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Duke Is Improving Quickly. Too Bad ACC Officiating Isn't.

We miss Fred Barakat.

We’re pretty sure that people are going to look at the Duke-Notre Dame game Tuesday night and focus on the wrong thing. So here’s a list of what didn’t work as well as it might have, and then we’ll talk about what did, and finish with a brief discussion on officiating. Get your go juice!

  • Duke certainly could have shot better. There were a couple of key stretches where Duke just didn’t run the offense as effectively as it could have.
  • Duke didn’t find a counter for Dane Goodwin, who took his defenders - didn't matter who - in the lane and bullied them. He shot 84 percent for the game and, by the way, did it right in front of where Mike Krzyzewksi was sitting.
  • Duke didn’t always handle Notre Dame’s defense well. The Irish worked hard to control the lane defensively and did it very well. Among their positives for this game, they nearly shut Duke out on the offensive boards in the first half.
  • Duke let Notre Dame come back late and nearly steal the game. We’re sure when they break down the game film, the Duke coaching staff will pay careful attention to the closing minutes and just how Notre Dame came back. However, they’ll be grading on a level most of us can’t imagine. We saw Cormac Ryan and JJ Starling hit late threes and then Starling make a layup. We didn’t see how Duke failed on those plays and our guess is there were several points of failure from a coaching perspective.

Those are all valid issues and concerns. But here are the things we took away from this one.

  • Duke really got screwed Saturday at Virginia. That could have been demoralizing, but in the end it wasn’t. A young team buckled down and finished the job.
  • Kyle Filipowski, in particular, played like he was still angry. Good. He should have been.
  • Dariq Whitehead appears to be the most reliable three point shooter on the team and cannot be ignored when he is on the perimeter. That means it’s a lot harder to clog the lane as Notre Dame did. That’s potentially huge for Duke. If you haven’t realized it yet, Scheyer is looking for shooters. He signed Jaden Schutt, who is developing behind the scenes, and also has a commitment from TJ Powers in 2023 and Darren Harris in 2024. This year Duke has had a tough time on the three. That’s not going to be the case for long.
  • Over the course of this season, we’ve seen three major problems for Duke, all related to youth: turnovers, offensive stalls and uncertainty. And really, you could probably reduce that to just the latter. For instance, at Miami, Tyrese Proctor was very tentative. Not Tuesday night. He took the ball to the basket with 4:15 left for a key basket and ran the team very well.
  • Duke had eight turnovers Tuesday night and the last one came with 7:18 to play.
  • We had a lot of concern about Notre Dame’s experience and it came through for them with that very fast comeback at the end, but here’s perhaps the main takeaway: Duke didn’t break. And when Mark Mitchell hit that backbreaker of a three with :10 seconds left, it wasn’t just an important basket. It was a real milestone for this team. How often have we seen Duke at the end of a game this season struggle to score? It was huge, and not just for this game.

This team is young and Jon Scheyer isn’t all that much older, frankly. He’s inherited a monster of a program with massive expectations and, with seven freshmen and only two guys back, has done an impressive job so far. People think that the transition is over, but it’s not. We’re still in it and will be for a while yet.

What we admire about what Scheyer has done is that he’s brought along some freshmen very well. Look at where Proctor is. He can upgrade his three point shooting and needs to be more confident on the road, but he was thrown in to basketball at this level fairly late. He’s a year ahead, remember, and spent the summer playing with the Aussies national team, so he was behind there too.

Now? Well, he’s a different player now.

Look at Dereck Lively. Not long ago, people were complaining that he looked overrated. Now? You better not go near him with the ball. He’s also becoming an outstanding rebounder. Dariq Whitehead? All he needs is minutes. He’s improved vastly since returning from his first injury.

What we see is a young team that’s growing more confident as the pieces begin to fit together. It would have been interesting if Scheyer had had a fully healthy roster from Day 1. It would have been cool if Proctor could have been at Duke during the summer. It would have been great if Whitehead hadn’t missed so much time early.

All you can do is to push through and for all the criticism, Duke certainly has pushed through. Moreover, they really seem to support each other and given some of the criticism and the struggles, particularly at NC State and Miami, that’s really good to see.

Duke has work to do, but this is probably not a team you want to see in March. This is his first season, and it has had challenges, but it’s hard to impeach this idea: Scheyer has already shown that he can teach defense on an elite level. When he gets consistent three point shooting?

Look out.

Okay, on to officiating. We don’t like to criticize officials. It’s a really difficult job and one that most people don’t get. But there has been a real drumbeat of criticism about ACC officiating this season, and it’s not just on the men’s side. Kara Lawson said that at Florida State, a men’s ball was used in the first half. That’s pretty bad (the ACC disagreed, but we’re pretty sure no one from the league office was there to check).

Filipowski alone has had three separate episodes of really bad non-calls. People - and though you hit might find this objectionable, we include officials here - can disagree on the Virginia Tech situation. Clearly it was not intentional. But it changed the game and potentially could have been a serious injury. It was bad enough to make Filipowski vomit. Lots of things aren’t intentional in a game. That doesn't mean you don’t call violations.

At Virginia, he was fouled (and injured) on the last play and denied two potentially game-winning free throws. The ACC confirmed that the officials blew it.

And against Notre Dame, Filipowski was again hit in the throat. We haven’t seen a replay yet but, in the immortal words of Mike Krzyzewski...c’mon, man. The guy had his hands on this throat, the international sign for distress, asking the refs to pay attention. And who can blame him? Getting popped in the throat would get old fast.

Anyone could go through play by play and find mistakes. Refs are human too, allegedly anyway. We don’t want to be micro critical. However, there is a problem with officiating, and it’s not just with Duke games. The ACC needs to fix this before someone gets seriously injured.

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