For three years there have been some Blue Devil fans hoping to see Duke start Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams together. After all very few teams have such a talented pair of players over 6-foot-9. Whether it's by necessity or not, this year looks to be the year Randolph and Williams will get their chance to prove themselves. And both have taken the needed steps toward success in the early going.
Williams, who is widely considered one of the top defensive big men in the country, spent the summer refining and working on his offensive game. On Saturday it started to pay off as the 6-foto-9, 250 pounder showed spin moves and the ability to finish at the basket with either hand. He also used the rim, and his big frame, and long arms to shield the ball from defenders, which allowed easy buckets to the tune of a 14-of-16 shooting performance. Defensively he didn't reach or put himself in position to pick up cheap fouls, but was still effective when opponents tried to challenge him.
Meanwhile Randolph showed signs of the player many expected him to be as a high school junior. Gone is the indecision of his first 1.5 years in Durham on the offensive end. In its place is the Shavlik of old, a player who has an impressive array of post moves, but who can also take the opportune time to go up and finish the play at the rim. The decision making has also improved. Rather than forcing the issue, Randolph will make a move and if the chance isn't there, he'll kick it out and re-post.
Saturday he hit hook shots from 10 feet, scored in the paint, and provided the play of the night when he took his man off the dribble to the right side before changing direction and spinning on a dime to the left and finishing the play while leaving the defender on the wrong side of the lane. Defensively he bothered a number of shots and allowed Williams easy pickings in the rebound category by eating up space.
The fact that the post tandem accounted for 54 points, 17 rebounds, six blocks, and 23-of-26 shooting from the field forced the opposition to collapse three and four players inside, which led to open looks for the perimeter sharp shooters. It'll certainly be the calling card of this year's team, and for some, it's a welcomed change.
Top Heavy Scoring
On the night the Blue Devil starters ended with 91 of the team's 107 points on the night. Granted, talented freshman scorer DeMarcus Nelson was sidelined with his thumb injury, but the message seems loud and clear. We can expect the starting five to score at least 80 percent of the points on a given night. That's not a far cry from many Duke teams of the past decade, and it was comforting to see Lee Melchionni adding 10 points to the cause off the bench. If Melchionni, David McClure, and Nelson can add an extra 10 to 16 points per night (which is easily obtainable), the we've got the same kind of balance we've seen in the past. The question becomes who can pick up the scoring load on the interior should either Randolph or Williams go down.
Crashing the Boards
It may be early but the team seems to have realized that rebounding, especially when the conference season hits, is going to be crucial to Duke's success. Saturday Williams led the way with 12 rebounds, but then there was a collective effort to hit the boards as Randolph, Daniel Ewing, and McClure all added five rebounds apiece. Sean Dockery, Melchionni, Reggie Love, and Patrick Johnson all pulled in three as Duke ended up with a 45-23 advantage on the boards. While St. Francis Xavier had little in the way of rebounding prowess, on every X-Man attempt you could see the entire Duke roster running in and crashing the boards, resulting in several loose balls being batted around before being taken control of.
No Showtime Here
Think head coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't watching this team with a high powered microscope? It's apparent the head Blue Devil knows that while this group is certainly capable of beating any team in the country, there is no room for carelessness. A good example of this was when junior point guard Sean Dockery drove into the lane late in the second half and flipped the ball behind his back for a spectacular pass that found the Duke bench instead of the intended target. Krzyzewski leapt out his seat, called a reserve to check in and chewed into Dockery coming off the floor. It brought up memories of senior day two seasons ago when Dahntay Jones did something similar and Krzyzewski reacted in much the same way. The message is loud and clear, Duke has to be disciplined at all times this season in order to be successful.
Player Of the Game
Simply put there was no answer for Shelden Williams from the X-Men. Certainly this wasn't anything close to an ACC caliber frontline, but Williams made the most of each opportunity and showed the signs of improvement needed for Duke to be good this year. For that he's our TDD Player of the Game.
Duke now has six days off before returning to the court against North Carolina Central on Thursday night in Cameron. There is still some debate on the status of Nelson, as the 6-foot-3 guard was targeting a return to the court for this contest. Should he return in time, we'll get a better sense of how the entire Duke offense will look. After NCCU, Duke will open the season on November 20th against Tennessee Martin in Cameron.