Game Notes (2019/2020)
Wake Forest 113, Duke 101 (2OT) (February 25, 2020). Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water …. Against Wake Forest, the doormats of the ACC, a win seemed absolutely secure, right? Right?? No, not for this Duke squad which can easily lose to anybody (and just did).
Before we begin to discuss the play, we simply have to talk about the officiating. For anyone who thought it might be safe on the court without Teddy Valentine or Mike Eades, you needed to guess again. This crew … Jamie Luckie, Brent Hampton, and Clarence Armstrong … was an abomination. They typify what is wrong with college basketball. A total of 59 fouls were called, and 34 of those were against Duke. Not only was every touch whistled, but there were a host of phantom calls as well. And down the pre-overtime stretch, when Wake was trying desperately to come back, the zebras did everything possible to assist with blatant one-sided whistles. These guys should never officiate again at any level. Never.
And what was El Greco! doing while this travesty was going on? Was he on his feet (as he would have been years ago), assailing the officials to try to keep them honest? No, he was placidly sitting and staring into space like some benign tranquilized Alzheimer's victim. So every single Duke big fouled out before it was all over. After regulation, there was little doubt who would ultimately prevail.
Once again, Duke started the game as if the players had never seen a basketball before. They were horrendous on both ends. A stream of missed shots, sloppy turnovers, and granting their opponents constant access to the hoop. That lasted for about the first 14 minutes or so, at which point the team may finally have come to their senses and realized that they had no business losing to the Deacs. Duke spurted and wound up tying the contest at half on a last second Jones jumper.
For most of the second half, it was all Duke. The lead was up to a dozen with just a few minutes left, and it certainly appeared to be over. But the Devils did their best Tar Heel impersonation and somehow managed, via turnovers, misses, and bad officiating, to allow Wake to tie at the buzzer. As we said, the handwriting was then on the wall.
There was one and only one good thing about Duke's performance, and it was their foul shooting. They were a terrific 31 of 34 at the stripe (91%). The Deacs were a very respectable 74%, and in fact made 6 more free throws due to the inordinate number of fouls called against Duke. Other than that, all of Duke's stats are pathetic -- 43% from the field (Wake was 52%), 26% from long (Wake was a whopping 55%), and 16 turnovers (Wake had 12).
As to individual performances, the much lionized Vernon Carey had a terrible night. Just five hoops scored in 19 minutes. A number of his shots were blocked. He can look like a world beater when he plays against smaller and inferior inside competition, but when he has to face a tall and athletic opponent like Wake's Olivier Sarr, he is dominated. Welcome to NBA life, Vernon. And why, pray tell, did K have to pull Vernon with less than 3 minutes gone in the first half -- we know that his stamina is poor, but is it really that bad?
Tre Jones had some nice moments, but also struggled. He did have 9 assists, but committed 4 turnovers. He was also just 1 for 4 from long. The best part of the evening for him was at the stripe, where he went 9 for 10, most down the stretch. We continue to be troubled, however, by how he tries to put everything on his back as the game nears a close. The result in this one was a number of absolutely forced and terrible shots, dooming the squad in the final period. As we have noted in the past, he obviously has no confidence in his teammates. Come to think of it, we don't either.
The TV guys were raving about Wendell's performance. He led the team with 25 points, but 16 of those were at the line. (He was a terrific 15 for 16 there.) Vernon was the primary Duke beneficiary of the rabid whistling by the zebras. The downside was that Vernon also committed 5 turnovers, including a disastrous one down the stretch of regulation. He is always a turnover waiting to happen.
We will refrain from kicking the rest of the cripples and offer just one further player observation. For the first time, we got to see Justin Robinson on the court in other than a garbage-time situation. It was a revelation. Yes, he did launch a couple of long air balls, but we have to attribute that to nerves … he just does not get on the court with the game on the line. And other than those two misses, he did a great job. The fact is that he is much better offensively than Javin and is also a MUCH better shot blocker. Javin simply does not give the team anything of value on either end. So the big question is … why have we not seen Justin inserted in game situations before? Indeed, why is he not above Javin on the playing roster? We have never respected K's ability to assess talent, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Suffice it to say that until Justin demonstrates that this was a fluke, he should be next in after Vernon goes to the bench.
And just one more swipe at K … while Justin was still available in overtime, K had Matthew on the court at center. That was disastrous since Matthew had a zero percent chance of being able to guard Olivier Sarr inside. Sure enough, Sarr scored at will.
We have all heard K tell us that this team is not very good because they're young. Well, so was Duke's last national championship squad. No, Your Excellency, this team is not very good because … they're just not very good.
Duke 88, Virginia Tech 64 (February 22, 2020). The first half was essentially a repeat of the last game, except in reverse. This time, it was Duke that was unconscious, raining three after three. Tre immediately sank two of them and Cassius followed. We had previously observed that Cassius had, to the best of our knowledge, been unable to hit two consecutive long shots all year. Well, in this one, it was four in a row. Yes, they were playing way over their heads, but it's a good thing when Duke is on that kind of tear.
Anyway, by the middle of the first half, the Devils were on track to score about 65 points in that half. They then started to come back down to Earth, but still finished with 55 to lead by a whopping 26 at the break. Of course, the inevitable happened. and Duke was generally incapable of making a shot in the second half; indeed, everything broke down a bit and the Hokies outscored them by two over the last twenty minutes. Even so, the final Duke stats were commendable, particularly as to three point shooting … they were 11 for 26, or just over 42%. They also redeemed themselves at the line by hitting at a respectable 74% clip. Ah, the friendly confines of Cameron ….
We have to say that Duke's success in the first half may have been in part attributable to what seemed like a certain lack of intensity about the Hokies. It was interesting to note that nobody on the Tech team was going to the boards on the offensive end, leaving about four Dukies all alone under the glass regularly. Sure makes it easy to get defensive rebounds that way. Evidently, Virginia Tech believes that it is such a weak rebounding squad that it is better off getting downcourt defensively as quickly as possible. So the Hokies wound up with only 5 offensive boards for the entire evening, something which is normally a bugaboo for Duke.
Cassius had the big night offensively for Duke, hitting 5 treys and leading the squad with 21 points. Ironically, he racked up that total without a single highlight jam. Vernon and Matthew had 16 apiece, mediocre for Vernon but excellent for Matthew. In fact, Matthew added 10 boards, which has to be his high for the season. What a joy for him to play against a squad with no inside power.
As noted, Tre made his first two long shots, but then went cold for most of the game. He finished 4 for 12 from the field. Despite all the Player of the Year discussion, the fact remains that he often has these terrible percentage shooting games. But at least his defense never wavers.
We thought that Jordan played well once more. He will never be an offensive threat, but at least he is making some shots at a respectable percentage. In this one, he was he was 3 for 6. He added 6 boards and, surprisingly for him, 6 assists. A very sound evening.
Then it drops off. Alex had a spectacular driving jam, as well as a steal and score, but continued to shoot poorly from long. Joey played only 5 minutes and did not score. Jack, who looked like a world beater at the start of last season, is now effectively out of the rotation. He played just 3 minutes. And Javin was Javin.
Then there's Wendell. He was again a starter and played 26 minutes. In our view, whatever he brings to the table on the defensive end is more than lost on offense. He is truly an abominable shooter. Against the Hokies, he was 0 for 5 from the floor. That includes one drive that looked like a certain score, except he missed an easy lay-in to finish. It is sad. For the season, his shooting percentage is just under 40%; from long, he is 22% (even worse than Javin!).
Nice to see that Duke righted the ship. Coupled with losses by Baylor, Gonzaga, and San Diego State, it does divert some attention from Duke's collapse against N.C State. We still expect to see Duke drop in the new polls (as they should), but it will be interesting to see by how much.
N.C. State 88, Duke 66 (February 19, 2020). We went into this game expecting the worst. Anyone who closely follows Duke basketball will know that it is virtually impossible for the Devils to defeat State twice in a season. But this was not just a loss. It was a total beat-down. It once again shows just how fragile this team really is.
Now, to be fair, State played way, way, way, way, way above their heads. Everything they were throwing up went in, no matter how inept the launcher or how wild the shot. We even had the obligatory shot from beyond half-court going through at the end of the first half. It will be by far the best the Pack will play all year.
Duke, on the other hand, had yet another miserable outing. Easy shots were routinely missed, balls fumbled out of bounds, lazy passes made and stolen, and, of course, no defensive block-outs. El Greco! normally does not recruit quickness, and it was evident in this one as State got almost every loose ball. The Duke hands are very slow. As we have noted in the past, the Devils have a major problem against quick opponents.
The other major failing for Duke was at the line. The squad started at just 2 for 11 and wound up 10 for 22 (45%). By contrast, State was 16 for 21 (76%). It was a perfect storm.
Who played well for Duke? The list is short indeed. The stats suggest Vernon once again for he scored 27 points and grabbed 12 boards. Yet he was not nearly as efficient and impressive as he was against Notre Dame, shooting 10 for 20 from the floor and missing a few easy ones in the process. And Tre did have a nice spurt for Duke in the second half, but finished only 6 for 18 from the field. He tried to do it all by himself for a stretch in the second half, evidently not trusting that his teammates would be able to score … come to think of it, he was probably correct.
Matthew started and once more was a non-factor, getting into foul trouble and playing only 9 minutes. The opponents were too quick for him. Cassius was back and had a very poor outing, making just 2 shots and turning the ball over 3 times in 23 minutes. Wendell, as we have come to expect, was also worthless offensively with 2 made shots and 2 turnovers. Jordan played 31 minutes, with 7 points and 2 turnovers to show for it -- 3 of those points came on a trey, but it was a meaningless shot in the closing seconds. Alex was given 20 minutes and did not take advantage, turning the ball over twice per the scorer (we think it actually may have been 3 times) and making just a single lay-up. Javin was not even up to his usual standards. And Joey and Jack played just 8 and 4 minutes, respectively, with neither scoring. Truly ugly.
The zebras even contributed to the ugliness. After another lengthy tape review, they made a truly horrendous flagrant foul call against Duke (Vernon Carey). We absolutely hate the flagrant foul rule, as we do tape reviews. Not only do they interfere with the already slow flow of the modern game, but whenever the zebras get a chance to review something, they usually get it wrong. From what special ed classes do they find these guys? Any time you see Mike Eades officiating, you know that disaster lurks around the bend.
Duke remains in contention for a league championship, but only because it is such a weak conference. And the fact is that Duke, prior to this one, has been lucky. UNC beat themselves to hand a win to Duke, and Florida State had a miserable offensive night against the Devils. We are now being constantly reminded that Duke has set a record by winning league games by 30 points 5 times. But we remain completely unimpressed. This team is capable of losing to virtually anyone on a given night.
Duke 94, Notre Dame 60 (February 15, 2020). This Duke squad is just not a good jump shooting team ... but you would never know it if you watched the second half of this one. The team clearly felt it was in control against a weak Domer contingent, and when an O'Connell three went through, everyone else began hitting. Even Javin nailed one (though it unfortunately spurred him to attempt another, which barely touched rim). Anyway, it was a shooting spree the likes of which we had not seen since, well, last year's opener against Kentucky. We though that we had died and gone to heaven. It does go to show once again how important psychology is in this game.
The first half was relatively close, though Duke gradually built a 10 point spread at the break. The reason was first and foremost the play of Vernon. We believe he had 16 at the half, and it was on near-perfect shooting. And it was not the usual jams and lay-ins ... no, these came on an assortment of nifty spin moves and jumpers. True, the Irish are not big in the post, but Vernon was truly impressive. In fact, we believe that it was his most extraordinary half of the season. He was not really needed after the break, so he wound up playing only 23 minutes. But he nevertheless managed to score 21 points on 8 for 10 shooting. He was outstanding.
Tre also had a wonderful outing. His shooting percentage was much better than usual (9 for 13) and he added 7 boards and 6 assists. He was able to get more bench time than usual given Duke's enormous second half spread.
Once again, we need to tip our caps to Jordan. He was terrific on the defensive end, and made 4 of 5 shots attempted on offense. Watching him sink shots of late, we wonder if we have ventured into some alternative universe ... but we're happy to be here.
Matthew started and played unusually well. He was 5 for 9 from the floor, including one really nice fall-away in the lane. Usually, Matthew is not someone who creates shots, so that was nice to see. What's even more pleasing is the fact that he grabbed 9 boards for Duke to lead the team.
We learned that Cassius suffered an eye injury in practice during the week, so he was sidelined for the game. Too bad he missed all the fun. Needless to say, he was not missed.
Poor Alex did not impress in the first half, missing his only attempt (an open short jumper) and turning the ball over. But he was a completely different player after the break. He started the three point barrage, then added another and scored off of a couple of steals. But the highlight may have been a beautiful drive, culminating in a twisting toss-in. We always appreciated his tremendous athleticism, so it was great to see him put it all together.
Kudos also to Joey, who found his missing shooting touch and nailed two consecutive treys during the great second half run. K put him (and Alex) in when Notre Dame went zone, and it certainly worked.
The not-so-good? Well, aside from a couple of tough boards, Jack was a complete non-factor. He missed a couple of jumpers badly in the first half and played only 9 minutes. And Vernon was once more a real problem on the offensive end. He was 0 for 5 from the floor, and a few of those were really easy shots. He is just a very poor jump shooter.
We complimented Duke on its defensive effort against Florida State, and we thought that Duke carried that effort over well into this one. The only negative continues to be a problem switching quickly, which led to several pick and roll scores inside for the Domers.
One final note. We have spent so much time over the years castigating officials that we think it appropriate to compliment when appropriate (which it so rarely is). We were delighted by the way the refs (Cassell, Stephens, and Desai) let the kids play ball, whistling only 26 fouls in toto. As a result, the game was over in about an hour and three-quarters. Just like the old days!
Duke 70, Florida State 65 (February 10, 2020). In a way, this game pleased us more than the last one. Duke, for a change, played well … that is, if committing 21 turnovers is consistent with playing well.
The fact is that FSU has a suffocating defense. They are in every passing and driving lane, and you can never relax for an instant holding the ball. Every lazy pass is a guaranteed turnover. They were simply brutal. Fortunately, Duke was able to offset this handicap by actually shooting the ball with unusual accuracy … 41% from beyond the arc. They were 45% overall, not great, but not bad either considering the opposition. And once again they were making free throws -- 77% overall. That is great.
On the other hand, FSU came out ice cold. Indeed, it was like a case of role reversal since that is Duke's normal mode. Duke was able to build a lead of about ten points over the first ten minutes. We all knew that it was just a matter of time before FSU mounted a comeback. They did, and the Duke lead was just one at the half, with Duke even falling behind by a couple after the break. But the Devils persisted and made key shots and stops.
Florida State, usually a good shooting team and a very good free throw team, failed abysmally on both accounts. They were just 38% from the floor (and a truly horrendous 16.7% from long), and only 60% from the stripe. Duke's defense had something to do with the shooting -- in fact, we thought that this was Duke's best defensive performance in a long time. But the truth is that it was more FSU's ineptitude. After all, you can't play defense at the foul line. As in the last game against UNC, Duke was given a gift, and they gladly accepted.
Nevertheless, the turnovers were extremely frustrating. Virtually every time Duke tried to drive the lane, the ball was either stolen or in close jeopardy of being stolen. The problem is that Duke is normally such a poor jump shooting team that driving is what it does. Thank God they were able to make enough jump shots to overcome.
Individually, the big news maker of the night was Jordan Goldwire. No sooner do we excoriate him for his offensive futility than he goes off and has a career night. Sit down, ladies and gentlemen and get this: Jordan made three consecutive treys and was 5 for 5 overall from the floor. If anyone out there did not believe in miracles, he or she had better reassess. (In fact, this was about as unlikely as Duke's comeback against the Heels.) So we have some egg on our faces, but sometimes that's a very good thing to have. We can't imagine this sort of thing will continue, so we'll just have to enjoy the moment.
The other kid who played unusually well is Matthew. He was 2 for 3 from long, and was not the usual matador on defense. What's more, he coolly sank four consecutive free throws at the end of the game to assure the victory. In addition, for a kid who rarely rebounds, he had a huge one near the end to keep possession with Duke. Never mind that he pushed off to get it and travelled afterwards, only to be bailed out by a terrible foul call. It was still a great effort.
By the way, that bad call offset one that went against Duke just moments before. Despite a three minute tape review, the zebras handed possession of the ball to FSU despite overwhelming evidence it was Duke's ball. We absolutely despise reviews in all sports and would gladly jettison them if we could.
We thought that Tre Jones seemed oddly out of sorts at times. A couple of turnovers to start the game, and another two at the beginning of the second half. A failure to get a loose ball. Five turnovers in all. 5 for 16 from the floor and 3 for 5 from the line. He still tied for the lead in scoring with 13, but only because he took twice as many shots as any of his teammates.
One would expect that Vernon would have had a big game for Duke to pull this out. Well, he didn't, at least on the offensive end. Shockingly, he only took 5 shots and played just 19 minutes, despite having only 2 fouls. Even so, he managed to get 10 boards for Duke. We don't quite understand the bench time, but K evidently did not think he could be offensively productive against the FSU defense. Strange.
Fortunately, Javin played unusually well down the stretch. He got a couple of really big boards, and calmly sank perhaps the two biggest free throws of the evening. Javin is not a prime time player by any means, but he acquitted himself well in this one.
Wendell came back to earth after his big finale against the Heels. 4 points, 3 boards, 2 assists, and 4 turnovers in 25 minutes. It's about what we have come to expect. The other starter, Cassius, made his usual one outside shot, as well as a couple inside, but he was really struggling against that Florida State defense. He had three turnovers, but was a hair away from committing several others.
Once again, Poor Alex played a big role for the Devils, though playing just 13 minutes. He hit three really big jumpers for the Devils and added 4 boards. In a game like this, every one was clutch. It was good to see.
And that's as good as it gets. Joey had a poor outing, playing 7 minutes and missing a couple of shots that would have really helped. And Jack is now effectively out of the rotation, playing just 3 minutes. What a comedown after the way he performed at the start of last season.
We are very happy that we will not have to face Florida State again in the regular season. We do think that they are the better team, but Duke caught them on a very cold evening. The fates seem to be blessing the Devils of late.
On a final note, we were horrified to see Jay Bilious once again at the ESPN mike. We seriously considered switching to the ESPN sky cam feed without sound, but reluctantly opted for the play-by-play. Well, amazingly enough, Mr. Bilious, to our best recollection, did not mount his usual soap box even once to belabor us with his unwanted and unwarranted opinions about needed rule changes. What a blessed relief! So all was good.
Duke 98, North Carolina 96 (February 8, 2020). A wilder, more bizarre game you will never see. We have all been treated countless times to the replay of that big Jeff Capel shot to send a UNC game into overtime. Well, this one gave us two immortal shots, one at the end of regulation and another at the end of overtime. Absolutely remarkable.
Pardon the heresy, but in a way this game tops the story of Lazarus. Lazarus was only dead and resurrected once. Against UNC, Duke was dead twice and came back both times. We will not recount all that transpired here. You can go to another web site and find that. Indeed, if you missed the game, you can go to Watch ESPN and see a replay. Just be sure to skip the first three-quarters or so of the contest unless you have a very strong stomach.
We will, as always, be very direct and honest. The one good thing about this team is that it does not quit. Duke teams never do. The bad thing is that the team is simply not very good at all.
UNC did play over their heads for most of the game, but they are not a strong squad by any means. Their losing record is ample testament to that fact. Yet, for most of the game, they were dominant. It was the usual issue for Duke: a complete inability to hit a jumper, allowing opponents easy access to their offensive glass, a failure to come up with loose balls, and a bunch of defensive lapses. It was truly painful to watch, and having to listen to that pompous idiot, Jay Bilious, and his never-ending proclamations made it doubly painful. (Did those of you who watched find it as ridiculous as we did when Mr. Bilious gravely described a wide-open four foot jumper in the lane by Armando Bacot as a "very difficult shot"?).
The only thing that kept Duke in the game in the first half was Vernon. The kid was routinely making his shots for a change, and he had 18 at the break. He disappeared thereafter (foul trouble once again bedeviling him, pardon the pun) and Duke had to rely on its other offensive weapons. Good luck with that. The upshot was a seemingly insurmountable Carolina lead of 13 with just a few minutes left.
So did Duke suddenly begin shooting lights out? Well, no, although the very belated insertion of Poor Alex did help in that regard. But the primary reason for Duke's miraculous comeback was not what Duke did … it was what Carolina did not do. UNC simply could not make foul shots. While Duke shot a very good 26 for 34 overall (over 76%), UNC was an abominable 21 for 38 (55%). They essentially tossed away 17 points. They generously gave Duke the opportunity to win and the Devils took advantage in epic fashion.
Tre Jones will be lionized and go down in Duke lore for the way he brought the team back at the end of regulation. And he did indeed put the team on his back during those final minutes, as well as at the very beginning of the overtime period. However, as we have seen so regularly this season, at times other than the stretch run, his offensive effort was really the picture of futility. In this one, he was just 11 for 25 overall and 0 for 4 from long. Those totals included at least two air balls. So it was very mixed, to say the least. But what is remembered are always those closing moments.
Tre finished with 28, followed by Vernon with his 18 … all, as noted, in the first half. Despite the fouls, Vernon did get in his average of about 28 minutes. The problem is that he only had 6 boards. He was utterly ineffective off the glass, allowing UNC too many second chances.
Third in scoring was Cassius with 18. He made some nice driving shots and was 7 for 8 from the stripe. But like Tre, his overall percentage was unimpressive … Cassius was 7 for 19 from the floor and just 1 for 5 from long. We don't think that he has made two consecutive outside jumpers all year. Like Vernon, Stanley wound up fouling out of the contest late.
We have not been fans of Wendell to date. But kudos to the kid for getting that huge offensive rebound and put-back at the end of overtime. He started the game and played 30 minutes, with 17 points and 10 boards to show. This and the early Georgetown contest were his two most positive efforts by far.
Interestingly, Jack White started the game, but wound up with only 12 minutes and really nothing to show. Matthew got in for all of 6 minutes, picking up 4 fouls in that time and delivering nothing as well. And as for Jordan, it was all defense as usual … is there a more offensively-challenged guard in major college ball? (The wide-open four foot bank shot he missed in overtime spoke volumes.)
Joey got 18 minutes. Despite his shooting just 1 for 5, we thought he played fairly well. He had 3 nice assists and 3 boards, while not turning the ball over. He is simply more effective than Matthew out there.
And as for Poor Alex, despite not seeing any action until much of the second half had elapsed, he did make a difference. He nailed his first trey attempt, then added another, giving him half of Duke's total for the game. Yes, he committed a couple of foolish fouls, but on a team so offensively-challenged, he is an important cog.
Yes, it was one for the record books, one that will stick in UNC craws forever. And the best part … the Heels did not get to 100, so no free chicken biscuits for the fans. Beautiful.
Duke 63, Boston College 55 (February 4, 2020). What can we say? Seriously, folks, what can we say that we haven't already said countless times? Yes, Duke won the game. That's good. But virtually nothing else is. Here's the proper perspective … Duke faces a losing team and that losing team shoots 37% against them (and only 11% from long), yet Duke trails at the break and winds up winning by eight.
For a team that always seems to start slowly, this game was the apotheosis of slow starts. With almost eight minutes gone in the contest, Duke had scored all of two points. That's right, two points. At halftime, the Duke point total was a whopping 19. Only in the final quarter of the game was Duke able to build any kind of spread … the final spread being the team's greatest. (Perhaps instead of the meaningless pre-game layup drills, Duke should be doing a full 5 on 5 scrimmage to somehow get the bad play out of their systems.)
And the Duke defense was as generous as usual. As the stats show, BC was not hitting jumpers, but Duke made it easier by allowing an inordinate number of scoring drives. A nursery school child would have seen immediately that Duke needed to jettison its man defense in favor of a zone, but we didn't believe that K could bring himself to do that. Well, to his partial credit, El Greco! finally did go zone and it made a big difference at the end.
Once again, the Devils had trouble keeping their opponents off the offensive boards. It was not as bad as the last game, but BC did pick up 11 offensive rebounds and actually won the overall rebounding battle.
And lastly, Duke's miserable jump shooting continued apace. Just 1 for 15 from beyond the arc. The Rim Clankers on full display. We truly don't know how much longer we can stomach watching these guys.
In terms of individual performances, there is very little to commend. The ESPN guys were lauding Vernon, but we certainly will not. The fact that he was making some shots for Duke was notable only because nobody else was for a long time. In fact, Vernon missed just a ton of shots in close. A ton. He was 5 for 13 overall. And his lack of stamina showed when he was tugging on his jersey to come out of the game after running downcourt following a steal. However, there was one real positive -- Vernon was 7 for 8 from the line, his second good showing in a row.
Tre was as awful as his compatriots on the offensive end for most of the game. But down the final stretch, he put the team on his back and carried them. Yes, he did miss the front end of a one and one during crunch time, but all else was good. So for us, he was one of the two Heroes of the Revolution.
The other? Our friend, Joey Baker, who had been completely MIA of late. K finally inserted him in the second half of this game and he simply turned it around for Duke, scoring 8 points in short order. Of course, he made Duke's only trey. If it were not for Joey, Duke would have lost this one.
One hopes and expects that any squad with young personnel will gradually grow and develop over the course of a season. We are certainly not seeing that from this squad. If anything, they seem to be regressing. We are at the point where the prospect of watching them has lost any real pleasure … it is more like forcing ourselves to go to the gym.
Duke 97, Syracuse 88 (February 1, 2020). Yet another horrendous start for Duke. We did not go back to review the play-by-play, but we think the Devils had about twelve points after nine minutes or so. It was the same old story … missed shots and repeated turnovers. After falling behind by seven, Duke gradually clawed back and wound up building a narrow four point lead at the break. Duke widened the gap to fifteen at one point in the second half, but once again could not put their opponent entirely away. Thankfully, Duke did hold down for the win.
The good news? Duke made their free throws down the stretch. The team finished a remarkable 29 for 33 for the night. If not for that, this could have been really ugly. Tre was the star at the stripe, going 10 for 10 in the clutch. It was amazing to us that Syracuse was dumb enough to continue fouling him.
After their dreadful start, Duke was able to finish at an excellent 57% from the field. However, virtually all were on the inside. From long, the Devils were just 6 for 17, around 35%. Not a bad overall percentage, but certainly nothing to write home about.
Despite those positives, nobody should be really buoyed by this Duke performance. In the first place, the team continued its season-long practice of coughing the ball up at every opportunity. In this game, it was 19 miscues (the Orange had but 10). That is awful.
Second, the Devils seemed almost incapable at times of getting a defensive rebound. Syracuse would up with a shocking 21 offensive boards for the evening. That is scandalous. Indeed, the only Duke player who seemed capable of getting a board for most of the evening was Vernon. Syracuse was simply quicker to the glass and more aggressive. There should be hell to pay.
Finally, Duke's defense was again lacking in effectiveness. Like Duke's other opponents, the Orange were able to drive and score frequently. Duke's hyper-aggressive man coverage was not causing any turnovers, just allowing penetration. There is no way in the world this Syracuse team should be permitted to score 88.
Really, Duke was lucky to win. Syracuse shot just 38% for the game and only 23% from long. Some fewer misses and the Devils would have gone home with their tails between their legs.
For Duke, this was Vernon Carey's night. The kid was 9 for 14 from the floor and 8 for 10 from the line to score 26 points. And that was in just 28 minutes. What's more, he added 17 boards, almost half of Duke's 41 total. Vernon had not been effective of late, so this was more than welcome. Tre was second in scoring with 17, though most of that was from the line. The bad news was that he turned the ball over 4 times. Not a sparkling performance by any means.
Cassius, the second most important of Duke's freshmen, had a very quiet first half, but played well down the stretch. He was 6 for 8 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the line, and a good portion of that was in the home stretch when the Orange were contesting Duke's lead. It was good to see.
The other positive came from Poor Alex. When he was on the court, he was Duke's quickest player. He also made some shots for a change, finishing 4 for 8 overall and adding 3 assists. He was a big reason for Duke's early bounce after the break.
Now for the bad. Matthew once again started and had a very checkered performance. The good news is that he was able to score 12 points, going 3 for 6 from the floor. The bad news is everything else. He is just an unmitigated disaster on the defensive end … his opponent routinely either scores or is fouled. And Matthew almost never pulls down a big board. In this one, he had 3 rebounds for the night in 26 minutes, despite being one of the tallest kids on the floor. We have not been fans all season, and that certainly did not change after this one.
Jordan, usually one of K's favorites, started but wound up with only 15 minutes. And he had nothing to show for it … his stat line was all goose eggs save for one turnover.
We suppose the reason for those few minutes was that K's other Boy Toy, Wendell Moore, was back in action. Wendell wound up with 24 minutes, all entirely undeserved. He ended his stint by fouling out, one of those fouls being on a three point shot by the Cuse down the stretch. Wendell also continued to be a human turnover machine, committing five overall. The ESPN color guy remarked that he understood why Wendell was being inserted in place of Poor Alex because Wendell is a "better ball handler." Apparently the turnovers are to be entirely disregarded. We can only shake our heads. Those who choose to blame Duke's two consecutive losses on Wendell's absence have not been watching his performances closely this season.
And then there is Joey. One would think that against a zone, Duke may have wanted to take advantage of perhaps its best pure shooter. True, Syracuse plays a more aggressive match-up zone, a defense we love, but that still leaves opportunities from long. Well, Joey wound up with all of zero minutes for the game. That's right, he never left the bench. Amazing.
Every so often, we have to remark about the utter failure to coach defense properly. Specifically, we refer to the invariable disastrous practice of leaving the floor whenever an opponent makes a head fake, something Duke was doing all evening against the Cuse. On average, it gives the opponents at least 8 points a game, something that could be rectified with proper defensive instruction. K certainly is not sharp enough to see it, but then neither are other coaches across the country. We just can't fathom it.
And so it goes. Another Duke win to be sure, but still so much to be concerned about.
Duke 79, Pittsburgh 67 (January 28, 2020). Clank. Clank. Clank. No, that's not the sound of men working on a chain gang. It's the typical sound of Duke basketball. It certainly was the sound of the first three quarters of the opening half -- Duke couldn't hit anything and the game was neck and neck. Magically, Duke went on a shooting tear with just over five minutes left in that half and the lead exploded to eighteen at one point. Of course, that was not to last, and Duke was again ice cold for most of the second half, allowing Pitt to get back to three points. It was pathetic.
The commentators can gush all they wish about Pitt's record this season. The only reason they have four conference wins is that the ACC is so embarrassingly weak. This Pitt team is lousy in any objective sense, and Duke should have won by 25. But then, this Duke team is itself not all that good.
We do need to tip our hats to Jeff Capel. He had exactly the right game plan against Duke. Spread the court and take advantage of Duke's constant over-playing on defense to drive to the hoop. It was working all night -- if Pitt were a bit stronger offensively or a bit taller, they could easily have pulled this one out. Pitt was in the game and didn't even have to take jump shots.
K evidently felt that he had to keep Vernon on the court, and he played an extraordinary (for him) 35 minutes. It was a much more productive outing than we have seen from him for some time -- 26 points and 13 boards. It was certainly needed.
Tre put in his 40 minutes and had a very creditable outing. 5 for 10 from the floor, 8 assists, and no credited turnovers. We say no credited turnovers because he actually did cough it up at the end of the game. We suppose the scorers had stopped counting at that point.
Jordan also had his normal ton of minutes -- 35 this time. Capel wisely had his players drop off Jordan on the offensive end. Absolutely wide open, he was able to sink an amazing 3 treys out of 7 attempts. Not spectacular perhaps, but for Jordan it was nothing short of miraculous.
Credit also to Jack White for his usual workmanlike effort. He has also morphed into one of Duke's most consistent outside shooters, albeit with very few regular attempts. In this game, he was 2 for 3 from long.
After that, a big drop off. Cassius picked up a couple of first half fouls and was very quiet. He still was able to get 29 minutes of floor time and made a big hoop late with Pitt closing in. Matthew started, played 24 minutes, and did next to nothing.
Javin played all of 4 minutes and did absolutely nothing. Joey Baker continued his horrid shooting, going 1 for 6 in 9 minutes. And Poor, Poor Alex played all of about 15 seconds -- he missed a tough driving stuff and was immediately yanked. He is toast.
So Duke is back to being its usual 7 man squad. With Wendell out, it was just 6 in this one. Deja vu all over again.
Duke 89, Miami 59 (January 21, 2020). The magic elixir for all that ails -- just play Miami. Too bad they can't be on the schedule each week.
Once again, Duke came out and Matthew immediately hit a trey. This time, however, Duke didn't immediately go into the tank and start turning the ball over. Of course, Miami's ineffective defense had a lot to do with that. But Matthew hit another (two in a row is a rarity for this team) and his compatriots joined rank. Duke was 9 for 17 from long in the first half (almost 53%). That was about two games crammed into one half for this team. The result was a 24 point spread at the break, though it was even a bit higher just earlier.
Needless to say, the teams played almost even after halftime. Duke never puts together two sparkling halves. The Devils shot just 25% from long in the second half. Of course, it mattered not. This game was over after the first couple of minutes. Actually, it would have been worse for the Canes but for the inordinate number of whistles against Duke in the second half -- it was vintage Teddy Valentine. The Canes were 19 for 22 at the stripe.
Given the spread and Miami's lack of height, one would expect that Vernon had a big night. No so. In fact, he continued to be largely ineffective, something that has been going on for quite a while now. The kid is virtually incapable of making a shot with any contact. That's a real problem.
Trey had a better night, going 6 for 13 from the floor and getting 6 assists to 1 turnover. But again, thank Miami. Cassius hit his first jumper, then missed a number. It was not a poor outing by any means, but not up to what we had been seeing lately.
The kid with the best numbers was Matthew. It was a performance far superior to what we had seen of late. He was 8 for 11 from the floor (4 for 7 from long) with 6 boards, 1 assist, and 3 blocks. And amazingly, no turnovers. Thank you Miami.
We will not go down the roster other than to mention Poor Alex. The kid finally got into the game with about 8 minutes left in the first half, committed a turnover, and was immediately yanked. He was literally on the court for 15 seconds. That is just brutal. It was similar in the second half -- inserted with about 8 minutes left again, Alex missed a shot and was promptly pulled. He finally got back in during garbage time and hit four shots in around one minute, so the final stats are misleading. It is sad ... if he were able to make shots when it counted, he might actually be in the rotation. Right now, he effectively isn't.
Louisville 79, Duke 73 (January 18, 2020). We know that history tends to repeat itself. We just wish that it did not happen so quickly. Once again, Duke scored out of the gate, this time via a Hurt three-pointer. It was straight downhill thereafter. There is simply no way to describe how execrably awful that first ten minutes was. Every time Duke tried to get the ball inside, it was either turned over or tied up. The Devils had eight turnovers alone just in the first eight minutes. And on the other end, the Cards were scoring time after time on driving lay-ups. It was like watching a good college team against a lousy high school squad, and that is not hyperbole. Duke finally settled down a bit for the remainder of the half, but Louisville managed to keep the lead at 10 by the break.
The second half was something else again. Louisville simply lost its edge. The Cards came out flat and Duke began turning them over repeatedly. Louisville, which theretofore had also been draining jumpers, went cold. They even missed a couple of gimmes underneath. They were simply collapsing and doing their level best to give the game to Duke. Duke in fact tied the score repeatedly. But the Devils could not close the deal. They simply had nobody who could make the big shot.
We have been saying all year that these guys cannot shoot, and this one exemplified the point. Jones could not connect from long down the stretch, Cassius' last clutch attempt was an air ball, and Matthew lacked the confidence to even make the attempt. Joey Baker, whom we fawned over earlier, has been ice cold for a very long time. He was 1 for 7 in this one, the only make being an absolutely meaningless shot as the final clock expired. And Jack, who had started hitting a bit, was back to form at 0 for 3.
As a team, the Devils were just 37% from the floor and a terrible 24% from long. In contrast, Louisville was 48% and 50%, respectively. It is a wonder that Duke was able to keep it as close as it was.
We have noted that Duke typically has issues with quick, athletic opponents, and that also showed here. In general, if there was a loose ball, the Cards wound up with it -- their hands and reflexes were simply faster. Even so, Louisville exhibited extraordinary sloppiness in the second half. Had Duke been even halfway capable on offense, they might well have pulled it out.
There was one and only one star for Duke. Cassius Stanley. He has been easily the best player on the team for the last several games. His percentage was not exceptional in this one (7 for 17), but he was the go-to kid when nobody else could score. He also excelled at the stripe, going 9 for 10.
Tre continues to underwhelm on offense after that big game against Wake. Here, he was a miserable 5 for 16. He also missed his first two foul shots. Yes, he had 7 assists, but he offset that with 4 bad turnovers. Very disappointing.
Vernon continued his completely lackluster play as well. He was 3 for 6 from the floor with 4 turnovers. Once again, he was dominated by athletic opponents. He wound up spending a good portion of the second half on the bench with foul trouble, and when he went back in he was not guarding at all for fear of picking up a fifth.
Matthew scored 16 points to finish second on the team, but gave them back on the other end. He simply cannot guard anyone, and his opponents take full advantage of it.
Jordan is all defense all the time, so it is like having four players on offense for Duke (actually, three if Javin is also in). And Poor Alex was MIA after missing his first shot.
No doubt we will hear the sycophants wax rhapsodic about how the Devils refused to give up. Perhaps, but it's ultimately all about the scoreboard, baby. And scoreboards generally do not favor teams that can't score.
Clemson 79, Duke 72 (January 14, 2020). For the second game in a row, Duke started well. It was a feed inside to Matthew Hurt for a lay-in, then a jam by Vernon. Great first minute. Unfortunately, it was all down hill from there.
This was simply another embarrassment in a long pantheon from the Duke Blue Devils. Their opponents were allowed to score repeatedly off drives down the lane or feeds to cutters, and on the other hand, Duke was in its most charitable mode …. the turnovers just kept coming. At the beginning of the game, even Tre Jones looked as if he had never played basketball before in his life with all kinds of sloppy play. We think the team gave it away five times in the first eight minutes or so. Aside from being a squad of poor shooters, it is also a squad of poor passers.
To say that El Greco! was out-coached would be a monumental understatement. Clemson is a team with a true motion offense, and Duke couldn't handle it. Jon Crispin, doing the color for ESPN, said before the second half that he wouldn't be surprised if Duke came out in a zone. Well, we would have been shocked, but only because our Coach is not very adaptable in the short run. Also, we don't even know if this team has received any real zone instruction. Nevertheless, it would have been the right thing to do because Duke's man defense was worthless. Clemson finished the game around 56% from the floor. Just pathetic.
Crispin also commented at one point that Duke's current floor lineup lacked needed offense. That's something we have often noted. But with Joey Baker sidelined with a foot injury, virtually any lineup Duke put out there would lack offense. Amazing isn't it, given the number of blue chip recruits Duke seems to land.
As we noted, Matthew scored the first bucket of the game. In fact, it was his only score of the day. Down the stretch, when Duke desperately needed some scoring, Hurt was MIA on the bench. His turnovers early on (another bad pass and a lost dribble), together with his inability to defend effectively, outweighed in K's mind any possible offensive production. Sadly, he may well have been right, although his teammates on the front line weren't playing any D anyway. But it does say a lot about Matthew's, uh, situation.
For the third game in a row, Vernon Carey was anything but dominant. While his final offensive stats (20 points on 8 for 14 from the floor) suggest real productivity, they are terribly misleading. We believe virtually every one of those scores was a stuff. Everything else was missed, including a large number of shots in very close with some contact. And he continues to be an abomination at the foul line -- 4 for 9 overall, including 4 misses in a row when Duke had miraculously managed to claw into a narrow lead in the second half. The team overall was just 10 for 20 at the stripe. That's how you lose games.
The one thing this one proved was that Duke's offensive outing against Wake was simply a fluke. But we all knew that, didn't we? Jones, who was on fire in the last game, finished 6 for 15 overall, even blowing a fast break lay-up. And Jordan, who somehow managed to sink two treys, missed two wide open lay-ups, one of them not even being close. O'Connell also missed two right under the basket and, well, you get the idea. They were awful.
For some reason, K elected to start Javin in place of either Matthew or Jack at the start of the second half. It is difficult to figure out why since Javin was utterly ineffective on both ends in the first half. Things did not change after the break. As for Jack, his shooting has markedly improved, and he hit two long jumpers in this game. The bad news is that he was not blocking anyone off the boards on the other end, allowing the Tigers to get repeated offensive rebounds. Overall, Duke only got 4 offensive boards for the game, and the team was out-rebounded, 35 to 27.
Cassius did some good things, but picked up four fouls quickly and spent much of the second half on the pine. In his place, Alex had a disastrous outing. Aside from those misses underneath, his only two outside jumpers missed the mark, the second one hitting the side of the backboard. And he again turned the ball over trying to dribble through competition, a trait he shares in common with teammates.
We've observed in the past that Duke has issues with quick and athletic opponents. We saw that again with Clemson. And we'll just leave it there because, frankly, we would prefer to ponder virtually anything else but Duke basketball at this point.
Duke 90, Wake Forest 59 (January 11, 2020).
"And the Lord God said ... Let there be light, let the seas part, let the Earth bear fruit, and let that stinkin' Duke basketball team start a game on fire. And behold, it was so." GEN 2:0.
All we can say is, thank you Lord. Indeed, we're at a loss because we have no one to lambast … well, other than Teddy Valentine's officiating (but that's too obvious). No, when Tre Jones opens the game by nailing a trey and the squad goes on to shoot 53% overall and over 47% from long, things are rosy. Duke was up by a neat 47 at half. The spread did not grow much after that because of a few defensive break-downs, some remarkable shooting by Wake (they were 50% in the second half), and Tre Jones being removed from the contest for most of the final 10 minutes.
A quick pop test: How do you know which Duke player is red hot? Answer: K will immediately yank him from the game. We saw that with Joey in the first half and Tre in the second. But it didn't matter.
The star of this one was clearly Tre. Yes, he had that big offensive outing earlier in the season, but this was even more impressive because most of the scoring came off jumpers. The kid was 10 for 15 overall and 3 for 4 from long. We have never seen the likes of this from Tre before. He was simply unconscious. And to boot, he added 5 assists and 4 steals, while committing no turnovers. All in just 27 minutes of court time. Wow. It makes you believe that he really could be an NBA point.
The other impressive performance came once again from Cassius. He continues to score off drives, something he could not do at the start of the year. And he complements it by nailing the occasional trey. In this game, he was 5 for 10 from the floor, and Duke's best foul shooter at 5 for 6. Very well done.
Not surprisingly, Jordan led in PT with 30 minutes. He did play solid ball, offering his usual tough defense. On the other end, he started in normal fashion by air balling a wide open three attempt, but settled down and hit two jumpers thereafter. So all was good.
We thought Jack played well on both ends for a change. His outside shooting continues to improve (2 for 3 from long), and he was tough on defense. And Joey also had a renaissance by nailing 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
The interesting thing is that Duke won this one without its usual reliance on inside scoring. For the second game in a row, the team had a relatively unproductive showing from Vernon. And Matthew started well in the first few minutes, but disappeared thereafter. But it mattered not.
Actually, our buoyant spirits have caused us to overlook one severe blemish -- viz., Duke continues to embarrass itself at the foul line. The final stats show the team at 13 for 25, but we peg it at 13 for 26 since one of the misses was the front end of a one and one. The kind of field goal shooting we saw this evening from the team is ephemeral, but the issues at the line will probably linger. It should be of great concern to all. Sorry for ending on a dark note, but it is what it is.
Duke 73, Georgia Tech 64 (January 8, 2020). Lest the final margin fool you, Duke was fortunate to pull out a victory. As always, the team was very slow out of the gate. While that is expected on offense, the Duke defense was just abysmal for a good portion of the opening half. It was the old story … Duke trying to apply defensive pressure away from the lane, only to see the offensive player drive by and dish off for an easy score after the inevitable Duke double team. Poor Poindexter had to be physically restrained and given a massive dose of Valium.
Only too aware of Duke's defensive futility, K inserted Jordan into the lineup and things quickly settled down. Jordan is worthless on the offensive end, but he is certainly effective on D. Even though Duke was finally able to stop the defensive bleeding, it continued to struggle on offense. Poor Alex provided a turnaround as he had a beautiful driving score and hit an all too rare trey. Amazingly, K thereupon pulled him from the lineup and he did not return for about 10 minutes. Still, Duke began making hoops and ran out to a 12 point lead, shaved a bit to 9 at the break.
Unfortunately, the team was not able to build on its momentum. There were a spate of careless turnovers to open the second half, and Georgia Tech capitalized. The Jackets, not a good outside shooting squad, suddenly came alive from long and vaulted into the lead. Duke went tight as this was happening, leaving a number of shots in close too short. But Tech finally cooled off and Tre made a couple of 8 foot shots to give Duke the lead once again. That lead was never relinquished.
While we are delighted to see the team prevail, there were some ominous signs. For one, the squad once again almost committed suicide at the line. They were just 11 for 21 overall, whereas the Jackets were 13 for 15. Their foul shooting proved fatal against Stephen F. Austin, and it almost did again.
Second, Duke showed that it has difficulty competing against a tall and athletic front line, something they have generally not faced this year. Most surprising was the ineffectiveness of Vernon. He was simply dominated by his Georgia Tech counterpart, James Banks. Even when Vernon had defensive position, he was not able to pull down a rebound against Banks. Yes, there were a few over-the-backs that were not called, but Banks was simply quicker off the floor and more athletic. He wound up with 15 rebounds, whereas Vernon had only 6. Not good. Overall, Duke was out-boarded 35 to 27.
The star of the evening for the Devils was Cassius Stanley. We remarked in the last write-up that he was going to the basket better, without the turnovers we had seen earlier in the season. Well, that certainly continued here, and he added a number of absolutely spectacular jams. The kid finished 6 for 9 from the floor. Not a ton of points (16 total), but it was the way in which they were scored that wowed. A very encouraging performance.
It was just not an impressive night at all for Vernon. Aside from the paucity of boards, he was just 6 for 14 from the floor and committed 4 turnovers with no assists. As we said, he was largely dominated by the opposition. And Matthew, who again started, confirmed that he is also unable to compete effectively against size inside. He was 4 for 13 from the floor in 33 minutes. He did, however, make 3 of his 7 shots from long. Not bad, but all those shots were wide open.
Aside from those two late clutch baskets, it was a difficult evening for Trey on the offensive end. He committed 4 bad turnovers and only went 5 for 10 from the line. The good news is that he had 7 assists and pulled down a team-high 8 boards. He is one tough kid.
Joey Baker was called upon to start the game, but essentially did nothing. His box score line is basically a string of goose eggs (he did not even attempt a shot), and he wound up with only about 4 minutes of court time.
After Jordan entered the game, he never really left. He wound up with 37 minutes, second only to Tre who had 39. Again, no offense, but solid defense. The box score is simply not indicative.
Jack, whose time has been steadily decreasing, played only 7 minutes. Very little to show for it other than one very big trey. We think he has made his last two from long, a major moral victory for Jack.
And then there is Poor Alex. We thought he actually played well. He was 4 for 6 from the field and 1 of 2 from long. He did choke a bit on his final shot, leaving an open look from about 8 feet short. He then committed a turnover on a sloppy pass (which for some reason was not charged to him by the official scorer), and he was sent to the pine. There is certainly a quick hook for Mr. O'Connell, but that has always been the case.
So Duke finds a way to win another one. That is good. We just wish we could be more impressed by this team.
Duke 95, Miami 62 (January 4, 2019). How the mighty have fallen. We are so used to seeing Miami give Duke a run for its money that this game seemed almost other-worldly. This is not your grandmother's Miami team. Heck, it's not your older sister's Miami team.
Duke, which we know is not exactly a collection of sharpshooters, did not even have to resort to taking jump shots. The team simply had its way inside, scoring time after time underneath against little defense. It was like a dream come true for Mr. Carey and his compatriots. Of course, it was a bit of a struggle at first, but that goes without saying for a Duke squad. However, after the midway point of the first half was passed, it became smooth sailing.
Not everything was perfect. Duke still had a few too many turnovers, including a number of very sloppy passes in the first half. And Javin committed what we consider the most cardinal sin -- fouling a three point shooter (which in our view should result in the immediate revocation of one's scholarship). But other than that, you would be hard pressed to find any fault with the performance. It must just be remembered that the competition was lacking.
Vernon continues to be a marvel. We did not know exactly what to expect coming into the season since he was limited by injury at the end of last year. But he has been more than we had even hoped. In this one, he was 11 for 14 from the floor (24 total points) and grabbed 9 boards in only 25 minutes of court time. Of course, a lot of those were easy hoops, but the overall was still quite impressive. The one issue, as always, is the amount of time he spends on the bench. When he goes to the pine in favor of Javin, the drop-off is simply gargantuan on both ends of the court. Gargantuan.
The other kid who sparkled was Cassius. Last game, Matthew had a break-out performance; this time it was Cassius. The kid finished with 20 points on 8 for 11 shooting, and 16 of that total came in the first half. What's more, only two were true jumpers; the rest were off drives. Contrary to what we heard from color guy, Jay Bilious, scoring off the drive had not been an area where Cassius has excelled to date, so it was nice to see him succeed against Miami.
Tre played his usual sparkling defense and had some lovely assists. He even had a decent shooting night, going 4 for 7 from the field. Of course, a couple occurred during garbage time when the team was feeling no pain. The one downside was the 3 turnovers, unusual for him, particularly given the lack of any stout defense by Miami.
Matthew started and played a team-leading 27 minutes, but it was a relatively quiet performance. Not bad, just quiet. He had 13 points on 6 for 8 shooting (one trey at the very end of the first half) and 6 boards. One would have expected a bit more against this Miami team, but so be it.
The final starter was Alex. It was the same story with K. After missing a jumper, Alex went to the bench, where he largely remained throughout the game. Indeed, he trailed all players (other than Justin Robinson) with only 10 minutes of PT. As we have noted repeatedly, his once-vaunted jumper has almost completely disappeared (one of his two attempts in this one was an air ball), but he still brings some nice things to the table: he is very athletic, is a good passer, goes to the boards, and is probably the quickest Duke player. We will now go back to referring to him as Poor Alex.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Wendell Moore. Almost every year, K has his "Boy Toy" who seems to get more Pt than his court performance would otherwise seem to merit. So far this season, the beneficiary has been Wendell. Now, we must say that Wendell did not have a poor outing against Miami; indeed, he had one beautiful driving lay-up through competition. But he also had his usual assortment of turnovers -- 3 in 21 minutes against only 2 assists. Hard to understand why his minutes doubled those of Poor Alex, but that is vintage K.
Joey Baker continues to struggle from the outside, this time missing his only two attempts. As a result, he was limited to 13 minutes. He still plays with great intensity and was able to offer a couple of baskets inside, but he also needlessly fouled on the other end. So it was a mixed evening.
Finally, Jordan was able to get a lot of court time due to two first half fouls picked up by Trey (K knew this one was in the bag anyway). It was vintage Jordan … very tough defensively and relatively turnover-free, but little offense. There was, however, another rare three-pointer. Even when successful, we usually hate to see him attempt them, though it certainly didn't matter in this one.
Overall, Duke was almost 60% from the floor against the Canes, and dominant on the boards (41 to 24). While the ACC is very weak overall, those stats are something we shall probably not be seeing again this year (or at least until Miami comes to Durham later on), so we'll just savor it for a while.
Duke 88, Boston College 49 (December 31, 2019). Another fairly slow start for the Devils, but that is virtually de rigueur. The very good news is that unlike their last outing, the team did not wait 30 minutes to step on the accelerator. Once they did, this looked nothing like the cluster of stumblebums that we painfully watched against Brown.
Boston College came into the contest with a 2 and 0 record in ACC play. That says a great deal about the quality of the ACC this season, and none of it good. The Eagles were simply godawful. They scored all of 15 in the first half of this one. It would be nice to attribute that all to Duke's defense; in fact, the defense was good, but not that good. BC's shooting percentage was 28.6% in the opening half, and it didn't even seem that high.
We did get to see former Dukie Derryck Thornton reappear on the Cameron floor, much older and thicker than when last seen. Just another of K's overrated signees, he was about as effective last evening as he was in a Duke uniform. Six points and two turnovers in 26 minutes.
The big news of the evening was Matthew Hurt. Let's face it, Matthew looked nothing like an elite prospect prior to this game. Indeed, we just got through musing that it is very difficult to see him as a one and done. Well, if he can somehow repeat this performance with any kind of regularity, we will definitely have to eat those words. Far and away, Matthew had his best game as a Devil. He was 10 for 16 from the floor (5 for 10 from long) to lead the team in scoring with 25 points … and no one else was close. He didn't add many rebounds or assists (he is not a good passer), but he did limit his turnovers to one. It was quite a turnaround for him, and a most welcome development for this team that usually can't shoot straight.
K continues to play a 12 man rotation, and we are likely to see that until the team finally comes up against a worthy opponent. Aside from Hurt, the scoring was extremely balanced and diffused. The most interesting thing was Vernon's lack of offensive input -- he only scored 9 points, taking just 6 shots from the floor. Unlike prior contests when Duke had no other scorers, Duke did not feel the need to try to force it inside to Vernon. But even without the baskets, Carey made his presence felt with 9 boards and 4 blocks. We continue to admire his athleticism in the post.
This non-contest saw the return of Tre Jones after a two game absence. He started slowly, missing two jumpers from the corner badly. In fact, he scored only 5 points all evening. But the rest of the game was there: his defense was, as usual, strong and he had 10 assists to just 1 turnover (a very lazy pass late in the game). It does mean a lot to get him back in the lineup.
Aside from the three kids mentioned, Duke's starters were Alex and Cassius. We were delighted to see Alex do something we had not witnessed for a very long time -- make a trey in the first half. He did go some time before scoring again, however, and had just 8 points in only 14 minutes. Not sure why the PT was so limited … perhaps it was the missed wide open stuff shot in the second half. But at least Alex did hit another long jumper, finishing 2 for 3 from long. Doesn't seem like much, but it was a moral victory for him.
We thought that Cassius played fairly well. Nine points, five boards and only one turnover. We were happy to see him taking the ball inside without fumbling it away, something that has been all too rare this year.
Wendell was actually Duke's second leading scorer with 11 points. Once again, he got a large allotment of minutes vis-à-vis his compatriots (25). Amazingly, Tre only played 24. The good news is that we only remember Wendell forcing one shot, and he managed to hit his only trey. Certainly not spectacular, but solid nonetheless.
As for Joey Baker, we no sooner gushed about his extraordinary shooting prowess a couple of games ago than he decided to go stone cold. At least unlike the Brown game, he managed to hit one trey (1 for 5). But even with that failing, we liked his performance. He took the ball to the hoop beautifully for scores on a couple of occasions and was able to drive and dish nicely other times. He is playing with a level of skill and intensity that we had not anticipated coming into the season … and that clearly goes double for K.
We will not go one by one down the roster any further, other than to note that Jack White did manage to hit one from long. Unfortunately, he did commit 2 turnovers in his limited minutes. We just hate to see him try to put the ball on the floor.
So it was all good. We take no fiendish delight in savaging this team as duty compelled us to do following that embarrassing outing against Brown. Let's pray that our dispositions can continue to remain this rosy.
Duke 75, Brown 50 (December 28, 2019). This was an utter disgrace ... at least for the first 30 minutes. Absolutely disgraceful. Duke was leading by just 6 points at the break, and that against a squad they should have beaten by 40. The final score was not remotely indicative of the game as a whole since Duke was unable to break things open until about midway through the second period.
The first half was a display of spectacular ineptitude by Duke. Everything jump shot missed, as well as a number in close. We think the team was 0 for 12 from long. And on the other end, there were a number of breakdowns as well. Of course, all the Duke apologists will be blaming this on the exam break. Well, the fact is that this Brown team had been off for even longer (18 days) and seemed none the worse for wear. So spare us the excuses.
Now, we do have to acknowledge that for the second game in a row, Tre Jones was sitting on the sidelines. Jordan was somehow able to take up the slack against Wofford, but his performance here was much less encouraging. Jordan finished just 1 for 3 from the floor. He did have 5 boards and 5 assists, but had 3 turnovers. Not exactly stellar considering the level of competition.
We were pleased to see that K rewarded Joey for his recent outstanding play with a starting role. Alas, the kid whom we had raved about in our last report proceeded to go 1 for 6 from the floor, the only make being a lay-in. We still believe him to be an outstanding jump shooter, but he seemed intent in this game on playing to the level of his teammates.
The star of the game, once again, was Vernon Carey. Recognizing Duke's shooting weakness, Brown seemed determined at the outset to double him whenever he touched the ball. It worked at first, but Vernon eventually took charge. Interestingly, he did not grab many rebounds, but he was having his way inside. He finished with a team high 19 points on 8 for 13 shooting. He also showed some nice flashes on the defensive end. For much of the game, Vernon was Duke's only weapon on the court.
For the first three quarters of the contest, the only player beside Vernon who acquitted himself even remotely well was Jack White. True, he has no jump shot at all, but he was fighting underneath and scoring occasionally by virtue of sheer determination. Not a lot of points to be sure (9), but at least he was providing a modicum of balance.
The second leading scorer was Alex, though all the points came late. It has become almost formulaic that Alex will miss everything he attempts in the first half, then make several jumpers down the stretch. And that's exactly what happened here … Alex finally hit a long two about midway through the second half, then went on a tear, hitting his next three (two were treys). His were the only long jumpers made by Duke in the game. The team finished 2 for 16 from beyond the arc. Indeed, we only remember Duke hitting 5 jump shots all day. How pathetic is that?
Cassius started again, but it was more of the same for him. A few scores, though these were on open drives. But when he has to dribble against competition, forget it. Ball handling is simply not a forte.
Also business as usual for Matthew Hurt. He did finish with 8 points, but these were all uncontested shots in close. The contested shots never seem to drop for him. Were it not for his height advantage against Brown, he would have been a complete nonfactor.
Lastly, we have Wendell Moore. For the last 7 minutes or so, he looked great, scoring most of his points. The problem was the first 33 minutes. During that extended period, he was not exactly a joy to behold, missing virtually everything and turning the ball over several times. Still, he did manage to lead the team in rebounds (7), and had 4 steals. A seesaw game to be sure, but at least we had some nice glimpses.
Wow. What a painful way this was to end the Christmas week. It is truly difficult to fathom how a squad stocked with such a plethora of highly touted athletes can play so abominably. We'll just leave it at that.
Duke 86, Wofford 57 (December 19, 2019). Tre Jones reportedly suffered a mild foot sprain in practice, so he was held out as a precaution. It turns out Duke didn't need him at all. As usual, it was a slow start for Duke, but by the halftime break the spread was 13 ... and that only because Wofford hit a long buzzer-beating three. And after the break, the Joey Baker show began and it turned into a runaway.
ESPN lost interest in the game a few minutes into it. How else to explain a ten minute interview with an almost unctuously precocious 12 year old while play was silently proceeding. Too bad the network didn't save the distraction for an evening when Mr. Bilas was in the broadcast booth. But we digress.
One would expect Vernon to have a field day against the much shorter Terriers, and that was indeed the case. They simply couldn't match up with him, although he was immediately doubled every time he touched the ball. Vernon finished with 10 boards and 20 points on 8 for 11 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the line. We are particularly gratified to see that his foul shooting continues to be much more consistent, although our saying that may be the kiss of death. Anyway, it was a very welcome showing for Vernon after his terribly desultory performance against Virginia Tech.
We really have to salute Jordan, a kid whom we have generally dissed in the past. The fact is that he did play very well defensively down the stretch last season, and has been an important defensive cog as well this year. In this game, he was forced to play the role of Tre Jones, and we were amazed to see that he carried it off like a master impressionist. Five assists, no turnovers, and three boards. Only 8 points to be sure, but it was on three for three shooting from the floor. And whereas in the past, the only shots he could make were easy lay-ups, two of these scores were on tricky drives, and the other was a trey! We thought we were watching a remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. But it was all good. Very good.
And then we come to the other star of the game ... Joey Baker. This kid has now become our favorite player. He had but five points at the half (on 5 for 5 foul shooting), but the second half was something else again. Joey went on a three point shooting spree the likes of which we haven't seen since, well, since Joey's outing against Winthrop. (Note to K: start scheduling schools that begin with W). It was truly beautiful to behold. We will say without qualification that Baker currently has the best jump shot we have ever seen at Duke ... and yes, that includes J.J. What's more, he is able to get it off very quickly. He finished 5 for 7 from long against the Terriers in just 18 minutes. His minutes need to be over 20 a night since he is the one real outside weapon for Duke.
After that, things decline a bit. Statistically, Matthew had a nice outing, going 6 for 9 from the floor and grabbing 8 boards. However, that result was largely due to the height differential, although it did require effort on Matthew's part. The bad news is that Matthew missed his shots from long, as well as his only two free throw attempts. And it continues to be a recipe for disaster whenever he tries to dribble in the lane.
And speaking of dribbling issues, we must again turn to Cassius. The kid started well, hitting a trey out of the gate. Thereafter, he did virtually nothing. The problem again is that he is just not a very adept ball handler. When he tries to dribble for a score, bad things tend to happen. Sadly, that seems to be almost a universal problem with this squad. Cassius started, but only scored 4 points in 18 minutes.
Jack started, but also did little. Javin continued to spell Vernon extensively given the latter's lack of stamina, and once again did so commendably. Though he did not start, Wendell got 24 minutes of PT -- we wish we could say that he acquitted himself well, but that would be an exaggeration. He was 2 for 8 from the floor, repeatedly missing lay-ups, his best stat being the 7 boards he came up with. We continue to dislike Wendell's game.
And that brings us to Mr. O'Connell. With Tre on the bench, Alex started. For most of the contest, it was business as usual. A couple of defensive break-downs and poor jump shooting. Alex came into the game shooting 22% from long, and it looked like more of the same -- at the end of the first half, his shot from the corner actually hit the side of the backboard. It was ugly. Then, the same miracle occurred as in Duke's prior game ... Alex hit his final three jumpers down the stretch. It is truly difficult to figure. The Alex of yore would add so much to this team that desperately needs a second long-range threat, but we certainly can't count on it from Alex at this point. All we get are teasers of the days long past.
And now, off to the Christmas break with a return against mighty Brown ... a late morning game because nobody will probably care to watch it. As we mentioned before, it should be easy sledding until mid-January. Too bad for that Stephen Austin debacle, or Duke would have had a very long run at No. 1.
Duke 77, Virginia Tech 63 (December 6, 2019). Wow. We are not even sure where to begin. Duke won this road game, always difficult to do at Blacksburg, by essentially jettisoning most of their starting lineup. Who could ever have predicted this script?
The Hokies started this one absolutely on fire. Everything they were tossing up was going in. Conversely, all of Duke's shots seemed to bounce around the hoop and fall away. It was fortunate that the Hokies were not up by more than 11 or so. What's more, as has been the case all too often of late, Duke's defense did nothing to stop their opponents from getting shots in close. Tech's defense through the first half was simply much better. Even so, Duke finally started making some shots and did manage to narrow the gap to three at the break.
The second half again started with a Tech spurt, at which point K called a Come To Jesus timeout. He put in a smaller lineup that could actually put up some defensive resistance, and that resulted in a spate of Tech turnovers and misses on very contested shots. Duke was actually playing very tough defense for the first time in ages. And Duke turned the tables by making a number of shots on its own under the hoop. Miraculously, Duke built up an 18 point spread with about five minutes left, all with Vernon, Cassius and Matthew mired on the bench. Amazing.
It is interesting to look at the final team stats. Given the big second half spread, one would expect a much higher shooting percentage for Duke or a significant rebounding margin. In fact, neither was the case. The teams were fairly even. The stripe was an advantage for Duke -- even though the Devils committed more fouls overall, the Hokies committed more shooting fouls. Duke had 10 attempts at the line and miraculously made them all. That makes us very happy indeed. But the real differential was in the turnovers, and that is really what was decisive. Duke had only 7 miscues, whereas the Hokies had 14. And it was all due to that second half defensive intensity.
Tre was less than impressive through the first half, but really stepped up down the stretch on both ends. He led the team in scoring with 15, although this was probably Duke's most balanced effort of the season. Interestingly, Tre also shared the lead for rebounding at six ... tying, of all people, Jordan!
And speaking of Jordan, the kid got a ton of Pt and acquitted himself well. If you had read our last game report, you will remember that we lambasted Jordan for attempting a trey. Well, against the Hokies, Jordan actually made two treys!!!! Gee whiz, that probably elevated his career three point shooting to about 10%. Of course, he missed another three long attempts against the Hokies, the final one an air ball, so we absolutely stand by what we have always said in the past. Nevertheless his fortuitous makes and his strong play on the other end were big against Tech.
Joey Baker, who had been huge of late, played hard but had nothing much to show. The shots were not falling, and he finished 0 for 4 from the floor. His only two points came at the line. Still, it was indicative that K had him on the court a fair amount of time down the stretch, whereas Matthew was not to be seen.
Wendell had a completely unproductive first half, and missed an easy lay-in early in the second. But he thereafter scored in close from an in-bounds pass and went on to add a few more hoops ... all underneath except for a short fall-away jumper that unintentionally hit glass and bounced in. Better to be lucky than good. The really good news, however, is that he was not forcing anything, and was one of the defensive stalwarts down the stretch.
Maybe the best news from our standpoint was the late effort by Poor Alex. He started the game in his new normal fashion -- by missing every jumper he attempted. Then a miracle occurred during Duke's late second half run .... Alex nailed a trey from the side ... then, on Duke's following possession, he swished another shot inside the line. It was as if the dam had finally broken. Whether this portends good going forward, however, is impossible to say. But given the kid's great athleticism, it would be a godsend for the Devils if Alex could at least in part reclaim his once golden shot.
We had mentioned that Wendell and Matthew spent most of the second half on the bench. So did Cassius Stanley, who came back from his injury to start the game. Contrary to what we have come to expect, Wendell did virtually nothing in this one to win the game for Duke. Instead, he missed a number of shots in close, and allowed repeated defensive drives and scores. It should have been Vernon's night to shine given his big height advantage, but shine he certainly didn't.
Matthew did sink a couple of treys in the first half, but he was strictly MIA after the break. The final death knell was his pass across court that sailed about 15 feet too high. Regardless, K obviously felt that Matthew's defense was a liability for the team, and Duke's comeback suggested that K was probably correct.
What was really interesting is that Javin was also MIA after the break. Javin did play respectably in the first half, making a couple of inside shots. However, K rightly decided that Jack was the better defensive option for the team, so Jack was the guy on the floor when Duke turned the game around. It was all quite extraordinary.
One final note, When Duke built its sizable spread with about five minutes left, we would have expected Tech to ramp up the defensive intensity. In fact, the Hokies did just the opposite. They did not press at all down court and really just dropped back on defense. It was as if they had simply given up. It was rather shocking.
So there it goes. Winning at Blacksburg has been difficult for Duke, and Duke's early play did not auger well in this one. We are therefore ecstatic by what finally transpired. We are just shaking our heads about the way it happened.
Duke 87, Michigan State 75 (December 3, 2019). Who saw this coming? We didn't. Not that we thought Duke had no shot, but we never expected the Spartans to be effectively blown out on their home floor against this Duke team.. Just shows that State's less than impressive early record is no fluke … this is not your grandmother's Michigan State team.
Duke did benefit from a bunch of early State miscues to jump to an immediate lead it never relinquished. Duke also came up with an extraordinary number of blocks (11). And those blocks were distributed well. We have no doubt that the post-game commentary will celebrate the Duke defense. Oddly enough, we don't. Not that the defense was terrible, but State was still getting tons of scores off layups. We also thought that Duke again did a very poor job switching … ball movement by State would almost invariably find the ball guarded by two defenders with a Spartan wide open. And Michigan State was not nearly as dominant on the boards as they typically are … Duke actually out-rebounded them, albeit not by much. No, we think the real difference is that State is just not very good.
Despite all the early talk by the announcers of Spartan turnovers, the final stats show that Duke once again lost the overall turnover battle. That is very disturbing. The good news is that Duke otherwise was unusually efficient on offense. They were 56% overall from the field, almost 47% from three, and over 72% from the line. That is remarkably good for this team against a quality opponent.
As is normal, Vernon put up the big numbers. Twenty-six points and 11 boards in only 25 minutes. Michigan State could not stop him, particularly with the zebras whistling virtually all contact. At the line, he was 9 for 12. True to form, his performance there was much better in the first half when he was fresh, but we'll take those overall numbers from him any time.. He really played a good game.
Tre got his normal 40 minutes and gave the team 12 assists and 20 points. Unfortunately, he also continued his recent trend of coughing up the ball as well, this time turning it over 6 times. Still, it was a tough, gutsy performance by the kid who is truly the heart of this team.
Matthew had a second consecutive commendable performance. In 27 minutes, he had 10 points and 3 blocks. Only 2 rebounds, but that is to be expected for a kid with his frame. What we really liked was the fact that he was not trying to force drives, something that has been an issue with him. He only took 8 shots; 3 of those were from long and he made 2 of them. This is about as much as we can hope to see from Matthew in a big game, so it was good.
But let's stop once again to cheer the efforts of the Boy Wonder, Joey Baker. What a blessing he has become to this squad. It took a while for K to get him inserted, but he almost immediately made his impact felt. He wound up with 17 minutes and finished 5 for 6 from the floor. The first 5 went in (though one was an uncalled banker from the top of the key). This is the only kid on the squad whom we actually expect to sink a jumper. Given the fact that he did not commit a single turnover in the game, his play screams for even more minutes. Of course, we cannot expect him to remain as torrid as he is now, but the team desperately needs the outside threat he provides.
Once again, Wendell started. Once again, it was utter futility. Zero points, one board and three fouls in 10 minutes. There is no way to justify a starting role here.
As we expected, Jack was in the opening lineup with Cassius gone. It was the typical journeyman Jack White performance. In his 31 minutes, he only put up 7 points, but he did collect 6 rebounds and had a couple of blocks. On the downside, he lost a couple of boards (his hands are not the quickest) and he committed 3 turnovers.
OK, everyone, hold onto your hats because we are about to do something truly remarkable. We are actually going to salute Mr. DeLaurier. As our readers should be well aware, we have always been less than enamored of Javin's court abilities. But against State, he played one of his best games. He scored 10 points, all on layups or jams, but nevertheless it was 5 for 5. He also got a couple of steals and had 6 boards. And amazingly enough, he only had one foul. It was as well as he is capable of playing, and the really good news is that he did not try to force anything on offense.
Jordan also got a ton of minutes (24). Not much to show on the stat sheet other than the 3 boards, but at least no turnovers. Of course, he missed his only two jumpers. As we have noted in prior years, a savvy coach would look Jordan squarely in the eye and tell him that if he ever attempted a jump shot, he would immediately be on the bench. Bobby Knight would have done that; of course, K never will.
And that brings us to Poor Alex. Once again, missing his only shot attempt and once again, languishing on the bench. As we have said, he has effectively shot himself out of the rotation.
Now on to Virginia Tech, always a tough game away for Duke. Then a very extended easy stretch until the middle of January , when Duke plays Louisville at home. We know how dangerous it is to look ahead, but with this schedule it is hard not to.
Duke 83, Winthrop 70 (November 29, 2019). Another trip down memory lane … watching opponents drive repeatedly past Duke defenders into the lane, either scoring or dishing and scoring underneath. We hate memory lane.
For the second game in a row, Duke's foe was playing much better defense. What Duke was allowing was, forgive the pun, indefensible. We were not at the point of clamoring for a zone switch, particularly given Winthrop's ability to hit threes, but we were not happy campers. We don't have the stats to see how many of Winthrop's makes were under the basket, but we are sure the percentage was huge. And of course, Duke came out unable to hit jumpers at first.
But two rather unlikely heroes saved the bacon for the Devils. Matthew Hurt, who had previously struggled mightily in tough games, made some big first half shots to lead Duke on the offensive end. He remains highly problematical when he tries to drive against defenders, usually flailing awkwardly at the hoop and giving up the ball. Even so, he was able to make some really big shots for the team. And despite his thin frame, he was also able to pull down 8 boards against his shorter opponents. That is very good. It doesn't convince us that he will be a major weapon against the likes of Michigan State, but it is a good start.
And then there's Joey Baker. All we can say is, Thank God for Joey! He was amazing on the offensive end, going 6 for 7 from the floor and 4 for 5 from long. We love efficiency, and that was efficiency personified. To say that Joey is the best shot on this squad is an understatement. His form is so perfect and his shot so sweet that it is rare to see even the net move as the ball goes through. After his no-show against Kansas, we were sure that we wouldn't be seeing much of him in big games. But necessity changed all that, and Joey is making the very best of his opportunity.
Yes, we do have to acknowledge that Joey's athleticism is very limited (which is also true to a lesser extent of Matthew). His hand and foot quickness leaves a fair amount to be desired, and he is a threat solely as a set shooter. But his quick release and accuracy makes that a very significant threat. On defense, he is much more problematical, though he did the best he could against the Eagles. Anyway, it was a great night for the kid. He was the difference for Duke, and we are so happy for him.
Vernon had another double-double game, but we found it much less impressive. He made some defensive miscues, often foolishly gambling and allowing a lane to the hoop, and was not blocking off the defensive glass. On the other end, many of his shots in close were simply not dropping. As a result, his field goal percentage dropped from its usual lofty peak to 50%. Not bad, but not great either when all of the shots are within a few feet and the opponents are smaller. At least the free throw shooting was better … 7 for 10. But we still saw a lack of consistency in the motion before releasing the shot, something that should never happen. That's a coaching issue as well.
Tre had another up and down game. He was somewhat better on offense, going 6 for 12. But he seemed to tighten up in the second half, leaving some open jumpers short. And he again committed an untoward number of turnovers … 5 against just 6 assists. That's not what we expect from this kid. And it is part of a larger problem for the team, which again committed more turnovers than their opponents. 22 turnovers against Austin, and now 16 against Winthrop. Very bad.
We are all concerned about Cassius Stanley. He did not play well at all in the first half, then suffered an undetermined injury early in the second period. It was really quite bizarre. Stanley was heading downcourt for an uncontested shot. Everyone expected a monster jam, but Cassius instead tossed it awkwardly off the glass and missed everything. He then went down and did not come back up. Did the injury occur before the leap up, leading to that horrible shot, or was it the result of his landing? We have no idea, but we have little doubt that it will be yet another Duke leg injury that will result in a very long-term recovery process. That is major because Duke has virtually no offensive firepower at the guard position.
Speaking of no offensive firepower, Alex made his usual brief first half appearance and promptly missed an open jumper. The poor kid could not make a jump shot to save his life. If you stationed him three feet from the basket and had all defenders go to the bench, he would miss the shot. How the mighty have fallen. Even so, we would still lobby for more PT due to his athleticism if he could only shake that perilous habit of taking his eyes off the player he is trying to defend.
Once again, Wendell started. Once again, there was little good to show for it. Against Winthrop, he played 19 minutes, and in all that time gave his team 0 points, 1 board, and 2 turnovers. At least early on we were congratulating him for not trying to force things as usual … that is until he went charging into the lane and barreled into an opponent. It was dreadful. If Cassius were healthy, Wendell should be out of the starting lineup, but we expect to see him there under the circumstances.
Given Vernon's periodic defensive lapses, Javin got more minutes than usual. We have bitten our lips all season to be polite and less than forthcoming about his play. In this one, it was pretty much more of the same, though he did make his only two lay-up attempts.
Interestingly, Jack only got 8 minutes. He too was pretty much as usual, giving Duke nothing on offense, but some grittiness on the other end. Those halcyon days at the beginning of last season are long gone.
That brings us to Jordan. We all know that he has absolutely no offensive skills. But he was a difference maker on defense. His big steals in the second half led to a nice Duke spurt that put the game away. He had 5 steals in all. Those were big for Duke.
One final word about our esteemed coach, Once Duke built its first 11 point lead in the second half, El Greco! saw fit to populate the court with this lineup: Javin, Jack, Wendell, Alex, and Jordan. Notice anything there, folks? That's right ... none of these kids are capable of making a jump shot. That lineup was simply insane. And it naturally led to a comeback by the Eagles until Duke put in some personnel to stem the one-sided flow. It was just beyond stupid.
And now … on to the Spartans. This is not a great Michigan State team, but they will be tough. We'll see how the Duke freshman can react to the size and physicality of this opponent.
Stephen F. Austin 85, Duke 83 (November 26, 2019). The first home non-conference loss since 2000. Yes, Stephen F. has been a tough program over the last half decade, but this should never have happened. The Lumberjacks were simply quicker, stronger and tougher. They were making shots with contact underneath. That is something that this Duke squad simply does not do.
So, who out there would have predicted this result when Duke was up by 15 with eight and a half minutes left in the first half? We don't see any hands raised. Not surprising, because we certainly did not anticipate what was to transpire.
Duke's problem was threefold. First, they couldn't handle the defensive pressure. One can talk all day about Duke's defense, but the defense of the Lumberjacks was better. The Devils had 22 turnovers (14 for their opponents). Twice in overtime Duke could not even get a shot off within the requisite time. On the other end, Austin was able all evening to drive inside and either make a tough shot or pass off to an open teammate. Duke would have been better off in a zone (assuming this squad has even been properly trained in zone play), but that was not an adjustment K was able to bring himself to make.
Duke was also continually out-hustled down the court. Off a Duke turnover, the Lumberjacks were on multiple occasions down court to score before Duke could regather.
And then there was the foul shooting. While Duke was unusually effective at the stripe in the first half, they were abysmal after the break. The worst culprit? Mr. Carey, of course. By our count, he was 2 for 9 at the line in the second half. We thought it would be just a matter of time before his free throw shooting would lead to disaster. We just didn't think it would occur this evening.
In fairness to Vernon, his play otherwise was strong. He had 20 points on 8 for 10 shooting, 11 boards, and an incredible 7 blocks. That is terrific, though it still does not excuse what he did at the line. He has no regular rhythm there, and we have to assign some blame to the coaching staff as well. It has been our impression over the years that no one on the Duke staff really knows how to coach free throw shooting.
Cassius Stanley had some big plays for Duke. He had two of Duke's five treys, and added 4 blocked shots. He might well have won the game for Duke if he could make shots near the hoop with some contact. It is the rare freshman who can, and Cassius is not one of them. Oh, where have you gone, Zion?
Tre was credited with 12 assists and 4 steals. He also made two shots from long. But it still was not a good night for him. He was just 4 for 10 from the floor overall, and he had a host of turnovers. He had 8 in all, and was extremely lucky not to have had one more after a bad pass of his luckily ricocheted to a Duke player. The defensive pressure of the Lumberjacks was giving him fits.
Wendell, the Second Coming according to Dan Dakich, played a whopping 34 minutes, third on the squad. His was not a bad performance; it was simply not particularly effective. He had 9 points, 3 boards, 3 assists, and 3 turnovers. He did not make a difference for Duke. The best thing we can offer is that at least he did not try to force things, and that is a blessing.
Matthew, who has not been competitive in big games, was also respectable. He played 22 minutes and scored 15 points -- 5 for 10 from the floor and 4 for 4 from the line. But his lack of strength and quickness still made itself manifest by what he couldn't do (two rebounds).
As usual, despite the alleged depth, Duke under K is always short-benched in big games. Only 6 players had more than 8 minutes for the Devils; in contrast, eight Lumberjacks had more than double digit minutes. That is quintessential K. Anyway, the only other Dukie with multiple minutes was Mr. White, and it was a typical performance from him: some toughness on the defensive end, but absolutely nothing on offense.
So, congrats to the Jacks. They deserved to win this one. It's not the end of the world for Duke, but it shows that they are more than capable of losing to any respectable team.
Duke 81, Georgetown 73 (November 22, 2019). This one was really ugly. For much of the first half, it appeared that Duke was about to be toppled from its lofty peak. The Hoyas were quick and athletic, and Duke's already iffy offense was absolutely stymied. The only thing keeping Duke in the game was its stalwart defense, which resulted in the usual plethora of opponent turnovers. Unfortunately, Georgetown's own defensive talents were doing the same on the other end.
At this point, we need to stop this broadcast for an important zebra alert. The refs in this game, Brian Dorsey and his two partners in crime, were simply an obscenity. A total of 51 fouls were called. The game was stopped constantly for one whistle or another. The only good news is that Duke was as often the beneficiary of a gift as not. Even so, this kind of thing is an abomination and ruins the game.
Anyway, this contest followed the usual pattern for Duke. Terrible struggles early, then one or two guys finally hit shots and things turn around. The offensive benefactors for the Devil were three: Vernon Carey, Cassius Stanley, and our prior whipping boy, Wendell Moore.
Let's start with Mr. Moore. This was by far his best performance. By Far. He played a whopping 36 minutes (second only to Tre's 39) and scored 17 points. Those were huge as Duke built up its lead to 14 in the second half. While one of his field goals was a three, that is not his forte as we know. Rather, he is a slasher, and this game afforded him the opportunity to do just that. The aggressive man defense of the Hoyas allowed him to drive past a defender with a lane to the hoop. That is something he simply cannot do against the zone defenses Duke had been facing. The bad news is that he still had a large number of turnovers … seven in all. Still, we were delighted by what he gave the team.
Vernon had another strong outing, although Georgetown's strength frustrated him more than Cal was able to. Carey finished with 20 points on a solid 8 for 14 from the floor. He also added 10 boards once again. There was, however, one problem, and it was a big one. After commending him for his effort at the foul line against Cal, we need to rip him a new one for his free throw shooting in this game. He was simply awful … 4 for 10 from the stripe. Duke went into its typical slowdown in the last several minutes, and Carey's foul shooting ineptitude helped a once sizeable lead shrink to four. This could be a major issue going forward.
Finally, Mr. Stanley. Having watched Cassius now for a half dozen games, we have come to realize that he does have some ball-handling issues -- any extensive dribbling will typically result in a turnover. On the other hand, his great athleticism and his soft shooting touch have been a boon to the team. That athleticism translates into his ability to get big rebounds; against the Hoyas, it was 8 boards, second on the team. And Cassius is one of the few kids on the squad who can actually make a jump shot; indeed, after Joey, he is probably Duke's best marksman at this point. Blessedly, he was 3 for 3 from long against the Hoyas. Every time Georgetown started to come back in the second half, it seemed Cassius would nail one. And the kid was 6 for 7 at the line to boot. He was money.
Speaking of Joey, he did get 10 minutes, even though the Hoya defense was not ideal for his game. He was able to sink an open three from the side, however, and added another hoop as well. For what it was, it was all good.
Tre really struggled offensively. He was not making shots against Cal, and this was even worse. He finished 3 for 13 overall, and was 0 for 2 from long. The Hoya defense also pressured him into an unusual number of turnovers (4). Not pretty at all, but the saving grace on offense was his performance at the line -- 7 for 8, including key shots down the stretch.
After that, it was fairly ugly. Once again, Matthew Hurt, who started, demonstrated that he is simply not ready to compete at this level. He was completely overmatched on the court in the first half, and he did not even appear after intermission. He had a total of 5 minutes of PT. He may one day turn into a top line player, but we cannot see that happening soon. He can't score inside against the big guys, and his outside game has been erratic to say the least.
We know how weak Duke was from the outside last season. This year, Matthew was supposed to be one of the prime reasons that would turn around. More PT for Alex would presumably be another. Well, neither has materialized. Alex got all of 4 minutes in this one, despite the fact that his athleticism might have helped against the Hoyas. The problem is that he is missing everything he is throwing up, and K has no confidence now in his offensive game. How someone can morph from a great shooter to a terrible shooter is indeed a mystery. As we noted previously, the Duke staff should be poring through old film to see what has changed with his jumper.
With Matthew's struggles, Jack got an amazing 33 minutes. He played with his usual toughness, but his limitations were also quite evident. He is an offensive liability. He is prone to turning the ball over if he tries to dribble, and his shot is virtually nonexistent. For all those minutes, he was only able to contribute 5 points on 1 for 3 shooting from the floor. He also had but 3 boards. The big moment of the evening was the moment where he leapt beyond the baseline to throw the ball off a defender; however, even there, the replay showed that the refs blew the call in Duke's favor.
Lastly, Javin. We have been very diplomatic thus far this season in talking about Javin's game. The sad truth is that he really is not any kind of a defensive stopper, and is a major liability on the offensive end. He played 13 minutes against Georgetown, and it was more of the same … zero points and five fouls. If Vernon is injured (or fouls out because he continues to commit stupid fouls), Duke is in a world of trouble.
Duke 87, California 52 (November 21, 2019). Interesting game. Duke was, as usual, superb on the defensive end. We also love how this team goes to the defensive boards, unusual for a K squad. But the problem, at least initially, was once again on offense. Duke came out of the gate missing everything, and after eight minutes of play they had scored around six points. The fact that they wound up with 87 was nothing short of a miracle.
This was Vernon Carey's night. He is by far the most impressive of the freshman, which is what Duke needed this season given their weakness inside. We do applaud K for the way he is just putting Javin in for a brief spurt here and there to get Vernon necessary breathers. Javin did wind up with 18 minutes, but that was only because the game had been broken wide open and the garbage time was extensive.
Vernon wound up with 31 points on 11 for 18 shooting. He was also, blessedly, 8 for 9 from the line. We have been justifiably critical of Vernon's performance at the stripe to date, but we have observed that when he actually takes his time and concentrates, he does well. He needs to develop a routine at the line that involves timing and concentration, something that is incumbent upon the coaching staff to instill.
Anyway, we also love the fact that Vernon can score through contact, which none of his teammates is capable of doing. And on the other end, his footwork and athleticism have been much better than expected. We are really high on this kid. He just needs to play very smart and avoid reaching fouls at all costs.
After an incredible offensive outing in the last game, Tre was quiet on that end. The good news is that he was able to pop a couple of threes. He was 2 for 5 from long, a 40% rate that we would be ecstatic to see continue. And the rest of his game was almost flawless. Seven assists and no turnovers, although he could have been charged with one late in the game had the scorer chosen to.
As we expected, Alex did not start. He has simply shot his way out of a job. And the woes continued in this one. He missed every jumper he attempted, finishing 1 for 6 from the floor. The one shot he made was a spectacular driving stuff. It is such a tragedy because he could be a godsend to this team if he could make shots.
Cassius had a very quiet night. He had one great leaping rebound and was able to sink two treys. That's about it. Unfortunately, like most of his compatriots, he can't score through contact. But at least he was able to go to the line and make shots there (5 for 6).
Actually, Duke had probably its best game at the stripe, shooting 23 for 31 (74%). But we do have to qualify that by noting that two of the misses were the front ends of one and ones. The big miscreant there was Mr. Moore. He missed two consecutive front ends, and his next foul shot as well. We listened to Dan Dakich gush like a school girl about Wendell all evening. Much as we do like Dakich, we think he has gone way overboard.
Wendell did start this game, but was again problematical on the offensive end. He did sink one trey, but was 3 for 7 from the floor overall. He also exhibited that selfishness that we have been less than happy about. At one point in the first half, he was bringing the ball up court and Tre was wide open on the wing and waving for the ball. But instead of passing it to him, Wendell decided to force a drive that was not there. He did get a foul call, but proceeded to miss the foul shot attempt. Perhaps even worse was the shot he launched late in the game from about 30 feet. It had no chance of making, and K, to his great credit, immediately pulled Wendell from the game. The good news? Wendell was tough under the defensive glass and grabbed 7 boards.
Matthew remains an issue. For the bulk of this game, he was utterly ineffective. He finally scored three hoops over about a two minute span during garbage time late in the game. But his final stats were very telling: he had his nine points, but in 18 minutes had only 2 boards, no assists, and a couple of turnovers. Not good at all. The fact is that Jack is generally more of a difference maker … not good on the offensive end, but tougher under the boards on defense.
One final observation. Duke is, understandably, seeing a lot of zone defensive coverage, and will no doubt continue to do so. Joey is therefore getting more of a chance to play than we had expected, although these are not tight contests. Still, he was 2 for 3 from beyond the arc in this one. He is far and away Duke's best marksman. Too bad he can't create shots as well.
Duke 74, Georgia State 63 (November 15, 2019). Before we discuss this one, mention needs to be made of the embarrassment that is the ACC Network. First, it was women's soccer that preempted Duke basketball; last evening, it was an obscure girls volleyball match. How truly pathetic is that (except for all of you whose main goal in life is to "empower" women)? The ACC Network is indeed wonderful … that is, for all who can't get their fill of field hockey. Thank the Lord for the Watch ESPN app.
On to Duke basketball, though today we would almost prefer to avoid the subject. OK, how many of you were buoyed by Duke's marksmanship against the hapless Central Arkansas Bears? We admit that it was gratifying. But it was also an illusion. Duke is just not that good offensively. They may be better that they showed last evening. But they are still not very good. It is something we were afraid of from the beginning as our posts show.
While Duke won this one by double figures, the first half was an even contest. It was not until the start of the second period that Duke was able to get any space. The Panthers went cold, Duke grabbed the boards, and Tre Jones started scoring at will. The lead was built to over ten, and Duke never really looked back. The initial trouble was twofold: Duke could not hit jumpers once again, and the team had difficulty coping with the quickness of their opponents. We have said it before and will probably say it many times again: quickness in basketball is the single most undervalued attribute.
Despite the margin of victory, looking at the offensive stats leaves one wondering how the Devils managed to pull this out. The Panthers were almost 42% from three, Duke a pathetic 25%. The Panthers were almost 73% from the line, Duke a miserable 58% plus. Overall, the Panthers outshot Duke, almost 42% to 34%. And the turnovers were even at 17. So what was the difference? Actually, the difference was twofold.
First, Duke won the battle of the boards, 58 to 32, a huge spread. The Panthers simply did not have the height to compete. Add a few inches here and there and this probably would have been another upset.
The second actually ties into the first. The Panthers were forced to foul, and Duke took 29 shots at the line to only 11 for their opponents. The bad news is that Duke missed so many. The Devils were listed as hitting 17 of 29. In fact, at least three of those misses were the front end of one and ones (all by Tre Jones). So Duke left 15 points on the cutting room floor by virtue of its ineptitude at the line. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a serious problem … just as it was last season. And there is no excuse for it.
As to player performance, there are but two kids worthy of commendation overall. Above all, Tre was a marvel. Yes, there were the missed free throws and an unusually high 4 turnovers, but everything else was marvelous. Not only did he play his usual tough D, but he was an offensive machine. He scored an unbelievable 31 points, and that even included 4 treys (4 for 8). He willed Duke to victory on offense. The truth is we will probably not see this level of shooting again from Tre, so his compatriots will somehow have to pick up the slack.
The other worthy Dukie was Vernon. We love his good hands, his athleticism, and his ability to make shots. In this one, he scored 20 points and had a whopping 14 boards. We were also very gratified that he was able to play 34 minutes … his conditioning had been a real concern to us. It is essential that Vernon remain on the court since the drop-off in his absence is so dramatic. Javin picked up his normal 4 fouls in just a few minutes of play and contributed one point.
The only other notable offensive performer was none other than Joey Baker. Duke was so utterly ineffectual from long against the Panthers that K felt obliged to insert Joey as early as the opening period. While we recognize Joey's limitations, we do applaud the decision. And Mr. Baker did give the team a needed boost in the second half by hitting two treys. Besides Tre Jones, the only other successful three point shooter was Cassius … on a shot late in the second half. Not only were Duke's shots missing, but they were missing by a lot … both Cassius and Matthew gave us air balls. So anyway, we applaud Joey, even though his lack of quickness made him a defensive liability. The team was more in need of offense at that point.
Speaking of Cassius, he was fine on the defensive end and added 9 boards. However, his offensive performance was miserable. He started the game by missing two free throws, and went on to go 2 for 12 from the field. So much for Mr. Efficient.
Alex started once again, but continued his terrible shooting from the floor. He was 0 for 3 in this one. The team desperately needs a marksman, but he is no longer the answer. We can't help wondering what happened to this kid … is it an effect of Duke's weight program, is it simple mechanics (something the Duke staff should be investigating by scouring old tapes), or is it just mental? In any event, Alex has probably now shot his way out of a starting role. Indeed, Jack started the second half of this game. It is sad indeed.
After being benched at the start of the last contest, Matthew was once more in the starting lineup. But he too may have played himself out of that role. Against tougher opponents, Matthew has not been an effective performer. In this one, he was just 2 for 7 from the floor and 0 for 3 from long. It was terribly unimpressive. Given all the preseason hoopla, Matthew has been the biggest disappointment thus far. He is looking like anything but a one and done player.
Our readers will by now be familiar with the issues we have had with Wendell. His play was not selfish in this one, it was just unproductive. He did force one drive to lose the ball, and shot just 1 for 5 in 11 minutes. While he does have talent, he is not a top ten kid as the rankings suggested. But we are never fooled by rankings the way K seems to be.
And that brings us to Jack. His long range shooting continues to be abysmal and he contributes nothing on the offensive end (0 for 3). However, he adds a toughness on the other end and will fight for boards. He had a nice 10 rebounds in this one. We wish he could be a dual threat (like Alex, he was a better shooter coming into Duke), but we will take what we can get.
Duke 105, Central Arkansas 54 (November 12, 2019). Anyone with the misfortune of hearing Dan Bonner do commentary on this game would have heard him opine that Duke made Central Arkansas look like a bad team. No, Mr. Bonner, the Bears ARE a bad team. Duke was simply taking the ball away from them at will with their first half pressure defense, and the spread was around 40 points at the break. This was just a glorified exhibition game.
Of course, the fact that an opponent is very weak does not somehow deny that your team is strong. And Duke's defense, at least with Tre on the court, is excellent. Alas, Tre was involved in a head-on collision with about seven minutes or so in the first half, and as a precautionary measure never returned. That, together with the fact that Duke eased up on the defensive pressure in the second half, allowed the spread to stay at about the 50 mark.
There were a number of performances worthy of praise in this one, although that "weak opponent asterisk" always needs to be appended. Before the injury, Tre was shooting the ball unusually well ... 3 for 5 and all jumpers, including a triple. That is great to see. Oddly enough, however, no steals, although his presence contributed.
Alex started once again. He displayed his great athleticism on two drives. He also hit a couple of treys, but missed four others. We stand by our earlier comment that he is simply not the deadly shooter that he was when he matriculated at Duke. As a freshman, we expected his shots to hit; we now expect them to miss.
Vernon continues to wow us on offense. His shot is so soft and sweet, and he usually completes. Against the Bears, he scored 17 points and was 8 for 10 from the field. He also can be effective on the defensive end, though it is a matter of will. He has great upside ... if he can muster the requisite tenacity and defensive intelligence. The one really big disappointment thus far is his performance at the foul line. It was 1 for 2 against the Bears. He should be much better than he has shown to date.
Matthew did not start, presumably due to his lackluster outing against Colorado State. Well, he came into this one like a new man. He grabbed a tenacious board off the bat, and started nailing shots. He was 7 for 11 overall and a terrific 3 for 3 from beyond the arc, This is the shooter that we were hoping would materialize. Whether this can be repeated with any regularity remains to be seen.
Cassius continues to delight. His offensive efficiency has been remarkable. Five for five in this one. He is not only quick; he is silky smooth. He also contributed 3 blocks and 3 steals in his 24 minutes.
Even though he did not start, Wendell led the squad with 25 minutes. We said in our last game report that we were not ready to call him selfish, but we are inching closer. Even when he is effectively playing point, he is anything but a point guard since he is always focused on scoring himself. He certainly does have driving ability, but the fact that the lane is not there does not seem to deter him. Against The Bears he was 4 for 12 from the floor, easily the most inefficient player on the team. And those driving misses rarely lend themselves to Duke offensive rebounds. At this point, we are not fans of his game.
Jack started and played 18 minutes, but had very little to show for it. In contrast, our two least favorite performers, Javin and Jordan had very commendable outings (but remember that asterisk). Javin had 8 boards and 11 points in his 16 minutes, and only was guilty of one turnover. perhaps best of all, he was 3 for 3 at the line. Wow. Of course, he remained a foul magnet, picking up 4 in his brief court time. But we have to qualify that somewhat by noting that the zebras working this game were absolutely whistle happy. They were awful.
As for Jordan, it was 4 for 6 from the floor, 4 assists, and 3 steals. The scoring included ... take a deep breath everyone ... a trey. We don't know whether to be happy that he made the shot or angry that he took it. But it was a good night for him.
Lastly, Joey Baker again got extended action given the nature of the contest (or non-contest). It wasn't impressive once again, though certainly not terrible. He was 2 for 6 from the field, one of which was a three. He kind of held his own on the other end, but quickness really is an issue.
Duke 89, Colorado State 55 (November 8, 2019). We were surprised. K actually found the correct starting lineup. It was Carey, Jones, Stanley, Hurt, and O'Connell. Yes, Poor Alex was finally elevated from the doghouse. Nice to see. Let's hope his play continues to warrant.
Even with the right guys on the court, however, Duke really struggled out of the gate. Colorado State does not have a lot of talent, but they are well coached. Niko Medved did a fine job at Furman, and it looks as if he will do the same at his new post. The Rams are not abundantly talented, but they have good quickness and play tough defense. There really was not a stone's throw of difference in the score until late in the first half, when Duke finally rattled off ten straight to go into the break. Duke never looked back, and continually built the edge through the second half.
Once again, Duke's defense was solid. It is the offense that remains very troubling. Specifically, it is the inability to make long jumpers that raises a lot of red flags. Against the Rams, the team was just 4 for 22 from beyond the arc. Take Alex out of the equation and it becomes 1 for 19. That's awful. You can pound the ball inside against Colorado State, but it is a lot harder against the Big Boys. You can talk all you want about "the offense not rounding into shape yet," but it does not follow at all that an outside shooting touch will magically appear as the season progresses. All we can do is wait and see.
Another gritty performance from Tre, clearly the heart of this team. He still can't make a trey to save his life, but he is doing everything else. He is making jumpers off the dribble from within about 12 feet, is scoring off the drive, and picking up a bunch of assists (8 in this game). We know he has come back to show the NBA scouts that he can hit from long and is trying to do that by tossing up trey attempts whenever possible ... most unfortunate, because he is proving exactly the opposite. We wish he could just focus on his real game, which is wonderful by itself.
We continue to be captivated by Mr. Stanley. He led the team with 19 points on a very efficient 8 of 11 from the floor. The total included a long two as well. His stroke is very sweet. What's more, he also led the squad with 7 boards. The kid can do it all. So far, clearly the best of the frosh.
Like Cassius, Alex played 25 minutes and acquitted himself well. He made three of the team's four treys, and finished 5 for 9 from the field. He also showed his athleticism and quickness with a beautiful driving score early in the contest. Aside from Tre, he is also the best passer on the team. Indeed, he routinely does something that we rarely see Tre do ... drive and dish.
Vernon should have had a field day against the Rams, but wound up playing only 15 minutes. It is not his ability to make shots -- he was 5 for 5 from the floor. He completes remarkably well. The problem is really on the defensive side. Like so many young players, Vernon does not play smart D, all too often reaching and slapping. A bunch of stupid fouls in this one. It is fine to sit and talk about learning over time, but we have found that it is very hard for kids to disabuse themselves of this practice.
And now for a quick parenthetical. We had a piece during the off-season about the Kerry Blackshear sweepstakes. We were and are enamored of Mr. Blackshear, and could not figure out why it appears that Duke did not go all out to capture his services this season. Perhaps that would have violated certain understandings given to Vernon ... we don't know. But Kerry in a Duke uniform would have made all the difference for this team. Just saying ....
Anyway, back to the commentary. Not much to say about Messrs. White and DeLaurier, so we will bypass them. Jordan is back to 12 minutes, which we believe is more appropriate. That leaves Matt and Wendell.
Wendell was last in among the freshmen, but he did what he does best ... score off the drive. He went 5 for 6 from the floor, which was very nice. The problem continues to be turnovers ... 3 in this game. We had expected Wendell to be the most team oriented and most unselfish of the incoming players. While we are certainly not prepared at this point to call the kid selfish, he has probably been the most, shall we say, aggressive about seeking to score when he has the ball. The problem is that it has resulted in a lot of forced drives and miscues. No doubt he is trying to prove himself at this point. We only wish that he would perhaps not try so hard.
As for Matthew, let's just say that it was a quite underwhelming outing. Matthew has the rep of being a very capable scorer, but that is not something we saw in his high school all-star performances. Nor have we seen it against capable defenses thus far this season. His shooting has been very sketchy, and his lack of bulk and quickness have presented a problem inside. We truly hope that he can get it going, but we are beginning to have some real reservations.
One final note. That this game was, in K's mind, never in doubt is evinced by the fact that Joey Baker got in early and had 14 minutes. Didn't have a lot to show for it, but we are happy that Joey was at least able to get some court time.
Duke 68, Kansas 66 (November 5, 2019). When K made the dubious decision to put Jordan Goldwire in the starting lineup this season, we had to wonder if our illustrious coach was hoping to win scoreless games. Well, the irony is that is effectively what transpired last evening, though little thanks in that regard go to Mr. Goldwire.
It was truly ugly. Both teams seemed determined to lose the game on the offensive end. Kansas committed a shocking 28 turnovers. Much credit must go to the Duke defense, which performed admirably overall. But it was not all Duke's doing ... Kansas was just flat out bad. And on the other end, all of our worst fears were realized ... this Duke team shoots poorly. The squad was 8 for 24 from long, not good but not embarrassing. However, they were just 23 for 64 overall, less than 36%. As we warned, those easy inside scores against Division 2 foes were not going to be there against the Big Boys.
And to add insult to injury, Duke was just 14 for 23 at the foul line according to the official stats. According to our stats, it was 14 for 26 since two of the misses were the front ends of one and ones and there was an error in the official stats to boot (an O'Connell miss that was not recorded). That, ladies and gentlemen, amounts to 12 points left on the table. It would have sealed the team's doom had not Kansas been almost as futile at the line. We suppose the good news is that Duke was able to make free throws down the final stretch ... Alex, Cassius, and Tre all made theirs in the final minutes.
Anyway, neither team really deserved to win this one. But Duke did prevail. We have to admit that we were surprised since we expected a Kansas victory. We are therefore very happy, despite the pain of watching all the miscues. As Poindexter loves to point out, there are no good losses.
We mentioned Jordan. He did start, ostensibly for defensive purposes, but played only 13 minutes. Speaking of ironies, he committed perhaps the two greatest defensive lapses of the game, twice taking his eyes off his opponent and allowing easy back-door baskets. His stat line was essentially a series of zeros, the only aberration being a one in the missed shot total.
The other Dukie with surprisingly few minutes was Wendell. Of course, it was not that he deserved the minutes since his play was lacking. He was one for six from the floor with three personals and four turnovers in 12 minutes. Still, we felt at the beginning of the season that he was going to be this year's Man Love recipient from K, so we are surprised (but gratified) that El Greco! actually based minutes on performance. It doesn't always happen.
It does get better thereafter, though not by much. Vernon played 25 minutes and had some respectable (but certainly not impressive) totals. He was 3 for 8 from the floor, which included two from long. He added six boards and had a couple of blocks. Again, not outstanding, but not dreadful either. What we didn't like was his frequent disappearance from the scrum underneath the hoop. On one occasion, Kansas was having its will on the offensive boards and Vernon was nowhere to be seen ... we have to wonder if he had simply decided to run down court, though we did not have a full court view to tell. What the team really needs from Vernon this year is a presence underneath. The three point shots are nice, but they are secondary. The other problem we had with Vernon was his free throw shooting. Despite his ability to make outside shots, he was terrible at the stripe ... just 3 for 6 overall, and one of those a banker off the glass. His propensity is to toss it up too strong. That is a problem.
Matthew had three treys for the game, but otherwise contributed very little in his 24 minutes. He was just 4 for 12 overall and had only two boards. There were no assists and two turnovers. As we expected, that dominance inside that we saw in the exhibition contests disappeared. Indeed, he was the one being dominated inside. If he hopes to be effective in the NBA next season, he will have to become a lot stronger.
Poor Alex was again the last of the front line players to get in the game. But his play earned him a lot of minutes (25). As we have continually pointed out, he is terrifically athletic. He had 3 steals, 9 points and 2 assists to his credit. However, one big problem remains ... Alex was only 1 for 6 from long. As we have pointed out, Alex is not even remotely the accurate marksman that he was as an incoming freshman. A player is generally supposed to improve as a shooter as his career progresses, but that all too often seems not to be the case at Duke.
The player with the most minutes was, of course, Tre Jones. His defense was as gritty and effective as usual. His jump shot was as woeful as usual (0 for 4 from long). What we also didn't like were the three turnovers, resulting from his trying to force the ball inside with nowhere to go. Still, it was a tough effort, and he deserves a lot of kudos for shutting his opponent down. Looks like it will be the same Tre we saw last season.
Perhaps the brightest note of the night was Mr. Stanley. As we said before the season, he is the player that most intrigues us and perhaps offers the greatest upside. Other than his four turnovers, he had an outstanding game. He was five for six from the floor, including a beautiful driving score and a trey from the side. We have remarked how soft his shot seems to be, though he had not heretofore attempted treys. What also impressed us was his ability to complete with the game on the line. This kid is going to be really good.
The shooting star of the prior contest against Fort Valley State was Joey Baker. While the team could certainly have used some of those jumpers against Kansas, our warning that Joey was going to be a bench warmer was entirely accurate. His minutes against Kansas were essentially zero. K simply does not believe that he can guard people on the defensive end. Too bad.
Last but not least, Jack White. Frankly, Jack looked lost for the entire first half and into the second. It was the Jack White that we saw down the stretch last year. But magically, a phoenix rose from the ashes. In the closing minutes against Kansas, Jack was a mighty contributor. It was not so much on offense, though he did nail a trey (and had a second ring the hoop and go out). But he became a major force on the defensive end, picking up a couple of big steals and contributing on the boards. The stats will not wow, but we were certainly gratified. That is what we need from Jack.
And so it goes. Duke went to the Garden and managed to take care of business, though one would be more sanguine if he had missed the game and just heard the score. Now it is back to the friendly confines of Cameron and a few cream puffs before the schedule resumes in earnest.
Duke 126, Fort Valley State 57 (October 30, 2019). We read a lot over the past few days about how the wrong conclusions are being drawn about this Duke team because they played to an uncomfortably tight finish against Northwest Missouri State. But those admonitions really missed the entire point. We understood that their first opponent had talent. The problem was that the Devils won the game in a way they will not typically be able to win against major competition -- by being absolutely dominant inside, while missing virtually everything from long. We were very troubled by the fact that we were shown no ability whatsoever to hit from beyond the arc.
Well, fast forward to last evening's contest against the Fort Valley State Wildcats (where did they ever come up with that unusual nickname?). Duke continued to dominate inside, as any Division One team will do against such an opponent. However, the good news is that Duke finally unleashed a long range arsenal.
The Hero of the Revolution was no less than Joey Baker, effectively in the third string rotation. Baker went off against the Wildcats, nailing five treys out of six attempts in the first half. He added another for good measure after the break and finished with 22 points to lead the team. He was just scorching the nets.
Of course, with us, every piece of good news is tinged by a caveat. While it was great to watch Joey perform at that level, he is really not the kid that one would strategically want to see break out. While Joey is in no sense awkward on the court, he is not very athletic either. He is just not very quick afoot, which hampers him on the defensive end and in his ability to create on offense. As a result, when the schedule picks up, we just don't see him getting a lot of minutes to produce like that.
Anyone who has watched basketball for a long time should realize that group psychology is a big part of the game. Sure enough, when Joey started sinking treys, it seemed to take the lid off the basket. Poor Alex, who had gone 0 for his last umpteen, hit a couple from long, as did the normally ice cold Jack White. Matthew Hurt nailed one, and even Wendell was successful (albeit from the corner, where the line is closer). The downside is that Duke's back court, Tre and Jordan, continue to be ineffectual from the outside.
We must also remember that it is a lot easier to make threes against the likes of Fort Valley State than it will be against competition that is larger and much more capable defensively. This game may have been a nice confidence booster, but the truth is that much of that will be false confidence. The fact of the matter is that this game should never have been played, assuming the purpose of an exhibition game is to get the team prepared for the regular season. Fort Valley State is simply a dreadful squad. Duke was able to steal the ball at will against them, resulting in an embarrassing 26 turnovers. It was like taking candy from a baby.
We were interested to see Duke starting Tre, Vernon, Matthew, Cassius, and Jordan. The first three are no-brainers. And given K's focus on defense and his love for Jordan, that was not much of a surprise either. But we were a bit surprised to see Cassius in as the fifth starter since we expected K to have a fixation with Wendell. We were nonetheless delighted because we love the athleticism and talents Cassius brings to the table and believe he has a greater upside.
All of the starters played well; indeed, everyone on the team played well, so there is no criticism to be leveled. Tre and Jordan were absolutely dominant on defense against the hapless Wildcats. Tre even added a couple of nice jumpers from inside the arc, which is all that we can reasonably expect from him.
Once again, Matthew was able to score almost at will on the inside against his much smaller opponents. And Vernon came back after a terrible prior outing and really impressed. He showed us some real quickness, some jumping ability (which we had questioned), and his usual soft shooting touch. If Vernon can add toughness and consistency, he will be the godsend that this team needs.
We will not go player by player because this game was so meaningless. Just one final note about Cassius. While the kid still has not made any real effort to score from the outside, he wowed us with a couple of scoring drives. He has terrific quickness, perhaps the most important single attribute in basketball. We will love watching him develop.
And so on to Kansas. Then we will see what this team is really made of.
Duke 69. Northwest Missouri State 63 (October 26, 2019) . We were delighted that this contest gave us an excuse to turn off the Duke/UNC football game -- a constant string of missed tackles on defense and missed receivers on offense was too much even for our hardened stomachs. Unfortunately, it turned out that basketball proved no more palatable. This was a pathetic performance by Duke, at least on the offensive end of the court.
As always, we doff our beanies to the opponents. For a bunch of kids who could not land on Division One rosters, they played great ball. And they were simply unconscious down the stretch, hitting trey after trey to bring a fifteen plus Duke spread down to six. In all, the Bearcats were an astounding 15 of 34 from long; Duke, in contrast, was 2 for 16. Ladies and gentlemen, this is very, very worrisome. Coming into the season, we knew that Duke had to hit jumpers to be a force. So far, they have done nothing but underwhelm in that regard. It is beginning to look very ominous indeed.
From the beginning, we thought that Wendell was going to be a liability from the outside. He certainly solidified that assessment in this game. He was 2 for 11 from the floor, and 0 for 4 from long. The last one was an air ball. We knew that he was going to get a lot of minutes from K. But if he continues to shoot like this, he will be one of a long line of Dukies who have been unjustifiably rewarded by his Coach. Stacking Moore on the court with Tre, Jordan and Jack at the same time, as was the case for a while in this game, is simply an offensive disaster. Duke has to be effective on both ends, not just on defense.
After a nice outing in the Blue/White, Vernon Carey was no factor whatsoever in this game. He picked up a couple of quick offensive fouls and wound up on the pine for most of the contest. And when he did get in, he showed little. He biggest stat number was his 4 turnovers. Again, not good.
Matthew Hurt came in with a scorer's label, but we are still waiting for him to show us anything from the outside. He did, however, have a very productive evening in the paint, scoring 17 points on 8 for 16 shooting. The caveat is that the Bearcats really have no strength underneath, so this is in no way indicative of what will happen in conference play. Still, Matthew was one of the few bright spots for Duke.
The leading scorer for Duke was Tre Jones, and that is actually not a good thing. Of course, none of those were from the outside. Jones was 6 for 15 off the drive. He also played his usual very solid defense, and committed no turnovers. Much better than the Blue/White and what we want from him this year (though we hope he will take fewer shots).
Jack White started the game and played 24 minutes. He led the squad with 10 boards, but only contributed 4 points. Again, those boards will be harder to come by against bigger and more athletic teams. It was a solid effort by Jack, though certainly not dominating in any way.
Cassius got 21 minutes from K and showed a couple of flashes. He hit one of Duke's two treys, a jumper from the side. He also had a lovely block on the other end. But the box score reveals little else ... 4 points and but one rebound in all that court time. Even so, we do think that he shows more potential than we have seen from Wendell.
Javin was Javin. Seven boards, but only 4 points and 5 turnovers in his 17 minutes. At least Duke was able to go with Matthew (and even Jack at times) in the Five slot against the small Bearcats.
Jordan Goldwire has never been a favorite of ours, but he did have a very nice defensive outing in this one. He came up with 4 steals in his 24 minutes. He even made a couple of foul shots down the stretch, after missing a couple earlier. K will reward him for that defense, though we suspect it will be too graciously.
And that brings us to Poor Alex. In many ways, Alex was the most impressive athlete on the court. He was quick to the hoop and the boards and made some nifty passes, two of which were flubbed by his teammates. Alas, Alex was just 1 for 5 from the field. This continues the disturbing trend that we saw down the stretch last season, as well as in the Blue/White. Perhaps he is another of those Dukies whose early shooting ability has suffered from too much weight room work. We hope not. In any event, we have no expectation that Alex will get the PT that his athletic talents would require. He had 13 minutes in this one. Poor Alex.
Blue - White Game (October 18, 2019). We got our first glimpse of the collective squad and, while tantalizing, the results do offer some real areas of concern.
Without a Zion Williamson, this is a squad that is well-balanced in terms of overall playing ability. Indeed, it will be particularly hard for El Greco! to narrow his PT decisions down to the usual seven or eight (though we are confident he will ultimately find a way). At least in theory, we would expect to see a better jump shooting team than last season (not saying much), but also a team that may be particularly weak on the defensive glass. Time will tell, but we will have to wait until after the meaningless exhibition season to get a true handle.
Let's talk a bit about what we specifically saw last evening. The teams came out hot, nailing jumpers. First was Matthew Hurt with a beautifully smooth long one from the side-court line. Then Alex nailed another. Even Jordan, of all people, hit from long. Alas, this impressive display lasted all of about five minutes, after which the teams seemed determined to imitate the Duke mold of last season. The long-range shooting was simply pathetic; in fact, we don't think either team hit another trey except for a pop by Vernon Carey, We trust that this will be an aberration; if not, it will be a long season.
First, brief kudos to Justin Robinson. He has been completely on the fringes until this, his senior, season ... and for good reason given his limited athleticism. However, he played a smart and opportune game last night. As the only reserve to get in the action, he had six points and four boards in twelve minutes. He may actually prove himself valuable in a pinch over the course of this season. Nice to see.
The new kids on the block each showed some good things. Vernon Carey will no doubt receive the most praise. He looked very good on the offensive end. Mr. Okafor came to Duke with a reputation for his offensive footwork and scoring ability around the basket, but Vernon was even more impressive. His shot was soft and unerring and, unlike Mr. Okafor, can extend well outside. But outside is the last place that we want him to be. We just doubt that K has the discipline to keep Mr. Carey where he belongs. Actually, the big issue with Vernon will be his contribution inside on put-backs and on defense. He grabbed just three rebounds in his seventeen plus minutes, and that does not bode well.
Matt Hurt has been garnering a lot of press early on for his offensive prowess. He is a solid athlete with a very smooth shot. But consistency in actual game conditions is the key. In this one, he was just 2 for 9 from the floor, and had but two boards over a full twenty minutes. Not good. What we liked most was the terrific stroke at the foul line, where he was four for four.
Wendell Moore solidified our initial impression during the High School All-Star contests of last season, though he seems even a tad bigger now. He handles it well for his 6-6 size, drives to the hoop beautifully and almost always with good results, and plays solid D. He is simply not, however, a jump shooting threat (he was zero for four in this one). When he is on the court with Tre, defenses will be able to sag without being burned. With Wendell, it is all about the drive, baby.
That brings us to Cassius Stanley. Duke's final signee is also, to us, the most intriguing. The kid has great athleticism as we all know ... the stories of his breaking Zion's vertical leap record are now legion. But it appears to us that the athleticism is married with real skills. He has a solid handle, and a soft and accurate jumper within about ten feet to boot. What we have simply been unable to assess is his ability to hit from beyond the arc. That is not his reputation, but the softness of his touch does give us some hope that it will develop. Of course, "develop" is often a word of little import when dealing with a one and done. Anyway, we thought Cassius played quite well, shooting five for ten and grabbing a team high eight rebounds. He seems more willing to go inside than Vernon.
Now on to the rest of the squad. Our readers will know that we have long been admirers of the talents on Alex O'Connell. The kid is a very good shooter and a great athlete. Unfortunately, the former was not quite so evident last night since Alex missed his final four jumpers after nailing the first. But the athleticism was in full display. We also saw some great dishes after driving the lane. The kid has got to get more PT this season.
Tre Jones had a terribly disappointing evening. He elected to come back to show the world that he could develop a jump shot. Well, judging by what we saw in this one, we may have to see him back for another season. Tre was one for ten from the floor and zero for three from long. Ouch. Adding one assist and one steal over twenty minutes did nothing to enhance. It can only get better, and we are confident that it will.
Javin DeLaurier was solid on the glass, picking up eight rebounds to lead the White team. He also, as usual, led the group with three fouls. And the offense was pretty much as normal, with an outside jumper hitting nothing even close to the rim.His role is purely defensive.
Joey Baker, we suspect, will continue to be the odd man out. He played the fewest minutes of any starter (a tad over thirteen) and did nothing to impress. He was one of two from the floor, with only one board and a couple of turnovers. He will struggle to find minutes this season.
Jack White was, well, Jack White. Nothing from long, but otherwise a gritty performance. Only four points, but four boards and a whopping six assists. Just a glue guy.
And so it went. We will continue to offer reports on the exhibition contests, though these shall be of little interest to us.