Sorry for the delay in writing after Duke beat North Carolina on Sunday. A stomach flu has been ripping through me and my family, so blogging has been put on the back burner. Hopefully, as I get healthy, I’ll get back to this. Anyhow…
As you already know, the Duke Blue Devils crushed North Carolina, 75-58. The win handed the Blue Devils yet another ACC tournament crown. Of course, if you are like me, you went looking for a some in-debt analysis after the fact, but found none because everyone was focused on the tournament and brackets. So I’ll offer up my thoughts.
SO WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are the stars of this team, but everyone has already said it a million times, Duke needs a legit third option. Well, how about five legit options?
Against North Carolina, the two seniors only shot 11-32. The rest of the team shot an astonishing 18-26 from the floor. Wow.
The best thing about this tournament as a whole was how well everyone else has played. Let’s break everyone down.
Slowly but surely his ability to create inside on his own has improved. Strangely, Duke always seems to establish this early, but then sort of goes away from it as the game progresses. In the ACC tournament, Mason shot 10-14 from the floor. Hell, if you go back to the February 2 (against Maryland), he is shooting 67-percent from the floor (46-69). That’s stunningly good.
If Mason needs to step up anything, it’s his rebounding. Maybe because his brother is stealing some of his boards, but Mason has only grabbed nine total rebounds in his last two games. No big deal considering how great he’s been over the past two months, but if you remember that timeout coach called three minutes into the second, I’ll be willing to beat it was Mason who took the beating because Duke was getting killed on the boards to start the second half. Mason’s job in order is simple: Rebound, Defense and then scoring.
I think the smartest thing Coach K has done this past week was inserting Miles back into the starting lineup. For whatever reason, this move has seemed to help out both he and Ryan Kelly (more on that in a moment).
The name everyone is throwing around in regard to Miles is Brian Zoubek. The similarity is, two underperforming big men, get inserted into the lineup and suddenly play great. The obvious difference is that Zoubek was thrown into the lineup in Mid-February. This change was made extremely late. Again, you’ll have to hand it to Coach K. Not a lot of coaches would have had the nuggets to make a lineup change likes this, this late in the season.
Miles actually started producing last Sunday in Chapel Hill. He didn’t start, but it certainly was his “breakout” game. Over his last four, he’s hit 14-24 from the floor. The majority of his points have come from put backs and a nice mid-range jumper. Teams aren’t respecting his shot, so he’s finding himself open from 8-10 feet.
However, Miles is doing most of his damage on the glass, especially the offensive kind. Over his last four, he’s grabbed 31 rebounds, 17 of which were offensive rebounds. He’s also taken some pressure off his brother, since he’s more capable of guarding the opponents best big man when Mason goes to the bench, something that Kelly couldn’t really do.
Let’s face it, no player is shooting better than Ryan Kelly. After an awful shooting performance in Chapel Hill, one in which he missed wide open three after wide open three, Kelly has stepped inside the three-line and develop his mid-range game. He’s hit 12-18 from the floor since being benched and he’s only take four threes total (hitting a pair). The fact is, he’s a decent three-point shooter, but he’s not a great. When he decides not to shoot up a ton of threes, he’s just more effective. In fact, Kelly is hitting roughly 66-percent from two-point range. That’s for the year (65-101). That’s great. He shoots only 33-percent from three.
Don’t get me wrong, he needs to be shooting threes. The key to him sitting in that corner is that he draws the opponent’s big man out, opening the driving lane for Nolan Smith. I just think 2-3 attempts per game is fine.
Clearly Seth has become the legit third scoring option. Since Irving went down, Curry has averaged about 10.3 points per game. Since the BC game on the 27th of January, he’s hit a solid 49-percent of his threes. What I like best about Curry is how he’s stepped up big time in the biggest games…all three North Carolina games.
Against the Tar Heels, he’s averaged nearly 18 per game, hitting 18-31 shots. Those are great numbers.
The reality is, prior to the start of the season, I was curious to see how Curry would handle the tournament atmosphere. It’s one thing to shoot good at home in a friendly environment, it’s a whole different thing to produce in a one-and-done tournament. For a while I was actually worried about this, because Curry’s numbers dipped on the road. However, over the last month and a half, he’s begun to shoot better outside of Cameron and he had no problem putting the ball in the basket in Greensboro.
If Curry could do one thing better, I’d like to see him do more of what he did at the end of the Maryland. Think back, when Smith went out, Curry became the point guard…Seth did an amazing job handling the ball, driving to the lane, scoring, getting foul. It was unlike anything we’ve seen this year.
Yet, with Nolan back in the lineup the past two games, I can’t recall a single time Curry drove the ball into the lane. Why not do both? Sure he’s in there for his long-range shot, but just imagine if he did a ball-fake, leaving his man in the air, dove to the lane, forcing the opponents big to help and then dish to Miles or Mason for an easy jam. Possible, just not happening.
No one questions Dawkins’ ability to shoot from three. He can. He should. He’s Duke’s best long-range shooter. When the Blue Devils start off ice cold, it is usually Dawkins who comes in and provides a scoring lift. Yet, towards the end of the season, Dawkins’ minutes disappeared. What happened?
Three things happened. Curry got better. Nothing Dawkins can do about that. What’s he doing better than Dawkins? That’s number two…Moving (without the ball). Curry has done a lot better job moving around on the offense, finding ways to get open. Dawkins had a tendency to stand around. Lastly, Dawkins had become a liability on defense. The fact is, go back and watch a game in February. Just watch Dawkins and you would see a guy who found himself trailing on a play. He seemed to be asleep on the defensive end.
However, in the ACC tournament, Dawkins seems to have stepped up his defensive game. While he certainly could do a better job of using his feet on defense (he still gets tied up), you can’t question his aggressiveness. He’s certainly made it a mission of his to earn his time back on the floor. If he can do this, then Duke doesn’t really have a need for Thornton.
SINGLER D’s IT UP
Sure Harrison Barnes finished with 16 points, but he needed 15 shots to do that and I’ll take those stats any day of the week. Kyle did a fantastic job at staying with Barnes and getting a hand in his face. Note, the past two games, Carolina fell behind early against both Miami and Clemson, but the only person who could make a basket and keep the game within reach was Barnes.
Against Duke, Barnes could do nothing early. He missed his first five shots, all five were fade away shots. The only shot he made was that solid dunk over Kyle at the seven-minute mark.
NEVER IN DOUBT
I think what surprised me the most was the fact that North Carolina was never in this thing. They fell behind early, just like every game, but they never really had a chance to win this game. The closes they got was nine points at the six-minute mark. But Duke ended all hope when they hit back-to-back threes, going on a 12-2 run. Game over.
SLEEPING GIANT AWAKES
One thing you always hear in the NBA is how great teams sleepwalk through the regular season then wake up after the all-star break to begin their run to the title. Of course in college ball, there is no all-star break, but I’ve just got the feeling that this Duke team has just been pacing themselves this last month or so. Think about it, does winning the ACC regular season really mean much to a team that’s trying to repeat a title?
Coach K said it best when he said that this team really improved this week. He was right. As I’ve already pointed out above, it’s the role players who have really made a giant leap forward. I think this team’s REAL season is about it begin.