I've been saying it all year long, for years in fact. Duke doesn't have athletic enough players to consistently beat good teams and to go deep into the tournament. When Lehigh is more athletic than your team, you have problems. When Lehigh is getting into the lane any time they want, you have problems. When Lehigh is forcing you out of your offense and preventing you from getting a decent look or set shot, you have major problems. Yeah, Ryan Kelly was hurt. He might have been enough to win. But when you are supposed to be one of the top programs in the nation and your bench can't help your starters overcome the loss of one decent player and get you past a 15 seed, you have major problems.
Frankly, I don't know how the hell we won 27 games this season. Let's run down each player and evaluate them. I'll begin with the starting five. Tyler Thorton is a mediocre player. He is supposed to be a good defensive player. But if he is so damn good defensively how in the hell was the team so bad on defense the whole year? Why couldn't he keep Lehigh's guards out of the lane? The answer is that he just isn't that good of a defender, despite his good effort and toughness. I'm sorry, but effort and toughness can't overcome a lack of skill. Not to mention that he is a bad offensive player that adds absolutely nothing to the offense.
Seth Curry is a decent player. There is a reason he was playing at Liberty his freshman year. He is not a good athlete. His whole game is predicated on being a good outside shooter, which he is. But since he is one dimensional he is very easy to defend. And defensively I think he is about average. What is really telling is that I stick by what I said about Curry and this team earlier in the season, which is that the team goes as he goes. He had 7 points tonight and was thus a huge reason why we lost. Andre Dawkins is basically the same player as Curry, just less consistent, not as smart, and not as good a defender.
Austin Rivers is a decent player. He isn't quite as one dimensional as Curry. He is a decent outside shooter. And he is really good at getting in the lane. But he is such a poor free throw shooter that is makes his ability to get into the lane less valuable. So while he is the type of athlete I think we should be recruiting more, his game is limited.
The Plumlees are decent players. But they aren't as skilled as say, Tyler Zeller. They don't demand the ball in the post and they are fairly one dimensional in the post. They put up decent rebounding numbers. But I think they are mostly getting by with their athletic ability. I don't think they are that good at boxing out or out fighting opponents that are really dedicated to rebounding. I don't think their deficiencies are as bad for the team as the guards' are. But the fact that they don't live up to their potential makes it harder to on the guards.
I won't run through the bench players. Once you realize how average the starters are you can safely assume that the bench players are worse than the starters. Beyond the players, I think the coaches bear a lot of responsibility for how the team played. As coaches, they are supposed to realize the limitations of their players and come up with ways to work around them. We knew early on that this was not a good defensive team. But they never changed to try to make it better. After a while, teams started to defend us different, running us off the 3 point line. The coaches never adjusted to that either, which is why we struggled for the past month to score.
And for the past at least 10 years we have had these problems. The problems are always the same. We could point to 2010 and the national championship. But I think you can credit a lot of that to Brian Zoubeck and the fact that the 7 footer was finally health and playing well. So while you can't say he was a great athlete, he had freakish physical attributes that were unique. That freakish ability is what we don't have in guards and it's what I think we are sorely missing. But the coaches haven't adjusted and continue to not recruit the best athletes. And I'm not buying the "they need to be smart and good basketball players, not just great athletes" argument. UNC is a good academic school and they have fairly smart players at the same time as being a great athletic team. You don't have to have it only one way. Until Coach K realizes this or finds another 7 footer I think Duke will continue to be embarrassed like they were tonight.