Duke Basketball Playbook 2019-20

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 … Continue reading “Duke Basketball Playbook 2019-20”

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.

Alan Adds:

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?

Last Year

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:

The Bigs

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.

Other Comments:

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.

Alan Adds:

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.

Other Comments:

  • 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.

Alan Adds:

The Defense

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.

The Rotation

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.

The Offense

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

Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr. (0) forces a turnover by Central Arkansas’ Rylan Bergersen (1) during the first half on Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.

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.”   

 

Alan Adds: 
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.”

Georgia State

The Bad

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.

The Good

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.

Alan Adds:

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

The Rotation

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”.

The Offense

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.

The Defense

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.

Upcoming

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.

Alan Adds:

Overview

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.”

Winthrop

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.

The rotation

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.

Next Week

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 Basketball Playbook: 2018-19

Welcome to  the Duke Basketball  Playbook 2018-19 season preview.

Let’s not tap dance around it. This is the most talented, athletic, and deepest Duke Basketball team I have seen—with the extra added attraction of a once in a generation talent in Zion Williamson. Even Johnny Tar Heel grudgingly agrees with this assessment.

Come on, Bill. How can you say that when the season hasn’t even started? Well, for starters no college has ever run the recruiting table 1-2-3- #1 point guard–not even Michigan’s much hyped Fab 5. And thanks to DirecTV and ESPN+, I have watched five & a half (Countdown to Craziness) exhibition games and the “Earn Everything” series on Duke basketball. Granted, these games weren’t against Final Four teams but they weren’t against The Little Sisters of the Poor either.  In addition to offensive firepower, here is what I saw: hustle, defense, assists, camaraderie, and improvement with each game.

What were last year’s team weaknesses? Man-to-man defense, consistent point guard play, and  foul shooting. This year’s treasure trove of athlete/students/future millionaires, has a pure pass first/shoot second, point guard in Tre Jones, a bigger, stronger, and, hopefully, just as clutch version of his older brother Ty, who also plays Tommy Amaker like on-the-ball defense, which is the starting point of good defense. In addition, there are three other starters—Barrett, Williamson, and Reddish– who can play the point better than Trevon (shoot first/ pass second) Duval. And so far, they have demonstrated the talent and desire to play much better man-to-man defense and have no 50% free throw shooters—as a team, they are shooting a respectable but not outstanding,  70%.

Reading Coach K’s mind: My youngest grandson could pick four of the starters. Initially, it appeared Javin DeLaurier would be the fifth. Then, he hurt his foot and Marquis Bolden took his place and has continued to start. Maybe, Coach is protecting Javin but maybe Coach is looking at the size of Kentucky on November 6 and thinking he should find out whether or not Bolden will figure out what kind of player he wants to be. If Bolden does start playing to his potential, that will give Coach another option to throw at an opponent. He knows what kind of effort he will get with Javin and/or Jack White and I am sure with them on the floor, he will go to his Five Out Motion offense, press both full and half full court, and play Golden State Warrior  basketball. An effective pressing defense should be the key as to how successful this team will be, because they are so lethal in the open court.

Once again, Coach K is talking a nine or ten man rotation. But you know how that usually goes: 10-9-8-7, then 6 at tournament time. This time he may really mean it, because DeLaurier and White are co-captains (Interestingly, Bolden was not. What does that tell you?).  Alex O’Connell and Baker may be a later day Grayson Allen wildcard subs, because they can really play and shoot the three.

What else to like: The intangibles. All the players appear to like one another and enjoy all aspects of the game. In a press conference, DeLaurier commented that, unlike some other years, there are no class cliques. The freshmen hang with upper classmen. Every player talks about enjoying all aspects of the game but watch how many actually dive on the floor for a loose ball. Up fifty some points against Ferris State, Flyin’ Zion (half man, half amazing) dove for a loose ball, knocked it away from  an opponent, got up, chased down the player who retrieved it, and tied him up. That’s Duke Basketball!

Any caveats or hedges?  Yes, you have to play the games and sometimes the basketball gods play tricks on the better team: #16 Maryland-Baltimore County 74 – #1Virginia 54.  North Carolina State 54 – Houston (Phi Slama Jama) 52. North Carolina 54 – Kansas 53 (Wilt Chamberlain). And injuries (ref. Kyrie Irving.)

Miscellaneous Comments:

If you ever wondered what it is like to be a basketball player at Duke, you must watch the above mentioned series “Earn Everything” streaming on ESPN+ . It takes you behind the scenes and almost makes you feel like a member of the team. You are right there seeing and hearing how Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski runs his program, talks to his coaches and his players as he prepares this team for the upcoming season in pursuit of the program’s sixth national championship. There are up close and personal looks at the athletes as they are taught how to practice, how to rehab, what and when to eat– and as they spend time  interacting with one another. There is access to closed practices, conditioning and skills testing, and even nutrition counseling; Zion Williamson breaking the all-time Duke vertical record during testing; One-on-one conversations between coaches and their players during practice;  Preparation for pre-season exhibition tour of Canada; Coaches breaking down film with the team after the Ryerson game in Canada; and No. 1 recruit RJ Barrett discussing his reasons for attending Duke.

What stood out dramatically for both Alan and myself was the intimate look at just who our student-athletes are.  What you see are articulate young men, who are also thoughtful. These gifted athletes clearly belong as students at Duke University. They perform community services at the Emily K Center, getting as much out of it as they give to the underprivileged kids. They are insightful about themselves in differing aspects of their growth.  And finally, Coach K was philosophical and analytical about the role his program plays within the Duke University universe. The university gives to the program and the program contributes to the university. It is a really an exceptional documentary and watching is a perfect introduction to the 2018-19 season.

 Alan Adds: 

I have been a basketball recruiting junkie since 1985 (when you had to subscribe to publications – no internet).  In all that time, no recruiting class at any school has contained the consensus top three recruits, as this freshman Duke class does.   But, as we learned last year, freshman talent alone may not be enough.  Last year’s team had # 3 and #7 lottery picks in the NBA draft as well as a late first round draft choice, and an early second rounder plus an undrafted player who earned a professional contract.  Expectations (and maybe a bit of hubris) may have harmed that team.  I cringed last year when Wendell Carter opined, well before the season opener, that Duke had so much talent it might go undefeated all year.   Hubris.  Duke had a very good season, but could not play even passable man-to-man defense, did not win either the ACC regular title, the ACC tournament or get to the Final Four — while sustaining nine losses.   However, this group of freshmen are saying all the right things, and have much different talents than last year’s talented class.  Let’s look at the four highly touted freshmen.  I am leaving out 6’7” freshman, Joey Baker, who is rumored to be red-shirting this year.

R.J. Barrett:  I saw him several times last year and opined he is the best high school player I have seen since LeBron.  He’s 6’7” and can play on the perimeter and in the interior.  Two years ago, when Canada beat the USA in the Under 19 World Championship, Barrett scored 38 points while grabbing 13 boards to lead Canada.  He is the only non-NBA player on the Canadian National team getting ready for the next World Championship, and was in the starting lineup in the National team’s last game.  He is a spectacular finisher in the open court as well as a defensive stopper.  But, he might not be the best player in Duke’s freshman class.

Zion Williamson: Zion was nowhere near as impressive last year (but damn impressive – overall #3 recruit) when I saw him as he has been in his Duke pre-season appearances this year.  Last year I saw a superstar in the open court, but not in the half court.  [He got hurt about mid-way through the McDonald’s All-Star game and did not play last spring after that).   He is 6’7” and 270 lbs. (down from 285 and won the pre-season award as Duke’s best conditioned athlete) with a 45 inch vertical (David Thompson territory).  Against inferior opposition, he has been unstoppable in the post and in the open court.  He is an energetic defender.  But what I did not see last year and has been in dramatic evidence this year is ability to handle the ball and pass.  His attitude is as amazing (as per Bill’s description of diving for the loose ball; what is astounding about that is that it came with Duke ahead by 50 points in the fourth quarter with only a few minutes left) as his motor.  In the pre-season, he snatched every 50-50 ball with strong and dexterous hands.  Let’s see how he does against top flight competition before we put him in the Naismith Hall of Fame, but his upside seems to have no limit.

Tre Jones: Tyus’s younger brother is not as highly rated as the top 3, but I am writing about him third because, like Bill, I think he may be Duke’s most important player.  What is interesting is that Duke’s other freshmen think so too and are not shy about saying so.  He impressed me last year in All Star games (playing tough defense in games where defense is honored more in the breach) with his leadership and passing.  He missed the 3 games in Canada, but has looked very good since then.  His high school English teacher is a friend of a friend.  My friend reports that the teacher extolled Tre as a student, a leader and a very thoughtful person who was respected and admired for much more than basketball.  Great attributes for a point guard.

Cam Reddish: Cam has not yet shown Duke fans the kind of play that made him the #2 ranked high school player last year (ahead of Zion).  He was injured for the Canadian trip and had damaged ribs through the exhibition season.  I saw him several times last year.  Another 6’7” postionless player, he is a smooth in all aspects of the game, more at home on the perimeter as a passer and shooter.  While he had a reputation as a defender, when he tried to guard Barrett in the McDonald’s game (they played on different teams and guarded each other), he could not stop Barrett (but then no one else ever has).  He will be in the starting lineup.

What stands out for me with these four is that all are essentially point guards.  Barrett played the point in the three Canadian games when Jones and Reddish were not playing.  Reddish has been slated to be the backup point guard when Jones rests.  However, in my opinion, Zion may be the best of the backup point guards; he has dazzled when given the opportunity.   Moreover, each has a reputation coming in as a defender.  It is impossible not to be excited about these four and this team as a result.

Veterans Competing To Start and/or Be in Coach K’s Rotation

Javin DeLaurier: This 6’10” Junior defender and rebounder is a co-captain, who will fight to be the fifth starter.  He seems vastly improved this year.  In the past, he has been a helter-skelter high energy defender, rebounder, but a fouling machine.  This year he is playing just as hard, but with a confidence that adds a calmness (and some leadership on defense) to his assets.  Whether a starter or in the rotation, he will play major minutes.

Jack White: The other Junior co-captain, this Australian has been Duke’s best upper-class player in the pre-season.  Another 6’7” wing, Jack has shown a nose for the ball of the glass on both ends as well as defensive skills against both perimeter and interior opponents.  He has added proficiency from behind the arc when open (and with these freshmen, he will be wide open multiple times).  He is improving in the satisfying way we have seen with four year players.

Marquis Bolden: A Junior 6’11” center, who is Duke’s leading returning scorer (a paltry 3.6 ppg average), Marquis has been an underachiever in his first two years.  He was very unimpressive in Canada and not much better in the exhibition game against Virginia Union.  However, he looked better than he ever has against Ferris State (of course, it was against Ferris State and not Kentucky) and was good in the Blue-White game.  It’s hard to guess what his contributions will be, but I think that he will get an opportunity in the pre-conference portion of the schedule to earn playing time.  He started both exhibition games, logging 20 minutes (compared to Javin’s 16) against Ferris State.

Alex O’Connell:  Alex, whose father played at Duke, has grown to 6’6” and is fighting for playing time.  If he shoots from behind the arc, as he did last year, he may well be in the rotation, and could even start if Coach K wants to go small.  Alex has been a surprisingly good rebounder for one so skinny, and is developing an all court game.  I predict he will play valuable minutes this year.

These are the complementary players who have to do the dirty work, defend, and score when open.

Justin Robinson (6’10” Junior), Antonio Vrankovich (7’0” Junior) would play – even start – on many teams; however, they are unlikely to see major minutes in close games.  But if called upon, each has the ability to contribute.  Joey Baker is a 6’7” freshman who has an excellent all court game.  He re-classified to join the team this year.  Unless injuries happen or Duke’s shooting is not up to snuff from the perimeter, he is likely to red shirt.  Jordan Goldwire, a 6’2” backup point guard played a lot in Canada when Tre Jones and Cam Reddish could not play.  He is the only Duke player who did not play against Ferris State (no one has said why).  I believe Tre Jones  will be backed up by the other freshmen rather than Jordan.

This is a team that should hold our interest, inspire our affection, and excite our fantasies.

Duke 118 – Kentucky 84 

If you had Duke and gave 33 points, you won!

You may not have believed my assessment in our DBP preview (“Let’s not tap dance around it. This is the most talented, athletic, and deepest Duke Basketball team I have seen.”), but seeing is believing. And if you didn’t see it, you missed an unexpected blowout anticipated by no expert. The only thing Kentucky won was the opening tip. The Blue Devils made their first four shots — three from beyond the arc and all by freshmen who never looked back because contrary to Satchel Paige’s immortal homily: No one was gaining on them. Duke dominated the more experienced, #1 ranked Kentucky in all phases of the game giving Coach Calipari the worst defeat of his career in Lexington. Either the Wildcats are vastly overrated or this Duke team belongs in the NBA. I usually try to be a gracious winner but, for different reasons, games against Maryland and Calipari are exceptions. So, I will say it: The deflated, defeated look on the face of the duplicitous John Calipari was priceless.

It’s hard to know where to start. The four freshmen Barrett 33, Williamson 28, Reddish 22, and Jones 6 outscored the entire Kentucky team. However, the most interesting development was the defense which held Kentucky to 44% shooting, forcing 15 turnover (Duke 4) and having 10 steals. In addition, Marquis Bolden appears to have had a talent and personality transplant and was impressive on both end of the floor and on the bench. Jack White, doing his best John Havlicek impression, hustling all over the floor  was one point shy of a double-double, and O’Connell hit 3 of 4  threes. An overlooked stat is that Trey Jones only had 6 points but no turnovers against a vaunted defender known for his on-the-ball pressure. Another thing that struck me was how well these alpha players share the ball and how, even when on the bench, are joyfully into the game cheering and waving towels when subs like White, O’Connell, Vrankovic, or Robinson make a good play.

A note of caution. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves like Carter did last year in bragging about how talented his team was. This was just the first game of a long, grueling season. As talented as these players are, the ball is not always going to go in the basket like it did tonight and some games will be a lot more difficult. Silly fouls were a potential problem but White, DeLaurier, and O’Connell filled in seamlessly. Also, the foul shooting (69%) was subpar for a championship team.

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • In a rare moment of candor John Calipari told his players. “I got outcoached. You got outplayed.”
  • The Blue Devils made 19 layups and eight dunks. They scored two out of every three times they possessed the ball, and collected 22 assists on 54 made field goals while turning the ball over just 4 times.
  • Joey Baker did not play. Either he is injured or he is being red shirted.
  • How cool is it to see David Thompson in Duke hat on  the sidelines cheering the team on?

Alan Adds:

There is no way to fully take in the impact of last night’s total destruction of the #1 ranked team in the pre-season polls by the Blue Devils.  The college hoops world will be buzzing.  The first 10 minutes are as good as a college team can play.  Duke scored 34 points in the first 9 minutes and 24 seconds of the game to lead by 31 (34-13).  The gaudy impact of RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson will be water cooler conversation today all over Hoopsland.  I want to share a couple of more subtle takeaways from the game that auger very well, indeed.  The play of Tre Jones was eye opening.  His on the ball defense set up Duke’s very effective man to man. Duke played great transition defense and made the usual running Wildcats a half court team.  Duke’s offense was jaw dropping (59 points in each half).  22 assists and only four turnovers.  Kentucky’s defensive game plan was to pressure the ball in the backcourt.  Tre made Kentucky pay dearly by beating the press easily and guiding Duke into its offense.  He had 7 assists without a turnover.  He hit the first shot of the game and then was simply a maestro at both ends.  When Tre went down with a knee (turned out not serious, but for a moment he looked awful), I saw the glorious season being only about 30 minutes long.  As absolutely superb as the others played, this is not the same team without Tre.

The dramatic moment when belief solidified was at the opening of the second half.  Duke led 59-42 at half.  I believed (wrongly) for the longest time that Kentucky would make some kind of a run.  After being embarrassed in the first half, I feared the ‘Cats would come out clawing after the intermission.  As Coach K has said many times, it is just human nature to see the score and let up a bit.  Duke came out on fire; Zion made like Zion (Reddish assist); Reddish hit a 3 (assist from Tre) forcing Calipari to call a time out just :54 seconds into the second half.  Game over.  Duke never took its foot off the Wildcat neck even when the lead ballooned to almost 40 points.  This team appears to have that “killer instinct”.

I said this Duke team could be special because all of the freshmen had a point guard mentality.  Indeed, in the 10 minutes that Tre was off the court, all 3 took turns as backup point guard.  Twenty-two assists and only 4 turnovers!  Against Kentucky!  Wow!

THE ROTATION

Zion was 6th man in minutes played!  Three players logged 30+ minutes – Barrett (32), Jones (30) and…[I should write AND] Jack White (30).  Jack was simply a revelation and reliable “glue” guy.  He grabbed 11 boards, played just superb man to man – individual and team – defense (guarded Kentucky’s leading scorer, holding Herro to a tepid 14), making two steals.  He had 3 assists and 9 points on offense without a turnover.  Right now, he is the Sixth Man.  Marquis Bolden had by far his best game at Duke, logging 25 minutes, in which he contributed 7 points (3-4; 1-3 from the line) to go with an assist and a steal.  No turnovers.  Reddish lived up to his high school reputation as a smooth all court player, on the court for 24 scintillating minutes.  He scored 22 (6-14; 3-8 from deep; 7-7 from the line) to go with some superb defense (4 steals) and all around floor play (3 assists without a turnover);Javin is still a fouling machine – committing 4 in his 11 minutes on the court.  He moves well and had a block and two steals to go with his four fouls.  Alex scored 9 points in only 11 minutes (3-6; 3-4 from deep) while corralling 3 boards.  He will give the team valuable minutes this season, I predict.  Vrankovich played little, but a valuable minute (2-2 from the line) when Duke had early foul trouble in the first half.

Foul trouble – The only negative was Duke’s fouling on defense – worse in the first half.  Duke committed 16 first half fouls (26 for the game), which had DeLaurier with 3 and the rest of the interior players with 2 at the intermission.  Zion played only 10 first half minutes. RJ played the entire first half.

RJ AND ZION

RJ took over the game in the early going.  He showed why I’ve said he’s the best finisher around the basket that I had seen in high school since LeBron.  He was simply unstoppable, connecting from the perimeter, driving to the basket, passing, and rebounding.  He scored 33 on 26 attempts (13-26; 3-7 from 3land; 4-8 from the line) to go with 2 boards and 6 assists.  He was everything that I saw from him in high school.  But he wasn’t the story.  Zion was.

Zion was limited in minutes by his two early first half fouls – the first coming before the two minute mark.  He committed only one foul in his 13 second half minutes.  In those 23 minutes he compiled a stat line that staggers the imagination.  He scored 28 points on just 13 attempts (11-13; 1-1 from deep; 5-7 from the line).  He passed; he defended; he got loose balls.  In short, he looked like a man among boys.  He was unstoppable driving to the rim.  He helped Duke destroy the Kentucky zone from the post.

The first game has “visions of sugar plumbs dancing in our heads”.  Why not!  I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like the quality of this rout against a team like Kentucky (Maybe W. Va in the 2015 NCAA tournament).  This was a pure wow.

Army on Sunday at noon is the Next Play.

DUKE 94 – ARMY 72

If you took Duke and gave more than 22 points, you lost!

Well,  Army is no Kentucky. The Black Knights execute much better than the Wildcats. And in doing so, they gave the Blue Devils a lesson that last year’s team was unable or unwilling to learn.

At least the most precocious freshman Zion Williamson got it: ”It’s one thing for somebody to tell you that everybody’s going to bring their best against you, that all their shots are going to feel like they’re going in. But I think until you truly experience it, I think you just have to go through it to fully understand.” Quite right. As last year’s team learned the hard way, better sooner than later. Defense is mostly about attitude and effort and it is a lot more difficult when your shots aren’t falling like usual and the opponents rebound and beat you down the floor for relatively uncontested shots. Fortunately, Williamson not only got it, he led the team in points (27), rebounds (16), assists (6), blocked shots (6), and floor burns (5). He has become must see TV as ESPN acknowledged by moving the game to their flagship channel. The you-make-the-call (quiet/shy/self-contained/enigmatic) Reddish, the best pure shooter on the team and the beneficiary of Zion and RJ’s driving ability, went 7-13 from outside the circle and again had a quiet-if that’s possible- 25 points.

Among other challenges will be the reaction of these alpha Blue Chip teenagers to the barrage of press coverage to which Zion is being subject—and it is just starting, because you know the press–anything worth covering is worth over-covering, then moving on to the next new thing. Until now, Barrett has been referred to as the projected number one NBA draft choice—that means about as much as being ranked the number one team in a preseason poll. I suspect that has changed. I know whom I would choose if I were an NBA general manager. And I suspect, that Cam Reddish may also pass RJ in that pecking order as he is being referred to as a Kevin Durant clone. However, so far, this team is a “Brotherhood” of Four/Five Musketeers, all for one, one for all and is fully enjoying the intense spotlight. There is only joyful camaraderie. You see it when Barrett, Williamson, Reddish and Jones — the four freshmen starters weren’t comfortable posing for the Sports Illustrated cover photo unless the fifth freshman, reserve redshirt candidate Joey Baker, was included. You saw it during Williamson’s post-game interview on ESPN Tuesday night after the defeat over Kentucky. “All of us have fun. I can’t even explain it,” Williamson said with a chuckle and a shake of his head. “I just love playing basketball. I love playing with my brothers. And playing for Coach K and those coaches, I don’t think there’s anything better than that. And in the awe of Javin DeLaurier:” I’ve never seen anyone like Zion. “All of us hit the genetic lottery… but Zion hit it twice.”

However this season unfolds, one thing is certain. This is the most likeable basketball team in Duke’s history. There is no easily vilified player like an Art Heyman, Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick, or Grayson Allen.

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • Via the Duke men’s basketball Instagram account, users have viewed videos 1.87 million times with 33,779 new followers onboard over that period. Kentucky is next closest among major college programs in that period, with 408,000 views and 3,658 new followers.
  •  Jack White played as many minutes (25) as Bolden or DeLaurier combined.
  • Freshman Joey Baker played well during the Blue Devils’ exhibition season, but still has not played a second through three halves of the regular season. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the Kentucky game that he’ll wait and see how Jack White and Alex O’Connell look on the perimeter before deciding whether to use Baker this year. It appears that unless one of Duke’s current rotation players suffers a serious injury, Baker is likely to redshirt.

Alan Adds:

“Our guys do not feel good about themselves right now”, said Coach K after the game.  He said that because Duke played an awful defensive first half and did not play cohesively together as they had against Kentucky.  “But, it was a great game for us.  We could have lost [Duke led only by 2 with a little over 2 minutes left in the first half].  Instead we turned it around in the second half.  We played harder than Army in the last 15 minutes of the game.”  “It was the perfect game for us following the Kentucky game.  A key for a winning team is to keep the “noise” out of the locker room.  This wasn’t just noise; this was NOISE – exceptional noise.  We didn’t handle it very well.”

Perhaps, that is why the Duke defense was slow to move (and talk – Coach K said Army moved faster than Duke was talking) and reverted to a lazy transition defense (last seen in the first Canadian exhibition game).  In any event, Army seemed to outhustle all the Blue Devils (except for Zion) to offensive rebounds, to penetrate to the rim and make the perfect pass in the first half.

Here’s why Coach K felt good about the second half.  Duke held Army to 30 points, but was even more suffocating on defense as the game wound down.  With 12:14 left in the game, Army trimmed the lead to 6 with 2 straight 3s (67-61).  Five minutes and 10 seconds later, Army hit a 3 to give them 66 points, while Duke had broken the game wide open (81-66; Army had made a layup at the 9:15 mark).  In short, Duke held Army to 5 points in that span, and to only 3 more in the next 6 minutes and 5 seconds  — Army scored only 8 points in that 11:42 of play.  That is why  Coach K said it was a great game for Duke because to obtain those amazing defensive results, Duke PLAYED HARDER THAN ARMY in the last 15 minutes.

The three scoring freshman had 75 of Duke’s 94 points (Zion, 27; Cam, 25, and R.J. 23).  Add Trey’s 8 (2-4; 2-2 from behind the arc and the foul line, to go with 7 assists) and the freshman had 83 of Duke’s 94.  White (6; 2-6 from 3land), Alex (3; 1-3 from deep) and Javin (2) rounded out the scoring.  It was clear that Zion could score at will in so many different ways.  He was 11-14 from the floor.  His statline (See Bill’s detail above) was simply astounding.  R.J. seemed a bit sullen to me; looking askance at the ref on one call, but stepped up his game in the second half on both ends of the floor.  Cam is so smooth and does everything (he reminds me of Keith, later Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes).

Jack White has become the Sixth man, and he is playing starter minutes.  The four freshman were on the court for over 30 minutes a piece (R.J and Tre for 33 minutes; Zion for 32; and Cam for 31).  The player who logged the fifth most minutes was Jack White with 25 minutes (15 in the second half) grabbing 4 rebounds, handing out a pair of assists to go with a block and a steal.  He is steady.  No turnovers and only 1 foul.  I would not be surprised if Coach K makes him the starter to go with the four freshmen down the road.  DeLaurier played 12 minutes – 9 in the first half where he picked up 2 fouls.  Bolden played 13 minutes without scoring, but excelled on defense,  while Alex played 10.

Next Play: Eastern Michigan on Wednesday Night at Cameron at 7 pm before heading to the Maui Classic next week.

DUKE 84 – E. MICHIGAN 46

If you took Eastern Michigan and got 37 points, you lost!

And actually, if it was a prize fight, it would have been call a TKO sometime during the first twenty minutes as Duke led 48-13 at the half. Mercifully, Coach K called off the precocious freshmen greyhounds in the second half by substituting liberally. The Eagles were thought to present a challenge because of the size and experience of their front court and tough Syracuse type zone defense. Duke aced that test by pressing full and half court, creating chaos, turnovers, and putting on a SportsCenter dunking show that has become their calling card. We have become accustomed to the dunking show but the first half defense was just as impressive as the first half rout of Kentucky— for a different reason. This group of teenagers take as much pride in their defense as their offense. The Blue Devils held the Eagles to shooting 21% in the first half. At one point, the score was 21-3.

Coach K: “We played at a pace different than what they’re really good at. It kind of snowballed for them. The intensity was excellent. We talked well, on both ends of the court. We shared the ball well and got every loose ball in the first half. Our goal was anybody, except the center, if you get the board, go. In transition, we were relentless. Everything we did kind of worked. But it worked because we played so hard. Alex [O’Connell] can score the ball. Alex continues to have to learn to play defense. He’s trying, but he’s not there yet. When that comes, he becomes better. It’s our third game, and he’s playing hard and well, but he can do that better. Jack [White], Javin [DeLaurier], even Antonio [Vrankovic] know exactly what they’re supposed to do. So even if we were to go to 10 or 11 guys, who, even if they don’t play much, know what they’re supposed to do, then we’re going to be better.”

However, to be the team they want to be, these Blue Devils have to shoot free throws and threes better or some night in a close game, this weakness cost them dearly. In the ESPN+ series  “Earn Everything” Coach K explains that in the Five Out Motion Offense spacing will create open, stand still threes and that every player on this team has to be able to hit them as well as free throws. He pointedly commented that practicing all these razzle dazzle dribbling moves is fine, but the easy, uncontested shots should be money in the bank. On the Olympic Team, Kobe Bryant didn’t believe him and when he got some, he missed them. So, Kobe shot a thousand of them a day for a week and didn’t miss many more on the way to a Gold Medal.

Duke had 14 dunks, 6 by Williamson, 4 by Bolden, 2 by Javin DeLaurier and 1 each for Barrett and White. Williamson and Barrett led Duke with 21 (12 shots) and 20 points (21 shots), respectively. DeLaurier and White, whose consistent all-round play is demanding more playing time, each had 10 points. The suffocating defense ( 56-37 advantage on the boards, forcing 20 turnovers, with 14 steals and 11 blocks masked the fact that the Blue Devils didn’t  actually shoot very well and were sloppy with the ball. The Blue Devils were 5-for-24 on 3s, 6-for-17 from the line. Of course, those stat lines were skewed a bit by the use of the deep bench.

Miscellaneous Comments: 

  • The final two (#7& 8) episodes of the Duke series “Earn Everything” are now available on ESPN+. I found them to be the most the most interesting and revealing of the segments. They made one thing crystal clear: The Duke “Brotherhood” extends back decades, is a potent recruiting tool, and has a powerful hold upon former players–even the one-and-done players.
  • Cameron Reddish did not play at all in the second half. Krzyzewski said Reddish had a sore groin, nothing serious, but it didn’t make much sense to play him when he could rest for next week.
  • For Duke, Monday’s No. 1 showing is an AP poll record. The Blue Devils, with this week’s ranking, have now stood atop the AP rankings 135 weeks in their history. That breaks a tie with UCLA for most all time. The AP poll dates back to 1949; UCLA had held the record for decades, thanks to the season-over-season dominance during the John Wooden era. Mike Krzyzewski has been coach for 117 of the 135 weeks Duke has held the No. 1 ranking.  

Alan Adds:

The beat down was as severe as any I can remember a Duke team handing out.  17 minutes and 36 seconds had expired in the first half before Eastern Michigan’s point total hit double figures.  The Eagles did not score points 10 and 11 until then to reduce Duke’s 37 point lead to 35.  Duke’s lead in the second half ballooned to 46 with 9:14 left in the game before Coach K called off the dogs (the freshmen) and the 1-2-2 press.   The tale of this game was in the amazing first half, where I will concentrate this analysis.

The Defense

This team has the potential to be not just a good defensive team, but a great defensive team.  Duke certainly was last night.  Duke’s 1-2-2 ¾ court press destroyed Eastern Michigan.  Duke’s trapping completely discombobulated the Eagles.  Tre is simply a superb on the ball defender.  He got his hands on the ball many times to disrupt the Eastern Michigan offense.  Then there is the size and athleticism of the trapping players – Cam R.J. and Zion primarily.  Bolden, DeLaurier, Zion and Jack White protected the rim, turning away a bunch of Eagle layup attempts with blocks (Duke had 5 blocks in the first half; White had 4 in the second half by himself).  You watched Duke just eviscerate the Eastern Michigan psyche.  The Eagles were looking for their exit transportation with much of the first half still left to play.

In the half court, Duke kept the visitors from open shots.  The switching was efficient, but even more so was the interior defense against penetration (Duke’s major weakness last year).  Jack White is an outstanding defender.  He had the knack of fronting the big in the post, allowing him to switch onto every penetrator without giving up the pass to the primary opponent he was guarding.  Zion was also superb defending the post.  What was apparent is how much this team likes playing defense and attacking as defenders.   Duke has not had a defensive team with this much potential since its last championship team (where Justice Winslow led an improved defense to the title)  

The Offense

Duke did not shoot the ball well from anywhere but the paint, but did not have to.  The Blue Devils ran through Eastern Michigan (to quote George Scott as Patton) “like crap through a goose”.  The Duke transition – powered by 10 first half steals (10 in a half!) was a highlight reel.  Zion had one dunk where I swear his chest was at the rim.  He scored 12 in 11 first half minutes on 6-7 from the floor, (he missed his only free throw) to go with 4 boards 2 assists and a block.  He had 2 turnovers and committed 2 first half fouls.  He had his shot blocked twice (first time I can remember that happening this year); when he came back on defense, he committed a silly foul.  Coach K yanked him immediately.  Zion’s passing is fun to watch; he had 2 superb assists, and seemed to come up with every loose ball.  R.J. seems to me in a bit of a funk.  He played better in the second half, but had trouble finishing at the rim early (usually his very strong suit).  R.J. played 15 first half minutes (most on Duke) and scored 12, but took 11 shots to do it (5-11; 0-2 from deep; 2-5 from the line) to go with 6 assists (1 more than Tre) 2 rebounds, a steal against only a single turnover.  Reddish played 12 first half minutes (his only action) going 1-4 from deep and 1-5 in total from the field.  He had 2 steals (he is a tenacious defender), 3 boards, 2 assists with only 1 turnover.

Coach K was asked if Cam was unhappy “not being a first option”.  Coach K explained that Duke has 3 “first options” – obviously Zion, R.J. and Cam.  Against Kentucky, Cam was the first option in the game plan (he made 7 3s).  In the half court, the Blue Devils had no trouble with Eastern Michigan’s zone (which was not mobile and did not resemble the efficiency of the Syracuse Zone – Eastern Michigan coach was a long time Boeheim assistant at Syracuse).  Both Zion and R.J. were able to flash to the lane, catch and make plays.  Duke’s lobs to Bolden and DeLaurier were effective.  DeLaurier scored 8 first half points in 9 minutes (3-3 on 2 dunks and a putback; 2-3 from the line) to go with 4 boards, a block, 2 steals and 2 turnovers.  Key stat: 0 fouls.  Bolden played 12 minutes scoring 4 on 2 dunks.  He grabbed 2 boards, and displayed improved defense – 2 blocks and a steal. 0 fouls.  Jack White is glue. He is playing starter minutes (11 in the first half; same as Zion) without committing a turnover or a foul.  He led the team in first half rebounds with 5 and made a steal.  He was also 2-3 from deep for 6 points.  Duke shot badly from behind the arc except for White’s 2-3 and Alex’s 1-1.  The rest of the team was 1-7.  The foul shooting was embarrassing (4-11 in the first half; Barrett 2-5; Zion 0-1; Vrankovich 0-2) 36% even with Javin’s 2-3.

I still believe that Tre is the most important player on offense.  His shot wasn’t there (scoreless in the first half: 0-2; 0-1 from deep), but he controls the offense like a senior (and his defense is off the charts).  He had 5 assists, but I particularly like his leadership and his calmness.  He also threw one of the absolutely greatest lob passes I have ever seen to Zion for a dunk.  Barrett got the rebound and passed long to Tre running the left side.  Tre had to leap for the pass, and without turning, looking, or landing, threw it long over his head to Zion for an instant classic dunk.  He will score when the game is tight (just like his brother).  He is a point guard’s point guard.

The Rotation

Coach K is playing 9 right now with Jack White, Javin, Alex and Jordan Goldwire constituting the bench (Bolden is the fifth starter to go with the four freshmen).  The co-captains are playing very well – especially Jack White.  Alex’s defense drew the negative comments from Coach K that Bill quoted.  He is goosing Alex to improve.  Goldwire played well (kept it simple, said Coach K).  The rotation may remain longer than the usual K rotation if the press continues to pay the kind of dividends that it did last night.

The Maui Invitational

Duke leaves for Maui on Friday to play 3 games in 3 days beginning Monday against San Diego State (5 pm EST game).  If Duke wins, they will mostly likely face Auburn (#9 in the AP poll this week) on Tuesday at 8 pm.  The finals are on Wednesday at 5 pm.  Gonzaga, (#3 in the AP poll) is the highest rated team in the other bracket and favored with Duke to make the finals.  If Duke loses to Auburn, there is the consolation game at 2:30.  It should be a great tournament.

Duke 90 – San Diego State 64

It’s no secret about how to beat Duke: control the tempo, hit a high percentage of your shots, get back on defense to prevent  SportsCenter dunks, clog the lane and force the Blue Devils to be jump shooters, and get the Four Freshmen in foul trouble. The Aztecs accomplished most of these goals as Duke did not have a dunk in the first half. However, they had nine threes and RJ Barrett practically scored anytime he wanted. In one of the segments of the ESPN+ Series “Earn Everything”, Coach K stressed that every player had to be able to hit stand still threes, because in this Five Out Motion Offense with these players ability to drive, there were going to be a lot of them.

An example of the  versatile lethality and opportunism of this team and how coaching matters is what happened  at the end of the first half. The teams were more or less trading baskets. The Aztecs had a player on the line to potentially make it a single digit game,  and then all of a sudden SDS is down 17. The Aztecs missed the free throw, RJ hits a three, Aztecs miss a shot, Coach K calls a time out, subs O’Connell for Antonio, spreads the floor with R.J dribbling the ball at the top of the key…. pass to Cam in the corner, swish as buzzer goes off. SDS is down 17.

What RJ provided in the first half, Cam Reddish supplied with flourish in the second with acrobatic drives and scoops to the basket. While early fouls limited his minutes, Zion Williamson had, for him, a quiet game with only one thunderous dunk, he did have 5 steals. And speaking of minutes, Jack White, whose Australian father was in attendance, played more minutes than any player and almost had another double-double. Jack has developed into an invaluable sixth starter as he may be the most complete complementary player on the team.

One of the reasons I enjoy Duke basketball is watching players and teams mature—or not. What we watched last night was Reddish and Jones demonstrating that they also can score. Consider this point distribution: Williamson 13, Barrett 20,Reddish 16, Jones 14, White 12. Whom do you double team? Not to make an invidious comparison but compare this defensive challenge to last year’s team—an opponent only had to neutralize one of three players.

Mike Krzyzewski commented: “They did a little bit of what Army did to us and tried to not let us penetrate completely to the bucket. As long as our guys were ready to shoot, they knocked them down. I thought that was the differential in the first half.” And on why these young players are so good so early in the season: “They’re over themselves. It’s not about them. They’re very secure and they have been parented well, they have been coached well, and so they understand being part of something bigger than them, but still being really good. They are all really good kids as well as really talented basketball players. They are a joy to coach.”

ESPN wrote: “Duke is the best show in town, even in Maui. Tickets were being scalped for $600. Yes, the Duke Blue Devils are the early favorites to win the national title. But they’re also rock stars even 4,700 miles from Durham, North Carolina, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When they entered the gym during Auburn’s overtime win over Xavier, folks in the stands murmured and stared. Then dozens of fans grabbed their smartphones and snapped photos of the Blue Devils, who stood together next to the court as security officials warned anyone who got too close to the young stars. They seemed unbothered by the pregame frenzy. “I try to really just ignore it, just continue to work hard and listen to Coach,” said Reddish, who finished with 16 points. It’s a constant process for a team full of former prep stars who, in just three weeks, have become the collective center of college basketball’s universe.

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • Vlade Divac, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Los Angeles Clippers executive Lawrence Frank, Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge and Golden State Warriors executive Bob Myers all were courtside along with representatives from dozens of other NBA teams.
  • Should Duke keep the preseason tournament mojo going by winning Maui for a record 6th time, it would be the 20th preseason championship of Mike Krzyzewski’s career.

Alan Adds: 

Auburn tonight at 8 pm

Duke faces its second top 10 team of the season when the young Devils tangle with Bruce Pearl’s #8 Auburn, the defending SEC champions.  This will be, I predict, a stern test.  Auburn has an star studded backcourt that produced 51 points in the Tigers’ win over Xavier (overtime).  The 5’10” point guard (Harper) made a Zion-like (sports center highlight) slam on a darting drive to win the game in overtime.  Both of Auburn’s heralded big guys fouled out, but Auburn dominated the overtime after seeing its double digit lead dissolve late.   This team is good.

Last night, I had the oddest feeling as I watched the first half.  The score and what I was watching did not match.  Duke looked awful in some aspects of the game, and yet kept building a lead.  Here’s what seemed to me awful: Duke could not defend without fouling; 14 first half fouls.  Only White, Jones and Barrett had less than 2 fouls. DeLaurier (who continues to lead the world in fouling – and rebounding) and Vrankovich had 3 each (Antonio’s 3 came in only 4 minutes).  DeLaurier eventually fouled out in only 11 minutes.  The Aztecs doubled Zion in the post effectively.  His first two shots were blocked and he committed 2 fouls in the first 5 minutes (but interestingly no more in the game), limiting him to 7 first half minutes.  He did make the first 3 of the game, but then was 0-4 for the rest of the half.  The Devils did not (could not) penetrate.  But, of course, when you shoot 50% from deep (9-18 or 27 points on 18 shots) your offense is rolling anyway.

The first half was very different from the second half.  RJ Barrett played every minutes of the first half, lighting it up for 16 first half points (3-6 from deep and 5-6 from the line) to lead Duke.  Tre Jones played 17 first half minutes.  While he was the second high scorer with 9 on 4-5 shooting (1-1) from deep; his defense was ineffective and (for the first time) he had more turnovers than assists (2-1) and was 0-3 from the foul line.  Reddish played 13 minutes, scoring 8 (3-5; 2-4 from deep).  The three of them were collectively 6-10 from behind the arc.  Add Zion’s opening 3 (1-2 for the half) and that is 7 for 12.  We are getting to the point where we may say Duke has 6 starters or that Jack White is the best of the upper class players even though he comes in off the bench.  He played 16 first half minutes (Bolden, the starter, played 9 and De Laurier 7).  White is so valuable as a defender, who does not foul, a tough rebounder, a good open shooter, a reliable foul shooter, and a finisher who does not turn the ball over.   Duke was up only 11 with over a minute to go in the half.  The Devils scored 8 including two 3s in the last 39 seconds (Barrett and Cam) to give a 17 half time lead that felt almost artificial.

It felt very artificial when San Diego State opened with 5 straight points.  But just when it seemed that the second half could be a struggle, Duke broke the game wide open with its devastating transition game.  “We’re explosive”, said Coach K.  Indeed!  After being thwarted in the first half, the young Devils put on a show.  Zion played 11 second half minutes and put his stamp on every aspect of the game (do not underestimate the value of his 4 second half steals).  One play is worth recounting.  DeLaurier grabbed a tough defensive rebound and outletted to Tre.  Tre fired a bullet to a cutting White for the layup.  The ball never touched the floor!  It was simply beautiful.  The Devils rolled, upping the lead to 34 with over 6 minutes to go before Coach K called off the dogs and emptied the bench.

White played 28 minutes (as Bill points out, more than any other Duke player), scoring 12 (3-5; 2-4 from deep; 4-4 from the line).   R.J. was quiet in the second half, limited by the three quick fouls he picked up in the first 5 minutes of the second half (which made 4).  He led Duke in scoring with 20, but played only 6 second half minutes.  Reddish had a dazzling second half, scoring 8 more in only 8 minutes.  His drives were acrobatic.  He had 16 in 21 total minutes (6-10; 2-5 from 3land;  and 2-3 from the line).  I thought he and Tre were Duke’s best players (so I guess did Coach K; they were the two players at the post-game press conference).  White led Duke in rebounding (8); while Zion (6), DeLaurier (6) were mainstays.  But all of Duke players can rebound: Barrett, 4; Bolden 4; Vrankovich, 4 (he provided needed minutes in the first half because all the Duke bigs were in foul trouble); and O’Connell, 4.   Zion, for all his first half troubles, scored 13 on 11 shots in 18 minutes to go with his 6 boards, 5 steals and a block.  That’s a pretty cool sub-par night.

Tonight’s game should be Duke’s first close game of the year and a real test.

Gonzaga 89 – Duke 87 

Sorry for the delay. Since I was going to be in Pinehurst for Thanksgiving, Alan and I arranged to email the DBP on time. Unfortunately, technology and/or operator error failed us. However, I have had extra time to think about the game.

Because it is Coach K and Duke and the top rated freshman class with Flyin’ Zion, the human video highlight, and they smoked another “Blue Blood” Kentucky to open the season, the hype for this team was off the charts. What the Gonzaga game taught us was timely reality check:

There are a lot of very, very talented basketball players in college many of us have never heard of or much less seen– especially if they play on the West Coast. And all those players want to prove they are just as good or better than the highly publicized players at Duke, Kentucky, or North Carolina– so we get their best shot. The blunt truth is that Gonzaga is as talented as Duke–plus older and more mature. Hachimura was the best player on the floor. Until tonight, Tre Jones was underrated because he usually was  satisfied to function as a facilitator, when in fact he has a multi-faceted game. Reddish and DeLaurier need to stop making silly fouls, which limit their playing time.

Duke needs a more balanced attack, shoot a higher percentage of threes and free throws. But most of all R.J. Barrett needs to dial back his alpha player mentality. He takes  disproportionate share of the team’s shots (Alan covers the surprising stats). In the last minute, he took a three, drove three times and was stuffed three times. On the final attempt, he drove into a triangle of bigger defenders right at the basket. That being the case, do the math. It left two ‘Zags to defend four Duke players. Two Blue Devils had to be undefended. That’s not Duke basketball. The player taking the last shot needs to be better than a 60% FT shooter—and btw Buzz Mewhort is right about the free throw weakness as was demonstrated by R.J. missing 4 of his 8 attempts on this night. So, despite missing 6 free throws, and two dunks, the opponent shooting 53% from the field and the circle, Duke only loses by two.

The bottom line: Despite the comeback, I thought the score did not reflect the difference in the performance and sophistication of the teams.

Alan Adds: 

Bill called me at half time and said, “They are better than we are.”  It did not take a basketball genius to see how well Gonzaga was playing (65% shooting in the first half).   The Zags played Duke’s game (5 out on offense) better than Duke did.  Marques Bolden, who was the star of stars against Auburn on Tuesday, was the Zag target.  Whoever he was guarding got the ball on the perimeter, where Bolden is a defensive liability.  While Duke played mediocre defense, Gonzaga played almost perfect offense.  The Zags are talented, long and experienced (3 upper classmen, including a grad senior point guard and 2 sophomores start).  Coach K said, “We looked young.  They were more emotionally ready than we were.”  Gonzaga WAS a better team than Duke yesterday, though what that means for the long season, nobody can say at this point.

What we can say is that the Maui Championship loss was a very good game for Duke in many respects.  My own feeling is Duke is actually better off for having been beaten at this stage than if the comeback had produced the small miracle (I fantasized Bill naming this team “The Miracles Without Marvin”).  First, there was much for Duke to be pleased with and proud of.  Second (and maybe really first), Duke learned a lot in this game, which I predict will lead to quicker improvement than if Duke had won.

Great Duke Performances

Tre Jones – Before this game, Jones was the respected orchestrator of a dynamite offense.  Now this is Tre’s team.  Coach K said that Gonzaga knocked Duke back at the start of the second half and went for the knockout.  They doubled their 8 point half time lead after 4 minutes of the second half had gone by.  Coach K said, “One guy making a play can turn a game around.  Tre did that for us, and for the next 14 minutes we dictated what would happen in the game.”  The play came when Zion blocked a shot and Tre got the rebound and went the length of the floor for an acrobatic finish.  He whirled around and stole the ball on the inbound pass, and drained both foul shots when he was fouled attempting another acrobatic layup against 2 defenders.  You saw Tre grab his teammates and yell, “let’s go” in a way that reminded me of Grayson Allen’s moment in the 2015 championship win over Wisconsin.  Zion then hit a jumper and the lead was down to 10.  The Zag lead bounced between 9 and 15 for the next nine minutes before the Devils began to cut into the Gonzaga lead when the Zags finally started to miss (better Duke defense, and Bill and I both think the Zags got a little tired) and Duke kept scoring.  Tre played 39 of the 40 minutes scoring 17 points (7-14; 1-2 from deep; and 2-2 from the line) to go with 4 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals.  He turned it over twice early, but was the calm leader of the comeback offense.  He played valiant defense while committing only 2 fouls.

Heart – Duke had trailed for only 35 seconds total in its first 5 games, none of which were close.  While Auburn seemed to slow the Duke juggernaut, the Tigers still never got closer to Duke than 5 points.  Against the Zags, Duke scored the game’s first bucket, but never again led in the game.  Down 16, Duke emotion returned to the level it needed to be.  But the Zags are an excellent team; they managed to maintain a significant working margin.  Then with 6:26 left in the game, the Devil’s emotional fight began to cut the 11 point deficit.  Zion hit a jumper; Javin, tough underneath, was fouled. He made the first, but bricked the second.  In a great sequence, White grabbed the offensive board and hit R.J. with a pass.  But R.J. missed an open 3; Tre got the offensive board, but could not convert on the put back.  Duke scored when Zion soared for a dramatic dunk. 81-75.  Zion stole the ball from Hachimura and fed R.J. for a dramatic full court run and dunk.  81-77.  White fouled Novell, who made them both.  The Zags were not giving up.  When Zion missed a jumper, Javin stuffed in the rebound.  Zion blocked Kispart and Tre came up with the rebound and found R.J. who buried a jumper.  83-81 with 3:45 left.  Clark scored on a traditional 3 point play (foul by White), but Duke closed to 3 on a Tre floater in the lane.  After a timeout, White rebounded a miss by Clark; Tre hit another hoop to make it 86-85 with 2:26 to play.  Javin fouled Clark who made 1 of 2.  Duke tied the score at 87 with 1:41 left to play when R.J. fed Zion for a jumper.  But Gonzaga took the lead for good when Hachimura scored on a layup with 1:15 to go.  From there, Duke had 7 shots on goal without scoring.  R.J. missed a 3 (too quick, but going for the lead); Javin got the board, but Hachimura blocked Tre’s layup.  Duke kept the ball.  Clark blocked R.J.’s attempted layup; Hachimura blocked R.J.’s jumper.  Clark missed both free throws after R.J fouled him, but R.J. missed a contested layup with 14 seconds left.  White grabbed the rebound but missed the putback.  Hachimura got the board, was fouled by White, but he, too, missed both free throws.  Duke down 1 with 10 seconds left; one last chance.  R.J. was frustrated again by Hachimura on his last ditch effort to tie.  What a fabulous (even if not a winning) comeback!  Duke has heart.

Zion – While he wasn’t the 80% shooter and unstoppable force he had been in the first 4 games, he played a whale of a game.  In 37 minutes, he scored 22 (8-17; 0-1 from 3land; and critically, 6-6 from the line) to go with 10 boards; 4 blocks; 2 assists and 2 steals.  He was heroic on both ends.  His spirit and motor drove Duke.  He was simply terrific.

Javin – Although he only played 15 minutes, they were impactful minutes.  In addition to the dunk (his only field goal attempt), he was 4-6 from the line, garnered 6 rebounds, and played ferocious defense (but still committed 3 fouls in only 15 minutes).  He and Tre were the Duke players in the post-game interview.  Coach K praised him, “In the last 10 minutes he played like he can.”

Jack – He is such a glue guy.  He made his only 3 point attempt (his other shot was the offensive rebound that didn’t go with 11 seconds left in the game).  He had 5 rebounds and an assist before fouling out at the end of his 25 minutes of playing time (starter minutes).

What Duke can learn from

R.J.’s efforts at the game’s end; he took it on himself to tie or win the game.  This highlights what Bill and I think is a problem.  R.J. took 16 second half shots (25 for the game), which makes Duke’s offense unbalanced.  No Zag took more than 14 shots for the entire game.  Barrett led Duke in scoring with 23 points (9-25; 1-4 from deep; and a troubling 4-8 from the line).  He is a great player, but he should not be taking three times as many shots as Cam, for example, who took 9 shots in foul plagued 25 minutes.  Cam scored 10 on 3-9 from the field (2-4 from deep and 2-2 from the line), but had a strong second half, scoring 8 of his 9 in his 9 second half minutes, including 2-2 from deep.

R.J. has missed more shots this season than any player on Duke has taken, except Zion.  In 6 games, R.J. is 51-125 (meaning he has missed 74 shots); 12-38 from deep; and 23-32 from the line.  These are not the statistics of one who is touted to be a #1 NBA draft pick.  By comparison, only Zion has taken more shots than R.J. has missed (Zion is 49-75); Cam is 29-69; Tre 21-45 and White is 15-31.  This is a dynamic team with talented players.  R.J. cannot continue to dominate Duke’s shooting if Duke is to reach its potential.  He also has to give up his “Alpha Male gene” at game’s end and seek the player who has an open shot.  Good shots, as opposed to forced shots, win games.

Reddish has been a foul plagued problem, which has adversely impacted him at both ends of the court.  He will be so much more valuable when he learns to defend at this level without fouling.  He is such a smooth player, good shooter (from behind the line, on the drive and at the foul line) and versatile defender, that Duke should be benefitting more from his skill and talent.

Duke needs to be able to defend better with Bolden at the back line.  Duke needs the Auburn Bolden.  There are not many teams with big guys who can draw Marques away from the basket as Gonzaga did.  Duke will mix and match on defense with Bolden, DeLaurier, Zion and White playing the interior, depending on game situations.

Perhaps the biggest lesson Duke learned from this early season loss, is the requirement to bring full passion for each game from the beginning.  As Coach K said, Duke was ready, but not as ready as Gonzaga was emotionally.  In the post-game interview, Javin said that in the last 14 minutes Duke played together and with emotion to get back in the game.  If Duke can learn that, this was a great game for Duke even though it goes in the L column.

Next game is Tuesday, November 27 at 9:30 (p.m.) against Indiana.  Duke is traditionally ferocious after a loss.  I almost feel sorry for the Hoosiers.

Duke 90 – Indiana 69

Well, if anyone was wondering how the Blue Devils would respond to the loss against Gonzaga, they got the answer tonight in Cameron against Indiana. Duke played the first half like they did the last eight minutes in Maui and were up 53- 29 (while missing 7 free throws) at half time. Actually, they were losing some focus or intensity or interest in the waning minutes before the half, so Coach K called a time out. The result was a 9-0 run to close out the initial twenty minutes to more or less put the game on ice. Makes you wonder he doesn’t regret doing that at the end of the Gonzaga game. 

Duke started the game in a zone press, hounding Indiana (5-1) in its half-court offense with pressure man-to-man defense that led to turnovers, open court opportunities, and high wire shows that are these Blue Devils calling card. Duke only scored 4 points in the first five minutes of the second half, matched by 5 turnovers, and 4 fouls. So, Krzyzewski called a timeout, yanked off his jacket, fired it into the crowd, and had a few blistering comments for his precocious teenagers. The result were several SportsCenter Slamma Jamma highlights by Zion and R.J. that had an excited Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland grad, proclaiming like most of us that he was not going to miss any Duke games this season. Just to make it an ACC enemy’s list unanimous capitulation, Johnny Tar Heel reluctantly has confessed the same thing.

Although a blowout, Duke’s play was far from perfect. Looking at some of the stats, you might have thought it was a close game. The Devils shot 59% from the foul line, committed 24 fouls, had 14 turnovers, was out-rebounded by three. However, as much as the Williamson/Barrett show mesmerized the fans, the most significant play of the game–the one that signified lessons learned–was at the end of the half. Unlike the Gonzaga loss, when Williamson and the world watched R.J. Barrett try unsuccessfully to beat the Zags all by himself, there was a distinctly different approach tonight. Duke was holding for a final shot of the half and again Barrett had the ball. This time Coach K gestured for Barrett to pass the ball to Williamson. Zion successfully navigated the Indiana defense like a slalom racer, went one way, spun back to the other, leaned toward the bucket, and softly laid the ball into the basket. “I know what he can do, so I’m excited about what he is going to do,” Krzyzewski said. “After the trip, we’ve done some things to get him the ball more. That’s just the evolution of your team. So we were able to do that tonight, including at the end of the half, we were able to do a 4-5 ball screen. He’ll keep getting the ball.”  However, it is not just the gravity defying dunks. It’s the  sensational blocks that look like a volleyball spike, the defensive plays and steals, the diving for loose balls, the assist after slipping on a wet floor. The Williamson Show is must see TV.

Fortunately, Zion and R.J. are roommates and good buddies as this post-game exchange demonstrated. Williamson and Barrett often assist each other with well-placed lobs. Zion  was asked who throws better lobs, himself or Barrett. He responded: “See, that’s a trick question. I throw better lobs, but people will say he throws them better, because of the way I finish them. The finish will look better. But I think my pass is better. He knows I’m joking, he knows I’m joking.” The reporter: Are you, though? “Not really,” Williamson said with a broad smile, before breaking into laughter again.

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • Duke extended its non-ACC home-winning streak to 142 games, is 18-2 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and is 7-3 against Indiana.
  • While The Four Freshmen outscored the Hoosiers 75-69, Cam Reddish continues to struggle with too many cheap fouls and inconsistent play. Actually, Jack White is more effective and, as a result, is getting more minutes. On the other hand, Tre Jones is not struggling. Tonight, he had 15 points, 8 assists and 0 turnovers. The point guard has 41 assists against eight turnovers on the season.
  • Question: If Barrett misses a three, Williamson rebounds it and slams it home, does R.J. get an assist?
  • Jay Bilas added his usual incisive comments, which always add to the enjoyment of the game.
  • Mike Krzyzewski said of Jones’s defense: “He’s in that room where Amaker, Hurley, Wojo, Duhon, and Silber (just wanted to be sure you were paying attention) are as far as on-the-ball pressure. He has such will and determination.

Alan adds:  

After the Maui loss to Gonzaga, I wrote, “Next game is Tuesday, November 27 at 9:30 (p.m.) against Indiana.  Duke is traditionally ferocious after a loss.  I almost feel sorry for the Hoosiers.”  I’m bragging, of course.  Duke was, in fact, ferocious from the opening tip – as if the Devils could reverse the loss to The Zags, by beating the living hell out of the Hoosiers.  And that the young Blue Devils did beat the living hell out of Indiana.  On both ends of the court!  Duke demonstrated just how effective this team can be on the defensive end when it plays with the intensity demonstrated in the opening stanza.  Coach K termed Duke’s first half performance as “outstanding”, and the second half as “disjointed” (which he blamed on the lateness of the game – which was scheduled to start at 9:30 p.m. to secure the largest west coast audience).  Duke’s bench was on full display in the second half (Indiana outscored Duke 40-37) with R.J. limited to only 8 minutes, and Zion to 11.  After R.J. had an efficient first half, it was as if he ran completely out of gas in a nightmarish second half.  In the latter stanza, R.J. committed 4 fouls in 8 minutes (fouling out) while turning it over 5 times.  R.J. has not been as good in the second half this season.  The first half was the game; so, this analysis will concentrate on the “outstanding” first half.

The team statistics tell the story.  Duke was 18 for 28 inside the arc (Zion was 9-10; 2 of his 3 first half misses came from 3land) and forced 13 Hoosier turnovers.  The Indiana’s heralded stars, Langford (3-10; 0-2 from deep; 2-4 from the line) and Morgan (1-5 for 2 points) were held in check, while the Duke three quarter court press simply wrecked the Hoosier’s offensive plan.  Duke was not only a wrecking crew with the press, the Devils were also superb in the half-court defense (really talking to each other), holding Indiana to 33% shooting.  Tre’s on the ball defense is brilliant.  Coach K pointed out that he almost got about 5 additional steals where he applied disrupting pressure but just missed getting the ball.  Duke protected the rim (blocks by Zion, R.J. and Bolden) and held their own on the boards (R.J. 8; Tre 5 and Zion 4)  On offense Duke had 9 assists (Tre had 5; Bolden 2) with only 4 turnovers (2 of them from reserves DeLaurier – 2 fouls in 5 minutes – and O’Connell in his 2 minute first half cameo).  Of course, the biggest team statistics are: 1) holding Indiana to 29 first half points; and 2) scoring 53.  And, Indiana is NOT a weak team.

The rotation in the first half was tight: Barrett (19); Zion (18); Tre (16); White (15) and Bolden (12) were the only double digit minutes guys.  White played 6 minutes more than the struggling Reddish, whose nightmarish first half was followed by an efficient (hopefully confidence restoring) second half (he led the Devils in second half scoring with 10).  DeLaurier played 5, Goldwire 4 and Alex 2.    Zion led the scoring with an efficient and defense (or soul) destroying 19 points (9-12; 0-2 from 3; 1-2 from the line) to go with 4 rebounds, a block, a steal and an assist.  It was a world class performance.  R.J. was an efficient scoring teammate with 15 first half points (6-13; 1-3 from deep; 2-3 from the line) to go with 8 boards (led Duke) and a block while committing only 1 foul and 0 turnovers.  Their back to back dunks were a highlight.  Jack White and Trey Jones were also efficient.  Each scored 8.  White was 2-3 from deep and 2-2 from the line, while Tre was 4-6 from the field.  Cam was the only other Duke first half scorer – 3 points on 1-6; 1-3 from deep; and 0-3 from the line – in his frustrating first half.  Bolden played well without scoring – 2 assists and a block without a foul or turnover.

For the game only Tre (32 minutes) and White (30) played more than 29 minutes.  Zion played 29; R.J, 27; Bolden 23 (0 points, but 2 assists, 3 blocks, 3 boards and 2 steals).  Reddish played 22 minutes (his 13 second half minutes with 10 points were redemptive).  He drained a pair of 3s and made a superb driving layup to go with 2-4 from the line in the last stanza.  DeLaurier played 12 efficient minutes – efficient except for his continuous fouling – 4 in 12 minutes.  Alex (5-6 from the line in the second half) and Goldwire each played 11 minutes.

The level of competition drops for the next four games, all in Cameron.  Duke will be working on its man to man defense and communication.

Stetson on Saturday (December 1) at 7 pm.  Followed by Hartford (12-5), Yale (12-8); and Princeton (12-18) before playing Texas Tech in the World’s Most Famous Arena on 12-20.

Duke 113- Stetson 49 

Since Stetson (1-7) lost all their starters from last year’s team, I guess you could say this year Stetson, which shot 32 percent and committed 27 turnovers, is: “All hat and no cattle.”

Other than that bad pun, there were only a few takeaways from this mismatch:

Coach K:: “Two of the guys that really didn’t score had the biggest impact on the game, and that’s Tre [Jones] and Jack [White]. They’re just such good teammates. Tre goes another game where he doesn’t turn the ball over, has 7 assists, and was all over the place defensively. Jack had 9 rebounds in 15 minutes. I think he reluctantly shot the ball, which is why he missed… This is a rough stretch because of all the academic work that has to be done now”…On using defense to start a play: “They know that—it’s the best way to start a play. That, and defensive rebounding by the perimeter, if you can get both of those with multiple ball handlers. Obviously, the best way to have transition is to turn someone over with a live ball because you can have the numerical advantage. If you get it off of a defensive board, you may not have the numerical advantage, but you have mismatches. A guy who was supposed to guard you is guarding someone else. It forces the team to talk more. The more we get of that, the better we’re going to be.”

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • Duke played a lot harder and more intensity than they did in a similar situation against Army.
  • Even announcer Corey Alexander’s stream-of-conscious ramblings stumbled across the fact that this year’s team is much better defensively than last year’s edition. What he did not mention is that this year’s freshmen parents are just content to watch their kids play.
  • For whatever reason(s), Cam Reddish was more aggressive on both ends of the floor and Coach K gave him more minutes than any other starter. He responded with 23 points in 23 minutes.
  • Practically everything R.J. Barrett threw up went in as he was 12-14 from the floor for 26 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals in just 17 minutes.
  • I am really impressed with Alex O’Connell’s shooting and athleticism (but not his hair styles). He had three long threes and is shooting 50% from behind the arc. Unfortunately, Alex and Justin Robinson are statistically Duke’s best three point shooters.
  • One criticism: Again, lousy free throw shooting.
  • With his parents in the stands, how cool was it to see reserve Justin Robinson go 3 for 3 from three point land, then make a steal and go coast to coast for a dunk as the entire Duke bench of starters celebrated like they had just won the NCAA Tournament. Even the stoic Admiral gave his son a standing O!
  • For the record:  Duke’s home non-conference winning streak now stands at an amazing 143 straight games – the nation’s longest active streak. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s record at Duke is now 1,034-280 in his 39th season. His overall record is 1,107- 339 in this, his 44th season.

Alan Adds:

It is hard to discern the important takeaways for Duke from this preposterous mismatch in talent that masqueraded as a basketball contest.  Every Duke player looked All-World.  However, I found several impressive aspects of Duke’s performance that auger well for the season.  As usual, I start with defense because I believe Duke’s potential at tournament time will depend on how well this group perfects the justly famous and (formerly) feared Duke man to man defense. Duke is an excellent pressing team as today’s game graphically demonstrated.  But Gonzaga proved that a terrific ball handling team with experience can (did) outplay Duke’s press.  Therefore, in my view, Duke will have to be an excellent half court man to man defensive team to make a deep run at tournament time.   How is this group doing with that development?   The short answer is (except for the first half against Gonzaga) pretty damn well!  The first seven have been superb (Alex can still fall asleep more than the others, but is improving) in communicating, switching to guard the penetration, protecting the rim, guarding the three point line, and forcing turnovers.  Against Stetson, Duke had 19 steals (4 by Barrett and 3 by Tre), forced 26 turnovers and had 5 blocks (Bolden, DeLaurier 2, White, and Justin R).  Ok, it was Stetson; but still, Duke held Stetson to 10 points in 14 minutes during the last part of the first half.  Fabulous defense played with intensity.  That is impressive even if the opponents were functionally The Little Sisters of the Poor.  The Duke press was so explosive in the first 4:08 of the second half  (outscoring Stetson 20-4) that Coach K called off the dogs, “we weren’t going to get anything out of continuing to do that.” and played his bench and half-court defense for the rest of the final stanza.

To give you an idea of what Coach K calls “explosive”, consider that R.J and Tre played only those opening four minutes of the second half, while Zion and Cam logged just a few minutes more — seven minutes each.  In those brief minutes, the three high scoring freshman scored 23 points on 13 shots.  R.J. must have set some kind of record by going 5-5 from the field, including 2-2 from deep for 12 points, 2 assists, a rebound and a steal in just 4 minutes.  Zion was 3-4 (his miss was his only attempt at a 3) with 4 boards and 3 steals in those 7 minutes.  Reddish actually missed two shots  from the field, scoring his 5 second half points to go with an efficient and gaudy 18 first half points in just 16 first half minutes.  What a coming out party it was for him! (6-11 – most shots for Duke; R.J. was second with 9 – 4-8 from 3land and 2-2 from the line).  Justin Robinson acquitted himself brilliantly by scoring 13 points in his 12 minutes (5-5; 3-3 from deep; 0-1 from the line) to go with a board, a block and a steal.  It even got The Admiral to his feet cheering his son.  Alex led Duke in minutes played in the second half (14), scoring 9 on 3-5 from deep (3-6 from the field) to go with 4 rebounds and 2 assists.  Alex is a valuable rebounder for a thin guard as well as a good stand still shooter.

Coach K pointed to the academic pressure at exam time.  This week projects and papers are due.  Next week is exams.  Duke plays Hartford on Wednesday at 7 and Yale (which beat Miami last night) on Saturday, December 8 at 7 p.m.

Duke 84- Hartford 54 

If Duke plays the way they did against many teams like they did in the first twenty-five minutes against Hartford, they will have a disappointing season. To their credit, the well-coached Hawks followed the Gonzaga model: being patient on offense, defensively clogging the lane, and challenging Duke to beat them from the outside. The Blue Devils contributed to the strategy work by becoming the Duke All-Thumbs Bricklayers. Cam Reddish, the best three point shooter, bageled five for the half, and Flyin’ Zion missed two point blank dunks (“I don’t know what was going on with me. I’ve never missed dunks like that before, not even when I’m just messing around. It’s very frustrating but if I can’t play within myself, I have to still play hard for my teammates.”), while allowing Hartford to be down only 33-24 at the break, making Duke fans as well as Las Vegas bookmakers very nervous.

After more of the same to start the second half, Coach K called time, angrily spiked his folding chair several times on his very own personalized court to be sure (I assume) it stayed in place as he emphatically  lectured his young students in a vernacular not normally heard in a Duke classroom. Whatever the message, it elicited better effort which netted about fifty points in the remaining sixteen minutes. DeLaurier (10 points, 4 rebounds, 5 blocks and 3 steals in 19 minutes) played most of Bolden’s minutes in the second half and with his athleticism and hustle had his best performance of the season. Barrett, just a relentless scoring machine, had a 27-15 double-double, as did Williamson 18-12. On a breakaway, Zion was teeing the crowd up for another monster jam when he unexpectedly softly kissed the ball high off the backboard for his trailing roommate to make a two handed slam. The selfless, unexpected finesse play brought the house down and guaranteed a spot on SportsCenter. 

The bottom line is that on a night they came out flat against a team of seniors who won 19 games last season–one in the CIT–and started five seniors, Duke never did find the range from downtown, shooting 5-for-26 on 3s, with Reddish a woeful 1-for-9, the Blue Devils still won by thirty as they were 30-43 on two-pointers, outscored Hartford 36-3 in fast-break points, out-rebounded Hartford 46-32, while forcing 21 turnovers, with 15 steals and 10 blocks.

Coach K had some interesting post game comments:

“This week is that time of the year that’s been very difficult for our teams over the last 10 years. Exams are next week; often this week is harder than exams because of all the projects and papers. Sometimes the end of a course is this week, not next week. That changed about 10 years ago. A lot of times we don’t schedule a game during the week this week. We usually schedule it on Saturday. Just because we had to get games in, this year we did. We know what can happen.

On Javin [DeLaurier]: “He’s playing great. He’s playing more like he played in Canada. He’s getting into a rhythm right now. When you play against these teams that have five position-less people or they don’t play a low post, it requires that fifth guy to guard the ball. Javin can do that. The lineup that we had in when we extended was when we had Jack [White] in there with the four freshmen, but then Javin came in and kept it up. I thought Alex [O’Connell] actually did a good job in the second half.”

On discovering Jack White: “We were looking at tape of guys. I saw him on tape and I said, ‘I like his bounce, his size.’ I checked with our friends in Australia, the people I’ve gotten to know internationally. They didn’t say he’s a great player, but they said he’s a great kid and a good student. He’s followed the more traditional thing of not being as good as a freshman, being okay as a sophomore, and then kind of changing his body. Not just kind of, he’s lost 12 pounds, he’s a really good athlete right now, and is really strong. That’s happened in our program, when we have guys for a longer period. He’s been a huge asset for us.

Making history (This drives Johnny Tar Heel crazy): Mike Krzyzewski’s record at Duke is now 1,035-280 in his 39th season. His overall record is 1,108- 339 in this, his 44th season. Duke’s home non-conference winning streak now stands at 144 games – the nation’s longest active streak.

Alan Adds:

Coach K seemed rather proud of the way his team turned the game around, and it led him to talking about the defensive potential of this team.  He was also a bit defensive about the performance of his recent past teams on that end of the court.  “We’ve played some pretty great defense in my 39 years here.”  Indeed the Devils have … but not really since the 2015 end of the season.  He recognizes the potential of this team to be elite defensively, and also that these youngsters are not quite there yet.

Human nature humbled Duke in the first half.  Hartford is a losing team from a weak conference.  But Hartford also started 5 seniors with wily veteran guards.  Duke couldn’t put the ball in the ocean from the perimeter.  Consider that without R.J.’s 3-4 from behind the arc, Duke was 2-22 for the game from deep.  Duke had no energy on defense, and the lowly Stags were only down 5 late in the first half.  Duke’s press was frustrated.  Coach K said, “They played harder than we did for the first 22 minutes; then we turned it around.”  He pointed out that no matter what defense an opponent throws up in the half court, a team can have a night where the shots just do not fall.  However, if the Duke press causes turnovers, Duke WILL SCORE IN TRANSITION!  He credited Tre for turning the team on with his pressing defense; then everyone got into the fun.  In the last 16 minutes, the Duke pressure destroyed Hartford.  Duke’s 8 point lead with a shade over 12 minutes to go simply ballooned to over 30 courtesy of the press and defense at the rim.  Javin had 5 second half blocks! [5!].  Bolden only saw 3 second half minutes, though he logged 15 for the game.  Coach K:  When the opponents have a low post player, Marques is excellent, but when teams play 5 out (as Hartford and Gonzaga both did), Javin can guard on the perimeter better than Bolden.  Javin’s 11 second half minutes were simply scintillating: (3-3 from the floor; 5 blocks; 2 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal).  In the second half alone.  Coach K also credited Jack White (“we had the four freshmen and White on the floor when we broke the game open.”).  Duke’s rotation is 9 deep for now (Goldwire spells Tre for a few minutes in each half; I doubt Goldwire will play that much once conference play begins.

It is worth mentioning R.J.’s game and especially his second half.  He scored 27 points on 14 shots (same number that Zion took) in 36 minutes (10-14; 3-4 from deep; a disappointing 4-7 from the line) to go with 15 rebounds, 4 assists and a block.  In the second half, he scord 17 points in 18 minutes (6-6 from the field; 1-1 from deep).

By contrast, what is the problem with Cam Reddish, who had a nightmare game.  In 31 minutes, he scored only 5 (2-12; 1-9 from deep; he did not get to the line) to go with only 2 rebounds and 3 turnovers.  He did have 4 assists and 4 steals.  Duke is going to need him, and he is in a real slump.

Saturday, December 8 vs Yale at 5:30 (EST) on ESPN.

Duke 91 – Yale 58 

Shortly after Dr. Richard Brodhead, Dean of Yale College, accepted the presidency of Duke University, one of his students congratulated him and commented: “Duke is Yale on steroids.” And this was in 2004 before anyone had seen Zion Williamson– or the 2018-19 version of Duke basketball that, despite missing 12 three point shots and 9 free throws wore down, blitzed a good Yale team (they had just beaten California and Miami) by 33 points.

Unlike last year, Duke compensated for poor shooting by playing an energetic, effective pressing defense that forced the Bulldogs into 23 turnovers and 9 steals which they converted into the margin of victory. However, like the Hartford game, it was a close for most of the first half and the Blue Devils were only up by nine at the break. Interestingly,  the momentum for that spread was supplied by subs Alex O’Connell and Jack White. Beside the missed threes and free throws, the only negative is that Tre Jones night was cut short after suffering a lower body injury midway through the second half on a collision at mid-court. The Apple Valley, Minn., native would return  briefly but immediately return to the bench. To emphasize how important Tre’s on ball pressure is, Coach K said; “To fight Tre the whole night is the key (to our defense). That makes it easier for all of our other guys to play defense. If we become the team that we’re going to be defensively, Tre will be as valuable a defender as there is in the country because of what he does. Similar to when Wojo [Steve Wojciechowski] got Defensive Player of the Year, or Tommy Amaker … everyone should recognize the value of pressure and how we’re trying to put our team together”.

On Javin DeLaurier’s play: “He’s playing with a lot of confidence and talking. He’s such a good athlete when he’s playing loose that we can switch that one through five. He ran the court well with good hands. I’d rather have him not become a playmaker. He needs to just grab it. But he’s doing a really good job. He’s in a really good place and he’ll just get better.”

On Alex O’Connell’s defensive play: “He’s making a lot of progress on defense. He’s a heck of an athlete, and he’s got really good quickness. Out of everything, we’re spending a lot of time on our defense. For the denial, or what we call contesting, he’s got great feet. He’s 6’5/6’6 and long. He got his hands on a couple today. That was a big game for him. One, it helped us, and two, he really did something, instead of only hitting a shot. It was good. We just have to keep seeing progress from these guys.”

A gracious head Coach James Jones: “I told Coach (Krzyzewski) before the game that what he has created down here is nothing short of tremendous. (Dean who?) It is kind of an American icon, this arena and how the game is played and the fans and how they’re into every single possession and every second. It’s a wonderful experience for our guys to be a part of and to see how it’s developed over the years.”

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • Cam Reddish is in a shooting slump and it is apparent that Coach is running plays for him to get his confidence back. So far, it hasn’t worked. He is even missing free throws. However, he had 4 steals.

Minute for minute, Jack White, who had a career-high 12 rebounds (surpassing the 11 he had versus Kentucky) and 9 points to finish a point shy of his first career double-double, is the most productive player on the team.

  • Marquis Bolden has regressed against these two smaller, quicker teams. Rather than going up strong to the rim, he appears hesitant or indecisive..but whatever,  his playing time is diminishing. On top of that DeLaurier is playing his best basketball on both ends of the floor. If he could just eliminate those silly fouls…
  • There are a lot of reasons to like Zion Williamson and his effort and hustle are two of them. While chasing a fast break and unsuccessfully attempting to knock the ball from the  point guard, he paused and emphatically spiked the attempted layup by the unsuspecting player.
  • During the 50-26 second half blowout, the Cameron Crazies, who get Princeton in ten days, were chanting: “We want Harvard.”
  • My long time buddy “All Prep Ep” suggests that teams, along with player’s height & weight, also list their SAT & GPA scores.

Alan Adds:

I’m writing Alan Adds from a beach in Key West, after watching it while at a NORML (National Organization for the Reform of the Marijuana Law) Legal Seminar.  Thus, this analysis comes with a heightened consciousness and may sound somewhat “mellow”.

The Coach K press conferences have been revealing.  It has been a while since I have heard and seen Coach K so positive about the progress of his team.  He has extolled the improvement since the season began but has told the press that the team is a long way from what it will be at tournament time.  He has had players as heralded as this group before without sounding so positive. It is worth exploring why this sunny Coach K.

The answer is DEFENSE!  Duke is back to the high pressure Coach K man to man defense.  The answer is also the depth (perhaps unexpected based on last year’s performance) that has emerged.  DeLaurier, White, Bolden and O’Connell have contributed on both ends of the court.  There are lineups where Duke can switch 1 through 5, which makes it difficult for the opponents to get to the rim.  Duke is blocking shots at a record breaking rate.  The pressure defense is forcing turnovers (and steals) that turn into transition baskets.  Of course, this defense starts with Tre (Goldwire has also had good minutes pressuring the ball when Tre gets a breather).  His ball pressure is the calling card that makes this defense go.

The pressure defense is one reason (and a main one) why Duke has destroyed well coached (but less talented) veteran teams in the second half.  The pressure induces fatigue (which, as Vince Lombardi once famously said, “makes cowards of us all”) which made Hartford and Yale simply wilt in the closing stanza.

Reddish, who has been in a shooting slump, broke out of it in the second half with 8 points in 16 minutes, while playing an excellent floor game (2 assists and 2 steals). Cam was 3-4 shooting from inside the arc (2-2 from the line, but 0-3 from deep).  Coach K was pleased with his second half and expressed the hope Cam will build on it.

R.J.’s second half (and defense for the entire game) is worth mentioning.  He held the Yale star, Oni, to a single field goal, while scoring 18 points in 17 minutes (5-9;2-6 from 3land; and a gaudy 6-7 from the line) to go with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.

Two more games before Xmas and the beginning of ACC games.

Next game: Princeton. Tuesday, December 18. 6 pm. ESPN 2

Duke  101- Princeton 50 

The Blue Devils started the game on both offense and defense as if they had pulled all-nighters for the last week studying for exams. They missed their first eight shots and were down 13-8 with twelve minutes to go but closed the half out 39-26. Oh wait, they had just come off exam week but actually slow starts have been the rule not the exception for this team. As Alan will remind you in more detail, the first game of the season—the blowout of that cupcake, Kentucky, where they scored 59 points in both halves—was the only one in which this team played consistently for a full forty minutes. I call it the Golden State Warriors Syndrome—mess around, then flip the switch and blow out the opponent. The only trouble is this: Duke is good, but they don’t have Steph and Durant and threes and free throws are their weak link, so it didn’t work against a top team like Gonzaga.

We are used to seeing Duke teams make a game changing run–especially in Cameron–that gives them separation that turns into a winning margin. However, this team is something else because of their defense, speed, unselfishness, and athleticism, so when they get the pedal on the metal, they turn the game into a track meet and SportsCenter highlight reel.

An inconvenient truth is that Cam Reddish’s underperformance may be a major reason for the sluggish starts and the antidote has been Jack White, who is clearly out performing Cam by any metric. No disrespect but the Stetson’s, Hartford’s, Yale’s and Princeton’s are not ACC caliber teams, so what to do when league play starts? Will it take another loss for Coach K to invoke tough love and bring Reddish off the bench as sixth man? And if so how fragile is Cam’s ego or is it the move that light’s a fire that ignites this multi-talented high school phenon? Just the fact that B.J. is as good as advertised and Flyin’ Zion is better than advertised and is the poster player for college basketball should be motivation enough—but you never know what goes on in a teenagers head. And speaking of a teenager’s head, Alex O’Connell improved defense to go with his obvious offensive skills is playing his way into Coach K’s heart and rotational minutes. This is becoming a deep team.

Miscellaneous Comments: 

Williamson was almost down for the count twice. The first time he caught an elbow on the mouth that took him out of the game for some medical attention on the bench. Then later, he went for a block  and appeared to hit his head on the glass back board. Both he and the backboard survived.

The second half was a clinic. The Devils had 10 blocks, 7 steals, and many deflections that contributed to scoring 62 points. “They got so many deflections,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson lamented. “Stuff we haven’t seen before.”  It all starts with Duke’s defense: point guard Tre Jones on ball pressure backed up with plenty of length and athleticism on the wings.

Coach Mitch Henderson: ”Boy, that’s a really good team. They’re even better in person.”

Alan Adds: 

Now the season starts.  After the Maui trip, Duke has played 5 games in Cameron’s friendly confines against suspect competition: Indiana (Big 10 Challenge), Stetson, Hartford, Yale and Princeton.  Thursday (tomorrow), Duke will play Texas Tech in the World’s most famous arena (Madison Square Garden, just a mile from my home).  The Red Raiders come into the game unbeaten (10-0), ranked 11th in the Coach’s poll and 9th in ESPN.  So far, the Red Raiders lead the nation in defense.  One team scored 67 points and another 62.  Two teams managed 52; in the remaining 6 wins, Texas Tech held its opponents in the 40s.  They will try and slow The Devils on offense and avoid the live ball turnovers that lead to Duke’s devastating transition game.  Then Duke is off for the holidays until the ACC season begins on January 5 in Cameron against Clemson.  Then two road games against Wake and highly ranked Florida State.  Remember last year’s first two ACC road games for highly rated freshmen (bad losses to lowly ranked BC and NC State).  Now the season starts.

Let’s dispense with the first 14 minutes of the Princeton game, and call it simply wiping the rust off.  First (and foremost), Duke could not put the ball in the ocean, and settled for deep (missed) shots (1-11 for first 12 3 point attempts).  Second, Duke forgot about Princeton and its “back door” offense.  Princeton smoked Duke early; both Zion and Javin were beaten easily back door and Princeton was launching (and making) open 3s.  The defense revived before the offense.  Princeton had 16 points after 9:10 had elapsed, but could manage only 10 in the final 11 minutes. In fact, it turned out to be Duke’s best defensive effort of the year – 14 blocks; 12 steals and forced 19 Tiger turnovers.  Princeton was held to 26 points in the first half and 24 in the closing stanza – 35 points in 31 minutes.   Tre Jones is an amazing defender.  He took on the Tiger guard who plays with R.J. on the Canadian National team, and who has been scoring in bunches since his recent return from injury.  Tre simply took his heart (and energy) out with intense on-the-ball-in-your-face defensive pressure.  R.J. held Princeton’s leading scorer in check with his length and quickness.  R.J. is not just about scoring.  Jack White is also proving to be a stopper and valuable individual and team defender.  Zion, Javin and Bolden protected the rim.  Cam’s defense is – for the moment – way ahead of his offense.  He had a block and 2 steals – one of which was spectacular, partly because it was followed by a floor length pass to the streaking R.J. for a highlight real hoop.

Duke’s offense did not get rolling until almost 14 minutes of the game had passed.  With only 5:45 to go in the first half, Duke had been limited to 16 points.  In the next 25:45 (1 minute longer than an NBA half) Duke scored 85 points (23 in the last 5:45 of the first half and a dazzling 62 in the last stanza).  The second half was virtually perfect.  Consider R.J.  After launching 14 first half shots (5-14; 0-3 from deep) – second most were Zion and Cam with 5 shots each), Barrett put in a scintillating 8 second half minutes, scoring 14 efficient points on 7 shots (6-7; 2-2 from the line), finishing drives spectacularly.  He grabbed 2 board and handed out 2 assists.  For the game he had 27 (including 5-6 from the line) to go with 6 boards.  Jack White had 10 points in 20 minutes.  Zion was superb with 17 points (9 in the closing stanza) in 26 minutes (6-8 from the field; 1-2 from deep; 4-5 from the line) to go with a game high 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks (and several altered shots), and 3 steals.  Tre played only 7 minutes in the closing half.  Coach K rested his regulars, getting ready for tomorrow night’s game in Madison Square Garden against Texas Tech.

Duke’s offense has been off the charts since the season started, producing half of 50 points or more 9 times in 11 games.  In addition, Duke has halves scoring 49, 48 and 48.  Consider: Kentucky – 59/59; Army – 50 in the first half; Eastern Michigan – 48 (first half); San Diego State – 49 (first half); Gonzaga – 48 (second half); Indiana – 53 (first half); Stetson – 59/54; Hartford – 52 (second half); Yale – 50 (2nd half); Princeton – 62 (second half).  Auburn alone held Duke somewhat in check (41 in the first half), but still never got closer than double figures in the game.

The Season starts now.

Next Game: #9 Texas Tech (10-0). Thursday 7:00 ESPN2. Madison Square Garden

Duke 69 -Texas Tech 58 

There are some things in life and sports that are inexplicable. Duke’s win tonight is one of them. For most of the game, I thought the basketball gods had decided enough was enough with all the glowing publicity and accolades for these young players and decided to teach them a lesson in humility: “Tonight’s not Duke’s night. The ball will not fall.” Candidly, I was mentally preparing to write that the Blue Devils brought their show to Broadway and bombed, which they did for all but the about fifteen of the forty minutes. I should have known better. I have seen this movie too many times. But still, it defied logic and the law of averages. One of the reasons Alan and I do this is in admiration of Coach K’s teams never, ever giving up and playing hard until the end. In 1992 it was Hill to Laettner. At this time last year, it was Marvin and the Miracles. Even Johnny Tar Heel called to tell me he was impressed with tonight’s win.

Fortunately, with Barrett and Reddish shooting  blanks and Williamson saddled with foul trouble, it was the relentless defense of the least publicized but most important freshman, Tre Jones, that kept Duke in the game.  He was credited with 6 steals but that does not do justice to his disruption of the Tech offense. His defense resulted in multiple offensive opportunities for the Blue Devils, which was the only way they could score in the first period as they looked like they never practiced a half-court offense. Barrett, who is not shy about taking more than his share of shots, took 14 of Dukes 32 first half shots–they weren’t dropping–and Reddish utterly disappeared in the opening twenty as he had 0 points and 6 turnovers. Best supporting roles go to the two junior captains—White (2 of Duke’s 3 three pointers) and DeLaurier—who played relentlessly and productively the entire game.

Never mind that Duke trailed for twenty-five minutes or that it only hit 3 of  20 three point attempts or that its most talented player fouled out in the critical final five minutes. The Blue Devils overcame all these obstacles (mostly of their own making) on the big stage of Madison Square Garden and still beat previously undefeated Texas Tech, 69-58 in an often aesthetically ugly game.  The Red Raiders turned the ball over 24 times and the Blue Devils 19. Combined, the two teams shot a poor 38.5% from the floor, part of which can be contributed to tenacious defenses, part to stage fright.

The good news is that counting missing the front end of one and one’s, the Devils left about 7 potential points off the scoreboard in the first half and had 8 points taken away by charging calls. However, they went 16-18 from the line in the second half and, just as importantly, Barrett became an assist man at a crucial time. Up three with three minutes to go, Barrett was in the same set at the top of the key as he was with the game on the line against Gonzaga. This time he started his drive but passed to a suddenly rejuvenated (8  points & 3 steals) Cam Reddish, who nailed the three to more or less seal the deal. If Cam can consistently play like this and everyone stays healthy, this team can be much more solid and formidable.

As improbably exciting as this finish was, it should also be a teaching moment for these talented freshmen. Poor outside shooting and missed free throws are a receipt for defeat. The balls and the calls are not always going to fall or go your way. Nevertheless, you have to find a way to win. Jones, White and DeLaurier know how, Williamson, Barrett, and Reddish are learning.

Miscellaneous Comments: 

  • I sensed it was going to be a long night when I heard Dickie “Bless his heart” Vitale’s voice. He has become a parody of his former self.
  • Texas Tech is a well-coached team and a tough out. Sophomore Jarrett Culver (25 points) was the most polished, mature offensive player on the floor.
  • Who is surprised? The Blue Devils are 124th and 202nd respectively in the nation in 3-pointers made and 3-point shooting percentage,
  •  Zion Williamson had 17 points, 13 rebounds in only 25 minutes. When he fouled out on a questionable call with 4:50 to go, Duke was +10 with him on the floor and -5 when he wasn’t. However, the Blue Devils continued a 16-3 run to close the game.
  • This was Duke’s 35th win at Madison Square Garden.
  • Alan Adds:

There are many reasons why this December win was significant.  While Zion and R.J. receive the lion’s share of publicity on this team, this is Tre Jones’s team.  At the post-game press conference, Tre and Jack White were the 2 players also interviewed.  They were both poised, articulate and insightful – the theme is the theme for this team – defense.  White, who had an amazing game, said, “defense is a big part of our identity.  We want to be one of the best defensive teams in the country, if not THE BEST.”  Coach K put the defense and Tre’s role on this team in perfect perspective.  “Tre was the key to this game.  He turned it around for us.  Six steals (seemed like more, didn’t it?). He willed the ball in the basket.  All of our guys fed off his effort.  He was magnificent.  He’s as good a defensive point guard as I’ve ever had (mentioning Duhon, Wojo and Hurley), and tonight he may have been better.”  Tre was insightful as well as magnificent.  “We haven’t won a game like this – close, we were behind for the most part against an older and more experienced team.”

Think that was high praise?  Coach K added emotionally, “Real time leadership while the game is going on is the ability to make reads that are usually adjustments at the timeouts.    Tre does that for our team and me the way LeBron and Chris Paul do on Team USA.  This was one of the best performances.”

This was a defensive game for sure.  Coach K said, “we haven’t played against a defensive team like [Texas Tech].  They play beautiful defense.  And indeed they did.  Coach K’s praise was the highest; he compared Texas Tech to the Army team that he captained under Bob Knight.  We didn’t block a lot of shots, but we took a lot of charges.  This was old school.”

Duke scored 41 points in the second half.  Duke scored 19 points in the last 7:13 (at winning time).  The Devils are in superb physical condition, and I think wore the Red Raiders down.  Texas Tech missed 8 shots in a row at the crucial juncture as Duke pulled away to a satisfying win.  The Devils (shockingly) won the game at the foul line (16-18 in the second half).   Zion was 6-6 from the line in the second half (his only second half points – 0-4 from the field.  Cam was 5-6 while Jack and R.J. were each 2-2 from the line in the closing stanza.   Interestingly, Duke used only 6 players in the second half.  Marques did not appear at all; Alex had 6 minutes, but was yanked when his man beat him easily for a layup.  He didn’t play again.  R.J. played the entire half; Tre until the last minute when the game was safe, and Jack 18 minutes.  Zion fouled out in only 12 minutes; Cam and Javin played 13 minutes each.   Duke had more turnovers than assists, both in the half and the game.  More beautiful Red Raider defense.

Zion was an amazing force, leading Duke with 17 points (4-9; 0-2; 9-10 from the line) to go with 13 rebounds (3 on one play showed, as Coach K said, “his competitiveness at the highest level”).  K was asked what was unique about Zion: “did you see him?”  Laughter in the audience.  He was something – rebounds, defense, rim protector as well as scorer (but note the 6 turnovers).  R.J. had a great second half because he adjusted to how he was being defended.  He made “big time plays” because he made the adjustment.  Cam had a terrible first half and then turned his game around.  He made crucial steals, a huge 3, and 5-6 from the line down the stretch.  Coach K said that rebound at the crucial time was “better than if he scored 20 because he did what he did after what he didn’t do .”

Jack White is Duke’s most unsung valuable player.   In 32 minutes, he was 2-3 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the line for 8 points on his 2 shots.  He grabbed five rebounds, had 2 blocks, 2 steals and 2 assists without a turnover and committing only 1 foul.  He played the third most minutes of any Duke player.

For all of those reasons, this was, in my opinion, a very significant win and wonderful sign of how this team is growing up.

The ACC season, which begins for Duke on Jan 5 against Clemson, should be scintillating.  UNC is coming together as fast and efficiently as Duke.  The ‘Heels play Kentucky tomorrow.  I think UVA may be the best team in the country right now (Silber rankings).  The ACC has 5 teams ranked in the top 12.  NC State humbled Auburn and should move up significantly in the rankings.  Auburn learned about playing ACC teams on the road.  It’s hard not to be psyched about this season and this team.

Duke 87 – Clemson 68 

For most of the first half, I thought I was watching the basketball version of the movie “Groundhog Day”—a repeat of last year when Marvin and The Miracles went undefeated and were ranked #1 until the start of the New Year when they were upset by Boston College, then Florida State. Fortunately, this is a different team with a deeper bench, a better point guard, and that plays much better defense, because once again Tre Jones, Jack White and Marquis Bolden provided the spark that gave the Blue Devils an improbable 40-33 halftime lead. Then, Zion Williamson put on another made for SportsCenter highlight show and exhibited why ESPN keeps moving the Duke games to prime time. (Alert: The January 19th Virginia game has been moved to 6pm.)

While Clemson is a very mature college team—the age of the players looks more like an NBA D-League roster—they still made two consecutive bonehead plays at the end of the first half that negated their determined play and very good three point shooting. First, Aamir Simms (1 for 11), apparently suffering from Zion envy, missed a ferocious dunk so badly the ball ricocheted all the way to half court where Tre Jones grabbed it, went in for a fast break layup, but when challenged, deftly dropped the ball behind his back to a trailing Javin DeLaurier for the jam. Then, on the ensuing in-bounds play, Clemson slow walked the ball into a half court ten second violation. Suddenly, a tight game was not so tight.

That’s all an opening the Devils, who seem to be a second half team, needed as they started the final twenty minutes like a Final Four team by running off 12 points and suddenly it was a 19 point lead. The game was essentially over, but Showtime was just beginning. Zion, apparently embarrassed by getting two cheap fouls, air balling a three, and only playing eight first half minutes put on a show of athleticism in scoring and shot blocking that had all 9,314 Cameron attendees jumping up and down like Crazies yelling “Did you see that? Do you believe that!” The piece de resistance was teaming with Tre Jones to steal a ball at half court, take off half way down the lane, do a 360 degree suspended spin, and emphatically tomahawk a jam. If you missed it, a picture of the finish is above or go to YouTube. It was so good that even Johnny Tar Heel immediately called me and asked if I saw Zion set that steal up and noticed J.R. Barrett all the way at the other end of the court jumping up and down in excitement of his roommate’s play. Maybe it’s my imagination but ever since Zion had his lower tooth knocked out by an errant elbow, I sense he has played with more determination and fire. The sheer boyish joy for the game is still his baseline—he is not naturally an angry person or player, he is more like the gentle giant and like a lot of gentle giants does not want to inadvertently hurt anyone—but I think he is toughening up his mindset.

Not so thrilling was the continuing struggles of Cam Reddish, who seems to have lost confidence in all facets (except free throw shooting) of his game. The 6-foot-8 forward, who appeared to be the team’s best three point shooter and most skilled all-round talent, has gradually morphed into an unrecognizable version of the former self we saw in the Kentucky game. He went scoreless in the first half, missing all three of his shots from the field, turning it over five times and getting whistled for three fouls. However, he still is the team’s best free throw shooter—as he demonstrated against Texas Tech. Cam didn’t start the second half supposedly because he had three fouls. In his place was the reliable Jack White, who has yet to start a game in his career, but who clearly is outplaying Reddish and is a later day version of Boston Celtic legendary sixth man John “Hondo” Havlicek. He finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, and 2 steals in 26 turnover-free minutes. Reddish is a starter but White a bench player in name only.

It sometimes is easy to overlook Tre Jones but he is the team’s most valuable player. He establishes relentless pressure on an opponent’s point guard that is the predicate for loose balls, steals, rush shots, and shot clock violations; sets up the offense; keeps all the scorers happy; and, like tonight, when everyone else struggling offensively, scores until the others get going. He now has 76 assists and only 13 turnovers.

Miscellaneous Observations:

o   Zion Williamson had 25 points, 10 rebounds 2 steals, 2 blocks, 1 goal tend in just 22 minutes against his runner-up school, just an hour from his boyhood home.

o   The somewhat over looked Javin DeLaurier made his only two field-goal attempts, bringing his season mark to 27-for-31.

o   At one point, spanning both halves, Duke outscored Clemson 51-21. The Tigers had only 9 second-half points in the first 10 minutes.

o   Dick Vitale has done a lot to popularize college basketball but the game has moved past him and his ramblings are embarrassing. Why in the world does ESPN let him continue to promote the thoroughly disgraced Rick Pitino for the UCLA or any other college job and go into his “all the country needs is love” soliloquy?

o   “You probably heard that NC State renamed Reynolds: it’s now James T. Valvano Arena at Reynolds Coliseum, which is a bit confusing. Well that wasn’t confusing enough so when you play at Reynolds now, you are playing on the Kay Yow Court inside James T. Valvano Arena at Reynolds Coliseum. Why not make it the Kay Yow Court inside James T. Valvano Arena at Reynolds Coliseum at the Everett Case Pavilion?” [DBR observation]

Alan Adds:

Bill called me after the game and sighed, “I guess we’re a second half team.”   Dickie V said one prescient thing: at half time, he said the first four minutes of the second half would be crucial.  It didn’t take the whole 4 minutes.  Duke had possession to start the half; White hit a 3 immediately.  DeLaurier stole the ball and Barrett hit a three. :43 seconds had elapsed and Duke led by 13.  Then Zion went spectacularly to work, scoring 6 straight on three amazing forays to the hole (cross over, hang in the air, off the backboard) which produced 2 hoops and 2-2 from the free throw line.  2:53 had elapsed and Duke led by 19.  Barrett closed out the three minute and 13 second explosion – fueled by great defense to hold Clemson scoreless – with a medium range jumper that gave Duke a 21 point lead and turned the remainder of the half into garbage time (not quite, but almost).

Offense

Coach K singled out Zion, Tre, R.J. and Jack White for special praise.  Zion had, perhaps, his best game in only 22 minutes.  He committed two first half fouls (“we have to keep him on the court and from committing silly fouls 75 feet from the basket.”), which limited him to 8 minutes in that stanza (“only” 11 points on 5 shot attempts; 4-4 from inside the arc; 0-1 from 3land; 3-5 from the line to go with 4 boards).  Then he came alive ☺!  In fourteen second half minutes, Zion scored 14 (5-6 from the field; 1-2 from deep; 3-4 from the line to go with 4 more rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals.)  That means he was 9 for 9 from the field inside the arc and 1-3 from behind it.  9-9 ain’t bad!  Coach K was amusing when discussing Zion’s 360 dunk.  He laughingly said, “We allow that.  There is no ceiling on how many times he can twirl as long as he puts the damn thing in.”

Tre is beginning to gain the respect he  deserves from the journalists.  His defense is superb; his leadership on this team unquestioned, and his ball handling is all one could ask for.  He had 9 assists without a turnover, while scoring 10 in 34 minutes.  He didn’t come out at all in the first half.  R.J. was shy as a shooter (only 14 attempts on which he scored 13 points in 32 minutes) but was acknowledged as playing an excellent floor game (9 rebounds; 4 assists; and a block).  White has been, as Coach K said, “our unsung hero”.  In 29 minutes he took 6 3s (his only shots) and knocked down 4 of them for 12 points.  He earned praise for his hard-nosed defense, tough rebounding, and all around excellent play.

DeLaurier was 2-2 (extending his consecutive streak without a miss; he’s closing in on Alaa Abdelnaby’s school record) playing 9 minutes in each half.  Bolden had an excellent game.  He was 5-10 from the field and 1-2 from the line for 11 points.  He was getting good shots, but missing them in the first half when he played 11 minutes.  If he can make those shots, he will draw a double team (as he did not against Clemson), which will open up more driving lanes.  Strangely, he played only 4 second half minutes (2-2 from the field).

Defense

Duke is playing simply superb defense.  Clemson missed some close in shots, but that was caused by Duke’s superb rim protection.  I admit to being very excited about just how good a defensive team this year’s group is and is becoming.  Our Hall of Fame coach was effusive.  “We played good defense.  Really good defense.  We forced 19 turnovers and got 13 steals against a veteran team with an outstanding backcourt.”  In the early part of the second half when Duke blew the game open, Clemson could score only 9 points in the first 10 minutes (9:59 actually).  “Our defense gave us our offense.”  Coach K pointed out just how hard his team plays on the defensive end.  “If you play hard, with the athletic ability we have, we will play good defense.  These kids want to play good defense.”

ACC games and Road Games

This week will be Duke’s first true road games of the season (Duke has played five neutral court games) when Duke visits Wake on Tuesday (7pm) and Florida State on Saturday (2 pm).  As we have painfully learned, ACC games are different and road games are different.  Kansas, Kentucky, Nevada, and Florida State all lost road games yesterday.  It is worth mentioning the Florida State visit to Charlottesville (ACC road game).  I have said to Bill that at this moment, I think UVA is the best basketball team in the country.  Yesterday, before the Cavaliers took their foot off the gas pedal with a couple of minutes remaining, the Seminoles had been held to only 33 points in almost 38 minutes.  UVA  is not only a great defensive team, but has real offensive fire power from the field (they have really talented shooters; 43% from 3land). With 2:19 left in the game, the Caviliers led the #9 ranked Florida State by 29 points!  Do not be fooled by this opening ACC win.  Every road game will be a war (except maybe Wake, which has been losing with frequency) and the Seminoles will be smarting over that televised whipping.  Over confidence will be a Duke enemy.

Duke 87 – Wake Forest 68 

After watching this Duke team play almost twenty games against a variety of competition, I have a few observations, some more obvious than others: While talented and athletic and skillful, they are most effective in the open court but rather ordinary in executing an half-court offense, shooting threes or free throws. Zion Williamson aside, what sustains this team is their defense, which rarely gives an opponent an easy possession and  the steady baseline to baseline court savvy of Trey Jones. We see it in the fact that this team often appears to start slow and finish fast. Moreover, I think the dynamic is that every team gets sky high to play Duke and that adrenaline rush combined with the unremitting defense allows the Blue Devils to eventually start runs for which Coach K’s teams are famous—only these runs usually are sustained for the rest of the game as opponents just get worn down by the relentlessness of the pressure from a full eight man rotation. 

Tonight’s game was  predictably a pretty mundane, back and forth affair until a few minutes before the half when Duke gained a 42-34 advantage. Then, at the start of  the second half extended and extended the margin. One key was the concentration on double teaming Childress who was limited to 12 points and a  few assists. Reddish’s initial minutes can only be described as awful in all aspects of the game but recovered to play better as the game went on but is still a long way from performing like a high draft pick.  Williamson was wonderful (30 pts, 10 rebs, 5 assts, 4 steals, 3 threes!!) as was the uber consistent Trey Jones (7 assists, 6 pts). Duke which leads the country in blocked shots had 13 tonight, led by Jack White’s 5 (that’s a career total for some players). Marques Bolden appears to be much more comfortable and productive as he becomes a very important component of the rotation. 

Poor free throw shooting continues to be the potential Achilles Heel of this team’s quest for a National Championship. However, the most important development is that R.J. Barrett is shooting less, assisting more, and everyone is the beneficiary.

Miscellaneous Comments:

Clemson takes down Alabama. As N.Y. Post columnist Mike Vaccaro wrote: “This was Sonny Liston lying on his back on the canvas in Lewiston, Maine, Muhammad Ali looking over him and shouting, “Get up and fight, sucker! Nobody will believe this!” This was Roberto Duran in the closing seconds of the eighth round, staring at Sugar Ray Leonard on the floor of the New Orleans Superdome, meekly raising his gloved right hand and offering, “No mas, no mas.” Clemson thoroughly outcoached and outplayed favored Alabama. Freshmen QB Trevor Lawrence  made enough throws under pressure to impress Tom Brady and wide receiver, Justyn Ross (six catches, 153 yards) made enough circus catches to make a Wallenda blush, and Clemson defensive co-ordinator Coach Brent Venables’ defense did a damn good impression of the 1985 Chicago Bears Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense. “We’re just little old Clemson, and I’m not supposed to be here,” said self-effacing Coach Dabo Swinney, architect of the football powerhouse. “But here we are. If I can do it, anyone can do it. How ’bout them Tigers?”

Alan Adds: 

The buzz about Zion is reminding me of the astounding period in New York when Jeremy Lin burst out of nowhere to give the City weeks of Linsanity.  Zion is giving us a whole season (we hope), while turning on the whole nation of college hoop fans.  Duke has become ESPN’s darling – in substantial part because Zion is the star attraction in all of college basketball right now.   His dunks are generating much of the jaw dropping adoration from announcers, writers, and pundits, but his performance has been about so much more.  His defense is galvanizing – steals, blocks and help.  He leads Duke in rebounding, and he is so offensively efficient both in transition and the half court.  And, he can really pass.  Zion’s performance against Wake is worth scrutinizing as he puts together this amazing (perhaps even historic) season.  How about offensive efficiency?  He took 16 shots to score 30 points!  He was 3-4 from behind the arc, where he has struggled this year (under 30% prior to last night’s game).  Opposing coaches must be shuddering at the thought of Williamson becoming a proficient 3 point shooter (which I predict is exactly what is going to happen).  This means he was 10-12 from inside the arc.  His season average from inside the arc was 74% before last night’s blitz.  That is efficiency!  In the second half, for example, Zion logged 14 minutes (late game became the opportunity for lesser used players) and scored at better than a point a minute rate – 18 points on 8-9 from the floor; 1-1 from deep.   One of the new analytics is Box Score Per Minutes (BMP) which estimates the number of points contributed versus the average player.  In this decade (2010 to 2018), the top records were Anthony Davis (18.67) and Karl Anthony ( Towns at 17.30) when they each played at Kentucky.  For this season, Zion is at 20.8.  Wins Per Share (adjusted from baseball) estimates the number of wins contributed by a player because of his offense and defense.  For the decade, the top score is .3459.  For this season, Zion is at .391.  Interestingly, Zion does not score higher in transition (where he is King Stud) than in the half court.  Critically, he rates just as high on the defensive end.  The analytic called defensive rating tracks how many points a player allowed per 100 possesions.  Zion ranks 4th in the nation (behind 2 guys from Texas Tech and UVA’s Braxton Key).  He creates turnovers with his dramatic and consistent rim protection (30 blocks in 14 games as well as steals.  Zion actually has five more steals than blocks.  He is Duke’s leading rebounder averaging just a shade under 10.   R.J. is quietly morphing into Robin, although he is still averaging more points per game (on far more attempts) than Williamson.  They work so well together – Duke is the only team this year that has two players averaging more than 20 points per game.  They pass so well to each other.

Last night, Wake played Duke close for 15 minutes, leading by 1.  Duke began to inch ahead, and with 30 seconds left in the half led by 5 with the ball for last possession.  Cam drained a 3 with 4 seconds left.  Duke had possession to start the second half; Wake fouled Barrett on his successful jump shot.  When he missed the free throw, Zion grabbed the rebound and stuffed it through.  4 points on the opening possession of the half.  Duke went from a 5 point lead to 12 point lead without Wake even touching the ball.  From there the rout was on.

Duke is getting very efficient play from the center position.  DeLaurier and Bolden virtually split time at that position.  Their combined stats are revealing.  Bolden logged 20 minutes and DeLaurier 19.  Combined they scored 20 points, corralled 15 rebounds and had 5 blocks!  That is real production.

Now the real tests begin.  Florida State is ranked #13 in both polls (down from #9 as a result of being humiliated in Charlottesville last week).  The Seminoles are traditionally tough at home and will be ferociously vengeful after being simply taken apart on National television.  Facing a top 10 team like Florida State in their own gym after the Seminoles suffered such an embarrassing loss will be this season’s sternest test for the young Blue Devils so far.

Next Game: Duke – Florida State. ESPN Saturday at 2 pm. 

Duke 80 – Florida State 78 

How many times have we seen this movie without ever getting tired of it? Laettner against UConn and Kentucky; Gene Banks, Capel, Duhon and Rivers against North Carolina; JJ Redick against N.C. State—just to name just a few. Actually this game most reminded me of last year’s Michigan State game when Marvin Bagley was poked in the eye and didn’t return. Grayson Allen stepped into the breach and went for 37 to save the day and seal the win. Today ,it was BJ Barrett (32 pts.) and Cam Reddish (23 pts.).

Cam Reddish’s buzzer beater three was much bigger than just another exciting game winner. For weeks, Cam has not consistently demonstrated nearly the skill set of teammates Williamson or Barrett or Jones—or, for that matter, sixth man Jack White. As a matter of fact, many coaches would have benched him for his inept, inconsistent play, which lately has been inexplicable. I don’t know what the coaches or his teammates or his family said to him. But tonight, it was as if a light went on in his head and Reddish thought: Zion is out, we are going to lose this game if I don’t give BJ and the guys a lot of help. If Cam can continue to play offense and defense at this level and if everyone can remain healthy, Duke is a much more versatile, formidable team that is truly deserving of its national ranking.

That is not to say that Cam or the rest of the team—other than Barrett– was flawless. They only shot 50% from the free throw line—Cam missed  four early and Tre missed the front end of a one-and-one with the game on the line; in the last few minutes both O’Connell and Reddish gave up 5 easy points by inexplicably fouling three point shooters; Jones and Reddish both fumbled balls out of bounds at inopportune times; Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden and Jack White combined for only six points in 65 minutes playing time; Florida State out-rebounded Duke 39-34, blocked 7 to Duke’s 3 and shot 9 more foul shots. And still Duke found a way to win.

Duke got the final break and capitalized on it. Barrett missed a second free throw that would have tied the game and, in a scramble, the ball went out of bounds. After a lengthy video review, the original call was  over-tuned and it was Duke’s ball out of bounds under the basket. With just three seconds left on the clock, the Seminoles lead by a point but, thanks to multiple timeouts by both teams, each coach had what seemed like an eternity to plan and re-plan. Understandably, Leonard Hamilton chose to defend the rim and double Barrett. Three players were stacked in the lane guarding the basket, a fourth guarding the in-bounds pass, and a fifth face guarding Barrett.  BJ broke to the corner, where he was double teamed. Reddish ran like a tight end on a crossing  pattern to the elbow of the opposite three point line. Trey made the hot read and threw a pass to Cam for a wide, wide open shot. Dead solid perfect play and execution. Nothing but net! RJ Barrett: “Coach said it. They’re gonna watch me and Cam’s gonna be wide open.” Trey Jones: “Coach drew it up,  the play was wide open, and Cam was able to execute.” That’s one reason they come to Duke.

For a long time, I have thought that winning a game when things were not going your way was the real test of a top team, because these days any decent team can win when the wind is at their back. So, this was a critical test for this young team. Florida State is always big, athletic, and talented—and Tallahassee is a difficult, even hostile, place in which to play. The Tucker Civic Center is the largest arena in the Panhandle and the Seminole fans know how to tomahawk an opponent. Recently, Duke has gone down there twice with a #1 ranked, veteran team and lost. When Zion Williamson was inadvertently poked in the eye just before the half, Duke was up 38-33. When Zion did not return for the final twenty minutes, the Blue Devils chances looked decidedly blue—at times Code Blue. However, we know one thing about Coach K’s teams. They fight to the end and he is one hell of a bench coach.

Miscellaneous Comments: 

  • Recently, Zion Williamson has had a tooth knocked out and an eye traumatized. In neither instance was there a foul called or time called for a player on the floor incapacitated. Something is wrong here. Zion may look indestructible, but that is no reason for the referees to treat him as if he is indestructible. In his press conference, Krzyzewski said that Williamson had double vision but added that Zion did not have any headaches and hoped he would be ready Monday night against Syracuse.
  • The questions is going forward are these: 1) Was this a breakthrough performance that motivates Cam Reddish to consistently play to the level of his three freshmen teammates and 2) How will Zion Williamson respond to the physical play of the ACC?
  • Think Duke is a draw? The game was sold out and $250 tickets were being scalped for $2,500.
  • Dick Vitale demonstrated once again that he should no longer be allowed to be an announcer for a televised college basketball game. Among other things, we had to endure  four minutes of second half incessant, non- germane yakking before the announcers noticed that Zion was not playing and minutes more yet before there was any information as the severity of his injury or  availability.


Alan Adds
: 

Last March when Duke’s four elite freshmen were still in high school, the four were interviewed at the McDonald’s game in Madison Square Garden about what they anticipated from playing together at Duke.  In that interview, Tre was asked who he, as the point guard, would look for with Duke down by a point and time for one last shot.  Tre smiled, looked straight at R.J. and said, “Without a doubt, Cam.”  While Dickie V was prattling on how Duke had to get the ball to Barrett with 2.8 seconds left in the game and Duke trailing by one, I was thinking of that interview when I texted Bill that Cam should take the last shot because Barrett would be blanketed.  I was thinking of it when Tre took the ball from the referee on the base line just to the left of the basket.  I was hoping he remembered (as Zion had not earlier) that he could not run the baseline.   Florida State covered the lane with 3 men.  I am betting that Leonard Hamilton, Fla. State coach, was remembering how – in almost the same game situation – Barrett had attacked Gonzaga in the lane but had his drive thwarted by Gonzaga’s bigs.  He proffered an identical defense.  One defender guarded Jones, who was inbounding, and one guarded Barrett in the corner when he cut across the lane.  That left Cam wide open when he moved from the left side to the right elbow – I mean shockingly wide [expletive] open!  There was no defender within 10 feet when he caught Tre’s perfect pass — just as Tre had said in that long ago interview, just as Coach K called the play; just as I texted Bill.  The shot of the season so far!

You can feel Bill’s excitement jumping off the page because this was a significant win for a young team facing a its first tough ACC road game in a sold out arena against a highly ranked team that had much to prove, and with its own star power player unavailable.  Zion went down with a minute and 35 left in the first half and Duke up by 5.  No foul was called and Zion was on the floor, unable to get back and defend.  Cofer hit a long 3 while Duke was shorthanded.  To compound Duke’s bad luck, Cofer’s shot went in off the backboard – obviously not his intention.  When Duke came out for the second half, the Blue Devils faced a fired up arena, a one point deficit, and having to play without Zion.  In my opinion, Duke’s team developed and displayed what Coach K so admires and creates – character.

The Second Half:

The second half was simply intense, terrifically competitive, very high level basketball.  The game was tight for the first five minutes; in the second five minutes, the Seminoles established a small working margin, which fluctuated to as high as 5 points several times.  With 10:25 left, Duke trailed by 5.  R.J. tied the game quickly, hitting a 2 point jumper with 10:19 left and a deep 3 with 9:32 to go.  From there, neither team established a lead of more than 2 points.  The game was tied 7 times in the last 9 minutes, the last time at 76 with 2:01 left when Kabengele made both free throws after being fouled by Bolden.   Barrett and Cofer traded misses.  With 45 seconds left, Cam had his pocket picked by Savoy, and with 15 seconds left, Cam fouled Savoy as the latter attempted a 3.  Still 76-76.  Savoy missed the first (critical) before sinking the last 2 for a 78-76 Florida State lead.  Barrett raced up court and drove the lane (shades of Gonzaga), and was fouled with five seconds left.  He made the first, but (after going 8-8 from the line in the game) missed the second one.    An intense scramble for the rebound ensued, and the ball went out of bounds.  The call giving Florida State the ball was reversed when the replay clearly showed it was Duke ball.  Cam could have been the goat with the turnover and foul of a 3 point shooter in the last minute, but he garnished his superior game with a shot that will be remembered.

Duke played 7 (but Alex’s role was limited to a 6 minute cameo without a box score statistic – one turnover, but it really wasn’t his).  DeLaurier and Bolden have been splitting time at center.  In the second half, Bolden logged 13 minutes to DeLaurier’s 7.  Duke needed Bolden’s superior size against the huge Seminoles.  Tre and R.J. played every minute while Cam and Jack White logged 17 minutes each.  But it was the R.J. and Cam show.  Between them, they scored 35 of Duke’s 42 points.  Tre hit 2 layups in transition and White made a 3, otherwise it was R.J. scoring 19 second half points on 5-8 shooting; 2-3 from deep and 7-8 from the line; and Cam with 16 points on 6-9 shooting (4-6 from deep, but 0-2 from the line).  R.J and Cam were 6-9 from behind the arc, and 5-8 from closer.  They were both efficient: R.J. scored 19 on 8 shots in 20 minutes; Cam scored 16 on 9 shots in 17 minutes.  These are all just second half statistics.!  That was some offensive half from those two.  Tre missed his other 2 shots from the field and the front end of a crucial 1 and 1, but was himself in other important ways: 5 assists without a turnover to go with a steal, and 3 rebounds.

Miscellaneous Comments:

This was the kind of win that has the capacity to change Cam’s season, which has been disappointing.  Cam reminded us that he came out of high school rated higher than Zion in some scouting assessments.  If his play continues with last night’s quality, it will be huge for Duke going forward.

UVA continues to impress.  UVA simply smoked Fla. State in Charlottesville last week (an almost 30 point lead with 2 minutes to play) and went into Littlejohn yesterday limiting Clemson to 43 points while winning by 20.  It is worth noting that Duke hosts UVA next Saturday at 6 pm.

However, before that titanic match up (Oh please have a non-Dickie V color guy), Duke plays Syracuse in Cameron on Monday.  The timing is like an NCAA tournament schedule with only one day off between games.   Zion is a game time decision.

Is this season being fun, or what?

Duke 91 – Syracuse 95 (OT) 

There should no longer be any doubt who is the most valuable, irreplaceable player on this Duke team. Tre Jones had four steals in five minutes and Duke was up by eight before the tenacious point guard, who is both the defensive and offensive facilitator, was shelved by a shoulder injury diving for  a loose ball. The good news is that Zion Williamson started and was unaffected mentally and physically by his frightening eye injury just two days ago. The bad news is that Cam Reddish did not (because of an illness). After a horrendous beginning (0-12), the Syracuse players started shooting like they were like Golden State Warriors (11-25 threes 44%). As time expired for the half, Syracuse’s Isaiah Hughes even swished an improbable 75-foot prayer of a heave that cut Duke’s lead to one point—a very ominous omen.

All season, we have cautioned that the Achilles Heel of this team was free throws, three point shooting, and injuries. Well, tonight the Blue Devils hit the trifecta and lost in overtime. Zion, like BJ against Florida State, missed the second of two free throws near the end of regulation that would have put Duke up by one. However, you cannot fault either player (ZW: 35 pts. 10 rebs. 4 blks. BJ: 23 pts. 16 rebs. 9 assists), because they had very little help. When you consider that Duke was 9-43 for threes, it is amazing the score was as close as it was. Because Tre and Cam were unavailable, Barrett was by default was often forced to run the point, rather than attacking the seams from the side, where he is more effective. DeLaurier  was overwhelmed but Bolden  (12pts, 11 rebs, 4 blks) had one of his best games. Also, without Cam and Tre, there was no zone buster. This was a situation where we have seen Jack White step into the breach or an opportunity for an eighth man, Alex O’Connell, to have a Grayson Allen Final Four coming out party. However, both White and O’Connell often appeared reluctant to be proactive in shooting or penetrating. The talented but unpredictable O’Connell was more productive (16 pts, 3 rebs, 3 assists, 2 steal. 4-8 threes) but showed his inexperience by committing two untimely turnovers. And then there was Jack White. In the last two games, this year’s uber reliable sixth starter’s play ( 0-9 from three point land) has been a mystery.

As a basketball fan, you really have to applaud Coach Boeheim and his team. They lost Saturday at home to Georgia Tech, had to travel to Durham, fell behind tonight 0-12 in Cameron, then rallied to for an impressive, possibly season saving win. But that’s the ACC. Saturday, Louisville blitzed  North Carolina in Chapel Hill and tonight, Pitt beat Florida State.

As a Duke fan, you have to wonder what the basketball gods have planned for this year’s Blue Devils. Is this injury is another bad break like when Kyrie Irving’s foot injury cost Duke dearly or is it a less serious injury from which the irreplaceable point guard can recover relatively quickly so this team is primed for tournament time?

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • Tre Jones collision with Frank Howard in the opening minutes that sent him to the ER was  diagnosed as an AC joint separation. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterwards that neither Jones’ shoulder nor collarbone showed signs of a break, but added that Jones was “in a lot of pain”. [Tuesday morning update: Jones’ injury is an AC joint separation. Jones will be out “indefinitely” and the Steadman Clinic lists a wide range of recovery times, taking anywhere from “a few days to 12 weeks, depending on the severity.”
  • One good note is that Jay Bilas was in Dickie V’s seat at the microphone.

Alan Adds: 

     Duke’s season hangs in the balance while Tre’s injury is analyzed and treated.  Coach K was asked about his game plan.  After Cam got sick right before the game and couldn’t play and Tre was hurt six minutes into the game, Coach said “We had no game plan.  We were trying to survive.  You know what our game plan was when we thought we had a full team– we wanted to press them in the open court and get out in transition.  Worked pretty well in the first minutes.”  It sure did; even without Reddish.

Long ago, Coach K said that everyone on the team had to be ready to make open jump shots because having Zion and R.J. driving to the basket, there were going to be a lot of open shots.  And so there were throughout the game.  Duke had lots of open looks, but had an absolutely atrocious shooting night.  This destroyed the offense.  By the time Duke got to the overtime, the team was exhausted and played like it.  Duke took eight shots in the overtime – they were all 3’s.  2-8 in the overtime (R.J was 1-4; White 0-2; Zion 0-1.  Alex made his only attempt.  Duke scored six points, while Syracuse went 4-6 from inside the arc.  Duke’s three point shooting for the game was simply awful, taking 43 attempts.  But as Coach K said, they were open shots.  He was ok with his team shooting them.   The loss of Tre “knocked us back”, said K, “but our kids fought hard.”

I do not know what Duke will do if Tre is out for an extended period.  He thought something was broken because he was in so much pain, but it is not broken.  It’s a shoulder sprain, but we don’t know about recovery time Tre will need.  The game proved Goldwire is not the answer.  He played two minutes in the second half and none in the overtime.  If you want a picture of the game, consider that R.J. ran the team, which took him out of the offense.  He took 15 shots in the second half (0-7 inside the arc without getting to the foul line and 2-8 from deep.  Cam’s return will be crucial.

What a season!  Georgia Tech beats Syracuse; Syracuse beats Duke.  Louisville loses to Pitt and beats UNC after the ‘heels battered Pitt.  Pitt beat Fla. State last night.  Virginia, Duke’s next opponent, is, however, unbeaten.  A glorious season hits unchartered waters.

Duke 72 – Virginia 70 

This was a rare non-sequitur college basketball game that has only occurred four times in the history of the NCAA regular season: #1 vs. #1. Duke was ranked #1 in the AP Poll and Sagarin ratings but Virginia was ranked #1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and NET rankings. Polls, shmoles, this was a Big Time Game between the two best teams in the best conference in the country as well as two of the most admired academic institutions in the country. The Blue Devils were without point guard Tre Jones, who is the straw that stirs the drink both defensively and offensively. However, as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said: “You go to war with the team you have, not the one you wish you had.” And a war it was in the paint as the Blue Devils played to their strength and did not settle for threes as they did in losing to Syracuse in overtime. One is a veteran team that consistently is more than the sum of its parts and the other is a young team that is sometimes less than the sum of its NBA bound parts. However, Cameron is one of, if not the, most difficult venues in the country for a visiting team and, in a tough game that comes down to getting stops and making shots, can make a critical difference. In addition, in sports it is not uncommon for a team suddenly missing a key component to find a way to raise their collective play to another level—and that happened tonight as Cameron was rocking, Williamson and Barrett were rolling and that combination was too much for even the poised Virginia players and their vaunted pack line defense.

Though Virginia shot 52.8 percent overall and turned the ball over just 8 times, the Cavaliers, an unusually accurate three point shooting team, hit only 3 of 17 3-pointers. UVA shot just 48.1 percent after halftime and hit just one field goal over a stretch covering more than nine minutes. That allowed Duke to build a 67-60 lead Virginia couldn’t overcome. During part of that nine-minute stretch, Duke employed a zone defense that appeared to temporarily disrupt  the rhythm of the Cavaliers offense After DeAndre Hunter scored with 4:25 to play cutting Duke’s lead to 61-60, the Blue Devils stopped Virginia on its next three possessions. Each time the Cavaliers got one shot per trip and missed it. On the other hand, Duke led 57-56 when Williamson, whose defense was outstanding, leaped high and blocked Hunter’s shot attempt with both hands (see above). At the other end, he drove in the lane for a basket put Duke up 59-56 with 6:06 left. A minute later, Zion took an in-bounds pass from Barrett and jammed home a dunk for a 61-58 Blue Devil lead they never relinquished.

As satisfying and important a win as it was, it must be noted that Duke missed 13 free throws (but fortunately had 14 more attempts than the Whoos), mainly because the Cavaliers had no answer for Williamson and Barrett, who combined for 57 of Duke’s 72 points as no other player scored in double figures. That point distribution and the fact that the starters played 188 of the 200 available minutes, scored all of Duke’s points, and grabbed all of its rebounds is not a recipe for tournament success. Cam Reddish, who missed Monday’s game with an illness, added 9 points, 6 rebounds, an assist and a steal. If he continues to improve and an healthy Tre returns, this obviously is an even more formidable team. Duke also only made 2 threes. Meanwhile, DeLaurier, who had 5 fouls in seven minutes, is struggling to stay on the floor. (It appeared as though every time he looked at a Cavalier, the refs blew his whistle, but when Zion & BJ got mugged on drives, the refs swallowed their whistle.) Fortunately, Marques Bolden continues to improve, allowing the team to defensively  switch 1 through 5 even when Javin is out. He is a defensive plus and is one of the better free throw shooters. Tonight his two free throws down the stretch were huge.

The difference between this team and some other of Duke’s one-and-done teams is that that they have made a commitment to play outstanding defense and have unusual team chemistry. For example, the two highest profile players are roommates and genuinely buddies, referring to each other as brothers. And when asked about ex-Bulls Scottie Pippen suggestion that he should sit out the rest of the college season to preserve his health and #1 status for the 2019 NBA Draft, Zion said that he came to Duke to play basketball, live out a dream and win a championship, not watch his teammates from the bench.

Miscellaneous Comments: 

  • Coach K on Tre Jones status: “I don’t know. But he wasn’t going to play, as we made that decision yesterday. He just doesn’t have enough movement yet. I can’t tell you when [he’ll return]; I’m not going to tell you that he could be ready for Pittsburgh. Every day we’re just going to see how he progresses and make that decision based on the day-to-day stuff without putting a timetable on him so there’s no pressure for him to come back and force something. We don’t want that to happen.”
  • Coach Tony Bennett is not just a good basketball coach, he is a great college basketball coach. Virginia is an outstanding, classy university and he has recruited players to match.  For instance, guard Kyle Guy, who could play on any team, had a blunt and telling assessment of the Duke team: “An NBA team. That’s the only thing I can think of in terms of talent and size and length. We’re not probably going to see another team like that.”
  • Coach K on Zion’s growth and focus with all the media scrutiny: “I think to where we all should admire him. He’s such a people person. When football was still playing and he was at a football game, he would take time with people. He really doesn’t want a lot of attention, when obviously he attracts a lot of attention. Even for Gameday and that, he didn’t want to do too much. He didn’t want to separate himself from what the other guys are doing, and the family doesn’t either. They’re just good people. He’s handled it really well. You guys know from being with him that he’s such an upbeat kid. He was terrific tonight. Even though it was a lot of adversity on Monday night against Syracuse, he and RJ played the whole game, and that helped them tonight. The fact that they did that then, how do you handle it? You don’t handle it until you have to handle it. You can’t practice that. The times we’ve won big games in our program like championships, usually our best players have to play a lot of minutes, so hopefully what they’re learning right now will help them as we go forward.”
  • BJ Barrett on his confidence as a shooter and playmaker down the stretch in late games: “It definitely helps when you have the greatest coach of all time telling you to keep going, keep shooting the ball. I love playing for him.”
  • UVA is the Villanova model, featuring three and four year players who have become well marinated in their coach’s system.

Alan Adds:

Duke faced a #1 team in the nation without its point guard (the heart and soul of both its offense and defense so far this year), got 0 points and only 12 minutes from its entire bench (Alex 5 minutes – all in the first half; and Javier 7 minutes – one minute in the first half, but he managed to commit 2 fouls in that minute, before fouling out in 6 second half minutes.  Duke got a pair of foul shots from Marques for only 2 points in his 33 minutes (0 shot attempts) and 4 points from Jack White’s 40 minutes (2-3).  Moreover, while Cam had a satisfactory first half scoring 7 (3-8; 1-3 from deep) to go with 6 rebounds, a steal, an assist against only one turnover, he reverted to his previous ineffective form in his full 20 minutes on the court.  In the closing stanza, Cam was 0-4; 0-3 from deep, and 2-4 from the line for his only second half points, while committing 3 fouls and causing 3 turnovers.  And still Duke won!

In hindsight, one is left to wonder how Duke could possibly have accomplished that.  The answer is four-fold: first and foremost, this team has amazing heart; second, is defense; and third and fourth (maybe really first and second) were R.J. and Zion.  Each played the full 20 minutes.  Zion scored 13 on 5-7 from the field, but a terrifying (mabe horrifying) 3-9 from the free throw line. R.J. showed why he was the consensus #1 rated player in high school last year going 6-7 from the field (his only miss was his only second half 3 point attempt) and 4-7 from the line.  Zion and R.J. scored 29 of Duke’s 35 second half points.  Imagine if they had also been efficient from the line (or from 3land).  I said last year that R.J. was the best finisher at the rim that I had seen in high school since LeBron.  Last night he supported that assessment with a series of acrobatic finishes at the rim against a defense famous for protecting its interior.  R.J and Zion were simply other worldly in the clutch.  They were 11-13 from the field inside the arc in the second half, but only a collative 7-16 from the stripe.  Foul shooting in the second half – especially at “winning time” determines the outcome of many games.

Duke won the game on the defensive end of the floor.  Jack White (40 minutes) replaced Tre in the starting lineup.  In all of Duke’s games this year, Duke had never switched every screen, mostly because of Tre’s aggressiveness and lack of length.  With White replacing Tre, Duke was able to switch every screen, which turned out to be the strategic game winner.  Coach K wanted to stop UVa’s vaunted 3 point attack (Guy is almost as good as JJ was, said K), and switching every screen allowed Duke to do that very effectively.  Let me add a word about Marques Bolden.  He is now athletic enough to switch and even guard the other team’s point guard, as he did last night.  I never would have believed he could do that, but he has improved so dramatically on the defensive end of the floor as to be an integral and valuable part of this team.  He is playing superb defense.  This team loves to play defense.  Duke got tired (duh!); so, Coach K gave the team an energy break on defense by going to a zone for 3 possessions.  Very effective. This team loves to play defense.  White, Bolden and Cam may not have been scoring, but they were part of an extraordinary team defense that ultimately won the game.

This team has demonstrated the kind of heart that we have always admired in Coach K’s best teams.  In the last three games, Duke fought from behind without Zion to beat Fla. State in Tallahassee by a deuce; lost to Syracuse in overtime by a deuce without Tre or Cam, while dealing with the shock of those twin losses, and then came back to beat the #1 team in the country without Tre or an effective bench.  A team with this much heart will always be dangerous and continues to provide us with a gallant season — and to make us proud of the team and Duke.

As Coach K said, “it will be a helluva game up at their place (Feb 9).  Isn’t this why sports keep us watching.  What a week from the high of Florida State to the low of Tre’s injury and the Syracuse defeat, back to the high of last night.  Next Play: Tuesday, Duke visits Pitt and Jeff Capel.  Take nothing for granted (In short, “earn everything”).

Duke 79 – Pittsburgh 64

In what could have been a ‘trap” game, Duke, fueled by Zion Williamson’s 19 without-a- miss points, went on a 33- 12 run to close out the first half and pretty much put the game on ice, then cruised to an auto pilot win. Coach K kept his team in a zone much of the second half to a) rest them b) cut down drives and defend threes, which is easy with the 6’ 10” arm extensions of Barnett and Reddish on top of the 2-3 zone. Not many teams can beat Duke by trying to trade deuces; however, the math of trading threes for two’s is another matter, because threes and free throws are not the Blue Devil’s strength (although they did shot a season high 80% tonight). However, no team has yet shut down the explosive firm of Williamson & Barnett, that combined for 51 points, 10 assists, and 4 steals  tonight. In addition, RJ filled in nicely at the point.

Duke dominated the painted area, outrebounding Pittsburgh 39-34 and recording 7 blocks. Better defense is what separates this team from the recent one-and-done teams. More specifically, these future teenage millionaires (without the benefit of a traditional degree) can play old school Duke/Bobby Knight man defense or even a Jim Boeheim  zone as they did for periods against Virginia and again for more extended periods tonight. That’s what makes this precocious Duke team different and why this team could be the best of their genre. Consider these stats: Duke has three of the seven players (Jones, Williamson, and Reddish) in the ACC who average 2.0 steals per game plus Bolden, Williamson, White all  in the top 10 in the in blocks.

This group can obviously multi-task. After Saturday’s 72-70 home win (without Jones) over Virginia, Duke ranks No. 6 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating. Here are the Blue Devils’ pre-tournament KenPom Adj rankings (in ascending order) since Austin Rivers ushered in the “new Duke” era in 2012: 72, 39, 77, 37, 85, 39 and 7.

Marques Bolden certainly is improving. His athletic, big body presence ( 6 pts, 9 rebs, 4 blocks) is adding another welcomed dimension to the this team. In addition, Cam Reddish (15 pts, 6 rebs, 4 assists, 2 blks) is playing with more confidence. You can see in his shooting motion—the rotation, trajectory, softness, and accuracy of his free throws that his shooting touch is returning. On the other hand, Javin DeLaurier is in a foul plagued slump, Jack White’s shot is on vacation, and Alex O’Connell appears to be in Coach’s dog house.

Former Duke assistant Jeff Capel certainly has turned around the Pitt basketball program. His team fought hard to the end of the game, outscoring Duke 39-35 in the second half. However, Coach K has only lost to one former assistant—Notre Dame’s Mike Brey.

Alan Adds:

I have several takeaways from a game that seemed to lack any pizzazz!  In spite of my natural apprehension about any ACC road game; this one against Capel, who had been intensely involved in recruiting this premium class to Duke (before the game the freshmen spontaneously acknowledge Capel when he came on the court, a really nice gesture); the absence once again of Tre Jones (moving R.J. to the point and replacing Tre with Jack White in the starting lineup); and the emergence of Pitt’s freshmen guards as serious penetrators.  The big takeaway for me was the defense, which, for the first time this year was primarily a zone defense.  I was lost in admiration for how well this team played it.  Bill is right about the top of the zone, which featured Cam and R.J.  Cam looks taller to me than the 6’8” he is listed at.  He is clearly longer than either Zion or R.J. and he is quick.  So, the top of the zone was long, quick and athletic, which simply kept Pitt at bay throughout the endless second half.  Pitt never got closer than 15.  The back line of the zone was equally efficient.  Bolden in the middle had 5 blocks; Zion is so active on the wing in the back line.  He disrupted the Pitt offense from the right wing with extreme activity.  He made a couple of steals from there (which, of course, led to Zion time at the rim), one of which led to a superb dime to R.J. for a dunk.  It is a joy to watch the two of them play together seamlessly.  Jack White was very efficient on the other side of the back line.  This team loves to defend.

The other takeaway is how efficient and therefore destructive of an opponent’s defense Zion is.  How is this for efficiency in the first half?  In just 15 minutes he scored 19 first half points on 9-9 shooting, which included 1-1 from deep.  He did miss both of his first half free throws and turned it over twice.  He is such a force on the boards (5 boards; 4 offensive) to go with 2 assists and a block.   He led the charge that in reality ended all suspense as to who would win the game (maybe just the second half had no pizzazz).  With 7:54 left in the first half, Duke led by 9 (27-18).  In that almost 8 minutes to end the half, Duke shut down the Pitt offense, holding the Panthers to 7 points in that last 7:54.  The Duke zone took away the ability of Pitt’s young and talented back court from attacking the rim and the length up top drove them off the 3 point line.  During that 7:54, Duke scored 17 to put the game away.  Cam hit a 3; R.J a jumper on a feed from Cam and went 3-4 from the free throw line; Zion had 3 put backs or layups at the rim; Jack White was 2-2 from the line and Marques was 1-2 from the line.  Marques was also extremely active on defense and the boards; he had 3 blocks, a steal and 3 rebounds in that stretch.

Some interesting rotation observations: Alex played only 3 minutes; DeLaurier only 10; he missed his only two field goal attempts, ending his consecutive streak at 19 straight.  He picked up 2 fouls (and 2 boards) in 4 first half minutes, but none in his 6 second half minutes (2-2 from the stripe).  It seems clear that Bolden has nailed down the center position with his defense and rebounding.  Goldwire played 13 minutes, giving R.J. an opportunity to play off the ball where he is a better scoring threat.  R.J. was the glue for Duke as its point guard and as a scorer.  He played 37 minutes scoring 26 (on 24 shots: 10-24; 3-7 from deep and 3-4 from the stripe to go with 5 boards, 2 steals and 3 assists.  He (14) and Cam (9) kept Duke comfortably ahead in the second half.  Cam had 15 for the game as those 3 freshmen had 66 of Duke’s 79 points.

Duke returns home to face Georgia Tech on Saturday followed by a Monday game in South Bend vs Notre Dame.  Every Duke fan  wants to know “When will Tre return?”

Duke 66- Georgia Tech 53 

Everyone was baffled by the Blue Devils worst opening 22 minutes of the season. They trailed by as much as eight points before finally exploding on a patented 29-9 run to put away Georgia Tech 66-53 in Cameron. The reason for the sluggish start is that, despite my having 1,000 DirecTV channels, Apple TV, and ESPN+, because the game was blacked out locally, I was unable to access it until a few minutes into the second half. Once the guys realized I was watching and taking notes, they settled down and played Duke Basketball. Actually, Coach K’s vigorous timeout conversation also might have contributed somewhat to the belated turnaround: ”Our guys were just different (after that timeout), which says a lot about them (Editor: and the Coach). This is a game you lose if you’re thinking about being a winner. It’s a game that winners win, when you can turn it around with eighteen minutes to go and just really not playing well, and then start playing great.”

The inconsistency in the last two games is of concern. Against lesser teams, and even some better ones,  Zman & RJ can score a majority of the points. But the best teams will figure a way to limit one of the two. However,  a championship team needs balance. I have thought that Cam Reddish was the key as we saw in the Kentucky game. Well, somewhere along the way, Cam hit the freshman wall. Fortunately, the other three haven’t. Cam has recovered except for making threes, which was his calling card, but otherwise is very productive (7 pts. 5-5 ft. 6 assts, 5 stls.). Jack White, who was instant offense  early in the season, is a mystery. Recently, he has missed so many threes (1-for-20) that he appears reluctant to pull the trigger. And teams dare Barrett and Williamson to shoot them. Until the Blue Devils demonstrate they are a long range threat, opponents will pack the paint and beg Duke to try and beat them from the perimeter. However, the good news is that the team’s free throw percentage has recently improved dramatically. And that is huge because they shoot a lot of them every game. In addition, I have always thought that a player hitting a high per centage of free throws is an indication of their shooting touch, and who can and will hit jump shots.

It also occurred to me that there were two interesting developments surrounding Alex O’Connell and one probably led to the other. First, he finally settled on a mature haircut which no longer offends  Coach K’s army sensibilities. That led to Alex  (4 pts, 3 rebs, 1 steal)  playing significant minutes (19) when the game was in doubt. Actually, he got DeLaurier and White minutes. Early on, he was beaten badly by a back door cut (RJ was slow to provide weak side help) and I thought for sure that Coach K would pull him. He didn’t and Alex (4 pts, 3 rebounds and a steal) validated the decision with solid, active, athletic play. In addition, I suspect Coach is running out of patience with the poor three point shooting and is giving Alex, a talented offensive player, an opportunity to prove he is mature enough to be counted upon.

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • Alan had a terrific halftime assessment: “The first half looked like the Syracuse game without the excuses.”
  • Duke out-rebounded Tech 20-10 in the second half. Barrett led everyone with 11. Duke had 7 blocks–3 by Williamson–and 13 steals. Foul shooting was superb, 16-for-19.
  • I think this team will see a lot more zone defenses. For sure we will see it when we play Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
  • Coach K said that after playing 35 minutes, Trey felt really well; that our defense was very important today; and that the crowd was the sixth man —and we really needed them.
  • Marques Bolden suffered a toenail problem that is not believed to be serious.   

Alan Adds:  

The valuable insights from this game are not on the surface.  Btw, I did text Bill at half:“the first half looked like the Syracuse game without excuses.”  The Syracuse adversity was more than Tre’s injury; it was also Cam getting sick right before game time.  I take some value from both the Syracuse game and Duke’s first half.  While it was surely Duke’s worst offensive performance of the season, Duke’s defense remained excellent.  Horrible offense can impact defensive efficiency.  It is easy to hang one’s head when the shots are not falling, but Duke did not do that.  The defense remained stout (with a little hiccup in the last two minutes of the first half).  Against Syracuse, Duke was wiped out exhausted for the overtime (Duke took only 8 shots in that overtime, none inside the arc).  In this game, Duke had all its weapons and exploded in the second half when Bill finally got the game on (Bill don’t you have any great grandchildren who can aid the digitally challenged?).  It was a game of two halves, and it is worth analyzing each separately.  The rotation was different for reasons that are not altogether clear.

The Rotation

The four elite freshmen and Bolden started, but Bolden got stepped on causing a foot problem.  Coach K said it was his toe.  He was limited to 9 first half minutes, and 2 in the second half when he tested it and found it a “no go”.  In the first half, Vrankovich was first off the bench to replace him; not DeLaurier.  DeLaurier was a virtual no-show logging only a single minute in each half (0-1 in the first half for only stat of the game).  Whether that was a message from Coach K or was there a physical problem is unknown; Coach K did not mention Javin in his press conference.  Jack White’s time was reduced – shooting slump and lots of minutes while Tre was out — he played 7 minutes in the opening stanza and a scant 4 minutes in the second half when Duke blew the game open.  Alex played 4 unremarkable minutes in the first half.  In that first half, Zion and foul shooting kept Duke competitive.  Zion was limited to 15 first half minutes by picking up 2 (silly) fouls, but was still 4-6 from the field and 2-2 from the line for 10 points.  R.J. and Cam played 19 first half minutes, contributing points from the foul line – Cam was 4-4 and R.J. 3-4 (that’s 9-10 for the three freshmen).  Cam is still in a shooting slump from the field (0-4 from the field including 0-3 from deep in the first half; 1-7 in the second half, but the single made shot was a 3 and it came in rhythm at an important time.  Still 1-11; 1-8 from deep has to change if Duke is going to fully reach its potential this season.  He and R.J. logged 38 minutes each for the game.

Of course, most of the focus was on Tre’s return.  In the first half it looked like he was a victim in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.  Where the hell was the real Tre?  He was, as it turned out, waiting for the second half.  In his first game back, he logged 35 minutes, 19 in the second half.  That is cause for jubilation.  In those 19 second half minutes, he morphed back into the real Tre (3-4 from inside the arc; 3 assists and a steal).  He is special as Coach K said in his press conference.  There is physical shape and there is mental shape; “Tre is NEVER out of mental shape. He is just a remarkable young man.”  I think he might have been briefly out of mental shape in the first half, but his return is beyond major.

The First Half

In spite of playing solid defense, Duke was pretty abysmal in the first half.  In my opinion, much credit goes to the Georgia Tech zone, which was an amoeba like 1-3-1 ( also morphing at times into a 2-2-1).  Georgia Tech was particularly impressive stealing  passes to the post (where when they got through, Zion was unstoppable) and picking off bounce passes.  Duke did miss many open perimeter shots; very deflating.  Duke was sleep walking.  Consider: The Wramblin’ Wreck outscored Duke 22-14 in the paint; 9-3 on second chance points (RJ’s only 3 off an offensive rebound); 5-2 in fast break point (think about that!) and 4-1 in bench points (Vrankovich was 1-2 from the line).  Zion’s 4-6 from the post and Duke’s 10-12 from the line + stout defense were all that Duke mustered.

The Second Half

Duke played most of the second half with a small lineup that did not include a center.  Bolden was in for two minutes but could not go; DeLaurier for one.  Vrankovich’s only appearance was in the first half.  The four freshmen played the entire half until the last minute of garbage time.  The fifth player for virtually all of the second half was Alex O’Connell.  Like Bill, when Alex was beaten back door, I expected him to be yanked as he had been in the last game, when that very back door thing happened to him.  Coach K said that Alex would know he [Coach K] was speaking the truth when he opined that Alex has not played very well recently.  But he was a star support in the second half after that one defensive lapse.  Alex was 2-5 (an offensive rebound put back and a medium range jumper).  He missed  two 3’s but, as Coach K pointed out, they were in rhythm and “the right shot”.  Alex has the potential to make Duke more lethal from the perimeter, which so far has been Duke’s real offensive weakness.  For example Duke was 2-21 from deep for the game (the freshmen were 2-15 – R.J. 1-5; Cam 1-8 and Tre 0-2).  White, Alex, and, Goldwire were each 0-2.  If that doesn’t change, Duke will fall short of the current lofty goals for this dream-like season.

From the timeout Coach K called, Duke played extremely well, and the Duke defense was beyond merely superb.  In the 16 minutes and 20 seconds between the timeout and the entry of the reserves at the 1:39 mark, Duke surrendered only 13 points!  In that same period Duke scored 39 points.  Zion and Barrett were a combined 10-13  — with 0 3 point attempts (R.J. 5-7; Zion 5-6).  They were a combined 6-7 from the line (R.J. 4-4; Zion 2-3) giving the dynamic duo a total of  26 of Duke’s second half points.  Add in Tre’s 6 and the trio scored 32 of Duke’s 39.  Alex had 4, and Cam’s crucial 3 completed an admirable second half.  If only Cam’s stroke would return  …

Schedule

Duke faces a quick NCAA tournament-like turn around tomorrow night (Monday),  playing a beleaguered Notre Dame team in South Bend (I don’t care how beleaguered Mike Brey’s Irish are, it is an ACC road game!) at 7 on ESPN.  The Devils are home next Saturday at noon against St. Johns, the last non-conference team to beat Duke at home (long ago).

Duke 83 – Notre Dame 61

A Northern Hemisphere’s Polar Vortex breakout that is producing the coldest Arctic blast in recent midwest history, combined with playing their second game in three days 1,000 from home, as well as facing the only assistant that has beaten Coach K (not just once but 5 times in 14 tries), had no effect on these precocious Blue Devils as they counterintuitively started hot and stayed hot beating a Notre Dame team riddled with key injuries. (Whew. That’s about as much information as I can cram into a run-on, introductory sentence. After all these years, I can still hear the disapproving voice of Mr. Ruge, my Fifth Form English teacher/guru: “Mr. Miller, for the amusement of your classmates will you please come to the blackboard and attempt to diagram that monstrosity of an opening paragraph.”)

Zion Williamson had a spectacular game with 26 points on 10-12 shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks (including one  for his overflowing “Do you believe he that” archive). Marques Bolden is playing stronger and more aggressively on both ends of the floor. He had 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in just 21 minutes. His athleticism allows the defense to switch 1-5, helping hold the Irish to shooting 35%. Cam Reddish played with more confidence. He was only 4-13 (but his missed shots just missed) but had 3 threes, 2 steals for 13 points. The role players DeLaurier, White, and O’Connell (2 threes) all contributed in a variety of ways.

Coach Mike Brey: “They are really gifted. With Duke’s pressure and switching, it was almost impossible to make a pass. You can say move the ball, but that’s not realistic. Their switching and their length are in the passing lanes, so when you get to ball screening, somebody has got to drive and kick.” 

Miscellaneous Comments: 

Coach K had very complimentary words for Irish Coach Mike Brey, one of the few assistant coaches who did not play for him. Mike, an assistant  from 1987-1995 was credited by K (along with Tommy Amaker) with helping build the program that went to seven Final Fours in nine years.

I enjoy Jay Bilas’ analysis a lot (“One reason this team is so good is that Zion, who receives so much publicity,  does not seek the spotlight. The spotlight seeks him and he wants to share it with his teammates.”) However, I wish he would refrain from second guessing so many referee calls. With the size and speed on these athletes, it’s a lot harder making the calls in real time than with the help of monitor replay. Less is more (effective), Jay.

Miscellaneous stats: Zion is almost shooting a phenomenal 80% from inside the arc but only a mediocre 68% from the free throwline, which led some wise guy sports commentator to comment that at this rate, he may miss more free throws than field goals. Zion and RJ are averaging about the same number of points per game but RJ has taken 138 more shots.

Alan Adds: 

The game was  practically over in the first six minutes – with 14:07 still left in the first half, Duke led by 15 (17-2) with Tre and Cam having hit opening 3s followed by Zion’s 5 straight goals — 4 at the rim and a mid-range jumper plus 1-2 from the line.  Notre Dame rallied for an nanosecond before Duke stretched the lead to 19 (26-7) with 10:36 left.  Note that meant the Duke defense held Notre Dame to 7 points in 9 minutes and 24 seconds.  Duke is playing great defense and this game was a continuation and growth.  It is hard to maintain the emotion required for great defense when the lead is so large that the game is not competitive.  Even when the offense receded a bit in the second half (Duke scored 46 first half points; only 37 in the closing stanza), the defense was very good (down just a tad from excellent; a few little flubs).  Notre Dame was gallant, but totally overmatched.  The Irish fought back to down 9 with 4:50 to go when Zion hit a 3 to push the lead back to double figures.  It was never single digits again.  It was 18 at the half, and never less than 16 in the second half with the widest margin being 24 with 5:41 to go.

Duke’s offense was terrific.  10-19 from deep (5-9 in the opening stanza).  Zion had a first half that would be a career achievement for an ordinary player – 17 points on 9 field goal attempts in 18 minutes (7-9; 1-1 from deep and 2-4 from the line) to go with 3 rebounds, 3 blocks and an assist without a turnover and committing only a single foul.  R.J. grabbed 5 rebounds while scoring 10 (4-8; 2-4 from deep).  Marques had a quite spectacular first half; 4-5 from the field in 13 minutes to go with 6 rebounds and a block.  He held Mooney (12 consecutive double doubles including last night) to 1-8 in the first half.  His improved mobility and athleticism is allowing Duke to switch 1 through 5 because he has the quickness (new to me) to stay with guards on the perimeter.  He hustles, and is on the floor for loose balls as quickly as anyone on the team.  His play is crucial, especially on the defensive end.  However, foul trouble (4; # 3 and 4 came early in the second half) limited him in the closing period.

More good news: Cam played an excellent second half.  Coach K is trying to play Cam back into the player he was in high school (36 minutes last night; 18 in each half).  Cam hit a 3 on his opening shot, but did not score again in the first half (1-6).  He is, however, playing excellent defense.  He had 2 steals (and 2 assists).  In the second half, he led Duke in scoring with 10 (total 13) on 3-7 from the field including 2-5 from deep and 2-2 from the line.  Let us hope this is like the first robin of the spring and not an aberration.  He can be the difference between Duke being an excellent team and a National Championship team.

Tre was Tre (5 assists; 1 turnover and superb defense); White grabbed 6 boards in the second half where Duke played significant minutes without a big on the floor.  Alex scored 6 in 7 second half minutes (2-2 from deep).

Duke’s defense deserves scrutiny and the highest praise so far.  Consider this: Duke leads the nation in two critical categories – blocked shots per possession and steals per possession.  Duke is blocking shots or stealing the ball on almost 1 out of every 4 of the opponents possessions.  That’s practically insane!  Moreover, Duke has been elite at defending the opponents 3 point shots.  Each of the Duke starters is a superior man to man defender (how unlike last year where Trevon, Gary and Grayson all compiled low defensive metrics) and have the length to drive shooters off the 3 point line.  Zion is as talented on the defensive end of the court as he is scoring.  Barrett is not only an intense defender, but also a superior defensive rebounder.  Those two are so versatile defensively that Duke can defend the post efficiently even without a big on the court.  This is such a fun team to watch on the defensive end.

The January part of the schedule is done.  Two home games —  St. John’s next Saturday (noon on ESPN)  and Boston College on Tuesday before the showdown in Charlottesville on Saturday, February 9.

Duke 91- St. Johns 61

Historically, teams like St. Johns, featuring a group of city ballers, have given Duke trouble mainly because they thrive on an open floor run-and-gun urban playground game. For instance, the last time the Blue Devils lost to a non-conference opponent in Cameron was an incredible 18 years and 146 games ago to, you guessed it, St. John’s. And just one year ago, an unranked St. John’s team, led by  point guard Shamorie Ponds’ 33 points, beat  #4 Duke 81-77 in Madison Square Garden. That was then against defensively challenged Duke players and this is now in Cameron against Trey Jones, who shut out Ponds in the first half, and Zion Williamson, who put on another “Oh My God! Did you see that!” SportsCenter Highlight Show.

What I look for at this time of the season is whether or not the players are all improving, contributing, and developing chemistry so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts– or whether the team is uneven and overly dependent on one or two players. Today, the Blue Devils played forty minutes of good offense and almost that much of good defense. Granted, the score was too closed for comfort until the last few minutes of the first half when Zion scored ten straight points to go into the locker room with a ten point lead and plenty of momentum. Predictably, Cris Mullins’ team started out in a zone, daring  Duke to hit threes, which, fortunately, Cam Reddish did. Unfortunately, so did his Red Storm. However, threes come easier at the beginning with fresh legs than later with tired ones. And in the second half, fatigue had turned the mean Johnnies into exhausted, frustrated players, while the Dukies were sprinting to the finish.

Obviously, it doesn’t appear than anyone has an answer for Williamson anywhere on the court but anyone can have an off night or get hurt. What I liked today was the balance of  point distribution among the starters: 29, 16, 15, 13, 10. Sometimes, RJ is the leading scorer, sometimes it is Zion—whatever, together they are usually good for 50 or so points. But to have Cam stroking it, Tre looking for shots, and Bolden continuing to contribute on both ends is very encouraging. Also, Duke outrebounded their opponent 48-30 with RJ getting 14.

Generally speaking there are three basketball defensive philosophies: 1) Play a team straight up and hope for the best. 2) Give the best player his points and focus on shutting down his teammates.  3) Try to take away  an opponent’s best player and hope none of his teammates have a career game. You just knew that with Try Jones, Coach K was going to try to limit Pond’s production, frustrate him, and put pressure on the others. It takes a very mature player who is used to the spotlight not to be frustrated by not being able to do what he does best and not let it impact his attitude—especially his defense. Well, Shamorie spent a lot of time shaking and baking, showing off his moves (and taking time off the clock) without scoring a point in the first twenty minutes. While Jones was the main perpetrator, all the other players, including Marques Bolden, were his accomplices switching with help defense. Temporarily, Ponds’ talented teammates filled in. However, pressure, fatigue, and the law of averages kicked in and the Red Storm team ended up shooting 34%.

Miscellaneous Comments:

My buddy, Johnny Tar Heel, says that if you put Zion Williamson on any of the top ten teams, that team would be #1. BTW, Carolina is surging. They beat Louisville at Kentucky.

St. John’s Coach  Chris Mullins, one of the great shooters in basketball history: “They’re a great team, obviously. Talented, unselfish. It’s great, I love playing Duke. They’re the classiest team in the country, so you can learn a lot from them.”

I have watched and played a lot of basketball and been thrilled by many wonderful players. However, I only have seen what I can consider four transcendental players: Pete Maravich, David Thompson, Michael Jordan, and Zion Williamson. While I do not think it fair to compare players of different eras, as a freshman, Zion is the best. If you are a basketball fan, do not miss watching him play.

When Dick Vitale is announcing a game, I wonder how many people turn the sound off?

Duke 80 – Boston College 55 

Well, Alan was half right. After twenty minutes, the game appeared to be the “trap game” he cautioned against as the score was 28-30. It was that close only because Cam Reddish converted a back court steal from Ty Bowman at the buzzer. While scoring 52 second half points and holding BC to just 25 was an impressive “progression to the mean” (patent pending), it couldn’t have happened without Cam Reddish’s steadily improving play producing his best game of the year. He scored 24 points on only 16 shots, played terrific defense, and was a rare welcomed sight (80%) at the free throw line. Zion’s all-round hustle and production (9 pts, 11 rebs) was about all the good news in the first twenty minutes but the second twenty was what excites Duke fans (and basketball aficionados). Neither Hubie Brown or Dick Vitale could recall a college team with three of the projected top five picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

The final scoring was 24-19-16-11-6-4. (O’Connell hit two late baskets for the Blue Devils only bench points. DeLaurier and White did produce 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks.) RJ was hampered by two early, silly fouls and the focus of the Eagles defense was to double Zion. When a team shoots 1-15 from three point land in any half, you have to wonder if  it is a Final Four team. However, 52 points on 6-9 threes, shooting 63% overall, and playing lock down defense (36%) makes one wonder who were those guys wearing the Duke jersey’s in the first half? Coach K should tape his half time conversations for a motivational CD to be edited and sold at a later date as a G rated video.

Speaking of defense, for the second game in a row Tre Jones (and Company) limited an opponent’s, talented, high scoring point guard, Ky Bowman, to 11 points on 17 shots and forcing 3 turnovers. The team also recorded 9 blocks and 9 steals. Also, flying somewhat under the radar is the improved play of Marques Bolden, who according to Coach K has finally been healthy for six straight weeks for the first time in his Duke career.

During this upcoming tough stretch, let’s hope that the Blue Devils are able to play close to forty minutes of their best basketball each and every game. Otherwise…….

Other Comments: 

  • This victory produced Duke’s 23rd  consecutive 20 win season.
  • Zion (16 pts, 17 rebs, 3 asssts, 3 blks, 4 steals) missed an open floor reverse slam, then later had a perfect pass slip out of his hands as he was taking off for an uncontested dunk. Coming off the floor was the first time I have ever seen him angry. Fortunately, it was in disappointment with himself, not an opponent. Incidentally, here is what St. John’s coach and former All Pro Chris Mullins said about Zion: “I said coming in probably one of the best things about him is his attitude and his personality. He’s got a great joy for the game and passion for the game. I think it rubs off on his teammates. He’s very unselfish. If he doesn’t like his shot, he shares with his teammates. Those things get overlooked. Obviously, his physicality, his athleticism is unmatched. A lot of these kids, when they’re critiqued and they’re rated, sometimes by the time they get here they’re worn out. He seems to have been able to maintain that smile and that passion. I think that’s contagious to their team. It’s good to see.”
  • Basketball lifer, Hubert “Hubie” Brown (Hall of Fame, two time NBA Coach of the Year) was one of the announcers. Both Hubie (1968-72), as well as HOF’er Chuck Daley (1963-69), head coach of NBA champions Detroit Pistons as well as the 1980 Olympic Dream Team, were an assistant coaches at Duke under Vic Bubas. 

Alan Adds:

Hubie was a blessing on this telecast; Vitale actually shut up to listen to Hubie’s insightful color commentary so,  I didn’t have to turn the sound off.  I texted Bill at half time, lamenting how Duke played in the first half, but concluded that Duke has been a second half team all year.  And were they ever.

The First Half

But, thoughtful analysis should not just disregard the first half.  ESPN had this to say in a pre-game column: “To call it tough would be underselling the six-game stretch that awaits the Blue Devils at the end of this week. Toughest is better, because that’s what it literally is. The toughest scheduled six-game stretch. For any team. At any point this season. Past or present.  No offense to Boston College, but we’re actually previewing the six-contest stretch of heavyweights that begins after the Blue Devils beat the Eagles Tuesday”   Coach K was concerned and it showed in the opening stanza.  Tre admitted he lacked energy and had to be more of a leader in the second half.  On offense, maybe; he played a great defensive first half and game.  Duke’s offense was worse than horrible in the opening stanza (scoring only 26 points before Cam made the game changing play to close out the half – stole the ball and laid it in at the buzzer, cutting the Duke deficit to 2).  Coach K said Duke’s offense against the zone was stagnant.  “Their zone messed us up.”  After the St. John’s win, Coach K pointed out, all the hype about Duke-UVa this coming Saturday began.  “they didn’t even mention the BC game.  That’s what these kids have to live through.”  It might have affected the first half, but fortunately not the whole game.  “We played good defense the whole game (BC scored only 55; only 25 in the second half); our defense kept us in the game in the first half.  In the second half, we played great; not good, great.”

The Second Half

Offensively, the show was on.  Coach K insightfully pointed out that Duke got control of its own defensive backboard in the second half to change the game.  He said when we got rebounds, we could run; that changed the game.  In the second half, BC retrieved only 8 rebounds altogether (2 offensive) to Duke’s 22.  Cam played an outstanding second half (first half was not bad — 4-10; 1-6 from deep for 9 points).  OUTSTANDING!  In 17 minutes, he scored 15 points (4-6; 3-5 from deep; 4-4 from the line) to go with an assist and a steal.  Coach K was giddy, “Cam had a great game; not just on offense.  He was moving beautifully on defense.  We gave him the tough assignment of guarding Chapman (who, Coach K pointed out, scored at least half of his points when Cam was not guarding him).  He was running through screens and moving side to side; it was absolutely beautiful.  His defense helped his offense.  He was moving strong on defense; that helps other aspects of your game.”

  1. Had a deceptively terrific second half after a sub-par first half in which he was limited to 12 first half  minutes by committing 3 silly fouls early, limiting him to 1-6 from the field; 0-2 from deep without attempting a free throw.  Then came the second half where he absolutely sparkled (sort of under the radar).  He scored 15 second half points in 15 minutes (4-6; 2-2 from 3land; and 5-7 from the line).  He is both defender and rebounder (5 for the game; tied for second with Tre and Bolden behind Zion’s astounding 17 (10 in the first half to go with his 9 first half points, keeping Duke close.  He plays so hard and with such joy that Coach K overlooks a missed dunk or two.  “We’re lucky to have him, and you are lucky to be able to watch him.”

In the second half, Tre realized that he has to be an offensive threat; 2-6; 1-2; 2-4 for 7 second half points (11 for the game).  He has to shoot better from deep, but he is the straw that stirs the drink on both ends of the floor.  Coach K was unstinting in his praise for Marques Bolden.  “He’s not just improved, he’s playing great.”  He is healthy and moving well.  “His footwork; good on offense, really good on defense.  We switched him on to Bowman.  He did a good job there.  Javin has played well; so we are getting better inside.”

Defensively, Duke shut down Bowman as it had shut down Ponds in the St. Johns game.  It was not just Tre.  The bigs stepped up and helped Tre contain him.  It was great team defense.  Bowman only had 4 second half points. This is a terrific defensive team

The Gauntlet

Away against UVA Saturday; and Louisville next Tuesday.  The start of a 6 game grind that ESPN says is one of the toughest in the history of college basketball.  I plan to watch.

Duke 81 – Virginia 71 

This game was two heavyweights going the distance. Uncharacteristically, Duke shot lights out 13-21 (62%) from three point land and a decent 16-23 (70%) from the foul line to never lose the lead but seldom able to increase it into comfortable double digit territory. Nevertheless, Virginia was relentless and went on a late three minute 11-3 run to cut the halftime lead to only four points. Virginia Coach Tony Bennett’s “Pack Line Defense”, which discourages the opposition from penetrating and getting inside the paint, had frustrated Zion Williams into only 8 field goal attempts and multiple turnovers and forced Duke to do what they statistically have done poorly–shoot threes. Duke ranks 317th — that’s is not a typo– 317th in the nation in three-point shooting, right between those national powerhouses Texas Rio Grande Valley and Jacksonville State. And Virginia has the top-ranked defense in the nation against three-pointers. In the previous game at Cameron, Duke made 2 of 17. However, RJ Barrett did his best James Harden (on a good night) impression. Yet, hitting an amazing 8-11 (73%), playing good defense, and the Blue Devils still were only up only four points at the break—and the water was rising.

Going into halftime, it certainly appeared to the packed, raucous John Paul Jones Arena that the Cavaliers had taken the Blue Devils best shot, shook it off, and definitely had the Big Mo going for them in the remaining twenty minutes. However, never underestimate Coach K ‘s halftime talks, which he should record for a motivational tape to be edited and sold at a later date as PG rated, and his adjustments. To become quicker and more flexible, Krzyzewski started the second half inserting Jack White for Marques Bolden. This change created more defensive quickness and more space for shooters like Cam Reddish, who responded by nailing three triples before the under-16 timeout to put Duke in front by 11.

No matter how talented, you never know how a young team will react to adversity on the road in a hostile ACC arena.  Tonight, the Blue Devils earned an A+. For every charge the Virginia team, which had not lost to any other team this year, made– and there were many– the Blue Devils had an answer. In the second half, Tre Jones (13 pts, 7 assists, 3 steals) did his best big brother Ty impression by scoring points only when they were most needed plus playing, relentless ball hawking defense. The strong commitment to defense is what separates this team from all of their recent talented, one-and-done predecessors. For instance, good defense produced steals and turnovers that led to 17 fast break points versus none for Virginia.

How is this for scoring: 26-18-17-13-5-2 (Unsurprisingly, a seven man rotation). You cannot underestimate what the improvement of Cam Reddish (17 pts, 3 assts, 2 blks, 3 steals) has meant to the team. As Johnny Tar Heel noted: “Cam is really tall and rangy and a great defender as well as having the best shooting stroke on the team”. Since his Florida State 23 point heroics, a rejuvenated Reddish has scored 9, 15, 7, 13, 16, 24, 17. (He missed the Syracuse loss with illness). Although Zion was frustrated by the Pack Line Defense, which limited his field goal attempts, he compensated by hitting a three to go with  5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks (one of which he closed from UNDER THE BASKET to spike a three point attempt from the corner into the stands.

The bottom line is that this was the best Duke has played since the opening win over Kentucky. However, it was much more impressive because Kentucky was never in that first win as Duke cruised from the opening tip and Virginia, which rarely loses at home under Coach Bennett, never, ever, stopped competing.

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • I have nothing but admiration for  Coach Bennett, who, defensively, is college basketball’s version of Patriot’s Coach Bill Belichick, and has turned Virginia into a powerful national program. Tonight, he took away the points in the paint, gambling that Duke could not make threes. Others will be doing the same—hopefully, not as well.
  • An indication of what Tre Jones’s defensive value means to the Blue Devils is that with Jones in the lineup, Duke leads the country in steal percentage (13.9). When he was out with an injury, their steal percentage dropped to 6 percent. He also leads the ACC in assists (5.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (4.8).
  • Among the packed John Paul Jones Arena of 14,629: LeBron James, Ralph Sampson, Rajon Rondo, Grant Hill, and John Grisham, who lives in Charlottesville. 

Alan adds: 

“OK, I have said all year that Virginia is better than Duke. I guess, I was wrong!”  This sentence was actually written by Bill because I have been saying that UVA was, for the moment, a better team than Duke (with a caveat that did not mean it would be true in March).  UVA is as good as any team in the country, and they played an absolutely superb game last night in their home arena.  Consider that Duke hit them as hard in the beginning (Barrett 5-5 from 3 in the first 10 minutes) as the Devils hit Kentucky in the season opener.  Kentucky was done and never even got into the game.  In contrast, the Cavaliers actually weathered the storm and staged a dramatic comeback in the last couple of minutes of the first half to be down only 4 (after trailing by 14) at the break.  Even Duke shooting 73% from 3 in the first half failed to crack UVA.  You have to credit the heart and soul of a team that can withstand what the Devils hit UVA with in the first half.   Even though Duke didn’t cool off much in the second half: shooting 56% from the field and 50% from deep (5-10), while playing outstanding defense, Virginia hung tough and never stopped competing.  The only way to measure the significance of the Duke performance in this game is to understand how truly excellent Virginia’s play was.  Duke was on the road (ACC road games) in a place where Virginia has a home court record almost as good as Duke’s at Cameron, playing the #3 team in the country.

Tellingly, in that situation, Virginia never had the ball in its possession with a chance to take the lead; and after Zion’s dunk followed Barrett’s opening 3, Virginia never, in the 38 remaining minutes, had the ball with a chance to just tie the game!  NEVER!  That’s an unusual type of domination in a highly competitive game.  It is one reason why I think this Duke performance was a difference in kind rather than just a difference in degree.  I think Coach K agreed based on the dreamy smile and outlook he displayed in the post-game press conference. “As good as the game in Durham was, this was better. I thought both teams played outstanding basketball tonight. It was tough to single out a kid. We were fortunate we won. It’s the best we’ve shot from the three-point, and obviously, it’s a huge difference. They’re outstanding, and we’re really good too and it was that game. We feel very thankful that we won. I’m proud of my guys, but we beat a heck of a team, and they’re a great program.”

Duke was a complete team where the whole exceeded the sum of the parts.  This may be the first game where all the contributions of each Duke starter felt so equal.  First, as Jay Bilas is beginning to recognize, this is not just a good defensive team; it is on its way to becoming a great defensive team.  They communicate and switch with few flaws.  Bolden (24 minutes) has morphed into a superb defender, allowing Duke to switch 1-5.  He was guarding Guy and Jerome on the perimeter and making those two amazing players work for their points.  Cam and R.J. are beginning to be recognized for their ability to guard, create deflections and make steals.  Zion is a major part of why Duke is among the NCAA leaders in both steals and blocks; he has been a highlight reel in both categories.  We don’t really need to say anything more about Tre’s defense – it has been all-world.  Duke does not suffer defensively when Jack White and DeLaurier, Duke’s only substitutes last night, come into the game.  Neither played much: (White 13 minutes —  5 in the first half;  DeLaurier 9 minutes – only 2 in the second half).  But their presence and performance are an integral part of the whole.

Everyone in the starting lineup made valuable contributions.  I received an email from a friend asking “Where was Zion?”.  You get an idea of how high the bar has been set when a stat line — scoring 18 points in 36 minutes on 8 field goal attempts (6-8; 1-1 from deep; 5-7 from the stripe) to with 5 rebounds, 5 assists (ponder that for a moment), 3 blocks (one drew this comment from the UVA coach, “only 2 people in the world could make a block like that and they were both in our gym tonight” – referring to LeBron sitting courtside) and 3 steals — produces “Where was Zion?”.

Part of Duke’s three point success was how open the shot attempts were – really clean looks.  Zion gets some of the credit for those clean looks, because UVA packed it in to keep Zion from exploiting the lane, as he did against them in Durham.  It worked forcing Zion into 5 turnovers, but it also cost them by giving Duke open looks from deep.  R.J. was superb last night in all aspects of the game.  He never came out of the game (full 40 minutes). He passes, he rebounds, and he is a great teammate.  At one point Zion had him open and turned it over before he could hit R.J. for an easy slam.  No mere, “my bad”; the two roommates hugged after that on the court.  Much of that type of “Three Musketeer” outlook underlies what is making this team special.  Coach K on R.J.: “he’s been disappointed [in himself even though he has been very good]. He wants to be great. He really had unbelievable preparation for this game, and you could see right away that he was lathered up. He got us off to such a good start.”   You can also see his experience in tight situations – gained in International competition —  giving Duke leadership in tight situations.  In my judgement, this was the game where Cam fully joined Zion and R.J. to realize the expectations from the top three high schoolers signing with Duke.  Finally, he was an equal partner in all aspects, he played solid defense and continued his upward trajectory on offense, with 17 points, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in 36 minutes.  At one point earlier in the season, we heard suggestions that Jack White should replace Cam in the starting lineup.  Don’t hear that anymore!  Coach K on Cam: “His defense has gotten so much better.  He’s just playing stronger. He was good before, but his shots weren’t strong. His whole game has gotten stronger. He went on a flurry for a little bit, which he can do. We see him getting better and better.”

And then there is Tre.  Announcers have taken up our refrain that Tre may not be the best player on the team, but he is the most important.  He is that, but I believe for this season (not NBA potential), he is also the best player on the team.  His second half was a microcosm that I believe justifies my outlandish opinion.  Like R.J., Tre never came out of the game.  While Duke was hot in the first half, Tre was the distributor, but not scorer (0 points on a single shot), but 5 assists and 4 rebounds.  We should appreciate what an elite rebounding guard Tre is and has been all season.  In the second half, Virginia was relentless, and Duke needed scoring.  Tre became the scorer that I believe, and we all hope, he really is.  He led Duke’s second half scoring with 13 points (4-7; 1-2 from deep; and a crucial 4-4 from the line.  He totaled 7 assists and 2 steals.  His heralded teammates recognize him as their leader.  He is really something!

Finally, let’s talk about heart.  The second half was a beautiful war.  Duke pushed its 4 point half time lead to 7 almost immediately.  From there the Duke lead fluctuated between 5 and 11.  With 12:20 left, UVA reduced the Duke lead to 5 when Tre answered with a 3.  Coach K said that every time the Cavaliers reduced the Duke lead to 2 possessions, a Duke player stepped up and answered.  A Tre jumper; foul shots by Bolden and R.J., a 3 by R.J., a layup by Bolden, another jumper by Tre, layups by Zion and clutch free throwing down the stretch by R.J. and Tre kept UVA from ever getting closer than 7 for the final five minutes of the game.

This week will be interesting.  UVA travels to Chapel Hill for a game worth watching on Monday and Duke faces Louisville (stung by an overtime loss to Florida State in Tallahassee) on Tuesday.  Is this fun or what!

Duke 71 – Louisville 69

 

 

 

I saw it but I still don’t believe it! For thirty minutes, #2 Duke was totally dominated in every phase of the game by #16 Louisville. The Cardinals were playing like the best team in the country to the delight of their raucous 22,000 fans in the KFC Yum! Center but to the chagrin of the 90 some Duke fans, their body language and posturing increasingly said: “This game is over”.

With ten minutes left and Duke down 23 points on the road with Zion Williamson saddled with four fouls, raise your hand if you didn’t think the Blue Devils were dead in the water without a motor or even a paddle. There was only one problem. One person raised his hand as well as his voice: Coach K. He said he didn’t believe the game was over. According to Zion, he said: “Look, you’re not losers, but you’re playing like losers. I don’t coach losers. Keep fighting”, substituted little used Jordan Goldwire, and switched to a full court 2-2-1 zone press. Suddenly, Duke looked like the team as advertised and Louisville looked like a scared, tentative pretender not a contender. What a transformation! No Cardinal player looked as though they wanted the ball, much less to shoot it. On the other hand, with time running out, on a secondary fast break RJ Barrett, who was having a rare off night (13 pts), casually dropped the ball between his legs to a trailing Cam Reddish, who pulled up and nailed an NBA three to tie the score.

Zion Williamson ( 27 pts, 12 rebs, 1 blk, 3 steals) was his usual amazing self but tonight Cam Reddish, with 16 of his 23 points in second half, was the scoring catalyst for the rally as well as the closing. His threes and final two free throws were stone cold Larry Bird type daggers to the heart of the shocked Louisville players and suddenly quite 22,000 of the 22,090 fans.

After hitting their first five threes and shooting 55% from the floor in Charlottesville on Saturday, Duke shot 25% threes and 37% from the floor as they faced their largest halftime deficit of the season at 38-29. When we talked at half time, Alan said that it certainly looked bad but (whistling in the dark) at least we have been a second half team.

What this win says to me is that this teams is talented, flexible, and tough enough to win a lot of different ways. They may not win the NCAA Championship but this was a win for the ages.

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • Coach K is a great motivator and a great bench coach. Substituting Goldwire and switching to a zone press was like substituting Grayson Allen in the Championship game against Wisconsin—a game  changer. At his press conference Coach K was very complimentary of Louisville head coach Chris Mack and his team and brutally honest as he gave credit to his Army training: “At West Point, one of things I learned as a cadet is this: Even when you don’t feel like it’s going to go your way, your men better not see that in you, and as a result, you can speak into action sometimes. I did think that we could play better. I was hoping we wouldn’t lose by 35—I’m not kidding, we could have. So, you’re talking positive, but I don’t believe it. Once that press was going, I said, ‘We’ve got a chance here. We can get it.’ But, at that point, I think I may have been telling them a lie.”
  • The dumbest (or most calculating as he did achieve several TV shots) person in the arena had to be the student with the sign: “Zion can’t dunk.”
  • This game, combined with the indelible memory of the Christian Laettner shot in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, makes Duke fans pretty much persona non grata in the entire basketball obsessed state of Kentucky.
  • Tonight, Duke went from “Hey, we can beat they guys.” to “Duke is ranked #2? That’s a misprint. These guys really are amazing!”

Alan Adds:

The comeback left me speechless.  Let’s go inside it.  It is true that the Blue Devils started to reduce the 23 point deficit with 9:13 left; that’s the headline, but it does not tell the true story.  Two minutes later Duke had only reduced the lead to 20.  It was far from clear that there was a comeback in progress, though you could feel the vibe on the court change.  Goldwire and the 2-2-1 zone were having an effect that was still subtle.  With 6:25 left, Duke still trailed by 19.  It was the next minute that transformed the game and brought hope, tension and a special kind of stirring excitement.   Zion scored inside – a 3 point play the old fashion way and Tre stole the ball for a layup.  Louisville called time out with its lead cut to 14.  The next sequence was wild.  Tre stole the ball (again) but had his layup spectacularly blocked at the rim.  The Cardinals corralled the rebound but not for long; Zion stole it back and was fouled.  He cut the lead to 12, making both free throws.  So, with 5:41 left, Duke was down 12.  Zion stole it again and fed R.J. for a superb finish at the rim.  Down 10 only.  It was in that minute and 8 seconds – from 6:25 to 5:17 – that the rout was transformed into a game with an uncertain outcome.   Of course, Zion was not done.  Down 12 again after a Cardinal 3, RJ. grabbed a key rebound and fed Zion who was fouled and swished them both to get back to a 10 point deficit.  Then came the unheralded play of the game for me.  Zion rebounded a Cardinal miss and took it the length of the floor.  His determination oozed out of the TV screen.  Louisville only sort of got back, and Zion challenged them.  He made a fake at high speed to open a lane into which he flashed for the score, and added the foul shot for another 3 point play reducing the deficit to a single digit – 7 with 4:13 left.  We all moved to the edge of our seats.  Reddish and McMahon of Louisville traded free throws (Reddish had been fouled while firing a 3 from deep – bad foul – and made two of his 3).  Duke down 7 with under 4 left.  The Cardinals got the rebound, but RJ. intercepted the pass and went the length of the court for his specialty, a strong finish at the rim.  Down 5 with 3: 44 left.  Zion stole it again and Cam made the Cardinals pay with a deep three, and Duke was within 2.  But with 2:31, the gifted Louisville point guard, Cunningham, fed the talented Nwora for a three; the Cardinals lead ballooned to 5 with only 2:31 left.  But the bloodlust was up for the Devils.  Jones stole the ball (again) and scored to cut the lead to one possession, 69-66 with 2:10 left.  And what a possession it was.

With 1:38 left, Tre grabbed a defensive rebound and passed ahead to RJ.  J. King of DukebasketballReport.com, chose the perfect adjective to describe R.J.’s pass to Cam.  R.J. made an “arrogantly casual” pass between his legs to Cam who was at least 5 feet behind the 3 point line.  No hesitation.  The pass said “I know you will nail this.”  Cam’s confidence in going up in rhythm almost like a ballet dancer said, “I know I’m going to nail this.”  Watching on TV, I knew he was going to nail it.  Cam’s teammates knew it also.  Nothing but net and a tie game with 1:29 to go.  Duke just couldn’t lose having come back this far, but the shots stopped falling – for both teams.  Reddish and Nwora traded missed 3s (Cam’s seemed almost like a “heat check” – not a good shot, but who could complain after the tying three).  With 45 seconds left, Goldwire grabbed a defensive rebound and Duke called time with 30 seconds left.  Cam drove into a collision (charge), but the Cardinal sneaker heel was in the restricted area; so the referees reviewed the play and overturned the charge call on the floor.  Cam dropped both free throws for the winning margin with 14 seconds left.  Goldwire defended the last Louisville shot and Zion, fittingly enough, grabbed the tough rebound to clinch the game.

The freshmen scored 68 of Duke’s 71 points [Zion, 27; Cam, 22; R.J., 13; and Tre 6].  Bolden scored 2 in only 12 minutes (2 in the second half) and DeLaurier 1 in 13 minutes.  Goldwire played 12 minutes overall, but a crucial 10 in the second half.  This comeback is, of course, the stuff of legends.  Two tough road wins against ranked teams.  The gauntlet continues at home with N.C. State on Saturday at 6pm (ESPN).  UNC next Wednesday at 9 pm (ESPN).

Duke 94 – North Carolina State 78

 

 

 

 

 

 

The good news is that the Blue Devils never trailed as they beat N.C. State for the first time since 2016. Zion Williamson had 32 points on 16 shots in just 30 minutes (they were -8 when he was not on the floor) and RJ Barrett had only the fourth triple double in Duke Basketball history (The others: Sheldon Williams, Gene Banks, and Rudy D’Emilio.) The bad news is that Duke “held” N.C. State, which scored just 24 points against Virginia Tech, to 78 points and never put them away.  But when they were good, the Blue Devils were flashes of very, very good, and when they were mediocre, they were very, mediocre. However, Tre Jones played 40 minutes, and, as usual, did not take one minute off. Tonight, in the last minute of a game already decided, Tre knocked the ball lose at half court, dove on the floor for it, and, on flat prone, passed to Jordan Goldwire for a lay-up.

One of the challenges tonight is that Zion was saddled with foul trouble for much of the game and only played 30 minutes. It appears the referees are not use to seeing a college basketball players make plays that Zion does, don’t believe what they are seeing, so are making some phantom calls or calls better ignored, because they do not affect the outcome of the play. Tonight, for instance, Williamson skied and torqued his body in a reverse “C” far above C.J. Bryce to snatch a rebound one handed. Bryce was not impeded, had no chance for the ball, and there was barely any contact but, nevertheless, Zion got called for the foul. Fortunately, Captain Jack White, who was substituted for Zion, broke out of a slump and contributed as he had in the beginning of the season. He started with an athletic chase-down block of a Johnson layup, followed by a cut to the basket for a dunk, and pulled down an offensive rebound in traffic before converting a put back to give Duke a double-digit lead with eight minutes left. The Australian forward then ran the floor on a three-on-one fast break to slam home an alley-oop off an assist from Barrett. Bolden( 9 pts, 8 rebs, 3blks, 4 stls) and DeLaurier 6 rebs, 3 blks, 2stls) were very active defensively as Duke controlled the glass, out-rebounding State 44-26, and a 17-2 edge on second-chance points. Cam Reddish was inconsistent: some very exciting creating drives but 1-7 from beyond the arc.

Coach Krzyzewski said his team is tired– back-to-back road games plus Barrett and Bolden have been sick this week.

Miscellaneous Comments:

Mike Krzyzewski became the all-time winningest college basketball coach on Saturday with 1,123 career wins. Mike was tied with McKendree legend Harry Statham for the most wins in college basketball history. He  already had the most NCAA victories of any basketball coach, as a portion Statham’s 1,122 wins came in the NAIA (The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) a college athletics association for small colleges and universities), not the NCAA.

Kentucky dominated  #1 Tennessee 86-69 at Rupp Arena. I don’t pay much attention to polls but the last time I looked at the Coaches Polls,  #2 Duke only received 2 first place votes. Tennessee, which until tonight has played the easiest schedule of any top team received all the others—a little bit of coach’s envy?

Johnny Tar Heel mentioned he was surprised that Coach K had not employed the full court zone press more often this year as UCLA Coach John Wooden had done in 1964 & 1965 winning the first two of his ten NCAA Championships. We recalled that that he had only one tall (at that time) player, Keith Erickson, who was  6’4”, but a world class volleyball player, and very skilled, quick players, like Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich, who caused havoc with taller but less agile opponents. As a matter of fact, in the 1964 NCAA Finals, the Bruins zone press  was instrumental in beating the Jeff Mullin led Duke  98-83. His point was that the pressing defense played right into the strengths of both teams then and now.

Because of Zion Williams sensational athleticism and skill set plus his precocious teammates, this Duke team is the face of college basketball  both in person and on television. Tonight, Boxer Floyd Mayweather was sitting directly behind the Duke bench and next to former Blue Devils guard Quinn Cook. Among other NBA players in attendance was Minnesota’s Tyus Jones, the older brother of the current Duke point guard, Grayson Allen, Lance Thomas, Tyus Jones, Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook and Gary Trent Jr., who have all played for Duke this decade, as well as Phoenix’s T.J. Warren, a Durham native and former N.C. State star. When asked about it, Williamson modestly commented: ”I think that’s just the Duke effect. You’ve got to understand, (Mike Krzyzewski) is the greatest coach of all time, so a lot of people want to just come and experience Cameron. We appreciate Floyd and especially the former players who came back, because you know, they’re part of the brotherhood.”

“As great a basketball player as he is, he’s a better person,” said Brennan Besser, a fourth-year Duke walk-on guard who graduated from Chicago’s Latin School. “I’ve seen a number of unbelievably talented players who are now in the NBA, and he is the first teammate to leverage his star power to create a more equitable space for everyone on the team. Zion does this in a number of ways: by including Buckmire, a little-used guard, in interviews. By giving teammates such as Besser a shout out in Duke-produced (“Duke Blue Planet”) videos. Duke recruits great players. A lot of times these guys are very basketball-centric. Zion is the most multidimensional player and friend that I’ve come across. It creates a culture where everybody feels loved. He does it because he’s a nice guy and he knows that if he were a walk-on, he’d want to be treated that way. He has that sixth sense. He cares about other people.”

Alan Adds: 

This 16 point win was a much better win than it seems on the surface.  On the surface, Duke won at home against a Wolfpack team that is not contending for the ACC title.  But, this was a situation where very good teams have lost.  Duke is playing a six game stretch that is beyond difficult.  Last week, the Devils had their two best wins of the season, beating UVA on the road and creating the “Comeback of the Year” on Louisville’s home court.  Both R.J. and Bolden were sick, and Coach K said his team was “tired”.

In those difficult circumstances, Duke’s lead was never less than 7 and was frequently in double figures.  Defensively, Duke gave up the lanes to stop the 3.  (State was 1-9 in the first half).  When Duke doubled onto the ball handler to drive him off the 3 point line, the roll man was open.  State was scoring with the roll man or the roll man making the next pass that enabled State to score 78 points.  Not a defensive gem in total, but many defensive gems – none better than Jack White chasing down an open fast break with a LeBron-like block from behind, racing full court.  Duke dominated the backboards, outrebounding State 44-26.  Barrett had 11 (9 defense); he has been a stalwart had deterring other teams offensive rebounding.  Bolden had 8 in 22 minutes; Cam had 7, while both Javin (in 13 minutes) and Zion (in 30), had 6.

You cannot complain about an offense that score 94 points (48 in the first half).  Duke played excellent half-court offense.  R.J. had a stat line for the ages (23 points; 10 assists and 11 boards).  He seemed to find Zion consistently – almost all of his 10 assists were to his roommate.  Coach K pointed out how young he is (reclassified; he could still be in high school), and how he is still so advanced.  R.J. won the national high school championship last year and is on the Canadian National Team (the only non-NBA player on it).  Zion picked up his fourth foul (again) with 12:50 left to play.  He did not return to the game until 6:18 remained.  Then, he scored 13 in those last minutes.  Other than some missed free throws in the second half, he was a beast for whom the Wolfpack had no answer.  He scored 32 points in 30 minutes of action (12-16; 0-1 from deep; and 8-13 from the line).  Four turnovers, but 3 steal (0 blocks).

The shot distribution is evening out: R.J. 17, Zion 16, Cam 15, and Tre 9.  Jack White was 3-4 in 14 minutes.  He may have broken out of his slump.  Cam was off (2-15; 1-7 from deep; 4-5 from the line).  He had a 4 point play early on his only made 3.  He played well; just did not shoot well.  Tre was wonderful with 5 assists and only 1 turnover.   He scored 13 (6-9; 1-3).  He had 2 steals.  The last one captured the spirit of this team in a play.  There were only a few seconds left in the game that Duke led by a lot, when Tre dived to create a steal and made a pass to Goldwire for the layup as the game ended.  I thought that play was what this team is about both on and off the court.  Jack King of Dukebasketballreport.com, wrote, “But no matter what happens on the court, these guys are the best representation of Duke basketball and what most of us would like it to be since Shane Battier graduated, and you just can’t pay a much higher compliment than that.”

UNC in Cameron on Wednesday at 9 pm (EST) on ESPN

Duke 72-  North Carolina 88 

 

 

 

On the first possession of the game, millions of people saw Zion Williamson slip into a split and go down clutching behind his right knee, then looked incredulously at his exposed left foot protruding from his exploded Nike sneaker– the game, the season, and, possibly, his career, flashed before everyone’s eyes. At the time, reaching for his MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) not his ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) combined with the fact that he walked unassisted to the locker room with only a slight limp indicated, hopefully, that the injury was not as serious as first feared. This was somewhat confirmed after the game by Mike Krzyzewski stating that  Zion Williamson has a “mild knee sprain” and that his knee is “stable.” He did not yet know how long Williamson be out. However, a note of caution–the knee has yet to be thoroughly examined. But Zion remained in the locker room with his parents for the entire game and if the prognosis was serious, one would think he would have gone straight to the Duke Hospital.  No matter the case, there will be endless discussion about whether Zion should risk playing college basketball again. If he listens to Scotty Pippen advice, his career at Duke is over—why put your career at risk?

One way to explain what transpired for the next two hours is that Duke’s players were emotionally devastated by the seeing their seemingly indestructible superstar suddenly struck down. However, the blunt truth is that it made crystal clear that Zion means much more than just 25 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 4 steals (or whatever) to the team and without him, tonight they were are a shell of what they were with him. Barrett (33) and Reddish (27) aside, there was no offensive threat: Jones 1-11, Bolden 0-1,  White 0-5,  O’Connell 0-4  Goldwire 0-3. For whatever reason, these players did not step into the breach. Maybe, this is one of the weaknesses of relying on multiple one-and-done players. Maybe, the bench players are just not that good. At times, White and O’Connell have produced. Goldwire can play defense but he is an offensive liability. He is 1-23 for 3’s. Going forward, I am confident we will see a much more competitive Duke team than the one we saw tonight.

As they say in the service: “Sh*t happens. Deal with it!” The Blue Devils didn’t but Coach Williams and his  players did as we would expect—ruthlessly and efficiently. The Carolina Way carried the day—and looked terrific doing it. Ol’ Roy had his players ready to play and the two seniors, Luke May (30) and Cam Johnson(26)  surgically dissected what passed as a Duke defense.  Every time Duke mounted a mini-run at the deficit, they either self-destructed — a missed foul shot, a charge, a turnover or Carolina countered with the fundamentally solid basketball we have come to associate with them over these decades as evidenced by the stats– Duke had only 9 assists, a  season high 20 turnovers, and lost the rebounding battle 46-41. Actually, it could have been a lot worse. Carolina uncharacteristically only hit 2-20 (10%) from three point land but it didn’t matter because their surgical passing and solid fundamentals made them lethal in the paint.

Whatever the case, I am confident Coach K will have a game plan and a better prepared team until or if Zion returns. 

Miscellaneous Comments: 

While Zion is amazing, how many people blow out a sneaker? Admittedly, I am not fan of Nike shoes. I stopped wearing them decades ago after injuring my Achilles tendon playing tennis. Carlos, Boozer, Elton Brand, Ryan Kelly (2x), Seth Curry, Kyrie Irving, Emile Jefferson (2x), Zion Williamson  all have endured foot, heal, toe, ankle or knee injuries wearing Duke’s Nike shoes.

There had been rumors that the bidding for a Zion’s shoe contract would be over $100,000,000. Puma Basketball tweeted a snarky post (quickly deleted): “Never would have happened in Pumas.”

Celebrities were out in numbers: President Obama with his former aid and former Duke football/basketball player, Reggie Love, Spike Lee, Ken Griffey, Jr, Todd Gurley, Greg Olson. Tickets were scalped from $3,000 to $10,000—no refunds.

Alan Adds:

I am in Los Angeles and left for dinner (with my non basketball fan / hostess) right after the game, trying to keep a brave face in order to facilitate a pleasant evening.  My heart soared as I walked into the restaurant (with a TV over the bar) and saw the ESPN tape that had the words “mild sprain”.  The word “mild” salvaged what had been a nightmare of a game  to watch.  Coach K said, “We are drawing no conclusions from this game except that we lost.”  We have to figure out the plan for going forward without Zion; we do not know for how long.”  Carolina played superb basketball; best of the year.  I believe they would have beaten any team the way they played – passing, attacking the rim; stealing the ball (usually just after Duke had made a steal), aggressive on the glass, and defending.  Duke had NO ANSWERS.  But they do have a re-match left.

Coach K lauded his team for playing hard – especially in the last 16 minutes – though by then Duke was down 22.  Duke never reduced the lead significantly (down to 13 with a little over two minutes left to play was the closest the Devils got).  The offense relied on RJ, Cam, and going one-on-one.  But no other teammates stepped up to make it a team offense.  Tre was hustling and defending, but was not the scorer that Duke needed him to be.  Besides RJ and Cam, everyone else flamed out badly.  The defense was beyond horrible (though UNC’s offense deserves much credit).  The ‘Heels pounded the lane and finished consistently at the rim.

It is the only game so far that Duke was never competitive.  The shooting was horrible.  Duke was stuck on 17 (points scored) from 10:06 until only 5:24 remained in the first half.  With 2:12 left in the first half, Duke trailed by 9.  :41 seconds later, Duke had the ball, trailing by only 5.  R.J. missed an open 3 that would have cut the lead to 2 with 1:19 left.  But, he missed.  DeLaurier committed 2 fouls in 20 seconds and Cam turned it over that gave Carolina an easy deuce and a 10 point half time lead.

But the nightmare of a season ending knee injury to Zion is evaporating.  “Mild sprain”!  There are five regular season games remaining – Syracuse and Virginia Tech on the road are next, the last two games of “the gauntlet”.  Duke returns to Cameron for games against lesser teams – Miami and Wake – after running the 6 game gauntlet (so far 3-1).  The final game against UNC in Chapel Hill on March 9 assumes (at least in my mind) a much greater importance after last night’s spanking by UNC.

Duke, UVA and UNC are tied at the top of the ACC with 11-2 records.

Zion is out for a while.  NEXT PLAY.

 

Duke 75 – Syracuse 65

 

Mayday! Mayday!

Coming off the game against North Carolina in which Duke lost Zion Williamson and all the other Blue Devil players except Barrett, Reddish, and DeLaurier played like walk-ons, this game in front of a record 36,642 emotional fans was a test of nerve and resiliency. Most of us were confident that Coach K would have his team well prepared. He started Alex (AOC)* O’Connell for Zion (OMG) Williamson’s spot and DeLaurier, who had not started in a month but has played well in off the bench, for Marques Bolden, who has been inconsistent. OK, that makes sense. Then, what’s up with this?  Has Coach K morphed into Captain Queeg? His first substitutes where little used big man Antonio Vrankovic and presumed red shirt Joey Baker, who has not played a minute in a real game this year. That didn’t last long. If you blinked you missed their cameos. Co-Captain Jack White, who played so well for the first month of the season but who has missed 25 straight threes, never left the bench and Marques Bolden didn’t either until deep into the second half. He apparently got the message, because Marques was magnificent in his ten minutes down the stretch with 8 rebounds and 4 points. DeLaurier, whose athleticism, quickness, and fight are his strengths, and Bolden combined for 15 rebounds, as Duke edged Syracuse on the boards 44-40.

Patiently, almost casually, as is his style, RJ Barrett carried the team with 30 points, 17 of which were in first half when he had little offensive help, 5 rebounds, & 7 assists. Reddish shot was again on vacation (5 pts) but his defense was not. Tre guarded Syracuse’s much bigger  Battle, who had 16 points but was only 4-of-17 from the field. And while Tre hit his first three pointer, then missed his next 5 but recovered to go 6-6 from the free throw line when the game was on the line. Fortunately, it was Alex O’Connell who stepped up big time with 20 points (17 in the second half) to play Robin to RJ’s Batman as Duke outscored Syracuse 46-31 in the second twenty minutes. It was not a flawless performance but it was a gutsy, critical one.

At half time, Alan reminded me that Duke was a second half team, often because of Coach K’s halftime adjustments. Both Carolina and Syracuse dared a reluctant Tre Jones to shoot a three from too top of the key. So, to start the half, Coach had Tre rather than R.J. flash from the side to the high post. Tre is obviously much more comfortable with that shot and once he made a few of those, the zone started to collapse. It helped open up AOC, who  was primed to shoot. Once that was established, RJ was able to do more work in the soft interior of the Syracuse zone. It also helped that all the players remembered that quick ball movement combined with ball fakes is the best way to beat a zone. The Blue Devils had 13 turnovers. There were a half-dozen lobs that normally would’ve gone to Zion for dunks that instead were misfires. Those are great passes when Zion is playing, not so much when he is not.

Krzyzewski cited two key sequences in the second half. The first came with Duke down 43-41, about five minutes into the half. DeLaurier dug out a couple of tough balls from an offensive rebound scrum, eventually finding O’Connell open in the corner. AOC buried the three, drew a foul and completed the four-point play. Syracuse tied it at 50 but never again led. The second came with Duke up 58-56. With only two seconds left on the shot clock, Barrett somehow created space with a ball fake and hit the three-pointer.

Miscellaneous Comments: 

  • Talking to Johnny Tar Heel after the game, he said that he has always admired Coach K’s ability to identify a hot player—think Andre Dawkins and Grayson Allen—but often wondered why he has not played Alex O’Connell more. His assessment is that Alex has too many skills, especially scoring the ball, not to be a valuable sixth or seventh man this year and a star next year. He just need minutes to get experience and confidence. I said that apparently it is his defense—and you know how coach is: If you do not play solid defense, you don’t play. “Well, that’s fine,” he replied, “but you all are by far the worst three point shooting team in virtually all of Division I basketball—some of your guys can’t hit the ocean from a boat–  and it could cost you the Championship. Besides, I’ll trade threes for twos all day long.” We finally agreed it was probably AOC finally settling on a military style haircut that got him on the floor.
  • Speaking of shooting, Duke has become a pretty good free throw shooting team. Tonight, they were 14-16 and are now shooting 70% for the season.
  • I don’t have any inside information and I do not want to start any rumors, but one possible reason the decision was made to blow Joey Bakers red shirt year is that watching Zion walk off the floor, he appeared to be favoring his right leg, so he may be out longer than a game or two. In any event, to run the table Duke has to score better from three point land and Baker is one of their best shooters.
  • When asked if he wanted to make the trip to Syracuse, Zion said: “Of course I do. I want to be with my guys.” 
  • Duke is always a huge draw on the road. Tonight’s game was played before a crowd of 35,642, which established a new record for the largest attendance for an on-campus NCAA college basketball game.
  • *AOC = Alex O’Connell. Not to be confused with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the congressperson from New York’s 14th congressional district.

Alan Adds:

I am ecstatic over Duke’s performance last night in circumstances that could easily have produced a second straight loss while Duke is playing without Zion.  This was as good a coaching job as Coach K has produced in his Hall of Fame career.  The circumstances were daunting.  First, and perhaps foremost, the emotional support for Coach Boeheim after his innocent involvement in the fatal traffic accident had the arena and the Orangemen on an even higher emotional plane than the normally high emotional plane for this encounter.  Second, (but also maybe foremost), Duke totally collapsed last Wednesday on both ends of the floor against Carolina after Zion’s injury took him out of that game.  Coach K said that Thursday was one of the worst 24 hours of his Duke career.  Zion’s injury produced an avalanche of sports news and commentary that focused on the whole issue of amateurism in college revenue sports and the role of the shoe companies and player exploitation.  His team had been, in his words, totally knocked back.  He spoke with each of the players individually and with the 3 freshmen stars collectively.

Difficult circumstances.

In that difficult situation, what is beyond remarkable is this post-Zion team found its own identity in the second half.  After stumbling through the UNC game and the first half against Syracuse (only 29 points, and being destroyed off the backboard), Duke regrouped and became Duke again, scoring 46 points and holding Syracuse to 31 while regaining control of both backboards.  In the first half, Duke hung around because R.J. Barrett was All-World.  He scored 17 (8-11; 1-2 from deep) of Duke’s 29 points. but got no help on offense — Javin had 4 (1-3), Tre (1-6; 1-5 from deep) and Alex (1-2 from deep) each scored 3, while Cam was held to 2 (1-7; 0-5 from deep). Duke defended well … until Syracuse missed the first shot.  Syracuse’s lead was built almost exclusively on second chance points after Orange retrieved offensive rebounds.  Javin played 15 minutes; Bolden only 2.  Coach K put Vrankovik in for 3 minutes to help off the defensive board.  He also played Joey Baker hoping to give Duke some outside shooting.  Nada.

Let’s talk about the second half where this team forged its new identity.  R.J., Alex, Tre and Cam each played all 20 minutes.  Javin logged 12 minutes (committing 4 fouls, grabbing 4 boards and scoring a point on 0-2; and 1-2 from the line), while Bolden came alive in the final minutes grabbing 7 rebounds in his 8 minutes; 6 of them in the final 6 minutes of the game, where he turned into a star.  He was also 1-1 on a key dunk and 2-2 from the line at game’s end for 4 points.  The team found its identity because everyone contributed, but nobody contributed more than Alex O’Connell.  Alex scored 17 second half points to lead Duke (5-7; 4-6 from deep; and a critical 3-3 from the line) to go with 3 rebounds and a steal.  Coach K said he was also instrumental in Duke defense.  He helped hold Howard scoreless in the second half even though Howard played 16 minutes.  Battle, who destroyed Duke in Durham was held in check by Tre’s ferocious defense.  RJ, who usually guards on the perimeter played superb interior defense, guarding Brissett, who scored only 7.  K rightly deemed RJ’s performance as “spectacular”.  He scored 13 in the final stanza (6-9; 1-3 from deep).  That 3 was critical with the shot clock winding down.  He also dished out 5 assists and got 3 tough rebounds.  Alex was absolutely superb. By far his finest game at Duke. Tre added 8 points (1-6 from the field, but 6-6 from the line).  Alex, RJ and Tre scored 38 of Duke’s 46 second half points.  While Cam had a terrible offensive game (2-11; 1-8 from deep) for 5 points, he was a very valuable contributor.  He played all 40 minutes, grabbing 7 boards and playing absolutely phenomenal defense. RJ and Cam protected Duke’s defensive board in the second half.  Bolden went wild on the boards down the stretch and ended up leading Duke in rebounding in only 10 minutes with 8.

With 15:15 left in the game, Duke took its first lead – 44-43 on Alex’s 4 point play.  Syracuse never led again, though the score was tied at 50 with 12:46 left before Duke began to slowly pull away.  Duke led by 1 with 10:29 left when the Devil’s run started.  Alex hit a 3; RJ hit a jumper before the Orange scored.  Hughes made two free throws, cutting the lead to 58-56 with 6:43 left when Bolden entered the game and changed it by dominating the boards.  R.J. hit his clutch 3; Alex stole the ball for a dunk; and Tre fed R.J. for a dunk that gave Duke a 9 point lead (65-56) with 4:19 left.  Battle made 2 free throws to cut the lead to 7 with just under 3 minutes left.  Then, Bolden made his play of the game after grabbing a slew of rebounds.  With two minutes left, he grabbed an offensive rebound got the ball to Barrett, who got it back to Bolden for the dunk that locked up the game.  In the last two minutes, Duke preserved its lead by hitting its last 8 foul shots – 4 by Tre; 2 by Alex and 2 by Bolden.

It was a very significant win for Duke under adverse conditions.  Players and Coaches should justifiably feel pride in this accomplishment.

 

Duke 72- Virginia Tech 77 

You could feel this coming since the last thirty-nine minutes of the North Carolina game. As talented as Duke’s freshmen are and as hard as every player competes, it is crystal clear that the team and the role players had some weaknesses—shooting threes, free throws, and defensively– that Zion Williamson’s transcendental talents obscured and the grind of a long campaign has magnified. With Zion on the floor, the team is +13, when he is not on the floor, they are +3.  For instance, Kerry Blackshear, a multi-talented center, was the difference tonight. But with Zion in the game, there is no way he goes 7-11 for 23 points and 10 rebounds. However, this loss should come as no surprise. It is the third consecutive Virginia Tech win over Duke in Blacksburg.

Gonzaga, Syracuse, and especially Carolina showed opponents how to play Duke. Drop a defender off Tre Jones, who appears to be running on fumes and is not the defensive lynchpin and disrupter he was earlier in the season, daring him to shoot, jam the lane, and double RJ and Reddish. Marquis-DeLaurier combine for flexibility at center. Tonight, they had 15 pts, 6 rebs, 3 blks against a lethal center and blocked out well enough for Duke to hold their own on the boards (29-28). However, uncharacteristically, the Devils had 12 turnovers and allowed 6 steals—that’s not Duke basketball. RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish  combined for 38 points but Bolden was the only other player in double figures. To their credit, the team has become a decent free throw shooting team that is no longer leaving a lot of those points off the board but they are still inconsistently subpar scoring threes. In this day and age, that is a lot to overcome.

Usually, at this time of the season, Duke’s rotation and roles are clearly defined. Zion’s injury combined with co-captain Jack White’s sudden inability to shoot a three accurately apparently scrambled that. Jack can play defense but has not hit a three point shot in the month of February. Alex O’Connell is the best three point shooter on the team but is vulnerable defensively. He was invaluable in the comeback against Syracuse but was in and out of the lineup tonight and only scored 6 points (on two shots). If you blinked, you missed former red shirt freshman Joey Baker’s one minute cameo.

It was amazing that Duke was still in the game until Ty Outlaw drilled an wide open  3-pointer from the corner with 1:20 left. Congratulations to Virginia Tech. They are a talented, veteran team with few weaknesses, playing without their injured, talented point guard, and were ahead most of the way. They certainly deserved the win.

On top of everything else, RJ Barrett, who was suffering from a stomach virus, only had four first half points but after getting sick at halftime, recovered for a stellar second half performance. It is not inaccurate to point out that given the brutal stretch of schedule  for Duke, multiple Saturday, away Tuesday games, this  the only away game they have lost all season. Beyond  Zion’s availability, the question is: Can the team—and I think Tre Jones’ defense may be the key to this– recover and play their best basketball for the tournament runs. The game with  North Carolina, which is playing their best basketball, in Chapel Hill will certainly be a good indication.

Alan Adds:

The Gauntlet finally got Duke!  The six games that Duke would play from February 9 to February 26 – four of them on the road (against 3 ranked teams) + UNC and NC State at home plus last night final gauntlet game, constitute the gauntlet context.  It is within that context that the loss to the Hokies needs to be analyzed.  The pundits agreed that no team had faced such a gauntlet this year, and maybe not ever.  Duke was superb in the first 3 games of the gauntlet, scoring significant wins at UVA and at Louisville (The Comeback) before beating NC State at home.  The Devils were on an amazing roll until 33 seconds into the Carolina game.  Not only was Zion lost for the remainder of the gauntlet, but the publicity surrounding the injury, Nike reputation, amateurism in college sports, and the fact that the team had just been blown out in disarray after Zion’s injury made for an unprecedented difficulty in an already tough situation.  This Duke team (without Zion) found its identity and played a superb second half to take down Syracuse on the road in the fifth gauntlet game.  Then came last night – the final gauntlet game in what has historically been a uniquely difficult venue for Duke.  The Blue Devils were the only team in the country that was undefeated in true road games before losing last night.

Kudos go to Buzz Williams and his Hokies.  Williams had his team ready to play Duke with a great game plan.  He was willing to give up corner 3s in order to keep Duke out of the lane.  When Tre (1-4) and Jack White (0-3; what a disastrous shooting slump) could not make the corner 3, Duke’s offense was in trouble.   Add R.J.’s 1-6 from deep, and Buzz’s strategy was successful.  The Hokie offense depended on good ball handling and an unstoppable Blackshear in deep.   So what follows is not meant to deprive Virginia Tech of credit for playing a great game.  Duke did not lose so much as Virginia Tech won.  Duke played hard and fought back all night.  Duke tied the game on a superb dunk by Bolden at 70 with 1:51 left.   Outlaw hit a wide open 3 when Alex left him wide open, ostensibly to help down low if the ball went to Blackshear.  It is that kind of defensive mistake that has limited Alex’s minutes in spite of his being the best long range shooter on the team.  Twenty seconds later, Cam had a wide open 3 to tie, but he missed.  The game was that close.

However, in my judgment, the gauntlet had taken its toll.  Duke seemed tired to me.  The tell-tale stat is how few turnovers the defense forced; how few deflections Duke caused (compared to their normal games).  There was just a spring in the step that seemed a split second delayed.  I thought that showed in the second half when Duke began fouling at an alarming rate.  Duke committed only 5 fouls in the first half; 14 in the second half.  The Hokies won the game from the free throw line in the closing stanza going 16-19 (23-29 for the game).  Not only did Duke fail to force turnovers, as it has done all season, but Duke also turned the ball over (one more turnover than assist).  Tre had 3 and shot 3-9 from the floor.  He looks worn out to me.  Duke needs his shooting – especially with Zion out.  Teams are allowing him open looks, which he has to start making.  He was a good shooter in high school last year.  Being worn out may be the reason he is missing open shots.

The Gauntlet is now behind Duke, and though Duke lost 2 of the 6 (2-3 without Zion), both Coach K and I think the team was heroic in this stretch.  Duke finally comes home for rejuvenation – Miami on Saturday (March 2) and Wake next Tuesday (March 5) before the season finale in Chapel Hill on March 9.  Duke is now in third place in the conference, and unless someone beats UVA (and Duke beats UNC on the road), there will be no regular season ACC championship this year.   Still the UNC game looms very large after the humiliation Duke suffered at Cameron.

And there still are a couple of tournaments coming up that should hold our interest.

Duke 87 – Miami 57 

Captain Jack’s back !!!  Freshmen celebrate co-captain Jack White’s three.

There is nothing like being back home in familiar surroundings, sleeping in your own bed, and playing an overmatched opponent in front of the Cameron Crazies to find that winning feeling. The Blue Devils mojo was working so well that Jack  White not only ended his streak of 28 consecutive missed 3-point shots dating all the way back to Jan. 12, but he also actually hit three in a row. (Before his mysterious slump, Jack was the most accurate three point shooter on the team.) However, it was the defense led by Tre Jones (6 steals, 6 pts, 6 assists) on Cris Lykes (1-5, 4 pts, 4 to’s), one of the leading scorers in the ACC, who torched us last year that energized the offense by disrupting the Hurricane offense and creating open court opportunities for the Devils. In addition, the half-court offense was effective as both BJ and Cam spelled Tre Jones at the point and that led to balanced scoring (19-19-15-11-9-6-6). Bolden and O’Connor appear to have benefited from Zion’s absence as they are both are playing with much more confidence. And that’s important because, as RJ said: “We’re waiting for him to come back, but meanwhile we’ve got to figure out how to win games.”

And on Zion Williamson’s return, Mike Krzyzewski offered the same glass-half-full, glass-half-empty explanations we’ve had since Zion  injured his knee. There was never a chance he was going to play today. He’s getting better and moving well. It’s still a question of when, not if. But he hasn’t practiced yet, there are no time pressures, and Duke isn’t going to play him until he’s one hundred percent.

Miami Head Coach Jim Larranaga a very good coach. However, his cupboard is rather bare this year and  this was the worst defeat in his tenure at Miami.  “That was a disappointing performance for us. I thought Duke played really well, their pressure defense really bothered us from the start.” On whether the team was overwhelmed: “I hadn’t seen that before. We’ve played at Syracuse, at Carolina, at Louisville, and we were fine, but here, I don’t know if we were just too jacked up or what, but we couldn’t make simple plays and it ended up a disaster.”

Alan Adds:

Miami is just not a very good basketball team.  We were privileged to watch a very good basketball team explode in the first half on an inferior team in a fashion so dramatic as to take our Devilish breath away.  Duke had been rocked by the Virginia Tech loss, the final gauntlet game, where the Blue Devils appeared to me to be exhausted.  The loss probably cost Duke a chance at the regular season ACC title, and – this is true – perhaps a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  If Duke loses to UNC on March 9 and does not win the ACC tournament, Gonzaga, UVA, UNC, Kentucky/and or Tennessee (whoever wins the SEC tournament) will be the top seeds.  But Duke finally got a chance to practice and make a game plan that did not include Zion.  If Duke can play like this against top competition, it won’t matter what the seeding is.

Krzyzewski credited the defense and time to practice.  “We finally had some practice. We had two really good days of practice, especially our defense. Our defense was outstanding. Everyone helped us. However, Tre’s defense of Lykes was the starting point. We scored on defense. We had transition and it lent itself to guys getting shots. Overall, it was the defense that set the tone.”

The tone was set in a first half where Duke played an almost perfect game.  Duke led 47-19 at the close of the first stanza, and put together a final 8 and a half minutes that were absolutely pure, outscoring the ‘Canes 29-8.  With 8:18 left in the half, and Duke’s lead at 18-11, the onslaught began.  Duke’s defense triggered steals, while  the team moved the ball as if it were a ballet company.  RJ had 4 assists, Tre had 3 and Reddish 2 in that brief period.  Tre had 4 steals in that stretch.  The first one led to an RJ bucket, assisted by Reddish.  Tre stole the ball and fed (an assist) O’Connell for a layup. Alex followed the layup with a three assisted by Tre.  Reddish hit a three with an assist from RJ.  Alex hit another 3 with another assist from Tre.  RJ scored on a drive and followed that with a nifty pass to Bolden for a dunk.  Tre stole the ball, passed to RJ, who fed Bolden for another deuce.  Along the way RJ made 4 free throws and Cam made two.  Tre got another steal, and Reddish got another assist when he fed Bolden for a bucket.  Then, Reddish dropped yet another 3 point bomb off a nifty assist from RJ. The 28th and 29th points came on an RJ layup after Bolden hauled in another rebound to close out a brilliant half and an almost perfect 8 and a half minute stretch.  Miami scored only 8 points in that stretch and only 19 in the entire half.  No wonder Coach K lauded the defense.

Human nature eroded Duke’s defense somewhat in the second half, but Duke’s lead never dipped below 21 and got as high as 32.  Let’s look more closely at the delicious first half, where the starters logged virtually all the minutes.  There were cameos by Baker (1 minute) and Goldwire (2 minutes).  The co-captains made only brief appearances – White (4 minutes and his first 3 pointer since late January) and DeLaurier (5 minutes, 2 rebounds, a block but he committed 2 fouls in that five minutes).  Otherwise it was all the starters – Tre, RJ, and Cam each played 19 minutes.  Alex logged 16 while Bolden played 15 scintillating minutes (his best of the season, I thought).  Alex and Marquis were a combined 8-10 (Alex was 4-5; 1-2 from 3land with 3 boards; Marquis was 4-6 – including a missed 3; what was he thinking? – to go with 5 rebounds and 2 steals).  Each scored 9 first half points.  That is outstanding support from the role players.  Tre didn’t score in the first half, but neither did Lykes, who was absolutely hounded by Tre into 0-8 shooting and 3 turnovers.  RJ and Cam each scored 13 first half points.  RJ was 5-10; 0-2 from deep; and 3-4 from the line to go with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.  Critically, he played point forward, who started the offense at the top with the ball (the role usually played by Tre).  It was an interesting change, perhaps forced by Tre’s shooting woes, the desire to let him spend his energy on the defense of Lykes, and/or by R.J.’s superior ability to penetrate where he can either score or dish.  It is hard for anyone to play a better game than RJ did in the first half against Miami.  Cam was almost as good.  He made one spin move and drive for a layup that no one – but no one — else on the court had the capability of executing.  You got an idea of just how good Cam can be.  He was 4-8; 2-4 from deep with his only ding being 3 missed free throws – 3-6.  He had 3 boards, 2 assists and a block.

The Miami game was just what the doctor ordered for the Blue Devils as the team revived after running the six game gauntlet – without Zion for four of them.  Hopefully, Wake (having a truly dismal season) will cooperate on Senior Night next Tuesday.

After that, the games that will end up defining this fascinating season will begin with the regular season finale against UNC before it is tournament time.

Duke 71 –  Wake Forest 70

This was Senior Night in Cameron but Duke played like freshmen and did just about everything they could to lose the game including, but not limited to, stepping onto the court with the ball after a made basket with 7 seconds to go for a turnover that handed Wake a last point blank shot which danced around the rim and defied gravity by not falling in for the upset of the year. Except for the three minute rally from ten points down with sixteen minutes to go to tie the score, the Blue Devils were less than impressive especially when they had the opportunity to decisively put Wake away. We have commented all year about foul shooting being their Achilles Heel that could cost them dearly. Well, tonight it almost did. RJ Barrett’s 28 points carried a sluggish offense all night but he missed 8 free throws, 3 in the last minute, as well as committing 7 turnovers. Except for two second half threes, Cam Reddish was rendered a non-factor. He accomplished something you rarely see—committing three charging fouls in the first half. With Zion out, Cam is the second option but must be on the floor. Only Tre Jones (13pt. 8reb. 3stl.) hitting all four of his free throws down the stretch and co-captain Jack White, who hit 3 threes and had 9 rebounds, but made the careless turnover in the last 7 seconds that almost handed the game to the Demon Deacons on a silver platter, brought much intensity to the floor.

As Johnny Tar Heel reminded me after the game, Alex O’Connell contributed two critical three point plays—one the old fashion way—down the stretch.

Bolden left the game early in the second half with a leg injury. Jones went the locker room briefly in the second half with a right thigh injury but returned.

The less I write about this game, the happier I am.

Observations: 

Without Zion, this Duke team is a pretender not a contender. Forget the +12 stat, he is easily worth another 10 for the intimidation and OMG factor.  As for when he returns, my guess is: Not against North Carolina but rather working him back in during the ACC Tournament so that he and the team is primed for the NCAA run.

Alan Adds: 

Let’s start by acknowledging that Wake played better than it has at any time this year.  The Deacons have a terrible record and the program is in shambles.  So, Wake comes to Cameron and plays the game of its season.  They did not play like a team with a poor record.  They were damn good.  Coach K: “We thought it would be easier.  When it wasn’t, we are not old enough, and this group (without Zion) has not played together enough” to handle it.  “We are not there yet.”  Coach K said Duke was fortunate on the last play but not fortunate to win.  That he said was earned.  I’m not so sure.  Surely, as the Coach conceded, “nobody played well in the beginning.”  Nobody except R.J.  He was Duke’s whole offense in the first half – 15 points (6-11; 0-2; 3-5 from the line) in the full 20 minutes.  Jack White added 8 points in 13 first half minutes, but they are somewhat illusory.  He was 2-4 from deep, but his second was a lucky shot off the backboard. He missed two shots from in close (2-6 and 2-2 from the line) to go with a team leading 5 boards.  Cam failed to score in his foul plagued 8 minutes.

The second half is where the game took shape.  The Duke malaise continued until with 16:20 to go, Duke trailed by 10 and called time out.  From that point, Coach K said Duke played extremely hard and better than the Deacons.  It’s just that good shots did not go down.  Duke roared back to tie the game at 49 with 13:47 left.  The game see-sawed with the largest lead for either team being 2, and the game being tied 4 times in that 9 minute span, the last time at 62 with 4:34 left.  Then Alex hit what both Bill and I think was the shot of the game – an open 3 from the corner with 3:38 left.  Tre, who bumped knees and had to leave the game with 6:56 remaining, returned with 3:15 left.  He was Duke’s best player from there to the end.  He was fouled on a drive and converted both free throws – Duke 67; Wake 62.  With 2:06, remaining, R.J. was fouled and had a chance to give Duke a 3 possession lead, but instead missed both free throws, which is like a turnover.  After a Childress jumper cut the lead to 3 with 1:48 left, R.J. drove the lane for a great bucket, but failed to convert the 3 point play when he missed yet another free throw (4 in a row at crunch time).  69-64 with 1:26 left.  DeLaurier fouled Brown who made both.  69-66 with 1:16 left.  R.J. turned it over with a wild pass with 1:02 remaining.  With 44 seconds left, Duke could not get a defensive rebound. Wake grabbed three offensive boards– Wright and Brown 2.  He was fouled after grabbing the second one and made both free throws.  69-68 with 31 seconds left.  With 17 seconds remaining, R.J. made a fabulous layup for Duke’s final points.  71-68.  White and Goldwire replaced Alex and DeLaurier and Duke called time out to set up its defense.  That clearly did not work as Childress drove for a virtually uncontested layup with 7 seconds left.  Then came White’s “inexcusable” (Coach K’s word) gaff ,giving the ball back to Wake for the final miss.  I’m not so sure that Duke deserved to win.  I am sure it was a gallant but heart breaking effort by Wake.

Zion – he did his first basketball workout before the game.  Coach K said he did not think Zion would play against UNC, but would make the official announcement on Friday.  He does expect Zion back for the ACC tournament.

The Stars

I though R.J. simply got tired at the end.  He carried the team for so much of the game (playing all 40 minutes), but committed bad turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch.  Still, as Coach K correctly assessed, “Without him we were nowhere.”  Cam made 2 important 3s in the second half, but had a terrible game.  He did play 18 second half minutes (26 for the game) making only 2 from behind the arc: (2-9; 2-6 from deep) without getting to the line or recording a block, steal or assist.  He turned it over 3 times.  These are not the stats of an NBA lottery pick.

The Bigs

Bolden had a good first half (4 points; 4 boards and 2 blocks in 16 minutes) but was apparently injured toward the end of the first half.  Coach K was weird about it. He said it was something like a hip pointer, but he also said that Bolden could have gone back in the game (he did but only for 2 minutes, grabbing one board).  However, he thought DeLaurier and White were better defenders on the perimeter since Wake was playing 5 out.  In 17 minutes, Javin was 1-1 from the field and 1-2 from the line.  3 points; 3 fouls, a turnover and 2 boards.  White had all of his points in the first half (0-4; 0-1 from deep) but had 5 second half rebounds in 8 minutes.

The guards

Coach K acknowledged Goldwire’s contributions on defense though he did not take a shot or score in 13 minutes. Alex played well, logging 26 minutes, scoring 9 and coming up with 4 boards.  His two 3 point plays in the second half were big.

Tre

Which brings me to Tre, who was tremendous.  He shut Childress down in the first half and supplied scoring in the second half – 8 in the second stanza; 13 for the game (4-8; 1-1 from deep; 4-4 from the line to go with 8 rebounds (for a guard), 3 assists and 3 steals.  His return to the game after missing 4 minutes with his knee injury sparked Duke.  As Coach K said after the game, “he is just a winner.”

Next Play

The UNC game will be interesting – a different kind of interesting depending on whether or not Zion plays.  Duke can win the ACC regular season by beating UNC if Virginia falls to Louisville in Charlottesville.  Unlikely.  Last game of the regular season..

 

Duke 70 – North Carolina 79 

I was not optimistic about Duke’s chances tonight. Carolina was playing at home on an impressive 14-1 roll and, without Zion Williamson, Duke has been an unbalanced, vulnerable team. I was just hoping no one would be injured. Then, the Carolina Curse hit for the second time this season as Bolden went down with a sprained MCL. Nevertheless, Duke, led by Cam Reddish at his best, was up two at the half. I texted Johnny JTH that we can’t play much better but Carolina can. Right on Que, Carolina started the second half with a 12-2 run and, although Duke made a late run to cut a fifteen point deficit to five, the Blue Devils did not have enough octane or gas left in the tank to pull off a Louisville-type upset.

Barrett and Reddish, who cooled off dramatically in the second half, combined for 49 points on 50 shots and, tellingly, were Duke’s only double-digit scorers. North Carolina’s Kenny Williams drew four offensive fouls, three of which were committed by RJ. Duke and North Carolina each had 48 rebounds. But Carolina had a 22-11 edge on second-chance points. Barrett (12), DeLaurier (10), Luke Maye (16) and Cam Johnson (10) all had double-figure rebounds. However, Duke shot 25-73 (34%), 8-32 on 3’s (25%). Those stats won’t win games many games.

You have to congratulate Coach Williams and his players. Led by seniors Maye, Williams, Johnson, freshman sensation Cobie White, and a productive bench, they have overcome a stumbling start to become a very formidable contender—and this is not the first time Ol’ Roy and his staff have pulled this off.

Can Duke hit the reset button and also become a contender? Time is running out but at tournament time anything can happen. A healthy Zion Williamson is a game changer. However, the complimentary players have to produce. Tonight, DeLaurier did not foul out, nearly had a double/double to go with four blocks and played the best game of his career. However, the stage seemed too big for a disappointing Alex O’Connell and while Jack White was a tough defender, he was 1-6 from the field. If, and this is a big if, Duke can hit just in the mid thirties from three point land, keep shooting in the 70’s from the line, and quit getting in foul trouble with charging fouls, they have a shot. If not, probably not. Consider this: When Maye, Williams, Johnson  were freshmen, they were getting few minutes off the bench. Right now, they are the core of the Carolina team. Experience and time in a program matters (ref. Virginia & Villanova). The bottom line: Duke has more lottery draft picks. North Carolina has a deeper, more diverse, more experienced, and better team. However, tournament time is a heartless one-and-done affair. Hot teams can go cold and cold teams can get hot. Just ask Virginia.

Other Observations: 

  • Duke matches up better against Virginia than Gonzaga or North Carolina.
  • White, who has a 3.38 GPA, was  recognized as an Academic All-American. This marks the 25th consecutive season Duke has had at least one selection to the All-ACC Academic Team, and White is Duke’s 94th all-time selection.
  • A sad note: Debbie Jones, mother of Tre and Tyus, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Alan Adds:

Duke opens its pursuit of tournament titles next Thursday at 9:00 EDT as a result of the double bye (#3 seed) into the quarterfinals.  The winner of BC-Pitt will play Syracuse for a quarterfinal berth against the Blue Devils.  The expectations are that Zion will be in Duke’s starting lineup for that game, however that is not yet a certainty.  Zion returns to full five on five practice on Monday.  How he handles the three days of practice will be determinative.  Meanwhile, Louisville will play the winner of the Georgia Tech-Notre Dame game for the right to fact the heavily favored Tarheels in the quarterfinals.  If the heavily favored Devils prevail in the quarterfinals (they would be favored even without Zion), there will, in all likelihood, a third matchup with Carolina (but the first where Zion plays) on Friday at 9:00 p.m.  That will be the game of the season…up to that point.  A Duke win will signify that the reset button has been successfully pushed.  A third loss to Carolina would be deflating, push Duke out of a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and leave everything up to the NCAA tournament result to assess the season.  That semi-final game actually dwarfs the championship game for either Duke or UNC (when the winner would likely face UVA at 8:30 on Saturday night).

I have been telling Bill all year that UVA is the best team in the country.  They tied for the ACC regular season title (beat UNC at home), losing only to Duke.  They are my predication to win both tournaments.  Last year’s dramatic flame out as the first #1 seed to lose to a # 16 seed is a motivating factor.  Coach K pointed out what a power conference the ACC has been this year.  Three teams competing for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament; 4 teams with 25 or more wins is impressive.

OK, I will now face the depressing task of assessing last night’s performance against an excellent UNC team.  It was a tale of two halves – they were so different.  Duke played an excellent first half, marred only by lazy transition defense (especially after Duke scored), and R.J.’s 3 fouls (on charges).  Marquis’s injury came as he tried to catch up to a streaking Tarheel after a made Duke basket.  R.J. was “held” to 9 points (4-10; but 0-3 from deep; 1-1 from the stripe) to go with 4 boards and 3 assists (2 turnovers).  Cam was the star of the first half, scoring 17 points on a variety of breathtaking moves and outside shooting (5-11; 3-6; 4-4 from the line).  He and R.J. took 21 of Duke’s 34 shots and scored 26 of Duke’s 40 points.  Tre had a superb first half (3-5 on 2 acrobatic drives and a neat pullup) to go with 4 rebounds (tied with R.J. and Javin for team lead), 3 assists and a steal.  Javin picked up any slack from Marquis’s injury, logging 11 minutes and scoring 8 on 4-4 at the rim, a block and those 4 rebounds.  That was all the players who scored for Duke.  Alex was 0-3 in 13 minutes while White was 0-1 in 11 minutes (3 boards and an assist).  Goldwire spelled Alex for 5 minutes without attempting to score.  Duke scored 40 points on 47% shooting, despite a terrible 3-12 from deep.  Alex and R.J. were 0-3; Cam a 50% 3-6.  However, it all turned around on Duke in the second half when R.J. was gallant, but Cam, Tre, and Javin disappeared (on offense).  Leaving aside R.J.’s gallantry – 17 points (6-17; 4-8 from deep and  1-2 from the foul line), while grabbing 8 second half rebounds and not fouling out in his full 20 minutes after 3 first half fouls — the rest of the team was a horrible 3-22 (1-12 from deep) and a horrifying 58% from the line (7-12).  Alex played only  5 minutes in the second half, missing his only shot and otherwise failing to notch a statistic.  Cam’s regression was dramatic (1-12; 0-6 from deep; 4-6 from the stripe in the full 20 minutes).  NBA lottery?  Javin played a great floor game – 6 boards and 3 blocks in 17 minutes, while committing only 2 fouls — but he did not attempt a shot and missed both free throws.  Tre made 1 of his 3 point attempts (1-4 from the field without getting to the line).  His opposing point guard led Carolina’s second half scoring with 14 (on 12 shots).  Finally, Jack White played 18 minutes, grabbing 6 boards,  blocking a shot, and made both free throws, but was only 1-5 from the field and 0-2 from deep.

Still Duke fought back from a 15 point deficit to down 5 with 2:19 to go on a Barrett 3.  Duke got a stop.  But R.J. missed.  Javin stepped up and blocked a shot and secured the rebound.  R.J. missed from 3 with 56 seconds left and that was Duke’s last gasp.  In short, even though Duke shot terribly (23% in the second half for example), was missing the inside presence of Zion and Marquis, this team displayed unmistakable heart.  That is the best takeaway going into tournament season.

Duke 84 – Syracuse 72

He’s Baaaaack! Better than ever!

With 21 points, 9 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 highlight-reel dunks, Zion (OMG) Williamson answered all the questions about whether he was fully healthy and ready to play —and that was just in the first half!  However, the puzzling question remains why the rest of the team except for RJ Barrett (23 points, 6 rebounds) was not ready as they were sloppy (18 turnovers) and allowed a scrappy Syracuse team playing without their best player but with Frank Howard’s 28 points almost single-handedly carrying the offense to stay so close for so long. Interestingly enough, it was little used Jordan Goldwire, overlooked Javin DeLaurier (8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 fouls) and poor shooting Trey Jones (15 points and 8 assists) who made the plays at critical times midway through the second half that give the Blue Devils separation and then protect and expand  the lead by hitting free throws. After Javin DeLaurier hit a pair of free throws and Jordan Goldwire forced a steal and converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to stretch the lead back to six. Jones (15 pts, 8 assists)  hit a triple, a pair of free throws, and drew a charge to get Duke back ahead by double digits.

Tre Jones spent the first 25 minutes as a facilitator. But with Reddish in foul trouble and no one other than Williamson and Barrett providing offense, Jones started looking for his shot and playing offense more like his brother Ty—especially going 8 for 8 from the line. “My teammates kept believing in me, coaches kept believing in me as well, kept telling me to take my shot when it comes, keep being aggressive. I knew that I was going to have to step up in the second half for us to get back to playing how we want to play.”

Other Observations:

  • Here is an example of why Coach K has such a great feel for his players and the ebb and flow of a game: Led by Howard and Buddy Boeheim, the coaches son, Syracuse rallies from 17 points down and ties the game with thirteen minutes to go. K substitutes not co-captain Jack White but rather benchwarmer Jordan Goldwire for Alex O’Connor to guard Boeheim. So, Jordan not only shuts Buddy down but makes important offensive plays. Go figure? That’s why Mike has won 1,000+ games and I write about it.
  • IS THERE ANYTHING THIS GUY CANNOT DO? After going an historic 13-13 from the field, late in the game, Zion threw a perfect three quarter court touchdown pass to a streaking Jordan Goldwire, who casually dribbled to the perimeter of the three point line, then fed RJ Barrett for a dunk. Try making that pass yourself sometime.
  • In an interview after the game, Zion said: “I was ready two games ago but the coaching staff wanted to be sure I was 100% healthy…there was never any thought of shutting down for the rest of the year, because I can’t leave my guys hanging. We want to win a championship…Was I ready? I come to kill every game.”
  • As exciting as Zion was tonight, the blunt truth is that this team’s season will be shorter than anticipated if Williamson and Barrett don’t start getting some help. Without Marquis, Duke is small and shorthanded. Javin has to stay out of foul trouble; Trey has to shoot like he did in the second half; Jack’s shot has to come off vacation; And, most of all, Cam has to start playing 40 minutes like he does for about five a game.

But whatever you do, do not miss however many games are remain for this Duke team, because Zion Williamson is once in a generation talent.

 Alan Adds:

Once again, this was a game of two very separate halves.  Syracuse had a good streak that extended for the last 3:40 of the first half (trimming Duke’s 17 point lead to 6 in that span) and for the first 7 minutes of the second half (The Orange tied the score at 46 with 13 minutes left to play in the game).  Duke looked badly out of sync on offense (turnovers bedeviled The Devils); they had 4 to open the second half.  If Duke does not clean up the turnovers, Carolina will be playing in the ACC tournament finals.

This is the game of the year for Duke so far.  It is unthinkable for Carolina to thump this Duke team 3 times in a row, but the oddsmakers say that is more likely than not.  Of course, this is the first game in which Duke will have Zion, which is one of the aspects that make the game so intriguing.  Duke’s second half as encouraging as the first half was disappointing.  Duke scored 50 second half points against the vaunted Syracuse zone.

The first half

Zion was other-worldly, but where was the rest of Duke’s talented team on offense?  Jones (0-5 in 19 minutes), Javin (0-1 in 19 minutes), Jack White (0-1 in 9 minutes) and Goldwire (0-0 in 1 minute) were scoreless.  Four players, who logged a collective 48 minutes did not score a point.  Reddish scored a single point (0-4 in 15 minutes; 1-2 from the line; 2 fouls and 3 turnovers), while Alex hit a 3 in 6 minutes (2 fouls and 2 turnovers).  Six players in 69 minutes scored only 4 points!  Duke committed 11 turnovers against 7 assists.  Only R.J. complemented Zion with 9 points (3-6; 1-3 from deep and 2-2 from the line in only 14 minutes – 2 charging fouls) to go with 2 rebounds, assists and turnovers.  Zion was even better than before he was hurt – he played like a man among boys.  But no matter how other worldly Zion is, this is a team sport and the rest of the Duke team needs to play up to its potential or this will be a short tournament and a hopeful year (remember the opening destruction of Kentucky) will end in disappointment.  However, the Duke team did play up to its potential in the second half.

The Second Half

Duke had 6 players contributing to a superb second half.  Neither Jack White, who played only a single minute (1 rebound) nor Alex, who played 3 (0-1) contributed.  R.J. and Tre played all 20 minutes and Zion logged 19. Cam (four fouls) and Goldwire (surprise key player) played 13 minutes while Javin played only 11.  So, for a substantial part of Duke’s second half, Zion was the post presence and rim protector.  He was 4-4 for 8 points (he missed both free throws, 2 of Duke’s 3 second half misses (Duke was a gaudy 14-17 for 83% from the line in the closing stanza), grabbed 5 boards while contributing a key block and an assist.  He also threw “the pass” to Goldwire to beat the press and sew up the game.  He was terrific, but not the whole show, — a contributor to the whole.  Tre Jones led the second half scoring with 15, the most crucial part was 8-8 from the line to keep Syracuse at bay (3-7; 1-4 from 3land) with 6 assists a steal and a rebound.  He was simply superb.  I know he can shoot; I saw him several times in high school.  He needs to play as he did in the second half if Duke is going to make a serious post-season run. R.J. was Tre’s scoring mate with 14 in the second half (5-10; 1-4 from deep and 3-4 from the line) to go with 4 boards (but 4 turnovers – mostly in the early going in the half).  Did anyone ever score a quieter 23 points than R.J. last night!  Cam hit 2 3s in his 13 minutes. His defense was crucial.  Javin did not attempt a field goal, was 2-2 from the line while he snared 5 rebounds, blocked a shot and made a key steal.  Time to talk about Jordan Goldwire’s valuable contribution to the Duke win.  He had 5 points (2-2 from the field and 1-1 from the line) to go with 2 assists and 2 steals.  He played the last 12 minutes of the game when Duke went from tied to the 12 point win.

Buddy Boeheim had tied the game at 46 with a 3 pointer with 12:49 left in the game.  Goldwire replaced Alex as R.J. took a feed from Tre for a layup giving The Blue Devils a 2 point lead.  Goldwire, who was put in to guard Buddy, got a steal; and then made what for me was the game changing play.  With Duke ahead by 3 with 10 minutes left, Tre missed a 3; Zion deflected a Syracuse pass that Jordan corralled and then hit a layup in traffic before completing the 3 point play.  Duke led by 6.  After Zion missed both free throws and Hughes hit a jumper, Duke’s lead was 5 with 7:16 left.  Then Tre took over.  He hit a 3 and converted 2 free throws to give Duke a 10 point lead with 6:24 left.  Syracuse would not go away.  Hughes hit another to cut the lead to 7 before Jordan hit a jump shot in the paint to put Duke almost out of reach.  69-60 with 4:44 left.  Reddish hit a key 3, Tre and R.J. dropped 4 free throws in a row.  Then another play of the game: Zion threw his home run pass to Goldwire, who turned it into a dazzling assist to R.J., thundering down the lane for a dunk that removed all doubt about the outcome.  Tre hit 2 more free throws for a 13 point lead with 1:44 left and the Orange were done.  A Barrett dunk after a steal by Tre, followed by 2 more free throws by Tre and Duke led by 15 with under a minute to go.

UNC

Duke’s second half was truly encouraging.  UNC is playing as well as any team in the country.  It is entirely possible that the 3 best teams in the country play in the ACC and are in the tournament semi-finals.  What an intriguing game this will be.  Duke will miss Marquis against UNC’s rebounding and penetration.  Moreover Duke’s transition defense will be tested, as well as the ball handling.  The careless turnovers have to be mitigated.  UNC has looked sooo good.  But so did Duke in the second half.

This is a game worth watching.  We’ll be back tomorrow to dissect  it.

 

Duke 74 – North Carolina 73

North Carolina is the deeper, better team but Duke has Zion and Coach K. Even so, I still don’t know how the Blue Devils won this game, because Cam Johnson, who began the game on fire and who leads the ACC in triples, had a wide open three in the last :18 seconds that he “would bet $1,000 was going in”—but didn’t; Zion missed his first three shots as Duke fell behind by double digits, rallied, then gave Carolina every chance to win by missing the front end of a one-and-one with four minutes to go that would have put the Devils up by four. Then, RJ Barrett missed two free throws with Duke up one point with :12 seconds left. It drives my friend Johnny Tar Heel crazy that Roy takes pride in not calling plays but clearly talented, speedy freshman Koby White, who drove though Duke’s defense practically at will, needed some guidance as he raced down the court and with Maye giving him a pick and rolling open to the side, Little and Johnson in the paint calling for the ball, but being dogged by Jones chose to jack up an off balance, one footed three as time was running out. Nassir Little missed a slap/tap contested by DeLaurier.  Cam Johnson got a slow motion put back, but well after the buzzer. I guess the only explanation is  the old coaches adage that it is tough to beat a good ACC team three times in a row.

As if this rivalry isn’t stressful enough, Coach Roy Williams, who is usually very generous at difficult times, somewhat testily and dismissively said that he didn’t care who his team played—Duke or the Warriors—they were ready. Well, they were for 39 minutes and :50 seconds. In all fairness, this was a very enervating game to play. Forget each team’s record and stats. This is the Hatfields and McCoys with a basketball not guns for bragging rights to Tobacco Road and beyond. The fact that there are more Carolina graduates in North Carolina than Duke graduates in the world only exacerbates the rivalry—and, like tonight, it usually is too close for comfort and seldom disappoints.

Because of the flow and direction of the game, Coach K, who is often criticized for playing a short rotation, actually used more players than Carolina before settling upon sophomore Jordan Goldwire and senior Antonio Vrankovic to play significant minutes, even starting the second half “because they deserved it”. Although giving up height, J-Gold’s athleticism in getting back to negate the Tar Heel’s patented fast break and sticking like glue to the taller Cam Johnson was instrumental in turning this game around. He must be a good luck charm because late in the game, he was immobilized by leg cramps but K was reluctant to call his last timeout because he wanted to save it—just in case. J-Gold was just standing around near the basket when a rebound fell into his hands for an uncontested, flat footed layup. Then, “Just in case” happened. Coach K called a time out to draw up the winning play—give the ball to Zion. While Duke’s defense sparked the comeback, to no one’s surprise Zion Williamson carried the offense with 31 points, including the game winner. He dribbled into traffic, took the ball behind his back, spun, went up in traffic, missed the shot but bounced right up between three Tar Heels to tip in the rebound  to give Duke the one-point lead, which miraculously held up.

These back to back tournament games only embellished the legend of Zion Williamson. Tonight, he was 13-19  ( 2-3 threes, 3-3 free throws), had 11 rebounds, a steal and a block. Zion doesn’t look or play like any other college player. In addition, he is totally ambidextrous. Check it out. He is capable of jumping off either foot while dunking with either hand.

Other Observations:

  • If you remember, Jordan Goldwire first appeared on the radar screen with his instrumental defensive role in sparking the epic 23 point in ten minute comeback against Louisville as well as closing out Syracuse last night. Coach credits the athleticism, energy and enthusiasm that he brings to the floor.
  • I wish someone could explain to me why more teams do not utilize the Tar Heel “Primary & Secondary Break”, which produces so many easy baskets.
  • Neither Duke nor Carolina is a very polished half court team. Duke’s is “Give the ball to Zion or RJ”. Carolina’s is “No one shoots until every player touches the ball two times.”
  • Duke looked exhausted at the end of the game and gives up a lot of size to Florida State. They will really miss Marques Bolden.

Alan Adds: This was simply a great college basketball game, or as Coach K put it, “a vintage Duke-UNC game”.  The quality of play was absolutely breathtaking.  UNC is so good.  They are as fast on the break as Tarkanian’s 1990-91 UNLV teams – even after a made basket.  The Tarheels had destroyed Duke’s transition defense in both regular season games against Duke, and surely looked as if they would do it again in the opening minutes of last night’s spectacular contest.  Zion played an astounding game at both ends of the court.  R.J. scored a quiet 15 points while being a bulwark in every aspect of the game.  But Duke owes this win to Jordan Goldwire ( “J. Gold” as Coach K called him) and an incredible second half team defense.  Both teams lit it up in the first half (44-44), but both teams turned to lock down defense in the closing stanza, won by Duke 30-29.  For example, in the first half, Duke had 10 assists against 5 turnovers; in the second half, Carolina forced 7 Duke turnovers (3 by R.J. and 2 by Cam) while Duke made only 5 assists (3 by R. J. and 2 by Tre).

In the second half, Zion scored 15 (7-9; 1-1 from the free throw line; one miss was followed up with the game winner) while R.J. added 7 (2-7; 1-5 from deep; 2-4 from the line).  R.J. also led Duke with 6 defensive rebounds.  That’s 22 of Duke’s 30 second half points.  Reddish 4, Tre 2 (after 9 first half points) and Goldwire’s lucky layup were the other second half points.

Carolina’s offensive rebounding was very effective.  UNC often scored on second and third chances after Duke’s defense had stopped the first Tarheel foray.  With Bolden out and DeLaurier in foul trouble (he played only 4 second half minutes, but he made the game saving defensive play as time ran out), and Vrankovich also playing only 4 second half minutes, Duke went 12 winning minutes with Zion as the big in the middle on defense and in the post on offense.  With Zion, Cam and R.J. defending the interior while Tre and Jay Gold put tremendous pressure on the UNC perimeter, Duke’s defense rose to the occasion.    Critically, Duke stopped fouling in the second half (only 6; 10 in the first half), which can be attributed to the tough perimeter defense that kept Carolina out of the driving lanes.  It didn’t hurt that Carolina was 1-12 from deep with open looks in the second half (Johnson was 0-3 from behind the arc after being on fire early in the first half).

Which properly brings me Jordan Goldwire and his 28 scintillating minutes (16 in the second half).  Tre and R.J. never came out (40 minutes each); Zion played 35 minutes.  Next was J-Gold’s 28 (more than Cam’s 23; more than Javin’s 15 and Antonio’s 10 — for a combined 25 minutes of playing with a center).  Alex (3 minutes; 0-1) and Jack White (6 minutes; 0-1) had cameos only.  Goldwire was the antidote to the Carolina fast break and the catalyst for Duke’s defensive efficiency.  Coach K was effusive: “He was a significant factor defensively. It wasn’t just his defense on Johnson (who was demonstrably cooled off by J. Gold’s pressure), it was his ability to get back on defense to stop their transition.  He was always the first guy back.”  “He and Tre put such good pressure on the ball.”  Coach K emphasized Goldwire’s athletic ability that enabled him to fill that valuable role off the bench.  Vrankovich played really well in his 10 very unexpected minutes.

The game ending was dramatic – vintage UNC-Duke drama.  With 2:48 to go, Luke Maye drove on Zion, scored and was fouled.  71-67 for the ‘Heels.  But he missed the free throw; R.J. rebounded, raced down court and hit Zion for a layup and his own 3 point play, which also fouled out Carolina big guy, Garrison Brooks.  Zion made the foul shot.  UNC 71-70 with 2:32 to go.  Little replaced Brooks and missed a jumper.  Tre got the rebound and J. Gold took advantage of the ball coming to him for a layup.  72-71 Duke with 1:46 to go.  Maye and Barrett exchanged misses before White fed Little off an offensive rebound in the paint for a dunk that gave UNC a 73-72 lead with 47 seconds left.  Duke called timeout and DeLaurier replaced the cramping Goldwire with 43 seconds left.   The play called was for Zion to set the screen and R.J. take it to the basket, but Kenny Williams cut off the drive beautifully.  R. J. then got it to Zion for the miss, and then the put back that gave Duke a 74-73 lead with 31 seconds left.  Cameron Johnson got a good look with 18 seconds left, but failed on his 3 pointer, which R.J. rebounded.  He was fouled immediately with 12 seconds left.  Horrifyingly, R.J. missed both free throws, giving Carolina one last chance to win.

White brought the ball up against Trey’s intense pressure.  It took valuable time off the clock and left the superb Carolina point guard with only a desperation heave with 3 seconds left.  Little looked as if he were in perfect position to tap the offensive rebound in, but DeLaurier got a hand on it and it missed.  The clock expired before Johnson grabbed the rebound for one more failed attempt.  What a great win!

Florida State beat UVA (there goes my first prediction) impressively.  The Seminoles are deep and long, and are better constructed to handle 3 intense games in 3 days.  Still, an ACC tournament win is heady stuff and this team has proved it has the indispensable commodity of heart.  What a season!

Duke 73 – Florida State 63 

Back together again, the precocious Duke Basketball Band of Brothers played their most beautiful music since the first game of the season against Kentucky in winning the university’s 21st ACC Tournament Championship by knocking off formidable Florida State, which had won 14 of  15 games including decisively taking out regular season champion Virginia in Friday’s semi-final. After a rather off key first half that left the score tied 36-36, the Blue Devils got rocking in the opening minutes of the second-half and used a 25-11 run to break open the game by holding the Seminoles to only 27 points on 25% shooting. The omnipresent Zion Williamson deservedly was the Tournament MVP but tonight Trey Jones was really the straw that stirred the drink on a more balanced offense (starters: 21,18,17,11,6 points). R. J. Barrett was his usual efficient double-double self and even the enigmatic Cam Reddish emerged from his offensive funk to contribute timely offensive baskets. Junior co-captain Javin DeLaurier (6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals,1 assist, & 1 block) was the unsung hero as he battled the bigger, taller Seminole front line to more than a draw and was instrumental in fueling the early second half run with quickness, tenacity, and strength in the paint—without fouling out.

Off the tournament results, it would seem, except for the injury to center Marquis Bolden, Duke is well positioned for a serious run at another national championship. They certainly are precociously talented, are mature beyond their years, have overcome an injury to their once-in-a-lifetime teammate, have hit and run through the proverbial wall to be a tested, mature contender. However, a note of caution: Enjoy the moment because success at tournament time is elusive, fragile, and can be fleeting. In 2017, Duke won the ACC Tournament, yet North Carolina won the NCAA Championship. The Duke 1991 NCAA Championship team was throttled by North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.  Duke is just another injury or a three point shot away from going home. As Coach Williams told his Tar Heels: ”Our season is not over.” Neither is Virginia’s, Florida State, Kentucky, Tennessee or a host of others.

An overlooked but important component this highly anticipated but challenging season has been the way in which the coaching staff has managed the all the issues—especially those surrounding  Williamson’s injury. Coach K has emphasized what a pleasure it is coaching these players because they are good kids and students who have loving families.

Other Observations:

Zion Williamson’s final stat-line for the tournament was record setting. The tournament MVP ended with 81 points in three games. That breaks the ACC Tournament freshman scoring record of 75 points set by Phil Ford in 1975 and the Duke ACC Tournament scoring record of 80 set by Art Heyman in 1961. He converted 33-of-43 from the field and made 10-of-13 from the foul line over the final two games after a poor foul-shooting effort against Syracuse. His response: “When you’re a little kid, watching Duke on TV cutting down the nets, and you want to be a part of it. Then you grow up and to be a part of it, that’s why you come to Duke.” Zion had another pass to rival the one against Syracuse. While leading a fast break, he threw a left handed ten yard 100 mile an hour bounce pass to Trey Jones for a layup. It’s the OMG plays like this that have made Zion a one name trademark. When you are recognized by one name you are really famous—Zion has dominated college basketball both offensively and defensively like no other college player in history- especially a freshman.

Alan Adds: Zion is not only a great player, but he has a way with insightful words: “This tournament’s been great. I mean we’re ACC champions. But, I think that if we didn’t win it then the tournament wouldn’t have been great, so us winning this makes it great.”  (Emphasis added)

As I have told Bill all year (usually at our half time conversations after Duke had played a particularly disappointing first half), “this is a second half team.”   Duke’s second half was so special it is worth examining by itself.

The Second Half

Duke was indeed special against Florida State in the closing period of the championship game.  Duke’s offense became a smooth functioning machine with contributions from all five Iron Men.  I say Iron Men because Duke had only 5 minutes of bench player time (Goldwire for 2 minutes and Jack White for 3 minutes, with a block and a rebound); the four freshmen and Javin were the Iron Men.  Javin played 16 superb minutes in the second half after only 7 in the first half.  Coach K’s praise, “I thought Javin had his best game tonight, especially against their big guys. He rebounded well (7). He was talking on defense. He came up with some — he finished (6 points on 2-4 from the field and 2-2 on important free throws) . He’s played well, but tonight I thought was one of his best games, if not his best game.”  (His best game included an assist, a block and 2 steals, both the block and the 2 steals were crucial in the second half).

It was, of course, Duke’s second half pressure defense that made 8 steals and 3 blocks while creating havoc with Florida State’s offense, which had functioned so efficiently in the first half (39% from the field) that was the difference.  Even though Duke allowed 4-9 from behind the arc – all that kept the Seminoles within striking distance – The Devils reduced the Florida State offense to a meager 4-23 from inside the arc.  Take away the last meaningless Seminole 3 at the game ending buzzer and Duke held Florida State to a paltry 24 second half points and under 25% shooting.  Great team defense by all five of the Iron Men.  Although Florida State was taller, Duke controlled the backboards (20-16; with 18 defensive boards compared to 6 Seminole offensive boards). Duke second half rebounders were led by Barret’s 5, Javin’s 4, Zion’s 3, Cam’s 2 and Trey’s 1 (I could swear Tre had more than 1 rebound in the second half).

Not only was Duke especially formidable on defense, but the Devils were cohesive, efficient, and team oriented on offense.  Take away the 1-5 from deep (Cam was 1-3, but it was a biggie; and R.J. 0-2), and Duke was 13 for 19 from the field.  Wow!  Only Cam was under 50%, missing his only interior shot, but making both of his second half free throws.  Tre had a simply brilliant second half, scoring 13 of his game total 15 points in the closing stanza.  It was a very efficient 13 points on 8 shots (6-8 on a series of acrobatic drives and pull ups; 1-2 from the line) to go with 2 assists, a steal, and crushing on the ball defense.  In short, if Trey plays that way, it will be extremely difficult to beat Duke.  His performance was close to as dramatic as Zion’s.  OMG was 3-4 from the field and 3-4 from the stripe for 9 points to go with an assist (what an assist it was – the full court bounce past to the streaking Trey!) and a steal.  R.J. remains a superb finisher on the break, reliable ball handler, great defensive rebounder and excellent defender.  He scored 6 in the closing stanza (3-6; 0-2 from behind the arc) and a steal. So the balanced second half scoring was 13 for Tre; Zion, 9; R.J 6; Cam 5; and Javin 4.

NCAA Tournament

“Earn Everything”.  As UVA learned last year, nothing can be taken for granted in a championship run.  Coach K believes there are three four team weekend tournaments that comprise the big dance.  A team has to play two tough games in a 3 day period on each weekend.  The second weekend where “The Sweet 16” is reduced to “The Final Four” is usually crucial.  If Bolden returns (even if for the second weekend), it would put Duke at full strength for its title run.  Duke wants to be playing on all three weekends.

Next Play

Duke 85 – North Dakota State 62

BUCKLE YOUR SEAT BELTS. TAKEOFF IMMINENT.

For most of the first half, I thought I was watching a re-run of last year’s NCAA first round #1 Virginia vs. #16 University of Maryland-Baltimore County matchup as the Blue Devils unsuccessfully attempted to show the country they are not an inconsistent, subpar  jump shooting team. They trailed 12-5, and were tied with two minutes to go before  making a mini-run to lead 31-27 at the half. Normally, if the Devils hold an opponent in the 20’s, they are up by 20. Not tonight. However, to start the second half, the Human Highlight Show went to work. Williamson hit a layup, threw down a slam, and introduced a rarely seen four point play (basket, fouled, miss free throw, get rebound, dunk ball). Then, there was the piece de resistance. Zion knocked a ball loose from  Bison point guard Vinnie Shahid, kept  it alive by beating the smaller, quick guard to the ball, which then he dribbled behind his back while almost falling down, then hop skipped to the basket for a layup. Suddenly, two minutes into the second half, Duke was up 40-27 The rest of his teammates got the idea and even the offensively enigmatic Cam Reddish started hitting as the  top-ranked Blue Devils went on a seven minute 25-6 run, eliminating any chance of another historic upset. Duke outscored North Dakota State 25-6 in the first seven minutes as the shots started falling, the dunks started thundering, and the audience got what they paid to see: Williamson posting up for a dunk, Barrett with a reverse jam on a break, Williamson trailing behind and jumping simultaneously with him as the two combined for 51 points.

The two halves were in stark contrast to one another. However, the commentators made some interesting points: Duke has been such a successful, high profile program for so long that it gets everyone’s best shot and the NCAA Tournament is especially treacherous (today at the half: Carolina was down 38-33 to Iona and Virginia was down 36-30 to Gardner-Webb) and players who come here have to be ready to play their best every game, not just a few times a year as they did in high school. And, as talented and physically mature as they are, it’s easy to forget four years ago, these freshmen were in the eighth grade, so they may be adolescent inconsistent. The difference between a basket and a miss can be just a fraction of an inch—and that was the margin by which many of Duke’s first half shots were missing.

Sunday night’s game is against Johnny Dawkins UCF (University of Central Florida) Knights, which is a long way from Stanford, and which features Taco Fall,  a 7’6” center, not a Democratic presidential candidate, and Johnny’s son Aubrey, a transfer from Michigan. If they win that game it looks like the Blue Devils will meet the dangerous Virginia Tech, which consists of the kind of team constructed to be Duke’s worst nightmare—a talented center and very  accurate three point shooters. The only good news is that the game is in Columbia, South Carolina not Blacksburg, Virginia

Other Observations:

  • Zion Williamson is playing even better than he was before his knee injury.
  • Jack White did not play because of a pulled leg muscle but Marques Bolden played  18 minutes and seemed fully recovered from his knee injury.  Jordan Goldwire has become an important part of the bench rotation as he again demonstrated tonight.
  • When answering some of the questions from  press (How do you feel about coming back home to play? Is it an advantage to your relationship for both of you to be left handed?), it is sometimes difficult for Zion and RJ to keep a straight face.
  • The win moves Duke to 30-5, the program’s 15th 30-win season under Krzyzewski. Coach K is now 95-29 in NCAA Tournament games. Duke is 112-37, with a .752 winning percentage, the best percentage in tournament history.

Alan Adds:

I watched North Dakota State beat NCC on Wednesday night and advised Bill that NDS had played heady well coached basketball.  As NDS was beating Duke in the opening half, I texted Bill “I told you NDS played excellent hoops.”  Bill’s response at half time was, “We are playing like UVA” (which at that time trailed Gardner-Webb).  At game’s end, I texted a familiar refrain, “A second half team.”  And so Duke was.

After a lethargic first half (the teams were tied at 25 with less than 3 minutes to go), Duke blew the game open in the early moments of the second half and continued to pull away throughout, with the lead reaching 31 with 4:35 left in the game before Coach K emptied his bench.  In the first half, Duke played only 7 players (Javin started, but played only 5 disappointing minutes; he turned that around in the second half).  Bolden played 12 first half minutes off the bench (welcome back!), but it was Jordan Goldwire’s 9 first half minutes that changed the game and brought Duke back.  Coach K said, “he’s been part of our rotation since the Louisville game.  He plays great defense on the ball and off the ball.  He doesn’t turn the ball over.  He hit a key 3 tonight (1-1 from deep).  He’s earned everything, and it has given him confidence.”

The First Half

Coach K: “We started out taking jump shots; many of our possessions had no passes, which meant no rebounds [NDS out rebounded Duke in the first half and controlled the boards in the early going.] We played poor offense.  Duke’s poor offense gave NDS confidence.  In the last 10 minutes of the opening stanza, Duke began to play intense defense, which turned the tide until the offense regrouped in the second half.  Duke played dazzling defense throughout the rest of the game. 

The Second Half

“In the second half”, Coach K said, “we played beautiful basketball for 12 minutes and then began to substitute.”  When he was asked to give some examples of what was beautiful, Coach K said it perfectly: “It was beautiful because we were winning.  We grabbed a double digit lead and we were still hungry and wanted more.  To me that’s beautiful.”  Remember Zion’s comment about the ACC tournament: “It was a great experience because we won.  If we didn’t win it wouldn’t have been a great experience.”  Attitude means a lot.  This team is single minded.

Duke went inside and overwhelmed the less talented Bisons, and then devastated them from the perimeter.  Cam (2-3), R.J. (1-1) and Zion (1-1) were a combined 4-5 from behind the arc.  Duke was 6-10 from deep (Alex was 1-2 and Joey Baker was 1-1 in a cameo appearance).   Zion was 7-8 from the field in the second half; Cam 3-4 and R.J 5-9 (a combined 15-21) to essentially blitz NDS.  R.J. led in rebounds with 9 in the second half (14 for the game).  He also had 3 assists and a steal for a complete game.

R.J. and Zion

In the press conference, R.J. and Zion were the Duke players to appear.  They are sophisticated well beyond their years.  Zion was team oriented and deflected any question about his personal aspirations or satisfactions.  He and R.J. are clearly having fun.  [See Zion celebrating R.J.’s gaudy dunk in the open court].  R.J. said Zion is always bailing him out.  “Whenever I’m in trouble he bails me out.  He makes a cut and I just have to get the ball somewhere near him.”

My favorite response to an idiotic question: “Does your both being left handed contribute to the relationship?”  Much laughter and talk.  The Zion answered in a way that mocked the question gently with dry wit, as he laughingly responded, “It makes the connection deeper.”

Next Play

UCF at 5:15 on Sunday.  I watched Fall and he absolutely dominated VCU with 18 rebounds and 13 points.  He runs the floor well and completely controlled the paint on defense against VCU.  His dramatic improvement in the last six weeks (according to Coach Dawkins) has transformed his team.  If Duke does not shoot well from the perimeter, Fall is capable of disrupting Duke’s inside game.  He has said that Zion won’t dunk on him.  No thinking about next weekend.  UCF beat Houston and are playing at their peak.  Duke has to win to get to next weekend.

Duke 77 – University of Central Florida 76

I saw it but I didn’t believe it! I had to check my pacemaker and replay the last :30 seconds before I was sure I wasn’t hallucinating and Duke actually won. The only possible explanation is this: Who knew referees and basketball rims both have a conscience? After a very physical game of several questionable non-calls on Zion Williamson drives and an errant shot that was ruled to have skimmed the rim not the backboard, negating a time clock violation that led to a Tacko Fall dunk and UCF going up by four points, the referees gave Zion the benefit of the doubt. Depending upon your perspective, Williamson either drove through or by two defenders to score but a foul, his fifth, was called on Tacko, who did have  defensive position but whose both feet were clearly inside the foul cylinder. The giant 7’ 6” center not being on the floor in the last minute changed the entire dynamics of the remaining two, decisive possessions. Williamson missed the free throw but RJ Barrett grabbed the rebound in a scrum and put it up and in (another version of a four point play), giving Duke a one point advantage with a long :14 seconds to play.

A UCF timeout gave the Knights the ball at half court with just :11 seconds left. In those final seconds, which seemed much longer, the Knights, who were in the double bonus, had two great chances at a potential game winning shot.  B.J. Taylor, hounded by Trey Jones, threw up an off balance, baseline runner that was a little too hard and a little too high—much like Grayson Allen’s final shot against Kansas last year. It hit the backboard, bounced around, then off the rim and Dawkins, flying across the lane and with one hand  tapped/scooped the ball back up but it also danced tantalizingly on the rim, hesitated, then rolled out of, not in, the basket and into Zion’s hands as the buzzer sounded. The inescapable conclusion is that in the final minute, both the refs and the rim deferred to the basketball gods as to which team would be victorious in this sensational, one-and-done NCAA Tournament game. In all seriousness, this game was just another example of what Duke fans have come to expect from Coach K’s teams. They never, ever stop competing hard and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat an astonishing number of times—just remember a few weeks ago rallying late in the game from 23 points down at Louisville—and are consistently so good, love them or hate them, since the UNLV and Kentucky games in 1991-92, they have been the most captivating team in college basketball.

Although this latest Blue Devil version starts four uber talented freshmen, they have survived playing six games without Zion Williamson, the National Player of the Year, and yet going into tonight’s game were still 30-5 with tight, one-possession wins over Florida State, Virginia, Louisville, Wake Forest, and North Carolina that has accelerated their maturity and made them battle tested beyond their years. And then there is this: “When the greatest coach of all time looks at you and tells you that you’re made for this moment, it’s like the most confidence you can be given,” Zion Williamson said after the game. “So when I went to the basket, I knew it was going in.”

Other than that, it was a terrific chess match between the old master and the first great player Coach K recruited at Duke and who was the foundation of  the thirty year franchise that is Duke Basketball. After a professional career cut short by injury, in 1998 Mike hired Johnny as an assistant. Two years later, he promoted Dawkins to associate head coach. The following season, the Blue Devils won their third of five NCAA National Championships. Dawkins left ten years later to be head coach at Stanford. Not coincidentally, Dawkins son, Aubrey, played the game of his life (“not just outstanding, but truly magnificent” according to Coach K) and was a final tip (about the only shot he seemed to miss in scoring 32 points) away from upsetting the school where he grew up and learned to play. Sort of begs the question of why he went to Michigan before transferring to UCF?

Three other players deserve to be acknowledged: Cam Reddish, the often enigmatic X factor, had 13 points including 3 three pointers, the last of which was in the last two minutes and without which—like the Florida State and Louisville victories– the comebacks would not have been possible. Jordan Goldwire was instrumental in the 3-2 press that gave Duke a 13-2 run leading to a crucial 44-36 halftime lead as well as hitting a “no, no, yes! three point shot. And Javin DeLaurier had 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks in holding the game changing Tacko Fall to 15 points and 7 rebounds—and set the pick for Cam’s late three point shot. In addition, he fought hard for two important rebounds in the last frantic minute.

Alan Adds:

This was a superb college basketball game.  It is easy to mistake this great game for a disappointing performance by the top seed against a #9 seed, over whom the Blue Devils were a prohibitive favorite.  That was not reality.  Reality was Duke played an opponent that “played at as high a level as any team we played this year.  Nobody played better against us.”  Coach K wasn’t just giving his usual spiel; UCF played brilliantly.  Aubrey Dawkins “was not just outstanding, he was magnificent.  He was the best player on the court,” K said.  Even though Duke played a superb first half, scoring 44 points on 55% shooting (18-33; 5-11 from deep and 3-3 from the line), UCF was still in contention.  When the shots Duke was making in the first half stopped falling in the last stanza, UCF came roaring back and took control of the game.  Fall, whose 2 first half fouls limited him to 9 minutes, played 16 minutes in the second half, which made the difference.  His second half presence enabled UCF to shut down the Duke offense with a brilliantly conceived defense.

Fall, at 7’6” was guarding (not guarding) Tre.  Thus, he camped out in the lane – a one man zone — daring Tre to shoot wide (I mean wide) open 3s.  In 20 second half minutes, Tre was a disappointing 1-7 from the field (1-6 from deep), which made the strategy look brilliant.  Fall was able to completely clog the interior, where Duke had feasted in the first half while Fall sat with 2 fouls.  When Duke’s accurate first half shooting deserted the Devils  —  Jones 1-7; Barrett 1-7 before the game winning put back, which gave him a second half of 2-8 shooting; and Reddish was held to only one other shot (a miss) before his crucial 3 – the Knight’s brilliantly conceived defense held Duke to 33 second half points.

The game divided into 3 sections: first half, second half up until the stoppage at 2:09 to determine if a shot clock violation would wipe out Fall’s offensive rebound dunk.

The first half

Once Fall headed to the bench with 2 fouls, Duke began to play.  The opening minutes knocked the young Devils back.  Duke did not secure its first lead until there was only 8 minutes left in the half after trailing by as much as 6 several times.  The lead changed hands before the game was tied at 34 with 3:35 to go.  Then Duke unleashed its defense that leads to offense.  Zion scored 3 the old fashioned way, a Goldwire steal led to Trey’s layup, Barrett scored 3 the old fashioned way and Duke led by 8 with 1:13 left in the half.  Another steal by JGold, who passed to Zion, who delivered a sensational long bounce pass  to Tre for a half closing layup.  44-36.  Both teams had played superbly.  Dawkins dropped in 18 points (half of the Knight’s 36) to go with 3 steals.  The Duke scoring, on the other hand, was balanced – Zion, 15 (6-10; 1-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line); R.J. 11 (4-7; 2-3 from deep; 1-1 from the stripe); Cam, 10 (4-6; 2-3 from deep) and Tre, 8 (4-8; 0-2 from deep).  Duke had 11 assists (R.J., 4; Zion, 3; Reddish and Trey, 2 each) with only 4 turnovers, while forcing 8 turnovers from UCF.  Goldwire spelled Reddish for five minutes (Reddish picked up 2 fouls) and Bolden (7 minutes) spelled Javin (13 minutes) for Duke’s only substitutions.  The bench did not score.  Zion, R.J. and Tre played all 40 minutes.

The Second Half

The Knights came out of the gate and cut Duke’s lead to 1 almost immediately.  The teams battled back and forth until UCF tied the score at 54 on a Dawkins jumper with 11:19 left.  When JGold fed Zion for a layup, Duke led by 7 with 7:30 to go (66-59).  Aubrey led a sizzling Knight run, which got them within 2.  Then Griffin and Taylor hit 3s to give UCF its first lead since early in the first half 72-70 with 3:09 to go.  Zion tied it before Aubrey put UCF back in front 72-70 with 3:09 to go.  Zion was called for a foul  (his 3rd foul and the team’s 10th), setting the stage for the dramatic last 2:09.

The last 2:09

Taylor missed a jumper as the shot clock ran down that did (or did not) hit the rim.  Dawkins got the rebound and fed Fall for a dunk, which was determined to be good when the referees did not overturn the call after a lengthy review.  74-70.  During the long time out for review, Coach K imparted wisdom to his troops. “No matter what the ruling, there are 8-10 possessions left, maybe more.  You guys were made for these two minutes.  Just be yourselves.”  Coach K later said that R.J. and Zion’s will to win “cannot be measured.  It’s just there.”

The Knight defense worked when Tre was dared to shoot a 3 from the corner, which missed with 2:08 left.  Then came the play of the game that is not shown on Sports Center.  Dawkins got the long rebound and UCF had a 2 on 1 fast break for a 6 point lead, but inexplicably turned it over carelessly (steal credited to DeLaurier).  Cam then scored his only points of the second half with an in rhythm 3 that cut the lead to 1 (74-73) – basically a 5 point swing.  The play that I thought might cost Duke the game ensued.  DeLaurier was first heroic.  He got the defensive rebound when Dawkins missed a jumper.  He got the offensive rebound when R.J. was blocked on a layup and he was fouled.  With 1:09, he went to the line with a chance to give Duke the lead.  But, he missed them both and Fall rebounded the miss.  When Taylor drove the lane, Zion picked up his 4th foul.  Taylor made them both giving UCF a 3 point lead with 45 seconds to go.  Zion tried to tie the game with a 3 that missed, but DeLaurier grabbed the critical offensive rebound.  Tre saw Zion was going to try again from 3land and shouted at him to go to the basket.  Zion drove for the layup, which fouled Fall out, and R.J. grabbed the rebound from Zion’s miss from the free throw line for the winning basket.

The heartbreak for the Knights at the other end was essentially the heartbreak for Duke last year when Grayson’s winning basket against Kansas in the Elite 8 rolled out just as the 2 UCF attempts did.  Oh those basketball gods!

Wrap up Thoughts

While UCF was clearly deserving of winning and may have even been the better team yesterday, there is simply no denying the heart (which can be synonymous with “will to win”) that this young team has displayed in admirable abundance.  Still no other # 1 seed was even slightly pushed in the first two games.  Duke’s vulnerability was dramatically visible.  Zion scored more than half of Duke’s second half points (17 on 6-14; 2-5 from deep and 3-5 from the line) to go with 7 boards and an assist.  He did not get much offensive help in the closing stanza until Cam hit his big three.  Even so, R.J. was the second leading scorer in the closing stanza with 5 points.  Javin scored 2 and Tre 3 on his 1-7 second half.   Bolden played only 2 minutes in the second half.  JGold’s wonderful defense in his 10 second half minutes were critical to Duke’s win.  Those 12 minutes were the only substitute minutes in that half.  Goldwire’s 3 was the only scoring contribution from the bench.

Next Play

Duke plays Virginia Tech in D.C. on Friday (March 29) in the late game (scheduled for 9:39 on CBS).  In the Sweet 16, there are 5 ACC teams, 4 SEC teams, 3 from the Big 10; Texas Tech, Gonzaga, Oregon and Houston.  There are almost no surprises.  All 4 of the #1, 2 and 3 seeds made it.  Only 2 of the 4 seeds qualified; Auburn (#5) and Oregon (#12) are the only participants in the Sweet 16 seeded under #4.

 

I saw it but I didn’t believe it! I had to check my pacemaker and replay the last :30 seconds before I was sure I wasn’t hallucinating and Duke actually won. The only possible explanation is this: Who knew referees and basketball rims both have a conscience? After a very physical game of several questionable non-calls on Zion Williamson drives and an errant shot that was ruled to have skimmed the rim not the backboard, negating a time clock violation that led to a Tacko Fall dunk and UCF going up by four points, the referees gave Zion the benefit of the doubt. Depending upon your perspective, Williamson either drove through or by two defenders to score but a foul, his fifth, was called on Tacko, who did have  defensive position but whose both feet were clearly inside the foul cylinder. The giant 7’ 6” center not being on the floor in the last minute changed the entire dynamics of the remaining two, decisive possessions. Williamson missed the free throw but RJ Barrett grabbed the rebound in a scrum and put it up and in (another version of a four point play), giving Duke a one point advantage with a long :14 seconds to play.

A UCF timeout gave the Knights the ball at half court with just :11 seconds left. In those final seconds, which seemed much longer, the Knights, who were in the double bonus, had two great chances at a potential game winning shot.  B.J. Taylor, hounded by Trey Jones, threw up an off balance, baseline runner that was a little too hard and a little too high—much like Grayson Allen’s final shot against Kansas last year. It hit the backboard, bounced around, then off the rim and Dawkins, flying across the lane and with one hand  tapped/scooped the ball back up but it also danced tantalizingly on the rim, hesitated, then rolled out of, not in, the basket and into Zion’s hands as the buzzer sounded. The inescapable conclusion is that in the final minute, both the refs and the rim deferred to the basketball gods as to which team would be victorious in this sensational, one-and-done NCAA Tournament game. In all seriousness, this game was just another example of what Duke fans have come to expect from Coach K’s teams. They never, ever stop competing hard and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat an astonishing number of times—just remember a few weeks ago rallying late in the game from 23 points down at Louisville—and are consistently so good, love them or hate them, since the UNLV and Kentucky games in 1991-92, they have been the most captivating team in college basketball.

Although this latest Blue Devil version starts four uber talented freshmen, they have survived playing six games without Zion Williamson, the National Player of the Year, and yet going into tonight’s game were still 30-5 with tight, one-possession wins over Florida State, Virginia, Louisville, Wake Forest, and North Carolina that has accelerated their maturity and made them battle tested beyond their years. And then there is this: “When the greatest coach of all time looks at you and tells you that you’re made for this moment, it’s like the most confidence you can be given,” Zion Williamson said after the game. “So when I went to the basket, I knew it was going in.”

Other than that, it was a terrific chess match between the old master and the first great player Coach K recruited at Duke and who was the foundation of  the thirty year franchise that is Duke Basketball. After a professional career cut short by injury, in 1998 Mike hired Johnny as an assistant. Two years later, he promoted Dawkins to associate head coach. The following season, the Blue Devils won their third of five NCAA National Championships. Dawkins left ten years later to be head coach at Stanford. Not coincidentally, Dawkins son, Aubrey, played the game of his life (“not just outstanding, but truly magnificent” according to Coach K) and was a final tip (about the only shot he seemed to miss in scoring 32 points) away from upsetting the school where he grew up and learned to play. Sort of begs the question of why he went to Michigan before transferring to UCF?

Three other players deserve to be acknowledged: Cam Reddish, the often enigmatic X factor, had 13 points including 3 three pointers, the last of which was in the last two minutes and without which—like the Florida State and Louisville victories– the comebacks would not have been possible. Jordan Goldwire was instrumental in the 3-2 press that gave Duke a 13-2 run leading to a crucial 44-36 halftime lead as well as hitting a “no, no, yes! three point shot. And Javin DeLaurier had 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks in holding the game changing Tacko Fall to 15 points and 7 rebounds—and set the pick for Cam’s late three point shot. In addition, he fought hard for two important rebounds in the last frantic minute.

Alan Adds:

This was a superb college basketball game.  It is easy to mistake this great game for a disappointing performance by the top seed against a #9 seed, over whom the Blue Devils were a prohibitive favorite.  That was not reality.  Reality was Duke played an opponent that “played at as high a level as any team we played this year.  Nobody played better against us.”  Coach K wasn’t just giving his usual spiel; UCF played brilliantly.  Aubrey Dawkins “was not just outstanding, he was magnificent.  He was the best player on the court,” K said.  Even though Duke played a superb first half, scoring 44 points on 55% shooting (18-33; 5-11 from deep and 3-3 from the line), UCF was still in contention.  When the shots Duke was making in the first half stopped falling in the last stanza, UCF came roaring back and took control of the game.  Fall, whose 2 first half fouls limited him to 9 minutes, played 16 minutes in the second half, which made the difference.  His second half presence enabled UCF to shut down the Duke offense with a brilliantly conceived defense.

Fall, at 7’6” was guarding (not guarding) Tre.  Thus, he camped out in the lane – a one man zone — daring Tre to shoot wide (I mean wide) open 3s.  In 20 second half minutes, Tre was a disappointing 1-7 from the field (1-6 from deep), which made the strategy look brilliant.  Fall was able to completely clog the interior, where Duke had feasted in the first half while Fall sat with 2 fouls.  When Duke’s accurate first half shooting deserted the Devils  —  Jones 1-7; Barrett 1-7 before the game winning put back, which gave him a second half of 2-8 shooting; and Reddish was held to only one other shot (a miss) before his crucial 3 – the Knight’s brilliantly conceived defense held Duke to 33 second half points.

The game divided into 3 sections: first half, second half up until the stoppage at 2:09 to determine if a shot clock violation would wipe out Fall’s offensive rebound dunk.

The first half

Once Fall headed to the bench with 2 fouls, Duke began to play.  The opening minutes knocked the young Devils back.  Duke did not secure its first lead until there was only 8 minutes left in the half after trailing by as much as 6 several times.  The lead changed hands before the game was tied at 34 with 3:35 to go.  Then Duke unleashed its defense that leads to offense.  Zion scored 3 the old fashioned way, a Goldwire steal led to Trey’s layup, Barrett scored 3 the old fashioned way and Duke led by 8 with 1:13 left in the half.  Another steal by JGold, who passed to Zion, who delivered a sensational long bounce pass  to Tre for a half closing layup.  44-36.  Both teams had played superbly.  Dawkins dropped in 18 points (half of the Knight’s 36) to go with 3 steals.  The Duke scoring, on the other hand, was balanced – Zion, 15 (6-10; 1-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line); R.J. 11 (4-7; 2-3 from deep; 1-1 from the stripe); Cam, 10 (4-6; 2-3 from deep) and Tre, 8 (4-8; 0-2 from deep).  Duke had 11 assists (R.J., 4; Zion, 3; Reddish and Trey, 2 each) with only 4 turnovers, while forcing 8 turnovers from UCF.  Goldwire spelled Reddish for five minutes (Reddish picked up 2 fouls) and Bolden (7 minutes) spelled Javin (13 minutes) for Duke’s only substitutions.  The bench did not score.  Zion, R.J. and Tre played all 40 minutes.

The Second Half

The Knights came out of the gate and cut Duke’s lead to 1 almost immediately.  The teams battled back and forth until UCF tied the score at 54 on a Dawkins jumper with 11:19 left.  When JGold fed Zion for a layup, Duke led by 7 with 7:30 to go (66-59).  Aubrey led a sizzling Knight run, which got them within 2.  Then Griffin and Taylor hit 3s to give UCF its first lead since early in the first half 72-70 with 3:09 to go.  Zion tied it before Aubrey put UCF back in front 72-70 with 3:09 to go.  Zion was called for a foul  (his 3rd foul and the team’s 10th), setting the stage for the dramatic last 2:09.

The last 2:09

Taylor missed a jumper as the shot clock ran down that did (or did not) hit the rim.  Dawkins got the rebound and fed Fall for a dunk, which was determined to be good when the referees did not overturn the call after a lengthy review.  74-70.  During the long time out for review, Coach K imparted wisdom to his troops. “No matter what the ruling, there are 8-10 possessions left, maybe more.  You guys were made for these two minutes.  Just be yourselves.”  Coach K later said that R.J. and Zion’s will to win “cannot be measured.  It’s just there.”

The Knight defense worked when Tre was dared to shoot a 3 from the corner, which missed with 2:08 left.  Then came the play of the game that is not shown on Sports Center.  Dawkins got the long rebound and UCF had a 2 on 1 fast break for a 6 point lead, but inexplicably turned it over carelessly (steal credited to DeLaurier).  Cam then scored his only points of the second half with an in rhythm 3 that cut the lead to 1 (74-73) – basically a 5 point swing.  The play that I thought might cost Duke the game ensued.  DeLaurier was first heroic.  He got the defensive rebound when Dawkins missed a jumper.  He got the offensive rebound when R.J. was blocked on a layup and he was fouled.  With 1:09, he went to the line with a chance to give Duke the lead.  But, he missed them both and Fall rebounded the miss.  When Taylor drove the lane, Zion picked up his 4th foul.  Taylor made them both giving UCF a 3 point lead with 45 seconds to go.  Zion tried to tie the game with a 3 that missed, but DeLaurier grabbed the critical offensive rebound.  Tre saw Zion was going to try again from 3land and shouted at him to go to the basket.  Zion drove for the layup, which fouled Fall out, and R.J. grabbed the rebound from Zion’s miss from the free throw line for the winning basket.

The heartbreak for the Knights at the other end was essentially the heartbreak for Duke last year when Grayson’s winning basket against Kansas in the Elite 8 rolled out just as the 2 UCF attempts did.  Oh those basketball gods!

Wrap up Thoughts

While UCF was clearly deserving of winning and may have even been the better team yesterday, there is simply no denying the heart (which can be synonymous with “will to win”) that this young team has displayed in admirable abundance.  Still no other # 1 seed was even slightly pushed in the first two games.  Duke’s vulnerability was dramatically visible.  Zion scored more than half of Duke’s second half points (17 on 6-14; 2-5 from deep and 3-5 from the line) to go with 7 boards and an assist.  He did not get much offensive help in the closing stanza until Cam hit his big three.  Even so, R.J. was the second leading scorer in the closing stanza with 5 points.  Javin scored 2 and Tre 3 on his 1-7 second half.   Bolden played only 2 minutes in the second half.  JGold’s wonderful defense in his 10 second half minutes were critical to Duke’s win.  Those 12 minutes were the only substitute minutes in that half.  Goldwire’s 3 was the only scoring contribution from the bench.

Next Play

Duke plays Virginia Tech in D.C. on Friday (March 29) in the late game (scheduled for 9:39 on CBS).  In the Sweet 16, there are 5 ACC teams, 4 SEC teams, 3 from the Big 10; Texas Tech, Gonzaga, Oregon and Houston.  There are almost no surprises.  All 4 of the #1, 2 and 3 seeds made it.  Only 2 of the 4 seeds qualified; Auburn (#5) and Oregon (#12) are the only participants in the Sweet 16 seeded under #4.

Duke 75 – Virginia Tech 73

You have watch the end of these last two Duke games over and over in slow motion to believe the outcome. Suddenly, the basketball that seemed to have eyes only for the bottom of the net from 23 feet and beyond, in the last seconds, whether dancing on the rim or shot just inches away, would not drop through the net. Tonight, the Hokies, who usually execute and shoot so well, missed on three last chances in the final :30 seconds to tie or take the lead. The first two jump shots were defended well and were bricks that bounced awkwardly to Tech players. The last one was not defended at all but Ahmed Hill missed an open inbounds lob at point blank range (but fading away from the rim) with 1.0 second left. It might have been only fair as on the second miss, Blackshear chased down the misfire to the sideline but his foot came down on the out-of-bounds line with the referee also standing right on the line looking directly at him but not his foot. Had the violation been called rather than missed, the game would have been over as there was only 1.1 seconds left.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. A long time ago, Don Henson, my coach, told me something that has proven true time and again: “The better the player, the luckier they are.”  It should not be overlooked that for the umpteenth time this season, Duke’s young freshmen found themselves in a game that went down to the final buzzer, yet found a way to beat an older, more experienced team. Tonight, it was a very talented, balanced, and well coached Virginia Tech team featuring four graduate students. However, the result wasn’t a fluke. In the second half, the Blue Devils led the final twelve minutes by making more plays offensively and defensively. Zion and RJ’s play should surprise no one, but….. O’Connell led the team in rebounding; Bolden made two important free throws; Javin and Marques limited Blackshear to shooting 5-14 for 18 points. The win was the sum of the disparate parts.

Perhaps buoyed by the thought they had already beaten Duke this season, the Tech players might have not fully comprehended what Zion and a healthy RJ bring to the team, as well as that all season Duke has been a second half team, because the Hokies came out playing like a team that believed they could do it again as they led 38-34 at the half. However, utilizing the UCF strategy of sagging off Trey Jones to jam the paint was not paying the dividends they anticipated as Trey was knocking down his jumper, Tacko Fall was not on the floor, but Zion Williamson  doing his Flyin’ Zion thing was, and the game was not in Blacksburg.

The Blue Devils were a different team in the second half as the Three Freshmen Musketeers went to work ultimately scoring 63 of Duke’s 75 points: RJ Barrett went on a run and the Capital Arena saw why the talented freshmen, even missing Cam Reddish, are—well, the most celebrated freshman class since the Fab Five. Barrett had 18 points, 4 rebounds, & 11 assists. Jones had 22 points & 6 assists, and Zion Williamson had among 23 points, 5 rebounds, & 3 blocks the usual variety  of “OMG, I don’t believe that,” plays seldom, if ever, seen in college basketball. Sophomore Alex O’Connell started in place of Reddish, played 36 minutes had a team high 7 rebounds and 4 points.

Other Comments:

  • Tough love. In yesterday’s practice, Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer told Trey Jones: “Teams aren’t not covering you because they think you’re a not a good shooter.’” The message was blunt. If Duke’s opponents want to double-team Williamson in the post or Barrett when he starts to drive, he was going get open shots. Prove them wrong.
  • Cam Reddish missed the game for the Blue Devils due to a left leg injury. His injury and status for Sunday’s game is unknown. In case you’re counting, it has been since February 16, against NC State in which Duke’s core players were all healthy.
  • Unfortunately, for those of us hoping for a Duke-North Carolina final, the Tar Heels, several of whom were hit with a flu bug, ran into a red hot Auburn team that made 17 three pointers and were eliminated.

Alan adds:

Years ago, the Yankees star left handed pitcher, Lefty Gomez, famously said, “I’d rather be lucky than good any day!”  This Duke team is certainly good, and even very good, but there is no denying they have been lucky — with opponents missing game open winning or tying shots at the buzzer.  As for Hill’s final undefended point blank shot at the rim that came off a brilliantly designed out of bounds play with 1.1 seconds left, Coach K said, “ Our guys played great defense to put us in a position where they have to make that play. In other words, we played two good defensive exchanges before that, with 29 seconds to go, then with 5.8 seconds to go. So you can elaborate on the last one. I’ll elaborate on the three. And all three proved to be successful for us.  I forget, sometimes the old thing — the operation was a success, but the patient died. And their play was a success but it didn’t work. But the three in a row for us, that’s a hell of a thing for our team.”

Bill and I are establishing a ritual.  He calls me at half time (Duke has lately been behind and not playing its A game), and asks, “who is going to win?”  I reply, “Duke is a second half team.”   And so it was last night against the Hokies.  The Blue Devils rose to the occasion, taking the lead and never trailing again in the game’s final 12 + minutes.  Zion, Tre and R.J played 59 minutes (R.J. sat for a minute after picking up his 4th foul) and scored 37 of Duke’s 41 second half points.  Alex also played 20 second half minutes.  Though he did not score (0-2 from deep), he got 3 rebounds, dished out an assist and had a steal.  Interestingly, even with Duke’s lead was shrinking as the game wound down, Coach K went with Alex over JGold (who did not play in the second half).  Even though Marquis committed 3 first half fouls he played 14 second half minutes without fouling out and scored the other 4 points (on a beautiful post move past Blackshear plus 2-2 on clutch free throws with under a minute to go).  His 5 second half rebounds were critical.  He was far more effective against Blackshear than DeLaurier (6 second half minutes).  Each played 20 minutes in the game.  Duke switched and fronted Blackshear making him far less effective in the second half.  Duke played almost excellent defense all game, and really excellent when it counted most.

What was on display was what Coach K calls “the will to win”.  Some would label it heart.  Detractors might use luck.  Whatever it is, it has produced a series of remarkable wins for this very young team this year.  Moreover, adversity has been a constant.  Duke practiced and game planned with Cam, but once again a key starter didn’t play.   Coach K put it in perspective, “We got a bunch of young guys, man. And Alex hasn’t played. It’s a hell of a win for us. It’s a great win. Our kids were terrific tonight. They were so damn good to coach. They rose to the occasion. And with that adversity. We’re a young, not a deep team. So we have kids that, all these kids are really good now. They’re going to be really good, unbelievable later. But they’re doing a great job while they’re 18. And two of these guys are 18. Do you remember 18? It’s hard for me to remember 18. And they’ve never backed down — they’ve never been afraid the whole year. And we played this amazing schedule. And the spotlight’s on these kids from day one to now. So to have that on them and still respond the way they do, it’s really terrific for these kids. And again they’ve been such a joy to coach.”

Zion was 6-6 for 12 second half points.  Don’t you love Bill’s “doing his flyin’ Zion thing”?  But that is precisely how Zion flew for 100% field goal accuracy in that half.  R.J. was 6-11; and 3-3 from the line (but 0-4 from deep) to lead Duke’s scoring in that stanza with 15 points.  Tre was beyond spectacular scoring 10 on 7 shots (4-7; 2-3 from deep, but 0-1 from the line that needs further description).  He had 4 rebounds, 5 assists without a turnover and a spectacular steal.  However, he must have been more relieved than any other Blue Devil when Hill’s shot missed.  With Duke up 75-71 and the shot clock off (29 seconds left), Jones committed a bad foul on Robinson far from the basket.  He grimaced guiltily as Robinson made both shots to cut the Duke lead to 2.  The Hokies had to foul.  Duke got the ball to Jones (would have been Reddish if …), who was fouled immediately.  It was only the Hokies’ 9th foul, making it a 1 and 1.  Tre missed the front end, giving the Hokies the ball back and a chance to tie or win with 29 seconds to go.  Whew!  Otherwise, he was the straw that stirred the amazing (and lucky) drink.

Is this Duke team “a team of destiny”?  Again Coach K is the voice of wisdom: “I don’t really believe that. I believe that we just play hard and you stay resilient and play until the end. We’ve had balls roll off, too. We got eliminated from the Final Four last year with that.  So the game is a great game. And it has amazing endings. And the last two endings for us have been for us. But our guys hung in there until the very end in both of them. And I don’t think you’re going to have an ending that’s favorable if you don’t hang in there until the end.”

Next Play: Michigan State in the elite 8 on Sunday at 5:05  p.m. on CBS.

 

Duke 67- Michigan State 68

Except for the first game of the season against Kentucky, this young but uber talented Duke team won 32 games including an ACC Tournament Championship despite being subpar at free throw and three point shooting as well as rarely playing at full potential for forty minutes. However, for most of the season those flaws were masked by the transcendent talents of Zion Williamson (they were 3-3 when he was injured). But not today. It was a close game of runs but those inconsistencies and the law of averages caught up with them against Tom Izzo’s tough Michigan State team that made one play more—ironically, a three– at the end than the Blue Devils did. It is amazing that the game was even this close. No matter how talented a team is, it cannot have 17 turnovers (11 steals), miss 5 free throws, give an opponent 70 shots at the basket, have only three players in double figures (24, 21, 10), and expect to win an a NCAA Elite Eight matchup against an experienced, battle tested, well coached opponent. The bottom line: Michigan State played more maturely than Duke. There is also the Basketball Gods factor. Down two points with 15 seconds left, Barrett, who has produced so many times in critical situations, was on the line with two shots. He missed the first, tried to miss the second but (unlike the Virginia – Purdue game) the ball bounced straight up and dropped straight down and in. As UCF and Virginia Tech can attest, the ball takes some crazy bounces.

After the game, Johnny Tar Heel called and said the good news is that this year Duke and Zion Williamson brought more excitement and interest to college basketball than any time in its history. In truth, Zion made more “OMG, I don’t believe that” plays seldom, if ever, seen in college basketball and rarely disappointed for very long, much less a full game. Today, he had 24 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, &  3 blocks– as well as innumerable shot intimidations at the rim. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, he only took only one shot in the last six minutes.

The Spartans are a battle tested, old school squad without a lottery pick. Truthfully, Freshman Trey Jones, the key to the Duke defense, and his teammates could not contain Junior PG Cassius Winston (20 points, 10 assists, 1 turnover) and enigmatic Freshman Cam Reddish did not rise to the occasion as he often has in tight games. Then, there were the missed  free throws and sloppy passing. Duke played like a young, tired team. Interestingly, Junior Javin DeLaurier (10 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks) was the most consistent player in Blue & White.

Undoubtedly, the question will be: If  Mike Krzyzewski with the most celebrated freshman class since the Fab Five (who also did not win a NCAA Title) and the once-in-a-lifetime talent of Williamson as well as RJ Barrett, the presumptive second pick in the NBA draft, cannot win the NCAA Championship, will Duke always be less than the sum of its parts in this one-year life cycle of starting over every season? My answer to that is this: The draft rules are established by the NBA contract with the Players Association. Would you recruit and coach the best players available—like Kyrie Irving, Jabbari Parker, Jason Tatum, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson—or let them play for another program?

A more interesting question may be: Is Coach K’s strategy of playing his best players for most of every game more suitable for older, stronger players like he had before the one-and-done era than less physically mature 18 & 19 year old’s? Trey Jones, who was tasked with picking up and hounding point guards from half court or more, clearly has not been as effective late in the season as he was earlier. As I texted to Alan in the middle of the second half (just before Coach K called a timeout): “Even the indefatigable Zion seems gassed.”  Then, there is the ACC Tournament. As originally conceived, it meant more than a banner. The winner was the only ACC team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Now, an ACC team can play three or four games in a row, then immediately face rested run-and-gun teams in the NCAA Tournament that cannot wait to play against a Blue Blood Program. And it cannot be overlooked as how the three point shot has levelled the playing field. But all this is a conversation for another time and place.

Final Thoughts:

  • While on one hand, it is a cruel twist of fate that Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who are now 2-11 against Coach K’s teams, is headed to the Final Four along with three teams– Auburn, Texas Tech and Virginia (twice)– Duke beat by an average of 7.3 points in the regular season. This game may have been the de facto national championship. On the other hand, Coach Tony Bennett and Virginia, who have been so successful in the regular season but not so much in this tournament and were eliminated by a#16 seed last year, have an opportunity to run the table and win it all this year.
  • While this was a disappointing loss, it should not be considered a disappointing season. These young players were outstanding representatives of their school, always played hard through a difficult schedule and an injury to their best player. By almost any standard, this was an outstanding season of which any fan should be proud.
  • However, one thing is for certain. No matter your team allegiance or if you even are a basketball fan, the NCAA Basketball Tournament has become as compelling, exciting, and egalitarian a sporting event as any in America and, perhaps, the world.
  • Alan Adds:

The Season

Zion was asked how he felt.  His reply speaks in some ways for how I felt after the final whistle of this amazing Duke season.  “ I looked around the locker room and see teammates and brothers and know this group will never play together again.  I’m not ready to look back at the moment.  We just lost the game, obviously.  I have to get through this emotion first.  After a few days maybe I will look back on how great of a season we had.”

And it was an amazing season.  Coach K put in perspective: “We accomplished so much. We had the lead the whole year, with attention focused on us, the schedule we played, and everything else.  They handled things so beautifully.  They were deserving of special things and this year has been special.  But not going to the Final Four is a huge disappointment for us.”

R.J. was simply devastated at the post-game press conference.  He was almost catatonic, but somehow managed to keep his poise.  He was asked about his feeling: “Just that it’s over.  Every day we came in and worked our butts off.  We gave everything that we had all season long.  We had so much success.  To see that happen at the end … for it to be over for us is heartbreaking.”  When asked about the last play, he was almost Hemingwayesq: “They hit a big shot.  We came down and weren’t able to score.  I had 2 free throws. Missed them.  That was about it.”  And so it was.

The Game

Both teams played only six players (except for a few 3 minute cameos by each team).  The four starters on each team played virtually the whole game.  Each team alternated bigs – DeLaurier (23 minutes with a valuable double double – 5-5 for 10 points and 10 boards) and Tillman (29 minutes of great defense on Zion; 19 points and 9 boards) were the main players with Bolden (17 minutes without a point, block or assist and only 2 boards) and Ward (13 minutes with 6 points and 5 boards) backing up the starters.

Michigan State had 13 more field goal attempts, 18 assists to 7 turnovers (Duke had 17 turnovers and 14 assists).  For me, the telling statistic was fast break points.  All year, Duke made up for its sub-par 3 point shooting and erratic foul shooting with its ball hawking defense that created steals that led to transition fast break points.  It was Duke’s strongest of strong suits.  Last night Michigan state had 15 fast break points to Duke’s 0.  Duke did not record a single fast break point last night, and forced only 7 Michigan State turnovers.  Michigan State had 24 points off Duke turnovers while Duke managed only 9 from Spartan miscues. 

Coach K credited Winston for the Michigan State win.  He scored 20 (but on 23 shots) while handing out 10 assists with only a single turnover.  “Winston is the best guard we played against.  10 assists and 1 turnover.  He can make the right play at the right time.  Tre playing crazy on him.  Winston could handle the pressure and still run his team.  He’s as good a player as we’ve played against.”

It’s hard not to conclude that the better  team won this game.  Coach K again, “They played older than we did.  We are young.  In the first half, we were not ourselves.  We wanted it too much.  I spent most of the first half not x and o ing. I told them to just settle down and be you.  In the second half we did.”  The Spartans made the winning plays at the end.  Duke gave up the open three and then could not answer.  I did text Bill that I favored trying for a Cam three and the win on the last play (ala Florida State).  However, R.J. got to the rim and the line with a chance to tie.

My Wrap-Up

I admit that I expected this team to advance further than last year’s group of 1 and done stars.  It did seem a team of destiny, which made last night’s heartbreaking loss even a bit more heartbreaking.  However, it was a glorious season.  I echo Coach K’s wisdom.  It was a very disappointing loss as was the failure to get to The Final Four.  But the season was a very long way from being a disappointment.  After a few days, as Zion said: “We will look back on how great of a season we had.”

for the first game of the season against Kentucky, this young but uber talented Duke team won 32 games including an ACC Tournament Championship despite being subpar at free throw and three point shooting as well as rarely playing at full potential for forty minutes. However, for most of the season those flaws were masked by the transcendent talents of Zion Williamson (they were 3-3 when he was injured). But not today. It was a close game of runs but those inconsistencies and the law of averages caught up with them against Tom Izzo’s tough Michigan State team that made one play more—ironically, a three– at the end than the Blue Devils did. It is amazing that the game was even this close. No matter how talented a team is, it cannot have 17 turnovers (11 steals), miss 5 free throws, give an opponent 70 shots at the basket, have only three players in double figures (24, 21, 10), and expect to win an a NCAA Elite Eight matchup against an experienced, battle tested, well coached opponent. The bottom line: Michigan State played more maturely than Duke. There is also the Basketball Gods factor. Down two points with 15 seconds left, Barrett, who has produced so many times in critical situations, was on the line with two shots. He missed the first, tried to miss the second but (unlike the Virginia – Purdue game) the ball bounced straight up and dropped straight down and in. As UCF and Virginia Tech can attest, the ball takes some crazy bounces.

After the game, Johnny Tar Heel called and said the good news is that this year Duke and Zion Williamson brought more excitement and interest to college basketball than any time in its history. In truth, Zion made more “OMG, I don’t believe that” plays seldom, if ever, seen in college basketball and rarely disappointed for very long, much less a full game. Today, he had 24 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, &  3 blocks– as well as innumerable shot intimidations at the rim. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, he only took only one shot in the last six minutes.

The Spartans are a battle tested, old school squad without a lottery pick. Truthfully, Freshman Trey Jones, the key to the Duke defense, and his teammates could not contain Junior PG Cassius Winston (20 points, 10 assists, 1 turnover) and enigmatic Freshman Cam Reddish did not rise to the occasion as he often has in tight games. Then, there were the missed  free throws and sloppy passing. Duke played like a young, tired team. Interestingly, Junior Javin DeLaurier (10 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks) was the most consistent player in Blue & White.

Undoubtedly, the question will be: If  Mike Krzyzewski with the most celebrated freshman class since the Fab Five (who also did not win a NCAA Title) and the once-in-a-lifetime talent of Williamson as well as RJ Barrett, the presumptive second pick in the NBA draft, cannot win the NCAA Championship, will Duke always be less than the sum of its parts in this one-year life cycle of starting over every season? My answer to that is this: The draft rules are established by the NBA contract with the Players Association. Would you recruit and coach the best players available—like Kyrie Irving, Jabbari Parker, Jason Tatum, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson—or let them play for another program?

A more interesting question may be: Is Coach K’s strategy of playing his best players for most of every game more suitable for older, stronger players like he had before the one-and-done era than less physically mature 18 & 19 year old’s? Trey Jones, who was tasked with picking up and hounding point guards from half court or more, clearly has not been as effective late in the season as he was earlier. As I texted to Alan in the middle of the second half (just before Coach K called a timeout): “Even the indefatigable Zion seems gassed.”  Then, there is the ACC Tournament. As originally conceived, it meant more than a banner. The winner was the only ACC team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Now, an ACC team can play three or four games in a row, then immediately face rested run-and-gun teams in the NCAA Tournament that cannot wait to play against a Blue Blood Program. And it cannot be overlooked as how the three point shot has levelled the playing field. But all this is a conversation for another time and place.

Final Thoughts:

  • While on one hand, it is a cruel twist of fate that Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who are now 2-11 against Coach K’s teams, is headed to the Final Four along with three teams– Auburn, Texas Tech and Virginia (twice)– Duke beat by an average of 7.3 points in the regular season. This game may have been the de facto national championship. On the other hand, Coach Tony Bennett and Virginia, who have been so successful in the regular season but not so much in this tournament and were eliminated by a#16 seed last year, have an opportunity to run the table and win it all this year.
  • While this was a disappointing loss, it should not be considered a disappointing season. These young players were outstanding representatives of their school, always played hard through a difficult schedule and an injury to their best player. By almost any standard, this was an outstanding season of which any fan should be proud.
  • However, one thing is for certain. No matter your team allegiance or if you even are a basketball fan, the NCAA Basketball Tournament has become as compelling, exciting, and egalitarian a sporting event as any in America and, perhaps, the world.
  • Alan Adds:

The Season

Zion was asked how he felt.  His reply speaks in some ways for how I felt after the final whistle of this amazing Duke season.  “ I looked around the locker room and see teammates and brothers and know this group will never play together again.  I’m not ready to look back at the moment.  We just lost the game, obviously.  I have to get through this emotion first.  After a few days maybe I will look back on how great of a season we had.”

And it was an amazing season.  Coach K put in perspective: “We accomplished so much. We had the lead the whole year, with attention focused on us, the schedule we played, and everything else.  They handled things so beautifully.  They were deserving of special things and this year has been special.  But not going to the Final Four is a huge disappointment for us.”

R.J. was simply devastated at the post-game press conference.  He was almost catatonic, but somehow managed to keep his poise.  He was asked about his feeling: “Just that it’s over.  Every day we came in and worked our butts off.  We gave everything that we had all season long.  We had so much success.  To see that happen at the end … for it to be over for us is heartbreaking.”  When asked about the last play, he was almost Hemingwayesq: “They hit a big shot.  We came down and weren’t able to score.  I had 2 free throws. Missed them.  That was about it.”  And so it was.

The Game

Both teams played only six players (except for a few 3 minute cameos by each team).  The four starters on each team played virtually the whole game.  Each team alternated bigs – DeLaurier (23 minutes with a valuable double double – 5-5 for 10 points and 10 boards) and Tillman (29 minutes of great defense on Zion; 19 points and 9 boards) were the main players with Bolden (17 minutes without a point, block or assist and only 2 boards) and Ward (13 minutes with 6 points and 5 boards) backing up the starters.

Michigan State had 13 more field goal attempts, 18 assists to 7 turnovers (Duke had 17 turnovers and 14 assists).  For me, the telling statistic was fast break points.  All year, Duke made up for its sub-par 3 point shooting and erratic foul shooting with its ball hawking defense that created steals that led to transition fast break points.  It was Duke’s strongest of strong suits.  Last night Michigan state had 15 fast break points to Duke’s 0.  Duke did not record a single fast break point last night, and forced only 7 Michigan State turnovers.  Michigan State had 24 points off Duke turnovers while Duke managed only 9 from Spartan miscues. 

Coach K credited Winston for the Michigan State win.  He scored 20 (but on 23 shots) while handing out 10 assists with only a single turnover.  “Winston is the best guard we played against.  10 assists and 1 turnover.  He can make the right play at the right time.  Tre playing crazy on him.  Winston could handle the pressure and still run his team.  He’s as good a player as we’ve played against.”

It’s hard not to conclude that the better  team won this game.  Coach K again, “They played older than we did.  We are young.  In the first half, we were not ourselves.  We wanted it too much.  I spent most of the first half not x and o ing. I told them to just settle down and be you.  In the second half we did.”  The Spartans made the winning plays at the end.  Duke gave up the open three and then could not answer.  I did text Bill that I favored trying for a Cam three and the win on the last play (ala Florida State).  However, R.J. got to the rim and the line with a chance to tie.

My Wrap-Up

I admit that I expected this team to advance further than last year’s group of 1 and done stars.  It did seem a team of destiny, which made last night’s heartbreaking loss even a bit more heartbreaking.  However, it was a glorious season.  I echo Coach K’s wisdom.  It was a very disappointing loss as was the failure to get to The Final Four.  But the season was a very long way from being a disappointment.  After a few days, as Zion said: “We will look back on how great of a season we had.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duke Basketball Playbook: 2017-18

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

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

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

What to look for:

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

2016-2017

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

2015 compared to 2017-18

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

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

The Backcourt

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

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

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

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

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

The Front Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 88 – Michigan State 81

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whetting the Whistle

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

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

Duke 97  – Elon 68

Duke  99 –  Utah Valley 69

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

Front Court

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

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

Backcourt

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

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

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

Tuesday night promises to be so much fun.

Duke 88 – Michigan State 81

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 78– Southern 61 

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

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

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

Other Comments: 

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

The Starters

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

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

The Bench

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

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

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

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

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

Next week – 4 games

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

Duke 92– Furman 63

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

The Bench

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

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

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

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

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

The Starters

The Backcourt

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

Bagley and Carter

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

The PK tournament and Big 10 Challenge

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

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

Duke 99 – Portland State 81

Duke 85 – Texas 78

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

Overall impressions:

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

Duke 85 Texas 78

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

Duke 99 Portland State 81

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

More In Depth Thoughts

Texas

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

The first 33 minutes

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

The last 7 minutes of regulation

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

The Overtime

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

The Box Score

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

Portland State

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

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

Florida

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

Duke 87  –  Florida 84

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

Duke’s first 30 minutes

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

The Rotation in the Second Half

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

Duke’s Second Half Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 91  – Indiana  81

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds: 

Duke’s Defense

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

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

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

The Rotation

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

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

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

Winning Time

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

Assessment at end of November

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

Duke 96 –  South Dakota 80

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

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

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

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

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

Other comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

DUKE 124 – ST. FRANCIS 67

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

Alan adds:

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

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

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

 Duke 89 – Boston College 84

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

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

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

The numbers tell the story:

Duke      BC

32           31    2’s

  8           15    3’s  

34          35    rebounds

13           18    assists

11            17     turnovers

10            3     steals

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

DUKE 104 – EVANSVILLE 40 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 100 -Florida State 93

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

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

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

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

Other Observations:

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

Tre Duval

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

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

The defense

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

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

The rotation

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

The offense

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

The Season

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

Duke 85 – N.C. State 96

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DUKE 87 – PITTSBURG 52 

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

DUKE 89 – WAKE FOREST 71 

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

DUKE 83– MIAMI 75 

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

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

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

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

Other Observations:

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

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

Alan Adds:

“Almost Perfect Basketball

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

The Eight Minutes

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

The Bigs

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

The Perimeter

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

The Bench

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

Coach K and the Team

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

DUKE 81- PITTSBURGH 54

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

The Bigs

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

The Perimeter

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

The Bench

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

Coming Up

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

Duke 84 – Wake Forest 70 

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 63 – Virginia 65 

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

The Ugly (the First Half)

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

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

The Bad

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

The Good

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

Prospects for the Season

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

Duke 88 – Notre Dame 66

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

DUKE  77- ST. JOHNS 81 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

The Defense

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

The Offense

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

Foul Shooting

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

Evaluation

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

Duke 78- North Carolina 82 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Next play.

Alan Adds:

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

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

Crunch Time

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

The backcourt

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

The Bigs

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

The Bench

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

The Unfolding Season

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

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

Duke 80 – Georgia Tech 69 

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

The Bigs

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

The Backcourt

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

The Second Half Slump

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

Going forward

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

Duke 74- Virginia Tech 52 

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

Duke 66 – Clemson 57 

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

The Defense and the Bench

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

Heading to the ACC Tournament

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

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

Duke 82– Louisville 56 

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

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

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

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

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

Do we have Marvin and the Miracles or The Supremes?

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

DUKE 60 – SYRACUSE 44 

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 63 – Virginia Tech 64 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

DUKE 74 – NORTH CAROLINA 64 

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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

Alan adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC Championship Summary

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

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

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

DUKE 69 – NORTH CAROLINA 74

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

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

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

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

Next play.

Other Comments:

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

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

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

Duke v UNC in the Semi-Final

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

The Defense

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

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

The Offense

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

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

Duke’s Comeback

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

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

Grayson’s flagrant foul

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

NCAA Tournament

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

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

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

DUKE 89 – IONA 67 

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

DUKE 87 – RHODE ISLAND 62 

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

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

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

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

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

March Sadness:

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

March Madness:

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

The Defense

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

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

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

The Offense

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

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

The Bench

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

On To Omaha (Midwest Regional)

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

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

Handling “The Vicissitudes of the Tournament”

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

DUKE 69 – SYRACUSE 65 

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

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

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

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

Other Observations:

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

Alan Adds

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

The Defense

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

The Offense

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

Winning Time

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

The Bench

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

Kansas on Sunday

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

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

DUKE 81 – KANSAS 85 

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

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

Alan adds:

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Duke Basketball Playbook: 2016-17

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

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

What to look for:

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

Duke 94 – Marist 49

 Duke 96 – Grand Canyon 61

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

The Defense

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

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

The Backcourt

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

The Front Court

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

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

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

Duke  75 –  Kansas 77

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

The Backcourt

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

The Frontcourt

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

Assessment

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

Duke 78 – Penn State 68 

Duke 75 – Rhode Island 65 

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

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

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

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

Additional Comments:

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

Duke 78 – Michigan State 69 

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

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

Matt Norlander

CBS Sports column:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 94 –  Maine 55

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

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

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

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

Other Observations:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

The Freshmen

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

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

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

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

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

The Backcourt

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

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

The Frontcourt

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

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

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

Summing Up

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

Duke 84 – Florida 74

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

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

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

Other Thoughts: 

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

Alan Adds:

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

The rotation

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

Tatum

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

Kennard

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

Jefferson

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

Allen

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

Jones

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

Jackson

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

Next Game

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

Duke 94– Las Vegas 45

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

The Rotation

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

The Front Court

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

The Scintillating Back Court

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

The Status of the Team Going into Exams

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

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

Duke  65– Tennessee State 55

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

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

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

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

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

Other comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

The rotation

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

The Defense

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

The Offense

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

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

The end of Non-Conference

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

DUKE  72 – ELON 61

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

Grayson Allen

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

The Rotation

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

The front court

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

The backcourt

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

The Conference

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

Hi Folks:

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

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

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

Alan adds:

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

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

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

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

Concern For Grayson Allen

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

by Al Featherston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came Wednesday night in Greensboro.

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

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

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

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

Frankly, he went berserk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except when he’s not.

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

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

I’ll be honest … it scared me.

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

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

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

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

Duke will be fine. I just hope Allen is.

DUKE  75 – VIRGINIA TECH 89

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

Take Heart; All is Not Lost

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

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

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

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

The Rotation

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

DUKE 110 – GEORGIA TECH 57

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

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

Other Comments:

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

 

Duke 93 – Boston College 82

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

The Frontcourt

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

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

The backcourt

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

Next Play

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

Alan Adds:

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

The Rotation

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

The First Half

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

The Second Half

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

The coming games

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

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

Duke 72 – Florida State 88

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 69 – Louisville 78

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

Alan adds:

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

The Bottomless Sink Hole

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

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