Friday, May 21, 2010

Morning: Why Duke Will Not Repeat

Today's post is by Nick, official SCSD! basketball correspondent. You can read more of his stuff here:

-The Duke Offseason Report
-Duke is the best team in the NBA
-The Roy Williams take-down
-The 'Zombie Singler' Theorem
-Duke-WVU Final Four Preview

I should note that the title of this morning's blog is how Nick pitched the article to me. The actual title when he sent it was "Why Duke Won't Be As Good." GO EXTREME, YOUNG MAN!

Why Duke Will Not Repeat

Wow, this is awesome. Duke is returning their two best players (averaging over 34 PPG together last year), each of whom have a decent shot at taking NPOY honors as seniors. In addition, they’re finally bringing an elite, pass-first point guard the likes of which they haven’t seen since Shaun Livingston bolted to the draft. They also bring in a very highly regarded forward. They have a sophomore that seems ready to break out after a promising freshman season. Sure they lose a great senior guard, but they’ll still be starting mostly juniors and seniors, with just a few key new faces to fill out the gaps. We’ll undoubtedly start the season ranked number 1 and ride it all the way to the championship. Right?

Wrong. The scenario above refers to the 2006 Duke Blue Devils, who lost in the sweet 16 to LSU. That team had Shelden and JJ both coming back for senior seasons, while losing Daniel Ewing. In addition, they had one of the highest ranked PGs in the country coming in Greg Paulus. Don’t forget the plethora of role players: Lee Melchionni the 3 pt specialist, Dockery the defensive stopper, Demarcus Nelson the breakout sophomore, McBob the athletic white guy with hops and a series of players with potential (Martynas Pocius the slasher, Jamal Boykin the California Mr. Basketball, and the giant beast Eric Boateng). Remember this?

As we found out, that team had weaknesses. Paulus couldn’t create off the dribble and was a liability on defense. There was no third scorer. There was no depth in the frontcourt after the Landlord and McBob. The lack of depth made them susceptible to truly athletic teams that could harass the passing lanes and press on D.

I’m not here to go all doomsday on ya. In fact, I do believe that Duke has the best chance to win the whole thing next year. My only point is that while it seems trite and obvious, nothing is guaranteed in college basketball. This is especially true in today’s game; as Jay Bilas pointed out on Simmons’ podcast, 20 years ago you always knew who the best 5 teams were going to be before the season. Players stayed four years, so you had a better handle on what each team was going to put on the floor. These days, there are too many variables. How talented are these incoming freshmen? How long will it take for teams to find the right chemistry and for players to learn their roles? How will players develop over the season, and how will the team adapt to take advantage of those new strengths?

Without futher ado, here are the reasons Duke cannot win a national championship.

1) Jon Scheyer. Forget for a second his team-leading 18 PPG we won’t have. The biggest thing we’ll miss is his smart play and care of the basketball. He only coughed up the ball 65 times in 40 games, while handling it on almost every possession. Don’t think for a second that his care of the basketball didn’t directly lead to higher defensive efficiency numbers; by putting the ball in the right place he limited fast breaks for the other team while also orchestrating one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

For all the hoopla about Kyrie Irving, even if everything goes perfectly for him it’s going to be very difficult to put up those kinds of numbers. Let’s go overboard and say definitively that he is the second coming of Jay Williams. As a freshman, Jay averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 assists to 4.1 TO, and 4.2 rebounds. The Crafty Jew? 18.2 PPG, 3.6 APG to 1.6 TO and 4.9 REB. While certainly less flashy, ’10 Scheyer scored more, had a better AST/TO ratio, rebounded better, shot the 3 (.383 to .354) and free throws (.878 to .685) better than the legend Kyrie is supposed to emulate as a freshman. Believe it or not, we’re almost certainly taking a step down at the point in terms of production.

2) Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are not upgrades over Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Let’s start with Nolan – yes he made a huge jump last year, getting more aggressive and raising his PPG from 8.4 to 17.4. That said, he also hoisted over twice as many shots and his PPS actually went down from 1.24 to 1.22. I’m not going to say he was less efficient; he certainly got to the line more (twice as often last year as the year before), and dished more dimes than he did two years ago. Also, by taking a bigger part of the offense he also had the responsibility to take some of the worse shots, whereas the year before he only had to take shots he knew he could make and leave the rest for Gerald, Kyle and Jon. My only point is that right now I think we know what we’re going to get.

The same is true for Kyle. He’s increased his stats incrementally and steadily over three years, but he’s also taken a bigger role in the offense every year. One of the reasons he decided to stay is that his draft stock isn’t going to change; like Tyler Hansborough, he’s a known commodity and he might as well enjoy another year in college and take another shot at the title. Next year has a weaker draft anyway, with so many bolting this year. He is what he is (which is great), but there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement.

3) How will the Plumtrees compare to Zoubek and Lance? This is by far the biggest question mark for next year. Lance was an all-ACC defender that could defend 3 positions, and Zou was the best screener and offensive rebounder in the NCAA last year. While certainly the big 3 were the engine, they would have gone nowhere without the play of these seniors down the stretch. Remember, we had a similar big 3 two years ago in Gerald, Jon and Kyle but got trounced by Villanova. Z and LT didn’t fill the stat sheet, but they were almost perfect role players and did all the dirty work asked of them.

I’m excited about Miles and Mason. Both have great athletic ability and baseline to baseline speed for big men, which should be more on display next year with a faster game plan. Miles took a huge jump between his freshman and sophomore season, and Mason did very well despite his early development been taken away with a wrist injury in the beginning of the season. However neither is a top quality defender and both have trouble getting called for fouls. It’s also unknown how they will take on a leadership role. In his exit interview, Lance said in practice the bigs almost came to blows in fighting for rebounds. Will the Plumlees bring that same intensity to practice? Will they follow in the seniors’ example and bang with Ryan Kelly and newcomer Josh Hairston? All I’m gonna say is filling those shoes will be at the upper level of reasonable expectation.

4) The field. As we all know about the NCAA tournament, it’s almost completely decided by matchups. I think it’s fair to say that in every game in the ’10 tourney Duke played at or above their average ability. Remember, this team did lose to NC State and Ga Tech and got trounced by G’Town before putting it all together in the dance. Will that be true next year, or will they lay an egg like the ’09 team did against Villanova? Also, what other teams are going to emerge over the season, and will their strengths blow up our weaknesses? No matter who you are, the tournament is fickle business (See: Kentucky, Kansas and Syracuse 2010).

The reasons why next years’ team will be better have been discussed ad nauseam. They’ll play at a dominating pace, they bring back the most talent and have a very deep bench (including some transfer from Liberty whose name I can’t remember) (ed note: we're looking into it...). Even if Duke is the team most likely to win, they are not even close to being a higher favorite than the Field. We’ll have a great season, but any time you expect a national championship more than likely you set yourself up for disappointment.

Kind of a downer, sorry. Here’s some fun news: turns out Greivis Vasquez is a Duke fan!


  1. I have to say I agree with most everything you said. Good analysis.

  2. Fair points. But at the same time, I have to disagree. Your statistics are remarkably well said, but this team plays in a different way. While the teams that JJ Redick and Shelden Williams played on relied on a stout defense and good shooting, this team plans to get out and run the basketball, much like North Carolina did in 2009. Also, Kyrie Irving's projections are just that. Projections. No one thought Scheyer would be the playmaker he turned out to be. It will be interesting to see. Altogether though, a very well written blog, I'm impressed with you angle.