Duke flirted heavily with disaster against Vermont on Sunday, finally winning when Vermont's last shot, which went in, left just a fraction of a second too late to count. The near-loss is important because it underscores something we realized when the one-and-done era truly got started: experienced teams with less talented upperclassmen have a real advantage over younger, more talented teams with less unity. Which brings us in an interesting way to Wednesday night's opponent, Alabama.
|Alabama's Likely Starters|
|G||6-0||Trevor Releford 18.0 ppg, 3.0 ppg|
|G||6-1||Retin Obasohan 15.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg|
|G||6-6||Rodney Cooper 7.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg|
|G||6-5||Levi Randolph 9.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg|
|F||6-10||Jimmie Taylor 2.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg|
You may remember that after Jeff Capel left VCU, there was a story from VCU about the A.D. calling a coaching prospect back mid-flight and hiring him. That coach led VCU to a memorable upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament, with the enduring image being Jon Scheyer leaving court, crying and bleeding.
That coach? Anthony Grant, now at Alabama.
Grant is probably somewhat unappreciated as a coach. Take away his transition year at Alabama (17-15) and his career record looks like this. At VCU: 28-7, 24-8, 24-10. At Alabama: 25-12, 21-12, 23-13.
You know, at Duke we've gotten spoiled and 30-win seasons are common. It's not normal, much less at a football-oriented SEC school, and it's just his fifth year. It's really very impressive.
As we recall from the VCU game, Grant's teams play a very hard, aggressive style, as Scheyer's picture reminds.
We're sure that Alabama will bring that defense to Madison Square Garden. The question is: what will Duke bring?
After the feckless defense on display against Vermont, one suspects that the baskets might have been taken down in Cameron so that there would be no escaping the primary focus of Duke basketball, which, under Coach K, has always been defense.
Well, that's not entirely true. Krzyzewski has always preached three systems at Duke: offense, defense, and communication. Against Vermont, communication really was inadequate and as a result, help defense didn't help. Ergo, the Vermont layup drill.
You'll also recall that ECU made its admirable second-half push against Duke after going small. So what does Alabama put on the floor? One 6-10 shotblocker and four guards.
In other words, there are a lot of elements, potentially anyway, working against Duke here. We would expect Alabama to focus on man-to-man, but it's also worth mentioning that both ECU and Vermont ran second-half zones against Duke which caused a lot of disruption.
On the other hand, it's worth mentioning that Duke has scored at least 91 points against everyone, with the exception of ECU.
It's also worth mentioning that whatever issues Duke is having, the team is getting brilliant production from Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, both of whome are shooting better from three point range than closer in.
Parker is shooting .580 from the floor and .680 from three point range, which is superb.
Hood is better. Currently he's hitting nearly 70% fr the floor (.667) and .688 from behind the line.
Parker is averaging 23 and Hood 21.8.
As superb as they have been, Duke's still suffering from the problem we started with: incorporating young players into a team.
Parker and Hood have clearly defined roles, but not everyone's is as far along. Amile Jefferson has started every game to date, but doesn't quite seem to have found his niche. Same for Rasheed Sulaimon, who started the season a bit ill but who is visibly trying to elevate his game.
Even the older players appear to be seeking their own niche. Against Vermont, Tyler Thornton made a highly uncharacteristic mistake, fouling a three point shooter late in the game. Josh Hairston, who has built his career around hard-nosed defense and taking charges, may be the Blue Devil having the toughest time with the new rules. And Andre Dawkins is returning from a year away. Early returns are highly encouraging as the now 6-5 guard is playing consistently well.
So there are a lot of questions for Duke going into this game. If Alabama gets a free pass to layups, it's going to be a long night.
We imagine, though, that everyone's pride and character were challenged after the Vermont game, and that the players will respond accordingly.