Game Notes (2018/2019)
Duke 73, Florida State 63 (March 16, 2019). Duke was lucky enough to avoid having to face Virginia for a third time, and they did take advantage. But like the prior night's contest against the Heels, things were looking dicey midway through the first half. Duke then followed its normal pattern, however, of closing the gap at the break and then vaulting ahead at the start of the second half. There was, of course, the usual falter thereafter with the obligatory turnovers, but the team managed nevertheless to prevail. The result was another ACC crown. Sweet!
Our readers will no doubt have noticed that this season we have departed from our long history of chastising ACC officiating. That's because we have been remarkably happy overall this year. But last evening was an exception. First of all, the game was being whistled differently in the first vs. second half -- the kids were allowed to play very aggressively at the outset, then everything was being called thereafter. Even worse, it seems the officials were doing all within their power down the stretch to even up the contest through foul calls. The worst was the whistle against Zion for a charge. Notwithstanding the typical imbecility of Jay Bilious in trying to justify the horrible call, that was not even remotely an offensive foul; indeed, it would ideally just be a non-call. And the culprits ... well, no surprise, this was Ted Valentine and his crew. For any newbies, Valentine is the worst official in the ACC, a guy who should have been forcibly retired years ago. The fact that the ACC continues to allow him to wreak his havoc, and in a championship game to boot, is a travesty. Thankfully, the outcome of the game was not affected.
Anyway, Duke won, notwithstanding its continuing penchant for turning the ball over (13 in this one) and its inability to hit jump shots. This time Duke outdid itself, shooting just 2 for 14 from long (14.3%). It was painful. But there were several saving graces.
First, we thought that the Devils defense was outstanding throughout, as good as we have seen in any game this year. The easy shots for the Seminoles were kept to a minimum; even though State shot around 40% from long, the shots were contested and the attempts kept low. We were most pleased.
We also loved the offensive performances of both Zion and Tre. As to Zion, it was nothing new ... just one remarkable play after another. We always leave the specific details to the Sports Center highlights. We do, however, want to emphasize something that is not talked about often enough, and that is Zion's truly extraordinary quickness -- both hands and feet. He is always the quickest guy on the court, something that is beyond belief given his size. And quickness is such a tremendous asset in basketball. Zion was virtually unstoppable in the first half against the Seminoles. He should have had a touch on every possession; the fact that he didn't is not a credit to the Duke staff.
The great thing is that Tre matched Zion's offensive efforts in this one. He was, first of all, the consummate point guard, playing under control and setting up teammates nicely. But he was also a major offensive weapon for Duke, going 8 for 14 from the floor and scoring on some really tough drives. True, he cannot hit from the outside, but things do open up for him inside when opponents double and triple Zion, and Tre was able to take full advantage. It was beautiful.
Amazingly enough, we were even pleased by what we got from R.J. Yes, there were the typical turnovers (4), and he cannot shoot a lick from the outside (0 for 4), but he was able to finish drives in this one and therefore went 8 for 17 from the floor. He also grabbed 9 rebounds to lead the team. We value rebounding very highly, so we loved that. It was fortunate that he only had to try one foul shot, and he even managed to make it. The one galling play of the evening for us came later in the second half when R.J. had the ball in mid-court. He would not even look to see if a teammate was open -- no, it was clear that he was determined to force things by himself at all costs. Sure enough, what we got was just another turnover. This is something that we have been watching painfully all season, but the good news is that it only happened once in this one. We may not like Barrett's game, but he was certainly a net asset against Florida State.
Alas, Cam continued to play as poorly on the offensive end as is the norm. He will be remembered for hitting his final three point attempt to seal the deal for Duke, but forgotten will be the four prior misses. He was 2 for 8 from the floor in a whopping 37 minutes of court time. The good news ... well, incredibly there were no turnovers, and he went 6 for 6 from the foul line despite struggling there of late. Not much to be grateful about, but beggars can't be choosers.
It was nice to see K wise up a bit and use Jack at the Five spot instead of Vrank. We just wish Jack had more to show for it but 2 boards and 3 fouls. As for Javin, the stats were not impressive, but we do appreciate the fact that he pulled down several contested defensive rebounds. That has never been a strength, so it was nice to see. And Jordan got 8 minutes without cost other than one turnover.
So that brings us to Poor, Poor Alex. The kid was inserted about midway through the opening half. His opponent made a tough jumper from the corner despite being well guarded by Alex, and the game went into a time-out. At the break, we saw an assistant coach talking to Alex and Alex waving his arms; when action resumed, Poor, Poor Alex was back on the pines after about 30 seconds of action. Yes, he was inserted for the final play of the first half, but then any savvy watcher knew that R.J. would simply take a pass and force a shot himself, so the insertion of Alex was absolutely meaningless. In consideration of our regard for Alex, we have to reiterate our feeling that he is probably best served in a different program with a different coach.
So, a team that can't shoot and has trouble holding onto the ball wins the ACC Championship. Can this continue on the next larger stage? Well, we remain highly skeptical. But we suppose that with Zion, anything is possible.
Duke 74, UNC 73 (March 15, 2019). OK, boys and girls, how many of you actually thought that Duke would win this one ten minutes in? Carolina came out on fire (Cam Johnson in particular) and the Heels looked like the premier college team in the country over that opening stretch. It was very impressive. Yet Duke somehow fought back and managed to make it even at the break, despite their normal inability to hit any outside jumpers. We're still scratching our heads as to just how Duke managed it with the personnel they had on the floor.
Well, there are two reasons. First, Carolina went ice cold for the remainder of the game. In good part, it was Duke's defense that limited open looks, but Carolina was also missing shots they were making earlier. By the end of the contest, UNC's percentage from long was a pathetic 4 for 26, just over 15%. That's Duke territory.
The second reason is one Zion Williamson. We rather snidely referred in our last game write-up to Zion and The Pygmies. We do not hesitate to reiterate that notion after last night's game. Once again, Zion was magnificent, even though some of those tough in-close shots did not drop. He did mange to go 13 for 19 from the floor (31 points) and grab 11 boards in 35 minutes. Just amazing ... as close to a one-man team as it is possible to get under the circumstances.
We also give some props to Tre. True, his offensive stats left a lot to be desired as usual, but he played the normal tough defense, limited his turnovers, and made a few clutch hoops. He did, however, miss a clutch one-and-one. But that was the norm for the team in this game.
Ditto for Jordan Goldwire. We had been highly critical, but once again he exceeded expectations. Other than a stupid reaching foul, he played with a paucity of mistakes and within his offensive limitations -- ie, he blessedly did not even try to launch from the outside. Perhaps Jordan reads this site; certainly, we cannot believe that the coaching staff provided any necessary admonishment. Anyway, Jordan was brought in for defense and he fulfilled that role nicely.
As for the rest of the squad, it was terribly uninspired. Javin did manage a few good boards and provided the usual intensity, but he is a constant fouling machine ... 4 in 15 minutes against Carolina. Intensity can only cover for lack of talent to a limited extent.
Due to Javin's foul problems, we saw Vrank on the court for 10 minutes. That is not a good thing. Vrank cannot get more than an inch or two off the floor and is slow as molasses with both foot and hand. He just cannot compete for any extended period against the likes of UNC. That's why we did see, as we had earlier suggested, Zion plugged in at the Five position for extended minutes. However, that remains somewhat problematical against a team as talented up front as Carolina. We do have to wonder why we did not see more of Jack White ... his minutes were limited to six. But we have long since given up trying to comprehend any of Mr. Krzyzewski's decisions.
As for Poor, Poor Alex, he got in the game fairly early, missed a jumper, and was immediately yanked and never seen thereafter. Vintage K. Much as we like Alex, we cannot help thinking that he would be well advised to consider a transfer ... the extra year would give him time to develop the physique as well.
That leaves our two favorite whipping boys. We have repeatedly spoken of our displeasure with both R.J. and Cam, and this was just another example. Starting with Mr. Barrett, he did manage 15 points, but it took him about 18 shots from the floor to get there. He did have 8 boards and 7 assists which is very good, but there were another 3 turnovers as well. And he went to the foul line in the final seconds with the game almost on the line and missed both (what else is new). Given the All-American accolades he inexplicably has been receiving, we do not hesitate to call him the most overrated player in the country -- indeed, perhaps the most overrated ever. And that assessment, which is based on our having watched him for months, will not change even if he comes out and scores 30 against Florida State.
As for Cam, it was beyond ugly. He is truly The Human Turnover. This time it was 5 in his 23 unproductive minutes. We are still shaking our heads at that inane on-line observation that he is as good as anyone in the country. Kind of brings to mind that classic from Animal Farm ... all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. The good news is that K finally put him firmly on the bench, though his 23 minutes still need to be justified.
We alluded earlier to foul shooting issues. Well, Duke really outdid itself in this one. Their mark at the line was 7 for 13 (less than 54%). Actually it was even worse since a couple were the front end of a one and one. When you shoot fouls like that, you do not deserve to win a basketball game. Period.
Now on to the final. Duke was lucky enough to see Virginia defeated. The title is theirs for the taking. Let's hope they don't blow it. The comforting thought is that Zion Williamson, the best player in college basketball, covers up for a vast multitude of sins.
Duke 84, Syracuse 72 (March 14, 2019). First, we need to tip our hats to Syracuse. Without Battle, we thought thought this was in the bag for Duke. But the Orange played brilliantly, actually making it a game. The final score was in no way indicative of the difficulty of this one. Syracuse shot 55% from long in the first half. They were lights out. So congrats, Cuse ... you were the better team; the only thing you lacked was Zion.
As we have said time and time again, Zion towers over his teammates. He is the difference maker on both ends. In this game, he was 13 for 13 from the floor, adding 14 boards, and 5 steals. And most of those points came in the opening half -- he had very limited touches after the break. But without him, Duke loses this game. It is Zion and the Pygmies.
While it was such a breath of fresh air to see the Man back in action, we left this one without any feeling of euphoria. For as to the rest of the Duke team, all the weaknesses we have been citing all year were in full display. We have said what a terrible passer key players are. Well, we saw that again as Duke committed a whopping 18 turnovers. Trying to force passes through the zone contributed, but Duke is poor in this area no matter the competition.
Then there is the outside shooting. Duke is dreadful. They were on their average against Syracuse, approximately 30%. That';s not going to get it done against tougher competition. Late in the second half against the Cuse, Duke had Javin, R.J., Zion, Tre and Jordan on the floor, none of whom are capable from long. It is a wonder that Duke held on.
Then there is the foul shooting. Duke finished at about 68%, again about average. This was the one area where Zion actually let the squad down, finishing just 2 for 9. Still, the way he played otherwise, we'll gladly take the trade-off.
The point of this tired litany is again to show how unlikely it is for these guys to run the table. To do so, we will need to see a magic transition from caterpillar to butterfly. It's possible, though certainly unlikely.
As to individual performances, it was also largely same old. R.J. had his normal stack of points (23) on very nice -- for him -- 8 for 16 shooting. But two of those hoops came very late on wide open jams when Syracuse was pressing on the other hand. Given his 6 turnovers, Barrett was not a real positive difference maker. Despite all the hysterical praise he receives, we continue to regard him as a much overrated player.
And if R.J. is overrated, Cam is wildly overrated. In this one, he was 2 for 7 from the floor with 2 boards and 4 turnovers in 28 minutes. Just awful. But the only thing that limited his playing time were his four fouls ... he is never benched for poor performance.
Actually, we do need to offer some plaudits to an unlikely recipient ... Jordan Goldwire. We have gone on record as saying that Jordan does not belong in the regular lineup. Well, Jordan surpassed himself in this one. True, he has no jump shot, but he did not infuriate us by attempting one. Instead, he managed a couple of scores inside, and played solidly otherwise. This was as good as it gets for Jordan.
As for Poor Alex, well we are now back to Poor, Poor Alex. Only nine minutes in this one. We do need to chide him, though, for his terrible propensity to rush at opposing jump shooters and leave the floor in an attempt to block. The block ain't happening Alex, only the foul. A savvy coach would be drilling that point in.
Now, on to Carolina. Duke will have to play a whole lot better to pull that one out.
UNC 79, Duke 70 (March 9, 2019). Yes, Duke may have kept it relatively close. But without Zion, the conclusion in this one was foregone. We remarked in our write-up of the last Carolina game that when a Duke player goes down, figure on about a month of inactivity. Now it seems to be Marques' turn. As we noted in a prior year, when you sign with Duke, better figure on spending a lot of time at the Medical Center.
We had to laugh at the outset. Jay Bilious, one of our least favorite of a terrible group of commentators, announced that Duke/Carolina "always delivers." That is verbatim what he said prior to the last contest, which Carolina won going away. In addition to all his other faults, it is clear that Mr. Bilious suffers from severe short term memory problems.
In this game, it was same old, same old. Duke played its hardest, but lacked the shooting prowess and playing style to pull it out. The rim clankers are about 30% from long for the season and did not even reach that low mark in this one. Certainly we credit Carolina for its tough defense, but Duke is simply terribly deficient. It didn't help that Alex went 0 for 4 -- this would have been a great opportunity for him to shine. However, his passivity on offense also did him in. We were delighted to see him penetrate early, which led to a dish and score. But thereafter, he made no effort to drive at all. A major blown opportunity for him ... of course, after the misses, he got very few minutes from El Greco!
As a parenthetical, did anyone happen to focus on a particularly inane statement by our illustrious coach during the week ... commenting on the curious return of Joey Baker, K tried to attribute Poor Alex's positive recent outings on the decision to activate Baker. We noted in a recent Asides posting a blatant example of a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy; well, this one by Krzyzewski takes the cake. Unbelievable. Clearly, Baker has been given no court time and has thus been able to do nothing, so K is desperately trying to turn the situation into lemonade.
Cam Reddish had 17 points in the first quarter of this game to keep Duke in the running. Thereafter, he was more of a liability than an asset. While he finished with 23 points, the stats were downright ugly. Cam was 6 for 23 from the floor and 3 for 12 from long, had only 5 boards, and committed 4 turnovers. That's awful. There was a comment on another Duke site during the week to the effect that Cam is as good as any player in the country. What? WHAT??? He shoots about 33% from long, he turns the ball over virtually every time he drives to the hoop (unless he is lucky enough to get a foul call), he passes very poorly, and he rarely rebounds. If you were to list the best players in the country by actual performance rather than inflated hype or "potential." Cam would be lucky to crack the top 200.
Then there is R.J. Once again he led the team in scoring, this time with 26. Of course, he once again led the team in shots taken, this time with 27. Hands down, the most selfish player in America. Everyone speaks with wonder of his scoring average, but the extraordinary number of shots attempted never seems to be noticed. His one on one play simply typifies Duke basketball and the nonexistent motion offense instituted by El Greco! And of course it killed the team down the stretch. With UNC turning the ball over repeatedly, Duke had the ball twice down by only five. We knew that R.J. would simply try to force things, and that's exactly what happened both times. It was disgraceful, and just another example why K cannot hold a candle to Tony Bennett as a coach.
We will offer some kudos to Jack for his defensive efforts. Alas, he is back in his complete offensive funk, this time going 1 for 6. As for Javin, he was forced to play extra minutes due to Marques' departure and actually had one of his best outings of the year. He was 4 for 4 from the floor and added 10 boards. He cannot play any better. But he is not a difference maker; he will not go high to grab tough boards in competition, which is what Duke desperately needed. Only Zion (and very occasionally Marques) can do that. But Zion wasn't around, and Duke was therefore not about to prevail when the dust settled.
Duke 71, Wake Forest 70 (March 5, 2019). What a disgrace. Duke did everything possible to give this game away ... one missed free throw after another by R.J. down the stretch, and perhaps the dumbest play in the annals of basketball by Jack White. In case you missed it, with nine seconds left and Duke up by one with the ball out of bounds, Jack simply stepped in-bounds with the ball. Wake had it and would have won had not their final shot defied all laws of physics by failing to drop through the hoop. It was ample grounds for an immediate scholarship revocation and a one-way ticket back to Australia.
As we have said, without Zion, any Division I team can beat this squad. And Wake, the doormat of the conference, is indeed any Division I team (though they were playing at a high level against Duke). Yet again goes to show that Zion is BY FAR the best player on this team.
We were repeatedly told at the halftime break that the problem was that Duke was playing with a lack of energy. Nonsense. Duke was playing with their normal energy -- they were just playing without a lot of talent. And, as always, with poor coaching decisions.
We really can't criticize the Duke defense. We thought they were playing tough most of the game and were not allowing a lot of easy shots. But it was all the normal offensive issues that were killing them, as well as the personnel decisions by their illustrious coach. We have been pointing out these issues since the season began. Some have finally reached the consciousness of the Talking Heads on television, but most are still beyond their comprehension; after all, their stock in trade is largely just to regurgitate the conventional wisdom, whether it reflects reality or not.
So let us once again cite the failings of this squad, both collective and individual. First and foremost, this team is just a terrible jump shooting group. Early on, we called them the worst in the modern era at Duke, and the Talking Heads have finally caught on as well. The overall average of the team from long is just over 30%. That is very poor.
Then there is the free throw shooting. The team is at currently under 69% and R.J. in particular, the kid most likely to go to the line (since he tries to take every shot down the stretch), is just awful. As noted above, it nearly did kill them against Wake.
Finally, the turnovers. Another 15 against Wake, and this time they were largely unforced. Mostly just terrible passing once again. It was nauseating.
As for individuals, this game simply reinforced everything we have been saying as well. Yes, R.J. did score 28 points and had a number of excellent driving shots. For a period of about five minutes in the first half, he was absolutely brilliant in that regard. And he did make a couple of big hoops in the lane down the stretch as well. But those who reflexively ooh and aah about this (including El Greco!) invariably ignore all the other baggage. First, R.J. is just a terrible long-range shooter. For the season, he is at 31%, and against Wake he was 0 for 6. He is also a complete embarrassment at the foul line. His stats against Wake were 6 for 14, and even that understates the problem since at least one of those misses was the front end of a one and one. And finally, he is one of the worst passers we have ever seen. Against Wake, it was one dreadful pass after another, ultimately resulting in seven turnovers. This performance was incontrovertible proof of what we have been pointing out all year.
We have also been consistently critical of R.J.'s selfish play, as well as the coaching failures that enable it. Against Wake, he took about half the team's shots when you consider the 23 credited to him in the box score, as well as the others attempted on which fouls were called. But one play in particular late in the game said it all. Barrett was at side court with the ball, and three Wake defenders came over to guard him, figuring that R.J. was almost sure to force things. They were indeed correct. R.J. did try to dribble through and toss up a shot. Never mind that he had teammates wide open across court. Needless to say, R.J. missed. Of course, even if R.J. had miraculously attempted a pass, the odds are it would have been thrown over a teammate's head into the stands.
Then there is Cam. We said even before the season began that we expected little of him despite his vaunted reputation. Like R.J., Cam does have some nice athletic abilities. But athleticism does not necessarily translate into basketball effectiveness. While Cam has had several positive outings for Duke, it is the average that we always focus on rather than the aberrational. And excellent play from Cam is the exception, not the rule. Against Wake, he was 2 for 9 from the floor with 2 boards and 4 fouls in 26 minutes. We have repeatedly noted how his attempts to drive the hoop almost always end in disaster, whether it be a charging foul, a stripped ball, or just a failure to complete. Against Wake, it was three charges ... he was simply a bull in a china shop. The sad truth is that despite any innate talent, Cam is not by any stretch a great basketball player. While constantly touted as a good long range shot, he is less than 34% for the year. He is a one trick pony with an unimpressive trick.
We have been lobbying forever the cause of Poor Alex. He played 26 minutes against Wake, not nearly enough. He also took only 6 shots in that time, making 3 (he was 2 for 4 from long). For the season, he is over 40% from beyond the arc. As always, he rarely touches the ball on offensive possessions. With his shooting talent, a wise coach would not only get him more minutes, but would also instruct his teammates to get him regular touches and would encourage him to be less unselfish offensively. But that presumes a wise coach.
Everyone was ecstatic about Jack's offensive renaissance against Miami. Well, Jack came out and made his first trey attempt against Wake. After that, it was pure offensive disaster. He did make his second attempt as well, but it was an uncalled bank shot that went in ... it counts in the box, but merits an asterisk. Thereafter, it was pure disaster, including several missed right underneath. Jack finished 2 for 10. We did love his effort on the other hand, and the 10 boards were lovely. Unfortunately, the offensive ineptitude and that final bonehead play undermined all the good.
We continue to be highly critical of K's substitution decisions. We have opined that neither Jordan nor Javin really belong in the main rotation, yet there they were in all their glory for extended minutes against Wake. Despite being an absolute disaster on the offensive end, Jordan played 13 minutes in this highly contested match. That is ridiculous. The only good news is that he did not attempt a shot.
And Javin for some reason was awarded 17 minutes, almost as much as Marques (who had 18). That makes no sense, particularly in view of the fact that Wake, despite their lack of great size, was rebounding so effectively on the offensive end. Remember that Javin, who has no offensive ability, is simply not productive at all on the boards. It is mind boggling to us, although it is something we have grown used to from El Greco! over the years.
So, it is now on to UNC, and probably without Zion once again. If Duke pulls that one out without Williamson at full strength, it will truly be a miracle.
Duke 87, Miami 57 (March 2, 2019). Normally, beating Miami by 30 would be cause for celebration. But this is not your normal Miami squad, not by a long shot. Indeed, their play in the first half was probably the worst by any Duke opponent this season, including the exhibitions. They improved after the break (and Duke cooperated defensively), but this was still never going to be a real contest.
As for Duke, there were certainly some nice positives, with the usual assorted negatives thrown in. Not perfect, but more than enough to get the job done. The best occurred during the final ten minutes of the first half. Until then, Miami was hanging around, despite their ineptitude. But a prodigious scoring spree by R.J. and Cam in particular over that period vaulted Duke into a large 47 to 19 lead at the break. The rest of the game was pretty even, but it didn't matter.
It was nice to see K starting the correct five players at the outset (always a rarity with him). It was R.J., Cam, Tre, Marques, and Poor Alex on the court. We are also pleased to note that Alex got 30 minutes, in contrast with the Virginia Tech loss when he did not get enough PT. And while Alex was not exactly on fire again from long (just one for three), he had a very solid 5 for 8 shooting night overall.
We were somewhat chagrined by some comments of his in an on-line article that appeared during the week. In that piece, Alex rather obsequiously remarked that he understood that more talented teammates would be getting greater playing opportunities. While we do generally appreciate a player understanding and acknowledging his weaknesses, we thought in this case that the remarks were most unfortunate because they are really part of a false narrative.
Alex is in fact a very talented player -- he is the best shooter on the team and is otherwise very quick and athletic. But we have little doubt that the lack of court time that El Greco! has given him has worked to damage Alex's psyche a good bit. And it shows on the court as well; in contrast with the very selfish play of R.J. and the often selfish play of Cam as well, Poor Alex is the epitome of unselfishness ... indeed, he is unselfish to an extreme at times. When he elects to drive and penetrate the lane (which he does too infrequently), he always dishes off. He just does not look for his shot. Too bad, because he is a kid who certainly could explode.
This is not to say that Poor Alex is a perfect player. One issue that we have observed all year is his tendency to takes his eyes off his opponent when playing defense. He is therefore all too prone to give up a back-door score. This is something the coaching staff should be emphasizing with him, but that does not seem to be happening. Nevertheless, as we have long thought, Alex is looking very good on the court. And the good news is that Tre was actually passing the ball to him for the first time. Perhaps our comments have had an effect.
As for Tre, his defensive play continues to be masterful. He has perhaps the best defensive technique we have ever seen from a Duke guard, and that is saying a lot. Alas, offense goes to the other extreme. While he did score a few hoops against Miami, they came late, during garbage time. Once again, we saw several turnovers from him as well. That was attributable in part to Miami's extremely active defense, but it was still not good.
At this point, a parenthetical is in order. We have been very vocal in past years about the frequency of whistles in ACC play. It has been something that has made viewing contests almost intolerable. Well, unless we are quite mistaken, this season has seen a real swing back in the other direction. And that is most welcome since the games have much better flow. Of course, one effect is that allowing a team like Miami to manhandle opponents dribbling the ball will result in more turnovers, but that is a trade off we will gladly accept. No death, no foul is our motto.
We mentioned the scoring of R.J. in the first half. While he did not have one of his most prolific outings, he did wind up with 19 points. He also picked up his rebounding after faltering of late ... it was 10 against Miami. Bear in mind, however, that Miami is not exactly loaded with bigs (or talent for that matter). Kind of makes things easier. A negative (for both R.J. and Cam) continues to be turnovers, however. In this one, R.J. finished with five. That is all largely due to his selfish play, forcing things on offense continually. Sometimes it works, but often it doesn't.
Cam also shot well during that latter part of the first half. He even had a couple of nice drives ... normally, he either fails to finish when driving or is stripped, so driving scores are all too rare for him. But most welcome. Overall, however, it was not a spectacular day for Cam, and missing 3 of his first 4 foul shoots was most annoying. Still, we will gladly take 7 of 14 shooting and 7 boards from Cam any time.
The final starter, Marques, played about as well as he is able during his 23 minutes. He finished with 10 rebounds and scored 15 points on 6 for 9 shooting. About as good as it gets from Marques. As we mentioned, he started the game and played the most minutes at the Five position, and that is at it should be.
While we always admire Javin's efforts on the court, we have been very honest (as we are committed to being) about his weaknesses. We have repeatedly remarked that Javin is all intensity and almost no talent. On offense, it is fumbled passes and no scoring ability. On defense, it is an untoward number of fouls (4 in 13 minutes against Miami) and few defensive boards in competition. The fact is that we really don't think that Javin should be figuring in the rotation. When (and if) Zion returns, we would like to see Duke playing smaller when possible with Zion at the Five. And even Jack at that position should be more effective that giving Javin minutes.
Anyway, speaking of Jack, how wonderful it was for all concerned when he hit that first trey ... after missing 25 straight over the past couple of months. Even his opponent gave him a discreet pat on the back. Nice. We were also delighted when he went on to hit his next two attempts as well. Three for three from long. It's either feast or famine. But the reemergence of Jack's offense clearly makes a very strong case for more bench time for Javin. But with K, what seems apparent rarely is.
While we were happy with Duke's offense in general, as well as with the first half defense, there were still the usual issues. Again, Duke had too many turnovers -- 16 against Miami. And the foul shooting was pathetic once more ... 9 for 14, 64%. You can get away with it against Miami, but it will ultimately kill you.
One final note. What in the world was K thinking when he had R.J. and Cam still on the floor with four minutes left in the game and Duke up by 27? Is it that important that he up their scoring averages? If we were Jim Larranaga, we would be most peeved.
And now, on to another cupcake, Wake Forest. Zion should not be needed for this one either.
Virginia Tech 77, Duke 72 (February 26, 2019). As we said, any competent Division I team playing well can beat Duke without Zion. The Hokies demonstrated that this evening.
There were several reasons for this loss. First, Tech's defense was infinitely better than Duke's. Infinitely. Tech had open looks all evening; Duke had virtually none except for those that Tech deliberately gave up. Second. Duke simply could not guard Kerry Blackshear ... but then, neither Javin nor Marques can shut down any opponent, a major problem for Duke. Third, Tre Jones had another poor outing; indeed, this may have been his worst overall. Fourth, the player rotation decisions by El Greco! were pathetic (as usual). Finally, turnovers. Once more, Duke coughed up the ball more frequently than its opponent -- 12 to only 6 for Tech. And the Duke miscues often led to Tech scores.
While we certainly acknowledge Tre's defensive prowess, we are becoming more and more disenchanted by him. He is simply killing the team on the offensive end. Opponents are not even bothering to guard him because he is virtually incapable of hitting an outside jumper. At least, one expects him to compensate in part by flawless ball handling, but that was definitely not the case in this one ... Tre added three turnovers to his legion of missed shots. Yet the kid played all 40 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, that is insane. Duke would have been much better served with Tre periodically on the bench and letting Barrett or Poor Alex handle point.
We have very openly stated that K owes his great success to his extraordinary salesmanship talents. But his bench coaching and decision making lag far, far behind. How you can let the team play extended minutes with Tre, Jack, and either Marques or Javin on the court simultaneously is beyond idiotic -- none of them is capable of hitting a jump shot. Add in the fact that R.J. is also very weak from long, and you wind up with losing basketball. You have to score points to win.
We were cheered by the minutes that Alex got in the last game against Syracuse, and that was largely responsible for Duke's win. Did that make an impression on our esteemed Coach? Evidently not, since Poor Alex was limited to 20 minutes in this one. And get this -- he got only two shots. That's right, Duke's best shooter gets all of two shots!!! Incidentally, both of those shots were treys and both swished through the hoop.
If you turn to our Asides page, you will see that we chastised Tre (and the Duke staff) because Alex is actually snubbed on the court. Tre never looks for him; indeed, he seems absolutely determined to ignore him. To us, that is beyond belief, and the coaching staff (read K in particular) deserves much of the blame for not addressing this issue. As we said, K is a great salesman, not a great coach.
R.J. had a miserable first half. He was unable to get any effective penetration during that period, so he settled for outside jumpers. That is not his forte, and he proved it once again. However, after the break, he was repeatedly able to get in the lane and score. It was a sparkling offensive effort by him during that second 20 minute stretch ... well, other than at the foul line where he left four consecutive points off the board. Barrett wound up with a team-leading 21 points, almost all coming after the break. But his rebounding totals once again suffered -- only 4 in 36 minutes.
Cam shot better than he usually does, making 3 out of 6 from long. That is very good. What is not good, however, is that he continues to be a turnover waiting to happen. It was five in this one. That's why we would want to see his minutes decrease and those of Poor Alex go up. But K, of course, seems oblivious.
Jack got 16 minutes after being relegated to the bench for the entire Syracuse contest. His offensive woes continue completely unabated. However, we were somewhat cheered by a number of nice plays on the defensive end, something we have not seen from him since much earlier in the season. But his inability to hit a jump shot continues to hurt the team big time.
We remarked after the last game that we fantasize about seeing Alex and Joey on the court simultaneously. Well, amazingly enough, that miracle occurred during the first half of this game, though it lasted for all of 20 seconds. If you blinked, you would have missed it. Typical of Coach K. Baker played all of one minute. Welcome back, Joey. You might as well still be red-shirting.
Does anyone still doubt that Zion is Duke's MVP on both ends of the court? If so, Mr. Doubter, you know nothing about basketball.
Duke 75, Syracuse 65 (February 23, 2019). There is a lot to talk about in this revenge match. So follow closely ....
First, it was another game without Zion. Of course, there was talk during the week that perhaps we would not be seeing Zion again in a Duke uniform. Most notable were the comments of Demarcus Cousins, who sneered that Zion had no obligation to Duke and needed to think only of his pro career. How reprehensible is that? When a player signs with a school and takes its scholarship, he owes a moral obligation to that school, as well as his teammates, to compete to the best of his ability ... unless ONLY if doing so would be likely to aggravate an injury with long-term consequences. Of course, the comments of Cousins are perfectly indicative of the kind of narcissistic low-lifes that populate the NBA, a primary reason why we have stopped watching professional basketball (and football too for that matter). But we have no doubt that Zion will disregard that kind of advice and continue to compete.
Anyway, Duke was playing without Zion again, and that was ominous indeed. We reiterate for the umpteenth time that Zion is by far the most important player on the squad on both ends. Without him, Duke can be beaten by any competent Division I team that is playing well. Fortunately for Duke, Syracuse did not play very well at all. They certainly played hard, but except for a stretch of about five minutes or so in the first half when they couldn't miss a jumper, their shooting was very poor indeed. For the night, the Cuse were just 24 of 70 from the floor (34%) and 12 for 19 from the line (63%). That's how you lose basketball games.
Now the Devils did contribute to that poor shooting. Unlike the prior contest against the Tar Heels, Duke's man defense was actually effective. Not many open shots for Syracuse at all. The one big negative for an extended period was Duke's defensive rebounding, a constant bugaboo under K during his entire tenure. Fortunately, that tightened up toward the end when Marques entered the game. But more on that later.
We have been less than flattering quite often about the decisions of our illustrious coach. Well, he actually did a couple of very smart things for once (though there were a couple of foolish moves as well). First of all, Poor, Poor Alex got a start and miraculously was given 34 minutes of court time. As a result, we shall henceforth be deleting one "Poor" from his moniker ... at least until K gives us ample cause to add it back.
We have been the biggest lobbyists for time for Mr. O'Connell. That is why we were so disappointed in his performance against UNC. He has very limited time to prove himself, and cannot afford to waste opportunities. Well, against Syracuse, the kid made the most of his time. Indeed, in all probability, Duke would not have won without him. Poor Alex was 6 for 9 from the floor, 5 for 8 from long and 3 for 3 from the stripe. That's 20 points for the Poor Guy. Add in 5 boards and a steal and you've got a career game. With Alex, Duke was 31% from beyond the arc; without him, the team shot just 4 for 21 (19%). Thank God for Poor Alex.
We continue to shake our heads at the myopia of Jay Bilious, whom we had to endure once again. Bilious pompously intoned yet again that Cam Reddish is Duke's best jump shooter. No he isn't. Alex is the best, followed by Joey Baker (more on him in a second), and even Justin Robinson. In fact, we would call Cam a distant fourth. For the season, Cam is now around 33%. That is not good. An occasional hot spurt is not what is important ... we need to focus on the norm and not the exception. That should be obvious, but never seems to be for most.
As for Mr. Baker, we have been very vocal about the decision to red-shirt him this season. That simply made no sense whatsoever for reasons we stated. Well, K ended the red-shirt against the Cuse, though Joey got only five minutes to show for it. Baker got off all of one shot, which was missed ... as we all know, if you are not a favored player, that is enough to consign you to the bench. Actually, we thought that Baker looked pretty darn good on the court. It is just a tragedy that he has not been getting playing time before this ... being thrust on the big stage before 35,000 onlookers in the heat of a contested game is a terrible way to make your debut. Oh well, better late than never.
We rarely commend R.J. for his offensive play, but we have to do so wholeheartedly in this case. Until Poor Alex heated up after the break, R.J. was keeping Duke in the game. It was not from the outside mind you (2 for 5), but rather from inside the foul lane -- everything he was tossing up seemed to be going in. R.J. was 12 for 15 inside, and that is marvelous. Indeed, it is Zionesque. We are not likely to see that kind of efficiency again from the kid, but we needed it with Williamson out.
The downsides? Well, while R.J. usually does a pretty good job on the boards, he only contributed 5 rebounds in this game. And his terrible passing continued as well, resulting in 5 turnovers. We also saw him try to complete a fast break by himself even though Alex was wide open on the side. Even so, it was a yeoman performance overall and we are grateful.
We have often remarked how weak Duke is at the Five position, but that Marques is the best of the lot. Well, for some reason Javin got the start and wound up playing 27 minutes. He showed his usual hustle throughout and did grab 7 boards and was credited with 3 blocks (though one of those was an obvious foul). The problem, however, is that Javin simply has no real talent. We are sorry to have to be so blunt, but there it is. Any time a player tries to feed the ball into Javin -- or give him a lob -- it will almost always result in a turnover. This should of course be addressed by the coaching staff, the players (and Javin) being informed that he is in for the sole purpose of trying to get boards and play defense. The coaching staff has to do what is best for the team, not worry about hurting a player's feelings.
The problem also with Javin is that he is usually out of control on the court. The result is an inordinate number of fouls committed game in and game out. Putting an opponent on the line is not consonant with playing effective defense.
So Javin got the bulk of the minutes at center. What is truly inexplicable, however, was that the first sub in for him was Vrank. Vrank simply cannot compete at this level and should be in the game only when it has been decided. It makes no sense that he appeared in the first half of this one. Indeed, the only turnover that was assigned to Poor Alex occurred on a feed into Vrank at the post, something that should never be done. It was a mental rather than a physical mistake. But again, when you are not getting the coaching guidance needed, it is very problematical.
Marques received only 10 minutes of PT, but made the most of them. He was just 1 for 1 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the line, not impressive but at least very efficient. But his 8 rebounds were absolutely huge. He was grabbing defensive boards down the stretch when nobody else could. He helped salvage the win for Duke, despite the fact that they kept trying to give it away with bad passing. Good job, Marques.
Once again, Tre Jones had a less than impressive offensive outing, particularly in the first half. He is just a dreadful outside shooter. Given wide open looks from long all evening, he was able to connect but once. The final tally was 1 for 7 from beyond the arc. Opponents do not even guard him there and for good reason. It is really hurting the squad.
And Cam was in like territory. Just 1 for 8 from long and 2 for 11 overall. We also saw the usual terrible passes, resulting in a few turnovers. And, as we have noted, he is normally unable to drive to the hoop, whether on a break or in half-court mode, without getting stripped of the ball. Fortunately, for both Cam and Tre, the defense continued to be solid. But Duke needs more from them than just capable play on the defensive end.
The only other player to see action was Jordan, who was in for just 3 minutes when Syracuse put on a full court press late in the game. Like Vrank, Jordan really shouldn't be in except in garbage time (the Louisville game notwithstanding), and Jordan did throw the ball away the only time he had it. Jordan can play decent defense at times, but he is not a strong ball handler or passer at all.
Now you should all note that Jack has been omitted. That is because he did not even set foot on the court, and there was no indication that White was ailing physically. Although we had been big fans of his play early this year, his game has simply fallen off a cliff -- at both ends of the court -- once ACC play began. So we have no problem with his being consigned to the bench in this one.
Clearly, a bit of a mixed bag, but a welcome win. We are buoyed by seeing Poor Alex perform so well and by the sudden appearance of Joey Baker. We are even beginning to fantasize about seeing Alex and Joey on the court at the same time in a contested game situation. But with K in charge, we will not count on that one.
UNC 88, Duke 72 (February 20, 2019). When we heard that Duke was a 9+ point favorite in this game, we nearly fell over. Anyone who has closely watched this Duke squad should have bet the farm on UNC at that spread. The fact is that we expected Carolina to win this one. Without Zion, there was zero chance for Duke.
As you all no doubt already know, Zion went down all of 33 seconds into the game. When a kid on any other team has a similar mishap, he inevitably returns after a few minutes have elapsed. With Duke, the player is always out for the game, if not the month. Actually, we have never seen a player who spends more time on the floor than Zion ... we refer not only to his admirable hustle for loose balls, but also to his peculiar penchant for slipping to the ground. This is the first time this season, however, that it has been accompanied by injury. Since he is far and away Duke's best player, that was catastrophic. Of course, even with Zion, UNC probably prevails in this one.
The irony is that UNC, usually a good jump shooting squad, gave Duke a golden opportunity to make it a game. UNC shot just 10% from long -- 2 for 20. Those stats should have produced a Duke victory. They didn't because Duke's defense was absolutely execrable, giving Carolina one scoring opportunity after another inside. Any sentient coach would have switched to a zone ... but not The Empty Suit. He just watched vacantly.
Duke also rewarded Carolina with turnover after turnover, They had a whopping 20 for the night. Almost every time Duke got a steal, they gave it right back. There was the usual terrible passing and no communication on the court.
We remarked about UNC's poor outside shooting. Well, Duke was almost as inept, hitting 8 for 39 from long (20%). The difference is that you have to expect that from Duke. It is why it is so very difficult to imagine this team winning it all.
As for individual performances, Both R.J. and Cam had decent, though not stellar, outings. R.J. actually made 50% of his field goal attempts, though he was as shaky as usual from three. He also contributed 10 boards, but gave up the ball 5 times in return. Despite the thoughtless praise he gets from the talking heads, we have repeatedly pointed out that he is a pretty dreadful passer. As for Cam, he led the squad with four treys, though the totals were a less-than-impressive 4 for 12. However, we do need to point out that most of the shots were tough -- unlike Duke, Carolina was not making it easy for their opponents.
Tre had a truly terrible game. There has been the constant query as to whether Tre or his brother has been the more effective player. Well, we do give the edge to Tre's defense to be sure. But Tyus was far superior on the offensive end. FAR superior. Against UNC this evening, Tre was not hitting at all ... 1 for 11 from the floor. Too many games like that from him.
Marques gave the team almost nothing in his 18 minutes. And the Duke bench remains next to valueless. Jack continues his miserable shooting streak, Javin plays with his normal intensity but with few results other than fouls, and even Alex has turned ice cold of late. We had been lobbying hard for more PT for Alex, but he has to produce when given his few opportunities. He did not this evening.
And then there is Jordan, the most dreadful offensive player we have ever witnessed in major college basketball. Against UNC this evening he inexcusably took three shots -- two were air balls and the other barely grazed rim. We had been all over K throughout this season for allowing Jordan to take those attempts. The Empty Suit strikes again.
By the way, the refs did Duke no favors in the game, missing a couple of whistles that should have been blown against the Heels. On one play, a Duke player was clearly pushed out-of-bounds, and tried to recover by throwing the ball to an opponent for an easy score. Of course, even the TV analysts missed that one. We simply note this for the record because the refs were, in the end, not the cause of this loss.
All the Duke die-hard will be blaming this miserable performance on the injury to Zion. The fact, however, is that UNC was not at the top of their game at all on offense. Yet they still managed to out-play Duke substantially on both ends of the court. Much better coached as well. This should be a wake-up call for the faithful. It won't.
Duke 94, NC State 78 (February 16, 2019). Given the fact that State usually plays Duke so well, any win in this series comes as a great relief. But this win does come also with some real caveats.
First, the credits. Zion was Zion, but on steroids. Even though he only got 30 minutes due to foul difficulty, he wound up with 32 points. With more PT, it could easily have been 40. He was simply unstoppable inside. Unstoppable. It will be very hard to appreciate Duke BB next season without him. True, his rebound total was a bit off (six), but no matter. He continues to be an absolutely lock-down defender, at least when he is not doing his usual gambling. We just continue to be in awe.
And R.J. had a big evening as well. A triple double ... 23 points, 11 boards, and 10 assists. The most astounding piece of information is that it was only the fourth triple double in Duke's storied history. That is indeed most surprising. Of course, assists were very easy to come by this evening -- one need only toss the ball inside somewhat close to Zion and a score would result. Even Poindexter could have finished in double figures.
We have said repeatedly that we are no fans of R.J., at least on the offensive end. We continue to feel that way, although we were cheered by his comparative efficiency against State. He was 8 for 17 from the floor, almost 50%. That is very good for R.J. He also limited himself to 4 trey attempts (making one). And a real added bonus was that he did not commit a turnover. Very rare indeed. And perhaps an even greater bonus: he was 6 for 6 from the stripe, and they were swishing through! Amazing. There were the usual wild forced shots, but they were also kept to a minimum in this one. So it was a really good effort for him. Still, to talk of R.J. in the same sentence with Zion is almost a sacrilege.
As for the other (purported) superstar freshman, Cam had a most desultory outing. He did make a truly great driving score at the beginning of the second half, and actually had a four point play in the first. But other than that, it was shades of early season. He was just 1 for 7 from long. He could not hit anything. Welcome to Duke basketball, circa 2019.
Tre wound up playing the entire 40 minutes (we found it curious that K did not clear the bench when the game was won with less than two minutes remaining). It was a very respectable outing, albeit not extraordinary. Thirteen points on 6 for 9 shooting, 5 assists and 1 turnover. We do like the way Tre is able to penetrate the lane in a pinch for an eight to ten foot shot. We would like to see him do that more often rather than watch R.J. try to force things. What we have not seen for some reason is any penetration-and-dish. We wonder why.
As usual, Marques started. And also as usual, Javin came in to sub after only three minutes. Why Marques is only ably to go for three minutes is absolutely beyond us. While neither player was at all dominant, both had their moments. Marques, the better of the two as always, wound up with 9 points (on three jams), 8 boards, and 3 blocks in his 22 minutes. That is very good for him. And Javin, who normally gives the team virtually nothing on either end except fouls, had one impressive stretch early on where he grabbed a few very aggressive boards and added a really good block. It was an amazing three minute stretch for him, and that was easily the best he looked all year. Of course, the bad news is that it was all of three minutes.
And Poor, Poor Alex got only four minutes. Despite being the team's best marksman, he got off zero shots. He did add an amazing blocked shot, however, coming up from behind on a State fast break. The crowd really appreciated it even if his coach did not.
Now the downside. Duke continues to shoot the ball horrendously. They were just 3 for 16 from beyond the arc, less than 19 percent. Anyone who believes that the Virginia game was anything but a wild aberration is delusional.
Equally troubling was Duke's defensive performance. State continually dribbled by defenders for scoring opportunities inside. And Duke's defensive switches were usually non-switches ... the picked defender would still remain with his man, resulting in a worthless double-team and an open opponent, who would usually go to the hoop. It was very bad indeed. Duke would have been much better off in a zone.
Now, UNC looms on the horizon. While it is at Duke, we approach this game with great trepidation. Zion is not going to have free rein inside, and Duke will almost certainly have to make outside shots. For these guys, that is a very difficult task indeed. Let's hope for another miracle.
Duke 71, Louisville 69 (February 12, 2019). We had to laugh when we saw a commentary to the effect that Duke dominated Virginia in the last game. No, Duke shot WAY above their heads and managed to maintain generally around an eight point lead over Virginia. That was not domination. In contrast, for most of this game, Louisville utterly dominated Duke. The lead was 23 points with under ten to play. Simply a whuppin.'
What happened? Louisville committed the cardinal mistake (SORRY) of trying to protect their lead. Their hyper-aggressiveness turned into pure passivity. As a result, they lost everything. Louisville missed the front end of three consecutive one and ones, and they were sitting back on their heels on the offensive end. Duke, which had generated very few steals in the first half, began taking the ball away on every possession. Louisville simply lost a game they had won.
It was not even very hot shooting down the stretch that won it. After that monster night against the Caveriers, Duke was again their normal Gang That Can't Shoot Straight. Their totals for the evening from long: 7 for 28 (25%). Yes, Louisville was playing great D, but it was also Duke ineptitude.
Ironically, it was a rule that we despise that won it for Duke. We refer to that horrendous rule that a defensive player cannot stand his ground inside the "arc" without getting a blocking call. After originally being charged with an offensive foul with about 14 seconds left, the officials went to the review screen and reversed the call, giving Cam the game winning free throw shots. Terrible rule, but it worked to Duke's benefit at the end.
The only one who really had a sparkling night offensively for Duke was Zion. He was a magnificent warrior, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 boards. And that was playing with 4 fouls down the stretch. Duke accomplished its monumental comeback with neither Marques nor Javin on the court, so it was really up to Zion to control the defensive glass. He did his job.
Cam also made a couple of big late shots, as well as adding some crucial free throws. But he also missed a bunch, and was truly taking terrible shots. As soon as he would get the ball, he would launch ... no matter where he was on the court. He was bailed out on one of those occasions by a defender's foul. Anyway, his overall stats were a less than impressive 7 for 19 from the floor, but that was still better than his compatriots (save Zion).
Tre had a terrible offensive outing (2 for 10) and R.J. was generally awful. Barrett was 4 for 14 on offense and turned the ball over 4 times. As we have said repeatedly, we really dislike his game. And once again, Duke got nothing from its Five position.
Duke's collapse started with Jordan on the court later in the first half, though he was also on the court during the marvelous comeback. He did a creditable job on the defensive end, but was as abysmal as ever on offense, not even hitting rim on an open layup drive. Once again, he launched a trey, missing of course. Ugh.
Alex played little and did nothing. Ditto for Jack.
While we do applaud Duke's aggressive defense down the stretch that created all the turnovers, the fact again is that Louisville simply gave this one away. Trying to protect a lead, whether it be in basketball or football, is a recipe for disaster. And this was a disaster for Louisville. We can't help feeling a bit sorry for their fans.
By the way, we do want to offer plaudits to the ESPN crew on the game, Rece Davis and Jimmy Dykes. It was by far the most trenchant analysis we have heard in a long time. It is so refreshing that we did not have to endure the usual voices.
Duke 81, Virginia 71 (February 9, 2019). Wow. Double wow. We have bemoaned the poor jump shooting of this Duke team time and time again. Well, on a big night, they went on an absolute tear, finishing the contest 13 for 21 from long, over 61%. The odd thing is that they were even hotter in the first half, yet allowed Virginia to close to four at the break (through some amazing shots by the Cavs as well). At that point, we would have bet almost anything that Virginia would have gone on to win. But miraculously, Duke's hot shooting continued and the Cavs came back to Earth a bit. The result was a ten point win, despite some poor Duke free throw shooting down the stretch ... at least one thing didn't change!
The great thing is that Virginia did not lose the game -- Duke won. Virginia played their usual sparkling defense, completely denying Duke anything inside. If Duke had not shot so far over their heads, this would have been a different result. Actually, we do think that Virginia is probably the better team, but two victories by Duke render that a dubious honor.
To make things even more surrealistic, Zion had a really poor offensive outing ... at least for him. He only got off 8 shots, making 6. That's as efficient as always, but the Virginia defense continually swarmed, causing him to turn the ball over repeatedly when he tried to force drives. He coughed it up five times to be exact. While he also had an unusually low 5 boards as well, his defense was otherwise strong and he added a few blocks. It was certainly not all bad.
R.J., normally a very poor shot, was absolutely unconscious out of the gate. Five treys in the opening half. But like Zion, he was trying to force things inside, turning it over five times as well. That forced one-on-one play is a staple with him and almost always ends in disaster. Still, we congratulate him on giving Duke that nice early cushion and setting the tone for the rest of the guys.
We wish we could be more complimentary about Marques, but his performance on the boards and on the offensive end continue to underwhelm. We always cringe when the ball is forced in to him, and he continues to struggle to gather up missed shots. But he is still the best of Duke's lot at that position, and his defense was creditable.
Actually, we are saving the best for last. We thought that both Tre and Cam had terrific outings. While Tre did have a higher turnover count than usual (three), he wound up with seven assists, played his usual excellent defense, and made key shots on the offensive end. He was also a perfect 4 for 4 from the line. This is exactly the kind of performance that we pray for from him.
As for Cam, he may have been the player of the game for the Devils. Even though he finished third in scoring with 17, he was 6 for 10 from the floor and an amazing 5 for 8 from long. He also had 3 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. But perhaps best of all, he committed no turnovers. We expected little from him this season despite his hype, but his play has steadily improved over the past couple of weeks and this was the best yet. Pray that this may continue.
Javin and Jack got limited minutes and did not really dent the box score. Poor, Poor Alex never set foot on the court. No surprise.
The only damper on the evening was once again having to endure Mr. Bilious. We have noted in the past how he only attacks the calls of officials when they go in Duke's favor. That was again in full display here. He is intolerable.
Anyway, it was a truly miraculous victory for Duke. We are extremely unlikely to see that kind of three point shooting again, so let's enjoy it while we can.
Duke 80, Boston College 55 (February 5, 2019). Once more, it was Duke does Dickens ... the Tale of Two Halves ... It was the worst of teams, it was the best of teams ....
The first half was just the return of the rim clankers, a testament to what we have called the worst shooting Duke team we have ever seen. They were 1 for 15 from long and just 12 for 38 overall (31.6%). Almost as bad was the fact that they were being completely out-hustled on the court. All the contested boards seemed to be going BC's way, and one hardly saw any Duke player crashing for an offensive rebound. It was truly pathetic. The most amazing thing is that Duke was only down by two at the break; they deserved to be down by 30.
Well, as we have often seen, the second half was something entirely new. Instead of pure offensive ineptitude, the team looked like the Golden State Warriors. Six for nine from long and 17 for 27 overall (63%). Who were those masked men? The result was to turn a small deficit into a 25 point victory. Amazing what the ability to shoot can do for you.
Duke also picked up its work on the boards after the break, finishing the game with 43 rebounds to 32 for the opponents. We were also pleased by the way the team valued the ball throughout, winding up with just 7 turnovers. And the defense was stalwart, holding BC to just over 35% from the floor.
Everyone is making Cam Reddish the story of this game. And he did have a fine outing, leading the team with 24 points and only committing one turnover. Bear in mind, however, that his stats were somewhat less than awe-inspiring (4 for 11 from long and 8 for 16 overall), but it was light years better than what we have seen for most of the season. In general, he has looked better over the past few games, cutting down significantly on the constant turnovers we saw earlier. And his foul shooting has looked wonderfully smooth as well. For all this, we are immensely grateful. Given the slippage in Jack White's performance, this has been essential.
It was Cam who got the team going from long range, and everyone else therefore seemed to think it permissible to start hitting. R.J., a very poor three point shooter, proceeded to swish two, and Tre, who had been frigid from the field, made one from the corner. We thought Poor, Poor Alex had another, but the officials called it a two.
Really, it should be viewed as Zion's night, but the commentators wanted to start spreading credit around. Zion was 7 for 12 from the floor and had 3 blocks and 4 steals. Most remarkable, however were the 17 boards. He was a monster on both ends. We also love the fact that he can guard anyone. Commentator Hubie Brown foolishly wondered whether he could cover an opponent's guard at the next level, but that is something of which we have no doubt given his quickness and size.
The one negative for Zion this evening was the blasted showboating. After a steal, he had a completely uncontested path to the basket, so he decided to make it a Sports Center moment by doing a reverse jam ... which, needless to say, he blew. The crowd was foolish enough to applaud this ham-bone move, while we groaned. John Wooden, bless his immortal soul, would have yanked Zion from the game in a nanosecond. But then, Wooden was a great coach.
R.J. had a miserable first half, shooting an air ball on his first attempt (does he lead the nation in those?) and improving little thereafter. He even wound up sitting on the bench at the end of the period. But he improved dramatically at the start of the second period and finished with some nice offensive stats. He wound up with 19 points on 5 for 12 shooting (2 for 4 from long). It was the comparative efficiency that pleased us, something we have not seen for most of the year. There are still forced shots, but not quite so many. Of course, the fact that he played just 27 minutes was a factor as well.
As mentioned, Tre did not have a night to write home about on the offensive end. But he was as brilliant as always on defense. watching him guard Ky Bowman was a thing of beauty. As a rule, we look forward to these games for just two reasons: to watch Tre work on defense and to watch Zion on both ends.
The other starter, Marques, had 30 minutes, though not a heck of a lot to show. He did make one great offensive move to start the game, and another later in the second half. Other than that, it was rather humdrum. Just 6 points and 5 boards in all that time, but at least no turnovers. There were also the usual number of caromed shots off the boards that touched his hands, but did not stick. As we have said, that Five spot for Duke could not be much lamer.
So what do we make of this? Are we to be buoyed by the second half shooting performance? Well, we all need to remember that games are played for 40 minutes, and Duke was less than 30% from beyond the arc overall. The team also continued its anemic free throw shooting, hitting just 15 for 22 (68%). And the bench output is absolutely minimal. Let's just say that we are not exactly counting on a National Championship banner.
And now, on to Virginia ... at Virginia. Here's where the real test begins.
Duke 91, St. John's 61 (February 2, 2019). Vengeance is ours! As you all probably know, St. John's was the last non-conference team to win at Cameron, a game that Duke never should have lost given the respective talent levels. So it was nice to win this one handily.
Actually, it looked for a long time as if this one might turn into another upset. Duke started hot from long, but St. John's was matching them offensively. Duke's defense out of the gate was not impressive, letting the Johnnies penetrate and grab offensive boards when shots were missed. Indeed, St. John's even managed to pull ahead at one point. But as usual, Duke won by scoring in spurts ... they finished strong over the final two minutes of the first half to build a 10 point spread at the break, then had a terrific first eight minutes of the second half to go up by more than twenty. The game was then over, and St. John's effectively quit over the final few minutes to allow that 30 point margin at the end.
Really, over the final twelve minutes of the game, Duke played terrible basketball, making bad passes time and time again. For the game, the Devils had a whopping 18 turnovers. The only two decent passers on this squad are Tre and Zion, and even Tre was not valuing the ball (he wound up with 5 turnovers for the game).
The other negative was, once again, foul shooting. Duke was just 14 for 23 overall, and one of the misses was the front end of a one and one. R.J., who really is an embarrassment at the line, was 3 for 8. Not a good situation.
The positive? First and foremost, as always, Zion. Another truly amazing performance. 13 for 17 overall, 5 steals and 2 blocks. The Duke spurts were really Zion spurts. We have run out of superlatives for him.
Aside form the turnovers, Tre also had a very effective outing. We called him the best defender that we have seen at Duke in ages before all the talking heads jumped on board. He had another terrific defensive effort in this one. He was also more efficient than usual on the offensive end, going 5 for 9 for 13 points. He and Zion are the two most solid players on the team.
As to R.J., it was the usual mixed bag. To his credit, we have been pleased by his defensive work and his efforts on the boards. In this game, he easily led the team with 14 rebounds, including 12 on the defensive end. That is great. The problem, as usual, is his offense. Aside from the turnovers from bad passes and forced shots, he just flat out is not a good long range jump shooter. Against the Redmen, it was 6 for 15 overall and 0 for 5 from long. He will occasionally have a good outing, but he is often more a liability than an asset on offense.
Cam came out of the gate red hot, making three treys. Then he reverted to form, missing all thereafter save one. He finished 4 for 10 for the day, still a very respectable 40% but a disappointment after the fast start. He is also a turnover waiting to happen on offense. But we have no quibble overall with the defensive effort.
As we have made clear, a glaring weakness of this team is the 5 slot. Marques is Duke's best and he had a respectable outing (10 points and 6 boards), but the Johnnies are not physically imposing opponents. After Marques, it is downhill big time.
We have been lobbying all season for more PT for Poor, Poor Alex. Well, Alex did not really acquit himself well in this one. He made a couple of very questionable passes and passed up a wide open 8 foot shot in the lane. It appears that he has lost a lot of confidence. And Jack White is also not the player that we saw pre-conference. He was down to 9 minutes of PT in this game. This is of concern because Duke is really getting nothing from the bench.
So what do we draw from this? Well, Duke wins by its defense, coupled with Zion on the offensive end. We were pleased to see that for the first time we remember, Zion had more field goal attempts than R.J. Of course, that was partly due to the number of steals that Zion had. But the fact is that Zion should routinely be taking more shots. We also continue to worry about the team's long -range and free throw shooting ... Duke left 10 points off the board at the charity stripe, and that is bound to kill them one of these days. So, despite, the big spread in this game, warning signals still remain.
Duke 83, Notre Dame 61 (January 28, 2019). Wow. Duke came out and made their first two treys, then went on to shoot almost 53% overall from beyond the arc. This ability to hit jumpers, along with Zion's scoring moves inside, accounted for Duke's 18 point halftime margin. Although Notre Dame made a couple of brief runs after the break, it was largely cruise control for the Devils.
Over the past few days, we have been treated to some commentary to the effect that Duke's inability to hit outside shots is not all that critical since they have made such a high percentage of two pointers. What absolute nonsense. Does anyone believe that Duke will run through the NCAA tourney making 60% of their two point attempts against tough and tall competition? Only if you also believe in the Tooth Fairy.
Needless to say, we were ecstatic about this rare hot-shooting exhibition. The problem, of course, is that it is an aberration. They are not this good. While we would love to see them morph into a deadly long-range squad, it ain't gonna happen. But we would gladly settle for a 35% overall three point average. Oh well, enjoy it while you can.
As always with Duke, it is like pinching a balloon. As you gain on one side, something is lost on the other. In this case, it was the foul shooting. The team was an anemic 9 for 16, just 56%. Still, the trade-off was more than worth it.
The other negative was controlling the defensive boards. Notre Dame shot abysmally (they are a terribly weak squad this season), but were able to accumulate some points by repeatedly getting offensive rebounds and put-backs. It was a particular problem in the first half, and Duke thereafter corrected a bit. Still, the Domers were able to accumulate 18 offensive rebounds for the evening. Too many.
For the highlights, one need, as always, start with Zion. (Sometimes one ends there as well, but that's a different story.) If anything, he excelled himself this evening. He was 10 for 12 from the field to lead the team with 26 points, and added 9 boards and 4 blocks. He is like a magnificent ballet artist on the court. It is a privilege just to be able to watch. Makes one long once again for the good old days when kids would stay four years.
One negative that continues is Zion's constant unproductive gambling on defense. A sharp coach would disabuse Zion of that unfortunate habit. Alas, we do not have that luxury.
By the way, we were once again subjected to Jay Bilious as the color commentator. When talking about the NBA draft he yet again noted that a case could be made for R.J. Barrett as the first choice. What a maroon! And speaking of Bilious, he might want to take the time to absorb the basic rules of the game. Hitting a ball after it touches the glass is NOT goal tending per se ... the ball must be on its downward path. The two tend to coincide, but it is far from automatic.
While we often take real issue with R.J.'s game, we were pleased overall by his performance against Notre Dame. For a change, his jumper was working (he was 3 for 6 from long) and he did a nice job once again on the boards, grabbing 9 rebounds. He even cut down his shot attempts, trying 17 in this one. Even so, there were still a few wild shots inside, as well as three turnovers. But the positives outweighed the negatives.
Marques, as is normally the case, ran into foul difficulty in the second half, which limited his playing time a bit. Fortunately, the game was pretty much over by that time. We did like his effort in the first half. Not a lot of offense, but some nice boards and blocks. That is what he has to do. For the night, he had 8 points, 7 boards and 2 blocks in 21 minutes.
Tre was in good form, playing his usual excellent defense (though, like Zion, gambling a bit too much). He was also efficient on the offensive end, going 4 for 6 from the floor. He is able to penetrate well for an 8 to 10 foot shot in the lane, and it is something we would like him to do more. Tre added 5 assists and had but one turnover, though we must point out that there is not much ball pressure from the Domers.
Cam is perhaps the most interesting story. He started by making his first trey attempt, then went 0 for everything for the remainder of the first half. It was clearly business as usual. But an interesting thing happened about midway through the second period. For a period of six minutes or so, Cam actually lived up to his billing. He made 3 out of 4 shots, swished a couple of free throws, and grabbed a beautiful board. It was as if the heavens opened and a dove alighted on him. We do not know when or if we will see that again, but it would make all the difference for this team.
And lastly, Poor, Poor Alex. He played 9 minutes, including, of course, the garbage period at the end. He made his only two shot attempts, both threes. We have a bit more to say in our Asides section.
So we are happy for a change. It was getting to the point where we were only looking forward to these contests as a fleeting opportunity to watch Zion in action. When Duke can hit some jumpers, we actually like the team.
Duke 66, Georgia Tech 53 (January 26, 2019). We are not sure we have seen anything much uglier than the first 25 minutes or so of this exhibition. Georgia Tech, a team with a deficit of both height and talent, was actually leading at the half by two points, notwithstanding the fact that they had shot very poorly. Tech was playing down to the level of their competition and still winning. It was an abomination.
The beginning of the first half was, if possible, even worse. Duke continued to play with utter ineptitude, and Tech managed an eight point spread. Duke thereupon decided to go small (not a real problem against Tech), Cam hit his one shot of the night, and it was finally off to the races. But the foul stench of that extended opening stretch still continues to linger ... Duke was committing way too many turnovers and, as always, tanking from the outside. Their shooting from beyond the arc for the entire game was ... get this ... 2 for 21, around 9%. We have said in the past that this is the worst shooting team we have ever seen at Duke. Hell, it may be the worst shooting team we have ever seen at the major college level. If this is the second best college team in the land, college ball is indeed in dire straits.
Before the game, TV color guy Mike Gminski uttered the usual cliche (which is all he ever does) that Tre is the most important player on the Duke squad. While we do like Tre, that is utter nonsense. The most important player, hands down, is Zion. He was as sparkling as always in this one, going 9 for 12 from the floor and 4 for 5 from the line, and adding 7 boards and 3 blocks. He is beautiful.
Speaking of Tre, we were delighted to see him return to the court. The truth is, however, that his return was not particularly auspicious. He played 35 minutes, but had only 6 points. And while he was charged with just one turnover, he made a number of ill-advised passes against Tech's zone. He really did not elevate his play until well into the second half.
R.J. was more efficient than usual. As always, he took more shots than Zion, but made 50% of them, something he rarely does. He was also perfect at the line, also a rarity. As a result, he led the team with 24 points. We also congratulate him for pulling down a team-leading 11 rebounds. What we don't admire are the six turnovers. He and Cam are truly two of the worst passers we have ever seen. We have criticized R.J. for never passing when leading a fast break, but he did break tradition once in this game ... unfortunately, his pass was wildly over the head of Zion (a virtual impossibility in and of itself). Perhaps we should be grateful that he doesn't pass after all.
Appropriately, Marques started, but only wound up playing 11 minutes as Duke found it was more productive with a small lineup through most of the second half. It was interesting to see, however, that the first big man sub for Marques was Vrank, not Javin. As we observed, Javin really gives the team almost nothing at both ends, but the problem is the same goes for Vrank. It was painful to have to watch him fumble to try to grasp the ball during his court time against Tech. It really is Marques or nothing. Unfortunately, Marques' contributions are also rather limited in general -- against Tech, he had 2 points and one rebound to show for his court time.
We thought that Cam played well on the defensive end. But his offensive performance continues to be abysmal. In this one, he was 1 for 11, and that is more typical than aberrational. He also demonstrated yet again what we have pointed out in the past ... every attempted drive to the hoop, whether on a fast break or otherwise, almost always ends in disaster. Yet all of this is never reflected in his playing time. He got another 38 minutes against Tech. We just have to shake our heads.
Once again, Jordan got into the game before Poor, Poor Alex. More of the same ... he launched another two treys, the first an air ball. Is there any coaching going on here?
We have no doubt whatsoever that Alex has the best jump shot on this team. Yet he saw about two minutes of action in the first half, despite the fact that his cohorts were rising to new heights of futility. Well, blessedly, K finally saw his way to putting him into the action after Duke started so dismally in the second half, and he stayed in the game thereafter as Duke went on a tear. He hit two of five from the floor, but missed his only two trey attempts. Even he has been a bit chilly of late. Nevertheless, we believe that he would give the team a lot more on the offensive end than Cam, and we are delighted that he was given 19 minutes. Of course, knowing El Greco!, Poor, Poor Alex will probably be back in the dog house next game.
While this game did nothing to inspire confidence in the team's long-term prospects, we do need to praise the performance at the charity line. The team finished 16 for 19, around 84%. Since they have no outside game, they need at a minimum to be able to make foul shots.
Next up is the worst Notre Dame team that we have seen in eons. But after that, the real struggle looms. If Duke plays the way it did today, they and their lofty ranking will not survive.
Duke 79, Pittsburgh 64 (January 22, 2019). Except for the final eight minutes or so of the first half, this was an even basketball game. But during that time, Duke spurted from a two point deficit to a twenty point lead, and the game was never in question thereafter.
Really, this win was a testament to only one thing ... the surpassing talents of Zion Williamson. This kid is just a wonder, The amazing quickness, hops, and ability to finish under all conditions make him unique. We regret the absence of a long-range game, but the fact remains that even if he could just develop a mid-range game, he could become the best player at the next level.. Against Pitt, he was a remarkable 11 for 13 from the floor, continuing his year-long efficiency string. Without him, this team would be nowhere.
Of course, Zion does continue to be a liability at the line. He was 2 for 4 against Pitt. Fortunately, his teammates performed better for a change, Duke going 16 for 20 overall. Perhaps the improvement was a function of the lack of pressure given Duke's margin throughout the second half.
For the second game in a row without Tre, the team really faltered at the defensive end. Duke started, of course, in its man defense, and Pitt was continually blowing by defenders to score at the basket. This time, K was wise enough to go zone before the half-time break, and things immediately improved. It is clear that Tre is essential to the effectiveness of Duke's man-to-man D; without him, the team should be in a 2-3.
On offense, Duke was 7 of 23, around 30%, from beyond the arc. Sadly, that is even better than they had been performing of late. It was interesting to hear the commentators announce for the first time that Duke struggles from the outside, something that we have been saying all year. But we have learned long ago never to expect an incisive comment from the TV announcers.
Once again, R.J. led the team in scoring, this time with 26 to Zion's 25. And once again, the reason was the number of shots taken. R.J. has a whopping average of around 20 launches; in this game, he surpassed himself with 24. He made just 10 of those, and two of those makes were (unintentional) banks. We also saw the usual two or three absolutely wild shots from attempted drives. And speaking of drives, we had to laugh when we heard the color guy inanely state that R.J. is an automatic score on a break. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth WHEN R.J. is the one leading the break ... since he NEVER passes off on a break, that scenario usually ends in disaster unless he is lucky enough to be fouled. We have made no secret of the fact that we really do not like this kid's game, notwithstanding whatever talent he may possess.
We also have to shake our heads when we hear the bloviators continue to talk about Cam Reddish being a lottery pick. (Perhaps because NBA GMs are as stupid as they are.) Cam's stats against Pitt? Try 4 for 16 from the floor, 6 boards, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers in 38 minutes. Why he is getting 38 minutes is almost unfathomable.
The other bright spot in the game was Marques. To be sure, the kid is not a dominant player, but against the Panthers, he played about as well as he is capable. He scored only 7 points, but led the squad with 9 rebounds and had 4 blocks. And a couple of those boards showed some real and very welcome aggressiveness, something that has often been lacking from his play. Marques played 30 minutes to Javin's 10, which was certainly appropriate. We have never been admirers of Javin's game and always believed he was getting too much time. We are sorry to be so honest, but the fact is that Javin just cannot get it done on either end of the court.
Jack White is a chastened individual. After a series of terrible shooting performances, he is now clearly eschewing the jump shot. Probably wise. However, Jack has dropped off in the rest of his game as well. After performing at a high level defensively and on the boards early in the season, he now appears a step slower than everyone else on D, and is coming down with few contested rebounds. Against Pitt, He had just 4 points and 6 boards in 35 minutes. He certainly plays hard, but the results have become meager.
Mr. Goldwire was given 13 minutes in this game, and again was zero for everything on offense. That included a fast break that he led, but wound up not even hitting the rim on the layup attempt. Hard to do. In contrast, Poor, Poor Alex got all of 3 minutes. That's right, THREE MINUTES. He is effectively out of the lineup, and that is unconscionable. Alex made a terrible decision when he elected to matriculate at Duke. At virtually any other school, he would have a ton of PT and would be an outstanding player. The incomprehensible mind of El Greco! at work.
All we can say is thank the good Lord for Zion, and hurry back Tre.
Duke 72, Virginia 70 (January 19, 2019). We did not see this coming. Heck, even with Duke up by seven with a minute left, we expected Virginia somehow to pull it out. Nevertheless, it was most welcome indeed.
So how did the Devils manage to win, despite the loss of Tre Jones? Well, this time it wasn't defense, but rather the heroics inside of Zion and R.J. Note that we emphasize "inside" because Duke was its normal awful from long ... this time it was just 2 for 14 (14.3%). And the foul shooting was also abysmal (18 for 31). While we may revel in this victory, it is still impossible for us to fathom how such a poor shooting team can ultimately run the table.
While Virginia shot well in the first half, they cooled down after the break. That allowed Duke to stay alive despite the team's second half collapse at the foul line. For the game, Virginia was just 3 for 17 from beyond the arc. Whereas that kind of shooting is the norm for Duke, it is an aberration for the Cavs. That allowed Duke to pull this one out by a narrow margin. Too bad we have to have a rematch.
We talked about the efforts of Zion and R.J., so let's amplify. Zion was 10 for 16 from the floor, and almost none were easy. Indeed, he was making some circus shots inside, often finishing after contact. He was creating lanes where none existed. Yes, it did result in a few turnovers, but it was still quite amazing. The downside was the foul shooting -- he was just 7 for 14, including two crucial misses down the stretch.
As for R.J., it was more of the same. He had a number of amazing driving scores as well. But since he also launched from the outside, his scoring, as usual, came on more attempts (11 for 19 from the floor). Also, as usual, he was terrible from long ... 1 for 6. For the season, he is a sad 30.9% from beyond the arc. Much is made by the TV commentators about the fact that R.J. is leading the ACC in scoring. While that does indicate talent, we are not also told that he is also leading the league in shot attempts. If you look at the ten top scorers in the league, R.J. has by far the most shot attempts. He launches 19.6 times per game, and the next closest is Ky Bowman of BC at 15.4. Just something to bear in mind.
Together, Zion and R.J. accounted for 57 of the team's 72 points. No balance whatsoever, but somehow it worked. Cam was back after missing the Syracuse game, but it was not a glowing return. Indeed, it was more the Cam of old, shooting 3 of 12 and committing 4 turnovers. Once again, his drives to the basket were disastrous, almost always resulting in a turnover.
Coming off two really bad games, Jack was at least neutral. He had just 4 points and a measly 4 boards in 40 minutes of PT. The good news, we suppose, is that he learned from the Syracuse game and only took one outside shot.
Marques played 33 minutes and also had just 4 rebounds. He had only two points for the effort, both coming at the foul line. But those two free throws were huge, occurring late in the game to break a spell where it seemed Duke was going to implode at the stripe. But Marques was repeatedly victimized on the defensive end -- whomever he was guarding would almost invariably drive to the hoop, usually with some success.
Javin played just 7 minutes, though he managed somehow to foul out in that time. True, the refs were whistling every bit of contact, but Javin is still the ultimate foul magnet. He really cannot perform well on either end against top competition.
And Poor, Poor Alex played all of 5 minutes. No, Mr. Bilious, Cam Reddish is not Duke's best shooter, Alex is. But Alex will simply not get the shots.
We have applauded Duke's defensive performance this season. We can't do that, however, for this contest. Time and again, Virginia was able to blow by a Duke defender to score at the hoop. We were beside ourselves, praying that we would see the return of Duke's zone. Well, to K's credit (and we rarely give him much for game decisions), he had the same thought. During the last 10 minutes of the second half, Duke went in and out of a zone. And it really helped, stopping Virginia's flow. Bravo!
So, a big win for Duke, and the final undefeated team falls. It will be interesting to see what the polls show on Monday.
Syracuse 95, Duke 91 (January 14, 2019). We could see, even prior to the commencement of the regular season, that this Duke team would probably struggle from the outside, so we indicated that we were looking forward with interest and trepidation to their match-up with Syracuse. Clearly, our fears were realized.
Now, to be honest, we need to point out that Duke was playing without Cam Reddish for the entire game and without Tre Jones for most of the game. Would the presence of these two have made the difference? Probably, given how poorly their compatriots performed. We also need to point out that the Syracuse players were collectively performing well over their heads, shooting a staggering 70% from long in the first half (and 44% for the game), including a banked three pointer and a desperation 75 foot shot at the end of the first half. It was one of those nights.
But even given the foregoing, it is very fair to say that Duke's deficiencies were largely responsible for the team's defeat. We have said time and again that this is a dreadful shooting team. This game was Exhibit A. Overall, Duke shot just 39%, and a pathetic 21% from three (and that's rounding up!). It was awful. We knew even coming into this game that this is not the best squad in the country, their great athleticism notwithstanding. Skill is also required to win a national championship.
Let's look at the individual performances. Zion had another strong outing, scoring 35 points, grabbing 10 boards, and coming up with 4 blocks. Unfortunately, his very recent success from beyond the arc is leading him to believe that he is a three point shooter. He's not. He went 1 for 5 against the Orange. He also missed his final critical foul shot that might have won it for Duke in regulation. Still, his overall effort was one of the few bright spots in this dismal affair.
While Marques is hardly a great player, we were on the whole pleased with his showing against Syracuse. He was 4 for 6 from the floor, had 11 boards, and came up with 5 blocks. He played about as well as he is capable, which is all that can be asked. He also played 34 minutes to just 11 for Javin, a rare intelligent personnel decision by El Greco!
And Poor, Poor Alex also got 34 minutes (so we will just call him Poor Alex for now). He did make two very sloppy passes late in the contest that hurt the team, but otherwise played well. We have said time and again that he is the best pure shooter in the rotation, and it showed against the Cuse. Poor Alex was 5 for 9 from the floor and 4 for 8 from long. Most telling, however, was the sparseness of his attempts ... but more on that later.
Now for the bad. Jack White, whom we had truly loved, had his second terrible game in a row. Despite playing a whopping 42 minutes, he had only 6 rebounds, no blocks, and ... get this ... zero points. He was 0 for 10 from the floor, all from beyond the arc. And many of those misses were on wide open shots. It was abominable. Even one make could have made the difference in this game. Nothing positive can be said about his performance.
And R.J. was not much better. The good news is that he came up with a terrific 16 boards. However, the bad is that he was a disaster on the offensive end, going 8 for 30 from the floor and just 4 for 17 from long. (yes, as always, he led the team in shots taken.) We are sick to death of hearing this unrestrained adoration for R.J. from the talking heads like Vitale and Jay Bilious. Yes, he is very athletic and has had some fine outings, but he is simply a poor shooter on the whole. And the whole is what matters. For the season, he is just 31.7% from long. That's pretty darn bad.
But let us finish by heaping a good share of the blame upon the broad shoulders of our esteemed coach. We have said time and again that despite his phenomenal success, we do not deem K to be a great coach. Though that intuitively seems impossible, it isn't ... K has prospered largely through his extraordinary ability to sell himself to recruits and players. But when it comes to actual decision-making, he often falls short.
We were shaking our heads at the beginning of the year by the talk of holding Joey Baker out this season. As we said, it made no sense since it would be silly to believe that the kid would stick around for 5 years, and his excellent shot might be needed at some point during the season. Well, this game against Syracuse was certainly that point. We have to believe that putting a talented kid like Baker on the floor, who can make long jumpers with facility, may well have changed the outcome. That's all on K.
Then there's Poor Alex. Yes, he did get minutes, but only took 9 shots despite being the team's best marksman. A savvy coach would have instructed his squad to attempt some penetration, then swing the ball back to Poor Alex to catch and shoot. He would also have tried repositioning Poor Alex to the corner, where Jack was getting open looks all evening. But no, El Greco! was instead just his normal empty suit on the bench, content to simply bark at the refs but otherwise contributing nothing.
For the third time this year, we will also bring up Jordan Goldwire. As we have stated, he normally should appear only during garbage time. However, in extreme situations where he has to play due to player absences, he should never be permitted to take a jump shot. Never, never, NEVER. Well, against Syracuse, he attempted two more treys, both misses of course (the first even being an air ball). Poor Poindexter almost had a seizure! A top coach sets limits on what his personnel may do, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. While he should never go out of his way to hurt the feelings of players, deflated egos are often necessary in the cause of imposing needed discipline. El Greco! cannot seem to do that ... or perhaps even more disturbingly, he fails to recognize those player limitations. For the record, Jordan is now 4 for 22 from the field this year and 0 for 12 from long.
Where do we go from here? Given Tre's indefinite leave of absence due to injury, things do not look very good, particularly with Virginia looming. Tre's defense itself is a good part of this team's offense. Without him, victories against capable competition will be difficult.
Duke 80, Florida State 78 (January 12, 2019). How do we even begin on this one? Duke wins on a last second trey by Cam Reddish, despite playing without Zion for the entire second half. A disinterested observer would say that this was an exciting contest and one hell of a win for Duke. But we are hardly disinterested observers. So we will just recount the good and bad.
Let's start with the latter first. Despite the win, the game once again exposed some of this team's fundamental weaknesses. As much as we loved chalking this up as a victory, the fact is that Duke really did not deserve to win this one. They were abysmal at the free throw line -- the stats show 9 for 15, but it was really 9 for 16 since Tre missed the front end of a one and one. In contrast, Florida State was 20 for 24.
Duke also failed pitifully (as usual) to block opponents off the defensive boards. This time, Florida State got a whopping 17 offensive rebounds, many resulting in points. El Greco! has never taught his teams to block out effectively, and it nearly killed them this time.
And the Seminoles were able to get score after score from lobs and jams. This is a testament both to Duke's tendency to overplay on defense, but also to the lack of any rim protection. As we have said before, this team simply has no effective center. Zion is the team's best rebounder and shot-blocker, and his absence was absolutely killing the team on the defensive end.
In addition to Zion's absence, the team also suffered from the fact that two stalwarts, Tre and Jack, had particularly bad games. Tre could not hit the broad side of a barn on offense -- he had eight foot shots in the lane at will, but left most short. He was 4 for 13 overall from the floor, and 0 for 1 at the line. And Jack was 1 for 5 on offense, and managed only 3 rebounds in 25 minutes. The size and physicality of the Seminoles dominated him. It was very depressing.
So how did Duke manage to win? Well, because our two main whipping boys, R.J. and Cam, stepped up and played like men in the second half with Zion on the bench. We have been all over R.J. about his selfish play, and nothing has changed in that regard. For the game, he had no assists and three turnovers, and, as usual, most of the breaks that he led turned sour. But when a selfish player gets hot, it compensates ... and boy did R.J. get hot down the stretch. He finished at 10 for 19 overall and 4 for 7 from long, but the percentages were much better in the second half. He was also an amazing 8 for 9 at the line, only missing his final attempt. At the time, it looked as if that final miss had sealed Duke's defeat, but it ironically turned out that it resulted in Duke's victory -- Duke was awarded possession when the ball went out of bounds, and the team won on a shot from the floor. Had R.J. made the free throw, the game, at best, would have gone into overtime. Duke was lucky indeed.
And then there is Cam. Anyone watching this team with any perspicacity knows that Cam has been a terrible liability over the past month. To say, therefore, that he improved his game against Florida State would be a major understatement. He was actually a very good player in this one, at least in the second half. But even before the break, he made a play the we really relished, blocking a shot and then wrestling the deflection from a Seminole. For a kid who has always shied from physical play, this was a delight.
But it was after the break that he, like R.J., shone brightest. He was Duke's best jump shooter, going 9 for 15 overall and 5 for 8 from long. As noted, he made that final game-winning shot, an open jumper from beyond the arc. We know that Duke was looking to get the ball inbound to R.J., and we were terrified because we knew that he would force an attempt (a la Gonzaga) that was likely to be wild and miss ... and officials will almost never blow the whistle on a last-second shot. It was therefore a true blessing that Florida State was overplaying R.J., thereby leaving Cam uncovered (another fortunate irony for Duke). But even uncovered shooters have to make their shots.
We do need to point out that Cam did have three turnovers, including one near the end that seemed as if it would be critical. He was also an embarrassing 0 for 4 from the line. But he overcame and helped lead the team to victory. If only he could somehow maintain this level of play ....
Now on to Syracuse. They are extraordinarily weak this season, but everything is in doubt without Zion. Supposedly his vision has improved, but Duke has always been hyper-cautious about getting injured players back in action. We'll just have to wait.
Duke 87 Wake Forest 65 (January 8, 2019). At least Duke is consistent. Excellent defense, terrible outside shooting, very slow start, and a big second half spurt. No need even to continue watching these games.
When assessing this win, the thing that one must immediately bear in mind is that this Wake team is terrible. Unlike prior seasons, the ACC this year is very unbalanced. Wake is certainly among those at the bottom. Yet Duke had great trouble getting any real separation for most of the first half. The reason, as always, is that this is one of the worst jump shooting Duke teams that we have ever seen. It's something that we were very much afraid of coming into the season (when we bemoaned the decision to redshirt Joey Baker), and that fear has been realized in spades. Even so, Duke has been able to win all but one thanks to their athleticism and surprisingly adept defensive play.
Actually, we do need to add an asterisk to our commendation about Duke's defensive play. Specifically, Duke did an absolutely terrible job in defending its defensive boards, allowing Wake one offensive rebound after another. Duke has always done poorly blocking out, so this is not terribly aberrational; however, things have been better of late, which makes this most disappointing.
The player evaluations are also more of the same. Zion dazzled yet again with some amazingly acrobatic and graceful scoring drives. But even more amazing was the fact that he made three treys ... in fact, he was 3 for 4 from long. That is really a "stop the presses" event. The entire Duke squad was 7 for 23 from beyond the arc (their usual sad 30%), but without Zion it would have been 4 for 19 (a truly embarrassing 21%). And that was not even against a Virginia - quality defense. Anyway, Zion was Zion, and that makes up for most things. The one negative was the missed jam ... another attempt to showboat cost Duke a couple of points. We were probably the only Duke fans who did not relish the spinning stuff shot against Clemson since it only encourages recklessness in the future. It's not something that John Wooden would have permitted. Still, Zion largely carried the Duke offense on his considerable back.
More praise for Jack White. He was unbelievable on the defensive end in the first half, including two blocked shots on one possession. While most would not consider him a "big man", he is in fact Duke's most effective big. Against Wake, he scored zero points, but it didn't matter. His defense made up for everything.
And then there is Tre. Another great floor game with seven assists to one turnover. How delightfully refreshing it is to have a point guard once more.
Speaking of point guards, we were a bit chagrined to see Jordan Goldwire make an appearance in that tight first half. We were even more chagrined to see him launch on offense. As we have said before, Jordan should never be permitted to take a jump shot ... it is a virtual certainty that it will miss. This season, he is 4 for 20 from the floor (20% for all you who flunked Math) and all of 0 for 10 from long. If you go back before this season, we doubt it would get much better. Evidently, K can't bear to hurt the kid's feelings by pointing out the obvious. Of course, if Jordan is not on the floor, he can't miss shots, and Duke has more than enough ball-handlers who can spot a briefly absent Tre.
Cam's performance against Clemson was the stuff of Greek tragedy. The good news is that things improved against Wake, but then how could they not? After a bad start, he did manage to hit a couple of treys. He wound up with 10 points on 4 for 9 shooting, but still had 4 turnovers and 4 personals in 20 minutes. It's bound to be a long road.
And finally, R.J. All our readers know that we have not really been fans. His great genius is being able to score with quick and graceful drives if he has a lane. But the operative word in the preceding sentence is "if". Should he find that the lane has closed, he will virtually never look to pass to a teammate, instead often forcing up some insanely wild shot. We have said time and again that he is one of the most selfish players we have ever seen, and we will continue to do so unless some epiphany occurs. One play in the second half typified his attitude: Duke had a three on one fast break, R.J was bringing it down with a defender on him, and there were two open teammates on the other side of the basket. Did R.J. dish it for an easy score? Of course not -- he simply forced a bad shot himself. Watching that kind of play simply infuriates us. Even so, R.J. did manage to pick up 7 assists against Wake, which does go to show that stats can be very misleading (much like Javin's consecutive field goal stat).
We cannot close without taking a swipe against the officials in the game, something we have not done for some time. The culprits were Messrs. Heater, O'Connell, and Covington. It seems like they spent most of their time calling phantom fouls, including three consecutive against poor Marques Bolden. It is amazing that he did not lose his cool. Wouldn't ACC basketball be so much sweeter if the officials were equipped with non-functioning whistles? Just saying.
Duke 87, Clemson 68 (January 6, 2019). The first half of this one was, as usual, pretty rocky. The Duke squad was predictably cold from the outside and the lead tottered back and forth for a long stretch of the first half. But once Cam was relegated to the bench, the team was able to build a slight cushion, going into the break with a seven point spread. It was really not until the opening of the second period that Duke was able to vault to a big lead ... Jack and R.J. both quickly sank treys and Zion made two brilliant driving scores. Duke was suddenly up by twenty and Clemson was reminded that it is a football school. How nice.
As we have been saying, the key to this team is its defense. We have not seen D played like this at Duke since, well, almost forever. Indeed, Duke's man defense has not even reached the level of basic competence in recent prior seasons. That's why this is just such a welcome breath of fresh air. Duke had 13 steals and forced 18 Clemson turnovers, many leading to Duke scores. We will say it again ... the heart of this team's offense is its defense.
By the same token, we do need to repeat that this team is woefully deficient from the outside. They were 7 for 23 from long, roughly 30% That is a standard occurrence. No matter how good the defense, that kind of shooting simply does not bode well.
There were three players of the game, and it was the usual suspects. Zion was Zion. 9 for 11 from the floor, 10 boards, and 2 blocks, all in just 22 minutes. While most will be oohing and aahing over the showboat windmill jam, we will celebrate the incredible driving scores, so difficult but seemingly so effortless. We have never seen anything quite like it.
The one negative, of course, is the lack of a jumper. While he did sink one late, his prior attempt missed the rim by a good foot. His percentage from three for the season is 19% Clemson was laying off him on the outside by a good five feet. In an ideal world, Zion would return to Duke next season to work on that jumper. But Zion's ideal world no doubt features an annual income of about $15 million. Come to think of it, so does ours.
One other critical note about Zion ... although he plays with incredible intensity and drive, we wish he could play smarter. His first foul was a brainless reach in the back court, and he continues to gamble constantly against opponents' passes. It is all so unnecessary and foolish. A really smart coach would sit down with him identify these issues. We sincerely doubt that is happening. But regardless, Zion's positives far outweigh these negatives.
How many times do we need to extol the virtues of Mr. White? He had his normal outstanding performance against Clemson. The kid is everywhere on the court, and in the absence of Zion, he is the guy who always seems to come up with the big rebound or the tough defensive play inside.. Against the Tigers, he was also the guy who supplied the offensive fire power from the outside. When Jack first appeared as a freshman, we were impressed by his offensive stroke. But the fact is that his shot was very sketchy last season. Well, this year he is 41% from long, including a terrific 4 for 6 against Clemson. He is the one who broke Duke's shooting slump in this game. He was marvelous.
The final usual suspect is Tre. Against the Tigers, he was 4 of 8 from the floor and had 9 assists to no turnovers (although he did make of terrible pass late that was fortunate not to be a turnover). And his defense was as brilliant as usual. How nice to have a point guard again!
After that, things darken. We were initially astonished by R.J., whom we have repeatedly called a very selfish player. Well, he started the game against Clemson by not even looking for a shot. This from a kid who normally goes into withdrawal when he goes twice down court without launching. Could we be seeing a new R.J. Barrett? Well, apparently not, because the old R.J. appeared during garbage time when it seemed like his only purpose on the floor was to boost his scoring average. His final stats we 5 for 14 from the field, including 1 for 5 from long. As always, he led the squad in shot attempts. It was business as usual.
Now the really bad news. Those who read this site regularly know that we were unimpressed with Cam Reddish from the first time we watched him in the high school all-star contests. We expected little from him despite the lofty ranking. But even we did not expect the level of performance that we saw against Clemson. Virtually every time he tried to do something on the offensive end, it resulted in either a missed shot or turnover. The final stats showed him as 1 for 8 from the floor, with no rebounds and 6 turnovers in just 16 minutes. No matter how critical we may be, it would understate what we actually witnessed.
It started from the opening tip. When he was finally pulled after six minutes or so and Poor, Poor Alex inserted, we breathed a sigh of relief. However, Alex's time was limited to one possession and Cam was promptly reinserted. That's right, ONE POSSESSION. We often wonder if K really is a sentient entity.
Yes, as even the usually oblique TV announcers are stating, Cam is really struggling. But even at his best this season, Cam has been a one-trick pony ... his one real contribution has been an occasional long jumper. Even that has now disappeared. K is trying desperately to build his confidence, but the fact is that right now, Cam is a real liability on the floor. Cam did not start the second half, and that was highly beneficial for the team. We truly hope that we will see at least some kind of turn-around because the present situation is simply untenable. We would like nothing better than to come around and be brought into the Cam Reddish camp.
The other ongoing issue with this Duke team is the absence of effective center play. While we pride ourselves on our prowess in evaluating incoming players, we have to acknowledge that we really over-estimated the potential of Marques. While he will score on the occasional lay-up or stuff, whenever he tries to score by initiating offense it normally results in a missed attempt. And the defensive rebounds are also sadly lacking -- just one against the Tigers. Of course, the same goes for Javin. This is a real weakness for the group.
Next up, Wake Forest. The ACC is terribly unbalanced this season, and Wake is at or near the bottom. Let's hope we don't have to eat those words ....
Duke 69, Texas Tech 58 (December 20, 2018). Let us begin with a warning ... if you have delicate sensibilities and wish to hear only calming words, you should read no further. Indeed, in that case, you have ventured onto the wrong site altogether.
Our illustrious Coach was heard to remark after this, uh, display that it was a "great" game. No, Mr. Krzyzewski, it was not a great game; it was an obscenity. The gang who couldn't shoot straight carried their offensive ineptitude to a new level, making it a virtual art form. Duke shot 38% for the entire contest, and all of 3 for 20 from long. It was an embarrassment. The only bright spot was that for the second game in a row, the team did well at the line, shooting 80%. But from our perspective, that wasn't bright enough.
As we have previously emphasized, this is just a very poor outside shooting squad, the aberration against Kentucky notwithstanding. True, this was a particularly bad night, but the fact remains that when Duke faces a truly capable opponent, that deficiency will be lethal. And Texas Tech was not that opponent. Tech's undefeated record and lofty ranking were very misleading -- they play good defense, but they are anything but a great team. They simply have had a very easy schedule to date.
As always, it was Duke's defense that carried them, a few break-downs here and there notwithstanding. This time they forced 24 turnovers and had 7 blocks. It enabled them to jump to an early 8 to 0 lead, at which point K bizarrely decided to apply full court pressure -- of course, the over-play allowed Tech to get their first basket, and they quickly vaulted to a lead when some jumpers dropped. We can only shake our heads at K's incomprehensible decision-making.
Fortunately, Tech went stone cold late in the second half, and Duke was able to regain and build a margin at the end. But this game was long in doubt, thanks again to Duke's almost complete inability to sink any kind of jumper.
The announcers were touting Tre as Duke's key. Yes, Tre did make a couple of key baskets late in the second half to trigger the turn-around, and he did have his usual excellent floor game. His defense was positively brilliant ... he may be the best defensive point guard that we have seen at Duke. But we would be remiss if we failed to note his complete offensive ineptitude for the first three-quarters of the game, even missing an open lay-up at the end of the first half. He was 6 for 15 for the night.
We have long decried the advantage given by refs to offensive players who drive the hoop. We believe they get too many favorable whistles, making it tough to play defense. Well, this group of zebras went to the other extreme, whistling offensive fouls at a rate that we have not seen for about 50 years. The worst was the the final call against Zion, whereby he fouled out of the game. It should clearly have been a non-call, although that is sadly something basketball officials have a hard time doing.
The questionable foul-out was too bad because Zion was Duke's most effective player once again. In his 25 minutes, he led the team with 17 points and 13 boards. The rebounding was crucial. The bad news is that he also accounted for 5 turnovers, most just from sloppy play.
As usual, Javin started, and it was a fairly typical performance for him ... a lot of effort without much results. Others are touting the fact that his shooting percentage of late has been outstanding, including 2 for 2 against Tech. Well, all those shots have been right under the basket. Still, we are thankful he at least has the discipline not to try jumpers (unlike Zion, who tried another two from long, drawing only air the second time). But the problem with Javin is that he contributes so very little off the glass -- he almost never comes down with a contested defensive rebound. And he made the unforgivable error in this game of fouling an opponent in the act of shooting a trey, thereby handing Tech three points at the line.
And that brings us to R.J. and Cam, the two freshman with whom we have taken most issue this year. As to R.J., while he did make a couple of big hoops late in the game that were crucial, the fact remains that his overall offensive performance was simply terrible. He was 7 for 22 from the floor and 0 for 7 from long. He also contributed 6 turnovers to 1 assist. As always, he led the squad in shots taken, including a launch at the end of the first half when Poor, Poor Alex was also on the court.
As for Cam, with whom we have taken issue from the first time we watched him, it was more of the same. One for 7 from the floor, 6 turnovers and no assists. Cam and R.J. are surely two of the worst worst passers that we have ever seen in a Duke uniform. What's more, Cam continues to turn the ball over almost every time he attempts a drive.
Jack White was his usual excellent self, making two of Duke's three treys and grabbing key boards. And once again, Poor, Poor Alex largely watched from the sidelines. Why he gets so few minutes given Cam's level of play is inexplicable. Only the infinite mind of K can fathom it.
So, what do we glean from this? Nothing new ... if you are an opponent, clog the lanes and wait for Duke to self-destruct from the outside. While we will always take a win, no serious and knowledgeable Duke fan should exult in this one.
Duke 101, Princeton 50 (December 18, 2018). This one could not have started any worse. Duke, coming off another break, was missing everything they were throwing up (and throwing up is a most appropriate description). With only six minutes remaining in the first half, the Devils had managed to score all of 16 points. That's right, sixteen lousy points. It was truly horrible.
But then the run started. Duke vaulted to a lead of 39 to 26 at the break, and they were sizzling in the second half. But once again, everything started for Duke on the defensive end. They were simply suffocating their opponents; Princeton was having great difficulty getting any kind of decent shot off before time ran out. We have not seen this level of defensive pressure from a Duke squad in eons, and it is making all the difference for this team. As we have pointed out umpteen times, this is simply not a very good outside shooting squad, but when you force turnovers and block shots, you get a lot of easy scores in transition. Against Princeton, Duke forced 19 turnovers and had 14 blocks. Wow.
There were a few times in the first half when the Devils took their eyes off opponents, a recipe for disaster against a team that back-doors as well as the Tigers. Duke also gambles too much defensively, a totally unnecessary tactic since they are able to shut down the opposition without taking those risks. But even so, it was all most impressive.
On the offensive side, after their terrible start, the team went on to shoot over 63% in the second half. Much of that was R.J.'s doing -- everything he was tossing up after the break was dropping in. Yes, he continues to shoot virtually every time he gets his hands on the ball, but at least it was working out. In his 25 minutes of court time, he launched 21 times (10 more than any teammate), but made 11 of those.
Zion, as always, did everything. Scoring, rebounding, blocking shots, and nice dishes. He is by far the best passer of the freshmen. R.J. will score more, but Zion is the more valuable player. He even made a trey, though it is not a shot he should be taking.
Tre Jones continues to shoot very poorly, but he had his otherwise normal error-free outing. Six assists and no turnovers. And of course, excellent defense.
As for Cam, we are simply not fans. He started as cold as ice once again, but did manage a few treys thereafter. Still, he was just 3 for 11 from the floor. The problem is that when that shot is not dropping (as it has not been for some time), his value is problematical. While he has had a few nice driving scores this year, the majority of times he tries to take it to the hoop, the ball is turned over. He is stripped repeatedly. What's more, he is probably the greatest offender on the other end of taking his eyes off his opponent. Add to that his reluctance to hit the boards and his dreadful passing skills, and you wind up with a one-trick pony. Alas, that trick has not been working of late.
Kudos once again to our boy, Jack. He simply does everything on the court, and does it most unselfishly. For a kid who is not a great player, he is a great player. We hope that makes sense.
One other bright spot ... believe it or not, free throw shooting. The team was 21 for 25 for the night, a lofty 84%. It's something we may not quite see the likes of again this season.
Duke 91, Yale 58 (December 8, 2018). After disposing of some very easy meat over the past week, Duke had to face a respectable Yale squad in the friendly confines of Cameron. Leading by only nine at half, the Devils blew it open after the break -- Yale simply ran out of steam against Duke's withering defensive pressure. And believe us, that was the difference in the game. Duke was relentlessly aggressive on the defensive end, forcing a whopping 23 turnovers. The only caveat is that Yale has been error-prone all season, averaging in the mid-teens in the turnover stat.
Of course, defensive steals usually lead to offensive scores, and that was a major reason why Duke's scoring total was as high as it was. The fact is that yet again, the gang that couldn't shoot straight appeared in all of their lack of glory. Duke did manage to shoot almost 50% from the floor, but once again they were woeful from long ... just 5 for 21 from beyond the arc. Even more frustrating perhaps was their performance at the foul line. While they finished at around 64% for the game, they were just 7 for 15 in the first half. The horrendous shooting was keeping Yale in the game.
As good as Duke's defensive pressure can be and as impressive as their athleticism is, their errant shooting is a loaded gun just waiting to do them in. Cam Reddish continues to struggle from long, and that is putting it mildly. He was 0 for 5 in this one. His percentage is dropping like a rock. And R. J., who had earth-shaking numbers against the two patsies Duke previously faced, came back to earth by going 3 for 9 from long against Yale.
We continue to shake our heads at the inanities expounded by the TV color guys. The standard Duke line since the beginning of the season has been that the freshman are so unselfish, and the talking heads have, as usual, bought into it without question. The fact is that R.J. is one of the most selfish kids we have seen at Duke. Yes, he scores a lot (30 in this game) and has a great deal of talent, but he is bound to launch virtually every time he has an offensive possession. And Cam is not exactly shy himself. No matter what the talent level, we simply cannot warm to kids like that. The irony is that Zion is the most efficient scorer of the three, yet he is also the one most willing to dish.
Anyway, it was defense first and foremost. True, Duke defenders did occasionally take their eyes off an opponent, who was then able to back-door to the hoop. But the good far exceeded the bad. As we said in a prior post, we particularly love Tre's efforts on that end. He went out of the game after a second half collision, and we hope that he will suffer no lingering ill effects. Duke cannot afford to be without him.
Actually that does seque into a collateral issue. We were pleased to see K go with Poor Poor Alex for an extended period in the first half due to Cam's shooting struggles. As usual, Alex acquitted himself very well. The fact is that Alex is a very capable ball handler, plays solid defense (despite intimations to the contrary by vacuous commentators), passes very well, and is undoubtedly the best pure shooter on the team. In recent games, his three point shooting average has dropped, but that in part is attributable to the fact that on several occasions he has been the one compelled to jack up a long trey attempt as time was about to run out ... those appear as misses in the box score, but should be asterisked. The problem is that despite his skills, his teammates rarely look for him on the court. What's more (and here comes the seque from Tre Jones), it seems clear that Alex is the logical back-up for Tre in a contested game. His ball-handling and defense are as good as Jordan's, and he is light years better otherwise. Seems like a no-brainer, but we never expect smart personnel moves from our coach.
A couple of closing personnel observations. First, we were a bit chagrined to see Javier in the starting lineup. He has never been a favorite of ours to say the least, his sole offering being high energy. We have long been waiting anxiously for the Marques we originally saw to appear and become a dominant center. Well, he has been a rim protector at times this season, but he has otherwise proved relatively ineffective, both off the boards and on the offensive end. As to the latter, his offensive moves are painfully slow, and his shots in close have an annoying habit of not dropping. It is all so very sad.
Now for the positive. We have been a Jack White cheerleader for some time now, and against Yale he once again made our case for us. He was simply brilliant off the boards. He mixes it up, gets great position, goes up well, and usually winds up with the ball. He had twelve rebounds in 25 minutes against Yale. He is Dennis Rodman without the tats and other eccentricities. We love it. He has really been struggling with his jumper of late, but his play otherwise makes up for it. Keep it up, Jack!
At the close of this one, the Dukies were happily shouting, "We want Harvard." They'll have to make do with Princeton, Duke's next opponent... or should we say victim.
Duke 84, Hartford 54 (December 5, 2018). If you tuned in for this one, you saw a scintillating Duke performance ... that is, if you tuned in after three quarters of the game had expired. If you were watching any earlier, well, our condolences.
Let's first set the stage. Hartford came in to the contest with a 3 - 6 record, their wins coming against Quinnipiac, Western New England, and Bowling Green. They may well be better than Stetson, but it is not a quantum leap. Yet, with twelve minutes remaining in the game, Duke's lead was eight points. After this point, Duke finally exploded, but the final margin was not even remotely indicative of the game as a whole. Indeed, the margin would not have made thirty except for the fact that K left starters in until almost the very end. Either he wanted to build confidence or he wanted that big spread to maintain team ranking. Or perhaps both.
Hartford approached the game exactly the way we would against Duke. They packed it inside, usually tripling Zion when he got the ball. They dared Duke to make an outside shot, Duke couldn't. They were 5 for 26 from long for the game, and it would have been even worse but for some made shots later in the contest. This is exactly why we warned against national championship aspirations for this squad before the season. They will have some games where they are hitting, but it will normally be the gang that can't shoot straight. When you have to go against six good teams in succession to win a national title, one of these outings will kill you. In this case, it was so bad that even Poor, Poor Alex was missing.
Once again, R.J. looked great on the offensive end. He was 10 for 14 overall and 3 for 4 from long. The only bright offensive light. On top of that, he added 15 boards and 4 assists, while only committing one turnover. It was sparkling -- he looked like a different kid. But we simply have to point out once again that great performances against terrible competition have to be taken with a grain of salt. If R.J. repeats this against Texas Tech, we will finally begin to genuflect.
Another relatively bright spot was Zion. He did show yet again that he has no outside game, but he was 8 for 14 otherwise. And that despite the two missed dunks. What we really loved, however, is the intensity with which he plays at all times. If there is a loose ball near him, he will either snatch it up or dive to the floor in an attempt to do so. He is the quickest player on the court for Duke, size notwithstanding.
And then there is Tre. Three turnovers credited to him, far more than usual. Still, we just love watching him play defense. His foot work is amazing. He keeps great pressure on the opposing point, making it much more difficult for the other team to set up plays.
On the other hand, we watched once again as Jordan launched treys. This time it was two, both missed of course. That makes him 0 for 8 for the season, and the career stats don't help either. We wrote earlier that he should never be permitted to launch, but apparently K will not deign to hurt any player's feelings. Were it Bobby Knight, Jordan would be told that an outside shot would result in the loss of his scholarship. Harsh, but correct.
Anyway, aside from Duke's tenacious defensive effort, this was a game that only sent up warning signals. We look forward once again to the January 14 contest against Syracuse to see how Duke will fare against a zone played by big boys.
Duke 113, Stetson 49 (December 1, 2018). Why did Duke schedule this game? Seriously, folks. Stetson is a squad that has not beaten a Division One team all year. They are beyond terrible. The game tells you nothing about Duke's real capabilities. As we have said in prior years, all you can do is infer weakness based on who did not play well against such patsies. This game does nothing to prepare Duke for tough competition; rather, it leads to a false sense of security. It is simply a way to pad stats for the players.
Speaking of padding stats, R.J. is Exhibit A. He looked like the second coming of Michael Jordan in this one, hitting from everywhere and finishing 12 for 14 from the floor. He was feeling no pain, probably because there was no pain to be experienced against Stetson. It was beautiful but, again, utterly misleading. We are not likely to see anything like this again this year ... well, except, perhaps, against the next patsy Duke plays in a few days.
We will say one thing about Zion, and it has nothing to do with his scoring. Even though Stetson offered no tough defensive opposition, we just marvel at Zion's quickness, speed, and ball-handling ability down the court. He is truly a marvel at his size. Enough said.
So, what negative inferences can be drawn? Well, Duke essentially went to its bench with over eight minutes remaining in this embarrassment. With one exception, the bench, to put it mildly, did not distinguish itself. Jordan, Javin, and Vrank showed once again how ineffective they are on the offensive end. The exception was Justin Robinson, who went 5 for 5 from the floor and 3 for 3 from long. If not for that kid, the pathetic Stetson squad would have outscored Duke down that long stretch run.
Good long range shooting is not something new from Justin. We have seen over the years that if he gets an open trey, he is likely to make it. What we also saw against Stetson was a relatively nice driving score, something we have not witnessed before. We have scratched our heads from the beginning as to why Justin chose to come to Duke since he would get a bunch of real minutes at a struggling basketball school. Either Justin naively inflated his expectations or he is one of those very rare kids who does not harbor further basketball ambitions. We will probably never know.
And now, on to better things. You, dear readers, no doubt have many more illuminating pursuits than reading about this game.
Duke 90, Indiana 69 (November 27, 2018). After Gonzaga, we found that we were awaiting this one with no eager anticipation. And it was not that Duke lost to the Zags per se. No, it was the way they lost ,,, by playing the kind of playground game that we have seen time after time over the years. We talk about Duke resorting to one on one basketball. In fact, that is really a misstatement -- we would not so much mind one on one from a team this athletically gifted, but in fact it is all too often one on three basketball.
Apparently K has taken Duke fans (read us) to task for criticisms levied against this team, including those relating to R.J.'s play. Well, the fact is that those criticisms are absolutely deserved because the play criticized has been utterly selfish and destructive. We have watched R.J. very closely and have never seen him look for an open teammate when he drives and is tripled. Never. That's what happened in Maui, and we saw the very same thing in his first possession against Indiana. The sad thing is that Cam plays the same way. So we will not hesitate for a second to lambaste that kind of play. But in fact we reserve a lot of criticism for the coach that allows it to happen ... a wise coach would sit down with these kids privately and show them films of their inappropriate play, making it clear that they should be looking for open teammates. So really, much of our criticism goes to the coach himself.
Anyway, as to this one, it really was no contest. And we expected no less. Forget the usual drivel you get from the talking heads -- this is not a particularly good Indiana team. They demonstrated that clearly through the first half of this laugher, turning the ball over repeatedly and squandering numerous opportunities. It really wasn't that Duke was sizzling at all; indeed, they were as weak as usual from the outside. Duke's defense was aggressive, and that unsettled the Hoosiers, but Indiana was still mostly responsible for the 24 point halftime spread.
We have complained over the years about the fact that K does a dreadful job training his kids to block out off the defensive boards. Time after time during the first half an Indiana player was standing beneath the hoop to gather an errant shot. They just couldn't do anything with it. The other problem for Duke defensively is the constant gambling, Zion being the worst offender. Gambling will work about ten percent of the time, but in the vast majority of cases it will simply leave a Duke defender completely out of position. It is foolish play. Again, the coach seems to do nothing about it.
R.J. did have one of his better offensive outings. Before fouling out, he went 9 for 18 from the floor and 2 for 4 from long. Those percentages would not ordinarily wow anyone, but they are unusually efficient for R.J. The downside is that we continue to see the terrible passing and other court mistakes. He had 5 turnovers in this one to one assist. That does not make us happy.
Cam had probably his worst outing of the season. The only thing he did right was sink three treys, although he was but 3 for 7 overall. Everything else was a disaster. He continues to turn the ball over regularly when he tries to drive. He will be rescued with a foul call from time to time, and he has been Duke's one capable free throw shooter among the starting five. But that distinction ended against Indiana. He was awful at the line, missing virtually every attempt. He finished two for seven at the stripe, and we think that a couple of those were the front end of a one and one, so it was even worse. Freshman or not, we can not excuse that.
The interesting thing to us is that Duke had probably its best free throw shooting percentage of the season down the stretch against Gonzaga. The game was on the line in that situation. It has to make one wonder if some of the problem is just a lack of concentration at the line. The kids should be instructed to approach each free throw as if it were crucial. We're sure that will happen.
Having escaped from the islands, Zion was again Mr. Efficiency on offense, going 11 for 15 from the floor. Of course, many of those were relatively uncontested. He led the team with 25 points in 29 minutes. Sorry, Mr. Bilious, he is clearly Duke's best player on both ends.
But we reserve special praise for Tre Jones. He had a beautiful game ... 15 points on 6 for 10 shooting and a perfect 3 for 3 at the stripe, 8 assists, and no turnovers. We love it. He may also be Duke's best on-ball defender. Rock solid.
And then there is Poor, Poor Alex. The kid doesn't see any action until just a little over 5 minutes remain in the first half, and he stays on the floor for a minute and a half. He does get some minutes after the break, but only because it is garbage time. The kid does everything well, and is at least as good a ball handler as Jordan Goldwire, but even Goldwire gets into the game earlier. At almost any other school, Alex would be a star. K always has his Favored Seven, and if you are not in that group, you are toast. We feel so sorry for the kid -- he would have been much better off matriculating elsewhere, and the transfer rules make it difficult to leave.
Now, it's constant garbage time until Texas Tech on December 20. Very little can be gleaned about the capability of this team against such unworthy opponents. Nap time, friends.
Gonzaga 89, Duke 87 (November 21, 2018). The better team won this game. The only surprising thing is how close it turned out to be ... Duke was even given repeated chances at the end, but could not capitalize with their futile one on one attempts.
For almost the entire contest, Gonzaga excelled in every area. Their offensive movement was much better, giving them repeated open shots while Duke had to struggle for everything. We have said time and again how much we hate Duke's offensive strategy -- their non-motion offense -- and its faults were once again all too evident. And on defense, Gonzaga was able to shut lanes and Duke, as usual, could not connect from long. Gonzaga was also the quicker team, picking up virtually every loose ball and carom. That really surprised us. And Gonzaga was shooting lights out for much of the contest, finishing at a sizzling 52.6% overall from long.
Really, this should have been a comfortable win for the Zags. But they faltered terribly down the stretch, suddenly missing the shots they had been hitting, and absolutely tanking at the line. They were handing the prize to Duke, but the Devils refused to accept.
We have taken R. J. Barrett to task from the very beginning of the season, despite all the public adulation. Regardless of his athleticism, we simply don't like the kid's game. He tries to force a shot virtually every time he has the ball, and is also a pretty dreadful passer (probably from want of practice). While he did make two spectacular driving scores during Duke's late run, his misplays far exceeded his positives. Another lousy shooting night at 9 for 25 overall and 1 for 4 from beyond the arc. They included a couple of air balls and just a ton of forces in congestion. Those are simply turnovers for the team. Predictably, the same thing occurred on Duke's final attempt -- Barrett tried to score though three defenders (he never looks to dish off), and it was game, set, match. Shame on Krzyzewski for running that play instead of getting it to Zion. Sadly, we expect nothing else from the esteemed coach. During the Auburn game, Jay Bilious called R.J. Duke's best player. Bilious is an idiot ... come to think of it, he should be on the Duke coaching staff.
Cam Reddish, who had been playing well of late, did almost nothing in this one. He did hit a couple of treys, but was also forcing the action way too much, which resulted in four charged turnovers. Again, all of this is symptomatic of Duke's offensive set, where there is almost no internal passing. In that vein, we are confounded by the fact that we never see Tre drive and dish ... why is that? Duke wins by recruiting prized talent, pure and simple. Duke's offensive sets do nothing to add to the mix.
We don't think that Zion will be doing much vacationing in Hawaii. This has not been a sparkling locale for him. Tonight that included a missed jam, which echoed an earlier miss by Tre on a break-away (in retrospect, those were big). But even so, Zion finished 8 for 17 from the floor and a lovely 6 for 6 from the stripe. He added 10 boards and 4 blocks. He was Duke's best player.
We were shocked by the final box showing that the Zags had only 13 offensive boards to 22 for Duke. Of course, you don't get a lot of offensive rebounds when the ball is going through the hoop, and a number of those boards attributed to Duke were repeated tips that never seemed to go in. But it felt to us as if Gonzaga was getting second chance after second chance down the stretch. That's why we felt it was a mistake to keep Marques on the bench (he only played 15 minutes) ... Javin is not a rebounder and has no offensive game. Marques may have been able to get some put-backs for Duke. Again, this is K at work.
Aside from Zion, the only real positive was the overall play of Tre Jones. He made some key shots for the team down the stretch. Not many assists, but your teammates have to be able to make shots to get an assist. As we feared going into the season, this is not a team that is really capable from beyond the arc. Cam is the only talented jump shooter on the starting squad, and Poor, Poor Alex is kept mired on the bench. O'Connell's PT in this one was just 3 minutes, and he had to force one very long shot just to get an attempt. He has quick feet and can play defense, so this situation continues to perplex us ... and will no doubt do so for the remainder of the year.
After the team's sloppy play against Auburn, we could see this coming. We would congratulate Gonzaga on their performance, although their late choke makes us think twice. Still, they were the more cohesive and much better coached squad.
[See additional thoughts on Gonzaga Postscript in Asides]
Duke 78, Auburn 72 (November 20, 2018). Yes, it was a victory. But we take no pleasure in it ... Duke's performance was, in many respects, positively odious.
Blessedly, Auburn came out of the gate ice cold, both outside and in. Had that not been the case, this would have been a very different contest. But the fact remains that the Tigers did heat up considerably ... they went on to shoot over 34% overall from long. Duke's overall? Just 7 for 25, a pathetic 28%. That's something that Jay Bilious, as usual, failed to mention.
No, it was the usual Duke (non) motion offense ... hang around the perimeter and launch a trey, or try a one-on-one drive for a score. Fortunately, Duke was able to pick up a lot of Auburn fouls, though they charitably refused to take full advantage ... Duke continued missing free throw after free throw. They finished 23 for 35 from the line, around 65%. That's 12 easy points tossed away. But wait, you may say, the box score shows a 23 for 34 result. True, but those scores do not take into account the fact that two points are left off the board when a player misses the front end of a one and one, as Jack White did in the first half. That absolutely must be counted. The bottom line is that if Duke had lost this one, they would have only themselves to blame.
On the defensive end, Duke did a respectable job for most of the game in containing the quick Auburn guards, although some unconscious shooting late by Auburn may have suggested otherwise. But that defense was severely marred in the first half when Auburn was able to score easy lay-ins off back-door cuts. And Duke was not blocking off the boards at all for a time, something that has been a chronic issue during K's regime -- Auburn got a number of very easy put-backs.
Perhaps even worse, Duke again led their opponent in turnovers with 13, with many occurring down the stretch. Indeed, over the last three minutes, Duke seemed to turn the ball over almost every time it had possession. Poindexter, in a homicidal rage, tried to throw himself at the television set ... good thing that he is regularly restrained for these contests.
The worst offender was Mr. Barrett. We think he had three turnovers at the end of the game. Nor did he make up for that ineptitude otherwise ... he shot just 7 for 20 overall and 2 for 8 from long. Bear in mind that the player with the next highest number of shot attempts was Cam Reddish with only 10. If R.J. has not taken a shot for 60 seconds, he goes into withdrawal. The only good thing about his performance was the 9 boards.
Poor, Poor Alex, perhaps the best pure shooter we have seen in a Duke uniform, had all of 3 minutes in the game ... and this despite the fact that nobody (except perhaps Cam) was doing anything but clanking rims. R.J., in contrast, was given a whopping 39 minutes despite his poor performance. The team would have been much better with O'Connell on the court. Sadly, Poor, Poor Alex got no more time than Jordan Goldwire, who for some reason was on the court when Auburn made a first half run. Not wise. Perhaps we should at least be grateful that Vrank was kept on the sidelines. As we have often remarked, we have great admiration for K's abilities as a salesman, but no respect whatsoever for his talents as a personnel evaluator.
In that vein, we note that little Jared Harper of Auburn was probably the best player on the court, and perhaps the best player inch for inch and pound for pound in college hoops. He is the kind of under-the-radar star that K never finds. (Of course, if he did, he would no doubt fail to play him.)
So what good can we point to in this foul mishmash? Well, both Cam and Tre had solid outings once again, though neither exactly scorched the nets. Jack White had his usual outstanding blue collar performance -- he, to us, is the heart and soul of this team. But we take the most delight in the performance of Marques.
Once again, a bit of history. We had been very high on Marques when we watched him in the high school all-star games. We were beside ourselves when K refused to give him much court time after he recovered from his early injury, and we attributed his lackluster play thereafter to a loss of confidence. However, as that lackluster play continued through the beginning of this season, we were at the point of acknowledging that we, God forbid, had made a mistake in our evaluation of the kid. Well, folks, last night's outing has caused us to retract our unprecedented apology.
Against Auburn, Marques was the rim protector that Duke so badly needs. He had 7 blocked shots and 9 boards in 25 minutes. It was really Marques who squelched Auburn's comeback attempt while his teammates were fumbling the ball away on the other end. True, Marques did go through one bad two minute stretch in the second half when he made three errors himself. But we, being the generous fellows we are, certainly forgive him. He was otherwise terrific. When he starts scoring off pivot moves underneath, we will really bring out the champagne.
So, we are not exactly happy campers at this point. A win is always better than a loss, but when it is accomplished with such sloppiness, we do not relish it. Maybe we'll get a more effective and disciplined performance against Gonzaga. They'll need it. If they continue to try to give games away, they will eventually succeed.
Duke 90, San Diego St. 64 (November 19, 2018). Interesting. San Diego State plays better defense than Duke in the first half and utterly shuts down Zion by constant doubling/tripling, yet Duke still scores 49 points and leads by 17. Both R.J. and Cam filled the void nicely, and Jack came in and promptly nailed two treys as well. Duke was 9 for 17 from beyond the arc in that opening period. If they shoot like that, they are invincible.
The final spread was 26, but only because Duke largely emptied the bench with about seven minutes left. As it was, no Duke starter got more than 26 minutes, and some got considerably less. The team leader in minutes was actually Mr. White, who once again had a simply terrific outing. He is the glue of this team, the ultimate blue collar guy that does everything. And when he nails treys, you can only genuflect.
Of course, most observers will ignore Jack's efforts and heap plaudits on R. J. and Cam -- that's where the media obsession lies. And those plaudits are deserved in this case, but Jack deserves equal applause in any synopsis.
Anyway, after tossing up a 10 foot air ball on his first possession, R.J. settled down and had a really nice overall outing. As usual, he led the team in shots taken, and the overall percentage of makes was less than dazzling (5 for 14). But the real positives were the 3 for 6 from long and the 7 for 9 from the line. R.J. has heretofore been a weak free throw shooter, and this was easily his best performance at the stripe. We just wish that we could say the same for the rest of the team ... apart from R.J., the squad was just 15 for 25, a desultory 60%.
Cam Reddish continues to climb in our estimation. Again, he infuriated us at the outset by forcing a totally out-of-control drive that resulted in an offensive foul. Thereafter, however, he was rock solid. In 21 minutes, he was 6 for 10 from the floor and 2 for 5 from long. He excited with a couple of beautiful driving reverse layups. As usual, he did not contribute much on the boards, but it didn't matter in this one.
The other player of note was Tre. Not usually a good scorer, he finished 6 for 7 from the floor and an amazing 2 for 2 from long. Interestingly, he only had two assists and an equal number of turnovers. Of course, assists were rather hard to come by since the Aztecs were playing solid defense for most of the game. We should also note that Tre played effectively on the defensive end, and that will become even more important against Auburn.
This was Zion's lowest point production -- just 13 in 18 minutes. He spent a good amount of the first half on the bench after picking up his second foul, an incredibly stupid infraction where he just continued to bump his opponent out of bounds ... Zion might as well have held up a placard for the refs to blow a whistle. Aggressive play is nice, but it has to be controlled aggression. That was mindless aggression. Zion has to play smarter. Even so, he did some things that wowed. Most will be talking of his break-away windmill dunk, but for us the highlight was an amazing steal he made along the sideline. His quickness is astounding.
Javin, never a favorite of ours, made a couple of nice hustle boards early. Alas, he then reverted to form and managed to foul out after only 11 minutes of court time. Ugh. Poor, Poor Alex did get 17 minutes, but largely because K had emptied the bench so early. The positive was, as always, the gorgeous jump shot (2 for 3). The downside were the three charged turnovers.
Jay Bilious made a point of commending Vrank's play. That was excessively charitable. Vrank is a large body on the floor and little else. And it was also more of the same for Jordan Goldwire. He played pretty solid defense, but that's all that can be said. To observe that he has no offense is a monumental understatement ... K should lay down the law that he is never, never to attempt a shot from the floor.
Just a final defensive note. We do generally applaud the effort the Devils are making on that end, and the communication that appears to be occurring. They are ahead of where we expected them to be defensively at this point. Unfortunately, no Duke player has ever met a head fake he did not immediately react to by bounding off the floor. That is just poor coaching, although we are not sure that any coach in the country really instructs his team properly in that area.
Now on to Auburn. They were lucky to defeat a so-so Xavier squad in overtime, despite Xavier's repeated turnovers and porous defense. Still, Auburn is very quick and tenacious defensively. This will be a big test for Tre in particular. We look forward to it.
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.