I WANT TO READ ABOUT THE MOST RECENT GAME
“Lucky Devil” Extra: COACH K’S FINAL SEASON (Season 13 Preseason Issue) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
BILL’S CLIFF NOTES
Some of the same reasons that I suspect played into Coach K’s decision to retire had caused me to seriously question whether I really wanted to make the commitment for another season of Duke Basketball Playbook. Primarily, it is this: if the players are not willing to commit to the school, their education, and their teammates for more than one single season—or in Jalen Johnson’s case (had to look his name up), only part of a single season—why should I? For me, the memories of Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Brand, Williams, Battier, Redick etc. maturing and getting better are everlasting, while I cannot even remember most of the names of the one-and-doners from the last few years.
However, when I read that Coach was lacing them up for one more season, I texted Alan: “We can’t quit now. We should go out with Coach K.”
Both Bill and I are admiring of how Duke is handling the coaching transition from K to Scheyer (especially in light of the desultory UNC handling of Ole Roy’s retirement). Ole Roy commiserated that “the game has passed me by.” There was no planning for “next year”; no introduction or announcement of a new coach. Nothing to encourage the fans. Duke’s year certainly ended unceremoniously, with positive COVD-19 tests and, therefore, a quiet exit from the ACC postseason. Last year’s COVID-ridden season, combined with the wholesale departures (especially the mid-season desertion of Jalen Johnson plus DJ Steward’s unwarranted — by talent — post-season departure) was depressing for this august publication. Most certainly it was so for Coach K, too. Thus, Bill had already said he did not want to participate in the DBP for next season, and I had said I was seriously considering abandoning it too. But the dynamic editorial duo of Jeanne and Laramie remained steadfast with the team. When Coach K announced his quintessentially K-type exit, then we just couldn’t resist.
As ESPN insightfully wrote, “Did you really think [Coach K] would let that [13-11; no tournaments] be his finish line? Of course not. Call this upcoming campaign a retirement tour, call it a victory lap, call it whatever you want. But if we have learned anything about Krzyzewski over the last half-century, it’s that he will never pass up a chance to win basketball games. Duke has a chance to win a lot of them between now and April.”
The Duke transition – unlike the UNC transition — set up real renewed energy for the 2021-2022 Duke season,and therefore an impassioned pursuit of a National Championship to cap the last year of Coach K’s magical Reign: “Now that there’s clarity for our team, I think for everyone, we can focus on the task at hand. Which is to win the whole damn thing this year and have the best season we possibly can.”
I doubt there would have been a DBP for this coming season save for the excitement newly generated for Coach K’s final run at a National Championship (I’ll settle for an ACC tournament or regular season title). But the excitement is real and is the catalyst for Bill’s and my continuing the DBP for this coming season. We plan it as our last season as well. It’s hard to do better than going out with Coach K.
So, let’s take a peek at the pieces that will make up Coach K’s last team in pursuit of excellence. COVID prevented me from seeing the newcomers in action during high school all-star games last year as I usually do, so for the four freshmen (and one transfer), we will have to depend on ESPN’s scouting. Btw, ESPN says that “Duke will enter the season with a team that should be poised to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 13 in ESPN’s most recent Way-Too-Early Top 25.
THE FRESHMEN [all quotes in this section are from ESPN]
“It might come as no surprise, but Coach K’s final season will be largely impacted by the play of his highest ranked prospect – Paolo Banchero (ESPN #2). Banchero exits high school with a college-ready game and frame. Standing 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, Banchero possesses tremendous size and strength for the position. Not only is his frame mature for a prospect exiting high school, but he also plays a mature game with powerful athleticism. Paolo not only is highly effective and efficient in the paint and as a rebounder, but he has expanded his skillset to the perimeter, able to make shots off the catch and put the ball on the ground to attack slower bigs.”
I note that these are almost exactly the same words that were written about Jalen Johnson before the start of the 2020-2021 season. That Jalen deserted, showing no loyalty to teammates, team, or university, doesn’t mean Banchero won’t live up to his lofty pre-season expectations. But it does mean that assuming an incoming freshman will lead the team is not without serious risks. [Wouldn’t it be nice if Matt Hurt re-thought his NBA departure for the last ride with Coach K? A pure fantasy, of course.]
“Another big addition for Duke happened to be their first [signee] in the 2021 class – AJ Griffin (ESPN #26). The five-star prospect is a tremendous athlete who can function both at the three and four on both ends of the court. Coach K will need him bringing a motor and energy to the floor next season as he can impact the game at a high level as a rebounder and defender when he’s locked in and engaged.”
“An important addition to Duke next season is Trevor Keels (ESPN # 20), who has a college-ready game with his [length], skillset and feel for the game. He is a serious threat from three but also is a good passer and rebounder for the [guard] position who has improved his scoring off the bounce this past season.” He had been Jeremy Roach’s backcourt partner in high school – though a year younger — where they both had much success.
“Given the lack of depth at the point guard spot next year, Jaylen Blakes (ESPN # 89) will come in and have a role to fill behind Roach. Blakes is a tough, strong and competitive guard who can provide valuable minutes for Coach K […] He is a capable scorer from all three levels which is a nice bonus but his motor, energy and toughness will be his most reliable asset.”
“Theo John is a grad transfer out of Marquette who averaged eight points, five rebounds and 1.5 blocks this past season.” John is a burly rebounder who will do the dirty work inside and reinforce Duke’s front court, while bringing needed experience to the roster.
KEY RETURNERS: WENDELL MOORE, MARK WILLIAMS, JEREMY ROACH plus JOEY BAKER
Coach K’s key returners start with sophomore Mark Williams, who had a monster end to the 2020-21 season. In his final four games of the season, Williams averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, including a 23-point and 19-rebound performance in a win over Louisville in the ACC Tournament.
It was a performance that has stardust dancing in the eyes of Duke fans. If Williams can maintain that level of play, Duke will have the kind of season we are hoping for. His game against Louisville has “visions of sugar plums” dancing in the eyes of Duke fans. Let’s see if the sugar plums are in view when reality sets in and the season is underway.
“Wendell Moore, who averaged 9.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists this past season. Moore, a former top 30 prospect in the 2019 class, is the last man standing from his high school class at Duke and brings important experience to the roster next season.” Wendell, a Junior, has been an enigma in his two years. He has made some spectacular plays (ask UNC) and is clearly a superior athlete. Yet he has been a mediocre to poor shooter, with a penchant for turnovers (and great passes). I predict he will be the valuable sixth man, who can play all positions, except center. Moore is a talented slasher who can impact the game as a rebounder and playmaker and could develop into a force in guiding this Duke team out on the floor.
Sophomore Jeremy Roach, a former five-star guard in the 2020 class, may be the key to the season. Last year was a bit of a rocky season for Roach, who averaged 8.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in his first year at Duke. His ability to use that experience to make a jump in year two will be key for the Blue Devils next season. Roach was a disappointment early, but Coach K has stuck with him. We say we like to watch the young guns develop. For Duke to chase glory this season, Roach will HAVE TO DEVELOP — 2.8 assists per game will NOT get the job done! He is the only player on the roster with the talent to become an elite leader at point guard. I admit to being positive about Roach’s development, but it is no sure thing.
The last of the returners is Joey Baker, a 6-foot-6 senior who played an average of 11.5 minutes a game last season. While Baker had had a reputation as a marksman from deep, he did not shoot as well last year as he had in his sophomore year. If he can provide a helpful boost off the bench and make shots for the Blue Devils and provide poise taught by his three years under Coach K, he will offer value. However, in 3 years, Baker has shown the hustle and the desire, but not ACC elite level talent.
As ESPN concludes, “this winter, smiles will come only if his last Duke Blue Devils team is winning games. Then again, it wouldn’t be a true Mike Krzyzewski season if there weren’t plenty of snarls to go around. Even now, the last time around.” But in reality, the smiles should be, and are, an appreciation of Duke basketball, the principles that guide it, and a deep appreciation of Coach K’s 42 years of contributing to and creating this special journey. We want to be part of that legacy to the end.
Season 13 Issue Zero – with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
I don’t know about you, but I welcome anything that passes for normal in these abnormal times when so much is politicized and civility, logic, and common sense are forgotten and, perhaps, lost arts. So, I welcome throwback sporting events with stadiums full of energized fans. But especially, I look forward to the 2021-22 Duke Basketball season for the following reasons:
- Cameron and opponent venues will be rocking (for different reasons) in response to The Coach K Farewell Tour. Four tickets for his final game against the Tar Heels in Cameron were auctioned off for $1,00,000 (proceeds going to the charitable Dickie V Foundation).
- Duke is loaded with more depth, talent, size, and chemistry than any team since the 1991-92 National Championship team. And by the way, Coach K’s teams have rarely won with size and strength alone — but this team is deep in both. Also, unlike some recent Blue Devil teams that appeared to enjoy playing offense more than defense, these players demonstrate an appetite for playing a very aggressive man-to-man defense– so do not expect to see much zone.
I base my assessment on rather thin data except scouting reports, one scrimmage, and one exhibition game. The exhibition game against Winston-Salem State (WSS) was relatively meaningless, but the WSS team is hardly The Little Sisters of the Poor; however, the scrimmage against a veteran and highly rated Villanova (#5-9) was whispered to have been won in the mid-teens. Obviously, we will know a lot more after the November games against Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Ohio State.
Alan is writing a very comprehensive pre-season assessment, so: “That’s all for now, folks”.
Coach K’s Approach to the 2021-2022 Duke Basketball Season (and Ours)
“I told my staff and everyone around me not to use the word ‘last’. This is my 47th year, my 42nd year at Duke. … For the last four decades we’ve made a mark on college basketball, and I’d like to make another mark before I leave.”
Duke Men’s Basketball team opens its intriguing season on November 9, 2021, at Madison Square Garden against Kentucky, to be aired on ESPN. To whet your whistle for Coach K’s swan song (not to mention mine and Bill’s), here is the pre-season Duke Basketball Playbook (DBP) for what we hope will be a memorable season in many enduring ways.
Duke played two 12-minute intrasquad games at Countdown to Craziness on October 15, a closed scrimmage with Villanova on October 23 in D.C., and an exhibition game against Winston Salem State on Oct. 30. The intrasquad games were fun but not illuminating. The Villanova scrimmage was split into a 20-minute game; a 10-minute game; plus substantial time was spent working on specific game situations. No statistics or descriptions were permitted, but scuttlebutt says the Blue Devils held their own against a team rated in the top 5 pre-season.
But the first half of the Winston Salem exhibition game gave us a mouthwatering glimpse of what this team might become.
DUKE (106) v. WINSTON SALEM STATE COLLEGE (38)
SCORE AT THE HALF: DUKE (63) v. WSS (13)
WSS did not score its 10th point until 4:37 was left in the first half. With 9 minutes and 37 seconds gone in the first period, Duke had 37 points (full game points at that rate is 145). With 40 seconds left in the first half, Duke led by 53; with a score of 63-10. What a devastating performance!
But the opponent was not Kentucky.
Mark Williams (7’0” sophomore) looked as good as he did during his late season performances last year. In 19:06 minutes, he blocked 5 shots and scored 14 points (6-7 from the field; 2-3 from the stripe) to go with 5 rebounds. WSS is undersized. Let’s see how Mark handles players of the first rank, like in the game against Kentucky, and if he can handle it consistently.
Wendell Moore (6’5” junior) has drawn a significant amount of praise for his improvement, and corresponding level up in confidence. He can play three positions and run the team when Roach is out. In 17:53 he scored 8 (3-4 from the field; 2-2 from deep) to go with 6 assists — with 0 turnovers. Moore seemed comfortable playing both on the perimeter and up front, and was defensively intense with 2 steals.
Jeremy Roach’s (6’1” sophomore) potential for leadership and improvement in running the team may be the key to this season. He did not have the year that he, and Duke, had hoped for last year, but he looked simply terrific at both ends in the exhibition opener, scoring 10 while handing out 7 assists, with only one turnover during his team-high 21:48 minutes.
Paolo Banchero (6’10 freshman) is Duke’s most celebrated recruit (Pre-Season Player of the Year in the ACC; Newcomer of the Year and Pre-Season first team ACC). In 20 minutes, he scored 21 points (8-13; 1-2 from deep; 4-7 from the stripe), while pulling down 9 boards and handing out 2 assists, plus a steal. He is comfortable both inside and outside. In fact, Coach K lists him as one of the team’s 4 or 5 best ball handlers.
Trevor Keels (6’4” freshman) was Roach’s backcourt partner in high school. He is a mere 18 years old with a grown man’s muscular body. He led the scoring at Countdown to Craziness and looked impressive on both ends of the floor in his 20:18 against WSS, scoring 12 while dishing out 4 assists (0 turnovers). He may be in the starting lineup to stay.
Adrian Griffin (6’6” freshman) was projected as a starter until he hurt his knee a few weeks ago. He wasn’t expected to play at all in the exhibition game, but he logged 17:39 with the second unit. You could see the rust start to come off as he scored 10 (3-6; 0-2 from deep and 4-9 from the stripe), all in the second half. He drew 5 WSS fouls while grabbing 6 rebounds. Coach K loves him because he’s passionate about defense and comes from a basketball family. His dad played 10 years in the NBA and now is an assistant coach with the Raptors. He will either replace Keels as a starter or be the valuable 6th man (think Mike Dunleavy in 2000).
Theo John (6’9” graduate transfer from Marquette) is a big, strong rebounder and defender. He logged 17:01, scoring 6 (2-4; 2-2 from the stripe) while grabbing 5 boards and demonstrating a good passing ability. He looked solid and will be valuable.
Jaylen Blakes (6’2” freshman) is a point guard, who played well and could lead the team if Roach went down (though I think it would more likely be Moore). He played 21:51, looking good against this level of competition even though his shot was off (2-9; 1-3 from deep without getting to the line). He did grab 6 boards with 2 assists, 0 turnovers, and 2 blocked shots.
Joey Baker (6’6” senior) played the fewest minutes (16:56) scoring 8 (3-7; 2-5 from deep without getting to the line). He did grab 6 boards but committed 4 fouls and had a shot blocked. He will get a chance to earn his way into the rotation.
Bates Jones (6’8” graduate transfer from Davidson) is Daniel Jones’s brother (former Duke and current NY Giant QB; his sister, Ruthie, is the current goalie for Duke’s women soccer team). To me, he looked the best of the bench candidates (after Griffin). In his 18:12, he scored 11 (3-5; 2-4 from deep and 3-3 from the stripe) to go with 4 boards and a blocked shot. At 6’8”, he demonstrated that he can shoot, rebound, and pass. He might surprise and make the rotation.
How good Duke becomes defensively will define the season.
Next Play: Kentucky on November 9 at 9:30 p.m. EST at Madison Square Garden on ESPN. We’re on!
Duke 79 – Kentucky 71 (Season 13 Issue 2 Game 1) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
DUKE 79 V KENTUCKY 71
Madison Square Garden– Duke & Kentucky about to take the stage for the Championship Classic game. The atmosphere: simply electric. Coach K was honored. Duke fans filled the arena, buzzing with high anticipation for the season. The entire Knick team and celebrities were everywhere. Does it get any better than that? Well, yes. The game not only lived up to the hype, it over-delivered the hype. It was a great college basketball game between two really good teams. Both teams played with Final Four intensity (not always pretty, but always in breathless overdrive).
While most game stories lead with the spectacular offensive performances of heralded freshmen Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels (and they were both amazing), it was Duke’s defense that determined the outcome. Duke clamped down for two amazing defensive runs in the second half that created safe leads. However, Duke was badly beaten in the interior by Oscar Tshiebwe, a 6’9” Man Mountain who – for stretches – controlled both backboards. In 29 minutes (a burden of first half fouls limited his game minutes), he scored 17 points (8-14 at the rim and 1-1 from the stripe) to go with a jaw dropping 19 rebounds (12 on the offensive boards). He took Mark Williams virtually out of the game. Theo John was stronger than Mark and logged more minutes. Both were seriously destroyed by Tshiebwe.
In the first half, Duke was superb inside the arc, holding the Wildcats to just 7-30 there. There were no open looks. Tshiebwe retrieved 7 offensive rebounds, but he only scored 4 points on 2-6 shooting. However, his astounding offensive rebounding gave Kentucky 13 more field goal attempts than Duke (41-28). Duke’s defense held Kentucky to the same number of baskets (13), but Kentucky was able to stay in the game by going 6-11 at the 3-point line. Duke adjusted at half time, holding Kentucky to 1-7 from behind the arc in the closing stanza while pulling away for a quality win.
With 16:33 to go in the second half, Kentucky took a 48-47 lead. Kentucky’s next score came a full 3:07 later (with 13:40 remaining) when the Wildcats converted two free throws to cut the Duke lead to 5. The Wildcats didn’t score again for another 90 seconds while Duke’s lead grew to 11. With 8:56 left, Duke’s lead was 15, primarily because Kentucky had scored just 6 points in 7 minutes and 37 seconds! This Duke team is going to be a really good defensive team.
Then, Kentucky caught fire and the Devils stalled on 69 for over 4 minutes (cramping took both Moore and Paolo out for a spell) while the Wildcats rode Tshiebwe back into contention. The Man Mountain scored 7 points while grabbing 3 offensive and 3 defensive boards, and he blocked a shot. His foul shot drew Kentucky within 4 points (69 – 65) with 6:07 remaining. Then the Blue Devil defense became dominant again, and the Wildcats could score only 4 points in the next 5:05. By then Duke led by 8 with just over a minute left and the game was securely in hand.
Keels, Roach, and Moore were brilliant defenders on the perimeter. Banchero can guard several positions – unusual for a 250 pound 6’10” player. He had 2 great steals. Tshiebwe made life a challenge for Theo John and neutralized Mark Williams; however, Williams did make two winning plays in the clutch. With 5:34 and 4:31, respectively, left in the game – Williams made two sensational blocks on a driving Sahvir Wheeler, Kentucky’s point guard. Coach K emphasized how crucial those two plays were to the Duke final run.
Another great unexpected perk for Duke came when A.J. Griffin (highly rated freshman who has been injured and was not expected to play) replaced Paolo when Banchero had to come out of the game due to cramping. A.J. gave Duke a real lift on defense and the boards. He played over 10 minutes. Duke started to pull away when A.J. came in, but it was Keels who broke the game open.
The Offense and Rotation
In the first half, Mark Williams (8:42) and Theo John (11:18) divided the center position. Joey Baker played 5:27 (0-2; 0-1 from deep; 2-2 from the stripe) and grabbed a pair of rebounds. Griffin had a 1:37 cameo. Jaylen Blakes played a shade under 3 minutes, but missed a wide-open corner 3, which relegated the freshman backup point guard to the bench for the remainder of the game. Jeremy Roach played all 20 minutes of the second half. Williams (9:04) and John (10:56) again split the center duties as they had in the first half. Griffin logged 9 second-half minutes and earned Coach K’s praise. Griffin is a very gifted player, and his return is significant for this team’s development. Baker played 6 minutes without a statistic. Otherwise, it was the starters who were on the court: Roach, Keels, Banchero, Moore and the two splitting center duty.
The negative was that Duke had more turnovers (9) than assists (7). But even that drawback could not diminish the offense, led primarily by Keels and Banchero.
Trevor Keels emerged as a potential lottery pick, according to the announcers. He was, in fact, that amazingly good. In the second half, when the cramping hit Duke, Keels carried the team. He was 7-11 (2-3 from the stripe) for 16 points. He led Duke in scoring for the game with 25 points (10-18; 1-4 from deep and 4-6 from the stripe) to go with 3 steals and 2 assists. He was simply a revelation in his 33:27 on the court.
So was Banchero in his 31:30. He scored 22 on just 11 shots (7-11; 0-3 from deep and 7-8 from the line). He drew fouls and converted free throws. His shots came from everywhere – the perimeter, the post, at the rim (but only from inside the arc). Paolo added 7 defensive boards and a couple of steals. In short, he lived up to the considerable hype, and may have even surpassed it.
Wendell Moore played an excellent game in his 33:24, scoring 12 (6-10; 0-2; 0-1) with 4 boards and 3 assists. He is an intense defender and an able leader — he and Baker are co-captains this year.
Although Jeremy Roach did not light up the box score (6 points on 3-8; 0-1 from both deep and the foul line; only 1 assist against 2 turnovers), he played more minutes than any other Duke player (36:33). Coach K’s faith and reliance on Jeremy is demonstrated by his presence on the court for the entire 20 minutes of the second half. Jeremy is improved, confident, and showed an athleticism that I did not see from him last year. Roach grabbed as many rebounds as Paolo and Williams did (7) and had a brace of steals.
I think (and fervently hope) that Duke’s failure from behind the arc (1-13) was an aberration because 1-13 from deep won’t cut it. Keels made the only deep shot but was 1-4 for three-pointers overall. Banchero was 0-3. Moore 0-2. Griffin, Blakes, Baker and Roach were all 0-1.
Theo John and Mark Williams each scored 5 (each was 2-4 plus 1-2 from the stripe). They each tailor their defense style to their individual talents. John (who Bilas says protects the lane rather than the rim) had 2 blocks and 2 rebounds. Mark (who Bilas says protects the rim) had 7 boards and 3 blocks, including the two dramatic ones down the stretch. Williams has more raw talent than John, but Tshiebwe was simply too strong for him. How the center position develops will be an ongoing saga. I predict a good year for Mark. There are not too many centers like Tshiebwe.
BILL’S CLIFF NOTES:
Tonight’s early, pressure packed test against intense rival Kentucky in sold out mecca Madison Square Garden on national TV confirmed what I wrote in the DBP Preview: This is the deepest, most talented Duke squad since the 1991-92 Laettner, Hurley, Hill NCAA Championship team. That doesn’t mean they will win the championship, but barring injuries, they will surely be a contender.
Duke was ahead most of the way but was unable to shake a very persistent, resilient Kentucky team led atypically by two older, grad transfers: center Oscar Tshiebwe, a rebounding machine, and guard Sahvir Wheeler, a multi-talented point guard. However, after giving up six threes in the first half, the Blues Devils limited the Wildcats to only one in the second. It is not often a team is outscored by six three pointers and still wins, but Duke’s Trevor Keels (25), Paolo Banchero (22), and Wendell Moore (12) made sure it didn’t matter—that’s versatility. Banchero (“We’re a great team. We’re going to play together. We’re going to play hard all 40 minutes. And, yeah, I mean, we’re going to play like Duke.”) was as good as advertised, but when Banchero was out suffering from leg cramps, it was Keels, a basketball version of the Tennessee Titans great running back Derrick Henry, who virtually took over the game and made the difference. (“So, I knew when P went out somebody had to step up and that’s what I did. I kept looking at the score and I just made sure we were up and we were winning. That’s something that I look at all the time. I don’t really care about my points or anything like that. It’s that we come out with the victory.”)
The Good news:
- Duke led for 35:46 of game time, while Kentucky led for just 2:07.
- Before he developed cramps, Wendell Moore demonstrated he is a much better player than last year.
- Grad transfer John Theo’s physicality gives Duke two very different options at center.
- This team will not go 1-13 from three point land again or all bets are off.
- AJ Griffin is recovering from a knee injury and only played 11 minutes, but nevertheless he really gave The Blue Devils a big lift. When totally healthy, he will be a major contributor in multiple ways.
- The cramping issues will be solved before the Gonzaga game.
- Jeremy Roach did not appear much improved from last year. He couldn’t contain Wheeler (who was All SEC at Georgia last year) and only had 1 assist and 6 points. However, Moore, Banchero, and Keels all can initiate the offense. Obviously, Coach K does not agree as Roach played more minutes than any other Duke player.
- Co-Captain Joey Baker still appears athletically overmatched and, unless opponents play a zone, does not bring much to the floor except reliable three point shooting.
- Why Kentucky hates Duke (Other than the Laettner shot in the NCAA Tournament): Barring another meeting in March Madness, retiring Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski will finish his iconic coaching career with a 7-2 record against Kentucky.
- Mike Krzyzewski is in his 42nd season as Duke’s head coach, and his record is now 1,098-302 at Duke, and 1,171-361 overall in this, his 47th season overall.
- The game marked Duke’s 100th time playing in the greater New York City area, where the Blue Devils won 73 of those games, including 45-25 at Madison Square Garden, 7-1 in Brooklyn, and 21-1 in East Rutherford, N.J.
Next Play: Duke’s Veteran’s Day Weekend Showcase (two games over the weekend, both in Cameron). Duke plays Army on Friday, November 12 at 7 pm. ACCN (I get those games on ESPN+) and Campbell on Saturday, November 13 at 8 pm. The first home games of the season. The next DBP will cover both of those games in one edition.
Duke 82 – Army 56 & Duke 67 – Campbell 56 (Season 13 Issue 3 Games 2&3) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
DUKE 82 V ARMY 56 (Friday Nov 12, 2021) – – DUKE 67 V CAMPBELL 56 (Saturday Nov 13, 2021)
Duke cannot be satisfied with two performances against unranked teams that were as close (though the final score does not show it) as the games against Army and Campbell were; however, the team’s potential is there, even though it was not visible until late in the second half of each of these last two games. The Duke offense looked sloppy and disjointed in the first half against Army. After Duke led by 10 with 17:17 left, Army out-scored Duke by 5 points in the next 16:32 to cut Duke’s lead to 30-25 with 1:49 left. Then, the game announcer insightfully reflected on Duke’s prestigious win against Kentucky on November 9: “Duke really didn’t play that well against Kentucky. The Blue Devils were 1-13 from behind the arc and were badly beaten on the interior. While Duke defended ferociously, Kentucky playmakers had success penetrating.” This reflection emphasizes Duke’s 2021-2022 potential upsides, as well as what needs improvement to reach that potential.
Coach K is now constructing a different offense. Consider Coach K’s past reliance on (and leadership given to the team by) his past elite point guards like Tommy Amaker, Bobby Hurley, Jay Williams, Jon Scheyer, Trey and Tyus Jones. This 2021/2022 team really does not have a true point guard, but they do have at least 4 excellent ball handlers. Duke looked so good in the later stages of the closing half in each game because Jeremy Roach became a true lead guard (more scoring than assists) while leading the offense. Downside is: Duke is still turning the ball over with troubling consistency. Roach has the potential to be the point guard, but he is not there yet. Coach K is hoping these factors will be sufficient to produce a cohesive offensive.
The Defense! Duke held Army to 56 points and forced 21 turnovers. Against Campbell, Duke trailed by 10 (18-8 with 13:55 left in the first half) when the Devils turned up the defense to hold Campbell scoreless for 4 minutes (18-17), and then to allow only an additional 3 pointer (on a possession occuring after Campbell corralled 3 offensive rebounds); thus holding Campbell virtually scoreless for a few seconds more than 8 minutes! The Blue Devils have terrific one-on-one perimeter defenders in Moore, Roach, Keels, and Banchero. Keels is a ball hawk with 10 steals in 3 games (6 just against Army). Against Campbell, Banchero was frequently the center; Duke was able to switch every screen because Paolo can guard on the perimeter. Duke is still overplaying and therefore giving up backdoor cuts and lay-ups. But overall, this edition of Duke basketball has the potential to be the best defensive team since winning the NCAA in 2010 and 2015.
Wendell Moore, Jr.! Against Army, Moore posted the fifth triple double in Duke basketball history scoring 17, grabbing 10 boards and handing out 10 assists. Moore has provided steady leadership, outstanding defense, excellent ball handling, and scoring. Above all, he has been consistent. He is the acknowledged team leader.
Paolo Banchero! The highly decorated freshman has more than lived up to the pre-season hype. He is so efficient that though he has taken only the 3rd most shots on the team, he leads in scoring (19.3 p.p.g) by a wide margin. He also leads the team in rebounding (8.7 r.p.g.), handles the ball adroitly, and defends well on both the perimeter and the interior. Let’s not forget his 15-17 (88.2%) free-throw shooting, which is fantastic considering how frequently he gets fouled.
The Bad (Not Really Bad, but Needs Big Improvement if Duke is to Reach its Potential)
Backcourt Consistency on Offense! Trevor Keels looked All-World against Kentucky but has not scored in double figures since then, and was, in fact, entirely scoreless in the second half against Campbell (6 points for the game). Since the Kentucky game, he has unsuccessfully forced some shots and has turned the ball over. Coach K has commented that Keels was exhausted after his fabulous performance against Kentucky. Keels’s backcourt partner, Jeremy Roach, has also been inconsistent, though his performance improved this past weekend. Roach didn’t light up the box score against Kentucky but has impressed Coach K enough to make him the player on the team who has logged the most playing time. He has started to score on driving layups (14 points against Campbell on 5-6 from inside the arc; 1-4 from deep; 1-2 from the stripe). He added 3 assists without a turnover for his best game. But he is not (yet) a Coach K true point guard. Stay tuned.
The Bench! Joey Baker has emerged as the first player off the bench, averaging 20 minutes of playing time per game (his 31 minutes against Campbell boosted this average significantly). 12 seconds into the Campbell game, Wendell Moore went down with an injury and Baker replaced him before being pulled back out when he didn’t score. Then, surprisingly, Baker had a great second half against Campbell, playing all 20 minutes while leading the team in second half scoring with 11 (all his points against Campbell came in the second half on 3-5 from deep and 2-2 from the stripe). It was the first time he was an efficient and critical contributor.
A.J. Griffin is playing around 9 minutes a game as the heralded freshman returns from a significant knee injury. So far, Griffin has shown flashes of potential, but is still a long way from being the contributor he was anticipated to be based on being a McDonald’s All-American in high school. Whether and when he reaches that potential will have a large impact on this Duke season. We wish him continuing recovery.
Jaylen Blakes has played about 15 minutes per game so far this season, scoring only 2 points (1-5, including 0-3 from deep). Whether he is in the rotation when the ACC season begins is still an open question.
Perimeter Shooting! As a team, Duke is shooting under 30 % from behind the arc, even after hitting 9 for 23 from deep against Campbell. In addition to Baker’s 3-5, Keels and Moore were each 2-5, while A.J. Griffin hit his only 3 (8-16 overall for those four players). Banchero is shooting 14% this season (1-7) from deep; Moore (14- 46 for 28%); Keels (4- 15 for 26%) and Griffin (1-4 for 25%). Duke has been simply dreadful from behind the arc.
Interior Rebounding, Scoring and Defense! Mark Williams finished last season so strong in scoring and rebounding that his continued progress (pre-season second team All-ACC) was a primary reason for Duke’s pre-season optimism and top 10 ranking. But he has not played much or well. Against Campbell, he played 5 first-half minutes without scoring and did not leave the bench in the second half. He is averaging only 15 minutes a game with modest scoring and rebounding numbers. He is, however, a shot blocker, averaging 1.7 even in those few playing minutes. He has also been a disappointing 50% free throw shooter so far. For Duke to be a contender, Mark has to return to his form from last year.
Theo John supplies toughness but, like Williams, has languished (15.7 minutes per game) with even lower scoring and rebounding than Williams. He has played pretty good defense, but the center position has not been even close to productive, unless Duke has Banchero play center with an otherwise small lineup.
No matter who is manning the middle, Duke has been killed on the backboards, giving other teams a large offensive rebounding advantage. Campbell played small (4 guards) and still outrebounded Duke 34-31, grabbing 15 offensive boards. Kentucky simply demolished Duke on the glass.
Duke’s interior play must improve; Williams is the key to that in all aspects of interior play. We also wish him a speedy recovery!
Duke has 3 more games against lesser opponents – Gardner Webb, Lafayette, and The Citadel — in Cameron in the next 8 days to work on the weaknesses that have appeared. Then comes another nationally televised test on November 26 against Gonzaga, on the West Coast (10:30 EST tip-off.)
Bill’s Cliffs Notes:
Raise your hand if you thought the filler games between Kentucky and Gonzaga were just against stiffs. Seriously? Campbell (formerly Junior College in Buies Creek, N.C. alma mater of Country Music Hall of Fame country writer John Loudermilk, author of “Abilene” & the haunting “Indian Nation”.) Note to file: There are no stiffs anymore. The world is full of people of all sizes and shapes who watch Steph Curry and think they too can fire up shots anywhere inside the half court line. However, Coach K schedules teams for a reason. Army and Campbell are likely potential NCAA Tournament first round opponents and are scheduled closely together so his young team gets used to playing different styles and playing through fatigue.
Coach K: “ The experience of playing against older teams that are going to be ahead of us as far as their ability to work together because they’ve worked together. In the military, you call it ‘on the job training’. No matter what you would do in the classroom or in practice, there’s nothing like on-the-job training.”
So, what did we learn?
- For all the well-deserved hype of the freshmen, Junior Wendell Moore has matured into the most versatile, intense, and most indispensable player. Against Army (the final score was not indicative of the closeness of the game), Wendell became only the fifth Duke player—and the first guard—to achieve a triple double. (The others: Art Heyman, Gene Banks, Sheldon Williams, RJ Barrett). When he collapsed and went down and off to the locker room last night just 12 seconds after the tip-off, the season flashed before many eyes—especially the coaches. Fortunately, he returned, apparently none the worse for wear, and had a stellar game. But in the meantime, the Blue Devils fell behind 8-18, to rally only after Moore returned.
- As precocious as this team is, and as exhilarating as the Kentucky win was, this is still a young team. After just three games, it appears that, so far, it is inconsistent and less efficient than the sum of the parts. Each of these players was the best player on their high school team and dominated the offense. A case in point is that in the impressive Kentucky win, Duke only achieved a comfortable working margin in the second half when three starters were off the court suffering from leg cramps and Trevor Keels took over and singlehandedly increased the margin to +16. After starters Banchero and Moore returned, the offense inexplicably stagnated and the margin was cut to 5. What that would seem to indicate is that with so many offensive initiators, they tend to stand around waiting for someone to go one-on-one rather than move without the ball, setting picks or getting open.
- Having made just 10 of 41 3-pointers (24.4%) while starting the season with wins over No. 10 Kentucky and Army, Duke hit 9 of 23 (39.1%) against Campbell. The Blue Devils hit three 3-pointers during a 15-4 run midway through the second half that allowed them to build their first double-digit lead of the night. This was reassuring, because I am quite sure Duke will see more of their share of various zone defenses this year.
- Last night, Duke was basically playing from behind for the first time all season. It was unclear how the temporary loss of Moore and that pressure was going to affect the Blue Devils. However, in winning 1,000+ games, Coach K has seen it all and seemingly willed them back into the game with timely lineup changes (sitting centers Williams and Theo), and relying on his more experienced players, Wendell Moore, Jeremy Roach, and Joey Baker, who played a surprising 31 minutes. This lineup shot 50%/ 39%/ 73% and needed all of it plus much better second half defense to avoid an embarrassing loss. Chalk it up to a learning experience.
- It was a pleasure to see Joey Baker play an instrumental role last night, as he has been nothing but “True Blue Duke”, while so far experiencing a disappointing roller coaster of a career. It seems like a decade or so since he passed on his high school senior year to enter Duke, joining that great Sports Illustrated cover class of Zion, R.J., Cam, and Trey. Likewise, it was reassuring to see the overlooked and sometimes seemingly over-whelmed Jeremy Roach rise to the occasion.
Bates Jones, a graduate transfer from Davidson, and former Duke QB Daniel Jones’ brother, played 7 minutes against Army, scoring 3 points with a rebound. It was a good night for his family as his younger sister, Ruth, recorded a shutout as Duke Soceer’s goalkeeper in a 1-0 NCAA tournament win over Old Dominion at Koskinen Stadium.
Next Play: Gardner-Webb on Tuesday, November 16 at 7 pm; ACC Network.
Duke 92 – Gardner Webb 52 (Season 13 Issue 4 Game 4) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:
After ten minutes of last night’s game, I thought I had mistakenly activated a rerun of the Campbell game. Holy Upset, Batman! Where is the Top Ten Team that beat Kentucky? Slowly, then all at once, relentless defense and Cameron Crazy pressure prevailed, and the young Blue Devils began to play as advertised! Mark Williams (13 pts. 6 blocks) was protecting the rim. Good ball and player movement abounded, shots were falling (57%/46%/71%). Duke finished with 24 assists on 36 made field goals.
Two more cupcake games and then another early midterm exam with Gonzaga that will be a reality check.
Some things are becoming apparent:
- There are three exceptional scorers: Keels, Moore, and Banchero.
- For this team to be a contender, Williams must be a consistent performer.
- Roach must continue to provide on-the-ball pressure and improve offensively as a complementary fifth man.
- Joey Baker appears to have developed into a reliable sixth man.
- AJ Griffin is the sleeper/wild card. After not playing for two years (due to injuries), AJ is a major talent who could play a significant role.
The elephant in Cameron: Michael Savarino, Coach K’s grandson, was arrested 1:10 a.m. Sunday for a DUI while driving Paolo Banchero’s Jeep. Paolo was in the back seat and cited (not charged) with “Aiding and Abetting”. The Orange County arrest report stated Savarino submitted to two breathalyzer tests and blew a .08 BAC. “He stated that he had several shots,” the report read. North Carolina law states that aiding and abetting DUI is classified as “when a person knowingly encourages, aids, advises or instigates another person to drive, or attempt to drive, while impaired. There are numerous different behaviors that this could encompass, but the most common scenario involves a person turning their keys over to an impaired driver, and/or being present as a passenger when the driver is arrested for DUI.”
Coach K: “We had a violation of our standards, and we’ll handle that internally. We’re already handling it, but it’s a violation of our standards. It’s two entirely different situations. [Coach K then made the distinction between Savarino’s and Banchero’s] Headlines might make it look like it’s the same, but it’s not. The decisions we made are in conjunction with our authorities and my superiors. We’re taking action and will continue to take action.”
The Blue Devil defense has been uncommonly outstanding so far in this young season. Duke held Kentucky to 71 points and followed that opener with suffocating defense against lesser teams, giving up 56, 56, and 52 points, respectively, in the next 3 games. Even though there have been some lapses, all the signs are positive; most importantly, this team is defensive minded and truly talented. Wendell Moore, Jeremy Roach, Trevor Keels, and Paolo Banchero have been superb individual defenders.
Against Gardner-Webb last night, Mark Williams began the process of morphing back into the form he displayed last March, blocking 6 Gardner Webb shots and diverting others. So far, the emphasis has been on creating “team defense” and Duke has been steadily building their cohesion. As Coach K pointed out in his post-game press conference, “I was really pleased with our effort tonight. We’ve been playing really good defense in the first three games but tonight we were even better. Our goal was to take away their three-point shooting, and we did a great job of that. It’s tough to single out one guy [for post-game praise] when you play good team defense.” K’s strategy was clearly successful as Gardner Webb went an anemic 2-16 from behind the arc.
It took the Blue Devils some moments to get back on track from a rough start before they steamrolled the Running Bulldogs. More than 12 minutes elapsed before Duke took its first lead, 14-13. They were able to increase it only slightly in the next 4 minutes (to 23-17) before the Blue Devil defense clamped down and started brewing offense. In the last 8 minutes of the first half, while the Devils rolled to a 23 point lead, GW managed only 5 points (not counting the 3 GW points in the last seconds of the half because Roach’s foul was just too silly to acknowledge). Duke won each half by 20 points; this with Duke playing its bench rather than the starters for most of the second half!
Trevor Keels returned to his Kentucky form in the first half, scoring 16 of his 18 points in the opening stanza. Moore took over the lead offensive role in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 game points. All the Duke starters and Joey Baker scored in double figures.
As encouraging as it was to see Mark Williams get 21 minutes of playing time, his impressive statistics and fluid movement once on the court fueled the encouragement. He scored 13 points (6-9 from the field and 1-2 from the stripe) to go with his career high 6 blocks, 3 boards, 2 assists, and a steal. Improvement in rebounding — still needed –against Louisville last March, Williams had 19; last night he had 2 offensive rebounds and only a single defensive board. But his playing last night showed clear movement in the right direction
Paolo Banchero did seem affected by the DUI, scoring only 5 points in each half (4-9 from the field; 0-1 from deep; and 2-3 from the stripe). These are modest numbers compared to his first 3 games (19.5 p.p.g). He grabbed 8 defensive rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block, but also committed a turnover. He played with both Williams and Theo John, as well as being the center himself, when Duke had four smaller players on the floor with him.
Theo John played 15 minutes, grabbing 5 rebounds while scoring 4 points (2-3), with an assist and 2 turnovers.
Bates Jones played 9 second-half minutes, hitting 1-2 from deep with 2 boards and an assist.
The PerimeterJeremy Roach again led the team in minutes-played with 28. He handed out 6 assists, with only 2 turnovers, and played ferocious defense. The Gardner Webb coach mentioned Roach’s defense in his post-game assessment, even though Roach had only a single steal. He is a talented on-the-ball defender forcing GW to start their offense further away from the basket. Jeremy scored 10 (4-7; 0-1 from deep and 2-3 from the line). He is getting to the rim on his drives; Coach K wants him to shoot more from the outside.
Trevor Keels logged almost 26 minutes, leading the team in scoring with 18 points (6-9; including 4-6 from deep; 2-2 foul shots). He contributed 7 defensive rebounds and 4 assists. He and Roach play so well together on both ends of the floor.
Wendell Moore Jr. was a force! with his scoring, rebounding, passing, and leadership. This is becoming his team. He scored 14 (6-9; including 2-3 from deep), to go with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He is a defender extraordinaire.
Joey Baker played his best 21 minutes of the year. He scored 12 points, even though he was only 1-4 from behind the arc. He was 3-3 on drives, and he had 2 assists and 3 steals, without a turnover. Coach K is pleased with his progress and currently has him as his first player off the bench.
Jaylen Blakes finally made a 3, for his only points (1-3 from the field, including 1-2 from behind the arc) in 11 minutes. He had a rebound, assist and turnover.
A Critical Factor
A.J. Griffin is that critical factor. He had not played for 2 years because of injuries; then he was injured again early in the pre-season. His play had been spotty (averaging only 9 minutes per game)–that is, until the second half last night where Griffin played 15 scintillating minutes. He is so athletic, with superior hops and strength that allows him to play bigger than his 6’7”. He led the team in rebounding in the closing period with 6, scored 5 (2-5; 1-3 from deep), with 2 assists and a steal. AJ’s improvement was apparent; Coach K applauded, “He has a strong body and tonight he played strong, and he can play even stronger with that body. He really worked hard tonight, and we just have to keep working with him. He has a great attitude. He’s got one of the better shots and a really soft shot but he’s behind the guys who are in the starting unit. Obviously, it’s a long season and we hope he can continue to get better, and he will be able to help us become a much deeper team.”
A catalyst to tap the depths of their potential is precisely what this team needs.
Next Play: Friday, November 19 vs. Lafayette in Cameron at 8 pm. ACCN
Duke 88 – Lafayette 55 (Season 13 Issue 5 Game 5) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:
Playing good, tenacious defense compensates for lapses or lulls in offensive productivity. However, executing inefficiently and misfiring for extended periods against Lafayette, Campbell, Army, Gardner-Webb is troubling because the three-point shot is a potential equalizer, and embarrassing game changer. Last night, despite another strong start by Mark Williams, the winless Lafayette Leopards made a perplexing first half run to close within five points, just before a Duke 3 and the break. At the start of the second half, Wendell Moore once again took over, and the Blue Devils cruised to a misleading thirty-point victory.
Make no mistake, I think Coach K is the greatest college coach of all time. I have exactly 1,175 fewer wins than he has, and K is the last coach I would second guess. However, I do not believe that Jeremy Roach is talented enough to be the starting point guard on a championship team — but Wendell Moore is, and Duke would be more of a contender than a pretender with AJ Griffin, who can play the 2-5 positions, replacing Roach in the starting lineup.
But don’t take my word for it. Wendell Moore: “I knew he [AJ] was a phenomenal player. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the world was going to be able to see it.… The work he’s been putting in in the offseason and in practice, I’m just really so proud of him that he’s able to come out here and show this tonight because these past two years haven’t been easy for him at all… Really, for him, he hasn’t played basketball in two years, so we knew it was going to be an adjustment for him.”
One more warm up game Monday against The Citadel, then early midterm exams against Gonzaga and Ohio State will give us a better idea of how well this team has matured.
Against Lafayette, Duke held an inferior opponent to under 60 points for the fourth straight game. Still, it is true that we will not be able to assess where the Blue Devil defensive development is until Gonzaga (November 26) and Ohio State (November 30) are the opponents. So far Duke has been truly exceptional in stretches, but, as Bill noted, Duke has also had moments when the defense waned and lost intensity.
For example, against the Leopards, Duke gave up only 5 points in the first 5:31 of the game and then held Lafayette scoreless for the next 5:27. Think about the fact that the Duke defense held Lafayette to only 5 points in virtually 11 minutes, while forcing 14 turnovers and building a 16 point lead. Then the offense went cold, which translated into the loss of that defensive intensity. Coach K: “I think in the first half we got off to the 23-6 lead, and we didn’t let up, but we couldn’t hit a shot. [W]e fell into that trap that can happen to basketball players and teams where you let that influence the next play. You’re not thinking or talking on defense, and that’s what happened. In transition, we weren’t pointing and talking. We had three open threes and it all had to do with ‘Man I should’ve hit that shot.’ No, you should run down the court and play defense. We talked about it at halftime and how the only consistent part of a game you can have is to play good defense, and we’ve been playing great defense. Our offense has affected our defense, and in the second half, it didn’t do that. We played much more mature.”
With 4 minutes having elapsed in the second half, the score remained competitive with Duke leading by single digits 43-34. Then the defense simply roared! Moore shut down Kyle Jenkins, who had scored 12 points in the first half. Jenkins made only a single second half field goal. In the next 6:24 of the final stanza, the Blue Devils allowed only 5 points while stretching the lead to 26 (67-41) with 10:23 to go in the game, which ended any thoughts of a competitive finish. With 1:12 left in the game, Duke led by 35 points. Lafayette had scored only 14 points in the preceding 9:23!!
While Duke gave up a series of well executed backdoor layups to Lafayette when the Leopards were scoring against Duke and keeping the game competitive in the first half, the adjustments Duke made at half time completely cured that defect.
Mark Williams is returning to form on the defensive end with 4 blocks, 7 defensive rebounds (15 overall) and a steal, in only 21:23. Moore (29 minutes) and Roach (33 minutes) each had 2 steals; Banchero (a steal and a block in his almost 20 minutes), and Keels (25:31) all played beautifully together on the perimeter. AJ Griffin (a season-high 21 minutes) is also a talented defender. He had 2 steals and was on the floor to grab a loose ball.
It is time to test the Duke defense against the nation’s top teams.
In recent past editions, I have made the point that Duke needed Mark Williams to return to his last-March form on both ends of the Court. Mark’s offense had been well below that level — he was not rebounding, and his scoring was anemic. At the same time, I urged that A.J. Griffin’s return to the form he showed a couple of years ago when he was a young high school player was also necessary for this Duke team to reach its full potential. Against the Leopards, Duke took significant steps toward both of those crucial transformations.
Mark Williams was a force for whom Lafayette simply had no answers. He scored 14 points (7-13; 0-2 from the line), to go with 15 rebounds (8 on offense), 4 blocks, and a steal. Coach K pointed out one special play for how it reflected Mark’s attitude adjustment, “the one play for Mark; I would call it persistence where he tried, and tried, then all of a sudden dunked it. That was a great play for him because he fought through that adversity.”
A.J. Griffin dramatically returned to his old high school form for the first time in a Duke uniform. He was 5th in minutes played (starter minutes); second in points scored (18 on 7-10, including a scintillating 4-6 from deep) to go with 2 rebounds. From the last DBP edition regarding Griffin: “A catalyst to tap the depths of their potential is precisely what this team needs.” Griffin provided that exquisitely against Lafayette. If Griffin can be consistent going forward, he will indeed be a critical factor for Duke’s season. Coach K knows this: “He’s getting in shape. He was out [this season] for two and a half weeks, and just so you know, he didn’t play in high school for two years. It’s a big learning curve, but he’s in better shape now. It’s not just one or two plays, he can play multiple plays. Obviously, he shot well but he can shoot. He has one of the softest shots. Just keep coming and he’ll make us better.”
Wendell Moore is playing superb basketball on both ends of the floor. Duke has upperclassmen leadership from him, which includes stepping up on offense when Duke falters, and making game winning plays on the defensive end. In the early second half, when Duke’s offense was still struggling and the Leopards had cut the lead to 7, Moore took over. He created an assist for himself and a basket for Williams, scored on a fast break triggered by a Williams block (and made the foul shot for a 3-point play), hit a pullup jumper, followed by a defensive rebound where he outletted to Keels, who fed him back for a 3-pointer. Moore created 10 points in under 2 minutes to stretch Duke’s lead to 14 and start the rout. How is this for an efficient stat line — 23 points in a little under 29 minutes (9-14, including 2-6 from deep; and 3-3 from the stripe) to go with 6 rebounds, 4 assists (to only a single turnover), and 2 steals.
Paolo Banchero is still a bit off, likely from the impact of the DUI issue, but still shows championship form. Although he was 0-6 from inside the arc in the first half, he played very well in all other aspects of the game. In 19:44 (he picked up 3 second-half fouls thus limiting his second half playing time to less than 6 minutes), he scored 11 (4-12, including 2-3 from deep in the second half; 1-2 from the stripe), while adding 6 rebounds, 4 assists (against only one turnover), a block, and a steal. His 7 second-half points in 6 minutes came at a crucial time.
Trevor Keels is so valuable, whether or not he is scoring dramatically (as he did against Kentucky and in the first half against Gardner-Webb). He is a superb perimeter defender, tough rebounder, and excellent passer. In his 25:31, he tallied 10 points (4-10, including 2-6 from behind the arc), 4 assists (only 1 turnover), and a steal.
Jeremy Roach failed to score in 33 minutes (0-6, including 0-1 from deep). He had 5 assists (4 in the second half) and only 2 turnovers. The Duke half-court offense looked stagnant to me. Duke has several good ball handlers, but not a true point guard. This is what fuels Bill’s insights about Roach. However, it seems clear that Coach K is pushing Roach to learn on the fly.
The Bench was a bit ineffectual, if you classify Griffin with the starters (6-person rotation is possible if not probable by tournament time). Joey Baker logged 15:23 of eradicate shooting: 5 points on 2-8, including 1-5 from deep, to go with 2 boards and an assist. Theo John backed up Mark Williams for 17:08, grabbing 6 boards and making 2 steals. He scored 4 (2-3; 0-1 from deep), including a sensational layup following a great steal, then dribbling the length of the floor to make an acrobatic shot.
Jaylen Blakes and Bates Jones played at mop-up time with the walk-ons. Savarino did not play.
Coach K on What It Takes To Win
“About three weeks ago on my XM show, we had Jason Kidd. He’s a good friend and was my captain in Beijing, and I asked him about playing with the best European player ever, Dirk [Nowitzki]. I said, ‘Now you have one of the top five or 10 players in the country, what about him (Luca Dončić)?’ and he said, ‘Coach, God gave him a lot of great genes. But the best gene he gave him was competitiveness.’ The only thing Dončić is concerned with is the score, and that’s my thing with the ‘next play.’ A basketball player, to be really good, has to have that, the only thing they’re really concerned about is the score, and what’s happening now, because you don’t have time to think between plays. Otherwise, you’re hurting yourself and that’s the thing we’ve been trying to develop with our guys. It didn’t work for 8-10 minutes today, but overall, it’s going pretty well.”
Next Play: Monday, November 22 against The Citadel at 9 pm in Cameron. ACCN. [Note: The Citadel beat Jeff Capel’s Pittsburgh Panthers by 15 on November 9.]
Duke 107 –The Citadel 81 (Season 13 Issue 6 Game 6) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
Gonzaga On Friday
Duke fans have been salivating for this game since the schedule was announced. Bill and I decided to delay the DBP so as to provide a bit of a preview after Gonzaga (#1) had played UCLA (#2) on Tuesday, November 23. Gonzaga was #1 last year and undefeated until beaten by Baylor in the NCAA championship game. UCLA was beaten by Gonzaga in an overtime buzzer-beater in the NCAA Semi-Finals. Yesterday’s game was different. It was never competitive.
Gonzaga dominated from start to finish, looking like the best college team in the nation. The Zags led by 20 or more for most of the game as they blitzed the Bruins from the opening tip to a crashing victory of 83-63. Gonzaga has a freshman — Chet Holmgren — even more highly rated than Duke’s own Paolo Banchero, . Holmgren is a 7 ft powerhouse who can do everything we have seen Banchero do. Twice he blocked the shot so softly that he recovered the ball, dribbled the length of the floor, including a behind the back move, for a thunderous dunk. Gonzaga’s other big front court player is Drew Timme, who,along with Holmgren, is a candidate for Player of the Year. At 6’10” he can do everything on a basketball court, including play 39 minutes last night, score 18 points, grab 8 boards, and hand out 2 assists. We will get an accurate fix on the quality of Duke’s front court on Friday. Gonzaga’s best player, 6’5” Andrew Nembhard, leads the backcourt. He was on the floor for the entire game last night, scoring 24 (9-13, including 2-6 from 3land; 4-4 from the line) to go with 5 boards, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Duke’s defense has been very good this year against lesser opponents. Gonzaga’s offense has been very high scoring. Coach K will get an accurate read on how good his defense is against such an elite team, and so will we.
Likewise, Coach K will be able to better measure Duke’s offense against an elite defense, as Gonzaga’s defense has been stifling this season. Gonzaga allowed only 63 points to UCLA (the #2 team in last week’s polls). Only Texas has scored more than 63 points this season against the Zags; the Longhorns scored 74, while still losing by 12. We’ll see how Coach K’s offense — 4 ball handlers, but no true point guard — works against this tough defense. Roach especially will be tested.
Dick Vitale made an emotional return as color commentator even while he is very publicly dealing with cancer. I suspect much of the audience was in tears right along with him in his first moments back. With Gonzaga ahead 33-10 after only 12 minutes of play, Dickie V looked forward to the Duke – Gonzaga game in typical Dickie V fashion, warning us that “Gonzaga is not The Citadel.”
DUKE 107 v. CITADEL 81 (Monday Nov 22, 2021)
Steph Curry has changed the way the game of basketball is played, and it has made for more exciting, interesting, and competitive contests. The Citadel, who beat Pittsburgh by 15 points to open this season, is a prime example. Last night they, characteristically, came out firing and made a Cameron-record of 18 of 34 threes, yet lost 107-81; this only because Wendell Moore and Paolo Banchero combined for 50 points, 16 rebounds, and 15 assists, while the Blue Devils made only 3 turnovers and made 27 of 29 free throws. Wendell is having a Player-of-the-Year start to the season, and is the poster child for not being a one-and-done fly by athlete-student. (Incidentally, Matthew Hurt, who left Duke early, was cut by two NBA teams and is toiling for The Memphis Hustle in the G League). Banchero, a wonderful, multidimensional talent, is figuring out that at this level, he is a lot more effective in the half court playing like Art Heyman, than wandering around the perimeter firing up pretty jump shots.
The Friday night game against Gonzaga, which is not Kentucky, will be a good test as to how far this team has come and how far they have to go to be a serious national contender.
- Mark Williams allows this team to play at a different level at both ends of the floor.
- Trevor Keels seems to have hit the freshman wall offensively; however, it has not affected his defense.
- John Theo gives The Blue Devils a Big East type toughness they will need during the season—and he can hit free throws.
- If Jeremy Roach can’t get to the basket against a smallish Citadel, what hope does he have trying this against Gonzaga, UNC, et al?
- Joey Baker is demonstrating a lot more diversity to his game.
The Citadel put on quite a 3-point shooting exhibition (18 for 34), setting the Cameron Indoor Stadium record for most 3s in a game. The Bulldog 3-point barrage kept them close until the second half; however, their deep shots were not enough for the Bulldogs to remain close late in the game. Duke’s offense played its best of the year, against a team that seemed disinterested in attempting to keep the Blue Devils from scoring.
Duke blew the game wide open in the second half when the Blue Devil offense simply went into overdrive. After tallying 52 in the first half, Duke scored 55 points in the final period with these dazzling statistics – 15 assists without a single turnover, 12-13 from the foul line, and 17-26 from inside the arc. Duke’s only weakness: 3-11 from behind the arc. Duke’s inefficiency from deep has been constantly troubling so far this year! In the closing stanza, Banchero notched 15 points (6-9, including 1-2 from deep; 2-2 from the stripe), grabbed 3 rebounds, and handed out a pair of assists, all without a turnover. Moore was equally superb, scoring 13 (5-7 including 1-2 from 3land; 2-3 from the foul line), to go with 3 rebounds and a team-high 4 assists. This was just in the second half where Banchero and Moore each played 14:12. Mark Williams made it a trio of stars, scoring 10 (5-5 at the rim) in 12 minutes to go with 4 rebounds, 3 assists without a turnover (obviously), and 2 blocks.
Paolo Banchero seems to have returned to his pre-DUI form (in the second half). He dropped 28 on The Bulldogs in 31 minutes (10-19; 2-5 from 3land; 6-6 from the line) with 8 rebounds, 6 assists (without a turnover), 2 steals, and a block.
Wendell Moore, Jr. played a superb 34 minutes, approaching a triple-double. He dished out 9 assists without a turnover and corralled 8 rebounds in addition to scoring 22 (8-14, including 2-7 from deep; 4-5 from the stripe). He is drawing superlatives from the experts for his on-the-ball defense and his stepped-up leadership.
Mark Williams scored 14 (6-7; 2-2 from the line) while grabbing 7 boards and dishing 3 assists in his 20 minutes. His defense is improving. He was a difference maker.
Theo John made his 12:31 count on both ends of the court. He adds toughness to the team when he replaces Mark W. He scored an efficient 8 points (3-3; 2-2 from the stripe), with an assist (0 turnovers), a block, and a steal.
The Not Bad But Could Be Better
Trevor Keels had another difficult shooting night (2-9; 1-7 from deep), but was still a force for Duke in his 29 minutes. He drew fouls ) to score the majority of his 11 points, from the line ( 6-7), and he was a fierce defender (3 steals).
Jeremy Roach is playing with confidence, but not with consistency. His 33:37 was the second most minutes played by a Duke player. Roach dished a pair of assists against one turnover, scoring 10 (4-11, including 2-6 from 3land, without getting to the foul line). An effective point guard draws fouls when driving efficiently to the basket. Coach K is willing to put up with Roach’s less than stellar offensive performance in order to keep his sparkling on-the-ball defense.
Joey Baker has not been the shooter that he is reputed to be (1-5; 0-1 from deep), but he has diversified his offensive game by driving more, and getting to the foul line more–most of his 9 points last night were from the line (7-7). He grabbed 4 rebounds as his game near the basket has improved.
Not Ugly, But Disappointing
A.J. Griffin played about 5 minutes in each half. He missed his first two shots which seemed to drain his confidence and left him looking a bit lost in the first half. In the second half, he scored, rebounded and began to look confident again. Still, after his ACC Freshman-of-the-Week 18-point outing against Lafayette, scoring only 2 points against the Citadel (1-4; 0-2 from deep) was disappointing.
The Bench played little. Jaylen Blakes played almost 5 minutes, making one of his two 3-point attempts, while Bates Jones played 2:42 in mop-up time.
Next Play: Friday, November 26 against Gonzaga at 10:30 pm in Las Vegas. ESPN.
Duke 84 –Gonzaga 81 (Season 13 Issue 7 Game 7) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
I do not know how the Coach K Farewell Tour will conclude but it is certainly starting off as if scripted by his fans. There have been two thrilling games against Kentucky, a perennially embittered Blue Blood rival, and Gonzaga, a New Blood rival, in classic, tough wins on national TV in packed, deafening arenas. Gonzaga was deservedly ranked the number one team in the country. Just three nights ago in this same arena, they had blown out #2 UCLA by 20 points, holding the Bruins to 63 points.
With Paolo Bancharo demonstrating in a multiplicity of ways why he is such an exceptional basketball talent, Duke led at the half 45-42. Johnny Tar Heel, who watched the game with me, and I agreed, that Gonzaga had been knocked back by Banchero’s 20 points but, other than that, the rest of the team had not shot well. We thought that Gonzaga was just too good and too well coached a team to let that happen again in the second half as it did in the first. In order for Duke to win, we thought that Moore and/or Keels had to step up and start scoring.
The game showed similarity to the Kentucky game, when during the second half Banchero and Moore went out with leg cramps, and Trevor Keels attempted to take over the scoring. However, unlike the Kentucky game, Trevor was unable to even hit free throws. Yet, Duke’s defense, as it did most of the game, kept the Zags from gaining a working advantage. Ultimately, Moore returned, took over, and scored 16 points in the second half (20 in the game), including seven of his last eight critical free throws to seal the deal (this is Las Vegas after all), to beat the 7 ½ point favorite. Banchero returned but was obviously physically limited. Joey Baker contributed two timely threes and Jeremy Roach drove for a clutch left handed layup with a minute to go. However, it was Coach K’s core value–team defense– anchored by Mark Williams, who had a team-high 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, and many intimidations while battling Holmgren and Gonzaga star Drew Timme in the post that contributed mightily to the upset of a very talented, well coached Gonzaga team.
Coach K: “Mark had a sensational game…. he blocked five but he also altered a lot of shots. I wonder if there’s a—there’s gotta be a stat for that. Some analytics person’s gotta figure that out.”
Duke’s coaches contributed a strategic defensive gamble: Rather than have its biggest player guard Gonzaga’s 7+ foot freshman center, Chet Holmgren, they took a different tactic against the Zags’s two big men. Duke started with 6-10, 250-pound freshman Paolo Banchero guarding Holmgren, while Gonzaga 6-10 junior Drew Timme was guarded by 7-foot sophomore center Mark Williams. Theo John, Duke’s 6-9, 242-pound reserve center, tag-teamed with Williams on Timme. One result was that the defense forced 17 turnovers to help counter making only 15 of 25 free throws (after going 27-29 against The Citadel).
As critical as Banchero and Moore’s offense was in each half, it was Williams who played the most consistently as Keels struggled mightily to score (but had a team-high 5 assists). Trevor was only 1-4 from the foul line, but two of those misses were the front end of a one-and-one, so that’s really one point scored out of a potential six points, if he had been able to maximize the opportunities. Roach missed one with a second left leaving Duke to slightly sweat out a full-court prayer.Gonzaga: Before Friday night, the Bulldogs trailed for a total of 3:18 in four games — against Texas, Alcorn State, Bellarmine, and UCLA. Gonzaga trailed for more than 20 minutes against Duke until retaking the lead on a pair of Timme free throws at the 17-minute mark of the second half.
An appreciative crowd of 20,389, seemingly split 50/50, was the largest to ever see a basketball game in Nevada. Among the record crowd: former boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, former Cy Young winner and World Series champion Orel Hershiser, PGA golfer Brooks Koepka, former NBA player Marcus Banks and sports agent Rich Paul.
Coach K summed it up best: “It was really a players game…. It was just a big-time game. And I love it. I just love being a part of it and seeing how players take over.”
What a great college basketball game! The quality of play by each team on both sides of the ball was jaw-droppingly dazzling. These were two excellent teams competing against each other at the absolutely highest level. If this was, as Bill has said, an interim exam for these young Blue Devils, Duke got straight A+s in: 1) heart and leadership facing adversity; 2) Defense against a great offensive team; 3) Defense against a great offensive team (the defense was so good, I had to repeat the praise); 4) Paolo Banchero’s first half; 5) Wendell Moore, Jr; 6) Mark Williams; and 7) Theo John.
Peering into the emotional center of the game to extract (hopefully) useful nuggets of analysis led me to focus on the second half. And what a half that was! There were eight lead changes, but neither team led by more than 5 points. Duke had to go it without an effective Banchero (only played 13:33 because of cramping; 0-4, including 0-2 from deep and 1-2 from the line for a single point to go with a single rebound — cramping his style and overall performance). Duke’s guards shot terribly. Trevor Keels played all 20 minutes while scoring just 1 point (0-6, including 0-3 from deep and 1-4 from the stripe). Roach played 15 minutes without scoring until he made 2 crucial shots down the stretch (2-5, 0-2 from deep and 1-2 from the line). In contrast, Wendell Moore, Jr. played the best half of his Duke career after scoring only 4 in the first half. He played the entire half (minus 18 seconds), scoring 16 (4-7, including 1-2 from deep and a critical 7-8 from the line — for a 20-point game); add 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals (and 3 turnovers) for a great second half for Moore. That’s where Duke’s heart and Moore’s leadership emerged big time!
The first half was fabulous; Banchero’s 20 points were breathtaking. Duke came up empty on its last two first-half possessions, while the Zags scored 5 to cut the Duke lead to 3. The Zag defense has been tremendous all year. Only Texas scored more than 63 points against them (even UCLA was held to 63). Duke dropped 45 on the Zags in the first half! Banchero and Williams together scored 31 of those first-half points.
Gonzaga is a wonderful offensive team that passes and moves the ball with poise, skill, and shot-making. Going into this game, the Zags were averaging over 91 ppg. Duke’s pressure defense neutralized and defeated a great offense. For me, the statistic of the game was that Duke scored 23 points off Gonzaga’s 17 turnovers. Gonzaga committed turnovers on nearly one-fourth of its possessions against the Blue Devils. Holding Gonzaga to 81 points in a 79-possession game and especially harassing the Bulldogs into 17 turnovers most certainly qualifies as excellent defense. Six Duke players were credited with at least one steal. Mark Williams had 5 blocks in the first half. His perfect defense on Drew Timme’s shot in the paint with nearly 30 seconds to go was just one of the many clutch plays he made. Williams is turning into one of the best rim protectors in the country.
The experts have anointed Andrew Nembhard as the best point guard in the country. He had 11 assists last night (Gonzaga had 22 total assists on 34 hoops), but the key stat was that Duke forced him to turn it over 6 times by being very aggressive in its ball-screen coverages against him, limiting the time he had to make decisions and find teammates. Duke forced him to speed up his decision-making.
And lastly, Duke played great transition defense and won the transition game. The Blue Devils got back defensively, eliminating the Zags’ MO of getting easy baskets off of makes or misses, thus forcing them to play in the half-court. Transition offense is ignited by the defense. Duke had success beating Gonzaga downcourt. Banchero led one fast break ending in a true Magic Johnson-like assist.
That is why Keels played all 20 second half minutes in spite of his shooting woes. That is why Roach was on the floor for 19 first half minutes in spite of 1-8 shooting. Mark Williams was brilliant and played Timme and Holmgren (player- of- the- year candidates) at least even, and maybe even outplayed each. Williams also scored 17 points on 8-9 shooting (his one miss was a 3-point attempt where you could hear Duke fans across the country imploring him not to launch that shot), to go with 9 boards.
Theo John was more valuable than the box score reveals. In 11:24, John held his own against the Zag big guys and scored two critical second-half baskets over Timme (a right-handed hook shot followed by a left hand one), taking advantage of Timme’s foul trouble. He also grabbed a pair of tough rebounds and had a steal.
Even though we have already acknowledged Moore, Williams, and Banchero’s first half above, it is worth sharing Coach K’s lauding of Wendell Moore: “The leadership of my captain was, I think, the key to the game. Wendell Moore was absolutely spectacular in his leadership, especially at the timeout when they took the lead and we had turned the ball over, the things he said and his demeanor and what he said to his team – he really led us to a victory. It was really a player’s game. Sometimes when a leader says stuff, he doesn’t remember what he said. But, I remember what he said. He said, ‘Be strong with the ball. Let’s get going. We can’t be giving up layups.’ He was saying the things I should’ve been saying, but when it comes from a player, it’s better. Especially that moment – that was a critical moment. I’ve been in a lot of games. We could’ve gotten knocked out right there, and what that kid did at that time out was big time. It was really big time …. That kid is really having a hell of a year. He’s my captain. I love what my guys did. I love my team. They’re really good guys.”
The Not Bad but Could Be Better…
….the offensive play of Keels and Roach, as described above. Although not yet showing up in the box score, I am watching a much more confident Roach beginning to blossom as a point guard. With 4:41 to go, Roach grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a soft 12-foot jumper to tie the score at 73. Then came what I thought was the offensive play of the game. Duke’s lead fluctuated between 3 and 1 after Roach’s basket. With 48 seconds left, Duke had the ball and led by 1. A loss loomed if Duke did not score. With the clock running down, Roach drove to his left, and laid in as pretty a left hand layup as you have ever seen, for his 4th and 5th points of the game. Thus were the Zags finally dead.
The Not Quite Ugly
Joey Baker made two 3s for his 6 points. The first one seemed like a lucky bad shot off the backboard . He was wide open on the second one. In 14:20 those were his only points (2-3 from deep). He also grabbed one rebound and had a pair of steals. Other than Theo John, Baker was Duke’s only effective sub.
A.J. Griffin has returned to his pre-Lafayette funk (0 points in 6 minutes without any other stat besides 0-1 from the floor). Troubling because Duke’s bench is not strong unless he returns to his McDonald’s All-American form.
No other Duke players played. It will be illuminating to see if Duke can avoid the normal human letdown after such an emotional win over Gonzaga when the Blue Devils journey to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big 10 – ACC challenge.
Next Play: Tuesday, November 30 at Ohio State in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge at 9:30 pm. ESPN.
Duke 66 –Ohio State 71 (Season 13 Issue 8 Game 8) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
The test tonight was whether this relatively young Duke team had the mental and physical maturity to transition from the hunter to the hunted. John McEnroe once commented that life was much more enjoyable when he was a challenger — the rebellious underdog chasing Bjorn Borg. Once he became number one, suddenly everyone literally and figuratively wanted a piece of him.
Duke ended the first half—with a big assist from the Buckeyes–with a faux 15-point lead and flunked the test badly by playing as disappointing a second half as I can remember a good Duke team playing. Duke lost by 5. The danger warnings were obvious for anyone who paid attention. Monday night Gonzaga was behind 25-26 at the half at home against unheralded Tarleton State (1-6), and only won by nine.
So, what does that tell you? Grow up, play smart and hard like you are the best. The 91-92 team should be their model. They reveled, even thrived, on being number one and rock stars that opponents and their fans hated. However, it took them two or three years to develop that level of mental toughness to overcome bad breaks and off nights. Only time will tell if this was an early lesson well learned or if they are not mature enough to learn from a painful lesson. As Rip, the ranch foreman in Yellowstone, said: “There’s two roads in life. One is you’re winning or learning and the other is that you’re losing all the way to the fucking grave. Kid, you better choose quickly or life’s gonna choose it for you.”
An anatomy of a collapse: basketball is a simple game — make stops and hit shots. In the second half, the Devils shot 23%, got in serious foul trouble as Ohio State finally took advantage and finished the game on a decisive 12-0 run–the kind of decisive run Duke usually makes on other teams. Maybe the Blue Devils needed to have key players cramp up in the second half to make everyone realize everyone needed to go into overdrive. Instead, they got in foul trouble, played ineffective one-on-one offense, and passively on defense. Theo John fouled out, Mark Williams, the defensive eraser, had four fouls, was nailed to the floor for fear of fouling out, and the Buckeyes took full advantage in the paint.
Kentucky, Gonzaga, Ohio State. Three tough, tournament type games (two neutral, one away court) in three weeks. This is a very challenging schedule for any team, much less a young, inexperienced one. I suspect that Coach K made this schedule because he realizes he only has one year, not three or four, to mold this talent into championship shape. The team came within ten minutes or so of acing this test. The good news is that it is better to have this loss now and learn from it rather than going into the NCAA Tournament thinking you are better than you are.
Even before the Ohio State game, I worried about the complacency that can set in after a spectacular win: Duke came into this game being celebrated far and wide after a stellar outing in Las Vegas against Gonzaga, for which the Blue Devils earned #1 in the polls . Even before this stunning setback, Duke’s #1 ranking in the latest November poll was not significant –“November” being the most important word in the previous clause. Let us remember that Duke was rated #1 in November of 2019 on the basis of a string of impressive early-season triumphs … with a game against lowly rated Stephen F. Austin next. Duke never got a sniff of a high poll ranking for the rest of the year. Remember also those awful back-to-back losses to Wake and NC State in February, 2020, that almost slid Duke out of the top 25. Even before the Ohio State game, my memory of 2020 was triggered by one writer’s warning made after the Duke victory against Gonzaga: “a letdown would be human.” That writer mirrored my concern.
On Monday, Gonzaga had had just such a letdown when they barely squeaked out a victory against the Tarleton State Texans, a school in Stephenville, Texas that none of us have ever heard of. The Texans had lost 5 of their first 6 games, with its only win being against another school none of us have never heard of (The Paul Quinn Tigers; I am not making this up). The Texans trailed Gonzaga at the end of the first half by a mere 1 point, 26-25. The Zags won by only 9, pulling away in the last 4 minutes. My thought going into last night’s game was: Ohio State may not be ranked in the top 25 and is missing 3 important players, but the Buckeyes would be favored over Stephen F. Austin who stunningly upset Duke (85-83) in 2019 Cameron on an overtime steal and layup at the buzzer. I thought it worth remembering that Duke was ranked #1 going into that game.
Then I watched last night’s game against Ohio State. “The words of the (writer) prophet were written (not on subway walls or in the tenement halls)”, but in the analysis of what happened to the high-flying Blue Devils in the second half. A partial explanation came from Coach K, which comports with my observations, “We were just worn out at the end.” … We fouled so much – this is the worst that we’ve fouled. We’ve been really good at not turning it over and not fouling, and tonight we had 23 fouls. I think part of that shows [us] being tired, just not playing with the same foot speed that we normally have.”
The first half was pleasant to watch. Almost all the players in the Duke rotation gave good performances, though there were signs of trouble.
Duke played its aggressive defense extremely well, as it has all season. Seth Greenberg described this as “old school Duke defense” — designed to disrupt, create turnovers and transition offense, rather than just stop the other team from scoring. That old school defense produced 9 Ohio State turnovers in the first half, which in turn led to 13 points off of those turnovers. Banchero (4-7, including 1-1 from deep and 1-2 from the line) and Moore (4-6, including 2-3 from the stripe) each scored 10 in the opening stanza. Moore was Duke’s best player throughout the game (17 points; 0-2 from deep and 3-5 from the foul line). He grabbed 8 boards, handed out 5 assists, and made 2 steals. Still, he was only 3-9 in the second half when Duke really needed him to be better.
Jeremy Roach had his best half of the year — 7 points (3-6, including 1-3 from deep), without a turnover, while controlling the offense. While Keels scored only 5 points (2-7 from the field, including 0-1 from deep and 1-1 from the stripe), he played great defense with 2 steals and had 2 assists without a turnover.
The bench really contributed in the first half. Joey Baker scored 5 (2-3, including 1-1 from deep), to go with a rebound and a steal, in his 11:36 first half minutes. Duke’s backup center, Theo John scored 4 (2-3) with 2 boards and an assist in his 9:23, but he was even more effective than the box score showed.
The Not Bad, But Disappointing
Williams, after a slow early-season start, who has been sensational in his most recent games, reverted to early-season form last night. He sank his only shot attempt (2 points) of the first half, and paired it with a rebound, a block. and a turnover. For the game (21:38) he scored 8 (3-6; 2-2 from the stripe), with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
The backcourt of Roach and Keels played big minutes and good defense for most of the game , but neither shot particularly well and only scored 9 points each. Keels played a game high almost 37 minutes (3-12, including 1-4; 2-3 from the line). Roach played 35 minutes (4-10, including 1-4, without getting to the foul line – again). Keels had 4 rebounds and 3 assists, but 2 turnovers; I thought he lost his poise as Duke’s offense deteriorated in the closing minutes of the game. Roach had 3 boards but only a single assist (without a turnover).
Duke’s half-court offense has not looked smooth and efficient at any time so far this season. Perhaps this has been concealed because Duke’s transition game has been so ferocious. There is no point guard orchestrating the offense. In the second half, Duke had only 3 assists.
Duke committed 11 first-half fouls which is cause for concern: Banchero had 3, Keels, Williams, and Moore had 2 each. Fouling can be a sign of fatigue. Coach K agrees.
Duke had a 13 point lead at the end of the first half. They scored 43 points in the first half, 13 of them off their strong transition defense and live turnovers, and held OSU to 30. Three times in the second half, Duke had leads of 15 before it started to shrink. Then the wheels started to come off. The Ugly reared its head in the last 10 minutes of the second half.
With 7:18 to go in the game, Duke led by 11. With 4:29 left, Keels went to the line for two foul shots with Duke leading by 6. He missed the first and moved the lead to 7 (66-59) when he made the second. That foul shot with 4 and ½ minutes left in the game was Duke’s last point. Keels missed a jumper; OSU cut the lead to 5 with 3:31 left. Keels missed a 3; OSU cut the lead to 2 on a Russell 3 with 2:32 remaining. Paolo committed an offensive foul allowing OSU to cut the lead to 1 when Russell made 1-2 from the line with 1:46 left. Keels missed a 3 pointer with 1:20 to go. Moore fouled Liddell who gave the Buckeyes their first lead by a point when he made them both with 1:03 left in the game. Banchero missed a jumper; Williams missed a follow when he got the offensive rebound. A scrum created a jump ball (OSU possession). Liddell scored to give OSU a 3-point lead with 15 seconds left. Banchero missed (a pretty open) 3 that would have tied it with 7 seconds to go. When OSU retrieved the rebound, the game was over (Roach fouled in desperation and the Buckeyes sank both foul shots to create their winning margin).
Duke scored only 23 second-half points on horrendous shooting (7-31, including 1-8 from 3land; but, bright side, 8-10 from the line). Banchero was 0-7, including 0-2 from deep to go with an assist and a turnover. Moore was 3-9, including 0-2 from behind the arc and 1-2 from the line. The Keels-Roach combo was even worse (Roach was 1-4, including 0-1 from deep; while Keels was 1-5, 1-3 from deep). Roach had neither an assist nor a turnover, while Keels had a single assist against 2 turnovers. Duke had 4 shots blocked by the Buckeyes and managed only 3 assists, while committing what the stats say were 3 turnovers (though it seemed like more to me). Duke’s defense completely lost its intensity, forcing only 3 turnovers and only making a single steal (Moore) and a single block (Mark).
The Bench was absolutely no help. In Joey’s 8:43, he missed his only shot with no other statistical entry. Theo played only 6 minutes in the second half, committing 4 fouls in that brief time on the court, adding to his 1 foul from the first half and resulting in his disqualification. He contributed a rebound. A.J. Griffin was a virtual no-show, playing less than 2 minutes in the first half (0-1) without even getting into the game in the second half.
Duke could not defend without fouling, committing 12 second-half fouls. Moore, Williams, Roach, and Banchero all finished the game with four personals. Add John’s 5 and that is 21 fouls which Duke’s important players committed. OSU outscored Duke in the closing stanza by 18 points.
The Significance of the Performance and the Loss
It is not difficult for the commentators to dismiss the performance as nothing more than youth and inexperience. Moreover, the way the game went corroborates Coach K’s (“we were just worn out”) analysis. Duke has played many games in a short stretch, but now has 2 weeks off for finals, so exhaustion should not be an immediate future problem. A loss at this time can be a good lesson, especially since the Gonzaga game apparently did produce some damaging complacency. However, there are flaws showing that may be more than just youth and inexperience.
Duke’s shooting woes – season long rather than unique to the OSU game — are troubling. It is not easy to make good shooters out of bad ones during the season. Duke has not yet achieved balanced scoring where opponents need to be concerned about all the Devils, not just Banchero and Moore. Keels has not replicated the superb scoring game he demonstrated against Kentucky in the season’s opener, a bad sign.
This was the young team’s first game in the opponent’s gym, and Duke seemed to come undone as the home crowd screamed its delight at Duke’s poor play. Even though the ACC has no Top-25 ranked teams (other than Duke), winning in the other team’s gym will always be a test of skill and character. For Duke to have the season that Coach K and the DBP readers are hoping for, Duke will have to win consistently on the road in ACC arenas. So, the meltdown at “winning time” in the first road game is a bad harbinger.
Winning time is a state of mind. We have always been able to count on Duke to be at their best in the clutch. Last night, they simply were not. It raises questions not about youth or exhaustion but about the very character of the team, and those questions will be answered in the ACC season–mostly in away games.
When Duke returns from exams, it will be a “State examination” – games against South Carolina State, Appalachian State, and Cleveland State. Duke opens the ACC schedule on December 22 against Virginia Tech in Cameron.
Next Play: Tuesday, December 14 against South Carolina State at 8:00 pm. ACCN.
“Lucky Devil” Extra (Season 13) — Reduced Schedule for December 14 through 18 games
Duke plays South Carolina State tonight ( Tuesday) at 8; Appalachian State on Thursday at 7 pm; and, Cleveland State on Saturday at 4 pm, before opening the ACC campaign on December 22.
Work-related responsibilities prevent a DBP for each game (3 games in 5 days). We will distribute a DBP after Thursday’s game against Appalachian State to cover the first two games this week. Then, an issue after the Cleveland State game will cover that game and talk a bit about the coming ACC campaign.
We take this Lucky Devil Extra opportunity to direct your attention to the Women’s team. Unranked at the beginning of the season (picked to finish 8th in the ACC; top 5 ACC teams were ranked in the top 25), without a single player in contention for ACC honors of any type, coach Kara Lawson faced a challenge. Her first year as coach (last year), the team voted to close the season after 4 games. Lawson then coached the USA 3 x 3 team to a gold medal in Tokyo.
The women started out winning against inferior opponents, but did beat Dayton and Alabama (neither team was ranked). Then came the ACC-Big 10 challenge against 9th ranked Iowa. Duke blew Iowa by 15 out for Kara’s first signature win, followed by a win over Penn that dodged a potential trap game. Duke was ranked 15th in the last AP women’s poll, one place behind Iowa. In the ACC, NC State is # 2, Louisville # 6, with Duke 3rd in the ACC (followed by Ga. Tech and Notre Dame in the top 25).
Which brings us to Wednesday night’s game between Lawson’s emerging Duke team and defending national champions, the undefeated and top ranked South Carolina Gamecocks, in Cameron on Wednesday (December 15) at 7pm on ACCN.
Might be a fun watch, or the Blue Devils could get blown out. Big test for new coach, Lawson. South Carolina beat # 2 NC State 66-57 earlier this year and #9 Maryland last Sunday 66-59..
COVID is impacting sports dramatically, and has a feel for coming disruptions, if not cessation of play. Cleveland State’s outbreak caused it to cancel the game scheduled for December 18; Duke has been fortunate to schedule Loyal (Md) as a substitute to keep a game on the schedule.
Duke will have played 3 games in five days after exams to get set for the ACC schedule beginning on December 22 in Cameron against Virginia Tech. Therefore, instead of the DBP analyzing the first two of the three games in general terms, we will now include all three games as part of an assessment of what the first eleven pre-season game tells us about this team’s chances for an ACC and National title.
We will circulate the next edition of the DBP after the Loyal (Md) game, well in advance of the Virginia Tech ACC opener
Duke 103 –South Carolina State 62; Duke 92 – Appalachian State 67; Duke 87 — Elon 56 (Season 13 Issue 9 – Games 9, 10, and 11) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
Duke 103 v. South Carolina State 67 (Tuesday, December 14) — Duke 92 v. Appalachian State 67 (Thursday December 16) — Duke 87 v. Elon 56 (Saturday, December 18)
This edition of the DBP analyzes these three games in general terms. How did these games contribute to Duke’s preparation for seeking ACC and National titles?
COVID is impacting sports dramatically, and may be a harbinger for coming disruptions, if not cessation, of play. Cleveland State’s outbreak caused it to cancel the game with Duke scheduled for December 18; Duke was able to schedule an alternative game against Loyola (Maryland), but that also now has had to be COVID-canceled. Elon was substituted in to keep a game on the schedule. Duke will have played 3 games in the six days since exams, to get set for the ACC schedule beginning on December 22, in Cameron against Virginia Tech.
Here is the ACC’s forfeit policy: “if a game cannot be played on its originally scheduled date by a team unable to play due to an insufficient number of available players related to COVID-19, that team shall be deemed to have forfeited, with a loss assigned to the team unable to play and a win assigned to its scheduled opponent, with both the loss and win, respectively, applied to the conference standings.” Duke’s women won today’s game against Miami by forfeit, when Miami could not field a team because of COVID restrictions. Cancellations and postponements for college games, and in all professional sports, are multiplying. Coach Nolan Smith tested positive. He was not on the bench for the game. Duke tests twice. Every day. Rapid and PCR. Coach K advocates for an NCAA rule that all teams be tested before every game.
The Blue Devils have just concluded what might be considered their pre-season schedule of eleven games, that included only three presumably difficult opponents (Kentucky, Gonzaga & Ohio State), with a 10-1 record. One way to look at it is this – the Blue Devils were just five minutes short of being 11-0. Another is that the Devils were about ten minutes away from being 8-3. I subscribe to Bill Parcells’ famous mantra: “You are what your record says you are. Good teams win more close games than bad teams.” Whatever your perspective, Duke is ranked as one of the top four teams in the country, with legitimate opportunity to win ACC and NCAA Titles.
Chemistry– What impressed me the most was at the end of the South Carolina State blowout, Duke’s seldom-seen junior forward Keenan Worthington elevated and emphatically slammed down a buzzer-beater rebound dunk, bringing the entire stadium to their feet. His teammates could barely control their joy, with freshman Trevor Keels holding his teammates back from storming the court. Instead, all the starters and the rest of the squad on the bench celebrated by jumping up and down, waving towels, mimicking the shot like it was the winning basket against North Carolina. That reaction speaks volumes about the camaraderie and chemistry among all the players!—no small component of successful teams.
Leadership: As talented as Paolo Banchero is, Wendell Moore, the poster player for staying in school, has matured into the most versatile, valuable, and important player on this team. With the game on the line, you want the ball in his hands.
Starters: A very balanced team, with a marvelously talented, potential #1 NBA pick Banchero, who can play effectively anywhere he wants on the floor. In close games, I feel he will be deployed in the elbow of the lane and/or high post. Mark Williams gives this team a low post presence that most recent Duke teams have lacked, which was a handicap against big man-centric teams like North Carolina. Trevor Keels is a compact, Energizer Bunny/ Swiss Army knife player. He can play shooting guard, point guard, score from anywhere, and never takes a breather playing in-your-lap defense. Jeremy Roach is nominally the point guard, but that position is actually played by committee (Moore, Keels, Banchero, or Roach). Because no one player is fatigued from point guard duties, Duke can pressure opposing point guards, which obstructs an opponent’s offense flow. Keels and Roach have apparently used the exam break to work on their three-point shot. If the last three games are any indication, that will make this team even more lethal, because they are the best Duke free throw shooting team (Banchero shoots 80%) in quite a few years. And finally, unlike some other talented but more offensively focused editions, this team enjoys playing defense, because, among other things, they realize that good defense wears opponents down, produces easy offense, and was one of the keys that enabled Baylor to win the NCAA Championship last year.
Depth: Transfer Theo John, a strong substitute for Williams, brings a Big East muscular mentality to the paint, yet he has a surprisingly good touch. AJ Griffin, recovering from two years of injuries, is a 6’ 6” multi-dimensional player who may end up starting or playing starter minutes as a sixth man. Joey Baker has matured athletically to complement his shooting touch.
Weaknesses: Offensively, the players have a tendency to stand around without good spacing, waiting for a talented teammate to go one-on-one. That, in part, cost them the Ohio State game. I’m certain the coaching staff will continue to deal with this flaw. Defensively, despite Duke’s size advantage in these last three games, there is some concern over lack of defensive rebounding margins, which are somewhat masked by positive turnover margins.
Questions: While acknowledging Paolo Banchero’s talents, and being thrilled by his performance in big games, I am somewhat puzzled by his recent placid demeanor and recent whining about referee calls, as he did this afternoon against Elon. It reminds me somewhat of Bobby Hurley as a freshman. Undoubtedly, he will get the same coaching advice: “Just shut up and play smarter and harder.” Combine this with missing two open dunks, shooting 60%, not 80%, from the foul line, which contributed to subpar scoring in the last two games, as well as aiding and abetting a DUI, and you have to wonder: “What’s going on with this exceptionally talented teenager? He doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I am much more impressed by the intensity and relentless defense of Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore, Jeremy Roach, and even the less athletic Joey Baker. Add to this the fact that, despite having an intimidating height and athletic advantage in the paint, and blocking shots against mostly overmatched undersized opponents, Mark Williams has been sort of a one trick pony. Maybe all this is nitpicking or being hyper-critical; however, the schedule ahead is a relentless slog through a much-expanded Tobacco Road type competition that has been expanded well beyond the Atlantic Coast with a “Beat Me and Spoil the Coach K Retirement Tour” target on your back.
Bottom line: Grow up! buckle up! From now on there are no easy games. You are the best team. Play like it for forty minutes.
Coach K’s take on the early season: “beating Kentucky, Gonzaga, losing to Ohio State – that’s like a year ago; we have to be in this moment.” Duke’s next 20 games (10 at home and 10 on the road) will be against ACC opponents. This is, of course, where the Blue Devils will be measured – in the polls and for post-season seeding. The first 11 games were preparation. Let’s take inventory.
During their stretch without games, Coach K put in some new plays. While Duke didn’t use them much against South Carolina State [SCS] because Duke was able to use its transition game so frequently. Coach K: “We were working on sets that we could run in the half-court. When we can run, we will run. But when we get stuck, we can’t just dribble the ball, we need movement. I would hope that our guys would move without having a set, but sometimes you need to call a set to get that movement.”
Coach K analyzed his offense so far: “We had a few too many turnovers, but I think we’re a pretty unselfish team. We should be a really good offensive team. We’re sharing the ball, running to corners, making one dribble penetration. We have hit 15 threes the last two games [plus another 8-25 vs. Elon] because we’ve had really good shots. We have a team of willing passers, we’ve had a lot of assists all year. Our guys like [the extra pass]. To me, it’s the most beautiful part of our game. The most beautiful part of our game is passing and connecting baskets. …We could have some hockey assists in how we play, and I like that.”
- SCS — 23 assists on 33 field goals, but 16 turnovers; 15-27 on 3s.
- AS — 21 assists on 33 field goals. Only 9 turnovers. 15 – 30 on 3s.
- E — 18 assists on 32 field goals. Only 8 turnovers. 8-25 on 3s.
The Emergence of A.J. Griffin
Coach K: “AJ [Griffin] has been coming on. These last two weeks, he’s got in a lot of individual work, making up for time lost with his injury. He didn’t play basketball for two years, so it’s a matter of his continuing to work. Our team is unbelievably supportive of him and they want him to do well, it’s neat to see.”
AJ – 35 points in 3 games (in 60 minutes total):
- SCS — 19 points, 4 boards, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 blocks in 21 minutes.
- AS — 11 points, 2 boards, 1 assist in 19 minutes.
- E – 5 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, 1 steal,1 block in 20 minutes.
He is on the way to being Duke’s valuable 6th man this year. He is closer to ready on the offensive end. He was embarrassingly beaten twice on straight line drives to the basket by the Elon player he was guarding. He just needs the playing time.
Elon’s Coach Schrage (Dir of Basketball Operations under Coach K for 6 years) compared this Duke team’s talent for forcing turnovers and creating steals to Duke’s championship teams. Coach K: “[Our team] is not at the level but there is potential. In other words, let’s see if we can do it against ACC opponents. We have done it in non-conference, but we should be a very good defensive team. The thing that we’re not doing is rebounding defensively. We’re good defensively, but we’d be very good defensively if we could complete the defensive exchange with a rebound.”
“When we rebound defensively, that’s what leads to our fast-break, more so than from turnovers, because we have four ball-handlers in the game, and we can advance the ball very quickly and space the court. The defensive rebound can naturally lead to the open three, if we do it the right way. We have to do a better job of it. Sometimes, we anticipate someone else getting the ball, and we start going [away from the ball] instead of having our hands ready for the rebound.”
- SCS retrieved 21 offensive rebounds. Duke forced 17 turnovers, including 11 steals.
- AS retrieved 13 offensive rebounds. Duke forced 13 turnovers, including 6 steals.
- E retrieved only 2 offense rebounds. Duke forced 23 turnovers, including 14 steals.
Duke’s on-the-ball defense has been superior, though there have been lapses – the first 11 minutes of the Appalachian State game, for example; Duke gave up 24 points in the first 11 minutes. Roach, Keels and Moore are just terrific on-the-ball perimeter defenders. Mark Williams has been a force defending the rim (8 blocks in a total of 58 minutes). It’s team defense at its best.
In the early going, Duke’s half-court offense was inefficient. Though there was no “point guard”, Jeremy Roach was handling the ball more than anyone. That has changed. Wendell Moore is closer to being a point guard and is having a superb season. Although Wendell had no assists in 23 minutes against SCS (my instinct is that he produces his best when the team needs him the most and Duke didn’t need him against SCS), for the next two games he dished out 11 assists in 57 minutes. The more Moore directs the offense, the better Duke is in the half-court and the less standing around there is. Jeremy’s offense is coming on as he has decreased point guard responsibilities.
Both Roach and Trevor Keels have improved offensively. Trevor had such an outstanding game against Kentucky, and then just stopped shooting well. He scored 44 points in these 3 games, including 19 against Elon. Roach scored 30. Both were 2-5 from 3land. Both are on the upswing.
Good But Needs Work
The hardest aspect of the game for a young team is to develop consistency. Duke’s defense has been excellent but has suffered lapses in intensity. Possibly the lapses are just being lazy, easy to give in to when you are aware of how athletically superior your team is to your adversary’s team. Overall, the players have demonstrated that they are committed to becoming an excellent defensive team.
Duke’s rebounding will have to improve. Kentucky and Ohio State dominated the Blue Devils in the paint and on the boards at both ends of the court. So did SCS and Appalachian State, not on offense, but in rebounding. Then, Coach K issued the call to arms, which may have been answered against Elon, but should be taken with a salt-sprinkled understanding of how undersized Elon was. With Paolo, Williams, Theo John, and A.J. Griffin, Duke has the horses to compete with the elite on the interior. The ACC awaits.
It looks as if Duke will have an 8-man rotation. Neither Bates Jones nor Jaylen Blake will play much when a game is in doubt (barring injury). Theo John is a good backup for Mark Williams. Joey Baker has played well (but surprisingly has not shot well from behind the arc) against the lesser competition. He has worked on his game and supplies a steady hand.
Individual Statistics for These 3 Games (omitting A.J. Griffin – previously given)
Wendell Moore, Jr.:
Coach K: “He’s been our stud. He’s doing that on offense, and he’s also doing it on defense. He’s having, right now, an All-American year. He’s played as well as anybody and he’s been a leader.”
- SCS — 11 points, 2 boards, 0 assists, 2 turnovers in 23 minutes.
- AS – (when the team needed him) 21 points, 5 boards, 6 assists, 2 turnovers in 32 minutes.
- E — 12 points, 3 boards, 5 assists, 0 turnovers, 1 steal in 25 minutes.
- SCS – 12 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 steals, 1 block in 21 minutes.
- AS — 16 points, 6 boards, 1 assist, 3 turnovers in 31 minutes.
- E — 12 points, 9 boards, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 1 steal, 2 blocks in 23 minutes.
- SCS – 10 points, 5 boards, 3 blocks in 20 minutes.
- AS — 6 points, 4 boards, 1 assist, 0 turnovers, 2 steals, 3 blocks in 24 minutes.
- E — 8 points, 3 boards, 1 turnover, 1 steal, 2 blocks in 14 minutes.
- SCS — 14 points, 3 boards; 3 assists, 2 turnovers in 21 minutes.
- AS — 11 points, 3 boards, 5 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 steal in 33 minutes.
- E — 19 points, 1 board, 0 assists, 0 turnovers, 3 steals in 25 minutes.
Coach K “He’s just working at it. He’s the guy who is pressuring the ball. He’s our best on-ball defender. As you start the season, I don’t care what you did in the preseason, you are not accustomed to spending that amount of energy on defense and then having the same shot. It’s kind of a period of adjustment in that regard. Not that he was in bad shape, but he is now in game shape – and he’s worked on it. Bottom line, he’s a good shooter but you have to get accustomed to a game environment. We play really hard on the defensive end, and he is the key up top, it’s just an adjustment he has gone through.”
- SCS — 9 points, 2 boards, 2 assists, 5 steals, 3 turnovers in 26 minutes.
- AS — 10 points, 3 boards, 6 assists, 1 turnover in 32 minutes.
- E — 11 points, 3 boards, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 steals in 28 minutes.
- SCS — 13 points, 5 boards, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 2 steals in 20 minutes.
- AS — 8 points, 1 turnover, 1 steal in 11 minutes.
- E — 6 points, 3 boards, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 steal in 18 minutes.
- SCS – did not play due to injury.
- AS — 6 points, 3 boards, 1 assist, 1 steal in 14 minutes.
- E – 2 points, 0 boards, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 steals in 12 minutes.
Facing the ACC
Until this year, we have never seen the ACC evaluated as being so weak. Duke is the only ACC team in the Top 25. UNC, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech were the only ACC teams receiving any votes at all in the poll besides Duke. Because there are no other ranked teams in the ACC, any losses in the conference will count heavily against Duke,adversely impacting post-season seedings for tournaments. How Duke does in the 10 ACC-road-games will go a long way to evaluating the success of the regular season. On the road, Duke will play: Clemson, Notre Dame (beat Kentucky 66-62), Wake Forest (11-1; only loss to LSU), Florida State, Louisville, UNC, Boston College, Virginia, Syracuse, and Pitt.
Next Play: Tuesday, December 22 against Virginia Tech (5 votes in AP poll) in Cameron at 9:00 pm. ESPN2. Virginia Tech beat a good St. Bonaventure team (The Bonnies were 9-4 with a win over Clemson) like a drum (86-49) on Friday (Dec. 17).
Duke 76 –Virginia Tech 65; (Season 13 Issue 10 – Game 12) Alanalysis and Bill’s Cliff Notes
During opening minutes of the game, the Blue Devils were as impressive as their new Gothic lettered “Brotherhood” uniforms; however, they quickly found themselves being schooled by a mature, well-coached, Virginia Tech team, which featured both accurate three-point shooters and two lethal big men. A four-point half-time Duke deficit quickly became eight and Coach K had seen enough. He went smaller, by replacing an ineffective Mark Williams with the more versatile AJ Griffin. Coach K then challenged the recently unproductive Paolo Banchero by putting him in the post opposite Aluma, the Hokie center, who had torched the ineffective Duke big men – Williams, John, and Jones – for 17 first-half points. BINGO! New chemistry, new game: Griffin, Banchero, and Moore all became different players. An eighteen-point turnaround in ten minutes! How many times have we seen this scenario? A “Patented Duke Run” that, once again, determines the outcome of a tight game! The Maestro hasn’t won almost 1,200 games by accident! And he did it this time without even raising his voice.
One of the joys of following Duke Basketball is watching players improve. Wendell Moore has taken three years. AJ Griffin, on the other hand, is doing it at warp speed in real time. How impressive is that? Jeremy Roach is much more effective as he settles into his role by understanding that, surrounded by this much talent, “Less is More.”
Note: The ACC changed its COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday, by changing the forfeit rule. Previously, teams unable to play a scheduled league game due to positive COVID-19 cases forfeited the game. The new ACC rule stipulates that if a team does not have a sufficient number of participants, the game will be declared a no contest. Previously that had been a forfeit. However, if a team does have at least seven scholarship players and a single member of the coaching staff, and still decides not to play, the result would then be a forfeit.
Duke played a superb second half, outscoring Virginia Tech 44 to 29, (shooting 16-26 from the field, 2-5 from deep) and 10-10 from the foul line. Defensively, the Blue Devils sparkled, shutting down the vaunted Hokie 3-point attack (1-9) and holding Virginia Tech to only 29 second-half points. What was different about Duke’s second half? Coach K basically went with an “Iron Man 5”, with no appreciable help from the bench.
Duke played well in the first half, but the Hokies played better. Significantly, Duke’s defense did not have its usual intensity. The perimeter did not pressure the ball; the defense produced only 2 Hokie turnovers (only 1 steal, by Mark Williams). The Virginia Tech big men had their way on the interior. Keve Aluma (17 points on 7-12; 1-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line) and Justyn Mutts (8 points on 4-9) outscored the Duke big men 25 to 6. Theo John (7:34 minutes played), Mark Williams (8:39), and Bates Jones (2:33) were all scoreless for the entire game. Paolo Banchero looked lost and out of sync in his 14 first-half minutes, scoring 6 (3-9; 0-2 from deep, without getting to the foul line), adding a pair of rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block against 3 turnovers. Wendell Moore kept Duke in the game, scoring 12 points (4-6; 2-2 from deep and 2-2 from the stripe) in his 19 ½ minutes. Joey Baker failed to score in his 5:33 minutes, while A.J. Griffin scored only 3 (1-3; 0-2 from deep and 1-1 from the stripe), with a rebound and turnover in almost 9 minutes…. Duke was behind 36-32 at the break.
Coach K began the second half with his starting lineup: Williams, Moore, Banchero, Keels and Roach. Duke immediately fell further behind. Trailing 42-36, Coach K made the substitution of the year, when he replaced Williams with A.J. Griffin after 3:07 had elapsed. A.J. played the remainder of the second half, except for 1:28. The score during that period tells a fabulous Duke story. In the stretch from 16:53 to go in the second half when A.J. entered the game, until there was 6:50 to go, when Griffin was given a brief rest, Duke was + 18 and had a 12 point lead. As soon as Griffin went out, Duke’s lead shrunk from 12 to 7 (in only 1:28). Coach K rushed him back into the game. In the next two minutes, the Blue Devils stretched the lead back out to 12.
A.J. played 15:25 in the second half, scoring an efficient 10 points on only 4 shots (4-4, 1-1 from deep and 1-1 from the stripe), to go with 3 rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal. Although unmentioned by coaches or commentators, it is my quibble that A.J. was beaten a couple of times on defense and picked up his fourth foul with 3 minutes left. His stamina may have just been diminished with his time away from the game in past years and months from injury, and because Coach K had to rush him back into the game to rescue Duke’s deteriorating lead.
Coach K was appropriately ecstatic. “Wow, he played well. And he played well for a long time. I was talking to Jon [Scheyer] and Chris [Carrawell] on the bench and saying I wonder how long he can play. He kept playing. He showed, not just me, but himself something tonight that he can do that. If he doesn’t play like that we don’t win. This last week for him has been a good steady progression. Hopefully we can continue to build on it.” Another part of Duke’s marvelous second half was the performance of super-star freshman Banchero, after his sub-par first half. Coach K: “We got down by eight, so we went and put Paolo [Banchero] on him [Aluma]. Paolo had a great second half, not a good second half. Both offensively and defensively.” Banchero actually had an all-world half – 17 efficient points on only 11 shots (6-11, including 1-2 from deep and 4-4 from the stripe) to go with 6 rebounds and a highlight-reel assist. “That one pass he made was spectacular. That was as good as it gets, right there.”
Duke used only 5 players for virtually the entire second half. Williams never returned to the game after his opening 3:07. Bates Jones (in the backup role usually played by Theo John) spelled A.J. for 1:28. Joey Baker spelled Keels and Roach for a 1:30 breather each. That was it for the bench. Moore and Banchero played the entire 20 minutes; Roach and Keels played about 18:30 and A.J. 15:25. Iron Man 5 it was! It will be interesting to see how the success of the Iron Man 5 strategy impacts playing time in future games.
Coach K with the last word: “I told the guys at halftime, ‘Look, this game is even. We should be up by four points.’ Part of becoming a really good team is learning that in games like this is you have to do the little things. You have to do them, or you are punished by a good team. We grew up a lot in that second half. It was a big-time game for us.”
Next Play: Wednesday, December 29 at Clemson in Duke’s first ACC road game at 2:00 pm. ACCN.
Duke 69 –Georgia Tech 57; (Season 13 Issue 11 – Game 13) Alanalysis and Bill’s CliffsNotes
Duke Basketball Playbook (DBP) 2021-2022 game #13 (January 4, 2022)
After defeating Virginia Tech on December 22, 2021, the Duke team left school and went home for a 3-day holiday. When the team reported back, the entire team and coaching staff tested positive for COVID, necessitating a 10 day quarantine (confined to room; no practice or any interaction) and the cancellation of the away games against both Clemson and Notre Dame. All the players and coaches were cleared for the Georgia Tech game last night.
Duke played like a team that had been in covid quarantine for two weeks. Oh wait, they have been in quarantine for two weeks. It’s a good thing that the Blue Devils were playing in Cameron against a conference bottom feeder tonight, because against a decent ACC team, on the road, they might have lost from being tired and rusty . Duke shot 37% from the floor and 65% (26-40) from the line. When was the last time you remember Duke missing 14 of 40 free throws!?!! These are not usually winning numbers.
For most of the game, Wendell Moore looked as if, on offense, he had reverted to last year. However, he had flashes of brilliance. In the clutch, Moore drove to the basket and was cut off. A.J. barreled down the lane to the basket, and Moore hit him with a perfect pass which AJ slammed home dramatically. A timely dunk late in the game; it was a key play to stop Ga. Tech’s mini comeback.
Defense was a different story. As we have pointed out, this team likes to play defense. As Coach K commented in his post-game press conference: “Defense was a key to the game. We are a good defensive team. When we played Ohio State, we got tired but that was more [because] of travel. They make you tired, and we stopped playing defense. Tonight, we did not do that. We talked about it at halftime. I told them, ‘I know you guys are tired, but you cannot be tired on the defensive end.’ We couldn’t be (like we were at) Ohio State, when we gave up buckets like that. We are maturing and hopefully we learned from that game. Defense is really a key to our team.”
Bill’s closing Coach K quote sums up Duke’s defensive effort with accuracy. This was not Duke’s pressing, turnover defense, but rather one that contested every Ga Tech shot. This was in-your-grill-defense for the full 30 seconds of the shot clock. Duke had 8 blocks (3 each by Paolo and Mark; 1 each by A.J. and Theo), but forced only 9 turnovers, including 3 steals. It is comforting to understand the commitment that this group of players has to the defensive end; both Paolo and A.J. talked in post-game comments about their individual and team commitment to the defensive end. Jeremy, Wendell (despite his offensive woes), and Trevor were and are superb defenders.
It is fascinating to see in which game circumstances Coach K turns to A.J. Griffin. A.J. is like Coach K’s aspirin when the headache strikes. Duke was down a point, with 14:32 left in the first half, when A.J. made his first appearance in the game. When he was replaced 4 minutes later, Duke led by 6. In that stretch, A.J. garnered 2 rebounds, handed out a nice assist, and blocked a shot. He changed the game without scoring. Griffin returned with 6:58 to go in the first half; Duke’s lead had been trimmed to 5 and momentum was beginning to tilt toward Ga. Tech. By the time A.J. was replaced, with 1:59 to go, Duke’s lead was 9. In the second half, A.J. played 8 consecutive minutes, leaving the game with Duke ahead by 12 with 7:39 left in the game. When the Duke lead shrunk to 8, Coach K put A.J. back in the game. Griffin scored 3 and fed Keels on a beautiful assist for another 3, setting up an 11-point Duke lead with only 2:09 left. He made 2 free throws with 1:13 left in the game to cement the Duke win.
In 22:35 of floor time, he scored 12 (3-5, including 1-2 from deep and 5-8 from the stripe) to go with 6 rebounds, 2 assists (0 turnovers), and a blocked shot. A.J. was Duke’s leading scorer in the second half, playing almost 14 minutes, scoring 8 points (2-3, including 0-1 from deep and 4-6 from the line) to go with 3 boards and an assist. He was +17 for the game (which means that in his 22:35 on the floor, Duke outscored Georgia Tech by 17 points). A.J. was Duke’s force in the second half as Paolo was in the first half.
Paolo was, in my opinion, the defensive star of the game in his game-high 36:15 minutes played. His offense was good – Duke’s leading scorer with 17 points on only 8 shots (4-8, including 0-1 from deep and 9-16 from the line). Getting to the line for 16 attempts is dominating. Missing 7 is disappointing if not horrifying. Tired shooters do miss. Paolo had 4 assists against 3 turnovers. His on-the-ball defense was outstanding, whether he was defending Ga.Tech big men in the paint or guards on the perimeter. Not many 6’10” 250 lb players can do that! He plays such intelligent defense, knowing how to switch and when to hedge. He had 8 defensive rebounds (11 boards in all), 2 steals, and 3 blocks. Paolo was +10 for the game.
Coach K had not been happy with his 7-footer’s rebounding so far this season. He had to have been happy with Mark’s rebounding last night against Ga. Tech. In only 20 minutes, Williams snared 14 rebounds (9 defensive) – a stupendous effort and accomplishment! Mark had a double-double, scoring 10 points (4-8 from the field and 2-2 from the stripe) to go with 3 blocks and countless alterations at the rim which prevented Ga. Tech field goals.
Ga. Tech is not a big team (also the Yellow Jackets were missing their best big man) and does not rebound well. So, Duke’s rebounding success (a 48-35 margin) has to be taken with a grain of something. Still, it was a needed improvement by the Blue Devils.
The Almost Good
Roach is playing substantial minutes (36:10 last night) because of the defensive intensity he brings as well as his ball handling skills. Even though he is not scoring as well as some (and I) think he is capable of, his defense is so valuable he will be in the lineup. He would be up in the “good” if he could just put the ball in the basket more frequently. He scored 9 (1-5 from the field, including 0-2 from deep; plus 7-9 from the line). Jeremy is very aggressive and drew fouls with his drives. He was + 11 for the game.
Trevor is also a wonderful on-the-ball defender, who would move up to “good” if his shot went in more frequently. Keels scored 10 (3-10, including 2-6 from deep) with a steal and a turnover.
40 free throws is an accomplishment, but missing 14 of them is Not Good and will cost Duke in big games should that affrontery continue. Maybe the Covid circumstances and quarantine (no practicing at all) are an explanation – worth watching going forward.
Not Championship Caliber (AKA The Bad)
The Bench (Besides A.J.)
Joey played 7:19, sinking his only 3-point shot and his only foul shot. In contrast, his defense was awful. He looked as if he must maintain social distancing while attempting to defend. He can make baskets, but his defense will continue to limit his playing time as I think it did last night.
In 3:59 of playing time, Theo missed both of his attempted shots, while blocking one.
Jaylen played less than 2 minutes, missing his only shot, a wide open 3-point attempt.
Wendell Moore, Jr.
Wendell had his first bad offensive outing of the season. He has been Duke’s best player, but he stunk on offense last night. In 35:32, Moore scored only 8 (2-11, including 1-3 from deep and 3-5 from the stripe). He had 2 assists, 2 rebounds, and 3 turnovers. Admirably, Wendell did not let his offensive woes impact adversely on his defense, which was superb (as usual).
Duke looked out of sync on offense, committing turnovers (10) and having shots blocked (7). The plausible explanation is the long layoff between December 22 and January 4 plus the 10-day quarantine. Still, in the game-winning last 4 minutes, the freshmen – Keels, Banchero and Griffin — scored all of Duke’s points, stretching the lead back out to 11. Griffin had a monster dunk off a great Moore feed to top off the game, stinging the Yellow Jackets dead.
Next Play: Saturday night (Jan 8) against Miami in Cameron at 8 pm. ACCN. Miami had a 7-game winning streak in Dec 2021-Jan 2022 [after a rocky November (4-3)], including 3-0 in the conference (wins over Clemson, NC State, and Wake Forest). Miami may make it an 8-game streak with a home game tonight (Jan 5) against Syracuse.
Duke Basketball Playbook (DBP) Duke 74 – Miami 76; (Season 13 Issue 12 – Game 14) Alanalysis and Bill’s CliffsNotes
It’s games like this that must make Coach K think he should have retired a few years ago. Miami, the undersized senior citizens of college basketball (Charlie Moore is 23 and counting), gave Duke’s (sometimes) precocious teenagers a postgraduate course in Basketball 101 by schooling them in fundamentals and by forcing them into 17 turnovers, scoring 52 points in the paint by spreading the floor and making basic cuts and passes. Miami’s offense was so lethal that Coach K went to a 2-1-2 zone. Only briefly though, because Charlie Moore hit a 3 from somewhere near Greensboro. K promptly returned to-man-to-man, which was no more successful than it had been before the zone infinitesimal interlude. Conversely, Duke’s inability to force turnovers was as important as Miami’s success in forcing turnovers.
This team cannot play fifteen or so minutes of their best basketball or twenty-five of so-so basketball and expect to beat decent teams. They cannot have 18 turnovers and still beat decent teams. Even so, Duke led by three points with 34 seconds to go, but then they blew it. K’s instructions: “No three point plays”! When Charlie Moore drove to the basket, Jeremy Roach was beaten (once again) and fouled him as Charlie threw up a wild prayer of a shot. That is when the basketball gods intervened and said: “Not this time, Duke you don’t deserve the win” and somehow Charlie’s no-look layup bounced around and miraculously went in.
Charlie, who shoots and makes threes from Steph Curry’s range, missed a foul shot, the rebound of which was somehow snatched by the smaller Jordan Miller from the midst of Duke’s bigs, before Kameron McGusty hit a floater to put the ‘Canes ahead. Duke still had a chance to win the game but could not capitalize on the opportunities. Wendell Moore had a wide-open look for the win and missed. Duke got another shot on an out-of-bounds play, but Keels missed a prayer of a three.
Coach K was left to make the excuses for his team’s inconsistent play by blaming the residual effect of the Covid virus. Who knows, but it does not explain the inability of players to be able to stop an undersized, three-point-shooting team from making threes and also beating the larger Blue Devils with points in the paint. Nor Mark Williams’s lack of understanding that when he brings the ball low, he gives up his considerable size advantage and allows smaller players to steal the ball. Banchero has impressive guard skills for a man his size, but in close games he is more effective down low.
How much defense is needed to cover for periods of inconsistent offense? These players must play Duke Basketball consistently in order to win close games! “Sometimes” is simply not good enough.
It turns out that the game was even more depressing to write about than it was to watch — and that’s saying something. With the exceptions of Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams, the Blue Devils were so far below form that the team was almost unrecognizable. Duke committed 13 first-half turnovers (17 for the game), while scoring just 2 points off the only live ball turnover that the defense forced. Though Duke was bigger and outrebounded Miami by 14 (44-30), the Blue Devil offense was so sloppy that Miami took 11 more shots than Duke (70-59). In short, Duke made Miami look good.
Paolo played a great game [in 35:18, he scored 20 points on only 10 shots (6-10, including 2-4 from deep; and 6-7 from the stripe), to go with 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal], but it was his second-half effort that was even more spectacular. Paolo played every second of the last period, scoring 13 points on 6 shots (5-6, including 1-1 from deep and 2-3 from the stripe. With Duke behind by a point with 1:17 to go in the game, Banchero blocked Wong’s layup attempt and retrieved the rebound. He then scored a hotly contested layup to give the Blue Devils a 1 point lead with 1:01 to go. Fourteen seconds later, Paolo poked the ball away from Miami to Wendell, who hit Banchero with a great pass for an easy layup and a 3-point Duke lead with 45 seconds to go. Banchero never touched the ball again and Duke never scored again.
Mark was very efficient in his 26:33 on the court (his most court time in a game this year), scoring 12 (6-8; missed his only foul shot) with 7 rebounds and 6 (6!) blocks. He had 2 assists, but also 3 turnovers. Even when Mark doesn’t block the shot, he has a knack for altering opponents’ shots so that otherwise easy shots don’t go in. Frequently, Mark and A.J. Griffin substitute for each other. Duke tied the game at 63 with 6:36 to go. Mark turned it over with 5:53 left; the Hurricanes scored to take a 2 point lead and Coach K replaced Mark with Roach. With Duke still down 1, Williams returned, replacing A.J. with 2:27 left. Williams delivered immediate dividends after a Miami hoop (3-point Hurricane lead with 2:05 left) when he grabbed an offensive rebound off a Roach miss and slammed it home to bring Duke back within 1. A.J. Griffin then replaced Williams. Therefore Williams was not in the game for the final 1:33 , including for Charlie Moore’s missed foul shot, which wound up being rebounded by Miami. If Duke had secured that defensive rebound it is likely the Blue Devils would have won.
Not Bad, But Could Be Better
A.J. made his first two 3-point attempts to score 6 quick points in the first half, but then missed his next 3 shots (2 from deep). Those first 6 points were his only first-half points in 13 minutes on the court, also contributing 4 first-half rebounds (1 turnover) He scored 4 in the second half (2-4, including 0-1 from deep and 0-1 from the stripe) with 2 boards. He scored 10 in a little over 24 game minutes. He is clearly the sixth man, and in the second half was Duke’s only substitute.
Joey played only 6 first-half minutes, without scoring. One rebound. His (lack of) defense at the end of the first half may explain why he did not get into the game in the second half.
Theo played even less than Baker, appearing for only 2:29 in the first half (scoring 2 points on 1-1, a dandy lefty hook, and a board). He did not enter the game in the second half. His playing time is being curtailed by Coach K in favor of more time for A.J.
The Ugly Perimeter
For the first 13 games of the season, Duke’s perimeter defended brilliantly, and on offense scored consistently with four ball handlers, even without a traditional point guard (though Wendell could object to my take on that). Against Miami, the defense was porous, allowing Miami’s guards to penetrate at will, whether on straight drives or back door cuts. The Blue Devil pressure defense that had thrived on forcing turnovers – especially live ball turnovers that led to transition points — failed to turn the Hurricanes over and produced only 1 basket from a live ball turnover in the entire game! Miami outscored the taller Blue Devils in the paint 52-38 because of Duke’s sloppy turnovers and shoddy defense.
Coach K: “First of all, points off turnovers give you points in the paint. If we don’t turn the ball over, we would hold them in the 60s and they’ve been averaging 90. The backdoors were the ones because we didn’t want to contest. We’re not going to get steals, so we’re playing half a man below and they still backdoored. That shows you’re tired, I think. … I thought a key point of the game was when we were up 26-18 and we were playing well, and we came down three or four straight times and turned the ball over.”
Wendell put it this way: “A lot of our turnovers were kind of unforced errors, just lazy passes, dribbling the ball off our legs, dribbling into double- teams … just things that we know we really can’t do. It’s stuff that we went over in the scouting report. I feel like if we clean up some of that, the outcome is definitely a little different tonight.”
Jeremy played 32 minutes, scoring 9 (3-8, including 1-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line), with a rebound, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers. Roach’s calling card for playing time is his defense. Ineffective is a fair adjective to describe his defense against Miami. He simply could not guard Miami’s Charlie Moore, who torched him (other defenders as well, but Roach was primary) for 18 points on 13 shots (6-9 inside the arc) with slick drives and back door cuts. Roach was embarrassed through the back door. Even the announcer wondered if Duke would adjust to the stream of back door layups from Miami (the answer turned out to be “no”). With Duke leading by 3 and only 34 seconds left, Charlie Moore had the ball for Miami. Coach K: “Our thing is no threes and no fouls in that situation … and we (Roach) fouled. We were too spread out, we wanted to be condensed but we were not.”
Trevor played 36:11 in the game (all 20 minutes of the second half), also scoring 9 points, but taking 11 shots (2-11, including 1-6 from 3 and 4-4 from the stripe). Keels had good statistics aside from his abysmal shooting: 6 rebounds, 4 assists, without a turnover. Moore had previously told the press that the Duke perimeter triumvirate put such intense defensive pressure on an offense that opponents were unprepared for its intensity. Miami gave every appearance of being so completely prepared for the Duke pressure that there did not seem to be a Duke pressure defense. Keels had a chance to win the game with 12 seconds left and Duke trailing by a point. Trevor raced down court and looked to be loose in the paint before Miami defended him effectively and retrieved his missed shot.
Wendell has, I believe, understood how dramatically his game has fallen off in the last two games from the high standard he set for himself in the first 12. Even though Moore had a double-double (12 points and 12 rebounds), he did not play well. Wendell is aware that Duke depends on him for leadership and to play well. “I really think that all starts with me. Tonight, I didn’t lead the guys the way I’m supposed to. Up three with 30 seconds left, I feel like, as a leader, I can’t let our team lose that game. So really I kind of put this one on me as a leader. … But at the end of the day, I feel like if we follow our scouting report and I lead our team better, I feel like the outcome is different.” Wendell played a team high 37:14 (all 20 minutes of the second half). His 12 points came from 5-12 shooting, including a sad 0-4 from deep; 2-2 from the stripe) to go with his 12 rebounds and 7 assists (but 6 turnovers). He also had a block and a steal, which makes for a misleading stat line. Moore didn’t lead as he had done earlier this year, and it cost Duke dearly.
Even so, Miami left the door open. After Miami scored to take a 1 point lead with 20 seconds left, Keels drove into the lane, but missed with 12 seconds remaining. When Miami grabbed the rebound, Griffin had to foul with only 8 seconds left. When Miami’s Wong missed the second foul shot with 6 seconds to go and Duke behind by 2, A.J. got the rebound. With 2 seconds left, Wendell received a great pass and had a wide open 3 for the win …but clanged it.
Coach K: “I thought Wendell [Moore Jr.] had a good shot, I thought Trevor [Keels] really took the ball hard and had a chance to maybe get a foul. We had a chance to win the game, but we did not. It’s a very tough loss for us and we just have to keep moving. We’re not in shape.”
The reason it has been depressing to write about this game is that the game perhaps demonstrated that Duke is vastly overrated as the only ACC team worthy of being in the top 25. Based on the Miami game, Duke is clearly not a top 10 team. Was this desultory performance an aberration caused by the weirdness of the COVID disruption, or is Duke simply not as good as we had hoped and predicted. Time will tell, but the evidence from the Miami game is no reason for optimism.
Next Play: Wednesday night (Jan 12) at Wake Forest at 7 pm. ACCN.
Duke 76 – Wake Forest 64; (Season 13 Issue 13 – Game 15) Alanalysis and Bill’s CliffsNotes (January 12, 2022)
Coach was missing-in-action with a non-Covid virus (aka severe indigestion after watching loops of tape of the Miami game where Duke made 17 turnovers and blew a 3-point lead with 30 seconds to go. (Instead he might have watched Georgia demonstrate how to close out a close game in beating Alabama for the N.C.A.A. Football Championship. Go Dawgs!!!) Not to worry, head coach in-waiting, Jon Scheyer, filled in admirably for head coach Mike Krzyzewski by replacing Jeremy Roach in the starting lineup with A.J. Griffin, who responded by scoring 22 points on only 11 shots! (Jon is 2-0 as head coach. He won at Boston College last year, only about 1,081 wins to go to match Coach K.)
The Devils started fast with Banchero working down low and scoring almost at will to get an early eight-point advantage. Then, they played like they did in the Miami game and lost the lead until 42 seconds before the half ended when the Blue Devils turned the game around. Moore hit a layup, Keels had a steal then a 3, Griffin drew a charge then nailed a three — an 8-0 run in the final 42 seconds and Duke was up 35-29 at the half. They continued to play outstanding defense and offense to start the second half, scoring on their first nine possessions making the Duke lead 55-35 — after the 20 – 6 run. Then Duke cooled off, and Wake cut the lead to the low teens where it stayed until the final buzzer.
Duke showed how lethal this team can be at their best, but how ordinary they can look when they get stagnant on offense and lazy on defense. Hopefully, COVID can explain some of their uninspired play, but you never know what goes through a teenager’s mind—even a precocious one. One thing for sure, Banchero and Griffin need the leadership and scoring of Moore, the defense of Williams and Keels, and occasional breathers from the bench to beat the best teams.
Duke won each half by 6 points, for its total 12-point margin of victory: opening stanza 35-29; second half 41-35. In a stretch of time that included the last 42 seconds of the first half + the first 4 minutes 42 seconds of the second half (total 5 minutes 22 seconds), Duke outscored the Deacons by 22 points (25-3), scoring on the Blue Devils’ first 9 possessions of the second half. The defense made it happen by holding Wake to a single field goal and a single made foul shot in that 5 minute stretch.
Wendell Moore explained how it felt: “It all really started with our defense. Our defense led to easy shots on the offensive end, it gave guys confidence to come in and hit huge shots. … I really think this win was big for us, not just because we won, but the way that we played as a team. … [T]his game was so fun to play in as a team. It felt kind of like how we were playing at the beginning of the season. It was a lot of fun – guys sharing the ball, a lot of guys smiling. You don’t even know who’s scoring, you just know that Duke’s scoring. We’re getting stops at the other end. That’s what it’s about. Any time we come out and play like that, I think we’ll be a very hard team to beat.”
All the starters, except Moore, scored during that amazing 4:42. Banchero scored 9 of his 11 second-half points during that run. The defense was intense, led by Mark Williams, who made all 3 of his blocks during that special run.
However, it is worth noting that for the other 34 minutes and 38 seconds of the game, Wake outscored the Blue Devils 63 to 51. What do we make out of those two different sections of the game, as well as for the streaks for each team within the game in the second half? Wake cut the Duke lead to as low as 11 at the midpoint of the last half, but twice after that, the Blue Devils pushed the lead back out to 20, the last being with 7:37 left in the game. Duke had an 18-point lead with only 4:02 left in the game, and the lead was 16 before Wake scored the last two baskets during garbage time at the end.
While Duke’s offense was inconsistent, the defense was stout throughout and visibly flummoxed the Deacons. Duke forced 15 Wake turnovers; Wake had only 7 assists. So even though Duke was outrebounded (36-29), Duke still took 7 more shots than Wake (61-54). Wake’s star, Alondes Williams, scored 25 and may have seemed unstoppable at times. A closer look shows that Duke defended Alondes quite effectively, thereby slowing down a Wake offense that has been formidable this year (until last night). To achieve 25 points, Alondes had to launch 21 of Wake’s total of 54 shots. Moreover, though he is Wake’s leader in points and assists, and did dishe out 4 assists last night, Duke hounded Alondes into 7 turnovers from which Duke scored a bunch. Moore had primary responsibility, but like all great defenses, it was team defense that stymied Alondes and the Geek Deacs.
A.J. Griffin replaced Jeremy Roach in the starting lineup, which obviously changed the rotation. Coach Schyer: “First of all, it gave us great size. That group that we put out there to begin the game, it’s a big team. Trevor Keels and Wendell Moore Jr., as your two smallest players – they’re big guards that can switch really well, switch one through four at times, one through five. AJ Griffin has just been coming on. He’s just been playing really well. We still need Jeremy [Roach] to come through big for us, and he did that in the second half. But it was really AJ’s emergence, the consistency that Mark Williams has had, and then really to spotlight and highlight Paolo Banchero. Paolo played a terrific game.”
Moore was on the court for the entire game (except when Scheyer took him out with 43 seconds to go); Banchero played 37:36; Griffin 35:44 (his longest of the year by far); Keels 28:01 (he was injured and couldn’t or didn’t play the last 6:54); Mark Williams 21:45 (his second half was limited to 9 minutes because of foul trouble – he picked up his 4th with more than 13 minutes left in the game); Roach 19:35 (14 minutes in the second half where he scored all 5 of his points.)
Theo John committed 4 fouls while failing to score in 6:27 inefficient minutes. Joey Baker scored a point (0-2, including 0-1 from deep; and 1-3 from the foul line) in his 11:32 appearance. In those minutes, he also committed a foul and a turnover. I find his defense a liability.
As a team, Duke committed 18 fouls for the game. Too many!
The most critical improvement for the offense after the Miami game is that there was no rash of turnovers the way it happened against Miami (13 in the first half). Against Wake, Duke only turned it over 7 times. The ball handling was crisp, with Moore in charge. Duke hit 7 of 15 from deep (21 points on 15 shots); but not much better from the foul line (7-13).
Paolo scored a team high 24 points, but took 23 shots to do it (11-23, including 2-6 from deep, and, strangely, did not even attempt a free throw). He added 5 rebounds, an assist, and a block. Paolo’s 23 (of Duke’s 61) shots were more than the other 3 starters (except for A.J.) combined (Keels 9; Mark 6; and Moore only 5, for a cumulative 20). Paolo’s defense is sometimes not appreciated as much as I think is deserved. With Mark on the court for only 9:31 second-half minutes, and Theo limited by his four fouls to 2 second-half minutes, Paolo played as center with Duke’s small lineup for almost half of the last stanza. Paolo said after the game, “I think the mindset in the second half was ‘Don’t let up.’ … We didn’t want to let up because last time we were on the road against Ohio State, we were up 13 at halftime and obviously we know what happened. We didn’t want to have that happen again, and so we just wanted to come out and keep our foot on the gas.”
A.J. was simply the star! He scored 22 points (11 in each half) on only 11 shots (8-11, including 3-5 from behind the arc) and 3-5 from the stripe. His 3-pointer at the first half buzzer was a great finish to the half and the start of the Duke run. He also contributed 4 key rebounds, an assist, and a block. It was A.J.’s night! His teammates and coaches showed their delight at A.J.’s superb outing.
Wendell showed how to dominate a game without scoring much. He scored only 7 (2-5 from the field and 3-5 from the foul line). Moore led by grabbing 5 rebounds, handing out 6 assists, without one turnover, while making 3 steals. His dramatic improvement from the sluggish effort against Miami was just what the Blue Devils needed to eradicate the bad taste left by the Miami loss.
Trevor scored 11 (5-9, including 1-2 from deep without attempting a free throw). He was 3-3 in the second half before his injury, handled the ball with aplomb (4 assists; 2 turnovers), and defended well (2 steals). He garnered 3 boards. I am not in love with the +/- statistic, but it is worth noting that Trevor was + 17 in the second half and + 27 for the game, both well above any other Duke player.
Despite his foul trouble and limited second half playing time, Mark was efficient in his almost 22 minutes on the court. He scored 6 (3-6). His value was demonstrated with his team high 7 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Jeremy contributed, mostly in the second half, when he scored all of his 5 points on 2-2 shooting, including 1-1 from behind the arc. His 3 halted a Wake mini-comeback and gave Duke breathing room. He played almost half of the game, where he also contributed 2 steals and an assist, all without a turnover.
Evaluating this team’s progress, potential, and quest for ACC and National Championships is more difficult this year than in a non-COVID normal year. However, this makes every game highly anticipated as the unexpected is likely to happen. The league may be down (only Duke in the top 25), but the games are fascinating, close, and it is impossible to predict their outcomes. Miami beat Duke IN CAMERON but then lost last night by one point to Florida State. I plan to enjoy this season somewhat uncritically (and if you believe that…).
Next Play: Saturday afternoon at 2 pm vs. NC State in Cameron. TV: ABC
Duke 88 – North Carolina State 73; (Season 13 Issue 14 – Game 16) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (January 15, 2022)
Johnny Tar Heel told me that the Miami loss might be the best thing that could have happened to Duke. Well, only if it was an impetus for moving A.J. Griffin into the starting lineup and using Jeremy Roach strategically as the sixth man. This should solve some of the problems by making the Blue Devils bigger and more lethal offensively, and more consistent defensively. Trevor Keels (9 assists, 5 steals, 12 points) is a better defender, and demonstrated an ability to share, if not run, the point, which allowed Wendell Moore to replace Banchero on the wing, permitting Paolo to operate around the lane where he is most effective.
The wins against both Wake and NC State showed periods wherein the Blue Devils were capable of playing better, if not more consistently, than they did before the Christmas break when the team contracted the COVID virus. Having said that, we must acknowledge some areas that need to be addressed: the tendency to fall behind early; the drop off in free throw shooting efficiency from nearly 80% to about 60%; and defensive rebounding.
Mark Williams took full advantage of Manny Bates, the Wolfpack’s big, mature center being out for the season, by having a Career Game (19 points, 11 rebounds, 8 blocks). He also made the highlight play of the game by running down a fast break pass and, while leaping out of bounds directly under the basket, in one motion caught it and threw a no-look bounce pass to a following Banchero for an uncontested dunk.
Wendell Moore has shown flashes of playing like he had in the first eleven games of the season. All in all, the two games were a good response to a disappointing performance against the Miami Hurricanes.
Duke’s Tuesday game against Florida State, which beat Miami by a point this Friday in Tallahassee, will be a better test of how far the Blue Devils have come back and how far they have to go to be a formidable contender.
Paolo Banchero has earned my leadoff spot today with his accurate post-game summary of where the Blue Devils are now: “We’re getting there. Like Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] said, we’ve still got a long way to go and still some things to figure out. But we’re definitely trending in the right direction as a team. We’re playing a lot more together, we’re communicating better on offense and defense, and we’re holding each other accountable, just as a team, and everybody listens to each other. Nobody’s stubborn. Nobody doesn’t listen. Everyone takes what someone has to say and puts it to use, so we’re definitely taking good steps.”
The team, and individual statistics, against NC State bear that out. Duke shot an amazing 66% (31-47) from inside the arc. The Blue Devil bigs ran circles around the smaller Wolfpack. Coach K: “Our big guys were terrific. Mark [Williams] almost had a triple double. Theo [John] really contributed well in the first half when we got a little lead. We got 29 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks from our bigs. Let’s get that every game.”
Paolo’s “we’re playing a lot more together” is demonstrated by Duke’s 23 assists on 35 field goals – 9 for Keels, 4 each for Roach & Paolo, plus 2 each for A.J. and Williams – against only 8 turnovers. As Bill describes, one assist from Mark was special. Keels pitched ahead to Williams in transition, but the pass was a little too long. Mark caught it underneath the basket, but his momentum was carrying him out of bounds. Amazingly, he maintained his balance and had the composure, while in midair, to drop a short bounce pass back for an oncoming Banchero to finish with a dunk. (I couldn’t resist also describing the play; it was just so pretty.)
On the defensive side of the ball, Duke blocked 10 Wolfpack shots – 8 by Williams and 1 each by Banchero and John. Five of those blocks were on State’s offensive star, Dereon Seaborn, who has earned a reputation with his athletic drives to the basket and 20 points per game average. Duke limited State to 41% shooting (31-75).
However, there were aspects of the game that also support Paolo’s “we still have a long way to go and still some things to figure out.” NC State grabbed 22 offensive rebounds, which resulted in the Wolfpack attempting 15 more total shots than Duke (75-60). Coach K on his team giving up 22 offensive rebounds: “With our bigs helping, when there was a missed shot, they weren’t able to block out the [NC State] big because they were helping the perimeter. The weak point of our game was the offensive rebounds against us. However, you’re going to give some up … we limited their threes, limited penetration, but it’s difficult to limit everything.”
Duke’s defense was amazingly lax (as in way too relaxed) during the first 5:16 of the game. NC State shot 6-7, including a 3, from the field plus 2-2 from the line for 15 points to lead Duke 15-8. Scoring continuously at that rate would produce almost 120 points for NC State for the game.
Duke shot only 31% from behind the arc (4-13), but even worse from the foul line — 14-24 with Paolo and Joey each missing 3 while Mark and Theo each missed 2. Mark’s 2 misses were “and one” as he was fouled while scoring. Thus, Duke’s bigs missed 7 free throws.
Williams, Banchero, and Keels had excellent outings. Theo John had his best game of the season. Moore didn’t look himself until NC State made a late run, then he morphed into his pre-Xmas leadership role. Griffin, Roach, and Baker contributed, but each has contributed more in previous games.
Mark in 26 minutes was just two blocks short of an amazing triple-double (19 points, 11 boards, and 8 blocks) with 2 assists, including the one that Bill and I loved to describe, and a steal. Mark committed only one foul and one turnover. I believe that warrants a “wow”!
Trevor was even better than his impressive stat line that Bill set out above. In 35:15, he was 5-13, including 2-6 from deep, for his 12 points while snaring 5 boards, and handing out those dazzling 9 assists (only 2 turnovers). Even more important to Duke was his dominating defense that resulted in 5 steals and intimidating harassment of the Wolfpack backcourt. Coach K: “I thought Trevor [Keels] played his best game since the beginning of the season, with nine assists and five steals. He made a couple passes to Mark when the momentum was changing a bit, and Mark made good catches and finishes. … With the starting lineup we have, he ends up being a point guard at times, and with the other lineup, he really never was, unless we put him in a ball screen. He’s a very smart player and he’s strong with the ball. He can get in certain positions and make passes because of his strength. He’s had a really good week of practice. I think he’s getting sharper, and he had a terrific game for us tonight.”
Paolo is so good, it’s easy to take his game for granted. Coach K: “Paolo played his normally solid game.” Normal? In the second half, Paolo’s “normal” was 13 points on 4 field goal attempts (4-4) + 5-8 from the line. Paolo was so distraught at his 3 misses that when he made his last 2 ( which clinched the game) he gave himself cynical applause. Paolo’s “normal” in his 32:39 game minutes was 21 points on 11 shots, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal. Coach K will be even happier if Paolo does not make the 4 turnovers he committed during last night’s “normal”.
Wendell logged 33:13, scoring 15 (6-8; 3-3 from the line) and corralling 4 boards. But Wendell had 4 turnovers with only a single assist. However, when NC State cut the Duke lead to single digits late in the game, Moore took over. In the second half, he scored 9 on 4-5 shooting and 1-1 from the line (a 3-point play) and solidified Duke’s win. Coach K was insightful about Wendell and the playmaking help he received from Trevor, which: “took off some of the load from Wendell [Moore Jr.]. Wendell is not back to where he was before this. He had one assist and four turnovers … he used to have four assists and two turnovers. We put a lot on him, and maybe we can take a little off so he’s not playing so tired. In the last six minutes of the game, I thought he was our best player. He didn’t have a great game until then, but he’s guarding Seabron …[one of the] best players in the league and probably…first team All ACC. That’s had an impact on his offense.”
Theo logged 10:33 in this, his best game as a Blue Devil, scoring in double figures (10 points on 4-4 sho0ting and 2-4 from the line), grabbing 2 boards and blocking a Wolfpack shot. Great contribution.
A.J. played 27:31 (1-6 from the field, including 1-4 from deep) with a pair of rebounds and a pair of assists. He gave Duke a 23-21 lead that the Blue Devils never relinquished when he scored his only points, a 3 with 9:26 left in the first half. Still Coach K understands what A.J. brings to this team. When assessing Duke’s return to pre-pause strength, Coach K said: “the element that’s changed is A.J. [Griffin]. A.J. did not have that spectacular game today. He’s 18 and I thought he played hard and well. I think our fans think that every shot he takes will go in. I wish that were true, but today he didn’t. He’s the new element.”
Jeremy played 23 minutes without a field goal (0-1, a layup that was blocked) but made 2 critical foul shots when NC State had cut the Duke lead to 9 with 5:15 left to play. As Coach K pointed out “Jeremy [Roach] didn’t give us points, but he gave us defense, four assists and no turnovers.”
Joey played 12 minutes, scoring 6 points (2-5 from the field, including 1-3 from deep; 1-4 from the stripe (ugh!). He added 2 boards and an assist. Coach K: “Joey gave us some really good minutes.”
The Last Part of the Second Half When It Counted
NC State never quit and made things a bit nervous for Duke fans as the Wolfpack cut into the substantial Blue Devil lead. Duke stretched the lead to 19 with 12:11 to go and again with 10:59 left. Duke still led by 17 with 7:31 to go. Then NC State made its run, trimming the Duke lead to 11 with 6:04 left. Coach K called a timeout that didn’t help because after, Paolo made a bad pass allowing the Wolfpack to draw within 9 on a 3rd offensive rebound and dunk by Dowuona. 75-66 with 5:20 left. State fouled Roach in the backcourt, and he made both free throws; Moore scored on a drive that resulted in a traditional 3-point play – lead 14 with 4:30 left. State twice again cut the lead to single digits: first on a Seaborn offensive rebound and dunk (80-71 with 3:21 left), and then on a fast break layup (82-73 with 2:50 left). That is when Paolo took over and sealed the deal. First, Paolo hit Moore with a beautiful pass for a layup; and then Paolo scored on an assist from Keels and closed out the scoring with 2 foul shots to create the winning margin before being taken out of the game with 38 seconds left, to cheers from the Cameron Crazies.
Next Play: Tuesday evening at 9 pm at Florida State. TV: ABC/ESPN
Duke 78 Florida State 79; (Season 13 Issue 15 – Game 17) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (January 18, 2022)
There is something about teams from Florida. Big or small, they know how to play Duke. Both Miami and Florida State not only exposed Duke’s weaknesses—inconsistent play, turnovers, rebounding (the Seminoles had four point-blank misses at the rim before finally getting the ball in the basket to start the second half – Where were the Duke defenders?). But surprisingly FSU also outhustled Duke for most of the game. Tonight, the Seminoles deserved to win. But, the Blue Devils were beaten by the same play as they were in the Miami game: a guard driving right and putting up a difficult shot—one a prayer while being fouled by Roach (Miami), the other a beautiful lay-up high enough off the backboard to keep from being blocked by both Banchero and Williams (FSU).
Banchero, who somehow did not take a shot for the first fifteen minutes of the second half, put the team on his back the rest of the way. Somewhat surprisingly, if not amazingly, Duke made a determined run of 12-4 in the last five minutes, without Trevor Keels who injured his calf before the stretch drive, to go ahead, before Evans’ great shot to tie the game as the buzzer went off. The impetus to the dramatic late comeback was Duke switching to a zone defense, which kept the Seminoles out of the paint. However, Duke switched to a man-to-man on Evans’ drive to tie the game in regulation—possibly to avoid a winning three point shot.
It was an exciting college basketball game; Florida State deserved the win by executing a terrific game plan with enthusiasm. It is obvious from the stats what Duke needs to work on: Florida State had 19 offensive rebounds to Duke’s 7 and forced 15 turnovers while committing only 5. They also had 18 more field-goal attempts than Duke. The good news for the rest of the season is that the Blue Devils, playing as poorly as they did for most of the second half, nearly won and could have won by making a stop at the end of regulation or a shot at the end of overtime. Who should take the last shot—the man with the hot-hand. In this case, it is obviously Paolo Banchero, not Wendell Moore, who has played erratically since the break. That’s what good teams do.
The key statistic – where analysis starts, is that FSU fired up 73 shots –18 more than Duke’s 55, including 2 more from deep (25-23). Duke gave up 19 offensive rebounds to the hustling Seminoles (I have heard no calls for a new mascot or new nickname), while committing 15 turnovers and a damaging 19 fouls. FSU shot 80% from the foul line and outscored Duke by 6 from the stripe (20 points to14). Duke survived the turnovers and the Seminole rebounding — Duke scored 1 more field goal and 3 more 3s from deep (10 baskets to7 ), but Duke’s fouling on defense turned out not to be survivable. Of all the Duke failings, Duke would have still won if they had not committed so many fouls and if FSU had not shot such a high percentage from the line. 80% is excellent. Duke lost by 1 — on foul shots. No one has mentioned it, but it was not a smart or necessary foul. FSU’s victory in the last 12 seconds of the overtime came on 2 foul shots following an inexplicable Roach foul.
When Bill and I spoke at half time, I said, “FSU is just playing harder than Duke.” It was true. The Seminole effort on defense was prodigious, turning Duke over and destroying Blue Devil offensive cohesion. One play stands out: Banchero tried to bring the ball up court and just couldn’t (a timeout saved the Duke possession, but the Seminole intensity was at zenith.) Then in the second half, the wheels fell off for Duke. In the first 3:35 of the second half, Duke failed to score; the 5-point Blue Devil half time lead became a 4-point deficit by then. After 7:14 had elapsed in the closing stanza, Duke had managed to score just 3 measly points. FSU’s largest lead was 9 (59-50) with 7:32 to go.
Coach K: “Florida State’s depth and their physicality – they played hard, and it was tough to get entry passes. It was tough to run plays against them. I thought their defense dominated our offense. It was really not kind of an x and o game – they’re going to take you out of every play, so you’ve got to make plays. [I]t was the most physical game we’ve been in. They knocked us back for most of the first half, and at the end of the first half we took some control. And then right away at the start of the second half, they dominated those first four minutes and set a tone where we could’ve been knocked out. We kind of hung in there, and in the last seven-eight minutes, we changed defenses. [From man-to-man to a 2-3 zone.] That gave us a little bit of rest and I thought it slowed down the momentum of the game. The momentum of the game was definitely going in their favor for most of the game.”
Even though FSU attempted 9 more field goals, forced 5 more turnovers than Duke (and had 3 more steals), Duke’s offensive rush in the last 1:54, scoring 5 straight points (Keels a basket and 1-2 from the line; Williams 2-2 from the stripe) snapped a 33-33 tie and gave Duke a 5-point lead at half time. Nevertheless, the Seminoles had played harder.
Banchero scored 9 on 4 field goal attempts (3-4, including 0-1 from 3land) and 3-4 from the foul line. He had 6 rebounds. Keels scored 9 on 8 shots (3-8 from the field, including 2-6 from deep) and 1-2 from the line, but committed 3 turnovers and only a single assist. Joey Baker (2-3, including 1-2 from deep) & Wendell Moore (2-2 from the field, including 1-1 from deep) each scored 5. Mark Williams was 1-2 from the field and 2-2 from the stripe for 4 points to go with a block and 3 boards. Jeremy Roach (1-2 from the field and 1-1 from the line) and A.J. Griffin (1-1 from deep) each scored 3 for Duke’s 38 first-half points.
After 7:32 had been played in the closing period, Duke stopped falling further behind the ‘Noles. But, the Blue Devils still trailed by 9 with 6:52 left in the game. With 4:53 to go, Paolo made two foul shots – his first second-half points. The Seminole lead was a substantial 8 with 4:29 left and 6 (65-59) with just 2:55 left. In the next 2:25, Duke scored 8 straight points as Paolo’s full game went on display (after he had failed to score in the first 15:07 of the second half). First, he got a rebound of a shot he had missed, and dunked it (65-61). Then he fed Mark with a lovely lob for a Mark Williams dunk, cutting the Seminole lead to 2 (65-63). With 1:09 left, Paolo fed Griffin for the game-tying jump shot (65-65). And finally with only 30 seconds remaining, Banchero again fed Williams for a dunk and a 2-point Duke lead. FSU had 14 seconds left on the clock after calling time out. Duke had been in a zone to stop the bleeding, which had fueled the necessary defensive part of the comeback. But for this last possession, Duke switched to a man-to-man defense, which Evans defeated on a superb drive and layup over both Paolo and Mark to send the game into overtime.
Trevor Keels had a terrible second half (0-3, including 0-2 from deep and committing 2 fouls) before being hurt with 10:11 left in the game. Coach K: “we think it’s not a knee, it’s a calf injury, but we don’t know the extent of it.”
Jeremy Roach took up the slack. While he only scored 3 (1-3, 1-2 from the line), he handed out 3 assists without a turnover. Coach K said that in the latter stages of the half, “we started making plays and Jeremy and Paolo were a key to that. I thought Jeremy Roach really played one of his best games and was strong with the ball, and so was Paolo [Banchero]. We were just much stronger with the ball during that time period and made really good plays as a result of it.”
Mark Williams led Duke’s second-half scoring with 9 points (4-5 from the floor; 1-1 from the stripe) to go with 3 rebounds and 2 blocks. He was superb at crunch time. Moore scored 6 on 2-3 from deep, but committed 3 turnovers without an assist. A.J. scored 2 on 1-3 shooting while Theo John missed both of his field goal attempts, but made both of his free throws for 2 points. Joey Baker missed both shots, failing to score while committing 3 fouls.
In the closing stanza, Florida State attempted 11 more shots than Duke because the ‘Noles had grabbed 13 offensive rebounds off of Duke’s backboard while Duke had only 12 rebounds off the same backboard, Not common–a defensive team doesn’t usually allow the offense to get more rebounds off of its own backboard. Duke’s 7 second-half turnovers also contributed to Florida’s advantage in shots attempted. Finally, Duke committed 10 fouls, which FSU turned into 13 points (13-14 from the line in the second half).
Banchero: “I think some of the struggles, they were denying and switching everything, so they were in all the passing lanes, making it hard to catch the ball. [They were] making us catch outside of where we wanted to start our offense at. They put good pressure off the ball and on the ball. Then, we turned it around I think by getting out in transition and then driving and kicking. That worked for us pretty much all game, was driving and kicking out. … The zone, I think, worked just because we were able to keep them out of the paint for the most part. Then, just staying engaged and finding their shooters – [John] Butler, for the most part, we didn’t let him hit any threes in the second half and down the stretch.”
The offensive prowess of both teams returned for the overtime (ie the ball started to actually get in the $&^* basket). The lead changed 6 times and the game was tied thrice in the 5 minute session. Florida State scored 12 to Duke’s 11. Banchero scored his 4 overtime points in the last minute of the overtime, including 2 foul shots that gave Duke a 78-77 lead with 36 seconds to go. In the overtime, A.J. hit a 3, then Moore and Williams each scored a 2-point basket for Duke’s 11. With 12 seconds left and Duke leading by one, Roach fouled Evans, who made them both, giving the Seminoles their winning margin. Duke still had those 12 seconds. Moore flew down court but made an ill-advised drive against 3 large waiting FSU defenders. He turned it over and that was the game. The pre-pause Moore might have made a different play.
It turns out not to be too much more complicated than that, with just a handful of seconds left in both regulation and the overtime, the ‘Noles scored and Duke failed to.
As Coach K said, “It was a tremendous basketball game. Great crowd, two teams that played their hearts out. [When] you’re the road team, the home team benefits from that, which is why it’s tough to win on the road.” Duke, as Bill wrote, is too inconsistent to be a national (perhaps not even ACC) contender. Yet, the Blue Devils could have easily folded after the disastrous first five minutes of the second half on the road, but didn’t. Duke stormed back against all odds to lead by 2 with 14 seconds to go. Duke fought through the overtime (and the loss of Keels) to lead by 1 with 12 seconds to go in overtime. Great spirit. On the other hand, this is exactly the type of game that really good teams win (especially on the road against an unranked team – that I predict will be ranked next week) but lesser teams lose.
Part of Duke’s inconsistency comes from not having a true point guard (not a new theme for me). I watched Oklahoma play Kansas in a close, tough game. Jordan Goldwire is the Oklahoma point guard, and he has grown tremendously. He led Oklahoma, took all the key shots down the stretch and was a true leader. Watching both Duke and Oklahoma last night made me wish Jordan had remained at Duke for this year.
[Note: all of Coach K’s quotes are accurate. I did re-order some of what he said for better organization and comprehension.]
Next Play: Saturday Jan 22nd afternoon at 2 pm vs. Syracuse in Cameron TV: ESPN
Duke 79 Syracuse 59; (Season 13 Issue 16 – Game 18) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (January 22, 2022)
Coming off two recent, tough, one-possession losses, Duke’s game was a test of commitment to fix weaknesses. On paper, it looked like a walk in the park for Duke. But Syracuse has always been a tough out for Duke. If a team is not shooting the three well, they are in for a long, difficult game, because Syracuse‘s zone can make life miserable for you when you are not—and Duke was without Trevor Keels, who is one of the Blue-Devils best outside shooters. Fortunately, A.J. Griffin got the Devils off to a good start by hitting his first two threes (and five 3-pointers overall). And the Blue Devils played their best defensive game of the year, holding ’Cuse to 5-29 threes and 35% from the floor. The Blue Devils were ahead by thirty before Coach K substituted liberally. Duke was most impressive in playing a spirited defense, shared the ball well—four starters scored 15 points, there were 25 assists on 30 baskets. Wendell Moore had a very active game (15 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) and seems to be regaining his pre-break mo-jo, which could give Duke a much needed edge in the predictably close games coming up.
“We played really well,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We’re getting better. It’s been a tough time since Christmas with COVID and Trevor’s injury. These kids are hanging in there, getting better,and today they played really well, especially on the defensive end. We were connected on the offensive end with balanced scoring. For a few minutes there in the second half, I thought it was the best we’ve played.”
P.S. After North Carolina gave up 85 points to Miami and 98 to Wake Forest, Johnny Tar Heel says that he is changing his name for the season to Johnny Blue Devil.
Bill wrote in his CliffsNotes, after Duke lost to Florida State, “Both Miami and Florida State not only exposed Duke’s weaknesses — inconsistent play, turnovers, rebounding (the Seminoles had four point-blank misses at the rim before finally getting the ball in the basket to start the second half – Where were the Duke defenders?).” ALANALYSIS also identified Duke’s failures to both defend against the drive and to foul excessively in the attempt to defend, as major flaws.
It is worth exploring how well Duke has done in correcting and improving those deficiencies against Syracuse, a team whose talent is not equal to Duke’s (or FSU or Miami for that matter).
Saturday’s game was, especially in the first half, perhaps Duke’s best defensive effort of the season. Duke held The Orange to 22 first-half points on 26 % shooting, including 2-16 from behind the arc (12.5% in the first half; 5-29 or 17% for the game). While it appeared that Syracuse just happened to miss a bunch of open shots that the Boeheim Brothers and Joe Girardi usually make, Coach K pointed out that those misses were the result of the intense defense Duke played overall, which makes shooters rush a bit even when they’re open. Coach K acknowledged in understatement “We played good defense.” It started with Wendell Moore, Jr. defending the lethal Buddy Boeheim. Coach K: “His [Wendell’s] defense today started it off. He had a tough assignment. He did a good job with it.”
Jeremy Roach and Wendell locked down on Syracuse’s 2 best scorers, Buddy Boeheim and Girardi. Wendell: “Their two guards, Joe Girardi and Buddy Boeheim, are two of the best shooters we have in our conference, two of the best scorers we have, so basically on the perimeter we knew we had to come locked in early and it started with myself and Jeremy – with those two assignments we knew we needed to win those matchups.” And win it they did! Buddy (averaging 18.6 p.p.g) was held to 7 points on 2-15 shooting, including 1-10 from deep; while Girardi (averaging 13.6 p.p.g.) was also held to 7 points on 3-13 shooting, including 1-9 from behind the arc. Roach: “I think Wendell did a heck of a job on [Buddy]. Just knowing your personnel, knowing your scout. Knowing what he likes to do, knowing tendencies. I think that was a big thing for us. They love to run those floppy actions, so just knowing to stay on top of that, knowing to go over the screen, because he likes to come off and shoot the ball. Try not to foul him too. Buddy only got to the line once (2-2). Wendell did a great job of not fouling him on his jumpers too, so give a lot of credit to him.”
A.J. Griffin’s defense is catching up with his offense. His improvement defensively is impressive and was acknowledged by Coach K in his press conference. “[A.J.]’s a really easy guy to play with because he keeps spacing, he plays defense, he makes simple passes, and today he did a really good job on [Cole] Swider, that perimeter is a very difficult guard.” Griffin is now secure in the starting lineup and playing starter minutes (31 yesterday).
While Syracuse actually took more shots than Duke, and did grab 15 offensive rebounds, Duke pulled in 32 defensive rebounds (retrieving over 2/3 of the rebounds off its defensive backboard – quite respectable). Paolo Banchero was an excellent rebounder with 13 (10 defensive boards), as was Mark Williams with 7 (5 defensive) and A.J. Griffin with 6 (4 defensive). Duke outrebounded the Orange 45-35, and thus scored more second-chance points than ‘Cuse. Satisfactory improvement from Florida State’s flood of second chance points, but then again, Syracuse is a weaker rebounding team than FSU.
Duke committed only 12 fouls in the game, but a close analysis makes that statistic even better. Duke’s starters committed only 5 fouls the entire game (Moore had 2; Banchero, Roach, and Williams each had only 1; Griffin did not foul.) No Duke player had more than 2. Syracuse only scored 6 points from the stripe in the entire game. Major Duke Improvement!
Duke scored 20 points off Syracuse turnovers while giving up only 13 to the Orange as a result of Duke turnovers.
Duke’s Excellent Passing
Coach K: “I think we shared the ball well. In the last two games Jeremy [Roach] has like 20 assists and two turnovers, or something like that, and he and Wendell [Moore] were 17-2 today for assists and turnovers. So, they were sharing the ball and balanced scoring.” Impressively, Duke had 25 assists on 30 made field goals. That earns a Wow!
Duke’s Balanced Scoring
The balanced scoring that the Duke team exhibited may set them up in a good way for the rest of the season, not being dependent on any single scorer will help them be more adaptable. Moore, Banchero, Williams and Griffin each scored 15, while Joey Baker had 11. Roach 6 and Theo John 2 = Duke’s 79 points.
Moore: 6-12, including 3-7 from deep with 6 boards, 8 assists (only 1 turnover), and 2 steals. Coach K: “In non-conference, he was a beautiful player, one of the best in the country. With the stoppage he lost his rhythm. Maybe tried to do too much instead of doing too much of what he had done before. I told him, ‘don’t bring the past into the present. The only thing good about the past is if you learn from it.’ Today he was smiling. He’s playing. He’s our leader on the court.”
Banchero: 6-11, including 1-4 from 3land, 2-4 from the stripe with 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and a block. Paolo: “We’re just shooting our shots now. One thing Coach says is don’t hesitate – if it’s there, shoot it. Let it go. We work a lot on shooting before and after practice, so we’d be wrong not to take those shots. We should want to go out there and shoot confidently.” Paolo’s high basketball IQ helped him orchestrate Duke’s attack against the zone. “Yeah, … just catching it in the middle and then making reads trying to find the open guy and not doing anything too special. We just threw it to the open player and tried to get guys good looks, and obviously looking for my shot when it was there.”
Williams: 6-7 from the field and 3-3 from the line, with 7 boards and a block (but 4 turnovers). Mark played only 23 minutes and was dominant inside. His big sister, Elizabeth, an All-Time Great Duke player, congratulated Little Brother on his career-high 8 rebounds against Florida State. However, she reminded him that she had the family record for blocks in a game with 12! “You have a way to go, little bro.”
Griffin: 5-10 from the field, including 5-9 from behind the arc with 6 boards, a steal, and a block. A.J. made all four of his attempted 3s in the first half (plus one more 3 in the second half). Coach K: “AJ is our best shooter and I’d really like for him to be more aggressive. I think A.J. keeps it really simple. He’s a really easy guy to play with because he keeps spacing, he plays defense, he makes simple passes. He’s a key guy, there is no question about it.” K compared him to Reddick as a shooter. That may be exuberant or maybe not. The ascent of A.J. may have only just begun.
Roach: 2-10, including 2-8 from deep with 9 assists (a turnover) and 3 boards. Jeremy earned praise from Coach K, “He’s had a great attitude. He is a good kid, all team. A lot of pressure on him today because we switched and put Jeremy on top instead of Wendell. He had 2 great days of practice. I’m proud of him because he didn’t shoot well, but he didn’t let it affect his defense or his passing. And that’s a sign of a really good player.”
Baker: 4-8 from the field, including 3-6 from deep with an assist, a steal, and 2 turnovers. Joey is energetic and made his open shots. He had 2 turnovers and was beaten on defense a couple of times. Good support off the bench in the absence of Keels.
John: 1-2 from the field with 4 boards and an assist. Theo provides support for the Duke interior on both ends of the floor.
SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS
Wendell: “That last game we lost before this one was definitely a tough one, personally and team wise. But the second we came back it was this fire that was inside all of us, like this game on Saturday is one that we need to win. It was a bigger game than just a regular game for us. We called it a ‘program game’ in our locker room. So, we all just came out here with that mentality and it really showed with everybody who checked in today – checked in with a different fire, different energy.”
Coach K: “It’s coming along, we just have to run our own race. I’m not paying attention to anybody except the team we’re playing next, and my team obviously. We’re going to run our race, keep getting better, and see what happens. Any other things that are put on us, I don’t care. I don’t care about rankings; I care about winning and playing well and getting better. Our kids did that this week. They responded well. We had two bad end-of-game situations since this part of the conference has started. Sometimes this can really knock you back when you lose one-possession games but thank goodness it didn’t do that for our guys today.”
There is a saying that “one Swallow does not a summer make.” Duke has been described, not inaccurately, as “inconsistent”. Excellent wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga. A final possession loss at Ohio State. Nice opening ACC win over Virginia Tech, but then disappointment against Georgia Tech and a final possession loss to Miami. Improving nicely against NC State and Wake Forest, before another final possession loss to Florida State. That’s three shocking losses on the final possession of the game.
Now Duke is back to “improving nicely” against Syracuse. January holds three more games: Clemson, Louisville, and Notre Dame. February opens with UNC in Chapel Hill. The jury is still out on whether the Blue Devils will remain a few Swallows (avian not alcoholic) short, or if they will usher in a sunny summer by morphing into the National contender we all hope them to be.
Next Play: Tuesday January 25th at 7 pm vs. Clemson in Cameron TV: ESPN2
Duke Blue Devils 71 v.Clemson Tigers 69; (Season 13 Issue 17 – Game 19) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (January 25, 2022)
It’s one thing to lose to good teams like Miami by a basket at home and to Florida State in Tallahassee in overtime. It’s another to almost lose to Clemson after Duke having beaten them the last 19 times they faced off in Cameron. Rebounding and turnovers are still a problem for Duke: Clemson outrebounded Duke 39-31, had two fewer turnovers, a 15-6 edge in transition. And took 19 more shots from the field than Duke. The good news is that Joey Baker and Bates Jones picked up the scoring slack when Banchero sat out about ten minutes of the first half after picking up two silly fouls in the first 5 minutes of the game.
However, playing hard and smart consistently on defense was another problem. Duke led virtually the entire game and seemed poised to deliver the knockout blow time and time again in the second half–but even with Banchero back they didn’t. Duke led 41-36, 43-38, 47-41, 52-46, 55-48 and 60-53 and yet somehow trailed 65-63, with 3:19 left.
These players need to understand they are not in high school anymore—everyone in college can play and shoot the three and are not intimidated, but rather energized, by playing against one-and-doners wearing jerseys with Duke on the front and targets on the back. When Banchero and Williams and Moore are on the floor with any two other players, Duke is formidable if the five are playing hard, and smart, and taking care of the ball. When they aren’t, it’s a jump ball.
- A case for A.J. Griffin: He is 9-for-17 from the left corner of the 3-point arc and 8-for-13 from the right — miles ahead of NCAA averages from either location. Griffin started off the season slowly due to his pre-season knee injury, but he took coming off the bench with the maturity of a seasoned veteran, waited his turn to start, and is now cooking ACC defenses when he gets in rhythm. The approach to a Duke offense hitting on all cylinders is simple—when you have a player uniquely capable of making shots worth 1.5 times more than anyone else in your lineup, you should use him as much as you possibly can.
- Dick Vitale’s grandsons are on the Duke tennis team, coached by Ramsey Smith, son of legendary tennis player Stanton Smith. The Vitale grandsons are both top-20 recruits, with Connor coming in at No. 8 overall and Jake checking in at No. 19. The Krug brothers are finally here, and they’re ready to make an impact. *see photo below
Duke was back to “improving nicely” when they demolished Syracuse last Saturday. It is hard to deduce whether “Duke is improving nicely” from the 2-point win over Clemson last night.
Before last night’s game, Clemson had won 11 while losing 8 — with losses to St. Bonnie, W.Va, Rutgers, Miami, Virginia, Notre Dame, plus a loss on January 18th (91-78) to the same Syracuse that Duke had shellacked! A 2-point win in the last minute – in Cameron – is less than a status-raising / stellar performance. Head Coach in Waiting, Jon Scheyer, told the ESPN sideline reporter at halftime, “they played harder than we did.” Not the first time a comment like that has been made about a Duke performance this year.
Duke was well scouted by The Tigers, as you could tell from the opening two plays. On the opening jump, Mark Williams, who has been winning every tap all season long with a back tap to Jeremy Roach, again did the back tap to Jeremy. However, Clemson knew what was coming, and attacked Roach before the ball reached him.Roach had to foul in the first 2 seconds of the game trying to outfight Clemson for the ball. On Duke’s first offensive possession, A.J. Griffin tried to feed Paolo Banchero in the post, but Clemson met the pass before it even reached Paolo. Clemson demonstrated from the opening tip that the Tigers had come to play.
Yet, Duke did not wilt under the Clemson energy. Rather, in the second half, the Blue Devils adjusted to the intensity of the back-and-forth game to make winning plays when it counted. A dramatic turnaround from the final possession losses to both FSU and Miami. Making the plays that count at “winning time” is no small matter.
The second half was vastly different from the opening stanza; therefore, taking a separate look at each half is the way to obtain the clearest analysis of this game.
FIRST HALF: TIE AT 36
Coach K acknowledged the intense defense that Clemson played throughout the game (part of “playing harder” than Duke in the first half): “They were denying entry passes, applying ball pressure…for Jeremy [Roach] to finish the game with nine assists and only one turnover is fantastic because their guards played outstanding defense. The Trevor [Keels] thing…we’re not who we are without him, … They knocked us back because it wasn’t just pressure on the ball, it was old-time man to man defense where you had a hard time making an entry, or if you did, you’re out of your normal area of deployment—getting a ball to the elbow. Every single one of their kids played hard.”
Duke’s scoring was (to say the least) “unusual”. Joey Baker scored 9 points in 7 minutes, on 3-4 shooting from deep to lead Duke’s first half scoring. That was a first!
Bates Jones came off the bench for 9 first-half minutes, and scored as many points as Duke’s season-long high scorers – Banchero, A.J. Griffin, and Wendell Moore – scored in the opening period. All four of those players scored 5 points. Bates was 2-3 from the field, including 1-2 from deep. Another first!
Mark Williams was the second highest scorer, with 6 points (1-1 from the field and 4-5 from the stripe). Roach only scored 1 to complete Duke’s first-half scoring (1-2 from the line), but he had 5 assists against only a single turnover.
A.J. Griffin had a difficult game. His ineffective 12 first-half minutes limited his playing time in each half. In the first half, Griffin was 1-5 from inside the arc without attempting a shot from deep. He did sink all 3 of his foul shots for his 5 first-half points, his only points of the game. A.J. played fewer minutes than Joey Baker did in the second half. and was not even on the floor at crunch time. Coach K: “He is young, that physicality – he has to learn how to respond to the physicality.” Duke shot well in the opening half – 11-24 from the field (including 6-10 from 3land) plus 8-10 from the stripe – but allowed the Tigers to force 9 first-half turnovers from Duke and to grab 5 offensive rebounds, which gave Clemson 11 more shot attempts than Duke had.
Duke’s defense was visibly less intense than Clemson’s. Duke forced only 5 turnovers (truthfully, most Clemson turnovers were not forced; Clemson was just careless with the ball), while Clemson scored 12 points off Duke’s 9 turnovers. Duke had half as many steals (3) as Clemson had (6). Clemson had not been a good 3-point shooting team, but then last night shot 50% from behind the arc in the first half (6-12), because Duke.didn’t have the energy or will to guard the 3 point line and contest the Clemson shots.
SECOND HALF – DUKE 35 v. CLEMSON 33
In response to Clemson’s intense defensive pressure, Roach and Moore each played 40 minutes. After being harried into 9 first-half turnovers, Duke committed only 3 in the closing half. Astoundingly, neither Roach nor Moore committed a single turnover in the last stanza.
The reduction in turnovers was a remarkable second-half improvement which was a significant factor in Duke’s win. Three Duke players played every second of the latter stanza – Banchero was the 3rd. Mark Williams played almost as much; he was out of the game for less than 2 minutes (Theo John played only those 108 seconds that Mark sat out). Joey played 10:39, scoring a crucial basket to give him 11 points for the game, while A.J. played only 9:21 (0-2, including 0-1 from deep to go with a board and an assist). Incredibly, it was Baker in the game rather than A.J. for the last 7:26 of the game.
Paolo was superb in the second half after having been limited in the opening period by the 2 quick fouls he picked up. He scored 14 second-half points (6-11, including 1-3 from deep plus 1-1 from the stripe,) while grabbing 5 rebounds, handing out 3 assists and blocking a shot. He scored 19 points for the game. That is star stuff!
Moore scored 8 (2-6, including 2-4 from deep, plus 2-2 from the foul line), in addition to 4 boards and an assist. He is almost back to his pre-pause standard.
Roach scored 7 (3-6, including 1-2 from behind the arc) with 4 assists – Paolo, Wendell, and Jeremy accounted for 29 of Duke’s 35 second-half points. Coach K pointed out that with Keels and Moore handling the ball in recent games, Jeremy has “been playing off the ball because Wendell [Moore] was out there. With Trevor [Keels] being hurt we put him back on top, and (chuckle) he probably wants to stay on top. He was really strong, in addition to hitting those two shots after all that ball pressure…he’s in really good shape physically and mentally. He’s worked really hard. He and Nolan [Smith] have worked on extra stuff, and whenever guys do that, they play better. They just don’t do what you do in practice, they do extra, and the extra can’t just be practice-work, it’s got to be an investment.” Roach’s recent games have been extraordinary; he has logged 28 assists against 3 turnovers in the last four games.
Jeremy added, “In the Miami game, we kind of did a little one-hand rebound and they got the ball back. So just rebound with two hands, execute and don’t turn the ball over, and no fouls. You saw we slapped the floor [late in the game] and that was a big Duke moment out there to get some stops.”
Mark was 2-2 for 4 points. Coach K: “Mark is becoming more athletic laterally. You always see him being athletic vertically, but his lateral movement has really gotten better, and he’s more athletic. He’s playing wider, he’s moving his feet, and he had to tonight, playing against [Hall]. You know, we’re moving forward here, and I see him improving in that area and I needed him to do that tonight because Hall was a big-time matchup problem—I think he had 10 defensive rebounds, too.”
Baker made a crucial layup for his 2 second-half points. His basket plus those by Paolo, Wendell, Jeremy, and Mark, account for all of Duke’s second half points. Baker may have had the fewest points, but arguably the most crucial. Coach K: “The very first guy you should talk about is Joey because when Trevor went out, in our practices, Joey elevated his talk, his enthusiasm, and as hard as he works, he worked harder and was really a co-captain—and it translated. You didn’t see it much against Syracuse because we played lights out, but again, he did it in preparation for this game, and did it again tonight. In fact, I just talked to him privately about it—that he’s [become] a big-time Duke veteran in these last couple of games.”
The second half was nip and tuck with Duke leading by between 1 and 7 points, until Clemson took its first lead with 61-60 at 6:11 left in the game. I think of the final five minutes of a game as “winning time”. With 4:40 left, Paolo threw a beautiful cross court pass to Jeremy who hit a 3 (Duke leads 63-61). Hunter tied it at 63 with 4:10 left before Clemson converted yet another offensive rebound to lead 65-63 with 3:19 left. Roach penetrated inside on a drive to tie it at 65 with 3:05 left. After the media timeout, Hall, well defended by Mark, missed and Jeremy got the rebound. Crucial!
With 2:15 remaining, Joey Baker made a great driving hook shot to give Duke a 2-point lead, which it never relinquished. When Clemson missed a 3 with 1:53 left, Wendell grabbed the critical rebound, raced the ball down court himself, and made the assist of the game with his entry pass down low to Paolo. Banchero made a difficult turnaround jump shot out of the post that gave Duke a 4-point lead (69-65 with only 1:27 left). But the Blue Devils transition defense failed after Paolo’s next shot missed, giving up a fast break dunk by Clemson to make it 69-67 with 37 seconds left. Jeremy then won the game. when he fed Paolo with a perfect lead pass for Paolo to lay it in, giving Duke a 4-point lead with only 10 seconds left. Clemson cut the lead to the final two point margin with a meaningless offensive rebound put back with 1.2 seconds left. A thrilling, yet disappointing win!
Coach K: “The big three tonight were Joey, Bates, and Jeremy. … With Bates he’s on the scout team so he doesn’t get much time because he’s playing behind Paolo, and a lot of times we put A.J. in for Paolo. Banchero wasn’t in and A.J. wasn’t having his game, so Bates stepped up. Again, we made mention of that in front of the team because that’s how you win —when others step up.”
One writer asked in the post-game press conference how Duke was going to fix its rebounding problem (the other team getting so many offensive rebounds creating so many extra shots). K’s reply was interesting (maybe even enlightening), “Keep working at it. We won! So, we did some things to make up for that disadvantage. We are not a perfect team. We’re young and playing our butts off. As we move forward, let’s keep seeing individual and collective improvement. I haven’t seen a perfect team yet and we are certainly not one of them.”
That leads me to ask: Even though Duke is still the only ACC team ranked in the top 25 in both polls, is Duke the best team in the ACC, or are they overrated?. Facts to consider: Duke is tied with Miami and Florida State for the ACC lead at 6-2 (each of those teams beat the Blue Devils; Miami in Cameron). Notre Dame also has 2 losses, but only 5 wins. Of Duke’s 6 wins, only one was against a team with a winning ACC record (Wake at 7-3). Duke’s other wins are against bottom teams – Ga. Tech (1-6); Virginia Tech (2-6); NC State (3-6); Clemson (3-6); and Syracuse (3-6, after last night’s loss to Pittsburgh).
Louisville (on Saturday) is 5-5, but in disarray. Their coach was just fired today. Virginia, Duke’s other game in January, is 6-4. This Duke team is hard to evaluate at this point in the season. February will be the month to get a real feel for how Coach K’s last team, the 2021-2022 Duke Blue Devils, will be remembered.
Next Play: Saturday afternoon, January 29th, 2022 at 12 pm at Louisville. TV: ESPN2
Duke Blue Devils 74 v. Louisville Cardinals 65; (Season 13 Issue 18 – Game 20) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “Cliffsnotes” (January 29, 2022)
Head Coach-in-Waiting Jon Scheyer said in an interview: “We are a different team with Mark Williams on the floor.” If there is any doubt about that, you only needed to watch yesterday’s game at Louisville. The Blue Devils quickly built a lead that fluctuated between 12-16 points in the first half, then Williams went out with two fouls. Before you could say “WTF “, the margin was only two points – until A.J Griffin hit a three with .6 seconds left to play in the half, from what can only be described as Steph Curry territory.
Starting the second half, predictably Louisville went right at Williams, who was called for his third foul and took a seat on the bench. It was a re-run of the Clemson game until shortly after Mark came back in and took control of the boards and, with an assist from Banchero, made what can only be called one hellacious / vicious/ all-ball blocks by a big man on a big man you will ever see, followed by a block of a three, recovering the ball to create a turnover….well you get the idea. Basketball is a game of momentum-changing moments—and these were two of them. They were the impetus for a Duke 14-5 run to salt the game away. Mark’s dominance gave the opportunity for Banchero to be Banchero, for Griffin to be Griffin, Moore to be Moore…well you get the idea. Mark Williams is the catalyst for the rest of the team to play inspired Duke Basketball!
Mike Krzyzewski on the end of the game: “We were able to hang in there and keep it either tied or a two-point lead until Mark came back in and Mark had been a tremendous influence on the game in keeping balls alive on offense and protecting the basket. Our half court execution was really good, and AJ was terrific. When it was 62-60, he hit a three and then he hit another three, if they don’t hit threes, that puts you up four possessions and then we were able to get a stop and then we had two really good offensive executions which took some time, and we were able to stop them and got that margin.”
The puzzling thing is why the Blue Devils at this stage of the season cannot play a complete game? How can teams like Louisville and Clemson play them even or make up big deficits? One reason today was that the Devils were 8-18 free throws and 6-20 for threes (Griffin was 5-5, so the rest of Duke was 1 for 15 ). Maybe, it’s that teams are playing Duke very, very physically. The refs had to take time to calm the players down. These Duke players don’t back down but maybe it distracts them—is this a basketball game or a test of one’s manhood? Whatever the case, it’s getting a little late—even with the Covid and injuries—to be coming together. However, if anyone can do it, Coach K can.
One more comment: our Hall of Fame Coach certainly has the pieces. Banchero contributes in more ways than scoring. He is a Swiss Army Knife type of a player: scores, passes, and rebounds with equal efficiency. A.J. Griffin is the most lethal three-point shooter since JJ Reddick. Moore and Keels are terrific defenders and explosive, if not consistent, scorers. Roach is a steady point guard, who has settled into playing to his strengths as the season progresses.
Next play: Road Trips.
Winning Time (for this game, the last 5:45 of play)
Louisville was tied at 2-2, never led in the game, and finally tied the game again at 60, with 8:28 left to play in the game. Wendell Moore was fouled twice, making 1-2 each time, to give Duke a 2 point lead with under 6 minutes to play. Then, the Blue Devils were given a magical boost by A.J. Griffin, for the best “winning time” basketball of Duke’s season so far!
When Paolo Banchero blocked a dunk attempt by Louisville’s 6’9” strong man, Sydney Curry, Mark Williams grabbed the deflection. Jeremy Roach fed A.J. Griffin, who swished his fourth 3-pointer of the game, with 5:46 to go. (65-60).
Then came the sequence that changed the game. Falkner, a Cardinal sharp shooter, had a mid-range jump shot blocked by Mark; Williams also managed to keep control of the ball. When Jeremy missed a layup, Paolo grabbed the offensive rebound, but missed his put back. Mark grabbed yet another offensive rebound and passed to Wendell. Moore passed to Griffin, who swished another wide open 3-pointer. (68-60) with 4:50 to go.
Locken of the Cardinals missed a layup, but then Wendell had his drive blocked. A.J. missed on a mid-range jumper for Duke followed by Ellis missing for the Cardinals, also from mid-range. Banchero secured the rebound, with 3:54 remaining, and made a difficult turnaround jump shot from outside the paint with 3:28 left. (70-60). When Louisville missed another jumper, Paolo got the rebound. He then missed a pullup jumper, which Mark rebounded and laid it in off the backboard, with 2:38 remaining. (72-60). The game seemed to me to effectively be over at that point. Louisville wasn’t quite ready to give up though.
The Cardinals converted an offensive rebound, with 2:17 left (72-62). In the ensuing minute and 32 seconds, Banchero missed 2 driving layups for Duke, while the Cardinals missed 4 shots. First, Cross missed a jumper. Then, Louisville missed 3 times (grabbing 2 offensive rebounds) before Paolo secured the ball for Duke, with 1:11 left. He made the assist to Mark Williams for his dunk and Duke’s final points, with 50 seconds left. Louisville did score the final basket, a meaningless 3, with 45 seconds left, for the final score of 74-65.
The game statistics corroborate Bill, Scheyer, and Coach K’s (inverse order of consequences) analysis of Mark’s value to Duke in this game (and for the season going forward). In the first half, the two early fouls Williams committed limited his playing time to just under 10 minutes, but in that limited time, hee still scored 8 points (4-6 from the field), with 2 boards.
Before Mark had committed a foul, he was taken out for a quick rest, replaced by Theo John, after 5:20 of the game had elapsed with the score 14-2 for Duke (Mark scored 6 of Duke’s 14.) His rest was short; Mark re-entered the game with almost 12 minutes in the half remaining, and soon committed his first foul (with 10:35 left in the half) and his second (after 2 more rebounds and a put back), with 7:31 to go, and Duke leading by 11 (28-17). In the next 7:30, which the Blue Devils played without Mark (it was Duke by 37-35, before A.J.’s buzzer-beater 3 at the close of the half), Duke had been outscored 18 to 9 while Mark was on the bench.
Mark’s performance in the last part of the second half was scintillating, especially at winning time! Early in the second half, Mark committed his 3rd foul, when Curry beat him badly on a drive. Coach K replaced Mark with Theo with Duke leading by 2 (47-45). When Williams returned with 10:25 to play, Duke was leading (58-55). Mark played the rest of the game (13:24 in the entire second half), with 6 second-half points (3-5 from the field) and a critical 9 rebounds and 2 blocks (one of which was absolutely sensational at crunch time!). He confirmed all that Coach K, Jon and Bill have concluded about Mark’s value. In 23:11 for the game, Mark’s double-double was 14 points (7-11 from the field) and 11 rebounds (5 offensive) and 2 blocks. Mark committed only a single turnover.
A.J. had a monster game, leading Duke in scoring with 22 points (8-13, including an astounding 5-5 from 3land; plus 1-3 from the stripe). He added 4 tough rebounds and 2 steals to his well-rounded almost-34-minute performance. His clutch shooting won the game for Duke and will make future opponents prepare game plans that concentrate on stopping A.J. Duke’s inconsistency is exemplified by A.J.’s terrible game against Clemson, and now magical play against the Cardinals.
As Bill emphasized, Paolo’s value to Duke extends beyond his dynamite scoring. Even though he can score at all 3 levels – behind the arc, mid-range, and at the rim – he did not score well against the Cardinals. In 36:30 he scored only 11 (5-15, including 0-2 from deep and 1-2 from the line), but he added 15 rebounds to lead Duke in that department, plus provided 3 assists and valuable rim protection that added a block. Paolo is an all-around player. He re-entered the game for the final 9 minutes. In that short period, while he missed four shots, he contributed 4 rebounds, a block, an assist, and a field goal.
Wendell Moore, Jr.
Wendell had a disappointing first half and a valuable second half. In the opening period, Moore played 18:18, scoring only 2 points on 1-6 from the field, (including 0-3 from behind the arc), with 3 assists, 2 steals, a rebound, and a turnover. He was much better in the second half, playing all 20 minutes,while scoring 8 (2-3 from the field and 4-6 from the stripe). He added 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Thus, for the game, Wendell scored 10 with 5 assists (2 turnovers), 4 boards and a pair of steals. Wendell is still not quite the Wendell we saw in November and December, but if he continues like he did in this second half,he will be back to the player that Coach K described as one of the best in the country.
After the first half, I was prepared to anoint Jeremy as Duke’s MVP. He played all 20 first-half minutes, scoring 7 (3-7 from the field, including 1-4 from 3land). He added 4 assists without a turnover and corralled a pair of rebounds. He was the glue. Then his effectiveness waned in the second half, I believe due to his simply finally getting tired. He actually was given a minute and 45 second rest in the closing stanza. In the second half, Jeremy scored only 2 points (0-2 from the field, including 0-1 from deep; and 2-3 from the foul line). He had only 1 assist and committed his only turnover of the game.
Jeremy’s 5 assists in this game gives him 28 total in the five games where he has been the point guard since Keels was injured. His only turnover today was his fifth in those games. That is close to otherworldly!
Theo spelled Mark Williams for about 6:30 in each half, scoring all 6 of his points in the first half. For the game, Theo was 3-4 from the field; an embarrassing 0-4 from the stripe, to go with 5 boards, an assist and 2 turnovers. In the second half, Theo did not take a shot from the field and missed both of his foul shots.
Joey played 12 unremarkable game minutes – 6 in each half, scoring his only 2 points in the second half (1-5, including 0-3 from deep) with an assist and a steal. There are times when Duke needs his offense–last night it was MIA. One more example of the inconsistency that has plagued this team.
Duke outrebounded the Cardinals 47-34, with Banchero’s 15 and Williams’s 11 leading the way. At one point, the announcer highlighted that after collecting 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, Duke had played a substantial portion of the second half without securing a single offensive rebound. The announcer gets credit for extending the “announcer jinx”. Duke immediately started to dominate the offensive glass, ending up with 10 in the second half — all in the last portion of the second half. Duke took 9 more shots than the Cardinals in the game.
A.J. put it well, “I think when you see the adjustments we have to make, we knew we had to rebound and box out. You just look at what we’ve got to work on, and you’ve got to capitalize on it. Having Mark Williams, Paolo Banchero in the paint working, helping us get rebounds, having big blocks at the end – that’s what wins games is defense.”
Assists to Turnovers
Duke had 15 assists on 30 made field goals. Good. While Duke turned it over 7 times, only Moore had as many as 2.
The challenging part of the Duke schedule is upon us. Duke now faces the ACC teams with winning records … many on the road. This week, Duke travels to Indiana to face Notre Dame (14-6; 7-2 in the ACC) tomorrow, and then on Saturday to Chapel Hill to play the Tarheels (15-6; 7-3 in the ACC).
Of the 9 February games, 6 are on the road. Inconsistency in this stretch could derail Duke’s post-season preparation and hopes.
Next Play: Monday evening, January 31st, 2022, at 7 pm at Notre Dame. TV: ESPN.
Notre Dame is the make-up of the Covid-canceled game from New Year’s Day. Notre Dame also played yesterday (also in South Bend), defeating UVA). Play in Louisville on Saturday, travel to South Bend and play on Monday–logistically this is a difficult travel schedule. Next Play indeed!
Duke Blue Devils 57 v. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 43; (Season 13 Issue 19 – Game 21) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “Cliffsnotes” (January 31, 2022)
I am apprehensive about all away ACC Basketball games, but Notre Dame is the only institution which issues Leprechaun outfits instead of beanies to all first-year students. Then, for basketball games, they skip afternoon classes for Pub 101 to participate in pre-game warmup. Now, they are ready to support Coach Mike Brey and his team! And support them like they are the football team they do—even when the team is down double digits. This year, ND is short on big men, so Brey lives or dies by a deliberate offense and the three-point shot, which has led to nine straight wins at home and the same ACC record (7-2) as Duke. Add to this, the arena is sold out for the first time since Duke was last there and the Blue Devils had just played a very physical game at Louisville; therefore, you have the makings of an upset (or as Alan likes to phrase it, a trap game) .
Not to worry tonight. A combination of Duke defense plus a score reminiscent of my prep school days, had Duke leading 27-14 at the half (I wondered if both teams would play the second half in Chuck Taylor Converse All Star high top canvas sneakers and take two handed set shots from beyond the arc), and beating Notre Dame with a 1950s prep school type final score of 57-43. The Blue Devils did not shoot well either, but Duke had Mark Williams and Paolo Banchero, who controlled the paint, and superior overall talent. And, speaking of talent, Trevor Keels returned and played more than half the game.
Coach K on the mental toughness required to play six ACC games in such a short span, made tougher because five of them are on the road, “It just turns out this way because of COVID. We were shut down for 10 days where we didn’t do anything. We had over 40 COVID cases in our entire program, with families. I’ve never been through anything like that. My wife is just recovering right now. She had the monoclonal infusion; so, it’s been a hell of a month. We missed two road games; so, they have to be fit in. This is how they fit it in. You’ve got to do what they ask you to do and try to use it as a positive. Being at Louisville at noon on Saturday and being here on Monday, and winning both games, that’s good. We have a young team. Trevor [Keels] is 18 and so is AJ [Griffin]. They both [turned] 18 in August. It’s a young team, so going through this, you get confidence, you get older. I’m only paying attention to our team and how we develop, because I can’t compare it to anybody. I don’t watch anybody else. But I do think we’re getting better and we’re in better shape.”
“Actually, I was surprised where Trevor was today. He really helped us in the first half, because we were kind of playing wild offensively, and he settled us down. In the second half, we put some things in there where he had a chance to maybe get 12 points, but, you could tell, it’s 25 minutes – he’ll [get] there. But having him back will help us and give us that depth on the perimeter.” Coach K was referring to Trevor being wide open to score, but rusty (0-4 in the second half, including 0-2 on wide open 3s). The fact that Trevor played so much was the real headline. He is knocking the rust off quickly.
The Notre Dame Game Loomed Daunting
The day after a thrilling road win over Louisville last Saturday, Duke traveled to Notre Dame to play last night’s game that was re-scheduled from New Year’s Day. Notre Dame, with a team of all seniors and one heralded freshman, was on a roll, having beaten both Kentucky and UNC on the Irish home court. Notre Dame features a potent 3-point attack – Dane Goodwin (16.6 p.p.g) was shooting 50% from behind the arc, while 6’10” Nate Laszewski was at 45% and they are both volume shooters. Blake Wesley, the athletic freshman, made the Wooten Watch List at 14.6 p.p.g. Notre Dame is the only other ACC team receiving points in both polls (but well out of the top 25) besides Miami and Duke (who is the only ACC team in the top 25, albeit still at #9).
My pre-game note “Defense against ND’s 3s will be the key.” And so it was!
BEATING NOTRE DAME 57-43 WAS A GREAT (NOT JUST GOOD) GAME FOR DUKE, IN SPITE OF WHAT THE ANNOUNCERS SAY.
On the ACC Network, the quality of basketball played by Duke was denigrated by Matt Packer and Wes Durham. Packer and Durham were giving us an example of commentary that only scratches the surface. Go kick rocks!
Duke’s defense was so good against the Irish that I thought Coach K had morphed into George Balanchine because the Blue Devils defense looked as synced and together as a New York City Ballet. It was simply beautiful.
Coach K: “We played really good defense. To me that was the story of the game. With one day of preparation!”
“Mike [Brey]’s team has been an offensive juggernaut. Tonight, we were able to defend them. I thought our big guys did an excellent job. They have that five-out, and so it’s not a low post game. … It’s team defense. We have good players … we’re athletic. Wendell [Moore Jr.] did a really good job on Wesley. Our bigs, too, on the ball screen in an ice where we didn’t have to switch it all the time. With Goodwin, we were lucky, I guess. He’s so good. When I looked at the box score [Goodwin was held scoreless for the entire game!!!], I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s played as well as anybody in the league. [He is shooting] 50 percent from three for the season and just solid. He wasn’t able to get his post move because AJ [Griffin] was on him. We have a big perimeter, a lengthy perimeter, so it’s something they probably haven’t seen.”
Paolo Banchero added at the post-game press conference where he appeared together with Coach K, “We had a good game plan coming in. We knew they were a great three-point team; so, we wanted to run them off the line, and with our Bigs protecting the paint as well. We were going to be switching and icing ball screens, so just protecting the paint, and then keeping them off that three-point line. We did a real good job.”
Not only did Paolo, Wendell and A.J. smother the feared ND attack, but Duke also got terrific perimeter defense from Trevor Keels in his first game back from injury. While he was rusty offensively (at least scoring wise – 3 points on 1-8 shooting from the field, including 0-4 from behind the arc and 1-2 from the stripe), he had 4 assists without a turnover in 26 minutes (only Paolo and Wendell logged more game minutes than Trevor did). Good news for Duke.
Duke’s interior defense from Mark Williams, Theo John, and Paolo was ferocious. Mark had 3 blocks, Theo 2 (in only 13:32), and Paolo had 1.
ND was averaging well over 70 points per game coming into this one – The Blue Devils allowed the Fighting Irish only 14 points in the entire first half. For a team that relies on its deep shooting, ND was 6-23 from the field, including 0-8 from behind the arc. It will be hard to find another game this year where a good team was held to a 14 point half.
Duke’s reserves gave up a run of 6 meaningless points at the end of the game, or ND would not even have reached a rate of a point per minute in the game. It is as if Duke had held the Irish to 37 points for the entire game. Either way, it was the defensive performance of the season and maybe for the decade!
With the return of Trevor, and the emergence of Bates Jones as a valuable reserve while Trevor was rehabbing, Duke now goes 9 deep. It’s as if Duke has 6 starters (with Roach and Keels) and a solid three experienced reserves: John played 4 years at Marquette, Jones played 4 years at Davidson, and Baker is a senior. This is becoming a deep bench that contributes to Duke’s success, which is very different from earlier in the year. Very good for Duke!
The Return of Trevor Keels
Bill posted Coach K’s assessment of the value of Trevor’s return and 26 minutes of play in his first game back (3rd most for any Duke player against the Irish). While Jeremy did not play well last night in the wake of Trevor’s return, he has been a godsend as the starting point guard (“playing on top”) in Trevor’s absence. We now know that Coach K has 6 players that he trusts as starters (even though only 5 may start.)
Theo had a marvelous game, scoring 6 on 3-4 from the field to go with 9 rebounds and 2 blocks (in only 13 + minutes).
Joey BakerJoey gave the starters almost 16 minutes of rest, with energetic defense but less than he usually provides on offense (0-3 from deep for 0 points). Nevertheless, he is giving the team genuine senior leadership.
Bates took advantage of the opportunity presented by Trevor’s injury and has played his way into the rotation. Bates is a good shooter and reliable player. In his 10 minutes, he scored 5 points (2-3 from the field, including 1-1 from 3land). He added a steal and a rebound. Bates entered the game with 4:58 left in the first half and Duke leading by 4 (18-14). The team on the floor was: Baker, John, Jones, Keels and Roach. In that last 4 and ½ minutes, those reserves pushed the lead from 4 to the halftime margin of 13 (27-14)!
Coach K: “I think a key part of the game was the end of the first half, where we went on a 9-0 run with our bench out on the court. Theo [John], Bates [Jones], Joey [Baker] – they did a heck of a job. We got that double-digit lead and were able to maintain the defensive intensity throughout.”
Last night, Duke exhibited not a hint of their previous rebounding deficits. The Blue Devils built a 51-36 rebounding advantage. Duke’s interior controlled the boards: Paolo had 9 rebounds, Theo had 9, A.J. had 9 in only 22 minutes, and Mark had 8 in 23 minutes. Wendell added 5.
Duke’s 54 point game score is close to what the Blue Devils have scored in a single half elsewhere. Though Duke did not shoot well (under 40% total for the game (26-66), and under 16% from behind the arc (3-19), Duke led by as many as 22 late in the second half, and were never even threatened.
- Little or None: Keels scored 3, Moore scored 2, Baker and Roach did not score.
- Banchero – In 30 minutes, Paolo scored 21 points (10-22, including 1-5 from behind the arc, without a foul shot). Paolo scored 14 of his points in the second half – more than half of Duke’s 27 second-half points.
- Griffin scored 13 points (6-11, including 1-2 from deep).
- Williams scored 7 points in 23 minutes (3-4 from the field to go with his 1-1 from the stripe.
- As previously noted, the bench added 11 (Theo 6 and Bates 5).
- Astoundingly, Duke took only 3 free throws in the entire game (2-3: Mark was 1-1 and Trevor 1-2).
The upcoming schedule is daunting. The final road game on this 3-game swing is Saturday in Chapel Hill. A second Saturday/Monday weekend in a row occurs (because of COVID rescheduling) when UVA comes into Cameron on Monday (Feb 7) following the UNC game. Brutal. Duke then heads out on a second 3-game road trip: Clemson on Thursday (Feb 10), B.C on Saturday (Feb 12 – another two games with only a day in between) followed by a trip to Wake Forest on Tuesday (Feb 15). Definitely daunting!
Coach K described the carnage from Duke’s experience with COVID that caused the postponement of two games (causing this brutal Louisville & Notre Dame weekend) and the shutdown of the whole program for 10 days. Physically and emotionally devastating. No wonder it took a while for the Blue Devils to shake off the consequences of that horrible experience.
Playing with only a day between games is getting the Blue Devils ready for the NCAA tournament. By the end of the second road trip, Duke will have played 3 times with just a day between games. This is good NCAA practice because each of the four game tournaments (Coach K says that to win the National Championship, one must win three 4-team tournaments) requires playing a second game with only a day in between.
I agree with Coach K when he says, “I’m only paying attention to our team and how we develop, because I can’t compare it to anybody. I don’t watch anybody else [not SportsCenter, the polls, Joey Brackets, or even Jay Bilas]” I, too, support not paying attention to the rankings, what other teams look good on any given day or for any given game, or any of that stuff. The rankings are truly bovine excrement, depending far too much on where a team starts in the pre-season poll. Look at this comparison between Duke and Miami:
Duke is #9 in the AP poll with 1107 points, and #6 in the UP poll with 604 points. Miami is unranked, though garnering 29 points in the AP poll and 19 points in the UP poll (30th place in each). Now let’s look at the records of the two teams. Miami is 16-5; 8-2 in the ACC; Duke is 18-3; 8-2 in the ACC. Each team lost close games to Fla. State – Duke by one in overtime and Miami twice by a point. They each beat Va. Tech, Ga. Tech, Wake Forest, NC State, Syracuse, and Clemson. But Miami beat Duke … in Cameron! Even so, Miami trails Duke in the AP poll by the huge margin of 1078 points and in the UP poll by 585 points. Bovine excrement!No wonder Coach K says, “I’m paying attention to our team and how we develop. I don’t watch anybody else.” Me neither.
Next Play: Saturday, February 5th, 2022, at 6 pm at UNC. TV: ESPN.
Duke Blue Devils 87 v. UNC Tarheels 67; (Season 13 Issue 20 – Game # 22) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “Cliffsnotes”
It was not a warm welcome for Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as he walked out onto the court at the Dean Dome for the last time. There was no polite applause. No embrace from Roy Williams. No show of respect for the man who took an intense regional rivalry to a national level, making it the best in college basketball—if not all of sports. No “Thanks for the Memories” of all the great contests decided at the final buzzer. No respect was given to the man with the most wins in NCAA basketball history. Rather, he was greeted by a chant that inserted a four-letter word f**k in front of his name–not a smart, classy move. To quote Julia Roberts’ wonderful “Pretty Woman” retort to the snooty saleswoman in the Rodeo Drive boutique shop who dissed her : “Mistake. Big mistake” as she flaunted thousands of dollars of dresses she had purchased at a nearby competitor.
Coach K’s revenge was to have his players amped up and ready to play, starting both halves with vengeance by playing the best basketball they have played all year. They played so well, it turned the raucous crowd of 21,000 in the Dean Dome into an inebriated “Wine and Cheese” crowd who cheered mindlessly but hopefully whenever the Tar Heels closed the lead to the mid-teens.
Jim Summers summarized on Dukebasketballreport.com, “Griffin ended with 27 points, hitting 11 of 17 shots. Moore added 13 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and zero turnovers. Banchero struggled with his shot, only hitting 5 of 15 but 10 rebounds. Trevor Keels hit three triples for 11 points, Jeremy Roach had another solid game—8 points, 4 assists, 1 turnover and Mark Williams’ stat line doesn’t begin to suggest his value in keeping Bacot in check and [William’s] intimidating presence altered many shots.”
Johnny Tar Heel called it. He predicted Carolina would get blown out because their guard play is clueless– they can’t dribble and think at the same time—and that no Carolina player was good enough to be in Duke’s stop six rotation.
The breakout star of the game—and you could see this coming in the last few games– was A.J. Griffin. He had 27 points, 3 of 6 threes, and the rest by putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket. A.J is now a complete player, and the Blue Devils are a much more formidable team with what he brings to the floor.
Wendell Moore, Duke’s captain, expressed the feelings of the entire squad: “It was more than just about us and Carolina. I mean, obviously it was about Coach. His last time coming to Carolina, we wanted to send him out with a win, because he definitely deserves it.”
Coach K: “Our guys really played well today. We beat a very good and hot team. It was a great atmosphere. I thought we started out so well. We really won the first 12 minutes of the first half, and then they won the next eight minutes. I thought they seized some momentum in the game – The stop we had at the end of the half and then having the arrow to start the second – At least we kept a double-digit lead.
“Then AJ [Griffin] exploded. We wanted to run a couple things for him, but we ran one thing, and he just went off. Our guys found him, which is really good. We rebounded well, we didn’t turn it over, and we played a really good game. AJ was a star today.”
Coach K regarding what he told the team at halftime: “There are no magical talks. I just told them that we won the first 12 and they won the next eight. If they start out the first four like the last eight, they’re going to beat us. But if we start out the first four like we did the first twelve, then we’re going to win. In our really good games, we’ve come out well in the second half. Tonight, we came out great, because of AJ [Griffin]. And we played defense and our defensive rebounding was excellent. It was a 10-0 run, but that means you’re playing defense. They didn’t turn it over – we had stops there too.”
Part of an interview by The Duke Chronicle with Bobby Hurley, current coach of Arizona State, who was Coach K’s treasured 4-year point guard and who is still holds the record as the All-time career assist leader for college basketball (*see photo at end):
DC: How does the Duke-UNC rivalry stack up against other rivalries you have seen throughout your career?
BH: It’s the greatest I’ve ever been a part of. It’s really not close to anything else that I’ve seen. I’m sure that there’s other sports and other rivalry-type games within other sports, but college basketball, I think it’s an elite rivalry matchup. I don’t know if there’s one better. But I’ve had it out here. I’ve had Arizona-Arizona State and I’ve been a part of that. It’s a heck of an environment when those games are happening here. Duke-Carolina is just a touch different.
DC: Say you’re having a conversation with Coach K and the team before the game—what would you say to them?
BH: Good luck. It’s a war man. It’s like if you’re a competitor, it’s why you’re involved in sports, to be a part of games like this where there’s a lot at stake locally, bragging rights.
Next (trap) game: Virginia (which just beat Miami) at Cameron.
When Coach K said at the Notre Dame press conference, “I’m only paying attention to our team and how we develop”, his hope was to see the 2021-22 Duke Blue Devils develop into precisely the team that disemboweled, smothered, and dominated the Tarheels! One might write truthfully, “the ‘heels never had a chance.”
However, another test for the 2021-22 edition of the Blue Devils looms immediately and requires me to get out the old, tried, but unfortunately, true designation of Duke’s next game – “a trap game” [Bill is obviously coachable]. With only today (Sunday, February 6, 2022) between the celebration of humiliating Carolina, and facing a resurgent Virginia team in Cameron tomorrow (Monday, February 7, 2022), this is the perfect definition of a trap game.
The UNC game was indisputably Duke’s best performance of the 2021-22 season, but raises the question of whether it was truly a quality win. UNC was on a roll, having won 4 in a row, moving into second place in the ACC, and remaining unbeaten on its home floor. All of those accomplishments earn a team the status of “elite”. On the other hand, UNC has no wins over ranked teams, with losses to Purdue, Tennessee, and Kentucky (the only ranked teams in its non-conference schedule). The Tarheels have lost on the road in conference games to Notre Dame, Miami (by 28 points), Wake Forest (by 22 points), and now Duke by 20 points. That is not the record of an elite team, making it hard to measure the true development of these Blue Devils. But a team only plays the opponent on the schedule, and Duke played UNC to almost-perfection.
The First 10 Minutes of the Game
I’m not sure an NBA All-Star team could play better basketball than Duke did in the first 10:01 of the first half. Joey Baker’s steal and layup pushed Duke’s lead to 23 points (31-8) by the midpoint of the first half. Duke’s defense was dominating. The Tarheels scored only 8 points in 10 minutes (a Bacot layup and two Manek 3-pointers); at that rate, UNC would have scored only 32 in a full game 40 minutes. The Blue Devil defense just squeezed the life out of the Tarheels, while the offense was dissecting the UNC defense with lab-like efficiency. Duke scored 31 in 10 minutes; at that rate Duke would have scored 124 points in 40 minutes. 124-32 would be an evisceration of the highest order.
Paolo Banchero scored; A. J. Griffin hit a 3; Banchero hit a 3; Mark Williams layup and foul shot made it 11-2 after only 2:30 had elapsed! A.J. scored on successive drives, Paolo passed to Wendell Moore for a layup; Jeremy Roach assisted a Mark jump shot from 15 feet out; Trevor Keels entered the game and immediately assisted Moore’s layup before he sank a deep 3 of his own after a neat pass from Theo John; John then stole the ball, passed to Paolo, who fed Wendell for the layup (and free throw from the foul); Griffin and Joey Baker each made layups to masterfully create Duke’s 31 points – in 10 minutes! It was Duke’s dominating defense that set up the offensive explosion that decimated the Tarheels.
The Second-Half Slaughter
UNC had cut Duke’s lead to 11 by the end of the first half. Duke removed any doubt of the game’s outcome in the first 3:27 of the second half with increasingly intense defense, holding the ‘heels scoreless while running off 12 quick points – 10 by the smoking hot A.J. With 16:49 left in the game, Duke led by 23 (51-28), and the game was effectively over. UNC got as close as 16 twice, and Duke led by as much as 28 with 1:09 left in the closing stanza. UNC scored a meaningless 8 points in the last minute; Duke’s real margin of victory was 28 points. Duke scored 48 second-half points, while holding UNC to just 31 (if you don’t count the last 8 meaningless points scored in the final minute when Coach K’s grandson and other Duke reserves entered the game).
The Blue Devils perimeter defense simply took the Carolina guards right out of the game!. Wendell was spectacular, Jeremy was steadfast (even when rocked by devastating screens), Trevor was his old intense self, and A.J.’s defense is improving just as dramatically as his offense is. The defense against UNC was every bit as efficient as the amazing perimeter defense against Notre Dame. As Bill and I have been singing: consistency is critical!! This just might be Duke’s best defensive team in a long time.
Duke’s interior defense slowed Armando Bacot, whom Coach K described as “one of the best players in the country and having a fabulous year.” Bacot is UNC’s leading scorer, averaging 16.8 points per game; he was held to 12 last night (only 4 in the second half). Mark Williams and Theo John played him very well. Coach K: “he had a good game but not his normal game. I thought Mark did a good job against him, keeping his feet [moving], and he [Bacot] didn’t get easy buckets. As a result, he was 4-for-10. Normally, he could’ve been 8-for-10. Mark’s playing really well helped tone him down a little bit.”
Bacot has been one of the leading rebounders in the nation (12.2 rebounds per game). Holding Bacot to only 5 rebounds (only 1 offensive), while out-rebounding the Tarheels 40-24, Duke had its best rebounding game of the season. Carolina got only 6 offensive rebounds in the entire game, scoring only 2 second-chance points in the entire game! 2!!! Paolo doubled Bacot’s rebounding total, snaring a game high 10. Wendell had 8, Mark Williams had 6, A.J. had 4, and Trevor garnered 3.
A Quick Synopsis of the Rotation
A.J. Griffin (31:09 minutes played)
A.J. had his best game of the season as he continues to get healthier and into game shape. Coach K: “He’s become more athletic and in better shape. That left-handed dunk – three weeks ago he wouldn’t have been able to do that. I think a big part of it is how well he’s playing on defense. He had Goodwin in the Notre Dame game. He’s moving his feet, and as a result, his whole game is getting wider. So, his first step – he’s driving the ball better. He’s getting somewhere with his first dribble instead of having his dribble within his body. As a result of that, because he can shoot, you gotta be up on him. And he can drive the ball too. He’s really done a great job of finishing. You know, he’s worked hard. No one has worked any harder than that kid.”
Paolo Banchero (31:18 minutes played)
Paolo did not shoot well after making his first 2 shots for 5 points (5-14, including 2-4 from deep, plus 1-2 from the stripe for 13 points), but did have a double-double (13 points; 10 rebounds). He did the “dirty work” of defending, rebounding – unusual for a star player.
Wendell Moore (32:53 minutes played)
Wendell quietly had a simply superb all-around game. He scored 13 points (same as Paolo, but on 8 fewer shots: 5-6 from the field and 3-3 from the foul line) to go with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 0 turnovers. Superb!
Mark Williams (25:26 minutes played)
His stats mask his true value to Duke’s superior effort. Mark was 4-4 from the field and 1-2 from the free throw line for 9 points, to go with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, zero turnovers. While Mark had only 2 blocks, he visibly altered many other shots around the rim.
Jeremy Roach (22:31 minutes played)
Jeremy continues to contribute on both ends of the court. He had another 4 assists with just a single turnover. Jeremy scored 8 (3-5 from the field including 1-2 from deep, plus 1-2 from the foul line). He added a rebound and a steal.
Trevor Keels (19:58 minutes played)
Trevor looked much better in his second game back from injury. He played half the game, scoring 11 points (3-6 from the field, including a gaudy 3-4 from deep, plus 2-2 from the stripe). His shot was falling against UNC as it had not in his return-game against Notre Dame. In addition, Trevor grabbed 3 boards, handed out 2 assists, and made a steal. Welcome back!
Theo John (13:48 minutes played)
Theo had 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal in addition to scoring 2 points, making his only shot. His value is unmistakable.
Bates Jones (9:28 minutes played)
Bates continues to contribute with good defense, passing, and experience. Bates scored 2 on 1-3 from the field, 0-2 from deep, with a rebound and 2 neat assists.
Joey Baker (9:40 minutes played)
Joey made one good play – a steal and layup – for 2 points (1-2, including 0-1 from deep), but had 3 turnovers. Joey provides rest for the starters and leadership for the team on the perimeter.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS What comes after a spectacular performance such as Duke displayed? First, comes satisfaction from destroying an old rival, especially one that was so classless as to fail to acknowledge the icon that is Coach K, mocking rather than lauding him. It was the classic divine retribution for a bunch of non-achievers having failed to understand respect for the level of competition that Coach K fostered for all of us. Duke fans NEVER would have treated Dean Smith so disrespectfully.
Second, comes the acknowledgment of human nature. Satisfaction can eat up the hunger necessary to produce the same type of superb performance in the next game. That’s why such a game earns the adjective trap. The “trap” game against Virginia concerns me. Virginia stomped the same Miami team that beat Duke in Cameron. Human nature suggests Duke may be thinking highly of itself after the Carolina game, which could defuse the hunger; instead, may the Blue Devils whet their appetite for filet of Cavalier.
Next Play: Monday, February 7th, 2022, vs. Virginia at 7 pm in Cameron Indoor Stadium. TV: ESPN
Duke Blue Devils 68 v. UVA Cavaliers 69; (Season 13 Issue 21 – Game # 23) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “Cliffsnotes” (February 7, 2022)
The Basketball Gods decided that Duke would not win this game. How else do you explain Griffin missing a point-blank dunk or Banchero missing so many layups and going scoreless in the second half? So, They decided that Virginia would break our hearts just like the Blue Devils have broken many hearts over the years with last minute shots. Virginia had bested Duke every which way, yet somehow the Blue Devils had the lead in the final minutes until Roach fell asleep and let Beekman steal the ball from him and make a layup right under Duke’s basket. Then, with seven seconds to go, Theo John, who otherwise played a stellar game, got a rebound but brought the ball down and allowed the Cavaliers to tie him up with the arrow favoring Virginia. Then, someone let Beekman get an open-but-difficult three and the result was a well-deserved win for UVA, but a heart-breaking loss for the Blue Devils and their fans.
There is another explanation: Virginia Coach Tony Bennett is the best damn defensive coach in college basketball and does more with less than anyone. His defense on Banchero (9 pts) and Griffin (2 pts) was well conceived and executed – Bennett shut down Duke’s high scorer’s and dared the other Duke players to beat the Cavaliers. Duke did not respond well. Only two players scored in double digits: Williams 16 in 19 minutes and Keels with 12. It’s a wonder that Duke scored 68 points and was in the game at all.
Anatomy of a defeat:
- Coach K has often said that the best time for another team to play Duke is before or after a game with North Carolina.
- Duke’s man-to-man defense was carved up by less talented, but more disciplined players. Only when the Blue Devils went to a zone did they close Virginia’s double-digit lead.
- Williams made two silly fouls in the first half —one on defense, one on offense – that limited his minutes to only 19 in the game. His 3rd and 4th second half fouls limited his second half playing time to 8+ minutes. Fortunately, Theo John filled in admirably, but when Mark Williams is on the floor, Duke is a different team both defensively and offensively.
- Duke had 15 turnovers to just 5 for UVA.
- Only two players scored in double digits: Williams 16 in 19 minutes [12 in only 8 second-half minutes], and Keels with 12 [all in the second half].
- Out hustled. Example: Williams jogging leisurely back on defense allowed his man to beat him down the floor for an open layup.
- Banchero is struggling offensively. He has to read the defense quicker and make decisive moves to the basket.
- Have the outcome of the game come down to the referees’s whim in the final minutes. Need to make stops and make shots instead.
The most insightful fact about the weirdness of Duke’s loss: In 8:33 of playing time, Bates Jones scored 3 times as many points in this game as A.J. Griffin did in his 23:37 minutes of playing time. Bates scored 6 (2-2 from deep) while A.J. was 1-7, including 0-2 from behind the arc to make his 2 points. The next weird fact is that Paolo Banchero scored only 9 in 38:09 (3-9, including 1-3 from 3land, plus 2-2 from the foul line). Even more shocking is that in 20:00 second-half minutes, Banchero’s only shot attempt was a wild, improbable fling as time in the game expired. 0 second-half points!!
The final insightful fact may be the worst one: this is the fourth game that Duke led right up to the final buzzer – but then lost. Yesterday, Duke led by 2 points with 2 seconds left in the game. Duke led with 1:03 to go but lost to Ohio State; Duke led with 23 seconds to go but lost to Miami; Duke led with 14 seconds to go in regulation, and again with 12 seconds to go in the overtime, but lost to Florida State. National contenders do not lose games like that, and not at home (Miami and Virginia) and not to unranked teams (only Ohio State is ranked in the top 25).
UVA fully deserved to win the game. The Cavaliers played their A-game – a controlled offense, with sharp cuts, good passing, and scoring efficiently in the paint; paired with a tenacious defense that kept the Blue Devils off-balance and forced turnovers. Duke on the other hand played terribly.
UVA simply played harder than Duke in the early going, as occurred in the losses to both Florida State and Miami. It was as if the Blue Devils had a Tarheel hangover (as was feared). Mark Williams acknowledged, “In the first half, we didn’t fight. In the second half, we gave ourselves a chance. We were fighting a little bit more in the second half, but we didn’t close it out.” Coach K (and I) feared human nature after Duke had blasted UNC: “We’ve got to be hungry after we’ve eaten. We had a big meal, but we have to be hungry again, and I thought they were hungrier than we were tonight. … we were not worthy of winning most of the game.” Trevor Keels: “I think we could’ve prepared better. We started off the game a little slow.”
Duke came back from a terrible stretch in the first half when the Blue Devils trailed by 12 (32-20) with only 2:11 left before halftime to cut the UVA lead to 34-29 at the half. Even though Duke was not playing its best basketball, while Virginia was, the Blue Devils came all the way back in the closing period to take the lead with 4 minutes left in the game (64-63) and hold it until the last second. This is what Character looks like.
Mark Williams was absolutely gallant in the second half. While his foul trouble limited his court time in the final period to 8:44, he was 4-5 from the field and 4-5 from the foul line for 12 points, to go with a block and 2 rebounds. He was Duke’s high scorer with 16 game points, even while playing less than half of the game minutes (18:33).Trevor Keels in 14:49 second-half minutes, scored all 12 of his game points to tie Mark for Duke’s scoring lead in the concluding stanza. Trevor drove into the Cavalier defense, getting fouled 3 times (5-6 from the foul line). Keels was 3-8 from the field, including 1-2 from deep, to go with 4 boards.
The Bench in the first half: When the Duke starters went almost 10 minutes without scoring, it was Bates Jones,Theo John, and Joey Baker who scored 10 points collectively, to keep the Blue Devils close enough to compete. Bates played 8:31, hitting 2-2 from deep for 6 points,2nd most for Duke in the opening half (Paolo had 9 points). Theo played 3:21, scoring 2 points (1-1), with a rebound and block. [Theo was even more valuable in the second half when he logged 11:14 because of Mark’s foul trouble.] Joey Baker played only 1:51, all in the first half, when he scored from the field (1-1) and grabbed a rebound.
Human Nature – Theo John said “Coach K talked to us at the half. He talked to us before the game. He told us it’s not going to be easy. You’ve got to beat human nature. You just beat a Carolina team by 20 on the road, and you’ve got to come out here on a Monday, just two days later, and beat another tough team. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Duke’s Man-to-Man Defense – After one of the great defensive efforts of the year against UNC, Duke was completely ineffective against the Cavaliers. Coach K: “They carved us up where 20 of the first 22 points were in the paint—they had 52 in the game—but in the beginning, it was more the cuts …” The zone was not much more effective. UVA was getting uncontested jump shots against the zone.
Duke’ offense also had serious flaws – 37% shooting in the first half, 15 turnovers for the game (while the defense forced only 5 turnovers from Virginia). Virginia had twice as many second chance points as Duke, grabbing 9 first-half offensive rebounds. The Cavaliers controlled the paint for the game. Duke somehow allowed Kadin Shedrick (who did not start, and averages less than 7 points per game) to clean the glass with put-backs: 8-8 for 16 points, to lead Virginia in scoring)!
Wendell Moore played 38:09, scoring 9 (3-8, including 1-5 from behind the arc, plus 2-2 from the stripe). Moore had only 1 assist and 2 turnovers, without a steal. It was not Wendell’s best defensive game, though he still managed to be Duke’s second leading rebounder with 7 (Duke out-rebounded UVA 39 to 32).
Jeremy Roach would not have been in this category but for his final turnover (3 total for the game). Such an outrageous lapse in concentration would not happen on the playground, let alone at a crucial time in an ACC game. It changed the game. Duke led by 66-64 with 1:48 left in the game when Theo blocked Reece Beekman’s driving layup and Roach grabbed the rebound. Roach looked around and apparently forgot Beekman was on the ground behind him. Beekman just came in from out of bounds and swiped the ball from the oblivious Jeremy to lay it in the basket. Jeremy’s reflex committed the foul. When Beekman converted the 3-point play, Duke had gone from a 2-point lead with the ball to a 1-point deficit. Ugly. Otherwise, Jeremy was not ugly, though he had more turnovers in this game than in any since Jeremy moved to be the prime playmaker when Trevor was hurt against Florida State.
A.J. Griffin and Paolo Banchero scored 2 points collectively in the second half. Paolo played every second of the closing period without scoring. A.J. scored 2 (his only score of the game) in his 7:48 minutes played in the final period. He was 0-5 in the first half. And those guys are usually bagging ~20 points each per game–Paolo is the leading freshman scorer in the nation. Ugly.
Virginia scored 20 points from Duke turnovers, while Duke, in contrast, scored only 2 points from UVA turnovers. In the first half it was 11 Duke turnovers to 0 for UVA . The Cavaliers scored 52 of their 69 points in the paint. Ugly defense.
The last plays of the game: Paolo’s turnover and Beekman’s 3 pointer with 1 second left.
Coach K: “We put ourselves in a position to win, but we made two bad plays, two really bad plays—one on offense and one on defense, and that’s all it takes. You have to make a play. If you get the ball in the lane, you have to get a shot, and we weren’t able to get a shot. Then we missed the defensive assignment on the last play and when you do that, you lose.”
With 30 seconds left and Duke nursing a 2-point lead, Duke was not able to get a shot up when Paolo tried to dribble through two Cavaliers, but could only dribble into a turnover. Ugly.
Mark Williams, who missed the defensive assignment on Beekman: “It was on me. I lost Beekman. I should’ve stayed with him off the inbounds, and he got an open look and he knocked it down. There’s not much more to it. I take full responsibility for it. I let my teammates down.”
consistency, Consistency, CONSISTENCY! – Duke must still find consistency if the Blue Devils are to be the National contender for a final Coach K championship!
- A.J. Griffin and Paolo Banchero are still freshmen, who can be (and indeed have been) inconsistent. These freshmen now have about a month before it is tournament time. Inconsistency will end the season.
- The Blue Devil penchant this year for losing games at the buzzer is more than troubling. That’s not the consistency Coach K is looking for.
This 3 game road trip coming up – Clemson, Boston College, and Wake Forest (newly #25 in Monday’s poll) will give Duke a chance for redemption … or disaster.
Next Play: Thursday, February 10th, 2022, at Clemson: 8 pm on TV: ACCN
Duke Blue Devils 82 v. Clemson Tigers 64; (Season 13 Issue 22 – Game # 24) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “Cliffsnotes” (February 10, 2022)
So far, this Duke team has been inconsistent—being at critical times less than the sum of its parts. However, to their credit they have responded to losses well. Duke’s winning margins in the four games following a loss this season were 41, 12 and 20 points. Tonight was more of the same with an 18-point win against a short-handed Clemson team.
Krzyzewski said Duke’s successful response was no accident: “The very first thing you have to do is take accountability for why they [Virginia] played better – not just [at] the end of the game. We had long meetings with our guys, and then they had meetings. A big thing was for them to hold each other accountable more. For a young team, they have really good attitudes. They all want to play well, but you can get caught up with you playing well. Not trying to score a lot of points, but you don’t see globally- you see locally. That’s part of the maturity of a player and a team, is to see globally.”
We will see. The question is whether it was bad luck, or was something missing from this team’s losing three games, two at home, by a point or two in the final minutes! As talented as the players on this team are, when it comes time for someone to complete a stop or someone to make a shot, there is no there there. Well, tonight, Trevor Keels, as he did against Kentucky, took charge of the game in the second half as Duke’s eleven-point half time lead was cut to five. Trevor hit 8 of his 9 second-half shots to put this important road game on ice, in front of a very hostile crowd just ready to explode. Keels explained: “When you get a lead like that, just keep fighting and keep pushing. Don’t let the team get back and get their crowd into it. It was loud in there, so in games like that, you don’t want their crowd to get into it. You want to keep that lead and finish the game.” He scored all but two of his game-high 25 points in the second half, making all of eight-straight field-goal attempts. He also had 11 rebounds. “I feel like I’m getting back to myself. Missing three games is tough, especially when you can’t be out there with your brothers and fight. But inside the locker room, Wendell talked to me before the game and told me: ‘Play like yourself.’ It really helped me.”
Near the end of the first half, another play fired up the Blue Devils. Wendell Moore stole the ball from Clemson senior guard David Collins and drove for a breakaway dunk. Collins, apparently angry at a no call or being humiliated, and trailing well behind, blocked Moore’s hip and legs while Moore was dunking the ball. It was as if a defensive back hit a defenseless receiver. Moore came down parallel to the floor simultaneously on his back and head with a sickening thud. It was as vicious a play as I can remember seeing in basketball!
Duke’s coaches and players leapt to their feet and onto the floor incensed with the takedown and concern for their teammate. Amazingly, Wendell got up and shook it off. However, that seemed to give the Blue Devils extra incentive to close out Clemson. Collins was ejected for a Category 2 Flagrant Foul, and, therefore, it took a valuable Clemson starter out of the game.
The rest of the season will tell whether this young Duke team is maturing into a battle-ready contender or is just a talented, but inconsistent, immature pretender.
It was a very satisfying bounce-back win for Duke after the disappointing loss to UVA in Cameron on Monday. The Blue Devils were better in shooting, rebounding, and ball handling. Perhaps the gaudiest statistic was that A.J. Griffin (2-2) and Trevor Keels (3-6) collectively shot 5-8 from 3land. That’s 15 points on 8 shots. Perhaps the best news from the game was Trevor morphing back into the potential lottery player he was in the season opener against Kentucky. Keels scored 23 of Duke’s 44 second half points. After Monday’s heartbreak, it was just the stress-free game Duke fans needed on a Thursday night!
Coach K’s final year is strange because the regular season is where our Hall of Fame coach is simply getting ready for the post-season. Duke’s bench has been longer, and rather than shrinking as the season progresses (Duke fans watch that phenomenon every year), the number of players and the roles of the bench has expanded.
We will examine the game half by half, followed by the status of the team in Coach K’s rotation, which has been quite different this season.
Duke v Clemson – Each Half Was Different
Coach K, echoing what we mean when we say that ACC road games are just different, “For us, it was a great response after a difficult loss against Virginia. They [the Duke players] were tough-minded. They’ve lost some really tough games, close games and we knew that they [the Clemson team] would be ready and the crowd [would be raucous]. I like the way my team responded to them[the crowd + the team]”.
“I thought our defense was very good. The second half, Trevor took over. Wendell Moore did a great job of leading our team; he had eight assists and no turnovers, and was more like he’s played in the early part of the season. We’re moving along.”
The First Half (Duke 38 – Clemson 29):
With 8:11 remaining in the opening period, Duke led by 4 (18-14). In the next 2:38, Duke scored 9 straight points to lead by 13. Mark Williams scored twice, Wendell scored, and A.J. hit a 3. While Clemson did cut the lead to 5 in the second half, the Tigers never led in the game. The Duke players had balanced scoring in the first half and a 26-15 rebounding edge with 8 offensive boards.
Williams, in his 12 first-half minutes, led the scoring with 10 points (5-5 from the field), to go with 5 rebounds, a steal, and a block. Dominating. Paolo Banchero and Wendell each scored 8 points. In his 18:22, Paolo was 3-8 from the field, (including 0-1 from deep, plus 2-2 from the foul line), to go with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal (2 turnovers); while Wendell, in his 14:22 of playing time, was a more efficient 3-6 from the field, including 1-1 from behind the arc plus 1-2 from the stripe. Wendell became the main ball handler as he had been before Trevor was injured handing out 4 assists without a turnover. Wendell added 2 rebounds and a steal to round out his excellent first half performance.
A.J. played 13:39 and scored 6 first-half points (2-5 from the field that included 2-3 from deep. A.J. did grab a single rebound and handed out an assist, but committed 2 fouls and 2 turnovers. Theo John (6:49), Trevor (12:55) and Jeremy Roach (12:00) each scored 2 points on 1-4 shooting. Trevor had 6 rebounds to lead Duke in that department. Theo had 2 boards, a block, and, astoundingly, attempted a 3. Clang.
The defense held the Tigers to 29 points on 36% shooting.
The Second Half (Duke 44 – Clemson 38):
Duke shot 58% from the field, including 55% from behind the arc and 80 % from the foul line.
The big story of the concluding period was Trevor Keels, who had a second half that is the stuff of legends. In 17 minutes, Trevor scored 23 (8-9, including 3-4 from behind the arc plus 4-5 from the line) to go with 5 boards. 0 assists, turnovers, steals, or blocks. As all announcers and Bill have noted, Trevor has not played like this since the opening game against Kentucky in Madison Square Garden.
Astonishingly, Mark, A.J., and Trevor were a combined 13-14 from the field, including 5-6 from deep and 4-5 from the stripe for a total 35 of Duke’s 44 points. Paolos’ 7 second-half points in 15:25 (2-7, including 1-3 from 3land plus 2-3 from the stripe) and Jeremy’s 2 in 13:21 completed Duke’s second-half scoring. Contrary to the balanced scoring in the first half of the game, in this second half Keels was responsible for scoring more than half of Duke’s 44 points.
Mark Williams was not in any foul trouble and yet played only 8:55 in the second half. Mark was 3-3 for 6 points, with a rebound, an assist, and a block. A.J. took only 2 second-half shots in his 14:24 and made both 3s for his 6 points. A.J. also contributed 2 boards, an assist, and a block.
Human nature reduced the Blue Devil aggressiveness on defense versus the first half. Clemson scored 38. Duke’s lead ballooned to 22 with a little over 5 minutes left. The Tigers never got closer than 5 (45-40 with 16:38 left). The last time Clemson reduced the lead to single digits (9) was with 12:20 left in the game. Then the Blue Devils went on a tear over the next 7 minutes that put the game away.
Evaluating The Rotation – it is Different
Coach K’s final season will be evaluated by the results of the post-season. Duke could win every game in the regular season but failing to win a post-season title, and the season will not be the stuff our dreams were made of. More than in other years, the regular season is mainly building Duke for the post-season, which is why Coach K’s rotation this year has been deeper with mixed lineups so that everyone will get used to playing with everyone else in any new situation. Coach K’s team has at least 4 competent ball handlers who can bring the ball up and initiate the offense, but no traditional point guard in the Hurley, Jay Williams, Tyus and Tre Jones tradition. That has contributed to Duke’s inconsistency.
Duke has 6 in the regular rotation: 3 freshmen (Paolo, A.J., and Trevor), 2 sophomores (Mark and Jeremy) and 1 Junior (Wendell). Duke goes 9 deep with the addition of an experienced bench: graduate transfers that have already played 4 seasons of NCAA basketball (Bates Jones from Davidson and Theo John from Marquette) and one senior (Joey Baker). Looking at the rotation by class year provides unique insights:
The 4 Freshmen
Paolo Banchero – has been in a bit of an offensive slump recently, which can camouflage his effectiveness in all aspects of the game. Coach K played him a ton of minutes early in the season, and, it seems to me, Paolo has worn down a bit. However, he is special whether or not he is scoring at a high rate (he’s the leading freshman scorer in the nation with a 17.1 points per game average). But his average was higher earlier in the year. He has personally been the major factor in Duke ceasing to give up offensive rebounds and second chance points. He has been Duke’s best rebounder, especially on the defensive backboard. He is a versatile defender. His rebounding, passing, and defense – not to mention his scoring – have been key components for Duke’s improvement. But his inconsistency – 0 points and shots in the second half versus UVA, for example – are exactly what Duke must cure for a successful post-season. Hopefully, he is being rested more, and his offense will return to the dazzling heights of earlier in the season.
A.J. Griffin – is in the midst of a roller-coaster year. He came slowly back from injury and rust to lead Duke (and practically the nation) in 3-point shooting and to score prodigiously in several recent games. But inconsistency remains a concern. After a monster game against the Tarheels last Saturday (27 points), A.J. scored just 2 against Virginia. Unsurprisingly, Duke creamed UNC and was nipped by UVA. A.J. is such an important part of Duke’s team that when his scoring fails, Duke is in Big Trouble.
Trevor Keels – has displayed amazing potential, playing like an NBA lottery pick against Kentucky and Clemson, but also demonstrating erratic shooting in many other games. His potential is indisputable. Whether he, and his freshmen brothers, can consistently realize that potential in the post-season is Duke’s biggest challenge.
Jaylen Blakes, the 4th freshman, has not played much.
The Sophomores and Wendell
Mark Williams – is the only player from the ACC on the final list of 15 players from which the National Defensive Player of the Year will be chosen (his sister Elizabeth won the award in her senior year at Duke). His improvement has been dramatic. As Associate Head Coach Scheyer has said, “Duke is a different team when Mark is in.” He not only blocks shots, he alters many that he doesn’t block. His rebounding has improved and can get even better. Coach K rests him quite a bit and is appreciating his overall defense. Mark guarded Clemson star P.J. Hall; Coach K said, “He had a tough matchup. I think [PJ] Hall is one of the best players – I love that kid. He puts so much pressure on you. It’s a different cover for Mark, so I’m proud of Mark because you’re all over the court covering him, but you were able to finish.” His offense has been excellent. He still has a long way to go to reach his full potential. Coach K is hoping he comes closer to it in the post-season.
Jeremy Roach – is having a checkered year. He lost his starting position when his shooting and offense were not contributing. Then Trevor was injured against Florida State, and Jeremy was not only back in the starting lineup, but he became the prime ball handler and was a revelation. Fantastic assist to turnover ratio. His scoring began to expand. Then Trevor came back and replaced Jeremy in the starting lineup against Clemson. Jeremy returned to a diminished effectiveness. His on-the ball-defense is Duke’s best. Having 6 dividing the prime minutes keeps everyone a bit fresher. Jeremy is in an interesting position.
Wendell Moore – was the team leader and chief ball handler early in the season, and now he’s back. He was playing at an elite level. He has seemed more adversely impacted by the COVID 10-day quarantine than any other player. Coach K after Moore’s performance against Clemson yesterday: “Wendell Moore [Jr.] did a great job of leading our team. He had eight assists and no turnovers and was more like he’s played in the early part of the season.” A bravura performance!
Theo John, Bates Jones and Joey Baker – have provided depth and, on occasion, valuable minutes. Joey is the most inconsistent. Bates is newly earning time in the rotation because he can shoot, pass, rebound, and defend – just not as well as the starters. There are some situations that favor Theo (he is physically tougher than Mark) when he is extra-valuable.
The Road to the Post-Season
Assuming Duke will earn the double-bye for the ACC tournament, which opens at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn on March 8, Duke’s first game would be on March 10 in the quarter finals. Coach K will want to win his final ACC tournament; he will be entering the tournament with the most talented team. However, we all know that the best team does not always win in the post-season.
Then it is on to the climax. It doesn’t matter what Duke is seeded or to what region the Blue Devils are assigned. Coach K’s team must have achieved consistency or their effort for the coveted NCAA championship will be short-circuited.
The Duke freshmen have been inconsistent for sure. Paolo leads the nation’s freshmen in scoring and blanked in the second half of a crucial loss to UVA. A.J. pours in 20+ points one night followed by a low scoring game. Trevor pours in points in two big games and scores almost nothing in other games. Why? Perhaps,it is worth remembering how young Duke’s key players really are. Coach K: “We are a very young team. [Trevor turned] 18 in August, AJ Griffin is 18, Paolo [Banchero] is 19. These guys aren’t hardened veterans, so they have to learn.” It is only in the regular season the Blue Devils can appreciate these lessons.
Coach K. “With a young team, they have really good attitudes, and they all want to play well, but you can get caught up with you playing well. Not trying to score a lot of points, but you don’t see globally – you see locally. That’s part of the maturity of a player and a team, is to see globally, like how are we doing? By holding each other accountable, that helps you in that. I thought we did a really good job of that tonight.” Learning is what the regular season has been, and is, all about.
This has been a difficult eight-day stretch beginning with Carolina, followed by Virginia, Clemson, and ending Saturday with B.C., caused by the December COVID cancellations. Playing through difficult circumstances is how a team grows.
Wisdom is part of growth. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Coach K’s wise reaction to David Collins’s vicious foul on Wendell. And Brad Brownell’s. The Clemson coach brought Collins over to the Duke bench to apologize. Rather than escalate a tense situation, K completely defused it by giving Collins a hug to symbolically accept the apology. This is rare in competitive sport, but should not be.
Next Play: Saturday, February 12th, 2022, at Boston College: 5 pm on TV: ACCN
Duke Blue Devils 72 v. Boston College Eagles 61; (Season 13 Issue 23 – Game # 25) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “Cliffsnotes” (February 12, 2022)
Duke wore down a well-coached but out-manned Boston College team tonight 72-61. Duke won because Paolo Banchero, operating in the high post, took advantage of his matchup and finished with 16 points and 14 boards, and because Duke outscored BC 21-3 on three pointers. Early on, the Eagles carved up the Blue Devils’ man-to-man defense with a high post offense, back door cuts, and precise passes, but as the game progressed Duke’s size and talent won out.
Feel for the flow of the game and savvy substitutions have always been Coach K’s strength (ref. NCAA Championship game against Wisconsin with his substitution of seldom used Grayson Allen, whose play off the bench was the impetus for the Blue Devils’ victory). However, this year he seems to be eschewing his limited six- or seven-man rotation for more liberal minutes with a seven- or eight-man rotation. Banchero, Williams, Moore, Keels, and Griffin are the difference makers. Jeremy Roach and Theo John are solid subs. Joey Baker and Bates Jones are situational players, who have their moments, but are often taken advantage of defensively, and do not strike fear in an opponent’s heart. Perhaps the deeper rotation is intended to keep the players fresh.. Time will tell if Coach K reverts to form or not.
The “History of the ACC Tournament” is showing on the ACC channel and is an interesting and accurate trip down memory lane for some of us, and a history lesson for those who were not there for the maturation of basketball mania in North Carolina.
Duke’s final 11-point margin of victory deceptively minimizes Duke’s dominance in the game. That dominance was better shown by the almost 20-point lead the Blue Devils maintained throughout the second half, until Coach K called off the dogs with over 4 minutes left in the game. Duke had stretched the lead to its largest margin, — 21 points (69-48) with 4:38 left when Trevor Keels made 2 free throws. Then, Joey Baker came in for Keels and Bates Jones replaced Paolo Banchero. In the last 4:38, Duke’s lead shrunk with its bench on the floor closing out the game. Jaylen Blakes played the last 38 seconds, committing 2 fouls and missing his only shot. The point is the game was not close to competitive in the latter stages of the second half.
A Return to Form for Banchero and Moore; Trevor’s Resurgence Continues
The victory over BC was good news because of the return to form for Paolo, Wendell Moore, and Trevor, each of whom had been either shooting erratically or had been injured.
Paolo, whose scoring fell from an 18.6 points per game average to 14 over the last few games, returned to the form that has him in the discussion for #1 NBA draft selection in the spring. In 34:20, Banchero had a double double – 14 rebounds and 16 points (7-14 from the field, including 0-2 from deep, plus 2-2 from the foul line). Paolo’s 11 defensive rebounds matched B.C.’s total of offensive rebounds. He continues to do the needed dirty work. Overall, Duke out-rebounded the Eagles 41-31.
Wendell acknowledged how much Paolo’s return to form means to the Blue Devils, “One thing was for sure Paolo established himself early. When we needed him most, he came through. He really led us out there tonight. He was real strong with everything he did. We ran our version of Iso [isolation offense] for him, and he just made strong drives every time. He might not have scored every time, but he made the right play. In the first half, he hit Mark [Williams] for an assist, he got a layup and then he kicked it out to AJ [Griffin] for a three. So, just him making plays makes us a lot better.” Typically, an Iso would put 4 guys on one side of the floor and the scorer (Paolo in this case) on the other to make a double team very difficult. But Duke was a bit different; the Blue Devils spread the floor and got the ball in the post to Paolo. What made the Iso work was Paolo made his move as soon as he touched the ball. Fake! Drive! Crossover! No one BC player could defend him, and Paolo’s instant moves deprived BC of the time to bring a double team.
Wendell was also inspirational in his superb play, especially after taking such a bruising fall when fouled by David Collins at Clemson only 2 days before. He was the only other Duke player, besides Paolo, on the court for more than 28 minutes (31:15), scoring 14 points on only 7 attempts from the field (4-7, including a dazzling 4-5 from behind the arc!, plus 2-2 from the stripe), while adding 5 rebounds and 2 assists, but did commit 4 turnovers (2 in each half). Wendell: “I feel like my shot preparation was there tonight. I feel like my hands were ready. Whenever one of my teammates drove today, I was calling for the ball. Most of all, I wasn’t thinking – I just shot it. Every time I shot it, I believed it was going in. Really, one went well for me, and with the confidence my teammates have in me, pair those two things together, it makes a pretty good night for me.”
Trevor was again superb, coming off the bench to log the 3rd most minutes on the floor of any Duke player (28:37). Keels scored 13 points (5-7 from the field, including 1-2 from 3land, plus 2-4 from the stripe) — 9 in the second half. He added 4 rebounds but turned it over 4 times. Over his last 4 games, Trevor has averaged 15.8 points per game. Trevor has scored in double figures in 16 of Duke’s games. When he scored in double figures Duke won 15 of those 16 games.
Mark Williams (20:36 minutes), Theo John (17 minutes) and Bates Jones (8:36) were Duke’s big men on the court throughout the game. Paolo was never the sole big man on the court.
Mark has been having a remarkable season. In Duke’s last 10 games, he has been 54 of 68 from the field (.794), and in his last 5 games was 23 of 27 (.852). His two jump shots – one from the foul line against Clemson, and from the top of the key against Boston College – showed another potential phase of his game. Against the Eagles, Mark scored 10 (3-4 from the field and 4-4 from the foul line), to go with 3 boards and 2 blocks. In Duke’s 25th game this season, this was Mark’s 22nd game with at least 2 blocks. Williams missed only one shot from the field, at the beginning of the second half, which snapped his streak of 14 consecutive field goals – his final 4 in the second half against Virginia, 8-8 against Clemson, and his first 2 against the Eagles.
Theo played one of his best games, giving Mark substantial rest without leaving Duke to falter. Theo grabbed 4 boards and blocked 3 shots (1 more than Mark), while scoring 2 points (1-4 from the field). Theo’s defense against Boston’s high-scoring big man, James Karnik, was more effective than Mark’s.
Bates Jones has played his way into Coach K’s rotation. In this game, he played at the end when the game was not in doubt (called garbage time by the cognoscenti) and did not score. He did get 2 rebounds though.
Boston College has been a fearsome 3-point shooting team. Duke’s defensive game plan was to contest BC’s 3s. The Eagles were held to 1-12 from behind the arc. The concentration on running BC off the 3-point line and contesting 3-point attempts allowed Eagle guards to pump, fake, and drive. Duke was “carved up” a bit by BC forays into the lane, but the Blue Devils held the Eagles to 61 points (and the last 8 were against Duke’s bench and didn’t impact the game). Duke was not as aggressive in the passing lanes and forced only 9 BC turnovers. It was the right defense against BC.
In its last 14 games, Duke has held opponents to 30% or an even lower shooting percentage from behind the arc in 11 of them (17 games for the entire season so far). Duke’s success over the year against the 3-point shot has been helped by having Mark and Paolo to protect the rim. Duke’s perimeter defenders can be aggressive because even if a drive gets the shooter into the paint, Duke still has a formidable defense from its bigs.
Jeremy is acknowledged as Duke’s best on-the-ball defender. He began the season as a starter, played his way out of the starting lineup, and has again been a starter since Trevor was injured. Jeremy remained in the starting lineup even as Trevor returned. His defense remains premier; it is his offense that has been inconsistent.
Jeremy stepped up to play an inspirational point guard during Trevor’s absence and his offense began to thrive. His assist to turnover ratio was second in the nation, and even began to find his shot. . However, since Trevor’s return, Jeremy’s offensive game has regressed. His shot has again deserted him and his turnovers have increased. Against the Eagles, Jeremy started and played 26 minutes, scoring 5 points (a depressing 1-7 from the field including 0-4 from behind the arc, plus 3-4 from the stripe). Roach had only a single assist against 2 turnovers.
It is fascinating to watch Coach K bring this very young team along to the point of being a contender for the NCAA championship. Every move he makes is a teaching move to create a consistently cohesive balanced team for a championship run. As always, Coach’s insights about the team are really about our lives as much as about basketball:
“When you coach for 47 years, there’s a lot of things that you’ve failed at,” he said. “When you fail, failure is a part of learning about a new limit. That’s why a lot of parents don’t allow their kids to get C’s. You’re not going to get better unless you’re told the truth. When you lose and you don’t do well, you should tell yourself the truth, and move on. And when you win, move on. Learn from both and get better. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”
“I’ll look back at it, but not now. Not when [BC is] making an 8-0 run to cut into a 16-point lead.”
Next Play: Tuesday, February 15th, 2022, vs Wake Forest in Cameron: 7 pm on TV: ESPN
Duke Blue Devils 76 v. Wake Forest Deacons 74 at Cameron ; (Season 13 Issue 24 – Game # 26) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (February 15, 2022)
Duke played some of their best basketball for about 29 minutes against a very big, tough, talented, and mature Wake Forest team that has been on a roll. The Blue Devils led by 9 at the break, by as much as 19 early in the second half and was still up 61-46 with 11 minutes remaining. Then, they played like they did for much of the Virginia game and were extremely fortunate to survive the closest finish, decided by a fraction of an inch, within the final 0.4 seconds.
First, with the score tied and the clock winding down, Banchero drove down the right side and put a layup high off the glass—a fraction of an inch too high. Because it came down on the front of the rim, multiple players jumped for the ball. Mark Williams got the ball. And Mark slammed it home. The ref on the baseline waved it off, because from his angle, the ball appeared not to have totally cleared the cylinder of the basket. After reviewing the monitor, the referees determined the basketball was just outside the cylinder and put 0.4 seconds back on the clock. Wake inbounded the ball to Domari Monsanto, who threw a three quarter length shot baseball-style, hitting the backboard hard and a little off center. It ricocheted off the front of the rim. It might have counted, or it might not have counted—no one checked, but that is how close the Blue Devils came to an embarrassing loss. Give Wake Forest a lot of the credit for making stops and making shots during those eleven minutes. They are a dangerous team.
The frustrating and puzzling aspect of this team is that since the break, except for the Carolina game, they have not played forty minutes of consistently good offensive and defensive basketball —and in the last minutes of some games find themselves left at the mercies of the referees and the basketball gods. One obvious solution is for Paolo Banchero to break out of his shooting slump. To his credit, he has made up for it by excelling at the “mundane stuff” like defense and rebounding.
Coach K did not appear for the second half because he was feeling sick, but is reported to be feeling better. After the game, he told his players they had to play smarter and harder until the final whistle.
Cameron Indoor Stadium has earned its reputation and mystique: Duke has won more games at its current home venue than any team in college basketball. Now in its 83rd season as the home of the Blue Devils, Duke has averaged 11.1 wins since it opened January 6, 1940 with a 36-27 win over Princeton. The Blue Devils have 18 undefeated home seasons, including 11 under Coach K who has posted an all-time record of 928-170 (.845) at the venue.
After 4 Last-Second Losses; A Last-Second Win!
Ambivalent is a fair adjective to describe how Duke fans felt after the Blue Devils squandered a 19-point lead in 14 minutes to be faced with a tie score 20 seconds away from the end of the game. After four devastating losses when Duke was leading with just seconds to go, desolation loomed if Wake forced an overtime and won the game (as Florida State did in its visit to Cameron last month).
Joy replaced desolation when Mark Williams scored on an offensive rebound, literally at the buzzer. Thus ensued a series of heart clenching ups and downs. Initially, the basket was waived off as offensive basket interference. But the replay showed a legitimate winning field goal. One last heart stop: Wake had 0.4 left and fired a desperation 70-foot heave that went around the rim – but then rimmed out. So, Duke finally won a nail-biter, but it was far from glorious. One sports outlet had a headline, “Duke loses Composure Down the Stretch”. Unfortunately, the headline was indisputably dead on. The Blue Devils seemed stuck to the floor on defense and disorganized when they had the ball. Scheyer tried to say it “nicer”.
“I think for us, we’ve been in positions now multiple times at home where it comes down to getting stops. We had a lead there down the stretch and we weren’t able to get the stop. In the history since I’ve been a part of this program, and obviously way before, when we’ve needed a stop in this building, or multiple stops, we’ve gotten them. We weren’t really able to do that tonight down the stretch, and it’s cost us in other games, but we did make enough plays throughout the game that put us in that position.” (Emphasis added because these late game collapses are not usual for Coach K teams)
The First Half
Duke had an excellent first half both on offense and defense (except for the last 7 seconds when the Devils gave up an open 3 — forgot to defend? — to allow Wake to cut the lead from 12 to 9). It was a harbinger for the latter part of the second half.
Inconsistency at its most glaring – or WTF!?However, even with an overall excellent performance in the first half, Duke’s “inconsistency” was evident. Each of Duke’s most dangerous scorers were held without a point in one half. Paolo Banchero failed to score a point in the first half, while A.J. Griffin failed to score in the second half even though he played 19 minutes! Paolo scored 13 in the second half; A.J. had scored 12 to lead Duke’s first-half scoring.
The Loss of a 19-Point Lead From 14:36 to 0:20
Duke gave up 41 second-half points, 36 of them in less than 15 minutes! This, after the Blue Devils had stretched the lead to 19 (57-38). Is complacency after gaining a big lead human nature? Not for National Championship caliber teams. The defensive collapse mirrored an offensive decline. – Duke had scored 15 of its 34 second-half points by the 14:36 mark. Duke scored just 19 more points in the next almost 15 minutes (to Wake’s 36). In the closing stanza, Duke shot 37% (10-27 from the field, including 2-10 from behind the arc (25%), and turned it over 9 times (only 5 assists). Duke’s 12-15 from the stripe is all that staved off complete collapse and certain defeat.
Duke had substantial dry spells – significant minutes without scoring. Banchero hit a 3 to move the Blue Devils from 57 to 60 total points with 13:45 left. Duke did not reach 61 points until fewer than 11 minutes were left in the game. Then another 2+ minute drought strangled the offense.
For a wishful minute, it looked as though Duke had shut the Deacons down and locked up the game, leading by 9 (74-65) with 3:58 remaining, after Paolo made 2 free throws — (his final points).
Then, at 3:16, Paolo committed his 4th foul. Wake converted both free throws–74-67. A.J. Griffin missed. And Duke committed a shot clock violation with 2:14 left. A.J. turned it over again with 1:52 left, before Wake’s Williams hit a 3 to cut the Blue Devil lead to 4 (74-70) with 1:05 left in the game.
Trevor Keels immediately turned it over (with 59 seconds left), which Wake turned into a breakaway layup (74-72 with 55 seconds left). Moore turned it over (backcourt violation; I thought he was fouled) with 35 seconds remaining.
Williams (Duke) fouled Williams (Wake) with 20 seconds left. Wake’s 2 free throws tied the game at 74. Paolo drove, but missed; Mark rebounded, missed, and then finished with less than a heart-stopping-second left in the game (as Bill so aptly described above).
Duke did not score from 3:58 until the last second, while Wake poured in 9 points in the same amount of time!
Coach Scheyer was clearly disappointed. He understood how deficient his team’s performance was for this late in the season, “ I mentioned the stops, clearly if we get stops that puts us in a different position to finish off that game. Knowing time and score and having poise and working for great shots. I think we got a little panicked down the stretch just with making quick plays. When we have poise and break the defense down, because we can put so many weapons on the floor, we’re a tough team to defend. Really just knowing time and score and managing the clock is something we need to learn to do a better job of.”
Wendell described how the team reacted positively even as Duke’s substantial lead melted away: “Really just our will to win. If you looked at our huddle, no matter how big of a run [Wake Forest] went on, everybody’s face in the huddle, we all knew that we weren’t going to lose this game. We were determined that we needed a stop, and we were able to get the stop that we needed.”
Duke’s determination to win transcended/overcame formidable barriers. Even though the calls seemed to damage Duke (Mark made what appeared to be a clean block — it was very clean at the top, but a foul against Mark was called), the Blue Devils dug in and fought back successfully.
Coach K gets the wise closing word. He understands both the good and the bad from the game, and the final result. It was positive (mostly) and encouraging without being disingenuous, discordant or naive. Here’s what he said to the team after the game: “Way to fight, have to be smarter. We shouldn’t have even put ourselves in that situation, but we still found a way to win, which was the most important thing. We’ve been in a lot of situations that have been close and been on the wrong side of that, so just to get a win was huge.”
That is undeniably true. Unlike the four last-second losses that continue to haunt, Duke did not lose this game!
Next Play: Saturday, February 19th, 2022, vs Florida State in Cameron: 6 pm on TV: ESPN
Duke Blue Devils 88 v. Florida State Seminoles 70 at Cameron ; (Season 13 Issue 25 – Game # 27) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (February 19, 2022)
Florida State’s deep, but depleted, team started by matching Duke point-for-point as they easily broke down the Blue Devil’s too aggressive switching position 1 through 5 man-to-man defense. Suddenly, with only ten minutes played, Williams and Banchero were on the bench with two fouls each, in what appeared to be a much tougher game than anticipated. But, it was Joey Baker, doing a very good impression of J.J. Redick, who was the catalyst to changing the complexion of the game. Joey entered, Williams and Banchero came out, and the fifth-year senior had a night to remember— 4 three-pointers and a defensive charge taken within a span of seven minutes! that gave the Blue Devils separation from the Seminoles, who had been carving up Duke’s man-to-man defense, shooting 55% from the floor.
Joey was so hot that everything was going in– in the second half a short lob to Williams looked as if it was going in the basket [Williams got credit for the deuce]. Joey had another 3-point swish waived off because he shuffled his feet before releasing the shot. His game changing performance sparked the offense that featured a spectacular transition sequence, with Wendell Moore Jr. throwing a halfcourt bounce pass,to A.J. Griffin for a rim-rattling dunk and a 52-41 lead in the final minute of the first half. It was reminiscent of Zion Williams’ famous full court bounce pass. All this was too much for the short-handed Seminoles, who cooled off considerably in the second half.
Six Blue Devils scored in double figures as Duke as beat the Seminoles 88-70, much to the delight of the fans in Cameron, on this penultimate home game of Coach K’s record-breaking career. The Blue Devils shot 52%, and had 25 assists on its 32 field goals. Coach K said, “I thought we assisted well.” It was a team win –Paolo Banchero scored 17 points to lead. Wendell Moore had 16 points with 7 assists, while freshman A.J. Griffin added 15 points. Freshman guard Trevor Keels, who played the point for much of the game, had 13 points and 8 assists. Joey had 12 points and Mark had 10 to round out the six double-figure scorers. Mike Krzyzewski said. “Some of the passes from Trevor were spectacular. I really thought Paolo had a different gear in the second half.”
Lesson learned: After halftime, the Duke defense ratcheted up, the Seminoles tired and shot just 11 of 27 (41%), for the kind of closeout a veteran Duke team makes. Krzyzewski said Duke thought it could turn Florida State over early, but it was going about it the wrong way, trying for individual steals rather than concentrating on team defense, and were burned as a consequence.
It is still puzzling to me that Mark Williams, whose defense and offense and mere presence on the floor makes Duke a different and more potent team, was limited to twenty minutes. I can see protecting Mark from getting in foul trouble in the first half, but at tournament time…..
Even though Duke won against Wake Forest last Tuesday, it was a confidence- and ego-deflating win. Duke, which had led Wake by as much as 19 with a bit over 14 minutes to play, was inexplicably in a tie game with 20 seconds left to play! So, even though the outcome against Wake was a victory, this game against Florida State was still a bounce back game. Coach K knew that and spoke to it:
“The game is a long game. We show our youth when we don’t have the discipline to maintain that lead or add to it or only lose a little of it. I thought we did a little bit better job tonight. But still, it’s like you are saying whoa, just settle down. No one-handed passes. You don’t have to make a flamboyant play. We just have to take care of the clock. Doesn’t mean you are holding the ball. Be smart. Time and score. And end up with more points than them. It’s simple. If you get that far ahead, you should win. You shouldn’t have to go to the last play of the game, the way we did in the last game, no matter how good the other team is. We were contributors to that. Tonight, we were not. Hopefully, going forward, we won’t be. You have to learn from all these things. Our guys are very confident; you have to be careful not to be too confident. That’s what we are working on.”
Duke’s offense was exceptional –52 first-half points; 88 for the game,25 assists on 32 field goals, a solid rebounding advantage (including dominant offensive rebounding), and good ball security. Duke’s scoring for the game was balanced, but the Blue Devils were carried by A.J. Griffin and Joey Baker (12 points each) in the first half, and by Paolo Banchero (13 points) and Wendell Moore, Jr. (8 points) in the second half.
But, once again, Paolo had a low scoring first half while A.J’s scoring was limited in the closing period. For example, in the second half A.J. Griffin and Michael Savarino scored exactly the same – 3 points on 1-1 from 3land. Mark Williams had 4 points and Trevor Keels scored 5 points. Joey Baker, Jeremy Roach, Theo John, and Bates Jones failed to score at all in the closing stanza.
Duke’s defense was once again carved up in the first half. The Seminoles got into the paint on drives for layups to score 41 first-half points. Half-time adjustments stymied Florida State in the second half–the Seminoles scored only 29 in the closing period.
Coach K explained the problem with Duke’s first-half defense and the half-time adjustment that Duke made to solve it: “My feeling is we were ready to play. In the first half we felt that we could steal the ball, pressure, and get on them. They’re strong with the ball. Their kids played really well. When you try to steal, you commit [yourself]. You don’t steal the ball with two hands, you steal with one. And when you do, you get narrow. When you get narrow, they go by you. When you control the ball, you have two hands out and you get wide. In the second half, we controlled the ball. That was the adjustment we made.” I find myself agreeing with Johnny Tarheel that Coach K is worth 5-10 points per game just due to his brilliance at being able to switch up and find the right strategy to fix the problems midstream. The Blue Devil defense forced turnovers in the second half, but not in the opening stanza: “When you try to steal, you’re not going to get turnovers. You might get one steal, but they’re going to go by you. When you control the ball, you have a chance to do stuff off the ball, and that’s what happened in the second half. By controlling the dribble, we were able to keep them out, and then we had good hands. We thought we could do that in the first half by over-pressuring and that didn’t work. So, that was a big part of the game – the points off turnovers – 16, but most of them in the second half. … [In the first half], they took advantage of us. They were strong.”
The Rotation With Offensive Statistics
Coach K made it clear in his press conference that Keels is back in the starting lineup to stay. “Keels has been a starter pretty much the whole year until he got hurt. To me, he’s gotten back from the injury he had and is in a condition now that he wasn’t coming off that injury when he missed some games. So, Trevor is one of our best players. He’ll be in the starting lineup.”
“He doesn’t just make passes from the 3-point line. Because of his physicality and strength, he gets within 12 to 15 feet into the lane. … He makes passes within that perimeter, not outside the perimeter. He did it in the normal course of the offense tonight and he likes doing it. It’s a big asset for us when he is doing it.” Keels is beginning to feel like a more traditional point guard and the Duke offense is growing around him.
Paolo had a brilliant second half, to finish the game as Duke’s high scorer with 17 points (6-12, including 0-3 from behind the arc, plus 5-5 from the stripe). He was also Duke’s leading rebounder with 8, as well as contributing a block, a steal, and an assist. Shooting stars do not usually do the dirty work of defending and rebounding, but Paolo does that. He was limited to 11 first-half minutes by his two early fouls, but he finished the game with still only those 2 fouls. He is actually better than his formidable scoring statistics. In the second half, Banchero carried Duke with 13 points (on 5-11, in spite of 0-3 from deep, plus 3-3 from the foul line) and 5 rebounds.
A. J. Griffin
A.J. had a superb first half, in 17 minutes scoring 12 of his 15 total points and grabbing 3 of his 5 rebounds . For the game, A.J. played 28 minutes (5-10 from the field, including 2-6 from 3land, plus 3-4 from the foul line). A.J., after avoiding any fouls in the first half, committed 3 second-half fouls, which limited him to 11 second-half minutes (1-1 from deep).
Wendell Moore, Jr.
Like Trevor, Wendell is rounding back into the game shape he was in prior to the COVID episode in December. It has been a gradual rebound but appears to be now complete. Moore played 37 minutes (most for any Duke player) of outstanding basketball on both ends of the floor. Wendell scored 16 points, grabbed 5 rebounds while handing out 7 assists and making 6 steals. That is worth a wow! Wendell’s 16 points were scored on only 10 shots (5-10, including 1-3 from behind the arc, plus 5-7 free throws).
Mark’s early foul trouble (2 in the opening stages of the first half, and a 3rd early in the second period) limited his playing time to less than half the game (19:14), and, “shockingly”, he missed 2 shots. But, in his limited playing time, Elizabeth’s baby brother tallied 10 points (5-7 from the field) and garnered 6 boards, while blocking a shot. He played only 7 first-half minutes. His absence for the majority of the first half partially explains Duke’s defense being carved up in the paint by the Seminoles.
Jeremy is having a hard time scoring with his role reduced by the return of Trevor Keels. Jeremy failed to score a single point in his 17:30 of playing time (0-2, including 0-1 from deep). He is still a terrific on-the-ball defender who is all over the floor. Although he did not score, he did grab 4 boards and hand out 5 assists (some of them really pretty), but uncharacteristically turned it over 3 times. He is a quality backup.
Joey is Bill’s player of the game (I award him Player of the First Half). It was Baker’s best game of the season, even without bringing in a single point in the second half. Baker scored all 12 of his points in the first half on 4-5 from deep.
Wendell expressed how the team feels about Joey: “Joey came in and he played his butt off. He hit four huge threes and not only that, but he was defending. He was defending probably the best I’ve seen from him in a long time. When he does that, it just takes our team to another level. It gives us more spacing on the floor because teams, they certainly can’t help off of him when he’s shooting the ball like that. Joey’s a great player. He’s been through it all, he has the experience, he has the knowledge, and he’s a great leader for us.”
With Mark in foul trouble from early on, Theo played almost 17 minutes with 2 points (1-1 from the field), 2 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, and a steal. A very solid backup.
With A.J. now in the starting lineup, Bates has been getting more playing time. Earlier, A.J. was coming off the bench to spell Paolo. Bates now replaces Paolo when Paolo comes out of the game. Not so much against Florida State last night as Bates played only 2:34 (0-1 from deep).
Duke starts its last road trip of the year on Wednesday when the Blue Devils take on a resurgent UVA in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers just beat Miami in Miami yesterday, and are making a late season run for a postseason bid. Next Saturday, the Blue Devils journey to Syracuse to take on the Orange, who just beat Boston College like a drum last night.
In March, Coach K meets his protégé, Jeff Capel, in Pittsburgh (coming off thumping UNC last week)before heading home for Senior night in Cameron against the Tarheels, who just broke Virginia Tech’s six game winning streak yesterday with an impressive win. Duke does have a two-game lead for the regular season ACC title. Wendell explained the Blue Devil goals and cautions:
“Our goal is to win three championships here. The first one is an ACC regular season championship. That’s our first goal. We have four games left to accomplish it, so we’re taking it one game at a time. We’ve got three road games, and no road games in the ACC are easy; so you can’t look ahead to Coach’s last game against Carolina. We’ve got to head to Virginia on Wednesday, and they came in here and beat us. Coach says we have the chance to do something special, but at the same time, we have our mind set on one goal right now – that’s to win the next game against Virginia, because if we win that game, we’re one step closer to our bigger goal in four games.”
And then there is Coach K’s last game in Cameron on March 5 (senior night for Joey Baker; freshmen night for Paolo, A.J., and Trevor). No time to think about that now, but for an interesting side note, top price paid for a ticket to this legendary game is reputed to be $80,000 – so far.
It’s being a helluva ride.
Next Play: Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022, at Virginia: 7 pm on TV: ESPN
Duke Blue Devils 65 v. Virginia Cavaliers 61, in Charlottesville; (Season 13 Issue 26 – Game # 28) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (February 23, 2022)
The frustrating characteristics of this talented but young Duke team has been their inability to execute consistently for an entire 40-minute game, and to close out tight games. Early in the season it was Keels, Moore, and Banchero, who were the closers in the close wins. Then Keels got hurt and, after the break, Moore and Banchero turned cold offensively. Consequently, the team has lacked a go-to player. Tonight, Jeremy Roach, recently relegated to 6th man, played the best game of his college career, and AJ Griffin, who couldn’t buy a basket in the first half, sealed the deal in the last minutes with two 3s, a drive, and two free throws. And, oh yes, another metaphorical game ball to Coach K, whose savvy substitutions and strategy intuitively put the right players in the right place at the right time to excel. In the final minutes, he substituted Williams on defense and Griffin on offense.
The game was a chess match between two great coaches. In Duke’s loss in Cameron, Virginia scored most of their points in the paint, and won by a long three in the last seconds. Tonight, Duke packed the paint, and UVA senior guard Kihei Clark made them pay by hitting six 3s in the first fifteen minutes but, due primarily to Jeremy Roach’s defense, not a one after that.
The Blue Devils’ inconsistent offense (Banchero 2-13 & Moore 1-3) was offset by Roach scoring 15, Keels and Griffin 13 each, limiting turnovers, and matching the always tough Cavaliers in other defensive categories. It was a testament to their maturing that they won in spite of the subpar offensive performances of Banchero and Moore. One reason was Duke’s defensive effort matched the Cavaliers famous pack line defense.
COACH K: “AJ [Griffin] made big plays and we were able to do a couple things there, but I thought Jeremy’s performance was the differentiator. We defended their bigs. They had 24 and 16 last time – they had two points this time, and I think we only gave up only single digits in the paint, where we gave up 52 last game. And still, it was that close to losing. We did so many good things, and that means they did a lot of good things. [It was] just a great ACC game.”
On substituting AJ Griffin and Mark Williams down the stretch on offense and defense: “We went to an open set, and we were going to attack the big match up if they stayed big. Attacking it is one thing, for our guys to see it is another. It just worked. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t work. I was proud of our guys and I’m really proud of AJ because he had such a tough shooting night, but we have confidence in him that his next shot is going to go in, and three of his next shots went in in the last four minutes, and God bless. So, it just happened to work. I thought his best move was the two-point [basket] because he had to really muck it out.”
COACH TONY BENNETT (whom I consider in a category with Coach K, Smith, and Wooden) “Both teams played I thought extremely hard. You could feel that electric atmosphere and all that stuff was there. I’ve got to say, sometimes the game comes down to, ‘Can you make a play,’ and they made some really impressive plays. Roach hit some tough shots. Yes, we had a turnover and a couple of breakdowns, but (AJ) Griffin hitting some of those shots and then the plays that they made were tough. We had Kadin [Shedrick] in, and we wanted to put him on Paolo [Banchero] when they went small. We didn’t quite have a matchup, we tried Kody [Stattmann]. So, a lot of things you looked at, and he did hit some tough shots, and you know, I’ll see on film if they were real tough. They felt like a lot of big time plays were made down the stretch. We made some plays at their place that just pushed over the edge, and they certainly made a few more here, and they were tough defensively, you know around the lane. I thought we got some good looks and all that but, we had some trouble finishing around the basket and just some key plays here and there that were costly.”
On his farewell gift to Coach Krzyzewski: “It was the right thing to do. I mean, I thought about some remarks right before the game. You know, I didn’t know if we were going to do that or not. I appreciated our crowd being classy. His contributions are monumental to the game, to the modern game of basketball and college basketball, and when someone can last that long and do what he’s done. Again, it was the right thing to do.” [Alan Adds: nice juxtaposition to the UNC fans and University reaction to K’s last game in Chapel Hill!] [Coach K Adds: the gift was a plaque that “weighed 800 lbs. I figured they were trying to take me out of coaching the game by giving me a hernia.”
This was a wonderful basketball game between two very good teams playing great defense and good offense. Coach K: “Just another Duke-Virginia game! What a great game for the conference and for our two programs, really to celebrate the talent of both teams and the teamwork. Just like the last game could have been ours, this game could have been theirs.”
The defense played by each team was so intense and strategic that it could be used in an instructional video! UVA defended Paolo Banchero better than any other team this year. Duke wanted Paolo to be more physical and he tried. When Duke got him the ball in the post, the Cavaliers doubled immediately and denied Paolo any shooting space. UVA concentrated on stopping Duke’s 3 leading scorers, Wendell Moore, Paolo, and A.J. Griffin. The Cavaliers were dramatically successful … until the last 3:29 of the game when A.J. scored 10 of his 13 game points.Duke changed its defensive strategy from that used in their first UVA matchup with excellent results. Coach K: “I thought our defense was excellent. We defended their bigs. They had 24 and 16 last time – they had two points this time, and I think we only gave up single digits in the paint, where we gave up 52 last game.”
Although each half was competitive, each stanza played out differently. It is worth analyzing each half separately.
Duke’s scoring was evenly distributed, with Jeremy Roach leading the way with 7 points off the bench in his 15 first-half minutes (3-4 from the field, including 1-1 from behind the arc). Theo John added 4 bench points in 6 minutes, to make 11 bench points (with Jeremy’s 7). Mark Williams, in 14 minutes, was 3-4 from the field for 6 points, to go with 5 rebounds (team high) and 2 blocks. Trevor Keels also scored 6 points (2-4 from the field, including 1-3 from deep, plus 1-2 from the stripe).
Duke’s big guns were shut down by Virginia’s well-conceived defense. Neither Wendell Moore (limited to 11 minutes by his 2 first-half fouls) nor Joey Baker (4 minutes) scored a single point. Moore was 0-1; no field goal attempts for Joey. A.J. Griffin, in 15 minutes, was 1-7 from the field, including 1-4 from 3land for 3 points. Griffin did contribute 4 first-half rebounds, blocked a shot and made a steal. Still, only 3 points from A.J. was disappointing.
Paolo was UVA’s main defensive focus. Banchero played more than 18 first-half minutes, but scored only 4 points (2-6 from the field, including 0-2 from deep and 0-1 from the free throw line). Paolo was harried into 3 turnovers, but did hand out 4 assists. UVA brought an immediate double team, literally whenever Paolo touched the ball down low. It really flummoxed him (as one could discern even more dramatically from his 0-7 from the field in the second half.)
The score was tied at 25, with 54 seconds left in the half, when Keels hit a 3, followed by a Banchero layup as the half expired. Duke 30 v. UVA 25.
First and foremost, UVA only scored 25 first-half points! Kihei Clark scored 18 of the Cavaliers’ 25 on 6-9 deep shooting. Clark made his 6th 3 pointer of the half with 4:32 left;he had scored 18 points on those 6 deep shots. At that point, the entire Duke team had scored only 17 points – thus, Clark himself led Duke 18-17 (the score was actually 22-17). But, that was the last 3 pointer Clark made in the game as Jeremy stepped up the intensity of his defense and brought Clark back to earth! Clark had the best game of his life (25 points) with 21 of his family and friends from the West Coast in attendance.
The entire rest of the Virginia team scored only 7 first-half points (no other player had more than 1 field goal). Gardner (1-4, plus 1-2 from the foul line); Beekman (1-3) and Franklin (1-6) had the remaining Cavalier first-half points. TheVirginia bigs failed to score at all in the first half. Duke defended its rim; Virginia could not get a single offensive rebound!
The Blue Devils never lost the lead in the second half, which fluctuated between an 8 point lead (with 6:48 left in the game) and a 1 point lead (with 5:02 left). Then came lots of heroics by each team, with Jeremy, A.J., and Trevor leading Duke to victory.
An example of Coach K’s genius: for the first time this year, he began substituting Griffin (in for offense) for Mark Williams (in for defense). It turned out to be the strategy that won the game. Williams blocked shots; Griffin put points on the board. Metaphoric game ball for K!
Neither team scored from 5:02 remaining until there was only 3:39 left. Griffin substituted in for Williams with 4:29 left; Duke took possession. That substitution was reversed 12 seconds later after Paolo committed a turnover. Griffin replaced Williams with 3:49 left and began his scoring spree (10 points in the last 3:39) with a deep 3.
Williams and Griffinagain switched. UVA’s Franklin retaliated with a floater (Duke led 55-53 and A.J. returned to the game). A.J.’s second 3 came at the 2:40 mark (Duke 58 -UVA 53). UVA’s Gardner came right back with a layup with 2:22 left (Duke 58-UVA 55). With 2:05 left, A.J. made a difficult driving lay up (Duke 60-UVA 55). Moore fouled Beekman, who made both free throws (Duke 60-UVA 57 with 1:47 left).
Banchero missed a pull-up jumper; Clark turned it over when Keels stole the ball and drove for the layup with 54 seconds left in the game (Duke 62-UVA 57). Gardner responded with a driving layup (Duke 62 – UVA 59 with 41 seconds left).
Coach K called time out with 25 seconds left in the game and 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Shedrick fouled Keels with 15 seconds still left in the game and 5 on the shot clock. Trevor missed the first free throw that would have made it a 2 possession game. Visions of Miami, Florida State and, yes, UVA danced in my head, I admit.
We all exhaled when Keels made the next free throw (Duke 63 – UVA 59), which felt like the game clincher. But then, Clark made a layup with 3 seconds left on the game clock (Duke 63 – UVA 61). UVA was forced to foul, and when A.J. made them both, Duke was the winner of a great game!
A.J. scored 10 second-half points. He played only 9:34 second-half minutes, but all his scoring was in the final 3:39 of the game (3-4 from the field, including 2-3 from deep and 2-2 from the foul line).
Roach was superb in the closing stanza, scoring 8 points (3-3 from the field, including 2-2 from deep) in 17:16 minutes! He even blocked a Clark 3-point attempt. Coach K: “I really thought the key guy for us in the game was Jeremy. Jeremy came in and not that he stopped Clark, but he defended him. But then his verve on offense really lifted us.”Jeremy, A.J., and Trevor scored 25 of Duke’s 35 second-half points. Trevor played 18:12 in the closing stanza, scoring 7 (3-4 from the field, including 0-1 from deep, plus 1-2 from the stripe).
Paolo scored 4 in 18:19 (0-7 from the field, including 0-1 from 3land; he scored all of his second-half points on 4-5 from the foul line). Coach K pointed out that Paolo tried to be more physical but was so very well defended, saying that Paolo’s seemingly ineffective effort, “will translate into something really good. You have to go through things; it’s how you improve. They are a good defensive team, and Gardner is a very good defender. They also double. He learned a lot tonight. He never put his head down.”
Wendell, who played all 20 second-half minutes, also scored 4 (1-2 from the field and 2-3 from the stripe) with 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Mark scored the remaining 2 points of Duke’s total score on 1-1 shooting in 13 minutes, to go with his team-high 5 second-half rebounds and 2 critical blocks.
Preparation is my key effort towards avoiding flagrant fouls in life, and certainly the key to any team’s success and development. Jeremy referenced it in his postgame interview, “We did a hell of a job in preparation this week, so I think that was the key. Preparation is key for every game. If you don’t have good preparation, it’s going to lead to a bad performance. We just wanted to stay locked in on the preparation, have great energy and follow the game plan like I said, and do the main things that Coach said – [play] smart, tough and together. I think we did that tonight.”
Coach K interrupted to say: “Let me add one thing. This is our 28th game and so is our 28th preparation. I thought the maturity of our team in preparing went to a different level. They are getting it. Chris Carrawell [former star Duke player and now one of the Duke coaching staff] had the scout [team] and watching our preparation yesterday, said, “We look like an old Duke team in how we are going to defend. I knew we were going to defend well tonight; we did it for two days [in practice].” I added the bold because this is the most important insight to take from beating UVA in Charlottesville. This very young team is (finally) maturing and developing as we have all been hoping it would. They proved that in the game last night against UVA.
The final test of growth will be whether this edition of the Blue Devils can prepare and perform at this kind of high level – consistently. Can the Blue Devils do it for 2 more games in the regular season, 3 games in the ACC tournament and, of course, The Big Dance?
Duke is closing in on the first of its season goals – the ACC regular season championship. Duke plays 2 more games on the road – Syracuse on Saturday and Pittsburgh next Tuesday, before the season concludes on senior night next Saturday at Cameron against the Tarheels. Duke, with 3 losses, holds a 1 game edge on Notre Dame (4 losses) but it is really a two game edge because Duke holds the tie-breaker for having defeated ND in the regular season. Duke holds a 2-game edge on Miami and UNC. Wins at Syracuse and Pitt will clinch the ACC regular season title.
The first four finishers in the ACC regular season earn a double-bye to the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament – the Blue Devils have already secured the double-bye. The fifth and sixth place teams (Wake and UVA) have 7 losses each and cannot catch Duke who has only 3 losses with only 3 games left to play. So, Duke will be in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament on Thursday, March 10 at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY.
Next Play: Saturday, February 26rd, 2022, at Syracuse: 6 pm on TV: ESPN
Duke Blue Devils 97 v. Syracuse Orange 72, in Syracuse; (Season 13 Issue 27 – Game # 29) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (February 26, 2022)
On a Saturday when history was made, when seven of the top ten college basketball teams lost (#1. Gonzaga, #2. Arizona, #3. Auburn, #4. Purdue, #5. Kansas, #6. Kentucky, #9. Texas Tech), Duke showed how impressive they can be, for parts of a game, by starting so white hot against Syracuse that they shocked and silenced the 31,803 fans in the carrier Dome—the most at a college basketball game this season– going up 14-0, and then extending that to 41-13, before the Orange men made a mini run to end the half at 51-34. In starting fast (especially on the road – something that Coach K stresses), the Blue Devils avoided a Trap Game, like the Virginia game following the impressive win at Chapel Hill. Not to worry; lesson learned. Duke was unbelievable for about twelve minutes; they were hitting 91% overall and 83% percent on 3s.
Despite the mild slump at the end of the first half, Duke shot 18 for 30 for the half (a mind-boggling 10 for 17 on 3s) and assisted on 15 of 18 made field goals. Banchero had 18 points and 6 assists; Griffin 15 points; and Williams 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Banchero was 4 for 5 from beyond the arc, Griffin 4 of 6. For the game, Mark Williams proved too much to handle inside, as he scored a career-high 28 points while gathering 12 rebounds!
Winner of six games in a row, first-place Duke (25-4 overall, 15-3 ACC) has the Regular Season Championship within their grasp: They hold a one-game lead over Notre Dame (21-8, 14-4) in the league regular-season standings with two games left to play. Because the Blue Devils beat the Irish 57-43 on Jan. 31 to claim a tiebreaker, Duke only needs to beat Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, or North Carolina on March 5 to clinch their first-place finish in the ACC regular season (first time since 2006; Duke tied with Maryland in 2010), one of Coach K’s goals for this team. But that’s not quite good enough. If they win out, and do not stumble in the ACC Conference Championship, they will move up in the seedings of the NCAA Championship. It is really an opportunity to put an exclamation point on Coach Ks’ career. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is still a lot of basketball to be played.
On the team maturing: “We’ve been a much more mature team [since our Virginia loss], an older team. Again, you only have a year with a team – it’s a matter of how old you can get them. With that stoppage for about 10 days, when we had nothing for a week, that really hurt us. We’re beyond that now. We played like an older team today. Same thing against Virginia. We prepared that way. We’ll have a challenge now, going back tomorrow and getting prepared for Pitt on Tuesday, because we have to travel again on Monday. If we can do that, that will really develop the character of our team.”
On how freshman Paolo Banchero was able to perform at a high level tonight after recent offensive struggles: “Working through it is the main thing. We’ve talked. He and Jon [Scheyer] have worked a lot. The workouts have been at a greater speed to try and get him to play at a greater speed. I think he’s been trying to analyze too much instead of getting it and go. I told him, ‘Analyze it before you get the ball and be more instinctive.’ He was a lot quicker today. He was the guy in the middle of the zone. That hurts any zone when you have a guy like that doing that – nine assists, one turnover. And he hit four three’s. Really, a very outstanding performance.”
My pre-game email to Bill warned that Syracuse might constitute a trap game – I believe Bill is still laughing. I did however also write something cogent: 1) I believe Paolo will have a great game; 2) the key will be Duke shutting down the Orange 3-point game. The Orange have relied heavily on the 3-point game this year, shooting almost 38% from behind the arc. Syracuse was, in fact, dramatically shut down from 3land. The Orange shot only 5-19 from behind the arc (26%) for the game and even worse in the second half (2-10; 20%). Paolo Banchero did have a great game, scoring 21 points, handing out 9 assists (only a single turnover), and blocking a shot in his 35 scintillating minutes.
Duke won the game in the opening minutes. I like to channel Jake Rupert, an early Yankee owner’s view of a good Yankee game, to my view of a great Duke game – Duke scores the first umpteen points of the game, and “then slowly pulls away.” That is surely what befell the Orange from the moment that Mark Williams won the opening tip-off.
The First Half
The game was basically decided in the first portion of the first half; Duke played its very best basketball of the season!
Duke held Syracuse scoreless for the first 4:33 of the game. Syracuse broke double figures (11 points) only after 9:26 had been played. After 11:23, Syracuse had 13 points and trailed by 28 (41-13). Syracuse did not score its 20th point until 15:08 had been played. The Orange’s 20th point cut Duke’s 30-point lead to 28 (48-20). With 3:33 left in the first half, Duke led 51-23, before the Blue Devils turned back to human and gave up 13 straight points – 11 to end the half (51-34) plus the first basket of the second half. Buddy Boeheim scored 17 first-half points, half of Syracuse’s 34 points.
Defense was almost unconscious in the early going and superb throughout the rest of the game.
Duke was up 11-0 at the first media time out. Paolo Banchero had a hand in all 11 points (1-1 from the field; 2-2 from the line with 3 assists (including one on A.J.’s 3).
Duke had amassed 34 points with less than 10 minutes played (144 p.p.g. at that rate). Paolo scored 15 of those 34 points and also handed out 6 assists as he led Duke’s offense. Duke had 12 assists on 15 baskets at that point. For the entire first half, Duke shot 60% from the field (18-30) and 59% from behind the arc (10-17), with 15 assists on 18 baskets.
Duke’s front line players were unstoppable. Banchero, in 18:11 scored 18 first-half points (6-10, including 4-6 from deep plus 2-2 from the line) with 6 gorgeous assists (some of his passes were so pretty that his assists deserve the double mention). A.J. Griffin scored 14 in his 18:29 first-half minutes (5-6, including 4-5 from deep). Mark Williams scored 11 (4-6 from the field plus 3-3 from the foul line) to go with 3 boards and a pair of blocked shots. Those three players scored 44 of Duke’s 51. Trevor Keels, Jeremy Roach, and Theo John each scored a basket (Keels and Roach were each 1-2 from the stripe for the remainder of Duke’s scoring).
The Second Half
The first basket of the second half belonged to Syracuse; the Orange’s 13th straight point cut the Duke lead to 15. That was as close as Syracuse ever got. The Blue Devils played excellent offense and sufficient defense to keep the game from ever being in doubt. After the Orange opened the half with that basket, Duke’s lead fluctuated from a low of 16 (twice) to a high of 28 (twice).
The offense belonged to Mark Williams who poured in 17 points (7-8 from the field and 3-4 from the stripe) to go with 7 second-half boards, an assist, and a block in 13:27 minutes of play. He was simply unstoppable.
Jeremy Roach had a superb second half, scoring 7 (2-4 from the field, including 1-3 from deep plus 2-2 from the free throw line). His game is improving again after a short slump, and his value continues to grow.
Dominant is an accurate adjective to describe Mark’s play against Syracuse at both ends of the floor. On offense, in only 26 minutes, Mark had a career-high 28 points (11-14 from the field and 6-7 from the stripe) to go with 12 rebounds, 3 blocks (and countless altered shots) with an assist (0 turnovers). On most of his 3 misses, he seemed to rebound his own miss for yet another score. Mark has an amazingly quick second jump, so he taps in his own misses more frequently than anyone I have seen recently.
He was also the recipient of many of Banchero’s assists. Paolo on Mark: “He’s automatic, especially in the paint around the rim. You just want to get him the ball there and he’s going to do the rest. He’s been doing that all year. We knew coming in with the zone that we’d be able to have an advantage inside and get easy buckets around the rim. We just wanted to feed him.”
Williams was instrumental in Duke’s opening 14-0 run at both ends of the floor. Mark: “It was great. Obviously, we were flowing really well on the offensive end, and I think we were really locked in on the defensive end too. Offensively, we were moving the ball. Everybody was getting good shots, and defensively, we were communicating well, moving and just playing great Duke defense.”
The Syracuse zone is famous and well respected in all college ball – Boeheim is considered the best zone defense coach. Syracuse might be the only team I know that never plays man to man defense. But Paolo shredded that vaunted Syracuse zone with his first-half shooting and his game-long passing. He did much of his damage by sliding into the middle of the zone below the foul line. The Orange have not seen passing against the zone like that. Paolo to Mark Williams for a dunk happened enough times that Coach Boeheim will have nightmares replaying it. In 34 total minutes, Banchero scored 21 (18 in his jaw-dropping first half). For the game, Paolo was 7-16, including 4-7 from 3land, plus 3-6 from the line. All season, TV coverage has posted a visual of an NBA scout’s assessment, which grades Paolo a C+ on defense. Anybody watching Duke’s wonderfully effective defense will see Paolo’s contributions everywhere – on the defensive boards, guarding smaller players on the perimeter, taking on the adversary’s best interior scorer. He does the dirty work.
A. J. was a force throughout his 31 minutes of playing time as Duke’s 3rd 20+ point scorer. Griffin scored 20 (7-11), (including 6-10 from deep – that’s 18 points on 10 shots) as he punished the Syracuse zone from the perimeter. A.J. is an excellent defender, with the size and toughness to defend the interior, and the speed and quickness to defend on the perimeter. A.J.’s resurgence, from playing only a few minutes a game early in the season to being a high scoring starter, has been a substantial factor in this team’s steady development.
Wendell Moore, Jr.
Wendell doesn’t score as much when Duke doesn’t need his scoring. In 31 minutes, Moore scored 5, all in the second half, on 2-7 from the field, including 1-3 from 3land. In addition to contributing 6 rebounds and 6 assists, Moore plays great defense, too (Corey Alexander picks him as ACC defensive player of the year). Wendell made the dunk of the game when he stole the ball, bobbled it, and then soared for a dramatic slam! He also had a deep 3 and an infectious smile on his face for the whole time.
In 28 minutes, Trevor scored 4 (1-4 from deep and 1-2 from the stripe) while running the offense. Keels had 4 assists without a turnover. He is secure with the ball and makes excellent passes.
Jeremy scored 10 points and was Duke’s 4th double-digit scorer. In 23 minutes, Roach was 3-7 from the field including 2-5 from behind the arc, plus 2-2 from the stripe. Jeremy also grabbed 3 defensive rebounds and handed out 3 assists (against 2 turnovers). You can see that Jeremy’s confidence, which soared with his terrific game against Virginia, continues to grow. He plays when the game is on the line whether or not he starts.
Theo was a valuable contributor in his 11 minutes of playing time. He scored 4 on 2-2 from the field and garnered 4 boards and blocked a shot. It was one of his best games.
Joey Baker and Bates Jones failed to score. Joey played 5:35 without any statistics; Bates played less, missed his only shot (a 3-point attempt) but grabbed a board and handed out an assist. Each has given more in other games.
Jaylen Blakes played only 2:22 of garbage time, but deserves a mention for taking 3 shots in his short time on the court and scoring 5 points (2-3 from the field, including 1-2 from deep). He might be the only player returning next year from this team.
Duke is seeking its first regular season ACC title since 2006. Duke is 15-3 in the conference with a 2-game lead over Notre Dame and UNC, with each of the three teams having 2 games left. Of course one of those games is Duke-UNC next Saturday. If Duke wins either game (at Pittsburgh on March 1 or UNC), the title goes to the Blue Devils. Notre Dame plays Florida State and Pitt; UNC has a date with Syracuse on Monday before preparing for Coach K’s last home game at Cameron.
The 2021-2022 Blue Devils have been fascinating to watch as this very young team is being developed into a national contender! Duke, ranked 7th in both polls last week, won on the road yesterday while the first 6 ranked teams lost on the road – a very wacky day indeed in college hoops.
Coach K’s wise and optimistic insight was quoted by Bill in CliffNotes, but is so to the point that it is worth repeating: “We’ve been a much more mature team, an older team. Again, you only have a year with a team – it’s a matter of how old you can get them. With that stoppage for about 10 days, when we had nothing for a week, that really hurt us. We’re beyond that now. We played like an older team today. Same thing against Virginia. We prepared that way. We’ll have a challenge now going back tomorrow and getting prepared for Pitt on Tuesday, because we have to travel again on Monday. If we can do that, that will really develop the character of our team to a deeper level.”
Duke’s defense has been excellent this season as exemplified by 4 categories: 1) defending the three-point line (29th nationally, holding opponents to .301), 2) field goal defense – Duke is 45th nationally (.407), 3) blocked shots (5.6 per game for 11th nationally) and 4) scoring margin (7th nationally at +14.4). Duke leads the ACC in each category. Defense has been a Duke calling card this year so far.
So, Mark Williams’ comments are purposely focused, because Mark understands how much better the Duke defense can be: “On the defensive end, I think we can be as special as we want to be. I think we showed glimpses of that today. It’s going to be game-by-game, obviously. Coverages are going to be different, knowing personnel, scouts – that sort of thing. But when we’re locked in on the defensive end, we can be really special.”
First things first: The first ACC regular season title since 2006! It can be done on the …
Next Play: Tuesday, March 1, 2022, at Pittsburgh: 8 pm on TV: ACCN
Duke Blue Devils 86 v. Pittsburgh Panthers 56, in Pittsburgh; (Season 13 Issue 28 – Game # 30) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (March 1, 2022)
“I like where my team is right now.”
– Coach Mike Krzyzewski
After three road wins in six days—a gut check win against Virginia and blowouts of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, this precocious but young team is playing its best, most mature basketball! As a matter of fact, during the beat down of Pitt, Johnny Tar Heel asked me if I thought this was the most talented Duke team ever? My answer: “Four potential first round NBA picks. Most talented, yes. Best team: Wait and see.”
After starting the season by beating Kentucky and Gonzaga, Duke stumbled against Ohio State and, after the COVID break and an injury to Trevor Keels, struggled to find their groove in conference play. However, the emerging of AJ Griffin, (recovering from a pre-season knee injury) as a starter, a 50% three- point shooter, and more; as well as Keels quickly recovering from a leg injury; and Banchero rebounding from a shooting slump, makes the Blue Devils a more formidable opponent than they were at the beginning of the season. Whom do you double team?
Only thing that stands in the way of an impressive finish to the first Regular Season ACC Title since –gasp—2010 is what my partner Alan loves to call a Trap Game –the pressure of Coach K’s final home game against North Carolina, who recently lost to Pitt and was taken to overtime by Syracuse (both at Chapel Hill).
However, when it comes to Duke versus Carolina, history tells us: “Forget their record. You never know!!!”
You really might need to watch “The History of the ACC Tournament”, a ten-part documentary on the ACC Network. It will bring back memories for some of us and fill in gaps for others.
The raw talent on the 2021-22 Blue Devils was unmistakable even before the season began. After the season started, we analysts critiqued Duke’s continued inconsistency and failure to develop to its full potential. Four losses in the last seconds embodied the inconsistency and unreached potential. However, after Duke was still playing terribly but managed to hold on to beat Wake Forest by 2 points on February 1, that all changed dramatically because the next four games were a revelation.
Duke blew out Florida State in Cameron, beat a tough UVA team in Charlottesville, and then crushed both Syracuse and Pittsburgh on the road. Now, Duke has been consistent and looks to reach full potential with five star starters. For example, Mark Williams has been named one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. Wendell Moore Jr., as one of five finalists for the 2022 Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award. The other three freshman starters will be first round NBA draft picks. Paolo Banchero is potentially the first pick in the draft. A.J. Griffin will be a lottery selection according to most experts, and Trevor Keels will also go in the first round, said Corey Alexander on TV last night.
Let’s hope Jeremy Roach returns next year. He has developed into a valuable player. He has the potential to be the veteran (he’ll be a junior) point guard leading the highly regarded freshman in Jon Scheyer’s first year. But that’s next year.
Defense has been Duke’s calling card all season and is actually continuing to improve. In the last four games since the Wake win, the Blue Devils yielded 70 points, 61, 72, and 56, respectively, even with the starters on the bench at garbage time in 3 of the 4 games. The players emphasize defense, even when the reporter’s question is about offense. Trevor was asked about the 27 points he laid on The Panthers. He responded, “I think it started on defense for us. When we defend, we pick up, we’re talking on defense together, the guys’ shots just fall. Like Coach always says, basketball gods look out for us. When we defend like that and start off the game defending, worrying about defense, we’re good shooters so the ball is going to go in.”
Duke’s switching has been beautiful to behold and now has taken on the symmetry of a world class ballet troupe. The defense is cohesive and all five players on the court are working together. It’s one of Duke’s very best defensive teams.
Duke shot 70% from the field in the second half; 50% from behind the arc for the game. Coach K on his team’s improved offense: “They are taking really good shots, too. They are more and more comfortable playing with each other. So, they know if a guy is in a rhythm; who’s hot. They make the extra pass. It’s the second game in a row we’ve only had 6 turnovers. They are really getting to know one another!” Development! Consistency!
Four Duke starters accounted for 73 of Duke’s 96 points: Trevor Keels scored 27; Paolo Banchero, 21: Wendell Moore Jr., 13; and A.J. Griffin, 12.
Keels played 34 minutes, scored 27 points on 15 shots (10-15, including 5-8 from deep, plus 2-2 from the foul line) to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists without a turnover, and a steal.
- “I think my teammates found me. I made a couple 3’s to start off the game. P [Paolo Banchero] found me, Dell [Wendell Moore Jr.] found me. Like Coach said, our chemistry is unbelievable. Two games in a row with six turnovers is crazy. Mark is setting screens for me, Theo – I think none of this happens without my teammates finding me, setting me screens, looking for me, and me finding them too. I think it was a great team effort, and it got me going.”
- Coach K: “ He [Trevor] has great balance right now. His shot is the same. He’s got a good base. He’s always been a good shooter, but right now he’s a very good shooter because of having great balance.”
Banchero played 33:13, scoring 21 points on only 10 shots (7-10 from the field, including 3-3 from 3land, plus 4-6 from the free throw line).
Moore played 27 minutes, scoring 13 points on just 6 shots (4-6, including 1-2 from behind the arc, plus 4-4 foul shots) while handing out 5 assists and grabbing 6 boards.
Griffin logged 26 minutes, scoring 12 points (5-7, 1-3 from deep and 1-1 from the stripe) while garnering 7 boards (some were exceptional on the defensive end) with an assist (0 turnovers) and 2 steals.
Williams had an odd ‘triple double’: 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks in 21 minutes.
Roach, whose on-the-ball defense continues to dazzle, played 24 minutes with 3 assists and 0 turnovers. He scored 4 (2-6, including 0-3 from deep)
A reporter noted that in the last five games, Duke has had five different leading scorers. Coach K’s great quote: “These guys take turns. They don’t care who leads the team in scoring. They just want us to lead the other team in scoring.”
UNC ON SATURDAY (MARCH 5)
Keels: On clinching the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament:
“It’s great, but we’ve still got Saturday to look on. We’ve got to take care of Saturday, but then we can look and really celebrate it. We’re happy we’re first place, but we’ve still got a huge game Saturday to take care of, and then we can really celebrate after that game.”
Coach K: The main thing is that we’re 16-3 [in the ACC] and 26-4 [overall], and we got a chance to play against an outstanding team on Saturday in what will be a great setting and that’ll help us going into next week. And then let’s see what happens after that.” Coach K is adamant that the final game in Cameron is not about him. “I want to live in their moment. If I make it about me, I’m being selfish. It’s about my team. Always! Always! Always!”
Last night, Florida State beat Notre Dame 74-70, giving Duke its first – undivided -ACC regular season championship since 2006. The first goal for this season has been accomplished!
I do not believe that having won the championship will diminish the Blue Devil’s motivation to finish the season, and give Coach K a win in his final home game at Cameron. UNC might be highly motivated after having been totally embarrassed on their home floor when Duke thrashed them on Feb 5 by 20 points! Who cares! We suspect that Duke fans will not forget the Carolina reception for Coach K in Chapel Hill, especially in contrast to how he has been feted in every other visitor’s arena. If Duke has developed as Coach K believes and we all hope, Duke will finish the regular season with a flourish.
As Jay Bilas always repeats, “Duke v Carolina NEVER DISAPPOINTS!” Every TV camera, sports celebrity, and wealthy fan will be there. The price of the ticket will be the stuff of future legend – ESPN says the cheapest ticket was $2,800 (the most expensive – so far – ticket was auctioned off for charity at $80,000) A final home loss to UNC in Coach K’s final home game would be so deflating that it is crushing to even think about. So, I channel Mr. Sensitive, who writes amazingly, dexterously, hilariously, and insightfully about Duke basketball. Here is hilarious and dextrous:
“I pride myself on being a master of overhyped hyperbole (overhyperbole?) for all things Devil. But this next game is un-overhypeable. There ain’t no thesaurus big enough, no sobriquet fawning enough, no language that can adequately capture the portent of this next game.” Mr. S describes his take on the UNC game as his “hubris strut”. He wishes to capture the emotions “as we humiliate our archrivals. We’ll beat them down into a rare halftime surrender. Having barely escaped our cat toy, Syracuse, Carolina will not be favored. We’ll have talent, emotion and full throated Devildom on our side. They’ll have some weakass Hube speech about spoiling our party.”
This is Mr. S’s Next Play: “Get your extra absorbent facial tissues, a whole case of ‘em. Get your DVR ready to capture the game, the pre-game, the pre-pre-game, the post-, pre-post-, post-pre, etc… video spectacle of the FINAL GAME OF COACH K LEADING THE DEVILS IN CAMERON. Get your Grandma to tune in, because it’s gonna be one for all the inhabitants of the vast Devil universe.”
Next Play: AS EVERYONE KNOWS — COACH K’S SWAN SONG AT CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM ON Saturday, March 5, 2022, 6 pm on TV: ESPN
Duke Blue Devils 81 v. UNC Tarheels 94, in Cameron; (Season 13 Issue 29 – Game # 31) Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes” (March 5, 2022)
North Carolina outplayed, out-hustled, and, yes, even out-coached Duke in the second half of Coach K’s last game in Cameron. If a team of four or five projected first round NBA picks cannot rise to the occasion of outplaying a bitter rival for most of forty minutes before a packed, supportive home crowd that included 100 or so former players–and some of the best players ever to wear a Duke uniform– it is beyond disappointing. It is inexplicable, But then again, it’s Duke-Carolina. Inexplicable is the norm!
If there was a turning point in the game, it was late in the first half with 3:52 remaining. Duke went on a 14-0 run to take a 9 point lead. However, the Blue Devils failed to capitalize on the opportunity. With the score 37-30, Banchero missed the first end of a 1-and-1. Keels did the same. Missing the front end of a 1-and-1 is the functional equivalent of a turnover. So two turnovers instead of 4 points. Then came a controversial charge-block call, one that would have sent Armando Bacot to the bench with three fouls. Instead, Williams was called for the foul, and Caleb Love hit a 3-pointer. R.J. Davis closed the half with another triple — even though Duke had two fouls to give before being in the bonus. Opportunity lost. That never would have happened to a good, veteran Duke team. Duke still led 41-39, but it felt like Duke could have – should have – taken a 10-12 point lead into the locker room.
Still, Duke started the second half strong and had 7 point leads at 52-45, 54-47 and 56-49. Then, this team’s inability to play close to forty minutes of good, tough basketball resurfaced. The Blue Devils couldn’t get a stop or make a shot.
A one-on-one offense works until an opponent makes an adjustment; then it doesn’t work. How does it make sense for Banchero to take 26 shots and Griffin only take three 3’s & 5 total shots in 35 minutes? The same inattention to execution can be said of sloppy man-to-man defense.
Next play. Coach K’s impromptu comment: “This afternoon is unacceptable. But the season is very acceptable. The season is not over.”
Addendum: In 1991, Duke lost to North Carolina in the finals of the ACC Tournament by 22 points. Then, the Blue Devils ran the table beating UNLV, then Kansas for the NCAA Championship!
Bill sacrificed to be emotionally ready for the game. (His dedication to Duke’s season was apparently superior to Coach’s K’s young charges.) Bill gave up his Saturday golf game (canceled his tee time!!!) in order to be perfectly situated in front of the TV. I believe Coach K would admire Bill’s wise choice.
It was a superb Duke Day from beginning to end, if we can simply forget about the desultory 40 minutes (the actual game) that temporarily cast a bad shadow in the middle of the festivities. The plaudits were ample and the cliches were presented in world record abundance (commemorative benches! five annual scholarships in Coach K’s name! Cameron Crazies camped out since January!)
96 of Coach K’s former players returned to honor his Hall of Fame career (current NBA stars were scarce because of NBA games and schedules or there would have been even more). The juxtaposition of former Duke stars who spent 3 or 4 years in the program with this year’s very young team may go a long way towards our understanding of not only the poor quality of yesterday’s play but also the lack of ability to maintain poise in the midst of such an unprecedented emotional outpouring comes with experience.
The truly dispiriting performance by the young Blue Devils brought out the best in Coach K as he used the post-game ceremony to instill motivation for the next two tournaments. In the midst of his address, he turned to his team: “We didn’t play well, and (pointing to his 96 former players) there were times when you didn’t either! But, not for long. Not for long,” he said. “Hopefully, today, for our program — this program right now — it’s a great learning experience. It’s a great learning experience. First of all, to learn, look at what you’re a part of. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?! [Meaning you are so fortunate to be among The Chosen; to be invited into this unique Brotherhood; time to be worthy of that and understand you are The Chosen.]
He continued, “We need to fight for Duke. We need to fight for the brotherhood. And we need to fight with all of our might through the remainder of the season. Then, I’ll be ready to get the hell out of here.”
He concluded, “you may not know it now, but I love you guys, and I’m going to love what we will do, learning from this experience, going forward!” Then, to restore his team’s shattered confidence – even a bit of shame at losing during this much-anticipated and ultra-hyped Coach K celebration – he emphasized that the 2021-22 Duke Blue Devils have already earned a form of Duke immortality that will enshrine them in the Brotherhood forever; this team will have a banner forever in Cameron – winner of the 2021-2022 Regular Season ACC Championship. That’s coaching!
Why Did Duke Lose?
- UNC played its best game of the year. The Tarheels were highly motivated from being humiliated when Duke obliterated them in early February, intense, and ready. Coach K: “we had just played the three road games in six days, and we won the regular season. When that happens, you just don’t win a game, you win a culmination of games, so it’s an accomplishment. Then you have this game, which is like its own entity, and we were never able to move to that level, and that’s on me to do that.”
- Duke was just the opposite. Wendell Moore: “Really, from start to finish, [North Carolina] kind of out-played us. That’s on me as a captain, as a leader, to really get our guys ready for a game like this. It was a big moment, actually, a huge moment this whole week. I feel like we kind of got lost in everything. It’s easy to get lost in it. Even I got lost in it a little bit.”
- Duke’s defense was beyond awful. Duke gave up 55 points in the second half!!! The Blue Devils led by 7 points (56-49) with under 13 minutes left in the game; UNC then blitzed the defense for 45 points – leaving Duke outscored by 25 points in that final 12:50. That is called a total collapse of the defense, which has been Duke’s calling card this year. Truthfully, it was a bit shocking after Duke’s defense has been so stellar in recent games. It is even more shocking for the collapse to be on the most center of center stages.
- Coach K: “It started with [our] defense. Their guards we couldn’t keep in front of us and [Armando] Bacot has been player of the year in our conference, and he showed that again today. They’re a really good team and they played a lot better than we did today.” Paolo: “We had some key miscommunications on defense, and that gave them some threes and some easy buckets. That’s how they pulled away.”
The Regular Season is Over; Time to Focus on the Post-Season
The Blue Devils have responded this season with gaudy performances after the lackluster ones. We are counting on that to continue. Duke has lost five times this season, but the Blue Devils have never lost 2 in a row this year. Coach K and the DBP, are both turning the page on the regular season and Duke’s outright ACC Regular Season Championship and preparing for the ACC Tournament.
Coach K: “I want to put this away, the regular season. Now we’re in the 0-0 part of our season and we’ll be that twice [ACC & NCAA tournaments]. We’ll be that right now until next Sunday or before, and then next Sunday we’ll be that again. Hopefully the lessons that we learned from playing 31 games, especially this last one, will help us in both of those situations.”
Paolo pointed out a paradox in Duke’s home season (losses in Cameron to Virginia, Miami, and UNC) and the need to focus on the post-season: “We just didn’t execute as we should have. It’s kind of been a theme for us at home, losing games like that. On the road, and everywhere else, we’ve been hungry. We won’t be playing the NCAA Tournament here [in Cameron], so we look forward to going on the road to Brooklyn for the ACC Tournament and then wherever we are for the NCAA Tournament and making up for it.”
The ACC Tournament
The ACC Tournament begins on Tuesday, March 8, at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY (Home of the NBA Brooklyn Nets). The first four seeds – 1) Duke; 2) Notre Dame; 3) UNC; and 4) Miami receive a “double-bye” to Thursday’s quarter finals. Duke and Miami will meet in Friday’s semi-finals, if both win on Thursday.
Duke plays in the first quarter final on Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s game between Florida State (8th seed) and Syracuse (9th seed). Wake Forest is the 5th seed. Miami will play Wake Thursday, if Wake can beat the winner of Tuesday’s Pitt (12th seed) – BC (13th seed) game. UNC has the toughest draw; the Tarheels might have to face Virginia (6th seed) Thursday in the quarterfinals, Notre Dame in the semi-finals Friday, and then, if they win both, they will be allowed to face off against Duke in the finals, all in 3 days.
Duke is the favorite to win the ACC Tournament, but, as proved by this UNC debacle, it will not be easy. Remember, no one on this young team has had any tournament experience due to cancellations in the last two COVID years.
Sunday, March 13 is Selection Sunday when the NCAA draw is announced, and we learn in which of the four regions Duke has been placed, as well as what seed they have been awarded. The college President, Vincent Price, offered this Duke team a great motivation to win the NCAA tournament – to grant a sixth scholarship in honor of Coach K’s sixth NCAA title.
Next Play: Duke v Florida State or Syracuse in the Quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY, at 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 10 against the winner of Florida State vs. Syracuse (Wednesday, March 9 at noon).
Vincent Price offering a sixth basketball scholarship?
Duke Blue Devils in ACC Tournament at Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY (Season 13 Issue 30 – Game # 32, Duke Blue Devils 88 – Syracuse Orange 79; Game # 33 Duke Blue Devils 80 – Miami Hurricanes 76; Game #34 Duke Blue Devils 67- Virginia Tech Hokies 82; with Alan Silber’s “Alanalysis” and Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”
The keys to the win against Syracuse are instructive going forward:
- Less reliance on Banchero to score. He does everything well—defense, pass, rebound, and draws attention away from the other four on the floor.
- Play Williams more minutes—35-38 minutes. He is a difference-maker at both ends.
- Moore must play like he did at the beginning of the season and today. He was the MVP then and now.
- Obviously, Jeremy Roach’s 5 threes were huge.
I believe that for this team to be successful going forward, it has to be less Banchero-centric— and they cannot fall in love with the three.
Duke v Miami
The thing that impressed me the most about the win—other than the maturity with which Duke closed out this game as well as the Syracuse game– was that it was a total team win, one in which everyone contributed.
Paolo Banchero’s sharpshooting in the early win against Gonzaga gave everyone unrealistic expectations of his shooting skills. At this stage, Paolo is more of a scorer than a pure shooter. As the season has progressed, the further the star freshman has been from the basket on offense, and the less effective he has been. Recently, except for the Carolina game, Paolo has operated closer to the basket and let others take the majority of threes.
Again, Duke gets everyone’s best shot (editorial note: Because of Duke’s reputation at the top for so long, beating Duke is huge for everyone. So each of the teams on Duke’s schedule prepares for the Duke game as the big game for national prestige). If the defense is not at its best, the Blue Devils often find themselves in a dogfight. Tonight was no different. Banchero kept the score close until A. J. Griffin heated up and scored 12 straight points. Then Jeremy Roach, playing the point, hit a layup at the halftime buzzer to tie the score (which eerily resembled the Miami’s Moore (Charley’s) buzzer beater in Cameron back in January). The Blue Devils were barely ahead most of the second half. Then Duke’s Moore (Wendell) made the plays of the game—all consecutively. First, Wendell hit a three; then he blocked a Miami fast break layup from behind, grabbed the loose ball off the backboard, and streaked down the floor to make a fast break layup of his own!
Roach, Keels, and Moore closed the game out flawlessly from the line. (This is why I stress hitting free throws. All of Coach K’s better teams have attacked the basket and made more free throws during the season than their opponents attempted.) Oh, and yes – Mark Williams played major minutes. With the game still in doubt, Miami’s star, Kameron McGusty, penetrated, came to a stop down low and – intimidated by the presence of Williams – shuffled his feet for a crucial turnover. This was neither the first nor last time that Williams had a subtle impact on an opponent.
With Griffin coming off an early-season injury, and the dramatic offensive improvement of Jeremy Roach, this is a much more versatile and dangerous team than the one which beat Gonzaga and Kentucky early in the season. They have five potential first round NBA picks. However, in the one-and-done era, young teams have seldom won the NCAA Championship!
Duke v Virginia Tech
Duke may have five first-round picks in the NBA draft this year, but they were thoroughly out-hustled and out-played by Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament final. Duke’s man-to-man defense was exploited by the Hokies all night, led by Hunter Cattoor hitting 7 of 9 from beyond the arc on the way to a career-high 31 points. Aluma had 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists.
Virginia Tech deserves all the credit for recovering from tough, close losses at the beginning of the season and transitioning to winning four straight tournament games against Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Duke. On the other hand, Duke played as though they were the team that was playing their fourth game in four nights, getting beaten in every statistic, shooting a woeful 4 for 20 from 3-point range and 15-23 from the foul line. The fact that, after Moore threw the ball away on a sloppy pass to Banchero to start the first half, Coach K called a timeout in less than a minute says it all. How many times do you see a coach call a timeout one minute into a half?
Duke v Syracuse
[Duke had an illness – perhaps food poisoning – hit some team members. A.J. was throwing up; whether he would play was unknown until right before the game. He played, but sparingly and ineffectively.]
When it became apparent that Syracuse was scoring virtually at-will against the Duke defense (40 first-half points; 39 second-half points), the scenario gave me flashbacks of Duke’s failed defense in the last part of the game against UNC in Cameron last Saturday. Coach K agreed, “We’re not playing very good defense right now. We did not against North Carolina, and we did not in this game. We’re missing a lot of assignments, and we fouled a lot of three-point shooters. I mean, we fouled at least three today. You just can’t do that. So, we can improve definitely on that end of the court.”
Duke’s defense gave me a sinking feeling of how unpleasant writing the DBPs would be. The Orange were not less than gallant in their magnificent effort. The extraordinary Syracuse shot-making as well as intense hustle were part of the reason for Duke’s subpar defense. Offense was a different story.
Duke started very well, leading by 11 points (24-13) after 9 minutes of play. However, in the next 11 minutes the Orange scored 27 points to take a 40-36 half-time lead. The Blue Devils hit 4-6 from behind the arc in the early going. After falling ‘in love with the 3-point shot’, Duke kept firing blanks (2-16) for the rest of the half. 22 of Duke’s 36 first-half shots were from behind the arc. “I thought we started the game well; then fell in love with the three-point shot. I thought it was going to be easier, but they got momentum. We started fouling, and they saw the ball go in a lot, and then it was a helluva game,” said Coach K.
Duke’s offense came alive in the second half, playing basically only five players. Tellingly, Duke had 15 assists on 19 field goals, which means they were playing cohesively as a team, sharing the ball to get open shots. The rest of the stats for the half weren’t too shabby either: 52 points on 19 for 31 shooting, including 5-10 from behind the arc, plus 9-13 from the stripe
Jeremy Roach, in only 13 minutes, led the second-half scoring with 16 points (5-6 from the field, including 4-5 from 3land plus 2-3 from the foul line), after scoring just 3 in the first half. Mark Williams, Wendell Moore, and Trevor Keels played all 20 minutes of the second half. Mark had a fabulous second half, after a scoreless first half. Williams scored 15 second-half points (7-9 from the field and 1-2 from the stripe) to go with 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a steal. Wendell was superb in the second half, dishing out 8 assists (1 turnover) while scoring 13 points on just 6 shots (4-6 from the field, including 1-1 from behind the arc, plus 4-4 from the stripe). Honestly, Wendell had a great first half as well, scoring 13 for 26 points in the game (high scorer for Duke). Keels scored only 4 (2-5, 0-2 from deep), but defended Joe Girardi, holding Girardi to 5 second-half points, after Girardi had torched Duke in the first-half for 18 points. Paolo Banchero played 18 minutes, only scoring 4 points in the closing stanza (1-4 from the field, including 0-1 from deep, plus 2-4 from the stripe), but grabbed 7 rebounds, handed out 4 assists, and had 2 steals.
Duke essentially only played those five in the second half – A.J. Griffin was the only other Duke player that got any court time in the closing stanza (in 9 minutes, A.J. failed to score, missing his only attempt – from deep).
Duke Becomes Duke in the last 11 Minutes of the Game
With 11:41 left in the game, the score was tied at 60; Duke took the lead with 11:17 left in the game, and held a lead of between 2 and 5 points until Girardi made a jumper at 4:25 to draw the Orange within one point: 78-77. Syracuse never led in the second half until 3:38 was left in the game when Girardi missed, and Jimmy Boeheim put in the offensive rebound to give the Orange a 79-78 lead. That’s when my I-don’t-want-to-write-about-this-loss kicked in. Then the game changed.
Keels fought for and retrieved an offensive rebound; Moore made 2 free throws – 80-79 with 2:57 left. Williams rebounded a Jimmy Boeheim miss, for Keels to assist Banchero on a jumper – 82-79 with 2:15 left. After Jimmy missed a pair of 3-point attempts (made possible by a Syracuse offensive rebound), the Orange retained possession when Jeremy committed a non-shooting foul. Banchero then made a steal to give Duke the ball with a 3 point lead with 1:36 to go. Moore drove for the basket, pivoted, and kicked-out for a wide open 3 point basket by Jeremy. Duke 85-79 with 1:08 to go. Girardi and Jimmy Boeheim missed 3s. Trevor grabbed a contested rebound and found Mark for a game-sealing dunk (87-79 with 49 seconds left). Girardi and Swider missed 3s. Williams got the board and was fouled. He made one of two for the final 88-79 margin with 38 seconds left.
Duke v Miami
The ACC semi-final game produced an even higher quality game than the quarterfinal win over Syracuse (which was high quality), and played out in similar fashion. Miami, like Syracuse, began the game on fire; it took the Blue Devils some time to recover equilibrium and begin to compete. Paolo Banchero (11 first-half points) and A.J. Griffin (15 first-half points) stopped the Blue Devil’s bleeding and brought Duke back. Paolo and A.J. accounted for 26 of Duke’s 36 first-half points (Moore, 4; Williams, 2; John, 2; and Roach’s layup as the first half ended completed Duke’s first half scoring).
Coach K: “They almost knocked us out. The plan we had didn’t work or wasn’t working defensively, and we weren’t aggressive in the plan we had, and that’s on us, on the coaching staff, on me. Then we changed it and got back to playing our regular stuff, and we were able to tie the game.” Paolo (5-6) and A.J (6-8) together were 11-14 from the field; the rest of the team was 4-17 with 7 turnovers. Miami’s defense typically relies on creating turnovers – the 17 turnovers Miami created against Duke in Cameron last January goes a long way toward explaining that Miami victory.
The second half was well-played, intense and competitive. Duke’s defense improved perceptibly and dramatically – better than it was in the first half, better than the porous defense the Blue Devils had played against UNC on Senior Night, and better than the subpar defense against Syracuse in the quarterfinals. A reporter in the press conference put the obvious assessment in a question to Mark, “Coach had said you guys didn’t play very well defensively against Carolina, and then yesterday, early today was kind of a struggle. What flipped the switch for you guys? How did you play so much better the rest of the game to get that win?” The question revealed more than Mark’s cliche answer about never backing down.
Wendell Moore was simply outstanding on defense. He blocked 3 shots; 2 of them by chasing the fast break from behind , leaping and slamming the ball from the shooter’s hand into the backboard; then grabbing the ball and starting his own fast break. Breathtaking! Williams blocked and altered shots. Roach, Paolo , and Trevor ratcheted up the intensity. It was high level basketball where, as Coach K said, “both teams were worthy of winning.”
Duke’s offense became efficient, limiting second-half turnovers to 3. Duke had 6 assists on 14 field goals. In spite of 2-10 from behind the arc, the Blue Devils shot over 50% from the field – an efficient 12–17 from inside the arc. The Hurricanes employed a switching man-to-man defense, which allowed Duke to create mismatches – especially down low. The result was that the smaller Hurricane players fouled Duke’s bigger guys. The difference in free throw points (Duke: 17 vs Miami: 6 in the game; Duke:14 vs Miami 5 in the second half) made the difference in the game.
The Rotation, With Game Stats
Paolo (sat out less than 1 minute in each half) had an amazing double-double, scoring 18 points on 10 shots (8-10, including 0-1 from deep, plus 2-4 from the stripe) to go with 11 rebounds, 4 assists, a block, and a steal without a turnover. He defends on the perimeter and protects the rim.
Wendell (36 minutes) scored 17 points on 12 shots (6-12 from the field, including 1-4 from deep, plus 4-4 clutch free throws to clinch the game), to go with 6 rebounds and excellent defense. Coach K: “I thought two of the key plays were the blocks when they had fast breaks. Our guys made magnificent plays on them, but we also turned them into a bucket. So there were two four-point turnarounds during that time.” Like Paolo, Wendell excels at so many different parts of the game.
A.J. was Duke’s high scorer with 21 points; 15 in the first half – 12 in a row at one point, to bring Duke back into the game that looked as if it was getting away. In 30 minutes, A.J. was 7-12 from the field, including 4-6 from 3land, plus 3-4 from the stripe. Griffin grabbed 7 defensive rebounds.
Mark grabbed 10 boards in his 32 minutes, and blocked 3 shots (and altered others), while scoring 9 points (4-8 from the field, plus 1-2 from the stripe).
Jeremy (23 minutes) also scored 9 points in the game (7 in the second half, where he was so valuable). While he missed all three of his 3-point attempts, he made 3 tough layups and 3 clutch free throws. (3-8 from the field, including 0-3 from deep, plus 3-4 from the line. He craftily drew 4 Miami fouls and grabbed 3 boards.Trevor scored only 4 points (all in the second half) in 33 minutes (1-7 from the field, including 0-4 from 3land, plus 2-2 from the stripe). He handed out 3 assists but committed 2 turnovers.
Theo played 5:37 (all in the first half) scoring 2 (2-2 from the stripe) and blocking a shot. He committed 2 fouls.
Joey played 3 minutes (0-1 from deep) all in the first half.
5:07 Miami tied Duke at 65 on a Waardenburg 3, after Duke had led by between 2 and 7 points for almost 15 minutes.
When Miami’s Moore fouled Jeremy (Miami’s 7th), Roach made both free throws. 67-65 with 4:42 remaining.
With 4:15 left, Williams altered 2 Hurricane shots at the rim and got the ball. Mark whipped it to Wendell, who fed Trevor for a fast break that took less than 2 seconds (Trevor’s only basket of the game). 69-65 with 4:13 left.
Williams rebounded a McGusty miss; Paolo was fouled but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 3:26 remaining. Keels stole the ball with 3:08 remaining but missed a 3-point attempt. Miami time out with 2:30 left.
Paolo fouled Wong, who made both foul shots. 69-67 with 2:09 left in the game. Waardenburg fouled Paolo, who missed the first, but cashed in the second. 70-67 with 1:42 to go. Paolo fouled Wong, who made them both. 70-69 with 1:22 remaining. Miller fouled Moore, who made them both. 72-69 with 58 seconds left.
With 47 seconds left, Mark’s presence caused McGusty to commit a costly turnover by traveling. Duke ball. When Roach cleverly induced a Miami foul, he made 1-2; Duke by 73-69. Paolo retrieved an offensive rebound from Jeremy’s miss and fed Trevor, who was fouled. Trevor scored his final two points (4 points for the half; he did not score in the first half) by making both free throws. 75-69 with 33 seconds remaining.
Miami scored quickly on a drive. 75-71. With 25 seconds left, Miami had to foul; Wendell made them both. 77-71. Paolo made a defensive mistake leaving Waardenburg wide open for a 3. 77-74 with 15 seconds left. Paolo inbounded to Griffin, who made 1-2 when he was fouled. 78-74. When A.J. rebounded his own miss; Miami had to foul. A.J. made both with 7 seconds left, Making Miami Moore’s final layup with 3 seconds left meaningless — for the final 80-76 score.
Coach K: “But we did right the ship, and then the second half was just back and forth. We hit on a little thing we do and got some multiple looks and got a little bit of a margin.”
Duke won exactly the kind of game the Blue Devils lost (to Miami, to Virginia, and to Florida State) during the season. Mentally, this is critical for the Championship game against Virginia Tech and for the NCAA tournament. Mark was asked what it meant to win two games at clutch time. “I think plays like that show our growth as a team. Those moments where we didn’t make those plays or didn’t convert, but now later in the season, we’re making those plays, making the right decisions or whatever it may be. I think it’s just a testament to just our hard work and perseverance throughout the season.”
The game against the Hokies will tell much about Duke’s consistency and maturity. It’s not about NCAA seeding; it is about achieving Coach K’s second stated goal – winning the ACC Tournament.
Coach K is optimistic (and so am I). “We have good kids, and they’re getting better. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow night or whatever, but we should be a real high seed. Then hopefully, especially from these two games — and we’ll learn from tomorrow’s game no matter what — this team really needs that [to play smarter and more mature], really needs that because they didn’t have it. … But that’s how we’ve tried to adjust…A couple weeks ago, I said I wish they would be smarter. The last two games they’ve been very smart. They’ve been really smart.”
In sync — Duke gets smart. Photo Credit: John Minchillo, AP
Duke v Virginia Tech
For a whole host of reasons, Virginia Tech’s dismantling of Coach K’s last team in the finals of the ACC Tournament is one of the most depressing Duke games I have ever had to write about. But, if Coach K has taught us anything about the game of life (and a bit about the game of basketball), it is both to learn from the experience and to move on to the next challenge (“next play”).
The second half of last night’s debacle eerily re-created the debacle of the second half against UNC on Senior night last weekend. What do we make of that?
Second Half: Va Tech 40 – Duke 28 & Second Half: UNC 55 – Duke 40
With under 13 minutes left in the game, UNC blitzed the Blue Devil defense for 45 points – leaving Duke outscored by 25 points in that final 12:50. That is called a total collapse of the defense, a defense which had been Duke’s calling card this year. Against the Hokies, Duke trailed by 7 (67-60) with 6:30 remaining in the game. Not an insurmountable deficit. Then, Virginia Tech outscored the Blue Devils by 11 in the last 6:29 for an 18 point lead (Savarino’s 3 at the buzzer reduced the margin to 15!). In each case, experienced veterans overwhelmed talented freshmen.
Duke’s defense had seemed to revive in the last half against Miami, having shaken off the emotional impact of having been blitzed in Cameron on Senior Night by the Tarheels. The collapse against the Hokies obliterated those optimistic insights about this team’s development. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the 2021-22 Blue Devils, while talented, are inconsistent and seem to lose focus, following good performances with unexpectedly bad losses.
In the second half against Virginia Tech, Duke’s shooting was genuinely awful – 9-23 (39%), including 2-12 from deep (16.7%). Banchero and Moore played the entire half until the end, when Coach K put in his bench with 1:16 to go in the game. Paolo scored 10 points (3-4 from the field and 4-7 from the stripe), while Wendell contributed 5 points (2-4 from the field, including 1-3 from 3land).
No other Duke player made more than a single 2-point field goal in the half, except for Savarino’s 3 at the buzzer. Roach played 14:28, scoring 4 points in the half (1-3, including 0-2 from deep, plus 2-4 from the stripe). Trevor (2 free throws), A.J. (1 basket), and Mark (1 basket), each scored only 2 points.
Comparing the Duke 2021-22 team to the 2018-19 team For Why Having Future NBA Super Stars Does Not Automatically Translate to NCAA Success
Duke’s amazingly talented 2018-19 team did not reach the Final Four and finished 3rd in the ACC regular season. Experience may be as or more valuable than individual talent.
As Bill points out, this Duke team starts five players who will likely be selected in the first round of the NBA draft on June 23, 2022. The 2018-19 Duke team also also had five starters that are playing or played in the NBA, including 4 freshmen: the 1st (Zion), 3rd (R.J.), and 10th (Cam) selections in the 2019 NBA draft, plus Tre Jones (now with the Spurs) and Marques Bolden (then a junior; he played with the Cleveland Cavaliers for a year before his continuing GLeague career). A comparison of that team with Duke’s current one yields some insights that I explore below.
In spite of that immense talent on the 2018-19 team (not only the starting five, but also DeLaurier (G League) and Jack White (Australian League) then juniors, still have ongoing professional careers), Duke finished third in the Regular ACC season (14-4) – behind both UVA and UNC (16-2 each). Duke was 32-6 for the year. This current Duke team is 28-6 going into the NCAA tournament.
The 2018-19 team started off All-World by beating Kentucky in the season’s opener 118-84 (never played that well again!), as the 2021-22 team did in its opener against Kentucky. In 2018, there was an early season loss (89-87) to Gonzaga (neutral court) before the ACC season began. The current team lost to Ohio State in 2021for its only pre-ACC season loss.
In the regular ACC season, the RJ-Zion team lost to Syracuse (January 2019 in Cameron) 95-91; and then faded in late February and early March, losing 3 of their last 6 games. In 2018-19, Duke lost to UNC 88-72 in Cameron and Virginia Tech 77-72 in Blacksburg in February. In March, Duke eked out a 71-70 win against Wake Forest (4-14; 11-20) in Cameron before being again beaten by UNC in Chapel Hill 79-70.
Duke won the 2019 ACC tournament title, getting revenge against Syracuse and UNC before beating Florida State for the championship. Reverse the Regular Season and ACC Tournament titles and the results are eerily similar this year.
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Rather than one single massive tournament of 68 teams, Coach K views the NCAA tournament as a pod of four-team tournaments each weekend – Sweet 16 is the second weekend’s tournament pod and the Final Four is the third weekend’s four team pod.
This team needs to not be thinking about NBA drafts or four team tournaments or NCAA titles, or anything except the court they’re on in that moment –forget ‘eyes on the prize’, eyes on the damn game in front of you.
Duke was #1 seed in its Region. In Duke’s first four-team tournament, the 2018-19 team beat North Dakota State (#16 seed) 85-62, before almost being upset by Johnny Dawkins’ (the super star from Coach K’s first successful recruiting class) University of Central Florida team. Duke prevailed 77-76 when Aubrey Dawkins (Johnny’s son) missed a point blank put back at the buzzer. Duke managed to hang on to beat UCF even though UCF out-scored the 2018-19 team 40-33 in the second half. Thus, Duke was fortunate to win their first four-team tournament. Duke got revenge against 4th seeded Virginia Tech, defeating the Hokies in the Sweet 16 by 75-73 before losing to #2 seed Michigan State in the Elite 8 by 68-67.
- Lessons from 2018-19
No other team in 2018-19 had the kind of talent that Duke hadd. Yet, the season – a success at 32-6 – was full of bumps, including the failure to reach the third four-team tournament. After the first game, Duke had all it could handle against UCF, Va. Tech, and more than it could handle from Michigan State. It doesn’t matter how talented the freshmen are. Experienced teams are difficult opponents.
Coach K said after the Miami game “We hit on a little thing we do” … let’s hope he and this team can find that “little thing” again in time to make Vincent Price hand over that 6th scholarship!
Duke is the #2 seed in the West Regional. The top four seeds in that region are: 1) Gonzaga; 2) Duke; 3) Texas Tech; 4) Arkansas. Duke will play on Friday, March 18 against # 15 seed Cal-State Fullerton in Greenville, South Carolina The other two teams in that four team tournament are # 7 Michigan State and # 10 Davidson. If Duke beats Cal-State Fullerton, the Blue Devils will play the winner of Davidson-Michigan State on Sunday, March 20 to try and reach the Sweet 16.
Next Play: NCAA Tournament against Cal-State Fullerton on Friday, March 18 at 7:15pm in Greenville, S.C.
ROUND # 1 – 2022 NCAA TOURNAMENT ( # 2 seeded) Duke Blue Devils 78 v (# 15 seeded) Cal State Fullerton Titans 61 in Greenville, SC (Season 13; Issue 31 – Game #35) Alan “Alanalysis” and Bill’s “CliffsNotes”
(March 18, 2022)
The Blue Devils are a frustrating team. When they are good, they are very impressive. When they are bad, they are not very impressive and very beatable. Unfortunately, they are often both during the same game. Tonight wasn’t one of those games. Against an undersized, overmatched but game opponent, Duke scored well: Williams had 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocks; Banchero 17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists; Moore 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists; Roach 12 points and 5 assists; and Griffin 10 points, 6 rebounds.
Coach K: “I thought they took a deep breath” he said of his impressive group of one-and- doners, who helped their coach improve his lifetime tournament record to 98-30 in March Madness and avoided any hint of what befell #2 seed Kentucky on Thursday night against Saint Peter’s, or any hint of what befell Duke themselves on those few odd occasions through the years when teams like Lehigh, Mercer, and VCU beat Duke in the opening round. But this is the nature of March Madness. There are a lot of good basketball players out there. Not all of them are 6” 6’ to 7’0’ and under 20 years old. Some are shorter but more seasoned and just as talented. And, as we have seen, on any given night with the three-point line, anything can happen.
The good news is that Krzyzewski’s record is 12-3 over Izzo. But Michigan State is always a tough out and they beat Duke with Zion, RJ, and Jones in 2019.
One loss and you are done in more ways than one.
Defense was Coach K’s stated concern: “we’ve been a really good defensive team [all season], but the last four games we were a really bad defensive team.” Duke held the Cal State Fullerton Titans (CSF or Titans) to 27 first-half points and 31% shooting; 61 points for the game. Duke’s major (only) defensive lapse was giving up 12 offensive rebounds to CSF, 7 coming in the first half.
Jeremy Roach replaced Trevor Keels in the starting lineup and corroborated Coach K’s judgement by playing as the glue (superb point guard play) on offense and aggressive on-the-ball defense. It was his best game at Duke!
After A.J. Griffin had a disappointing first half, Coach K gave him a short pep talk as the second half was about to start. AJ then played a superb second half.
Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams dominated the paint on offense and protected the rim on defense.
The floor was slippery, causing turnovers and chaos. That is ridiculous for a tournament game of this magnitude! Wendell Moore was injured (hopefully not badly; he appeared at the post-game press conference) when he slipped on the floor twice, once in a quite painful looking split position. Jeremy was charged with a turnover when he fell on a wet spot. Apparently, the arena is used for hockey, and it was speculated that the ice under the court was causing condensation on the floor. In any event, the slips clearly cost Duke a bunch of points.
The Blue Devils were intense on defense from the opening tip. After 7 minutes and 5 seconds had elapsed in the game, CSF had managed only 4 points. Duke led 17-4! In that short period, the Blue Devils terrorized CSF by blocking 6 shots (10 for the game) – 2 by Paolo, 2 by Theo John, 1 by Mark (who had Duke’s other 4 blocks for the rest of the game), and 1 by Jeremy. It is a tribute to CSF’s resilience that the Titans not only avoided being blown out by the Blue Devil start, but clawed back to within 6, twice, before the half ended.
Coach K: “I just thought it was a great game for us to play. We played better tonight than we have been playing. I thought our defense overall was a lot better, especially on Anosike and Milstead, who we felt coming into the game, if they had big games, we had a chance to get knocked off. So, it’s a big improvement.”
A major point of emphasis, in the week of practice for the Blue Devils, was communication on the defensive end. Both Paolo and Mark talked about that improvement in the postgame press conference. Paolo said he thought it was better than it had been recently. Mark emphasized, “Yeah, I thought we did a good job on that. Obviously, we can always improve. For us to do well, defense is going to be really important. Communicating, making all those right decisions, rotations, whatever it is. Then that translates into offense, transition, whatever. So that’s huge for us.”
Williams not only had 5 blocks, but he also visibly altered or prevented other shots. A few times, the Titans had penetrated, and passed back to the perimeter when Mark loomed near. Banchero, who is an outstanding defender, earned Coach K’s praise, “Paolo did a really good job on [Anosike] because he’s the leading scorer in their conference.” Banchero held Anosike to a 2-point first half (10 for the game). Jeremy’s on-the-ball defense flummoxed The Titans all night.
Duke shot 52% for the game (30-58, including 40% from behind the arc – 9-22), with 21 assists on the 30 baskets. Duke scored 40 of its 78 points in the paint, where Mark and Paolo were unstoppable. Duke broke the 0-0 tie with a Williams dunk after 24 seconds had elapsed to take a lead that the Blue Devils never relinquished. Duke led by 10 at the half (37-27).
The Titans scored the opening basket of the second half to reduce the Blue Devil lead to 8. Duke answered with an awesome run. A.J. hit a triple, Jeremy made 3 foul shots, Jeremy hit Mark for a dunk and foul shot for a traditional 3-point play, A.J. hit another 3-pointer, Paolo went 1-2 from the stripe before Moore hit a triple to give Duke a 20-point lead with 12:40 remaining in the game.The Titans were not done and crept back to within 13 (close as they would come) with 5:52 left, making for just a bit of nervousness. A.J. made a crucial basket on a drive with an assist from Paolo to restore order and the 15-point lead. The lead was 19 with under a minute left to play.
The only down aspect of Duke’s performance was CSF scored 16 points off 13 Duke turnovers. Between the turnovers and CSF’s offensive rebounds, the Titans actually took 6 more shots than Duke, but made 6 fewer.
The First Half
Banchero with 12 points and 7 rebounds led Duke in the opening stanza. Williams and Roach each scored 7 to account for 26 of Duke’s 37 first-half points.
The Second Half
A.J. scored the team-high in the second half with 8 points, augmented by 7 each from Mark and Wendell. Both Paolo and Jeremy contributed 5 points, while Trevor added 4. They collectively scored 36 of Duke’s 41 before Coach K gave his bench playing time with the game obviously decided.
THE ROTATION (AND MINUTES PLAYED)
Jeremy Roach (34: 58)
Jeremy was seemingly everywhere, on both ends of the court. He scored 12 points (3-8 from the field, including 1-3 from deep, plus 5-5 on clutch free throws), to go with 5 assists, a steal and a block. Jeremy will keep his starting job for the next game because he was the glue that held the Duke offense together in the face of intense trapping pressure.
A.J Griffin (33:14)
For the game, A.J. scored 10 (4-9 from the field, including 2-7 from deep) to go with 6 rebounds.
A.J. had a slow first half with only 2 points (1-4, including 0-3 from deep). I could tell from early on that A.J. was not comfortable in his first NCAA game. As the second half was about to start, Coach K told him, “Relax. Those are good shots. Have fun out there. Just don’t worry about the first half.” Coach K told us, “I didn’t want him to be down on himself. He’s only 18 years old, and he wants to do well.” A.J. then had a superb second half, scoring 8 crucial points (3-5 from the field, including 2-4 from deep).
Paolo Banchero (33:01)
Paolo had his 10th double double of the season and his 3rd in the last four games. He scored 17 points on 14 shots (7-14 from the field, including 2-4 from 3land, plus 1-1 from the foul line), to go with 10 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and 2 blocks.
Mark Williams (31:44)
Mark put up simply amazing numbers! He scored 15 points on 7 shots (6-7 from the field and 3-3 from the stripe), to go with 7 rebounds, 5 assists – a career high – and 5 blocked shots. Coach K, “I thought Mark made two consecutive plays there in the second half that produced six points. A.J. got a three [on a pass from Mark who had picked up a loose ball]. Then he [Mark] made a terrific pass to Paolo who scored [and was fouled]. Paolo hit the free throw [Duke] got six points. When your 7’1″ center is doing that, you’ve got a good chance of winning.”
Wendell Moore (29:05)
Wendell hurt his hip when he slipped twice on the watery floor. It is a good sign that Wendell wasn’t seriously injured in that he continued to play efficiently. He scored 13 points (5-8 from the field, including 3-4 from behind the arc), to go with 6 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal. Wendell said the team is developing, “We’ve got some work to do on the defensive end, on our defensive rebounds. For the most part, I feel like our offense was good. We didn’t turn the ball over too much. We got some good shots. Also, we took some bad shots. There’s always something we can clean up.”
Trevor Keels (20:58)
In the second half, Trevor adapted much better to coming off the bench instead of starting. He played less than 8 minutes in the opening period, scoring 2 points, but committing 3 turnovers. Trevor improved in the closing stanza, scoring 4 crucial points. For the game, Trevor scored 6 (3-7, including 0-2 from 3land). Keels had 2 rebounds, an assist, and 4 turnovers (but only 1 in the second half).
Theo John (8:16). In that short span, Theo scored 2 points (1-1) with 4 boards, 2 blocks, and a steal (but 3 fouls).
Baker (5:24) made a 3 pointer during end game garbage time. He is not defending well and therefore not playing much.
The deep bench – Bates Jones, Jaylen Blakes, and Michael Savarino – got to see the floor for a minute or so in an NCAA tournament game.
THOUGHTS ABOUT NCAA ROUND 2 – THE MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Tom Izzo, the Spartans’ Hall of Fame coach, and Coach K square off frequently in the NCAA. While Coach K has the edge, Izzo won the last encounter – that left a disappointing taste for Duke. In 2019 (Duke’s last NCAA appearance), the Duke team with Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Trey Jones, and Marquez Bolden lost to Michigan State in the Elite 8 by a single point. Duke was # 1 seed and favored to win the entire tournament. We hope it’s payback time – or, at least Survive and Advance to next week’s Sweet 16 time.
The Spartans opened the year unranked, then spent 12 weeks in the Top 25, peaking at No. 10 before falling off the ranking chart again by February. Michigan State lost 7 of their last 10 regular season games, then lost to Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. This is their 24th straight NCAA Tournament; they have won at least one game in the Tournament 19 times. Izzo made eight trips to the Final Four, winning one National Championship. And in the meantime…….
Next Play: NCAA Tournament against Michigan State on Sunday, March 20 at 5:15 pm in Greenville, S.C.; TV: CBS
Duke Blue Devils v Michigan State Spartans – 2nd round of NCAA Tournament; Season 13; Issue 32; Game #36 Duke 85 v. Michigan State 76
(March 20, 2022)
Coach K’s longtime rival, and dear friend, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo: “We were up 5 and …like a championship team, [Duke] dug down and made the plays.” Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle
It was a defensive and offensive team win—everyone contributed as this Duke team may be maturing before your eyes. Make no mistake. Talent be damned. Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams are nothing if not tough. A win against his team is earned. Nothing is given to you. However, today, the Blue Devils were tougher down the stretch, 20-6 to be exact, with a deceptive 85-76 win over the Spartans that sends Duke to its record 26th Sweet Sixteen and 2,000th career win for Coach K!
It was a team effort with Mark Williams, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Moore, Trevor Keels, and Jeremy Roach all making big plays in that closing run– big shots, big blocks, and big foul shots. And no one has improved during the year more than sophomore Jeremy Roach, who recently does a pretty good Bobby Hurley impression as point guard—especially hitting timely threes. Mark Williams and Paolo Banchero are a formidable duo defensively and on the boards.
Now the challenge is to build on this effort against # 3rd seed (in the West Region) Texas Tech, who is statistically the most efficient defensive team in the country.
I have viewed many postgame Coach K press conferences, but I cannot remember his tearing up as he did in this one. With damp eyes, Coach K addressed the five players sitting next to him (no post-injury A.J. Griffin), “you guys were terrific, man. I’m really proud to be your coach. It had nothing to do with coaching those last four or five minutes. It all had to do with heart and togetherness.”
The last 5:10 of the game was what we have come to know and love about Duke basketball at “winning time”. Coach K, “My guys were so tough in those last six minutes of the game. The last four or five minutes, the defense was incredible. They followed their hearts, and God bless them. We’re in the Sweet 16!”
The win over Michigan State was Duke’s 30th of this season — Coach K’s 16th 30-win season! It is also his 1200th career win and 99th NCAA triumph.
Duke led during the second half with margins of between 9 points and 4–with 12:03 left in the game, Duke still led 54-46. And then, the Spartans took charge and had the game tied at 65 with 5:43 remaining. Williams committed a foul; Paolo missed the front end of a 1 and 1; then, Spartan guard Tyson Walker made a 3-pointer. 68-65 Spartans, with 5:24 left. Mark Williams committed another foul, and Bingham converted both shots. 70-65 with 5:10 left. The Sweet Sixteen looked further away than K’s retirement.
Then the young Blue Devils morphed into the seasoned Duke team we have been anticipating all season– a team that had their heart committed to winning and was becoming (in Coach K’s lexicong) “older”, avoiding the inconsistency and careless errors. Compare Jeremy having Miami’s guard just take the ball from him when he wasn’t looking at crunch time to his spectacular play in the NCAA tournament.
First, Paolo made a driving layup. 70-67 with 4:55 left. Walker missed (great defense by Jeremy), and Williams retrieved the rebound. Roach made an exquisite driving layup. 70-69 with 4:17 left. Banchero fouled Hauser, who made both free throws. Duke still trailed, 72-69 with a timeout was called at 3:43 remaining.
Wendell was asked if the thought of losing was used as motivation in that timeout. Wendell: “Honestly, the conversation, I mean, losing didn’t come up one time. … Once we got in the huddle, we just looked in each other’s eyes, and we knew we weren’t going to lose.”
Trevor took a great pass from Paolo and hit a crucial 3-point shot to tie the game at 72 with 3:24 left. Hoggard (the other Spartan guard ) made a driving layup to give the lead back to Michigan State 74-72 with 2:51 remaining. Trevor drove the lane, was fouled, and made 1 of 2 free throws. Duke down 1 (74-73) at the 2:44 mark.
Then Duke’s defense took over and the winning time offense reminded us of the great Duke finishing teams of old!
Williams not only blocked Hoggard’s next layup, but he also retrieved the ball. Coach K, “We went to a little bit different coverage in the full court, like a soft, soft press, just so they didn’t get a run because they can really run. Then we started — we were going to switch 1 through 5. Mark has improved so much during the year in his lateral movement that he can stay in front, and that’s what he did. Like on that particular play.” Mark said, “I’m not thinking too much about like ‘I want to get a block here’. It’s more ‘I want to win’. If that’s the winning play, then I’ll do it. That’s all that really happened right there.”
Paolo gave Duke their first lead in winning time with a driving layup. Duke 75-Spartans 74 at the 2:05 mark. Banchero blocked yet another of Hauser’s attempted layups; Moore got the rebound and found Jeremy with 1:16 left on the clock for what one writer called “one of the ballsiest 3s for Duke in the NCAA tournament since Bobby Hurley hit that huge shot late against UNLV in 1991.” Duke 78 to 74. Duke closed out the game hitting 7-8 free throws (Moore 4-4; Keels 2-2; Williams 1-2).
Coach K summed it up: “It’s great. I love these kids. They’re becoming men, and they’re so young, and we were young for a little bit at different times today. They [Michigan State] took advantage of it. We were so good in the last part of the game. I mean, just — I can’t tell you how proud I am of them because they — we had not been playing well. We had a helluva week of practice and camaraderie stuff and whatever. They believe in one another.”
Player of the Game – Jeremy Roach (37:15)
He not only shoots and drives, he makes magic passes. Photo Credit: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press
Jeremy made 0 field goals in the first half (0-3, including 0-2 from deep), scoring his only 2 points on foul shots (2-2). Then, in the second half, Jeremy played all 20 minutes and led Duke to victory, scoring 13 second-half points on 6-7 from the field – drives and floaters, including “the ballsiest 3-point Duke basket” since Hurley’s in 1991. Coach K: “Jeremy hit a huge three for us, and in his drives, he willed that ball. He willed that ball in. They were some of the best drives I’ve seen as a Duke coach, really, especially in a pressure situation. … We started the week, we just said we need great ball pressure. He [Jeremy] can do that, and he did that today, but also to lead us. He made some big time baskets today. It wasn’t just that three. Those drives to the basket were huge. And everybody got energy from them. So, we’ve never stopped believing in him because he’s believable. He deserves it.”
Duke has had multiple ball handlers initiating the offense during the season – Trevor, Wendell and even Paolo – which was different from when Duke gave the keys to the team to a genuine point guard (think Hurley, Amaker, Jay Williams, and both Tyus and Tre Jones). In the NCAA tournament, Duke has given those keys to Jeremy.
THE ROTATION (AND MINUTES PLAYED)
Paolo Banchero (37:51)
Paolo led Duke in scoring with 19 points (8-14, including 2-5 from deep, plus 1-3 from the stripe) to go with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and a crucial blocked shot at crunch time. He was fabulous on the defensive end, holding the high-scoring Spartan, Joey Hauser, to just 5 points for the entire game. 5 turnovers marred his otherwise extraordinary stat line. Paolo went out of the game early for 1:16 so that Coach K could settle him down. Banchero becomes just the fourth Duke player of all time to play back-to-back NCAA Tournament games with stats of 15+ points, 5+ rebounds and 4+ assists, joining Danny Ferry (1987 and 1988), Grant Hill (1994), and Jon Scheyer (2010).
Jeremy Roach (37:15) see above
Wendell Moore (35:15)
After a potential bad injury due to slipping last game, Wendell – showed no ill effects and was simply terrific on both ends of the court! He scored 15 points on only 6 shots. (3-6, without a 3-point attempt). His 9-10 at the stripe, including 4-4 to preserve the win in the last minute was dramatic! Wendell also contributed 2 boards, 4 assists with only 1 turnover, and 2 steals – the one steal – literally snatched a floating pass in mid-air – during “winning time” which contributed to breaking the game open and finishing off the Spartans.
Mark Williams (30:26)
Mark also scored 15 points (7-9, including a beautiful fade away from almost 15 feet when Duke was having difficulty with the Spartan defense, plus 1-2 from the stripe). Mark added 8 boards (Duke’s leading rebounder), 5 blocks, and 2 steals. Coach K: “Mark looked like a hockey goalie the whole night, trying to protect our net. He did it enough to win the game.”
Mark is the first Blue Devil in history to record consecutive NCAA Tournament games with 5+ blocked shots after adding last night’s five to the five he swatted away in the first-round win over Cal State Fullerton. Williams has blocked 104 shots this season – fourth most of any player in any season at Duke. The only other Duke player to have 100+ blocks in a single season was Sheldon Williams, who did it three times (137 in 2006, 122 in 2005, and 111 in 2004). Mark racked up five dunks during the game and therefore moves into second on Duke’s single-season dunks list, with 88. Only Marvin Bagley III in 2017-18 had more dunks, with 98.
Trevor Keels (25:12)
Trevor scored 12 (4-8, including 1-2 from deep – the one tied the game at 72 — plus 3-4 from the foul line) to go with 4 rebounds, and an assist. He looked lost in the first half, playing only 9 minutes, and scoring only 2 points on 1-3 shooting. Then he came alive and was crucial for Duke after A.J. was injured early in the second half. Duke has now won 20 of 22 games when Keels scores in double figures.
A.J. Griffin (23:11)
A.J. played only 8 minutes in the second half, without scoring (0-2, including 0-1 from behind the arc), before he was injured. A.J. had an efficient first half, scoring 7 in 15 minutes (3-5 from the field, including 1-2 from 3land) to go with 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Unfortunately, we note complete radio silence about A.J. Griffin’s injury, which occurred after only 7:30 had gone by in the second half. Whether he will be at full strength next Thursday night could be key.
Theo John (9:34)
Theo spelled Mark for almost 5 minutes in each half, scoring 2 points (1-2) to go with 2 rebounds.
Bates Jones (1:16) briefly replaced Paolo in the early going to give Coach K a chance to talk with Banchero. No statistics.
GOIN’ TO SAN FRANCISCO TO PLAY #3 SEEDED TEXAS TECH IN THE SWEET 16
The Texas Tech Red Raiders are a formidable foe. The Red Raiders, ranked 11th in the final Coaches’ poll and 12th in the AP, are 27-9 for the season, finishing 3rd in the Big 12 at 12-6, behind Baylor and Kansas. In the conference tournament, Texas Tech beat Iowa State (who beat Wisconsin last night) and Oklahoma, before losing to Kansas in the finals. Duke’s offense must be ready to face the Red Raiders’ nation-leading efficient defense.
Texas Tech lost early in the season to Providence, Gonzaga, and, later, to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders beat Baylor twice in the regular season, as well as beating Tennessee and Texas. They beat Kansas once at home but then lost in double overtime when playing at Kansas. The Red Raiders likewise split one win-one loss against both TCU and Iowa State. It will be a Sweet, but tough, game for these maturing Duke Blue Devils.
Coach K: “They followed their hearts and we’re in the Sweet 16!” Photo Credit: Bob Donnan, USA Today Sports
Next Play: NCAA Tournament against Texas Tech, in the West Regional Semi-Finals (Sweet 16) on Thursday March 24 at 9:39 pm EDT in San Francisco. TV: CBS
Editorial staff note:
My friend knit this for my daughter for the 1991 NCAA Championship. She wore it; Duke won! Last night, when Duke was down 5 towards the end of the second half — seemingly the end of Coach K’s reign — I grabbed the sweater and nailbitingly hung on till Duke won, again! I will be keeping the sweater close by during Duke’s trip through the NCAA tournament..
And if the basketball gods should bless the Blue Devils once again, I’ll recreate the 1991 celebratory menu of duck and lobster.
Duke Blue Devils v Texas Tech Red Raiders – Sweet 16 round of 2022 NCAA Tournament; Season 13; Issue 33; Game #37 Duke 78 v. Texas Tech 73
This was Duke’s most impressive victory since the win in the 1992 Final Four against the previously undefeated UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. As I wrote last week: “ You could see this team mature and grow up before your eyes. Duke shot lights out down the stretch, making big shots and big stops– and they needed every single one of them.”
- “It certainly took the Blue Devils some time to get it figured out. Duke shot air-balls on three of its first four possessions and then had two live-ball turnovers that led to fast-break baskets [for Tech]. Mike Krzyzewski was forced to call a timeout with his team down 10-2, barely four minutes into the game. [However, it’s how you finish a game, not how you start it.] Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. And Duke was punched in the face. But they responded, after one of the best timeouts of Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career. After the timeout, the Blue Devils made its next four shots and tied the game at 12-12.” [“Duke Was Golden In The Clutch Against Texas Tech” by Jim Summer on dukebasketballreport.com]
“I’ve never played in a basketball game like that. When you’re out there, it’s not like you’re even thinking. You’re just playing to win,” freshman man/child Paolo Banchero, who finished with a team-leading 22 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals, said after the game. With four minutes left in the game, despite four players being in double-digit points, the Blue Devils were down one point. Two Jeremy Roach drives, a Banchero triple, and a Mark Williams block later, Duke was up three with one and a half minutes to go. It was then Roach sank yet another clutch jumper to put Duke up five with under a minute to go.
Sophomore Jeremy Roach is a good example of how much being in a program for more than one year can improve a player. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski commented after the game: “The resolve and improvement of Jeremy Roach has been incredible. His drives against that defense were so strong, so determined.” Roach, who ended with 15 points (11 in the second half) and 5 assists, continued his timely play from the opening period with fearless, slick drives and jump shots that he has been pulling out more and more in the postseason.
Similarly, Sophomore Skywalker Mark Williams, an important key to both the defense and offense, grabbed a quick eight points in the first five minutes with three dunks and two free throws, and graduate transfer Theo John got on the board with a put-back layup. Finally, a three from AJ Griffin put an exclamation point on a Duke run that tied the score at 47 with 12 minutes to go.
All in all, a very mature and impressive start to the 2022 NCAA men’s Basketball Tournament.
What a potpourri of intense competition at the highest level –great plays, strategic coaching decisions, and a Duke performance at winning time that was breathtaking in execution and high in drama. Or, as Coach K put it, “what a tremendous game!”
Texas Tech lived up to its advanced billing as a great defensive team, especially in the early going (The Red Raiders raced out to a 10-2 lead because as Coach K put it, “we weren’t ready for that level of expertise on defense and their strength”). However, in the second half, the Blue Devils simply shredded the vaunted Red Raiders defense, shooting 71% from the field (13-16 inside the arc, including 4-8 from deep), and making their final 8 shots attempts, to put the game away at winning time. Duke scored on 12 of its last 15 possessions. The Red Raiders simply could not defend as Duke scored 49 second-half points.
The Red Raiders may be ranked #1 nationally on defense, but Duke was every bit as good as the Red Raiders on defense, especially in the second half. Coach K turned the game around by playing a zone defense that Texas Tech had not anticipated. After a needed adjustment, the zone confused the Red Raiders. Coach K’s young charges then successfully lobbied him to return to the man-to-man defense to finish the game. Coach K agreed. They slapped the floor! Then the Blue Devils got the stops that won the game.
With 3:15 left in the game, Duke trailed 68-65. Duke scored 49 in the second half. The reason the game was a nail biter, was Duke’s defense didn’t stop the Red Raiders …until it did! The Red Raiders did not score again until only 27 seconds remained in the game, when Arms drove the length of the court for a dunk and then hit a 3-point shot with 13 seconds left to bring Texas Tech to within 2 (75-73; only 13 seconds left). The Blue Devils outscored Texas Tech 14-5 in the last 3:55 of the game with a 3-point play (“and one”) at the rim by Paolo; 3 jump shots by Roach, 2-2 free throws by Moore, 2-2 from the stripe by A.J. Griffin and 1-2 from Paolo to win the game.
Duke was behind by 4 at half time (33-29) and continued to trail by between 1 and 6 for the first 7 minutes of the second half. The Blue Devils finally tied the score, and for the next 9 minutes, the game see-sawed back and forth, with 7 lead changes and 6 ties.
Then, in the last 8:19, the Blue Devils made every one of their last 8 field goal attempts!! (Banchero 3, including two 3-pointers; Roach 3; Moore and Williams each 1), while adding 8-9 free throws (Moore 3-3; Williams 2-2, A.J. 2-2; and Paolo 1-2) in that same last 8:19.
With 4:04 remaining, Texas Tech led by 65-64. Roach scored on a driving layup, giving Duke a 66-65 lead at the 3:35 mark. Texas Tech’s last lead came on McCullar’s 3-pointer (68-66) with 3:15 remaining. Then came Duke’s “Finest Hour”: Paolo drained a 3 pointer (Duke 69 v Raiders 68 with 2:55 left). Williams made his 3rd crucial block of the game, and Jeremy came up with the ball. Roach took it himself on a beautiful step-back jumper (Duke 71; TT 68 with 2:16 to go). Paolo stole the ball with 1:56 left and fed Jeremy for another wonderful jump shot under pressure. Duke led 73-68 with 1:30 left in the game. When Moore rebounded the Red Raiders next miss, with 49 seconds left, Duke looked to be home free.
Looks, however, can be deceiving. Jeremy was fouled, but missed the front end of the 1-and-1 with 34 seconds left. Texas Tech then hit a dramatic 3-pointer to draw within 3 with just 27 seconds left. Moore made both free throws before Tech cut the lead to 75-73 with a dramatic 3 with only 13 seconds remaining. A.J.’s final clutch foul shooting preserved the win.
Duke dismantled the nation’s best defense, shooting 71% from the field in the concluding period. Wow!
Duke turned the game around and tied it when Coach K went to a zone defense midway through the second half. The Red Raiders were not prepared for it, perhaps because Duke has played zone so seldom this year. Coach K, “we practiced it a little bit during the year where our guys just know to keep the wings high and whatever. Today during our walk-through, we just mentioned it, like, look, there’s a chance we’ll use it, but you really couldn’t practice it in the walk-through, and these guys are smart players. They were able to do it. It kept out the amount of physicality because they were wearing us down, so the zone gave us a chance to kind of dance around the ring a little bit instead of being in a corner.” Texas Tech shredded the zone at first, but Duke stuck with the zone, “What happened was the zone was too far out, and so at the timeout, Jon Scheyer and Chris Carrawell said ‘they’re beating us on cuts, not on threes’, so we made that adjustment.” When Duke pulled the zone closer to the basket, the Red Raiders could no longer initiate the cut to get open and receive a pass. The Tech scoring stopped.
“These guys, with a few minutes left said, ‘Coach, we want to go back, man.’ It was like a Catholic boys’ choir. It was a chorus. They all said it. They all said it, and they said it with enthusiasm. ‘We want to do this. We want to go man.’ So, they were playing so well, I figured I would listen to them.”
Coach K went with the players’ suggestion: “With this team they’re so young and they’re still growing. Whenever they can own something, they’re going to do it better than if we just run it. When they said that, I felt they’re going to own it. They’ll make it work, and that’s probably more important than strategy during that time. So that’s the way I looked at it. I’m not sure I’ve been in that many situations like that before, but again, the ownership of doing something I think is key.”
Duke paid homage to earlier days by slapping the floor with a minute to go. Coach K: “The slapping the floor, what the hell? Why not? Our guys really wanted that because it’s kind of like crossing the bridge to the Brotherhood. They can now say they did that. Hopefully they can say that again at least on Saturday.”
I wonder if anyone in the Brotherhood remembers players asking Coach K to run a specific defense! I have a strong suspicion that that was a Duke first!
THE ROTATION WITH MINUTES PLAYED
Duke’s starting five played most of the minutes. Trevor Keels played only 14 minutes – spelling A.J. for 3:10, Wendell for 6 minutes, and Jeremy for 4:32 – without scoring. Theo John spelled Mark for approximately 5 minutes in each half, scoring 2 points on 1-1 from the field. Bates Jones gave Paolo a 2:49 break in the first half, but did not score. Thus, 76 of Duke’s 78 points came from the starters. Jeremy and Paolo each played all 20 minutes in the second half.
Paolo Banchero (37:11)
Paolo had an All-World game!, scoring 22 points (11 in each half) on 12 shots (7-12 from the field including 3-4 from behind the arc, plus 5-6 from the foul line), to go with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Paolo shares Player of the Game (POG) with Jeremy. Coach K: “Paolo did a couple of things tonight that he has never done in his life, and he did it instinctively. He just wanted to win so badly, and it was so beautiful to see. … I’ve been around so many good players, and when they just go into their own thing, where it’s stuff you can’t teach them and they just do it, that’s what he did. For that little bit of time and it gave us such a verve. … I’m just so happy that I was there for that moment with him because it’s his. It’s his, but it benefited all of us.” In the post game interview courtside, Coach K was prideful, “I get to coach that guy!”
A.J. Griffin (36:50)
A.J. scored 11 (3-9, including 3-7 from deep, plus 2-2 game-sealing free throws) to go with his 7 key rebounds, an assist, and a block, without a turnover. It was surprising that A.J. played the second most minutes of any Duke player after his injury in the Michigan State game. He appeared healthy; good news for the Arkansas game.
Jeremy Roach (35:28)
Jeremy had another Player of the Game performance! He scored 15 points (7-11 from the field, including 0-1 from 3land and 1-2 from the foul line) to go with 4 boards, 5 assists (but 4 turnovers), and a steal. His 11 second-half points were crucial to Duke’s win. When Jeremy was asked the source of his (seemingly new) confidence to take the crucial shots he made at winning time, he replied, “Just trust in your work. These guys — like Paolo just said, these guys trust me, and the coaching staff trusts me. Trust in your work and being instinctive was the biggest key out there.” He and Paolo share POG.
Wendell Moore, Jr (33:59)
Wendell scored 12 points (4-7 from the field, including 1-3 from deep, plus 3-3 from the stripe), augmented by his 4 rebounds and 2 assists. His free throws were clutch. Wendell described his foul shooting routine. He closes his eyes briefly to lock himself in and everything else out.
Mark Williams (30:04)
Mark also has a strong case for POG; he scored 16 points on 9 shots (6-9 from the field, plus 4-4 from the stripe) to go with his team high 8 boards and 3 blocks. At 5:37 left in the game, Mark made a galvanizing dunk that he was asked about in the press conference, “As far as that dunk, I mean, it felt like it gave the team some life. Obviously [Paolo] made a great pass, and I just finished the play. I was really amped up. I think it got the team going, and I think that translated to the defensive end as well.”
Paolo: “We had, like, three straight stops after that dunk.”
DUKE v. ARKANSAS IN THE ELITE 8 ON SATURDAY, March 26
The Razorbacks finished the regular season 28-8 ranked 17th. Arkansas was 4th in the SEC with a 13-5 record behind Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee.
The Razorbacks beat LSU, but lost to Texas A&M by 18 points.
Arkansas beat Vermont 75-71 in the first round and New Mexico State 53-48 in the second round. Then the #4 seeded Razorbacks took out the # 1 overall seed, Gonzaga 74-68. Arkansas just played better; Gonzaga might have been overconfident because Arkansas didn’t look that formidable on paper. (Duke better not do that).
In 1994, the Razorbacks won the NCAA National Championship by beating the Blue Devils on a last second 3-pointer by Scotty Thurman. If Thurman had missed, it would have been Duke’s 3rd championship in 4 years. Still hurts.
Next Play: NCAA Tournament against Arkansas, in the West Regional Finals (Elite 8) on Saturday March 26 at 8:39 pm EDT (5:39 p.m. PDT) in San Francisco. TV: CBS
Duke Blue Devils 78 v Arkansas Razorbacks 69 – Elite 8 round of NCAA Tournament; Season 13; Issue 34; Game #38 Duke v. Arkansas
DUKE TO MEET UNC IN NATIONAL SEMI-FINALS NEXT SATURDAY
Duke and UNC have faced off 257 times in basketball, but never before in an NCAA tournament game. Memories of the thrashing the Tarheels gave the Blue Devils on March 5 in Cameron is not far from Duke minds. Coach K interrupted the post UNC festivities to tell the fans packed into Cameron and watching around the world, “This afternoon is unacceptable. But the season is very acceptable. The season is not over.” In his more formal address, he turned to his team: “We didn’t play well, and (pointing to his 96 former players) there were times when you didn’t either! But, not for long. Not for long,” he said. “Hopefully, today, for our program — this program right now — it’s a great learning experience. We need to fight for Duke. We need to fight for the brotherhood. And we need to fight with all of our might through the remainder of the season. You may not know it now, but I love you guys, and I’m going to love what we will do, learning from this experience, going forward! Then, I’ll be ready to get the hell out of here.”
When Duke was preparing to play the winner of the UNC-Virginia Tech game for the ACC championship, Paolo Banchero was asked in an on-camera interview which team he wanted to play. That Senior Night loss in Cameron still rankled, and Duke, 1-1 against the ‘heels this year, wanted a third game. Without any hesitation, Paolo smiled and said “UNC!”. He was appropriately chastised by his coach, who explained that it was an honor to play whomever, etc. In the Arkansas post-game interview, Paolo was again asked if he was rooting for St. Peters or UNC. “No, you are not going to get me again on that!” he laughed. At least not publicly!
Coach K rhapsodized about the beauty and magic of the upcoming Saturday National Semi-Finals. “There’s no greater day in college basketball than when those four regional champions, four champions, get in one arena and play. It’s the greatest day for college basketball, and we’re honored to be a part of it. We already know Villanova is there. … and then whoever wins tomorrow, it will be an honor if we ever get a chance to play them.”So, it is Duke v Carolina for the first time in NCAA history – Coach K’s “Last Hurrah” Tour! Win, lose or draw, this is being a magical season.
Going into the game, I felt confident that Duke would win because the Blue Devils had more talent and size at every position and because Arkansas was coming off an emotional win against the #1 Seed Gonzaga—and it is difficult to play two exceptional, emotional games back-to-back in this tournament. In addition, every Duke player was playing with increasing confidence — especially Mark Williams, who is the key to the Blue Devil’s defense and offense.
And tonight, Duke proved they could not only come from behind to win, they could also hold a lead and close out the game.
Duke led for most of the first half but struggled to pull away from its persistent opponent. That changed in a flash at the close of the first half, as the Blue Devils stretched a four-point lead to a 12-point halftime advantage in a breakneck final sequence highlighted by freshman guard Trevor Keels’ transition 3-pointer on a selfless assist from Paolo Banchero at the buzzer.
“They’ve been beautiful. They’ve been sensational. And they were really good, ” Coach Krzyzewski said. “I loved them before, but now I respect them so much, how much they’ve done.”
Duke was getting equally important stops on the other end, with Mark Williams patrolling the paint. “Mark really was the difference maker for us today,” Krzyzewski said. “I just tried my best to protect the rim,” Mark said in an understatement. “I thought that was important for us.”
And we saw some more zone defense, a maneuver Coach K said that allows Mark to stay in the lane and protect the rim–another gadget in the toolbox heading to New Orleans. “For this group to do that in that half—because we were not playing well and we were ready to get knocked back. But the last 12 minutes they didn’t get knocked back,” Krzyzewski said. “They played beautiful basketball!”
Duke led by as many as 18 points, at 72-54. The Blue Devils had some sloppy turnovers in the final stretch, but the outcome was never really in doubt during the final ten minutes.
The win was the kind of team victory that makes coaches proud, where everyone contributes . Griffin led Duke with 18 points, two more than Banchero, who had 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Moore added 14 points; Mark Williams 14 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks; Jeremy Roach and Keels 9 points each. Duke out-rebounded Arkansas 34-25 and out-shot them 55 percent to 42 percent. The foul shooting was sensational: 11-11 for Arkansas, 16-18 for Duke. Duke held Arkansas to 6-20 on 3s and their leading scorer J.D. Notae to 14 points on 5-14 shooting.
The Blue Devils have played this tournament not only with increased confidence but also with a purpose that has allowed them to approach their potential—something that eluded them both in the final game of the regular season and in the final of the ACC Tournament.
Coach Krzyzewski : “When you only have them for a year, you’re trying to avoid as much adversity, but in the last 10 days or so of the regular season and the tournament, we experienced a very deep level of adversity. And in some respects, it really helped us. I would rather not have experienced it, but I think it helped us. It hurt, but they grew together, and we all took responsibility and figured out what was wrong, and then we tried to correct it. It was actually, in some respects, a good thing, but that usually happens over a period of time.” When asked to rate where this team is in Coach K’s history, he deflected the question: “Just like I don’t rate my [three] daughters or my [eight] grandchildren, I’m not going to rate [the team]; my other teams might get mad,” Krzyzewski said, “but obviously, this is 1 of 13 that have gone to a Final Four, so they’re right up there.”
Coach K was asked about his team’s character. Q:“Even with great athletes like these you can’t really tell how they’re going to respond until they’re five down to Michigan State with five minutes to go and when that happened, you learned something significant about them that you didn’t know?” Coach K’s response (slightly edited for clarity), “Your question is a great one, and it really smacks of what’s happened over these last two weeks. … You really find out about character in those situations. It’s not luck. It’s them. That’s what I’m trying to tell you, it’s on them because they’re the ones. No matter what you do as a coach, they have to show that level of character, and in this tournament, it really lifted them. They’ve been beautiful. They’ve been sensational!
In this NCAA Tournament my team has just played such good basketball in pressure situations. I mean, they were a close team before the NCAAs, but during these last four games they have been terrific. I’m so proud of you guys and happy for you. You crossed the bridge! They’ve won a regular season championship, and they’ve won the western regional championship. They did that. They did it for us, and enough about doing it for the old man here. We’re not going to do it unless we all own it, and we all owned this. We all owned this moment together. That’s what we’re playing for.”
The Blue Devils were surprisingly beautiful and shockingly sensational. None of the pundits predicted that Duke would have a 17-point lead over the Razorbacks with only 3:06 left to play in the game. In spite of Duke’s loss of intensity in those last minutes, even the loss of 8 of its 17-point lead didn’t throw the outcome of the game into doubt. The writing on the Blue Devil Mascot’s temporary bandana, turned out to be the best pre-game predictor: “Smells like bacon!”.
THIS TIME, WINNING TIME CAME WITH 13:13 LEFT IN THE GAME
The Important First Half Close
As Bill succinctly described, Duke’s first run, which changed the game, came with 2:14 left in the first half. Duke led by 4 when the Blue Devils got a stop on defense; Paolo hit a 3-pointer (assist from Keels), Mark Williams grabbed a defensive rebound, followed by an offensive rebound that became a dunk (assist from Paolo). With 4 seconds left in the half, Mark grabbed yet another rebound, passed to Paolo, who hit Trevor with the assist for a half-ending 3-pointer and 12-point half-time lead.
The Offense in the Second Half
But the Razorbacks had plenty of fight left. Coach K: “At the start of the second half I thought they just took control of the game, and we were not playing well — they were making us not play well — and got it down to five.” Duke led 53-48 when the Blue Devils called time out with 13:13 remaining in the game. “At that timeout our guys really got organized offensively. We scored on four or five straight. We hit on a set that gave us some good looks, got the ball to Paolo, and then reversed it after a couple to A.J. From then on, we just had control over the game. In the last 12 minutes, as Coach K said, “Duke played beautiful basketball.”
The Defense in the Second Half
Duke held Arkansas scoreless for 3:10 (from 13:13 until there was 10:03 left in the game). Then, Arkansas’s Williams made a dunk to finally give the Razorbacks their 50th point. But in the meantime, Duke had scored 10 points (Paolo 4, A.J. 4, and Wendell 2) to lead by 15 (63-48). It was The Run of the game, from which the broken (Razor)backs never recovered. Duke’s lead maxed out at 18, with 6:31 left in the game, and was still a 17-point lead with just over 3 minutes left.
As Coach K said in classic understatement, “changing the defense helped.” Once again, Duke went to its seldom-used zone defense to stymie a team well-prepared for The Blue Devils’ man-to-man defense. J.D. Notae is the Razorback’s leading scorer, who primarily attacks the basket from the perimeter. The zone defense allowed Mark Williams to protect the rim instead of switching on ball screens as is required in Duke’s man-to-man defense. Mark: “I think going to the zone helped. I think it gave them a different look, slowed them up a little bit. Obviously, [Notae] was trying to get downhill [full steam to the basket] a lot, so I tried my best to protect the rim. I thought that was important for us. I just tried to do that.” Coach K: “One thing with the zone, we’ve just put Mark right in front of the bucket, so he didn’t have to defend the ball screen and then come back there. Look, he was the player [of the game for Duke]. I mean, all these guys played well, but Mark really was the difference-maker for us today.”
Jeremy was asked about how Mark’s ability to protect the rim impacted the perimeter defense. Jeremy: “Talking about Big Mark right here? (Laughing). His presence back there is why we’re one of the top defensive teams in the country. When guys go to the paint, you know he is there to either contest the shot or beat it off the glass. He is a hell of a defensive player. Love having him on the court. Makes it so much easier for the guards to really try to pressure the ball. So, they really don’t have to worry if a guy gets past you, you know the big fellow is always back there to back you up. He is a huge part of this team. We wouldn’t be here without him.
Coach K made a further crucial point: “[Mark’s] defensive rebounding is one of the biggest one or two things in this game. He had nine defensive rebounds, and that’s a possession time; and if you score, a stop and a score, and we needed that. His defensive rebounding along with the blocks, huge.” Duke curtailed the Razorbacks’ offensive rebounding in the second half because of Mark’s dynamic work on the defensive boards.
THE ROTATION WITH MINUTES PLAYED
Paolo Banchero (37:57, including all 20 minutes of the second half)
Paolo was a force all over the court. He scored 16 points (4-11, including 1-2 from 3land, plus a crucial 7-8 from the stripe), grabbed 7 rebounds, handed out 3 assists, and made a steal and a block. He guarded Razorback star Au’Diese Toney, holding him to just 4 points and drawing 4 fouls from him. Outstanding defense!
Paolo: “I was just trying to take my shots and make strong moves. [Toney] was playing solid defense, and I drew two fouls up top on jump shots, but, yeah, I just wanted to be aggressive, and I wanted to get to the line and convert. We needed a boost. I think they cut the lead to five or six, so [I]wanted to make aggressive moves to the basket and either score or get fouled.”
Mark on Paolo: “I mean, I’ve seen it all year. Obviously, [Paolo] is a great player, and we’ve seen that since the beginning of the year. We all know what he is capable of doing every time he steps on the floor. He makes everybody better, and playing with a guy like that, it always makes it a little more fun.”
Wendell Moore, Jr. (36:26)
Wendell scored 14 on 10 shots (5-10 from the field plus 4-4 from the stripe). Moore upped his play in the second half, scoring 8 key points during Duke’s excellent run in the second half. He was thoughtful in the post-game press conference (K was present together with all the Duke starters): “For me it means everything. I preach it all week, but for me it’s been a three-year wait. You come to Duke looking to get to moments like this, and, unfortunately for me, those first two years that moment was taken away [by Covid]. So, to be able to do it with these guys right here, I wouldn’t want it any other way. This moment right here is definitely pretty special to me.” For the NCAA Tournament, Wendell is 16-of-17 (.941) at the free throw line! His closed-eye ritual where he centers himself and locks in appears to be working.
Mark Williams (34:55, including all 20 minutes of the second half)
Mark recorded his 12th double-double this season with 12 rebounds and 12 points (6-of-6 shooting from the field), plus three blocked shots. Mark only took (and made) a single shot in the second half.
Mark has now blocked 16 shots in this NCAA Tournament, tying Shane Battier’s record 16 in 2001 for the most blocks in a single NCAA Tournament by a Blue Devil. And, unlike Shane, Mark still has more games to play. He is shooting .806 from the field (25-of-31) through four games in the NCAA Tournament, which stands as the best field goal percentage by a Blue Devil in a single NCAA Tournament (in order to be counted for the best field goal percentage, the player had to have attempted at least 25 shots).
On one layup, Mark drove and Euro-stepped around a defender. When he was asked about it in the press conference, Mark said, “And then as far as the Euro step, it just happened. Didn’t really think too much. Just made a move and finished the jump.” It was such a graceful move for a 7’1” player and Mark just treated it as nothing special. The announcers, however, knew it was special.
Jeremy Roach (34:47)
Jeremy came back to earth a little bit in this game. He scored 9 points in the game, but only 2 (foul shots) in the second half (3-8 from the field, including 0-1 from deep, which was blocked, plus 3-3 from the stripe). He garnered a rebound and had 2 assists (but 5 turnovers) and 2 steals. It wasn’t his best game, but it has been a great year for Jeremy.
He was asked, “Can you give your emotions on what you guys accomplished tonight after what you have been through?”His response: “Definitely high emotions. Obviously, last year didn’t go as we planned it, but this year we came back hungry. I think just getting to this point, all the hard work has paid off since June, since obviously last year too, and it’s just paid off. I’m very happy for that.”
A.J. Griffin (25:51)
A.J. had a Player of the Game type performance, scoring a team-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from three-point range, plus 2-2 from the foul line. A.J. also contributed 3 rebounds, a steal, and a block.
Critically, A.J. led Duke’s second-half scoring with 12 points in the concluding half (5-5 from the field, including 2-2 from deep). Arkansas simply had no answers for A.J. Griffin has scored 10 or more points 23 times – Duke won 21 of those 23 games.
Trevor Keels (24:59)
Trevor scored 9 (4-9 from the field, including 1-4 from 3land) with an assist, a steal, and 2 turnovers. Trevor is returning to form, and was a good Sixth man. He will be needed in New Orleans.
Theo played five first-half minutes, effectively spelling Mark. Theo retrieved 2 rebounds in that short stretch. The Duke defense remained stout when Theo played.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS FOR THE UPCOMING FINAL FOUR
The Blue Devils are flying high emotionally as they prepare to head to the Big Easy and The final Final Four of Coach K’s unique career.
Wendell was asked, “Has it sunk in yet that you’re going to have a banner in Cameron?”
WENDELL: “For sure it’s sunk in. The moment after we won the game, it started sinking in. For us that’s our second banner we’ve hung [the 1st was for the ACC regular season], and the thing is we’re not happy about it. For us the job is not finished. We want to hang one more banner. Two more if we get two games. We for sure want to hang another banner in there.”
It’s nice to see this team has grown mature enough to understand that even though they got handed Final Four swag and all ceremonially cut down the net, this is not the moment to lose focus or intensity.
“We’re going take this five-hour trip back to Durham and going to be happy about it, but once we get in to practice tomorrow or the day after, it’s time to move on.”
Next Play: NCAA Tournament against UNC , in the National Semi-Finals (Final Four) on Saturday April 2 at 839 p.m. EDT in New Orleans; TV: TBS
MOST RECENT GAME
Duke Basketball Playbook (DBP) Duke Blue Devils 77 v University of North Carolina Tar Heels 81 – National Semi-Finals of NCAA Tournament (Final Four); Season 13; Issue 35; Game #39 Duke v. UNC
[This Issue # 35 will cover the National Semi-Final game against UNC. We will publish Issue # 36, a season ending analysis by Friday of this coming week.]
If you appreciate basketball and competition, you have to appreciate how the North Carolina Tar Heels responded to adversity during this season and in this game. With a one-point lead and both the game clock and the shot clock winding down, Caleb Love made an NBA-three over Duke’s best defender to seal the deal. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The game lived up to the hype. It came down to making shots and making stops. Carolina did the better job. The Blue Devils couldn’t stop RJ Davis in the first half nor Caleb Love in the second half. North Carolina rallied from a 41-34 disadvantage early in the second half. They were aided and abetted not only by out-rebounding Duke 50-41 but also by Duke’s shooting a woeful 5 for 22 (23%) from beyond the arc and 12 for 20 (60 %) from the foul line. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, made 10 of 26 from 3-point range and 17 of 24 from the line. That’s 15 more points on 3s, five more from the line
.And a Duke team that had made all the big plays down the stretch against Michigan State, Texas Tech, and Arkansas simply could not call upon the magic one more time. For example, Mark Williams, a 75% free throw shooter, missed two free throws that would have given the Blue Devils a one-point lead with 46 seconds to go. Game, set, match, season.
The win gives the Tar Heel fans a full set of bragging rights to claim that they ruined Coach K’s Farewell Tour—bagging both the final game in Cameron and knocking Duke out of the NCAA Tournament—as if these two wins cancels out the fact that he is the winningest Coach in Division One Men’s Basketball and various other sundry records that probably will never be broken– Krzyzewski’s Retirement Tour concludes a career of 1,570 games overall, 1,438 games in 42 seasons at Duke, which include 132 NCAA tournament games. Coach K has won 101 tournament games among his 1,202 games won.
UNC, which was founded in 1789, is one of the three oldest public universities in the country, and has more graduates residing in the state of North Carolina than Duke (established in 1924)has graduates across the entire world. Consequently, they resent Duke and all that it represents—especially anything that threatens “Dean Smith” and “The Carolina Way”. Dean was a terrific coach and, perhaps, even a better man*, but he did not invent the game of basketball. He invented the “Four Corners” offense.
Coach K: “I’ve said my entire career — or when I knew what the hell I was doing — that I wanted my seasons to end where my team was either crying tears of joy or tears of sorrow, because then you knew that they gave everything. And I had a locker room filled with guys who were crying. And it’s a beautiful sight. It’s not the sight that I would want. I’d want the other. But it’s a sight that I really respect and makes me understand just how good this group was.”
*Dean did much in the late 50s and early 60s to integrate Chapel Hill by requiring restaurants to serve all of his players – at some personal risk.
There was never a time in this game that I thought that Duke would lose … until the very last 46 seconds. While Duke was clearly the better team, the better team lost because the Tarheels simply PLAYED better. In this game, Duke lost hold of the magic that Coach K had somehow instilled in the Blue Devils for his last NCAA tournament run. After the Tarheels spoiled Coach K’s farewell at Cameron, and Coach K made such a dramatic speech to his team, I could not envision Carolina beating Duke 2 out of 3 for the season. Well, so much for my pre-game intuition.
All the bugaboos of the regular season came out on Saturday– bad shooting from deep (5-22), bad foul shooting (12-20), giving up critical rebounds to UNC for second (and third, fourth) chance points, and the worst of all, porous defense with the game on the line (UNC scored 47 second-half points, 22 of them by Caleb Love)! Inconsistency plagued Duke all year. For example, A.J. and Jeremy shot a combined 3-18 from the floor, including 0-9 from deep, when each had scored and played brilliantly in the previous four NCAA tournament games. A.J. took only a single shot in the second half (0-1 from deep).
- The First Half
Pre-game, I wrote to a friend that the Mark Williams – Armendo Bacot confrontation would be the one that determined the outcome of the game. Mark has had an amazing season. But, so has Bacot. I thought Mark would keep Bacot from his offensive rebounding and protect the rim against the UNC guards. However, Bacot won that matchup in the first four minutes of play, which turned out to settle the question for the entire game –Mark committed his second foul with only 4:41 played and went to the bench for the remainder of the first half. Bacot grabbed 9 first-half boards (4 on offense). The stage was set for Bacot to simply dominate in the second half, and he did just that (21 rebounds for the game, 8 of them offensive).
Duke committed five team fouls in the first 4:58 of play (1 each for Moore, Griffin, and John, plus Williams’s 2), which is a sign of bad defense. Theo John was gallant – 4 boards and 6 points on 3-4 shooting — in replacing Mark, but he committed 4 first-half fouls of his own in his 11:25 minutes.
Duke led by 6 with 1:30 to go when the Blue Devils got sloppy: a Paolo turnover, a missed 3-pointer by A.J., and UNC baskets by Davis and Manek tied the game at 34 before Jeremy closed out the half with a spectacular driving layup and foul shot. Duke led 37-34.
- Duke’s Defense
In four of the games that Duke played in March – UNC on Senior Night, and the two ACC tournament wins before losing in the finals to Virginia Tech – Duke’s defense was just plain bad after having been Duke’s primary asset all season. There were two runs in those 4 games that were especially disastrous. The first was on Senior Night against UNC when, with under 13 minutes left in the game, the Tarheels blitzed the Blue Devil defense for 45 points (Duke was outscored by 25 points in that final 12:50). The second was against Virginia Tech in the finals of the ACC tournament. The Hokies outscored the Blue Devils by 11 in the last 6:29 for an 18-point lead. In the NCAA tournament, with the insertion of Jeremy Roach into the starting line-up, Duke played superb team defense in all four games. But that consistently good defense fell apart against UNC. That was caused partly by Duke’s big men fouling so early and frequently, which created the disastrous chaos in the middle of the defense and partly terrific offense by the ‘heels. Duke gave up 47 second-half points.
The UNC run early in the second half was reminiscent of the two disastrous runs described above. Duke led 41-34 with only a minute and 9 seconds having elapsed in the second half when the defensive wheels (and offensive ones too) came off. In 2:53, UNC scored 13 straight points to go from down 7 to leading by 47-41 with 15:58 left in the game. Then the game turned into an instant Duke-UNC Classic, only because Duke’s offense made up for the points the Blue Devil defense allowed to slip through. As Jay Bilas famously intones for every Duke-UNC game, “Duke-UNC NEVER DISAPPOINTS!”
Duke’s defense has relied upon the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Mark Williams, to protect the rim and (lately) and to dominate the defensive backboard. Mark was playing more than 30 minutes a game, shooting lights out from the field and stripe, while blocking and altering shots at the rim. Coach K deemed him “the difference maker” against Arkansas in the Regional Finals. When Mark picked up his second foul with only 4:41 having been played, Duke’s defensive game plan was shattered. Mark played only 4:41 in the first half, scoring 4 points (2-2 from the field) with only 1 rebound and 0 blocked or altered shots. For the game, Mark played only 16:16, being limited to 11:35 second-half minutes, scoring 4 second-half points (2-3) with 3 boards and 2 steals. He blocked 0 shots and had his second-half playing time limited by committing 2 more fouls (total 4) – 3rd one after 5:40 of the second half had been played and the 4th after 9:29 had gone by in the closing stanza. What a disaster! Williams’s woes combined with Theo’s 4 first-half fouls to make the Duke foul disaster that allowed Bacot to simply dominate the interior on both ends. And the Blue Devils made a heroic effort to nearly overcome that fatal disaster. That is why I opine that Duke was the better team.
Duke’s interior defensive troubles were mirrored by the Blue Devil inability to protect the perimeter. Davis in the first half (14 first-half points; 18 for the game) and Love in the second half (22 second-half points; 28 for the game) were the keys to UNC’s shredding Duke’s previously superb NCAA tournament defense.
- Winning Time
When Duke tied the game at 47 with 13:51 left in the game, it turned into a Duke-UNC classic. In the second half alone, there were 13 lead changes, and the game was tied 7 times. It was not a classic defensive struggle. Rather, it was amazing offense by each team. UNC scored 34 points in those 13:51 while Duke scored 30. UNC scored on 6 second-chance opportunities from offensive rebounds. UNC led by as many as 5 points, Duke by as many as 2 points. The score was tied at 67 with 4:36 left to play. Paolo was fouled and gave Duke a 1-point lead 68-67 when he converted 1-2 with 3:32 remaining. Love made a layup with 3:03 left. 69-68 UNC. Duke could not manage to score even on three tries in its next possession when Banchero, Roach, and Moore all missed consecutive shots at the rim (Moore and Roach each with an offensive board, but still could not score) Then, Moore fouled Manek, who made 1-2– UNC led by 70-68 with 2:29 remaining. Trevor hit a crucial 3-pointer to put Duke up 71-70 with 2:07 left. Manek responded with a 3-pointer from the corner. UNC led 73-71 with 1:41 to go. Keels missed a 3-point attempt, but Banchero retrieved the offensive board and fed Wendell for a crucial deep 3. Duke 74 v. UNC 73 with 1:18 to go. Williams replaced A.J. in the lineup.
Roach had a foul called at 1:01 that the replays showed was non-existent. Love made them both for a 75-74 Carolina lead. Then came the defining play of the game. Bacot fouled Mark with 46 seconds left; it was Bacot’s fifth foul. Mark stepped to the line (an excellent free throw shooter) with a chance to give Duke a 1-point lead in the final minute. However, he missed not only the first attempt but the second one as well. This was the first moment that I even contemplated that Duke would lose.
Love rebounded and then fired a deep 3-pointer under defensive pressure that went in. 78-74 Carolina with 25 seconds left. Roach roared downcourt for a layup. 78-76 with 19 seconds left. Keels had to foul. Love made only 1-2 so that when A.J. retrieved the rebound, Duke was down 79-76 with 17 seconds left. Trevor drove, scored, and was fouled. However, the referee (correctly) ruled the foul was before the basket; so Keels went to the line for two shots with Duke still down 3. He missed the second one with 10 seconds left in the game. Duke had to foul; Love made them both with 3 seconds left for the winning margin.
Paolo Banchero (39:11 minutes played) – exceeded all pre-season expectations to be one of Duke’s All-Time great freshmen. There is nothing that Paolo does not do well on the court. The focus is (rightfully so) on his scoring from all levels (at the rim, in the post, mid-range, and from deep). He had his 12th double-double of the season scoring 20 points (8-17 from the field, including 2-4 from deep, plus 2-4 from the stripe) to go with 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks (one was a beauty against Bacot). He has demonstrated he is unselfish, a superb passer, an improving rebounder, and a competent defender on both the perimeter and near the rim. Moreover, he has been a great teammate according to all reports. Also, an excellent journalist: “We gave it our all, and it sucks we came up short!”
Trevor Keels (29:45 played) – had a great game and absolutely superb second half. He scored 19 in the game (8-14 from the field, including 2-7 from deep, meaning he was 6-6 inside the arc, plus 1-3 from the line.) He led Duke in second-half scoring with 11.
Roach (33:37 played) and A.J.(29:02 played)—both had truly terrible shooting games. A.J. scored only 6 points (1-7 from the field including 0-4 from deep, plus 4-4 from the foul line) to go with 4 rebounds, an assist and 2 great blocks. In the second half, A.J. played only 12:23 and took only 1 shot (he missed a crucial wide open 3 from the corner). Jeremy made 2 field goals – a great drive at the end of the first half and a layup with 19 seconds left in the game for his 8 points (2-11 including 0-5 from 3land and 4-5 from the foul line) to go with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals.
Moore (37:57 played) – scored 10 points (4-14, including 1-2 from deep and 1-2 from the stripe) to go with 8 rebounds, 3 assists (without a turnover), and 2 steals. He scored 7 of his 10 in the second half.
Small Forward of the Year – The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame today announced Duke junior Wendell Moore Jr., as the 2022 Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year.
3 Point Shooting – had been a weakness all year for the Blue Devils. It really caught up with Duke against UNC in the Final Four – 5-22 for the game (2-12 in the first half). A.J. was 0-4; Jeremy was 0-5; and Trevor was 2-7. At least, Wendell was 1-2 and Paolo 2-4. In stark contrast, UNC scored 30 points from deep.
Foul Shooting – UNC was 17-24 for 70% while the Blue Devils were 12-20 (60%). UNC scored 20 more points than Duke from the combination of 3land and the foul line.
Interior play by Duke’s post-up players (The “Big Guys”–Mark and Theo) – which had been great all year – with Mark scoring, blocking shots and rebounding – turned into a foul-plagued disaster – when Mark picked up 2 quick fouls in the first half and two more early in the second half and Theo committed four in the first half – that ultimately cost Duke the game.
Next Play: Jon Scheyer begins his career as Duke’s head coach for the 2022-2023 season