The Duke Blue Devils beat the Florida State Seminoles Wednesday night. The sun came up the following morning. Neither was surprising. Welcome to Duke basketball.
What’s my point? Who knows, I often don’t have one, so says my wife. What I’m trying to say is, Duke beat Florida State, a team they’ve beaten a lot. They won at home, where they beat everyone not named North Carolina. They won in January, something Duke excels at. So what can you say about a victory that was completely expected?
You would think I’d have a ton of great things to talk about, with tons of excellent points, but let’s face the facts, we’re Duke fans, we’re spoiled and in the regular season, especially in January, it hurts more to lose, than it feels good to win. That doesn’t mean I don’t have nothing to talk about.
SO WHAT DID I SEE?
Duke’s three-headed monster came roaring back tonight. Actually, they’ve been back in full force since the loss to Georgia Tech. Nolan, Jon and Kyle each played 38 minutes tonight. They took 42 of the teams 58 shots. They made 18 of the teams 25 baskets, scoring 53 of the teams 70 points. They hit all but one of Duke’s eight three-point shots. They grabbed over half the team’s rebounds (15 of 29) and dished out 12 of the 16 assists.
Jon Scheyer found his stroke, at least for a night. After struggling the past two weeks (17-52 from the field), Scheyer was 7-12, hitting four of six from three. Yet, he actually struggled tonight when he found himself in the paint (granted, lots of guards find trouble inside the paint against the Noles).
However, the man who once led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, again struggled to not turn the ball over. He had five assists to four turnovers and even those stats are misleading.
Three of Jon’s assists were hand offs during a fast break, while three of his turnovers were the result of a dumb decision (often getting stuck in the air in the lane). While you might want to remind me that he still is No 1 in assist-turnover ratio in the ACC, I’m telling you, it’s becoming an issue. In his first three ACC games, Scheyer had 16 assists to only six turnovers. In his last four, he’s had 16 assists and 12 turnovers.
In fact, as a team in the ACC, the Devils have more turnovers (12.9 per game) than assists (11.9 per game).
The problem I have is, when Jon’s playing great, he finds ways to get players involved. When Jon’s stats are down and he struggles to handle the point, everyone not named Kyle or Nolan struggles to get into the flow of the offense.
Maybe there is a reason Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins aren’t playing. Despite seeing Dawkins hit his first three in what seems like forever (six games), we saw a glimpse of why Coach K hasn’t been playing them as much.
In the second half, Duke was rolling, up 16 (51-35) with just under 14 to play. In comes Mason and Andre. This is where the Devils needed to put the Seminoles away, but instead, we saw some bad basketball, particularly by the freshman.
During the next three minutes, Mason would twice get the ball in his hands and the second he got the ball, I knew he wouldn’t be giving it up. First, he tried to drive from the three-point line, only to take a bad running shot. The second time, a couple minutes later, he threw up a three.
Meanwhile Dawkins passed up a three, only to get caught in the air inside the three-line, thus getting his shot blocked from the side. The next possession, with State on a 5-0 run, Kyle came down, made one pass to Dawkins and up went a three, miss.
Now don’t get me wrong. I want these guys playing, i want them taking shots and they weren’t the only ones missing shots during the Seminoles 12-0 run, but Duke’s offense is all about making that extra pass. It’s abut movement and patience. These guys touched the ball four times during this three-minute stretch and each time the possession ended there.What’s the deal?
While Mason has shown some flashes of his ability, he still seems to be behind at times. Great big men almost know what they’re going to do with the ball (shoot, pass, dribble) two steps before they even receive the rock. When Plumlee gets the ball, it’s almost like he just then, for the first time, thinking about what to do next. There’s almost a pause, while he works it out in his mind.
We can’t forget, he missed time and he’s still catching up. He’s being asked to learn how to play college ball in the heart of the ACC. That’s not easy. When he’s played great, it’s always been when he hasn’t had to think, whether it’s sitting under the rim to receive a pass, running along with a fast break or rebounding. I’m going to talk more about this late in the week. Let’s move on to…
Andre Dawkins. Coach K has said that he hasn’t played Andre simply because he hasn’t practiced well. Fair enough. I don’t attend practice, so I have to trust the Coach. What I can tell you is what I see during the little time he has been on the floor and what I see too often is a young man who likes to stand around too much.
Obviously his job is to hit the three. The problem is, teams know this. He needs to move more, start to work the screens inside. At the very least, make his defender work some. That’s it. He’s a shooter and shooters just need to keep shooting, but he can certainly do more to get that open look. Now let’s move on.
Tonight was the first time I’ve seen Duke get beat up on the boards. In reality, I’m not too stressed about it. The Seminoles have one of the best, if not the best, front courts in the ACC. Not too many teams can out-rebound them. What Duke can do (and did) was throw a wave of big men at them, giving away fouls…something you can do against the Noles, who are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the conference. Tonight, they shot only 6-14, including three front ends of one-and-one’s.
Nolan Smith had his worst game in a while. He hit only 4-15 and he never looked comfortable. Props need to go to Michael Snaer, the Seminoles freshman who came off the bench and shadowed Smith for most of the night. Snaer is a bit taller than Nolan, 6-5 and athletic, and Nolan struggled to get past him and find those sweet spots in the lane.
Turnovers were huge. Duke only gave it up 10 times, while the Noles struggled to hold on to it, turning it over 22 times. You’re not going to win too many games (especially on the road) turning the ball over 22 times, no matter how good you are.
I also feel like the Seminoles made a huge mistake, by not going with what was working. The most effective play for Florida State was having Darwin Kitchen sprinting into the lane, drawing a double team away from Alabi, dishing it to Alabi, who would score easily. They pulled this off a couple of times early, but then got away from it later.
In fact, Alabi was 4-4 from the floor in the first 11 minutes, but then didn’t make another shot until 15 minutes later, making only two more baskets in the final 29 minutes.
Duke always seems to win the final eight minutes. This is so key and you can chalk it up to experience. No matter how bad they’ve played earlier, no matter what kind of run the opponent makes, Duke just seems to play great basketball at the end. This hasn’t always been the case this season. Remember early this year, Duke beat Connecticut despite scoring like one basket in the final nine minutes.
Tonight, Duke led by six with eight to play. They finished the game on a 19-6 run. Here is the offensive possession breakdown in the final eight minutes:
Duke had 14 possessions. They produced points in 9 of those 14 trips. They took shots in 7 of them, getting fouled and attempting free throws five times (eight total free throw attempts), turning it over twice. Yet, both times they turned it over, they got a steal on defense.
Of the five trips they were fouled. Three times, they made both free throws. Two other times, they missed the front end of a one-and-one (6-8 overall).
Of the seven times they took shots, they made a basket in six of the seven trips. They officially shot 6-10, but in their four misses, they got the offensive rebounded and scored three times.
I sort of see basketball’s final eight minutes like football sees the red zone. It’s about percentages. Duke had 14 trips down the floor, meaning they had the potential of scoring 28 points (a three-pointer is just a bonus). They scored 19, giving them 68% efficiency.
That’s how you keep leads. That’s how you win ball games.