Threesome Tames the Tiger

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The Devils ripped through the Clemson Tigers Sunday night…unfortunately because Wake Forest went into double overtime, I missed the first 18 minutes. By the time MSG switched over, Duke was up 24-10.

After a another easy win over another ranked team (Connecticut, Gonzaga and Clemson), Duke is getting some props, but with a lot of reservations. Anyone who’s watched the Devils over the years can understand the reservations.

It’s a simple fact..Duke has been a great team during November/December/January. They’ve been less than impressive in late February, March and deep into the NCAA tournament. Much like Tony Romo/Dallas Cowboys (who have not won a playoff game since 1996), no one is going to believe “it” until they see “it.” If the Devils want the respect, they’ll have to return to the Final Four.

So what did I see in the Clemson game (at least in the 22+ minutes I watched)?

I saw that the three-headed monster is back and may be here to stay. You guys can decide if this is a good thing or bad thing. I’m on record as a bad thing. Against Clemson, Singler, Scheyer and Smith (we really need a nickname for these three, any suggestions?) combined for 36 of Duke’s 48 shots (and 19 of their 24 made baskets). Obviously tonight it worked, but let’s not forget, we scored about 14 points below are season average. No other player took more than four shots and only three other players scored at all.

I keep hitting on this point simply because I can guarantee you, Duke can NOT win a national championship this season playing three-on-five basketball on the offensive end. They can win the ACC, they can win the ACC tournament and they might get deep into the tournament, but they will lose. A three-on-five Duke team would lose to Kansas, they would lose to Michigan State, they would lose to Kentucky and they would lose to Texas. This is a fact.

I saw Coach K tighten up the rotation more than I expected. I predicted this weekend that Ryan Kelly’s minutes were about to be cut and I was more right than I had hoped. He played 58 seconds (the final 58 seconds in the game). However, more importantly, Singler, Scheyer and Smith each played 38 minutes (Singler played a full 40).My question is…why?

The game was a blowout. Clemson was only a threat for a few minutes in the second half, but for some reason Dawkins only saw five minutes on the court, while Mason Plumlee played 11 minutes. Yes, they’re freshman and they’re going to make mistakes (take bad shots, commit dumb fouls, miss defensive assignments), but if Duke is going to go deep and have a shot at winning the title this year, the Devils need these two to grow up and become players. Not next year, but this year. The only way they can truly grow up is…can you guess it…playing time!

I’m sorry, but I’m willing to have some mistakes now, even if it costs us a game or two in January, if the end results can be these two guys can be good players come tournament time.

I saw an ugly 12 minutes. Technically I only saw the half of it because of the Wake game, but from 8:54 in the first half to 17:05 in the second, Kyle Singler was the only person to hit a shot during that 11:59 stretch. He made three shots (seven points) all in the first half. Only Nolan Smith scored something, hitting three free throws.

I saw Jon Scheyer turn the ball over. In fact, he turned it over three times. Still he dished out six assists, producing a decent 2:1 assist-to-turnover rate. In reality though, no shame in three turnovers against the Clemson full court press. Overall, because so many guys can handle the ball well, the Devils did a great job handling the press. If you want to beat Clemson, you have to beat the press.

I saw this team is all about the D. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly this team is doing. They’re not stealing the ball a lot and they’re not blocking a ton of shots. They won the battle of the boards against Clemson, but only by four. They just seem to make things tough for people.

The Devils shut down a good shooting Clemson team and held first-team All ACC forward, Trevor Booker, to 4-11 shooting. He typically hits over 50% for the game. However, he’s also likes to get physical, but Duke’s big’s played him straight up and only allowed him to go to the free throw line three times.

Speaking of D, I saw again that teams just can’t hit the three against Duke’s D. Opponents are hitting only 31% of their three-point shots (64-206) and against the three ranked teams Duke has beaten, the three-D has gotten tougher. Connecticut, Gonzaga and Clemson managed to hit only 4-30 (13%). Only two teams (Wisconsin and Long Beach State) have managed to hit 40% or more of their three’s

Again, I missed the first 18 minutes, so I don’t have too much to offer regarding this game. Overall, we have to be psyched about the first win in the ACC. With the win, Duke moved into the top-5 nationally, as the top 1-loss team in the land.

No matter what though, Duke should remain under-the-radar for the season. First, because of what we’ve already discussed (come talk to me in March), but secondly, this Duke team really lacks flash. There is no John Wall, Sherron Collins or Wes Johnson on this roster. This Devils roster will not be making a lot of weekly highlights. They’re going to win with nit and grit.

In the end though, it’s probably a good thing this team does remain under the radar.