Duke Basketball Playbook: 2017-18 Season

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: 2015-16 Season

Retrospective & Preview:

Welcome to the fifth edition  of the Duke Basketball Playbook. Before we preview this year’s team, let’s reflect upon last year’s season. Four highly rated freshmen joined with three upper classmen to win the 2015 NCAA Championship. Okafor, Jones, and Winslow combined with Cook, Jefferson, Jones, and Plumlee for most of the regular season playing minutes. However, perhaps, the most difficult, critical decision was Coach K stunning dismissal Rasheed Sulaimon from the team after the Notre Dame game, because that gave the up-to-then forgotten fourth freshman Grayson Allen valuable playing time and confidence which led to his spectacular game changing five career minutes against Wisconsin. The other important change was making Jefferson a sixth man, replacing him with Matt Jones and moving Winslow to power forward. In retrospect, strategic adjustments have been par for the course during Coach K’s career and one of the primary reasons we are so intrigued by Duke Basketball and enjoy analyzing the moves he and his staff make. At this point in the season, not even the coaches know how the players on this year’s young, deep, talented team with fit together or if, ultimately, the chemistry between them will develop to the point they are true contender. As always, there will be joy and excitement in the journey, which starts this Friday against Siena on ESPNU then quickly gets much tougher.

Based on only one scrimmage and two exhibition games, here is my assessment of the players:

Amile Jefferson & Marshall Plumlee are both playing stronger and more confidently—like the senior leaders they are. Look for a lot of high-low post play with Marshall setting massive picks at the elbow of the foul lane and Amile doing his Spider Man impression down low.

Matt Jones is the jack-of-all-trades who holds the team together by doing whatever needs to be done—somewhat reminiscent of a smaller version of Shane Battier. His ability to neutralize an opponent’s best non-post scorer (ref. Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker) is an overlooked component of Coach K’s most effective defensive schemes.

Grayson Allen is the most dynamic, exciting, versatile player, and, if he stays healthy, the best playmaker on the team—perhaps, one of the best in the country.

Luke Kennard is the most mature and polished of the freshmen. Impressive feel for the game.

Brandon Ingram is the most highly rated of the newbies. Coach K is praising his skills like he did Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor so….. but so far, I am more impressed with his defense and ball handling than his shooting touch. He appears to be more of a scorer than a pure shooter and because of mismatches will spend a lot of time at the foul line. He creates havoc as the point on a 1-2-2 zone (yes, look for more switching defenses) and on out-of-bounds plays. At 6’10’ but stick thin, he can play all five positions.

Derryck Thornton is no Ty Jones pass first, shoot when he game is on the line point guard but a better defender. Look for point guard by committee.

Chase Jeter has gained weight (remember most of the freshmen have been attending summer school and working out) and playing with increasing confidence. He will be a valuable blue collar, front line sub…. would do well to model himself after Amile Jefferson.

Sean Obi, the Rice transfer, is big and strong which should come in handy against physical teams if Plumlee gets in foul trouble.

Antonio Vrankovic has been injured but looks like a 7 foot project—a more skilled Brian Zoubek .

Justin Robinson, David’s son, has had little playing time and looks like a red shirt candidate.

ALAN ADDS:

Last Year’s Championship, and this Year’s Expectations.

Last year’s freshmen driven team exceeded all expectations by season’s end.  Let us not forget what, in my opinion, was the primary reason for Duke’s National Championship –- by tournament time, Duke’s early season defensive inconsistencies had been transformed into what was, arguably, the best and most consistent defense in the nation.  In my opinion, Justise Winslow was the major reason that occurred.  Notwithstanding Billy King, Shane Battier, Tommy Amaker, Grant Hill and Wojo played just a tad of defense, Justise’s second half of the season may have been the best defensive performance by a Duke player.  A second crucial reason for Duke’s success was its game closing ability when leading.  Duke had not one — but two — top point guards to handle against desperate trapping pressure with Tyus and Quinn, who each shot over 90% from the foul line to close games.  That was a critical component to last year’s great won loss record and National Championship.

Once again, Duke has the # 1 rated incoming freshman class, and there is temptation to expect a season similar to last year’s.  The danger for Duke fans is that unreasonably high expectations can make for an artificially disappointing season.  This is not last year’s team.  The 2015-16 Devils return only one starter and four players from last year’s team, and those returning players did not score much [Jefferson, 6.1 ppg; Matt Jones, 6.0; Grayson, 4,4; and Marshall, 2.2].  Each of these returners has the potential to turn into a substantial scorer, but none have actually done that yet (though Grayson’s performance in the Final Four leads to great optimism).  The good news is that defense was their calling card.

There are seven newcomers, though two of them do not figure to be relevant this year.  There are four freshmen (3 McDonald’s All-Americans – Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter and Luke Kennard — plus Derryck Thornton, who reclassified to join Duke with a year of high school eligibility left).  Semi Obi is a transfer from Rice, who practiced with the team last year, but is just eligible.  In 2013-14, he was a Conference USA All-Freshman Team Selection, averaged 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game (led conference in rebounding) while playing in all 30 games.  He led Rice in points scored (342) (with a .591 shooting percentage) and rebounds (279).  I like that he was a member of 2014 C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll.  After all, it is Duke.

In short, this is a team with unlimited potential, but has a long journey to fully grow into that potential.  The early season schedule is a killer, though should help prepare this young team for March, and, hopefully, April.  After two warm ups against Siena (next Friday) and Bryant (Saturday), Duke plays Kentucky (in Chicago on 11-17), VCU and the winner of the Georgetown-Wisconsin game in Madison Square Garden November 22 and 24, Indiana in the ACC-Big 10 challenge on December 2, and Utah in Madison Square Garden on December 19.  Whew!

The Big Guys

Jahlil is gone and Duke’s inside game will be different.  Scoring is likely to come more from the wing and perimeter.  Coach K has said he has designed a new offense and a new defense to play to the strengths of this year’s players.  Amile Jefferson had an outstanding defensive game against Wisconsin, and is a senior.  Seniors have always been special on Coach K teams (see Quinn Cook last year).  My gut tells me Amile will have a breakout year in scoring, rebounding and leadership.  If he can just shoot better from 15 feet and beyond, he will be a weapon.  Marshall has looked formidable in the pre-season and has fully matured.  Will he play more and be able to sustain that same intensity?  They are the two senior captains who have been defensive minded assets.

The newcomers are Chase Jeter (6’10” heralded freshman) and Obi.  How Coach K will mix and match, who has what talents to blend and make the team efficient, is part of what the early season will tell us.  I’ve seen Jeter play twice.  He could not hold his own against the huge front line of the World in the US v World high school all-star game.  He is very mobile and quick for a big.  He will develop; the question will be how fast and whether it will be this year.  Semi will demonstrate the competitive difference between Conference USA and the ACC.  If he can build on his freshman year at Rice, he will be a huge asset.  He has not played much in the exhibition games.  In short, there is lots of potential for Duke to have an efficient inside game on both ends, but nothing is certain.

BACKCOURT

Matt Jones is the only returning starter.  Duke transformed when he replaced Jefferson in the starting lineup last year.  He has been Duke’s best perimeter defender, and seems poised, in his junior year, for a big leap in offensive production.  The other returning guard is the hero of the Final Four, Grayson Allen.  Based on those two games, expectations are very high for Allen.  He has scoring potential (dropped 27 on Wake), but still only averaged a bit over 4 ppg. last year.  Will his defense match what Quinn was able to give last year?  Early signs are a resounding “yes”.

The freshmen guards will be a key.  Duke has only one point guard on the roster, Derryck Thornton, and he really should be a high school senior this year.  He has to stay healthy for Duke to have a chance at a really good season.  How he grows into his potential and how soon will have a lot to do with Duke’s season.  I think the key will be whether he can be a great (or at least good) on the ball defender, as Duke’s great point guards have been in the past.  Part of Quinn’s exceptional senior year was his development as from an inadequate to a superior defensive player.

Duke’s other freshman guard is Luke Kennard.  I’ve seen him play a few times now, and I believe he will leave a great legacy as a Duke player, I just don’t know if it will be this year.  He’s 6’5” and more athletic than he appears at first.  For example, he was for 3 straight years the Ohio Group II offensive football player of the year as a QB. He was a fantastic scorer in high school, moving into second place on the all time list (LeBron is third).  He’s academically superior and has excelled at community service in high school – in short, a perfect example of a Duke student-athlete.  He has been prominent in USA basketball and led the USA team against the World.  He played the most minutes (25), and was the high scorer (26).  I was impressed with his defensive effort, his ability to get to the rim, defend in the open court and help on the interior.  He showed me an all around game and passion in the way he played.  I am giving the same prediction about Luke that I did about Quinn before his freshman year.  [I was wrong for the first year, but last year clinches my status as prophet].

BRANDON INGRAM

Brandon is the number 4 rated freshman (ESPN), a 6’9” skinny scoring wing.  He is considered likely to be a one and done, though he seems awfully slight (190 lbs.) to think about the NBA.  Pundits have predicted he will be Duke’s best scorer this season.  Though 6’9”, he is a perimeter player with an ability to get to the rim and to fire from deep.  The pre-season predictions from those watching practice are that he will start.  I admit to having been a bit underwhelmed by him in the US v World game.  In the pre-season his exceptional athleticism on the defensive end had coaches and commentators praising him.

In some ways he mirrors the season, can he be what last year’s freshmen were, developing because they committed to the team and each other?  I don’t think Jabari and Hood ever made that complete leap (hence, Mercer).  It should be an entertaining and interesting season.

ADDED FEATURE

Al Featherstone wrote a long, thorough analysis of the making of Duke’s five championship teams on dukebasketballreport.com. It is too good an historical tutorial not to reprint:

“Five NCAA Championship teams and five transformations – either in rotation or, in two cases, a radical change in the style of play over the course of the season. I could cite a dozen other teams that changed significantly over the course of the season – the 2009 team that I mentioned; the 1986 team that played half the season with Danny Ferry starting at center because Jay Bilas was hurt; the 1989 team that saw the emergence of Laettner late; the 1994 Final Four team that developed freshman Jeff Capel late … at least a half dozen more.

True, some of those transformations were dictated by injury (the 2001 makeover, for example), but many were simply Coach K tweaking his lineup and his rotation to maximize his talent (as in 2010 for example).

My point is that the Duke team we see play in the next few weeks may be very different than the one we see in March. This lineup offers Coach K a lot of options and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t try them all out over the next couple of months.

How will he rotate his true post players – Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, Chase Jeter … and maybe Sean Obi later? Freshman Derryck Thornton is the only true point guard on the roster, but Coach K has other options at the position – maybe Luke Kennard plays there? Brandon Ingram is going to play somewhere – probably on the wing, but at some point does he become the “power forward” (as Winslow did a year ago)? How will Coach K mix-and-match his many talented wings – Allen, Matt Jones, Kennard and Ingram?

A lot of options there and I’m sure we’ll see most of them over the course of the season. That’s why I think it’s so futile to try and guess the starting lineup and the rotation for the start of the season.

Whatever lineup/rotation starts next month in the opener against Siena, there’s very likely to be a different one in January when Duke opens ACC play at Boston College and a new one again in March when the Blue Devils pursue another back-to-back title.

The coaches are still watching it all develop, still unsure of how the team – the lineup and the rotation – will eventually break down? That process is often impacted by injuries that change things as the season wears on, but quite a few seasons are shaped by the gradual development of individual players and by team chemistry.

Just take last year’s team, for example.

2014-15: The One-and Done team

When practice began a year ago, it was predictable that Jahlil Okafor would play in the middle. There was a lively debate over the summer as to whether Tyus Jones would start at point guard or come off the bench behind senior Quinn Cook or whether the two smallish guards would share the backcourt.

There was also junior Rasheed Sulaimon returning as a likely starter. The big question was whether he would supplant Cook or Jones in the starting lineup or perhaps be part of a three-guard rotation – a move that would likely send freshman Justise Winslow to the bench?

By the time the season opened, it was clear that Coach Mike Krzyzewski was committed to playing Jones and Cook together. Winslow was also in the starting lineup, while Sulaimon came off the bench, but saw significant playing time. Not surprisingly, freshman Jahlil Okafor and junior Amile Jefferson started in the post.

But here’s the funny thing … the team that started the season was very different from the one that cut down the nets in Indianapolis six months later.

Yes, Okafor was still the anchor in the post and the Cook-Jones partnership flourished in the backcourt. But by the end of the season, Winslow was starting at the “power” forward spot, while defensive ace Matt Jones was starting at “small forward.” Jefferson was coming off the bench. So was freshman Grayson Allen, who spent the first two months of the season buried on the bench.

Sulaimon was off the team.

It was a very different lineup and rotation than we saw in October. Heck, it was a very different rotation than the one we saw in January. The style of play also changed over the course of the season, at least defensively. Duke started playing man-to-man, but playing it very erratically. By midseason, the man-to-man defense was such a disaster that Coach K switched to a primary zone defense for the first time in his career. But by March, the man-to-man was back and Duke playing it at a very high level.

And here’s another funny thing – the evolution of last year’s team is the rule for Krzyzewski-coached teams … not the exception. In fact, let’s take a look at his first four national championship teams and see how they evolved (and why). `

1990-91: The First Title

When Duke opened the 1990-91 season against Marquette, the starting lineup included juniors Christian Laettner and Brian Davis, sophomores Bobby Hurley and Thomas Hill and freshman Grant Hill. Sophomore Billy McCaffrey played 30 minutes off the bench and senior Greg Koubek played 20. The eighth man, freshman Tony Lang, played eight minutes.

That lineup and rotation would fluctuate all season.

It almost always contained Laettner, Hurley and Grant Hill (although the freshman was limited briefly in early January with a broken nose). But the last two starters – and the order of the rotation — changed frequently. Thomas Hill started 23 games. McCaffrey started 21. Davis started 11 games. Coach K experimented with twin towers as junior center Crawford Palmer started nine times. Lang, a slender 6-8 forward, started eight times.

By the team postseason rolled around, Krzyzewski had settled on Thomas Hill and Koubek as the fourth and fifth starters.

The choice of Koubek was kind of curious.

The 6-6 swing man saw his role and his playing time almost disappear in December and early January. He did have a 14-point outing in a blowout win over Boston University, but in the other 10 games between December 1 and January 16, Koubek scored the grand total of six points and averaged single digit minutes – even though many of those games were lopsided blowouts.

Late in that stretch, the Duke Chronicle ran an article grading the Duke team. Koubek received the lowest grade on the roster – a C-plus. Krzyzewski was furious. He set up a locker room meeting with the Chronicle sports staff and proceeded to verbally blast the young sports writers.

Maybe it was just a coincidence (or maybe it was a F-you moment from the combative coach), but in the first game after that tumultuous locker room meeting, Koubek played 18 minutes in a win at The Citadel. The next time out, he played 19 minutes (with nine points and six rebounds) in a homecourt rout of UNC. A week after that, he scored 14 points in a rout of Clemson. And a week after that, Koubek got his first start of the season at Notre Dame. He started 13 of the team’s final 18 games, including all six in the NCAA Tournament.

By the time the Final Four rolled around, Coach K was basically playing a seven man rotation. The five starters, McCaffrey and Davis got major minutes. Palmer and Lang got off the bench, but only for very brief relief roles.

Duke’s first national championship team ended up as a very different team than the one that started the season.

1991-92: Back-to-Back

A year later, Krzyzewski returned four national championship starters and added heralded big man Cherokee Parks. K had to replace Koubek, the only senior on the ’91 team, plus sixth-man McCaffrey, who transferred to Vanderbilt, and Palmer, who transferred to Dartmouth (interestingly, both McCaffrey and Palmer would win first-team all-conference honors at their new schools).

It’s hard to imagine a more stable situation. Davis slid into the starting lineup and Duke famously went wire-to-wire as the nation’s No. 1 team, winning a second straight national title by beating the Michigan Fab Five in Minneapolis.

But the 1991-92 season was anything but stable. The issue was injuries – few Duke teams have had to battle as many injuries as the ’92 Devils.

It started in the opener, where Parks replaced an injured Laettner as the starting center. Lang was also out early as senior Marty Clark, redshirt freshman Kenny Blakeney and freshman center Erik Meek were the three major players off the bench that first night.

That didn’t last long. When Laettner and Lang returned, Blakeney and Meek saw their minutes shrink to almost nothingness (except there were a lot of blowouts and they did get plenty of garbage time). In competitive games, Coach K basically played an eight-man rotation with Parks, Lang and Clark getting minutes off the bench.

That changed again when Hurley broke his foot in a Feb. 5 loss at UNC.

Duke’s next game was at No. 22 LSU, which featured Shaquille O’Neal in the middle.

Coach K responded by moving sophomore Lang into the starting lineup and shifting Grant Hill from forward to point guard. The versatile sophomore responded with 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Laettner outplayed Shaq for the second straight year as the Devils escaped an extremely hostile environment in Baton Rouge with a win.

That lineup lasted until Grant Hill suffered a severe high ankle sprain in practice in the days before the Feb. 26 matchup with Virginia in Cameron.

Blakeney actually started at the point that night, but he played just 15 minutes, giving way to Hurley – who returned just 21 days after breaking a bone in his foot. The next time out, Hurley returned to the starting lineup and played 36 minutes in a huge win at No. 4 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion.

Grant Hill returned for the regular season finale against UNC, but even though he played well off the bench, Krzyzewski seemed to like the new rotation with Lang sharing the starting lineup with Laettner, Hurley, Davis and Thomas Hill. Grant Hill became a super Sixth Man – a role he played as Duke won the ACC championship by routing UNC and through the NCAA Tournament – including the famous 104-103 overtime victory against Kentucky.

Grant Hill didn’t start that game, but he did play 37 minutes off the bench. By that point, Krzyzewski was close to playing a six-man rotation – Clark and Parks played a combined seven minutes against the Wildcats that afternoon. Neither Blakeney nor Meek got off the bench.

I would call that the finishing rotation of the 1992 team, although it was complicated by another injury – Davis sprained his ankle in the semifinal victory over Indiana and was only able to go 10 ineffective minutes off the bench in the title game. Grant Hill returned to the starting lineup for the finale against Michigan’s Fab Five.

Obviously, injuries had a lot to do with the evolution of the 1992 team, but whether because of the injuries or not, the rise of Tony Lang and the shortening of the bench were very real changes in what was expected to be a very stable team.

2000-01: Changing on the Fly

If the 1991-92 team appeared stable at the outset, the 2000-01 team looked like it would be nearly set in stone. True, ACC player of the year Chris Carrawell was gone from the nation’s No. 1 team in 2000, but heralded freshman Chris Duhon was on hand to fill that gap. The other four starters – and sixth man Mike Dunleavy — were all returning and so were almost every other player on the 2000 roster.

And, as expected, the 2001 Blue Devils were a remarkably stable team – the same starters almost every game (sophomores Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, senior Shane Batter and redshirt senior Nate James) with Duhon getting major minutes off the bench. It was basically a six man rotation for most of the season – backup big man Matt Christiansen was the closest thing to a seventh man, but he averaged less than eight minutes a game.

Then everything changed.

In Duke’s last home game, Boozer broke his foot. A team that critics said was too small and without the depth to compete for the national title, suddenly became much smaller and much thinner.

Of course, we know that Coach K responded with his single greatest coaching moment – reshaping the lineup (not only did he replace Boozer with a three-headed monster of Casey Sanders/walk-on Reggie Love/Christiansen, he also had Duhon and James swap roles – with Duhon moving into the starting lineup and James becoming the Sixth Man), but also transforming the team’s style of play – turning the Devils into a pressing, running, 3-point shooting machine.

The result was a 10-game winning streak to close the season, starting with a shocking victory over No. 6 North Carolina in Chapel Hill and continuing with a dramatic victory over No. 11 Maryland in the ACC Tournament in Atlanta, a rout of UNC in the ACC title game, and East regional wins over UCLA and Southern Cal in Philadelphia.

Boozer made a token appearance in Philly and was able to play a significant role again when Duke matched up again with Maryland in the Final Four in Minneapolis.

The funny thing about 2001 is that even with Sanders starting at the end, Boozer was playing the most minutes. So this is one Duke championship team that ended up with a very similar lineup/rotation as it started.

Yet, it terms of style of play, the team that beat Maryland and Arizona in the Final Four was a very different team than the one that opened the season.

2009-10: Slowing Things Down

The only Duke championship team that changed more over the course of the season was the 2009-10 team.

A special prize for anybody who can name the five starters in Duke’s 2009-10 season opener against UNC Greensboro.

Give up?

Well, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are easy. And Miles Plumlee at center is not too tough if you remember that his younger brother Mason – expected to start in the middle that year – was out with a broken wrist as the season started.

But does anybody else remember that the fifth starter was Olek Czyz?

The 2010 Blue Devils returned two clearcut starters from the Sweet 16 team of 2009 – Scheyer and Singler. Smith had started 21 games as a sophomore, but he lost his starting job late as Coach K transformed that team in February — replacing Smith at the point with Scheyer and moving freshman Elliott Williams into the starting lineup. Smith also missed the last two games of the regular season when he suffered a concussion due to a brutal pick at Maryland, but he had already lost his starting job before that.

Krzyzewski did have to replace the team’s best player – first-team All-ACC pick Gerald Henderson, who left a year early for the NBA, and Williams, who transferred to Memphis.

Coach K also had a number of players with starting experience up front – senior forward Lance Thomas (16 starts in 2009), sophomore center Miles Plumlee (2 starts) and senior center Brian Zoubek, who actually qualified as a returning starter with 17 starts in 2009.

But Zoubek played little role in the early part of the 2010 season as Coach K built the team around Scheyer, Singler and Smith. Thomas quickly seized another starting role, but the center job mostly went to Miles Plumlee – we thought at the time that he was holding it for his heralded younger brother, who was slowed by preseason injury.

Zoubek averaged close to 14 minutes in the first half of the season, although his most productive performances came in blowouts. But between the ACC opener against Clemson on January 3 and the February 10 game at UNC, the Big Z was merely a minor factor. Over that 12-game stretch, he averaged 13.8 minutes a game, contributing 2.8 ppg and 4.7 rpg.

He ended the stretch with no points and three rebounds in the win at UNC.

Mason Plumlee played 27 minutes in that game (7 points and 9 rebounds). It seemed his time had come and the freshman big man would be in the starting lineup for the Maryland visit to Cameron three days later.

Instead, it was Zoubek starting in the middle and contributing 16 points and 17 rebounds in 22 minutes as Duke beat the Terps 77-56.

From that point until the end of the season – a stretch of 16 games – Zoubek not only started at center, but he played like a man possessed, averaging 9.7 points and 13.3 rebounds in 24.9 minutes a game.

But it would be a mistake to claim that Zoubek was the reason that Duke won 15 of those 16 games. Duke won because Krzyzewski rebuilt the team to take advantage of Zoubek’s emergence … or you might say that Coach K revamped his style of play to take advantage of the things that Zoubek did well.

Early in the season, Duke was still playing a variation of the style that Coach K installed after Boozer was hurt in 2001. The Devils extended their pressure man-to-man, shot a lot of 3-pointers and tried to force tempo.

That style did not really suit Zoubek. At 7-1, 260-plus pounds, he wasn’t quick or agile even when he was healthy (which is wasn’t for much of his career). He never attempted a 3-pointer.

Zoubek WAS very big, very strong and he had great hands. He proved to be the best offensive rebounder in college basketball when he finally got extended minutes late in his senior year.

To emphasize Zoubek’s strengths, Coach K slowed his team down to a sedate tempo, so that the big man could keep up. He also pulled back his defense – not quite into a zone, but more into a sagging man-to-man that allowed Zoubek to stay in the middle and protect the basket.

That’s how Duke was able to grind out a 61-59 victory over Butler in the title game. Zoubek played 31 minutes, pulled down six offensive rebounds and blocked two shots – plus, he was in position to ruin Gordon Hayward’s short baseline jumper than would have given the Bullogs the lead with seconds left. Zoubs not only made the Butler star shoot an almost impossible rainbow over his outstretched arm, he also turned around and rebounded the miss.

So that’s five championship teams and five transformations – either in rotation or, in two cases, a radical change in the style of play over the course of the season. I could cite a dozen other teams that changed significantly over the course of the season – the 2009 team that I mentioned; the 1986 team that played half the season with Danny Ferry starting at center because Jay Bilas was hurt; the 1989 team that saw the emergence of Laettner late; the 1994 Final Four team that developed freshman Jeff Capel late … at least a half dozen more.

True, some of those transformations were dictated by injury (the 2001 makeover, for example), but many were simply Coach K tweaking his lineup and his rotation to maximize his talent (as in 2010 for example).

Duke  92 – Siena 74

Duke 113 – Bryant 75

While the 2015-16 season officially started with Siena and Bryant trading the honor–and national exposure– of playing Duke in the iconic confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium for being consecutive non-conference losses 117 & 118, the real season starts Tuesday against Kentucky. So, anything we think today must be taken within the context of basically talent mismatches in exhibition season.

First, you must be aware that for 2015-16, the NCAA made rule changes designed to speed up the game and establish a better balance between offense and defense. Not to bore you with the details, but the rule pertaining to hand checking will be heretofore be referred to as the Greyson Allen straight to All American rule, because, if he is not injured (and that is a big if), that is what he will be. Allen’s NCAA Championship five minute game changer against Wisconsin was no fluke. The kid has big time game. He is not only an athletic freak who can run and jump and finish but also can shoot (90%+ from the line), pass, and play defense. If you liked Dawkins and Hill and JJ, you will love Greyson, because he really, really enjoys playing all aspects of the game. And the new rule will guarantee him 8-10 points from the line.

Right now, it looks like a seven man and a boy rotation, because Derryck Thornton hasn’t yet made the transition from high school. But who needs a point guard when you can give the ball the Allen or Ingram and have MP3 set a high pick. BTW, Brandon shot 1-9 threes against Siena but was 4-6 against Bryant. Why the discrepancy? Between games, Coach K pointed out that although he was 6’9”, there still was a difference between shooting with a man flying at you and letting the game come to you and shooting an open three.

The good news: Coach K’s better teams won by attacking the basket scoring, getting fouled, or passing to an open man for a three; getting to the free throw line and hitting free throws; and playing good defense which led to easy offense.

The not so good news: Siena and Bryant scored 74 & 75 points. The defense was inconsistent and Bryant, in particular, was hot from beyond the arc. Nevertheless, remember last year’s team became a championship team when the defense jelled.

Some observations:

  • Four more reasons to keep enjoying Duke Basketball: The verbal commitments to Duke’s Class of 2016—three big men and a true point guard– signed letters of intent Wednesday, cementing their decision to join the Blue Devil program next fall. Together, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier make up the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, which would be head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s third in a row. Giles and Tatum are slated as the No.1 and No. 2 overall recruits in ESPN’s Class of 2016 rankings. “We’re ecstatic about the class,” Krzyzewski said in a press release. “The very first thing is that they’re four outstanding young men who come from great families. They’re players who can play right away. This group, as far as talent is concerned, is at a high level and their talents are complimentary. All of them can get better, too, so we’re very excited.”
  • Seven foot center Antonio Vrankovic made a four minute cameo playing ahead of Obi tonight. In scoring four points, he appeared to have good hands and footwork and ran the floor with surprising speed. His father is Stojko Vrankovic, a retired Croatian professional basketballplayer, who also played five years in the NBA.
  • As thrilling as the one-and-done talent is, I get a special satisfaction and delight in watching four year players like Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee develop as players and people.
  • Clemson is not the best football team in the country and Carolina in not just the twenty some best team. As a matter of fact, I am picking UNC to beat Clemson for the ACC title.

Alan adds: 

The two preliminary games in the pre-season tournament were illuminating.  We saw the 2015-16 Blue Devils for the first time, and gained an inkling of how the rotation will begin, the type of defense to be played, and where scoring and rebounding are likely to come from this season.  While it was unthinkable that Duke would actually lose either game, it is worth noting that in the other bracket of the 2K Classic, Georgetown lost to Radford while # 17 Wisconsin was beaten by Western Illinois.  However, under the weird “tournament” format, the two losers, Georgetown and Wisconsin will play next Friday instead of Western Illinois v. Radford.  The winner will play the winner of Friday’s Duke v. VCU on Sunday.  But, before we look ahead to the coming week, including Tuesday night’s game against # 2 ranked Kentucky, let’s see what was disclosed in the wins over Sienna and Bryant in the last two days.

After the Sienna game, Bill asked me who I thought Duke’s best player was and would be for the season.  Bill was touting Grayson after his 20 point opening half and jaw dropping athleticism.  My response was, “clearly, Brandon Ingram.”  Of course, it is irrelevant; the issue is how this team develops, not who becomes the go-to guy.  Nevertheless, Ingram’s potential is breathtaking.  But so is Grayson’s.  In both games, Grayson was a man among boys.  His 54 points (26 against Sienna and 28 against Bryant) mark the second most ever scored by a Duke freshman in his first two games (55 by Johnny Dawkins).  He defended, rebounded, passed (6 assists against Bryant) and was 17-18 from the foul line.  The question is how he fares against athletes of his own athletic quality.  Ingram shot poorly in the Sienna game and well against Bryant.  Ingram seems more scorer than shooter (though it is way too early to really tell) and has breathtaking versatility.  He may end up as the primary ball handler and distributor.  He has an easy calm and amazing athleticism.   He is going to be a great defender eventually with his 7’3” wing span, and had a plethora of deflections.  In any event, how good Duke becomes this year will depend on the development of these two budding stars.

The Rotation

In both games, Coach K started the four returners — Marshall, Amile, Matt and Grayson — with Brandon.  Only three reserves saw extended time — Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton.  Sean Obi played 4 minutes against Sienna and 0 against Bryant.  Vrankovic played 4 minutes against Bryant (scored 4 points) and a brief cameo in the first game.  The Admiral’s offspring did not play.

The core trio consists of Grayson, Brandon and Amile.  Grayson played the most, 32 minutes in each game.  Brandon played 28 minutes against Sienna (15 points, 5 boards, 2 blocks and 2 steals) and 24 against Bryant (21 points, 3 boards, 2 steals and a block).  Amile had a double-double in each game (32 minutes, 19 points, 12 boards against Sienna; 24 minutes with 11 rebounds and 11 points in the second game).  The supporting trio — Matt Jones, Marshall and Luke Kennard — will see a lot of court time and will be crucial to how this team grows.  Jones had a spectacular first half against Bryant scoring 19 on 5-6 from behind the arc.  He played superb defense throughout and was a reliable ball handler, shooter and rebounder (Sienna: 26 minutes, 10 points. Bryant: 22 minutes scoring all his 29 points — career high — in the first half on 7-9 from the floor including 5-6 from 3land).  Marshall was much improved in the second game.  In the first, he was an effective inside presence, but collected 4 fouls in his 20 minutes (9 boards, 2 blocks, 2 assists and 4 points).  Against Bryant, he stayed on the court for 28 minutes committing only 2 fouls (8 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks).  He was a presence, but the competition in both games was especially suspect on the interior.  The Kentucky may disclose whether he can perform at a high level against the best competition.  That game may be more important for Marshall than for any other Duke player.  Luke has not shot well, but you can see how valuable he will become as he gets experience.  He came alive toward the end of the Bryant game.  Against Sienna, he scored 9 points in 26 minutes; against Bryant 11 in 22 minutes.  He can do everything on the court — handle, defend, pass and rebound.  Although he did not shoot well (1-5 from behind the arc against Bryant), he will be a major contributor as the season progresses.

The Critical Reserves

Chase Jeter was the primary reserve in the front court for the first two games, but did not receive as much playing time as the first seven (Thornton is the 7th).  Chase logged 11 minutes in the opener (5 rebounds; 3-4 from the foul line, but 0-3 from the field for 3 points), and 16 minutes against Bryant (7 points, including 3-3 from the line; 4 boards and a block).  He is slight and may have trouble on the interior against big talented front courts such as Kentucky’s.  Still at the moment, he is the only back up to Jefferson and Plumlee.  His development into a contributing player against front line opposition will be one of the keys to Duke’s season.  However, an even more important key is the development of the only true point guard on the roster, freshman Derryck Thornton.  Thornton struggled mightily in the first two games.  Before one gets too down on his disappointing performances, it should be remembered that: 1) he reclassified from being a high school junior after Tyus submitted his name to the NBA draft; and, 2) he was busy finishing up his high school academics this past summer and was not with the other freshmen in summer session.  Notwithstanding that, even a casual observer could see his defense is suspect — he loses concentration as the shot clock (new — 30 seconds this year) winds down. His help is slow in coming.  In 22 minutes against Sienna, he was 1-8 from the field (1-4 from downtown) with only 2 assists and 5 points.  In the second game, Coach K played him more, 27 minutes, in what appeared to me as an attempt to build his confidence.  He had 4 points on 2-9 shooting (0-2 from behind the arc), but contributed 4 assists.  I believe he will improve during the year, but unless the improvement is dramatic, Duke will be without a true point guard against top competition at critical moments.  If we remember the stellar point guard play of Tyus and Quinn last year — especially at the end of games — we can see what a challenge point guard play will be for this team this year.  However, let us remember Coach K has solved this problem before (moving Scheyer to the point inn 2010 is the best example, but also remember the insertion of Elliot Williams at the point several years ago).

The real season begins this week.  First Kentucky (ESPN @ 7:30 EST)

DUKE 63 –  KENTUCKY 74

The eleven point differential is not a proper indication of the difference of play between these two storied programs. Had it not been for the play of the veterans—Plumlee, Jefferson, and Jones—it would have looked like Duke vs. Bryant. Coach Cal had done his homework and funneled Grayson Allen into the teeth of his big athletic front line. The versatile Grayson never adjusted his game to a plan B or C. The lack of driving success apparently shook his confidence the entire game, because he even missed two of three free throws. Coach K commented succinctly that when you’re put in a position when you’re ‘the man,’ rather than the fifth option, it’s different.

And the inexperienced Brandon Ingram was in early foul trouble and never was a factor. Without the two best playmakers (Allen and Ingram entered Tuesday’s game averaging a combined 45.0 points per game) and no pure point guard, the Blue Devil offense struggled shooting  just 40%. And you know what that means—lots of easy offense for an opponent. Had Plumlee, Jefferson not had career games, the score would have been much more embarrassing.

It will be interesting to see what Coach K does and which players respond in a positive manner.

I was sick before the game and watching it was no tonic, so I will leave the details to Alan.

Next play.

Alan Adds

Let’s do the unpleasant assessments first, with an understanding that the thrashing at the hands of the Wildcats may well prove to be a godsend for the ultimate development of this team.  Last night was the perfect example of a reality check, and dramatic notice that as good as this year’s freshmen actually are, they are a long way from ready to play at a championship level.  That does not mean that in March they won’t be ready, but it is clear that these freshmen are not last year’s, and right now they are not as good as Kentucky’s (I saw this dramatically last year in the high school All Star game of World v US.  Duke freshmen Brandon Ingram, Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter all played for the U.S and were overwhelmed by the World, who featured Jamal Murray (All Star game’s MVP) and Skal Labissiere — also Simmons of LSU).  While the underclassmen looked lost, the upper class players had excellent games.  Marshall Plumlee had his best game ever at Duke and looks as if he will have a noteworthy senior year.  I have predicted that Jefferson will have a break out year and he made me look really good last night.  Coach K has said that Matt Jones is the leader of this team (as Quinn was last year).  Matt was superb.

Doris Burke is one of my favorite color commentators for college basketball.  She made a point about Grayson Allen’s drives where he held the ball in one hand and successfully drove against Sienna and Bryant.  “I don’t think he will be able to get that shot off against higher level competition,” she said.  It did not take Kentucky long to enshrine her as a prophet.  It was as if the clock struck midnight for the star of last season’s Final Four.  He was 0-9 in the first half.  His jumpers were contested and his drives to the basket thwarted by superb defense.  It was all summed up in his turnover in the last seconds of the first half, where Duke had a chance to cut the lead to a respectable 2 or even a 1 point deficit (score was 35-31).  Not only did Grayson lose the ball but it led to an easy last second Kentucky basket that finalized the first half at 37-31.

In the first two games, Duke’s offense was powered by not only Grayson, but also freshmen  Ingram and to a lesser extent Luke Kennard.  Together with freshman Chase Jeter, the three McDonald’s All Americans also failed to score in the first half.  0 points from those 4 was close to incredible.  Things did not improve in the second half (the two half scores were eerily similar — Kentucky scored 37 points in each half; Duke 31 in the first half and 32 in the second).  The defense was underwhelming, regardless whether Duke played zone or man to man.  The Wildcat trio of guards got past the Duke perimeter defense with depressing ease, while the Wildcat bigs dominated the glass after the first 10 minutes of the opening half.  Duke’s transition defense was weak; in contrast, the Devils did not have a fast break basket until the waning moments of the game.  On offense, the absence of a point guard was a dramatic deficit.  Duke substituted the freshman point guard Derryck Thornton early because Duke looked so disorganized in the half court with Matt Jones, Grayson and Ingram on the perimeter.  He improved the offense but only marginally; hitting for 5 in the first half.  Thornton actually had his best game, but is still a long way from being a competent ACC point guard.  Still the rest of the team was so out of sync that he logged the most minutes (29) of anyone outside of the three upper classmen who fought so valiantly to keep Duke close.  After 2-3 and 5 points in the first half, Thornton was 1-4 in the second half with 4 turnovers against 3 assists (7 points).  Tyus, come back!  Btw, Tyus is not playing with Minnesota (did not suit up last night and is not hurt).  In 11 games, he has been on the court twice — once for 13 minutes — for a total of 14 minutes (0-2 from the field and 1-2 from the line for his only NBA point so far).  And while we are “btw”, Rasheed was superb for Maryland last night (37 minutes, 7 assists and 10 points including a dagger 3 at the end).

The Backcourt

Matt Jones was the only Devil who performed well, actually he was almost heroic.  In 35 minutes, he scored 16 (3-6 from downtown and 3-4 from the line) with 2 boards, 2 assists and breathtakingly 0 turnovers.  He simply had absolutely no help.  Grayson’s final line was 6 points (2-11; 1-3 from downtown and shockingly — after 17-18 in the first two games — 1-3 from the foul line) 4 turnovers (1 assist) and four fouls.  Ugh!  Duke’s other perimeter players were not much different.  Brandon (welcome to big time college hoops) played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble; he had 4.  In that short time he was 1-6 from the field (2-2 from the line) for 4 points and 4 turnovers.  Ugh!    With the exception of not committing either a turnover or a foul, Kennard was equally as terrible.  In 14 minutes, he was 0-6. Ugh!  And it should be noted that except for Matt Jones, the backcourt was as woeful on defense as on offense.

The Frontcourt

Marshall and Amile were not less than heroic; Duke’s only firepower.  Marshall played more minutes by a ton than he had ever played before (36 minutes) posting a double double (12 points and 10 boards), with 6 blocks (yes, 6), an assist, 0 turnovers and committed only 2 fouls.  The only downside was at the line (4-8). Wow!  If he can do this all year against this type of competition, he might turn out to be the best Plumlee to have played at Duke.  He was amazing.  Jefferson’s performance might have been even better.   In 35 minutes he also posted a double double (15 boards and 16 points on 7-8 from the field and 2-4 from the line).  He committed only 2 fouls.  But there was no substitution support for those two heroes.  Chase Jeter’s impact was a bit less than negligible.  He played only 4 minutes (I think Coach K saw he was overmatched by the Kentucky front line) but managed to commit 3 fouls and a turnover in that time.  Not ready for prime time yet.

Assessment or Reality Check

It will be interesting to see how Duke responds in the next three games, which all take place within the next week.  On Friday, Duke plays VCU in Madison Square Garden.  VCU is good (not top 25, but good), and it will be a fair test to see how the freshmen and Grayson rebound from their Wildcat debacle.  If Duke wins (think about what a loss would feel like), there is a Sunday finals against the winner of Georgetown- Wisconsin.  Georgetown lost to Radford (who in turn was humbled by VCU) and last night to Maryland.  Wisconsin crushed Sienna after losing to Western Illinois (who?).  Duke needs to win this tournament to recover confidence and begin to address the myriad of weaknesses that Kentucky was able to demonstrate.  Finally, next Wednesday, Duke plays Indiana (at Cameron) in the ACC-Big Ten challenge before a 17 day layoff.  The first fair assessment can probably be made after this coming week.

I wrote in the pre-season DBP that unrealistic expectations for Duke could make the season artificially disappointing.  The good thing about the Kentucky game is to make expectations for this season more realistic.

DUKE  79-  VCU  71 

Tonight for about thirty minutes, visions of Mercer and Leigh, not sugar plums, were dancing in my head—but, fortunately, Christmas did not come early for VCU.

I was interested to find out what kind of motivational buttons Coach would employ. Predictably, he didn’t start my man Grayson Allen. Allen entered the game after a few minutes on fire—six quick points—and never looked back. Gone was the one dimensional offensive mind set of a game past. Instead, Grayson utilized his full repertoire of shots and scored a career high 30 points to go with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.

Here is what ESPN had to say: “What Allen displayed Friday night was special. There were quick-catch 3-pointers, lightning-fast open-floor moves, and savvy, opportunistic drives. There were athletic, hanging finishes in traffic the likes of which only a handful of college players can make. And there were timely plays on both ends: a big block and subsequent steal on back-to-back possessions during a crucial stretch early in the second half, a simple, quick reversal to set up Jones for a 3 to make the game 65-58, and the cool spot-up Allen buried to extend that lead to 10 less than three minutes later. It was a complex and skillful display with a straightforward message: Allen is what we thought he was. Which is to say: really good.”

Let’s give Coach K the last word: “The response that Grayson had from Kentucky is huge. I think it’s spectacular, to be quite frank with you. A lot of kids would question themselves, and he never did. We have a standard on our team that we tell each other the truth. So, you confront it. He didn’t play well against Kentucky. He didn’t have a good look, and he didn’t adjust. That was his first big-time start, too. It’s not like Grayson is this combat veteran. So I was hard on him, but honest. And he’s fine.”

Observations:

  • Coach mixed and matched a tight seven man rotation until the Blue Devils, interestingly enough, pulled away with MP3, the MVP against Ky, on the bench.
  • Derryck Thornton, who started for Allen and played 39 minutes, had what Duke fans hoped was breakout game with 19 points, 4 assists,3 turnovers, and 2 steals.
  • It tells you something that Luke Kennard, who was oh/no from the floor still played 19 minutes and was in the game for the winning run.
  • Matt Jones again proved it is not always how many you score but when you score them.
  • What does it tell you that this team has given up 74, 75, & 71 points. I’d say that the defense is a work in process. –or that they shot 19-34 from the line. Deduct Allen’s 8-9 that’s 11-29. Another way to look at it is Duke left a lot of easy points off the score board. Can’t afford to do that in close games.  It is obvious that defense, ball handling, and free throw shooting are areas than need improving.
  • Don’t want to pick on Brandon Ingram but he needs a reality check and get a lot stronger and heavier before he thinks about the NBA.
  • Duke as not lost back to back games since 2009.

Alan Adds

While last night’s game produced much good stuff, and a significant amount of less than good (read bad), the second part of the second half had the feel of a watershed moment for the development of this 2015-16 team.  Coach K said that Duke is not really a team yet, it’s developing towards becoming a team.  He described what I call a watershed moment.  Duke was down six with 13:34 left in the second half when Matt turned the ball over.  Coach K said that “things could really have gone south” at that moment.  Instead the Blue Devils turned up the defense — which had been porous in the first half, and not more than barely competent in the opening minutes of the second half — to surge to a very satisfying win.  “From that moment on, we played at a different level.  VCU played better than us up to that point.  We played better than VCU from that point on.”  Coach K pointed out that Duke closed out this game with defense rather than offense (meaning missed foul shots).  The missed foul shots did not adversely affect the defense.  Brandon missed a bunch, but got key defensive rebounds right after.  It was dramatic improvement during the game.  Coach K’s insight was that when you can do that during the game instead of at a film session after a loss, the group is developing into a team.

The Good

Bill has already sung the “Grayson was wonderful” song, and so he was — in every aspect of the game.  In addition to his 30 points, Allen had 6 crucial defensive rebounds to with 3 assists, a steal and a block.  Grayson made one move in the open court on a fast break that was jaw-dropping.  Flying down the left side of the court, he made a Euro jab step to the left and then, without breaking stride, flew past the defender going right.  “I learned that move from Tyus last year.  He kept blowing by me with it in practice, but he kept teaching it to me.”  Even more than Grayson’s superb rebound from his Kentucky debacle, the best aspect of the VCU game was the dramatic development of Derryck Thornton.  Only Grayson (37) and Amile (34) played more minutes than Thornton’s 31.  Matt Jones also played 31 minutes.  Thornton would have played more, but was in foul trouble, finishing the game with 4.  Coach K had to take him out with 5:30 to go when he picked up his 4th.  All breathed a sigh of relief when he reentered the game in the last 2 and a half minutes to steady the offense at “winning time”.  In spite of 3 turnovers, he is becoming a reliable ball handler as well as a proficient shooter and scorer.  His final line was 19 points on 7-11 shooting (2-3 from behind the arc and 3-5 from the line) to go with 4 assists, and 2 steals.  He is still inconsistent on defense, but his improvement last night was a great sign for Duke.  Coach K pointed out that he brings personality to the team, and has earned respect from his teammates.  “He played strong, and his mistakes did not rattle him.  He’s not afraid.” He is both humble and well spoken.  It was so clear that Duke’s half court offense is subpar without him.

Matt Jones played an excellent second half after seeming to miss his usual fire in the first half.  He made 2 dagger 3s (2-6 from behind the arc) scoring 10 on 4-11 from the floor.  He contributed 6 boards and 3 assists, but turned it over 4 times.  Amile was good, if not as scintillating as he was against Kentucky.  He was the glue to beating the VCU press by giving Duke an extra reliable ball handler on the floor.  In his 34 minutes, Amile had 3 blocks, 7 boards and an assist to go with 2-3 from the floor.  The big negative was 2-7 from the line — a couple of those misses were at “closing time”.

Marshal logged only 21 minutes, going 2-2 from the field for 4 points to go with 3 boards, 2 steals and a block.  He committed only a single foul; he has been foul free this season (except for the Bryant game where he picked up 4).  While Marshall is strong around the defensive hoop, he was not quite agile enough to give Duke good interior defense.  VCU was scoring at will inside in the first half (where Marshall logged most of his playing time) with passes from the penetrator to their bigs at the rim.  Marshall will play more, but this team created a need for Duke to go smaller on defense.

The Interesting

Duke made its winning run with four perimeter players and Amile.  This allowed Duke to switch on every screen, which was the reason the defense went from porous to efficient.  Duke also stopped running set plays for this group and went to free lance motion offense, which also was a major factor in the win.  Coach K said that when the two bigs were on the floor, the interior got jammed.  That lineup also allowed Duke to use Amile quite a bit to get the ball up the floor against the press without turnovers.  I do admit that  my idea of beating the press is not just avoiding the turnover, it is making a pressing team pay by breaking the press for an easy layup; Duke did that only twice — once with Matt and once with Grayson.  Otherwise, Duke just went into its half court offense.  On the other hand, frustrating VCU by avoiding the turnover was significant.

Luke Kennard was one of the four perimeter players on the floor at crunch time (Matt, Grayson and Thornton were the others).  He logged 20 minutes even though his shooting woes continued (0-4; 0-3 from behind the arc, but 2-2 on crucial foul shots).  He had 4 boards and 0 turnovers.  He was on the court at “winning time” for two reasons.  The first is 0 turnovers.  He is a reliable ball handler, not always in evidence for Duke last night.  The second is that he is an excellent defender and rebounder.  It was not coincidence that Duke’s defense finally looked competent only when Luke was on the court.  Coach K wanted to send the message that Luke is a valuable and good player regardless of whether or not his shot is falling.  All agree that it is only a matter of time before the ball starts going in for him.

The Bad

The early defense was cringe-making.  VCU shot 12-19 from inside the arc in the first half — most on point blank uncontested layups and put backs.  On offense, Duke’s backcourt is turnover prone — Matt 4, Thornton and Allen 3 each.  The stat sheet says Brandon had two turnovers, but I seem to remember several more.  Brandon, projected as a possible one and done as the # 3 rated entering freshman in the nation, did not look ready for being more than an important role player.  In 26 minutes, he scored 8 on 2-7 shooting from the field (0-3 from downtown) and that atrocious 4-11 from the line (without the last 2 that he made when the game was over and only 22 seconds were left, it was 2-9).  He just might have played his way out of the starting lineup.  He and Marshal (of the seven man rotation) were on the bench when Duke made its run.  Chase Jeter never played.  It is clear that Coach K thinks Jeter has a long way to go before he will be a significant contributor.

Next Play

Sunday afternoon at 1 pm (ESPN) in the finals against Georgetown (lost a week ago to Radford, a former girls school in rural Virginia) but who beat Wisconsin rather handily.  Go figure. Who needs the NFL?

DUKE 86 – GEORGETOWN 84

Georgetown Coach John Thompson III played at Princeton for legendary Coach Pete Carril, whose  teams not only led  the nation in scoring defense twenty times but also taught the most fundamentally sound offense –commonly referred to as the Princeton offense–known to the game of basketball. It was an offensive system consisting of frequent ball reversal, precise movement without the ball, and well-timed back-door cuts which frustrate more talented opponents into impatient errors that often led to head shaking baskets and stunning upsets. John returned to coach at Princeton before replacing his father at Georgetown.

I mention this because the last time Duke played Georgetown was January 21, 2006, when unranked Georgetown upset No. 1 Duke by shredding its defenses with his version of the Princeton System and, consequently, thought this would be an interesting test for the young Blue Devils.

TEST GRADES: 

Grayson Allen  A+  What more can you expect from the kid. Averages 30 points in the tournament on all manner of shots, to go with 4 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals, hustles, fights bigger players for rebounds, gives the ball up to open teammates, is perfect from the line. “Thirty-two points on 12 shots is crazy,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s just a crazy, crazy stat.”

Derryck Thornton  B+  In these two games, Derryck grew up right before our eyes. When he went to the bench in the second half with foul trouble, there was no theme to the Duke offense. Greyson might as well have been sitting also as his he didn’t get the ball at the right time or in the right spots.  He missed his last two important free throws but was 8-10 for the game.

Matt Jones  B    Matt could not score any points and deserve to be on the floor. His play on the baseline in the 1-3-1 zone down the stretch was critical. And, of course, he had three game changing threes (courtesy of Greyson) in the second half run.

Luke  Kennard  B-  Except for free throws (where he is 8-8),  Luke can’t seem to throw the ball in the ocean from a row boat. Other than that temporary glitch, he is a mature presence beyond his years. And you know he is a player because Coach has him on the floor at critical times.

Chase Jeter  C+   When his man went right by him for a lay-up, I thought “Not ready this year”. Then he makes a terrific low post move and ends up with 4 points and 2 rebounds in five minutes and I thought “Yes, this year”.

Brandon Ingram  D  The incredible shrinking man. Right now he is neither a shooter or a scorer. Getting  stronger would help his game a lot. He is sometimes helpful on defense but even then he does not appear to hustle all the time. Let’s see how he reacts to not starting, because Coach says: “Brandon is not even close to playing where he should be playing. He’s been knocked back with that physicality and level of attention and competitiveness. We need him (to be the player he can be.)”

Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are grown, mature men and you know what you will get from them every game. Unfortunately, Marshall’s game is hindered by the new touch foul rules. The last two games he seems to get called for a foul before the center jump or leaves the scorer’s table.

Coach K  A+  –  What else is new? His management of Grayson after the Kentucky game, of bringing Thornton along, mixing and matching his personnel, switching from a man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, then, when that didn’t work, to a 1-3-1 (with Jefferson on top not down), which facilitated the second half separation run is why he is THE MAESTRO. (Eat your heart out Johnny Tar Heel).

OBSERVATIONS:

  • Giving up 84 points does not usually win games. Like last year, defense will be the key to winning any sort of title.
  • Half court shots at the end of each half– one went in, one didn’t. It is much easier for a left hander to get off a contested shot going left with the sideline as protection from a defender than a right hander going left. Try it sometime.

Alan Adds:

 

Assessing After three tough games in six days on Neutral Courts

 

Duke played, in Coach K’s words, “three hellacious games” in six days.  He added, “This team needs the time to grow.”  Matt and Amile each started for only half a year; otherwise there are no players on this team that ever started a game for Duke prior to the season.  Coach K assessed, “We are a good team; and we hope to grow into a really good team, but we are not a juggernaut.”  Clearly, the three heralded McDonald’s All-American freshmen have had a rocky start.  Both Chase Jeter and Brandon Ingram have been knocked back by the level of physical play and defensive attention.  Luke Kennard has been 0-for the last 3 games from behind the arc in spite of his reputation as a long range shooter.  However, he is contributing more than Chase or Brandon because of his ball handling skill, hustle, defense and rebounding.  The upperclassmen have therefore had a lot placed upon them.  Coach K said that Matt Jones “trying to do everything for us” and as a result it wears on him.  Amile and Marshall have been effective in their own way, but foul shooting for them has been a problem coming down the stretch.  For example, Marshall retrieved a great rebound and was fouled with Duke up 6 and only 1:23 left to play.  On the line for 1 and 1, he had a chance to make it a 3 possession game if he made the first.  Miss the first and it has the same effect as a turnover.  Marshall missed and Georgetown was still alive.

 

Grayson, of course, has been fantastic and amazing.  Coach K said that against Kentucky, Grayson did not adjust when Kentucky loaded up against him at the rim.  He was trying to get his shot off instead of trying to score.  After the game, Coach and Grayson looked at film to show Grayson what his face looked like.  Coach K asked, “Is that how you want to look?”  Grayson was astounded at his down demeanor on the court.  Coach K said, “you win by how you look and act.  Your teammates see how you look; the opponents see how you look.  It is the responsibility of your best players to look confident and to lead.  Grayson did that this weekend in the Garden.”

 

Derryck is Duke’s point guard for this year, and is improving with every game.  Coach K: “He’s 18 years old!  Are you kidding me?  He’s really really really good.”  However, it cannot go unmentioned that he remains inconsistent on defense (something that can be said about the Duke team so far this year).  Whether or not Grayson can continue his amazing play will depend on whether Duke finds some balance to its offense.  Coach K said that Grayson will be consistent only if the team is balanced.  Otherwise defenses will be able load up on Grayson.

 

In spite of being waxed by Kentucky, Duke fans should be pretty pleased with the season’s start.

 

Georgetown

 

Duke’s youth showed, especially in the first half, but Duke got its sea legs in the last 8 minutes of the first half, actually taking the lead with 1:11 left on Matt’s 3.  Then youth showed and Duke gave up 8 points in the last 47 seconds (Grayson foul and Chase turnover), including the desperation heave at the buzzer.  Only Thornton played all 20 minutes of the first half.  Only Grayson (11 points) and Derryck (8 points) — 19 of Duke’s 32 points — kept Duke in the game.  Duke’s foul woes were already apparent.  Marshall had picked up 3; Amile and Derryck 2.

 

Duke came out on fire in the second half.  After a Georgetown opening hoop pushed the Hoya lead to 7, Duke ran off 8 points in 1:26 to take a 1 point lead — a Plumlee dunk on a great feed from Matt; Grayson and Matt each nailed 3s.  Down by 1, Duke ran off another 10 straight on 3 foul shots by Grayson, a Plumlee dunk on a wonderful assist from Grayson,  another Jones 3 pointer, and a dunk by Amile on a feed from Matt for a 9 point lead with 12:48 to go.  The wheels came a bit off for Duke at that point when Derryck picked up his third foul and went to the bench for the first time in the game.  He sat for a little over 6 minutes.  In that time Duke made only one field goal and the lead had shrunk to 3 when Thornton re-entered the game with 6:52 to go.  With 6:17 to go, Duke’s lead was 1.  Duke stretched the lead to 8 (welcome back, Derryck) with only 2:11 left on an Amile layup; Grayson’s 2 free throws and a 3 on a sweet assist from Derryck.  But the young Devils could not close out the game in Duke style.  Remember last year when Quinn and Tyus shot 90% from the line and did not turn the ball over against the press?  That was last year.  The lead was still 7 (3 possessions) with a minute to go.  Jefferson missed a free throw with 58 seconds left that would have restored the 3 possession lead; instead the lead was 6.  Inexplicably, Duke fouled.  So did the Hoyas and the teams traded foul shots.  With 36 seconds to go, Duke still led by 6. All Duke needed to do was not foul and not give up a 3.  Just guard the perimeter to contest the 3 and whatever, do not foul.  Brandon fouled.  Derryck’s 2 foul shots restored the lead to 6, but with 20 seconds to go, Duke gave up a long 3 that was not really contested.  Now it was a 1 possession game.  Derryck made 2 free throws, so Duke led by 5.  With 9 seconds left, the Hoyas nailed another 3 that was not truly contested.  The rest is history; Thornton missed 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, but he had an excellent contest on the Hoyas’s last desperation 3 that would have won them the game.

 

The Defense

The first half was truly a defensive disaster.  Georgetown shot 57%, but critically, the Hoyas shredded the Duke defense from inside the arc (10-14).  The only way Duke could stop the easy penetration was by switching to a zone.  The 1-3-1 (with Amile at the top) proved effective in the second half, and helped stifle Smith-Rivera who had been getting to the rim at will.  Still, the Hoyas shot 55% for the game and 41 % from behind the arc.  Duke will not win games against top competition with that kind of defense.  Whether the defense improves dramatically as it did last year, or remains a huge defect as it did 2 years ago remains to be seen.

 

The Rotation

 

Matt and Grayson played 38 minutes; Thornton 34 and Amile 31.   Marshall was limited to 24 minutes (4 points on 2 dunks from great feeds; 6 boards, an assist, a steal and a block) before fouling out.  Brandon, still having offensive woes, played only 16 minutes.  He is not shy, hoisting up 7 shots (2-7; 0-1 from 3land; 1-2 from the line) for 5 points.  He had 2 steals.  Coach K said that Brandon has not adjusted to the physicality yet.  He came in with the biggest reputation and got “knocked back” by the defensive attention he receives because of his high school reputation.  “He is not playing close to what we need from him.”  Luke Kennard played 14 effective minutes, scoring 8 on 2-2 from inside the arc and 4-4 from the line.  He still can’t get the 3ball going (0-3), but all are confident it is just a matter of time before his 3s start falling.  Chase logged only 5 minutes, but in the second half, he was key with 2 big boards and 2 field goals (missed the free throw that would have given him a 3 point play).  Coach K described him as a grape not yet ready to be plucked from the vine.  He has a great attitude and will eventually be a significant contributor.  If Marshall and Amile keep committing fouls, it had better be this year.

 

Amile has played well, scoring 8 (2-5; 4-6 from the line) with 8 rebounds and excellent defense.  Importantly, he gives Duke a solid ball handler against the press.  Matt is key at both ends of the court.  He was only on the bench in this game for 2 minutes.  He is having trouble scoring on offense (3-13; 0-6 from inside the arc and 2-3 from the line), but has made critical 3s (3-7) for 11 points to go with 4 boards, 3 assists.  He committed only 1 foul and 1 turnover.  He is Duke’s glue.  Derryck scored 14 on 3-6 from the field and 8-10 from the line.  He had only 2 assists, but only 2 turnovers.  His upside is Duke’s hope for the season.

Grayson’s stat line had Coach K speechless.  32 points on only 12 shots.  “Maybe we should get him more shots,” said the Coach wryly.  Dickie V was back to his annoying self as the color guy (thank god for the mute button), but he had one insight that might prove prophetic.  He said that Grayson, with his full tilt energy and amazingly varied scoring, reminded him of John Havlicek.  What a compliment!  Of course, the former Ohio State and Celtic great did it for more than 4 games.   We’ll see.

Next Play

Four games in two weeks — Yale (Wednesday) and Utah State (Sunday); Indiana on Wednesday and Buffalo on Saturday.  Then a 10 day exam break.

 

DUKE 80 – YALE 61

Would you have taken the over or under on Duke falling behind 0-9 to Yale in Cameron? Maybe it should be called the Ivy League Offense, because Yale ran the “Princeton Offense” better than John Thompson’s team did Sunday. Or maybe Duke’s man defense was worse tonight. Whatever the explanation, the opening minutes were disturbing enough to take away Duke fans appetite for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Once again, Duke’s man-to-man defense was shredded and the pain did not end until Duke reluctantly went to their 1-3-1 defense, which coincidentally also turned the Georgetown game. The unindicted co-conspirator for those first fifteen painfully puzzling minutes was an atypically passive Greyson Allen. Coach K had commented that the freshmen had to step up to help lighten his scoring load, because it is not sustainable for one player to score 40% of the points. So by design or circumstance, Greyson was scoreless until Coach had seen enough and switched to the zone. Co-incidentally, the players started to look for Greyson and he became more aggressive- que Scott Van Pelt for some ESPN SportsCenter Greyson Allen highlights.

There may have been a method to madness as early substitutions Ingram and Kennard plus starter Thornton hit threes to get the Blue Devils on the scoreboard. They were also effective defensively with Kennard making the play of the game by diving for a loose ball and in one motion throwing a blind half court ball to Greyson for an uncontested dunk. But then Luke was also an all-state Ohio quarterback.

The Good News/ Bad News:

  • Duke spotted the same Yale team, who upset defending NCAA Champion UConn at home last year,  9 points and still won by 21– but that margin is in no way a fair indication of the competitiveness of the game.
  • Grayson Allen had 5 assists, 4 more than point guard Derryck Thornton. No one claims freshmen are consistent.
  • Brandon Ingram, who seemed more animated/motivated coming off the bench for the second time, had 15 points– but none of them were outside of four feet. The oxygen gets thin for him on the perimeter unless he is going to the basket.
  • Oxymoron: Luke Kennard is 14-14 from free throw line but 4-23 from three point land. Which is reality? Answer: Anyone who shoots that well from the line has a shooting touch and  will soon light it up from the floor. Example: Allen, who is 41-45 from the line is over 50% per cent from the floor.

Observations: 

  • Allen had only (for him) 14 points but added five assists, five rebounds, a steal, and enough floor burns to satisfy even Wojo.
  • Amile “Spiderman” Jefferson and Matt “Mr. Utility” Jones and Marshall “Muscleman” Plumlee constitute the tough, blue collar backbone of this team.
  • Matt Jones has developed into Grayson Allan’s “Wing Man”. On Allan’s forays to the basket, Matt just follows to an open space and, if Allen is blocked gets a pass for an open three. It’s a new play called: Kentucky Option. It has been a tough week for Jones off the floor, as his grandfather, the main male figure in his life, died Monday. He was still able to lead Duke with 17 points, shooting 7-of-11 from the floor.
  • An unusual number of the referee calls made you want to hit the replay button.
  • How many times have you seen Duke players diving for loose balls while opponents are leaning over reaching for it. Who wins that scrum?
  • This was win number 1023 for Coach K and 119 straight versus non-conference foes in Cameron.

 

  • Pay close attention to these next six games for clues as how Coach K and his staff assess and determine the best roles for this young talent.

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

 

Alan Adds:

 

If you love the game of basketball, it was hard not to completely admire Yale’s opening salvo against Duke at Cameron.  The Bulldogs simply played beautiful basketball in carving up the Duke man to man defense.  It could have been an offensive coaching clinic (with Duke defenders playing the role of the Washington Generals!).  Coach K thought his team was tired from last week’s schedule, and said that his team wasn’t talking as it usually does.  Duke, he said, played hard, but there was something missing.  His first substitutions — replacing Amile and Thornton with Brandon and Kennard — stemmed the tide.  The Coach then switched (not reluctantly, I submit) to the 1-3-1 zone (misidentified at first as a 2-3 by the announcers).  “We went to the 1-3-1 because we couldn’t keep Mason out of the paint.  The zone changed the game.

Defense

The last two teams — Georgetown and Yale — have good patient penetrating offenses.  Coach K said those teams had returning players and their offense was way ahead of Duke’s man to man defense.  Coach K recognizes that Duke will be beaten if the man to man is the primary or only defense Duke plays this year.  In the past, Duke has had senior leadership to teach the Duke man to man.  Coach K said watching the Marquette (coached by Wojo) – Arizona State (coached by Bobby Hurley) play each other reminded him that he had 8 years of the best possible on the ball defense at the point.  But, the coach said that neither of those two excellent defenders were excellent in their freshman season (Coach K said it took Wojo 2 years to get it).  He simply does not have the personnel to play the man to man as Duke has done in the past, but Duke is not giving up that defense either.  “We can get better, but we need time to practice.  We haven’t had time to practice in the last week.”  Coach K also said that the team has worked very hard on the 1-3-1 zone in practice all year because that defense fits Duke’s personnel very well, “especially when we have all the bigs in”.  Grayson was lauded as being “unbelievably active on the wing in the 1-3-1.  By the time Yale figured out how to play against it, the game was over.

The Rotation

I believe that Coach K is still tinkering and learning about his team.  Although he didn’t start, Brandon Ingram not only changed the game, but also played the most minutes (34) of any Duke player.  He is still a work in progress (but the progress is becoming more apparent).  Although he is still having trouble with his shot (1-6 from behind the arc; and 0-1 from the line), he contributed in very meaningful ways last night while scoring 15 points (6-10 inside the arc) with 5 boards, 3 assists, a steal and a block against committing only 2 turnovers and 1 foul.  Brandon is active on the defensive boards, on defense in the paint and is a terrific defender at the top of the zone.  Luke Kennard was also a major contributor in his 23 minutes, scoring 12 points (2-8; 2-6 from downtown and, importantly, 6-6 from the line.  While he made 2 from deep, he is still not shooting up to his reputation.  However, Luke played outstanding defense with 3 steals while committing only 1 foul.  He also had an assist without a turnover.  When those two freshmen entered the game, they gave Duke “some pop” — a dose of emotional energy that changed the game.

Matt Jones had a very solid game in his 32 minutes, as did Grayson.  Derryck Thornton played only 22 minutes.  I believe Coach K knows his team has to learn to play without its only true point guard this year.  One of the very good aspects of this game was that Duke looked fine on offense with Grayson and Matt in the backcourt.  Matt (who was grieving the loss of his grandfather, with whom he was very close) was lethargic in the first half (4 points on 2-5; including 0-2 from 3land), but turned it on in the second half (5-6 from the floor; 3-3 from behind the arc).  He had 17 for the game to lead Duke in scoring.  His solid floor game produced 3 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals, and some effective defense against only 1 turnover.  Grayson also played 32 minutes, dishing out 5 assists against only 1 turnover while scoring 14 points on 4-10 shooting (0-2 from 3land; but 6-6 from the line).  He also snared 3 boards and had a steal.  He did whine about the fouls called on him, and he picked up his 4th with 9:48 left in the game.  Coach K left him in because it is a learning experience that you cannot simulate in practice.  Grayson played well down the stretch without committing foul number 5.  Derryck in his most limited role recently, played well enough on offense (but was victimized in man to man defense as he has been frequently this year).  He committed 3 fouls in his limited playing time.  He was smooth on offense with 6 points on 2-4 from the floor (1-2 from 3land and 1-1 from the line).  He had an assist, a steal and 2 blocks (how cool for a guard!) against only 1 turnover.  Duke cannot thrive with Grayson scoring 40% of the team’s points.  Against Yale, the scoring for Duke was balanced — Matt, 17; Brandon, 15; Grayson 14; Luke, 12 and Amile 9.

The Duke bigs were disappointing in the first half.  Amile had a single point on 1-2 from the line and only 2 boards in the first half.  Marshall had 3 boards but 0 points.  Worse, Yale was dominating the Duke defensive backboard and scoring at will in the paint (26 of 36 points in the first half).  The second half was a totally different story.  The Duke bigs (including Brandon) simply overwhelmed the Bulldogs. In the second half, Amile scored 8 on 4-6 from the field and pulled down 10 boards.  In his 25 minutes, he was 1 point shy of a double double and played outstanding second half defense in the zone — whether up top (when Brandon was on the bench) or in the back line.    Marshall played 26 minutes and in the second half scoring 5 points (a dunk on a great assist from Grayson — 1-2 from the field; and 3-5 from the line).  For the game, Marshall contributed 2 steals and 2 blocks, but also turned it over twice and committed 4 fouls.  Chase Jeter made a 5 minute cameo, scoring a bucket on his only shot, but missing a free throw.  He had a block and a steal; not bad for 5 minutes.

Coach K’s Interesting Presser

He likes his team, but understands that it is a much younger team than last year’s team (even though the ages are similar).  He understands that youth is reflected in inconsistent play.  Coach K said that it would take a while for all of the pieces to play together at a high level.  “We won’t get everyone playing well together for a while.  Getting consistency is growing up.”  Coach K said the task was to keep growing, and that this team “has a lot of growing up to do.”  Interestingly, Coach K said that, unlike last year, “I am the consistency.  This team needs that from me and my coaching staff, but I have told them that I am the consistent aspect for now.  I need to be consistently present and passionate at every huddle, every timeout, every practice — that every second matters.  That’s what this team needs from me.”

Coach K also said that any team that plays for four minutes without timeout or substitution is a tired team.  Duke had a 10 point lead and had played more than 4 minutes without stoppage.  Coach K said in a more competitive game, he might have called a timeout, but he wanted to see if his team could play tired, so it was over 6 minutes until stoppage.  Coach K said, “we didn’t — couldn’t — do it.  We didn’t lose the lead”, but Duke couldn’t sustain its level of play.  He said he did it because that is something you can’t teach in practice; it requires a game situation.  He has always said that how you play when exhausted is one of the key aspects to winning.

All in all, the Yale game was a valuable growth experience for this young Duke team.

DUKE 85- UTAH STATE 52

Nothing like a little home cooking on Thanksgiving break for 9,314 of your closest friends. Today was the most complete game these Blue Devils have played. Coming into the game, an athletic but undersized Utah State was an undefeated 4-0 –in the state of Utah. Nevertheless, the Blue Devil man-to-man defense was very effective while Jefferson and Plumlee dominated the paint. Ingram again started in place of Thornton, who has not distinguished himself these last two games. However, it was a coming out party for another freshman, Luke Kennard, who shot like the player we have been expecting to see— 4-5 threes and 22 points.

Krzyzewski said after the game that Kennard hadn’t brought his shot speed up to the speed of the college game. He pointed to the free throw line – where the game is the same speed in high school and college — and Kennard is 18-for-19 from the charity stripe. During live game action, though, Krzyzewski said Kennard needed to move quicker and get ready to shoot quicker. “The ball comes to him at different times than it did in high school,” Krzyzewski said. “Just shooting at the speed that he is going to need to at this competition. You’re not in the right lane anymore; you’re in the left lane.”

I guess my foremost takeaway from this game is how much satisfaction and pleasure I derive watching  seniors Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee play. Maybe it is that they realize this is their last year, maybe it is that they want to show the Crazies how much they have learned and grown in their time here, maybe they just want to show the younger guys how Duke plays the game. But there is no denying that they play with a joyfulness, verve, and confidence that most of the one-and –doners don’t. Damn, I really miss that about contemporary college basketball.

Observations:

  • The normally friendly Cameron rims were not very accommodating today. Greyson’s first three shots that normally go in, rolled off or out and the basket rejected other shots that usually seem to fall.
  • Seth Greenberg, the former Virginia Tech coach was one of the announcers.He is very knowledgeable and highly entertaining. However, the only thing he never talks about is why he refused to offer scholarships to Hokie All-American Dell Curry’s sons Stephen and Seth. He did offer the opinion that Brandon Ingram was more effective as a four than on the perimeter.
  • This was win number 1,024 for Coach K and 120 straight versus non-conference opponents in Cameron.

Alan Adds:

It is hard to find any fault with Duke’s beat down of Utah State yesterday.  If you want to quibble, Utah State penetrated the Duke defense at will…for about 5 minutes.  Then Duke clamped down and played serious man to man defense.  Coach K went to the 1-3-1 zone for exactly one possession (a wide open Utah State 3 from the corner ended that defense for the game), and then stayed with the man to man, even showing serious pressure from time to time.  Duke’s excessive fouling at garbage time at the end of the game (Obi and Vrankovic committed 5 fouls between them in a collective 6 minutes) and sloppy play (with two walk-ons) were the only other blemishes on an otherwise season’s best performance.   Because the outcome was never in doubt, Duke’s full rotation got a look.  Nobody played more than 29 minutes (Grayson and Amile).  Marshall logged 27, Luke Kennard 26, Brandon 25 and Matt 24.  Thornton played only 19 minutes (4 fouls limiting his playing time) while Chase Jeter had a 13 minute stint.  Jeter shows potential — he is fluid and can score — but he is lost on defense and not yet confident on offense.  He is not ready for crunch time yet.  There were some gaudy stat lines in a game where Duke looked very efficient on offense, suffocating on defense and dominating on both backboards.  Beat down was a fair description.

There was much good news for the Devils, but none better than the performance of Luke Kennard.  He looked confident and smooth, dropping 22 points on 7-9 from the field (4-5 from 3land and 4-5 from the line).  He added a steal, a block and an assist.  Except for being beaten badly on his first defensive play on entering the game, he was a valuable defender.  His only downside was 4 turnovers; yet he is an excellent and reliable ball handler.  It would not be a shocker to see him in the starting lineup against Indiana.  Both Brandon and Derryck, who have each started games, had ineffective offensive games.  Brandon had some moments, while Derryck had a lackluster game overall.  He was missed 10 shots before he hit a final driving layup during garbage time (1-9 from the field including 0-1 from behind the arc; and 0-2 from the line), and wasn’t a whole lot more effective on defense, the four fouls being an accurate indicator.  Derryck did dish out a pair of assists and had a steal.  Brandon was a valuable contributor, but is not yet shooting well or scoring.  His confidence has been shaken, I think, as he took only 4 shots from the field (2-4), but got to the line for 6 attempts (4-6).  He is becoming a better defender (2 blocks and a steal) and was effective on the glass with 6 rebounds (3 on offense).  You still get the feeling that, like Kennard today, he has breakout talent that will boost the team.  So much of this year’s accomplishments will depend on the continuing growth of the freshmen, which includes becoming consistent contributors.

The four veterans had superb games.  Matt scores really only when the team needs him.  He took just 6 shots today (2-6; 2-4 from 3land) for 6 points.  He is the glue to the defense and the team leader.  You know he is there when the going gets difficult.  We are getting so used to Grayson’s outstanding play that 22 points on 15 shots doesn’t seem like the big deal it really is.  Grayson was 8-15 (2-5 from deep; 4-4 from the line), but that hardly tells the whole story.  Grayson plays with such energy and leadership.  His defense is excellent and his stats beyond scoring are admirable.   He pulled down 5 rebounds, dished 2 assists without a turnover, and had a steal and a block while committing only 1 foul.  That is efficient basketball, but might not have been the most efficient performance of the game.  Amile is a candidate for that award.  His shooting was almost perfect — 6-7 from the field and 1-1 from the line for 13 points — and the rest of his game was as good or better.  He pulled down 9 tough rebounds, and added 2 blocks, 2 steals and two assists without committing a foul.  While Amile was nearly perfect in shooting, Marshall was actually perfect (3-3 from the field and 3-3 from the line for 9 points) and added 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals and an assist while committing only 2 fouls.  Duke just dominated on the interior.

Next Play is the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against Indiana at Cameron (9:30 pm on ESPN).  I will be traveling for the next two games, causing the DBP to be possibly a day or two later than usual.

DUKE 94 – INDIANA 74

Holy Kevin Durant, Dickie V!  Brandon Ingram finally showed us more than a few flashes of what all the hype is about by scoring 18 points on a variety of shots in twelve minutes of the first half and playing by far his most complete game of his brief college career. To use a couple of Coach K’s favorite words, he played with a verve and enthusiasm that had him sprinting back on both ends of the floor and even animated and involved on the bench. At halftime Jay (aka. Jason) Williams, the former Duke All American guard, explained that Ingram has not had his hands up anticipating a pass so that he was not physically or mentally ready to shoot. Tonight he did and boy, what a difference.

While the Hoosiers (aided and abetted by Duke’s sometimes inattentive defense) shot, well like you expect Hoosiers to shoot (over 50%), other aspects of the game like defense and rebounding apparently left with Bobby Knight, who must have had heartburn last night. The Blue Devils ended up shooting 53 % from the field, 46 % on 3’s, and 82%  from the line. Duke out rebounded Indiana 38-25 and turned it over only six times, an impressive statistic for an up-tempo game like this one. The Devils had more offensive rebounds (19) than Indiana had defensive rebounds (17). And while we look at the blue collar statistics, let’s give it up for Amile Jefferson, who gives it up on every minute of every play to make stats like these the rule, not the exception.

Indiana made an impressive run early in the first half to go up by six before Duke made an extended one of their own punctuated by Grayson Allen’s shot of the night—maybe the year– to end the half. On a patented drive into the lane, Allen lost his footing around the foul line, slipping as he flung the ball with two hands, from waist level, over his shoulder. With his back to the basket, Allen couldn’t see the ball hit the backboard and bounce into the net. As my old tennis coach once counselled me: “Good players make more lucky shots than bad players.”

As the teams jogged past each other to head to the locker room, Coach Krzyzewski was bumped by an Indiana player at halftime. Krzyzewski took exception and spoke with Indiana head coach Tom Crean before leaving the floor. Whether coincidence or not, the Blue Devils came out to the second half as if they wanted to prove a point. The blue Devils rattled off a 9-0 run to begin the period, doubling their halftime lead to 60-42. On the defensive end, the they held Indiana without a field goal for the first 8:29 and seemed to win every loose ball

Every game won’t always be like this, at least not right away– not for Ingram, not for Duke. This is part of a process, one that does not necessarily have a smooth progression forward. But, to channel an old Elvis Pressley song: “It was a night. Such a night. What a night it was!”

In the Duke-Utah State blog, I mentioned how much I missed watching four year players like Jefferson and Plumlee mature and hated that the NBA takes players before they are ready for the unstructured NBA lifestyle—too much time, money, women, drugs etc. A good example is Jahlil Okafor. By all accounts is a good kid and never got into any trouble at Duke. Now a 76er, he personally is doing very well on the court—despite playing for an undermanned and winless team. Off the court appears to be another matter. There are the  press reports about Okafor’s extra-curricular activities: Stopped by police driving 108 mph on the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia; had a gun pointed at him during a dispute outside of a Philadelphia club in early October; refused service at the bar for having a fake ID; TMZ released a video of Okafor punching an obnoxious fan outside of a Boston club early Thanksgiving morning.

“Look, Jah is one of the great kids,” Krzyzewski said. “Pros need to have security. When we’re with the U.S. team, we have security for everybody because all of those guys are targets. You’ve just got to be smart about that. He was not. He apologized. He is being punished. Look, anybody who pictures that kid as some bad kid, you’ve got to be kidding me. He is one of the most loving, good kids… But he did a couple stupid things. Okay, knock him, suspend him, let’s move on. But let’s not characterize him as that. He is not that. That kid is a special, special human being. And he is a pretty damn good basketball player in addition, too.”

And speaking of former players, Rasheed Sulaimon is playing for Maryland this year. Whatever the circumstances surrounding his dismissal from the team last year, this much is apparent: He stayed in school,  finished the semester, which had to be awkward, even difficult, and graduated. He and is part of one of the best back courts in the country. Rasheed had an outstanding game in the loss to Carolina Tuesday night and seemed at ease among the hostile Chapel Hill crowd, even chatting amiably with Marcus Paige during breaks in the action.

Observations:

  • What’s wrong with Matt Jones and Grayson Allen playing the point?
  • Imagine how good this team would be if Brandon Ingram continues to play anything like he did tonight and  Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard continue to gain confidence.
  • Duke  played primarily a man-to-man defense tonight but slipped into a 2-3 zone a few brief times.
  • This was win number 1,024 for Coach K and 120 straight versus non-conference opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The last time Duke lost a home nonconference game was Feb. 26, 2000 when St. John’s escaped with a narrow 83-82 win.

Alan Adds:

This was obviously Duke’s best overall game of the season.  My only caveat is that, having seen Indiana in previous games, THEY CANNOT GUARD ANYONE!  Leaving aside the Hoosier wreckage, there were some genuinely positive things for Duke beyond the offensive outburst from Brandon and the superb floor game played by Matt Jones.  Duke had 18 assists against only six turnovers.  Duke’s assist leader had 8 — Amile Jefferson from the post.  What a great statistic that is.  Grayson was Duke’s second leading assister with 3.  In many ways, Jefferson took over the game, dominating the backboard and creating havoc with his interior defense. If I believed in such merit as POG (I don’t), it would be Amile.  But this is a team game and Duke had a great team game.

Coach K seemed to be narrowing the rotation.  Only 7 played.  Chase Jeter did not play even though Coach K said Duke has 8 starters and Duke’s lead was as large as 25 — rarely below 20 in the second half.  I don’t know the story behind Jeter’s benching, but I do suspect there is a story. {Editor: Same as MP3 only getting 20 minutes–Indiana played small]  The rotation is definetly shortening. Even in the blowout, Grayson played 38 minutes and Matt 37.  Both had fantastic games on both ends of the court.  Grayson had 16 (7-11; 2-2 from the line), missing his only 3 point attempt.  He had 5 boards and 3 assists.  Matt took the most shots (19; 11 from behind the arc).  He was 9-19; 5-11 for 23 points and some in your face defense.  Amile played 35 minutes and Brandon logged 32 in his offensive breakout.  He was 10-15, including 4-6 from behind the arc for 24 points and 6 boards.  He should have had a block on which he was called for a phantom foul.  He is valuable on defense, but still has lapses that allow easy layups.  His improvment is palpable.  He has the potential to play the same role on this team that Mike Dunleavy played on the 2000 team.  Duke then went only 6 deep because Dunleavy was so versatile.  Brandon has that same potential because he has a perimeter game and an interior game.

Marshall played only 20 minutes, accumulating 4 fouls in that time.  When he was out, Brandon was the other big.  Marshall was strong while on the floor though limited to 4 points.  He had 5 rebounds.  Kennard logged 22 minutes as his long distance shooting woes returned (after his last breakout game).  He was 3-10 (1-5 from behind the arc for 7 points to go with 4 boards, 2 assists and a block.  He continues to impress with his floor game, ball handling and defense.  He is becoming a lock down defender.  He played the fifth most minutes.

Derryck was limited by Coach K to 16 minutes.  He can surely score — 12 points in 16 minutes on 4-5; 1-1 from behind the arc and 3-3 from the line.  So, why isn’t he playing more?  My guess (opinion) is there are two reasons.  First, Derryck is turning the ball over without reconrding assists.   Point guard skills include running the offense and making teammates better.  He had a single assist against 2 turnovers.  The second aspect to his game that needs (dramatic) improvment is his defense.  He loses track of his assignment and gets beaten by his man moving without the ball with some frequency.  He is young, but his minutes seem to be diminishing.  It would not surpirise me to see this team play with a rotation as small as 6 at crunch time because of Brandon’s versatility.

Duke won by a blowout, but it is hard to ignore that Indiana — especially in the first half — penetrated with ease.  The Hoosiers shot 54% in the first half and finished the game at 51%.  In the second half, the Duke help at the rim improved as the defense tightened — especially when Brandon was in the game as one of the two bigs.

All in all, it was a definite step forward.  Duke will need that in the ACC.  UNC looked awfully good dismantling Maryland.

 

DUKE 82- BUFFALO 59

A game scheduled for 5:15pm on Saturday is not the main attraction, it’s not even the opening act, it’s a local band playing for free. Nevertheless, you never know what you will see or hear. What we saw was Brandon Ingram’s game and attitude continue to develop and mature right before our eyes. Let’s face it, Brandon has to be going through more than the normal freshman adjustment period. He is from athletic mother load of Kinston, North Carolina, normally a feeder system to Chapel Hill, who played on an AAU team coached by fellow Kinstonian Jerry Stackhouse, whose attitude hastened Dean Smith’s retirement– and who probably has more tats than all the freshman class put together. Well, the last two games Brandon has looked and played like he is getting much more comfortable at Duke–not only has he scored practically at will, he also has hustled, played hard at both ends of the floor, and bonded with the home crowd by urging them to raise the noise level to the roof.

Neither team shot well and Buffalo hung around until Duke switched to a 1-3-1 zone. Coincidentally, Duke’s offense heated up and the margin doubled.

Grayson Allen had an “off” night”—only 22 points, 11 rebounds plus lumps, bumps, and floor burns usually associated with a cage fight. I guess the definition off and “off” night for Greyson is twenty some points, and an “on” night is thirty some. If both Allen and Ingram have “on” nights against top flight competition, Luke Kennard starts scoring as advertised, Thornton continues to improve, and Jefferson, Plumlee, and Jones, continue to play as they are now, this team plays at an entirely different level. At present, Chase Jeter is getting little playing time and is not distinguishing himself when he does. So, this is a versatile seven man rotation. What else is new? Let’s hope no one gets hurt.

Miscellaneous:

Ø  Duke freshman forward Justin Robinson, the son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, will redshirt this year.

Ø  This was win number 1,025 for Coach K and 121 straight versus non-conference opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The last time Duke lost a home nonconference game was Feb. 26, 2000 when St. John’s escaped with a narrow 83-82 win.

Ø   Despite three NCAA Championships, Coach K has not been ACC Coach of the Year since 2000. Go figure.

Ø  Duke now takes a 10-day break for final exams and will return to the court against Georgia Southern Dec. 15 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Alan Adds:

It was hard to take Buffalo seriously, given the defections, injuries, and league that Buffalo plays in.  One felt the spread should have been in triple figures.  The game started as if Duke players felt that way even as they tried to take Buffalo seriously.   But, Buffalo demanded to be taken seriously by out hustling Duke in the early going, getting every 50-50 ball while playing the game like it actually was for them — the biggest moment of each Buffalo player’s athletic life. Of course, the huge talent disparity wore Buffalo down and it is fair to say there was never a single moment when any knowledgable fan thought Duke might actually lose.  At the end of the first half when Duke led by 10, it felt like a moral victory for Buffalo.

Brandon was, as Bill described, absolutely scintillating — especially in the first half.  But I want to highlight the play of Derryck Thornton, who played like an experienced point guard.  In 24 minutes, he had 0 turnovers to go with 5 assists.  Moreover, he was 4-4 from the line and 2-4 from the field (0 attempted 3 pointers) for 8 points, while committing only a single foul. These are excellent numbers even though the competition was inferior; the issue will be whether he grows into playing like this against the highest level of competition.

As Bill pointed out the rotation is only 7 players.  Jeter is not getting any playing time (3 minutes,) missing both of his shots and committing a foul in that cameo.  Marshall is starting, but he is not playing the minutes that the other starters are.  In 23 minutes (no foul trouble), he was 1-2 from the line and 0-2 from the field for a point to go with a board, a block, a steal, and a turnover.  The key stat for Marshall was 4 assists.  Duke had only 10 assists (Grayson got the other one).  Luke is still having trouble with his stroke (and now his drives) after a break out game.  He was 2-7 (1-3) from the field in his 15 minutes and 2-2 from the line for 7 points.  He is valuable on the floor, snaring 3 boards in his short stint and playing excellent defense.

The reason it appeared that Grayson had an “off night” is because he was wretched shooting from the field.  He had, in his 36 minutes, 15 field goal attempts, of which 3 were from distance.  But he made only 5 — 1 from distance (each at 33%).  The reason he is still accorded star status is the rest of his exceptional game.  He was 11-13 from the foul line, a great statistic from any standpoint, and he snared a game high 11 rebounds — all defensive.  In short he kept Buffalo off its offensive glass.  In addition, he played great defense while committing only a single foul.   Both he and Brandon took 15 shots, but while Grayson was off, Brandon seemed, and was, on fire.  He played 38 minutes of scintillating basketball, which is corroborated by his statistics — 8-15, including 2-4 from 3land and 5-7 from the line.  In addition,  consider he collected 8 rebounds (3 offensive), made 2 steals and 4 blocks, while committing only 3 fouls.  3 turnovers is the only negative in yet another breakout game for him.

Matt and Amile were simply solid.  Amile was limited to 28 minutes by his foul trouble (ended the game with 4), but was offensively efficient going 5-6 from the field and 3-4 from the stripe for 13 points.  He also had 8 boards, many of them very tough rebounds.  Matt seems only to score when Duke needs it.  He made one 3 pointer, but it came at perhaps the only crucial moment in the entire game.  He logged 32 minutes grabbing 4 rebounds and scoring 8 points on 2-8 (1-4 from behind the arc) from the field and 3-4 from the line for 8 points.  He is so steady and is the go to guy at crunch time.

It is a very interesting team.  Conference play, which starts in January, will be defining — especially conference play on the road.

DUKE  99 –  GEORGIA SOUTHERN  65

The big news tonight is more clarity about Amile Jefferson’s injury. The underrated but perhaps the most irreplaceable player on the team sustained a “non-surgical” break of his right foot in a practice scrum for a loose ball and is out “indefinitely”. Without Jefferson, Duke has six players who will play the majority of the available minutes and a seventh, Chase Jeter, who isn’t ready for prime time or, even tonight, non-prime time. In his first minutes, he lost the ball on an inbounds play, bricked a lay-up, missed an ally-oop, lost his man on defense, and then fell down in the paint. However, as K pointed out, he has only just turned eighteen and because of the difference in physicality and speed the transition from the high school game to the college game is much tougher for big men than guards. What about Sean Obi, the large Rice transfer? He was never mentioned.

Most telling about the severity of the situation was Krzyzewski’s reaction to a question suggesting that this year’s numbers challenge (with seven available useful players) is similar to last year, when Duke won the national title with eight scholarship players. Krzyzewski quickly cut off the question. “We were never in this situation. Not even close…not even close because we had more experience. And we had  Okafor, we had Winslow, and we had guards. We had eight good players.”

Jefferson’s broken foot will be in a hard cast until he returns from Duke’s holiday break on Dec. 26. At that point, he will be re-evaluated and  be fitted with  a walking boot. The timetable for his return is unknowable. “Tune in for the next episode,” Krzyzewski said, “We can start a series right now of  “What the hell is happening with the Blue Devils. We have to keep the ship afloat while he’s gone. We don’t have many guys. . . . We have to take a look at what we do on defense because not every team is going to play four perimeter guys. We can score if two variables are addressed: having tired legs and being in foul trouble…. not being in the game. So, we have to think of ways of us staying out of foul trouble and having fresh legs.”

The Good News: Brandon Ingram continued to mature and impress almost geometrically (ref: In his last three games, Brandon has scored  73 points,  28 rebounds, 6 blocks, and a season’s worth of highlight plays for most players. Those are All-American numbers. Tonight, he had a double- double punctuated by a couple of SportsCenter worthy highlight dunks; old reliable Matt Jones just keeps doing all the big and little things in an impressive manner; MP3, a big, physical post presence, almost had a double-double; Derryck Thornton keeps improving; Luke Kennard, who came with a big time scoring reputation, is doing everything but that well (Coach K swears he is often the high scorer in practice but, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to transfer that to real games); Grayson Allen had another “off” night: two missed foul shots, (only) 18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 4 take downs, plus 2 head shots.

The Bad News: With Jefferson, the Blue Devil defense has not been your first choice to take to the Big Dance. Without Jefferson, you might be going stag. It can be beaten off the dribble and is weak in the paint—but it is still early in the season.

Miscellaneous:

  • Brand, Boozer,  Irving, Ryan, now Jefferson all sidelined by foot injuries. Coincidence, drills, or shoes?
  • This was win number 1,026 for Coach K and 122 straight versus non-conference opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The last time Duke lost a home nonconference game was Feb. 26, 2000 when St. John’s escaped with a narrow 83-82 win.
  • Next game: Saturday, December 19. Utah @ noon @ MSG on ESPN.

 

Alan Adds:

Over the weekend, I wrote to Bill: “Reasonable Duke goals at exam break (before Amile’s break):  [note the prescient comment about “especially if there is any kind of injury”] Lowest, but still acceptable and probably the right goal for this team:  3rd in the ACC; Semi-Finals of ACC tournament; Sweet 16, maybe elite 8. The rotation of 7 is too few, especially if there is any kind of injury. However, I agree there is a terrific (possibly magical) upside to this team (and his name is Brandon Ingram).  If the last two games are the beginning of the arrival of a star, who blossoms [Now we can say last 3 games], Duke could step up to the level of the top tier of teams.  The defense will jell then, Grayson would have room to flourish, and the interior would be pretty solid.  Nice holiday thought.”

Of course, Amile’s injury is a significant blow to this team, and calls into question “ the interior would be pretty solid”.  How large a blow depends on when he is able to return and if he can return to the level of his early season play (something neither Kyrie nor Ryan Kelly were able to do when each finally returned from their respective foot injury).

The game against Georgia Southern is not a good measuring stick because of the immense discrepancy with Duke in talent and size.  However, it is certainly interesting to see how Coach K tried and will try to survive in the interim.  He did not sound optimistic, but realistic,”if dad gets laid off, the sons have to go out and get jobs.”   The three most productive and important players (you might say core) played over 30 minutes — Grayson 35; Matt 33; and Brandon 31.  Coach K is trying to see if he can add to the core from the next 3 players who all logged 22 minutes or more — Luke played 29 minutes; Derryck 27 and Marshall 22.  No player committed more than 2 fouls this game.  The only other two players to see action were Jeter (I love he wears # 2) and Obi (who made only a cameo of 4 minutes, and got his first Duke points — 1-1 with a rebound for 2 points).  As Bill described, Chase looked lost in the first half, but played better in the second half.  In his 17 minutes, he was 1-2 with 3 boards a steal and a block.

Whether Duke “survives” in this mode will, I believe, depend on Luke Kennard beginning to play to his potential.  That just means his shot has to start going in.  In his 29 minutes, he was 1-7 from behind the arc — opening 0-4 in the early going.  His shot selection was not the problem; he was open and he took the shot he was supposed to take.  Actually, he was tied with Brandon for the most shots of any Duke player (4-13 and 2-2 from the line for 11 points).  He also pulled down 5 rebounds and handed out a pair of assists.  Even though he was called for a backcourt violation, Luke showed some amazing ball handling skills grabbing a loose ball in a scrum and dribbling dexterously.  My take is that if he can be the deadly shooter that he was projected to be, Duke will not only survive, but thrive.  Derryck is showing great improvement on both ends of the court.   In 27 minutes, Derryck was the model of efficiency.  A cautionary note is the level of opposition.  Thornton was 5-8 from the field including a dazzling 3-3 from 3land but only 2-4 from the line for 15 points to go with his 4 defensive rebounds and 4 assists.   Marshall is going to be an enigma.  He can be a force, and was last night against the much smaller Ga. Southern team, but he is not athletic enough to guard the paint.  He missed 4 of his 5 foul shots while converting 4-8 from close in.   He had 11 boards and 2 blocks, but also 4 turnovers.  Even though he committed only 2 fouls, he logged the sixth most minutes on the team (not starter minutes, even though starting).  It will be interesting to see how Coach K distributes the minutes on Saturday against Utah, a big athletic team that has been ranked this season.  It will be a big test for Marshall.

Duke’s core was fabulous against an undermanned and defenseless (Georgia Southern could not play any defense at all) team.   Brandon was All-World.  Suddenly you can see why there was a one and done aura about him in the pre-season.  In 31 minutes, he looked like Larry Bird.  The closest one could come to finding a flaw was his 6-9 from the stripe.  He scored 26 on 9-13 from the field (2-4 from deep) while leading Duke in rebounding with 14 (8 on offense).  He had 2 assists, a steal and 2 blocks without turning it over at all and committing only 1 foul.  Some stat line.  Utah will be an illuminating test because of the heightened level of competition.  Grayson is impressive even when he is not scoring over 30 points on 12 shots.  He played a game high 35 minutes, sitting out when he got hit in the face inadvertently.  He actually missed 2 free throws (4-6 from the stripe) and 3 from behind the arc (2-5 for a paltry 40%).  He scored 18 on 6-11 from the field (which means 4-6 from inside the stripe) to go with 7 boards, 5 Utah The downside was the ease with which Georgia Southern scored on uncontested layups, that Duke shot under 60% from the line (19-32) and had 7 turnovers in the first half.

Next play will tell us much more about Post-Amile Duke on Saturday in Madison Square Garden.

 

DUKE  75-  UTAH 77

When your daddy is missing-in-action, the number one son is sick, the tallest, most talented baby brother doesn’t seize the moment, you only shoot 30% from the floor, and you’re outrebounded 56-38, you’re cruisin’ for a losin’.

Despite being shorthanded and behind most of the game, the Blue Devils  made a patented n 18-2 run midway into the second half to build a 49-44 lead. Starting  the run, there were no post players on the floor as Ingram, Jones, Allen, Kennard and Derryck Thornton made it work. It appeared another improbably Duke win was teed up—in the lead with the clock running down, the star Utah center on the bench with four fouls, and Duke in the foul bonus situation. With five to go, center Jakob Poeltl came back and was the difference by blocking three Blue Devil drives and scoring at the other end as Duke did not score a basket in the last four minutes. And yet, and yet, the Duke defense held on the last possession and the score was still tied at the end of regulation. Then, falling behind by five in OT, a breakout brilliant performance by Luke Kennard (aided and abetted by a Ute clinic on defensive mindlock), Duke almost rallied tie again at the buzzer as Brandon Ingram missed an uncontested finger roll drive at the rim.

Except for Luke Kennard (24 points in 27 minutes off the bench), the Blue Devils shot horribly, were badly outrebounded, and played inconsistent defense—zone or man, it didn’t matter. Nevertheless, and this is what is so compelling about Coach K’s teams, they never stopped fighting and somehow almost salvaged a win.

Without Jefferson, Duke is in for a challenging month or two. However, Grayson will recover, Brandon will be more confident and assertive, Luke demonstrated he has the talent and temperament to be a go-to playmaker. Thornton is talented but a work in progress, but Jeter is way behind the other freshmen. However, by tournament time (assuming Jefferson fully recovers and no one else is injured) this will be a much more formidable team. Meanwhile, the lineups and playing times are a work in progress. Coach K replaced Jefferson with freshman Luke Kennard in a victory over Georgia Southern. Today, he opted to start another freshman, point guard Derryck Thornton, who was 2-13 with 4 assists in 42 minutes.

Miscellaneous Observations: 

  • Patience while the pieces come together.
  • Watching Grayson playing like a shell of himself today reminded me of Bob Verga, the Duke All-America guard, whose regular season’s average was about what Allen’s is (without the three point line), in the 1966 NCAA Tournament semi-final between Duke and Kentucky. Bob had a strep throat and only scored 4 points as Duke lost 83-79. However, Pat Riley’s Kentucky (star Pat Riley) had the dubious historical distinction (made into a movie) of being the first all-white team who played (and lost) to an all-black team Texas Western (star “Bad News” Barnes) in the NCAA Finals. How do I remember that? I was there for that heart breaking loss at College Park, Maryland. I thought this was the year for Coach Bubas to win our first NCAA Championship. It was a very, very talented team: Bob Verga, Jack Marin, Mike Lewis, Steve Vacendak.
  • As much as Mike Krzyzewski gets credit for how he’s adjusted to the one-and-done era of college basketball, we forget that he still does an incredible job of developing players who stick around. We saw it last season with Quinn Cook and we’ve seen it this season with Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, and Matt Jones.
  • In Madison Square Garden, Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski teams are 28-10.
  • Next game: Elon December 27 on ESPNU.

 

Alan Adds:

What an interesting game!  I had a Bob Verga image from how Grayson looked in the first half, and was smiling when I read Bill’s first draft referencing it.  There were many really bad things about this game as well as a lot of good things.  Thus “interesting” is my adjective of choice to describe the game.  The first really bad thing is Duke lost to a genuinely terrible team.  Do not be fooled by Utah’s ranking or 8-2 (coming into the game) record.  Utah’s two losses were telling.  Miami beat them handily by 90-66 and Wichita State (5-5) stomped them by 67-50.  Moreover, the Utes committed 19 turnovers, played lackadaisical defense (except for Poeltl defending the Utah rim), committed 26 fouls, and had enough crunch time brain cramps to give Duke a chance to win that the Devils never should have had.   They may improve — Poeltl is the real deal — but so far this year they have been mediocre (terrible contrasted to expectations).

Bad Stuff

The bad stuff begins (and almost ends) with Duke’s terrible shooting.  One might look a long time to find a game when Duke shot under 30% from the field and only 8-26 from behind the arc (28%).  Coach K said, “If we had shot a little better…They blocked some layups at the rim, but we missed a lot of open shots.”  The coach revealed that Grayson had been sick for two days and wasn’t sure he could play at all up until game time.  Coach K, shaking his head in admiration, “and he played 37 minutes, but he wasn’t the same guy.”  In those minutes, Grayson was 3-18 including 1-7 from behind the arc and astoundingly 0-2 from the line.  He missed the front end of a 1 and 1 with a little over 3 minutes to go in regulation and Duke down 3.  He missed his first 3 shots in overtime and finished the extra stanza 1-5 (a layup) and missed a chance for a 3 point play by missing from the line with Duke down 4.  Duke divided the bulk of shots among Ingram (16), Matt (19) Grayson (18) and Thornton (13).  Collectively the four were 17 for 66 (6-23 from 3land).   Utah’s defense was porous and Duke got to the rim with ease, but the layups that usually fall seemed to roll out.  Matt and Grayson each had sure layups miss.  Derryck was blocked at the rim, but also made some great moves that he just did not finish.  He scored only 8 on 2-13, 1-4 and 3-4 from the line, but did have 4 assists against only a single turnover in his 42 minutes.  Matt played every second of this overtime game (45 minutes) in case you do not think Coach K relies on him.  He was 6-19 including 2-6 from 3land and 4-4 from the line for 18 points.  Brandon was heroic, yet missed the two most important shots of the game.  In his 42 minutes, Brandon scored 15 on 6-16; 2-6 from 3land and 1-2 from the line.  He had 5 boards, 3 blocks, 3 steals while committing only 1 turnover and staying out of foul trouble.  With 33 seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 60, Brandon had an open three (game winner?).  With 3 seconds left in the overtime, he missed an open (defender flopped and didn’t get the call) finger roll from 4 feet that would have sent the game to a second overtime.  Coach K said he felt bad for Brandon and knew Brandon would beat himself up.   He said losing was not his fault.  “Really good players want the ball at that time.  Brandon is a really good player.”  Coach K was also feeling sorry for Grayson’s illness induced bad shooting day.

The rotation is really short.  Marshall was the fifth starter and it was one of his least efficient games.  He played 26 minutes before fouling out with 3 points (1-1 from the field and 1-2 from the line) with 4 boards, 2 blocks, 2 assists (Duke only had 10) and a steal.  His defense made us understand how valuable Amile is on that end of the court.  Coach K said Duke had depth on the perimeter, but only 3 bigs, one of whom is “still developing”.   Amile was the best of Duke’s big men, so “it is much different without Amile.”   Duke started in a man to man and, after building an 8-2 lead, gave up 5 straight easy layups (4 by Poeltl).  Duke switched to a 2-3 zone, which was immediately shredded by a long 3 and layups behind Marshall.  Duke went to the 1-3-1 without any noticeable improvement.  Ultimately, Duke’s man to man became its primary defense; and was much improved in the second half.  Jeter may be “still developing”  but he is not developing in competition on the court.  He played only a cameo of 6 in effectual minutes, missing his only shot from the field as well as both of his foul shots, while committing 2 turnovers and 2 fouls.  Still developing means “no help yet”.  So, Duke essentially played 45 minutes with the five starters and Luke Kennard.

Good Stuff

The good stuff is a combination of Duke’s grit, determinations and fight to go with Luke’s really nice 27 minutes.  In the first half, Luke was barely visible until the end.  He missed his only shot (a 3), but in the last 1:04 of the first half, drove and was fouled, making 5-6 from the line.  In the second half, Luke contributed 9 points in regulation. He missed another 3 early, and then began to score with 10 minutes left.  He made a layup, a tip-in, a 3 pointer, and another layup when he followed his own 3 point miss.  He was all over the court in the last 10 minutes grabbing rebounds and hustling for loose balls.  The overtime was simply Kennardtime.  He scored 10 of Duke’s 15 overtime points (Brandon 3 and Grayson a layup).  Luke was overall 5-9 from the field (2-5 from 3land) and an incredible 12-13 from the foul line.  He had 8 boards to lead Duke in rebounding to go with a steal and 0 turnovers.  Luke was not less than heroic in the the last minute of the overtime.  He began to drive and get fouled (not the smartest defense by Utah, which held a comfortable lead).  He was 6-6 from the line.  Duke was down 6 with 6 seconds left when Luke let go a long 3 (swish) and was fouled, converting the 4 point play bringing Duke within 2.  He scored 9 points in the last 1:03 of the overtime.  Welcome to the beginning of fulfilling expectations, Luke.

Coach K affirmed he was proud of his team’s fight.  Duke displayed championship grit and never-say-die fighting spirit.  “I’m not disappointed; this loss had nothing to do with lack of effort.”  He said that his guys did lots of wonderful things in the game and especially  “in the last minute or 45 seconds, our guys did some incredibly good things.”  Since Duke did not score in regulation after Luke’s three gave Duke a 60-55 lead with 4:14 to go, Coach K was talking about the overtime and Luke.  He also praised the Duke man to man in this game.  “The man to man got us back in it.  Going into the game, I did not think we could defend them with our man to man.  But our man defense has lots of switching and has some zone principles.”  The man to man defense forced Utah into the turnovers that kept Duke in the game.

In the long run, this game could mean the emergence of Luke Kennard.  Amile is in a cast, which the Duke medical staff hopes to replace with a walking boot after the holiday break.  If Amile comes back playing as well as he was when injured and Luke’s coming out party is enduring (as Brandon’s has been) rather than a flash, there is still much hope for a satisfying season.

DUKE 105 – ELON 66

What can you say about a game that was 70-31 at the half?

Until Jefferson returns, this season will be a roller coaster ride. When the threes are dropping, the game will look easy. When they are not, it won’t.

Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen will be the keys. If Brandon can play like he has the last few games against the top tier teams like he has against the Georgia Southerns and Elons of the world and Grayson can return to his pre-flu form, Duke can play with anyone. Matt Jones is the glue who can hold the team together, because he is spectacularly unspectacular. He does everything consistently well. Luke Kennard looks like his role will be a John Havlicek type sixth man who comes off the bench to provide instant offense. MP3 is the enforcer who needs to stay out of foul trouble. Derryck Thornton is a shoot first point guard. At crunch time, look for Grayson Allen to play the point. He can penetrate and score or dish with the best. Chase Jeter just has not demonstrated he can consistently contribute meaningful minutes in the low post.

  • Other Observations:
  • Meadowlark Lemon, the “clown prince” of basketball’s barnstorming Harlem Globetrotters, whose blend of hook shots and humor brought joy to millions of fans around the world, died. He played for the Globetrotters during the team’s heyday from the mid-1950s to the late-1970s, delighting fans with his skills with a ball and a joke. Traveling by car, bus, train or plane nearly every night, Lemon covered nearly 4 million miles to play in over 100 countries and in front of popes and presidents, kings and queens. He averaged 325 games per year during his prime, that luminous smile never dimming. NBA great Wilt Chamberlain, who actually played a year with the Globetrotters, said: “Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen.”
  • Speaking of “sensational, awesome, incredible”, if you have not been watching Stephan Curry play this year just  Google “Steph Curry highlights”. He is playing the game at a level not named Michael Jordan.
  • Duke-Kentucky drew 3.12 million viewers. Duke-Indiana 1.7 million in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in which Duke is 15-2. Matt Jones older   sister,  Jordan, is an All American and (no surprise) two time SEC Defensive player of the year at Texas A&M.
  • Next game: Wednesday Long beach State. 4:00 on ESPN3

Alan Adds:

Unlike running or ski racing, where performance is measured by objective (time) standards, playing a competitive sport directly against an adversary makes performance harder to measure because your performance is so dramatically impacted by your opponents performance.  When Duke blows out a Bryant, Sienna or Georgia Southern, it is difficult to rate Duke’s performance to speculate on how good Duke really is.  That is the backdrop of assessing Duke’s blowout win last night against Elon, whose players were physically no match for the McDonald’s High School All-Americans who now suit up for the Blue Devils.  Nevertheless, I was particularly heartened by the way Duke played.  The Blue Devil offense looked as if it had been choreographed by Balanchine, dropping 70 on Elon in the first half.  After the first five porous minutes — Elon had 12 before 5 minutes had elapsed by shredding Duke’s man defense for open layups; that is 96 ppg if multiplied by 8 — Duke began turning Elon over regularly and the game was over in the next few minutes.  Interestingly,  Duke’s defense tightened when Jeter replaced Plumlee at that 5 minute timeout.  Elon stopped scoring then.

Coach K raved about his team’s practices after Xmas holidays.  He had time to work with the team “to personalize” some of how Duke will play in Amile’s absence.  K pointed out that Duke would now have only a single big on the floor.  He said this allowed Duke to space the perimeter more and (critically) to have the big post up lower (closer to the hoop).  The spacing allowed Duke to drive to the hoop, which Brandon, Grayson, Matt and Derryck did with success.  When Elon packed in to protect the rim, Duke was on fire from the perimeter, dropping 9 three pointers on Elon in the first half.  Coach K didn’t channel Balanchine to describe the offense, but he made my Balanchine point dramatically: “we had so many run outs where the ball moved so fast, you didn’t know who scored; just that we scored.”  I think that’s how Balanchine would have choreographed the fast break!

Coach K called off the dogs at half time, “no fast breaks unless on an open court turnover”.

Grayson and Brandon outscored Elon by themselves in the first half 35-31.  Grayson had 15 in that half and looked energized.  Because of his leaping ability, he is able to gather himself and square up to the rim while he is in the air.   Suddenly difficult shots become easier because he is squared up and freed up close to the rim.  He was 6-12 from inside the arc on circus shots, and 1-3 behind it.  Coach K said that while Grayson was recovering, he was not fully recovered from the flu.  Allen was bedridden for several days after the Utah game and lost 9 pounds.  He seemed to tire in the second half, playing less than normal and scoring only 2 points.  In 28 minutes, he handed out 5 assists, made 3 steals while turning it over only once and committing only 1 foul.  Brandon was All-World, dropping 20 on Elon in the first half.  In four games he has gone from “hasn’t yet adjusted to the speed of the college game” to a likely lottery pick next spring.  Not bad in four games against less than top flight opposition.  He was simply a man among boys against Elon.  In 31 minutes, he had a virtually flawless stat line (he missed a free throw for a flaw) scoring a game high 26 on only 16 shots (11-16; 3-6; and 1-2) and controlling Duke’s defensive boards (10 of his 11 rebounds on the defensive end).  He added 3 steals and an assist without a turnover.  Everyone contributed.  Matt, as usual, played the game high number of minutes — 35.  Coach K does not seem to feel comfortable without Matt and his defensive tenacity on the floor.  Here is why: in 35 minutes, Matt scored 17 on only 11 shots (6-11; 3-7; and 2-3 from the line) while grabbing 6 boards and dishing out 3 assists with only a single turnover.  Luke did not start, but played as many minutes as Grayson (28) and continued his exemplary play.  He grabbed 6 boards, handed out 4 assists, made 2 steals while turning it over only twice.  He contributed 18 points, second high scorer on the team after Brandon, though when the top 4 scorers contribute 26, 18, 17 and 17, you can call the scoring balanced.  Though Luke was only 5-12 from the field, 4 of his field goals were 3s (out of 8 attempts), and Luke was 4-4 from the line.  He is on pace to be Duke’s all time best foul shooter.   He is 38-40 for the year; just about 95%.  Derryck played 32 minutes and you can see his confidence grow.  He played more minutes (32) than any other player besides Matt.  He scored 12 (5-11; 1-4; and 1-1 from the line) to go with 3 assists, a steal, a block and 2 boards with only a single turnover (a big statistic for Thornton).

This game is the first time that I have been impressed with Chase Jeter.  He contributed to the big run with shots (2-3, though he’s still raw when he gets the ball), rebounds and defense.  Even though Marshall had a double double in only 20 minutes of action (3-6 from the field and 4-6 from the line for 10 points to go with 11 rebounds; 5 on offense), I thought Duke was better with Jeter on the floor — at least at the defensive end.  He is simply much more mobile on defense than Marshall.  BTW, in the first half Duke missed only 19 shots, but collected 12 offensive rebounds.  Chase contributed 15 minutes, grabbing 5 boards and scoring 5 (all in the first half).  Of course, until Jeter (wearing # 2 of course) can perform at such a high level against highly regarded opponents, the rotation will be essentially 6 until Amile returns.

Amile had the cast removed and is in a walking boot.  While there is no timetable for his return, Coach K was pleased that the healing is proceeding apace and there have been no setbacks.

Long Beach State tomorrow and the ACC schedule begins on Saturday against BC.

DUKE 103 – LONG BEACH STATE 81

For the first fifteen minutes, I was wondering who were these imposters wearing Duke uniforms? The Blue Devils were down eight points when the Grayson Allen we have been waiting for the last two games recovered from his post flu blues to turn the Blue Devils into the Red Hot Devils and sparked a patented 22-4 run to bracket halftime. It was Grayson in his All-American mode: 33 points (24 in the final twenty minutes), 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and a defensive trailing hustle play that had him flying off the court and, in a Bo Jackson imitation, halfway down the tunnel to the dressing room. One of his assists was a drive and pass to Marshall Plumlee under the basket for a no look, two hand, back hand jam (shades of MP2) that brought the house down.

Unsurprisingly, it was Matt Jones (21 points, 5 assists) and, surprisingly, Derryck Thornton (19 points, 5 assists) who played his best game, that kept The Beach Boys from running away with the first half. I always feel that if Duke can stay within a single digit deficit, Coach K’s half time attitude and strategy adjustments will turn a game around. This was classic Krzyzewski basketball: attack the basket, get into free throw penalties, hit  a high percentage (28-32 today) of free throws, protect the ball, attack defensively by overplaying and cutting off the passing lanes, create turnovers, and turn steals into easy fast break points. Simple concept but difficult to execute with any degree of consistency.

The disconcerting news is that the Devils were out rebounded and the defense gave up 81 points—that’s enough points to win most games. Duke will not score 100 points against every team. And, oh yes, K used basically a six man rotation as Chase Jeter once again could not keep up with the speed of the college game, got a quick hook and did not re-enter the game until the outcome was no longer in doubt. Obi had a one minute cameo at the end.

Other observations: 

  • Long Beach State Head Coach Dan Monson: “I brought my two boys with me. They’re the only two guys on our bench that didn’t have a turnover today…You can’t simulate that kind of pressure that Duke put on us… I really appreciate Coach Krzyzewski letting us come in here. It’s an honor to play in iconic Cameron against this historic program. I just wish we would have played a little bit better.”
  • DBP fan Jack Simermeyer writes: Did you notice that Marquette extended Steve’s contract to the 21-22 season? In addition, Cris Collin’s Northwestern team is off to the best start in school history at 13-1 and Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State is currently 10-3 with wins over Belmont (no easy feat) NC State, Creighton and Texas A&M.
  • My wife observed that she feels encouraged when she knows there are millennials like Marshall Plumlee, who has many employment options, volunteers to serve the country in the military.
  • This was win number 1,028 for Coach K and an incredible 125 straight (that’s 16 years folks)wins versus non-conference opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
  • Next game: Saturday, January 2. Boston  College @ 4:30 on Comcast or Fox South. 

Alan Adds:

The Duke offense reminded me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde against Long Beach State.  After a 70 point half against Elon, The Blue Devils laid 61 on LBS in the second half.  Add a closing run in the first half and you had to endure Hyde only for the first 16 minutes of the game.  Endure is the correct word.  With 4:06 left in the first half, LBS led by 6.  Luke, Brandon and Grayson were a combined 1-12 from the field; Duke was being out rebounded 16-6; and, LBS won every 50-50 ball.  LBS was shooting 52%; if LBS was not foul and turnover prone, Duke would have been behind by 20.  After only 3 and 1/2 minutes, Duke had committed 3 fouls and trailed 10-5.  Enter Jeter for a seemingly immobile Plumlee.  Chase gave up a put back basket even though he had inside position; turned it over twice and committed an offensive foul in a minute and a half.  Marshall came back in.  Then with 3:46 left in the first half, it all changed.  Duke outscored LBS by 12 in that span even though the Devils only made 2 field goals (a 3 by Grayson and a bucket by Kennard).  Duke made 11-12 from the line to take control of the game.

When asked about Duke’s explosive second half, Coach K pointed out that scoring from the foul line is scoring without the clock moving.  Makes for a high scoring game when a team fouls as much as LBS did.  The second half marked the return of Grayson Allen to health and stardom.  “Thank God for Grayson,” Coach K said at the press conference, “he rescued us.”  K pointed out that Grayson was a complete offensive player because he can score in all 3 important ways: from behind the arc, from inside the arc, and he has the knack for getting fouled and is a superb foul shooter.  He was 15-17 against LBS, but the real surprise was that he missed 2.  Allen played 35 minutes scoring 24 of his season high 33 points in the second half.  Coach K said Brandon could also do that and that Luke was on his way to that status.  Duke has scorers.  As Bill pointed out, Derryck had an amazing shooting game and played well over all.

Duke played its shortest rotation of the year.  Obi had a minute at the end.  Chase got several minutes at garbage time for a total of only 9 minutes in the game and failed to score.  So, it was basically a 6 man rotation with Luke playing 21 minutes off the bench (he missed a foul shot and is now 40-45 for the year from the line).  He had 2 field goals (1-4 from behind the arc and 1-2 from near the rim) to go with 4-5 from the line for 9 points.  He also contributed 4 defensive rebounds, a steal, an assist and a block.  After that, it was the starters, who each played from 30 to 38 minutes.  55 of Duke’s 64 shot attempts were evenly divided among Matt (14), Grayson (15), Brandon (14) and Derryck (12).  Marshall was 3-3 which along with Luke’s 6 attempts constituted the other 9.

Matt was again a virtual Iron Man (remember he played all 45 minutes against Utah) logging 38 minutes, scoring 21 on 6-14; 4-7; and 5-6 from the line. Critically, he dished out 5 assists, against 0 turnovers.  He also corralled 4 boards to go with a steal and a block.  Coach K has called him the heart of the team.  He is Mr. Reliable and Mr. Clutch.  He doesn’t garner the splash that Grayson and Brandon get, but he may be Duke’s MVP.  Grayson and Derryck were superb.  Matt, Grayson (6) and Derryck (5) handed out 16 of Duke’s 18 assists.   Thornton played only 30 minutes (he picked up his 3rd foul in the first half), but is really coming on as a ball handler and as a defender.  He was 8-12 (2-3 from 3land) for 18 points.  He has a very reliable jump shot, good shot selection (the key) ,and made some acrobatic drives to the rim.  He also committed only one foul in the second half with 5 minutes to go.  His progress is a welcome development.

Brandon did not have a good shooting game (5-14; 2-7 from behind the arc), but in his 35 minutes played an excellent floor game.  He made both free throws, collected 5 boards, a steal and handed out an assist without a turnover.  He deflected balls and played some terrific defense.  Marshall played 31 minutes, adding 2-2 from the line for a perfect shooting night and 8 points.  He was Duke’s main rebounder with 10 and blocked 2 shots.

Coach K was very satisfied with the 11-2 pre-conference schedule.  Now the conference season starts with a trip to BC on Saturday.  It is a wide open ACC it seems to me.  UVA and UNC are the top two teams.  Other teams that seem formidable are (along with Duke) Florida State, Louisville, Miami, NC State and perhaps Notre Dame.  Next Play.

 

DUKE 81 – BOSTON COLLEGE 64

The Blue Devils started sluggishly, played well in spots, and came away with a road win against one of, if not the, weakest ACC teams. And, by the way, Duke was the only ACC team to win Saturday on the road.

The good news is that although there were a few moments of concern, no one appeared to be injured. However, Grayson Allen took a header—what else is new– on a fast break slam but played on. Thereafter, he was unusually passive offensively but that may because he was playing most of the second half with three fouls. There was no let up defensively as his line was 17 pts, 9 rebs, 5 assists, 3 stls. The other goods news is that Ingram (25 pts, 9 rebs) and Kennard (17 pts) stepped up in the second half and played like veterans. Since Jefferson’s injury, Kennard has scored 24, 18, 9 and 17 to average 21 ppg. Nevertheless, points, while welcomed, are the least of Amile Jefferson’s contributions to the team.

The bad news is that Jefferson is in a walking cast but cannot put any weight on it.

As Alan points out, Thornton played less minutes than any starter or the sixth man, Luke Kennard. He had two, then three quick fouls because he had difficulty defending Eli Carter, who is an impressive player. I have felt for some time that Grayson, Matt, and now Brandon and Luke can penetrate better off the dribble than Derryck and are better defensively, so what is the point of a “traditional” point guard? Anytime Duke needs points, give the ball to Grayson, the best playmaker and foul shooter on the team, and let him do his thing. It worked last year with Ty Jones.
Other Observations:

 Christian McCaffrey, the sensational Stanford sophomore running back who was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, is the brother of Duke senior receiver Max McCaffrey. They are the grandsons of Duke athletic legend Dave Sime. If you missed the Rose Bowl, go to YouTube and type: Christian McCaffrey 2016 Rose Bowl Highlights to view video highlights of Christian’s record breaking performance: 368 all-purpose yards– and had another 73 yard touchdown run nullified because of a needless holding penalty twenty yards from the goal line. McCaffrey smashed Barry Sanders’ long standing NCAA record for all-purpose yardage in a season – an amazing 3,864 yards. When I first read about Christian, I was interested in seeing him in action for a variety of reasons not the least of which that I was curious to know what kind of runner could survive the punishment in this day and age as a running back, a receiver, a punt and kick-off returner. At first, I was unimpressed. He looked like a smallish walk-on who only suited up for home games and didn’t appear to run particularly hard or fast. Boy, was I wrong. The really great athletes never look like they are trying hard. Christian has a unique style all his own. He sort of patiently glides along with short steps, reads his blockers until he sees and opening, accelerates quickly through the opening, then in the open field changes lanes to avoid tacklers without losing speed. He has about four gears of speed and rarely does he take a direct hit. Christian reminds me of a combination of Frank Gifford’s graceful patience and Gayle Sayers’ open field redirection illusiveness.

 Mike Gminski was one of the announcers who was his usual intelligent, knowledgeable self.

 This was win number 1,029 for Coach K.

 Next game: at Wake Forest. Wednesday January6@ 7:00 on ESPNU
Alan Adds:

The first half was a tiny microcosm of Duke’s offense during Amile’s absence, and showed how teams may try and defend. In recent games, Duke has shredded defenses by driving the ball for efficient offense — a large part generated by drawing fouls and converting. BC packed its defense in to stop the drive in favor of giving up open 3 point looks. Duke could not put the ball in the ocean from behind the arc in the first half. After 7 minutes and 10 seconds had elapsed, Duke had scored a whopping 6 points and trailed 12-6. Duke made only a single 3 in its first 12 shots (2-13 for the half after Matt hit a 3 with under a minute to go giving Duke separation). With 6:55 left in the first half, and Duke clinging to a 1 point lead (18-17), the complexion of the game changed completely. After missing its first two free throws early (Matt and — gasp! — Luke), Duke made 8 straight free throws beginning with Chase Jeter sinking a pair. Duke got fouled on drives after turning BC over — Luke hit both of his and Grayson made 4 in a row to give Duke a 9 point lead. Then the shots started to fall and BC never reduced the lead to single digits again. In the last 3:47, Duke hit 5 baskets from the field from 4 different players, including the aforementioned 3 from Matt. Brandon hit a dunk and a jumper (also missed a 3), while Luke scored on an acrobatic lay-up followed by Grayson’s dunk. Four of the baskets came on assists (Marshall to Grayson; Matt to Brandon twice; and Brandon to Matt for the 3). In the second half Duke was 5-10 from 3land. It was quite beautiful.

My big question is “What is the Derryck Thornton story?” No mention of any problem in Coach K press conference or in any articles, but Derryck played only 15 minutes, when he has been playing starter minutes in all of the recent games, He scored one field goal; a missed 3; and a free throw, a steal, an assist and a rebound). However, he turned it over 3 times early, and played little after that.

Coach K noted that Duke had not played any efficient defense against Long Beach State, but thought the defense was basically very good — if not consistent — against BC. He acknowledged that the BC mini-run in toward the end of the second half (reducing a 21 point lead to 11) was fueled by Duke’s vulnerability to the backdoor cut. Coach K also said he thought the defense got tired in the last 5 minutes and stopped talking. The rotation was very short (again) since Derryck logged only 15 minutes and Jeter’s appearance was limited to a cameo (6 minutes; about 3 in each half). The four other starters (Derryck started) played heavy minutes and Luke logged 27. Coach K singled out Marshall for praise even though he did not score from the field and was 1-4 from the line in his 34 minutes. His stat line was modest: 5 boards, an assist plus 2 steals. Coach K said that Marshall has become the voice and leader of the defense (taking up some of the slack caused by Amile’s absence). “He kept us coordinated.” Also only 3 fouls in 34 minutes.

Duke has 4 scorers, any one of which can erupt for big games. Against BC, all had efficient games. Brandon led the way with 25 points on 18 shots in his iron man stint of 40 minutes (9-18; 4-9 from 3land; 3-4 from the line) to go with a spectacular floor game. Brandon had 9 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Matt, who is now being acknowledged by the media as the glue to this team, was efficient in his 38 minutes, scoring 16 on only 10 shots (5-10; 3-7 from 3land and 3-5 from the line) to go with 3 steals, 2 assists 2 rebounds and a block. In his 39 minutes, Grayson was even more efficient, scoring 17 on only 8 shots (5-8; 0-1 from behind the arc; and 7-8 from the line). His floor game was simply dazzling: 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He fouled Carter out of the game and played terrific defense. He made one play where he stole the ball and outran the BC defense while dribbling. He made acrobatic shots in the lane. Coach K called him “a unique player; really, really good”. Note that those 3 starters were out of the game for a combined 3 minutes! This is a short rotation!

Luke had a simply outstanding game, even if his 3 point shot is still missing in action (1-5). He played 27 scintillating minutes, showing great dribbling skills and acrobatic skills around the hoop (scoring on two twisting right hand floaters). He was 6-6 from inside the arc and 2-3 from the line for his 17 points. He also grabbed 5 boards and handed out a couple of assists and made a block.

On Wednesday, Duke journeys to Wake Forest, which has a very long front line, a deep bench, and has been playing surprising well. It will be a revealing test for this thin but talented team.

DUKE 91- WAKE FOREST 75

Ever since Amile Jefferson was injured, Duke fans have been apprehensive about what would happen in games when one of the starting six got in foul trouble. Well, they found out tonight in spades as both Matt Jones, then Grayson Allen received their fourth foul early in the second half on two John McEnroe (“You cannot be serious” ) calls. But these kind of things will happen—especially on the road. Situations like this really test the maturity and mental toughness of players and the coaches. Score that Duke 2 (team & K), Wake 0 (Thomas, team & Manning), because the turning point of the game probably occurred when Devin Thomas, who had been virtually unstoppable, stopped himself by committing an unnecessary technical—his third foul—and a seat on the bench. When Devin returned, he quickly picked up a fourth and another frustrating view of the game from the sidelines. For some reason, Coach Manning let Duke, led by Luke Kennard and Marshall Plumlee, take the game over without reinserting his senior star until the game was out of reach.

Coach K has talked about letting his stars play with three or four fouls in the pre-conference games so that they learn how to play with fouls. Tonight, for eight tenuous minutes, he alternated his two irreplaceable players so that one of them would be available for the final critical minutes—but both were on the floor as neither fouled out.

The good news is that Ingram (17 pts) , then Kennard (23 pts) stepped into the breach. Luke, in particular, has developed into a terrific penetrator off the dribble and is the best free throw shooter in the conference. However, it was Marshall Plumlee (18 pts) who was ready, willing and able to be a finisher off feeds from a variety of players. And speaking of all important free throws, Duke was 25-27; Wake was 12-20. Once again, the winning Coach K strategy was making more free throw than the other team takes. And, oh yes, Grayson Allen had 24 points on 10 shots in only 32 minutes.

Rising to this kind of challenge in this kind of hostile environment will accelerate the development of the freshman so that when Jefferson returns, the Blue Devils will be a more formidable team.

Other Observations:

  • My basketball buddy, Johnny Tar Heel contends that Coach K is worth ten bench points against Roy Williams. Well, tonight he was worth about fifteen against Coach Manning.
  • Krzyzewski: “It didn’t look good, let’s put it that way. There were times we couldn’t defend or rebound. We tried a 1-3-1 and a 2-3. Nothing worked… Our guys just fought and fought… We shortened the game, played smart and looked for match ups. …Marshall was sensational 7-7 and 4-4…Luke was terrific…It was a great win, a big time win.”
  • Plumlee: ”There was some locker room talk (at halftime) but the underlying theme was, coach believes in me just like he believes in every one of us. And when you have belief of your teammates and a great coaching staff, you feel like you can take on the world.”
  • With all the focus and publicity on one-and-done players, it does one’s heart and head good to watch Marshall Plumlee, a fifth year medical redshirt but always an enthusiastic and supportive teammate, have the well-deserved success that he is having this year. Incidentally, the last time I can remember a Duke center not missing a shot from the floor and the line was Laettner against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. However, the degree of difficulty of Christian’s was much different.
  • Next game: Virginia Tech. Saturday January 9@12:00 on ACC Network.

Alan Adds:

It was a tale of two completely different halves.  Leaving Duke’s devastatingly efficient offense for the moment, the first half was a defensive nightmare for the Devils even though Duke had a 50-47 lead at the half.  Duke could not guard anyone (47 points in a half is porous defense) and could not rebound the ball.  Devon Thomas, Wake’s center, had a huge first half, completely outplaying Marshall, who had 0 rebounds and 0 blocks while scoring 4 points and picking up a pair of fouls.  Devan scored 17 in the opening half; Duke had no answers for him.  There were 17 caroms of Duke’s defensive boards — Wake got 10 to Duke’s 7, scoring on second (and third) chance points on the few times that Duke made Wake miss.  Wake, in addition to killing Duke on its offensive boards, shot 55% in the first half (15-25 from inside the arc).  The Deacons had 11 assists on 18 hoops, while Duke headed to obvious foul trouble, committing 11 in the opening stanza.  Duke’s superb offense negated the stunningly porous defense with some excellent shooting.  Grayson had 17 in the opening half (6-7 from the field; 2-3 from 3land; and 3-4 from the line) while Brandon was also scintillating, dropping 14 (4-8; 2-3; 4-4) on the Deacons.  Duke shot 60% (18-30; 5-10 from behind the arc; 9-10 from the line. Luke contributed 8 points on 3-5 shooting and 2-2 from the line.  He missed his only 3 and never tried another.  He became a driver with a delicate touch at the rim with either hand.

For Duke fans, the second half was nail biting pleasure.  The worm turned when, with 18:06 to play in the closing half, Devin picked up his third foul (a technical).  For all intents and purposes, it dramatically slowed his otherwise amazing night.  He made only 2 field goals in the second half, missing both free throws.  He made one of his two field goals, cutting Duke’s lead to 2 with 9 minutes to go.  He had played sparingly after the technical (his third personal — in college, technicals are also counted as personal fouls), and picked up his 4th foul with 8 minutes to go.  By the time Manning reinserted him into the game with less than 3 minutes to go, it was already over.   Duke held Wake to 28 in the second half  — 26 after Wake’s opening layup cut the lead to a single point.  Duke’s foul trouble, brewing in the first half materialized in the second when both Matt Jones and Grayson picked up a fourth foul very early in the half.  Each played a bit less than usual because of the foul trouble.  Grayson (32 minutes) had 7 second half points (a 3; 2 misses from inside the arc and 4-4 from the line), while Matt (26 minutes) had his least productive game of the year.  He scored the opening deuce for Duke in the first half, and did not score again (1-8; 0-6 without getting to the line).  After the game, Coach K revealed that Matt had turned an ankle in practice.  K said that the team had to be very careful because it was so thin.  “We are on an edge all the time.”

The shortness of the rotation was clearly a factor.  Jeter logged only 7 minutes (a foul was his only entry in the box score); Obi made a cameo at the end of the first half (a rebound, a turnover and a foul), necessitated by Duke’s foul trouble.   Brandon played a superb floor game, even if he only scored 3 in the second half (1-5 from the field; 0-2 from 3land, and 1-2 from the line in the second half), claiming 5 boards, making 4 blocks, and making 3 steals while handing out 3 assists.  He is so valuable on the floor (39 minutes to lead Duke in minutes played) even when he is missing his shots.  Derryck played 29 minutes, looking good in the first half; not so much in the closing stanza.  He was 2-4 (1-1 from 3land) for 5 points in the first half.  He scored on a layup in the second half that was quite spectacular, but was otherwise 0-4 from the field, finishing with only 7 points.  He handed out 2 assists in the first half, but 0 in the second.

The stars of the second half, and perhaps the game, were Marshall and Luke.  Coach K lauded Marshall has “sensational; not just good, but perfect.”  He was 7-7 from the field and 4-4 from the line as he finished quite spectacularly and gave Duke a presence on the boards that the Devils sorely lacked in the first half.  In just the second half, Marshall was 5-5 on flushes and 4-4 from the line.  He finished the game with 7 boards and 2 blocks — 5 rebounds and both blocks coming in the second half.  With Devan either on the bench or his defense limited by his foul problems (he eventually fouled out), Marshall simply took over the inside game on both ends of the court.  Coach K pointed out that Duke really has not had that kind of post presence this year.  He was also sensational on the defensive end, receiving high praise from Coach K for Duke’s defensive turn around in the closing stanza.  Marshall logged 34 minutes overall and only committed one foul in the second half, finishing with 18 for the game.  He only came out in the last two minutes when Coach K wanted his 5 best free throw shooters on the court.  Although Luke has played well and been a substantial scorer since Amile went down, I thought that this was his best game to date.  He demonstrated athleticism that has not been discussed much.  He has not been able to drill the 3 ball, even though his reputation coming in was as a long range shooter.  He never attempted a 3 after he missed his first (his shot selection is good; it is hard to understand why his 3s are not falling), but he put on a clinic of how to drive to the basket either scoring, getting fouled, or both.  He played 32 scintillating minutes and was spectacular in the second half after a very good first half.  In the second half he scored 15, but all of them came in the last 10 minutes of the game when it really counted and when Duke pulled away.  You could say he took over the game, slithering through the Wake defense for an array of breathtaking drives (he scored with either hand) and going 9-9 from the line when he was fouled.  He was 4-6 from the field in the closing stanza.  His stat line for the half is quite amazing: 4 boards, 3 assists, and a steal without a turnover.  He is playing great defense and is a force off the boards.  His emergence has been how Duke has compensated for Amile’s absence.

This team is becoming quite lovable.  Coach K said, “We are a good team, but not yet a really good team.”  “This was a great win for us, considering the circumstances.  We played a great second half and faced a lot of adversity.  He said that how Duke played in the second half was not the game plan.  He said you have to adjust to what the game gives you.  This game gave Duke the driving lanes in the second half.  “We spread the floor to drive; not for one guy.  We were looking for favorable match-ups for the drives.  You have to adjust, and this team adjusted on a high level tonight.”

DUKE 82 – VIRGINIA TECH 58 

Duke got off to an uncharacteristically fast start racing to a 15-4 lead, played twenty minutes of their best defense by holding the Hokies to 28% shooting from the floor, and never looked back. Leading 50-23 at the half, they suddenly appeared sluggish and played the final twenty minutes on cruise control. Unfortunately, it was more cruise than control, because they were outscored 35-32. The key to the fast start was Ingram and Allen hitting two threes apiece, then everyone attacking off the dribble. Consequently, the Blue Devils were into the bonus in the first five minutes and the double bonus after twelve minutes—and you know what that means.

Brandon Ingram’s rapid development  has been well documented. However, less expected and even more interesting and meaningful due to Jefferson’s injury has been that of Marshall Plumlee. Granted the last several games, except for Devin Thomas, he has not been facing premier big men but nevertheless he has played like a man among boys. Today he had 21 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks. Without Jefferson, MP3 is the only low post presence so he has more room to maneuver, and his teammates are looking for him. Where his confidence shows the most is at the foul line. Today, he was 9-10. That follows 4-4 against Wake. His stroke and touch at the line has been become very sound. The numbers are from a player who scored only 87 points all of last season. He scored more points this week than in the entire 2014 season. “I’m fortunate to play with some really talented teammate who draw a lot of attention,” Plumlee commented. “When you have guys like Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen getting into the lane every possession, they draw a lot of attention and that leaves openings for me or another teammate.”

Other Observations:

Duke held a moment of silence in honor of late former coach Bill Foster, who died this week at the age of 86. Here is a heartfelt and accurate remembrance of  Coach Foster by a Duke alumnus: “As the coach of the Duke men’s basketball team in the mid to late 1970s, he resurrected a once proud but by-then sadly atrophied Duke basketball program from the malaise of the post-Bubas era into a formidable force. Through his leadership Duke reached the dizzying heights of the NCAA championship game, recruiting and leading luminary Devils like Jim Spanarkel, Mike Gminski, Gene Banks, Kenny Dennard, John Harrell, Bob Bender and others.  He was coach during my Duke tenure, often seen walking on the quad, affable and happy to chat when he wasn’t in a hurry.  Each of his eyebrows had a triangular peak in their middle, giving him a physical look of the Blue Devil himself.  While I never understood his departure, seemingly at the peak of his coaching career for the decidedly less prestigious South Carolina, he tilled and fertilized the soil from which Coach Mike Krzyzewski would later harvest considerable bounty.  Our thoughts are with Shirley, his daughters and friends during this difficult time of mourning and reflection.

  • While most focus on Brandon Ingram’s increased offense output, I suggest that his defensive improvement is even more impressive. Consider today’s line: 16 pts, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, 2 assists and the fact that the most emotion and excitement  the normally self-contained freshman showed was when he successfully took an offensive charge. Now that’s someone who is listening to his coach!
  • Who goes the length of the court faster, with more purpose, and finishes more emphatically than Grayson Allen?
  • Speaking of finishing at the rim, Grant Hill was at the game.
  • Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, whose wife is a dedicated basketball fan, also attended and drew cheers when introduced during a timeout. His team went 15-1 to earn a bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
  • Next game: at Clemson. Wednesday 7:00pm on ESPN2

This week-end, Alan attended a conference in Park City, Utah. His flight was diverted because of weather and I didn’t get home until late last night. He has a pressing issue at his firm this morning and suggested I fly solo today.

DUKE  63- CLEMSON 68

 One play rarely determines a game. However, one play can often change the momentum of a game and set the stage for other plays that do.  Tonight, at the end of the first half with the shot clock off and Duke up by four points with the ball, Thornton shot a three with 10 seconds to go. (Every high school point guard knows that you start the dribble drive with ten seconds to go to get fouled or pass to an open player. In no case do you give the opposing team the opportunity to rebound a miss and score) and Clemson rushed the rebound down the court where Ingram committed his third foul. Big rookie mistake, make that two big rookie mistakes, because Ingram, for whom Clemson had no answers, had scored 15 first half points and was a second big defender and rebounder.

Then, with thirteen minutes to go Brandon committed a silly fourth foul and with ten minutes to go, Plumlee received his fourth foul (two of which were for moving picks). This is not Duke basketball. Since the Blue Devils started the game draining six threes and  10 of 11 shots  to take the 28-16 lead, it looked like an easy outing and they were not as aggressive as usual– and the Tigers were. Then on the road and in foul trouble, the Tigers got hot, hit threes and the Devils went cold. Plumlee mishandled a dunkable pass, Luke got stripped a few times, Grayson missed two free throws (one of which was the front end of a one and one), and Clemson kept offensive rebounds alive. You could sense tide going out– a winnable game slipping away. Belatedly, Grayson Allen sparked a furious rally that was too little, too late. The stats tell the story: Duke was outrebounded 33-21 and were only 2-7 at the foul line (after averaging 20 made free-throws per game) versus 12-13 for Clemson. So, the bottom line is that except for the first seventeen minutes and two of the last three minutes, Duke played neither smart nor well.

Coach K had a testy assessment: “Our foul trouble, there is no answer to it. We don’t have alternatives. (Jeter had five fouls in four minutes on the floor.) Those guys  have to stay out of foul trouble.”

Next game: Notre Dame @ Cameron. Saturday @ 2:00pm. ESPN

Alan Adds:

Perhaps we should give Brad Brownell, Clemson Coach, much credit for a great defensive game plan.  Perhaps Coach Brownell has noticed Coach K’s strategy has been to win by drive and foul shooting when the game is on the line.  Clemson gave Duke the open perimeter shot and closed down the driving lanes without committing fouls.  Duke did not shoot a foul shot in the first half and only 7 for the game.  Clemson had 5 blocks in the second half (the two in the first half were both made early against Derryck drives), effectively shutting down Duke’s driving game.  In the second half, Duke was held to 28 points (11-29 from the field; 4-11 from behind the arc).  Luke Kennard was held to a single field goal in the second half without getting to the line.  Previously unstoppable around the rim, Luke was completely neutralized in the second half, after an 8 point (3-6; 2-4) first half.  He finished playing 30 minutes scoring 10 on 4-11 (1-5 in the second half, missing his only 3 point attempt).

Even though he piled up 3 fouls in the first half and a 4th early in the second, Brandon logged 34 minutes, but the foul trouble ended his effectiveness on both ends of the floor in the second half.  After a scintillating first half where he scored 15 on 8 shots (6-8; 3-3), Brandon missed all of his 3 shots from the field, making a foul shot in 2 tries for 16 for the game.  Because of the foul trouble, Brandon played less aggressively on defense.  Duke played a lot of zone because of the foul trouble, but the zone was ineffective because foul trouble mitigated Duke’s normal aggressiveness.

Duke was up 12 with 6:32 left in the first half.  In the next 3 minutes, Duke missed all four shots, committed 2 fouls and a turnover.  The defense, which had been efficient fell apart allowing Clemson to score on consecutive possessions – four field goals and two free throws.  Only Brandon kept Duke in front, dropping in 3 straight field goals (including a 3 pointer) for 7 straight points, leaving Duke with a lead of 6 with 1:51 left.  But Brandon, great as he is, is still a freshman.  In the last 1:21 of the half, he committed 2 fouls (the last one with 1.6 left in the half) and a turnover.  Duke missed its last 2 three point attempts (Luke and Derryck) while Clemson scored 4 to cut the lead to 2.  As Bill astutely points out, the last 7 seconds put Duke in the hole.

Clemson completely dominated the interior as Landry Nnoko outplayed Marshall.  In 36 minutes, Marshall scored 7 (3-5 from the field and 1-2 from the line) and pulled down 9 boards.  But Nnoko got several critical offensive rebounds to allow Clemson to score after Duke had an initial stop.  Marshall could not defend him.  Chase Jeter set a record for fouling out in 4 minutes of startling inefficiency.  Matt Jones, who has been Mr. Clutch and Mr. Reliable was neither, though he played excellent defense until the last part of the game.  Matt missed a foul shot with 1:41 to go that would have tied the game and an air ball on a 3 that also would have tied the game with 6 seconds left.  In 33  minutes he was 2-6 (1-5 from behind the arc) and missed his only foul shot.  Clemson closed him down from driving and he just missed open 3s.

Coach K kept Derryck on the bench for much of the second half (perhaps as a result of his bonehead play at the end of the first half, but 1-6 from the field may have contributed).  He played only 24 minutes, scoring 8 on 3-9 from the field (2-5 from 3land), but hauled down 4 boards and handed out 3 assists.  He had his first two drives swatted away; it looked to me as if that dented his confidence.  Duke was led by Grayson in the second half.  After scoring 5 in the first half, Grayson kept Duke in the game in the second half with 12.  In 39 minutes, he was an efficient 7-9 from the field (3-4 from 3land) but uncharacteristically missed both of his foul shots.  He was heroic in defeat, I thought.

It is hard to win on the road in the ACC as favored visiting teams are learning.  Duke has a small margin for error given the lack of depth.  This will be a challenging season with a very difficult schedule in February.  Amile is clearly needed.

DUKE 91 – NOTRE DAME 95

Duke fans, we have a problem. 1.) Coach K often makes a change when he is not happy with the way his team is playing and 2.) His teams rarely lose two games in a row, especially the second one in Cameron. 3.) After a rough, tough road trip, it is always a pleasure to come back home to friendly faces, friendly voices, and home cooking—and that is what Cameron Indoor stadium and the Crazies provide. However, up 50-45 at the half, I noted: “Have uneasy feeling I seen this game before—Wednesday night.” Wish I was wrong. In both games, the Blue Devils started fast with threes falling, did not play good defense, key starters got into foul trouble, opponent got hot, Duke goes cold, falls behind, makes a furious rally, only to fall short.

Jay Bilas made a cogent comment after Ingram’s fourth foul: “ You can get a basket back but you can’t get a foul back”. That should be one of the tattoos Brandon’s forearm. Nevertheless, in 29 minutes, he had 25 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 assists. Sure could have used him for forty minutes. Luke Kennard (30 points,8 rebounds, 1 steal) started in place of Derryck Thornton.

Anytime you let a team hang around, anything can happen—especially it seems, if it is Notre Dame. Three of the Irish prayer threes at the buzzer went in, Jackson, who was the player of the game, missed a short jumper on a crucial possession badly but it hit flush the four inch extension attaching the rim to the backboard, died, and dribbled into the basket. The last Irish free throw missed so badly it bounced to a Notre Dame player. These breaks are what makes college basketball so exciting.

Notre Dame outrebounded the Blue Devils 38-33, and finished with 18 second-chance points to Duke’s four. “Any stop is a big stop. When the ball is missed, get it, because there’s a good chance they’ll score if they get it,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said, referring to that discrepancy in second-chance scoring as “the story of the game.”

The good news is that Ingram and now Kennard are playing lights out basketball to augment Grayson Allen. The bad news is that for whatever reason, Matt Jones has regressed and Jeter is not ready for prime time. I love Matt Jones’ game but what would possess him to take the last game tying three from over near the tunnel to the locker room when he had Allen, Ingram and Kennard also on the floor spotting up for a three?

This team can score on anyone but, unfortunately, anyone can score on them. Until Amile Jefferson is back and approaching something like  full strength, every game is a question mark, because there is little margin for error.

Other Thoughts:

  • Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey is the only one of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s assistants to beat him. He’s done it three times in the last 12 months.
  • This was Duke’s first home loss in just over a year, since Miami’s win on Jan. 13, 2015. The Blue Devils lost for the first time this season when scoring at least 79 points. They were 14-0 when scoring that many points, and 0-3 when failing to reach the 79-point mark.
  • This was a matchup of two of Division I’s most efficient offenses, with the Irish ranking second and the Blue Devils fourth in Ken Pomery’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. Notre Dame shot 50 percent — almost exactly what they arrived shooting as a team — while Duke finished at almost 52 percent. “We executed on offense, but defensively, we just didn’t execute,” Kennard said. “We didn’t keep the ball out of the paint. We didn’t rebound very well. Defensively, we’ve just got to pick it up a little bit.”

Next game: Syracuse @ Cameron. 7:00pm on ESPN

Alan Adds:

Almost like a mirror image of the loss to Clemson, Duke displayed extremely efficient offense, but a startling lack of defensive intensity, which combined with what can fairly be described as a disaster protecting its defensive backboard, led to a second very tough conference loss.  Duke gave up 50 points in the second half, allowing the Fighting Irish to shoot 52 % from the field for the game (5-9 from behind the arc in the last stanza, after a 2-7 first half), which included a parade of layups under the Duke basket as well as 18 second chance points.  Even so, Duke led by 88-87 with 47 seconds left after Grayson drained 2 free throws.  Duke gave up points on the next 3 Notre Dame possessions, the big one coming on an offensive rebound by Auguste.  With 35 seconds left, Colson scored on a conventional 3 point play (foul on Kennard); Matt missed a long (ill-advised?) three, and Jackson dropped in two free throws after a Kennard foul.  Marshall made a dunk to cut it to 2; and Jackson was fouled by Derryck with 4 seconds left.  When Jackson missed the free throw, Duke had life for a second, but Auguste grabbed the final Irish offensive rebound to seal Duke’s second straight conference loss.

Coach K was clear “the biggest thing was second chance points.  It was hard to get stops, but when you get them, you have to rebound the ball.  That was the main factor.”  Coach K emphasized that many of the rebounds were in Duke hands before the carom ended up in a continued Notre Dame possession.  When asked what Duke could do better, Coach K laughed and said, “catch the ball; close your hands around it and protect it.”  He jokingly asked the reporter who had asked the question if he could do that and if he had any eligibility left.

In assessing this Duke team (with or without Amile), Coach K said “this is a good team, but not that good.  But we are called Duke and we are coached by me.”  His implication was clear that his team is not as good as its early season ranking.  “We have a small margin and need to pay attention to detail.”  He pointed out that with better foul shooting and defensive rebounding, Duke could easily be 5-0 in the conference instead of 3-2 with the truly difficult part of the schedule still in front of them.

While Coach K was effusive in his praise of Notre Dame as a team and both Colson (“he was magnificent; he’s a really good player”) and Demetrius Jackson (“he’s a pro; he has control of the game; he is perfect mentally”), it should be remembered that this Notre Dame team has lost to Monmouth, Indiana and Alabama outside of the conference and to Virginia and Pittsburg in the ACC.  Before last night, Notre Dame’s only status win was over Iowa (The Irish also beat Illinois for 3 big Ten wins).  Notre Dame is as challenged defensively as Duke; hence the 186 points scored.  In short, ND is not nearly as good as Coach K lauded in his press conference.

It is time to ask the question, what has gone wrong with Matt Jones.  In many ways, his decline is the difference between Duke winning close games and losing them.  Matt played the full 40 minutes last night, but again did not have a Matt-like performance.  He scored only 8 on 8 shots; was 2-5 from 3land and unexpectedly missed both of his foul shots.  He got only 3 boards and handed out 3 assists against 2 turnovers.  He committed only a single foul, but did not really help keep ND out of the paint or off the boards.  He is still taking the critical shot, but he is no longer making it, as he did earlier.  Duke will have a long season if Matt does not regain his early season form.

The rotation grows ever shorter.  When Bill and I were at Duke, the team featured “the flaming five” (yes, I can name them but will spare you).  Last night, Duke played basically only 5 players.  Derryck logged just 14 minutes; Obi 2 and Jeter less than a minute.  Derryck missed his only 2 shots; made both free throws, and basically was in the game only when Brandon was on the bench with 4 fouls.  Obi was first big off the bench, and was fouled snaring a tough offensive rebound, but missed both free throws (negating the rebound; it was as if he didn’t get it). He never reappeared.  Marshall played 39 minutes.  His game dramatically improved in the last nine minutes of the game after he had been badly outplayed for the first 30 or so.  He was 4-6 on dunks and missed his only free throw, and grabbed 9 boards.

Duke had 3 big-time scorers, whom the Irish could not stop.  Brandon played terrifically when he reentered the game after being benched with his 4th foul (again).  Against Clemson, the foul trouble limited him; against Notre Dame, he was heroic.  He scored 25 points (11 in the second half) in his 25 minutes on the court.  However, his defense (indeed the entire Duke defense — whether in zone or man) was less aggressive than usual because of the danger of foul trouble.  Grayson logged 39 minutes scoring 18 on 5-11 from the field (2-6 from 3land) and 6-7 from the line.  He led Duke with 6 assists against only a single turnover.  Luke played 37 minutes and was outstanding, scoring a career high 30 on 16 shots (10-16; 4-6 from 3land and 6-7 from the line).  He was Duke’s second best rebounder with 8.  Coach K said, “those three kids can really score.”  Matt has to make it, “those 4 kids can really score”.

Winning in this conference this year will be difficult, but the games are exciting.  Will Amile come back to rescue this otherwise thin rotation?  Stay tuned.  To ESPN on Monday night at 7 when Syracuse invades Cameron.  Nothing will be easy this year.

DUKE 62 – SYRACUSE 64 

Three in a row! Losses that is. If you can’t consistently defend, rebound, or score, you usually can’t win a game. Without a career game by Marshall Plumlee (19 points,  17 rebounds, 4 blocks), it would have been a blowout. Duke did not play well enough to win this game. Nevertheless, they again rallied but could not close the deal when, unlike two years ago, they got no help from the refs on two no calls on Matt Jones at the finish. Also, Greyson Allen’s three at the end of the half was correctly disallowed only after a video review—the ball was out of his hand but still barely on his fingertips.

At his press conference, Coach K was as clearly furious —but under control—at the referees swallowing their whistles at the end. He said the no call on Matt Jones’ rebound was an “amazing last play that was not rewarded… …the game can be incredibly great and rewarding or incredibly cruel and unfair. You can play hard and not rewarded… over the years, we have been very fortunate at being rewarded…recently not so much… right now this team is undermanned and under aged.

Luke Kennard, who went for thirty against Notre Dame was OH NO! for the game. Duke looked like they never saw a 2-3 zone before. Suggestion: either pass the ball around the perimeter faster than the defender can move  or put Brandon Ingram in a high post at the foul line, pass the ball to him, let him face the basket  to shoot, pass, or drive. The zone either has to collapse on him, leaving the guards open or he is free to do his thing. By the way, Brandon has to man up to the fact that he is playing power forward (and all the big boy defense and rebounding that requires) not a perimeter forward.

Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game and a team has to adjust to that reality. But some injuries  have more impact than others. To channel and update Al Featherstone: Duke is 6-4 without Jefferson, losing one-possession (in the last 30 seconds) games to Utah, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Syracuse, none of which are confused with a top team. It is not biased to say that with Jefferson in the lineup, the games would not have come down to that or if it did, the Blue Devils would have lost all four games. Coach K pointed out how a few more free throws and/or one more defensive stop or foul call may have made the difference in all the games. That’s the difference between being 6-0 and 3-3. That’s the league though. Overall, except for Carolina, there’s not much difference in the teams. And it’s likely to remain that way for the rest of the season.

The Blue Devils need to figure some things out until Jefferson returns and Krzyzewski can start rebuilding the team for the postseason. That means winning the close games that have so far been eluding the Blue Devils.

Other Thoughts:

  • The Blue Devils made their comeback much more difficult by not being aggressive and not being in the bonus situation at the end of the game. Consequently, in the last fifteen seconds Coach Boeheim had his team foul Allen twice without putting him on the line and taking valuable seconds of the clock.
  • It is the first three-game losing streak for No. 20 Duke since the 2006-07 season. This will also surely break the team’s streak of 166 straight weeks in the AP Top 25 Poll.
  • Grayson Allen needs some personal one and one time with JJ Redick or Bobby Hurley. There are times like tonight that Allen goes ten minutes or so without taking a shot. The defense cannot be that good. He is the best scorer, best penetrator, best finisher, and best passer. There are times that the alpha player must just demand the ball and take over the game like he did scoring 9 points in the last few minutes of the first half.
  • Next game: Saturday @ North Carolina State. 2:00pm. CBS

Alan Adds:

Coach K said after the game that the game gives you great times, but also cruel ones.  “We’re going through the cruel right now.”  As Bill pointed out, Coach K described this Duke team as “undermanned, under aged, and doing a good job.  The team has fought, and is playing well but hasn’t been rewarded.”   He said losing should make you appreciate even more what you have accomplished in the past.  He might have been talking to DBP readers.  Pre-season, I wrote that Duke fans could spoil enjoyment of this season by unreasonable expectations.  Without Amile, Duke is a middle of the ACC pack team (and there are a lot of good teams in the middle of the pack); not a contender for conference or (gasp!) national honors.  Duke can neither defend nor rebound.  When Duke cannot shoot, as happened last night, the Devils will lose to a mediocre (yes, I mean Syracuse) team that had lost 7 games coming into last night, including a shocking loss to St. John.  Wisconsin and Georgetown beat Syracuse along with the first 4 ACC teams the Orange faced — Pitt, Clemson, Miami and UNC.  I temper that assessment because of the return of Boeheim to the sidelines that has marked a Syracuse turnaround.  Remember 1995 and Gaudet taking over for Coach K; Duke sank like a stone.

If, as a fan, you like close exciting games going down to the wire and the last possession, this game was for you.  If, as a fan, you like well played beautiful basketball, this game would turn your stomach.  It was by any measuring stick and ugly game.  Duke could not defend at all.  Syracuse, as other teams have recently done, got to the rim with impunity.  At crunch time, Thornton tried to defend Silent G at the top.  Roberson (who grabbed more rebounds last night — 20 — than any other visiting player in the history of Cameron) set the screen.  Thornton lost Gbinije, but did not switch to the roller, Roberson, who was then free on his way to the hoop.  From there, Roberson either scored or dished for an easy deuce.  Duke’s zone was tentative.  Without Amile and more of a presence than just Marshall (who was heroic and played his best game ever), Syracuse dominated the paint (as did Clemson and Notre Dame).  Syracuse out rebounded Duke off the Duke backboard — 26 offensive rebounds for the Orange; 24 defensive rebounds for Duke.  Coach K said, “obviously, rebounding is a weakness for us with four perimeter players.”  Marshall had 17 boards; and Brandon 11; no other Duke player had more than 4.  So, in common with the games since Amile’s injury, Duke could not defend or rebound.  But, Duke usually made up for such weakness with great scoring.  Not last night.

Coach K pointed to a combination of great Syracuse defense and Duke missing wide open shots.  The Orange zone was tremendously effective in thwarting Duke’s driving game.  While the wings were active in closing out Duke’s 3 point attack from the corner, the zone was most effective in closing off Duke’s previously effective driving game.  The telling statistic is that Duke shot only 9 free throws — 8 by Marshall (who missed 3) and 1 by Grayson.  At the end, Grayson forced some acrobatic drives to score, but missed (and I thought was fouled) the critical driving attempt with 7 seconds to go and Duke trailing by a point.  Matt got the rebound and was fouled, though it was not called (even if called it would only have been Syracuse’s 6th; so, it would have been non-shooting, but Duke would have had a few seconds to try and win the game).  Coach K called the last plays “amazing” and admonished reporters to watch it.  He used the word seven times in his press conference.  He thought Matt and Grayson had made great winning plays, but “didn’t get rewarded.”  With the driving lanes closed, Duke shot from the perimeter, launching 37 three point attempts, but hitting only 10.  Luke played 28 minutes and — after heroically scoring 30 against Notre Dame — failed to score going 0-9 from the field (0-7 on open shots from behind the arc) and failing to get to the foul line.  Matt wasn’t much better shooting 2-11, all from 3land.  He played 32 minutes and finished the game with four fouls.  He has logged huge minutes this season, and I think he is wearing down.  His production has plummeted, and it is hard to find a different reason.

Derryck played an undistinguished first half (0-2; failing to score), but made 2 crucial 3s down the stretch when Coach K had him playing for the ineffective Luke.  Still, he cannot defend, and is not a classic — or even effective — point guard (1 assist and 2 turnovers).  In total he played 22 minutes scoring 6 on those 2 three pointers.  Obi played 2 minutes, committing 1 foul to get in the box score.  Marshall played the other 38 minutes at center and had the game of his life — 19 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks.  He was 7-11 from the field and 5-8 from the line.  His two misses with 5:38 to go and Duke trailing by 5 were his only bad.  The ‘cuse scored a three right after to take its biggest lead of eight with 5:21 to go.  Then Duke mounted its patented furious, but not quite adequate, comeback.  Also, Marshall had 11 offensive boards, meaning he was less of a force protecting Duke’s defensive board (grabbing only 6).  Small quibble, but given Duke’s glaring weakness protecting against offensive rebounds, worth mentioning.

Grayson played well in spurts.  In 38 minutes, he was 7-15 from the field; 3-8 from deep; made his only foul shot for 18 points.  But it was not a Grayson like game because he had only one rebound (he has been a great defensive rebounder this year) and only one assist.  Syracuse did a terrific defensive job on him, and he still scored 18 and almost brought Duke all the way back.  Brandon played the entire game (40 minutes) with a double double — 13 points and 11 boards.  Still, Brandon won’t be a lottery pick on the basis of this game.  He was 5-12; 3-8 from deep and shockingly did not get to the line in 40 minutes.  He led Duke defensive rebounding with 7, but couldn’t keep Roberson off the glass or out of the paint.  My take is Brandon was so worried about fouling that his aggressiveness was absent — especially in the paint on defense.  He simply was not the disruptive defensive force that he has been for much of the season.

Duke has three straight road games — next Saturday at NC State; followed by a Monday game in Coral Gables against Miami.  It will not be easy for the Devils to stop the bleeding.

Duke 88- North Carolina State 78 

Everyone will sleep better tonight on the Duke Blue Planet as the one man and five boys team started slow but finished fast. To no one’s surprise, Coach K made a few changes: Luke Kennard started for Derryck Thornton and he took a page from Dean Smith and switched defenses back and forth from a 2-3 zone to a man-to-man to a zone press to no avail as State shot lights out (6-9) from three point land while Duke shot like the lights really were out (3-14).

In the second half (probably because Allen and Plumlee both had two fouls) Duke played mostly zone and State was 2-12 while Duke was 7-11. (Is that an indication of a trend?) The Blue Devils seemed more comfortable in the various zones in the second half and defended the three better which led to better rebounding off misses and more open floor fast breaks. And speaking of fast breaks, Grayson Allen is just sensational in the open floor—fast, elevates, hangs, finishes strong. He is not too bad in the half court sets either as he leads the team in assists. Check out this line: 34 minutes, 28 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists.  Brandon Ingram (27 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) held up his end. Luke Kennard chipped in 12 points and Matt Jones proved that it’s not necessarily how many points you score but when you score them as it was his eight strategic points which gave the Devils  separation from the Pack. Unfortunately, Derryck Thornton just cannot seem to get over the rookie hump. He played for 20 minutes but made several mistakes which might have been critical in a different game. At one point Plumlee, let him know he needed to stop freelancing.

The three point shot is a game changer in more than the obvious one. When they go in, a team often looks and thinks like they are playing better than they actually are. And when they don’t, an opponent often gets a demoralizing fast break. In either scenario games can dramatically turn in a few possessions. Most teams cannot stay hot from beyond the arc for forty minutes and when they stop falling, a team often is impatient and does not run a half court set well.

It appeared to me that Duke’s better defense in the second half (aided by Cat Barbour losing some quickness due to an leg or ankle injury) and a more methodical offensive approach turned the momentum of the game. Passing the ball around the perimeter leads to contested threes. Penetration and kicking to an open player leads to uncontested threes. Grayson and Brandon are lethal off the dribble. Once they get past their man and/or penetrate a zone, the scoring options– especially shooting threes– are much easier. Allen and Ingram are going to get their twenty some points a game. The others just have to go to an open spot and wait for a pass if the penetrator is double teamed.

Other Comments:

  • Monday’s road game against Miami will be a stern test an indication if the State game was a false positive.
  • The winning number are: Duke +2 on threes; +3 on rebounds (after being beaten on the boards in each of its past three losses); +6 on free throws (made 14 of 18); +3 on steals; and +2 on blocks.
  • Jefferson was out of his boot and into a sneaker. Coach K says the bone has healed but he’s not there yet but working on walking right, exercising in pool… still thinks he is out for a “a while”. (If you can figure out what that means, drop me a line.)
  • NC State shot 6-of-9 (.667) from beyond the arc in the first half, the second straight game a Duke opponent shot 66.7 percent from beyond the arc in the opening half of a game. In the second half, Duke allowed the Wolfpack to shoot just 2-of-12 (.167).
  • Next game: Monday @ Miami 7:00 ESPN

Alan Adds:

Duke had a four day stretch of practices after losing to Syracuse, and Coach K said they used those days efficiently.  “We were well prepared.  We put in many new things that you cannot do in just a day or two.”  He was referring to Duke’s unique defensive effort with varied defenses (shades of Vic Bubas).  Although this was a tale of two completely different halves, Coach K saw it a bit differently.  “When the ball goes in, it looks as if you are playing better than the other team.  I don’t think NC State played better than Duke in the first half; they just shot better.”  At halftime, I told my daughter exactly what Coach K said he told the team.  Essentially, if Duke kept playing as in the first half and stayed the course; the law of averages would catch up with the Wolfpack in the second half.  And indeed it did.

Duke played one of its best halves of the season, thwacking the Wolfpack 52-35 in the closing stanza.  Duke was on fire from the filed in second half (17-24; 7-10 from deep — after a 3-15 first half from deep —; and 11-13 from the free throw line).  Duke had 10 assists in the second half.  It did not hurt the Blue Devil cause that State was simply missing the same shots in the second half that connected in the first half when Duke gave up 43 points.  Grayson and Brandon had 26 of Duke’s 36 first half points, but Grayson was only 1-5 from behind the arc while Brandon (1-2); Luke (1-5); Derryck (0-2) and Matt (0-1) were all cold from deep.  The supporting cast was not supporting until the second half.  Brandon played like a lottery pick after the intermission.  He logged 39 minutes, and poured in 15 second half points on 6-8 shooting from the field that included a dazzling assortment of drives, dunks and tip-ins to go with 3-4 from deep.  He finished the game with 25 points on 16 shots to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block.  He was phenomenal.   Grayson was Brandon’s equal, playing 34 minutes, sitting out only a few minutes after picking up his 3rd foul.  After keeping Duke within contact in the first half, Grayson played a fabulous team game after intermission.  He was 4-5 from the field on dextrous and acrobatic drives, and 4-4 from the line for 12 second half points — for a game high 28 (on 17 shots).  He played much better defense in the second half and finished the game with 7 rebounds (4 in the second half) and 7 assists (5 in the second half) with only a single turnover (in the first half).  He was phenomenal.

Coach K rightfully singled out Matt Jones for his clutch shooting.  After a scoreless first half (continuing a five game drop off from his early season play), Matt erupted for his only 8 points of the game in the later part of the second half.  With the score tied at 56 and 10:57 to go, Matt hit a crucial 3, then handed out an assist for a Brandon dunk at the 10 minute mark, and followed it up with another 3 with 9:26 left to give Duke a 10 point lead (Grayson had a layup in there with an assist from Brandon).  Matt added two clutch free throws with a little over 2 minutes left.  His 36 minutes were important for Duke.  Perhaps this end game burst signals Matt’s return to form.  Marshall was amazingly stalwart.  He is in great physical condition as demonstrated by his 39 minute stint of full out running the court and playing hard.  He sat only for the last 1:18 of the first half (Obi logged an uneventful 1:18) and cemented the Duke defense when it was effective.   He scored 10 on 3-4 from dunk land and 4-6 from the line, to go with 8 rebounds (6 on offense) 2 assists, a steal, a block and critically 0 turnovers.  Right now he is the Duke interior.

Luke’s game has declined after a brilliant stretch.  In 31 minutes, Luke scored 12 on 4-12 shooting (2-8 from deep) and 2-2 from the line.  Luke was 2-7 in the first half (1-5 as previously noted).  Derryck basically only played to give the perimeter players short rest.  He continues to make freshman mistakes on both ends of the court, but Coach K needs him to spell his perimeter players.  In his 20 minutes, Derryck scored 5 but (key for a point guard) had 3 turnovers without an assist.  However after a 1-3 first half with 2 misses from behind the arc, he made his only shot of the second half, a pretty critical 3.

Coach K said that he had used the long week of practice to prepare for both games — Monday against Miami, a stern test.  He then looks forward to another long stretch to practice.  All are hoping for Amile’s return, which seems likely from reports but is still without a time table.  Bill, I think this means mid to late February, for what it is worth.

DUKE 80- GEORGIA TECH 71

Because he was not feeling well, Coach K remained at home in Durham and did not travel to Atlanta for the game. After watching Tech play over the top of what was generously labeled a zone defense and score 28 of their 40 points in the paint while shooting 58%, I was not feeling well myself as the opening twenty minutes were very painful to watch. I cannot remember a Duke team looking this inept on defense, even though the 2012-14 teams were also defensively deficient.

Fortunately, Coach Capel switched to  man-to-man for the entire second half. It seemed to energize the team and kept Brandon Ingram down low for defending (4 blocks) and rebounding (10). Without Jefferson and Ingram playing on top of  the 1-3-1 or 2-3, Duke is very undersized down low so Tech, a mediocre team at best, scored 40 first half points at will.

Of course, Greyson Allen scoring  27 points (7 rebounds & 4 assists) the easy way as his jump shot returned from vacation (7 threes) made a second half comeback much easier. As we know, there is a yin and yang to defense and offense that is the difference between winning and losing. Derryck Thornton (15 points) started for Luke Kennard and played perhaps his best game until the last few minutes when he neither managed the clock nor the ball well. And Luke, who leads college players in free throw percentage, sure came in handy in the last shaky two minutes.

The good news is that, despite the explosion of social media hatred, Krzyzewski is expected to be back for Saturday’s game against the Wolfpack. The not so good news is the return of the boot to Amile Jefferson’s injured right foot. He isn’t expected to be ready for the game against N.C. State or Monday’s with Louisville.

Other comments:

  • Grayson Allen fouled out. The refs were watching a different game than I was. Grayson  certainly was not given the respect that the ten Wooden finalists, of which he is one, usually are. He was constantly getting roughed up and held but was called for defending himself. Nevertheless, he needs to be smarter about those situations
  • Stand-in Coach Capel appeared to be attempted to use a larger rotation but abandoned the idea when the reserves quickly demonstrated why they are seldom seen on the floor in prime time.
  • To be successful, this team needs to get better defensively with or without Jefferson. In 2012, Duke ranked 81st nationally in adjusted defensively efficiency, giving up an average of 0.97 points per possession. In 2013, Duke ranked 31st (0.93). In 2014, Duke ranked 116th (1.02). In 2015, Duke ranked 12th (0.92). And this year, Duke currently ranks 145th out of 315 Division-I teams (1.02). And the NCAA tournament fate of those Duke teams, in order: lost in round of 64 (Lehigh), Elite Eight (Louisville), lost in round of 64 (Mercer), National Champions and, if in the field, to be determined.
  • Next game: Saturday North Carolina State 2pm @  home. ESPN.

Alan Adds:

While the first half looked just as awful as the last 6 games — Duke’s defense was almost non-existent, Duke was dominated in the paint on both ends of the floor; holding close only on long range shooting — Duke’s scintillating second half on both ends of the floor soothed the panicking brows of the Devil faithful.  Everyone, especially Coach Capel, agreed that the metamorphosis was engendered by the change in Duke’s defensive strategy.  Capel modestly hid behind “we”, but it surely seemed as if it was his decision.  Capel said that Coach K had the team well prepared — “we’d been practicing for Georgia Tech since Saturday” — and therefore knew the team could withstand Coach K’s absence.  He also added that the team worked exclusively on a zone defense in preparation for the Yellow Jackets, and did not practice man-to-man at all.  But the man to man changed everything.  Compare the two halves.

In the first half, Duke allowed Ga. Tech to shoot 16 for 23 from inside the arc.  Even with 2-8 from behind it, Tech shot over 58%.  Duke gave up 28 points in the paint (40 overall) and was thoroughly out rebounded on both ends.  Only Grayson’s 3-4  and Matt’s 2-4 from behind the arc kept Duke close (Duke was 6-13 in the opening half — Brandon was 1-3; Derryck and Luke each missed their only 3 point attempt).  But, Duke was only 6-16 from inside the arc where Ga. Tech controlled the paint.  Duke trailed by 1 with over 2 minutes to go in the half, and did not score again.

The second half saw the return of Duke basketball.  The man-to-man defense was fierce and shut down the Yellow Jackets.  Plumlee and Brandon restored order under the Duke defensive backboards — Brandon had 7 defensive boards in the second half, while Marshall grabbed 4.  While Brandon had a terrible shooting night (3-15; 1-3 behind the arc), he played a wonderful game.  On defense he blocked 4 in the second half, shoring up Duke’s interior defense. The Jackets could not contain his drives, continuously sending him to the line.  He had a double-double in his 39 minutes (14  points, 7-8 from the line; 10 boards).  Marshall, in 31 minutes, came within a dunk (or the two free throws he missed in his scoreless first half) of a double-double.  He was 4-4 on dunks in the closing stanza and garnered 12 boards in the game (4 offensive) to help Duke regain control of the interior in the second half.  He probably would have logged even more minutes if not for foul trouble (he finished with 4).  That gave Chase Jeter 8 minutes.  While he looked more comfortable and contributed a hoop and a key rebound, he still committed 4 fouls in his 8 minutes.  Vrankovic was Capel’s choice (over Obi) for a single minute — a foul and a turnover.

Besides, Chase and Vrankovic, Duke’s only substitute was Luke Kennard who scored 8 in only 15 minutes.  He was on the floor at the close of the game for his foul shooting (4-4).  He missed his only 3 as his shooting woes from deep continue.  Derryck Thornton’s outstanding second half contributed to Luke’s playing fewer minutes.

Duke’s run was a thing of beauty, followed by some fierce defense to control the game.  With 11:47 left in the game, Duke led by 1.  With 9:15 left, Duke led by 10.  The streak included 2 layups by Thornton, Grayson’s three, a jump shot for two, and delicious dump off to Marshall for a dunk.  With 10:04 left, Ga. Tech hit a field goal, giving them 55 points and a 7 point deficit.  The Jacket’s next score came with 5:22 left, cutting Duke’s lead back to 15.  Duke did not close the game out smoothly, however.  Last year, it was Tyus and Quinn that controlled the game’s end.  Last night, Derryck showed that, even though he played a wonderful second half, that he has much to learn.  Derryck logged 30 minutes and was key to Duke’s win.  After a dismal first half — 2-3 inside the arc, but 0-1 from deep with 0 assists — he finished the game with 15 points on 7-11 shooting (1-3 from deep).  He dished out 3 assists as well.  He made crucial shots and was an offensive force and did not commit a foul.

Matt played 39 minutes, scoring all of his 6 points in the first half on 2 long range shots.  He was quiet in the second half on offense, but anchored the efficient defense.  He is still not the offensive force that he was earlier in the year.

Grayson was not less than heroic, playing one of his best all-around games while shooting lights out — especially from deep.  In 37 minutes he was 7-10 from deep (only 2-7 from inside the arc and 2-2 from the line) for his 27 points.  His energy sparked Duke all over the floor in the second half.  For the game he had 7 boards, 4 assists and a steal.

After the NC State game on Saturday, the schedule turns brutal: Louisville and Virginia at Cameron, followed by Louisville and UNC on the road.

DUKE 88-  NORTH CAROLINA STATE 80 

Duke responded to finally returning to the friendly embrace of Cameron and the Crazies for the first time in three weeks by hitting a season high 14 three point shots to go with 24 free throws—and they needed all of these advantages to beat a resilient N.C. State team, which the elusive Cat Barbour kept in the game. Just when the Pack would close the gap, the Blue Devils would rally with a basket or run of their own. Grayson Allen’s 28 points and 4 assists were not surprising, but Luke Kennard, who came off the bench on fire to add 26 well-timed points, was the other missing bookend today as Brandon Ingram only had 14 points ( 7 rebounds & 4 fouls).  Marshall Plumlee had 12 rebounds but, as usual, Duke was outrebounded 38-29.

Derryck Thornton started, played well, and did a surprisingly good job defending Barbour in the first half. However, in the second no one could stay in front of the Cat as he continually created offense with points or assists. That seemed to effect Thornton’s offense as he suddenly became casual with a couple of passes on successive possessions, which let the Pack close the gap and quickly had a nice view of the game from the sidelines. This may have been a blessing in disguise as Luke had his ‘A” game until he also inexplicably made a freshman mistake and threw the ball away on an routine out of bounds play. So, despite all the offense, frustrating freshman mistakes contributed to a making it a closer game than it should have been. During the last few minutes with the Blue Devils clinging to a slim lead, Coach K switched Grayson Allen on Barbour and with some help from his friends, the Pack’s offense packed it in. On the other hand, the Blue Devils cashed in from the charity stripe where they were in the double bonus.

This game was a classic example of Coach K’s Winning Basketball 101. When threes are falling, the game is seductively easy. However, as the game winds down and the basket seems smaller, a team wants to be in the bonus, preferable double bonus, situation with the ball in the hands of the best foul shooters. Otherwise, a winnable game can slip away. How many times have we seen Duke win this way? Hundreds. Nerve wracking, but it never gets old.

Ingram and Jones  both were in foul trouble in the second half. That probably contributed to the Blue Devils abandoning the man-to-man and employing a rotation of mostly zone schemes—utilizing a mix of 1-3-1, 2-3, and full-court pressure. Whatever the reason, I think a variety of defenses covers for some of this team’s defensive weaknesses. Until Jefferson  returns (update: limited practice but not near full speed) these players need all of the tricks in Krzyzewski’s tool belt to win games.

Other comments:

  • You had the feeling that this might be Duke’s day when, late in the tight second half, a  deflected ball in the congested lane rolled to the perimeter into the hands of a solitary Grayson Allen, who had time to check his feet and drain a three.
  • Blue Devil fans  survived a scary moment midway through the first half, when Allen stepped on Barbour’s foot and turned his ankle while driving to the basket. Allen lay on the floor clutching his right ankle in pain and limped noticeably as he left the court. Fortunately, he returned a few minutes later.Also, MP3 lost on sneaker but played several possessions without it before leaving the game. His temporary replacement Chase Jeter is showing some signs of improvement.
  • No player on the floor was even born the last time N.C. State beat Duke with Krzyzewski on the bench at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  It was 1988. However, the Pack did beat them in 1995 when Coach K missed most of the season with back surgery.
  • If you haven’t heard, Louisville’s president voluntarily banned the team from all post season play. The Cardinals are under investigation by the NCAA for supplying “party girls” (aka  prostitutes) to recruits and players. Coach Rick Pitino, who himself was involved in a sex scandal six years ago, claims he knew nothing about it. Apparently, the “plausible deniability” defense is not limited to political figures.
  • Next game: Louisville Monday 7:00 ESPN

Alan Adds:

The Duke season really starts now:  Louisville, UVA, Louisville, UNC and Florida State in succession, with the second Louisville game and UNC on the road.   What did the win over NC State yesterday auger for this coming gauntlet?  First, it is hopeful to see freshman disappointments beginning to thrive.  Derryck is now Coach K’s guy, who will start against Louisville and presumably for the rest of the year unless he plays himself out of the lineup.  Although scoreless in the first half (0-2 from the field and 0-1 from the line), Derryck showed some flashes of maturing into a valuable player.   He played outstanding defense on Cat Barber for 14 minutes and 19 seconds, dished out 2 assists and had 3 steals (0 turnovers).  Unfortunately, with 5:41 to play in the first half, Derryck went under the screen and Cat hit a 3 to ignite; he scored 9 in the last 5:41 of the half.

In the second half, Derryck scored all 7 of his points in the game (2-2 from the field; 1 from deep; and 2-2 from the line).  All points Duke desperately needed.  The two turnovers at the start of the second half and some sloppiness down the stretch remind us that he is not only still a freshman, but one who would be playing in high school if he had not reclassified.  Coach K recognizes how much his development will mean to the rest of the season.  This is especially true as Matt’s offensive drop off continues, while he is still playing many minutes and contributing in significant ways.  In his 35 minutes, Matt scored only a 3 pointer in the first half, finishing the game 1-5 from the field and adding a foul shot in the second half (1-2).  He handed out 6 assists (3 in each half) and grabbed 3 boards.  He had 2 turnovers, but both were in the first half.  This team needs the offense that Matt was giving it early in the season.  A word about Chase Jeter.  Though he played only 4 minutes — all in the first half — he showed a little something.  He scored a nice hoop, and grabbed a tough rebound.  He was called for a block that the announcers agreed might have been called a charge.  His downside came when he was gifted with a good pass on a screen and roll and drew the foul.  However, missing both free throws, as he did, is the functional equivalent of a turnover.  Still, I see the signs, and if Chase could come on a bit in the late season, it would be a godsend for this team.

Marshall played the entire game, but for Chase’s 4 minutes in the first half.  Marshall’s stat line was accumulated almost all in the first half (3-5 for 6 points; 7 boards; a block and an assist).  He was 1-4 from the line in the second half for 7 points.  However, he solidified Duke’s defensive backboard (with Brandon) grabbing 5 defensive rebounds for a total of 11 defensive boards, plus his lone, but oh so valuable, offensive rebound of Brandon’s only missed free throw, that led to a Luke 3 for a Duke possession of 5 points.  That was the back breaker.  Brandon was solidly consistent, though not as spectacular as he has been in some games.  He picked up his second foul with 8 minutes to go in the first half and sat out the rest of the half.  Even in his abbreviated time, he scored 7 on 2-4 (1-2 from deep) and 2-2 from the line to go with 4 rebounds.  He picked up his third foul within the first minute of the second half.  Coach K elected to keep him in the game, and he played every minute of the second half without picking up his 4th foul.  Coach K made much of this in his post-game press conference.  He said playing through foul trouble and staying efficient was a learned skill, and he said Brandon was learning.  Against Clemson, Brandon did not play well after the fouls mounted.  Last night he was critical even though his shot was entirely missing in the latter stanza (1-6; 0-2 from deep).  He drove and got fouled; going 6-7 from the line (4-5 in the second half).  He accounted for 7 boards, 3 assists and 2 critical blocks for 14 points.  He was, in his 32 minutes, the glue while Grayson and Luke simply starred.

When Luke shoots as he did against State, Duke is hard to beat.  Luke took the most Duke shots (15), converting on 9 of them (6-11 from behind the arc) and 2-2 from the line for 26 points in 32 minutes of action.  Luke was valuable besides his scoring, adding 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals for a superb game.  He was unstoppable.  Grayson was even more unstoppable, scoring 28 points on only 11 shots.  The eleven shots is deceiving because I do not think a drive to the basket that draws a foul is counted as a missed shot.  Grayson was a Wolfpack sinking 12-12 from the line (10-10 in the second half when it really counted).  He missed only a single minute of playing time (when we all held our breath as he writhed in pain with a rolled ankle) and handed out 4 assists.  It was, in my opinion, and All-American performance, reminding us of his pre-season NIT play.

With 15:39 to go, the score was tied at 52-52.  State scored only a deuce in the next 5 minutes, and by then trailed by 13, with Luke and Grayson doing all the Duke scoring.  It was the winning stretch fueled by really aggressive and excellent defense.  Duke held on from there with clutch foul shooting (but defense that inexplicably turned porous).

For what it is worth, I think UVA has found its mojo and is now not only the best team in the ACC, but may be the best team in the country.  My reason for that conclusion is UVA has found it defense.  For most of the season, it has been missing.  But in the last 3 games, the Cavaliers have held opponents to 47 points (Louisville at Louisville); 47 points (BC at home) and 50 points (Pitt at Pitt).  The Louisville game will tell us much, and the next few games will define Duke’s season.

DUKE 72 –  LOUISVILLE 65 

Louisville beats #1 Carolina at home, then loses to unranked Duke on the road. Go figure. Oh, I guess the Hookers didn’t make the traveling squad. Sorry, cheap shot. Just couldn’t resist….

If you were told that Grayson Allen had scored 19 points in the first 20:15 of the game, then gone scoreless the final 19:45, how much would you have bet that Louisville had won? Personally, I would have bet the ranch–and would be looking for a place to bunk.

To quote that famous politician/comedian Bernie…err… Larry on SNL, this game was “HUGE, YUGE, WHATEVER” for Duke. Similar script as the State game. To repeat: “This game was another classic example of Coach K’s Winning Basketball 101. When threes are falling, the game is seductively easy. However, as the game winds down and the basket seems smaller, a team wants to be in the bonus, preferable double bonus,  with the ball in the hands of the best foul shooters, attacking the basket, not cranking up threes. Otherwise, a winnable game can slip away. How many times have we seen Duke win this way? Hundreds. Nerve wracking, but it never gets old.” And speaking of old, this was the 1,000th game in Cameron—and, thanks to free student seating in the late 1950’s, then satellites, Alan and I have enjoyed watching a great many of them.

Tonight, the Blue Devils went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line in the final 3:13. However, for some inexplicable reason the game was in the hands of freshmen—Thornton and Ingram. For every “No, No give the ball to Grayson or Luke” there was a “Yes, Yes, Nice Play!”

One thing for certain, the man-to-man defense has gotten better—and that was the catalyst for the win. Duke’s defense was terrific during the first 20 minutes, holding the Cardinals to shooting just 31.3% from the floor. Even better was Grayson Allen, who had almost half of Duke’s points as the Devils went to the locker room leading 35-24. In the second half, neither the defense nor the offense were are as efficient but when the game was on the line, the Blue Devils didn’t fold, they prevailed both defensively and offensively. For the entire game, Plumlee, who was a beast in the paint and Ingram, whose 7’3’’ wingspan and athleticism make up for a lack of heft, were formidable doing the thankless but necessary blue collar job of defending and rebounding in the paint. Consequently, Duke outrebounded Louisville 33-32, while committing 13 turnovers– solid stats against a team that relies on rebounds and its press to generate much of its offense.

Coach K assessment of the game: “Not a good win, a great win….Somehow, while they were tired and beat up, our group just showed incredible toughness and won. No X’s and O’s, they just earned it… A couple [of] weeks ago, I think we lose this game by 15 points.”

Other comments: 

  • You had the feeling that this might be Duke’s night when, late in the tight second half, Luke Kennard drove, got tangled up with Plumlee and the ball ricocheted off several arms, hands, or other body parts, and ended up in the basket. Don’t know who got the basket and who got the assist.
  • Like the NC State game last Saturday, Duke led most of the way, 35 minutes’ worth of lead, with three minutes tied. The visitors led only 2:01 and never by more than the two-pointer they scored to open the game.
  • I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Grayson Allen certainly is not given the respect by the referees that the ten Wooden finalists, of which he is one, usually are (given). He was constantly getting roughed up, held, and hitting the floor– and not getting the calls. He was again called for retaliating. Nevertheless, Allen needs to be smarter about these situations. Bob from Georgia writes to ask if anyone keeps stats of how many times Grayson hits the floor?
  • And finally, with respects to Simon and Garfunkel: “Here’s to you Amile Jefferson, the (Blue Devil) Nation turns its lonely eyes to you! What’s that you say, Mr. Jefferson, your just a game or so away”. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!
  • Next game: Saturday #3 Virginia @ home  4:30 ESPN

Alan Adds:

Without question this was Duke’s best and most important game of the season because this was a game where you could see the team growing before your very eyes.  Duke has fallen out of the top 25 because the schedule has turned out to be shockingly easy (no wins over a ranked team until Louisville).  In yesterday’s AP poll, the 25th place team got 132 votes.  Duke’s only opponents who even received votes were Indiana (91) and VCU (10).  Duke got 14 votes (30th).  Louisville, on the other hand, has had a terrific season, coming into the game in first place in the ACC and 13th in the AP poll with a great win over UNC.  It came down to “winning time” for the young and undermanned Blue Devils, and the team played like, well, like Duke.  Coach K said “We’re becoming ‘this Duke team’, whatever that is.  It is happening and it is good.”  Let’s talk about the game first, and then “becoming ‘this’ Duke team.

Duke had a superb first half at both ends of the floor.  Defensively, Duke was as good as it has been all year, holding the Cardinals to 31% shooting (1-7 from deep, but only 9-25 from inside the arc) and many of the Cardinals scores came on offensive rebounds (first 3 Louisville hoops were on put backs; Louisville didn’t score from the field until more than 7 minutes had gone by).  Grayson was on fire from deep.  He and Marshall accounted for 24 of Duke’s 35 points in the opening stanza.  When Grayson and Brandon hit back to back 3s to start the second half, Duke led by 15.  Then Duke hit an almost inevitable cold streak — 4 turnovers and 3 missed shots — while Louisville got hot.  Louisville shot 75% in the second half for the first 12 + minutes of the second half, taking a one point lead with 6:13 to go.

For several minutes the game see-sawed with neither team able to open a more than one possession lead.  The game was tied at 60 with 3:46 left when Duke became “this Duke team”.  Grayson missed a 3, which Marshall rebounded spectacularly as he was fouled.  He made them both!  Lee made only 1 of 2 for the Cards (Duke 62- Louisville 61).  Coach K then put the ball in Brandon’s hands.  He was, in effect, the point guard (Coach K said that allowed Derryck to be a shooter), and then Brandon started right to use a screen from Marshall.  I thought it reminiscent of Coach K’s strategy against Wisconsin in the finals — give the ball to Tyus and let him be Tyus.  Last night, he gave the ball to Brandon and let him be Brandon.  Ingram drove to the hole, was fouled, and made them both (64-61).   Marshall and Brandon combined for a wonderful interior defense and crucial rebound.  Brandon drove to the hole, was fouled, and made them both (66-61).  Dennis Mitchell was fouled, but made only 1-2 (66-62 with 1:44 left).  Matt made a good base line move to get fouled (a good offensive set with ball movement got him the ball in good position).  He made them both (68-62 with 1:19 left).  Brandon grabbed another hard fought defensive rebound when Lee missed a 3.  Derryck made an amazing shot as the shot clock expired for what should have been “the dagger” — 70-62 with only 35 seconds left.  Then Derryck turned freshman.  Needing only to defend the three point line, Derryck fell 4-5 feet back and Lewis swished a 3 to keep Louisville alive, if on life support.  Derryck then missed 2 free throws.  Coach K reminds us that he’s only 18, but is improving.   Luke hit the winning free throws with 7 seconds left.  “This team”, at least on this night, played winning Duke basketball, which seemed to absolutely thrill Duke’s Hall of Fame coach.

While Marshall’s stat line in the second half was pretty flat (the foul shots were his only score, and he got credit in the box score for only a single defensive board), he was the emotional presence, who made the Duke defense formidable at winning time.  He played 35 minutes, sitting only for 5 minutes in the first half.  He is playing terrific basketball partly because he is in phenomenal shape and so can compete intensely every second he is on the court.  Chase is showing some signs.  In his 5 minutes, he scored a hoop and pulled in 3 boards with only one turnover and (of course) a foul.  You can see Derryck grow, but inconsistently.  As I wrote last game, Coach K has made the decision to go with Derryck as his point guard.  Derryck played 29 minutes, while Luke logged only 20 minutes.  Thornton is a work in progress.  He had a basket in each half (4 points on 2-5; 1-3 in the first half) but was 0-2 from deep and 0-2 from the line.  He had 2 assists, a steal and a block, but 4 turnovers.  More than anyone, he has to continue to develop for this to become “this Duke team”.  While Luke had an undistinguished first half (1-4; 1-2 from deep) with 3 points and a single board, he was very much a part of winning time in the second half, in spite of Louisville seeming to score whenever guarded by Luke (more great offense than bad defense).  In the second half, Luke scored 8 on a layup, a 3, and 3-4 from the line.

Matt played 32 intense minutes and was the key to Duke’s defense when it was effective.  Though only 1-4 from deep, the one was crucial.  He also scored a critical layup and was 3-4 from the line for 8 points to go with 3 assists.

Duke was powered by Grayson in the first half and Brandon in the second.  Grayson scored 19 on 12 shots, but as Bill points out, 0 points in the last 19:45 of the half.  He was stymied effectively on his drives, but continued to hustle and play energetic defense.   However, it is Brandon’s praises that have to be sung.  He played every second of the game, scoring 18 points on only 9 shots (14 in the second half, most at closing time, and from the line).  Just as important as his offense, was Brandon’s emergence as an interior defensive and rebounding force.  He garnered 10 boards and was largely responsible for Duke holding its own on the backboard.  He is such a crucial element for Duke to become “this Duke team.”

The schedule is now amazingly demanding.  Duke gets a rest until next Saturday when UVA comes to Cameron, ranked 7th and coming off 3 spectacular games.  Then Duke goes on the road to face Louisville in a rematch and to Chapel Hill.  So, Duke faces #7, #9, and #13 in a row that could define the season (plus Fla State and Pitt after that are hardly breathers).  So the season is now, as John Feinstein might write, “on the brink”.

DUKE 63- VIRGINIA 62

The Virginia basketball team hasn’t beaten Duke in 20 years playing at Cameron, where they are 8 for 59 lifetime; Rasheed Sulaimon beat them there two years ago with a last second three; Ty Jones repeated the heartbreak scenario last year in Charlottesville; and today is Coach Krzyzewski’s 69th birthday. How much karma is that to carry onto the court? So what chance did the  Cavaliers really have?  Actually, quite a lot: The law of averages, a seven game winning streak, ranked #7 in the country, playing Coach Tony Bennett’s nightmare, pack-it-in defense—and Duke having, for their program, a down year. However, in the end the basketball gods gave us a memorable, even heroic, ending that brought honor, if not satisfaction, to both teams.

What a finish! With 27 seconds left and Duke up one point, Allen, an 85% free throw shooter, inexplicably missed two freebies in a row. With 10 seconds left, Malcolm Brogdon rose to the occasion and somewhat casually tossed in a difficult, no look behind-his-head layup to give the Cavaliers a 62-61 lead… Next play… At the other end, Allen took a handoff from Marshall Plumlee in the high post, dribbled and spun through traffic and kept driving toward the basket. “I felt like I had the lane, and I felt like I had my man one-on-one,” Allen said. “I knew he was going to be strong and body up, so I just knew I was going to go through that and go to finish.” There was contact between Allen and Shayok, and, with only seconds left, a contorted, falling backward, suspended but descending Allen released the ball with one hand. The red border around the backboard indicating “game over” lit up just as Allen’s shot banked cleanly through the net—and Cameron exploded.

An amazing finish to an amazing a game!

This is why we love watching and writing about Duke Basketball. No matter the talent level, the culture of Coach K’s teams is never give up, never top trying. This team is young and talented but undermanned. Written off after losing four of five  conference games and falling out of the national rankings for the first time in this century, they never have been an easy out. There have been no blowouts. They have been in every game. All the losses are down to the wire. They continue to learn and improve. And they now have beaten two ranked teams in a row. Win or lose, what’s not to like and admire about these players?

This was Virginia Coach Bennett’s defensive dilemma: Whom  do you put your best defender on? He can’t guard both Allen and Ingram. Coach Bennett, who as good a defensive coach as there is in the country, started the game with Brogdon Allen and Ingram torched the Cavaliers in the first half. He switch him on Ingram during the second half. That meant that Brogdon wasn’t guarding Allen, who started getting into the paint for points or assists. It also meant Virginia was playing four guards and Duke started controlling the boards. (Lost in the late game drama is the fact that Duke outrebounded Virginia 24-10 in the second half). Using the massive frame of Plumlee for high ball screens to drive against the Cavalier defense, Allen and Ingram wound up with 23 of Duke’s 32 second-half points. Grayson stats were: 15 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals. One stat not charted was the number of fouls his aggression initiated that put the Blue Devils in the one & one with ten minutes to go and the double bonus with eight minutes to go. Unfortunately, the Devils atypically only converted 9-16, one more than the Cavaliers. But then, if they had shot free throws like they usually do, the game would not been as exciting.

As lethal and scintillating as Ingram and Allen were, it was a team victory triggered by their improving defense. The last two games Matt Jones has been the unsung hero. He defended Louisville’s Damion Lee and Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and still scored 14 points; Marshall Plumlee has been a rock rebounding and setting high picks; Thornton keeps improving especially on defense and limiting turnovers; and Luke  Kennard can explode off the bench at any time.

One more thing. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it. Grayson Allen is not given the respect by the referees that the ten Wooden finalists, of which he is one, usually are (given). He is constantly getting roughed up, held, and hitting the floor– and not getting the calls. On his winning drive, there was contact at the top of the key, when he elevated, and when he was hanging in the air to take the shot. According to the new rules, those all were fouls.

Quotes:

Grayson Allen: “It’s really surreal for me, this being my dream school and just a moment like that is something you dream of. When you’re a little kid, you do it hundreds of times in your driveway.”

Ty Jones (who was at the game with Jahlil Okafor): ” Just so happy for him. That’s my brother. I’m his biggest fan. It was a lot of fun to watch.We threw  Gatorade on him, mobbed him, and everything like that. It was like I was a part of the team  again. It was a lot of fun.”

Coach K: You guys (the press) don’t enjoy them (the team) as well as you should because you try to make them like another Duke team. You should just enjoy them as this Duke team, like I am, and you will see a lot of really neat things….Well you know, in earlier games, we were good for periods but we weren’t as tough as we are now. There are certain portions of the game where I don’t care how you draw up your offense or defense, you just have to be tough. You have to fight through tired, fight through somebody not playing as well and get them going at that point. We weren’t able to do that, like make on the spot corrections, whether it be with toughness or attitude. When I say attitude it’s not attitude like bad attitude, I mean you’re into missing the shot or a mistake that you made. It’s not the right attitude. We’ve talked about it, we’ve met on it, and they’re doing it now. It has paid off.”

On potentially redshirting Amile Jefferson: “Not right now. Again, if he was not able to play, then we would ask for that, and I think he would qualify for that. But, I don’t want to go there right now. It has been two months, though, and that’s why what our guys have done is remarkable. I am very proud of them and we just have to stay healthy. Here’s the thing: it’s healing great, but then we try limited basketball stuff at a slower speed, so he has never done anything game speed, and he has pain. … If he tries to play at full speed with that, he can’t do that. He’s frustrated like crazy and we’re frustrated for him. I’m being completely honest with you about it. He’s trying, but it is not coming around.”

Alan Adds:

Bill said it all so well.  I will delve a bit outside of the offensive heroics of Brandon (18 straight points for Duke at the end of the first half and beginning of the second – 25 points on 22 shots) and Grayson, which were so obvious and appreciated.

First, like last year, the Duke defense has morphed from porous to efficient.  Duke played a really good man-to-man for the whole game.  However, we should not forget how many wide open 3’s the Cavaliers missed.  That wasn’t great defense; that was a bit of luck.  But overall, Duke shut down the penetration from the perimeter, rarely done this year by the Devils.  The bench played only 13 minutes (Chase 1, yanked by K after a basket interference; and Luke 12 (0-1 with 1 rebound) and failed to score.  Luke’s lack of playing time is interesting, given his terrific play in recent games.  In my view, this was a tribute to Derryck Thornton and his startling improvement.  It’s not showing up in his shooting yet (2-8; 0-3 from deep and 0 free throw attempts — both hoops came in the first half), but he is becoming the glue to Duke on both ends of the floor.  He shut down Perrantes, who was shooting over 50% from behind the arc for the year.  When I say shut down, I  mean shut down; Perrantes was not even able to  launch a single attempt from behind the arc.  Thornton played really tough on the ball man to man, holding Perrantes to 8 points and only 2 assists (and forced 2 turnovers).  Derryck could not come close to doing that earlier this year.  Moreover, he has steadied the offense.  He had 4 assists and 0 turnovers.  Even more importantly, his stewardship of point guard, has allowed Matt to return to doing what he does best (which is not running the offense).  Coach K’s coaching genius is showing up in Derryck’s continued improvement and contributions.  He played 34 minutes.

Matt’s 36 minute return to what he does best —  superb defense and clutch scoring — was more than welcome.  He had some game against the ‘Hoos, making Brogdon work hard for every point (yes, Brogdon scored 18 points, but it took him 16 shots to do  it — 7-16; 1-6 from deep and 3-3 from the line).  The Virginia back court, great 3 point shooters, had only a single 3.  As Coach Bennet said, “you aren’t going to win many road games shooting 2-11 from deep.”).  Welcome back, Matt.  He has been defensively heroic taking on Lee in the Louisville game and Brogdon yesterday.  Let’s hope he can do the same against Marcus on Wednesday.

Grayson was held in check in the first half (4 points), before making us groan in despair at the missed free throws (7–11 from the stripe) and exult with the spectacular acrobatic finish.  Coach Bennet: “I thought he walked.”  He did.  Coach K: “I thought he was fouled.”  He was — twice.  But let us not overlook Grayson’s amazing floor game.  He had 7 assists against only 1 turnover, and he hauled in 7 boards — tying Marshall for most defensive boards with 6.  He took only 11 shots for his 15 points.  He even gave great post-game interview.

The unsung heroics were not limited to the perimeter.  Duke’s interior was absolutely superb in the second half after giving ground in the opening stanza.  Brandon (38 minutes) did not have a rebound in the first half, corralled 7 in the second half after Coach K’s half-time exhortations to him.  Here is the stat of the game for me: UVA had only a single offensive rebound in the second half.  As Coach K said in his press conference, “We got every defensive rebound in the last 10 minutes.  Marshall in 39 minutes, dominated inside in the second half (not bad in the first half either).   He finished with 10 boards (7 in the second half), 5 points on 2-3 and 1-2 from the line.  He is also having a great year and is more valuable to his team than his (impressive) stats show.  The test for the interior will be even sterner on Wednesday night against Carolina.

Coach K was simply ecstatic not only about the win, but about his team’s progress and growth, which has been quite worth watching.  From what Coach K has said about Amile, I offer this:  I think the team has stopped waiting for Amile to return and is now prepared to go the rest of the season without him.  It has made for a different and positive mind set.

There is no tougher game for the Devils than venturing into Chapel Hill as they will do on Wednesday.  This is still a very tough stretch with away games this coming week against the ‘Heels and Louisville.  What a season!

#20 DUKE  74  –  #5 NORTH CAROLINA 73

There have been a lot of fantastic finishes and unexpected upsets in the Duke-North Carolina basketball rivalry but I cannot remember a more surprising one than this slow motion outcome. There was nothing sudden, shocking or spectacular about it. Rather, it was a gutsy, grinding, mature performance by the young Blue Devils (three freshmen, one sophomore, and one senior) against the veteran, highly ranked Tar Heels. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the finish left both the Carolina players and fans in the Smith Center drained in stunned, silent disbelief at Carolina letting this game slip away.

Duke was behind most of the game. Brice Johnson was having a career game–27 points & 17  rebounds in just the first thirty minutes. When Matt Jones sprained his ankle after playing nine minutes, the Blue Devils were down to five effective players, none of whom had ever played meaningful minutes in the intimidating Dean Dome. But tonight, these five were enough. Ahead 68-60 and controlling the boards with less than seven minutes remaining, Carolina appeared to have the game uncomfortably in hand. Plumlee had four fouls and Johnson had been unstoppable. However, Duke had their forty minute men, Brandon Ingram (20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists) and Grayson Allen (23 points, 7 rebounds). Duke kept running a pro set, isolating one of them on the weak side of the floor, letting them, in one of Coach K’s favorite demystifying coaching terms “do their thing”, which resulted in scoring points or kicking to Luke Kennard for a crucial three. However, as we know all too well, you need to put an opponent away, you don’t want to let them hang around, because anything can happen—and it did tonight. Suddenly, it was a one possession game. Then, unbelievably, neither Johnson or Paige, the Tar Heels two best players, touched the ball nor did Coach Williams call a timeout (he obviously didn’t watch the end of the Duke-Virginia game) and Carolina’s offense came up empty on the last two crucial possessions.

Game, set, match, nightmares.

My buddy Johnny Tar Heel, who played one year at Carolina, contends that Coach K is worth ten points coaching against Roy Williams and that this year he even stopped watching Carolina play, because they cannot shoot the three—or as he says: “They can’t throw the ball at the ocean and hit water”. Turns out he was wrong, tonight Coach K was worth fifteen or so points and right, the Heels were  1-13 from behind the arc.

While Ingram and Allen were the television interviewees after the game, the other three players had indispensable roles: Marshall Plumlee had 11 contested points, 7 rebounds, and played smart, tough defense despite being saddled with four fouls for the last seven minutes; Luke Kennard, replacing Matt Jones, had 15 points (3—4 threes) and played solid defense; Derryck Thornton did not shoot well but had no turnovers, 2 assists,2 steals, and 1 block. He has developed into a very good defender (helped neutralize both London Perrantes & Marcus Paige) and blocked Joel Berry’s last shot of the game. Perhaps the most overlooked development of this team is that in these two wins against ranked opponents, their man-to-man defense has been the a critical factor. Tonight, despite being out rebounded 46-34, it held the Tar Heels to 27 second half points on 34% shooting—a huge improvement from the beginning of the season.

After the game, a crestfallen Roy Williams said he didn’t call a timeout on the last possessions because he relied on the principles he learned from his mentor, the legendary Dean Smith. He quickly added that he took full responsibility and wasn’t blaming Coach Smith. In all fairness, Mike Krzyzewski usually subscribes to the same philosophy that in critical situations, it is an advantage to trust your players to make the right decisions while the defense is disorganized and not set. However, in the Virginia game the ball was in the hands of a seemingly indecisive freshman Derryck Thornton, so Coach K called a timeout to set up a play to get the ball in the hands of Garson Allen or Brandon Ingram. It was a savvy call. Tonight the game was in the hands of Joel Berry not Marcus Paige. To quote The Dude  in  “The Big Lebowski”,  a legendary 1998 movie:  “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.”

Other Thoughts:

  • Bad news: Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Jones sprained his left ankle ”pretty badly”.
  • Good news: There is precedent for five being enough. In the late fifties, Duke was down to five useful players, (Bob Newcomb, Paul Schmidt, Bucky Allen, Bobby Jo Harris, and Bob  Vernon), who developed into an exciting, formidable team and were dubbed “The Flaming Five”. Perhaps, this team will be the reincarnation of “The Flaming Five”.
  • After the game, Bill from Bethesda emailed me an cogent comment: “Teams take on the personality of their coaches, and Duke is tough/gritty and Carolina is a little soft.”
  • What is the Euro-Step? An announcers term for too many long steps on a drive that isn’t called. (ref. Grayson Allen’s winning basket against Virginia.)
  • Grayson Allen made the Regional all American academic team.  Puts him in line for National honors.
  • Next Game: Saturday @ Louisville. Noon on ESPN.

Alan Adds:

The surrounding feelings induced by the (understatement comes here) “unlikely” victory was deliciously captured by Grayson in his postgame interview on TV.  The announcer’s first question was something like, “how did you win that game?”  Allen’s rueful sort of goofy smile said it all, as he shrugged, unable to explain.  I’m in a similar boat.  Carolina killed Duke.  It was plain to everyone watching.  The ‘Heels devoured the backboard; Bryce was unstoppable; Matt was injured after playing a scoreless 9 minutes (0-3; 0-1 from deep with 1 rebound); and Marshall picked up his fourth foul with more than 10 minutes left in the game.  From that point forward, commentators overused the word “grit”, but it was the correct modifier for “this Duke team”.  Other than Matt’s 9 minutes, and Chase Jeter’s 5 (a cameo 2 minute appearance in the first half; and 3 minutes in the second while Marshall sat on the bench after foul # 4), this year’s version of “The Flaming Five” went the distance.  Amazingly, Duke played with more energy, more intensity, and really efficient defense in the second half, especially toward the end of the game.  Grit:  Duke played through “tired” for what felt like a miraculous win.

Duke was seriously overwhelmed on the interior in the first half.  UNC retrieved 10 offensive boards to Duke’s 9 defensive rebounds; shot 18-30 from inside the arc (1-8 from deep; the Tar Heel weakness that cost them) and 7-8 from the line for 46 first half points.  Porous is a kind adjective for Duke’s first half defense.  Duke stayed in the game with offense.  Marshall and Luke had 20 of Duke’s 42 points (10 each).  Luke came off the bench for Matt and kept Duke in the game (4-6; 2-3 from deep).  Grayson, who played all 40 minutes had 13 in an offensive display (4-9; 1-3 and 4-5 from the line).  Brandon had a woeful shooting first half (2-10; 1-3; and 2-2 for 7 points), but was heroic on the boards (6; no one else had more than Marshall’s 3) and defending.

In the second half everything changed.  Duke held UNC to 27 second half points and, led by Marshall, Brandon and Grayson’s 5 second half rebounds, held the UNC even on the boards.  For reasons still to be determined, Bryce didn’t get the ball much in the last 10 minutes of the game (some speculated that he tired defending Brandon on the perimeter) while Duke played tenacious defense on the perimeter.  In fact, it was on the perimeter that Duke won and UNC lost this game.  Grayson and Thornton simply shut down the UNC backcourt with in-your-face defense.  For me the key matchup was Grayson and Paige.  They guarded each other for most of the game.  UNC depends on Paige as the veteran backcourt leader and clutch scorer.  In 35 minutes, Paige could only manage 2-10 from the field and a hang-your-head 0-5 from deep.  His 3-4 from the line gave him 7 points for the entire game.  He was also forced into 3 turnovers (3 assists) without a rebound or a steal.  Contrast that with Grayson’s 20 points, including 5 of Duke’s last 8 points to go with 7 boards and 2 steals in 40 minutes.

Coach K said that Duke was out of sync, forcing bad shots in the second half, after Thornton’s 3 drew Duke within 1 in the opening seconds, .  After the first media timeout, Coach K said Duke got good looks for the rest of the game.  It kept looking as though the ‘Heels would put the game out of reach.  With 6:49 to go, UNC stretched its lead to 8 but Duke’s grit kept the Devils in contact.   In the next 1:30, Brandon, who also played every second of the game, made 3 straight amazing hoops (suddenly the announcers were talking “green room” — please shut up) to bring Duke back within 2 with 5 minutes to go.  Bryce dunked (again) before Grayson scored on a traditional 3 point play to make it a 1 point game with 4:19 to play.  Paige went 1-2 from the line (bad miss at that juncture) to put Carolina up by 2 (71-69) with a few ticks under 4 minutes left.  Brandon and Berry traded missed 3s before Luke hit the shot of the game — a 3 from the corner with only 2:40 left to play — to give Duke a 72-71 lead.  It was Duke’s last field goal.  Carolina’s last points came with 2:08 left on (yet another) offensive rebound by Jackson, who made a slick pass to Meeks for the layup.  Down to “grit” for sure.  Brandon missed a jumper, which Carolina rebounded, but Marshall stole the ball from Paige with 1:15 to go.  Think about that sentence and that play!  Grayson was fouled by Berry with 1:09 to go.  Visions of Grayson on the line against Virginia somehow seeped into my head, but Grayson coolly sunk them both for the winning margin, with 1:09 to go.  With only 52 seconds left, Duke defended Meeks brilliantly, causing him to miss a layup that Grayson rebounded.  After Duke took 27 seconds off the clock, Grayson missed a desperation 3.  That left the game’s final play for Derryck Thornton to showcase his newly visible defensive prowess, shutting down Berry’s final attempt.

Marshall was quite amazing in the second half, even though he scored only 1-2 from the line after his 10 point (5-5) first half.  He re-entered the game with 4 fouls and 6:49 left to play.  Duke was down by 8 at that point.  Marshall shored up both Duke’s defense and rebounding, absolutely changing the game.  Amazingly, Carolina scored only 5 points in the last 6:49.  Which team was supposed to tire from lack of depth?

Brandon had an extraordinary game, with 13 second half points for a game total of 20 on 21 shots (7-21 from the field after 2-10 first half; 2-5 from deep and 4-4 from the line) to go with 10 boards, 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal against a single turnover while committing only 2 fouls.  He is a reliable ball handler who played outstanding defense in the second half while defending Duke’s backboard.  He is reminding me of Grant Hill in how much he provides to the team in so many different aspects of the game.  Finally, Derryck Thornton’s contributions have increased dramatically, but are still under the radar.  He played 32 minutes of scintillating defense.  He has also become the reliable glue on offense, even though his scoring seems to be decreasing (2-9; 1-4 without getting to the line for 5 points).  However, in addition to solid defense — he produced 2 steals and a block, he directed the offense.  Critically, he had 0 turnovers and 2 assists.  Duke’s growing chemistry has coincided with Derryck’s increased playing time and genuinely terrific defense.

Not many (and certainly not I) expected Duke to beat Louisville, Virginia and UNC (on the road) in succession.  It has been an amazing stretch in which we have been privileged to watch a team grow up in dramatic fashion.  It is possible that we will decide Duke must have a pretty good coach to accomplish that.  It does not get easier, especially with Matt looking as if the best that can be hoped for is a return to form by tournament time.  Louisville hosts the Devils at noon on Saturday.   But for a few minutes, let us savor one of Duke’s most amazing regular season wins ever.

Duke 64- Louisville 71 

While there may be no “good” losses, there are some that transcend a cold “L” in the loss column, because the players  demonstrated an extraordinary degree of toughness, heart, and character. After the game Coach K said that he is proud to coach this team, because they are a “damn good Duke team. They fight hard all the time to the very end” adding that Grayson Allen is “one of college basketball’s great warriors.” Today Allen (29 points, 3 assists, 1 steal) fouled out–more on that later– with four minutes to go.

The last four games against ranked opponents (Louisville, Virginia, North Carolina, & Louisville) have essentially been a late season mini-tournament. It would have been a tough test for any of the top five teams in the country, much less a young, depleted Duke team coming off four close, but disappointing losses. Two physical, emotionally draining games in a row are challenge enough, but four in a row are a conference scheduling error. Those efforts took the most toll on the very talented but youngest, skinniest player, Brandon Ingram, who after an extraordinary game against Carolina today had more turnovers (10) than points (8). As a matter of fact, no player, other than Allen, scored in double digits. So how did the Blue Devils team lead for about half of the middle part of the game?

“Next play” is Coach’s mantra. Today, it was “next man” as midway in the second half, Derryck Thornton joined Jefferson and Jones on the bench with what appeared to be a serious right shoulder injury. Luke Kennard was saddled with foul trouble for half the game. Chase Jeter was surprisingly effective with 5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, & 1 steal in 17 minutes. And Marshall Plumlee fought and hustled his way to 12 rebounds. Thornton returned late to defy the odds and score on a left handed drive, then a short jump shot. However, Louisville’s second half defense became very aggressive and physical as the refs let them play that way, the home crowd became energized, Duke went cold, Lee hit three threes, and Grayson was called for fouls four and five.

Now, about the refereeing. It has been inconsistent all year all over the league as the referees struggled with interpreting the new defensive contact rule. But today in the second half, the interpretation went retro as Louisville intensified its full court pressure. The result was that the Blue Devils did not adjust to how the game was being called. I have complained about how physically opponents have been allowed to play against Grayson Allen. Today, in  scramble for a loose ball, Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson swung an elbow and hit Grayson flush in the jaw, bloodying his mouth. Then, after the whistle had blown, Johnson started punching wildly at him defenseless on the floor. Fortunately, a teammate was pulling Johnson away and his fists just churned in the air. The player was assessed a technical but not ejected.(I guess the reasoning is that his punches did not connect.) On Allen’s fourth foul, he was running to receive an inbound pass and was knocked off balance by Lee into another Cardinal player. His fifth was on a drive. Allen had passed the ball and grazed the post defender, the very same Jaylen Johnson, whose feet were clearly not set.  To add insult to injury, Allen was called for a technical foul—Coach K already had received one—for objecting to the call.

Refereeing is difficult at this level. However, I have contended for some time that for whatever reason, Grayson has not been treated the same as other Wooden (only 10 each year) nominees usually are. And for sure, over the years the unwritten rule in both the NBA and college has been that star players are not fouled out of important games on marginal calls.

Other Comments:

  • Matt Jones warmed up but was not allowed to play by Coach K, who felt Matt could not effectively push off on the injured ankle and did not want to risk further injury. Amile Jefferson is still in a walking boot, because the foot is still painful.

 

  • If this game is any indication, Brandon Ingram is neither physically nor mentally ready for the physicality and daily grind of the grown man’s league—the NBA.

 

  • Grayson Allen proved that his winning shot against Virginia was no fluke by making an even more difficult shot from the same place on the floor. Only this time, he did not travel, was not on a forty-five degree angle to the floor but actually lying on the floor while throwing the ball in the basket (without the benefit of the backboard).

 

  • North Carolina bounced back today and trounced Miami at Chapel Hill.
  • At halftime of the Duke game, Roy Williams had an astonishing halftime interview. When asked about Duke scoring 42 points on his team, he said: “I don’t care if we gave up 42 points because we like a fast tempo … I don’t ever care how many points we give up as long as we score more. Think about that for a moment. Could you imagine Coach K saying that—even ever thinking that?

Alan Adds:

I firmly believe that this loss was as important to the growth of “this Duke team” as the three stunning conference wins that preceded it.  Duke was not less than heroic in its effort, but the challenging schedule, the limited roster, and the intensity of the Louisville defense in the last 10 minutes of the game were more than Duke could overcome.  But that heroic effort, in the face of increasing adversity, tells me that this team has grown up to be a formidable force for the post season.  While Coach K acknowledged he was disappointed with the loss, it was hard for him to conceal his admiration and respect that his team had earned from him with its effort in this game.  This is a different team from several weeks ago.

Coach K’s analysis seemed to me right on the money.  He discounted the physicality of the schedule (four games against ranked teams in 8 days) as having an effect.  “It was the physicality of the game not the week.  It was the most physical second half we have been in this year.  We were unable to respond at an appropriate level.  The physicality of the game did not lend itself to us (he cited as reasons the lack of depth, injuries and the difference in experience between the teams).”  While Bill, Brandon and I disagree about the physicality of the week not being an important factor, Coach K’s basic analysis was correct.  I believe this will be a further teaching moment where the team will learn to be stronger and better against the press.  The Louisville press ignited the Cardinals’ comeback.  Duke was pretty good about getting the ball in (Coach K designed several interesting ways to get the ball to Thornton, who was Duke’s key against the press) — not bad, but hardly great.  However, I do not remember Duke beating the press for an easy basket more than once.  If the offense doesn’t make the pressing team pay by scoring with a numbers advantage fast break when the ball gets beyond the pressing defenders, the press will be effective.  The press then can wear out the team being pressed, as Louisville did to Duke’s undermanned team.

I saw many positive signs, but perhaps the most important came from the play of two progressing freshmen — Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton.  Jeter, Duke’s only sub, played 17 minutes (6 in the first half) and was a positive surprise.  He scored 5 points on 1-1 from the field and (gasp!) 3-3 from the line.  In the short stint, he had 2 boards, an assist and a steal without a turnover.  This is really the first game that he made positive contributions.  What a plus for Duke if that continues, especially if Amile does not return for the post season.  Derryck’s value became obvious when he was injured.  Duke led by 54-49 when Thornton was forced out of the game with 9:08 left in the game.  By the time he returned with 3:55 left to play Duke was down 7, 66-59; Grayson had fouled out; and Duke was in deep trouble.  The fight that Duke exhibited in the last minutes are a great harbinger that this season has more left that will compel our attention.  Marshall, too, was heroic, grabbing 14 boards and playing with visible grit and determination.  What a great year he is having!

Duke had a terrible second half (really second half of the second half) scoring only 27 points and going 2-8 from deep (after 7-12 in the first half).  Duke had 11 turnovers in the second half (18 for the game; contrast that with 7 against UNC).  I attribute much of that to Louisville’s ramped up defensive pressure.  While the 3 point shooting fell off, so too did the percentage of open looks versus contested shots.  Because only Grayson was in double figures (19 first half points; 29 for the game), no one else’s statistics are impressive.  Luke and Brandon simply did not respond to the Louisville pressure.  In 36 minutes, Luke was 3-10 from the field; 1-5 from deep and a shocking 2-4 from the line for 9 points.  He grabbed only a single rebound, and fouled out at game’s end.  Brandon had a nightmare game (no talk of green room for him by Dickie V).  I think that is enough analysis of Brandon’s worst game of a brilliant year.

Finally, I disagree with Bill about the refereeing.   Refs are human, and like players and coaches, make mistakes.  Considering the speed of the game, “bad calls” must be tolerated as simply part of the game and can NEVER be used as an excuse, though it is certainly fair to point out bad calls (Grayson’s fifth foul is a graphic example). I do not believe the game was poorly officiated or effected the outcome of the game. I also hate the notion that the stature of the player (star or role player) has any Effect on the call.  Just for the record, Grayson fully deserved the technical that he received after fouling out.  Any lip reader could tell what he screamed at the referee.  While as Coach K said, in the circumstances of the call, Grayson’s reaction was understandable, it is still not what we want to teach or exhibit.

For me, this game was a very positive Duke experience even though, Duke’s 5th loss in the conference and 7th in the season.  Duke has Florida State at Cameron on Thursday; Pitt at Pitt next Sunday; and Wake at home on Tuesday before the final showdown at Cameron for senior night (will that be for Marshall and Amile, or just Marshall?) the following Saturday (3-5).  What a season!

Duke 80- Florida State 65

For a team that statistically ranks as the most efficient offense in college basketball, Duke looked anything but that in the first  minutes as they went 0-9,  then shot 51% for the rest of the game. However, either their defense was terrific or Florida State’s offense was terrible, because the Seminoles were not any better. Whatever the case, the young Seminoles, losers or four straight, in Cameron was just the tonic the Blue Devils needed after the playing ACC Murders’ Row (Louisville, Virginia, at UNC and at Louisville). The Seminoles have no big post presence and their young, athletic players showed little interest in playing defense.

The game progressed from pretty awful to pretty boring as Duke’s offense started cooking and Florida State never cut the lead to single digits in the final twenty-five minutes. The most significant development was that both players injured against Louisville –Matt Jones and Derryck Thornton —started and played well and Duke had  balanced scoring. Neither Grayson Allen (18 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) nor Brandon Ingram (16 points, 6 rebounds) shot a high percentage, but delivered when needed. Marshall Plumlee (my player of the game) had another double-double and leads the ACC in enthusiasm. Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter  played much more confidently. In fact, Chase made the most of his twelve minutes by drawing a two charges, grabbing 5 rebounds, throwing down a dunk, and blocking a shot—a performance that had MP3 chest bumping him ( yes, Chase survived) and the Cameron Crazies chanting his name. He looks and plays as if his time in the weight room is paying dividends.

Winning stats: Duke just 5 turnovers ( 18 against Louisville) vs. 15 for FS, 16 assists, 10 steals, +4 in threes, and +9 in free throws. The Blue Devils were in the bonus situation after ten minutes of each half and the double bonus with 6:30 to go in the game.

Other comments:

  • The Good: Grayson Allen is on pace to have the largest year-to- year increase in scoring average in ACC history as well as becoming the ninth player in school history to lead the team in scoring and assists. Be sure to read on for Allan’s excellent analysis of the team’s development.
  • The Bad: Grayson intentionally tripped an opponent for the second time this season. This time it was away from the action, not called but caught on camera. Well, the hate Duke social media exploded. As I have commented, opponents rough Allen up, it is not always called, historically Duke is thought to be white and “soft”. Allen looks like a choir boy but doesn’t  play like one. He is not a dirty player, just at times, an impulsive one. For sure, he must play smarter when he retaliates.
  • Coach K on Jeter: “You get minutes by earning them and in practice he has earned them. He has been a different kid the last three weeks and his teammates see that. . . . so his teammates get confidence in him.”
  • Nolan Smith,  ACC player of the year season in 2011, was added to the coaching staff earlier this week.
  • Kara Lawson did an terrific job as the color commentator. Her analysis of the game and assessment of the Duke players was as good as anyone has done this year. I was so impressed I looked up her bio. She is from the Washington area, attended Sidwell Friends School (the go-to school for Democratic president’s daughters), played at Tennessee where she majored in Economics, earned a gold medal on the 2008 Olympic team, and played in the WBA.

Next game: Sunday @ Pittsburg 2:00 on ESPN

Alan Adds:

Coach K is justly famous for understanding how to emphasize, promote and develop the concept of “team”.  Indeed, for me, watching Coach K nurture and grow a different group each year is one of the true delights of Duke basketball.  His genius is to understand the personality of each group and coach it uniquely.  This season — and especially the last five games — has been a classic example.  No need to document the hole left by Amile’s injury and the subsequent heart breaking end game failures that led Duke to 4-4 in the conference at the end of January.  But it is worth emphasizing how this group has come together to form an amazing and lovable team.   For example, this team has gone from defensively vulnerable to a defensive juggernaut.  The offense that K designed after Amile’s injury — 4 perimeter players around Marshall, featuring the unique talents of Brandon and Grayson — played to the unique strengths of the remaining players.  For me, it all coalesced in the first half against Florida State.  Duke scored 43 points in just over 16 minutes (Grayson scored Duke’s first points with 16:19 left).  After that Duke shot 50% with 10 assists (4 for Matt; 2 each for Grayson and Luke) against a single turnover.  Defensively, Duke forced 10 turnovers — 6 of them steals, and held the ’Noles to 30 points.  Duke held on firmly in the second half.  Coach K said his team was in great physical shape but got tired in the second half because of the emotion expended.  That emotion is what drives this team and makes it unique.

Chase Jeter has joined the team as an important contributor.  Marshall committed a second foul in the first half, giving Chase an opportunity to build on his valuable performance against Louisville.  He made the most of his opportunity, logging nine first half minutes in which he grabbed 5 boards, blocked a shot, took a charge, and scored 5 points (1-3; 1-2 from the line).  Coach K said that Chase has “gotten it” in the last 3 weeks and has earned his playing time in practice, and that he will play some in the future with Marshall (2 bigs together, as Duke did before Amile was injured).  Chase played 12 minutes (Marshall only 29) and took another charge while playing really good defense.   For me that now makes this team “The Magnificent Seven” .

The pillars, of course, are Brandon and Grayson, who each played the full 40 minutes and led the team in scoring, though neither shot particularly well.  Each of the others are much more than “role players; they each contribute substantially to make the whole better than the sum of the parts.  Grayson led the team in scoring with 18 on 20 shots (7-20; (3-10 from deep and 1-2 from the line), and played a wonderful floor game.  He handed out 5 assists (only 1 turnover), and making 3 steals with 3 boards.  Brandon followed with 16 points.  He was only 2-8, both 3s out of 5 attempts from deep for 6 in the first half.  He was awesome in the second half scoring 10 on 3-6 from the field and a crucial 4-5 from the line.  His defense is so good.  His length stops shooters on the perimeter and he is a force on the interior as well as a dynamic rebounder.  When Derryck’s foul trouble limited him to 6 second half minutes, Brandon (together with Matt) was the primary ball handler in Derryck’s absence.  The green room talk was back (after a short Louisville absence).  In spite of the amazing games that those endurance warriors played, my nomination for the team’s heart and soul for this game was Marshall Plumlee.  He is quietly having a superb season, in which he continues to improve.  He had 13 points to go with 10 boards and some terrific defense.  He and Brandon are now capably defending the paint and Duke’s defensive boards.

Duke is getting terrific upper class leadership.  Matt, who said he was 90% recovered, played 34 minutes of efficient basketball.  As always, he guards the best scorer on the opponent.  He is a reliable ball handler, a clutch shooter, and team leader.  A perfect example was his diving on the floor for a loose ball, getting the time out to keep possession, with less than a minute to go and the game completely in hand.  This team is swimming in heart.  Matt was 3-7 from deep (4-8 overall) scoring 11 while handing out 5 assists and grabbing 3 boards.  Coach K pointed out how much he was missed against Louisville defensively because Lee exploded offensively after Matt’s injury forced him from the game.  Luke also was again a valuable contributor in his 25 minutes.    He was 5-7 from inside the arc, though he missed both his long range attempts and a foul shot (2-3) for 12 points to go with 3 boards, 3 steals and 2 assists.  He too has the fiery spirit.  That is 5 double figure scorers; consider the balanced scoring — Grayson 18, Brandon 16, Marshall 13, Luke 12, Matt 11, Derryck 7, and Chase 3.  Derryck scored 5 in 14 first half minutes.  Foul trouble limited him to 2-2 from the line in his second half cameo before fouling out.  While he is still posting anemic assist numbers (0 for the game), he has improved dramatically on the defensive end and is critical to this team going forward.  The team is growing almost magically.

Duke has 3 games left in this cavalry charge for seedings in the ACC tournament.  The first four get double byes.  Louisville won’t count.  There are five other teams in contention.  UNC is 12-3, with 3 very tough games left; at UVA; Louisville, and at Duke.  Miami is 11-4; while UVA, Duke and Notre Dame are 10-5.  Great finish to the regular season coming up.

DUKE 62– PITT 76

Pitt came into this “Senior Day” game needing to punch their ticket for a trip to the NCAA Tournament. That they did– as well was punch holes in the Blue Devils man-to-man defense, pummel them in the paint, and shoot their lights out from beyond the arc. If it was a fight, it would have been stopped as a TKO well before the final buzzer sounded. Coach K said his players were  tired. He  could see it in the second half of the Florida State game. Welcome to college basketball 2016. After Xavier and Duke lost today, there were 15 losses and counting for Top 25 teams this week. 1,3,4,5,7,8,9(2x), 10,11,15,16,17,19, 23 lost.  Cameron victim Florida State rebounded to beat Notre Dame handily at home, Virginia edged Carolina at home. Notice a trend? However, there is little comfort in these numbers for Blue Devil fans, even though Alan predicted the outcome.

Although no one likes a loss, I am more concerned about the fallout from the overwrought, overblown media firestorm surrounding Grayson Allen’s recent tripping violation(s). They were sophomoric acts, but, hey, he is a sophomore who plays  for Duke, plays hard and well, sometimes sensationally well, and takes a lot of punishment. When he played AAU basketball, Grayson’s jersey was so torn from being grabbed and skidding on the floor, he needed a new one for each  game.

Anyone who watches sports knows that there is a lot of contact, some legal, mostly not, going on against high profile players that isn’t called. And that often the player who retaliates is the one called for the foul. For sure, the refs will be more diligent in monitoring Grayson and the opposing fans will be all over him. Let me state the obvious. If he didn’t play for Duke, neither transgression would have warranted a mention—if it bleeds, it leads is the journalistic truism. Let’s go to the videotape. After the last Louisville game I wrote: I have complained about how physically opponents have been allowed to play against Grayson Allen. Today, in  scramble for a loose ball, Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson swung an elbow and hit Grayson flush in the jaw, bloodying his mouth. Then, after the whistle had blown, Johnson started punching wildly at him defenseless on the floor. Fortunately, a teammate was pulling Johnson away and his fists just churned in the air. The player was assessed a technical but not ejected. (I guess the reasoning is that his punches did not connect.)  

I contend that the Allen extensive coverage is an example the journalistic and fan Duke double standard. If Jaylen Johnson wasn’t ejected on the spot or suspended later by the commissioner for elbowing Allen in the mouth drawing blood, then punching wildly at him, why wasn’t there a journalistic and social media hue and cry for the league to penalize Jaylen? Neither of Grayson’s retaliations  drew blood or caused any injury. It was just immature behavior and poor sportsmanship. Coach K apologized to  Miami  coach, Leonard Hamilton, had a heart-to-heart talk with Grayson after the game, and called the league commissioner the next morning to explain his what happened and how he had handled it. Grayson also issued a public apology. End of story? Not if you play for Duke. But players know what they are buying into when the decide to play for the Blue Devils—a lot of attention, a lot of scrutiny, a lot of fan hostility. This is not an effort to justify Grayson Allen’s actions, it just an effort to put it in perspective. Such notoriety just fueled the competitive fires of Laettner and JJ Redick and helped make them All-Americans. Only time will how this attention will affect Grayson Allen and the rest of the team.

Alan just emailed me that this was Coach K at his postgame presser: “The ACC did right by issuing its first ever reprimand rather than a suspension.  It was a Flagrant One foul.  Nobody gets suspended for a Flagrant One foul. That should be the end of it, but we are Duke, so we have to live with the enduring publicity.”

Next game: Wake Forest @ Cameron 8:00 ACC Network

Alan Adds:

I emailed Bill on Sunday morning that Pittsburg was “a trap game”.  It was somewhat obvious.  Conference road games are always tough, and one on your adversary’s senior night is especially tough.  For Pitt, the season was on the line, as Pitt had lost several winnable games and perceived it needed one big win or fail to make the NCAA tournament.  Last chance!  The crowd was in a frenzy.  Duke had played through an hellacious month.  After a bitter loss (gallant effort) against Louisville, which followed 3 amazing wins against ranked teams, a superb effort against Florida State after the Louisville loss , Duke had the season’s most important regular season game (UNC) coming up.  Grayson had been the center of a media storm, caused by his own dishonorable actions.  I wondered if Duke could summon the intense emotion that fueled the team through that scintillating (and surprising) stretch.

First, Pitt played an amazing game, creating intensity from the Panther tournament situation.  Pitt defended superbly and made pursuit of the ball its mantra.  Pitt doubled up Duke in rebounding, forced turnovers on Duke’s penetration attempts and shot the lights out on Robinson’s Senior night.  Second, as Coach K said, Duke played a game that was “out of character”.  All year long, Coach K pointed out, this team has played its butt off; “we did not play our butts off today.”  “In a long season, these things happen once in a while.  Thank god it’s only once in a while.”  Perhaps Coach K was remembering the 2010 team being blown out in DC by Georgetown in front of President Obama or last year’s beat down by Miami (90-74) in Cameron.  Oh yeah, Duke won the National Championship after experiencing those routes.  Coach K emphasized Duke’s lack of hunger and energy against the Panthers.  “They were hungry; we were not.  Which team would you rather have: hungry or not hungry?”

Pitt “did their thing, and we couldn’t stop it.  They have mobile bigs; we knew that Marshall would have an unusual guy to defend.”   Pitt’s mobile big drew Marshall away from the basket and scored efficiently.  Of course, that left Marshall defending on the perimeter and Duke’s back board very vulnerable.  In 28 minutes, Marshall had only 4 boards with 0 points and 0 blocks.  Duke was simply slaughtered off both backboards.  Coach K’s theme was “we have to move on” and get ready for Wake on Tuesday night.  This team was very tired.  It will be a physical and emotional test of “this Duke team” against Wake.  Duke is now a #5 seed (losing the double bye) in the ACC tournament (actually tied for 4th, but Notre Dame holds the tie breaker).   ND plays Miami and NC State while Duke plays Wake and UNC.  Duke could really use the double bye.  Time to move on from this aberrational nightmare.

DUKE 79 – WAKE FOREST 71

It’s a good thing that Duke, playing their third game in six days, was hosting Wake Forest, a team that hadn’t won in Cameron since 1997 because the way the Blue Devils played, it is doubtful they would have beaten most ACC teams. Marshall Plumlee (13 pts, 17 rebs.), Grayson Allen (30 pts, 5 rebs, 5 stls), and Coach K (burned 1,000 calories running the coaches box) were the only players who appeared to have much gas left in their tank.

The momentum of the close game turned when Brandon chased down Rondale Watson on a fast break and blocked his layup. Grayson patented dive saved the ball before it went out of bounds, flinging it to teammate Luke Kennard. Duke raced to the other end and found Ingram open from the right wing, where he nailed a 3-pointer tying the game at 56-56. Coach Mike Krzyzewski whipped off his suit jacket, turned cheerleader, and urged the already deafening Cameron Crazies to get even louder. Then he started working the sidelines with the energy and enthusiasm of a hyperactive Cameron Crazy. We have seen this scenario before: his players are embarrassed to see their coach working harder than they are. The result was a 12-2 run that was the breathing room for the Blue Devils to close out the game as Wake reverted to form and imploded during the final minutes.

While that was a rare exhilarating moment tonight in a gutsy win, it is difficult to see how this young, thin team goes far in either upcoming tournament. For the first time, Coach  Krzyzewski didn’t sound optimistic about Jefferson returning this year. And even if he does, how fit and effective could he be? This team will go as far as Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram carry them. Even though Grayson scored 30 points, his shooting was streaky, even missing five free throws. Matt Jones tweaked his bad ankle. All the freshmen appear to have hit the wall: Brandon was only 6-17 from the floor; Derryck ThorntonLuke Kennard and Jeter were a combined 2 for 12. Only the irrepressible, Energizer Man MP3 is at the top of his game. Perhaps, as the News Observer writer Laura Keeley suggests: “The best thing for this team is to lose early in the ACC Tournament and be fresh for the NCAA tournament.” Laura is Duke graduate who covered the team for The Chronicle, so she knows to leave that thought in a tweet, not say it in front of Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Other Thoughts:

  • I am a big fan of Grayson Allen both as a player and as a person and think it is a shame two brief acts of emotional, harmless retaliation are presently defining him. Last night, he was the POG as well as in control of his emotions. There were his usual damn the floor burns diving-for-all-loose-balls and daredevil drives to the basket plays. But late in the game, he was racing down the sidelines when a Wake player hip checked him out of bounds onto the press row table, breaking a sport writer’s laptop. It was a potentially volatile situation but Grayson just disengaged himself from the debris, checked his body parts, smiled, and returned to  the floor.
  • J Redick had some interesting thoughts on the role the media role plays in vilifying a Duke player:

“There seems to be this myth of this ‘Duke villain,’ and more often, the Duke villain is white … It goes from Danny Ferry to Christian Laettner to Steve Wojciechowski to Chris Collins to Mike Dunleavy to J.J. Redick to Greg Paulus to Jon Scheyer, and now it’s Grayson Allen. Grayson is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, so is Jon Scheyer, and Greg Paulus, as well as the others.

The media promotes the attitude that this guy is a villain. It was more in reaction to the hate that was already coming my way before I ever really did anything to warrant it. It’s almost like, every time there’s a player at Duke, the media says, ‘You should dislike this guy.’ I can remember being in school my senior year when Greg Paulus was a freshman, and there were numerous articles that year — ‘Greg Paulus is the next hated Duke player.’ The media, I guess, was choosing who we should hate. The media was saying, ‘This guy is the next guy.’”

Why, though? Why does there have to be a next in line? If you didn’t like Laettner, that’s fine. If you didn’t like Chris Collins, that’s fine. If you didn’t like me, that’s fine. Whatever. Does it really have to be like, every, Duke team, there has to be a guy you dislike?

“I get why there is some animosity toward Duke. I don’t necessarily agree with that. But I would hesitate, if I were some people, to anoint someone a villain. Don’t agree with it.”

Next game: Saturday, North Carolina 6:30 ESPN

Alan Adds:

It was almost as if the game were divided into four quarters.  Duke played well enough in the first and fourth quarters to win the game that felt closer than the final score.  What was warming was the way Duke rebounded from the disastrous Pitt defeat (Coach K said it was “an out of body experience” for the team) to show the grit and determination to take control of the game in the last 12 minutes, playing lights out defense.  Grayson shook off the fall-out from his “tripaholic” acts to play a superb game, that was dazzling in his will and intensity (not to mention 30 points).  What is concerning is how porous the defense was in the middle of the game (last part of the first half and first part of the second), Duke’s erratic shooting (10-35 from the field in the first half; 3-10 from deep), and uncharacteristic terrible foul shooting.  Duke was 25 of 38, with Marshall missing 6 in a row after hitting his first five (0-3 in the second half, the last one was the front end of a 1 and 1) and Grayson missing 5 (9-14).  Duke’s bench failed to score.  Matt tweaked his ankle again, and though he returned to the game, Coach K expressed some concern as to how the ankle would be today.

Last night, this team looked gassed to me.  This was Duke’s third game in the last 6 days, with only a day after the Pitt disaster.  In the stretch against UVA, UNC and Louisville, Chase Jeter began to emerge as a contributor.  Unfortunately, he returned to his early season form for the last two games.  Last night in 5 minutes, he committed 2 fouls without a rebound.  He was 1-2 from the line (the one bounced way high before unexpectedly dropping in).  Luke played 21 minutes without scoring — without taking a shot in the second half.  (0-4; 0-2 from 3land in the first half).  Duke was careful with the ball until the second half doldrums, when turnovers began to happen.  For the first 30 minutes, Derryck was scoreless (0-6; 0-2 from behind the arc), but just when you thought he had nothing left to contribute, he erupted for 2 crucial layups and 2-2 on critical foul shots.  Coach K relies on him, playing him 37 minutes.  He plays good on the ball defense.  He guarded Crawford who scored 15, but on 15 shots.  He also had 4 assists against a single turnover.  Still, he is not yet the elite point guard that would really elevate this team.

Marshall was a force, though Wake’s Thomas exposed his lack of defensive mobility.  Marshall grabbed 17 rebounds, many of them crucial and earned by sheer hustle and energy.  He had 13 points (8 in the first half) in 34 minutes, before fouling out with less than 2 minutes to go (could you read his lips after he committed his fifth foul?).  He embodies the spirit of this team — making up for any shortcomings by sheer hustle fueled by boundless energy.  Still missing foul shots is a sign of being tired.  The rest of the scoring was handled by Matt, Brandon, and the irrepressible Grayson.  Matt had a wonderfully efficient game, playing 27 minutes before fouling out.  In addition to being defensive glue, guarding taller players, he scored 14 on 9 shots (4-6 from deep and 2-2 from the line to go with 3 steals.  It might be that the two games he missed because of the ankle (most of UNC and Louisville) may have given him the needed rest to rejuvenate.  Brandon was heroic, but looks as if he is wearing down to me.  He is so talented that it is less obvious.  He has logged prodigious minutes all year and last night was no exception (39 minutes).  He pulled himself together for a game winning second half after a 3-12 first half from the floor.  He scored 15 points on 17 shots, but was absolutely heroic off the boards (11) with 3 steals, 2 assists, and a spectacular block at a crucial (game changing) moment.  Grayson put Duke on his back, willing Duke to the win.  In 37 minutes, he scored 30 on 16 shots (7-16; 2-5 from deep).  He drove and drove and drove.  He was rewarded with 19 free throws, which even though he missed an extraordinary 5, made the difference in the game.  He also had 5 steals and 5 boards.  He was quite simply awesome!

It seemed to me that Duke gets lax on defense when there is a perception of foul trouble in the offing.  With 12 minutes left, Duke started to clamp down on defense, and to get the hustle balls (one led to a Grayson 3 and one to a Matt 3).  But in truth, the last 12 minutes was caused as much by Wake’s terrible play as Duke’s turnaround.  When evaluating this game, let us not forget just how truly bad the Deacons are.  They are not without talent, but they are careless with the ball and have jaw dropping lapses.  There is a reason that Wake has only won a single conference game besides beating (as every team has done) BC.

Coach K said a decision on whether Amile will return this year is imminent.  He reported that Amile can move side to side without pain, but cannot run fluidly yet.  Coach K thinks if he does not play, he will be awarded a red shirt and can play next season.  Let’s see whether several days of rest can restore “this Duke team” to being competitive in the last home game of the season (Senior night for Marshall; Amile?)

DUKE 72 – NORTH CAROLINA 76 

There is no way this game should have been this close. Duke shot 37 percent from the field, was outrebounded 64-29, and missed 6 of 15 free throws. It was the third game in a row that they shot under 40 percent from the field. You can get away with that against a Wake Forest but not a North Carolina or even a Pitt.

The Blue Devils chances took a big hit when Brandon Ingram got into early foul trouble and never got out of it. He had to sit out eleven minutes of the first half, then received his third a minute into the second half and fourth with ten minutes to play. He never got into any offensive rhythm, only scoring 10 points. Fortunately, Luke Kennard picked up some of the scoring slack with 20 points, but no one else other than Grayson Allen was in double digits. Allen had 29 points, but it took 28 shots and even though he attacked the basket in his usual physical, fearless manner, the referees only sent him to the foul line one time. At least three times, UNC scored quickly in a five-on-four situation after Allen went to the floor without the benefit of a foul call. (Memo to the press: Duke doesn’t always get all the calls.) For this team to win, it has to hit threes, which they did tonight(13 vs. 4) AND score more points than their opponent at the free throw line, which they did not (9-15 vs. 20-23). Fortunately (except at the free throw line), Carolina shot just as poorly—but theirs were at much closer range. And then there was the rebounding disparity.

Duke was never ahead and when they made a run to get close or tie the score, the Tar Heels always responded. North Carolina is a much bigger, much deeper, and more mature team that deserved t0 win tonight. My buddy Johnny Tar Heel just texted me: “We were very lucky. K is a magician.”

For sure, Mike Krzyzewski can coach and this year is one of his best jobs. However, this game left more questions than answers for both teams. Coach K can’t coach players who aren’t there and Coach Williams has to coach players who are there but don’t always mentally or physically show up. It’s debatable who has the more frustrating job but not which team has more tournament upside. Next year will be another story as Duke had a full complement of recruits that rivals the Okafor, Jones, Winslow, Allen class—as well as Amile Jefferson (see below).

Other Comments:

  • Grayson Allen has been named as a finalist for the Wooden Player of the year award as well as for both the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award and Oscar Robertson Trophy.
  • Bad news for this year; good news for next year: Duke announced before the game that on the advice of team doctors senior forward Amile Jefferson would miss the rest of the season as his broken right foot has not fully healed. The school will petition the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver that would allow Jefferson to return next year.
  • Duke went to a combination of zones, which were effective, in the second half. However, without Jefferson underneath, I don’t get putting Ingram on top of the 1-3-1. He is the best big defender and rebounder Duke has.
  • John Feinstein, the Duke grad who is the bestselling sports author of all time, has a new book “The Legends Club”– Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and the Story of an Epic College Basketball Rivalry. John’s books are always an easy read. They are like having a one sided conversation with John. I have met them both and I can tell you he is right up there with the just deceased local novelist Pat “The Prince of Tides” Conroy (His wife: “The water is wide and he hasnow passed over.”) as compelling, knowledgeable story tellers. This is an intimate narrative, because he loves basketball and was able to develop a personal relationship with the two younger coaches before they became famous. Dean took more time but that is one of the more interesting aspects of the book. Over his career, John has taken copious notes, which he has kept, but he also intersperses myriads of interviews with those who have survived Dean and Jim. If you are a Tobacco Road basketball fan—no matter what school—this is a must read!

Alan Adds:

Early on Saturday here’s what I emailed to Bill: “I have a really bad feeling about the game tonight, but still some hope.  I went back and re-read our DBP of the first Carolina game.  UNC is so much better, huge and skilled on the interior, deep and experienced.  Duke seems to be running on fumes, with Luke and Derryck both dropping off sharply (especially in scoring).  UNC will be fueled by revenge at having the game essentially stolen from them at the Dean Dome.  I bet the spread favors UNC by a substantial margin.  Still I have hope because: 1) it is in Cameron (though memories of 2012 keep haunting this scene); 2) Senior night for Marshall; Amile??]; 3) Just when you think this team is done, it rises from the dead like Rasputin or You Know Who; and 4) UNC seems to have a character flaw that could, as in the Dean Dome, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  So, I am hopeful.

It turned out to be a pretty accurate analysis, except that uncharacteristically the ‘heels did not “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” when they had the opportunity to do so.  Instead, 3 different ‘heels made 8 straight foul shots to thwart Duke’s last desperate efforts.  The first three shooters for the ‘heels went to the line for the front end of 1 and 1s.  A miss on any of the first ones would have been…but it was not to be.  With 3:22 left in the game, UNC went up by 9 at 68-59 on a layup by Berry.  It was UNC’s last field goal, and set the scene for Duke’s last Rasputin-like effort.  Grayson hit a 3 and then scored on a dunk to make it 68-64 with 53 seconds left.  Carolina missed, but Pinson grabbed the offensive rebound (like a recurring nightmare) and was fouled by Marshall.  He made them both with 26 seconds left (70-64).  Grayson hit another 3 with 17 seconds left — that’s 8 straight points in 2 and a half minutes (70-67).  Berry made both free throws (72-67 with 17 seconds left) before Luke hit a 3 from the corner with 9 seconds left (72-70).  Paige made  2 with 9 seconds left (74-70) before Marshall made a dunk (74-72 with 4 seconds left).  Paige made the final 2 free throws with 1.8 left for the final margin.

Duke had only 3 scorers in the second half to make the push.  [Marshall made a field goal and a foul shot — finally, after 4 misses in the first half; making 10 straight misses going back to the Wake game — for 3 points].  Grayson scored 17 in the second half (6-14; 4-6 from deep; 1-2 from the line); Luke had 10 (20 for the game), and Brandon had 10 in the half even though he could not make his 3s (3-11; 1-5; 3-4).  He played the whole 20 minutes, the last 10 with 4 fouls.  He took only one shot in the first half and did not score. Thornton played only 3 minutes in the second half; I speculate that Coach K knew he needed 3 point shooters, and Derryck has been in a shooting slump for a while.  The coach went with Matt (18 minutes), Luke (19), Brandon (20), Marshall (20) and Grayson (20).  Chase got 0 minutes in the second half.

It will be easier on my soul if I omit any discussion of rebounding, except to say that Carolina out rebounded Duke 30-10 in the first half (Brandon got only a single board in his 9 minutes) and 34-19 in the second (Brandon corralled 6).  Not much else to say, except “Wait Till Next Year” when Duke brings in Tatum, Giles and (hopefully) Amile returns.  Duke’s usually balanced scoring was fatally unbalanced.  Jeter failed to score in 7 minutes.  Derryck hit a late 3 in the second half for his only points in just 15 minutes (1-4 from the field) with 1 assist and1 turnover, 0 rebounds and a steal.  Matt played 36 minutes, scoring 5 in the first half but 0 in the second (2-8; 1-7 from deep without a foul shot attempt).  Marshall scored only 5 in his 37 minutes with just 9 boards.  In his 16 first half minutes, Marshall was 0-4 from the line with a single hoop.  So that left the load to Grayson and Luke.  Grayson was again heroic (11-28; 6-11 and 1-2 from the line) in 40 minutes (he fouled out with only seconds to go).  But the key stat, which is a credit to Carolina’s defense is that Grayson was only 5-17 from inside the arc and did not draw fouls as he usually does.  Carolina lost the first game on the perimeter; the Carolina guards did a much better job this time in Cameron.  Luke returned to form after missing his first few (after going scoreless in a recent game).  In 36 minutes he was 6-13; 4-9 from deep and 4-4 from the line for 20 points.  He also contributed 3 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals against 0 turnovers and only 2 fouls.  He was a star.

Duke is the 5th seed in the ACC tournament, meaning the loss makes Duke play an extra game on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s game between Wake and NC State.  If Duke wins on Wednesday, the quarterfinal matchup will be with Notre Dame on Thursday.  Though 7 is the most conference losses Duke has suffered since the 2006-7 season, this has proven to be a lovable and admirable team.  In hindsight, a season where Duke would compete for conference and national honors was lost when Amile was lost.  Shades of Kyrie and Ryan.  Still post-season challenges are in front of “this Duke team”.  Next Play.

                                                           ACC TOURNAMENT

DUKE 92 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE 89 

This game looked more like a summer league game at North Carolina Central in Durham than an ACC Tournament game in Washington, DC. Offense not defense was the specialty of the day  as  both teams finished shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point range. During our half time call, Alan pointed out that the 53-50 score was going just as Coach K had scripted it:  Since State had played a close, enervating game last night, stay out of foul trouble by letting the Pack run and shoot themselves into exhaustion in the first thirty minutes, then ratchet up the defense in the last ten minutes and close the game out on an exhausted team.

This strategy worked like a charm until  Marshall Plumlee had his nose broken and the Devils squandered a nine point lead. After MP3 (17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) had the blood flow contained and his nose straightened, he returned to play an heroic final five minutes making winning plays on both offense and defense to save the day and an embarrassing collapse.

Luke Kennard started in place of Thornton and scored 20 points. Brandon Ingram gave the NBA scouts an eye full by scoring 19 first half points before twisting his ankle. Grayson Allen had had 19 points 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and another ill-advised technical. Matt Jones has not been the same player since he injured his ankle. Chase Jeter had eight productive minutes.

Other Thoughts:

  • Cat Barbour was virtually unstoppable. If Duke had him at the point, the Blue Devils would be a Final Four team.
  • John Feinstein, the Duke grad who is the bestselling sports author of all time, has a new book “The Legends Club”– Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and the Story of an Epic College Basketball Rivalry. I am reading it. If you are a Duke, UNC, or State fan, it is a must read!
  • Here is John on the ACC expansion: “Expansion has been an ongoing embarrassment for the ACC. On Tuesday, during those thrilling games involving the bottom four seeds, they curtained off the upper deck of Verizon Center to try to hide the emptiness of the building. (The crowd was announced at 7,000, which may have been counting by twos.) Next year the tournament goes to Brooklyn — Brooklyn?No doubt fans from the South will be thrilled with the notion of riding the subway to Barclays Center since there is zero parking there and with the prices they will pay for New York hotels.”

Next game: Notre Dame Thursday @2:00 ESPN

Alan Adds:

It is undeniably difficult to beat another team three times in a season, but Duke accomplished that with its third hard fought win over NC State this season.  It was an entertaining game with offensive fireworks in the first half that were astounding.  As Coach K pointed out, many players were making difficult shots all over the court.  For sure the defense lacked intensity, but the offensive outburst was more about terrific offensive basketball by both teams.  At the half, I told Bill that I thought State would tire in the later stages of the second half; it was their third game in 5 days, and the Wolfpack is just as thin as the Blue Devils.  The State bench played only 25 minutes; Duke’s bench played 27 (Chase played 8 and Derryck, who has been replaced by Kennard in the starting lineup, played 19).  Coach K was adamant in the press conference that he was not worried about Duke’s conditioning or getting tired; rather, his greatest concern is Duke getting in foul trouble.  I also told Bill that Duke was avoiding foul trouble and would be more effective on the defensive end at game’s end.  I think both Duke’s increased defensive intensity and State’s fatigue tipped a close game to the Blue Devil win column.

Coach K said it is the best Duke has played offensively in three weeks, and that “this Duke team” had become a really good team in the last five weeks.  Contributions came from Brandon (scoring only in the first half, but solid defense and great rebounding in the second half), Grayson, Luke, Chase and Derryck.  Only Matt Jones seemed out of sync and has since even before he sprained his ankle against Carolina.  Matt played 27 minutes, scoring a 3 pointer early for his only points in the game (1-5; 1-3 from deep and again did not get to the free throw line).  He had a rebound in each half.  I don’t think he has fully recovered, and it shows in his defense.  Ingram played the entire game with only a single 3 point goal in the second half (1-6; 1-2), but with 4 boards, 3 assists, a block in that stanza.  When Brandon went cold in the second half, Grayson got hot.  In 39 minutes, he scored 19 (14 in the second half) to go with 6 assists (5 in the first half when he was passing more than shooting).  Luke took more Duke shots than any player (10-19; Grayson and Brandon took 14 shots each), but still cannot find his 3 point shot (2-7), and missed his only free throw that would have sealed the game.  He was a star in his 35 minutes.

Marshall, however, was Duke’s most valuable player in this game.  He logged 32 minutes and played some beautiful and tough basketball.  His play when he returned to the game after he (actually is was Matt Jones’s elbow) broke his nose was the emotional catalyst for Duke’s win.  With the game tied at 89, Marshall grabbed a tough offensive rebound after a miss by Brandon and stuffed the put back as he was fouled.  He not only made the foul shot (they were the last points in the game), but hustled back on defense to stop Barber’s drive and create the steal with which Grayson is credited.  Marshall, in his senior year, has been so special for this team.  Chase contributed with 5 points and 3 boards in 8 minutes (more points than either Matt or Derryck scored).  He played well, but was only 1-3 from the foul line and committed 2 fouls.  Duke’s foul shooting improved in the second half (5-10 in the first half) to 14-22.  Derryck Thornton scored his 4 points in the first half on two nice drives to the basket.  He missed his only jumper.  He played 19 minutes (only 8 in the second half).

Duke is back at it tomorrow in the second afternoon game on ESPN against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.  A chance for revenge and an appearance in the Semi-finals.

DUKE  93 –  UNC WILMINGTON 85

Duke played the first half this afternoon like they did in the second half of the loss to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament. Only two rare threes at the end of the half kept the score semi-embarrassing. I don’t know what Coach K said at halftime but apparently Lt. Marshall Plumlee ripped off his face mask, threw it across the room and shouted: “ I’ve got you. Follow me fellas.” Marshall, who played like Clark Kent in the first half, ran out of the locker room / phone booth and played like Superman, flying all over the floor rejecting shots and above the rim jamming in passes and misses as his platoon overwhelmed the Seahawks with a 14-0 run. That surge was the working margin the Blue Devils needed to prevail against the feisty but undersized Seahawks, even though a slippery floor caused Allen two unforced turnovers to keep the score closer than it should have been late in the game. That same wet spot caused Baylor a turnover on their last potentially tying possession.

It was a good thing that Plumlee (23 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) stepped into the breach, because only Grayson Allen (23 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) and Brandon Ingram (20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) produced their normal numbers. Luke Kennard is still a mystifyingly inconsistent freshman (just when you think he has solved the riddle, he plays like he doesn’t know the question) and Matt Jones is either injured or in a slump, because he is not nearly as efficient as last year. Off the bench, Thornton played well and Jeter is no longer a liability. To advance, the Blue Devils need more than two or three players to be hitting on all cylinders.

Other Thoughts:

Ø  To no one’s surprise, Coach K announced that Brandon Ingram is a one and done player. As talented as he is, Brandon is a poster player for needing another year or so in college to physically and mentally mature and get the playing time to work on his game against contemporaries in real time.

Ø  It’s a good thing that Duke went to the foul line 43 times and hit 31, because the Seahawks had 7 more threes, which is a good indication how poorly they were shooting.

Ø  Duke beat Yale by 19 late last year but that was in Cameron with Amile Jefferson. (Suggestion: Please use the 1-3-1 again but with Brandon not on top some of the time.)

Ø  The “Hate Duke” journalistic campaign has reached an absurd crescendo. The Wall Street Journal: “The Complicated Politics of Hating Duke” by a UNC grad; The Washington Post: “The Mount Rushmore of hated Duke players” with pictures; Fox Sports:  “Duke vs. Yale is the worst. Who do you possibly root for?”; Yahoo: “Love Duke? Hate Duke? How do Americans really feel?”  And those are just the articles I stumbled upon.

Next Game: Yale Saturday 2:40 CBS

Alan Adds:

Before the UNC-W game, I texted Bill as follows:  2012 – Lehigh; 2014 – Mercer; 2016 – ?.  What was different?  I watched this game!  I now must admit that for the combined reasons of lascivious activity and overconfidence, I did not watch either the Lehigh or Mercer games.  (My apologies, Coach K; won’t happen again!).  Wilmington played well and was justly praised by Coach K, who pointed out how together Wilmington played and that as double champions of their league (regular season and tournament) a game like this is “what the NCAA tournament is all about.”  Duke gave up 43 points in the first half and 42 in the closing stanza.  Not good defense in either half.  But Duke scored 53 in the second half (44 of those points coming from Marshall, 19 on 7-8 from the field and 5-6 from the line; Grayson 16 including 10-11 from the line — to go with 7 boards (in the half), and 3 assists; and Brandon, 9.  In the second half, Matt scored 5 while Chase (2-2 from the line) and Derryck, who made his only shot on a circus drive, each scored 2.

Coach K said he thought Duke was nervous as the game opened and that Wilmington played harder than Duke in the first half, but not in the second half.  Coach K said that Duke had two of the nation’s most talented players in Grayson and Brandon, but Marshall was most important to the team.  “When he plays well, we have a chance to win; when he just plays ok, we do not.”  He played just ok in the first half, but did transform at half time (the turning point in the game was Marshall taking the mask off). Marshall has to learn not to pace himself, said Coach K.  He did not yesterday.  After his team transforming outburst in the first three minutes of the second half, he asked to sub out of the game.  Coach K said that is the first time all year he has done so.  He played 29 minutes before fouling out with a gaudy stat line and increased stature.  Coach K also pointed out that he could rest Marshall because of Chase’s development.  “Until 3 or 4 weeks ago, when Marshall came out there was a void.  But in the last 3-4 weeks Chase has been filling that void.  Duke is better because Chase gives Marshall adequate back up for a few minutes at a time.  Chase played 11 minutes, scoring 5 (1-1 from the field), but going 1-3 from the line in the first half (2-2 at crunch time in the closing session).  He had 2 boards and a block.

Grayson played the entire game (minus a few seconds at the end) contributing an amazing 10 boards and 5 assists (worth repeating) to go with his 15-17 from the line.  In short, Grayson is astounding even when he does not shoot well (4-12 from the field and 0-4 from behind the arc).  His speed is amazing.  Dribbling with the ball he was outdistancing pursuing defenders while shredding the press.  Brandon played just as well even though his stats were less gaudy (5-10 from the foul line).  In 39 minutes he was 7-12 from the field (1-2 from deep) to go with 9 boards (1 more than Marshall and 1 less than Grayson), 3 assists and 2 blocks.  He has become a reliable defender.  Coach K pointed out that when Brandon has not played well it is because he is in foul trouble.  ACC teams posted him up when Duke was defending, in the attempt to get him in foul trouble.  Wilmington played four guards and could not do that.  Brandon was superb overall with 10 points in the first half and 9 in the second.

Coach K lauded Derryck because of his ball handling against the Wilmington press.  In 24 minutes he scored 5, had 2 assists against a single turnover and had a key block.  Coach K made what I thought was a telling point — Brandon, Derryck and Chase are still only 18 years old.  Each is getting better, but they (and Duke) are very young.  He pointed out that Duke won because of the 23 year old (Marshall).  Duke had only 10 turnovers and kept driving and getting fouled; that is what eventually won the game.  A concern going forward is the play of Luke Kennard.  After a scoreless game against Notre Dame, he had a scoreless second half in this one.  In 18 first half minutes he scored all 5 of his points (2-7 from the field; 1-2 from deep without getting to the foul line).  In the second half, he played 12 minutes and missed both of his shots.  Duke needs him to break out of his slump because when he has been good, he has been very good.

Yale beat Baylor (as I predicted); they are a better basketball team, even if Baylor had better athletes, and perhaps even better basketball players.  I dug out what I had written after Duke beat Yale in November (when Duke had Amile and Yale had its starting point guard and captain, no longer in school or on the team), “If you love the game of basketball, it was hard not to completely admire Yale’s opening salvo against Duke at Cameron.  The Bulldogs simply played beautiful basketball in carving up the Duke man to man defense.  It could have been an offensive coaching clinic (with Duke defenders playing the role of the Washington Generals!).”    Duke could not keep Mason out of the paint (Neither could Baylor; Mason scored 31 yesterday), and so played a lot of 1-3-1 with Brandon on top, Amile in the middle and Marshall under the basket.  Both teams are quite different now.  It should be an interesting game.  A Duke win and a berth in the Sweet 16 would be very satisfying.

DUKE 71 – YALE 64 

This game was a microcosm of the season in forty minutes. When these Blue Devils are playing good defense, they play good offense and can beat anyone. But when they are not playing good defense, they can lose to anyone. In the first twenty minutes Grayson Allen almost outscored Yale by himself as Duke shot threes (9-15) like the Golden State Warriors and took a 48-23 lead into the locker room. In the second half, the Blue Devils understandably went to their “prevent offense” meant to protect their lead by taking time off the clock and limiting Yale’s possessions and probability to close the gap. The unintended consequence was that their defensive metabolism also slowed down and Yale, to their credit, took advantage, started making plays, and became energized—as did the Providence pro Yale crowd.

Holy Collapse, Dickie V! This is how close the game became: Duke’s enormous lead shrunk to 7 with twelve minutes left and to 3 with thirty-nine seconds left. However,  Coach K did his Hall-of-Fame best to rally his team, finally even succumbing to a modified 1-3-1 zone with Brandon on top. It created some consternation for the Bulldog offense and resulted in a few critical turnovers—all of which somewhat neutralized Yale’s offensive momentum. The bottom line is that the young guns –Ingram, Allen, Kennard, plus grey beard Plumlee (10 rebounds & 5 blocks) made offensive and defensive plays and free throws (14-16 for the game) to save an embarrassing collapse that, undoubtedly, would live in CBS/NCAA video loop history as a “not-so-shining moment” counter balance to Laettner’s iconic “one shining moment” shot against Kentucky.

The good news is that instead of cruising to a lopsided victory and thinking they were channeling last year’s team NCAA Tournament success, the players are reminded once again that in order to beat top teams, they must play defense most of the forty minutes at efficient, full speed not cruise control. The inconsistency of winning the first half 48-25 and losing the second half 23-39 is the reason Notre Dame beat them in the ACC Tournament and that UNC-Wilmington beat them by three in the first half of the first round. In addition, experiencing the pressure of the game being on the line in the last minutes with the crowd roaring for an opponent team is a priceless, coming-of-age experience for all the young players. Sophomore Grayson Allen with 29, freshman Brandon Ingram with 25 and freshman Luke Kennard with 13, scored 67 of Duke’s 71 points. Freshman Thornton contributed 2 points, 5 assists &  1 steal and Chase Jeter 2 rebounds, 1 block. The Blue Devils needed all of it.

A teachable moment best burned into a players hard drive.

Other Thoughts:

  • After practice Friday Coach John Scheyer had Brandon Ingram, who went 5-10 the day before, shoot 100 free throw. He hit 67 in a row before missing one.
  • Miami, DukeVirginiaand North Carolina all won on Saturday, giving the ACC four teams in the Sweet Sixteen with the potential to add Syracuse and Notre Dame, who play Sunday, to that group. As a league, the ACC is 10-1 in the NCAA Tournament through Saturday’s games. If you go back to the start of the 2015 tournament, the ACC is 27-6 with one national title thanks to Duke’s win in Indianapolis. Miami, DukeVirginia and North Carolina all won on Saturday, giving the ACC four teams in the Sweet Sixteen with the potential to add Syracuse and Notre Dame, who play Sunday, to that group.
  • This was a record 90th tournament victory for Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. In addition, he has 30 tournament appearances, 5 national championships, back-to-back titles in 1991 & 1992, 12 Final Fours, 66 tournament wins, and a .776 winning percentage.  Not a bad resume.

Next game: Winner  #1 Oregon – St. Joe

Alan Adds:

Duke has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with wins over the 13th seed and the 12th seed; neither of them easy.   In fact, for Duke fans the second half against Yale was excruciating.  Consider that at the 16:29 mark, Duke led 54-32 lead on a tip in by Brandon.  Only 4 minutes later (with 11: 17 left), Duke still had 54, but Yale had cut the lead to 7 (54-47).   Duke stopped the bleeding for a while.  Back in November, Duke had overcome Yale when it unveiled a 1-3-1 zone with Brandon at the top (But with Amile and Marshall also in the zone), which completely flummoxed the Bulldogs then.  With the man to man defense suddenly dramatically ineffective, Coach K went back to the 1-3-1 with Brandon at the top.  It stabilized the game and kept Duke’s lead around 3 possessions.  Coach K praised Brandon’s defense in the zone as “magnificent”.  He shaded Mason and caused Yale’s confusion.  He got deflections. “You can’t practice against that zone unless you have someone with a 7’3” wingspan at the top”, said Coach K.  Coach K’s insight was Duke’s seemingly efficient man to man defense in the first half was “fool’s gold”.  Their very good shooters were simply missing open shots.  They didn’t miss those shots in the second half.  Coach K had trepidations at the end of the first half when he saw the intensity drain from Duke for the last few minutes (Yale scored 6 at the end of the first half).  Grayson hit another 3, and Coach K described him as looking and being in la-la land after it.  He was so success-smitten that he didn’t know who he was guarding (giving up the points) and then committed a very stupid foul.   Coach K described that as “playing young”.

Yale wasn’t giving up.  Coach K was thoughtful about the tournament and the game.  Paraphrasing what he said: The tournament is crazy.  Look at all the upsets.  It is the mind set of every underdog that miracles happen.  We can make one happen too.  Teams never give up because of the  belief they too can create the miracle.  That mindset, he said, actually does produce miracles and it is what makes the tournament so magnificent.   It is the players’ and team’s efforts that are not less than magnificent.  You don’t face this during the year.  He pointed out the attitude produces not only miracles but tough responses, which came from his Duke team yesterday.

THE MOMENT:  With 41 seconds to go and Duke leading by 6, Kennard fouled Sears, who made the first one.  He missed the second but Yale got the tip in (Sherrard got credit, but Marshall actually tipped it).  Yale was under the limit and so had to foul in order to send Duke to the line.  With 39 seconds to go, Brandon stepped to the line for a one and one.  If he missed, Yale would have the ball with a chance to tie.  At the press conference, Brandon was asked what was going through his mind as he stepped to the line.  “My mind just went back to practice.  Coach Scheyer made me shoot 100 free throws after practice on the court after I had gone 5-10 against Wilmington.  He told me that it was likely I would be there at the end of close games.”  Brandon made 67 in a row before he missed in practice.  He made both in the game, and Yale never again was within one possession of the tie.   “Keep listening to Coach Scheyer”, said Coach K as the student athletes left the press conference.

The second half was excruciating because the Duke offense fell apart.  Neither Marshall (0 shots), Derryck (0-2), Matt (0-2) nor Chase (0 shots) scored in the second half.  Luke did not have a field goal (0-2), though he made 2 crucial foul shots down the stretch.  Grayson only took 4 shots in the half (2-4; 1-2 from deep) and made 2 crucial foul shots to ice the game for 7 points.  The offense was all Brandon.  Duke was 6-22 from the field; Brandon was 4-13 (1-4 from deep, but what a one it was!)  and 5-7 from the line for 14 second half points.  He is something!  Both he and Grayson played 40 minutes; Luke 38.  Marshall played 31 and Chase the rest, but Duke had only 2 points from the center position.  Matt had a subpar offensive game, playing only 20 minutes and failing to score (0-4; 0-2 from deep) before fouling out.  However, he and Derryck played savage defense against Yale’s star, Mason, who had scored 31 against Baylor.  Derryck played 23 minutes of valuable basketball.  Mason was held to 8 points (2-12) though he passed like a master to keep the Yale offense moving.  Derryck was 1-2 for 2 points, but his real value was as a ball handler.  He handed out 5 assists against only a single turnover.  He is growing, and at just the right time.  So is Chase.

This was a positive experience for Duke in my opinion.  There is no way to simulate in practice the pressure of a game like this.  Grayson said, “We faced this in the Notre Dame game when we lost a 16 point lead.  We didn’t come together then.  Tonight we knew we had to keep our poise and we came together.”

Next game is Thursday evening in Anaheim in the Sweet 16.

DUKE 68– OREGON 82 

Full disclosure: The fact that my wife not only went to the University of Oregon but also was a cheerleader and is my proof reader had no influence on what I am about to write. Oregon was the deeper, more athletic team with Casey Benson, a terrific point guard (8 assists, 1 turnover,  2 threes to jump start the second half) and a rare combination of vertical and lateral defensiveness. They played at the top of their game and that had a lot to do why Duke did not. Nothing demonstrated  this more than these two events: Plumlee committing two unnecessary fouls in the first five minutes and then with only nine seconds left in the game and the shot clock  about to run out, for the second time  guard  Dillon Brooks just casually threw up a prayer that went in. It was that kind of game, much like the 2011 Sweet Sixteen when Derrick Williams and Arizona’s seldom seen West Coast players showed the country how good they were. Only this time, it seemed like there several Derrick Williams playing for Oregon. Duke was playing catch-up the whole game and never really did. It was not Duke’s night. They shot 32% from three point land vs. 44% for Oregon.

The Blue Devils played hard but Oregon had the talent and the savvy to exploit the Duke weaknesses and negate their strengths. It is no surprise that tonight youth and defense were the Blue Devil’s Achilles Heel. The Ducks had 22 assists to Duke’s 10 and limited Duke to 26 for 59 from the floor. Ingram and Kennard, who had a 13 & 11 double-double, had good games but Jones and Allen did not. Jeter and Thornton played freshman nervous. Watching the game slip away reminded me how much the team and the coaching staff have accomplished this difficult year. As a famous military leader once said, “You fight a war with the army you have, not the one you wished you had,” and when Jefferson was injured, this became a team with very little margin for error. Nevertheless, the team won many more battles than they lost.

The  Duke player who had the best night was Jim Spanarkel, the very knowledgeable and informative game announcer and former All American. Unfortunately, he graduated in 1979.  I cannot say the same for veteran announcer Verne Lundquist, who along with his producers continued the practice of showing Grayson Allen’s two tripping infractions without putting them into any context of the treatment Grayson receives from defenders. To be more fair, they could also include a clip of Louisville’s Jaylen Johnson  swinging an elbow and hitting  Grayson flush in the jaw, bloodying his mouth. Then, after the whistle had blown, Johnson started punching wildly at him defenseless on the floor. But why be fair when perpetuating a media narrative?  To add  currency to the  “most hated Duke player” designation, Verne made a gratuitous comment about an obviously disappointed Grayson not having any of Dillon Brooks (after making a long, unguarded three as the game ended) attempting a mocking celebratory hug as the game ended. Usually, a player hugs a teammate to celebrate.

Alan Adds:

It was obvious, and Coach K stressed it in his postgame press conference, Oregon was simply the much better team last night.  Not only did Oregon shred the Duke defense, which was fatally wounded by Marshall’s first offensive foul within the game’s first minute and subsequent second foul with 14:37 left to play, but the Oregon defense was exceptional.  It was the Oregon interior defense that thwarted Duke’s best drives and allowed the perimeter defense to concentrate on Duke’s outside shooters.  Coach K said Oregon moved both laterally and straight up and down.  “You think you are open for the score, and they are there to block or alter the shot.”  He wished Duke had played better, “but Oregon didn’t let us play better.”

Even so, as the game came down to it, Duke made one last gallant gasp and reduced the margin to 10 when Brandon launched a three that rimmed out.  Coach K said had that 3 gone in and reduced the lead to 7, you never know what might have happened.  One should point to Luke’s great rebounding game, leading Duke with 11 (Marshall had only 5).  Brandon was heroic scoring 24 points, but took 20 shots to do it, and might have taken on more than he should have when Duke was trying to claw back.  Both he and Grayson played 40 minutes; Luke played 38.  Matt again failed to score until the game was well out of reach and virtually over, when he hit a pair of 3s, each reducing the Oregon lead to 13.  But, Matt didn’t score in the entire tournament until he hit one with 3:31 left and one with 2:47 left.  He simply was not the same player in the second half of the year.

Coach K said (and I wholeheartedly agree) that this season was a great, great— not just good — season.   After Amile was lost for the year, Duke could have failed to make the tournament.  But instead, the Devils “fought like crazy” and ran an incredible gauntlet that Coach K said transformed his team.  Duke beat Louisville, Virginia and UNC before losing to Louisville on the road, a gauntlet “ that made us.  But, it also knocked us back.”  Duke won 25 games and made the Sweet 16 with a flawed team that was decimated by Amile’s injury.  While Marshall had a subpar game last night (5 points, 5 rebounds and 0-2 from the line), Marshall’s development made the season.  “No kid improved in one year like he did in my 36 years of coaching.  There is no way we have this terrific year without him.”

Brandon was asked about his position in the draft.  He said he wasn’t even thinking about that.  He’s thinking about finishing school and being with his teammates (brothers he loves).  He said he had an amazing freshman year, coached by a great coach and playing with awesome teammates.  He refused to address the question.  Coach K was asked about his transition to coaching the Olympic team.  He said he still had much to do with this team, helping his players to the next step, whether it was from freshman to sophomore, to what Brandon will do, and to helping Marshall adjust to military life as Coach K did when he was graduated from The Point.

It was a wonderful Duke season, and so much fun for me to write about and share with everyone.  After the tournament concludes, we will do a season finale.

Assessing 2015-16 and Salivating over 2016-17

When I emailed Bill about the logistics for our final edition of this year’s DBP, he responded, “I am all B-Balled out. I left it all on the court.”  I, of course, knew he must have meant the tennis court at Duke in 1960, when we heartbreakingly lost the intramural doubles championship in the finals.  And he might have!  In any event, we have reversed the order because of his fatigue, with Bill concluding with a “Bill Adds”.

Objectively, Duke’s season does not seem as sparkling as had been hoped for when the season began.  The indisputable fact is that Amile’s season ending injury on December 12, 2015 transferred Duke’s national championship aspirations from this past season to next season.  Duke was 8-1, with the team being built around Amile.  Coach K was experimenting with Amile and four guards, limiting Marshall’s playing time to the least of all the starters.  In his last game, Amile had 8 assists from the post.   Although Amile’s injury ended Duke’s national aspirations — we didn’t know that because there was always the tantalizing prospect of Amile’s return to plug the obvious holes in Duke’s roster — the end of national title aspirations is not the prime factor in evaluating the 2015-16 season.  Though Duke finished 6th in the ACC regular season, lost in the quarter-finals of the ACC tournament and dropped out of the top 25 for the first time in almost a decade, I believe this was a remarkably successful season, which turned out to be one of Coach K’s most remarkable coaching jobs.  This roster-thin team beat two #1 NCAA seeds, made the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance, making all Duke fans proud with this team’s grit and determination.  For me, the season is epitomized by the development of the play, grit and leadership skills of Marshall Plumlee after Amile went down.  He led by fierce example even when overmatched in skill level.  He dramatically raised his skill level.  Though others had more natural talent and skill, by season’s end, Marshall was the acknowledged leader, who was both the most important and the most valuable player on the team.  Duke died in the elite 8 when Marshall got into early foul trouble because Marshall could no longer protect the rim unabashedly.  We will all remember the season that he gave us for a long time.  Nowhere was Duke’s grit and determination on more magnificent display than the stretch of games after Duke lost 4 out of 5 league games between January 13 and January 25 (lost to Clemson, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Miami).  Duke then faced a gauntlet of games against top rated teams.  It was here Duke transformed and turned into a completely lovable team to be admired.  In the next two weeks (February 6 to 20) Duke beat NC State, Louisville, Virginia and Carolina (in the Dean Dome) before losing a heartbreaker to Louisville at Louisville.  I think that stretch took a lot out of Duke for the remainder of the season, but it was a stretch of which to be to be enormously proud.

We were privileged to watch Grayson develop into a star of the highest magnitude.  I guess that means that the recruiting class of Okafor, Jones, Winslow and Allen was a pretty good one.  This year’s class — Brandon, Luke, Derryck and Chase — was overhyped as a # 1 recruiting class.   Brandon’s rise to stardom from his early season games was as wonderfully remarkable as Grayson’s rise from 8th man who averaged 4.4 ppg to 3rd team All-American.  Amile’s injury made Brandon learn to play a tough inside rebounding game.  It was satisfying to watch his growth and how Coach K coached him.  We also were privileged to watch the first year of Luke Kennard’s career at Duke, which I predict will be noteworthy.  My guess is he will be a four year guy, who will continue to develop consistency with his overall game.  His shooting, while good, was inconsistent from game to game.  However he proved he can handle, defend, rebound and pass.  Neither Thornton nor Jeter lived up to the pre-season hype.  Jeter was a McDonald’s All American.  When Thornton reclassified, he was highly rated in his new class.  Duke just announced that Thornton is transferring.  He has said he wants to play closer to home.    I believe that he knows that Jackson is the point guard who will take his playing time.

Matt started off very efficiently, but tailed off consistently.  He logged heavy minutes as the team’s best defender and most reliable player.  I thought he began to tire and his statistics dipped.  Then he injured first one ankle and then the other.  This led to a real decline in his play and made the Duke roster seem even thinner when he stopped scoring.  He will be anxious to rebound next year.  Sean Obi turned out to be a major disappointment; it is up in the air whether this was caused by bad knees or there is such a difference in the level of competition between Conference USA and the ACC.  Obi started 30 games for Rice in 2013-14 where he averaged over 11 ppg and 9 boards before transferring and sitting out the 2014-15 season.  But he practiced with the team and was thought to compete for a starting job.  Antonio Vrankovich was not expected to play and did not as was true for the Admiral’s son, Justin.  This leaves Duke with an interesting problem for next year, to be discussed in a moment, or might have been solved with the late breaking news today.

For me, the bottom line is that this team faced an amazing set of obstacles and demonstrated a spirit that made me (us) adopt this team as special.  And now for next year.

Duke loses Brandon to the NBA and Marshall to the Army, but brings in another loaded recruiting class.  Next year’s freshmen are going to be much more like the incoming class of 2014-15 than this year.  Here’s the lineup that has coaches and fans salivating for next year.  Like the Okafor, Jones, Winslow class, these freshman have all played together as integral parts of the under 19 USA winning Basketball teams.  Harry Giles was the #1 rated player in the class as a 6’10” power forward or center.  He tore his ACL in the first minutes of the first game of the season this year.  He immediately transferred from Oak Hill back home and commenced his rehab at Duke hospital with the Duke staff.  He was named to the USA team in the Nike Hoop Summit played last night even though he is not yet ready to play.  That says something about how he is perceived in USA Basketball.  His running buddy is Jayson Tatum, a 6’8” scoring machine, who is a wing forward but can play the power forward if necessary.  He doesn’t have Brandon’s wing span and upside potential, but he could be just as good.  I watched him have two rather mediocre games — both last night and in the McDonald’s game — but am convinced he is the real deal.  I loved his passing and his defense (he’s a ball hawk in the passing lanes).  He has no ego.  When a teammate got hot from 3land, Jayson got him the ball on almost every possession with really slick passes.

Frank Jackson, a 6’4” combo guard also impressed me.  He won the slam dunk contest and was co-MVP in the McDonald’s game.  He went scoreless from the field last night for USA (0-6), scoring a single point, but had 3 assists and ran the team efficiently.  I loved his defense as well (not something usually on display in all-star games).  Last year, a friend who had watched the Peachtree game and practices before the season started last year told me that Derryck was very overrated but that Jackson was the real deal.  That is 3 players in the top 10.  In addition, Duke brings in #17 a 6’8” power forward from Charlottesville, Javin DeLaurier and 6’7” small forward from Australia, Jack White.  And there is one more tantalizing possibility — Marques Bolden, 6’10” center, who is rated as one of the top post players in the class (he looked very mediocre last night) has narrowed his choice to Duke or Kentucky.  Should he choose Duke, that would make an amazing class even stronger.  The problem that I alluded to above is that Duke had already given out its full allotment of  13 scholarships, however with Thornton’s announcement that he is transferring Duke will be able to accommodate Bolden if he chooses Duke.

I look forward to next year for a whole host of reasons.  Most importantly, I love writing these and especially love the enduring connection that our project fosters between Bill and me.  Damn! I wish we had won that intramural doubles final.

Bill adds:

Actually, what I felt  was that it had been a long season and I was B-Balled out. Emotionally, I left it all on the floor of the Final Four and was focused on The Masters Tournament, which is visually really is “like no other”. The finish of the Villanova-North Carolina game was just fantastic. I  loved the way Villanova peaked in the final two games, beating two more talented. And Marcus Paige has always been one of my favorite non-Duke players. Inexplicably, his three point shot has been on vacation for almost two years. Nevertheless, his court intelligence, savvy, and defense made him an invaluable teammate. Then, in the last five minutes of his last collegiate game, he was the Marcus Paige of old– shooting daggers and taking names at closing time. The degree of difficulty of his last shot should have counted double. However, Kris Jenkins  trumped his three and Marcus’ shot will be but a footnote unless you have the Washington Post picture of Paige double clutching in mid-flight as he was releasing the ball.

So, Alan went solo on the wrap-up. I did tape the Nike Summit but after a few minutes lost interest because these events are essentially unstructured pick-up games of would-be lottery picks.  I’m old school and cannot get as excited with potential one-and-doner’s as I can about players like Grant, Shane, JJ, Nolan, Marshall, and Grayson, who stay and play. That brings me to Derryck Thornton, who is transferring “to be closer to home” as if Duke had just moved to Europe. And now Mark Edwards, identified as his Uncle and/or trainer is tweeting with Donald Trumpian frequency alerting the social media world that you can’t trust the Duke coaches, they misled and lied to Derryck about what kind of offense would be run and on and on. Anyone with even a casual knowledge of Coach K knows he runs a Darwinian System and promises recruited players nothing except the opportunity to compete for playing time (ref. Kris Humphries and father’s brief career at Duke). Everyone should take a deep breath and read Al Featherston’s articles in Monday and Tuesday’s Duke Basketball Report.com to track the careers of those players who have transferred from Duke. Here’s the wake-up call: Not every high school hot shot is going to be drafted or  play in the NBA—or even be  a star in college.

But I digress. Make no mistake, as Alan previews so thoroughly, next year shapes up to be one of  justified high expectations and I look forward to it—in the Fall. But I’m not going to fall in love with any of the new players until they stay more than one year.

Let me  close by saying how much satisfaction it gives us—despite a lack of leadership from the Broadhead administration– to share our pride in Duke and enthusiasm for Duke Basketball with all of you and reiterate why we feel as we do and do what we do:

The mission of pursuing excellence in both academics and athletics has been the goal of the university virtually since its inception–certainly since Eddie Cameron was athletic director. It has been a significant reason why Duke University has been and is such 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 also a major reason Duke is viewed as an elite university. It is not just that his and other teams won, it was the way they have won and the kind of players with whom they have won– and graduated.  Not to accept this legacy and not to celebrate and nurture it would be a terrible mistake.

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 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, which was, at the time, the second largest basketball area (next to the Palestra in Philadelphia) in the East. Fortunately, the legendary Dick Groat matriculated shortly thereafter and a great basketball tradition was established.

Legend has it that after Princeton University turned down his offer of a very generous bequest, James Buchannan  Duke endowed Trinity College with $40,000 (over $500,000 in today’s dollars) . The gift to Trinity had two caveats: change the name to Duke University (after his father Washington Duke) and build it to look like Princeton.

Whatever the truth, building a campus as beautiful as Duke, establishing rigorous entrance and educational standards, developing a world class medical school and hospital, then building  nationally ranked football and basketball teams (not to mention golf, lacrosse, track, and baseball) were the lynch pins of the meteoric rise of Duke University as an elite institution. It could not have happened without all of these elements –and it cannot maintain that unique status without preserving a dual excellence in both academics and athletics.

 

Duke Basketball Playbook: 2016-17 Season

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 Basketball Playbook: 2014-15 Season

Welcome to the fourth edition of the Duke Basketball Playbook. For those of you who do not know us, Alan Silber, a New York based criminal defense attorney, and I were classmates at Duke who share a love of sports. We appreciate the fact that Duke Basketball has provided us with more excitement and thrills than most fans ever experience and think that talking and writing about them only enriches the experience. In addition to the enjoyment, we are fascinated by the ability of Coach K to achieve such sustained excellence both collegiately and internationally and attempt to analyze and explain how and what he does to make him one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. The playbook is a more polished version of thoughts and opinions we have exchanged with each other and a few friends for decades. The tipping point for a broader audience occurred when Torrey Glass, president of the Duke Alumni Club of Hilton Head, began distributing the blog to its members and the readership exploded exponentially to about 500.

One enduring truth we have learned from observing Mike Krzyzewski is that on the court and in life, it is always—NEXT PLAY! So, I will double down on what I wrote in last year’s season preview. In that memorable scene from On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a physically and spiritually broken ex-fighter, sorrowfully confronts his mob-corrupted brother Rod Steiger:  “It was you, Charley. That night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said: Kid, this ain’t your night. You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender.”

Fortunately, not our problem. For most of the last few decades Duke has consistently been a contender. Most of last year Duke looked like a contender but fell in the finals of the ACC Tournament and had surprising first round loss to Mercer in the NCAA Championship Tournament. However, most schools would be very happy with a 26-7 record (and one in which they led in every game they lost). But, hey, next play—or, in this case, next season during which the Blue Devils should be a more formidable contender because:

This team is potentially as deep, as talented, and as balanced as Coach K has ever had. And most significantly, for the first time since Sheldon Williams graduated, the Blue Devils will have a dominant center (seven foot with a 7’3’’ wing span & 270 lbs.) in freshman in Jahill Okafor (ranked #1 in this year’s recruiting class), Tyus Jones, the #1 rated point guard, as well as Justise Winslow, a projected 2015 NBA lottery pick, and Grayson Allen, a 6’4” shooting guard with a 40” vertical leap. However, as Dean Smith used to say: “We don’t call our freshmen “all-stars”, we call them “prospects”—and you never know (remember Chris Burgess). On the other hand, this crop of freshmen have been playing with and against each other in AAU ball for years, so they are more of a known commodity. And then there are the returning upper classmen: Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Marshall Plumlee, Matt Jones, and Semi Ojeleye, perhaps, the sleeper of the squad.

Consequently, this will be another fascinating year for Duke Basketball fans. One of the most interesting aspects of any season is watching Coach K adjust his offensive and defensive schemes to his fit his team’s talent. This is the most athletic squad Coach K has had since 1999-2000 Brand, Battier, Williams etc. teams. In fact, Krzyzewski stated publically that this team will definitely be defensively different from the teams of the last five years. So look for a more aggressive, pressing defense much like his Olympic and World Cup teams. There will still be the motion offense but probably with less guard dominance, more throwing the ball into the post to initiate the offense, more slashing drives to the basket by the forwards, and less living and dying by the three—although they will be easier to come by because Okafor is a talented and willing passer out of  double and triple teams.  Coach K has been more effusive about the talents of Okafor than any freshman that I can remember and as long as he is on the floor he will be the tent pole around which a variety of players will perform. The one Achilles heel of the freshmen may be free throw shooting, which has always been a hallmark of Duke’s best teams.

Alan and I were puzzled by the fact that Cook, a senior, and Jefferson, a junior, were named co-captains, but Sulaimon, also a junior and a proven, critical playmaker, was not. Rashid is a high energy expressive guy who never met a stranger while the talented but mercurial Cook has a tendency to pout when things are not going his way– and there is every indication that Tyus Jones will start at the point. On the court, Sulaimon is multi-talented, plays bigger than he is, and is Marine fearless. My fraternity buddy Pete, who retired to Durham and is a very knowledgeable and connected Duke sports fan, says that it is Sully, not Quinn or Emile, who hangs with the freshmen and goes with them to the sporting events. So maybe, Coach K is motivating Rasheed to get off to a flying start this year and, like Ryan Kelly, will make Sully a tri-captain at a later date.

Additional observations:

  • One crucial factor about this season has not received much mention: It’s been nearly two decades since Chris Collins’ and Steve Wojciechowski’s voices have been absent from a Duke Basketball practice. With those two longtime Duke assistant coaches having moved on to head coaching jobs of their own, Jeff Capel, Nate James, and Jon Scheyer move up the coaching ladder.
  • Keep an eye on Justise Winslow, who may be the most mature, versatile, and talented player on the team.
  • Undrafted Andre Dawkins won the final spot on the Miami Heat roster.
  • If you have not watched the Duke Football team play the last two years, you are missing an amazing transformation, not to mention hours of excitement. Coach David Cutcliffe and his staff have recruited a squad of very good athletes who have been coached up to become skilled players that are exciting playmakers– any number of whom who can break open a tight game like Crowder, Boone, and Blakeney did against last Saturday against Syracuse.
  • Three Duke graduates have been in the news: Adam Silver (1984), the new Commissioner of the NBA; Senator-elect Shelley Moore Capito (1975) of West Virginia. Her father Archie Moore was a two term Governor, and Rand Paul, Senator from  Kentucky.
  • Don and Martha Mewhort’s grandson Jack Mewhort (Ohio State) was the second round draft choice of the Indianapolis Don (Buzz) was co-captain of the 1962 Duke Basketball team and a Duke School Law graduate. Martha was a Duke cheerleader.

Alan Adds:

None of the pre-season articles and hype focuses on where I think the focus should be.  All the talk so far has been about offense and the need to replace the scoring of Jabari and Hood.  Somewhat fair, but missing the point. In my opinion, last year was not just about the disappointing 3-3 down the stretch, including ACC tournament and the loss to Mercer in the NCAA tournament.  The most important factor in Duke’s disappointing (for Duke and Coach K anyway) season was its porous defense throughout the entire season.  So the question about the highly touted freshman class is: Can these kids make Duke the defensive force that it has usually been during the Coach K era?  I like using what Coach K did with the World Cup team as what I think his model will be for his 2014-15 team.  Last year, K expected to be able to press, trap and create turnovers that would more than make up for Duke’s lack of rim protection and defensive rebounding.  That plan turned out to be a colossal failure for Duke, as we all remember.  Duke was torched early by the likes of East Carolina, Vermont and others.  Coach K abandoned his press in favor of an aggressive overplaying half court man to man defense.  Duke improved, but only incrementally.  It is worth remembering the defensive weakness of last year’s team when getting ready to root for (but also judge) the current squad.  Tyler Thornton was a defensive specialist and perhaps Duke’s best on the ball defender.  Hood was also credited as a defensive stopper.  Both are gone from a defense that could not stop penetration from the perimeter.  The result was opponents shot a high percentage from the interior and lane, Duke committed more fouls than any other year (and shockingly more than most opponents), and Duke had major end game problems that came from the foul trouble and fatigue.  Duke was also beaten up on the boards throughout the season, especially by opponents’ offensive rebounding.  Duke led almost every one of its 9 losses with 5-8 minutes to go.  The perimeter defenders who return are Suliamon, Cook and Matt Jones, all who are reputed defenders (except Cook), but who did not get the job done last year.

This is not meant to be depressing, just a call for realistic expectations as the season starts.  Most programs would be very satisfied with a season like Duke’s 2013-14 season (26-9).  Duke was undefeated at home with major wins over Michigan, Syracuse, Virginia and Carolina.  On the road or neutral, Duke beat UCLA and Pittsburgh, though this was not a good road team.

Like last year (Jabari and Hood), Duke will depend in large measure on newcomers — the four freshmen.  And, it is surely a heralded class.  In a recent 2015 mock NBA draft, Oakfor was # 1 overall; Tyus Jones # 14; and (surprise) Justise Winslow was # 8.  Grayson Allen, the fourth freshman, played with what seemed to be the first team in the first 12 minute scrimmage (Oakafor, Tyus Jones, Cook, Jefferson and Allen).  Allen won the scrimmage on a floater over Plumlee.  So the freshmen may justify the high pre-season ranking, but I still counsel that it all depends on whether Coach K can have his usual effective defense; on whether Duke makes — as Duke historically has — more foul shots than its opponents attempt; whether Oakfor’s presence and Marshall Plumlee’s health and improvement protect the Duke defensive backboard and penetration.  Then, but only then, comes the offense.

I followed Coach K’s World Cup team closely and was fascinated how he created a wonderful team.  I believe the World Cup team will be the model for the 2014-15 Duke team that he will create.  The World Cup team pressed and trapped, living by the turnover-created easy scores.  I predict he will again attempt to defend that way with this year’s Duke team.  Coach K went with 2 point guards — Kyrie and Steph Curry; and a third starter (the star, Harden) who could function as a point guard.  Anthony Davis controlled the interior and Kenneth Faried was an undersized power forward with energy (but no outside shot).  Duke’s two exhibition games were easy wins against opponents that were overmatched athletically, but gave some indication of Coach K’s plans.  In his press conference, Coach K mentioned USA basketball frequently as a model for how Duke will defend this year.  He said that Duke has changed its philosophy on ball screens and that the bigs are more mobile and aggressive.  Among the interesting facts: 1) Duke held Central Missouri scoreless for 8 full minutes in the first half; 2) Duke scored in bunches, but had no 20 point scorers (Justise Winslow was high scorer in both games with 19 and 17 respectively).  Coach has 10 players vying to be in the rotation and all have received praise for hustle and defense; 3) Oakafor is for real; 4) it is going to be a process for Duke to learn to defend, but Coach K is optimistic that this can be one of his best defensive teams; 5) Tyus Jones had 17 assists against 2 turnovers and played very well with Quinn Cook when both played together.  Coach K pointed out that Rasheed was also very capable of handling the ball; and 6) Coach K is happy with this group and is installing new systems both defensively and offensively that take advantage of the specific skills of this team.  He said he will experiment with many combinations during the game, though he plans a consistent starting lineup.

Against Central Missouri (the second exhibition game), six players played more than 20 minutes and may give some clues to how the rotation will work (at least for the initial games).  Winslow played 25 minutes, leading the scoring in spite of going 0-3 from downtown and Tyus Jones logged 24 minutes (6 assists to go with his 11 in the first exhibition game and 5 steals).  Okafor (15 points and 9 rebounds; critically 7-8 from the line to go with 4 blocks), Jefferson (8 boards; 5 points and a disappointing 1-4 from the line) and Cook (12 points, and 2 assists) all played 22 minutes.   Matt Jones, who started while Quinn came off the bench, had 7 points in 20 minutes.  Rasheed had 5 points (1-5 from 3land to go with 4 assists and 2 steals) in 18 minutes.  Marshall had 4 points (1-1 from the field and 2-2 from the line to go with 6 boards an assist and a block in 17 minutes.  They appear to be the top 8 at this point.  Grayson Allen and Semi each logged 14 minutes with Allen producing a gaudy stat line (10 points on 3-4 shooting including 2-2 from 3land and 2-2 from the line to go with 3 boards, an assist and a steal).  Pretty good.  Semi scored 4 to go with 2 boards, an assist and a block.

I predict:

1) Both T. Jones and Cook will start (as long as Cook becomes a consistent defender, something he was not last year), similar to Kyrie and Curry on the World Cup team.

2) Rasheed, who has all the potential in the world, will also start.  His role will be analogous to the one played by Harden on the World Cup team.   Grayson Allen has also filled that role in the pre-season.

3) Oakfor and Jefferson will round out the starting line up.  Jefferson will be asked to be Faried, bringing energy, defensive intensity and rebounding.  Like Anthony Davis on the World Cup team, Oakfor should be Duke’s best player.  I was underwhelmed watching him on defense last year, but they were mostly all star games.  Team defense is another thing. Duke will count on him to be the rim protector and rebounder that were missing last year.

4) Justise Winslow has received high praise.  He has a fully developed and sculpted body and has been a force on both ends.  I think will be the 6th man that K always wants to have, but he may start, like Klay Thompson on the World Cup team (perhaps the team’s most versatile and consistent player).  He will score, defend and give the team a lift.  He will be a significant force this season.

5) Marshall, based on last year, will contribute to the depth of rim protection and rebounding (think Cousins, first big off the bench for the World cup team).

6) It is hard to predict at this stage what the roles of Semi and Matt Jones from last year’s team and Grayson Allen (heralded frosh, but only a top 40 recruit) will be.  Allen’s stats have been impressive and Matt Jones started in the final exhibition game.  Both Bill and I would like to see Semi step into what we see as amazing potential.   All three have had excellent pre-seasons and could well be in the rotation.

I expect this to be a fascinating season, which will give us great satisfaction, excitement (and probably some disappointment as well).  What it really will be is SO MUCH FUN.

The season openers: Presbyterian Friday November 14, 6:00pm on ESPNU & Fairfield Saturday November 15, 8:00pm ESPN3

If you miss seeing the games, read all about it in the next Duke Basketball Playbook!

DUKE – PRESBYTERIAN & FAIRFIELD

When I first started going out with girls, my Mama told me not to fall in love on the first date. Well, she never told me not to be smitten and I am smitten with this Duke team, because I have seen enough to know it is the deepest and potentially the most talented team since the Laettner, Hurley 1991-92 Championship teams. That doesn’t mean it will win championships, because as we know only too well injuries and luck are part of the equation but, oh boy, they are talented, deep, and motivated. Jahill Okafor does a pretty good Tim Duncan imitation, Tyus Jones a pretty good Bobby Hurley imitation, and Justise Winslow a muscular version of Grant Hill. And it is axiomatic that a dominant center and terrific point guard are the keys to a great team. However, even more impressive are the other two components of great teams: defense, ball movement, and chemistry. Petty jealousies can destroy even the most talented teams. We saw an interesting and telling play against Presbyterian when senior Quinn Cook chased down a loose ball and rather than making an easy lay-up and adding to his scoring total, paused and dished to freshman and fellow point guard T. Jones for the uncontested basket.

So far, Duke has only played mismatches and we will know a lot more after the upcoming games against Michigan State, Temple, and Stanford then Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin on December 3rd. But until we hit the inevitable speed bump, let’s enjoy the infatuation phase.

With all this talent, one of K’s toughest decisions is who gets playing time. In last week’s preview, I wrote that of all the guards, Sulaimon brings the most to the floor: a rare combination of talent, size, defense, versatility, intensity, and Marine toughness. More importantly, here’s Krzyzewski on Rasheed, who didn’t score against Fairfield: “He’s making a very big, positive impact on the game and doing it in a way that no one on our team can do exactly like him. In other words, he puts the best pressure on the ball. He’s 6-4 and when he’s doing it, it really takes the point guard’s vision away and they have a hard time getting by him. So our defense gets picked up. And when he brings it down on the break, he’s got a little bit more of a herky-jerky motion. It’s not just straight, he can get by. And when he’s getting by to score, a lot of times he’d get knocked on his butt and that wouldn’t be the play. Now when he’s getting by people, he’s making the play, the play that the team needs.” And on comparing the learning curve and chemistry between the freshmen and the rest of the team to the similarly talented Dawkins, Amaker, Alerie, Henderson, Bilas class: “It’s a different time. The Dawkins class had never met one another before they came to Duke. This group is just way ahead. So much of it has to do with what they’ve done, not just in their high school programs, but three of them have been so involved with USA Basketball. They’ve traveled different parts of the world, they’ve been with other good players, they’ve been well-coached by the USA Basketball staff. They’ve been a part of something bigger than an AAU team or a high school. And I’m not knocking that, it’s just an advantage.

Additional observations:

  • Justise Winslow has most mature offensive and defensive skills; Grayson Allen is the best one-on-one player and has NBA athleticism and skills; Matt Jones and Marshall Plumlee appear to be a much more confident and are the most improved players. Marshall set a Plumlee collegiate record hitting four straight free throws and, when caught outside with the shot clock winding down, nailed a three!
  • Duke has now won 111 consecutive non-conference home games.
  • Quinn Cook‘s 17 points give him 1,004 for his Duke career. He became the 64th Duke player to hit the 1,000 point mark. Only Louisville and North Carolina, with 67, have more.
  • The win is Duke’s 35th consecutive home win, the sixth-largest streak in school history. The record is 46, from January 13, 1997 to February 9, 2000.
  • Rasheed Sulaimon, Justise, Winslow, Matt Jones are all from Texas.

Alan adds:

Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware, or in this case the Duke fan beware — just a little).  There was precious little not to love about Duke’s opening game routs of Presbyterian and Fairfield on Friday and Saturday nights.  My only caveat is that neither of these teams could beat the top high school teams.  Between them they won only 13 games last year (Presbyterian 6 and Fairfield 7).  The level of competition is critical in evaluating performance.  So, my caveat is that while Duke looked All World, let us not unpack our expectations until (at least Tuesday night when the Blue Devils travel to Indianapolis to take on Michigan State — 7pm on ESPN).  It is hard to find anything about which to quibble when your team races scores 109 and 113 in two games (65 points in the second half against Fairfield) with balanced scoring, and displays 10 players with the skill and talent to be productive on the court.  Duke scored 113 and 109 points respectively with no player scoring 20; impressively balanced scoring. Here are just a couple of cautionary thoughts — and I am having to stretch to find them.  Against Presbyterian, in the first half, the first unit did not look defensively sharp, committing 5 fouls in the first 7 minutes and 10 in the first half.  The Blue Hose shot 8 free throws while Duke’s only free throw attempt of that half was a miss (Matt Jones attempting to complete a four point play).   For the game, the first unit was only 2-3 (Winslow 1-1; Oakafor 1-2).  Grayson Allen got to the line more than any other Devil (6-7; Rasheed 3-3; and Plumlee 2-2).  Tyus Jones had more than a few defensive lapses, several leading to easy backdoor baskets in the Fairfield game.  Team defense is a work in progress, and you could see the improvement as play continued.  Duke was devastating on defense in the second half of the Fairfield game.  After last season, I am cautiously optimistic about Duke as a defensive force.

Roster and Rotation

Coach K’s starting lineup was the same for both games, and the starters played the most minutes (except for Jefferson in the first game because of his foul trouble): Oakafor, Jefferson, Justise Winslow, Cook and Tyus Jones.  As he promised, Coach K mixed and matched, though he played the second unit together for long stretches — Rasheed at the point, Matt Jones, Grayson Allen, Semi and Marshall.  Rasheed is the first off the bench and together with Matt Jones got the most minutes of the non-starters.  Grayson Allen had an amazing stat line in the first game, but fouled out in only 13 minutes against Fairfield.  His play is worth discussing.  Marshall has played well (1-1 from 3land; clock winding down).  So has Semi, but for now he’s the end of the bench.  Still every single Duke player looked impressive; this team has the potential for amazing depth.  However, Coach K has never used a long bench.  Still, Duke has the capacity to put enormous defensive pressure on while using a longer bench to keep everyone fresh for end of games.  The press is so much more effective with rim protectors like Oakafor (really impressive on both ends of the court), a muscled up Jefferson, and a much improved Plumlee.  Semi has also looked good defending the interior and Winslow is no slouch defending the interior.

Presbyterian

Offensively, Duke was a machine shooting over 50% from 3 (16-31) 61% overall and 13-16 from the line.  Even better, Duke had 30 assists on 42 field goals and only 9 turnovers (only Winslow with 3 had more than 1).  Cook led in minutes played with 25, scoring 14 points on 11 shots (4-10 from 3land) to go with 5 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers.  He and Tyus played well together.  Tyus and Oakafor (who play so well together) each played 23 minutes, and both amassed gaudy stat lines. Tyus scored 15 points on 8 shots (3-4 from behind the arc) to go with 7 assists, 2 boards and only a single turnover.  Oakafor was even more impressive: 19 points on 10 shots (9-10 from the field and 1-2 from the line) to go with 4 assists (he is a great passer and has wonderful hands) and 6 boards.  I am especially impressed with his team help defense.  He is a key new defensive component.  Duke’s best player has been Justise Winslow.  In this game he logged 20 minutes, scoring 15 on 12 shots (2-3 from 3land; 1-1 from the line) to go with 4 boards, an assist, a steal and a block.  He is a determined defender at 6’6” with a chiseled body and impressive hops.  Jefferson was limited to 16 minutes by his foul trouble (4), but is an impressive rebounder with 10 in his shortened stint.  He had 4 points, but played much more efficiently against Fairfield.

The bench was effective and impressive.  Semi logged 19 minutes, while Grayson Allen played 18, Rasheed 18, Marshall 17 and Matt Jones 13.  Grayson was jaw dropping — he scored 18 points (yes that’s a point a minute) on 7 shots (2-3 from behind the arc and 6-7 from the line (impressive on the drive) to go with 3 assists, 3 steals, a block and a board.  Rasheed was equally impressive as a floor leader and defender.  He had a perfect shooting night scoring 12 points on only 4 shots (4-4; 1-1 from 3 and 3-3 from the line) to go with 4 assists, 2 steals, a block and a board.  Marshall looks as if he can spell Oakafor and bring energy, rebounding and defense to the table.  In addition to his 3 and 2-2 from the line, he grabbed 7 boards, passed out 3 assists, and 2 steals.  Semi had a rough shooting night (1-6 all from behind the arc) while garnering 5 boards and 2 steals (but 4 fouls).

For the last 10 minutes of the game, Duke played a zone defense — each unit played the zone for about 5 minutes.  Hmmmm!

Fairfield

The starters all played between 21 and 27 minutes; the reserves between 19 and 11.  Cook and Oakafor led the starters in minutes with 27 each, Jefferson 24, Tyus 23 and Winslow 21.  All, except Tyus, scored in double figures.  The reserves continued to impress with Matt Jones logging 19 minutes, Rasheed 18, Grayson 13 (fouled out), Marshall 13 and Semi was limited to 11 minutes.  For me, the takeaway was watching the defense improve — it was especially gratifying to watch the intensity and efficiency of the defense, regardless of who was on the floor.  The offense wasn’t bad either.  Duke was 31-40 from inside the arc (9-22 from 3land) and had 22 assists on 40 hoops; only 12 turnovers.

Oakafor is a beast (17 points on 10 shots — 8-10, which made him 17-20 for the two games) to go with 9 boards, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.  The only negatives: 5 turnovers, 1-3 from the line and 3 fouls.  Justise Winslow continues to look like Duke’s best player (if not Oakafor) scoring 18 points on 10 shots (5-7 from the field including 1-2 from behind the arc and 5-7 from the line; he can really drive it) to go with 6 boards, 2 assists, a block and a steal.  He appears to be Duke’s best defender and yet committed only 1 foul.  Quinn was impressive as a defender and scored 17 points on 7-9 shooting (3-4 from behind the arc) with 4 assists, 2 boards and a steal.  Jefferson rebounded from his less than stellar first game with a terrific performance: 15 points on 8 shots (5-8 including a few nifty moves), and was 5-6 from the free throw line, with 9 boards, 3 assists and a steal, while committing only 1 foul.  Tyus came back to earth a bit after a hot shooting first game (6 points on 5 shots — 0-3 from 3land and 2-3 from the line.  He added 5 assists and 2 steals against 2 turnovers.

The bench was terrific, especially Matt Jones and Rasheed.  Rasheed did not attempt a single field goal, nor did he get to the line, but he was impressive on the defensive end with a steal (only 1 foul), and passed out 4 assists without a turnover.  He may not be starting, but as Bill points out, Coach K is being impressed.  Matt Jones scored 9 points on 3-4 shooting (1-2 from behind the arc and 2-3 from the line).  He had 5 boards (impressive) and 2 steals.  Although Grayson fouled out in only 13 minutes, he continues to be a wow factor in the games.  He still scored 9 on 5 shots (1-3 from 3land; 2-2 from the line) to go with a board, an assist plus 2 steals.   Marshall scored 8 in his 13 minutes on perfect shooting (3-3 from the floor and 2-2 from the line).  He collected a rebound and blocked a shot.  Semi scored 7 in his 11 minutes (2-5 all from 3land; 1-2 from the stripe).  All 11 of his shots in the first 2 games were from behind the arc.  He added a board and a steal.  He is going to have to fight for playing time.

Next Play is going to be an exciting game on Tuesday against Michigan State in Indianapolis.

DUKE 81 – MICHIGAN STATE 71 

I was all settled in with my wife and note pad by my side in anticipation of a  cold winter’s night of great basketball in front of our new 60” Samsung high definition 4G TV when OMG! Dick Vitale’s voice came blasting over my surround sound audio system. Damn, I thought the shelf life of his unique announcing style had expired and he had retired to Florida. I know Mr. Vitale loves basketball and all that but why would ESPN use him on a big night of basketball when they have Jay Bilas and Doris Burke? Fortunately, he was more the Venerable Vitale than Dickie V, so I didn’t have to turn the sound system off. But still.. Fortunately, ESPN got the word and Jay replaced Vitale for the second game.

Tom Izzo decided to play Jahill Okafor straight up, not double team him. To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “Mistake, Big Mistake.” No wonder Coach Izzo has only beaten Coach K once. Tyus Jones knows when and how to feed his young/old buddy and Okafor gave a pretty good Tim Duncan finesse lesson to his defender and quickly gave Duke a working cushion they never relinquished as they entire team played to the moment. And make no mistake about, it was a big moment for the freshmen:  Indianapolis double header #3Duke vs #19 Michigan State and #1Kentucky vs. #4 Kansas was a Final Foul like atmosphere—and they did not disappoint.

An interesting and telling moment came with nine minutes to go, when Okafor picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes to go and the Blue Devils up seven.

Tyus Jones showed why the top programs all recruited him and players love to play with him. He is a pass first point guard who knows how to distribute the ball but can also shoot. On the ensuing possession, Jones stole the ball from Michigan State junior Denzel Valentine and fed it to Quinn Cook to start a fast break. Cook dished it back to Jones, who finished the easy lay-up. And on Duke’s next possession, the shot clock was winding down as Jones held the ball. He fired a long 3-pointer, was fouled by Valentine falling to the floor as the ball swished. Jones made the free throw for the four-point play, and, just like that, the Blue Devils were ahead 64-51 with just over eight minutes remaining, a lead they held until Jahill “The Difference” Okafor returned with five minutes to go.

Jones added six more points down the stretch, finishing with 17 for the half (and the game) on 4-of-5 shooting, four assists, and no turn overs. An emotionally retooled co-captain Quinn Cook led all Duke scorers with 19 points and 6 assists (with no turn overs). Okafor added 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Justise Winslow, the other starting freshman, flashed his impressive athleticism with a behind-the-back crossover dribble that created  a slashing layup and took a defensive rebound coast to coast for a highlight fast break drive and basket. He finished with 15 points. Among the other notable numbers is the dispersal of scoring. Unlike last year, one or two players do not have to carry this team.

An impressive win no doubt, but three words of caution: 1) The Blue Devils had trouble staying in front of cutters and defending the interior, a fatal flaw with last year’s team as Michigan State, a tough, veteran team, shot 50 percent from the field (30-for-60). 2)  #4Wisconsin will be a much tougher test. 3) #1 Kentucky wiped out #5 Kansas 72-40.

Additional observations:

  • Tom Izzo is now 1 for 8 against Mike Krzyzewski.
  • Quinn Cook showed why he is starting. He has no fear (nothing new) but is a much more patient contributor with this group of players. Playing mostly off the ball may fit his skill set better than the pressure of running the point full time.
  • The playing minutes reverted to the mean with the starters all logging about 30, except Jefferson who had 20.
  • Rasheed Sulaimon had a stomach virus and was throwing up all day and at half time. Matt Jones played some of Sully minutes at small forward and continued to impress.
  • Grayson Allan only played a minute, took an ill-advised shot, then took a seat on the bench.
  • Krzyzewski was willing to speak about Okafor’ s  potential. “Jah has a chance to be the best one,” Krzyzewski said of all his true low post men. “The only two guys like him, are Elton (Brand)—and he still has to play really well to be as good as Elton, he was the first pick and the national player of the year. And then Booz ( Carlos Boozer) but he wasn’t the focus of the offense because he played with Battier, J. Williams, Dunleavy.  Those three big men are similar. Jah is the biggest one, though. And Jah can pass the best. You can get it to him, and he draws attention. He just has to learn what he can do. He got called for a couple of offensive fouls, and people are going to bang on him. I thought he handled things well. People are going to play multiple guys on him. What they didn’t do tonight was double him. He’ll see that, too.”
  • Question: Is Okafor Tim Duncan’s brother or his love child? (That’s a joke to see if you are still paying attention.)

Alan Adds:

Bill said it perfectly, “an impressive win no doubt”, but there are lots of areas that this freshmen laden team will work on to improve.  I add to Bill’s cautionary words because Michigan State was not at full strength, depleted by injuries — especially among their bigs.  Even so, Duke did not fare well on the backboards.  What was troubling was that although Duke got rebounds directly off the backboard, when the ball was tipped back up, or hit the deck, Michigan State got the ball.  The Spartans stayed in the game by winning every loose ball and making all the hustle plays.  Nevertheless, sometimes pure talent just does win out, which was, in fact, what occurred in Indianapolis.  Let’s savor that pure talent on display, because some parts of that talent were simply awesome.  Duke opened 7-7; pretty good.  What was excellent was the penetration, passing and skill that made almost all of the 7 shots uncontested layups.  Passes to Okafor were perfect, leading to uncontested lay ins.  Okafor is a great finisher.  Duke got to the line for 26 foul shots (20-26) because the Devils were in attack mode.  Duke had 15 assists on 27 field goals against only 8 turnovers (3 by Okafor; 2 by Winslow; and 2 by the subpar Rasheed).  Duke had some great defensive moments (and some not so great defensive moments), the subject of the next paragraph.

In my (oft-stated) opinion, how good this team will turn out to be in March will depend on the defensive prowess that it does, or does not, develop.  The need to improve on last year’s efforts has been universally acknowledged and emphasized by Coach K.  So, how did Duke do against Michigan State?  Pretty well, in my estimation.  I disagree with Bill that Duke’s defensive problems (and they were on occasion glaring) were caused primarily by the inability of Duke perimeter defenders to stay in front of penetrating guards (a flagrant problem last year).  What led to the many uncontested Michigan State layups at the rim was the way Duke defended the pick and roll.  It was sometimes very effective.  The big guarding the screen setter quickly worked with the on the ball defender to create a double team against the ball.  This defensive strategy, which Coach K announced he was deploying,  leaves the roll man open (to be picked up by the rotation, in theory).  Sometimes it worked like a charm.  Duke created 13 turnovers, many out of the double teams, and had 5 blocks (mostly against the roller who receive the pass).  But way too often, there was no rotation to the roller, who was wide open at the rim, while the rim protectors were attempting the hard hedge, which became the double team.  This is a young team, and that will show on the defensive end.  But, I thought Duke showed enough on defense to be optimistic about how this team will develop defensively.   Quinn Cook had a great game, and most commentators will talk about his offense (as will I), but his improvement on the defensive end was obvious and welcome.  Tyus is an energetic on the ball defender, but still has a tendency to overplay and get beaten back door.  Matt Jones played excellent defense.  Okafor (2), Jefferson, Winslow and Marshall combined for the 5 blocks.  Duke pressure defense seemed to wear the Spartans down a bit in the last 5-6 minutes of the game (winning time), even though Coach K shortened the rotation dramatically.

Grayson Allen (1 minutes) and Semi (2 minutes) did not contribute significantly.  Rasheed was ill, which explains both his ineffectiveness and his lack of playing time (12 minutes; a 3 pointer in four attempts — 3 from behind the arc; 2 turnovers and a steal).  Marshall played 9 minutes with a board and a block to go with his 2 personal fouls.  Only Matt Jones provided long term and effective bench play, especially on the defensive end.  In 22 minutes (1 more than starter Jefferson), Matt scored 4 points (1-4; 0-2 from behind the arc — 2-2 from the line to go with an assist while committing 3 fouls.  In short the bench contributed only 7 points (0 for Plumlee, Allen and Semi).  It was a game where the starters played big minutes to win the game.  Quinn and Winslow logged 36 minutes each and put up enviable numbers.  Cook was superb, leading the Duke scoring with 19 points on 12 shots (7-12, including 3-4 from behind the arc and some spectacular drives to score in traffic; 2-2 from the free throw line) to go with a wonderful floor game (6 assists and 0 turnovers plus a steal).  This is not just a freshman team!  Winslow may be Duke’s most talented athlete.  I don’t think Duke has had an athlete like Winslow since Corey Maggette.  He grabbed a rebound, flew down the court with an extraordinary handle, blowing past a defender for a spectacular end to end layup that was simply breathtaking.  Justise had 15 points, 6 boards, 3 assists, and a block, but actually did not have a good shooting night (4-11 including 1-2 from 3land).  He is a great driver and can draw fouls.  He attempted 9 free throws, but made only 6, and had 2 turnovers.  I predict he will become the heart of this team as he grows and approaches his considerable up side.  Tyus Jones soared to the heights in the last 8 minutes of the game after Jahlil picked up his fourth foul, but was a steady heady ball handler throughout.  He was incredibly efficient in his 31 minutes, scoring 17 points (all in the second half) on only 5 shots (4-5, including 2-3 from behind the arc).  He was 7-7 from the free throw line and had 4 assists and 2 steals with 0 turnovers.  Cook and Tyus together had 10 assists, 0 turnovers and scored 36 points on 12 shots.  That’s a pretty impressive backcourt performance against a good team.  Jahlil left the announcers sputtering searching for adjectives and Tim Duncan analogies.  He was certainly impressive in his foul limited 30 minutes, scoring 17 points on 8-10 shooting (1-2 from the line) to go with 5 boards, 2 blocks, 2 steals and an assist.  His team defense is spectacular (and the team defense will improve once Duke learns how to defend the rim when Okafor double teams on the pick and roll).  Having said all that and having to listen to Dickie V rant and drool about him (Bill obviously is more tolerant than I; I first tuned Dickie V out with 11 minutes to go in the first half!  Yikes, he is grating, but I digress), there are areas where he should and will improve.  Three of his four fouls came at the offensive end.  He led Duke in turnovers with 3 and he couldn’t stop the Spartan onslaught on the backboards. He will be the best professional player of the Duke freshmen, but he is not head and shoulders above Winslow and Tyus, or at least was not in Duke’s first real test this year.  There is no doubt that he is something very special.  Jefferson was the starter who played the fewest minutes (21) and seemed less effective than usual with 4 boards and a block while scoring 6 points (2-3 from the floor and 2-4 from the line).  Coach K went with Winslow at power forward for long stretches when Jefferson was on the bench.

Duke plays in Brooklyn tomorrow night against Temple and then on Saturday against either Stanford or UNLV.  The next DBP will be a consolidated report on Sunday.

DUKE 74 – TEMPLE 54

In the first half Jahlil Okafor (3-13) and his teammates (9-26) were looking very ordinary offensively. However, their defense against a city tough Temple team enabled them to still have a 36-26 halftime lead. This would not have been the situation in the last several years and is one the primary reasons to believe that this team can compete on an entirely different level. There are always going to be times that your shots aren’t falling. It is then that defense keeps the game from getting away from you until they do start falling. Early in the second half, after Coach K encouraged his players to keep taking good shots, Captain Cook and his crew heated up and made a run to pretty much put the game away.

“We played without fouling,” said Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Temple attempted just six free throws). “We kept guys in front of us pretty good the whole game and we switched well. And also our big guys protected the bucket pretty well, so they didn’t have straight line drives.”

What I liked: While the freshmen are as good or better than advertised, always hustling and encouraging co-captains Cook, with his second half shooting and Jefferson, with his 8 point & 8 rebounds, led the way through the offensively frustrating twenty some first minutes….Starters Jones, Cook, and Winslow all can push the ball on a break… Justise went Coast to Coast again with another highlight finish…There is balanced scoring because everyone is a good passer. Through four games, Tyus Jones has  23 assists (5.75 apg.)  followed by Cook with 16 (4.0 apg.) .. After a frustrated Okafor was pushed around a bit with no calls, Marshall Plumlee came off the bench and provided a nice tutorial for Jahlil as to how to deal with physical play–get stronger and play tougher… Duke held Temple to 1-of-12 (.091) from beyond the arc, the third game this season the Blue Devils forced a team to shoot .200 percent or worse from behind the three-point line…The announcers were Steve Smith, a two time All-American at Michigan State then a 14 year pro, and Greg Anthony, the point guard for the great UNLV team that buried Duke by 29 in the 1990 NCAA Championship game only to have their undefeated season ruined by the 1991 Duke upset. Both do their homework and have interesting insights into players talents. After one impressive, unique Jahlil move and finger roll basket, Steve mentioned it was reminiscent of George Gervin. For those who do not remember The Ice Man go to You Tube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGaAS0PTZxg) Grayson Allen made it out of the doghouse and again scored a point a minute—6.

Additional observations:

  • Coach K left no doubt  how he feels about Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins. “Johnny was the first great player to commit to me. Johnny is as good a player as we have ever had at Duke.  And he’s a great man.  He’s got the whole package.”
  • When talking again about comparing Okafor to only Brand and Boozer, K also cleaned up the record by mentioning parenthetically that  Christian Laettner “was a pretty good player” but not a true low post center.
  • Sulaimon is not playing well. He is either still feeling under the weather or pressing too hard for more playing time. Matt Jones, on the other hand, continues to impress and Semi Ojeleye does not.

Alan Adds:

In many ways — not shooting, however — this was Duke’s best game of the season.  Duke’s defense was intense and kept breakdowns to a minimum (Duke still is getting beaten back door, but that is the price to be paid for aggressive efforts to get in the passing lanes).  Temple did not score 30 points in either half (26 in the first half; 28 in the second).  The Blue Devils forced 17 turnovers that included 9 steals to go with 5 blocks.  While Duke shot poorly for the first 25 minutes of the game, Duke had 14 assists on its 25 field goals.  They shared the ball with some great passes that are not in the stat sheet because the shot was missed.  At one point, Duke was 4-18 from 3land before Quinn (2) and Matt Jones hit 3 of the last 5 bonus attempts, which put the game away.  While Okafor had a poor shooting first half (3-13), he played his usual shooting game in the second half (4-7), but curiously only garnered 1 defensive rebound (after 7 first half offensive rebounds).  He added 2 blocks — one of which was crucial and contributed to Duke moving out of Temple’s reach. He played only 27 minutes and was clearly not as comfortable as in the first 3 games. Marshall contributed 11 wonderfully efficient minutes (1-1 from the floor with 5 boards and 2 blocks).  It was an impressive performance.  Matt Jones (16) and Rasheed (14) also played double digit minutes off the bench.  Jones continues to defend well with a 3 pointer (in 3 attempts) and 2 assists without a turnover.  You can see Coach K’s trust in Matt building, conversely dwindling with Rasheed.  Rasheed continues to disappoint, though it may still be the hangover from his being ill.  He was 1-5 from the floor (0-1 from 3land) 0-2 from the foul line with 2 boards, 2 turnovers, 0 assists, steals or blocks, while committing 3 fouls. This team needs Rasheed to get well or otherwise turn his season around.  Grayson played 6 minutes (4 of his 6 points came at key times in the first half) while Semi logged only 4 minutes (0-2 from 3land — all of his shots this season have been from behind the arc.) while committing 2 fouls.

Quinn led Duke in scoring (17 points on 6-12 shooting including 3-8 from behind the arc — the last 2 were key, and 2-2 from the stripe) and in minutes played (34).  Quinn is a very good rebounder for a guard (5 for this game) and played superb defense on the perimeter adding 2 steals.  He had 2 turnovers with a single assist.  He is, right now, the unquestioned team leader and is having a banner year thus far.  He has adjusted marvelously to being off the ball much of the time while the steady and impressive Tyus runs the offense.  Although in his 29 minutes, Tyus shot poorly (1-7 including 1-4 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the line for 5 points), he played a superb floor game.  He had 7 assists with only a single turnover to go with 5 boards (he and Quinn garnered 10 boards between them), and 3 steals.  He played excellent (improving) defense and committed only a single foul.  Amile Jefferson had his best game of the season at both ends of the floor.  He played the second most minutes (31) while going 3-5 from the field, snaring 8 boards, handing out an assist, and getting a block.  He had no turnovers.  The only quibble was 2-5 from the stripe and committing 3 fouls.  He is glue on defense.  Justise continues to impress though he is freshman-inconsistent.  What is impressively consistent is his defense, hustle and athleticism.  In 28 minutes, he had 15 points on 8 shots (4-8; 1-4 from behind the arc and 6-9 from the line.  He is a slasher who draws fouls.  Temple only shot 13 free throws as a team; Justise shot 9 (but needs to shoot better than 67%).  Duke as a team was even more inaccurate from the stripe (17-26 for 61%), but made more free throws than Temple attempted (a good sign).  In addition to Winslow’s 3 missed free throws, Jefferson also missed 3 and Rasheed 2 (8 of the 9 misses; Grayson Allen was 3-4 for the other miss).  Winslow plays the whole game at both ends.  He can guard four positions on the floor, and has been used at both forward spots on offense; he handles like a guard (think James Harden when Justise gets it all together consistently).  He added 8 boards (tie for the lead for Duke) with an assist and a steal with a single turnover.  He committed 3 fouls.

Stanford was very impressive in wiping the floor with UNLV.  Many good story lines for this game, but the key is the rate at which the freshmen improve and the team continues to grow defensively.

DUKE 70- STANFORD 59

Five games in nine days in three different cities—welcome to an NBA schedule plus classes. Actually, it is Coach K’s boot training  to condition his team for tournament time. Except for the shooting part, the team passed with flying colors or in coaches words: “A good performance without offensive pretty.”

What have we learned in the last five games? This is a deep and talented team with an exceptionally gifted center and point guard who make everyone else better. Not to mention a power forward who may be the most complete basketball player on the team. And a senior guard who, if he continues to play and shoot as he has, could be the last piece of the championship puzzle. Also, an unsung blue collar player every team needs who is willing to do all the gritty little things that are often overlooked. And then there is a dependable bench, stocked with players who accept the fact that even though they are not starting, they are nevertheless important components of  a winning team.

Additional observations:

  • So far, the defense has somewhat papered over the fact that free throw shooting among the front line is the Achilles Heel of this team. That has to change,
  • because as the teams get tougher and the games closer, free throws are crucial.
  • Speaking of defense, take a look at this year’s assist, turnover, rebounding, and steals differential compared to last year.
  • Matt Jones is a different player this year. When I saw his awkward shooting release last year, I wondered how had the reputation as a good three point shooter. As my old Coach Carter used to say: “This game isn’t ice skating, there are no style points. It’s not how, but how many.” And he has long arms allowing him to play bigger than his height.
  • I don’t know about you, but when Justise Winslow limped off the floor against Temple, Kyrie’s Irving’s injury about the same time of year flashed through my mind.

Alan Adds:

The tournament in Brooklyn was a wonderful coming out party for Duke’s defense.  For those of us still having nightmares about last year’s defense and wondering how the freshmen would adapt to Coach K’s team defense (it is usual for freshmen to have a longer defensive learning curve than offensively), this tournament was a glorious defensive statement.  Duke did not shoot well in either game and yet was never seriously challenged.  Winslow, Okafor and Jones have played remarkably well on the defensive end as have Cook, Jefferson, and Matt Jones.  Duke took away Stanford’s 3 pointers (3-14), held even on the boards, and committed few fouls (Stanford did not reach the bonus in the first half) and only had 14 free throw attempts for the game (12-14), while making 17 (out of 26 attempts; Justise was a disappointing 4-10; Okafor 2-4; and Rasheed 1-3, accounted for 10 of Duke’s 12 misses.  Tyus 3-4 and Jefferson 3-4 accounted for the other 2), more than Stanford attempted.  While Duke shot only 39 % from the field (9-25 from long range), the passing was breathtaking and admirable.  Duke had 16 assists on 22 baskets, and like the night before had many gorgeous passes that did not make the stat sheet because of missed open shots.

Rasheed seemed to return to form against Stanford as Coach K shortened his rotation even further, as he usually does for big games.   Neither Grayson Allen nor Semi Ojeleye left the bench and Marshall played only 5 minutes in the first half.  Coach K elected to use Jefferson to back up Okafor in the second half, but only for about a minute or two.  Otherwise Jahlil played almost the entire second half.  Quinn (39 minutes), Jahlil (34)  and Justise (35) were the center pieces of Duke’s effort.  They left the court only briefly (Quinn not at all).  Tyus (26), Jefferson (24) Matt Jones (18) and Rasheed (19) all contributed significantly.

This, for better or worse, is Quinn’s team.  In his senior year, he has been outstanding and (unlike past years) consistent at both ends of the floor.  Coach K pointed out that Quinn is playing great and deserved the MVP of the tournament award that he received.  He was guarding a 6’6” guard and was outstanding.  He played every second until the last 1:18 of the game, when the outcome had been decided.  In his 39 minutes, he led Duke in scoring with 18 (6-12; 4-9 from 3land and 4-4 from the line) to go with 5 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal with only a single turnover.  It is a joy to watch a player go through hard times, persevere, learn, grow and develop in four years.  We don’t get to see that the way we used to.  Quinn is hungry (no championships in his first three years and lots of criticism) and is leading his younger teammates.

It looks as if there will be a growing debate as to who Duke’s best freshman player this year, as Justise Winslow continues to sparkle.  First and foremost, he is Duke’s most valuable and versatile defender.  He has what the announcers call “an amazing motor”, meaning he displays constant energy with jaw dropping athleticism and a determined will.  He has hops!  When Stanford went small and/or to a zone, Winslow played the power forward in place of Jefferson, along with Okafor and 3 guards.  When Stanford seemed poised to make a run, Winslow’s rebounding and all around play shut Stanford down.  The only thing that stops the superlatives from morphing into big time hype is his lack of shooting efficiency ( 4-10 from the field, but only 2-7 from downtown; and the grievous 4-10 from the foul line).  I (and Coach K) predict his shooting will come around making him a real force this year.  He, Quinn and Okafor were named to the all-tournament first team.  Okafor came up so big when Stanford reduced the Duke lead to 8.  Duke went inside to Okafor, who scored twice in a row to push the lead back to 12 and end the Cardinal hopes.  While he did not shoot well (10 points on 4-10 from the field and 2-4 from the line), he was a beast on the backboard (12 rebounds; yes that’s a double double) an assist, a steal and a block.  He was a superb rim protector, altering Stanford close in shots and showing he has strength and a mean streak in addition to his impressive skills.

Tyus had a subpar statistical game and did not log as many minutes as usual. Coach K feared an energy drain because Duke has played 5 games in 8 days, including 3 big time games in two different neutral site locations in the last 3 days.  Though he was 0-6 from the field (0-3 from 3land and 3-4 from the line), Tyus played a valuable floor game and is improving on the defensive end by leaps and bounds.  He had only 2 assists (1 turnover) but garnered 3 boards and made 3 steals.  He has become so valuable and works so well with Cook.  Jefferson had one of his best games, even if limited by Stanford’s smaller lineup and zone defense.  In his 24 minutes, Amile was 3-6 from the field; 3-4 from the line with 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block without a turnover.  He did commit 3 fouls.  The bench was basically Matt Jones and Sulaimon.  Jones was a revelation.  In his 18 minutes, he contributed a critical times on the offensive end while playing exemplary defense.  He was 4-7 from the field (2-3 from 3land) for 10 points, with a rebound and a steal against 2 turnovers.  Rasheed is not yet statistically there, but he seemed back in harness, especially on the defensive end.  He scored only 6 in his 19 minutes, but both buckets were important (2-5 from the field; 1-3 from behind the arc and 1-3 from the line) to go with 2 assists and a tough rebound in traffic (1 turnover).

All in all, Duke fans could not have asked for a better start to the season.  Duke gets a respite before playing Furman and Army next week.

DUKE 93 –  FURMAN 57

I was in Pinehurst for our annual Thanksgiving family gathering so I recorded the Furman and Army scrimmages which I view as scheduled home conditioning interludes between Michigan State and the clash with #2Wisconsin this Wednesday in Madison. Alan found more interesting aspects of the games than I did.

However, this game did answer a question I have been asking myself: “What’s keeping Grayson Allen off the floor?” (He played just one minute against Michigan State, six against Temple and then not at all against Stanford.) He is much more athletic than JJ, is not worse defensively, and  has a beautiful three point stroke. When Coach K called timeout with :30 seconds left in the half, I thought that if Grayson’s not in, he really is deep in the dog house. Breaking the huddle, Allen and Matt Jones went to corners along Tyus Jones, Winslow and Rasheed Sulaimon. Tyus patiently took time off the clock before passing it to Allen in the corner, and – swish, buzzer! How many times have we seen this movie?

“Grayson might not play for 19 minutes and 50 seconds against” – Krzyzewski paused to come up with a hypothetical – “Wisconsin, and we put him in, and he did it. That was one of the best and most meaningful plays of the afternoon.”

Alan Adds:

I believe most commentators, and even Duke fans, will regard the Furman game as a routine blow out of a vastly inferior team — a “breather” or “laugher” in an otherwise formidable schedule.  There was relief that Duke fans did not repeat last year’s game against Vermont, in similar circumstances where Duke was an overwhelming favorite to beat an inferior team with a losing record.

Let me offer a contrasting view; I believe when the season is done, we will look back on the first half of the Furman game as the moment when you could truly visualize for the first time the connecting path between the amazing potential of a group of extraordinarily talented players to the realization of the dream of team — especially on the defensive end.  Duke played well in the second half, but human nature just toned down the team intensity of the first half that seemed to me to be truly a watershed moment.  What a delicious defensive first half!  Never mind the impressive stats (Furman is another Presbyterian as far as athletic talent goes), but savor Duke’s spectacular aggressive hedges and switches on screens, creating the double teams, followed by the smooth rotations to cover the roller (or screen setter).  I know that Furman is not Michigan State, but you could see the improvement of the rotations to cover the roller.  Michigan State had some success with the roller laying it up and in on the pick and rolls.  Last night against Furman, Duke looked like a ballet troupe the way they rotated to make the traps effective.  Credit Justise Winslow, who is quick, athletic and defensively intelligent.  He was so intense, and helped make the team defense, well, beautiful (hence the ballet simile).  Jahlil, Amile and Marshall were so aggressive in defending the screen with the hard hedge and double team.  When Furman made the good pass against the double team (which was frequently done), Justise, Matt Jones, Rasheed (the starting guards are a little too small to be effective in that role) and the off big man (I.e. Jefferson when Jahlil was the double teamer) were so cohesive in rotation that Furman had to bring the ball back out.

So was some of the passing on offense both beautiful and ballet-like.  There were two that deserve to be remembered.  One was a five pass (no dribble) sequence that ended with Winslow making a touch pass out of the high post to Jahlil for the dunk.  The other — among Cook, Tyus and Amile — ended up as a turnover, but the concept was so deliciously unselfish and creative that it too deserved to be savored.

For the first half, Duke scored 50 on 57 % shooting, with 13 assists (in the first half!) on 20 field goals.  Jahlil (5-7 for 10 points) and Amile (6-6 for 12 points) led the way.  The bigs (totaling 11-13 from the floor in the opening stanza) were the recipients of superb passing for finishing at or near the rim.  It was simply exquisite basketball.  Matt Jones contributed 7 off the bench in the first half as did Justise.  Tyus did not score in the entire game.  Justise did not score in the second half; you can see that he is offensively aggressive only when the team needs him to be (which it clearly did not in the second half).  For the game, Duke shot 57% dishing out 24 assists on 36 field goals against only 7 turnovers.

The starters all played between 23 and 26 minutes.  All the reserves got a good run (between 12 and 19 minutes)  Coach K mixed and matched intensely, trying all different combinations together.  Jahlil led Duke in minutes (26) and scoring with 24 points (first Duke 20 point scorer this year; demonstrating Duke’s balanced scoring so far) on 12-14 shooting to go with 7 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks.  He is one of the best finishers I have seen in College basketball.  He missed his only free throw (Duke was 6-10; Justise 2-4 and Matt 1-2 were the other misses).  Jefferson and Quinn played 24 minutes.  Amile had a wonderfully efficient game, scoring 16 points on 8-9 shooting (he missed a tough tip in attempt) while grabbing 12 rebounds, dishing out 2 assists and getting a steal and a block.  Coach K called Quinn the “key guy” in creating team chemistry.  He had 5 assists against only one turnover, going 4-10 from the field; 3-9 from 3land and gorgeous twisting drive).  He added 3 boards and a steal.  Tyus and Justice played 23 minutes.  Tyus was 0-2 from the floor, but contributed mightily with 7 assists and some very solid defense (improving by leaps and bounds on that end of the floor).  Justise was 2-7 for 7 points (1-3 from behind the arc and 2-4 from the line).  Do not be fooled by Justise’s modest stat line, he is so valuable to this team, especially on the defensive end.

Matt Jones had a break out game, scoring 13 points (4-5 from 3land and 1-2 from the line) in his 19 minutes.  He corralled 3 boards and had 2 assists to go along with some intense defense.  He and Rasheed are becoming a force on the perimeter as reserves.  Suliamon also logged 19 minutes, scoring 9 on 4-8 shooting (1-4 from behind the arc) to go with excellent defense, 2 tough rebounds in traffic and 2 assists.  Semi (15 minutes) and Marshall (12 minutes) were effective substitutes on the front line.  Marshall played defense and got 2 boards to go with 2-2 foul shooting (6-6 for the year).  Semi had his best game, scoring 6 on 2-3 shooting (1-2 from behind the arc, and 1-1 from the line.  He had 3 boards and played great defense.  He was called for two fouls, but the second one was not a foul, just a great defensive play.  Grayson scored 5 (including the set play 3 pointer at the close of the first half) in 13 minutes.  He was forcing shots, hoisting up 7 (2-7; 1-5 from behind the arc), but was energetic on the floor with 3 boards, an assist and a block.

DUKE  93 –   ARMY 73

After watching The United States Military Academy’s basketball team in action, you have to feel that at least this arm of the government is in excellent (pun alert) hands.  Their approach to the game is impressive—and basketball is not even their major. The final score is no indication as to how good and talented a team they are. I’m glad we had Okafor because without him  T. Jones would not have had a double- double and the score would have been much closer. Anyhow, Alan has all the details and I will save my insights for the Wisconsin game.

Additional observations:

  • Army’s effort and performance comes as no surprise to those of us who have observed Coach K over the years. He is emphatic about West Points’ impact on this development: “I remember playing there more so than my first win (as a coach). That’s my base. I wear my wedding ring and I wear my West Point ring with a Duke stone. I’m getting all emotional now. I love West Point. I love the fact that I had that opportunity and then I had the opportunity to coach there. One of the reasons that I’m a good coach here is because of my five years there. They’ll always be in my heart and I’ll always be a West Point-er.”
  • Grayson Allen played more minutes today but showed why he probably has not played more.

Alan adds:

I thought the Army game a bit strange and hard to get a handle on all its significances, both offensively and defensively.  Duke played defense with a lot of energy, but sporadically — not on every possession.  You could see some of the old 2013-14 Duke deficiencies creeping back — shoddy transition defense giving up open 3s and drives from the perimeter.  It’s true that most of this happened when Duke had the game well in hand in the second half, but the opening few minutes were defensively careless before Duke clamped down Duke style at about the 15 minute mark of the first half.  Duke was offensively fluid,  hampered only by its uncharacteristically bad shooting from behind the arc (4-19 for the game; 1-8 in the first half).  If you take away the 3 point attempts, Duke was 27-51 from inside the arc, and a dramatic 15-20 from inside the arc in the first half.   For the game, Duke had 20 assists on 31 baskets; pretty impressive.  Justise Winslow committed two offensive fouls within the first two and a half minutes of the game, had a turnover and a bad defensive play.  He went to the bench with 17 minutes and change left in the first half.  As a result he logged only 12 minutes, and Duke’s defense may have suffered a bit because of his absence.  It was Duke’s superior size that kept Army from being competitive.

Duke had only four players who logged more than 20 minutes, and those four were the only double figure scorers.  Tyus led the team in minutes and in every other way on offense.  He also played some really excellent team defense, but still gets beaten back door on occasion.  However, on offense he sparkled against Army.  In 34 scintillating minutes, Tyus had 10 assists (and many of them were spectacularly beautiful), 0 turnovers, 5 boards and a steal.  He scored 16 points on 3-4 shooting inside the arc and 7-8 from the line.  He still has not found his 3 point shot (1-4), but that is a quibble for such a terrific performance.  Quinn played 30 minutes (He and Tyus were the only Duke players to play more than 26 minutes), scoring 13 points on 12 shots (5-12; 1-5 from behind the arc and made both free throws).  Quinn had 3 steals, 2 boards and 2 assists.   Because Justise was so limited in playing time, Rasheed  got more playing time.  Rasheed played the third most minutes (26) scoring 13 points (4-10; 1-4 from behind the arc and 4-4 from the line to go with 2 assists, 2 boards and a steal.  He was energetic and played excellent defense.  Jahlil was somewhere between awesome and impressive.  In 25 minutes, he destroyed Army (21 points on 8-14 shooting, but only 5-9 from the line) to go with some great passing out of the post and 8 rebounds and a block.  He altered shots, finished dramatically and was an unstoppable force.  The pundits are salivating to see how he performs against Wisconsin’s huge, talented and experienced front line, led by Frank Kaminsky, the 7 footer who had such an outstanding NCAA tournament last year.

Jefferson was a beast on the boards against an undersized team in his 20 minutes — 12 boards, 7 points (3-3 from the field, but 1-3 from the line) to go with 2 assists and a block.  He and Okafor (and Plumlee) were devastating inside against the smaller Black Knights.  Marshall had another incredible stat line.  In his 13 minutes, he was 2-2 from the field; 2-2 from the line for 8 points, with 5 boards and 2 blocks.  Matt Jones was first off the bench when Justise committed his second foul.  He played 18 minutes, scoring 6 points with 2 steals, an assist and a rebound.  Defense is still his calling card, and you can see Coach K trusting him more.  When Coach K finally let Winslow back in the game (6 minutes to go in the first half), Winslow played well, but Coach K limited him (punishment for two quick not so smart offensive fouls?) to not much more than cameos in each half.  Still in his 12 minutes, Winslow  scored 7 points on 3-4 shooting (1-2 from 3land) with a board, an assist and a steal.  Semi (12 minutes) played a good floor game, but Grayson (10 minutes) looked lost and unhappy.  Semi had four boards and an assist, though he did not shoot well (0-2 from the field and 2-4 from the line.  Grayson did not score, missing his only shots — 2 3 point attempts.

Next Play: On Wednesday night, Duke takes on the third ranked Badgers of Wisconsin.  Wisconsin returns four of its starters and all of its bench from a Final Four team a year ago (lost to Kentucky by a point on a last minute long shot by Andrew Harrison).  They feature a huge front line and a first team All- American candidate in the 7 foot Frank Kaminski,  This will be a telling test for Duke’s young and talented team.

DUKE 80 –  WISCONSIN 70

Jahlil Okafor is a wonderful talent but this is Tyus Jones team. He may only be a college freshman and look like a high school junior but he makes plays like a seasoned, senior All-American. Playing before a hostile crowd of 17,279, against a team that made the Final Four a year ago and came in ranked No. 2 nationally, Jones scored 22 points, to go with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. And by the way, it wasn’t a one man show. The guys off the bench kept Duke in the game in the first half. As I was saying, in big games Rasheed Sulaimon’s “have no fear, just attack and take the hill” mentality shows the team how to perform. Marshall Plumlee had productive minutes as did Matt Jones; however, next to Ty Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon was the MVP—especially on a night when Justise Winslow was offensively missing in action until the last minutes when he settled down, hit a three and took a half court out of bounds give-and-go from Jahlil to the basket for an uncontested, demoralizing dunk. And who has improved more than Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee? They have the best field goal percentages on the team and play very effective defense. But more than anything this impressive performance demonstrated the maturity, toughness, depth, versatility, and coolness of this Duke team. And, oh yes, their defense bears no resemblance to that of the last few years.

The coaches also played a part. Jeff Capel, who was head coach at Oklahoma and was especially close to Tyus through his recruitment, encouraged K to go to him more in the second half. Coach called more ball screens for Ty in the second half and Jah encouraged his buddy to shoot more, too, since Wisconsin was sagging off him. Who knew the laid back point guard had this much scoring fire power?

In his duel with the Badgers Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor was outscored 17-13 – but hit 6-8 to Kaminsky’s 5-12. Even when his numbers appear subpar, Jahlil has an impact on the game just being on the floor because his presence creates space and an opportunity for his teammates to operate. The same is true of Quinn Cook. He is in Coach K’s words a “safe harbor” for T. Jones. Quinn’s acceptance of Tyus being the point and controlling the ball has made him a better, more effective player.

The most impressive aspects of the win were: It was in Madison where any Coach Bo Ryan’s teams rarely lose; against a consensus top four team; the defense was terrific; everyone who played contributed; the offense production was terrific even though Okafor’s numbers were subpar. This ten point margin is as close as any team has come to beating Duke.

Additional observations:

  • This was Coach K’s win number 991. In  top-five matchups his Duke teams are 25-13, including 6-6 on the road.
  • Fortunately, Jay Bilas called the game and demonstrated once again why he is the most knowledgeable college basketball analyst on television.
  • UNC lost to Iowa in Chapel Hill.
  • BTW, Louisville joins the ACC this year. They are big, athletic, and very good.

Alan Adds: 

The game had, for me, almost the feel of a Final Four game.  Everyone knew that these two teams seem to be Final Four quality, and this was a major test for each on National television.  Of course, it was not an elimination game, but rather a development and evaluation game (not even a conference game); so not Final Four intensity, but almost.   It was fun to watch as a Duke fan.  After the game, I texted Bill, “Duke’s best win since Kyrie got hurt in 2011 (better than Austin’s dagger against UNC, because of the potential to be a National champion that this team demonstrated in this game).  Yes, I thought Duke looked that good.  It was also the game where Tyus Jones emerged as Duke’s floor leader, announcing his presence on the national scene.  Tyus was not less than superb.  He logged 37 minutes (the most on Duke) scored 22 points on 11 shots and controlled the game to a remarkable extent.  Traveon Jackson may have scored 25 points in a dramatic outing for the Badgers, but he wasn’t even in the same league as Tyus for providing leadership, stability and confidence for his team.  Tyus remarkably had only a single turnover (4 assists).  This was a very special performance.  The guards (Tyus, Quinn and Rasheed) shot 6-9 from behind the arc.  Duke had two rebounding leaders — Jahlil with 6 and (drum roll, please) Tyus with 6.

The second take away from this game is the absolute certainty that Duke’s defense is back.  Duke won, in large measure because they were a much better defensive team.  First, let’s send kudos to Justise Winslow, who logged 32 minutes (second most on the team) and led the stingy defense.  One could say Winslow did not have a good game because he scored only 5 points on 2-6 shooting (though the two were at crunch time), but one would be completely wrong because of the defensive glue and energy Winslow brought to the team.  There is a reason Coach K had him in the game more than any other player besides Tyus.  Duke’s switching was beautiful to behold — look back at my “Alan Adds” for the Furman game, where Duke’s defense looked ballet like in its fluidity.  The quality of the opponent was much higher, but Duke’s defense rose to the occasion.  It was team defense with starters and bench all contributing as an efficient, cohesive, intensely motivated team.  It was simply exhilerating.

Offensively, Duke was on fire, shooting the lights out (30-46; 7-12 from 3land).  Duke had no free throw attempts in the first half and was an ok 8-13 in the second half.  Duke held the huge Wisconsin team even on the boards.

Tyus had great help offensively.  Quinn played 31 scintillating minutes scoring 13 points on only 5  shots (4-5; 2-3 from behind the arc and 3-4 from the line).  Jahlil showed that he can play with any big in the country (well, let’s see about the horde of bigs from Kentucky) by playing Kaminsky to a standstill.  In 27 minutes (4 fouls), he scored 13 on 6-8 shooting.  Jefferson was also terrific in  25 minutes going 3-4 from the floor with 6 boards.  As Bill points out, so much juice to the Duke effort on both ends of the floor came from Rasheed in his 21 minutes.  He was 5-8 (2-3 from 3land and 2-2 from the line) for 14 points (second high scorer on the team) while grabbing 3 boards, handing out 2 assists and making a steal.  Wow!  He led the efficient bench.  Matt Jones played 19 terrific minutes (1-1; and 1-2 from the line) both on defense, where he is really shining and an all around floor game.  The last and 8th contributer was Marshall.  He played only 8 minutes, going 2-3 for four points  with 3 boards.  If you extrapolate those stats out to a 40 minute game, that’s 20 points and 15 boards.  Unfortunately, Marshall also committed 2 fouls (which would limit him to about 18 minutes).  I thought it significant that when Jahlil picked up his fourth foul with about five minutes left, Jefferson came in for Jahlil rather than Plumlee.  The small lineup (Justise at power forward) held the fort.

After a “breather” with Elon, Duke goes to the Meadowlands to play the defending national champions, UConn.

DUKE 75- ELON 62

The good news is Jahlil Okafor celebrated his 18th birthday by going for a school record 25 points & 20 rebounds; however, after twelve days off for exams, the Blue Devils were somewhat sloppy (17 turnovers), inconsistent, and certainly not firing on all cylinders. The bad news is that the starting front court shot 7 for 18 from the line– and that is not an aberration. There are only a couple things that can stop this team: injuries, bad luck, or bad free throw shooting, which has always been a strength of Coach K’s best teams. Please put in a call to Chip “The Shot Doctor” Engelland, who scored 1,000 points as a Duke player from 1979-83 and is a shot guru to the accuracy challenged, because in close games Okafor and Winslow will be spending a lot of time at the line. It must be noted that like other less heralded teams coming into Cameron, under-sized, over-matched Elon competed hard and conceded nothing.

A good example of that is late in the game Rasheed Sulaimon pressed Luke Eddy practically the length of the floor and was called for a foul as Eddy fell  to the floor. Then Sully appeared to give Eddy a shove and he was called for a technical. What the replays showed was that Eddy hooked Rasheed’s arm and attempted to pull him down also. As usual, retaliation got the call. While Sulaimon took blame for the technical (“I lost my cool and made a bone-head play, something that a Duke player doesn’t make. I’m very ashamed and embarrassed at the way I represented this program, myself and my family.”), Rasheed (11 pts, 2 steals, 3 rebs) played another solid game as the first substitution and demonstrated the intensity and toughness every minute he is on the floor. Championship teams need that from their best players.

Additional observations:

The Darwinian basketball principle: there are only so many floor minutes. Caught up in a talent jam, sophomore Semi Ojeleye has decided to transfer. This should not be a surprise as he is too talented to be satisfied with a seat on the bench. Semi hasn’t announced a new school yet, but wherever he ends up, someone’s getting a talented player and a first-class kid.

Alan adds:

Coach K was unhappy with his team’s performance and, as usual, was eloquent in describing the shortcomings he saw.  He said Duke “didn’t do the hard things tonight.”  The hard things he identified are “finishes, talk on defense, be strong with the ball, dive for loose balls.  We didn’t do those things that we have been doing.”  He said this was the result of the lay-off, but also people “telling us how good we are” after the great game against Wisconsin.  Coach K explained that it was normal to have a let down after a great game.  “In order to be really good, you can’t be normal.  Normal stays in the past and wants it easier after some great accomplishment.  Not normal gets hungrier.  We didn’t pass that test tonight.  Human nature beat the hell out of us tonight.  We weren’t as good as we can be, not as good as we are going to be, and not as good as we have been.”  Interestingly, Coach K admonished his team for not following the defensive game plan.  He said this was the first time this year that his team didn’t implement the game plan.  He also pointed to 17 turnovers against only 14 assists.  He was not a happy coach.

With Ojeleye gone, Duke’s rotation was essentially 7.  Grayson Allen played only 8 minutes with 0 shots or points (1 rebound; 1 steal and 1 turnover) and Marshall logged only 10 minutes with 0 shots and 0 points (2 boards; 2 blocks while committing 2 fouls).  Six Duke players logged between 20 (Matt Jones) and 29 minutes (Okafor).  Quinn played a game high 35 minutes with 7 points (3-9 from the field; 1-6 from behind the arc; 0 free throw attempts) 4 assists and a steal against a single turnover.  His backcourt buddy, Tyus Jones fell to earth after his heavenly performance against Wisconsin.  In 23 minutes, he missed his only field goal attempt (4-6 from the line) with 4 assists and an unusual 4 turnovers.  Matt Jones was also subpar, going 1-6 from the field (0-4 from 3land; 1-1 from the line) with 0 assists and 2 turnovers.  It was Rasheed who was the backcourt bulwark.  In his 26 minutes, he was 4-9 from the field for 11 points (1-2 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the free throw line) to go with 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals without a turnover.  Bad incident at the end, but a very creditable game.

Duke’s bigs dominated the undersized Elon team, especially Okafor, who had 10 offensive rebounds.  Coach K said that when Elon went to the 1-3-1 zone it left a small defender on the base line and Okafor took wonderful advantage.  In 29 minutes, he was 10-14 from the floor (5-11 from the line for 25 points) and had 20 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and an assist.  On the “Normal side” he committed 4 turnovers and was dismal from the free throw line.  So were Jefferson and Winslow.  Amile logged 23 minutes going 6-7 from the field (but 1-3 from the line) for 13 points to go with his 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal.  His “normal” was 3 turnovers.  Winslow was 1-4 from the line, but was so valuable otherwise.  In 27 minutes, he was 5-10 from the filed, though only 1-4 from behind the arc as well as from the line.   Thus, as Bill points out, the bigs were a dismal 7-18 from the line.  That has to be fixed.

Though it wasn’t a great performance, it was Duke’s 9th straight win of the season, and once again showcased Jahlil as something very special.  Next play is in New Jersey on Thursday against the defending National champions, the University of Connecticut.  Coach K wants to have his team playing hungry again in that game.

DUKE 66 – UCONN 56

Tonight’s winning numbers are: 25-34, 40-26 & 0. Those were the  free throws attempted and made, (a key component to Coach K’s best teams. this cannot be stressed enough, because it indicates how aggressive the offense is), the rebounding margin, and the number of points for seven foot center Amida Brimah, last seen scoring 40 against Coppin State. Brimah picked up two early fouls, couldn’t begin to keep up with Jahlil Okafor, and fouled out with little impact on the game. Not so for Ryan Boatright, who was a boatload of trouble to defend and handful defensively, responsible for a lot of Duke’s 12 first half turnovers (Duke had only 36 in their first eight games).

It was a contest that demonstrated the versatility, resourcefulness, mental and physical toughness of this team. However, perhaps the most crucial moment was the start of the second half when Duke turned the ball over and UConn scored to cut the lead to three points. A furious Coach K burned a timeout and in his inimitable manner asked his players what the f*** they were doing and requested(?) a better effort. The Blue Devils responded with a 12-2 run to pretty much put themselves in the driver’s seat against a team (minus some key players) that beat Kentucky in last year’s  NCAA Championship game. Nevertheless nothing came easy against a team with a coach as good as Kevin Oliver and a guard as good as Ryan Boatright.

On a night that Cook was offensively quiet and Justise Winslow had Alan wondering at the half if he left his game at exam week, Jefferson and T.

Jones once again proved how valuable they are. Tyus (21 pts & 5 rebs) is the most unassuming bigtime point guard you will ever see and Jefferson (11 pts & 13 rebs) just shows up when the more heralded big men don’t. In the second half, Winslow, obviously responding to Alan’s critique, showed flashes of his talents with three big time plays– a three, a tip-in off a missed free throw, and a fantastic block.

All in all it was a tough, some would say, ugly win against a talented, scrappy team at the Meadowlands, where Duke has played so many memorable games.

Additional observations:

Predictably, Coach K’s rotation has shortened. He is 6-4 against UConn.

*Jay Bilas was one of the announcers and Jayson Williams was one of the halftime anchors. No other school has as many ex-players involved on more levels of college basketball than Duke.

*Jabari Parker has been diagnosed with a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

*Seth Curry is averaging 25 pts a game for Erie BayHawks in the NBA development League and the Miami Heat sent Andre Dawkins down to the D-League in early December. He is averaging 22 pts a game.

*Justin Robinson, the son of legendary center David Robinson, was admitted via early decision and will be added to Duke’s roster next year as a preferred walk-on. (Generally, a player that is recruited for a spot on the team, but there is no scholarship available. Often, the players parents are we enough off to pay the tuition. These players might also have an “off the books” agreement that they’ll get a scholarship when one becomes available.) Justin’s brother is a very talented freshman wide receiver for Notre Dame.

Alan Adds: 

What a strange, but illuminating game this was for Duke.  On the plus side, Bill points to Duke’s size advantage that produced backboard dominance, an offense that went to the line frequently and made a competent percentage, and what Bill didn’t say, but Coach K did – was to compliment Duke’s outstanding half court defense (especially in the second half).  On the minus side is Duke’s continuing woes with taking care of the ball on offense.  After an extraordinary first few games, Duke has “not been strong with the ball” for the last two games.  Duke had 12 (TV commentators) or 15 (ESPN half time stats) turnovers in the first half and 19 for the game against only 10 assists.  Only 10 assists is a telling statistic.  For the first time, Duke faced a team that was quicker and played intense pressure defense.  Duke did not respond well – especially in the first half.  I thought UCONN did not sustain its frenetic defensive pace in the second half, but taught Duke a lesson about the need to take better care of the ball.  The turnovers the Huskie defense produced led to most of the UCONN scoring that wasn’t done by the amazing Ryan Boatright.  He was so good.

But Coach K put it in perspective – Tyus learned a lot tonight on both ends.and did very well indeed.  The other negative from the game was how unproductive the Duke bench was.  First, there wasn’t much bench.  Grayson played 2 minutes; Marshall 5 and Matt Jones 6.  Only Rasheed logged double figure minutes (17), but none of the four scored.  Rasheed missed all four shots and had 5 turnovers with 2 boards and a steal.  Matt was 0-1; Marshall committed 2 fouls in his 5 minutes while grabbing a board, but blocked 2 shots (the one in the second half was a much needed beauty).  It has been a long time since the Duke bench was that unproductive.

The starters logged big minutes, played very well in spots (especially in the second half) and all scored in double figures.  At the end of the first half, I wrote, “Even though Duke led at half; UCONN was the better team, led by the best player on the floor, Ryan Boatright.  Boatright not only shredded the Duke defense, but disrupted the Duke offense with intense defense causing steals and disruption.  Duke’s offense was plagued by 15 turnovers and 8-25 shooting (3-9 from 3).  UCONN had 4 more field goals but Duke thrived from the foul line 11-15. Jahlil and Jefferson controlled the boards.  Jefferson was terrific with 10 points and 7 boards.  Winslow continues to fade.  He was as good as any freshman in the early games, but in last 5 games he has been absent on offense.  Marshall was really inept in the first half.”

As Bill points out, Coach K called time out (with 19:19 left in the second half) after Duke misfired on its opening possession and UCONN shredded the Duke defense for a layup, cutting Duke’s 30-25 halftime lead to 3.  “They were in lala land”, Coach K explained, “I had to wake them up.”  Even so it took another couple of minutes before the intensity turned on and Duke began to pull away.  UCONN scored on another layup and Boatright made 1 of 2 to tie the game at 30 with 18:16 left.  Then Winslow woke up – on both ends of the floor — and Duke turned the game around.  Winslow scored with 17:40 left for Duke’s first points of the half and a 2 point lead.  Duke guarded Boatright with double and triple teams.  UCONN scored once at the 14:33 mark, but did not score it’s 33rd point until the 11:29 mark.   By then Duke had extended the lead to 13 on the strength of balanced scoring with good ball movement.  UCONN had one more run and brought the score to 57-51 with 3:47 left.  Then Winslow took over with a crucial 3.  The Duke lead was back down to 6 with a little over a minute left when Jahlil missed a free throw, and Justise converted a great tip in to really clinch the game.

You get an idea of how much Coach K is relying on his backcourt by the minutes played – Quinn played 39 minutes (same as Boatright) and Tyus logged 38.  Tyus was awesome with 21 points on 5-11 from the field (2-6 from behind the arc) and a critical 9-10 from the free throw line.  Throw in 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals (an uncharacteristic 3 turnovers, but that is more a tribute to the Huskie defense) for a complete floor game and an MVP for the game (in my opinion).  Quinn shot 2-7 from behind the arc (3-9; 2-2 from the line) for 10 points.  His value was very much on the defensive end.  Even though Quinn had 3 turnovers, you could tell that Coach K did not trust his other guards to take care of the ball against the Huskie pressure defense.

Okafor played 34 minutes, scoring 12 points (only 5 shots; 3 field goals 5-11 from the line) and 8 boards.  His passing is wonderful,and he was far more valuable than his stat line showed.  Jefferson was on the court for 31 minutes and contributed a double double (13 boards and 11 points).  He is becoming a terrific leader and dependable player.  Winslow exploded in the second half after being limited by foul trouble in the first half.  He scored 12 points in his 28 minutes , but his return to form in the second half (10 of his 12 and great defense) was a welcome sight for the Blue Devil fans.

A strange but illuminating (and educational) game for the Blue Devils.  Next game is not until December 29 against Toledo in Cameron.

DUKE 86 – TOLEDO 69

Pay close attention Duke fans, we may have the makings of a very memorable season. Watching this young team develop and mature is real treat. While the three starting freshmen are really good and complement each other and any other two players really well, this is a different team when Okafor is on the floor. There are no good choices: double team him and he hits the open man like a Bill Walton, play him one-on-one and he scores in a variety of atypical, creative ways like a Tim Duncan–and he runs the floor like a young Bill Russell.

The Toledo Jahlil Rockets are a talented, veteran mid-major team that made several Vermont type wake up runs at the Blue Devils. Their flashy guard “Juice” Brown (19 pts.)was a handful for whomever was trying to guard him. He and Quinn Cook (20 pts.) were doing so much trash talking that Coach Krzyzewski finally jumped off the bench and yelled, “Hey, Cook! Shut up!” After Brown  blew by Cook on the defensive end for another easy layup, Quinn made an acrobatic behind the back save of a loose ball as his momentum took him into the row of photographers along the baseline. He picked himself up, worked his way back to the court and signaled for the ball like an open wide receiver. Ty Jones quickly zipped the ball back to him and Quinn then nailed the 3-pointer over a slow closing Brown and made one of his weird faces (Tyus: “We don’t really have a name for it. That’s just Q’s look. You know he means business when that look comes on.”) as he ran down the court.

There is no doubt in my mind that one of the critical components of Coach K’s success is his symbiotic relationship with his players. We witnessed an example of that last night. After a transition dunk by Okafor in the second half, Coach K slapped the floor in front of him WoJo style so hard he broke his watch. “My team deserves emotion. They got it and they gave it back, which was a cool thing. The final twenty minutes were our best since the Wisconsin game.” K also commented he did not call any plays in the second half. He had his team only run motion offense so the players would stop standing around and watching Jah do his thing.

Marshall Plumlee is developing into a very productive sub for Okafor, who is very open about the fact that practicing against MP3 is making him a better, more versatile post player. Giving high energy, physical minutes as a substitute, Marshall allows Jahlil periodic rests that allow him to go 100% while he is on the floor as demonstrated by his fast break dunks. And speaking of dunks, Plumlee had a terrific one off an out-of-bounds play. He is playing so well, K said he might play Okafor and Plumlee together against bigger teams.

Additional observations:

  • My only concerns are injuries, defense, depth (Semi Ojeleye is leaving for SMU), and free throw shooting—not necessarily in that order. While Duke shot a solid 73% from the line, that number is somewhat deceiving because the four big men were only 5-12 (42%).
  • Duke extended its winning streak while playing non-conference competition in Cameron  to an NCAA-best 115 games
  • Tonight’s 18 assists are a good indication as to how well these players share the ball. Tyus Jones had eight of the assists with only one turnover, giving him 61 assists and 16 turnovers through eleven games.
  • Bulletin Board material: Last night announcer Len Elmore (ex-Terp) said he thinks Virginia is better than Duke.
  • If you have not been watching Duke football, you have been missing a tremendous coaching job. In the Sun Bowl, several times Arizona State looked like the better team and that they would put the game on ice. However, the Blue Devils fought their way back with a punt return touchdown, a deftly executed fake punt/pass, and a creative reverse with right handed wide receiver Crowder throwing a left handed touchdown pass. In the final minutes, Duke was driving for the winning touchdown when inconsistent QB Anthony Boone threw an interception in the end zone as Duke lost  31-36. While Crowder is a tremendous receiver, he is 5’9”. Throwing a fade to him when you have  6’6” wide receiver Issac Blakeney on the other side defended by a 5’10” DB seems an odd decision. If you go to receiver face guarded by a back-to-the-ball defensive back on that pattern, a back shoulder throw is the percentage play. The pros do it all the time in the end zone. Opportunity lost. Nevertheless, Coach Cut has accomplished what others could not–rescuing Duke Football from the depths of a very long, dark depressing era.

Alan Adds:

There is much to be pleased with, with only a few concerns.  The major concern is the defense looked porous at times — especially in the first half —  bringing back memories of last year’s inability to protect the perimeter.  Duke had few answers for “Juice” Brown, who shredded Duke’s perimeter for 10 points in each half.  Brown is one of the nation’s leading 3 point shooters, but he was only 1-5 last night.  Duke was clearly willing to have him drive as a result of aggressively closing out on him behind the arc.  Weatherspoon was energetic underneath and seemed to play with more passion than Duke’s bigs.  The other concern in the foul shooting of all but the starting back court (Tyus 9-9; Quinn 6-6).  The rest of the team was 7-15 with Okafor being the worst offender (3-6, making Hack and Oak a viable defense at the end of a close game  — which Duke has not yet played).  Amile and Justise missed their only attempt; while Marshall was 2-4 (after hitting his first 10 this season) and Rasheed was 2-3.

Duke played a very efficient second half.  With 18 minutes left, Toledo had drawn within 3 at 47-44.  Okafor exploded for 7 straight and the defense was superb; Duke led by 10 in only 2 more minutes.  For the next 6 minutes, Duke’s lead held between 8 and 11.  At the 10 minute mark, Duke started to pull away slowly.  Toledo never made another serious run and Duke was dynamite down the stretch (Toledo got tired and began to lose players to foul trouble).  Duke relied heavily on Okafor’s superb game and two scintillating games from Duke’s backcourt.  While Tyus continues to get beaten once or twice a game via the backdoor and Quinn could not contain “Juice” on the defensive end, each guard was superb offensively.   Tyus was amazingly efficient, and is, in his own way, as every bit as valuable to this team as Okafor.  Tyus scored 15 points on just 3 shots from the floor (2-3 from behind the arc) and added 4 boards, 8 assists, and 2 steals in 34 minutes.  Wow!  Quinn was almost a match (though his 2 3pointers came on 6 attempts) scoring 20 on 12 shots to go with 3 assists in his game high 37 minutes.  Okafor played 31 minutes (Quinn, Tyus and Jah were the only players to be on the court for over 30 minutes) scoring a career high 27 points (an astounding 12-15 from the field) to go with 8 boards and some terrific passing (only 1 assist, but that is so misleading).  Winslow is tantalizing.  In some ways he dazzles with his skill on both ends.  He is a tenacious defender (he is the team in team defense) and he made on driving move down the lane blowing by a defender and covering 12 feet in a step for the lay in.  Justise played 29 minutes, scoring 9 points on 4-9 shooting (1-2 from behind the arc) and played a valuable floor game — 5 tough boards, 4 assists, a block and a steal.  Amile was a defensive presence in his 25 minutes, though he scored only 2 points in the game on 2 shots.  He collected 8 boards to give Duke superiority on the glass.  Duke’s bench was more productive than against UCONN.  Marshall logged only 6 minutes, but was impressive in those minutes, with his dunk and 2 rebounds.  Rasheed returned a bit to form, scoring 7 in 18 minutes on 2-5 shooting (1-3 from 3land).  However, 0 assists and 3 turnovers.  Matt Jones played 17 minutes (1-1 on a layup in the first half; 0-3 in the second half; 0-1 from behind the arc).

In the first half, Duke jumped out to an 18-4 lead in the first five minutes, playing awesomely on both ends.  As soon as Coach K began substituting, Toledo’s offense got rolling and Duke’s defensive struggles continued through the 18 minute mark of the second half.   All in all it was the next to last tune up before the ACC season begins on Saturday.

Next game: Wofford Wednesday @ 3pm.

DUKE 84- WOFFORD 55

My new basketball buddy Johnny Y, who was a good enough high school prospect to be personally recruited by both Dean  Smith and Bobby Knight and who watches a lot of basketball, wrote me “I think Wofford could prove a test for your boys.” I took notice because the last time he emailed me something like this, Mercer upset Duke in the NCAA Tournament. This time he was only half right as Wofford hung tough for a twenty minutes before the Blue Devils dialed up their defensive intensity and played to their ranking. He also added “Please tone down ur Okafor comparisons….you do a great job…just trying to moderate your enthusiasm a bit. You happened to describe a player that doesn’t exist–nor will he ever exist…  the guy who is a light year closer to your description is only 21 years old and plays for New Orleans and goes by the name “The Brow”.  .  Your thoughts!!!”

Even though he is a Tar Heel, John makes good points. Let me be clear, I wasn’t implying that Okafor was as good as Duncan, Walton, and Russell. I just meant that parts of his game remind me of these great players. I have a very vivid memory of the first time I saw Tim Duncan play against Duke as a freshman and thought “Wow, who is this guy?” Tim was a game changer but not nearly as much so as Jahlil is at the same point of his career. In all fairness, Jah has had had a lot more playing experience. I also pointed out to John that three phases of life and sports are anticipation, the moment, and recall and that I was just trying to get everyone’s attention to savor the moments.

As for being over the top in my assessment, I initially thought Coach K was, but the more I see the more I don’t. And I am not the only one. Here is Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News Observer:

As Jahlil Okafor continued his every-game showcase of why he deserves to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, Wofford coach Mike Young summed him up well: “Gosh, what a poised and polished young person he is. Holy smokes, he’s just a marvelous basketball player.”

Okafor finished with 24 points on 11-of-13 shooting (with eight rebounds), showing no fatigue on the back end of this two-games-in-three-days stretch. Both Monday’s game against Toledo and Wednesday’s game against Wofford provided a simulation of an opening-round NCAA tournament game, and Okafor finished with a combined 51 points on 23-of-28 shooting (82 percent).

Additional Observations:

  • Winslow seems to be finding a comfort level on his offensive role.
  • Coach said Plumlee was playing too well just to be Okafor’s sub and played them together for a short time.
  • Grayson Allen played a few mop-up minutes and looked more comfortable on the court even hitting a long three. Ojeleye’s departure may be his opportunity to earn playing time. He certainly has the athleticism and skills.
  • Mike Gminski, a Duke All American and 14 year NBA player, was one of the announcers. He had interesting comments on Okafor (John, hope you were listening).

Alan Adds:

This was really a tale of two separate halves.  You could understand how Wofford beat NC State from the way they played in the first half.  Duke stretched its 7 point half time lead (41-34) to the final margin of 29.  It is illuminating to inspect each half to account for the difference.  I did not think the difference was so much on offense.  Duke scored 41 in the first half and 43 in the second half.  While the Blue Devils were more efficient in the second half offensively, the defensive intensity in the second half was what made the difference.  You can always tell when Duke is defensively lax because the fouls pile up (fouling happens when defenders don’t move their feet or are too aggressive).  Duke committed 10 fouls in the first half, but only 4 in the second half.  The Devils stole the ball from Wofford 7 times in the second half, but only thrice in the first.  Wofford was 4-7 from behind the arc in the first half and only 1-10 in the second.  Some of Duke’s defensive resurgence can be attributed to Wofford’s fatigue.  The Terriers played with ferocious and fearless abandon in the first half, expending enormous energy to match the effort of the bigger, stronger and more talented Blue Devils.  Wofford simply did not have the same high energy in the second stanza.  But there was palpable improvement in Duke’s defensive effort in the second half.  Makes one wonder what Coach K said at the half.

The second half belonged to the Blue Devils offensively as well.  Each team took 28 shots in the first half (Duke made 12; Wofford 11).  In the second half Duke was 17-24 from the field including 5-8 from behind the arc.  Things are easier when shots go in.  Four Duke starters logged over 30 minutes.  Rasheed played 19 minutes while Amile and Matt Jones played 18 (Grayson Allen played the last 4 minutes of the game going 1-1 from 3).  Quinn again led in minutes played (35), scoring 15 points on 8 shots (3-6 from behind the arc and 2-2 from the line — Cook is shooting over 95% there).  He was 1-3 from behind the arc in the first half (his only shots) and 4-5 in the second half (2-3 from deep).  Quinn played hounding defense while committing only 1 foul in 35 minutes.  The three freshmen played about the same amount (Jah 32; Tyus 32 and Justise 31 minutes).  All performed at a high level.  Okafor was ridiculous, going 11-13 from the field with 8 boards, an assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks while committing only 1 foul.  His only weaknesses seem to be at the foul line (2-5) and in one on one post defense (smaller Terriers scored from there).  He is something, but so is his point guard running mate, Tyus Jones, who simply  controlled the game (without appearing to do so).  He made some amazing passes and corralled loose balls.  He defends.  While he took only 4 shots (2-4; 1-2 from deep), he had 6 rebounds (some were tough in traffic), 5 assists and 4 steals.  All of his high scoring games are against the best opponents.  Only a freshman, he has the poise of a post-grad.  Justise did all his scoring in the first half, when it was needed (16).  He took only a single shot in the second half (missed), but was (as he has been all year) the glue to the defensive resurgence in the second half.  Some small really good signs: Winslow had 7 boards, 2 assists and a steal.  Critically he was 4-4 from the line.  The freshmen continue to impress.

Amile played only 18 minutes, but scored 10 points (4-6 from the line) with 5 rebounds.  He committed 3 fouls, which limited his playing time.  Rasheed is so talented and so exuberant, but a bit out of control.  He led the bench in scoring with 6 (2-4, including 1-2 from 3land and 1-2 from the line).  He had 2 boards and 2 assists, but was also limited by foul trouble (3).  Matt Jones had a somewhat checkered outing failing to connect from the field on 4 shots (2-2 from the line).  He played a valuable floor game with 2 boards and 2 assists, but also committing 3 fouls in only 18 minutes.  Marshall seems to make such a dramatic impact that it is always a surprise that his box score doesn’t seem to reflect that impact.  He played 11 minutes (3 when he was on the floor with Jah for the first time this year), grabbing 3 rebounds and going 3-4 from the line (0-1 from the field when he blew a dunk).  His upside continues to intrigue.  He reminds me (and Mike Giminski) of Zoubek early in the 2010 championship year.  It will be worth keeping an eye on Marshall’s development and his role going forward, which will expand if the Zoubek analogy ripens.

Going forward is the beginning of the Blue Devils’ ACC season.  Next play: BC on Saturday at 4 pm.

Duke 85 – Boston College 62

I don’t know how good Boston College is this year, but they are an ACC team and certainly bigger and probably better than say Furman, Army, Elon and Wofford. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils beat them by 23. However, the most interesting number was 14-17. Those were Okafor’s free throw numbers. I have commented several times that Okafor and Winslow both have too good a shooting motion and touch not to be dependable free throw shooters– and if they aren’t, this could be a fatal flaw for their team. Obviously, the guys have been spending extra time practicing at the line.

The final score was somewhat deceiving, because BC hung tough until a late first half 17-4 run. But that is what this team can do– dial up the defensive pressure, make offensive runs, and wear an opponent down. Sulaimon came off the bench with his patented defensive and offensive adrenalin jolt–and today he was at his best, as were Matt Jones and Plumlee (6 rbs , 4 blocks in eleven minutes).  This being ACC play, BC’s big seven footers played Jahlil tough and rough. His response: a blue collar 28 pts, 8 rebs, 4 blks, and calm, non response/retaliation when elbowed hard (probably unintentionally) in the face. Winslow had 13 pts, 7 rebs to go with tough defense and, naturally, several assorted high wire high lights we have come to expect. Cook was not shooting well but still had 15 points. As usual in blowouts, Tyus Jones had a quiet game. Jefferson only had 17 minutes as Coach K appeared to utilize the versatility of his three bench starters to match the BC player mix on the floor and their unusual 1-1-3 zone.  Greyson Allen keeps getting a few minutes and Coach indicated that as he matures with experience, he will be in the substitution pattern.

Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News Observer reported an interesting back story to today’s game. “When Jahlil Okafor was back home in Chicago during the holiday break, he caught up with an old AAU teammate of his: Jabari Parker. Parker, last year’s freshman phenomenon for Duke, told Okafor, this year’s stud, that the beginning of ACC play was when he hit his scoring drought. After averaging 21.4 points per game in the nonconference portion of the season, Parker posted just seven points in the league opener at Notre Dame and then scored in single digits again three games later against Virginia.”

Additional Observations:

  • Duke celebrated the 75th anniversary of the opening of Cameron Indoor Stadium with a video tribute. The Blue Devils are 825-153 within the friendly confines of their distinctive home court. Boston College is 0-8 there. It was also win number 996 for Coach K—but who is counting?
  • I have never heard Coach so effusive in his praise of a player this early in their career as he is of Jahlil Okafor. (Well, maybe, Grant Hill.) Today, K said in response to Jah’s non-response to being hit flush in the face in the open court by Clifford’s elbow that “Jah did the right thing, he didn’t go bonkers or anything. But that’s him, he is special in every way.”
  • Alan had an interesting and incisive response to Tar Heel Johnny Y’s email comments about my praise for Okafor: “I thought he made good points.  Jah is so astounding in the post that it is easy to overrate the rest of his game.  The rest of his game is not defective in any way, just not up to the level of his post offense.  He usually seems more offensively oriented (probably left over from high school).  His defense [against Wofford] was good (maybe just ok) but without the intensity to really move to help against the drive, and then the quick recovery to his man and the paint.  Bill Russell on defense, he is not.  But he is good.  He is also a good — but not very good or excellent — rebounder.  Anyway, Duke is lucky to have him for this year.  This year’s team is better than last year’s because Jah is simply better (in the college game) than Jabari was last year and Justise is better than Hood was.  Then, add the amazingly underrated Tyus and the improvement of Quinn and Amile, and you have a team that would give Mercer trouble!”
  • Cardale Jones, who will start at quarterback for Ohio State in the national championship game on Jan. 12: “Why should we go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL. We ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” Score that: Honesty 10, grammar 3, intelligence 1.
  • My wife watched the Rose Bowl in the picturesque setting of Pasadena, California with a combination of pride and envy as her alma mater thumped Florida State ( headline “A Total Quack Down”) 59-20 . Pride because of the historic win and envy because she was a cheerleader for Oregon when they lost to Penn State 41-12 in the 1960 Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia in twenty degree weather before mostly Penn State fans.
  • Johnny Dawkins’ son, Aubrey, is a freshman basketball player at Michigan.
  • Mike Gminski was again an announcer. For my tastes, he is a welcome presence who conveys intelligent, interesting and pertinent commentary.

Alan Adds:

Duke displayed its defensive prowess in the second part of each half.  It was actually awesome, and sparked substantially by the bench — especially Matt Jones, but also Rasheed and Marshall.  In the last 10 minutes of the first half, Duke was as good defensively as against Wisconsin and the first half against Furman.  With 10:57 to go in the half, Olivier Hanlon had 9 points on 4 layups and both BC bigs had scored on layups as well.  BC was getting to the rim without real opposition.   Duke changed its defense with Okafor becoming much more active as a rim protector.   Amile played only 5 minutes in the first half because Coach K wanted the smaller quicker line up with Winslow at power forward.  However, when Justise picked up his second foul in the first half, K went with 4 guards — Rasheed, Matt, Tyus and Quinn along with Jah. With 10:28 to go in the first half, Duke led BC by 21-18.  Heckman scored a layup with 7:03 to give BC 20 points.  The next BC score came with 32 seconds to go in the half. BC was 1-2 from the line and Duke committed only 5 fouls in that half.  BC never in the bonus.  When that happens, you know Duke is really playing defense.  In the last 9 minutes, Duke allowed only 4 points.

Both teams opened the second half executing their respective offensives efficiently, but the Duke defense seemed to either rest on its laurels or take a short vacation.  BC scored 18 points in a little over 5 minutes and trailed only 53-43 with 13:09 left in the game.  BC didn’t score again until 8:51 left, and by then The Eagles trailed 67-45, and the game was effectively over.  BC was held without a point for four minutes.  With 7:27 left in the game, BC still had only 47 points, meaning BC scored 4 points in 5 minutes and 42 seconds.  Matt Jones and Rasheed were superb on both ends of the floor, but especially on defense.  They each got more playing time (Matt 27 minutes; Rasheed, 20) than Jefferson (17).  Rasheed hit all 3 of his 3 point attempts to finish with 11 points (4-7), 3 boards, 2 assists and a steal to go with his excellent perimeter defense.   Matt Jones played his best game of the season.  His defense was outstanding, as you can tell by his 27 minutes of playing time — more than Winslow (26) and Jefferson (17) and the same amount as Tyus.  He was 3-7 including 2-4 from behind the arc with 4 boards (his 3rd basket was a tough put back after one of Jah’s few misses) for 8 points.  His development may be unheralded, but is crucial for this team and its defense.  Marshall logged 11 minutes and snagged an amazing 6 rebounds in that stint to go with 4 blocks and 3 points (1-1; 1-2); not to mention an assist and a steal.  He is playing very effectively and with high energy.  My instinct is that he will give real value to this team as the season progresses.

Once again Quinn led the team in minutes played with 36.  His shot was off (5-14; 3-9 from the bonus sphere, and 2-2 from the line), but he was Duke’s second high scorer with 15.  He is defending much better than he did last year, and the minutes he is on the court demonstrates how much Coach K trusts his on the court leadership.  He had 3 boards, 2 assists a steal, but 3 turnovers.  Neither Tyus nor Amile had stellar games.  As Bill pointed out, Tyus scores when Duke needs him, but seems to stay out of the spotlight when Duke is comfortably ahead.  In his 27 minutes, Tyus missed all 5 of his shots, but grabbed 4 boards and handed out 3 assists (with 2 turnovers).  Even though he occasionally gets beaten back door (only once yesterday), he is playing ferocious defense.  Amile was 2-2 in the second half after failing to score in the first.  He had 4 boards to go with his 4 points.

Offensively, Jah and Winslow dominated impressively.  Justise was 5-7 (2-3 from downtown and 1-2 from the line) for 13 points.  One of his scores was a highlight.  He out raced BC for a long rebound, and in one high dribble went past the last defender for a thunderous slam that produce a lot of “Oh Wow”s — even from the announcers.  His all around game was admirable — 4 assists, 2 blocks and 7 rebounds.  He is special.  What to say about Okafor?  He was outstanding from the free throw line 14-17; and reliable from the field (7-11) for 28 points with 8 boards and 4 blocks.  In short, he dominated, keeping BC in terminal foul trouble and Duke comfortably ahead when BC made any kind of threatening move.  When Duke was really good defensively, he was stopping the BC drives at the rim.  But sometimes he seemed lackadaisical and the defense was penetrable.  Still, he is quite amazing.

In a mock NBA draft held this past weekend, Duke’s freshmen were prominent.  Jah was the first pick, Justise was 5th and Tyus 19th.

DUKE  73 – WAKE FOREST 65 

Disclaimer: This game was only televised regionally on Raycom/ACC. Although I have about 900 DirecTV channels, my area was pre-empted by the Clemson-Louisville game. Allan was also blacked out in New York. I accessed the game on ESPN3 courtesy of the GoDuke.com website. However, it was like looking at a 1950’s analog color telecast linked by a rabbit- ear antenna.

If you were wondering what would happen when Okafor had an off night or how the freshmen would play in a conference game on the road, you got your answer tonight. Grad student Devon Thomas schooled frosh Jahlil Okafor in the ways of being a man in the paint, scoring 24 points almost at will as Jah did not resemble the player he has been in the previous thirteen games. Winston-Salem sports writer Ed Hardin critiqued the celebrated freshman as still an incomplete player…specifically, that tonight he dribbled too much under the basket, struggled in traffic, was casually sloppy with the ball, and went to sleep on defense. Nevertheless, Jah patiently only took six shots but still managed a double-double (12pts, 11 rebs). Winslow and Sulaimon carried the team through long, sloppy slogs of mediocre, uninspired basketball but when the Demon Deacons played up to their name and made a run to go up by 2 points with six minutes to go, Quinn Cook, of course, Tyus Jones, and Matt Jones all made clutch three point plays—two the old fashion way, one the new, long range way.

The flip side to all the publicity and accolades that Okafor has received is that he is now a marked man. Coaches like Danny Manning are going to focus on frustrating and stopping him, opponents like Devon Thomas are going to be out to prove he is overrated and that they are just as good—if not better. Jahlil appeared tired and didn’t play with much fire or enthusiasm—and the crowd really let him know it. Better get used to it, Jah. This is Tobacco Road and the ACC!

The Blue Devils were very sloppy with the ball. They committed 14 turnovers (Jah contributed 5) and allowed 20 fast break points. But every time Duke appeared on the verge of letting the game slip away, another teammate hit a big shot. Duke nailed 8 threes to Wake’s 2 and outrebounded the Deacons 37-30. However, the Blue Devils committed 14 turnovers and allowed 20 fast break points.

What to make of the fact that Wake Forest has lost to Arkansas by 30 and Iona but has almost upsetting #5 Louisville and #2 Duke? The ACC has always been tough and while everyone expects that the top tier will dominate, this week shows that, top to bottom, the conference is going to be brutal. For instance, next up N.C. State took it right to Virginia until the Cavs took control late.

Coach K’s reality check: “We have no illusion of us being this juggernaut team or anything like that. We think we’re really a good group of guys who play well… and are a good team that can get better– and we have a great player in Jah.”

Additional Observations:

  • Duke had only won one of its past five ACC road openers.
  • Think ACC road games are tough? Virginia blew an 18 point lead but held on to beat Miami in Miami in double overtime.
  • The Blue Devils, who entered tonight’s game having trailed for 6:13 seconds all season, were behind for 5:06 of this one. They also faced their deepest deficit all year by allowing Wake Forest to jump out to a 6-0 lead.
  • Announcer Mike Gminski (my fraternity brother Don Parson reminds me Mike was an SAE), who knows something about playing center, commented during the broadcast that Okafor’s hands are huge, but he’s still better off using them both.
  • Winning is tough everywhere: Kentucky, a 25 point favorite,  last night pulled out a very close win against Ole Miss in Rupp Arena.

Duke 75– North Carolina State 87

Houston, do we have a problem here? The last two games we seem to be losing altitude. Today, the afterburners weren’t firing. Have the freshmen hit the wall ? Or was this just the jinx of PNC Arena, where Duke has now lost three of their last four  games (two to State, one to Mercer)? Or was this just a reality check and wakeup call for the young Blue Devils? Help me out, here.

Here are some things to contemplate: State didn’t just beat Duke, they dominated them for the last twenty-five minutes. They played like the #2 team in the country and Duke played like an 11-5 team. Recently, coaches and players appear to have devised ways (man up with a strong forward, double with a center) to defend and frustrate Jahlil Okafor and neither he nor his teammates have adjusted very well to the new normal. Jah is not always posting up close enough to the basket, appears slow, indecisive, and the indecision is causing him to make too many turnovers (bad passes, travelling). Jefferson has made a living off  Jahlil being double teamed but today, for whatever reason, he did not start. My axiom: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. T. Jones and Q. Cook are both smallish guards—very good on offense but challenged by defending big, physical guards.

What happened to the juggernaut, double digit winning team of the first twelve games? One thing that happened is that State is big and strong and talented at all positions and they all played well. It started with  Lacey and Turner doing a pretty good JJ Redick impression and  their big men in the front court showing up for forty minutes for the first time this year. N.C. State was a load and would have beaten most teams today. Next game.

There was, perhaps, an telling point with six minutes to go and Duke down nineteen points. Unlike previous unexpected blowouts (games at Clemson and Wake Forest last year, the game in Miami in 2013, the 2011 and 2009 NCAA tournament losses to Arizona and Villanova, the 2010 Georgetown game), these Blue Devils didn’t just roll over. They fought back with an 11-0 run. Three forced turnovers over the next 2:36 had the Wolfpack faithful nervous as Duke cut the lead to 72-64 with 3:00 left to play. Raise your hand if  a “Maryland Moment” flashes through your mind. But the Blue Devils couldn’t sustain their momentum and missed their next four shots. Junior Rasheed Sulaimon, who is the mentally and physically toughest player on the squad, sent a message to the freshmen: “We should have had that toughness earlier, before it got to that big of a lead. We all came together, finally, we all buckled down, and we just kept fighting. We’ve got to come together quicker as a team and get ourselves out of that funk when we sense it happening instead of waiting for it to happen. We’ve got a lot of things we can learn from this. It’s only the 15th game of the season.”

Bottom line: On the road when an ACC opponent and their fans are on fire, defense and mental toughness often are the difference between pulling out a victory and losing. This week Kentucky and Virginia both won and Duke didn’t. Is this Groundhog Day? Have we seen this picture before? Nah, this year Duke has demonstrated they have the  players to potentially be a much better defensive team than in the last few years. Best we let Coach K and the coaching staff solve the problem.

This should get their attention: The numbers tell how bad it was: State shot 55%, (10-16 from three point land, Duke 7-27); Duke 37%. 

Additional observations:

  • The expanded conference really alters the regular season schedule in an unfair way. Very few home and away opponents. Duke’s schedule is the most difficult. Coming up: away games at Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. Only Syracuse and Carolina must return the favor and play in Cameron this year.
  • Since N.C. State moved to the off-campus arena before the 1999-2000, Krzyzewski has gone 7-4 against N.C. State and 2-1 in NCAA tournament games there. To put that in perspective, over the same span he’s 17-1 against the Wolfpack in games played in Durham or the ACC tournament.
  • Anyone notice that everybody’s # 1 Kentucky is also struggling to beat unranked teams. They went double OT to beat both Texas A&M and Mississippi.
  • There are a lot of creative ways to recruit. When our daughter Kristin had her first child, she retired from teaching IB English at Myers Park High School and started a tutoring business so could be at home and set her own hours. One of the students she recently prepped for the SAT’s was Charlotte Latin quarterback Daniel Jones, who  chose Duke over Princeton, Harvard, and Wake Forest. Jones, 6-foot-5, 190-pounds,  led Charlotte Latin to the N.C. Independent Schools Division I state championship game. He completed 151-of-268 passes for 2,949 yards and 43 touchdowns. He also ran 109 times for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Alan Adds:

I apologize for the absence of “Alan Adds” to the Wake edition of DBP, but I was unable to watch the game, and thus left it to Bill’s deft handling of the “disappointing” win.  Yesterday’s game at Raleigh was not only different, it was a resounding wake up call for this very young Duke team.  Writing the DBP “Alan Adds” is way more fun after a Duke win than when Duke gets utterly stomped, as happened yesterday in Raleigh.  Nevertheless, I confess to being less than devastated by the rout.  Here’s a couple of reasons why: 1) Duke has not played well since the exam break, and I believe part of the reason is the team started to believe its press clippings.  The result has been inconsistent play.  Against BC, the Duke defense was superb at times, but also porous at times.  This could be a much needed explanation of the rigors of ACC road games and college ball in general for this freshman dominated team.  Or time will tell.  2) My optimism is fueled by my memory of the Georgetown game in January of 2010 in DC in front of Obama.  Duke was routed by almost 30 points and played one of the worst (and most embarrassing since the 1990 NCAA final) games ever.  However, that was the year that Duke won the national championship.  3) NC State was unconscious in its shooting.  Part of that was porous defense, which allowed countless dunks (failure to rotate) and offensive rebounds (out hustled).  But part was NC State shooting the lights out even when the shots were well contested.  State was 10-16 from behind the arc (5-8 in each half), and shot 18-31 overall in the second half (58%).  Lacey was 5-7 from 3 while Turner was 4-7 (Washington made his only 3).  NC State won’t shoot that well again even if no one guards them. 4) I never talk about calls (well, almost never, since I’m about to do it), but Duke was called for so many offensive fouls that it impacted the Duke confidence.  Duke maintained a 6 point lead with less than 6 minutes to go in the first half.  It could have been more.  Amile was wrongfully called for goal tending on a clean block.  There were several traveling calls.  I believe the refereeing got into the Duke head and caused a deleterious shift in attitude.  Bad calls are part of the game, and Duke needs to be mentally tougher — on many issues, but the refereeing is one of them — if this team is to reach its potential.

It’s hard not to talk about the porous interior defense.  Against Michigan State, Duke was beaten for easy dunks and layups when doubling the post.  The help rotation didn’t come when Okafor left his man to double on the screen.  That lack of rotation to the roller (in pick and roll) was in even greater evidence against NC State than it was against the Spartans.  It appeared Duke had fixed that problem — especially against Wisconsin and later Furman — but that is obviously not the case.  Coach K started a smaller lineup, I believe for defensive purposes, thinking that his perimeter defense would be more secure with Justise at the 4 and Matt Jones guarding Lacey.  However, no one had even a modicum of success guarding Lacey.  Interestingly, Duke made a great run at the end (even though State’s lead ballooned back to 12 at the end.  Down 19 with 5:28 left to play, Duke made a heroic run.  As much as this game was about NC State’s scorching shooting, it was also about Duke’s horrible shooting (open looks).  With 3:10 to go, Duke had crept to within 8 and had the ball.  Duke missed 3 open looks –  Justise missed an open 3; Rasheed missed an open 3 and a layup.  The lead could have been cut to 5, but the next score was by the Wolfpack with 2:26 to go, and that was all she wrote.  Rasheed, btw, had an amazing stretch in the first half (4-7; -1-2 from behind the arc for 9 points), but was 0-5 from the field in the second half.  Justise fouled out, while Rasheed accumulated 4 fouls.  All in all, it was either the clock striking midnight on a young team, or a wakeup call that will enhance the season.  As Bill said, “time will tell” — and pretty soon with a Tuesday night game at Cameron against Miami (9 pm EST) and Saturday’s anticipated match up in Louisville against Petino’s highly ranked Cardinals.

Duke 70 – Miami 94

I want to go back to the future. I want to see the 2014 Duke team that went undefeated and won all twelve games by double digits. It is one thing to lose to N.C State on their home court. It is another to be blown out by Miami in Cameron. This was record breaking: Duke lost at home for the first time in nearly three years; lost back-to-back regular-season games for the first time in nearly six years; lost consecutive games by a dozen points each for the first time since its final two games of the 1995-96 season.

Where did the dominating players from 2014 go? Who are these imposters playing in 2015? They can’t defend the paint or the perimeter and they can’t shoot. Chemistry is a nine letter word not a statement of unity. Okafor is putting up good numbers but not when it counts and is mediocre defensively. Jones and Winslow have basically been missing- in-action. Cook and Jefferson have been doing their part. Sulaimon has fire in the belly but does not always play under control. Matt Jones has recently been a liability. Despite encouraging words from the coach, Plumlee is getting very little playing time.

There are more questions than answers. When Coach K admits he knows something is wrong but hasn’t figured out how to fix it, you have to be concerned. However, one truth is that there are a great many very good basketball players in colleges—like Trevor Lacey and  Angel Rodriguez–, who were not McDonald’s All Americans but who are not intimidated by them or Cameron and who embrace the chance to show their game on national TV.

Jason, a Duke graduate in California, sent us some interesting and thought provoking comments:

“It was a frustrating game to watch. The last few games Jahlil seems to be lacking a spark and the others don’t seem to know what to do when it’s not the Okafor clinic. I find myself wondering if this team has the upper class leadership need to go all the way – to recognize early enough in any given tough game situation that the momentum is shifting away from them, and possess the on- the- court leadership to get the rest of the team to do something about it.  It would have to come from Cook & Rasheed…the hunger to win at all costs. Rasheed recognized the problem in his quote. Sometimes I wonder if these freshman phenoms (not just this year but throughout Duke’s history in the one -and -done era) at the end of it – take consolation that they are going  far after Duke and that affects their deep down desire to win in the moment – in every game. The Duke teams that go all the way have had strong senior leadership. The traditional experience means 4 years of intense competition interspersed with longer periods of reflection and introspection about game experiences like these for the kids.  The phenoms get 5 months of ever increasing pressure at a frenetic pace and much media discussion about their raw talent without a chance to do a little off season soul searching about their own heart and desire. These are just thoughts about it and I’m certain Coach K will use this a learning experience…”sometimes you need to lose in order to learn how to win” kind of moment. The fact that Coach K didn’t seem to be working the refs as much as usual in what seemed to me to be a poorly officiated game tells me that he may be accepting of the team taking a lump or two in this mid-season conference play. Trial by fire maybe to light the spark inside?”

Alan Adds:

At half time, Duke led 35-34, and had held Miami scoreless over the last 3:24 of the half.  Bill and I talked at half time.  I told him, “this is the worst I have seen Duke play; it’s actually worse than the NC State game.”  And that was with Duke ahead.  Then, Duke’s defense allowed Miami 56 second half points.  As I watched the Blue Devils unravel in the second half, I was searching for the definition of shell shocked.  My good Miami friend and lawyer is a Cane devotee.  And she likes action (hence her nickname: Pammy the Greek or PtG for short).  PtG emailed me in the morning to place a wager on the game (If she won she got a Starbucks Soy Latte — good gambler with no taste — for me a dark ale).  My response was a snarky “after a Duke loss you better batten down the hatches”.  After the game, my chastened response was, “a Soy Latte is not sufficient reward for your loyalty to the Canes — we are upping your reward to a bottle of Grey Goose.” (not completely no taste).

Since pre-season, I have been writing that this season will depend on how Duke defends, compared to last year’s defensive disaster.  As Bill points out, Duke defended superbly in 2014 (though better before the Christmas break) with the Wisconsin win standing out.  But 2015 has seen the Duke defense dissolve into last year’s disaster. Neither Miami nor NC State is a top tier ACC team.  Neither Trevor Lacey nor Angel Rodriguez will go down in the history books along side of Bob Cousy or Stephan Curry; yet each looked like a superstar against Duke in the last two games.  Duke was torched on the perimeter by long range shooting and with penetration leading to layups or assists for easy dunks.  Switching?  Rotation?  Where did it all go?  Duke’s transition defense was embarrassing as Miami scored on run out after run out.  Coach K said that he’s known something has been missing since Christmas, but he said he doesn’t know what, and confessed in the post-game conference that he doesn’t [yet] know how to fix it.

Quinn played 38 heroic minutes leading Duke with 18 points on 7-13 shooting (4-7 from deep) adding 6 defensive boards and 4 assists.  Note: he did not get to the foul line in 38 minutes.  Jefferson was obviously motivated by his demotion from the starting lineup against NC State.  In 29 minutes he was 7-9 from the floor with 12 boards.  He was, however, 0-3 from the line (one was the front end of a 1 and 1), which is like adding 2 turnovers to his stat line.  Jahlil’s stat line looks pretty impressive — 15 points (6-13 from the field and 3-5, 60%, from the line) to go with 15 rebounds.  But his defense is ordinary (not bad, but he was not active in help and when he did help it led to easy assist and dunk for the ‘Canes).  Maybe Duke is relying too much on him.  Rasheed had a terrific first half (3-5 from the field including 2-4 from 3land) with 2 assists and 2 steals (1 turnover), but a dismal second half.  He was 2-9 from the field including 0-4 from behind the arc.  He turned it over twice and had committed 4 fouls by the end of his 26 minute stint.  His second half slump coincided with Duke’s.

What has happened to Justise, and to a lesser but significant extent, Tyus.  In the early part of 2014, I wasn’t sure that Okafor was the best freshman on the Duke team because Winslow looked so awesome on defense, on driving, on shooting and on rebounding.  He has regressed since then, but the last two games have been devastatingly awful.  He is 4-19 from the field combined with 1-10 from behind the arc. He missed all 4 foul shots last night including 2 front enders.  He had one great block, but was not a force on the boards or on defense.  Where has he gone?  Tyus isn’t much better (except from the free throw line).  Last night he was 2-9 from the field (0-3 from 3land) and had the same number of assists and turnovers (2).  Remember the confident guard who controlled the game against Wisconsin?  Matt Jones has not flourished since Coach K started him against NC State.  His defensive prowess has turned into fouling and he can’t buy a basket.  Last night he committed 4 fouls in 6 unproductive minutes.  Coach K is not playing Grayson (4 points in 8 minutes, but garbage time) or Marshall (6 minutes).  That means the rotation was down to 6 effectively.  Duke’s foul shooting is an embarrassment (without Grayson last two meaningless shots, Duke was 8-18 from the line; Miami was better from behind the arc!

Saturday presents a chance for complete redemption, or to watch a promising season continue to implode.  The Devils travel to Louisville, where they should be significant underdogs.  Another performance like the last two will drop Duke out of the top 10.  This is a huge coaching challenge for Coach K.  He does have 9 McDonald’s All-Americans to work with, but his team needs substantial retooling in order to reclaim the mojo that it showed in 2014.

Duke 63– Louisville 52

It has been a bad week for Duke University.  Coach K’s undefeated #2 ranked basketball team lost two games in a row and President Brodhead proved once again that he and his administration can’t fund raise and think clearly at the same time. (Google: Duke Muslim call-to-prayer & lacrosse scandal.) Who did you think made the quicker, better decisions to rectify the situation? If you chose President Brodhead, go to the back of the line with the 88 professors.

The last few days we received several interesting emails (see below) about Duke’s recent subpar play. I was as puzzled and disappointed as everyone else and yesterday ran into my Palmetto Bluff basketball guru Tar Heel Johnny Y at the gym. He was actually more optimistic than I was about the Louisville game. He reiterated that Coach K was the best coach in the country and wouldn’t let his team lose three in a row. I said that after a bad loss, Coach K’s MO is to make a change—probably in the starting lineup. At the start of the season, I didn’t think he would start two undersized guards like Cook and Jones, because we know defense is not Quinn’s strong suite. I thought Sulaimon starting at the two would give the team better size, athleticism, and defense. Even if the athleticism, size, and will are there, recent one-and-done phenoms have shown it takes time to truly assimilate the foundation upon which Krzyzewski has built his program. Deng, Rivers, Parker, and Hood never did—and their record proves it. Trevor Lacey and the big N.C. State guards shot over Jones and Cook; Angel Rodriguez and the small, quick Miami guards beat the same two off the dribble and got into the lane with many easy options to score. I mentioned to Johnny Y that I always admired how creative Dean Smith was and marveled at the creative way he switched from man-to-man to zone after made baskets, usually confusing the devil (pun intended) out of most opponents but that Coach K’s only blind spot was at times not facing reality–namely, that some players just cannot effectively play his pressure man defense against bigger and/or quicker opponents.

So, I couldn’t believe my eyes when Duke started their first defensive possession in a 2-3 zone and stayed with it (switching occasionally to a 1-3-1) on made baskets and dead ball restarts – situations that gave them time to set up. From missed shots, they went man-to-man to better defend Louisville in transition. And it worked like a charm as Louisville–the defense, the law of averages, or whatever– had one of those shooting days like Duke has had in the last two outings. Dean, I hope you were watching!

Coach K  after the game: “Louisville and the arena are a great addition to the conference…Long journey, nice stop…A team gets builds confidence thru accomplishment…Just because Duke played zone today doesn’t mean we will every game.”

The good news:

  • Tyus Jones bounced back with a terrific game on both ends of the floor, demonstrating once again that he is the offensive lynchpin of this team and the Yin to his buddy’s Okafor’s Yang.
  • Early in the game when points were tough to come by, Matt Jones hit two successive threes that got the Blue Devils back in the game.
  • Jefferson is the unsung hero of this team. He is the best rebounder and has developed a surprisingly effective array of low post scoring moves. Okafor and Jefferson outscored Louisville 32-24 in the paint.
  • Jahlil is mature beyond his years. After a very physical and potentially explosive loose ball confrontation, Jahlil calmly hugged his surprised opponent and totally defused the situation. He was very patent early on until he had room to operate, then went 8-10 as he is much quicker than most of his defenders.
  • Duke led 30-20 at the half.
  • For the middle twenty or so minutes of the game, Duke played like a Final Four team should.

The not so good news:

  • Justise Winslow is still missing-in-action on offense. Maybe the three recent frightening falls he has taken are limiting him, but he seems tentative.
  • Not all the upcoming opponents will shoot as badly 18 of 61 (30%) as Louisville did.
  • For all his considerable skills, Okafor is not an elite athlete. He usually loses the opening tip and needs work on his defense, rim protection, and rebounding.
  • The two loses are what can happen when you rely heavily on young players: inconsistency… January is cold and hard… another semester begins… relationships begin and end… months of practice wear heavy on the legs and other body parts (notice how many players are wearing knee, leg, and arm supports and braces)… and the beginning of ACC play introduces a new intensity and a new reality.

Reader Comments:

  • From my long time golfing partner Jimmy D: “Your analysis disappoints me. Duke’s problems are not Duke. The problem is the ever increasing level of parity in all sports. More outstanding athletes across the board in all sports. The time of a few teams dominating their sport is gone. Looked what happened in SEC football? Almost every team can beat any other team on any day. This is true in every conference. And because basketball involves the fewest players of any sport, with the exception of ping pong, a few hot players can beat a cold team on any given day. This said: Quit complaining when Duke doesn’t win every game!!!!! Duke is top team and will go far in the NCAA tournament, assuming they don’t lose their first game to a “nobody team”. Miss you and still enjoy your newsletters.
  • From my “Road Warrior” pal, Bucky (One summer, we drove coast to coast in 72 hours): “Even the most talented freshmen can be exploited on defense for two reasons: first, upon entering college they typically rely  mostly on their individual  physical talent to defend and are unfamiliar with the team concept, help defensive schemes required in the  college game; second, for the reason cited above they are also unfamiliar with the five man, team-concept offenses opposing coaches devise to attack their individual defensive tendencies. Although I didn’t watch the Miami game, I would guess that Miami coach Jim Laranaga used these weaknesses to great advantage in planning and executing his game plan against the Devils. You may recall that he took a senior-laden, but lesser talented mid-major George Mason to the Final Four. On the glass half-full side of the ledger, I would guess that lessons emphasized by Duke coaches for months, are now being absorbed by these talented, energetic freshmen and will be learned by tournament time, but not well enough to avoid at least one loss to the my boys who wear light blue uniforms.”

Alan Adds: 

Channeling Aaron Rogers, “Relax”.

This was vintage Coach K’s post-bad-loss adjustments — both strategic and emotional.  Strategically, Coach K was aware that Louisville has not shot well from outside so far this season, and so, addressed the vulnerability in recent games of Duke’s perimeter defense by moving it back toward the basket.  This was true whether Duke defended with man to man or with zone.   Duke’s man to man defense that does not extend out beyond the top of the key is called “11”.  Duke played zone after makes and the “11” after misses; essentially daring Louisville to score outside the paint.  Louisville was 18-61 (30%) including 4-25 from 3land, vindicating Coach K’s strategy.

Coach K insightfully addressed what he thought has been the problem since Christmas.  First, he said Duke’s recent shooting slump had led to a lack of confidence, which had spilled over into the defense.  “Confidence isn’t a pie that you slice; it’s all pervading.” He wanted to give the team something new to be concentrating on.  This obviously seemed to work even though Duke still did not shoot well from the perimeter (4-15 from 3land); but, 17-28 inside the arc (thank you Jahlil – 8–10; and Amile – 6–7).  Second, the Coach thought that “Coach K’s 1,000 wins and other accolades” put an unfair burden on his team, making the team feel as if it had to be perfect.  He addressed it, and it seemed to work.

There were many highlights for Duke Fans, but my special appreciation is for the poise that this young team showed in a hostile environment after two bad — even embarrassing — losses.  Louisville relies heavily on its trapping pressure defense to produce turnovers.  Duke has produced excessive turnovers during its recent slump.  Duke, and especially Tyus, took exemplary care of the ball against the Cardinals pressure; only 3 turnovers in the first half (10 for the game).  Coach K lauded this as Tyus’s best game in terms of controlling it (certainly his best since Wisconsin).  Although he missed his only two 3 point attempts, Tyus ran the show with great confidence and poise: 8 assists against only 2 turnovers; 6-6 from the free throw line in the clutch; 2-3 from inside the arc in 32 minutes.  He has a magic ability to get the ball to Okafor for easy layups (not dissimilar to Kyrie’s ability to get the ball to Mason for the 8 games prior to his injury), and to shred the press with his handle and court vision.

All the Duke starters logged in excess of 30 minutes.  I have a different slant on Justise Winslow than Bill (“shell of his former self”) does because of his contribution on the defensive end.  It seemed to me that he returned to his former energetic and athletic self when Louisville had the ball.  I believe Coach K thought so as well, since Winslow led the team in minutes played with 38; tied for the team lead in rebounds (7; Jah and Amile also grabbed 7).  However, his previously dynamic offense is still AWOL.  In his 38 minutes, he scored only 3 points (a terrific drive in traffic) on 1-4 from the field; 1-4 from the line and 0-2 from behind the arc.  On the opening possession, Winslow drove the lane and was fouled.  However, he didn’t finish a shot that he could (should) have and missed both free throws.  So a potential 3 point play had virtually the same effect as a turnover.  He needed to make that play to restore his offensive confidence.  Next Play!

Duke’s bigs — Okafor (34 minutes) and Jefferson (31 minutes) carried Duke’s offense.  Really profound news is that Jefferson proved a reliable foul shooter at closing time.  Together Duke’s bigs were 9-11 from the free throw line (Jahlil was 2-2), and 14 for 17 from the field!  That is worth a wow!  Moreover, Jefferson is developing confidence in his offensive game (though opponents might begin to notice he only drives to his right).  The guards are starting to look for him because he moves so well without the ball.

Quinn in his 35 minutes (2nd most on the team) had his worst statistical game of the year (2-9 from the field; 2-7 from behind the arc; 1-2 from the line) with only 7 points and 0 assists.  He contributed 5 defensive rebounds and 3 steals while playing terrific defense.  The bench played little and scored only 6 points in total on Matt Jones’s 2 crucial early 3s.  Matt logged 8 minutes while Plumlee played only 6 minutes (without a box score entry).  Rasheed played 16 minutes without scoring, though handed out 2 assists and grabbed a board.  This is, as it turns out, a very short rotation.

Quick turnaround with Pittsburg visiting Cameron on Monday night at 7 pm EDT.  This is a watershed game for Duke.

 

Duke 79– Pittsburgh 65 

After playing three games in six days, home cooking was a welcome relief for Duke’s guards as they found their shooting touch within the friendly sights and sounds of Cameron, hitting 11-23 three pointers. Ty Jones and Rasheed Sulaimon had four each. Quinn Cook, who is a 90% free throw shooter and usually the best from long range, was 1-8 but compensated with a game high 10 rebounds. Go figure. There are very few easy outs in the restructured ACC and Pitt is not one of them.

Jahlil had what was for him, a so-so game and Justise Winslow is according to Coach, “banged up– his shoulder, ribs. He’s taken some blows. I don’t think anything real serious.” You have to consider the source. K is an old West Point guy. “Banged up” to him sort of means you are shot up and bleeding but still have your limbs. I look at a player built like Justise on the floor four times in two games grimacing in pain like Seattle’s Richard Sherman in the Packer game and have to wonder the meaning of “serious” to elite athletes. One thing for sure, Winslow’s offense has been not been the same recently.

Most interestingly, Duke again started playing zone and got off to a good start. According to Laura Keeley, the Blue Devils gave up 35 points on trips that were zone-based, 30 points on ones in man. That is somewhat deceiving, because a number of those were transition points off missed shots, which leads to the symbiotic relationship between offense and defense. The more missed shots, the more chance of fast breaks before the defense can be set. Therefore, the less efficient the offense, the probability is that the defense is less efficient. As Jay Bilas pointed out, Coach has several levels of aggressiveness to his defense from full court to inside the three point line. Recently, whether in man or zone, this team with their undersized guards, has been more effective not extending the perimeter defense further than the three point line. Ok, school’s out for today boys and girls.

Additional Observations:

More and more it appears Ty Jones is responding to the losses more dramatically and effectively than any other player and holds the keys to this team’s success. The other key is Okafor defense improving his defense from a C+ to a B+. That can start by Jah not getting in foul trouble by making silly fouls.

Despite the two recent losses, Coach K’s has been on top of his game in the press conferences. On playing zone: “Jim (Boeheim) texted me after the Louisville game: “‘Where’s my royalty check?”’ And I replied: “After the season. We’ll see if it’s a one-night wonder.”

This was win 999 which sets the stage for winning number 1,000 on the Sunday afternoon game against St. Johns on national television in Madison Square Garden, where Coach K broke Bobby Knight’s record.

Alan Adds:

It was a strange, but satisfying game.  Quinn Cook led Duke in rebounding (10) while Jahlil had more assists (5) than any teammate.  Quinn had a double double (11 points also), but was 1-8 from downtown.  Jah not only had 5 assists, but also a number of great passes that would have been recorded as assists if the game were hockey. Sometimes the assist went to the player receiving Jah’s pass and then finding an even more open teammate.  Jefferson was 4-4 from the line.  Tyus led Duke’s scoring with 22 points on 11 shots (4-5 from 3land and 4-5 from the stripe), but had three turnovers and 4 assists.  Still he controlled the game with his handle and shot making.  In turn, Duke controlled the game by taking care of the ball.  Duke had only 4 turnovers in the first half, and except for an uncharacteristic stretch when Duke could have closed out the game where Duke made 4 sloppy turnovers in a row, an even better second half (10 turnovers for the game against 13 assists).

Duke shot the ball well, which made everything different from the last 4 games.  Duke made 8 more 3 pointers than Pitt (3-10) did on 13 more attempts (11-23 from behind the arc; 4-8 in the second half).  Duke made more free throws (20 of 25) than Pitt shot (8-12).  Jahlil and Amiel were a combined 8-10 (Jefferson 4-4); Cook and Jones were a combined 8-9 (Tyus was 4-5).  Marshall was 2-2; Rasheed and Winslow were 1-2.   Traditional Duke stats.  The offense, in short, returned.

But what about the defense?  It was a tale of two different halves.  Duke was superb in the first half, holding Pitt to 25 points (while scoring 41).  However, all that turned around in the second half.  A Duke assistant coach speculated that having Duke defend in front of the Duke bench (first half) kept the Devils communicating, but that communication diminished when the teams changed ends.  Sounds strange to me.  Pitt was 17-33 (52%) in the second half, including 3-7 from 3land.  The Panthers scored 40 points, and had 11 assists on 17 hoops in the second half.    Duke’s defense, so efficient in the first half, reverted to porous in the second half.  Duke had a 16 point lead at half and kept scoring (38 in the second half after 41 in the first) which hid the defensive lapses in the second half.  For the game, Pitt took 8 more shots from the field (60 to Duke’s 52).

Even while scoring efficiently, Duke was holding on in the last segment of the second half.  With 11:36 to go, Duke was up by 20 points (65-45); with 3:05 to go, Duke’s lead had been cut to 10 (73-63) and again at 1:09 (75-65).  It was a very good win, coming, as it did two days after Duke’s epic blowout of the Cardinals at Louisville.  Once again the Duke rotation was extremely short, really just 6, though Duke got good cameos from Marshall (7 minutes) and Matt Jones (10) minutes.  Marshall had a neat lefty hook shot, a block and a rebound to go with 2-2 from the line in his four minutes.  He also almost fouled out in that very short span (4).  Matt was solid defensively, but 0-2 from the field with a board.  It was only Rasheed (25 minutes) and the starters who played extended minutes.  Justise’s shooting woes continued, though there was some good signs.  He is taking a pounding in the games and was hurt twice, reducing his minutes to 22.  He had 2 boards, an assist, a steal and a block to go with 2-4 from behind the arc (the good sign) for his 7 points (2-7 from the field).  He is visibly struggling, but his early season prowess makes Duke’s upside potential more than its current caliber of play.  The guards logged 38 minutes each, which is telling. Quinn had 2 assists and a steal to go with his double double.  Tyus has an amazing steadiness that controls the game.  As the season has progressed, he is handling the rock more and more (Quinn less and less).  Both were effective defensively in the zone.

Okafor and Jefferson again stood out for Duke.  Jah played 28 minutes (committing 3 fouls) going 5-9 from the field for 14 points.  He added 3 rebounds and a block against 2 turnovers.  His passing was a key to Duke’s offensive resurgence.  Duke’s hot 3 point shooting came because the shots were uncontested; many starting out of the double teams that Pitt threw at Jah.  Duke passed faster than Pitt could rotate, resulting in uncontested shots.  Jah was more important than his stat line would suggest.  The same is true of Jefferson, who continues to mature and improve (I think partially stung by Jones starting instead of Jefferson against Miami).   Although only 2-6 from the field (8 points and 9 boards), Amile was terrific.  He added 3 steals and a block, while playing scintillating defense with 0 turnovers and committing only 1 foul.

Duke seems to have righted the ship, and just in time for three difficult road games in a row (St. Johns at Madison Square Garden on Sunday); Notre Dame and Virginia to conclude January.

DUKE 77- ST. JOHNS 68

A recent poll revealed that 25% of the people believe God plays a divine role in deciding which team wins a sporting event. Count me as a skeptical agnostic—until the last week. Last Sunday Seattle was outplayed and down 16 points in the last six minutes, when suddenly they executed flawlessly and with some timely skill/luck/divine intervention, ties, then beats Green Bay. Today, for twenty minutes Duke was outplayed, outhustled, and looked like they did in losses to N.C. State and Miami. Down 61-51 with 8:30 to go, an historic win played live before a national television audience seemed to be a lost opportunity. I’m thinking the poll was wrong. A Basketball God, unless he is a Tar Heel, wouldn’t let this happen.

Coach K called time out. With Amile Jefferson sitting with three fouls, Rasheed Sulaimon with four, and Justise Winslow hurt and ineffective, he substituted Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones as the forwards. Brilliant coaching move? Divine intervention? Or just Coach K imposing his fighting and never-give-up DNA onto his players and the game? Who knows, but suddenly MP3’s hustle and defense seemed to energize the Blue Devils and they were a different team, outscoring St. Johns 26-7. An unbelievable turn of events, but an appropriate conclusion and exclamation point on a game of this significance! The bottom line is this is why Coach K has won 1,000 games!

Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, and Jahlil Okafor led the way for the Duke comeback, each player had a 3-point play to erase the ten point deficit, and it was the senior Cook, who hit his fourth triple of the afternoon to put Duke back ahead by one. In all, they combined to score 55 points. That’s what seniors and talented freshmen do.

The players St. John’s recruit are usually athletic, playground oriented, and thrive on an up tempo game. Missed shots, open court opportunities, and porous defenses play right into their wheelhouse. When Duke started making shots, giving them time to set their defense, combined with the psychological pressure of losing a lead three points at a time helped turn the tide of the game. In addition, the referees were of little help. Clearly, the three point shot just before the half didn’t beat the shot clock but the rule is that it cannot be reviewed. If play can be stopped the check if a player’s foot is outside the three point line, why can’t replays be used to check the time clock at the end of the half? It can be checked at the end of the game and in overtime this anomaly makes no sense. Also, the defenders were allowed to wrestle with Okafor with immunity in the low post and Jefferson, Sulaimon, and Cook were subjected to fouls that boarded on muggings.

Additional Observations:

  • Duke started the game with their man defense but when the game went south they tried a zone. All to no avail as, during that bad twenty minute period, nothing worked. However, when the Blue Devils made their late, winning move with Plumlee in the lineup, they played mostly a zone. MP3 and Okafor together present an entirely different defensive challenge for an opponent.
  • Win number 1,000 came about 500 miles from Cameron Indoor Stadium, but for Duke it is familiar territory. Madison Square Garden was where K had win number 903 against Michigan State in November 2011, breaking the Division I record previously held by his college coach and mentor, Bob Knight.
  • Wojo: “Mike Krzyzewski is much more than a coach. He is a friend and a role model who shows us the way after we put the jersey away.”
  • Marshall Plumlee formally committed to join the U.S. Army after graduation in the spring of 2016. “It’s a tremendous honor,” Plumlee said. “I’m just blessed to have these passions — basketball and the Army — and to be able to pursue both of them. I love basketball. I love Duke Basketball and I feel like the Army only makes me a better basketball player. I also think playing for Coach K and Duke only makes me a better Army officer.”

Alan Adds:

In the movie, “The Hustler”, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) is the pool champion, and is challenged by talented arrogant newcomer, Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman).  The know-it-all “manager” is Bert Gordon (George C. Scott).  It’s a long game and Felson is winning big in the early going.  Fats goes into the men’s room to recoup.  He shaves, washes splashes cologne on, and comes out looking like a new man.  As Bert Gordon later tells Felson, “at that moment you were ready to lose.”

Duke metaphorically went into the men’s room at a time out with 8:30 left to play, and St John’s ahead by 10 (61-51).  All showered, shaved and splashed with cologne; a new lineup — Marshall and Matt Jones to go along with yesterday’s Big Three, Cook, Tyus and Jah.  In two minutes and two seconds, the Devils made three 3 point plays the old fashion way while getting two big stops, to cut the lead from 10 to 1.  St John’s was “ready to lose”.  St Johns finally started missing (and Plumlee made Duke more effective at rim protection).  Duke took the lead at 5:42 on Cook’s three.  Tyus was fouled on a 3 point attempt and made all three at 2:54 mark for a 6 point lead.  St John’s cut it to 4 a few seconds later, but with 1:17, Tyus drained a 3, and that was the game.

Part of St. Johns’ collapse came from what looked like exhaustion.  The Red Storm starters logged big minutes — Pointer, for example played 40 minutes.  DeAngelo Harrison (Rasheed’s teammate in high school AAU ball) played the least with 35.  The St. John bench failed to score and logged only 15 minutes (Branch played 11).  The Duke high scoring threesome also logged big minutes (Tyus- 39, Quinn-38 and Okafor-37), but the Duke bench was productive, playing a total of 55 minutes and scoring 10 points.  Where the bench really contributed was on the defensive end.  Coach K sung the praises of Matt Jones (24 minutes; 6 rebounds, 2 assists to with 2-6 shooting for 4 points — 0-2 from deep) and Marshall (5 boards, 1-1 on a beautiful put back for his only points) for shutting the Red Storm down in the last 8 minutes.  It was an awesome transformation.  Rasheed logged 16 minutes, ineffective on offense, but energetic on the defensive side (1-3 from 3land and 1-4 from the stripe).  Grayson Allen had a cameo at the end of the first half when K was looking for someone to make a shot.  Allen didn’t in his 3 minutes (0-1; a steal and a turnover).

Coach K said it was unlike any game he had ever coached because it was like three games in one.  In the first seven and a half minutes, Duke looked as if the game would not be close, racing to a 21-10 lead.  The second game started then and lasted until the 8:32 mark of the second half.  That partial game looked suspiciously like a replay of the Miami and NC State games.  After playing almost twelve minutes of awful basketball, in which the defense was totally torched for open shots (St. Johns missed several wide open layups; maybe partially offset by the Red Storm three at the end of the half that clearly should not have counted).  Duke played man; Duke played zone; it did not matter, St Johns scored on everything, while Duke missed open shots on offense.  It was enough to adversely impact digestion.  The second half was even worse.  Duke’s second field goal did not come until the 13:47 mark, when Quinn finally nailed a three to cut the ten point St Johns lead to seven.  With 11:46 to go, Jefferson made Duke’s third field goal of the half to again reduce the 10 point lead, this time to 8.  Plumlee’s stick back was Duke’s fourth and final field goal before the transformative time out at the 8:32 mark.  Duke’s defense up until the time out was beyond porous.  Duke fouled consistently (only 7 in the first half, but 17 for the game — Rasheed (4), Matt (3) and Amile (3) were especially saddled.  St John’s penetrated the zone, and consistently made open mid-range jumpers (8-10 feet) from the interior of the zone.  Much adverse digestive reaction.

Matt Jones and Marshall fixed the defense with energy and physicality.  Coach K gushed over those two in post-game interviews.  Jahlil, Quinn and Tyus were spectacular down the stretch.  Okafor had 10 tough boards to go with 17 points on 7-10 shooting (but a woeful 3-7 from the free throw line);  he was awesome to start the game (8 points in the first 7 and a half minutes; 10 for the half) and a fountain of power and desire after the 8:32 time out.  In that short span, he grabbed four key rebounds and scored 6 points.  What was awesome was his obvious passion, which fueled his taking physical command of the game at crunch time.  Duke’s backcourt had a terrible defensive game and sporadic offense before looking like All-Americans in the last eight and a half minutes.  Tyus was absolutely outstanding, even though he did not shoot well (5-11; 2-5 from deep) and turned the ball over 4 times (high for him).    But when the game was on the line, he was superb.  First, he was 10-10 from the line, 7-7 in the last 8 minutes.  Second, he scored on a layup (3 point play) and the dagger 3 at 1:17 from the corner after a rebound by Jah and a superb assist off the drive by Quinn. 13 points in less than 8 minutes.  Tyus had 4 tough boards and 6 assists to go with a key steal at the end.  Quinn also shot poorly during the game (5-13 from the field; and 2-6 from 3land before making his last 2 — the last one for the lead at 63-62), and turned it around down the game-winning stretch.  He was 3-3 from the line, making it 8 points in the last 8 minutes.

Bill’s comment that 25% believe that some supernatural force controls the outcome of games cannot go unmentioned.  Since I have a Mencken like view (“No one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American People”), I wager that more people believe that Buffalo Wild Wings influences games!  Close, anyway.

It was a grand finish for Coach K’s 1000th win.  Now back to the pursuit of ACC titles and other post-season glories.  The next two games are difficult — Wednesday at Notre Dame and Saturday at undefeated Virginia.  Duke is likely to be underdogs in both games.

Duke 73- Notre Dame 77

My old tennis coach Don Henson taught me some basic truisms that made me a better player and a better fan. Namely, that there are three levels of performance: You have to be able to hit the shot in practice, hit it in a match, and hit it on a big point and, secondly, the better a player is, the more “lucky” shots they make. You have to admire Jerian Grant. He hit a variety of big shots and with the game on the line, made an unbelievably lucky shot, then made the big assist to an open teammate for a dagger three.

Sunday the Blue Devils finished the game off with winning plays; tonight Notre Dame did. Up by ten with twelve minutes to play, Duke came up empty on both ends of the floor. Alan has a terrific analysis, so I will be brief. While this was a loss it, was not nearly the disappointment that the losses to N.C. State and blowout loss to Miami in Cameron were. However, it leaves they question: is this a talented, young team learning lessons that will make them a top tournament contender or are they an overhyped, overrated team?

For all of his graceful offensive talent,  Okafor is  a below average post defender and 58% free throw shooter, whom you do not want at the line with the game on the line. A hopeful sign is that Justise Winslow has started to resemble the 2014 model we admired so much and Ty Jones continues to impress.

However, the truth of the matter is that last night Notre Dame was the better team that played above their talent. Duke too often doesn’t play up to their talent—or, maybe, they are not as good as all the hype.

Bottom line: Duke going 10-20 from the free throw line made this a coulda, shoulda, woulda loss that a more solid, more mature team would have won. At the beginning of the season, someone you know wrote that free throw shooting could be the Achilles Heel of this team. Got to fix it.

Alan Adds:

Duke proved itself to be a young team against Notre Dame, but the loss was not as deflating to Coach K as it might seem to Duke fans.  This is the worst conference start (4-3) since 1995 (and we do not want to think about that year).  Coach said that both teams played winning basketball, which was true for only 29 minutes of the game.  In the last 11 minutes, Duke got to feel what St. Johns must have felt last Sunday when Duke muscled the game away from the Johnnies in the waning minutes.  With 11:00 left in the game Okafor made a layup to restore Duke’s 10 point lead at 65-55.  By the time Duke scored next on Jah’s layup with 5:29 to go, it tied the score at 67.  In between, Duke was hapless (not winning basketball): Cook missed 3 jumpers (2 of them 3 pointers); Tyus missed 2 (1 a 3), Matt missed a 3 as did Rasheed.  Defensively, Winslow committed a turnover and Jah and Rasheed committed fouls.  Okafor hit another layup at the 4:36 mark to give Duke a 69-67 lead, but  Duke never made another field goal and was only 2-6 on critical free throws —  Jah was 1-4; Rasheed 1-2.  Quinn and Tyus (2) committed fouls on the defensive end.  In short, in the last 11 minutes, Duke had only 3 field goals — all by Jah.  Notre Dame, on the other hand, did play winning basketball down the stretch, making 2 amazing plays  — Grant’s miracle with 1:11 left; followed by Vasturia’s only field goal of the game (1-5; 1-3 from 3land), the three from the corner on a great look from Grant , which was the dagger.  Coach K said Matt Jones made a mistake leaving him; he’d rather have had Grant attempting a difficult 2 pointer.  Grant capped a spectacular game with a block on Cook with 28 ticks left.

Coach K emphasized the team’s youth and that this game was about missed opportunities that make the difference between winning and losing when two very good teams play a close game.   He pointed to the between 6-8 finishes at the rim that simply did not go down, and that Duke grabbed 13 offensive boards but only scored 9 points on those second chances. Coach K also pointed to Matt’s defensive lapse on Vastoria’s dagger and, of course, the foul shooting.  Duke was 10-20 from the stripe after being 3-5 in the first half.  Consider that Tyus, Quinn and Justise were 7-7 in the game; the rest of the team was 3-13.  Coach K said, “Jah had a heck of a game.  If he had made his free throws we’d be talking about him rather than Grant as the player of the game.”

Both teams played short benches:  ND’s starters all logged over 34 minutes (Grant 40 and Connaughton 39), except at the center position.  Duke, too, played a very short rotation.  Cook played all 40 minutes (minus a few seconds), Tyus 38 minutes, Jah 36 and Justise returned to big playing time with 30 minutes.  Matt Jones (21) played more off the bench than Amile (17 minutes), while Rasheed played only 12.  Marshall was limited to a 6 minute cameo, looking lost with the ball, unlike his previous court time.  Duke’s bench was unproductive offensively — Rasheed was 1-6 (0-2 from 3 and 1-2 from the line) for 3 points; Jones was 1-4 (0-1 without a free throw attempt) for 2 points, but he had 5 tough boards and 4 assists, and so earned his playing time.  Amile was 2-4 from the field (made his first two shots and scored Duke’s first 4 points), and a disastrous 0-3 from the line.  Very disappointing game for him.

In many respects Jah carried Duke with 17 rebounds to go with his 22 points (10-18 from the field; but 2-7 from the line).  Even Dickie V could ascertain that Jah is not defending well.  Whether it was Jah leaving his man, or the help failing to rotate when he did, ND scored some very easy points at the rim when Jah doubled the ball on pick and rolls.  Quinn had a brilliant first half (5-5; 3-3 from deep) for 13 points.  He was 0-6 (0-3 from deep) with only 2 foul shots in the second half for 15 points.  Tyus had a quiet first half (1-4; 0-1 from deep for 2 points) before going 4-7 (1-2 from deep and 3-3 from the line for his 14 points.  In my opinion the good news from this game is the return of Justise Winslow.  He had 5 (1-3 from the field; 1-2 from deep) in the first half, and I made a note to myself at half-time that he looked smooth and was defending well.  He came alive in the second half shooting 3-4 from the field including 2-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line for 13 points.  My belief is that Duke’s season will depend on Justise reaching something like his potential (think Zoubek in 2010).

This makes the Virginia game on Saturday as important a regular season game as Duke has had in a while.  Duke is 11-11 in its last 22 ACC road games.  A win can restore the season and keep Duke as a contender on the national scene.  Next Play

DUKE 69- VIRGINIA 65 

‘HOOS DAT???  JUST US DEVILS…WE BACK!!!!!

After being undefeated in 2014 but starting 2015 by being upset in two straight ACC games, not closing out Notre Dame, losing a key man, then playing the third game in a row on the road in six days against the #2 team in the country, co-captain Quinn Cook told his teammates that the next twenty minutes against Virginia would determine what kind of season they would have. Down nine points with five minutes to play, Coach K went small to deny Virginia double-teaming options against Jahlil Okafor and switched to a zone to help get out in transition. That coaching change seem to energize a suddenly more efficient and effective Okafor as well as the guards. The Blue Devils scored 22 of the game’s last 29 points over these final minutes. The last fifteen possessions were a three, a layup, a layup, dunk, a two, a layup, a layup, a three, a tip-in, a three, a three, a layup, a three, and a stone cold dagger three by Ty Jones– an impressively improbable performance. How impressive, that’s 43 points in the second half against a team which had only allowed an average of 49 points per game and were ranked No. 1 among 345 Division I teams in scoring defense.

Think what you will about this sometimes inconsistent freshman heavy team, but Duke’s record in their last twenty-two games on the road has been a subpar 11-11. Nevertheless, this is the first Duke team in history to defeat three top-ten ranked teams — Wisconsin, Louisville, Virginia on the road. As Jay Bilas pointed out, while Duke is very talented and won this game, he still considers Virginia is the better team. That may change by tournament time if Okafor stops travelling, missing free throws, and become a beast for forty minutes, Winslow becomes totally healthy and more consistent, Ty Jones remain “Cool Hand” Jones, and Quinn Cook  continues to hit big baskets as well as being the emotional leader.

This was a contest between the two best coaches not only in the ACC but in the country. UVA coach Bennett has no McDonald’s All- Americans. What he does have are big, strong, long, mature basketball players, who stay for four years and learn his system. So, it was basically one-and-done versus all four years. Advantage Coach Bennett. On the other hand, Coach K has not won 1001 games by looking pretty and talking nice.

How tough is it to win on the road in the ACC? Carolina blew an 18 point lead and lost at Louisville and Notre Dame was upset at Pitt. Notre Dame’s last play to win was a rerun of the Duke game, only this time Steve Vasturia missed the three from the corner. Oh well, that’s basketball. Life doesn’t get any easier for the Cavaliers. They go to Chapel Hill, then Louisville.

At a critical moment of the game, with Duke down two points with minutes to play, Winslow drove to the basket. There was a lot of contact as he missed the shot and ended up on the floor with Scott’s foot on his shoulder. Justise grabbed and held the foot and was called for a technical foul. It turned out to be a four point turnaround and possibly game, set, match. In defense of Winslow, there was a lot of contact on the play, he didn’t attempt to wrestle with or injure Scott. He may have just been protecting his injured shoulder and ribs. In any event, all’s well that ends well.

In his press conference Coach K mentioned that playing the zone can facilitate Duke’s running and open court possibilities—if the opponent misses a shot. Certainly, the Blue Devils strategy of taking a page from Carolina’s system and attempting to beat the Cavaliers down the court, even on made baskets, was one of the keys to the game.

As you know, I have been a Sulaimon fan but should have known something was amiss. Going from a starter his freshman year to being a substitute was one indication. Not being named a co-captain with fellow junior Jefferson was another. I liked his fire but noticed that he did not seem to be playing under control all the time. We never know what goes on in practice, or the locker room, class room, or with girlfriends, or family etc. However, there must have been a long history of serious transgressions for Coach K to dismiss Rasheed. I don’t think anyone outside the tight team circle saw this kind of outcome.

After the season, we will look back at this win—considering the circumstances and the setting really one of the most impressive in recent memory– as an important building block in the maturation of a very good Duke team or an anomaly in another inconsistent season of a talented but immature good Blue Devil teams of the one-and-done era.

Additional Observations:

Coach K’s first substitution: Plumlee, Jones, and Allen. Having inherited more minutes by default, Allen has to step up and produce as Plumlee and Matt Jones have done.

Meaningless stat? Tonight’s win was Duke’s second ever against team 19-0 or better. The first was over 34-0 UNLV in 1991 Final Four, on route to Duke’s first NCAA Championship.

Alan Adds:

This was simply a great regular season ACC college basketball game!  It was — at least temporarily — salvation for the Duke season emotionally, and it was surely thrilling entertainment.   However, even though it was a special win, it will not define the season (any more than Austin’s dagger to upset UNC in the Dome defined that season).  There is too much uncertainty for how this team develops in the future with so much of the season left to play.  So I favor “savor” the significant accomplishment, and then on to the rest of the season.  But let us do savor.

There is much to savor.  In importance, I start with the return to form of Justise Winslow.  He single handedly kept Duke in the game in the first half with his slashes to the basked.  He was a force on the court for his 31 minutes (would have been more but for his foul trouble, committing 4).  Besides his 17 points (11 in the first half) Justise pulled down 11 boards (10 defensive; 5 in each half) had 2 blocks, a steal, an assist against 0 turnovers.  If he finally hits his outside shot consistently (0-4; 2 misses in each half) to go with his forays to the rim, he will be unguardable.   He played Anderson when Duke played man and was an interior force when Duke went zone in the second half.  Anderson scored only 11.  Coach K emphasized that Duke could push forward better from the zone, but said “of course, you have to get the defensive rebound in order to push.”  Justise did that for Duke.  Jah was a force, but had only 3 defensive rebounds. UVA had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, keeping them in the game.  In the second half, the Cavaliers got only 5, and two of them were Toby’s failure to score on them with a minute to go.  Those misses and Quinn’s eventual (finally!) rebound were critical to Duke’s win.

Okafor had a dismal first half (2 points and 3 turnovers), completely disrupted by the aggressive and immediate double teams that Virginia threw at him.  Jah became a force down the stretch, giving Duke the interior toughness to match UVA while logging 35 minutes.  He was 4-5 from the field in the second half, including a dazzling last 8 minutes to lead Duke emotionally.  In that stretch, Jah hit a jumper, made a key tip in after Tyus missed a layup, and handed out 3 assists, including the final one at 1:20 to go when he hit Quinn for an open 3 to put Duke up 66-63.  As he did against St. Johns, he powered Duke on the interior for the comeback win.

While Duke’s guards could not stop the UVA guards when Duke played man to man, the ‘Hoos could not defend the Duke guards at crunch time.  Both Tyus and Quinn were heroic.  Each were held to 4 points in the first half (Quinn even missed a foul shot, while Tyus was 1-4 from the field).  Quinn (36 minutes) finished with 15 points on 4-6 from the field in the last stanza including 3-4 from behind the arc.  Tyus (38 minutes) was even better, scoring a total of 17 (4 of 6 from the field in the second half; 2-4 from distance — including the dagger from deep with 10 seconds left).  He also had 4 boards and handed out 4 assists, though he did miss a foul shot (5-6).  Heroic is a fair modifier for Duke’s guards in the second half.

Matt Jones played 24 efficient winning minutes, scoring 9 points (4-9; 1-3 from 3land) to go with 3 tough boards, 2 assists and a block.  Jones played excellent defense, both man to man and in the back line of the zone.  Coach K is relying on Matt more and more as he proves reliable.  Coach K went small quite a bit, which limited Jefferson to 20 minutes (2 points; 2 boards; 0-2 from the line), and Marshall to 5 nondescript minutes — the only 5 that Jah was out of the game.  Grayson Allen played 11 minutes and is not yet confident (0-1; 1-2 from the line with a turnover and committing 2 fouls).  Yet I get the feeling that he will contribute and take advantage of the minutes he will get now as a result of Rasheed having been dismissed from the team.

Duke’s second half offense and shooting can be savored for sure.  Against the fabled “pack line” defense, Duke shot 17-30 from the field including 6-13 from behind the arc in the second half to score 43 points (3-4 from the line after going 4-9 in the first half).  The game was both thrilling and satisfying to watch.  Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

Duke 72- Georgia Tech 66

Unfortunately, this Duke team appears to play up or down to the level of their competition, which is living dangerously. When you can’t blow out bottom feeders like Miami or Georgia Tech in Cameron and can’t consistently defend the paint or the perimeter, you might not be tournament tough. With three point line, if you let any team hang around, crazy things can happen in the last few minutes of a game (ref. Virginia game). And speaking of the Virginia game, tonight the ball was rolling off  the rim, not in the basket, and the threes weren’t falling. Of course, the Blue Devils (even Ty and Quinn) missed foul shots (15-24), some of which were one-and-ones. That’s leaving about 8 or 10 points off the score board.

Fortunately, Duke had too much talent as Winslow (15 pts & 10 rebs)), Cook (17 pts), and Matt Jones(11 pts & 5 rebs)  provided the winning plays. Justice was in rare form at both ends. He even channeled his brother, who is a defensive back at Dartmouth, on some breath taking defensive plays as did Matt Jones, who keeps improving in all ways to help mitigate the departure of Rasheed Sulaimon–and Quinn “Microwave” Cook, scoreless the first half, once again heated up with 17 second half clutch points. Jahlil Okafor had, for him, an average game (14 pts & 8 rebs) as the refs keep letting defenders push him off the low post so he receives passes too far from the basket. Occasionally, he got mad and showed some impressive moves, but was only 5-12 from the floor.

The good news is that Justice Winslow has played the last two games even better than advertised–especially on defense—and that there has been balanced scoring. However, to be most effective, the offense should run through Okafor and with the game on the line, Cook has to be the offensive go-to guy, because he is the most versatile and creative scorer and is a 90%  free throw shooter. For the same reasons, Ty Jones is not a bad second option. However, unless the Blue Devils  start playing better defense, it doesn’t matter because they cannot outscore every team every night.

Coach K commented on the challenges his young team is facing: “I didn’t think we were emotionally at the level we needed to be… Not that our kids weren’t ready to play, but we could not get that level of emotion. It’s human nature and that’s what you compete against. If you want to be really good all the time, human nature is your biggest opponent because you’re up, you’re excited, you’re a little bit worn out. How do you stay consistent? It’s happening to eight kids, four of them are freshmen, for the very first time. They want to do well. Our guys are terrific…they’re working like crazy and I just keep having to try  things. The league is unforgiving in that there’s so many good teams. Sometimes one schedule is more difficult than others. We have a tough schedule. We’re on the road at Louisville, at Syracuse, at Notre Dame, at NC State… It wears on you. To be able to win a game in this manner, that’s what keeps you afloat and gets you tournament ready. We’ve still got a number of games until we are tournament qualified. This was another step closer to doing that.”

Additional Observations:

  • Want to know how Coach Krzyzewski, who will turn 68 next week, has won 1,002 games? Late in the first half, he tossed his jacket, slapped the floor, waved his arms to the crowd, and yelled at the Cameron fans to help his team. He was visibly angry at times during timeouts – whatever it took to get his team going.
  • This win pushed Coach K passed former Tar Heel legend Dean Smith as the winningest in ACC play. He improved to 423-169 in his 35th year in the league.
  • The Yellow Jackets fell to 5-34 at Cameron Indoor Stadium and their only victory here since 1997 came in 2004 – the year they went on to reach the national title game.
  • Having referenced the concept of Divine Intervention in sporting events, I cannot let the ending minutes of the Super Bowl pass without comment. How to explain first, the laying on-the-back reception after the ball bounced around various body parts, then the bone headed play call, and the improbable interception by the undrafted rookie from the University of West Georgia. It turned Seattle fans and bettors into raving manic depressives and New England fans and bettors into depressive maniacs, and non-believers into believers. Welcome to the wonderful emotional roller coaster world of sports!

Alan Adds:

Coach K’s post-game comments (the essence of which is set out by Bill above) had several additional themes.  First, Tyus (2-6; 1-3 from 3land;  0 foul shots) and Quinn (0-4; 0-3 from deep; no free throw attempts) had sub-par first halves.  That changed dramatically for (Quinn 37 minutes) and somewhat for Tyus (38 minutes, which tells you how valuable Coach K thinks he is, even when not playing his best).  Okafor told Quinn at the half, “we need you; you are not playing well.”  Jah said the team is so close that such talk is team building.  Quinn said that he thought his defense had been subpar in the first half, and that as his defense improved, so did his offense.  Though Duke pushed to a 10 point lead with 5 minutes + left in the first half, Coach K was not happy.  The Ramblin’ Wreck scored 2 baskets at the end as a result of careless Duke plays, which got Coach K’s attention.  Even though Duke led, the defense was porous.  Duke did not zone at all in the first half.  Tech shot 54% (3-5 from deep) against Duke’s porous defense.  At half time, I made a note to myself that Jah looked less than energetic, especially on defense.  He was 2-6; 2-4 from the line for 6 first half points.

Duke kept the lead on the play of Justise (10 first half points-4-5 from the field; 1-1 from deep; 1-1 from the line; to go with 6 rebounds) and Matt Jones, who scored 11 first half points (4-8; 1-3 from deep and 2-2 from the line).  You can see Matt’s confidence growing, as he becomes a substantial contributor.  He exudes toughness, and is a defensive presence whenever he enters the game.  At 6’5”, he is long enough to guard bigger players and quick enough to defend point guards. Where he is really making his mark is rebounding.  He was third last night (5; tied with Amile who played 23 minutes, one more than Matt).  Even better than the emergence of Matt, has been the play of Winslow.  I continue to believe that this team can only reach its potential (contender for national title) if Winslow plays the way he did in the early season (when I told friends that Jah — pre-season player of the year, with all that pre-season hype — might not even be the best freshman on Duke.  Then Justise disappeared (injuries played a role, I believe).  But in the last two games he is back, and very worth watching.  He finished with 15 points, making his only second half shot (4-7 from the line for the game).  He led Duke with 10 boards and played superb defense.  If his last two games are a harbinger of how he will play, this was a very positive game for Duke.

Cook was brilliant in the second half even though he was 1-8 from downtown for the game.  He was 5-6 on his scintillating drives and 4-5 from the line.  Jah (33 minutes) played efficiently in the last minutes, but it was not one of his better games.  I thought he was slow on defense (but had one critical block) and just didn’t have the zing.  Tech didn’t double him consistently.  He was missing shots he usually makes.  He is still the centerpiece.  Amile had 6 first half points (3-4) but failed to score in the second half.  Coach K had the ponies on the floor at crunch time (Justise plays the four with the three guards.  Marshall played 8 minutes, picking up 3 fouls.  Grayson made a 3 minute cameo, missing his only shot, a 3 point attempt.

Coach K said the Virginia game was like the Wisconsin game, but Duke didn’t play for a substantial period after pounding the Badgers.  Against, Tech, the Devils ran into human nature (Coach K regards human nature as a formidable obstacle to be overcome), but came out with the win.  The reason Tech stayed close is why we love the game.  Tech had shot 26% from 3land for the season.  Yesterday, they were 8-11 (24 points on 11 shots), while Duke was a tepid 5-18.  If both teams shoot as they have during the season, it is not a close game.  Good teams win even when they do not play well.  Tech was sandwiched between two big games — UVA last Saturday and Notre Dame in Cameron this Saturday.  In my opinion, Notre Dame in Cameron is a big game.

Prior to the Notre Dame game, Alan emailed me this:

Bill- For many reasons this is a very big game for Duke. A second ACC loss at home (creating a 5-4 ACC record more than half way through the season, with 2 games left with UNC) would exceed mere disappointment.  So, this is close to a must-win game.

I am not normally a pre-game optimist, but for this game I am.  Here’s why:

  1. Misreading the Georgia Tech game:Andy Katz of SI said he thought after the week Duke had experienced (St. Johns, Notre Dame, Sulaimon, and Virginia) that the Blue Devils would return to the confines of Cameron and simply blow out the bottom feeder.  He thought the close game was a bad sign for Duke.  Coach K pointed out the power in the universal adversary, human nature, after such a week.  He is correct in spades.  I completely disagree with Katz.  All things considered — including especially Tech’s other wordily 3 point shooting (8-11) in a season where Tech had shot 27%; Duke shot 5-18 from 3 — Duke was tough as nails and showed, in my opinion, championship potential.  What Katz either missed or discounted is the significance of the reemergence of Justise Winslow.  If he is back, as suggested by his performances in the last two games, Duke becomes much more formidable.
  2. The first Notre Dame game:  Was a terrific college basketball game.  Grant performed at the highest level, but even so without the Grant miracle (recovered the deflection caused by Tyus and made a circus shot at the 24 second clock expired) and Matt Jones’s defensive lapse (should have let Grant take a tough 2 pointer in the lane rather than leave the open 3 point shooter; the basket made a two possession game instead of giving Duke a chance to tie in its last possession), Duke was in the game.  Also, let’s not forget Duke’s woeful foul shooting in South Bend.  It would be hard to beat Duke twice in a row anywhere, but doubly tough to do it in Cameron.

Allan- I agree with your assessment and logic, but I caution you, some games have illogical outcomes. Just remember the Super Bowl. Notre Dame is a very efficient three point shooting team and Duke has not been as strong a defensive team we had hoped.

Duke 90- Notre Dame 60

You think the freshmen are finally getting it? Y’all aren’t in high school anymore, TyTy. (ref. Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz) You’re in Cameron and good Duke teams do not lose in their own house. Step up! Play like men! Payback, Baby, Payback!

After understandably being emotionally flat against Georgia Tech, Coach K talked about the importance of young players understanding the interplay between effort, emotion, fatigue, and performance. The Blue Devils started in a man defense, gave up two successive threes, then played one of , if not, the best halves of offensive and defensive basketball I can remember any Duke team playing, outscoring the Irish 50-18. It was a good example of the Ying and Yang of defense and offense. It was like channeling the great teams of 1991-92 or 1999- 2001 and JJ Redick shooting lights out threes. Irish missed shots led to open court opportunities where a healthy Justise was unstoppable. How well was the team playing? Even with Jah on the bench for the final ten minutes of the first half, MP3 again played with strength and confidence and the lead was increased. Duke’s first six 3-pointers went in, seven of eight in the half. Seven of Duke’s eight players scored. Four of them made every shot they took. At one point, Duke was averaging more than two points per possession, literally better than a layup every time the Blue Devils had the ball.

Justice Winslow had 19 points & 11 rebounds, his third straight double-double game;  Jahlil Okafor only played 23 minutes, but put on an offensive low post scoop and hoop clinic with 20 points and 10 rebounds; Ty Jones had 12 points, 7 assists;  Matt Jones added a career-high 17 points; and Grayson Allan had 5 points to go with a Justice Winslow type ESPN Highlight Block on a fast break. I never thought I would say this, but so far Rasheed Sulaimon has not been missed. Duke is playing better without him. Just maybe Coach K knows what he is doing. Matt has more than filled his sneakers, and Grayson is getting the opportunity to do the same. Just pray that no one gets hurt. When Winslow went down and grabbed his ankle, I saw the season flash before my eyes.

Winslow describing Duke’s ideal offensive performance: “We’re running, finishing, or getting in the lane, kicking and making threes. But at the same time, we can setup, feed Jahlil and play off him.”

One of the keys to the quick start and impressive win was Quinn Cook’s defense on his former DeMatha High School teammate Jerian Grant, holding him to shooting 3-10 for only 7 points. Quinn himself had 8 points and 5 assists.

The Blue Devils played a zone the second half and, understandably, didn’t shoot 80 % but still increased the winning margin. Coach K indicated in his press conference that his team would continue to play multiply defenses.

Other Comments:

  • Okafor has scored 10 or more points in 23 straight games, tying the Duke freshman record set by Johnny Dawkins in 1982-1983.
  • Brey spent eight years as a Duke assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff on teams that won the 1991 and ’92 national titles. Brey, who also played at DeMatha for Coach Wooten, now is 2-3 against his former boss.
  • The Blue Devils earned their 18th straight 20-win season and their 30th in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 35 seasons at the school.
  • Morgan Wooten, the legendary DeMatha High School coach of Cook, Grant, and Brey was at the game as well as David Robinson and his son, who will be on the basketball team next year. Another son was a freshman star wide receiver at Notre Dame this year.
  •  Isabella Alerie, former Duke star Mark’s daughter, is a standout 6-3 frontcourt player for National Cathedral School in Washington, DC. What’s up with this? She committed to Princeton.

Alan Adds:

After my wildly successful pre-game prediction, I feel like The Toad from Wind in the Willow (Toad puffed visibly).  Maybe we’ll change Alan Adds to  “Speech by Toad”.

Duke was dazzling.  While the offensive display in the first half was the stuff of legends (it must be memorialized on YouTube by now), it was the Duke defense that that left me with jaw agape in admiration.  Not since the first half of the Furman game (and a lot of the Wisconsin game) has Duke been so cohesive, intense and dominating.  Coach K said that the key was talking and the concept was “together” — did not matter whether zone or man, though Duke was strictly man to man in the first half.  The defense was talking, helping, rotating and was completely “together”.  The coach added that the “together” on defense sparked the offense.  When you are “together” on defense, you are relying upon, trusting, and working with your teammates.  This led to the same “together” on offense.  To make the point dramatically, Okafor played only 8 minutes in the first half — two quick fouls within seconds of each other had him on the bench.  Duke was playing to well for K to put him back in.  When Jah went out with 11:57 left in the first half, Duke had an 8 point lead.  With 4:40 left in the first half, Duke’s lead was 30 (43-13).  In a little over 7 minutes, Notre Dame could only muster four points, while Duke was otherworldly on offense.  All that without Okafor.

I also thought the second half contained at least one defining moment.  In the second half, the Irish began to mount a comeback.  Down 24 at the half, ND fought back to 60-42 with 13:26 left in the game.  K called time out.  Winslow took over the game for a few minutes, and Duke’s lead was restored to 30.  In 70 seconds, he scored a layup and a foul shot, assisted Cook on a layup, and made a layup on an assist from Cook.  His onslaught of energy continued: 2 defensive rebounds, 2 free throws, and then missed a layup; got his own rebound; missed another layup; got his own rebound again in a sequence that ended up with a Jah dunk to restore the 30 point lead with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.  Game unofficially over.

Jah had an amazing second half with 16 points and 8 rebounds (7-9 from the field and 2-2 from the line).  It felt as if Notre Dame wasn’t even trying to stop him.  Winslow logged 31 minutes with 19 points (6-11; 1-2 from 3land; and, importantly, 6-8 from the line) and 11 boards.  Coach K said that Winslow is growing up.  Part of that process, said the coach, is learning to play through injury.  He said Justise is doing that and “becoming the player we always thought he would be”.  The guards were terrific, especially on defense.  Quinn played a game high 36 minutes and deserves the praise heaped upon him by his coach for the outstanding defensive job done on Grant.  Cook had 8 points (3-8; 2-3 from 3land), but more importantly had 5 assists and 0 turnovers.  Tyus is becoming charismatic, I think.  A Duke fan feels comfortable when the ball is in his hands.  In his 34 minutes he scored 12 points on an efficient 4 shots (3-4; 2-3 from deep; and 4-6 from the line — 2 misses for him is shocking) to go with 5 boards, 7 assists and a steal while committing only 1 foul without a turnover.  Together Quinn and Tyus had 12 assists without a turnover.

Matt Jones played the fourth most minutes (27) and drew high praise from his coach.  K called him “a consummate team player”, who brings a tougher character to our team.  His emergence began with the St. Johns game, and “his time is here — right now; not sometime in the future because he brings a unique verve to the team.  He can guard all five positions (though we really don’t want him guarding a center, he can do it), and his teammates love playing with him.”  He scored 17 on 6-9 from the field; 3-5 from deep and a perfect 2-2 from the line.  Amile also had a good game in his 20 minutes (2-3 from the field with 5 boards; but only 3-6 from the line.

Marshall was a force in his 11 minutes (I think all were in the first half when Jah was on the bench).  Grayson is getting his first real chance (16 minutes) and scored 5 on a 3 and 2-2 from the line.  Everyone was talking about the block and Grayson’s athleticism to make it.  Coach said “we haven’t yet seen what he can do, but he is going to help us this year.”

Coach K praised the zone defense in the second half, and said that Duke would continue to play multiple defenses this year.  He thought the Cameron crowd had been tepid in the Ga Tech game, but was at its best yesterday.

Bill’s “heart in throat” moment when Justise rolled his ankle is so accurate.  An injury changes the season, especially on a team with only 8 scholarship players.  I have said that I think UVA is the best team in the country (including Kentucky), but how much that will change because of Justin Anderson’s broken finger remains to be seen.  Next play is tomorrow night at Fla. State.

Duke 73- Florida State 70 

This was a predictable  regression to the mean Trap Game. Play a nearly perfect twenty minute first half in an emotionally and physically draining must win game on Saturday, Monday fly to play the third game in six days– an away game in a hostile arena against a big, strong team and vocal student body which doesn’t like you or your school. The will was there but the bodies were wanting. This kind of situation is a test of  mental toughness and grit–win when you aren’t playing well. The last few years, this is a game that Duke would probably have lost. A prime example of the difference is Matt Jones. In the words of Coach K: “He had a horrible game. But he made the play of the game.” The play Krzyzewski was referring to was a charge that Jones took in the final two minutes, as the Seminoles’ Montay Brandon came barreling down the lane at him. FSU was behind 68-64, and that play temporarily halted their momentum. “I saw a 4-on-1 coming at me,” Jones said. “I saw them coming full speed, so I was like, ‘I’m going to stand here and take it. We work on situations like that in practice, and coach always tells us to go to the middle of the arc, and then let them come to you and be wide. Practice makes perfect.”

Once again, the referees let Okafor get mugged down low, yet called him for two quick fouls and he spent the second ten minutes on the bench. Have you ever seen a Player of the Year candidate get less respect from the refs? And once again, Marshall Plumlee filled in admirably as the Blue Devils increased their lead while their star center was on the bench. And once again Cook (26 pts) and Ty Jones (16 pts, 12 assists, 6 rebs)) led the way. Krzyzewski said : “I think Cook has been our most valuable guy. He has not only been a really good player, but he’s been a great leader. And our guys follow him. He has been one of my better leaders that I have had at Duke. I didn’t know that that would happen this year. Of all the guys, I’m most proud of him. And Ty  had twelve assists and one turnover. He’s had a great month. He’s had a terrific year, but he’s had a great month. Those two guards have been rock solid for us.”

Since January 17th, Duke has won at Louisville, beaten Pitt at home, beat St. John’s in the Garden, lost by four at Notre Dame, beaten undefeated #2 Virginia at Virginia, hung on against Georgia Tech, destroyed Notre Dame, and survived at Tallahassee. During this stretch, the team also dealt with the circus surrounding Coach K’s 1,000th win, the disruption of Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal from the team, and working Grayson Allen into the rotation. I cannot remember a schedule as tough—even unfair compared to other top teams in the league—as this one. Another grueling stretch of three games in six days. Television contracts pay the bills but demand these crazy schedules with little regard for the players as students. 

Other Comments:

  • Dean Smith, one of the greatest coaches in the history of basketball, died at 83. Coach Smith attended the University of Kansas on an academic scholarship where he majored in mathematics, played varsity basketball, varsity baseball, and freshman football, and was a member of the Air Force ROTC. He became an assistant coach at North Carolina under Frank McGuire and head coach in 1958, when McGuire left for South Carolina. His creative innovations (the “Four Corners” was responsible for the introduction of the shot clock), his team’s dominant, classy performances (he only had one losing season), and the players he recruited were the gold standard for college basketball. He and his teams (plus television) are a primary reason the Duke-Carolina rivalry  went from local to national. As good as a coach as he was, he was a better man. He recruited Charlie Scott, the ACC’s first great African-American player, and after he took Charlie to dinner at a popular local restaurant, the color barrier in Chapel Hill and other places in North Carolina was never the same.
  • Coach K on Dean Smith:  “The thing that Dean did the best is that he made men of the boys that came to him. And all those men revere him. They don’t love him, they revere him. That’s his biggest accomplishment. And he has done that better than anybody. I’m proud to be able to say that I was his friend. And I love him, and I love what he built and how he did it. It’s second to none. It’s really second to none. That’s why I don’t like to compare wins, championships and all that. No one could do it any better than him. Linnea and the kids have been incredible while he fought this horrible disease. So God bless him, God bless him, God bless him. We lost a great, great man in him.”
  • Despite saying that Duke would incorporate various defenses, Coach K appeared to stay with his man to man tonight.

Alan Adds:

Duke did not play well against Florida State under truly difficult circumstances.  Good teams win road games under truly difficult circumstances when not playing well.  For that reason, I believe that this Blue Devil win was every bit as impressive as the blowout of Notre Dame at Cameron.  Some of difficult circumstances were pre-arranged — tough schedule, played at what has sometimes been a house of horrors for Duke against the second tallest team in college basketball.  Some of the circumstances occurred when the game began. There was a clear hangover from the Notre Dame game.  Duke’s first four shots were from deep without much passing (0-4).  In the early going, the play looked more like football than basketball.  Michael Ojo, 7’1” with a sculpted body — Jahlil looked small standing next to him — was very aggressive on Jah (though it was Jah called for the fouls).  To give an idea, at the first media timeout (after 4 minutes and 7 seconds of play), the Seminoles led 2-0.  The announcer speculated on a 0-0 game at the timeout and could not recall that ever happening.  He said, “take the children away from the TV set; this is too ugly for them to watch.”.  Duke’s first basket came after the teams had played for 6 minutes and 40 seconds (making the score 8-4 — Jah having made 2 free throws just a bit earlier).  With 11:32 left in the first half, Jah was called for his second foul confining him to the bench for the rest of the half.  Plumlee came in, and Tyus took over.  He sandwiched his own jumper in between 2 dimes to Plumlee (Marshall’s only 4 points in the game came in his first two minutes on the floor).  In his eleven minutes, Marshall added 3 boards and 2 blocks.  I do not think he played in the second half, but Duke went from down 3 when he came in to up 8 at the end of the half.

How bad was Duke offensively in the first half?  Besides Cook and Tyus, who carried the team, Grayson Allen was tied for the third most field goal attempts (1-3 for his only 2 points in the game) with Justise (0-3).  Jahlil, Amile, Matt (0-1) and Justise combined for 0 baskets and 4 points (Jah was 2-2 from the line and Justise 2-4) in the first half.  Excellent defense and the guards kept Duke in front.  Quinn had 13 in the first half and was the recipient of some of Tyus’s 5 assists.  The freshman point guard scored 9 and also led Duke in rebounding (4); Jah had 3.

In the second half, Duke’s defense melted down dramatically. It was as bad as the first half defense against Notre Dame was good. The Seminoles were 15-23 from the floor (3-4 from 3land) and took it to Duke.  Duke made some excellent plays (Winslow blocks, Matt’s taking the charge on a 4-1 fast break at a crucial time), but overall the defense was porous.  The Seminoles got to the rim and made medium and long range shots.  But Duke never lost the lead — though a 14 point lead with 15 left to play in the game evaporated to a single point lead.

So why do I think that this win was as impressive as the win over the Irish?  In a word, because Duke showed a grit and toughness that was unprecedented for this team so far.  The guards were simply superb.  But before we get to those two fabulous performances, let us spread some more credit around.  Jah was 5-5 from the floor in the second half (but 1-3 from the line), and Justise (32 minutes; 1-6 from the field) hit 5-6 from the line at crunch time.  He had 5 tough rebounds.   Amile made his 2 foul shots (2 points; 5 boards for the game in 21 minutes).  Grayson played hard and you can see his confidence grow, but did not score in the second half).  Matt failed to score in 19 minutes (4 boards).

Duke won because Tyus Jones is morphing into the best player on the Duke team.  He has “an old soul”.  He controlled the game for Duke.  He led Duke in rebounding and had 12 of Duke’s 14 assists against 1 turnover, while scoring 16 points (6-13 from the field; 2-4 from deep and 2-2 from the line in 39 minutes.  What is so amazing to me about Tyus is that he only turns it on when Duke needs him.  He’s big in big games.  He is big in big moments within the game.  He is embodying toughness, and his teammates follow him.  So far this season, Duke’s best player.  And he teams with Cook so seamlessly, and finds Cook with great passes.  Cook was also amazing, usually finishing when Tyus finds him.  Cook played the entire game, scoring 26 on 8-15 shooting (4-9 from deep and 6-7 from the line).  Those two put Duke on their collective backs.

Florida State came out so physically that it knocked Duke back.  It reminded me of how LSU beat Duke in JJ and Sheldon’s senior year in the Sweet 16.  LSU just beat Duke up and Duke could not respond.  In what seemed to me a similar situation, this team did respond with grit and real toughness, handled the physicality and found a way to win.  For me, a very good sign; a win that impressed me as much as Duke’s other worldly performance against Notre Dame.

From here on, we cannot complain about the schedule.  It is Wednesday night; Saturday for the rest of the regular season.  Saturday vs Syracuse.  Next Wednesday, a familiar opponent.

Duke 80– Syracuse 72

This team is developing a chemistry and a maturity beyond their years. A large part of this is due to the pre-natural calm and performance of Tyus Jones combined with Quinn Cook’s new found maturity, which now matches his considerable offensive skills. The final piece is that really good teams have a coaching staff who have a great feel for the ebbs and flow of a game, the strengths and weaknesses of their players, and can make real time decisions. But most importantly, coaches who are skilled at making strategic halftime adjustments and convince their players that the changes are the key to winning the game. 

In the first half, Syracuse was ahead 39-36, mainly due to 19 points  by Michael Gbinije, who was a Duke player as a freshman before transferring to Syracuse. At halftime, Duke changed its lineup and defensive assignments: Quinn Cook switched to Gbinije, his freshman roommate and former practice partner, with instructions to go over not under the high ball screens; Matt Jones started in place of Amile Jefferson and guarded Trevor Cooney. Gbinije and Cooney were neutralized and Syracuse shot 38% rather than 48%, the Blue Devils shot 62% not 39% as Duke outscored Syracuse 44-33. (Another example of the inverse relationship between missed shots and an opponent’s offensive efficiency) Of course, the devil is in all the details of the win: Okafor outplayed Christmas with not only with his offensive prowess but also with his improving defense; Matt Jones played 32 very productive minutes (raise your hand if you thought Matt would be this good this soon); Grayson Allen had 5 points and 2 steals in eight minutes; and to seal the deal, Duke was 19-22 from the foul line as Cook and T. Jones were perfect in the last minutes.

Alan makes the interesting point that Duke is a perfect 5-0 since the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon, including wins at Virginia and Syracuse, plus a 30-point home victory over Notre Dame. Is that enough evidence to suggest that the team’s chemistry is better without the talented Sulaimon? Or is it simply evidence that the youngest Duke team in 32 years is growing up late in the season? We know this team is resilient, we know it is poised on the road and in the clutch, and we know that it has the best inside-outside balance of any Duke team in many, many years. And we know, so far so good with only eight scholarship players but the tram cannot afford an injury.

A reality check: This team will go as far as the defense takes it. While the Syracuse win was an impressive one, the defense was less so. Syracuse penetrated and/or got the ball down low far too easily and far too many times. Fortunately, however, about ten contested point blank shots failed to fall. Also, of note is that despite Coach K talking about varying defenses, Duke appeared to played man-to-man the entire game.

Nobody else in college basketball has three road victories to match Duke’s resume wins at Wisconsin (the almost certain Big Ten champ), Virginia (the likely ACC regular season champ) and Louisville. Duke currently has 10 top 50 RPI wins, which is more than anybody else in college basketball (Kansas has nine).

Additional comments:

  • Michael Gbinije, who demonstrated a very impressive and complete offensive repertoire, has scored 20 points in three consecutive games and double-digits in five straight. He’s shot better than 60 percent during that stretch, and better than 70 percent in the past two. If he continues to play at this level, he will be a POY candidate next year. Krzyzewski said: “Look, we recruited Mike because we thought he was good, so that doesn’t surprise me. I wish he had stayed. However, it’s the new normal, about 650 other players transferred last year.”
  • Ty Jones, among other attributes, is as good a rebounding guard for a player of his size as you will see. Tonight, he had 6 rebounds, one less than Winslow. There should be no surprise about Ty’s performance, he started as an eighth grader for his high school team.
  • Duke, once again, sold out the Carrier Dome—35,446 seats. This year, no team in the ACC has played as many tough road games as the Blue Devils.

Alan Adds:

It seems time to look at the season’s goals in relation to the remaining games on the schedule.  The first goal is to secure one of the four byes into the third round of the ACC tournament.  (Teams 5 –10 receive a bye into the second round), which begins on Tuesday , March 10,  for the 4 lowest seeds.  Winning the ACC tournament and going deep into the NCAA tournament are the other obvious goals.  Gaining the double bye is an important step to increasing the odds of a successful run in the ACC tournament.

After Saturday’s games, UVA seems secure in the # 1 seed (11-1 with home games against Pittsburg, Florida State and Virginia Tech; road games against Wake — whom they nipped at home last night by a point — Syracuse and Louisville).  The loss of Justin Anderson seems to have thrown them off a bit (three very close wins since he was hurt).  He may or may not be back for the tournament.

Notre Dame is 10-3 with home games against Clemson, Syracuse and Wake Forest, and road games at BC and Louisville.  Duke is 9-3 with 4 home games against UNC, Clemson, Syracuse and Wake; and 2 road games — at UNC and Virginia Tech.  Duke holds a tie breaker against Notre Dame.

UNC and Louisville are 8-4.  UNC is on the road against Duke, Georgia Tech and Miami; home against Duke, Georgia Tech and NC State.  Louisville is home against Miami, (and in the last two games of the season) Notre Dame and UVA; on the road against Georgia Tech, Florida State and Syracuse.

The point is nothing is decided yet, which is why the win last night at Syracuse was far more than ceremonial.  Coach K made the necessary adjustments, changing defensive assignments and going small.  Amile logged only 14 minutes ( 2 points and 3 boards) compared to Matt Jones’s 32 minutes — 4th most on the team yesterday.  Marshall and Grayson Allen played 8 minutes, with Allen contributing substantially in his time (5 points on a 3 and 2-2 from the line to go with 2 assists, a rebound and a steal).  His contribution was substantial and even more astounding because, according to Coach K, he had injured himself shooting around after practice on Thursday, and was on crutches all day Friday.  He is growing into his role.  Jah earned high praise from his coach.  Duke couldn’t help defensively on Christmas (whom K called one of the 10 best players in the country) because of the outside shooting of Silent G (Gbinije) and Cooney.  Jah outplayed Christmas without much help on defense and was unstoppable on offense.  In his 34 minutes, Jah was 10-15 from the floor; 3-4 from the line with 13 rebounds.  He was the recipient of some tremendous passes on the break. He is such a great finisher. Duke had 19 assists on 27 field goals – Tyus (6), Quinn (5), Justise and Matt (3) and 2 for Grayson.

Coach K credited Quinn’s second half defense on Gbinije while Matt shut down Cooney.  Quinn played 40 minutes, scoring 17 (clutch foul shooting — 7-8) while Tyus played 35 minutes (11 points; 4-4 from the line, including crunch time — not to mention 6 rebounds.  Justise fouled out in his 29 minutes, scoring 12 (3-3 from the line) and pulling down 7 boards.  Duke was 19-22 from the line, which contributed to the win.  Syracuse was heroic, but got 0 points and only 15 total minutes from the bench.  Very difficult to finish with only 5 players.

Duke seems secure unless one looks at what the situation would be if UNC wins at Cameron on Wednesday.  Then, Duke is on the outside looking in.  One of the season’s biggest games is this Wednesday in Cameron against UNC.

Duke 92 – Carolina 90

In many important ways, the two teams and coaches locking arms at center court before the game in a moving memory of Dean Smith said as much about the game, the rivalry, and what college sports should be about as anything else that happened in Cameron tonight.  Wanting passionately to win is one thing, but to RESPECT like this made — or maybe set the stage for— a classic  game in a great rivalry.

Alan & Bill

We live in a world rife with hype and hyperbole– but not when you talk about Duke-Carolina basketball games, because these games are the real deal.  Remarkably, the combined score of the past 79 Duke-UNC games is 6,314-6,306 –advantage Duke. The memories of Dick Groat, Art Heyman & Larry Brown, Fred Lind, Michael Jordan, Walter Davis, Sam Perkins,  Bobby Jones, Phil Ford, Gene Banks, Tate Armstrong, Johnny Dawkins, Jeff Capel,  Chris Duhon,  Joe Forte, Shane Battier, JJ Redick, and Austin Rivers (among others) have given us moments you had to see to believe, because people would think you are making all this stuff up. Before tonight’s game, the results of the last 88 games are 44 Duke and 44 Carolina—and at the end of forty minutes it was 44.5 to 44.5 because the score was tied—another instant classic. Wake up Tommy, this game is going to OVERTIME!

Coming into tonight’s game Duke seemingly had everything going for them: they had won five games in a row, were rank the #4 team in the country, and were playing on the uber friendly Coach K court in Cameron Indoor Stadium. On the other hand, Carolina had been inconsistent and struggling, having had lost four of their last five games. And Blue Devils started like they were going to run the Tar Heels out of the gym and all the way back to Chapel Hill. However, UNC hustled, rebounded, ran, and closed a double digit lead to seven points at the break. Oh well, every team makes runs.

However, in the second half Carolina kept their momentum and took charge as Duke appeared out-of-gas. UNC was up ten with 3:50 left and seven with 1:38 remaining. At this point, Duke looked as dead as road kill. Raise your hand if you believed the moribund Duke team could/would rally from these deficits. Well, the smallest man on the court personally put the Blue Devils on his back and scored nine points in an 11-2 run to tie the score at 81-81, forcing overtime in the greatest rivalry in college sports.

The next five minutes didn’t disappoint. Up three, down three, up three with five seconds on the clock and Carolina on the line. Made the first, missed left on the second shot on a set play as the Heels crash that way for the rebound. Body’s high flying, contact, Paige almost gets the ball but Winslow secures with two hands and taps to Ty Jones in the corner. Game over! As Roy said: “It was a great college basketball game– if you didn’t care who won.” There may be no moral victories but this North Carolina team proved that when they play as hard as they did tonight, they can beat any team. And these young Blue Devils proved once again that they are as good, maybe better, than their hype– and are as tough as they are talented.

As exciting as the game was, it was no masterpiece: too many missed foul shots, too many I-can’t-believe-he-did-that misplays. But a heavyweight fight that goes more than fifteen rounds takes its toll both physically and mentally. However, free throw shooting and defense are still the Achilles Heel of this team. As great a college player as he is, Okafor was 0-6 from the line and the team was an unacceptable 16-31. Fortunately, Duke shot better from beyond arc tonight (63%) than from free-throw line (47%). Cook was nearly automatic from downtown, draining five 3-pointers and locking down Tar Heel playmaker Marcus Paige (“My teammates got it done, I didn’t”). But Tokoto, an amazing athlete (15 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists), made up for Marcus’ subpar performance. He had more points in this game than in his previous three combined. He had been 3 of 15 for 14 points in his last three games.

Here is a very disturbing stat: 15-of-20, 36 points, 19 rebounds. That was the combined stat line of North Carolina’s starting frontcourt. Add in Joel James off the bench and it was 18-of-24 for 42 points and 24 rebounds. North Carolina finished with 62 points in the paint. However, when the game was on the line, Duke’s defense made stops.

Other comments:

  • In the first half, Okafor came down awkwardly and sprained his ankle. He was assisted to the locker room and returned to play the second half. After showering and dressing, he left Cameron a walking boot. Stay tuned.
  • With only an eight man rotation, Duke can go big or small. When they go big, Okafor usually is double teamed, because defenses do not respect Jefferson or Plumlee. If Duke goes small, Okafor usually is not doubled, because with Matt Jones, an opponent has to defend the perimeter. However, going small hurts defending a big front line. Choose your poison. Three beats two—if the threes are falling.
  • For the first time since the Alexander Graham Bell, Dick Vitale did not announce the game.
  • Tweet of the night from Anonymous: “Watched #DUKE vs UNC check, screamed all game check, flirted with cardiac arrest check, massive headache check. #DUKE gets W. = All worth it.

Alan Adds:

Duke’s rotation was very short last night, but the Devils did not falter in the last 8-9 minutes of the game (3:32 in regulation when down 10, and the 5 minute overtime).The big 3 logged prodigious minutes — Quinn never came out (45); Tyus (43) and Jah played 41 minutes — when he returned from the ankle sprain, he never again came out of the game.  This game was hard fought and not always pretty.  Tyus had 6 turnovers and Jahlil had 5.  Quinn turned it over 3 times, making 14 for Duke’s big 3.  Duke had long stretches where Carolina dominated the Devil defensive board, creating additional possessions and put backs.

Winslow continues to be the less heralded spark for this team.  In the first 9 minutes of the game he and Duke were dominant.  Duke led by 12 — controlling both ends of the floor — when Justise picked up his second foul and went to the bench.  When he returned, Coach K observed that Justise wasn’t really mentally ready, and did not play that well.  That is the stretch where things turned against Duke. Justice’s playing time was limited by his foul trouble (4 in his 29 minutes).  However when he is in the zone that he can reach, Duke is a tremendous team, and he was there in the end of regulation and in the overtime.  Duke got terrific minutes from Amile (29) and Matt (27) and that was virtually it.  Marshall logged 7 minutes and Grayson only 4 — all in the first half.

Duke’s backcourt is earning praise as one of the country’s best.  Quinn was dynamic from behind the arc and in his defensive play against UNC’s star (pre-season All American), Marcus Paige.  He was 7-15 from the field (6-9 from behind the arc and 2-4 from the line) to go with 4 rebounds and 3 assists.  He is such a leader.   Tyus was simply spectacular down the stretch.  Coach K said that Tyus had not just special talent, but special qualities.  He has been showing that all season in big games and at big moments. He and Quinn each scored 22 (Tyus was 7-16; 2-5 from 3land and a crucial 6-7 from the line) to go with 7 boards and 8 assists.  K said that when Duke went small — without Amile, UNC could not double Okafor, who made Carolina pay when guarded straight up.  He had 13 boards to go with 12 points (6-11 from the field) 3 assists, two steals and a block.  The downside was 0-6 from the line and 5 turnovers.  He is not simply a talent; he plays with passion and intensity, especially at crunch time.  He is a great teammate.  Amile had 13 points on 5-7 shooting and 5 rebounds.  Justise scored 16 on 6-10 shooting (1-1 from deep) and grabbed 7 boards.  Both Amile and Justise were 3-6 from the line, meaning Duke’s 3 major front court players were 6-16 from the foul line.  Duke was only 3-9 from the line in the overtime.  Someday that will bite, but not last night.

Matt played great defense and pulled down 5 boards.  He was 2-4 (1-1 from deep) for 5 points.  He had an assist and a steal with 0 turnovers.  Marshall grabbed 2 boards in his 7 minutes and Grayson missed both shots, but was 2-2 from the line.

It was simply a classic Duke-Carolina game.  As Coach K said, both teams played well enough to have won.  He is so proud — as we should be — as this teams grows in character and grit.  There is great talent for sure, and there is a lot of basketball left to be played before we can measure this team, but en route they are proving tough and resilient.  They are respecting the game, the opponent, and Duke itself.  It was a great night for Duke basketball and us, the fans.

It will be hard to get up for Clemson on Saturday after a superb effort like this one.

Duke 78– Clemson 56

With a dapper looking Jahlil Okafor on the bench with a protective boot/cast on his injured ankle, Coach K played Russian Roulette with his remaining seven scholarship players as he borrowed a page out of Dean Smith’s (and UConn’s) playbook implementing two different variations of three quarter court presses—a 2-2-1 and a 1-2-2 after free throws—and traps when the Tigers crossed half court. He dodged a bullet as none of the Magnificent Seven (sorry, couldn’t resist the allusion to that wonderful movie) fouled or flamed out as they forced 14 turnovers and 10 steals, many of which led to fast break points and forced the Tiger’s out of their methodical offensive comfort zone. It was the kind of creative move we have come to expect from Krzyzewski when faced with an unexpected loss of a key starter. And while Clemson has not won in Cameron in this century, it was a potential Trap Game following just 72 hours after the physically and mentally draining come-from-behind overtime win against arch rival North Carolina. But a surprise compensatory strategy like this is one of the reasons the maestro has won 1,007 college basketball games.

The trap/press attacked Clemson at their weakness and the players executed it surprisingly well. Actually, the turnovers and steals led to easy baskets for the Blue Devils, which in turn seemed to energize their defensive effort. Winslow more than rose to the occasion with his best game of the season with 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 steals. And the indefatigable Quinn Cook had 27 points, 4 assists as well as continuing his newfound aptitude for and dedication to defense. Ty Jones had 11 points, 9 assists, and 4 steals, while the rapidly improving Grayson Allen scored 10 points in a variety of impressive ways. Much of Matt Jones’ contributions did not show up on the stat sheet as is true of Marshall Plumlee’s physicality and aggressiveness in the paint. When Duke had to execute a half-court offense, it usually went through Winslow, who ended the first half with 17 points as Duke led 42-27 at the break without hitting a single three pointer. The victory makes Duke107-30 against Clemson and 58-4 in Cameron. The Tigers haven’t won at Cameron since 1995.

An emotionally drained Coach K said that “This was one of the best wins we’ve had here in a long time” and that Okafor’s ankle had no structural damage and was getting stronger every day. But he made no promises about Wednesday night’s game at Virginia Tech.

Other comments:

    • Who are the Players of the Year? Easy, the Duke Freshman class.
    • Krzyzewski was asked what he had to teach his precocious his freshman point guard, Ty Jones: ”Talk more. Be more vocal. Be a mother. Tell everyone what to do and where to be. Mothers are the greatest point guards in the world. It’s eat this. Do that. Make your bed. If she has four kids, every one of them is nourished.”
    • Quinn Cook made 3 three pointers, the 37th consecutive game he has at least one made 3-pointer.  He has 74 three pointers on the season. When Cook finally took a seat on the bench with 1:16 left, it was the first time he had been off the floor since the end of the Notre Dame game, a total of 164 minutes. Krzyzewski compared his durability to that of Johnny Dawkins, Chris Duhon, and Bobby Hurley, three never-get-tired legends.
    • Okafor may be a leading candidate for National Player of the Year but he may have a tough time beating Cook out for ACC Player of the Year.
    • If Okafor doesn’t fully recover from his ankle injury, the Carolina victory will be a Pyrrhic victory.
    • The rumors of his forced retirement are greatly exaggerated: Dickie V was back in the house and behind the ESPN microphone.
  • Did you know? The Duke Blue Devils were almost the Blue Titans, Blue Eagles, Polar Bears (yes, really), Royal Blazes, or Blue Warriors. All were options–and none had any more support than the other. The Blue Devil is a reference to the World War I soldiers from France known as the Blue Devils of France. Their uniform had a flowing cape and was known for their courage. They even toured the U.S. raising money for the war effort. However, no one really liked any of the options for the mascot, but student paper editors were in favor of the Blue Devil mascot and so The Trinity Chronicle started using “Blue Devils” in 1922.

Alan Adds:

Coach K called the win “spectacular” — “one of the best wins we have had”.  His game plan was superb.  Duke employed a soft press (3/4 court) in two variations — a 1-2-2 (after made free throws) and a 2-2-1 (that reminded me of the wonderful UCLA press created by Wooden back in the 60s).  The press completely disrupted Clemson.  The key to beating a press is to get easy baskets.  Once an offensive team gets by the first wave, it enjoys a numbers advantage that should produce easy baskets.  The effectiveness of the press is measured by the positive the press produces — steals, turnovers, 10 second violations — against the deficits — easy baskets.  Clemson simply could not attack the press for easy baskets.  Not one!  When Clemson avoided the steal and turnover, the Tigers could do no more than get into its half court set.  To make the point, Clemson tried to press Duke at the beginning of the second half.  Tyus got the inbound and hit Matt with a long full court pass for an easy dunk.  Duke beat the Clemson press in maybe 2 seconds for the easy score.  Clemson never pressed again.  Coach K said that it was natural to fall back from the press into a zone defense.  The zone protected Duke from foul trouble and played against Clemson’s weakness.  Coach K insightfully pointed out that it’s some of what you do (playing good zone defense), but also Clemson missed the open 3s that they did achieve against the zone.  It was a great defense against a team whose strength is not shooting (remember the Louisville game).

Offensively, Duke was dominant.  In the first half, when the 3s were not falling (1-7; Winslow’s only 3 of the game), Duke was 17-26 from inside the arc and 5-5 from the line.  In the second half, Clemson made its only run of the game and with 14:02 left in the game had reduced a 14 point lead to 10 (51-41).  Duke’s response was dramatic — 6-6 from the 3 point line, initiated by Grayson Allen’s only basket of the second half, followed by an offensive explosion that pushed the lead to 30 (76-46) with a little under 5 minutes to go.  Clemson was simply gutted.  For the game, Duke was 23-38 from inside the arc, which is amazing (7-20 from 3land).  Duke had 19 fast break points off turnovers,  42 points in the paint and 15 assists on 30 field goals.

Quinn was jaw-droppingly good in his 39 minutes, defending superbly in the zone and scoring a career high (tied) 27 points on 11-18 shooting (3-7 from 3land and 2-2 from the line) to go with 4 rebounds; 4 assists and a steal.  Coach K lavished praise — “I’m not sure there is anyone in the conference playing better.”  “The relationship between Quinn and Tyus is better than I ever could have expected.  I knew it would be good, but it has exceeded my expectations.”  Tyus logged 39 minutes also, though he had a statistically quiet game — if you can call 9 assists, 4 steals and 11 points quiet.

Justise was all that I have said I thought he could be.  He dominated the Clemson defense in the first half (17 points on 7-11; 1-1 and 2-2) and 6 tough rebounds.  He logged 37 minutes making the zone defense effective with his energy, and keeping Duke’s small team from being dominated on the boards with his 13 rebounds.  He is such a stud athlete.  If he improves his medium range game he will become James Harden.  He was simply amazing and was visibly the best athlete on the floor.

After the Big 3 against Clemson, Duke received contributions from all (almost all, as Amile had a bit of a subpar game).  The bench — Grayson and Marshall — contributed 42 terrific minutes.  Marshall played 24 minutes with 3 boards, 3 points and some real defensive contribution inside in the zone.  Welcome Grayson Allen to the realm of valuable player.  He scored 10 in his 18 minutes and demonstrated his hustle, defensive chops and athleticism.  His first basket was a delicious lob-dunk from Tyus.  He was 2-3 from the field and 3-3 from the line for 7 in the first half.  He played the back line in the zone and you could see his confidence beginning to soar.  Matt played a quiet (on offense) 25 minutes as a starter.  He missed quite a few wide open 3s (1-6 from behind the arc), scored 5 points, but had 5 rebounds and played wonderful defense.  On one play he knocked the ball loose while playing defense, dived on the floor to secure it and in the same motion flipped it to Tyus, who hit Justise for the open court slam.  It was a beautiful play and demonstrated why Coach K loves Matt.  Only Amile was a bit unproductive, logging only 16 minutes (2 fewer than Grayson, which tells us something) scoring 2 points (1-2; the one was the second basket of the game for Duke) with 0 boards; 0 assists; 0 free throw attempts, and 2 turnovers.

Coach K got the most out of Jah’s absence.  First, Jah was a great teammate and really into the game (actually helping Quinn up after a great play).  Second, any thoughts of a let down after the great Carolina win were eliminated by the need to emotionally replace Jah’s presence.  When I heard that Jah was not playing, I actually felt that it worked to Duke’s advantage emotionally.  Finally, the confidence the team has to have after playing so dominantly without Jah will help this team make the leap from very good with potential to the next level.  Coach K is gushing over his team’s development.  As each of the components of the team gains in confidence that is produced by achievement, you can see the team grow.  This Duke team is beginning to remind me of the NY Knicks (circa 1970-73) in their ability to find the open man, trust and rely on teammates, and to collectively defend.  This was a wow game!

Duke 91- Virginia Tech 86

For the second game in a row Coach K played Russian Roulette –but of a different kind. After an very impressive win playing a soft three quarter court zone press against Clemson without Jahlil Okafor, he went back to a man man-to- man defense when the second unit substitutions gave up three quick threes to cut deeply into an eleven point lead and jump started the Hokies.* Sound familiar to the Carolina game? He stayed with the man defense until Duke was down seven points with fifteen minutes left in the game. Then Coach K called a time out, reluctantly switched to what appeared to a straight defend the three 1-2-2 (or 3-2) zone. Four minutes later,  Duke was up two. The game was a cliff hanger and went to overtime but Duke’s superior talent—particularly Okafor, Cook, and Winslow—and a regression to the mean finally caught up with Virginia Tech.

The Blue Devils really dodged my metaphorical bullet as they were lucky to survive when their two weaknesses were simultaneously in play: the inability to defend off the dribble which led to an insanely accurate three point shooting night by the Hokies (12 threes) combined with the Devils missing 11 free throws. However, thanks to Okafor’s 30 points and Cook’s 26 points (6 threes) the Blue Devils shot 59 %. Obviously,  Jah’s “game time decision” was a game changer.

While Virginia Tech’s record places them at the bottom of the league, this is misleading. They are young, small and very well coached as tonight’s game plan demonstrated. They executed well, exploited Duke’s continuing inability to consistently keep opposing guards from penetrating and shot threes like they formerly had only dreamed about in front of a delirious home crowd. It was another arena full of amped up students looking to rush the floor at the end of the game after their team upset nationally ranked Duke, then go back to the dorm, call their parents and friends, and watch it replayed on ESPN SportsCenter–what else is new. This is the new normal version of five seconds of fame.

The bottom line is that this was an ugly but another impressive win precisely because it was an infinitely losable game that was so important. As a coach told me years ago: “Good teams consistently find ways to win close games.” Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Wisconsin all lost yesterday, so the door is now wide open for a two seed in the ACC Tournament and a possible one seed in the NCAA Championship Tournament. Duke just has to keep winning. Easier said than done; but that is why this is so much fun!

Every future opponent, especially an  undersized mid-major that draws Duke in NCAA Tournament,  will attempt to follow the Hokie’s game plan.

Krzyzewski said: “We have had to cut practice so short because of numbers, that’s why you’ve seen slippage on defense. We didn’t play well defensively. Everything we tried, they had a counter to, until the last play of regulation. It’s the second time in two weeks we’ve won an overtime game, and the other team had the ball on the last possession. I’m proud of my guys to be able to make a stop at that time.”

The other stop Krzyzewski was referring to was against  North Carolina. Marcus Paige missed a contested jumper at the end of regulation, and J.P. Tokoto missed a jumper from the baseline in overtime. This one was a lot closer as the ball on the final drive in regulation was less than an inch from falling off the rim and into the basket at the buzzer. Instead, it bounced off.

Even more important than the win was the condition of Okafor’s  injured ankle. Well, he had 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting , a new career-high (in 37 minutes) and Duke needed every one of them. After the game he said that his ankle felt fine, but he didn’t know he was going to play until he got into the locker room before the game. “My coaches had told me to let them know if I wanted to play or not,” he said. “Once I got in the locker room and saw my teammates get ready, there was no way I wasn’t playing today.”

“If he would have said, ‘I don’t think so,’ then we wouldn’t have played him,” Krzyzewski said. “And we would have lost.”

*Like most of you, I didn’t see the start of the game because the Richmond, VCU game went to overtime and I didn’t tap into the goduke.com video soon enough, so I don’t know what went on offensively or defensively when Duke started the game by going up 11 points. It is one reason why I don’t like ESPN not allowing more time between double headers.

Alan Adds:

It was a weird and interesting game, from which I believe Duke takes a lot of positives.  The game was watchable before ESPN by going to goduke.com and clicking on watch live.  So I did see the entire first half as Duke built an 11 point lead after a bit more than nine minutes had elapsed.  I thought it was going to be a repeat of the Clemson blow out, but Duke got sloppy defensively in its 3/4 court press and left Hokie shooters open.  The result was three consecutive threes for VT while Duke committed turnovers.  Once VT was back in the game, all the emotional momentum swung toward the Hokies.

Va. Tech has lost a whole lot of close games; the team is small and young, but has played with admirable heart all year.  Here was their moment!  All the shots were falling (70% in the first half; 12-22 for the game from behind the arc and 12-15 from the line), and the crowd was rabid.  The elements for a monumental upset were fully present.  Frankly, if we weren’t dyed in the wool Duke fans, we would have been rooting for the courageous Hokies.  While Duke was offensively good, Duke seemed lethargic — especially on the defensive end.  It was, as Bill points out, a game that could easily have been lost, as other top 15 teams lost this week (Kansas, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and even UNC).  But, Duke won, and in doing so, demonstrated the character of this team that has Coach K effusive in his praise for the team’s desire to win.  “You can’t coach that, and these kids have it.”

Jah was amazing on offense, playing 37 minutes and scoring a career high 30 points (13-18 from the field and 4-9 from the line).  Coach K singled out Justise for changing the game by his full court drives when Duke was down 8.  He got tough rebounds and was an energetic defender.  In 39 minutes, he scored 15 on 7-12 from the field (0-1 from both 3land and the line) to go with 7 boards, 2 steals and a block.  When he fouled out with 1:21 to go in the overtime and Duke clinging to a one point lead, it seemed a bad moment for Duke’s chances.  But Quinn came to the rescue. After a very quiet first half, scoring only 5 (2-5 from the field; 1-4 from 3land), he exploded in the second half to lead Duke to victory.  Simply, he stepped up the way veteran leaders do, scoring 21 in the second half and overtime (5-7 from behind the arc and a layup; 4-6 from the line).  He closed out on a potential three point shooter at crunch time.  His three with a minute to go in the overtime, after Va. Tech had crawled back to within a point, gave Duke a two possession lead and a strangle hold on the game.  He was quite special, earning K’s praise, “He’s a first team All Conference performer.”  Both Quinn and Tyus played the entire 45 minutes, though Tyus had his worst shooting night (3-10 from the field; 1-5 from 3land without a single free throw attempt).  However, he handed out nine assists and controlled Duke’s efficient offense.  Matt Jones was efficient in his 32 minutes, scoring 7 (2-2 on clutch layups at crunch time and1-2 from behind the arc).  He had key assists, 3 steals and played hard as a starter.

Duke played a very short rotation with Marshall playing only six minutes (0 points; 0 boards; a turnover and 2 fouls) and Grayson only 7 (scoring 4 on 1-2 from behind the arc and 1-2 from the line.    Jefferson played sparingly — 14 minutes; 6 rebounds and 2-4 from the line.  He replaced Jah on defense in the overtime.  As great Jah was (is) offensively, he was a defensive liability.  When he gives help, he was giving up the roll to the basket for easy layups.  I am not sure how Duke wanted to play it (rotation from the weak side, or Jah not defending the ball so aggressively?), but Coach K played offense-defense with Amile through most of the overtime.  The bench played only a total of 27 minutes collectively in an overtime game.

If Duke had lost, it would have been free throw shooting, which was terrible.  Only Cook shot better than 50% (67% is far under his 90% average).  Amile was 2-4 and Grayson 1-2; the only other Duke players to reach 50%.  Justise was 0-1 (failed to convert a 3 point play) and Jah is becoming a Hack-a-Shaq candidate with only 4-9.  Without Quinn, Duke shot 7-16 from the line (compared to VT’s 12-15).  Sooner or later that will bite, if foul shooting by the bigs does not improve.  But the headline was Coach K’s, “My team finally participated at the level worthy of winning.”  And so they did!  A feat worth savoring.

Duke  73- Syracuse 54 

As the season progresses, you want your team to improve by developing chemistry, being resilient, and staying healthy. After a too-close-for-comfort win at Virginia Tech, I was anticipating a strong game in Cameron against Syracuse, which seems to have replaced Maryland as Duke’s second most intense rival. The Blue Devils did not disappoint. The key to beating a zone is ball movement, because crisp passing moves faster than any defender. And one key is to get the ball into the high or low post to a versatile  player who can either score or want to pass to an open teammate on the perimeter. Jahlil Okafor is that man squared. Of course, then the perimeter players need to hit open threes. If they do, game over as it was tonight 73-54. The other key is to defend well so there are plenty of open court opportunities to score before the zone defense has time to set up. Altering man-to-man and zone defenses and applying occasional full-court pressure, Duke prevented ‘Cuse from getting into any offensive rhythm. Of course, it helps when an opponent does not have a true point guard. They only shot 31% from the field. Thanks primarily to Quinn Cook and Matt Jones, Gbinije, who scored a career-high 27 points in the team’s first meeting, finished with 12 points shooting just 5-of-20 from the floor. As a team, Syracuse shot only 31 % from the field.

In the month Sulaimon has been gone, the  Blue Devils have gone 9-0, with three wins over top 15 teams – the same number of such wins they had in the first twenty games with Sulaimon. That is primarily because Matt Jones has taken advantage of his additional minutes and proven so productive as an ultimate, versatile team player that he has earned many of Amile Jefferson’s minutes and Justice Winslow has shot 53 percent from the floor and scored in double figures in the last ten games. Of course, Okafor has scored in double figures in every game and often has double doubles. Cook has been more productive than anyone not named Krzyzewski could have imagined, and Ty Jones plays like a seasoned veteran.

So, Duke has positioned themselves for a terrific stretch run if defense is not a game to game question mark, the Big Guys shoot foul shots like the Small Guy firm of Jones, Cook, Jones, and Allan. However, the biggest impediment may be injuries. Cook turned his ankle, went to the locker room, had it examined and re-taped, returned and immediately hit a three. Okafor, who missed one game with his sprained left ankle, had it tighten up tonight during warm-ups, so he had to go back inside for more physical therapy and a new tape job. How much better (except for free throws) could he have played? And Coach K casually mentioned in his press conference that what was advertised as the “bruised ribs and shoulder soreness” that Winslow was dealing with since January 19 was actually a fractured rib. (Coach is an old Army guy and unless you are missing a limb, you are only “sore” or “nicked”.) Since the Pittsburgh game, Justice has been playing with protective padding under his jersey, and, clearly,  it is better and he has gotten used to the protective vest. And, oh yes, eighth man Grayson Allan has a sprained ankle.

So, going into postseason with a short bench, the need to get and stay healthy is even a more pressing concern than defense or free throw shooting.

Additional comments:

  • I take no delight in noting the team’s success since Sulaimon left as I admired his passion and contributions to the team and the school. It is also noteworthy that he is still in school, going to classes, and registered to go to summer school. This optimizing his options. In addition, in this world of rampant social media where there are apparently few secrets and many untruths in circulation, no one outside the tight Duke Basketball circle seems to know the real story surrounding his dismissal and as far as I know, no knowledgeable person–especially Sully– is tweeting or communicating anything. How tough must it be for Rasheed to stay in school, watch from a distance the success of the team, which was such a major part of his life for almost three years?
  • Joe Lunardi and his Brackatology talk during the game was even more annoying Dick Vitale! To quote Ms. Clinton: At this point, WHAT DIFFERENT DOES IT MAKE? The season isn’t over for another week! That talk is a time filler for ESPN when they have run all the highlights. And speaking of ESPN, will someone tell me how to access ESPN3 or wherever they direct you to see a game whose start has once again been preempted by a previous game lasting more than two hours.

Alan adds:

Wednesday night, Duke plays its last game of the season in Cameron against Wake, and will close the home career of the team’s only graduating scholarship senior, Quinn Cook.  It has been a pleasure to watch Quinn  sometimes struggle, but truly grow in his four year career into a superb clutch performer and team leader.  We used to be able to do that with teams and players regularly before the “one and done” period.  Duke hangs banners for regular season ACC championships, ACC tournament championships, and NCAA Final Four Appearances in the hallowed rafters of Cameron.  Quinn stayed in Durham last summer and worked assiduously on his game and his conditioning.  He said in pre-season interviews that in his three years, his teams had hung no banners in the rafters.  The most success Duke had in those years was a Sweet Sixteen win in his sophomore year (sandwiched between two shocking losses in opening NCAA games).  Quinn was very clear that he was motivated to hang a banner in Cameron in this, his senior season.  Virginia has virtually clinched the regular season title.  Duke will get a double bye in the ACC tournament, which is Quinn’s best chance to hang a banner.  This is one reason that I believe Duke fans should ardently embrace the Blue Devils pursuit of the ACC tournament crown.  It would be a fitting conclusion to Quinn’s career to win that title (which would, of course, insure a #1 seed in the NCAA).  Of course, Duke has aspirations for a deep run in the NCAA, and certainly a Final Four appearance is a realistic goal.  But it would be fitting for Duke and Quinn to win the title in Greensboro (The finals are on March 14).

Duke’s defense returned to excellent against the Orange, which was gratifying after the porous performance against Virginia Tech.  While Coach K ran a man to man defense for virtually the whole game, it had an interesting zone-like tweak to it.  Tyus was the on the ball defender against the Syracuse point guard, but when the ball moved from the point to other Orange players, Tyus moved down into the lane with two purposes: 1) to help against Christmas; and 2) to prevent or make difficult perimeter drives into the lane that had been so successful two weeks ago.  It worked like a charm.  Tyus was there to help Quinn when Silent G tried to penetrate into the lane (also allowing Quinn to close out aggressively); the result that Gbinije was 5-20 from the field (2-9 from 3land) and never made it to the foul line.  Superb defense.  Matt is a truly gifted defender, and Justise has demonstrated a wonderful energy, quickness, and strength on the defensive end.  He steals on the perimeter, defends the rim (3 blocks against ‘Cuse), and comes up with the tough rebounds and 50-50 balls.  Jah had an excellent defensive game against a player, who is an ACC player of the Year candidate, as well as dominant performance on the boards (14; 7 on offense).   It was simply a grand defensive show, if you ignore Duke’s weak defensive rebounding in the first part of the first half.

Offensively, the two halves were completely different.  The game started off beyond sloppy.  Duke turned it over 7 times in the first eight minutes while Roberson scored on 3 straight offensive rebounds in the first 5 minutes.   Then Justise and Jah turned it on, and dominated the Orange on the interior.  Jah was 4-7 from the field for 8 points to go with 8 rebounds (he would have made it to double figures if he had not missed all 5 of his free throws).  He held Christmas to 2 field goal attempts (5 points) while committing only 1 foul.  Justise was even better scoring 15 points on 7-11 shooting (1-2 from 3land) to go with 6 boards.  Two of his misses were wide open at the rim on great feeds from Tyus; so it was really an extraordinary first half for Justise. Jahlil and Justise scored 22 of Duke’s 34 first half points.   The Duke backcourt was as ineffective in the first half as Jah and Justise were dominant.  The rest of the team was 4-23 from the field.  Tyus was off, (1-4; 0-2 0 free throws 1 bd, 2 assists against 3 turnovers).  Cook was 1-5; 0-3; Matt 1-4 1-2; Grayson 0-1; Amile 1-2.  The second half was completely different.

Quinn (34 minutes; out for ankle repairs) made only 1-5 from 3land, but kept his streak of 38 consecutive games with a 3 going.  However, he was 4-5 from inside the arc on some great drives and a floater to go with 6-6 from the line for 17 points.  He added a couple of rebounds, 4 assists and a steal while committing only one foul while playing tremendous defense.  Matt logged 30 minutes and was 2-3 from behind the arc in the second half, scoring 9 overall and grabbing 3 boards.  He is playing starter minutes (Amile, for example, played only 12 minutes).  Tyus played 38 minutes and ran the team effectively, though he had 6 turnovers and 6 assists.  He is quietly a really good rebounder (6 for the game).  He scored six in the second half for 9 points, but his scoring was not needed.  His rebounding was.  Jah was 2-3 from the field in the second half (6 boards; 4 assists, a steal and a block) for 13 points in his 31 minutes.   Justise was 3-5 from the field in the second half, including 2-3 from behind the arc.  He finished with 9 boards, an assist, 2 steals and 3 blocks.  Sometime, he camped in the low post with Jah and sometimes he was dynamite from the perimeter.  He was a force of nature playing all 40 minutes. Clearly the Player of the Game.

Amile scored the only 2 points the bench contributed (27 minutes total) on 1-2 (a layup on a beautiful feed from Tyus in the opening minutes).  He added 2 boards and a block for a creditable — though brief — appearance.  Marshall played only 7 minutes, grabbing 2 boards and handing out an assist to go against 2 turnovers and a 2 fouls in his cameo.  Grayson played 8 minutes, missing his only shot — a 3 pointer — while grabbing 2 boards and handing out an assist (1 turnover and a foul).

Senior night against Wake Forest on Wednesday.  It is a good night to honor Quinn as the team makes ready for the post-season, which we all know will ultimately measure this season.

Duke 94- Wake Forest 51 

It was Senior Night but it was defense and the young guns—Justise Winslow, Matt Jones, and Grayson Allen who were the stars. Justise was the first to explode at both ends of the floor. How many times do you see a line like this: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, & 6 steals from a 6’ 6” forward? We knew that Matt was a very  good defensive player and a terrific teammate whose contributions often don’t  show up on the stat sheet, but who thought he could dribble behind his back, drive the lane, and create off the dribble as well as drain threes? We have heard what a freakish athlete Grayson was and seen flashes of his potential but who thought in the first half, he would outscore Wake Forest 19-15 by himself and end up scoring 27 points in 24 minutes. Well, don’t think the Cameron Crazies didn’t notice and let Wake know it with the chant: “Grayson’s winning!” 

How impressive a team win was it? You could win a lot of money by betting someone that if Jahlil Okafor only scored 6 points and got 4 rebounds and one team scored 94 points, who won the game? However, the good news is that after shooting an air ball on his first free throw attempt, Jah later hit two dead, solid, perfect free throws. One word of caution: Both Winslow and Jefferson turned an ankle that required examination on the sidelines. The Blue Devils have only eight scholarship players and about that many injured ankles. They cannot afford to lose anyone to something more serious. 

Other Comments: 

·       Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Coach Jason Garrett, tight end Jason Witten and running back DeMarco Murray had seats behind the scorer’s table. And then the Crazies chanted, ”Tony Romo, sit with us” – and the QB obliged, heading into the Duke student section at the next-to-last TV timeout. It marked the second straight year Romo and Garrett caught Duke’s home finale – they also were here for last year’s victory over North Carolina.

 

Alan Adds: 

The first half of last night’s Wake Forest game was Duke’s finest of the season, which includes amazing halves against Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Furman, and UVA.  Speaking of the regular season ACC champion Cavaliers, take note that Duke’s defense was UVA-like in its effect.  However instead of the UVA  “pack line” (which includes very hard hedges by perimeter players), Duke unveiled a press that was simply devastating.  Duke stole the ball, forced turnovers, pressured the passing lanes turning Wake ball screens into defensive traps.  Credit everyone, but especially Justise Winslow, who can now be likened to Battier as a defensive presence.  He is all over the court, helping against penetration, trapping Wake ball handlers, getting tough rebounds and diving for steals.  How good was Duke’s defense?  After 10 minutes of play, Duke led 31-5 (extrapolate that out to 124-20 for 40 minutes).  Wake did not crack double figures until there was 6:21 left in the first half.  Wake only scored 15 points in the first half.  UVA like!  Duke called off the press in the second half in favor of a lot of zone, allowing Wake to score 36 points for its total of 51 — a point less than Duke scored in the first half.  Coach K pointed out that while Wake missed everything (“our defense had something to do with that, but they also missed open shots”). 

Duke out rebounded Wake 38-22, with the entire team contributing to Duke’s domination on the boards.  Justise, in 25 minutes, led Duke with 6 rebounds, followed by Amile (5 in 20 minutes) and Quinn (5 in 32 minutes);  5 players garnered 4 each — Marshall in 18 minutes; Jah in 19; Grayson in 24; Matt in 28 and Tyus in 32.  Worth appreciating such an efficient team effort. 

Offensively, Duke shot the lights out, but it started with great passing to find the open man.  [Coach K says it actually starts with efficient defense.  Duke had 22 assists on 34 field goals (21-34 from inside the arc; 13-25 from behind it; and 13-16 from the line).  Of course, Grayson’s stats stand out like a beacon (9-11 from the field including 4-5 from behind the arc — the one he missed was clearly “a heat check”, after which Coach K pulled him — and 2-3 from the line).  Matt Jones had 17 points (15 shots; the most on the team), even though he was 3-10 from behind the arc.  He scored 10 points (and had an assist) in the first four minutes of the second half; scoring 14 in the first 10 minutes of the last stanza.  His defense is truly outstanding, which is why the Duke defense is rounding into UVA like form (sometimes).

 Quinn scored 13 on 12 shots.  Matt (15), Grayson (11) and Quinn were the only players who took double digit number of shots.  Marshall and Amile scored 4, each on 100% shooting (Amile 2-2; Marshall 1-1 and 2-2 from the line.  Jah scored 6 on 2 shots (2-2; 2-3 from the line);  Tyus and Justise each took 8 shots.  Justise was 6-8 (1-1 from 3land) to go with a jaw dropping 7 assists, and 6 steals plus his 6 boards.  Tyus was 3-8 (2-3 from behind the arc and the free throw line). 

UNC in Chapel Hill on Saturday; ACC tournament opens for Duke on Thursday, March 12 (already in the quarter finals) 

As is the custom, co-captain Quinn Cook, who has had a fine career and exceptional senior year, was honored along with former manager Sean Kelly. The Duke Chronicle had a terrific tribute to Quinn that we cannot improve upon (except to remind everyone that Alan touted him as an exceptional talent when he was still in high school): 

IN THE AGE OF ONE-AND-DONE, YOU DON’T OFTEN SEE PLAYERS LIKE QUINN COOK ANYMORE. 

by Daniel Carp The Duke Chronicle 

When Quinn Cook came to Duke, he was an afterthought in a star-studded five-man freshman class that was expected to be one of the Blue Devils’ best in years.

Austin Rivers was the heralded superstar. Alex Murphy was regarded as the guy who could have the biggest NBA upside. Marshall Plumlee was the long-awaited end of his family’s Duke trilogy. 

Cook came to Duke as a quiet point guard searching for his place within the program. Four years later, the wiry senior from Washington, D.C., is the last man standing. The Blue Devil captain will be the only member of his five-man recruiting class to be honored Wednesday night when the Blue Devils play their last home game of the season against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

Forward Michael Gbinije was the first member of Duke’s 2011 recruiting class to go, transferring to Syracuse before the end of his freshman year. Rivers followed later that spring, making the jump to the NBA, where he was drafted 10th overall by New Orleans. Cook’s two remaining freshman classmates, Murphy and Plumlee, both redshirted. Murphy played for just one-and-a-half seasons before transferring to Florida December 2013. Plumlee has one year of eligibility remaining and will play next year. 

Graduation is sometimes viewed as a failure in today’s college basketball world. With more and more players leaving school after one, two or three years to optimize their draft stock, 22-year-old NBA draft picks are sometimes viewed by teams as too old. Cook is anything but a failure. In the one-and-done era, he is a college basketball success story. 

During his four years in Durham, Cook’s game has undergone a complete transformation. His sophomore season was when he flourished as a distributor, averaging a career-high 5.3 assists per game. As a junior, Cook struggled to find a comfortable role with Jabari Parker dominating the ball on offense and Tyler Thornton competing for minutes at the point guard position. 

Knowing that the Blue Devils were bringing in a talented floor general in freshman Tyus Jones, Cook brought a markedly improved 3-point shot back to Duke for his senior season and has learned to be just as dangerous—if not more—playing off the ball than on it. For the first time in his career, Cook is hitting more than 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and is the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.9 points per game.