Letters to Coach K – Duke can take a punch to the chin

By: Jamen Blake

Duke came out of the PK80 tournament looking like a boxer that just went twelve rounds.  

These young Blue Devils didn’t look like Muhammad Ali dancing around the ring like a butterfly though. They didn’t resemble Floyd Mayweather’s defensive mastery of the sport either. No, these Blue Devils looked more like the over-confident debut boxer standing there with his gloves down letting the opponent wail on his face.  

Fortunately, it worked out. Duke was able to bounce back from double-digit deficits in two of their three PK80 tournament games to hoist the trophy and golly was it exciting. Duke trailed by 16 and 17 points in the second half of the Texas and Florida games.  I was one more bad possession away from turning the TV off in both of those games…

Then Marvin Bagley III happened.  

Bagley is Duke’s plan A, plan B, and plan C, and rightfully so.  Marvin Bagley tied the freshman scoring record set by J.J. Redick with 34 points against Texas and needed every one of those points to pull ahead of Texas in overtime.  Bagley had the Florida head coach asking the halftime reporter for tips on how to stop him.  He came to find out that you can’t.  Bagley averaged 26.5 points and 13.3 rebounds in 4 games last week.  Coach K called Marvin Bagley III a “treasure”, which is exactly what he is.

Marvin Bagley III was certainly brilliant in the PK80 games, but the same can’t be said for Duke’s defense.  The defense actually showed up to play with about 10 minutes left in the second half the both the Texas and Florida game.  Before that was just the boxer analogy, gloves at their side, taking every punch their opponent wanted to throw at them.  I’m hoping this is the early season learning experience rather than a common occurrence.  With this being such a young team, they’re bound to have their growing pains, and defense is among them.

That being said, Duke showed impressive resilience and took a couple of very good teams’ best shots.  They played defense when it mattered and relied on their ability to absolutely overwhelm their opponent to storm back in the latter end of the second half.  I would have sprouted a few less gray hairs had they been able to play like that for all 40 minutes, but then it wouldn’t be college basketball.  Knowing that anything is possible is what keeps me watching every game until the very end.

Shots, by LMFAO, is Duke’s new theme song

Everyone has been to that party where the song Shots comes on and everybody hits the dance floor and sings along.  It’s the song that gets the people going.  That catchy tune has been the theme of the Blue Devils through the first eight games of the season and has absolutely got Duke going.  I’m not suggesting that Duke’s pregame routine consists of shots of Patron–although that could explain their sluggish starts–but Duke is putting up an insane amount of shots this year and is leading the country in volume of shots per possession.  

North Carolina led the country in this category last year, and all they won was a championship.

Duke will consistently get two or three shots per possession thanks to both poor shooting and good offensive rebounding.  They play excellent in the open court with big guys that can run and 3-4 reliable ball handlers which allows them to push the tempo.  Eventually, Duke’s shot began to fall and allowed the insane comeback victories they experienced in the PK80 Motion bracket.

Duke might not be able to out-shoot everybody, but they can shoot more than them, and that’s been good enough so far.  LMFAO would be proud.

Is Duke too big?

It’s hard to watch a Duke game and not notice their dominance inside. The big guys will go through, around, and over a defense at will.  This is an awesome advantage to have and Duke has used it to the max.  

But while I’m sitting there watching the games I notice something is off about our offense.  We’re a decent three-point shooting team, and have a dominant inside game, but we just don’t drive to the lane like we normally do.  Duke is so congested around the rim that our guards just can’t get far enough to finish layups.  

Grayson Allen is one of the best driving guards in the country.  He hits the lane like a freight train and won’t back down to anyone.  Allen will often finish with a Sportscenter top ten dunk or flashy layup, but he’s been more timid this season.  Grayson has been pulling up early for a ten-foot floater or fading off to the side of the lane to try and kiss it off the glass.  He’ll still get his open court plays at the rim but in the set offense he hasn’t been able to get close.

The same can be said about Trevon Duval.  Duval is a dynamic scoring and passing point guard with elite speed and handles.  Duval is not the best of shooters though, and he leans on slashing to the basket to get most of his scoring opportunities.  Duval has looked uncomfortable in the half-court offense and I believe it’s because he is somewhat out of his element.  His main scoring strength has essentially been blocked off by a bunch of seven footers.

Not only has being so big hindered Duke’s guard play, it has caused major issues guarding the three.  Both Portland State and Florida exploited Duke’s inability to guard the three early in those games.  Guarding man to man against these quicker run-and-gun style offenses is nearly impossible with Duke’s lineup.   Luckily Duke has a strong 2-3 zone which has worked in stymieing those three-point shooting teams.  Thanks, Jim Boeheim!

Unfortunately, there is nothing Duke can really do to change this.  They have to work with what they’ve got.  Thankfully what they’ve got is pretty darn good.

Quick Nods

  • Duke plays at Indiana in this years installation of the ACC/Big Ten challenge.  The Big Ten has dominated the ACC overall in recent years.  
  • Marvin Bagley III has had more double-doubles than any freshman through the first 8 games in Duke’s history.  Bagley is averaging 22.3 ppg, 11.3 RPG, and is shooting 59% from the field.  He was named ACC Player and Rookie of the week.  He was also crowned the PK80 Tournament MVP.
  • Duke leads the nation with a Shot Volume Index (SVI) score of 103.8.  SVI can be thought of as the number of shot attempts a team would generate over 100 possessions.
  • Michigan State is number 3 in the polls, and Florida actually moved up to number 6 after losing to Duke.  This is basically saying the media thinks there is no shame in losing to Duke.  I happen to agree with that, but I would have moved Florida up another spot.  If they can continue to shoot like they did against Duke, they’ll be a Final Four team come April.

Hey – it’s Chris hopping on the mic here. Duke seems to have played 45 games already. They just won @ IU last night, I feel like they probably have another game around 11 a.m. today and then a midafternoon game around 4 o’clock EST.

To catch up on the season so far, make sure to check out these previous posts by Jamen:

Marvin Bagley III is a demigod

Duke impressive in win over Michigan State

And then, last but not least, gotta pay respect to Duke’s new unofficial mascot: Duke Towel Guy.

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