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More On St. John's

Duke's first game without Sean Dockery was not encouraging.

With Daniel Ewing forced to play point for virtually the entire game, his
offense suffered. In fact, Duke's offense in general was poor. Duke shot
only 16-51, and had 23 turnovers. Ewing was 3-13, and Redick was
2-11. Shelden Williams only shot the ball five times, and he and Redick
had five turnovers apiece. Williams also fouled out.

Good thing Lee Melchionni picked this game to have a career day. His 14
first half points are what everyone will focus on, but he also got nine boards,
a steal, and an assist.

It's funny to us to see how various Duke players take a lot of criticism in
various forums, but let them not play and you see how valuable they are.
Shavlik Randolph goes down, and Duke's inside is exposed. Reggie Love goes
down, and not only are we reminded of how thin Duke is up front but how much he
has to offer. Sean Dockery gets criticized all year for basically not
being Chris Duhon, but once he's out of the picture, and it becomes clear just
what a glue player he is for this team.

He has been a solid defensive player, and a guy who hits the shot when it is
either necessary or available or both. You can't really see all that he
does when he plays, but you can when he doesn't.

Still, the absence of Dockery can't possibly explain the balls bounced off of
knees or bobbled or shots missed which are usually made. It can go a long
ways towards explaining why Shelden Williams only got 5 shots, but doesn't
necessarily explain why he got five fouls.

It can't explain why J.J. Redick only shot 2-11, or how Williams went a whole
game without a blocked shot. He's a glue guy, but he's not Superglue or

And if that were the case, then you can't explain Melchionni's heroics.

What you can say, though, is that Duke has showed a pattern this year, one
which is not good for the St. John's game, but which perhaps augurs good things
in a week or two or three: after a player goes down, Duke has typically played
poorly. When Randolph was out, you could almost see them figuring out how
to overcome their size disadvantage. When Love went out, a lot of wind
went out of the sails - briefly.

We think it might be the same with Dockery, and that when the adjustments are
made, they'll do reasonably well.

This is a thin team at best, and one with a small margin of error no matter
what. But you could argue that they've mastered, out of necessity, a
somewhat arcane skill: they have remade their team on the fly several times, and
arguably have become as good as that as any team in memory.

We've watched Duke long enough to know that while on the one hand, no pity
was allowed when Dockery (or the others) went down, the flip side of that is
that it is sold to other players as a great opportunity to establish themselves.

It's also going to be sold to them, we suspect, as a great way to get ready
for the tournament and the millions of things which can happen there.

The versatility which Duke has been forced to learn this year will, we think,
be treated as a great asset. Ewing's in trouble? We've been there. Shelden fouls
out? Shav can step in for the rest of the game. And Patrick Johnson
has done a great job too. Rebounding is an issue? Shelden, Shav,
Reggie, and DeMarcus can get it done. Shelden is triple-teamed? J.J.,
Daniel, and Lee are ready to roll. Some legs are getting tired? Love and
McClure are ready to go.

You get the idea.

While not many people would absolutely put Duke in the Final Four at this
point, you can make an argument for how they could make it, and it would center
around the fact that they have faced as much adversity as anyone in the country,
and have handled it really well. But it's going to be a longshot.

Now they have to strap it on for Miami. It's a big game for seeding
purposes, but also because Duke controlled their backcourt down there.
Without Dockery, someone will have to step up. But they have gotten good
at that this year.