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Three Things We Learned About Duke From The Ohio State Loss

Patrick Crawley |
November 30, 2011 | 2:18 p.m. PST

Sports Editor Emeritus

Duke may as well not have showed up to their matchup with Ohio State. (pursuethepassion/Creative Commons)
Duke may as well not have showed up to their matchup with Ohio State. (pursuethepassion/Creative Commons)
The Duke Blue Devils got their asses handed to them on Tuesday night. Ohio State crushed them in every way possible, turning a must-watch college basketball showdown into a 85-63 drubbing.

How bad was Duke?

My roommate and I decided to make a beer run with five minutes left in the game rather than watch the end.

"Sometimes you just get your butt kicked," Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. 

When's the last time you heard Coach K say that

So how, exactly, did the Blue Devils find themselves on the wrong end of a 22-point beatdown? 

Let's take a look at what we learned about Duke from this loss:

1. They're overly reliant on outside shooting.

Look, I like Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry. In fact, I like them a lot. They're as explosive a pair of perimeter shooters as I can think of in college basketball. Either one can catch fire at any moment -- witness Dawkins' 26-point performance against Michigan State. He went 6-for-10 from beyond the arc. But when they don't catch fire, Duke's offense gets chillier than a tell-all from Nicki Minaj's maid

That's exactly what happened Tuesday. Dawkins and Curry froze (combined 3-9 from the field), and Duke collapsed. 

That's not to say the three is the end all, be all for the Blue Devils. It's not. It's just that they lack consistent complementary scoring options when they face another very good team -- like Ohio State.

In terms of top level scoring, Duke is set. Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee are terrific No. 1 and No. 2 scoring options. They're dynamic and, for the most part, high-percentage scorers. You can rely on them for 17-25 points apiece in any given game, which is a rarity at the college level -- unless, of course, you're Kentucky or UNC. 

After Rivers and Mason, though, it's Dawkins and Curry and pray for rain for Duke.

That's fine in the regular season -- where they're a more talented team than 98 percent of the field -- but it's not a great Tournament strategy. Just ask Kevin Durant and the 2007 Texas Longhorns. (Tangent: How the hell do you not win a national championship with Kevin Durant on your team? He's the best college player I've ever seen. He destroyed everybody. And they had D.J. Augustin. How did Texas not win a title that year? It's inconceivable.)

It's a correctable flaw -- more playing time for Michael Gbinije perhaps? -- but it's something Coach K needs to find an answer for if he hopes to return to the Final Four this year. 

2. They suck at interior defense.

Okay, "suck" is probably too strong a word for the quality of Duke's post defense. Underwhelming is more like it. Still, how easy did it look for Jared Sullinger to get looks around the basket on Tuesday night? He may as well have been making mac and cheese the way he was getting to the hole. And as a college student, you know Sullinger loves his mac and cheese. 

The way it was going for Duke against Ohio State, they could have robotized a fourth Plumlee brother named Manthony, stacked all four Plumlees together like something out of Power Rangers, and that uber-Plumlee still wouldn't have been able to stop big Sull from scoring.

Is that a credit to Sullinger and the Buckeyes' insane interior passing ability?


He was great. They were great.

But no Plumlee (not even the one who's built like an outside linebacker -- Miles, right?) was able to rebound with the timing or tenacity of Sullinger or Deshaun Thomas or even the Buckeye guards. Nor were they able to get a read on Ohio State's ball movement and rotate properly.

Duke's defensive impotetency reached a point where I lost count of the number of times Sullinger flew to the rim for an easy dunk. It was like I was watching a pre-draft NBA workout. That's how easily he was getting to the cup. The Blue Devil defenders seemed scared to challenge him and when they weren't playing scared, they were more out of place than Diablo Cody at the Oscars. That's a major problem. 

Maybe it was an off night. Maybe the Buckeye crowd simply overwhelmed the Plumlees and Co. Either way, this is hardly the kind of defensive/rebounding effort we're accustomed to seeing from a Coach K team. They couldn't have stopped Sullinger with an electrified barbed-wire fence.

3. Austin Rivers isn't intimidated by anybody

If Austin Rivers died today (God forbid), he'd be on heaven's court, crossing up Jesus and the 12 disciples by noon. He's that good. He's that unintimidated (see above). 

While the majority of his teammates stood around, awed by the capacity Value City Arena crowd, Rivers was busy putting guys on skates and hitting screw it, I'm here, nobody's guarding me so I might as well take this threes.

He finished with 22 points and 3 assists on 8-of-18 shooting from the field. If he was nervous, he sure as hell wasn't showing it. Not against the No. 2 team in the nation. Not in the presence of Sullinger -- a sure-fire top 5 NBA pick. Not against veteran defenders like William Buford.

He was too busy splitting their double teams like a pair of 10s and kissing it off the glass. Alex Rodriguez

Rivers is a special player. He's slight but he has talent. More importantly, he has smarts and he has balls. He's the evolution of Allen Iverson -- give or take some quickness and a trust issue or two. He's pure quicksilver. 

Right now, Draft Express has him slated 16th in the 2012 NBA Draft. By the time Coach K is done with him, though, my bet is that he sneaks into the top 10 -- if not higher.

Unlike Ohio State, Duke isn't a great team yet (see items 1 and 2), but I'd take Rivers as an NBA talent over Sullinger any day. He has "it." I have every confidence he'll continue to grow -- especially when it comes to incorporating his teammates -- and evolve into a can't-miss prospect. 


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