J.J. Redick’s career has been full of clutch moments. His 23 points in the last 10:05 of the 2003 ACC Tournament title game against N.C. State was one of the most heroic performances in the history of conference tournaments.
This year, Redick almost single-handedly led a comeback at Wake Forest Feb. 2, when he hit two late three-pointers that cut the Demon Deacons’ 14-point lead to one with three seconds remaining.
“His desire to win could not have been exemplified in any higher fashion—he was magnificent,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after that game. “His demeanor was the key to bringing us back.”
But Redick’s clutch performances have been limited to games before the start of the NCAA Tournament. In fact, as a whole, Redick has played worse in NCAAs than in the regular season. Thus far in his esteemed career, Redick is averaging 17.8 points per game and shooting 42 percent in non-NCAA Tournament games. In the Big Dance, Redick’s average falls to 15 ppg and he shoots only 38 percent. The first two rounds this year have been no exception; Redick averaged 11.5 points per game on 6-of-24 shooting.
There are several reasons for Redick’s drop-off. One is that Redick is still, for the most part, a one-dimensional player. Yes, his ability to take the ball to the hoop and his ball-handling skills have improved this year, but those two abilities are still no better than those of the average Division I shooting guard.
His outside shot is still the only part of his game that makes him better than his peers. Stopping Redick’s jump-shot over an entire season is impossible. But in a one-game, single-elimination scenario, teams can use all their resources to shut him down. So far, this strategy has mostly worked.
But that approach can backfire when it allows the other four Blue Devils to play against weaker defenses. Daniel Ewing’s 22 points Sunday came a little bit easier because Mississippi State shadowed Redick.
“It’s a good thing, too, because you’re playing four-on-four—it makes it more compact... and opens up other opportunities for other players,” Krzyzewski said of the consequences of focusing on Redick.
Furthermore, every team in the tournament is talented. It is difficult for any player to perform as well in the tournament as he did in the regular season against bad, mediocre and talented teams alike.
Regardless of the factors behind Redick’s postseason struggles, the Naismith Player of the Year Award finalist must come through with one of his jaw-dropping shooting performances this weekend in Austin, Texas. Duke’s other players can pick up the slack against teams like Delaware State and Mississippi State, but against national-powers like Michigan State and Kentucky, Duke needs all the firepower it can muster.
Before the season, most media outlets picked Duke to finish fourth or fifth in the ACC. For the first time in recent memory, the Blue Devils did not have a superstar that could lead the team to victory after victory. Redick’s surprising emergence as one of the top five players in the nation is the reason Duke won the ACC Tournament and snatched a No. 1 seed.
Redick has no excuses against Michigan State. He is familiar with the team, and he scored 29 points in the Blue Devils’ Nov. 30 matchup with the Spartans in Cameron. The NCAA Tournament is a time when teams need points in pressure situations. For Duke to live up to its expectations as a No. 1 seed, Redick must play like he did throughout the regular season. If he does not, Duke will lose in the Sweet 16, just as most predicted the Blue Devils would in the preseason.
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