By Trot Nixon’s Hat
Well, the Duke-Florida State contest in Tallahassee just wrapped up, and I think what we’ve seen from Duke near the end of this one has provided the rest of the ACC with some very interesting information. I know how much everyone likes to see Duke lose, so let me shed some insight into this. Follow me after the jump, but only if you want the formula to beat Duke.
Well, first of all, let’s just admit – you cannot lose your head when playing Duke tight. That’s true in Cameron, obviously, but it doesn’t help on the road, either. As Ryan Reid showed us this evening, losing your cool is not a good thing. I would be exceedingly surprised if the ACC doesn’t look at this one again with the intention of giving an automatic one game suspension for the slap/punch/arm bar that he threw tonight. He was not the only Seminole to lose focus in the last give minutes. Mike Patrick and Jay Bilas noted that Jason Rich was spending every play yapping at the officials.
This leads to key number two: coaching. Coaches at the D-I level all know basketball strategy just fine. There is a difference between the top tier coaches and someone at the Ivy League level, but, by and large, strategy is not where coaching is lacking. Coaches must prepare their players to play 40 minutes, and that means 40 minutes on the court, and 40 on the bench. Emotion is huge in games where teams step it up against the top teams in the land, but it cannot rule your play. This is the hardest thing for a coach to do, especially at home. How many times do we see UNC or Duke lose on the road and the fans stream out on to the court immediately after the buzzer? This is because these are emotion-filled games. You can’t take that away from your players, but you have to try and get them to focus and execute, especially when crunchtime rolls around.
At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself: “But what about basketball? This isn’t some metaphysical debate, this is about the play!” That’s true, and FSU showed the entire country how to do that tonight. Make Demarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson drive into a crowd. They are not spectacular ball handlers and typically make bad decisions on kick out passes. And, as an added bonus, throw everything at Nelson when he drives. His free throw shooting is atrocious, and a serious liability. He’s a good, level-headed player as a whole (just not on passing in traffic), but he cannot finish from 15 feet out without anyone guarding him.
Now for the final point, which for those teams, pundits, and fans (such as myself), who thought that Duke was not going to be a Top 20 team this year: You must stop the big shot, but, the key is, you don’t know who is going to step up. One night it’s Scheyer, another night it’s Henderson. Tonight? Greg Paulus showed up in the last five minutes, and FSU did nothing to deny him the lane. When Paulus can get inside (which should not happen, he’s a point guard with a poor first step), he becomes very dangerous, as he protects the ball well going up for the lay-in (easy to draw the foul and finish), and he sees the kick out 3-pointer very well. He and Singler demonstrated this one tonight. What everyone thought was Duke’s biggest weakness – no big time, go to scorer – has started turning into a serious strength. If they continue with this sort of “go-to rotation,” the ACC is going to be a real brawl this year.