If you listen to the post-game presser, Coach K has a lot of praise for the Albany team and deservedly so. They played pretty fearlessly and didn't fold when they could have. He also has plenty of good things to add about his own team's performance and, as he says, any coach who says he isn't happy with an NCAA Tournament win full-stop, is lying. The post-game press conference after such a win is not the time or place for a coach to get critical of his team (particularly after they have just cleared the Lehigh emotional residue from their collective soul)
This blog, however, is the perfect place for me to do just that. So, here we go...
Ryan - I think by now we're all getting a sense of just how miraculous his performance was against Miami. In that game he was 7-9 from beyond the arc, had 10 made FGs and 9 rebounds. In the 4 games since he is 2-16 from three, has 14 made FGs and has 21 rebounds. He couldn't stay in the Maryland game because he simply wasn't able to play defense against Maryland's smaller lineup and is still clearly working into game shape. Now, Duke is still obviously a better team with him in the lineup, but let's put to bed the idea that Duke ( and he) are anywhere close to the team ( and player) that they were before his injury. In the Albany game, his defense started to return to form, as he finished with 3 blocks and 2 steals, but he can't seem to find any kind of rhythm on the offensive end. That isn't aided by the fact that he insists on attacking the rim by fading away from it. Either he or Rasheed has got to be a threat from outside if Duke is to keep advancing.
3-point Shooting - On Feb 21st and 24th against VT and BC , Rasheed Sulaimon went 6-9 from 3-point range and was averaging about 4 3-pt. attempts per game on the season. Since then, in 6 games he is 2-15 from 3. Over the last 4 games he and Ryan are 4-23 from 3. Throw in Quinn Cook and that number is 9-39. Given that 31% of Duke's points come from beyond the arc, you can see how this would be potentially problematic. Against Albany Seth was 2-2 while the rest of the team was 2-9.
Defense - Though the numbers don't look too bad ( Duke held the Great Danes to 61 points 36% shooting with 9 steals) the eyeball test tells us that the problems Duke has had containing dribble penetration remain unresolved. As Albany made their late second half run, it was deja vu all over again as the Devils found themselves out of position time and again, resulting in either easy twos or fouls. The irony in this game was that, even though Duke sold out with their ball pressure to guard the 3-point line as they always do, Albany shot a scorching 9-15 from 3. If they had been able to convert a few more of their good looks from 6 feet-and-in this might have been a different game. It's too late now, but one wonders if packing the defense in a la 2010 might not have been a good decision.
Mason - 2 things. 1) Hands. My neighbors 3 doors down must be growing weary of hearing me scream " HOLD ON TO THE F*&^ING BALL !!! " It is now routine for me to do this at least 5 times a game. If rebounds-you-should-have-had-but-got-the-ball-knocked-out-of-your-hands were a stat, Mason would be leading the country. That doesn't include his turnover issues either. On the season Mason leads Duke with 91 turnovers, 19 more than Quinn Cook. 2) Defense. Mason is an average to below average defensive player. There, I said it. His athletic ability makes him a good shot blocker, but that's really it. I've been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I can't do that anymore. He is aggressive when he shouldn't be and passive when he should be attacking, i.e. he is constantly out of position.
The Good Things - These are self-evident (and I'm not telling you anything you couldn't glean from the box score), but, lest I be bashed for bashing my own team...Seth was incredible. He saved our butts. 26 points on 10-14 shooting with 6 boards is just a stellar game. His pick up of a loose ball and subsequent layup when the Duke lead had been cut to 8 may very well have saved the game. Quinn ( 11 assists, 1 TO) was instrumental in Mason's huge game ( 23 points and 8 boards on 9-11 shooting) and he may have hit the second biggest shot of the game with his shot-clock-expiring runner to put Duke up 10 late in the second half.
You must forgive me if I'm not overly sanguine. Survive and advance notwithstanding, you want to be peaking at this time of year and Duke doesn't appear to be very close to that. The same inexplicable lack of urgency and passivity that was so present in the Maryland game was not entirely expurgated in the intervening week, apparently. If any of that persists into Sunday, Duke will be making an earlier than expected exit.