It Takes One Duke Butt Kicking to Recover from Jared Sullinger and Ohio State
College basketball fans who hate Duke, and there are many for their many reasons, enjoyed the beating the team endured Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio. Duke came into the game ranked fourth facing the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Some hyped up the game as the premier game of the young season thus far. Even if the Blue Devils weren't feeling fatigued from their Maui trip, where they won in exciting fashion, this game was a monumental task.
Preparation isn't questioned; Coach K will have his team prepared for every single game. But preparation stops when the ball is thrown up. Let's take a look at the loss (the sting doesn't hurt as much as the initial shock) and what it means for the remainder of the season.
Loss Means Nothing
What does this loss mean? Nothing.
Sure, it stings especially the way the team lost. This loss may not even effect Duke's rankings this week. And it will do more help than harm.
Duke teams can lose and lose big. Does it happen twice in the same season? Rarely.
Coach K will use this game as a teaching moment. And just like the loss means nothing in the grand scheme of the season for Duke, the win means little to Ohio State. It doesn't get a bump up in ratings. It can, however, boast how it beat a Duke team.
But one also has to point out strength of schedule and who both teams have played so far. In three weeks, if the Buckeyes are still ranked second or higher, they can boast. If not, they have to refocus on what they really want to accomplish this season and how they improve from last.
Why the Loss
Why did Duke lose and lose big? Was it the referees?
Most college basketball fans will complain and whine that Duke gets all the calls—that Coach K has his way with the referees. The only thing to criticize about the officials was that Terry Wymer officiated, considering he officiated Duke's last game (Maui Championship).
That is a scheduling conflict only. So no, the referees didn't cost Duke the game.
Then it must be fatigue. That is partly true. Coach K won't let that be the excuse, but it was evident that fatigue did play a small part.
There may also have been a situation of confidence getting ahead of improving. "We weren't ready to play," Mason Plumlee said (via ESPN.com). That isn't literal as much as mentally and partially physically from fatigue.
Both teams started out with a turnover and missed shot. But Ohio State jumped out to an early lead. Where Ohio state was sprinting, Duke was loosening up for the jog. You can't win the race when your opponent is sprinting at full speed and not looking back at you, still loosening up for the morning jog.
Duke players looked tired and unprepared for the physical exhaustion that this game required. Duke was never going to run. Ohio State kept putting hurdles up, and Seth Curry couldn't jump over them.
Others, Andre Dawkins, didn't even try and just walked into the hurdles. The only two players for Duke that ran around the hurdles were Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee.
Jared Sullinger, No More Need Said
Jared Sullinger is a force to be reckoned with for sure. He is one of those players that you don't draw up plays to stop. You can't. You can only try limiting his effectiveness by limiting the amount of times he touches the ball.
This year Sullinger is averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds. In Tuesday's game, Duke's defense was picked apart. They didn't commit to playing defense.
What springs your offense? Defense.
Sullinger scored 21 points and had eight rebounds in 37 minutes of play—weak defense.
Now Sullinger didn't do everything by himself. And Duke didn't exactly allow for it either. The Blue Devils did switch to a zone defense but possibly too late. They also allowed William Buford (20 points), Aaron Craft (17 points/eight assists) and Deshaun Thomas (18 points) to seal their fate.
Not taking anything away from OSU, because that would be a futile argument. The Buckeyes won this game and stepped on the throats of Duke. That is what a good, or great, team does. They are ranked No.2 and deserve that.
Seth Curry Led Nothing
Duke didn't lose the game. OSU won it and in convincing manner. In order to win a game, though, your opponent didn't do things to win it.
Seth Curry has been placed in a role this year similar to Jon Scheyer in the past. He is playing in a position he isn't necessarily suited for and is asked to do things above what he has been asked to do in the past.
Curry has moved from being a scorer and three-point specialist to the leader. Not only does he have to still create his own shot and provide the three-point scoring, but he has to lead.
He isn't just a point guard (or more accurately, a combo guard). This is equivalent to asking a wide receiver to be your primary quarterback. Considering you are playing for Coach K at Duke, this is taking a second-string wide receiver and making him Aaron Rodgers.
Curry has the skills and determination to pull this off. It doesn't just require good ball-handling skills, running sets, court vision and ball control. Curry has to be the leader of the team, both by his play and vocally. As the season plays out, Curry will become a good combo guard and will become a great leader.
In this game however, he let his team down. He started the game looking sluggish. Curry finished with only seven points, well below his average and what is expected of him.
For Duke to win a game, Curry needs to score at least 16 points, with at minimum two three-pointers. Those numbers can fluctuate and be adjusted taking into account other players getting involved (which should mean Curry has five assists).
The major point is, Curry has to lead this team. The players will follow his lead. If he plays well, they win. If Curry suffers, the team goes with him.
The Plumlee Brothers
Duke generally doesn't have post players that opponents game-plan against extensively. This year, the Plumlees are asked to step up their game. So far, both have been doing that.
Mason exudes extreme confidence, but his older brother Miles still needs to. Both have improved and become good, reliable post players.
First, Miles performed at an "OK" level for his 17 minutes of play. He scored six points and had three rebounds. Mason did all he could to keep Duke in the game along with only one other teammate (for a later slide).
Mason played 35 minutes and scored 16 points with eight rebounds. His level of performance can be nitpicked but not fully criticized. For him to score more points or more rebounds, he'd have to play out of his mind.
That can happen but not in many games. And at the rate Mason is improving this season, he is bound to have a couple of those games later on when it is really needed.
Freshman Hype Austin Rivers
Some players come in with great fanfare and some may be overhyped. The jury is still out on if that is the case with Austin Rivers.
Rivers has supreme confidence in his skills and playing ability, and isn't afraid to show that. That isn't entirely a bad thing. Being cocky sometimes is necessary but has it's limits.
Austin has at times gone to the cliff but hasn't jumped off it yet. It is essential (and this will happen) that Coach K stresses to him that he needs to play within the team concept. This isn't Austin Rivers and the Blue Devils. His uniform number is zero; without his teammates, coach and Duke, he is zero.
Rivers' teammates feed off of his confidence and have the utmost trust in him and his abilities. Besides Mason Plumlee, Rivers was the only one keeping Duke from being blown out even worse. Rivers finished playing 37 minutes with 22 points, three assists and 50 percent three-point shooting.
My only criticism was that Duke didn't allow Rivers to take over the game. When it was evident the game was a loss, what harm would it have been to let it be the Rivers/Mason Plumlee show? Only in that type of situation should that be allowed.
Coach K likes to preach that you go into a fight with a closed fist instead of an open hand (via coachk.com). In this game, only two fingers were present.
Where Was Ryan Kelly?
Ryan Kelly was the MVP int he Maui Tournament and deservedly so. He is a threat to score inside and outside from the three-point line. He has been given the opportunity to shine, and he grasped that and is taking off with it.
Where was he in this game?
Kelly's extreme lack of production and possible fatigue led to only 15 minutes of play. That seemed to be intentional and purposeful—hopefully lesson learned.
Duke will need to rely on him heavily to provide inside and outside scoring. Because of that ability, he becomes a focus of defenses and is hard to stop.
Contributors to the team. Who are they?
They can simply be listed as the bench. Any good team depends on their bench. Bench players know their roles, and the hope is to only use them when needed and games are decided.
In Duke's case, that is true. But Duke also relies on them to complement its starters. Some starters also can be considered contributors in that they don't play critical roles but supplementary ones. Each role does play an important part for the team to win.
One contributor is Andre Dawkins. He can have flashes of brilliance shooting the three-pointer. In the OSU game he contributed a whopping zero points in 19 minutes of play. It wasn't all bad—he did have a rebound.
And who was the Maui hero? Tyler Thornton. He hit two three-pointers—one out of extreme desperation. Yet he scored zero points and even worse, attempted a horrible three-point shot when it wasn't needed (and it was an air ball). He shares a stat with Dawkins with one rebound, however.
Quinn Cook is a serviceable point guard who gives Seth Curry rest and plays when the game is decided. Such was the case as it was evident Curry was not having a good game at all.
The other two contributors are sparingly used in situations such as the OSU game. They are Josh Hairston and Michael Gbinije. Combined, they scored eight points, which only helped to keep the losing margin under 30.
Keys for Victory
The keys for any Duke victory are the same for any opponent it faces. Of course, each team and each game needs to be perfected. Here is what each player should be expected to do in simple fashion:
Seth Curry: increase points from 14.1 to 18; increase assists from 2.8 to 4. He needs to also work on ball protection and keeping the turnovers to a minimum (averaging 2.3).
Ryan Kelly: use his outside shot to work on his inside presence. In other words, make the defenders respect his outside shot (which they already should) and improve on going to the basket more. This should serve to increase his scoring (averaging 12.8 points).
Mason Plumlee: keep the confidence. Do not dribble upcourt; leave that to the ball-handlers. Work on the defensive end a little more, and the offensive game will keep coming.
Andre Dawkins: establish a consistent shot. The more playing time and experience he gets under his belt, the more consistent his shot will be. He currently averages 8.9 points, and that could be increased to 16 with a consistent shot. The three-point shot is an area he can work on easily.
Austin Rivers: only two pieces of advice for him—play within the team and learn when to slow it down and pass to the open teammate. Otherwise, he should continue playing like he has, because he has the ability to put a team on his back when needed. Let them put him in that situation over him deciding that though.
Miles Plumlee: become as confident as his younger brother, and they could be a force together on the floor. Miles might be more defensively skilled than Mason and should concentrate on that end of the floor.
Contributors: Each plays a role at specific times. Tyler Thornton needs to continue his defensive tenacity. Quinn Cook needs to substitute at point guard effortlessly, leading the team as if Seth Curry never came out. Josh Hairston and Michael Gbinije need to just run the plays as prescribed in the situation they find themselves in.
If during a victory, maintain the lead and build on it. If in defeat, give that burst of energy at the end to show teams that Duke competes until the final buzzer.
Duke will recover from this loss with its next opponent being Colorado State. The Rams shouldn't pose too much of a threat; not that any opponent should be overlooked. That game doesn't come until Wednesday, December 7th.
The next real test for the Blue Devils will be when ACC play starts on January 7th with Georgia Tech. The easier part of the Blue Devils' schedule (they've played quality opponents in a fast-paced schedule to start their season) allows for each player to refine their skills. The team can come together during this time so it is better prepared for ACC play.
Opposite of Duke is Ohio State's schedule. The Buckeyes played home games up until Duke against "easier" opponents, with one exception of eighth ranked Florida on November 15th. OSU faces 14th ranked Kansas on December 10th for a formidable opponent. Starting December 28th, OSU starts its Big Ten play with Northwestern and an improved Indiana.
So in closing, Duke fans, don't worry about the loss to the higher ranked and "better that night" Ohio State Buckeyes. It is one loss on the season. What team is going to go undefeated?
There is no shame in losing to a quality, great, higher ranked team on its home court early in the season. It stings. But don't let that bad taste linger. There is much more positive about this Duke team than negative.
And each game, there will be improvement. Anyone who watches the Blue Devils play, knows they don't play two terrible games back to back, if in the same season even. Duke will recover and in two weeks, the loss will have been forgotten and have had little impact.