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Stanford Storms Back, Upsets Devils

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If Ousmane Cisse needed a sign that he would fit in well at Duke he sure got
it tonight: after Duke's inside presence fouled out, Carlos Boozer first,
followed by Shane Battier near the end, Stanford was able to pound the Devils
inside and build a dramatic comeback to defeat the Devils 83-82 on a Casey
Jacobsen jumper with less than 4 seconds to go in the game.

Since Duke dominated the first 32 minutes or so of the game, it was
particularly infelicitous to let the  Cardinal come back the way they
did.  And give full credit to Stanford; they were brilliant at the end of
the game and Duke, clearly, was not.

So what to take away from this game?

Well in the first half, Duke's defense was truly superb. Had their offense
matched it, had they played as well as they played versus say Temple or
Michigan, they would have taken a much larger lead to the locker room, possibly
double, and a comeback would have been much tougher.  They shut down most
of Stanford for the first half, except for Jacobsen, who is always an offensive
threat, and who kept them in the game.

In the first half, Stanford played their usual deliberate game, and Duke blew
past them. In the second half, Montgomery, according to the broadcasters, told
them to just play basketball, and Duke's lead floated between 10-15 for a good
bit of the game. 

After Boozer fouled out, though, Stanford slowly chipped away and Duke went
dry from the field, hitting only from the foul line for more than 7
minutes.  You'd think that Williams or Battier or James or someone would
manage a basket in that stretch, but it didn't happen.

Nonetheless, in spite of the loss of Boozer, and the late loss of Battier,
Duke was in position to win the game. Had Dunleavy hit his free throws - and he
missed the first one terribly, almost like Chris Burgess - Duke would have gone
home with the win.  Had he hit one, then Stanford would have had to hit a
three to tie and it's a different story. 

The temptation is always to think that way, but it overlooks the missed dunks
by Boozer and Dunleavy, the blocked dunk by James, Collins left open for the
dunk - in other words, the game wasn't lost entirely on the last second free
throws. It was lost in a number of ways and by a number of mistakes. Coming down
the stretch, Stanford was just mentally tougher than Duke, and much more
powerful inside, and that was game, set, and match, to bring the wrong sport in.

There are valuable lessons to take away from this, and not the easy, obvious
ones about depth and how to manage the clock and so forth.  There are some
depth issues beyond anyone's ontrol.  This would be Elton Brand's and
William Avery's senior years for one, and depth would be less significant if not
immaterial.  Duke did not set out to have a thin team; circumstances,
including 4 players leaving early and Nick Horvath's injury have created it.

As far as clock management goes, with Duke's one real inside threat gone when
Boozer fouled out, Duke had minimal options in many respects. The best was to
spread the court and drive, which got Duke to the foul line a fair amount. 
Again, had Battier made his last two (he missed one), a different game. 
But in the context of the situation, with no inside game left, Duke made a
logical, if predictable move (to judge by our e-mail) and spread the
court.  This is a strategy Krzyzewski used early in his Duke career when
many of his players weren't as talented as their opponents, but tough enough to
stick it in their face and beat them from the foul line. And given the depth
issue, running hard late seems like an almost certain way to lose.

Here's where things get interesting to us: this game had a tourney feel -
very much so - and Duke came up against some significant challenges, not least
of all how the new rules affect Duke's already skimpy depth, and how to adapt
when the inside game is cut off.  Duke had the game under control, lost
that, and still had a chance to win, twice, in the last few seconds. Losing
stinks, but losing and not learning anything stinks more.  Our guess is
that this loss will be highly instructive, and will focus the team's attention
sharply.

A couple of final thoughts - like most college players at his level, Carlos
Boozer has the NBA as an option.  He's had a couple of games this year
where he should really stop and consider where he stands, and tonight's was a
prime example.  The NBA is very different, and the court is spread out, but
the intensity and the talent are higher.  If Carlos can't dominate in
college yet - and while they are tough, none of the Stanford big guys are
exactly sure-fire NBA material - he should think long and hard about taking his game to the next
level. William Avery thought he was ready, and so did Corey Maggette, and look
where it's gotten them - wealthy and bored out of their skulls.  Carlos Boozer is a fundamentally sound player and
a potentially super NBA player, but he runs the same risk they did if he leaves
early.  Tonight just underscores it.  Carlos is a very skilled player,
but he needs experience, and he needs to know how to react in very different
situations.  Right now he doesn't always have that.

Secondly, while there are a lot of critics of Duke's depth right now, the
rules at Duke are pretty clear: advance in practice and win game time.  All
these kids try hard, but no matter how you cut it, several of them are not ready
for high level college basketball yet.  Horvath obviously is injured. 
Sanders is getting pretty close, but he's still prone to mistakes at
times.  Sweet is a gutty kid and we like his future, but he's not there
yet.  And remember he was recruited as more or less an insurance policy and
as a future contributor more than a present one (as was Sanders).  And those who suggested
Reggie Love should be playing more - based on what? Two weeks of practice? He's
talented and tough, but for him, it's October 30, he's still learning the
system, and he was injured at the end of football season. That's an unrealistic
expectation.  He's not even in basketball shape  yet, let alone does
he know the system.

The fact is, while Duke is an excellent team and Krzyzewski has done an
amazing job adapting to Brand, Avery, Maggette, and Burgess leaving early, it's
a lot to overcome. Duke has two seniors and no juniors. And they're still a top
five team.  That's pretty considerable in our book. If things were like
they used to be, guys like Sanders and Horvath and Sweet would be getting
seasoned and wouldn't play until their junior year. But things have changed in college basketball, and you have to deal with reality.