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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
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    San Francisco

    PHASE VII - NCAAT Round of 64 thru Round of 32

    I know itís been said a thousand times, but 2016-2017 has been the most drama-filled season of Duke basketball since at least 1995. The good news is that the Blue Devils enter Phase VII on the highest of notes. After a season filled with injuries, Duke played the ACC tournament with a more or less healthy squad . . . and the results were stunning. After battling past a tough Clemson team, Duke beat two KenPom top 10 teams in a row by mounting impressive second half comebacks. After vanquishing the hated Heels in a physically and emotionally exhausting semi-final, the team reached deep to find the energy to defeat a very good Notre Dame team and bring home yet another ACC banner to Cameron. The best part, however, is that as spectacular as those wins were, Duke still has room to grow. The message is clear: Duke is getting healthy. When Duke is healthy, we can beat anyone. In fact, when Jayson, Grayson, and Amile have all been more or less healthy, we havenít lost to a top team (with the possible exception of the @UNC game depending on whether or not we consider Grayson healthy enough at that time). This is a team that can get to the Final Four. First step: get through the first of three four-team tournaments.

    Health
    Iím not sure it is possible to provide any special insight here. If we are going to play our best ball over the next three weeks, Grayson must continue to show progress with his recovery from multiple ankle injuries. Amile needs to stay at his current level of health, at the very least. Harry must continue to shake off the rust. And we absolutely cannot suffer additional injuries. Ideally, everyone will be healed up and ready to go 100% come tournament time, but at this point, any improvement on the health front is welcomed. Again, our record against the KenPom top 10 as a healthy team is 5-0 or 5-1 depending on how you interpret the @UNC game. Either way, that is EXTREMELY impressive. When we have had key injuries, weíre either 0-2 or 0-3. The bottom line is that we must stay healthy.

    Offensive Identity


    Injuries combined with the challenge of integrating freshmen into the lineup prevented Duke from establishing a clear identity prior to the ACCT. That being said, previous Duke teams have been able to overcome that obstacle late in the season and bring home a banner. In 2015, Duke went into the tournament as an offensive juggernaut centered around Jahlil Okaforís dominance in the post. Then, over six games, that team played some of the best defense Duke fans have ever witnessed, culminating in a masterful performance in the Championship Game when Duke held Wisconsinís historically great offense to its lowest efficiency of the entire season. The 2010 Duke team only became the team we know and love after Brian Zoubekís coming out party against Maryland in mid-February. And finally, the 2001 team switched to an even faster gear at the very end of the season when Coach K inserted point guard Chris Duhon into the lineup to replace small forward (and general bada**) Nate James after Carlos Boozer went down with an injury. Those teams found their identity late.

    If the ACCT is any indication, it seems as if the 2017 Blue Devils have finally managed to find their identity, as well. They are the comeback kings who have proven to be as mentally tough as they come. With four wins in four days, the team is as confident as itís been all season with offensive roles largely set in stone. Jayson and Luke are options 1A and 1B on offense in no particularly order. In perhaps the move of the season, Coach K shifted Allen to a bench role and Frank to the starting lineup. The result is that both players have performed better. Frank has been on fire from behind the arc, shooting over 50% in the ACCT while also providing explosive drives to the basket. Heís not much of a traditional distributor on offense, but that is mitigated by the fact that Duke has some of the best one-on-one offensive players in the nation. Jayson, Luke, and Frank are all excellent at creating their own shots and kicking out to open shooters, as is Grayson when heís in the game. Even Amile has shown that he can be very effective one-on-one in the post. Meanwhile, the staff has clearly simplified Graysonís role since he moved to the bench. Instead of balance running the offense and hunting his own shot, he can play the role of attack guard. I actually think Grayson is a better distributor when heís attacking the hoop with reckless abandon, as it forces the defense to collapse on him and opens up passes to Amile/Harry in the post and kickouts for threes. After scuffling through much of February and early March, Grayson returned to form in the ACCT coming off the bench, hitting threes, driving to the hoop, and making some really nice passes off of dribble penetration. The result of the lineup change is that Dukeís offense, which had fallen as low as #11 in KenPom, is trending in the right direction, currently sitting at #6 and looking likely to move up. There are no givens in the NCAAT, but hopefully Duke can use the first weekend to fine-tune the new look lineups.

    Defensive Identity

    On the other side of the ball, Dukeís defensive identity is still not firmly set in stone. Though the defense has been significantly better than the low points of 2012 and 2014, it is still less-than-elite, sitting at #39 in KenPom. This is comparable to the pre-tourney rankings of the Elite Eight 2013 team and the 2015 title team, however, so there is room for optimism. Even though Dukeís KenPom numbers got slightly worse on defense during the ACCT, the team also showed flashes of defensive excellence. Coach K deployed a zone against Louisville and a soft press to slow down UNC. We might see both in the tournament.

    However, I think the fate of our defense sits on the bench. Matt and Amile are consistently excellent defenders. Luke, Grayson, and Jayson do the heavy lifting on offense. Sure, they can improve a little, but if Duke is going to hammer out a strong defensive identity, I think it is Harry who can take us there. In his now famous block-dunk-steal sequence against UNC, he showed how his length and athleticism can combine to wreak havoc on the defensive end. The issue for him is consistency. For every time he makes a great play on the defensive end, it seems heís out of position at least twice more, with the UNC game in NYC being the exception to that rule. The season long +/- stats lend credence to the eye test. Harry is the only rotation player to have a negative +/- for the year (this only counts through the Louisville ACCT game). If Duke is to go far in the tournament, Harry needs to cement himself as an energetic, disruptive defender who can give us 15 minutes of solid play. Harry followed up his performance against UNC with a less-than-ideal showing against ND. The first weekend of the tournament is the perfect opportunity for Harry to take the next step and string together two consecutive productive games.

    Upside

    The NCAAT is unpredictable. I donít think any Duke fans guessed beforehand that Grayson would be the hero against Wisconsin in 2015. As late as February in 2010, no Duke fan would believe that Zoubek would become the perfect ingredient in a title run. Also, Andre Dawkins stepped in to hit key threes under pressure against Baylor in the Elite Eight. And of course, in 2001 there was the famous ďItís overĒ moment when Boozer went down. If Duke makes a run in the NCAAT, there is no doubt in my mind that weíll get unexpected contributions from someone on the team.

    The good news is that the 2017 team has plenty of places from which unexpectedly strong performances can come. Jayson has been very good this season, and he moved up to another level in the ACCT. Yet he possesses such high-end talent that itís hard not to think he could bust out 30+ points if all the pieces fall into place. Harry has understandably had a rough time adjusting to the college game while recovering from his second ACL injury, but he has shown enough flashes that a 10 point/10 rebound outburst wouldnít be all that surprising. It seems odd to put someone like Grayson in this section, but we all know heís more than capable of putting a 30-spot in the boxscore. His shooting percentages are down across the board on both threes and twos, though he showed improvement in the ACCT. Thereís a lot of upside there if he gets healthy. Matt has been in a shooting slump for awhile, but it was just two years ago that he broke out for 16 points against Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. And of course, he shook off the rust to nail a dagger against Notre Dame two days ago. Amile seems to be slowly working his way back into his pre-injury form when he was a double-double machine. His impressive postup game has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. If his leg is feeling close to 100%, then suddenly he becomes a very credible threat in the post, keeping our offense more balanced. Finally, Marques has been used sparingly of late as the third option off the bench. However, he was instrumental in leading a Duke comeback against Miami in Cameron when Dukeís season was at a crossroads. It is not unlikely that there will be a game in which Amile and Harry are battling foul trouble. Will Marques be able to step up and replicate his Miami performance? In four years, when Harry, Marques, Jayson, Grayson, Luke, Frank and perhaps even Amile are playing in the NBA, itíll be obvious how much injuries affected this team. Iím hopeful that weíll get a better glimpse of that talent over the next three weekends.

    Battle Tested

    Matchups are the final piece of the puzzle for Duke in the tournament. We matchup pretty well with teams that play big, even when those teams are talented. But weíve struggled against teams that can spread the floor, drive, and use ball-screens. I wonít go into too much detail, as the East Region thread has plenty about Dukeís prospects against our potential opponents. I will say, however, that while matchups are important, this Duke team has beaten multiple top teams, all of which play different styles. We are battle tested to the extreme, with eight games against KenPom top 10 teams and many other games against quality ACC opponents. Louisville, UNC, UVA, and Florida all play different styles on both sides of the ball. Yes, some teams might present more of a challenge than others, but Duke has seen it all and emerged victorious more often than not this season. No team will intimidate our Blue Devils. On the other hand, I doubt Duke will overlook any opponent after losing to NC State at home earlier this year. This team has a nice combination of big wins and disappointing losses to keep them hungry and humble, to borrow a phrase from Kyrie Irving.

    Enjoy it

    Whenever Duke suffers a frustrating loss, I always think about how lucky we are to be Duke fans. If Duke makes a run through the NCAAT, it will represent one of Coach Kís best coaching performances in a career filled with brilliant coaching performances. For a team that has been through so much, perhaps the most gratifying thing about the ACCT was seeing the joy on our players' faces as they celebrated their championship. They were having fun, and we should, too. I hope Coach K has many years left at the helm of the program, but no one is immune to Father Time. We have a finite number of NCAAT to enjoy with Coach K. Letís all sit back and enjoy what will hopefully be a six game ride to remember.
    Who needs a moral victory when you can have a real one?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Norfolk, VA
    Excellent job with the Phase Post. I really like your angle on our offensive and defensive identity.

    Quote Originally Posted by COYS View Post

    Offensive Identity

    They are the comeback kings who have proven to be as mentally tough as they come. With four wins in four days, the team is as confident as it’s been all season with offensive roles largely set in stone.

    Defensive Identity

    However, I think the fate of our defense sits on the bench. Matt and Amile are consistently excellent defenders. Luke, Grayson, and Jayson do the heavy lifting on offense. Sure, they can improve a little, but if Duke is going to hammer out a strong defensive identity, I think it is Harry who can take us there. In his now famous block-dunk-steal sequence against UNC, he showed how his length and athleticism can combine to wreak havoc on the defensive end. The issue for him is consistency.
    The team is healthy and confident, which is a great condition to be in in March.
    Bob Green

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Washington DC
    Quote Originally Posted by COYS View Post
    Defensive Identity

    On the other side of the ball, Dukeís defensive identity is still not firmly set in stone. Though the defense has been significantly better than the low points of 2012 and 2014, it is still less-than-elite, sitting at #39 in KenPom. This is comparable to the pre-tourney rankings of the Elite Eight 2013 team and the 2015 title team, however, so there is room for optimism. Even though Dukeís KenPom numbers got slightly worse on defense during the ACCT, the team also showed flashes of defensive excellence. Coach K deployed a zone against Louisville and a soft press to slow down UNC. We might see both in the tournament.

    However, I think the fate of our defense sits on the bench. Matt and Amile are consistently excellent defenders. Luke, Grayson, and Jayson do the heavy lifting on offense. Sure, they can improve a little, but if Duke is going to hammer out a strong defensive identity, I think it is Harry who can take us there. In his now famous block-dunk-steal sequence against UNC, he showed how his length and athleticism can combine to wreak havoc on the defensive end. The issue for him is consistency. For every time he makes a great play on the defensive end, it seems heís out of position at least twice more, with the UNC game in NYC being the exception to that rule. The season long +/- stats lend credence to the eye test. Harry is the only rotation player to have a negative +/- for the year (this only counts through the Louisville ACCT game). If Duke is to go far in the tournament, Harry needs to cement himself as an energetic, disruptive defender who can give us 15 minutes of solid play. Harry followed up his performance against UNC with a less-than-ideal showing against ND. The first weekend of the tournament is the perfect opportunity for Harry to take the next step and string together two consecutive productive games.
    I always advocate for alternative defenses for a few possessions here and there, mainly to break a surging opponent's rhythm. Every time it happens, which isnt often, it makes me a little happy.

    I think having Harry play really good defense for stretches could be the difference in a Sweet 16 run and a Final Four run or better. Amile is not likely to be able to play 38-40 minutes, be a dominant defender and rebounder and stay out of foul trouble. He needs some rest and we need bench production without dropoff. If e we get from Harry what we got vs Unc Friday night, look out!

    The biggest thing this team has going for it is they have been frustrated all season, lots of people gave up on them or even called them overrated. That put a chip on their shoulder. I like where we are psychologically - chip on shoulder and palying loose.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    San Francisco
    Quote Originally Posted by superdave View Post
    The biggest thing this team has going for it is they have been frustrated all season, lots of people gave up on them or even called them overrated. That put a chip on their shoulder. I like where we are psychologically - chip on shoulder and palying loose.
    I agree. Plus, as much as we talk about the youth on this team, Amile, Matt, and Grayson were all part of the 2015 championship team. They know what it takes to win on the big stage. The combination of their tourney experience, the team's talent level, the confidence boost of the ACC tourney, and a "chip on the shoulder" desire to prove that Duke is worthy of the preseason hype give me good feelings about the team's attitude. They won't be rattled. And they know they can beat anyone.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    San Francisco
    Quote Originally Posted by COYS View Post
    I agree. Plus, as much as we talk about the youth on this team, Amile, Matt, and Grayson were all part of the 2015 championship team. They know what it takes to win on the big stage. The combination of their tourney experience, the team's talent level, the confidence boost of the ACC tourney, and a "chip on the shoulder" desire to prove that Duke is worthy of the preseason hype give me good feelings about the team's attitude. They won't be rattled. And they know they can beat anyone.
    I looked at the nbadraft.net East Region preview (http://www.nbadraft.net/ncaa-tournam...-east-region-5). They identify the Top 5 NBA prospects in the region. Four out of five are on our team - Tatum, Giles, Kennard, Allen. The one non-Duke player is Motley from Baylor - they say that it easily could have been Marques, but they decided to limit it to players based on play this year. Of course, this omits Frank Jackson, which is fine by me.

    Anyway, the talent gap between Duke and everyone else in the East is enormous. (Of course, realized potential and productivity is a different story...)
    "I don't like them when they are eating my azaleas or rhododendrons or pansies." - Coach K

  6. #6
    Great job, COYS. I too like the idea of exploring Duke's offensive and defensive identities and thinking about where that might lead us.

    Quote Originally Posted by gam7 View Post
    Anyway, the talent gap between Duke and everyone else in the East is enormous. (Of course, realized potential and productivity is a different story...)
    I am reminded about John Gasaway's article on "Category 5" rosters. The article talks about talent, as defined by both recruiting ranking and returning possession-minutes and says those teams have a 60% chance of reaching the Final Four and a 40% chance of winning the title. Now, his sample size is a bit small, but my guess is Duke is the only Cat 5 roster in college basketball this season (or maybe Duke and Kentucky, but I'm not sure UK has enough returning talent), which probably bodes well.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    NC
    Quote Originally Posted by Kedsy View Post
    Great job, COYS. I too like the idea of exploring Duke's offensive and defensive identities and thinking about where that might lead us.



    I am reminded about John Gasaway's article on "Category 5" rosters. The article talks about talent, as defined by both recruiting ranking and returning possession-minutes and says those teams have a 60% chance of reaching the Final Four and a 40% chance of winning the title. Now, his sample size is a bit small, but my guess is Duke is the only Cat 5 roster in college basketball this season (or maybe Duke and Kentucky, but I'm not sure UK has enough returning talent), which probably bodes well.
    Kentucky does indeed fall short on returnees (only Briscoe and Willis played significantly last year). UCLA is actually closer, but falls just a bit short on recruiting points.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Nashville
    Quote Originally Posted by gam7 View Post
    I looked at the nbadraft.net East Region preview (http://www.nbadraft.net/ncaa-tournam...-east-region-5). They identify the Top 5 NBA prospects in the region. Four out of five are on our team - Tatum, Giles, Kennard, Allen. The one non-Duke player is Motley from Baylor - they say that it easily could have been Marques, but they decided to limit it to players based on play this year. Of course, this omits Frank Jackson, which is fine by me.

    Anyway, the talent gap between Duke and everyone else in the East is enormous. (Of course, realized potential and productivity is a different story...)
    I'm surprised that list didn't include Hart. I guess he's expected to be one of those "great college players".

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Excellent post, COYS. I like the way you organized things.

    I have to agree that it would be best if we avoided good teams that spread you out and play pick-and-roll. Notre Dame completely changed the ACC title game when they went almost exclusively to ball-screen offense about midway thru the first half. Harry, who was good against UNC in large part because they play two posts and he could hang out in the lane, was unplayable against the Irish once they went almost exclusively ball screen. He did show some flashes of good hedging against Louisville, so hopefully if asked to play ball screens again, he could repeat that effort.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
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    San Francisco
    Quote Originally Posted by Troublemaker View Post
    Excellent post, COYS. I like the way you organized things.

    I have to agree that it would be best if we avoided good teams that spread you out and play pick-and-roll. Notre Dame completely changed the ACC title game when they went almost exclusively to ball-screen offense about midway thru the first half. Harry, who was good against UNC in large part because they play two posts and he could hang out in the lane, was unplayable against the Irish once they went almost exclusively ball screen. He did show some flashes of good hedging against Louisville, so hopefully if asked to play ball screens again, he could repeat that effort.
    Thanks for the kind words! I always appreciate your tactical analysis, to borrow a soccer term.

    You've mentioned a number of times that you'd love to see more of Marques because he's shown some ability to hedge and recover really effectively. I have to say that I agree. Plus/minus isn't everything, but Marques missed much of the cupcake part of the early season schedule due to injury and still has a solid plus/minus. He really was impressive on defense in the game at Cameron against Miami. Even 5-8 minutes of solid hedging against ball screens could make a difference. I doubt we'll see much of him over the next few weeks, but I think (hope?) he still has a role to play.

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