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.

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