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Duke survives another ugly game vs BC

(Apologies for the lateness of this write-up. I had a previous version that was inadvertently deleted in my rush to get ready for the Super Bowl.{Geaux Saints!} For this re-write I focused less on game summary and more on two tangential points I made in the original)

Duke versus Boston College. Is it ever a pretty game? Ever? Good Grief Charlie Brown.

I can only guess about the first nine minutes of the game since it was trumped by the foul fest that was the end of the Villanova/GT game. (more on that later) But judging from what I saw and from the listed play by play it seems the game started out exactly the kind of tempo that Skinner-led BC teams tend to thrive on - slow, plodding, physical. The only missing piece was that vaunted BC offensive efficiency we have come to expect. This BC team doesn’t seem to have any really dynamic players and the crisp flex cuts and screens we are used to seeing just were not there. But like BC team’s do, they seemed to hang around - and were in a tight game til the 6 minute mark. Duke at that point had missed a lot of 3’s but was shooting a sparkling percentage from inside the arc. The back and forth was finally interrupted by the three amigos all hitting at least one 3 before the half and Duke was suddenly up by 10.

In the second half BC closed to 4 a couple of times, but a timely 3 from Sheyer help Duke maintain a working margin despite uncharacteriscally terrible free throw shooting - including key misses in the last few minutes. Suddenly in the last 4 minutes of the game BC did have there offensive identity back - several really nice passes leading to easy baskets and a lot of missed jumpers by Duke made the game very tight. Nolan Smith made a critical play with a very tough layup that pushed the lead to six with 1:29 to play (especially after his breakaway a few minutes earlier that had turned into a BC block/fast break had been a huge momentum play) Duke then missed a couple free throws and committed some silly fouls that made the game closer than it needed to be. BC even had a last shot to tie but had to settle for a contested 3 with the shooter fading (too much in this case) to his right. It was perhaps another case of BC just not quite being as offensively aware/efficient as we are used to: they waited far too long in my opinion to get the initial shot off - so they had no shot at an offensive rebound.

Notes:

  • Dawkins continues to be a no-show in games which is disheartening to me. The staff says he isn’t practicing well - and to be honest a 17 year-old who just lost his sister would have every reason to be struggling. It just feels like the makings of another transfer (see Boateng, King etc) that I hope doesn’t happen. It was at least encouraging that through his body language and team interaction he seems to still be emotionally involved in the game. I hope he can turn it around and find a role.
  • Our inside play is regressing. Len Elmore’s point about the inside players being a bit reckless with aggressive play resulting in fouls is something I have said several times this year. It doesn’t matter that we have so much depth to throw at people if no one is a legitmate threat in the post. Our doughnut team (not the fact that we are a jumpshooting team) is the thing that makes me the most worried about the prospects of getting past the sweet 16 again this year.
  • More bad 3 point shooting on the road. Singler came crashing down from his career game last Thursday with a 4-14 effort that is more emblematic of his year. I think Bart was right about Singler: he needs to shoot less threes (Ga Tech game be damned).

Now for my two tangents:

1) Zeke has rightly criticized this Duke team for having that fatal flaw - no go-to guys who can get their own shot when they absolutely have to (oh Gerald Henderson, we miss you). We are a team that lives and dies on jumpshots. We have struggled on the road shooting the ball - and we have lost. This game actually provided a perfect microcosm:

The end of the first half we are in a tight game but Sheyer, Smith, and Singler all make jumpshots. Result: Duke has a big halftime lead.

The last four minutes of the second half  4:32 Nolan Smith missed Three Point Jumper; 4:25 Nolan Smith missed Three Point Jumper; 3:11 Kyle Singler missed Three Point Jumper; 2:36 Jon Scheyer missed Two Point Jumper; 2:01 Kyle Singler missed Three Point Jumper And suddenly, our ten point lead evaporates.

That is why the Nolan Smith layup was the play of the game. It was very clutch, he created it himself, and it wasn’t a jumpshot. The patented little floaters of his in-between game are becoming deadly. And could be the difference in Duke winning a close tournament game or not.

2) I know I’m not the first person to talk about this, but I really really REALLY wish basketball could do something about the rules governing fouls at the end of the game. The essence of basketball is that it rewards athleticism and team play, its full of momentum shifts, it’s fast moving and dynamic. So why are the last 3-4 minutes of so many games so different from that? Fouls and free throws. Games that are under one possesion don’t turn into foul-fests. But give us that dreaded 4-10 point lead and you can count on your weakest available free throw shooter being a target. Teams do it because it’s a viable strategy - extend the game, hope your opponent misses. It nearly worked for Boston College. But the Villanova/Georgetown game went more than 30 minutes past schedule (in a non-overtime game) largely because of fouls. And it was working for Villinova as well - they were down a bundle and starting fouling early; Gtown missed some free throws and Nova makes some shots and we have a ball game. Games like that are NOT fun to watch. And they can’t be fun to officiate either.

The only solution I have heard that I like is this: once they reach the double bonus teams have the option of 2 free throws or 1 free throw and then possesion of the ball . (And it would apply for only say the last 3 minutes of the game) That way teams can’t continue to just hack at the winning team hoping they will miss freebies. One shot and the ball at midcourt means the trailing team is eventually going to start DQing their team if they keep fouling indiscriminately. Fouling would likely still be a strategy - since the team that is behind would have a chance to steal the in-bounds play. But at least that is a BASKETBALL play - not a measure of free-throw percentages. Now I know some people would say “Just make your free throws and it doesn’t matter”. Well with the three point shot that is not really true. And the likelyhood is, some players are going to miss some free throws. But wouldn’t it be nice to reward the team that is winning the option of something better? Or at least the choice. It would certainly give all us arm-chair coaches something to second-guess.

I really would love to hear other people’s thoughts about this. Its something that has bothered me for a long time and would love to hear any other creative solutions people have heard. Or if you are a purist who can make a good argument (though Lord knows what that would be) I would be willing to hear that too.