First, let's start by stating the obvious. The 2014-15 Duke Blue Devils are an outstanding basketball team. This year's team is a far better product than Coach K has put out on the court the past few seasons, one that has beaten every opponent by double digits, including wins over Michigan State and at Wisconsin. The season has a long way to go, but there is every reason to believe that Duke could be and maybe should be among the last teams standing in March with at least a shot at competing with Kentucky, particularly if they keep Jahlil Okafor on the floor. So what then does that tell us about Boston College?
Yesterday's 85-62 Eagle loss was every bit as much about what Duke does well as it was about what BC does not. The Eagles may be an older, taller (what a meaningless stat that is—say hello Idy Diallo (6'11), Alex Dragicevich (6'8) and KC Caudill (6'11)), supposedly more mature basketball team, but based on their skill sets are not ready to compete with more athletic and talented squad such like the Devils.
It wasn't that Boston College played badly yesterday, they really didn't. Now they didn't play the A+ game they would need to end Duke's 41-game home-court winning streak at Cameron, but a performance like this against a lesser opponent would have kept them right in the game.
Duke isn't a lesser opponent.
The Blue Devils are on the offensive playing defense and outside a few small snippets of the game and transition opportunities, almost completely took BC out of their offense. So far this season, we have seen BC pretty successfully against man to man defenses, with solid ball and personnel movement and the ability to reverse the basketball to move the defense. Much of that was taken away yesterday.
Most teams want to operate their offense within a step or so outside the three point line; Duke's ball pressure and contests of entry passes into the offense consistently pushed the Eagles out toward midcourt, not just at the beginning of possessions but during them as well. Unlike most teams, Duke doesn't necessarily try to contain the dribbler and keep people in front of them; they pressure all ballhandlers and rely on their one-on-one defensive skills, help defenders and the fact that most players aren't comfortable being pressured on the perimeter to break down your execution. BC was the perfect fodder for that strategy.
Outside Olivier Hanlan, BC has no player comfortable over space with the ball. There is a huge difference between needing 1-2 dribbles to make a move to score as opposed to needing 3 or more. Dimitri Batten, Aaron Brown and Garland Owens are very comfortable in the former category but not so much in the latter. I thought the person most able to handle it outside of Hanlan was Patrick Heckmann (think European ball skill development), but that wasn't nearly enough.
Duke also was able to lock the ball down on one side of the floor fairly frequently, denying ball reversal and forcing the ball left.
So what happens when you can do that with really good athletes who play hard? The offense tends to take the first semi-decent shot they can get, knowing that it will be difficult to get anything during the possession. It also pushes perimeter players into forcing drives to the basket with their heads down, which leads to charges. I believe Duke took at least four of those yesterday. Also, defensive rebounding tends to be better as your defense can stay home and setup on one side of the court. That said, BC did pretty well rebounding the offensive glass, getting 18 of the 41 opportunities.
Defensively, the Eagles came out in zone. Zone is normally used either sporadically to change the look or tempo, or when you know you are overmatched inside and want to cover up those deficiencies. The issue yesterday was that Duke can shoot it and while the main goal was to limit Okafor, the zone quickly got more and more spread out as Duke knocked down threes. The Devils do a great job driving into the gaps of the zone and kicking the ball out for clean looks and the game progressed, it made it more difficult for BC to concentrate on defending Okafor—and we know what happened then.
When the Eagles switched to man, the Okafor problem became bigger and the way BC defends, which in all honesty is the way most teams do—passively, keep the ball in front of you—allowed Duke to execute their offense and the results were predictable. BC needed to stick in that zone and hope that Duke wouldn't shoot it well, but the Devils wouldn't comply.
Effort was interesting. I consider effort plays to be rebounding, transition points, points off turnovers, loose balls and charges. The small plays that can gain possessions and momentum. BC was so-so rebounding (-5), much better on the offensive side than defensively, but took no charges that I can recall while Duke took a handful and Duke was the first team diving on the floor for every loose ball. Those are things that are completely controllable and have nothing to do with skill level. Those are areas I would like to see this team be better at. The sliding loose ball recovery Will Magarity got against Providence that everyone talked about isn't the same as throwing your body into a pile like a fumble in football; those are the loose balls BC needs to get.
BC was a negative on second chance points (15-9), fast break points (9-6) and points off turnovers (18-11), all indicative of effort plays. I continue to question Olivier Hanlan's defensive effort and what the coaching staff is asking of him on that end of the floor. During timeouts, Jim Christian seemed to be directing comments toward him, just not sure what those were.
So what does this all mean? Some things are obvious. BC isn't as good as Duke and may not play a team that will expose their flaws as completely as Duke does. As a team, the Eagles do not handle the ball as well as they must to execute against a defense as built on pressure as Duke has. Also few teams have the ability to attack you off the dribble, from the three point line and in the post, the way that Duke does. Just a tough matchup.
Unfortunately, what we saw yesterday is not likely to change during the season. The players aren't suddenly going to develop a skill set to either defend head up or handle the ball better to be more competitive with teams like Duke. Fortunately, there aren't a lot of teams that they will play that will come after them in the same manner that Duke did and for that reason, although I am not saying that the Eagles will beat or even be competitive with the likes of a Virginia or a Louisville, I think the problems they will face in those games will be different than the ones they faced yesterday.