Game Notes (2016/2017)
South Carolina 88, Duke 81 (March 20, 2017). And then there was one ... Remember how all the network "experts" piously informed us that the ACC was the toughest conference in the country? Well, the only one left after the first week-end is UNC, and that only due to some very generous officiating in the final minutes of its game against Arkansas. In fact, the ACC is an utter embarrassment -- not only did its teams drop like flies, many of the losses were absolute beat-downs. Just a further reminder never to believe a word you hear on the tube.
Anyway, it was Duke's turn for a butt-kicking on Sunday evening. We just wish that the game had started a lot earlier in the day so that it did not ruin our beauty sleep. Duke did lead at the end of the first half by seven, but it was not pretty at all. Duke actually managed to shoot the ball pretty well ... when they were able to get shots off. The problem is that they couldn't even get to the point of taking many shots. The South Carolina defense was suffocating, and it was turnover after turnover for Duke. Carolina wound up taking twice the number of shots from the floor as the Devils (no, that is not a misprint). The only saving grace is that Carolina could not hit anything from the outside and Duke was mercifully playing zone. But one could still see the handwriting on the wall.
Well, the shoe did drop in the second half. Not only did the Cocks begin making shots, they simply couldn't miss once the first one dropped. Just shows how important team psychology really is. Carolina wound up shooting 71% from the floor in that second half, and Duke was toast.
We have often noted just how important quickness is, and have belabored Duke's lack of it. We will say more in a brief retrospective in our Asides section, so stayed tuned. But suffice it to say now that Carolina was first to every loose ball, and their ability to apply defensive pressure was too much for this Duke squad.
We will not do a player-by-player analysis. Really, the only kid who rose to the occasion was Amile. Not a lot of baskets, but an amazing 15 boards and 6 blocks. He even made 6 of 7 free throws. Who was that masked man? Seriously, it was his most impressive performance of the year, and he saved it for the big stage. Congrats, Amile, you exited with your head held high.
As for the rest ... blaaah. We noted that Luke had a terrible outing in the first tournament game. He continued that level of performance against Carolina. (We may have to start calling him Little Game Luke, but then we may not be calling him anything next season.) The rest were little better. The only good thing that Luke and his teammates did was shoot free throws. The squad was 27 of 29 for the game. Absent that, it would have been a complete embarrassment.
Well, this season is finally over. We're not sure whether our feeling is more disappointment or relief.
Duke 87, Troy 65 (March 17, 2017). Duke wins by 22. It's been a long time since this team had a margin like that, which is remarkable given that they're a Two Seed. Yet this season has been nothing but a continuous struggle. And even this one was contested into the second half as the team could not hold and expand its early spread. Of course, credit must go to Troy ... there is talent there, and Jordon Varnado was at times unstoppable near the basket. So we must view this game as somewhat of a mixed bag.
First, the macro. We love the fact that Duke was finally able to curb the excessive number of turnovers that it had been committing. The necessary asterisk, however, is that Troy's defense was simply not quite as tenacious as that of most ACC opponents. Regardless, the turnover discrepancy in this one was a big factor. Duke's ability to nail treys in the first half was also huge, although that talent seemed to vanish after the break.
The negatives? Duke did a simply horrible job of boxing Troy off the glass in the first half, allowing their opponents too many second opportunities. Thankfully, this improved after the break. Also troubling was Duke's failures at the free throw line. The team shot just 16 for 23 for the game. But by our count, four of those misses were the front ends of one and ones. So the real total should be 16 for 27. That is terrible -- way too many points left on the table. And the illness seems to be spreading. We no longer have any confidence in Frank; Grayson is now missing regularly (and for those who have not watched closely this season, he almost always misses when iced by a timeout); and even Jayson is staring to slip. This team does not have any margin for error, so excellent free throw shooting is a must.
Watching the open practice on Thursday, we were wowed by Grayson's shooting. It continued into this contest, where he made his first five shots. He was a godsend in that first half. While he cooled off considerably later, it was still an excellent evening for him -- a team-leading 21 points on 6 for 10 shooting in only 28 minutes of play. And 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and no turnovers to boot. Wow.
Jayson also played very well. The shooting stats were not as good, but he committed only one turnover and pulled down a whopping 12 boards. Jayson is now the most able rebounder on this squad. That is a godsend given Amile's manifest deficiencies in that area.
We thought Frank also played solid ball (aside, of course, from missing free throws). He was 50% from the floor and solid generally with the ball. We were glad to see he was not trying to exceed his capabilities.
And then there's Matt. We have been vocal about him getting more minutes than appropriate given his terrible offensive performances. Well, he came out smoking in this one. He did not take many shots thereafter, but finished 5 for 7 overall. That is about a month of his normal production, and it was most welcome. If he can somehow manage to continue at that level, we will have to change course. But that's hoping for a lot ....
Now to the ugly. We had noted that Luke has not been as consistent from long as he was earlier in the season. In this one, not only did he start out slow (the new norm), but he never warmed up. It was a terrible outing for him. To add insult to injury (or perhaps injury to insult), he also had his nose bloodied in the second half by a Varnado elbow. Not exactly a night to remember.
And Harry's utter futility continues. Six minutes, no points, one board, three fouls, two turnovers. The one shot he attempted was an air ball. Ouch!. K finally went with Vrank in his place, and the fact is that Vrank is more effective out there. Harry is simply not ready for this level of competition.
At the very end, K cleared his bench as a gesture to the subs. The one conspicuous absence, however, was Marques. Since Marques looked jim-dandy the day before in the practice, we can't believe it is a health issue. Something seems to be going on here, and it isn't good.
Duke 75, Notre Dame 69 (March 11, 2017). An ACC title ... did not really see this coming a few weeks ago. And it wasn't looking good midway through the second half when Duke was in the middle of a turnover fest and the Domers were starting to build a cushion. But Duke yanked a struggling Grayson Allen and things settled down, Duke clawing its way back.
After two strong outings, Grayson hit the wall. The first half was not bad -- not hot from long, but some nice feeds. However, the second half was pure hell. Notre Dame's defense was VERY aggressive. In fact, Duke was being manhandled regularly. But the Domers were not being whistled for it. The total personals for the game were even, but Notre Dame should have been called for twice their number. Anyway, Grayson was not handling the physicality well, and several consecutive miscues led to his exit. He finished with 6 turnovers and 4 assists in just 21 minutes.
As usual in a game like this, it was only seven men for Duke. We had been critical of Jayson for not making big plays at the end of games, but he really stepped up in this one. He really was the player of the game for the Devils. Nineteen points in 39 minutes, including a bunch down the stretch. Luke was second with 16, and he committed but one turnover despite the defensive intensity. Amile also had a very good offensive outing, hitting 7 of 8 shots. They were crucial. Frank made some really nice drives, and hit a big three late.
And then there's Matt. We have been all over him for his complete inadequacy on the offensive end. Well, he hit what may have been the shot of the game very late. It seemed like his first trey in three months. It was a back-breaker for the Domers.
On the down side ... Harry Giles. Two plays typified things. In the first half, he was staring at a rebounded shot near his feet when an opponent swept in to take the ball. In the second half, he got a great feed inside and went up for a wide-open uncontested stuff, but simply fumbled the ball away on the way up. We had complained about his hands the game before, and this was icing on that cake. It is difficult to see how Harry would be ready for NBA competition next year -- he is not ready for the ACC at this point.
It is interesting to note that Duke won this one despite making only 5 treys. Notre Dame's defense took away the outside shot. However, the team hit 60% overall because they were able to make tough shots in close. In contrast, Notre Dame shot only 40% for the game and 24% from three. Even though they were rock-solid with the ball (unlike Duke), the shooting killed them.
Aside from the turnovers, there was another big negative in this victory ... and that is the rebounding. Duke players continually allowed themselves to get boxed off the boards. They had only 5 offensive rebounds for the game. Notre Dame had 16. And Notre Dame led overall in rebounding, despite their poor shooting stats. The fact that the Domers are not a good rebounding team just underscores our concern.
All right, enough of the dire talk. It's time to celebrate. It looks as if Duke will be a 2 Seed, something we did not expect when Duke was losing game after game just a short time ago.
Duke 93, UNC 83 (March 10, 2017). It started as expected ... a North Carolina layup drill. Meeks had an entire season of scoring in the first ten minutes. Duke's terrible inside weakness blatantly exposed to a national television audience. Oh, the horror .... There was but one saving grace during that first half. We refer to Mr. Allen, who came in and promptly nailed several consecutive trays. Were it not for him, the game may have been out of reach at the break.
It was the second good performance in a row for Grayson. Have we been able to say that at any time before this season? Anyway, he went for 18 points on 5 for 6 from long. He also made his usual assortment of great dishes. We are so happy for him.
It is interesting to note that at the break, Coach Williams indicated his displeasure that his kids were starting to take jumpers rather than force it inside. The same thing continued in the second half, and it was fatal. We do need to give some credit, however, to Duke's tenacious defense during that period. But UNC was shooting from the outside and, thankfully, missing. They finished just 5 for 22 from behind the arc. It killed them. That, and the fact that Joel Berry picked up his fourth foul and left the game for around 10 minutes -- his driving ability was sorely missed.
Duke, on the other hand, caught fire after the break. Luke was effectively shut out during the first twenty, but came alive thereafter. Aside from some sloppy turnovers, he was great. Frank had a miserable first half, missing some shots he should have made, but also stepped up big time in the second half. Jayson also played well, also aside from some turnovers.
Amile, as always, was in foul trouble in the second half, so Harry had to put in 15 minutes. They were not as bad as they usually are, prompting Mr. Bilas to enthuse that it was probably his best performance of the year. That is like saying a particular film is Adam Sandler's best, but never mind ... Harry kind of held his own, and did make two free throws late. We do continue to see that he has trouble holding on to rebounds. The same is true of Marques. Both need to get a LOT stronger.
We tend to be a bit caustic about our beloved El Greco! at times. Nevertheless, we do need to hand it to him ... he is finally beginning to realize that the team may be stronger without Matt on the court. He played only 21 minutes. Yes, he is solid on defense. But the team gives up so much on offense in the process ... too much when playing against a high-powered squad like the Heels.
One final note. We had been astounded of late to see ACC officiating where the kids were actually allowed to play. Alas, it was back to normal in this game. Every body touch was a foul. It went both ways to some extent, but Duke was particularly victimized. The zebras were awful.
The big bottom line is that this Duke team mounted a great and very gritty comeback. We were really proud of them. we have not had occasion to say that much this year.
Duke 81, Louisville 77 (March 9, 2017). Despite some charity provided by the zebras to Louisville late in the game, Duke was able to hang on for the win. Not that Duke was great; it was more the Cards being unable to hit anything from more than a foot out. Louisville shot just 19% from three, and made only 57% of their free throw attempts. Yes, they did shoot 48% overall from the floor, but it was only because they were getting a wildly inordinate amount of easy scores inside.
As those who follow the team will remember, Duke shocked everyone by going zone from the get-go against Louisville last season. The result was a win on the road for Duke. This season, Duke's defense against quick teams with size up front has been as horrendous as in recent years ... yet Duke has insisted on man defense. Hell, a lobotomized three year old would have known that Duke should have been in a zone for this game. We were, as usual, beside ourselves. Yet it took El Greco! almost three-quarters of the game for the light to go on. It would be unbelievable, except that is the kind of intransigence we always expect from K. Anyway, Duke belatedly made the switch, and that led to the come-from-behind victory.
Bear in mind that Duke's zone is anything but masterful. Their backcourt cheats too much to the midcourt area, so there will always be a wide open opportunity for the opponents in the corner. But it is still better than giving easy layups. And it is particularly effective when you are playing an opponent that cannot hit the broad side of a barn.
We had noted in our last write-up that Luke has been cold from long of late. That continued for most of this game as well, but he finally broke out near the end ... and in a big way. Down the stretch, it was the Luke Kennard show as it has been all year. He finished with 24, and added 10 boards to lead both teams.
Jayson has also been shooting poorly from three, but only attempted a couple in this one. However, he had an effective game in close, making 9 of his 15 attempts. There were a few turnovers, but it was a really solid outing.
Third in scoring -- and we are truly delighted -- was Grayson. It started more of the same with him missing everything, but he made a driving reverse off a great dish, then added a three. That seemed to create the mental spark he so desperately needed, and he played very good ball for the remainder. His ability to step up like this will be crucial since Duke has developed no team depth.
Matt was Matt. We were delighted to see, however, that K was willing to park him on the bench for an extended period -- blessedly, he only played 23 minutes. We suppose that is in large part because Duke was in a zone down the stretch, but that is just another great argument for the zone.
Frank, who has been stellar of late, really had a poor outing this time. He scored but eight points, had his usual no assists, and missed a couple of open jumpers late in the game that would probably have sealed the deal. If Grayson's confidence and level of play can be maintained, we don't know how much longer Frank would remain in the starting lineup. But that's a big "if."
We noted that Louisville tanked at the foul line. Well, Duke certainly didn't impress either ... a trend that we have seen lately. They did shoot around 70%, but only their top four charity shooters got to the line. We are getting particularly worried about Frank's shot -- we like to see some loft on these shots, but Frank's attempts come down with snow on them. The result has been too many shots left short.
Now the rubber match against Carolina. The one thing we know is that they will shoot better than Louisville. Good luck, guys.
Duke 79, Clemson 72 (March 8, 2017). Duke had another one of those first halves where they couldn't sink anything from the outside. As a matter of fact, the second wasn't any better. Still, they managed to pull it out ... in fact, they even managed to build a 13 point cushion in the second half before characteristically losing much of it down the stretch. The reasons? Well, their team defense was actually pretty good for most of the game. And Clemson, typically a poor shooting squad, was right in form.
We had been critical of Mr. Tatum for not finishing drives. But he certainly made liars of us in this one. Not only did he finish ... the finishes were, in a couple of cases, nothing short of spectacular. We don't think this will be a regular phenomenon, but we will happily take it. While Jayson did shoot very poorly from long in this one, he once again demonstrated his prowess at the free throw line. Based upon observations from his high school days, we had indicated at the commencement of the year that he would be one of Duke's best at the stripe. Indeed he has been, and it was a perfect 5 for 5 today.
Frank Jackson also continues to shine now that he has assumed a starting role. He matched Jayson with 20 points, also almost all inside. We love the way he finishes drives. We do, however, have to chide him once again for his penchant of trying to dribble through two defenders. He attempted it three times early in this one, and actually got away with it the first two. The third was not the charm, and he was justifiably yanked at that point. We love you Frank, but your handle just ain't that good.
Amile had his usual tough, workmanlike game, adding 11 points and 10 boards for good measure. As usual also, he struggled with fouls. He doesn't have the size and bulk to dominate inside, so he has to be aggressive ... and fouls are a corollary. We just have to accept that.
Luke had an absolutely miserable first half. But he came out in the second and promptly hit two jumpers. He thereafter made some beautiful scoring shots within about 12 feet. That has been his game over the past several weeks -- his three point jumper simply has not been dropping the way it had earlier. Even so, he remains an awesome weapon.
And then it drops off. Matt had a poor outing all around. On offense, he was as inconsequential as always ... Duke may as well be playing with four guys on the court. (We couldn't help noticing that when Duke jumped to that 13 point lead, Matt was on the bench.) Even on defense in this one, we were not impressed.
And Grayson ... zero points (0 for 4), 3 personals and one board in 12 minutes. Has anyone ever seen a Player of the Year candidate with this kind of season? Of course, everything seems to conspire against him ... the officials whistled him for a ridiculous technical for slamming the ball!!!! They simply seem eager to victimize the kid for whatever he does at this point. So sad.
Both Harry and Marques provided nothing. We continue to be amazed by the sheer ineptitude of Harry on the defensive end. It does not auger well going forward.
UNC 90, Duke 83 (March 4, 2017). It really was too much to expect that this Duke squad would prevail twice against the Heels. Still, they did make it quite interesting until collapsing down that crucial final three minute stretch. Several missed shots by Jayson, and futility at the line (including three consecutive misses by Grayson) sealed the deal.
Despite Joel Berry being simply unconscious through the first half, Duke managed to stay neck and neck. Luke, Frank, Amile and Grayson all chipped in admirably on offense during that period. Even so, they left the court trailing by two. The team continued to battle through much of the second half. Now, however, except for a couple of drives by Frank, it became the Luke Kennard show.
Luke was being manhandled all night by the Tar Heel defense. Nevertheless, he managed to make one difficult shot after another. The stats show him at just over 50% for the game, but they really do not tell the story. He was a warrior. He even amazed us with his ball-handling abilities ... despite the fact that he had the ball so often and was so tightly guarded, he did not have a turnover all game. Remarkable.
Amile made a number of big shots inside during the first half, but largely disappeared after the break. He also managed only six boards in his 36 minutes. Duke's deficiencies on the defensive glass were all too evident once again.
Frank continued to impress with his driving ability and soft touch off the glass. We love kids who can complete shots, and that is what Frank has been doing. Unfortunately, Frank is not even remotely a point guard. He is not a good passer at all and does not find teammates.
Giles played 13 minutes and gave the team almost nothing. He is simply too thin to compete effectively against rugged ACC interior players. He needs another year in the weight room at least.
Matt played well defensively, but was again absolutely worthless on the other end. Can anyone remember a Duke starting guard with so little offensive talent? Aside from a single assist, it was all goose eggs.
Jayson had a really terrible outing. He did hit two treys, but missed 9 of his 13 shots overall. And as usual, he was a disaster down the stretch. We are used to seeing him fumble away the ball or miss key drives and jumpers at the close of games, and it was deja vu all over again. Yes, we will acknowledge his athletic skills, but he rarely completes drives and is not a crunch time player. At this point, we are just not fans.
And it was more of the same for Marques ... one minute of PT. The failure to develop this talented kid properly has been a disgrace. UNC repeatedly overpowered Duke inside, and a confident and active Marques Bolden could have been a godsend.
So, on to the ACC Tourney where this seven man squad will have to compete in four consecutive games. We'll watch this depressing season continue to play out in all its agony.
Duke 75, Florida State 70 (February 28, 2017). Excuse us, we're a bit disoriented ... Duke won a basketball game! Actually, it was almost a decisive win until crunch time. At that point, two things happened:
1. Florida State finally realized that they could drive to the basket and score almost at will. Don't opposing coaches even bother to watch film? If you want to prevail against Duke and have guard quickness, you drive, drive, DRIVE, DRIVE. Yet we see, time and time again, other teams fail to adopt that strategy until the second half of play. We just have to shake our heads.
2. Duke tries to protect its lead by going into slow-down mode. The result is that the shot clock runs down and some desperation fall-away shot is forced. Duke loses all offensive momentum and the opponents make a run.
We also have to wonder why the opponents do not deliberately foul Amile down the stretch, even if it is away from the ball (and it can be made to appear somewhat non-intentional). In this game, Amile missed the front end of two consecutive one-and-ones in the final stages. But the Seminoles seemed to believe that they always had to foul the ball handler.
Anyway, Duke survived the loss of an 18 point second half lead and prevailed over Florida State. They actually played respectable defense in the first half -- but, as noted above, that was in part due to State's failure to go to the drive. However, much of Duke's lead was attributable to an extraordinary level of futility by Florida State in close. Duke really did not shoot the ball well again, though we do need to credit Florida State's tough defense in large part.
For the third game in a row, Luke struggled from long range. Thankfully, he did hit a big one when it appeared State was closing the gap near the end. Jayson also shot poorly from three for the second consecutive game, but made some crucial driving scores late in the contest. The real offensive star, as in the prior game, was Frank Jackson. He impressed time and again by going with quickness and athleticism to the basket, and by nailing threes. Duke rarely has quickness, but Frank is that invaluable exception. We want to see him continue to take advantage of it, provided that he always values the ball in the process -- remember, Frank, trying to dribble between two defenders is a no-no.
Grayson got in for 16 minutes and provided all of two points. For one reason or another, he is not able to perform at a high level, so it is wise to continue starting Frank. Matt had his normal non-productive offensive game. But aside from those painful free throw misses, Amile played about as well as he is capable. As we have repeatedly observed, Amile's lack of bulk and leaping ability limits his effectiveness on the glass. Still, he grabbed 11 boards and made all 6 of his inside shots against State. It was a nice Cameron finale for him.
Now comes the rematch. Sweeping the Heels would, we suppose, make up for this most desultory season.
Miami 55, Duke 50 (February 25, 2017). Thank you Messrs. Ayers, Gaffney and O'Connell. You only whistled 21 fouls for the entire game (probably a modern ACC record), thereby allowing this abomination to end in less than two hours. When the team was not performing for Clone Capel, K would not allow them to wear Duke paraphernalia. We think the same should apply now going forward -- we truly do not want to see this bunch wearing a Duke uniform. The only question is whether the play or the coaching is worse.
There really is almost nothing good than can be said at this point. Grayson Allen did not play, ostensibly because of a lingering ankle injury. Since we really did not see him hobbling around the court in prior games, we can't help thinking that his absence against Miami was more that he needed a break from his miserable funk. In fact, Frank Jackson provided a few of the meager bright notes in the game, so it was probably just as well that Grayson was sidelined. Unfortunately, Frank also showed that he has very limited ball-handling talents. We had remarked earlier in the year that every time he tries to dribble between two defenders, he loses the ball. That is exactly what happened at the end of the first half. The result was that Duke turned a lead into a deficit at the break, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.
Once again, the team was clanking rims the entire contest. The overall shooting percentage was less than 32%. The foul shooting was just 3 for 9. And, for the second game in a row, virtually every time the team had a fast break, they managed to blow the scoring opportunity. These stumblebums are an embarrassment to the program. The only guy who has had a respectable season, Mr. Kennard, also managed to come up with by far his worst outing of the year.
When nobody on the court seems able to sink an outside shot, one might suspect that a sentient coach would try someone else. In this case, we are thinking of Jack White, who showed us a really nice stoke at the beginning of the season. But since he is not one of this year's Favored Seven, it was, of course, not to be.
Poindexter's mother was rather exercised this past week by what she felt was our brutal honesty about this team. To maintain family harmony, we had to promise to be more praiseworthy this time ..... so, uh, we do think their road uniforms are a lovely shade of blue.
Syracuse 78, Duke 75 (February 22, 2017). So Duke had been on a winning streak and climbed to No. 10 in the polls. Well, last night they looked more like No. 2.
The fact of the matter is that this team has always been one step away from disaster. They can't stop any opponent with quickness from getting to the basket and have no rim protector (at least nobody K will play) as a final stop. On offense, they have to live or die by the trey. And they commit far too many sloppy turnovers. And all this on a team that had seemed to be bursting with talent.
For us, this game may have been a new low. The first half was an utter disgrace for the Duke "offense." Nobody could hit a shot save Jayson. Even Luke, who has been money from mid-range, badly missed a couple of very easy 10 foot shots from the crease of the Syracuse zone early on. And Duke compounded the misery by turning the ball over on virtually every fast break opportunity. It was truly embarrassing. The only saving grace was that it had not yet dawned on Syracuse just how easy it is to drive against Duke, so Syracuse could not score either. As a result, Duke somehow managed an 8 point lead at the half. Even Oak Hill Academy would have been up by at least 20 against the Orange.
Bear in mind that this is not a good Syracuse team at all. But even a poor squad will win when your opponents shoot 39% for the game (30% from three) and have a shoddy defense. We are now at the point where we have almost completely lost our passion -- heck, even our interest -- in this program. We are not sure if we will continue doing these reports for each and every game.
Anyway, we do need to salute Jayson. His shooting has improved markedly. He was also a force on the boards against the Orange, pulling down 13. Of course, Syracuse does not rebound well, as evidenced by the whopping 16 offensive boards that Duke grabbed -- one of the few bright spots of the evening.
After a very poor first half, Luke stepped up after the break. He wound up leading the squad with 23 points. He also had 7 boards and, blessedly, no turnovers.
Except for the facts that Amile managed to go 8 for 9 from the line and that Harry played reasonably well in his 11 minutes, that's all the good we can identify. Matt was lousy, Frank worthless, and Grayson execrable. We have noted that Grayson is but a shell of the player we saw last year ... and it is a very hollow shell. Perhaps we are stretching, but we have to wonder if it has something to do with his complete change in mindset on offense.
Last year, Grayson drove repeatedly to score. It put him on the line all the time, and we have to wonder if his success there created a kind of chain reaction that enhanced his outside game as well. In contrast, this season, Grayson almost never tries to score when driving; he is instead always looking to dish out. He is not going to the line as a result. And his outside game has completely tanked. That may not be the answer, but it is something to consider. All we know is that his game could not get any worse. This was a kid we dearly loved ... now we can barely look at him without cringing.
Again, it was a seven man game for Duke. Marques did not even step foot on the court. How much do you want to bet he rues his matriculation decision? But enough for now ... where's the Jack Daniels?
Duke 99, Wake Forest 94 (February 18, 2017). Duke won this game on the offensive end, but came perilously close to losing it at the other end. Duke shot a remarkable 59% from the floor for the game, including 13 of 27 from beyond the arc. Once again, Luke was the star, making big shot after big shot. The Devils have had some very good pure shooters over the years, but far fewer very good scorers. Luke Kennard is a great scorer, probably the best we have seen at Duke since Johnny Dawkins. In this game, he was 9 of 15 from the floor for a team -leading 23 points.
Jayson Tatum was again second in scoring totals for the team. However, he reversed his normal trend by shining in the first half particularly. He did, though, make a couple of crucial free throws down the stretch after two of his teammates had just choked at the line. We also liked Frank's offensive performance -- he gave the team a boost in the second half after Grayson deservedly went to the bench for a while.
We have been lukewarm lately in our praise of Amile, but he stepped it up a notch in this one. He was 7 for 10 from the floor, scoring that we have not seen from him for quite a while. He was also credited with 5 blocks on the other end ... mind you, they were not above-the-rim blocks (that is not his game), but simply defensive hustle blocks. He is not a great rebounder, but he did pick up an enormous one in the final minute, then went to the foul line and amazingly swished two charity shots. When have we ever seen that before? Very nice, Amile.
Grayson continued to struggle, and really had a dreadful outing for the first three-quarters of this one. But he came off the bench with about 12 minutes left and hit a couple of monster threes. He also added a great diving dish to Amile. On the whole, not a good outing, but still an improvement over the last time out.
We had to laugh when the ACC color guy for the game (Dan Bonner) stated that Wake is a deeper squad than Duke. Well, Dan, that's because K seems constitutionally incapable of going beyond a seven man rotation. We were happy to see Marques get some first half minutes and demonstrate his scoring ability inside. We know what he is capable of doing, but when your minutes are so very limited you wind up pressing too much when you do get on the court.
The problem right now is that both Marques and Harry seem to be foul magnets -- Giles had 3 personals in only 4 minutes and Bolden picked up 2 in his 6 minutes. And once again, we saw guys blowing by Giles to the basket. By the way, why in the world was Marques out near half court at one point when his opponent was absolutely wide open underneath? Bolden should never be out that far on defense -- that is terrible coaching.
Anyway, given Duke's remarkable shooting tally, one would naturally wonder how this contest could possibly have gone down to the wire. The answer, simply, is that Duke couldn't stop Wake from penetrating at the other end. Same old story for Duke ... if the other team has quickness and athleticism, Duke's man defense is absolutely worthless. This game was screaming for a zone switch, but our El Greco!, being one of the least adaptable coaches we have seen, did not go into a zone a single time. It is sink or swim with the man D, and Duke almost sank.
We do doff our hats to Wake. They played well, and it was yet another very tough loss for them. John Collins was the player of the game with 31 points and 15 boards. That's a career for some. They are a scrappy bunch. Snake-bitten but scrappy.
So Duke continues its winning streak. We are certainly pleased, but we still find those dark clouds in view. We thought before the season that this would be a dominant group, and the team is nowhere near that at this point.
Duke 65, Virginia 55 (February 15, 2017). After the Clemson game, our illustrious coach commented that it was Duke's best win of the season. No, Coach, but that was perhaps the most inane comment of the season. This win on the road against the Cavs, however, was huge. And to think that it was done with Kennard and Allen shooting 5 for 20 collectively from the floor ....
We have often complained about the excessive number of fouls called in ACC play. Well, this one almost went to the other extreme. The play was extraordinarily physical, but the whistles were minimal. We thought that it went pretty fairly both ways for a change, so we have no issue. In fact, it was a pleasure to watch.
We also enjoyed having the opportunity to catch a different color guy doing the broadcast ... Doug Collins. Collins is smart and incisive, something we are not used to seeing on a Duke broadcast. We had to smile when he (accurately) commented in the first half about Virginia's offensive movement in contrast with Duke's one-on-one play. Of course, Bilas diverted that thought immediately lest some negative reflection be cast upon his beloved coach.
Anyway, this was a big win for the team, and the reasons were threefold. First, Duke played defense for an entire game for a change. We have seen them have some pretty decent halves on the defensive end, but the intensity in this one remained throughout ... check that, remained until the final couple of minutes when the Cavs were getting layups every time down. Still, it was impressive overall. Of course, it was easier for Duke because Virginia is simply a better match-up for them.
We heard repeatedly from the ESPN talking heads about Duke's extraordinary success against Virginia over the past several years. In fact, that is simply a reflection of what we have long been noting. Virginia is an excellent, well-coached defensive team, but their hallmark has never been quickness and athleticism. And it is quickness and athleticism that are Duke's great bugaboo. That's why we come into each Virginia game with a fair level of optimism, notwithstanding Virginia's record at the time.
The second reason for this win was Duke's foul shooting, particularly its solidity down the stretch when the Cavs were fouling immediately. Duke shot 18 for 20 for the game, a phenomenal 90%. Of course, Virginia was perfect at the line, but it was only 8 for 8.
The final and most important reason for this win was our own Mr. Tatum. It was a similar pattern to what we have seen in the past -- a weak first half, with a marked improvement after the break. However, this time "marked improvement" egregiously understates the case. Jayson simply had a brilliant second half. Other than the free throws by the team at the close, Jayson was Duke's second half offense. And the shots he was making were from long ... some almost desperation attempts. He is not normally a top long-range gunner, but he was unconscious here. We doubt we will see the likes of this again this year. Tatum finished at 6 of 7 from three, and racked up 28 points for the game. He also led the squad with 8 boards. Just a great effort.
After Jayson, you have everyone else. Matt did have an outstanding defensive effort, but contributed as little on the other end as usual. Frank Jackson only got 13 minutes and added but two points. Amile once again picked up a bunch of early fouls, but did play solid D while he was in there. He also made a couple of very nice pivoting scores inside in the first half. Unfortunately, he continued his disappointing efforts on the boards. Virginia got WAY too many offensive rebounds, and neither Amile nor Harry was much of a factor off the glass.
Speaking of Harry, he did have 19 minutes and continued to shows hints of breaking out. We really liked the two back-to-back steals he picked up, a testament to his athleticism. His defense has also improved markedly. Unfortunately, he still is not a stopper in the middle, nor is he any force on the boards at all. We do agree with Mr. Collins that he should have gotten more touches inside since he has shown a nice touch within 5 to 8 feet. Developing even the shadow of an inside game would be a godsend to this team.
Marques got in the usual two minutes. Enough said there. And then there was Grayson.
We were so excited when Grayson announced that he would return this season. But be careful what you wish for ... this has been a season from Hell for him. For every good game, there have been four poor ones. He was great against the Tar Heels, but dreadful in the follow-up against Clemson. K blamed it on his being "tired." Well, we wonder what the excuse will be this time because, once again, he was just terrible shooting the ball. Indeed, he really should not have been in the game down the stretch, and, in fact, K did pull him for a play or two near the end. It is truly sad to watch.
Nevertheless, this was a very big win for the squad, and leads into the Wake Forest rematch. If history is to be any judge, we are now in store for a let-down, though we are hoping that the last-minute desperation win against Wake earlier will weigh heavily on their minds.
Duke 64, Clemson 62 (February 11, 2017). What an utterly disgraceful exhibition this was. Yes, Duke won, but they were entirely undeserving. Once again, all the vulnerabilities of this squad were on full display.
We have noted repeatedly that K simply does not recruit quickness. We see that time and again on both ends of the court ... Duke's opponents are invariably quicker to loose balls, drive by Duke defenders with impunity, and, conversely, shut down Duke's driving opportunities. Yes, Duke's defense was respectable in the first half of this game, but the real reason that Duke prevailed was that Clemson could not drop the ball in the basket during that time. When Clemson heated up after the break, the game changed completely.
The scoring shows Duke with 10 turnovers for the game. It seemed like 20. The Clemson defense was suffocating, and Duke did not have the quickness to compensate. We noted in our discussion of the UNC game that Duke cannot be counted on to hit threes regularly. They went cold in the second half, and we saw what happened. Without any inside game, this team is a one trick pony.
Grayson had a terrific outing against the Heels. Here, however, he was just beyond awful. Not only were his shooting stats abysmal, but he seemed a hair away from losing the ball almost every time he touched it. The quick hands of Clemson absolutely bedeviled him, making him look like one of the weakest players in the league. It was pathetic.
Ditto for Jayson. Some will remember his big trey in the second half or the one impressive rebound. In between, there was nothing. Like Grayson, he seemed like a turnover waiting to happen, repeatedly being stripped by the Tigers. He played 39 minutes and had only 9 points and 7 boards to show for it.
Luke was very quiet early, missing from long. It really was not until Duke found itself on the ropes well into the second period that he found the mark, once again putting the team on his back for a stretch. Without Luke, this season would have been a complete disaster. As usual, he led the team on offense, scoring 25 points and only turning the ball over once. It was not exactly Luke at his best, but he was certainly the best they had.
Matt had a solid outing, playing tough defense and making two of his four field goal attempts. He can never be a go-to guy on the offensive end, but he did fulfill his expected role in this one. We had been critical of Amile, but he had an acceptable performance against Clemson ... 3 of 5 from the floor and 9 boards. His physical abilities are limited, but he made the most of them.
Actually, for the second game in a row, we thought that Frank Jackson gave the squad a nice boost on offense. He was 2 for 4 from long, and made a really nice driving score as well. We think he probably should have been on the court in lieu of Grayson during at least a portion of the crucial final stretch. As it is, Frank only got 14 minutes of PT
And speaking of PT, it was once again vintage K. Five guys logging almost all the minutes. The only interlopers were Jackson (with his 14), Giles (10) and Bolden (2). How depressing. Duke barely survives with its big five, and the rest are not being sufficiently groomed. We left the reader with a warning after the euphoric UNC victory, and this debacle just underscores it.
Duke 86, UNC 78 (February 9, 2017). Duke beats Carolina. Perhaps we should just leave it at that. But we won't ....
Before even discussing the game, a couple of corollary notes. First, we double down on our comment following the Pitt game that we all need to be grateful that Ted Valentine and Les Jones were not involved in the action. Again, the kids were allowed to play, and the game had real flow. What a rare blessing that is in the ACC. Now, that's not to say that there were no issues. Once again, Duke was whistled for more fouls, even though Carolina's defense away from the basket was much more physical. So when Grayson was whistled for the bump late in the first half, it was no more than what Carolina had been doing the entire contest. But we suppose that absolute consistency is just too much to expect. We do find it interesting, however, that Duke is not getting any favors this year, even at home.
We also want to express our appreciation for Roy Williams. We always have found him to be a very gracious gentleman, and this was no exception. Despite the loss, he was smiling with K and clearly offered some kind words after the game. What's more, it certainly appeared that while his kids played very hard, there was no nastiness on the court. Quite a change from the thuggish behavior you see from other schools. No matter how you feel about UNC, you have to like Roy personally.
Now on to the action .... For Duke to win this one, we thought that they had to play just as well as they could. And that is what happened. Duke is all about making treys, and they were 13 for 27 from beyond the arc. That is outstanding. They shot 52% overall from the floor. While UNC had an almost identical field goal percentage, theirs were mostly in close. And -- here's why you read this site, folks -- threes count more than twos. The other difference was at the free throw line. UNC missed too many shots, finishing at just 10 for 18, whereas Duke was 13 for 16. While the final spread was more, that spread was somewhat inflated by UNC's desperation at the end. As we have repeatedly said, foul shooting is so important.
We are so happy for Grayson. Our regular readers know that we have been in love with this kid forever. That's why his terrible struggles earlier this year were so painful for us. He had a terrific outing this evening, hitting 7 out of 12 long shots. He led the squad with 25 points, even though he did not go to the line even once .... and foul shooting has often been his bread and butter. The only negative is that he does tend to get stripped when trying to drive through competition in the lane, so he needs to be a bit more circumspect at times. But he had a marvelous outing.
Ditto for Luke. He has been an absolute rock this year. He did worry us a bit at the start by missing a few times from long (a continuation of the prior game), but that changed in the second half. More importantly, however, he was still a magician off the drive, making all kinds of shots within about eight feet. The kid is just an amazing scorer.
Jayson Tatum started very slowly, and really was not productive in the first half. Boy did that change after intermission. He scored all 19 points down the stretch, and also finished with 9 boards to lead the team. What's more, he did not commit his usual bevy of turnovers. It was wonderful to see.
Matt and Amile were all defense. Three points and two points respectively. Matt had a couple of great steals as well. Unfortunately, their efforts were still not enough to shut UNC down -- the Heels were making all kinds of shots off the drive. We do need to reiterate our concern about Amile, however. Since his return, he has not been making any contested shots on offense, nor has he been contributing off the boards. He was not getting any tough rebounds in this one.
We also need to salute Frank. He had a particularly nice first half, hitting all of his attempts. Also, no turnovers for the game. The only negative was a blown drive -- he seemed to have an open layup, but missed everything. That contributed to a UNC run in the second half. Maybe we were just fantasizing though, since the scorer shows him at 4 for 4 from the field!!
Harry played 10 minutes and acquitted himself well enough. His defense seems to be getting better. He still lacks the physical bulk and strength to be dominant on the inside and off the glass. We hope we will see that development in a Duke uniform.
We are also most pleased to note that Marques did see action in both the first and second halves. A major departure from the normal K modus operandi. Probably just a temporary aberration.
So, Duke has now won four straight, including victories over Notre Dame and UNC. All is well with the world, right? Well, not exactly, Despite our lofty expectations before this season, Duke still has absolutely no inside game, nor do they have a defensive stopper under the glass. Since they are not going to be shooting 50% from long every game, it is still very difficult to see this team raising a championship banner. We'll just have to be happy for momentary pleasures.
Duke 72, Pittsburgh 64 (February 4, 2017). We have reached the point where we are happy for very small things. Today it was that Zebras Valentine and Jones were nowhere in sight. Blessedly, we had to sit through only 15 foul calls collectively. An ACC game with some continuity of action ... who would have thought it?
The bad news is that for most of the game, we had to watch Duke struggle as they have most of this year. Actually, the defense at times was quite respectable, although it was still too easy for the opposition to score in close. Despite firing blanks from long range, Pitt managed to shoot over 50% from the floor. That's not acceptable. We were also frustrated by Duke's repeated inability to pull down a rebound in traffic. If there were three Dukies and one Panther in position, the Panther usually wound up with possession. The fact is that Duke has no dominant physical specimen inside ... they are the 98 pound weaklings of the league.
Even so, Duke should have been able to put away a game against a team that has not been able to beat anyone of late. Unfortunately, Duke had another one of those games where nobody could make a shot. Yes, it seemed that everything was in and out, but those are still misses. The result was an even contest until about five minutes left, at which point the Devils magically caught fire. That, and the fact that Pitt committed 13 turnovers to Duke's 8, made the difference.
Usually, Luke has been able to step up to bail out his anemic teammates. Today that was not the case. It wasn't that Luke had a terrible outing, but it was not anywhere near his normal standards. He was just 4 for 12 from the floor, and did not even attempt a free throw. No, for the second game in a row, it was really Grayson who excelled. He was superb down the stretch, scoring virtually all of the team's points over the final three minutes.
Jayson also hit a couple of big threes in the second half, keeping Duke in the game as the team had trouble shutting the Panthers down on the other end. He did not take a lot of shots (he is learning unselfishness), but still managed 12 points. Amile finished with 15, though all of those were layups and stuffs ... a few off some great feeds. He also played sound defense most of the night, though he continues to be less than stellar on the boards.
Frank Jackson started in place of an ailing Matt Jones, but was a nonfactor for most of the game. However, he came alive with Grayson down the stretch to hit a couple of treys. As for Matt, he played only 14 minutes and was largely MIA.
El Greco! was back in action, and the rotation was vintage Krzyzewski. Six guys played virtually all of the minutes. Harry chipped in only 7, and Marques continues to gather splinters. You know when a player is disfavored ... he gets one minute of PT in the first half. That is exactly where Poor Marques is and no doubt will continue to be. At least Capel shuffles the lineup a bit. Without major contributions from Harry and Marques, we cannot imagine this being a championship team, and you can't make a major contribution on the bench.
Duke 84, Notre Dame 74 (January 30, 2017). We had savaged the officiating in our last game report. Well, after the first five minutes of this one, we thought we had entered some parallel universe ... not a single foul had been called. But that just shows that one should never hope for the best in the ACC. The remainder of the game was a whistle display, once again predominantly victimizing Duke. The final stats show Duke with 27 fouls and the Domers with 21, but that even understates the true disparity since Notre Dame had to foul down the stretch. The zebras seemed intent on keeping the Irish in the game by whistling Duke for every touch, many away from the ball. It was unconscionable. Blessedly, Duke once again overcame and prevailed. We are really proud of these kids for their mental toughness.
Duke led by 12 at the break. We thought their first half defense was the best that we had seen all year from this squad. Unfortunately, the second half wasn't quite as bright -- we saw a number of defensive break-downs. That, together with the fact that Notre Dame suddenly got red hot from the floor, made things a bit too interesting. Yet despite the assistance from the zebras, Duke refused to crumble.
The most significant stat of the evening was the foul shooting. Duke was a remarkable 23 of 24 from the stripe. In fact, the only miss occurred when Tatum was fouled on a drive and had to leave the game with a sprained wrist -- of course, the Domers opted to have Amile take the foul shot and, being Amile, it was missed. Other than that, perfection. Foul shooting is so very important, and this is Exhibit A.
After his spectacular outing against Wake, Luke was relatively quiet. It was still a respectable outing with 16 points and only one turnover. He has become rock solid. But it was really Grayson and Jayson (we hadn't noticed the obvious rhyme before) who shined. Jayson's second half was this kid at his best. The only error we remember during that period was an attempt to dribble through two defenders on offense (a foolish error mirrored by Frank Jackson later). Other than that, it was all good down the stretch. Tatum finished with 19 points and a whopping 14 boards. More turnovers than we would like at 5, but we were quite pleased for a change.
Grayson also struggled with turnovers in the first half. He also was far too unselfish on a break, where he clearly should have taken it all the way but instead decided to dish. Foolishly unselfish. The good news is that he shot the ball well, leading all scorers with 21. It was a bit of the Grayson we saw last season.
We also thought Matt had a really solid outing. Didn't force anything, didn't make mistakes. He still managed 16 points with only 6 shots from the field. Amile's effort was almost identical with that of the prior game ... fast out of the block with two quick scores, then almost nothing thereafter. The only positive was that he was part of the defense collective that played so well in the first half.
Frank Jackson gave the squad almost nothing. Giles, however, again provided some positives. But he continues to be routinely victimized by the officials, getting called for virtually every bit of contact. The same is true of Antonio, who actually saw a couple of minutes in the first half. As for Marques ... zero minutes. He is toast.
This was a big win, and the first time we have really begun to feel good about the team in a long time. If only we could do away with all those ACC officials ....
Duke 85, Wake Forest 83 (January 28, 2017). Duke came back in the final seconds, and had to beat eight opponents on the floor to do it. Over the years, we have had a great deal to say about ACC officiating, and none of it positive. It has gotten to the point that except for Duke games, we are simply unable to watch an ACC contest -- between the insane number of whistles and the time-outs, there is not even the slightest continuity. The time-outs are a national problem; the whistles are an ACC signature. But this game was worse since the calls were utterly one-sided. Duke was whistled for 30 fouls, Wake just 20. That translated into ten additional points on the line for Wake.
Some of the calls against Duke were simply beyond belief. What made it even more maddening was the sycophantic solicitude shown to the officials by the game announcers. One of those was our very own Mike Gminski. Jay Bilas may be a pompous nitwit, but Gminski is simply a nitwit. He is and has always been the master of the inane. We will be sure to watch without sound the next time he does color on a broadcast. Life is just too short.
As to the play itself, Duke's weaknesses continued to show like an inflamed zit. Virtually every drive by Wake resulted in either a score inside or a whistle. Wake should have been driving on every possession. Clearly, a zone was demanded, but Duke went to zone for one possession (resulting in a stop). So typical.
The only reason that Duke managed to squeak out the dramatic victory was because Luke Kennard and, to a lesser extent, Grayson Allen put the team on their backs. They scored 34 and 19 points respectively, 62% of the squad's total. That kind of imbalance is never a good thing, but this once-promising Duke squad has a paucity of effective scoring options. Kennard, in particular, was simply magnificent on the offensive end. He was 6 for 6 from long, hitting the game winner with just over 6 seconds left. In fact, he did not miss a shot in the second half, scoring 30 after the break. That is unbelievable. Oddly enough, however, he struggled at the line, missing the front end of two one-and-ones as well as another free throw to boot. The stats show him at 6 for 10 from the line, but it really was 6 for 12. Everything with this Duke team seems to be a zero sum game. But even so, Luke's outing was otherwise so brilliant that it seems almost obscene to offer any critical comments.
As for Grayson, he finally had a very respectable shooting performance, going 5 for 11 from long. The poor kid continues to be everybody's target on the floor, including opposing players, fans, and officials. He was whistled for a technical for saying (in response) something to a Wake opponent .... never mind that Wake players were woofing the entire game and were not similarly whistled. Anyway, it was nice to see Grayson making shots. He did commit a few poor turnovers, but it was still a step up and Duke needed all of it.
Another very small bright spot was Harry Giles. He is still anything but a force out there, but his play is getting better and better by increments. At this rate, he could be a really good player in, oh, three years or so. And Frank Jackson played relatively sound ball, scoring 9 points and not committing a turnover in his 24 minutes.
After that, nada, We have been most critical of Jayson, and once again he validated our assessment. He fouled out with 8 points and three turnovers in 21 minutes. In fairness, though, a couple of those foul calls were absolutely phantom. The refs were blowing their whistles any time a Duke uniform slipped into their field of vision.
Matt reverted to his offensive norm of the season. He was 1 for 10 from the floor in this one .... an unmitigated disaster. And, for the second game in a row, Duke got nothing from Amile after the first minute of play. In his 20 minutes of play, Amile gave the team all of 4 points and 3 boards. We had to laugh before the game when the (idiot) announcers referred to Amile as Duke's rim protector. Amile has never been, and will never be, a rim protector -- he does not play above the rim, though he has been an effective player through sheer intensity. Well, at this point, he is not even able to give that.
Marques was back to three minutes, so he is a non-factor. We were delighted to see Duke insert Jack White when they started picking up fouls galore. White handled himself respectably, though his reticence on offense bothers us. The kid has shown us that he has a great shooting touch, and he should be encouraged to exercise it. No doubt he will be mired on the bench going forward, so it is a moot point.
After the Miami game, everyone was ready to see a new Duke team. Everyone was wrong. The same is true at this point. Duke won at the buzzer due to a superhuman performance by Luke. The problems still remain. Duke has to show a lot more and over an extended period before we can begin to celebrate.
N.C. State 84, Duke 82 (January 24, 2017). So, where are all the daisy-pickers who believed that Duke had magically turned the corner during the second half against Miami? We've got a bridge to sell. Duke, at home, loses to a squad that can't beat the Little Sisters of the Poor. What's wrong with these guys? A little of everything.
First, let's be magnanimous and salute Dennis Smith. He was the best player on the court, and it wasn't even close. Duke has its annual parade of Mickey Dees, but, as usual, the best player is wearing a different jersey. Smith was terrific ... well, other than the fact that he mysteriously can't make foul shots. Even so, he dominated. Matt Jones, who is absolutely venerated by many for his defensive prowess, saw Smith drive past him repeatedly for scores. Smith finished with 32 points on 10 for 18 shooting. Heck, as a team, State shot over 50% ... how typical for a Duke opponent. They make even Elon look good.
On offense, Duke shot as pathetically as is the norm. They were 8 for 28 from long. We know that El Greco! does not recruit quickness, so these have got to be skill players, right? We guess that their apparent lack of skill is just some optical illusion.
We do have to be cautious about citing stats from this game. Looking at the box score, we suspect that the Duke athletic office may have engaged a chimp to track the action. The stats show that Duke outrebounded State, and even had more offensive boards. What? WHAT? What we saw was a Duke team that again made almost no effort to go to the offensive glass, and a State team that repeatedly got big offensive boards down the stretch.
The official stats also would lead one to believe that Jayson had a very respectable outing. They give him 16 points on 7 for 14 shooting, 9 boards, and only two turnovers. What we watched was very different. Yes, we have said repeatedly that the kid has talent. But aside from being a poor outside shooter, he has almost no smarts on the court. He is a mistake waiting to happen, between turnovers, really stupid reaching fouls, and generally poor decisions. He is also a kid who doesn't complete drives the way he certainly should. We don't care what kind of moves you make to get by defenders -- if you fail to sink the shot, it is of absolutely no consequence. And the story of Jayson all night was a failure to complete. He missed layup after layup after layup. We simply lost count. He drives us crazy.
Then there is Grayson. One of our favorite all time kids has morphed into something unrecognizable. He had been shooting the ball terribly all season, but really doubled down against State. Just 1 for 9 from long. Truly awful. He even has been having trouble the past few weeks making free throws. It is painful to see.
The other disaster against State was Amile. He did absolutely nothing out there. Duke may as well have been playing with a cardboard cut-out. He was not even in the game for most of the finale. We will charitably assume that he is still struggling with foot pain, but we saw a much better effort from him in the second half against Miami.
We also need to say a brief word about the officiating. We don't like the trend of calling virtually every elbow a flagrant foul, but at least it should work both ways. Grayson is thrown to the ground and ... nothing. Also, we saw Grayson whistled with an incomprehensible charging foul near the end of the first half. The poor kid needs to start wearing a VICTIM bandana around his forehead.
We mentioned Grayson's free throw shooting above. Well, the team had a truly dismal effort. 14 for 21 overall, but two of those were the front end of one-and-ones. So it was really 14 for 23. Even Luke got into the action. That was the game right there.
Can we draw any positive at all from this one? If we stretch really hard, we could say that Harry is showing a bit more, particularly on the offensive end. He is still far from being any kind of force, but a light is faintly beginning to appear at the end of the tunnel.
We thought this season would bring another Duke championship. We guess it will have to be the NIT. These are very sick puppies.
Duke 70, Miami 58 (January 21, 2017). For the first time in forever, we found ourselves without any enthusiasm about watching a Duke basketball game. A good Star Trek rerun may have tipped the balance. That's really sad. And watching the first half would have made even a bad Star Trek rerun seem like Nirvana.
There is really no way to describe just how awful Duke was in that first half. On both ends of the court. No offensive production (not a single trey made) with only 24 points scored. No offensive rebounding at all ... not a Devil near the basket after most misses. And little defense. But thank God in this case for second halves.
Capel wanted to make a statement to shake things up, so he benched Allen, Kennard and Giles to start the second. Kennard was about the only offensive option in that bleak opening period, so we found that rather surprising. Nevertheless, the strategy paid dividends. Duke came out with a passion on defense that finally shut down an opponent. And Matt Jones caught fire on offense, igniting the team behind him. It also helped that the Miami players were so shocked that they let down big time on their own defensive effort. After thirteen minutes or so, an eleven point halftime deficit had been turned into a twenty point lead. Some characteristic sloppy play at the end reduced it to twelve, but it was still decisive.
First things first. Major props to Matt. That second half was his best twenty minutes in a Duke uniform. He, above all, was key to the turnaround. We believe that all 13 of his points, including the three treys, occurred after the break. He was feeling it.
Amile not only came back, but gave the squad a whopping 34 minutes. Most of his production, including the boards, occurred in the second half as well. We noticed even before the injury that he was not completing on offense like he had done earlier in the season, and that was certainly the case in the first half where he was barely hitting the rim in competition. While he did not exactly become a scoring machine after the break, he did make a nice driving shot and seemed much more comfortable. We hope that translates.
Both Frank and Jayson also had excellent second halves after showing little at the start (except for one spectacular left-handed driving shot by Frank in the opening period). We particularly loved the displays of quickness and athleticism that Frank showed by splitting defenders on several occasions to take it home for a score. True, he got so caught up that he finally went too far by going behind his back and losing the ball, but on net it was a great showing. And Jayson similarly had a couple of gorgeous driving scores.
Luke did not have a bad game, just a quiet one. Alas, the same cannot be said for Grayson, who continued his dreadful shooting. He has become a shell of the player he was last season, and that makes us very sad indeed. As for the other starter, Harry, he still remains a nonfactor on both ends of the court. He really is giving the team nothing, but his upside is such that he has to get minutes.
And speaking of upside, that is a point that we have been trying to make for a couple of months. Chase did not play in this game, and we have no explanation. We suppose it must be that he aggravated an injury. What it simply should be is that he really does not offer the team any appreciable upside this season. In contrast, Marques has tremendous upside, which he finally showed against Miami. We wanted him to be playing 20 minutes, and he finally got that opportunity and made the most of it. He is the only real rim protector on the team, and he has not even become the force that he can be. He has got to play through mistakes if he is to grow. Perhaps now he will finally get the chance.
We're not sure this second half will signal a new, invigorated Duke squad. Perhaps that is fanciful, but hope does spring eternal.
Louisville 78, Duke 69 (January 14, 2017). Interesting, isn't it ... an opposing player goes down in agony on the court and, predictably, he is back in full form 10 minutes later. A Duke player goes down and ... he is out three weeks. Is there something wrong with this picture? All this is by way of reminding the reader that Amile was MIA once again. This time it may have mattered.
Duke found itself facing its bete noire -- a quick, athletic squad that plays above the rim. As usual, Duke had no answer. As we have said on many occasions, Duke does not recruit quickness. Boy, does it show. Any loose ball ... the opponents are sure to grab it. On defense ... watch as the opponents blow by. It is all just so painful. The vaunted Duke freshman have laid an egg the size of the Empire State building. They are giving Duke absolutely no rim protection.
We have been less than glowing about Mr. Jeter's abilities and contributions. The fact is that he just lacks the strength and quickness to be productive in the ACC. He never gets a board in competition, and he has long since stopped even trying to score (which we suppose is a blessing). Harry is extremely quick off the floor, but his defense continues to be nonexistent. We have been less than impressed by his lateral quickness. And Duke has not developed any plays to free him for a lob.
We still want Marques to get more action, but that has become little more than a pipe dream. It is discouraging to see Javin on the court instead. Javin has absolutely no offensive skills, and he cannot stay on his feet on defense. He is simply a foul waiting to happen. No smarts and no coaching.
Frank was once again of no consequence out there. He's not going to drive on Louisville, and that's his game. And Jayson was little better. Indeed, the only two creditable performers were Luke and, blessedly, Grayson. Grayson has been struggling big time with his shot, but he was 2 for 3 from long against the Cards. He also grabbed a whopping 9 boards. But, on the other hand, there were some desperation misses and turnovers. Still, we liked his overall performance. If Duke had a front court that could contribute at all, he might have made the difference.
This team is beginning to smell like a week old fish. K and his Klones have done a hideously poor job thus far in every respect. Wonder how much longer injuries can be blamed for this mess ....
Florida State 88, Duke 72 (January 10, 2017). We had a terrible feeling going into this game. It was even worse going out.
Let nobody tell you that this loss was attributable to Amile's absence. It wasn't, any more than Grayson playing against Virginia Tech would have made a difference in that outcome. The Seminoles are simply a quicker, more athletic team that plays above the rim and has a tenacious defense. As much as we like Amile, he is just a gritty blue collar player who plays below the rim. He is not what the Devils needed, although he certainly would have helped a bit.
Once again, Duke's abysmal man defense was in full display. Florida State simply had a party inside. The only time in years that Duke actually had a capable man defense was at the tail end of their recent championship season. Other than that, it has been a porous joke most of the time. And the fact that the officials are all too apt to whistle a foul on every drive simply exacerbates the issue. Yet it wasn't until about ten minutes expired in the first half that Duke went to a zone. The immediate result ... two successive air ball possessions by the Sems.
We have also been highly critical of the rotation decisions of El Greco! We had foolishly hoped that perhaps, just perhaps, Clone Capel would inject some sanity. It was not to be. Dumb and dumber. The tell was Chase's reappearance with only about three minutes gone in the first half. The kid played a whopping 25 minutes. That was 25 too many.
We heard the clueless announcers remark that he was playing well, and you will no doubt read the same on other more sycophantic web sites. Nothing could be farther from the truth ... that is, unless you believe that playing well for Chase means he is not turning the ball over or committing a foul on every possession. Yes, he did have one good play on defense when he blocked a driving shot and Duke recovered the ball. Other than that, he was just a body on the court. He truly gives the team nothing on either end.
In contrast, while Harry started, he got only 10 minutes. Yes, he did fight fouls a bit, but keeping a kid on the bench is self-defeating. And Poor Marques had all of four minutes. Look, we realize that Marques, and Harry as well, are still very rough around the edges. But not playing them just exacerbates the problem. They have to play to gain confidence and skill. Each is infinitely more talented than Chase. INFINITELY. If Duke wants to be a good team by the end of the year, they need to get a lot of minutes. It ain't happening.
Was there anything positive to be drawn from this debacle? Not really. Luke played his usual solid game, but that is nothing new. Jayson had his usual point tally, but continues to be a walking turnover. Grayson had some really nice dishes in the first half, but joined the turnover parade as the game went on. Everyone else was effectively worthless.
We have been disappointed in Duke squads in the past. However, given our lofty expectations before the season, we don't ever remember being quite this disgusted. And simply blaming this on injuries doesn't cut it. We have gone from day dreaming of an undefeated season to wondering if Duke can even be a three seed.
Duke 93, Boston College 82 (January 7, 2017). This team is positively schizophrenic. They are occasionally spectacular, but all too often simply awful. We got a taste of both today.
Duke started very slowly and sloppily, and BC led for the first few minutes. Then the light bulb went on and Duke went on an absolute tear. Frank really applied the injection by nailing a couple of treys, and the Devils were quickly off to the races. The run continued until about the 3 minute mark of the first half, by which time Duke had built a 25 point cushion. Then Dr. Jekyll disappeared and Mr. Hyde showed up.
Duke's second half performance was an abomination. They had trouble dropping anything through the hoop, while giving BC driving layup after layup on the other end. Is there a worse man to man defense in the country than Duke's? Really. It was embarrassing. The game screamed for a zone, but it never materialized. That giant first half cushion was paired to only six points with a couple of minutes left. Duke held on, but we are not about to celebrate.
Nobody really excelled for Duke in this one. We were about to start a Frank Jackson fan club after his first half effort, but he was missing everything after the break. The kid is terribly streaky, perfect for this squad.
Once again, Jayson led the scoring, this time with 22 points. Of course, it helps when you try to take as many shots as he does. Jayson actually started quietly, looking for teammates. But once he scores, the mindset quickly changes. He is a talented kid, but a rather selfish one. Even so, he made some very nice plays and hit a big trey when the BC run seemed relentless. He also went 9 for 10 from the line. It really would have been a very good overall outing but for one thing -- turnovers. Bad passes and stripped balls. Just too many mistakes on the court.
Grayson also was credited with 5 turnovers, though several of them were really the fault of teammates. Statistics can be quite misleading. One again, Grayson's shots were not dropping (he even missed his only two free throw attempts), but he compensated with his beautiful dishes to teammates. He had 11 assists for the game, and should have had a couple more. The kid is both very unselfish and a superlative passer. Amile needs to send him a thank you note since most of his scores against BC came on Grayson feeds.
Matt again did not start, but he logged 36 minutes (second only to Gayson's 37). He did sink 4 of his 7 field goal attempts, but picked up 3 turnovers and did little to bolster Duke's porous defense. He also showed once again that he is the last Dukie you would ever want leading a break, nearly fumbling the ball away on a drive. Matt just is not an athlete.
Thanks to Grayson, Amile logged some nice stats in the opening half. The highlight was a play he made all by himself, dribbling left, then whirling to the right for a beautiful bank-in. It is what we had been accustomed to seeing earlier this year from Amile. Unfortunately, he seemed to injure either a foot or ankle late in the first half, and did not enter the game again. We await word.
Harry started again, and is looking more and more comfortable on offense. Alas, he still reaches too much on defense -- that, plus the officials' penchant for blowing the whistle on every drive, kept him in foul trouble. Still, we do see progress and we expect it to continue game by game.
We were happy to see Marques get some early time. He would have had more, but a terrible call put him on the bench. He exacerbated the problem with some lazy defensive play and a really forced effort or two on offense. We still love his potential and want to see him get more time, but he has got to ratchet up the effort at times.
No sign of Jack, Chase or Javin. Only Jack's disappearance concerns us, though we are curious about Jeter's situation. We have not heard about an injury, but something must have happened.
Two tough road games await at Florida State and Louisville. Which Duke team will show up?
Duke 110, Georgia Tech 57 (January 4, 2017). First things first. Grayson was back in the starting lineup. Wonderful to see, but still utterly confounding. Yes, we realize that "indefinite" means, well, indefinite, but it certainly suggests -- no, make that screams -- more than one contest. If K intended a one game suspension, that should simply have been stated at the time and life would have moved on. But this seemed unnecessarily embarrassing. Still, we were very happy to see our boy in action again, so we'll leave it at that.
This game started with two Tech layup scores and a Duke turnover. It looked like deja vu all over again. But lo and behold, a miracle occurred. Duke caught fire. Luke started things, then Frank joined in, and Grayson and Matt decided to party as well. Things quickly turned into a Duke rout, with the Devils leading by 31 at the break. The second half was give and take for quite a while, until the Devils rained some more treys near the end. Suddenly, Duke basketball became fun again.
Let's start with Luke, who really jump-started the offensive effort. The kid scored 16 points on only 7 shots from the floor (he did not go to the line at all). That is just insane. He also added 5 boards in his limited 26 minutes of PT -- he hardly played at all after intermission. What we also loved to see was his wonderful hand quickness/reflexes when a loose ball came near. He was beautiful.
Grayson is really this team's point guard. He is the one kid who can penetrate and dish. We saw that again and again as he distributed 7 assists againt the Bees. He also nailed two treys in a row and finished with 15 points in 27 minutes. That included 7 for 7 at the stripe. By the way, was it just our imagination, or did his charity tosses have more elevation than in the past?
The leading scorer and PT guy was Jayson, something we expect to see. But his scoring total was, as usual, the result of taking a great many shots. His jumper was as dreadful as always, though he made a bunch of beautiful scores off drives. That is his game, and he needs to eschew the jump shot as much as possible (he was 1 for 7 from long, the only Dukie below 50%). But he loves to shoot, so we don't expect that to happen.
We had noted just how poorly Matt had been shooting. Well, he turned things around this evening, going 4 for 7 from long against Tech. He was not in the starting lineup, which was appropriate, but did have a nice effort. We had to listen to Jay Bilas (who annoys us to no end) mouth the usual line about Duke being a better team with Matt in the lineup. That certainly is not true when he is missing everything on the offensive end, but we cannot quibble when he plays like this.
Harry was actually in the starting lineup, and played 17 minutes. While his play was erratic, we completely support the decision. The kid needs PT to get back into form. He showed a couple of nice athletic moves, and did lead the squad with 12 boards. However, his offense was spotty to say the least (his only jumper was an air ball), and he gives away a lot on the defensive end. Still, we expect to see constant improvement.
Frank, not normally a great outside shooter, quickly made three treys after entering the game. He really had a good evening, scoring 15 points, getting 4 assists, and committing nary a turnover. It was surprising to see him pulled from the game right after nailing those three long shots (just as Grayson was yanked after his back-to-back threes), but perhaps K was feeling sorry for young Mr. Pastner.
We have been on the war path about Marques, and K's failure to give him time. Blessedly, he got in twice in the first half, and got even more time in the second. He showed why he belongs on the court. He is really the one Dukie who influences shots on the defensive end. He also showed a renewed confidence and intensity on offense as well. The stats were hardly remarkable, but the talent was clearly there. He should never play less than 15 minutes.
We also have been on Jack White's bandwagon. We really like how solidly and intelligently he plays the game. We also love his outside jumper. Against Tech, he shot once from long and .... swish. He really deserves PT as well. It will be most interesting to see Mr. Capel's rotation decisions. We hope they will be more prescient than his mentor's.
Neither Chase nor Javin got in the game at all. Our readers will know that we are certainly not displeased by that, though we are surprised. We are not aware of injuries, but perhaps they exist. In any event, this is the one game where we have no major criticism of rotation decisions. How refreshing.
Another Bilas idiocy was that charging calls are excessive. In fact, the opposite tends to be the case ... except in this game. Duke was whistled a couple of times for charges that seemed, to say the least, bizarre. But then, as we have stated in the past, officials tend subconsciously (we hope) to help a team that is badly trailing. That was certainly in evidence this evening as Tech was getting all the calls. Not that it mattered.
So, does this mean that Duke is back? We actually all need to take a deep breath. The offensive performance we saw this evening really was a fluke ... no way is Duke going to shoot over 50% from long routinely. And most opponents are going to play much tougher D than Tech. What you really want to see game in and game out is suffocating defense by Duke, aggressive board work, and unselfish offense. That is still a work in progress. Still, this was a lot of fun. We love Duke routs.
Virginia Tech 89, Duke 75 (December 31, 2016). Hats off to the Hokies. They were brilliant. For a while, they were simply incapable of missing a shot. They were far quicker than the Devils all evening, blowing to the basket continually. And for good measure, they were popping threes like Elvis popped trankies. Of course, the Devils did make it a bit easier by playing their normal porous defense.
On the other end of the court, it was business as usual. Duke came out ice cold, and improved very little thereafter. The only player who could score at all in the first half was Luke. He finished with a whopping 34 points on 11 for 19 shooting. Jayson was simply dreadful throughout the first half, forcing shots and completing nothing. He did pick it up after the break, but it was too little too late. Tatum managed to finish with 18, the only other Duke player in double figures.
Amile did grab 12 boards, but was overwhelmed on the offensive end. Welcome to ACC play. Frank was awful in the first half as well, though he did make a couple of nice drives in the second half. He is the only Dukie with real quickness, though he did not show it for most of the contest. Harry played a bit more and showed some promise, but is still far from a force. He missed a ton of shots in close. Of course, the basket seemed to have a lid for the entire team save Luke.
And then there's Matt. He is nothing short of a disaster on the offensive end. He cannot break down any defender with the ball, often dribbling it with his back to the hoop. It might be tolerable if he would hit a few treys with any consistency. That, however, has not been the case -- he was 0 for everything again in this one and is now at just 30% from long for the season. His overall percentage is 37%. How pathetic is that?
At this point, we are dealing with a very sick team. Ineffectual on offense and inept on defense. And as we said last time, just very badly coached. Poor Marques got just another three minutes of court time. He now looks utterly dispirited out there, playing without any emotion. No doubt he's mightily regretting his decision to choose Duke. At least we did get to see Jack White in a cameo appearance. Of course, despite the fact that his teammates were hopeless, they absolutely refuse to look for him on offense ... Matt missed his second trey on the same possession while Jack was wide open a few feet away.
We were sky high in September. Right now, we can barely stand to watch these guys. They are looking less and less like a championship squad with every appearance.
Duke 72, Elon 61 (December 21, 2016). Back to back disasters. It was the winter solstice, and it certainly seemed like the longest night of the year. This is a game Duke should have won by 35; instead they actually trailed at the half. A team with nothing but McDonald's AAs against a rag-tag group from a school that would not even receive a return call from a McDonald's star. What a disgrace.
There is almost nothing good that can be said about this game, except that Amile went 9 for 11 from the foul line. That may have been his most improbable achievement of the year. Oh, and we will add the performance of Matt Jones. We were glad to se that Matt restricted himself to only six shots, and happier still that he made four of them.
Duke shot an embarrassing 23 for 63 from the field. Inside shots were difficult since Elon was collapsing on defense. But open looks from long were plentiful. Once again, Duke couldn't make them. With Grayson still ice cold, this team really does not have an outside shooter with any dependability except for Luke.
Speaking of Grayson, it just keeps getting worse. Not only is the offensive slump continuing (and so much for blaming the shooting on toe issues), but it is affecting him in other ways. We don't buy that the latest tripping incident was an anger issue -- we believe it was done out of extreme frustration with his own play. This is so painful for us to watch.
Many will be applauding Jayson's performance. We will not be among that group. Yes, his athletic prowess was evident. But his ability to complete plays was pitiful. Seven for 22 from the field ... dreadful. And his desire to shoot every time he touches the ball was also quite apparent. Of course, since nobody else could make a shot, it probably didn't matter last night.
We concluded our last game report with a blast at El Greco! We are now going to double down. Quite simply, we don't think that we have seen a more poorly-coached team all year. Several times, Elon bigs were absolutely wide open underneath, and Elon drive-by scores were legion. On offense, it was even more grating. Duke's (non-) motion offense was there in all of its lack of glory ... everyone spread but stationary, with one guy trying to play one-on-one and ultimately forcing a shot. This is just terrible coaching, though it is Duke's norm. They routinely get away with it from a sheer abundance of talent.
Of course, nothing changed with the player rotation issue. As usual, Marques is inserted into the game early in the first half to play a few minutes, never to reappear. That is the way to destroy a kid, not develop him. It is pure K. And by the way, when nobody on the team can hit a shot and you are getting open looks, how about inserting Jack White to give it a shot. The kid clearly has a great soft touch from the outside and may have been able to provide a needed boost. But no, White will of course linger on the bench as one of the Great Unfavored.
Now, having said all this, are we suggesting that this play will be the norm for the remaining season? Of course not. At some point, Duke will turn things around and have some good outings. But we must strongly reassess the lofty expectations we had before the season began. It's looking as if both coach and players may fall short.
Duke 65, Tennessee State 55 (December 19, 2016). We're not sure that we even wanted to do a review of this one. It was that pathetic. Save an extended run at the beginning of the second half, Duke might actually have lost it. Credit, though, to the play of State. They were simply quicker than Duke, but then K does not recruit quickness. It covers a multitude of sins, and facilitates stifling defensive play. And State's defense was tougher overall than Duke's.
Plaudits do go, at least in part, to two Dukies in particular. Luke simply carried the team on his back offensively. 24 points on 7 for 10 shooting (3 for 5 from long). Nobody else was close. Over the last few weeks, he has finally been the Luke Kennard as advertised coming to Duke ... his outside shots are now dropping. The interesting thing, however, is that he often seemed reluctant to pull the trigger. We do value unselfishness, but when nobody else is hitting, he has to take advantage of a brief open look. The only downside to his game against State were a few poor plays in the first half: he started the contest by taking his eyes off his opponent, leaving him open for an easy back-door, and he later made one of the wildest passes we have ever seen. Still, he was outstanding overall.
The second hero of the revolution was the other stalwart, Amile. This time he pulled down 18 boards, and played excellent defense to boot. But there was also a big downside. Apart from being ineffective on offense generally, he was just 1 for 8 from the free throw line. He just kills Duke there. It really is inexcusable for a 5th year senior.
The only other kid we can even begin to say anything good about is Jayson. He had some nice boards, and after missing a whole bunch of shots early, made a couple of treys during the big Duke run. Not a great night, but not bad either.
Frank was completely ineffective. He showed again that he is very limited from the perimeter on offense, and State was just too quick to drive against. Matt played solid defense, but was as dreadful on offense as has become his norm. And after that big day in Vegas, Grayson reverted back to season form, missing just about everything. He was even credited with failing to sink 4 free throws, though one was the front end of a one and one -- by our measurement, that makes 5 misses. We guess what goes on in Vegas stays there.
But now we come to the biggest issue we have, and that is coaching. Despite his record, we have often been critical in the past of K's decision making in a number of respects. One has been decisions about player rotations. We should all remember his virtual refusal to play Allen a couple of years ago until Rasheed was booted. Well, not surprisingly, it is starting again. As we feared, Marques is getting almost no court time ... time he desperately needs to grow in experience and confidence. It was all of 6 minutes against State, though it seemed like less. In contrast, Chase Jeter, who now should be completely out of the rotation, gets 10 minutes. That is INSANE, and potentially disastrous long-term. It is also vintage El Greco! Poor Poindexter had to be physically restrained -- if K had been accessible, he would have been beaten like a pinata.
We had remarked after Vegas that Duke is fun to watch again. We spoke too soon.
Duke 94, UNLV 55 (December 10, 2016). It's fun watching Duke basketball again. And for those of us who had the misfortune to be in attendance at the 1990 title game, it is always particularly enjoyable taking the Rebels to the wood shed.
The Devils jumped out fast at the gun, and it looked like the rout was on. However, a few missed shots by Duke and a streak of treys by Vegas brought the home team within shouting distance for a while. But the Dukies came out after the break on fire and never looked back. Indeed, that second half was a joy to behold.
Grayson has really been struggling for several weeks, but this was the Grayson of old. He took charge on offense, hitting threes and making some truly spectacular jams ... he racked up three highlight shots in this game alone. It was very impressive and very heartwarming to behold. We love the kid, so we were very happy for him. He scored a personal high 34 points, and did it in only 29 minutes. Since his focus was clearly on offense, his assist average took a hit -- he had only one for the game.
Luke was second in scoring for Duke, but far back at 16 points. We really appreciate the fact that he did not try to force any shots and was always looking to feed teammates. One of his assists was a beautiful no-look feed off the drive to a trailing Jayson Tatum. We love unselfish play, and Luke deserves our plaudits.
With more talent around him, Amile no longer needs to be a producer on offense. He just needs to look for good scoring opportunities while focusing on defense and rebounding. And that's exactly what he did against Vegas. Ten points on 4 for 6 shooting and 12 boards. Another solid night.
Jayson started out very slowly in this game, missing his first 4 or 5 shots. He also committed a foolish goaltending play on the defensive end. Thankfully, he finally warmed up and nailed a few jumpers. He also took our prior game's criticism to heart and began going hard to the defensive boards. If he does that, he can be a major benefactor even when the shots are not dropping.
Matt has had a miserable year on the offensive end, and today just exacerbated the problem. He was 0 for 4 from long, and one did not even touch rim. We are now at the point of cringing whenever he attempts a shot. Thankfully, that does not occur often.
We assume this game was scheduled because Chase is from Vegas. Needless to say, Chase was in the starting lineup and therefore saw more minutes that would be the norm. The contributions were negligible, save one nifty reverse dribble under the basket and over-head score. It's just enough to tantalize, though we don't expect any parlay this season.
Frank Jackson got his 20 minutes, and had a couple of beautiful driving scores. He also showed his remarkable athleticism by grabbing an offensive rebound above the rim and jamming it back in. He is not a great long-range shooter by any means, but got very lucky on his one attempt -- it banked through the net. Better to be lucky than good.
Marques only got 13 minutes, which does disappoint us. Yes, he did commit a few turnovers and picked up his usual two fouls, but the potential is so high that he needs court time. It will be a shame indeed if he is not getting 20 minutes a contest.
The word is that Harry Giles may be back within ten days. That will be wonderful, though we must bear in mind that the kid has not played competitive basketball for about two years. We therefore all need to temper our immediate expectations a bit. This year, it's got to be about the long term.
Duke 84, Florida 74 (December 6, 2016). Almost everybody back, and it was tantalizing. Even so, this was basically an even game except for the final six minutes or so of the first half. During that period, Duke turned a seesaw contest into a ten point lead, and there it essentially stayed. Actually, the final margin might have been somewhat higher but for a couple of things .... Florida caught fire from long range over the final five minutes of the game, and the Devils simply allowed too many offensive rebounds in the second half.
We can't be critical of Duke's play in this one because Florida really is a good squad, and they play tenacious defense. Duke simply has a talent edge. And when and if Giles appears, that edge will grow, assuming that K runs effective lineups. This is what we had been fantasizing about all summer.
Once again, the stars for Duke were Amile and Luke. We thought Amile played his best half ever in a Duke uniform during the first 20 minutes of this one. He did everything for the team -- grabbing one tough rebound after another, and scoring 18 points on the other end for good measure. If we had been there, we would have thrown our panties on the court. He also played a solid second half, though was not as dominant. Still, it was a masterful effort by Amile.
As for Luke, what can we say that has not already been gushed by Mr. Vitale? He was the only guy who could score outside the paint for Duke for most of the game. He had 29 points overall, hitting 11 for 16 from the floor and even 5 for 7 from beyond the arc (normally his bugaboo). And that was against really tough D. True, he only added one board, but we are delighted to let him be a scoring machine. What we really like is that he was not forcing shots. We were critical of him last season for not seeking open teammates, but we feel that he is now distributing better. He is having a great season.
The other star for Duke was young Mr. Tatum. He did not shine to quite the extent as his two teammates, but his talent was unmistakeable. We have been critical about his lack of inclination to share the ball, and that was again apparent early, getting a couple of shots slapped back in his face. But he seemed chastened and began looking for teammates thereafter. We love his athleticism and size, which allowed Duke to get some additional chances in the opening half. He also hit a couple of lovely jumpers in the second and was, of course, money at the line. What we did not love, however, was his almost complete disappearance from the defensive boards later in the second half. If Marques is not on the court, Jayson has got to provide rebounding for the team.
Speaking of Marques, he got into the game after about five minutes, but picked up a couple of quick fouls. The second occurred after he went to sleep on an inbound pass under the basket by the Gators, allowing his opponent to get the ball right under the hoop. Not good. K pulled him from the game, and he wound up with only two minutes of court time. We are disappointed, though we can understand a bit ... Duke made its run in the first half without Bolden, so perhaps that was the best lineup against the quick Gators. We do think that Marques would have provided some rebounding assistance and rim protection, but on this occasion we will not strenuously argue with success.
Our readers know that we love Grayson Allen, but that has not stopped us from being honest about his performances. Once again, Grayson had a miserable offensive outing on a big night. It's becoming an unfortunate habit. Yes, he was getting no offensive looks, but that should never authorize him to force the action. Yet that is just what he was doing again. On the plus side, he continues to show what we have been saying for years -- he is the best passer on the team. Against Florida, he had 8 assists. He also played solid defense.
Once again, it was all defense for Matt. Thirty-six minutes of play, no points, and one assist. At least he only took 4 shots.
Frank Jackson started and played 20 minutes, but was a complete non-factor. He finished with only 3 points and no assists. His real forte is slashing to the hoop, but Florida's defensive quickness took that away entirely.
The only other kid on the court for Duke was Chase. He played all of one minute, and in that time had one turnover and one foul. As we said, we would not expect to see him in the normal rotation as Duke gets back to full speed.
One final aside. We wish that the Dukies could restrain themselves from trying to go for steals on defense. We saw that a couple of times from Grayson, allowing an opponent to grab a pass and get into the lane. Discipline, gentlemen, discipline.
Duke 94, Maine 55 (December 3, 2016). It's a zero sum game, isn't it? Two back, two go out. Actually, we were glad to see Grayson get a rest. But the announcers inexplicably seemed unaware of that debilitating hangnail sustained by Frank Jackson and first reported on this site. Not that any of it mattered against Maine. The only reason this was only a 40 point spread is that the Bears were miraculously nailing threes early, including a banker that wasn't called.
Of course, this was the Luke Kennard show. An outstanding performance with 35 points, 8 boards, and nary a turnover. He was, as usual, missing treys early, but even began hittiing those in the second half. He was masterful by that point. In the unlikely event the team is ever injury-free, how do you keep Luke out of the starting line-up?
A terribly disappointing effort by Amile, failing to double on rebounds .... just kidding! Amile was really very good, getting some tough boards and scoring a whopping 20 points. He did make the mistake of trying to start his offensive moves too far from the basket on one occasion (and of course was called for walking). He doesn't need to do that given the scoring options on this squad. If Amile and all his teammates can discipline themselves to play within their capabilities, the sky will be the limit.
Matt seemed suitably chastened by his offensive fecklessness against the Spartans, and didn't want to pull the trigger at all until late in the contest. That is an observation, not a criticism. In fact, we really kind of like that. Matt's forte is defense, pure and simple. He should look to score only sparingly, when an irresistable opportunity presents itself. That's the way he played this one, and we were very happy.
So we saw two of the Boo-Boo Babies back in action. Jayson started the game and was, frankly, quite rusty. We all know that he is a great talent, and he did show that on several occasions. The one thing we have never liked about Jayson is his reluctance to share the ball (was that stated delicately enough?). When he gets it, he is always inclined to shoot, regardless of whether he has a decent look. Fortunately, he is often bailed out with a foul call, and the kid is just a terrific free thrower ... and you heard that first here.
While Jayson has had a majority of the publicity coming in, we just love what Marques brings to the table. He truly gives this team a rim protector for the first time in ages, and couples that with good quickness and offensive talent. Unfortunately, both Marques and Jayson grabbed their respective legs during the contest ... we hope it was just a cramp, but they did not return, so you never know with these guys.
Chase Jeter started the game, but it was mostly more of the same. As we have said before, we would prefer to see Vrank get the minutes. Chase finished the contest with 4 points, 1 rebound and 5 turnovers in 24 minutes. Vrank had 8 points, 3 boards, and no turnovers in just 13 minutes. And there are no intangibles. K just develops this Man Love affair with certain players, and Chase is the current beneficiary. In reality, neither player should be in the regular rotation if Duke ever is fully-manned.
Jack White continues to intrigue us. The kid is actually a talented ballplayer, who does play it smart. The one thing he lacks is foot quickness. But he brings a fair amount to the table otherwise. He will be relegated to the bench except in garbage situations, and it is rather a shame.
Duke 78, Michigan State 69 (November 29, 2016). Thank God that this is the worst Michigan State team in modern history. Duke did not do much to win this one; it was more the story of Michigan State losing. The difference was in turnovers: the Spartans had 18, and Duke had only 9. Otherwise, Michigan State had more boards and a better shooting percentage.
This game exemplifies something that we have been observing for a very long time. Indeed, this is perhaps the most important point we ********************************************************************* NEWS ALERT ********************************************************************
The Duke Athletic Department has just announced that star freshman basketball guard, Frank Jackson, has been diagnosed with a hangnail on his left foot. The coaching staff has been advised that the recovery period for this condition may extend as long as five minutes. As a result, while Jackson will continue to participate in pre-game warm-ups, it is expected that he will not be able to play in any games for the remainder of the season.
and therefore we will say no more about this.
Grayson Allen led all scorers with 24, and sank four treys in the second half. Unfortunately, his first half performance was just abysmal, alternating between missed shots and turnovers. It was Kentucky and Kansas all over again. We had previously expressed our concern about his performances in prime time, and this one did nothing to allay our misgivings. Despite his scoring total, he shot but 7 for 21 from the floor, missed two consecutive free throws, and committed 4 turnovers. He is not stepping up in big games; rather, he seems to be stepping down.
Luke was more efficient, scoring 20 points on 8 for 18 shooting. But it has become much like last season -- he is very effective within twelve feet, but unable to connect from long. His three point stats in this one were 1 for 7. And Matt Jones was even worse: 0 for 6 from long, with the last two wild air balls despite being wide open. He even went 0 for 2 from the line. It was embarrassing.
We did like Frank Jackson's performance. Yes, he did have his usual air ball as well, but otherwise went 5 for 6 from the field. He is simply a rocket going to the basket. We have not seen anyone with as quick an explosion at Duke in a very long time. He still has a penchant for picking up silly hand fouls on defense, however. He had to leave the game with 4 after clearly pushing a Spartan who was streaking the baseline.
Amile did play a tough game inside, leading both teams with 13 boards. He is a godsend for Duke at this point. On offense, he was 7 for 12, but missed a couple of easy lay-ins. He also returned to form at the foul line, hitting only 50% of his attempts. In fact, the entire Duke squad was dreadful, going 11 for 20.
Given those shooting stats and their lack of an interior defense, it was a miracle that Duke won this one. Again, it was more a testament to Michigan State's futility. It turns out that Duke didn't need the Boo-Boo Babies to continue their home court winning streak against non-conference foes. Looks like we probably won't see them again until January.
Duke 92, Appalachian State 58 (November 26, 2016). We've often lamented Duke's cold starts. Not this time. The Devils came out smoking. They hit their first four treys, and missed only one shot in the first three minutes ... and that was a missed lay-up by Mr. Efficiency, Amile Jefferson. Not that it mattered. This was always going to be a 35-40 point spread.
We were pleased to see Grayson finally regain his stroke in the second half against William & Mary. He began where he left off, making his first three jumpers against the Mountaineers. He had a sensational first half, scoring 21 points on 6 for 9 shooting, despite sitting out a few minutes with fouls. That foul trouble, plus another foot/ankle injury in the second half, put him firmly on the bench. Not only did he not score after the break, he did not even attempt a shot. Unlike the three Boo-Boo Babies, we do expect him to be back in action against Michigan State.
Speaking of those pathetic freshman malingerers, we have never seen anything quite like this. We watched Harry Giles literally bouncing around the court during the Blue/White introductions a month ago, and now there's speculation that he may not play again. Then a foot "sprain" for Tatum, and he can't play for weeks despite there being no indication of his hobbling off the court. And lastly, this utterly undefined "lower leg injury" for Bolden, who again gives every appearance of being perfectly healthy. Are these indeed the three slowest healing kids in the history of medical science, or is there greater concern for their draft status than their Duke career? Meanwhile, Grayson is torn and tattered, but nevertheless in the starting lineup. Something is definitely wrong with this picture.
Anyway, back to the game. Luke made his first trey attempt, then went 0 for the remainder of the half. Because he had a bunch of boards and was solid on the other end, the announcing crew informed us that he had a good half. Sorry, but whenever you go 1 for 10, it is not a good half (unless, perhaps, you come up with a cure for cancer while running up and down the court, and there's no indication that Luke did that). Luke finished the contest 4 for 15 from the floor and 1 for 8 from long. He did compensate with 9 boards to lead the squad, and did not commit a turnover. So it was a mixed outing indeed.
Amile finished 6 for 11 from the field. Not bad, but we have been spoiled by his virtual perfection thus far this season. What we did love was the fact the he followed up his nice effort at the line in the last game with a perfect performance this time (3 for 3). That was so sweet to see.
Frank Jackson did not shoot the ball particularly well, but still repeatedly showed that beautiful athleticism and ability to finish going to the hoop. And Matt Jones simply played it smart and did not try to do more than what he is capable -- that is what we want to see from him. We though he was very effective out there.
This was one of those rare games when K opted to go to the bench early, giving the subs an unusual number of minutes. It just confirmed what we had thought all along. Even though Chase is first in and got 32 minutes to 19 for Vrank, the latter had more points, more boards, and fewer fouls. We would much rather see Vrank on the court.
Ditto for Javin and Jack. Yes, Javin can jump out of the gym, but unless that athleticism is coupled with skills, it is not effective overall. On the defensive end, Javin commits very silly fouls. On offense ... well, he threw one pass 20 feet over his teammate's head, and his first outside shot of the season (and hopefully his last) was an air ball. Jack, on the other hand, does have skills, and he should be first in. Yes, we know how presumptuous it is to criticize the living legend, but so be it.
The next game is the biggest before league starts in January. Duke's home court streak will be on the line. While Michigan State has been less than stellar thus far this season, Duke's lack of interior defense and depth with the Boo-Boo Babies on the pine make this one iffier than it should be, What a frustrating season.
Duke 88 William & Mary 67 (November 23, 2016). It was the usual slow Duke start. Nevertheless, they got on track at the normal time -- around mid-point of the first half -- and from that point on it was largely cruise control. William & Mary is certainly not a bad team, but this is a game Duke should have won by 20, and that's what they did.
From a big picture standpoint, we were particularly impressed by the way the Devils went to the boards as a team. It was almost as if this was a brand new point of emphasis. It showed on the offensive boards where the Devils grabbed 11 through sheer force of will. Conversely, the Tribe got only 4 offensive rebounds. However, we must temper our joy with the realization that their opponents are simply not a strong team up front and do not rebound well. It would be foolhardy to expect anything like this when the team faces a perennially tough rebounding foe like Michigan State.
We were also very pleased by Duke's performance at the free throw line. The team was 19 for 22 overall (86%). Even Amile was respectable, going 5 for 7. That we love to see.
Now the bad. We were appalled at times by Duke's defense. We saw the typical failures to switch (leaving a ball-handler doubled and a cutting teammate wide open), as well as a couple of complete break-downs with an opponent going absolutely uncontested to the hoop. Given the fact that the Dukies on the floor were largely veterans, it was unconscionable. Yes, the fact that the Tribe runs a very nice motion offense with a great deal of cutting makes things tough, but if you are going to insist on playing a man defense, you had better be able to cope. The coaching staff should be wearing bags over their heads.
Is there a more efficient player in the country than Amile? Another double-double, finishing 15 and 10 on 5 for 5 shooting from the floor. And that was in just 29 minutes of play. He was spelled by both Chase and Vrank, who did a decent job in the minutes they had. Chase actually looked good for a three minute stretch in the second half, though we must caution again that William & Mary is not a physical inside team ... in other words, one cannot draw any real conclusion from this game. Ditto with Vrank, who managed 4 boards and a couple of scores in his 13 minutes. We actually found it interesting that Vrank got the same court time as Chase.
Javin also got some PT, but it was more of the same from him ... 3 personals and only turnovers on offense. Athleticism is lovely, but it has to be coupled with some skills and smarts to make it effective. Jack White, on the other hand, made the most of his paltry 3 minutes, getting a couple of scores as well as a block and a board. He's the one guy we would like to see get more PT.
While Duke was struggling on offense early, Luke was there again to keep the ship afloat. He did cool off thereafter, and was ice cold from long in the second half. Still, with his 8 boards, 6 assists, and early scoring, he was a rock-solid contributor. He is having an excellent season thus far.
It was more of the same at the outset from Grayson. Absolutely frigid from long, and forcing things off the drive. Thankfully, he seemed to find his stroke in the second half, and finished a respectable 3 for 8 from long. We pray that augers well. It is interesting to note, however, that Grayson will have to shoot at over a 43% clip from long just to reach the 40% mark for the season if he even gets the opportunity to take the same number of treys as last season. Still, Grayson's game is about much more than shooting threes. He showed again that he is the most unselfish kid on the team, constantly looking for dishes where a teammate might not be as generous.
Frank is a case in point. He never looks to dish. Once he is in scoring mode, his eyes are only on the hoop. Of course, given the fact that he led the team in scoring with 19 points on a 6 for 12 night, we can forgive him. He played well, adding 4 boards and committing no turnovers. But the fact he had only 2 assists is telling. He just does not have a point guard's mentality. Oddly enough, Grayson does.
As for Matt, he once again led the squad in PT, but did so very quietly. He made his first two treys, then missed his final two. The rest of his stats were inconsequential. His drives to the hoop are always an adventure in terror, and we wish that he could restrain himself from that endeavor. But we take solace in the fact that it does not happen frequently. As we've said before, we are not big fans, but K loves him and that's all that really counts.
Duke 75, Rhode Island 65 (November 20, 2016). If possible, this one was even uglier than yesterday's contest in the early going. We think that Duke missed its first ten jump shots, but still managed to hold a slim lead because the Rams were turning it over almost every time down court. Well, Rhode Island ultimately learned to hold onto the ball, and went virtually the entire second half without a turnover. The good news is that Duke also turned it around offensively, starting toward the end of the first half.
There were two stars again for the Devils: Kennard and Jefferson. Amile followed up his impressive performance against Penn State with another really gritty effort. This time it was 17 points and 15 boards. Even better, he did not miss a single free throw ... of course, he took only one (we couldn't figure out why the Rams were not deliberately fouling him down the stretch, but we'll take it). Anyway, it was just an astounding effort.
But as good as Amile's game was, Luke's was even better. 24 points on 8 for 11 from the floor, 4 for 5 from three, and 4 for 4 from the line. Add to that his 6 rebounds and you get a wildly efficient and productive outing. It may not have been his scoring high, but it was nevertheless his best overall showing. Wow.
Both Grayson and Matt played all 40 minutes, but neither had good offensive performances. Grayson continues to struggle big time from long, going a pathetic 0 for 5 for the game. His passing was outstanding and he added 6 boards, so it was not all bad. Even so, he is in a terrible shooting slump right now.
Matt also shot poorly, going 4 for 12 overall and 2 for 7 from behind the arc. He only managed two rebounds as well. It was hardly an impressive outing.
Frank Jackson had a couple of nice drives, but was 0 for 4 from long. And the misses were not even close. When Frank is off, he is really off. He also committed a couple of turnovers down the stretch that allowed Rhode Island to get within shouting distance. While the talent showed at times, he played like a rookie in this one.
After yesterday's severe ankle sprain, we did not expect to see Chase back in action. But there he was, and running well. Unfortunately, Rhode Island was too quick and athletic for him, so he really couldn't give much to Duke and played sparingly as a result.
This game once again showed how much we miss those three injured bigs. Rhode Island was repeatedly able to drive and score, with nobody there for Duke to reject shots. A healthy Marques Bolden would have been a real factor. We were surprised and disappointed to see Duke remain in its man defense most of the game despite the penetration. But every time the Rams scored, either Amile or Luke answered on the other end. It was a gritty performance by an injury-depleted squad.
One final note. We feel almost a moral obligation to point out the failings of the appointed zebras ... which means we have to do so almost every game. Just looking at the box score, one might suppose that the whistles were relatively even-handed since the Rams were called for a few more fouls than Duke. Not! Duke ball-handlers were being absolutely manhandled all afternoon by Rhode Island's defensive players, most of which was not called. In contrast, the whistles on Duke were largely ticky-tack. The officials were doing what we have often noted ... subconsciously (we hope) trying to even up the game by using different standards on both ends. That is unconscionable. It is also all too normal.
Duke 78, Penn State 68 (November 19, 2016). We haven't experienced this much aggravation since ....well, since watching Duke last year. The first half was a particularly obscene affair. Women and children should not have been allowed to watch. Both teams were horrendous, unable to hold onto the ball or hit anything. One couldn't help wondering if they were coating the ball with Vaseline. Duke was up at the break 36-24, but we were not in a celebratory mood.
Duke's play did pick up after the break for a while, and they built up a 17 point lead. But true to form, State began penetrating at will and Duke kept turning it over and missing shots at the other end. Against a better team, it might have been disaster time. But thankfully, it was only Penn State and Duke held on for a truly ugly victory.
Of course, Duke was without their three freshman bigs once again. Apparently, they heal slower than most hemophiliacs. And Duke has provided nothing in the way of any explanation/progress report (see Asides). To make matters worse, Grayson left the court in the first half with a sprained toe, and Chase went down in agony with an ankle sprain. Grayson returned, but Chase didn't. Jeter may well be out for Sunday's contest as well ... heck, at the rate Duke players heal, he may be out for the season.
As one might expect, Chase's departure meant that five guys were going to play almost 40 minutes. Vrankovic did get some time (7 minutes), only to demonstrate why he normally rides the pine. He simply lacks the reflexive quickness to be effective on defense, off the glass, or going for loose balls. He'll get a few rebounds that come his way, but that's about the extent of his game right now.
Javin also made a cameo appearance, only to pick up 2 fouls in 3 minutes. That seems to be the norm for him thus far. For some reason, the Duke staff has not taught him that you can't put your hands on opponents as they are driving by you with the ball.
Once Chase went out, Duke switched to a zone defense, and they played it off and on throughout the remainder of the contest. In general, it was more effective than their man defense. In man coverage, they were allowing State players far too easy access to the hoop in the second half. State scored 44 points after the break, and most of it was off the drive. It was a very disappointing defensive performance by the Devils.
At the outset, rebounding was also an issue. Over the first 10 minutes, Duke was not blocking out again and State was getting too many second opportunities. Fortunately, Duke thereafter righted the ship and they actually won the battle of the boards, 38-37. Thanks for that result go primarily to Amile, who was an absolute workhorse off the glass. He corralled a whopping 15 rebounds, and also put in 16 points. But there is one big caveat ... Amile continues to be simply awful at the line. In this one, he was just 4 for 10 from the stripe (since one of the misses was the front end of a one and one, we would actually make it 4 for 11). Why a fifth year player can't even shoot 50% there is beyond our comprehension. If the game were closer at the end, he could not have been left on the floor.
We had to acknowledge that Grayson had a terrible outing against Kansas. Sadly, he was not much better for most of this one. He did make his first trey attempt, then missed his next five. He also had a couple of sloppy passes result in turnovers, and had his dribble stolen as well. He redeemed himself near the end a bit by making his last couple of shots, but it was another disappointing outing. He looks like anything but a Wooden candidate at present.
Luke did not have a particularly good shooting night, finishing just 5 for 16. Most of those misses occurred in the first half -- he was leaving almost everything short off the drive. Frank Jackson, who had been on fire, was also missing shots. In fact, aside from Amile, the only guy hitting was Matt, who finished 3 for 4 from long.
Duke finished the game with more turnovers (13) than assists (12). That's not something one expects from a Duke squad. But this is a squad with no bench and no effective size. It's not what we were expecting to see a couple of months back.
Kansas 77, Duke 75 (November 15, 2016). We didn't expect Duke to win this one without their top three bigs. Their weakness up front was crushing. Kansas won the battle of the boards, 39 to 28. They had 14 offensive rebounds to Duke's pathetic 6. Time and again, a Jayhawk would miss a shot only to grab the board himself and put it back. Even so, we are proud that the Devils did not throw in the towel when they dropped down by eleven late, instead battling to tie it up with 8 seconds left. Duke is definitely a better team fully healthy ... but whether these guys will ever be fully healthy is the $64K question.
Kansas was also stronger on the defensive end. They were tenacious, and Duke had extraordinary difficulty getting any separation whatsoever. It is not as if Duke was playing bad D, but at least Kansas had a bit of room to breathe. Fortunately, Kansas missed a lot of shots. While the overall shooting percentages were fairly even, Kansas was just 2 of 17 from long and 9 for 19 at the line. That almost saved Duke's hide.
The other negative for Duke? Grayson Allen, one of our all time favorites, was simply atrocious on offense. He was 4 for 15 overall and 1 of 7 from behind the arc. Yes, he was heavily guarded, but that excuse only goes so far. It was Kentucky redux. Were it not for his breathtaking outing in the national championship game, we would have to wonder about his ability to step up on the big stage. Frank Mason, Kansas' little spark plug, was magnificent in contrast. Here again, the fact that Duke had no inside presence was critical.
Aside from Duke's grittiness down the stretch, there were a few other bright spots. First and foremost, we thought Luke Kennard was outstanding. He was the steady influence for Duke most of the game. His stats: 7 for 10 from the floor (2 for 4 from three), 6 for 6 from the line, 5 boards to lead the squad, and a team-best 5 assists. He was a Man.
Matt also played about as well as he is capable. He played all 40 minutes and was 3 of 5 from long. Yes, he came close to losing it a couple of times when he tried to drive, but he generally played within his physical limitations. The other bright spot down the stretch was Frank Jackson, who hit two big treys very late to bring Duke back. That was clutch.
As we noted recently, Chase is just not capable of competing effectively at this level of competition. The one area where we had praised him -- free throw shooting -- was instead another liability against Kansas. He was but 5 for 10 from the line, and that proved disastrous. He also had only 4 rebounds in 26 minutes. Of course, Amile was no better with 4 boards in 30 minutes. Amile may be a work-horse, but he does not play above the rim and is just not an effective center in big games.
DeLaurier got into the contest for all of one minute. Otherwise, it was strictly a six man rotation for Duke. Not surprising. In contrast, Kansas spread time over eight guys. It may be somewhat fortunate, therefore, that there were so many chances to rest ... the zebras were blowing their whistles an insane amount. We cannot abide Jay Bilas, who is simply a pompous ____ (you fill in the blank). Bilas was piously affirming throughout that these were good calls. Some were, of course, but many were excessive. The miscalls went both ways, but Duke may have been particularly victimized by phantom traveling violations. Amile was whistled for 7 turnovers, and a couple of those were incomprehensively bad calls.
So, onward and perhaps upward. Duke will lose its No. 1 ranking after all of one week at the top, and that's probably as it should be. After all, we have no idea what the long-term status of its current cripples will be.
Duke 96, Grand Canyon 61 (November 12, 2016). This was a very uncomfortable exhibition for the first ten minutes or so. Duke was in its rim-clanking mode on offense, and they were not switching well on the defensive end so their opponents were getting paths to the hoop. The Devils finally managed to right the ship in the latter part of the opening half, and their spurt continued for the first few minutes of the second period. The result was a nice 30 point cushion. Unfortunately, Duke thereupon got very sloppy, and a number of incredibly bad passes allowed the Antelopes to narrow the spread a bit. Then, Frank Jackson went on a personal spurt to end things.
Overall, we were satisfied with what we saw from this injury-depleted team. They played hard, caused a host of turnovers, and went to the boards with some intensity. If they had shot well from the outside (11 for 29), this would have been over a lot sooner. Also, they missed too many charity shots (10 out of 31), the first two by none other than Mr. Kennard. Yes, Luke did have a sparkling percentage last year, but we are still troubled by the lack of concentration that he exhibits at the line.
The big issue for Duke right now is the front-line injury situation. Amile had a very sound outing, but he is not dominant inside. The team has nobody to guard the rim without Bolden and Giles available. Their ability to grab offensive rebounds will also be very limited. Grand Canyon will not make you pay, but Kansas or Michigan State might. The fact that these injuries seem to be healing at a snail's pace is cause for a lot of concern.
Once again, Grayson did not have a stellar shooting night from long-range, but he gives you so much regardless. The stats: 25 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. His overall shooting was 8 for 17. Very strong.
Aside from a couple of terrible second half passes, Luke played very well. He didn't try to force things on offense, making 5 of only 7 attempts. We really like that. He also grabbed 5 boards and had a sparkling 6 assists.
In contrast, Matt had a terrible offensive outing. His bread and butter is the trey, but he was just 1 for 8. Ouch! His limited athleticism makes it a challenge for him to score off a drive, so he provides little when the jumper is not falling. Fortunately, his defense was solid -- five assists and three steals. He also contributed 6 boards.
The big story, however, was Frank Jackson. He is normally a spotty shooter, but he was feeling it against the Lopes. 4 of 6 from long, and 7 for 10 overall. Watching him take it to the hoop is also quite lovely -- his acceleration is remarkable and he finishes softly. We will not see this kind of offensive efficiency often, so we'll enjoy it while we can. The one negative, however, is his tendency to be too aggressive on the defensive end. You can't body-check your opponent who has the ball; it is a guaranteed whistle. Yes, he is a freshman, but he's got to play smarter.
Amile was Amile -- not dominant, but a work horse. He is the ultimate blue collar kid. Fortunately, he has enhanced his ball skills, thereby adding a bit to his offensive potential. What he has not improved is his consistency at the line ... all indications are that he will remain at about 60% this season.
While we had desperately (but not seriously) hoped that we would continue to see an improved Chase Jeter, he was not any kind of factor in this game. He is just not an effective player against tough competition. Even so, he will be a necessary member of this seven man rotation until the injuries heal (if they ever do). And it will be a seven man rotation against the Jayhawks.
Duke 94, Marist 49 (November 11, 2016). Ho hum. A truly meaningless game against the fill-in for Albany. We're not going to do any kind of detailed analysis because that is completely unwarranted. We'll just offer some random notes and observations.
Matt Jones has been largely a non-factor during the pre-season, but started out on fire in this one with two consecutive treys. Alas, by the half he had gone cold again. He also showed once again that his passing skills are essentially nonexistent. On the other hand, he did demonstrate his second running jam of the year, something that we had not seen in previous seasons.
Grayson led all scorers at the break with 16, but rode the bench for almost all of the second half. He actually should have scored more, missing a few good looks. It will be interesting to see if he will be able to match last year's scoring average -- we would have thought not, although a continuing team injury problem may militate in his favor.
And speaking of the injury factor, we were supposed to see Jayson back in action but did not. Duke can beat up on the likes of Marist without its three most dominant bigs, but real competition will be something else altogether. This is becoming quite worrisome.
Everyone is gushing about Javin DeLaurier's athleticism. Yes, the kid is a jumper. The problem is that he has absolutely no offensive skills. He is a complete embarrassment at the foul line. And he has also assumed Chase Jeter's mantle as the official Duke Foul Magnet. Needless to say, we are not yet fans.
As to Chase, our readers know that we have been fierce critics. However, we have to acknowledge that his game does look significantly better so far this year (leaving aside the Blue-White scrimmage where he played very poorly). Given the weak competition, we refuse to draw any final conclusions, though at least we have become hopeful for the first time. At the least, Chase has improved his stroke at the foul line, where he was very inconsistent before.
While Luke's long-range shot remains sketchy, his mid-range and inside game is quite impressive. We also love his overall toughness and willingness to go inside for rebounds.
Frank Jackson's greatest asset is his ability to score off the drive. We remain unimpressed by his outside stroke and passing ability however. Not the complete package, but a fine athlete with good upside.
Nice to see Duke staying in the zone for most of the second half. Actually, the zone looked fairly fluid, sliding well. Again, things may be quite different against tougher competition, but it does give Duke a way to minimize foul trouble with so many key players injured.
Four more days to Kansas .....
Duke 98, Augustana 45 (November 4, 2016). This is one of those games from which no definitive positive conclusion can be drawn. Augustana simply presented no competition whatever for Duke. Oak Hill Academy would have been a much better opponent, and that is no hyperbole. Perhaps the greatest indicator was the rebounding stats: Duke is a congenitally poor team on the defensive boards, but Augustana got only four offensive rebounds all night. It was a joke.
The start of the game presented us with one puzzling and initially disturbing development. Chase was in the opening lineup instead of Marques. Our immediate fear was yet another injury to a crucial player, followed by a concern of a discipline problem. We were somewhat reassured later by K's affirmation that it was just to give others a chance in a (meaningless) game and to tinker with lineups. Still, it does seem a bit odd.
Anyway, Chase did start and looked better than he ever has in the past. So does that mean we should discard our prior critical assessment of his viability and conclude that he has made miraculous strides in a week? The answer is ... Augustana, baby. The one thing that we can say is that our prior opinion of an improvement in his foul shooting seems confirmed. He was a beautiful 5 for 5 from the stripe, and the shot was soft and smooth. But even here, we must remember there was no pressure involved in this game.
With the important qualification made above, there are a few other things we liked:
1. Amile continues to show a great handle, repeatedly bringing the ball up court in competition effectively. He just needs to temper that and bear in mind that the ball should normally be in the hands of a guard.
2. Frank Jackson continues to look good overall, showing both quickness and skills. No turnovers and 4 assists in this one. He is a streaky shooter, but managed to hit 2 of his 4 treys,
3. The Duke defensive effort was solid, though again they faced little competition.
4. Jack White is impressing us more and more. As in the first exhibition contest, he was 2 for 2 from long and his shot was gorgeous. We have not seen him in practice or warm-ups, but he is beginning to look like the best pure shot on this squad. He also is careful with the ball, makes few mistakes, and briefly showed an ability to drive and board aggressively. He is the one kid we have seen who deserves more PT, which means that K will have him mired on the bench.
Aside from White and Jackson, the three point shooting of the Duke squad was simply horrendous. Seven of 25 for the night (28%), and the shots were open. Pathetic. Once again, Luke was just 2 for 6. For all the talk of his stellar play, the one area where we were hoping for real improvement seems to have remained the same. We also have to offer a critical note about Luke's ball-handling ... while he is certainly capable, he tends to rush the dribble down court when he is in competition rather than valuing the ball. He needs to play smarter.
Duke also played a bit sloppy at times, making some careless passes. While we could attribute this to their lack of concern regarding the competition, it is still not a habit that one wants to encourage.
Unfortunately, the next two contests should be equally meaningless. One wonders whether Duke will be ready for a tough opponent like Kansas, or whether it will present the same shock that Kentucky created last year. The saving grace is that this is a much more talented squad, though it is looking as if it will still be a squad without Harry Giles at that point.
Duke 90, Virginia State 59 (October 28, 2016). Duke may have won by 30, but this was a battle all the way. Virginia State is a scrappy, well-coached team that plays very tough defense. Actually, their defense was often more than physical. While they were whistled often in the first half, it wasn't enough. Duke players were getting manhandled. We saw Bolden get shoved out of bounds on one occasion and there was no call. As is often the case, the second half was called in a completely different manner with frequent touch whistles. We could write a most learned discourse on the psychology of refs, but the exercise would be far too painful.
Anyway, back to Duke. The starting five did not include Frank Jackson, so with Giles and Tatum out that leaves the usual suspects and Marques. But despite the experience on the court for Duke, the Trojans were hanging in for quite some time. They were simply out-quicking Duke to the ball time and again. They were grabbing most loose balls and were going to the offensive boards with great proficiency. As our readers know, defensive rebounding has always been Duke's bugaboo under K, and no doubt always will be.
Matt Jones had been nursing a hamstring and left the game permanently after three minutes when he aggravated it a bit. And Grayson was banged up on a couple of occasions and had to leave for a while as well, although the way he plays he invites injury ... not that we want to change him! But all this did give the lesser lights a bit more time to show what they could do.
Much will be said about Luke's performance, and he did have a very good night. Thirty points, six boards, and only one turnover in 36 minutes. He was a rock for the younger kids with so many others nursing injuries. The one thing that still concerns us was the fact that he was just 3 for 10 from long. Unlike many others, we knew coming in to school that Luke was not one-dimensional, and he proved that last year. But the fact remains that his outside shot was terribly disappointing last season, and we hope that he will be more than a 30% marksman this year.
Perhaps the greatest source of satisfaction was the play of Marques. We were excited when he signed late because we liked what we had seen at the high school level and we knew we couldn't count on Giles' health. Against the Trojans, Marques was all that we had hoped for. He may not have the great quick pivot moves, but he can score in competition and he provides both the rebounding and shot-blocking that Duke so often lacks. He finished with a double-double and five blocked shots. Very nice indeed.
With the injuries, Frank Jackson was second in minutes with 31. He actually had a very nice outing overall. The start was not promising, with an almost immediate back court turnover trying to penetrate a trap, but he was a different player on both ends in the second half. He is a streaky shooter. He hit his first trey attempt, then went cold until after the break when he exploded. He finished with 17 points on 6 for 10 shooting (4 for 7 from three). We'll take that anytime. The one downside was the five turnovers. The key to his development will be learning to protect the ball.
Grayson had a respectable offensive night, hitting 50% of his long shots. Since defenders are keying on him, his ability to drive the lane was again quite restricted, so most of the damage was coming from long range. The one issue in this game was turnovers -- he committed four on a few careless mistakes. Fortunately, that doesn't matter much in exhibitions.
Amile scored only one basket, but did his usual workmanlike job otherwise. He is just a solid glue guy, but now is becoming more and more confident with the dribble. Duke had him bring the ball up court on several occasions, which is a nice weapon against quick trapping teams.
We got to see a bit more of Mr. DeLaurier, and he showed off his ample athleticism repeatedly. The problem at this point is that he is all athleticism and few skills. He does not appear to have any outside shot (he eschewed one open jumper from the corner), and we have not seen him try to take it to the hoop when guarded. So he will be nice on the defensive end, but will limit Duke offensively when he is on the court. The goal will be to rotate him in at appropriate times when Duke has several scorers on the floor (although rotate may not be a fitting word when discussing a K team).
Jack White remains an enigma. While we have a sense that this kid does have talent, he has yet to show us a lot. This outing was mostly goose eggs. He didn't do anything to discourage us, but he didn't offer much to encourage either. When Harry and Jayson return, he is bound to get little opportunity to prove himself.
Vrank and Robinson were in for all of the blink of an eye, and Obi was nowhere to be see. They will not be in the rotation. And that leaves Chase, who once again showed why we had always questioned his recruitment. He is still not ready to compete at this level, although K seems absolutely determined to prove otherwise. Chase got a whopping 21 minutes in this one, though that will change markedly when Harry and Jayson return. The one good thing to note is that Chase's free throw shooting appears to have improved. He was a nice 6 for 8 against the Trojans. We are absolutely focused on free throw shooting, so we do applaud him for that.