The Perfect Storm Leads to St. John’s Rout of Duke and Raises Questions About the Blue DevilsPosted by nvr1983 on January 31st, 2011
It was a game with a result that was shocking not so much for the fact that St. John’s beat Duke, but the manner in which they did so. Coming into the game on Sunday afternoon, the Red Storm had lost five of six after raising expectations with a win over Georgetown at the beginning of an unprecedented stretch of eight consecutive games against top 25 teams. That skid had threatened to put a damper on all the hype that had accompanied Steve Lavin‘s arrival in New York City and his much-ballyhooed incoming freshman class, but for one afternoon all of that was forgotten as the Red Storm put on as dominant of a performance against such a high caliber opponent as any St. John’s team has had since the days when they were still called the politically incorrect Redmen, Lou Carnesecca roamed the sidelines, and Walter Berry and Chris Mullin donned the uniform. Today, the newest generation of St. John’s players turned in a performance that certainly made Carnesecca and Berry (both in attendance today) proud.
Behind a full court press than left Duke looking sloppy and some hot shooting, the Red Storm ran away with a 93-78 victory that was not as close as the 15-point final margin indicates. In front of a sellout crowd of 19,353 at Madison Square Garden that was nearly 50-50 in terms of allegiance to Duke or St. John’s, the Red Storm played their best basketball of the season and took advantage of the Blue Devils playing their worst. Even though Mike Krzyzewski seemed to imply in his post-game press conference that this game was an isolated incident, it does raise questions about the defending champions. On one hand we can probably discount Duke’s 5-for-26 shooting from 3-point range (and 1-for-19 before a late hot streak after the game was out of reach made the final numbers more respectable) as an aberration, but there were several other aspects of the game that should not be dismissed as easily.
- Duke’s lack of athleticism: Last season Doug Gottlieb caught some heat from Coach K for calling the Blue Devils “alarmingly unathletic.” While it may not have been the politically correct thing to say, there was some truth to the statement. Outside of perhaps Mason Plumlee, none of the current Blue Devils will amaze any NBA scout with their athleticism. This doesn’t mean that Duke isn’t athletic enough to win the title (their biggest losses from last year’s championship team are Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek, who were probably the two least athletic players in last year’s starting line-up), but it does mean that this Duke team isn’t going to blow any elite team off the court with their athletes, and, in certain situations like today when their shots are not falling, they are vulnerable to inferior teams.
- Point guard problems: One of the things that I noticed early in the game was how much trouble the St. John’s trap was giving the Blue Devils. While the Red Storm have some athletic defenders, they are not the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats causing havoc all over the floor. What it basically comes down to for the Blue Devils is that, even though they have several outstanding shooting guards, they lack a true point guard, which is a dimension that they have lacked since Kyrie Irving injured his toe (more on Irving in a bit). Without Irving, they rely on a point guard by committee system which has largely been effective, but failed miserably today as the 17 turnovers they committed doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how disorganized the Blue Devils were at attacking the trap. They frequently were forced to start their offense later in the shot clock than they desire, leading to incompletely executed plays and rushed shots. None of Duke’s current guards is going to ever be a true point guard, but they need someone to essentially become Jon Scheyer, a shooting guard who sacrificed some of his scoring to become a distributor for the betterment of the team, if Duke is going to repeat this season.
- A third option: Lost in Duke’s poor shooting performance (26-62 from the field for 41.9%) is the fact that Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler had solid games offensively (at least from a statistical viewpoint) as they went a combined 17 of 36 from the field, meaning that the rest of the team was 9 of 26 from the field (or 34.6%). Obviously that isn’t going to cut it, and we don’t expect Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly to struggle often from the perimeter like they did today, but it is worth noting that only two of Duke’s scorers can create any offense for themselves. Dawkins, Curry, and Kelly all rely on someone passing the ball to them in a position where they can score, while Mason Plumlee has shown the ability to score on his own but he has been a shell of his early-season self since Irving left the lineup. All this means that if Duke isn’t hitting its outside shots then they will have to rely heavily on Smith and Singler to create for themselves, which is harder if teams can sag off of the players who tend to spot up around the 3-point line — as long as Irving is on the sideline.
- Kyrie Irving: We finally got a little bit of a hint about Kyrie Irving’s possible return from Coach K in the post-game press conference. While many of us expected February 4 to be the date when we might learn whether Kyrie Irving would be back in a Duke uniform, it turns out that the date may only signal the start of another countdown process for the media and fans. When questioned about his potential return, Coach K stated, “[The removal of the cast] triggers a new rehabilitation program, which takes a long time.” He also added, “We’re not looking for him to come back, we’re looking for him to get well.” While that might just be Coach K offering a soundbite to convince recruits and their parents that he is always looking at what is best for the player, it appears to be a poor prognostic sign for Irving putting on a Blue Devil uniform again this season. If he doesn’t return, then Duke probably falls to the bottom of the first tier or maybe even a second-tier team as far as contending for the title.