As we enter the new year, January brings us many things. It brings us hopes and dreams, resolutions both kept and unkept, and college basketball. Lots of college basketball. January marks the beginning of conference play, where the intensity ramps up and every game is a test for a team’s NCAA tournament resumè. The young Blue Devils seemed like they weren’t quite ready for this transition, enduring two difficult road games in the past week. As we know, Duke was upset by Temple in Philadelphia but rebounded in its ACC-opener with a hard-fought victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Let’s take a quick look behind the numbers using our advanced metrics and see what that box scores from these games did not tell you:
This game was all about the brothers Plumlee, but it was Miles, not Mason, who got it going early and often for Duke. Miles poured in 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting in just 19 minutes for his most productive game of the season. Miles’s GameScore of 16.6 was his season-high and was only outdone by younger brother Mason, who posted a GameScore of 18.2. Though he struggled early, Mason finally got it going down the stretch and finished with 16 points on 7-of-13 from the floor. But Mason’s biggest contribution was on the glass, posting an Oreb% of 30.17% and leading Duke with seven offensive rebounds. This means that when Mason was on the floor and Duke put up a shot, he would pull in an offensive rebound on 30.17% of these rebounding opportunities. Miles added three more offensive rebounds and recorded an Oreb% of 21.78% on the game. Unfortunately, other than the Plumlees’ performance, it was Terrible, Terrible, Terrible at Temple. Our advanced metrics actually reveal to us that Duke’s performance against Temple was even worse than it looked. The Blue Devils next highest GameScore came from freshman Michael Gbinije with 5.7- keep in mind that Gbinije only played eight minutes in the game. Gbinije was productive when he was on the floor, knocking down both of his shots for five points. After Mason Plumlee, the next highest GameScore from a Duke starter was Austin Rivers’ 3.5, thanks to his 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting. Rounding out Duke’s starting lineup was a 3.1 GameScore from Ryan Kelly, a 2.8 from Seth Curry, and a whopping 0.3 from Tyler Thornton. At risk of making myself (and I’m sure many readers) physically ill from these statistics, I’m going to slowly back away from the Temple game and pretend it never happened. But rest assured, when your team has three players with efficiency ratings over 3.5 and one of them played just eight minutes, yeah you’re in trouble. With this bad a performance, it’s surprising that Duke only lost by five points and actually had a chance to win this game.
Duke’s hard-fought victory on the road against Georgia Tech served as a small step in the right direction. The Blue Devils were paced by Ryan Kelly, who scored 21 points on just four shots from the floor, posting an impressive GameScore of 20.9. Kelly’s GameScore was the highest posted by a Duke player since Quinn Cook’s21.8 against Western Michigan. Kelly’s Usage% of 20.94% was hardly indicative of his role in Duke’s half-court sets, however, as 14 of the 18 shots he took on the day came from the foul line. Mason Plumlee added another solid game, achieving a GameScore of 12.5 thanks to his nine points and eight rebounds. Curry added 15 points but was hardly efficient in doing so, taking 12 shots from the floor and posting a Usage% of 31.11%. His high usage reflected poorly in his GameScore of 8.7. In his first career start, Quinn Cook recorded a respectable GameScore of 7.5 thanks to his 10 points and five assists. Tyler Thornton, who was replaced by Cook in the starting lineup, had posted a GameScore above 7.5 on just one occasion in his six starts. Thornton’s GameScore was just 2.9 against Georgia Tech.
What We Learned:
Mason Plumlee is a workhorse— This is something that most of us already knew, but his consistency has been a great surprise this year. Plumlee has posted GameScores above 10 in eight of his last nine games. He finds ways to be a productive contributor even when he is not scoring, averaging 10.1 rebounds per game over that stretch. The Plumlees have had a history of showing flashes of brilliance but being dreadfully inconsistent, but it appears they are finally beginning to break that mold. Mason’s GameScores of 12.5 and 18.2 in the Blue Devils two most recent games, games in which the team did not play particularly well, shows that he is becoming a player Duke can rely on to produce night in and night out.
Austin Rivers is struggling once again– Scoring just 20 points on 6-of-21 shooting in his last two games combined, Rivers is just not feeling it out there. We are seeing glimpses of November’s Austin Riverswho would drive the lane and force tough shots. He also hasn’t had his usual shooting touch from beyond the arc as of late, shooting just 2-of-8 from deep in Duke’s past three games. Rivers’ GameScores have been 3.9, 3.5, and 3.3 in the Blue Devils last three contests against Pennsylvania, Temple, and Georgia Tech respectively. These are his lowest totals since Duke faced Kansas in the final of the Maui Invitational six weeks ago. This seems to be the latest in a series of ups and downs this season for Rivers, but there doesn’t seem to be a larger issue here. It simply appears he’s been a bit off his game. We hope he’s due for a breakout performance very soon, especially with a tough Virginia team coming to Cameron for Duke’s ACC home opener on January 12th.
Georgia Tech was a great test for Duke, who will have to grind out many more close games in tough environments as the conference schedule continues. Hopefully the Blue Devils continue to make the right adjustments moving forward. 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 email@example.com or tweet them @crazietalker with hashtag #askCT.