Monday, March 24, 2008

West Virginia 73, Duke 67

The big question in the mind of Duke fans out there is, quite simply, what happened? Through the game at Virginia, Duke had a dynamic, multi-dimensional offense that could score in a variety of ways - really every way except consistent back-to-the-basket scoring - and that was as efficient as any in the country. Yes, there had been a couple of hiccups along the way (most notably the Pitt game), but by and large, against both good opponents and bad, the offense was a well-oiled machine. And for good reason: Duke had 7 players that could shoot the three, plus 5 that could reliably get into the lane and finish one-on-one. The offensive spacing was designed to create both driving lanes on the inside and open looks on the outside, and it largely accomplished this goal.

And then, all of a sudden, something happened. The offense went from multi-dimensional to one-dimensional, dynamic to static. Duke had just 9 games all year with an offensive rating lower than 103. Four of these occurred in the last five games - UNC, Clemson, Belmont, West Virginia. Duke had just 10 games all year with an efg below 50%. Again, four of these occurred in the last five games. Part of the drop off came from a change in the defense - Duke forced fewer turnovers, scored fewer points off of turnovers, and fewer fast break points - just over 5 per game in the above-mentioned four. But another part came from what appeared to be a loss of confidence in the offense as a whole. The flow, the movement, the willingness to pass out of drives - it just wasn't there. Duke recorded just 15 assists combined in the NCAA tournament, after recording at least that many in 16 separate games this season. And of course, part of it came from shots going cold at just the wrong time. In the four above-mentioned games, Duke shot a combined 27.6% from three - in all other games combined this year, Duke shot 39.1% (and even in all other ACC games, Duke was 37.7%).

As for why this sudden transformation occurred, I really have no idea. Generally speaking, this was as well-conditioned a team as Duke has had. Only Nelson played more than 30 min/game. I really don't believe that they were hit by fatigue (although the flu has been tossed around as a possible explanation - as to the merits of this, I'm not a team doctor). Something just happened. Coach K gets the offseason (or at least the part when he's not in Beijing) to try to figure out why and to try to prevent it from happening again.

That being said, Duke's defensive performance against West Virginia was largely stellar (with one glaring exception). I spent so much time watching Scheyer play ball-denial against Alex Ruoff because it was so much fun to watch. Try as he might, Ruoff could hardly get the ball in his hands. Scheyer did the same thing to Sean Marshall last year, and will do the same thing again to prime-time shooters over the next couple of years - he's just an excellent off-the-ball defender. West Virginia shot just as poorly as Duke did, and turned the ball over a lot. The only downside was our inability to secure a rebound. People jumped on this as a "key weakness" for Duke, as if we got dominated on the glass every game. That's simply not true - this game was probably our worst rebounding game of the season. In most games, Duke was a very competent rebounding team. True, we didn't have a single dominant rebounder, but the squad hit the boards well as a unit. Again, for whatever reason, they simply didn't get the job done on the glass against West Virginia.

Around the ACC

UNC's offense = wow. They scored over 1.5 points per possession over the weekend, and the total line is just ridiculous. 72 of 104 from 2. 15 of 32 from 3. 29 of 55 available offensive rebounds. 53 assists. 16 turnovers. Who cares if they didn't really play defense. If you score like that, it just doesn't matter.

VT's defense = wow. They held UAB to about .70 points per possession, and notably forced Robert Vaden into a 3 of 17 shooting night. They would have been such a dangerous 11 or 12 seed in the tourney - I guarantee you Michigan State is very, very happy they didn't have to play the Hokies.

Miami's comeback = so close. It was frantic and furious, and it almost panned out (with a little airball assistance from DJ Augustin - this reminded me so much of Mike Dunleavy in Dec. 2000), but the better team prevailed in the end. By the way, Texas gets to play the rest of its games in its home state - I also guarantee you Memphis isn't happy about having to take on 30,000 Longhorn fans to get to San Antonio.

Virginia = still alive, after storming back to beat ODU. Thank goodness.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Paul,

I'm a UNC alum, so feel free to ignore my thoughts. :)

I think too much depended on Singler, and at the end of the season he was a little mentally fatigued. He was a dynamic force early in the season: shooting, rebounding, steals, etc. At the end of the season, he was the one being forced to bring the ball up the court even. I realize you think they rebounded as a unit, but I disagree, I think singler went and got the tough rebounds, and the rest of the team feasted on the long rebounds produced by 3ptrs.

I think it was just a little too much to ask of a freshman. Scheyer and Henderson were able to pick up the scoring slack to a degree, but no one picked up the rebounding, steals, or other contributions.

I think next year, Singler will be better, and the loss of Nelson really won't make that much of a difference. Henderson must improve. While this is probably impolitic in Duke circles, the best thing would be for Nolan Smith to supersede Paulus, who is much more Capel, Wojo, Collins, than he is Hurley.

Anonymous said...

Paul,

I've quoted you often during the season, since you summed it up so well at the start: Plan A for this team was to hit 3's. Plan B was to hope that Plan A worked.

The big weakness with the Williams/Reddick team was relying on JJ's 30+ points every game. An off night meant going home. This seemed better, since here the scoring could come from anyone on the team. But a whole team can still go cold....

Also, I was left wondering what a zone defense might have done, not just to help defend, but to get more rebounds and to save the legs for better shooting in the second half.

Anonymous said...

And what happened to Clemson, anyway? I thought they'd go a lot deeper.

William O. Douglas Loeffler said...

Well, back in 1990, when Coach K started somewhat eclipsing UNC, Dean Smith did something that he didn't particularly want to do at that point in his career.

He went back to hitting the recruiting trail hard and during his last 7 years, picked up Eric Montross, Donald Williams, Jeff McInness, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter, and I believe he only lost to Duke once after 1993. Smith won another national title and went to four final fours, during the decade,leaving Guthridge to go to two more.

K is busy with the U.S. national team, so maybe he can't do this, but his last five recruiting classes have been really mediocre. Yes, Paulus was rated almost as highly as Lawson; yes, McRoberts was rated higher than Hansbrough, yes, Henderson was rated as highly as Ellington (this one is closer), but were they really as good? I don't think even Duke fans believe that.

K did well with Grant Hill and Christian Laettner. He also did well with Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer,Shane Battier and Jay Williams.

But the players have been gradually getting worse, with Sheldon being only a little down from Brand and Boozer, but then McRoberts and Zoubek being not even close. Duke went from Battier and Williams to Redick and Dockery, only a slight decline, but now it's Paulus and a trio of guys who aren't even close to being the college player that Redick was.

Coach K had one of his greatest coaching seasons this year, very similar to what Roy Williams achieved in 2006 after essentially losing his entire squad. The difference is that Williams re-loaded hard and with high caliber weapons. Duke doesn't appear to be looking any stronger next year than this year, which could especially be a problem if teams have finally figured out how to defend their so-called Phoenix-sets.

What do you think, Paul?