N&O | N-R |
H-S | H-S |
Duke beat N.C. Central 102-42, but the headline over at GoDuke says "#1
Duke Eases Past Central..." There's some truth to that. Duke ran away
with it in the end, but they played a very well coached team which really came
much closer to playing to their potential than Duke did.
It's more remarkable when you consider that they lost five starters and
incorporated seven transfers. This team will do very well this year, but
they were playing a much more talented group and it showed. But that
doesn't take away from what they did. If an extraordinarily well coached
high school team played Central, they'd get pounded too. Doesn't mean they
aren't well coached.
Duke started off the game with some uninspired play, and didn't really
identify J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams as primary options.
In addition, the education of Josh McRoberts began in earnest, as the gifted
big forward let Central frustrate him into a horrible first half. He drew
two quick fouls after some tough defense and then drew a third and his first
half was effectively over.
He'll have to learn how to deal with that sort of thing better because plenty
of people will try to get under his skin, and if they think they can make him
lose his composure, it'll never stop.
That aside, he showed one particular talent in the first half, which was a
tremendous outlet pass. For a lot of guys, that's a lost art, but he does
it very well. Sean May did that wonderfully for UNC last year, and
McRoberts has the potential to do it for Duke equally well.
McRoberts started along with Redick, Williams, Sean Dockery and DeMarcus
Nelson. Williams, Dockery and Redick are known qualities, and we'll get
back to McRoberts.
The kid who really sparkled in the first half was Nelson, who has matured
tremendously since last year, when he tried to get by on talent. His
skills are much, much better and he knows he belongs.
He's strong enough to bull in for rebounds, yet he's becoming an excellent
defender and an opportunistic scorer. He spoke after the game of relishing
the chance to be a defensive stopper, and how much he wanted that role
After a sluggish beginning, the team was immediately ignited when Lee
Melchionni came in the game and chased down a ballhandler from behind and
knocked the ball loose. The intensity immediately ratcheted
up. Melchionni could start - about eight guys could, really - but he's a
brilliant sixth man on this team.
All things considered, though, Central had to feel better about their first
half than Duke did. Yes, they didn't shoot well, but they penetrated, they
handled the ball rationally, and they frustrated the better team a fair amount,
despite falling behind considerably.
Another significant factor in the first half was Greg Paulus.
The freshmen have gotten various comparisons, with McRoberts being compared
to previous Duke big men like Laettner and Ferry, and contrasted with Shavlik
Randolph, Eric Boateng has been compared with Casey Sanders, and Paulus
with Bobby Hurley.
All of these are unfair and misleading. Paulus will have a long way to
go to match Hurley (anyone would), whose great strength was his incredible will
to win. He was a great passer too, but Paulus is a much more dramatic
He makes pinpoint passes through the smallest of openings. There was one pass
in this game which almost anyone could see would go right by - or possibly
through - the hands of a defender. Not much room for error. He
dropped it right in there. It was a risky pass, but a brilliant one.
We also think comparing Eric Boateng to Casey Sanders is really dumb.
He's better now than Sanders was as a senior. He has better hands and he
has a much stronger desire to take the ball to the basket. He's a strong
kid, even though he doesn't always know what to do. But he showed some
natural basketball skills that augur well for his future, including some great
moves around the basket. He'll get stuffed a lot this year, but he'll also
slam some shots in a few faces too, and as he improves, he's going to get very
As for McRoberts, the better comparison is to Andrew Brackman. He's a
superb athlete for a 6-11 guy, and he really knows how to move the ball
around. Watching those two guys battle is going to be a lot of fun.
In the second half, Duke played much better. The defense picked up and was
stifling for stretches. McRoberts shook off his frustration and had some
sensational plays. He played for much of the second half with four fouls
and did it very well.
We haven't discussed Jamal Boykin or Martynas Pocius yet.
Boykin will thrill a lot of people, not least of all his coaches, because he
is a very gutty player. He spends a lot of time on the floor and tries
hard to pump his teammates up. He's going to be a pleasure to watch if you're a
Duke fan, and not very much fun if you're not.
For those who haven't seen Martynas Pocius yet, you're in for a treat.
This kid is fun to watch.
Two great highlights: first, a very nice alleyoop dunk. And second, a
stunning block on a fast break. The kid came down and caught up to the
shooter and came flying across the court and threw it away. It was not the
sort of play you expect to see out of a 6-4 Lithuanian. The kid gets off
the ground. Vitale is going to completely freak out when he sees what this kid
You don't want to go too far overboard, but the kid has got some hops.
If you really want to compare him to someone, try Rex Chapman.
Despite getting psyched out, McRoberts ended up with nine rebounds (Williams
A lot of people are going to push this team as a natural to go far and win
big and it has the potential to do that. But half the team is still really
young and no one other than the two All-Americans, is absolutely sure of his
role. There is an awful lot of talent, but there is still a lot to do to
make this a coherent group.
When we look at the NIT field, we see the possibility of an upset
somewhere. The young players will have to learn on the fly, and they'll
get bushwhacked a few times, if not in the NIT, then possibly against Indiana or
But in a few weeks, possibly after a tough game or two, we'll really start to
see this group come together. The potential is there for a very, very