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Duke Proves Less Terrible than UNC

I chatted with Bart last night after the game - and I have to give him credit for this headline. I think it kind of summed up the game nicely.

Well last night’s game turned out to be one for the ages - the Dark Ages. I think anyone who watched it would agree it was not a fun game to sit through. But perhaps the biggest surprise was that there were absolutely no surprises.

  • Hitting the Bricks. All season long the Devils have not been able to shoot the ball well on the road. But they rose to the challenge of the rivalry to take their bricking to a new level shooting the ball horrifically from every possible angle except behind the arc. Perhaps they should start bringing a spare rim from Cameron with them when they travel - and it would be only fair to leave it behind to make up for the kind of pounding they gave the poor Dean Dome backboard in the first half last night. An eye-gouging 9-40 from the field including TEN PERCENT from 2pt range in the first half … good grief Charlie Brown. And they were winning!
  • Don’t know how to win. UNC showed grit for much of the game but their lack of floor leadership is, well, astounding. Half of the people playing meaningful minutes won a national championship last year, but this team obviously has no idea how to win. Raycom showed an especially damning chart as the game was winding down yesterday illustrating how badly the Heels have been outscored at the end of games this season. To be outscored by double digits for the eigth time,in winning time means this should no longer surprise us.
  • Guards rule in College. If there are any fools out there who don’t agree that guard play is the most important ingredient for success in college basketball, make them watch the last 8 minutes of this game. UNC’s inexperienced backcourt not only didn’t know how to control the game, but they actively hurt their team’s chances to win with bad decisions: ill-advised passes, inability to penetrate to score, and really, really bad shot selection. The strength of Duke’s team is their backcourt (and I would personally lump Singler in that group) and it showed. Scheyer hit two very big, very tough 3’s coming down the stretch resulting in my favorite tweet of the night: “Scheyer’s juevos son grandes, no?”

I have watched a couple of UNC games this year, but not quite with the focus I did last night. What stood out most is that they seem to have no real idea what they would like to do in their half court offense. There is no clear team concept about they are trying to accomplish. Duke did play good post defense - Lance Thomas was his typical thorny self and the Devils did a great job on double teams. But there is absolutely no excuse for Davis and Thompson to get only 11 shots for the game while the back court trio takes 34. No excuse. But the thing that makes it ever-so-much worse is that they were not good shots - contested threes early in the shot clock, pull up jumpers on a break when you have numbers, etc. And I hate to keep harping on this, but the proper use of their post players falls under the rubric of  coaching responsibility in my mind. That needs to be drilled into their heads at practice and they need to be forcefully reminded of it in games. I also agreed heartily with Dan Bonner’s point last night about Larry Drew never driving with the intent to score. Drew is very quick - though beating Duke off the dribble is not saying much - but he needs to develop some mid range game or talk to Nolan Smith and Scheyer about how to develop some unorthodox floating tear-drop shots. Cause Wayne Ellington he is not.

On the Duke side there was plenty of bad mixed in with the good. BAD - Lance Thomas’ injury is hopefully not too serious; while limited offensively he is a great defender who would be missed. GOOD - Lance Thomas’ injury led to Mason Plumlee playing a lot more minutes and aquitting himself well. Six offensive boards including corraling a bad runner by Singler that Plumee turned into a jaw-dropping reverse. That play came with the score tied and is the kind of flash that leads know-it-alls like Jay Bilas to say that Plumlee is the key to a deep Duke run in the tourney. BAD - Nolan Smith goes 0-for the first half as Duke still looks confused by the strange orange circle ten feet off the ground in any building not in Durham. Helping them shoot such a bad percentage are 8 blocks by UNC (well, 6 blocks and 2 non-calls on goaltending). GOOD - After an early second half timeout Duke makes an effort to get it to Smith and he makes back to back jumpers. (see that UNC??? …good player not play good… not take shots… give ball… give ball… good player make good play… finish with ten points… mmmm..  good.) All those over-zealous blocked shots help Duke collect 23 offensive rebounds and score a boatload of second chance points.

So where do we go from here? Well UNC is near the bottom of the league standings with State and is now fighting to avoid being left out of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next year. Who’d a thunk it in November? I don’t honestly expect them to finish dead last in conference, but it’s safe to say they should be thinking about next year. At the end of the day, this team is just not very good. For Duke, a matchup with Maryland awaits and Devil fans will be holding their breath to hear the prognosis on Thomas. If the interior plays like it did last night - rebounding strong and playing good D - they will be in most any game they play. The question is: “Can Duke learn to shoot the ball better away from home?” ‘Cause last I checked, the Final Four ain’t in Durham.

UPDATE : Lance Thomas has been diagnosed with a deep bone-bruise in his right knee. He is not expected to play on Saturday against Maryland