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Blogger Spotlight: Duke’s defense, potential and the Devil nobody hates

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Once again, Duke’s doing its thing in college hoops. The Devils are a Top 10 mainstay, feature an offense that can stroke the 3 and a post players who focus on rebounding and ensuring those perimeter shooters get their shots.

And in case you missed it, they’re also atop the ACC standings, tied with Florida State.

So what await coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team the rest of the season. I asked Adam Rowe, the founder and editor at Duke Hoop Blog for analysis of the season thus far and insight to what’s ahead.

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Q: Does this feel like a Top 10 team? The Devils are 18-3, but sure seem to catch a lot of grief, even before the home loss to FSU. (Coulda been worse, though. Coulda been on the road by 33.) Heck, even Coach K wasn’t overly pleased after Saturday’s win against St. John’s. This is just part of Duke basketball, right?

A: Based on their body of work, the 2012 version of the Duke Blue Devils absolutely feels like a Top 10 team. After losing seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, along with No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Kyrie Irving, this team had serious scoring, assisting, and most importantly leadership voids entering November.

The trips to China and Dubai in August certainly helped mold the team’s chemistry and allowed Austin Rivers and Michael Gbinije to assimilate into post-high school basketball more quickly, but this was still a team searching for an identity heading into their Nov. 11 game against Belmont at home. Since that one-point win, the team played a ridiculous non-conference schedule (tops according to kenpom.com, RPI) beating teams currently ranked five, 11, and 21, all at neutral sites. They also got a win over 19th-ranked Virginia in their second ACC game. I don’t see any other teams in the polls with that kind of record. Sure, they tripped up against Florida State, but the Devils didn’t look bad doing it.

As far as getting grief, we are talking about Duke here. There is no in between with this team. You either think Mike Krzyzewski is the devil incarnate or that Christian Laettner’s shot against Kentucky was guided by supernatural beings.

Q: What’s behind the defensive issues? Can they be fixed?

A: Duke has never finished below 20th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive rankings (I’m a big tempo-free guy if you haven’t noticed) yet this year they sit at 84. I think there are a number of reasons that can be extrapolated for this team’s propensity to give up points, but no magic bullet.

We can go back to the strength of schedule that Duke has played and point to that as a reason. We’ll stick with kenpom.com here for a standard, and see that Duke’s opponents boast college basketball’s third-toughest offenses. This is even including Virginia, who sits at 95. Well, Alabama is the only other team to have faced a Top 5 offensive schedule to be ranked in the KenPom Top 40.

Moving beyond their opponents and concentrating on Duke, there is clearly something missing on the defensive side of the ball. Much has been made of Duke’s perimeter defense and it certainly was an issue heading into the season. We are actually taking part in the Project Defensive Scoresheet Project initiated by Luke Winn and David Hess. Hopefully, through analyzing Duke’s defense by a number of metrics, we will be able to show a much clearer picture of what/who is causing the drop in Duke’s defense. You can see the first installment here, with the Western Michigan game.

Q: Even if the defense does have issues, the offense is as good as any in recent seasons. Andre Dawkins is a stone-cold killer, Austin Rivers has his sick crossover, Seth Curry’s due for a huge day and the Plumlees are the kings of second-chance points and alley-oops. But does it seem like Ryan Kelly should get more looks? Or is he getting the right amount of shots for his game? 

A: Ryan tends to play somewhat of a quiet game, so you may not notice the shots that Ryan is able to get. He’s tied for third on the team with Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins at 149 shots on the season. If you look at these charts from Statsheet.com (deselect the previous two years to see just this year’s) you can see that Ryan is getting 21.3 percent of Duke’s shots while participating in 21.9 percent of the possessions.

If anything, Duke should look to get Ryan more open behind the 3-point line as he is the most accurate shooter there by a wide margin at 47.2 percent. For one reason or another, he has only taken 53 three-pointers compared to 110 for Andre Dawkins, 87 for Seth Curry, and 73 for Austin Rivers.

Q: Rate Rivers’ season. Few freshmen came in with more hype. How’s he done?

source: APA: Austin started off the year outstanding, and even most of the his harshest critics (I’m looking at you, Sebastian Pruiti) can admit that. While his offensive production has fallen off as defenses have become more keyed on him, he is still a net positive player for Duke. His +/- of +200 points while he’s on the court makes him worth 10.5 positive points for his team. (His full game log is here.)

Coach K decided to bench Rivers for the start of the Wake Forest game on Jan. 19 but that game he dropped 20 points on 32 minutes. He has played 38 minutes in the two games afterwards and scored 19 and 10, respectively. Like any freshman, he’s going through growing pains but with his immense talent and ability and the foundation of a lifetime around the game of basketball, I expect him to be playing his best basketball in the spring.

Q: Is Tyler Thornton underrated as a point guard? Seems to me that the guys they’ve tried – Curry, Rivers – and hope blossom as a PG – Quinn Cook – have been inconsistent. Meanwhile, Thornton’s kinda like Jon Scheyer, only with a defensive emphasis. Duke doesn’t really miss a beat with Thornton in there, but the general consensus is that things could be better.

A: I think it’s easy to say that Tyler Thornton is underrated in everything he does as he’s not really rated by anyone, ever. He knew his role at Duke was to come in and be a four-year player. The fact that he’s contributing offensively as early as he is can be attributed to an extremely high level of character and work ethic. He is generally a steadying hand as the lead guard, doesn’t take a whole lot of risks, and can knock down an outside shot every once in a while.

As a point guard, Tyler is not going to lead a fast break or cut through a defense to drive, draw, and dish but he does give the team calm. A lot of people talk about Tyler’s defensive prowess, but his strength there lies in his help defense and ability to jump passing lanes. He, like all of Duke guards, have a tendency to get beat by their men on the perimeter.

Q: Well then, I’ll be sure to stop talking about Thornton on defense (musta been a default phrase). Is anyone on Duke worth much on defense? Say I need someone to check Harrison Barnes. Who’s it gonna be?

A: A lot of people talk about Tyler as a defensive stopper. I’m not exactly sure where that observation came from (although he does have Duke’s best stop% at 55.3 percent.) It probably comes from the fact the he is an in-your-face type player and is relentless. As I said earlier, he is a really good off the ball defender, but I wouldn’t call him a stopper, per se.

Duke’s defense has been an issue all year, but the guards have been shown to get blown by quite regularly. Whether that’s a function of an overplay style or lack of lateral quickness or mental lapses is a matter of debate, but it is definitely an issue compared to other years.

Barnes is one of those guys who will give Duke matchup problems as there is nobody on the team with his physical attributes. Josh Hairston did show an ability to stop Draymond Green when Duke played Michigan State, but Barnes has much more ability as a shooter than Green. It will be interesting to see who picks him up. Andre Dawkins played him pretty tight in the ACC Tournament last year. Maybe he can replicate that success.

Q: I was among those who wrote about the declining attendance among the Cameron Crazies. It’s not something that’s specific to Duke, but – like most everything else related to Duke hoops – you guys probably take more hits on this because of the Crazies’ rep and because it’s Duke. Is there anything regarding Duke you do think gets a fair shake?

A: There are certain writers that give Duke a fair shake, but for the most part they use Duke to get more page views, which is what we are all in this business for. As I said above, Duke is the most polarizing team in college basketball (maybe college sports). There’s a reason the game against Butler was the highest rated of the 20 years prior. I think you, Jeff Eisenberg, Luke Winn and a few others give Duke a fair look but there are certainly some who don’t.

Q: Twitter segue: How often do people pick fights with you in that medium? And vice versa?

A: I get trash talked quite a bit, especially after Duke loses. At first I responded, but I know now that people use the cloak of anonymity for role play. I’ll either ignore it now or simply block the person. I do talk trash, but only if it’s people I interact with on a regular basis.

Q: Everyone loves to hate Duke players. Is there a guy who non-Duke fans love? Grant Hill comes to mind.

source: APA: Grant Hill is a guy nobody can hate but Nolan Smith is the one that immediately pops into my mind.

Some friends and I ran a marketing campaign to get Nolan the National Player of the Year Award last year, and even UNC fans were commenting about how much they liked him and wanted to see him succeed. I think for Nolan, putting himself out there like he did in the “Lessons From My Father” article really humanized him to a point where people could actually see him as a person and not just as a basketball player. That, and his outgoing personality really endeared him to a lot of Duke fans, but also non-Duke fans as well. I hope that he can continue to stay in the spotlight as he has a lot of good to show the world off the court.

Q: How’s the response been to Duke Hoop Blog? Is there a day in the future when that’s your only job?

A: I feel like I’ve been blessed to have a really good response from the site. I started it one night when my wife went out on her bachelorette weekend and I was sitting around the house with nothing to do. It was more of a hobby than anything. I wrote a few articles that got some recognition, started tweeting (there really wasn’t a Duke fan presence on Twitter at the time I started but there definitely is now), and now I have four writers who contribute to the site and am getting around 30,000 hits per day. I’m lucky for those guys (follow them on twitter @thedevilwolf, @ClykinsBlog, @R_Horn21, @Bleed_DukeBlue1) because I have a full time job, I’m married, have a social life, and am taking 12 hours of classes to change careers. Without their contributions, this site would not be alive today.

There was a week or two in the offseason when I considered shutting it down just because I knew the time suck would be so large. @thedevilwolf in particular is a huge reason why I kept going.

As far as this being my only job, I don’t think that’s feasible unless I went to a pay model and that is not something I’m interested in. This is a labor of love for me, and something I do because I am passionate about Duke Athletics. This site is a way I feel like I can give back for all the great memories and emotions that Duke has given me ever since I first stepped foot in Cameron as a young boy.

You can read more of Adam’s writing at Duke Hoop Blog and follow him on Twitter @DukeHoopBlog.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

WATCH LIVE: Atlantic 10 basketball Sunday on NBCSN

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: A detailed view of a Spalding basketball during a quarterfinal game between the Davidson Wildcats and La Salle Explorers in the 2015 Men's Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 13, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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The Atlantic 10 invades NBCSN and the NBC Sports app on Sunday.

It begins at 2:00 p.m. with La Salle at VCU. Both of these teams are fighting for first place in the Atlantic 10 standings as the Explorers sit at 5-1 in league play and the Rams are at 4-2.

CLICK HERE to watch the Atlantic 10 on NBCSN

No. 6 Baylor uses late spurt for 62-53 victory at TCU

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) reacts to a play against Texas in first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 74-64. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)
Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Sixth-ranked Baylor and TCU kept trading the lead in the second half, with a 9 1/2-minute gap when neither team could muster consecutive scores.

Then the Bears finally closed out their 10th straight Big 12 victory over TCU since their instate rival joined the league four years ago.

Ishmail Wainright swished a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:16 left, and there was then a TCU miss and more than a minute before Johnathan Motley’s layup for the Bears. Manu Lecomte added a layup to cap the 7-0 spurt that finally put Baylor (18-1, 6-1 Big 12) ahead to stay.

“This was typical of the Big 12. Hard-fought game, both teams playing extremely hard. The day after the game, it’s amazing how drained everybody is,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I hope fans enjoy it, because we’re worn out.”

There were five ties and 13 lead changes after halftime.

The partisan sellout crowd of 7,276 might not have enjoyed it as much, but the Horned Frogs (14-5, 3-4) have shown great progress in their first season under coach Jamie Dixon, the former TCU point guard.

While the Frogs have already won two more games than all of last season, Dixon feels like they have let their last two game slip away late.

“Obviously got some disappointed guys in that locker room, me included,” Dixon said. “Really thought we were here to win this game. … My feeling we were ready to win them, and we were prepared, and we did things right, did things necessary.”

Lecomte scored 17 points while Motley had 15 points and eight rebounds, along with a punctuating dunk in the final minute. That came soon after Lecomte’s alley-oop pass for a dunk by Jo Lual-Acuil, who finished with 11 points.

Vlad Brodziansky had 19 points and 10 rebounds for TCU, while Kenrich Williams had 16 points and 12 rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: This is the first time the Bears have ever been 18-1 overall or 6-1 in the Big 12. They have won their last three games since losing in their first game after reaching No. 1 for the first time in school history.

TCU: Brodziansky and Williams didn’t get much help from the rest of their teammates. TCU shot 29 percent from the field (17 of 58) — Brodziansky and Williams were a combined 12-of-26 shooting; the rest of the team was 5-of-32. “We outrebounded them (38-37), we had lower turnovers (8-10), things we want to do,” Dixon said. “But simply put, the shooting percentages always stand out.”

COMING FROM BEHIND

Baylor is 6-1 this season when trailing at halftime, and has outscored its opponents by more than 10 points in those second halves. “Blessed to have great leadership from the upperclassmen. They don’t panic, they don’t rattle, they stay together,” Drew said. “And they believe in each other.”

TCU led only 24 seconds in the first half, but grabbed a 28-26 halftime lead on Williams’ 3-pointer with 7 seconds left. Baylor opened the second half with four straight layups.

CATCHING AIR

When asked about Wainright’s go-ahead 3, Motley called it a “big shot. I air-balled one, Al (Freeman) too. The fans made sure they let us know. It didn’t matter, we just stayed aggressive, and my teammates trusted me to shoot again.”

UP NEXT

Baylor is home against Texas Tech on Wednesday before consecutive road games, including the SEC-Big 12 Challenge next Saturday at Ole Miss.

TCU plays its next two Big 12 games on the road, starting Monday at Oklahoma State. The Frogs then host Auburn before going to Kansas State.

No. 11 Oregon tops Stanford for record 16th straight win

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 20:  Tyler Dorsey #5 of the Oregon Ducks shoots a jump shot against the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the second half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 20, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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EUGENE, Ore. — Chris Boucher announced his return to No. 11 Oregon’s starting lineup with one dramatic slash-and-slam move.

In the process, he helped answer what the latest version of the Ducks would look like without injured preseason All-America forward Dillon Brooks again.

Boucher had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Dylan Ennis scored 15 and Oregon rolled to a 69-52 victory over Stanford on Saturday.

With Brooks on the bench and his left leg in a boot to protect a sprained foot, the Ducks (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12) broke a 104-year-old school record with their 16th consecutive win and 38th in a row at home.

Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey each had 11 points for Oregon, which overcame 19 turnovers by shooting 11 of 25 from 3-point range and outrebounding Stanford 40-29.

The Ducks share a 1 1/2-game lead atop the Pac-12 with No. 14 Arizona, but Oregon coach Dana Altman, ever the taskmaster, wasn’t satisfied.

“I’m disappointed. We were sloppy, but there were some good things,” he said, pointing to the eight rebounds and seven assists from freshman point guard Payton Pritchard. “That’s a big plus. We need our guards to rebound.

“But 19 turnovers is just unacceptable. The (12) turnovers in the second half took away from what could have been a good performance.”

It was the 11th career double-double for 6-foot-10 Boucher, whose swooping drive and dunk from the left wing late in the first half showed no lingering effects of the ankle sprain that cost him his starting spot eight games ago.

“I felt like it was always there,” said Boucher, who had come off the bench the past six games after sitting out two to recuperate. “Their bigs were kind of slow, so I felt I had the opportunity to do that.

“It’s always good to know you’re capable of doing it.”

Marcus Allen had 13 points as the only scorer in double figures for the Cardinal (11-9, 3-5). Stanford went more than eight minutes of the second half without a field goal, shot just 32.3 percent overall (20 of 62) and had two players foul out.

Oregon spotted the Cardinal the first five points and then hit four straight 3-pointers in taking a 16-7 lead. The margin grew to 20 late in the half as the Ducks went 8 of 17 beyond the arc and 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) overall.

Stanford, meanwhile, went the last five minutes of the half without a field goal and trailed 40-22.

“I think it was a combination of great shooting on their part, and poor defense on ours,” first-year Cardinal coach Jerod Haase said.

The Ducks, who led by as many as 25 late in the game, have won their last six games by an average of 24.3 points.

There’s no timetable for Brooks’ return after Oregon announced his injury status two hours before tipoff. The Ducks were ranked as high as No. 4 early in the season before he came back from offseason surgery for a broken bone in the same foot.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Altman said, “but hopefully it’ll all work out and he’ll feel better quick.”

BIG PICTURE

Stanford hasn’t swept a conference road trip since 2010. The Cardinal hope to have leading scorer Reid Travis (16.6 ppg) back from a shoulder injury in time for a visit to California in eight days.

Oregon finishes the first half of the Pac-12 season next week at Utah and Colorado, a road trip it hasn’t swept in four tries since the Utes and Buffaloes joined the conference in 2011.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Oregon’s chances of rejoining the Top 10 were helped Saturday when both No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Creighton lost at home.

HE SAID IT

Oregon has five players scoring in double figures, led by Brooks at 13.4 points per game, but none among the Pac-12’s top 20 this season. “I think our balance is our identity, and I like to see that,” Altman said. “When guys are making plays for each other, we’re pretty good. When the ball’s hitting the floor too much, we’re not nearly as good.”

WHAT STREAK?

Boucher said he wasn’t aware that Oregon’s 16th win in a row was a school record until told by a Pac-12 broadcaster during a postgame interview. Meanwhile, Pritchard insisted such things don’t matter to the Ducks. “We’re not worried about any streaks,” he said. “We just want to make a run to the Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament.”

STAT OF THE GAME

The announced crowd of 12,364 was Oregon’s fourth sellout of the season and 12th in 119 games since Matthew Knight Arena opened six years ago — though there were at least 1,000 empty seats. The Ducks have drawn more than 10,000 for each of their five Pac-12 home games.

UP NEXT

Stanford, now 0-6 against ranked teams, hits the Pac-12 midpoint at California on Jan. 29.

Oregon goes for its first 8-0 start to conference play in 91 years at Utah on Thursday. The Ducks finished 10-0 in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1925-26.

Williams-Goss leads No. 4 Gonzaga over Portland 73-52

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against the Washington Huskies in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) No. 4 Gonzaga beat undermanned Portland by 21 points on Saturday, but the Zags were not happy.

Portland, playing without its leading scorer, out-rebounded the Zags 41-33, and held Gonzaga, the nation’s last remaining undefeated Division I team, to 45 percent shooting.

“We have to start rebounding better,” said center Przemek Karnowski, who scored 12 points but had just three rebounds in Gonzaga’s 73-52 victory. “Five guys have to go and rebound the ball. That’s one of the things we need to fix.”

Nigel Williams-Goss led Gonzaga with 15 points, but left the game with about five minutes left with an injury. Coach Mark Few could not say exactly what the injury was or how serious.

But he was also unhappy with the rebounding.

“They pounded us for 21 offensive rebounds,” Few said. “They beat us to some balls.”

“It was a choppy game,” Few said. “Portland did a nice job. They played us physical.”

Zach Collins added nine points and nine rebounds for Gonzaga (19-0, 7-0 West Coast), which has a nation’s best 19-game winning streak. It is the best start in program history.

Gabe Taylor scored 13 points and Jazz Johnson 12 for Portland (9-10, 2-5), which has lost five games in a row. The Pilots played without leading scorer Alec Wintering, who earlier Saturday was declared out for the season with a torn ACL.

“Sometimes when you lose your leader like that, it wipes you out,” Portland coach Terry Porter said. “But the guys responded well with a great effort.”

“We knew it was going to be a tall task,” Porter said. “I loved the way we fought and got after it.”

Gonzaga, which has won seven straight over Portland, never trailed despite shooting 45 percent from the field. Portland was worse, shooting just 32 percent.

“We had a lot of good looks we didn’t knock down,” Few said.

Gonzaga opened the game with a 12-1 run and the Pilots did not make their first field goal until five minutes were gone. The Zags hit four 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes and built a 24-11 lead. They were up 34-23 after a sloppy first half in which neither team shot better than 40 percent.

Early in the second, Gabe Taylor hit three consecutive baskets for Portland to knock Gonzaga’s lead down to 38-31.

But Killian Tillie’s 3-pointer ignited a 15-3 run that put Gonzaga in control and the Pilots did not threaten again.

BIG PICTURE

Portland: Under first year coach Terry Porter, the Pilots started strong but have been suffering offensive woes in recent weeks. The problem may get worse as Wintering, who was averaging 19.5 points per game, suffered a torn ACL in Thursday’s loss at San Francisco and is done for his college career.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have dominated at home this season, outscoring opponents by 29 points per game in their first 10 contests in the McCarthey Athletic Center. They have trailed a total of 13 minutes in their first 11 home games.

QUOTABLE

“They fought us and did a good job of competing with us,” Few said.

TURNOVERS

The Pilots turned the ball over 16 times, to 10 for Gonzaga.

UP NEXT

The two teams will play again on Monday in Portland, in a make-up date for a Jan. 7 game that was postponed by severe winter weather. Saturday’s game started a run of four games in eight days for each team. “We’re trying to get guys rested a little bit,” Few said.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

VIDEO: Grayson Allen suffers gross finger injury vs. Miami

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Grayson Allen suffered a pretty nasty looking injury to the pinky on his left hand right at the end of the first half against Miami.

His reaction to seeing the injury is to recoil in horror … :

And you may do the same thing when I post the picture of what his finger looks like:

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I’m not going to speculate as to the nature of the injury, whether it was just dislocated or broken, but this is just another blow for a team that has had some dreadful injury luck this season.