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: Kicking Off 2011 With A Double Dose of Craziness

Tyler Thornton drains a three against Belmont (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Every Duke student has a definitive first game experience, and mine surely did not disappoint. Duke’s surprisingly competitive win against the Belmont Bruins felt like a matchup of NCAA tournament-bound teams in late February, not a matchup of Maui-bound teams in early November.

Most of my fellow students had not properly scouted our opponents and understood how good of a team Belmont actually is. For those of you who don’t know, Belmont won 30 games last year en route to an Atlantic Sun conference championship and an NCAA tournament berth. They also were extremely experienced, returning 9 of the 11 players who averaged double digit minutes last season. They also weren’t exactly flying under anyone’s radar. Belmont received votes in the Associated Press preseason basketball polls. Though they were not ranked in the preseason top 25, with the votes they had received the Bruins would have been considered the 31st ranked team in the country.

Coach K unveiled his first starting lineup of the year, beginning the game with Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, and Andre Dawkins in the backcourt with Miles and Mason Plumlee up front. This was, in some ways, surprising —I personally would have opted for the much more consistent Ryan Kelly in favor of Miles and the Tyler Thornton, who has had a fantastic preseason instead of the shaky Andre Dawkins. Then again, there is a reason why Coach K is tied as the winningest coach in Division I history (more on that later) and I am not.

The game began and Duke didn’t seem to jump too quickly out of the gate. The team struggled to find its footing as Krzyzewski tinkered with a few lineups throughout the first half. Strong play from Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee helped to put the team in front. Although freshman Austin Rivers did not shoot very well from the floor in his first regular season outing as a Blue Devil, he was able to create penetration and convert on many opportunities from the foul line en route to a team high 16 points on the night. On the other hand, Rivers also committed a team-high five turnovers on the game, a statistic that will certainly need to come down as the season wears on.

Although Duke shot fairly well from the floor and extremely well from beyond the arc, they just couldn’t seem to put Belmont away in the first half. One of the main reasons for this was the Blue Devils’ inability to hold onto the ball. Duke turned the ball over 19 times over the course of the game, a statistic that will not hold up against most viable regular season opponents. These turnovers along with some shoddy play on the defensive end led to many open shots for the Bruins—shots that a good Division I basketball team will not miss if they are given. Belmont converted on these opportunities, and the Blue Devils held a slim, but mildly comfortable 39-30 lead heading into halftime.

This was the type of game where you expected Duke to allow its opponent to hang around for the first half before returning to form and dominating the rest of the game. Last night that did not happen. Belmont came out on a 7-2 run to start the second half, trimming Duke’s lead to four. No one on the Duke sideline seemed content with this performance, and the crowd most certainly seemed out of it. Duke continued playing cat and mouse with Belmont, maintaining a 10-point lead with 9 minutes to go in the game. With desperation setting in, Belmont began draining threes, cutting the lead to six with 8:37 to play, forcing Duke into a timeout.

Mason Plumlee shows off his low post moves against Presbyterian (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

This was the “moment of truth” type situation we had been questioning all off-season. With the game on the line, who was going to step up lead this team? The answer was surprising, and most certainly was not how you’d have thought of this team a year ago.

The first key was the play of Mason Plumlee. For the first time in his Duke career, Mason’s offensive game was not purely physical; he showed true signs of a refined post game. He was able to create down low en route to 13 points, 14 rebounds and a team high six assists on the game. He was a sure bet on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, and he made one of the plays of the game with a huge block in the waning minutes of the game.

When Mason was unable to create down low, Ryan Kelly was there to pick up the slack. Kelly showed his improved post game as well, finishing down low, including a crucial three-point play with Duke holding a slim one-point lead. He finished the game with 12 points and six rebounds, but the key to his contribution was a perfect six of six from the charity stripe.

In the final six minutes of the game, the subdued Cameron Crazies finally started to come alive. In a string of events that included Kelly’s three-point play, a Belmont travel, Mason’s huge block, a Mason Plumlee put-back dunk, and a Tyler Thornton steal that led to an Austin Rivers dunk, the student section caused the building to shake. Ironically, standing in as close quarters as humanly possibly to my Crazie brothers and sisters and going absolutely crazy during an intense moment, I realized that there is absolutely no other way I could possibly take in a Duke basketball game. Being packed in together creates a bond and an electricity that is unexplainable.

The true key of the Blue Devils holding onto their lead late in the game was the play of Tyler Thornton, who turned in the game of his life against Belmont. He shot perfectly from the field, including two of two from beyond the arc, turning in 10 points to go along with two rebounds, two assists, and three steals. On both the offensive and defensive ends, when there was a big play to be made, Thornton was there to make it. Tyler’s performance gained him significant recognition from Duke’s student section, who were extremely appreciative of his inspired play in such a crucial moment.

With Duke’s lead down to one, it was neither of these three crucial players who would step up and drain the big shot. After Duke watched a six-point lead evaporate in the last 1:23 of the game, Duke held just a 72-71 advantage and the ball with 51.0 seconds remaining in the contest. After an inability to create in their offensive set Krzyzewski called a timeout with 27.8 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down and Duke’s sideline play seemingly broken, it wasn’t Seth Curry or Austin Rivers or Tyler Thornton but Andre Dawkins who flashed off a screen and had no fear in his eyes nailed an NBA-range three, only his second field goal in a contest where he did not shoot or play well at all. After a quick layup by Belmont, Ryan Kelly knocked down two more free throws to put the game out of reach, free throws that meant much more after the Bruins nailed a desperation three at the buzzer, giving Duke a mere one-point victory.

Though there were definite areas with room for improvement, it was a hard fought win for the Blue Devils. The team most certainly struggled out there, but at least it was good to watch the team struggle and overcome the obstacle. In my experience watching Duke basketball, the difference between the Duke teams that have been very good and the Duke teams that have been national championship teams were their sense of resilience. Duke’s greatest teams have always been able to bounce back, even when they do not play their best game; they will bend and not break. The Blue Devils showed a bit of that spirit in this game.

After an emotional win the Blue Devils had a quick turnaround for their next home game, facing Presbyterian College the following afternoon. The Blue Hose (let’s get all Blue Hose jokes out of the way please, we like integrity around here) proved to be little match for Duke, as the game signaled a much needed return to business as usual. The Blue Devils dominated Presbyterian from start to finish, while fixing their turnover woes, only committing 10 in the game. Duke shot an incredible 61.4% from the field on the afternoon, with stellar inside contributions from both Miles and Mason Plumlee, both of whom registered 13 points. They also added 11 and 8 rebounds respectively as the team’s top two rebounders. Both Miles and Mason added huge dunks off of baseline drives about three minutes apart midway through the second half. No one in the building was happier to see this than younger brother Marshall Plumlee, who was up and out of his seat on both occassions and could not contain his brotherly excitement. Austin Rivers played a much-improved contest, shooting five of eight from the field en route to 15 points and a team-high six assists. Rivers also played tenacious defense, recording three of Duke’s six steals.

The Blue Devils also received stellar performances off the bench from Ryan Kelly, who added 17 points and another evening of perfect free throw shooting, and freshman Quinn Cook, who in his first extended action of the season played some electrifying point guard, recording 10 points in just 18 minutes of action. It was great to see Josh Hairston get some action off the bench after his inconspicuous absence against Belmont, recording a solid nine points and six rebounds while playing fantastic defense throughout. Even junior Todd Zafirovski got into the action in the game’s final moments. In my limited Cameron Indoor Stadium experience, it hasn’t taken long for me to figure out that Zafirovski is certainly a fan favorite around here, receiving high praise for his 0 for 1 shooting performance and lone rebound off the bench in three minutes of action. Despite only shooting 18 of 31 from the free throw line as a team, a stat that will need to improve in the next few games, the Blue Devils rolled to an easy 96-55 win over the Blue Hose. Although it seemed like a mundane victory over an inferior opponent, this win most likely marks one of the more significant wins I will ever see in my time at Duke.

The Blue Devils’ victory marks win number 902 in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career, tying him with his mentor, Bob Knight, for most career wins in Division I history.

Coach K embraced by his team after his 902nd career victory (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)