I thought this team would be good, but let’s be honest with each other, I had no idea they’d be this good. What’s surprising me isn’t the winning. Hell, Duke at 13-1 happens so often, it’s tradition. It’s how easily they’re winning these games.
The Devils have now won their last six by 20+ (and have done that 10 times total this season). It’s one thing to do it against Long Beach State, but they’ve done it against a ranked Clemson team and a good Iowa State team in back-to-back teams.
SO WHAT DID I SEE TONIGHT?
I saw who the leader is. It’s Jon Scheyer. The man appears slower than dirt, but somehow he gets the job done. Tonight, 31 points, four assists just for fun (a decent 2/1 assist-to-turnover ratio). I hate to use this word because quite frankly, I think the “experts” use it too much when talking about white players, but he just seems smarter than everyone else on that court.
Just watch him play…it’s pretty amazing. He’s dribbling the ball at a snails pace, looking like he could trip on his own feet at any second, but the next thing you know, he’s putting in an easy lay up, while the defender stands there looking confused.
I saw another great five-minute offense. Over the last 25 years, the Devils have always been a great late-game offense; the ability with the lead, with five minutes left, to be able to hold, hold, hold before getting into their offense. However, over the last four or five years, they lost it a bit. Duke struggled to hold leads late in games.
However, this season they’ve been fantastic. How many times have we’ve seen a Duke guard hold the ball and with ten seconds on the clock, make his move and then someone makes a basket with less than three clicks on the clock?
Nolan Smith typically has been the ball handler late in these situations, simply because he is the only Duke player capable of going 1-on-1 and creating his own shot. However, the Devils did a great job tonight spreading the floor out and getting to their spots once Nolan made his move. When it’s working, it is damn pretty.
I saw a five-man offense. finally! I talked about it after the Clemson game, if the Devils turn into a three-man offense (Singler, Scheyer, Smith), they would not have a legit title shot. While these three can certainly be the stars, the others had to take some shots. Tonight, that happened.
Lance Thomas, a unsung hero on the defensive end, opened up with two deep shots. This was huge. The Cyclones clearly had decided that they would leave Duke’s big’s alone outside, but once Thomas hit his pair (and Mason Plumlee hit his three), the defenders had to creep up, opening up some lane room.
Overall, the other players took 22 shots. Yes, they only made seven of them, but that’s not the point. They have to force the other teams to defend other players. We can not become a three-man offensive team.
I saw Duke again shut down a great player. Last week, Duke’s rotation of big men (but mostly Lance Thomas), hold Trevor Booker, one of the best poward forwards in the ACC, to 10 points on 4-11 shooting. Tonight, they held Craig Brackins, a projected first-round pick in last year’s NBA draft, to 12 points on 4-10 shooting.
Overall, the defense was excellent. They forced 18 turnovers and dominated on the boards. One stat that won’t show up was Duke’s ability to recover from a Iowa State block. In the first half, ISU blocked eight of Duke’s shot, but it seemed like every time they blocked the shot, Duke recovered it and put it back up and into the basket. I can’t think of anything more frustrating for a big man. For the record though, in the second half, no Duke shots were blocked.
I saw the Duke big men get called for too many fouls. Watching it on TV, you can almost never tell if a foul is really a foul, especially down low, but tonight, Duke’s big boys got called for an awful lot of fouls. Miles Plumlee picked up two quick ones, as did Zoubek, while Mason and Lance each finished with four.
This is crucial. Duke’s front line will need to improve this when they enter the heart of ACC play. Take Carolina for example. Their front line players are masters of staying out of foul trouble. Deon Thompson has never received a fourth foul this season and as a team, none of their big men have fouled out of a single game yet.
I saw Kyle Singler continue to struggle. It’s not that a 5-14 shooting night is that bad and it’s not like he’s having a awful year (43% from the floor), but tonight, Singler certainly missed some easy/open shots and let’s just be honest, he should have been 9-14 tonight, not 5-14.
Even though we’re now 15 games into the season, we have not yet seen the best of Kyle Singler. Of course you might think it’s getting late into the season, but don’t forget, Jon Scheyer struggled like this for the first half of last season, but came alive in the second half (even before he was switched to the point).
I saw Mason Plumlee finally get some solid playing time. Thanks to his brother’s early foul trouble, Mason played 19 minutes tonight and lots of them in the first half. Now if you look at his stat sheet, you might not be too impressed. He took nine shots, but made only two of them. However, if you saw the game, you’d walk away happy. Let me explain.
If you’re okay with Mason taking three’s (which I am), then every shot he took was a good shot. He took a couple three’s, he attempted a couple put backs, he slammed (or tried to slam) some home and most importantly, he posted up down low, made some moves and put up a couple decent shots. Yes again, he missed seven of those nine, but don’t get hung up on that.
Jay Bilas said it best. Mason is Duke’s most gifted basketball player. He just doesn’t have the experience. He lost so much valuable playing time because of that broken wrist. Tonight, he played well tonight. All he needs to do is learn to finish those shots. That comes with playing time. Speaking of playing time…
I saw Duke turn into a seven-man team. It’s no surprise that Ryan Kelly is getting no more minutes (although I’m not happy about it), but someone who is a lot smarter than me will need to explain to me why Andre Dawkins only played garbage time? On Sunday against Clemson, he only saw five minutes on the court (and some of that was garbage time).
What am I missing? The last time I checked, he was still hitting 47% of his shots, including over 45% of his three pointers. He is also a 87% shooter from the free throw line? Why is Coach K not playing our only backup guard?
I consider myself a know-it-all Duke fan, but I have no answer for this and it makes ZERO sense. What happens if either Scheyer or Smith go down? This kid needs to be able to step in and play solid minutes.
Again, I’m frustrated. Dawkins is without any doubt, the best three-point shooter on the team. If he’s on the floor he opens things up for others. If he’s on the floor, his defender can’t leave him alone along that three-point line.
I don’t know what the problem is, but in reality, I don’t care. I don’t care if he struggles on the defensive end a bit. I don’t care if he starts missing a lot of shots. I don’t care if he turns the ball over….right now, in January, I can accept all of that. For Duke to have any success deep into March, Dawkins (like Mason Plumlee) needs to get better and better as the season goes along and he’s not going to improve sitting on the pine.
In all seriousness, I don’t think Dawkins left high school to sit on Duke’s bench, do you?
Of course, some of you might think I’m nuts. Hell, Duke just won by 21 on the “road” against a good Iowa State team. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited, but if there has been one issue I’ve had with this coaching staff over the years, it’s been how they’ve used some of our freshman.
Coach K has consistently showed confidence in some youngsters early on, but come conference time, he tightens up that rotation and the playing time goes bye-bye. It’s a big reason why Duke has had so many transfers over the last six seasons.
Hell, last year Elliot Williams had the opposite occur. He got almost no playing time, but Coach K had to finally get him into the lineup. Now he’s in Memphis leading the Tigers in scoring with nearly 20ppg. Granted, Williams’ departure had nothing to do with his playing time and had everything to do with his mom’s health, but where was this kid’s scoring touch last season? If he had actually play some more minutes early on and during the early stages of ACC play, he might have produced more than 4ppg and could have been a serviceable fourth option come tournament time.
I’m going to say this clearly…if Duke is a seven-man team, it has ZERO shot at the title.