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Duke continued its mastery of the road Saturday, schooling Georgetown 85-66,
and really underscoring the difference between the Georgetown of today and the
now semi-mythical Hoyas of John Thompson's era.
When Duke played Georgetown back then in the NCAA's, there was no
certainty that Duke was the superior team. Phil Henderson, in his finest
moment as a Blue Devil, rose up and threw down a dunk in Alonzo Mourning's face
that announced the new order to anyone who had missed Duke's ascent:
we're not going anywhere, it said, and we don't care how good a
shotblocker you are.
The following year, in the ACC-Big East Challenge, the Hoyas had Mourning and
Dikembe Mutombo, and Duke could not overcome the two. But Henderson's
statement stood, and stands still: Duke had arrived, and still hasn't gone
Saturday's game saw a bit of a reversal, as the dominant big man wore Duke
blue: Shelden Williams hit 12-15 from the floor, including an awkward but
exciting to watch hook shot. He also had four redbounds, less than usual,
and five blocks.
It's more and more common lately to hear coaches say they don't have an
answer for Williams down low, and Craig Escherick said more or less the same
thing, as Williams really took it to the Hoyas in the post. You know
you're having a really good game, if you're Shelden Williams, when you hit a
half-time three point buzer beater.
As well as Williams played, Duke got another sensational game from Chris
Duhon, who hit an amazing (for Duhon) 7-9 from the floor. Normally, he
barely shoots, but Saturday, he was on fire. Add that to his normally
superb defense and ball distribution, and Duhon probably had some tapes mailed
around NBA offices yesterday.
Really, while you can argue that teams take on their coaches personalities,
team leaders also have an impact, and in Duke's case, Duke is arguably taking on
Duhon's personality: relentless defense, selfless offense, and not really caring
who does what as long as the team wins. The senior is really setting the
example for the younger players, and it's paying off for Duke.
One guy who seems to be taking the lessons particularly to heart is Luol
Deng. Deng is a player who can be compared to the queen in chess, because
no matter where you move him, he's useful and dangerous. On Saturday, he
was highly disruptive on defense, threw a number of gorgeous passes,
particularly on the break (he was credited for two assists but could have had
several more had some passes not been dropped), grabbed seven boards, and shot
JJ Redick continued his recent hot shooting, going 5-9 from the floor,
including 3-6 from bonusland. And while Redick clearly has a gift as a
shooter, it's increasingly obvious that the gift has gone to a ballplayer, not
just a guy with a strong arm. In one of the first plays of the game,
Redick disrupted the defense. It reminded one of his absolutely clutch
takeaway against D.J. Strawberry the other night, not in how it happened or
anything, but just in that he did it. The kid is not going to rest on his
golden arm. He has become, or at the least is surely becoming, a
well-rounded, mult-skilled, basketball player. He plays defense, he drives
to the hoop, he makes some really smart passes - in general, he is really
getting it done.
Daniel Ewing did not have a great offensive game, but his recovery from a
foot injury continues, and his defense is a major factor in what many are now
calling the nation's best, on the perimeter if not overall.
Duke's defense has sustained and defined this team, and now the offense is
clicking into gear. So now the question is: where are Duke's
weaknesses? Here's our best shot.
- As much as Shelden Williams has improved, he still has a tendency to get
into foul trouble, and this at times limits his minutes. This means
that Shavlik Randolph, who is to an extent still pursuing two goals: 1)
getting into playing shape, which he has largely accmplished, and 2) getting
used to his new physique. He has lost some weight, which is good, since he
probably gained more than he needed, but at times he seems to forget he's
not a skinny freshaman anymore. He has the power to really excel, not
to mention the skills. If he can elevate his game, Duke is much more
- Self-assertion from Deng. Everyone sees now that this kid can pass,
shoot, run, dribble, play D and just generally contribute wherever he makes
up his mind to contribute. At some point, we'd like to see him get a
bit nasty and just take over a game. He's done it at times for a few
minutes here and there, and it's pretty unusual, because most people take
over a game by hitting shots. He does that, but we've seen him at times take
over by raising his overall game a couple of notches. So you might see
him block a shot, bring the ball down, make an assist, help trap the
ballcarrier on the way upcourt, get a steal, set a pick for a shooter, hit
the boards for a rebound - you get the idea. He's a Mr. Fixit when he
wants to be, and if he gets the idea that he could really help the team out
by being a good bit more assertive, that would be a huge plus.
- Duhon's shooting. Saturday, he shot really well, but that's
atypical. Often he barely shoots. However, if the one-time
legendary high school shooter gets his shot rolling, defense can't play him
up close, and he'll be vastly more effective.
There aren't a ton of weaknesses anymore, really. What you see is a team
coming together, a collection of parts fitting beautifully. They seem to
realize their limitations individually, and to exceed them collectively.
That is the nature of basketball, and to have a team playing so
beautifully as a team is just wonderful to watch. Let's just hope it
continues as long as possible.