Beneath the celebration of Mike Krzyzewski surpassing his mentor, Bob Knight, for most career wins was the abysmal play of Austin Rivers.
Against the Michigan State Spartans, Rivers had a game that can only be described as a learning experience.
After the previous two games, Rivers must have realised that every time he drove to the rim, he would be fouled for easy points at the free-throw line.
In the Michigan State game, he did the same thing, but when the refs couldn’t find the air for their whistles, it frustrated Rivers to no end.
“Every freshman gets knocked back a little bit and that will happen for Austin and he'll learn what needs to happen and make those adjustments.” Those were the words of Coach K before the season started.
How Rivers handles this setback will define his character. That Michigan State game was really physical.
Did anyone else notice Derrick Nix carefully planting his oversized knee in the face of Tyler Thornton before diving for a loose ball? Or the state of the Plumlee brothers' faces after the game!
When Rivers decides to drive, he is unstoppable. He can get to the rim at will. He just needs to put more effort into the finish rather than hope for a whistle.
A few times during the game, I kept thinking of Gerald Henderson. Henderson had one of the best mid-range games I ever saw at Duke. I was hoping that Rivers could see at times that he had that option to pull up for a short jumper, but he always passed it up to achieve the contact.
At one point, Coach K called him over to the sidelines and gave him a few words of encouragement instead of just benching him. That should go a long way to instill Coach K’s confidence in him.Every freshman struggles at some point. Most will have great games to begin the season, as the competition tends to be easier, even though Belmont was a tricky opener for Duke this year. But as the competition heats up, they will need to make several adjustments.
Tom Izzo is one of the greatest college basketball coaching minds today, and he must have had a game plan for Rivers, which worked.
Look at Josiah Turner (Arizona Wildcats), Brandon Dawson (Michigan State) and Andre Drummond (though the UConn freshman has to be given some leeway for that face mask). These are all top recruits who seem to be adjusting to the college game at their own pace.
Last year, Harrison Barnes of North Carolina had his own struggles as a freshman but found his game later in the season. He also had some advice for Rivers:
"You can't get too down on yourself," said the preseason All American to ESPN. "You can't worry about the outside stuff. All you can do is work on your game. If you're focused on that, the outside stuff sorts itself out."
As with Barnes, the most-hyped recruits are kept under a microscope. And if you watch anyone close enough, looking for faults, you will find them.
Duke as a team hasn’t played exceptionally well, but they are 3-0 at the moment, and that’s all that matters.
When upperclassmen Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly start struggling, that’s when Duke will be in real trouble. Austin Rivers is just icing on a nice cake at the moment.
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