Sunday, February 04, 2007

Florida State 68, Duke 67

Those of you who know me know that I am not, by nature, an emotional person. Nor am I particularly eloquent at expressing emotion. I find much more comfort and familiarity in the realm of objectivity, in statistical expression, in quantifiable answers. And yet, the more I watch this year's Blue Devils, the more emotional my connection to the team becomes, and the less satisfied I am in turning to numbers to explain performance.

My attachment to the Devils is relatively new - I've spent less than a decade with Duke as "my" team. My experience with Duke is a 221-37 record (prior to this season), with a national championship (which I saw live), another final four appearance, and 6 ACC championships (with 7 title game appearances). I've seen some of the best players ever to put on the Blue and White, I've stormed courts, I've burned benches, I've tented, I've driven 20 hours overnight to Minneapolis, and I've seen almost every minute of every game since my freshman year. Heck, I even named my dog Cameron. I watched my entering class (Williams, Dunleavy, Boozer, Sanders, Horvath, Buckner) grow up, and I matured along with them. I spent my last year on campus welcoming the next version (Redick, Williams, Randolph, Dockery, Thompson, Melchionni) and seeing their highs and lows up close. I got so worked up during the "Gone in 54 Seconds" comeback that I hit my head on my dorm room ceiling. I got so worked up during the loss to Maryland in overtime in 2005 that my roommate's girlfriend was scared of me for a good week solid. I made enough noise jumping around my apartment after Duhon hit the coast-to-coast layup in the Dean Dome that my neighbor came over to make sure everything was alright. Suffice it to say, I've built an emotional connection with the Duke Blue Devils that matches few I've been lucky enough to have in my life.

And yet, with all the exceptional teams that have come through in the past decade, I can say, without reservation, that this year's is my favorite. I love the feeling of not "assuming" before a game starts - not assuming a win, not assuming a star (Carrawell, Battier, Williams, Redick) will pull it off if the team is struggling, not assuming that opponents will wilt in Cameron. I love watching a team fight for everything it gets. Watching Redick last year was amazing, but in a different way - by the end, no shot he hit was surprising - his ridiculous exploits became commonplace. With this year's team, flashes of brilliance, of exceptional talent, of rewind-worthy play seem to come out of nowhere, completely without expectation. McRoberts can look completely contained and pedestrian for 25 minutes, then pull out a behind the back dribble between two defenders on a full court break, or come out of nowhere for a block or reverse alley-oop, and there's this "there it is!" feeling that's almost impossible to verbalize. Paulus can go from dribbling the ball of his foot out of bounds and throwing passes 10 feet over people's heads to nailing 3s drifting sideways and making passes that bring you off your feet. I could repeat these comparisons about everyone - there's so much unrealized potential that seems just waiting to spring forth. I'm constantly on the edge of my seat, thinking this is going to be the game that does it, or that's going to be the play that does it, or they're finally going to put it together at the same time. This year's team is a roller coaster, and I'm strapped in for the ride.

So today's game disappointed me, but not in the way that some might be disappointed. In the past, when we'd lose, it was always easy to point out failings. We became an eight-year Ademola Okulaja - seemingly only capable of beating ourselves. Every loss seemed like a tragic accident; something that wasn't supposed to happen. And as a fan, it was frustrating. I found myself becoming mad at the team for letting themselves down - totally ridiculous, but that was the air around the program. I objectively (not just the subjective opinion of a biased fan) expected them to win every game. But today when we lost, I was disappointed not because I felt we played poorly, or made too many mistakes, or gave up too many good looks. Instead, it was because we fought so hard, and came up just barely short. The team deserved to win today (not to say that FSU didn't), and in the end, they just couldn't quite get it. I've heard that Coach K and Coach Dawkins sounded drained and heartbroken after today's game, and I felt the same way - I rode the whole gamut during this game, from 7-0 to start, to 27-10 at the 10 minute mark, to the turnover filled stretch that brought FSU back into it, to the chippy play and atmosphere resulting in two technicals, to three good looks at the hoop from 5 feet away in the final seconds.

Duke has seven conference games left. We play UNC, at Maryland, at BC, Georgia Tech, at Clemson, Maryland, and at UNC.
All of these opponents are currently in the top 36 in the Pomeroy ratings. I said earlier this year that this stretch of games will define the season for Duke, and I stick by it. I find a strange comfort in saying that I have absolutely no idea how it will turn out. But I know one thing - every possession of every one of these games, the five guys with Duke on their jerseys are going to be playing their guts out. They're going to make every game a fight, and they're going to make sure every opponent knows they've just played a full 40 minutes of basketball. This team leaves it all on the floor because when it comes down to it, they aren't necessarily more talented than their opponents, and there's no single player they can turn to to rescue them in the end. Most importantly, they make Duke, and themselves, proud every time they lace em up and take the court. As far as I'm concerned, I'll take this kind of team and this kind of season any year. Now let's bring on the Heels...

Ok, enough schmaltz - back to what I do better, numbers and objective analysis. Here's the table for the game. ACC stats and Duke stats are updated through this weekend. Tune in this week for special Carolina preview features.

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 55 58 1.055 55 57 1.036

OFF 9 9 1.000 9 11 1.222
Scheyer ON 44 49 1.114 44 45 1.023

OFF 20 18 0.900 20 23 1.150
Nelson ON 59 62 1.051 60 63 1.050

OFF 5 5 1.000 4 5 1.250
Paulus ON 62 62 1.000 61 65 1.066

OFF 2 5 2.500 3 3 1.000
Henderson ON 36 40 1.111 38 45 1.184

OFF 28 27 0.964 26 23 0.885
McClure ON 34 39 1.147 34 31 0.912

OFF 30 28 0.933 30 37 1.233
Thomas ON 21 16 0.762 19 23 1.211

OFF 43 51 1.186 45 45 1.000
Zoubek ON 9 9 1.000 9 11 1.222

OFF 55 58 1.055 55 57 1.036

Duke Overall
64 67 1.047 64 68 1.063


CHRIS said...

I usually go to your site for the statistical analysis but I really enjoyed the post. I can remember every single game since 1996 and I've been a fan since 1990 so I feel your pain. I understand what your saying. Last year, it wasn't even enjoyable to watch because a loss was catastrophic and unexpected. This year, although I would certainly rather them win the games, it is refreshing to see this team find ways to win and see them battle like crazy even though they aren't the most talented team or most physical team anymore. I will link your blog on my site. Good job, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

And definitely compared to last year, I get so worked up during the games... extremely tense during every posession, as if I were trying to will help to this great young team. Last year, most games ... (hold on a sec... just caught the end of the first half of the GT v. NCST game... wicked 3/4 court shot at the buzzer... WOW!! Ok.. back to the post) most games was just sitting back in awe of what JJ's offense and Shelden's defense was doing to teams. This year, 9:00pm games are really difficult because win or lose, I'm so worked up it takes me hours to decompress before I can sleep.

I can't wait for tomorrow!

Unknown said...

I likewise enjoyed the post, but have a completely unrelated question.

Do you have any data on how often Scheyer/Henderson/McClure/Thomas were substituted for one another? What I'm particularly interested in is whether there are a couple of players who tend to be on (and off) the floor at the same time as part of a fairly regular "unit." Are there such patterns in Duke's substitution patterns this year?

Paul Rugani said...

I do have the substitution information available, but it'll take a bit to put it all together. Check back Friday or Saturday, and I'll have the answer in a main post.