Sunday, January 9, 2011

Winning Ugly and the Writing on the Wall

Welcome to the rest of the season, Duke fans. The word is out on the Devils: go inside. That's where Jordan Williams and Cliff Tucker and Dino Gregory scored about 70% of Maryland's points. The Plumlees have gone past bad and into the realm of useless.

The negative side of me says things like this:

-If this game is at Maryland, we lose.
-If Maryland his any of their threes, we lose.

The positive side says:

-We didn't shoot that well either.
-It was an oddly lackadaisical game that only became intense when fear entered the equation.

The feeling I'm leaving with is frustration, but that's probably due in large part to the fact that I wanted to see us annihilate Maryland. They're my least favorite team, and the fact that they came into Cameron and almost stole a win is sort of infuriating. I'm trying to cool my jets a little bit, but there are some very serious problems here.

But first, let's recognize the emergence of two Dukies. One was surprising, and one was long-awaited.


Duke took a 1-point advantage into the half, but in just 62 seconds after the break, Maryland surged to a 38-32 lead. Coach K was forced to take a timeout, and he was practically in hysterics on the bench, cursing out his players in that trademark seething fashion. His arms made emphatic (and, it has to be said, rat-like) gestures as he excoriated the team for their lack of poise and fire. In an attempt to infuse the team with new life, he sent out Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton.

In a 5-minute span shortly after, Curry scored 9 points while Thornton nabbed 3 steals, took a charge, and hit a floater. What had been a 38-32 deficit turned into a 4-point Duke lead. Maryland hung tough, but Duke maintained the edge for (nearly) the balance of the game. That was the turning point- when disaster was averted and order started to be restored- and it came from two unlikely sources.

A certain phrase occurs to me, and I'd probably make a bigger deal of it if I felt more showy and less annoyed. But here it is anyway: Seth Curry saved Duke. And Thornton absolutely stole the show. He's a pest on defense, and you can tell there's a ton of passion and intelligence in that package. He knows and understands his role, and he's hungry for playing time. T-Thorn is a perfect sparkplug and yet another valuable piece from the ranks of the Duke guards.

Kudos also to the stalwarts:


What can you possibly say about Singler? He's made his reputation on dynamic play under pressure. This guy was Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He does it again and again and again. It's uncanny, and tonight was no exception. Here were the three biggest shots of the game:

1 - Kyle Singler makes an excellent tip on a missed shot with 2 seconds left in the first half to give Duke a 32-31 lead. The disastrous openine ends on a positive note, and the Devils head to the intermission with an advantage.

2 - Kyle Singler hits a three with 15:47 left to bring Duke back to 37-38. Cameron erupts and the 11-0 run is officially sparked.

3 - Kyle Singler hits a three with 5:50 left to give Duke a 58-56 lead. Maryland had just re-taken the lead, and every Duke fan in the world felt a stone in the dead center pit of their gut. It lasted less than twenty seconds.

It doesn't take a genius to see the common element.

You might be surprised, on the other hand, to see Nolan Smith included with his fellow senior. The game was more of a struggle for our point guard than we've seen in a while, and he ended the night 5-18 shooting, including 0-3 downtown, with 5 turnovers to boot. Not great, right?

But look at this line: 18 points, 8 assists, 7 boards, and 8-8 from the stripe.

Nolan Smith, you see, is a warrior. His first half was a nightmare of stripped balls and missed shots and a total absence of rhythm, but he fought and fought and fought until his team had won and his final line looked pretty damn good. I've loved Nolan since he was a freshman, and tonight is just another justification. Everyone has bad games, but this was one of the best bad games I've ever seen. And who do you think was our leading scorer in the final 10 minutes, with 11 points? KNOW-IT.

Anyone who wants to get on Nolan for having a bad game is, frankly, basketball-stupid. Nobody knows why some days are better than others, in life or sports. They just are. It's how you feel, and how things start, and the odd and random interaction of organs and chemicals beneath the skin. You might as well ask why it rains when it rains. But when a guy handles a bad day like Nolan handled today, without an ounce of negativity or even self-discouragement, you know you've got a prize. I will miss the hell out of Nolan Smith. He's not just a great player, he's an honest-to-god role model.

But I won't miss this guy:

This is the 'credit-where-it's-due' section of the blog. He had two obvious theories coming in:

1 - Take Nolan Smith out of his rhythm, and the Duke offense will become stifled and stagnant.

2 - Attack the interior, because the Plumlees are awful.

And he was right. He executed a plan to exploit both theories, and man, did it work. Gary Williams, whatever his faults, is a pretty great game coach. His team couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, but he still gave the #1 team in the country a night full of hell at their home stadium. 40% from the field, 21% from three, and 53% from the line, and these guys almost beat us in Cameron?

Tip of the hat to Gary. I do not look forward to see him again in College Park. He knows what to do against:



I've had some fun with the Plumlee nicknames in the past, but I think this settles it. Like flowers, they're sometimes okay to look at, but they wilt under the slightest heat or pressure.

Honestly, I don't know why I keep getting mad. The common definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I'm not actually doing anything in this case, except rooting for them, but the expecting different results indicates a significant imbalance on my end.

Here's what they do wrong, once and for all in list form. This is the part at the party where the annoying guy talks about that thing he always talks about, and everybody else is bored. Oh well.

1 - They can't catch a ball. Either their hands are made of grease, or they have a skin allergy to leather. I can't tell, maybe both. But it's maddening.

2 - They leave their men on defense to go for spectacular blocks, resulting in wide open dunks when a simple pass is made.

3 - They're overpowered by any interior player with any strength.

4 - They take stupid fucking shots they have no business taking. I mean, even a post move is beyond their skill, for the most part, and they're going to take 18 foot jumpers?!

5 - They can't make simple shots. Lay-ups especially confound Miles.

6 - They commit dumb fouls ENDLESSLY.

7 - By their reactions to blocked shots and easy dunks, they apparently only care about those two things. If a great block or dunk happens, it validates their existence and erases the crucial errors they've made throughout the rest of the game. It's like watching a running back go through an exuberant celebration after a touchdown when his team is down 45-6.

8 - They can't even hit foul shots.

9 - They never, never improve. They only get worse. File this under 'questionable intelligence.'

10 - They still have the nerve to demand the ball when they're posted up.

Watching Duke basketball is officially like watching a doubles tennis team of Roger Federer and some fat guy he found in Wal-Mart. Half the team plays a beautiful, graceful, highly-skilled game, and the other half is a fat guy from Wal-Mart.

We're in trouble, Duke fans. We're in serious trouble. These are our bigs, and nobody's coming to the rescue. How long can the beasts of burden carry the weight of that other kind of mule?

Other issues:

-Why won't Andre Dawkins be more aggressive?

-Wasn't Ryan Kelly supposed to be able to shoot?

-Why did Coach K pull Seth Curry right when he was getting hot? You could even see Collins talk to him on the bench in an attempt to explain the reasoning. Curry was not happy.

That's it for now. I understand my rhetoric is pretty negative after a win, and if it's unwarranted then I apologize. But this looks for all the world like a team with highly variable talent and a lack of solid identity. I hope and believe that this game was an anomaly, but it would be foolish to ignore the warning signs.


  1. I'll worriedly take the "W"

    They learned a ton tonight (TT is going to change things up for 10+ mins/game!). It is hard to be a 40 minute PG and Nolan looked good while TT was out there and more importantly, after TT would go back to the bench.

    Kyle is beast. Always has been, always will. And agreed to all your points Shane ("twin flowers").

  2. It seemed to me that Duke's strategy early on was to dump it down to the Plumlees or take it to the rim aggressively and try to draw fouls on Jordan Williams early. It kind of worked, but the drawback was that our offense stagnated due to the Plumlees being asked to assume a role they are totally unprepared for (scoring while fouled and/or hitting free throws).

    Two things stood out. First, Nolan almost completely eschewed the "drive and kick" for the "drive and get totally stuffed". He kicked it out a few times, but there were many opportunities to hit an open shooter on the perimeter, and he instead took it to the rim. I get this, he just came off a career high, but it seemed like sometimes he was forcing it way too much and Maryland's inside D was much better than UAB.

    Also, when everything clicked for Zoubek, one of the things he would do after getting an offensive rebound was IMMEDIATELY kick it out to an open shooter. Like, touch pass. The Plumlees grab it, look surprised they got an offensive board, and then start to mentally prepare themselves for figuring out how to take a shot. By that time, the defense is already swarming. They need to hit the open shooter no matter how badly we are shooting from 3.

    And I swear if Mason does one more step around fade-away jumper from three feet out and misses, I will break my TV. He has never ever made that shot, ever.

    That's all.

  3. I'm really excited to see this 3rd Plumlee brother now.

  4. Jonny, you're 100% right on Nolan. I meant to mention it in this post, but got carried away talking about his effort. I mentioned even after his great UAB game that he seemed to be taking a ton of shots. But last night, you're absolutely correct, he had Dawk and Seth Curry open several times on the perimeter and chose to force it inside instead. That resulted in a strip or stuff a good amount of the time, or even a difficult missed shot.

    He's been all over the selfish/unselfish spectrum this year, and now maybe it's time for him to come back to the middle...domination against UAB isn't so easy against better competition.

    And great call on Zoubek too. That's the huge problem with the Plumlees; they're under the impression that they can be offensive forces. Zoubek knew his role and was happy to kick it out for open shots. The Plumlees feel the need to attack the basket, and the results are ugly as hell. It'll be a lot hard harder to convince them to be role players. I miss Zoubek and Thomas and their utter lack of ego so much.

    Nasty - he's taller. Which I'm honestly not sure is good or bad.

    SanFranDan - the emergence of TT was the best part of this game. I'm excited to watch him dog opposing PGs for 10 MPG from here on out.


  5. My friends have decided to call them the Plumblebees. It's disappointing because I want them to be good. They're tall, fast and athletic, but instead of combining fundamentals and athleticism they just try and out jump everybody. Luckily there aren't too many teams with players like Williams so we shouldn't encounter dominating post play from opponents too often.

    I am surprised that Hairston didn't get any PT because he hustles for everything. He is a bit undersized but he's a spark plug. Hopefully him and Thornton will get more opportunities to get a few minutes here and there.

  6. Twin Flowers + Plumblebees = pollination of the college basketball landscape with clumsy, unpolished frontcourts. These guys might get you in trouble this year.

    And while I generally agree with your analysis of the brothers plumlee, I think you might be overreacting a little bit to the outcome of the game. Neither Maryland nor Duke played exceptionally on the offensive end. It happens. Sometimes teams just dont get into a flow. The ability to win those games sets good teams apart from mediocre (three quarters of the ACC this year) teams. Good teams withstand spurts from amped-up opponents. Duke didnt panic, made the adjustments, and ultimately won.

    Speaking of mediocre ACC teams, what are your thoughts on the ACC only having Duke in the Top 25? Dickie V has been noticeably silent on this point.

    -Craig J.

  7. Well done on the wordplay, Craig.

    If I had even a shred of skill at Photoshop, I'd make a poster of Duke's big men with the White Raven and the Plumblebees soaring through the air. Kelly's head on the bird, Plumlee heads on the bee bodies.

    As for the ACC, they gave up the best conference mantle to the Big East long ago. But it's pretty irrelevant; the Big East may have the best teams in the regular season, but all it takes is one team to win a championship. Judging teams by conferences can be fun, but in the end it's also a bit like judging a baseball player by the bat company he endorses.

    We keep hearing how great the Big East is every year, and analysts clamor for them to have 9 teams in the dance, but they haven't won a title since 2004. Since then, the ACC has 3, the SEC has 2, and the Big 12 has 1.

    Last season was arguably the Big East's best regular season class yet, but out of 8 teams in the tourney, 4 fell in the first round, only 2 made the sweet 16, and only West Virginia made the Final Four before losing to Duke by 21.

    Long point made short, you can have 20 teams in the top 25 if you want, but it doesn't mean anything.

    One interesting theory I hear a lot is that the Big East encourages a physical brand of play, and the result is that:

    1) It wears teams down.

    2) The teams aren't used to playing with the closer officiating you typically see in the NCAA tournament, and are particularly susceptible to upset since the fear of foul trouble forces them out of their usual style.

    Man, I really hope Cam Newton loses right now.


  8. Curry was the only one that figured out that Maryland was defending the 3 and the basket aggressively, but that he could get open mid-range jumpers. It's exactly the kind of thing Scheyer did well.

  9. I like the Curry/Scheyer comparison - been trying to think of one and missed the obvious.