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Duke 72 Pennsylvania 59, But It Wasn't Pretty

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Duke beat Penn 72-59, as expected, and yet a lot about this game was unexpected,
at least at the beginning of the season.

Duke was outrebounded by a much smaller Penn, and continues to rely too
heavily on J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams offensively. Redick scored 24
(he's now averaging 22.7) on 8-16 shooting, and Williams scored 20 on 5-7
shooting and 10-11 from the line, which is a good night from a guy who shoots

But as good as these guys have been, even they described the offense as

And while Coach K said they played a good defensive game, causing 26
turnovers and holding Penn to 39.3% shooting, there were a lot of defensive

So what's going on? Well, as we have told you before, it's not like
anyone calls us up to discuss strategy, so everything we say from here on is
either speculation or intuition based on years of watching the Duke program.

This team, split as it is right now between seniors and freshman, is not yet
fully functional. The freshmen are learning and growing, but it's not like
Redick or Williams (or Dockery or Melchionni either) suddenly regressed.
The freshmen, in our opinion, have not yet figured it all out.

This is suggested by Paulus, who at times has a lot of turnovers (he had two
assists and five turnovers tonight), and who sometimes makes poor choices not
just in passes but in when he picks himself offensively. It's not that he
is a bad shot or shouldn't drive; of course he should. It's just at times
as if he decides to just do this now because he should, or do that now because
it's a good time.

McRoberts continues to show flashes of being a potentially dominant
player. He really knows how to move in the lane, and tonight he dribbled
the ball upcourt three or four times for generally positive results, not
something you can always say about a 6-11 guy handling the ball. At one
point he looked behind and whipped a pass across traffic nicely.

At another point, though, he saw the ball out of the corner of his eye, stuck
his hand up, and knocked down a pass headed for Sean Dockery. Not a good

Martynas Pocius plays with verve and energy, and he is a joy to watch.
Unfortunately, he sometimes misses switches on defense and gives up more than he
brings home.

DeMarcus Nelson's absence has really revealed his value. A chiseled 6-2
athlete deluxe, Nelson can defend almost anyone under 6-6, and some over.
He's also a tremendous scoring option, something Duke is trying to fill on the

At times, not just this game, it appears that the entire team is playing poor
defense, because pretty pedestrian athletes get easy lanes. It's easy to
say, well, the seniors aren't doing a great job either, but
consider: do you really think they have become worse defenders as
seniors? At Duke?

In the words of K, c'mon, man.

A lot of the flaws we see on defense are caused, we're convinced, because the
freshmen haven't figured out help defense, and then suddenly Williams or Redick
or Dockery are outmanned, and we see easy baskets and think: what is going on

The same thing is seen on offense, where Redick and Williams have to do far
too much, and so you see Redick sometimes seeming to force shots or to take
circus shots. We're guessing he'd rather not do that, but feels he has to
right now because the support for him is not consistent.

Is it a hopeless situation? No, of course not. These are talented
players we're talking about. They're just young, and they're moving up a
level, and they're playing with great seniors who have no problem telling them
to get it together.

Paulus will have to learn how to control the game better; McRoberts needs to
become more of a threat so that Williams can avoid double and triple teams,
which only occur because he looks helpless. Those are golden opportunities
for McRoberts, who has some polish to his game and some real talent.

And if Pocius learns proper defense, he'll be dynamite too.

Still, there are other guys who can step up more, including Lee Melchionni
and Sean Dockery. Dockery, who has has made himself into an offensive
player and was effective Thursday, may be in the process of becoming the third
option. And while Melchionni has been in a slump lately, he is compounding
it by not being offensively aggressive. And actually it's carrying over to
his defense as well. When Melchionni regains his ferocious competitive
drive, Duke will be much better off.

And it can't be too soon. The match up with Texas is this weekend, and
UT will not put up with a lot of nonsense. If Duke's not ready to play, they'll
find out quickly: Texas could do to Duke what Illinois did to Wake last year.