WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
The Duke Blue Devils beat up the St. Louis Billikens, 84-47. Duke improves to 10-0 on the season with their 20th straight win (dating back to last year). This was Duke’s second of four cupcakes to wrap up the year. Last Wednesday they beat 158th ranked Bradley. The Billlikens are 101st. Next up is #255 Elon and #320 UNC Greensboro (all rankings according to Ken Pom).
THE GAME WAS OVER WHEN…
…Duke put St. Louis out of their misery with an 18-4 run starting at the 15-minute mark in the second half. It’s becoming the patient Duke run in the second half.
The Blue Devils led by 20 or so for most of the game, but even bad teams can make up 20-point deficits. In fact, St. Louis started the second half on a 11-5 run, bringing Duke’s lead down to 17. Then Duke went on their run and the lead was up to 30. Good night.
WHO DESERVES MAD PROPS…Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. The Duke seniors picked it up today, scoring 43 of Duke’s 84 points. They hit a solid 16-28 from the floor.
For Singler, it was nice to finally see him take advantage of his size advantage against smaller defenders. He spent most of his time working the ball inside. He only took four threes for the game.
Of course with Kyrie Irving out (maybe for the season), Nolan Smith is the most important player on this team. Against Bradley he struggled to find his shot, while running the point (10 assists). Today he came out more aggressive, looking for his shot. He did most of his damage driving strongly to the basket. In fact, he only took one three-point shot. For the game, he also grabbed five rebounds and dished out six assists.
As good as this team is as a whole, it’s hard to imagine a non-Irving Duke team can be successful if Nolan has a bad night. The offense runs through him now.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT:
Seth Curry had a nice game. He scored 12, taking half of Duke’s threes today. He also ran some point, dishing out six assists, turning it over only twice. Obviously Curry is still trying to figure out his role on this team. If you’re looking for one positive from Irving’s injury (assuming he does come back), it’s going to allow Curry more minutes. The more experience he gets, the more valuable he becomes later in the season.
If he needs to work on one thing, it’s what he does with the ball inside the paint. Today he tried some dribble drive and he clearly showed he can get by his defender, but a handful of times, he drove and kind of got stuck.
For example…in the first half he curled around a perfect screen. The ball was delivered to him perfectly at about eight feet. The paint was wide open for a open jumper or even a lay up at the rim. Instead Curry stopped on a dime, got stuck and eventually traveled.
Overall not too worry. Once he starts to hit that outside shot with some consistency, the inside stuff will soon follow.
LOSERS NEED LOVE TO:
Mike McCall performed a rare feet. He was a guard who scored against Duke. He was 6-9 from the field, scoring 15. He had a lot of success, especially in the second half driving to the lane. However, he did turn it over seven times, a game high.
GOD I LOVE STATS: After scoring a career high 28 against Bradley, Andre Dawkins scored only two points and didn’t take a single three-point shot.
THREE FROM THE TOP OF THE KEY:
Maybe because the opponent wasn’t the strongest, but Coach K clearly was in a experimental mood. 10 different players saw at least 10 minutes of action today and not just junk minutes either.
The most notable change was Mason’s 11 minutes of action. I don’t have the facts, but my gut says this decision was based on some shoddy play by Mason. In fact, I don’t recall seeing him back on the floor after he attempted that stupid driving hook shot starting at the three-point line.
The beauty of this game was it allowed us to see some serious minutes from Curry, Thornton and Hairston. Josh Hairston in particular impressed me. He showed no fear in taking mid-range jumpers and he hit them time and time again. In fact, he hit 4-5 shots and got to the line six times. He finished with 12 points, third most on the team.
I think overall the good sign is anyone, literally anyone, can step up and play some ball on any given night. One night Dawkins can drain 28, but the next game he’ll only score two, yet it won’t faze this squad. There are plenty of points from a number of different sources this year.
PRODUCING IN THE PAINT
After taking 69 threes the past two games, Duke made a concentrated effort to get it done on the inside. The guards, particularly Nolan Smith, had a ton of success of trying to get to the lane.
They also tried to deliver the ball down low and let the big men create with their backs to the basket. The results…were mixed.
Overall, both Plumlee’s and Ryan Kelly did a better job with the rock down low. Their ball handling skills looked good, their foot work is much improved…the problem is, they’re still not finishing well.
For the game, those three were 6-16. I didn’t keep count, but I would say only two of those shots were shots created with their backs to the basket. The only four came off of rebounds or a great pass from one of the guards. Big men are up close, thus their shooting percentage needs to hover around fifty percent.
On top of that, they will need to avoid becoming predictable. Every time one of the big men (and this includes Hairston) received a ball down low, they shot it. Not once did they pass it out.
Now against St. Louis I have no problem with this. The Billikens never really bothered to double-team Duke’s big men…instead sticking with the guards. If the defenders are going to dare you to go one-on-one, then there is no reason to pass.
However, moving forward, especially when ACC play begins, I’ll be curious to see if these guys become predictable.
For the record, Duke’s four big men have only 19 assists for the season (less than two per game) to forty turnovers. Compare that to (let’s say) North Carolina’s trio of big men (Zeller, Henson and Knox), they have 19 assists, but 48 turnovers.
THE D IS FOR DOMINANT
Last Wednesday I complained about the defense, in particular, the effort. I felt like Duke was just a bit slow, a tad bid disinterested. Today, no such problem. They were aggressive, attacking the ball, making things uncomfortable for a young Billikens squad. St. Louis turned it over 22 times (10 of those were Duke steals). Duke blocked six shots and overall only allowed 19 shots to fall in, most of which was in the second half when the game was already decided.
In the first half, St. Louis had only six points in the game’s first 14 minutes. Of course Duke’s best effort is around the three line. They allowed just one three-point shot today.
FINAL DEEP THOUGHTS:
Overall, a better effort today against St. Louis. Clearly this team and this coaching staff is still experimenting. Ten players were given solid minutes and they performed well.
Like I said up top, Nolan Smith is now the most important player on this team. The offense will run through him. Tonight, he re-discovered his scoring touch, while still being able to deliver the rock to his teammates. This is the balance that will matter, because Duke needs both a point guard who knows how to get others the ball and they need Nolan Smith to be one of top scorers as well.
They also attempted to push the ball more, but you can clearly see that no one on this squad can do what Kyrie Irving can do after the opponent misses a shot.
I also think Coach K was sending a message to Mason (and everyone). Bad decisions and bad shots will not be tolerated. Mason is important to this team. If he is not successful, this team will not be successful. He has all the skills, he just needs to play smart.
Most importantly though, we are still about a week away from learning Irving’s fate.
[Photo via AP Photo/Lynn Hey]