For those who did not notice, no Stat Chat was placed online last week. Millions and millions of avid fans of the online column were confused and flustered by the sudden disappearance of the statistical analysis of Duke men’s basketball. Well ladies and gentlemen, it’s time I came clean: my last few columns have been flat out wrong.
Two weeks ago, I went on record of saying that Miles Plumlee would not take a Brian Zoubek-esque jump following the Maryland game. Not only has he started every game since I wrote the aforementioned column, he also has averaged 9.75 rebounds per game, 3.25 of which are on the offensive end. Miles has accounted for one quarter of the rebounds in each category and has played an average of four more minutes per game (26.5 versus 22.5) than his younger brother Mason.
Of course, there are statements that I have seemingly chosen correctly as well. In this case, I turn to Tyler Thornton. In a column on defense, I gave evidence as to why Thornton should not start. After analyzing his numbers in the same recent four game stretch, Thornton has an overall +/- of 0, but a Roland Rating, which accounts for both on court and off court +/-, of a whopping -43. Thornton has the intangibles, but Quinn Cook in his limited minutes had a +/- of 15 and a RR of -15. While the numbers for both players should be higher, I still believe Cook opens up more opportunities for the offense at point guard.
However, recollection can only take you so far. As the great Mark McGwire once said, “I’m not here to talk about the past, I’m here to talk about the future.” Well Mark, with the UNC-Duke season finale this Saturday, I couldn’t agree more.
Assuming North Carolina can avoid a trap game against Maryland at home tonight, both squads will enter Saturday's game having won six straight since facing off in Chapel Hill and tied atop the ACC standings. After a finish that turned into an instant classic in their last meeting, rest assured the Tar Heels will want revenge in a major way. The Blue Devils must do two things: shoot lights out behind the arc and continue their outstanding efforts on the offensive glass.
Duke’s formula for winning big games this season has been to play great defense down the stretch and make big shots. Some would argue the team is too dramatic, with comebacks against both North Carolina and North Carolina State that left fans ecstatic, shocked and relieved all at the same time. The key will be making the big three point attempts. Down the stretch of last game, following five consecutive misses from deep, the Blue Devils were able to make three of their last four, all three of which were scored by different players. In order to beat a team of North Carolina’s caliber, this trend will need to continue.
The key to a victory Saturday, however, will come down low. Tyler Zeller, despite slapping a ball into his own basket, played phenomenally in Chapel Hill, scoring 19 points in the first half alone. There also was the slight problem defending in the post, where the Blue Devils were outscored 42-12. Interestingly enough, Duke gave up only 12 second chance points, five fewer than the boys from Durham mustered up.
Second chance points are exactly what the doctor ordered for the Blue Devils, who are elite when they control the offensive glass. This season, the team averages 11.97 offensive rebounds per game; however, in their six games since facing the Tar Heels, Duke is averaging 13.83 rebound per game. In their first 12 games, all in 2011, the Blue Devils had six games without double-digit offensive rebounds. In the team’s last 18 games, there have only been three instances in which this has occurred, including the game against Wake Forest last night.
This noticeable improvement on the offensive glass will need to continue Saturday in what is sure to be another classic showdown between archrivals. Can Duke’s big men live up to the challenge? How fitting that the man I started the column with apologizing to could be the team’s x-factor on his senior night and final home game. Regardless of what happens, one thing is for sure: no one should count out a Zoubekian performance from Miles Plumlee.