The Takeaway: What Did We Learn About Duke and Arizona at the NIT
Here are some observations on Duke and Arizona after the game:
It was a terrific team effort, especially in the 2nd half, by Sean Miller’s Wildcats. Junior guard Nick Johnson played a great all-around game, knocking down big jumpers on the offensive end while locking down Duke’s guards out on the perimeter. Sophomore forward Brandon Ashley got off to a hot start in the 1st half taking advantage of Duke’s lack of interior defense before foul trouble limited his 2nd half minutes. Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell showed exactly what Arizona’s biggest problem was last year – a good playmaker. McConnell did a fantastic job finding open teammates, either in transition or by wearing down Duke’s guards with his penetration. Arizona had a big advantage in size but center Kaleb Tarczewski had trouble finding easy scores around the basket. Right now, he just doesn’t have the toughness needed to dominate with his size. Highly regarded freshman Aaron Gordon played what could be called a “solid” game at best. He contributed a bit in all facets of the game, but did very little to show that he should be named with the elite freshmen this season. Fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is capable of spectacular play on both ends with his top-level athleticism, but he still needs to learn the finer points of the game. It was an all-around balanced performance by Arizona and showed that they should be right there come NCAA Tournament time.
It was a tale of two halves for Coach K’s club in New York. The 1st half was a great aggressive effort which showed the Blue Devils forcing Arizona mistakes and taking advantage of them. The game plan seemed to fall apart in the 2nd half when the offense seemed forced. Stud freshman Jabari Parker showed flashes why everyone is talking about him. Yet, in the 2nd half, he seemed to force way too many shots, and while Duke does need Parker to do a good share of the scoring, the offense can’t become give Jabari the ball and let him do something. Parker’s scores need to come in the flow of the offense for the team to be successful. Rodney Hood showed off his ability to get to the basket against a slew of Arizona defenders and the bounce he has around the basket is tough to stop. Junior point guard Quinn Cook played a good game, but down the stretch, he needed to take better control of the team and not let Parker run wild with shots. The forward combo of Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson didn’t score at all, but they helped shore up a defense in which they were at a big size disadvantage, and overall they played well. The biggest mystery right now is the decline of Rasheed Sulaimon. The sophomore guard just can’t seem to get in an offensive rhythm and you can see his frustration after every missed shot. There is still plenty of time left in the season, but Duke is going to need to get back to running solid offensive sets instead of everything devolving into isolation matchups. The biggest concern heading into New York was the defense, but overall they had two solid performances on that end.