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 Collinsdescribed 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.