Duke’s 63-52 victory at Louisville on Saturday taught us a whole lot about both squads. It also helped Virginia get a little more breathing room now that Louisville and Duke each have a pair of ACC losses. The best way to cover games like this is break down what what well and poorly for each team. We’ll start with the winners first.
The Blue Devils’ defensive struggles have been written about a lot lately. They responded by hitting Louisville with a zone. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise since everyone should zone Louisville. The thing about the Blue Devils’ defense is that it didn’t give Louisville many good looks at all. It’s not like the Kentucky game, when Louisville missed a plethora of open shots; Duke was able to get Louisville to attempt the shots Duke wanted. The Cardinals hit 22.6 percent of their field goals in the first half.
The Duke offense came from the frontcourt, which has to be a very encouraging sign. Amile Jefferson followed his 14-point outing against Miami with a career-high 19 points on 6-7 shooting from the field and a 7-9 effort from the free throw line. Jahlil Okafor was able to put in 18 points, 14 of which came in the second half. All told, 32 of Duke’s points came in the paint. When you add in the free throws by Jefferson and Okafor, Duke had 41 points off possessions it created in the paint.
On days like this when Duke doesn’t make 3-point shots (4 of 15 in this game), it has to be greatly reassuring that the Blue Devils can go inside to both big men to get easy points.
The Blue Devils showed weaknesses at N.C. State and earlier this week against Miami; against Louisville, Duke showed a level of resilience that had been missing lately. Even going back to the Wake Forest win, Duke hadn’t looked like the dominant team it was in the non-conference portion of the season. With the performances today and earlier in the season at Wisconsin, Duke has the two best road performances of the 2014-2015 campaign. This was the outing Duke needed to reassert itself. That’s exactly what the Devils did.
Terry Rozier 5-16
Chris Jones 2-10
Wayne Blackshear 2-10
Louisville showed a lot in the loss at North Carolina last week because its guards played very well. This weekend, the guards looked horrible. Just like the Kentucky game, the guards couldn’t hit anything. They especially couldn’t hit anything behind the 3-point line. Louisville as a team was 4-25; Rozier went 3-7, meaning the rest of the squad was 1-18. Yes, it was that bad.
Another major flaw for the Cardinals is the 5 spot on the floor. Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku were dominated on both ends. The duo combined for 7 points and 13 rebounds. The center position isn’t a threat for UL, so opponents don’t have to worry about them when they pack the defense inside. If Mathiang isn’t defending, he isn’t offering a lot of value. He looked especially bad today. There were a lot of Louisville people wondering why Mathiang was seeing so many more minutes than Onuaku. It’s a fair question. Louisville struggles offensively with the center position; the Cardinals can’t afford to struggle on the defensive end as well.
I don’t think many are going to doubt that Louisville is a very good team. The Cards are facing the same issue they faced last year: They don’t have many big wins. Louisville was 5-5 against the RPI top 50 last year, resulting in a 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Cards are currently 1-3, with the one win being against Indiana, a team that could fall out of the top 50 by the time the weekend is over. There are going to be more opportunities for big wins, but it’s not hard to imagine Louisville ending up in a similar spot to last season if this keeps up.