Duke Basketball Playbook 2020-2021


Season 12 Issue 2 -Preseason edition

ALANALYSIS:

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

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

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

Getting to Know Our 2020-2021 Blue Devils 

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

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

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

The Five-Star recruits are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Four-Star Recruits are:

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

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

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

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

 Graduate Transfer:

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

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

This Season’s Prospects?

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS:

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

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

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


Critically Bad (Really Ugly)

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

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

The Rotation 

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

Some Bad, But Not Ugly 

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

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

Next Play: Michigan State

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


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

ALANALYSIS:

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

The Ugly

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

The Bad (but will get better)

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

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

Next Play:

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

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

MILLER MUSES:

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

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

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

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

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

This might be a long year.

Other Comments:

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

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

ALANALYSIS:

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

Jalen Johnson

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

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

The Rotation

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

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

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

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

MILLER’S MUSINGS:

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line: Stay tuned. This may be fun!

Other Comments:

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

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

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

ALANALYSIS

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

The Conundrums

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

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

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

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

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

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

December 11, 2020 Cancelled games announcement

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Coach K continues to demonstrate true leadership.


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

“The Moment”: 

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

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

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

The Rotation   

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

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

The Front Court

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

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

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

The Perimeter

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

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

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

10th man: 

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

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

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

BILL’S COMMENTS:

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

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

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

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

EDITORIAL STAFF NOTE:

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


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

December 28, 2020

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

Let’s hope 2021 will be different.

January 2, 2021

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS:

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

Context

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

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

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

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

The Rotation

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

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

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

Winning Time

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

BILL’S CLIFFSNOTES

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

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

Mathew Hurt … was the biggest story last night. 

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

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

The Backcourt

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

The Rotation

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

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

Winning Time

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES 

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

This Game Was No Fun For Duke Fans

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

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

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

The Scoring

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

The Last 13 minutes

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

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES 

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

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

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

The First-Half Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Winning Time”

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

Headlines:

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

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

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

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

Duke’s Defensive Malaise Is Compounded by the Fouling Propensity

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

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

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

The Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion So Far

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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


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

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

Headline:

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

Duke’s Defense 

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

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

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

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

The Offense

Scoring

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

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

Leadership and Running the Offense

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

Future Potential

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

The Rotation

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

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

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

The Continuing Tantalizing Emergence of Mark Williams

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

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

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

Goldwire’s Floor Generalship Continued

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

The Offense and The Rotation

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

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

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

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

How Bad Was it?

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

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

The Rotation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

Game on!  Season On!

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

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

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

The Second Half was Different in Many Ways

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

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

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

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

The Rotation Was Dramatically Different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

Defense

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

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

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

         Guarding the Perimeter

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

         Guarding the Pick and Roll

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

         Fouling

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

         Options

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

What Is The Jalen Johnson Story?

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

Failure When The Game Is On the Line

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

The Rotation

         The Good

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

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

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

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

         The Bad

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

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

         The Ugly

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is The Jalen Johnson Story?

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

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

The Rotation

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

The Big Picture

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

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

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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

“My advice: Get your jokes off now.

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

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

“And I’m all-in on Duke.

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

The Dramatic Transformation into Defensive Efficiency

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

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

         The Perimeter

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

          The Interior

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

          Fouling

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

          Rebounding, Steals, and Blocked Shots

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

Offensive Efficiency

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

Duke Without Jalen

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

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

          Jalen and a (the) Team

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

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

The Big Picture

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

Jalen Who?

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

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

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

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DE-FENCE!

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

         The Perimeter

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

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

          The Interior

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

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

The Offense

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

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

The Big Picture

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER COMMENTS: 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rotation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Picture

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

FIRST 3 PLACES:

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

CONTENDERS FOR THE 4TH SEED

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

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

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

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

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

Other Comments:

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

Matt Hurt’s Game Deserves Special Mention

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

Disappointing Regression – Against a Really Good Team (Louisville)

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

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

The Perimeter

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

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

The Interior

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

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

That One Play at the End of Regulation

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

The Overtime

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

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

 The Big Picture

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

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

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

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

The First Half

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

The Second Half

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

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

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

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

Overtime

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

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

 The Big Picture

          For This Year

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

          For Next Year – Mark Williams’s Simply Great Game

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

Next Play.

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

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

Coach K Took the Blame to Protect His Team

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

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

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

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

The First Half

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

The Second Half

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

 The ACC Tournament Starts Tuesday

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

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

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

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

GAME 2:  Duke 70 Louisville 56

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Half

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

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

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

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

Game 1: Duke 86 Boston College 51

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

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ALANALYSIS: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Backcourt

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

 The Frontcourt

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

The First Year of Alanalysis

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

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

BILL’S CLIFFS NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next year will be interesting.

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