From The Stands: Duke v. Michigan State

After exceeding expectations for much of the year, the season finally came to an end as Duke bowed out in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State. The Spartans used a physical and unrelenting attack to force an obviously exhausted group of Blue Devils into one of their worst performances of the season. <I>TDD</I> examines the aftermath and looks ahead, briefly, to October.

What Went Wrong

- Make no mistake about it, Michigan State took this opportunity to throttle an obviously weaker opponent that had gotten the best of them for the better part of a decade. The Blue Devils were tired and it showed as the Spartans sent wave upon wave of defenders at Duke, all of whom were able to play tough, physical defense, which ended up eroding the Blue Devils' already thin stamina. Though he refused to admit it in the post game news conference, head coach Mike Krzyzewksi knew that his team was just spent. They had nothing left in the tank as 33 games worth of 37+ minutes finally overtook the "Big Three", most noticeably J.J. Redick.

- The lack of legs allowed Michigan State's defense, which was already considered tough, to take the next step up. While Billy Packer was gushing over the number of steals the Spartans had, he forgot to mention that while the Blue Devils were turning the ball over, it wasn't due to bad passes more than it was due to the potential receiver standing around and awaiting the ball to arrive. This allowed the much fresher Spartans to dash into the passing lanes and take off for transition baskets, a category they won 14-6 on the night.

- If there was a hint that Duke wasn't their usual selves with the many turnovers, then the battle of the boards cemented it. Michigan State crashed the boards with vigor, out-rebounding Duke throughout the game, including grabbing 16 offensive boards that led to 12 second chance points. The Spartans also routinely got into the paint and kept attacking, out-scoring Duke 40-22.

- For the third straight season Redick just burned out in the NCAA Tournament, after what was his greatest season as a Blue Devil. In three games he shot a dismal 10-of-38 from the field (26%), while shooting just 6-of-24 from the perimeter (25%). While his progression has been remarkable this season, Redick still has trouble with bigger and more athletic players, especially when he's played NBA type minutes all season long. It showed as the Spartans were physical with him all night long and prevented any open looks. Without a bounce in his step, much less his teammates while setting screens, Redick was once again rendered ineffective in March.

- The lack of perimeter punch from their Player of the Year left Duke searching for points again. And while Shelden Williams was able to hit for 19, and Daniel Ewing hit for 18, the Blue Devils had no other options on the offensive end. Once the Spartans got the lead, the feeling that Duke could come back began to die with every subsequent clang of the ball against the rim.

What Went Right

- The reserves played well in their final game of the season, led by the effort of DeMarcus Nelson, who hit 3-of-4 from the field while grabbing three rebounds in 18 minutes of play. Nelson and junior Lee Melchionni (10 points) picked up the slack for Duke when the Big Three were sputtering. Nelson's willingness to battle and not be taken back by his opponents' physical play is something that was needed in a big way.

- While we are on the subject of the freshman, it should be noted that Billy Packer could not have been more wrong about the way Nelson was handling the ball for Duke. Not once did he turn the ball over bringing it up court against the MSU press. While he doesn't have the handle of some of his teammates, Nelson was fearless against the defense and didn't defer when asked to bring it up.

- In his final game in a Duke uniform, Daniel Ewing did all he could to keep his team from going home. The senior found himself in a tough situation this season when he was asked to learn the point guard role on the fly, but managed to fill in nicely and was arguably one of the top five lead guards in the league by the end of the season. Despite Tom Izzo's attempts to grandstand down the stretch, Ewing got his final ovation in the royal and white, and ended his career as his class' winningest player, tallying 115 wins in four years.

Player of the Game:

For his efforts in the post despite having no help for most of the night, Shelden Williams earns our final round of honors for the 2005 season. The junior big man ended the night with 19 points and eight rebounds. For that effort he is our TDD Player of the Game.

Next Play:

Duke now heads into the offseason with a number of variables, many of which will be touched on this week by TDD. Should everyone with eligibility return to Durham next season, the Blue Devils will make a strong case for preseason number one in not only the ACC, but also the country. The potential to start five seniors with Final Four experience, while adding the nation's number one recruiting class and a talented sophomore scoring threat should relieve any concerns about depth and leadership.

Until then, however, Duke fans should be happy with the ride that this team provided over the past six months. It truly was the most entertaining season in recent memory.


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