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College Basketball Analysis: Lessons Learned from Duke vs. Ohio State

| by Alex Groberman

That 22-point thumping the Duke Blue Devils got from the Ohio State Buckeyes in Tuesday night’s 85-63 rout was mildly surprising, and no doubt plenty embarrassing to the losing squad. In retrospect, though, what ultimately ended up happening probably shouldn't have come as such a shocker.

Going into that highly anticipated showdown, there were three possibilities on the table: 1.) Duke’s guard depth would be too much for Ohio State and they would win easily, 2.) Ohio State’s interior efficiency would be too much for Duke and they would win easily or 3.) the two teams’ respective strengths would counteract each other, and whichever team was better at utilizing their respective strength would emerge the winner by a small margin.

The answer ended up being behind door number two. Quel surprise.

Duke had an off night, with the infamous Maui hangover perhaps having something to do with that. Seven games in 13 days, contrary to what many believe, is no joke. It’s also no secret that plenty of teams avoid the tournament precisely because of the lingering after-effects.

When asked after the game about the notion that Duke was tired from their hectic recent schedule, Ohio State head coach That Matta replied:

"Now will you guys stop asking me why we don't go to Maui?"

Seth Curry, who going into Tuesday night had attempted 28 total 3-pointers en route to his 62 shots on the year, hit a shooting brick wall. It had to happen sooner or later in the year, and it happened sooner. By night’s end, he was one-of-six from beyond the arc and finished with a paltry seven points.

The Plumlee brothers handled themselves moderately well on the offensive end, but they got destroyed by Jared Sullinger. The Ohio State big man did whatever he wanted in the paint -- be it shoot or pass -- with ease en route to a seemingly effortless 21-point, eight-rebound showing. His effectiveness on the inside essentially laid out a red carpet for others to damage, namely Aaron Craft and William Buford who finished with 17 points and eight assists and 20 points, respectively.

Without any sort of legitimate presence down low, and basically playing from behind from the outset, the Duke offense was reduced to longballs that clanked off the rim or Austin Rivers -- the only player on the roster who can create his own shot at will -- going one-on-Ohio State.

On the heels of impressive and at times heroic showings at the Maui Invitational, Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton were non-factors Tuesday night. Both finished with no points.

Rivers was the lone bright spot for Duke because of his innate ability to create his own shot in tight situations and to break down the defense, but in the absence of any help there wasn’t much he could do. Like Sullinger did in his own special way, Rivers tried to break down Ohio State’s defense with his above-average ball handling and surprisingly underrated body control around the basket, but it was to no avail. Ohio State’s defense was too good, and Duke’s offense was too sorry.

At the end of the day, here is what we learned on Tuesday:

  1. Ohio State will probably be the No. 1 ranked team in the nation at some point within the next few weeks.
  2. Craft is an absolute beast, and is quite clearly at the top of this year’s point guard class.  
  3. Rivers being the only Duke player who can create his own shot means that when Curry is off his game and the big boys aren’t producing, the offense will stagnate.
  4. Duke’s defense needs improvement.
  5. Duke is soft inside.
  6. The nine rebound disparity between these two teams (32-23) doesn’t tell the whole story.
  7. Scheduling matters.
  8. Barring some unforeseen, catastrophic injury, a repeat battle between these two teams at any point in the NCAA tournament would produce the same exact result.

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