Friday, February 23, 2007

It's Hard to Like and Dislike this Duke Team


What I like about this Duke team is the exact same thing I dislike about this Duke team: they are unpredictable. I can’t think of any other K-coached team that has gone through the (pardon the cliché) “ups and downs” this team has. They’re like a Maryland team – start off hot; fall apart; regroup; then wilt like daisies (can’t wait for that to happen – I’ll get to watch Bob the Terp’s heart literally explode from the experience). So when I chart the progress and decline of these Devils it’s difficult for me not to get excited. They play a smothering brand of defense (albeit not always for a full forty minutes) that of late has allowed them to build up leads then withstand furious rallies for the win.

But what is also apparent to me is that Duke IS getting better. Their offense is beginning to catch up to their defense. They CAN score 80 points if they have to, but the pace of their weave offense (for lack of a better word) sets them firmly in the high 60s and low 70s for a comfort level. They continue to be plagued by quick, slashing, scorers (Thornton and Singletary come to mind immediately, as does Dowdell from Tech) but they aren’t the only team in America that gets pasted by that kind of player. They still lack a firm “go to” guy at the end of the game, though McRoberts showed some good court sense to take the ball all the way down the court last night and score an uncontested layup. He took what the defense gave him and capitalized. Personally, I’d like to see more of that kind of play because he still, in my mind anyway, is a tremendous matchup problem.

Let me be honest for a minute: I don’t see Duke winning the ACC Tourney, nor do I see them making it to the Sweet Sixteen this year. But as I watch them, I see a true team concept playing out there. It reminds me of the mid-major programs that always sneak up on the power conferences come March. Of course, having DUKE across your jersey doesn’t allow you to sneak up on anybody, but they do play the kind of basketball that will give teams fits in March.

Historically, you prepare for Duke in two ways: 1) you must be ready to withstand Duke’s high powered offense and not wilt from the pace of it, and 2) your defense has to key on the offensive focal points with superior athleticism. Those aren’t the easiest things to do. It’s not like you can run out to Dick’s Sporting Goods and pick those things up off the end cap, so Duke has always had a statistical advantage over most teams they face.

That’s not the case for this team.

This team is only going to beat you if all seven players in the rotation show up and work together. They won’t beat you with talent, and it’s obvious they won’t beat you with fear. I haven’t even seen the same heart that Duke Teams are famous for, but that doesn’t matter. This is a dangerous team to play anytime and anywhere because you as the opposition don’t know who to focus on, and you have to stand up to the pressure of their half court defense, which still (for the most part) holds teams in the sixties and below.

Drawing up a game plan for this squad means you have to consider everyone – even down to Hocius Pocius (when he magically appears in the games anyway). Ignoring Paulus’s outside shot puts you at risk of him going for a surprising twenty; give Nelson the lane and his slashing game, and he’ll go for sixteen.

McRoberts is not the player I hoped he would be, but he IS one of the most versatile players in the country because of his ball handling and passing skills. And Scheyer would have to be considered on the short list of freshmen who have had an immediate impact on their respective teams, though he is not ready to beat you night in and night out (sorry for another cliché).

The point is… who do you trust on this team? Who do you fear? Who do you zone in on and who you concede shots to?

If I’m playing against Duke, I hate each and every one of those questions because this team is unpredictable.

And like I said earlier, that’s not always a bad thing.

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