What I Saw: Duke vs. Connecticut


What if I told you that Duke would should 29% from the floor and still beat Connecticut?

What if I told you that Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith would combine for 7-33 and Duke would still beat Connecticut?

What if I told you that Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and Miles Plumlee would all foul out, but Duke would still beat Connecticut?

What if I told you Duke would hit only one basket and make two free throws in the final 12:25 of the game, but still beat Connecticut?

You’d probably say, this guy is full of sh*t and I wouldn’t blame you. Yet, here are the Blue Devils with another NIT Preseason Tip-Off Championship. In fact, the game was pretty damn easy until about the 12 minute mark in the second half when the Devils became allergic to putting the ball in the basket.

Duke should get major props. It was a great game plan, it was well executed, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. In reality though, this game probably tells us more about the Huskies weaknesses than it does about Duke’s strength at this point. The Huskies had no outside shooting, relying solely on the dribble drive. It worked at first, as they hit 9-14 at the beginning of the game. It worked because the drivers, Dyson and Walker, mixed up their drives with both shots and solid passes to the big men, often for an easy layup or a dunk. However, the pair got selfish with the ball. For the game, the pair took 32 of their teams 61 shots, making under 33% of them (10 total).

So what did I see?

I saw that UConn had zero outside game. They went 0-4 from behind the three line. In fact, down by 18 with 12 minutes to go, I don’t believe the Huskies actually attempt a three-point shot. You can’t comeback if you’re afraid to launch from downtown.

I saw that Connecticut couldn’t hit a free throw. The Huskies got to the free line more, but made less free throws. They hit only 15-28 (including a couple front ends of one-and-one’s). Dyson in particular, a point guard with a knack of getting close to the basket, hit only 3-9 for the game. That’s unacceptable for a big man, let alone a guard. Duke meanwhile, shot 20-25 from the line.

I saw our big’s really control the paint. You can win when you shoot under 30% when you rebound. Duke grabbed 18 offensive rebounds and scored 15 second-chance points. Our three big men, Plumlee, Zoubek and Thomas grabbed 27 total rebounds (we ask for just 24 per game). Lance had a solid double-double 11/11 for the game.

Still though, they’re still having issues creating shots and it’s going to become a problem. Zoubek and Thomas, in particular, are good at grabbing rebounds and put backs. They’re good at just getting in the right spots of the floor, but both have not been able to take advantage of the one-on-one coverage.

Zoubek continues, after all these years, to bring the ball down, turning him into a six-footer. This is so frustrating to watch. Just shoot the damn ball. After four years, Brian hasn’t learned a simple two-step jump hook?

Lance Thomas is more athletic than Zoubek, but he continues to hesitate when he gets the ball. That hesitation allows the defense to get into proper position. It’s time for both Lance and Brian to just stop thinking and play.

Let’s move on.

I saw John Scheyer continue to play within himself. He struggled from the field (6-18), but he led Duke in scoring (19), while grabbing four boards, dishing out five assists, swiping three steals, turning the ball over only one time. Despite not playing a traditional point guard role, he’s dished out at least four assists in each game, turning it over only three times all season long (note: ESPN kept announcing that he had four turnovers on the season, but according to ESPN.com & CNNSI.com, it’s three…so we’ll roll with that). This means for the season, Scheyer has an astonishing 10.3/1 assist-to-turnover rate.

I saw that Kyle Singler’s shot is MIA. For the NIT, he hit a forgettable 7-28. In fact, if you include the Radford game, he’s shooting 11-41 (27% from the floor). It’s a slump and it’s nothing to worry about, especially when others step up and especially when he plays defense. Speaking of D, did yo notice…

How to guard a shooter: Ignore the ball in hand. Stick your hand directly in shooter's face, in between shooter's arms.
How to guard a shooter: Ignore the ball in hand. Stick your hand directly in shooter's face, in between shooter's arms. /

Kyle Singler is playing defense a lot like Shane Battier. One of the most basic defensive mistakes players make is when they are defending a shooter, they don’t know how to “put a hand in the face.” Players often reach up for the ball, knowing there is absolutely zero chance of blocking the ball, yet still giving the shooter a clean-ish look at the basket. What the good defenders do is, don’t bother with the bullsh*t “block” attempt. A good defender gets his hands right in the face of a defenders face, right in between the shooters arms.

Just watch Shane Battier defend Kobe Bryant.

Friday night, every time a Connecticut player tried to take a jumper in front of Singler, he got his hand in their face and they missed. I counted six times this happened. You play defense like this, you can afford to miss 10 shots.

I saw that Duke’s offense disappeared in the final 12 minutes. For the record, Duke hit one basket and two free throws in the final 720 seconds against Connecticut. Obviously at the 7-8 minute mark, Duke slowed it down, typically not getting into the flow of their offense until the 18-second mark. Yet again, Duke stopped dropping the ball inside, allowing the Huskies the guard just three players. We cannot abandon the inside game.

Anyhow, after wards, the discussion of the day turned to Duke’s “athleticism” or lack of athleticism. According to The Big Lead, ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb felt after the ASU game that Duke was “alarmingly unathletic.”

Of course Coach K wasn’t too pleased after the UConn game and had this to say:

"He should be an expert on alarmingly non-athletic. So I’ll have to take a look at that a little bit closer because it comes from an expert who actually knows what it feels like to be alarmingly non-athletic.Actually, we’re pretty athletic; we’re just not as athletic as UConn. Singler is a really good athlete. Lance, Miles. Jon is not leaping tall buildings with a single bound but he’s a real good athlete. But I wouldn’t call us like this athletic team, but we’re not amazingly non-athletic. And I would rather not get into a discussion with Doug because I have respect of his stature and he should have his arguments with people of similar stature. That would be a good thing."

I’d have to agree with TBL, Coach K is being a little sensitive about this, but that’s how he is. Read this article by Will Blythe from three years ago and you’ll understand why. He’s a man that takes every slight, whether real or imagine, personally and uses it as motivation. You know who the king of that was? Michael Jordan. Just go back and watch his Hall of Fame speech. However, that was one of the ways Jordan made himself a great player. It was how he motivated himself on the court. He did it, lots of people do it and Coach K has done it for years.

In reality though, Doug Gottlieb is right. Duke is not an athletic team and it has nothing to do with certain players whiteness.  Let’s face the facts. Sure, compared to me, Duke is very athletic. Compared to the average person on this planet, Duke players are athletic. However, when you think in basketball terms, athleticism simply means, the ability to create one’s own shot. Outside of Nolan Smith, Duke doesn’t have that right now. Andre Dawkins could become that guy, but for now he’s a jump shooter.

For Duke guards to get penetration, they must rely on the screens from the big guys. For Duke’s big guys to get open shots, they rely on being in the right position, while others deliver the ball to them. Coach K knows this. You don’t think for one second he’d rather be back in the old dribble-drive offense of Jason Williams and Chris Duhon? If we had John Wall, that’s exactly what we’d be doing. If anything, Krzyzewski should be given major props for not trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. He’s always shown the ability to switch his offense to fit the players he has.

This team is not athletic. Thi is fact. However, they are smart and they are tough. That’s not a white player or a black player thing, that’s experience, something Duke has a lot of this season.

In reality, John Scheyer and his abilities are the face of the team. I believe Dick Vitale said it best, “he knows his limitations and plays within himself.” He could barely drive pass a light pole, but somehow he finds himself alone in the paint. He’s never going to win a slam dunk contest, but he knows how to get in the air, hang there and get fouled. He still has less muscles than my wife, but he still pulls down 3-4 rebounds per game.

The irony is, starting next season, Duke will be one of the more athletic teams in the ACC, if not the nation. Kyrie Irving will be one of the top three quickest point guards, while Tyler Thornton will make it a solid 1-2 combo, meaning Duke will have a speedy PG on the court at all times. Seth Curry (transfer from Curry) is a scoring machine, much like his brother. Joshua Hairston is…well…let ESPN tell you.

"He has always been highly rated but he dominated at times during the event. Josh is a high post 4-man that can shoot with range to 19 feet. He is also effective off the dribble and can create his own shot versus other post players. He rebounded and blocked shots all day long and was a presence in the paint. Hairston is a solid athlete and runs the court well."