Today’s Article is by Rowan Shiell
“I just have felt since Christmas that there’s something missing with our group, and I’ve said it,” said Coach Krzyzewski. “I’ve said to the press. I’ve said it to my team, and when you’re still winning, you don’t necessarily believe it completely, but I’ve felt it since Christmas. I haven’t been able to figure out how to change it.”
What has changed since Christmas as to why Duke isn’t playing the same ? Is it the time off, or is it the fact that Semi Ojeleye transferred in the middle of December? Could that have anything to do with team chemistry, or is it just a big coincidence that something went missing right after Semi left ?
The difference between a very good team and team with talent is good chemistry … Something that cannot be measured. A good team has players who have a feel for each other, know their weaknesses, and compensates for it. Whereas a team with talent has a bunch of good players “who work their butts off” (see St John’s Red Storm).
Chemistry can be incredibly fleeting. Here today, gone tomorrow. That’s why a team like Miami could lose at home to teams like Green Bay, then get blown out by Eastern Kentucky, then go to Cameron Indoor Stadium to soundly end Duke’s 41 home games winning streak. A week before that, Virginia, currently ranked #2, and maybe the best playing team in the nation, needed two Overtimes to beat the Hurricanes. They are now playing great winning basketball.
While Semi was on the team, guys were fighting for playing time and staying hungry. They hustled on defense. They communicated on defense. Then someone leaves, and even if he didn’t play that much, his departure alleviated some of the uncertainty, and made players feel established. Suddenly the extra pass wasn’t being made, and that trickles down to the defense, where players stopped talking and were visibly frustrated.
If you knew you are guaranteed to play 35 minutes every game, wouldn’t it be to your best interest to take a few plays off ?
One of the reasons Semi transferred, or maybe the only reason, is that Coach K again shortened his rotation, and went to his norm of playing a maximum 8 players, leaving the Sophomore and Grayson Allen as the odd men out. Prior to Michigan State, no one was playing more than 30 minutes a game.
Everyone played but as the competition improved Coach K went with a set rotation. Even the style of play changed. Now it was mostly Post Jahlil Okafor and throw the ball into him. If he got doubled, then he threw the ball back to the perimeter. Jahlil was the main scoring option of the team. His numbers blew up to the detriment of his teammates. This is an exploitable weakness. Double team Jahlil, but let Duke shoot you out of it. Remember that victory at Wisconsin and how balanced the scoring was ?
When the season started people were saying Duke looked good, but the Offense should run through Okafor. He should touch the ball at least once on Offense. Even this writer believed that, however making the Freshman the main Offensive weapon was not an expected option, unless it was an open audition for the John Wooden award.
His teammates became complacent (Tyus Jones). No more Pick-and-Rolls. It was ball into the Post then everyone stood waiting for the ball to come back out. When it did, the receiver normally jacked a Three Pointer. That worked when they were shooting well, but Three Point Shots don’t always fall.
Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones’ Assist numbers have slowly been declining. That’s because they hardly create plays for teammates any more. Duke needs to get back to playing team ball. Play together on Offense and the cohesiveness will trickle down to the defense.
Against Miami, Fran Francsilla reported that Jim Larranaga wanted to spread the floor then beat Duke’s Guards off the dribble. As soon as one player was beaten there was no secondary defense. At times a guy had a clear path to the hoop, with enough time to update their social media status before the layup !
These are fixable problems and it is still early January. Not to mention they are only 4 games into the ACC season. We have to remember that Duke has one of it’s best teams in a long time. Quinn Cook is having his best season at Duke. The Freshmen, Justise Winslow, Jones and Okafor are really talented. Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones are two of the best defensive guards in the ACC. Marshall Plumlee has progressed.
Amile Jefferson is one of the most versatile defenders in college basketball. Individually, these guys are exceptional in their own way, they just need to start playing together again.
Duke needed these two losses, as sometimes you have to fail in order to win, according to Michael Jordan during his Hall of Fame speech. Miami needed to hit rock bottom, getting blown out by Eastern Kentucky, to find themselves. They took a stand against Virginia then resurged against Duke.
Coach Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils are still on that journey and as soon as they collectively draw that line in the sand, they will start rising together as a team. This was never about going undefeated it’s about playing in April.
“I’m not totally surprised with us losing, not tonight, I’m just saying losing because I never felt we were a great team,” Krzyzewski said after the Miami game. “I felt we were really a good group of kids working our butts off, winning some big games and stuff like that. But we’re not that team yet.”
They key word here is ‘yet’ …