Several Thoughts on Duke vs. DavidsonPosted by EMann on January 3rd, 2013
Duke outlasted Davidson 67-50 in a gritty, physical contest at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte last night. It was a game that was certainly a tale of two halves as the teams were tied 29-all at halftime before Duke went on a decisive 12-0 run early in the second half to virtually put away the game. I was in attendance and here were some of my thoughts about the game:
- Davidson’s Defending of Plumlee-National Player of the Year candidate Mason Plumlee had his worst game of the season, tallying only 10 points and seven rebounds. He attempted only seven shots and turned the ball over six times. Plumlee was held to only two points in the first half, and Duke’s big man never looked comfortable with Davidson’s immediate double-team every time he got the ball near the post, which led to several poor shots and turnovers. Or, they forced him to catch the ball on the perimeter where he could do much less damage. Plumlee showed flashes of improvement in the second half by making a very difficult hook shot midway through that stopped a brief Davidson spurt, but regardless, Davidson’s defense on Plumlee was largely responsible for how close the game was early, and other teams will likely watch this game tape closely to emulate Davidson’s defense on the big man.
- Slow First Halves/Rebounding Issues for Duke-Duke has been in the habit of playing poor first halves recently (at least relative to the second halves) and last night was no exception as the two teams were knotted at the half. Duke was beaten to a lot of loose balls in the first half where Davidson had 12 second-chance points to zero for Duke. Duke was also out-rebounded by Davidson for the entire game. However, the Blue Devils played one of its best halves of the season, particularly defensively, in the opening minutes of the second half with Davidson scoring just two points by the 11:00 mark of the game.
- Duke really can score from any position (at least the starters)-Duke’s offense is ranked third in the Pomeroy ratings at the moment, and this is largely due to the fact that each player in the starting lineup is a legitimate scoring threat. All five of Duke’s starters are averaging more than 11 points per game, and this contest was an excellent example of Duke’s balanced scoring attack. With Duke’s two leading scorers — Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry — having among their worst games of the season, Duke looked for some other players able to pick up the slack. Conversely, stretch forward Ryan Kelly had one of his best games of the season, scoring 11 of his team-high 18 points in the first half, while Rasheed Sulaimon scored all eight of his points early to keep Duke in the game. In the second half, particularly when Duke went to its stall game late, Quinn Cook absolutely took over, finishing with 13 of his 15 points in the stanza, many of them on drives to the basket after Davidson tried to pressure him on the perimeter. It is a very good sign for Duke that Cook was able to handle the slowdown game at the end, and having him as a weapon in these late game scenarios will make Duke even tougher to beat.
- Duke’s Defense-Duke played one of its best games of the season defensively, surrendering only 50 points in its slowest-paced game of the season (63 possessions). The game was played more at Davidson’s preferred pace than Duke’s (Duke averages a little over 68 possessions per game, whereas Davidson averages around 66), which makes that feat a bit more impressive. Davidson only shot 30.4% from the floor and 21.1% from behind the arc, with those numbers dipping to just 27.3% and 22.2%, respectively, in the second half. Duke was helped by Davidson’s big man, Jake Cohen, getting into early foul trouble, as Cohen played only 19 minutes in which he scored 19 points. Aside from their issues with Cohen, Duke played an extremely nice game defensively, and this is a very positive sign for the team as the Devils head into ACC play.
- Duke’s Rotation-The only real nitpick for Duke (aside from its rebounding issues) has been its short rotation. Duke effectively used a seven-man rotation last night, with Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston garnering 32 of Duke’s 36 bench minutes. Thornton was very effective in his 23 minutes (aside from missing a fast-break layup), adding 10 points and his typical strong defensive effort. Any offense from Thornton is a bonus and he was very much needed to pick up some of the slack, especially with Curry struggling. However, Duke needs to develop a smidgen of depth in the post. Mason Plumlee is having a NPOY-type season, but if he struggles like he did last night against slightly better competition, Duke could be in a lot of trouble. Josh Hairston played nine ineffective minutes, Amile Jefferson only played three, Alex Murphy did not appear until garbage time, and Marshall Plumlee did not play at all. One of these players needs to develop enough to be a trusted option off the bench in case Plumlee struggles or gets in foul trouble. It has not hurt Duke yet this year, but it could down the road, and now with conference play beginning Saturday, the odds grow a little longer that one of them will get the game minutes to develop.
- Don’t Sleep on Davidson-Davidson is a much better team than its now 7-6 overall record indicates. They are the favorites to win the Southern Conference and return all five of their starters from a team that made the NCAA Tournament last season. While Duke is definitely expected to handle these types of games, it is no surprise that the game was close for a while, especially considering that games like this are often the focal point of the season for a team like Davidson. With Davidson’s crafty style of play and intelligent attack under longtime coach Bob McKillop (in addition to its superb free throw shooting, over 80% for the season), Davidson will be able to keep games close and could sneak up on a power in the NCAA Tournament, assuming that they will in fact qualify.
While it was not Duke’s best performance of the season, its defensive effort (particularly in the second half) should give them some increased confidence as the Blue Devils begin conference play at 13-0 and with the #1 ranking in the national polls.