TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
Volume XIII, Episode 17
January 13, 2010
TCHAIKOVSKY'S THE NUTCRACKER EDITION
Mattís comments in blue.
duhomme's comments in red.
BOSTON COLLEGE (10-6, 1-1) @ #8 DUKE (13-2, 1-1)
Well, if you had told me beforehand that one of Duke and the Cowboys would lose on Saturday, and I got to pick one, I probably would have gone with how things actually turned out, since Dallas hadnít won a playoff game since Chris Collins was a senior. (Tough road test at Minnesota this coming week, though.) Still, the Duke loss was fairly disappointing, because - - like most Duke losses - - it was a winnable game. Iíve finally figured out that when Duke has one of these nights with way too many three-point attempts and ridiculous quantities of construction materials as a byproduct, fatigue is almost always the culprit. The team got back from Chicago at about 3:30 A.M. on Thursday, and left for Atlanta on Friday afternoon. Thatís just too close a turnaround - - particularly since the game against Iowa State at Chicago, Lawrence Campus, Ithaca Precinct was essentially an exhibition. Just ask the Worldwide Trailer. Unfortunately, itís highly tempting to conclude that this will be YET ANOTHER SEASON where the team runs out of gas - - except that it already seems to be happening. But then, there were warning signs last season as well - - at Clemson, anyone? Iím most concerned about two problems right now: (1) how fun does Coach K really make it for these kids, and (2) why is Kyle Singler playing so weakly?
About Georgia Tech, a few thoughts . . . .
DUKE MVP: Mason Plumlee. Weíre starting to see flashes, maybe even lightning bolts, of what this kid can do now. He does indeed pass like a guard - - that one bounce pass feed to Scheyer on a delayed give-and-go was awesome - - and he is pretty hard to contain. Amazingly - - and this is a serious indictment of the other players - - he was the only double-digit scorer Duke had other than, of course, Jon Scheyer. 26 minutes, 5-6 FG, six boards, three assists, two blocks and only two fouls is a pretty good night. Color me impressed, and Iím sure weíll be seeing more of this over the rest of the season. Mason severely outplayed Derrick Favors, which pretty much says it all.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jon Scheyer notched 25 points on 8-19 shooting, and had six assists (four of them quite early) against just one turnover. Surprisingly, to me at least, Scheyer was guarded by Shumpert more than Bell. I think this was a very risky gamble by Spewitt that quite luckily paid off. On the negative side, Jon shot 5-6 from inside the arc, including a couple of nice drives, but went 3-13 outside (with one of the three makes accounting for Dukeís final three points). Clearly, he should have adjusted and worked the ball inside more, but I think his fatigue level was pretty evident. Jon also surprisingly missed a one-and-one that GIT rebounded, an effective turnover and a lack of one or two points that might have come in handy. Still, great game, particularly in the first half. When Duke was winning in the first half, he should have been subbed out for about four minutes, but this is never going to happen, so . . . yeah, never mind, Iíll still keep talking about it. Just a few minutes of rest for this young man each game, K? Please?
NEEDS WORK: Nolan was nearly invisible and couldnít really guard anyone without fouling - - which at least held his minutes to 33. Zoubek and Lance seemed to be in a race for the magical land of Disaqualifia, and Lance won. Once he fouled out - - by the way, I didnít get why he was guarding Favors instead of Lawal, but Favors was held completely in check - - Lawal was free to operate without hindrance from the post men, who were now busy with favors, and scored 12 points of his 21 points in the 10:25 of the second half following Lanceís exit. And then we have Singler. First, he had no idea what to do with DíAndre Bell, which is not particularly excusable; when Lawal guarded him on several series, he was also puzzled. Singler also was a total fail against the press, forced everything the entire night, shot an eye-popping 2-13 in 38 minutes, and - - worst of all - - signed the check to the order of ďDuke Loss.Ē After hitting two free throws at 2:55 to tie the game at 60, Zach the Hatch (who, amazingly, did not connect on a three-pointer) tipped in a miss by Mron Udoofia to make it 62-60 GT with 1:51 to play. Astonishingly, Singler took horrible three-pointers on each of the next two possessions. Miles (who also played well - - I should have mentioned him above; sorry, bud) got that nifty steal and dunk of Shumpertís lame inbounds pass, but by then, it was deliberate foul time. I donít understand why Singler took either of the shots, both of which were contested, and one of which barely detected metal. Incidentally, after Milesí basket, I didnít understand why Nolan automatically fouled Peacock, by far the Wreckís most reliable free throw shooter. In short, if it could go wrong in the last three minutes for Duke, it did.
GOOD STAT: Miles and Masonís combined 9-10 from the floor, and it was really good to see Dawkins get nine minutes.
BAD STAT: Just about everything else. I was particularly saddened by the 6-28 from tripledom, as I was enjoying having Duke in the top five in the nation in 3PFG. Theyíre still 16th in Division I, ninth in FT%, and tops in offensive efficiency, so all is not lost.
BAD MATT: I loudly trumpeted Udofiaís lack of three-point ability, and naturally, the dude hit three of them, looking like Mark Price.
STRIPE GRIPES: Very few. This was one of those passable ACC crews without an obvious miscreant. Jones, Kersey and Dorsey (whose style Iím still trying to get a handle on) were really just fine. I did think that Lanceís third foul was cheap, and the crew missed a tending call so obvious that even Bilas pointed it out. The foul distribution was an uneven 24 Duke, 17 GT, but that was more of a function of Dukeís need to slow down Lawal and Favors inside. They didnít get away with much in the process, and I canít fault the zebras for that.
DENOUNCING THE ANNOUNCING: Shocking me to the core of my being, Bilas was actually funny, and the cameo by Spider Salley, little jab at Duke and all, was hilarious. Iíve noted before that Nessler seems to be able to keep Vitale in check better than most PBPers employed by ESPN; maybe he has a similarly beneficial effect on Bilas. For his part, however, Nessler came off as bored and pompous and took a couple of thinly-veiled potshots at Duke, a team who we all know is not his favorite. Best of all, we actually got to watch ALL of the game. What a breath of fresh air. I feel so . . . so . . . contractually vindicated! Thanks, Bristol!
IN OTHER NEWS: I was really disappointed by the fact that K seemed to have no answer for GTís press. Rest assured that weíll see more of that in the weeks ahead! How many times did Scheyer get trapped in the corner or along the sideline or endline with no help? Also, criticism of the minutes distribution in this one needs to be a bit more precise than some of the barbs that Iíve seen online. It wasnít that Duke didnít play enough guys, necessarily. Georgia Tech offered up 60 bench minutes and Duke had 57 - - but Saint Paul didnít let anyone go more than 34 (Shumpert and Udofia both), Lawal played 23 and Favors 29. This is infinitely preferable to having three guys go 39, 38, and 33. I simply donít get why Kelly canít sub in for Singler more often - - especially when Singler is offering nothing at either end. Give him the hook for a few minutes, let him regroup, and have Kelly hold the line. As a bonus, Kelly gains confidence and experience. Sigh.
BOTTOM LINE: This was a winnable game in which Duke completely failed to execute. The gameplan worked when the Blue Devils turned up the defensive heat and forced Rambling Drek turnovers, but there were really only two stretches of the game in which this happened. The rest was tired legs shooting errant threes, and watching the opponent sink eight more foul shots than we attempted.
TEN WORDS: Blue Devils see second half offense stall, allow stinging loss.
NEXT UP: Here we go.
Tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Durham Ballet is very pleased to bring you a special performance of the Nutcracker. The last two times we saw this show, (1) we were losing up in Chestnut Hill in The Game That Changed Everything, after which K put Jon Scheyer at the point, inserted Elliot Williams into existence, allowed Greg Paulus to become the Duke programís Official Syracuse Guy, and captained the team to a 10-2 season-closing record; and (2) the Iggles were trying desperately to make that 10-2 into something considerably less exciting with that weird in-your-face game in the ACC-T quarterfinals. Duke ended up winning, 66-65, and it was a pretty stern test on the Blue Devilsí way to an ACC crown.
The first important note is, of course, that Tyrese Rice (16.9 ppg, 5.3 apg in 2008-2009), who scored 17 in that game in Atlanta, doesnít live here anymore. No, he didnít leave a forwarding address.
The second note is that in the two outings against Bee Cee, in the Boston burbs and then Atlanta, Kyle Singler (yes, the same!) recorded successive career highs of 25 and 26 points - - since eclipsed by the 28 he recorded this season against Wisconsin. The Boston Birdies didnít have anyone to guard KS then, and they still donít. This is an excellent time for a breakout game from our slumping preseason All-America.
The Sugar Plum Fairies enter this game with an unimpressive 10-6 record, and do not appear to be among the ACCís elite this season. In fact, if it werenít for Listless Len and the Noids dropping games every half hour or so lately, Iíd say that among league teams, the Eagles did the worst job of replacing the key player or players that they lost from last season. And really, the limb upon which I have placed myself is quite sturdy - - the Nutcracker actually brought no one in to replace Rice, no one to collect errant basketballs during practice, no one to call Doug Flutie and make sure that heíll be at all upcoming home games (hey, noted humanitarian Randy Moss is free as well!) - - no one at all, in fact. There is nary a freshman nor a juco transfer on the entire roster. Now thereís something you donít see every day. You could say that Skinnerís nonexistent 2009 recruiting effort is . . . jawdropping?
So we have the same cast of characters, uh, pretty much exactly, minus the guy who was the leading scorer and the point guard. This may explain why the Fairies have already Dew Dropped six games.
The most important ďnewĒ player is Francophone anti-apartheid activist Biko Paris (7.1 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.3 spg, 2.6 tps, 33.4 mpg, .420/.795/.321), who took over at the point for Rice and has fared well against the Nutcrackerís rather delectable alignment of tasty OOC fare. In two ACC games, however, Paris has totaled 11 points and eight assists against seven turnovers, and he recorded just one feed against Clemson on Saturday. Paris, a junior, is only 6-1, creating an immediate matchup problem when trying to guard either Smith or Scheyer. Paris is also not nearly as quick, nor naturally as accomplished as Rice, so the danger of him penetrating repeatedly against the overplay is probably not too high on the list of the Blue Devilsí concerns. Left-handed right fielder Reggie Jackson, a 6-3 sophomore (13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.3 apg, .420/.649/.262), who torched Duke and earned a Bootsy in that game at Conte Forum last season, is now the shooting guard, and he is a threat to penetrate. Heíll provide an interesting challenge for, most likely, Smith - - hopefully Nolan can bounce back from his frustrating outing at Georgia Tech.
In the frontcourt, the three starters are to some extent interchangeable at the three, four, and five. Leading scorer and 6-8 junior Joe Trapani (15.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.6 apg, .429/.784/.355, 1.19 PPS), a wing forward who played his first season in Chestnut Hill a year ago after transferring in from Vermont, is stepping into his added responsibilities competently, but he hasnít quite had the breakout season I expected. He is struggling in much the same way Singler is, and as if they werenít already similar enough as players, their stats this season are also eerily parallel. Singler heads into this game averaging 15.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, and 2.8 apg and shooting .410/.780/.347, with a 1.18 PPS. See what I mean? Now, Trapani showed last season that he was not a defensive wunderkind, and that was the primary factor in Singlerís pair of huge games against BC. Perhaps Singlerís struggles will meet their end in this one - - I certainly hope so. Providing inside muscle to complement Trapaniís perimeter game are 6-6 junior Corey Raji (12.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.1 pfpg, .527/.558/.000 in three attempts) and 6-5 junior Rakim Sanders (11.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.8 apg, .393/.722/.324). Sanders steps outside every so often, but Raji is exclusively a low-post player who, luckily for Eagle opponents, canít hit free throws. From there, the dropoff is big - - three players of significance come off the bench in 6-7 senior Tyler Roche (7.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .500/.700/.405), 6-10 junior Josh Southern (6.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.5 pfpg, .500/.711/.000 in no attempts), and 6-8 junior defensive specialist Cortney Dunn (1.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 50.0% FG). Southern is going to be needed in this one, which is fortunate for those of us pulling for the white-clad squad, as he absolutely cannot stay on the floor. Dunn is pretty much "just" a defender, but heíll have his hands full. Seeing these guys - - as well as Raji and Sanders - - attempt to score against and/or defend the Plumlees and Zoubek should be interesting. I wouldnít be surprised if Lance gets Trapani, although Singler can probably handle the relatively slow-footed wing man, and Lance can direct his defensive energies (again, I knew the game Saturday was over when he fouled out) into containing Raji or Sanders.
Itís probably already apparent that the Nutcracker and Company have a few issues this season. They seldom block any shots and are extremely polite when it comes to allowing opposing teams to maintain control over their property; the Iggles rank #333 (out of 347 Div I teams) in steal percentage (number of steals divided by possessions). Yikes. Theyíre #254 in three-point percentage, and their foul shooting is just slightly above average at 70.9%. Theyíre pretty good at forcing opposing teams to shoot rather than sending them to the line - - but as you can already see, thatís because they donít exactly molest the opposition. The Eagles are extremely good at offensive rebounding, ranking ninth in offensive rebounding efficiency in Ken Pomeroyís rankings, so the Blue Devils need to watch out for aggressive sub-rim volleyball and block out effectively. After checking (oh, just trust me), I donít believe BC has played a team nearly as tall as Duke this season.
This is a lousy matchup for Skinner and his squad. Sure, they could come out hot, with Trapani sizzling from outside, Paris penetrating well, and Mr. February picking up where he left off against Duke in Chestnut Hill, but the Cameron crowd should be fully ďstudentizedĒ once again (classes start Thursday - - I apologize for erroneously claiming otherwise on several earlier occasions), and Singler is poised for a breakout. This is an on-paper mismatch, and unless something goes seriously sideways, I donít expect a team that has already lost to St. Josephís, Northern Iowa, Harvard, Rhode Island, and, uh, Maine (as well as Clemson) to take this one. Duke should - - should - - win, and win easily.
Duke 85, Boston College 69.
Okay, everyone, you can stop with the congratulatory emails, phone calls and fruit baskets in the wake of our incredible picks in the last edition. Look, we are quite aware of our awe-inspiring basketball analytical skills, but try to be humble about it. All this attention is just too much. I went to the grocery store today and it took forever to get out due to the large number of autograph-seekers. TMZ followed me home. Itís just too much, and it will go to our heads.
What a debacle. In other site-related news, Matt got a contract from the Congressional Budget Office to work on deficit predictions, finding that not only is the government running a surplus, but that the federal deficit will be eliminated in six months. Iím also happy to announce I have opened a casino. The roulette tables and wheels feature only red squares, the slot machines only have cherries on their spinners and the blackjack dealers donít deal cards to themselves. Iím feeling pretty positive about this.
Speaking of debacles, well, I donít know. Iím not a big message board guy, but I assume the collective internet-based Duke fandom was tearing holes in their shirts over the loss to GeoTech Saturday. Folks, this is just the nature of the program right now, and has been for several years. Singler is ALREADY beat. In fact, if you looked closely, the ďlow battery alertĒ was flashing on his jersey in the first half. Scheyer is allowed to gun away from long range even though his brickery caused this to happen in the greater Atlanta area. Between the two of them, they only missed a total of three minutes of action. On the other end of the floor, despite all the hype about Duke have allllllllllll kinds of inside presence, Lawal put up 21 points and pulled down nine rebounds. And he managed all that in 23 minutes of play. The only player who had a prayer (which sort of rhymes if you read it out loud) was Lance Thomas. If he could have stayed in the game, Duke might have well won this game. Once he fouled out, it was over. And speaking of over, it must be time for Ö
WIN OF THE GAME: This is a close one. The fact that Duke was in a position to win this game as badly as they shot and how little time the bench got is impressive. But more impressive is the recent emergence of Mason Plumlee. Heís not only strong, agile and a great passer, but he plays with a fire that I wish would spread through the locker room.
FAIL OF THE GAME: No, not Dukeís play. They actually hung in pretty well. This one goes to the one and only Brad Nessler, who had to inform us about every seven seconds during the broadcast that it has snowed in Atlanta, complete with 44 hours of B-roll of this historic event. Um, Brad, when most of the Mid-Atlantic got two feet of snow in December, that was newsworthy. If it snows at all in Hawaii, that would be interesting. If, in January, it was 105 degrees in Atlanta, that would be worth a mention. So would:
∑ Lions laying down with lambs
∑ Swarms of zombies taking over The Varsity
∑ Me throwing down a nasty dunk over Derrick Favors
∑ The Dallas Cowboys winning a playoff game
∑ Paul Hewitt actually earning his head-coaching paycheck (for one game, at least)
∑ The fact that an indoor basketball arena in the state of Georgia stayed dry for two hours
∑ The fact that ESPN didnít preempt a good chunk of the second half of this game to show us the conclusion of the lawn darts match between Kansas and Cornell.
But none of those things happened. Just a simple dusting that looked to me to be about an inch or two. Iím pretty sure thereís not an episode of ďFringeĒ in production that starts with Agent Phillip Broyles saying,Ē AgentDunham. I neeeeeed youtogotoAtlanta. They have experienced Ö somethingwehavedeterminedissnow. You MUST Ö findoutwhoisbehindit.Ē No reason to spend more time talking about that than the game you are paid to watch and describe. Big guy, this Fail is for you.
Okay, after the second of two unsuccessful road trips this year (What? Yes, that would be oh-and-two for the traveling-adverse Blue Devil crew), Duke crawls back into Cameron to match wits with the Iggles of Boston College and their jaw-dropping coach. There are several types of basketball coaches in this conference. There is the recruit-lots-of-top-shelf-guys-and-play-them coach (Williams, Yokel). There is the recruit-a-respectable-number-of-top-shelf-guys-but-keep-most-of-them-wearing-sweats-during-games-until-they-transfer coach (K, Mike). Then there is the bring-in-moderately-rated-guys-and-develop-them coach (Williams, Soggy).
You can add BeeCeeís head man to that last category. Unfortunately for those who bleed Ö whatever Boston Collegeís colors are, I donít feel like looking Ö that means when itís time to replace players, it takes a while. Knowing this, Principal Skinner put together a Holiday Inn free breakfast bar of such tasty baked goods the team should be on insulin by now. But, the team didnít cooperate, losing to St. Josephís, Northern Iowa, Harvard, Rhode Island and freakiní Maine.
(By the way, before I get too much further, I need to give a much-belated shout-out to my partner here, Matt, who does an incredible job providing player-by-player statistics and predicting individual matchups. Back in the day, I tried doing it too. Trust me, itís hard. If, like me, you find his statistical analysis informative, let him know in the comments section.)
Well, as usual, I spent too much time dorking around with the earlier material in an attempt to avoid writing about what should be a substandard opponent. Head-to-head matchups are always helpful, especially when they occurred fairly recently. Sure enough, after getting shown the Cameron door by Duke, Clemson took apart Bee, See? in a most handy fashion, keeping the pigeons to 37.1 percent shooting and a dismal 2-16 from collect-call land. Yuck. That tells you more about this team than their season stats against youth groups from the greater Boston area, where they are out-shooting and out-rebounding the over-matched youngsters, but outscoring them by less than 10 per game. Noted Duke-killer Biko, Paris (which is either a player for Boston College or the address of my flat in the City of Light), who was supposed to be a cornerstone of this team, is averaging just over seven points a game in more than 33 minutes each outing. Yes, I only brought him up so I could make the Paris joke. For the same reason, I will point out that most of the scoring responsibility falls on Reggie Bar and Trapani with Marinara Sauce. And now Iím getting hungry.
Anything else? Yeah! This game will feature a lecture by the always informative Professor Bob Knight. No, Iím serious. The guy is so interesting that itís actually distracting, kind of like watching a movie on DVD for the first time with the directorís comments turned on. I often record the game, watch it with the sound off and then watch it again with his analysis flowing. Although, I suspect this time the on-court action will be less than suspenseful.
Duke 88, Boston College 72.
#20 GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (12-3, 1-1) @ VIRGINIA (9-4, 1-0)
Hey, give credit when due - - Chewitt gambled that Duke gets tired enough just coming out of the locker room, threw in a press for the dedicated purpose of wearing the Blue Devils down, and it was wildly successful. Virginia is 7-1 at home this season, including a win over underrated Alabama-Birmingham and a close loss to Penn State, but we Duke fans SURE WOULD REALLY LIKE the BugThugs to step up here and represent. Sure, that awesome, rocking RainDome crowd (??) wonít be available, but you can hear pins drop and make beautiful music on the floor of I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight, Because My Team Is Bad Arena, so fill the void with thoughts of that raucous gym full of athletic supporters, Insectoids.
Georgia Institute of Technology 74, Virginia 68.
Yes, Virginia did pick up a road win over N.C. State last weekend, but that was against a coach who is probably worse at preparation and game management than Spewitt. Of course, those same Woofies then went travelling to Lower Alabama and beat the Seminoles in YET ANOTHER GAME WE GOT WRONG. Once we get on a roll, we just cannot be stopped.
Georgia Institute of Technology 75, Virginia 68.
#23 MIAMI (FLORIDA) (15-1, 1-1) @ VIRGINIA TECH (12-2, 0-1)
Miami clowned its way into the Top 25 this week, because, if you look at the poll, it was evidently necessary to shoehorn the entire ACC save Virginia into those last three spots or so. The Mime of Miamiís squad was 2-6 last season in ACC road games, and has an early head start as far as feckless travel already this season - - that ď1Ē on the right side of the Tropical Depressionsí column, ACC and overall, is attached to a one-point loss at a village of Newton and Brookline, Massachusetts. Nice win over Wake, but when youíre this far away from most of the other schools in your conference, weird things happen.
Virginia Tech 70, Miami (Florida) 68.
Relax, Seth, this isnít a powder-blue adorned team, so you can skip the family-size package of Depends for this one. Plus, youíre at home, a place where your teams are usually quite competitive. Just tell the other four guys on the floor that while Delaney is a fine scorer, they really donít need to admire his game with their arms crossed while he plays H-O-R-S-E with the other squad.
Virginia Tech 77, Miami (Florida) 70.
#12 NORTH CAROLINA-CHAPEL HILL (12-4, 1-0) @ #24 CLEMSON (13-3, 1-1)
In an enduring source of amazement to this bad ACC predictor, at least, the Tools actually have about as hard a schedule as an Atlantic Coasting Conference member can this season - - Wake and Georgia Tech twice, Virginia only once, facing the Shells on the road but not at home, having to make the trek to Chestnut Hill but not getting a return guarantee game out of it, and of course, this: playing Clemson at Clemson, and not in Chapel Hill for the Lock, Stock, and Barrel Classic. Chapel Hill was pretty awful against VPI, but the Chokies were worse, and are coached by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Now, here comes another guy who routinely treats the Soiled Pedestrians like some marauding galactic scourge that eats everything in its path - - just like Tom Izzo does - - but can we expect a change?
North Carolina-Chapel Hill 100, Clemson 99.
Well, itís that wonderful time of the year when the Hoots can escape from actual competition and come back into the land of Coaches Who Are Clueless When Facing Roy. Olive Oil will put together a gameplan that will work for about 38 minutes, then will be obscured by a window saying ďThis program is not responding.Ē
North Carolina-Chapel Hill 92, Clemson 90.