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Examining Duke's Big 3

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Dick Vitale, during the Duke-Clemson game, reached new heights of annoying-ness to me, as for minutes at a time he referred to Duke's Big 3 as Super (Jon Scheyer), Scintillating (Kyle Singler), and Sensational (Nolan Smith). The reason he was annoying, though, wasn't because the hype was undeserved - it was just a really annoying nickname. No, this year, Duke actually has one of the best, if not the best, trio in the ACC. It should come as no surprise - seriously, this is really obvious, but  I'm talking about it anyway- that slowing down the Big 3 is a major key for Maryland to pull off the upset.

Scheyer heads the group, a cerebral senior with a deadly outside stroke. At the moment, he's the favorite for ACC Player of the Year, though the hope is that Greivis Vasquez will overtake him after Saturday. Singler is a versatile Oregonian with a similarly sweet stroke from outside and an underrated ability to grab boards on both sides of the floor. His strengths make him difficult to guard - put a big on him, and he'll step out. Put a guard, he'll back him down. Smith is the quietest of the group, but not in a bad way; he's also the most well-rounded, as he's the best at penetrating into the lane but doesn't sacrifice the outside shot.

Here's the thing, though: no one else on the team contributes offensively. At all.

Like I said in the first look, Duke has received about 70% of their offense in ACC play from those three, compared to about 50% from Maryland's "Big 3" of Vasquez, Hayes, and Milbourne. When they aren't clicking, not much good happens.

That can be said about most teams - if Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes had off days, how good would Maryland be? - but its especially relevant for Duke because they lack any other proven scorers. Outside of the big three, no one averages even 7 points per game. 

So yeah, two of them having a bad day spells bad news for Duke. For a sort of Pythagorean deal, I looked at situations where one of them scored more than the other two scored combined, though only against big opponents (ie, no Penn or Long Beach State type of opponents considered). The first time it happened was against Wisconsin. Duke lost. The second time it happened was against Georgia Tech. Duke lost.

Those are the only two times the phenomenon has occurred.

This tells us more than you may think. Okay, so it didn't happen in the other two losses, but those losses were defensive let-downs, not offensive ones. Georgetown was tied for the most accurate shooting performance all year when they beat Duke. N.C. State shot almost 60% from deep and put up 88 points. The two losses I'm talking about were the times when Duke struggled offensively, failing to reach even 70 points.

Okay, so the obvious has been proved: slow down Duke's big guns, beat Duke. Unfortunately, it has to be at least two of the Big 3; stopping one does nothing because the other two are all too ready to pick up the slack. Singler only had 9 against Gonzaga, but Scheyer and Smith combined for 44; needless to say, it didn't help much.

So how do they do it? Singler and Scheyer are marksmen more than anything else, so playing up on them and not giving them open looks is a necessity. Smith is more well-rounded and better off the bounce; keeping him from scoring may prove difficult. Against Georgia Tech, they had trouble due to "tired legs". I don't quite know how Maryland can replicate that. I can't explain how to stop them; that's the hard part, and that's why I'm not part of Gary Williams' coaching staff (though, if I was, might I suggest a Triangle and 2?). But this is the easiest, most direct way to beat Duke. Can they do it other ways? Yeah. But if shots aren't falling at a record pace, this will probably have to happen.

Is it the key to stopping Duke? Maybe, probably not. Is it an unheard of phenomenon? Nope. Of course a team will struggle when its stars don't perform well. I just had some extra time to get the research done and found it interesting, so I figured I'd share it.