Game Notes (2018/2019)
Duke 84, Eastern Michigan 46 (November 14, 2018). Once again at Duke, it was the tale of two halves. In the first twenty, Duke simply disassembled the Eagles. And it wasn't that the Devils had a hot hand from outside -- that certainly wasn't the case at all. Most of Duke's scores were on the inside, despite their opponent's zone. Let's just say that it wasn't exactly Syracuse they were playing.
But what really impressed us most was what was occurring on the other end. Duke's defense was suffocating the Eagles, forcing turnover after turnover. What's more, every Eagle missed shot (and there were lots) was being rebounded by Duke, and every loose ball was being corralled by Duke. Even though the level of competition was certainly a big factor, we have never seen anything quite like it. Duke was playing great defense, and it was beautiful. And on the other end, they were repeatedly stealing offensive rebounds. The score at the break was 48 to 13. Wow.
The only negative during that first half was the free throw shooting. They were hitting 36% during that period. Truly embarrassing. The second half was better (60%), but still unacceptable. R.J. cannot hit free throws, and it seems to be catching.
The game was being played with great flow because the officials were actually letting the action proceed, a rarity in the ACC. Kudos to Mike Eades, Lee Cassell, and John Higgins. This should be must viewing in officiating school. Sadly, we are not likely to see this often again.
Anyway, after that sizzling first half, we knew that there would be a letdown after the break. A letdown turned out to be an understatement. Eastern Michigan essentially played Duke even over the final twenty minutes, albeit with a lot of Duke subs on the floor. The Eagles started pulling down a bunch of offensive boards, and their shots started dropping as well. Just shows the drop-off when the front-liners are on the pine. Cam Reddish did not appear at all in the second half due to some purported groin strain -- it is said to be minor, although we have come to expect even minor injuries at Duke to be lengthy affairs. To complement Eastern Michigan's efforts, the Devils began contributing a bunch of turnovers of their own. Suffice it to say that we wish we had turned the game off at the half.
As we mentioned above, Duke really was not shooting the ball well. As a team, they shot just 5 for 24 from long. Jack White hit his first two, then returned to form thereafter. Cam hit one. Poor, Poor Alex, Duke's best pure shooter, was 2 for 4. After that, all goose eggs.
As always, Zion was the man. Ten for twelve from the floor and nine boards in 21 minutes. We did, however, see a first -- a couple of his attempts inside during the first half were blocked. It's something we do not expect to see often. But regardless, he was brilliant.
As our readers know, we do have trouble warming to R.J. He loves to shoot, and will almost always lead the team in attempts. Last night he launched 21 times in 25 minutes. The problem is that he does not shoot particularly well. Against Eastern Michigan, he was 8 for 21 and 0 for 4 from long. Yes, he can wow with some acrobatic driving hoops. But he does not have a trusty jumper at all, and his foul shooting is abysmal. He is also prone to turnovers. Why he regularly gets more minutes than Zion is rather perplexing.
Tre had 8 assists to just one turnover. Another nice floor game, but another poor shooting performance ... just 1 for 7 this time. He really does not have any kind of dependable shot.
A tip of our hats once again to Jack White. It was just another solid all-around game. He is getting a lot of minutes (22, one more than Zion), and they are well-deserved. He is a big factor on both ends. A really heady ballplayer.
And even Poor, Poor Alex got minutes due to the blowout. He finished with 21 minutes of court time, which may be a record for him. We really do love his game ... the beautiful stroke, the quickness and jumping ability, and the solid handle and passing ability. Too bad K doesn't quite see what we do.
And now, on to Maui. Can Duke keep their streak there alive? We won't bet against it.
Duke 94, Army 72 (November 10, 2018). This is one of those games (and we have seen many from Duke) where a mismatched opponent played one hell of a lot better than the hometown team. Apologizing in advance, we really have to salute the visitors. They played as well as they are capable of playing; indeed, we have to believe they played way over their collective heads. Duke really didn't break this one open until well into the second half. The final score was in no event indicative of the game itself.
Army was simply the smarter, more cohesive, better-coached squad. Against much more athletic opponents, they committed only 10 turnovers -- Duke had 12 -- and grabbed more offensive boards. Duke was pathetic on the offensive glass, getting only 12 second attempts all day. And Army's defense was much more effective, shutting off the lane to Duke most of the game.
So why the big margin for Duke? Well, Army started missing shots that they were making throughout the first half, and Duke's raw talent simply overwhelmed them. Even so, we saw some of those rough edges that were so nicely hidden during the Kentucky contest, the sloppy recklessness that we had expected in large measure coming into the season. Duke has talent in abundance, but their greatest enemy will probably be themselves.
After that monster opening half in the last game, R.J. was more like an overly ripe slab of Limburger cheese this time. Fortunately, he righted things a bit after the break, though he still committed turnovers en masse. To be fair, however, the officiating crew was the nightmarish trio of Ted Valentine, Roger Ayers, and Les Jones, and they were able to spot R.J. shuffle his feet when no one else watching could; in turn, they scrupulously ignored the same when it was being committed by Army. Good ole' Teddy ... you always know that Duke will get the shaft when he has his stripes on.
Again, Cam Reddish came out hot from long, this time making his first three. He then went cold, only to finish strong. His final stats were 9 for 21 overall and 7 for 13 from beyond the arc. That's solid, but we were particularly gratified that he also finished second on the squad in boards with 7. We were very dubious about him coming into the season, but are now beginning to warm a bit.
We had also been ready to write off Tre's jump shot, but he managed to hit his only two treys in this one. Those were also his only two hoops of the evening. He did pick up another 7 assists, but had a couple of turnovers as well. Overall, another nice, workmanlike outing.
But once again, our highest honors go to Zion. This time, no one else was close. It was the same astounding efficiency from the floor -- 11 for 14. We have never seen anything quite like it. He also garnered a staggering 16 boards, and added 6 blocks and 4 assists. We do wish that he would refrain from those showboat blocks with emphasis (it does not allow a teammate to get the ball), but that is pure quibbling. We also would have liked a nicer stat at the line than just 5 for 8. But this kid is freakin' amazing. He is far and away the best guy on the squad.
In a game where Marques should have been dominant, he disappeared once again. His PT was but 13 minutes, and we cannot really argue. Jack got 25 minutes, and while he was not as effective as he was against Kentucky, he played relatively error-free ball and solid defense. After that, not much more to be said for the rest of the squad.
So, for all of you dreaming of an undefeated season, this one should make you come back down to Earth a bit. Duke has great offensive firepower, but is too prone to a lack of discipline. On the defensive end, they are clearly capable of playing at a higher level that any Duke squad in several years, but they are still plagued by periodic breakdowns. And most importantly, they lack a dominant post presence. We are more optimistic than we have been in a long time, but it is a guarded optimism at this point. We regret that we will miss Maui this go-round, but we are most anxious to see how the team fares on the Island.
Duke 118, Kentucky 84 (November 6, 2018). We did not see this coming. We were afraid that the two patsies Duke played in the exhibition contests were not going to offer sufficient preparation for an opener like this. Heck, even if Duke had played UNC and Kansas preseason, we would have worried about these young kids being ready. Well, they were ready and evidently feeling no pressure at all.
Duke came out and made their first four jump shots, three of them treys. The lead gradually widened, though Kentucky tried to claw back, cutting the Duke margin to twelve. That was the best they could do and Duke took a 17 point halftime spread and widened it to 37 after about seven minutes had elapsed in the second half. It was pure domination.
The only thing that saved Kentucky was the officiating. Every single touch was whistled, making it virtually impossible to play defense. Since Duke was the dominant team athletically, this provided a bit of equalization for the Wildcats. If this game had been officiated properly, the spread would probably have been even more.
The only thing detracting from the pure joy of this experience was once again having to suffer through Jay Bilas ... or as we will now dub him, Jay Bilious. Although both teams had to endure their share of bad calls by the officials, Mr. Bilious made a point, as he always does, of emphasizing those that went against the opposing team. He obviously feels compelled to prove time and again just how impartial he is.
Anyway, back to more important matters. The four freshman will get lavished with praise for this performance, and for good reasons. Together, they accounted for 89 of the team's points, and Tre Jones had only 6 of those. What's more, they played with a lot of maturity overall, committing few turnovers after one long errant pass by Zion early. Indeed, the entire Duke squad had only 4 turnovers for the entire game. That is absolutely remarkable.
Although all played well in the first half, Barrett was most dominant, hitting from inside and out and finishing with 20 at the break. The second half was not quite as outstanding for him -- he did pick up another 12 points, but he started forcing things too much as is his wont. He is also the last player on the team you want on the foul line, hitting just 4 for 8. Still, he was very impressive overall. We would love to see him play a bit smarter and more unselfishly, but we are afraid that may be asking too much.
Zion was as brilliant as always. We have said in the past that if he gets the ball anywhere near the basket, you might as well score the goal. We have never seen anything quite like it. His touch in competition and with contact is amazing. What's more, he has a really nice stroke at the line. He tends to get fewer minutes than his compadres (perhaps he needs the occasional rest), but is clearly the most effective kid on the court for Duke. He will undoubtedly join our pantheon of all-time favorites.
We have had a lot of reservations about Cam Reddish, but Cam acquitted himself very nicely in this one. He came out hot, but cooled off after the break. He finished with 22 points on 6 for 14 shooting -- that was below the team's overall scorching 54.4% field goal percentage. The wonderful thing, however, is that he went 7 for 7 from the line and committed no turnovers.
As for Tre, he finished with 7 assists and no turnovers. He was a solid floor general, which is what we so need from him. The unfortunate fact is that despite his early three that started Duke's onslaught, he is just not a good offensive player. He finished 2 for 7, missing shots that others would have made. Still, there is enough scoring talent on this team that his deficiency should not be critical.
The other Duke starter was, of course, Marques. He played reasonably well, making a couple of strong moves to the basket, but was hardly a dominant player. He also committed a couple of very foolish fouls. His rebound total was just 4 in 25 minutes. He will get some plaudits, but those may be a bit too generous. Still, he is a lot more effective out there than Vrank.
While the freshman will get the press, we want to give a standing ovation to the efforts of Jack White, a kid that we have lauded from the very beginning. He was really the glue for Duke in this game. He played just a tremendous floor game, stepping into passing lanes on defense and taking a ton of key boards. He deservedly got a whopping 30 minutes and finished with 11 boards (to lead the team by far), 7 assists, and 2 steals. He was everywhere. Bravo, Jack.
Javin, who by contrast has never been a favorite of ours, was again in foul trouble from the outset. Once more, the fouls exceeded the rebounds. He also had no points, despite receiving a pass a few feet from the hoop with no defender withing ten feet -- Javin was called for travelling when he took it in. Rather embarrassing.
As for Poor, Poor Alex, he had almost no time in the first half, but got to play after the break. He made three consecutive treys, showing once more that he has the best jumper on the team. We expect to see him play more and more.
While we may quibble about certain things, this remains a tremendous showing. The level of maturity shown by this young squad was amazing. Also remarkable was the long range shooting, which we had expected to be Duke's weakness -- the team finished 12 for 26 from beyond the arc, over 46%. We do not expect that with any regularity, but is does serve to ease our concerns a bit about having to face those zone defenses. And Kentucky did try zone ... it had to, because it is clear that these Duke kids cannot be contained one-on-one.
Duke 132, Ferris State 48 (October 27, 2018). This is what happens when a Division II squad with almost no returning talent tries to play Duke man-to-man. After this debacle, Ferris State would be advised to switch from the "Bulldogs" to the "Poodles".
We noted that scoring against Virginia Union was like taking candy from a baby. In this one, Duke not only snatched the candy with impunity, but grabbed the rattle as well. The game was over as soon as Duke won the opening tip.
Everyone played well enough for Duke, so we will just throw out a few thoughts. Bearing in mind again that Ferris State posed no threat whatsoever, we were pleased by the defensive effort of the Devils. They switched fairly well and played aggressively, finding themselves out of position on only a few occasions and forcing 24 turnovers. Transition defense was not an issue because non-stop transitions from offense to defense for Duke were few and far between. This team has the foot and hand quickness to play effective man defense, something we have not seen for a long time. Whether they will do so early in the season against tough competition, however, remains a big question.
Offensively, the Devils were overpowering. Any team not playing zone will have their hands full. Zion was again a marvel, finishing 9 for 14 from the floor. What we love also is the extraordinary effort he demonstrates -- he will without doubt lead this squad in floor burns. He can do absolutely anything except shoot well from the outside.
R.J. had another big night, scoring 32 points in 26 minutes of court time. He was 11 for 18 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from long. He loves to shoot, but it's hard to be critical when they're dropping like this. Barrett added 10 boards for good measure. Quite a night.
Cam Reddish had a better game than he did against Virginia Union, but still did not wow. He also loves to launch, particularly when he gets the ball with any space on the outside. But unlike R.J., his shots do not drop as often. He also is not a force on the boards, picking up only one rebound against the hapless Bulldogs. We could have done better. The other issue is that he rarely completes underneath if there is any contact ... contrast this with Zion for whom an opponent with a baseball bat is no threat. We have no doubt that Cam will have some good games for Duke, but he has a long way to go if he wants to become a favorite of ours.
Tre had 10 assists and, amazingly, 9 boards against Ferris State (take note Mr. Reddish). He is the true point that Duke has needed, though as yet we have not really seen him penetrate and dish. We are also becoming increasingly concerned about his ability to hit jump shots. He was 3 for 7 from the floor in this one ... not terrible, but Ferris State should be the game where all offensive numbers are padded.
Poor, Poor was again last in among Duke's regulars, and once again looked very good on the floor. He is very active and very, very talented. But of the eight regulars, his 15 minutes were the fewest. Poor, Poor Alex.
Actually, what may have pleased us most was the play of Marques. He was particularly impressive in the second half, blocking shots on one end and running the floor to score on the other. Hopefully, playing with Tre will give him more opportunities to be involved and increase his confidence. We had such high hopes for him when he matriculated, but we were close to throwing in the towel. We pray that this performance will set the stage for the reemergence of the kid we watched at the high school level.
We were concerned early on by some really stupid turnovers and near turnovers off lazy passes, two by R.J. and one by Zion. Thankfully, the team played smarter thereafter and finished with just 11 total. It will be most interesting to see how that number inflates against Kentucky pressure -- that will be a major deciding factor in the game. Stay tuned ....
Duke 106, Virginia Union 64 (October 23, 2018). So Duke blows away Virginia Union by 40. Impressed? You shouldn't be. This should have been at least a 60 point spread.
We said that Duke should be expecting a lot of zone this season, and they got it from the outset. That was the only positive from this terrible match-up. Anyway, Duke had difficulty dealing with it , and hapless VUU was allowed to remain in the game for far too long.
We also witnessed some serious break-downs in defense by the Devils, particularly in getting back on transition. There was also too much gambling on defense, something we hate ... though we are glad to hear K acknowledge that himself. Let's hope that translates into more discipline going forward, though we have to remain skeptical based on long experience.
On the offensive end, Duke did surpass the century mark and was 40 for 68 from the field. But again, that was largely like taking candy from a baby. What was disturbing were the 15 Duke turnovers, many relatively unforced. Good luck against Kentucky where there will be real defensive pressure.
Turning to individual play, the brightest light was again Mr. Williamson. He was the model of offensive efficiency, finishing 11 for 13 from the field. Get him the ball withing 5 feet of the hoop and you might as well put two on the board. The problem was that he was not getting enough touches inside. What we also dearly loved was his 7 for 7 at the line. We have to believe that he has been working diligently in this area, and his stroke showed it.
Last season we dubbed Mr. O'Connell "Poor Alex" due to his being the latest K victim of inadequate court time. We will now change that moniker to Poor, Poor Alex. The kid did not even see action until around ten minutes had elapsed, and finished with just 8 minutes of court time. In those few minutes, he looked, as Fernando Lamas would have gushed, "simply marvelous, darling". The kid has both athletic talent and skill. Apparently, K noted afterward that Poor, Poor Alex has not played particularly well in practice. Too bad, but what matters is what you do in games. Poor, Poor Alex should be getting around 20 minutes of PT regularly.
We had been Jack White fans from day one, although he was long another victim of K's fuzzy talent assessment abilities. White continues to play strong ball, and even hit his first two treys. We don't expect him to be a lights out shooter, but that scoring ability clearly separates him from the one-dimensional Javin.
R.J. Barrett started off really strong. While Cam Reddish was clanking jumper after jumper, Barrett was nailing them from the outset. While he cooled off considerably thereafter, he gave Duke a major early boost. He wound up 10 for 14 from the floor, which is excellent, and did not force things at all. What was surprising is that he did not even go to the line. It shows how the zone inhibited Duke's normal game.
After that, things tail off. We had been really high on Tre Jones (or the prospect of Tre Jones). But we were not wowed by these first returns. Yes, he had 9 assists, and played unselfishly. But the assists were quite pedestrian and unselfish play was absolutely expected. He really did not create, though again that zone was no doubt a factor. Better get used to it, guys. He also shot very poorly in the first half, though he did redeem himself thereafter by nailing two long jumpers.
Marques continued his struggles in the first half. On offense, he again looked rather awkward and slow. Very slow. Thankfully, he also picked up after the break and played fairly well in the second half. But we must always bear in mind that this was against VUU, which bears no resemblance to a top Division One squad. Marques should have been dominant.
And then there is Cam Reddish. We were terribly disappointed when we saw him in the high school all-star games, and nothing thus far has caused us to change our opinion. He was firing without success from the outset in this one, finishing just 4 for 13. Even worse, he was 2 for 6 from the line. Not good. If he is to get the mega-minutes, he has got to perform a lot better.
And so it goes. Twelve days to Kentucky. Do the gallows await?
The Blue/White Game. Watched the annual intra-squad exhibition and will offer just a few thoughts. First, this is clearly the most athletic team that Duke has ever fielded. The three front court freshman are position-less players and can fly to the hoop. Other teams will have tremendous difficulty guarding these kids in man coverage, so we would expect to see a lot of zone employed against Duke Blessedly, few teams know how to play the zone effectively, Syracuse being a major exception. The initial meeting on January 14 should be most interesting.
The five most talented players on this team are the four heralded freshmen and Poor Alex. While Alex continued to impress last evening with his quickness and ball-handling ability, his jumper was not dropping. He missed all four trey attempts. Even so, he is clearly the best long-range shooter among all the players who are likely to get extended minutes.
Those four freshman all played well. We said long ago that we felt Tre Jones might be the key ... Duke has not had a good point since his brother departed in the night. With a good distributor, Barrett, Reddish, and Williamson will be off to the races. The next most important cog will be Williamson, not only for his scoring ability but also for his rebounding. With Duke's lack of height, his big body will be a godsend. He does play with physicality, and that could lead to foul trouble in the whistle-happy ACC,
Joey Baker continues to impress. The kid has got a great stroke. To even think of redshirting him is insane. He is a major weapon to be employed against the zone.
Marques did have four boards, but again showed nothing on the offensive end. Vrank got a couple of boards, but lost several other rebounds due to his lack of foot and hand quickness.
The bad news about Javin is that he attempted four treys. The good news is that he made two of them, though both were wide open. Even so, he is the last kid (save perhaps Zion) that we want to see launching.
All in all, a satisfying outing. The big question that remains is whether these kids can guard, particularly without fouling. With Kentucky looming, we will soon find out.
A Canadian Review. As we have alerted our readers, we have been traveling extensively through Europe and did not have an opportunity to comment immediately upon the Canada exhibition games as we normally would. We did, however, take the opportunity to watch the games consecutively on YouTube while on the road. It was particularly painful because that meant about five hours of listening to Jay Bilas jabber endlessly about everything except what was transpiring on the court. Poindexter always has a barf bag on hand when the specter of Bilas looms, and on this occasion it was refilled several times.
So what did we glean from these contests? Not much. The scoring margins were predictable, and would have been matched by most major squads. The saving grace is the realization that Duke was short-handed, with Cam Reddish, Tre Jones, and Poor Alex O'Connell all sidelined. Actually, Alex did start the first game, but was quickly injured … Javin once again left his feet on a head fake and his opponent drove to the hoop with elbows flying. Poor Alex wound up taking a shot to the eye. Watching him on the bench for the remainder of the series suggested that he could have played, but there was and continues to be a concern about further impact.
Anyone just reading accounts of these games would believe that both Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett had Herculean performances. They would be half-right. Zion was by far the most impressive kid on the floor. We had seen only one full game of his previously, and we had been struck by his ball-handling, passing and driving abilities. But playing with some other talent really opens the floor for him. We are now even more impressed.
Quite simply, if Zion has any kind of lane to the basket, he is almost always going to score. Contact on the shot hardly fazes him. God, how we love that.
The downside? Zion does not shoot well from a distance. Those three treys in the first contest were purely an aberration. Zion is also iffy at the line. Even so, we love the kid … he is almost certain to be the best player on this year’s squad.
While Zion may be best, we suspect that R.J. will be the leading scorer. When you shoot the ball virtually every time you have possession and are relatively talented to boot, you are going to rack up a lot of points. That was the story of R.J. in these games.
To some extent, we can forgive his extreme offensive exuberance since there were not a lot of offensive weapons available for the Devils. But when the team is at full complement, we will not be so understanding.
There is no doubt that R.J. is athletically gifted. But he is not as automatic off the drive as is Zion. He also struggles from long and at the line. Against the Canadian teams, his free throw shooting was absolutely abysmal. He and Zion are going to leave a lot of points on the table this season, and it will likely be deadly at times.
The other available freshman, Joey Baker, validated what we had heard … he has a very sweet stroke, and is a thing of beauty at the line. We had read a piece on another site recommending that he redshirt. We find that silly – it is highly unlikely that he will hang around for five years, and this team might at times need another outside stroke. At this point, Poor Alex is the only other kid with any kind of dependable shot from long.
We were disappointed that Joey did not get many minutes initially. However, we were delighted to see that change by the final game. We know that Joey will not get much court time this season, but he does add a dimension that is sorely lacking on this team.
As for the rest, it was mostly same old, same old. Vrank and Jordan had some decent minutes, but that needs to be qualified by considering the level (or lack thereof) of the competition. Javin was Javin, with effort surpassing skills. We did like the performance of Jack White, but then we have always favored him. We have said repeatedly that he is more effective overall than Javin, though we were highly disappointed in his outside shot last year after showing glimpses of real shooting prowess as a freshman.
There was, though, one big and disturbing negative in these games, and here we refer to Marques. We pride ourselves on being accurate talent assessors, and we were impressed by what we saw of Marques in his high school all-star contests. He was injured early as a freshman and thereafter, to our chagrin, was given little opportunity to shine. We had hoped for a breakout last season, but things were desultory at best. This year he is Duke's only athletically talented big, so we were anxious to see if he could step up. Well, based on what was shown up North, it ain't looking good.
In short, Marques was utterly ineffective against opponents he should dominate. It was so bad that he did not even start the final game, and his minutes were very limited. It would be highly beneficial to have an athletic big underneath to protect the rim and provide some effective board work. We are beginning to fear that will just be a pipe dream this year.
It has frequently been opined that Duke will be a more effective man-to-man defensive squad this season. That may well be, though it is not saying much. Certainly, the team is quicker overall, but that quickness needs to be balanced by discipline. That is something we did not see in Canada. The Duke players were gambling constantly on the defensive end, usually with disastrous results. It's something the coaching staff should address. We won't hold our breath.
So where does that leave us? Frankly, we're not sure. We love Tre Jones, but have a lot of misgivings about Mr. Reddish. We trust that Poor Alex will be ready to go, though having just one three point threat in the rotation is very worrisome. It had been our anticipation that Duke will be seeing a lot of zones, though that may not be quite so essential if R.J. and Zion continue to tank at the line. As we said in a prior post, our expectations are more constrained than the hype would seem to warrant. It is just unfortunate that the team needs to start the season against such tough opposition.