Evaluating Duke



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

If Duke was allowed to play the ACC tournament and the NCAA Championships on its home court, they might well be unbeatable this year. The Blue Devils continue their extreme home/road splits this year with a 77-56 blowout of Maryland that seemed even more one-sided than that score.

This is important because:

*Maryland was the second best team in the ACC in winning percentage entering the contest. Duke wasn't running over a generic conference foe. They were beating their biggest threat for the regular season title.

*Wake Forest moves past Maryland into second place with this result. Duke beat Wake Forest on this floor 90-70 earlier this season.

It's arguably a one-team conference right now in terms of national relevance. And, based on home court results only, Duke would seem like a true national championship threat.

Duke 74, Clemson 53
Duke 79, Boston College 59
Duke 90, Wake Forest 70
Duke 70, Florida State 56
Duke 86, Georgia Tech 67
Duke 77, Maryland 56

Talk about consistency! Duke won by 21, 20, 20, 14, 19, and 21 points. You never got the sense the Blue Devils were even threatened. Or even scared. Or, that they even noticed another team was in the gym. Consistent domination.

Unfortunately, the ACC tournament and the Big Dance AREN'T played in Durham at the Cameron Indoor Center. Away from home, the Blue Devils have been much more mortal.

Georgia Tech 71, Duke 67
NC State 88, Duke 74
Duke 60, Clemson 47
Duke 66, Boston College 63
Duke 64, North Carolina 54

North Carolina is horrible this year. Duke did pull away late for a double digit victory the other night in Chapel Hill. Clemson is a bubble team right now, and has been very inconsistent. We'll give Duke credit for a nice result there. Otherwise, it's a horrible loss to an unimpressive NC State team, a tight win over middling Boston College, and a four-point loss to a Georgia Tech team they dominated at home. That's not a disaster. But, it's not stringing together dominance either. Since their tourney games won't be at home, this matters!

Let's also note a couple of other road losses outside of league play...

Wisconsin 73, Duke 69
Georgetown 89, Duke 77

Now, Wisconsin and Georgetown can play some ball. There's no disgrace in losing to those guys. We may be the most anti-Duke writers in the media, but we would never say they were a disgrace to basketball. They're just not as good as the media makes them out to be. They're not head and shoulders above the field once you take them out of Cameron Indoor. In fact, their failure to play to their seeds the past few seasons suggests they're below the true elite.


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Why the strong home floor?

*Its unique dimension provides for an awkward backdrop on long shots, something which has historically inhibited three-point shooting for visitors.

*The proximity of avid fans make it very difficult for visiting teams to maintain their composure. Veteran teams can deal with the noise. How many 'veteran' teams are around these days given the 'one and done' format for elite players?

*Duke-haters will tell you that the Blue Devils will get all the calls at home. Sour grapes? No, neutral people say the same thing! Duke historically gets a lot more free throw attempts at home than on the road or on neutral courts.

When Duke goes on the road...they don't get the calls, don't face rattled opponents, and suddenly find that the guys they're guarding can make three-pointers. Decent teams will beat them. Top notch teams will drill them bad, as Villanova did last year in the Dance.

As we start reviewing a few boxscore summaries from Saturday afternoon action, let's see if those elements were in play in the Duke/Maryland game you probably watched on CBS...

Shooting Percentage: Maryland 38%, Duke 42%
Three-Pointers: Maryland 2/13, Duke 5/15
Free Throws: Maryland 8/11, Duke 18/22
Rebounds: Maryland 34, Duke 39
Turnovers: Maryland 14, Duke 7
'Phantom Score': Maryland 76, Duke 83
Vegas Line: Duke by 9, total of 146
Comments: Let's take them one-by-one.

*Three-Pointers? Check. Maryland was a hideous 2 of 13 from long range. Duke wasn't that great themselves at 5 of 15. If Maryland had just made a third of their bombs, that stat evens out and Maryland picks up nine points.

*Composure? Check. Maryland committed 14 turnovers, compared to just 7 for the Dukies.

*Free Throws? Check. Duke got 11 more attempts and 10 more makes.

Ignoring turnovers for a moment, Duke was plus 9 points on bombs, and plus 10 points from the charity stripe. That's 19 points of the 21-point victory margin. Play the game at Maryland, you get another nailbiter.

Play the game in March against somebody BETTER than Maryland...and Duke fails to reach the Final Four again.

Respect what Duke is...but don't forget about what they aren't.

In other early Saturday games involving teams you'll be watching this March...

Shooting Percentage: Missouri 45%, Baylor 42%
Three-Pointers: Missouri 6/14, Baylor 6/21
Free Throws: Missouri 10/13, Baylor 18/21
Rebounds: Missouri 23, Baylor 35
Turnovers: Missouri 10, Baylor 13
'Phantom Score': Missouri 57, Baylor 63
Vegas Line: Baylor by 4, total of 146
Comments: The daytime schedule was pretty ugly, so we decided to focus on some teams who may become very interesting in a few weeks. Neither Baylor nor Missouri are currently in the top 25 of the polls. In computer ratings we respect, both are top 16! The mainstream media just doesn't appreciate the depth the Big 12 has right now. We wouldn't be surprised if either (or both) of these teams scored a marquee victory in theDance. The Phantom Score (two-point scoring plus rebounding) ended up close to the actual final. Baylor made up for a shooting deficit with a few extra boards. We can't say the boxscore was particularly dramatic. What's important for you to remember is that these teams need to be on your radar. The polls have drifted away from the reality of the sport because they rank the won-lost records rather than team quality.

Shooting Percentage: Northern Iowa 33%, Bradley 46%
Three-Pointers: Northern Iowa 6/30, Bradley 2/11
Free Throws: Northern Iowa 17/18, Bradley 22/24
Rebounds: Northern Iowa 353, Bradley 24
Turnovers: Northern Iowa 16, Bradley 8
'Phantom Score': Northern Iowa 59, Bradley 64
Vegas Line: Northern Iowa by 5, total of 120
Comments: The two most respected mid majors right now might be Northern Iowa and Butler. They've been in the rankings for awhile. They're programs that have a history of reaching the Big Dance and making some headlines (particularly Butler). Both faced similar challenges early Saturday...with each laying points on the road against a decent team hoping for an upset. Bradley scored that upset! Even though Northern Iowa had a seemingly comfortable halftime lead, the hosts rallied for a huge second half and a comfortable win. Note the victory in Phantom Score for Bradley. And, not the horrible 6 of 30 shooting performance from Northern behind the arc. This isn't a team that plays great from behind apparently. That's going to be an issue in the Dance, because they're likely to fall behind a quality team at some point. The loss here and at Wichita State cast some doubt about the true danger potential. The polls will have them around #20 for awhile because of the won-lost record. You probably wouldn't think of them in that light if they played in a real conference.

Shooting Percentage: Butler 41%, Cleveland State 37%
Three-Pointers: Butler 5/16, Cleveland State 1/15
Free Throws: Butler 25/30, Cleveland State 20/25
Rebounds: Butler 41, Cleveland State 20
Turnovers: Butler 17, Cleveland State 7
'Phantom Score': Butler 71, Cleveland State 56
Vegas Line: Butler by 5.5, total of 127
Comments: Butler had to sweat the first half, but closed very strong to avoid an upset against motivated Cleveland State. We have to note though that the hosts were a ridiculously bad 1 of 15 on three-pointers. Pencil in normal numbers and this is a game! We respect Phantom Score though, and that's very close to the actual margin. Butler owned the boards (41-20), and played strong defense. What else can you ask for? Note here that both Northern Iowa and Butler had poor turnover performances. They both gave the ball away, and didn't take it away very often. Put THAT on a neutral floor against quality, and you're going home early. It will be interesting in a few weeks to see if the selection committee seeds based on the rankings, or on respected power ratings.

Shooting Percentage: George Mason 44%, Old Dominion 46%
Three-Pointers: George Mason 6/17, Old Dominion 8/21
Free Throws: George Mason 14/20, Old Dominion 8/15
Rebounds: George Mason 29, Old Dominion 34
Turnovers: George Mason 18, Old Dominion 11
'Phantom Score': George Mason 57, Old Dominion 78
Vegas Line: Old Dominion by 14, total of 124
Comments: Old Dominion hasn't been ranked in the polls like Northern Iowa and Butler have this season...but we actually have them higher in our own power ratings. THIS is a team likely to make some news in March because they're not getting the attention they deserve. George Mason is pretty good this year. Oddsmakers projected a blowout for ODU anyway. And, those 14 points got gobbled up pretty quickly when the hosts opened the game with a 17-1 tear! Talk about taking a game by the throat. The rest of the game was a wash because dominance had been established. Again, we see Phantom Score finishing very closely to the actual score. You don't seem a ranking number by Old Dominion's name. YET!

That wraps up our look at select early Saturday action. Back tomorrow to crunch some numbers from Sunday, including Ohio State/Illinois and a very interesting Louisville/Syracuse game that could determine the immediate and longterm future of the Cardinals program. Could Rick Pitino really coach the New Jersey Nets? Hasn't he done enough damage in the NBA?!

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK has something special on tap for you today in the baskets. Maybe it will come in one of those games we just mentioned. Other matchups on our radar include: Georgetown/Rutgers, St. Joseph's/UMASS, St. John's/Notre Dame, and UCLA/USC.

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This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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