Math 9314: Conference Play Gets Underway

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:

Temple:
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.

Kelly's 21 points was his highest scoring effort this season (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Georgia Tech:
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.

Mason's consistency might be the most surprising of his improvements this year (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

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.

Rivers has struggled in Duke's past three games and has forced some tough shots (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

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 crazietalk@gmail.com or tweet them @crazietalker with hashtag #askCT.

Section 17: Terrible, Terrible, Terrible at Temple

Quinn Cook couldn't stop Temple's guard play, either. (Photo via BluePlanetShots.com)

So, the title of this article, I believe, is commensurate with what Coach K must have told this team as they evaporated, like so many pitiful ghosts, into the recesses of the Wells Fargo Center as Temple fans (and this idiot) rushed the court. Temple earned this victory with some incredible playmaking. They managed to outrebound a much bigger team, overcome a number of valiant comeback attempts, and make enough free throws to seal the victory.

But Duke let the Owls have the game. Our disastrous execution, defense, decision making and teamwork was simply terrible, terrible, terrible.

Here are my thoughts, broken down into positives and negatives. Let’s do those negatives first, since most of them are still burned onto my retinas.

The Bad

Amber Alert for our veteran guards. Especially Mr. Andre Dawkins. We all love the kid, but he’s off in another world right now, and hasn’t found his place on this team. In 19 minutes, he scored no points, took three shots and got a single rebound. He fouled once. Where’s his head? Where’s the passion for the game he showed as a freshman, when he demanded the ball against Baylor and hit two huge threes? Right now, he’s as useful as four Wear twins on the court.

Seth Curry was similarly disappointing, particularly considering he’s supposed to be the leader of this team. Sure, he had four steals, but he also committed five turnovers, usually while trying to do something he’s just not capable of: being a big game point guard. He’s just not. He was never meant to be a point guard. Since Thornton has proved incapable of replacing Irving and Smith and Quinn Cook is–what, too young?–Curry has been thrust into a role with which he’s struggling mightily. If Duke wants to make a stink beyond February, we need a real point guard. By any means necessary. Just figure it out. Cook might be the best option if he can play enough to get comfortable leading the team.

So. Direct message to Quinn Cook. You have proved to be the most canny and competent point guard on the team. But, dude, stop shooting threes. Especially contested threes, or threes shot after two seconds of hesitation, or 25-foot threes. Because that’s your m.o. right now, and it’s not ideal. Be a distributor, get in the lane and find slashers. That’s what you’re good at! That’s what you were taught at Oak Hill and Dematha and that’s what you’re learning here, I hope, from all those former Duke PG assistant coaches over on the bench. Because Kyrie Irving may be the hero Duke deserves, but it’s not the one it needs right now. We need someone more in the mold of John Stockton.

If we are comparing defenses to wines, Duke’s was two buck Chuck against Temple. A sloshy combination of nonsensical on-ball defending and terrible helpside defense, a conflagration of elements that leave a horrible taste in your mouth. Pure laziness, like how Two Buck Chuck is what you drink if you’re tired, lazy and broke. You’d think that we would try to defend against Juan Fernandez’s behind the back pass after he did it once, right? Wrong.

I don’t know how many times we needed to hear Jimmy Dykes talk about it*, but we’re not going anywhere if we have more turnovers than assists. Team assist to turnover ratio, I guess? Against Temple it was 13 assists to 16 turnovers. Many of those TO’s were the result of ill-advised drives by Curry and Austin Rivers. (Rivers, by the way, reverted back to his November self, shooting 3-11 and telegraphing all of his drives like Samuel Morse). This goes back to the yawning chasm of a point guard situation, but Duke players are supposed to be smarter than that.

Also, screw the black jerseys, a topic which bring us to the tweet of the night from ESPN announcer and Boston College alumnus  John “Boog” Sciambi.

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/BoogSciambi/status/154722592077512704″%5D

 

The Good

I’m going to keep this brief. Thanks, Plumlees, for making this game at least somewhat competitive. You combined for 33 points and 16 rebounds (basically equalling the performance of one Kevin Love on an average night). Sure, Mason and Miles missed some layups in the final five minutes that would have cut the Owl lead further, but hey, they’re not supposed to be the best finishers. Wait, yes they are. Forget it, I’m not going down that road, it might lead me to talk about Ryan Kelly’s godawful performance, and I just can’t do it right now.

Thanks, Josh Hairston, for knowing your role and only shooting once in the game. Let’s keep it that way, yes?

Thanks, Michael Gbinije, for making both of your shots and not turning the ball over. Gold star. You should get more playing time because you clearly have a firm sense of what you can do on the court. Can you teach the rest of the team?

The Crazie

So I have a simple solution that might help us going forward into ACC play, starting Saturday at Georgia Tech.

This team needs to get mad. I mean fiery mad, Kim Jong-Il at the rest of the world mad, Michelle Bachmann at Newt Gingrich mad, Colin Cowherd at Virginia football mad, Jim Everett at Jim Rome mad. No more demure, “why me?” gazes from Curry and Dawkins when something goes wrong. No more Plumlee nice guys. I want Marshall on the bench in war paint, even if he might be redshirted for the next three years. I want Quinn Cook ripping off his jersey to reveal “COME AT ME BRO” scrawled in Sharpie on his chest. I want this team to play bloodsport. With pride. Like they have nothing to lose.

In the locker room, maybe Coach K will play the Howard Beale video (below) before every practice. When Mason misses a rotation, Miles should be in his face, screaming “I’M MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!” Likewise when Rivers forces an impossible drive, when Seth Curry drops his head after getting the ball stripped, and when Andre Dawkins looks like he wants to quit basketball forever.

We need to get mad. Otherwise, UNC might coast to the ACC title and the world will end in December.**

Go Duke.

 

*Answer: None. None times. I never want to hear Jimmy Dykes speak again in my life.

**Basically, those two scenarios are the same.