Chemistry, Small Ball And Situational Hitting Beats Big Payrolls In MLB Playoffs

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Duke’s stunning 16-point thumping at the hands of Arizona last night in the Sweet 16 – the Blue Devils were 9.5 point favorites – is being attributed to one of the three following problems:

1) Arizona was just too hot! 54% shooting, 60% from three!

2) Derrick Williams was just too incredible! 32 points (25 in the first half), 13 rebounds, two earth-shattering dunks

3) Duke picked a poor time to play its worst half (outscored 55-33) of the season

Very little is being mentioned about how Duke’s chemistry was ruined offensively (and defensively, too) due to the return of Kyrie Irving (28 points). Jay Bilas made passing reference to it on twitter (the winning a title part is laughable, and I’d like to see him back that up with logic), but you know he won’t go on ESPN and question Coach K.

There’s no question Arizona was fantastic in the second half. But it would be remiss to gloss over the chemistry issues Irving’s return created. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Heading into last night’s game, Duke supposedly had the third best defense in the country according to Ken Pomeroy (the Blue Devils fell to 8th with the loss). How does that good of a defensive team – an experienced group that won the title last year – get torched by a pretty good offensive team? Let’s not call Arizona an offensive juggarnaut – the Wildcats shot just 44 percent in a win over Texas and 46 percent in barely beating Memphis. And it’s not like Duke is awful defending the three – they gave up 31 percent shooting from deep this year.

If you watch the highlights, Duke’s perimeter defense was a joke, and the guards played Arizona’s guards as if they had help behind them … but the bigs down low were not on the same page. This led to Arizona collecting 13 offensive rebounds. Chemistry? Flow? Teamwork? I think so.

Offensively, it isn’t that Irving’s a ballhog – he just needs the ball in his hands to excel. And Nolan Smith seemed unsure of his new role, often floating to the perimeter and sitting at the three-point line (0-for-3). When he got the ball, he’d force a shot. Smith produced his worst game of the season (3-for-14, 8 points, 6 turnovers, 2 assists). Smith averaged 5.1 assists per game en route to the ACC Player of the Year award … he totaled four assists in the final two games of the season (as Irving shifted back to a prominent point guard role).

So the question becomes – how do you not play a stud with Irving’s talent? Well I don’t have four NCAA rings like Coach K, but I once got a B+ in high school chemistry. And to me, Duke looked just as good as Ohio State and Kansas on its way to winning the ACC Championship impressively over North Carolina. Heading into Selection Sunday – after after the brackets came out, too – I liked Duke to win the title. Without Irving. I would have sat Irving.

Interesting offseason for Duke. It’ll lose Singler and Smith, and probably Irving to the NBA. But in will come Austin Rivers, who is probably the best high school recruit in the country (he’s one of two very highly-touted recruits Coach K nabbed). Seth Curry probably slides into the shooting guard role, but it’s anyone’s guess how they replace Singler.

[Derrick Wiliams dunk via @Jose3030]

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