Duke Basketball Playbook 2021-2022


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.”

ALANALYSIS:

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.”
THE TRANSFER

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”

Bill’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”.

ALANALYSIS

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.  

                                                    THE ROSTER

            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. 

                                                   THE STARTERS

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.

                                                   THE BENCH

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”

ALANALYSIS:

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.

The Defense

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

The 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 Offense

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.

The Concerns:

  • 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.

Miscellaneous:

  • 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)
ALANALYSIS:

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 Good

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.

The Ugly 

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!

Going Forward

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.

Miscellaneous: 

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.

Miscellaneous:

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.” 

ALANALYSIS:

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.

The Interior

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.

ALANALAYSIS: 

The Defense

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.

The Offense

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)

Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

Other Comments:

  • 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.
ALANALAYSIS: 

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.

The Good

The Offense

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”

Bill’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.” 

ALANALYSIS:

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.  

The Good

The Defense

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”

Bill’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.

 Next play!

ALANALYSIS

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.  

The Good

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.

The Ugly

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.

Bill’s CliffsNotes:

Duke Pre-Season:

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.

STRENGTHS:

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. 

ALANALYSIS:

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.

The Good

The Offense 

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.

The Defense 

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.

Getting Better

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.

Paolo Banchero:

  • 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.

Mark Williams:

  • 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.

Trevor Keels:

  • 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.

Jeremy Roach:

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.

Joey Baker:

  • 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.

Theo John:

  • 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

Bill’s CliffNotes:

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.” 

Stay Tuned!

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.

ALANALYSIS: 

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)

Weird Circumstances

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.

Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.”

ALANALYSIS:

The Good

    The Defense

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.

A.J. Griffin

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 Banchero

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.

    Mark Williams

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.

    Rebounding

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

    Jeremy Roach

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 Keels

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.

    Foul Shooting

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 Baker

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.

         Theo John

In 3:59 of playing time, Theo missed both of his attempted shots, while blocking one.

Jaylen Blakes

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).

    The Offense

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

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. 

ALANALYSIS:

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.

The Good

    Banchero

        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.

    Williams

        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. Griffin

        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 Baker

        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 John

        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.”   

     Roach

        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.”

    Keels

        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.

    Moore

        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.

Conclusion

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)

“What do you say we start Griffin and not tell Coach K?”       Credit: Raleigh News and Observer                                                                         
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

ALANALYSIS: 

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.

The Defense

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.

The Rotation

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 Offense

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).

    Banchero

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.”  

    Griffin

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.

    Moore

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.

    Keels

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.

    Williams

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. 

    Roach

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.

Concluding Thoughts

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)

Mark Williams reaches for a triple-double, executing one of his eight critical blocks against NC State. Photo credit: AP Photo/Gerry Broome
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

ALANALYSIS: 

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.

    Williams

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”!

    Keels

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.”

    Banchero

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”.

    Moore

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.”

John

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.

    Griffin

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.”

    Roach

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.”

    Baker

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)

an 18, 2022; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Duke Blue Devils center Mark Williams (15) tries to block a shot from Florida State Seminoles guard Caleb Mills (4) during the first half at Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports
FSU ties Duke up. Photo credit: USATSI. Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.  

ALANALYSIS: 

THE LEAD

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.” 

First Half 

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.

Second Half

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 Overtime

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. 

Closing Thoughts

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)

Moore drives and dunks (better than driving drunk). Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

ALANALYSIS:

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).

The Defense

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).  

Defensive Rebounding

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.

Fouling

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! 

Turnovers

Duke scored 20 points off Syracuse turnovers while giving up only 13 to the Orange as a result of Duke turnovers.

The Offense

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)

The Baker rises. Photo by Winnie Lu | The Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

OTHER COMMENTS:

  • 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
ALANALYSIS:

INTRODUCTION

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

The Rotation

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.”   

Winning Time

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!

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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

Dick Vitale and his tennis-playing grandsons, the Krug Brothers

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)

A.J. channels J.J., eyeing up the three. Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

ALANALYSIS:

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 Rotation

    Mark Williams

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. Griffin

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.

    Paolo Banchero

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.

    Jeremy Roach

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 John

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 Baker

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. 

Rebounding

    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. 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

Let the Block Party Begin!                         Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

ALANALYSIS:

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!

The Defense

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!

The Bench

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 John

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 Jones

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.”

Rebounding

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. 

Offense

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.

Scoring

  • 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).

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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”

The Rise of Skywalker: A.J. makes elbow room            Photo Credit: The Duke Chronicle
Bill’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.

ALANALYSIS:

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 Defense

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.” 

Rebounding

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

Bobby Hurley — arguably Duke’s most important point guard ever — scoring Duke’s most important 3-pointer against UNLV in 1991 (on the way to winning Duke’s first National Championship).
Photo Credit: AP

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)

Last second HEARTBREAKER!                  Photo Credit:Samantha Owusu
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

NEXT PLAY

ALANALYSIS:

Overview

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.”

The Good

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.

The Bad

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).

The Ugly

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.” 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

Keels: First & Ten                                        Photo Credit: Simran Prakash/The Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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! 

https://www.barstoolsports.com/blog/3405561/dude-on-clemson-straight-up-forgets-hes-playing-basketball-delivers-one-of-the-dirtiest-fouls-youll-see

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.

ALANALYSIS:

Introduction

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.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

Paolo flyin’ high & Duke grabs another win 
Photo Credit: Winnie Lu for The Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

ALANALYSIS:

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.

Duke’s Centers 

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.

The Defense

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 Roach

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.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

ALANALYSIS:

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!  

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

Baker fires up the oven for four 3s.                  Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.”

 Comments: 

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…..

ALANALYSIS:

Introduction

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.

The Defense

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

The Starters

Trevor Keels

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 Banchero

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 Williams

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.

The Bench

Jeremy Roach

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 Baker

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.” 

Theo John

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.

Bates Jones

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).

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

A.J. Griffin Closes Out Virginia Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.”

ALANALYSIS:

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.

First Half

Offense

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.

Defense

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!

Second Half

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.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid         Photo Credit: The Duke Chronicle 
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

Coach K: 

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.” 

ALANALYSIS:

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!

            The Defense

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.   

            The Offense

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.

THE ROTATION

            Mark Williams

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.” 

Paolo Banchero

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. Griffin

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.

            Trevor Keels

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 Roach

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 John

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.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

Bill’s CliffsNotes:

“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!!!”

Miscellaneous:

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. 

 ALANALYSIS:

Introduction

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.

The Defense 

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.

The Offense

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!”

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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)

K-ommunity: “The Brotherhood” of 96 of Coach K’s former players returning to celebrate the GOAT.
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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!

ALANALYSIS:

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. 

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Celebrating an upset that will be motivation for the Blue Devils in the tournaments.        Photo Credit: Raleigh News Observer

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).


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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”

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Falling short against Virginia Tech.          Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle
Bill’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?

Next play.

ALANALYSIS:

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.

First-Half Offense

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.

Second-Half Offense

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.

Winning Time

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.

Winning Time

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.” 

Concluding Thoughts

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.” cohesive.image.jpg

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.

  • 2019

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.

  • 2022 

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)

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“We gotta win this one first, guys”           Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.  

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Coach K hasn’t lost any of his passion in his 42nd season.  Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle

ALANALYSIS:

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 Defense

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.

The Offense

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).
Bench

    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)
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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

Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

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“Roach willed that ball in. They were some of the best drives I’ve seen as a Duke coach”
Photo Credit: Duke Chronicle

ALANALYSIS:

Introduction

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. 

Winning Time

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.moore and roach.jpg

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: 

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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

A fearless Jeremy Roach drive Photo credit: Raleigh News and Observer
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

ALANALYSIS:

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.

WINNING TIME

The Offense

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!

The Defense

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 

Regular Season

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.

SEC Tournament

The Razorbacks beat LSU, but lost to Texas A&M by 18 points.

NCAA Tournament

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. 

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DUKE WINS WESTERN REGIONAL! Mike Krzyzewski heads to his 13th Final Four. Photo Credit: Raleigh News Observer   

             

Bill’s CliffsNotes

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.”

ALANALYSIS:

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 John

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.

duke basketball Coach K cuts down the net
 Cuttin’ down the net as Champions of the West Regional Finals
Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

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.]

The many faces of Coach K…which one for Mt. Rushmore?  Photo credit: Duke Chronicle
Bill’s CliffsNotes:

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.

 ALANALYSIS:

Introduction

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.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS 

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

Duke Basketball Playbook 2020-2021


Season 12 Issue 2 -Preseason edition

ALANALYSIS:

It is understandably strange to be writing my first DBP without Bill leading off, followed by my “Alan Adds”.  I never sent Bill my first draft without having read a draft of what his piece focused on.  In our partnership, my job was digging deeper into the statistics and to analyze and speculate on what they might mean.  But in the current new circumstance, “Alan Adds” is being retired until and unless there is something worthwhile adding to.  For now: Alanalysis.

My millennial daughter has made changes to the way you will receive the 2020-2021 DBP– they will come to you through GoogleGroups (please add Duke-Basketb…@googlegroups.com to your contacts so your spam filter doesn’t flag it).  Let me know if that causes any problems and bear with us as we iron out any bugs.

Early Schedule – Not Wednesday, November 25 vs Gardner-Webb at 8 pm because Duke’s opener against Gardner-Webb has been postponed due to a Covid breakout at Gardner-Webb. The player involved is fortunately asymptomatic. G-W’s Covid protocols now kick in as the university tries to contact trace and to contain the outbreak. There is no word yet on rescheduling the game and no guarantee it will be although both schools would like to. So as of now, the opening game for Duke shifts to Saturday, November 28, against Coppin State at 2 pm in Cameron Indoor followed by the season’s first “big game”: Tuesday, December 1, State Farm Classic vs. Michigan State at 7:30 pm.  

Getting to Know Our 2020-2021 Blue Devils 

We have much less information about our newcomers because the pandemic closed down tournaments and high school all-star games where we usually were able to watch them.  Much of what follows comes from what others have observed from our freshmen in high school, and from an 8-minute video of the first pre-season scrimmage.  I have put the uniform numbers in bold for TV watching.  Of course, we know even less about the other ACC teams.  The season has great potential for success and also failure.  In other words, a real toss up.

Only four players (mostly reserves, but all starters at one time or another) return: senior Jordan Goldwire (14), junior Joey Baker (13), and sophomores Matt Hurt (21) and Wendell Moore (0).  Both Moore and Hurt will start.  Moore was Pre-Season 2nd All ACC team and got 7 votes for predicted ACC Player of the Year.  Hurt, who has put on 20 pounds and appears much stronger than last year, got 3 votes.  JGold will be as important as any player next year.  Even Seth Greenberg figured that out, in an ACC network preview show.  JGold’s offense is apparently blossoming.  He led the White team in the Blue-White scrimmage with 17 points and 7 assists.  His blossoming into such a valuable player is why we all loved to watch four-year players develop; and why we are disappointed in the one-and-done era (part of what has disillusioned Bill). Baker has been stunningly good at some moments and stunningly sub-par at others.  In the scrimmage, he was deadly from the perimeter, looking very good.  Whether he will develop into a major contributor is yet unknown.

Duke has seven new players for next year – 6 freshman and a graduate transfer.  For the first time in quite a few years, Duke did not sign a recruit rated in the top 10 (although Jalen Johnson, was top 5 after his junior year in high school).  While there is no sure fire “one-and-done” player, there are 4 five-star recruits and 2 four-star players, according to ESPN’s recruiting analysis.  

The Five-Star recruits are:

 (1) Jalen Johnson 6’9” forward from Wisconsin

Even if not rated in the top 10 nationally, the ACC writers voted Jalen to Pre-Season First Team All ACC and runner up for Freshman of the Year (got 60 votes; lost by 4).  Jalen, who was the star of the scrimmage, is a tall, strong-bodied, versatile forward. He is equally able when taking direct control of the ball and in assessing the court-wide picture and making the right pass.  Jalen scored 25 points, plus 9 rebounds and 5 assists. He is not a point guard but plays like it at times.  If Duke’s front court starters are Jalen and Matt Hurt (as seems probable), his defensive rebounding and rim protecting abilities will have to be adequate or better.  

Jalen is one of the top prospects in his class and reputedly has a great combination of size and skill that you don’t see very often. He is an all-around player who you could see having triple doubles down the road with his ability to score, rebound, and pass. 

 (3) Jeremy Roach 6’1” point guard from Virginia.  Third rated point guard in the class.

Roach, who received 3 votes for ACC Preseason Freshman of the Year (the winner got 64), is a playmaking point guard with a wealth of tools at his disposal.  He is the one freshman I did watch last year and was impressed by his court presence and leadership.  He has been projected as the other freshman starter, but he has not been handed the ball the way Coach K has done with other top-rated freshman point guards in the past.   Reports from practice have praised his improved perimeter shooting.   He has been adept at creating offense for himself and others when the ball is in his hand and he also has shown a pretty good acumen for the defensive end of the floor where coaches say he communicates and rotates well.

(2) D.J. Stewart 6’2” shooting guard from Chicago.

D.J. is intriguing.  He received 4 votes for Pre-Season ACC Freshman of the Year and has been placed on the Wooden Watch List.  He has dazzling moves around the basket as a finisher.  He has an obvious sizzle.  In the scrimmage he and JGold were terrific together.  D.J. scored 16, with 6 rebounds (at 6’2”) and 5 assists.  He could be integral and a star, but his defense may decide how much he plays.  Note how small the backcourt seems to be.

 (5) Jaemym Brakefield 6’8” power forward from Mississippi.

Jaemyn is big, strong, skilled, and has earned being called a slasher.  The lefty has been described as a solid, though inconsistent, shooter with range to 17 feet. He scores in transition and with his face up game in the half court. By reputation he is an above average rebounder and can be effective defensively when he is active and engaged.

He can apparently do a little of everything on the floor. It has been said of him, “Once all of the pieces come together, he should be one of the best players in his class.”

 The Four-Star Recruits are:

 (15) Mark Williams 7’0” center from Virginia.  

Mark’s sister, Elizabeth, starred on the Duke women’s team for four years and has been a WNBA stalwart.  We hope Mark is for the Men’s team what Elizabeth was when she was a Blue Devil.  He may be a key, since he is the only freshman taller than 6’9” and all of the Duke bigs from 2020 have departed (White, Robinson, and DeLaurier graduated, while Carey was drafted in the NBA).  He has been a pleasant surprise in practice and looked very good in the scrimmage.  Of course, there is nobody with his length on the team as there will be on other ACC powerhouses.

 (34) Henry Coleman III 6’7” power forward from Virginia.

Although just 6’7”, Henry is a force on the interior with a big bruising body.  Coach K mentioned Justise Winslow and Matt Jones when describing the role he foresaw for Coleman.  He is reputed to be an excellent defender as well as rugged rebounder.  He has been a revelation in practice because of his strength.

 Graduate Transfer:

Patrick Tape 6’9” graduate transfer from Columbia U.

A 6-foot-9 Charlotte native, Tape averaged 11.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in the 2018-19 season before sitting out last season because of injuries, while finishing up his coursework at Columbia. Duke coaches have been enthusiastic about his defense and rebounding.  He is not expected to be an offensive force, though he was in the scrimmage. Tape must adjust to the superior level of competition he will face in the ACC.  He is an interesting question mark. 

This Season’s Prospects?

Who knows what to make of this mix?  Duke is picked second in the ACC behind Virginia, with Florida State and UNC making up the top 4.  Saturday night (11/20) on an ACC network show, three of the four hosts picked Duke for 4th (behind Virginia, Florida State, and UNC).  But so much is unknown that predictions seem at the very least unwise, if not as downright useless as presidential election polls.  This team has talent for sure, but a potential front court weakness (rim protection and rebounding as well as offense from the post).  As always, I believe the key will be how fast Duke can become a formidable defensive team.  

I look for Goldwire and Roach to start in the backcourt, along with Wendell Moore and Matt Hurt. Jalen Johnson comes in highly rated and will play (probably start).  Duke could become a pony team playing five out and relying on athleticism to defend (trapping and pressing). In the scrimmage the starters (Blue team) had Williams at center and JGold with the White team.  Duke needs Tape and Williams to be better than advertised.  Help could come from Coleman or Brakefield. In short, there is no way to even speculate at this point (beyond speculating whether there will actually be a season) about how the team will develop, and what its championship possibilities are.  

I believe we will all have fun watching.  It starts next Saturday.


Duke 81 Coppin State 71 (Season 12 Issue 2 Game 1)

ALANALYSIS:

Our first glimpse of the 2020-2021 Blue Devils was predictably checkered, but on balance disclosed more issues than bright spots.  It is difficult to assess the quality of the opposition that was Coppin State, which makes a revealing analysis difficult.  Coppin State is small, veteran, but finished only 7th last year in the MEAC Conference (10-20; 7-9).  Hardly an imposing opponent on paper; the game, however, was not played on paper, as the cliché goes.  There were moments when it seemed as if the ghost of Stephen F. Austin had circumvented security at Cameron.  

Duke used its tremendous size advantage to out-rebound Coppin State by 50 to 31.  Jalen Johnson looked All-World in the first half.  D.J. Steward truly dazzled above and beyond expectations.  Duke’s woes were with offensive continuity and defensive passivity, plus the rotation was shockingly short.

 Like Sergio Leone we will look at “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, but not necessarily in that order.


Critically Bad (Really Ugly)

Duke has a major point guard problem.  Coppin State had 12 steals! Duke turned the ball over 22 times – 13 of them in the second half, producing one of Coach K’s great post-game quotes, “If we don’t turn the ball over like we did today, we would be jumping up and down saying ‘wow’. But when you have 22 turnovers, you don’t want to jump because you might turn the ball over again, even though the game is over.”  It was that bad.

Goldwire was ineffective (a couple of nice assists early and then he fell apart) on both ends.  He picked up 2 first-half fouls with aggressive defense, but foul trouble and ineffectiveness limited his playing time to 24 minutes.  He committed more fouls (3) than points scored (2; 1-5 from the floor and 0-2 from deep).  He had 4 assists but 3 turnovers.  The real knock was when Duke’s lead began to crumble and leadership was needed to restore confidence and organization, JGold was clearly not up to the task.  Jeremy Roach had similar statistics (4 assists; 3 turnovers; 6 points (2-5; 1-3 from deep and a depressing 1-4 from the line) in 29 minutes; though his single 3 was crucial to restoring Duke’s lead.  

 Second Half Score: Coppin State 43 Duke 36.  Coppin State outplayed and outscored Duke in the second half.  Duke’s 17 point (45-28) first half lead dwindled to 6 after less than 8 minutes had gone by.  The lead see-sawed between comfortable (10 +) and the Stephen F. Austin ghost (Duke led by 6 with 8:33 left in the game).  Duke pushed the lead to 14 with only 3:40 left, giving Duke fans breathing room and comfort.  Breathlessness returned in a minute and 12 seconds when Duke’s lead had been cut in half.  Jalen Johnson, who is a wonderful passer, made a lazy pass when Duke was running clock, which was intercepted for an easy layup.  Roach missed a 3 and Coppin State converted a 3 before a clutch 3 by freshman star of the game, D.J. Steward, who put the game away 26 seconds later.

 Duke played lackadaisical defense, which failed to pressure Coppin State (Duke forced only 8 turnovers for the entire game), while producing a tsunami of fouls – 19 for the game.  Hurt and Moore each picked up their third before 4 minutes of the second half had gone by.  Each had his playing time limited by foul trouble: Hurt committed 4 fouls in 29 minutes, while Moore also had 4 in 26 minutes.  Both Goldwire and Roach each finished with 3 fouls.  In the second half, Duke failed to contest the Coppin State 3 point attack, yielding 7-16 from behind the arc. 

Duke was 4-10 from the free throw line.  Hurt 0-2; Roach 1-4.

The Good

Jalen Johnson’s first half, demonstrating charisma on the court (19 points and 19 rebounds in 35 minutes), and D.J. Steward’s energy, athleticism and leadership in 33 minutes (24 points; 10-18 from the field; 4-9 from 3land to go with 9 rebounds for the 6’2” guard) were The Good.    Johnson and Steward were the only Duke players to log over 30 minutes.  Noteworthy: Steward committed only a single foul and a single turnover against 2 assists, a steal, and a block.  He was a highlight by himself.  Johnson’s first half was crafted by the gods.  He did not miss a shot in the entire game (8-8 from the field; 1-1 from deep and 2-2 from the line).  In the first half, he scored 15 of his 19 and had 11 of his 19 rebounds to go with 2 blocks and an assist with only a single turnover in 17 first half minutes.  His second half was good, but more pedestrian (2-2 for 4 points with 8 boards and 2 blocks in 18 minutes) because he committed 6 second half turnovers. 

Mathew Hurt played well, but a bit inconsistently.  The 0-2 from the stripe was bad.  All Duke players were inconsistent on the defensive end.  Much defensive improvement – one might even say dramatic improvement – is a must on the defensive end if Duke is to be in contention for post-season honors.

The Rotation 

For a first game against a non-power team, the rotation was shockingly short.  Patrick Tape did not play.  Mark Williams and Henry Coleman each played only 1 minute in the first half.  Jaeman Brakefield played 3 minutes (1-2 from the foul line).  This left a rotation of only 7.  Coach K started his veterans – Goldwire, Moore, Baker, and Hurt + Jalen.  While Baker played 12 undistinguished minutes in the first half (2 points; 1-3 from the field, missing both open 3 point attempts, while corralling 4 boards), he was only on the floor for 3 second-half minutes (a missed 3 and a turnover).  Not a good start for Baker.  Coach K used basically 6 in the second half effort – D.J. 19 minutes, Jalen 18, Moore 17, Roach 16, Hurt 13 (foul trouble) and JGold 11.  D.J. was the star tallying 14 second half points.  Moore contributed 8.

Some Bad, But Not Ugly 

Wendell Moore had a checkered game.  He regressed into his last year’s problematic aggressiveness by driving into set defenses and fouling or turning it over.  He was not nearly as good as he was at the end of last year, but showed enough to make fans hopeful that he would reach some of his awesome potential soon.  Matt Hurt was inconsistent.  He and Baker were badly beaten on defense several times.  He was good and aggressive, but not efficient.   Improved play from each will be required if Duke is to morph into a contender.

Johnson dominated the interior on both ends.  But this was only Coppin State.  

Next Play: Michigan State

We will get a much better read on Tuesday (December 1) against Michigan State in Cameron.  The Spartans beat Notre Dame by 10 (same margin as Duke beat Coppin State by), but the games were totally different.  Michigan State simply blew Notre Dame right off the court.  With a little over 10 minutes to go in the game, Notre Dame trailed by 28 points, and The Spartans looked like the Los Angeles Lakers.  Tuesday will tell us more about the 2020-2021 Duke  team and the season.


Michigan State 76 Duke 69 (Season 12 Issue 3 Game 2) with Bill Miller as “guest” contributor

ALANALYSIS:

When this week’s AP writers’ poll came out with Duke ranked 6th and Michigan State 8th, I wondered which games the writers might have watched last Saturday. Based on what I saw, I thought Duke would be lucky to make a game of it. In fact, the Blue Devils almost did… but not quite. For the first five minutes, the young Duke team completely outfought and out-hustled the Spartans, looking smooth and athletic, while racing to a 13-3 lead. Duke never stopped hustling and fighting, but slowly sunk from being competitive to barely keeping it from being a rout. There was some good, there was some bad that will improve, but there was much that was ugly and troubling.

The Ugly

Duke has a serious point guard deficiency, though for the last 11 minutes of the game Goldwire came alive to shake off three halves of terrible basketball. Duke’s two point guards – Goldwire and Roach – played 24 collective first-half minutes without recording a point or an assist! Actually, the first point guard assist, and the first points from a point guard, came with 11:57 left in the game (from Roach to Goldwire for a 3). Then Goldwire morphed from astonishingly ineffectual to the senior leader Coach K had hoped for, scoring 10 in the last 11:57. His total is a bit inflated since his last 3 was at the game ending buzzer. Roach also hit a meaningless 3 — with 21 seconds left. Worse, Duke’s point guards finished with just 2 meaningful assists. Roach’s other one came with 11:51 left. Goldwire’s only assist came with 21 seconds left.

To compound the point guard deficiency, Duke received no scoring from the field from the rest of its backcourt. D.J. Steward, who scored 24 dazzling points against Coppin State, failed to score from the field in 29 minutes (0-7; 0-3 from deep) while Wendell Moore was even worse (o-9; 0-6 from deep) in 30 minutes. Moore had 2 assists, but 3 turnovers to go with 3 rebounds. D.J. had 2 assists, and only a single rebound (he had 9 against Coppin State) with a turnover. Add Joey Baker’s 0-3 (all from behind the arc) in his 12 minutes, before fouling out, and you have a disappointingly ineffectual backcourt.

The Good

Mathew Hurt! I thought Hurt was heroic, logging 36 minutes as Duke’s only effective big player, fighting on the boards with the bigger, stronger Spartans (13 rebounds), while scoring 21 points (6-14 from the field; 1-3 from 3land; but a gaudy 8-8 from the foul line). He defended, and simply played his heart out as Duke’s best player last night. His best game as a Blue Devil!

Jaemyn Brakefield unexpectedly had a breakout game, scoring 11 points, grabbing 4 rebounds, dishing out an assist, and zero turnovers, all in only 15 minutes. In six second-half minutes, he scored 5. This cameo should earn him more playing time, I predict.

Foul Shooting: Duke shot 80% — 34-30 (14-17 in the first half). Although awful from the field, Moore and D.J. were perfect from the line – 10-10 (Moore 4, Steward 6). Add Hurt’s 8-8 and you have 3 players who shot 100% on 18 attempts.

The defense: Duke was stout on defense. There can be no complaint about the Devil effort at the defensive end. Coordination will come slowly, but I thought the defense was a cause for some optimism. While Duke was narrowly out-rebounded 46-40 (offensive rebounds were virtually even), Duke did much better defending in the paint than I had anticipated. As Hurt tired (36 minutes without much help inside), the Spartans became more of an inside force (especially Julius Marble).

The Bad (but will get better)

Jalen Johnson. After an All-World first half against Coppin State, Johnson’s play has steadily descended to ordinary. His talent is obvious, but against Michigan State he was out of control. On offense, he forced the issue without success. He defended well sometimes, but other times seemed lost. Jay Bilas took Jalen to task when he lost watching the ball while guarding his man–a Spartan drove right past him for the layup! It was dramatic because Jalen’s back was completely turned away from the play. Foul trouble limited him to 7 first-half minutes (5 points on 2-5 from the field and 1-2 from the line with only a single rebound. He played 15 second-half minutes (without fouling), but was not an offensive force (6 points; 2-6 from the field, 0-2 from deep; 2-4 from the foul line with 3 boards.) Not the statistics of an NBA lottery pick. It was probably a good wake-up call after the unrealistic hype that Johnson’s magical first-half against Coppin State produced.

The Rotation
The big men on the roster are not getting playing time. Neither Patrick Tape nor Henry Coleman appeared in the game. Mark Williams played 4 first-half minutes, grabbing 3 rebounds, but missing his only shot as the first substitute off the bench for Jalen Johnson. Joey Baker fouled out in 12 minutes. Brakefield was scintillating in his 15 minutes. The playing time for the six, who were the heart of the rotation were: Hurt (36 min), Moore (30), Steward (29), Roach (26), Goldwire (26), and Johnson (22). I’m not sure what to make of the shortness of the rotation juxtaposed to the words about the need for a deep bench. I guess we will see. The absence of the bigs in the rotation is a surprising disappointment.

Next Play:

Friday night at 7 pm in Cameron against Bellarmine (I had to look it up)

The game, scheduled for Sunday at noon versus Elon in Cameron has just been Covid-Cancelled, so Duke is scrambling to adjust.

MILLER MUSES:

Note: Fortunately ( I think), shoulder surgery is not required, so I can still type. However, there are other non-physical impediments to my not making the commitment to contribute on a regular basis. So, from time to time, I will feel compelled to add some comments. If the editor is so inclined, he will include them with his coverage in Duke Basketball Playbook.

[editor’s note: the editor is obviously so inclined]

For about the first ten minutes, Duke played and looked like a talented contender. Then, the young team learned what Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams are all about. Good, tough defense usually is the deciding factor, because it makes scoring so much easier as virtually all college players can run, jump, and score in the open court. Then, for the next thirty minutes, Duke played like a pick-up team that had never played together as there was point-guard-by-committee. Consequently, there was no rhythm to the offense as, sadly, there was no Tre or Ty Jones to make the offense flow and go. Running a half-court offense is the test of a mature, disciplined team– traits none of which the Blue Devils demonstrated tonight. Shooting 32% from the floor and 22% from three point land (of which two were garbage time prayers) plus 12 turnovers is not Duke Basketball. And for sure, Tom Rizzo’s Michigan State is not to be confused with Coppin State.

There is talent: Jalen Johnson, Matthew Hurt, DJ Steward, and Jaemyn Brakefield are skilled and have had their moments (but they are young). Disappointingly, Wendell Moore and Joey Baker looked no better than they did last year, in spite of heralded optimism from training camp. Neither senior Jordan Goldwire nor freshman Jeremy Roach has consistently demonstrated the kind of point guard skills we have been used to over Coach K’s forty some years.

Not having the Cameron Crazies (who are easily worth ten points) sure changes the feel, look, flow, and presentation of the game.

This might be a long year.

Other Comments:

  • I promised Johnny Tar Heel I would watch some of the Carolina-Stanford in the Maui Classic (temporarily being held a little east in Asheville, NC) to see if this year’s basketball team could outscore the football team (excluding the Notre Dame game). Unfortunately, Bill Walton was camping out with his dog near Asheville, so ESPN invited him to do the game. Going to Stanford Law School apparently made Bill think he was really, really, smart–a virtual Oracle of Delphi– and that everyone is interested in every thought he has ever had, some of which even included basketball. He just will not shut up until, to maintain sanity, muting the audio is the only solution to watching the game in peace.
  • Last week, our very own Alan Silber argued a case before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Duke 76 Bellarmine 54 (Season 12 Issue 4 Game 3) with Bill Miller as “guest” contributor

ALANALYSIS:

Bellarmine may have been exactly the opponent that Duke needed to face after not being in the game for the entire second half in the loss to Michigan State, in spite of great effort. This year’s Blue Devils have demonstrated how much work needs to be done: 1) to make the offense cohesive; 2) the defense more united; and 3) to establish an efficient rotation. One could see Coach K begin. All 11 scholarship players played in one game in one game for the first time. Coach K mixed and matched combinations designed to give him information rather than to instantly create cohesion. Lots of good information to glean, some of which we catalogue here. Coach K played big lineups – Johnson (6’9”), Mark Williams (7’0”), and Matt Hurt (6’9”) started up front, with Goldwire (6’2”) and Moore (6’5”) in the backcourt. He played with pony lineups – one such combination had Brakefield (6’8”) as the sole big with Goldwire, Roach, D.J. Steward and Moore on the floor with him. The defense was consistently really good regardless of who was on the floor. Not perfect, but greatly improved and encouraging. However, Duke’s biggest conundrum needing to be fixed is Jalen Johnson. Coach K, rather brilliantly in my opinion, addressed that issue.

Jalen Johnson

Nothing worse could have happened to this heralded freshman than his “All-World” first-half against Coppin State. Media descriptions of Jalen’s inaugural college game trumpet his 19 points and 19 rebounds with his perfect shooting for the entire game, an “All-World” first game for a freshman. That analysis clouds an understanding of the problem: Johnson did not have an “All-World” first game; he had an “All-World” first half. The following four and a half periods were a descending nightmare for Johnson. In his 18 second-half minutes against Coppin State, Jalen managed only 1 shot from the field and 2-2 from the line for 4 second-half points in 18 minutes. Four points in 18 minutes does not an “All-World” game make. In my opinion, Coppin State put Jalen in a bad head space. Against Michigan State, Jalen felt enormous pressure to again be the Duke offense, as he was against Coppin State, and, as a result, forced every issue in an overly aggressive way. In basketball parlance, he did not let the game come to him. As a result, one could see Jalen’s overwhelming desire to bounce back against Bellarmine, which led to his same overly aggressiveness at the start of last night’s game.

Two minutes and 35 seconds after the opening tip, Johnson was yanked, having committed 2 fouls and 2 turnovers! Coach K sat him for the entire remainder of the first half. Moreover, Jalen wasn’t much better when he returned to the court at the start of the second half. He missed a 3 and committed a turnover (one rebound), resulting in his being returned to the bench after only 4 minutes and 19 seconds elapsed in the second half. Johnson remained on the bench for the next 6 minutes and 19 seconds, re-entering with less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock. Coach K is the Psychologist. Jalen was a new man upon re-entering the game. He grabbed a rebound, and then, on Bellarmine’s next possession, stole the ball to feed Steward, who hit Hurt for a layup (“hockey assist”). With only 8:47 left in the game, Jalen scored his first points, making a cut and receiving a good pass from JGold for the layup. Johnson was back.

In an explosive 2 minute and 53 second stretch, Jalen scored all of his 9 points (the last layup coming with 5:06 left and Duke leading by 23). Coach K took him out with just over 2 minutes to play after Jalen missed a 3, committed a foul and a turnover. Let’s keep that explosive 2:53 in Jalen’s head for confidence. I predict an excellent game for Jalen on Tuesday night against Illinois.

The Good

Matthew Hurt is a dramatically improved player on both ends of the court. Last night was one of those sparkling nights that good shooters sometimes enjoy–Matt shot 75% from the field for 24 points (9-12; 6-8 from behind the arc). His shooting percentage was high because he only took excellent shots. Bellarmine inexplicably left him open, and Matt made them really Hurt. Unlike last year, Matt more than holds his own on the boards and on defense; last night he had 6 defensive rebounds, a steal and a block. Duke becomes much better with a consistent star, and Matt looks like he will deliver. He is demonstrating that he deserved being named to the preseason Wooden Watch.

Mark Williams had a first half that makes us wonder why he isn’t playing more. Coach K started his long freshman for the first time, after he had been on the floor for only 8 combined minutes in the first two games. The gaudy Williams stat line from his 9 first-half minutes speaks for itself: 3 points (1-1 from the field and 1-1 from the line) to go with 5 rebounds and a couple of tap outs to give Duke an extra possession or two. 5 boards in 9 minutes is dominant. So too is 3 blocked shots in 7 minutes Add in his 2 assists and you’re on the road to an “All-World” half (if Williams had been on the court longer and continued that scintillating play). His second half wasn’t as spectacular, but he acquitted himself well: in 6 minutes, he was 1-1 from the field with 2 rebounds, a block and an assist. Total excellent statistics for the game: 5 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 assists in 15 minutes! What else does Mark have to do to earn playing time?

Jaemyn Brakefield not only shot well (4-4 from deep for 12 points, Duke’s second best scorer), but also played aggressively on defense and on the boards (6 boards; 3 on offense). Coach K said that when Brakefield first arrived he was dribbling too much: “When we started the season, there was a bit more dribbling and he’s not a kid who should dribble a lot. He didn’t function as well in it because he wasn’t going to his strengths. Even before we made some changes offensively, we told him his game will adapt to ours … not to change his game. His is more limited dribbles [sic], he’s a smart player and can space the court and he’s a good defender. He’s a tough kid. He’s easy to play with …”

Jordan Goldwire has had a rough start to a season where, as a senior, he is expected to provide leadership. His game started to return in the second half against Michigan State, and that uptick continued against Bellarmine. This good is less about the Bellarmine game itself and more about the visible trending to competence. In 32 minutes, JGold scored 7 (2-4 from the field; 1-2 from 3land; and 2-2 from the stripe) and added 6 assists, 4 boards and 3 steals. 5 of his 7 points came in the first half where he had only a single assist against two turnovers. He guided the team with more assurance in the second half with five assists and 0 turnovers.

The Ugly

If the backcourt wasn’t ugly, it was awfully close to it. The three other guards (besides JGold) were frustratingly ineffective. Wendell Moore logged 20 minutes, scoring only 2 points (1-7 from the field; 0-2 from deep; and 0-1 from the stripe), a single assist, and two turnovers. For a player named to the pre-season Wooden Watch List, he is underwhelming big time so far. D.J. Steward played 31 minutes, displaying lots of energy but leaving a virtual empty stat sheet. He scored only 4 points (2-7 from the field; 0-3 from behind the arc; and 0-1 from the line. His verve was obvious with 6 assists and 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block; but this energy also created his 4 turnovers. Jeremy Roach played only 15 mediocre minutes, disappointing considering how heralded a point guard he was in high school. He scored 4 (1-4 from the field; 0-3 from deep; 2-2 from the line) with 2 assists and 2 turnovers. Those 3 were a combined 4-18 from the field; 0-8 from deep and 2-4 from the foul line. That is truly ugly.

The Rotation

All 11 played; Patrick Tape (5 minutes) and Henry Coleman III (8 minutes) made their season’s debut. Joey Baker is playing his way out of the rotation. After 8 undistinguished first-half minutes, Joey was limited to 3 minutes in the second half. He made 1 three-pointer, but was otherwise invisible. Coleman is an amazing physical specimen who is graceful and can move. He had 2 clean steals, one he flushed; the other he blew the dunk rather spectacularly. He grabbed 2 boards and scored 4 in that cameo, demonstrating potential.

Goldwire (32 minutes) and D.J. Steward (31 minutes) were the stalwarts on the perimeter. Moore’s 20 minutes (split between backcourt and wing) together with Roach’s 15 minutes comprised the backcourt that will be truly tested against Illinois.

The frontcourt was anchored by Hurt’s 32 minutes, with others providing front court support: Johnson (15 minutes); Williams (15 minutes); and Brakefield (15 minutes). They each played well, but the question is whether it will be enough to stand up to the powerhouse teams.

Next Play: Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday, December 8 at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN. This game seems like an early season cross-roads game. Bellarmine is not a good enough opponent for an accurate judgment on Duke’s progress. Illinois (3-1; loss was to #2 Baylor) will be.

MILLER’S MUSINGS:

One of the most interesting aspects of Duke Basketball is observing how Coach K constructs each year’s team. Unlike the last few years of the one-and-done era, there is no future lottery pick –maybe not even a first round pick–around which he can construct a team capable of contending for a national championship. That is not to say there isn’t talent, just that this team is a “work in progress.” Initially, it looked as if there were too many similarly skilled/sized players competing for the same positions, but no outstanding point guard or big dominant center.

Then, holy Minute Bol, seven foot Mark Williams, brother of Duke great Elizabeth Williams, was jumping center at tip-off tonight. Not only that, the guy is no stiff: He is athletic, he can play, and is savvy, corralling rebounds and/or tipping them to open shooters. He certainly looked like more than a “project” tonight and gives the Blue Devils a much needed front line size option.

Matthew Hurt again was the most consistent player as he showed off his Larry Bird three point shooting skills. Unfortunately, some of Larry’s other skills– like having eyes in the back of his head—are missing, but then why complain, Hurt is not alone. There is only one Larry Legend.

I like playmakers and since, as much as I admire the progress of Jordan Goldwire he does have his limitations, and Jeremy Roach has not shown the skills for Division One prime time, this team needs multiple playmakers. Therefore, choosing among the talented but recently chagrined Jalen Johnson; exciting, multi-skilled DJ Stewart; sweet stroking Jaemyn Brakefield (three time Gatorade POY in West Virginia); and 6’9” 233 lb. stud grad student Patrick Tape; plus struggling sophomore Wendell Moore, who has mastered dribbling full speed into traffic and/or off his foot; and Junior Joey Baker, whose jump shot is somewhere still on vacation, is not a fool’s errand.

Bottom Line: Stay tuned. This may be fun!

Other Comments:

Rafer Johnson, who won the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympics, died in Los Angeles at 86. He was among the world’s greatest athletes. From 1955 through his Olympic triumph in 1960, he won a national decathlon championship in 1956 and a silver medal at the Melbourne Olympics that same year. In addition, he was also an admirable competitor and person. The deeply religious Johnson was always a vocal advocate for fair play and good sportsmanship. He eschewed drugs and alcohol and, in track races, refused even to try to anticipate the starter’s gun, believing that it was a form of cheating. Among other notable details:

  • Followed his hero Jackie Robinson to UCLA, where he also played basketball for the legendary John Wooden and was elected student body president.
  • His decathlon battle with C.K. Yang — his training partner at UCLA — ranks among the classic moments of Olympics history.
  • He, along with Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier and George Plimpton, subdued Sirhan Sirhan, Robert Kennedy’s assassin. However, it was Johnson who twisted Sirhan’s fingers to get and secure the shooter’s gun.
  • His younger brother Jimmy Johnson was a first round selection for the San Francisco 49ers, was named as a first-string cornerback on the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Rafer was selected to carry the U.S. flag at the 1960 Olympics and lit the torch at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to open the 1984 Games.

Illinois 83 Duke 68 (Season 12 Issue 5 Game 4) with Bill Miller as “guest” contributor

ALANALYSIS

I had an omen before tip-off last night because  I watched an early game where Coppin State played Georgetown (Duke had beaten Coppin last week  by 10, even though the Devils were outscored by 7 in the second half).  The Hoyas beat Coppin State 80-48.  Georgetown is not a ranked power house, but they toyed with Coppin State, while Duke had to fight to the end.had to fight to the end..  Coach K admitted the obvious in last night’s post-game interview, “We got beat by a team that is better than we are, and older, more mature. They kind of imposed their will on us. We are not as good as they are.” Duke played hard; no complaint concerning effort against Illinois is valid. In spite of sustained hard work and spurts of excellent defense (marred by some inconsistency), Duke was blown out and never really in the game.  The Illini raced to a 14-2 lead with less than 5 minutes having elapsed, and Duke never got closer than 8 points.  The lead fluctuated between 8 and 18.  It was painful to watch (easier with the sound off, I can attest).  

There was some Good on display last night, which creates hope for the future of the season (a season which seems more in doubt as games get canceled by the minute, but I digress).  There are conundrums that could fall to the Good or the Bad depending on whether they are solved.  And there was plenty that was just plain Ugly.

The Good

Mathew Hurt was extraordinary and had a second half that was strong on leadership.  After he picked up his third foul in the first half, Coach K pulled him.  He played only 12 first-half minutes.  But, Matt showed his leadership and maturity, playing 18 second-half minutes and being the best Duke player on the floor, while committing only one foul.  He not only snared 6 rebounds and shot 4-5 from the field when he was inside the arc, but also added a block and a steal without committing a turnover.  That was real leadership!  The only downside was 0-4 from deep in the second half; 0-6 for the entire game.  Matt led Duke in scoring for the game (19 points on 8-9 inside the arc; 0-6 behind) and tied with Johnson at 7 for the rebound lead .  He improves his defense with every game!

Jeremy Roach finally played up to his high school reputation and had his first excellent outing.  In 31 minutes, he notched 7 assists without a turnover.  He moved the offense and was himself a scoring threat (13 points on 5-11 from the field; 0-1 from deep; 3-4 from the stripe), plus contributing 4 rebounds.  He drove for points; he hit pullups.  If his scoring becomes more efficient, he may emerge as the backcourt leader.  Jeremy said in an interview that he had been deferring too much to teammates, and he was now back to his aggressive game.  A hopeful sign.

J.D. Steward’s second half was as good as his first half was crappy.  In his 10 first-half minutes he was a liability; 10 minutes (1-3; 0-1 from deep) for 2 points and 2 turnovers.  He was beaten more easily on defense than I had yet seen.  Then came his second half, where he logged 18 minutes and scored 11 points (4-6; 3-4 from behind the arc), with 1 rebound, 2 assists and a steal.  He was an asset when Duke went to the press (which was sometimes effective, but not consistently).

The Conundrums

J.D’s different halves could be included, but his second half was so good (and there was so little other good) as to save him.

Jordan Goldwire plays so hard and does so many good things – a scrappy defender, who brings some stability to the backcourt.  Last night he also turned it over and committed 5 fouls – all in the second half, fouling out virtually at game’s end.  His offense was simply non-existent.  He scored his 5 points in 23 seconds early on in the second half, but was otherwise scoreless in 36 minutes (0-7; 0-1; 0-1 without the 2 layups and free throw in those 23 seconds).  He made 4 steals and was all about effort.

Jalen Johnson is not playing the kind of basketball that his talent (and “All-World” first half against Coppin State) suggests he is capable of.  Coach K is clearly disappointed, limiting Jalen to 8 second-half minutes (without being in foul trouble) after his undistinguished 15 first-half minutes.  In 23 minutes, Jalen scored only 7 points (3-10 from the field; 1-3 from 3land; and 0-2 from the foul line).  At the opening of the second half, Coach K pointed out that Jalen had had an opportunity to score 7 points near the basket and produced 0 points.  Failure to convert those plays may have cost Jalen second-half playing time.

The Rotation became clearer, but still murky.  Mark Williams again started, playing 7 ineffective minutes (2 fouls and a turnover), demonstrating he is not ready to contest power players from elite teams.  He did not see the floor after that.  Patrick Tapé and Henry Coleman each got 2 first-half minutes (caused I think by Hurt’s foul trouble).  The players who logged more than 20 minutes on the court comprise the real starters: Goldwire (36), Roach (31), Hurt (30), Steward (28), and Johnson (23).  Jaemyn Brakefield was the most effective off the bench.  He grabbed 5 rebounds and blocked a shot in 18 minutes, to go with his 5 points (2-5; 1-2 from behind the arc).  Joey Baker played 16 minutes, scoring 4 points and hustling.

The Ugly

The Duke offense qualifies easily as ugly.  The Duke defense gave the Devils a chance with the press.  But every time the defense made a play that could have changed the momentum, the offense had a turnover or bad shot.  For example, D.J. came down court on a live ball turnover and looked for an alley-oop to a wide open Brakefield at the rim for an easy deuce.  But a defender blocked the pass (it was just not lofted high enough).  Duke’s shooting is simply awful.  In the first half, Duke shot 12-32, including 0-7 from behind the arc.  Illinois outscored Duke from deep in the first half by 18 points.  If you subtract D.J.’s 3-4 from deep, Duke was 2-17 from deep.

Duke’s second half foul shooting also stymied any hopes of a comeback (4-10).  At one point Hurt (2), Johnson (2) and Roach (1), collectively missed 5 consecutive free throws.

 Wendell Moore was a preseason selection for the All ACC second team and one of Duke’s two players on the Wooden Watch list (Hurt was the other).  He was hyped as one of Duke’s best players on both ends of the floor.  Last night he was on the floor for all of 7 minutes. Moore played 4 first-half minutes, going 0-2 and committing a turnover.  He played only 3 second-half minutes (0-1 and committed a foul).  His only positive statistic of the night was a single second-half rebound.  This is ugly and hurting the Devils in a fundamental way.

Next Play: Saturday (December 12) against Charleston Southern at 2 pm before the ACC season opens at Notre Dame on Wednesday, December 16, at 9 pm.

BILL’S COMMENTS:
  • After losing just two non-conference home games in front of the Cameron Crazies in this century, Duke has lost two non-conference games in a week in a fanless Cameron Stadium. Either A) the Cameron Crazies impact on the games is very underrated  or B) this year’s team is not up to previous year’s standards. 
  • Coach K’s take: “This is not inherited wealth where we have what we have had. What we have had was really damn good and it has produced a lot of championship teams. We do not have that [now]. You have to earn that with a new group, and this group is one of the youngest we have had. It creates a new dynamic that is difficult. Also, when teams play against us, for them to come into Cameron, not just to play Duke, but when they come into Cameron, with fans or not, they’re ready to play. You’re not going to get anyone looking ahead. Our guys, they’ve not experienced that yet. They’re experiencing that right now. Hopefully, that makes us tougher and better.”
  • Illinois and Iowa (who beat Carolina) are very impressive basketball teams. Despite what Johnny Tar Heel thinks, UNC is big, talented, but young. At the end of the year—or sooner– they will be a very tough out. Duke, I’m not so sure. 
  • Was Matthew Hurt in the Patrick Mahomes’ barbershop commercial? If he was, I missed him. The Mahomes cut didn’t help Matt’s three point shot, he was oh-6 tonight.

December 11, 2020 Cancelled games announcement

Duke Basketball has made the decision to cancel the remainder of their non-conference games. Thus, the next Duke basketball game currently scheduled is against Notre Dame in South Bend on Wednesday, December 16 (ESPN @ 9:30 pm). The rescheduled game against the Gardner Webb Bulldogs was canceled, and previously postponed games against the Elon Phoenix and the Charleston Southern Buccaneers will not be rescheduled. The stated rationale is to let the players take a short break for the holidays.

Coach K had suggested that the colleges should not be playing now, but should wait for the vaccine and the diminution of the current COVID-19 infection rate.  What is written about his suggestion is not nearly as cogent as what he actually said.  Coach K has an amazing ability to analyze, to select just the right words to calibrate sharply what he is communicating.  You can get his words from the postgame press conference on www.dukebasketballreport.com.

Alabama coach Nate Oats questioned Coach K’s motives after the Duke coach called for a reassessment about playing college basketball during a pandemic, openly wondering whether the comments were triggered by a pair of losses for the No. 10 Blue Devils.  “Do you think if Coach K hadn’t lost his two nonconference games at home that he would still be saying that?” Oats said 
at a news conference Thursday, adding, “We 100 percent should be playing basketball.”  You know who he sounds like.

Meanwhile, Coach K continues to demonstrate true leadership.


Duke 75 Notre Dame 65 (Season 12 Issue 6 Game 5) with Bill Miller as “guest” contributor

ALANALYSIS: 

 If we keep in mind that Michigan State and Illinois are potential Final Four teams, while Notre Dame’s talent is not close to ACC elite, Duke fans can enjoy and celebrate Duke’s surprisingly excellent performance at South Bend – a first conference away-game for Duke’s 7 new players (well, actually 5 for this game) — while still keeping perspective.  

 This game was much more important than a normal conference opener.  The combination of being soundly thrashed in two home losses in Cameron, together with the announcement that the jewel of Duke’s freshman class, Jalen Johnson, has badly injured his foot in practice and been declared out indefinitely (he’ll have another MRI in 3 weeks to see how he is healing) would test not only the talent, but the character of this starless 2020-2021 edition of the Blue Devils.  Duke produced an excellent performance to be celebrated.  This young Duke team responded to the adverse circumstances with leadership, offensive cohesion, and defensive intensity.  However, the “Fighting” Irish proved the participle in their nickname was warranted.  Every time Duke threatened to break the game open, the Irish fought back behind their amazing Dane Goodwin (25 points on 10-12; 4-6 from deep + 1-1 from the foul line).  Then, there was “the moment” that defined the game — and that Duke fans hope will define the season!

“The Moment”: 

The Irish stole the ball from Wendell Moore, which led to a Notre Dame 3, cutting the Duke lead to 5 (55-50) with 10:43 left in the game.  The home team had gained all the momentum.  Duke then produced the almost 6 minute long moment:  

Jordan Goldwire hit a jumper; Jaemyn Brakefield took a rebound the length of the floor for a layup.  D. J. Steward and Joey Baker replaced Jeremy Roach and Moore.  Brakefield stole the ball and hit D. J. for a 3.  Matt Hurt grabbed a defensive rebound and scored from the post on a jumper.  Roach returned, replacing Baker.  After a Goodwin 3 for the Irish, Brakefield fed D. J. for a layup.  Hurt and Goodwin traded jumpers.  Hurt hit another turnaround after ND had shredded the Duke defense for a layup.  Finally, Steward finished “the moment” with a steal, a layup and the free throw for a 3 point play the conventional way. 

In 5 minutes and 55 seconds, Duke had increased its lead from 5 to 17, effectively ending doubt about the outcome.  Coach K was beyond pleased, “It got down to five points, where there’s a lot of game pressure, and our kids made plays. We didn’t call a play, they just made some plays and then when they were pressing us, we never turned it over. It’s on my team. They got better tonight. I think, too, they’re becoming more and more comfortable playing with one another.”

The Rotation   

With Jalen unavailable, who would start and what the rotation would be was a pressing question.  There was much speculation, but I bet nobody correctly predicted that Patrick Tapé would replace Jalen in the starting lineup.  The rotation was more informative and revealing than previous games.  Duke played only 9 (Johnson and Henry Coleman III did not play).  I look at the “starters” more from who plays starter minutes than who actually starts.  For example, even though Tapé started, he did not play starter’s minutes  (6 first half minutes and 3 in the closing stanza).  Four players both started and played starter-minutes: Hurt (38 minutes), Roach (35 minutes), Goldwire (33 minutes) and D.J. Steward (29 minutes).  

Jaemyn Brakefield played an outstanding 24 minutes to be Hurt’s most efficient partner up front.  He is the only other big (besides Hurt) who can score from the perimeter, with the 3 (he was 2-2), the drive, or in the post.  Tapé and Mark Williams (8 minutes – 7 in the first half; 4 points on 2-2 shooting with a rebound) have offense from the post and at the rim. Duke’s trio of small fast guards (Coach K, “we are awfully small on the perimeter”) played better than they have all season.  However, the backcourt got little effective support from either Joey Baker (15 minutes; 10 in the first half, but only 2 points) or Wendell Moore’s 9 minutes without a score or an assist — his reduced playing time resulting from his persistent offensive woes.

The Front Court

It is time for me to give Matt Hurt real praise; actually more than Coach K did.  Coach K said Matt was “close to having a huge game.”  Other than missing his only 2 attempts from behind the arc, he was Duke’s most valuable player in all aspects of the game.  The offense was much smoother than in previous games because it ran through the versatile big guy from Minnesota.  He played every  second of the closing stanza and sat only for a brief 2 minutes in the opening half.  He is an able defender and a much more efficient rim protector and rebounder than he showed last year (and he is doing this now without fouling).  Moreover, last night Matt demonstrated that he is virtually unstoppable from the post, drawing the defense from the perimeter shooters.  He rebounds in traffic and can smoothly deliver a scintillating assist.  Coach K: “Matt [Hurt], we got him the ball more and he’s close to having a huge game, but even him touching the ball forces the other team to help and that opens it up for other guys.”  How about Hurt’s 18 team-leading points on 8-17 shooting from the field and 2-2 from the line (0-2 from deep), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in 38 minutes for a huge game? Come on Coach K, can we make that “very very very close” to a huge game!

Brakefield has played himself into the rotation and was actually more effective than Jalen has been all year, except for his “All-World” first half against Coppin State.  Even though it was Jaemyn’s first conference game game and first road game, he played like a veteran, scoring 10 points (4-8 from the field; 2-2 from deep), grabbing 5 boards, with a block.  He plays excellent defense and had one spectacular steal.  Coach K: “Brakefield had a hell of a game for us.”

Mark Williams and Patrick Tapé both looked effective in their cameo appearances.  No indication has been given as to why Henry Coleman III did not play.

The Perimeter

All 3 starters in the backcourt were efficient and earned positive praise.  Let’s start with the early season disappointment, Jeremy Roach, who has turned his season completely around, finally earning Coach K’s trust as proven by Jeremy’s 35 minutes on the court running the offense.  While Roach still has more room to grow (0 assists last night), his improvement in running the team and providing energy and offense was the best it has been so far this year.   He scored 14 points on 5-6 from the field (2 gorgeous drives), including 2-3 from deep and 2-2 for free throws. 

 Jordan Goldwire was his usual reliable self on offense and a tiger on the defensive end.  He scored 9 on 4-8,with 3-4 at the rim, but only 1-4 from deep (the only player with starter minutes that did not reach double figures). However, JGold was superb on defense and the glue on offense.  D. J. Steward was even more  dynamic and athletic than he has looked all year.  The Duke guards were faster than Notre Dame, and D. J. is the fastest of the Devils.  At times he looks downright beautiful as he dances in the air.  A revealing fact about D. J.’s athleticism: he led Duke in rebounding with 7 last night.  He scored 16 in 29 minutes (6-11 including 3-4 from 3land and 1-1 from the stripe) and had an assist and 2 steals.  Coach K: “[At the] end of [the shot clock], DJ hit a couple huge buckets – a three and a drive. He played really good defense too. … Jeremy [Roach] played like a veteran tonight … Our guard duo of Jeremy [Roach] and J-Gold (Jordan Goldwire) was excellent. DJ [Steward] responded. We played a very good game tonight and beat a really good team.”   

As noted above, Duke needs better perimeter support off the bench than either Moore or Baker have so far been able to provide.  I still have an expectation that Moore will turn his season around.

10th man: 

Henry Coleman III, the only healthy Duke scholarship player without playing time last night, has drawn high praise from Coach K about more than hoops.  Here is an example:

“The Virginia Business magazine released its 100 People to Meet in 2021, with Duke men’s basketball freshman and Richmond, Va. native, Henry Coleman III recognized as the youngest member on the list.  As an unprecedented year comes to an end, Virginia Business published the annual list to “Introduce you to 100 Virginians who make the commonwealth a more interesting and innovative place to live and work.” The list includes categories like Builders, Educators, Impact Makers, and more, with Coleman named in the ‘Angels’ section.  A 2020 graduate of Trinity Episcopal School, Coleman made an early impression on the entire Duke community in August when he spoke at a peaceful protest on campus in front of fellow student-athletes, coaches and professors.”

Next Play:  With the cancellation of the non-conference schedule, Duke does not play again until December 29, in Cameron at 8 pm against Jeff Capel’s Pittsburgh Panthers.  Have a happy holiday season.  Stay safe – next DBP should be December 30

BILL’S COMMENTS:

Raise your hand if you saw this coming! After two pretty discouraging outings against Michigan State and Illinois and indefinitely losing Jalen Johnson, considered the most talented recruit, the Blue Devils went to South Bend and totally outplayed the Irish. Granted, this is not one of Coach Brey’s better teams, but Notre Dame is seldom an easy out.

What impressed me: Jeremy Roach played like the highly-rated point guard he was thought to be; D. J. Steward sometimes reminds me of a mini Earle the Pearl Monroe: Jaemyn Brakefield may be the most versatile player on the team; 7 foot Mark Williams is not a stiff. He has athleticism and touch. All he needs is bulk and strength. Matthew Hurt was the nexus of the offense that made a lot of good things happen. I think this team is a lot different than the recent one-and-done Super Star Juggernauts. If these players stay more than a long pit stop and sleepover, they could develop into a really interesting outfit. Watching Coach K operate is always fascinating. When the season is on the line, will he roll with his most talented five — Roach, Steward, Hurt, Brakefield and Johnson —  or mix and match?  Stay tuned!

What has happened to sophomore Wendell Moore’s offense? Is he morphing into Bill King? He is 1 for 19 from the field over Duke’s last three games. Same question for Joey Baker, who is no longer a defensive liability but, conversely, hasn’t been able to hit what had been his signature three.

The next challenge is for the young players to keep their minds focused and validate this win.

EDITORIAL STAFF NOTE:

In this perhaps not quite as merry as usual Holiday season, please remember your local businesses and restaurants.  It is oh so easy to shop Amazon, but if we want our small local shops to survive, please Shop Local whenever you can — many have online ordering and curbside pickup or delivery. Have a favorite restaurant or pub or bookshop you’d like to be able to go to after the pandemic? Consider a gift card for someone on your list, or even to give to yourself. It is up to all of us to act the values we espouse. 


Cancelled Games Announcement: Duke v Pittsburgh & Duke v Florida State

December 28, 2020

The Duke athletic department just announced that Duke v Pittsburg will not be played tomorrow night as scheduled due to COVID-19 outbreak among the Pittsburgh traveling group.  Coach Jeff Capel has tested positive and is quarantining.  A perfect end to 2020. The Florida State game is still scheduled to be played in Tallahassee on Saturday, January 2, 2021 at 8 pm (ESPN2).  

Let’s hope 2021 will be different.

January 2, 2021

Three events transpired yesterday to put the Duke basketball season in doubt.  First, Coach K came into contact with a person who had tested positive and is in quarantine protocol.  John Scheyer was scheduled to coach Duke against Florida State in Tallahassee tonight.  Second, I wrote “was scheduled” because Duke’s contest against Florida State has now been postponed due to an outbreak in the Seminole program.  Third, three cases of the new “more contagious” variant of the virus have been diagnosed in Florida – 2 in Miami and one in Martin County.

Last month, the Duke women decided to withdraw from the season. Duke was (is) testing daily–the ACC only requires three tests per week.  Duke players asked the league to require daily testing of all competitors; when the ACC refused, Duke withdrew from competition.  Both Coach K and the Awesome Kara Lawson (first year women’s coach) have advocated pausing the season until the vaccines have had an impact, and restarting the season then — even if as late as May.  The Duke women are allowed to continue practicing in case things change.

Many decisions remain to be made … by teams, conferences, and the NCAA.


Duke 83 – BC 82 (Season 12 Issue 7 Game 6) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS:

After the emotional roller-coaster of yesterday’s insurrection in D.C., I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to watch a basketball game, let alone write about it. However, watching last night’s Duke – Boston College game proved to be the perfect escapist balm to restore stability to one’s soul. Bill and I spoke after the game. Bill: “What did you think?” Alan: “I didn’t. Not a thought; I just thoroughly enjoyed the all-out effort of this really warm and fuzzy team.” Duke’s ball-hawking swifties not only put it all out there under difficult circumstances, but they also showed us the sheer joy of the game – great plays, freshman gaffs – playing with admirable youthful exuberance. Perhaps showing us all the joy in life.

Context

The circumstances were indeed difficult: 1) Coach K was quarantining in Durham, with Jon Scheyer stepping in as head coach for the game. 2) Jalen Johnson and Patrick Tape were out with injuries. 3) BC’s losing record (2-7) isn’t indicative of their quality — every loss was very close; they have real talent and are improving, making them a dangerous team. 4) And, of course, Duke had played only once since December 8 (beating Notre Dame in South Bend on December 16). As such, they proved to be beyond rusty in the opening 17 minutes of the game.

The Blue Devils were down 16 with 2:13 left in the first half when the rusty bumblers turned into the “fun team”. In some ways, this was the team envisioned pre-season: Duke’s returning players – Mathew Hurt, Wendall Moore, Jr. and Jordan Goldwire – as the team leaders, with D.J. Steward and Jeremy Roach supplying speed, pressure and pizazz in the backcourt. Only Johnson was missing from that pre-season vision of the team.

Hurt and Moore were (pre-season) on the Wooden Watch list for potential Player of the Year. Hurt’s performance has so far validated his selection, but Moore has struggled dramatically. From pre-season ACC second team, Moore had sunk to Duke’s second team, scoring only 19 points in the first five games of the season, while creating turnovers at a high rate. You love to see a guy who is trying so hard to just completely turn it around in one game. Moore did that and won the game for Duke last night scoring 25 points in 30 minutes, without even one turnover, while displaying excellent defense. He made the clutch defensive play at winning time when he took a charge that gave Duke the ball, negating a BC score. No doubt he was Duke’s player of the game!

Hurt played well after the rust wore off, but he was not the spectacular player who is the ACC’s leading ppg scorer. In 32 minutes he scored 17, while grabbing 11 boards. Hurt’s defense last night was not as intense as earlier in the season, but he was Duke’s rebounding mainstay against BC, which enabled Duke to hold even on the boards. His efforts were crucial as this small team has difficulty protecting the rim and defending the backboard, especially without Johnson.

The Rotation

With Jalen unavailable, the rotation was restricted to five who played starters’ minutes, without much bench contribution. Mark Williams played 6 minutes. Henry Coleman III was in for one play, in which he was so badly beaten on defense that he was immediately replaced and did not return. Jaemyn Brakefield logged 18 minutes without scoring (0-2 from behind the arc), contributing 2 steals, a rebound, but costing 2 turnovers. Joey Baker played 12 minutes and hit a 3 for Duke’s only bench points.

When Duke went to its “pony” team – Moore joining Steward, Goldwire, and Roach – BC began to cough up the ball at key times. Duke did this infrequently, but effectively. Duke’s trio of small fast guards play with all-out enthusiasm, especially when pressing or trapping on defense. Steward (14 points in 32 minutes) and Roach (12 points in 32 minutes) get to the basket on drives that are dramatic; whether the drive results in a hoop or a turnover keeps fans on the edge. Goldwire is solid. Logging a game high 37 minutes, he handed out 6 assists and 3 steals with only a single turnover. He also scored 12: 4-10; 1-3 from deep; and 3-4 from the line, including the two game clinchers with only 24 seconds left, which moved Duke’s lead from 1 to 3 (82-79). He is unquestionably the floor leader.

The three speedsters were, however, cold from behind the arc – collectively 2-10 (Steward 1-6; Goldwire 1-3; and Roach missed his only 3 point attempt). Nevertheless, Steward and Roach led Duke’s late first-half resurgence when they exploded in the last 2:13 of the first half and the first 2:25 of the second half, with Duke outscoring BC by 18, taking a 2 point lead after having trailed by 16. In those 4:38, Steward scored 8; Moore, 6; Roach, 6; and Hurt, 3.

Winning Time

For the next 15 minutes, the game see-sawed back and forth. Each team made great plays and committed grievous errors. The game was tied 10 times (9 times in the second half), the last time with only 1:42 left. Hurt, who had picked up his 4th foul with 4:05 left, hit a clutch 3 on a smooth assist from Roach, with 1:15 left. After BC cut Duke’s lead to 1, Hurt grabbed a key rebound, leading to a critical Duke possession. Steward almost turned it over, but a ref’s review gave the ball to Duke, with only 2 left on the shot clock. On the inbound, Roach found Moore, who hit a crucial acrobatic jumper to push the lead back to 3 (80-77) with 44 seconds left. BC did not go away; they scored to pull within one at the 24 second mark. With the shot clock turned off, BC had to foul. JGold was fouled immediately, but he made both clutch free throws. Now 82-79. Then, Steward made the winning play — BC’s cross court pass was lazy, and Steward made a great move to deflect the ball and cause a turnover. BC had to foul. Moore made 1 of 2 for a 2 possession lead (83-79) with only 11 seconds left. BC’s 3 at the buzzer couldn’t win the game for them, but did make the score appear closer than it was.

BILL’S CLIFFSNOTES

[CliffsNotes are a series of condensed study guides, for lazy and/or inattentive students, that present literary and other works in abbreviated form. Detractors of these study guides claim they let students bypass rigorous reading and understanding of the assigned literature.]

Duke hadn’t played in a couple of weeks—and it sure showed. Possibly the worst half of feckless offense and defense I can remember the Blue Devils playing, as they fell behind by 16 to a perennial ACC bottom feeder. When it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, Wendell Moore, who was about one-for-the-season, threw up a brick of a three that almost shattered the glass backboard, but luck was with him and it caromed in. Maybe Wendell just needed to see the basketball go through the net one time, because after that he seemed to make about every kind of shot, and played like the guy who won the amazing Carolina comeback game last year (eat your heart out, Johnny Tar Heel) and sparked this hard-fought win.

My guess is that the multi-talented (scoring, stealing, rebounding, defending, but passing needs work) Steward may develop into the go-to guy; Hurt is the wheelhouse of the offense that makes other scoring possible; Goldwire and Roach, steady contributors; Brakefield, a lethal sixth man; Jalen Johnson, a question mark; and, if Moore can consistently be half as productive as he was tonight, the team will go as far as its pressing defense and maturing talent can take them—which might be pretty good as the ACC is not as strong and deep as usual.

John Scheyer replaced Coach K, who is temporarily sequestered, as game coach and did an admirable job. Changing and staying with a pressing defense most likely avoided an embarrassing defeat. He probably will be deluged with head coaching offers.

Next Play: Saturday at noon against Wake Forest. Coach K hopes to be on the bench for that game.


Duke 79 – Wake Forest 68 (Season 12 Issue 8 Game 7) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Mathew Hurt … was the biggest story last night. 

The Wooden Award is given to the College Player of the Year in June.  Hurt, who like Wendell Moore, was named to the pre-season Wooden Watch list, was one of 25 players named to the mid-season watch list (no Moore; no surprise) based on his performance this year.  Before last night’s excellent [Coach K praised it as “workman-like”] outing, Hurt was averaging 18.5 points per game (1st in the ACC) on .512 field goal shooting (7th in the ACC) and a .400 clip from three-point range. He has also been the Blue Devils’ most consistent rebounder, bringing down 8.5 boards per contest (3rd in the ACC).  Last night, he was not less than heroic in his 31 foul-plagued minutes (4 total fouls) where he led Duke in scoring with 26 points (10-15 from the field: 4-7 from deep; 2-2 from the stripe) to go with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals.  Coach K gently chided Hurt for imagining he was a point guard, when Hurt snared the defensive rebound and led the fast break into one of his 3 turnovers, but our Hall of Fame coach points to Hurt as the reason the Duke offense has come together after the losses in Cameron to both Michigan State and Illinois.

The change in offensive philosophy began on December 16, in South Bend against the Fighting Irish.  Coach K pointed out that in the early season, Duke was playing “five out”, leaving the middle open for penetration, and Hurt was shooting (40%) from deep.  It was clearly not working as shown by Duke’s ineffective early-season offense.  Duke has moved Hurt into the post, so the offense works through him (he is still popping out and making it difficult for bigs to guard him on the perimeter).  Coach K insightfully noted that, “when Hurt gets the ball, our shooters get extra room.”  Hurt is lethal inside if he is not doubled, and a good passer when he is.  Coach K also explained that Hurt is guarding the opponents’ big guys.  When Duke goes small (plays what I call its “pony team”), with the three swift guards and Moore (as the second longest Duke player at only 6’6”), Hurt is Duke’s most efficient interior defender.  

The Backcourt

Besides Hurt, the heart of the 2020-2021 Blue Devils has become the three-headed, lightning-quick Duke backcourt, comprised of the reliable senior Jordan Goldwire, and freshmen D.J. Steward and Jeremy Roach.  Pressing defense that forces turnovers, paired with transition offense, has been their calling card.  The three  rely upon dazzling quickness, speed, and constant energy on both ends of the court, and are on the court virtually all the time.  Against Wake, D.J. logged 39 minutes (20 in the second half), while scoring 21 (8-15 from the field: a dreadful 1-7 from deep; 4-6 from the stripe), grabbing 6 rebounds, handing out 2 assists (only 1 turnover), while blocking 2 shots (he’s only 6’2”!).  JGold played 38 minutes, scoring 14 (6-10: 2-3 from behind the arc) along with 5 assists (0 turnovers!), 5 rebounds, and 5 steals (leads ACC in steals).  Roach played 36 efficient minutes with 12 points (5-11 from the field: 2-7 from deep), 4 assists (2 turnovers), and 2 rebounds.  They hounded the Wake backcourt, which collapsed down the stretch at “winning time” (in my opinion, worn out from the constant Duke defensive pressure). Coach K emphasized the improvement because “they are now reacting by instinct instead of being slowed by thinking what they have to do.  They are getting in the passing lanes.”  Goldwire leads that charge, but D.J. and Roach are right there with him.

The Rotation

The four Duke starters described above scored 73 of Duke’s 79 points.  Besides those 4, Wendell Moore played 28 minutes (fifth most), scoring only 4 (1-7 from the field: 2-2 from the stripe), disappointing after his superb 25 point effort against BC.  Coach K pointed out in the post-game press conference that earlier in the year when Moore’s shot wasn’t falling, the rest of his game also suffered.  However, it was different last night.  Moore defended intensely and had a crucial steal while emerging as Duke’s leading rebounder with 8 boards.  It was his offense that was missing. He handed out only 2 assists against 4 turnovers. 

Duke’s bench was essentially Jaemyn Brakefield up front, and Joey Baker on the perimeter.  Brakefield played well in his 17 minutes, but failed to score.  He was a good defender though, with 3 steals and a block.  Baker played only 7 minutes, but had an important sequence: he blocked the shot, ran the floor, and laid it in athletically on the break for his only 2 points.  Moore’s 4 and Joey’s deuce were Duke’s only bench points.  Mark Williams had 2 brief stints early (he started), which comprised his only 4 minutes in the game.  His play wasn’t scintillating – 3 turnovers and 2 fouls in just 4 minutes.  Henry Coleman III played one minute at the end of the first half and took a crucial charge.

Winning Time

It was an entertaining game.  Duke was not able to contest Wake’s shooting in the first half, but forced 9 turnovers.  Even though Wake shot 45% in the first half; Duke led by 4 at the end of the opening stanza.  The game continued close with neither team able to separate.  The last tie was 55-55 with 11:26 to go.  Then, Duke’s superior athleticism took over as the backcourt hounded Wake defensively, and Duke, surprisingly, took over the backboard dramatically.  At one point, Duke had 12 shots on goal over five possessions. In the next 8+ minutes, Duke outscored Wake by 13 to lead 75-62 with 2:45 left.  Duke broke from the last tie on a layup (spectacular) by Steward, who was fouled and converted it to a three point play.  Baker’s great play followed.  With 4:07 left and an 8 point lead, Duke exploded.   D.J. made 3 foul shots, and Hurt swished a 3 from deep, for Duke’s 13 point lead with 2:45 left.  Wake was done.

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES 

[Cliffs Notes are abbreviated study guides for lazy and/or inattentive students, that present literary and other works in condensed, summarized form (with which I was more than a little familiar). Detractors of these study guides contend they let students bypass rigorous reading and deep understanding of the assignment ]:

Today, Duke played the Wake Forest Bad Haircuts, who had not won a game in Cameron since about the Muggsy Bogues era. Today was no different. Unfortunately, Wendell Moore apparently forgot what it looks like for the basketball to go through the basket and reverted to his pre-Boston College play, with  1-for-7  from the field, 4 turnovers, and 2 air balls. Fortunately, Matthew Hurt had an outstanding game; my man DJ Steward supplied a lot of flash and excitement in multiple ways, and the rest of the team, especially Jordan Goldwire, played disruptive, pressing defense and contributed offensively. For their size, this team has been a very efficient rebounding team.

If any player on this Blue Devil team, which may need a year to fully develop, has any ideas about declaring for the NBA draft, they might consider that none of the three players from last year’s team who decamped early for the NBA has played any significant minutes.  In contrast, Seth Curry, who stayed in college through graduation, signed a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers for $7.8 million over the next three years — and is now a starter. 

Next Play: Tuesday, January 12 versus Virginia Tech in Blacksburg at 7 pm on ACCN


Duke 67- Virginia Tech 74 (Season 12 Issue 9 Game 9) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

This Game Was No Fun For Duke Fans

It was not a joyful night watching Duke dramatic lack of defense in the first half (Virginia Tech scored 46 first half points on 64% shooting) and dramatic lack of offense at “winning time” in the second half (Duke drew within a single point – 56-55 with 12:52 left in the game and could score only 9 more points (I am not counting Roach’s 3 at the buzzer – this was a double digit loss even though the score says by 7).  Duke was 4-18 from deep in the second half; if you omit Roach’s last irrelevant 3 (Hurt was 2-3 in the second half), the futility of the Blue Devils from the bonus sphere spelled doom (Roach 0-4; Steward 1-5; Brakefield 0-2; Moore 0-1, didn’t hit the rim; Goldwire 0-2, also missed the rim with one).  Hurt is Duke’s only true threat, though  Roach was scintillating in every aspect of the game except long range shooting.  Finally, Duke’s scoring is not spread across the roster.  Consider the points scored in the minutes played by: Goldwire (1 point in 32 minutes); Brakefield (4 points in 27 minutes; he was making his first career start); Moore (4 points in 15 minutes – 2-6 from the field; 0-2 from deep and 0-1 from the stripe); Joey Baker (0 points in 13 minutes); and Mark Williams (0 points in 2 minutes).  

One more Duke bright spot to add to the play of Hurt and Roach – the return of Jalen Johnson.  He had 3 turns on the court for a total of 4 first half minutes, scoring on a layup for 2 points.  He is obviously out of shape, but his return will help this team.

However, the bottom line is this is not a good team right now, even though there are good players on the team, which has a Hall of Fame Coach.  This is a work very early in development.  How bad is the team right now?  Bad.  The 3 ACC wins coming into the game were against the three winless teams in the league.  Notre Dame, Boston College and Wake have yet to win an ACC game (0-9).  Virginia Tech is a good team, but closer to mid-pack ACC than title contender.  Neither Michigan State nor Illinois, that each blew out the Devils in Cameron, are among the top three teams in the Big Ten.  In short, this team is still waiting to achieve anything significant.

The Scoring

Hurt was heroic, scoring every way imaginable.  He played 38 minutes (all 20 in the second half) scoring 20 (8-16; 4-8 from deep, but 0-2 from the stripe) while pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking a pair of shots.  Roach was Duke’s high scorer with 22 points on 6-14 from the field but 2-7 from 3land with a gaudy 8-8 from the line.  However, the point guard registered only a single assist against 3 turnovers.  His play is improving as he gets more aggressive and more confident.  DJ Steward did not have a great game, scoring 14 in his 35 on court minutes (5-13; 2-8 from deep; 2-2 from the foul line).  He had a pair of assists and a pair of turnovers.  Two of his driving layups were sensational, but overall this was not one of his signature games.  Those three players scored 56 of Duke’s 67 points, while the entire rest of the team managed only 11 (Moore 4; Brakefield 4; Jalen 2; and Goldwire just 1).  If that doesn’t change, Duke is in for a long season.  

The Last 13 minutes

Duke had been down by as much as 18 in the first half, but battled back to trail by only a single point (56-55) with a little over 13 minutes to go.  Duke did not score for the next 4:14.  Hurt missed a 3; Moore missed a 3; Goldwire missed a 3; Steward missed a 3; Hurt turned it over; Roach missed a 3; Steward missed a 3; and Brakefield missed a 3 before Steward scored Duke’s next points on a sensational layup with 8:58 to go.  Duke was still only down by 4 (61-57).  After Cone hit a 3 for Tech, Roach missed a 3.  After D.J. pulled Duke within 5, JGold missed a pair of jumpers as Tech pulled ahead by 9.  Hurt hit a jump shot with 5:56 to go (68-61).  D.J. missed a jumper and Hurt misfired on a 3.  Goldwire was fouled; missed the first foul shot but gave Duke its 62nd point with the second shot.  68-62 with 3:43 left.  Goldwire missed a 3, but Roach was fouled on a difficult drive and converted both free throws.  Va. Tech 68 Duke 64 with 2:34 left.  This was a winnable game, but  those were Duke’s last points (again not counting Roach’s 3 at the buzzer since the game was over and Duke had lost).  In the telling last 2:34, Steward missed from deep; Roach missed a jumper; Hurt missed a jumper and Steward misfired again from deep with 42 seconds left. 74-64.

We have learned to love and have complete confidence in Duke basketball at what I call “winning time”.  This team will be trying to become Duke at winning time.  The players exist to do that – Hurt, Johnson, Moore, Roach, Steward, and Goldwire – but last night’s performance demonstrated the gap from where this team is now to where we hope it is going.   

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES 

[CliffsNotes are abbreviated study guides for lazy and/or inattentive students that present  literary and other works in condensed, summarized form (with which I was more than a little familiar). Detractors of these study guides contend they let students bypass rigorous reading and deep understanding of the assignment ]:

  • I don’t know why in the last five years or so winning at Virginia Tech has been so difficult for Duke teams. At first, I thought it was the venue and the raucous fans. Now, I have come to think they play with men and we are playing with boys. Whatever the case, you just cannot play well for twenty of forty minutes, spot an opponent 18 points, and beat a decent team.
  • Perhaps, it is the result of often seeming to be confused running a half-court offense, but if  you throw out Hurt’s three point shots, this team is not a good three point shooting team—and  their free throw percentage is also subpar.  Hopefully, this is a result of young players getting used to older, stronger, more experienced players in the ACC. For instance, staying another year has helped Hurt, who resembles a Danny Ferry with more range,  become a stronger, more polished player. Jeremy Roach is growing up right before our eyes. He is beginning to  like a third Jones brother. Notice that his year’s great Alabama team was seeded with senior players who passed on the NFL draft because they didn’t want to leave on the disappointing previous year. (Contrast that with the North Carolina stars who passed on participating in the first Tar Heel to a bowl game in years,  because they feared an injury would affect their draft status.)

Next PlayTuesday, January 19 away versus Pittsburgh at 9 pm on ACCN


Duke 73 – Pitt 79 (Season 12 Issue 10 Game 9) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Headlines: Jalen Johnson, who played his second “All World” half — the first being his first half against Coppin State in the first game of the season — was not enough to overcome Duke’s lack of defense — mostly a porous, foul-prone zone

Jalen Johnson’s return and absolutely amazing second half (18 points in 18 minutes with 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 assists and 0 turnovers) was the best (possibly only good) news for Duke.  Yet, he was not the Player of the Game!  That honor clearly belonged to Pittsburgh’s Justin Champagnie, who dominated Matt Hurt defensively in the first half (he held Matt to 4 first half points) while torching Duke for 31 points in 39 scintillating minutes (12-15 from the field, including 4-7 from deep; 3-6 from the stripe), grabbing 14 rebounds, and blocking 5 Duke shots).  Duke had no answers for him.  

Actually, Duke had no defensive answers in the first half, period. Even though the defense improved in the second half, Duke simply could not get stops when needed.  Several times, the Blue Devils prevented the first Pitt attempt, but failed to corral the rebound, giving critical second chance goals to Pitt.  When a team commits bushels of fouls on defense, it is a clear sign of defensive inadequacy.   Duke committed 37 fouls (17 in the first half), losing Johnson to his fifth foul with the game still very much in doubt.  Jeremy Roach also fouled out with 8 seconds left in what must be the worst half of a basketball game that he has ever played in his entire life (20 minutes; 0-6, including 0-3 from deep; 1-2 from the line, while committing 4 fouls)!

Duke reinforced my conclusion from last week — this is not a very good team right now, even though there are good players on the team, and it is coached by a Hall of Famer.  This is a work less mature in development than usual by this time of the year, because of playing so many fewer games due to COVID.  It is way too early to give up on this team, but the early returns are indeed disappointing. How bad is the team right now?  Bad.  Pitt will get a false sense of grandeur from beating Duke, because the truth is Pitt is barely middle of the sub-par ACC pack.  Even though  Duke was playing as poorly as the Devils did,  Pitt led by only  two points with 2 minutes to go in the game.  Pitt has much growing to do to become a post-season contender.   But not as much as Duke.

The First-Half Defense

After the Virginia Tech loss, Coach K installed a 1-2-2 – morphing into a 3-2 — zone defense for this game.  Duke started with the ponies on top – D.J. Steward, Roach, and JGold – with Hurt and another big in the back line (Brakefield started; committed 2 fouls in 3 minutes and never saw the floor again).  Jalen, when he entered the game, took that spot.  Coach K’s assessment of the zone’s efficiency is much more favorable than mine.  Pitt scored 43 first-half points, shooting wide open uncontested shots.  Champagnie scored 17 first-half points on only 9 shots. Pitt took advantage of Duke’s fouling to add 12 from the foul line on 17 free throws –Toney was 8-11 from the foul line.  Duke committed 12 first-half fouls — giving four Duke players two fouls each to begin the second half.  

The Second Half Provides Both Positive and Negative Insights About The Season

Jalen’s performance was jaw dropping.  He put this team on his shoulders, and virtually willed the Blue Devils back into the game (Duke was down 15 – 55-40 – with 16:39 left in the game).  Duke fought to within 2 points of the lead on 3 separate occasions – with 5:38 to go; with 2:03 to go; and with 1:21 to go.  The initial 30 minutes of this game was Matt Hurt’s first sub-par performance of the season.  Then, he became a force at crunch time, scoring all 9 of his second-half points in the last 10:39 of the game.  Wendell Moore was also good in the closing stanza, scoring 7 points in 18 minutes (His best statistic was 0 turnovers).  Moore was 3-5 from the field, including 1-1 from deep, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.  

It is the first game in which the pre-season expected-to-star players – Hurt, Moore and Johnson – all scored in double figures.  I designate one play as demonstrating the potential of the 2020-21 Devils.  With 5:38 to go, there was a furious scrum under the Pitt basket.  Hurt had a shot blocked but Roach grabbed the deflection.  His quick pass was intercepted for a breakaway Pitt layup, except that Moore made an unbelievable effort to chase the ball down and block the shot at the rim (breathtaking).  Moore then moved the ball up court, and passed it ahead to Jalen at the top of the key.  Jalen had been hot and had an open (good) shot.  He faked the shot and made a slick pass to Hurt in the corner (he had a better shot), who swished a 3 to bring Duke within 2.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

But the flaws were also exposed – especially in the backcourt.  D.J. played 17 second-half minutes without scoring or assisting.  Roach scored 1 in 20 minutes, with 2 assists and a turnover (while committing 4 fouls).  For the game, Roach had 3 assists against 4 turnovers, while D.J. had 2 assists and 2 turnovers.  Which brings us to Jordan Goldwire and senior leadership.  

For most of the season, JGold had been the glue for the offense and spark for the pressing defense, logging the most minutes of the guards.  It is indisputable that JGold had a terrible game against Virginia Tech in Duke’s last outing, scoring only a single point in 39 minutes.  Coach K is known for his motivational tactics with players.  I believe Coach K sent JGold the message  that this team needs him to play up to his potential for the team to achieve its potential by dramatically reducing his playing time.  Although he started, Goldwire played only 5 desultory first-half minutes, without a point, assist, or steal.  He missed his only shot and committed 2 personal fouls in that brief stint.  He played 4 minutes in the second half – 0 assists, rebounds or steals, but 2-2 from the field (one on a spectacular blind over-the-shoulder pass from Jalen) on open layups.  

The backcourt regressed on both ends of the court.  Duke didn’t press – the forte of the ponies.  Duke needs a JGold revival for there to be a Duke revival.  On the other hand, watching Jalen Johnson handle the ball, make great passes, and direct the offense might suggest that Coach K  make him the “point forward” or even point guard to run this team.  Neither Roach nor JGold has been satisfactory this year.

There also needs to be a revival of Duke’s defense, which has been consistent only in its prevalent fouling.  37 fouls in regulation is a catastrophe because it saps the ability to be aggressive on the defensive end and on the boards.  Jalen committed 4 second-half fouls trying to guard Champagnie, eventually fouling out with 2:16 left and the game very much in doubt.  Roach committed 4 second-half fouls.  The defense is clearly in disarray.  

“Winning Time”

We have learned to love and have complete confidence in Duke basketball at what I call “winning time”.  This team is trying to become “Duke at winning time”.  The players exist to accomplish that – Hurt, Johnson, Moore, Roach, Steward, and Goldwire – but last night’s performance demonstrated, yet again, the gap from where this team is now, to where we hope it is going.   Winning time is about getting needed stops, steals, protecting your defensive back board, and making key shots.  Duke’s last points were scored with 1:21 remaining; Roach and D.J. missed Duke’s remaining attempts.  Duke gave up second chance points, missed free throws, committed fouls, and could not get stops when it counted.  That has to change, and against teams that are better than Pitt.

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES

[CliffsNotes are abbreviated study guides for lazy and/or inattentive students that present  literary and other works in condensed, summarized form (with which I was more than a little familiar). Detractors of these study guides contend they let students bypass rigorous reading and deep understanding of the assignment ]:

The Duke “boys” played the Pitt “men” last night, which Alan thoroughly covered. After about four minutes (Duke trailing 8-2), I called Alan and said that I couldn’t watch anymore. Apparently, Coach K felt the same way, and before I could hang up, called a timeout, and substituted Jalen Johnson, who had been rehabbing his injured foot. Characteristically, the Blue Devils fought back from a very steep deficit, but Pitt was too tough and too good for them. Poor shooting  and poor defense inhibited any chance of winning. However, Jalen Johnson alone (24 pts, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks, 2 steals) kept the Devils competitive. I don’t want to go overboard off twenty minutes of basketball, but Johnson showed more versatility and offensive poise than Jason Tatum did at the same point in his career at Duke—and that is saying a lot. Clearly, the offense needs to run through him.

In the ACC, the best teams play hard and tough offensively and defensively—and consistently make shots. Right now only Johnson, Hurt, and Moore play above their size and weight. The others have to figure it out and that will determine the rotation.

Next Play: Saturday, January 23 away versus Louisville at 4 pm on ESPN


Duke 65- Louisville 70 (Season 12 Issue 11 Game 10) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Headlines:

Two middle of the pack ACC teams – Louisville and Duke — met last night in Louisville, each seeking to change its fortunes after 2 straight debilitating losses.  It was a tight 
competitive game between two non-elite teams. Duke turned out to be slightly worse.

As readers familiar with my bias know, I have advocated that postseason success is powered more by defense than offense (although this applies to the regular season as well).  In discussing the upcoming season in our first issue, I predicted this team would go as far as its defense would take it, after losing most of its offensive firepower from the 2019-2020 roster – Vernon Cary, Tre Jones, Cassius Stanley (all who left for the NBA and are now each languishing on the bench with scant playing time). The graduation of the late-developing Justin Robinson was also a serious loss to the team.

In my memory, I have not seen a K-coached team perform this miserably on the defensive end of the court.  Duke rolled out a zone defense against Virginia Tech because Duke’s man to man has been so ineffective against quality opponents.  Coach K said he hoped the zone would help stop the easy penetration of opposition guards, help Duke defend its backboard, and cut down on the Duke fouling.  That obviously did not work so well. Duke was so porous in the zone against Louisville, that Coach K elected to return to the ineffective man-to-man down the stretch.  Louisville’s 8-2 closing run to win the game was against the man-to-man defense.  In that space, Hurt committed his fifth foul with 1:50 to go and the score tied.  Duke scored to lead by 65-64 with 1:30 to go.  Louisville’s star point guard, Carlik Jones, for whom Duke had no defensive answers at winning time (with 5:16 left in a tie game, he scored 9 of Louisville’s last 11 points), burned Moore for the go-ahead bucket (66-65) with 1:18 left.  

The decisive play of the game came with 1:02 left, when Jalen committed an offensive foul (his 4th), turning the ball over to Louisville!  Duke finally got a stop, but Baker misfired on a wide open 3 that would have given Duke a 2 point lead with 33 seconds left.  With the shot clock turned off, Duke had to foul.  Jones was deadly, notching 4-4 from the line at closing time.  Duke could still have tied the game in the last 25 seconds when first Moore (18 seconds left) and D.J. (13 seconds left) bricked wide open 3 pointers.

Duke’s Defensive Malaise Is Compounded by the Fouling Propensity

Coach K at the post-game press conference: “We have to not foul as much.  In the last four games – it’s kind of crazy – our opponents have shot like 100 free throws and we have shot 50.  Are we using our hands too much?  We have to evaluate that.  It’s an extraordinary differential.  I’ve never had that with our program.  Most of the time we shoot more free throws.  But not that kind of a differential.  That’s too much.”   The statistics last night were beyond dramatic – Louisville SUNK TWICE AS MANY FREE THROWS AS DUKE ATTEMPTED!  Duke was 7-9 (5-5 in the second half) while Louisville was 18-24 from the stripe. 

The excessive fouling on defense is a sign of bad defense and impacts the game more than just allowing the opponent to score.  Matt Hurt, who had an almost “All World” first half (15 points on 6-8 from the field including 3-3 from deep; with 4 rebounds and 2 assists), fouled out at “winning time” in a tie game.  Jalen Johnson committed 4 fouls  in 21 minutes (bad), but his second half was awful – Jalen was limited to 6 second-half minutes, where he committed 3 of his 4 fouls.  Perhaps even more critical, is that fouling enervates Duke’s swarming pressing defense, which is designed to create live ball turnovers leading to fast break points.   How is this for a telling statistic:  Duke scored only a single fast break basket! Early in the season, the Duke defense disrupted offenses, making deflections, causing turnovers, and getting steals. Last night, the defense produced only 4 steals (Goldwire 2; Steward 1 and Baker 1).  It is fair to classify the Duke defense as dramatically ineffective so far.

What came through to me, as I watched Coach K’s press conference, is that he is as flummoxed as we are at the lack of progress that this team has made and is making on both ends of the floor – but especially on defense.  He said he needs time to study, think and figure out how to improve (what political-speak!).   He’d better think quickly. Last week, Champagnie of Pitt torched the Devils; this week it was Jones of Louisville.  The Devil defense has to be fixed or Duke will fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995!

The Offense

Matt Hurt was the offense, scoring 24 points in his 35 minutes before fouling out (9-13 from the field including 4-5 from deep and 2-3 from the line).  He also garnered 8 rebounds.  However, Matt was missing in action for an extended period of the second half.  He scored the opening layup to start the concluding stanza; and followed a D.J. goal with a 3.  After less than 2 minutes, Hurt had 5 second-half points (20 for the game).  He only scored four more points in the half (2 free throws with 6:19 left; and a field goal with 4:51 remaining in the game).  Matt is asked to do so much for this team, that I believe he wore down and was not a force at “winning time”.  Still,  Matt was easily the best Duke player in the game.

Jalen Johnson is proving an enigma.  He committed his first foul 50 seconds into the game.  While Jalen scored Duke’s first five points in the opening 2:28 of the game, his turnovers caused Coach K to limit Johnson’s first-half playing time slightly (15 first half minutes).  Jalen’s first turnover came in the first 26 seconds of the game, and was followed by 4 more first half turnovers (with 0 assists).  Johnson had one more first half basket giving him 7 points for the half (1-5 after his opening 5 points, missing his only long range attempt).  His second half was worse. Only 51 seconds had elapsed before Jalen committed his second foul of the game.  Thereafter, his 3 second half fouls limited Jalen to 6 minutes of playing time in the concluding period.  He scored Duke’s last points with 1:30 left on a layup to give the Blue Devils the 1 point lead.  Jalen’s second-half cameo included 1 rebound, but yet another turnover.  There is no doubt that having Jalen blossom into fulfilling the potential he showed against Coppin State (season opener) and Virginia Tech (most recent game) is essential if Duke is going to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

The Duke backcourt has been regressing in recent games.  Duke has no guard to run the offense.  Coach K has installed Jeremy Roach as the principal lead guard with support from the senior leader, Goldwire, and the preseason Wooden Watch candidate Wendell Moore.  Shockingly, Duke managed only 7 assists against Louisville. Moore led with only 3 in 34 minutes (2 turnovers); Roach notched a pair of assists in his 26 minutes while turning it over twice.  He did not score a single point in the game!  Goldwire had 1 assist without a turnover in his 27 minutes, while Baker also added one without a turnover in his 17 minutes.  

It is not just the turnovers and lack of assists that is limiting Duke, it is the failure of the Duke perimeter to penetrate and make the defense switch and try to adjust.  As Coach K said (echoing what I had said to Bill at half time), Duke is not moving the ball with purpose.  The ball moves, but around the perimeter without penetration.  The only move to the interior is the pass to Hurt in the post.  This is, said Coach K, a major reason Duke is not getting to the foul line.  D..J. was 4-4 from the stripe, the only backcourt player to attempt a free throw.  Neither Moore, Goldwire nor Roach attempted a free throw against Louisville.  Ouch!

Which takes us to D.J. Steward.  He is fun to watch, with lots of sizzle in his game.  But it appears that he too has regressed; just not as dramatically as the rest of the backcourt.  D.J. was Duke’s second leading scorer against Louisville with 13 points in 29 minutes (4-8 from the field, including 1-4 from deep) without an assist (2 turnovers).  He had a steal and a block while committing 3 fouls.  D.J. has the most potential on the perimeter ( Moore’s production has not come close to matching preseason expectations), but D.J. seems to have regressed also.  His sizzle is in the open court.  The zone saps aggressiveness, limiting D.J.’s effectiveness on defense and in the open court. 

Finally, Duke’s attempt to find an adequate big man in the middle — allowing Hurt and Jalen to be the forwards — seems to have  fizzled.  The candidates recruited were graduate transfer Patrick Tapé, as well as freshmen Mark Williams, Henry Coleman IV and to a lesser extent Jaemyn Brakefield.  None of those four have cracked the rotation for consistent double digit minutes.  None of the four seem to be even close to ready for ACC competition (though I feel Brakefield is ahead of the other three).  A competent big would give Duke an additional desirable asset on offense, in rebounding, and in protecting the rim.  So far, just a forlorn hope.

Conclusion So Far

There are some good players on the roster, many of whom will go on to a successful professional hoops career.  But for reasons both understandable (few games, injuries, COVID’s distractions) and perplexing (talented players failing to play to their predicted potential), Duke has dramatically failed to live up to preseason expectations (Duke was ranked in the top 10 preseason and is now on the brink of failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament).  Why?  The whole is less than the sum of its parts! — so far.

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

[CliffsNotes are abbreviated study guides for lazy and/or inattentive students that present  literary and other works in condensed, summarized form (with which I was more than a little familiar). Detractors of these study guides contend they let students bypass rigorous reading and deep understanding of the assignment]

  • We are used to seeing Duke basketball teams make more free throws than their opponent takes, have more assists than turnovers, shoot nearly 50% from the floor, 70+% from the foul line, and nearly 40% from three point land. Subtract Matthew Hurt’s numbers from the totals and obviously, so far this year, this team neither shoots well, nor defends on an elite level. Having said all that, they still somehow manage to be in a position to close out these games. Tonight, they had 3 open threes in the last seconds to tie or win the game.  Didn’t happen. Both Hurt and Johnson had fouled out and were spectators on the bench. Solve one or two of these issues, and there could well be a different outcome. 
  • Coach K: “Our kids were prepared. They played hard. They played winning basketball. I feel so bad for Joey (Baker) because he has worked so hard. We’re down by one and he has the shot that he has dreamed of and worked hard for and the thing is in and out and I feel bad for him. Again, if the basketball gods are good to him then we would have benefitted. We missed two wide open shots again — good shots – to tie the game. It was a one-possession game most of the whole game, so you can take a play here or a play there. We turned it over too much to start the game. I am disappointed for these kids because they are a good group. It has been a really tough year for a whole bunch of reasons. And their attitudes are so good and they have worked so hard in preparations and during the game, you’d like to see them get rewarded. We lost to a good team. They had that Jones (Carlik) who can really control the game especially at the end of the game. It was a tough loss for us.”
  • Hate to point it out, but as Bill Parcells famously said when his players contended they were better than their record. “You are your record.” I don’t know what goes on in practice, but, sadly, Joey Baker’s record as a three point shooter has regressed over three years. As a matter of fact, other than Hurt, who is terrific at 47%, only Brakefield, Goldwire and Steward barely break 30%, which is terrible. Years ago, my tennis coach Don Henson told me a truism that holds for all sports: “There are three levels in this game. You have to be able to hit a shot in practice, in a match, and on a big point.”
  • Jalen Johnson is the key to this team’s season but his inconsistency is troubling. Tonight, he had almost as many turnovers as points—that’s not enough points and too many turnovers. And he was not on the court in many of the important closing minutes. Unless there is a larger Jalen-attitude or team-chemistry problem, this may be a fixable situation.  Johnson has shown periods of multiple talents – if he can sustain his good play consistently that would make this a different team on both ends of the floor.  An offense running through Jalen keeps Hurt from being double teamed, opens shots up for others, and strengthens the team defensively down low.
  • It’s a bad year for the Basketball Bluebloods: This was the first week since 1961 that neither Duke, Kentucky, or North Carolina are not ranked in the top twenty.

Next Play: Saturday, January 27, in Cameron versus Georgia Tech at 9 pm on ESPN


Duke 75- Georgia Tech 68 (Season 12 Issue 12 Game 11) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS:  Duke Basketball Playbook (DBP) 2020-2021 # 12

Headline:

  1. Duke’s defense stopped fouling, committing only 10 fouls in the entire game, while drawing 17.  The Devils allowed Georgia Tech to shoot only 5 free throws (4-5) while the Blue Devils went to the line 22 times.  The result was both a wonderful first half and “winning time” defense.
  2. Jordan Goldwire demonstrated how a solid lead guard runs an offense.  It was his career best performance – exactly what this team needs!  JGold didn’t start, but logged 35 minutes, including all 20 minutes of the second half.  He had 7 assists against a single turnover, while providing a steady guide.  On defense, JGold finally — at “winning time” —  shut down Georgia Tech’s star, Jose Alvarado, after Alvarado had had his own way for the entire second half (18 second half points). And, oh yes, Goldwire made THE WINNING PLAY OF THE GAME – with 1:01 to go and Duke leading by a single point, Georgia Tech had the ball striving to re-take the lead. At that crucial moment, JGold stole the ball from Alvarado. Duke ball with a chance to increase the lead. Duke did just that when JGold made 2 clutch free throws. Then he sealed the deal, by grabbing an offensive rebound with 18 seconds left, which closed out the game.
  3. D.J. Steward (19), Jalen Johnson (18; 16 in the second half) and Hurt (17) gave Duke a solid triumvirate of scorers.
  4. Mark Williams played 12 minutes (6 points; 6 rebounds and a steal).  He is earning more time and giving Duke a presence in the middle – especially on defense. 

Duke’s Defense 

Coach K at the post-Pittsburgh game press conference last Saturday: “We have to not foul as much.  In the last four games – it’s kind of crazy – our opponents have shot like 100 free throws and we have shot 50.  Are we using our hands too much?  We have to evaluate that.  It’s an extraordinary differential.  I’ve never had that with our program.  Most of the time we shoot more free throws.  But not that kind of a differential.  That’s too much.”   Those statistics were beyond dramatic – Louisville had SUNK TWICE AS MANY FREE THROWS AS DUKE ATTEMPTED!  Duke had been 7-9 (5-5 in the second half), while Louisville shot 18-24 from the stripe. 

Duke’s adjustments after the Louisville game were obviously effective.  This time, Duke beat Georgia Tech  at the foul line (18-22) just 3 days later, holding the Ramblin’ Wreck to a mere 5 attempts .  In the first half, the Blue Devils committed only 6 fouls – 2 by Roach, who started, but played less than 4 minutes in the second half (15 for the game); 2 by Jalen, which essentially took him out of the game in the first half (8 minutes; 2 points); and 2 by Moore.

In at least the first half, Devils played their best defense of the year, limiting the Ramblin’ Wreck to 10-31 from the field, including 3-13 from deep (32%), and kept Tech off the line (2-3).   Defensive woes reappeared in the second half, as Alvarado torched the young Devils with penetration, shooting, and passing.  Alvarado was simply unstoppable, shooting over Duke’s ineffective contests and then driving to the basket for layups or dazzling assists.  Duke’s defense had no answer… Alvarado was 7-9 from the field in the closing period, including 2-2 from behind the arc.  He dished 4 second-half assists and had 3 steals – 2 of which were hustle swipes from a Duke post (Hurt once and Johnson once).  Alvarado kept the Ramblin’ Wreck in the game almost single handedly.  But that changed dramatically with the game on the line and the clock winding down.

Against Virginia Tech, Pitt, and Louisville, Duke had been torched by the opponents’ respective stars in the last minutes, leading to 3 consecutive conference losses.  Last night against Georgia Tech, with the score so close and Alvarado in full swing, I was visualizing a fourth loss in the same fashion.  However, JGold stepped into the breach.  He hounded Alvarado, and made him give up the ball.  JGold and Duke gave up an Alvarado 3 with 3:21 to go, but the Tech star never scored again.  Goldwire was Duke’s most valuable player – especially with the game on the line!

The Offense

Scoring

Duke had four double digit scorers who racked up 65 of Duke’s 75 points.  D.J. Steward had a superb all-around game, while scoring 19 points in 37 and ½ minutes.  Steward was 5-12, including 3-6 from deep and, critically, 6-6 from the stripe.  He added 5 boards, 3 assists, and a steal, all without a turnover.  Matt Hurt likewise played 37 and ½ minutes, while scoring 17 points (6-11 from the field, but only 1-4 from deep and 4-6 from the line).  Matt was more valuable to the team than just his scoring —  he drew 7 fouls; he led Duke in rebounding with 8, and hit crucial difficult shots at crunch time.  

Jalen’s second half was his third “all world” half this season.   Being limited to a single field goal in the first half, Johnson flashed his “lottery selection” form in the second half with 16 points in 18 minutes.  After 1-3 in the first half, Jalen was 6-8 in the second, plus 4-6 from the stripe.  Johnson also grabbed 4 rebounds, while handing out 2 assists, and contributing 2 blocks and 2 steals, all without fouling.  While Jalen led Duke in the second half, Hurt also had 13 and D.J. 7, the three of them netting 36 of Duke’s 42 second-half points.  JGold’s 4 and Moore’s 2 were Duke’s remaining second-half scorers.

Leadership and Running the Offense

The fourth double digit scorer was Goldwire, who gets my “game ball” for this amazing all around performance.  JGold scored 11 in his 35 minutes (4-7 from the field, including perfect 1-1 from deep and 2-2 from the stripe) while handing out 7 assists against 1 turnover.  Coach K played him the entire second half because of his creative assists, reliable ball security, raptor-like defense, and, most of all, his compelling leadership.  JGold added 5 boards and 2 steals (one was the game winner).  Vindication after some serious struggles.  Duke will thrive with THIS JGold at the helm!

Future Potential

Mark Williams moved sharply ahead of the other big men, with 6 points and 6 rebounds (3 offensive).  Williams made the Tech defense contract in order to stop him from overpowering them down low.  Mark’s shooting range is still only one foot, but his potential – both personally and to the team – becomes apparent.

The Rotation

Matt and D.J. led the way with 37 and ½ minutes each, and JGold just behind with 35 minutes logged.  The remaining “starter minutes” were Wendell Moore with 29, and Jalen with only 24  —  as a result of being limited to only 8 first-half minutes because of his two quick personal fouls.  Duke used only two reserves for more than cameo appearances.  Mark Williams logged 12 potential-filled moments, and showed some excellent defense.  The other reserve was the slump-ridden Jeremy Roach.  

After his superb performance against Virginia Tech, Roach’s shot just stopped falling, and his floor game suffered as a result.  Against Georgia Tech, he logged almost 16 minutes, but less than 4 of those were in the second half.  His stats demonstrate why Coach K had no confidence in him with the game on the line.  Roach was (again) scoreless (0-3; all from deep) with 0 assists and 2 turnovers.  He contributed a rebound (in traffic) and a steal.  Duke needs him to return to his Virginia Tech shooting form.

In his press conference, Coach K complimented both Goldwire and Moore as providing great ball handling and much needed and valued leadership.  Moore’s play did not merit his inclusion with JGold, in my opinion.  K’s  praise, I believe, was more motivational for the future than an accurate assessment of Moore’s performance against the Ramblin’ Wreck.  In his 29 minutes, Moore scored only 4 (1-5; 2-2 from the line) while handing out 3 assists, but committing 4 turnovers and 3 personal fouls.  He grabbed 4 defensive rebounds, but had no steals.  Moore’s inconsistency is holding back this team’s growth.  He is still the player on this team that is the furthest from reaching his potential.

Cameo appearances were made by Jaemyn Brakefield (2 minutes; 2 boards and a missed shot); Henry Coleman III ( 3 and ½ minutes with a rebound); and the snake-bit Joey Baker, who managed 2 missed shots, including a wide open 3, and a turnover in his 2 minutes.

The Big Picture

This was a much needed win for Duke and is the reason for cautious optimism going forward.  The caution is warranted because Duke’s last four conference games have not been against elite teams.  For example, UNC visited Pitt last night and handed the Panthers, who beat Duke last Saturday, a 75-65 loss.  Duke has not faced the league-leading Virginia (11-1; 7-0 in the conference) or Florida State (8-1; 5-1).   Duke plays 2 more middle-of-the-ACC-pack teams next, Clemson and Miami, before being truly tested by UNC on February 6.  There is no question that this Duke win was positive medicine.

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

[CliffsNotes are abbreviated study guides for lazy and/or inattentive students that present  literary and other works in condensed, summarized form (with which I was more than a little familiar). Detractors of these study guides contend they let students bypass rigorous reading and deep understanding of the assignment]

  •  This was a pretty good imitation of Duke Basketball. Alan covered the details that tell the story: better defense, balanced scoring, getting to the foul line – and shooting 80%. As Ernie Lewis, my golf coach, always says: “Now, let’s confirm it (by repeating the shot)”. 
  • Mark Williams, who has been missing in action, was a productive force in the first half. In a year or so, I believe he will be the defensive center piece of a very good Duke team. Unfortunately, Joey Baker and Jeremy Roach are playing themselves out of significant playing time. I don’t understand why Brakefield isn’t the sixth man. He is big, athletic, and shoots the three better than anyone not named Matthew Hurt.
  • It was a pleasure watching Jordan Goldwire have such an instrumental role in this important win. I cannot remember any Duke player improving more in his tenure.

Next Play: Saturday, January 30, in Cameron versus Clemson at 12:00 pm on ESPN


Duke 79- Clemson 53 (Season 12 Issue 13 Game 12) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Against Clemson yesterday, Duke produced so many positives as the Devils’ played their best game of the season at both ends of the court that it is a pleasant quandary to decide which bag of goodies to open and analyze first.  ESPN’s so-called “bracketologist” opined Duke would not be invited into the NCAA tournament field.  ESPN statistics conceded only a 19.8% chance that Duke would  be invited, even after the win over Georgia Tech.  Duke’s performance against Clemson should send the resident “bracketoglogist” back to his Ouija Board to recalculate.  If, as Coach K and his players believe, the performance against Clemson constitutes the launching pad from which this young team continues to improve and “gel”, Duke is not only going to the NCAA tournament, but will also be a feared opponent for any team.  Duke’s performance against Clemson was transformational.  After 3 straight losses, I had written that “for reasons both understandable (few games, injuries, COVID’s distractions) and perplexing (talented players failing to play to their predicted potential), Duke has dramatically failed to live up to preseason expectations (Duke was ranked in the top 10 preseason and is now on the brink of failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament).  Why?  The whole is less than the sum of its parts! — so far.”

The Whole Was Dramatically Superior to the Sum of the Duke Parts

Duke was a fabulous cohesive unit against Clemson on both ends of the court.  On offense, the scoring was evenly balanced among 8 players.  Duke did not have a player in double figures in the first half even though the Blue Devils lit it up for 41 points.  Hurt led the first-half scoring with 8 points, followed by Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams with 7 each,  Moore with 6, Johnson and D.J. Steward with 5 each, and Joey Baker with a 3.   In the second half, Duke scored 38 points, with D.J. Steward’s 6 points leading the way.  Hurt, Moore, and Roach each scored 5; while Jalen, Mark Williams and JGold scored 4 each.  Joey Baker had a 3 (1-5 from long range in the closing stanza) and Mike Buckmire (walk on) scored his first basket for Duke’s last deuce.  That’s efficient balance! The team was a unified entity, whose cohesiveness came shining through. This was the Duke team finally in bloom.

Duke was just as in sync on the defensive end, shutting Clemson down so fiercely that, for all practical purposes, the game was over early in the first half.  In that opening period, Duke allowed Clemson just 16 points in the first 15:38; and only 8 points in the initial 12:37.  Duke’s switching was so smooth that an open look for a Clemson player was a rarity.  Duke led 41-22 at the half. It is a tribute to this young team that the Devils never allowed Clemson back in the game in spite of the human tendency to relax with such a big lead.  Coach K lauded, “At the start of the second half, we played like a veteran team and not allowing a big lead to determine how hard or how well we would play.”  Duke conceded just 53 points in the entire game to a team that won 9 of its first 10 games (before COVID caused an interruption to the Clemson season).  The Tigers beat Louisville (a team that beat Duke last Saturday) on Tuesday for its 10th win (10-4 prior to last night’s shellacking).  Duke put on a defensive performance worthy of Coach K’s philosophy.

The Continuing Tantalizing Emergence of Mark Williams

Elizabeth Williams’s baby brother, Mark, had his best game by far.  (Btw, her jersey hangs in the rafters with those of other all-time Duke greats).  In 14 minutes, Mark scored 11 points (4-6 from the field and 3-5 from the line), while grabbing 5 boards and blocking a shot.  Bill and I both believe that he had several back taps on offensive rebounds that resulted in Duke’s continuing possession that was not accounted for in the stat sheet.  Mark is Duke’s best rim protector and is learning both defense and how to be a force on the interior.  If Williams’ improvement continues, it is another reason no team will want to face Duke in the early rounds of the tournament (not in the later rounds either to be fair, but getting to the later rounds makes a successful season).  Coach K is pleased: “A big thing for Mark is because we weren’t able to play a lot of games in exhibitions, it took him a while to learn what college basketball is all about physicality wise. In the last week or 10 days, he’s really got a good understanding of that. He can be physical without fouling and someone can be physical with you and not foul. … the other thing is moving your feet and he’s done a good job with it.” 

Duke’s Defense Has Stopped Fouling in the Last Two Games

After a foul-prone and shoddy defense in the early going, the Blue Devils played a second straight game of efficient defense without fouling.  The improvement has been breathtaking, and allowed Coach K to retire the zone that had been employed as a band aid (primarily employed to protect Duke from fouling opponents who were driving to the hoop).  Duke played man-to-man the way Duke has done in the Coach K era.  The Blue Devils committed only 6 fouls in the opening half; 13 for the game.  Steward and Hurt each committed 2 first-half fouls, but only a single second-half foul apiece.  Moore committed 3 second-half fouls.  Those three were the only Duke players with as many as 3 fouls.  What a difference that makes!

Goldwire’s Floor Generalship Continued

JGold had lost his starting position for the game against Georgia Tech last Tuesday, and then came off the bench to play the best game of his career, leading Duke in his 35 minutes.  Goldwire was rewarded with the start against Clemson, and his play was just as good, maybe better.  He was the steady hand throughout, handing out 5 assists without a turnover.  JGold also contributed 2 steals and 6 rebounds while scoring 4 points (2-6 from the field including 0-3 from deep).  Coach K had Goldwire on the floor for 34 minutes (substantially more than any other Duke player) demonstrating who Coach K believes  has the ability to lead this team. JGold’s reemergence is a  big part of why the whole is beginning to exceed the parts.

The Offense and The Rotation

Transformingly, Duke had 20 assists against only 9 turnovers.  Jalen joined JGold with 5 assists each, while Hurt, Roach and Steward had 3 each.  Moore had the other assist.  D.J. did not have his best game, turning it over 4 times.  He committed 2 offensive fouls in 90 seconds in the early going, which resulted in Coach K substituting for him.  Duke’s scoring was efficiently balanced.  Hurt in 28 minutes led with 13 (4-7 from the field, including a cold 1-4 from deep, but 4-4 from the stripe); Roach bounced back with a solid game, scoring 12 (4-7 from the field, including 2-5 from deep and 2-2 from the foul line) while handing out 3 assists in 23 and ½ minutes; Wendell Moore (24 minutes), Mark (14 minutes) and D.J. (22 minutes) each scored 11.  Jalen added 9 in his 28 minutes of superb all around play.  Baker added 6 (2-6 from deep) in 14 minutes; and JGold’s 4 rounded out the scoring from those logging starter minutes.

Besides the 8 scorers above, Brakefield (4 minutes), Tapé and Coleman (2 and 1/2 minutes each) were all scoreless.

The Big Picture

As Coach K expressed, “We’re not this outstanding team. We’re a good team with great kids who are trying to get through this whole thing without the experience of a Fall and a non-conference. With a younger team, it’s going to take time.”  However, you can see this team grow as Jalen’s all around talent flowers, JGold and Roach emerge from slumps, D.J. burnishes his sizzle, and Elizabeth’s baby brother becomes a force.  Hurt has been an improvement over last year in every aspect of his game.  The potential for a season to make Duke fans smile has not been extinguished.

The calendar now turns to February with two games this week – at Miami on Monday and the initial game against UNC in Cameron next Saturday.  The test is for Duke to achieve consistency in its performances without serious backsliding.  This is a team that could fulfill its potential and make ESPN’s “bracketologist” eat every syllable of his dire prediction, or, if the improvement stagnates or dissolves, it will make him look like a seer.  We are all on for this ride, which looks far more promising than it did a week ago.

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

[CliffsNotes are abbreviated study guides for lazy and/or inattentive students that present  literary and other works in condensed, summarized form (with which I was more than a little familiar). Detractors of these study guides contend they let students bypass rigorous reading and deep understanding of the assignment]

  •  Two in a row! Well, I guess Coach K’s job is safe for a while longer. 
  • Deep into the first half, I thought ESPN2 was showing a tape from the good old days when Duke played good defense which led to good, loosey, goosey offense. Holy top ten, Dickie V, look at that ball movement and touch passes. These guys look like they have been playing together for years. And is that Elizabeth Williams’ not-so-little bro Mark (11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 14 minutes) playing like his All-American Big Sis?
  • I couldn’t resist…. called Johnny Tar Heel to be sure he could see what a well-coached team looked like.
  • In Coach K’s words: “In the three losses, we were in position to win at certain moments. 55-55 against Virginia Tech and three straight exchanges, we were horrible offensively and it hurt us. Against Pitt, it was a one possession game. Against Louisville, we took a step up and really played well enough to be deserving of winning. It wasn’t like you messed up … you just missed. We’re not this outstanding team. We’re a good team with great kids who are trying to get through this whole thing without the experience of a Fall and a non-conference. With a younger team, it’s going to take time. They may never develop because you could lose confidence. Our guys are continuing to work hard and hopefully we can continue that against Miami on Monday.”

Next Play: Monday, February 1, in Cameron versus Miami at 7:00 pm on ESPN


Duke 75- Miami 77 (Season 12 Issue 14 Game 13) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Before the game began last night, I texted Bill that this was a classic “trap” game, which would make the game more of a nail-biter than the difference between the two teams suggested it would be.  Duke was a double-digit favorite after the best outing of the season against Clemson on Saturday.  Miami was 2-9 in the league, shooting under 30 % from behind the arc and giving up a league-high number of deep 3s on the other end.  But other human factors lurked.  Duke had only a day to savor the destruction of Clemson, which was based on Duke’s best defensive effort of the year (all man-to-man), handing out 20 assists and scoring at will on offense. And the young Devils were salivating for their first experience in the Duke-UNC classic rivalry on Saturday (February 6).  The Blue Devils had won two in a row, and would actually contend for the ACC title, if Miami and UNC were conquered as the calendar turned Crucial February.  In hindsight, it is obvious that Duke went to Miami expecting to win easily.  Although Bill dissents [See his CliffsNotes below], the”human factor” scenario is the classic set up for the “trap” into which these young Devils stumbled.

Humble crow will be consumed by your authors.  I retract my snarky reference to ESPN’s “so-called Bracketology guru”, whom I derided for predicting Duke would fail to be invited to the NCAA tournament.  There is no disputing that the Blue Devils did not appear to be NCAA worthy last night.  Bill’s snark to Johnny Tar Heel was a similarly rendered fandom-driven error by Duke’s soggy play against Miami.  (Nice response from Johnny Tar Heel in the CliffsNotes.)

Duke’s Descent to Previous Incompetence Is So Disappointing After the Transformation Against Clemson

Coach K’s perfect words are too bitter-tasting to put in my own mouth, so I’ll let him speak for both of us: “I’m disappointed in our team. It was a quick turnaround. We had two really good games and we acted like a really young team against a team that’s had a lot of—they’re still talented. Jim’s team’s talented. They’re older and they’ve lost close games  …  I don’t know on the quick turnaround if our guys felt this was going to be easy. We did not play well, bottom line. We can go through a whole bunch of things; I didn’t think we competed. I thought we were soft and I saw it in practice yesterday and tried to take steps to change that and we were not able to change it. I’m really disappointed in our team. They did not play like a Duke basketball team tonight and obviously I’m responsible for that. The last two games we won and were deserving to win; we were not tonight. We threw the ball to them about five times and threw it right to them and they got layups and we were very soft. We were very soft and just extremely disappointed, extremely disappointed. … When you get a one-possession lead, if you are really fighting this game, you get a stop. We did not get stops and a couple times just gave them the ball and they got something free. 

“They are really young and for us to win, we have to play really hard and well together. We’re just a good basketball team. We don’t have the old—we have talent, don’t get me wrong. We have to really play hard to win and if we don’t play hard, we’re going to lose. If we play hard, we still might lose. We’re going to get better and get after it, but we didn’t play hard tonight. It’s sad. It really is sad. … The best teacher is experience in anything and you have to learn from those experiences. Yeah, we brought that up like don’t be happy, be hungry. I told them, if we do the job, be happy on Tuesday and be really happy and giddy and so none of that worked. None of that worked. Again, that’s on me and I’m not just saying that. It is on me to get your message across. I wasn’t able to get my message across.”  (Emphasis added)

How Bad Was it?

Mark Williams, in just under 15 minutes, had twice as many assists as the combined efforts of D.J.(0 assists in 33 minutes), JGold (1 assist in 35 minutes), and Roach (0 assists in 12 minutes).  After dishing out 20 assists with only  8 turnovers against Clemson, against Miami, against Miami, Duke had only 8 assists (Moore, 3; Williams and Jalen Johnson each with 2 + Goldwire’s only 1), but 13 turnovers (Jalen, 4, JGold, 3, and Moore 2).  Duke threw the ball away repeatedly, had passes tipped and intercepted so frequently that 13 turnovers seems like an artificially low number.  In the second half, with the game on the line, Duke had only 2 assists (JGold’s only one plus one for Moore).  The Blue Devils were 5-18 from behind the arc and shot less than 50% from the field.  The offense was truly awful, but Duke lost the game on the defensive end.  As Coach K succinctly put it, “We couldn’t stop them. Our man-to-man was horrible.”  Duke retreated to the zone, and was destroyed.  Miami put the ball in the middle of the zone as soon as Duke’s perimeter edged out to prevent Miami’s 3 point shooting.  The zone was the same disaster that it has been recently.  Coach K: “It didn’t matter what we played, we didn’t play it well.”  Miami has been one of the worst deep-shooting teams in all of college basketball.  Last night, Duke “held” Miami to 5-6 from deep in the second half and over 50 % for the game.  Miami shot over 60% from the field in the second half (17-28), while torching the Blue Devils with 44 second-half points.  Duke did not even try to even try to contest Miami’s perimeter shots – sometimes there was not even a Blue Devil in the camera frame when Miami players launched.  Duke shots were contested; Miami’s were not.  Miami scored on layups, almost without resistance (40 points in the paint).  Even when Duke seemingly achieved a stop; the Devils could not complete the successful defensive sequence by securing the rebound of the missed shot.  Allowing second-chance points was one of Duke’s defensive soft spots..  

The final play of the game serves perhaps as a snapshot of Duke’s futility against the Hurricanes:  Miami kept the door open for Duke by missing crucial foul shots.  With 4.3 seconds left and Duke down by 2 (the final score), the Devils had to foul.  Astonishingly, Miami left the door ajar by missing the front end of the 1 and 1.  Duke had a chance to tie or win, but failed to even get a shot off.  Sloppy possession at the single most crucial moment of the game.

The Rotation

Coach K traditionally reduces the rotation when fine-tuning Duke for the run up to the post-season.  Last night, it was apparent that the calendar had changed.  If one discounts Joey Baker’s 2 minute cameo (without a statistic) in the second half, only 7 Duke players saw game action.  

Matt Hurt played a game high 38 minutes scoring a Duke-leading 21 points (7-14 from the field, including a disastrous 1-6 from deep, and a compensating 6-7 from the line).  However, Matt grabbed only 3 boards and turned it over once.  He added a block.

Wendell Moore played his best game in some time. In 35 minutes he scored an efficient 18 points on only 9 attempts (7-9 from the field, including 1-1 from deep and 3-3 from the stripe), while dishing out a Duke-high 3 assists (2 turnovers),  corralling 6 boards, and making a steal.  Moore is Duke’s most positive takeaway from this extremely disappointing game.

Jordan Goldwire played badly (after 2 great games) in his 35 minutes, scoring only 5 points (2-10 from the field including missing wide open layups; 1-4 from deep).  JGold turned it over 3 times (with only a single assist).  He had a pair of steals.  His play has mirrored Duke’s performances — both against Clemson (wonderful!) and against Miami (ugh!).

D.J. Steward scored 14 points on 13 shots in his 34 minutes (5-13 from the field, including 2-5 from 3land, and 2-2 from the stripe).  D.J. grabbed 6 rebounds (he is a terrific rebounding guard), but failed to dish out an assist, while turning it over once.  Duke was not able to press and run against Miami (D.J. thrives when the Devils do that); Duke had only 4 fast break points.

Jalen Johnson continues to perplex with his dramatic inconsistency.  The gurus believe he is a lottery pick and will be one-and-done.  Not judging from last night’s checkered performance!  In 26 minutes, Jalen scored 13 (6-12 from the field, including 0-1 from behind the arc and 1-1 from the stripe).  He led Duke in rebounding with 7, and handed out 2 assists against a troubling 4 turnovers.  Jalen played a strong second half after a desultory first period where he scored only 2 points in 12 minutes. Like the Longfellow poem, “when [he] was good, [he] was very very good, but when [he] was bad, [he] was horrid.”

Mark Williams, playing for 16 minutes, made his only field goal attempt,for 2 points.  However, he contributed 3 rebounds, 4 blocked shots, 2 assists and a steal, while committing 2 fouls and a turnover.  He played only 6 second-half minutes.  His upside is hard to miss or ignore.

Jeremy Roach failed to contribute meaningfully after his excellent outing against Clemson.  Jeremy scored 2 points in 14 minutes (1-3; 0-1 from deep) without an assist (1 turnover).  Roach played only 5 second-half minutes.

Duke went with the starters for the entire second half – Hurt 20 minutes, Moore and Goldwire 18 minutes each, D.J. 17 minutes, and Jalen 14.  It is hard to imagine how that unit could have played worse on defense, allowing Miami over 60% shooting, while giving up 44 points. 

The Big Picture

Carolina comes to Cameron on Saturday, giving the young Blue Devils a chance to earn their way into The Big Dance.  They were well on the outside of the tournament even before last night’s humiliation, according to ESPN “bracketology”.  If the Duke team that slaughtered Clemson shows up, Duke will have better than a fighting chance.  If the team that traveled to Miami plays Carolina on Saturday, I am not looking forward to writing the next DBP.

Game on!  Season On!

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

[CliffsNotes are abbreviated study guides for lazy and/or inattentive students that present  literary and other works in condensed, summarized form (with which I was more than a little familiar). Detractors of these study guides contend they let students bypass rigorous reading and deep understanding of the assignment]

Alan called this a “trap game”.  I disagree, because a definition of a “trap game” is one in which a playoff contender faces a losing team, but one that still has some motivation for playing hard, and possesses some matchup advantages. That is oh for two, because:

 1). Duke is a pretender not a contender. A reminder of what the great NFL Coach Bill Parcells said: “ You are what your record says you are.”

2). Except for Boston College, Miami is the worst team in a suddenly mediocre ACC — AND was missing four starters.

After Duke’s disappointing start to the season and a couple of impressive wins, an inability to “get up” or whatever for a “gimme” momentum game is just inexcusable for such formerly highly rated players. And speaking of overrated, despite a number of impressive plays, even halves, Jalen Johnson is too inconsistent….makes too many silly, casual mistakes—travelling, sloppy passes, fouls, not consistently playing hard and smart—to make my draft list.

 Coach K: “I told them, ‘if you come down to Miami to play, you will lose. If you come down to Miami to compete, we will win’. . . . A single game is the most selfish thing in our game. It is selfish because it does not care about what you did in the previous game. It does not care what you’re going to do in a future game. If you do not come completely immersed in it, it will not reward you.”

Johnny Tar Heel texted me: “I liked what Coach K had to say. Let’s face it, these one-and-done hot shots don’t have the maturity or guts to compete consistently at this level. They’ve been pampered and told how great they were from the 9th grade. But do they know how to compete? Nobody is going to roll over for them particularly this year when Duke hasn’t been near as good or dominant as in years past.”

Next Play: Saturday February 6, in Cameron versus UNC at 6:00 pm on ESPN


Duke 87-UNC 91 (Season 12 Issue 15 Game 14) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

I had a good feeling for a Duke win after the Jeykll-Hyde first half, in which the Blue Devils went from a somnambulist team that trailed the dominant Tar Heels by 10 with 8:21, to gaining the lead by 3 with 2:53 remaining — when Joey Baker cashed a 3.  Duke’s last lead of the half was by a point with just under 2:00 left in the half.  Duke never regained the lead, though the score was tied a couple of times down the second-half stretch..  My optimism was fueled by context and past performance.  UNC had shot 67% from behind the arc (6-9) in the opening stanza after its season-long frustration from deep.  The law of averages said UNC would return to bad form.  [Wrong: The Tar Heels continued at 67% — 4-6 from deep in the second half]. 

Going into the game, Mathew Hurt was scoring at almost 19 points per game, while shooting over 50%, including 40% from deep.  He has been Duke’s best and most (only) consistent player all year.  Hurt had been basically AWOL in the first half, failing to score a single point (0-1 from deep was his only shot attempt!) and grabbing only a single rebound (Hurt had been averaging over 7 a game).  Worse, he had committed 2 fouls while being dominated on the interior by the Carolina bigs.  (For example, Brooks, who is 6’10” and powerfully built, scored 10 first-half points).  Surely, the law of averages would contribute to Hurt having a superb second half. [Wrong: Hurt had still not scored when he committed his third foul with 11:22 left in the game.  Hurt got untracked with 5 points in the next 2 minutes, drawing Duke within 2 with 8:21 left.  Then,  Matt committed foul # 4 with 6:54 to go before tying the game at 77 with 4:43 left on a dexterous turnaround jumper.  However, optimism disappeared when Hurt fouled out seconds later, leaving Duke without its leading scorer at “winning time”.]

Duke started Jeremy Roach and D.J. Steward in the backcourt (along with Hurt, Wendell Moore and Mark Williams), while leaving Goldwire on the bench.  Duke’s turnover issues were apparent from the tip-off.  The Blue Devils turned it over on their first few possessions.  I believed that Goldwire and Jalen would steady Duke down in the second half. [Wrong: Duke gave up more points on live ball turnovers (29) than it had in many years.]

Carolina big guys had their way against the Duke defense, scoring at will on layups and put backs.  I thought Duke would emphasize rim protection and blocking out to cut down the Tar Heel advantage. [Wrong: UNC flat out killed Duke on the boards in the second half, out rebounding Duke 10-9 off Duke’s defensive backboard.  In addition to the 6’10” Brooks, Bacot (also 6’10”), and Sharpe (a 265 lb powerhouse) had their way when UNC missed a shot.  There were times when the Heels had 3 -4 shots on a single possession.  Duke’s only double digit rebounders in the closing period were Hurt with 2 and Jalen with 4.]

The Second Half was Different in Many Ways

There is no disputing that the Blue Devils did not appear to be NCAA-worthy last night.  A team that was ranked No. 9 in the AP’s preseason poll is on a trajectory to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. “That is the Blue Devils’ fate, unless a miracle occurs and, indeed, starts occurring right now,” wrote ESPN on its website.  This team has players who have justly earned high level reputations, yet Duke has not at this point come close to “gelling into an efficient team.”  It is apparent that Coach K is as puzzled as we are. 

Coach K, “We just have to keep playing. I don’t have a long-term goal. My goal is to get ready for Notre Dame now. You start playing all those games, and again, people play those games, that’s what sports are about, but we can’t do that. We just have to work hard and take it one game at a time. Our guys are improving. They’re working hard. They’re coming in for extra work. They have great attitudes. They’re a young group. They were a team that were deserving to win too. And that’s all I ask for my teams is to keep playing that way. I believe in them and we’re going to keep working with them.”

Duke was efficient offensively in the second half, scoring 48 points by going small, to create penetration on offense and to press on defense.  The resulting Duke defense could hardly have been worse.  Duke gave up 50 second-half points!  Every Carolina 3 point attempt was uncontested and wide-open.  Carolina’s big guys creamed Duke’s rebounders.  Duke could not protect its own rim and ended up fouling excessively (12 in the second half).  Even in desperation, with Duke’s man-to-man being shredded, Coach K was unwilling to risk the zone defense which had proved so porous in recent games.

Essentially, Duke re-created all of its shortcomings against Miami last Tuesday, in this game against UNC. 

The Rotation Was Dramatically Different

Coach K traditionally reduces his rotation when fine-tuning Duke for the run up to post-season.  Last night, it was apparent that Coach K’s philosophy had changed to meet his team’s failure to develop an effective First Five and solid rotation.  Duke played 9, adding Joey Baker and Henry Coleman III to the 7 man rotation that Coach K had used against Miami.  Both contributed admirably. 

Baker hunted his shot and scored 11 points in just over 18 minutes (4-8, including 3-7 from behind the arc) to go with a rebound, an assist, and a blocked shot (2 turnovers). 

Coleman was a revelation, playing superbly on the interior both offensively and defensively.  He (and Jalen) gave Duke some grit inside.  In just over 12 minutes, Coleman scored 4 (2-2 on a layup and a put back) grabbed 2 rebounds, handed out 2 assists (without a turnover), blocked a shot, and drew 3 fouls (unfortunately, 0-2 from the stripe).  His performance will earn him more playing time, I predict.

Mark Williams is getting double digit minutes on the court, and producing – especially on the defensive end with blocked shots and rebounds.  Against the oversized Tar Heels, Williams pulled down 8 rebounds and blocked 3 shots in 14 and ½ minutes.  He added a field goal on two attempts. On the downside, Mark committed a foul and turned it over once.  Inexplicably, Duke was minus 19 while he was on the court.  

Jalen Johnson continues to perplex with his dramatic inconsistency – for the second straight game, his was a tale of two different halves.  Jalen played a strong second half after a mediocre first period where he scored only 4 points in just under 11 minutes.  However, Jalen turned it around in the second half,    scoring 10 second-half points, giving him 14 for the game (6-12, including 2-2 from deep), while he grabbed 5 boards, handed out 5 assists, to go with a block and a steal.  On the downside, he committed 3 fouls and turned it over twice. He (and Jordan Goldwire) led Duke in the second half. If Duke is going to make a run to qualify for the NCAA tournament, Jalen must morph into a consistently excellent player.  He has the talent to do that.

Jordan Goldwire played a great second half after a middling opening period.  He did not start, and contributed only 2 first-half foul shots without a first-half assist, while turning it over twice.  In the second half, JGold morphed into the floor leader Duke needs.  In the closing stanza, Goldwire scored 5 points in a little over 13 minutes (2-3, including 1-1, a crucial 3) while handing out 4 assists without a turnover.  On defense, he made 3 steals while disrupting the UNC half-court offense. 

Matt Hurt was rendered virtually useless by UNC.  When Coach K was asked how UNC accomplished that, he said,  “Well, the physicality of the game. They’re huge. When you have to guard those big guys, it wears you out. They played really good defense, especially early, and knocked us back. They knocked us back at the beginning of each half. And then we came back in each half but not far enough.”

Wendell Moore is regaining the form he showed last year, which landed him on the preseason Wooden Watch list.  In just under 30 minutes, he scored 15 (6-9 from the field, including 1-3 from deep and 2-3 from the stripe), while dishing out 4 assists (2 turnovers), corralling 5 boards, and making a steal.  But with 15 seconds to go in the game and Duke down 2 points, with possession of the ball, Moore turned the ball over by committing a traveling violation on a final drive to the basket.

D.J. Steward scored 11 game points in his 23 minutes (5-10 from the field, including 1-1 from 3land, but shockingly failed to get to the stripe).  But, in the second half, D.J. turned it over twice without an assist, while scoring only 4.

Jeremy Roach had a really good game, leading Duke in scoring with 16 points in 27 minutes (7-14 from the field, but 0nly 2-6 on wide open deep shots, and not a single trip to the line).  The best news is that Roach notched 5 assists against only 2 turnovers and added a steal.  Roach will develop into a solid ACC point guard.  The question is whether he can do it this season.

The Big Picture

Coach K, “People earn starting, and they have to keep earning it. That’s part of the growth. We have all these young guys; you have to keep earning it. That’s been part of our program.  Mark (Williams) has been playing really well. Tonight’s game was a very difficult one. It was so physical inside, and he was not ready for that level. He will be. Then offensively they really clogged up the lane when he was in. I thought Henry [Coleman III] gave us an amazing boost. We just have to keep looking at different things for our team and keep getting better. The kids have great attitudes and great work ethics, and that’s what I’m looking for. However that turns out, it’ll turn out the best that it could turn out based on good attitudes and work ethic. It may not reach the level of expectations of other people, but if our kids do that it’ll reach the level of expectation for me. I’ve coached some real young teams before and you gotta stay with it. You gotta stay with it.”

In past seasons, Duke has been superb in the final minutes of the games.  However, the final play against UNC again served as a snapshot of this season’s Devils’ futility in the clutch:  Duke failed dramatically against Miami last Tuesday even after the Hurricanes kept the door open for Duke by missing crucial foul shots.  With 4.3 seconds left and Duke down by 2 (the final score), the Devils had a chance to tie or win, but failed to even get a shot off.  Against UNC, Duke had the ball, down 2 with 15 seconds left.  Moore drove but then turned it over with a traveling violation.  Sloppy possession at the single most crucial moment of the game … again! 

The schedule gets more difficult now, with 8 conference games remaining before the ACC tournament.  After a game in Durham against The Fighting Irish (Feb 9), Duke travels to NC State and Wake Forest before returning home.  The Devils then play Louisville, Syracuse and UVA at Cameron.  Duke finishes on the road against Georgia Tech, and then on to UNC for the ever exciting Senior Night, this year in Chapel Hill.  Duke is now 5-5 in the conference and 7-7 on the season.  Not what the gurus predicted in November.

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

The last time Duke and North Carolina played a basketball game when both were unranked was 1960, which is so long ago Vic Bubas was in his first year as coach, Art Heyman was a freshman (not eligible to play on the varsity), and Alan Silber and I were seniors (in college, not in life, as is the case now). My kids used to refer to those as “the olden days”—and that was in the 1980’s.  Nevertheless, I must point out that was also the year Duke won their first Atlantic Coast Conference (established  June, 1953) Tournament Championship, beating South Carolina, North Carolina, and Wake Forest, therefore, being the only ACC team to play in the NCAA Tournament (that was the league rule in those days).

Needless to say, there is a reason both teams are unranked again in 2021, for the first time in 61 years. As Johnny Tar Heel, with whom I watched the game, says: “Neither is a very good team. However, it still is Duke vs. Carolina minus the Cameron Crazies– and still counts. The fact that the Tar Heels scored 91 points and Duke 87 (the most each team has scored this year) speaks volumes about the defensive deficiencies of each team. To their credit, the Heels, big but a notoriously poor shooting team, hit 10 of 15 three point shots and had 15 more free throw attempts than the Devils. However, to John’s point, they hit only 13 of 22 (59%) free throws. What does that tell you? It indicates to me that until the Blue Devils start playing better defense, and smarter (why are Hurt and Johnson so often in foul trouble?), they are a mediocre basketball team. And, when their 6’10” best scorer (Hurt) is pushed around, held to 7 points, 5 rebounds, and fouls out with five minutes to play, he is not NBA ready—nor frankly is any other player.

Coach K did not start Johnson and Goldwire, saying that all players earn starting and playing time in practice, and played ten men, which is not a rotation I can remember this deep into the season. So, apparently he and his staff have not yet solved the riddle of this group of young, inconsistent players who are not yet ready for prime time. Perhaps there is just no there there on this team– or, perhaps the Basketball Gods are punishing Duke for all the close games the Blue Devils have stolen from the Tar Heels over the years.

 Johnny Tar Heel says: “Payback is a bitch, baby. Deal with it!”

Next Play: Tuesday February 9, in Cameron, versus Notre Dame, at 4:30 pm on ACCN


Duke 89-Notre Dame 93 (Season 12 Issue 16 Game 15) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Defense

“I am most concerned about Duke’s ability to keep the opposition from offensive put-backs and rebounds and to defend the rim against drives.  My take is, this season depends on how well Duke can defend.”

As Thomas Jefferson sings in the musical “Hamilton”:
“These are wise words, enterprising men quote ’em
“Don’t act surprised, you guys, ’cause I wrote ’em!”

And in fact I did write those words in the preseason (DBP#1).   If you want to know why Duke will fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995, look no further than the defensive disaster this season has become.  Against a Notre Dame team that was coming off a devastating loss to Georgia Tech, and was overall 8-10 for the season, Duke gave up 48 second-half points, allowing the Fighting Irish to shoot 16 for 28 from the field.  The Irish shot 53% for the game and punished the Duke defense with every offensive move, whether on the perimeter or in the paint.  Unfortunately, Duke is displaying a disappointing consistency on defense.  UNC put up 91 points (50 in the second half), shooting the lights out with uncontested shot after uncontested shot.  Thus, Duke surrendered 98 points combined in the second halves of their last two games.  Duke’s celebrated man-to-man defense has not been this inefficient in decades.

         Guarding the Perimeter

The problem begins with the Devils’ defenders unable to prevent the offensive player from sweeping to the basket.  There were times it was downright embarrassing watching the Notre Dame guards use the pump fake, or refuse the screen, to create straight line uncontested layups.  D.J. was a consistent victim, as was Wendell Moore (who had an otherwise superb performance).  “In the first-half, we over-helped,” Coach K said. “Part of their scheme is, they have really good spacing. . . . They got three 3s in a row with our over-help. Ryan really went by us a couple of times. We pressured him like he picked up his dribble instead of controlling the dribble. Our guys are playing hard but you’ve got to play that smarter.”

         Guarding the Pick and Roll

The young Blue Devils were even worse trying to guard ball screens.  The Fighting Irish guards made wide open perimeter shots.  When Duke tried to go over the screen, Notre Dame fed their rolling big men  open layups.  When help arrived (usually late), the rollers then fed their interior partner for another uncontested lay up.  Duke was almost always a rotation short.  Wendell Moore said in his post-game interview. “We couldn’t get a stop. They got every shot they wanted, they got every 3 they wanted.”

         Fouling

Duke returned to its “icky” fouling, putting one of the best foul shooting teams in the nation on the foul line, repeatedly.  The Fighting Irish made Duke pay!  Notre Dame got into the bonus with around nine minutes left in the second half, and hit 18-of-20 from the charity stripe. “We’ve got to try not to foul . . . and listen to the scouting report,” Moore said. “They were getting fouled and getting to the foul line. . . . we can’t expect to win when we put a great free-throw shooting team on the line.”

         Options

It appears that Coach K, based on what he has seen in this seasons’ games, has given up on the zone defense as an option, even when his man-to-man has been shredded.  Early in the season, Duke had some success with a pressing, trapping, gambling defense.  It appeared to me that smaller quicker players like Steward, Moore, and Goldwire had success in deflections in the passing lanes leading to live ball turnovers and transition baskets.  Duke has not employed such a gambling defense in its last 3 losses (Miami, UNC and ND).

What Is The Jalen Johnson Story?

The announcers continue to describe Jalen as “a lottery pick” with amazing talent.  Certainly, he has had a few amazing performances (none lasting more than a single half), but his playing time has been reduced as Duke has been losing.  There is no question that he has failed to perform to reputation in recent games.  His lack of on-court time against the Irish is beyond puzzling.  Noteworthy: he was not on the floor for the last 5:04 of the game where the outcome was being decided.  He played only 8 second-half minutes, scoring just 3 points (1-3, only making the 1 shot from behind the arc) with 0 rebounds, and a crucial turnover.  Jalen re-entered the game with 8:51 to go.  Duke led 80- 78 with 6:21 to go when the wheels started to come off.  With 5:39 to go,  Jalen made a really bad pass, which was easily intercepted.  Notre Dame missed the layup, but their “big man”, Juwan Durham, dunked the offensive rebound giving Notre Dame a lead. Coach K then pulled Jalen, who never re-entered the game.  This “lottery pick” played a total of 15 game minutes, scoring 8 (3-6 from the field, including 2-2 from deep).  In that brief appearance, Jalen committed two fouls without drawing a foul, and made 3 turnovers without grabbing a single rebound.  Inexplicable…unless there’s a story we don’t know about?

Failure When The Game Is On the Line

Roach tied the game at 83 with a clutch 3 at the 4:49 mark.  Duke did not score again for the next 3:06, with Roach, Hurt, Moore, and Baker all missing their shots.  Duke failed to convert on two promising fast break opportunities.  Moore finally scored to pull Duke within 2 points (85-83) with 1:43 to go.  Duke got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead with 1:10 to go when the critical bad play occurred – just as it did against Miami; just as it did against UNC.  Duke advanced into the front court, where Roach immediately committed an obvious offensive foul.  Hubb hit a circus 3 from deep, giving the Fighting Irish an insurmountable 5 point lead with 37 seconds to go.  Juwan Durham was 5-5 for the Irish at crunch time, all on offensive rebounds — disastrous! Duke couldn’t get a stop, even when the first Irish shot missed.

The Rotation

         The Good

Wendell Moore notched a double-double, while playing his best game of the season. In almost 35 minutes, he scored 24 points (9-16 from the field, including 2-5 from deep and 4-4 from the line).  He led Duke with 10 rebounds, had 3 assists without a turnover, and committed only a single foul.  He led by example and is finally rounding into the form that was expected of him at the beginning of the year.  He was terrific!

Jeremy Roach also played extraordinarily well, leading Duke in scoring in his game-high 37 minutes.  He is now the Duke point guard.  Roach scored 16 (7-12 from the field, including 2-4 from deep, without getting to the foul line).  He handed out 2 assists against a single turnover.  He added 2 steals.  But committed 4 personal fouls.

Mark Williams continues to improve and contribute. In almost 19 minutes, he tallied 8 on 4-7 from the field (missed his only free throw attempt), while pulling down 4 boards, blocking a pair of shots and handing out an assist, all without a turnover.  Duke played especially well while he was on the court.

Henry Coleman III – had a brief 3 minute cameo where he scored on an offensive rebound and converted the foul shot for a traditional 3 point play.

         The Bad

Goldwire and Hurt both seem to have regressed.  Hurt played 32 minutes, scoring only a modest 13 points (5-10, including 1-4 from deep and 2-2 from the stripe).  He had only 4 boards; just one in the second half.  Hurt seemed a step slow on defense and without his usual  rebounding intensity.  JGold’s playing time was reduced to 20 minutes(11 in the second half), during which he failed to score. 

D.J. Steward seems to have lost his dazzle.  In his 21+ minutes, he scored 10, but committed 4 turnovers.  He was clearly more efficient earlier this season.

         The Ugly

Joey Baker has been woeful. He hit a 3 for his only points in 16 minutes (1-5, including 1-3 from deep), while committing 3 fouls.

Brakefield has made only cameo appearances recently, but did not appear at all in this game against Notre Dame.

Tapé may be hurt, or may have just played his way out of the rotation. With Mark Williams earning more playing time and Coleman beginning to contribute, Tapé will have a hard time getting back on the court.

The Big Picture

The schedule gets even more difficult now, with only 7 conference games remaining before the ACC tournament.  Duke travels to NC State and Wake Forest, before returning home to take on Louisville, Syracuse, and UVA at Cameron.  Duke finishes on the road against Georgia Tech, and then on to another UNC (Senior Night) showdown.  It is now clear that Duke’s only chance of qualifying for the NCAA tournament is a win or deep run in the ACC tournament.  Unfortunately, seeming completely unlikely.  

So what is the role of Duke Fans following and rooting for an under-achieving team?  Perhaps, as Duke fans, we need to experience what the rest of college hoop fandom routinely go through.  We need to be tough during the losing times just as well as we are giddy and snarky in the winning days.  And then there is always hope.  The Duke 2015 National Championship team lost in the semi-finals of the ACC tournament, but somehow made the changes that morphed into the awesome defensive team that won.  And, as I have heard said, “hope springs eternal.”

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

After the first seven minutes, during which the Blue Devils played like a contender and went up by fifteen, I held my breath as Notre Dame started scoring points. Then I thought I was watching a rerun of the Carolina game and had a very uneasy feeling about the outcome. The second half confirmed that feeling.

This year, there is something(s) wrong with this team that Coach K has been unable to fix. They have had two losing streaks of three games each. In each streak, the opponents shot over fifty percent from both the inside and outside the three point line, and were awarded more free throws. Recently, Duke has scored almost 90 points against two mediocre teams in a row, and still lost. What does this indicate? It indicates, inescapably, that this is a bad defensive team, and that Alan is right: This team is less than the sum of its parts, because none of the players are complete basketball players and, possibly, there is a lack of chemistry amongst them. No one — except Moore, Roach, and Williams — are improving (from a subpar floor).   And what’s up with Jalen Johnson? Is his foot bothering him or are his feelings hurt? Whatever, he has been very inconsistent. Joey Baker’s shelf life is expiring as his defense is marginally better, but his once promising shot is in a free fall.

Unless there is a miraculous turnaround, I suspect there will be a big turnover in the squad for next year—and it won’t be because this year’s players were drafted into the NBA.

Misery loves company: Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina are all also having uncharacteristically bad years. It seems as though the entire country is turned upside down.

Next Play: Saturday February 13, at Raleigh, versus NC State, at 4:30 pm EST, on ACCN


Duke 69-NC State 53 (Season 12 Issue 17 Game 16) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Defense

Coach K: “We’ve been working the last few days on our defense, and pretty much that’s all we’ve been working on. We played really good defense today. By working on our defense, we also got to be more physical. In the first half, our defense was outstanding and we got loose balls, we got scrums and we won some scrums.”

Just how good was the Duke defense against the wounded, undermanned Wolfpack?  With just under 6 minutes gone by, NC State had scored 10 points and trailed by 1.  Duke held State scoreless for the next 5:34.  By the time State had 12 on their scoreboard, Duke led by 16 (28-12).  State made a free throw before they finally scored a field goal on an  offensive rebound dunk to score their 15th point at the 5:09 mark.  In sum, Duke had allowed the Wolfpack a measly 3 points in 9 first-half minutes, leading by 20 (33-13) before the Wolfpack had scored 15.  In retrospect, the game was already over at that point. 

Mark Williams played a season high (for him) 28 minutes of outstanding defense.  His ability to protect the rim is one of the reasons the Devils finally morphed into an efficient defensive force.  May it continue.  Williams blocked 5 Wolfpack attempts and made a steal while anchoring the interior defense.  Elizabeth’s baby brother was also Duke’s second leading scorer (13 points on 5-9 from the field and 3-4 from the stripe) while pulling in 3 rebounds.  While Mark did turn it over 3 times, he committed only 2 fouls. “Mark [Williams] is getting better and better. He’s learning how to play physical,” Coach K gushed.

Duke’s perimeter defense was excellent, led by Wendell Moore.  The sophomore had only an average offensive game (5 points in 30+ minutes on 2-7 from the field, including 0-3 from 3land, and 1-2 from the foul line), but directed and organized the perimeter defense.  Moore gets credit for Duke’s morphing from discombobulated against UNC and Notre Dame into a smooth-functioning, coordinated switching machine against the Wolfpack.  All the perimeter defenders improved dramatically.  Moore had 3 steals, as did JGold in his 26 minutes.  D.J. was back sizzling (led Duke with 4 assists against a single turnover) at both ends of the court in his 29 minutes.  While Steward recorded a steal, the stat sheet does not show his successful pressuring the Wolfpack guards, which helped to disrupt their offense with his deflections.   Jeremy Roach led Duke in minutes with 32 and ½, in spite of a modest offensive game.  He scored only 2 (1-3, including 0-2 from deep, without drawing a foul) while committing 3 turnovers with only a single assist.  Coach K kept Roach on the floor because he was superb on the defensive end – keeping the Wolfpack guards out of the paint for the most part.

Matt Hurt’s defense in the second half was improved over his last several outings..  He committed his 2nd foul in the first half after only 7 minutes on the court and rode the bench for the rest of the half (though he had scored 11 on superb shooting — 4-4, including 3-3 from deep).  He played 18 second-half minutes (without fouling), blocking a shot and anchoring the interior.  Coach K praised his improvement, “He was quicker than he’s been in over a month today, and that’s after a couple really hard defensive practices. He seemed more alive today. He was quick and he got his shot off quick. He had a heck of a game. With this scoring game – it’s a lower scoring game – to get 24 points, 6-for-7 from three. But he got his shot off quicker. He just seemed bouncy. Our team hasn’t been that for some reason, but Matt had a great game today. Maybe it’s because his parents were here.”  Nice personal touch.

Jaemyn Brakefield made the most of his playing time with an excellent floor game.  He defends both the interior and the wings efficiently. He missed a few near the rim that should have been made.  Even so,  in 14 and ½ minutes he scored 6 (2-5, including 1-2 from behind the arc and 1-2 from the stripe) to go with 5 rebounds.  Coach K: “Jaemyn Brakefield really helped us and he was close to having an amazing game. He missed a couple right around the bucket, but he was right there. His physicality and Henry [Coleman III’s was] really, really good.”  Coleman had 2 brief cameos — one in each half.

It is noteworthy that Duke committed only 14 fouls, just  6 in the second half.  Thus, State was only in the bonus twice in the first half (0-1 on the first; 2-2 on the last foul with 4 seconds left in the half).  A wondrous improvement from the Notre Dame and UNC fouling debacles.

What Is The Jalen Johnson Story?

Although the announcers continue to describe Jalen as “a lottery pick,” his play has not been of that caliber.  Jalen did not play in the second half at all after logging only 8 minutes in the first half, where he scored 3 on 3-5 from the line while missing both of his field goal attempts.  He had a steal and turned it over once.  Coach K does not think Jalen is prepared for the physicality of the college game: “Today – you saw the game – it was really physical. We had him in there a couple times and he is not back.  I would’ve put him back in, but Jaemyn [Brakefield] and Henry [Coleman III] and those guys – it didn’t knock them back.  Jalen will keep playing.  That’s the thing that all freshmen have to learn.  Mark [Williams] now has learned that. The physicality of this game is huge.  I have confidence in him, we’re going to keep working with him and he’ll have opportunities.” 

I have heard this strange rumor that the NBA game is quite a bit more physical than NCAA hoops.  Lottery pick?  Really?

The Rotation

Coach K’s rotation was longer than usual – 9 players.  Joey Baker and Patrick Tapé did not play.  As noted, Jalen played only in the first half while Henry Coleman III appeared in a cameo in each half (5 minutes total).  Brakefield was the main player off the bench with 14:38 game-minutes.  The other 6 players who logged starter minutes were Roach (32), Moore (30), Steward (29+), Williams (28), JGold (26), and Hurt (25+).  This rotation allowed each player to remain fresh, resulting in non-stop intense pressure on the Wolfpack.

The Big Picture

Before we turn to next season for solace, it is worth evaluating this season’s struggles and Coach K’s approach.  For Alanalysis, this season has not been about wins and losses or conference championships or standings; rather it has been watching K’s efforts to augment this team’s growth and to become successful before the season ends.  It’s been a checkered ride.  Duke looked as if it would launch into a successful season when the Blue Devils demolished Clemson in Cameron on January 31 by 79-53.  The defense was glorious against a good team and the offense was smooth and efficient.  D.J. Steward proclaimed it “Duke’s launching pad.”  As we know, the launch failed and Duke lost its next 3 games embarrassingly badly (Miami, UNC and Notre Dame). 

 There is, of course, the potential that beating NC State in Raleigh will be the launch.  This year it is the quantum of improvement day by day that is worth scrutinizing.  Will Duke make the NCAA tournament?  It looks doubtful now, but there is a reason that we actually play the games.  Coach K: “[T]hese kids have worked hard everyday. They could’ve come in here down. You lose three in a row, you’re under .500, you lose some close games, you’re playing at Duke and all those things – they’ve not done that. They’ve really worked hard and have been enthusiastic, upbeat and we just have to keep doing that and don’t pay attention to anyone else. Just keep doing that and something good will happen. Something momentarily, because we won one game, happened today. You’ve just got to stay with it – that’s what our program has done – and see what happens if you do that.”

Indeed.  Let’s see what happens.  It just might be “good things.”

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

Duke gave Coach K a 74th birthday present near and dear to his heart– their best defensive effort of the year and a much needed win against a Tobacco Road rival. For his part, he made some changes that worked well. He started Hurt and Williams, who seem to complement each other very well, and substituted liberally a nine-man rotation, sometimes in waves. Everyone except Johnson and Coleman logged double digit minutes and Baker never left the bench. Make what you want about Johnson’s reduced minutes but the blunt truth is that he has been less effective than Hurt or Williams and today both Brakefield and Coleman played more enthusiastically, physically, and effectively. For whatever mysterious reason, since the sensational Chopin State game Jalen has played smaller than his height, weight, and reputation, while Williams has become much more impressive down low and Hurt’s range stretches the floor, opening it up for every other player.

Not to diminish the win, but North Carolina State is also a young team that has sort of hit the wall. Coach K says nice things about his players and is optimistic in a strong finish to an otherwise disappointing season. In the meantime, here is a column by Gary  Parrish of CBS Sports:

Duke lost again last week — for the eighth time this season, for the fourth time at home, for at least the fourth time to an opponent unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament. Consequently, at 7-8, the Blue Devils now have a losing record for the first time since November 1999. They’re 3-6 in the first two quadrants with two additional losses coming in Quadrant 3. So, barring a wild turnaround, Duke, arguably the biggest brand in the entire sport, is about to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

“My advice: Get your jokes off now.

“They’ll likely be useless this time next season.

“I was asked the other day whether I believe these wildly disappointing seasons at Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State are just one-offs or the beginning of the end of the dominance these programs have demonstrated under Hall of Fame coaches for more than a decade. Honestly, I’d lean toward the former, as I genuinely expect the Blue Devils, the Wildcats, and the Spartans to bounce back next season.

“And I’m all-in on Duke.

“My optimism is largely rooted in the recruiting class Mike Krzyzewski is likely to enroll. And before you yell, “But Duke sucks right now even though it just enrolled a heralded recruiting class, Parrish!” let me remind you that all heralded recruiting classes are not created equal. According to 247Sports, Duke’s most recent recruiting class, the one that comprises this current team’s freshman class, featured four five-star prospects — namely Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward and Mark Williams. On a surface level, that sounds great. But none of those players were ranked in the top 10 of the Class of 2020, which meant, for the first time since 2012, Duke did not enroll a single top-10 prospect in advance of this season.

“But that won’t be the case next season.

“Duke already has commitments from Paolo Banchero, a 6-9 forward ranked No. 3 in the Class of 2021, and AJ Griffin, a 6-7 wing ranked No. 7 in the Class of 2021. And the Blue Devils are also considered the leader for Patrick Baldwin, a 6-9 wing ranked No. 4 in the Class of 2021. So, at this moment, it appears Duke will eventually become just the fifth team in the past 11 years to enroll three top-10 prospects in the same year.”

Next Play: Wednesday February 17, at Winston Salem, versus Wake Forest, at 8:30 pm EST, on ACCN


Duke 84 -Wake Forest 60 (Season 12 Issue 18 Game 17) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Duke played so well that I am having trouble with the lead … Duke looked like a cohesive, strong team (worthy of a #9 ranking, which was Duke’s place in the pre-season poll).  I want to anoint the Duke team of these last two games as having been launched (finally) – as D.J. wrongfully predicted after Duke had whumped Clemson just before the triple disaster of losses at home to Miami, UNC, and Notre Dame.  Duke has been superb for the last two games at both ends of the court, but especially on defense;yet, neither Wake Forest nor NC State are even close to good teams. Wisdom teaches not to get burned on the flame of unjustified optimism … at least until the Blue Devils deliver this type of efficient performance against an elite team.  Saturday night, February 20 against UVA in Cameron at 8 pm.  Might just be worth watching. 

The Dramatic Transformation into Defensive Efficiency

While Duke has been efficient on offense, it is the dramatic turnaround on defense that produces new optimism about the eventual assessment of the 2020-21 season.  Coach K: “We changed our ball screen defense a week ago to better suit this team, and our kids have really done that well … We’ve had six straight days – the two before NC State and then [the game against] NC State – where we just had great practices and worked so hard, and then it translated to the NC State game. I gave them off Sunday. Again, we had two great days where these guys are working so hard, and then it translated tonight. My staff has done a good job.” 

Somehow, I doubt that simply making an “adjustment of ball screen defense” is the whole answer for this rather spectacular transformation.  I strongly suspect the adjustment was as much attitudinal as strategic.  Duke is simply playing harder on defense, communicating better, swarming in to help, and being really cohesive.  If this keeps on keeping on, Alanalysis can go back to treating ESPN’s “bracketologist” with renewed snark.  Duke’s first half was magnificent (held the Demon Deacons to 26 points, with only a late Wake flurry upping the score to even 26). Then human nature took over in the second half, where the Devils gave up 34 points after becoming a little lax due to leading by over 20 almost the entire second half.  It didn’t matter to the outcome, though, the game was effectively over by half time (45-26).

         The Perimeter

Duke begins with the trio of D.J. Steward (played one of his best games of the season; the sizzle has returned, but with discipline), Jeremy Roach, and Wendell Moore defending the perimeter.  Roach and Moore have been outstanding, even though it does not show in offensive statistics.  JGold is now coming off the bench; his insertion into the lineup has made the defense even more intense. The longer rotation has kept the perimeter defenders fresh and aggressive.  Only D.J. reached the 30 minute mark of playing time; Roach and Goldwire played 28 and 27 minutes, respectively, and Moore in at 24.  Coach K: “Wendell [Moore Jr.] is playing well. It doesn’t always translate into all the stats. His movement and talk – they’re just all getting a little bit more comfortable with one another. After those really tough, close losses, for these kids to have this great attitude and work ethic says something about them. Again, we’ve just got to keep it going.”  “[Jordan] Goldwire has been a key guy, too, for us because when you can bring in a veteran who is a starter, but bring him off the bench, he’s really our best athlete on the perimeter. He’s a heck of an athlete and he’s sharing the ball. Usually for Jordan – again tonight, he [had] four assists to one turnover – his assists to turnover ratio is outstanding. Not good, it’s outstanding. When he comes in, he’s strong with the ball and he’s sharing it, and then he’s as good of a defender as we have. So, coming off the bench like that, that’s been a plus for us.”

          The Interior

Duke’s interior defense has improved at the rate that Elizabeth’s baby brother, Mark, has grown – dramatically in the last few games.  Coach K: “Mark’s emergence – this is what happens with good, young guys – they get better. Mark is getting better. He’s a presence. Matt has felt good with him there. Also, it’s taken some of the load off of him [Hurt] defensively with a big guy. He never had to guard a five today.”  Jaemyn Brakefield replaced Jalen in Coach K’s substitution pattern.  He is a better (more willing) defender than Jalen had been.  Bill has been championing Jaemyn all season; yesterday’s 16 and ½ minute performance (including scoring 7 quick points – his only points – upon entering the game for the first time) was sufficiently impressive to make Bill preen.  Brakefield blocked a shot, got a steal, nabbed 5 boards, handed out 4 assists without a turnover, and drew four fouls from Deacon players.  Hurt was not only the scoring mainstay (22 points on 9 field goal attempts), he also played excellent defense, with a steal and 4 defensive rebounds.  He committed only 2 fouls (the second one was late in the first half) while logging a Duke game-high 31 minutes.  Joey Baker played for 16 minutes and was Duke’s 3rd high scorer with 12 points (4-7 from deep).

          Fouling

Duke committed only five fouls in the superb first half (only Hurt picked up a second).  While Duke committed 10 fouls in the second half, only Mark Williams and Brakefield had as many as 3.  For Duke to continue its newly found defensive prowess, the fouling has to remain under control.  It will be harder to avoid fouling against Virginia and Louisville (two elite teams that are next on the schedule).

          Rebounding, Steals, and Blocked Shots

Duke’s team rebounding was prodigious.  Everyone contributed (except Joey Baker), with Mark Williams (7 in almost 20 minutes), D.J. (7 in 30 minutes), Brakefield (5 in 16 minutes), Hurt (4 in 31 minutes), Moore (4 in 24 minutes), Roach (4 in 27 minutes), and JGold (3 in 27 minutes). Duke was in control of both backboards.  Duke had 5 steals (JGold 2, D.J. 2, and Hurt 1) and 4 blocks (Williams 2, Moore and Brakefield 1 each).  ‘The Devils’ pressure dramatically flustered the Deacons.

Offensive Efficiency

Coach K: “[W]hen you play that hard on the defensive end, you play better offense. You’re more physical and you run the offense harder. You can’t play that hard on defense and then not play hard on offense. [T]hey’re just playing hard and I think it’s translated. They’re sharing the ball. To have 17 assists and only six turnovers is really a good performance.”  Yes, 17 assists with only 6 turnovers is very worth celebrating and constitutes genuine improvement.  Hurt was astoundingly efficient (22 points on 8-9 from the field, including 3-4 from behind the arc; 3-6 from the stripe).  He scored whenever he wanted to.  D.J. scored 16 (7-12, including 1-4 from deep and 1-1 from the line), while handing out 3 assists without a turnover.  Add in 2 steals with those 7 rebounds and you have a helluva game for D.J.!  Baker’s 12 (I wanted to write “dozen”; if only he had scored 13!) and Moore’s 11 (5-9 from the field, including 1-3 from deep) completed the double digit Duke scorers.  Moore was a leader on the floor, even without gaudy statistics (2 assists; 4 turnovers; 3 fouls committed).  Mark Williams scored  9 (3-5 from the field and 3-4 from the stripe), Brakefield’s burst of 7 (3-5, including 1-2 from deep; 0-1 from the line), and JGold’s 5 (2-6, including 1-3 from 3land) completed Duke’s scoring.  Coleman failed to score in two cameos that totaled 6 minutes.  Tapé failed to score in his brief cameo (1 minute).

Duke Without Jalen

Jalen’s departure had  little impact on the game but big impact on the team

Going into the visit to Winston-Salem, who knew how Jalen’s departure from the team would impact the Blue Devil performance:  a) addition by subtraction, if Jalen’s attitude was a team problem, or b) a broken team because its most talented player decided to abandon ship.  It is too early for a final judgment, but it does appear that Jalen’s departure has been ‘addition by subtraction’.  Jalen’s performance on the court resulted in reduced playing time.  His shortened playing time had become an issue, even though he had little impact on recent games. Whether it was his health or his attitude we will never be known as Duke simply doesn’t engage in that kind of discussion.  However, Duke’s performance did not leave much doubt that Jalen’s departure did not damage the team – at least in the short run.  Time to remember when Duke won the NCAA tournament in 2015 whenCoach K kicked Rasheed Sulaimon off the team toward the season’s end.  Duke never revealed why (and nurtured Rasheed through graduation and transfer), but it was clearly his attitude.  Scuttlebutt is that Sulaimon wanted to lobby K for increased playing time.  There is no “i” in team. Not at Duke! The lesson from 2015 was that the team thrived after Sulaimon was terminated.  Addition by subtraction!  Grayson Allen moved into the rotation and Duke won its most recent championship.  Nice model to follow.

          Jalen and a (the) Team

I confess to a real antagonism (maybe even anger) at the cavalier manner in which Jalen Johnson has left Duke.  I am assuming he is eschewing his academics classes as he “prepares for the NBA draft.” His action makes a mockery of the term, “student-athlete.”  Duke is an elite institution of higher learning; the Duke brand on a resume is a huge asset in the real world (especially if the tag “brotherhood” goes with it).  Duke hoop scholarships are limited, and Jalen has “stolen” one from a deserving student-athlete who would have benefitted from not only from Duke’s world class education but also from being coached by K. .  Duke may be fortunate to recruit high-level players, but the players are lucky to have the Duke imprimatur into their future endeavors as an asset.  It seems to me Jalen’s actions are so irrational that there must be an unknown story that is driving the train.  I speculate (without knowing or having inside info) that Jalen’s role on the interior for this undersized team was not to his liking or his self-perceived strengths.  

 At the most basic level, a team member has to be committed to the team’s success for the entire season – regardless of the role assigned by the coach — in order to fulfill (their?) responsibility to the team.  Jalen had the option of not playing but still staying as a team member, cheering from the bench while working out at practices and using the support resources, including Duke medical, tutoring, trainers, etc.  Instead he chose to clean out his locker and leave.  I assume he is not attending classes either (I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it). In any event, an NBA team should (and likely will) weigh Jalen’s commitment to his college team when evaluating whether or not he will be a “team first” guy in the pros.  Jalen has not earned my best wishes for his future success.

The Big Picture

Will Duke continue to improve sufficiently to re-enter the NCAA tournament discussion?  Deeds are needed, beginning with the homestand coming up – Virginia on Saturday, followed by Syracuse and Louisville the following week.  The last two in March are on the road against Georgia Tech and UNC.  Opportunity for sure.  Then let’s not forget the ACC tournament.  Duke will have to be among the top 4 seeds in order to have to win only 3 games for the championship.  Let’s see if this year’s Duke can finally launch into the team we expected in the pre-season!

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

Jalen Who?

 Apparently Jalen Johnson did everyone a big favor by taking the advice of his family, friends, advisers, (future) agent, and various hangers on to, rather than play the remainder of this season, clean out his locker and move on to prepare for the NBA Draft. (So much for The Brotherhood, teammate loyalty, and getting a top ten education. Ya gotta love the new one half-and-done era!!) Despite what Corey Alexander kept saying on television about Jalen being a lottery pick, take the under on that bet, because he pulled the same stunt last year at the IMG Academy in Florida. So, in two seasons, Jalen Johnson has played less than one full season of basketball. (How long do rookie divas last in The Show?)  His former teammates celebrated by playing enthusiastically: tough defense and running a very effective motion offense in torching Wake Forest (a team that took Florida State to OT just before the Seminoles crushed Virginia) 84-60.

It appears this young Duke team is getting mentally and physically tougher, playing  pretty effective defense when anchored by Mark Williams and when running an offense through Matthew Hurt, who does a pretty good imitation of shooting a jumper like Larry Bird.

Coach K must have been reading my CliffNotes: I have been puzzled why, as multi-talented as he had appeared with limited minutes, Jaemyn Brakefield  had not been getting more playing time? Jalen’s funk and departure has opened up minutes and the West Virginia Player-of-the-Year responded with a second impressive outing, shooting 3-5, grabbing five boards, passing out four assists, and blocking a shot. (Remember when Rasheed Sulaimon was thrown off the team in midseason and it opened minutes for  Grayson Allen, who turned around the NCAA Championship game against Wisconsin?)  Joey Baker’s shot finally came off vacation, hitting four 3s. Duke also had an impressively low six turnovers, which looks even better when you realize that four of them were Wendell Moore’s– and the Devils shot more free throws than the Deacons.

Comments:

In the Miami post-game comments, Coach K said emphatically: “My team was soft and sad.  This is Duke and tonight was unacceptable. The guys who play from now on are going to be the guys who play hard and show toughness. I don’t care who that is – they’re gonna play. We are never doing this again.” After that, Jalen did not start nor play significant minutes. So, Duke may well have already made its decision about how to deal with Jalen Johnson and let the chips fall where they may. Jalen Johnson wouldn’t be the first player who might have thought that Duke needed him more than he needed Duke. This program didn’t get where it is by letting player egos dictate policy.

Jay Bilas, who bends over backwards to avoid the impression that he’s biased towards Duke, said that ”He’s coming off a game in which he played only eight minutes at NC State and it was a game that Duke played arguably its best game in the last month — essentially, without him — and for him to opt out now, optically, it’s very odd. But I’ll be interested to see what Duke winds up saying about this. I’m sure they’ll support the decision. But knowing how basketball works, that’s just an odd thing to do at this time of year.”

His ESPN colleague Seth Greenberg was more direct: “The Notre Dame game, the game’s basically in question, and he doesn’t even get into the end of the game. Here’s the thing, there’s a difference between opting out and quitting. See, if you opt-out, you don’t clear out your locker. You see, if you clear out your locker you’re basically quitting on your team cause he’s part of a group. He could say, ‘I’m opting out because I don’t feel good about myself. I kinda want to look in the mirror and reevaluate myself.’ That’s one thing, but you keep your stuff in your locker room. If you pick up and move out there’s a big difference there.”

Clean up on Aisle 5. Coach K:  “Our team loves Jalen. He’s a brother to these guys. For Jalen and his family, they were great – we talked. I’m a coach because of players, and these kids should have the choice to do whatever they want. We’re going to give them our guidance and talk to them about it, and then I’m 100 percent behind him. Our guys have followed up with that too. Especially with the pandemic, these guys have really gotten close. They haven’t been able to make friends anywhere else, so they’ve really developed a family atmosphere. We’re all supportive of Jalen and his family.” (Translation: Good bye and good luck. We won’t miss you, but don’t let the locker room door hit you on the way out.)

Next Play: Wednesday February 20, in Cameron, versus UVA, at 8:00 pm EST, on ESPN


Duke 66 -UVA 65 (Season 12 Issue 19 Game 18) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

DukeCelebrates.jpg
The Duke sideline celebrates a down-to-the-wire win against Virginia. Photo Credit: Nat LeDonne/Duke Athletics
ALANALYSIS: 

The Duke sideline celebrates a down-to-the-wire win against Virginia. Photo Credit: Nat LeDonne/Duke Athletics

DUKE 66 UVA 65 Was A Great College Basketball Game In Any Season

Coach K: “This was an epic game. This was a great basketball game tonight. Every possession was fought … seemed like every dribble at times. They are an outstanding team and program. They’re veterans and they played like it. They’re so poised and they play great defense.”

If you watched the spine-tingling basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Virginia Cavaliers last night you saw stupendous college basketball played at a very high level!  Duke prevailed by the very slimmest of margins (1 point, and and the fraction of a second that elapsed between the game ending and what would have been the winning UVA dunk), 66-65.  I am not sure the “best team” won, but I am sure that the 2020-21 Blue Devils have never played together on both ends of the court as they did against the #7 nationally rated UVA.  A quality performance against a quality team!  The Wahoos are really good, and Duke stayed with them every step of the way.  The score was tied 7 times in the second half alone, even though Duke never led after the first minute of that half, until scoring the last 2 points of the game with 1:59 to go.  Then, the Devils  topped it off to win with desperately intense defense to preserve the lead.  The Cavaliers had a 3 point lead at 65 with 3:09 to go … and finished the game still with the same 65 points!  D.J.’s short jumper brought the margin back to 1.  Jaemyn Brakefield (who has replaced someone named Jalen Johnson in the rotation) made the winning plays with just under 2 minutes left and Duke trailing by a point.  UVA point guard, Clark, used a screen from UVA big man and star, Jay Huff, to make Brakefield switch off Huff to guard Clark (leaving Goldwire to guard the 7 foot Huff as the roller).  Brakefield stayed in front of Clark and blocked his shot. Then, Brakefield faked a handoff, and drove around Huff for an acrobatic reverse layup while being fouled by Huff.  Duke’s 66th, and final, point.  It would have been 67 if Jaemyn had made the foul shot.

Duke’s offense was beautiful in the first half (39 points) and sputtering in the second half (27 points; 2-11 from behind the arc).  Duke’s defense was beautiful the entire game, even when UVA was shooting 60% in the first half (sometimes good offense just beats good defense).

DE-FENCE!

Duke’s man to man was tenacious, coordinated, and swarming.  Duke switched mostly everything, and rotated fiercely.  The strategy was to keep the mercurial Clark from dishing to the UVA excellent 3 point shooters (mainly their big guys like Huff and Hauser).  Duke’s plan was to make Clark take the shot himself after he had penetrated (he scored 15 points, but on 15 shots).  Both teams shot well in the first half, even though well defended.   In the second half, Duke’s defense performed as much on sheer guts as on coordination and communication.  Coach K: “[Jaemyn] Brakefield was spectacular tonight. Henry Coleman III coming off the bench and giving us five minutes. Obviously Matt Hurt was outstanding. We had everyone contributing.”

         The Perimeter

As  Duke’s perimeter rotation has solidified into the four guards rotating in 3 positions, the perimeter defense has become more than satisfactory; it has become exceptional.  Wendell Moore and Roach have been the glue, while Goldwire and D.J. have applied laudable pressure.  Coach K: “Our kids played great defense tonight too and came up with some really great plays. A block, a stop, a three, foul-line jumper … it seemed like everyone contributed to making big plays at the end. … Wendell [Moore Jr.] had yeoman’s work tonight with seven assists and one turnover.”  Coach had praise for his two freshman guards, Roach and Steward, as well as his veterans, Moore and Goldwire. Coach K: “For freshmen they’ve been really good. They’re not playing with a veteran team. When Tyus [Jones] played, he played with Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones. You had stability around him. Jordan [Goldwire] has really helped them in the last few weeks. They are out there and learning from their experiences. Jeremy had one of his best games tonight and D.J.  hit a huge shot. They’re good players and they will keep getting better as they mature physically and emotionally. They’re great kids and have great attitudes.”  

What has impressed me is the energy and communication (and Coach K’s adjustment with defending the ball screen) has transformed the perimeter defense from a liability to a team asset.  Let us see if it remains an asset..

          The Interior

UVA, with Huff and Hauser, had the advantage on the interior and the backboards.  Mark Williams saw little action (6 minutes in the first half; 1 in the second) and failed to score or impact the game.   Enter Brakefield, who played 29 minutes, guarding the much taller and very talented Huff.  K Wisdom: “Jaemyn made it work because he played so well. [Jay] Huff is a great player. He and [Sam] Hauser are two of the top players in America. Jay is such a good basketball player … his footwork, his touch and his ball handling. Mark [Williams] hasn’t guarded anyone like that. Jay is so unique and Jaemyn was able to move his feet better. We didn’t want to switch every time but when we did, he was able to stay pretty much in front of [Kihei] Clark. [Jaemyn had 4 blocked shots] Our guards were able to fight off Huff and sometimes bump another big guy there and switch. [Duke’s rotations were outstanding and the guards switching somehow kept the Virginia bigs from dunks and layups.]  For our young team, they had to communicate a lot tonight. They made really outstanding decisions on the defensive end of the court.”  

In the second half, Henry Coleman III played 5 outstanding minutes on both ends of the court (4 points on 2 offensive rebounds, and spelled Brakefield guarding Huff).    

The Offense

This is where we gush over Matt Hurt, who played 38 minutes and scored 22 points on 13 shots (8-13, including 5-8 from deep and 1-1 from the line).  Hurt and Hauser guarded each other all night; each played excellent defense, but neither could not stop the other.  Matt had 4 boards, drew 3 fouls from Hauser, and had a block.  Roach and Brakefield were Duke’s other double-digit scorers.  Roach (33 minutes) scored 12 (5-10, including 2-4 from deep, without drawing a foul) and dished out 3 assists (but 3 turnovers).  Brakefield scored 9 in an early blitz that had Bill calling to remind me Brakefield was “his guy from the beginning,” followed by Jaemyn’s acrobatic crucial game winner.  D.J. scored 9 (2-7, including 1-5 from deep and 4-7 from the line).  He was 4-4 from the stripe in the first half and 0-3 in the second half, including missing the front end of a 1-and-1 with 9.4 seconds left in the game and Duke up by 1.  His miss gave UVA a last chance that almost won the game.  Clark lost his dribble and threw a prayer that Huff grabbed and dunked … but a nanosecond after the game had ended.  Moore (30 minutes), Goldwire (28 minutes), and Coleman (5 minutes) each scored 4 points.  Baker (4 minutes) and Williams (7 minutes) failed to score.

In the second half, Hurt had 10 of Duke’s 27 second-half points.  The remaining 17 points came from: D.J. 5 (but 0-3 from the stripe); Roach had 4; Coleman 4; Moore (1-5) 2 points, and Brakefield’s 2 (the game winner) in the closing stanza.  Defense won it.

The Big Picture

This was obviously Duke’s best win of the season and sets up opportunities for Duke to ascend to unimagined (as of 3 games ago) success … or descend from the optimistic perch the last 3 efforts have created.  Duke (8-6 in the conference) has Syracuse (7-5) and Louisville (6-4) this week in Cameron; and, the following week they play Georgia Tech (7-6) and UNC (8-5, after just crushing Louisville yesterday).  Florida State (9-2), Virginia (11-3), and Virginia Tech (8-3) currently lead the conference.  The first four teams get double byes in the ACC Tournament.  Hard to win the tournament without the double bye (Duke did it in Brooklyn a couple of years ago; the only team ever to do so).  How this current stretch of games play out determines if Duke gets the NCAA bid as well as determining my level of snark toward ESPN’s bracketology guru.  I do hope my snark is high.

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

After eight losses (none by more than 7 points) in half of a weird season, The Basketball Gods apparently decided “enough was enough” and helped the young Blue Devils finally prevail in a close game against the always tough #7 University of Virginia, the top team in the league. 

Down by five points with six minutes to go, tenacious defense and fearless offense earned Duke their third straight win! However, it was not a perfect closeout as Brakefield and Steward, who combined for Duke’s last 4 points, missed free throws in the last minute. With a one point lead and just 9 seconds left, Steward missed the front end of a one-and-one. UVA’s Clark, who up to that point had a terrific game, was pressed on a pick and roll and dribbled the ball off his ankle, recovered it, and threw up a long three that was partially blocked by Hurt, but caught by Huff, who dunked it just a second after time expired–a fitting end to a very close game against an always difficult opponent.

Among other things, we may have witnessed the culmination of an attitude adjustment on this team. Keep in mind that Virginia stars Hauser and Huff are 23 & 22 . Duke’s players are 18-20 years old—and not all years are equal in terms of maturity, strength, and ability to concentrate.

The Cavaliers were ahead 65-62 with three minutes remaining, but Steward drained a tough, contested, pullup jumper to make it a one point game. Then, as Clark received the ensuing inbound pass, the Blue Devils slapped the floor in unison– a patented program trademark blast from the past.  When it happened the announcer said, “haven’t seen that very much this year.” Virginia would not score the rest of the game. Then came the decisive sequence: Jaemyn Brakefield swatted away a Clark layup attempt, and followed the block with a reverse (fouled) layup past Huff at the other end to give the Blue Devils a slim 66-65 edge.

Here’s the post-game money quote by an ecstatic Brakefield, who incidentally was recruited by Virginia (among others): “That’s why you come to Duke, to make plays like that. That’s Duke basketball.” Not to pour salt on a fresh wound, but can you imagine Jalen Johnson making back-to-back plays like that, then excitedly saying something like Jaemyn did?

OTHER COMMENTS: 

Almost everyone played at  a consistently high level at both ends of the court: Hurt has Larry Bird-like range and accuracy; Steward, the leading freshman ACC scorer, is settling into an all-court asset; Moore is a Swiss-army knife type player who is an indispensable part of the puzzle; Goldwire, leads to league in steals, and is a steadying influence; Roach is settling in but has to remember he is not back in Chantilly anymore. He is point guard (think assist first, score second) and shoots 26% from three point land and does not have to jack up contested threes; Mark Williams has become a pleasant surprise and gives the defense a much more versatile option; Coleman has demonstrated that he can be a tough, blue collar contributor in this league; only Joey Baker failed to contribute last night. His ability against the better teams is still in question.

At the end of January, Duke had beaten Clemson on a Saturday and then went to play Miami on Monday with great confidence.  The confidence was misplaced and “stinkers” against Miami, Louisville, and UNC followed.  Duke has won 3 in a row, including UVA yesterday, and now plays on Monday.  Has Duke learned its “overconfidence” lesson?  Stay tuned.

Next Play: Monday February 22, in Cameron, versus Syracuse, at 7:00 pm EST, on ESPN


Duke 85 -Syracuse 71 (Season 12 Issue 20 Game 19) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

MarkWilliamsJuicestheOrange.jpg
Mark Williams de-juices the Orange Photo Credit: Nat LeDonne/ Duke Athletics
ALANALYSIS: 

It looked like a lost season after Duke had lost 3 straight games in early February in Cameron, giving the Blue Devils an under .500 record. Duke fans were understandably distraught [understatement].    However, it did not look like a lost season to Duke’s Hall of Fame coach.  After the loss to UNC, Coach  K said, “People earn starting, and they have to keep earning it. That’s part of the growth. We have all these young guys; you have to keep earning it. That’s been part of our program.  Mark (Williams) has been playing really well. Tonight’s game was a very difficult one. It was so physical inside, and he was not ready for that level. He will be. Then offensively they really clogged up the lane when he was in. I thought Henry [Coleman III] gave us an amazing boost. We just have to keep looking at different things for our team and keep getting better. The kids have great attitudes and great work ethics, and that’s what I’m looking for. However that turns out, it’ll turn out the best that it could turn out based on good attitudes and work ethic. It may not reach the level of expectations of other people, but if our kids do that it’ll reach the level of expectation for me. I’ve coached some real young teams before and you gotta stay with it. You gotta stay with it.”

After the Notre Dame defeat, this DBP asked, “what is the role of Duke Fans following and rooting for an under-achieving team?  Perhaps, as Duke fans, we need to experience what the rest of college hoop fandom routinely go through.  We need to be tough during the losing times just as well as we are giddy and snarky in the winning days.  And then there is always hope.  The Duke 2015 National Championship team lost in the semi-finals of the ACC tournament, but somehow made the changes that morphed into the awesome defensive team that won.  And, as I have heard said, ‘hope springs eternal.’ ”

Over the last 4 games, Duke somehow made the changes that morphed into the awesome defensive team that won!

Duke’s defense went from beyond porous (giving up 50 point halves to both UNC and Notre Dame) to awesome in wins over NC State, Wake Forest, #7 ranked UVA — and last night against the Syracuse Orangemen. Coach K talked about that process: “They are young but you get old through experience. Sometimes you get older by losing. As long as you don’t get down and lose confidence. We’ve been in a lot of tough games. When we were 7-8, you’re two possessions from being 5-10 but you’re a couple possessions from being 9-6. It’s not like they were horrible … we lost close games. They’ve learned from that without losing confidence. I’m really proud of them. They’ve been good the whole year and even when we lost, I told you they were good kids and they were working hard. We just wanted to play one game at a time and work to get better. We are getting better.”

“Getting better” is understatement for sure.  Duke’s defense in the last four games has been not less than awesome.  Years ago, Shane Battier explained a complex K-defense “Coach just said, ‘Shane, run around.’”  In this defense, there are five Duke players “running around” — but in cohesive harmony.  No longer do opposing guards penetrate.  Duke’s four guard rotation – only 3 play at a time – has been a revelation.  The freshmen have learned, especially Roach; he is playing great defense even though his offense has not been consistent (14 first-half points against Syracuse and 0 in the second half).  You can see him growing in confidence and maturity.  D.J. has also been learning and brings his special brand of sizzle to trapping and switching at the defensive end.  Both guards are rebounding.  Wendell Moore and Jordan Goldwire have stepped into leadership roles.  JGold comes in off the bench, but plays starter minutes.  He is Duke’s best point guard, bringing stability to the offense and aggression to the defense.  His steals have been fire starters!  

The interior has been fueled by Mark Williams and Matt Hurt.  Williams has been delivering eye-popping blocks and dunks, not to mention  passing and timely steals.  His transformation stands out so vividly that you might not notice the wonderful defender that Hurt has become.  Now guarding the other team’s forward instead of their center, Hurt has not been in foul trouble.  He is alert to where his help is needed and he has become part of Duke’s amazing switching defense that leaves very few uncontested shots for the opposition.  Jaemyn Brakefield and Henry Coleman III have made timely, and sometimes game-winning, contributions.

Coach K on the four game run within 10 transformative days, culminating in last night’s dismantling of Syracuse: “I’m proud of my guys. A lot of my veteran teams would not have won tonight in this type of turnaround. …  Four games in 10 days … after Saturday night’s amazing game, to be able to play the way we did tonight was outstanding. We had to change how we prepared and that helped. The kids played great. We had 27 assists and got Mark [Williams] involved right away. Our guys threw those lobs and Mark had his best game with 18 [points] and 11 [rebounds]. The freshmen backcourt had 14 assists with great leadership by Wendell [Moore Jr.] and Jordan [Goldwire]. Matt [Hurt] was just solid. We weathered two storms that we knew they were going to hit us with their press in the first half. It went from 22-14 and then we were able to get it back to 18. After the first TV timeout, they hit us again and you worry about us being tired and emotionally spent and instead, after turning it over a couple of times, we started breaking the press and started to score and gave us our mojo back again. A really big win for us. This is tough. You play four games in 10 days, that’s tough for any team. For our kids to have four wins is great.”

The Rotation

Coach K has settled on a basic 6 man rotation.  Against Syracuse, the four guards — plus Hurt and Williams– all played starter minutes, with support on the interior from Jaemyn Brakefield and Henry Coleman III (tailored to the game’s needs).  Brakefield is almost a 7th man in the rotation.  

The offense has been scintillating.  Duke scored 52 in the first half, with 16 assists on 20 field goals, including 11-18 from beyond the arc.  Beautiful!  While Duke’s offense diminished in the second half, the defense did not.  Duke was even better on defense when the offense stagnated a bit.  Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim (the coach’s son) scored 8 straight meaningless (to anyone not named Boeheim) points at the game’s end to skew Duke’s second-half defensive statistics and drop the winning margin from over 20 to just 14.  

In a 11 minute stretch of the first half, Duke effectively won the game on both ends of the floor.  After 3 minutes 10 seconds had elapsed, Duke led 11-6.  For almost 11 minutes (from the 16:50 mark until there was only 5:55 left in the first half), Duke held the Orange to only 9 points while stretching the lead to 21 (36-15).  It was at that point that the game was effectively over.  When Syracuse made the small run based on its full court press, peeling the lead down to 14, Coach K inserted JGold who ran the fast break and squeezed the Orange press dramatically. 

Matt Hurt led in minutes played with 34 and ½ minutes, scoring 15 points (5-11 from the field, including 2-5 from deep and 3-5 from the stripe), to go with 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks.  Superb basketball!  His shooting reputation draws the defense and opens up the floor for his teammates.  

Jeremy Roach and D.J. Steward each played 33 and ½ terrific minutes.  D.J. scored a game-high 21 (7-18, including 4-11 from deep and 1-1 from the line), sizzling in the open court and on defense (7 assists and 2 blocked shots with 3 turnovers).  Roach notched 14 points, all in the first half — an efficient 5-7 from the field, including 4-5 from deep.  Jeremy tied for the team’s assist lead with 7.  All this with only 3 turnovers while pulling down 5 key rebounds.  Wendell Moore scored 7 points in his 29 minutes (3-7, including 1-4 from deep), to go with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and a blocked shot.  He provides valuable leadership and maturity, and may be the team’s best one-on-one defender.  Goldwire played 26 minutes, scoring 6 points on 2-3 from deep, all in the second half.  JGold also handed out 4 assists, made 2 key steals and was most responsible for destroying the Syracuse press.  

Mark Williams was the Player of the Game with his first career double double in 25 minutes (9-11 for 18 points with 11 boards).  He was an efficient rim protector on defense, blocking two shots and altering a bunch more.  Coach K is slowly expanding Mark’s minutes.  I predict that by tournament time, Mark will be playing in the 30 minute range.   Brakefield and Coleman each scored 2 points in 7 minutes, spelling Williams.  Coleman had 5 rebounds in those 7 minutes.  

The comparison of the interior rotation between the UVA game and the Syracuse game demonstrates Duke’s current flexibility.  Against UVA, Brakefield played starter minutes and essentially won the game for Duke while Williams played little.  Last night was the reverse. Joey Baker played 3 scoreless minutes.  However, he has shown he can stroke the 3 when left open.  Duke’s flexibility is another newly developed weapon. 

The Big Picture

The ACC tournament could have an impact on Duke’s NCAA tournament hopes, though the last 4 games already reveal the Blue Devils as clearly tournament-worthy.  The first four teams in the regular season receive the double bye (though with the COVID driven discrepancy in number of conference games played, that calculation could be murky).  Here is how the contending teams stand before Tuesday’s conference games (with the remaining games listed).  The “maybe” is the games were postponed; the ACC has not yet decided if any will be played.

FIRST 3 PLACES:

  • FLA STATE (9-2): MIAMI, BC, UNC, NOTRE DAME
  • UVA (11-3): NC STATE, MIAMI, LOUISVILLE
  • VA TECH (8-3): LAST 3 GAMES were PPD (FLA ST, LOUISVILLE, UNC) — GA TECH, WAKE, LOUISVILLE, NC STATE

CONTENDERS FOR THE 4TH SEED

  • UNC (8-5): FLA ST, SYRACUSE, DUKE  – UNC HOLDS TIE BREAKER AGAINST DUKE (SO FAR)
  • LOUISVILLE (8-4): NOTRE DAME, DUKE, VA TECH, UVA (MAYBE SYRACUSE) – LOUISVILLE HOLDS TIEBREAKER (SO FAR)
  • CLEMSON (7-5): WAKE, MIAMI, PITT + (MAYBE PITT AND NOTRE DAME) – DUKE HOLDS TIEBREAKER
  • SYRACUSE (7-6): UNC, GA TECH (MAYBE LOUISVILLE) – DUKE HOLDS THE TIEBREAKER
  • GA TECH (7-6): VA TECH, SYRACUSE, DUKE, AND WAKE (MAYBE BC) – DUKE HOLDS THE TIEBREAKER (SO FAR)
  • DUKE (9-6):, LOUISVILLE, GA TECH, UNC
BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

The Trap Game was a snap game. Suddenly, after a frustrating, rocky, start to the season, these young players are individually and collectively maturing at warp speed: Mark Williams had his first career double-double, 18 points (9 of 11 shooting), 11 rebounds and 2 blocks and owned the paint. As Mark said after the game, “I’m just trying to protect the rim.  If they don’t score, they can’t win”.  Jeremy Roach scored 14 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists; while Steward had 21 points and 7 assists.

Anyone worrying about this Renaissance Run coming to an end tonight relaxed after about six minutes of play as the Blue Devils executed their best half of basketball. The defense was enthusiastic and effective; sharp passing and ball movement produced 27 assists. However, the opposition gets more challenging these next few weeks.

Horses for courses: Here is an example of how versatile this squad is: Jaemyn Brakefield, the hero of the Virginia game, only played seven minutes tonight and scored just 1 point against Syracuse. Mark Williams, who only played 7 minutes against the Cavaliers, played 25 minutes against Syracuse, posting his first career double-double.

Johnny Tar Heel text wisely noted: “The most important stat is 27 assists on 35 field goals, plus great shooting. To assist on 80% of your field goals says all kinds of good things about this TEAM.”

Other Comments:

  • How can Matthew Hurt be one of the deadliest all court shooters in the country and be such a mediocre (70%) free throw shooter?
  • The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to winter athletes. Therefore, senior Jordan Goldwire will have another year of eligibility, allowing him to play next year. Goldwire has recorded 2+ steals in each of 18 of 19 games this season and his 18 multi-steal games are tied for the most by any player in college basketball this season.

Next Play: Saturday February 27, in Cameron, versus Louisville, at 6:00 pm EST, on ESPN


Duke 73-Louisville 80 OT (Season 12 Issue 21 Game 20) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Matt Hurt’s Game Deserves Special Mention

Matt’s game settled any discussion about whether or not he is athletic enough to succeed in the NBA.  He proved he is pro material by scoring in every conceivable way, with more than 50% of Duke’s points (37 of Duke’s 73, on just 21 shots).  Matt was 15-21 from the field (but only 2-6 from behind the arc; that is an astounding 13-15 inside the arc, many hotly contested) (plus 5-6 from the foul line). Hurt played 43 minutes (all 20 in the second half, fouling out with 17 seconds to go in the overtime). He grabbed 7 rebounds while creating a steal and blocking a shot — all that with 0 turnovers.  By himself, Matt scored more points than all of his teammates combined. (37 for Matt; 34 for the rest of the team).  His amazing performance would have been remembered in legend, if only Duke had won.  The Blue Devils lost a critical game partly by regressing into previous bad habits and partly because Louisville,  one of the ACC’s better teams, played exceedingly well.

Disappointing Regression – Against a Really Good Team (Louisville)

Louisville was the better team yesterday, but I’m not sure Louisville is an overall better team than Duke.  I had told Bill that I thought Duke would come out flat and fall behind in the first half.  After 4 scintillating performances – the Devils were not less than masterful in their last outing against Syracuse – you could feel a confidence that ultimately betrayed the Devils by scaling back their urgency.  Thus, Duke opened the game without any urgency, looking pancake flat.  Coach K:  “I thought they dominated the first half.  Their athleticism and maturity knocked us back, and I thought at halftime, we talked about it and our guys responded, and I thought we really fought the rest of the way at a high level.  Our kids were ready to play, but they did not realize the level that they had to be ready to play at and were knocked back, and we have the senior, we won four in a row, there’s a little bit of an edge that is taken off and we’re able to find that again at the half time, but to credit Louisville, if they don’t come out the way they do, you would have never noticed that we were not at that level. Louisville is responsible for that.” 

I did think the Devils, who had been playing so well in recent games, would come back to win this one in the second half.  I was almost clairvoyant: Duke overcame a 12 point deficit to lead 55-52 with 7:16 left in the game.  They had a chance at the end of regulation (leading 65-64 with 38 seconds left), but regression prevailed.

The Perimeter

Coach K nailed it, “their perimeter just knocked our guards back. They [D.J. Steward, Jordan Goldwire, and Jeremy Roach] did not have the games that they’ve had in the last couple weeks, but they’re also playing against high level guards.”   The three Duke quick guards had a disastrous game.   Besides Hurt’s 16 first half points, Duke scored only 10 in the first 20 minutes  (the Devils trailed 36-26 at the intermission).    The three quick guards combined for only a single point of those 10.   D.J. failed to score in 13 minutes (0-5, including 0-1 from deep) with an assist and a turnover;  JGold scored the trio’s only first half point in his 15 minutes (0-1, 1-2 from the line; 4 assists, 2 turnovers and a steal); while  Jeremey in his 11 minutes was scoreless (0-2, both from deep) with an assist and 3 turnovers.  The other 9 points in the first half were scored by Wendell Moore (5 points in 16 1/2 minutes; 2-4, including 1-3 from deep) and Mark Williams, who scored 4 points in his 13 minutes (2-3 from the field).   Joey Baker failed to score in his 9 first half minutes, and did not play in the second half. 

JGold, D.J. and Jeremy played big minutes in the second half when Duke used its press to fight their way back into contention.  While they were excellent in the press, the failure on the offensive end continued.  For the entire game, D.J. scored 8 in his 37 minutes (2-13, including 1-5 from deep and 3-4 from the stripe); Goldwire failed to score in his almost 19 second half minutes; while Roach was 1-3 from the field, including 0-2 from 3land and 1-2 from the stripe for 3 points in his 11 second half minutes. The backcourt certainly “did not have the games that they’ve had in the last couple of weeks”; that made the difference between winning and losing. 

The Interior

Mark Williams had a good game statistically, but did not impact the game as he had done  in the past few games. In 25 minutes, he was 4-8 for 8 points, had 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and a steal, while committing only 1 turnover and 1 foul.  However, Coach K does not play him when the Devils are pressing, so he was not on the court much in the latter parts of the second half.  He was a non-factor in the overtime.  In the first half, Louisville had 7 offensive rebounds and scored critical second chance baskets, while Duke did not have a single offensive rebound in the opening stanza.  In the latter part of the second half, no Blue Devil could score, except Hurt, and as one reporter put it, “the Cardinals simply mauled Duke on the boards.”

Jaemyn Brakefield played 13 minutes (7 in the first half), scoring 3 points (1-2; 0-1 from deep and 1-1 from the line), grabbing a rebound, but committing 2 fouls.  Henry Coleman III made a cameo appearance.  The supporting cast simply did not support!

That One Play at the End of Regulation

Moore put Duke ahead 65-64 with 38 seconds left to play in regulation.  Jones, Louisville’s unstoppable guard, attempted a game winning shot with 14 seconds left.  He missed but was fouled.  Jones tied the game on his first attempt, but missed the second.  Duke had a very small line up on the floor — Hurt, Moore, Steward, Roach and Goldwater — and they failed to secure the rebound.  Even though Jones missed another attempted game winner, the failure to get the rebound cost Duke a chance to win the game with about 10 seconds left.   Coach K: “You put yourself in a position to win, we got five, seven points behind, the press helped us, we got the lead, and it comes down to the one possession and we actually got (Carlik) Jones to go left, but our help side has to come over. It didn’t come over, and then we blocked out on the free throw, but we’ve got to grab the rebound. That would have given us at least a chance. Jones, he doesn’t miss often, but he missed then, and it would have given us like nine seconds or 10 seconds, or whatever it was to push the ball down the court. Our game boils down to stuff like that, that one possession, and we were able to win that possession against Virginia, and we did not win that possession tonight.”

The Overtime

Duke was completely gassed in the overtime.   The defense did not ever stop Louisville, who scored 15 points in those 5 excruciating overtime minutes. The Cardinal shot 4-5 from the field (including 1-1 from deep) and 6-7 from the line.  That took all suspense out of the game’s outcome.

D.J. played all 5 minutes without scoring (0-3); JGold played all 5 minutes without scoring; Jeremey played over 3 minutes without scoring.  Elizabeth’s baby brother played less than 2 minutes without scoring; and Brakefield played 20 seconds without scoring.  Hurt was 2-2 for 4 points before fouling out with 20 seconds left.  Wendell scored the other 4 on 1-2, including 0-1 and 2-3 from the stripe.

 The Big Picture

Duke has now dug a huge hole for an NCAA invite.  The two road games this week are an opportunity..  Both Georgia Tech (Tuesday) and UNC (Saturday) have better records than the Blue Devils and had great wins over the weekend.  UNC beat Florida State for a significant win, and unveiled its own spectacular freshman 7 foot center, who led Carolina’s second half comeback; maybe the best Tarheel win of the season. Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech.  Duke will be an underdog in each game.  Duke is now 8th in the league and therefore would still earn a single bye in the ACC tournament.  It is conceivable that if Duke lost both games (that would make 9 conference losses), they could lose even the single bye.   

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

This improving Duke team, except for Hurt, is still not ready for Prime Time.  Big, physical teams push them around and figuratively kick sand in their faces.  No matter how lethal Hurt is, it’s nearly impossible to stay competitive against good teams when one player scores over sixty percent of your points.  And as hot as Hurt was, there were critical possessions where he did not touch the ball both early in the second half and in the overtime.

The Cardinals’ guards simply dominated the Blue Devils’ backcourt on both ends of the court.  Note: Carlik Jones, the star Cardinal guard, is 23 years old. Duke’s guards are teenagers.  

After the hard-fought comeback, which resulted in overtime, Mark Williams (in a first) lost the tip, Quinn Slazinksi, a sub, hit a three pointer, and Duke missed its first two shots.  Game, set, match.

To add insult to injury, Carolina, after losing to Marquette earlier in the week, rallied from 16 down to upset No. 11 Florida State.   7’1’’ freshman Walker Kessler had been languishing on the Tarheel bench; however, he did a pretty good Tyler Hansbrough impression against the Seminoles yesterday, leading UNC to the win with 20 second-half points.  Johnny Tar Heel has often commented that only Roy Williams could keep a guy as obviously talented as Kessler buried on the bench for most of the season.

Next Play:  Tuesday, March 2, 2021, versus Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, at 8:00 pm EST, on ACCN. 


Duke 77-Georgia Tech 81 OT (Season 12 Issue 22 Game 21) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Two mediocre teams played an important, tense, and hard-fought (but not a particularly well-played) game with a spot in the NCAA tournament seemingly on the line.  Georgia Tech won 81-77 in overtime and fully deserved the win.  Duke made two heart-stopping comebacks – one at the end of regulation to tie the game and open a chance to win; and one in the last 24 seconds of the overtime.  

In the overtime comeback, the Yellow Jackets led by 6 and had the ball  when Moore stole it and fed D.J. Steward for a fast break 3 pointer.  Duke then trailed by 3 with 8 seconds left.  Incredibly, Patrick Tapé, who had entered the game when Mark Williams fouled out with 28 seconds left, stole the inbound pass and made a great feed to D.J. who was WIDE OPEN at the 3 point line for the game-tying shot.  He missed!  Tapé got the rebound and was fouled.  He made the first one to make it 79-77, and intentionally missed the second one, but Duke could not get the rebound.  Oh that D.J. had connected!!  That last 24 seconds summed up the game, and might actually sum up the season.

Coach K summed it up perfectly  (I have bolded sections particularly insightful):

“Two in a row in overtime. Obviously, we had a great shot to win right at the end of regulation. The kids executed the full-court really well, and that group got us back. We were eight points down and Joey [Baker] did a couple really good things, but that group played really good defense and gave us a shot at winning. We’re just not getting any production at all from our perimeter, from our guards. It’s the second game in a row where they’ve had a tough time against veteran guards. [Jose] Alvarado obviously is outstanding and [Michael] DeVoe, but even [Bubba] Parham – they’re older guys and they knocked our young perimeter back. We had open shots. For about five minutes in the second half – [from] about 15 minutes [remaining] to 10 or somewhere in that – we just kind of went nuts. We were doing some things – what are we doing? That’s when they got the lead. What are we doing? We had no poise during that time. That period and then right at the end of the first half – I thought we played better in the first half than a three-point lead. But we didn’t hit shots and then we had the ball underneath the bucket in the last 40 seconds and didn’t get anything. We had a blocked shot, then they hit the three. It was kind of like a five-point turnaround. Instead of being up six-eight, you were up three. Our margin between winning and losing is a narrow one. You have a number of these plays and it’s tough to win, although we had that [opportunity]. Even in overtime, we got down and our kids fought. [We] hit a three and I think it was 79-76, we had another open shot. You’ve got to hit shots. Our guys on the perimeter have not done that lately. I’m not blaming them for the loss – they just didn’t. They’re good shots. If you hit them, we win. … It’s been a year of ‘Almost.’ That’s about the fifth or sixth one-possession game that we’ve lost. You’re almost having a really good year. Instead, you’re having a .500 year. That’s the way the game is.”

The Offense Shriveled and Died for Most of the Second Half and Overtime

The First Half

The Blue Devils scored 34 first-half points, led by Wendell Moore’s 16 points.  Wendell was simply on fire in his 15 opening-period minutes (7-9 from the field, including 2-2 from behind the arc) with 2 steals, a rebound, and an assist.  Matt Hurt had an efficient first half, scoring 10 in his 17+ minutes (4-7, including 1-1 from 3land and 1-1 from the foul line).  He had 3 boards and committed only a single first-half foul.  Mark Williams was 3-3 for 6 points and contributed 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal, and an assist, all without a turnover.  However, he did commit 2 first-half fouls.  Jaemyn Brakefield scored Duke’s other 2 points in his 10+ first-half minutes (1-7, including 0-3 from behind the arc and 0-1 from the stripe).  He contributed 2 boards and an assist.  Critically for Duke,Jeremy Roach (15 minutes), D.J. Steward (15 minutes), Jordan Goldwire (12 minutes), Joey Baker (3 minutes), and Henry Coleman III (1 minute) all failed to score a single point in the first half — a real problem that got much worse when neither Moore nor Hurt could score efficiently in the second half.

The Second Half

Hurt scored 2 points to give Duke a  50-48 lead with 12:11 left in the game, and then didn’t score for the rest of the game! .  Bill and I chatted at that point.  I complained about our freshman backcourt turning it over and failing to run a cohesive and organized offense.  As if to prove my point, Goldwire turned it over on the very next play.  Patrick Tapé made his first appearance in a game in a long while and missed a layup.  Steward committed a turnover, which led to Hurt committing his 3rd foul.  Roach then turned it over.  Duke had gone a full 3 minutes without a point and trailed 54-52 when Williams slammed home a dunk at the 9:1o mark.  Hurt turned it over, committing an offensive foul (his 4th) with 8:26 to go.   He was done.  He played only 10 more seconds before fouling out.  Moore played all 20 minutes of the second half, scoring just 4 points on 9 shots (2-9) without drawing a foul.

Coach K: “The foul trouble for Matt [Hurt] absolutely hurt us. “You’re always better with a bunch of options, because if you only go to one, then they can key on him. Matt has been kind of the go-to guy. We don’t have another go-to guy, although Wendell [Moore Jr.] tried to do that. Wendell was a warrior, who has played his heart out and played well. But you have to score as a unit. We have  good talent. We’re not that talented that you just give somebody the ball and they’re going to do something. You’ve got to score together.”  

Duke did not ‘score together’ in the second half.  In fact, Duke hardly scored at all —  only 6 points in the 9:27 that elapsed from 12:11 until only 2:38 remained in the game.  Astoundingly awful!

Then, Duke made an amazing run, scoring 8 in just 1:15 –JGold made a jump shot, Joey Baker made a crucial 3 and bagged all 3 foul shots. That tied the game at 64 with 1:43 to go.  While neither team scored again, Duke had its chance.  Georgia Tech could not score, but got 3 offensive rebounds to keep trying.  Finally, JGold captured the fourth rebound with 1:04 to go.  But Duke did not (could not) make a genuine attempt at offense.  Moore finally threw up a contested prayer with 35 left on the game clock and the shot clock running out.  Nada. Duke had scored only 30 points in the entire second half. 

Overtime

Mark Williams scored a dunk almost immediately to give Duke a 66-64 lead.  2:42 later Duke scored its next point when Williams went 1-2 from the foul line.  Duke trailed 70-67 at that point.  With 2:04 left, Williams again went 1-2 from the line.  Duke trailed 72-68.  The defense simply could not get a stop; Georgia Tech went 4-5 from the field in overtime and was 9-12 from the stripe when Duke  fouled, scoring 17 points in the 5 minute overtime (that is a rate of 136 points per game.).  

Georgia Tech star big man, Moses Wright, and Mark Williams traded dunks.  Duke trailed by 4 with 1:18 left, but just could not score.  Baker missed 2 three-point attempts, and Goldwire missed a 2 point jumper.  Wright made 1-2 when fouled, giving Tech a 6 point lead with 35 seconds left.  J.D. missed a 3, and Wright again made 1-2, as Williams fouled out going for the rebound.  Duke down 7 with 28 seconds left.   Goldwire raced down court and hit a 3 with 25 seconds left.  Duke down 77-73.  Alvarado made 2 foul shots for the Yellow Jackets. 79-73.  JGold misfired and Tech got the rebound, but Moore stole the ball and fed D.J. for a shocking 3.  Duke trailed 79-76 with 8 seconds left.  The rest you know.  Tapé made the steal, but D.J. missed the game tying attempt.

 The Big Picture

          For This Year

Coach K: “These kids have fought all year.  They have never given up.  Again, you have a unit that you don’t really practice that much with, and they’re in there and they figure out a way where really, we could win.  You’ve got a great shot there and that would’ve been unbelievable.  This group just hasn’t had anything unbelievable happen for them, but they’ve continued to work hard and compete.  They’ve been a good group. I’m very disappointed about tonight, but they will keep fighting and we’ve got to do that again on Saturday.  Every time we line up, that’s what we have to do. Our guys have done that.  Over the years, we’ve been very fortunate, so I don’t know if the basketball gods are evening things up a little bit.  We respect Georgia Tech and we’re not going to make any excuses.  We’re going to keep fighting and see what the heck happens.”

          For Next Year – Mark Williams’s Simply Great Game

Coach K: “I thought Mark [Williams] played a great game. For him to play 35 minutes – sensational … I think one of the real big pluses of the season is his [Mark Williams] development.  He’s going to be a real special player. He really fought.  The free throws – he’ll be a good free throw shooter because he has good form.  [Mark was only a deflating 0-2 in the second half and 2-5 in overtime]. He played really well.  His progression has been outstanding.  It’s one of the reasons we had a chance to win – his play.”

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

This year we know how Maryland, Carolina, and all the other teams felt whose hearts Duke has broken during the Coach K decades by pulling out an extraordinary number of close games.  In today’s woke climate, I guess it should be called “Duke Privilege.”  However, this year, for the first time in decades of watching Duke Basketball, I never felt confident these Blue Devils were going to win close games.  Call it reversion to the mean, the law of averages, or whatever.  But the truth is, this is what your record says you are—a .500 team that, except for Mathew Hurt’s exceptional shooting touch, could never consistently develop the guard-play or chemistry to be, on balance, more than the sum of the parts. 

Now, we can better understand how Charlie Brown feels when Lucy pulls the ball away at the last minute as he tries to kick a field goal. 

Next Play.

Next Play:  Saturday, March 6, 2021, versus UNC, in Chapel Hill, at 6:00 pm EST, on ESPN. 


Duke 73-UNC 91 (Season 12 Issue 23 Game 22) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

I have no idea how to write about this game.  Duke was ascendant after four straight wins – NC State (good bye, Jalen), Wake Forest, UVA (ranked team), and a perfect performance in dismantling Syracuse.  Visions of sugar plums danced in our heads, as we contemplated winning the double-bye in the ACC tournament and being a feared adversary in the NCAA tournament.  Then the clock struck midnight!  But the 12th stroke was not fully realized until Duke was simply humiliated last night by UNC 91-73.  Humiliating it indeed was because this is not The UNC-a-national-power; this is an unranked-UNC that is only a #6 seed in the ACC tournament. 

The midnight clock started sounding the chimes when Duke (on senior night, no less) lost its last home game, in overtime to Louisville, opening that game without any urgency and thus digging a hole for itself that proved inescapable.  The clock was probably on the sixth or seventh chime when Duke went on the road and lost another heartbreaking overtime game to Georgia Tech.  Perhaps we, as fans, did not understand how deflating those two overtime losses were.  Apparently, those losses took out all the hopes, dreams, and optimism that the four wins had generated.  The emotional deflation going into Chapel Hill — on UNC’s senior night — sealed Duke’s disastrous fate. 

Jim Carroll was an American author, poet, autobiographer, punk musician, and heroin addict.  Carroll is best known for his 1978 autobiographical work The Basketball Diaries; the book inspired a 1995 film of the same title that starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Carroll.  His Prep school basketball team was terrific and Carroll was the star.  He and his whole team were also hard core druggies.  Before each game, they would go to Central Park and score uppers and downers, taking the uppers before the game and the downers afterwards.  In The Basketball Diaries, Carroll describes one game where they mixed up the drugs and took the downers before the game.  The players’ feet stuck to the floor.  They couldn’t move.  The other team steamrolled them early before the coach could get them out of the game.  Duke’s first half against UNC last night brought Carroll’s stuck feet description to mind.  In the first half it looked as if every Duke player (except D.J. Steward) had downed  downers before the tipoff.

Coach K Took the Blame to Protect His Team

“Roy had his team really prepared.  I didn’t have my team prepared the way they did.  After two tough losses, I thought the things we did in practice were really good.  But they didn’t come to fruition; they didn’t work out.  They really played at a high level of intensity.  Their defense was outstanding. That’s on me because they knocked us back.  They played at a high level and we did not. They were excellent and we were not very good.  That’s on me. That’s my responsibility.  They completely knocked back with their level of defense, their level of intensity on the defense.  They played with intensity all the way, but the first 8-10 minutes they were at a high level.  They knocked us back.  I was not able to prepare them for the level of intensity and physicality they faced.  We couldn’t get shots.  They hit shots.  Their defense made their offense better.”

 “We had played outstanding basketball in the four games; then we were knocked back in the two games before UNC.  I need to help them more.” 

Coach K concluded by saying he would try and get the team back on track to face Boston College on Tuesday afternoon in the first round of the ACC tournament.

The Offense Shriveled and Died in the First Half; The Defense Was Dead for the Entire Game

The First Half

In the first 18 minutes of the first half of the game, Duke scored a measly 18 points and trailed by 22, (40-18) with 1:39 left in the first half.  The game was effectively over at that point.  D.J. had scored 8 of those 18, (including a four point play, which was Duke’s only free throw attempt in the entire first half). Roach, Brakefield, & Tapé each had a 2-point basket; Mark Williams added 2 hoops for 4 points.  Even though Duke finished the half scoring a flurry of 8 points (Hurt had a 3 and a layup for his only 5 first half points, and D.J. dropped a 3 bomb with 12 seconds left, bringing his total scoring to 11), Duke’s anemic first-half scoring was still only 26 points in total.  Duke never really cut significantly into the 22 point deficit that the Devils had faced with 1:39 left in the first half.  Duke trailed 42-26 at the half.  Duke’s ineffective man to man defense never stopped UNC’s offense. With 1:39 left in the first half, the game was over, leaving over 20 plus minutes of excruciating slow death for Duke fans who stayed through the second half.  WATCHING THIS GAME WAS NO FUN!

The Second Half

Duke scored 47 points in the second half, but UNC scored 49.  Duke simply could not get the defensive stops needed to make its offensive rejuvenation a comeback threat.  After having its man-to-man absolutely shredded by the Tarheels in the first half, Duke mixed in zone and a full court press.  The best the Blue Devils could do was make a little run with the press, reducing the UNC lead to 13 (44-31 with 18:39 left in the game).  The margin was never again that small.  Duke couldn’t manage a serious run as the game dragged on to its sorrowful conclusion.

 The ACC Tournament Starts Tuesday

I don’t think Duke has ever played in a first round ACC tournament since the league moved to 15 teams, necessitating the 5 round tournament.  The last five seeded teams (#10-15) play in the first round.  Duke, as the #10 seed plays #15 seed Boston College on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.  On paper, this should be an easy game where Duke can get its mojo back.  BC has fired its coach after a terrible COVID-ravaged season (2-11 in the conference).  But as we have all learned this year, the games are not played on paper.  Note: Florida State gave UVA the league championship when FSU lost to Notre Dame (the # 11 seed) yesterday.  The winner of Duke-BC plays Louisville (#7 seed) on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.  Louisville beat Duke twice in close regular-season games, but a Duke win is not unimaginable.  If Duke could beat Louisville (finally), that would set up a quarter-final game against Florida State.  In my opinion, three Duke wins will earn Duke a bid to the Big Dance.  Even two might.  

However, Coach K has wise advice against my way of thinking: “You can’t look at the tournament as a whole.  Look at the game in front of you.  If you look at the whole tournament it’s going to be daunting.  You will hear, ‘you can’t win 5; it’s never been done in the ACC,’ and a lot of other negative stuff.  We are all 0-0.  We have to get ready for Tuesday against BC.  One game at a time.  Let’s see how well we can play against BC.” 

Coach has promised he will have the Blue Devils ready to play BC on Tuesday.

In spite of Coach K’s sage advice, I need to point out that years ago, UConn’s season was so disappointing the Huskies had to play in the first of five rounds in the old Big East.  UConn not only won the Big East, but went on to win the NCAA tournament as well.  How is that for a warm thought to sleep with?

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

Congratulations to North Carolina. They outplayed Duke in every aspect of the game. It was a TKO from the first few minutes. The Devils did not hit shots or make stops—a deadly combination. Matthew Hurt’s atypically poor first half shooting clearly demonstrated how important he is for this team to be successful.

Question: With the depth of talent UNC has, how have they lost nine games?

Next Play:  Tuesday, March 9, 2021, versus BC, in Greensboro, at 4:30 pm EST, on ACCN. 


“Lucky Devil” Extra; Duke 70-Louisville 56; Duke 86 Boston College 51 (Season 12 Issue 24 Games 23 and 24) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Duke’s astounding performance in the first two tournament games is the catalyst for this unplanned “Lucky Devil Extra!”  Start with the fact that Duke gave up just 107 points in two games combined.  This is a direct result of simply superb Duke-defense, especially against Louisville, who had torched Duke at “winning time” in two regular-season games.  This analysis will focus on the second half of both games, paying tribute to the jaw-droppingly dominant Mark Williams in the paint on both ends of the court, Wendell Moore’s leadership, and Matt Hurt’s morphing into an effective Sundance to Mark’s new Butch Cassidy role.

Tonight’s game against second-seeded Florida State (The ACC’s highest ranked team nationally) will, in some ways, define the season.  A loss will in all likelihood deny Duke’s entry into the NCAA tournament.  A win opens all doors.  Uniquely, the teams did not play each other in the regular season because COVID required cancellation of the scheduled game.  Like UNC, Florida State is huge up front and will challenge Mark Williams’s new found star status.   This feels like the perfect opportunity for Duke as the season charges toward its championship climax (es).

GAME 2:  Duke 70 Louisville 56

Mark Williams scored 23 points and, even more importantly, corralled 19 rebounds (7 on the offensive boards).  He controlled the game against Louisville.  Matt Hurt added 20 points to keep the Blue Devils safely ahead by double digits throughout the second half, making one crucial turnaround jumper from the post as he was losing the ball.  That shot took Louisville’s heart out. Mark and Matt were in beautiful sync.

Duke led by 1 at the half.  Goldwire, Roach, and Steward majorly struggled in the first half (collectively 2-11 from the field and 0-6 from deep), but they turned it around in the second half. Duke’s defense controlled Louisville’s all-league backcourt in both halves and was just as valuable as William’s star turn.  Coach K was asked, “Looked like you guys were switching all over the place. What was the key to being so successful? What did the guys do so well?”  K’s answer was revealing: “Yeah, what we did was in the past … our program — it’s not a zone, but we call it 1-1.  It’s still man-to-man, but it’s a switching man, which really protects the paint.  Instead of like trying to put a matchup in or anything like that, in the past we — not this year, but some of our teams in the past we did that, and we decided the best way to try to keep those two guards out of the lane was to do that.”

“One of the first things is to get back and not allow transition, which we did a decent job of.  But then we just tried to smother the lane.  And exaggerated plugs is what we call, you know, plugging from another guy. You would do that somewhat, but today the defense we played was exaggerated.

“He still got in there a couple times but not like he has in the first two games that we played against them.  Our guys were able to pick this up in an — they got our game plan in an hour, and they were able to execute it.”

Louisville’s coach said in the interview that Duke had not switched like that all year and acknowledged such agility flummoxed the Cardinals.

The Second Half

The defense, and Mark Williams, was the story of the second half.  Elizabeth’s baby brother scored 15 second-half points (5-7 from the field and 5-6 from the line).  It is worth mentioning that Mark missed all 3 of his first-half foul shots and his first one in the second half.  Matt went up to him after that miss and spoke to him intently.  Mark made his next 5 in a row.

Matt and Mark’s intense focus kept Duke’s working margin from their 9-0 run to open the half all the way through to the game’s end.  Duke never let the Cardinals back into the game.  In addition to shooting, Mark’s rebounding was on point– 10 boards, 8 of them protecting the defensive boards from Louisville’s aggressive offensive rebounding.  Coach K: “Mark was fabulous, not good. He only had one rebound yesterday, so he’s averaging 10 a game. Just to keep his ego in check.  But to get 19 rebounds in a game, and those defensive rebounds in the last eight, ten minutes were the deciding factor in the game, really.  He had a great game, an amazing second half.  The number of minutes and the physicality of the game — really good players are able to play tired at a high level, and he did that tonight. I thought Matt did, our team did that, but Mark really did that. That was very, very impressive.”

Mark recalls watching Duke women’s games from behind the Duke bench, cheering for Elizabeth.  He has been a Dukie from that moment; he wanted to play in Cameron and be like his big sister.  He has the potential to leave a similar legacy.

The rotation was interesting.  Only 6 played big minutes —  Moore (4 points), Hurt (7 points), and Steward (7 points) each came out of the game only briefly.  Williams (15 points) played 33 minutes.  Roach (7 points) and Goldwater (0 points) played 12 minutes each.   Brakefield, Coleman III, Baker, and Goldwire were the bench; but none scored.

Game 1: Duke 86 Boston College 51

Duke defended and BC was outclassed.  Duke expanded a 14 point margin at half time into a 30 point lead during the second half.  Duke scored 45 second-half points, but the leading scorers in that stanza had 6 points each (JGold and Baker).  Everyone played; everyone scored, including the walk-ons.  K’s grandson scored his first college game point.  

One sportswriter had this quibble, “There are plenty of things to pick out as potential problems – Hurt had four fouls, Williams only had one rebound which is kind of hard to believe, and Duke had 16 turnovers, with about ⅓    of those by Wendell Moore with five.”  That may be legitimate critique on the BC game, but Duke did not repeat those weaknesses against Louisville.

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

One of the reasons I dislike the One-and-Done Era is that it does not allow us to watch the most talented players mature.  Part of the joy of Duke Basketball has been watching Laettner, Hill, Hurley, Battier, Zoubek (just to name a few) hone their skills as players and teammates. However, this year watching Mark Williams’s improvement and his impact on the team has been like watching a movie on fast forward.  And, to a lesser extent, the same is true for D.J. Steward, who, while inconsistent, shows flashes of exceptional athleticism and playmaking creativity.  In addition, both exhibit a genuine, infectious  joy and enthusiasm for playing the game.

So, while this season has been a disappointment in the win column, the prospect of watching another year or so of these and other non One-and-Doners is a reason to look forward to next year.

A trademark of Duke Basketball is lightning quick runs that define a game. So, you don’t often see a team make a 14 point strike against Duke. However, in the first half Louisville ran off 14 straight points in the 1:42 that Williams was on the bench. What does that tell you about his importance to the team?

Florida State is a much larger, stronger team than Louisville. It will be interesting how Williams handles the larger front line.

Next Play:  Tonight, March 11, 2021, versus Florida State, in Greensboro, at 6:30 pm EST, on ACCN or ESPN.

Note: There will be one DBP ACC Tournament wrap-up with selection Sunday news added.


End of Season Wrap-up (Season 12 Issue 25) with Bill Miller’s “CliffsNotes”

ALANALYSIS: 

Duke’s 2020-2021 team was never fully defined in this short-circuited, inconsistent (and Jalen-challenged) season.   Like last season, Duke played its best game of the year before its scheduled ACC tournament quarter final game.  In this season’s finale, the Blue Devils were superb in gaining revenge against Louisville, behind Mark Williams’s All World performance (23 points; 19 rebounds) and Matt Hurt’s 20 point game.  The backcourt came alive, and the defense was the best it has been all year!  

In last year’s finale, the Devils had looked simply awesome in defeating UNC on Senior Night at Cameron. The 2019-20 Blue Devils transformed when Justin Robinson earned a starter’s role in Blue Devils’ games down the stretch.  In both instances, the quarterfinal games (each against Florida State) were COVID-cancelled, ending Duke’s season – and preventing each team from being fully defined as it usually is, by tournament results.  We – at least I – will always wonder about the late season resolution that was denied to Duke’s last two teams.

Rumors have circulated that an additional seven Duke players have tested positive for the virus in the week since the season was canceled.  

This leads to the conclusion that we won’t really be able to evaluate this season until Duke’s 2021-2022 team begins to emerge.  By that I mean, let’s see who stays (Could Elizabeth’s baby brother leave on the strength of his last game?  Hurt might leave, but if he doesn’t, he will have a POY-type opportunity).  The NCAA has granted all players an extra year of eligibility, allowing all seniors (Goldwire; Tapé – who knows if grad students count?) to return if they choose.  Let’s see if the freshmen guards and Moore (+ potentially Goldwire) can morph into a reliable, steady and consistent backcourt.   It seems clear that Henry Coleman III, Roach, Steward and Moore will return.  Oh yes, and the heralded (aren’t they all) incoming recruits – for now, Paolo Banchero, a 6’9” power forward rated #3 by ESPN, and Adrian Griffin, a 6’7” small forward rated # 14 by ESPN.  Duke has 3 other offers extended. There has been speculation – but nothing official – that Joey Baker and Jaemyn Brakefield are contemplating using the transfer portal, given that the new recruits may reduce their already limited playing time

So, next year is a long way away from taking shape. There is potential for sure, and even possibly great potential.  Like this past season, next season could depend upon whether Duke’s backcourt can continue to improve, so that the absence of a true point guard does not derail the team at crucial times.  There were dramatic derailments that kept this year’s team from reaching its pre-season ranking.

 In retrospect, the whole Jalen Johnson kerfuffle might really have been a metaphor for the season.  I do not believe we have yet evaluated the destructive impact that the Jalen situation may actually have had.  I have no inside information, but unchallenged facts publicly exist:  

  1. Jalen was considered Duke’s best pre-season recruit and somewhat of a steal (his ranking dropped to # 10 because he was injured and did not play much in his senior year in high school).  He was, in fact, on the first team All-ACC Pre-Season team, to give you an idea of how much Duke was depending on him.  His reputation and skills exceeded his previous, actually demonstrated accomplishments (2020-21 did nothing to change that fact);
  2. The first half of his first college game against Coppin State set amazingly unrealistic expectations.  Here is what I wrote about it then, “Johnson’s first half was crafted by the gods.  He did not miss a shot in the entire game (8-8 from the field; 1-1 from deep and 2-2 from the line).  In the first half, he scored 15 of his 19 and had 11 of his 19 rebounds to go with 2 blocks and an assist with only a single turnover in 17 first half minutes.” It might have been the worst thing that could have happened for him and Duke; after that game, he was already publicly perceived as a one and done lottery pick; 
  3. Jalen was able to show his ‘Coppin State-form’ only twice more (both times he played a superb half in losses to Pittsburgh and Louisville); and 
  4. His play became even more inconsistent, turnovers more prevalent, and his sporadic defense effort caused a diminution of his playing time.  My speculation is that Jalen wanted to play on the perimeter, where his NBA future lies, but Duke needed him in the frontcourt (especially before Mark’s development), creating an underlying dissension that harmed the team.  

While the Duke team had a better attitude after he left school, the 2020-21 Blue Devils never possessed the talent level that had been anticipated, based on Jalen’s reputation and talent. What is so tantalizing: what if Jalen had had Mark Williams’ attitude and made that kind of team-oriented progress during the season.  If that fantasy had become reality, I believe this would have been a vastly more successful season, in line with Duke’s pre-season ranking (#9 Nationally).

Progress and Deficiencies This Year With a Bit of Prognosticating About Next Year

 The Backcourt

Duke’s backcourt never achieved the level necessary to be  National contenders.  Certainly, D.J. Steward and Wendell Moore showed flashes of playing that well, but neither could sustain that level of play consistently, and both had weaknesses that needed and need work.   If Moore can become an offensive threat and consistent ball handler; if D.J. can harness his natural sizzle at both ends of the court, the backcourt could become championship worthy.  JGoldwire, considering returning for a fifth year, could help (especially if his scoring improves) or could be complicated by holding back the improvement of others.  Jeremy Roach had a difficult year.  He had been projected as Duke’s point guard, but could never step comfortably into that role.  His play did improve as the year went on, providing hope that his improvement from freshman to sophomore could mirror the amazing improvement that Matt Hurt made between his freshman and sophomore seasons.  A Duke recruiting target is 6’5” shooting guard, Trevor Keels (ESPN # 19, to announce his choice on April 4).  Duke is not favored, but Keels was a high school teammate of Roach’s, so that draw keeps Duke in the running.

 The Frontcourt

Assuming Mark Williams returns, the frontcourt will be Duke’s calling card next year.  This is even more emphatically true if Hurt also returns (we hope so!).  Duke has inked Banchero as Hurt’s replacement if he leaves (or Danny Ferry’s freshman role on the 1986 Final Four team, should Hurt return).  Banchero is reputed to be a genuine stud.  Duke is also recruiting the #4 rated (ESPN) prospect, 6’10” center, Patrick Baldwin.  Inking Baldwin would be a coup; however, his father coaches Milwaukee, where the experts think he will wind up.  Adrian Griffin is a 6’7” wing, whose brother plays at Syracuse.  Duke could have really used a scoring wing this past season.

The First Year of Alanalysis

Bill’s participation – after several ball fakes at retirement – was one of the best events of the year for me. We have had so much fun and satisfaction over the years! This year was also the first that my daughter (Laramie) and  her mother (Jeanne) contributed to the synergy.  We (they) moved the DBP distribution to GoogleGroups (daughter in charge) and serious – highly competitive — editing was done in Google Docs.  Huge kudos for amazing editing and proofreading by both Laramie and Jeanne!!  Their participation made the product so much better and our mutual effort so much more satisfying.  

If the NCAA grants Bill, Laramie, and Jeanne another year of eligibility, we will all be back next year. 

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

Alan’s very thorough summary of the season does not leave me with much to add, except that I have always thought success in any endeavor is very difficult and fragile; therefore, a challenge to maintain and sustain. Oftentimes, the skills required to build success are not the same as the ones necessary to maintain it.  That is why what Coach Mike Krzyzewski has accomplished at Duke University over the last forty years is so extraordinary.  However, it is becoming increasingly difficult in a sport where there is so much player turnover.

Ultimately, coaching matters and it takes time and luck to develop an outstanding team. For example, of Coach K’s five National Championships, only one team featured freshmen (but also was stabilized by three seniors: Co-Captains Quinn Cooke, Amile Jefferson, and Matt Jones). Even the team featuring the sensational future pros — Zion Williamson,  R.J.Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones — did not make the Final Four.  The other necessary component is a strong point guard (which neither Duke nor Carolina had this year).  So, the obvious conclusion is that it takes time to mold a successful championship-caliber college basketball team and the extraordinary challenges of this year only further shortened the opportunity for coaches to coach.  This might explain why the so-called Blue Bloods—Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina — all had disappointing years.  A terrific case in point was when Wisconsin pounded UNC in the First Round on Thursday.  The Badgers’ Starting Five are seniors, none of whom were McDonald’s All Americans or even rated in the top 100 high school recruits of their year.  The average age of the Wisconsin Starting Five is older than the Starting Five of the Chicago Bulls.  The Badgers totally dominated North Carolina, a team loaded with McDonald’s All Americans, in every aspect of the game.

The same pandemic that short circuited last season, dramatically changed this season. For instance, consider this scenario:

The Duke players reported to the Washington Duke Inn on August 2nd where they underwent COVID-19 screening and checked into their rooms to begin a mandatory quarantine period.

I don’t know about other teams, but for the entire season, the Duke players were sequestered solo in the Washington Duke without a roommate, Zooming classes and team meetings, even picking up their meals in brown bags and eating them alone in their room.  Practices and travelling to games were about the only physical community times together.  They were so sequestered that they would probably need a map to get around campus. How is that for a freshman year?  

Do not assume next year will return to normal.  The NCAA’s recent decisions won’t allow it.  Every player has been offered another year of eligibility, and because of the new transfer portal rule, any player can change schools without sitting out a year, orcan jump straight to the NBA new minor league @ $100,00 a year– all of which presents a scholarship problem for college coaches.

The NCAA limits each team to just 13 scholarships.  Duke has three scholarship seniors: Graduate student Patrick Tapé, ex walk-on Mike Buckmire, who is moving on to medical school, and defensive specialist Jordan Goldwire.  Duke has two signees — Paolo Banchero, a 6’9” power forward and Adrian Griffin, a 6’7” small forward.  Does K bring Goldwire, a much improved and useful (but not topflight) point guard back or encourage him to finish his career somewhere else?  Does he encourage Joey (formerly “Buckets”) Baker, a disappointing role player, to transfer? Does intriguingly talented Jaemyn Brakefield take his skills somewhere he will be guaranteed more playing time?  Does Matthew Hurt notice last year’s three one-and-doners are all struggling away in the NBA G (Developmental) Minor League and not in the NBA.  Will he  think long term and determine he might be better off staying and being a Player of the Year candidate and a lottery pick in 2022, or does he take the money and run? Duke rarely takes transfers, but the new transfer portal changes everything.

Of those who we presume are staying: Mark Williams clearly is a potential breakout star; Wendell Moore may be the answer at the point; a late developing Jeremy Roach needs to develop a pass-first-shoot-second mentality to run the point; talented, versatile, and enthusiastic D.J. Steward could become the go-to shooting guard every true contender needs; Coleman will have to fight the two freshmen for playing time, and Joey Baker, having improved his defense, will have to find his jump shot to be useful.

One thing is for certain. There are a lot of very good basketball players one never hears of until tournament time.  The fifteen team ACC Basketball Conference has never been deeper or more mediocre (Virginia, Carolina, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Virginia Tech all lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament) in spite of higher paid coaches, and more heralded players (for example, every year Florida State rotates ten or so big, athletic men).  This year, Boston College and Wake were the only easy outs, but that could change in a heartbeat—as Georgia Tech demonstrated in winning the ACC Conference tournament. 

Next year will be interesting.

Next Play:  Next Year….. if this Damn Pandemic Recedes

Duke Basketball Playbook 2019-20

Welcome  to the eleventh edition of the Duke basketball Playbook. After watching only two exhibition games, it is difficult to make any definitive assessments about this year’s team, except that there is n0 Zion Williamson. But that has been true every year, because he is a once-in-a-lifetime player. However, there is more depth of talented … Continue reading “Duke Basketball Playbook 2019-20”

Welcome  to the eleventh edition of the Duke basketball Playbook.

After watching only two exhibition games, it is difficult to make any definitive assessments about this year’s team, except that there is n0 Zion Williamson. But that has been true every year, because he is a once-in-a-lifetime player. However, there is more depth of talented players than recently, just not an obvious top lottery pick—the kind of game changing talent to which we have become accustomed. That doesn’t mean one or two won’t develop into that kind of player. The question is: whom will that be and, more to the point, other than Tre Jones and, possibly, Vernon Carey and Mathew Hurt, whose  practice and play will deserve floor time?

Let’s hear what’s on Coach K’s mind:  “Well, Zion and RJ are not here. It’s a different approach every year. This group is going to be a unit, not a starting five. Everyone’s gotta be ready to play. I’d call it old school. Like older Duke teams, from years past. Not the (Christian) Laettner, (Bobby) Hurley, or (Shane) Battier, or those guys, but a team that plays really good defense. Our kids want to do that.” [Translation: This will be a coach centric, not player centric, team.]

If history is any guide, unless you can shoot like JJ Redick, defense will be the key to minutes played. We know that Coach K loves point guards and Jordan Goldwire, a demon on defense but who has, shall we say, limited shooting range, has been starting with Tre Jones. That may be an early message to the more highly touted freshmen, because it is hard for me (but not Alan) to imagine he and Tre (who appears not to have improved his three point shot over the summer) playing a lot of minutes together– except if a Louisville-like comeback is needed. We know what Javin DeLaurier (if he stays out of foul trouble) and Jack White (if he found his jump shot in Australia this summer) can do. They are experienced co-captains and will get PT. Wendell Moore, Cassius Stanley (who broke Zion’s vertical leap record but is 100 lbs. lighter) are intriguing players as are the enigmatic but talented Alex O’ Connell and Joey (almost redshirted) Baker, who had a JJ like three point explosion (6-9), 22 points in 21 minutes against Ft. Valley State. It will be interesting to see if he can do that against Kansas in the Garden this Tuesday. As Johnny Tar Heel told me Friday at lunch: “O’Connell, Jack White, and seldom used graduate student Justin Robinson are the only other players who have demonstrated they can throw it in the water from a boat in the middle of the ocean.”

After these exhibitions games, I agree with Buzz Mewhort’s comment that free throw shooting and three point shooting may again be the Achilles Heel of this team– but with no Zion or RJ to bail them out. [Note: This year, the three-point line in college basketball moved from 20’ 9” inches from the center of the basket to the international basketball distance of 22’ 1 ¾”. Fortunately, the free throw line remains unchanged.]

Bottom Line: It’s a long season with more unknowns than knowns. These are teenagers blessed with exceptional physical and athletic skills and but burdened by often unrealistic expectations not only by themselves, but also by their parents, friends, neighbors, and classmates. Their success and failures are broadcast on television twice a week, sometimes more, for all to see and celebrate or critique on social media. Millions of dollars of NBA and shoe money are on the line. And, oh yes, there are classes, homework, term papers, and tests. Then, there is teammate and parental jealousies, girlfriend issues, and being away from the comfort of home. This is a lot of pressure for anyone much less a teenager, no matter how talented, to shoulder.

Stuff happens: Last year’s preseason #1Duke team played it’s best game of the year in the first game of the season destroying #2Kentucky 118-84. They looked hands down like the best team in college basketball. Then, Zion got hurt, RJ wore down, and, for mysterious reasons, Cam Reddish never again was consistently as good as advertised. They won the ACC Tournament beating UNC in the semi’s. At full strength, the last two NCAA Tournament games of the year against Central Florida and Michigan State, were among their worst.  In 1991, UNC beat Duke 96-74 for the ACC Championship but three weeks later defeated unbeaten UNLV then Kansas to win the NCAA National Championship. Try to explain these oxymoronic outcomes. They are just some of the fascinating mysteries that makes sports so compelling to follow.

Alan Adds:

Why am I smiling as I excitedly start to write about the upcoming season?  I admit I am totally psyched for the coming Duke basketball year.  My heresy: “this year’s team will be better than last year’s.”  Really?  No team has ever had three of the previous year’s starters as lottery picks.  How could this team be better?

Last Year

In spite of having Zion and RJ, Duke played a desultory end game in February and March last year.  Remember, after the heroic comeback against Louisville on February 13, Duke lost by 16 to UNC on February 21; to Virginia Tech by 5 on February 27; to UNC again by 9 in the season finale in March.  In the penultimate regular season game, Duke held off a terrible Wake team by a point on senior night in Cameron, after giving Wake a chance to actually win with 7 seconds left.  Winning the ACC tournament was a feat, but may have obscured obvious weaknesses.  Duke beat UNC in the semi-finals by a point before defeating Florida State for the title.   Florida State had beaten UVA in the semi-finals, which might have dulled their fires for the final.  In any event, the Blue Devils were far from impressive in the Big Dance: unimpressive in beating North Dakota State, almost lost to Central Florida (when Dawkins missed the open put back), winning by 1; beat Virginia Tech by 2 after Tre missed the front end of a 1 and 1, which gave the Hokies a wide open bunny at the basket to tie the game; and, finally the loss to Michigan State.  Duke’s problem last year is easy to identify.  In the modern game, Duke shot thirty percent from deep; last in the ACC by a wide margin and 317 out of 371 Division I teams.  Duke also shot under 70% from the free throw line 13th in the 15 team ACC.  Those two statistics were Duke’s Achilles heel last year.

My Optimism for This Year

We have seen one half of basketball in an intra-squad scrimmage; and two exhibition games against teams that had no real inside presence (or at least nothing comparable to ACC and National class competition).  We have seen 11 players with enough talent to make the rotation and enough inconsistent play to make predicting the starting lineup and rotation next to impossible.  Readers know that I love defense and believe it is the key to championships.  Duke has many high level defenders who could be part of an extraordinary defense.  The best news is that the headlines from coaches and players coming out of practice are all about defense.  Here’s my analysis of the pieces of the puzzle that are Coach K’s to use:

The Bigs

There are five:  Justin Robinson (6’9” 5th year senior), Javin DeLaurier (6’10” senior), Jack White (6’7” senior) as well as two highly regarded freshmen, Vernon Carey (6’10) and Mathew Hurt (6’9”).

Vernon Carey – rated 6th overall last year and 3rd rated center.  He’s down to 250 lbs. from 270 for speed and mobility.  In the Blue-White scrimmage, he was the best player on the floor, posting up DeLaurier, scoring inside and out.  Coach K said he played mostly on the perimeter in high school, and is just learning to score on the interior.  He’s coordinated and a shot blocker.  Then, in the first exhibition game, he simply laid a shocking egg, committing 3 offensive fouls in the very early going and only seeing 9 minutes of playing time.  In the final exhibition game against a dramatically inferior and smaller team, he started and played very well.  I believe he will be a stud by the time Duke is deep in the ACC season.

Mathew Hurt –is rail thin  at 215 pounds, but can do everything on a basketball court.  He is a scorer and smart player.  He can shoot from the outside, has nifty post moves, can pass, dribble, drive, rebound and defend.  More than any other player, I want to see how he handles playing against a Nationally ranked team like Kansas, with its powerful front line.  The jury is out, but I very much like what I have seen so far.

Jack White – is so valuable.  However, his shot deserted him in the second half of last year, which really hurt Duke.  He had, by all reports, an excellent summer with the Australian National Junior team.  He is best as a rebounder; he is a versatile defender, with no real weaknesses (if his shot goes in this year)

Javin DeLaurier – seems to have acquired the maturity he needs to stop fouling and stay on the floor as the team’s best defender among the Bigs.  He will play many crucial minutes.  He is not a scorer, but a valued contributor.

Justin Robinson – All laud his value in the locker room as a team builder. I (maybe alone) have seen enough to think there may be a time this year when he is in the rotation.  I was impressed that when he guarded Tre Jones on the perimeter in the Blue-White scrimmage when he blocked two of Tre’s shots.  He can shoot from the perimeter and is a good rebounder.

Wings and Off Guards

It is very possible that Matt Hurt will play as the small forward with two of the more traditional Bigs up front.  The others who will compete for playing time in those positions are Alex O’Connell (6’6”), Joey Baker (6’7”) as well as freshmen Wendell Moore (6’6”) and Cassius Stanley (6’6”).

Joey Baker – had played himself well out of the rotation in the intra-squad scrimmage and the first exhibition game.  He looked lost at both ends of the floor.  I had him least likely to play until the last exhibition game, when he demonstrated that his reputation as a long range shooter wasn’t an alternative fact.  His shot lit up the Duke offense as he led Duke’s scoring.  He will get a chance is my prediction.  There will be a lot of pressure on his first shot.  He clearly has the potential to shoot himself into the rotation.

Alex O’Connell – has shown flashes of skill and talent, but suffers from being inconsistent and sometimes not intense on the defensive end.  He has matured and will see time on the floor.  As with most, how he takes advantages of his opportunities will dictate his playing time.  He has demonstrated hops and driving ability.  He can be a bit sloppy with the ball, but has played very well in spots.  If he overcomes his inconsistency, he will be a valuable contributor.

Wendell Moore – might be the most athletic player on this squad.  He’s been a ball hawk and intense one on one defender on the defensive end.  He has played some backup point guard.  He is not shy; will shoot from anywhere.  He is a ferocious driver, but can be over exuberant.  He has perfected the behind the back pass to the press in the front row.  A warrior on defense and a work in progress on offense.

Cassius Stanley – the lowest rated of Duke’s freshmen coming out of high school (a 4 star recruit), he has been (to me) the surprise of Duke’s pre-season.  I love this freshman and believe that in spite of being the lowest rated, he may turn out to be the most valuable.  He’s smooth.  He has never seemed rattled to me and has not displayed a freshman like inconsistency.  He’s quick (and since he broke Zion vertical leap Duke record), it is clear he has remarkable hops.  I have liked his passing, ball handling and defense.  He has a terrific handle, makes his free throws and has a high shooting percentage.  I will go out on the limb and predict that if he doesn’t start (I think he will), he will be first off the bench.  I like my limb.

The ballhandling guards

Tre Jones and his backup (maybe) Jordan Goldwire.  When they play together, they make a formidable defensive duo.  They have acquired the nicknames: Thing One and Thing Two, for their ferocious pressing defense.

Jordan Goldwire —  we saw last season – especially against Louisville and UNC in the ACC tournament – he is a superior defender who can steal the ball, execute the trap, and has amazing intensity.  His three point shooting has been woeful, but he has shown an ability to get to the rim with the ball – even against Tre in the scrimmage.  I believe he will log major minutes this year.

Tre Jones —  as Tre goes, so will Duke go.  He has had a slow start.  He was outplayed in the scrimmage and has not shot well from the perimeter.  Of course, his defense is the best, he handles the ball with aplomb and skill, and has increased his scoring on drives and a pull up mid-range game.  Whether he can turn into the player his brother was will depend on his long range shot and his ability to hit free throws at the end of games.  He is the player that Duke will rely upon more than any other.

Musing About the Season

Coach K’s starting lineup in the last exhibition game is my bet on who will start against Kansas.  Thing One and Two will start in the backcourt with three freshmen up front – Stanley on the wing; Hurt and Carey up front.  I think (and fervently hope) that this will be a pressing team that substitutes freely to keep the defensive pressure on.  Coach K will do much experimenting before we know who is starting and what the various roles are by February and March (and hopefully April).

In the last years (since the 2015 championship), Duke has been better in November and December than at seasons’ end.  I predict that will change this year.  I think Duke will have trouble in the early going and jell at the best possible time.

That’s why I’m smiling.

Tuesday November 5 at Madison Square Garden: Duke v Kansas.  Game on.

Duke 68 –  Kansas 66

A year ago in this nationally televised season opening Champions Classic, Duke’s precocious freshmen played like they belonged in the NBA. Tonight, this new class of freshmen sometimes played like they were suffering from stage fright but the upper classmen led the way with retro Krzyzewski basketball– tough, aggressive defense that trumped (a bridge, not a political, term) sloppy, inconsistent offense. I don’t know if the Blue Devil defense is this good or Kansas big players have hands of stone but the Jayhawks committed 18 first half turnovers and 28 overall. For sure, the defense appears much better than that of the last few years when defense was a seven letter word that seemed like an afterthought and led to (gasp) Duke Playing Zone. While the savvy point guard from appropriately enough Apple Valley (15 pts, 6 assists, 3 steals) led the Blue Devils to this win in the Big Apple, it was the tough Australian senior and co-captain Jack White, who was the enforcer at closing time. Although he hit an important three, it was his shrewd defensive manuevers with 2 steals, a block, and an offensive rebound in the final minute and a half that clinched the win.

All the freshmen settled down and had their moments: Vernon Carey held his own against older, bigger players; Matthew Hurt, hit some big threes but was not a strong presence inside; and Wendell Moore demonstrated unusual versatility and athleticism but was often out of control. However, it was Cassius Stanley, the only Duke freshman who did not to make the McDonald’s All-America team, who stepped into the spotlight in the second half going 5-6, including 2 dunks and a three for 13 points to spark the second half resurgence. In addition, Alex O’Connell contributed both offensively AND defensively. Of the top ten players, only Joey Baker, coming off a sensational shooting performance, did not receive any playing time.

Other Comments:

Both teams struggled from the foul line with Kansas going 16 for 26 and Duke 14 for 23. Only Ty Jones’ 5-5 at the end made Duke’s semi-respectable.

The win ended a three-game Duke losing streak to Kansas and extends Duke’s all-time record in the rivalry to 8-5. It also ran Duke’s record to 6-3 in the Champions Classic.

At games in Madison Square Garden, Duke is now 36-18 all-time and now 70—27 when playing in the greater New York City area. Under Coach Krzyzewski, they are now 31-11 at MSG and 33-18 in games between top-five teams.

Alan Adds:

As the announcers make unnecessarily clear, this year’s Duke basketball team will be a work in progress for most of this year.  As Bill emphasized, Duke’s defense, which has been distressingly un-Coach K like in the past several years, looked exceedingly formidable.  The Devils doubled the post frequently and effectively (except for one stretch in the second half).  It was coordinated team defense, led, of course, by Tre’s on the ball defense.  But Tre had plenty of help from his energetic teammates, who pressed and switched, giving Kansas fits and creating the raft of Jayhawk turnovers.

The game began to answer the intriguing questions about this team.  Who will earn minutes, start the games, be on the court at crunch time are all open questions.  I thought last night’s game against Kansas, especially the second half, began to illuminate some answers.  The second half was winning time (obviously), but also where Duke faced its first real adversity of the season (down 9 as Kansas ran off 13 in a row).  How Duke responded to that, fought tooth and nail for the entire half, and prevailed at the end with Tre Jones doing his best Tyus Jones imitation.  With Duke leading 62-61 and 1:34 left in the game, Tre scored Duke’s last 6 points with a tough mid-range jumper followed by 4 clutch free throws to clinch it.  Duke also established a Big 3.  Tre played all 20 minutes (39 for the game), while Vernon Carey was on the floor for 17 minutes and Cassius Stanley for 16.  Both Stanley and Carey played exceedingly well and got timely help from Jack White (11 minutes of scintillating play after a sub-par first half) and Alex O’Connell (whose 12 minute second half contributions were on the floor and defense – a very good sign) and Matt Hurt.  Hurt made 2 huge 3 point shots in his 10 minutes on the floor, but had trouble competing on the interior (a single rebound).  Alex scored 9 in the game; 7 in the first half. Wendell Moore (6 minutes, a rebound, a foul and 2 turnovers), Jordan Goldwire (5 minutes; 0-1), and Javin (who managed to commit 2 fouls and miss his only field goal attempt and both free throws in just 3 minutes) contributed little in the final stanza.  Javin continued his foul prone defense committing 4 in only 12 minutes.

Cassius Stanley’s second half deserves special attention.  As I predicted in the pre-season edition of the DBP, in addition to his excellent defense Stanley was the Devil’s offensive stud in the second half.  One play stood out for me.  Stanley was after a loose ball heading out of bounds off Duke.  He grabbed it on the sideline and staggered for balance.  He maintained that balance enough to throw an accurate pass, giving Duke an extra possession.  Incredible athletic skill.  His second half was awesome (11 points on 4-4 shooting; 1-1 from deep; and 2-3 from the foul line).  He was Duke’s anchor facing that 9 point deficit.  With 14:35 left in the half, the Jayhawks had forged a 46-37 lead.  Carey and Hurt made back to back 3s (both on assists from Tre) to trim the lead to 3.  Cassius then scored 8 straight points – the first two on dunks (great passes from Tre on each) followed by 1-2 from the line and a 3 pointer.  Duke was back in the fray fighting toward the end.  With Duke trailing by a deuce with under 3 minutes to play, Stanley scored from the field on a tough shot and completed the 3 point play to give Duke the 62-61 lead that set the stage for Tre’s heroics.  Carey was the glue to Duke’s interior game.  He helped Duke answer another big question: does this team have the inside presence to compete with national class front lines.

The answer was a qualified yes, with the emphasis coming from Carey.  It was almost as if it took him a half to understand how big and powerful the Kansas front was.  Then Carey’s athleticism (2-2 on 3 point attempts) took over and he led Duke on the interior both on defense and offense.  His development will be a huge factor in how this season turns out.  Jack White was superb in the second half and Matt Hurt played well and will get better.  Let’s hope this was just an aberration for Javin.

It was a wonderful start to a season of questions.

Next game: Colorado State on Friday (11-8).

Duke 89 – Colorado State 55

After one very difficult game in a very difficult venue and one not so difficult game in a very friendly venue, Coach K stayed true to his word prior to the season that due to the team’s “balance” the Blue Devils would not have a go-to starting five. [Translation: There is no Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter or Jayson Tatum like there were during the last three seasons However, we have depth and talent,  so I am going have to be a real coach again.] Consequently, Krzyzewski will shift different players and/or groups of players in and out until he finds what works against a particular team on particular night. Krzyzewski’ somewhat puzzling analogy: “It’s like a musical. When you have a few guys that are NBA ready, they sing most of the songs and have all the dances. With this group,  is more like an ensemble. It’s, okay, knock our socks off with how you’re doing it. That’s why I said it’s more of an old-school, retro[team]. It’s built on defense.”

A case in point: In both games, defense kept the Blue Devils in the game until some one or two players developed an offensive rhythm and demanded the spotlight. Against Kansas it was Cassius Stanley, supported by Tre Jones, and Jack White. Tonight, it was a late first half surge  by starters Jones, O’Connell, & Stanley teamed with non-starters DeLaurier & White in place of Carey & Hurt. Suddenly, the lead doubled to 12 points. By the time the half was over, Duke had scored the game’s last 10 points to lead by 16. The Blue Devils forced 8 Colorado State turnovers over the first nine minutes of the second half. Think about that. A lead that was six points with 2:18 left until halftime was now 24 just 3:21 into the second half. In less than six minutes of actual play, Duke quadrupled its lead. That is a classic Duke Run to which Blue Devils fans have become accustomed from their best teams. “That group at the end of the half really played the best eight minutes of the game– the last four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half,” Krzyzewski said. “Jack, Javin, Alex, Cassius, and Tre just found a rhythm defensively and offensively and boom we had it.”

This wasn’t a particularly good night for Carey and Hurt. The 6-10, 260-pound inscrutable Carey scored 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting but fouled out in just 15 minutes of play. Afterwards, he was very analytical: “I have to adjust to the calls, really, and the playing style, because, for instance, this game was completely different from the last game where we played Kansas just physical wise and call wise. I have to learn to adjust to that.” Hurt had 9 and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes. White and DeLaurier only combined for 7 points, but their play meshed well with Jones, O’Connell and Stanley.

The bottom line is that chemistry and defense usually win close games. Take another look at the picture above. Did you notice Jack White lying unconscious in the paint? He and roommate Javin DeLaurier crashed into each other lunging for a loose ball. Jack got the worst of it, but Javin recovered to contest the shot along with Alex O’Connell (aka. AOC). That, folks, is tough defense.

Other Comments:

  • Despite a team of McDonald All-Americans, three point shooting and free throws (60%) again appear to continue to be a frustrating weakness with the Duke Blue Devils.  Duke was 4-for-22 from long range against Colorado State. O’Connell made three of them. The rest of the team was 1-for-16.
  • Coach Mike Krzyzewski announced Thursday that fifth-year senior Justin Robinson has been named a captain for the 2019-20 season. Robinson, a graduate student at Duke University, is in his fifth year on the Duke men’s basketball team. He will join sophomore captain Tre Jones and senior captains Jack White and Javin DeLaurier on the Blue Devils’ newly-created Leadership Council. Robinson, whose NBA All Pro father David rarely misses a game, is from San Antonio, Texas, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is pursuing his master’s degree in management students in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
  • Highly touted Carolina freshman Cole Anthony (UNLV’s Greg Anthony’s son) has had an impressive two games, scoring in the 30’s. However, he took 40 percent of UNC’s shots against Notre Dame and 33 percent against ECU. When I pointed this out to Johnny Tar Heel, he said that is because nobody else on the team can shoot. However, Roy’s Boys have had a number of injuries and are short- handed.

Alan Adds:

The Defense

Before the Kansas game fades from memory, just how remarkable the Duke defense was in that game should be examined.  This was the first game of the season and Duke was a very different group from last year.  I went back to look at portions of the Kansas game.  The sophistication and cohesion of the Duke defense would have been remarkable at season’s end for a veteran team, like Virginia.  Duke negated Kansas’s inside advantage by doubling the post on almost every post possession.  Yet the post player could not find an open man … because there wasn’t one.  Duke’s switching and anticipation was almost magical.  I found myself a bit disappointed by the defense in this game.  There were missed assignments and Colorado State did get a bunch of open looks.  Duke played really hard, but there was a Kansas like intensity that was missing by a small notch or two.

But wait a minute.  Duke held the Rams to 26 first half points, and 32% shooting for the game, while forcing 18 turnovers (12 steals).  Moreover, the defense allowed only 2 offensive rebounds.  The reality of the rout is the defense simply gutted Colorado State, both physically and spiritually.  The Rams had to work so hard just to avoid steals on every possession.  After the early run in the second half, Colorado State was emotionally done.  The defense did all that; so, maybe I overreacted.

The Rotation

There is growing clarity to Coach K’s rotation.  Alex O’Connell has emerged and has played his way into starting.  He has been the most improved veteran.  It seems the coach has settled on a starting perimeter of Tre, Cassius, and Alex.  They all excelled last night.  Cassius has been a highlight; and Tre has been all we hoped for (except from deep).  Wendell Moore will be first off the bench on the perimeter.  He is so athletic and exuberant on the court that he will get minutes.  He can turn the ball over from anywhere, but he can also dazzle.  I believe Coach K will be patient with him and he will blossom before February.  Jordan Goldwire will spell Tre when there is that luxury, and come in for defense in pressing situations.  The interior is more muddled.

Coach K mentioned many players in his press conference, but not Matt Hurt or Vernon Carey.  The co-captains earned praise for their amazing performance in the 8 minutes that Bill described so well.  But Duke needs Vernon Carey.  He may have fouled out in his 15 minutes, but take a look at his stat line for those 15 minutes.  He scored 11 on an efficient 5-5 from the floor and 1-1 from the line.  He grabbed 3 boards, blocked 2 shots and had a steal.  He wasn’t mentioned because he turned it over 3 times while committing 5 fouls.  Coach K has many ways of motivating his freshmen.  White (especially if his shot ever returns) and Javin have great value, but for Duke to be a force at tournament time, the freshmen – especially Carey – have to mature and develop.

The Offense

While the offense overwhelmed an inferior team – gutted by early second half – the offense is developing.  But it seems like de ja vu all over again with the abysmal 3 point shooting and the sub-par foul shooting.  Last year we kept saying that the players were too talented to keep shooting so badly.  It should be fixable, but if it is not fixed it will be fatal to championship dreams.

An interesting insight

Coach K explained why he elevated David Robinson to captain.  He said that with Team USA, there was a “leadership council” of a few players.  “It doesn’t matter whether you call it leadership council or co-captains.  It gives a chance for analysis, planning and chemistry.”  They meet every Monday.  Another example of Coach K’s genius.

Central Arkansas on Tuesday (7:00 ACC Network) and Georgia State on Friday.

DUKE 105 – CENTRAL ARKANSAS 54

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

Since this was such a lopsided game, we will summarize this and Friday’s Georgia State game on the weekend.

Of note: After a first half head to head collision, Tre Jones is apparently OK and, shockingly, #1 Kentucky lost at home to Evansville 67-64. (It’s still very early in the season.)

DUKE 74 – GEORGIA STATE 63

Attention to detail is one of the reasons Coach K is who he is. For instance, he schedules teams like Central Arkansas and  Georgia State, etc. for a reason. It is because there are a lot of talented basketball players who are not quite big enough or who, for some other reason, never were on the recruiting radar of the big programs (Stephen & Seth Curry) but who play at smaller schools like  Evansville, Wofford, Belmont, Lehigh, Davidson, and UMBC– small, quick talented teams who, with the benefit of the three  point line, play a different style of basketball (sort of a college version of the Golden State Warriors)  and on any given night can and have beaten the best teams in the country. Just ask Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. These are the kind of teams a high seed often play the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament and  they benefit from the experience of defending a team much different than the typical ACC opponent.

The two games this week demonstrated the logic of this approach. The game against Central Arkansas was a no-problem blowout; the first half against Georgia State was anything but. The Blue Devils were fortunate to be up by two at the half as G State hit 50% of their threes, forced as many turnovers as Duke, had as many steals, and only Tre Jones and Vernon Carey seemed to be able to put points on the board. Fortunately, in the second half Joey Baker’s two consecutive threes sparked a patented Duke run that more or less put the game away.

Ever since Coach K has been successfully recruiting one-and-done players, I have been surprised by what relatively mediocre defenders, free throw and three point shooters many of these uber rated players generally have been. Perhaps, it is because until this level, they had been so much better than their competition, they could just out score opponents with sheer athleticism—or, perhaps, they had an eye on their NBA draft status. Whatever the reason, this year’s Duke class appears different, because defense is their calling card—and it is a good thing, because, as Friday’s game demonstrated, right now collectively they appear offensively underwhelming—especially for a top rated team with a target on their back. When Tre Jones is scoring half your points and has the only threes of the half,  and, for the entire game, the team only shoots 34% from the floor, 59% from the charity strip, and 25% from three–Holy JJ Redick, Batman, this team better be able to play defense! My take is that only Jones and Carey are irreplaceable starters and until any of the other eight candidates develop more confidence and consistency, the other three spots will be musical chairs. For a Duke fan, the frustrating aspect of all this is that what used to be a four year development process has, in many cases, been compressed into one year.

An early season assessment:

Tre Jones– A sheer joy to watch. The consummate point guard. A wonderful teammate. Sets the tone at both ends of the floor. Not to worry: Anyone who hits nearly 80% of their free throws has the skill set to hit threes.

 Vernon Carey – As large and strong as an NFL lineman but athletic and an unusually soft touch for a big man. Mature and analytical.  Needs to get more comfortable in the post (missed two point blank dunks last night) and not always go left. Has to be on the floor for thirty minutes or more in big games.

Cassius Stanley – Least highly rated of this year’s class but, perhaps, has the most upside. His 45” vertical leap broke Zion’s Duke record but is about 100 pounds lighter and a much different player. By far best frosh defender. Has multiple game changing skills. Doesn’t seem to quite understand how good he can be but stay tuned.

Matthew Hurt – Terrific touch and range for someone  6’ 9” but lacks strength. When that comes, he will have Laettner-like abilities to stretch the floor and impact the game.

Jack White – Aussie Tough but last year lost his shooting touch somewhere in the Outback. Nevertheless, look for this senior to be in at the end of close games. If his shot ever comes off vacation, he will start, because Coach K loves his physicality and toughness and ability to defend 1-5.

Javin DeLaurier – Tough defender in the paint and in the open floor but has difficulty staying on the floor and not fouling out. Really blossomed at the end of last year but has not attained that same consistency this year. I’m betting the senior co-captain will be a valuable contributor.

Alex O’Connell– The junior has improved his defense and could well start if he can hit open shots and maintain his focus. He and Stanley are the most explosive players on the team.

Joey Baker – Joey may be the wild card of the group. He appeared to fall out of favor early but may have shot himself back into favor Friday with his  two timely threes and intense defense. For sure, this team will see a lot of zone defenses and Joey may be the best available antidote to that.

Wendell Moore – Those who evaluate Blue Chip talent love his size and athleticism and aggressiveness. Except for flashes, he has been a bull in the china shop and until he relaxes and lets the game come to him, it is tough to see Coach K risk using him in close games.

Jordan Goldwire– Solid sub for Jones. Coach K loves him. A lot to admire, except his  shot. Cannot see he and Jack White on the floor at the same time as Jack is a more physical and versatile defender and rebounder.

Having proffered all the above, the reality is that right now Duke is undefeated, Kentucky & Kansas have one loss each and, for whatever it means, next week the Blue Devils will probably be ranked the number one team in the country. However, we will have a much better take on this team late December 3rd, after Duke plays pre-season #1 Michigan State in East Lansing. Whatever that outcome, Duke fans can anticipate another exciting season with high expectations but with the knowledge that it is a long, tough journey to another national championship. However, buckle your seat belt, the Blue Devils have a very deep, talented team, and a coach much like the legendary Alabama football Coach Bear Bryant of whom it was said: ” He can take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.”   

Alan Adds: 
Duke maybe atop the polls at the moment, but do not be fooled.  Right now this is a team of potential, that may or may not jell into a National contender, but certainly not a team that has “arrived” and deserves to be considered as momentarily the best in the nation.  The ascendancy was fueled by: 1) Duke’s feisty performance and sophisticated defense displayed in the win over highly ranked Kansas; 2) the defensive full court pressure that produced turnovers at a jaw dropping rate against non-competitive Colorado State and the first on campus game of the tournament versus Central Arkansas.  Georgia State was a reality check and evidence that this team has a long way to travel toward the goal of National contender.  The first half of the Central Arkansas game illuminated the defensive potential (amazing) of this team.  Georgia State illuminated the strength of what Coach K calls “human nature”, as well as the nature of competition itself, and the danger of a team beginning to believe the press clippings about its prowess.

Central Arkansas first half: Duke 57 v CA 20

Duke unleashed a press of almost unmatched fury and played scintillating and suffocating defense.  Central Arkansas made only 5 field goals while committing 15 turnovers.  With 1:07 left in the half, Duke led by 41 (57-16).   CA scored the last 4 points in a minute to get to 20 at the half.  It was a tour de force (except for the 12 first half fouls committed by Duke).  The offense thrived off of the defensive pressure shooting 60% from the field; 50% from 3land; and 5-6 from the stripe.

I know my attitude was bad.  I invited my daughter to watch the game with me and told her “it won’t be a competitive game.”  I suspect that deep down, the Duke players believed that as well.  It made for (hopefully) a needed lesson for growth and allowed Coach K to explain to the press that no team “is supposed to win”.

Coach K’s Wisdom

“Nobody is supposed to win or supposed to lose, you’re not ordained to win or lose, that’s why it’s called competition. People who compete and work hard turn out to be winners, and those who don’t turn out to be the team that the winners beat. That’s just the way it is and that’s what makes competition so good.  In our sport, our sport is more prone to upset than any because there are just five people out there, so there’s age, athleticism, maturity, all those things, depth and a lot of things where people can make up differences.  That’s why there are a lot of so-called upsets in our sport.  A lot of people can win and you have to be ready to play all those people.”

Coach K’s point was Duke was not ready to compete against Georgia State.  “They didn’t approach [today] with the intensity they needed to.  I’m not saying they weren’t ready; they weren’t ready at the level they needed to play Georgia State. …In the past couple of games coaches have come in here and said how hard Duke plays, and those are great compliments.  That’s our calling card.  If you show up and don’t play hard that gives a lot of confidence to the other team – “Oh, they’re not who we thought they were”.  So, if we don’t come out and match or exceed that effort, we’re giving our opponent momentum right from the start.  I thought that was evident right away tonight because we weren’t strong with the ball.  Not that Georgia State wasn’t confident, but their confidence grew.”

“I thought they were tougher than we were by far in the first half.  We were not ready for that level of intensity from our opponent.  Obviously in the second half we matched or exceeded it, and that’s why we won.”

Georgia State

The Bad

Javin DeLaurier committed 4 fouls in his 6 minutes of playing time while missing both field goal attempts and committing 2 turnovers; (he did grab 4 boards and had a block; 1-2 from the foul line).  The five Duke players who logged 20 + minutes (Jones all 40; Carey, 34; Stanley, 28, Hurt, 22 and Jack White, 21) could be considered the starters.  While Tre and Carey carried Duke (scoring 51 of Duke’s 74 points), the other 3 scored only 14 points on a collective 4-20 from the floor including 1-10 from behind the arc and 3-6 from the line.  Duke had 17 turnovers against only 13 assists.  The Blue Devils shot 34% from the field; 25% from behind the arc and a demoralizing 59 % from the line.  Tre was 7-10 from the line but missed all 3 front ends of his 1 and 1 attempts.  The defense gave up 5-10 from deep in the first half.  Coach K pointed out that Duke allowed Georgia State open looks from the corner even though it was a point of pre-game strategy to stop that particular shot.  In the second half, Duke clamped down and allowed only 2 attempts from deep (they both missed).  Wendell Moore and Alex O’Connell had disappointing games.  In 12 minutes, Alex failed to score (0-3; 0-2 from deep) or get to the foul line.  He had an assist against 2 turnovers (4 rebounds), while Moore was 1-5 (0-1 from deep without a free throw attempt) in his 11 minutes.  His two steals were matched by his 2 turnovers.  He too had 4 boards.  Goldwire was 0-2 in his 11 minutes (0 points; no free throw attempts).  Duke’s defense revived in the second half.

The Good

Tre Jones had the best game of his career at Duke and virtually willed Duke to win.  With the score tied at 40 early in the second half, Jones took over, scoring 10 of Duke’s next 11 points.  Jack White’s only point (1-2 from the line) and Moore’s only field goal moved Duke out to a 13 point lead (53-40).   Joey Baker hit 2 key 3s from the corner to push the lead to 16.  In his 15 minutes, Baker had 8 points (3-6; 2-5 from deep).  He didn’t add any other stats.

Vernon Carey was a beast and Duke dominated the back boards.  In 34 minutes, Carey shot 50% from the floor (7-14) but not much better from the foul line (6-11).  He will be at the line frequently and must improve that part of his game.  He led Duke in rebounding with 14 (7 offensive).  He blocked 2 shots, and had a steal while he committed only 2 fouls (perhaps the freshman should be tutoring senior DeLaurier).  White had 10 rebounds and played just superb defense.  I believe he will start ahead of Hurt because of his defense and rebounding.  If only his shot would start to find the range.

Duke grabbed a monster 30 offensive rebounds (Coach K ruefully pointed out the downside of that positive stat, “we missed a lot of shots”).  Duke took 73 shots to score 74 points.  Inefficient at best.  But they won!  Kentucky lost to Evansville; winning is not ordained.  Duke overcame “human nature”; Kentucky did not.   Now it is back to New York and Madison Square Garden for the tournament finals.  Duke plays California while Texas faces Georgetown on Thursday November 21.  The winners and losers will meet the following night.

Coach K on playing at Madison Square Garden:

“It’s every kid’s dream to play there and every coach’s dream to coach there.  I still get a thrill.  Everything is different; the ball sounds different when it bounces; the public address announcer sounds different.  “The basketball gods play pick up there at 2-3 o’clock in the morning.” 

Note:  DBP has a new blog site: dukebasketballplaybook.com, which is a collection of all the Duke games starting with the 2010-11 championship season.

Duke 87 – University of California 52

Duke 81 – Georgetown 73

We learned a lot about this team and its players in this two game tournament in the spotlight of Madison Square Garden:

Whether against a mismatched Cal-Berkley or a very talented, very dangerous Georgetown team, Vernon Carey proved he a top NBA lottery pick and the one indispensable player for Duke to be a legitimate championship contender.

This team has a disconcerting habit of starting sluggish offensively but not defensively; however, it has a good habit of finishing off games at closing time—probably, in part, because they wear opponents down.

Wendell Moore had a breakout game which demonstrated why he was rated so highly by the scouts and why Coach K kept giving him an opportunity calm down and get comfortable with his teammates. He is tough, fearless, multi-talented, and seizes the moment.

Cassius Stanley can do a lot more than just elevate 46” from the floor. His stroke is silky smooth, he plays defense, and rebounds tougher than his choir boy appearance–he is a playmaker.

Although he had a SportsCenter dunk in the Cal game,  Alex O’Connell has not consistently taken advantage of the playing time given to him at the beginning of the season. However, Joey Baker is playing himself into  role as designated three point shooter.

Tre Jones may be offensively inconsistent but he more than makes up for it with his defense and leadership.

Coach Krzyzewski may be 71 years old but is still  one hell of a bench coach. He continues to shake up his starters, auditioning his fifth different lineup in the fifth game of the season but replacing the highly touted  Matthew Hurt when it was apparent tonight he was physically overmatched. And how many times did Duke score after a timeout on an out of bound’s play? Over the years, Duke players  take advantage of the rules and are rarely out of control. On the other hand, the Hoya players never did adjust to how the game was being called and were in the foul penalty  almost a quarter of the game, limiting the minutes of center Omer Yurtseven, Georgetown’s best player and talented guard Mac McClung. Granted offensive charges are tough, judgement call but best not put a ref in that position. Coach Ewing grew incensed over what he considered bad or inconsistent calls. In truth, they did effect the game as part of Duke’s plan was to get Georgetown’s 7-0 center Omer Yurtseven, the former N.C. State player, in foul trouble, which they did. In fact, he didn’t so much as take a shot in the first half but scored 21 points after the break—most of which were when Vernon “The Tank” Carey was on the bench with three and four fouls.

Think the freshmen are settling ? Stanley (21), Carey (20), Moore (17) and Jones (13) combined for 71 of Duke’s 81 points. Jack White played his usual tough all-around game and Joey Baker gave Duke five big first-half points. But Duke’s four upperclassmen combined for 5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 for 10 shooting and 8 fouls, with only White playing more than 13 minutes.

Alan Adds:

DUKE  87 –  CAL 52

DEFENSE!  Defense!  It was back in intensity, quickness and fluidity to the wonderful defensive effort of the Kansas game.  Dan Dakich (color announcer) was continually pointing out the sophisticated switches (“There were three beautiful switches on that one defensive set.”) and superb help that was the calling card of this defense.  (“Look how many players moved in to block that drive.”)  The defensive intensity just sucked the guts out of California.  Dakich: “Look how far out Cal has to initiate its offense.  That’s the Duke defensive pressure.”   Dakich played for Knight at Indiana and had this insight that resonated with me.  He said Duke was playing “old fashioned” defense, and cited the West Point teams coached by Knight when now Coach K (but then just Mike) was his captain and point guard.  I saw those Army teams, which were astounding defensively.  It made me smile in agreement.

Cal was a perimeter oriented, three point shooting team. Duke’s pressure took it away; Cal was able to launch only four attempts from behind the arc in the first half (10 for the game).  Open looks for the Golden Bears were very hard to come by.  Duke created turnovers and had many deflections.

For some reason the offense could not get untracked for almost half of the first half (causing Bill to call me wondering why the Blue Devils couldn’t shoot).  Duke had only 6 points after 9 minutes of play, and tied the game at 8 at the half way point of the first half.  You did read that correctly.  Then the offense started cooking.  The Devils scored 31 points in the second part of the opening half and 47 in the second half.  That’s 78 points in ¾ of a game.

I’ll write this before the Georgetown game, but readers will have the benefit of knowing how the Georgetown game went.  Georgetown presents a completely different type of team.  They are big inside and will test Carey (not to mention DeLaurier and White) as Cal did not have the horses to do.  Duke crushed Cal on the boards.  Carey was astounding – 31 points in only 23 minutes of action (11-18; 1-1 from deep; 8-9 from the stripe, to go with 12 rebounds (6 offense and 6 defense) and 4 blocked shots, defending the rim.  He was not only an offensive stud, he anchored the defense.  How he does in the second of back to back games against a powerful front line will be illuminating.

A rebound worth mentioning: Stanley soared so high for one rebound in traffic that it was replayed. After a breathless “Wow!”, Dakich said wistfully to his announcing partner, “Wouldn’t you like to have done that, just once!”

DUKE 81 – GEORGETOWN 73 

The First Half

Georgetown presented a very different and much more formidable challenge than did Cal.  It was simply a sloppy first half, in which Duke depended completely on Carey to remain competitive (tied at 33 at the half).  In 15 first half minutes, Carey scored 16 of Duke’s 33, grabbing 5 first half boards, and drew 2 quick fouls on Georgetown 7 foot center Omer Yurtseven.  Yurtseven, who transferred from NC State, was limited to 7 minutes and 0 points in the opening stanza.  Duke was winning inside even though both Carey and De Laurier committed 2 fouls – Javin in only 5 minutes of first half playing time.  He committed 3 more, fouling out in 8 second half minutes.  Duke committed 12 first half fouls – both Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley also had 2.  The Georgetown perimeter completely outplayed Duke; Georgetown guards torched Tre and held him completely in check (0-4; 0-1; 2-2) with 2 assists and 2 turnovers.  Georgetown starting guards scored 18 first half points.  The second half was the game, and illuminated both Duke’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Second Half

The Rotation

Except for a scoreless two minute cameo by Joey Baker (5 points in 8 first half minutes) and 8 foul plagued minutes from Javin, Duke played Carey (13 minutes), Tre (the full 20 minutes) Wendell Moore, Cassius and Jack White each logged 19 minutes.  Georgetown turned the interior around and dominated.  Yurtseven torched the Blue Devil interior defense for 21 second half points on 13 shots from the field in 17 minutes.  He reduced both DeLaurier and Carey to “ineffective”.  I think Carey was gassed.  He took only 4 shots (1-4) missed key free throws (2-6), which to me signified “tired”.  After Javin fouled out, he hung in with 4 fouls but his aggression was diminished on both ends of the floor.  Neither Hurt, O’Connell, nor Goldwire played at all in the second half, after each was scoreless in the opening stanza.  So much for the “new deep bench”.

The Offense

Duke scored 48 second half points and led by 14 (77-63 after a corner 3 by Cassius Stanley), with only four and a half minutes left.  Duke and its offense were humming.  (44 points in a little over 16 minutes).  The two freshmen, who just blossomed to lead this scoring burst were Stanley and Moore.  Cassius was beyond wonderful, scoring 20 second half points on 6-9 shooting that included 3-3 from deep (wide open good shots) and 5-5 from the foul line.  He added 7 second half rebounds to achieve a stat line he will remember.  Moore supplied much ball handling to help Tre and made some superb drives to the basket to keep Duke’s control of the game even as the defense was unable to stop the Hoyas’ inside game.  Wendell scored 11 in the closing period on 4-6 from the field (1-1 from deep and 2-2 from the line) and played superb defense.  Tre also had 11 second half points, scoring the first two field goals of the second half as Duke broke the tie and took a lead that was never relinquished.  He was only 1-7 after the two opening baskets, but was 5-6 in crucial foul shots.  Stanley, Moore and Tre combined for 42 of Duke’s 48 second half points (Carey’s 4 and Jack White was 2-2 from the foul line).

Duke’s lead shrunk from 14 with 4 and ½ minutes to go to 4 with 42 seconds left, before Tre and Stanley each went 2-2 from the line for the final margin.  It is an old axiom in basketball that pressing teams do not like to be pressed.  Georgetown’s desperate press in the last 5 minutes was frighteningly effective.  Duke started turning the ball over (Moore committing 4 and White 3 — The Devils had 11 second half turnovers).  I suspect that there will be some intense practices in the coming days to fix that obvious weakness.

Besides the lack of poise and ball handling against the Hoya press, a troubling aspect was the failure of the upper class players to score.  White had 5 (in 33 minutes).  O’Connell, Goldwire and DeLaurier failed to score in the game.  Add the 0 in 5 first half minutes for Matt Hurt (his only minutes of the game) and instead of a deep bench, the reserved gave little support.

The Defense

Duke gave up 40 second half points because Yurtseven was simply unstoppable on the blocks.  Double teams did not slow him.  But Duke continued to force turnovers and tightened up its perimeter defense to make for what would have been a comfortable win, if the offense had not succumbed to the Hoya press.

One More Concern Moving Forward

Duke committed 21 fouls, most either were on offense or trying to compete on the interior.   The offense turned it over 21 times – 10 in the sloppy first half and 11, primarily against the press in the second half.

Upcoming

Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday November 26 (at 9 pm EST) and Friday November 29 against Winthrop (7 pm EST) to get ready for a formidable December schedule.

 

Stephen F. Austin 85 – Duke 83 (Overtime) 

Duke 83 – Winthrop 70 

Washington, D.C., November 27th, 12:05 am. My cell phone rings. Immediately, I recall back in the day telling our teenage kids that nothing good happens after midnight, so best be home by that time. However, it wasn’t a teenager with bad news, it’s Johnny Tar Heel asking what is Stephen F. Austin and where is it? I tell him I don’t know and why is he asking. He replies that someone with this name  just beat Duke in overtime. I tell him it’s too late for jokes, I didn’t have video access to the game, but last I checked Duke was up 15, hung up, then check my ESPN app to find out it’s no joke nor bad dream. Duke had experienced one of, if not the, worst upsets in NCAA history– Right up there with Chaminade and Ralph Sampson’s Virginia.

Some weeks ago I wrote, in part, Coach K schedules teams like Central Arkansas and  Georgia State, etc. for a reason. It is because there are a lot of talented basketball players who are not quite big enough or who, for some other reason, never were on the recruiting radar of the big programs (Stephen & Seth Curry) but who play at smaller schools like  Evansville, Wofford, Belmont, Lehigh, Davidson, and UMBC– small, quick talented teams who, with the benefit of the three  point line, play a different style of basketball (sort of a college version of the Golden State Warriors)  and on any given night can and have beaten the best teams in the country. Just ask Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. These are the kind of teams a high seed often play the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament and they benefit from the experience of defending a team much different than the typical ACC opponent. Now add Stephen F. Austin to those smaller, unknown schools who have upset a Basketball Powerhouse, ranked Number One no less.

That doesn’t totally explain what has happened in these two game in Cameron. Until this week, exceptionally good defense and timely plays have masked mediocre shooting and inconsistent play. Still several stats stand out:

  • Vernon Carey’s free throw shooting has regressed to the level other recent Duke centers—an ominous development. [I am unconvinced that someone with his touch is going to continue to be this inconsistent.]
  • Tre Jones assist-to-turnover ratio has flipped upside down.[I
  • nexplicable for someone who nearly led the nation in this stat last year.]Wendell Moore’s rapid improvement against Georgetown seems like a mirage. [He has been too productive in International Play not to excel at the collegiate level.]
  • Matthew Hurt responded to poor performances against Georgetown and S.F Austin by playing well against Winthrop….. but Winthrop is not big and strong like Georgetown or Michigan State. [Stay tuned.]
  • Do you see a pattern of young and inconsistent here. [Maturity often develops unevenly  in stages.]
  • The only good news about Cassius Stanley’s hamstring injury is that it does not appear too serious and that it gave Joey  Baker an extended opportunity to demonstrate the skills he can bring to the floor, especially the ability to hit threes and thereby extending the defense to open up the paint for Carey, Hurt , and Company.
  • It is easy to forget that these are exceptionally gifted athletes—but still are teenagers. However, DeLaurier and White are not. They are seniors. Jack’s reluctance to shoot limits his usefulness, (except for special occasions) and Javin’s maddening tendency to foul, limits his usefulness. And finally, with the popularity of basketball attracting the best athletes worldwide, the longer a better team let’s a less talented team hang around, the better chance there is for an upset. At the end of the S.F.A. upset, the point guard penetrated and got the ball to a big man. 49 of 50 times in the past, Duke converts, or there is a foul. But for the ball to emerge from a scrum under the basket to a guard fast enough to run 70 feet in 2.5 second and make a layup is 100-1. But that’s what makes basketball such an exciting game.

Alan Adds:

Overview

The two games dramatically demonstrated what I have written – at this juncture of the season, this edition of the Blue Devils is far from a #1 team; far from a top 5 team; and maybe only a top 20 team.  Coach K, as always, put it accurately: “We’re going to have to work through a bunch of things … with this group.  It’ll take time and we’re going to try and muck it out and we know we’re not a top five team – maybe not even a top 25 team in the country right now.  We’ve beaten good teams and we’ve played well.  But now it’s where do we go after a loss and a win this week. … Next week would be tough even if you were a top five team.”  [Next week is road games at East Lansing (Michigan State in the ACC-Big 10 challenge) and Blacksburg (opening the ACC season on the road).]

For me, the question is “what happened to the superb defense that Duke played in New York (especially against California).  In both games – far more in the SFA game – Duke gave up a startling number of points in the paint.  Even after allowing 64 points in the paint to SFA, Duke did not stop the penetration of Winthrop, which led to interior passing that produced easy layups at the rim.  When Duke doubled the post, Winthrop scored either on passes or offensive rebounds when the weak side was abandoned for the double team.  The sophisticated switching that was the Duke hallmark against Kansas and in New York was simply non-existent.  No, I don’t know what happened.  It will be necessary for the defense to reappear if losses next week are to be avoided.

Offensively, it was a mixed bag.  Duke’s offense revived against Winthrop, thanks to the re-emergence of Matt Hurt in the first half (18 in the half; only 20 for the game) and Joey Baker (Bill’s favorite; because he’s partial to seeing Duke shots go in the basket) for the game – 16 points in 23 minutes.  Jordan Goldwire also was instrumental in Duke getting untracked in the second half.  With Stanley’s injury and the terrific play of Baker and Goldwire, the rotation is completely in flux.

Duke v Stephen F Austin (written prior to the Winthrop game)

Duke was a 27.5 point favorite last night (and is an even heavier favorite against Winthrop for Friday’s game). Bill was away for the holidays, so we decided we would do one edition of the Duke Basketball Playbook to cover both games, “since they would not be competitive games”.  Apparently the Duke team also had the view that the games would not be competitive.  The first few minutes corroborated that feeling, but completely undid this young team.  With 9:03 left in the first half, Matt Hurt added a layup to give Duke a 15 point lead (33-18).  What happened for the next 36 minutes is exactly what happened to Kentucky against Evansville and in countless other spectacular upsets.  Stephen F. Austin (SFA) morphed into a team of destiny and played so well that I almost wanted to root for the 27 and ½ point underdog, playing in an arena of legend and just sticking it to Duke with intensity and energy.  “Up Yours, # 1!”

Not only did The Lumberjacks deserve to win, but Duke deserved to lose.  The second half and overtime are illuminating for any analysis of this game from Duke’s perspective.  Duke shot 11-24 from the free throw line in the second half and overtime.  SFA had 8 more field goal attempts than Duke and 7 more rebounds in the second half.  Duke turned it over an astounding number of times, including giving up the winning basket on the final of its 22 turnovers.  Worse, the vaunted defense was beyond porous – SAF scored 25 more points in the paint and grabbed 7 offensive rebounds (making Duke pay almost every time).  Coach K: “We gave up 60 [64, actually] points in the paint; we don’t give up 60 points for a game!”

Coach K: “They were better than we were.  They were tougher.  They had more poise.  They made so many layups (those 64 points in the paint).”  The Coach pointed out the terrible foul shooting and sloppy ball handling. Tre had 8 turnovers alone.  However, K gave full credit to the incredible performance of The Lumberjacks: “we played badly, but they made us play badly by their superb play.”

Coach K: “We were not deserving of winning.  The overtime, especially the last play, was symbolic of the game we played.”  Duke scored just 2 points in the crucial overtime, and that was on a put back by Carey (2nd offensive rebound of that scrum).  In the crucial 5 minutes of overtime, Duke turned the ball over 6 times!  Both Lumberjack overtime field goals came off of live ball turnovers in the open court leading to open layups.  Duke took 4 shots – a 3 and a put back by White, the put back by Carey to tie the game at 83 with 2:14 left and a missed short jumper by Tre with 16 seconds left.  When Tre missed a pretty open mid-range jumper with 16 seconds left on the clock, Moore grabbed the offensive board and got the ball to Hurt, who was stripped of the ball for the winning Lumberjack basketball.  Duke had not only failed to score in the last 2:14 of the overtime, but had only taken one shot (Tre’s mid-range miss)!

The second half was an illuminating nightmare for the Blue Devils, who gave up 41 points, committed 12 fouls and were outrebounded by 8 after dominating inside in the first half.  Vernon Carey was 2-9 from the free throw line.  Duke’s offense got the ball into him in good position.  He drew the foul.  But when you brick the free throws, it is just like a turnover.  Tre was 1-5 from the field and only 3-6 from the line.  There was no bench.  Javin played 2 minutes (only 1 foul); Alex was in for 4 minutes (1-1 from the field).  Neither Baker nor Goldwire made it on the floor in the second half.  Carey played 15 minutes (3-3 from the field with 3 rebounds and 4 blocks for 8 points.  Tre (6 points) and Cassius (8 points) played all 20 minutes, while Wendell Moore scored 7 in 16 minutes (5-6 from the free throw line; 1-2 from the field).  Hurt and White split the small forward time at 10 minutes each.  White played 3 minutes as the center with Carey getting a rest and Javin completely ineffective.  Hurt was 2-6 from the field (1-2 from deep and 1-2 from the line) for 6 points, but only 1 rebound.  White did not attempt a shot or foul shot in his 13 minutes.  He grabbed 2 boards.  Both Hurt and White committed 2 second half fouls.  It was very hard to watch if you were a Duke fan.

Coach K: “We did not respond well to winning in New York.  We assumed we would win.  Not that it would be easy, but that we would win.  We tried to tell them at half and at time outs.  We didn’t respond to a different emotion.  They outplayed us.”

It was about toughness.  SFA forces turnovers and dominated the interior to score and rebound.  K attributed the many turnovers to a lack of toughness.  “Duke was not strong with the ball.”  Understatement!

What’s next? [written before the Winthrop game].  Coach K: “I’m disappointed.  I’m going to wallow in that disappointment before figuring out what to do.  I’ve told my team, ‘it’s not ok to play like that.  We have to get tough quickly.”

Winthrop

The score was tied at 32 with 3:10 left in the first half, when Duke went on its first run (8-0) with Stanley and Tre hitting from the field (Tre’s only 3) and Hurt making 3 of 4 from the line.  Duke led 42-35 at the half (Duke also won the second half 41-36).  With 13:40 left in the game, Duke led by 11, when the wheels started to come off.  It felt just like the SFA game, where Duke’s 15 point lead started to shrink with alarmingly bad play.  Duke went 4:20 without scoring while Winthrop chopped the Devil lead to 4 with 9:45 left.  Sloppy play by both teams followed.  Duke expanded the lead on good plays by Hurt, Baker, Carey and Goldwire to lead by 10 with 5:31 left.  By then Winthrop was gassed and Duke rolled the lead to 16 before calling off the dogs.

The rotation

Cassius only played two minutes in the second half because of his injury.  Coach K said it was hamstring rather than knee, and hoped Stanley would return by Christmas.  Alex (6 minutes) and Jack White (8 minutes) played only cameos.  Matt Hurt played 17 second half minutes even though his scoring stopped (1-4 for 2 points). He had scored 18 in a spectacular outburst in the first half. In the second half, Matt earned his time with 4 boards and excellent defense.  The result was White played only 3 second half minutes to spell Hurt.

With Cassius hurt, one hoped Wendell Moore would step up, but exactly the opposite happened. It was a bad game for Wendell who failed to score in 19 minutes, missing his only 2 shots.  Eventually, Baker took his minutes.  Coach K gave Carey more rest, which produced excellent results.  Vernon played only 22 minutes to record his double double – 10 rebounds and 17 points (5-10 from the field and 7-10 from the stripe) to go with a block.  Tre found him with some great passes for easy lay ups.  Javin played 16 minutes (2-2 for 4 points) with 3 boards.  While he committed 2 fouls in his 7 first half minutes, he was in the game for 9 valuable second half minutes without fouling.  Major improvement.

Goldwire was simply a star.  Tre had big trouble guarding the quick Winthrop back court (the 5’8” other Jones gave Tre fits).  Jordan made 5 steals – 4 in the second half, where he played 13 scintillating minutes, scoring 6 (2-3 from the field and 2-2 from the line).  Baker played 14 second half minutes scoring 8 and playing superbly – diving on the floor, taking charges, and really making a case for getting significant playing time.  Let’s see if this was a true emergence or a flash in the pan.  Carey had 12 of his 17 points in his 10 second half minutes.

Tre had an odd week.  He committed 13 turnovers in these 2 games, and was significantly torched on defense by both SFA and Winthrop guards.  He is scoring and passing, but his floor game was off by a wide margin.  The test against Pre-Season Player of the year, Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston will be telling next Tuesday.  Tre could not contain Winston in last year’s elite 8 loss to the Spartans.

Next Week

This was the week where reality set in.  Coach K said Duke was playing with “inherited wealth” by being ranked so high this early in the season.  By “inherited wealth” he meant that Duke’s ranking was based in significant part on the past recent (and long term) success of K’s program rather on this team’s accomplishments (really just the opening night win over Kansas; think last year’s opening night win over Kentucky).  This team did not earn that high ranking, which was fully disclosed by this week’s games.

The Michigan State game will receive mega scrutiny, but I believe the most important game next week is in Blacksburg against The Hokies.  Virginia Tech beat Michigan State in the first round of the tournament before the clock struck midnight for the next two losing games.  The ACC will be such a gauntlet this year (4 teams in last week’s top 8 – Duke, Louisville, who will be #1 next week, UNC and Virginia, which held Maine to 26 points for an entire game).  Losing in Blacksburg would set a bad tone for Duke’s ACC championship hopes.

Michigan State is on ESPN; Virginia Tech on ACCN.

DUKE 87 – MICHIGAN STATE 75 

What a difference a week makes!

Raise your hand if you thought these young Blue Devils, who just seven days ago lost to Stephen F. Austin in the most embarrassing home loss in school history, struggled against Winthrop, then traveled to East Lansing without  the services of an injured Cassius Stanley, would not only beat but totally dominate Michigan State, the preseason #1 team in the country. ESPN studio hosts Seth Greenberg and LaPhonso Ellis certainly didn’t think so, but then, apparently, they don’t know K (“We’re not a Top-5 Team. We may not even be top-25 right now.” Translation: But next week? Lookout!) However, we do know Coach K. How many times have we seen this re-run? Why is anyone still surprised by the ending? Why weren’t more hands in the air?The bottom line is that given the circumstances—an unprecedented fall from grace, the tough opponent and venue, and essentially down two starters—injured Stanley and Mia Moore—this was one of the most impressive team turnaround performances in memory.

The score was deceiving. Duke was never behind, ahead mostly by double digits and  the high teens to low twenties for most of the second half. The Spartans had no answer for Vernon Carey (26 points,11 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Tre Jones (20 points and 12 assists, 3 steals while locking down Elite Eight nemesis Cassius Winston, the preseason National Player of the Year). Despite the impressive numbers of the two stars, it was an remarkable total team win with a lot of gritty, blue collar play by the senior co-captains. Lauren DeLaurier had his best game  since these same two teams met in the Elite Eight last spring. DeLaurier (10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, only 1 foul)  appeared to be jumping off a trampoline as he consistently played above the rim at both ends of the floor. His roommate Jack White (7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks) started for the injured Cassius Stanley and brought the kind of toughness Duke needed in a very hostile venue. Matthew Hurt (10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks) played stronger. Jordan Goldwire (3 assists, a steal and 1 block gave) Duke 24 solid defensive minutes off the bench. Only Wendell Moore, who got into early foul trouble, and Alex O’Connell failed to contribute and consequently lost playing time to Joey Baker in the second half, who again shot (5-6) impressively.

Make no mistake, a tough, active defense was the lynchpin for this win but the equalizer was every time Duke needed points (when State made a 9-1 run to start the second half), the ball went to Vernon Carey (final three schools: Duke, Michigan State, and North  Carolina) in the low post. The Spartans had no answer for the big center with a soft touch. Coincidently, as Johnny Tar Heel often comments,  Coach K was a terrific bench coach who is worth ten points a game. So, I was puzzled why Matthew Hurt and not Vernon Carey was on the floor on the last possession  of the overtime against Stephen F. Austin The score was tied, four SAF players had 4 fouls, and Duke was in the double bonus. The obvious play was to get the ball down low, make a basket or get fouled. But Carey was on the bench, Matthew Hurt was in the low post.  The pass from Jones was loose on a scrum on the floor, Hurt got pushed out of the way, and the rest is history. Nobody on SAF could push  Carey away from that loose ball. Coulda, shoulda, woulda!

Other Comments:

  • Duke is now 19-2 in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, 5-0 against Michigan State.
  • Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams take pride in playing “tough”. Duke has a reputation of being soft. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils are 13-2 against Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
  • Duke hit 7-of-15 on 3s and 16-of-22 from the line, while out-rebounding Michigan State 34-32. Duke had 11 blocks and 10 steals.
  • The Spartans were 4-for-16 on 3s.

Alan Adds:

Euphoria was the unanimous emotion as Duke dominated the Spartans with an epic performance.  That euphoria can disguise some of the analytics that put this wonderful performance in perspective.  Duke dominated in the first half, torching the Spartans for 45 points.  An explosive outburst.  Michigan State scored 46 second half points.  Duke dominated on offense for the entire game, but on defense only in the first half.  The defense did not die in the second half, but the Spartans revived.  Duke simply could not stop them; but didn’t have to because of the Devils’ spectacular offense.

Let’s examine the rotation, the offense, the defense and Coach K’s wisdom.

Coach K’s wisdom

Coach K was asked who his toughest opponent has been in his coaching career.  His answer: “human nature”.  Duke thought the game against SFA would not be competitive.  The challenge of the Spartans was obvious – SFA humiliation;  Winthrop first half; last year’s tragic loss in the Elite 8 when Duke was the favorite to win the national championship; and (perhaps most important) the thrashing of Tre Jones by Cassius Winston in that game.  Winston had simply taken Tre to school.  Duke met that challenge in the first half in not less than spectacular style.  Duke’s double digit lead throughout the second half may (partially) explain giving up 46 second half points.  Duke plays Virginia Tech on Friday.  Human nature?

The Rotation

This game was won, in large measure, by Duke’s returning players.  Only Vernon Carey was dominant out of the freshman class.  In only 25 minutes of action, Carey scored 26 to go with 11 boards, 3 blocks and an assist.  He was 9-12 from the foul line.  He missed a couple of bunnies; he could easily have scored 30.  Cassius Stanley didn’t play.  Wendell Moore played only 10 minutes (7 in the first half while committing 3 fouls) without scoring.  Matt Hurt contributed 10 points in 27 minutes.  Valuable in many ways.

But it was Tre Jones (best game of his Duke career), who totally dominated Cassius Winston, playing every minute of the game, and scoring 20 points ((6-13 from the field including 2-5 from deep and 6-8 from the stripe) to go with 12 assists, a block and 3 steals.  The only negative was 6 turnovers.  It was an All-American performance.  Tre had plenty of help from the upper class.  Javin was superb.  Coach K acknowledged that Javin had been a disappointment until this game.  He spelled Carey, playing 19 minutes, scoring 10 – mostly on dunks by really running the floor.  Tre’s passes to him were worth watching more than once.  Javin had 10 (5-5) with 6 boards, 2 steals, a block and an assist.  In 19 minutes, he committed only 1 foul!  Jack White played 31 superb minutes (only player besides Tre to log more than 27 minutes).  He had 7 points (3-4, including 1-2 from deep) to go with 6 boards, 3 steals, 2 blocks and an assist.  He supplied a toughness that has been somewhat missing.  Coach K singled out all 3 co-captains with praise for their leadership and energy.  Let us not forget junior Jordan Goldwire and sophomore Joey Baker, who both made their mark dramatically.  In 24 minutes, Goldwire was terrific.  He was a perfect complement to Tre with ball handling on offense and guarding Winston on defense.  Baker has played himself into the rotation.  Duke’s meritocracy.  He had 11 points in only 17 minutes (5-6 from the field, including 1-1 from deep).  He has used his new found fame as a 3 point shooter to employ the shot fake to get rid of his defender and score in the mid-range game.

The Defense

Duke’s defense was as good as it has been all year (which is amazingly good) in the first half.  The energy was papabile.  Duke got deflections, blocks, steals and completely disrupted the Spartan offense, which scored only 29 first half points.  Double the first half score and Duke wins 90-58.  The game was effectively over at the half.  Even though the Spartans found their offense – especially in the paint, reminding us of the defensive shortcomings against SFA and Winthrop – Duke did some amazing things.  Coach K pointed out that even when Duke players were beaten by a Spartan driver or excellent inside pass, each made the extra effort, making basket saving blocks from behind.  Coach K said that was what won the game.

The Offense

What a great inside – outside combination Duke displayed.  Carey was absolutely unstoppable in the post (+ 1-2 from long range).  He is simply a stud.  Enjoy him this year because it is hard to see him returning next year.  Tre was, as described above, at his absolute best.  They scored 46 of Duke’s 87.  Duke shot better than any game this season – 47 % from behind the arc, including 4-6 in the second half to keep the Spartans at bay.  The Blue Devils shot 56% from the field and 73% from the foul line.  We would take that for every game for the rest of the season.  It was a performance to build on.

Virginia Tech

Duke faces its first conference game in Blacksburg on Friday under extremely difficult circumstances.  First, Blacksburg has been a scene of frequent Devil disappointments in the past.  Second, the schedule requires two long flights in 3 days on the week before finals.  Coach K said that two of his players had to take tests during the trip to East Lansing.  I wrote last week that the game against the Hokies was actually more important than against Michigan State.  As we can tell from Louisville’s dismantling of Michigan, winning the ACC regular season title will be difficult.  It would be more difficult if the first conference game is a road loss.  What a week!

DUKE 77 – VIRGINIA TECH 63 

I thought there were many reasons to be apprehensive about tonight’s game:

Bad Karma: For years, Virginia Tech has been an unusually difficult opponent for Duke. For example, a highly ranked Blue Devil team has lost their last three trips to Blacksburg.

Payback: Tech almost upset Duke in the Sweet Sixteen last year.

Preparation: Tech is rested (they did not participate in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge) and their talented, new Coach Mike Young  has had weeks to prepare for the game. Duke had less than a day.

Balance: As opponent’s devise ways to defend and frustrate Vernon Carrey, will he find the open man, and if so, can that player score?

Defense: Is the defense as good as it looked against Michigan State or as bad as it looked against Stephan F.  Austin and Winthrop?

Injury: Who or what combination of players will replace Cassius Stanley’s scoring, defense, and playmaking abilities?

Fatigue: Will the players be able to recover mentally and physically from the travel and quick turnaround from the emotional Michigan State game in East Lancing during Finals Week?

What I didn’t anticipate was that we would see yet another example of why Johnny Tar Heel keeps telling me Coach K is a great bench coach with an intuitive feel for the flow of a game and complementary talents of his players that is worth 5-12 points in any given game.

The first half was not encouraging. The Hokies were shredding the Blue Devil defense like SFA and scoring points in the paint with ease. Duke was fortunate to be down only three points, not double digits, at the half. The second half was only a minute and two easy Hokie baskets old when a disgusted Coach K uncharacteristically called quick time out and made the most surprising and impactful substitution since little used freshman Grayson Allen went into the second half of the 2015 NCAA Championship game against Wisconsin.

Out of the timeout, we saw the indefatigable Tre Jones on the court with the unlikely (What’s going on? Have the starters just declared for the NBA draft?) combination of Jordan GoldwireJoey BakerJack White, and only one freshman, the recently benched Wendell Moore. To provide more athleticism, the inconsistent Alex O’Connell quickly replaced Joey Baker. This unlikely group surprisingly played Tech even, then totally turned the game around and quieted the raucous arena by out-defending, out-hustling, and out- scoring the Hokies 35-16. These Duke subs held the Hokies scoreless for more than three minutes, turning a slim 56-55 Duke margin into a 62-55 lead.

With 4:23 to play, a frustrated Landers Nolley, the Hokie’s most talented player, lost his composure. As the Hokies were setting up their half-court offense, Nolley, attempting off ball to shake a relentless Wendell Moore, shoved him in the chest. The solid 6’5” Moore should receive an Oscar nomination for making certain officials didn’t miss it and whistled a foul. After a replay review, the refs changed it to a flagrant-1 foul, giving Moore two free throws. He hit them both giving Duke a 68-57 lead. Then, the mercurial Alex O’Connell finally rediscovered his touch and nailed a deuce, then a three. After that, the deflated Hokies were so discouraged and gassed, they didn’t even attempt a full court press.

The bottom line is that after 39 years, 5 NCAA Championships, 12 Final Fours, 12 ACC regular season titles, and 15 ACC Tournament championships, you think you have seen it all and thought you knew Coach K like a well-read book. The Maestro showed you that you haven’t and didn’t.

Why and how did this game turn around?

As usual the relentless, indefatigable Tre Jones (he wasn’t even breathing hard for the post-game interview) was the catalyst at both ends of the floor. Vernon Carey (12 points, 5 rebounds) and Matthew Hurt (8 points, 0 rebounds) barely played in the second half. Cassius Stanley, after missing only one game with a hamstring injury, started but was rusty and barely played. So impressive against Michigan State, Javin DeLaurier had 12 unimpressive minutes. On the other hand, Jordan Goldwire (10 points and 6 rebounds) played 30 minutes of his best basketball. The always athletic but inconsistent Alex O’Connell (7 points and 5 rebounds) played 15 impressive minutes. For 22 minutes, blue collar Jack White (7 points, 2 blocks, 1 steal) defended the interior better than anyone. Wendell Moore (12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) was in his element and played more like the impactful international player he has been the last two summers.

Other observations:

Key stat: The Blue Devils, ranked 238th nationally in free throw percentage, went 10-for-10 tonight.

For those who thought Coach K was always reverts to a 6 or 7 man rotation in tough games: 9 different Devils played at least a dozen minutes, with a 10th, Stanley getting 7.

Seven Duke players scored between 7 and 15 points but Jones, Moore and Alex O’Connell proved all of Duke’s points in this decisive 17-2 run.

Alan (who assured me at the half that Duke would win) Adds (from paradise):

I texted Bill at the half, “Where is our defense? 41 points allowed. Duke is schizophrenic on defense.”  Winthrop was a perfect example; excellent defense in the second half after a porous first half.  When Bill called around half time (complaining that Duke was losing while the Hokies paraded to the rim with 26 points in the paint), I assured him that Duke would win.  My assurance was based on the fact that Duke was down by only 3, when it should have been 15 based on the porous defense.  But, it should have been based on the fact that Duke is coached by K.  I do not believe there is another coach who would have made the change in strategy and lineup that Coach K created early in the second half.

Duke gave up the first two baskets of the second half in a minute to trail by 7.  Time out.  The Coach took out Matt Hurt (8 points in 15 first half minutes) and the star offensive player, Vernon Carey (10 points and 5 boards in 11 minutes) in favor of  Wendell Moore (10 first half minutes without a point or rebound) and Joey Baker (8 first half minutes without a score).  Hurt never returned to the game; Carey played another 2 minutes (2-2 from the line).  The substitution and switch in strategy produced an amazing defensive effort that clearly won the game.

Coach K: “We could not defend the ball screen in the first half.  They scored twice to open the second half on ball screens that produced drives.”  Duke went to a lineup that could switch everything on defense and could provide spacing and movement on offense.  The offense was pure motion without running any sets.  On defense, the switching allowed Duke to close off the driving lanes.  Nowlins II was torching the Duke bigs from the elbow in the first half.  In the second half Duke guarded him primarily with Wendell Moore, who got help from both Jack White and Jordan Goldwire. “We guarded him with athletes.”  Nowlins was scoreless in the second half and committed 6 turnovers.

“Being able to switch was the key to the game.  We kept them out of the paint.  We kept better pressure on with switching.”

How amazingly wonderful was this second half defense?  Take away the first four points before the timeout and the last 4 points that the Hokies scored in the last minute to cut the lead from 18 to 14.  Duke held the Hokies to 14 points in about 18 minutes!  I do not have the eloquence for the proper adjective.

The Duke offense thrived.  Wendell Moore played his best half at Duke on both ends of the floor.  He scored 12 second half points (4-6 from the field and 4-4 from the line to go with 2 boards and a steal) in 17 minutes.  Tre was superb in 20 second half minutes.  After and even battle with Hokie point guard Wabissa Bede, Tre dominated him in the second half, scoring 10 while keeping Bede out of the paint (where his passing shredded the defense in the first half) and holding him to 6 points.  Tre was 5-9 with 5 rebounds.  Goldwire also played all 20 minutes of the second half.  He shared the ball handling with Tre, also grabbed 5 rebounds and was a demon on defense.  Alex hit two big shots in his 9 second half minutes.  Baker played 12; White 13.  The bigs saw little floor time (Hurt, just that first minute – suggesting he has much to learn about switching and defense; Carey 4 minutes; Javin 4 minutes).  It was some second half!

Still, the game was tight.  With 8:59 left, Duke led by 1 before breaking the game wide open.  Moore grabbed an offensive board and hit a short jumper.  Tre forced Bede into a turnover, and then (after a timeout) hit a jumper.  Tre garnered a defensive rebound, passed to Goldwire who fed Moore for an open court layup.  Duke by 7.  After a string of misses by both teams, Bede and Tre each made jumpers.  Moore blew by Nowlins for a layup and a 9 point lead when Nowlins committed the flagrant one against Moore, who made both free throws.  Alex hit a three as Duke maintained possession on the flagrant foul.  Duke by 14 and the rout was on.  What a stretch!  The Hokies were done.  They were too tired to press.  As Tre said post game, “We ran them into the ground.”

Coach K said “We played like winners.”  He applauded the toughness he saw – especially from Moore.  When Wendell missed a wide open layup, he didn’t pout he just played harder.  “This is just an old fashioned team.”  Coach K said.  It was clearly a well-deserved compliment.

 DUKE 86 – WOFFORD 57

[Unforced error: Alan had a medical procedure scheduled for Saturday morning so we agreed to combine coverage of the Wofford and the Brown games on December 29th. Early Saturday morning, I decided to send a picture and score with a short explanation. Inadvertently, I send some of you a draft of my notes from last night, which I use as an outline for my coverage the next morning.  Alan belatedly decided that if he survived the procedure/operation, he would write/play hurt so we could send something this week-end.]

No Tre Jones. No problem. Seriously, how many times has a non-conference team come to Tobacco Road and swept North Carolina and Duke in back- to- back games? If you said never, you win!!!!

But Tre’s minor foot strain was not the big news. Coach K actually playing nine players serious minutes this far into the pre-ACC play was– and each was productive. The defense was impressive as only one opponent scored in double digits. However, Joey Baker, Justin Goldwire, and Javin DeLaurier were the most impressive.

DeLaurier replaced Carey two minutes into the game and gave Duke a much-needed infusion of strength and energy. Even Krzyzewski singled him out. He ended the game without a foul or a turnover. And Goldwire  played the most complete game of his career as he did not miss a shot and shared point guard responsibilities with Wendell Moore.

However, it was Baker (22 points) who continues to impress with JJ  Reddick like three point shooting, knocking down 5 three pointers in a span of just under 10 minutes. The first two extended Duke’s lead from 46-30 to 52-30 and ended any chance of a Wofford comeback. Even Coach K was impressed and said that Baker has worked his way into the rotation. “In September, I wasn’t sure how much Joey could play. And he’s come every day and practiced. He shoots game shots even when he’s just shooting. He’s become our quickest shooter and our most accurate shooter. The guys see it.” It seems as though Joey Bucket’s long distance shooting and the teams improved free throw shooting may well be the keys to this more experienced team with fewer one-and-done lottery picks being even more successful than the last few more highly rated editions.

Carey had a 20 & 10 night against an undersized front line. He now has eight double-doubles this season. Hurt had 12 points and 8 rebounds.

As I mentioned, this team has four players—Baker, Stanley, Hurt, and Carey– shooting over 40% from beyond the new three point line. And after a slow start by Carey, as a team they are recently averaging over 70% on free throws. These a championship-like numbers.

Alan Adds; 

When Wofford beat UNC on Sunday, December 15, I wrote to Bill that I thought Duke would simply pulverize Wofford when they met just 4 days after The Terriers had handed the Tarheels a loss at home that was just as embarrassing as Stephen F. Austin’s humiliation of the Blue Devils in Cameron just two weeks prior.  After that embarrassment, I was sure that Duke would never underestimate an opponent this year (See the DBP re the Stephen F Austin game).  Moreover after what Coach K called “the toughest week I’ve had in my 40 years at Duke” – away games at Michigan State and Virginia Tech in the space of 4 days in the midst of the week before finals – Duke had 13 days off so I knew Duke would be well rested.  I was confident … until I learned just before tipoff that Tre would not play.  That was an X factor.

Obviously, we now know that I should not have worried.  The Blue Devils put on what Coach K called, “an outstanding performance.”  He listed the building blocks for that assessment: 1) the outstanding defense Duke played; 2) the way the team shared the ball; 3) the paucity of Devil turnovers in a fast paced game; and, 4) 9 players played between 28 minutes (Goldwire) and 17 minutes (DeLaurier).

The Defense

After a slight struggle in the opening minutes, adjusting to Tre’s absence, the defense played as well as it has all season, and Duke has had some tremendous defensive games so far this season.  Wofford led 9-5 after 3:52 had elapsed.  For the next 16:07, Duke held Wofford to just 14 points.  Of course, Coach K had the perfect game plan.  Wofford is a 3 point shooting team led by its ace guard, Storm Murphy and his long range shooting partner, Nathan Hoover.  They had torched the Tar Heels, and Coach K’s main emphasis was to shut them down from 3land.  How well did that work?  Neither scored a single point in the first half.  Murphy could not even attempt a 3; he was 0-3 from the field.  Hoover missed 3 well contested 3s to go 0-4 for the first half.  Duke held Wofford to 26 first half points, the last 3 coming on a well defended 3 as time expired.  It was simply a superb defensive effort.  Human nature being what it is (Duke’s lead was as high as 29 a couple of times in the second half)), the defense was not quite as intense, allowing 31 points.  Neither DeLaurier nor White put big points on the board, but each played hellacious defense.  Goldwire tortured Murphy (though Coach K said that Goldwire and Murphy played each other evenly, I thought Goldwire took him to school) and Wendell Moore (scoreless in 11 second half minutes) also played intense defense to go with his 5 second half rebounds.  Cassius Stanley had a great first half at both ends as well.

The Offense

All 9 scored in the first half, led by Carey and Hurt, who each played 12 minutes and scored 8 against the undersized Terriers. DeLaurier (8 minutes) and Baker (6 minutes) each scored 5.  DeLaurier was 1-1 from the field and 3-4 from the line, while Joey missed his only 2 first half field goal attempts, but was 5-5 from the line.  Moore scored 4 in 13 minutes (2-4 from the field).  Stanley logged the most first half minutes (14) while scoring 3.  White, Goldwire, O’Connell each had a field goal for 2 points.  Duke was only 1-7 from behind the arc, but shot 14-20 from inside the arc (Wow!) and 8-11 from the line for 39 points.

Duke’s offense (particularly Baker and Carey) exploded for 47 second half points.  Baker’s 5-6 from behind the arc (6-9 from the field) led the way with 17 second half points in just 12 minutes.  Carey was amazingly efficient, scoring 12 second half points in only 11 minutes on 4-5 from the field and 4-4 from the line to go with his 8 boards and a block.  He was a beast, to say the least.  The second half also belonged to Goldwire, who logged a team high 17 minutes, scoring 6 on 2-2 from the field including 1-1 from behind the arc and 1-1 from the line to go with 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal.  Duke did not miss Tre at all.  That is astonishing, and bodes well for the growth of this team.

The Rotation

Is it just this game, or has Coach K changed his philosophy to match the talent of this team.  It seems he has 10 players with the capacity to contribute.  JGold led the team in minutes with 28. Others who logged 20 minutes or more were Alex (24), Moore (24), Carey (23) White (21) and Hurt (20).  Stanley (18, but only 4 in the second half), Baker (18; 12 in the second half) and DeLaurier (17; though scoreless in his 9 second half minutes) rounded out the main players.  JRob had 3 blocks in his 5 minutes.  Duke is morphing into a really deep team.

Next Play

Duke is off until December 28, when Brown visits Cameron at the early hour of 11:30 a.m.  In early 2020, the ACC season is on.

DUKE 75 – BROWN 50

What do you think when someone mentions Brown University. I think of it is the safe backup school for children of  eastern celebrities (JFK, Jr., Amy Carter,  Emma Watson) or a baker’s dozen of the Kennedy clan who, for a variety of reasons, couldn’t get into Harvard– or Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) in George Lucas’ autobiographical, coming-of-age classic movie, American Graffiti (which, incidentally, became one of the most profitable films of all time and gave a young Lucas the juice to finance the Indiana Jones & Star Wars franchises) finally deciding to get on that 50’s prop plane to fly east to Brown University, after which he presumably became, you guessed it, a successful screen writer.

However, what I don’t think is BASKETBALL! And that’s a good thing, because the score was very deceiving. For much too long, the game looked more like an intermural fraternity scrimmage or a rerun of the Stephen F. Austin game. It appeared that during Christmas break, Carey was the only player who picked up a basketball but, fortunately, Alex O’Connell apparently found his jump shot under the Christmas tree. Too long for Duke fans, the game was too close for comfort as it was a tossup whether the Blue Devils were worse offensively or defensively. If Duke had played well, they would have scored about 100 points. An example: with eleven minutes left in the half, Brown hit a three to tie the game at 12. Wendell Moore stood under the basket with the ball, waiting to throw it in to somebody– only all his teammates had run to the other end of the floor and no one was there to receive the inbounds pass. Duke had to quickly call a timeout to avoid a turnover and an infuriated 72 year old Coach K to ripped off his jacket, a tactic usually saved only for big time opponents. Even that didn’t work very well as the Blue Devils only lead 33-29 at the half to a middle-of the-pack Ivy League team.

Starting the second half, Duke went back to Plan A: throw the ball to Vernon Carey in the post and watch him score. However, it wasn’t until the predictably unpredictable Alex O’Connell, who missed all four of his shots from the floor in the first half, started hitting long jump shots, then two threes did the Devils really settle down as Moore and White stepped up to help ice the game. “Alex is a good basketball player,” Krzyzewski said. “He came through. With all these kids, it’s consistency. It’s not him, it’s all of them. We just have to keep working on it. He was a key guy today, no question.” And red hot Joey Baker? He got his first start, made two terrific defensive plays but was 1-6 as his jump shot was apparently still on Christmas break. Coach K called it “starter’s disease” and  he could see signs of it in practice. “He just couldn’t get it. It showed at the end of the first half when he took two wild shots. I talked to him right after the game and told him: “Just remember you’re a damn good player. You don’t have to change when you start. But it meant so much to him.’ We’re going through all those growth periods and thank goodness we were able to play well the last 15 minutes.”

It appears the ACC schedule is the easiest in years, so there is a terrific opportunity for this team to sort out the all the moving parts and win the regular season. But for right now it is very much a work in progress as Jones, who is supposed to start against Boston College on New Year’s eve, and Carey are the only dependable performers. The other eight have their moments but like Cassius Stanley today–he played very good defense but dribbled the ball off his foot on the way to a dunk and Joey Baker inexplicably shooting bricks– you just don’t yet know what to expect from these young, talented players, who are a long way from being NBA ready.

Let’s acknowledge what an impressive run the Clemson football program is having. I just finished watching one of the most exciting, improbable football games I have ever seen. Ohio State outcoached and outplayed Clemson for all but a few minutes of the first half, yet were only up 16-14. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence (and the defense) just would not let his team lose as his final 90 yard drive was one of which Joe  Montana would be proud. Although Ohio State certainly played well enough to win—coulda, shoulda, woulda- it was just not meant to be. The bottom line is that Clemson hasn’t won two national titles in the last three years for nothing. This is a team that has been in these kinds of games and has the coaching, talent, skill, and tenacity to know how to respond. Well done, ACC Champions!

Alan Adds:

At half time I texted Bill that the game was reminding me of the Stephen F. Austin game.  Duke had no passion, shot poorly, and had defensive lapses.  It was only 14 offensive first half rebounds that helped Duke to a 35-29 half time lead against Brown.  Duke led Stephen F. Austin 40-34 at the half.  The first five minutes of the second half against Brown was more of the same.  Duke committed 5 team fouls in the first 5 minutes of the final stanza.  But, unlike the SFA game, Duke changed its fortunes and stormed to a 25 point win, playing 15 minutes of solid basketball against an inferior team.  Duke held Brown to 21 second half points and put the game out of reach.  But it surely wasn’t pretty.  

The Defense

Coach K said the game plan was to limit Brown’s point guard, Brandon Anderson (leading scorer in the Ivy League with an accurate deep shot) and forward Tamenang Choh, a potential All-Ivy forward.  Anderson was 3-5 from deep in the first half, but was held without a 3 pointer in the second half.  Coach K said that the game was won by the defense that Cassius Stanley and Wendel Moore played on Choh, holding him scoreless in the first half, and to 4 total points in the game, while forcing him into 5 turnovers.  Even though there were some lapses, mostly in the first half when interior Brown passing led to several open layups when Duke’s interior doubles were sloppy, Brown did only score 50 points in the game.  The first half lacked the talk that the coach said returned in the latter part of the second half.  Duke controlled the boards.  Coach K singled out Alex O’Connell for two crucial contested defensive rebounds, and said he thought that was a factor in Alex’s sparkling offensive second half.  The superior Blue Devil athletes blocked 9 shots and made 13 steals.

The Offense

Painful is the adjective that jumps to mind.  Duke came back to campus two days before the game and had only two practices.  K’s assessment: “It looked like we had not played or practiced.”  There were players cutting to the basket when the pass was to the spot vacated, and the team was generally sloppy with the ball.  Some of that may have had to do with Tre’s absence, but more likely it was the time away from the game.  Seth Greenberg (The Great Pontificator) said the two toughest games of a season are the one before Xmas and the one after.  The offense was a tale of two different halves (especially if you put the first five minutes of the second half with the first half).   Vernon Carey scored 19 points – 10 in the first half while playing 14 minutes.  He scored Duke’s first 8 points in the second half but added only 1-2 from the line for the last 16:28 of the game.  Duke was 0-10 from behind the arc, shooting 32% from the field in the opening stanza.  Painful.

Then Wendell Moore and Alex O’Connell took over the Duke offense.  After being held scoreless in 12 first half minutes, Moore exploded for 10 in the second half on 5-8 from the field to go with 4 boards, 2 assists and 3 steals in 15 minutes.  Alex was even better after an undistinguished 6 first half minutes (0-5; 0-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line), when he torched Brown for 12 second half points on 4-5 from the field including 2-2 from deep and 2-2 from the line to go with 3 boards that Coach K so admired.  Matt Hurt’s 6 points on 3-4 and Jack White’s 3 points accounted for all 40 of Duke’s second half points.

The Rotation

Jordan Goldwire played 32 minutes to lead the team in minutes played.  Coach K praised him.  He said he and Alex played like juniors.  The coach pointed out that JGold had a poor first half and had let Brown “speed him up”, but that he stayed composed in the second half and provided leadership and defense.

I had said to Bill that Joey Baker turned into a pumpkin like Cinderella in this game, but Coach K had a better way to explain Baker’s disappointing outing (2 points in the first half on 1-5 from the field in 14 minutes and only 3 minutes on the court in the second half).  He had “starter’s disease”.  He wanted so badly to prove he deserved the start that he put extra pressure on himself and did not play his game.  Coach K said that after being told he would start, he couldn’t hit a shot in practice either.  Nobody is giving up on this sweet shooter.

The second half rotation is pretty interesting.  In the second half, Stanley played 8 minutes, DeLaurier 7, White 6 and Joey 3.  Carey played 11.  Alex had the most second half minutes (17) while Goldwire and Moore logged (15), Hurt 14 and Carey 11.

Closing Thoughts

This is unlike any Duke team I can remember.  No player (except Carey) has been consistent.  Each has great stretches or great games, and then disappears or disappoints at other times.  It is deeper than any team I remember (since the ’99 team).  Coach K reaffirmed it is old school.  He analogized what he seeks by reference to the playground games we all played and remember.  If your team didn’t win, you sat.  There was natural communication because you wanted to play in the next game, which only happened if you won.  You had to play together and figure out your teams strengths and weaknesses on the fly.  He emphasized, YOU TALKED.  Coach K is hoping to develop that and with it the elusive consistency.

Next Play

ACC play begins.  Dec. 31 vs BC.  A great end to 2019.

DUKE  88 – BOSTON COLLEGE 49

Once again, Duke started sluggishly on offense and for a time it looked as though we were in for another grind-it-out, defensive battle while waiting and hoping for a patented Duke run that would put the game on cruise control and determine the outcome. With seven minutes left in the half, the Blue Devils led just 21-12. Then, Matthew Hurt hit a flurry of threes, worked hard on the offensive glass, and fueled a 15-3 run. Soon, it was 45-19 at the break. Looking at the box score, it appeared to be a total team effort as no one played more than 26 minutes–10 players played at least 12 minutes, 11 players scored at least 3 points, 7 players hit (this is not fake news) 3-pointers.

However, as we turn the calendar page and start ACC play, it is apparent that currently the team’s success revolves around the twin axis strengths of Tre Jones and Vernon Carey plus eight interchangeable parts (depending on matchups and who’s hot) of Hurt, Stanley, Moore, Baker, O’Connor, Goldwire, reliable center sub DeLaurier, and junk yard dog Jack White. Tonight, it was Hurt, who stood out. The game before that it was AOC, before that Joey Buckets, before that Stanley, before that Moore. So far, the interchangeable eight have only been consistent in their inconsistency. I think that Hurt, if he is physically and mentally strong enough, has so much versatile talent, will have the best chance to become a third constant starter –as well as Stanley, if he figures out how talented he really is and becomes less deferential. And Baker has already demonstrated he has rapidly become a much more complete, aggressive player, even playmaker, than anyone had imagined and may be the designated sixth man. O’Connell is just too ethereal to be counted upon as a starter but as a spot player can morph into a game changer. Goldwire has improved offensively but is a situational sub. Co-captains DeLaurier  and White are reliable, well-known quantities who have earned spot duty playing time–not a bad mix of talent from which to choose.

Back in the days before one-and-done players, we had four years to watch players develop and mature. Now, in some cases, we have four months. Until some one or two or three demonstrate that they are consistently reliable in all phases of the game—or at least can reliably hit threes and free throws– we will probably see Coach K actually coach the old fashion way—really use more than six or seven players, and substitute aggressively by feel and intuition. In the meantime, Duke’s depth can wear teams down by bringing players off the bench with little or no drop-off. As Krzyzewski commented: “It’s a team where everybody knows that what they do can contribute to winning and that it’s important.”

While we are talking about improving and maturing, the stoic but studious Vernon Carey, Duke’s most prolific and impressive freshman, has recently been a much more active, tenacious, and effective defender and rim protector. The flip side of that is the sad case of Derryck Thornton, the former highly touted Duke point guard with a stage father who was unhappy with how his son was developing and is now at his third college (Duke, USC, and B.C.) without having developed any NBA skills.

Coach K’s retrospective on Duke Basketball’s last decade:

“We won four ACC tournament titles. The main thing we won was two national titles and being No. 1 seeds a number of years. It’s a hell of a decade. It is our best decade of the four decades that I have been here because it has been the most consistent. When you average 30 wins and seven losses in 10 seasons, c’mon. We are not going to get caught up on regular season or we didn’t win enough tournament titles. During that time we got eliminated a couple times in the first round of the NCAA but we went for it. We have gone for it. We have gone for the national championship. This team has a long way to go before they can do that. But, if we can keep going, we would like that to be how this team is judged… The other thing for the 10 years, we had a different team each year. It wasn’t bringing the same backcourt or the same quarterback. We have a different team each year. It is a hell of a thing. I am proud of these guys that have played for me for the 40 years that I have been there. But this decade I am really proud because it is a new age. It is a new age and to stay in the hunt every year is a hell of a thing. All of my guys have made it possible for me to have that opportunity and I am proud of them.”

Mike Krzyzewski is in his 40th season as Duke’s head coach, and his record is now 1,071-286 at Duke, and 1,143-345 overall in this, his 45th season overall.  Duke is now 899-162 all-time when playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium, including 541-67 under Coach K. Duke closes the decade with a record of 300-70 (.811).

Alan Adds:

It is hard not to be filled with admiration and expectation as we watch this “old school” team grow and develop.  I cannot remember a Duke team that genuinely goes 10 deep.  To reinforce the importance of Coach K’s insight that Bill quoted above, each of the 10 players knows that he is capable of contributing to a Duke win on any given night.  Last night’s rout of BC was illuminating, and sparked by one of the best halves of basketball any Blue Devil team has played.  While BC, without its star, does not have the ACC horses to compete, The Eagles were still 2-0 in the conference coming in, with wins over Wake at home and Notre Dame by a point in South Bend.  Not an ACC contender, but not The Little Sisters of the Poor either.

Coach K (admiringly): “We played like we practiced.  They were talking more and had good energy.  We pushed the ball.”  Duke’s good energy comes in part from playing 10 players with meaningful minutes.  This team is always fresh because of the substitution patterns.  Everyone contributed.

The first half

The game was absolutely over by half time; so it is worth looking at the first half in some depth.  The score really does tell the tale: Duke 45 – BC 19.  First, and most important, was the return of Tre Jones on both ends of the court.  Encouragingly, he played 16 first half minutes, shutting down BC’s guards, handing out 6 assists without a turnover and grabbing four rebounds.  While his shot was a little off (2-6; 1-3 from deep), he made some passes that were simply breathtaking.  His leadership is palpable.  Welcome back, Tre.

The defense was as good as it has been all year.  BC scored just 19 points in the first 20 minutes.  BC had very few open shots on the perimeter.  When BC did penetrate, the rim protection provided by Carey and Javin bordered on the spectacular.  Coach K admired that the team was talking more on defense, especially Matt Hurt.  The Devils forced 10 turnovers and allowed BC only 3 assists on 8 made baskets.  Moreover, BC barely got to the free throw line – only 3 free throws (2-3).  It was really impressive.  The depth allowed the Devils to be intensely energetic; BC simply couldn’t handle the pressure.

On offense, Matt had a breakout game, notching 20 first half points in 15 minutes.  He actually outscored BC by himself in the opening stanza (20-19)!  Coach K said, Matt has been playing well in the last few games, but this half was other worldly (8-11 from the field including 4-6 from deep) to go with 3 rebounds and a steal.  Coach K said Matt has gained weight and is stronger, adding to his confidence.  His spectacular play limited Jack White to just 3 first half minutes.  The remaining 25 first half points were spread about equally: Wendell Moore (off the bench) scored 6 (2-3 from the field and 2-2 from the line) in 13 minutes to go with 4 rebounds and 3 assists; Carey scored 5 (2-3 from the field but only 1-3 from the line) and grabbed 3 boards in 12 minutes; Joey Baker (off the bench) played 12 excellent minutes even though he was 0-2 from behind the arc.  He made 2 delicious drives to account for his 4 points.  Alex was 1-2 from deep in his 6 minutes, and Cassius had a dunk in 3 shots for 2 points in his 9 minutes.  Tre’s 5 points made up Duke’s 45 points.  DeLaurier (8 minutes), JGold (6 minutes) and White (3 minutes) did not score.

Consistency

Much of the commentary this season has been about Duke’s inconsistency – different players having big games and moments and then disappearing in the next games.  Coach K made some interesting points about consistency.  He said in other sports, it only counted if you won the game to determine consistency.  Teams in those sports all went through bad moments during the game – a pitcher giving up 4 runs in an inning or a quarterback throwing the crucial interception — but in those sports consistency was determined by only one thing – winning.  Coach K said Duke’s consistency has been in its winning this year.  Duke is 12-1 and has moved into 2nd place in the national polls.  This team has grown – and fascinatingly is still growing – into a team far more deserving of that high ranking than when it was ranked # 1 earlier.  This is really a different Duke team from the recent ones, and has, in my opinion, a huge potential upside. It really is old school watching Coach K integrate the skills of the team into a National contender.  Stay tuned.

Next Play: Saturday night at Miami.  First ACC road game.  We all know ACC road games are just different.

DUKE 95 – MIAMI 62 

It’s too early in the season to tell if Duke is this good or the opponents are that bad.  I do know that Coach Jim Larranaga is a very, very good basketball coach and Chris Lyke is a very talented, even lethal, and exciting college player. However, when Jay Bilas, who watches as much college basketball as anyone and has the qualifications to evaluate it properly says that because of Vernon Carey and the depth of talent, Duke has the most upside of any team this year, you have to believe this Blue Devil team may really be developing into something special.

Tonight, after another sluggish start (take it from me because ESPN chose to show the overtime of the exciting Buffalo-Houston NFL game even though it was on a free channel) and with Tre Jones on the bench with two fouls, Duke just methodically ground down and dominated the Hurricanes at both ends of the floor to lead 50-36 at the break. The Blue Devils hit a 60 percent from the field, 43 per cent threes, while holding Miami to under 40 percent from the field and 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. Vernon Carey, playing against the school where his father was an All-American offensive lineman, had 24 pts & 9 rebs in 25 minutes, Stanley 20 points in 26 minutes. Duke dominated Miami 41-24 on the boards, while forcing 15 turnovers,. when we went to the bench we didn’t drop, at times we ascended. Matthew Hurt is adjusting to the physicality of college ball. He is becoming more than just a finesse scorer. Tonight, he had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks to go along with 6-for-8 shooting. You cannot underestimate what impact assistant coaches Nate James, Chris Carawell, Jon Schyer, and Nolan Smith, all of whom were talented and heady players in their prime, have in personally suiting up and schooling these talented young players in the nuances of the game.

  • First Semester Report Card:
  • Vernon Carey A+.  Better than advertised. Only irreplaceable piece of the puzzle. Terrific, soft touch. Improving defensively. Very analytical, very smart.
  • Tre Jones A.  The leader of the Pack (er Devils). Mature beyond years. Sets the standard for maturity, defense, intensity, and focus.
  • Cassius Stanley B  – Lots of untapped talent. Too nice and deferential. Getting more aggressive.
  • Matthew Hurt B.  If he gets stronger and tougher, look out! Takes this team to another level.
  • Joey Baker B.  Surprise, surprise. The former Joey Buckets becoming a much more versatile, valuable player. Now his jump shot needs to come back from vacation.
  • Wendell Moore C+. Lot of versatile talent for his size. Very good defensively. Needs to relax and let game come to him more.
  • Jordan Goldwire B+. Huge improvement on offense. Valuable sub.
  • Alex O’ Connell C+.  getting better defensively but still offensively erratic.
  • Javin DeLaurier B+. Tough veteran. Ready, willing, and able to fill in at a moment’s notice.
  • Jack White B+.  Tough veteran. Ready, willing, and able to fill in at a moment’s notice.

Coach K comments: “Talking (communicating) is the music of the game. This team is getting better at that and it is showing in their defense. We have more depth and when we went to the bench we didn’t drop, at times we ascended. Our guys just played really hard and shared the ball. With 23 assists, it was  nice to see. But how hard we’re playing defensively, it’s something we’ve worked on since September, so they keep getting better at it. Jordan Goldwire was a key guy tonight. When Tre (Jones) got his second foul—I’ll play a guy with two fouls in the first half, but when I took him out, I’d thought I’d bring him back with about five minutes to go but J-Gold was doing such a good job that we were able not to do that. Wendell’s (Moore) ball pressure was outstanding. Our guys played well. It’s tough to single out one of them when they all did a good job.” On the team’s improving ability to share the ball: “We’re driving the ball. It’s not just Tre driving. In the last couple of games a couple of our best passes have come from Joey (Baker), who you would not think is a driver. Cassius (Stanley) is driving to score a little bit more which is great and Wendell when he’s getting in there he’s not losing the ball, he’s also kicking. C-Well (assistant coach Chris Carrawell) has been working a lot on our guys making stronger drives and kicks, and it’s paying off.”

A word about North Carolina’s basketball sudden fall from grace: Roy Williams, who  is a very loyal, honest, hardworking man and who is Tar Heel born and bred and embodies “The Carolina Way”, has always been in a very difficult, even thankless, situation as head coach at UNC. He reluctantly left Kansas, where he was very much appreciated, to rescue Carolina from the malaise of a decade of miscast coaches Guthridge and Doherty attempting the thankless task of following in the footsteps of Dean Smith, who had achieved saint like status in Tar Heel Land, only to find himself competing with the juggernaut program of rough-around-the-edges, feisty but respected Coach Mike Krzyzewski had built just 12 miles away at hated rival Duke and who was on his way to shattering Dean’s and all other coaching records. Nevertheless, Roy  won two National Championships and under any other circumstances, would be appreciated, even, revered.

Alan Adds:

When a team scores 95 points as Duke did last night against Miami, one might expect an in-depth analysis to start with the offense.  In recognition that Miami’s defense does not quite reach the competence level of yelling “Woo!” as the opponent drives by or elevates for an open shot, I want to emphasize the value of Duke’s amazing defensive effort last night.  It is obvious this team is making huge growth strides on both ends of the court as the season progresses.  Last night was a hymn to that progress.  Still, let us remember that while a win on the road in the ACC is always welcome, Duke has been competing against the ACC’s least formidable teams.  Virginia Tech managed only 39 points last night against UVA.  BC has been so bad for so long that a good coach’s job is in jeopardy there.  Miami is near the bottom of the entire NCAA in defensive stats.  So delirium at this superb performance still needs to be tempered.

Duke played its full complement of 10 and completely wore Miami down and out.  J. Robinson played only 2 minutes, but led the team in points and blocks per minute with 3 points and a block.  It was that kind of night.

Duke did not take a double-digit lead in this game until there was only 2:25 remaining in the first half and stretched it to 14 on Matt Hurt’s 3 as the first half closed.  Duke’s defense was like an anaconda, squeezing the energy, enthusiasm and life out of the Miami offense.  And squeeze the Blue Devils did.  8 of Miami’s 26 second half points came at the stripe.  The Devils limited the Hurricanes to only 4 well defended 3 point attempts  in that stanza (0-4) and only 3 assists on 9 field goals while forcing 9 turnovers (5 steals and 2 blocks).  Coach K said his team played very well on defense.  Then he corrected himself and said they played very, very, very well (“I have to add two verys.”).

Special kudos to JGold and Tre who limited Miami’s star point guard, Chris Lykes to 0-6 in the second half (2-15 for the game).  Duke outrebounded Miami 20-10 (limiting the Hurricanes to 4 offensive boards in the closing stanza).  Coach K said it was hard to single out individual players because the team played so well, but Wendell Moore, Joey Baker and Matt Hurt earned individual praise.

Interestingly, Tre, who was limited to 8 first half minutes by picking up two fouls, and JGold each played 14 second half minutes.  Goldwire did not score in the second half but dished out 3 assists without a turnover and played scintillating defense.  They were on the floor together for 8 second half minutes.  Goldwire’s efficiency limited Alex to only 3 second half minutes.  Coach K said he would have brought Tre back with 5 minutes to go in the first half, but Goldwire was playing so well that Tre remained on the bench, playing only 8 first half minutes.  He was a star, of course, in the closing stanza.

The Offense

Carey (24 points in 25 minutes) and Cassius Stanley (16 first half point in 17 minutes) carried the offense in the first half.  However, I believe much of Duke’s dramatic improvement in recent games is based on the emergence of Matt Hurt as a force on both ends of the court.  He is shooting lights out (taking good shots), rebounding, defending and passing.  He is playing superb all-around basketball as his stat line last night demonstrates.  In 27 minutes, he scored 13 points (6-8 from the field including 1-2 from deep) to go with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks without committing a foul.  His emergence has limited Jack White’s playing time, though White continues to play valuable minutes.  He and Javin each played 13 minutes.

Coach K pointed out that Duke is driving and kicking out for good shots.  Stanley has been impressive.  Joey Baker has not hit from deep lately but has been driving and making great passes. He logged 15 minutes.  Wendell is holding on to the ball better (under the tutelage of Chris Carrawell).  Carey has been a revelation in the post.  Javin didn’t score from the field but was 4-4 from the line while committing only 1 foul.

Next Play

Georgia Tech (fresh from a shocking win over UNC in the Deandome yesterday) in Atlanta on Wednesday night in a late (9pm EST) game.

DUKE 73- GEORGIA TECH 64

 Duke was challenged tonight by being denied their favorite default scoring option of throwing the ball to Vernon Carey in the low post whenever they need a basket, because he was neutralized, even outplayed, by James Banks and by Moses Wright, who combined for 25 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 26 points. So, Tre Jones (16 pts; 8 rebs, 7 assts, 4 stls) celebrated his 20th birthday by rallying his team, then  closing out the Yellow Jackets by either scoring himself or passing to Cassius Stanley for  a series of what only could be described as  Michael Jordan/Grant Hill sensational, gravity defying dunks to win a tough ACC game on the road. Otherwise, it was a manic-depressive game for Duke fans, of whom there were many cheering “Go Duke!’ as the Blue Devils started both halves playing young and sloppy followed by settling down and playing lock down defense to fuel binge scoring.

In the first half run, AOC and Hurt hit threes to help build a 40-29 half time lead. However, the second half opened with missed shots, sloppy offense, and a few questionable calls as  Duke went almost six minutes without a point. Suddenly, the Blue Devils were down 53-50 on the road. As Coach K explained: “In the second half, they came out and we gave them nine quick points and it looked like the whole thing was going to turn. Our kids showed some amazing toughness. They really hung in there. Cassius, who was not playing as well as he has been, played great. He responded [by] coming off the bench after a timeout and made some sensational plays. I just think our kids were real tough.”

Good teams—and this is a very good, talented, deep team just growing into themselves– wear an opponent down and finds a way to win games like this. However, missing 10 free throws makes that task all the more difficult. Every player except for starter Joey Baker, who got an early hook and never returned, contributed. His replacement Alex O’Connell was at his best supplying energy and production both offensively and defensively but did not play much in the second half as down the stretch Coach K went with Goldwire, co-captains White and DeLaurier. Javin, in particular, delivered by protecting the rim, rebounding, and draining free throws that put Duke up by six with less than a minute remaining. Oddly enough, Duke shot just about fifty per cent from the floor, three point line, and free throw line. The last one has been the Achilles Heel of the last few teams and needs to be a consistent 70% and above.

Alan Adds:

What I most admire about the 2019-2020 Blue Devils is that the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.  That fact was fully on display last night as Duke beat a highly motivated and talented Georgia Tech team.  In the final analysis, Duke overcame being beaten up inside by stronger interior Yellow Jackets with tenacious defense and superb performances by its role players – Alex O’Connell in the first half; and Jack White and Javin DeLaurier in the closing moments.  Jordan Goldwire entered the game with 3 minutes gone and played every moment thereafter.  The stalwart starters did not disappoint – Carey was heroic fighting the bigger stronger Banks and Wright on the interior while also scoring; Hurt and Stanley had crucial valuable moments with big plays; and Tre Jones led the scoring, making crucial baskets throughout but especially at crunch time.  This team is much more than the sum of its parts.

Both halves had a similar pattern.  Tech’s bigs were dominant inside for the first part of each stanza.  Duke took back control in the closing minutes of each.  Duke did not lead in the first half until 7:35 remained in the first half (if you don’t count a 25 second 6-5 lead), when Javin put home a slam.  The litmus was, in my opinion, the foul trouble for the Tech bigs.  Moses Wright, who was a force, picked up his third with 5:06 to go.  Banks, who had 7 blocks in the game, picked up his second with more than 9 minutes left.  Tech’s inside dominance receded, Duke’s defense was outstanding, and the Devils rolled to the 11-point lead at the break.

The second half told th