Solid Play Off the Bench: The play of freshman power forward Lance Thomas and sixth man David McClure was a bright spot for Duke against a very athletic opponent. McClure came in and defender well on both the perimeter and in the paint. Meanwhile Thomas was quietly efficient, while posting 9 points and 7 rebounds and hitting 3 of 4 from the field. Though both were more comfortable defending closer to the basket, it seemed that neither got overly rattled when drawn outside to check their man.
Good Offensive Strategy: For the most part Duke's offense was a solid. The Blue Devils didn't resort the throwing up three after three. Instead they worked the ball around and focused on going inside to Josh McRoberts and, sometimes, Brian Zoubek. Unfortunately McRoberts' struggled shooting the ball, but he was as active as he's been since arriving in Durham and showed the ability to get to the basket whenever he wanted. Likewise, Zoubek was very good on the offensive end with a number of solid post moves and finishes. The 7-1 freshman also showed a good ability to pass out of double teams -- something that didn't happen last season when the ball went inside. Also, McRoberts' passing ability is as good as Duke as ever had in a big man.
Nelson Solid Once Again: It seemed as though Marquette was going to try and deliver the knock out punch early, but junior DeMarcus Nelson stepped up with an early flurry. He scored 11 of Duke's first 15 points, while playing solid defense on whichever Marquette guard he drew. The problem Duke encountered was they couldn't clone Nelson on the defensive end.
At least the Free Throws Were Falling: On a night when it seemed like Duke couldn't thrown the ball in the ocean from the beach, the Blue Devils managed to shoot a season best 94.4% from the free throw line (17-of-18) - including 7-of-8 from McRoberts who is, historically, only around a 65% shooter from the charity stripe.
What Went Wrong:
Box Out Or Be Knocked Out: The box score won't show it, but this game was lost on the boards (and in the turnover department). Marquette sent all five players, including guards, to crash the boards on every shot attempt. It resulted in 14 offensive rebounds, and countless second chance points in the deciding second half spurt. After watching Duke take advantage inside throughout the first half, the Golden Eagles adjusted and began to take Duke's post players to the perimeter before firing up long range attempts. With the big guys pulled away from the hoop, Marquette sent four players to the rim where they usually came away successful against the one Blue Devil attempting to grab the rebound.
Someone Has To Finish Inside: For all the versatility in Josh McRoberts' game, Tuesday night exposed one of the real liabilities in his game. Down the stretch Duke continually went to their preseason All-ACC big man, and came away with nothing time and time again. It wasn't that McRoberts couldn't get to the basket, he could. The problem was finishing seemingly uncontested lay-ups. Hind sight is certainly 20-20, but it seemed as though there were many attempts that should have been finished rather routinely. Instead many of these attempts barely drew iron, and a few were thrown completely over the rim. McRoberts clearly is a dynamite play-maker who makes everyone around him better, but at this point he's still not strong enough to be dominant inside - in fact he's struggling with being a passable back to the back scorer at this point. The Duke coaching staff will undoubtedly be working on a way to continue to mask this deficiency in the big man's game over the coming weeks.
Duke's other big man, Brian Zoubek, showed a number of good post moves on the offensive end, but didn't fare as well defensively - which seemed to almost cancel out any contributions on the offensive ends. Several times the Golden Eagles' 6' guards were able to race down the lane uncontested for easy points - something that cannot happen in a halfcourt setting.
Injuries Aside: Though he missed the entire preseason with an injury, Greg Paulus' play simply has to improve. You won't find anyone more aware of this than Paulus himself. The argument that the sophomore captain isn't in game shape is debatable as he's averaged 33 minutes per night over the last two games. Even if he is still rounding into shape, some of the decisions he's made with the ball have left everyone scratching their heads. Be it lobs into double teams; dribbling into triple teams; being outright stripped; being blown by off the dribble no defense; or generally not taking care of the basketball - Paulus simply has to elevate his game on both ends of the floor. In fairness, Dominic James is probably one of the two best point guards in the country this season, but when you look over the first five games, many of the aforementioned problems have reared their ugly heads from Columbia to Georgia Southern, and so on.
On That Note...: Paulus wasn't the only culprit when it came to not valuing the basketball on Tuesday. As a team Duke turned it over a season worst 19 times, which led the to 25 easy points for the fast breaking Golden Eagles. You expect inconsistency with a young team learning a new system, and a number of turnovers were just a case of Duke making mistakes while making hustle plays. However, the majority were due to poor decisions, lazy passes, etc.
Missing In Action: Though the emergence of David McClure has been a most welcomed addition to the rotation, many Blue Devil fans are wondering what is wrong with freshman wing Gerald Henderson. After logging an ineffective 14 minutes and 0-of-5 shooting performance against Air Force and Marquette, is it too early to worry about the player that many believe will end up being the best member of the class of 2006? Probably. However, the lack of playing time and general deer in headlights look with which the 6-5 Henderson currently plays has to be a real point of concern for Duke when looking long term.
Reading the message boards after a loss like this is always an exercise in hilarity. Several Duke fans are approaching the ledge, looking for any excuse to jump. Fans who were certain of Duke's place among the nation's top teams just over 30 hours ago, are now convinced the Blue Devils are nothing more than also rans in both the ACC and NCAA races this season. Right now the truth falls somewhere in between those two extremes. This Duke team is incredibly young and completely unproven. Even Nelson, who is clearly the team's most effective overall player, has yet to sustain a high level of play for more than a handful of games throughout his career. The team's most talented overall player spent his freshman season setting ball screens and catching alley-oops. All of a sudden they are being thrown into positions that demand excellence every time they step on the floor. Compound that with the concern of playing four freshmen in the top eight of the rotation, and you have a recipe for an up and down season.
On Tuesday night Duke ran into a team that, although young, enjoyed a tremendous advantage in experience after playing its way to 20 wins in last year's loaded Big East. A good number of weaknesses were exposed for the Blue Devil coaching staff to work on this week, and while it's never fun to lose, anyone who has followed this team over the last few months could have told you that games like this are bound to happen. It's part of a learning process, but as Coach Krzyzewski has said in the past -- it's better for mistakes like those seen against the Golden Eagles to cost you a game in mid November than in early or late March.
Duke returns home on Saturday for a match up with Davidson in Cameron. The Wildcats will be much like Air Force in that they are extremely well coached, and very disciplined in their attack. One thing the Blue Devils will not see against Davidson is the kind of athleticism that routinely caused problems against Marquette. Still, it will be an opportunity for Paulus to work out some of his early season woes, while allowing McRoberts to continue adjusting to his role as Duke's "go-to" player. It will also be a chance to see how this team responds to adversity - something it has yet to deal with.