Welcome to the eleventh edition of the Duke basketball Playbook.
After watching only two exhibition games, it is difficult to make any definitive assessments about this year’s team, except that there is n0 Zion Williamson. But that has been true every year, because he is a once-in-a-lifetime player. However, there is more depth of talented players than recently, just not an obvious top lottery pick—the kind of game changing talent to which we have become accustomed. That doesn’t mean one or two won’t develop into that kind of player. The question is: whom will that be and, more to the point, other than Tre Jones and, possibly, Vernon Carey and Mathew Hurt, whose practice and play will deserve floor time?
Let’s hear what’s on Coach K’s mind: “Well, Zion and RJ are not here. It’s a different approach every year. This group is going to be a unit, not a starting five. Everyone’s gotta be ready to play. I’d call it old school. Like older Duke teams, from years past. Not the (Christian) Laettner, (Bobby) Hurley, or (Shane) Battier, or those guys, but a team that plays really good defense. Our kids want to do that.” [Translation: This will be a coach centric, not player centric, team.]
If history is any guide, unless you can shoot like JJ Redick, defense will be the key to minutes played. We know that Coach K loves point guards and Jordan Goldwire, a demon on defense but who has, shall we say, limited shooting range, has been starting with Tre Jones. That may be an early message to the more highly touted freshmen, because it is hard for me (but not Alan) to imagine he and Tre (who appears not to have improved his three point shot over the summer) playing a lot of minutes together– except if a Louisville-like comeback is needed. We know what Javin DeLaurier (if he stays out of foul trouble) and Jack White (if he found his jump shot in Australia this summer) can do. They are experienced co-captains and will get PT. Wendell Moore, Cassius Stanley (who broke Zion’s vertical leap record but is 100 lbs. lighter) are intriguing players as are the enigmatic but talented Alex O’ Connell and Joey (almost redshirted) Baker, who had a JJ like three point explosion (6-9), 22 points in 21 minutes against Ft. Valley State. It will be interesting to see if he can do that against Kansas in the Garden this Tuesday. As Johnny Tar Heel told me Friday at lunch: “O’Connell, Jack White, and seldom used graduate student Justin Robinson are the only other players who have demonstrated they can throw it in the water from a boat in the middle of the ocean.”
After these exhibitions games, I agree with Buzz Mewhort’s comment that free throw shooting and three point shooting may again be the Achilles Heel of this team– but with no Zion or RJ to bail them out. [Note: This year, the three-point line in college basketball moved from 20’ 9” inches from the center of the basket to the international basketball distance of 22’ 1 ¾”. Fortunately, the free throw line remains unchanged.]
Bottom Line: It’s a long season with more unknowns than knowns. These are teenagers blessed with exceptional physical and athletic skills and but burdened by often unrealistic expectations not only by themselves, but also by their parents, friends, neighbors, and classmates. Their success and failures are broadcast on television twice a week, sometimes more, for all to see and celebrate or critique on social media. Millions of dollars of NBA and shoe money are on the line. And, oh yes, there are classes, homework, term papers, and tests. Then, there is teammate and parental jealousies, girlfriend issues, and being away from the comfort of home. This is a lot of pressure for anyone much less a teenager, no matter how talented, to shoulder.
Stuff happens: Last year’s preseason #1Duke team played it’s best game of the year in the first game of the season destroying #2Kentucky 118-84. They looked hands down like the best team in college basketball. Then, Zion got hurt, RJ wore down, and, for mysterious reasons, Cam Reddish never again was consistently as good as advertised. They won the ACC Tournament beating UNC in the semi’s. At full strength, the last two NCAA Tournament games of the year against Central Florida and Michigan State, were among their worst. In 1991, UNC beat Duke 96-74 for the ACC Championship but three weeks later defeated unbeaten UNLV then Kansas to win the NCAA National Championship. Try to explain these oxymoronic outcomes. They are just some of the fascinating mysteries that makes sports so compelling to follow.
Why am I smiling as I excitedly start to write about the upcoming season? I admit I am totally psyched for the coming Duke basketball year. My heresy: “this year’s team will be better than last year’s.” Really? No team has ever had three of the previous year’s starters as lottery picks. How could this team be better?
In spite of having Zion and RJ, Duke played a desultory end game in February and March last year. Remember, after the heroic comeback against Louisville on February 13, Duke lost by 16 to UNC on February 21; to Virginia Tech by 5 on February 27; to UNC again by 9 in the season finale in March. In the penultimate regular season game, Duke held off a terrible Wake team by a point on senior night in Cameron, after giving Wake a chance to actually win with 7 seconds left. Winning the ACC tournament was a feat, but may have obscured obvious weaknesses. Duke beat UNC in the semi-finals by a point before defeating Florida State for the title. Florida State had beaten UVA in the semi-finals, which might have dulled their fires for the final. In any event, the Blue Devils were far from impressive in the Big Dance: unimpressive in beating North Dakota State, almost lost to Central Florida (when Dawkins missed the open put back), winning by 1; beat Virginia Tech by 2 after Tre missed the front end of a 1 and 1, which gave the Hokies a wide open bunny at the basket to tie the game; and, finally the loss to Michigan State. Duke’s problem last year is easy to identify. In the modern game, Duke shot thirty percent from deep; last in the ACC by a wide margin and 317 out of 371 Division I teams. Duke also shot under 70% from the free throw line 13th in the 15 team ACC. Those two statistics were Duke’s Achilles heel last year.
My Optimism for This Year
We have seen one half of basketball in an intra-squad scrimmage; and two exhibition games against teams that had no real inside presence (or at least nothing comparable to ACC and National class competition). We have seen 11 players with enough talent to make the rotation and enough inconsistent play to make predicting the starting lineup and rotation next to impossible. Readers know that I love defense and believe it is the key to championships. Duke has many high level defenders who could be part of an extraordinary defense. The best news is that the headlines from coaches and players coming out of practice are all about defense. Here’s my analysis of the pieces of the puzzle that are Coach K’s to use:
There are five: Justin Robinson (6’9” 5th year senior), Javin DeLaurier (6’10” senior), Jack White (6’7” senior) as well as two highly regarded freshmen, Vernon Carey (6’10) and Mathew Hurt (6’9”).
Vernon Carey – rated 6th overall last year and 3rd rated center. He’s down to 250 lbs. from 270 for speed and mobility. In the Blue-White scrimmage, he was the best player on the floor, posting up DeLaurier, scoring inside and out. Coach K said he played mostly on the perimeter in high school, and is just learning to score on the interior. He’s coordinated and a shot blocker. Then, in the first exhibition game, he simply laid a shocking egg, committing 3 offensive fouls in the very early going and only seeing 9 minutes of playing time. In the final exhibition game against a dramatically inferior and smaller team, he started and played very well. I believe he will be a stud by the time Duke is deep in the ACC season.
Mathew Hurt –is rail thin at 215 pounds, but can do everything on a basketball court. He is a scorer and smart player. He can shoot from the outside, has nifty post moves, can pass, dribble, drive, rebound and defend. More than any other player, I want to see how he handles playing against a Nationally ranked team like Kansas, with its powerful front line. The jury is out, but I very much like what I have seen so far.
Jack White – is so valuable. However, his shot deserted him in the second half of last year, which really hurt Duke. He had, by all reports, an excellent summer with the Australian National Junior team. He is best as a rebounder; he is a versatile defender, with no real weaknesses (if his shot goes in this year)
Javin DeLaurier – seems to have acquired the maturity he needs to stop fouling and stay on the floor as the team’s best defender among the Bigs. He will play many crucial minutes. He is not a scorer, but a valued contributor.
Justin Robinson – All laud his value in the locker room as a team builder. I (maybe alone) have seen enough to think there may be a time this year when he is in the rotation. I was impressed that when he guarded Tre Jones on the perimeter in the Blue-White scrimmage when he blocked two of Tre’s shots. He can shoot from the perimeter and is a good rebounder.
Wings and Off Guards
It is very possible that Matt Hurt will play as the small forward with two of the more traditional Bigs up front. The others who will compete for playing time in those positions are Alex O’Connell (6’6”), Joey Baker (6’7”) as well as freshmen Wendell Moore (6’6”) and Cassius Stanley (6’6”).
Joey Baker – had played himself well out of the rotation in the intra-squad scrimmage and the first exhibition game. He looked lost at both ends of the floor. I had him least likely to play until the last exhibition game, when he demonstrated that his reputation as a long range shooter wasn’t an alternative fact. His shot lit up the Duke offense as he led Duke’s scoring. He will get a chance is my prediction. There will be a lot of pressure on his first shot. He clearly has the potential to shoot himself into the rotation.
Alex O’Connell – has shown flashes of skill and talent, but suffers from being inconsistent and sometimes not intense on the defensive end. He has matured and will see time on the floor. As with most, how he takes advantages of his opportunities will dictate his playing time. He has demonstrated hops and driving ability. He can be a bit sloppy with the ball, but has played very well in spots. If he overcomes his inconsistency, he will be a valuable contributor.
Wendell Moore – might be the most athletic player on this squad. He’s been a ball hawk and intense one on one defender on the defensive end. He has played some backup point guard. He is not shy; will shoot from anywhere. He is a ferocious driver, but can be over exuberant. He has perfected the behind the back pass to the press in the front row. A warrior on defense and a work in progress on offense.
Cassius Stanley – the lowest rated of Duke’s freshmen coming out of high school (a 4 star recruit), he has been (to me) the surprise of Duke’s pre-season. I love this freshman and believe that in spite of being the lowest rated, he may turn out to be the most valuable. He’s smooth. He has never seemed rattled to me and has not displayed a freshman like inconsistency. He’s quick (and since he broke Zion vertical leap Duke record), it is clear he has remarkable hops. I have liked his passing, ball handling and defense. He has a terrific handle, makes his free throws and has a high shooting percentage. I will go out on the limb and predict that if he doesn’t start (I think he will), he will be first off the bench. I like my limb.
The ballhandling guards
Tre Jones and his backup (maybe) Jordan Goldwire. When they play together, they make a formidable defensive duo. They have acquired the nicknames: Thing One and Thing Two, for their ferocious pressing defense.
Jordan Goldwire — we saw last season – especially against Louisville and UNC in the ACC tournament – he is a superior defender who can steal the ball, execute the trap, and has amazing intensity. His three point shooting has been woeful, but he has shown an ability to get to the rim with the ball – even against Tre in the scrimmage. I believe he will log major minutes this year.
Tre Jones — as Tre goes, so will Duke go. He has had a slow start. He was outplayed in the scrimmage and has not shot well from the perimeter. Of course, his defense is the best, he handles the ball with aplomb and skill, and has increased his scoring on drives and a pull up mid-range game. Whether he can turn into the player his brother was will depend on his long range shot and his ability to hit free throws at the end of games. He is the player that Duke will rely upon more than any other.
Musing About the Season
Coach K’s starting lineup in the last exhibition game is my bet on who will start against Kansas. Thing One and Two will start in the backcourt with three freshmen up front – Stanley on the wing; Hurt and Carey up front. I think (and fervently hope) that this will be a pressing team that substitutes freely to keep the defensive pressure on. Coach K will do much experimenting before we know who is starting and what the various roles are by February and March (and hopefully April).
In the last years (since the 2015 championship), Duke has been better in November and December than at seasons’ end. I predict that will change this year. I think Duke will have trouble in the early going and jell at the best possible time.
That’s why I’m smiling.
Tuesday November 5 at Madison Square Garden: Duke v Kansas. Game on.
Duke 68 – Kansas 66
A year ago in this nationally televised season opening Champions Classic, Duke’s precocious freshmen played like they belonged in the NBA. Tonight, this new class of freshmen sometimes played like they were suffering from stage fright but the upper classmen led the way with retro Krzyzewski basketball– tough, aggressive defense that trumped (a bridge, not a political, term) sloppy, inconsistent offense. I don’t know if the Blue Devil defense is this good or Kansas big players have hands of stone but the Jayhawks committed 18 first half turnovers and 28 overall. For sure, the defense appears much better than that of the last few years when defense was a seven letter word that seemed like an afterthought and led to (gasp) Duke Playing Zone. While the savvy point guard from appropriately enough Apple Valley (15 pts, 6 assists, 3 steals) led the Blue Devils to this win in the Big Apple, it was the tough Australian senior and co-captain Jack White, who was the enforcer at closing time. Although he hit an important three, it was his shrewd defensive manuevers with 2 steals, a block, and an offensive rebound in the final minute and a half that clinched the win.
All the freshmen settled down and had their moments: Vernon Carey held his own against older, bigger players; Matthew Hurt, hit some big threes but was not a strong presence inside; and Wendell Moore demonstrated unusual versatility and athleticism but was often out of control. However, it was Cassius Stanley, the only Duke freshman who did not to make the McDonald’s All-America team, who stepped into the spotlight in the second half going 5-6, including 2 dunks and a three for 13 points to spark the second half resurgence. In addition, Alex O’Connell contributed both offensively AND defensively. Of the top ten players, only Joey Baker, coming off a sensational shooting performance, did not receive any playing time.
Both teams struggled from the foul line with Kansas going 16 for 26 and Duke 14 for 23. Only Ty Jones’ 5-5 at the end made Duke’s semi-respectable.
The win ended a three-game Duke losing streak to Kansas and extends Duke’s all-time record in the rivalry to 8-5. It also ran Duke’s record to 6-3 in the Champions Classic.
At games in Madison Square Garden, Duke is now 36-18 all-time and now 70—27 when playing in the greater New York City area. Under Coach Krzyzewski, they are now 31-11 at MSG and 33-18 in games between top-five teams.
As the announcers make unnecessarily clear, this year’s Duke basketball team will be a work in progress for most of this year. As Bill emphasized, Duke’s defense, which has been distressingly un-Coach K like in the past several years, looked exceedingly formidable. The Devils doubled the post frequently and effectively (except for one stretch in the second half). It was coordinated team defense, led, of course, by Tre’s on the ball defense. But Tre had plenty of help from his energetic teammates, who pressed and switched, giving Kansas fits and creating the raft of Jayhawk turnovers.
The game began to answer the intriguing questions about this team. Who will earn minutes, start the games, be on the court at crunch time are all open questions. I thought last night’s game against Kansas, especially the second half, began to illuminate some answers. The second half was winning time (obviously), but also where Duke faced its first real adversity of the season (down 9 as Kansas ran off 13 in a row). How Duke responded to that, fought tooth and nail for the entire half, and prevailed at the end with Tre Jones doing his best Tyus Jones imitation. With Duke leading 62-61 and 1:34 left in the game, Tre scored Duke’s last 6 points with a tough mid-range jumper followed by 4 clutch free throws to clinch it. Duke also established a Big 3. Tre played all 20 minutes (39 for the game), while Vernon Carey was on the floor for 17 minutes and Cassius Stanley for 16. Both Stanley and Carey played exceedingly well and got timely help from Jack White (11 minutes of scintillating play after a sub-par first half) and Alex O’Connell (whose 12 minute second half contributions were on the floor and defense – a very good sign) and Matt Hurt. Hurt made 2 huge 3 point shots in his 10 minutes on the floor, but had trouble competing on the interior (a single rebound). Alex scored 9 in the game; 7 in the first half. Wendell Moore (6 minutes, a rebound, a foul and 2 turnovers), Jordan Goldwire (5 minutes; 0-1), and Javin (who managed to commit 2 fouls and miss his only field goal attempt and both free throws in just 3 minutes) contributed little in the final stanza. Javin continued his foul prone defense committing 4 in only 12 minutes.
Cassius Stanley’s second half deserves special attention. As I predicted in the pre-season edition of the DBP, in addition to his excellent defense Stanley was the Devil’s offensive stud in the second half. One play stood out for me. Stanley was after a loose ball heading out of bounds off Duke. He grabbed it on the sideline and staggered for balance. He maintained that balance enough to throw an accurate pass, giving Duke an extra possession. Incredible athletic skill. His second half was awesome (11 points on 4-4 shooting; 1-1 from deep; and 2-3 from the foul line). He was Duke’s anchor facing that 9 point deficit. With 14:35 left in the half, the Jayhawks had forged a 46-37 lead. Carey and Hurt made back to back 3s (both on assists from Tre) to trim the lead to 3. Cassius then scored 8 straight points – the first two on dunks (great passes from Tre on each) followed by 1-2 from the line and a 3 pointer. Duke was back in the fray fighting toward the end. With Duke trailing by a deuce with under 3 minutes to play, Stanley scored from the field on a tough shot and completed the 3 point play to give Duke the 62-61 lead that set the stage for Tre’s heroics. Carey was the glue to Duke’s interior game. He helped Duke answer another big question: does this team have the inside presence to compete with national class front lines.
The answer was a qualified yes, with the emphasis coming from Carey. It was almost as if it took him a half to understand how big and powerful the Kansas front was. Then Carey’s athleticism (2-2 on 3 point attempts) took over and he led Duke on the interior both on defense and offense. His development will be a huge factor in how this season turns out. Jack White was superb in the second half and Matt Hurt played well and will get better. Let’s hope this was just an aberration for Javin.
It was a wonderful start to a season of questions.
Next game: Colorado State on Friday (11-8).
Duke 89 – Colorado State 55
After one very difficult game in a very difficult venue and one not so difficult game in a very friendly venue, Coach K stayed true to his word prior to the season that due to the team’s “balance” the Blue Devils would not have a go-to starting five. [Translation: There is no Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter or Jayson Tatum like there were during the last three seasons However, we have depth and talent, so I am going have to be a real coach again.] Consequently, Krzyzewski will shift different players and/or groups of players in and out until he finds what works against a particular team on particular night. Krzyzewski’ somewhat puzzling analogy: “It’s like a musical. When you have a few guys that are NBA ready, they sing most of the songs and have all the dances. With this group, is more like an ensemble. It’s, okay, knock our socks off with how you’re doing it. That’s why I said it’s more of an old-school, retro[team]. It’s built on defense.”
A case in point: In both games, defense kept the Blue Devils in the game until some one or two players developed an offensive rhythm and demanded the spotlight. Against Kansas it was Cassius Stanley, supported by Tre Jones, and Jack White. Tonight, it was a late first half surge by starters Jones, O’Connell, & Stanley teamed with non-starters DeLaurier & White in place of Carey & Hurt. Suddenly, the lead doubled to 12 points. By the time the half was over, Duke had scored the game’s last 10 points to lead by 16. The Blue Devils forced 8 Colorado State turnovers over the first nine minutes of the second half. Think about that. A lead that was six points with 2:18 left until halftime was now 24 just 3:21 into the second half. In less than six minutes of actual play, Duke quadrupled its lead. That is a classic Duke Run to which Blue Devils fans have become accustomed from their best teams. “That group at the end of the half really played the best eight minutes of the game– the last four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half,” Krzyzewski said. “Jack, Javin, Alex, Cassius, and Tre just found a rhythm defensively and offensively and boom we had it.”
This wasn’t a particularly good night for Carey and Hurt. The 6-10, 260-pound inscrutable Carey scored 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting but fouled out in just 15 minutes of play. Afterwards, he was very analytical: “I have to adjust to the calls, really, and the playing style, because, for instance, this game was completely different from the last game where we played Kansas just physical wise and call wise. I have to learn to adjust to that.” Hurt had 9 and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes. White and DeLaurier only combined for 7 points, but their play meshed well with Jones, O’Connell and Stanley.
The bottom line is that chemistry and defense usually win close games. Take another look at the picture above. Did you notice Jack White lying unconscious in the paint? He and roommate Javin DeLaurier crashed into each other lunging for a loose ball. Jack got the worst of it, but Javin recovered to contest the shot along with Alex O’Connell (aka. AOC). That, folks, is tough defense.
- Despite a team of McDonald All-Americans, three point shooting and free throws (60%) again appear to continue to be a frustrating weakness with the Duke Blue Devils. Duke was 4-for-22 from long range against Colorado State. O’Connell made three of them. The rest of the team was 1-for-16.
- Coach Mike Krzyzewski announced Thursday that fifth-year senior Justin Robinson has been named a captain for the 2019-20 season. Robinson, a graduate student at Duke University, is in his fifth year on the Duke men’s basketball team. He will join sophomore captain Tre Jones and senior captains Jack White and Javin DeLaurier on the Blue Devils’ newly-created Leadership Council. Robinson, whose NBA All Pro father David rarely misses a game, is from San Antonio, Texas, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is pursuing his master’s degree in management students in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
- Highly touted Carolina freshman Cole Anthony (UNLV’s Greg Anthony’s son) has had an impressive two games, scoring in the 30’s. However, he took 40 percent of UNC’s shots against Notre Dame and 33 percent against ECU. When I pointed this out to Johnny Tar Heel, he said that is because nobody else on the team can shoot. However, Roy’s Boys have had a number of injuries and are short- handed.
Before the Kansas game fades from memory, just how remarkable the Duke defense was in that game should be examined. This was the first game of the season and Duke was a very different group from last year. I went back to look at portions of the Kansas game. The sophistication and cohesion of the Duke defense would have been remarkable at season’s end for a veteran team, like Virginia. Duke negated Kansas’s inside advantage by doubling the post on almost every post possession. Yet the post player could not find an open man … because there wasn’t one. Duke’s switching and anticipation was almost magical. I found myself a bit disappointed by the defense in this game. There were missed assignments and Colorado State did get a bunch of open looks. Duke played really hard, but there was a Kansas like intensity that was missing by a small notch or two.
But wait a minute. Duke held the Rams to 26 first half points, and 32% shooting for the game, while forcing 18 turnovers (12 steals). Moreover, the defense allowed only 2 offensive rebounds. The reality of the rout is the defense simply gutted Colorado State, both physically and spiritually. The Rams had to work so hard just to avoid steals on every possession. After the early run in the second half, Colorado State was emotionally done. The defense did all that; so, maybe I overreacted.
There is growing clarity to Coach K’s rotation. Alex O’Connell has emerged and has played his way into starting. He has been the most improved veteran. It seems the coach has settled on a starting perimeter of Tre, Cassius, and Alex. They all excelled last night. Cassius has been a highlight; and Tre has been all we hoped for (except from deep). Wendell Moore will be first off the bench on the perimeter. He is so athletic and exuberant on the court that he will get minutes. He can turn the ball over from anywhere, but he can also dazzle. I believe Coach K will be patient with him and he will blossom before February. Jordan Goldwire will spell Tre when there is that luxury, and come in for defense in pressing situations. The interior is more muddled.
Coach K mentioned many players in his press conference, but not Matt Hurt or Vernon Carey. The co-captains earned praise for their amazing performance in the 8 minutes that Bill described so well. But Duke needs Vernon Carey. He may have fouled out in his 15 minutes, but take a look at his stat line for those 15 minutes. He scored 11 on an efficient 5-5 from the floor and 1-1 from the line. He grabbed 3 boards, blocked 2 shots and had a steal. He wasn’t mentioned because he turned it over 3 times while committing 5 fouls. Coach K has many ways of motivating his freshmen. White (especially if his shot ever returns) and Javin have great value, but for Duke to be a force at tournament time, the freshmen – especially Carey – have to mature and develop.
While the offense overwhelmed an inferior team – gutted by early second half – the offense is developing. But it seems like de ja vu all over again with the abysmal 3 point shooting and the sub-par foul shooting. Last year we kept saying that the players were too talented to keep shooting so badly. It should be fixable, but if it is not fixed it will be fatal to championship dreams.
An interesting insight
Coach K explained why he elevated David Robinson to captain. He said that with Team USA, there was a “leadership council” of a few players. “It doesn’t matter whether you call it leadership council or co-captains. It gives a chance for analysis, planning and chemistry.” They meet every Monday. Another example of Coach K’s genius.
Central Arkansas on Tuesday (7:00 ACC Network) and Georgia State on Friday.
DUKE 105 – CENTRAL ARKANSAS 54
Since this was such a lopsided game, we will summarize this and Friday’s Georgia State game on the weekend.
Of note: After a first half head to head collision, Tre Jones is apparently OK and, shockingly, #1 Kentucky lost at home to Evansville 67-64. (It’s still very early in the season.)
DUKE 74 – GEORGIA STATE 63
Attention to detail is one of the reasons Coach K is who he is. For instance, he schedules teams like Central Arkansas and Georgia State, etc. for a reason. It is because there are a lot of talented basketball players who are not quite big enough or who, for some other reason, never were on the recruiting radar of the big programs (Stephen & Seth Curry) but who play at smaller schools like Evansville, Wofford, Belmont, Lehigh, Davidson, and UMBC– small, quick talented teams who, with the benefit of the three point line, play a different style of basketball (sort of a college version of the Golden State Warriors) and on any given night can and have beaten the best teams in the country. Just ask Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. These are the kind of teams a high seed often play the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament and they benefit from the experience of defending a team much different than the typical ACC opponent.
The two games this week demonstrated the logic of this approach. The game against Central Arkansas was a no-problem blowout; the first half against Georgia State was anything but. The Blue Devils were fortunate to be up by two at the half as G State hit 50% of their threes, forced as many turnovers as Duke, had as many steals, and only Tre Jones and Vernon Carey seemed to be able to put points on the board. Fortunately, in the second half Joey Baker’s two consecutive threes sparked a patented Duke run that more or less put the game away.
Ever since Coach K has been successfully recruiting one-and-done players, I have been surprised by what relatively mediocre defenders, free throw and three point shooters many of these uber rated players generally have been. Perhaps, it is because until this level, they had been so much better than their competition, they could just out score opponents with sheer athleticism—or, perhaps, they had an eye on their NBA draft status. Whatever the reason, this year’s Duke class appears different, because defense is their calling card—and it is a good thing, because, as Friday’s game demonstrated, right now collectively they appear offensively underwhelming—especially for a top rated team with a target on their back. When Tre Jones is scoring half your points and has the only threes of the half, and, for the entire game, the team only shoots 34% from the floor, 59% from the charity strip, and 25% from three–Holy JJ Redick, Batman, this team better be able to play defense! My take is that only Jones and Carey are irreplaceable starters and until any of the other eight candidates develop more confidence and consistency, the other three spots will be musical chairs. For a Duke fan, the frustrating aspect of all this is that what used to be a four year development process has, in many cases, been compressed into one year.
An early season assessment:
Tre Jones– A sheer joy to watch. The consummate point guard. A wonderful teammate. Sets the tone at both ends of the floor. Not to worry: Anyone who hits nearly 80% of their free throws has the skill set to hit threes.
Vernon Carey – As large and strong as an NFL lineman but athletic and an unusually soft touch for a big man. Mature and analytical. Needs to get more comfortable in the post (missed two point blank dunks last night) and not always go left. Has to be on the floor for thirty minutes or more in big games.
Cassius Stanley – Least highly rated of this year’s class but, perhaps, has the most upside. His 45” vertical leap broke Zion’s Duke record but is about 100 pounds lighter and a much different player. By far best frosh defender. Has multiple game changing skills. Doesn’t seem to quite understand how good he can be but stay tuned.
Matthew Hurt – Terrific touch and range for someone 6’ 9” but lacks strength. When that comes, he will have Laettner-like abilities to stretch the floor and impact the game.
Jack White – Aussie Tough but last year lost his shooting touch somewhere in the Outback. Nevertheless, look for this senior to be in at the end of close games. If his shot ever comes off vacation, he will start, because Coach K loves his physicality and toughness and ability to defend 1-5.
Javin DeLaurier – Tough defender in the paint and in the open floor but has difficulty staying on the floor and not fouling out. Really blossomed at the end of last year but has not attained that same consistency this year. I’m betting the senior co-captain will be a valuable contributor.
Alex O’Connell– The junior has improved his defense and could well start if he can hit open shots and maintain his focus. He and Stanley are the most explosive players on the team.
Joey Baker – Joey may be the wild card of the group. He appeared to fall out of favor early but may have shot himself back into favor Friday with his two timely threes and intense defense. For sure, this team will see a lot of zone defenses and Joey may be the best available antidote to that.
Wendell Moore – Those who evaluate Blue Chip talent love his size and athleticism and aggressiveness. Except for flashes, he has been a bull in the china shop and until he relaxes and lets the game come to him, it is tough to see Coach K risk using him in close games.
Jordan Goldwire– Solid sub for Jones. Coach K loves him. A lot to admire, except his shot. Cannot see he and Jack White on the floor at the same time as Jack is a more physical and versatile defender and rebounder.
Having proffered all the above, the reality is that right now Duke is undefeated, Kentucky & Kansas have one loss each and, for whatever it means, next week the Blue Devils will probably be ranked the number one team in the country. However, we will have a much better take on this team late December 3rd, after Duke plays pre-season #1 Michigan State in East Lansing. Whatever that outcome, Duke fans can anticipate another exciting season with high expectations but with the knowledge that it is a long, tough journey to another national championship. However, buckle your seat belt, the Blue Devils have a very deep, talented team, and a coach much like the legendary Alabama football Coach Bear Bryant of whom it was said: ” He can take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.”
Duke maybe atop the polls at the moment, but do not be fooled. Right now this is a team of potential, that may or may not jell into a National contender, but certainly not a team that has “arrived” and deserves to be considered as momentarily the best in the nation. The ascendancy was fueled by: 1) Duke’s feisty performance and sophisticated defense displayed in the win over highly ranked Kansas; 2) the defensive full court pressure that produced turnovers at a jaw dropping rate against non-competitive Colorado State and the first on campus game of the tournament versus Central Arkansas. Georgia State was a reality check and evidence that this team has a long way to travel toward the goal of National contender. The first half of the Central Arkansas game illuminated the defensive potential (amazing) of this team. Georgia State illuminated the strength of what Coach K calls “human nature”, as well as the nature of competition itself, and the danger of a team beginning to believe the press clippings about its prowess.
Central Arkansas first half: Duke 57 v CA 20
Duke unleashed a press of almost unmatched fury and played scintillating and suffocating defense. Central Arkansas made only 5 field goals while committing 15 turnovers. With 1:07 left in the half, Duke led by 41 (57-16). CA scored the last 4 points in a minute to get to 20 at the half. It was a tour de force (except for the 12 first half fouls committed by Duke). The offense thrived off of the defensive pressure shooting 60% from the field; 50% from 3land; and 5-6 from the stripe.
I know my attitude was bad. I invited my daughter to watch the game with me and told her “it won’t be a competitive game.” I suspect that deep down, the Duke players believed that as well. It made for (hopefully) a needed lesson for growth and allowed Coach K to explain to the press that no team “is supposed to win”.
Coach K’s Wisdom
“Nobody is supposed to win or supposed to lose, you’re not ordained to win or lose, that’s why it’s called competition. People who compete and work hard turn out to be winners, and those who don’t turn out to be the team that the winners beat. That’s just the way it is and that’s what makes competition so good. In our sport, our sport is more prone to upset than any because there are just five people out there, so there’s age, athleticism, maturity, all those things, depth and a lot of things where people can make up differences. That’s why there are a lot of so-called upsets in our sport. A lot of people can win and you have to be ready to play all those people.”
Coach K’s point was Duke was not ready to compete against Georgia State. “They didn’t approach [today] with the intensity they needed to. I’m not saying they weren’t ready; they weren’t ready at the level they needed to play Georgia State. …In the past couple of games coaches have come in here and said how hard Duke plays, and those are great compliments. That’s our calling card. If you show up and don’t play hard that gives a lot of confidence to the other team – “Oh, they’re not who we thought they were”. So, if we don’t come out and match or exceed that effort, we’re giving our opponent momentum right from the start. I thought that was evident right away tonight because we weren’t strong with the ball. Not that Georgia State wasn’t confident, but their confidence grew.”
“I thought they were tougher than we were by far in the first half. We were not ready for that level of intensity from our opponent. Obviously in the second half we matched or exceeded it, and that’s why we won.”
Javin DeLaurier committed 4 fouls in his 6 minutes of playing time while missing both field goal attempts and committing 2 turnovers; (he did grab 4 boards and had a block; 1-2 from the foul line). The five Duke players who logged 20 + minutes (Jones all 40; Carey, 34; Stanley, 28, Hurt, 22 and Jack White, 21) could be considered the starters. While Tre and Carey carried Duke (scoring 51 of Duke’s 74 points), the other 3 scored only 14 points on a collective 4-20 from the floor including 1-10 from behind the arc and 3-6 from the line. Duke had 17 turnovers against only 13 assists. The Blue Devils shot 34% from the field; 25% from behind the arc and a demoralizing 59 % from the line. Tre was 7-10 from the line but missed all 3 front ends of his 1 and 1 attempts. The defense gave up 5-10 from deep in the first half. Coach K pointed out that Duke allowed Georgia State open looks from the corner even though it was a point of pre-game strategy to stop that particular shot. In the second half, Duke clamped down and allowed only 2 attempts from deep (they both missed). Wendell Moore and Alex O’Connell had disappointing games. In 12 minutes, Alex failed to score (0-3; 0-2 from deep) or get to the foul line. He had an assist against 2 turnovers (4 rebounds), while Moore was 1-5 (0-1 from deep without a free throw attempt) in his 11 minutes. His two steals were matched by his 2 turnovers. He too had 4 boards. Goldwire was 0-2 in his 11 minutes (0 points; no free throw attempts). Duke’s defense revived in the second half.
Tre Jones had the best game of his career at Duke and virtually willed Duke to win. With the score tied at 40 early in the second half, Jones took over, scoring 10 of Duke’s next 11 points. Jack White’s only point (1-2 from the line) and Moore’s only field goal moved Duke out to a 13 point lead (53-40). Joey Baker hit 2 key 3s from the corner to push the lead to 16. In his 15 minutes, Baker had 8 points (3-6; 2-5 from deep). He didn’t add any other stats.
Vernon Carey was a beast and Duke dominated the back boards. In 34 minutes, Carey shot 50% from the floor (7-14) but not much better from the foul line (6-11). He will be at the line frequently and must improve that part of his game. He led Duke in rebounding with 14 (7 offensive). He blocked 2 shots, and had a steal while he committed only 2 fouls (perhaps the freshman should be tutoring senior DeLaurier). White had 10 rebounds and played just superb defense. I believe he will start ahead of Hurt because of his defense and rebounding. If only his shot would start to find the range.
Duke grabbed a monster 30 offensive rebounds (Coach K ruefully pointed out the downside of that positive stat, “we missed a lot of shots”). Duke took 73 shots to score 74 points. Inefficient at best. But they won! Kentucky lost to Evansville; winning is not ordained. Duke overcame “human nature”; Kentucky did not. Now it is back to New York and Madison Square Garden for the tournament finals. Duke plays California while Texas faces Georgetown on Thursday November 21. The winners and losers will meet the following night.
Coach K on playing at Madison Square Garden:
“It’s every kid’s dream to play there and every coach’s dream to coach there. I still get a thrill. Everything is different; the ball sounds different when it bounces; the public address announcer sounds different. “The basketball gods play pick up there at 2-3 o’clock in the morning.”
Note: DBP has a new blog site: dukebasketballplaybook.com, which is a collection of all the Duke games starting with the 2010-11 championship season.
Duke 87 – University of California 52
Duke 81 – Georgetown 73
We learned a lot about this team and its players in this two game tournament in the spotlight of Madison Square Garden:
Whether against a mismatched Cal-Berkley or a very talented, very dangerous Georgetown team, Vernon Carey proved he a top NBA lottery pick and the one indispensable player for Duke to be a legitimate championship contender.
This team has a disconcerting habit of starting sluggish offensively but not defensively; however, it has a good habit of finishing off games at closing time—probably, in part, because they wear opponents down.
Wendell Moore had a breakout game which demonstrated why he was rated so highly by the scouts and why Coach K kept giving him an opportunity calm down and get comfortable with his teammates. He is tough, fearless, multi-talented, and seizes the moment.
Cassius Stanley can do a lot more than just elevate 46” from the floor. His stroke is silky smooth, he plays defense, and rebounds tougher than his choir boy appearance–he is a playmaker.
Although he had a SportsCenter dunk in the Cal game, Alex O’Connell has not consistently taken advantage of the playing time given to him at the beginning of the season. However, Joey Baker is playing himself into role as designated three point shooter.
Tre Jones may be offensively inconsistent but he more than makes up for it with his defense and leadership.
Coach Krzyzewski may be 71 years old but is still one hell of a bench coach. He continues to shake up his starters, auditioning his fifth different lineup in the fifth game of the season but replacing the highly touted Matthew Hurt when it was apparent tonight he was physically overmatched. And how many times did Duke score after a timeout on an out of bound’s play? Over the years, Duke players take advantage of the rules and are rarely out of control. On the other hand, the Hoya players never did adjust to how the game was being called and were in the foul penalty almost a quarter of the game, limiting the minutes of center Omer Yurtseven, Georgetown’s best player and talented guard Mac McClung. Granted offensive charges are tough, judgement call but best not put a ref in that position. Coach Ewing grew incensed over what he considered bad or inconsistent calls. In truth, they did effect the game as part of Duke’s plan was to get Georgetown’s 7-0 center Omer Yurtseven, the former N.C. State player, in foul trouble, which they did. In fact, he didn’t so much as take a shot in the first half but scored 21 points after the break—most of which were when Vernon “The Tank” Carey was on the bench with three and four fouls.
Think the freshmen are settling ? Stanley (21), Carey (20), Moore (17) and Jones (13) combined for 71 of Duke’s 81 points. Jack White played his usual tough all-around game and Joey Baker gave Duke five big first-half points. But Duke’s four upperclassmen combined for 5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 for 10 shooting and 8 fouls, with only White playing more than 13 minutes.
DUKE 87 – CAL 52
DEFENSE! Defense! It was back in intensity, quickness and fluidity to the wonderful defensive effort of the Kansas game. Dan Dakich (color announcer) was continually pointing out the sophisticated switches (“There were three beautiful switches on that one defensive set.”) and superb help that was the calling card of this defense. (“Look how many players moved in to block that drive.”) The defensive intensity just sucked the guts out of California. Dakich: “Look how far out Cal has to initiate its offense. That’s the Duke defensive pressure.” Dakich played for Knight at Indiana and had this insight that resonated with me. He said Duke was playing “old fashioned” defense, and cited the West Point teams coached by Knight when now Coach K (but then just Mike) was his captain and point guard. I saw those Army teams, which were astounding defensively. It made me smile in agreement.
Cal was a perimeter oriented, three point shooting team. Duke’s pressure took it away; Cal was able to launch only four attempts from behind the arc in the first half (10 for the game). Open looks for the Golden Bears were very hard to come by. Duke created turnovers and had many deflections.
For some reason the offense could not get untracked for almost half of the first half (causing Bill to call me wondering why the Blue Devils couldn’t shoot). Duke had only 6 points after 9 minutes of play, and tied the game at 8 at the half way point of the first half. You did read that correctly. Then the offense started cooking. The Devils scored 31 points in the second part of the opening half and 47 in the second half. That’s 78 points in ¾ of a game.
I’ll write this before the Georgetown game, but readers will have the benefit of knowing how the Georgetown game went. Georgetown presents a completely different type of team. They are big inside and will test Carey (not to mention DeLaurier and White) as Cal did not have the horses to do. Duke crushed Cal on the boards. Carey was astounding – 31 points in only 23 minutes of action (11-18; 1-1 from deep; 8-9 from the stripe, to go with 12 rebounds (6 offense and 6 defense) and 4 blocked shots, defending the rim. He was not only an offensive stud, he anchored the defense. How he does in the second of back to back games against a powerful front line will be illuminating.
A rebound worth mentioning: Stanley soared so high for one rebound in traffic that it was replayed. After a breathless “Wow!”, Dakich said wistfully to his announcing partner, “Wouldn’t you like to have done that, just once!”
DUKE 81 – GEORGETOWN 73
The First Half
Georgetown presented a very different and much more formidable challenge than did Cal. It was simply a sloppy first half, in which Duke depended completely on Carey to remain competitive (tied at 33 at the half). In 15 first half minutes, Carey scored 16 of Duke’s 33, grabbing 5 first half boards, and drew 2 quick fouls on Georgetown 7 foot center Omer Yurtseven. Yurtseven, who transferred from NC State, was limited to 7 minutes and 0 points in the opening stanza. Duke was winning inside even though both Carey and De Laurier committed 2 fouls – Javin in only 5 minutes of first half playing time. He committed 3 more, fouling out in 8 second half minutes. Duke committed 12 first half fouls – both Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley also had 2. The Georgetown perimeter completely outplayed Duke; Georgetown guards torched Tre and held him completely in check (0-4; 0-1; 2-2) with 2 assists and 2 turnovers. Georgetown starting guards scored 18 first half points. The second half was the game, and illuminated both Duke’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Second Half
Except for a scoreless two minute cameo by Joey Baker (5 points in 8 first half minutes) and 8 foul plagued minutes from Javin, Duke played Carey (13 minutes), Tre (the full 20 minutes) Wendell Moore, Cassius and Jack White each logged 19 minutes. Georgetown turned the interior around and dominated. Yurtseven torched the Blue Devil interior defense for 21 second half points on 13 shots from the field in 17 minutes. He reduced both DeLaurier and Carey to “ineffective”. I think Carey was gassed. He took only 4 shots (1-4) missed key free throws (2-6), which to me signified “tired”. After Javin fouled out, he hung in with 4 fouls but his aggression was diminished on both ends of the floor. Neither Hurt, O’Connell, nor Goldwire played at all in the second half, after each was scoreless in the opening stanza. So much for the “new deep bench”.
Duke scored 48 second half points and led by 14 (77-63 after a corner 3 by Cassius Stanley), with only four and a half minutes left. Duke and its offense were humming. (44 points in a little over 16 minutes). The two freshmen, who just blossomed to lead this scoring burst were Stanley and Moore. Cassius was beyond wonderful, scoring 20 second half points on 6-9 shooting that included 3-3 from deep (wide open good shots) and 5-5 from the foul line. He added 7 second half rebounds to achieve a stat line he will remember. Moore supplied much ball handling to help Tre and made some superb drives to the basket to keep Duke’s control of the game even as the defense was unable to stop the Hoyas’ inside game. Wendell scored 11 in the closing period on 4-6 from the field (1-1 from deep and 2-2 from the line) and played superb defense. Tre also had 11 second half points, scoring the first two field goals of the second half as Duke broke the tie and took a lead that was never relinquished. He was only 1-7 after the two opening baskets, but was 5-6 in crucial foul shots. Stanley, Moore and Tre combined for 42 of Duke’s 48 second half points (Carey’s 4 and Jack White was 2-2 from the foul line).
Duke’s lead shrunk from 14 with 4 and ½ minutes to go to 4 with 42 seconds left, before Tre and Stanley each went 2-2 from the line for the final margin. It is an old axiom in basketball that pressing teams do not like to be pressed. Georgetown’s desperate press in the last 5 minutes was frighteningly effective. Duke started turning the ball over (Moore committing 4 and White 3 — The Devils had 11 second half turnovers). I suspect that there will be some intense practices in the coming days to fix that obvious weakness.
Besides the lack of poise and ball handling against the Hoya press, a troubling aspect was the failure of the upper class players to score. White had 5 (in 33 minutes). O’Connell, Goldwire and DeLaurier failed to score in the game. Add the 0 in 5 first half minutes for Matt Hurt (his only minutes of the game) and instead of a deep bench, the reserved gave little support.
Duke gave up 40 second half points because Yurtseven was simply unstoppable on the blocks. Double teams did not slow him. But Duke continued to force turnovers and tightened up its perimeter defense to make for what would have been a comfortable win, if the offense had not succumbed to the Hoya press.
One More Concern Moving Forward
Duke committed 21 fouls, most either were on offense or trying to compete on the interior. The offense turned it over 21 times – 10 in the sloppy first half and 11, primarily against the press in the second half.
Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday November 26 (at 9 pm EST) and Friday November 29 against Winthrop (7 pm EST) to get ready for a formidable December schedule.
Stephen F. Austin 85 – Duke 83 (Overtime)
Duke 83 – Winthrop 70
Washington, D.C., November 27th, 12:05 am. My cell phone rings. Immediately, I recall back in the day telling our teenage kids that nothing good happens after midnight, so best be home by that time. However, it wasn’t a teenager with bad news, it’s Johnny Tar Heel asking what is Stephen F. Austin and where is it? I tell him I don’t know and why is he asking. He replies that someone with this name just beat Duke in overtime. I tell him it’s too late for jokes, I didn’t have video access to the game, but last I checked Duke was up 15, hung up, then check my ESPN app to find out it’s no joke nor bad dream. Duke had experienced one of, if not the, worst upsets in NCAA history– Right up there with Chaminade and Ralph Sampson’s Virginia.
Some weeks ago I wrote, in part, Coach K schedules teams like Central Arkansas and Georgia State, etc. for a reason. It is because there are a lot of talented basketball players who are not quite big enough or who, for some other reason, never were on the recruiting radar of the big programs (Stephen & Seth Curry) but who play at smaller schools like Evansville, Wofford, Belmont, Lehigh, Davidson, and UMBC– small, quick talented teams who, with the benefit of the three point line, play a different style of basketball (sort of a college version of the Golden State Warriors) and on any given night can and have beaten the best teams in the country. Just ask Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. These are the kind of teams a high seed often play the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament and they benefit from the experience of defending a team much different than the typical ACC opponent. Now add Stephen F. Austin to those smaller, unknown schools who have upset a Basketball Powerhouse, ranked Number One no less.
That doesn’t totally explain what has happened in these two game in Cameron. Until this week, exceptionally good defense and timely plays have masked mediocre shooting and inconsistent play. Still several stats stand out:
- Vernon Carey’s free throw shooting has regressed to the level other recent Duke centers—an ominous development. [I am unconvinced that someone with his touch is going to continue to be this inconsistent.]
- Tre Jones assist-to-turnover ratio has flipped upside down.[I
- nexplicable for someone who nearly led the nation in this stat last year.]Wendell Moore’s rapid improvement against Georgetown seems like a mirage. [He has been too productive in International Play not to excel at the collegiate level.]
- Matthew Hurt responded to poor performances against Georgetown and S.F Austin by playing well against Winthrop….. but Winthrop is not big and strong like Georgetown or Michigan State. [Stay tuned.]
- Do you see a pattern of young and inconsistent here. [Maturity often develops unevenly in stages.]
- The only good news about Cassius Stanley’s hamstring injury is that it does not appear too serious and that it gave Joey Baker an extended opportunity to demonstrate the skills he can bring to the floor, especially the ability to hit threes and thereby extending the defense to open up the paint for Carey, Hurt , and Company.
- It is easy to forget that these are exceptionally gifted athletes—but still are teenagers. However, DeLaurier and White are not. They are seniors. Jack’s reluctance to shoot limits his usefulness, (except for special occasions) and Javin’s maddening tendency to foul, limits his usefulness. And finally, with the popularity of basketball attracting the best athletes worldwide, the longer a better team let’s a less talented team hang around, the better chance there is for an upset. At the end of the S.F.A. upset, the point guard penetrated and got the ball to a big man. 49 of 50 times in the past, Duke converts, or there is a foul. But for the ball to emerge from a scrum under the basket to a guard fast enough to run 70 feet in 2.5 second and make a layup is 100-1. But that’s what makes basketball such an exciting game.
The two games dramatically demonstrated what I have written – at this juncture of the season, this edition of the Blue Devils is far from a #1 team; far from a top 5 team; and maybe only a top 20 team. Coach K, as always, put it accurately: “We’re going to have to work through a bunch of things … with this group. It’ll take time and we’re going to try and muck it out and we know we’re not a top five team – maybe not even a top 25 team in the country right now. We’ve beaten good teams and we’ve played well. But now it’s where do we go after a loss and a win this week. … Next week would be tough even if you were a top five team.” [Next week is road games at East Lansing (Michigan State in the ACC-Big 10 challenge) and Blacksburg (opening the ACC season on the road).]
For me, the question is “what happened to the superb defense that Duke played in New York (especially against California). In both games – far more in the SFA game – Duke gave up a startling number of points in the paint. Even after allowing 64 points in the paint to SFA, Duke did not stop the penetration of Winthrop, which led to interior passing that produced easy layups at the rim. When Duke doubled the post, Winthrop scored either on passes or offensive rebounds when the weak side was abandoned for the double team. The sophisticated switching that was the Duke hallmark against Kansas and in New York was simply non-existent. No, I don’t know what happened. It will be necessary for the defense to reappear if losses next week are to be avoided.
Offensively, it was a mixed bag. Duke’s offense revived against Winthrop, thanks to the re-emergence of Matt Hurt in the first half (18 in the half; only 20 for the game) and Joey Baker (Bill’s favorite; because he’s partial to seeing Duke shots go in the basket) for the game – 16 points in 23 minutes. Jordan Goldwire also was instrumental in Duke getting untracked in the second half. With Stanley’s injury and the terrific play of Baker and Goldwire, the rotation is completely in flux.
Duke v Stephen F Austin (written prior to the Winthrop game)
Duke was a 27.5 point favorite last night (and is an even heavier favorite against Winthrop for Friday’s game). Bill was away for the holidays, so we decided we would do one edition of the Duke Basketball Playbook to cover both games, “since they would not be competitive games”. Apparently the Duke team also had the view that the games would not be competitive. The first few minutes corroborated that feeling, but completely undid this young team. With 9:03 left in the first half, Matt Hurt added a layup to give Duke a 15 point lead (33-18). What happened for the next 36 minutes is exactly what happened to Kentucky against Evansville and in countless other spectacular upsets. Stephen F. Austin (SFA) morphed into a team of destiny and played so well that I almost wanted to root for the 27 and ½ point underdog, playing in an arena of legend and just sticking it to Duke with intensity and energy. “Up Yours, # 1!”
Not only did The Lumberjacks deserve to win, but Duke deserved to lose. The second half and overtime are illuminating for any analysis of this game from Duke’s perspective. Duke shot 11-24 from the free throw line in the second half and overtime. SFA had 8 more field goal attempts than Duke and 7 more rebounds in the second half. Duke turned it over an astounding number of times, including giving up the winning basket on the final of its 22 turnovers. Worse, the vaunted defense was beyond porous – SAF scored 25 more points in the paint and grabbed 7 offensive rebounds (making Duke pay almost every time). Coach K: “We gave up 60 [64, actually] points in the paint; we don’t give up 60 points for a game!”
Coach K: “They were better than we were. They were tougher. They had more poise. They made so many layups (those 64 points in the paint).” The Coach pointed out the terrible foul shooting and sloppy ball handling. Tre had 8 turnovers alone. However, K gave full credit to the incredible performance of The Lumberjacks: “we played badly, but they made us play badly by their superb play.”
Coach K: “We were not deserving of winning. The overtime, especially the last play, was symbolic of the game we played.” Duke scored just 2 points in the crucial overtime, and that was on a put back by Carey (2nd offensive rebound of that scrum). In the crucial 5 minutes of overtime, Duke turned the ball over 6 times! Both Lumberjack overtime field goals came off of live ball turnovers in the open court leading to open layups. Duke took 4 shots – a 3 and a put back by White, the put back by Carey to tie the game at 83 with 2:14 left and a missed short jumper by Tre with 16 seconds left. When Tre missed a pretty open mid-range jumper with 16 seconds left on the clock, Moore grabbed the offensive board and got the ball to Hurt, who was stripped of the ball for the winning Lumberjack basketball. Duke had not only failed to score in the last 2:14 of the overtime, but had only taken one shot (Tre’s mid-range miss)!
The second half was an illuminating nightmare for the Blue Devils, who gave up 41 points, committed 12 fouls and were outrebounded by 8 after dominating inside in the first half. Vernon Carey was 2-9 from the free throw line. Duke’s offense got the ball into him in good position. He drew the foul. But when you brick the free throws, it is just like a turnover. Tre was 1-5 from the field and only 3-6 from the line. There was no bench. Javin played 2 minutes (only 1 foul); Alex was in for 4 minutes (1-1 from the field). Neither Baker nor Goldwire made it on the floor in the second half. Carey played 15 minutes (3-3 from the field with 3 rebounds and 4 blocks for 8 points. Tre (6 points) and Cassius (8 points) played all 20 minutes, while Wendell Moore scored 7 in 16 minutes (5-6 from the free throw line; 1-2 from the field). Hurt and White split the small forward time at 10 minutes each. White played 3 minutes as the center with Carey getting a rest and Javin completely ineffective. Hurt was 2-6 from the field (1-2 from deep and 1-2 from the line) for 6 points, but only 1 rebound. White did not attempt a shot or foul shot in his 13 minutes. He grabbed 2 boards. Both Hurt and White committed 2 second half fouls. It was very hard to watch if you were a Duke fan.
Coach K: “We did not respond well to winning in New York. We assumed we would win. Not that it would be easy, but that we would win. We tried to tell them at half and at time outs. We didn’t respond to a different emotion. They outplayed us.”
It was about toughness. SFA forces turnovers and dominated the interior to score and rebound. K attributed the many turnovers to a lack of toughness. “Duke was not strong with the ball.” Understatement!
What’s next? [written before the Winthrop game]. Coach K: “I’m disappointed. I’m going to wallow in that disappointment before figuring out what to do. I’ve told my team, ‘it’s not ok to play like that. We have to get tough quickly.”
The score was tied at 32 with 3:10 left in the first half, when Duke went on its first run (8-0) with Stanley and Tre hitting from the field (Tre’s only 3) and Hurt making 3 of 4 from the line. Duke led 42-35 at the half (Duke also won the second half 41-36). With 13:40 left in the game, Duke led by 11, when the wheels started to come off. It felt just like the SFA game, where Duke’s 15 point lead started to shrink with alarmingly bad play. Duke went 4:20 without scoring while Winthrop chopped the Devil lead to 4 with 9:45 left. Sloppy play by both teams followed. Duke expanded the lead on good plays by Hurt, Baker, Carey and Goldwire to lead by 10 with 5:31 left. By then Winthrop was gassed and Duke rolled the lead to 16 before calling off the dogs.
Cassius only played two minutes in the second half because of his injury. Coach K said it was hamstring rather than knee, and hoped Stanley would return by Christmas. Alex (6 minutes) and Jack White (8 minutes) played only cameos. Matt Hurt played 17 second half minutes even though his scoring stopped (1-4 for 2 points). He had scored 18 in a spectacular outburst in the first half. In the second half, Matt earned his time with 4 boards and excellent defense. The result was White played only 3 second half minutes to spell Hurt.
With Cassius hurt, one hoped Wendell Moore would step up, but exactly the opposite happened. It was a bad game for Wendell who failed to score in 19 minutes, missing his only 2 shots. Eventually, Baker took his minutes. Coach K gave Carey more rest, which produced excellent results. Vernon played only 22 minutes to record his double double – 10 rebounds and 17 points (5-10 from the field and 7-10 from the stripe) to go with a block. Tre found him with some great passes for easy lay ups. Javin played 16 minutes (2-2 for 4 points) with 3 boards. While he committed 2 fouls in his 7 first half minutes, he was in the game for 9 valuable second half minutes without fouling. Major improvement.
Goldwire was simply a star. Tre had big trouble guarding the quick Winthrop back court (the 5’8” other Jones gave Tre fits). Jordan made 5 steals – 4 in the second half, where he played 13 scintillating minutes, scoring 6 (2-3 from the field and 2-2 from the line). Baker played 14 second half minutes scoring 8 and playing superbly – diving on the floor, taking charges, and really making a case for getting significant playing time. Let’s see if this was a true emergence or a flash in the pan. Carey had 12 of his 17 points in his 10 second half minutes.
Tre had an odd week. He committed 13 turnovers in these 2 games, and was significantly torched on defense by both SFA and Winthrop guards. He is scoring and passing, but his floor game was off by a wide margin. The test against Pre-Season Player of the year, Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston will be telling next Tuesday. Tre could not contain Winston in last year’s elite 8 loss to the Spartans.
This was the week where reality set in. Coach K said Duke was playing with “inherited wealth” by being ranked so high this early in the season. By “inherited wealth” he meant that Duke’s ranking was based in significant part on the past recent (and long term) success of K’s program rather on this team’s accomplishments (really just the opening night win over Kansas; think last year’s opening night win over Kentucky). This team did not earn that high ranking, which was fully disclosed by this week’s games.
The Michigan State game will receive mega scrutiny, but I believe the most important game next week is in Blacksburg against The Hokies. Virginia Tech beat Michigan State in the first round of the tournament before the clock struck midnight for the next two losing games. The ACC will be such a gauntlet this year (4 teams in last week’s top 8 – Duke, Louisville, who will be #1 next week, UNC and Virginia, which held Maine to 26 points for an entire game). Losing in Blacksburg would set a bad tone for Duke’s ACC championship hopes.
Michigan State is on ESPN; Virginia Tech on ACCN.