Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For ACC, Nothing Finer than Duke (well, and Carolina)

Seven became two pretty quickly for the ACC, which was a definite surprise, but what's not surprising is that the league's two heavyweights are playing into the second weekend. For Duke, welcome back! The Sweet 16 hasn't seemed the same without you these past couple years. Mentally, getting out of the first weekend was big for this team, which has a grand total of 37 second-weekend minutes on the roster (that would be Greg Paulus 36, Dave McClure 1). But the Sweet 16 has proven to be its own road block for Coach K and the Devils recently - he's lost 5 of his last 7.

Duke's game against Texas was an extremely solid win, featuring some clutch plays down the stretch from almost everyone on the team - Singler's tip, Scheyer's absolutely ridiculous backhanded save, Williams chasing the ball down and getting foul (as an aside, really, really stupid foul on Gary Johnson - he had position, and reaching out for a shove all alone in the middle of the floor pretty much never goes uncalled), Smith's offensive rebound, Henderson's clutch free throws, McClure's work to get a hand on the missed free throw and create a loose ball situation, etc. And finally this season some bounces went Duke's way - after almost constantly seeing the ball fall the right way for the opponents in every key scenario down the stretch, Duke got to watch Damion James' three go alllllllllmost all the way down, only to rim out.

Jon Scheyer played a superb defensive game on AJ Abrams. Yes, Abrams had 17 to lead Texas. But he shot under 40% and had to work extremely hard to even get the ball in his hands. By game's end, he was passing up reasonable looks for difficult passes - a sure sign of fatigue. I've said before that I think Scheyer is the best off-the-ball perimeter defender I can recall, and Saturday's game did nothing but validate that notion.

Of course, the consequence of siccing one guy on Abrams and telling him never to leave is that the rest of the Horns got to open up the floor and play four on four. Rotation and help defense becomes a lot harder when you take one of your defenders out of the picture, and Varez Ward (yes, Varez Ward) was able to take advantage for Texas.

On Duke's end of the court, this was another game where Gerald Henderson tried to do a little too much. He took nearly 50% of Duke's shots when he was in the game, and often times the ball went to him and never left. In some cases, this was a good thing - he had a stretch in the second half where he drove and attacked, and he got either layups or free throws (or both). But he also settled for long jumpers early in the shot clock and out of the flow of the offense. Most of those just aren't good shots, regardless of whether they go in. Singler had an all-around great game - he continued his hot shooting from three, finished shots inside, and grabbed four offensive boards (none bigger than the final tip). And Nolan Smith continued his reemergence, scoring 11 very efficient points and posting huge numbers in the +/- column.

All in all, this team is starting to look like it did back in November and December. It has four scorers who can get points in a variety of ways, it plays intense defense that forces turnovers, and it manages to come up with clutch plays when needed. Here's the HD Box from the Texas game:

And also, here's the Texas +/-. A comment on Dexter Pittman's numbers. As you can see, all his + came in the second half. He was on the court for three stretches - an early 12-8 Texas run, a brief 2-0 stint, and a similarly brief 6-1 push. His second half numbers, though, were not good - one layup, two missed free throws, four defensive rebounds, two fouls, and a turnover (also, although not reflected below, he played two more offensive possessions than defensive ones, which should tend to increase your +). I chalk this one up to happenstance more than a reflection of his impact, in part because of his first half numbers. When he played well (and played more minutes), he only helped Texas to a draw. When he played more poorly (and fewer minutes) the team managed to outscore Duke 20-9. The two wouldn't necessarily seem to correlate. Again, I think this is a lesson in the merits of these numbers for such small sample sizes (particularly with short substitution patterns - when you're only on court for 2 (the 2-0 run) or 3 (the 6-1 run) possessions at a time, there's a lot of noise and random chance involved).




off def +/- off def +/- off def +/-
Pittman 25 25 0 20 9 11 45 34 11
Mason 18 20 -2 19 18 1 37 38 -1
Chapman 0 0 0 4 7 -3 4 7 -3
Balbay 19 26 -7 36 34 2 55 60 -5
Abrams 29 36 -7 40 38 2 69 74 -5
Ward 10 16 -6 25 24 1 35 40 -5
Johnson 13 17 -4 20 21 -1 33 38 -5
James 25 30 -5 36 37 -1 61 67 -6
Atchley 6 10 -4 0 2 -2 6 12 -6

29 36 -7 40 38 2 69 74 -5

Next, for Carolina, Tywon Lawson (toe) is back and looks to be largely unaffected by the injury. Lawson (toe) (what? this is how his name appears every 30 seconds or so on the ESPN ticker) again played a key role for Carolina down the stretch as the Heels sprinted away from LSU. Lawson (toe) reentered a tie game with 8:11 remaining. Carolina went on a 19-4 run over the next six minutes during which he scored 9 points, dropped 2 assists, and picked up 2 key steals (and on one of the three scoring possessions where he didn't get a bucket or assist, he got an offensive rebound that kept a possession alive, ultimately ending in a Green 3). Lawson (toe) has a great knack for understanding when he needs to stop being a facilitator and start controlling a game - it's a quailty all great point guards have, and one that will serve him well in the NBA.

Here's the +/- from the Heels' game against the Tigers. Notice Ed Davis at the top (and, correspondingly, Deon Thompson at the bottom). Davis has out-plussed Thompson in many games recently and is starting to get a greater share of the second-half minutes. His offensive game still lacks polish, but he's going to be a very, very good big man for them next season.




off def +/- off def +/- off def +/-
Davis 15 13 2 37 23 14 52 36 16
Ellington 36 26 10 46 41 5 82 67 15
Lawson 27 20 7 41 35 6 68 55 13
Green 36 29 7 33 28 5 69 57 12
Hansbrough 34 28 6 38 35 3 72 63 9
Zeller 11 4 7 0 0 0 11 4 7
Frasor 13 8 5 23 24 -1 36 32 4
Drew 2 4 -2 0 0 0 2 4 -2
Thompson 16 13 3 12 19 -7 28 32 -4

38 29 9 46 41 5 84 70 14

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