Friday, December 21, 2007

Duke missed its shot against Pitt

The popular theory on why Duke lost Thursday night to Pittsburgh is that the Blue Devils weren’t tough enough.

Duke didn’t have anybody who could dislodge powerful Pitt freshman center DeJuan Blair from the lane as he controlled the boards in a 65-64 overtime victory as the Panthers posted a 53-39 rebounding edge.

But toughness wasn’t the problem Thursday. It’s time to accept that Duke is not going to be the toughest team on the floor many nights because its players have speed, skill and grace but are short on muscle.

Duke lost Thursday because its skill and speed (two fast-break points in 45 minutes) must have left Madison Square Garden to go Christmas shopping in Times Square. The Blue Devils’ shooting is supposed to make up for its lack of punishing big men, but they shot 4-for-19 from 3-point range and 14-for-26 from the foul line.

Guard Jon Scheyer showed plenty of grit by grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds, but his usual excellent shooting touch disappeared, as he was 1-for-10 from the field. Three-point shooting is subject to ebbs and flows, so losing the long-range touch for a night is no reason to panic.

Poor free throw shooting is, particularly when the two of the team’s biggest driving threats are among the worst foul shooters. When the 3-point shots aren’t falling, DeMarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson possess the ability to penetrate to the basket and draw fouls.

But they were 6-for-12 combined from the foul line Thursday, and neither is shooting above 65 percent for the season. There will be times during ACC play when the Tyler Hansbroughs and J.J. Hicksons outmuscle Duke in the paint.

The Blue Devils can live with that, but only if their shooting is superior.

– Ken Tysiac