Duke's gameplan was obvious: don't let Nik Stauskas touch the ball, let alone shoot it, and force the rest of the Wolverines to find a way to score. Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones spent most of the game face-guarding Stauskas, limiting Michigan's leading scorer to four points—all on free throws*—on 0/2 shooting while the rest of the team faltered, save for a late push from Caris LeVert.
The 79-69 final score is rather deceptive; Duke led by double-digits for most of the game and pushed the margin as high as 18 points in the late stages, with Michigan unable to get closer than six points behind in the second half. The Wolverines scored 19 fruitless points in the final two minutes to carve eight points out of the deficit; by that time, Duke was content to keep Michigan at arm's reach with their free-throw shooting.
Simply put, this game was a major indictment of Michigan's supporting cast—at this point, it's clear that Stauskas is the offensive star, the rest playing supporting roles. Glenn Robinson III's woes on both ends of the court showed up at the worst time. He was nearly invisible offensively and ineffective when he attempted to get aggressive, scoring eight points on nine shots—with half those points coming after the game was well in hand—and failing to get to the free-throw line. He couldn't create a clean look for his jump shot or get around defenders to attack the basket. On the other end, he was pulled from the game at least once for repeated failures to box out his man, and when Michigan got lost on perimeter switches he was often involved.
Until Caris LeVert decided to put the team on his back in the second half, when he scored 20 of his team-leading 24 points, nobody else stepped up, either. Duke's aggressive hedging against the pick-and-roll made it difficult to get the ball to Mitch McGary in the post; even when he was open, the guards failed to get him the ball in good position—eight of his 15 points came in the final two minutes after Duke basically stopped boxing out. Derrick Walton had a couple very nice takes to the hoop in transition en route to seven points on 3/6 shooting; in the halfcourt, however, he couldn't facilitate the offense, tallying just one assist to three turnovers, one of which was a what-was-that pass deep into the Cameron Crazies. Zak Irvin was limited to 14 minutes and managed five points on five shots.
LeVert was certainly a bright spot in the second half, slicing his way into the lane with regularity, finishing well, and getting to the line; after going 2/5 in the first half with no free throw attempts, he shot 6/13 from the field in the latter stanza and knocked down all seven of his shots from the charity stripe. If there's one positive to take away from this game, it's his apparent willingness to be the go-to guy when Stauskas is rendered ineffective; after waiting on Robinson and McGary to be the guy, he had to step up and did so. Yes, he's occasionally overmatched by bigger players on defense; he's also very effective at the top of the 1-3-1 and is clearly the team's second-best offensive player this year.
His emergence in this game was too little, too late, unfortunately; Michigan needs more than one of their perimeter players to score consistently if they want to beat good teams, and they didn't have an answer when Duke took away Stauskas. I don't think this is a coaching issue; when an opponent is flat-out turning their back to the play and solely focusing on denying one player the ball, the rest of the offense should be able to create open looks while playing four-on-four. Aside from LeVert, nobody could manage this as Duke funneled everything inside—Michigan was 3/13 from beyond the arc—and forced the perimeter players to beat them off the dribble.
A loss to Duke at Cameron is nothing to be ashamed of, but the way this game played out should be very worrisome for Michigan. Stauskas has been identified as the main threat, and now there's a blueprint for stopping the offense cold unless someone else—not just LeVert—raises their level of play. This is still a young team that can improve dramatically over the course of the year; it's clear they're going to have to if they want to compete for a Big Ten title.
*To further emphasize how much Duke took Stauskas out of the equation, three of his four free-throw makes came after Blue Devil technical fouls, not anything he did offensively.
|WHAT||Michigan at Duke|
|WHERE||Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, North Carolina|
|WHEN||9:15 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday|
|LINE||Duke –2 (KenPom)|
Right: A book that's every bit as good, if not better, than its cover art.
OBLIGATORY DICKIE V IN CAMERON WARNING
Dick Vitale is calling a game at Duke. You have been forewarned.
Yes, another section before we get to The Them, because Michigan is dealing with a potential absence of great significance: as of yesterday, John Beilein still wasn't sure if Nik Stauskas (ankle) will play tonight—it all depends on how he looked in practice yesterday, and there hasn't been word about that as of this writing. If Michigan is missing their go-to scorer at Cameron, odds of a victory are pretty slim. If you know of an ancient dance—preferably involving liberal use of three-goggles—that can cure sprained ankles, now is the time to perform it.
While it might not be fun for tonight, Michigan fans should be quite happy that 6'8" freshman forward Jabari Parker (right, via) chose Duke over Michigan State, as the five-star is already living up to prodigious levels of hype. Parker leads the Blue Devils with averages of 23 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting 57% from two and an even 50% from three; he also has a team-high 14 blocks and is second on the squad with 10 steals in eight games. His matchup with Glenn Robinson III is going to get more attention than any other in this game, and for good reason; only Arizona has been able to slow Parker this year—he needed 21 shots to net 19 points and pulled in just three rebounds—and they're one of two teams to beat the Blue Devils this season.
Fellow 6'8" forward Rodney Hood, a sophomore transfer from Mississippi State, is the other Blue Devil to average 20 points per game; while he doesn't rebound or block shots on Parker's level, his shooting stats are actually better (63% from two, 59% from three) and he gets to the line with the same high frequency (6.1 fouls drawn/40 minutes, identical to Parker). Duke should feature plenty of three-guard lineups with these two up front; when they do, it'll be a huge test for Michigan's bigs and their ability to defend the perimeter.
When Duke starts the game, at least, they'll have 6'8" senior Josh Hairston on the floor—he's started the last two games at the five after 6'9" sophomore Amile Jefferson started the first six. I'm assuming Hairston is out there for his defense, as he's a very low-usage player offensively and he rebounds at a low rate for a big man; he's also extremely foul-prone. Jefferson, meanwhile, is the team's second-best rebounder after Parker and finishes well around the basket—he's 19/27 from the field—but his offensive game has been marred by free-throw woes (8/24), an issue compounded by the fact that he draws a ton of fouls. The two combine to play around 28 minutes per game, and this is definitely the weak spot in the Duke rotation.
Point guard Quinn Cook is having a breakout season so far, averaging 13.4 points and six assists per game with improved shooting numbers (56% from two, 38% from three) and a lowered turnover rate. He commands nearly all of Duke's minutes at the point—he's already played 36+ minutes four times this season. 6'2" senior Tyler Thornton and 6'4" sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon platoon at shooting guard. Thornton starts and is the team's perimeter defensive specialist—his 11 steals nearly match his 15 field goal attempts, though he's a capable outside shooter. Sulaimon is mired in a sophomore slump after starting for the Blue Devils as a consensus five-star freshman, connecting on 39% of his twos and 31% of his threes; last year he was at 46% and 37%, respectively, with higher usage numbers, so at some point one would expect he'll get back into the groove and see more time.
The other Blue Devil worth noting is 6'5" shooting specialist Andre Dawkins, who plays around 12 minutes per game and has connected on 12 of his 27 three-point attempts this season.
Both teams carry two losses into this game; Duke's, however, look much better on paper than Michigan's, as both came in neutral-site games against top-ten teams: #8 Kansas (by nine points) and #7 Arizona (six). Their only other game against a top-100 KenPom team was a ten-point win over #55 Alabama in the NIT Preseason Tipoff. Their five other victories were relatively comfortable home triumphs over middling-to-bad teams with the notable exception of a one-point escape against #158 Vermont in which the Catamounts shot a remarkable 31/41 from inside the arc.
Four factors, with obvious sample size caveats applying (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||59.5 (6)||15.2 (38)||28.7 (256)||48.3 (72)|
|Defense||48.3 (140)||18.0 (201)||31.8 (170)||43.0 (206)|
Duke's offense currently ranks fourth in the country in adjusted efficiency; they do everything well except rebound their misses, and misses haven't come too often—as a team, they shoot 57% from two and 43% from three, which is obviously excellent.
Defensively, however, they've experienced a significant dropoff from last season, when Mason Plumlee patrolled the paint. While the Blue Devils are very good at preventing three-point attempts (24.2 3PA/FGA, #17 nationally), which opponents are making at just a 27% clip, they've allowed 50.7% shooting inside the arc, just 207th in the country; their shot-blocking (7.5% of opponent attempts) ranks even worse.
Feed the beast. Given Duke's lack of a true interior presence with size remotely comparable to Mitch McGary, this is a game for Michigan to look to run their offense from the inside out, especially if they have as much trouble as other teams in getting good looks from the outside. McGary should factor in as both a shooting and passing threat in the post while also getting plenty of chances to for putbacks—Duke isn't great at preventing offensive rebounds.
Work for good looks. In games against high-tempo teams—and Duke fits that bill—Michigan's perimeter players have been prone to taking contested shots early in the clock. Simply put, the Wolverines can't afford to waste possessions against a team that's going to put up plenty of points. If Michigan gets impatient, Duke could run away with this one. With Duke's issues defending the paint this season, Stauskas, LeVert, Robinson, et al need to aggressively attack the basket instead of settling for perimeter looks unless they're quite open.
Get a body on Parker. Parker has been quite active on the offensive glass in Duke's wins; in their two losses, however, he's combined for just one offensive rebound. He's going to get his points, even if he's not shooting well—his 19-point output against Arizona was his lowest of the season. If Michigan is allowing him second-chance opportunities, they're going to have a tough time keeping up.
THE QUICK VICIOUS ELECTRONIC QUESTIONING
I answered a handful of questions about the game over at Duke Basketball Report, and DBR's JD King was kind enough to return the favor:
Has there been a common thread in Duke's two losses? Looking at the box scores, it seems like cold shooting doomed them against Arizona while rebounding and interior defense were the problem against Kansas. Is that a fair assessment, and is there anything those teams did that you think Michigan can replicate?
Not exactly but close. In both games size hurt Duke. Right now Duke's depth is sort of undeveloped. And Amile Jefferson, of whom much is expected, isn't playing very well. Neither is Rasheed Sulaimon. Duke will be a lot better when they come around.
According to KenPom, the offense has been just as good as it was last year, while the defense has taken a plunge into the mediocre. Is that your sense from watching this team, and what's been the biggest issue defensively?
It's a very young team. It's a gifted group offensively, especially Parker and Hood, but defensive principles take longer to learn. Help defense has been erratic as has communication.
The exception to the defensive issues appears to be on the perimeter—Duke isn't allowing many three-point attempts, and when they do opponents aren't hitting them (27%). This has been a hallmark of Coach K teams going back many years. What makes the Blue Devils so good at defending against the outside shot, and what does Michigan have to do to counter this?
Duke really emphasizes three point D. Michigan, under Beilein, is really good at making Duke commit to either the three or the drive and then taking what's open. It's not much fun to play against.
In your opinion, what's the matchup that you think most favors Duke over Michigan, and vice versa?
Parker and Hood are a load. Cook can be brilliant. I'm honestly not familiar enough with Michigan this year to comment there.
How do you see this game playing out?
Duke is really tough at home but Michigan's offense is brilliant and has given Duke trouble since Beilein got there. Plus the 1-3-1 zone gives Duke fits and Duke has not handled the zone well this year at all.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Duke by 2
In a game at Cameron, just about everything needs to go right for a victory, and the questionable status of Stauskas is quite worrying—even if he plays, it's pretty clear he won't be 100%, and that alone will be difficult to overcome. Michigan can take advantage of Duke's interior defensive issues; they'll need to shoot well from the outside, however, to stay competitive, and Duke's perimeter defense is excellent. The wild card is the aforementioned 1-3-1; if Michigan can deploy it successfully without allowing too many open looks from the outside, they've got a chance to not only slow down Duke's offense, but also get out in transition, where they've been far more effective than in the halfcourt so far this year.