Beat Virginia: Check. Bring on the Terps

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What happens when you a cross a seven-game winning streak with a six-game losing streak? If you saw the Duke/Virginia game, you know the answer.

Duke rolled out early to a 20-4 lead and never looked back, crushing the struggling Cavaliers by 18. Fact is, it should/could/would have been much worse, but Coach K sat his starters with about five minutes left to play. Virginia was able to go on a 13-5 run against Duke’s bench, to make the score look a bit less lopsided.

In reality, Virginia had no shot with star guard, Sylven Landesberg, sitting on the bench with a deep-thigh bruise. The Cavs weren’t going to win with his 17.4ppg (5th in the ACC) stuck on the pine.

SO WHAT DID I SEE?

THREE MINUS ONE = VICTORY
Tonight the Big Three (Singler, Schyer and Smith) were reduced to the Big Two, as Nolan Smith had his worst game of the year (and course he did it three days after I wrote that he was the most consistent player on the team). Tonight he finished 1-8 from the floor, scoring a season low five points.

Of course it was bound to happen. Everyone has a off night, even Nolan Smith. At the very least, if you’re going to have a bad game, do it against a team riding a six-game slide.

The good news is, it didn’t matter at all. That’s the beauty of having a “Big Three.” One can have an off shooting night, but the others can pick up the slack. Singler and Scheyer both had solid nights. They combined to score 41 on only 24 shots (Vasquez scored 41 against Tech Saturday night, but he needed 33 shots to get it done).

SCHEYER PLAYS LIKE A SENIOR
Thursday night, I wrote about Jon Scheyer’s recent slump. While we expected most “experts” to declare it tired legs, I knew that wasn’t the case. The simple fact was, Scheyer was taking bad shots. The stats don’t lie, folks. If he had tired legs, he wouldn’t be shooting an impressive 44% from downtown (better knows as three-point land). The fact was, he was shooting an awful 19% from two-point range because he was taking a ton of bad shots like.

He needed to stop getting trapped among the trees and hit some open mid-range jumpers or a runner or two. Obviously he reads this blog (he doesn’t) because he listened.

Tonight, I decided to watch every shot he took. He took 14 total, seven were three pointers, seven were two pointers. Of the seven two-point shots, all but one were drives to the basket. The one that wasn’t was a long range shot he took right in front of the three-point line (which in my books is the worst shot you can take in basketball, but let’s move on).

Of the six “drive” shots, I counted two bad shots and four good shots. Of the two bad shots (one was a wacky lay up he threw up in trouble, the other was a jump shot, but he did it on the run with the defender right in his face), he made the former and missed the latter. I can deal with that.

Of the four good shots though (meaning he pulled up in the open spot in the paint), he hit three of four.

That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about taking “smart shots.”

PAGING MR. ZOUBEK
After having a stunning two-week run, Brian Zoubek disappeared tonight, picking up some fouls and never finding a groove tonight. He finished with four boards, no offensive and he took zero shots. The fact was, Coach Bennett’s game plan was to shut down Zoubek and Duke’s offensive board production. You can say it worked. Duke only grabbed two offensive boards. That’s one way to look at it. You can also say it left a lot of open paint because Duke’s guards were able to find some open looks at the mid-range spots. You can make your own decisions, this isn’t Russia.

Of course, I’ve always argued, it’s easy for Duke to be a good offensive rebounding team, simply because they’re really not a good shooting team, i.e. plenty of offensive rebound opportunities.

LOVIN’ THE TREY
Did you notice how much the Duke team celebrates when Andre Dawkins hits a three? Obviously he’s playing through a tough situation right now because of the death of his sister, so you have to believe his teammates are really pulling for him. Of course they also know how important he is. If he plays, he’s going to get open looks and if he can hit ’em, it can only make this team better. It also makes my wife happy because then I’ll stop yelling at cats. Everyone wins.

ONE PLUMEE, TWO PLUMLEE
Overall, not a bad game by the brothers. It’s clear they’re coming off the bench for the remainder of the season and that’s a good thing. I really (am I saying “really” a lot tonight?) believe once a player knows his role and knows his minutes, it’s easier for them to just go out and play their game.

Tonight the dynamic duo scored nine and grabbed nine boards. For Miles, both of his scoring opportunities (one made basket, the other time he was fouled), came from high-low passes from his brother. His other two shots were both misses.

The problem the brothers continue to have, as well as freshman Dawkins (and Kelly for that matter) is on the defensive end. They just don’t have to know-how like Zoubek and Thomas to play smart, effective defense.

The one particular thing I saw tonight with Mason and Miles was their work on the high-screens. When the opponent’s big man goes up top to set a screen for the point guard, Duke’s big men are suppose to ride with the ball handler, force him out away from the basket and allowing the guard/defender to get back in front of the ball handler. The trick is knowing when to release from the ball and jump back onto your big man, who should be sliding back down towards the basket.

Both Plumlee’s struggled tonight getting back. Again, it’s not an athletic problem, they’re both more athletic than Zoubek and he’s figured it out. The problem is they tend to stay on the guard, both stopping our guard from getting back into position and of course leaving their man open underneath.

BACKDOOR JOHNSON
We saw a rare Steve Johnson sighting tonight, coming in late for some garbage time. And what’s the kid do (he’s not really a kid, I think he’s like in his late 30’s, give or take a few years)? he runs a perfect back door, Dawkins drives and finds him for an easy lay up.

It was Steve’s fifth point of the season and his first made basket of the year. That may not impress you, but you know what, it’s one more basket than I’ll ever make in a Duke uniform.

WINNING IT WITH DEFENSE
The one thing about this Duke team, they’re not going to simply out score you. In fact, during this current 8-game winning streak, Duke has failed to score 70 in half of those games. They’ve hit 80+ only twice during the eight-game span.

On the flip side, only Virginia Tech was able to break 70 points in a game against Duke.

NO 1 SEED
It’s all the talk now, thanks to Robbie Hummel’s injury and Purdue’s loss at home to Michigan State. The fact is, both teams have four loses now and if you added up the other important numbers (RPI, SOS, Wins against top-50, top-100, Duke sweeps Purdue. In fact, Duke’s nine wins against the top-50, leads the NCAA. If Duke beats Maryland Wednesday, the No 1 seed should be theirs.

DEEP THOUGHTS BY B.D.B.
Over the past couple weeks, the television announcers keep telling us that Coach K “tweaked” the offense to help Singler get better shots and it’s worked because Singler’s numbers are all up. Yet, the funny part is, they never tells us what exactly Coach K changed. Do you think they really (there’s that word again) don’t know?