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 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 the tale.  Tech was again ferocious, controlling the paint, forcing Duke turnovers, and had the crowd in a frenzy.  Duke trailed 53-50 with 11:37 left in the game.  Duke’s defense began to assert itself while the offense continued in disarray until there was 8:59 left.  Still 53-50, when Coach K put Jack White in the game.  He blocked at Wright dunk attempt, which led to Cassius’s highlight dunk and foul shot to tie the game.  White hit a 3 to put Duke up by 1.  The game was tied at 61 with 5:20 to go.  Tech never made another field goal.  Duke defended, and Tech simply ran out of gas.  Duke’s depth prevailed.

With 3:11 left, Duke led by 2 (66-64) after Banks made 2 free throws.  Those were Tech’s last points.  Tre was a true leader down the stretch, hitting a mid-range miracle for 68-64 with only 2:23 left.  Coach K then made the substitution of the game, Javin for Carey.  Javin then proceeded to win the game for Duke.  He blocked a dunk attempt by Wright, contested Wright’s put back and blocked Banks, who had grabbed the rebound and was attempting the put back.  Then he grabbed the rebound (finally) and was fouled.  He went to the line with 55 seconds left and made them both to give Duke a 6 point lead with 55 seconds left.  What a sequence!  Javin grabbed another key rebound with 30 seconds to go and the Devils were finally home free.  White and Javin gave Duke the needed toughness to neutralize Wright and Banks.  The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts.

The second half rotation also tells the tale.  Georgia Tech played its 4 stalwarts all 20 minutes of the second half and used only 6 players.  As the Yellow Jacket coach said in his post-game, Tech got tired at the end.  Duke’s defense and depth wore Tech out.  For Duke, Goldwire and Tre played all 20 minutes.  Carey logged 14 minutes (2-7; 1-2 from the line for 5 points and 3 boards.  2 turnovers); Cassius (8 points on 3-5 and 2-2 from the line to go with 2 key rebounds) and Hurt (1-4; 1-2 from deep for 3 points, a rebound, an assist, a block and a steal) each played 15 minutes.  Javin’s heroics came in only 6 second half minutes while White played only 5.  Yet they won the game for Duke.

It was a solid team win in an ACC road game.  Ask UVA about ACC road games as BC ran them out of the gym in Boston.

Next Play: Wake Forest in Cameron at 8 pm on Saturday, January 11.

Duke 90 – Wake Forest 59

Apparently, it’s really a simple game: “To get your game right, get your threads right”.

The Duke broke out the fifth (and hands down best) of their six new Nike-provided uniforms for their first ACC home game of 2020 and the result was the 900th win in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Wearing their new Gothic Theme, Brotherhood Scheme (Nolan Smith’s idea) navy blue uniforms and shoes, these Blue Devils never looked or played better as they totally dominated Wake Forest in all phases of the game. They had more steals (11) than Wake Forest had assists (8). Add 8 Duke blocks, shoot about 50% from all areas of the floor, force 17 Deacon turnovers, limit the Deac’s to 42% shooting, and you have a stone cold a blow-out.

“I love my team. They listen. They all want to get better. They’re really a great group of kids. All of them are getting better. “We’re a different team than we’ve been. Why would we be a team that we’re not? In other words, why would we do something that was successful in the past that wouldn’t be for this group?

What impresses me the most is that the team is becoming more offensively balanced and less Vernon Carey centered. If Tre  Jones can consistently shoot anything approaching the range that he did tonight; if Hurt continues to get tougher inside to go with his shooting rage; Stanley plays with more confidence and aggression, Goldwire can hit a few shots to keep the defense honest; Baker and O’Connor continue to improve; DeLaurier and White play tough; Moore’s hand heals quickly; and everyone stays healthy, the path for a memorable season is there for the taking.

However, next week will be a better test– a trap game @ Clemson and a tough test against Louisville.

Other Comments:

While it may be a simple game, I cannot understand these players can hit half their shots from beyond the new, wider three point line, and only hit 50% of uncontested shots from the free throw line.

The win kept alive a lot of streaks. Duke is 5-0 in the ACC and has won 9 straight overall. Duke has won 11 straight against Wake Forest, 19 of 20, 22 straight in Cameron.

Alan Adds: 

Duke came pretty close to playing a perfect first half, especially on the defensive end, demonstrating in its play, what Coach K’s vision is for the growth of his team.  Coach K explained how he wants his players thinking about themselves and the team:

“We don’t have a rotation. All our guys should consider themselves starters. Because you are not playing behind anybody. When someone comes in you do not have to be the guy you came in for. All you have to do is be you. Then we have a little bit of a different look. And that’s the thing we’ve tried to build our team on. And, defensively, we have more athleticism so we can pressure the ball better and move it down the court a little bit more. So, you have different looks by having different people in the game. It just happens.
Everyone on our team knows he is important. None of them are complementary players. All are good basketball players. And when they are in there, they need to think of themselves as starting players.

“It’s just how are team is — a collection of guys hopefully doing enough to come up with a big-time win.”

The first half statistics demonstrates how well each of the Devils played and why the whole of this team exceeds the sum of its parts.  Let’s look first at those who replaced the starters.  While Carey started and played 13 minutes (5 points on 2-4 from the field and 1-4 from the line to go with his 4 rebounds and a block), DeLaurier also scored 5 (2-2 from the floor; 1-2 from the line to go with 2 boards and 2 blocks) in only 7 minutes. Joey Baker scored 8 points in 7 minutes (3-3 from the field, including 2-2 from deep)  Baker and Alex (only 3 minutes and a steal) were in for the 2 minutes that Cassius sat (7 points on 3-6 from the field; 1-2 from deep; 3 rebounds; an assist and a steal), the 2 minutes that Tre sat (he led the team in scoring with 11 points) and the 5 minutes Goldwire was not on the floor.  Jack White played 11 minutes (4 points with a made 3 and 1-2 from the line) while Matt Hurt scored 5 (2-3, including 1-2 from deep and 2 rebounds) in only 8 minutes.

The Duke backcourt was sensational.  Tre had his best game of the year, becoming a scoring machine.  In the second half he scored 12 points in 9 minutes (5-6 including 2-2 from deep) but let us continue analyzing the amazing first half.  Tre scored the first 5 points of the game and the last 4 of the half (in the final 15 seconds).  He was 5-9 in the first half, including 1-2 from deep to go with 4 assists without a turnover, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block.  He and JGold played amazing defense.  Goldwire had 1 more assist than Tre (5) while scoring 4 points and getting a steal.

The Defense

Duke had more steals (6) than Wake had assists (4).  The Devils forced 12 Wake turnovers, which led to 13 Duke points.  Wake did not score a fast break point or a second chance point! Duke’s big men protected the rim and were amazingly athletic in switching the ball screens and still keeping position to defend the Wake bigs who rolled to the basket.  Wake had only 6 points in the paint. Duke has played defense like this before, but it is still a privilege to watch a team play cohesive and cooperative defense that way.

The deep rotation allows each player to go all out on every play.  How about Joey Baker diving for a loose ball going out of bounds when Duke had a 30-point lead with just a few minutes left.  That dive was emblematic of the Duke defensive desire and intensity.

The Offense

The ball moved.  The players moved.  Duke shot well because the shot selection was so good.  The Devils were creating good, very good and excellent shot opportunities.  A contested shot was rare.  Duke was 6-10 from deep in the first half (but only 3-9 from the stripe), and 14-22 from inside the arc.  It was sweet to watch.

Next Play: Clemson in Death Valley on Tuesday (Jan. 14) at 7 pm.  The Tigers will be coming off their first ever win at UNC (0-59 before yesterday) and will be facing Duke the day after the football team meets LSU for the National Championship.  Clemson is traditionally tough in Littlejohn.  This is a classic trap game, an ACC road game just before a ballyhooed meeting in Cameron on Saturday [ESPN Game Day is I Durham]. Next Saturday Jan. 18), Duke meets Louisville in Cameron in the first really crucial game of the ACC season.  The winner will have a definite leg up in the regular season race.

Duke The Best School For Student-Athletes In The USA

Duke Ranked Top College for Student-Athletes

January 8, 2020

DURHAM, N.C. – According to the 2020 best college rankings by Niche, Duke University is ranked the No. 1 school for student-athletes in America.

Duke finished among the top-5 in numerous other categories, including No. 1 for public policy, No. 3 for best value, No. 4 for best professors and No. 6 in both top private university and best college by the organization.

Niche’s rankings are based on rigorous analysis of key statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and millions of reviews.

Duke Athletics finished last season ranked ninth in the Learfield IMG Directors’ Cup Standings by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and sent 48 student-athletes and 16 teams to NCAA action, highlighted by the women’s golf team winning its seventh NCAA title.

Academically, a total of 17 Duke teams achieved a 100 percent graduation success rate: men’s basketball, women’s cross country/track & field, men’s fencing, women’s fencing, field hockey, men’s golf, women’s golf, men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, rowing, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, volleyball and wrestling.

Duke also made history last year, setting an ACC record with 519 ACC Academic Honor Roll selections. The Blue Devils have led the conference in honorees for 31 of the previous 32 years. The Honor Roll is comprised of varsity student-athletes who registered a grade point average of 3.0 or better for the full academic year.

DUKE 72 – CLEMSON 79 

My final comments on the Wake Forest game: “The path for a memorable season is there for the taking. However, next week will be a better test– a trap game @ Clemson and a tough test against Louisville.”  Clemson gets an A. Duke a D. When you miss ten free throws, blow two uncontested layups and several other that were contested, allow an opponent to shoot 57%, and two players to have career games, it’s difficult to win on the road (or anywhere else). Teams are double teaming Vernon Carey  and forcing him to pass, which is a strength. However, his teammates must make themselves available and make shots. Unfortunately, Matthew Hurt’s lack of strength and mediocre to poor defense often results in his watching the action from the bench and the supporting cast is suddenly depleted. Tonight, Jack White, whose savvy and toughness are never a liability and who recently found his three point shot, replaced Hurt for most of the second half. Look for him to play more minutes while Moore and Baker are unavailable.

Coach K summed it up: “Clemson played a great game and have been playing so well. To beat NC State and win at North Carolina we knew that Brad [Brownell] team’s always play outstanding defense. Good tough, kids, good players and it’s tough to score against them — and they were that tonight. We knew coming into the game that the four and the five were the positions we had to defend. In our last game, we didn’t do a good job at the four and the five and we didn’t do a good job tonight. [Aamir] Simms and [Tevin] Mack were terrific and it’s a different offense to defend, but Simms was spectacular tonight and how he controlled the game. We got knocked back right away. Our kids have to understand how hard it is to win and we’ve been winning, but when you’re in conference, people are hungry, and if you win a lot sometimes you’re not as much as the other team. We missed layups and then in the second half we started pressing and that got us a short lead and then we missed free throws that could’ve given us a two possession lead, but I’m not blaming our guys because Vernon had to work so hard for that. Clemson was more deserving of winning tonight. We almost got it in the second half, but overall they played better than we did. One of the reasons we’ve been good is that we had depth,” Krzyzewski said “but we have two kids (Moore, a broken hand and Baker, a sprained ankle) out right now on the perimeter. I saw it a little bit in the last game and tonight you definitely saw that we are not as good without that depth.”

Other  Observations: 

Exchange with a former Duke player: This “old fashion team” is not ready for prime time. Desultory defense  and casual passing is recipe for disaster. Time for K to tear off his jacket and throw down his clip border! You guys called it. A trap game for sure! As we‘ve talked, Carey is a liability in close games. We will probably see more “hack a shack “ in  future close games. Very disappointing in a very good player.

Alan Adds: 

I closed the most recent Alan Adds with the following prescient comment: “Next Play: Clemson in Death Valley on Tuesday (Jan. 14) at 7 pm.  The Tigers will be coming off their first ever win at UNC (0-59 before yesterday) and will be facing Duke the day after the football team meets LSU for the National Championship.  Clemson is traditionally tough in Littlejohn.  This is a classic trap game, an ACC road game just before a ballyhooed meeting in Cameron on Saturday [ESPN Game Day is I Durham].”  (In red in that post)

If you watch a rewind of the beginning of the game, you will see the Duke attitude, contrasted with Clemson’s, had “trap” all over it.  Clemson came out simply dripping with fighting emotion.  You could see the Tiger players were sky high, pumped up, in a virtual frenzy.  The Duke players were calm and (over) confident.  Nobody was jumping around or pumped up.  The Duke stats – rated first in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings; the only team in the top 10 statistically in both offense and defense; nationally formidable in steals; blocks and assists—were so impressive.  Moreover, Clemson was 8-7 and probably due for deflation after winning in Chapel Hill.  In the opening minutes it was crystal clear that all the emotion and energy came from the Tigers, while the Blue Devils confidently waited for (and expected) Clemson to fold.

Instead it was Duke that folded.  It was Duke, whose interior defensive weakness was exposed.  Duke’s depth was non-existent and it was the Devils that were worn out down the stretch.  Bill’s analysis and Coach K’s quotes were right on:  Duke is not defending the on the interior “we didn’t do a good job at 4 and 5”.  In games where Duke has struggled, that has been true throughout the season.  Duke can overcome that weakness when its defense shuts down the perimeter, forces turnovers and gets a fair share of blocks to protect the rim.  All of that was dramatically missing from the Blue Devil arsenal last night.  Let’s look at the second half, where Duke’s press had turned the game around and allowed the Blue Devils to take the lead.  Duke led by 62-59 with 6:36 left in the game, and only trailed by 65-64 with4:19 left when the wheels came off.  In my opinion, the Devils were simply worn out.  They could no longer press, which is what got them a 3 point lead after trailing by 9.  Carey turned it over, Tre missed 2 in a row, White missed a foul shot (but at least he had made the first), and the Duke could not get a stop while committing foul after foul.  Those are the indications of a tired team.

In the closing stanza, Duke was 4-11 from the foul line (Carey was 2-7), outrebounded 21-12, corralled only a single offensive rebound while committing 11 fouls.  This was a tired team down the stretch.  With Baker and Moore out, Duke had only 8 available of its core.  However, there were not 8 contributors: Alex played only a single second half minute; Hurt played only 5; and DeLaurier only 7.  Collectively those three not only failed to score, but did not even attempt a field goal.  Stanley picked up 2 quick fouls (total of 4), which not only required him to sit, but removed his aggressiveness when he did return to the game.  His defense suffered because he understood that his team could not afford him to foul out.  Tired teams miss free throws.  Carey played hard – he has simply great hands – but had no help on the interior.  Coach K tried everything – he played DeLaurier and Carey together; he had 3 bigs on the court at times, but his team was gassed down the stretch.

While the loss is disappointing, I believe it will have the requisite silver lining.  When Duke was shocked by Stephen F Austin, after displaying the same over confidence, the team grew by leaps and bounds. I believe this game, and the return of depth, will have a similar impact.  Perhaps the best takeaway from this game was the emergence of Jack White in the second half.  In 17 minutes, he scored 9; (3-4; 2-3 from deep; 1-2 from the stripe) with 2 boards and 2 steals.  He adds toughness for sure.  Let’s see if he can sustain that play for the remainder of his senior year.

Next Play: Duke is home against a very good Louisville team [Saturday night at 6 pm], and is likely to still be without its formidable depth.  This will be a tough game, which will tell much about the heart and soul of this team.

DUKE 73 –  LOUISVILLE 79 

Payback!

A year ago, Louisville lost a 23 point lead with ten minutes to play to lose to the Blue Devils at The KFC  Center in a devastating defeat from which they never fully recovered for the rest of the season. Tonight, they lost an early 15 point lead in raucous Cameron and with just under four minutes to play were clinging to a one-point lead when dynamic freshman point guard David Johnson, who had scored 19 points, was sidelined by a shoulder injury. But this time there was a different result. For a third straight road game, Louisville was the tougher, more poised team in the closing minutes, holding Duke scoreless for 3:24 and scoring 8 straight points to pull away. “That game last year,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said, “ was the hardest defeat I’ve ever had. You can do one of two things — either think about those ghosts and get revisited, or go  and do the job. I’m really proud of our guys to be able to face what we did a year ago. That was a hard loss, man. A really, really hard loss.”

However, this was also an impressive win in a difficult venue by a very tough, mature, deep, talented team that could jump start a championship run.

There is no way to sugar coat these last two games. With the easiest ACC schedule in years, Duke came out flat against  Clemson, tight and tentative against Louisville in Cameron, digging themselves a very deep hole from which to recover. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils fought back and tied the game late on multiple occasions, but could never pull ahead. Cassius Stanley had an open, potential game-tying 3-pointer with :17 seconds left but shot an air ball. However, you can hardly blame Cassius. If it wasn’t for his 24 points and 11 rebounds, the game would have been a blowout by halftime.

It was men against boys. There are five transfers and only one contributing teenager on the Cardinal roster. Any Blue Devil who thinks they are physically ready for the NBA, should review the tapes of these last two games. For this team to be a true title contender, they have to play lock-down, turnover producing defense and Vernon Carey has anchor the half-court offense down low, giving them 20 & 10. Without his inside presence, the Blue Devils are offensively challenged, because they are usually a mediocre three point and free throw shooting team. In both games, Duke was in position to close an opponent out, but were unable to score in the half court. In this game and the Stephen F. Austin game, Carey was on the bench at the end. Defense can win games but someone has to be able to put the ball in the basket. Ever since the  2015 NCAA Championship, Duke has had talented, freshman centric teams that have started the season strong but finished disappointingly. The conventional wisdom is that as the season progressed, Coach K  shortened his rotation to 6 or 7 players and they wore out. Well, this year he is going 8-10 deep and they look tired before mid-season. What’s the answer? For starters, they have to play mentally and physically tougher; Vernon Carey has to play better defense, stay out of foul trouble, and on the floor at critical times; Matthew Hurt has to man up and play big not small; Joey Baker has to start scoring consistently;  Cassius Stanley has to keep improving; and, hopefully, Wendell Moore returns.

Considering these stats, it was amazing the score game was this close: FG: 48% -37%; 3’s: 56%-24%; ft: 83%-72%.

Coach K compared the game to the early ‘90s Bulls and Pistons battles: “That was a brutal game. The most physical game we’ve been involved in… in years. They’re good. They’re really good. [David] Johnson was terrific in the first half. With the depth that they have and the experience – they outplayed us, especially in those first ten minutes. Our kids fought like crazy and put us in a position to win. The term “freedom of movement” was not alive and well tonight. I hope we don’t have the rest of the conference like that. That’s not good basketball. They played great – I don’t want to take away from them. For both of us, you can’t have that. The last two teams we played… we just have to get older. I’m really up on my team. It’s a long journey. I’ve never told you that we’re great. It’s a process for us, playing these two teams. Getting beat, we have to learn from it and move on. It’s a long journey.” 

Alan Adds: 

Overview

In the closing moments Louisville took control and looked the way Duke – at winning time –usually does. On the other hand, the Blue Devils looked the way the unranked visiting teams usually looked when they routinely collapse down the stretch – especially at Cameron.  However, the demoralizing last 3:27 seconds should not completely obscure some terrific moments that Duke produced.  There was “good” even though the “bad and ugly” were more prevalent and relevant for analysis.

The Good (It is shorter)

This team has real heart and showed a fighting spirit and determination last night that should not be forgotten in the disappointing loss.  Duke was basically run out of its own gym in the early going.  After taking an early 5-2 lead (a 3 by Hurt and a jumper by JGold), the Cardinals just took it to Duke physically.  Duke turned the ball over so frequently that Louisville did not have to run a set half-court offense.  In the first half, Duke turned it over with amazing frequency, gave up 26 points in the paint (while scoring only 8) and allowed 12 fast break points.  The Devil bench failed to score in that half (only 5 for the entire game – a layup by White and a meaningless 3 by Baker with 3 seconds left in the game).  Duke was down by as much as 15 points; and had given up 42 first half points to trail by 10 at the break.

This team fought all the way back in a game that was physically brutal.  Coach K said it was played like an old Bulls v Pistons in the 1990s when Detroit was “The Bad Boys”.  Nevertheless, Duke tied the score at 58 with over 8 minutes left.  When Louisville retaliated and pushed the lead back to 6, the fighting Devils responded and tied the score again at 63 with 6:29 left.  Although Duke never had the ball with a chance to take the lead, Duke was down only 1 (66-65) with 5:18 to go.   When the Cardinals pushed it to a 6 point lead again – 71-65 with 4:27 to go, the Blue Devils still answered with 5 straight points – a 3 point play the old fashioned way by Tre plus a nifty steal and layup by Goldwire – to be down only a point with 3:27 to play.  Then the wheels came off.

Both Cassius Stanley and Matt Hurt had breakout games.  Stanley logged 37 minutes while scoring 24 points (6-10 from inside the arc and 90% from the foul line – 9-10) to go with 11 rebounds.  He was only 1-7 from deep, however.  Hurt scored 16 points (11 in the first half) in 32 minutes.  He made 2 crucial second half plays – a one handed dunk on an offensive rebound; and even more crucially sunk 3-3 from the line when he cleverly drew a foul on his 3-point attempt.  That tied the score at 58. While he tired (4 fouls in the second half, fouling out in the last 3 seconds), he was a force on the floor on defense.  He was part of Coach K’s 2 interesting innovations to spark the Devils.

First, he went big, which worked for a while until Louisville adjusted.  He used Carey in the middle with White and Hurt at the forwards and Cassius as Tre’s running mate in the backcourt.  When the Cardinals ultimately stretched the lead, Coach K went to his Pony Express team (as I call them), playing Hurt and White and Stanley along with Tre and Goldwire.  That is the lineup that brought Duke back into contention all the way to 3:27 to go.

The “Bad and Ugly”

The End Game and Rotation

Duke was (again) simply gassed at the end of the game.  Looking at the second half rotation discloses Duke’s lack of depth and bench strength, which I believe led to the exhaustion and losing.  Tre and Cassius played the whole second half (Cassius was out for less than a minute).  Tre logged 39 for the game; Cassius 37.  Hurt played 16 minutes; White 15 and JGold 14 (he was only out while the Big team came back and then faded) in the closing stanza.  The bench was non-existent and a non-factor.  Baker launched 4 shots in 4 second half minutes, making only the meaningless 3 virtually at the game ending buzzer. He did miss all of his 6 other shots in his 10 game minutes, while committing 3 fouls.  Alex did not play in the second half and only logged 2 minutes in the first half (0-1).  Javin has again become a non-factor even though he has stopped fouling.  He played 9 minutes in the game (4 in the closing stanza) without a point, shot or rebound.  He turned it over twice in his five first half minutes.

Carey played only eight  second half minutes, partly because of foul trouble (he had 4 midway through the period) and partly because of his foul shooting (3-6 in the second half).  Coach K appears not to trust him at the foul line at closing time.  The early season depth that fueled the early season success seems to have vanished.  This makes the return of Wendell Moore seem essential.

The Offense

Turnovers in the first half and terrible shooting in the second half doomed the Devils.  Duke had officially 10 first half turnovers, but I think there were significantly more (only 5 assists).  Worse, the turnovers led to open runouts for easy Louisville layups.  Duke was 1-12 from deep in the second half (I’m not counting Baker’s 3 at the buzzer; Duke was officially 2-13) with Stanley leading the (0-4) way.  Hurt, White, and Baker couldn’t hit in 5 collective attempts.  Tre was 1-3.  Many of those attempts were wide open.  Tre scored 12 in the half, but on an inefficient 12 shots.

The Defense

There was a serious breakdown in fundamentals, especially in transition defense.  Louisville got open runouts on Duke’s misses; as Duke failed to balance the court.  Grievous fundamental errors.  As in past games, Duke is not defending the post well.  Previously, the double teams gave up easy layups.  In this game, Carey (and who was defending during Carey’s 17 bench minutes) was left to defend by himself, and could not do it.  The Louisville bigs got the ball in deep to score and Carey ran into foul trouble.  Duke committed 9 fouls in each half, almost all by its bigs. Tre’s vaunted defense was ineffectual in the first half and really sub-par throughout.

Was this a Coach K shot at ‘Ole Roy?

“When we lose, I always credit an opponent.  I don’t throw my own team under the bus ever…ever. …I’m really up on my team.  It’s a long journey.  I’ve never told you that we are great.”  (Emphasis is mine).

Next Play: Tuesday at 7:00 pm against Miami in Cameron

DUKE 89 – MIAMI 59 

It is apparent that the back-to-back loses to Clemson and Louisville may well be the inflection point for the season in that it should now be obvious to all the freshmen that teams no longer will play Duke straight up. Rather, they will smother Vernon Carey, making it difficult for him to be the 20 & 10 pillar that carries the team and forcing other players to beat them. On nights like last night, when Duke makes 11 of 25 3-pointers (44 percent), the wins come easy. When they go 6  of 25, like against Louisville, not so much. Obviously, the answer is that the burden for a successful season is for some combination of Hurt, Stanley,  Baker, O’Conner , and (soon) Moore to grow up and play Big Boy Ball. Everyone plays hard and aggressive against Duke. Jones already does and Goldwire, by the way, has improved dramatically to become a very reliable, contributing starter, who plays to his strengths (more shots for others). Plus, a given for a Coach K team—consistently, good tough defense that makes for easier offense. And being strong with the ball has to be a constant, not  a sometimes thing.

It appears Carey is adjusting to the new normal and Hurt is gradually utilizing all his talents and size; Stanley is a lot more than Zion-light; Baker needs to be more relaxed, under control, and consistent; but AOC is still a quixotic talent—you never know what you are going to get. Last night he got two quick hooks for inattentive plays then scored 8 points on a variety of shots in the last minutes of garbage time. 

Coach K: ”We played really well. Our guys responded. We had a heck of a day yesterday with our team from 7 in the morning to 10 at night with a couple of practices, meetings, just good stuff! They grew from it – all positive. They responded. (Reflect a moment on the subtext of that quote and translate it for us). They’re fighting human nature because we beat them by a lot, but since then they’re down by only four against Louisville, probably should’ve beaten Florida State. They’ve been playing well, so we showed them stuff from those games. They were a mature team tonight. We got back to playing defense.” On Duke’s defense: “We just concentrated more on it. In our six wins, we’ve given up 60 points. In the two losses, we gave up 79. We talked to our team about that. For us to win we have to play good defense. If we’re playing that hard on defense it translates to good offense – then we’re pushing the ball. At the start of the game we had a lot of energy.

“We just played really good defense. [Chris] Lykes is a heck of a player and in the second half he showed more. We just had a couple of good games against them. He’s one of the quick scorers in the league – big time.” When asked about Duke’s energy: “They really responded to the two losses in a positive way. Our practices yesterday were excellent. Our team meetings – I think we grew a lot as a team and I think it showed today. We got a little bit of a break from competition. Wendell [Moore Jr.] still won’t be ready by next week, but that’s a week we don’t lose a game with him. That’s a good thing. It does give some of these other guys a chance – Joey [Baker] has been playing with a sprained ankle – for us to get rejuvenated after eight conference games.”

On Vernon Carey: “He has counter moves -counter moves are great if you’re doing them against one guy. I don’t think anyone has come up with a counter for double and triple teams. That’s what’s happening to him. If the three-point shooting keeps going well then, he’ll have more room. Part of the reason we have more open threes is because of Vernon. When he runs the court, people are going to go to him. That gives a window of opportunity. In Matt’s case, he was a little slower with that window earlier, so they could recover to him. His prep is quicker and if he keeps going like that – then that’s a great counter with Vern. Vern has – it’s tough to move down there. As long as he’s running – he just has to stay patient. He did a great job tonight with just running and making sure the defense had to react.”

Alan Adds:

“At the start of the game, we had a lot of energy.  Second half, it was 10:30 at night and we had a big lead.”  Coach K had about summed it up  The first half was just one of those halves!

With 1:37 left in the opening stanza, Duke enjoyed a 29-point lead, and had held Miami to only 18 points!  Duke’s offense is and was fueled by energetic defense, while Miami’s defensive game plan completely backfired.  The Hurricane plan was to pack it in down low to neutralize Carey (which was successfully done) and leave the perimeter relatively open.  In reality, there was nothing relative of how wide open the Hurricane left Duke shooters.  Where the word relatively appeared, replace it with “completely”.  The result was the best Duke 3-point shooting of the season, led by Matt Hurt’s 15 first half points (3-5 from deep), Tre was 2-4; Baker 2-3 and White 1-1 from deep.  Besides Hurt’s 15, the first half scoring was balanced with 3 players scoring 6 (Tre, Carey and Baker) while 2 – Stanley and White — scored 5.  Tre and JGold combined for 8 assists without a turnover, 7 rebounds and 2 steals.  The defense held Miami’s best player scoreless.  It was an almost perfect half, and a wonderful response to the 2 game losing streak.

Perhaps the last 2 minutes of the second half were also important for Duke’s depth.  Alex O’Connell, who has been mired in sloppy ineffective play, has seen his playing time diminish to almost nothing as a result.  Alex entered the game in the first half and was immediately stripped of the ball leading to a Miami runout and score.  Coach K yanked him immediately; he was on the court for about 30 seconds.  Coach K put him in during the second half, and Alex was again awful.  He missed a 3 and committed an immediate turnover that led to another Miami runout and open layup.  K yanked him again after less than a minute.

But with 3:38 left in the game, Alex received another chance and took so much advantage of it, that he may have earned his way back into the rotation.  He stole the ball with 3:03 left that led to a Stanley score.  In the last 2 minutes, he hit 2 jumpers and made 2 layups (the last one by running the court and receiving a “touchdown pass” from Justin Robinson to push the lead to 30.  It was a helluva of last two minutes for Alex, giving him 8 points in a total of 5 minutes of action.

Next Play: Duke has a week off before meeting Jeff Capel’s revitalized Pittsburg team in Cameron at 9 pm (1-28).  The week should give Baker’s ankle more healing time, revitalize the team, and keep us looking forward to Wendell Moore’s expected return in February.

DUKE  79 –  PITTSBURG 67

The good news is that Vernon Carey apparently put the week off to good use—to freshen up and reflect upon how to capitalize on what opponents have recently been doing to neutralize him. While he has had nine double-doubles in sixteen games this season, tonight’s was his first  since Dec. 19, 2019. Vernon was much more active and physical in establishing himself down low. When double-teamed, he demonstrated he was not only an efficient scorer with range but also a creative passer. It was his most complete game of the season, dominating  in every conceivable way finishing  with 26 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, a block, multiple altered shots (see above)  in a season high 36 (ten more than normal) minutes. For Duke to be as successful as they want to be, the offense must run through Tre Jones and Vernon Carey, because the other players, while talented, are not yet consistent.

The not so good news is that as the Blue Devils were coasting to their 17th win of the season, leading 60-42 with 13:43 left, when the offense went cold and the defense played tired, allowing a 24-6 run by the Panthers that brought them within five points with six minutes left in the game. It was a text book example of inefficient offense and missed shots leading to easy buckets as every team has athletic players who love to run and score. Forward Au’Diese Toney had a career-high 27 points—20 over his average– as neither Stanley nor anyone else could neutralize him.

Just when an improbable nightmare—think Stephen F. Austin– seemed to be unfolding, Coach K called a timeout to settle and focus his team. From that point on, the Blue Devils played winning basketball: tight defense, four  free throws by Hurt and Goldwire (two missed free throws by Pitt), an NBA three with time expiring by Stanley, a jumper and a dunk by Carey on a nice pass from Jones, and a late block from Jack White put an exclamation point on the win.

Only six players played double digit minutes as O’Connell and Baker are playing themselves back to a nice view from the bench. On the other hand, Jordan Goldwire has solidified his position as the fifth starter as he has added efficient offense to his defense. Tonight, he had three straight threes, scoring 13 points to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists, and 1 steal. And Jack White, who is the toughest player on the team had 23 minutes off the bench. His 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal does not do justice to the stabilizing force he provides to his team at critical times.

OTHER COMMENTS:

Former Duke player and assistant coach Jeff Capel has his Pitt Panthers on a nice trajectory.

Eight former Krzyzewski assistants are now head coaches: at Notre Dame (Mike Brey), Harvard (Tommy Amaker), Central Florida (Johnny Dawkins), the NBA’s Utah Jazz (Quin Snyder), Northwestern (Chris Collins), Marquette (Wojo), Pitt (Jeff Capel) and Howard (Kenny Blakeney). Only Brey did not play for K.

Alan Adds:

The second half was the story of this game. Duke’s 18 point lead (60-42) with 13:43 to go in the second half was down to 3 (68-65) with 4:28 to go.  In 9 minutes and 15 seconds Duke had scored only 8 points.  Coach K on being unconcerned with the lack of defensive intensity against Miami last Saturday in the second half: “it was 10:30 at night and we had a big lead”.  That same lack of defensive intensity in the second half last night almost cost Duke what would have been a worse-than-embarrassing loss.  However, in the next 3:32 of play, Duke played like Duke has traditionally done at “winning time”.

Coach K played “offense-defense” substituting Hurt (even with 4 fouls) for offense; and replacing him with Goldwire for defense.  Hurt made his 2 free throws;  Carey got the next defensive rebound and then scored in the paint on a superb feed from Tre.  He retrieved another defensive rebound (missed Pitt free throws) and Duke stretched the lead back to 10 on a shot-clock-winding-down 3 from Stanley (great pass from Tre) with 2:24 left —  75-65.    White made a critical block to keep Pitt at bay.  Carey scored again on yet another assist from Tre with 1:29 to go.  Duke closed out its scoring when JGold sank 2 free throws with 56 seconds left to push the Duke margin to 14 – 79-65.  Duke held the Panthers scoreless from 4:28 to 0:37, when Pitt scored a meaningless bucket.  Duke’s offense and defense came together in dramatic fashion to crush Pitt.

The rotation in the second half was also telling:  Duke had only 15 total minutes of bench playing time and not a single bench point.  Jack White, who played 11 minutes, was really the only bench player.  DeLaurier and Baker each logged only 2 minutes.  Alex played one first half minute (0-1 and a defensive lapse) but 0 in the closing stanza.  Hurt, in foul trouble all night (he finished with 4; only 1 in the second half), logged 12 second half minutes.  Duke made good use of a big lineup from time to time – Carey, Hurt and White up front; Stanley and Tre in the backcourt.  Tre played all 20 second half minutes; Stanley and JGold played 18 and Carey 17.  The good news may be that Wendell Moore is expected back in a week or so (the cast is off).

The Duke offense stalled so badly in the second half because the three point shooting, which was devastating in the first half (7-14, including JGold hitting 3 of 4), went almost completely cold in the latter stanza (2-12 – JGold was 0-3; Hurt 1-3; Stanley 1-4; White and Baker were each 0-1).  The defense seemed to wilt in intensity as the offense shooting woes mounted.

Next Play: Duke hits the road for 3 straight ACC road games beginning this Saturday (Feb 1) vs. Syracuse at 8 pm (ESPN)

Our website covering the last eleven seasons is: dukebasketballplaybook.com

DUKE  97 – SYRACUSE 88 

The young Blue Devils are entering a stretch of tough games that may well determine whether they are truly battle ready contenders or just precocious pretenders. We witnessed some of both tonight. They started like pretenders in front of an intimidating 31,000+ crowd in the Carrier Dome but in important stretches responded like contenders until they didn’t but ultimately did. Confused? Well, for starters Duke was coming off a close home game where Coach K reverted to his predictable later-in-the-season pattern of playing a short rotation and darn near getting a technical foul for losing it against (of all people) the Cameron Crazies! In addition, coaches John Scheyer and Nolan Smith were not on the bench. Be honest. How many briefly thought this might the beginning of the end?

Well, one thing we have learned over these past forty years is that Coach K and his teams are tough and resilient and K is a great bench coach who knows how to push the buttons of his players—as is his old friend Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. Tonight, they treated us not only to an exciting, high scoring game but also an interesting, probing Masters Coaching Chess Clinic. The Blue Devils started (surprise!)  sluggishly with Syracuse leading 21-14 and Duke big men Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, and Javin DeLaurier being called for two fouls each in the first eleven minutes.  Duke was in danger of digging themselves into a deep hole as they did in loses to Clemson and Louisville– but with 31,000 fans piling on. Like it or not, Coach K was forced to mix and match his lineup for the rest of the game. Fortunately, the unlikely quartet of Alex O’Connell (whom keen observer wrote “had played himself onto a nice view from the bench”), Javin DeLaurier, both of whom had barely played against Pittsburg, Wendell Moore, who has been recovering from a broken fingers, and Jack White somehow not only kept things  from getting out of hand but helped rally the team (with the help of Carey)  to an improbable 40-36 halftime  lead. But that was nothing. The second half score was 57-52 as Duke would lead the rest of the way but, unable to consistently handle The Orange full court press, never could comfortably put the game away. However, (surprise) they, er Tre, who played every minute, never missed a free throw at closing time.

Duke looked to be cruising, until they didn’t, as they led by 15 points with nine minutes left and 14 with less than five minutes left. But those five minutes took an eternity as virtually every possession stopped the clock, either with a foul, a turnover, or a timeout. It was like watching the final innings of a close, major-league baseball game. Duke lost Wendell Moore, DeLaurier, then Cassius Stanley to fouls. With more than three minutes left, Syracuse closed the gap to five points. However, the Blue Devils  closed it out with championship shooting from the foul line– 12 straight free throws down the stretch, 10-10 from Tre Jones and 2-2 for Stanley.

While making way-too-many turnovers (19), a season-high 29 personal fouls, even a (questionable) technical foul on Vernon Carey, the good news is that Carey and Stanley (after a disappointing first half) played with an intensity and passion that is needed to wins tough tournament games and, as always, Tre Jones steadied the team a critical times. In addition, a full complement of nine players responded extremely well to contribute to the win. Interestingly, only Joey Baker, whom you would think would be a logical zone buster, did not play—but stay tuned.

The play of the game: Vernon Carey, whose father played offensive tackle in the NFL, gathered a rebound under his basket and threw a full court pass to a streaking Cassius “Skywalker” Stanley, who caught it, hung, changing hands in midair, then laid the ball in the basket while being fouled by an incredulous defender.The bottom line: A promising response and learning experience against an improving, dangerous team in a tough venue.

Miscellaneous Comments:

  • A year ago, the game with Duke (and Zion) drew 35,642 that set the record for largest on-campus crowd in college basketball history.
  • Duke was without  two of their assistant coaches. Jon Scheyer fell ill Saturday morning in Syracuse and underwent a successful appendectomy at a local hospital. Director of basketball operations Nolan Smith did not make the trip to Syracuse with the team due to his daughter’s illness.
  • Kyle Shanahan, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, attended Duke on a football scholarship, but transferred as redshirt freshman to the University of Texas at Austin. Shanahan played wide receiver on a Longhorn team that featured future college coach Major Applewhite as well as future NFL players Roy WilliamsCedric BensonBo ScaifeMike Williams,  and Chris Simms. Kyle caught 14 passes for 127 yards in his career at U.T.

Alan Adds: 

The second half is worth a close look.  Duke scored 57 second half points, shot the lights out, got scoring from the bench as well as bravura performances from Carey (14 points in 14 minutes with 9 rebounds), Stanley (13 points in 16 minutes, including two crucial 3 point plays in the last 3:06 of the game)  and Tre (12  points in 20 minutes, including 10 straight free throws in the last 2:35) while hitting 21 of 23 free throws (including 12 in a row in the last 3:06).  So, is anything wrong with this picture.  Well, yes.  Syracuse scored 52 points including 21 fast break points (after only 4 in the first half) and 14 second chance points while grabbing 12 offensive rebounds (Duke had 6 in the closing stanza).  Duke committed 19 second half fouls with Stanley, Moore and DeLaurier fouling out.  Carey finished with four (one an ill-advised technical).  The Devils committed 11 second half turnovers vs only 8 assists.  Moore in particular had a dismal second half committing four fouls and 3 turnovers in 9 scoreless minutes, after an efficient first half.  Javin played only 4 scoreless minutes.  Fortunately, Alex was brilliant scoring 7 points in his 6 minutes; he was almost all of Duke’s bench scoring; Jack White added 3 on 1-2 from deep in 7 minutes.

Duke maintained a double digit lead for almost all of the second half, with it reaching 14 with 6:02 to go.  Then the Orange began to chip away slowly.  Single digits with 3:50 left.  Carey committed his 4th foul with 3:37 remaining and Moore fouled out with 3:32 to go.  Syracuse converted from the line and the lead was down to 5 (79-74) with 3:06 remaining.

Duke did not miss another shot from that point on.  Stanley made 2 layups where he was fouled and converted each time.  He did not foul out until there was only 38 seconds left and the Duke win was secure.  Carey hit a tough jumper while Tre made 2 foul shots five straight times.  He was also brilliant in defeating Syracuse’s desperate trapping press as well as leading Duke’s defense into hounding the Orange from the 3 point line (6-17 for the game).  It was a solid ACC road win highlighted by a fabulous final 3:06.

No Blue Devil played as much as 30 minutes, except Tre who played every minute.  10-10 from the line after playing as hard as he does for the full 40 minutes is worth another tip of the hat.  Goldwire started, but played only 15 minutes in the game (8 in the second half).  Moore logged the starter minutes in the back court (24; 13 in the first half) in his first game back from the hand injury.  DeLaurier (12 minutes; 8 in the first half when he scored all of his 8 points and grabbed 4 boards), O’Connell (15 minutes; 11 points); and White (14 minutes; 7 in each half; 1-2 from deep with 2 critical rebounds) were Duke’s efficient bench.  No announcer or internet bit has explained why Joey Baker did not play; he looked healthy sitting on the bench.  Carey played 28 minutes while Hurt and Cassius logged 26.

All in all, it was a very satisfying road win for the Devils.

Next Play: BC at BC on Tuesday at 7 pm (ESPN).  Yes, another trap game since Saturday’s game is in Chapel Hill against some team that wears uniforms that Bill describes as “washed out blue”.

DUKE 63 – BOSTON COLLEGE 55 

Alan sees “trap games”, whatever that means, in his sleep. I just wonder why, more often than not, this team starts out “flat,” just going through the motions as if wearing the Duke jersey intimidates an opponent. Well, here’s a flash: The Duke jersey makes an opponent play harder so they can go back to campus or home and boast about how well they played against the great college powerhouse.

Tonight was worse than usual. The Blue Devils appeared to be just going through the motions on both offense—Carey was missing contested but point blank shots that usually fall and his teammates were 0-12 from three point land. And on defense, the Blue Devils were out hustled, beaten to rebounds, and by back door plays. I thought Coach K was going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, BC, which is not one of the better ACC teams, turned it over 17 times and were 2-18 on threes.  At the half, Duke was down three and had only scored 21 points (Three nights ago, they scored 57 in the second half at Syracuse). Go figure! Is college basketball, like the 2016 presidential election, Bizarro World defying all logic and gravity and turning upside down? Can both traditional ACC basketball also-rans Clemson and Boston College beat both North Carolina and Duke back to back? What are the odds on one, much less both of these events, occurring?

Johnny Tar Heel often points out with envy what a great bench coach Duke has. Well, tonight certainly demonstrated that  in spades as Duke pulled out a losable game because of Coach K, Joey Baker, Tre Jones, and Javin DeLaurier. With the Blue Devils trailing, Carey in foul trouble, and his team playing uninspired basketball, Coach K substituted Joey Baker, who did not play against Syracuse, and Joey Buckets responded with instant offense (8 points and a steal in 13 minutes); then, he went to Javin DeLaurier (4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 charge taken); then a zone; and then a variety of full court presses. The Eagles became discombobulated and lost the lead. An energized Duke had the lead but with Carey’s effectiveness  hindered by four fouls,  Tre “Cool Hand Luke” Jones took over the offense and sealed the win by working his way into the paint, where he is lethal, and scoring. Please note one other important aspect to this win: 16-20 free throws, 7 more than BC, just about the winning margin.

Just a word about the Jones Boys—Tyus & Trey– and how much they have meant to Duke Basketball. By basketball standards, they are not super athletic but have a super basketball IQ and are mature beyond their years. And while pass first guards, they really have an intuitive sense of when and how to take over a game. Every outstanding Duke team has featured great point guards.

It is interesting what players were not on the floor at closing time: starters Matthew Hurt, who had a miserable 11 minutes, Cassius Stanley, who had another Luke Skywalker dunk but was subpar defensively for the second game in a row plus Jack White and Alex O’Connell, who played so well against Syracuse. Seems as though the Darwinian ten man rotation is alive and well. For all his athletic gifts, there seems to be a reticence or shyness about Stanley that inhibits his ability to want to take over a game like Michael or the Jones Boys. On the other hand,  although we only see it in spurts, Joey Baker brings an intensity, fire that Cassius and AOC do not.

Time is running out for the freshman to grow up as an obviously frustrated Coach K commented about adversity on the road in his presser: “They didn’t listen to me, so they’re in trouble with me and that’s the main adversity that they have, because it’s stupid not to listen. I’ve warned them for two days about it. I’ve watched BC’s recent games – they’ve been playing great, not good. This guy’s (BC’s Jim Christian) a good coach, and these kids (BC) played their butts off and I thought they did that even better than what I’ve seen in the last three games. They took it up a notch. They were very good tonight. They were certainly deserving of winning – we were fortunate tonight.  We missed six shots by the bucket in the first eight minutes. Even at the end, we missed right by the bucket. When we’re young, we try to shoot there, and when you’re by the bucket, you don’t try to shoot – you try to score. It’s a big difference. you’re trying to shoot, there’s the bucket, you might go here. You try to score, you’re going in here, so you’re either going to get the bucket, foul or both. Here, you’re not going to get a call because you haven’t worked for it. It’s not like we were getting fouled. We were shooting the ball, and what happens then is there’s a lot of stuff underneath body-wise and so if you’re just shooting it, you’re shooting at a moving target because you’re going to be hit, whereas if you’re trying to score, you’re right there. Anyway, it makes sense – I’ve been doing it for 45 years. There’s a big difference between shooting and scoring by the bucket. Winning teams score the ball, they don’t shoot the ball by the bucket, and we didn’t do that tonight until late Tre got a couple.” 

Alan Adds: 

Coach K and I are frustrated.  Not only did Coach K warn his team about the dangers of BC and the “human nature” of a “trap game”, but so did I.  The last Alan Adds concluded with “BC at BC on Tuesday at 7 pm (ESPN).  “Yes, another trap game since Saturday’s game is in Chapel Hill…”  But since he coaches the team let’s examine his vision.  Here’s what he said that probably applies to all of us in life: “The investment to win is huge.  You sometimes think you are making that investment, but you’re not.  That’s a lesson for us.  We need to have more investment.”

In his press conference, the coach was not happy with his team, even while conceding that “my guys did some great stuff at the end of the game.”  “I warned them.”  He reiterated how “human nature” is a tough adversary.  “I’ve been beaten by human nature before.”  He complained his guys didn’t listen to him.  “That’s stupid!”   The first half was a textbook example of “not listening”.  Duke came out as if they had been anointed – they looked relaxed and confident.  Way too relaxed.  BC was not relaxed; they were totally fired up, fresh from beating Carolina in Chapel Hill.  Duke was completely outplayed in the first half and very lucky to be down only 3, while shooting 26% and 0-12 from deep.  Thornton (former Duke point guard) outplayed Tre in the opening stanza.

At half time, I told Bill Duke would win (based on the law of shooting averages).  With 14:44 left in the game, Carey picked up his 4th foul as Duke trailed by 4.  I texted Bill that maybe I had been wrong in my half time prediction.  Then Duke went to work, and the quality of basketball picked up as the lead went back and forth.

With 12:22, Joey Baker entered the game for the first time.  He had not played at all against Syracuse.  He apparently didn’t like that because he energized the Duke offense by scoring 8 points in about 4 minutes (his – and Duke’s – only 3 with 7:33 left brought Duke within one.)  Then Coach K made the coaching move of the game.  He changed the defense.  He had gone small in the second half because BC was “more athletic” than Duke was with its big lineup.  Neither Hurt nor Jack White played a minute in the second half, as Duke went with Baker and Moore at the wings with Tre and JGold in the backcourt.

Duke went to “something we put in last week”, called “22”.  Duke picked up somewhere between full and half court.  K said it made BC start from further out and to “stand up”.  It changed their athletic advantage and Duke went on to win from that defensive adjustment.  Coach K said the zone was easier to play out of the “22”.  Duke was fouling big time early in the second half (11 in the second half after only 4 fouls in the opening stanza).  The zone stopped the fouling and BC’s poor shooting did the rest.

Carey never fouled out as he and DeLaurier substituted – offense/defense.  Carey scored 4 in a row to give Duke a 1-point lead (50-49) with 6:02 left; Devils never relinquished the lead again as they (finally) squeezed the life out of the gallant Eagles.  Tre simply took over the game at winning time.  The announcer asked how Duke was able to turn it around.  The color guy told it true, “Duke just started playing harder.  Sometimes it is the reality that you are losing the game that brings out the effort.”  That is exactly what happened.

When Coach K changed the defense, the Devils (and especially Tre) played harder and went into winning mode.  Tre hit a mid-range contested jumper (52-49 with 5:30 to go).  After Goldwire made a steal, Tre hit Moore with a great pass for a layup (54-49 with 5:12 to go).  With 3:26  to go, Tre drove the lane for a spectacular layup from the left side (56-49).  After BC went 1-2 from the line, Tre made another incredible drive from the left side and converted a lefty layup as he flew out of bounds.  It was a wow! (58-50 with 1:58 to go).  BC wasn’t done, chopping the lead to 5 with 54 seconds left, but Duke had the game in hand.  Tre put the icing on the cake, when he made a brace of free throws to stretch Duke’s lead to 63-55 with under 30 seconds to play.  A very satisfying win.

Next Play: This is a big (BIG) weekend for this team – Carolina at Chapel Hill on Saturday at 6 pm (ESPN) followed by a crucial game against Florida State in Cameron on Monday, Feb 10.

DUKE 98 – NORTH CAROLINA 96 (OT)

Duke versus Carolina is the best rivalry in college basketball. Improbably, not only have the teams split the past 100 games evenly, each has scored 7,746 points– and there have been many incredible finishes. Tonight’s game proved the premise and even topped all of them, because there was not just one but two incredible finishes—one in regulation and one in overtime. Each time the Blue Devils somehow defied the laws of probability and scored as time expired. You had to see it to believe it and even then, you might not believe it until you have watched the replay of the final ten minutes several times. For thirty-five minutes, North Carolina outplayed, out hustled, and out coached Duke. It was as if the Tar Heels were excising all the demons of this embarrassing, losing season. Then, with Vernon Carey, who scored more than half of Blur Devil’s 35 first  half points fouling out, Duke inexplicably started playing like one of the best teams in the country and suddenly the outcome game was in doubt. Why it took the Blue Devils thirty-five minutes to play with intensity and urgency is a question for another time.

At half time, a classmate of Johnny Tar Heel called him to say: “OMG, the Heels are  up by nine. Duke has us where they want us.” Nevertheless, with a 13 point advantage and 5:40 remaining, some more optimistic North Carolina fans headed to the exits. That reminded me of what a Kansas City linebacker said to a celebrating San Francisco opponent when the 49ers went up 10 points with seven minutes to play in the Super Bowl: “You suckers are celebrating too soon ‘cause your asses are going home losers just like those other guys (Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans) did the last two games.” Candidly, I had a lot less confidence as I was well into my favorite bottle of Pinot Noir, not at all confident that the Blue Devils were going to  give us a miracle comeback for the ages. With Vernon Carey unavailable with five fouls and Hurt having a disappointing game, Krzyzewski switched to hybrid lineup of Jones, Goldwire, Moore, O’Connell,  Baker, and a variety of semi-pressing defenses. These changes  led to Tar Heel turnovers and triples by Alex O’Connell (2) and Joey Baker and a comeback that will forever be remembered along Tobacco Road. The invigorated Duke momentum, along with missed free throws by Carolina, gave Duke the opportunity to cut the lead  to 81-79 with :40 seconds remaining. Then, Tre Jones did a pretty good Patrick Mahomes impression. Trailing by three with four seconds left in regulation, Jones went to the free throw line. He made the first, then with two hands powered the second shot off the right front of the rim. The ball ricocheted way out to right of the key where Goldwire caught it and quickly handed it to Tre, who dribbled through several defenders, nearly losing control of the ball, to get a contested mid-range jumper off with less than half a second on the clock. The ball swished, forcing overtime.

A steal and five quick points by Jones gave Duke their largest lead of the game but Carolina powered back as the Blue Devils appeared out manned and out of gas as they trailed by five with :20 seconds remaining in the overtime. However, the Devils had a few fumes left in the tank. Jones converted a lay-up. After losing the ball out of bounds, Moore would score on the ensuing possession to cut the deficit to one. The Tar Heels botched the inbounds pass  that offered an opportunity for the Blue Devils to go for the win with 10 seconds left on the clock. Jones drove and was fouled. He made the first to tie the game. However, he missed the second, but Moore tipped it to Jones beyond the foul line. Tre dribbled through traffic for a jump shot. His shot from inside the top of the foul line was off left but, as luck or the basketball gods would have it,  turned out to be a perfect pass. Wendell  Moore, who grew up in Charlotte watching the Duke-Carolina games, was crashing to the basket and right there for an all-in-one-motion catch and put back as he tumbled to the floor without seeing if the ball went in for the game-winner just as  time expired!

Duke trailed for forty-two minutes of the forty-five minute game. But to their credit, after the collapse in regulation and quickly falling behind in overtime, Carolina fought back with an 11-1 run putting them up 96-91 and took apparent control with only :20 seconds left. Of course, the Tar Heel missing 17 free throws during the game was what really kept the game from being virtually unlosable. Nevertheless, be warned: With Cole Anthony back on the floor, this this is a very different North Carolina team. He is dangerous enough by himself but he also is talented and unselfish enough to make  everyone more confident, more productive and Carolina will be more like Carolina for the rest of the year.

Quotes of the evening: “With Duke being my dream school since I can remember, I’m always watching these rivalry games,” Jones said. “Seeing Austin Rivers hit a shot here when I was at one of my basketball tournaments, going crazy, watching my brother do what he did against Carolina. I just wanted to put my name in the game like that. And I feel like I might have done that tonight.”

Preparation:  How did he miss that free throw to himself? “I’d actually practiced just this situation with Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer. We’d talked about how to miss the free throw and create a long carom so the shooter could run to his right and secure it.”

Alan Adds:

 There is something special when a ballyhooed event lives up to the hype. Past Duke-Carolina games were on all the sports channels as the hucksters intoned that “it doesn’t matter what the records are going into the game, Duke-Carolina always delivers”.  Boy, did it ever!   As Ole Roy said in his press conference, “if you didn’t care who won, it was a great game to watch.  Unfortunately, I did care who won, so it wasn’t such a great game for me.”

It was one of the most miraculous Duke wins ever.  Down ten with a little over a minute to play (having never led in the game), Duke tied it when the Carolina lead was three.  Ole Roy had taken the blame when Carolina had led by three in an earlier game and he did not direct his team to foul.  This time The Heels did to prevent a tying 3 point attempt by fouling Tre with 6 seconds left.  Tre made the first free throw, and then fired a line drive at the rim, which bounced out almost to half court as Bill described above.  Tre tracked it down, beat two Carolina players, one of whom actually deflected the ball but not enough, to launch a buzzer beater to tie the score.  In the post-game interview, he was asked if he was lucky to have retrieved the carom.  Tre said, “Actually, I’ve been working with Coach Scheyer on that play.  He moved me over to the right a step or two.  I got pretty good at hitting the rim and the ball would  come off to the same place almost every time.”

Before we examine the overtime, let’s look at the second half.  Duke scored 49 second half points without any contributions from any of the 4 big guys.  Hurt and White did not score in their two minute second half cameos.  Carey was 0-5 in his eleven minutes while committing four second half fouls, fouling out with 4:16 left in the game and Duke trailing by 13.  DeLaurier scored 2 points in eight minutes.  Coach K’s genius: Duke went to a zone with Cassius as the center and Moore as the other big.  At his press conference, Coach K played down his genius, “there wasn’t anything else I could do and I had to do something.”

When Platek turned it over and then fouled Cassius, who hit both free throws with 3:55 to go.  When Brooks missed two free throws, Moore rebounded, passed to Tre, who found Joey Baker for a wide open three. Duke down eight with 3:35 left.  UNC scored again to take its last double digit lead with 2:18 left (79-69).  Moore made 1-2 from the line; Duke down nine with 2:06 remaining.  Alex grabbed a defensive board, fed Tre who sent it back to him for an open three.  Duke down (79-73) with 1:46 left.  Anthony pushed it to 80-73, making 1 of 2 from the line.  1:06 left.  Cassius hit a jumper right away (80-75) with 1:03 left. When Platek missed both free throws, Cassius rebounded and fed Tre for a hoop. 80-77 with :48 seconds left.  Black went 1-2 after being fouled to make it a two possession game with 48 seconds left.  Critically, Tre drew the 4th personal on Anthony and made both free throws – 81-79 with :40 seconds left.  Cole made a pair to create a two possession lead for Carolina with :21 seconds remaining.  Tre responded with a jumper to bring Duke within 2 with only 15 seconds in the game.  Cole backed off on defense to avoid committing his fifth foul.  Platek again made 1-2 to give UNC a three point lead with :06 seconds left, setting the stage for Tre’s miraculous game tying basket that sent the game into overtime.

Duke outscored UNC 14-12 in the overtime.  Tre (9) and Moore (5) scored all of Duke’s 14 overtime points.  After Tre scored the first 6 in overtime (2-2 from the field and 2-2 from the line), he missed his next 3 shots and only went 1-3 from the line.  Cassius fouled out with 2:13 to go in the overtime.  Duke finished with Moore as the big man, Joey Baker and Alex as the wings and JGold and Superman (aka Tre) in the backcourt.  UNC stormed back with 11 points to lead by five, 96-91 with only 20 seconds left.  Tre made a magnificent basket at the rim and drew the foul; however, he missed the free throw (96-93) with :16 seconds to go.  Duke somehow got the rebound and Moore scored quickly to make it 96-95 with :12 seconds to go.  Then came the game’s most crucial play.  With 10 seconds left, Duke tipped the ball free and both Moore and Brooks went for it.  The refs gave it to Duke while Bilas complained that the refs had missed an obvious foul call on Moore.  Still Duke ball when Tre was fouled with :06 seconds remaining.  He made the first.  When he missed the second, Moore somehow tapped the ball out to Goldwire, who handed it to Jones, whose miss, Moore converted for the scintillating win.

The second half and overtime belonged to Tre (22 points; 9 in the overtime), Cassius (15 points in the second half) and Moore (13 points; 8 in the second half).  This was Tre’s best game at Duke (so far).  Coach K said Tre was “magnificent”, “he reached another level tonight”, “his will and passion permeated through the team”, and “he was such a leader at the time outs, telling his team that Duke was going to win”.  In the post-game interview, Tre was asked how he was able to take over the game the way he did.  His answer gave a shout out to his brother, by saying he channeled “Tyus Stones” (referring to the nickname Tyus had earned with his clutch shooting when the game was on the line as Tyus led Duke to the National Championship in 2015).  Tre said it was just little brother emulating big brother.  It was a great interview.

Coach K said Duke looked as if it had run out of gas at the end of the overtime, but then somehow got a great shot of adrenalin to complete the amazing comeback.  I was at the Millrose track meet yesterday afternoon and had the opportunity to chat with Billy Mills (Native American who won the 1964 Olympic 10,000 in Tokyo – Bud Palmer’s famous race call when Mills came from 8 spots down in the last 100 meters to win, “Look at Mills!  Look at Mills!”)  Worth looking at that finish on You Tube.  Mills actually told what those last hundred meters felt like to him as he raced into immortality (“I was being pushed from behind and someone was dragging my jersey forward from the front.  I just rolled.”).  I think Duke experienced something like that in this game.  What a game!

Next Play:  Can you believe Duke will play a most crucial game tomorrow night against Florida State in Cameron (ESPN) at 7 pm?  I don’t know how I can get up for another game so quickly, let alone the ten Duke players who gave everything on Saturday night.

DUKE 70 – FLORIDA STATE 60 

After the game, Johnny Tar Heel told me: “These last two games demonstrated what I have long believed but as a Carolina fan, never admitted publicly. Behind or ahead, better players or not, in the last five minutes Coach K wins an incredibly high percentage games. Somehow, over the years he has been able to convince his players that they will win, so they are not afraid to lose. It’s become a Duke Basketball mystique, because opponents know the history– their teams have been on television more than “Law and Order” reruns.”

If I told you Vernon Carey would only score 10 points, that Goldwire would be Duke’s high scorer with 13 points, and that they would commit 21 turnovers, how much would you have bet that the Blue Devils won? Well, they did with savvy substitutions and contributions by nine players starting with toughness by, of all people, Matthew Hurt, who may be getting what Duke basketball is all about having lost his starting job due to weak performances (“People call me a shooter, a scorer, but I want to be more than that. I want the dirty plays, the dirty work, the rebounds, the deflections, all of that. I’m just trying to make winning plays.”) , Alex O’Connell (“I like to come in, bring energy, and hit big-time shots. If I can be out there in a situation like out there and the coach trusts me, then that just makes us a better team.) with the second straight game of critical shots, and Javin DeLaurier’s athleticism, energy, and free throws.

Strangely enough, Duke started fast going up ten, and led—barely– 81 percent of the game. Florida State led for only 7 percent, and it was tied for the remaining 12 percent. The halftime message was “we can be tired tomorrow. We’ve got to grind it out tonight.” And grind it out they did, holding Florida State to eight points in that decisive final 7:32, rebounding physically aggressively against the deepest and most athletic team in the ACC– and hitting all their free throws. 

Coach Mike Krzyzewski explains it best: “This has been an incredible 48 hours for our team. I have really good kids. We beat a heck of a team tonight after beating a heck of a team in an epic game 48 hours before. I don’t know where they got the energy the whole game to do this, but they did– they listened, they fought. We really played good defense. The Seminoles will tire you out because they play such good defense and they have depth, but at the end of the first half, you could tell we were tired, rightfully so.

In the second half, we were kind of holding our own, but when they went ahead 52-50, instead of waiting for the eight minute [timeout], we were ready to get knocked out and so we called a timeout, Alex (O’Connell) came in and he gave us five quick points, and that last 8:29 we were terrific. We were not tired but we talked, we made plays.  Javin (DeLaurier) was spectacular, Matt Hurt, obviously the rebound and the free throws and then inbounding the ball, no mistakes. Wendell (Moore), who, I don’t think any of you in the audience have had a winning shot in front of 21,000 people against your archrival, but if you’re 18, how you handle that can be pretty tough, and he had a game like a kid 18 until the second half, and then that play he made in the full court just was spectacular.

Switching (Jordan) Goldwire to (Trent) Forrest was a key because Forrest is a big-time player. They have big-time, but this kid, he’s a pro-guard, he can defend and get by you and he’s a veteran. He and Tre (Jones) were going back and forth and that’s wearing Tre out, We needed him on offense and so the switch to put Goldwire on him helped. We did that with Cole Anthony in the last part of the game in Chapel Hill and that helped us there, so having those two guys being able to have each other’s backs is big, but they forced a lot of turnovers. I thought we weren’t as strong as we needed to be, but overall we were pretty damn strong.” On the play from Tre Jones to Wendell Moore Jr. to Matt Hurt: “Those are like making plays that you don’t diagram. A real player doesn’t run plays, a real player makes plays. You run plays for people who aren’t players. That doesn’t mean you don’t run them for players too, but players make plays, and our guys are making plays, they’re making really good plays.”

On Javin DeLaurier’s contributions off the bench: “ Javin was terrific. His two-handed rebounds, blocked shots, free throws, and he’s been playing well, but you know, we could hardly do anything yesterday at practice with most of the guys, so we did with a couple of the guys who didn’t play as much really intense individual work, and I stay and I watch all of that stuff and Javin had an amazing workout. I brought him over after and said ‘Man, you’re going to a whole other level. In our game, we have a thing called trust your work and in other words, if you’re working hard and whatever, when you get out there, trust it and he worked really hard and he trusted it.

We needed a full day off. This is a nine-day period with three road games and this game, and our kids won all four of them. It’s a lot of travel, a lot of stuff. They’re really developing into a good team. I really love these guys, because it’s different guys. We don’t have a starting lineup, we have a team. Sometimes when you have a starting lineup you put a ceiling on the other guys in ego, in opportunity, in all that, and it hasn’t happened here with this group.”

It is obvious Coach K really likes and admires this team but thinks perhaps the Cameron Crazies may be spoiled and not appreciative enough of what they are seeing: “The fans] weren’t bad. But you’ve got to be even more hungry, even more appreciative. Not for me. . . But these kids. For many, it’s their first year playing at Duke. And they’re young and they just fought like crazy and they should have gotten a standing ovation. We’ve been spoiled to watch Zion and Bagley and Tatum but that’s not what this team is. . . . Don’t get on the ride at the end. Be on the ride the whole way.”

In the series, Duke leads Florida State 41-10, including 22-2 in games at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Alan adds:

The term “gut check” applied to a crucial game is such a sports cliché.  Yet it was the perfect description of Duke’s game last night against Florida State at Cameron.  In 9 days, the Blue Devils won 3 ACC road games, including the indescribable emotional effort 48 hour earlier against a gallant Carolina team, and then had to face the 8th ranked team in the nation for sole possession of 2nd place in the regular ACC race.  We were all exhausted from just watching the Saturday night game against the ‘Heels; you can only imagine how mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted Tre and the team were from that game.  That exhaustion (and a terrific Seminole defense) contributed to Duke’s 21 turnovers in the game (16 were Florida State steals) and the 17 fouls the Devils committed as well as the 17 offensive rebounds the Seminoles grabbed (Duke had only 19 defensive rebounds by comparison).  That Duke overcame that exhaustion to produce an oh-so satisfying win had Coach K gushing about his team as Bill described.

“I got good guys; good kids”.  “We don’t have a starting lineup; we have a team.”  I will go through the last minutes in depth (it’s even exciting to write about), but first to emphasize what Coach K meant by that pithy statement, “we have a team”.  Duke’s last 8 points, which won the game, were about the team – a tough layup by Goldwire, 2-2 from the line for Javin, and 4 crucial and winning foul shots by Matt Hurt.  Alex’s 5 straight points after the key timeout were what launched Duke on the path to the very tough win.

Javin was on the court for 12 second half minutes compared to Carey’s 7 minutes.  Each had 4 second half boards.  Carey had 4 second half points in his short appearance (1-2 from the field and 2-3 from the line).  Duke played 8 in the second half (+ a 3-minute cameo for Baker, who missed 2 shots in a row in that brief appearance, he also grabbing a rebound while turning it over and committing a foul).  JGold led the second half scoring with 8 efficient points on only 3 shots (2-2 from behind the arc to go with his crucial layup) in 11 second half minutes.  Alex scored 5 points (2 shots in a row; one from deep) in 7 minutes.  Add the clutch free throws from Javin (2 points in 12 terrific minutes) and Hurt (4 points in 9 minutes and his amazing rebound with 13 seconds left) and you see the corroboration of Coach K’s love of his old fashion team.  He was not relying on his high scoring starters — Tre, 7 second half points on 11 shots, Cassius 3 points and Carey 4 for 14 second half points; he was relying on his “old fashioned” team – 19 second half points from JGold, Alex, Matt and Javin.  23 if you add Wendell’s 4 crucial late game points.

I want to focus on Duke’s defense for the entire game and Duke’s winning drive in the last 8:31 of the second half.  Afterall, Duke held the high scoring Seminoles to 65 points.  Last Saturday Florida State scored 99 against Miami.  Coach K said the scouting report did not identify opposing players; rather Duke identified Florida State’s shooters and defended them closely on the perimeter; the drivers (backed off a bit) and the bigs.  The Seminoles shot badly (38% for the game; 3-18 from deep, and an inexplicable 12-20 from the free throw line for the ACC’s leading foul shooting team (season 80%).  Duke defended passionately and well.  It won the game.

Coach K said the key defensive move he made was to switch Goldwire on to Forrest.  Tre was exhausted and Forrest was dominant against him in the first half.  As Bill points out, Coach K had made the same switch against Carolina, switching JGold on to Cole Anthony.  It worked both times.  While Forrest led the Seminoles with 18 points, he was held to 2-8 in the second half (6 second half points).  Javin was intense and effective against the Seminole bigs, especially in the closing stanza.  Coach K said that in practice on Sunday, Javin was playing at a whole new level.  He did that in the game on Monday.

After Coach K’s timeout with 8:31 to go and Alex’s 5 straight points to jump start the Devils again, the teams traded scores.  Carey tied the game at 59 with 7:16 left when he was fouled on a successful layup, and then gave Duke a 1-point lead that the Devils would never relinquish when he made the foul shot.  Tre made 1-2 from the line for a 59-57 lead with 6:48 to go.  For the next 2 and ½ minutes, neither team was able to score.  The Seminoles had misses from Vessel (leading scorer on the year), 2 from Williams as well as a miss and a turnover from Gray.  Duke gave up 2 steals (one swiped from Alex and one from Wendell) while Tre missed twice and Cassius once from deep.  With 4:12 left, the Devils demonstrated what Coach K instills – peak performance at “winning time”.   Tre got a key rebound and found Moore for a fabulous bucket (61-57).  After the Seminoles scored (61-59), Carey grabbed an offensive rebound (Tre’s miss) and was fouled.  He made 1-2.  62-59 with 3:15 left.  The Seminoles scored again on Vessel’s jumper – 62-61 with 2:46 left.  Goldwire hit a crucial and difficult shot by the rim. 64-61 with 2:15 left.

Then came what I think was a key play in the game.  Tre fouled the Florida State 7-footer, freshman Balsa Koprivica, who missed the front end of a 1 and 1 with 1:57 to go.  Then both teams went cold for a minute.  Forrest had his pocket picked by Carey, who promptly turned it back over.  Javin replaced him with 1:18 left.  Florida State had two looks (contested hotly by DeLaurier ) and missed both.  Javin finally got the second rebound and was fouled with 56 seconds left.  A pair of swishes.  Javin on the foul line at crunch time!  One of the reasons watching a player grow in 4 years is so satisfying for us as fans.

Florida State scored over Javin on a dunk to bring it to 66-63 with 49 seconds left.  Coach K then substituted Hurt for Javin.  How did he know to do that? In the last minute, both Carey and Javin were on the bench. Tre missed a jumper with 18 seconds left; Moore made a spectacular attempt at a 3 with the shot clock almost off, which missed.  And who grabbed the game winning rebound?  Matt Hurt, of course.  How did Coach K know to make that substitution?  Hurt, naturally, went 4-4 from the line in the last 13 seconds to ice the oh-so-satisfying win for the Blue Devils.

Next Play: The Devils get a much needed week off before meeting The Fighting Irish in Cameron next Saturday (2-15) at 4pm on ESPN.

DUKE 94 – NOTRE DAME 60 

This is the time of the college basketball season that usually separates the pretenders from the contenders as some teams hit the wall and others get a second wind. Duke has impressively powered through the most difficult part of their schedule with eight straight wins –three on the road—while Louisville and Florida State have suddenly stumbled badly, leaving the Blue Devils in sole possession of first place in the ACC. (Clemson is an anomaly. They can beat anyone or lose to anyone in the same week.) If Duke is good enough and lucky enough, they will  run the table in the six remaining regular season games and be guaranteed a high second or number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. If today’s blowout against a mediocre Notre Dame team is any indication, they are in well positioned to do just that.

Despite Cassius Stanley being unavailable due to a mysterious eye injury, Carey and Jones were dominant (what else is new)  in the first half as the Blue Devils went up ten points. Duke started the second half playing well, when one of the most memorable moments in Cameron history occurred. Suddenly, a timeout was called and Elvis, er Zion, fresh from bending a rim and shattering a backboard in the NBA Rising Stars game Friday night in Chicago suddenly appeared on the Jumbotron ambling toward the Duke bench. The  Crazies responded like a crowd at a Linda Ronstadt concert in the 70’’,  cheering and chanting, “Zion, sit with us”  like adoring rock fans, causing the larger than life 19-year-old icon to bury his head in his arms in embarrassment.

Once Zion got seated behind the bench, there appeared to be a lid on the Irish basket (they couldn’t even complete dunks) and the Blue Devils suddenly started playing their best basketball of the year as  O’Connell and Baker started shooting like JJ Redick–the game became a runaway highlight film. Carey had 21 points in 23 minutes. Jones 19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal in 33 minutes. The Blue Devils defense forced 14 turnovers, while committing only 9 and  hit 10 threes. The Irish were 5 of 20.

However, more importantly most of the supporting players played like starters: Goldwire, the former defensive specialist, has blossomed into a very efficient offensive player to the point opponents cannot slough off him to double Tre, Carey or Stanley. Hurt is rebounding and generally playing more aggressively. O’Connell is showing more than occasional glimpses of  is athletic playmaking abilities. Joey Baker is shooting more and more consistently. DeLaurier has become a defensive enforcer. Moore is adding consistency to his “Oh, My” winning plays. Unfortunately, Jack White, who is a defensive stopper, has totally lost his shooting touch.

Krzyzewski said: “I just saw [Zion] smiling behind the bench with Quinn [Cook],”. “Two of the great smiles in the history of Duke basketball, those two guys. It says a lot that they come back. For Zion—he played last night. I love the fact that they want to maintain their relationship with this great university. And that’s one of the reasons they came here. Not just to play, but to be a part of it.”

Other Comments:

    • Also in the house: Gene Banks, who was Zion before Zion, LA Lakers Quinn Cooke, Danny Ferry,  Tyus Jones and the Jones Boys mother.
    • Duke is now 29-6 against Notre Dame.
    • The only downer was that Dick Vitale, who has done so much to promote college basketball, was one of the announcers. He just has become a parody of himself and keeps repeating the same old homilies. It is both sad and annoying.

Alan Adds:

Jim Summer’s article on the game said it best, “Duke followed up a solid first half with a stunning second half, combining a suffocating defense and a barrage of 3-pointers to go from “in control”  to “are-you-kidding me”!  The “stunning” second half is worth looking at closely.  However, Duke’s first half set the stage for the “stunning” closing stanza.  Duke’s defensive game plan was to pressure the perimeter and stop Notre Dame’s effective 3 point shooting.  Notre Dame was leading the ACC in fewest turnovers per game (9) and mounting much of its offense from the bonusphere.   The defense – primarily Tre, who played all 20 minutes and JGold who logged 19 – destroyed the Fighting Irish perimeter game.  Duke forced 9 first half Irish turnovers (JGold had 2 steals and Tre 1) and held the Irish to 1-10 from behind the arc.  But, on offense only 4 Duke players scored.  Carey was formidable with 16 first half points in 14 minutes (6-7; 1-1 from deep; and 3-4 from the line) to go with 2 rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal (no turnovers and only committed 1 foul).  Carey was asked how he was able to get free so often; he replied, “they overplayed me to my left; so, I went to my right.”  The dynamic backcourt of Tre and JGold scored 20.  JGold was perfect from the field (3-3; 1-1 from 3land) for 7 points, while Tre had 13 on 6-9 from the floor including 1-1 from deep.  Matt Hurt rounded out the Duke scoring by going 3-7 for 6 points in his 16 minutes.  He added 3 assists, 2 boards and a steal.  However, neither Alex (10 minutes; 0-2), Moore (9 minutes; 0-3); DeLaurier (6 minutes; 0 shots; 2 fouls), White (4 minutes; 0-2 while committing a foul), nor Baker (2 minutes, 0 stats) scored a point.   At the half, Coach K tried to fire up the bench, that scoring was needed from them.  He was told by the players, “don’t worry, Coach, we got you.  We’ll do it.”  And do it they did in the second half.

The Blue Devils outscored the Irish 52-28 in the closing stanza.  The defense was dominant, holding the Irish to 26% from the field; 5-23 inside the arc.  The bench flourished scoring 27 second half points (31 if you count the baskets that Justin Robinson and Mike Buckmire scored at the end).  Duke had built a lead of 14 with a minute to go in the first half (Mooney scored the last 4 of the half to cut the lead to 10).  For the early part of the first half, the lead swung between as much as 15 and as few as 9.  With 13:13 left in the game, Duke led by 15, 56-41; “in control”.  Four minutes later, Duke led by 31; “are you kidding me”!   Baker had 8 points (2-2 from deep) on 3 shots in a minute and 50 seconds; Alex had 6 points (2-2 from deep) in 2 minutes to go with 2 boards, a block and a steal during  the run.  Javin even made a 3 pointer (1-2 from deep; he tried a heat check after he made the first) while scoring 7 in 11 minutes.  He and Alex kept pouring it on to increase Duke’s lead to a high of 35.  It was some half!

Alex was truly amazing.  He led Duke in second half scoring with 12 points in 12 minutes.  He was 5-10 from the field (2-5 from deep) to go with 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and a block.  He clearly wants to earn more playing time.  Baker played 12 minutes (scoring those quick 8 and playing a good floor game); DeLaurier 11 with 2 boards; and White 5 (0 points, but 2 boards), allowing the starters to play fewer minutes.  Tre scored 6 in 13 minutes; Goldwire, 2 in 11 minutes; Carey, 5 in 9 minutes; and Moore, 2 in 8 minutes.  A word about Mathew Hurt’s second half.  He scored 6 in 12 minutes (2-2 from deep), but was particularly impressive as rebounder, grabbing 7 in the second half.  He guarded Mooney, the Irish 6’ 10” double-double machine.  Mooney missed his double double by a rebound, but Hurt held even – they both grabbed 9.  Hurt said the rebound he got to save the Florida State game inspired him to know he could be a rebounding force.  That has the potential to be a huge leap forward for him.

It was a bravura performance, but should not lead to thoughts of Duke “running the table” and gaining a high seed in the NCAA tournament.  There are still 6 conference games left, 3 of them on the road.  None will be easy.  There is no such thing as an easy ACC road game as Louisville found out this weekend.  The Cardinals were leading the ACC when they went on the road to face to teams that were below .500 in the conference.  Louisville fell to Georgia Tech on Saturday and to Clemson (as Duke did) in Littlejohn last night.  3 out of Duke’s next 4 are on the road: NC State, Wake, and a Saturday night match up with the defending National Champions, who seemed to have finally found their magic, in Charlottesville.  UNC has had a dismal season; the possibility of a win at Cameron on Duke senior night will surely fuel the ‘heels to a maximum effort.  Looking ahead is what produces the dreaded “trap game”.

Next Play: NC State in Raleigh on Wednesday night at 9 pm on ESPN2

DUKE 66 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE 88 

It is difficult to decide who had the worst night: Mayor Bloomberg or the Duke basketball team. Both were figuratively literally stopped and frisked or mugged (take your pick) and left looking confused, overwhelmed and embarrassed. Duke played like pretenders not contenders against a talented but inconsistent Wolfpack team that just lost to a mediocre  Boston College. State not only outplayed, out muscled, and out hustled Duke with more determination and energy, they also had one of those nights where everything seemed to go their way– loose balls bounced  to them and even made and a half-court shot at halftime that banged off the backboard and went in, just after Duke had cut the lead 12 points. While Duke has been on a roll, winning seven straight games, they should have been able to get up for a talented team playing at the PNC Arena where the  Blue Devils have lost five of its last seven games (including a 2014 first round NCAA tournament loss to Mercer).

Once disconcerting constant is the tendency of this team to start sluggishly and fall behind early. This can be overcome at home in Cameron. However, as we saw tonight and at Clemson and (almost) at Carolina, playing on the road with a raucous crowd can a recipe for disaster for an inexperienced team not playing efficiently for forty minutes.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said :“That’s our worst game, but they made us look bad.” “They were just at a different level of competitiveness than we were tonight. Not even taking us out of the game, because in order for them to take us out of the game we would’ve had to be in and we weren’t ever in the game. It wasn’t like we were hunkering down or anything, we were just never there and that’s on all of us. I’ve been doing this a long time and this happens to good teams.” Hopefully we’ll be more competitive Saturday and in the rest of our games, but tonight we weren’t.”

The blunt truth is that other than Carey and Jones, no other Blue Devil was of much help and, consequently, Duke blew an opportunity to win and position themselves in the enviable position of separating themselves from a field of pretty good but not great teams. All explanations and rationalizations aside, these two teams meet again on Monday, March 2 at Cameron and we will see whether or not this game was an anomaly or whether the Blue Devils have been more lucky than good. 

Alan Adds:

The most efficient motivator in sports – certainly college basketball at this time of the year – is desperation.  NC State was desperate, sitting on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble, and needing (NEEDING) the win over Duke at home.  Coach K: “Winning is a malady; it’s the best malady, but it is a human nature malady.”  Tonight, our team felt like it didn’t need the win.   We’re not that good; we’re good, but we’ve accomplished really good. Tonight, [our] winning [22-3] was “a horrible sickness”.

Duke second half against Notre Dame last Saturday led Bill to write about “running the table” for the last 6 games leading up to the ACC tournament and Duke’s bid for a #1 NCAA seed.  I poked back at him at the end of the Notre Dame Alan Adds when I wrote:

“It was a bravura performance but should not lead to thoughts of Duke ‘running the table’ and gaining a high seed in the NCAA tournament.  There are still 6 conference games left, 3 of them on the road.  None will be easy.  There is no such thing as an easy ACC road game as Louisville found out this weekend.  The Cardinals were leading the ACC when they went on the road to face to teams that were below .500 in the conference.  Louisville fell to Georgia Tech on Saturday and to Clemson (as Duke did) in Littlejohn last night. Three out of Duke’s next four are on the road: NC State, Wake, and a Saturday night match up with the defending National Champions, who seemed to have finally found their magic, in Charlottesville.  UNC has had a dismal season; the possibility of a win at Cameron on Duke senior night will surely fuel the ‘heels to a maximum effort.  Looking ahead is what produces the dreaded “trap game”.

Bill responded as the Duke players demonstrated they felt:

“While Alan sees “Trap Games” in his sleep and despite the fact that all away games can be difficult, aside from three teams, this year the ACC is a weak conference.  If Duke is good enough and lucky enough, the opportunity is there for them to run the table in the six remaining regular season games and be guaranteed a high second or number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.”

In Jim Carroll’s “Basketball Diaries”, this New York high school star in the 1970s (he wrote music with Patty Smith, some other literature, and was an addict) played on a wonderful team.  They would go to Central Park before the games to score “uppers” and “downers” to take the uppers before the game and the downers after.  One game they got them mixed up.  Carroll described how the players were anchored to the floor and moved in slow motion.  It was a disaster (comic in the book).  Duke played last night as if they had gone to Central Park and swallowed the wrong pre-game drug, as Carroll described.  “Not in sync” was my assessment when Bill and I talked during the game.  It was understatement.  Duke was behind by double digits for the entire second half where the Wolfpack lead reached 27 with just under 2 minutes to go.  That does qualify as a nightmare game.

It was a hard game to watch and is an even harder game to write about.  Only Vernon Carey came to play (27 points in 30 minutes; to go with 12 rebounds and 3 blocks).  He was 10-20 from the field (0-2 from deep and 7-12 from the line).  In 35 minutes, Tre scored 17 on an inefficient 18 shots from the field (6-18; 2-5 from deep and 3-5 from the foul line to go with 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 turnovers.  The contributions fell off after that.  Jordan Goldwire took the third most goal attempts was (3-9; 1-4 from deep) for 7 points in 31 minutes.  Duke got virtually no other offense.  Moore (4 points in 29 minutes), Stanley (4 points in 23 minutes), Hurt (1-2 from deep for 3 points in 9 foul-plagued minutes) Alex (2 points in 20 minutes) and Javin (2 points in 11 minutes) was all that the rest of the Duke team scored.  Baker (8 minutes) and White (4 minutes) failed to score.  Nightmare stuff.

Duke shot under 50% from the foul line (10-22) and poorly from behind the arc (4-17; 1-7 in the first half) and under 38% from the field.  The defense gave up 44 points in each half.  The Wolfpack shot 62% from deep (8-13) and 90% from the foul line in the second half (16-21 for the game).  Obviously, it was Duke’s worst game of the year on both ends of the court.

Next Play:  I predict Duke will play as if the Blue Devils “need to win” Saturday night against Virginia Tech at Cameron (8 pm on ESPN2).  Duke can still win either or both post-season tournaments (Duke won 2 national titles after being badly beaten in Raleigh during the regular season).  Let’s hope this nightmare is a needed “wake up call”.

DUKE 88 – VIRGINIA TECH 64 

If you follow Duke basketball, you knew that tonight’s game probably was over before it started—and if you didn’t, it was obvious after the first few minutes.  For whatever reason, Coach K’s Duke teams rarely lose two games in a row. And coming off a surprisingly listless 22 point loss, where they were thoroughly out played, Coach K replaced Matthew Hurt with the more athletic Wendell Moore and, I’m sure, had more than a few choice words about effort and enthusiasm.  At home against a young, undersized, struggling three point shooting team, the Blue Devils, atypically, started fast and never looked back.

The key to this team are the 3-10 players, because in Tre Jones and Vernon Carey, you have not only two of the best but also most reliable players in the country. However, from game to game, it is any one’s guess whom that might be—or might not be. Against N.C. State, Cassius Stanley and Matthew Hurt were missing in action. Tonight, Cassius played like his namesake Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) and “floated like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. And Hurt, off the bench, responded with one of his most confidently aggressive, best all-around games of the season with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks, and solid defense. At halftime, the Blue Devils led 51-25. Stanley had hit four 3’s and had 16 points. After going 4-for-17 on 3’s in the 88-66 loss to the Wolfpack, Duke was 8 of 15 in the opening half and 10-22 on two-point shots.

Such inconsistency might seem inexplicable until you remember these are young freshmen and that Coach K’s first great recruiting class—Dawkins, Alarie, Bilas, Henderson, etc.–. didn’t figure it all out and start  winning until their junior year. With the one-and-done drop-in athlete-student, the whole maturation process has accelerated to warp speed—some get it, others don’t, see ya– so it is imperative that every game is a learning experience and the time between games is a teachable moment.

Coach K: “It’s not a matter of busting their chops. It’s a matter of being honest with them. So, this is who we are. We are going to go on the court now, we’re not going to do animal drills or crazy-ass things. What they’re going to be are things we need to improve on. We had a really, hard good practice. . . . We talked about attitude and belief. Whenever there’s adversity the single biggest gift that God has given to you is attitude. Only you can control your attitude.”

As former NFL Coach Bill Parcells famously said: “You are what your record says you are” and this team is  23-4, 13-3 in the ACC, in a three-way tie in the loss column with Louisville and Florida State, who play each other Monday night. Last night #3 Kansas beat #1 Baylor, BYU beat #2 Gonzaga, and UNLV beat #4San Diego State. Duke beat Kansas at he beginning of the season and lost to a talented but unranked North Carolina State that lost to #6 Florida State last night. What does that tell you? This year there are no great teams, just a lot of good ones. Any one of the top thirty teams can beat anyone else once,  but winning six games in a row, as Virginia demonstrated last year, takes talent plus luck.

Miscellaneous:

Coach K on his 1000th win as a ranked team: “It’s hard to believe. I think I’ve coached over 1,300 games here, and almost 90% of them have been as a ranked team and to have 1,000 wins as a ranked team is kind of mind-boggling. We have crazy numbers. A few weeks ago we had our 500th win against ACC competition, and for me, because we don’t look back, it’s hard to believe that that’s happened and it’s taken a lot of years and a lot of really good players, but that’s something we’re very proud of, the consistent excellence I guess is what we would call it, hopefully we can continue to pursue that.”

Alan Adds:  

How did Coach K handle the NC State debacle in getting ready for last night’s rout of Virginia Tech?  It is illuminating as to how he produces “consistent excellence”.  It also seemed to me that as he was dispensing his wisdom, he was subtly critiquing ‘Ole Roy’s attitude to this year’s Tarheels (at least I hope so).

The team was angry and Coach K was angry.  But there were no crazy practices, the team wasn’t forced through a workout on the night of the game when returning to Durham, the team wasn’t told they couldn’t wear anything that said Duke, and they were not kicked out of the locker room (all previous Coach K tactics).  The team “took responsibility right away.”  So his response was more intellectual than emotional.

He explained that no game was complete until there was a post-game evaluation (the next day) of individuals and team.  After NC State demolished Duke, Coach K said this team had to not only hear, but also see what they had not done.  We used tape and talk!  “We showed the team on the bench during the game “looking comatose”.  Different assistants discussed differing aspects of the game.  “I wanted them to hear it from more than just me and to see it.”  We were just honest – we showed them what they had to learn.  Then we had a good hard practice (Thursday) working on things to improve on.”

“We couldn’t do that on Friday because it was too close to Saturday’s game. On Friday, we worked on attitude and belief.”  Each person has complete control over his (or her — to make the point these are more than basketball lessons; these are life lessons we can all use) attitude.  That’s a gift of insight.  “We worked on belief – in yourself and in the group.  Finally, we worked on preparation.”  The test for the game is “execution”.  Duke’s defensive game plan and execution were at the highest level.  Duke’s defense against a “5 out” offense was a superb improvement.  Carey and Javin are now competent perimeter defenders so Duke can switch everything.  Last night, the help defense was absolutely breathtaking; every driving Hokie was met with more than one defender.  51-25 at the half is execution at both ends of the court.

Coach K said “we were 1-1 this past week.”  A game like being “knocked out as NC State did to Duke “is an opportunity that makes you better.  We grew as a group this week.”

Coach K acknowledged in this strange season, Duke might get “knocked out again”.  If so, we’ll do the same thing.  I won’t throw my team under the bus, say they are not good, say they are not trying.  [Hear that, ‘Ole Roy?]  We will keep trying to get better for the tournaments.”

The First Half Explosion

While Duke exploded on offense with Cassius leading the way with 16 first half points (4-5 from deep) on 9 shots in 15 minutes.  Carey scored 11 in 15 minutes to go with 7 boards.  He only played 8 minutes in the second half.  Tre led in minutes, playing 17 and scoring 8 (6 in the opening minutes to set the tone for the game).  Mathew Hurt was superb in his 12 minutes, scoring 8 and grabbing 5 boards.  He drove to the basket for 2 lovely layups in traffic and blocked a pair of shots.  It was his defense that I thought was an amazing improvement.  He helped (one of his blocks was of a jump shot being taken by JGold’s man), he got deflections, he dominated the boards.  It was the improvement we all thought possible after his heroics in the Florida State game.

Duke had 10 assists on 18 baskets while committing only 3 fouls (I am not counting the 3 fouls Alex was told to commit at the end of the first half to run the clock on the Hokie’s last possession of the first half).  It was a flawless half of superb hoops.

JRob got a job offer in the press conference.  Coach K extolled his value to the team and hoped he would stay around to coach.  JRob scored 5 and blocked a shot in his 3 minutes.

Next Play: Duke’s last two ACC road games are this week.  Tuesday at Wake Forest (7 pm; ACC Network).  With the Cavaliers of Virginia coming up next Saturday at 6 pm, yes, Bill, Wake Forest is yet another trap game.  Then it will be March with the final two home games: NC State (we hope payback will be a bitch) and senior night against the desperate Tarheels.

First and foremost: Wake Forest on Tuesday.

DUKE 50 – VIRGINIA 52

There are some  inescapable conclusions to be taken from Duke’s three recent losses to unranked teams: Duke’s team is less than the sum of their parts; Virginia is more than the sum of their parts; Tony Bennett sure can coach; a team has to be able to walk (play offense) and chew gum (play defense) at the same time; it is not easy to mold a true college basketball contender with one-and-done players; and finally, I have always thought one of Coach K’s terrific strengths was as a bench coach and his feel for substitutions to change the flow of a game. For all the talk about the depth of this team and a deeper rotation, I think he has struggled to find the right combination at the right time. Perhaps, that is more a case of incomplete skill sets of the 3-10 players. Whatever the case, time is running out in finding the right chemistry. Alan follows with a very insightful analysis if this issue.

You really have to admire Virginia coach Tony Bennett.  He essentially takes the recruiting leftovers and molds them into a unit that plays the equivalent of Ohio State’s former Coach Woody Hayes “three yards and a cloud of dust” basketball—boring but effective difficult to beat. And yet, to their credit, the Blue Devils were ahead (barely) much of the game and in a position (down one point) to win in the last seconds as they got the play it wanted– the ball to Carey down low. He didn’t go strong to the rim, but pump faked, giving the legendary Pack-Line-Defense time to recover, and had the soft finesse shot blocked from behind by Jay Huff, amazingly his tenth assisted by two other Cavaliers. After the Wake loss, someone wrote: “Also a suggestion for Vernon Carey: “Go strong for dunks at the rim and power the ball through the basket or get fouled doing so. Finesse at point blank range doesn’t get the job done against big athletic, centers and forwards” (or the Pack Line Defense). Except for Jones and Carey, every other player was offensively missing  in action as none of them scored more than 6 points.

We, as Duke fans, are spoiled. We are not used to seeing our team lose many close games—certainly not back-to-back. It is interesting to note that the teams beating us are primarily veteran teams, most of whose players are older and physically and mentally more mature  than Duke’s one-and-doners. For instance, despite his physical appearance, Vernon Carey just turned nineteen years old a few days ago Then, there is the Zion exception:

“Zion Williamson’s NBA career is off to a great start. Less than 20 games in, Williamson has already provided fans with a plethora of highlights while displaying the unbelievable athletic ability that led to him being the top pick in the 2019 Draft. He has made some history along the way too. During a stretch of games earlier this month, Williamson became the first rookie since Michael Jordan to record four consecutive games of at least 25 points while shooting at least 57 percent from the field.

The fact that he was the first player to accomplish something since Jordan, a player that he idolized growing up, isn’t lost on Williamson.

“Chico, my name’s next to Michael Jordan?” Williamson said when he first learned of the feat, via ESPN. “I mean, it’s dope. I can’t even lie. One of my favorite players growing up. I said in some interview, my mom told me to study film of him so to be in that category, it means a lot.”

Jordan is already a fan of Williamson, as evidenced by the fact that he signed the explosive rookie to the vaunted Jordan Brand. In fact, Williamson’s five-year agreement with Jordan Brand is the most lucrative rookie shoe deal in NBA history.

“I think his passion for the game is coming through the way that he plays,” Jordan said of Williamson in January. “That’s great for the league… The NBA is very fortunate to have a talented young man who shows a certain passion about the game. That’s something you can’t get. You’re born with it, and you share it with the rest of the world.”

Though Williamson’s four-game streak of 25-plus points on 57 percent from the floor came to an end on Friday night, he set another mark by becoming the first teenager in league history to record 10 straight 20-point games. Williamson’s early success has garnered him a lot of individual attention, and though he is appreciative of it, he is more concerned with the success of his team as a whole.

“I think the world and the media, I think, is more happy for me than myself,” Williamson said. “Honestly, I don’t even think much of it if I’m being honest. I just want to get the win. You know, my stepdad taught me growing up, you know, if the team has success then the individual things will follow. So I guess it’s just one of those things.”

Alan adds:

There was not a single moment from the end of the Wake Forest debacle last Tuesday that I thought Duke would beat UVA in Charlottesville last night.  Not during the first half; nor at any time during the second half including the last couple of minutes where Duke historically makes the winning plays.  It was not (at least not completely) that I thought Duke would again play badly; it was that I thought UVA had morphed into a team that has as good a chance (perhaps the best chance) as any team in the league to make a deep run in  the NCAA Tournament.  The Cavaliers may be the best coached team in the league (and that’s saying something!).  But there were thoughts that Duke could not recover from the Wake Forest disaster (losing a 9 point lead in the last 1:21 of regulation; giving up 113 points – the most ever for a Coack K team).  Hence my Humpty Dumpty/All The King’s Men concern.

In great contrast to the genuinely poor performances against NC State and Wake, Duke played hard, tough and competitively.  Coach K: “I’m proud of our guys; but disappointed we lost.  It was a very good basketball game where each team played well enough to be deserving of winning.”  But, in truth, only Duke’s defense was deserving of winning.   The offense has been regressing instead of “getting better”.  Yes, Duke is second in the nation in scoring, but UVA’s famed “pack line” defense held the Devils in check.  Tre was magnificent and Carey was very good.  But Duke got little from the rest of its supposedly deep team.  Duke seems to me to be regressing because rather than jelling (as should be the norm with talented young players and a Hall of Fame coach) and seems unable to find an identity.   Coach K is struggling to help his team find chemistry and an identity.  The UVA game was a dramatic example that the struggle continues without success … yet.

Coach K put the point (the capitalization is mine): “THE WINGS DIDN’T SCORE; NOR DID OUR 4 MAN!  That’s the level of our inconsistency.  Vernon is a good passer out of the post.  Our guys need to hit shots.”  Last night the supporting players were abysmal on offense.  It cost Duke and prevents building the needed chemistry.

Cassius played 29 minutes scoring only 4 points (1-9 from the field and 2-4 from the line).  Goldwire played 25 minutes, scoring only 2 points (1-3; 0-1 from deep).  Wendell Moore played 20 minutes, scoring only 2 (1-5); Jack White failed to score at all in 14 minutes (0-4).  Mathew Hurt played only 9 minutes and failed to score (0-2; with one horrible 3 point attempt).  Baker was 1-5 for 2 points in only 9 minutes; while Alex was 0-1 in his cameo of 3 minutes.  So those 7 players logged a total of 89 minutes and collectively scored only 10 points.  Duke had only 4 assists (2 by Tre), but turned it over 10 times.  Duke’s carelessness as well as UVA’s defense was responsible.

Javin offered the only real support in his 23 minutes (only 2 fouls), some 9 minutes at the same time as Carey was in the game.  He scored 6 (but only 2 in the second half) and contributed 3 crucial blocks but missed a dramatic dunk for a 5-point swing when UVA hit a second chance 3 off the long rebound.

Carey was heroic but struggled inside against the Pack line that collapsed on him in the post.  He scored early (8 points in 9 minutes on 3-3, including a 3 to go with 1-1 from the line) in the first half, but was again limited in playing time by picking up his second foul with 7:21 left in the first half.  He played the entire second half (19 minutes) fouling out with 3 seconds left in the game.  He had 17 points in 28 minutes (3-8 from the field as the Pack Line closed down on him effectively, though he drew fouls – 3-4 from the line).  Bill thinks he is not going up strong enough, I see it a bit differently.  I credit the Pack Line and the blocks from behind when Carey thought his moves had produced a clear shot.

Tre was simply heroic.  He played all 40 minutes.  He was 3-5 from behind the arc and 2-3 from the foul line with 5 rebounds, 2 assists without a turnover and a steal.  He was, however, only 3-9 from inside the arc.  He was also the heart of Duke’s effective defense.

But the offense was ineffective.  For example, Duke led 18-13 in the first half with 8:37 left in the first half.  Duke did not score again for 5 minutes and 20 seconds.

Duke’s defensive game plan worked superbly.  Coach K wanted to take the ball out of Clark’s hands (he has become a force as point guard – that improvement from early season is one of the chief reasons for UVA’s latest impressive winning streak.  Tre did that.  Duke also wanted to close down UVA’s newly discovered shooting star, Woldetensae.  Duke held him scoreless in his 23 minutes.  But that left Duke vulnerable on the interior and Huff and UVA made the defense pay scoring on layups when Duke switched.  It kept Virginia in the game.

Next Play:  NC State at Cameron on Monday night at 7pm (ESPN).  This is like an NCAA tournament schedule.  Tough game on Saturday (say, Sweet 16) and then another tough game two days later (say, Elite 8).  But you have to win the first game or you don’t get to play two days later.  Coach K says his team needs the experience of being in close games like the UVA struggle to grow.  We’ll see, but there is a Humpty Dumpty-All the King’s Men aspect to Duke’s regression.

DUKE 88 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE 69

 

After another inexplicably inept start where the Blue Devils missed 12 of their first 13 shots and turned the ball over like it was a hot potato, I was going to write: “A Duke team that just ninety days ago beat Kansas, currently the unanimous #1 team in the country, has played these last three games like they don’t deserve an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.” It has been painful to watch such a promising team play so poorly. Last Saturday, I did write something to the effect that one of Coach K’s strengths is that he has been a terrific game day bench coach who has a wonderful, intuitive  feel for the flow of a game and how to maintain and/or change the momentum with a timely timeout or the right substitution, but, for whatever reason, hasn’t been able to find the right combination with this group.

Well, who could have imagined the magic in this move?  Down eight points early and the game looking too much like the blowout in Raleigh ten nights ago, Coach K called all the way to the end of the bench  for Justin Robinson, the often praised but seldom used fifth year blue blood, grad student—and, Holy Jim Boeheim, went to a 2-3 zone. The unlikely pair of J-Rob and G-Wire sparked a comeback that had Duke ahead 38-36 at the half. Robinson had exploded for 8 points, making back-to-back threes and slamming a put-back dunk to inject new life onto the moribund Blue Devils and, perhaps, the season.

Alan texted: “Have never seen a team so undeserving of a halftime lead.”

In the second half, Duke stayed with the zone and the Wolfpack did not adjust well, shooting only 37.5%, scoring just 33 points, and being outrebounded 46-27. The 3-10 players who were missing in action against Virginia (shooting 6-for-34) were on fire the rest of the game, none more than Cassius Stanley who had 18 points and several spectacular dunks that would make Zion Williamson proud.

After the game Justin Robinson said: “Any time I get a chance to play, I want to bring energy. I want to bring leadership and talk. Luckily, I got a couple of shots to fall early, so that helped a lot. We needed a little more energy, especially on defense. And then once our defense picked up, our offense always follows, we get the transition buckets you see, like Cassius [Stanley] throwing down lobs. That always brings our energy up too. I love the Crazies. They’re so fun. They always do give a little extra energy for me – I notice that and I appreciate that. It’s always fun.”

Following back-to-back losses, the Blue Devils’ mini-resurgence came none too soon as they must get tougher, more consistent, and play better both defensively and offensively to fulfill their potential.

Prediction: Johnny Tar Heel says that Coach K is worth 10 points and Cameron is worth 8. Duke by 18 on Saturday.

Alan Adds

Coach K said this game was Duke’s biggest win of the year, and from a psychological perspective he is correct.  Duke’s first half looked like a continuation of the NC State game in Raleigh (not to mention the debacle at Wake that followed the mugging by the Wolfpack).  I thought the first half was Duke’s worst defensive performance of the entire year.  That was one reason why I texted Bill about Duke not deserving its half-time lead (down by 6 with 2:03 to go, Duke scored the last 8 points of the half – Hurt close to the rim; 2 foul shots by Carey, and a steal by Goldwire that led to his great assist on a Moore bucket on the run; followed by 2 Moore free throws).   Duke could not defend State’s ball screens even slightly.  The Wolfpack lived in the Duke paint, shooting 50% with 9 assists (6 turnovers).  On offense, only the heroics of Goldwire (Coach K: “He was sensational; not just very good; sensational) and Justin Robinson, who may have just played his way into the rotation, kept Duke in the game.  Tre played the entire game – a subpar first half (1-8 with an assist and 2 turnovers) before delivering one of his best halves of the season in the closing stanza.  Stanley (2-9 in 13 minutes) and Moore (0-3 in 10 minutes) struggled early before shining in the second half.

Duke started with 2 bigs – Javin and Carey alongside Stanley, Baker and Tre.  That lasted for 2 minutes before Goldwire entered the game and never left it (38 minutes).  Baker and Javin were ineffective in their cameos (each was 0-1).  Javin did, however grab 4 boards in his 5 minutes.  Robinson led Duke’s first half scoring with 8 crucial points (also 2 rebounds) in just 7 minutes.  Think about Robinson being Duke’s leading first half scorer in just 7 minutes. His play saved Duke in the opening stanza.  The bench kept Duke in the game: Goldwire had 7 points (not really bench) and Hurt had 5 in just 9 minutes.  The second half rotation was much more truncated.  Really only 6 players were used. I am not counting Hurt, who played only 3 second half minutes or Javin, just 1.  Neither Baker (after his first half cameo), White nor Alex played at all in this game.  It is worth examining Duke’s stellar return to form in the second half where Tre, JGold and Stanley each played 20 minutes.  Moore played 16 of the 20 (spelled so briefly by Hurt and Javin) while Carey (13 minutes) and Robinson (7 minutes) manned the center position.

Coach K’s zone was the catalyst for Duke’s resurgence.  Coach K said the zone gave 4 major advantages that Duke used to pull away: 1) (and most important) it kept not only State’s brilliant point guard, Johnson, out of the paint after he had torched Duke in the first half with his classy drives, but it kept the entire State team out of the paint; 2) it enabled Duke to control the backboards on both ends (Duke had more offensive rebounds than State had defensive boards); 3) it set up Duke’s fast break.  With Tre and Goldwire on the top of the zone, the outlet pass was there and the two guards were devastating running the break; and 4) it allowed Duke to play 4 perimeter players around Carey or JRob, which fueled the break.  Stanley and Tre had halves to remember.  Cassius scored 13 second half points (5-9; 0-1 from deep; and 4-5 from the stripe).  He also had 2 boards, 2 blocks and an assist without a turnover, and – together with Tre — was the catalyst for Duke moving from a small lead to blowout.  With 12:52 to go in the game, Duke led only by 2.  In the next 8 minutes, Stanley scored 13 points (3 spectacular dunks on great passes; 4-4 from the stripe to go with a layup and a jumper) while grabbing 4 rebounds, handing out an assist and making a block as Duke stretched the lead to 18.  Some 8 minutes!  Tre had 12 second half points (3-6; 1-1 from deep; 5-6 from the line) to go with 3 assists and 2 steals.  Carey scored 10 second half points in his 13 minutes.  Moore had 6 in the closing stanza and Goldwire 4.  Those 5 scored 46 of Duke’s 50 second half points (JRob, 2 and Hurt 2).  It was (or might turn out to be) the half that resurrects Duke’s season.

Coach K had special words for Cassius and JRob. “ Cassius played with a verve”.  Competition for the understatement of 2020 may have ended early.  He praised JRob’s attitude and off the court contributions to the team before talking about his game performance.  He said Robinson has been having good practices for the last month and played like it in the game.  “What a good story of persistence” Robinson is.  He may be supplanting Javin in the rotation.

Next Play:  Senior night at Cameron against the Tarheels – Saturday at 6:00 pm ESPN.  We will try and get out a pre-tournament edition as the ACC tournament begins on Wednesday.  Duke, guaranteed a double bye will not play until Friday (the 13th).  We won’t know the matchups until the weekend is over.

DUKE  89 – NORTH CAROLINA 76 

In horse racing, when one horse leads from start to finish and wins impressively by open lengths, it is often said he “wired” the field. Well, Duke “wired” Carolina  last night but that would be deceiving as they had to collectively play their best game of the year on both ends of the court because it was the equivalent of a heavy weight fight. Duke was never behind but neither could they put the Tar Heels totally away until nearly midway through the second half when Vernon Cary with assists from Tre Jones (What else is new?) played some of his most versatile and effective basketball and Cassius Stanley continued to assert himself as a third closer. Do not be deceived, Carolina is now a healthy, talented but not deep team that had won three in a row.   UNC will be a dangerous opponent in the ACC Tournament.

This was one of Coach K’s very best late season fine tunings of a good but not great team that was on the cusp of winning the ACC Regular Season Championship only to fall apart against mediocre N.C. State and Wake Forest teams. Setting aside for a moment the awkward question of how the winningest, arguably best, coach in the history of college basketball (and his staff) has for five years not recognized what a versatile game changer they had at the end of the bench in five-and-done Justin Robinson– let’s just call it another stroke of genius. But I digress.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski assessment: “Really a key was J-Rob. He has been a Godsend for us. His fingerprints are on every aspect of the game.”  Consider this: Three weeks ago the player who may potentially be the missing piece of the puzzle to make this a more consistent, formidable team, Robinson had 72 career points in almost four red shirt seasons. In the last three weeks he’s scored 34 points and has 17 blocks in just 102 minutes. Coming into this game against the Tar Heels, Justin Robinson, or J-Rob as he is affectionately known, had played just 227 mostly mop up minutes in his five years with the Blue Devils. But the graduate student saved his best for last in Cameron, driving the Crazies to new levels of appreciative insanity and his teammates to their best efforts with 13 points, 4 blocks, and stellar interior defense. The basketball gods certainly rewarded J-Rob for his years of patient, hard work as 2 of his 4 successful threes where way off target but somehow miraculously bounced through the basket. However, they had no hand in his gritty ability to play interior defense next to Vernon Carey and Javin DeLaurier, which makes this a much more formidable team.

In many ways, it appeared Coach K took a couple of pages from Dean Smith’s playbook by starting seniors Javin DeLaurier, Jack White and Justin Robinson in their last  game on the iconic Cameron Court. Though this combination isn’t what we are accustomed to seeing to start a game, the three seniors played with a fire that only someone playing their last home game could, giving the normal starters something with which they were unfamiliar– a lead. Robinson hit two 3-pointers, while DeLaurier caught and finished a lob to help Duke establish an early margin. Then, giving Carolina some of its own medicine, Coach K had Carey and the other big men primed to race their counterparts baseline to baseline producing 15 easy, discouraging points to none for Carolina. Holy Fast Break, Batman, had the players changed uniforms? Krzyzewski said it wasn’t an accident. “That’s been the biggest point of emphasis in our practices, to beat them down the floor on both offense and defense. We really worked a lot on that.”

Duke also played-man-to man the entire way. Tre and his teammates harassed Cole Anthony, their most lethal and important offensive weapon, into trying to play one-on-five, only scoring 9 points. But the real back breaker was the fast-break points flip flop: “I thought the biggest key in the first half was their fast-break points,” Roy Williams said. “It was 15 to 0. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a team outscored 15 to zero in fast-break points. When we pushed it, they did a great job of getting back.” This simply never happens. It is the Tar Heels who specialize in run-outs, drowning opponents in easy fast-break baskets.

Duke led by as many as 10 points in the first half before taking a 42-34 lead into intermission. However, UNC would not fold and outplayed Duke early in the second half as the Blue Devils scored on just one of their first eight possessions. But then, Duke, with an assist from the Cameron Crazies, closed out the game with flawless execution (No turnovers and hitting 10 of 11 free throws)—a very satisfying and impressive close to the regular season.

The stats tell the story. Duke hit 29 of 33 free throws and 10 of 21 three pointers, 6 of which were in the second half. That turned a 1-point game into a 13-point game with 3:43 left. Had Duke shot the same percentage on these attempts as last year’s team, there would have been a 16 point turn around and perhaps a different outcome. While the depth of talent offers many options, it appears we are back to a mostly seven man rotation with Robinson taking minutes from Hurt, DeLaurier, White, Baker, and O’Connor.

The Bottom Line: Coaching and chemistry make a difference. Matthew Hurt is talented but is not yet physically strong enough to hold his own—as Justin wasn’t initially– against more mature strong forwards. He is a teenage boy playing against mature twenty year old plus men—as many of Florida State and Louisville players are. Player development takes time. The emergence of the more mature and versatile Robinson was years in the making.  And the mental maturation of Cassius Stanley and Wendell Moore, almost a season in the making, to go with the steady Jordan Goldwire, three years in the making, are all pieces of a puzzle that may be a season in the making.

Boys & Men (perhaps, there is a lesson here.) Although they are not comparable, consider the emergence of Justin Robinson with the sensational, record breaking LSU QB Joseph Lee Burrow. He is also a five-and-done, 23 year old, who did not initially find success at Ohio State before transferring to LSU as a 21 year old. Then, consider how many Duke one and dones—other than Zion– have fared in the NBA as opposed to Grant Hill, Shane Battier, Elton Brand, who stayed three or four years. Here’s a flash: In the NBA, there are only real men who can run and jump and shoot and  play defense that get playing time. Otherwise, it is the G (Gee, I almost made it in the NBA) Development League

Perhaps, patience is an underappreciated virtue.

Alan Adds:

The Duke stars in this game were (in no particular order): Coach K, Justin Robinson, Tre Jones, Cassius Stanley, and Vernon Carey Jr.

Coach K

Coach K: Bill’s friend Johnny Tar Heel says Coach K is worth 10 points a game as bench coach.  Last night his genius exceeded that value.  His game plan was flawless and worked to perfection.  First, he stole a page from UNC by his fast break and long passes, even after made baskets.  Second, on defense he wanted to: a) slow or stop Carolina’s best offensive player, Cole Anthony; b) stop the vaunted Carolina fast break (and secondary break); and c) hold even on the boards after being so badly outrebounded last month in Chapel Hill. In the first half, Duke outscored Carolina 15-0 on fast break points.  ‘Ole Roy said ruefully in his press conference, “I don’t think that ever happened to a Carolina team before.”  Carey ran the floor like a greyhound and Tre found him with full length of the court passes that emulated a fourth quarter Tom Brady.  Duke completely shut down Carolina’s potent fast break (UNC had only 5 fast break points for the entire game).  Coach K said they worked hard on transition defense in practice, but “we played even better than we practiced”.  Duke got back in lanes, picking up the Carolina player in that lane rather than guarding the Tarheel designated in the man to man.  It was sublime defense.  Duke held even on the backboards (38-37 for Carolina), even though the Blue Devils gave up 18 second chance points.  As Ole Roy (at his rueful best) praised the Duke interior defense.  “In the second half we got it inside better, but they contested everything underneath and we couldn’t finish inside.”

Justin Robinson

What a story!  Coach K said it’s an amazing story, like the movie, “Rudy”.  In 25 minutes (15 in the second half), J-Rob scored 13 (4-6 from deep) to go with 6 boards, 4 blocks and 3 assists.  He was, as Coach K said, “a godsend.  He impacted every aspect of the game.  He not only blocked 4 shots, but he altered a bunch.” (think ‘Ole Roy’s “they contested everything, and we couldn’t finish inside”.)  “He made us better.”  Will J-Rob be the catalyst that allows this team to reach a higher plateau?  He was the second big for almost all of the second half.  Javin played only 11 minutes (4 fouls), just 4 minutes in the second half without scoring.  Jack White failed to score in 6 first half minutes (did not play in the second half); Matt Hurt failed to score in 9 minutes (only 3 in the second half).  Hurt looked absolutely lost trying to defend the Carolina bigs and rebound.  If Robinson can maintain this level of play going into the tournaments, Duke becomes more of a true contender.

Cassius Stanley

Stanley had an efficient 19 points in 36 minutes (6-10; 3-5 from deep; 4-4 from the line) to go with 6 boards.  It was in the second half that Stanley soared, playing every minute, and scoring 11 (3-4 from deep; 2-2 from the line) to go with 3 key rebounds and an assist without committing a turnover or a foul.  He and J-Rob hit back to back 3s that broke the game open.  He is a superb athlete that can and did defend.  He was instrumental in Duke’s second half defense, which was adequate, though UNC did score 42 in the closing stanza.

Tre Jones

Tre was simply magnificent in his 39 minutes (I don’t remember him coming out for a minute in the first half) scoring 21 points and handing out 11 (yes, 11) assists against 2 turnovers.  His long outlet passes shredded the Carolina defense.  His 10-10 from the line, including 6-6 down the stretch kept Duke safely in front.  Tre’s 7 second half assists were crucial.  He added a block; committed only 2 fouls.   But even more important than his offense was his defense.  Tre is a better defender than his brother was (or is in the NBA), and was part of the way Anthony was kept totally in check and completely frustrated.  Stopping the other team’s best player has long been a Coach K value.  Tre (Goldwire and the helping team defense) accomplished that task against Anthony, who was only 4-14; 0-2 from deep and 1-2 from the line for 9 points even though he played almost the entire game — 39 minutes.  The Carolina point guard managed only 3 assists and turned it over twice.  Shutting such a great player down like that was one of the keys to Duke’s win.

Vernon Carey, Jr.

After an under achieving (for him, anyway) first half  (playing only 13 minutes, grabbing only 3 boards while shooting 2-4 from the field and 3-4 from the line), he took over the game when he came back in with 11:08 left in the game, Duke leading 54-53, and Brooks on the line shooting to tie the game.  When Brooks missed, Carey immediately grabbed 3 boards, made 2 layups in just over a minute.  59-54.  After a Tar Heel 3, he scored again underneath and followed that with an old fashioned 3 point play to give the Devils a 69-63 lead with 7:18 to go.  He scored on another dunk with 5:46 to go, stretching the Duke lead to 7 and setting the scene for J-Rob and Cassius to close the door on Carolina.  J-Rob blocked a Brooks layup and then hit a 3 with a beautiful assist from Tre.  When Anthony missed a contested (by Tre) 3, Cassius got the rebound and sunk a 3 with an assist from J-Rob.  Duke up 13 with only 3:27 to go.  The game was over then.

Carey scored 18 in the second half (6-10 from the field and 6-7 from the line) while defending the back board with 7 second half rebounds.  He also had a steal.  What an amazing performance!

Overview

Duke was aggressive and won the game from the free throw line (29-33) and from behind the arc (10-21).  Duke’s defense did the job as per the Coach K game plan.  A bit troubling was the lack of production from the rest of the team.  In the second half, Carey, Cassius and Tre accounted for 38 of Duke’s 47 points.  Add J-Rob’s 6 and those 4 scored 44 of the 47.  Goldwire’s 3-4 from the line completed the second half scoring.

Neither Alex nor Joey Baker saw the floor.  White, and Hurt were scoreless in essentially cameo appearances.  Moore had 4 points, but none in the second half.  Javin had 4 first half points (0 in the second half).  Goldwire was scoreless from the floor 0-3 but was 3-4 from the line at crunch time for 3 points in 24 minutes.  However, his defensive contributions were immense.

Next Play:  Duke will be the #4 seed in the ACC tournament and will play on Thursday (March 12) at 2:30 p.m. against either Pittsburg, Wake Forest or NC State. Pitt and Wake play on Tuesday, with the winner to face NC State on Wednesday.  If Duke wins that Thursday quarterfinal, The Devils would play at 7 pm on Friday the 13th against the winner of the bracket that includes top seeded Florida State.  The Championship game is on Saturday (March 14) at 8:30 p.m.  Let’s hope that Duke is in that game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duke Basketball Playbook: 2018-19

Introduction: Bill Miller and Alan Silber, Duke graduates of 1960, have been producing and distributing the Duke Basketball Playbook since the 2009-10 Championship Season. For years prior to that, it was just casual email exchanges about each game between two friends, who love Duke and the game of basketball.  Over time, friends received copies and forwarded it to their friends.   When Torrey Glass (’74) started distributing the blog to the Hilton Head Duke Alumni Club, the readership expanded exponentially to a following of  hundreds alumni, fraternity brothers, friends, and friends of friends who were Duke fans as well as some basketball fans who just liked the analysis. As the readership expanded, the writing became less casual. There were drafts, edits, and re-writes. The project became a passion, which nourished both craft and friendship.  Bill writes the opening section; Alan writes further commentary under the heading “Alan Adds”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

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

 Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 118 – Kentucky 84 

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

THE ROTATION

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

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

RJ AND ZION

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

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

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

Army on Sunday at noon is the Next Play.

DUKE 94 – ARMY 72

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

DUKE 84 – E. MICHIGAN 46

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments: 

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

Alan Adds:

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

The Defense

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

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

The Offense

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

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

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

The Rotation

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

The Maui Invitational

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

Duke 90 – San Diego State 64

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

Auburn tonight at 8 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gonzaga 89 – Duke 87 

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

Great Duke Performances

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

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

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

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

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

What Duke can learn from

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 90 – Indiana 69

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

Alan adds:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 113- Stetson 49 

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

Duke 84- Hartford 54 

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

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

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

Coach K had some interesting post game comments:

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 91 – Yale 58 

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke  101- Princeton 50 

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments: 

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

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

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

The Season starts now.

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

Duke 69 -Texas Tech 58 

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 87 – Clemson 68 

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Observations:

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Adds:

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

Offense

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

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

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

Defense

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

ACC games and Road Games

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

Duke 87 – Wake Forest 68 

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

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

Duke 80 – Florida State 78 

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments: 

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


Alan Adds
: 

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

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

The Second Half:

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

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

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

Is this season being fun, or what?

Duke 91 – Syracuse 95 (OT) 

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Comments:

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

Alan Adds: 

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

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

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

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

Duke 72 – Virginia 70 

This was a rare non-sequitur college basketball game that has only occurred four times in the history of the NCAA regular season: #1 vs. #1. Duke was ranked #1 in the AP Poll and Sagarin ratings but Virginia was ranked #1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and NET rankings. Polls, shmoles, this was a Big Time Game between the two best teams in t