Comarow’s Corner Duke-Wake Forest Thoughts

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Team

-No matter what, Duke has found a way to come through with the win in their first 14 games of the season. This fact is just as important as any in-depth analysis. Don’t worry about how ugly the 73-65 victory was or how anything compares to Kentucky. The vital aspect to notice is how Duke looked down the stretch. On this team, any player can be the hero on a given night. Who had their money on Matt Jones?

-I liked Coach K playing a small lineup against Wake Forest’s undersized, aggressive squad. Many teams would be wary to play their small forward down low, but Justise Winslow is a different beast, and embraces banging down on the blocks. Sulaimon and Matt Jones combined for more minutes as part of the small lineup, with Amile Jefferson’s playing time suffering.

-Besides doubling Okafor, Wake’s defense was harassing, cutting off passing lanes and overplaying everything, forcing Duke to beat them with isolation moves rather than Duke’s typical team play. Wake Forest was also more physical with their double teams of Okafor, getting into him and forcing him to pass while falling back instead of teams typically crowding him with doubles. This was especially effective because Wake’s defense was athletic enough to double Jah and still get back to their man. Duke has relied on dumping the ball into the big man and everything working around him recently, so when Okafor was taken away, Duke seemed uncertain of how to run their offense at times.

-Wake Forest fans seemed unsure of how to react to their team playing Duke tough, and while there were hints of noise, this was only the second game Duke has played this year that lacked energy. The only other game was Temple, which was in New York. The rest of their games have either been bigger games, playing at home, or at Wisconsin. Playing a game with no energy from the crowd can almost be worse than playing in a game where fans root against you with passion.

 

Players

I have made many comments this season about Jahlil Okafor’s penchant for posting up too high, typically on the right elbow. After receiving the ball, he has typically been able to dribble down low, spin to his right and draw a foul or hit a bank shot. Wake Forest scouted him well, and played him differently than I’ve seen teams do prior.  First of all, they forced him farther to his right than he prefers. And secondly, they overplayed to his right shoulder, taking away his go-to move.  Jah made a great play with 18:40 left in the 2nd half spinning back to his left and scoring at the bucket, as well as well as positioning directly in front of the basket at 10:17, but besides those two plays, seemed flustered with  the inability to go right. He has to improve his moves to his left as well as develop a faceup or turnaround jumper to force defense s to respect other aspects of his scoring game. On defense, Jah has played against big men without much quickness. Devin Thomas’ speed and agility (basically his quick-twitch muscles) consistently gave Okafor problems, and Jah didn’t do well enough to cut off the southpaw Thomas’ moves to the left.

This is my Duke scouting report that I wrote on Tyus Jones 1/7/15 before the Wake Forest game. It is interesting how much of what I wrote is applicable to the Wake game, individually and as a team.

Tyus Jones played eight minutes in the 1st half, and that was without being in foul trouble or turning the ball over (he had 1 first half turnover). So why didn’t he play more? Was Coach K sending a message? Was playing in his first ACC road game causing his play to suffer? I’m not sure, but when Tyus is out, Duke is not the same team. Tyus tried to split a double team early on, which led to a turnover and transition bucket for Wake Forest. After that happened, Tyus blended into the crowd and didn’t affect the game in the least. Sheed was tremendous, but too much pressure was forced on Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook to run the offense from the top of the key. Plays were forced, leading to dumb turnovers and a ton of transition points for Wake. Tyus’ passive play in his eight minutes on the court, and total absence in the other 12 minutes of the 1st half affected Duke not just offensively, but defensively as well.

I saw a different Tyus Jones in the 2nd half, and after a 1st half with 10 turnovers, Duke only had 4 the rest of the game. The scoring efficiency increased drastically, and Duke seemed to play more aggressively knowing that they could just concentrate on playing freely while Tyus would run the team. Jones constantly slashed to the rim to score, fired laser passes to teammates, and played with a swagger nonexistent in the 1st half. The majority of possessions were run with Jones as the conductor. As I constantly harped on in my Tyus Jones scouting report, the key for Duke is to get him as consistent game to game and half to half as he was in the 2nd half against Wake Forest.

– As usual, Rasheed Sulaimon stepped up as the fill-in point guard because it was what Duke needed from him. Interestingly enough, once Tyus started to play better in the 2nd half, and especially crunch time, Sheed was replaced with Matt Jones. It worked out, but I’m sure this could become an interesting debate as the season moves along.

Justise Winslow played more aggressively in half court offense than I’ve seen from him in a while. He constantly penetrated to the rim, which then allowed him to set up his jump shot. I liked what I saw, and am curious if he can take that aggressiveness forward against NC State. Winslow will always excite fans with his transition highlight plays, but Duke needs more games like this from him as well. His defense was what I’ve noticed from him for a while now. He reminds me of Ed Reed, ex-NFL free safety. Reed made tons of mistakes and had trouble if covering a receiver one on one, but when playing off the ball and stalking the play, there was no one better. Winslow’s on-ball defense is borderline horrific, but the way he anticipates passes and provides help defense affects everything. He needs to get much better at boxing out on defensive rebounding, but I’ll cover more of this when I write his scouting report.

-Taking away his two late shots, I get the sense that Duke fans have lost hope for Matt Jones. I am not in this camp. Jones is not a lost cause on offense the way I viewed Josh Hairston, Tyler Thornton and Semi Ojeleye. I’ll admit that I don’t like his avoidance of contact on offense, though. I saw three different plays in which Jones drove to the rim, aware of and avoiding possible contact, which caused his shot to fall short all three times, and the trend is disturbing. He is a physical defender, so hopefully as he gets stronger, he’ll play the same way on the other end of the court.

Quinn Cook had one of his best games on defense and rebounding, which I was happy to see. His offensive play down the stretch was huge as Duke’s lone senior playing in the first ACC road game of the season.

Amile Jefferson was solid. He didn’t play as much with K’s small lineup (Winslow as the 4).

Marshall Plumlee continued his trend of positive minutes as well.