Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Duke games are kinda meaningless

Just like last year's Duke game, I don't think there's a lot we can take away from last night's game in terms of getting a better read on where this team will eventually end up. This is especially true of last night's game because we also don't know how good Duke really is. They certainly didn't look like the 10th best team in the country, but this time of year it's tough to know.

The thing is, Duke plays such a weird style of basketball, particularly on defense, that it's dangerous to read much into it. How many teams will try to deny every perimeter pass where both players are 30 feet from the basket? Duke's defensive philosophy is simple and effective: you have to drive to the basket on us and make good decisions to beat us. That's harder said than done. That's why Wilmont played 10 minutes last night - he doesn't have a great handle and he doesn't make good decisions. The things Wilmont does well, like shooting 3s, are almost irrelevant against Duke. What makes Duke's defensive philosophy successful is the same thing that makes Temple and Syracuse's matchup zones effective -- it completely removes a team's ability to play their regular offense. It gets teams outside their comfort zone. Teams have to improvise offensively for basically the entire game. It works.

The other thing Duke was doing is fronting DJ White in the post - completely fronting him, not 3/4 fronting, for the most part. For 99% of the teams out there, this would be a stupid thing to do, IMO. But because Duke puts so much pressure on the perimeter, the IU guards were 30 feet from the basket so throwing over the top means a loooooooong throw, and Duke's helpside defense is very quick. Again, Duke was basically daring Indiana to drive to the basket. They effectively shut down all the other offensive options, wriggled their fingers with their thumbs on their noses and said "Betcha can't beat me to the basket!" To their credit, Basset and Suhr did a pretty good job of meeting that challenge.

So how is the offense coming along? We have no idea. What does this game say about Wilmont and Calloway's future playing time? We have no idea. What does this game say about DJ White's future NBA prospects? We have no idea.

A few more miscellaneous thoughts:

1. Indiana played terrific defense all night. Holding Duke to 21 second half points is pretty remarkable. Holding ANY team to 21 points in a half is pretty remarkable (unfortunately Duke did it to us in the first half).
2. The team seems to be starting to display some of Sampson's trademark toughness. It's fun to watch the hustle.
3. Is it just me, or is Mike White about 5'11"? I swear I saw Suhr towering over him in the huddle.
4. The officiating in the second half was much better than the first. That is setting a pretty low bar, though.
5. Mike White and Ben Allen are exactly the type of interior players that struggle against Duke's defense, IMO. Lance Stemler is the exactly the type of "interior" player that thrives against Duke's defense. We missed him.
6. Joey Shaw is a remarkable bundle of kinetic energy. I'm really looking forward to watching him develop over the next 4 years.
7. How many times last night did one of IU's inside guys dribble into a Duke double-team and lose the ball off a Duke player's stomach? I stopped counting at 87.
8. So far, this team looks nothing like the team I expected. I'm not even sure what I expected, but I know it wasn't big minutes and contributions from Basset, Suhr, and Shaw. It's kinda fun to have know idea what is going on. You'd think I'd be used to that by now.

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