1. The defensive intensity was quite good for a season opening contest, and that was a major positive when you consider the lack of offensive firepower displayed. Also the Duke bench came in and provided quite a big spark, most notably was Sean Dockery's on the ball pressure that produced a pair of five second calls and a steal that helped Duke finally close the gap and take the lead. For the game the Devils forced 21 turnovers.
2. For the first time in a number of seasons the Blue Devils were very good at the line, especially down the stretch. As the game wound down Duke was able to convert 20 of their final 22 free throw attempts. Aside from J.J. Redick who is virtually automatic on the charity stripe, it was good to see Shelden Williams (7-of-10) and Luol Deng (5-of-6) converting their attempts when it mattered since both are likely to make a living drawing fouls this season.
3. The interior defense was also very strong with Williams, Randolph, and Deng combining to make any close range shots highly contested. Williams and Deng combined for 17 rebounds between them. The big guys also seemed to rotate over to help stop deep penetration, which is something that was lacking last year.
4. Despite being down by as many as 13, including 12-0 to start the game, Duke showed some maturity that didn't exist last year. Rather than panic and start hoisting up three after three, the Blue Devils continued to look inside first and then build with what the defense gave them to put points on the board in a number of ways. There aren't going to be many nights where a team like this shoots this poorly, but to be able to battle and come away with a win is something to hang their hats on.
What went wrong:
1. The shooting was abhorrent for much of the game. For whatever reason the Blue Devils couldn't get their shots to fall from anywhere on the court. Lay-ups fell off the rim, jump shots would rattle around and come out, and then there was the occasional brick. Chalk it up to first game jitters, just coming out flat, or whatever you want to call it, but on this night the shots just weren't falling.
2. Detroit did a wonderful job of preventing the entry pass to the post, however some of the passes inside were just not very good, or the perimeter players missed Williams or Randolph flashing open. Again this is likely just rust from the off-season carrying over, but for Williams and Randolph to combine for two field goal attempts between them isn't something that can continue for Duke to ultimately be successful, though in fairness both players were consistently fouled upon receiving the ball inside and did earn a combined eight trips to the line.
Ultimately the guards need to work on their entry passes, but the big guys also need to work on passing out of trouble when the double team comes to help. This is where former Blue Devil Carlos Boozer was so good- in that he could always find and hit the open man on the perimeter. Again Detroit did a good job of shutting down the passing lanes, but improved ball movement is likely going to be a focus at practice this week.
Another passing game problem that seemed to happen frequently was the ‘lazy' pass phenomenon, which included many passes that had fans holding their breath. This seemed to be a recurring problem at dead ball situations, and when the Devils would cross half court and pickup their dribble only to get in trouble when the double team came.
Duke now travels to Alaska for the Great Alaska Shootout on November 27th. There the Blue Devils will face off against Pacific and then, barring a monster upset, the winner of Houston and Liberty. Three games in three days (they'll also play Saturday) will give them a chance to further shake the off season rust and hopefully get into some kind of a rhythm before the Michigan State game comes on December 3rd at the Breslin Center.
Some of the things that need to happen before the trip to MSU include a more consistent post game (both offensively and defensively), and just a general start on building team chemistry and learning how to play with one another.