Drawing Conclusions from Duke’s Columbus Massacre

Posted by mpatton on November 30th, 2011

Duke was overmatched Tuesday night. The Blue Devils “only” lost by 22, but it wasn’t that close. From the opening tip, ignoring two short runs to cut the Buckeye lead to one in the first half, Duke was dominated on both ends of the floor. Like any early loss, it’s important to keep this game in perspective. Duke is still a top-10 team. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a top-three team (despite what some polls may say). This loss doesn’t wipe out Duke’s impressive run at Maui, but it does point to some major questions the Blue Devils need to address before they can be taken seriously as a national title contender.

First and foremost, the Blue Devils have got to find an answer to athletic teams defensively. Ohio State‘s starters, who played the entire game save the last two minutes, went 32-53 (60%) from the field including 8-13 (62%) from beyond the arc. And they weren’t just lucky. Sure, there were some shots that fell because it was “that kind of night” like Aaron Craft’s banked three in the second half. The Buckeyes shot well primarily because they got open. Between exploiting mismatches, especially at the four, and textbook ball movement (think Kansas the last couple of years), Thad Matta‘s squad rarely saw a possession that didn’t end in a good shot.

Mason Plumlee was one of Duke's Bright Spots in a Dark Game at Ohio State.

Former NC State player Julius Hodge tweeted after the game that Duke had embarrassed the ACC. I totally disagree with that, but earlier he made an interesting point coming from a former player:

Watch Duke “pressure” defense fade away early after a few Buckeye buckets. happened in the 1st half already. key to shutting down their D…

A hallmark of Mike Krzyzewski‘s system is overplaying man-to-man defense predicated on deflections, locking down the perimeter, and playing people straight up. Coach K is also known for the effort his players give night in and night out. Needless to say, Hodge’s tweet does not support the latter statement. And he was right. Duke forced two turnovers its first two defensive possessions of the second half, but a couple of open threes put the Blue Devils on their backs (much like against Arizona in second half last year, at St. John’s last year, and at Georgetown two years ago). So far, the formula only applies to true out of conference road games (and Arizona playing the perfect game), but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Going back to the Ohio State game, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry were total no-shows defensively. Kelly especially couldn’t stay in front of Deshaun Thomas to save his life. To make matters worse neither player could get anything going offensively, combining for three field goals. Kelly’s game was very much a reversion to previous seasons. He lacked the confidence that made him so valuable in Maui, instead settling for bad defense and nonexistent offense. He absolutely cannot be on the floor if he’s not a factor on offense. Andre Dawkins also disappeared, only taking one shot in nearly 20 minutes of playing time.

That said, Duke’s offense wasn’t all that bad. The Blue Devils finished shooting just over 47%. Taking out the horrendous 3-15 line from downtown, Duke actually shot over 57% from the field (Ohio State would have shot 60% not counting its threes). Duke also didn’t turn the ball over excessively. The biggest question mark was on the offensive glass where Duke only managed to grab 24.2% of its misses. Individually the bright spots were Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee both of whom played well offensively for Duke. In fact, they were the only offense for much of the game. Rivers showed he’s the only Duke player who can always create his own shot by getting to the rim. Plumlee had four costly turnovers, but don’t ignore the rest of his night. He’s gotten much better since last season. Rivers has gotten much better since last week.

Duke isn’t as bad as it looked Tuesday. Ohio State isn’t as good. But the loss was certainly a reality check.

mpatton (576 Posts)

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2 responses to “Drawing Conclusions from Duke’s Columbus Massacre”

  1. JP says:

    Ah, the “Duke can’t deal with athleticism” chant starts early this year. I’m not saying Duke is a title contender but Kansas is plenty athletic, and the 2010 champs had to deal with the same criticism after their loss to georgetown and following the DG “alarmingly unathletic” comment.
    Ohio State ran ahead 11-0 and closed the 1st half 11-2. That’s a 20pt differential and Duke lost by 22. Duke played their worst game but was only -2 outside of those 2 terrible stretches. Stopping runs comes with experience so there’s no need to panic.
    The only interesting thing about Julius Hodge’s comment is that anyone listens to Julius Hodge. Yeah, he put up numbers but his squads were irrelevant and he was the only show. His conference records were 9-7,9-7,11-5,and 7-9 (as a senior!). 11-5 for Duke would be considered a disaster. For Julius, that was a major accomplishment. I guess to avoid “embarassing” themselves Duke should mirror the defensive intensity that Hodge showed when he punched Chris Paul in the groin during the ACC tourney. People don’t forget, Julius.

  2. mpatton says:

    I’m not saying “Duke” can’t. I’m saying Ryan Kelly can’t. I think Duke’s perimeter defense will get better and better as the season goes on (especially assuming the freshmen get better). The fact is Andre Dawkins is and has been a below average defender, and Seth Curry struggles to be a lockdown guy. The 2010 team was incredible defensively. Very different. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler were great, versatile on-ball defenders. This team doesn’t have those guys. I think Mason did very well defending Sullinger, but the rest of Ohio State’s starters walked all over Duke’s defense.

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