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.
DUKE 87 – MICHIGAN STATE 75
What a difference a week makes!
Raise your hand if you thought these young Blue Devils, who just seven days ago lost to Stephen F. Austin in the most embarrassing home loss in school history, struggled against Winthrop, then traveled to East Lansing without the services of an injured Cassius Stanley, would not only beat but totally dominate Michigan State, the preseason #1 team in the country. ESPN studio hosts Seth Greenberg and LaPhonso Ellis certainly didn’t think so, but then, apparently, they don’t know K (“We’re not a Top-5 Team. We may not even be top-25 right now.” Translation: But next week? Lookout!) However, we do know Coach K. How many times have we seen this re-run? Why is anyone still surprised by the ending? Why weren’t more hands in the air?The bottom line is that given the circumstances—an unprecedented fall from grace, the tough opponent and venue, and essentially down two starters—injured Stanley and Mia Moore—this was one of the most impressive team turnaround performances in memory.
The score was deceiving. Duke was never behind, ahead mostly by double digits and the high teens to low twenties for most of the second half. The Spartans had no answer for Vernon Carey (26 points,11 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Tre Jones (20 points and 12 assists, 3 steals while locking down Elite Eight nemesis Cassius Winston, the preseason National Player of the Year). Despite the impressive numbers of the two stars, it was an remarkable total team win with a lot of gritty, blue collar play by the senior co-captains. Lauren DeLaurier had his best game since these same two teams met in the Elite Eight last spring. DeLaurier (10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, only 1 foul) appeared to be jumping off a trampoline as he consistently played above the rim at both ends of the floor. His roommate Jack White (7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks) started for the injured Cassius Stanley and brought the kind of toughness Duke needed in a very hostile venue. Matthew Hurt (10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks) played stronger. Jordan Goldwire (3 assists, a steal and 1 block gave) Duke 24 solid defensive minutes off the bench. Only Wendell Moore, who got into early foul trouble, and Alex O’Connell failed to contribute and consequently lost playing time to Joey Baker in the second half, who again shot (5-6) impressively.
Make no mistake, a tough, active defense was the lynchpin for this win but the equalizer was every time Duke needed points (when State made a 9-1 run to start the second half), the ball went to Vernon Carey (final three schools: Duke, Michigan State, and North Carolina) in the low post. The Spartans had no answer for the big center with a soft touch. Coincidently, as Johnny Tar Heel often comments, Coach K was a terrific bench coach who is worth ten points a game. So, I was puzzled why Matthew Hurt and not Vernon Carey was on the floor on the last possession of the overtime against Stephen F. Austin The score was tied, four SAF players had 4 fouls, and Duke was in the double bonus. The obvious play was to get the ball down low, make a basket or get fouled. But Carey was on the bench, Matthew Hurt was in the low post. The pass from Jones was loose on a scrum on the floor, Hurt got pushed out of the way, and the rest is history. Nobody on SAF could push Carey away from that loose ball. Coulda, shoulda, woulda!
- Duke is now 19-2 in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, 5-0 against Michigan State.
- Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams take pride in playing “tough”. Duke has a reputation of being soft. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils are 13-2 against Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
- Duke hit 7-of-15 on 3s and 16-of-22 from the line, while out-rebounding Michigan State 34-32. Duke had 11 blocks and 10 steals.
- The Spartans were 4-for-16 on 3s.
Euphoria was the unanimous emotion as Duke dominated the Spartans with an epic performance. That euphoria can disguise some of the analytics that put this wonderful performance in perspective. Duke dominated in the first half, torching the Spartans for 45 points. An explosive outburst. Michigan State scored 46 second half points. Duke dominated on offense for the entire game, but on defense only in the first half. The defense did not die in the second half, but the Spartans revived. Duke simply could not stop them; but didn’t have to because of the Devils’ spectacular offense.
Let’s examine the rotation, the offense, the defense and Coach K’s wisdom.
Coach K’s wisdom
Coach K was asked who his toughest opponent has been in his coaching career. His answer: “human nature”. Duke thought the game against SFA would not be competitive. The challenge of the Spartans was obvious – SFA humiliation; Winthrop first half; last year’s tragic loss in the Elite 8 when Duke was the favorite to win the national championship; and (perhaps most important) the thrashing of Tre Jones by Cassius Winston in that game. Winston had simply taken Tre to school. Duke met that challenge in the first half in not less than spectacular style. Duke’s double digit lead throughout the second half may (partially) explain giving up 46 second half points. Duke plays Virginia Tech on Friday. Human nature?
This game was won, in large measure, by Duke’s returning players. Only Vernon Carey was dominant out of the freshman class. In only 25 minutes of action, Carey scored 26 to go with 11 boards, 3 blocks and an assist. He was 9-12 from the foul line. He missed a couple of bunnies; he could easily have scored 30. Cassius Stanley didn’t play. Wendell Moore played only 10 minutes (7 in the first half while committing 3 fouls) without scoring. Matt Hurt contributed 10 points in 27 minutes. Valuable in many ways.
But it was Tre Jones (best game of his Duke career), who totally dominated Cassius Winston, playing every minute of the game, and scoring 20 points ((6-13 from the field including 2-5 from deep and 6-8 from the stripe) to go with 12 assists, a block and 3 steals. The only negative was 6 turnovers. It was an All-American performance. Tre had plenty of help from the upper class. Javin was superb. Coach K acknowledged that Javin had been a disappointment until this game. He spelled Carey, playing 19 minutes, scoring 10 – mostly on dunks by really running the floor. Tre’s passes to him were worth watching more than once. Javin had 10 (5-5) with 6 boards, 2 steals, a block and an assist. In 19 minutes, he committed only 1 foul! Jack White played 31 superb minutes (only player besides Tre to log more than 27 minutes). He had 7 points (3-4, including 1-2 from deep) to go with 6 boards, 3 steals, 2 blocks and an assist. He supplied a toughness that has been somewhat missing. Coach K singled out all 3 co-captains with praise for their leadership and energy. Let us not forget junior Jordan Goldwire and sophomore Joey Baker, who both made their mark dramatically. In 24 minutes, Goldwire was terrific. He was a perfect complement to Tre with ball handling on offense and guarding Winston on defense. Baker has played himself into the rotation. Duke’s meritocracy. He had 11 points in only 17 minutes (5-6 from the field, including 1-1 from deep). He has used his new found fame as a 3 point shooter to employ the shot fake to get rid of his defender and score in the mid-range game.
Duke’s defense was as good as it has been all year (which is amazingly good) in the first half. The energy was papabile. Duke got deflections, blocks, steals and completely disrupted the Spartan offense, which scored only 29 first half points. Double the first half score and Duke wins 90-58. The game was effectively over at the half. Even though the Spartans found their offense – especially in the paint, reminding us of the defensive shortcomings against SFA and Winthrop – Duke did some amazing things. Coach K pointed out that even when Duke players were beaten by a Spartan driver or excellent inside pass, each made the extra effort, making basket saving blocks from behind. Coach K said that was what won the game.
What a great inside – outside combination Duke displayed. Carey was absolutely unstoppable in the post (+ 1-2 from long range). He is simply a stud. Enjoy him this year because it is hard to see him returning next year. Tre was, as described above, at his absolute best. They scored 46 of Duke’s 87. Duke shot better than any game this season – 47 % from behind the arc, including 4-6 in the second half to keep the Spartans at bay. The Blue Devils shot 56% from the field and 73% from the foul line. We would take that for every game for the rest of the season. It was a performance to build on.
Duke faces its first conference game in Blacksburg on Friday under extremely difficult circumstances. First, Blacksburg has been a scene of frequent Devil disappointments in the past. Second, the schedule requires two long flights in 3 days on the week before finals. Coach K said that two of his players had to take tests during the trip to East Lansing. I wrote last week that the game against the Hokies was actually more important than against Michigan State. As we can tell from Louisville’s dismantling of Michigan, winning the ACC regular season title will be difficult. It would be more difficult if the first conference game is a road loss. What a week!
DUKE 77 – VIRGINIA TECH 63
I thought there were many reasons to be apprehensive about tonight’s game:
Bad Karma: For years, Virginia Tech has been an unusually difficult opponent for Duke. For example, a highly ranked Blue Devil team has lost their last three trips to Blacksburg.
Payback: Tech almost upset Duke in the Sweet Sixteen last year.
Preparation: Tech is rested (they did not participate in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge) and their talented, new Coach Mike Young has had weeks to prepare for the game. Duke had less than a day.
Balance: As opponent’s devise ways to defend and frustrate Vernon Carrey, will he find the open man, and if so, can that player score?
Defense: Is the defense as good as it looked against Michigan State or as bad as it looked against Stephan F. Austin and Winthrop?
Injury: Who or what combination of players will replace Cassius Stanley’s scoring, defense, and playmaking abilities?
Fatigue: Will the players be able to recover mentally and physically from the travel and quick turnaround from the emotional Michigan State game in East Lancing during Finals Week?
What I didn’t anticipate was that we would see yet another example of why Johnny Tar Heel keeps telling me Coach K is a great bench coach with an intuitive feel for the flow of a game and complementary talents of his players that is worth 5-12 points in any given game.
The first half was not encouraging. The Hokies were shredding the Blue Devil defense like SFA and scoring points in the paint with ease. Duke was fortunate to be down only three points, not double digits, at the half. The second half was only a minute and two easy Hokie baskets old when a disgusted Coach K uncharacteristically called quick time out and made the most surprising and impactful substitution since little used freshman Grayson Allen went into the second half of the 2015 NCAA Championship game against Wisconsin.
Out of the timeout, we saw the indefatigable Tre Jones on the court with the unlikely (What’s going on? Have the starters just declared for the NBA draft?) combination of Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker, Jack White, and only one freshman, the recently benched Wendell Moore. To provide more athleticism, the inconsistent Alex O’Connell quickly replaced Joey Baker. This unlikely group surprisingly played Tech even, then totally turned the game around and quieted the raucous arena by out-defending, out-hustling, and out- scoring the Hokies 35-16. These Duke subs held the Hokies scoreless for more than three minutes, turning a slim 56-55 Duke margin into a 62-55 lead.
With 4:23 to play, a frustrated Landers Nolley, the Hokie’s most talented player, lost his composure. As the Hokies were setting up their half-court offense, Nolley, attempting off ball to shake a relentless Wendell Moore, shoved him in the chest. The solid 6’5” Moore should receive an Oscar nomination for making certain officials didn’t miss it and whistled a foul. After a replay review, the refs changed it to a flagrant-1 foul, giving Moore two free throws. He hit them both giving Duke a 68-57 lead. Then, the mercurial Alex O’Connell finally rediscovered his touch and nailed a deuce, then a three. After that, the deflated Hokies were so discouraged and gassed, they didn’t even attempt a full court press.
The bottom line is that after 39 years, 5 NCAA Championships, 12 Final Fours, 12 ACC regular season titles, and 15 ACC Tournament championships, you think you have seen it all and thought you knew Coach K like a well-read book. The Maestro showed you that you haven’t and didn’t.
Why and how did this game turn around?
As usual the relentless, indefatigable Tre Jones (he wasn’t even breathing hard for the post-game interview) was the catalyst at both ends of the floor. Vernon Carey (12 points, 5 rebounds) and Matthew Hurt (8 points, 0 rebounds) barely played in the second half. Cassius Stanley, after missing only one game with a hamstring injury, started but was rusty and barely played. So impressive against Michigan State, Javin DeLaurier had 12 unimpressive minutes. On the other hand, Jordan Goldwire (10 points and 6 rebounds) played 30 minutes of his best basketball. The always athletic but inconsistent Alex O’Connell (7 points and 5 rebounds) played 15 impressive minutes. For 22 minutes, blue collar Jack White (7 points, 2 blocks, 1 steal) defended the interior better than anyone. Wendell Moore (12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) was in his element and played more like the impactful international player he has been the last two summers.
Key stat: The Blue Devils, ranked 238th nationally in free throw percentage, went 10-for-10 tonight.
For those who thought Coach K was always reverts to a 6 or 7 man rotation in tough games: 9 different Devils played at least a dozen minutes, with a 10th, Stanley getting 7.
Seven Duke players scored between 7 and 15 points but Jones, Moore and Alex O’Connell proved all of Duke’s points in this decisive 17-2 run.
Alan (who assured me at the half that Duke would win) Adds (from paradise):
I texted Bill at the half, “Where is our defense? 41 points allowed. Duke is schizophrenic on defense.” Winthrop was a perfect example; excellent defense in the second half after a porous first half. When Bill called around half time (complaining that Duke was losing while the Hokies paraded to the rim with 26 points in the paint), I assured him that Duke would win. My assurance was based on the fact that Duke was down by only 3, when it should have been 15 based on the porous defense. But, it should have been based on the fact that Duke is coached by K. I do not believe there is another coach who would have made the change in strategy and lineup that Coach K created early in the second half.
Duke gave up the first two baskets of the second half in a minute to trail by 7. Time out. The Coach took out Matt Hurt (8 points in 15 first half minutes) and the star offensive player, Vernon Carey (10 points and 5 boards in 11 minutes) in favor of Wendell Moore (10 first half minutes without a point or rebound) and Joey Baker (8 first half minutes without a score). Hurt never returned to the game; Carey played another 2 minutes (2-2 from the line). The substitution and switch in strategy produced an amazing defensive effort that clearly won the game.
Coach K: “We could not defend the ball screen in the first half. They scored twice to open the second half on ball screens that produced drives.” Duke went to a lineup that could switch everything on defense and could provide spacing and movement on offense. The offense was pure motion without running any sets. On defense, the switching allowed Duke to close off the driving lanes. Nowlins II was torching the Duke bigs from the elbow in the first half. In the second half Duke guarded him primarily with Wendell Moore, who got help from both Jack White and Jordan Goldwire. “We guarded him with athletes.” Nowlins was scoreless in the second half and committed 6 turnovers.
“Being able to switch was the key to the game. We kept them out of the paint. We kept better pressure on with switching.”
How amazingly wonderful was this second half defense? Take away the first four points before the timeout and the last 4 points that the Hokies scored in the last minute to cut the lead from 18 to 14. Duke held the Hokies to 14 points in about 18 minutes! I do not have the eloquence for the proper adjective.
The Duke offense thrived. Wendell Moore played his best half at Duke on both ends of the floor. He scored 12 second half points (4-6 from the field and 4-4 from the line to go with 2 boards and a steal) in 17 minutes. Tre was superb in 20 second half minutes. After and even battle with Hokie point guard Wabissa Bede, Tre dominated him in the second half, scoring 10 while keeping Bede out of the paint (where his passing shredded the defense in the first half) and holding him to 6 points. Tre was 5-9 with 5 rebounds. Goldwire also played all 20 minutes of the second half. He shared the ball handling with Tre, also grabbed 5 rebounds and was a demon on defense. Alex hit two big shots in his 9 second half minutes. Baker played 12; White 13. The bigs saw little floor time (Hurt, just that first minute – suggesting he has much to learn about switching and defense; Carey 4 minutes; Javin 4 minutes). It was some second half!
Still, the game was tight. With 8:59 left, Duke led by 1 before breaking the game wide open. Moore grabbed an offensive board and hit a short jumper. Tre forced Bede into a turnover, and then (after a timeout) hit a jumper. Tre garnered a defensive rebound, passed to Goldwire who fed Moore for an open court layup. Duke by 7. After a string of misses by both teams, Bede and Tre each made jumpers. Moore blew by Nowlins for a layup and a 9 point lead when Nowlins committed the flagrant one against Moore, who made both free throws. Alex hit a three as Duke maintained possession on the flagrant foul. Duke by 14 and the rout was on. What a stretch! The Hokies were done. They were too tired to press. As Tre said post game, “We ran them into the ground.”
Coach K said “We played like winners.” He applauded the toughness he saw – especially from Moore. When Wendell missed a wide open layup, he didn’t pout he just played harder. “This is just an old fashioned team.” Coach K said. It was clearly a well-deserved compliment.
DUKE 86 – WOFFORD 57
[Unforced error: Alan had a medical procedure scheduled for Saturday morning so we agreed to combine coverage of the Wofford and the Brown games on December 29th. Early Saturday morning, I decided to send a picture and score with a short explanation. Inadvertently, I send some of you a draft of my notes from last night, which I use as an outline for my coverage the next morning. Alan belatedly decided that if he survived the procedure/operation, he would write/play hurt so we could send something this week-end.]
No Tre Jones. No problem. Seriously, how many times has a non-conference team come to Tobacco Road and swept North Carolina and Duke in back- to- back games? If you said never, you win!!!!
But Tre’s minor foot strain was not the big news. Coach K actually playing nine players serious minutes this far into the pre-ACC play was– and each was productive. The defense was impressive as only one opponent scored in double digits. However, Joey Baker, Justin Goldwire, and Javin DeLaurier were the most impressive.
DeLaurier replaced Carey two minutes into the game and gave Duke a much-needed infusion of strength and energy. Even Krzyzewski singled him out. He ended the game without a foul or a turnover. And Goldwire played the most complete game of his career as he did not miss a shot and shared point guard responsibilities with Wendell Moore.
However, it was Baker (22 points) who continues to impress with JJ Reddick like three point shooting, knocking down 5 three pointers in a span of just under 10 minutes. The first two extended Duke’s lead from 46-30 to 52-30 and ended any chance of a Wofford comeback. Even Coach K was impressed and said that Baker has worked his way into the rotation. “In September, I wasn’t sure how much Joey could play. And he’s come every day and practiced. He shoots game shots even when he’s just shooting. He’s become our quickest shooter and our most accurate shooter. The guys see it.” It seems as though Joey Bucket’s long distance shooting and the teams improved free throw shooting may well be the keys to this more experienced team with fewer one-and-done lottery picks being even more successful than the last few more highly rated editions.
Carey had a 20 & 10 night against an undersized front line. He now has eight double-doubles this season. Hurt had 12 points and 8 rebounds.
As I mentioned, this team has four players—Baker, Stanley, Hurt, and Carey– shooting over 40% from beyond the new three point line. And after a slow start by Carey, as a team they are recently averaging over 70% on free throws. These a championship-like numbers.
When Wofford beat UNC on Sunday, December 15, I wrote to Bill that I thought Duke would simply pulverize Wofford when they met just 4 days after The Terriers had handed the Tarheels a loss at home that was just as embarrassing as Stephen F. Austin’s humiliation of the Blue Devils in Cameron just two weeks prior. After that embarrassment, I was sure that Duke would never underestimate an opponent this year (See the DBP re the Stephen F Austin game). Moreover after what Coach K called “the toughest week I’ve had in my 40 years at Duke” – away games at Michigan State and Virginia Tech in the space of 4 days in the midst of the week before finals – Duke had 13 days off so I knew Duke would be well rested. I was confident … until I learned just before tipoff that Tre would not play. That was an X factor.
Obviously, we now know that I should not have worried. The Blue Devils put on what Coach K called, “an outstanding performance.” He listed the building blocks for that assessment: 1) the outstanding defense Duke played; 2) the way the team shared the ball; 3) the paucity of Devil turnovers in a fast paced game; and, 4) 9 players played between 28 minutes (Goldwire) and 17 minutes (DeLaurier).
After a slight struggle in the opening minutes, adjusting to Tre’s absence, the defense played as well as it has all season, and Duke has had some tremendous defensive games so far this season. Wofford led 9-5 after 3:52 had elapsed. For the next 16:07, Duke held Wofford to just 14 points. Of course, Coach K had the perfect game plan. Wofford is a 3 point shooting team led by its ace guard, Storm Murphy and his long range shooting partner, Nathan Hoover. They had torched the Tar Heels, and Coach K’s main emphasis was to shut them down from 3land. How well did that work? Neither scored a single point in the first half. Murphy could not even attempt a 3; he was 0-3 from the field. Hoover missed 3 well contested 3s to go 0-4 for the first half. Duke held Wofford to 26 first half points, the last 3 coming on a well defended 3 as time expired. It was simply a superb defensive effort. Human nature being what it is (Duke’s lead was as high as 29 a couple of times in the second half)), the defense was not quite as intense, allowing 31 points. Neither DeLaurier nor White put big points on the board, but each played hellacious defense. Goldwire tortured Murphy (though Coach K said that Goldwire and Murphy played each other evenly, I thought Goldwire took him to school) and Wendell Moore (scoreless in 11 second half minutes) also played intense defense to go with his 5 second half rebounds. Cassius Stanley had a great first half at both ends as well.
All 9 scored in the first half, led by Carey and Hurt, who each played 12 minutes and scored 8 against the undersized Terriers. DeLaurier (8 minutes) and Baker (6 minutes) each scored 5. DeLaurier was 1-1 from the field and 3-4 from the line, while Joey missed his only 2 first half field goal attempts, but was 5-5 from the line. Moore scored 4 in 13 minutes (2-4 from the field). Stanley logged the most first half minutes (14) while scoring 3. White, Goldwire, O’Connell each had a field goal for 2 points. Duke was only 1-7 from behind the arc, but shot 14-20 from inside the arc (Wow!) and 8-11 from the line for 39 points.
Duke’s offense (particularly Baker and Carey) exploded for 47 second half points. Baker’s 5-6 from behind the arc (6-9 from the field) led the way with 17 second half points in just 12 minutes. Carey was amazingly efficient, scoring 12 second half points in only 11 minutes on 4-5 from the field and 4-4 from the line to go with his 8 boards and a block. He was a beast, to say the least. The second half also belonged to Goldwire, who logged a team high 17 minutes, scoring 6 on 2-2 from the field including 1-1 from behind the arc and 1-1 from the line to go with 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal. Duke did not miss Tre at all. That is astonishing, and bodes well for the growth of this team.
Is it just this game, or has Coach K changed his philosophy to match the talent of this team. It seems he has 10 players with the capacity to contribute. JGold led the team in minutes with 28. Others who logged 20 minutes or more were Alex (24), Moore (24), Carey (23) White (21) and Hurt (20). Stanley (18, but only 4 in the second half), Baker (18; 12 in the second half) and DeLaurier (17; though scoreless in his 9 second half minutes) rounded out the main players. JRob had 3 blocks in his 5 minutes. Duke is morphing into a really deep team.
Duke is off until December 28, when Brown visits Cameron at the early hour of 11:30 a.m. In early 2020, the ACC season is on.
DUKE 75 – BROWN 50
What do you think when someone mentions Brown University. I think of it is the safe backup school for children of eastern celebrities (JFK, Jr., Amy Carter, Emma Watson) or a baker’s dozen of the Kennedy clan who, for a variety of reasons, couldn’t get into Harvard– or Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) in George Lucas’ autobiographical, coming-of-age classic movie, American Graffiti (which, incidentally, became one of the most profitable films of all time and gave a young Lucas the juice to finance the Indiana Jones & Star Wars franchises) finally deciding to get on that 50’s prop plane to fly east to Brown University, after which he presumably became, you guessed it, a successful screen writer.
However, what I don’t think is BASKETBALL! And that’s a good thing, because the score was very deceiving. For much too long, the game looked more like an intermural fraternity scrimmage or a rerun of the Stephen F. Austin game. It appeared that during Christmas break, Carey was the only player who picked up a basketball but, fortunately, Alex O’Connell apparently found his jump shot under the Christmas tree. Too long for Duke fans, the game was too close for comfort as it was a tossup whether the Blue Devils were worse offensively or defensively. If Duke had played well, they would have scored about 100 points. An example: with eleven minutes left in the half, Brown hit a three to tie the game at 12. Wendell Moore stood under the basket with the ball, waiting to throw it in to somebody– only all his teammates had run to the other end of the floor and no one was there to receive the inbounds pass. Duke had to quickly call a timeout to avoid a turnover and an infuriated 72 year old Coach K to ripped off his jacket, a tactic usually saved only for big time opponents. Even that didn’t work very well as the Blue Devils only lead 33-29 at the half to a middle-of the-pack Ivy League team.
Starting the second half, Duke went back to Plan A: throw the ball to Vernon Carey in the post and watch him score. However, it wasn’t until the predictably unpredictable Alex O’Connell, who missed all four of his shots from the floor in the first half, started hitting long jump shots, then two threes did the Devils really settle down as Moore and White stepped up to help ice the game. “Alex is a good basketball player,” Krzyzewski said. “He came through. With all these kids, it’s consistency. It’s not him, it’s all of them. We just have to keep working on it. He was a key guy today, no question.” And red hot Joey Baker? He got his first start, made two terrific defensive plays but was 1-6 as his jump shot was apparently still on Christmas break. Coach K called it “starter’s disease” and he could see signs of it in practice. “He just couldn’t get it. It showed at the end of the first half when he took two wild shots. I talked to him right after the game and told him: “Just remember you’re a damn good player. You don’t have to change when you start. But it meant so much to him.’ We’re going through all those growth periods and thank goodness we were able to play well the last 15 minutes.”
It appears the ACC schedule is the easiest in years, so there is a terrific opportunity for this team to sort out the all the moving parts and win the regular season. But for right now it is very much a work in progress as Jones, who is supposed to start against Boston College on New Year’s eve, and Carey are the only dependable performers. The other eight have their moments but like Cassius Stanley today–he played very good defense but dribbled the ball off his foot on the way to a dunk and Joey Baker inexplicably shooting bricks– you just don’t yet know what to expect from these young, talented players, who are a long way from being NBA ready.
Let’s acknowledge what an impressive run the Clemson football program is having. I just finished watching one of the most exciting, improbable football games I have ever seen. Ohio State outcoached and outplayed Clemson for all but a few minutes of the first half, yet were only up 16-14. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence (and the defense) just would not let his team lose as his final 90 yard drive was one of which Joe Montana would be proud. Although Ohio State certainly played well enough to win—coulda, shoulda, woulda- it was just not meant to be. The bottom line is that Clemson hasn’t won two national titles in the last three years for nothing. This is a team that has been in these kinds of games and has the coaching, talent, skill, and tenacity to know how to respond. Well done, ACC Champions!
At half time I texted Bill that the game was reminding me of the Stephen F. Austin game. Duke had no passion, shot poorly, and had defensive lapses. It was only 14 offensive first half rebounds that helped Duke to a 35-29 half time lead against Brown. Duke led Stephen F. Austin 40-34 at the half. The first five minutes of the second half against Brown was more of the same. Duke committed 5 team fouls in the first 5 minutes of the final stanza. But, unlike the SFA game, Duke changed its fortunes and stormed to a 25 point win, playing 15 minutes of solid basketball against an inferior team. Duke held Brown to 21 second half points and put the game out of reach. But it surely wasn’t pretty.
Coach K said the game plan was to limit Brown’s point guard, Brandon Anderson (leading scorer in the Ivy League with an accurate deep shot) and forward Tamenang Choh, a potential All-Ivy forward. Anderson was 3-5 from deep in the first half, but was held without a 3 pointer in the second half. Coach K said that the game was won by the defense that Cassius Stanley and Wendel Moore played on Choh, holding him scoreless in the first half, and to 4 total points in the game, while forcing him into 5 turnovers. Even though there were some lapses, mostly in the first half when interior Brown passing led to several open layups when Duke’s interior doubles were sloppy, Brown did only score 50 points in the game. The first half lacked the talk that the coach said returned in the latter part of the second half. Duke controlled the boards. Coach K singled out Alex O’Connell for two crucial contested defensive rebounds, and said he thought that was a factor in Alex’s sparkling offensive second half. The superior Blue Devil athletes blocked 9 shots and made 13 steals.
Painful is the adjective that jumps to mind. Duke came back to campus two days before the game and had only two practices. K’s assessment: “It looked like we had not played or practiced.” There were players cutting to the basket when the pass was to the spot vacated, and the team was generally sloppy with the ball. Some of that may have had to do with Tre’s absence, but more likely it was the time away from the game. Seth Greenberg (The Great Pontificator) said the two toughest games of a season are the one before Xmas and the one after. The offense was a tale of two different halves (especially if you put the first five minutes of the second half with the first half). Vernon Carey scored 19 points – 10 in the first half while playing 14 minutes. He scored Duke’s first 8 points in the second half but added only 1-2 from the line for the last 16:28 of the game. Duke was 0-10 from behind the arc, shooting 32% from the field in the opening stanza. Painful.
Then Wendell Moore and Alex O’Connell took over the Duke offense. After being held scoreless in 12 first half minutes, Moore exploded for 10 in the second half on 5-8 from the field to go with 4 boards, 2 assists and 3 steals in 15 minutes. Alex was even better after an undistinguished 6 first half minutes (0-5; 0-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line), when he torched Brown for 12 second half points on 4-5 from the field including 2-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line to go with 3 boards that Coach K so admired. Matt Hurt’s 6 points on 3-4 and Jack White’s 3 points accounted for all 40 of Duke’s second half points.
Jordan Goldwire played 32 minutes to lead the team in minutes played. Coach K praised him. He said he and Alex played like juniors. The coach pointed out that JGold had a poor first half and had let Brown “speed him up”, but that he stayed composed in the second half and provided leadership and defense.
I had said to Bill that Joey Baker turned into a pumpkin like Cinderella in this game, but Coach K had a better way to explain Baker’s disappointing outing (2 points in the first half on 1-5 from the field in 14 minutes and only 3 minutes on the court in the second half). He had “starter’s disease”. He wanted so badly to prove he deserved the start that he put extra pressure on himself and did not play his game. Coach K said that after being told he would start, he couldn’t hit a shot in practice either. Nobody is giving up on this sweet shooter.
The second half rotation is pretty interesting. In the second half, Stanley played 8 minutes, DeLaurier 7, White 6 and Joey 3. Carey played 11. Alex had the most second half minutes (17) while Goldwire and Moore logged (15), Hurt 14 and Carey 11.
This is unlike any Duke team I can remember. No player (except Carey) has been consistent. Each has great stretches or great games, and then disappears or disappoints at other times. It is deeper than any team I remember (since the ’99 team). Coach K reaffirmed it is old school. He analogized what he seeks by reference to the playground games we all played and remember. If your team didn’t win, you sat. There was natural communication because you wanted to play in the next game, which only happened if you won. You had to play together and figure out your teams strengths and weaknesses on the fly. He emphasized, YOU TALKED. Coach K is hoping to develop that and with it the elusive consistency.
ACC play begins. Dec. 31 vs BC. A great end to 2019.
DUKE 88 – BOSTON COLLEGE 49
Once again, Duke started sluggishly on offense and for a time it looked as though we were in for another grind-it-out, defensive battle while waiting and hoping for a patented Duke run that would put the game on cruise control and determine the outcome. With seven minutes left in the half, the Blue Devils led just 21-12. Then, Matthew Hurt hit a flurry of threes, worked hard on the offensive glass, and fueled a 15-3 run. Soon, it was 45-19 at the break. Looking at the box score, it appeared to be a total team effort as no one played more than 26 minutes–10 players played at least 12 minutes, 11 players scored at least 3 points, 7 players hit (this is not fake news) 3-pointers.
However, as we turn the calendar page and start ACC play, it is apparent that currently the team’s success revolves around the twin axis strengths of Tre Jones and Vernon Carey plus eight interchangeable parts (depending on matchups and who’s hot) of Hurt, Stanley, Moore, Baker, O’Connor, Goldwire, reliable center sub DeLaurier, and junk yard dog Jack White. Tonight, it was Hurt, who stood out. The game before that it was AOC, before that Joey Buckets, before that Stanley, before that Moore. So far, the interchangeable eight have only been consistent in their inconsistency. I think that Hurt, if he is physically and mentally strong enough, has so much versatile talent, will have the best chance to become a third constant starter –as well as Stanley, if he figures out how talented he really is and becomes less deferential. And Baker has already demonstrated he has rapidly become a much more complete, aggressive player, even playmaker, than anyone had imagined and may be the designated sixth man. O’Connell is just too ethereal to be counted upon as a starter but as a spot player can morph into a game changer. Goldwire has improved offensively but is a situational sub. Co-captains DeLaurier and White are reliable, well-known quantities who have earned spot duty playing time–not a bad mix of talent from which to choose.
Back in the days before one-and-done players, we had four years to watch players develop and mature. Now, in some cases, we have four months. Until some one or two or three demonstrate that they are consistently reliable in all phases of the game—or at least can reliably hit threes and free throws– we will probably see Coach K actually coach the old fashion way—really use more than six or seven players, and substitute aggressively by feel and intuition. In the meantime, Duke’s depth can wear teams down by bringing players off the bench with little or no drop-off. As Krzyzewski commented: “It’s a team where everybody knows that what they do can contribute to winning and that it’s important.”
While we are talking about improving and maturing, the stoic but studious Vernon Carey, Duke’s most prolific and impressive freshman, has recently been a much more active, tenacious, and effective defender and rim protector. The flip side of that is the sad case of Derryck Thornton, the former highly touted Duke point guard with a stage father who was unhappy with how his son was developing and is now at his third college (Duke, USC, and B.C.) without having developed any NBA skills.
Coach K’s retrospective on Duke Basketball’s last decade:
“We won four ACC tournament titles. The main thing we won was two national titles and being No. 1 seeds a number of years. It’s a hell of a decade. It is our best decade of the four decades that I have been here because it has been the most consistent. When you average 30 wins and seven losses in 10 seasons, c’mon. We are not going to get caught up on regular season or we didn’t win enough tournament titles. During that time we got eliminated a couple times in the first round of the NCAA but we went for it. We have gone for it. We have gone for the national championship. This team has a long way to go before they can do that. But, if we can keep going, we would like that to be how this team is judged… The other thing for the 10 years, we had a different team each year. It wasn’t bringing the same backcourt or the same quarterback. We have a different team each year. It is a hell of a thing. I am proud of these guys that have played for me for the 40 years that I have been there. But this decade I am really proud because it is a new age. It is a new age and to stay in the hunt every year is a hell of a thing. All of my guys have made it possible for me to have that opportunity and I am proud of them.”
Mike Krzyzewski is in his 40th season as Duke’s head coach, and his record is now 1,071-286 at Duke, and 1,143-345 overall in this, his 45th season overall. Duke is now 899-162 all-time when playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium, including 541-67 under Coach K. Duke closes the decade with a record of 300-70 (.811).
It is hard not to be filled with admiration and expectation as we watch this “old school” team grow and develop. I cannot remember a Duke team that genuinely goes 10 deep. To reinforce the importance of Coach K’s insight that Bill quoted above, each of the 10 players knows that he is capable of contributing to a Duke win on any given night. Last night’s rout of BC was illuminating, and sparked by one of the best halves of basketball any Blue Devil team has played. While BC, without its star, does not have the ACC horses to compete, The Eagles were still 2-0 in the conference coming in, with wins over Wake at home and Notre Dame by a point in South Bend. Not an ACC contender, but not The Little Sisters of the Poor either.
Coach K (admiringly): “We played like we practiced. They were talking more and had good energy. We pushed the ball.” Duke’s good energy comes in part from playing 10 players with meaningful minutes. This team is always fresh because of the substitution patterns. Everyone contributed.
The first half
The game was absolutely over by half time; so it is worth looking at the first half in some depth. The score really does tell the tale: Duke 45 – BC 19. First, and most important, was the return of Tre Jones on both ends of the court. Encouragingly, he played 16 first half minutes, shutting down BC’s guards, handing out 6 assists without a turnover and grabbing four rebounds. While his shot was a little off (2-6; 1-3 from deep), he made some passes that were simply breathtaking. His leadership is palpable. Welcome back, Tre.
The defense was as good as it has been all year. BC scored just 19 points in the first 20 minutes. BC had very few open shots on the perimeter. When BC did penetrate, the rim protection provided by Carey and Javin bordered on the spectacular. Coach K admired that the team was talking more on defense, especially Matt Hurt. The Devils forced 10 turnovers and allowed BC only 3 assists on 8 made baskets. Moreover, BC barely got to the free throw line – only 3 free throws (2-3). It was really impressive. The depth allowed the Devils to be intensely energetic; BC simply couldn’t handle the pressure.
On offense, Matt had a breakout game, notching 20 first half points in 15 minutes. He actually outscored BC by himself in the opening stanza (20-19)! Coach K said, Matt has been playing well in the last few games, but this half was other worldly (8-11 from the field including 4-6 from deep) to go with 3 rebounds and a steal. Coach K said Matt has gained weight and is stronger, adding to his confidence. His spectacular play limited Jack White to just 3 first half minutes. The remaining 25 first half points were spread about equally: Wendell Moore (off the bench) scored 6 (2-3 from the field and 2-2 from the line) in 13 minutes to go with 4 rebounds and 3 assists; Carey scored 5 (2-3 from the field but only 1-3 from the line) and grabbed 3 boards in 12 minutes; Joey Baker (off the bench) played 12 excellent minutes even though he was 0-2 from behind the arc. He made 2 delicious drives to account for his 4 points. Alex was 1-2 from deep in his 6 minutes, and Cassius had a dunk in 3 shots for 2 points in his 9 minutes. Tre’s 5 points made up Duke’s 45 points. DeLaurier (8 minutes), JGold (6 minutes) and White (3 minutes) did not score.
Much of the commentary this season has been about Duke’s inconsistency – different players having big games and moments and then disappearing in the next games. Coach K made some interesting points about consistency. He said in other sports, it only counted if you won the game to determine consistency. Teams in those sports all went through bad moments during the game – a pitcher giving up 4 runs in an inning or a quarterback throwing the crucial interception — but in those sports consistency was determined by only one thing – winning. Coach K said Duke’s consistency has been in its winning this year. Duke is 12-1 and has moved into 2nd place in the national polls. This team has grown – and fascinatingly is still growing – into a team far more deserving of that high ranking than when it was ranked # 1 earlier. This is really a different Duke team from the recent ones, and has, in my opinion, a huge potential upside. It really is old school watching Coach K integrate the skills of the team into a National contender. Stay tuned.
Next Play: Saturday night at Miami. First ACC road game. We all know ACC road games are just different.
DUKE 95 – MIAMI 62
It’s too early in the season to tell if Duke is this good or the opponents are that bad. I do know that Coach Jim Larranaga is a very, very good basketball coach and Chris Lyke is a very talented, even lethal, and exciting college player. However, when Jay Bilas, who watches as much college basketball as anyone and has the qualifications to evaluate it properly says that because of Vernon Carey and the depth of talent, Duke has the most upside of any team this year, you have to believe this Blue Devil team may really be developing into something special.
Tonight, after another sluggish start (take it from me because ESPN chose to show the overtime of the exciting Buffalo-Houston NFL game even though it was on a free channel) and with Tre Jones on the bench with two fouls, Duke just methodically ground down and dominated the Hurricanes at both ends of the floor to lead 50-36 at the break. The Blue Devils hit a 60 percent from the field, 43 per cent threes, while holding Miami to under 40 percent from the field and 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. Vernon Carey, playing against the school where his father was an All-American offensive lineman, had 24 pts & 9 rebs in 25 minutes, Stanley 20 points in 26 minutes. Duke dominated Miami 41-24 on the boards, while forcing 15 turnovers,. when we went to the bench we didn’t drop, at times we ascended. Matthew Hurt is adjusting to the physicality of college ball. He is becoming more than just a finesse scorer. Tonight, he had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks to go along with 6-for-8 shooting. You cannot underestimate what impact assistant coaches Nate James, Chris Carawell, Jon Schyer, and Nolan Smith, all of whom were talented and heady players in their prime, have in personally suiting up and schooling these talented young players in the nuances of the game.
- First Semester Report Card:
- Vernon Carey A+. Better than advertised. Only irreplaceable piece of the puzzle. Terrific, soft touch. Improving defensively. Very analytical, very smart.
- Tre Jones A. The leader of the Pack (er Devils). Mature beyond years. Sets the standard for maturity, defense, intensity, and focus.
- Cassius Stanley B – Lots of untapped talent. Too nice and deferential. Getting more aggressive.
- Matthew Hurt B. If he gets stronger and tougher, look out! Takes this team to another level.
- Joey Baker B. Surprise, surprise. The former Joey Buckets becoming a much more versatile, valuable player. Now his jump shot needs to come back from vacation.
- Wendell Moore C+. Lot of versatile talent for his size. Very good defensively. Needs to relax and let game come to him more.
- Jordan Goldwire B+. Huge improvement on offense. Valuable sub.
- Alex O’ Connell C+. getting better defensively but still offensively erratic.
- Javin DeLaurier B+. Tough veteran. Ready, willing, and able to fill in at a moment’s notice.
- Jack White B+. Tough veteran. Ready, willing, and able to fill in at a moment’s notice.
Coach K comments: “Talking (communicating) is the music of the game. This team is getting better at that and it is showing in their defense. We have more depth and when we went to the bench we didn’t drop, at times we ascended. Our guys just played really hard and shared the ball. With 23 assists, it was nice to see. But how hard we’re playing defensively, it’s something we’ve worked on since September, so they keep getting better at it. Jordan Goldwire was a key guy tonight. When Tre (Jones) got his second foul—I’ll play a guy with two fouls in the first half, but when I took him out, I’d thought I’d bring him back with about five minutes to go but J-Gold was doing such a good job that we were able not to do that. Wendell’s (Moore) ball pressure was outstanding. Our guys played well. It’s tough to single out one of them when they all did a good job.” On the team’s improving ability to share the ball: “We’re driving the ball. It’s not just Tre driving. In the last couple of games a couple of our best passes have come from Joey (Baker), who you would not think is a driver. Cassius (Stanley) is driving to score a little bit more which is great and Wendell when he’s getting in there he’s not losing the ball, he’s also kicking. C-Well (assistant coach Chris Carrawell) has been working a lot on our guys making stronger drives and kicks, and it’s paying off.”
A word about North Carolina’s basketball sudden fall from grace: Roy Williams, who is a very loyal, honest, hardworking man and who is Tar Heel born and bred and embodies “The Carolina Way”, has always been in a very difficult, even thankless, situation as head coach at UNC. He reluctantly left Kansas, where he was very much appreciated, to rescue Carolina from the malaise of a decade of miscast coaches Guthridge and Doherty attempting the thankless task of following in the footsteps of Dean Smith, who had achieved saint like status in Tar Heel Land, only to find himself competing with the juggernaut program of rough-around-the-edges, feisty but respected Coach Mike Krzyzewski had built just 12 miles away at hated rival Duke and who was on his way to shattering Dean’s and all other coaching records. Nevertheless, Roy won two National Championships and under any other circumstances, would be appreciated, even, revered.
When a team scores 95 points as Duke did last night against Miami, one might expect an in-depth analysis to start with the offense. In recognition that Miami’s defense does not quite reach the competence level of yelling “Woo!” as the opponent drives by or elevates for an open shot, I want to emphasize the value of Duke’s amazing defensive effort last night. It is obvious this team is making huge growth strides on both ends of the court as the season progresses. Last night was a hymn to that progress. Still, let us remember that while a win on the road in the ACC is always welcome, Duke has been competing against the ACC’s least formidable teams. Virginia Tech managed only 39 points last night against UVA. BC has been so bad for so long that a good coach’s job is in jeopardy there. Miami is near the bottom of the entire NCAA in defensive stats. So delirium at this superb performance still needs to be tempered.
Duke played its full complement of 10 and completely wore Miami down and out. J. Robinson played only 2 minutes, but led the team in points and blocks per minute with 3 points and a block. It was that kind of night.
Duke did not take a double-digit lead in this game until there was only 2:25 remaining in the first half and stretched it to 14 on Matt Hurt’s 3 as the first half closed. Duke’s defense was like an anaconda, squeezing the energy, enthusiasm and life out of the Miami offense. And squeeze the Blue Devils did. 8 of Miami’s 26 second half points came at the stripe. The Devils limited the Hurricanes to only 4 well defended 3 point attempts in that stanza (0-4) and only 3 assists on 9 field goals while forcing 9 turnovers (5 steals and 2 blocks). Coach K said his team played very well on defense. Then he corrected himself and said they played very, very, very well (“I have to add two verys.”).
Special kudos to JGold and Tre who limited Miami’s star point guard, Chris Lykes to 0-6 in the second half (2-15 for the game). Duke outrebounded Miami 20-10 (limiting the Hurricanes to 4 offensive boards in the closing stanza). Coach K said it was hard to single out individual players because the team played so well, but Wendell Moore, Joey Baker and Matt Hurt earned individual praise.
Interestingly, Tre, who was limited to 8 first half minutes by picking up two fouls, and JGold each played 14 second half minutes. Goldwire did not score in the second half but dished out 3 assists without a turnover and played scintillating defense. They were on the floor together for 8 second half minutes. Goldwire’s efficiency limited Alex to only 3 second half minutes. Coach K said he would have brought Tre back with 5 minutes to go in the first half, but Goldwire was playing so well that Tre remained on the bench, playing only 8 first half minutes. He was a star, of course, in the closing stanza.
Carey (24 points in 25 minutes) and Cassius Stanley (16 first half point in 17 minutes) carried the offense in the first half. However, I believe much of Duke’s dramatic improvement in recent games is based on the emergence of Matt Hurt as a force on both ends of the court. He is shooting lights out (taking good shots), rebounding, defending and passing. He is playing superb all-around basketball as his stat line last night demonstrates. In 27 minutes, he scored 13 points (6-8 from the field including 1-2 from deep) to go with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks without committing a foul. His emergence has limited Jack White’s playing time, though White continues to play valuable minutes. He and Javin each played 13 minutes.
Coach K pointed out that Duke is driving and kicking out for good shots. Stanley has been impressive. Joey Baker has not hit from deep lately but has been driving and making great passes. He logged 15 minutes. Wendell is holding on to the ball better (under the tutelage of Chris Carrawell). Carey has been a revelation in the post. Javin didn’t score from the field but was 4-4 from the line while committing only 1 foul.
Georgia Tech (fresh from a shocking win over UNC in the Deandome yesterday) in Atlanta on Wednesday night in a late (9pm EST) game.
DUKE 73- GEORGIA TECH 64
Duke was challenged tonight by being denied their favorite default scoring option of throwing the ball to Vernon Carey in the low post whenever they need a basket, because he was neutralized, even outplayed, by James Banks and by Moses Wright, who combined for 25 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 26 points. So, Tre Jones (16 pts; 8 rebs, 7 assts, 4 stls) celebrated his 20th birthday by rallying his team, then closing out the Yellow Jackets by either scoring himself or passing to Cassius Stanley for a series of what only could be described as Michael Jordan/Grant Hill sensational, gravity defying dunks to win a tough ACC game on the road. Otherwise, it was a manic-depressive game for Duke fans, of whom there were many cheering “Go Duke!’ as the Blue Devils started both halves playing young and sloppy followed by settling down and playing lock down defense to fuel binge scoring.
In the first half run, AOC and Hurt hit threes to help build a 40-29 half time lead. However, the second half opened with missed shots, sloppy offense, and a few questionable calls as Duke went almost six minutes without a point. Suddenly, the Blue Devils were down 53-50 on the road. As Coach K explained: “In the second half, they came out and we gave them nine quick points and it looked like the whole thing was going to turn. Our kids showed some amazing toughness. They really hung in there. Cassius, who was not playing as well as he has been, played great. He responded [by] coming off the bench after a timeout and made some sensational plays. I just think our kids were real tough.”
Good teams—and this is a very good, talented, deep team just growing into themselves– wear an opponent down and finds a way to win games like this. However, missing 10 free throws makes that task all the more difficult. Every player except for starter Joey Baker, who got an early hook and never returned, contributed. His replacement Alex O’Connell was at his best supplying energy and production both offensively and defensively but did not play much in the second half as down the stretch Coach K went with Goldwire, co-captains White and DeLaurier. Javin, in particular, delivered by protecting the rim, rebounding, and draining free throws that put Duke up by six with less than a minute remaining. Oddly enough, Duke shot just about fifty per cent from the floor, three point line, and free throw line. The last one has been the Achilles Heel of the last few teams and needs to be a consistent 70% and above.
What I most admire about the 2019-2020 Blue Devils is that the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. That fact was fully on display last night as Duke beat a highly motivated and talented Georgia Tech team. In the final analysis, Duke overcame being beaten up inside by stronger interior Yellow Jackets with tenacious defense and superb performances by its role players – Alex O’Connell in the first half; and Jack White and Javin DeLaurier in the closing moments. Jordan Goldwire entered the game with 3 minutes gone and played every moment thereafter. The stalwart starters did not disappoint – Carey was heroic fighting the bigger stronger Banks and Wright on the interior while also scoring; Hurt and Stanley had crucial valuable moments with big plays; and Tre Jones led the scoring, making crucial baskets throughout but especially at crunch time. This team is much more than the sum of its parts.
Both halves had a similar pattern. Tech’s bigs were dominant inside for the first part of each stanza. Duke took back control in the closing minutes of each. Duke did not lead in the first half until 7:35 remained in the first half (if you don’t count a 25 second 6-5 lead), when Javin put home a slam. The litmus was, in my opinion, the foul trouble for the Tech bigs. Moses Wright, who was a force, picked up his third with 5:06 to go. Banks, who had 7 blocks in the game, picked up his second with more than 9 minutes left. Tech’s inside dominance receded, Duke’s defense was outstanding, and the Devils rolled to the 11-point lead at the break.
The second half told the tale. Tech was again ferocious, controlling the paint, forcing Duke turnovers, and had the crowd in a frenzy. Duke trailed 53-50 with 11:37 left in the game. Duke’s defense began to assert itself while the offense continued in disarray until there was 8:59 left. Still 53-50, when Coach K put Jack White in the game. He blocked at Wright dunk attempt, which led to Cassius’s highlight dunk and foul shot to tie the game. White hit a 3 to put Duke up by 1. The game was tied at 61 with 5:20 to go. Tech never made another field goal. Duke defended, and Tech simply ran out of gas. Duke’s depth prevailed.
With 3:11 left, Duke led by 2 (66-64) after Banks made 2 free throws. Those were Tech’s last points. Tre was a true leader down the stretch, hitting a mid-range miracle for 68-64 with only 2:23 left. Coach K then made the substitution of the game, Javin for Carey. Javin then proceeded to win the game for Duke. He blocked a dunk attempt by Wright, contested Wright’s put back and blocked Banks, who had grabbed the rebound and was attempting the put back. Then he grabbed the rebound (finally) and was fouled. He went to the line with 55 seconds left and made them both to give Duke a 6 point lead with 55 seconds left. What a sequence! Javin grabbed another key rebound with 30 seconds to go and the Devils were finally home free. White and Javin gave Duke the needed toughness to neutralize Wright and Banks. The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts.
The second half rotation also tells the tale. Georgia Tech played its 4 stalwarts all 20 minutes of the second half and used only 6 players. As the Yellow Jacket coach said in his post-game, Tech got tired at the end. Duke’s defense and depth wore Tech out. For Duke, Goldwire and Tre played all 20 minutes. Carey logged 14 minutes (2-7; 1-2 from the line for 5 points and 3 boards. 2 turnovers); Cassius (8 points on 3-5 and 2-2 from the line to go with 2 key rebounds) and Hurt (1-4; 1-2 from deep for 3 points, a rebound, an assist, a block and a steal) each played 15 minutes. Javin’s heroics came in only 6 second half minutes while White played only 5. Yet they won the game for Duke.
It was a solid team win in an ACC road game. Ask UVA about ACC road games as BC ran them out of the gym in Boston.
Next Play: Wake Forest in Cameron at 8 pm on Saturday, January 11.
Duke 90 – Wake Forest 59
Apparently, it’s really a simple game: “To get your game right, get your threads right”.
The Duke broke out the fifth (and hands down best) of their six new Nike-provided uniforms for their first ACC home game of 2020 and the result was the 900th win in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Wearing their new Gothic Theme, Brotherhood Scheme (Nolan Smith’s idea) navy blue uniforms and shoes, these Blue Devils never looked or played better as they totally dominated Wake Forest in all phases of the game. They had more steals (11) than Wake Forest had assists (8). Add 8 Duke blocks, shoot about 50% from all areas of the floor, force 17 Deacon turnovers, limit the Deac’s to 42% shooting, and you have a stone cold a blow-out.
“I love my team. They listen. They all want to get better. They’re really a great group of kids. All of them are getting better. “We’re a different team than we’ve been. Why would we be a team that we’re not? In other words, why would we do something that was successful in the past that wouldn’t be for this group?
What impresses me the most is that the team is becoming more offensively balanced and less Vernon Carey centered. If Tre Jones can consistently shoot anything approaching the range that he did tonight; if Hurt continues to get tougher inside to go with his shooting rage; Stanley plays with more confidence and aggression, Goldwire can hit a few shots to keep the defense honest; Baker and O’Connor continue to improve; DeLaurier and White play tough; Moore’s hand heals quickly; and everyone stays healthy, the path for a memorable season is there for the taking.
However, next week will be a better test– a trap game @ Clemson and a tough test against Louisville.
While it may be a simple game, I cannot understand these players can hit half their shots from beyond the new, wider three point line, and only hit 50% of uncontested shots from the free throw line.
The win kept alive a lot of streaks. Duke is 5-0 in the ACC and has won 9 straight overall. Duke has won 11 straight against Wake Forest, 19 of 20, 22 straight in Cameron.
Duke came pretty close to playing a perfect first half, especially on the defensive end, demonstrating in its play, what Coach K’s vision is for the growth of his team. Coach K explained how he wants his players thinking about themselves and the team:
“We don’t have a rotation. All our guys should consider themselves starters. Because you are not playing behind anybody. When someone comes in you do not have to be the guy you came in for. All you have to do is be you. Then we have a little bit of a different look. And that’s the thing we’ve tried to build our team on. And, defensively, we have more athleticism so we can pressure the ball better and move it down the court a little bit more. So, you have different looks by having different people in the game. It just happens.
Everyone on our team knows he is important. None of them are complementary players. All are good basketball players. And when they are in there, they need to think of themselves as starting players.
“It’s just how are team is — a collection of guys hopefully doing enough to come up with a big-time win.”
The first half statistics demonstrates how well each of the Devils played and why the whole of this team exceeds the sum of its parts. Let’s look first at those who replaced the starters. While Carey started and played 13 minutes (5 points on 2-4 from the field and 1-4 from the line to go with his 4 rebounds and a block), DeLaurier also scored 5 (2-2 from the floor; 1-2 from the line to go with 2 boards and 2 blocks) in only 7 minutes. Joey Baker scored 8 points in 7 minutes (3-3 from the field, including 2-2 from deep) Baker and Alex (only 3 minutes and a steal) were in for the 2 minutes that Cassius sat (7 points on 3-6 from the field; 1-2 from deep; 3 rebounds; an assist and a steal), the 2 minutes that Tre sat (he led the team in scoring with 11 points) and the 5 minutes Goldwire was not on the floor. Jack White played 11 minutes (4 points with a made 3 and 1-2 from the line) while Matt Hurt scored 5 (2-3, including 1-2 from deep and 2 rebounds) in only 8 minutes.
The Duke backcourt was sensational. Tre had his best game of the year, becoming a scoring machine. In the second half he scored 12 points in 9 minutes (5-6 including 2-2 from deep) but let us continue analyzing the amazing first half. Tre scored the first 5 points of the game and the last 4 of the half (in the final 15 seconds). He was 5-9 in the first half, including 1-2 from deep to go with 4 assists without a turnover, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. He and JGold played amazing defense. Goldwire had 1 more assist than Tre (5) while scoring 4 points and getting a steal.
Duke had more steals (6) than Wake had assists (4). The Devils forced 12 Wake turnovers, which led to 13 Duke points. Wake did not score a fast break point or a second chance point! Duke’s big men protected the rim and were amazingly athletic in switching the ball screens and still keeping position to defend the Wake bigs who rolled to the basket. Wake had only 6 points in the paint. Duke has played defense like this before, but it is still a privilege to watch a team play cohesive and cooperative defense that way.
The deep rotation allows each player to go all out on every play. How about Joey Baker diving for a loose ball going out of bounds when Duke had a 30-point lead with just a few minutes left. That dive was emblematic of the Duke defensive desire and intensity.
The ball moved. The players moved. Duke shot well because the shot selection was so good. The Devils were creating good, very good and excellent shot opportunities. A contested shot was rare. Duke was 6-10 from deep in the first half (but only 3-9 from the stripe), and 14-22 from inside the arc. It was sweet to watch.
Next Play: Clemson in Death Valley on Tuesday (Jan. 14) at 7 pm. The Tigers will be coming off their first ever win at UNC (0-59 before yesterday) and will be facing Duke the day after the football team meets LSU for the National Championship. Clemson is traditionally tough in Littlejohn. This is a classic trap game, an ACC road game just before a ballyhooed meeting in Cameron on Saturday [ESPN Game Day is I Durham]. Next Saturday Jan. 18), Duke meets Louisville in Cameron in the first really crucial game of the ACC season. The winner will have a definite leg up in the regular season race.
Duke The Best School For Student-Athletes In The USA
January 8, 2020
DURHAM, N.C. – According to the 2020 best college rankings by Niche, Duke University is ranked the No. 1 school for student-athletes in America.
Duke finished among the top-5 in numerous other categories, including No. 1 for public policy, No. 3 for best value, No. 4 for best professors and No. 6 in both top private university and best college by the organization.
Niche’s rankings are based on rigorous analysis of key statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and millions of reviews.
Duke Athletics finished last season ranked ninth in the Learfield IMG Directors’ Cup Standings by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and sent 48 student-athletes and 16 teams to NCAA action, highlighted by the women’s golf team winning its seventh NCAA title.
Academically, a total of 17 Duke teams achieved a 100 percent graduation success rate: men’s basketball, women’s cross country/track & field, men’s fencing, women’s fencing, field hockey, men’s golf, women’s golf, men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, rowing, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, volleyball and wrestling.
Duke also made history last year, setting an ACC record with 519 ACC Academic Honor Roll selections. The Blue Devils have led the conference in honorees for 31 of the previous 32 years. The Honor Roll is comprised of varsity student-athletes who registered a grade point average of 3.0 or better for the full academic year.
DUKE 72 – CLEMSON 79
My final comments on the Wake Forest game: “The path for a memorable season is there for the taking. However, next week will be a better test– a trap game @ Clemson and a tough test against Louisville.” Clemson gets an A. Duke a D. When you miss ten free throws, blow two uncontested layups and several other that were contested, allow an opponent to shoot 57%, and two players to have career games, it’s difficult to win on the road (or anywhere else). Teams are double teaming Vernon Carey and forcing him to pass, which is a strength. However, his teammates must make themselves available and make shots. Unfortunately, Matthew Hurt’s lack of strength and mediocre to poor defense often results in his watching the action from the bench and the supporting cast is suddenly depleted. Tonight, Jack White, whose savvy and toughness are never a liability and who recently found his three point shot, replaced Hurt for most of the second half. Look for him to play more minutes while Moore and Baker are unavailable.
Coach K summed it up: “Clemson played a great game and have been playing so well. To beat NC State and win at North Carolina we knew that Brad [Brownell] team’s always play outstanding defense. Good tough, kids, good players and it’s tough to score against them — and they were that tonight. We knew coming into the game that the four and the five were the positions we had to defend. In our last game, we didn’t do a good job at the four and the five and we didn’t do a good job tonight. [Aamir] Simms and [Tevin] Mack were terrific and it’s a different offense to defend, but Simms was spectacular tonight and how he controlled the game. We got knocked back right away. Our kids have to understand how hard it is to win and we’ve been winning, but when you’re in conference, people are hungry, and if you win a lot sometimes you’re not as much as the other team. We missed layups and then in the second half we started pressing and that got us a short lead and then we missed free throws that could’ve given us a two possession lead, but I’m not blaming our guys because Vernon had to work so hard for that. Clemson was more deserving of winning tonight. We almost got it in the second half, but overall they played better than we did. One of the reasons we’ve been good is that we had depth,” Krzyzewski said “but we have two kids (Moore, a broken hand and Baker, a sprained ankle) out right now on the perimeter. I saw it a little bit in the last game and tonight you definitely saw that we are not as good without that depth.”
Exchange with a former Duke player: This “old fashion team” is not ready for prime time. Desultory defense and casual passing is recipe for disaster. Time for K to tear off his jacket and throw down his clip border! You guys called it. A trap game for sure! As we‘ve talked, Carey is a liability in close games. We will probably see more “hack a shack “ in future close games. Very disappointing in a very good player.
I closed the most recent Alan Adds with the following prescient comment: “Next Play: Clemson in Death Valley on Tuesday (Jan. 14) at 7 pm. The Tigers will be coming off their first ever win at UNC (0-59 before yesterday) and will be facing Duke the day after the football team meets LSU for the National Championship. Clemson is traditionally tough in Littlejohn. This is a classic trap game, an ACC road game just before a ballyhooed meeting in Cameron on Saturday [ESPN Game Day is I Durham].” (In red in that post)
If you watch a rewind of the beginning of the game, you will see the Duke attitude, contrasted with Clemson’s, had “trap” all over it. Clemson came out simply dripping with fighting emotion. You could see the Tiger players were sky high, pumped up, in a virtual frenzy. The Duke players were calm and (over) confident. Nobody was jumping around or pumped up. The Duke stats – rated first in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings; the only team in the top 10 statistically in both offense and defense; nationally formidable in steals; blocks and assists—were so impressive. Moreover, Clemson was 8-7 and probably due for deflation after winning in Chapel Hill. In the opening minutes it was crystal clear that all the emotion and energy came from the Tigers, while the Blue Devils confidently waited for (and expected) Clemson to fold.
Instead it was Duke that folded. It was Duke, whose interior defensive weakness was exposed. Duke’s depth was non-existent and it was the Devils that were worn out down the stretch. Bill’s analysis and Coach K’s quotes were right on: Duke is not defending the on the interior “we didn’t do a good job at 4 and 5”. In games where Duke has struggled, that has been true throughout the season. Duke can overcome that weakness when its defense shuts down the perimeter, forces turnovers and gets a fair share of blocks to protect the rim. All of that was dramatically missing from the Blue Devil arsenal last night. Let’s look at the second half, where Duke’s press had turned the game around and allowed the Blue Devils to take the lead. Duke led by 62-59 with 6:36 left in the game, and only trailed by 65-64 with4:19 left when the wheels came off. In my opinion, the Devils were simply worn out. They could no longer press, which is what got them a 3 point lead after trailing by 9. Carey turned it over, Tre missed 2 in a row, White missed a foul shot (but at least he had made the first), and the Duke could not get a stop while committing foul after foul. Those are the indications of a tired team.
In the closing stanza, Duke was 4-11 from the foul line (Carey was 2-7), outrebounded 21-12, corralled only a single offensive rebound while committing 11 fouls. This was a tired team down the stretch. With Baker and Moore out, Duke had only 8 available of its core. However, there were not 8 contributors: Alex played only a single second half minute; Hurt played only 5; and DeLaurier only 7. Collectively those three not only failed to score, but did not even attempt a field goal. Stanley picked up 2 quick fouls (total of 4), which not only required him to sit, but removed his aggressiveness when he did return to the game. His defense suffered because he understood that his team could not afford him to foul out. Tired teams miss free throws. Carey played hard – he has simply great hands – but had no help on the interior. Coach K tried everything – he played DeLaurier and Carey together; he had 3 bigs on the court at times, but his team was gassed down the stretch.
While the loss is disappointing, I believe it will have the requisite silver lining. When Duke was shocked by Stephen F Austin, after displaying the same over confidence, the team grew by leaps and bounds. I believe this game, and the return of depth, will have a similar impact. Perhaps the best takeaway from this game was the emergence of Jack White in the second half. In 17 minutes, he scored 9; (3-4; 2-3 from deep; 1-2 from the stripe) with 2 boards and 2 steals. He adds toughness for sure. Let’s see if he can sustain that play for the remainder of his senior year.
Next Play: Duke is home against a very good Louisville team [Saturday night at 6 pm], and is likely to still be without its formidable depth. This will be a tough game, which will tell much about the heart and soul of this team.
DUKE 73 – LOUISVILLE 79
A year ago, Louisville lost a 23 point lead with ten minutes to play to lose to the Blue Devils at The KFC Center in a devastating defeat from which they never fully recovered for the rest of the season. Tonight, they lost an early 15 point lead in raucous Cameron and with just under four minutes to play were clinging to a one-point lead when dynamic freshman point guard David Johnson, who had scored 19 points, was sidelined by a shoulder injury. But this time there was a different result. For a third straight road game, Louisville was the tougher, more poised team in the closing minutes, holding Duke scoreless for 3:24 and scoring 8 straight points to pull away. “That game last year,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said, “ was the hardest defeat I’ve ever had. You can do one of two things — either think about those ghosts and get revisited, or go and do the job. I’m really proud of our guys to be able to face what we did a year ago. That was a hard loss, man. A really, really hard loss.”
However, this was also an impressive win in a difficult venue by a very tough, mature, deep, talented team that could jump start a championship run.
There is no way to sugar coat these last two games. With the easiest ACC schedule in years, Duke came out flat against Clemson, tight and tentative against Louisville in Cameron, digging themselves a very deep hole from which to recover. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils fought back and tied the game late on multiple occasions, but could never pull ahead. Cassius Stanley had an open, potential game-tying 3-pointer with :17 seconds left but shot an air ball. However, you can hardly blame Cassius. If it wasn’t for his 24 points and 11 rebounds, the game would have been a blowout by halftime.
It was men against boys. There are five transfers and only one contributing teenager on the Cardinal roster. Any Blue Devil who thinks they are physically ready for the NBA, should review the tapes of these last two games. For this team to be a true title contender, they have to play lock-down, turnover producing defense and Vernon Carey has anchor the half-court offense down low, giving them 20 & 10. Without his inside presence, the Blue Devils are offensively challenged, because they are usually a mediocre three point and free throw shooting team. In both games, Duke was in position to close an opponent out, but were unable to score in the half court. In this game and the Stephen F. Austin game, Carey was on the bench at the end. Defense can win games but someone has to be able to put the ball in the basket. Ever since the 2015 NCAA Championship, Duke has had talented, freshman centric teams that have started the season strong but finished disappointingly. The conventional wisdom is that as the season progressed, Coach K shortened his rotation to 6 or 7 players and they wore out. Well, this year he is going 8-10 deep and they look tired before mid-season. What’s the answer? For starters, they have to play mentally and physically tougher; Vernon Carey has to play better defense, stay out of foul trouble, and on the floor at critical times; Matthew Hurt has to man up and play big not small; Joey Baker has to start scoring consistently; Cassius Stanley has to keep improving; and, hopefully, Wendell Moore returns.
Considering these stats, it was amazing the score game was this close: FG: 48% -37%; 3’s: 56%-24%; ft: 83%-72%.
Coach K compared the game to the early ‘90s Bulls and Pistons battles: “That was a brutal game. The most physical game we’ve been involved in… in years. They’re good. They’re really good. [David] Johnson was terrific in the first half. With the depth that they have and the experience – they outplayed us, especially in those first ten minutes. Our kids fought like crazy and put us in a position to win. The term “freedom of movement” was not alive and well tonight. I hope we don’t have the rest of the conference like that. That’s not good basketball. They played great – I don’t want to take away from them. For both of us, you can’t have that. The last two teams we played… we just have to get older. I’m really up on my team. It’s a long journey. I’ve never told you that we’re great. It’s a process for us, playing these two teams. Getting beat, we have to learn from it and move on. It’s a long journey.”
In the closing moments Louisville took control and looked the way Duke – at winning time –usually does. On the other hand, the Blue Devils looked the way the unranked visiting teams usually looked when they routinely collapse down the stretch – especially at Cameron. However, the demoralizing last 3:27 seconds should not completely obscure some terrific moments that Duke produced. There was “good” even though the “bad and ugly” were more prevalent and relevant for analysis.
The Good (It is shorter)
This team has real heart and showed a fighting spirit and determination last night that should not be forgotten in the disappointing loss. Duke was basically run out of its own gym in the early going. After taking an early 5-2 lead (a 3 by Hurt and a jumper by JGold), the Cardinals just took it to Duke physically. Duke turned the ball over so frequently that Louisville did not have to run a set half-court offense. In the first half, Duke turned it over with amazing frequency, gave up 26 points in the paint (while scoring only 8) and allowed 12 fast break points. The Devil bench failed to score in that half (only 5 for the entire game – a layup by White and a meaningless 3 by Baker with 3 seconds left in the game). Duke was down by as much as 15 points; and had given up 42 first half points to trail by 10 at the break.
This team fought all the way back in a game that was physically brutal. Coach K said it was played like an old Bulls v Pistons in the 1990s when Detroit was “The Bad Boys”. Nevertheless, Duke tied the score at 58 with over 8 minutes left. When Louisville retaliated and pushed the lead back to 6, the fighting Devils responded and tied the score again at 63 with 6:29 left. Although Duke never had the ball with a chance to take the lead, Duke was down only 1 (66-65) with 5:18 to go. When the Cardinals pushed it to a 6 point lead again – 71-65 with 4:27 to go, the Blue Devils still answered with 5 straight points – a 3 point play the old fashioned way by Tre plus a nifty steal and layup by Goldwire – to be down only a point with 3:27 to play. Then the wheels came off.
Both Cassius Stanley and Matt Hurt had breakout games. Stanley logged 37 minutes while scoring 24 points (6-10 from inside the arc and 90% from the foul line – 9-10) to go with 11 rebounds. He was only 1-7 from deep, however. Hurt scored 16 points (11 in the first half) in 32 minutes. He made 2 crucial second half plays – a one handed dunk on an offensive rebound; and even more crucially sunk 3-3 from the line when he cleverly drew a foul on his 3-point attempt. That tied the score at 58. While he tired (4 fouls in the second half, fouling out in the last 3 seconds), he was a force on the floor on defense. He was part of Coach K’s 2 interesting innovations to spark the Devils.
First, he went big, which worked for a while until Louisville adjusted. He used Carey in the middle with White and Hurt at the forwards and Cassius as Tre’s running mate in the backcourt. When the Cardinals ultimately stretched the lead, Coach K went to his Pony Express team (as I call them), playing Hurt and White and Stanley along with Tre and Goldwire. That is the lineup that brought Duke back into contention all the way to 3:27 to go.
The “Bad and Ugly”
The End Game and Rotation
Duke was (again) simply gassed at the end of the game. Looking at the second half rotation discloses Duke’s lack of depth and bench strength, which I believe led to the exhaustion and losing. Tre and Cassius played the whole second half (Cassius was out for less than a minute). Tre logged 39 for the game; Cassius 37. Hurt played 16 minutes; White 15 and JGold 14 (he was only out while the Big team came back and then faded) in the closing stanza. The bench was non-existent and a non-factor. Baker launched 4 shots in 4 second half minutes, making only the meaningless 3 virtually at the game ending buzzer. He did miss all of his 6 other shots in his 10 game minutes, while committing 3 fouls. Alex did not play in the second half and only logged 2 minutes in the first half (0-1). Javin has again become a non-factor even though he has stopped fouling. He played 9 minutes in the game (4 in the closing stanza) without a point, shot or rebound. He turned it over twice in his five first half minutes.
Carey played only eight second half minutes, partly because of foul trouble (he had 4 midway through the period) and partly because of his foul shooting (3-6 in the second half). Coach K appears not to trust him at the foul line at closing time. The early season depth that fueled the early season success seems to have vanished. This makes the return of Wendell Moore seem essential.
Turnovers in the first half and terrible shooting in the second half doomed the Devils. Duke had officially 10 first half turnovers, but I think there were significantly more (only 5 assists). Worse, the turnovers led to open runouts for easy Louisville layups. Duke was 1-12 from deep in the second half (I’m not counting Baker’s 3 at the buzzer; Duke was officially 2-13) with Stanley leading the (0-4) way. Hurt, White, and Baker couldn’t hit in 5 collective attempts. Tre was 1-3. Many of those attempts were wide open. Tre scored 12 in the half, but on an inefficient 12 shots.
There was a serious breakdown in fundamentals, especially in transition defense. Louisville got open runouts on Duke’s misses; as Duke failed to balance the court. Grievous fundamental errors. As in past games, Duke is not defending the post well. Previously, the double teams gave up easy layups. In this game, Carey (and who was defending during Carey’s 17 bench minutes) was left to defend by himself, and could not do it. The Louisville bigs got the ball in deep to score and Carey ran into foul trouble. Duke committed 9 fouls in each half, almost all by its bigs. Tre’s vaunted defense was ineffectual in the first half and really sub-par throughout.
Was this a Coach K shot at ‘Ole Roy?
“When we lose, I always credit an opponent. I don’t throw my own team under the bus ever…ever. …I’m really up on my team. It’s a long journey. I’ve never told you that we are great.” (Emphasis is mine).
Next Play: Tuesday at 7:00 pm against Miami in Cameron
DUKE 89 – MIAMI 59
It is apparent that the back-to-back loses to Clemson and Louisville may well be the inflection point for the season in that it should now be obvious to all the freshmen that teams no longer will play Duke straight up. Rather, they will smother Vernon Carey, making it difficult for him to be the 20 & 10 pillar that carries the team and forcing other players to beat them. On nights like last night, when Duke makes 11 of 25 3-pointers (44 percent), the wins come easy. When they go 6 of 25, like against Louisville, not so much. Obviously, the answer is that the burden for a successful season is for some combination of Hurt, Stanley, Baker, O’Conner , and (soon) Moore to grow up and play Big Boy Ball. Everyone plays hard and aggressive against Duke. Jones already does and Goldwire, by the way, has improved dramatically to become a very reliable, contributing starter, who plays to his strengths (more shots for others). Plus, a given for a Coach K team—consistently, good tough defense that makes for easier offense. And being strong with the ball has to be a constant, not a sometimes thing.
It appears Carey is adjusting to the new normal and Hurt is gradually utilizing all his talents and size; Stanley is a lot more than Zion-light; Baker needs to be more relaxed, under control, and consistent; but AOC is still a quixotic talent—you never know what you are going to get. Last night he got two quick hooks for inattentive plays then scored 8 points on a variety of shots in the last minutes of garbage time.
Coach K: ”We played really well. Our guys responded. We had a heck of a day yesterday with our team from 7 in the morning to 10 at night with a couple of practices, meetings, just good stuff! They grew from it – all positive. They responded. (Reflect a moment on the subtext of that quote and translate it for us). They’re fighting human nature because we beat them by a lot, but since then they’re down by only four against Louisville, probably should’ve beaten Florida State. They’ve been playing well, so we showed them stuff from those games. They were a mature team tonight. We got back to playing defense.” On Duke’s defense: “We just concentrated more on it. In our six wins, we’ve given up 60 points. In the two losses, we gave up 79. We talked to our team about that. For us to win we have to play good defense. If we’re playing that hard on defense it translates to good offense – then we’re pushing the ball. At the start of the game we had a lot of energy.
“We just played really good defense. [Chris] Lykes is a heck of a player and in the second half he showed more. We just had a couple of good games against them. He’s one of the quick scorers in the league – big time.” When asked about Duke’s energy: “They really responded to the two losses in a positive way. Our practices yesterday were excellent. Our team meetings – I think we grew a lot as a team and I think it showed today. We got a little bit of a break from competition. Wendell [Moore Jr.] still won’t be ready by next week, but that’s a week we don’t lose a game with him. That’s a good thing. It does give some of these other guys a chance – Joey [Baker] has been playing with a sprained ankle – for us to get rejuvenated after eight conference games.”
On Vernon Carey: “He has counter moves -counter moves are great if you’re doing them against one guy. I don’t think anyone has come up with a counter for double and triple teams. That’s what’s happening to him. If the three-point shooting keeps going well then, he’ll have more room. Part of the reason we have more open threes is because of Vernon. When he runs the court, people are going to go to him. That gives a window of opportunity. In Matt’s case, he was a little slower with that window earlier, so they could recover to him. His prep is quicker and if he keeps going like that – then that’s a great counter with Vern. Vern has – it’s tough to move down there. As long as he’s running – he just has to stay patient. He did a great job tonight with just running and making sure the defense had to react.”
“At the start of the game, we had a lot of energy. Second half, it was 10:30 at night and we had a big lead.” Coach K had about summed it up The first half was just one of those halves!
With 1:37 left in the opening stanza, Duke enjoyed a 29-point lead, and had held Miami to only 18 points! Duke’s offense is and was fueled by energetic defense, while Miami’s defensive game plan completely backfired. The Hurricane plan was to pack it in down low to neutralize Carey (which was successfully done) and leave the perimeter relatively open. In reality, there was nothing relative of how wide open the Hurricane left Duke shooters. Where the word relatively appeared, replace it with “completely”. The result was the best Duke 3-point shooting of the season, led by Matt Hurt’s 15 first half points (3-5 from deep), Tre was 2-4; Baker 2-3 and White 1-1 from deep. Besides Hurt’s 15, the first half scoring was balanced with 3 players scoring 6 (Tre, Carey and Baker) while 2 – Stanley and White — scored 5. Tre and JGold combined for 8 assists without a turnover, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. The defense held Miami’s best player scoreless. It was an almost perfect half, and a wonderful response to the 2 game losing streak.
Perhaps the last 2 minutes of the second half were also important for Duke’s depth. Alex O’Connell, who has been mired in sloppy ineffective play, has seen his playing time diminish to almost nothing as a result. Alex entered the game in the first half and was immediately stripped of the ball leading to a Miami runout and score. Coach K yanked him immediately; he was on the court for about 30 seconds. Coach K put him in during the second half, and Alex was again awful. He missed a 3 and committed an immediate turnover that led to another Miami runout and open layup. K yanked him again after less than a minute.
But with 3:38 left in the game, Alex received another chance and took so much advantage of it, that he may have earned his way back into the rotation. He stole the ball with 3:03 left that led to a Stanley score. In the last 2 minutes, he hit 2 jumpers and made 2 layups (the last one by running the court and receiving a “touchdown pass” from Justin Robinson to push the lead to 30. It was a helluva of last two minutes for Alex, giving him 8 points in a total of 5 minutes of action.
Next Play: Duke has a week off before meeting Jeff Capel’s revitalized Pittsburg team in Cameron at 9 pm (1-28). The week should give Baker’s ankle more healing time, revitalize the team, and keep us looking forward to Wendell Moore’s expected return in February.