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What we learned: Don’t doubt Duke, Robinson learning to handle double teams

What we learned from Day 2 at the 2011 Maui Invitational: Tennessee point guard Trae Golden needs to work on his shot selection. (AP Photo) Since the start of the season, there has been plenty of analysis regarding what Duke doesn’t have, all of which neglects how unconventional the Blue Devils were when they won the NCAA championship two years ago. Duke played then with converted shooting guard Jon Scheyer at the point and occasionally relied on Nolan Smith for creative play. Duke plays now with converted shooting guard Seth Curry at the point and occasionally relies on Austin Rivers for creative play. Except Rivers is more purely talented than either Scheyer or Smith. Duke then played then with defense-first bigs Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek. Duke now plays with defense-first bigs Marshall and Miles Plumlee. Except the Plumlees are more purely talented, and they have help from offensively gifted junior Ryan Kelly. The No. 6 Blue Devils shot 11-of-21 on 3-pointers in their 82-75 victory Tuesday over No. 15 Michigan. Kelly, Curry, Rivers and Andre Dawkins all made multiple threes. The value of that shooting ability seems to be consistently underrated by people appraising Duke. That’s a power forward, point guard, shooting guard and small forward—they all can be on the floor at once. This is not to say this Duke team is superior to the one that earned the championship two years ago. That team had extraordinary chemistry and exceptional leadership. For now, it is apparent this team has more weapons and, in Rivers, a player capable of the sort of magic Duke expected from Kyrie Irving last season. It’s a nice start. Up front, Tennessee had forward Jeronne Maymon tearing Memphis’ interior defense—what little there was—to little Tiger pieces on those too-limited occasions when somebody threw him the ball. On the perimeter, Tennessee had Trae Golden running the point. The dichotomy between their performances is the clearest illustration of why Tennessee could not quite complete its comeback against Memphis and why the Tigers left their losers-bracket game Tuesday with a 99-97 double-OT victory. It’s not fair to hang the Volunteers’ defeat entirely upon Golden. Among the 11 who appeared, the only player to reach double-figure scoring in this track meet aside from Golden and Maymon was forward Kenny Hall, who contributed 11 points. How many crucial Tennessee possessions, though, featured Golden dribbling away shot-clock time or taking quick, wild shots when everyone in the gym, everyone watching on ESPN, probably people simply feeling it through ESP knew the ball had to find Maymon’s hands? Golden was 3-of-7 from the field at halftime. He finished 3-of-19. He went 0-for-7 in the second half, as Maymon was carrying UT back from a 55-45 deficit at the break. Golden was 0-for-5 in the two overtime periods. That’s not how a point guard is supposed to play. This essentially is the first time in Thomas Robinson’s career he’s had to take on two defenders at once. In the past, he always was playing alongside the Morris twins, who were more established players and thus most often the focus of opposing defenses. Now Robinson gets doubled when he catches in the post, and he still struggles to handle the attention. He has been fine. He has scored in double figures in every game and didn’t commit more than two turnovers in a game until Tuesday’s 72-56 victory over UCLA. But he had five against the Bruins, and it’s not like their defense was sensational. Ben Howland had the Wear brothers, mostly, doing hard big-to-big traps on Robinson and he often was forced off his spot or gave up the ball. Robinson still managed a solid 7-of-11 shooting night and 15 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Indeed, imagine what he’ll be when he gets used to all the attention. Travis and David Wear still are young college basketball players. They saw limited action as freshmen at North Carolina, then spent last year inactive after transferring to UCLA. But that doesn’t explain their poor shot selection, unsound defense and curious lack of balance in the Bruins’ loss to Kansas in the Maui semis. They were a combined 0-for-5 in the first half against KU, and there was no mystery as to why. They took terrible shots: guarded, out of rhythm, out of range. The Wear brothers have been coached by both Roy Williams and Ben Howland. That’s a lot of Final Fours and a couple national titles. It’s reasonable to expect them to play with a greater sense of precision. Conventional wisdom is the Wolverines must hit from 3-point range to be competitive with elite teams. Certainly, that doesn’t hurt. But against Duke, Michigan was only 7-of-21 from 3-point range and still wound up hitting 49.2 percent from the floor and hanging with one of the nation’s best teams. Michigan shot better than 57 percent on 2-pointers, with big man Jordan Morgan hitting 6-of-7. “They’re an outstanding basketball team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’re very difficult to defend. I thought defensively in the first half we did a great job. The second half, you know—they just come at you.”

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