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More On Duke’s Win Over Louisville

Lots of good things from the Blue Devils lately

Louisville v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 20: Jacob Grandison #13 of the Duke Blue Devils battles JJ Traynor #12 and Roosevelt Wheeler #4 of the Louisville Cardinals for a rebound during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 20, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 79-62.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

This is interesting: if you start at the Virginia Tech game, Duke is 6-3. However, of those losses, only Miami was decisive. In both games in the Old Dominion, Duke was in a position to win late. And in both, Kyle Filipowski was part of a late controversy. At Virginia Tech, he was punched in the throat, which was ruled to be celebratory and inadvertent. The Hokies won 78-75. And in Charlottesville, the ACC said the game officials blew the end when Filipowski was fouled at the buzzer because they didn’t understand the rule.

So for argument’s sake, let’s assume Fiipowski hit one of the free throws. That would make Duke 7-2 over those games.

The Miami loss was obviously dreadful and Miami’s defense forced 21 turnovers and Miami won by 22.

At Virginia, Duke had 22 turnovers, yet was in position to win the game if the correct call had been made.

Since then?

Turnovers have fallen off a cliff. Duke had eight against Notre Dame, five against Syracuse and six against Louisville.

There are some other positive things happening too. Duke’s offense to date has been centered around Kyle Filipowski, who proved to be far more advanced than a lot of analysts realized. And he’s good enough to carry Duke a long ways.

But as good as he is, he’s not enough. Virginia shut him out and the Blue Devils could not maintain a lead.

Duke has been missing two elements offensively that have only recently really kicked in: three point shooting and penetration.

Against Louisville, Tyrese Proctor hit 4-8. Dariq Whitehead hit just 1-5, but clearly his teammates expect him to drain threes, and he has been. Prior to Louisville, Whitehead had hit 13-21 since the loss at Miami.

Mitchell, Roach and Filipowski have to be taken seriously outside and even Lively has taken a few lately. All of this opens up the inside.

Roach is 6-2 but looks smaller and it’s not like has a massive frame. He’s been pretty daring on his drives and his little step-back that he gets in the lane is a pretty effective tool.

Nonetheless, he’s still 6-2. Now we’re starting to see Mitchell and Whitehead attack the basket, and that’s a big deal.

One of the most fascinating and smartest things that Mike Krzyzewski did in his early days at Duke was to have his players drive aggressively.

In 1984, Duke had some good young pieces, but Coach K didn’t have the talent level that UNC, Virginia and Maryland had. Having his players drive and pick up fouls neutralized guys like Ralph Sampson, Brad Daughtery and Len Bias defensively. What could they do? The only way to defend a free throw is psychologically and even then that’s mostly up to the fans. And that only works if you’re at home and the shooter can be intimidated.

When Duke sees Mitchell and Whitehead drive, it changes things. Duke only got 13 foul shots against Louisville, but the other side of that coin is efficiency: foul shots or baskets, Duke gets points from penetration.

Back to Proctor for a minute.

We’re not sure when we’ve seen a guy progress quite as quickly as he has. He’s been sound for some time though he played timidly on the road, notably at Miami and NC State.

Last night, it was obvious how confident he has become. On one play he basically toyed with his defender before casually sticking a three in his face. It’s harder to see the confidence on defense but if you look at the video from last night, he really clamped down on El Ellis.

Ellis was on fire early, hitting two threes and another basket very early. He also had two assists and a rebound, all in the first 7:15, and personally staked Louisville to an 18-9 lead.

Then he missed a jumper and shortly after that, Proctor picked his pocket. He missed a three, then a layup.

Ellis also had seven assists, which was great for Louisville, because guys like Sidney Curry can't get their own baskets.

Ellis had eight of Louisville’s 23 made baskets and assisted on seven others. That’s 15 of 23 baskets that he’s personally responsible for. He was playing very, very well and Proctor, who remember came to Duke a year ahead of schedule and also missed the normal summer work Duke gets in due to his commitments with the Australian National Team, significantly reduced Ellis’s effectiveness.

Whitehead helped when he was in too, but really, Proctor’s defense was a major key to Duke’s victory. Louisville has had a lot of problems this season, but he’s been the one guy who has consistently been excellent. Limiting him was a huge accomplishment.

We should also mention Ryan Young. We were highly impressed with him when we saw the clips from summer scrimmages but that was mostly because he was so effective in the paint.

In the last few games he’s had some really nice snuffs too. He had two against Louisville Monday, both of which were emphatic.

He’s not a great natural athlete and he has limitations. But we love him because he outworks and outsmarts more talented opponents. Shotblocking is a major bonus.

This is something to remember about Young too: part of the reason why he was so impressive over the summer was because he played guys repeatedly and learned what he could get away with.

Now Duke has played everyone in the conference at least once and he knows what to expect from everyone. That worked in his favor over the summer. It’ll be interesting to see how he applies his knowledge from here on.

Finally a word about Louisville.

Everyone, including us, has mocked the Cardinals. Wasn’t Kenny Payne a celebrated hire? They lost to who? Bellarmine? Appalachian State?

Not too long ago, there was a clip where Ellis said Payne was urging him to talk to opponents more and Ellis basically said when you only have two wins it’s hard to talk smack.

But things have changed, and for the better.

Against Pitt, Payne said the other team(s) were predators and Louisville was the prey.

Not so much anymore. The Cards are still not winning, but they are playing competitively nearly every time out.

Louisville has some real limits. Curry seems to have regressed. Huntley-Hatfield isn’t dreadful but he’s not great either. Jae’Lyn Withers might be more effective if he had better teammates, but he’s probably about what he’s going to be, generally speaking. JJ Traynor isn’t awful but he is awful lean. Mike James and Kamari Lands have potential, but they’re freshmen and not what they will be.

However, they’re not playing like they’re traumatized prey anymore. Louisville competes and doesn’t give up. Duke was obviously the better team, but we knew that going in. The Cards never quit and kept competing even when it was obvious they would lose. And that’s a tribute to Payne.

If you can keep your team competing when the record is 4-24, and keep their respect and attention, it’s not all bad.

Next year, Payne will have freshmen forwards Kenny Payne and Curtis Williams and JUCO transfer Koron Davis. All are mid-sized players and reasonably versatile. They still need help but it’s a process. The first step is to build a culture that attracts talent. Then the wins will follow.

Next year, the Cards should have a group of versatile, mid-sized athletes. It sounds a lot like what Payne’s old coach, Denny Crum, had when he was at Louisville.

Call it a hunch, but people had better get the Cardinals while they can. It won’t be easy for long.