Growing up is rarely linear. We all start and stop, learn and do things we know better than to do again until it finally sinks in, whatever it is. It’s just human nature.
That’s even more complicated in a group structure and wildly more so when the group has to compete against other groups. Then you have to deal with harmonizing a heirarchy and individual egos and getting everyone working towards a common goal.
It’s not an easy thing to do. It does seem though that Duke has made a lot of progress since the last time it was in New York. Roles are emerging and some separation, to use a favorite word of Mike Krzyzewski, may be happening.
The most obvious example is Vernon Carey. The burly young big man has increasingly shown that he can hold his own inside. He has improved in nearly every aspect of the game.
Go back and look at his stat trajectory. He shot 3-8 against Kansas. Since then he’s shot 34-47. That’s 72.3 percent. His rebounding has also gone up sharply. In the first two games he had six and three. Since then he’s had 10, 14 and 12.
The biggest worry with Carey? Carrying more minutes.
He has only once played more than 22 minutes. But that’s a minor quibble this early.
We’re also starting to see how useful Wendell Moore can be. He’s calming down and not trying to rush things and as he does, you realize that he will be able to cover a lot of flaws. Need ballhandling? Check. Rebounding? Check. Penetration? Check. Passing? Check. Three point shooting? Not consistently yet but soon.
He was playing too fast in the first few games but now we see who he is and he’s a huge weapon.
The only issue we see with Cassius Stanley is that he avoids contact inside, even when he can clearly soar over his defender. On the one hand he is quite slender. Even so, that’s limiting him a bit. Otherwise though, he’s really ahead of the curve. He defends well, he’s not afraid to shoot and will start to hit more, and he’s learning to use his superior athleticism to his advantage. He just needs to be more arrogant inside. Otherwise he’s highly impressive.
Matthew Hurt may have regressed a bit but we’re not worried. ACC-level basketball is a big adjustment and he’s still a skinny kid. He’ll take his lumps, observe, learn and apply. We’ve already seen a lot of what he can do and when he gets in the groove, he’ll be a real pain in the neck for opponents.
On the offensive end, we should point out a few things.
First, early in the season Duke clearly struggled against half-court defense. It’s just a question of knowing where to be, who should be there and how to get them the ball.
Early on, Duke couldn’t figure out how to get the ball inside for easy shots and worked around the edges of defenses. How many shots did we see from the sides of the lanes that were forced or hurried?
Carey has really solved a lot of this by himself. Stanley could help when he’s assertive enough and seniors Javin DeLaurier and Jack White can too. And of course Tre Jones has scored a lot in the lane already.
However, incorporating Moore more into lane combat will also help. He’s 6-6, strong and athletic. You can shift him in there and expect some good work.
That would also free Hurt up to do the things he’s best suited to do at this point, and specifically three point shooting.
And speaking of that, did you notice that against Cal seven Blue Devils hit at least one three?
All five starters did plus White and Joey Baker. Everyone attempted at least one except, ironically, Justin Robinson, who is a gifted outside shooter.
Jones shot poorly - 2-10 - but both made shots were threes.
We have gotten greedy about turnovers but Cal had just 15. Kansas had nearly twice that number.
We thought Duke would turn Cal over way more and score tons on breaks as opposed to three pointers where the Blue Devils got 30 points.
However, the defense was incredibly intense and Cal spent a fair amount of time above the top of the key, unable to get the ball inside with regularity. Duke held the Bears to 36.5 percent and nearly doubled Cal on the boards, 50-28. Duke almost had as many offensive rebounds as defensive - 23 to 27. Cal had eight offensive boards.
It’s a stark difference and Duke was clearly better but it’s good to remember that the Bears were epically bad last year and had significant losses from even that group. New coach Mark Fox is doing a great job so far. They competed and played smart. Duke was just better.
Friday’s finals of the 2K Empire Classic will be quite different. First, Georgetown is more talented than Cal. Second, the Hoyas we saw against Texas are as close to a good John Thompson (Jr.) team as we have seen in years. They’re long, lean and aggressive and Patrick Ewing is a far better coach than we expected him to be.
And there’s another significant issue in this game: Omer Yurtseven. The former State big man is now at Georgetown and he’s still 7-0, still skilled, and now he weighs in at 275. He’ll be a major test for young Carey. Don’t overlook the fact that Carey can take him outside in a man defense.
It’ll also be fun to watch Mac McClung. A former Blue Devil (in high school), McClung is famous for his vertical leap which is almost exactly where Cassius Stanley’s is, around 47 or 48 inches.
Since James Akinjo gets primary ball handling duties, Stanley may guard McClung which could get fun.
Ewing learned a lot from Thompson when he was at Georgetown obviously and one thing he picked up is using a deep rotation: the Hoyas have ten guys getting double digit minutes and one more who gets close.
One area where he parts company with Thompson is in scheduling. Ewing did start with three of his first four games against Mt. St. Mary’s, Central Arkansas and Georgia State (the latter two played Duke as well), but he also played a reasonably tough Penn State, Texas, Duke Friday night, and coming up, a solid UNC-G team that you shouldn’t take lightly (Kansas), Oklahoma State, SMU, Syracuse and UMBC.
We’re being a bit puckish there - ‘Hoo knows why - but keep an eye on UMBC for entertainment value. The Retrievers have Darnell Rogers at point guard. He’s listed at 5-2 but that might be stretching it.
He’s also getting 30 mpg, 14 points, almost four assists and 3.3 boards. And as Muggsy Bogues so thoroughly proved, at a certain point, being that small can be a terrifying advantage.
Remember GW’s Shawnta Rogers? He was a 5-4 point guard and the 1999 A-10 Player of the Year.
Yep. It’s his kid.
Watch this. UMBC is going to be fun. Rogers is a serious weapon. Former Temple coach John Chaney said guarding Bogues was like guarding a groundhog. Same here.
Anyway, Georgetown had more trouble with Central Arkansas than Duke did and about the same amount with underrated Georgia State. But the Hoyas were tremendous against Texas and it looks from here like a a major battle of defenses Friday night. #1 Duke will obviously be favored but showing signs of growth shouldn't be confused with being mature. This won’t be an easy game.
- Date: 11/22
- Time: 7:00
- Venue: Madison Square Garden
- Video: ESPN2