both bonus and double bonus points, while creating foul trouble for key players.  This then snowballed into the ancillary need to then defend cautiously to avoid fouling out.  Not shockingly, these weaknesses frequently appeared to excess in the last minutes of the second half.  Whether it was mounting foul trouble or fatigue, Duke led almost every game that was ultimately lost with somewhere between 11 and 3 minutes to go.  While the defensive rebounding improved, and Jefferson — indeed Duke’s entire interior defense — improved from poor to adequate (but, no better than adequate), the new rules — both hand check and charge-block — plus the lack of rim protectors doomed Duke to mediocrity or worse on that end of the court.  This was so not a typical Coach K team on the defensive end.  Duke virtually always makes more foul shots than the other team attempts.  The reverse was frequently true this year in critical games.  Coach K has been quoted as saying the problem is the team’s youth and a lack of communication.  Maybe so, but this is a team with too many amazing athletes not to have found a defensive identity by tournament time.  But for one of the few times in an amazing Hall of Fame career, Coach K could not push the magic button to create an effective defense.

Every weakness of this year’s team was on display.  Duke up 3 and 3:10 to go, Mercer scored on every one of its 5 possessions (one was an “and one”; on a different possession Mercer was only 1-2 from the line) until there were 30 seconds left and the game was effectively over.   Mercer made 10 more free throws than Duke shot (23-28 as opposed to 12-13) and Duke’s pressure defense could only force 8 turnovers for the entire game.   With 4:50 to go in the game, Duke led 63-58.  Mercer failed to score on only one of its next possessions in the next 4 minutes.  Coursey hit a jumper before Mercer failed to score when Hall missed.  After the TV time out with 3:10 to go, Mercer scored on 6 straight possessions (2 of them 3 points — one from behind the arc and one the traditional way) until a turnover with 24 seconds to go.  By then Duke’s season was moribund.  In that almost 3 minute span, Mercer was 6-7 from the line (then after a miss; another 5-6).  To finish the depressing defensive bill, Mercer was 20-32 on field goal attempts inside the arc and 5-13 from behind it (overall field goal percentage of 56 %; woeful!).  Mercer was quite simply the much better team when it counted.   Not a typical Coach K team down the stretch of games.

Offensively, the inconsistent backcourt carried Duke from behind the arc.  Quinn Cook had perhaps his finest shooting game ever, scoring 23 points on 11 shots (7-10 from behind the arc) to go with 4 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes (and he did not start).  Rasheed played 36 minutes and produced 20 points on 15 shots (5-12 from behind the arc).  Thornton played 23 minutes in his last Duke game and scored 6 (a 3 and 3 foul shots when he was fouled shooting a 3).  Matt Jones played 2 scoreless minutes and Dre, in his last Duke game, played 7 minutes and was 0-5 from behind the arc, failing to score.   Duke’s front court, which carried the team in the ACC tournament had a very subpar outing.  Rodney Hood had perhaps his worst game of the season.  He fouled out in 35 minutes, scoring 6 points (2-5 from behind the arc and 2-10 overall) without getting to the foul line.  He did have 6 boards, 5 assists against 3 turnovers.  It would be a bad last game for Hood.  Jabari struggled mightily.  He was tagged with 4 fouls in 28 minutes, scoring 14 points (mostly from the free throw line — 6-7).  He was 4-14 from the field (0-3 from 3land) with 7 boards.  It would be a bad last game for Parker.  Jefferson, Hairston and Plumlee collectively scored 2 points.  The deuce belonged to Jefferson, who in 27 minutes snagged 11 boards (6 offensive), had 2 assists, a steal and a block to go with his 1-4 from the field.  Hairston in 4 minutes and Plumlee in 2 failed to score or otherwise affect the game.  While Duke stayed in the game with 3 point shooting (15-37), the offense from inside the arc was again woeful (7-25, getting to the foul line for only 13 attempts).

It was a disappointing end to an enigmatic season.  But we should not forget the accomplishments of the season: undefeated at home, with scintillating wins over Michigan, Syracuse Virginia and UNC; a Madison Square Garden win against UCLA; gaining the finals of the ACC Tournament (helped that NC State beat Syracuse).   Duke’s losses in consecutive games — in the ACC finals to Virginia and yesterday to Mercer in the NCAA tournament — was the only time this year that Duke lost 2 in a row.   The fact is that for most schools, this would be a highlight season.  For Duke it is fair to characterize it as disappointing and enigmatic.

As in past years, it has been a genuine pleasure to be writing with Bill about one of our true passions — Duke basketball.  I’ll miss it and look forward to the first edition next fall.  For now, the next play is the Parker-Hood watch!

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Now the Blue Devils need to prove that they can do this on the road!

 

Alan Adds:

 

Long ago (but still deep in middle age) when I was a competitive runner, we all knew the true definition of happiness — passing someone at the end of a race who had criticized your training method.  The Duke front line must have been truly happy during and after the NC State game where Duke beat State on the back boards, in the front court, in the back court, in the locker room and in coaching.  It was, in my opinion (coincidentally, Coach K’s also), Duke’s best performance of the year.  All the news was, and is, good.  First and foremost, welcome back, Jabari.  One might get lost in praise for his offensive rebirth — 23 points on an efficient 14 shots (10 free throw attempts in the first half was an important statistic) — but the most magical and critical transformation for Parker came with his defense.  He has obviously taken the criticism of the pundits about his defense to heart.  He was not less than fabulous on the defensive end displaying high energy, great help defense, good rebounding position and amazing hustle that produced steals and turnovers.  It may go unsung, but it actually profoundly impacted Duke’s defensive effort.

 

As much as the win against Virginia on Monday was viewed as a turnaround, the second half was not part of the turnaround that Duke fans want to see.  However, (best case scenario) it was the start.  Coach K went to platoons in the UVA game, and used his bench much more than earlier in the year.  Still, Duke was terrible — both offensively and defensively — down the stretch against Virginia, needing two extremely lucky bounces to save the day.  Against NC State, Coach K went to the platoon early, but then mixed and matched in a way that only a Hall of Fame alchemist can do.  The result was Duke played a full 40 minutes of exemplary defense, used all 11 players significantly, and had an offensive explosion that was satisfying to watch.

 

Coach K had said in his pre-season remarks that Duke would be a pressing and running team because of great athleticism and lack of size in the middle, channeling the success that he had with the 2012 Olympic team.  Things did not work out using that system as Duke’s defense was routinely shredded on the perimeter and was ineffective on the interior.  So Coach K pulled back on the run and press, and watched the defense begin to improve (though in a start and stop fashion).  Duke  had trouble finishing games (aberrational in the Coach K era) and was playing the starters enormous minutes.  Fatigue was clearly contributing to Duke’s late game failures.  It all changed against State.  Duke’s press was amazingly effective, and the entire team played significant minutes.  Duke made one other defensive change that has not been mentioned, but which I believe contributed to the improved perimeter defense against the half court set — Duke stopped switching every screen.  Duke defenders went under the screen (you can do that against a team with its own perimeter shooting woes) or over it, but curtailed the switching dramatically.  It proved very effective against State.  Parker was everywhere on defense; Cook was singled out for his on the ball defense by Coach K after the game; and both  Jefferson and Parker stepped up big time defending the interior.  As always, how Coach K allotted the minutes is revealing.  The coach has made a subtle switch to relying primarily on Hood for leadership.   He is so versatile, valuable and steady; and he led Duke in minutes played with 30 (usually Cook’s role).  It’s comforting to see Hood emerge as the year goes on.  After Hood, Parker played 26 minutes, Cook 25 and Jefferson a scintillating (9 points, 8 boards, 2 assists and committed only 1 foul) 24 minutes.   He is gaining in confidence and playing really well.  Note the 2 assists — great passes out of the post.  He and Parker led Duke’s interior, but had good help from Marshall (13 fierce minutes), Hairston (4 points, 5 rebounds, a charge taken in 12 minutes) on the interior.  Semi logged 6 minutes, and, as Bill points out, looks really good in his sparse appearances.  Hood also is becoming a better interior defender.

 

Coach K’s backcourt was by committee, as mixed by the master: Jones played 17 minutes as a starter and is solid on defense, and shows signs of offensive flair; Sulaimon was brilliant in his 17 minutes (13 points; 6 assists to lead Duke in that department; 4-4 from the line and terrific defense); Thornton played 15 minutes, spelling Cook mostly, with 2 big 3s and great hustle and defense; Dawkins scored 11 points in 13 minutes, which makes him a very efficient offensive weapon.  They all defended well.

 

Bill’s point is worth considering — Duke has to be able to perform like this in ACC road games.  It starts Wednesday in Miami.  Miami has been surprisingly good, wiping out Georgia Tech in Atlanta yesterday.  N.C. State was the most positive uptick of the season.  Next Play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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