Thursday, January 11, 2007

Duke v GT Game Thoughts

Well, welcome to ACC road play, young Blue Devils. Duke fell, 74-63 to Georgia Tech last night in a game that went not at all like the Blue Devils planned. As captured in the preview (see below), Georgia Tech's strength all season had been its interior play, making a high percentage of its two point shots. This suggested that Duke focus on being tall and athletic on defense, which was reflecting in the starting lineup: Josh McRoberts, Lance Thomas, Gerald Henderson, DeMarcus Nelson, and Jon Scheyer. Duke dominated in the first three minutes, jumping out to a 10-2 lead. At this point, Greg Paulus and Dave McClure were substituted for Thomas and Henderson, with Paulus committing an immediate foul. Georgia Tech then went on an 10-0 run to take a lead that was never relinquished.

The key to the game, for Georgia Tech, was their offensive efficiency. Though the strength of Duke's defense is normally the ability to lock down the perimeter, the Yellow Jackets found themselves double teamed and frustrated in the paint. It was a great game plan and well executed by Coach K's squad; however, Georgia Tech responded by taking Duke's apparent defensive strength out of play. Thaddeus Young and Anthony Morrow combined to go 5 for 7 from beyond the arc, which brought both of their season rates up to 39%. Once Duke got off of its down-low game plan, Georgia Tech went back to its two strengths: points in the paint and transition offense.

That transition offense was sparked in part by another subpar effort from the Duke offense. In fact, at an efficiency of just 85 points per 100 possessions, it was by far Duke's worst offensive game this season. Despite showing an above average ability to grab the offensive board this season, Duke managed just 7 rebounds out of a staggering 34 missed shots, including 16 from behind the arc. Just as surprising as Morrow and Young for Georgia Tech was Scheyer for Duke: the freshman hit just three of his ten 3pt attempts, dragging his average down to 39%.

Georgia Tech's 24 defensive rebounds and 11 steals were more than enough for them to bump up the tempo. Duke had 75 possessions in this game, which is 15 more than their season average heading into the game, and it is no coincidence that 75 is exactly the average for Georgia Tech this season. Georgia Tech also got to the foul line at a much higher rate than usual, attempting 29 free throws (though six were in the final minute) on 19 Duke personal fouls. Duke, meanwhile, shot just 11 free throws on 17 personal fouls by GT.

There are few positives to take from Duke's performance in this game. Low post defense was extraordinary, with McRoberts, Thomas, and Zoubek all having solid games. Thaddeus Young was limited to just three shots inside the arc, forward Jeremeis Smith had none in 30 minutes. Help defense and double teams were also effective, with Scheyer and Nelson standing out. However, it did seem as though Duke tended to foul too often in those double team situations. While the referees called a solid game overall (especially calling the oft-missed over-the-back on rebounds), replays of many of these doubleteams show very little contact.

There's only so much that game film and reading statitsics can tell you, especially when you get on the court and an opponent's glaring weaknesses (three-point percentage, free throw rate, free throw percentage) suddenly become areas of strength. Credit the Georgia Tech players, who were likely fired up after a heartbreaking loss to Clemson, for rising above themselves for this contest. At the same time, it is unfair to write off Duke's offensive performance because "this year's team is all about defense." Last night's game was not just below average offensively- it was awful. Something needs to be done about cohesiveness (especially if Greg Paulus is to get a reduced role), effieciency, and discipline (crisp passes, hold on to the ball), or else it could be a very long ACC season for the Blue Devils.

1 comment:

Xenod said...

On the bright side of things...

When a team loses, you always discuss everything that went wrong. When they win, you discuss everything that went right.

With around 2:58 left Duke had just fought back to make the game 53-55 before Georgia Tech called a timeout. I was anticipating a "THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!" speech from Paul Hewitt during the post-game interview. Then Tech went on their run and basically iced the game.

I saw the difference being 3-point shooting. We were getting good looks and our shots weren't falling, despite the announcers fawning over Scheyer's backspin. They were getting ok looks and they couldn't miss.