By all means let’s celebrate Duke’s win over Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles averaged 84.2 ppg, good for third nationally.
Duke held them to 51, 33 points under their average. That’s extremely impressive.
But it was Oral Roberts, not UCLA or UConn.
This was a team with a 7-5 center and a 6-0 star guard.
Connor Vanover wasn’t much of a challenge really. He is 7-5, but like most guys that size, he’s not particularly mobile and he’s also quite thin. He can block shots on smaller players, sure, because he’s 7-5. But he’s hardly, say, Tacko Fall. He transferred from Arkansas which means he lost to Duke two years in a row on separate teams. Do you remember him getting in the game last year? He wasn’t good enough then and he’s not good enough now, which is why he transferred down.
Max Abmas is a very good player, but Duke’s guards are outstanding defensively. And other than Isaac McBride, who else is there?
The fantasy that this group, that ripped off 17 wins in the Summit League, was going to upset Duke was pretty ludicrous. Dominating the Summit League is an accomplishment, but it’s not that impressive in the greater scheme of things. This conference features the Jackrabbits, the Minnesota Tommies, the Leathernecks and the Roos. Great nicknames, but the schools are pretty irrelevant.
So that in mind, what did we learn?
Well, we learned that Duke could dominate without Kyle Filipowski playing well. The big man was vomiting during the game, according to the announcers because he was nervous, and he didn’t shoot well at all, just 2-7.
We also learned that Duke could win with a bad shooting night from Tyrese Proctor, but we have seen that before. We like the way he’s been shooting lately though.
We saw a pretty amazing performance from Dariq Whitehead, who has turned into one of the country’s best three point shooters. No one wants to see that guy coming.
And we saw a tremendous performance from Dereck Lively.
Part of that, again, was that ORU is a pretty small team, but you still have to show up and do the job and Lively really did. He had just four points but he pulled down 12 rebounds, many in traffic, and he blocked six shots and challenged quite a few others. What a lot of people are missing is that now, unlike earlier, he is playing with strength.
We also saw that Jeremy Roach is again stepping up in the post-season, and that’s really important. This is still a very young team and it needs a steady hand at critical times.
That brings us to a critical point in this game: at one point in the second half, Oral Roberts threatened a comeback, cutting the lead down to 14 with 8:50 left, and at that point, Jon Scheyer called a timeout to put the brakes on.
That was a point where, against a better team, Duke might have been in real trouble (and without Filipowski at his best, it could have been really ugly).
So enjoy the win, enjoy the remarkable improvement Duke has seen, because that is real. Just remember that this win came against a team that, while it is very well coached, is not on the same plane as the Blue Devils. Think about it this way: how many wins would ORU have had in the ACC this year?
The next game, against Tennessee, will be a much better test for the Blue Devils because Rick Barnes always coaches a very rugged style and that team is going to sock Duke right in the face. How Duke responds will speak volumes.