Duke welcomes Kent State to Cameron Tuesday night, and we're excited. No,
seriously. We love the MAC. It may be the conference most like the
ACC. You can have the Big East, the SEC, and the other bigs. After
the ACC, we love the MAC and lately the MVC. Both conferences play
wonderful basketball, but the MAC has some extraordinarily intense games. It's really a
blast, even from a distance.
In recent years, Kent State has a tradition of success, as first Gary
Waters and then Stan Heath had considerable success there. Last year,
current coach Jim Christian led the team to a 25-9 record; in his first
five season, he
has won more games than any other coach in KSU history.
Kent State is 5-3, but of those losses, one is to Ohio State
(pre-Oden) and the other to Butler, at team no one expected to be on
fire this season. No shame there.
The Flashes are relatively small - their lineup is 5-10, 6-1, 6-2, 6-7
and 6-7. But as Illinois proved years ago with their great Final Four
team built around Kendall Gill, Marcus Liberty, and a bunch of wings,
you don't have to be huge if you can play.
One of their 6-7 players, Haminn Quaintance, is recovering from a groin
injury. He's expected to play in Durham, most likely off the bench.
6-4 Mike McKee may start as well, replacing 6-1 Rodriquez Sherman. The
redshirt freshman is showing a lot of maturity to his coaches. And while forward
Mike Scott has been a bit off lately, he is a guy who likes to rebound and plays
hard. Freshman guard Chris Singletary is a talented player, but his coaches are
frustrated at his lack of defensive intensity, and his minutes have dropped off
sharply in recent games.
Statistically, Duke and Kent State are similar in some areas:
field goal percentage is pretty much dead even (.467 to .478 for Duke);
free throws are 68 vs. 69% for Duke; KSU gets 35 boards a game, Duke
the Flashes get 14.8 apg to Duke's 13.2
But all that aside, what has distinguished Duke this season is
a stifling defense. They'll have a different challenge, chasing around
the smaller Flashes, but between the defense and the size of Josh
Duke has something to build on for this game.
Against George Mason Duke's offense began to show signs of life.
It's taken a lot of criticism so far this season, but with the point guard
hobbled, and four freshmen to incorporate, and new roles for a
sophomore-dominated team, it's been hard to make all the pieces fit.
So another aspect of the game which will be fun is to see how Coach
K tinkers with his team.
He was forced to improvise after Greg Paulus' foot injury, and
essentially used Josh McRoberts as the point guard, and the big man
handled the role very well. Unfortunately, it made it a lot more
difficult to have a post
game, as he is the biggest starter, and using him as a perimeter passer
necessarily limited his inside play.
Duke also had some other lingering injuries, not least of all to Gerald Henderson, who is perhaps a bit behind as a result.
But with an extended break, rest, and lots of work by the trainers and
medical staff, everyone should be feeling pretty chipper by now.
The funny thing is that while the offense is what everyone is going to
look at most critically, we think the defense could improve a great deal
more. Greg Paulus is not the greatest athlete on the team, but he plays
with a lot of passion and energy, and post-injury, his defense is not anywhere
near where it could be. Neither is Gerald Henderson's. Add those two
in at a higher level, and all of a sudden, it's that much more difficult to do
anything. Marquette beat Duke and solved the defensive problems the Devils
pose, but other than Marquette, no one has broken past 56. Air Force hit
56, and as we're learning, they're a much, much better team than anyone thought
they could be.
So yes, we're optimistic about Duke's improvement, but there are things
to worry about. Nelson is solid, as is McClure off the bench. But
just about everyone else has things to work on.
For Josh McRoberts, it's perhaps being a dominant scorer. For Lance
Thomas, it's being effective while being pretty thin by ACC standards. For
Jon Scheyer, it's playing with the same verve he showed against George
Mason. For Brian Zoubek, it's a similar issue, as the young big man has
wonderful footwork, but his body is just not very strong yet (you try being 7-2
and see how much muscle shows up at 18). And for Gerald Henderson and
Marty Pocius, it's maybe how to work better in the team defense.
A small historical note: last time these teams played was in 1974, and
if memory serves, in 1974, Duke ended up 10-14. The Kent State game put
the Devils at 5-1, and the rest of the season, clearly, was miserable.
you went to the Holiday Double Header in Raleigh, though, you at least
got to see the brilliance of David Thompson.