You might look at the final score in Duke’s win over Bellarmine and think 74-57 is not that impressive. That depends on how you look at it.
Consider this: Duke, a team with seven freshmen, one sophomore, one junior and several transfers, defended one of the nation’s more difficult offenses well and, at times, exceptionally well.
For stretches, especially in the first half, Duke made it exceptionally hard for Bellarmine to score. There were several possessions where the Knights had to chuck and pray at the end of the shot clock and others where they pushed and probed for 25-27 seconds and had to settle.
They did a better job of figuring it out in the second half but even then, they couldn’t really get very close. Duke was consistently better.
As advertised, Bellarmine moves the ball beautifully. They are also smart – they had just seven turnovers against a team with much better athleticism. At times you can be scanning the court and watching for it and still not see the cutter get loose. At times one was just waiting and by waiting we mean right under the basket.
But at times it didn’t work – on one occasion the cutter lost track of Derrick Lively – oops.
Kyle Filipowski started with two straight three and hit 3-5, finishing with 18 points and eight boards. Yet he typifies one of the problems Duke had: at times he tried to do too much. He tried to spin to get to the basket several times and while we’ve seen him do it, it didn’t work every time.
It’s called discretion. We’re seeing a lot more of it from Tyrese Proctor. He was overly cautious in the first couple of games but now we’re starting to see a better shooter and a guy who can do some unexpected things that are going to be real crowd pleasers. Mark Mitchell is starting to get it too, although we’d like to see more aggression. But he’s learning and improving.
Lively and Whitehead are understandably behind since they’re both coming back from injuries. Lively showed flashes – that block we mentioned was great, intuitive stalking of an opponent – and he’s been making some really good passes. And as noted, he runs beautifully.
As for Whitehead, he just needs time to get fully up to speed.
He’s also going to be Duke’s best penetrator. He’s just not there yet. But when he is, he looks like a legitimate NBA-level talent.
The older players had more discretion, particularly Jeremy Roach, who continues to lead his team well and Jacob Grandison, who had an outstanding game with 16 points, including 4-7 on threes.
The Phil Knight Legacy begins in a few days – make sure to plan your Thanksgiving meal accordingly because Game 1 is at 3:00. Duke opens with Oregon State, and we’ve seen enough of Wayne Tinkle to know he’s a good coach.
Clearly there are areas to improve in, but a team made up mostly of transfers and freshmen is going to take some time to jell. Better defense first than the other way round.