Duke welcomes Yale to Cameron Wednesday night and while Duke is obviously a heavy favorite, don't overlook what happened in Dallas earlier this week.
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SMU is not a great team, but it is a superbly coached team. Many people have qualms about Larry Brown's ethics, but no one seriously doubts his basketball knowledge or coaching ability.
Yale took SMU to the wire, losing 71-69.
Makai Mason, a sophomore guard, led the way for Yale with 24 points and seven assists.
One of the things we always keep an eye on when a team gives Duke trouble is the foul situation, and Yale might have beaten SMU if fouls hadn't been such a problem: of the starters, three finished with four fouls and one fouled out. Only Mason stayed out of foul trouble with just one.
Yale has five seniors and three juniors, another strength (and one Duke lacks). The Bulldogs have four sophomores and six freshmen.
That's 18; obviously not everyone is what we would call a scholarship player, but we're honestly not sure how the rest are managed. The NCAA allows 13 scholarships, but the Ivy League doesn't do scholarships. So some of these guys, we're quite sure, are the equivalent of walk-ons. Fourteen guys have played so far, with a basic eight-man rotation. The other six guys are relative non-factors.
Aside from Mason, Justin Sears (6-8 senior and last year's Ivy League Player Of The Year) is averaging 16 ppg and 5.5 rpg, Jack Montague (6-1 senior) is averaging 15.5 ppg and 3.3 rpg, while Brandon Sherrod (6-6 senior) is putting up 11.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg.
Now that name rings a bell...as it turns out, and you may remember this too, he took a year off to tour with the Yale Whiffenpoofs. It'd be a nice touch if Duke let him sing the national anthem.
For Duke, as we said after the Georgetown game, one measure of progress will be if Duke continues to play well even as Grayson Allen scores less.
To be clear, he could certainly continue to rack up big offensive games, but having one guy score nearly 40% of your points, as Allen did against Georgetown, is problematic.
Against Georgetown, Allen provided 37.2% of Duke's offense; against VCU, he served up 37.9% of Duke's output.
The margin of victory against VCU was eight; against Georgetown it was just two.
You don't have to cut too much off of 37% to affect the outcomes of games that close.
We've talked lot about Brandon Ingram's development and potential. His development is going to be really key and it won't surprise us to see Duke work hard to build his confidence against Yale.
He's such a unique talent. We're sure the staff is anxious to see him contribute more.
And we started to see the real Luke Kennard in New York, although he still struggled with his shot. So far he's just 2-17.
This guy is not a good shooter; he's a great shooter. As soon as he fully settles in Allen's life will be easier. He won't be able to score 32 points every night in the ACC against teams like Virginia, Clemson and Florida State. He's going to need some help.
Derryck Thornton is basically there. He has to smooth some rough edges, but he became Duke's point guard in New York and it's going to be really hard to take his spot.
Our focus lately has mostly been on the freshmen and Allen. That's not to diminish the upperclassmen. They've been great and, really, have exceeded expectations.
One of the characteristics of Duke is that in the first few moments of the game you can always tell what the focus is. So watch closely and see what's being emphasized and how well that's being executed.
In New York, we began to see the outlines of an interesting team. In Durham, we'll see how much that has advanced.