Here's a little something I wrote the day after Duke's heart breaking loss.
This year’s Duke Blue Devils: What comes to your basketball oriented minds when you hear the preceding phrase? The words talent, youth, and Coach K may all be synonymous reactions to such an inquiry. But now- ask yourself if this squad should be ranked in the top 5… if your answer at this juncture in the season is “yes” I would assume one of three things: you either attend the University, write for the AP poll, have not watched the recent contest against Virginia Tech, or are a combination of the latter two. Question number two: do you believe Duke should be in the top 25 at all? If your answer is “no”, I ask you to rethink this. I would venture to say that this year’s Duke Program is the greatest enigma in college basketball today. Casual fans seem to be of two persuasions: either one feels that Duke deserves its ranking or one believes that Duke is the most overrated team in all the land. My objective in this article is to convince you of the middle ground. Duke’s Basketball Program, despite its deceiving non-conference schedule, is still a serious contender. Without further adieu, I will break out the Steckerbrett on my Enigma and begin deciphering.
Before one can fully understand the current state of Duke Basketball, one must take into account the personnel Duke lost from a year ago. JJ Redick and Shelden Williams were arguably the best inside-outside combination in all of college basketball. JJ’s unbelievable three point shooting ability coupled with Williams’s knack for the boards gave Duke probably the best one-two punch in college basketball. When those two graduated, they left a huge void. Then, factor in the loss of the team’s top perimeter defender in Dockery and you have a huge hole to fill. This year’s Duke team is a talented group who will only get better as the season progresses.
Duke’s squad is a team of contrasts. On one hand, Duke statistically has the least productive offense in all of the ACC. On the other, Duke is holding its opponents to conference leading scoring numbers. Clearly, these figures are a product of inexperience. But, these numbers are deceiving. In no way is Duke’s squad the least dynamic offense in the ACC. Moreover, Duke’s defense has some glaring holes which need to be mended before the tournament. The stats are not entirely reflective of Duke’s actual performances on both ends of the floor.
Duke’s young core is only beginning to mature offensively. When the aforementioned duo of Redick and Williams graduated, Duke lost the focal points of the frontcourt and backcourt. Disregarding the difficult situation Roy Williams faced when his top seven scorers left, Coach K’s project this year is arguably the most difficult ACC rebuilding project in recent memory.
Specifically, Duke’s team is beginning to develop chemistry. They have the top three point shooting percentage in the ACC- this shows that they can survive without JJ at the helm. Young teams such as this one are constantly in search of go-to-guys and role players in the frontcourt and backcourt. The good news is that Duke seems to have such solid role players who are capable scorers- David McClure, Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Gerald Henderson seem to come to mind first. Although McClure and Henderson have bright futures ahead, they do not possess the same experience that countless Duke role players have had in the past. I cannot picture McClure hitting a clutch three at a critical juncture in the game as Lee Melchionni did so many times a year ago- in fact he missed an open attempt late yesterday that could have given Duke the win or at the very least provided momentum for his club. The same can be said for
The real problem with the Duke offense rests in the hands of the go-to guys. Some have questioned, “Who are Duke’s go-to-guys?” Two players have separated themselves from the rest- Josh McRoberts and DeMarcus Nelson. Nelson hit a clutch three towards the end of regulation to send last night’s Virginia Tech game to overtime. Duke looked for McRoberts down the stretch as well. But, poor decisions by both guys contributed to the Virginia Tech loss. Another key player is Greg Paulus, who needs to distribute the ball as a leader on this club. Thus far, he is doing his best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impression.
On the defensive end of the floor, there are some areas that this Duke team excels in and others that could use a great deal of improvement. Duke’s perimeter defense is stifling. These young players clog the passing lanes and play characteristic Coach K man-to-man defense. They work very hard on the defensive end and display a great deal of intensity; Coach K obviously cultivates this mentality in his practices. The glaring weakness that I have noted on several occasions is the lackadaisical defense against slashers. If this Duke squad can develop better help defense, they can be one of the most dangerous teams in the country. After watching both the
I’ll start with an analysis up until the half. Duke was leading 39-38. Omni Smith, who came into this game averaging just over 11 points per contest, was on fire from behind the three point line. Haminn Quaintance served as a point forward- dishing to his teammates virtually at will. For Duke, Scheyer was on fire from behind the three point arc. He had 15 points in the first half alone. McRoberts did not really demonstrate his leadership ability. He forced some passes and lacked confidence scoring the ball. On the defensive end, he battled and blocked three shots. But, his help defense left
The second half was more of the same. This time, Omni Smith seemed to be creating off the dribble and off of screens because Quaintance was sitting on the bench. His acrobatic moves single handedly kept
The Virginia Tech game developed in a similar way. Paulus started the game with 4 turnovers in 6 minutes of play. He was promptly benched after that display. He passed behind cutting players and threw floating passes which were easily picked off. McRoberts also turned the ball over several times, just as he had in the
In the second half, Gordan virtually took over. His penetration of the Duke defense left guys like Dowdell and
Why exactly did Duke lose this game and nearly fall to