Section 17: Almost Stung

Looking to rebound from a terrible, terrible, terrible loss to Temple in Philadelphia, Duke headed to Atlanta to open their ACC regular season schedule against Georgia Tech. We projected the Yellow Jackets, who were coming off of three consecutive losses to Mercer, Fordham, and Alabama, to finish 8th in the conference in our ACC preview. Despite Georgia Tech’s recent woes, there is no such thing as an easy road game in the ACC, and this game was the perfect example. The Blue Devils were able to come away with an 81-74 victory against the Yellow Jackets, but it appears Duke still hasn’t hit its stride after a hard-fought and competitive contest.

Mike Krzyzewski tends to make lineup changes after tough losses, so it was no surprise that Coach K shook up the starting lineup for Duke’s ACC opener. Miles Plumlee re-entered the starting lineup for the first time since November 15 against Michigan State after a very strong showing against Temple. He replaced Ryan Kelly, who was an absolute non-factor against the Owls, playing just 19 minutes and scoring five points. But the real story of the game was the long-awaited first career start for point guard Quinn Cook. Cook was chosen over Tyler Thornton, who had started Duke’s previous six games but whose production had diminished as of late.

If you were a little worried about Duke coming into this game, you weren’t after the first 12 minutes against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 31-14 lead thanks to a quick start from Cook, Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly. This fast start from Duke simply seemed to rattle the hornet’s nest, if you will, and the Yellow Jackets came alive. With the Blue Devils facing foul trouble early on, Georgia Tech stormed back, ending the half on a 21-8 run to pull within five.

The second half was tight throughout, and with each passing minute that Duke failed to pull away, the pressure continued to mount. The Blue Devils struggled to hit shots from beyond the arc, knocking down just 6-of-22 for the game. Glen Rice Jr., who was relatively quiet in the first half, absolutely took over the last nine minutes of the game. It was as though he couldn’t miss a shot, shooting 6-for-7 down the stretch for 15 of his game-high 28 points. Georgia Tech was able to pull within two with 2:58 to go and had an opportunity to tie the game, but Mfon Udofia missed both of his shots from the foul line. After an Austin Rivers steal and layup pushed Duke’s lead back up to four, Rice had his own opportunity from the charity stripe, but he too missed both shots. Seth Curry added an exclamation point to the win, putting the game out of reach with a lob to Mason Plumlee for an emphatic finish. The Yellow Jackets’ failure to capitalize from the line combined with fantastic foul shooting from the Blue Devils sealed this tough road victory.

Ryan Kelly didn't shoot much from the floor, but made his living from the line (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Kelly was undoubtedly the man of the afternoon for Duke, with one of the most interesting stat lines we’ve seen in quite some time. Kelly, who got off to a hot start early in the game, shot just 3-of-4 from the field, but thanks to a perfect 14-for-14 from the free throw line led the Blue Devils with 21 points. He did not attempt a field goal for the last 16:12 of the game. Kelly’s free-throw shooting was stellar, to say the least, and it led an excellent all-around performance by the Blue Devils at the line. Duke, who has struggled with foul shooting all season, shot 29-of-36 from the free throw line on the afternoon. Although Kelly’s foul shooting preserved the win for the Blue Devils, he was not much of a factor other than the beginning and the end of this game. His first nine points came within the first 10 minutes of the game, and he scored just two points between the 10:29 mark of the first half and the 4:09 mark of the second half. Clearly this is a picky analysis of Kelly’s play, as he took advantage of his opportunities down the stretch and made sure Duke would not drop a second consecutive game, but you’d like to see him recognize when he’s the hot hand on the floor and continue taking shots. But overall it was nice to see Ryan bounce back after his worst showing of the season against Temple.

Cook took control of the offense in his first career start for Duke (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Cook played quite well in his first start for Duke, adding 10 points and five assists in 27 minutes. He commanded the floor with confidence in his first ACC contest, slashing to the bucket in the game’s early minutes and setting up teammates with crisp passes. One of the highlights of the game was his phenomenal behind-the-head dishto Austin Rivers, which placed third on DukeBluePlanet’s top plays of the game. It was a strong all-around effort, though he did take a few ill-advised shots from beyond the arc. He shot 1-for-4 from 3-point range on the afternoon and has shot just 30% from deep on the year. With five assists in the game, Cook’s assist-to-turnover ratio now sits at 4.43:1, which is the best in all of college basketball. Quinn will continue to grow into his role as this team’s starting point guard throughout Duke’s ACC schedule, but in the past few games we’ve already caught glimpses of the type of playmaker he can be.

Rivers has not had his typical shooting touch in Duke's past three games (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Rivers struggled yet again, scoring just eight points on 3-of-10 from the floor. This continues to be a season of ups and downs for Rivers, but you hope he is due for a breakout game relatively soon. It just wasn’t working for Austin against Georgia Tech- his shots weren’t falling and he was torched by Glenn Rice Jr. on the defensive end. He even missed two crucial free throws down the stretch that could have come back to haunt the Blue Devils. Luckily the Yellow Jackets had much larger issues from the free throw line on their hands.

Although it is great to get a first ACC victory on the road, we need to address the elephant in the room here- this team is having trouble closing out games. We saw similar issues against Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan, and Washington, where Duke allowed double digit leads to evaporate late in the game. The Blue Devils had Georgia Tech on the ropes early, jumping out to a quick 17-point lead. That should have been it right there. They should have been able to coast into halftime with a 20-point lead and let the second half play out for an easy blowout win, but they let the Yellow Jackets back in the game and suddenly had a tight second half on their hands. Luckily Duke was able to hold on, but heading into their ACC schedule the Blue Devils need to learn how to put teams away.

A statistical analysis of the Temple and Georgia Tech games is coming later today. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Later this week, Crazie Talk will have its first-ever mailbag where our writers answer Duke basketball questions submitted by our readers. Have any thoughts or questions? Submit them to us by sending them to crazietalk@gmail.com or tweet them @crazietalker with hashtag #askCT.

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #2 Duke

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected ACC runner-up, the Duke Blue Devils.

The high-flying Blue Devils are greatly improved from the beginning of the season, and look to silence their critics. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 12-2

Key Wins:
November 22- Duke 82, Michigan 75
November 23- Duke 68, Kansas 61

Tough Losses:
November 29- Ohio State 85, Duke 63
January 4- Temple 78, Duke 73

Starting Lineup:[table id=27 /]The Good: This team is full of offensive weapons. Duke boasts the seventh-best scoring offense in the country at 82.8 points per game. They can hit shots from all over the floor and are shooting 50.5% from the floor on the year, good for fifth in the nation. The Blue Devils have arguably the best backcourt in the country, and their guards account for one of the best shooting trios in recent Duke history. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins are shooting a combined 42.3% from beyond the arc this year. Their frontcourt is also significantly improved and has been dominant in recent games, headlined by junior Mason Plumlee, who has averaged 11.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on the year thanks to a new array of post moves. The Blue Devils have also played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. They’ve faced three opponents that are ranked in the top 16 of the AP Top 25, defeating two of them. This was a great test for this young team, and will serve them well as they head into conference play.

The Bad: Though they are much improved on the offensive end, Duke has struggled at times with interior defense this season. This was most evident against Kansas and Ohio State, when they allowed Kansas’s Thomas Robinson to go for 16 points and 15 rebounds and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger went for 21 and eight boards. To make matters worse, the Blue Devils have had lapses inside against some of their weaker opponents. Even when the game is out of reach, this is not something you like to see a talented team make a habit. The Blue Devils have also struggled from the free throw line this season, something they cannot afford to continue as they enter their ACC schedule. Duke has shot 67.9% from the foul line this season, which is significantly below their typical standards. The Blue Devils have been one of the better free throw shooting teams in the country in years past, and haven’t shot below 68% from the line on a season since 1997-1998. Duke’s woes from the lines this year have been headlined by Mason Plumlee, who despite making significant improvements in the post this season, is shooting an abysmal 38.5%. Austin Rivers didn’t seem to get the memo that Duke guards don’t miss free throws, shooting just 69.6% from the stripe. He has vowed that he will be shooting 80% from the line by the end of the year.

The Crazie: The craziest thing about this year’s Duke team is that it is continuing to come together before our very eyes. The Blue Devils lost three huge pieces of last year’s team, and has had to rebuild on the go thus far. This team was able to win at the beginning of the year based on talent alone, but in the last few games you’ve been able to see them really getting into a rhythm. It appears this team is not done making adjustments, either. When they were struggling earlier in the season, they opted for Tyler Thornton to start over sharp shooter Andre Dawkins, and now it appears that relatively soon freshman Quinn Cook will take over for Thornton as the team’s starting point guard. This is a team that is still building its image and getting comfortable playing together, but it’s remarkable how quickly they’ve gotten to this point.

Player We Love To Hate: This is a Duke blog…we’re going to skip this one.

The Bottom Line: Everyone knew the ACC was going to come down to Duke and North Carolina this year. Overall, the Tar Heels are a more experienced team and will ultimately take the regular season crown, but it should be much closer than many people expect. Duke will give North Carolina a significant challenge, and they should split their games this year, with each team winning on its home floor. The Blue Devils shouldn’t have much trouble handling the rest of the ACC competition, though they might drop a tough road game or two. They drew one of the more difficult road schedules in the conference this year, playing away at Florida State, Maryland, and Virginia Tech, which are likely the three toughest road games in the ACC outside the state of North Carolina. Although they seem to be written off by many of the “experts” for this year, this young and inexperienced team should surprise some people and contend as with Cook at point guard they continue to gel.

* * *

Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

Math 9314: Another Day at the Office

Another week, another two victories for Duke. Putting their difficulties against Ohio State behind them, it was business as usual for the Blue Devils in non-conference matchups last week, easily dispatching of Colorado State in Cameron and Washington at Madison Square Garden (aka Cameron North). Let’s take a quick look behind the numbers using our advanced metrics and see what the box scores from these games did not tell you:

Miles Plumlee recorded 14 points against Washington, matching his brother Mason (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Colorado State:
This game was pure and utter Duke domination from start to finish, as the Blue Devils shot 56.4% from the floor, their highest clip this season against an opponent that wasn’t named Presbyterian College. Mason Plumlee poured in one of the best all-around statistical performances of this season, posting 14 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and four steals on 6-of-7 shooting. What is most remarkable about this stat line is that he was able to achieve such a high efficiency rating with only a 22.6 Usage%, which clearly shows that he was not demanding the ball on offense but made the most of his opportunities. His GameScore of 20.9 marks the second-highest efficiency rating by a Duke player this season, and the highest since the Blue Devils’ last game at the Garden. We all remember that game as the day when Andre Dawkins played the game of his life, pouring in 26 points against Michigan State to give Coach K career victory number 903. Speaking of Dawkins, his GameScore of 11.7 does not completely tell the tale, as he added 15 points in his new role off the bench on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc in just 12 minutes on the floor. Meanwhile, Miles Plumlee took a step out of his younger brother’s shadow and took on a greater offensive role, scoring 14 points while adding five points and three blocks en route to a season-high GameScore of 16.1.

Ryan Kelly rebounded from consecutive subpar offensive performance against Washington (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Washington:
Against a young and athletic Huskies team, the Blue Devils were able to maintain control throughout and hold of a late run to secure an 86-80 victory that was not nearly as close as the score indicates. Ryan Kelly recovered from consecutive rough games to put up a team-high GameScore of 13.6 as a result of 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Kelly and Miles Plumlee controlled the offensive glass, posting OReb% of 17.7 and 13.1, respectively as Duke held a rare rebounding advantage over the Huskies. Who knows if it’s the NBA three-point line of maybe if it’s just the soothing aroma of ridiculously overpriced contracts that will never buy the New York Knicks a championship, but Andre Dawkins loves playing at Madison Square Garden. Dawkins posted another solid GameScore of 12.1 thanks to an effort of 17 points off the bench, while Miles Plumlee did not miss a shot from the field and recorded his second consecutive double-digit game score. Fun fact for all you stat junkies out there, since November 22nd Miles has shot 82% from the free-throw line (he shot 59% from the line last year). Mason Plumlee turned in a typical 12 points and nine rebounds, but only shot 2-for-11 from the free throw line, which is reflected in his 10.6 GameScore.

What We Learned:
Andre Dawkins and Miles Plumlee are here to play—Both Dawkins and Plumlee found themselves in the starting lineup for the season-opener and have since been relegated to roles off the bench. They have also both responded to this change extremely well in the past week, as each put up two of their better offensive performances of the season. Dawkins, who has stayed true to his streaky nature, looks as though he is just starting to heat up and find a more consistent stroke. Miles, who had a very promising preseason tour in China, fell out of touch at the beginning of the year but is finally beginning to assert himself as an offensive presence down low. Expect to see both of them playing significant minutes off the bench as long as their improved play continues.

Josh Hairston's minutes might be in jeopardy as Coach K seems to be thinning out his rotation (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

This team’s rotation is shrinking—Although Duke’s victory of Colorado State showcased 10 Blue Devils playing 10 minutes or more, the Washington game was a very different story. Krzyzewski’s rotation was significantly shorter against the Huskies, as it was essentially limited to seven players. My apologies to Josh Hairston and Michael Gbinije, but this should be the trend moving forward into conference play. Quinn Cook will see increased minutes as he continues rehabbing from his injured knee, and in all honesty should have seen more time against Washington while Tyler Thornton struggled offensively and the Huskies rallied in the second half. Otherwise expect to see a more compact rotation of Cook along with Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Miles and Mason Plumlee, and Andre Dawkins. Hairston will more likely be seen as the team’s emergency big man in case the team gets into foul trouble or one of their bigs is getting absolutely lit up on defense. Gbinije has shown signs of improvement but while most likely take on the role of a situational player as he continues to develop during his freshman season.

Thanks for bearing with us slightly falling out of touch during finals week, I promise there will be lots more exciting content coming in the next few days, including the beginning of our comprehensive team-by-team ACC preview. As always, stay Crazie, my friends.

Section 17: Bouncing Back

Where else can you find Dell Curry, Doc Rivers, Bill Cowher, Crazy Towel Guy, and Santa Claus all in the same place but at Cameron Indoor Stadium? For a non-conference game against a mediocre Colorado State team during the height of finals season, there were a fair share of celebrities in attendance. After last week’s loss, Duke needed to respond, and respond they did. The Blue Devils returned home to Cameron for the first time in almost three weeks and trounced the Rams 87-64. As examined in yesterday’s column, Coach Krzyzewski responded to last week’s blowout loss by making a lineup change, inserting Tyler Thornton into the starting lineup to replace struggling junior Andre Dawkins. Not only did this illicit a response from the team, but no one responded by stepping their game up more than Dawkins himself.

Andre Dawkins was impressive against Colorado State, netting 15 points in just 12 minutes of action (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Dawkins looked unstoppable on the floor, knocking down 6-of-8 shots for 15 points in just 12 minutes before taking a hard fall near the end of the first half and sitting out the second half with back spasms. But for the time he was on the floor, Dawkins looked unstoppable, drilling threes with reckless abandon and capping off fast breaks with huge dunks. I think the role of coming off the bench suits him more because he has often struggled to create his own shots. Being this team’s sixth man will alleviate much of that pressure. Dawkins has been so streaky throughout the year that it seems as though you can tell whether or not he’ll be a factor in the game after his first five minutes on the floor. You could tell being knocked out of the starting lineup gave him a little extra spark, and his energy was electrifying in the short time he was on the floor.

Seth Curry struggled shooting from the floor against Ohio State, and he was the only Duke player who genuinely struggled shooting the ball against Colorado State. But unlike in the Ohio State matchup, Curry was able to make himself useful on the floor even though he wasn’t knocking down shots. Curry is starting to look more and more comfortable distributing the ball as he notched eight assists on Wednesday night, the highest single-game assist total by any Blue Devil this season.

Miles Plumlee was a force on the inside, scoring a season-high 14 points (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

After last week’s debacle in Columbus, you can be assured Duke focused on controlling the paint at practice this week, and that is exactly what they did. Miles and Mason Plumlee each turned in one of their best performances of the season. For Mason it seemed a bit more business-as-usual, contributing 14 points on 6-for-7 from the floor to go along with 10 rebounds. He really took advantage of the undersized Rams on the defensive end, amassing five blocks and four steals on the contest as well. Mason also had one of the highlights of the game when he soared down the lane to throw down a monstrous dunk over a Colorado State defender in the game’s opening minutes. Miles got himself a bit more involved on the offensive end than we’re accustomed to seeing, adding a season-high 14 points of his own with five rebounds and three blocks. Both Plumlees showed off an array of post moves and showed no fear on the defensive end.

Austin Rivers made three shots from beyond the arc en route to 17 points on the night (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Austin Rivers’ 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting doesn’t look like anything spectacular on the outside, but it made me really excited on the walk home from Cameron. This was the first game, in my opinion, where Rivers never stuck out on the offensive end of the floor. He didn’t force shots, he didn’t turn the ball over, and he blended in perfectly. He is truly beginning to fit into this system. Sometimes with great players it’s not what you see, but rather what you don’t see. To be able to practically forget about Rivers and watch him rack up those kind of numbers is exactly what shows how scary good this guy is.

Josh Hairston only contributed four points and three rebounds in his 14 minutes of play. This wasn’t his best game of the year, as he was certainly exploited on defense (something that rarely happens) on more than one occasion. However, I do believe this dunk, which was only good for #5 on DukeBluePlanet’s top plays from the contest, speaks for itself.

Although Coach K’s most noticeable adjustment might have been the insertion of Thornton into the starting five, I believe the most important change might have been Krzyzewski’s utilization of a deeper bench. Coach K has typically stuck to an eight man rotation throughout the year, but last night’s game featured 10 Blue Devils all playing double-digit minutes, with only freshman Michael Gbinije’s minutes coming in garbage time. Duke used this game as an opportunity to try a bunch of different sets, and was not afraid to sub three or four players out at a time, even early in the game. This deeper bench shows that Krzyzewski is becoming more confident in his younger players to take on more significant roles, something that will be crucial with ACC season quickly approaching.

All in all it was just what we expected. Duke shot the ball incredibly well and was able to dominate a physically inferior Colorado State team on the inside. They adjusted their rotation and were able to respond from a tough loss with a convincing win, and there were definitely some promising performances from role players that will hopefully be replicated in the near future. However, we need to keep in mind who we were dealing with. Colorado State is a .500 team that has lost to the likes of Stanford, Southern Missouri, and Northern Iowa, none of whom you’ll see come close to cutting down the nets in March. Our next matchup against a Washington who pushed #11 Marquette to their limit at Madison Square Garden will tell us a lot more about the direction in which this team is going. Hopefully our newfound momentum carries through. Until then, stay Crazie, my friends.

Looking Back To Move Forward

Good teams win games, but great teams can bounce back from a tough loss, and I’ll speak for the entire Crazies community by saying we can file last week’s game in Columbus under the “tough loss” category. Taking 20-point defeats is not something that the Duke Blue Devils are used to, but luckily for us, Colorado State is coming to town tonight.

We can take away many negatives and a few positives away from the Ohio State game, some of which I discussed in my post yesterday. But there is one thing I’m sure we can all agree on—in order to get back to form and elevate itself to the next level, this Duke team needs a change. Luckily for us, the guy calling the shots for this team knows just a few things about basketball. Although he has not found himself in this situation many times throughout his illustrious career, Coach K has a knack for responding to a blowout loss with an adjustment that alters the identity of the team, and when Coach K responds, the team responds as well. Let’s take a look back to some similar situations Duke teams have found itself in over the last few years to examine the adjustments we might see tonight against Colorado State.

Nolan Smith shot 1-for-7 against Clemson and was subsequently pulled from the starting lineup (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: February 4, 2009—Clemson 74, Duke 47
What Went Wrong: In a word…everything. Duke couldn’t throw a shot into the ocean during this game, shooting a miserable 30.8% from the field. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer, who would eventually lead the Blue Devils to a national championship the next season, shot a combined 4-23. Meanwhile, Duke had no answer for Clemson’s Trevor Booker, who shot 8-for-10 from the floor en route to 21 points and eight rebounds.
How Coach K Adjusted: Finding themselves in a similar situation as this year’s Blue Devils, with no true point guard to speak of, Greg Paulus assumed the role in Duke’s next game, starting in favor of Nolan Smith. Krzyzewski also used a significantly smaller rotation in this game, with only six Blue Devils playing more than 7 minutes in the contest.
The Result: Despite going in down 32-19 at the half, Duke came back to win an overtime thriller at Cameron by a score of 78-75. Miami’s Jack McClinton scored a game-high 34 points in a herculean effort, while Paulus added 18 points in his first game at point guard. Duke’s shooting woes continued, however, as Kyle Singler scored 17 points but at the expense of a 5-for-23 shooting effort. Overall, Duke would go on to lose its next two games following Miami, but was able to finish 8-1 down the stretch en route to an ACC Tournament championship. The team would fall earn a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and fall in the Sweet 16 to #3 seed Villanova.

Kyle Singler's 18 points were not enough against the Hoyas (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: January 30, 2010—Georgetown 89, Duke 77
What Went Wrong: Georgetown shot an obscene 71.7% from the field as Lance Thomas and Miles Plumlee’s shoddy interior defense allowed the Hoyas’ Greg Monroe, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman to attack the rim and score at will. Duke once again relied too heavily on its outside shooting and was only able to muster 9-of-29 from three-point land. President Obama watched on at the Verizon Center as Georgetown pushed its lead to 23 late in the second half, before a mini Duke run allowed the final score to look slightly more respectable.
How Coach K Adjusted: Brian Zoubek, who played only two minutes against Georgetown, saw his playing time increase to 13 minutes in Duke’s next contest, an 86-67 victory over a ranked Georgia Tech squad. Zoubek continued to put in quality minutes in the team’s ensuing games and replaced Miles Plumlee in the starting lineup three games later, when he played the best game of his Duke career with 16 points and 17 rebounds in a 77-56 rout of Maryland.
The Result: We all know how this story ended, as Zoubek started for the rest of the season, playing a crucial role as Duke went on to win 18 of its final 19 games en route to its fourth national championship.

St. Johns had its way with the Blue Devils, but Duke got the last laugh come March (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: January 30, 2011—St. John’s 93, Duke 78
What Went Wrong: Playing at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm certainly had a home court advantage and didn’t waste any time, jumping on the Blue Devils early and often. As the lead ballooned to 21 points at the half, the Johnnies continued to coast, not allowing Duke to cut the lead to less than 13 for the rest of the game. The Blue Devils were too reliant on their three-point shooting early in the game, and fell behind as the shots were not falling. Faced with a large deficit, Duke had to rely on long range shooting in the second half in hopes of a comeback, but its struggles continued from beyond the arc, knocking down just 5-of-26 three-point attempts on the afternoon.
How Coach K Adjusted: Tyler Thornton replaced Seth Curry in Duke’s next game at Maryland as the Blue Devils sought to shift their focus from three-point shooting to defense and efficiency in their half-court sets.
The Result: Duke held firm control over an inexperienced Maryland team throughout the contest, coasting to an 80-62 win. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith led the team with 22 and 21 points, respectively, while Mason Plumlee added an impressive 12 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting. Duke would go on to post an 11-2 record to close out the season with yet another ACC Tournament title before falling in the Sweet 16 to Arizona.

And here we are. Following a performance in Columbus that couldn’t even qualify as subpar, Duke faces yet another critical juncture in its season. If there is any time for new life to be breathed into this Blue Devils team, it is now. Despite minor tests against Temple, Florida State, and upstart Virginia over the ensuing weeks, Duke certainly won’t be considered an underdog in any game it plays before its February 8th matchup with “the-team-who-must-not-be-named” in Chapel Hill. Although following last week’s beatdown at the hands of the Buckeyes this year’s matchup at Carolina looks especially daunting, if this team can make the necessary adjustments and hit its stride, we could be looking at one of the games of the year in college basketball.

Michael Gbinije saw increased playing time against Ohio State, scoring these two points on a fast break (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The only question now is, what will be Krzyzewski’s adjustment this time around? It almost certainly will include some sort of a change in tomorrow night’s starting lineup, though it is not particularly clear as to who will be inserted. The most likely to be pulled from the starting lineup following last week’s debacle appear to be Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins, both of whom played quite poorly and sat nearly the entire second half. Although Kelly has not always been reliable defensively (which is where Duke clearly got burned against Ohio State), I think the clear choice is to pull Dawkins. If you’ve been keeping up with our statistical analyses using advanced metrics, you’ll see that despite his weak showing last week, Kelly has been the most consistent offensive weapon on this year’s Duke team. Who is inserted into the starting lineup is a bit more up in the air, however. What Duke is lacking right now is the presence of a big wing player who can defend on the perimeter. As of now the only person on the roster that fits that role is Michael Gbinije, who saw more minutes against Ohio State than he had all year and put forth a decent effort. But I still question whether at this point in the year Gbinije is ready to take on a starting role, so I would say the more likely option is to see Quinn Cook or Tyler Thornton tomorrow night. Putting a true point guard out there will provide more stability on offense, and Thornton’s defense would surely be appreciated to make sure nobody can ever replicate Aaron Craft’s performance from last week again. If I were a betting man, I would say Thornton starts in place of Dawkins, but I would not be surprised to see any of these three in the starting lineup tonight.

Luckily for the Blue Devils, Colorado State does not pose a particularly tough test, so it should have plenty of opportunities to try different combinations of players and work to improve on some of the weaknesses from last week. Let’s hope history repeats itself and the adjustments pay off. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Math 9314: O-h…Oh No

We all know what happened in Columbus last week. After three thrilling wins in Maui, Duke suffered a major letdown against a surefire national title contender. Ohio State utilized their home court advantage to the fullest, gaining momentum early and exploiting Duke’s weaknesses en route to a convincing win. Funny how much of a factor the three keys I mentioned in my preview column played into last week’s outcome. Just in case you missed the game or are willing to relive the demoralizing experience, it’s that time of the week to take a look back at our favorite Blue Devils’ performance (or lack thereof) using advanced metrics, which can be viewed on our fancy shmancy motion chart.

Let’s take a look at last week’s game beyond the box score:

It seems like every week there are always a few players whose GameScores hover around zero or even slightly in the negatives—this is not uncommon. Typically these are players that played very few minutes in the game and may have missed their only shot attempt, but not this week. If you take a look at the players located in the bottom left hand corner of our chart (for all intents and purposes we’ll call this “The Zafirovski Zone”), you’ll be shocked to see three Duke starters with negative GameScores. In fact, four out of the top seven in the Duke rotation—Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, and Tyler Thornton—could not record positive GameScores last week. They were essentially nonfactors in this game, playing a combined 68 minutes against Ohio State, as compared to a combined 127 minutes in Duke’s Maui Championship victory over Kansas. The group shot a combined 3-13 from the field and will need to make vast improvements as Duke looks to get back on track.

On the other hand, while many of Duke’s starters struggled, the Blue Devils were able to get positive production from players that often reside deeper in their rotation. Note: by positive I mean “greater than zero”, though their outputs were positive they all still registered below 6.6. Miles Plumlee, Josh Hairston, Michael Gbinije, and Quinn Cook all ended up outside of The Zafirovski Zone this week, each playing significant minutes down the stretch with the game out of reach. They did provide some bright spots, however. Cook added four points and four assists in just 14 minutes and Hairston played his usual physical defense while shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from the field.

Austin Rivers sweeps in for a layup, two of his 22 points against Ohio State (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee were essentially Duke’s only two efficient offensive options against the Buckeyes. Rivers’ GameScore of 12.1 was his second highest this season as he poured in a career-high 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Although he was receiving little-to-no support, Rivers looked like a dangerous offensive weapon for much of the game, knifing through the defense and attacking the rim for easy buckets. Mason, who had the toughest task of any Duke player in guarding Preseason All-American and Naismith candidate Jared Sullinger, was able to fight off early foul trouble to contribute 16 points and eight rebounds. His final GameScore was only 10.9 as he committed four turnovers and three personal fouls, but he continued to assert himself with his improved low post game.

Unfortunately, there has not been much discussion of effective field goal percentage (eFG%) in this post, simply because other than the few players that made their only two or three shots, we did not have much of an eFG% to speak of. This is puzzling because Duke finished shooting 47.3% from the floor from the game, which is better than they shot in the Maui final against Kansas. However, Duke had a low eFG% because they only shot 3-of-15 from beyond the arc, and the eFG% formula weights three-point shots higher than field goals.

Ultimately GameScores are meant to take into account all of the positive and negative aspects of a player’s performance and measure of the amount of points you contributed to your team. This tells the tale of the Ohio State matchup for the Blue Devils, whose combined team score was a mere 36.2. We can only hope that a tough week at practice helped the team regain focus, and we can be almost certain that you’ll see some changes Wednesday night against Colorado State. Be on the lookout tomorrow morning for our game preview of that matchup. Until then, stay Crazie, my friends.

Section 17: No Trouble in Paradise

Andre Dawkins nails a jumper against Kansas (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Last week was an important week for the Duke Blue Devils, and it didn’t have anything to do with improving to all-time 15-0 in the Maui Invitational. Last week was important because Duke faced its two toughest opponents of the season thus far and responded by playing its two best games of the year. Michigan and Kansas are undoubtedly teams we are going to be hearing come tournament time as squads that could pose a threat to make deep postseason runs.

I have to be completely honest—I was not at all certain Duke was going to be able to take its fifth Maui title coming into the tournament. This year’s field was one of the deepest and most talented the tournament had ever seen, and I wasn’t sure if this inexperienced team in the midst of its gelling process was ready to knock off ranked opponents on consecutive days. Clearly I was simply worrying too much. This team is truly starting to come into its own, and with a clearer rotation coming into focus, they look significantly more comfortable on the court, regardless of the obstacle they face. For a team that we knew would go through some growing pains at the beginning of this season, Coach K provided his team with an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule. But through all of the difficulties it has faced, this team is finding a way to win, and good teams win close games.

Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves, my fellow Crazies, our toughest test of the year looms ahead when the team travels to Columbus to take on #2 Ohio State tonight. It’s a marquee non-conference game we’ve had circled on our calendar all year, but given that it was so early in the season, I never actually expected this Duke team to be ready to take on the Buckeyes. I always looked at it as a game we’ll view later on as a learning experience, not a game we could use to vault our team into the realm of national title contenders. But here we are, and after two signature wins in paradise last week, I will admit, this team is ready to play Ohio State. I am in no way guaranteeing a victory, but look for this game to be a knockdown, drag-out, heavyweight battle and don’t be surprised if by next Monday we look back on this game, and not North Carolina-Kentucky, as college basketball’s game of the week.

Without further ado, here are the three keys to the Duke-Ohio State matchup:

Interior Defense
One of the keys to Duke’s victory over Kansas was fantastic low-post defense from Mason Plumlee. Though on the outside Thomas Robinson’s stat line of 16 points and 15 rebounds looks like a bad omen for Duke’s defense inside, Robinson amassed those 16 points on just 6 of 15 shooting from the field. The Blue Devils will undoubtedly have an even tougher test in Columbus when they have to match up with Preseason All-American and Naismith candidate Jared Sullinger. Mason will have to try and cover one of the nation’s most complete players all over the floor  tonight in hopes that he can force a similar shooting performance. I would include rebounding with interior defense as a key, but although rebounding is important, Duke has found ways to win games with no rebounding margin whatsoever. Although conventional basketball wisdom says the team that crashes the boards harder will probably win a given game, Duke has been outrebounded all but once in its last five victories. Ohio State is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, entering the game averaging 40 rebounds per contest, but the real key to this matchup will be taking away easy inside buckets.

Tyler Thornton runs the offense in the Maui Championship game (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Depth
In a game where Duke will be collapsing to the interior to key on Sullinger, foul trouble is quite possible. The Blue Devils’ bench, especially the big men on the bench, will need to be ready for anything tonight. Look for Miles Plumlee and Josh Hairston to play crucial stretches to give starters Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee time to rest as they take on the physical Buckeyes. And of course, expect Tyler Thornton to play a huge role. Of course we all remember this shot. With his Thanksgiving feast to look forward to the next day, Ty didn’t just provide us with one helping of clutch—he went back for seconds. But down the stretch against the Jayhwaks, Thornton once again proved to us that he is capable of controlling the tempo of the game and running Duke’s offense effectively in crunch time. Look for him to see significant second half minutes in Columbus.

Outside Shooting
When can you shoot a lower percentage than your opponents and still win a game? When your shots are worth more than theirs. The case that outside shooting is crucial can be made before nearly every Duke basketball game, but against a big and physical Ohio State team, inside buckets will be that much harder to come by, and getting another 17 and 12 performance from Mason Plumlee seems unlikely. Duke’s shooters will need to be on target from the outside, especially to set the offensive tone early in the game. This has not always been a team that is great at playing from behind, but if they are able to shoot the Buckeyes back on their heels in the game’s opening minutes, we could be in for a wild one in Columbus.

Be sure to tune in tonight at 9:30 to catch a can’t-miss basketball game (and hopefully another Duke victory). Stay Crazie, my friends.