Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is Duke as good as Roy Williams says?

During a postgame news conference that was extremely classy considering the magnitude of Duke’s 82-50 hammering of North Carolina, Tar Heel coach Roy Williams paid the Blue Devils a huge compliment Saturday night.

“This is the best Duke team that’s been here in the seven years I’ve been here,” Williams said.

It was an interesting point that’s worth a closer look. In Williams’ first season at North Carolina, the Blue Devils went to the 2004 Final Four. In 2006, Duke was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the end of the regular season before falling to LSU in a regional semifinal game in Atlanta.

Both of those teams boasted one of the ACC’s best shooters ever in J.J. Redick and a strong post presence on offense and defense in Shelden Williams. Is this Duke team really better?

Probably not. The ACC was stronger in each of those seasons than it is in 2009-10, but Duke still won the conference outright during the regular-season in both 2004 and 2006.

The Blue Devils are a better rebounding team in 2010 than the 2004 and 2006 teams. But that strength is offset by the fact that the current team lacks a big guy like Williams who can physically dominate an opponent by scoring in the low post.

Duke’s 2006 team was flawed, though, because it relied so heavily on Redick and Williams; no other player averaged more than nine points per game. In that respect, the three big scorers on the current team (Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler) give the Blue Devils more options if one player is cold.

But the 2004 team had the most balance, which probably was why it reached the Final Four. Redick, Luol Deng, Daniel Ewing, Williams and Chris Duhon all averaged at least 10 points per game on that team.

Four of those players still are in the NBA, and it seems unlikely that the current team has that many players who are going to have that kind of NBA longevity. So the 2004 team probably is the best one Williams has faced since he came back to North Carolina.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, incidentally, is staying out of this discussion.

“This is a good Duke team,” he said. “This is a very good Duke team. I’m not big on comparisons.”

In that respect, Krzyzewski took the same position as former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who didn’t like to compare his Tar Heel teams to one another.

As for Williams, his appreciation for the 2010 Duke team might be heightened by his admiration for the seniors who were honored Saturday night, especially guard Jon Scheyer.

“To go from a quote ‘shooting guard’ to one of the primary ball handlers and have seven assists and no turnovers (Saturday), that’s sensational,” Williams said. “I’ve really enjoyed him as a college basketball player and think he stands for so many great things.”

Williams went on to say that Lance Thomas does all the dirty work and helps the Blue Devils, and complimented Brian Zoubek on his play late in the season. All three of those players represent something the Tar Heels haven’t had this season.

North Carolina tried to convert Dexter Strickland from a shooting guard to a point guard and found out how difficult it was. The Tar Heels could have used a fiery senior like Thomas who can defend multiple positions. They would be a better team if they had some players who’d responded to adversity throughout their careers as well as Zoubek.

This may or may not be the best Duke team Williams has faced in his seven seasons as the Tar Heels’ head coach. But it’s easy to see what he likes about this team.

- Members of Duke’s incoming freshman class – point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Josh Hairston – sat in the locker room after Saturday’s game, taking in the spirited atmosphere.

Thomas said it was good for them to be there and see Duke (26-5, 13-3 ACC) celebrating its share of the regular season ACC championship. He said there was a sense of passing down the tradition to the next generation.

“Definitely,” Thomas said as Irving listened from the chair next to him. “Them being here and seeing what this feels like, getting a taste of it before you even get here, is big time. Because when they get here, they’re going to have to do everything in their power to get this feeling again. This is something that me and my team will share. They haven’t felt this yet. They didn’t earn this yet. So when they come, they know what they will have to do to be in this position. There’s no better feeling.”

Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

Yeah Lance, you show 'em how to enjoy it from the end of the bench with 5 fouls!

MichaelProcton said...

Didn't the great HansBaby do the same thing in his last game?