H-S | W-S |
Dayton | N&O
The top-ranked Duke Blue Devils square off against what is arguably
their toughest foe of the season to date when the Dayton Flyers enter Cameron
Indoor Stadium this Sunday night. If you think there's something
there that doesn't make much sense you're not alone. In fact, if
you think the only thing there that does make sense is the fact that the
game is played in Cameron, then you're still not alone.
Even the biggest Duke homer in the world - and I'm pretty sure I could
contend for that title - would admit that having Duke atop any basketball
poll right now as having Trent Lott host a racial sensitivity seminar.
(Actually make that "atop any men's basketball poll" as the Duke women's
team has clearly earned their perch at the top of the poll.) The
Devils are ranked #1 despite coming off a 40 minute suckfest against North
Carolina A&T that undoubtedly let the ESPN guys back in Bristol appreciate
their decision to show women's billiards rather than Duke basketball.
Yet thanks Arizona falling to a little Bayou voodoo, and the lemming-like
predictability of the poll voters, Duke finds themselves atop the ESPN/USA
Today coaches poll for the sixth straight year.
Impressive as that sounds and as nice as it may be to be ranked #1,
it's hard to imagine a Duke team that's less deserving or prepared to be
ranked at the top of the poll. In addition to the lackluster effort
against NC A&T there's also the other part of that opening line - the
Dayton Flyers are potentially the best team Duke has played all season.
That's not intended as a slight against the Flyers who are a very solid
team. But it does point out the fact that Duke has played a ridiculously
easy schedule thus far this season. You have to bungee pretty far
down the Sagarin ratings before finding the Flyers at 59. That's
the highest rated team Duke will have faced this year with the exception
of a Davidson team that hasn't exactly proven themselves against murder's
row either. Contributing to the weak Duke schedule are the struggles
at traditional powers UCLA and Michigan and the NCAA ruling that prevented
Duke from participating in an exempt tournament this year. All of
that adds up to a strength of schedule rated 302. That's 302 out
of 327 teams. And that's good enough for first in the coaches poll.
Don't look for Duke to be too caught up in their rankings when they
take the court on Sunday. If anything, you can expect the Duke coaches
to take that ranking and use it as a motivational tool rather than a prize.
Aside from Krzyzewski's obvious displeasure at their performance in their
last game, the Devils will also be motivated by the fact that Dayton is
a dangerous opponent. Coaching the Flyers is veteran head coach Oliver
Purnell who has held the position for the last 8 years and is looking to
lead Dayton to their fourth straight 20-win season. Purnell has his
team a third of the way there, as they are currently 7-2, with quality
wins over Cincinnati, UNC Wilmington (don't laugh, they're much better
than you think) and Villanova (okay, laugh away, 'Nova's on their way to
a train wreck). Their two losses were at the hands of Miami (OH)
and St. Louis, neither of whom are enjoying particularly promising seasons.
Dayton is best characterized as a team that doesn't overwhelm their
opponents with great athleticism, but plays disciplined basketball and
goes strongly to the boards. They're an experienced team with only
one freshman seeing significant minutes and having two juniors and a senior
as their top three players.
One of those top three players is Ramod Marshall, a 6-2 junior out of
Charlotte. Marshall is probably the biggest key to the Dayton offense
as he is the guy most able to create his own shot. He's very good
at getting into the lane where his southpaw release often confuses defenders.
Additionally, he is a good shooter, although he's had some games where
he's really struggled from the outside. Not coincidentally, one of
those games was the loss to St. Louis, where he went 1-10 from the field
and 1-4 on threes while the team dropped a 63-55 decision.
When Marshall struggles it's often attributed of one of Purnell's most
controversial coaching decisions. Faced with the departure of last
year's starting point guard David Morris (6 assists/game), Purnell has
opted to move Marshall from the off guard spot to the point. It's
a move that has not gone particularly smoothly for both coach and player.
Teammates have publicly mentioned Marshall's comments to them about his
preference for playing the off guard spot over the point and his offensive
production is much stronger when he's not tasked with distributing the
Moving Marshall to the point has been as popular a move on the Dayton
campus as a tuition hike, but the alternatives for the Flyers aren't too
exciting either. The other two options available at the point are
Mark Jones, a 6-1 sophomore and Warren Williams, a 6-0 freshman out of
traditional basketball power DaMatha HS in Maryland. Neither player
has demonstrated the decision making skills or maturity to handle the point
full time, although Jones is still in the starting lineup at the shooting
guard position. Calling Jones a shooting guard though is a bit of
a stretch as his shooting percentages look as if they've undergone a Turkish
Lira type exchange rate. At 25% from the field and 12% from the three
point line, Jones has shown the touch of a pulling guard rather than a
The fact that Jones is still in the starting lineup attests to the troubles
that Dayton has had in their backcourt. Outside of Marshall - who
is exactly the kind of player Duke has had trouble with all season - the
Flyer backcourt is very thin. Jones does lead the team in assists,
but he's also somewhat turnover prone given the amount of time he handles
the ball. Shifting Jones to the shooting guard - uh, make that off
guard - seems to indicate that Purnell may feel Williams is the long term
answer at point if the coach ever expects to move Marshall back to shooting
guard. Either that or Williams just hasn't done enough to merit much
time on the court.
Evidence at this point would seem to indicate the latter as Williams
is playing just 8 minutes a game and has three times as many turnovers
as he does assists. The development of Williams (who was a high school
teammate of NC State's Jordan Collins and Maryland's Travis Garrison) and/or
Jones is the key to the future of the Dayton this year. If the Flyers
wish to make the NCAA Tournament, they'll need some backcourt help for
Marshall. More precisely, they'll need someone to step up and demonstrate
the ability to run a team so that Marshall can move back to the shooting
guard spot where he is more effective.
If neither Williams nor Jones is able to produce it will likely mean
more minutes for steady senior DJ Stelly. At 6-4, Stelly plays both
the shooting guard and the small forward position for the Flyers.
He's a solid defender - although he has trouble with more physical small
forwards - and a good midrange shooter. Like Jones and Williams though,
Stelly has struggled from long range. For the season, the three guards
have combined for just 11 of 56 from beyond the three point line.
If you run that through a calculator it actually prints out "don't shoot"
on the display.
Unlike the backcourt, the Flyers have a number of solid players up front.
The best of those is Brooks Hall, the team's leading scorer. The
6-6 senior can score a number of different ways and is an excellent threat
from three where he's shooting over 45%. He's a good offensive rebounder
and can also take the ball to the basket effectively. In other words
- he's a very good offensive player and would contend for league honors
no matter where he played. He's much like the player that LaVell
Blanchard was supposed to be when he was hyped coming out of high school.
The main difference being that Hall has actually improved through college.
At the power forward spot is the team's second-leading scorer, Keith
Waleskowski. The 6-9 junior and Hall are also the team's leading rebounders
at 7.9 per contest. If the name sounds familiar it's because his
little brother Adam plays for Florida State. He's had some minor
back trouble in the past but Waleskowski is a tough kid who plays hard
on every possession. If there's one drawback to his game, it's that
on some of those possessions he's left watching quicker or more skilled
power forwards score against him. Waleskowski is the type of guy
everyone loves to have on their team and everyone hates to have on the
other team. He plays well in big games (17 points and 8 rebounds
against Cincinnati) and can step outside and hit the deep shot on occasion.
Rounding out the frontcourt is 6-11 junior Sean Finn who is expected
to play Sunday despite a broken finger on the ring finger of his right
(shooting) hand sustained in the Flyer's win over Villanova. It's
been a tough year for Finn who earlier suffered an ankle injury.
Even before his injury, Finn was a limited offensive threat inside, scoring
most of his baskets off from offensive rebounds. With the injury,
it's doubtful he'll be able to shoot well but the Flyers will need him
in the game for his rebounding and shot blocking.
If Finn is not able to play or play well, Purnell will probably shift
Waleskowski to center and bring in senior Nate Green off the bench.
At 6-6 he's undersized to play power forward but at 245 lbs. he has the
strength to make up for his lack of height. He's the kind of guy
you expect to see getting his shot blocked all game long but then you watch
how he uses his big body for position and his long arms and you'll find
he's able to score inside. He also leads the team in screens and
picks that knock out defender's teeth.
There's a lot to like about this Dayton team and in reality, they are
only one solid point guard away from contending for the Atlantic 10 title.
The biggest key for defeating Dayton is to keep them off the boards.
Offensively they rely primarily on Hall, Marshall, and Waleskowski with
the first two providing the team's only legitimate outside threats.
As a team, with the exception of Hall, they are shooting just 26% from
beyond the three point line and where they make up for that is with tenacious
rebounding. The Flyers have given up just 4.5/game more defensive
rebounds than offensive rebounds they've secured - a number similar to
Duke's despite playing a higher level of competition.
For Duke, the defensive matchups play out very well. Defensive
stopper Dahntay Jones should draw Hall. Both guys are 6-6 although
Jones is stronger and more athletic. If Jones is able to play his
usual disruptive defense on Hall, then the Flyers will need a career game
out of Marshall if they are going to win in Cameron. Usually, needing
guys to have a career night for an opponent to get a win is a good thing,
but Duke is going to show up in a lot of opposing guard's personal highlight
reels this year. The names Wayne Bernard and Brent Darby should be
enough to invoke facial tics out of most Duke fans this year and Ramod
Marshall is pretty much the same type of player - quick point guard with
good to very good touch from the outside.
The job of stopping Marshall falls to the same guy who drew initial
responsibility for both Bernard and Darby. Chris Duhon has played
incredibly well all year on offense and has had flashes of brilliance on
defense. Overall he provides a disruptive force on defense but many
times that force is just as disruptive to Duke's defense as it is to the
other team's offense. This is exactly the type of player that Duhon
will need to contain if Duke is going to make a Final Four run.
The good news, at least in terms of this individual game, is that if
Marshall does force Duke into defensive rotations, there is really only
one guy (Hall) on the Dayton team that demands attention from the outside.
Every other player - Jones, Williams, Stelly, and Waleskowski - is a questionable
shot from the outside.
One of the primary differences between these two teams is the pace at
which they play. Dayton likes to use a lot of the shot clock and
play the game in the 60's. The Flyers are averaging 52 shots a game
that style. Duke on the other hand takes 64 shots a game and wants
a score in the 80's. To do that the Devils are going to continue
to pressure the ball on defense throwing out some occasional full court
presses. In one of the few highlights from the NC A&T game, Shavlik
Randolph trapped an Aggie along the backcourt baseline, tipped the ball
when the defender tried to pass out of the double team, and then recovered
the ball and hit a quick jumper for the basket. It was like watching
Shane Battier all over again.
Look for Duke to pressure this Dayton team that has little depth in
the backcourt and is averaging 14 turnovers against teams that don't press
as much as Duke. There's an additional benefit in that as well as
it will place force Marshall to expend more energy, possibly fatiguing
the Flyers' only backcourt threat.
On the offensive end Duke will likely see a man defense although Dayton
has played some zone this season. This is a very good game for Duke
to establish an inside presence. Despite the size of Waleskowski
and Finn, the Flyers have had occasional difficulty with opposing big men
and because of a general lack of quickness they are reluctant to double
in the post and scramble on the perimeter. That's good news for Shelden
Williams who has had trouble with opposing double teams as well as for
Shavlik Randolph who should be able to score against Waleskowski in the
post. The Dayton big men, particularly Finn, have trouble against
opposing frontcourt players who are able to step out side and hit the midrange
The biggest determining factor in this game may not be matchups but
rather consistency. Putting together 40 minutes of basketball has
been an elusive goal for both teams thus far this season. The Flyers
have had trouble holding on to leads and have played sluggishly in the
delay game. Let me know if that sounds familiar. For the Devils,
playing solid basketball for an entire game is almost considered a hallmark
of the Krzyzewski era. It's also something they have failed to do
so far this season.
With the ACC season about to unfold, the Dayton Flyers present a perfect
opportunity to find the answers to the questions that have plagued them
in the first part of this season. Despite a 10-day head start on
the rest of college basketball, Duke has yet to identify a set frontcourt
rotation. They've yet to put together an entire game at the energy
level expected of the team. They've yet to show the ability to put
away a good team when they have the lead. Instead, for the most part
they've been winning on talent - individual talent many times. (Duke
is averaging 15 assists per game, but half of those are coming from one
Against Dayton, and against the remainder of the Duke schedule, talent
alone is not going to be enough to win. The Flyers are a flawed (but
hard working team and if Duke doesn't execute as a group and for a full
40 minutes it will be an unpleasant ending to Sunday evening. Forget
everything you've seen out of Duke so far this season. How Duke responds
to a terrible game against NC A&T, a long layoff with holiday distractions,
and a very solid opponent will tell you what you can expect when ACC play