Monday, February 16, 2009

Duke needs backcourt spark

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. - Referee Bryan Kersey stepped quickly onto and over the press table Sunday night to avoid the crush.

Boston College had just defeated No. 6-ranked Duke 80-74 at Conte Forum, and the students were rushing the court. This is what fans do when their teams win against a top-10 team, especially when it’s Duke, which ESPN’s Dick Vitale compared to the New York Yankees last week.

But Duke might not be a top 10 team when the rankings come out today. And right now, the Blue Devils are more like the current New York Yankees than the Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig.

This just isn’t the elite Duke team we’ve become accustomed to watching. Coach Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged it Wednesday when he said the Tar Heels were better than the Blue Devils.

He reinforced the notion Sunday when he said Duke (20-5, 7-4 ACC) isn’t showing the tough mindedness it possessed even earlier this season. Here’s something else the Blue Devils are lacking – quality play from their guards.

Duke has a revolving door situation at point guard with Greg Paulus and Nolan Smith providing little spark and fading fast on defense. Opponents have learned how to isolate Paulus and Smith on defense, causing Krzyzewski to take the unusual step of playing a lot of 1-3-1 zone against Boston College in order to stop Tyrese Rice’s penetration.

Point guard was a position that was expected to be shaky for Duke this season. Shooting guard wasn’t. Junior Jon Scheyer opened the season strong, looking like one of the Blue Devils’ best players in December wins over top-10 opponents Purdue and Xavier.

He scored 22 in the Feb. 7 win over Miami and 20 against North Carolina on Wednesday. But Boston College held him to eight points on 3-for-12 from the field, and in eight games leading up to Miami he shot 18-for-73 (24.7 percent) from the field.

After Sunday’s game, Scheyer looked miserable as he sat hunched over inside his locker when reporters entered the visiting locker room.

“We need to get going,” Scheyer said. “We need to figure it out tomorrow, and we need to get going with it.”

With Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler playing well most days, Duke is good enough at the forward position to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament if a third scorer can emerge in the backcourt.

Scheyer was that scorer early in the season. He, Paulus and Smith all are former McDonald’s All-Americans whose high school credentials alone would seem to indicate at least one of them has the talent to become the third scorer Duke needs.

Unless they can turn that talent into production in the backcourt, Duke might be destined for a third straight exit from the NCAA tournament before the regional semifinals. – Ken Tysiac