Game Notes (2017/2018)
Kansas 85, Duke 81 (Overtime, March 25, 2018). We said after the last game that if Duke can't hit some shots, they will not survive. Well, they didn't hit shots against Kansas. What's more, they raised their usual level of haplessness on the defensive boards to new heights, And yet, despite this, they almost won ... indeed, should have won but for some break-downs and bad luck at the end of regulation. When Kansas survived to push it into overtime, it was just a matter of time.
While Duke's guards have had some good shooting nights, if you remove that torrid month for Gary Trent, this abysmal performance has been the norm. Against the Jayhawks, the Duke team was just 7 for 29 from long. How pathetic. And on the other end, virtually every time Kansas missed a shot, they got the board. Duke never blocks out. Kansas does. The rebounding differential was 47 to 32, despite Duke's supposed height.
So how did the Devils almost manage to pull it off? Two factors -- Kansas turnovers and the surprising showing of Trevon Duval. If you look back over the season for Trevon, it has not been pretty. He has had a good few minutes here and there, has had a couple of good second halves, and, prior to this game, had one single strong 40 minute game. Well, this was his second good 40 minute game, actually leading all Duke scorers with 20 points. Now, there were still a bunch of mistakes -- four sloppy turnovers and a couple of very near turnovers. But even so, Trevon at times was the only Dukie on the court who could score. When Trevon does that, the team should win. Sadly, his teammates let him down.
Gary finished with 17 points and made a number of driving floaters. However, he was just 2 for 10 from three. Grayson did value the ball on offense, but was again dismal in the scoring column -- 2 for 9 from long, and just 3 for 13 overall. Had he made that final shot in regulation, all of that would have been forgotten, but he didn't and his season ends with a whimper. So sad. Wendell, who we pointed out in the past was terribly overrated on the offensive end, was just 3 of 9 from the floor. Even worse, he had only 2 boards in his 22 minutes (as always, he was in foul trouble). And so it went.
On defense, Duke's zone was less than effective. Despite its success, it is undisciplined (with players cheating way out of position) and too intent on stopping the three. The result is that it is fairly easy to drive through, which should not happen with a good zone, and Kansas made them pay. As we have often noted, this is not a well-coached team.
We really will say no more at this point. Check our Asides page for a post mortem of the season
Duke 69, Syracuse 65 (March 23, 2018). Duke beats the 'Cuse to advance to the Final 8. So why aren't we happy?
Thus far in the tourney, Duke has drawn perfect match-ups. It was a godsend last evening because Duke was simply terrible on the offensive end. If it were not for the fact that Syracuse is so challenged offensively itself (it's Battle and virtually nothing else), Duke would not have escaped with a victory. Indeed, this game was an inglorious display of all of Duke's on-court and off-court weaknesses.
First, the dreary overview. Duke was just 5 for 26 from long. That's 19%, and the shots were mostly uncontested. It's something we have seen far too often from these guys this season. The overall shooting percentage was only 39%, and the only reason is was that high was all the lobs underneath that Bagley slammed through. Amazingly, Syracuse shot 49% from the floor, but that too was largely the result of lobs and put-backs. We all know that Duke doesn't block off the defensive boards, don't we?
What was particularly frustrating and mystifying was the fact that both Carter and Bagley seemed to be in a state of offensive paralysis. We have at times chided them for forcing shots, but against Syracuse the opposite was the case -- they regularly were getting wide open looks from about 8 feet inside the key, and they weren't taking the shot! It was unbelievable. Those were shots they had to take since the Duke guards couldn't make a jumper to save their lives.
It was the usual suspects starting the game. First in, as always, was Justin ... and, as always, we can't help but cringe. We know that we are guilty of being repetitious, but Justin just has no offensive skills. It is like playing on offense with four guys (three if Trevon also happens to be on the floor). Sure enough, in four minutes, he turned the ball over, launched an air ball from the side, and missed two free throws. Mercifully, he was then pulled, never to return. But we have no doubt he will again be first off the pine next time out. The wonderful world of K.
As for the starters, Bagley, of course, was the leading scorer. If we are not mistaken, all were jams but for one of those open short jumpers. Marvin actually had a very quiet first half. He wasn't even rebounding the ball. Fortunately, that changed after the break, and he finished with 7 boards and 22 points.
Wendell was quiet offensively, taking but 6 shots for which he did not draw a foul. He did take 11 from the line, making 8. He also led the squad with 12 boards. It was a good, solid outing, other than all those open looks he passed up.
The rest of the starters were less than stellar. Grayson did have 8 assists and only one turnover, which was excellent. But alas, he had another one of his miserable shooting nights. This time it was 3 for 14 from long. He kept launching and kept missing. Too bad, because he could easily have put the game away for Duke.
Gary was also terrible from beyond the arc -- 2 for 8. Fortunately, he was able to make some short driving shots in the lane, one of which came late in the game with Duke desperately trying to hold onto a slim lead. Gary also made two free throws at the end that finally iced the win, after Grayson had missed the front end of a one and one last time down.
And then there's Trevon. What more can we say? We have passed the point of utter frustration long ago. This time the stats were: 1 for 7 from the floor, 0 for 3 from long, 1 rebound, 1 steal, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers (some truly horrible passes), all in a long 31 minutes. K finally pulled him with about 5 minutes left in the first half, inserting Poor Alex. It made all the difference, and Duke immediately went on a run to end the half. So what did this immediately tell us ... you guessed it folks, that Alex would not see any court time in the second half (and that notwithstanding Duke's even increasing shooting woes). The wonderful world of K.
Our regular visitors will remember that we ripped K a new one for having Trevon on the court in the closing seconds of the UNC game . Well, one thing is always certain, and that is that K will invariably double down on his mistakes. Against Syracuse, with Duke hanging onto a three point spread and the clock winding down, there was Trevon on the court. Someone please, please explain to us why you would have a guard on the floor at that time who should never touch the ball (he doesn't make foul shots). Indeed, Syracuse was laying off him, praying that he would get it so that they could quickly foul. K was effectively going with four players at that crucial point. The abject stupidity absolutely boggles the mind. Ah, the wonderful world of K.
The only other player to see action was Marques, and once again he looked solid. Sadly, he was victimized by two phantom foul calls by the zebras, who seemed determined to even the game in the second half. Marvin was also the recipient of a terrible whistle while grabbing a rebound.
Next up, Kansas. No more easy draws for Duke. If they play like this again, they are toast.
Duke 87, Rhode Island 62 (March 17, 2018). There was the first ten minutes of this one, and then there was everything after that. As to the former, Duke hardly looked like a championship team, committing the usual turnovers and struggling to stay ahead of a team that it towered over. It was really kind of what we were expecting after the positive performance in the last outing. Duke has rarely put two very strong outings back to back all year.
The good news is that the Devils erupted from their torpor after the midway point of the first half and turned on the offensive burners. The Rams were gracious enough to cooperate by missing a number of shots in close. Perhaps it was due to intimidation by Duke's size, but whatever the reason, Duke took a 17 point lead into the break and never looked back. The second half was all Duke -- the lead reached 28 with about 7 minutes left in the game ... and that despite the standard attempt by the zebras to even the score by allowing the Rams to manhandle their opponents.
The Duke starters were the same as always, though Javin also got a lot of minutes (18). He is not a favorite of ours, but it didn't matter in this one. What was rather disturbing, however, is that K refused to go to the bench until there were only 4 minutes remaining in the game. The result had long since been determined, so his insistence on keeping the starters in not only needlessly risked injury, but it also kept the subs from getting comfortable on the court in tournament time. Of course, the only consistent thing about K is his ability to befuddle us.
Wendell only got 19 minutes, but we have not been so impressed by him on the offensive end for ages. He was 6 for 6 from the floor, and they were not even all dunks. No, he hit a jumper from about the foul line, made a terrific move for a stretching flip-in, and made a nice little turn-around from the base line. These are shots he normally misses. In addition, he was not forcing attempts, but was instead passing out when doubled. If we had any confidence that this level of performance would continue, we would be ecstatic.
It is virtually automatic to note that Marvin led the team in scoring. This time it was 22 points, and his skill set was on full display. The downside was, as usual, the other end. Marvin is simply not an active defender, and that is probably an understatement. He often fails also to go hard to the glass unless he is in fired-up mode. Still, he was a great offensive weapon for the Devils.
Grayson played a relatively quiet, but marvelously efficient game. He made three of four from long, and they were very long indeed -- his range is almost without limit. He was content to pass to teammates most of the game, and there were some nifty and very unselfish assists. In addition, he committed but one turnover. It was a fine outing.
Gary was not quite as efficient on offense, going 5 for 13 overall. But he added 5 boards, 4 assists, and 3 steals, so it really was a positive effort.
Trevon, however, was a mixed bag. He missed a ton of shots in the opening half, These included some in close -- Trevon can penetrate well, but he often fails to finish, even on some easy attempts. The good news is that he kept his turnovers to one, and had 7 assists. The fact is that his shooting against Iona was clearly a fluke and his offensive skills are very limited. But if he can consistently value the ball (something he was not doing for much of the season), that alone will be a big plus for Duke.
The bad news? A couple of things. First, Duke still commits too many turnovers (this time it was 14). Second, with Duke's extraordinary height advantage, they should have owned the glass. Yes, they did out-rebound the Rams, 36 to 29. But the differential should have been much greater, and Rhode Island got way too many offensive boards (the chronic Duke failing). The Rams were doing a much better job of blocking out throughout. Now perhaps it was due in part to the fact that Duke did not have to go all out to win, but a much stronger effort will be needed going forward.
We should no doubt be delighted that Duke has had two good consecutive performances. But after watching these guys all year, we can't help waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Duke 89, Iona 67 (March 15, 2018). This team is either up or down. Today was a good day ... they were up. Actually, Iona started the game on fire. They were shooting around 70% from the floor through the first ten minutes of the opening half, and finished at 55% for that half. But Duke was even hotter, shooting a blistering 62% and going 9 for 16 from long. As a result, they carried a 14 point lead into the locker room.
It was clear that Duke would cool down, but it was equally clear that Iona would as well. In fact, Duke opened the second half with four straight makes. They did cool off after that, but the lead was 20 and the game was over. Iona played very hard and did a lot of good things, but Duke quite literally towered over them. Oddly enough, Duke only had two blocked shots for the game, and Iona matched that low total. Unfortunately, Duke also continued its penchant for committing more turnovers than its opponents, coughing up the ball 12 times. Not great, but not terrible either. Great shooting can make up for a lot of deficiencies.
Amazingly enough, Trevon was second on the team in scoring with 19 points. Even more amazingly, he made his first three trey attempts, and finished 4 of 5 for the evening. We were looking around for the Cheshire Cat. He did manage to cough the ball up 4 times, so it was not perfect. But even so, this ranks as one of his two best outings. He has been our whipping boy most of the season, so we want to take additional pains to congratulate him. Oh, and by the way, he made one really nifty behind-the-back feed inside for an assist ... one of his eight for the afternoon.
As usual, Marvin led the squad with 22 points, almost all off dunks (as usual). The odd thing was that he had only 7 boards, despite the enormous height differential that Duke enjoyed. But it was a good effort, all things considered. The one thing that really bothered us, however, was a shot attempt in the second half ... he had gone for some time without taking a shot and he obviously could not bear it any longer, so he tried to force it against a triple team. It was very selfish indeed.
We though Gary had a nice outing, shooting 50% from the floor and scoring 16. He did not commit a turnover. What we really liked is that he was going hard to the defensive boards -- he finished with 6 rebounds, just one behind Marvin.
The fifth starter, Wendell, had a rather typical outing. We liked him on the defensive end, but remain unimpressed on the other. He had 9 points on 4 for 9 shooting, and 8 boards. Marques, in contrast, was his usual remarkably efficient self on offense, going 2 for 2 from the floor. If only we could switch the two on each offensive and defensive possession.
Other than that, there is not much to say. For a change, we can't criticize the rotation because every one was doing his job and the team was operating on all cylinders. But one thing we know for absolute certain with these guys is that nothing translates from game to game. We have no idea who will show up on the floor against Rhode Island.
UNC 74, Duke 69 (March 9, 2018). This game demonstrates very clearly why it is so highly unlikely that Duke will win a national championship. Turnover after turnover. No defensive block-outs. Slower to loose balls than their opponents. One on one offense. Terrible point guard play. And yes, absolutely dreadful coaching.
This game was not as close as the final score would indicate. Thirteen straight by Duke down the stretch actually made it a one possession game at the end. Duke had two opportunities to tie, but this is not a team that makes those big shots at the end. Typically, you get some Grayson Allen force that doesn't come close to anything, and that's exactly what we saw to finish this dog of a game.
Of course, Duke entered the contest with a big handicap. Ted Valentine was one of the zebras. He despises Duke and is guaranteed to tilt the game toward the opposition. And Mike Eades is not much better. We saw the effect in the first half when Grayson was whistled for a "flagrant foul" for sticking his posterior out and bumping a passing opponent. Grayson in fact had his back to that opponent and may not even have seen him. It was a horrendous call, and just another example of why the flagrant foul rules need to be completely revamped.
But as much as one would love to blame the officiating for the loss, it was the Duke team and its coaching staff that must ultimately shoulder the blame. Duke went for the first eight minutes or so of the contest without scoring a field goal. In that time, they had something like eight turnovers. They finished with a whopping 18 for the game. Yes, UNC's defense was suffocating, but much of it was also Duke ineptitude. And Duke once again shot very poorly from long until the very end of the contest ... they finished just 6 of 23 from beyond the arc. This, of course, is a continuing issue, and is a deadly failing come tournament time.
On the other end, while Duke's zone is much, much more effective than its man defense, there are still always open shots for the opponents inside. Carolina made a bunch of those. And those they missed were usually rebounded by the Heels, who wound up with 18 offensive boards. Carolina, on the other hand, has the ability to play a tight man defense, and Duke had very few open looks all night.
We said that we would not see another performance from Marvin like we did in the second half against Notre Dame. He did not play badly at all against UNC, but all the shots were no longer magically dropping. He still finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Good, but not dominant enough to carry an otherwise poorly functioning squad.
We were warned that Wendell might not be able to play (yet another Duke foot injury), but he did and was in for 30 minutes. Unfortunately, it was just more of the same. He is Duke's most effective big on the defensive end, but he continues to be a liability on offense. The paradigm occurred early in the first half ... Wendell put the ball on the floor with his back to the basket (an incipient disaster as we have previously noted), then tried to dribble in through two or three defenders and finally threw up a wild shot from almost over the baseline that missed everything by three feet. It was an abomination, and he should have been pulled immediately. He did make four hoops in those 30 minutes, but they were all stuffs or layups (and he even came close to missing one of those wide-open layups). Wendell also broke his hot streak at the line, missing two attempts.
Grayson did shoot 40% from long (4 for 10), but he was effectively shut down by Carolina's defense. And, as usual, he missed the final desperation attempt. He also had four turnovers.
Gary wound up leading the team with 20 points. Nevertheless, his overall shooting percentage was not impressive (7 for 16 and 2 for 7), but a viewer might have thought it better because the makes occurred late with the game spiraling out of control. Missed shots are missed shots, but they are more easily forgotten by most fans when they occur earlier in the game. Anyway, it was a respectable effort by Gary, but nothing to write home about.
And that brings us to Trevon. We have been highly critical all season. He has had but one stellar half all year, and that was in the last Carolina game. This time, he really could not have been much worse. Zero for 6 from the floor, including a couple of air balls (one on a shot within 5 feet!). Defensive players dropping off him with regularity, knowing he can't make shots. And five turnovers for good measure. Rarely getting any loose ball or board. It was just awful. You simply will not win with that kind of point guard play.
Marques got a pathetic 7 minutes of PT, and was not able to do much in that time. Javin got 6 minutes and did nothing, not unexpected against the kind of D Carolina was playing. In fact, Javin made one very bad play at the end of the first half, dropping to the floor to try to fake a charge that wasn't even close, and thereby allowing Carolina an uncontested layup to end the half. Bad way to finish.
Poor Alex got 9 minutes. He did make a poor pass in the first half and missed an open trey in the second. Both led to his being pulled, a major mistake ... which segues nicely into our final, and most heartfelt, rant of all.
We have shocked and outraged all of western civilization by our lack of veneration for El Greco! We have maintained that his success is first and foremost a testament to his salesmanship when it comes to recruiting and motivation. Actual coaching is something else again. Well, this game should conclusively demonstrate the sagacity of our assertion to all but the most loyal and myopic. As we said, Trevon could literally do no right, and Duke desperately needed some scoring from the outside. So Trevon continues to play while Poor Alex sits; Poor Alex is pulled for a missed shot or turnover, but Trevon stays on the court while shooting air balls. The lack of judgment reached its apotheosis at game's end when Duke needed three to tie. Any sentient being would have had Trevon on the bench (he can't even make free throws down the stretch) and Alex, Duke's best three point shooter, in the game. But no, of course not. So, ladies and gentlemen, we say, with full deliberation and of sober mind, that Duke's esteemed coach is essentially an idiot. Mental mistakes are the ones that we can't forgive, and K is chronic.
Now, on to the next tournament. After the first game, sloppy play and poor coaching decisions become suicidal. Will Duke fall once again in the second round? The only thing we know is that this team has a ton of weaknesses to try to overcome. We are not sure there are enough band-aids in the world.
Duke 88, Notre Dame 70 (March 8, 2018). This was the Tale Of Two Players. We'll start with our beloved Grayson, who was the difference in the first half. He started out on fire with the kind of accuracy we had not seen since Michigan State. His first five trey attempts -- nothing but net, and long range. It was so sweet. It all occurred in the first ten minutes of the contest, and then abruptly ended. We think he only took a couple of shots after that in the half, both misses, and he was defensively shut out after the break. But it was still enough to vault the Devils to a nice early lead. Notre Dame gradually chipped away, but Duke managed to hold on for a modest four point cushion at the break.
Grayson finished with 23 points on 7 for 10 shooting (5 for 6 from three). He was also 4 for 4 from the line, and had 3 assists. But just as lovely was his smarter floor play on offense. We have bemoaned the fact that Grayson had morphed into a turnover machine on the offensive end; however, against the Domers, he had none. Zero. Attaboy!
Then comes Marvin. While the commentators were lauding him at halftime, we thought that his first half play was mediocre at best. Yes, he had a few emphatic jams and some boards, but he also missed a plethora of shots in close, and was just 1 for 4 from the stripe. But the second half was something else again ... Marvin could simply do no wrong. Everything he put up went in. The capper was a lob that he could not quite grab, but knocked up into the air ... and it went in. It was just magical. Marvin finished with 33 points, and added 17 boards for good measure. He simply carried the squad on his back. Of course, the bad news is that we will not see the likes of that again this season.
We don't know if any of you watched El Greco!'s press conference after the UNC win. He actually offered some wise comment, save for one unprovoked act of petulance. He said (and we paraphrase): "At the beginning of the season, people were praising our offense and criticizing our defense, then they were praising our defense and criticizing our offense ... they need to make up their minds!" Sorry, Coach, but there is no inconsistency there. In fact, Duke's man defense at the beginning of the year was abysmal, just as it has been for ages. It was only the long-delayed switch to zone that turned things around. And what's more, Coach, you know that very well.
Unfortunately, Duke's zone was not as effective in the first half of this game as it has been. One reason was that the Domers have Bonzie Colson. He could make a living popping open five foot jumpers in the lane, and that's what he was getting. Part of the problem was that Duke was extending out a bit too much on the perimeter, leaving serious openings inside ... and Notre Dame was exploiting it big time in that first half. Fortunately, Duke corrected somewhat after the break, although the shooting stats do not really show it -- Notre Dame was around 44% in each half. Still, we liked the zone after the break, and it served its other purposes of helping to avoid fouls and rest the Duke players. The zone has been huge for this team, and we are pleased that K did not abandon it after Notre Dame was getting all those shots inside early on.
The bad news, we suppose, about this game is that there was almost no offensive balance for Duke. Were it not for the superhuman efforts of two players, it would have been a struggle. We'll do a brief survey.
We were absolutely ecstatic about Trevon's second half performance against UNC. We knew, however, not to count on him to continue at that level. Sure enough, he had a rather checkered outing against Notre Dame. There were two positives -- he had 11 assists (though that's not hard when Marvin is unconscious on the inside) and he did not make any terrible passes. In fact, he made a couple of really nice dishes to the outside after driving the lane, something we did not see earlier in the year. But the bad news is that he still committed 6 turnovers ... those bad Notre Dame boys kept taking the ball away from him! He was also just 3 for 8 on offense, even blowing a two-handed jam near the end. We said that a national championship requires really good point guard play, but we did not get it in this one.
Gary continued his lackluster play, despite getting his usual ton of minutes. He was 3 for 9 overall and just 1 for 4 from behind the arc. Indeed, he cost Trevon two additional assists by blowing absolutely wide open jumpers. He also missed another free throw. At the beginning of the year, Gary was automatic at the line. That has changed over the past month.
The final starter was, of course, Wendell. Perhaps we should politely leave it at that, but you all know that we cannot. It was, in short, another terrible outing, probably even worse than that against Carolina. We were the lone voices of caution while others were (and still are) lauding him as the Second Coming. While we do think that he has been Duke's most effective big on defense, his offensive play has left a lot to be desired this season. Yes, he has hit a great percentage of wide open treys, though these are few in number. But if you were to eliminate those shots and also take out all the dunks, we venture to say that his shooting percentage has been very poor. He rarely makes those little hook shots within 3 or 4 feet. We cringe every time he puts the ball on the floor to start a move since something bad is bound to happen. Against Notre Dame, he was just 1 for 6 from the floor.
The other problem with Wendell is that he plays without intelligence or self-discipline. It is difficult to foul out when playing zone, but Wendell continues to do his very best. Another four fouls in 17 minutes of play, one more stupid than the next. This is not even remotely acceptable. Of course, he may turn things around in his next outing (and we sincerely pray that happens), but we can only describe accurately what we have seen to date -- and that has been very mixed. The good news is that his streak at the foul line continues. He was 2 for 2 against Notre Dame. He is becoming more dependable than Gary, and we never dreamed that we would ever say that.
We are pleased to see that Poor Alex is getting some more time. Only ten minutes to be sure, but still better than riding the bench. He only took two shots, but still looks good on the court. He may even be Duke's best passer at this point, though that's not saying much.
We are also pleased with Marques. There is no longer any significant drop off when he replaces Wendell. While Wendell is stronger on the defensive end, Marques has been holding his own, and he is much more efficient on offense. He was 4 for 5 in this game, and added 7 boards in his 19 minutes. We are very pleased and feel justified in the faith we had in him.
Javin played one of his most error-free games, though perhaps it was due to his only being in for 6 minutes. Still, he managed to put in a couple of shots underneath and did not commit a turnover. Even so, we are disappointed to see Jack mired on the bench. His play has not warranted his being shelved.
Despite a qualm or two, we are gratified that we do not feel compelled to level any real criticism at K (how rare!). That's two in a row for us. Perhaps we're growing soft.
One final note. Hats off to Roger Ayers, Lee Cassell, and Jerry Heater, the refs for the game. The called it just the way it should have been called, letting the kids play without many whistles. It was so refreshing.
Now on to the rematch ......
Duke 74, UNC 64 (March 3, 2018). Watching this Duke squad for any extended period is like sitting through some endless Jekyll and Hyde miniseries. This game was Exhibit A.
In the first half, Duke could literally do no right. They shot 31% from the floor, 10% from long, committed turnover after turnover, and missed 10 free throws (actually, at least one of those misses was the front end of a one and one, so it was even worse). They ended the half with all of 25 points. It was simply an embarrassment to Duke basketball. Amazingly, however, they were only down ten since the Heels seemed absolutely committed to playing down to the level of their competition.
Normally, we would have been beside ourselves. But we have become so accustomed to underachievement that we have finally reached a certain state of numbness. The only positives in that half were (1) Duke's very belated switch to the zone continued to be highly beneficial and (2) Poor Alex was actually given some PT since no one else was hitting. The kid did come in and immediately hit a trey (Duke's only one of the half!), but missed two thereafter which were rather forced out of desperation to create something.
The second half saw a quite different Duke team. They shot 60% from the floor and 53% from three, dramatically cut the turnovers, and missed but one free throw (alas, also a front end shot). They scored 49 points in that half against a tough Carolina man defense, essentially doubling the first half output. And it was due largely to the efforts of three players.
As we have noted, Gary Trent has been in a major funk of late. He started this game in the same manner, missing shot after shot in the first half. Magically, that changed after the break. He hit three treys that really sparked the squad. Given his first half ineptitude, his overall stats were quite unimpressive (5 for 16/3 for 10). Still, he finished strong and that was a godsend.
Same with Marvin. He was essentially worthless in that first half, a body on the court. But the corpse came to life after the break and put on quite a show around the basket. His quickness off the floor was in glorious display, grabbing second and third attempts before finishing. And he was also a major force off the boards on the other end. He was, in short, a completely different player, the Marvin we have not seen for some time. As usual, he led the team with 21 points and 15 rebounds. It was such a breath of fresh air.
And then there was Trevon. We have been utterly frank about his shortcomings this season. He simply has not been a remotely effective point guard ... if you could even call him a point. Yes, there have been a few minutes here and there when he has shown some real spark, but those have been few and far between. Once again, he did not even start the game for the Devils.
But oh, that second half. For the first time all season, Trevon was highly effective for an extended (20 minute) period. For the first time all season, Duke was playing with a top flight point guard. It truly makes all the difference in the world ... what it takes to be a national champion. He was repeatedly able to drive through the lane and dish beautifully to Marvin. And he committed zero turnovers in the process. He was simply a completely different player. While we would love to believe this Cinderella transformation is permanent, we have to be realistic and remain skeptical. Nevertheless, we have at least been given a glimpse of the Promised Land.
We would love to say that the other key players righted their ships as well, but honesty prevents us from doing so. Wendell had an absolutely terrible night throughout, and managed to foul out after playing 25 minutes. Nothing good can be said other than the fact that he did hit a trey and he continued his streak at the line (2 for 2).
Grayson also continued to struggle. As we have often said, we adore this kid for his attitude and effort. He epitomizes Duke basketball. The problem is that his offensive performance has fallen far below expectations these past two years. In this game, he was just 5 for 17 overall and 2 for 7 from long. The two treys were huge in that second half run, but we always insist on overall perspective. Unfortunately, also, Grayson continued to make repeated turnovers, the first of which was a wild but completely uncontested pass in the back court. He finished with 6 turnovers for the evening.
The good news is that he played very well on the other end, coming up with 5 steals and 5 boards. Still, it would be highly charitable indeed to call this a good outing on his part, much as one would love to gloss over the miscues on Senior Night. But having said all that, we do love Grayson and we celebrate him for all that he has done over the course of his career.
Anyway, Duke beats Carolina, so all is well with the world. And the Cameron crowd was beside itself. It was great. We'll savor the memories for at least a few days.
Now on to the tourneys. Success from here on depends upon consistency. That is a real problem since consistency is the one thing we have not seen from this team all season.
Virginia Tech 64, Duke 63 (February 26, 2018). We ended the last game summary by observing that we feel as if we are trapped on a two bit roller coaster. Indeed we are. It has now reached the point where the end of the ride will be an enormous relief.
But before plowing through the mess that was the Duke basketball squad, let us first digress very briefly. Duke is not now, and traditionally has not been, a physical basketball team. The zone defense further militates against the kind of aggressive physicality that a top man defense demands. In contrast, many other ACC squads are extremely physical ... we can mention Virginia, Clemson, and often Virginia Tech among the group. The problem is that, at least this season, the ACC officials seem to take no notice of that difference. In fact, Duke is whistled for almost every touch (including some phantom ones as we saw in this game), whereas their opponents are almost literally able to get away with murder. We thought this contest against Virginia Tech was an excellent case in point ... Duke was victimized by the officiating, and it certainly affected the outcome.
Now, having said that, we must emphasize as strongly as possible that it would be utterly inappropriate to simply blame the officials for this loss. The truth is that this squad and its coaching staff did a horrendous job and must shoulder the blame. Duke turned a nice 15 point first half lead into a loss through, once again, a miserable shooting display and a steady stream of turnovers. It was not as if the Hokies were lights out ... no, they shot only about 23% from the outside, and did their best on offense to allow Duke a victory. But the Devils refused to accept the gift.
For the game, Duke was 22 for 54 from the floor, and just 8 for 28 from three. What's worse, the team again went to extraordinary lengths to confirm our assertion about dreadful passing skills by tossing the ball away with a terrifying regularity. They had 18 turnovers for the night. It was like being strapped to a chair and forced to watch an Adam Sandler film.
Funny ... when Grayson managed to hit two consecutive jumpers in the first half, we were told that he was "unconscious." Yes, unconscious enough to go 4 for 15 from long for the night. After a few effective offensive outings prior to the Syracuse game, he has reverted back to the Grayson that we have watched with dismay most of the season. What's worse, if possible, are his turnovers. We noted not long ago that he is committing them at an alarming rate this season. We had, for the past few years, believed that Grayson was the best passer on this team. But he now has contracted that passing ineptitude malady that seems to plague his compatriots ... against Tech, he committed 6 turnovers. They were fatal.
And that leads gracefully into Gary. We had been his fiercest (and perhaps only) critics earlier this year as he struggled to make shots. Bear in mind that Gary is not a strong ball handler, does not have great quickness, and is not a kid who plays above the rim. While he will occasionally create shots, his game is really getting the ball in shooting position and without a defender on top of him. For a month and a half, he was making those shots, and we were forced to eat our earlier words. Alas, we have now witnessed four consecutive dismal shooting efforts from Gary -- he was a pitiful 1 for 7 against Tech. We may soon be forced to eat our apology.
While Trevon did not start, he still, of course, was given a lot of PT. As we have seen from time to time, he will have a few minutes in a game where he does appear to shine. This phenomenon occurred early in the first half against the Hokies, during which Duke managed to regain a buffer that was quickly disappearing. But with Trevon, those spurts are all too infrequent, and often fail adequately to compensate for other deficiencies. In this case, there were two -- his continual penchant for committing truly stupid fouls, and his inability to make important free throws. But more on the latter later.
We saluted the Duke bigs after the last game. A Bronx cheer is more appropriate now. Only Marques played creditably at all, but of course his minutes were limited. Carter, with 5 points and 8 boards in 24 minutes, was shut down by the Hokies. His valient (non-) efforts included a couple of air balls. And while Bagley received 36 minutes, he did nothing to warrant that bounty. He had but 12 points and 7 boards. Of course, the scores of Wendell and Marvin were all off stuffs. But that's typical ... whenever they put the ball on the floor, something bad normally happens -- either a turnover or a missed shot.
This is the first Duke game all season that featured Dan Dakich as the color guy. What an enormous breath of fresh air he is. Instead of the usual insipid pablum, we actually get some honest and insightful analysis. He made a comment in the first half about Marvin's selfish play that will no doubt engender a great deal of hand-wringing. But it is exactly what we have been saying all along. For much of the year, once Marvin starts his dribble, there is no possibility of a pass out. He is where basketballs go to die. Sadly, the same thing has often been true of Wendell. As we have said, there has apparently been no lesson drilled in by the coaching staff that when doubled, you immediately dish out. Immediately.
Once again, Javin (inappropriately) started. He got only 14 minutes, but that was nevertheless excessive. His inabilty to shoot or pass and his poor hands make him a major offensive liability, and his tendency to commit wild fouls makes him problematical at the other end. Jack White, a better player, got only 4 minutes. Absolutely typical of K.
And that brings us to Poor Alex. He did not see any action until just over two minutes were left in the first half. He did not return until after the ten minute mark of the second half. Now bear in mind that as in the Syracuse game, the remainder of the team was virtually incapable of hitting a job shot and that Alex, in our not so humble estimation, has the best shot on the team. Well, if you discard (as you should) one desperate attempt to tip the ball in at the close of the first half, Alex got to take one shot all night. That occurred just after he got in in the second half ... a three that, not surprisingly, he nailed. The team should have been told by its heralded coach to look for Poor Alex on offense. But instead, we saw Grayson get the ball and completely ignore Poor Alex who was literally open by 15 feet on the same side of the court that Grayson was standing in virtual paralysis! Poindexter was so apoplectic while watching it that he almost threw a shoe through the flat screen.
The bottom line is that Poor Alex got only 7 minutes and one real shot in this game where his shooting prowess was so desperately needed. Yes, the kid looks as if he has just stepped off a Leave It To Beaver set, but pound for pound he is probably the most talented kid on the squad. Aside from his great shot, he is very quick, has a nice handle, and actually passes well ... he may now be the best passer on this squad, though admittedly that is not saying much. He should in fact be starting and playing over 20 minutes a game. To a perceptive judge of talent, that should be clear.
And while we are bemoaning the poor decisions of our illustrious coach, let's conclude with a final sin of commission. Anyone who has watched this team as closely as we have this year should be aware that Trevon struggles at the line. The only time he does make shots is early in a contest when the pressure has not come to bear. In contrast, he is virtually certain to tighten up and miss down the stretch in a close contest. We have seen that all year. Thus it was that we had resigned ourselves to his missing the front end of that absolutely crucial one and one at the conclusion of the game. It was as predictable as it could possibly be. While Tech was going to press and ball handling was therefore significant, it was even more likely that Tech was going to have to foul. Well, foul they did and they wisely chose Trevon. The fact is that he should never have been on the court. Charge another one to El Greco! He lost this game as much as his team did.
On to UNC. Let's say that the Duke guards magically step up, and they manage to pull out a win at home. Will we then join some ground swell of optimism? Absolutely not. This is a team that can beat anyone on those all-too-rare occasions when all are playing well. But it is also a team that can easily lose to anyone. It takes a vivid imagination indeed to see a team like that winning a national championship.
Duke 60, Syracuse 44 (February 24, 2018). Yet another win that it's impossible to celebrate. Only the Duke bigs deserve any commendation in this unspeakably ugly affair. The Duke guards could not possibly have been worse. Grayson ... 3 for 9 overall and 0 for 6 from long. Gary ... 2 for 11 overall and 1 for 6 from long. Trevon ... 1 for 8 overall and 1 for 5 from long. Absolutely pathetic.
OK, boys and girls. You're coaching this Duke squad and none of your regulars can make a jump shot to save their lives ... what is the obvious thing you do? Of course, it's insert O'Connell and make sure the squad is focused on getting him a look. Well, Poor Alex only got in for about 4 or 5 minutes of that miserable first half, and did not even get to take a shot. On one occasion, he was wide open streaking down the sideline on a break, but Grayson, who was simply ice cold, decided to launch a thirty footer himself. Shame on you, Grayson.
We have long maintained that El Greco! is often a dreadful judge of talent. We were all over him (correctly) in Grayson's freshman season for keeping the kid on the bench. We lamented Jack's (and Marques') lack of PT last year. And the victim now, quite incomprehensibly, is Poor Alex. We have made it clear that we are not fans of Trevon on the court. The fact is that he is just a disaster on the offensive end -- he has great trouble making even layups at this point (he missed an easy one in the first half against Syracuse), and he continues making really bad passes. There is no way that he should be starting and getting the minutes that he is. A lot of those should be going to Alex ... er, excuse us, Poor Alex.
Fortunately, the only thing worse than Duke's backcourt in this game was the entire Syracuse team. They finally got a hot hand near the end of the contest, but it was far too late. The Duke zone continues to dominate. And the good news is that the zone is getting better -- you didn't see kids completely out of position at any time in this one.
Aside from the zone, the real positive from this mess was Duke's front line, and Wendell Carter in particular. Wendell has had bigger scoring nights, but we do not remember him looking any stronger overall than he did this evening. He finished with 16 points and 10 boards, and many were achieved with a flourish. He actually looked like a dominant player. He also continued his excellent free throw shooting, going 6 for 6 in this one. Great job, Wendell. We'll have to buy you a $106 lunch!
Marvin returned to action, and wound up playing a bunch of minutes. He is as quick off the floor as ever, and he led the team in scoring with 19 -- almost all dunks, of course. He was not really strong off the boards, and he coughed up the ball three times (including on two consecutive possessions early in the second half). What we particularly liked, however, was that he did not try to force things offensively.
We also liked the way Marques looked on the court. Again, no missed shots, and some strong rebounds. Seven points and six boards in only 12 minutes. After K virtually destroyed his confidence last season, he is becoming the player that we expected when we watched him in the high school all-star contests. He is now a very effective component of this team.
Once again, Javin started. He did not have a bad game per se, but committed a painfully foolish foul as the shot clock was about to run out for Syracuse on one possession. He played 17 minutes to Jack's 7, but Jack, as usual, looked better out there. As we said (and we know this will shock and outrage), K tends to make poor personnel decisions.
So, where are we? We watched a Duke front court that was often dominant and offered the kind of rim protection that we were looking forward to prior to the start of the season. Alas, we also saw a back court that reverted to its poor early season form. And we saw a coach who refused to make the offensive adjustment he should have. Frankly, we don't know where we are, except that it feels far too much as if we're trapped on some county fair roller coaster.
Duke 82, Louisville 56 (February 21, 2018). What a difference a zone makes. We had been pushing for it and had seen it work effectively whenever used, but even we are surprised by just how dramatic the results have been. But having said that, we must acknowledge that there seemed to be something else at work here.
After the Clemson game, we remarked that it was less a matter of Duke winning than Clemson losing. Duke played very poorly. Here, Duke's performance overall was commendable, and we have rarely been able to say that at all this season. But even so, the offensive performance, though solid, was not spectacular. The team shot about 48% overall and 34% from long. Again, good but hardly blistering.
The strange fact is that Louisville never really seemed into the game. Not only did Duke out-board them 44 to 30, but the Devils were getting all the loose balls. Normally, the reverse is the case. Perhaps the scandal had something to do with it, but the Cards were utterly lethargic on the floor. It really surprised us.
Anyway, props to Grayson. He was the Duke squad at the beginning of both halves. While he cooled down afterwards, he still went 10 for 20 overall and 6 for 15 from three. Unlike recent prior games where he has made his killing at the free throw line, only two of his 28 points came from the stripe. We always cringe when we see that Jay Bilas will be doing color for a game, and he pompously intoned his usual inanities. Among those were his wildly hyperbolic assertion that Grayson has been unable to miss of late. No, Grayson has been able to miss and has done so frequently. But his shooting, which had been disastrous, has improved markedly. We love the kid and are so pleased.
The one thing that does still bother us is the turnovers. Grayson had another four in this game. Even so, he was the positive difference maker, and had a wonderful outing.
We have refused thus far to jump on the wildly celebratory bandwagon for Wendell. However, we were pleased by his performance against Louisville, even though he did fall a bit short of a double-double. He still committed his usual allotment of turnovers by continuing to force dribble moves, though they were a bit less frequent. Wendell is most effective when he is willing to pass off, and that is what we saw as a whole against the Cards. We also love the fact that the free throw stroke, which we favorably noted after the Clemson game, continued to impress. He went 4 for 4 against Louisville. It is so rare to see a Duke player improve his stroke during the season ... could it be that some member of the Duke staff has actually learned how to coach free throw shooting?
After going through an extended hot shooting streak, Gary has cooled down in the last couple of games. He made his first trey, then went 0 for 3 thereafter. He did not have a bad game, but he was not much of a factor.
That brings us to the other two starters, Trevon and Javin. Let's take them in that order. Trevon actually had another lousy offensive performance -- 2 for 9 overall and 6 points. He did limit the turnovers to two, but a late pass was so wild that it probably should count as two on its own. Grayson has now effectively been shifted to running the point, so Duke is now starting a shooting guard who ... can't shoot. Perhaps K feels too emotionally invested in Trevon, or perhaps it's just his normal obtuseness ... we just don't know. However, having said all that, we must acknowledge that Trevon was effective in other ways. He had a whopping 5 steals, and pulled down 6 boards. That is great, and we do commend him for that. If only he could shoot the ball (and learn to pass with skill and judgement).
As for Javin, we have acknowledged that we are not fans. Even so, he had about three minutes in the first half where we were beginning to question our own conclusions. He wrestled a defensive rebound away from an opponent, then dramatically stuffed an offensive board through, then had another rebound and score, and finally managed to catch a wicked pass and flip it to a teammate for an assist. It was all quite amazing, but Javin reverted to form thereafter ... inability to handle passes, turnovers, and stupid fouls. One of the advantages of the zone defense is that it limits fouling opportunities. Indeed, it takes a real talent to foul out when playing zone. Javin managed to do so in only 19 minutes of PT.
We have said that we would much prefer to see Jack White on the court. He provides the same kind of intensity as Javin, but he is a much better basketball player overall. He has good hands and plays much smarter. In this one, he went a total of 15 minutes without fouling at all, but still played hard. We have always liked this kid.
Marques also played well once again. His offensive efficiency has been terrific, this time going 4 for 5. While we continue to be rather underwhelmed by his performance on the boards, he did manage 5 in 16 minutes. But he simply is looking smooth and comfortable on the court, and we are delighted. It justifies more PT.
And finally .... Poor Alex. The kid did not even get into the game until about the nine and one-half minute mark of the second half. He was 2 for 2 from the stripe, but did not make (or miss) anything the field. Still, we continue to be impressed by his quickness, his ability to handle the ball, and his passing skill .... not to mention the fact that he has a great jumper. It is very difficult for us to comprehend why he does not play major minutes. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that both he and Jack should be starting. But then, we have always been unimpressed by K's ability to assess talent. Poor Alex.
By the way, what a pleasure it was to listen to Dan Dakish doing color for the Syracuse - UNC game. Some real cogency as opposed to the blathering of Mr. Bilas. We noted with interest his comment that Duke may be playing better without Marvin. The fact is that despite Marvin's prodigious athletic abilities, his frequent selfishness on the offensive end is problematical. Duke is at its best when a lot of crisp passing is going on as opposed to the all-too-frequent one on one play. The other issue with Marvin is that he is very weak on the defensive end because he is often out of position. We do look forward to seeing him back, but there is a trade-off.
Finally, hats off to the team for their performance at the line. 15 for 16 overall (93%). That's how to win ball games.
Duke 66, Clemson 57 (February 18, 2018). The third game without Marvin. As anyone following the program knows, a "minor" injury at Duke means an absence for about two months as opposed to the entire season. The good news is that team medical personnel have indicated that Marvin should be ready by the Final Four week-end (though they didn't specify which year).
A win by Duke at Clemson is something to be valued, although Duke did not play well at all to earn this one. Indeed, if Clemson point guard Shelton Williams had not been held out for the game, we strongly suspect that Clemson would have emerged victorious -- Duke was only able to manage its narrow one point halftime lead due to Clemson turnovers against a much less than impressive trapping defense. In fact, Duke was very lucky throughout the game because Clemson shot the ball very poorly indeed. Their overall field goal percentage was only 34%, and they were around 25% from three.
So, K has announced that Duke is to be primarily a zone team, and the Devils played nothing else in this one. Of course, he is only about two years too late. Once again, the zone proved effective in every way, though it was at times less than sterling. Of Clemson's five treys for the game, three occurred in the first half when Clemson players were graciously afforded absolutely wide open shots from the corners. And when we say wide open, we mean WIDE OPEN ... no one within ten feet. That's why we have elsewhere on this site lamented K's narcissistic practice of employing only his clones as assistant coaches. It would be so much more beneficial to pick up a former player from, say, Syracuse, to provide defensive expertise. But it ain't gonna happen.
Anyway, due to Clemson's utter ineffectualness on offense, Duke was able to build a ten point cushion with six and one-half minutes to go. But then Duke went into choke mode. Gary missed two wide open jumpers and the front end of a one-and-one, Wendell missed a two footer, and the whole team had that look of complete futility. The game was soon tied, but Clemson was not through dishing out gifts. Gary was stupidly fouled while shooting from behind the arc with only a couple of seconds left in the shot clock. His first foul shot almost missed as well, but managed to bounce in. That seemed to give Gary some new confidence, and he sank the next two. Then Wendell actually made a shot in close with contact .... very rare indeed. That sealed the win for Duke. But this is really a game Clemson lost. It is impossible to celebrate Duke's play.
As for the individual players, Wendell did have another double double ... barely. In fact, however, he was dreadful for most of the contest, except for a few minutes in the second half. His shooting stats were 4 for 14. He was missing everything. We loved his play in the second half of the prior game because he was dishing out when doubled. Not surprisingly, that turned out to be an aberration as he again forced several shots against Clemson. Do not the coaches go over game film with these kids? Is there any coaching going on?
We had to laugh when noting a comment by Paul Biancardi on ESPN -- "Wendell Carter has the best hands in college basketball." This guy is obviously a lunatic. We have watched enough passes slip through Wendell's hands (including one in the first half of this game) to credit him with having marginal hands at best. But we do need to commend one aspect of Wendell's play against Clemson: he was 6 for 7 from the charity stripe, and the shots were soft, had a nice arc, and swished through. We though it was the best stroke he has shown all year.
We have been less than pleased with the play of Trevon throughout the season. While he still has not shown us that he can play at a national championship level, he was better on the court today. He contributed on offense by going 5 for 11, and committed only two turnovers. Not dazzling, but we'll take it at this point.
Grayson was essentially the entire Duke team in the first half. He finished with 19 points for the game, but 17 of those were before the break. He was completely ineffective thereafter. He also had 4 turnovers -- it seems as if he has had more this season than in all three prior years combined, though we are sure that isn't the case. The best thing about Grayson in this game was his free through shooting (9 for 9 from the stripe). Duke shot over 80% there, and it saved them.
Gary actually had a relatively poor shooting performance. He was a rather pathetic 3 for 10 from the floor. He also committed two blatant offensive push-off fouls, something he has a penchant for doing. But otherwise, not a bad floor game.
The final starter was, for the first time, Javin. While we did applaud his second half play against Virginia Tech, we simply are not fans. He has no offensive skills whatsoever, and his hands make every incoming pass an adventure. Moreover, on the other end, he tends to commit wild fouls -- reaching horizontally to block a shot or coming in from behind. The effort is there, but the results are usually wanting. Against Clemson, he played a whopping 30 minutes. He did have 10 boards to his credit, but only gave the team two points. As have said before, we would actually rather see Jack White on the floor in most cases.
Marques got only 14 minutes. He did not get a lot of boards (as usual), but played solidly. He was two for two from the floor and, amazingly, made his only free throw attempt.
And that brings us to Poor Alex. Every year with K, it is Poor Somebody ... always a kid who is inappropriately denied PT. Remember that Alex started the game a week ago against Georgia Tech. But against Virginia Tech, he only played at garbage time. And in this one, he only got in briefly late in the first half. The scorer credited him with two minutes, but that is some very generous rounding up. From our standpoint, this is unconscionable. Absolutely unconscionable. They could have used Alex's scoring talents, but left him mired on the pines. K just drives us through the roof at times.
We have often chided Duke for its inability to secure defensive rebounds down the stretch in contested games. We saw that yet again here. Fortunately, Clemson did not take advantage of its opportunities.
One final note. We need to draw everyone's attention to Messrs. Driscoll, Clark, and Clougherty, the striped shirts on the court. They whistled a foul in the first half against Marques for simply standing still while his opponent bulled into him. Later in the first half, they actually whistled a flagrant foul on Grayson for reaching after he lost the ball. In the second half, Wendell was charged with a foul for standing absolutely still with his arms down while a Clemson player charged into him -- and it was OUTSIDE the magic semicircle. These guys were terrible.
Duke 74, Virginia Tech 52 (February 15, 2018). When looking at the third party commentary about the prior game against Georgia Tech, we did not notice any focus on the fact that it was all zone for Duke. Of course, that is why you visit this site so eagerly. We focus on the important ... if you want to know the flavor of K's birthday cake, you had better go elsewhere.
Anyway, it was all zone once again. Something that we have been tirelessly advocating for eons. So, does this mean that K has finally seen the light? Can you indeed teach an old dog new tricks? And while we're at it, what's the principal export of Peru?
Important questions all, and alas, we do not have a definitive answer. But we remain less than sanguine. We were no doubt remiss in failing to note at the outset that Duke was once again without the services of Mr. Bagley (it being de rigueur at Duke that even purported minor injuries result in very long recovery periods). Anyway, we suspect that the injury played a significant part in the decision about defense -- without Marvin, the other players will, in theory, require more PT and it is therefore important to keep them less winded on the floor and to avoid foul trouble. So it will be very interesting to see what transpires when Marvin finally returns. If we had to bet, it would be that Duke again opens in a man defense, though we hope we are mistaken.
For a change, we were not disgusted by what we saw from this Duke team. We have lamented Grayson's dismal offensive performance, but he finally snapped out of it and had a wonderful evening. He was 9 for 17 from the floor and 7 for 15 from three. It was lovely to watch. Unfortunately, we had to suffer through the commentary of pompous Mr. Bilas, who as usual uttered a series of inanities. One was that Grayson was getting uncontested shots.
The truth is that Tech's defense was generally suffocating -- Duke was fighting the shot clock all evening. In fact, two of Grayson's treys were wild shots as the clock was expiring ... that swished through. He simply regained the touch that disappeared after the Michigan State game, and it was a blessing for this team. The other blessing was that Gary continued his hot hand -- he was 5 for 9 from long. When both guards are hitting, it covers a multitude of sins. It is something we have seen rarely this season.
Duke had just an 8 point lead at halftime, and that cushion was solely due to the efforts of Grayson and Gary (the G-Men). Although Tech's defense was excellent, they were woefully deficient in most other areas ... missing lay-ups and not going to the boards. We did like the way the Devils charged the glass in this game, but it is impossible to know whether their enormous rebounding advantage (36 to 19) was more the result of their efforts or Tech's lack of effort.
Really, the only thing keeping the Hokies in the game during that first half was .... Wendell Carter. He was simply a disaster on the offensive end, committing turnover after turnover and missing shots. At this point, we want to digress briefly to discuss Wendell. While the various commentators we hear always wax rhapsodic, we are a bit less smitten. The most valuable thing that Wendell has provided Duke is a strong steady rebounding presence, and that is vary valuable indeed. But on the offensive end, the results have been less impressive. The current stats show that Wendell is shooting 60% from the floor. However, while we do not chart shots, we would venture to guess that if you excluded all the dunks, the percentage would drop by 50%. He has also forced a lot of shots and been a fairly regular turnover machine (which he was on steroids in the first half of this game). And notwithstanding Mr. Bilas idiotically announcing that Wendell is a very good passer, his passing skills are in fact quite dreadful.
Well, the very good news is that Wendell played like a new man in the second half. He was actually smart on the court, not forcing things and dishing to teammates when doubled. The turnovers disappeared. It was a godsend, and we pray that it would continue (and that his partner in crime, Marvin, would follow suit as well). Duke's guards continued hitting, Tech essentially quit, and Duke's lead quickly ballooned.
So yes, we were pleased, though we are not sure exactly how this translates where Duke's opponents are aggressive offensively. It is astounding that Duke was whistled for only 6 personal fouls the entire game (!!!!!), a number that one normally sees in about five minutes of ACC play. It is a testament both to the zone and to Tech's relative passivity. It was in any event wonderfully refreshing to see an ACC game move smoothly for a change.
Now, what were the negatives? Again, turnovers were an issue. Duke had 13 for the game to Tech's 10. At least Duke managed to reduce the errors after the halftime break. The other issue is that the play of Trevon continues to be highly problematical.
Against Georgia Tech, K tried to send a message by starting Alex. However, K apparently wanted to send a message of confidence in this one, so Trevon started and played 33 minutes. His stats .... 3 of 10 from the floor, 3 assists, and 4 turnovers. Very unimpressive to say the least. In contrast, Alex only played the last 30 seconds of the first half, then did not reappear until about two and one-half minutes were left in the contest. That is absolutely insane. It is also vintage K.
While we are not fans of Javin (as a basketball player only), we must say that he acquitted himself very nicely in the second half. He played with his usual intensity, but much more in control than usual. We were very pleased. Unfortunately, Marques was much less successful ... zero points and one rebound in 16 minutes. His lack of activity on the boards continues to disturb us.
Next up ... Clemson at Clemson. That is always a very difficult hurdle for Duke. Without Marvin at full speed, it will be a particular challenge. If both Grayson and Gary continue to shoot as they did against the Hokies, things become much easier. But we can hardly expect that.
Duke 80, Georgia Tech 69 (February 11, 2018). When this game started, we thought that we had entered Wonderland. Duke opened in a zone, and Trevon was on the bench with Alex in his place. We didn't think that K had it in him. Even though Alex did not make the most of this glorious opportunity (he was 1 for 4 for the night), the strategy worked beautifully ... well, at least for about three quarters of the game. Duke systematically built up a 43 to 26 halftime lead, then stretched it to around 25 in the second period. And this was all without the services of Marvin, who was held out of the contest with a minor knee sprain.
But then the roof caved in. Duke went into one of their patented collapses at about the ten minute mark of the second half, and that 25 point lead was quickly cut to 10. Duke did absolutely nothing right during that stretch. Missed shots, turnovers, blocked shots in the lane ... it was pathetic. We have said time and again that this is just a terrible passing team. We'll repeat it once more. And we have also bemoaned the lack of any blocking out on defense. Well, Tech was able to crash the boards without any body being interposed. Moreover, Duke's chronic lack of quickness was on full display -- almost every loose ball goes to the opposition. Georgia Tech is a lousy team, but they somehow managed to make the game almost competitive.,
Grayson started out very well to our delight, but petered out thereafter. His final floor stats were most unimpressive: 5 for 14 overall and 3 for 10 from long. What's more, he continued a disturbing recent trend of committing an untoward number of turnovers -- four in this game. If Trevon is to be held out due to his penchant for turning the ball over, it clearly does not help if his replacement at point is equally guilty. On the bright side, Grayson was 10 for 10 at the charity line.
Gary continued his solid play. Not spectacular overall, but 2 for 2 from three. He has been stroking beautifully. Marques started in place of Marvin, and was once again solid on the offensive end. The problem is that he is not particularly active on the boards -- he'll get a rebound if it comes to him, but he shows no real aggressiveness in trying to create rebounding opportunities.
Wendell, as usual, put up some nice numbers. He had 10 boards and 19 points. Those points included a 5 for 6 showing from the line, which is a good thing. But the scoring from the floor was yet again limited almost exclusively to stuffs. Anything else is a major challenge for him.
And so it goes. When the dust settled, another uninspired performance. At least Duke went all zone, something that should have occurred long ago. Now, if only the players could be taught to block out on defense and value the ball on offense .....
UNC 82, Duke 78. (February 8, 2018). Because we were traveling overseas, we were afraid that we would not be able to watch the game. Actually, afraid may not be quite the proper word to use … optimistic may be more appropriate. In fact, we were able to watch the game, although with a Spanish sound feed. The blessing there was that we did not have to listen to Jay Bilas opining at length. Instead, we were listening to what was essentially gibberish from the Spanish announcer. Come to think of it, that was eerily similar to listening to Bilas.
The game itself was yet another painful experience in a season of painful experiences. Duke managed to turn what was a 12-point first-half lead into a 10-point second-half deficit. We have to say that a portion of the blame might be laid at the feet of the officials, We believe they called the game in a rather one-sided fashion. A couple of examples: Alex O'Connell once again being hit from behind as he was about to gather a rebound with no whistle blown, and what would normally have been called a jump ball during a scramble on the ground instead called a Duke foul. However, most of the blame needs to go to this Duke team.
Once again, Duke's man defense came up short. The only time it is generally ever effective is toward the very end of a game with Duke desperately trying to claw its way to a victory. Other than that, it is extremely porous. Indeed, virtually every team that Duke faces plays a better defense. The other continuing issue is on the defensive boards, where Duke simply does not block out. UNC had their will in the second half, getting offensive rebound after offensive rebound until they were able to score. This is a chronic Duke problem, and has been for years. K has never satisfactorily schooled his players on block outs. UNC had 20 offensive rebounds for the game, and Duke had but 11. The result was that Duke scored only 29 points after intermission compared to 49 before the break.
The good news is that Duke did cut its turnovers, finishing with just 8 for the game. An improvement to be sure, but the fact is that UNC had only 2. Again, this just shows how ineffective Duke's defense is. And speaking of turnovers, that brings us once again to the issue of Mr. Duval. Trevon did have a couple of excellent plays in the game, most notably that highlight reel dunk in the first half going down the lane. He also made an excellent dish off a drive to the side, where Gary Trent was waiting for a three. But those good passes from Trevon are very rare indeed. The fact is that we can't ever remember seeing such a poor passing point guard. In this game, it resulted in four turnovers for Duke, and Trevon being pulled from the game on a couple of occasions as a result. Quite a contrast from Tyus Jones a few years back.
Marvin had 16 rebounds for the game, which is tremendous. His scoring however was limited largely to dunks. Once again, we saw him trying to force shots despite being heavily guarded. We noted earlier this year that he virtually never passes off once he starts his move underneath. That is terribly selfish and needs to be corrected by the coaching staff. We won’t hold our breaths.
Like Marvin, Wendell's scoring is limited largely to jams. Both players have great difficulty converting on anything else inside. Wendell actually had a very poor evening, not scoring a lot and being limited to 5 boards. An unsatisfactory effort.
Once again, we can’t criticize Gary. He had a respectable outing, not spectacular but he certainly carried his weight with a respectable shooting percentage and an absence of turnovers. But we can't applaud the effort of Grayson, who yet again was absolutely dismal on the offensive end. He is simply a shell of the player we saw against Michigan State, and it is hurting the steam very badly.
The good news is that we finally got to see a fair bit of Marques and Alex. Both played well. We had been very disappointed with the efforts of Marques for most of the year since we touted him so highly last season. However, he looked very good on offense against Carolina, going 4-4 from the floor. The problem was a lack of rebounding in his minutes on the floor. Also, he is a near-certain miss at the free throw line.
Alex was 3 for 5 from long, and we continue to believe him to be the best jump shooter on this team, Gary notwithstanding. We again call for more PT on his part, though he is still clearly not one of the favored players.
So, Duke once again continues to underwhelm. How disappointing this all is from a team that we expected to be dominant. In fact, Duke has not been dominant at all except against the weakest teams on its schedule. Against any decent competition, they have had to scramble to eke out victories. A combination of uninspired play and, we have to say, poor coaching. We know how sacrilegious it is for us to criticize K given his extraordinary number of victories. However, in our minds, there is a real difference between a winning coach and a great coach. Tony Bennett could have a team filled with Steve Urkels, and he would still be a great coach.
So now on to Georgia Tech. If Duke wins by 25 points, it means nothing.
St. John's 81, Duke 77 (February 3, 2018). St. John's, winless at 0-11 in their conferences, upsets the hapless Blue Devils. Deja vu all over again. As in the Virginia contest, it was all about turnovers and foul shooting. As to the former, Duke had 18 for the game, and 12 in the first half alone. It was sickening to watch. Total ineptitude.
At the stripe, the stats show Duke was 20 for 29 in all. But once again, the stats are misleading -- the two misses include two front ends of one and ones. The real stats are therefore 20 for 31. That's eleven points Duke left at the line. The ultimate crusher was the two misses at the tail end by Duval that would have given Duke a narrow lead. He is an unmitigated disaster when shooting free throws ... no rhythm, no touch.
The other glaring deficiency showed up in the latter portion of the second half. In the opening period, the Redmen (yes, that was their original moniker based on the COLOR OF THEIR UNIFORMS), were not crashing the offensive boards at all, simply ceding Duke defensive rebounds. But as they clawed back in the game, they begin challenging all the rebounds. This highlighted yet another Duke deficiency -- they almost never come up with loose balls. It is both a lack of quickness and effort. Anyway, the Redmen were getting a multitude of shots on almost every possession until they were finally able to put it through the hoop.
On defense, it was no contest. St. John's was much, much tougher. Duke did try switching to zone after about five minutes had expired in the second half. But in this game, the zone did not help ... in large part, because it was so poorly played. On one of those sets, Duke foolishly wound up doubling an opponent, leaving another wide open. On another, a Redman was allowed to penetrate all the way to the hoop. Just awful.
On an individual basis, it was more of the same as well. Grayson was almost completely unproductive. Gary was the one outside threat, though it was rather streaky -- he nailed his first three, then went cold before finishing with a couple of big shots. Marvin again was very ineffective -- only 7 boards and a terrible 6 turnovers. Wendell did not score a lot of points, but he did grab another 15 boards. We are also delighted to note that he was also 8 for 8 from the line. And Trevon ... well, he did have a nice three or four minutes in the second half to trigger a Duke comeback. The problem were the other 36 minutes. 5 for 13 from the field and 4 turnovers. As we have been saying, Duke is simply playing without an effective point.
Frankly, we are tired of watching this underachieving group of knuckleheads. We noted on the home page that we will be traveling abroad while the UNC game is being played. The trip could not have come too soon.
Duke 88, Notre Dame 66 (January 29, 2018). For most of this contest, it was not exactly cheering. One needs to bear in mind at the outset that this Notre Dame squad is severely depleted with their two best players sidelined. Still, they are a well-coached and disciplined team. That having been said, while Duke was able to enjoy a lead throughout, the margin midway through the second half was still just eight.
Then a miracle occurred. We have accused this team in the past of having Ladies Potty Syndrome ... where the entire squad goes into a collective shooting funk. Well, the reverse happened in that second half. The entire team suddenly started feeling it. Everyone miraculously couldn't miss a shot ... one guy feeding off another. (Anyone who dismisses the psychological aspect of shooting is terribly naive) It was a glorious 5 or 6 minutes indeed. The lead, which had been 8, mushroomed to 30. Of course, the spurt ended as they all must, but the Domers had been buried.
So, should this finally cause us to depart from our gloom and doom ways and dance around the Maypole? Well, no. The problem is that Duke still committed a plethora of turnovers (12 to 10 for Notre Dame), despite little defensive pressure. This is truly one of the worst passing teams that we have ever seen. But perhaps one should expect something of the sort when you are stocked with McD stars who rarely had to make a pass in High School.
While the foul shooting was better (the team was a respectable 12 for 16), the fact remains that they are always an adventure at the line. It would be delusional to believe that this game is a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, Marvin still was just 3 for 6 from the stripe. Only Trevon, who had been unable to make a free throw for eons it seemed, saved the team's stats by making all three of his attempts.
The most welcome improvement in this contest was Duke's outside shooting. The team was 12 for 20 from long overall, a terrific stat and a marked improvement over their normal desultory ways.
Once again, most credit goes to Gary Trent. We were his most vocal critics (and perhaps his only outspoken critics) during the first third of the season. And the criticism was warranted because he simply was not effective. However, he has now been on an extended tear, and we must therefore commend him highly. In this game, he was nearly unable to miss a shot in the opening half. He did cool down considerably after the break (we believe he only had one hoop in the second period), but he still finished with a team high 22 points on 6 for 10 from long. Even better, if possible, he led the team with 10 boards, and that from a kid who really does not play above the rim. It was a beautiful all-around performance.
Grayson, long our favorite player for several reasons, has been struggling mightily. It has been extremely depressing for us to have had to watch. Blessedly, against Notre Dame, he finally broke out and put up some good numbers. He was 3 for 6 from long and 7 for 12 overall. There is no way to know if that will continue, but we can only hope.
The interesting thing is that Duke did what they did without much from their two main bigs. Marvin started the game by forcing a shot that went in, then proceeded to miss virtually everything he threw up for the rest of the contest. And most of those were directly under the basket. He had a terrible (for him) evening.
Wendell was, we suppose, better. He went 6 for 8 from the floor, and even made the bulk of his free throw attempts for a change. But he also picked up 4 fouls in his 26 minutes and had two turnovers with no assists. It was hardly inspiring. Good thing that it didn't have to be against this weak Notre Dame squad.
And that brings us to the final starter, Trevon. It was another dismal opening half for him, marred by a couple of turnovers and no real offensive output. The good news is that he was able to reverse course after the break. He made a nice pass off a drive, then stole the ball at the other end and took it to the hole. He later made his only trey attempt. And, as noted, he was 3 for 3 from the stripe. It was not exactly awesome, but still significantly better and we were so happy for that.
However, even with that positive note, we continued to see from Trevon a lack of intelligence on the court that is extremely distressing. Trevon picked up 4 fouls in his 25 minutes, and three of those were committed by running from behind into a shooting opponent. What's even worse, one of those was a three point shot. For us, fouling someone shooting a three is virtually a capital offense ... almost grounds for revoking a scholarship. We were actually proud of K (yes, we know that is rare) for pulling Trevon from the game while the opponent was calmly sinking his three fouls shots. We try to go out of our way to caveat our criticism of Trevon by noting his athleticism, but a point guard who does not play smart and does not pass well is highly problematical.
It was good to see Marques Bolden back in action after a long stretch on the sideline. He really did not contribute much, though, except for three boards. Conversely, it was distressing once again to see Alex relegated to the bench ... this time it was just five minutes. He was in early, but pulled after a minute or so. Hard to understand.
But we have saved perhaps the best for last. We were rather enamored of what we saw from Jack White during the preseason last year. He actually showed us that he had a nice shooting touch and was a relatively capable player. But of course, as is the custom with K, Jack was mired on the bench for most of the season. This year, we liked the way he performed on the court in his limited minutes, although we noted that he now seemed extremely reluctant to even attempt a shot. Perhaps he was afraid that he would immediately be yanked if he missed (another K custom if you are not one of his Most Favored). Well, against the Domers, Jack finally launched one, and not surprisingly it swished through. More importantly, he was simply brilliant on the court and off the glass. He finished with 7 boards in just 14 minutes of court time. It was beautiful to watch. We would much, MUCH rather see him on the floor than Javin. Javin may jump higher, but Jack has better court sense and better offensive skills. So congrats, Jack, and we hope to see a lot more of you!
Virginia 65, Duke 63 (January 27, 2018). This game was the perfect exemplar of everything we have been saying all season. Everything. It was a game that Duke could have won. They gave it away by failing to do the basic things that win games. How sad.
But let's start at the beginning. After the usual sloppy play with traded baskets in the first several minutes, Virginia broke out and began consistently making shots. Needless to say, Duke was exclusively in a man defense. On the other end, Virginia's defense and Duke's ineptitude were devastating. The sequence for Duke essentially was: missed shot, turnover, missed shot, turnover, turnover, missed shot, and so on ad infinitum. It required a very strong stomach indeed to even continue watching. The lead at the break was ten, and it looked as if Duke's fate was sealed.
But then El Greco! finally decided to go zone. Once again, it stopped Duke's opponents in their tracks. Virginia ceased making baskets, and Duke clawed back into the game, actually taking the lead by three or four points. Yes, the zone (our cause celebre for many moons) gave Duke a chance to win (and it's not even a particularly good zone that Duke plays!). The problem is that Duke decided to throw it all away.
We have noted that this is a terrible passing team. They proved that again today, committing 16 turnovers against the Cavs. In contrast, Virginia had but 5. Duval had 5 of those, and actually should have had a sixth -- he made a horrendous backward pass that bounced off two Virginia defenders into Carter's surprised hands for an easy dunk. What should have been a turnover became an unmerited assist. Duval also had the final devastating turnover -- a poor long-court pass with Duke trailing by only two. We have lamented that he is just a terribly ineffective point guard, so this does not surprise us.
The sloppy passing/turnover problem was just one of the main causes for the loss. The other was their free throw shooting. We have also lamented the weakness of Duke at the line. One can only expect good things from two of Duke's starters (Allen and Trent, and even the latter has started missing at the line after a blistering start). The rest of the starters are simply a dice roll at best. In this game, the stats show that Duke was just 5 for 11 from the line. But that is highly misleading since at least three of the misses were the front end of one and ones. The real stats should therefore be 5 for 14. It was just a matter of time that the free throw line would kill this team, and it did today. We might also point out that those three front end misses came on consecutive charity line visits down the stretch run ... twice by Carter and once by Duval. Horrible.
As for the players, Grayson continued his absolutely dreadful offensive play. This time it was all of 5 points on 2 for 8 shooting. We had to laugh at an article appearing on another site that exclaimed that Grayson was having a brilliant season. Yes, we have always loved the kid and he plays harder than anyone, but his offensive performance since that Michigan State game has been, on the whole, disastrous. And Michigan State was eons ago.
We have already mentioned Trevon, and really do not have the energy to add anything more. Gary was 3 for 11 from the floor and 1 for 5 from long. Enough said there too. But here we just need to add that the other team weakness (Duke's outside game) reared its ugly head once again.
The key to Duke's comeback on the offensive end was the front line. Wendell had some nice stats -- 14 points, 4 blocks, and a team-leading 15 rebounds. Alas, he also committed 4 of the team's turnovers. And neither Wendell nor his teammates were able to corral some crucial defensive rebounds down the stretch when they had regained the lead. Virginia was simply quicker to loose balls, something we see often from Duke.
But the star of the game was Marvin. He wound up with 30 points (amazing against a team like Virginia), and added 14 boards. He almost carried the team to victory, but his compatriots simply would not cooperate.
The game illustrated another point we have made. We love Tony Bennett. He takes a minimum of talent and melds it into something special. K wins through recruiting. Bennett wins by coaching.
Yes, very disappointing. Sure, this Duke team has a lot of talent. It also has some fundamental weaknesses that present major problems going forward. It is difficult to imagine a team that commits a lot of turnovers, has significant free throw shooting problems, and is very iffy from the outside, sweeping a string of tough games in a short period to win a national championship. We hope we are wrong.
Duke 84, Wake Forest 70 (January 24, 2018). So, first Pitt twice in ten days, then Wake as well. We suppose the only persons more incompetent than ACC officials are ACC schedule makers. Anyway, it was more of the same: Duke building a nice cushion against an inferior team, then going into a patented collective shooting funk (we think of it as Ladies Potty Syndrome) in the second half, then righting the ship down the stretch. It's all more predictable than a Hallmark Channel film.
Actually, the two halves saw two very different Duke squads. In the first, it was the Duke guards who carried the team. Gary came out hot yet again, and even Grayson was hitting jumpers. Alex came in after his unusually cool outing last time out, and contributed nicely as well. In contrast, the Duke front line was largely ineffective ... on both ends. Even so, Duke was able to build a nice cushion, and finished the half up eleven, despite Wake scoring the final six points.
The only thing that kept Wake in the game through the first half was that Duke, once again, did a simply horrible job on the defensive boards. Time and time again, Wake had repeated attempts, and they were in close. If there were two Dukies in position and one Deac, the ball would go to the Gold. It was a godsend for the Deacs since they could not make an outside jumper to save their lives ... they shot only 10% from long, but their overall was 40% due to the offensive boards. Needless to say, Duke was in its man defense all that time. The two Duke bigs were being out-muscled, primarily by Doral Moore of Wake, and Wendell also showed again that he does not exactly have the quickest hands in the world.
The second half saw a tectonic shift. Gary and Grayson decided to miss everything they tossed up, so things were turned over to the bigs and they carried the team. The odd thing is that they performed not by making shots from the floor, but by scoring from the line. From the stripe, Marvin finished 8 for 11, and Wendell was 10 for 13. What a refreshing change that was.
Nevertheless, as we mentioned, Wake began to claw back after Duke built a 20 point second half margin. Wake (actually, Brandon Childress) began making outside jumpers and Ladies Potty Time for Duke began. Experienced Duke watchers (like ourselves) just had the absolutely clear sense that everything Duke put up from the outside was going to miss. The lead was quickly shaved to nine points with about eleven minutes remaining and the Wake fans were beside themselves.
Then two things happened to stabilize things. First, Duke finally went zone. Of course, this is exactly the same pattern that we see almost all the time with K ... a switch to zone with about ten minutes left and a marked overall improvement as a result. As we wondered in our Miami game report, is this just some diabolical strategy by K, or is he really the most myopic individual on the face of the Earth? Hell, even TV basketball analysts, the least perceptive individuals in the world, seem to be noting that the zone is a good defense for this team. And as we have previously remarked, Duke actually rebounds the defensive glass much better out of the zone -- we saw that again versus Wake.
The other thing? Well, it was getting Trevon to the pine. We have commented on the ineffectiveness of Trevon at point. It was carried to a new level here, but manifested itself by a nightmarish level of offensive futility. Zero for everything ... 0 for 8 from the floor and 0 for 2 from the line. It was horrible. Wake began making shots and Trevon would take it down to the other end and miss, usually from very close in. Poor Poindexter was nearly at the point of throwing a shoe at the flat screen, screaming "Get Him Out!" K finally did just that, but about five minutes too late. Alex was inserted for Trevon at about the ten minute mark and played the remainder of the game. It was much, much better. Since Grayson is not shooting well anyway, we might as well play him at the point.
Trevon came into the season as the top ranked high school point guard in the country. Of course, we have no respect for those awarding such rankings (based upon long past experience), and we were not exactly wowed by what we saw of him in last year's all-star exhibitions. Nevertheless, we were hoping for the best. It is what it is, though we can't help but imagine how much better this squad would be if a kid named Trae was starting at point. Yes, K is unparalleled at corralling the most highly ranked kids ... we just wish that he would be unparalleled at getting the BEST players. Oh well, we will keep hoping that the seas part and Trevon suddenly transforms ... he does have the innate physical ability. At least, he is largely refraining from stupidly reaching for the ball after he misses a shot. We have to be thankful for little things.
On an individual basis, just some brief observations. Wendell was probably the best overall with 23 points and 12 boards. One reason for the stats was that he was able to get 34 minutes -- he is now beginning finally to stay out of foul trouble. That is big.
Once again, Marvin shot poorly, hitting only four from the floor. That is becoming a bit of a syndrome. He still picked up another double - double, however. We do really hate to see Marvin taking those treys though. This time it was 0 for 3 from long. Yes, he will occasionally make, but it is not at all a percentage shot ... and unless time is running out, nobody should be taking low percentage shots. But that requires some personal and coaching discipline.
We already discussed Gary and Grayson, both of whom started strong and finished poorly. At least they made nearly all of their free throws. And Alex was 3 for 3 from the floor. He just needs to be taking more shots.
Jordan appropriately saw only a couple of minutes in garbage time. Javin, on the other hand got 12 minutes and it was more of the same -- all wildness and little productivity. He managed to pick up five fouls in that short period. We really think that Duke would be better advised using more of Jack White, who is a smarter player overall.
The good points? As mentioned, Duke shot better from the line. They were at about 77% overall, and that will be crucial going forward as the real competitive portion of the ACC schedule looms. Duke has had a very easy early lineup, though it has managed to drop two of those nevertheless. We just wished that we could be optimistic that this free throw shooting prowess would continue.
The other positive was that Duke did not continue to routinely make errant passes. While they did finish with 11 turnovers, it was an improvement. Of course, Wake is not exactly West Virginia on the defensive end.
Now the real testing begins. Virginia on Saturday afternoon. It will be at home, but will still give us some real insight about this squad.
Duke 81, Pittsburgh 54 (January 20, 2018). We have to begin by strongly reiterating what we emphasized after the last Pitt game -- viz., one simply cannot extrapolate from this (non-)contest. Pitt is the doormat of the ACC this season. A win by 30 here means nothing when Duke actually faces a competitive opponent. We have seen that over and over again. So why even bother commenting about this one? Well, we have a half-hour until the next Seinfeld, so what the heck.
There really were two top performers for the Devils today. Amazingly, Gary continued his torrid shooting, going 5 for 7 from long. If this continues, we will have to say at least 100 Hail Mary's. After three consecutive excellent shooting outings, he is now well over 40% for the season. We didn't see this coming. He will undoubtedly cool off, but if he can maintain a relative level of consistency hereafter, we will be ecstatic. And Lord knows, Duke needs his hot hand, though perhaps not against the lowly Panthers.
Kudos also to Wendell for a wonderfully efficient offensive performance. Nine of ten from the floor and a team leading 21 points. The one downside was the three turnovers, a continuing problem. Still, he made some very nice offensive moves, and added three blocks on the other end. And he even limited the fouls (only one). Good job, big guy.
Marvin added twenty points himself. They included a trey and a couple of really nice driving shots. He even made 7 of 10 from the charity line. The shots that Marvin has been consistently missing of late -- the turn-around flips -- still continue to be a problem, however. Again, not a dominant performance, but solid enough.
Then things drop off. Grayson did make four treys, though it was from 10 attempts. Respectable, but not the kind of dramatic bounce-back that we keep hoping for. His shooting struggles have even translated to the line -- he was just 2 of 4 from the stripe. Right now, we certainly can't call Grayson a major offensive weapon for the team. If that were to change, and we pray that it does, it would raise the team to another level.
As for Trevon, he hit his first trey attempt (amazingly, we think that was four in a row over three games), but scored only one other basket. He also had four turnovers. We said in our last report that Trevon is simply not a good passer and, therefore, a less than effective point guard. We are pleased to note that he did make one driving dish for a Duke score, but offset that with some terrible passes. We wish that we could be optimistic for a blossoming this season ... it's hard to win a national championship without a good point.
As Gary struggled in the past, we had been calling for more PT for Alex. Well, Alex did get 14 minutes, but did little with them in this game. He probably had his poorest offensive performance, going 0 for 4 from the floor. It happens, but Alex has to make the absolute most of his minutes to garner the PT we think he deserves. We still love his upside.
Javin returned from injury, and was the first sub in. As we have pointed out, Javin is all about court energy rather than any skills. Unfortunately, the energy really translated mostly into fouls -- he had 4 in 10 minutes. The key is \\controlled energy, and control is something one does not often see from Javin.
Jack White got 9 minutes, and picked up a nice board almost immediately. He finished with 4 for the day. We continue to be struck by the fact that he refuses to even look for a shot. He sees his role as strictly defense and rebounding. While we love a player who knows his limitations, we are not sure at all that Jack is not selling himself short.
And Vrank was Vrank; Jordan was Jordan. Enough said there.
While the win was lopsided, some of the danger signals continue to raise their unattractive heads. Duke was just 11 for 17 as a team from the free throw line. And despite feasting off Pitt turnovers in the first half, Duke finished with as many (15). That is awful. We said this is not a good passing team, and we stand behind it.
As for defense, it was a no-brainer (an apt description indeed) that Duke would be strictly in man against the hapless Panthers. Yes, Pitt was held to 54, but a bunch of those were off drives. K can't help himself.
Oh, by the way, is anyone out there as sick of the flagrant foul rule as we are? Grayson was the beneficiary of one such call in the first half. We suppose we shouldn't complain, but honesty is our collective middle name. We hated the call, and we hate the rule in general.
Duke 83, Miami 75 (January 15, 2018). The pattern is becoming all too familiar. Duke struggles mightily and, with the jaws of defeat looming large, finally switches to zone with miraculous results. With Capel at the helm, it happened midway through the first half. With El Greco!, it did not occur until midway through the second.
This one was beginning to look like a certain loss. Yes, Duke managed a narrow two point lead at the break, but that was only due to a desperation uncalled three point banker by Trent. But in the first part of the second half, things went to hell in a hand basket. Duke continued turning the ball over ad nauseum and went almost eight minutes with goose eggs. Miami, on the other hand, was able to build a thirteen point lead through a combination of made jumpers, driving scores, and offensive put-backs. Duke was, as always, not blocking out at all, and Miami had thirteen offensive boards for the evening to Duke's eight.
Then Duke went zone, and everything changed. Miami stopped scoring and Duke began collecting all the defensive rebounds. Notwithstanding the tired recitation that zones inhibit effective rebounding, Duke has shown time and time again that they actually rebound better in that defense.
The question, therefore, is why is this long pattern allowed to continue. A few possibilities exist. One is that The Most Illustrious Coach, El Greco!, is simply playing the master puppeteer, allowing his opponents to build up a supreme level of confidence before pulling the carpet out at the end and not leaving those opponents time to recover. Another possibility is simply a variation of that theme -- viz., that K derives a sardonic pleasure in taunting and finally torturing his enemies ... dangling the red meat until their heads are in the guillotine. The final possibility is less attractive -- it is simply a mixture of stupidity and intransigence. So ... Machiavellian Strategist ... Sadist ... Nitwit .... you be the judge.
Now, we must point out that it was not the zone by itself that turned things around for Duke. No, our favorite Whipping Boy (and K's Boy Toy of the year), Gary Trent, had his second consecutive great shooting night. Most of those were on good looks, but they were not quite as wide open as they were against Wake. And the final dagger was a long jumper from the top of the key that was not just his normal catch and shoot. He actually created the shot. The bottom line is that Gary was to Duke's offense what its zone was on the defensive end. He finished 6 for 9 from long (in fairness, it really should be viewed as 5 for 8 since that banker before the break was a total fluke), and those shots made the difference in the second half because the rest of the team was unable to score. Hats off to Gary.
Grayson is a different matter. His offensive performance continues to be woeful. This time it was 2 for 9 overall and just 1 for 6 from long. And notwithstanding Vitale's ignorant announcement that it is a two-game slide, the fact is that he has generally been quite dreadful since his Michigan State outburst. Of course, he contributes in other ways through his hard-nosed play. Against Miami, that manifested itself via five steals. But on the other hand, he also made a bunch of poor plays, resulting in three turnovers. He is anything but a top player at this point.
Marvin had a relatively poor outing a la his performance against Pitt. He was routinely missing shots and, when fouled, blowing opportunities at the stripe. He missed four consecutive free throws in the second half. The positive, once again, was the twelve boards, eleven of which were on the defensive end. Those were quite beneficial down the stretch.
Wendell started very strong. He must have had the first seven boards for Duke in the game. Midway through the first half, he had ten rebounds and it looked as if he would be setting a team record. However, that soon slacked off and he finished with fourteen, still enough to lead the team. He also had 15 points and was able to minimize the fouls, thereby increasing his PT. Certainly one of his best showings.
The final starter, as always, was Trevon. Again, it was a very mixed bag. We always take care to celebrate his athleticism. But sheer athleticism does not make a great point guard. And the unfortunate truth is that Trevon is simply not a top point guard at this point. Yes, he does have a bunch of assists, but with Duke's front court, virtually any point in the country would also. The problems are several. First, Trevon makes an inordinate amount of very poor passes (resulting in five turnovers against Miami). Second, he is often out of control, trying to force the action without an opening. And third, he does not really play like a point -- when is the last time you actually saw him drive and dish? Now, the positive against Miami is that he actually made his only two trey attempts, though it was a bit of a zero sum game since he went just 1 for 4 from the line.
Alex played but nine minutes and the only stat was one board. It is what it is with K. Of course, in this case his time should not have come at the expense of Gary; instead, it would probably have been advisable to give Grayson more bench time (he played 38 minutes).
So Duke came from behind and won. All is right with the world, you think? Before you nod, let's look at the real danger signs:
1. Duke turned the ball over an incredible 19 times. That is just awful. The fact is that this is just not a very good passing team, and it showed against Miami big time.
2. With Alex mired on the bench, Duke has two legitimate three point shooters ... and you can forget the occasional successes of Messrs. Duval and Carter. The problem is that Allen and Trent are rarely hitting on the same nights, so the team usually has but one outside threat on the court at one time.
3. Duke has major free throw issues. Against Miami, they were just 10 for 21 overall. They are lucky indeed it did not kill them.
4. With K's refusal to make the zone his primary defense, the team often gives up too much on the defensive end.
A win for Duke in Miami is certainly something to celebrate. But given Duke's erratic play, the win should not induce any blithe confidence.
Duke 89, Wake Forest 71 (January 13, 2018). This was a nice win. Not dazzling, but very nice. We certainly do not wish El Greco! ill, but we were interested to see how Capel would coach the squad in K's absence.
The early returns were not favorable. Duke started exclusively in man defense and Alex did not see any action for the first ten and one-half minutes. Both are terrible mistakes, and Duke did struggle over this period. But at the halfway point of the opening half, Mr. Capel finally wised up ... Alex came in and Duke went zone. Once again, the zone completely turned things around. Wake stopped scoring and the Devils, who had (as usual) not been blocking anyone off the boards in their man defense, began to control the glass. What had essentially been a tie game quickly mushroomed to a 15 point Duke lead. The team never looked back.
Alex was outstanding during that first half stint, and he never left the court until the halftime break. He scored around 12 points in that stretch. He continues to convince us that he may be the second most talented player on the squad, combining great quickness and skill. He even has great lateral movement on the defensive end. Will the Duke staff ever realize that the kid should be getting 20 minutes a game? Probably not.
Marvin was Marvin. Thirty points and eleven boards. He even made 7 for 8 from the line, a far cry indeed from his struggles the prior game. The downside is his lack of success trying to score going to his right in the lane and, in general, his penchant to force shots. When Marvin starts his move, he NEVER looks to pass. All opposing teams should immediately double him at that point. It is unfortunate selfish play, but we just have to live with it.
Wendell had a more productive outing with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Good stats, but he continues to make a lot of mistakes. He had 5 turnovers and, once again, fouled out. He also had zero assists -- like Marvin, once the ball goes to the floor, passing to a teammate is virtually out of the question.
Our favorite whipping boy, Gary Trent, had one of his very best outings. Nineteen points on 6 for 7 shooting from long range. Pretty amazing, right? Well, yes, but we do need to point out that on virtually every one of those shots, he was not only open, he was WIDE open ... there wasn't a defender within 10 feet. It was really quite amazing, almost as if Danny Manning had told his kids not to worry guarding Gary on the outside. It was like taking candy from a baby, and Gary feasted.
Trevon had a relatively low scoring game (8 points), but he did make his only three point attempt. And he also limited his turnovers -- just one to six assists. Still, he was never a significant force in the game. In fact, when Duke went on its extended run over the latter part of the first half, Trevon was ensconced on the pine. He just has not, on the whole, been an impact player for this team.
And that brings us to Grayson. His absolutely terrible shooting continues. This time it was 0 for 5 from the field. He scored all of two points in 37 minutes of play. He continues to be the best passer on the squad and also rebounds, but the lack of offense is a real problem. Against Miami, a nonexistent Grayson Allen could be fatal. We will, in due course, offer some thoughts in our Asides section.
Finally, kudos again to Jack White, who played seven minutes. No scoring once again, but really tough defense. He is a smart and aggressive player, and Duke does not suffer when he is on the court.
Duke 87, Pittsburgh 52 (January 10, 2018). The almost unprecedented occurred: Duke vaulted right out of the gate to a substantial lead. They were, of course, in their man defense, but it was tenacious and unusually effective. Pitt, on the other hand, was totally out of sync. It was so bad that Duke was able to build a 43 to 13 spread with a few minutes to go in the half.
At that point, however, Pitt decided to start playing basketball, and they were able to dominate the offensive boards (no Duke block-outs) and cut that Duke lead at the half. The come-back continued for the first seven and one-half minutes of the second half -- despite their starters being in the game, Duke went into a patented funk, scoring just eight points in that time. Nothing they did was right, and Pitt was able to rack up points off drives. Finally, K saw fit to go zone, and that immediately righted the ship. Pitt stopped scoring and the lead was back to thirty.
So, how many of you believe that this lopsided win is a sign of things to come? All of you raising your hands have just failed the course. The fact is that the Pitt Panthers are simply a terrible basketball squad, the doormats of the ACC. They are now 0 for 4 in league play, and they have also lost to such powers as Navy and Montana. They even have a 31 point loss to Penn State. This victory simply does not translate at all.
Are there any positives to be drawn? The one that springs immediately to mind is the continuing productive play of Justin Robinson. With Bolden and DeLaurier both out, Justin got in for 18 minutes and made the best of them. He does not have the ability to create shots, but he showed that he can hit open jumpers ... three treys in this one. He also had three blocks. Very solid. Another positive was the three treys by, off all people, Trevon (yes, Virginia, that is not a misprint). But we will not delude ourselves into imagining that as a real harbinger. Finally, Jack White played a very effective court game. We had liked him from day one, and believed he deserved PT. He even seemed last year to have a nice outside shot, though it unfortunately appears that he will now eschew every shooting opportunity.
The negatives? Well, Grayson continues to miss jumpers. He was just 4 for 12 overall and 2 for 9 from long. That is a real problem. And Vrank made it all too clear that he is really not effective on either hand of the court. A big body is not enough without any quickness.
Marvin, by his lofty standards, actually had a very poor outing. Yes, he had 15 boards and that is great, but after the opening minutes he was either missing shots or turning the ball over on offense. Even more significantly, he was back to missing free throws. He was 2 for 8 from the line, and that is terrible. Indeed, it set a pattern for the team -- the squad was just 7 for 18 from the line (39%). That will lose a lot of games.
The kid who had the most PT was K's new crush, Mr. Trent. Actually, his offensive line was better than usual -- 6 for 10 from the floor and 2 for 5 from three. However, most of those came in a late spurt with the game over. When Gary begins nailing jumpers with the game on the line, we will revise our unfavorable assessment. And poor Alex got only 15 minutes in the blow-out. He went 3 for 3 from the floor and 2 for 2 from long. If there had been any doubt, it should be absolutely clear that he is the team's most accurate shooter.
One other thought. We have in the past cited the almost bizarre way that officials whistle fouls. Virtually every touch off the drive is called, whereas blatant over-the-back contact is usually ignored. That was glaringly on display in this game when Alex was in position for a rebound, and a Pitt player came charging into his back, sending him sprawling to the ground. No call. We would try to analyze the psychology of officials, but that would assume they are sentient creatures ... no doubt unwarranted.
Anyway, it's Wake on Saturday and, even more significantly, Miami on Monday. That's where a lopsided win will actually mean something.
N.C. State 96, Duke 85 (January 6, 2018). Same old story. Same old Duke. This time it was against a squad that had just lost by 30 to a depleted Notre Dame team. How much longer can we endure this monument to underachievement?
Actually, things started somewhat promising. Yes, State jumped out to a narrow early lead (what else is new?), but Duke responded by grabbing a number of offensive boards to keep up. The bad news is that lasted all of about three minutes. Thereafter, State began blocking out beautifully and it was largely one and done. On the other end, however, there was absolutely no blocking out (what a surprise), and the Pack got second attempts repeatedly. We will say that the officials made it considerably easier for State (Nestor's crew) by never calling an over-the-back against State despite constant and egregious violations. Nevertheless, the comparative efforts between the two teams were dramatically different -- State seemed to want to win, whereas Duke played without any intensity.
The lack of any real defense by Duke is now a theme that has been picked up by everyone. We would note that we have been pointing it out for years, but we so hate to pat ourselves on the back. Anyway, the deficiencies were raised to a new level this evening ... if that were even possible. State, until the end of the contest, was not really making outside jumpers. They didn't have to. They were simply feasting inside. It was an embarrassment. If there is a poorer man defense in the country, we hope never to see it. We have been going on and on about the need to switch to a zone ... Duke did use it off and on in the first half, but it was all-man in the second and all disaster.
Now we'll hold our noses and mention individual performances. There was one outstanding player for the Devils. Bagley, as usual. In fact, he was making shots that even he normally does not. He scored 31 points, all relatively close to the basket, but most were heavily contested. We're not sure how some of those went through. Suffice it to say that without Marvin's herculean efforts, this would have been an absolute rout.
And then there's the rest. Grayson once again performed his amazing vanishing act. He played 39 minutes and scored all of 8 points (3 for 9 overall and 1 for 4 from three). Is there a more offensively erratic player in the country that Grayson?
Much is made of the talents of Wendell Carter. There is just one problem, however ... all too often, Mr. Carter plays with a complete lack of intensity. That was blindingly apparent in this one, where Wendell invariably allowed himself to be easily blocked off the boards on offense and repeatedly lost rebounds on the other end. He finished with but 6 boards in 29 minutes. It was so bad that even K saw fit to remove him and insert Vrank for a while down the stretch. Unfortunately, that's somewhat like replacing Adam Sandler with Carrot Top.
Then we come to Trevon. We all know that the kid had great athletic ability. We also know that he has absolutely no jumper. Yes, he made a three in this one, but when defenses are playing ten yards off, even Aunt Myrtle will occasionally stick one. What is rarely mentioned, though, is how Trevon plays with so little intelligence. It was bad pass after bad pass against State, and too many out-of-control situations. He finished this one with a shocking 8 turnovers, and it could easily have been more. Indeed, he always seemed about a hair away from turning it over. As we have repeatedly said, a point guard has to play smart to be effective. Trevon doesn't and he isn't. Yes, there are minutes here and there of brilliance, but fleeting glimpses don't cut it.
The fifth starter, as always, was Gary. We have made no secret of our dim view of Mr. Trent. He has had a few good games, but those are not the norm. K makes a habit of finding the most overrated high school players, and we are proud to announce that he has not lost his touch. In this game, Gary was 4 for 14 overall and 1 for 5 from long. That's all too typical. And once again, he could not drop the ball in the basket down the stretch. The one good thing is that he is the best free throw shooter on the team, but that's just not good enough.
We have long decried the lack of PT given Alex. We believe he has a great deal more talent and higher upside than Gary. Well, Alex got in fairly early. Unfortunately, after allowing a nice driving score by State (though not poorly defended) and making a pass that was deflected out of bounds, Alex was unceremoniously yanked. That is vintage K. If you are not one of the Highly Favored, one mistake and you are promptly gone. So Alex played all of a minute and thereafter rode the bench until the game was out of reach. Sadly, they could have used his ability to hit jumpers .... Duke was just 3 for 15 for the night, and one of those (by Allen) was just a lucky desperation shot with time running out and the game over.
While all the national talk is about Duke's lack of D, equally significant is its lack of outside shooting. Yes, Allen is still over 40% for the season, but that is only the result of a number of games when he has had a real hot hand. It is anything but a testament to his consistency. As for Gary, he is just 35% from long and a terrible 37% overall. Hell, we could probably suit up and manage that. Alex, on the other hand, is 57% overall and 50% from three. While those are in limited minutes, we have to believe that he is a better marksman than Mr. Trent. Apparently, El Greco! does not see it.
After UNC's loss to Virginia, Roy Williams threw himself on the sword, acknowledging that he was largely to blame. We're not sure there is a sword large enough for K at this point. If there is a more poorly coached team extant right now, we have yet to see it.
Many out there might suspect that since we pull no punches, we actually relish throwing punches. Please do not believe that for a second. We would love nothing more that routine 40 point victories and extolling remarkable play. But unless Duke is playing Little Sisters of the Poor, we just never seem to get that opportunity.
Duke 100, Florida State 93 (December 30, 2017). For a while, it looked like Boston College redux. Like BC, the Seminoles simply went on fire from long range, and their torrid shooting lasted for most of the contest. Florida State finished 15 for 32 from three, almost 47%. It is a miracle Duke won this one, particularly given Duke's deficiencies from both the free throw and three point lines. The Devils were 14 of 25 from the charity stripe (56%) and 8 for 30 from long (about 27%). Those stats are simply unacceptable, and the latter is just a further manifestation of Duke's major deficiency. It they continue to shoot this way in ACC play, it's going to be a long and painful season.
We would normally offer a lament about Duke's defensive woes, but we have decided to deal with that separately on our Asides page. The reader is urged to click there. Suffice it to say that we believe this performance may be Exhibit A for the regular use of the zone. We have long been waving that banner, and are gratified to see that other commentators are picking up the refrain.
Sadly, it was a typically officiated ACC contest. The result was that four of Duke's five starters had picked up four fouls with a few minutes left. Things were very tense indeed, but Florida State finally missed a few shots down the stretch and that was enough to allow the Devils to squeak by.
If there were any doubts about the prodigious talents of Mr. Bagley, this game would forever dispel them. He was unbelievable. Yes, he had another poor night at the line (5 for 11) and he took two ill-advised shots from almost 30 feet. But when you score 32 points and grab 21 boards, all is forgiven. His quickness and athleticism were on full display throughout. It was just beautiful to watch.. But for his late signing, Duke would not be the national title contender that it is.
Wendell also put up some nice stats, particularly on the glass. He finished with 16 rebounds, helping to propel Duke to a remarkable 53 to 35 edge on the boards. We are not used to seeing that from Duke, particularly when playing against an opponent like Florida State. Wendell also recorded four blocks and picked up 14 points on 6 for 11 shooting. The negative was that those offensive stats were a bit misleading -- other than stuffs, Wendell seemed out-of-sync offensively. He also had a horrible night at the line, going just 2 for 6.
Grayson finished with 22 points, and looked like an All-American at the start of the contest. The second half was much more of a struggle,and Grayson finished just 8 of 19 overall and 3 for 10 from long. Absent Marvin's heroics, that could have been deadly. And as is so often the case, nobody else took up the slack. Gary started well enough, but soon hit the wall. After the break, he was simply horrendous on the offensive end. His final shooting stats ... 2 for 9 from long and 4 for 16 overall. Absolutely execrable. He had no business whatsoever being in the game down the stretch since it was crystal clear that he was going to miss everything he tossed up. Well, crystal clear except to El Greco!
We suspected that K would keep Alex on the bench for fear of his not being able to match up physically with Florida State. And that's exactly what largely happened -- Alex did not make his first appearance until there were just a few seconds left in the first half. However, he did get in the game in the second half and actually looked good, making one of two trey attempts. Duke would have been far better served had he gotten more of Gary's time.
Javin did return from his minor injury, but was largely ineffective. Much was made of an article during the week that advocated increased minutes for Javin as a defensive stop. Well, we can only suppose that the author looks only at one end of the court. It was again all too apparent that Duke suffers on the offensive end when Javin is one the court. If Grayson and Gary are both tossing bricks, Duke cannot afford another brick layer in the lineup.
And that brings us to Trevon. Much will be made of his heroics over the last few minutes of the game. He was indeed outstanding during that period, scoring from both inside and out and making a gorgeous dish for a score. The problem was that he did not exactly shine over the first 35 minutes of the game. During that period, we again saw the really stupid fouls and the out-of-control drive. Will the real Trevon Duval please stand up? Those final few minutes are not enough to assuage our fears.
OK, the good news is that Duke managed to beat a solid team that shot almost 50% from long range, despite shooting miserably itself. That is good news, and is a glowing testament to Marvin Bagley in particular. The bad news is that Duke's problems continue to linger, and we don't see K making the needed adjustments. We can only hope for the best.
Duke 104, Evansville 40 (December 20, 2017). From famine to feast ... such is the way of Duke Basketball. This time Duke beat up on a mid-major missing its two best players. The Devils should be ashamed of themselves.
Over the past week, much has been made of Duke's defensive woes. But that is nothing new ... Duke's defense has been dreadful for years (though we always have to asterisk the end of the last championship season, when things really did come together). Anyway, Duke has reportedly been working feverishly on the problem, and their defense against the Aces was markedly better. However, as we have learned repeatedly over the years, THERE ARE NO LESSONS TO BE GLEANED FROM A GAME LIKE THIS. (Notice the emphasis) Whether the Devils will have similar success against a squad with real quickness and skill is highly debatable. We liked what we saw against Evansville, but we remain partial to a zone for several reasons. But that ain't about to happen at Duke.
While defensive deficiency has been getting all the press, Duke's periodic struggles this season also trace partially to offense. The fact is that for most of the year, there has only been one player on the court at a time that has been able to nail an outside jumper. We know that Trevon can't shoot, the playing time of Alex is more limited, and Marvin and Wendell are not NORMALLY long-range threats ... so that leaves only Grayson and Gary. And it seemed that if Grayson was on, Gary was off (and vice versa). That's why the St. Francis game was so exhilarating -- all guns were blazing. Well, ditto for this one ... the squad shot a dazzling 16 for 26 from long. Trent was 3 for 3 and Allen 4 for 5. Amazing. Of course, against Evansville they were feeling no pressure.
Actually, the big scorer was Mr. Carter, who emerged from his long hibernation with a 27 point outing. And that included 4 treys. What's more, it was all in just 18 minutes of PT. Yikes. The Aces were playing way off him defensively (and we are literally talking ten feet), and he took full advantage. It was like stealing candy from a baby. Poor Wendell is going to miss his friends in purple.
In this blow-out, there really is no criticism to be leveled. Hell, even Jordan Goldwire looked good. Javin missed the game due to injury, so Justin not only got into the game, he got an amazing 13 minutes! He had a bit of trouble at times corralling the ball underneath, but redeemed himself by making a couple of treys. We always thought he would be getting a lot of time at a smaller school, and have wondered why he chose Duke.
Because we had been so critical of Gary a few games ago, we want to go out of our way to praise him when deserving.. For the third game in a row, he played well ... taking good shots and making them. The only downside is the goose egg in board work, but Duke did not need any assistance in that regard against the hapless Aces. Alas, Gary's minutes will normally come at the expense of court time for Alex. And while Alex can still be rough around the edges (particularly in the passing department), his overall talent and upside is, we believe, far in excess of Gary's. It was good to see him get 21 minutes against Evansville.
One final note. Our readers know how little we value the efforts of referees. Well, we must therefore applaud this crew. Blessedly, they let the kids go at it, whistling fouls only 27 times for both teams in combination. We usually get that in just one half from most ACC officials. How refreshing. Now, if we could only do something about the wildly excessive time-outs, basketball might once again be a pleasure to watch. But since everything is all about TV money, that's not about to change.
Boston College 89, Duke 84 (December 9, 2017). So much for flights of fancy. The inevitable occurred today ... Duke, which had miraculously survived doom on multiple occasions this season, finally ran out of useful lives. Of course, it took some absolutely brilliant play by BC to mount this spectacular upset.
We don't think we have ever seen a team so collectively on fire for a half as was BC in the opening twenty. It was staggering. They shot around 57 for that half overall, but were nearly 70% from long. Eleven for sixteen, and one of the misses was in and out and another was a desperation at the halftime buzzer (that almost went in). Just unconscious. While, as expected, they cooled a bit after the break, they still made all the big shots. Their final tally was just over 50% from the floor and almost 57% from three. When combined with the fact they held their own on the boards, they were going to be very hard to beat.
The problem is that Duke did not do nearly enough on their end to even things up. The Devils were a simply horrendous 8 for 30 from long. Gary Trent, who is now well on his rehabilitation path with us, was the only positive, going 6 of 13 from beyond the arc. The rest were collectively 2 of 17. Grayson, who played a very tough floor game, was hopeless offensively, shooting 5 for 20 overall and 1 for 9 from long. The most consistent thing about Grayson is his wildly erratic offense -- and it truly pains us to say that because we do love the kid. And Marvin still wants to convince us (and himself) that he's an outside threat, though his stats dictate otherwise. In this one, he was 1 for 4 from three. Trevon, who is hopeless from long, was 0 for 3. Defenses are loading up against Duke inside, and will continue to do so as Duke's shooting proves anemic.
But Duke's failings were more than just missed shots. While BC wound up with more turnovers, we were chagrined to watch once again as Trevon often ran out of control on the court. What's more, every time he turns the ball over, he tries to compensate by reaching in the back-court defensively. In doing so, he just doubles down on his mistake. Duke won it all with Tyus Jones as a freshman point. The difference is that Tyus did not play like a freshman. Trevon does. That does not portend well -- BC showed clearly how important good guard play is.
Wendell Carter just continues to underwhelm. Ten points and only six boards in 29 minutes. He is playing with little or no intensity, allowing himself to be boxed out of the action continually. He hardly looks like the dominant power forward he is supposed to be.
And then there's the other big problem ... the elephant in the room that we alone will discuss. Once again, Duke was sadly out-coached. BC was doing a beautiful job boxing opponents off the glass; the Devils, once again, were not. And Duke gave its normal allotment of easy penetrations for scores. We do not see that from most of its opponents. We have stated time and again that Duke wins because K recruits so effectively. Coaching is something else again.
So, anyway, congrats to the Eagles. They squeezed every drop of ability from their squad. They truly deserved the victory.
Duke 124, St. Francis 67 (December 5, 2017). Yes, finally. Finally the Blue Devils played an entire game like the No. 1 team in the country. The upshot was a 71 to 34 spread at the half, and a final margin of almost 60 ... and that despite the team emptying its bench around the 8 minute mark. It was a pleasure to behold. We had (correctly) noted in our last report how rare it is for this program to put together two strong halves. While there was a drop-off after the break to some extent, it was still a major step-up. We are most pleased, though we know from hard experience that we are just as likely to see them sputter next time out.
While St. Francis has some guys who can put the ball in the hoop, Duke was absolutely dominant underneath. St. Francis plays even smaller than it is, so it was like taking candy from a baby inside. Bagley had a tremendous line -- 9 of 13 from the floor, 11 boards, and no turnovers. He even made 2 of 3 from long. Everything was clicking. And Grayson had a perfect offensive line, shooting 5 of 5. He added 6 assists as well.
We have been critical of the performance of Gary Trent. To show us up, he came out and hit his first two trey attempts, finishing 4 of 6 from long. So are we prepared to offer mea culpas? Well, not quite .... we'll wait until Gary begins shooting at least 40% on average over the course of an extended period. If and when that happens, we'll be delighted to revise our assessment. We hope it happens -- we have a taste for crow.
After a terrible outing, Marques really turned things around. He was finishing on the inside, and grabbing every rebound within reach. Seventeen points and ten boards. It was great to see.
Trevon did not have a good offensive outing, but he did pick up an amazing 11 assists. Of course, those were mostly feeds inside for relatively easy scores. The one thing that still bothers us was that periodic foray into sloppiness. We saw that with two consecutive bad turnovers early in the second half, followed by a terrible defensive reach in the back-court. He was also whistled for a bad reach in the first half. Playing smart is so important to us, and that is why we are so discouraged to see play like that. Nevertheless, it was a minor blip in an otherwise lovely evening.
Other downsides? Duke once again had more turnovers than its opponents, 13 to 7 this time. Its man defense also continues to allow repeated penetration. Despite success with the zone, K just can't bring himself to work on it. He is what he is.
Oh yes, lest we forget, we celebrate the resurrection of Jordan Tucker. We had put out an APB on the kid in our last report and, lo and behold, he suddenly reappears. Eight minutes and 2 for 3 from the floor. It was nice to see.
It will be most interesting to see which team answers the bell this Saturday. We are not used to consecutive dominant performances, so we are tamping expectations. But after an outing like this, it is hard to avoid flights of fancy.
Duke 96, South Dakota 80 (December 2, 2017). Once again, the tale of two teams. For the first 15 minutes of this game, Duke looked ... finally looked ... like the best team in the country. Actually, it was mostly Grayson's doing, but more on him later. During those opening minutes, we were absolutely exhilarated. Duke was out to an enormous lead (which would reach 26 at the break) and things were clicking on all cylinders. It just shows how quickly we (yes, even we) forget the hard lessons of the past.
Anyone with a long history of watching Duke basketball should know that this program is simply incapable of putting two excellent halves back to back. And so it was against lowly South Dakota. The Devils went from looking like the country's best to looking like the very worst, all in the blink of an eye. It was truly horrendous, with Duke turning the ball over virtually every time down. And let us assure you that it had nothing to do with any miserly defense on the part of South Dakota; no, these wounds were entirely self-inflicted. Duke finished the game with 19 turnovers, and it seemed like even more at the time. Unconscionable.
There were only two commendable performances. First and foremost, Grayson was magnificent out of the gate. He was hitting from the outside, as well as sinking those wonderful mid-range drive-and-stop shots. He could do no wrong. While he finished with 25 points, almost all of it was racked up in those magical initial minutes. After that, we saw once again the "incredible disappearing Grayson Allen trick". This is something we discussed in an earlier game report ... whenever Grayson has a big scoring start, it is almost as if he feels guilty and is somehow required to fade into the background. That is exactly what happened yet again against South Dakota. Grayson simply decided to stand still on the far periphery and let his teammates go for the points. Duke was in effect playing with four players on offense, with their best out of commission. It is a disaster, but one of the myriad of things that El Greco! seems oblivious to. Anyway, Grayson's move from dominance to utter passivity led to a very strange stat -- he finished with zero assists. On the other hand, he also had no turnovers.
The only other sound all-round performance was that of Marvin. He finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds in 28 minutes. He was 8 for 11 from the floor and added 3 blocks. Just another day at the office for the Third.
If you had asked after those first 15 minutes, we would also have lauded the play of Trevon. He was sinking all of those shots around the basket, and even nailed a three. But then he decided to join the Duke turnover parade. Indeed, he was the ringleader, finishing with four. Yes, there were 8 assists as well, but the turnovers are more significant. Above all, a point has to value the ball. Trevon didn't, looking instead like a talented but reckless playground hoopster. That is a real problem.
Perhaps we are shortchanging Javin by not including him in the list for commendation. It actually was a solid Javin effort. He was 5 for 6 from the floor, 3 of 4 from the line, and had 9 boards, all in 15 minutes. That really is strong. We suppose that we slight poor Javin only because we always do see his limitations, his lack of ball handling and shooting skills. We really should be celebrating his strengths instead.
Wendell continued to disappoint. It was just more of the same ... the kid is simply a foul magnet. it was two quick whistles once again out of the gate and a lot of time on the pine. Wendell was also routinely missing anything other than a stuff. Six points and 4 boards in 16 minutes. Not good.
As for Duke's other starter, Gary Trent, Jr., it was also more of the same. An excess of minutes and a deficit of performance. We have repeatedly noted our unfavorable assessment of him during last year's all-star contests, and the more we see, the more we are inclined to double down on that assessment. That's not to say, of course, that he has not done some good things, his free throw shooting being first and foremost. But it certainly appears that Gary is simply a practice floor shooter -- he looks great in warm-ups, but fails dismally when the game starts. For the season, Gary is now shooting .296 from long and just .348 overall. That is simply terrible. We have suspected all along that Alex is a more capable all-around performer, and we are now virtually convinced of that.
Speaking of Alex, he did get an unusually high 17 minutes of PT. But even he did not rise above the evening's disgrace, being charged with 3 turnovers. We continue to marvel, however, at the quickness and evident physical talents of this kid. The problem is that when he is in the contest with members of the first string, he is invariably ignored by his teammates -- every choice of a pass will go to another teammate rather than Alex. That is a tremendous mistake since Alex has that wonderful Graysonesque ability to drive and dish to others. It should be encouraged and developed by the coaching staff. Dream on.
Marques got a chance to extend his PT with Wendell on the bench. He did nothing to impress. In fact, it was a dismal performance on his part, finishing with just 4 points, 3 boards, and a whopping 6 turnovers in 17 minutes. We had been his major advocates last season, but we are now forced to reassess. Yes, Virginia, even we are fallible.
After sitting out of late, Mr. Goldwire was given some extended PT (14 minutes) due to Duke's early big lead. But once again, there was nothing to show. Two turnovers, one assist, and nothing from the floor on offense. We just can't imagine Jordan being a positive contributor this season.
And that brings us to the great lingering mystery. Forget Where's Waldo ... Where's Jordan? We refer of course to Jordan Tucker, a Four Star recruit Duke lured away from Syracuse. We liked the looks of the kid early on, but he was only inserted into the first game and has been MIA ever since. Perhaps there is some injury issue or academic problem that we are simply unaware of. We just can't imagine that it is a red-shirt. So what in the world is it?
Duke 91, Indiana 81 (November 29, 2017). Nothing is ever easy with these guys. Another brutal contest that this gritty group managed to pull out. The final was not even remotely indicative of the game itself. The fact is that Indiana wanted this one more. Despite being out-sized, Hoosier players were continually taking boards away from Duke. Of course, year in and year out, the one thing you can expect from a Duke team is that they will not block off the defensive glass.
We know how controversial our comments about El Greco! have been. Well, we will go full speed ahead. We spent a good portion of this game debating whether he is a fully sentient human being. Indiana is not going to light it up from outside. They were 5 for 21 from long in this one. Yet, Duke came out in its porous man defense, and stayed there for about twelve minutes ... as Indiana scored on penetration after penetration. Duke finally went zone, and it turned things around. Actually, it took a minute for several of the Devils to figure out where they were supposed to be in the zone, Mr. Bagley being the greatest offender as usual. Still, it finally began to work and Duke managed a narrow halftime lead.
Needless to say, K opened the second half as if he were completely oblivious to everything that had transpired before. It was all man all the time. The result was a major back and forth struggle before Indiana finally ran out of gas with about four minutes left. Until then, it was anybody's game.
At this point, we do want to bring up an issue that we have discussed once or twice before, but always rankles. How often do you see these big, burly centers simply back forcefully into thinner defenders to get to the basket. This was the modus operandi of Indiana's De'Ron Davis against Duke. In any rational universe, it is a clear offensive foul. But it is never called unless the defensive player decides to flop. Just outrageous. Another reason why we have no respect for officials.
Anyway, even though Marvin was the point leader for Duke once again, we have to hand our player of the game award to Grayson. We thought he was terrific. Despite finishing just 2 of 6 from beyond the arc, he hit virtually everything else. And a lot of those were acrobatic attempts that he has been missing for weeks. He finished 7 for 12 overall, was 5 for 5 from the stripe, and got 4 assists. While every shot in a game like this was big, a few of Grayson's hoops were particularly opportune. We thought he was the difference in this one.
After coming off a poor Portland trip, we were pleased by Trevon's performance against the Hoosiers. While he continued to demonstrate he can't make outside jumpers, he had a number of excellent mid-range scores. He also picked up 6 assists. The one big goof was the three-on-one Duke break that he somehow blew ... he was just credited with a missed shot, but it was really a turnover. Still, he was strong overall. It was nice to see him step up again.
Playing just 24 minutes, Wendell managed to lead all rebounders with 12. He was also 7 for 9 from the floor. The downside were the 3 turnovers and 5 fouls. Wendell has an uncanny knack for accumulating fouls, many of which are away from the ball. Too bad, because it really impacts his ability to stay on the court and perform effectively. Of course, these refs made it all the more difficult by whistling virtually everything.
Marvin also had three turnovers, and he continued to take ill-advised outside shots (0 for 2 from long). Even so, he was again a major force down the stretch for Duke. Indiana had no answer. Marvin finished with 23 points and 10 boards, playing 38 minutes. He is quicker off the floor than anyone we can remember wearing Duke blue.
And that brings us to Gary Trent. He had a big steal late and, as always, made some key free throws down the stretch. He is clearly Duke's best free throw shooter. But what won't be discussed outside of this site is that for the initial 35 minutes of the contest, Gary was simply awful. He was 0 for 6 from long, and is now at just over 29% from three for the season. Absolutely horrible. Every time he launches we expect a miss. And yet he continues to rack up the PT ... 34 minutes against the Hoosiers despite his futility. Alex, who we are now virtually convinced is a better shot, got just 7 minutes. Winning is not always evidence of wisdom.
With Gary again unable to hit treys, Duke finished just 3 for 17 from long. This remains very ominous. If the lack of an outside game continues, we don't know how much longer Duke can continue to pull rabbits out of their hats. The good news is that the upcoming schedule should give them a bit of a breather.
Duke 87, Florida 84 (November 27, 2017). We don't even know where to begin. This is a Duke team that has been totally out-played for long stretches of this tournament, seemingly left for dead. But no opponent has been able to drive a stake through its heart. The comeback against Texas was remarkable. This one against Florida was nothing short of miraculous. Perhaps destiny is at work this year.
Florida jumped to an immediate 18 to 4 lead in the game. The Devils were missing every little chip shot, and Florida was on fire. However, about midway through that opening half, things suddenly changed. Duke went zone and, while not impressive, it discombobulated the Gators. Grayson and Gary then suddenly got hot and a large deficit quickly transformed to a seven point Duke lead. But Duke could not maintain, and Florida went on another run to lead at the half by four.
The second half was almost a mirror image, except for the late Florida spurt. Duke went down big, but with about seven minutes left, the Devils turned up the heat. Wendell, who had a nightmarish game overall, finally hit a couple, and Gary made a number of key foul shots down the stretch. Near the close, Duke was up three and had the ball, but could not even get off a shot before the shot clock expired. Blessedly, the Gators also struggled getting a shot on the other end, and Duke managed to hang on to the win. Whew.
For much of the game, Florida looked like the clearly better squad. They were playing tough D, making shots, and, despite their height disadvantage, getting offensive boards through sheer hustle (and poor block-outs by Duke). We are pleased to note, however, that the usual porous Duke man defense did pick up considerably down the stretch, and that contributed to Duke's run.
Another key to Duke's victory was, of all things, free throw shooting. Duke, usually dreadful, was a remarkable 19 for 20 at the line. That's right, folks, no misprint. Marvin, who has been long on his shot all year, is finally gaining control. He was 9 for 10. If Duke shoots as it normally does at the stripe, they are toast.
In terms of offensive production, it was all Marvin. Thirty points and fifteen boards. Even so, he missed a ton of shots within a few feet. He starts making those routinely and he's off the charts. He's close as it is, and it's all that freakish athleticism and height.
We have not been overwhelmed by Gary's play for some time, but he was much better this evening. Second on the squad with 15 points, he was 3 for 5 from long. And as we mentioned, those crucial free throws were golden. He is the most dependable foul shooter on this team. Duke clearly wants the ball in his hands at game's end.
Grayson had another mixed performance. He did hit a couple of big treys to help spur both Duke rallies. He also had 7 assists. But he missed almost all his driving shots, and was taken out of the offense for much of the contest by Florida's D.
After a terrible outing against Texas, Trevon doubled down against Florida. While the final stats do not quite show what actually happened, Trevon was struggling mightily once again. We thought he was thoroughly outplayed by opposing point Chris Chiozza. Trevon was credited with 6 assists, but he made some poor turnovers and was just 3 for 10 from the floor. Very disappointing.
Speaking of stats, we expected to see that Florida had out-shot Duke from long. But in fact, Duke finished slightly better at 43% to 40%. Duke also finished with a better overall field goal percentage and more boards. We suppose that makes sense given the victory, but it sure did not feel that way as we were watching the game.
And so the roller coaster ride continues. Watching this team is fun, but it does require a strong seat belt.
Duke 85, Texas 78 (November 24, 2017). This was two completely different games rolled into one. The first was the longest, extending over the the first 30 minutes of PT. For Duke fans, it seemed even longer. During that period, the Devils were physically dominated by the Longhorns. Duke was getting one shot and no offensive boards; on the other end, Texas was routinely able to penetrate and score. We noted at the close of our Portland State review that Duke would have to start hitting jumpers or its game against Texas would be a slug-fest. Well, Duke was, yet again, ice cold from outside, and it was indeed a slug-fest. Duke was losing the battle big time.
We knew going in that Texas had no outside game itself. That was certainly manifest during the first half of play, yet Texas still managed to roll to a 12 point halftime spread. Duke just continued to demonstrate how dreadfully bad its defense is. And Duke's bigs looked like boys against the front line of Texas.
Nothing much really changed during the first ten minutes of the second stanza. Yes, Duke made a brief run to get within seven, but consecutive missed jumpers by Allen and Trent allowed Texas to regain the momentum. With over 30 minutes of the game in the books, it looked as if that undefeated season vision was just a pipe dream.
Then a miracle occurred. Duke finally made a sustained run, led primarily by Grayson. He hit a big three and made several incredible dishes inside for scores. Duke was suddenly energized, and Texas cooperated by missing time and time again. When the dust cleared, the game was tied and up for grabs. The deciding factor was really the foul situation. Yes, Grayson fouled out for Duke, but the loss of both Bamba and Sims was critical for Texas. They were suddenly at a disastrous size disadvantage. Duke continued to stumble more than it should have under the circumstances, but some key charity stripe misses by Texas down the stretch sealed their fate.
Actually, free throw shooting came very close to handing Texas the victory. Duke left 14 points at the line, finishing just 22 for 36. The only saving grace was that Bagley and Trent both were making shots down the stretch. In fact, Marvin had his best game at the line, going 9 for 13. Nevertheless, free throw shooting is very likely at some point to be the deciding factor against the Devils before the year is out.
Both Grayson and Gary continued their ice cold shooting. Trent was 0 for 6 from long, and Allen was only a slightly more respectable 2 for 7. Indeed, the entire squad was just 3 for 18 from beyond the arc. That is killing Duke. Alex seems very reluctant to look for a shot when he is in, but he needs to -- the team has to get an outside punch from someone. Actually, we were delighted to see Alex get 29 minutes of PT, though part of that was attributable to Allen's foul situation. We just continue to marvel at O'Connell's athleticism and quickness on the floor. He actually led the team in offensive boards with 5. The only downside were the two free throw misses ... clearly, he was feeling the pressure.
Bagley finished with 34 points and 15 boards in 38 minutes. That's a very good night's work, although a large portion of that was back-ended. In the earlier going, Marvin was hardly having his way. Bamba, Sims, and Osetkowski were simply physically stronger than Bagley and Carter, or so it seemed for most of the game. That's why the turn-around was so dramatic and unexpected.
We had previously been complimentary of the play of Mr. Duval, despite occasional freshman errors. Well, not so this time. Trevon had a game that can only be described as horrendous. Texas largely had their way with him defensively. He was 2 for 9 from the floor and committed 6 turnovers. He looked like a deer in the headlights. The only positive was the three steals that he garnered. Anyone of discernment watching Trevon in this game would have to conclude that he is not ready for the big time. Let's pray he gets this one out of his system quickly. Unfortunately, where we are unlikely to see any improvement is with the jump shot ... defenders will continue to be able to play off him without being punished.
This was one very ugly win. But a win is always good, and the fact that Duke came back from the dead is heartening. Still, the terrible outside shooting and free throwing shooting make us very hesitant to rejoice. We keep waiting for that other shoe to drop.
Duke 99, Portland State 81 (November 23, 2017). Once again, Duke struggled in the first half. This time, the team even trailed at the break, 49 to 45. Yet oddly enough, rather than being apoplectic about Duke's play, we found ourselves more impressed by the play of its opponents. Portland State was nothing short of brilliant in that first twenty. Tough defensively, great offensive movement and passing, and some deadly shooting. The good news it that it was almost inconceivable that they be able to continue that play -- especially the outside shooting -- for the remainder of the game.
It's too bad really. We would love to be able to tip our hats to the Portland State squad. The problem is that the kids include a group of thugs. Nasty players. While one has to suspect that such play is a reflection of their coach, nothing we saw from the sideline would indicate that. Anyway, the thugs eventually got their comeuppance, but not before a couple had fouled out. The remainder of their squad was within a hair of joining them.
Once again, commentators will be waxing rhapsodic about the efforts of Mr. Bagley. We will not be among them. Yes, he did finish with 18 points (second on the team) and 15 boards. That is great, especially the rebounding. But his virtues are at least partially offset by his liabilities. His foul shooting continues to be absolutely abysmal. This game he finished 6 for 12, but at least one of those misses was the front end of a one and one. As we noted previously, all the misses are long. At some point, his ineptitude at the line is going to kill the team.
We had also noted that Marvin is a poor passer. That again showed against Portland State. He also lost the ball trying to bring it up court rather than passing to a guard. Marvin finished with 4 turnovers to just one assist. And then there's the outside shooting. He decided to launch another trey, which immediately had us screaming "NO!" Sure enough, the shot did not even touch rim. But that did not even deter him -- he decided to double down later, of course with a similar result. There is no way a kid who cannot make free throws should be launching long jumpers. NO WAY. If this were Bobby Knight's squad, his shooting role would be clearly and properly defined -- Bagley would have been out of the game and running laps in the training room. But this is a K team, where the inmates run the asylum.
Once again, Wendell spent more minutes on the bench in the first half than one would have thought advisable.. He only got 21 minutes in total, but still made the best of them. He was 7 of 8 from the floor, had 10 rebounds, and finished with 2 assists and 2 blocks with no turnovers. That is a wonderfully efficient line. We really liked his play. He deserved more minutes, and Marvin fewer.
Trevon led all Duke scorers with 22. The knock will be his 5 turnovers to 2 assists. However, the fact is that a couple of those turnovers were extremely questionable offensive foul calls. In fact, we'll go even farther -- they were terrible calls, and that notwithstanding our belief that offensive fouls are whistled too infrequently. But we suppose it was the only way the refs could begin to even up the wide disparity in fouls being assessed against the two teams. So while Trevon was out of control on a couple of occasions, we were still impressed by his play. If he plays smart, he is a godsend.
Coming into this year, there had been a lot of concern expressed about Duke's outside game. The very early shooting efforts of both Grayson and Gary assuaged some of that concern. But it should now be back with a vengeance. Let's start with Grayson. For the third game in a row, he was absolutely abominable from the outside. This time it was 1 for 6 from long. And they were good shots. We heard a mention on the broadcast about a sore hand, so it looks as if the injury card is being raised again. However, nagging injuries are a fact of life in high-level basketball, and that's not going to change at the next level. If this is how Grayson responds, his future is questionable. On the other hand, Grayson did reaffirm his passing skills by dishing out 9 assists. He also had an absolutely spectacular block. So all was not lost.
That brings us to Gary. As our readers know, we had been less than impressed after watching him in last year's high school all-star events. Our feeling was ... another K overrated recruit. However, his early shooting forced us to reassess that opinion. We were actually coming to the conclusion that the unthinkable had happened -- we had been wrong! Ahh, not so fast. Gary's offensive play after those first couple of cupcake events has been, to put it mildly, less than stellar. Both the driving shot and outside jumper are bound to miss. His overall shot percentage is now around 35%. And yet he was rewarded with 30 minutes of PT. A continuing misjudgment by our esteemed leader.
The one suffering from K's decision is Alex. He got into the game late in the first half and was nothing short of brilliant. He simply energizes the team, and does so with a delicious mix of quickness, athleticism, and skill. K very properly rewarded him by letting him start the second half. Unfortunately, that lasted about three and a half minutes before Gary was reinserted for almost the remainder of the contest. Yes, Duke gradually built a nice cushion while Gary was in, but that was only because Portland State could no long buy a jump shot. It had nothing to do with Gary Trent; Portland State had simply come back to Earth. But in K's mind, it must be post hoc ergo propter hoc.
One other player note. Marques got in early and played a lot of the first half. He, like, Alex, was even given the starting nod in the second. His play just continues to get stronger and more confident. In 18 minutes, he finished with 8 points, 10 boards, and 3 blocks. We were so pleased. This is the Marques Bolden we saw in the high school all-star games, finally emerging from the demoralizing funk created by K's benching last year.
Now on to Texas, a team that is tough defensively but very challenged on the other side. Duke has got to get an outside game going. If not, it will just be a slugfest.
Duke 92, Furman 63 (November 20, 2017). It seemed for a long time like Southern Revisited. At the ten minute mark, Duke was hanging precariously to a one point lead against another squad that, while talented, was at a tremendous size disadvantage. During those opening minutes, we witnessed another five turnovers by Duke, a bevy of missed shots, and that patented Duke too-generous defense. Poor Poindexter, now utterly beside himself, was looking desperately for a sharp object.
But then Duke went off ... or, perhaps more accurately, Bagley went off, with a little help from his friends. Marvin became a one- man wrecking crew on the inside, making shot after shot in close. He even added a trey (which he had no business in taking and should be chastised for doing so). When the dust settled, Duke had blasted to an 18 point halftime spread. It gradually expanded the lead thereafter, though without ever really emptying the bench for an extended period.
Once again, Marvin dominated the stats. He finished with 24 points on 9 for 15 shooting from the floor. That included three ill-advised three point shots -- the fact that one made is immaterial. But perhaps the best news is that he was 5 for 6 at the foul line. Previously, he had routinely been missing long on those charity shots, but he finally adjusted and is launching a bit softer. We'll see if that will continue. But anyway, he was the real difference-maker for Duke.
Trevon was a close second. After racing into the lane utterly out-of-control early on, he settled down and played a terrific game. Not a lot of assists to be sure, though he did wind up with four to just a single turnover. However, his ability to score off penetration was stunning. One of those was so acrobatic as to merit a permanent highlight reel spot. Duke has not had that kind of point guard in ages. Trevon had 18 points on 9 for 12 shooting. Needless to say, he missed his two trey attempts. That's going to be a very long work in progress.
Actually, that brings us to Duke's main current issue -- outside shooting. Against the Paladins, Duke was just 5 for 17 from three. Horrendous. Remember how buoyed we all were in the early season watching Gary and Grayson hitting routinely? Well, those days seem to be gone. Gary started to tail off after a couple of games in, though at least Grayson remained hot through the Michigan State contest. Now, both are quite anemic.
Grayson just had a terrible outing. The only noteworthy stat was the six assists. Otherwise, he was simply MIA. This is something we have seen for periods from Grayson over the course of his career, but had been hoping he had put behind him. His effort against Furman was light years from POY territory. Blessedly, Duke finally ... FINALLY has an inside game that can pick up the slack.
Gary Trent also had a very lackluster outing. Just 9 points and 3 boards in a team-leading 31 minutes. He really did nothing to generate that PT.
We were very surprised to see Wendell riding the pine for an extended period of the first half. He had only 24 minutes in the game, and we are not quite sure why. He did manage 14 points in that period on 6 for 7 shooting. And even though he is a better outside shooter than Marvin, we were happy to see him eschew taking long-range jumpers even when he had a bit of an opening. Nice discipline. Wendell even managed to grab a team-high 9 boards in his limited minutes. The one negative is that we are discovering that both Wendell (and Marvin as well) are quite poor passers.
Marques got into the game fairly early. Though he only wound up with 12 minutes, we thought his effort better than what we had previously seen. In general, he seemed to play stronger and showed more solid hands. He also made his only two foul shots, reason alone to celebrate.
As usual, Javin was Duke's sixth man and played with his customary level of effort. Not a great skill player, just all intensity and hops. He supplanted Wendell as the top shot blocker for the game, picking up four in 17 minutes. In that regard, however, we do need to quibble -- one of Javin's block's was a savage rejection, rifling the ball out of bounds. It was pure playground, exciting the fans. It was also terrible basketball. Anyone at all savvy will understand that the proper block is a soft one, keeping the ball in play so that there is at least an opportunity for a teammate to recover possession. Savage blocks do not result in turnovers. This is something that a sophisticated coaching staff should instill in its players from day one. The fact that Javin, a second year kid, is still in playground mode is sadly telling.
That brings us to our final point. Let's call it the Yin and Yang of K. Over the course of his tenure, there has often been a player who gets a level of PT for which there seems no rational explanation; conversely, there is usually some other kid who deserves PT but is mired on the bench. Well, so far this season, those persons appear to be Jordan Goldwire and Alex O'Connell, respectively. Jordan came in fairly early once again and made repeat appearances. It was 13 minutes in all, but with nothing to show. So far, we have seen just a combination of poor shooting, reckless passes, and reaching on defense. Perhaps over an extended period, he will develop into a more capable player. We just don't foresee that this season.
The Yang is Alex. It should have been absolutely obvious from day one that the kid is a PLAYA. Quickess, nice handle, good hops, and a really sweet shot. Indeed, it may turn out that he is the best long-range shooter on this squad when looking on the basis of consistency.
But despite the fact that he has sparkled in his cameo appearances to date, he never got into the Furman game until the eleven-something mark of the second half (the official scorer gives him 12 minutes, but only because he has to). It was criminal. In those limited minutes, Alex once again sparkled: 4 of 5 from the floor (including 2 of 3 from long), 2 boards, 1 assist, 1 block, and no turnovers. Alas, nothing he does seems to register with his myopic coach. Too bad.
This Duke team has the size and athleticism, as well as the inside-outside mix, that should allow it to dominate. The one thing lacking at this point has been maturity and the right substitution pattern. Should those issues be resolved over the course of the season, we could be in for a special ride. The tournament this week-end will tell us more.
Duke 78, Southern 61 (November 17, 2017). This was a disgrace. Southern came into the game with a 0-3 record, having lost their opener to Illinois by almost 50 points and their most recent contest with mighty Missouri State by almost 30. This one should have been off the charts. And it looked initially as if that would be the case as Duke scored the first five and Southern, on its second possession, clumsily fumbled the ball away. But then something strange happened ... Duke decided to honor their guests by playing at the level of a high school JV team. One turnover after another, Duval running into the lane totally out of control, and no thought to blocking out on the defensive boards. You could almost see the collective thought rising to the surface of those primitive Jaguar basketball player brains -- "we can play with these chuckleheads!"
Wendell Carter probably had the most effective night for the team, leading all scorers with 20 points and adding a whopping 6 blocks. Grayson, on the other hand, had an evening to forget, missing all six of his three point attempts (though one went at least halfway down before appearing to defy the laws of physics by spinning back out again). It was that kind of night. We will defer from discussing the efforts of other players because, frankly, the need to maintain our sanity prevents us from dwelling at length on this monstrosity. Suffice it to say that we will use what we saw (and have previously seen) to update our player evaluations in the near future.
We simply can't close, however, without a major diatribe. How long ... how many years ... have we been lambasting Duke's man defense? On the whole, it has been simply horrible. Opponents routinely are more effective defensively, though Duke continues to win on superior talent. Well, quite predictably, El Greco! decided to go man all the way against the Jaguars, despite the success of the team in zone. No doubt he thought that the game was a gimme, so he had nothing to lose. And in one sense that was correct, though Duke thereby turned what should have been a 40 point spread into less than 20 at the close.
It was the same old thing. Duke deciding it has to pressure the ball all the way to the midcourt line (which rarely garners a turnover), often with Marvin Bagley 30 feet away from the basket trying to stay with Southern's smallest guard. This is absolute insanity. Bagley has got to be near the basket, not only to grab defensive boards but also to give the team his incredible shot blocking potential. So yes, K did get to work on his beloved man defense, though it only served to solidify its terrible strategic errors. It just continues to reinforce our determination that basketball success is at least 85% recruiting and inspiration. That's where (and only where) K excels.
Duke 88, Michigan State 81 (November 14, 2017). How bizarre, but how sweet. OK, a show of hands please ... if you had been told that Duke would have to play the final 30 minutes against Michigan State without Mr. Bagley, that the entire squad (excepting Grayson) would sink all of two or three jump shots COLLECTIVELY all evening, and that it would shoot only 65% from the charity line, how many of you would have predicted a Duke victory? Anyone answering in the affirmative is either a liar or a fool.
This was simply the Grayson Allen show. He was magnificent. 37 points on 7 for 11 from three and 8 for 8 from the line. For you non-math whizzes, that's a shade over 42% of the total points the team scored. Someone should go back into the Duke record books and see the last time one player accounted for such a large percentage. What's more, it was all against tough defensive pressure. We don't know how he even got off a few of those jumpers. He has one of the quickest set-ups and release that we have ever seen, not to mention a gorgeous stroke. Anyone still waxing nostalgic for J.J. Redick needs to think twice.
Unfortunately, without Marvin on the floor, Grayson was not getting a lot of help on the offensive end. Trevon was the greatest secondary contributor, finishing with 17. He continues to delight with his ability to score off drives, though the Spartans were making it terribly difficult for any shot to go up underneath. But the bad news is that Trevon also continued to demonstrate that he is virtually incapable of making a jump shot. The issue even extends to the foul line, where he finished 3 for 7 (really, 3 for 8 since one of the misses was the front end of a one and one). Even so, we don't want to be too critical since aside from his points, Trevon picked up another 10 assists and 6 steals. He did have more turnovers than we would like -- three, including a big one down the stretch when he foolishly tried to force the action -- but we have to bear in mind that he is still just a freshman in an early contest.
The only other Dukie in double figures was Wendell. He finished with 12, and also grabbed a game-high 12 boards. He was even respectable at the foul line, going 6 for 8. For that we commend him. On the other hand, we do need to chastise him for his often foolish play. We have in the past referred to certain centers as "black holes" because once passed inside to them, the ball never seems to come back out. We are starting to get that sense from Wendell, who seems determined to force it up every time he gets the ball down low. Against Michigan State, that was often disastrous as his stats show -- he was 3 for 9 from the floor. He also made an incredibly foolish gaffe very late in the game when he swung an elbow, resulting in two technical free throws for the Spartans. That could have broken Duke's back. Thankfully, Grayson's back was strong enough to withstand it. Wendell certainly has the talent, but talent without intelligence is squandered.
After Grayson and Trevon, Gary Trent was next in minutes played with 35. That was about 34 too many. Yes, he did hit a big trey in the second half, but that did not begin to compensate for all the miscues. Gary was clearly not ready for opponents with the size and skill of the Spartans. He was almost completely shut down, though that did not stop him from throwing up attempts. His final offensive stats were 1 for 7 from three and just 3 for 14 overall. One of those misses must have been two feet short of the basket. It was truly ugly. There is no doubt in our minds that Alex would have been an improvement, yet K saw fit to give him only about two minutes of court time. Pathetic.
As for the remainder of the squad, Javin certainly had a respectable outing. Actually, his line is quite nice: 2 for 4 shooting, 7 boards, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 3 steals. A good night's work against tough competition. Hat's off to you, Javin.
We had been very critical of Jordan Goldwire, but he had his best appearance to date. In 11 minutes, he managed to sink his first jumper of the season, had a couple of rebounds, and came up with a steal. Even so, we continue to believe that in tight games, Grayson is better off sliding to the point for a few minutes when Trevon has to be spelled.
Marques did get 4 boards in his 9 minutes. But he was shut out from the floor on offense, and missed his only two free throws. Not good. He found himself firmly planted on the bench down the stretch, even with Marvin injured, and this time we can't really blame El Greco!
The only other player who saw action was Antonio, and that a limited 5 minutes. The fact is that he will not be effective against the likes of Michigan State ... it is more a matter of being good means not being bad.
We were delighted to see that K heeded our zone defense rally cry. The team came out in a zone and never wavered the entire game. What's more, it worked. We were also delighted to see that Duke managed to out-rebound the Spartans by ten, even without the services of Marvin. Despite State's historic proficiency on the defensive boards, Duke somehow managed to grab 25 offensive rebounds to State's 11. That is amazing; aside from Grayson's heroics, it was the difference in the game.
Poor Tom Izzo. Now it's one out of twelve. If Amazon were to sell Krzyzewski voodoo dolls, we suspect that Izzo would be the first customer. Sorry Tom, better luck next year.
Duke 99, Utah Valley 69 (November 11, 2017). This did not start well at all. Duke was finally facing someone its own size, and the team wasn't ready at the outset. Utah Valley jumped to a quick lead, which it maintained for almost the first ten minutes of the contest. UTU was dominating the boards, and its motion offense (real motion unlike what passes for motion at Duke) was giving Duke's man defense fits. Despite Kentucky's success in the zone the night before, Mr. Stubborn just couldn't seem to pull the trigger. A collateral effect was that the Duke players were picking up a lot of fouls chasing their opponents all over the court.
Well, Duke belatedly went zone and everything changed. UTU began giving up the ball with regularity, and Duke quickly built up a double digit margin. To be sure, Duke's zone is less than stellar, and UTU made some halftime adjustments to facilitate penetration, but it was too little, too late. Once again, Duke's sheer athleticism allowed it to dominate.
Unlike the prior early contests, Grayson started very slowly. He has had some issues in the past competing effectively against capable defenders who have height, and we were afraid this would be deja vu all over again. But never fear ... this was a new, improved Grayson Allen who did not let any early issues affect his confidence. He turned things around before the break and had an excellent second half. While he did not score a ton of points, the final offensive stats are excellent -- 18 points on 7 of 11 from the floor and 4 for 6 from three. Perhaps the most interesting statistic, however, is that for both of these early regular season games, Grayson has not attempted any free throws. He is letting Marvin handle the inside scoring and has relegated himself to being a perimeter shooter. Doesn't matter because it's working nicely.
Once again, Marvin led all scorers for Duke, this time with 24 points on 11 for 17 shooting. The totals include a trey from the corner. We almost regret his having made that shot because the last thing we want is to encourage such ill-advised attempts. Success is not always a confirmation of wisdom. The fact is that Marvin has large hands and a consequent loss of shooting touch. That is all too evident at the free throw line where Marvin has been simply dreadful. This time it was just 1 for 5. Ouch. The other issue with Marvin's game is that he is regularly out of place on defense. We noted that in the last game report, and nothing changed this evening. On the other hand, Marvin was nothing short of brilliant around the hoop against UVU. His talent is phenomenal. We just want him to play smarter.
Wendell avoided the early foul difficulties of the prior evening, and was therefore able to remain on the floor for 31 minutes. Parenthetically, this was vintage K where the five starters each played over 30 minutes. Anyway, Wendell may not have scored a lot, nor did he grab a lot of boards, but he was a major defensive presence underneath. He had four shot blocks, and that was huge. We have been waiting years for that kind of interior presence, and now we have it in abundance with Messrs. Carter, Bagley, and Bolden. How sweet it is.
Actually, Gary Trent did not have a good offensive evening. He loves to shoot the ball, but made only 6 of his 15 attempts against Utah Valley. None of the driving floaters worked. No doubt he was not used to this level of opposition, but from now on it will be more of the same. Even so, we continue to be impressed by his level of athleticism on the court, something we did not see in the high school all-star contests last year.
While Marvin gets all the freshman plaudits, we want to give special recognition to Duke's fifth starter, Trevon Duval. We loved his performance against Elon. If anything, this was even better. Fifteen points on 7 for 10 from the floor. More importantly, 12 assists, 3 steals, and only one turnover. Wow. He is giving the team exactly what it desperately needs. In contrast, Jordan Goldwire continues to struggle. His minutes really should be limited to garbage time.
Javin played only 11 minutes. He did hit a trey and made his only two free throws, but otherwise had a very quiet evening. The height of the opposition made it much more difficult for him to have his normal success on the boards. We continue to be impressed, however, by the sheer intensity of his effort on the floor. He is Grayson's rival for the floor-burn award.
We were delighted to see Marques back in action, albeit for limited minutes, particularly after hearing that he was doubtful for even the Michigan State game. We do like Marques' talent, even though he does not have the foot quickness or soft hands of Mr Carter. The one problem we do have is what seems to be a relative lack of intensity. You never see him going to the floor for a loose ball. That is an issue.
We have been sky high on young Mr. O'Connell, who looks more like a brash eighth grader than a major college athlete. Well, after watching him against UVU, we are even prepared to double down. Aside from physical bulk, he has it all -- great shooting touch, excellent quickness and leaping ability, and wonderful intensity on the court. If anything, the intensity may become a bit manic at times, particularly on defense where Alex is too prone to reach and slap. It is a miracle that the refs have not yet seen fit to punish him. But even so, Alex seems to provide a lift every time he come into the contest. He has absolutely earned some real PT, and we will be chagrined if that is not forthcoming.
And now, on to the main event. The game against Michigan State will be the acid test for this very young squad. We cannot wait to see how they acquit themselves. The defensive rebounding and free throw shooting will become even more significant.
Duke 97, Elon 68 (November 11, 2017). WATCH ESPN should be renamed. CAN'T WATCH ESPN would be more appropriate. While we should be grateful these games are available for streaming, trying to view them live is virtually impossible due to loss of signal every ten seconds or so. It is a different story watching a replay in the early morning hours, so it seems that ESPN's server capacity is not sufficient to make peak viewing palatable. Just another black mark for the network.
When discussing last year's contest against Elon, most think of the infamous Grayson Allen leg-lift. We don't. We remember the fact that Duke struggled mightily against a squad with far less talent, even trailing at the half. It was an embarrassment by a terribly underachieving team. But what a difference a year makes. Against essentially the same Elon assembly, Duke's final margin was 29, and it probably would have been a 40 point spread had the Devils not substituted so liberally. Moreover, it was all done without the services of Marques Bolden, who was nursing an illness.
The stars were clearly Grayson and Marvin. We suspect that we'll be writing that a great deal this season, barring injuries. Grayson was first out of the gate, making three quick jumpers. He simply looked sensational in the first half, scoring 19 of his 22 points. While most of the second half was spent on the bench, he also stopped looking for the shot. That is something we have seen time and again from him ... it's almost as if he is embarrassed by riches, and wants his teammates to share in the bounty. That works in a game like this, but is problematical when facing a truly tough opponent. It also militates against that illustrious POY award that will be dependent upon sparkling stats.
As for Bagley, his height and athleticism make him a lethal weapon underneath on both ends. He grabbed 8 defensive boards and led the team in scoring with 25 points in 29 minutes, making some terrific shots inside. But the key word there is "inside" for that is where he has to remain. Unfortunately, Marvin saw fit to take a couple of treys, missing both. He apparently fancies himself as another Kevin Durant. He's not. The other problem is on the defensive end, where Marvin all too often tries to cheat by dropping off his offensive opponent. Wrong. We love Marvin, but he has to play smarter. We wish we could trust K to force him to stay within his areas of strength.
Wendell Carter played limited minutes due to quick foul trouble. Still, he showed some nice effort inside. The kid is aggressive and has quick hands and feet. If he plays smart, he will be very effective.
Gary Trent had another excellent shooting effort. We had been concerned coming into the season, but he is quickly dispelling our doubts. He was 4 for 5 from long and finished with 17. We also like his defensive effort.
We were very pleased by what we saw from the final starter, Mr. Duval. Eight assists, no turnovers, and three steals. He was also 4 for 7 from the floor, all off drives. He is a terrific athlete with a good handle. And what we really love is that he valued the ball. We pray that he will continue to play that way. The one negative is that he is not a good jump shooter, so he has to eschew the shot unless wide open and instead play to his strengths. Fortunately, that is what he did in this game. Aside from a couple of silly fouls, he was rock solid.
Jordan Goldwire, the back-up point, got 14 minutes of PT. In ordinary circumstances, that would be far too much. The drop-off in talent when Duval exits and Jordan enters is dramatic. While we believe that Grayson is taken out of his game at the point position, the team would still be better off with him sliding over to that position when Trevon has to go out.
Actually, that brings us back to the issue of defense. We were pleased to see Duke play so much zone in the second exhibition because we thought it would help safeguard Duke starters from exhaustion and foul trouble. Of course, once the season started, it was all man all the time. While we do understand that Elon's excellent long-range shooting did make the zone more problematic, we would hope that we will see more of it as the season progresses. Indeed, even with Duke in the man defense, Elon shot 14 from 33 from beyond the arc (over 42%), so a zone could hardly have been less effective.
Javin DeLaurier has established himself as the seventh man in the rotation. As usual, he played with great intensity against Elon, even grabbing the rebound off his own missed free throw. Gotta love that. In fact, Javin led the squad with 11 boards in 19 minutes. The downside is that he remains a liability on the other end, missing his only jumper and his two free throws and committing two turnovers.
And that brings us to our new underappreciated favorite. Every year, it seems that El Greco! denies adequate court time to some worthy player. We are afraid that this year the victim will be Alex O'Connell. Pardon our lack of humility, but we believe that we are excellent judges of talent, and we loved what we saw when we first watched Alex in the Blue-White contest. It was similar to our initial reaction to Grayson as a freshman in that game, though Grayson always did have a man's body. The fact is that despite his thin frame, Alex compensates by playing with great intensity and athleticism. He is also an excellent marksman. There are only three Dukies in the rotation who can hit a jumper, and Alex is one. He has got to get PT.
Unfortunately, we need to close by discussing the elephant in the room. Duke was 3 for 11 from the charity stripe against Elon. Yes, that was because Duke's guards were not getting fouled, but the front court will be drawing most of the whistles this season. In this game, Carter was 0 for 2, Bagley was 1 for 4, and DeLaurier was 0 for 2. That is truly pathetic. As much basketball as these kids have played, there is simply no excuse for such foul line inadequacy. Of course, that is something we have to recite year in and year out. It's sad that these kids have not had the self-discipline to work on that important facet of their game in years past.
Duke 116, Bowie State 53 (November 4, 2017). What ever happened to Athletes In Action? Just asking. Anyway, Duke beat up another hopelessly mismatched squad by 53 in the second and final exhibition. We have to keep reminding ourselves that these games are next to meaningless -- one can really only draw negatives, rather than positives, from these one-sided affairs. Still, it is hard to maintain that proper perspective when watching so much talent at work.
As everyone knows, Duke was without Trevon Duval for this one. Also missing, albeit less conspicuously, were Messrs. Goldwire and O'Connell. Too bad, because Alex would have gotten a lot of minutes to shine. Looks like he shot himself in the foot big time.
We were sorry not to see Duval in the lineup. Grayson started at point and was his usual brilliant self in all facets. The problem was that things bogged down big time when he left the court and Duke had to play without any point. Duval had better get his head together and keep it on straight or this team will really suffer.
Gary Trent maintained his torrid early season pace through the first half. Unfortunately, he went ice cold in the second. Even so, his offensive line looked good at 7 for 13 from the field.
Bagley led all scorers, as he will probably do most of the year. He finished with 28 on 11 for 20 shooting. The truth is, however, that almost all those were stuffs -- the flip shots from three feet out or so were just not dropping once again. Against better teams, making those will be crucial, though it will always be a struggle for such a young player not used to physical contact. Of course, by the time he can easily play through that contact, he will be gone. Still, we have very high expectations for him this season. He is such a freakishly good athlete.
Carter had another big game as well. He did have one beautiful fall-away score, but everything else came on dunks. The good news is that many of those were off second-chance boards. Carter led the team with 14 rebounds, 8 of which were on the offensive end. And that in only 28 minutes. Yes, we know that Bowie was over-matched, but we still love the effort that we see from Carter.
As all our readers know, we have been high on Bolden's potential. While he did not play particularly well in the last game, he had a terrific outing against Bowie. He just looked dominant on several possessions. His playing time did not match that of Carter or Bagley (only 19 minutes), but if he continues to play this way, we would hope things would even up.
We will not detail other performances. Suffice it to say that all acquitted themselves nicely. If we have to search for negatives, we would note that Bowie got too many offensive boards early in the game ... they seemed to want the ball more. Also, the man defense Duke was playing at the outset allowed the usual penetration at times, though Duke's rim defenders were able to help. We were actually delighted to see Duke switch to zone fairly early in the contest and continue in that defense most of the way. While Duke's zone is nothing to write home about, it does minimize penetration, reduces fouling, and is less physically depleting. Maybe K is wising up.
Duke 93, Northwest Missouri State 60 (October 27, 2017). Four freshman started for Duke, and it looks as if that lineup will remain in effect for a while. Those selected to open the contest were Bagley, Carter, Duval, Trent, and, of course, Grayson. Judging from what we saw this evening, those five will get the most minutes, with DeLaurier and Bolden filling out K's Favored Seven allotment.
Even though the margin of victory was large, we were impressed by the way the Bearcats acquitted themselves. They are a well-coached squad with a good motion offense, excellent long-range shooters, and a tough defense. They were simply facing a significant height and talent deficit against Duke.
First, the bad. We were not pleased at all with the Duke man defense (what else is new?). Bearcats were driving by their defenders all night. The difference this year for Duke is that they have some athletic shot blockers who can bail the team out. NMS just couldn't convert off their drives all night. In fact, of the 22 field goals the team scored, 12 were from long. Not a percentage stat one sees very often.
The other troubling sign was the charity shot. Blessedly, not many fouls were called in the game, but Duke was just 5 of 9 from the stripe. Bolden and Duval looked particularly weak.
Speaking of Duval, we were less than overwhelmed once again. It was not a terrible performance to be sure, but it was not exactly sparkling. Judging by what we saw of Mr. Goldwire (who was an absolute turnover machine in this one), Duval is going to have to carry the load and play a lot of minutes. He did some good things on the court, getting 5 assists with just one turnover, but he never really took charge. He also showed us that his jump shot is very suspect.
Now the good news. Grayson, once again, was terrific. He led the squad with 23, went 5 for 10 from long, and made some great driving and mid-range shots. He looks at this very early stage like a Player of the Year candidate. But let's wait until Michigan State rolls around before we get too far over our skis.
Gary Trent, once again, was red hot. He really looked sharp and smooth out there, more like a veteran player than a rookie. He finished 7 for 9 from the floor, though he missed his two trey attempts. We don't expect this torrid pace to continue, but we really like what we have seen thus far.
Marvin Bagley looked like a deer in the headlights when the game started, fumbling the ball away a couple of times. But after about the five minute mark, he began to right the ship and played well thereafter. He is truly impressive underneath, and we love the fact that he does not try to extend beyond his comfort zone. We complimented him on his unusual unselfishness in the Blue-White contest, and we saw more of the same this evening.
Wendell Carter also had an excellent outing, particularly in the first half. He went to the glass, made some strong jams in competition, and even nailed a three. He also led the team with 9 boards ... and that in only 18 minutes. We love it.
The other strong performer was Javin DeLaurier. Last year, he was all athleticism and no skills, and even that athleticism was rough and undisciplined. He seems a much more polished performer this season. He is one of the guys who provides that desperately needed safety valve underneath on defense. He also goes strong to the boards on both ends. And, amazingly enough, he even nailed a trey ... something he has shown us he can do in warm-ups, but never in game conditions.
As for Marques, it was pretty quiet. Six points and five boards. We were hoping to see more intensity on the offensive end. If that does not happen, the minutes will suffer and it will be deja vu all over again.
The other interesting point to note is that we did not see Alex O'Connell until very late. Given his performance in the scrimmage, we expected a larger role for him, but it looks as if he will be spending a lot of time on the pine. Too bad.
Countdown To Craziness (October 20, 2017). Most impressive. Most impressive indeed. This is a deep and remarkably talented squad. Of course, that's exactly what we thought last year. We will therefore temper our expectations, but instead report exactly what we see.
The good news is that nobody looked out of place on the court, even those entering without All-American credentials. Everyone played creditably, though some more than others. This is a squad that merits extensive bench use, but we know from experience that K is almost congenitally incapable of doing that. Perhaps we should start our transfer lottery for next year a bit early.
Anyway, we'll offer some thoughts without attempting to dissect each player individually. First, kudos to our main squeeze, Grayson. He looked absolutely terrific out there in every facet -- shooting, distributing, handling the ball, making quick decisions. We had expected a nice bounce-back year from him, and he seems off to a good start. For good measure, he even won the slam dunk championship following the contest.
We were beside ourselves for much of last season over the way K was handling Mr. Bolden. Well, we really liked what we saw from Marques in this one. He rebounded very well, and showed a nice pivot move underneath for a score. Exactly what we knew he could do. What we didn't like were the two three point attempts -- that should not be part of his game, even if he is open out there. We also do not like the way he extends way, way out on defense, but that is clearly what he has been instructed to do.
We had not been wowed by Messrs. Carter, Trent, and Duval based on our very limited past viewings. However, all acquitted themselves quite nicely in this one. Gary Trent in particular looked better than we had seen in the past, actually making some shots for a change. Duval also showed flashes of brilliance, though he is also prone to trying to do more than what is advisable. The brilliance of Tyus Jones was to keep it simple and avoid mistakes -- Duval is clearly the better athlete, but he needs to learn that lesson. And please, no more self-assists off the glass -- that kind of showboating should be left on the asphalt.
Of course, the real freshman star is going to be Marvin Bagley. His play in this contest just confirmed to us that he can do it all. We were also happy to note that he showed no inclination to force shots the way so many of his heralded predecessors at Duke have done. We hope that will continue. He is going to be an incredible weapon inside, scoring off floating assists and putting back misses. He also showed us a nice handle bringing the ball down court in competition ... and he did not try to force any finishes to boot. Loved what we saw.
Perhaps the biggest revelation was Alex O'Connell. The kid looked extremely cool and confident out there, mixing skills with surprising athleticism. He has a gorgeous three point stroke, and may well turn out to be the best jump shooter on the club. He should certainly compete with Trent for minutes, and could ultimately turn into the better player.
We also liked what we saw of Jordan Goldwire. He will not start, but he can certainly provide excellent back-up minutes for Duval. He has a creditable shot and is aggressive on defense. We do want to see more of him before making a final determination, but he seems to have a solid handle on the ball.
We were also fond of Jack White last season, though he saw little court time. Well, he did not score from the floor in this game, but looked strong on the boards. He is just a solid kid.
Overall, every facet of the game was well-represented on the court. Some beautiful jump shooting (this team could easily be better from long than most have expected), tough defense, and a number of very nifty passes. Of course, the big issue is whether we will get to see Duke or FIU (Foot Injury University, that is) over the course of the season. If the former, we could be in for a real thrill ride.