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Brian HoraceGeneral Information1 Comment

I would like to thank Brian Horace for giving me the opportunity to contribute my insights and opinions to this week’s Blog post.

First, a few NCAA Tournament FAQs if you will…

  • With their defeat of Creighton in the 2013 NCAA Tournament’s 3rd round, it marks the 2,000th victory in Duke basketball history…only 3 other NCAA Division I teams can claim this lofty achievement, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina
  • This visit to the Sweet 16 is Duke’s 13th time in the last 16 years
  • During Coach K’s tenure at Duke, they have amassed an immaculate NCAA tournament history:
  • Appearances: 29
  • Not Invited: 5
  • Wins: 81
  • Losses:  24
  • Winning Pct: 76.7%
  • Sweet 16’s: 21
  • Elite 8’s: 12
  • Final Four’s: 11
  • Championships: 4

Now, with the historical accolades out of the way let’s now look at last night’s 66-50 win over seventh-seeded Creighton.

Overall, the win wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. I noted in comments to an article in this Blog last week that in my opinion for Duke to go deep in this year’s tournament there were two key factors to look for…the play of Mason Plumlee & Ryan Kelly. The only other major factor that I saw as a potential hindrance was the rotational philosophy of Coach K, i.e. rotation inefficiency (aka not using talented bench players & my personal opinion only). That said, the man will most likely go down in history as the best (or at the very least, one of the top 2) college basketball coaches in the nation. Therefore, who am I to criticize his philosophy? J

While Plumlee was plagued with foul trouble, picking up his 3rd PF at 19:30 to go in the 2nd half, his overall stat line was lackluster (10 points on 4-7 shooting, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, & 2 turnovers in 27 minutes of play. Kelly, while in foul trouble himself, has seemed to lose his way after his amazing comeback against Miami last February. He went 0-5 from the field with only 1 point (FT). Therefore, as I see it, Mason still hasn’t played up to his potential in the tournament thus far (particularly on the defensive end) & Ryan has become a non-entity. That said, when Coach K was asked if “… (does) Ryan’s presence really helps you guys?”, Coach K pointed out that “first of all, he defends his position well, and then he talks well. He communicates well. He can block shots or he changes shots…”

That’s all well & good, but when it comes down to pure efficiency & effectiveness on both ends of the court, why not let under-used players like Amille Jefferson & Alex Murphy to spell him when he’s obviously not playing anywhere near his potential. In my opinion, when you reach this point in the tournament, you must forget about intangibles like being a good communicator, team player, etc. You need overall team proficiency, which to date is noticeably absent with this team going into the Sweet 16.

Once again, as in the game against Albany, the team heavily relied on Seth Curry, having scored 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting against Albany & 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting against Creighton. Against Creighton though, Rasheed Sulaimon stepped up big time contributing 21 points to counter Creighton’s star player, Doug McDermott, the nation’s second-leading scorer. Their contributions, along with Plumlee & Kelly, don’t exactly add up to an overall offensive powerhouse. The bench only produced 10 points in the Albany game & a paltry 5 points against Creighton. Can Duke continue to advance with the bench production so low? I really don’t see it. This is where I’ll address my issues with Duke’s (i.e. Coach K’s) longstanding rotation philosophy…keeping it to no more than 3 deep. In my opinion, I think that we were EXTREMELY LUCKY (remember that luck…it’s just a merely a construct; I’ll let you ponder that J) to beat a very tough Creighton team when we had 4 players with 3 or more fouls going deep into the second half. Will inserting players like Alex Murphy & Marshall Plumlee into the rotation with less than 1 minute to play work against our next opponent, Michigan State? On the surface, I think it may be an uphill battle at most. Let’s look at them…

They demolished Memphis, a much better team than Creighton in my book. However, when you look at their own rotation during that game, Izzo essentially went only 2 deep off the bench. Does this mean that his starters are so good, that there was no need to use his bench? Maybe not. Their top 3 players scored 50 of their 70 total points. They also scored 45 of their 65 total points against Valpo. Sound familiar? Sure does as that’s been Duke’s history most of this season. However, as noted above, one of Duke’s top 3, Ryan Kelly, hasn’t yet bounced back from his spectacular play against Miami, which now leads me to believe that performance was simply a fluke. Therefore, we’ll need someone like Sulaimon, Thornton, Jefferson, and/or Hairston to fill in the gap. I hate to say this but you can forget about seeing Murphy or Marshall Plumlee seeing more than a minute of PT going forward. They simply don’t fit into Coach K’s rotation philosophy, for good or bad.

So to conclude, let’s pull out our trusty crystal ball! On paper, Duke matches up well with Michigan State so it should be a very good game. However, if we get into foul trouble like we did against Creighton, I’m sorry but the ‘model’ used in that game in terms of rotation just won’t cut it against a much more talented Michigan State team. Something will have to change. I’ll go one step further & state that if we do beat Michigan State, you can throw out the ‘model’ against our next likely opponent, barring a major upset, Louisville. They go consistently deep with 4 players averaging at least 15 minutes per game with fairly significant contributions on both ends of the court. You can throw out our beating them way back on November 24, 2012. We now have two totally different teams. Only time will tell, but regardless of anything I may have addressed above, the end game is that we must absolutely step up our DEFENSE for a full 40 minutes instead of in spurts if we are to continue dancing all  the way to Atlanta.