Letters to Coach K – Duke Blue Devils Impressive in Champions Classic win over Michigan State

By: Jamen Blake

Duke played Michigan State in the Champions Classic Tuesday night in what was a sloppy but thrilling game played tightly down to the last minute.  Duke walked away with an 88-81 victory led by their lone senior Grayson Allen. Allen put up a career-high 37 points on 7-11 shooting from three.  Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter Jr. put up double-doubles to help Duke pull away in the final minutes.

Here are some thoughts and observations on Tuesday’s marquee matchup.

Duke takes an eye for an eye

Marvin Bagley III did his best impression of Villanova’s Allan Ray on Tuesday with a scary poke to the eye from fellow teammate Javin DeLaurier.  Ten minutes into the game Marvin the Monster went down and didn’t get back up.  Flashbacks to Allan Ray’s eye literally getting poked out of the socket prompted the Duke staff onto the floor attempting to block the camera’s from view of a potentially gruesome injury.  The staff built a strong resume to become the next Gatorade banner men waving Gatorade’s logo-ridden towels in front of every camera in sight.  Their courageous efforts proved fruitless as the towels weren’t very big.

This injury led me to investigate previous eye injuries in college basketball.  One common denominator: Gatorade.  Notice the bottom right corner in the Allan Ray injury photo….Gatorade.  

Allan Ray

Gatorade was much less subtle in the Bagley injury.

Gatorade duke towel

Is Gatorade becoming bolder in capitalizing on eye injuries?  The answer is yes.  Is Gatorade behind the eye injuries?  We may never know for sure.  

Luckily for the Duke faithful, Bagley returned to the bench in the second half to watch with one good eye as Grayson Allen dominated from deep to topple Michigan State.  With both eyes properly in their sockets, Bagley has been cleared to play.

Grayson Allen’s sage leadership shines bright

Grayson Allen stepped up in a major way Tuesday night and carried this young Duke team against a formidable opponent in Michigan State. Allen lit up the United Center’s scoreboard with 37 points on 7-11 shooting from three. The early game started slow and was filled with sloppy play by both teams.  Duke picked up a small lead before Marvin Bagley III went out with an eye injury. Michigan State quickly took advantage of the momentum swing and evened the score up towards the end of the first half.  That’s when Allen’s wily veteran know-how came into focus.

Allen’s play Tuesday night was more of an NBA ready Grayson Allen than I’ve seen in his four year career.  This is not to say I think Allen will be a star in the NBA, but I do think he can be a healthy contributor.  Allen’s footwork off of the ball consisted of small shifts, off-speed and step-back movements that created enough space to release his lethal shot.

It reminded me of J.J. Redick.  Other than his shot, Redick’s off-the-ball movement was his greatest asset in college basketball.  Redick would weave through a series of three or four screens, feign to a corner before flashing up to the wing for a 26 foot fade away.  Allen is nowhere near the level of off-ball movement that J.J. used, but Allen is improving.  Even Coach K mentioned how reminiscent it was of Redick’s rediculous performances we witnessed in the mid-2000’s.  If Allen can keep that type of movement up this season coupled with his shot, Duke will be a very tough nut to crack come conference play.

Duke can rebound offensively, finally!

Duke’s big men are scary good.  I’ve already raved about how good this front line can be, but every game brings out a new side of them I wasn’t quite expecting.  Duke was supposed to be much improved on the glass this year with the incoming freshman class and the return of Marques Bolden, but I’m not sure anyone anticipated the level of which Duke can play at on the offensive glass.

Duke embarrassed Michigan State on Tuesday by out rebounding them 25 to 11 on the offensive glass.  Duke actually had more offensive rebounds than Michigan State had defensive rebounds, 25 to 23.  This is all with Duke’s best rebounder in Bagley going out of the game with 10 minutes left to play in the first half.

Offensive rebounding is something that North Carolina is typically known for.  For years I’ve watched Tyler Hansbrough, Sean May, and most recently Kennedy Meeks go over the back of Duke players for rebounds and somehow never get called for it.  Offensive rebounding was always the great equalizer in those rivalry games.  No matter how many mistakes North Carolina would make or how bad of a shot attempt, a simple over-the-back tip in and it was problem solved.  It appears that Duke finally has that luxury this year and can erase a lot of mistakes with offensive rebounding.  

I actually did the math to see what type of impact the rebounding had in the Michigan State game.  Duke rebounded on roughly 45% of their first shot attempts. Duke was able to regain possession on nearly half of the first shots they took!  That’s a ridiculous rate and I’d be surprised if they can stay anywhere near that number.  But, Duke showed they are capable of putting on that type of performance on the biggest stage, against the toughest team, without their best rebounder.  Get ready Tar Heels, it’s time for a taste of your own medicine.

Quick Nods

-Duke played the winless Southern Jaguars on Friday night and pulled off a 78-61 victory. Wendell Carter Jr. lead the team with 20 points and 11 rebounds.  Marvin Bagley III logged 19 points and 11 rebounds.

-Trevon Duval has silently lead the offensive and defensive attack of the Blue Devils averaging 8.5 assists and 3 steals per game through 4 games.

-Duke plays Furman University at home on Monday, 11/20, at 7 p.m.

Look for a big week ahead as the PK80 gets under way. Expect to see Jamen’s coverage of the action after the tournament, breaking down the action of what should be an awesome weekend of college basketball. 

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