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Exhibition Recap: Red Knows Best

October 27, 2011

“Basketball is like war in that offensive weapons are developed first, and it always takes a while for the defense to catch up.”

Who knew Red Auerbach followed James Madison?

The regular season hasn’t started yet, so JMU and Philadelphia decided to treat their exhibition Wednesday like a glorified pick-up game. The teams combined to shoot 55 percent for the game. Philly shot 72.7 percent in the first half and 100 percent in the opening nine minutes. Jim Connolly may be a 6-3 guard for a Division II team but for one night the lefty was Chris Mullin, as he torched JMU for 33 points.

And still, the Dukes won 98-88, thanks to 29 points by A.J. Davis (boy is he fun to watch on offense) and 25 from Humpty Hitchens (we already knew how fun he is to watch on both ends).

Madison coach Matt Brady seemed only mildly concerned with the defensive woes. He knows his group has practiced just 10 times and that it’s still October. But the Dukes have a wayyyys to go if they want to call themselves a good defensive team.

Apparently, even if Bill Russell is on your roster, it always takes a while for the defense to catch up.

(Side note that seems festive nearing Hallowen: Red Auerbach died on October 28, 2006. It was a Saturday and I was at a Maryland/Florida State “blackout” football game that was clinched when the Terrapins blocked a kick in the final minute. When news of Red’s death reached me after the game, I scrambled together a cigar, sport coat and floppy 80s corduroy Celtics hat and had myself a commemorative costume for the evening’s Halloween parties. It was one of the most poorly executed costumes to date. Since then, I’ve perfected Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn and Lil’ Wayne, and have settled on the latter for this year’s holiday. )

Back to Wednesday’s exhibition:

Key Stat: (6) OK, the key stats are really those high shooting numbers, but we’ve covered that already. Six is a low number and that’s good for the Dukes when it’s representing how many turnovers they committed. Philly is not the type of team that’s going to force turnovers, but a half-dozen is still impressive for the Dukes, who  A.) were using their two-guard (Hitchens) as a point guard, B.) were using a freshman wing (Arman Marks) as a backup point guard, and C.) had about a million possessions Wednesday.

Key Quote: “We’re not really worried about our offense. Like Coach said, we gave up 50 points in the first half to them. In the first half they shot [nearly] 75 percent and one kid was 7-for-7. So we’re really not worried about our offense. We have to pick up our defense if we want to be a March Madness team.”

-Humpty Hitchens

What we learned: – A.J. Davis comes as advertised.

– Gene Swindle is certainly a serviceable CAA center. He’ll battle, make some shots, rebound the ball and give fouls. Trevon Flores looked more comfortable than he has in the past, but Swindle seemed to have more of an impact.

– Freshman Arman Marks still appears skittish running the point, but he will hit an open 3. CAA Deputy Commish Ron Bertovich, my next-door neighbor during Wednesday’s game, said Marks reminded him of fellow lefty Vertrail Vaughns of George Mason.

– Freshmen bigs Enoch Hood and Keynan Pittman are long and athletic and will give effort. But they are probably both a year away from joining the rotation on a consistent basis. Hood seems to be a little more advanced offensively.

– The team will miss Devon Moore (no duh). Call me crazy after watching a team score 98 points, but the offense didn’t look like it had very much  flow. Davis said that was because it was so early in the season and they only operated out of a few sets. Brady said he’s most concerned with where the Dukes will get their points in crunch time of a close game now that Denzel Bowles is gone. But those tough stretches could come even more often if defenses aren’t giving Davis Arian Foster-type holes to dribble through.

The Duke’s Crown Goes To… A.J. Davis (although, like his 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists, it doesn’t count toward the officially tally.) The guy is just so smooth, both in getting to the rim and finishing at it. He knows how to make lay-ups, which should not be understated. He also shot 10-of-13 from the free-throw line and even hit a 3-pointer, which may come as a surprise because he was 5-for-50 from deep in two seasons at Wyoming. Brady had to call Davis into his office Tuesday to discuss his inconsistent effort in practice. Davis was energetic in 32 minutes Wednesday. It will be interesting to see if he and Julius Wells can get it going simultaneously, or if the two wings will sort of take turns in terms of big scoring nights.

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