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


Anonymous said...

For the last 3 seasons, Duke has either had no depth, or Coach K has decided not to use it. Roy Williams plays a lot of players, far more than Dean used to and that is unlikely to change. Several transfers have left the team and unless they were all terrible, one wonders whether they might have made a difference in the last 2 games at Cameron versus Carolina.

Paul Rugani said...

With regard to the "several transfers" comment, I can think of the following players who have left in the past 10 years: Mike Chappell, Chris Burgess, Andre Sweet, Michael Thompson, Kris Humphries (only technically speaking), and Jamal Boykin. Only Humphries (who left Minnesota for the NBA after one season), Thompson (who would have needed to redshirt a year to still be eligible, but stopped playing basketball because of a heart condition), and Boykin could even potentially have played this year. So you're essentially suggesting that Jamal Boykin (who transferred for family reasons) made the difference between winning and losing against UNC. I disagree.