Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
2/14/2007 03:11:00 PM
Coach K has not been happy with Duke's performance on the defensive end as of late.
The buzzards are circling over Boston College's Conte Forum, where tonight the Eagles face a reeling Duke team that's on the verge of the first five-game losing streak of Mike Krzyzewski's career. The Blue Devils have not yet played their way out of the NCAA tournament (it would take at least three, if not four, more ACC losses to make that a lock because their non-conference schedule was so strong), but what's affecting the House of K is more than a random slump. Today's blog takes a look at what, exactly, is wrong with Duke.
• For an elite team to stay successful after losing nearly its entire identity from the year before -- as Duke did, with J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni leaving -- it needs to have a transcendent underclassman ready to take over. This happened at rival North Carolina in 2005-06, when beastly freshman Tyler Hansbrough carried the Heels to a second-place finish in the ACC after they lost their top six players, including four first-round NBA Draft picks. It's happening at Texas this year, with super-frosh Kevin Durant as the focal point after the 'Horns lost their entire starting five, including three to the NBA. It hasn't happened at UConn, which delivered four first-rounders to the draft, never found a new star for '06-07 and is likely to miss the NCAA tournament as a result.
It also hasn't happened at Duke. Coach K has one of the best stockpiles of young talent in the nation -- six McDonald's All-Americans, to be exact -- but no transcendent player capable of carrying the Blue Devils out of this funk. Sophomore forward Josh McRoberts is the closest candidate, but he hasn't been consistently dominant; he's an incredibly gifted passing big man … with no one else in the post to pass the ball to. Duke's freshman class, which ranked fourth in Scout.com's 2006 rankings, is strong enough to be the nucleus of an ACC title team in two or three years -- and that may be K's design -- but there isn't a Hansbrough, Durant, Greg Oden, or even Tywon Lawson among them. Thus '06-07 has become a somewhat rough, transitional season.
• Duke ranks 10th in the ACC in offensive efficiency, partly because it struggles to shoot 3s, but mainly because it isn't getting enough production out of the point guard position. There has been debate over whether criticism of Greg Paulus is unjust, so let's simply examine his stats -- in offensive efficiency, assist rate and turnover rate -- against the rest of the league's point guards. The final column is the difference between the assist and turnover rate:
What it reveals is that Paulus is the fourth-worst point guard in the ACC in offensive efficiency, only behind Wake Forest's Ish Smith, Virginia Tech's Jamon Gordon and Clemson's Vernon Hamilton -- and the worst point guard, by far, in terms of assist versus turnover rate. Paulus turns the ball over at a 4.8 percent higher rate than he creates baskets for teammates. He definitely hasn't made the kind of jump that Duke needed him to make between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
• Duke's slide is also a case of unfortunate timing. The transition between the Redick/Williams empire and the youth movement of McRoberts, Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson couldn't have come at a worse time. The ACC is not as strong at the top as it was in '04-05, when it had legit Final Four contenders in UNC (the national champs), Wake (with Chris Paul), N.C. State (with Julius Hodge), Georgia Tech (with Jarrett Jack) and the Blue Devils. But this year the league has become absurdly deep, with its top 10 teams -- everyone down to 3-7 N.C. State, which upset UNC on Feb. 3 -- all capable of beating one another. Once-average squads such as Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Clemson are as dangerous as they've been in years … and they're all looking to take advantage of a vulnerable Duke team.
• The Blue Devils are capable of being a great defensive team -- they still rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, at .816 points per possession -- it's just that, over the course of this losing streak, their defensive toughness has disappeared. And as Coach K said this week, "The two most important things for our team is how we play defense and how we care for the ball, because we are not going to just outscore you. That hasn't been the M.O. of this team and won't be the M.O. of this team until the end of the year."
Early in the season, Duke was a defensive juggernaut: It held Indiana to a stingy .798 points per possession in a win on Nov. 28, and Georgetown to .873 on Dec. 2. Yet in their past four losses, the Blue Devils have given up more than one point per possession, and allowed FSU, UNC and Maryland to shoot with effective field goal percentages (a stat that adds extra weight to 3s) of over 50 percent. A hallmark of Duke's best teams has been their ability to defend on the perimeter, and the '06-07 team has been substandard in that deparment during ACC play. Coach K has accepted that the Blue Devils must overcome an anemic offense with strong D -- and until that happens, the streak will only get worse.