Thursday night, Duke crushed Georgia Tech at home. Nothing new, nothing unexpected. Duke wins at home. Saturday though, Duke took their show on the road and won their first tough game of the year. Think about it. At Cameron, Duke is cruising, winning by an average of 28ppg and 18ppg against ACC competition.
On neutral sites, Duke has rolled beating Arizona State, Connecticut and Iowa State by over 13ppg.
On the road though, Duke has been crushed twice, while losing two tight ones to Wisconsin and Georgia Tech. That’s right, after 22 games Duke had been involved in only two tight games. Both on the road. Both loses.
NOTE: I forget to mention the Clemson game (at Clemson). We won that won, but that also was an easy one, as Duke pulled away early in the second half.
Against B.C., Duke finally pulled out a tight one, something important if they’re going to advance anywhere in the tournament.
They did it with timely rebounding, late free throws and stellar defense on the final play.
SO WHAT DID I SEE?
Everyone touching the ball. Oddly, I felt like other Devils besides the big three were heavily involved, but when you look at the box score, you realize Singler, Scheyer and Smith still hit 19 of the team’s 23 shots, including all five three pointers. In reality, Duke’s new motion offense isn’t necessarily about getting everyone more shots, it’s about letting everyone touch the ball during an offensive possession.
Mason in/Miles Out. For the second time in a row, Mason Plumlee saw over 18 minutes on the floor (20 against BC), while Miles has failed to play more than 10 minutes. Against the Eagles, Miles only played seven minutes of basketball (the same as Ryan Kelly).
While I don’t want to see Miles disappear from the rotation, Mason’s increase time is a good development. As we’ve discussed before, this Duke team with Mason and Andre Dawkins playing few minutes, has a ceiling and it’s not in the final four. It’s Sweet 16 at best. I’ve been preaching for a while that it was more important to develop these two through playing time, because if (and I know that’s a big ‘if’) they can improve and play to their potential, Duke’s ceiling is raised.
Of course Dawkins still isn’t playing (logging less than a minute Saturday night), but Mason has averaged 19 over the last two. Now he’s done some good things, he’s also struggled. He still doesn’t look comfortable in the motion offense and he’s still not finishing strong. Yet, he actually played more comfortably in the BC game. This is exactly what playing time does. The kid gets comfortable, eventually he’ll discover his abilities and most importantly his limitations and he’ll be a productive piece of the puzzle.
Note: Before you panic about Mason not fitting into the motion offense, keep in mind, starting next year with Irving on campus, the motion is gone as Duke should return to the dribble-drive offense it dearly misses.
Having said that, nothing is more frustrating than Coach K’s rotation. Remember back in the day when you knew who the starting five was, you knew who was coming off the bench and you knew how much playing time everyone would get? That’s the old Duke. Starting just a few years ago, Coach got into the habit of starting a lot of players early, but tightening the bench later in the season. At least then you still could predict the playing time. Now I have no clue.
While the big three’s minutes never change (36-40 minutes per game), you just never know with the big boys. Miles doesn’t see more than 10 minutes in three out of his last six, yet still starts. Lance Thomas played 30+ in five straight until he ran into foul trouble against BC. Zoubek against the Eagles played 24 minutes. It was only his second 20+ minute game of the year.
Of course, if you believe the big men are all interchangeable, then it doesn’t really matter, does it? Still, I’d be happy with a solid 18-20 from each, with Kelly getting about 5-8 per game. Like we’ve already pointed out, yes it’s about winning now, but college basketball is always about developing.
Got to hit those free throws. After the Georgia Tech win, I was a little worried about the free throw percentage. 66.7% is fine for most teams, but for Duke, it was not. Of course what do they do? They look like brick layers against BC for a long while. The Devils started off 5-14 from the line. A huge reason why BC was allowed to hang around. Yet, when it mattered, Duke hit 10-12 to keep their slim lead.
While free throws may not matter to Coach Calipari, they matter to me. Free throws decide games. The Eagles did a great job doubling up Jon Scheyer at the end, not allowing him to receive an inbound pass. This forced Duke to get free throws from players like Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins (was it me or was it strange to have Coach K put in a player with a minute to go in a tight game? I know Dawkins is a good free throw shooter, but he hadn’t played in over a week.)
Still, take away Jon’s 6-6 free throw shooting on the day and the rest of the team was just 9-20.
That’s 2-0 in February. While beating Boston College isn’t really anything special, we’re still counting the next 11 games as must wins. In fact, if Duke doesn’t go 11-1 (starting with last week’s game against Ga Tech), then we’ll consider the last month and a half a disappointment. All of Duke’s games are winnable games. They can’t allow themselves to fall asleep against weaker opponents on the road. They can’t let Maryland think they have a shot to win this thing. They can’t let Carolina off the ropes.