TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
Volume XIII, Episode 49
March 26, 2010
THE ELMORE INDEX PUR SE EDITION
Matt’s comments in blue.
duhomme's comments in red.
(4S) #10 PURDUE (29-5, 14-4 Big Ten) v. (1S) #3 DUKE (31-5, 13-3)
Duke’s victory over Berkeley was one of its most impressive of the season. As I partially conveyed in the material (just) before the game, I thought that matchup was a serious worry for Duke because of the three-headed attack of the Golden Bears, but Nolan Smith shared none of my concerns, and toasted the Berkeley defense at will. Meanwhile, Patrick Christopher was nowhere to be found, Randle was contained, and Robertson scored, but not enough to make a difference. Predictably, the inside matchup went decisively to Duke, although - - as I fortunately teased - - we did get a look at the development of Jamal Boykin. Just to digress for a moment, now that Krzyzewski is breaking down at least one self-imposed barrier by accepting a junior college transfer (albeit one who is exceptional academically) for next season in Carrick Felix - - about whom I’m quite excited, and thanks to El Guapito for mentioning Carrick in the comments section a while back right after he signed - - I hope that he might also be open to the strategic redshirt. Other programs do it, and if the young man doesn’t have an issue with it - - and he should of course not be pressured - - then let’s do it. Tyler Thornton, for example, presents a potential candidate for this procedure next season, although that is just a guess based more on the promised skills of Kyrie Irving than anything else. I mean no disrespect to Tyler’s game - - he’s no Kendall Marshall, that’s for sure - - but that’s just a possibly weak, off-the-cuff example in case he doesn’t play much next season. (Seth Curry, by the way, has point guard skills.) But what if K had done this with Zoubek??? Wow. And Boykin reminded me of all of this - - if he had not missed being in California and close to his family (for which no one can blame him one bit), and had received the tacti-shirt, then we’d probably be seeing much of the same sort of game from him that we saw last Sunday. I was impressed. Congratulations to him - - and Randle, Christopher and Robertson - - on great careers.
It seemed clear that Berkeley was unprepared for the physicality of Duke on both ends of the court. The Marquis of Sanders-Frison-Shiver-Hint had a fairly good game, as did classic “energy punk” Jorge Hairnet Gutierrez, at least defensively (he had a lot to do with Scheyer not getting good looks), but they were prepared for some workmanship; the other Golden Bears were seemingly not. And it’s started to become unmistakable now - - this Duke team, like past highly successful editions, thrives on its defense. I am periodically startled when I look up the three-point shooting totals for the 1992, 1991, and to a lesser extent 2001 title teams; you would think that there was more three-point shooting than there actually was. And while the 1992 edition, led by the awesome Laettner, was more of a “how much do you plan to score? Yeah, that won’t be enough” sort of squad - - a strategy immortalized for all time in its regional final battle in Philadelphia - - the 1991 and 2001 teams relied on defense to a much greater extent than many recent Blue Devil editions. How many recent Duke teams could shoot 17.6% on threes - - and win by 15 over a squad scoring almost 78 points per game going in? That is deeply, deeply impressive, and it also leaves open the tantalizing possibility of what might occur if Duke starts shooting well from long range. Meanwhile, the defensive intensity needs to continue against today’s opponent in order for Duke to advance to the Elite Eight.
As everyone knows, Purdue lost junior forward Robbie Hummel to a knee injury in late February. Since then, a national title contender has been written off - - then seemingly reborn with victories over Siena and Texas A&M. The Boilers - - and their fans - - are playing with a chip the size of a non-runaway, perfectly-functioning Prius on their collective shoulder, and there have been many articles indicating that they are not drawing the proper respect from the mediots and fans. (By the way, isn’t it great not to have to hear the words “Joe and “Lunardi” in the same sentence anymore? I love how ESPN just shelves that doosh after the actual brackets come out - - it’s almost as if we can all be better served by some real analysts, to the extent that Bristol is equipped with any, other than Bobby Knight.)
To an extent, they’re right. Purdue has two very strong offensive weapons, a very potent defensive weapon, and an extremely intelligent coach in Matt Painter, now in his fifth year at Purdue, and largely responsible for the program’s renaissance after it fell in hard times near the end of Gene Keady’s tenure. On the other hand, Siena played a bit more meekly than I expected, and didn’t much resemble the first-round winner of each of the last two seasons, and I thought Texas A&M was a deeply flawed club that was scary (to Duke) only because of the potential of making this effectively a road game - - something that all of Tool Nation somehow overlooked in decrying Duke as “having the easiest bracket.” Awwwwww - - sorry, fellas! Never mind the utter and total hypocrisy of these imbeciles after the giftwrapped slates the Twinks have been bequeathed by generations of Selectostiffs. To come back to the point, Purdue’s overtime, two-point victory over TAMU was impressive for its grit, but wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring. One thing’s for sure - - Painter and his “crew” should not be underestimated for any reason, and I’m not particularly worried about that, because if there’s one thing that Mike Krzyzewski does peerlessly, it’s not overlook the opposition.
6-4 junior E’Twaun Moore (16.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.1 tpg, 1.4 apg, 2.3 pfpg, .448/.726/.343) is arguably Purdue’s best player, and probably its most important. With Hummel gone, he is really the only reliable outside threat that the Boilers have, and is also the best slasher on their roster, by far. Contain him, and it becomes very difficult for the Boilermakers to win against a team having a solid offensive effort of its own. Moore is a good, but not great defender - - the kind who plays a very tight and aggressive man-to-man, leaving passing lanes open. I imagine that he will guard Scheyer, because he’s sort of going to be forced to do so. A break from Jon’s shooting slump at this juncture would be really, really nice. In this test-run of Reliant Stadium for next season’s Final Four, the NCAA has decided to place the court at the center of the facility instead of off to one side; it will be interesting to see how Jon responds to that kind of shooting background. I didn’t really get the impression that his shooting problems against Berkeley were the result of anything except, well, just one of those slumps. It certainly wasn’t any scary defense mounted by the Golden Bears, and Jon wasn’t missing terribly, either. One thing I would like to see him try - - and which should be an option against Purdue’s serious overplay - - is to drive with the ball and draw fouls early in the game, THEN establish the three. We’ll see if that might go on. As far as Duke’s defense, I expect Nolan to guard Moore.
Purdue’s other backcourt mainstay is 6-3 senior Chris Kramer (6.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.4 tpg, 1.7 spg, .585/.757/.286), a four-time all-Big Ten Defensive team member. Although Kramer shows incredible energy on both ends of the court, using a - - how to say? - - hands-on defensive approach, and hitting the game-winning bucket in the lane against baffled Texas A&M, he gets called for a comparatively low 2.1 pfpg. However, that’s in 27.7 mpg - - extrapolate that to a 40-minute game, and now we’re talking 3.0 pfpg. Of course, Kramer never plays that much - - even in the OT affair with TAMU, he only logged 31 minutes, and that’s sort of the point. His level of energy - - and his defensive intensity - - is not sustainable over the course of an entire game, and Duke will be looking to exploit a change in matchups when he’s off the court. Also, Kramer doesn’t often lead the Boilers in scoring, as he did against A&M, with 17. It probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, from the perspective of Duke’s gameplan, if he did so again, at least relative to some of the other options. As explained below, apparently Kramer will be checking Singler in this game; Coach K might as well try the reverse, at least initially. If that doesn’t work, Lance might be deployed to this theater.
6-4 senior Keaton Grant (6.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.2 tpg, 0.7 spg, .384/.754/.287), another pretty good defender, who has struggled a bit since coming back from knee surgery his sophomore season, particularly in the area of his shot, but can still hit the three when needed. Grant can be beaten off the dribble and screened off without an abundance of difficulty, particularly late in games; Painter normally has a wealth of defensive choices here, but with Kramer probably occupied elsewhere, Grant (who played only 22.7 mpg this season) will probably have to guard Lance and one of the Plumlees when Team Plumlee (a concept I continue to love, although K switched things up a bit and had Lance and Mason or Miles together on the court for significant stretches against Berkeley) is out there. Tough assignment. When Duke’s on defense, I would expect Lance to guard Grant; Singler might chip in as well.
5-9 sophomore Lewis Jackson (2.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.0 tpg, 0.3 spg, .347/.444/.010), who is by just about everyone’s admission closer to 5-7 or 5-8 at the most, although he defines “scrappy” to the extent that Kramer has left any room in the dictionary. Jackson is not a scorer and, as you can see, not a shooter; he is a classic “pass-first” point, and one who keeps hold of the orange very well. This is a nightmare matchup for Purdue defensively, because although he can be jet-quick, Jackson’s defensive footwork is not that special. However, it looks to me like he might have to guard Nolan Smith, unless Painter wants to try him on Scheyer and put Moore on Smith. On defense, I would expect Scheyer to play Jackson, giving him room and attempting to deny the pass. If Jackson shoots - - assuming he doesn’t catch fire for some reason - - I think Duke is achieving its goals, because of the strong possibility that the Blue Devils will be collecting most of the errant basketballs.
Purdue’s backcourt depth comes from 6-4 freshman D.J. Byrd (2.5 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1.6 pfpg in 9.1 mpg, .319/.550/.289), 6-6 freshman Kelsey Barlow (3.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.3 tpg, 2.5 pfpg in 16.1 mpg, .437/.444/.000), 6-3 sophomore Ryne Smith (2.7 ppg, 1.0 rpg, .329/1.000 (11-11)/.302), and 6-1 RS freshman John Hart (2.4 ppg, 1.0 rpg, .338/.500/.306). Byrd scored 10 decisive points against TXAM, hitting 4-5 from the field and connecting on both of his three-pointers. Given Painter’s tendency to rest his starters, even post-Hummel, Byrd will play in this game, and it will be important for Duke to be aware of where he is on the court at all times because of his potential explosiveness, something that most of the other Boilers (with the notable exception of Moore and, less often, Johnson) lack. Barlow is more of a slasher usually designated to give Moore some rest, while Smith is another potential gunner, and Hart is a time-stealer.
The principal - - and sometimes only - - player in the Purdue frontcourt is 6-10 junior JaJuan Johnson (15.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 0.8 apg, 1.8 tpg, 2.0 bpg, .503/.724/.000). Here’s where the Boilermakers most clearly miss Hummel, a 6-8 junior who was averaging 15.7 ppg and 6.9 rpg, both second on the team, and shot .456/.902/.364, making him the team’s best three-point marksman (for anyone with more than 14 attempts on the season) and foul shooter, except for seldom-used 6-0 freshman Dru Anthrop, who canned both of his free throws back on December 5, and Ryne Smith, who is 11-11 on the season but last shot a free throw on New Year’s Day. As for Johnson, he is big and quick, and can hit the midrange jumper, but he’s only 215 pounds and can often be outmuscled. His FG% of .504 is a pretty clear indication that he’s not a traditional back-to-the-basket post presence, although he can certainly take up residence on the low block if the opportunity presents itself. He’s very good at positioning, but his rebounding could be better - - in the seven games since Hummel went down, Johnson has averaged 7.6 rpg as pretty much the team’s leading boardsman, and just 11 of those 53 boards have been on the offensive end, while 26 of the total amount came against undersized Penn State and Siena. Against Minnesota in the Big Ten semis, Johnson had four boards (two offensive), and against Texas A&M, he collected three (none scoreside). Rebounding is an enormous concern for the Boilermakers entering this contest, as detailed a bit further below. Johnson’s only real backup is 6-8 freshman Patrick Bade (1.5 ppg, 1.6 rpg. 1.5 pfpg in 7.3 mpg, .365/.632/.250) , who can really deal out the fouls, and lacks polish. He could be That Guy That We Didn’t Scout, sure, but I doubt it.
Hummel is, to put it mildly, a huge loss, particularly since he and Singler were similar enough physically - - and Hummel a strong enough defender - - that the two were a natural head-to-head matchup on both ends.
Instead, everyone in the know has confirmed that Kramer will guard Singler. At first blush, this sounds insane, but Kramer has been guarding large wing forwards and even occasionally post men all season. They can shoot over him, but he can frequently steal the ball away with his oft-quicker hands. I wonder if Singler might not prove an exceptional challenge in this regard, however, weighing in at 230 and usually being strong with the ball, not to mention adept at forcing fouls and driving the bucket. Kramer, of course, will be playing ball denial, making it important for Duke to set deliberate screens for Singler (which is a bit of a switch, but not one so iconoclastic that the Blue Devils shouldn’t be able to handle it), and for Singler to move without the rock. I like this matchup to go Singler’s way, and Duke’s way, not least because it forces the remaining Purdue players into potentially serious defensive mismatches.
In terms of team characteristics, Purdue is #24 in the nation in blocked shot percentage and #15 in steal percentage, thanks largely to Johnson and Kramer, respectively. The team does not turn the ball over very often, but it does force/benefit from a lot of opposition turnovers, so Duke will need to shepherd the rock well in this one. (Duke, incidentally, is even better than Purdue’s excellent ability in avoiding turnovers of its own, ranking #11 in the nation to Purdue’s #15; the Blue Devils are #74 in opponents’ turnover percentage, as opposed to #20 for Purdue.) Purdue shoots the ball well enough at the line at 72.6% (Duke is at 75.8%), but is mediocre both in terms of getting to the line and preventing opponents from doing so. Moreover, that 72.6% includes 27 games and 122 free throws from Robbie Hummel (hate to keep harping on the guy, but he was important!), at a rate of 90.2%. Take that away, and Purdue is shooting *69.1%*, which would be $167 in the country. The Boilermakers are a pretty unimpressive three-point shooting team, making only 32.0% from the arc, #258 in Div I; this combines very well, from the Blue Devils’ viewpoint, with Duke’s 27.8% opposition 3PFG% - - the best in the country. Even against Siena, arguably Purdue’s most impressive performance since Hummel was lost for the season, the Boilers shot 5-17 (29.4%) from behind the circle, and the Saints ranked almost #100 in three-point defense. And again, sorry for the repetition, but that total includes 43-118 from Hummel, who ranked second on the team in both makes and attempts. Without those figures, Purdue is at 30.8%, which would be #298 in the country - - and this is really great - - right between Wake Forest and VPI. So that should give all of us who followed the ACC this season a REALLY good grasp of the fact that we’re not facing a terrifying outside-shooting team.
As already mentioned, the rebounding battle is probably the most significant key to this one. Purdue’s worst team aspect is its offensive rebounding - - the Boilers were #267 in Division I in terms of the percentage of possessions during which they recorded a scoreside carom. Against Texas A&M, Purdue was outboarded 45-39, a total that doesn’t seem too bad until you examine it a little more closely - - only three of those 39 careens came on the offensive end, and nine of them were team rebounds. I certainly didn’t chart the game, but a team rebound total that high usually suggests errant shooting by the opposition (35.4% by the Aggies) more than any clear prowess on the glass. It’s difficult to envision Johnson, who is not a natural boardsman in the first place, matching up well with Zoubek (Smokey the Beard? Uh, no, let’s not go with that one) and the rest of the Forest Rangers off the window on either end, and since Duke has made a living off of second-chance points this season, in, shall we state, marked contrast to many Blue Devil squads of the recent past, that’s going to be a problem for Painter and Purdue. In fact, it’s potentially a tremendous problem. Lance’s effort on both transparencies is also key since he will be checked for much of the game by the 6-4 Grant (unless Painter decides he has to go with Bade for long stretches). Just to crystallize what I’m going on about here, after Hummel got hurt (with 7:11 remaining in the first half against Minnesota on February 24), here’s a list of Purdue’s rebounding stats, which includes the first Minnesota game since Hummel got hurt so early and did not record a rebound during his 12 minutes of action.
OPPOSITION REBOUNDING TOTALS PURDUE O-BOARDS
Minnesota 33-33 even 6
Michigan State 46-20 Michigan State 3
Indiana 36-28 Indiana 3
Pennsylvania State 30-29 Purdue 7 (4 by Barlow)
Northwestern 36-33 Purdue 15 (Purdue shot 35.3%)
Minnesota 50-26 Minnesota 5
Siena 45-38 Siena 6
Texas A&M 45-39 Texas A&M yes
An area that Duke can and should exploit? One supposes so. Other problems for Purdue include the three-point shooting, the lack of reliable depth, and the potential for fouls. Kramer is hardly ever in foul trouble, but Johnson is, and that could be a potential mortal blow for Purdue’s hopes in this one.
Bluntly, I haven’t been this excited about a Sweet Sixteen matchup for Duke in a long time. A *long* time. Even against Illannoy in 2004, the Blue Devils seemed to have some serious matchup difficulties, despite the fact that the Carp was at the helm and could be expected to captain those away handily. (He did.) Sweet Sixteen matchups since then have pitted Duke against the proverbial “quick and athletic” team that would give those editions of Duke fits. (They did.) Although Purdue is not to be taken lightly and Painter is, in my opinion, an outstanding coach, this is not one of those projected matchups. Duke needs to keep track of Moore and Johnson, absolutely, and play its traditional wing denial defense. However, one thing that seizes me about this game is that Duke has been playing Big Ten basketball all season - - whereas many potential and actual teams opposing the Boilers (like Texas A&M) could be - - and in the case of TXAM, definitely were - - surprised by Purdue’s toughness and defensive intensity, Duke has faced a number of teams with those characteristics, and beaten them. Even more to the point, Duke exhibits *exactly* that sort of mentality and physicality itself - - and that has the potential to exacerbate Purdue’s tendencies toward losing out on the boards and shooting poorly. In short, if it’s a defensive, gritty battle that Purdue wants, Duke is equal to that task. And if the Blue Devils start shooting well from the floor and/or the arc? Look out. Again, the Boilers should not be underestimated, but if Duke plays its regular game and doesn’t press or try to force things, we should all be very happy later tonight. Come on, Devils.
Duke 75, Purdue 63.
You know how the actors in food commercials go waaayyyy overboard in their enjoyment of the product being promoted? Guzzling Mountain Dew like they’ve been stranded in the desert for a week or making expressions that lead one to believe the nacho they just placed in their mouth is the best thing they have had since their grandmother’s homemade pumkin’ pie? And the various individuals make their snacks the center of conversation despite being at a concert or watching the Big Game together on television. Well, this happened me the other day, but in real life.
I’m getting on the elevator at the office the other day, and two fellows get on with me. There is a mini-mart/deli on the first floor that these gentlemen have just visited. One has purchased a root beer, the other a bag of chips. Root Beer Guy is sucking down his beverage like there is no tomorrow, and the look on his face relays the fact that he is enjoying the flavor so much, he is in danger of inflicting irreparable damage to his zipper. Chip Bag Guy is chomping away with the same speed and PSI Chris Carrawell uses on his gum when Duke is leading by one with 25 seconds left in the game. Chip after chip after chip after chip are wrestled out of the bag and into his frighteningly efficient mouth. It was like watching a human wood chipper. And, he’s motivated. He’s got a game face on that would deter most professional boxers from entering the ring. Then, as life imitated advertising, the conversation began:
ROOT BEER GUY: “What kind of chips did you get?”
CHIP BAG GUY: [crunch, crunch, crunch] “White cheddar.” [crunch, crunch, crunch]
ROOT BEER GUY: “Are they good?”
CHIP BAG GUY: [crunch, crunch, crunch] “Mmm, hmm.” [crunch, crunch, crunch] “Wanna try some?” [crunch, crunch, crunch]
ROOT BEER GUY: “Sure.” [digs hand into bag] [crunch, crunch, crunch] “These are good.” [crunch, crunch, crunch]
CHIP BAG GUY: [nods seriously] [crunch, crunch, crunch]
BOTH GUYS: [crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch¸ crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch]
I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but chips are flying out of that bag and meeting their demise at the hands of two of the most determined snack eaters I have ever seen. Plus, they continue discussing the chips, with their mouths full with the remains of chips. How they can really taste the cheese flavor. How the texture complements the bouquet. How they are just crispy enough.
And this was on the way to the 10th floor, my destination. Root Beer Guy and Chip Bag Guy were going to a higher location to continue their chip-ocide. Except, just as I am stepping out of the elevator, Chip Bag Guy, still discussing his choice-of-snack as if it were part of a litigation strategy, says the weirdest thing I have ever heard (and keep in mind, I used to work in Congress. So, that’s saying quite a lot).
“Yeah, I was eyeing that bag of salt and vinegar chips, but decided I probably shouldn’t because I have my geology class tonight.”
What, in the name of all things holy, do the two have to do with each other? How does an academic obligation impact one’s choice of snack flavors? Now, if he was trying to flirt with the instructor or one of his classmates, I can see the reason to skip and afternoon sampling of raw onions and garlic cloves. But salt and vinegar chips? Maybe one of you can educate me, but I am unaware of any odor-related adverse events that have been reported to be associated with that particular seasoning.
What does this have to do with tonight’s game against a chicken company? Nothing. It’s just that it was too strange not to pass on, and is also the sort of thing that happens when you are on your 49th edition of the season.
Okay, so Duke is here courtesy of winning the last game, which the official Duke box score indicates was against the entire state of California. Apparently, Kobe was a DNP-CD. Anyway, it was nice to see Jamal Boykin have a nice game (always liked him) and it was nice to see Duke keep the state with the largest congressional delegation below 40 percent shooting for the night, including only three successful toll calls, far below their average. It was NOT nice to see Duke with same number of connected calls, and the university has been cited for violating the Endangered Species Act as the 120-decible sound of rims being tormented for the better of two hours has disturbed alligator mating habits in a 40-mile radius. Until the FDA approves that NDA for Viagator, those green dudes will have to admire Len Elmore’s dental gifts and turn to the …
WIN OF THE GAME: Um, only five turnovers? Total? Not just for one half, right? And they were evenly split amongst the five starters, at one per.
FAIL OF THE GAME: Bench time (and production). Outside of Plumlee 1.0’s six points (including two which the result of a sweet reverse dunk off an alley-oop), the non-starters didn’t play much and didn’t produce much when they were on the floor. I’m going to hope this was a function of facing a particular team where Dawkins and Plumlee 2.0 were not going to be a lot of help defensively, and not a sign that the old rotation is tightening up again. After all, while the three Essays did log 38, 38 and 40 minutes, the game was on Sunday and they didn’t have to play again until Friday.
When it will be time to play the Gin and Tonics of Purdue, a team that needed an extra five minutes to post a two-point W over Texas A&M. The Scotch-on-the-Rocks did pretty well for themselves this year in the Big 11, with the only notable bad drops to Northeastern and to Minnesota in the conference tournament (at least they didn’t lose to N.C. State. Heh, heh, heh … Oh, wait). Hmm, the Cognacs also have a win against West Virginia, but that was also a while ago. And, Robbie Hum-vee was playing. Since he blew out his ACL, the Bourbon and Sodas’ fortunes have been somewhat dicey, with wins over Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern, and losses to Michigan State (hi, Gary!) and the aforementioned one to Tubby’s team.
The Shirley Temples came into the NCAAs with a number of question marks, very few they have addressed. On the season, the Mimosas don’t shoot from the floor with a success rate that scares anyone, except when it is time to get tax deductions for charitable contributions, where the IRS decides not to audit 72.6 percent of the time. The Screwdrivers don’t rebound extremely well, and, if fact, are behind their collective opposition on the season in this category. The Martinis (how did it take me this long to use THAT one?) barely keep other teams from shooting better than them from all parts of the floor. When you exclude two-point shots from the equation, the 40s of Schlitz are behind 31.9 to 35.2. The Fortified Wines also commit 18.5 fouls per game, a good sign for a certain Jon Scheyer fellow, who recently hasn’t been hitting the net very well when the clock is running. Finally, as has been the case lately with Duke opponents, the Moonshines (now the drinks are declining in quality. Notice that?) don’t have a tremendous amount of size, meaning Treebeard and his fellow Ents have the chance to put together a nice game here.
Thursday was yet another weird day in this tournament, with Syracuse going home after trailing most of the game (sorry, OSG, I really do like the program). Fortunately, this year’s edition of Blue Devils understands that if the shots aren’t going in, they will have to win with defense. Maybe tonight’s game won’t require that.
Duke 72, Purdue 65.