Sunday, December 21, 2008

Two Dominating Wins

The Devils had themselves a very nice post-finals week. First, they got back on the horse against UNC-Asheville, a team that is not at all good, but that Duke thoroughly dominated as they should have. The Devils were initially propelled by hot outside shooting, and then continued to pull away by forcing turnover after turnover after turnover and crashing the offensive glass for second chance opportunities. Duke used an extremely balanced offensive attack - 6 players in double figures, 3 more with at least 6, and everyone except Marty Pocius and Olek Czyz picked up at least a point for every possession they used. Duke put the game away for good with a 13-possession 22-8 run that occurred when the usual starting lineup was first on the floor together as a unit. For good reason, K left this lineup alone during this run - a 13-possession stretch without substitution may be the longest I've seen in the 2 1/2 seasons of tracking Duke's games - and for good reason, as they scored on 9 of 13 possessions and forced Asheville into many missed shots. Here's the HD Box:

Then, on Saturday, Duke simply stomped Xavier out of New Jersey. The Devils opened the game on an 18-1 run, and led by such comfortable margins as 39-16, 48-18, and (the halftime score) 55-24. Duke used stifling defense (10 turnovers in 39 possessions, 33% shooting, 81% defensive rebounding) and ridiculously efficient offense (scoring on 23 of 39 possessions and getting 55 points out of those 23 scoring possessions) to end this game at the 20-minute mark. The teams played essentially equal basketball in the second half - Duke led by a score of 73-43 and was up 26 with as little as a couple minutes left - before Xavier ended the game on a 10-2 run to make the margin look slightly more respectable than it actually was.

The whole team played well, but two especially stood out in my mind: Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek. Scheyer was obviously lights out on offense - 4-4 from 2, 5-7 from 3 - but it was the way he got his points that was almost as impressive. He seemed to have a great intuitive sense for knowing when to drive and when to spot up, and pretty much always had the defense unprepared for whichever option he took. Also, he had my single favorite play of the game, which was the no-look from the free throw line to McClure to end the first half. That play was a textbook example of jab-jab-jab-uppercut - Duke had, on several previous possessions, driven to the free throw line and then kicked out to the wing. When Scheyer drove to the free throw line, the Musketeer defense immediately overplayed the wing, leaving McClure open on the baseline cut for the easy deuce.

Zoubek (for the second game in a row) also looked solid. He has improved substantially on defense - he leaves his feet less often, he doesn't reach as much, and he uses his height to his advantage. He got 4 blocks yesterday simply by making himself an obstacle - guys drove toward him, tried hang in the air long enough to get around him, couldn't, and as soon as they were vulnerable to the block, Brian reached out and swatted the ball. Also, he had my second and third favorite plays of the game - the big follow dunk and the sweet low-to-the-ground bounce pass off the block to (again) a cutting McClure.

Here's the HD Box from the Xavier game:

Around the ACC

Good day in ACC hoops yesterday, with only Virginia losing (this may not be a 10-win team this year). BC's win over Providence was particularly nice - middle to bottom of the pack ACC teams beating middle to bottom of the pack Big East teams will always be met with approval here.

Today features FSU and Pitt in a game that could really make or break the Noles non-con season. Florida State gets to host, so hopefully the fans at the Leon Civic Center will be loud and raucous against the Panthers.

And then the marquee matchup of the day is the opener to ACC play (and the only conference game to be played before the new year) as the Clemson Tigers travel to Miami to take on the Hurricanes. Clemson has jumped out to an 11-0 start against very mediocre competition - only the win at Illinois is something to really crow about. Miami, on the other hand, dropped out of the top 25 after the home loss to Ohio State (thanks to Jack McClinton losing his temper) and is now looking to show folks that they are (as they were hyped in the preseason) the third-best team in the conference. Should be a great matchup tonight, and one I'm very much looking forward to watching.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No More Finals!

Taking a loss into finals week cannot have been fun for the Blue Devils. It's the longest off-period of the season (Duke has had an 11-day break), it's a high stress period, and all you have to think about from your last game is the sound of the ball clanking off the rim. More than anything else about tonight's game, I'm sure the Devils are ecstatic just to be getting back out on the court.

It should help that they're getting back out on the court against what is, in raw terms, the third worst defense in the country. UNC-Asheville has been torched this year to the tune of 1.2 points per possession. Yes, some of that was due to a throttling by UNC, but Asheville has also given up over 1.33 points per possession to VMI and the Campbell Camels (a team whose offense is 217th in the country, and that ranking includes the 94-point in 70-possession performance against Asheville). Asheville's defensive problems are two-fold - they don't make their opponents miss, and they don't take the ball away - the team is 340th! in both categories, letting opponents shoot a .583 efg% and forcing turnovers on just 15.6% of possessions.

The former can be explained, in large part, by a decided team-wide lack of height. This was not supposed to be a problem in the pre-season, as UNC-west is the home of Kenny George, the 7'7" behemoth who helped take Asheville to the Big South title. But he developed a serious health condition (that I believe resulted in a foot amputation) and is no longer playing. That left the Bulldogs short-legged. Only one guy in the rotation clears 6'6", and he plays just barely 11 minutes a game. The team starts a lineup that goes 6'2", 6'4", 6'6", 6'6", 6'6", and none of these are particularly big guys.

The Devils should be able to exploit a significant size advantage. Look for them to refocus on the inside (particularly after the results of the 3-point shooting display in the Michigan game) and try to get Zoubek, Thomas, Singler, Plumlee, and (if he's smart) Henderson looks in the post. Also look for Duke to employ a heavy press - Asheville is terrible at protecting the ball, and has had it stolen away in almost 13% of its offensive possessions this year (318th in the country). This should be a good opponent for Duke to shake off the finals rust against and get back in the winning ways - the next win streak starts tonight.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Stephen Curry is Good: Catching Up on the Week that Was

To start, Stephen Curry single-handedly took down NC State on Saturday in a game made all the tougher for the Wildcats after a starting forward was ejected 4 minutes in. He went off for 44 points, including an enormously clutch three from way downtown and about 4 on the shot clock to put Davidson up 4 with just over a minute to play. He's averaging almost 32/game on the season and he got shut out against Loyola MD (thanks to Jimmy Patsos being a colossal idiot). In the six games where his teammates haven't been playing 4-on-3, his average is near 37. He is, without question, the best guard in the country.

Davidson's win over NC State took down a previously unbeaten team, which was a relatively common sight this week. When we last checked in, 29 teams had made it through November unblemished. Since then, another 12 teams have suffered losses. With just 3 remaining, the ACC no longer leads the way (Big East, 4).

Of course, one of the 12 dropping their first contest this week was our own Duke Blue Devils. Duke split a Big 10 road trip, looking very impressive (especially on D) in a win over Purdue and looking rather unimpressive (especially on D) in a loss to Michigan. First, the good. The Purdue game was a "vintage" Duke win, in which the Devils completely took the opponents out of what they wanted to do on offense. Duke hounded Purdue into difficult two-point jumpers, forced turnovers, and cleaned up the misses. They also overcame foul trouble in general (an early 6-1 deficit in the second half) and to key players (Smith and Zoubek, both of whom were on the floor when Duke was playing the best). Duke's shooting was only so-so, but they relentlessly attacked the glass to create second shots and avoid empty possessions. Here's the HD Box from Purdue:

Against Michigan, by contrast, Duke let the Wolverines dictate the style of play, particularly when the Devils had the ball. Michigan offered up open look after open look from the 3-point line, and Duke indulged itself, taking 33 attempts. The vast, vast majority of these were good shots - really wide open looks, plenty of time to get squared, not from too deep, etc. However, like most indulgences, there are times when it's really not good for you, and yesterday was one of those times. Duke could only hit 7 of 33 attempts (and even that number is somewhat misleading - Duke at one point was 3 of 27). After a cold shooting first half (2 of 18 from three) Duke came out in the first few minutes of the second half and earnestly tried to get the ball inside against the zone. The results were poor, and they went back to taking (and missing) wide open threes. When the defense created stops and Michigan went man, the offense shredded it. Duke picked Michigan's man defense apart on the inside, hitting 75% from 2 on the game. But they simply could not figure out an effective way to get the ball inside against the 1-3-1, and on a night when the shots were not falling it cost them.

Of course, even with the poor shooting, Duke was right there at the end. But the defense simply could not come up with necessary stops in the end game. After Duke led 53-50 Michigan went on a key 12-4 run over a 7 possession stretch and then finished with aplomb, hitting their final three field goals and 13 of 14 from the line in closing time. In all, Michigan scored on 15 of the game's final 18 possessions. That kind of finish will win a ball game just about any time.

Around the ACC

The ACC won yet another ACC/Big 10 challenge, although it did not look impressive in doing so (aside from UNC, Duke, and Wake, who all shredded their respective opponents). Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Miami failed to hold the home court, FSU dropped a game by 14 to Northwestern (eek!), and Virginia, well, played bad. In a year where it looked like another 8-9 win week was in the offing, coming out 6-5 has to be considered a bit of a disappointment.

Several of the losing teams have already had the chance to bounce back (at least in a manner of speaking). Most notable was FSU, which beat Florida in a 57-55 brawl. Jordan Demercy hit some key threes and Solomon Alabi turned in his best performance of the year as the 'Noles assert state-school dominance in the Sunshine State. Virginia Tech held off a game Navy squad in the opening game of the BB&T (which Maryland closed out with a more emphatic win against GW), and Georgia Tech took down Vanderbilt by 12. Finally, Miami took to Rupp Arena and knocked off Kentucky by 9. The Wildcats may be down this year, but wins in Rupp are always good for the soul. Miami does have cause to be concerned, however, as Tuesday's loss to tOSU exposed how reliant the 'Canes are on Jack McClinton. If he's off (or if he decides to hit someone again) Miami could be in trouble.

ACC team and player stats are updated in the links to the right. Duke stats are still very outdated - I'll work on that for next weekend.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

ACC/Big 10 Challenge

Wisconsin beat Virginia Tech last night on a Trevon Hughes runner at the buzzer (well, close to) to frustrate a frantic Hokie comeback effort. This game played exactly to each school's style (the two teams are stylistically very similar) with one notable exception. It was sloooow - 54 possessions total. There were absolutely no turnovers - 6 for Wisconsin and 7 for Virginia Tech. But what was unusual was that the two teams were crazy good on offense. A 74-72 score may not look like a shootout, but in a 54 possession game, that's exceptional offensive performance - both teams had O Ratings in the 130s. Much of this was fueled by simply unconscious outside shooting, as the teams combined to hit 23 of 34 three point attempts.

So the Big 10 sneaks out to the early lead. Here are the 5 matchups tonight:

Ohio State at Miami - as profiled here, the Buckeye defense has been very impressive against lesser opponents. Can they hold down Miami's more potent offense (and even if they do, can they actually score enough to keep up)? My guess is no, and no.

Iowa at Boston College - Iowa has played precisely nobody on its way to a 6-1 record. Honestly, I can't even name a single person on the Hawkeye team. I feel out of touch. BC should control here, particularly if the Ty Rice from Friday's game (and really, from the second half of Friday's game) shows up.

Clemson at Illinois - Illinois has been under-the-radar very good this year, picking up a road win at Vanderbilt, which is very, very tough to do. Clemson has looked so-so so far, and hasn't really been challenged with a good opponent in a hostile environment. At least the all-orange Assembly Hall crowd will be in a friendly color, if not a friendly mood. Clemson is the better team, but I think Illinois walks away with the win.

Duke at Purdue - the marquee Tuesday game (and, in light of MSU's suckitude so far, probably the marquee challenge game, period). Like Virginia Tech-Wisconsin, these are two similarly-styled teams - small inside with versatile power forwards and talented guards that rely on defense to generate offense. Biggest non-conference game in West Lafayette in a long, long time - possibly since the Big Dog was roaming the halls. It will be interesting to see how the Devils react to the first hostile road environment of the season. Purdue is vulnerable inside, so if Thomas, Zoubek, and Plumlee can continue their collective effectiveness, that just might give Duke the extra push they need. I like the Devils in a close one.

Virginia at Minnesota - I have no idea if Minnesota is as good as their current 6-0 record, but I can tell you that Virginia absolutely deserves their 3-2. The Cavs played Syracuse very tough this weekend, though, and as Sylvan Landesberg and Sammy Zeglinski continue to get more and more comfortable at the college level, this team could surprise. At the very least, Leitao has two players who can collectively drop 50 on any given night. Their emergence, however, has led to an almost complete disappearance by senior Mamadi Diane, who will need to step his game up and provide some consistency for the nights when the young guns have their inevitable struggles.

Also, ACC Player and Team stats are up (not including the VT-Wisc game). More on what they are and what they mean later.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Around the NCAA on a Saturday

First off, a couple items from Big Televen country, in advance of the challenge this week. Ohio State may not have figured out its offense yet, but the defense - wow. The Buckeyes held Samford to 22 points, including just 6! (yes 6!) in the first half. Samford shot 9 of 48 from the field, including 2 of 18 from three, plus coughed it up 18 times in just 61 possessions. The Buckeyes were sloppy (17 turnovers) and shot poorly (22-52 overall, 4-17 from three) themselves, putting together a sub-100 offensive rating, and still won by 37. This is likely on track for the best defensive/worst offensive game of the season.

Michigan - the same Wolverines that beat UCLA a couple weeks ago - trailed by 20 at the half at home against Savannah State. Yes, you read that correctly. Savannah took a 39-19 lead into the break at Crisler Arena. Michigan then put up an almost-mirror-image 37-17 second half performance to force OT (although they missed a breakaway dunk to win at the end of regulation). Overtime was not a cakewalk either, with the Wolverines eeeeking out a two-point victory on a Courtney Sims corner jumper as time expired.

It may just be me, but it seems like fewer teams made it to December undefeated than usual. The number will shrink by (at least) two tomorrow, as one team in each of the Tennessee-Gonzaga and Wake Forest-Baylor matchups will be handed its first blemish. Here's the list of the 30 teams that had loss-less Novembers (for the record, that makes 311 teams that lost at least once in the season's first three weeks):

Dayton, Xavier, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, UNC, NC State, Wake Forest/Baylor, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Depaul, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Butler, Illinois State, BYU, Wyoming, Stanford, LSU, Tennessee/Gonzaga, Lamar, Arkansas-Little Rock, Utah State

If Wake can win today (and UNC and NCSU), the ACC will have more undefeated teams remaining than any other conference, including the JumboEast. I know this isn't really much of a measure of relative conference success; nonetheless, any metric (however flawed) by which I can say that the ACC is the best, I will use.

Very impressed with Florida State picking up two neutral court wins this weekend over Cal and Cincinnati. They have one of the easier challenge matchups this week (@ Northwestern) and have two remaining chances for marquee non-conference wins against Florida and Pittsburgh, especially since both games are in Tallahassee.

Finally, because I have no other place to put this, here's the HD Box from the Michigan game in the finals of the CvC. Not too much to say about this game (which I didn't see) - Duke was simply the better team, and played better pretty much all night. One thing of note - the difference between Smith's numbers (+22) and Paulus' (+1); obviously Nolan has been getting much more time with better teammates, but there's no question that the offense has been more efficient with him on the court.

Duke 95, Duquesne 72

It took 7 games, but we finally saw this team play to its potential for a "full" game. The 23-point final margin makes this game look deceptively close, and the 3-point second half margin suggests we turned it off in the final period. We didn't. Duke was up 39 twice, and led by at least 30 for about 11 minutes in the second half. Only when the bench guys came in at the end of a game did Duquesne go on a little bit of a ridiculous run, ending on a 19-6 push that made it look moderately respectable. It wasn't - this was a good, old-fashioned beat-down administered at both ends of the court.

First, the offensive end. Duke's offense was clicking on all cylinders. Guys played the drive, draw, and dish extremely well - Duke got into the middle of the lane against Duquesne with ease, drew seemingly the entire team of Dukes to them, and then continually found open men on the wings and in the corners for three, or on rotation down low for easy looks inside. The other thing the Devils did was get out and run. Missed shots, made shots, turnovers - really any excuse to get back up the court in a hurry, the Devils took. Duke had 31 points off of turnovers and 17 points in transition, and everyone got in on the act. Thomas ran the court extremely well - he's learned that if he sprints down court toward the rim, guys are going to make things happen for him. He had several great catches (off of several great passes) that propelled him to an 8-8 day and a career high 21 points.

Jimmy Dykes made a comment during the broadcast that I've heard several fans echo, in some way, that I think shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Duke's offense. He pointed out that Smith's A/TO ratio is less than one, and said that Duke needs more from a point guard than that. I beg to differ (at least in part - cutting down turnovers is always a goal, and Smith does still need to improve in that regard). Duke's offense is simply not dependent on a point guard to create. Rather, we effectively have 4 "point guards" on the court most of the time. Everyone on the wing plus Singler can create off the dribble and off the pass. Yesterday, when Duke assisted on 71.4% of its first half field goals, the assists came from all over - 4 for Singler, 2 for Henderson, 3 for Scheyer and Smith, etc. Simply put, no one is going to put the onus on Smith to do anything more than bring the ball over half court - once we get into the offense, everyone on the wing is equally responsible for creating opportunities for their teammates and themselves.

Second, on defense Duke was disruptive. They forced turnovers (19) and missed shots (41), especially from three, where Duquesne was just 3 of 21. They took the highest scoring team in the A-10 last season and held them under 60 until the final four minutes of the game. Duquesne got very few easy opportunities, and looked constantly out of sync. The only downside was rebounding - Duke got out-positioned by the Dukes on the offensive glass for most of the game, and only barely out-rebounded Duquesne on that end of the court. This is actually an aberrant performance this year - in 5 out of 7 games, Duke's defensive rebounding has been excellent.

Finally, the play of the bench unit at the end of games continues to disappoint. Most notably, they turn the ball over with alarming regularity. Our end-game group (which, in various combinations, has primarily included Paulus, Pocius, Williams, Czyz, and Plumlee) has committed 18 turnovers in fewer than 40 possessions. Essentially every other trip down the court they give the ball away. They're responsible for 17% of the team's turnovers in just 8% of the possessions. It's a group that looks disjointed and plays like it's garbage time (which, admittedly, it is, but I don't recall a bench unit that treated it like garbage time quite the way these guys do). This isn't necessarily something concerning, since if we see Pocius, Williams, Czyz, and Plumlee on the court together, it usually means the lead is big and the time on the clock is small. These lineups are not likely to be playing crunch time minutes (or key minutes of any shape/size). Nonetheless, there's a lot of room for improvement, and I hope as the season goes along we see that unit get tighter with the ball.

Here's the HD Box from the game. As you can see, there's a dramatic +/- difference between starters + Thomas and the other 6 guys.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I left a discussion of the game without registering concern for Nolan's back. He came out of the game after his plus-one with about 17:30 left to play, and received treatment on the bench. Hopefully it's nothing serious and nothing that will keep him from the game against Purdue this week.

Around the ACC

A busy Friday for the conference, and (on balance) a successful one. Florida State picked up a nice win over Cincinnati - despite all their struggles, they're still undefeated, and can stay that way with another solid win over Cal tonight. Wake survived a game UTEP team in a game where the Deacs got absolutely abused on the glass (surprising, with all of Wake's size) and can win the 76 Classic by beating Baylor on Sunday. Virginia fought the good fight at the Carrier Dome, and though they left with a loss, they played a very good Syracuse team very close. And BC looked good in beating UAB to take third place in the PNIT - props to Ty Rice, who had 24 points (all in the second half) and didn't miss a single one of his 5 3-point shots. Clemson and Georgia Tech got wins against lesser competition (although the Jackets again struggled). Only Maryland had a really rough day, as Gonzaga just out-classed them all over the court. Maryland will struggle against teams with size this year, and the Zags have a lot of good size.

Quiet weekend for the conference - today just has the aforementioned FSU game and Miami hosting Stetson, and Sunday finished with UNC and NC St hosting in-state schools and Wake taking on Baylor. November has been a very good month for the conference, and they'll have every opportunity to start December off well during the ACC/Big Televen challenge. After Sunday's games, I'll put up the ACC team and player stats to this point, including the new offensive stats I've been discussing, and we'll look at a couple case studies from the various teams to show whose performance thus far may be deceptively good, and whose may be deceptively less impressive.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Duke 78, Montana 58

Duke wrapped up a busy stretch of 4 games in 8 days (including a trip to NYC) with a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Montana Grizzlies. The game started tight for the first 8 minutes or so, and then the Devils hit the gas for the end of the first half and effectively put the game out of reach by halftime. Duke outscored Montana 38-15 in the last 24 possessions of the half, and dominated every aspect of the game. In that stretch, there were 8 forced turnovers (7 via the steal), the Devils shot 14-22 from the field (and 2-4 from 3) while holding Montana to 6-17, Duke got 6 of the 10 available offensive rebounds and 10 of the 12 defensive rebounds, etc.

Of course, outside of that 24 possession blitz, the performance was thoroughly meh. Montana won the other ~45 possessions of the game 43-40, and Duke's shooting on the whole was bad - only 29-66 overall, and 11-27 from 2 and 2-11 from 3 outside of the last 24 possessions of the first half.

With Paulus sitting on the bench for this one, there was plenty of lineup experimentation to go around. Today, it worked well - the team was +12 when someone other than Smith was running the point. Coach K also went both super-big (Henderson played the "2" for a 7-possession stretch) and super-small (McClure played the "5" for a couple possessions). On the whole, big was the way to go today - all our margin came with Zoubek or Plumlee at center. We were +20 when one of them was in the game at the "5" (53 possessions) and even when both were sitting (15 offensive and 17 defensive possessions).

Here's the HD Box for the game. I have one for the Michigan game as well, but am holding off because of an apparent discrepancy between the lineup info on the box score and the results of someone's game chart.

Around the ACC

Virginia Tech and Miami both dropped games today - Tech getting nipped by Seton Hall because they couldn't knock down free throws (Jeff Allen, primary culprit, went 5-15 from the line), and Miami simply got outclassed by the Huskies, particularly Hasheem Thabeet, who had something like 19, 12, and 7. The ACC now has three blemished squads - the two above and BC, which lost on the road to St. Louis. Lessons learned from the BC and VT losses - these are not deep teams in terms of actual contributors. Tech is about three deep - there's just a huge talent fall-off after Vassallo, Delaney (who's having a bit of a breakout year so far), and Allen. BC is slightly deeper, but lower ceiling - they can generally count on Rice getting help from Raji, Trapani, and Sanders, but none of those three are really that good (although I have a soft spot for Corey Raji's remarkable offensive efficiency).

Four games coming Monday, starting with Miami hopping back on the horse against San Diego. FSU and Wake have what should be extremely easy wins against Western Illinois and Winston-Salem, respectively. The biggest drama in those two may be whether the Deacs hit 120 again. Finally, UNC begins its time in Maui by taking on the host school, Chaminade. This site, for one, hopes they'll be less than gracious hosts, and give this generation a Ralph Sampson game, only starring Tyler Hansbrough this time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

SIU Post Game Thoughts

Yet again, a tale of two halves. The first was marred by sloppy execution and turnovers. On many of the errant passes I got the sense they were trying to rely on feeling where people should be. That will come eventually. Zoubek gave his best performance to date with a solid first half (one of the few bright spots of the first twenty minutes). The second half (except for the first few possessions) was an entirely different ball game. Henderson's involvement from behind the arc spread out the defense enough to allow a few more open driving lanes. Not to mention some serious dunks from Henderson and Smith (wow is just not enough). I was seriously impressed with SIU's defense. If they can manage to keep that intensity and aggressiveness and limit the fouling, they will be a serious force in the MVC this year.

General Notes
  • Point Guard Play -- Greg & Nolan getting 5-8 minute stints. I didn't realize Greg was recovering from injuries. Aside from Nolan's spectacular dunk and free throws, he had a non-existant offensive night with his two assists offset by five turnovers. However, I thought they both ran the offense rather well and I know either can go off offensively on any given night. I'm currious how the minutes will play out with tonights trapping zone.
  • Defensive Intensity -- Aside from missing a few help side assignments (thank you Bob Knight, I think you hammered that home enough), I was very happy with Duke's defensive presence, especially in the low post.
  • Low Post Play -- Zo stepped up tonight! Didn't get to see enough of LT to get a good sense of where he is. The entire team knocked it down from the line tonight -- I really hope that trends.
With Michigan trumping UCLA in the night cap, I wonder how much 1-3-1 zone we'll actually see tonight. Traditionally, if Duke starts making teams pay for zone with a few open threes, opponents usually are quick to abandon the tactic. However, I have to imagine that Beilein won't come out of the zone unless he really has no other choice. Look for Duke to seriously contest the three point line and I fully expect a handful of very frustrating back door cuts.

Duke 83, SIU 58

I got to see my first half of Duke basketball this season, and luckily it was the second one. In the first half, Duke simply played ugly. 6-19 from the field. 15 turnovers in roughly 38 possessions. I'm going to write that last one again - 15 turnovers in 38 possessions. Yikes. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they did two things very well in the first half - defend and rebound. SIU shot just 8-32 from the field, and could only come up with 4 of the 27 available offensive rebounds. Duke held the Salukis to 23 points on 39 possessions - an excellent 58.97 D Rating for the half.

In the second half, the defense stayed sharp, and the offense finally clicked. After two early turnovers, Duke committed just two more in the last 16 minutes of the game. The Devils converted well from the field and exceptionally well from the line, getting 54 points in roughly 33 possessions - an excellent O Rating of 163.64. Included in that was the first seven-point possession I've ever seen, as a result of a Singler steal, a dunk+one, an intentional foul free throw (giving the ball back to Duke), and a Henderson made three. That sequence functionally ended the game - it pushed the lead either from 8 to 15 or 10 to 17 without the Salukis once touching the ball, and really broke the other side's spirit.

A couple of random thoughts (slightly inhibited by the fact that the MSG box scores don't include a play by play for some reason). First, the foul disparity was nothing unusual. SIU has made fouling part of its defensive philosophy (which is not to say they try to foul; rather, they accept the high foul count that naturally comes along with very aggressive and physical defense). In the past three seasons, they've finished 300th, 325th, and 331st in terms of opponent free throw rate; that is, their opponents' ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts is higher than almost any team in the country. Second, the Devils did great work exploiting this, both by pounding the ball inside to be in a position to get fouled, and by making free throws. Special credit to the bigs - Singler, Thomas, and Zoubek combined to shoot 18-20 from the line. Third, the ball movement was exceptional in the second half - 9 assists on 12 made field goals, and constant unselfish play across the board. One thing I may try to track tonight is Duke's FG% off the pass (plays where an assist would be credited) compared to off the dribble - last night I think there was a big disparity. Finally, this is a very, very versatile team. It has shooters. It has athletes (the Smith and Henderson dunks were great - the SIU point guard never suspected that Smith would just go up over him on the break). It has size (yes, it's true). And so it can both play and adapt to a variety of styles and game situations. This is critically important, because no defense can take away everything - there will always be a weakness somewhere. I think these Devils have the potential to adjust to any style of defense and exploit the weaknesses well.

No HD Box today (as mentioned, the box from MSG didn't have a play-by-play, let alone sub data). I'll try to figure out a way to put one together, but this may just be a missing game.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Coaches vs. Cancer MSG Preview

For may of us, Thursday represents the first time we'll be able to watch Duke play this season (outside of the students and Iron Dukes lucky enough to get into Cameron or those with Comcast and no access to ESPNU. I actually don't think ESPNU exists... it's just a tease. Damn you Comcast with your "no ESPNU or ESPN360!"). However, most years the early games that weren't nationally televised were blow outs. Not so this year, with what must have been a superb game to watch against URI. I think that will lead to a closer analysis of Thursday's performance against Southern Illinois.

Since I wasn't able to watch the URI game, here are a few things I'm going to be looking for --

  • Defensive Intensity -- From all accounts it sounds like URI had simply an incredible offensive night. I saw the highlight bombs Jimmy Baron dropped (Did I mention I miss JJ?). The kicker Thursday will be can Duke lock down Southern Illinois for a full two halfs, especially since it looks like they have as efficient an offense as URI does. How is the communication and rotation this early in the season given new roles in the low post and at point guard.
  • Point Guard Play -- I'm probably not the only one who was slightly suprised at the swap between Greg and Nolan. I'm curious how Coach K is planing to manage that rotation. Can Nolan step up offensively, and what role does Greg now play?
  • Post Play -- I'm excited to see LT's improvement. Based on the handful of writers that have seen him, it sounds like it should be significant. My concern is LT's free throw shooting, which at least at the outset doesn't seem to have improved as much. Free throws from the 4 and 5 I think are one of the most undervalued traits in the game. I think it completely reshapes the game when the ball doesn't have to stay outside in close game situations because that's where your free throw strength is.
Thanks to Paul for the chance to post a few thoughts here and there. I'm going to try out a few things to see what best complements Paul's fantastic analysis. I'm giddy for the season to start already (at least for those of us stuck with Comcast).

Duke 82, Rhode Island 79

The Devils got all they could handle from a game Rhode Island team (and especially Jimmy Baron, who Bootsied Duke) put prevailed because Kyle Singler and John Scheyer took control and wouldn't let the team lose. The two each had high usage, high efficiency games - Singler put up an offensive rating of 132.11 while using 28.65% of the team's possessions, and Scheyer went even higher - 144.68 - with slightly less usage - 25.44%.

For Duke, it was a tale of two halves on offense. The Devils started extremely slowly - just 12 points in their first 20 possessions, and no made field goals between a Nolan Smith layup at the 17:24 mark and a Greg Paulus layup almost 9 1/2 minutes later. At the point when Rhode Island took its largest lead of 12, Duke was shooting just 4-20 from the field. And then all of a sudden someone flipped a switch, and the offense was exceptional. Duke scored 60 points over 37 possessions in the game's final 22:57 - an offensive rating of 162.16. Duke scored on an astounding 28 of those final 37 possessions - a floor rating of 75.68%.

Of course, every bit of that offensive performance was necessary to combat an excellent offensive showing from Rhode Island, led by Baron and Delroy James. James did the heavy lifting in the first half, leading the team with 11 at the break. The second half was simply the Jimmy Baron show - 7-8 from 3 (and the 8th was a desparation heave), often with hands in his face. His lights out shooting helped propel URI to an astounding 71.4% from 3 for the game.

For Duke, there has to be at least some concern about the defense (although sometimes, the other team just makes its shots). Rhode Island scored 79 in just 67 possessions, and almost kept pace with Duke in the second half (45 in 31, as opposed to 49 in 31 for Duke). Duke allowed a few too many offensive rebounds, and couldn't do quite enough to take Rhode Island out of their offensive rhythm. Still, the team racked up 7 steals and forced URI to turn it over nearly 27% of the time (of course, that means Rhode Island scored 79 points in just 49 non-turnover possessions - wow).

All in all, it was a good win for Duke. They caught an opponent at the top of its game, and didn't cave. Down the stretch, Duke simply finished, scoring on its final 8 possessions. Contributions came in from Thomas (layup and key steal), Smith (couple nice assists) and, of course, Scheyer and Singler. From all accounts, it was a tremendous game to watch (lousy Comcast v. ESPNU tussle). Next up, Southern Illinois.

Around the ACC

Four games in conference play tonight, with the "marquee" matchup being UNC and Kentucky. Kentucky will hope to bounce back from a home loss to the VMI Keydets, and UNC will look to continue its success with Hansbrough on the bench.

Boston College takes on St. John's for a trip to NYC (well, St. John's will be going to NYC regardless, but you get my drift) and the PNIT final four. BC has played a little above where a lot of people expected thus far - Corey Raji has taken on a larger role and continued his high offensive efficiency, and Joe Trapani is making quite a mark in the early going. Ty Rice may actually have help this season.

FSU travels to La Salle. After a decidedly lackluster performance against Jacksonville, the team could use an impressive showing. Given the talent level on the roster, though, impressive showings may be few and far between this year for the Noles.

Finally, Maryland hosts Youngstown St.

16 for 16

The ACC kicked off the 2008-2009 season in full force this past weekend, playing (and winning) a total of 16 games over 4 days. What was most striking was a series of impressive performances by newcomers to the conference. With that in mind, let's take a quick trip around the other 11 schools in the conference and extend some warm welcomes.

Boston College - a warm welcome to Vermont transfer Joe Trapani. In two games, the sophomore forward has gone for totals of 33 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists, resulting in a 145.89 offensive rating while using almost 26% of BC's possessions.

Clemson - a warm welcome to Andre Young. The diminutive freshman guard has shown that he can take the reins from Demontez Stitt when necessary (and maybe even when not). While Clemson was winning the Charleston Classic, Young helped with a solid 5 pts and 2 assists per game in the 15 minutes he averaged. Non-newcomers Terrence Oglesby and David Potter helped too, hitting a combined 13 of 24 threes.

Florida State - a warm welcome to Chris Singleton. The 6'9" freshman got the starting nod and posted a 12 point, 17 rebound double-double (and every bit of it was necessary for the 'Noles to eke by Jacksonville).

Georgia Tech - a warm welcome to Iman Shumpert. The Jackets didn't ask the rookie point to do too much in his first game, but he helped out with 7 and 6 boards in just 18 minutes of action.

Maryland - a warm welcome to, well, Jin Soo Kim. Not a lot from the Terp newbies, but Kim did help with 5 in limited minutes. And a warm welcome back to Greivis Vazquez - 16 shots and 6 assists in just 29 minutes helped him use 27.5% of Maryland's possessions.

Miami - a warm welcome to Cyrus McGowan, who picked up a rebound every 90 seconds he was on the court, with 10 in just 15 minutes. Also, welcome back to Eddie Rios - his 17 with 4 assists and no misses from downtown may be the best stat line of his career.

NC State - a warm welcome to the 2006-2007 versions of Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner, who were MIA for much of last year. The duo combined for 36 and 11, and used 25 of State's 58 possessions.

North Carolina - a warm welcome to Edler Zelvis, the freshmen post duo with the unenviable task of filling in for an injured Hansbrough. Ed Davis had an even more prolific boards day than McGowan, gathering 14 in just 22 minutes. Tyler Zeller focused more on the offense, putting up 18 and getting to the line 10 times.

Virginia - a warm welcome to Sylvan Landesberg, who helped UVA stave off those Kentucky Wildcat upsetters from VMI. He took over for some guy named Singletary who's now on the Suns (and who was a wee bit popular with Cavs fans) and all he did was go for 28, 8, and 8 in 36 minutes in his first start.

Virginia Tech - a warm welcome to Victor Davila, who had 8 and 6 in just 18 minutes in VT's second game against Mt. St. Mary's. Yes, it's early, but it looks like he'll be the only freshman getting real playing time.

Wake Forest - a warm welcome to Al-Farouq Aminu. The much ballyhooed recruit showed there was plenty of bally to be hooed. He hit 9 of 10 from 2, and tossed in 10 boards and three blocks for good measure. Hat tip to Tony Woods as well, with 12 points in 22 minutes on 6 of 7 from the floor.

As for the Devils, a warm welcome to all three frosh, and a write-up on URI tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Duke 97, Georgia Southern 54

The Devils did a nice job yesterday illustrating that offense is about more than just making shots. Duke did not make shots exceptionally well against Georgia Southern - not from the field, and especially not from the line. Certainly it wasn't the kind of shooting performance one normally associates with a 97 point outburst in 77 possessions. The reason the offense was so efficient is because Duke completely controlled the offensive glass - 23 of the 43 available rebounds (that is, Duke had more offensive rebounds than the Eagles had defensive rebounds), including several boards off of missed free throws - and because, until the last 5-10 minutes of the game, Duke simply didn't turn the ball over - only 11 on the game as a whole, and I think with 10 to play in the game that number was 6. This gave the Devils many more opportunities than their opponents (only 2 more FGAs, plus a huge edge in FTAs), and allowed Duke to turn a pedestrian shooting night into an excellent offensive showing.

On the individual level, Singler once again had a fantastic game. He led the team in scoring, added in 8 boards, a couple of assists, etc. He looks ready to carry a healthy share of the offensive responsibility for the team this season. From the look of the box score, pretty much everyone played well. Williams turned the ball over a lot, but also managed to grab 11 boards in about 13 minutes. Scheyer's shot wasn't falling, but he dished out 7 assists against just 1 turnover. McClure, Plumlee, Zoubek, and Thomas were all very active on the offensive glass. All in all, it was a good night for Duke. At the very least, it calmed down the people who are inclined to start wringing their hands after beating Presbyterian by "only" 31.

Below are the two HD boxes from the 2ksports pod games. I just noticed that I didn't sort the GS one by +/- before uploading it, so it's slightly disorganized. My apologies. I'm also going to create a post to collect all of these boxes and sticky it over to the links on the right side of the page. As for the other stats, I'm in the process of updating my sheets to get everything ready for the season, and will hopefully update those by early next week. They're likely to be posted via embedded spreadsheets as well.


Georgia Southern:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Duke 80, Presbyterian 49

The Blue Devils and the Blue Hose played the second official game of the 2008-2009 season, and while neither team played particularly sharp, Duke came away with a comfortable 31-point win keyed mostly by their defense. Duke forced 28 turnovers (17 of which came via the steal), controlled the defensive glass, and harassed Presbyterian into a very poor shooting night. A few general comments from reviewing the box score and following the game cast (I'll have HD boxes for this game and the Georgia Southern game up tonight or tomorrow).

First, Duke started exceptionally slowly in each half, although each slow start was simply a result of shots not falling, rather than turnovers. Having not seen the game, I can't tell whether it was good shots not falling, poor shots, or a little of both. Second, despite the fact that the poor starts were not influenced by turnovers, Duke turned the ball over too much. Of particular note was the lineup that finished the game - Paulus, Williams, Pocius, Czyz, and Plumlee - which committed 6 turnovers in just 11 possessions for a sloppy, sloppy finish. Even without their help, though, the Devils were too generous - 15 turnovers in the first 68 possessions. Third, the defense was excellent. Better than one of every three Blue Hose possessions turned into a coughup, and Duke got several points in transition as a result. Fourth, Duke focused heavily on scoring from 2. The Devils took only 11 threes, which (without looking) strikes me as fewer attempts than in any game last season. My gut tells me this was just a product of a) lots of fast breaks and b) a very small opponent, but it's nice to see the team focusing inside-out, rather than the other way around.

Tonight, the Devils hop right back on the horse to take on Georgia Southern, which upset Houston yesterday in a very tight affair. The Eagles were led by senior Trumaine Pearson's double-double - a great start to a senior year for a guy who played less than 10 minutes a game last season. Lead guard Willie Powers also chipped in with 14. Georgia Southern won the game down low - Houston was held to 13 for 37 from 2 and got controlled on the glass, allowing the Eagles to rebound almost 50% of their misses. Of course, the Cougars didn't help themselves by shooting just 59.3% from the line, either.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Monday 11/10 - Season Tip-Off

The 2008-2009 college basketball season starts on Monday, and both opening games are played in Cameron Indoor. The season officially begins with a game between Georgia Southern and Houston, but that's merely a preview to the main event (well, to the extent a game between one of the top-10 teams in the country and one of the (likely) bottom-10 teams in the country can be called a main event).

Presbyterian, if it's anything like last year's team, is perimeter-oriented to the extreme. The team is super small - second-shortest in the country last season by Pomeroy's effective height measure, averaging just 6'2.8" across all five positions. As is expected with such a small team, they struggled in every area where height is helpful - no offensive rebounding, terrible both at blocking shots and getting shots blocked, woefully bad field goal defense, etc. To compensate for their lack of height, the players just bomb away from the outside - 7 different players last season took at least 2 3-point attempts per game, and the team on the whole took more than half its shots from beyond the arc.

Despite all their issues, last year's squad often hung tough in games. They played Clemson, Wake, NCSU, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Auburn, and Mississippi, and only lost those games by an average of 12 points per game, so they rarely got resoundingly whipped by much better teams. Still, it's a squad that went 2-25 against D-I opponents, so this should not be a heavy test for Duke.

Actually, no one should be surprised if this looks a lot like the Lenoir-Rhyne game. Duke will likely have a lot of success on layups, dunks, and points in the paint, as the Devils' size at all positions will exceed Presbyterian's by several inches. Zoubek especially is likely to have 5-6 inches on the guy guarding him. The team ought to dominate the glass on both ends, and should win comfortably even if the three point shot isn't falling. Presbyterian also had a bad propensity to turn the ball over last season, which ought to feed into Duke's pressure defense and great easy scores for the Devils in transition.

Because it's the first game of the season, people will naturally look to tomorrow as a measuring stick for Duke in some way. If it's a tight game at halftime, or a final margin of victory under 20, people may wonder if this team may be over-hyped. If we win by 50, people may start thinking about tickets to, um, wherever the Final Four is this year (why do I not know this off the top of my head?). It's important to remember that this is just one game. For those lucky enough to watch it (my Comcast does not carry ESPNU, and surprisingly enough, berating the nice phone representatives is not the best way to get them to add it on short notice), pay more attention to how Duke plays rather than the final score. Is the defensive intensity there? Is the offensive movement active? Are passes crisp? Are guys communicating with each other on and off the ball? Are people getting good looks at the hoop, regardless of whether the shot ultimately goes in?

Tomorrow is simply the beginning of another season with the Devils. It's a chance for us as fans to get to know new players, get to see growth in the ones we have become familiar with, get to be frustrated by some bone-headed plays, get to be wowed by some jaw-dropping ones, etc. We've got 5 (hopefully 6) months ahead with this squad, and we're lucky enough to have this team around from as early in the season as possible.

ACC Team Stats

ACC Player Stats

Duke Shot Selection

Duke Team Stats By Player

Duke Lineup Stats

Duke Player Stats

Duke Team Stats

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Duke 95, Lenoir-Rhyne 42

Duke battled Lenoir-Rhyne in the wake of Election Day, and the team (and the fans) showed some of the effects of possibly staying up late to track whether NC would turn Duke blue (it did!). For the players, it manifested itself most in a few too many turnovers and poor jump shooting - only 4-17 from 3, and not any better on two-point jumpers. However, the team dominated the inside game, and hit enough layups and dunks to more than overcome the poor outside shooting. Duke ended up hitting almost 75% from 2, helped themselves on the offensive glass, forced several turnovers and got several points in transition, and completely shut down the opponent's offense. Lenoir-Rhyne shot just 27.9% for the game and missed all but 6 of their 34 second half attempts.

Singler, Smith, and Zoubek all had very nice games. Brian apparently looked very confident against the Bears and moved ably in the post, and Singler simply played a better game than anyone else. As shown in the HD Box (below), he combined an extremely high offensive rating with pretty high usage, which is superb. One comment on the box this week - the box score was a little wonky in how it set out the substitutions, so I'm pretty sure the possessions played are wrong for several people - most notably Paulus and Smith. So essentially, what's below is not accurate in all respects, but is still a fair estimation of each player's performance and contribution.

Two final notes - Lenoir-Rhyne featured an ACC alum (of sorts) on its roster, former Clemson G/F Julius Powell. He played 11 minutes, took 10 shots, scored 5 points, and turned it over twice. Clemson will not miss him, but we here wish him well in all his future endeavors. Second, there are going to be a few empty posts that come through in the next couple of days as I set up some permanent sidebar links. I think, for the most part, you can pay them no attention.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

New Offensive Numbers

As I mentioned before, there are some new offensive stats in the HD Box Score – Individual Offensive Rating, Floor Percentage, and Usage. These three stats come from three additional statistical measures – Total Individual Possessions, Individual Scoring Possessions, and Individual Points Produced. The focus of these is to try to figure out just how to break down individual value in what is truly a team game. Take the following common scenarios – a player gets a layup off of an assist; a player gets an offensive rebound, and later in the possession the team scores. In the traditional box score, the points go exclusively to the player who ultimately scores the basket. But he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to score without the assist or the offensive rebound. Those plays are, in a very real way, responsible for the points scored; that is, they help produce the points. The question is how much weight to give the assist, offensive rebound, etc., and how much to penalize the missed shot, turnover, etc. Thankfully, Dean Oliver is a statistical genius, and has come up with a series of equations that factor all aspects of offensive performance (at least those that can be recorded in a box score – so the non-assist, non-turnover pre-shot ball movement is, for lack of a better term, ignored) to produce the 6 stats mentioned above. I won’t reprint the formulas here, but if you’re interested, I will again plug Basketball on Paper – it’s really a remarkable book.

I will, however, discuss the formulas broadly. The starting point is individual possessions, which is a measure of how many possessions and individual is responsible for using over the course of a game. Scoring a basket alone, or missing a shot, does not make an individual wholly responsible for that possession – the made hoop may come off of an assist or offensive rebound, and the missed shot may be the second shot in a possession or may result in an offensive rebound. Only turnovers are fully weighted against a player (on the theory that nothing in a box score can cause a turnover except one player turning the ball over – obviously in practice, two players can contribute to a turnover, but the scorekeeper only records it against one person, so there’s no way to capture the contribution of the unrecorded action. This is one of those things that almost certainly evens itself out over the course of a season, and even if it doesn’t, there’s not a whole lot that can be done about it). As for all other outcomes, there are “parts” – on the good side of the ledger, there is a made field goal part, an assist part, a made free throw part, and an offensive rebound part; on the bad side, a missed field goal part, a missed free throw part, and a turnover part (which, as noted above, is simply the number of turnovers committed by the player). The sum total of these parts is the number of possessions an individual uses. The sum total of the parts on the good side of the ledger represents the Scoring Possessions – the number of possessions used by the individual that resulted in points for the team. Floor Percentage is based squarely on these two numbers, and measures how frequently an individual’s possessions used result in points (so scoring possessions divided by possessions used).

Offensive rating uses Points Produced, rather than Scoring Possessions, to determine a player’s offensive contribution to the team (the number for Offensive Rating is derived by dividing Points Produced by Possessions, and multiplying by 100). Points Produced is computed similarly to Scoring Possessions, in that it’s made up of four “parts” – the made field goal part, assist part, made free throw part, and offensive rebound part. The parts are computed slightly differently for Points Produced to try to capture the point value, rather than just the number of scores, regardless of the points. As a very simple example, if Scheyer and Thomas are both 1-1 from the field (with equal playing time and no other appearance in the box score) but Scheyer’s make was a 3 and Thomas’ a 2, their scoring possessions and floor percentage will be identical, but Scheyer’s points produced and offensive rating will be higher.

The floor percentage and offensive rating numbers tell us a lot about a player’s contribution to the offense, but are still incomplete. That’s because they don’t tell us how much or how little the player was involved in the game. For example, the player with the best Offensive Rating and Floor Percentage from the VUU exhibition was Steve Johnson. He got those numbers by hitting his only 2 shots, getting an offensive rebound, and not committing a turnover. But relying solely on those numbers to tell us his value to the game overstates his contribution. That’s because he not only played limited minutes, but was lightly used during those minutes. This is where Usage rate figures in. It’s derived by dividing individual possessions used by the total team possessions while that player was on the floor. In Johnson’s case, he used only about 1.4 possessions (I realize he made 2 shots, but again, because of assists, offensive rebounds, etc., a made shot is not worth a full possession) of the 11 offensive possessions he played, for a usage rate of 12.74 percent. Even distribution of possessions would put every player at 20% (100% - the team total – divided by 5 – the number of players on the court at all times). The general band is between about 18.5 and 21.5. Anything lower is a more lightly used player, with anything under 15 being very lightly used (think David McClure). Anything higher is a heavily relied upon player, with anything over 25 being the centerpiece of a team’s offense (think Redick).

These numbers will appear in the HD box this year (which will now be embedded via excel), and I’ll track them over the course of the season as well.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Welcome to the 2008-2009 Season

Hi all! It's been 7 months since last I checked in, taking the customary summer holiday, ignoring the recruiting hype (largely), and focusing on baseball. But before I knew it, the Angels were getting knocked out of the playoffs, my Blue Ribbon Yearbook was showing up in the mailbox, and college basketball season was once again upon us. So, it's time to dust off the old, um, spreadsheets and get back in the game.

A few changes for this year. First, I'm going to attempt to be more present this season than last (given my often extended absences, that shouldn't be too tough. Second, in an effort to cover for the inevitable times when work (and other obligations) gets the better of me, I've asked a second author to come on board as a contributor. Mark, a roommate from college and a similarly devoted fan, will be chipping in with additional commentary this season. Third, we're trying to transition all the stats to a web-based interface, which will produce all the tempo-free stats you've come to know and love, plus lineup based stats, HD box scores, etc. Fourth, I spent some quality time this summer with Dean Oliver's Basketball on Paper. It's really a seminal read for anyone interested in more in depth statistical analysis of the game. I pulled his formulas for offensive rating and things like usage and floor percentage (to be explained), and will be featuring those statistics as well this season.

Now, what brought me back (aside from the general start of the season) is that Duke's season of competitive basketball began yesterday, with an exhibition game against Virginia Union. As is the case with most exhibition games, it was more of a chance to learn about Duke than anything else - who has grown over the off-season, how will the freshmen be integrated, what style of play will the team feature, etc. Right off the bat, it offered some intrigue. The game featured a starting lineup that may have surprised some - Smith over Paulus, Plumlee in the post. The team got off to a bit of a slow start offensively - missing 9 of the first 10 threes, 7 turnovers in the first 24 possessions, not hitting the point-per-possession mark until very late in the first half. But once the offense clicked, it clicked for good - after scoring just 31 points in the first 32 possessions, the Devils poured in 83 in the last 48, finishing with an offensive rating of 142.50 (the kind of numbers one would expect against an exhibition opponent). The defense, on the other hand, was solid throughout. Duke harassed Virginia Union into an atrocious shooting day and forced 24 turnovers. There was some concern with the defensive rebounding, although a lot of VUU's offensive boards came after Duke blocks (there were 10), which are easier opportunities for the offense to corral.

On the whole, Coach K got to see a lot of different looks - no one played more the 20 minutes and 11 guys saw at least 12 minutes of playing time (only Czyz and Johnson did not). The team distributed the offensive load as well - six scored in double figures (plus 2 more with 8). Here's the HD Box:

In the next couple of weeks, I'll go over what the new ratings mean. For now, welcome back one and all.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Year of the Defense

In what is now its third annual incarnation - a look at the teams remaining in the Sweet 16. For what it's worth, my titling of these year's has been, well, less than successful in terms of predicting a final four. The first year was offense heavy in the Sweet 16, and none of the 7 best offensive teams in the Sweet 16 made the final 4. Last year was one of balance - and that prediction held better. UCLA was the only Final Four team not in the top 20 in both offense and defense. This year, the remaining teams are collectively stronger on the defensive side of the ball. The top 6 defensive teams in the country are all alive and well, compared to only 5 of the top 10 on the offensive side of the ball. The 5 that didn't make the Sweet 16 all had poor defenses - no one ranked higher than 56th, and Oregon's was worst at 120th. Three teams are in the top 10 in both categories, and two of those - UCLA and Memphis - have better defenses than offenses. If this trend holds, it gives cause for concern to those teams that are more heavily dependent on their offenses - UNC (#2 offense, #29 defense), Texas (#3 offense, #32 defense), and Tennessee (#11 offense, #22 defense). Here are the lists.

1) Kansas - 126.7
2) UNC - 126.5
3) Texas - 123.0
6) UCLA - 119.3
10) Memphis - 118.4
11) Tennessee - 118.3
14) Washington State - 118.0
15) Xavier - 117.9
18) Michigan State - 117.5
21) Stanford - 116.8
25) West Virginia - 116.3
27) Wisconsin - 116.0
31) Davidson - 115.1
35) Louisville - 114.7
60) Villanova - 110.4
62) Western Kentucky - 110.3

1) Wisconsin - 81.1
2) UCLA - 82.8
3) Memphis - 83.9
4) Kansas - 84.1
5) Louisville - 84.2
6) Washington State - 86.7
9) Stanford - 87.3
19) Michigan State - 89.3
22) Tennessee - 89.8
23) West Virginia - 89.9
26) Xavier - 90.6
29) UNC - 90.8
32) Texas - 91.5
36) Villanova - 92.0
40) Davidson - 92.3
68) Western Kentucky - 94.5

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.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

West Virginia Preview

Let's take a closer look at the Mountaineers, this afternoon's opponent. After Thursday's win, West Virginia moved up to #19 in the Pomeroy Ratings. Their adjusted offense and defense are about equal relative to other schools - the former is 23rd in the country, the latter 24th. West Virginia played a very light non-conference schedule. They lost to their two toughest opponents (Tennessee, by only 2, and Oklahoma by 6), and their toughest foe after that was either Winthrop or New Mexico State. In conference play, they got to 11-7 largely by avoiding bad losses - their two best wins in conference play were over Marquette and Pittsburgh, both at home. The remaining nine victories were over Syracuse, St. John's (twice), Seton Hall, Rutgers, Providence (twice), South Florida, and DePaul. Thus, against top competition, the Mountaineers generally lost - 2-7 against the top 50 in the regular season.

As mentioned on Wednesday, the single thing the Mountaineers do best is avoid turnovers - 6th in the nation in terms of holding on to the ball. That's helped propel a team with shooting and rebounding that are both just slightly above average to the top 10% of the offensive rankings. Each and every West Virginia player is stingy with the basketball - Nichols, Ruoff, Alexander, and Butler are all in the top 500 in the country for their low turnover rates. When it comes to putting the ball in the basket, all four mentioned above are equally capable (and almost equally responsible). Ruoff and Nichols are the outside specialists, Butler and Alexander love working inside, and Alexander gets to the line a lot (where he's an 81.3% free throw shooter). Ruoff's easily the best shooter on the team, and one of the best in the country - his 61.0% efg ranks 50th.

Aside from Jamie Smalligan, whose minutes are limited, West Virginia lacks a big body in the middle. But they do have 5 guys who run between 6'6" and 6'8", at least three of which are on the court at any given time. This is not a small team, particularly on the wings, where they will have a size advantage over Duke.

West Virginia has discarded much of Beilein ball, but it's likely that these players remember its principles. After seeing how well the spread and backcuts by Belmont worked, look for West Virginia to reach back to last year, at least some, and spread guys around the perimeter to test Duke's defense. For Duke, it would be ideal for them to adopt an attack mentality in this game, and try to get the ball going toward the basket via the drive or the pass. West Virginia is very foul prone, and although Wellington Smith and Joe Alexander are good shotblockers, they tend to pick up early fouls. The Mountaineers are not particularly adept at defending the three, so if Duke can get the perimeter guys looking to help on drivers and cutters, it could open up better opportunities from the outside. And Duke has to be careful not to give the ball away. Over the past month, Duke's turnover percentage has been a problem, and they've been committing some of the same unforced errors that plagued them last season. West Virginia is not particularly aggressive about trying to take the ball away, so Duke can't help them out by giving it up for free.

Of course, foul trouble and turnovers won't matter as much if Duke can't hit shots. Keep an eye on Duke's efg% throughout the game. If it's 50% or better, smile - Duke is 23-1 this year with an efg of 50% or more (Miami is responsible for the 1). If it's under 50%, be concerned. When Duke isn't hitting the equivalent of half their shots (remember, you only need to hit 1/3 of your threes for a 50% efg), they're just 5-4, and the wins are over Princeton, Cornell, Temple, Georgia Tech, and Belmont. Reaching 50% has been less certain in recent weeks - the team has failed to hit that mark in 5 of the last ten games, after being at least that efficient in 19 of the first 23. So Devils, go out there and hit your shots today, and let's head back to the Sweet 16 - it wasn't the same last year without you!

Around the ACC

Carolina cruised, to no one's surprise. It was their most efficient offensive performance of the year, and they excelled in all categories - 65.5% efg, 12% turnover rate, and 58.1% on the offensive glass (the Heels got 18 of their 31 misses). That earned the regulars a healthy rest - Wood, Moody, Wooten, Tanner, and Campbell played the last 5 minutes of the game, and only Hansbrough, Green, and Ellington played more than 20 minutes. Of ever so slight concern, Mt. St. Mary's scored almost a point per possession. But that number was helped by 5 minutes against the scrubs - before the walk-ons came in, UNC's D Rating was around 90 - still high for an opponent like Mt. St. Mary's, but less cause for concern.

Jack McClinton pulled the Canes on his back and carried them by St. Mary's in the second half, putting up 30 of his 38 points in the last 20 minutes. He was 12-19 from the floor, including 3-6 from 3, and hit all 11 of his free throws. As a reward, the Canes earn a second round matchup with Texas on Sunday, who rather easily disposed of Austin Peay.

And then there was Clemson. With a few minutes left in the first half, it was 36-18, and I was thinking about putting on a movie. Then Nova cut it to 12 by halftime. And then the Tigers went ice, ice cold. 7 of 28 in the second half, including just 2 of 16 from behind the arc. Conversely, 'Nova couldn't miss - 11 of 17, including all four 3-pointers, and a very impressive 22 of 27 from the line. All in all, it ended up being a 24 point turnaround in under 24 minutes, and the Tigers suddenly found themselves heading home. Another frustrating come-from-ahead loss for the 2008 Tigers to put on their mantle next to the two Tar Heel games, and a trendy final four pick bowed out in the first round.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Great Escape

(Disclaimer: I haven't watched the game. I was at the first round games in Anaheim today, and for some reason my DVR decided not to tape it. I was having a heart attack constantly refreshing my blackberry for the score, and ended up completely missing about 7 minutes of BYU-Texas A&M, even though I never left my seat.)

The box score shows two teams that played almost equal games. Shooting, free throws, turnovers, even rebounds, all were very close. Which is what you expect in the NCAA tournament, and what you expect in a 1-point game. It is not, however, what you expect in a 2/15 matchup. Gerald Henderson's coast-to-coast layup and DeMarcus Nelson's steal mean that this game will be a footnote, rather than Exhibit A. An almost, a what-might-have-been. It would have been the biggest first-round upset in NCAA history, not because it was the biggest talent disparity between teams, but because of Duke's pedigree. Instead, it's another Georgetown 50, Princeton 49 - remembered, but not legend.

So how did the Devils find themselves in this situation? First, Belmont had an excellent game plan - spread the floor, take advantage of Duke's overplays, and go 1-on-1 wherever there's a mismatch. It sounds a lot like the gameplan Georgetown ran against us in their win at the MCI Center two years ago, and it's a style of offense that Duke has always been and will always be vulnerable to. Kudos to the Bruins for executing it so well, and to Coach Byrd for drawing it up. Second, Duke was 6-21 from 3. This team needs the outside to open up the inside, because it can't really do it vice versa. When the outside shots aren't falling, the offense will always be less than optimal. And third, Duke missed some opportunities. They had 13 offensive rebounds, but only 9 second chance points. They had 11 steals, but only 14 points of turnovers and 10 fast break points. Turnovers and offensive rebounds are the best chances for easy points, but the Devils couldn't get them easily tonight. Nonetheless, they did just enough (and I mean just enough) to scrape out a win. West Virginia awaits - more on that matchup tomorrow.

Around the ACC

The only other ACC team in action tonight was the Maryland Terrapins, who bowed out of the NIT in a loss at Syracuse. While it's disappointing to see the Terps leave the NIT so quickly, Syracuse was probably a better team no matter where the game was played, and certainly better in the Carrier Dome. Gist and Osby combined for 44 and 18 on excellent shooting, but the Terps couldn't get outside shots to fall and couldn't get stops at all. The ACC currently stands at 4-2 in all postseason play, with Miami, Clemson, and UNC lacing them up for the first time tomorrow.

East ACC Pod Preview

Speaking of UNC, here's the preview for their pod, which on Saturday could present the first in a series of difficult matchups for the Tar Heels on the road to San Antonio.

2nd Round Sweet 16
97.76% 70.84%
63.79% 20.97%
Arkansas 36.21% 8.06%
Mt. St. Marys 2.24% 0.13%

Indiana as an 8 seed is one of the most unusual decisions the committee has made in a while - it clearly has bought into the notion that the Hoosier players are simply not interested in playing for Dan Dakich. The Hoosiers have both the stats and the record to merit a 5 or 6 seed, not to mention the talent. Eric Gordon is a prime-time player as a freshman guard, and DJ White is as strong and talented of a low post player as UNC will have seen all year. The offense revolves around this inside-outside combo, and particularly thrives on getting both players to the line - nearly 500 attempts between the two of them. If the team that played for Kelvin Sampson shows up, they should have no trouble with Arkansas, and should give the Heels a run for their money. But if the team that lost 3 of its last 4 a) by 29 to Michigan State; b) to Penn State; and c) to Minnesota shows up, they'll be headed home hat in hand before the weekend. I'd like to think DJ White has too much pride to let that happen, but who knows. As for Arkansas, the Razorbacks have been a little bit of an afterthought in this matchup, but they're a mighty talented team themselves. Patrick Beverly and Sonny Weems are solid offensive threats, and Beverly is a tremendous rebounder for a 6'1" guard. Arkansas has three big bodies that love banging the offensive boards for second chance points - Darian Townes, Charles Thomas, and Steven Hill. And those same big bodies have made it very tough on opponents to score inside - Arkansas is 13th nationally in block rate. But the Razorback offense is less than stellar and they really shoot themselves in the foot by turning it over a ton. Still, with 4 guys 6'10" or taller, Arkansas has the height to make life miserable for DJ White and Tyler Hansbrough, if they can advance.

UNC starts off the weekend with Mt. St. Mary's, winner of the play-in game. It's a team playing for a fallen fellow athlete - a track star at the school died just before the conference championship. Unfortunately for Mt. St. Mary's, this is not a matchup they can plausibly win. UNC is one of the best two rebounding teams in the country (along with UCLA) - the Mountaineers are short, and one of the worst rebounding teams in the tourney. UNC loves putting its guys (Hansbrough especially) on the line - the Mountaineers struggle to limit opponents' free throw attempts. UNC is more vulnerable to being beat from the perimeter than from inside - the Mountaineers are not a good outside shooting team. But regardless of what happens tomorrow, they picked up an emotional win on Tuesday and have an NCAA Tournament victory in 2008, which is more than 309 other teams in college basketball can say.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

West ACC Pod Preview

The West region is where our own Duke Blue Devils reside. Their pod includes two high quality opponents in the 7/10 game and a 24-game winner in Belmont. But first, the odds of reaching the Sweet 16:

2nd Round Sweet 16
97.42% 67.58%
West Virginia 50.00% 16.14%
Arizona 50.00% 16.14%
Belmont 2.58% 0.15%

You'll notice that West Virginia and Arizona are essentially equal (I believe West Virgina has an ever so slight advantage that goes out somewhere past the three decimals Pomeroy puts up on his site). However, the truth of their equality depends on how much you trust Pomeroy's SOS adjustment - in raw terms, West Virginia's slightly better on offense and a whole lot better on defense. The Mountaineers are no longer the bombs-away boys of the Beilien era, although they maintain at least one of the same tendencies - they never turn the ball over. In fact, that's really the hallmark of the offense - West Virginia is a decidedly ordinary in terms of shooting, rebounding, and getting to the line. Joe Alexander primarily carries the offense, but Darris Nichols, Alex Ruoff, and Da'Sean Butler are all valuable contributors. For Arizona, its the B&B show - Bayless and Budinger are the only reliable and consistent offensive threats. Bayless is really something - I've seen him play in person, and he merits every bit of the lottery talk surrounding him. But the 'Cats supporting cast is pretty poor overall, and there's a good possibility that the team simply never bought into the Kevin O'Neill era. That's especially true on defense, where Arizona doesn't rebound well, doesn't force turnovers, and doesn't really prevent the ball from going in the basket. Arizona probably has the two best players in this game (and maybe three of the best four, if you count Jordan Hill), but they don't have the best team.

The Belmont Bruins will try to pull a Hampton-esque upset over the second-seeded Devils. About the only thing Belmont does well is shoot the ball, and their effective field goal percentage is boosted because they shoot 47.6% of their shots from beyond the arc - 7th in the nation. 5 players attempted over 100 threes, including Andy Wicke, who took 200, and Keaton Belcher, who hit triple digits in just 13 minutes/game. The Bruins are a deep team, with 10 players averaging double digit minutes. Jordan Hare, the team's only senior, is also the unequivocal leader - he takes the most shots, and is deadly at the line. On defense, though, Belmont is not very good. They're relatively easy to score on, they don't force turnovers, and they are just terrible on the glass. They're a dangerous first round opponent, because they could potentially get hot from outside and put up a big number on the scoreboard. But Duke is equally capable of putting up a big number, and will almost certainly have an easier time doing so against the Belmont defense than vice versa.

Around the ACC

Virginia Tech carried forward their quality play, handling a decent Morgan State team a 32-point defeat. The Hokies opened the second half by making their first 15 field goals, and shot 19 of 23 overall in the second frame. AD Vassallo had a terrific shooting game, and the Hokies got to go very deep into the bench and rest up their players. Next up is UAB, also at the Cassell.

South ACC Pod Preview

The conference's lone representative in the South region is 7th-seeded Miami. Despite being the higher seed, Miami is an ever-so-slight statistical underdog to St. Mary's (and both have lower than 1 in 5 odds against Texas).

2nd Round Sweet 16
97.53% 79.08%
49.75% 10.25%
St. Mary's 50.25% 10.43%
Austin Peay 2.47% 0.24%

Texas showed this season that the recruiting class in addition to that Durant guy last year had some seriously good players. You've all certainly heard about DJ Augustin, but just as integral to the team's success has been the development of Damion James. As a freshman, he showed the ability to be an inside presence on both ends of the court, but he gave little contribution away from the basket. This year he's taken on much more of the scoring load and showed reliable touch from outside - 44.1% from 3 on about 2 attempts per game. He and Connor Atchley are very, very tricky matchups because both can take their defender outside, as well as beat you down low. As a team, Texas has the second most efficient offense in the country largely by never turning it over and by relentlessly attacking the offensive glass (James in particular). Austin Peay also hangs on to the ball remarkably well, but unlike Texas, they're quite proficient in forcing TOs as well. The Governors lead the entire nation in steal percentage. Unfortunately, that's the only thing they do well on defense - they play the absolute worst fg% defense of any team in the tournament. On offense, Austin Peay shares the scoring load pretty well - all 5 starters score between 12-16 points per game. Todd Babington, who's hit 90 threes on the year, is the most likely to keep this interesting.

In the 7/10 matchup, a lot of people (and numbers, see above) see St. Mary's as the favorite and better team. However, they come into the NCAAs losing 3 of 5, and the offense isn't what it was earlier in the year. But the loss to Gonzaga notwithstanding, the defense is still very good. St. Mary's is one of the toughest teams in the nation to score against. Opponents can't score inside (44.2% from 2) or outside (30.3% from 3). Diamon Simpson and Omar Sahman do excellent work protecting the rim. Dwayne Collins will likely not have a career high in this one. On offense, the Gaels rely heavily on Patty Mills outside, and Simpson inside. By the way, just 2 seniors in the St. Mary's rotation - they'll be very good again next year. As for Miami, people have pointed out that they were outscored by conference opponents. Which is true. By 18 points, to be precise. Of course, as I pointed out before, Miami played the single toughest schedule in conference, traveling to almost all the difficult home venues and hosting almost all the best road warriors. Plus, Miami finished conference play on a 6-2 push (7-3 if you count the ACCT) that included two road wins and a win over Duke. Miami will be looking first and foremost (and second and next-most) to Jack McClinton to carry the offense. St. Mary's is a tough draw for the Canes, because their primary point of struggle is putting the ball in the basket - no one on the team shoots particularly well, and only a low turnover rate and an ability to get to and convert from the line made their offense even average. They scored just 49 points against Virginia Tech on Friday, and could struggle to crack 60 against St. Mary's.

Around the ACC - NIT Action

First the good - Maryland won @ Minnesota thanks to their defense. The Terps shot under 40% and turned the ball over a ton but still managed to pick up the win. Of course, the Gophers shot much, much worse - 13 of 37 from 2, and 8 for 30 from 3. Ugh. Next up for the Terps - a trip the 'Cuse.

And the bad - FSU lost in overtime to Akron. Another ugly game - it was tied at 51! going into the extra frame. Uche Echefu and Jason Rich recorded double doubles, although Echefu's (20 points, 10 rebounds) was much more helpful than Rich's (10 rebounds, 10 turnovers). In a 225 minute game (45 minutes x 5 players), FSU got a grand total of 34 minutes and 3 points from the bench. FSU lost this one because they simple couldn't hold on the ball - Akron got give-aways once out of every 3 possessions. Ugh.

CBI Action

In the new (lesser) tournament, Virginia snuck by Richmond 66-64. Singletary led the way with 18. I really don't have much to say about this. Quite frankly, I'm very disappointed to see three underwhelming performances from the ACC. If we're going to lay claim to being the best conference in the country, we can't go throwing three dogs out there on one night again.