Monday, February 22, 2010

The Ugly Journey to Perfection

(Note: Seth Curry Saves Duke! is expanding due to the economic rebound, and will now be posting several times a day. This is one such 'extra' post. The longer morning posts will still exist, and will now be labeled "Morning." You can find today's morning post below.

I promise I will stop posting this message at some point. Probably this week.)

After a rough and testy challenge at Cameron last night, the good guys escaped with a 67-55 win. It certainly wasn't pretty. I don't think I really underestimated Virginia Tech in Friday's post; I think Duke just played a poor offensive game. 25% shooting in the first half, and with 8 minutes left it was tied at 47. Then Nolan and Singler took over, and Tech stopped being able to score.

The Perfection Proclamation is intact. Two more home wins, against Tulsa and UNC, and we'll have an unblemished mark in the friendly confines of Durham city proper. Which is awesome. Here are five positives and five negatives from last night.


1) Brian Zoubek continues to astound. Since being made a starter, he's been better than ever seemed possible. He only had 3 points last night, but he pulled down 16 boards, and anyone who watched knew how valuable he was throughout.

2) Singler's last season revival lives on. He scored 25 last night, shooting almost 50% from the field and converting all seven chances from the line. He also pulled down 10 boards to notch a double-double. We needed him so badly this season, and he's finally in the groove. Good timing. Hopefully he keeps the black eye.

3) As a team, we continue to thrive under pressure. When times get tough, we excel. This was something you couldn't say about Duke teams in the past few years.

4) Nolan Smith keeps looking better and better. He's playing with confidence, and penetrating more than ever. He needs to keep driving, since he's the only on the team with that lightning first step. It'll continue to open his pull-up jumper, and to create threes for the others when opponents are forced to play help-side D.

5) We own the boards. If nothing else, we won't lose a tournament game because the other team killed us on the offensive glass. Should be a nice change.


1) The Plumlees. What a wash. Miles in particular is just useless out there. He can't even haul in a routine rebound without making it look like the ball was covered in petroleum jelly. It's a mess, and Mason isn't much better. Last night, neither one inspired enough confidence from Coach K to get even 10 minutes of playing time.

2) The disappearance of Andre Dawkins. We really could have used a sharpshooter with a bit of driving ability this year. It didn't pan out. He's very young, and it was probably expecting too much. He also had to deal with the horrible tragedy of his half-sister dying on the way to see him play. I feel bad for Baby Dawk, and still think he'll have a nice career at Duke. But he looks lost now, and his mojo is missing. It might be too late to get it back this season.

3) Stagnant offense. When we're not shooting, we're incredibly vulnerable. Virginia Tech is almost the kind of team who Duke always struggles against in the tournament. The Hokies didn't hit their 3s, and couldn't score enough in the end to give us a run at the end, but a slightly better version of their squad will be waiting in round 2 and the Sweet 16. The stifling, rangy, explosive type team made in the mold of everyone who's taken us down in the past six years. Another loss due to our inferior athleticism would sting. A possible antidote is taking advantage of our rebounding ability and running a fast break once in a while, but it never seems to happen. It's always dribble down, pause at halfcourt, make an entry to the wing, and then run a multitude of picks. Which can be pretty effective, but is also predictable.

4) Scheyer's streaky shooting. It's hard to pick on him, since he's had such a great year, but a creeping, under-reported wrinkle is that he goes cold for stretches. Sometimes it's just a game, sometimes it's a string of games. Take a look.

Last four games: 20 for 66, 30.3%
Previous five: 28 for 59, 47.4%
Previous three: 12 for 39, 30.7%
Previous seven: 52 for 103, 50.5% (!)
Previous three: 12 for 39, 30.7%
Previous five: 24 for 50, 48.0%

And that's his whole season. So basically, he's had three hot streaks, totalling 17 games, and three cold streaks, totalling 10. Which isn't a terrible percentage, but, you know, let's just hope we're on the right side of that bipolar performance come tourney time. Because in our four losses, his numbers look a lot like the bad times: 20 for 55, 36.3%.

5) Questionable one-on-one defense. This is nitpicking, because the team defense as a whole looks great. But individually, we're still susceptible to being smoked by a great player. Nolan did an admirable job on Delaney for most of the game, but in the second half he really got rolling. He penetrated with ease, got to the line, created his own shot, and created a lot of open shots for his team. Granted, most of them didn't go down, but that was more Tech's fault. And even with all the misses, there was a point late when Delaney had an open 3 that would have been an absolute dagger. But we had some margin for error last night. In March, we won't.

Slow week for the Dukies coming up, with only home game against Tulsa before our next big battle, Sunday at UVA. It's hard to know what to expect from this team, but at this precise moment, we're in the cat-bird seat for the ACC title. Even in a down year, that's something to be proud of.

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