Game Notes (2019/2020)
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.