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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Murfreesboro, TN

    Peaking vs. Reaching Potential

    I know a lot of people have been complaining about the last couple of years of basketball which primarily boils down to disappointment in tournament success. Why have we been losing? Part of it is that we don't have the super-elite players (Boozer, J-Will) from previous classes and this makes the margin for error much smaller. I don't want this to be a recruiting discussion about whether or not we should have elite players, so I'll just leave it at that.

    What we have had the past few years is a gaudy record that starts getting national attention and then seem to start to fizzle out in February and tourney time. There have several threads discussing why, such as bench depth, injuries, lack of post presence and point guard play, but I haven't seen anything that rings true with me quite yet. I've watched Marquette and Villanova win without a post player and those teams played really well in the tournament. Tennesse also just runs a bunch of wings out on the floor and defends well. You can argue that those teams have better point guard play, but I think that is debatable (except for Scotty Reynolds, who is just amazing).

    I'm starting to think we reach our potential earlier in the season than other teams. This is different than peaking too early in that I don't think we necessarily play worse than earlier in the season, just that everyone else plays better. Do you think we would have blown out Wisconsin in February? I kind of doubt it. They are on a roll now and have looked very solid. This is a tribute to our coaching staff that we play so well early on, but also hints that we no longer have the talent gap over other teams that we used to have. We have some incredible players, but we haven't gotten lucky in landing the next Boozer or J-Will for a couple of years. That's ok, since recruiting is such a crap-shoot a lot of the time anyways, but we're due for the next J-Will to land in our laps (Boynton maybe?).

    The other thing that I think we are missing is the guy on our team with an iron will who can change a game with one shot. Redick could do that and Ewing hit a lot of crunch time shots when he was around. On this team when the momentum started to turn toward the other team, we never had someone we could count on to be "the man". I think Paulus actually had the most desire to become that guy, but he often would just jack a long 3. Henderson's game against Belmont is exactly what I'm talking about and he gives me the most hope on our team to become that guy. He willed Duke to that victory. Every time down the court I wanted him to touch the ball because good things were happening. If he can develop into that guy next year who can take over a game when necessary, I think we can become very good again.

    Sorry for the long rambling message, just a few things that have been rattling around the noggin for a while.

  2. #2
    I think part of the problem is we no longer schedule "true" non-conference road games like we used to. I loved some of the games at Arizona, LSU, Oklahoma, and Michigan. I forget what the exact number is and a I don't have the time to do the research, but I know we have only had 6 "true" road games in the last several years. When I say "true" I mean not on a neutral court. While I see Coach K's rationale that it prepares the team for neutral sites in the NCAA's, I think we truely miss the toughness that a "true" road game against a quality non-conference team can generate. Also, I think our schedule has generally been weak leading up to ACC season the last few years. Usually we have one really good matchup before ACC season and latley it has been on a neutral court. So we head into ACC play with no losses or one loss and a high ranking. Then over the course of time, we find out that maybe the team has some problems not exposed early on. I mean sure we play some good mid-majors, but this is Duke. We should be lacing them up against the best and get an accurate measure of what is going on. Maybe losing more games helps in the long run. To me I see a trend as we move away from those exciting home and home series we used to have, a decline in toughness come tourney time. Just my two cents. If nothing else, I would love to watch Duke go to UCLA, UConn, or Kansas. Win or lose that would make for a memorable game.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Murfreesboro, TN
    Personally, I've never bought into the schedule argument either, but I think it's up for debate. We played Wisconsin, Davidson, Temple and Pitt this year and were supposed to have Gergetown, but the rescheduled. All of those teams made the tournament this year and two are in the sweet 16. Davidson was a road game and the Pitt game was neutral... Forgot we also played Marquette this year as well. I think it is tough for us to get teams to play a home and home with us because nobody wants to play in Cameron.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by 6th Man View Post
    I think part of the problem is we no longer schedule "true" non-conference road games like we used to.
    The complaint is that Duke isn't performing well in NCAA tournament play, not that Duke isn't prepared for ACC play. But that simply does not make sense - Duke plays tough true road games in conference play every year.

    What better road test could there be than playing, and winning, at the #1 team in the country? What more hostile environment could we find than College Park?

    This is not the problem.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Austin, TX
    I think I'm with Dukiedevil on this one. We can succeed without a Shelden/Elton/Boozer post presence. It does leave a smaller margin for error as far as bad games go. When Shelden got in foul trouble, JJ and Danny could bail him out. If the outside shots aren't falling, pound it inside.

    Still, I remember seeing something early in the year, probably early in the ACC, where the commentators were remarking on how many points in the paint we were getting. We were making up for no post presence by having 4 guys, sometimes 5 or 6, depending on who was guarding Paulus and Singler, who could take the ball to the rim. This disappeared halfway through the ACC season. Whether it was injuries, coaching adjusments by our opponents that we didn't have the skill set to counter (and I mean talent wise, not coaching wise, this is not a slam on the coaches or effort), whatever, that part of our game went away. I think we can look to rely more on it next year and I look forward to it.

    It's amazing how a loss you could see coming (WVU, VCU, LSU) hurts so much more than one that takes you completely by surprise (Mich St.). That 2005 team was really really good. That should have been the most disappointing of the 4 losses when you take into account potential and how the team was performing at the time. It wasn't. Ironically, for me, last year's loss was by far the most disappointing.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    For me, the two worst losses of the bunch were in 2005 and 2006. In 2005, we lost to a Michigan State team we had already beaten in the regular season (though the game was close) and in 2006, we lost to a team that I still believe we were superior to in LSU.

    This year and last year NCAA losses really weren't as tough for me to take. From the moment I saw each respective bracket, I knew there was a very real chance we would lose to VCU and I knew whoever won the WVU-Arizona game could very conceivably beat us. It has nothing to do with the talent of our team but in both cases, we came into those games playing lousy basketball. After losing to Clemson, I held onto the hope that we would come to NCAA tourney in DC and all of a sudden be that team that ripped off 12 wins from early January to early February. In reality, I knew there was a very small (if any) chance that Duke team would magically re-appear.

    This team, like many of the Duke teams in recent memory (since 2005) have all peaked prior to the NCAA tourney. Since the 2004 FF season, I can't remember the last time Duke was playing their best basketball in March. I think this year was the worst in the fact that a month ago, Duke was playing as well as anyone in America. We beat UNC at Chapel Hill (the way we played, I think we would've won even if Lawson had played) and then we go straight down hill from there. The Wake and Miami losses were precursors and the fact that we basically should've lost to NC State was confirmation (to me, at least). I was at the Miami game, and I left that game thinking this team was not the same. By the time we played Clemson, I knew we were living on borrowed time. What makes this year even MORE frustrating was that the way we played in the first half against WVU was one of the best halves we had played in weeks; I actually thought we were getting back on track.....then we came out of halftime and laid an egg. I don't know what we're doing wrong or how to change it, but it is really, really annoying and frustrating to just about no end.

  7. #7
    I don't see a trend of fizzling late, as I don't think there are really that many similarities between this year, last year, 2006, 2005, or 2003. The reasons for early exits were different. But in terms of why we seem to play better early, I think a lot of it has to do with us reaching mid/late-season form earlier than many/most of our opponents. The difference between the last few years and the late-90s/early-00s teams is that those earlier teams were more talented, deeper, and more versatile. Not that the recent teams weren't good - just that the earlier teams were unbelievably good.

    The late-90s/early-00s teams had both tremendous talent and the versatility necessary to make adjustments. We could beat you with dribble penetration (Avery, Williams, Duhon). We could beat you with the three. We could also beat you in the paint (Brand, Boozer). We even had tall, athletic slashing wings (Battier, Carrawell, Maggette, Deng, Dunleavy). There just weren't holes. When those teams lost, it was generally either due to playing a great opponent, an otherwordly performance by the opponent, or just a complete fluke.

    Contrast that with the 2002-2008 teams, in reverse order:

    This year we were a gimmick team. We pressured on defense we used a drive-and-kick approach on offense. Well, midway through the season teams figured out how to defend us. At that point, we needed to make an adjustment. Unfortunately, without a consistent post presence and without an explosive point guard who can create easy scoring chances for the team, we weren't well-equipped to adjust. We could only make changes on the margins. Coach K tried to shift the focus to getting the ball inside more, but it didn't work.

    In 2007, we were young and lacked an identity. Our wing players weren't ready to be consistent weapons. Our point guard was often a liability due in part to injury and in part to trying to do too much. Our best player wasn't suited to be the #1 option (his talents, if not his personality, would have been much more suited to this year's team, unfortunately). We didn't so much fizzle as just claw our way throughout the season.

    In 2006, we were a two-man show. We won a lot of games based on having two of the top five players in the entire country. But we lacked any scoring depth, and aside from the two seniors we were really inexperienced. We went out early in the tournament due largely to our leader having a really bad night against an athletic and intimidating defensive team.

    In 2005, we relied on three players. But we had no depth inside, and after Williams, Redick, and Ewing we were extremely vulnerable. We didn't fizzle down the stretch. We just faced a really talented, really athletic, physical team that exploited our weaknesses in post depth. It was just a bad matchup.

    In 2004, we lost to the best team in the nation in an incredibly close game that we could/should have won, despite foul trouble to our entire frontcourt. There was definitely no late-season fizzle.

    In 2003, we were an inexperienced team. We had lost our best three players from the year before. We had no post presence. We played a bunch of freshmen. We clawed to be a #3 seed, and lost to the eventual runner-up. That Kansas team was deep, experienced, and talented. That wasn't a fizzle either.

    In 2002, we just caught a team on a mission, in a very hostile environment. It was a combination of a flukey loss and an otherwordly performance by a solid opponent. Again, no fizzle.

  8. #8
    When I posted about our lack of "true" road games, I wasn't trying to blame losses in March on that one issue. Based on the Peaking vs. Reaching Potential headline, I think it appears we peak early because I think our early schedule has been soft. We have a great record by the time January comes around thus making us look better than we may be. As the ACC grinds on and we do play true road games we look like we are fading, but really we are getting tested for the first time. We did play PITT, but we lost and that was on a neutral court. I don't consider Davidson a true road game either as that was in Bobcats arena and plenty of Duke fans had the opportunity to show. The Maui was nice, but Marquette isn't a world beater. Certainly not a Kansas or UCLA title match. I have heard that some really good teams want to do some home and home series, but Coach K wants a Cameron game and a neutral site game. I don't think this helps us at all. Plus as I have seen written before, the anti-Duke world pulls against us hard in the NCAA's. The tournament tends to be more of a road game now unfortunately.

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