Date 3/11 || Time 8:30 || Venue Greensboro Coliseum || Video ESPN
We’ve enjoyed the little cartoon @DukeNBA has posted on Twitter where Death, with the requisite scythe and the face of Tyrese Proctor, is knocking on ACC doors for payback: first, Wake Forest, then Virginia Tech, NC State and Miami. Trails of blood are outside of each opened door. And now Death comes for the Cavaliers. Can Duke pull that off too?
It won't be easy. Then again, neither was Miami.
Duke enters Saturday’s ACC championship game on a definite roll though. The Thursday win over Pitt was Basketball Woodstock. If you felt like you were tripping balls with a bunch of other hoop hippy wannabes, it’s understandable. You rarely see a team click like that.
However, you did Friday night when Virginia eviscerated Clemson in the second half, and do not forget that Brad Brownell is a superb defensive coach.
UVA put on an offensive clinic against Brownell’s Clemson. What do you do with that?
Well first, we’ll repeat our admonition about great games: you don’t usually get two in a row, simply because it’s hard to stay at your peak for long. You always revert to the mean. Always.
So we’re glad that the ‘Hoos had that game in the semis.
And a lot of the damage was done in the paint, which should be harder to against Duke, right?
Let’s look back at the controversial meeting in C-ville almost exactly one month ago. Duke’s Kyle Filipowski was fouled at the buzzer and the officiating crew blew the call. He should have had two free throws and one would have won the game.
More importantly though, Virginia shut Filipowski out completely and held Dereck Lively to two points, and even those came at the line.
Duke also had 22 turnovers.
That was also the last time that Duke lost.
Do you think Duke is still mad about the call? Well, surely they haven’t forgotten it, but the near total shutout of the big men is probably a bigger focus. Looking back, it’s amazing that Duke got bupkis from its big men and had 22 turnovers - and was still had to get screwed to lose.
Here’s another stat to keep in mind about the previous game: Gardner shot 3-5 and scored just six. Vander Plas scored 13, incidentally.
We’re in speculative territory here, but after watching Filipowski this year, that guy has a serious competitive streak. We could be wrong, but our guess is that he’s going to be fired up.
Also worth noting: Dereck Lively is not the same player he was a month ago. He’s capable of shutting down the inside and, as we have seen recently, there are aspects of his game that are still unfolding. He’s added three point shooting and some tremendous passes to his toolkit. It doesn't really fit into any neat statistical fields, but he’s doing things differently. He’s grabbing rebounds more assertively. He’s more confident when he’s operating with the ball. He’s not jumping at every fake.
In short, he’s matured remarkably fast. It’s like the sped-up video of a caterpillar emerging from its chrysalis.
But the biggest individual change has been from Tyrese Proctor. He is playing with vastly more confidence than he had a few weeks ago. Earlier, when Jay Bilas said he was an NBA player, we believed him, because he knows his stuff, but we hadn’t seen an NBA level game from him yet.
We’re starting to. Proctor is playing with a delightful arrogance. Miami certainly tested him by rushing multiple defenders at him and trapping him and that was a problem, but it’s fixable. What we’re talking about is the pep in his step, the confidence when he handles the ball and penetrates, his complete willingness to fire off a three.
You could talk about any number of other things, like Dariq Whitehead’s three point shooting, which has been a devastating weapon because, well, he’s hitting them. But he’s also opening up the driving lanes for everyone else. You could also rave about Mark Mitchell, who increasingly shows up as Maximum Mark Mitchell: playing D, rebounding, driving, handling the ball as an extra guard, picking up post players as an extra big, hitting his own threes.
And yet you could take all of this massive improvement and run into Virginia again, still righteously indignant about being robbed in February, only to realize that attacking that defense is like boxing in Jello. It slows you down, it prevents easy shots, and if you’re not careful, you end up rushing something off to avoid a shot clock violation.
And, somewhat like Pete Carrill’s old Princeton offense, when you make mistakes, they compound. First you’re down five, then eight. And it takes 25 seconds to get a decent shot off and you might decide that if you want to get back into this, you’d better shoot right freakin’ now (thanks to Ol’ Roy Williams for that one). And when you do those things, well, you’re in Virginia’s world and in for some serious pain.
Don’t believe us? Just ask Caleb Love. He’s probably still getting hate Tweets about his shot selection.
Of course, Duke’s defense is now a major challenge too. Individually, everyone is playing at a high level, not least of all Proctor, who moves his arms and legs like a windmill in a hurricane. Jeremy Roach has a knack for staying really close to his man. Mitchell is vastly underrated on that end and Filipowski has great footwork for a big guy. And Lively is behind them all to challenge anyone who gets through.
We have a lot of respect for Gardner and we were proud of him for saying that he was looking forward to playing Duke in “the basketball state,” or however he put it. How can you not appreciate that?
But Gardner is 6-6 and about 235 and we don’t think he’s going to shoot 10-15 again.
What we do think we’re going to see is an intense, aggressive defensive game. And as well as Duke has played in Greensboro, Miami’s quickness posed some huge obstacles. Duke won that game down the stretch partly because, in the end, size, rebounding and solid shooting inside were too much for Miami to overcome, especially after the admirable Norchad Omier went down with an ankle injury just 66 seconds in.
Against smallish Miami, Filipowski hit 8-9 and Lively was 4-5. They’re not likely to combine for 12-14 anymore than Gardner is going to shoot 10-15.
This game is going to be won and lost on the defensive end and, if it’s very close down the stretch, Duke simply cannot afford to make serious mistakes like, say, Filipowski dribbling and spinning into the teeth of that particular defense or Whitehead trying to throw down a Sports Center-worthy dunk with the game on the line.
Duke has improved tremendously and the Blue Devils can win this game. But they’ll need a supreme effort to take out the older and more experienced Cavaliers. We’d be really surprised if Duke ran away because that just doesn’t happen to Virginia very often. It’d be great, but it’s unlikely.
What is likely is that this game will be close in the last three minutes and whoever makes the fewest mistakes at that point is going to win.