Weighing In: Tournament Swagger

After two dominating performances in the first and second rounds, Duke has countered the doubters and proven its merit as one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis. Before we face off with Purdue on Friday, Jake, Chong and guest-author Arun reflect on three things the team has done to get this far—and that will help push us to our eleventh Final Four appearance.

Chong- Interior Passing

Much has been made this season about the emergence of Duke’s big men as a key difference with this year’s Blue Devil squad.  Yes, Brian Zoubek has finally developed an offensive game that can complement his rebounding skill.  Yes, Lance Thomas actually isn’t triple-pumping every (missed) lay-up.  Through all of this, though, what really strikes me as the difference in our inside game is the improvement in interior passing.   Though this doesn’t apply to the Plumlee brothers, it’s no secret that Duke’s starting big men aren’t the most athletic players in the country.  Thus, it’s unreasonable to expect to just feed Lance in the paint and expect him to put the dream shake on Jajuan Johnson or Demarcus Cousins (too bad we don’t have Travis Leslie, right?).   Over the past month and a half, we’ve begun to see more pick and rolls, oftentimes culminating in a Zoubek layup off a Scheyer assist.   We’ve also noticed better passing coming from all our big men, but particularly from Lance.

If Duke wants to make a serious run for the championship, this crew is going to have to continue making crisp passes within 15 feet of the basket.  This way, we not only use our size to score, we also use it to physically wear down the opponent.  The efficiency of our interior passing, my friends, is why we’ve been able to utilize our big men in such a productive fashion, all while relying less and less on the three-point shot.

Jake“Team” Defense

Jon and Zoubs team up for the blocked shot. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com.

The numbers speak for themselves. Duke has allowed a combined 97 points in the first two rounds: 44 to Arkansas Pine-Bluff and 53 to California. OK, so maybe the Pine-Bluff game isn’t that big of a feat (although no disrespect to the SWAC). But the Berkeley Boys were a dynamic offensive team before meeting Duke in the second round—it was the first time the Golden Bears had failed to score 60 points all season. Like Duke, Cal boasted a ‘terrific trio’ of guards—Theo Robertson, Patrick Christopher, and Cal’s all-time leading scorer, Jerome Randle. But they were stymied. Christopher, who missed the first several minutes with a cut, never got into the flow of the game, mustering just 2 points. Randle got free in the first half for several layups (thanks to some illegal picks from the linebacker-esque Markhuri Sanders-Frison). After seeing him hit a 30-footer at the halftime buzzer of Cal’s win over Louisville, many Duke fans worried that Randle would go off Eric Maynor style in the second round. But as ESPN regional blogger Brad Bennett wrote, Nolan Smith got angry and locked Randle down. (Ironically, former Dukie Jamal Boykin was Cal’s best offensive player Sunday—can we take a little credit for that? OK maybe not). Duke Chronicle columnist Alex Fanaroff compared our defensive performance to a boa constrictor, slowly leaking the life out Cal with a dominant rebounding performance. That’s an apt metaphor, and one that must continue to apply. We have three great scorers on this team, but our 9 man rotation will provide the extra defensive oomph all the way to Indy.

Arun – Free of the Three?

The "Four Pillars'" presence in the paint has had a huge impact on Duke's offensive and defensive effectiveness. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com.

Live by the three, die by the three. Since the days of Redick, it’s been the trademark phrase for Duke lovers and haters alike. And for good reason. In the past, when Duke’s guards didn’t make it rain from the beyond the arc, the Devils’ demise was soon to follow. All too often, a drought from the three point line spelled defeat for the Devils in the most crucial of games. (See: Villanova, 2009). The story has been different this year, especially for those games on the biggest stages. (See: California, last week). Still, having success without making the long ball doesn’t mean Duke hasn’t been attempting it. Last week against Cal, Duke shot an abysmal 3-17 from three (1-8 and 1-6 from Scheyer and Singler respectively) and yet still managed to cruise to a comfortable, double digit win. The quantity of shots hasn’t changed. Neither has the quality, even though it seems like wide open shots haven’t gone in as of late.

So what’s different? The answer doesn’t lie with shot selection, but instead with Duke’s personnel. It’s no secret that Duke’s four major frontcourt pillars have given us an edge this year in an area where we haven’t recently had it: offensive rebounding. With leapers like the Plumlee bros, a lanky workhorse in Lance Thomas, and a space eating monster in Zoubek, this year’s team excels in cleaning up the mess after missed three point shots. Miles and Brian in particular have improved their board-grabbing abilities from last season, and Zoubs has emerged as arguably the best offensive rebounder in the nation. More offensive boards have led to more second chance opportunities and easy points (oh, and some nasty tip-dunks too).

Duke’s not free of the three just yet—the long range jumper is still an integral part of our offense. But this year, having excellent rebounders down low can give our shooters some peace of mind. Peace of mind translates into shooting confidence. And confidence translates into buckets.

OK, so we’re feeling pretty good here on the blog. Back us up, Duke! See you tomorrow with a preview of the regional weekend. First up? Purdue.

Weighing In: Coach K and Team USA

Every few weeks, the five of us get together and discuss a pressing question related to Duke basketball. These  discussions are then compiled into a feature aptly entitled “Weighing In”.

Today’s question: how will Coach K’s involvement in Team USA affect Duke basketball?
Chong, Daniel, and Jake “weigh in”.

He's a winner.

He's a winner.

Chong

In the early 90’s, a young up-and-coming film director from Brooklyn echoed one of the most famous lines in advertising history: “It’s gotta be the shoes.” Since then, both the director, Spike Lee, and the product advertised, Nike Basketball shoes, have become synonymous with images of success and innovation.  Behavioral economists can  present a plethora of conjectures on why the commercial succeeded, but this perfect formula doesn’t require a drawn-out explanation.  The reason that Nike’s advertisement succeeded is simple:  Nike capitalized on the star power of Michael Jordan, along with the cinematic wizardry of Spike Lee, to catapult their basketball shoe line into an international icon.

Now, how does this relate to Coach K continuing his tenure as the leader of team USA basketball?  The answer correlates exactly with what Nike did with Michael Jordan.  Instead of using MJ, Krzyzewski’s experience with the best players in the world allows Duke Basketball to reap the benefits of its coach’s increased publicity.  If you’re a high school basketball stud, wouldn’t you want a coach that could harness your skills?  Coach K, by working with the likes of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, would certainly fit the bill in terms of a coach who can handle some of the world’s hottest basketball talents.  From a recruiting standpoint, the fruits of Krzyzewski’s labor are already showing, as the class of 2010 is turning out to hold as one of the school’s best in recent memory.

But even if the international publicity does not help us (a scenario I just can’t believe), I feel that many critics of Coach K’s decision are forgetting one of the most important benefits of coaching such a talented squad of players.  Coach K, just like any other professional, constantly seeks to improve at his job.  Even if his “x’s and o’s” don’t translate to a higher-octane offense, Coach K will gain valuable experience and respect for being able to manage a group of highly-paid superstars.  We may finally be able to attract t the superstars that, over the last few years, have turned us down for the likes of Memphis, Kansas, and UNC.  We may, more importantly, be able to reload to make a serious run in the NCAA tournamnet.  Hopefully, Duke can replicate some of what the “redeem” team was able to produce in Beijing.  In the meanwhile, all we can do now is work with the talent we already have.  Just do it, Blue Devils.

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Daniel

At Duke University, greatness is spelled: K-R-Z-Y-Z-E-W-S-K-I.

Take that, Merriam-Webster.

This ten-letter-mishmash of consonants represents Duke’s equivalent to John Wooden at UCLA, or Red Auerbach in Boston.  Despite his commitment to USA Basketball through 2012, Coach K has made his long-term intentions crystal clear; he began his career at Duke, and that’s where it will end.

For the average coach, an opportunity to lead a star-studded Olympic team would require little deliberation.  Unfortunately for Mike Krzyzewski, he’s not the average coach.  The commander-in-chief of Duke University basketball carries with him a degree of responsibility and expectation to which other collegiate programs simply cannot relate.  Since its inception, Blue Devil hoops has established a rich tradition of winning…and winning big.  For the Durham faithful, anything short of a Final Four appearance is quite frankly a disappointing season.

Duke has been getting loads of flak from the media due to recent sub-par recruitment.  Should Coach K be spending less time with USA Basketball?  Maybe.  Is his presence with the “Redeem Team” hurting Duke’s recruiting?  Absolutely not.  Find me one kid who wouldn’t kill to play amongst the likes of a Lebron James or a Kobe Bryant.  Granted, most college ballers will never have this chance…but if you can’t play with the superstars themselves, isn’t playing for their superstar-coach an enticing alternative?  At the end of the day, any recruit looking to develop his game for the next level will recognize the second-to-none caliber of coaching offered by Coach K and company.  Why not learn from the best?

Simply put, Coach K’s presence in USA Basketball is tremendous PR for Duke University basketball.  Krzyzewski has revitalized the national team and restored its winning tradition—the same type of winning tradition he’s established at Duke; one that Cameron Crazies have come to expect, year in and year out.

To all the Coach K nay-sayers and Duke haters out there (there are lots of you)—take a step back and realize the big picture.  Yes, Coach K now has less time to scour the recruiting trail due to his Olympic commitment, but he also brings something to the recruiting table that no other coach can offer; he knows how to get the most out of world-class talent.  Recruits will recognize that, and respond accordingly.

For crying out loud, look at our incoming class in 2010!  Even WITHOUT Harrison Barnes on our commit-list, Duke already has one of the most impressive classes, if not the single most impressive class, in the nation.  Seth Curry’s timely transfer from Liberty was simply icing on the cake.  The addition of Barnes would be like spelling “National Championship” on top of that cake.

Duke will soon reclaim its perch atop college basketball.  For now, be patient, and watch Coach K win another gold medal.

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Jake

In 2004, as Coach K was toying with the Los Angeles Lakers, junior Andrew Humphries wrote a letter, imploring Krzyzewski to remain at Duke. He closed the letter with an emotional statement–”Please still be my coach.” As fate would have it, Andrew and the rest of Blue Devil Nation got their wish:  Coach K elected to remain at Duke.

Humphries’ final line touched on an emotion present in every Duke fan—that of provinciality. We feel that Coach K is ours and belongs to no one else, a bastion of the our values, our spokesperson and leader. But it’s time we realize a painful truth: Coach K is more than just Duke’s coach. He is one of basketball’s premiere ambassadors, a successful businessman and promoter, and yes, the coach of the Redeem Team. We have harrumphed about these traits in our coach, claiming them as reason for our admiration and dedicated support of Duke basketball. We rejoiced when Team USA won the gold medal in Beijing. “Coach K is such a patriot!” we all exclaimed.

So why do we lament Coach K’s decision to do it all again? He’s hungry for more success. He wants to prove himself and help his country achieve even more athletic glory. Furthermore, he’s putting his reputation on the line for a second time. Win one gold medal, the media will claim that anyone could have won with the talent of Kobe, Lebron, and Carmelo. Fail to win a second? Then it’s all your fault, Coach.

We should feel lucky to have a Coach qualified to lead the Olympic team. K deserves this opportunity—and he deserves our support. The man is over sixty, and he’s managing three of the most difficult situations in basketball: the pressure of the nation on the Olympic team, the pressure of Duke fans, and the pressure of Duke haters. And he does it all with class and composure.

The biggest concern seems to be that our recruiting will suffer due to K’s absence from the circuit. Firstly, there couldn’t be a better reason for that truancy. Secondly, we signed our three recruits for the class of 2010 in the weeks following the national team’s victory over Spain. I personally saw Josh Hairston in Wallace Wade wearing a Team USA t-shirt the day he committed to Duke. Another Olympic triumph could lead to more recruiting success.

It’s time for Duke fans to let go of the notion that Coach K is only ours. He is a global basketball icon and Duke’s most recognizable face. What’s wrong with the rest of the world knowing it?

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