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Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/28/2007 12:54:00 AM

The Early Word On ... Duke

Gerald Henderson and the Blue Devils aren't quite playing at a Phoenix Suns pace, but they're much faster than they were in '06-07.
Four things we learned about No. 7 Duke from its 82-58 rout of No. 20 Wisconsin in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge ...

1. These are truly accelerated Blue Devils.

Back in October, Duke assistant Chris Collins described the team's revamped offense to me like this: "We'll try to spread the floor, create space for guys to try to drive, get open shots. We don't want to get into a grind-it-out game where a team is going to try to match us physically."

Collins talked about how the Blue Devils' entire staff had spent the summer with Coach K and Team USA, which featured Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni as an assistant. They learned a few things from D'Antoni -- "There are philosophies of his that we're trying to implement with our own," said Collins -- and while the Steve Nash part is impossible to replicate, I wondered if the other influences would actually translate to a faster Duke product on the floor. Not Suns, :07 Seconds Or Less-faster, mind you, but would there be a noticeable difference between the Blue Devils of 2006-07, who were the ninth-slowest-paced team in the ACC and the 203rd-slowest team in the country, and the small-ball club that was taking the floor in '07-08?

The sample size is small -- seven games, slightly more than a fifth of the season -- but Duke is playing much faster than it did last season. Its raw tempo (from kenpom.com) for all of '06-07 was 66.1 possessions per 40 minutes. The Blue Devils' raw tempo thus far in '07-08 (from BasketballState.com) is 74.4 possessions per 40. The speed of one's opponents factors into the stat, but Duke has already sped up a traditionally molasses-based Princeton team that averaged 52.9 possessions/40 last season to 73.1 in the Maui Invitational. And in Tuesday's rout of the Badgers, who averaged 63.3 possessions/40 last season, the Blue Devils upped the pace to 74.9. They won't be able to maintain that high of a tempo through the ACC slate, but it's a sign that Duke is likely to finish third or fourth in the league in pace, right behind North Carolina and Maryland, rather than at the back of the pack.

2. Upping the shot volume isn't a problem for Duke's offense.

To put it nicely, the '06-07 Duke team, which bowed out in the first round the NCAA tournament, had limited options on offense. Three players were allowed to shoot 3s -- Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer and DeMarcus Nelson -- and of them, only Paulus (45.0 percent) was a truly good long-range marksman. The Blue Devils' lone force on the inside, Josh McRoberts, was a capable scorer but far too passive for the team to thrive. And if two of those four players were cold on a given night, there weren't any real offensive options to step up in their place. While Duke was still an elite defensive team last season, it couldn't score enough points to keep itself afloat.

The fact that the Blue Devils have upped their pace this season means that they're taking more shot attempts -- and more threes -- per game. But now they have enough weapons on the perimeter to insulate themselves from all but the worst of cold spells. Freshman Taylor King and Paulus combined for nine 3s against the Badgers, helping open a 20-point lead in the first half that remained in place for the rest of the night. King and Paulus are gunners Nos. 1 and 2 for Coach K, but Duke now has six realistic shooting options. Here are their 3-point stats through seven games:
Player      M-A   Pct.
Singler 7-18 .389
Henderson 5-12 .417
King 19-37 .514
Scheyer 11-22 .500
Paulus 13-28 .464
Nelson 4-15 .250

3. The Blue Devils are capable of overcoming a size deficit.

Wisconsin isn't the best "big" team Duke is going to play this season -- that would be North Carolina, with Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson -- but the Badgers aren't terrible, either. And what they did was essentially start one 6-foot-1 point guard (Trevon Hughes), two 6-7 power forwards (Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry) and two 6-foot-11 centers (Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma) against a Duke lineup with two 6-foot-8 guys (Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas) in the low post.

UW was done in by its inability to hit anything from the perimeter (going 3-of-14 from long distance) but it also failed to exploit its size advantage to any real gain. The Badgers only outrebounded the Blue Devils 42-40, and only had a small, 32-26 lead in points in the paint. Rail-thin Duke guard Jon Scheyer actually finished with more boards (nine) than Butch and Stiemsma combined (seven).

4. For the time being, the Dukies aren't overrated at No. 7.

There are few teams shooting as well as the Blue Devils are from the perimeter, and their transition into the Runnin' Devils has looked surprisingly smooth -- especially on Tuesday, when they outscored UW 17-2 in fastbreak points. As much as N.C. State, which just won the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, is still a solid sleeper pick in the ACC, Duke appears to be the stronger challenger to UNC. I still have trouble envisioning the Devils overtaking the Heels, who can run and score inside, but Duke is a lot closer to Carolina than most believed in the preseason.

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10/18/2007 02:33:00 PM

Postcard Extras: Duke

Duke Practice
Luke Winn/SI

Luke Winn/SI
DURHAM, N.C. -- A few extras from Thursday's Duke Postcard (which you can read here):

• This isn't the first blog to break out the "Jon Scheyer in 75 Seconds" video that a Duke improv group produced, but I did get a chance to ask Scheyer for the backstory on Tuesday. (If you haven't seen it yet, it's a spoof of his legendary 21-points-in-75-seconds outburst from his senior year of high school at Glenbrook North in Illinois.)

He said he didn't have a hand in writing it -- other than throwing in the Brian Zoubek/Borat cameo in the first scene -- but "was more than happy to do it" when the group approached him in the spring. "Then it popped up on YouTube, and pretty much everybody's seen it," Scheyer said. "They're all over me about it, mostly about going to the Freeman Center [for Jewish Life] and coming out with the beard." Scheyer is Jewish, and in one part of the skit emerges from Duke's in full Rabbinical garb.

• This might be old news to Blue Devils fans, but Scheyer alerted us to the fact that there's actually a better Duke-related clip on the site: Chris Collins' high-school team's highlight video -- he also went to Glenbrook North -- set to the MC Hammer classic 2 Legit 2 Quit:

Said Scheyer, "[Collins] didn't want to say it, but he's one of the guys who made the video."


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2/14/2007 03:11:00 PM

Diagnosing Duke

Oakland Arena
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:
Player (Team)     OEff.    AsRt    TORt    Diff
Rice (BC) 113.0 32.8 21.2 +11.6
Lawson (UNC) 114.8 33.8 24.2 +9.6
Atsur (NCS) 117.4 29.3 20.2 +9.1
Singletary (UVA) 117.3 29.7 20.6 +9.1
Smith (WF) 92.0 37.7 30.0 +7.7
Gordon (VT) 101.1 27.8 20.3 +7.5
Clemente (MIA) 107.5 25.8 20.2 +5.6
Crittenton (GT) 107.7 31.2 26.5 +4.7
Vasquez (MD) 104.6 24.9 25.4 -0.5
Douglas (FSU) 108.7 19.2 20.7 -1.5
Hamilton (CLE) 101.3 20.1 21.8 -1.7
Paulus (Duke) 101.6 23.9 28.7 -4.8
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.

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12/22/2006 01:35:00 AM

The New (And Bloody) Paulus

Greg Paulus had a career-high 20 points in Duke's win over Gonzaga on Thursday.
NEW YORK -- How much can one player metamorphosize in the course of a month? For Duke point guard Greg Paulus, the fearless kid who scored 21 points and committed just one turnover in a 61-54 win over Gonzaga on Thursday -- hustling so hard that he nearly knocked himself out cold diving into a press-row table -- a lot changed in a month.

The last time a national TV audience saw Paulus in a neutral-court showdown against a ranked team, it was ... well, ugly. He fouled out of a 73-62 loss to then-No. 16 Marquette in the finals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City on Nov. 21. His stat line read seven points, six turnovers, and just four assists, while his adversary, Dominic James, stole the show.

That, we've now been informed (by Coach K), was the old Paulus. The old Duke, even. On Saturday, when Mike Krzyzewski gathered his team for its first practice after a finals-week layoff, he told them, "Now the season starts. That was your first practice." Nevermind that 10 games -- nine wins, one loss -- were in the books. That was a mere warmup. The message was directed squarely at Paulus, whom K said has had "a hell of a fall" -- in a bad way.

Paulus' freshman year -- in which the nation's No. 1-ranked point guard recruit was hoping to help lead seniors J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams to a national title -- didn't have a happy ending. The Blue Devils crashed and burned in the Sweet Sixteen against LSU, largely because Redick was held to 3-of-18 shooting, but Paulus also struggled to a 2-of-8 performance, fouling out with seven points. And this, his sophomore year, did not have a pleasant beginning: He broke a bone in his left foot in just the second practice of the preseason, recovering in time to play the opener three weeks later. With the foot mending slowly, and a mono-like sickness sapping his health, Paulus rarely showed signs of having a breakout sophomore season, averaging 6.8 points and 3.8 assists in his first 11 games.

Duke fans are hoping what happened against Gonzaga -- exactly one month after the Marquette loss -- will be the birth of a breakout. Coach K went as far as to say that it was the best game of the Syracuse, N.Y., native's career. With the entire, nine-person Paulus clan on hand at Madison Square Garden, along with a contingent of hometown folks approximately 50 in size (one toting an ESPN sign reading (we're) Excited Syracuse Paulus Fans) their favorite son helped the sixth-ranked Blue Devils do what rival North Carolina could not: beat the 22nd-ranked Zags at the World's Most Famous Arena.

While the defensive efforts of Josh McRoberts (on Josh Heytvelt, who scored just 10 points) and DeMarcus Nelson (on Derek Raivio, who was suffocated to four points, 16.3 under his average) were huge, Paulus performed three vital tasks for Duke. First, he managed to keep them in the game in the opening period, when the Blue Devils shot 22.6 percent as a team. Their three top scorers entering the game -- McRoberts, Nelson and Jon Scheyer -- were a combined 3-of-17 in the first half. Paulus hit two 3-pointers and dished out two assists, and Duke went into the break miraculously trailing by one point, 21-20. Second, he played a near-flawlessly in crunch time, committing zero second-half turnovers and scoring on a give-and-go from McRoberts to open up a six-point lead with 56.1 seconds left. And last, Paulus controlled the tempo of the game, keeping it at a low pace that allowed Duke to survive with a shallow roster (just six deep, with the starters and David McClure) rather than be exhausted by Gonzaga's offensive prowess. Said Zags coach Mark Few, "That was definitely more of a grinder game than we have been in [the rest of the season]."

Paulus defining moment in his "career game" was neither an assist nor a bucket. Apropos of his scrappiness, it was a near-disastrous dive into the media row opposite of the Gonzaga bench. While trying to save a ball he had deflected on D at the 14:54 mark in the second half, Paulus slid under the press table, with his head hitting the shin of a reporter (we have the "exclusive" that it was ESPN.com's Andy Katz, who's currently listed at day-to-day). Paulus' chin was gashed open by the edge of the playing floor, and he lay on the sideline, bleeding, for a couple of minutes. Scheyer's reaction, upon running up to the fallen Paulus, was simply, "Oh, sh--!"

After leaving the game for one minute and six seconds (the only time he sat all night), Paulus returned to a standing ovation and then assisted on two of the Blue Devils' next three field goals. Krzyzewski joked in the post-game press conference that the cut on Paulus' chin, which was by then covered by a sizable Band-Aid, made his point guard "better-looking."

Whether it was from the blood, or the guts, or the stat line, the Paulus we saw on Thursday was unquestionably better.

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