Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Maryland Preview

The last Duke-Maryland game was the jumpstart of the Terps' recent surge. Over the last 5 games, they've gone from 3-6 and wallowing to 8-6 and looking strong. The Terps have done it primarily by turning their offense around - they have a .534 EFG% in the last 5 games, and haven't posted a sub-100 O Rating. The team A/TO ratio is a very, very good 1.43, and even the offensive rebounding has been slightly improved (although most of that came against UNC on Sunday). As I mentioned before, Strawberry has been key to this resurgence - he's finally started to play like pre-conference DJ, who was very good. The continued emergence of Greivis Vasquez has also been instrumental - 66 points and 33 assists over the past 5 games. If this mercurial offense keeps performing at its recent rate, the Terps are tough to beat, since Maryland's defense has been good all season - no non-conference opponent scored a point per possession against them, and only six have done so in an offense-minded ACC.

Duke lost the last game in the first half, and though mounted a valiant comeback effort, never could string together stops to really take momentum away. For Duke's offense, the Maryland game was the second-worst in terms of efficiency, and worst in terms of shooting (both in EFG% and PPWS). Since the Maryland game, Duke's offense has really been clicking - .579 EFG% and a 110.69 O Rating over the last four games. This game is essentially for 5th place in the conference (or at least the inside track) - Duke could get fourth if they win out and BC loses to GT, and Maryland could if they win out and UNC loses out, but the likelihood is that the winner of tomorrow's game will be 5th in conference.

On defense, Maryland does 3 things very well - they defend the perimeter (conference leaders in opponent 3pt%), they deny passing opportunities (conference leaders in opponent assist rate), and they block shots (2nd in block%). They're only average at interior defense and forcing turnovers, and they're awful on the defensive boards (last in conference). In the first game, these trends basically played out - Duke shot 28.6% from 3, recorded assists on just 36% of their hoops, but pulled in 36.11% of their own misses and hit nearly 50% from two. The only inconsistencies were turnovers (much better than usual for the Terps) and blocks (much worse than usual, at only 5%). Duke also tossed in sub-50% free throw shooting. The most likely area for improvement is 3pt shooting - Duke has put more focus beyond the arc in recent games, and has found big success - 30 for 66, or 45.5%. Duke also needs to work harder to pressure Maryland with ball movement. As noted, the Terps are not particularly vulnerable to the assist, but the Devils have shown much improved passing in the last two weeks, recording assists on 58.5% of their hoops. For the Devils, three point shooting and ball movement are intimately related, and their outside shooting will only be as good as the number of open opportunities (which will only be as numerous as ball movement can get them). Cameron should be rocking for the last home game of the season - if the crowd can rattle freshmen point guards Vazquez and Eric Hayes, Duke may be able to jump out to an early margin. Ultimately, this is likely to be a last-minute kind of game - both Duke and Maryland are playing well, and both desperately want to win this game. Should be one heck of a matchup.

Wednesday Look-Ahead

There's as much volatility in the ACC standings heading into the last week of the season as I can remember in a while. The Virginia schools can finish anywhere from 1st to 4th, and UNC and BC can finish anywhere from 1st to 5th. Both Duke and Maryland can finish anywhere between 4th and 7th. FSU, Georgia Tech, and Clemson can all finish as high as 7th (6th for Georgia Tech) and as low as 11th. Needless to say, there's lots of jostling and positioning to be done heading into the ACC Tourney.

Wednesday's games have one major matchup (Duke-Maryland, to be previewed in depth later tonight), one absolute must-win can't-lose tourney-lifeline game (Clemson-Miami) and one game with NIT implications, at best (NCSU-Wake Forest).

NC State beat Wake by 14 earlier this year without Engin Atsur. Every single player for State shot 50% or better except Trevor Ferguson (0-1) on their way to a team .688 EFG% that has to be one of the better performances of the year in the conference. The entire game wasn't a model of field goal defense, as Wake also shot well (.596 EFG%), but they shot themselves in the foot with a 22 turnover performance that was truly a team effort - 10 Deacons had at least one TO. Wake is only 1-6 away from Joel Coliseum this season (a 1-point win over Miami), and should fall to 1-7 after tonight. The Pack can lock up NIT eligibility with a win (and presumably they'd be rewarded with a bid - I can't recall an NIT-eligible ACC team ever not being offered a spot).

Clemson gets a (much-needed) break of sorts playing host to Miami. Of course, UVA managed to lose a game to Miami just last week, and Clemson dropped a contest at Wake the week before, so who knows whether this will really be a break. At the very least, the Tiger offense will be facing one of the worst defenses in recent ACC memory (in several defensive categories, Miami is two full standard deviations worse than the mean). And by the way, whatever happened to James Mays? Spoken of very highly after his preseason performance, Mays has put on a human disappearing act, falling out of the starting lineup and apparently out of favor with Coach Purnell - he played just 15 minutes in the loss to BC.


In the coming weeks, look for the following features:
  • Strength of Schedule analysis (here's a preview - Duke's was hardest (by far), Virginia's easiest (by farther)).
  • Deviants - recognition for team performances that deviated most from the mean
  • OMAC's - One-Man's All-Conference selections
  • Performance Reviews - Each team's best and worst performances in the conference season, along with the best performances by any team in conference play
  • Was it Worth It? - comparison of the "real" Duke tempo-free stats I've been keeping against the "traditional" tempo-free (minus now the St. John's, Air Force, and Gonzaga games).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Duke 67, St. John's 50

Defense doesn't get a lot better than 10 points in a first half. St. John's shot 13.6% and turned the ball over 11 times in 31 possessions, staking Duke to a lead that was basically insurmountable. The offense also looked good in the early going, with lots of points in transitition and good passing - McRoberts to Nelson (if you watch the replays closely, you see Nelson catch his eye, briefly point up for the pass, and then take off for the leap a good two steps before Josh throws it) and Paulus to McClure to McRoberts for example. Things were bound to equalize a little bit in the second half, but Duke still played solid basketball throughout. One thing to note - Duke has been outscored by 46 points in the second half in February. Paulus had a nice offensive game, with 19 points, including 5 of 7 three point shooting. McRoberts played some terrific post defense, picking up 6 blocks and altering at least another half dozen. And finally, while Duke's free throw shooting has been criticized a bit, they closed out the game 17 of 19 (after the 4-10 start).

I haven't been able to run the per possession stats for Duke, because there's no play-by-play on the GoDuke website and the CBS and ESPN ones don't square with the box score. Hopefully this will be remedied by tomorrow. All the ACC stats are updated through this weekend's games.


Virginia pulls out a close one against Georgia Tech after laying a huge egg against Miami. The Singletary/Reynolds show finishes the season hosting Virginia Tech and at Wake Forest (who has been frisky at home). As a side note, I 've been working on schedule strength numbers for the ACC, and Virginia's is remarkably easy - in the neighborhood of two and a quarter standard deviations easier than what would be an average schedule. Georgia Tech is firmly fixed on the bubble, and can take themselves off of it if they hold home court in two tough games this week (against UNC and BC).

Maryland picked up a huge win against UNC tonight. This team has all the makings of a big tournament run - senior leadership, strong post play, strong guard play, and peaking at the right time. Since almost singlehandedly contributing to Maryland's poor conference start, DJ Strawberry is 37 of 61 with 10 assists, 3 turnovers, and 24 rebounds during Maryland's 5 game winning streak. Maryland finishes at Duke and home against NC State. For Carolina, rebounding and free throws killed them. UNC got killed on the glass - Maryland was about 2/3 on defense and close to 50% on offense. They also shot under 50% from the line, including a killer 0-4 from Brandan Wright. Carolina finishes at Georgia Tech and home against Duke.

BC beat Clemson in an ugly, ugly basketball game. Dudley was fantastic with 23 and 11, and Tyrelle Blair was a defensive force with 6 big blocks. By the way, Blair's block rate is best in the ACC, and just shy of what Sean Williams was putting up (actually better than what Williams had done in conference play). BC's only remaining game is at Georgia Tech. The wheels have officially come off at Clemson, as they put up just 54 points in 64 possessions. They shot barely better than 33% on the game, against a BC defense that has been less than stingy this year. They get what should be a win against Miami this week, and then finish at Virginia Tech with their tournament life on the line.

FSU cruised to a win over NC State behind 10 of 20 three point shooting and stingy defense. They finish on the road against Miami to try to get to 7-9 in conference and needing a win in the tourney to hit 20 on the season. They'll be able to make a very compelling case on the absence of Toney Douglas, if, as expected, he'll be back for the NCAAs - 3 of their 4 losses without him were by a combined 10 points.

Virginia Tech pulled away from Miami in the second half. The starting lineup for Tech had big games all around. They finish the season with a rivalry game at UVA (the game in Blacksburg was a 27 point Hokie romp) and home against Clemson. They're playing for seeding (both conference and NCAA tourney) at this point.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Duke 71, Clemson 66

Tonight's game looked eerily similar to the last Clemson game, only the halves were even more dramatically different. Duke put up 41 points in 31 possessions in the first half, despite lots of foul trouble, by shooting lights out and not turning the ball over. They held Clemson to 6 of 23 from the field, and looked completely in control. Then Clemson came out like a team possessed in the second half. They shot 67% from 2 on their way to scoring 45 points in 36 possessions. Duke's shooting didn't really desert them, but they turned the ball over 11 times in 35 possessions, including 7 of the last 17 (aiee!). Actually, those last 17 possessions were remarkable for Duke. At times, they looked downright awful (seven turnovers). But when they held onto the ball, the execution was near perfect - 2o points in the 10 non-turnover possessions (though, admittedly, at least 4 of these possessions were end-game foul situations).

The up-and-down nature of this game is reflected in the chart below. Notice that the best player in the game for Duke (Scheyer) put up a -4 while he was on the court, and two guys who didn't take a single shot (Pocius and Zoubek) put up a +8 and a +12, respectively (in case you're scoring at home, that's Duke 37, Georgia Tech/Clemson 12 in the last two games with Marty on the court). Scheyer had a great shooting performance - it's rare when guys take more than a couple shots and have an EFG% over 1, but Jon pulled it off with a 1.083. Paulus had an up-and-down game himself - his outside shooting was great, and he dished out 6 assists, but he almost pulled off the dreaded points-turnovers double-double. With this win, I think it's safe to mark Duke as a lock for the tourney. Even if they lose out (not very likely), they'll be 21-11, 8-8 in the ACC, and owners of one of the better computer profiles among similar teams.

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 61 67 1.098 59 60 1.017

OFF 5 4 0.800 8 6 0.750
Scheyer ON 48 44 0.917 47 48 1.021

OFF 18 27 1.500 20 18 0.900
Nelson ON 59 69 1.169 59 60 1.017

OFF 7 2 0.286 8 6 0.750
Paulus ON 63 70 1.111 63 60 0.952

OFF 3 1 0.333 4 6 1.500
Henderson ON 25 23 0.920 28 28 1.000

OFF 41 48 1.171 39 38 0.974
McClure ON 35 35 1.000 35 37 1.057

OFF 31 36 1.161 32 29 0.906
Thomas ON 23 18 0.783 27 28 1.037

OFF 43 53 1.233 40 38 0.950
Zoubek ON 8 15 1.875 7 3 0.429

OFF 58 56 0.966 60 63 1.050
Pocius ON 8 14 1.750 10 6 0.600

OFF 58 57 0.983 57 60 1.053

Duke Overall
66 71 1.076 67 66 0.985

Clemson Look-Ahead

Since starting off the season as hot as anyone in the country and being the last of the 336 Division I teams to suffer a loss, the Tigers have gotten into a losing habit, dropping 7 of 9 and seeming in real danger of missing the NCAAs. The biggest problem for Clemson is that their shooting, which had propelled them through their early run, has disappeared. Clemson is now last in the conference in 3 point shooting, next-to-last in PPWS, and toward the bottom in EFG%. KC Rivers is emblematic of the team as a whole - he started off the year knocking down next to everything, but has hit only 5 of his last 33 from beyond the arc.

Clemson's crowd will likely be hostile tonight, and I'm sure we'll all hear more than we want to about the clock "controversy" at the end of last game. What will be forgotten is that Duke outplayed Clemson for the bulk of the time, and only a couple of freak mind-freezes by McRoberts kept the game as close as it was. The Devils handled the Tiger press for the majority of the game, and scored efficiently on the inside. Duke needs to be patient against the press tonight and not feed the Clemson turnover machine, which still turns opponents over more than once every four possessions.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Duke 71, Georgia Tech, 62

Duke has had Georgia Tech's number this year when it comes to forcing turnovers, and Sunday it was enough to produce a win for the Devils. The Jackets have a remarkable 50 turnovers in 143.7 possessions against Duke, and coughed the ball up 16 times in 34 first half possessions Sunday - almost every other possession was a Georgia Tech turnover. 5 Blue Devils had multiple steals, led by Scheyer with 5. Duke also shot well from the field (particularly from 3, hitting 45%), and they were able to overcome poor free throw shooting (a plague throughout conference play) and the worst defensive rebounding performance of the year. Duke's rebounding woes were notable in this game because the Jackets went the last 8:15 or so of the first half with zero team rebounds. In the other 32 minutes, they thoroughly worked Duke for second chance points.

Sunday's game was a tribute to the bench, which played valuable minutes and made solid contributions - 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting (including 2-2 from 3) among them. Most notably, the team went on their big runs with bench guys on the court, as shown in the chart below.

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 53 51 0.962 53 50 0.943

OFF 15 20 1.333 14 12 0.857
Scheyer ON 57 57 1.000 58 60 1.034

OFF 11 14 1.273 9 2 0.222
Nelson ON 53 56 1.057 53 50 0.943

OFF 15 15 1.000 14 12 0.857
Paulus ON 62 63 1.016 62 57 0.919

OFF 6 8 1.333 5 5 1.000
Henderson ON 18 18 1.000 18 15 0.833

OFF 50 53 1.060 49 47 0.959
McClure ON 46 47 1.022 46 46 1.000

OFF 22 24 1.091 21 16 0.762
Thomas ON 27 31 1.148 26 18 0.692

OFF 41 40 0.976 41 44 1.073
Zoubek ON 10 13 1.300 11 10 0.909

OFF 58 58 1.000 56 52 0.929
Pocius ON 16 23 1.438 14 6 0.429

OFF 52 48 0.923 53 56 1.057

Duke Overall
68 71 1.044 67 62 0.925

For those of you wondering about Pocius' numbers, no, that's not a misprint and yes, I triple-checked it. He was on the court for four separate stretches - 4-2 over 3 possessions, 8-2 over 6 offensive and 5 defensive possessions, 5-2 over three possessions to end the half, and 6-0 in 4 offensive and 3 defensive possessions after Tech's run to start the second half. I don't care if it is a statistical anomaly and too small of a sample size to be really meaningful (and it's definitely both), it's still a shocking disparity. He played well in the first half and earned his second half minutes. Thomas continues to make defensive impacts - the team was +13 with him on court, and held Tech to just 18 points in 26 Thomas-filled possessions. The bench as a whole was indispensable to the victory yesterday, and deserves the game ball as a unit.


Speaking of teams matching up well with each other, VT has serious issues with NC State. In two games, the Wolfpack has shot 42 of 64 from 2 and 16 of 33 from 3 while holding Tech to 41 of 94 and 5 of 18 from the same. That's right, the Hokies have taken 30 more two point field goals and still not made as many as the 'Pack has against it.

Maryland looks like it did in preseason again, thanks to the continued presence of Gist as a star, the continued emergence of Vazquez as an ACC point guard (11 assists against Clemson), and DJ Strawberry hitting shots like a normal human being again. After a dreadful start, DJ's efg% is .600 over the last 4 games, and he's also dished out 9 assists and picked up 7 steals over that timespan. For Clemson, the wheels are in danger of coming off (look for more tomorrow).

Carolina bounced back at BC thanks to Dudley's three clanks from the line in crunch time. This shouldn't cost him ACC POY, but his performances against both Duke and UNC this week left a little (ok, a lot) to be desired. Brandan Wright, a game time decision, continued his run of hot scoring with 13 on 6 of 7 shooting in 30 minutes of play.

UVA beat Florida State in a game that never should have been this close. For a good team with great guards, the Cavaliers play inexcusably sloppy basketball, and take as many stupid shots as any team in major conference hoops. Thornton was a one man possession machine for FSU - he scored 30 points, took 23 shots, and pulled in 16 rebounds - but it looks like without Douglas, they'll fall just short of the NCAA promised land.

Finally, Wake and Miami played. Apparently. Wake used hot shooting to overcome bad defensive rebounding and a 2:1 turnover disadvantage. Miami's distinction as by far the worst defensive team in conference continues to be well-earned.

Brief Catchup

I've been out of town since early Friday and haven't been able to update the site. Will have all the stats updated tonight, as well as a wrap-up of Duke-Georgia Tech (good win over a difficult opponent to match up with) and the weekend that was in the ACC, and a look ahead to a busy ACC Wednesday (5 conference games).

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Season Sweep, Part Deux

Much needed win for the Blue Devils, and an impressive win at that, going into Conte Forum and largely dismantling the (current) 1st place team in the conference. Some teams you match up well with, and some you don't, and BC is a team that Duke matches up very well with. One reason is that BC plays cover-your-eyes bad team defense. On the few occasions an Eagle defender actually rotated to give help, no one else came in to shut off the weakside. The result was a layup drill on offense for the Devils. Duke also abused BC on the offensive and defensive glass, picking up 13 of 30 misses on offense and holding BC - the best offensive rebounding team in the league - to a season-low 5. Duke also shot well, which made their offensive rebounding even more dangerous - when you hit 33 of 59 and get back 13 of your misses, it'll be a long night for the opposition. The defense on Dudley was excellent as well - he was held to 11 points, taking only 5 FGAs and 5 FTAs, and turned it over 4 times. McRoberts had a particularly nice game inside, netting a double-double and shooting 9 of 12 from 2, but it was an all around effort, on offense and defense, that won the game for Duke. Truly a team win last night. Here's the PPP table:

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 66 78 1.182 66 68 1.030

OFF 1 0 0.000 1 2 2.000
Scheyer ON 60 67 1.117 60 62 1.033

OFF 7 11 1.571 7 8 1.143
Nelson ON 53 57 1.075 52 57 1.096

OFF 14 21 1.500 15 13 0.867
Paulus ON 64 78 1.219 64 63 0.984

OFF 3 0 0.000 4 7 1.750
Henderson ON 24 31 1.292 25 23 0.920

OFF 43 47 1.093 42 47 1.119
McClure ON 41 51 1.244 43 54 1.256

OFF 26 27 1.038 24 16 0.667
Thomas ON 22 23 1.045 20 14 0.700

OFF 45 55 1.222 47 56 1.191
Zoubek ON 1 0 0.000 1 2 2.000

OFF 66 78 1.182 66 68 1.030
Pocius ON 4 5 1.250 4 7 1.750

OFF 63 73 1.159 63 63 1.000

Duke Overall
67 78 1.164 67 70 1.045

A brief word about Duke's stall ball tactics, which infuriated a large portion of the Blue Devil fandom last night as BC started their comeback. From the point Duke was up 65-41, BC had 21 more offensive possessions in the game. That means the Eagles had to throw up a 114.29 ORating in those 21 possessions just to tie Duke if Duke scored no points the rest of the way. The odds of BC putting up a 114.29 are not great, but not miniscule either - it's about the season average for their offense, though well above their season-to-date performance against Duke. The odds of Duke going 0-for-21 possessions is well nigh impossible, even for this year's less offensively adept team. As it was, BC got hot, and scored 29 in those 21 possessions, for a 138.10 ORating. That's about as well as a team can plausibly play for a 21 possession stretch against a good defense. Even with that, all Duke needed was 6 in 21 possessions to win. Duke's offense in the slowdown was inefficient - 13 points in 20 possessions for a 65.00 ORating. But it was more than enough to win.

Stall ball looks ugly, but it works more often than not - far more often than not. Obviously, we remember the notable losses - UCONN in the Final Four, Kentucky in the regional final, Indiana in the Sweet 16, Maryland in the ACC final, etc. But Duke plays stall ball in every game where it gets a comfortable lead, and I don't need to remind you that Duke tends to win a lot of those games. Comebacks are more likely if the game is lengthened by short possessions, and less likely if the game is shortened by long possessions. I've watched plenty of teams blow leads that don't play stall ball, and in a lot of those games, teams get (rightly) criticized for taking stupid shots with 25-30 seconds left on the shot clock and not taking time off the clock.

Of course, there are negatives, particularly the way Duke plays it. One reason our offensive efficiency goes in the tubes is that it's just easier to play defense for 10 seconds than it is to play for 35. Duke doesn't play a slowdown offense that puts pressure on the opponent the whole 35, only the last 10. Illinois in 2005 ran the prettiest stall ball I've ever seen. They threw the ball all over the court - around the perimeter, inside, outside, drive-and-kick, etc. and ran lots of time off the clock.
They were known for a high-powered offense, which was true - their efficiency was exceptional. But they did it playing "slower" than Duke this year - they just put pressure on an opponent for the whole shot clock. Of course, they had 3 excellent ball-handling guards and an adept passer in the post. Duke has the latter, but not the former. I'd love to see a stall ball system that pressures the defense more, but the risk there is turnovers (especially for this year's Devils), which tend to create easier scoring opportunities for the opponent.

Does stall ball work every time? No. Does it tend to let the opponent back into games? Yes, to a degree. Offensive execution is harder when you only make the defense play for 10 seconds, and defensive intensity can be difficult to maintain when you take the air out of the ball on the other end. Does it make sense? Absolutely. Some will say Duke went into it too early last night against BC. Considering time and score, it was about right. And oh by the way, the Devils won. And looked very impressive doing so.


Clemson just cannot get a break this year. Michael Drum nipped them at the buzzer, giving Wake its 3rd conference win and dropping the Tigers to 5-6. Clemson killed themselves with 5-of-26 shooting from 3, and have now hit just 26.3% of their threes in the last 5 games. Clemson has a should-be gimme against Miami at home left on the schedule, but the rest (Home to Maryland and Duke, At Virginia Tech and BC) are tough. I wrote in Clemson's preview that they would be a test-case for whether the committee pays attention to in-conference strength of schedule. Like Duke, Clemson had only 3 combined games against Miami, NC State, and Wake. Unlike Duke, they didn't sweep those 3, and last night's loss to Wake could prove costly. Random side question for the statistically minded: Has the last undefeated team missed the tournament in the 64 team era?

Maryland took care of business against NC State and heads into Sunday's matchup at Clemson with all the momentum. Winner of this game has an inside track to 8-8 and a bid. Loser could wind up at 7-9 and be on the outside looking in.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Season Sweep

Hokie Hi! Virginia Tech pulls off an improbable season sweep of UNC, as well as what must be an exceedingly rare pair of wins both in Cameron and the Dean Dome. Dowdell and Washington saved the day (and prevented Sailes' clank-clank from making him a goat) as VT snuck by UNC 81-80 in OT. The game was foul heavy, featuring lots and lots of free throws (an astonishing 37 attempts combined for Dowdell and Hansbrough) and 3 starters fouling out. It was also a position defense affair - very low turnover numbers (around 12-14%) for each teams, and also low shooting percentages). The biggest difference in the game was UNC's ice cold 3pt shooting, as the Heels hit only 3 of 17 from beyond the arc. Heck, that was really the only statistical difference - rebounding, turnovers, free throws, and overall shooting was for all intents and purposes identical between the teams. UNC's loss gives BC a full game cushion on first place, and also means that 8 teams are within 3 1/2 games of one another with 5 or 6 (or 4 in FSU's case) left to play. 12 of the 30 remaining conference games pit teams in that 8 team group against each other (and another 5 involve BC against a member of that 8 team group) - should make for a wild and wooly finish to conference play.

Florida State looks like they just might be in trouble without Toney Douglas. He was a reliable second scoring option that forced teams to at least think before relentlessly doubling Thornton, and no one for the Noles has been able to step up and fill his shoes. Javaris Crittenton is asking voters to glance a little southward before blindly filling in the name Brandan Wright for ACC freshman of the year. After a tough four game stretch where he averaged just 8 ppg, shooting 11 of 46 and turning the ball over 17 times, Crittenton has exploded over his last four - 22.3 ppg on 30 of 54 from the floor and a 1.32 A/TO ratio. He put the Jackets on his back tonight when Morrow and Young couldn't hit a thing. Once again, the Jackets cling to tournament hope just a bit longer.

Virginia pounded Longwood (side note - my former roommate's brother went to Longwood for a year, and he and his buddies made versions of the school-name-on-the-rear shorts that placed Longwood on the frontside instead of the backside - this site endorses such cleverly puerile (or puerilely clever) humor) behind excellent offensive rebounding (over 50% of misses) and very excellent shooting defense - Longwood hit barely 1 in 4 shots. Totally meaningless game except that it puts UVA one win closer to the magic number 20.

As for the Devils - Duke was (I believe) the only team in the ACC this year to face each opponent once before a single rematch. Rematch number 1 happens tomorrow night in Chestnut Hill. Duke's last win came against these Eagles, a 75-61 performance in which the Devils thoroughly controlled BC on the inside - 15 offensive rebounds on 27 misses, .542 2pt% against .381 2p% for BC, and 8 blocked shots. The Devils kept Dudley from controlling the game - he still got his (17 and 8), but Shamari Spears ended up taking 3 more shots. Mark it down - if Spears out-attempts Dudley again tomorrow, Duke wins. Scheyer did an excellent job defending Marshall (he shot just 2 of 11), and will be called on to do the same tomorrow. BC's ORating in non-Duke games: 115.23. In the 3 conference games (all wins) since the Duke loss: 121.46. Against Duke: 96.98. If the Devils keep BC south of 105, they should be able to win, because BC's defense has not been so hot (even with the emergence of Tyrelle Blair as Sean Williams Jr.). This should be a slooow game - the last one was 63 possessions, and BC's last 3 conference games have all been right at 61, so it should be close throughout. Not worth highlighting this as a must win - the Devils have to treat them all as must-wins from here on out.

Monday, February 12, 2007

4 In a Row

For the first time this season (heck, first time in a long time), Duke simply got thumped. From the offensive futility early (4 points and 7!!! turnovers in one 14 possession stretch) to the utter inability to get necessary stops in the second half, Duke looked rough throughout. One interesting stat - until the last minute of the game, Maryland scored during every Duke lineup. The Devils never made it from one substitution to the next without giving up points to the Terps.

I don't have much to say about yesterday's game. It was a big step back for everyone except Josh, who had an excellent offensive day (even if a lot of it came against Osby and Bowers, not Ibekwe and Gist). Duke can't linger on this one, as they'll need to be ready for a BC team looking to exact revenge and continue their hold on first place.

Here's the table from the Maryland game. All stats and leaderboards are updated.

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 65 54 0.831 66 68 1.030

OFF 5 6 1.200 4 4 1.000
Scheyer ON 62 54 0.871 64 62 0.969

OFF 8 6 0.750 6 10 1.667
Nelson ON 34 30 0.882 34 39 1.147

OFF 36 30 0.833 36 33 0.917
Paulus ON 69 60 0.870 70 72 1.029

OFF 1 0 0.000 0 0 0.000
Henderson ON 26 21 0.808 22 27 1.227

OFF 44 39 0.886 48 45 0.938
McClure ON 40 33 0.825 42 36 0.857

OFF 30 27 0.900 28 36 1.286
Thomas ON 25 23 0.920 24 34 1.417

OFF 45 37 0.822 46 38 0.826
Zoubek ON 9 10 1.111 8 6 0.750

OFF 61 50 0.820 62 66 1.065
Pocius ON 19 15 0.789 20 16 0.800

OFF 51 45 0.882 50 56 1.120
Davidson ON 1 0 0.000 0 0 0.000

OFF 69 60 0.870 70 72 1.029

Duke Overall
70 60 0.857 70 72 1.029

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Maryland Preview

The Terps have hands down been the most disappointing team in conference play this year. They've lost home games to Virginia (defensible) and Miami (aiee!!), and have failed to do any damage on the road (except at Wake Forest). What's been so bad isn't just that they've lost (after all, Duke has dropped 3 at home and 5 overall), but that they've looked awful doing it. And the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the starting senior backcourt. DJ Strawberry is 31-89 shooting, including 6-24 from 3, in ACC play. He's also not generating steals or hitting the boards with anything resembling the frequency he was in pre-conference play. Mike Jones, too, proved that his pre-ACC prowess was a factor of schedule more than anything else. His 3 pt shooting in particular has dropped from 46.7% in non-conference play to 34.0% in conference. James Gist has had to carry the load for Maryland, and while he's done it admirably (27.5% of the scoring, 1.16 PPWS, .556 EFG%, plus good offensive and defensive rebound numbers), Gist is simply not the kind of player who can lead a successful one-man team in this conference.

As a team, Maryland has had one big Achilles heel on defense - rebounding. They don't seem to block anyone out, as opponents pick up over 40% of their own misses. In their last 3 games, Maryland has twice been outrebounded on the defensive end (FSU had 12 offensive boards to Maryland's 11 defensive, and Virginia led 18-17). Duke is going to have to hit the glass hard, because it's been a source of many points for opponents on the season. On offense, the Terps don't shoot particularly well and are very vulnerable to turnovers (at all 5 positions on the court).

One big thing Maryland will have going for them today is size. Maryland's perimeter players have the size to match up favorably with Duke's - Greivis Vazquez in particular will likely frustrate Paulus' ability to get his shot. The one mismatch will be whoever Jones is guarding - Scheyer should be able to work him through screens and get open for jumpers, and Nelson would be strong enough to take him off the dribble.

Today is an absolute must-win for both teams. Maryland's remaining schedule doesn't forecast any better than 3-3, and a 6-10 record simply won't be good enough (heck, 7-9 might not even be - wins over Illinois and Michigan State are becoming less impressive by the day). As for Duke, today is a statement game - it's about showing they have the mental toughness to go on the road, into the single most hostile environment for a Duke road team (maybe Rupp Arena would be worse, but only maybe), coming off of three straight crushing close losses that involved blown double-digit leads, and take care of business. A loss here and you worry about things slowly starting to spiral out of control.


UNC thrashes Wake - Terry and Wright played a combined 39 minutes, went 14-15 from the field (including 3-3 from 3), 7-8 from the line, pulled in 15 boards, and spread out 5 assists. UNC put up a .704 EFG% as a team.

Virginia Tech thrashes Virginia - the Hokies put up the best shooting game against the Wahoos in conference play - .644 EFG%, which included 67.6% from 2 (wow!). All this with Dowdell sitting on the bench for most of the game due to foul trouble. Virginia just happened to time their worst defensive performance with their worst offensive performance of the whole season - .359 EFG%, which they got by shooting bad (37%) from 2 and worse (22%) from 3. All in all, it was a perfect storm of futility that led to a big Hokie win.

Miami whomps NC State - so much for all that Engin Atsur momentum - State has now dropped consecutive games at Georgia Tech and Miami, and even the faintest glimmer of tournament hope (which is all it ever was) has disappeared. The Canes posted a 55.3 ORB% and only turned the ball over on 14.8% of possessions, turning an average shooting game (.516 EFG%) into a dynamite offensive efficiency performance (131.15 ORating). Of course, the Canes' offense has never been the problem this year - last night's 107 DRating was the best, by a full yard, in the last 8 games (which ranged between 121.1 and 138.7 - aiee!).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Heartbreak, Part 3

Three straight games, three straight double digit leads, three straight losses. This Duke team has played amazing first half basketball lately that for whatever reason it has been unable to sustain. On Wednesday, from the point where Duke led 50-40, they scored 23 points in the next 30 possessions, while UNC put up 39 in 31. In those possessions, Duke was 9 of 25 from the field, had 2 assists against 5 turnovers, got only 4 offensive rebounds out of 20 available, and (notably) went 3-10 from the free throw line. In those same possessions, UNC was 13 of 21 from the field, pulled in 5 of 11 misses, and shot 12 of 16 from the line. The Heels hit 8 of their final 9 shots down the stretch, as (really for the first time this year) Duke's inability to get a stop, any stop, killed them.

That said, what a game. Duke played with energy, heart, and emotion that never flagged. Zoubek will always have a place in my heart for tying up Terry, going to the ground, and never letting go of the ball (for a second I thought he'd take it to the bench with him). They totally frustrated Tyler Hansbrough, who couldn't deal with either smaller or larger players guarding him, and was visibly upset. I've said (though not on this site) that I have difficulty really disliking any of the players on UNC this year. I modify that statement to say that I have difficulty disliking all but Hansbrough, who I now thoroughly enjoy rooting against. He finally found an opponent he couldn't get away with pushing and shoving around and through. His 16 were very, very quiet, and boosted by some end game free throws (which, to his credit, he hit).

Duke also played well on the whole. Henderson and Scheyer had terrific games, Paulus played 38 minutes, with a whole lot of harassing defense against him, and never coughed the ball up. Zoubek showed how valuable he'll become when he learns to slow himself down a touch in the post and stop turning the ball over. McClure again reminded me of Carrawell (when he jumped center against the Heels in 97), particularly when he went return to sender in Hansbrough's face. I've heard it said that UNC didn't play their A game, as if that had nothing to do with Duke's defense. I say nuts to that. Duke totally took them out of what they wanted to do on offense, and if UNC didn't look like UNC, it had everything to do with Duke's defense.

Again, as in the UVA and FSU games, Duke was oh-so-close. I can't count how many shots seemed to go halfway down and rim out (particularly for Scheyer). There were a couple tough breaks - Zoubek tripping over Hansbrough while T was on the ground and getting whistled for a travel (that's usually a foul call); Green shoving Henderson to the ground on the inbounds play late in the game - and, unfortunately, a few too many costly turnovers. From the time they hit 50-40, Duke turned it over 5 times in 7 possessions, and while UNC only got 5 points back, it cost the Devils a crucial opportunity to extend or maintain the lead.

As for the matchups, Carolina really exploited the mismatched defense against Brandan Wright, who looked superb. UNC's collection of wings was thoroughly blah (except Terry, who had a good game), and Scheyer, Henderson, and Nelson easily won that battle. McRoberts never got into the flow on offense and got costly fouls in the second half - even with Hansbrough's struggles, Duke couldn't win that matchup. And Lawson brought his A game (he reminds everyone, including me, of Felton with a jumpshot) - even though Paulus played well with the ball, his shot wasn't quite falling, and UNC won that matchup as well.

Duke is now in the unfamiliar position of needing to play its way into the tournament. Count me among the camp who will still be confident if we're 7-9 - with a win against St. John's, that would put us at 21-10 overall, with quite possibly the most difficult ACC schedule in the conference, and toughest overall schedule in the country. The wins over Georgetown and Indiana look a lot better now than they did at the time - Duke fans should all be cheering very loudly for the Hoyas and Hoosiers the rest of the season. Of course, you can also count me among the camp who is confident we can go 9-7 or 10-6. There are no easy wins left on the schedule, but there are also no games where a win is totally out of reach. This team is 2 overtime losses and a 1 point defeat away from 8-2 in conference. There are lots of reasons why we were in the situations we were in those games, but when it comes down to it, 1 possession games are more random chance than anything else, and that tends to equalize over the course of a season.

Here's the table for the UNC game. Duke stats are now updated through UNC, and ACC stats are updated through this week's games.

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 57 54 0.947 59 64 1.085

OFF 18 19 1.056 15 15 1.000
Scheyer ON 69 68 0.986 67 70 1.045

OFF 6 5 0.833 7 9 1.286
Nelson ON 43 35 0.814 44 45 1.023

OFF 32 38 1.188 30 34 1.133
Paulus ON 71 69 0.972 71 77 1.085

OFF 4 4 1.000 3 2 0.667
Henderson ON 51 52 1.020 51 57 1.118

OFF 24 21 0.875 23 22 0.957
McClure ON 38 41 1.079 37 43 1.162

OFF 37 32 0.865 37 36 0.973
Thomas ON 21 19 0.905 21 17 0.810

OFF 54 54 1.000 53 62 1.170
Zoubek ON 19 19 1.000 17 17 1.000

OFF 56 54 0.964 57 62 1.088
Pocius ON 5 8 1.600 3 5 1.667

OFF 70 65 0.929 71 74 1.042
Davidson ON 1 0 0.000 0 0 0.000

OFF 74 73 0.986 74 79 1.068

Duke Overall
75 73 0.973 74 79 1.068