I should do a companion piece to last season’s post at about this time. But instead, just a couple comments sparked by the coverage of the game.

At some point in the first half, Len Elmore referred to Greg Paulus’ freshman season as “extraordinary”. If he meant this in a bad way, I could see his point, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t. While most may not share Lenny’s glowing view of Paulus’ play last season, it does seem that just about every mainstream analyst is obsessed with the guy and seems to think he is something he really is not.

Let’s be honest here, Duke had two of the most efficient, reliable, high-usage scorers last season. Now think about this – did those guys make Greg Paulus better, or did Paulus make them better? I think logically, we know the answer. And yet, Paulus’ stats were still sub-ordinary.

Here are Greg’s pertinent stats over the last two seasons:

             ARate  TORate  %Shots  eFG%
Paulus '07    25.9   35.6    14.5   62.5
Paulus '06    26.1   32.8    11.9   43.0

[For definitions and context, go here.]

Paulus was a walking turnover machine last season. Typically, as a player’s shooting rate increases, his turnover rate decreases. But even though Paulus is a little more involved in the offense this season, his turnover rate continues to rise. And this doesn’t include yesterday’s 18-minute, 6-turnover performance. Now, I’ll grant you Paulus has improved his shooting, although it will take a hit during conference play.

He can shoot well, he can pass fairly well, but his ball-handling is about as bad as you’ll see from a starting point guard in major college basketball. Paulus has committed 4.6 turnovers per 40 minutes. There aren’t many starting point guards in major college ball with that rate. Somebody who is similar is Derrick Jasper of Kentucky. As a freshman, here are Jasper’s numbers so far:

             ARate  TORate  %Shots  eFG%
Jasper '07    29.1   38.4     9.0   63.2

Their games aren’t exactly identical. When Jasper does shoot, it’s usually of the two-handed throw-down variety. But he’s also a turnover machine who has a nice assist rate. Nobody is going to call his performance extraordinary or even solid. Like Paulus, Jasper may someday be a solid point guard. I think it’s OK to say that, instead of heaping false praise on a guy where it’s clearly not warranted. To call either player extraordinary is a disservice to freshmen who are truly outstanding (ahem, Dominic James last season, for instance).

(Obligatory disclaimer: this is in no way a personal attack on Mr. Paulus. I am sure he is a fine young man bound to be a productive member of society, probably wearing a suit and tie on the Duke bench. I’m also fairly sure he could take the criticism if he read this. I just don’t want you to think I am trying to make him cry or anything. Honestly, I’ve decided against posting something like this about three or four times, both this season and last, but today was the last straw. These things have to be said.)

At some point late in the game, Elmore’s compadre Mike Patrick said something about how Duke’s high number of turnovers (they finished with 22) was “uncharacteristic”. Perhaps I’ll give Mike the benefit of the doubt that he was referring to Duke in a historic sense. But their crazy tunrover rate is the number one reason their offense has struggled this season. The stats get hidden a little to due their slow pace this season, but they’re there.

And with Virginia Tech having one of the most disruptive backcourts in the nation, the only surprise in this game would have been if Duke had kept the turnovers under 15 or so. That would have been news. And that was partly why I was expecting an ugly game. The other part was that I didn’t expect the Hokies backcourt to make a bunch of shots against a stout defense, as they did for all but the last 10 minutes of the game.

Finally, I leave you with a prediction. (Hard to believe my motto is “predictions are stupid”.) At some point in late February, with Virginia Tech chasing a tournament berth, the media will look back on this game as a turning point. We’ll probably find out that there was a players-only meeting last week or there was an inspirational pep talk from the coach. Something like that.

But it was no turning point. Virginia Tech is like every other team in a bubble predicament. They play a few great games and a few dogs. It just so happens that each of their poor outings has been a close loss. I get the feeling that if the Hokies had 5-point wins over Western Michigan and Marshall (instead of losses) and had a 10-point loss to Duke, they’d actually be taken more seriously at this point. But they’d be the same team regardless.