Duke Basketball: Report Card Grades for Blue Devils Loss to Miami
Duke’s blowout loss, 90-63, to Miami was unequivocally the worst effort by a Duke Blue Devils team I have ever seen.
Forget the preposterously bad shooting and historically lopsided margin of defeat, those things can sometimes happen to even the best of teams. But when the game opened with Duke missing some wide-open shots and Miami scoring on nearly every attempt they threw up, the Blue Devils laid down like dogs and quit.
Ryan Kelly’s absence explains the increased reliance on inexperienced players and the decrease in offensive proficiency, but it does not explain the Blue Devils’ utter lack of effort against Miami.
I’d be surprised if coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff let the players practice in jerseys that say “Duke” on them after that thoroughly embarrassing performance. Whatever motivation or punishment he employs, hopefully, it will work because the idea of handing out player grades to anyone on Duke’s roster higher than an "F" is farcical.
But since I, unlike some people, don’t quit in the face of adversity, let’s delve into diagramming the catastrophe.
Mason Plumlee: F
Easily, this was the worst game of his career. True, he had 15 points and 11 rebounds. But what those numbers don’t point to is the fact that his defensive effort was atrocious.
He rarely challenged shots in the paint, and he frequently failed to even body-up Reggie Johnson or Julian Gamble when they had the ball in their hands with their back to the basket. Not to mention how completely helpless he looked on help defense.
Over and over again, Plumlee failed to step up to stop the ball and was caught flat-footed so often he should’ve been charged a ticket price to just stand and watch the game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Plumlee looked less than one-dimensional. He repeatedly went for his driving jump hook, which isn’t a bad move in and of itself, but loses its effectiveness when the defense knows it’s coming.
And how does the defense know it’s coming? Because that’s the only move Plumlee ever utilizes.
Twice all game did Plumlee post up and spin toward the baseline. Twice. The big bodies of Miami knew the scouting report, took away Plumlee’s preferred move and he didn’t seem to have a plan B beyond flailing his arms and hoping for a foul call.
I know this is harsh (and it’s not going to get better for the other players), but earlier in the year, I wrote an article about how Plumlee was the favorite for National Player of the Year. After a game like that, not only does he have absolutely no chance in the National POY race, he’s not even the front-runner for ACC Player of the Year.
Yes, there are excuses for his struggles. Teams can double-team him more without Ryan Kelly on the court to stretch defenses. However, against Miami he got pushed around by Miami’s post players and made only the most minimal of effort on defense.
If there was a grade lower than "F," I’d give him that.
Seth Curry: F
Didn’t make a three-pointer. Didn’t make a two-pointer. Didn’t get to the free-throw line.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about Curry’s 0-of-10 shooting night. Like Mason Plumlee, there are reasons for his offensive impotence. Teams put their best perimeter defender on him and force him to dribble around instead of spot up and shoot.
Plus, Curry’s injured. And if there is any good news, it’s that he only played 22 minutes and should be well-rested for the game against Maryland.
Excuses aside, Durant Scott ran roughshod over Seth Curry. While that might have been anticipated given that Curry isn’t, and never was, a real lockdown defender, Duke simply can’t afford to let an opposing team’s shooting guard take open threes and penetrate with ease.
As easy as it is to focus on the offensive woes, Duke’s defense was completely incapable of stopping Miami. If Curry is going to be a defensive liability, then Duke has to figure out a way to scheme around that, and Curry has to make up for his defensive shortcomings with offensive output.
Against Miami, Curry was a liability on both ends—unable to stay in front of Scott and forcing long threes on offense. An "F" performance if ever there was one.
Quinn Cook: F
Quinn Cook was 1-of-12 and got railroaded all night by Shane Larkin. The son of baseball great Barry Larkin made Quinn Cook look like a minor leaguer. Cook couldn’t prevent penetration by Larkin or mount enough ball pressure to slow down the speeding train of Miami’s offense even a little.
When Duke was on offense, Larkin stayed in front of Cook the way his dad stayed in front of ground balls. Cook struggled to get penetration, and when he did, very little came of it.
The two layups that Cook had cruelly rolled off the rim are less concerning than his continued subpar three-point shooting. He was 1-of-5 against Miami, 1-of-5 against Georgia Tech and 1-of-6 against NC State (gamelog via ESPN).
If Cook can’t stretch the defense, then defenders sag down into the paint to prevent his penetration and double-team Mason Plumlee. In short, without Ryan Kelly, Cook is the keystone of the offense.
If he’s shooting the ball well, then Duke’s offense can function as normal. If he’s not, then the opposing defense can take away Curry on the outside, Plumlee on the inside, play off Cook to prevent a drive and watch Duke flail toward an unspectacular 63 points.
Rasheed Sulaimon: D
He gets a harsh grade, despite leading the team with 16 points because, like the rest of the team, he was eaten alive defensively, and he only started to score once Duke was looking at a 20-point deficit.
Again, there are excuses for Sulaimon. He’s young, and losing Kelly puts greater pressure on him to step up as a scorer. That pressure may be getting to him because Sulaimon looked incredibly rushed all game.
The good news is that Sulaimon played hard until the final buzzer. Like his teammates, he was laid out on the mat by Miami’s ferocious start coupled with Duke’s shooting struggles. But Sulaimon put forth a good effort even in a lost cause, coming up with several steals when Duke instituted a full-court press.
Most importantly, he started to drive to the basket the way he did earlier in the season. While six of his nine shots were threes, he drew fouls off penetration and went 6-of-6 from the line. Like Cook, Sulaimon has to start making threes so that defenders can’t simply play off him to take away his dribble-drive potential.
Demonstrating a more diversified game is a silver lining to a 27-point loss and enough to earn Sulaimon the lowest passing grade.
Amile Jefferson: C
The good news is that Jefferson came on strong after the initial onslaught. He finished with 13 points off 6-of-11 shooting and added five rebounds.
The bad news is that when you’re given the opportunity to start, you can’t wait until the game is out of hand to begin establishing yourself.
Jefferson’s first start didn’t go as planned. Early in the game, he missed some shots under the basket and still looked a little lost on defense. Like Rasheed Sulaimon, however, he continued to play with effort and was rewarded with several baskets off hustle plays.
Unfortunately, those baskets came in garbage time (which, when you think about it, accounted for all but the first 10 minutes of the game). In all, Jefferson is still raw on defense but continues to demonstrate his ability to get to the right spots on the offensive end. He’s a work in progress and, if nothing else, he got plenty of floor time to improve his game.
Alex Murphy: A
Only one player made the most of every minute he was on the court, and it was Alex Murphy. The second the freshman came off the bench, he was running off screens and spotting up in triple-threat position. In the end, he worked his way to 11 points and five rebounds.
The biggest thing was that Murphy got his points mostly from inside. Though regarded as an outside shooter, Murphy only made one three-pointer. The rest of his points came from offensive rebounds or working his way into the paint.
He remains a liability on defense, but given that no one else on Duke has stepped up as a three-point threat, Murphy may have earned himself a lot more playing time.
Tyler Thornton: F
I liked what Tyler Thornton was trying to do, but he needs to realize that he can’t do it—or at least he can’t do it that way.
What I mean is, when the game was out of hand, Thornton took it upon himself to try and spark Duke’s sputtering offense. It was a good idea and something you’d want from a team leader, but Thornton simply isn’t an offensive player. So instead of jump-starting the offense, he just drained the battery.
Thornton was 0-of-7 from the field and 0-of-4 from behind the arch. Thornton should, under no circumstances, shoot the ball that many times. Again, I understand what he was trying to do and I appreciate the effort, but a junior with his experience and basketball IQ needs to find a way to inspire his teammates while playing within his own limitations.
Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee: Incomplete
I could be harsh and give both guys an "F," but neither played much.
Hairston saw five minutes of action in the first half and four in the second. He had an early basket off a good hustle play, but beyond that, he failed to imprint himself on the proceedings.
I was left to assume that the coaching staff figured that they already knew what they had in Hairston so opted to put in less-experienced players to see what they had to offer.
Marshall Plumlee, meanwhile, played six minutes, but all of them came when the game was a foregone conclusion. Of his three minutes in each half, nothing stuck out other than a few uncontested rebounds.
So both players are let off the hook due to a lack of playing time, but I get the feeling that no one on the roster will escape the wrath of the Duke coaching staff.