Section 17: Devils Feast in the Garden

‘Section 17’ is Crazie-Talk’s weekly feature that lets you, the readers, take a look at what we see from Section 17 of hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium.

It was a team effort in New York, as Duke brings home the NIT Season Tip-Off Title. Happy Thanksgiving! (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

It was a team effort in New York. Duke brings home the NIT Season Tip-Off Title, beating rival Connecticut 68-59 in the championship game. Give thanks, Blue Devil fans. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

For the second straight year, Duke emerged victorious in a pre-season tournament held in Madison Square Garden. In dispatching Arizona State and UConn, the Blue Devils move to 6-0 on the season and bring home the NIT Season Tip-Off trophy.

As the adage goes, “Defense wins championships.” That rang true for Duke in the world’s most famous arena. Through the first four games, Duke lit up the scoreboard, averaging 94 points per game in huge wins. But in New York the offense sputtered, and Duke relied on tough defense and our bevy of big men to limit Arizona State and UConn to 53 and 57 points, respectively.

Against the Sun Devils on Wednesday—a team that featured class of ’05 transfer Eric Boateng—the offense just wasn’t clicking. Naturally, we turned the reins over to the steady Jon Scheyer, who came away with 16 points and 6 assists. Nolan chipped in 14 and Kyle overcame a slow start and 5-16 shooting to finish with 13. Oh yeah, those three guys all played 40 minutes. With a slim backcourt, that’s going to happen sometimes this season. And Boateng, who had starred in the first couple of ASU’s games, scored a measly 4 points and turned the ball over an incredible 9 times, mostly on walks. Good riddance.

Jon Scheyer took home MVP Honors after leading Duke to the 68-59 win.

Jon Scheyer took home MVP Honors after leading Duke to the 68-59 win. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

On Friday, Duke faced its first ranked opponent in the UConn Huskies. Probably the third most hated team for most Duke fans (guess the first two), ESPN talked up this rivalry all week. Obviously, there are difficult memories for both fanbases, notably Laettner’s buzzer beater in 1990 and the past two Final Four heartbreakers for Duke (painful). Coach K and Calhoun each have 800+ wins. The game was a big deal.

Of course, none of the history mattered on Friday night. After a frantic first 12 minutes, Duke built a nine-point halftime lead and never relinquished it. Both teams struggled to shoot the ball; Duke shot 29.6%, UConn faring slightly better at 36%. The Huskies are not a three-point shooting team, only hoisting four treys and missing all of them. Instead they worked the ball inside constantly to the frontline of Stanley Robinson, Gavin Edwards, Alex Oriakhi, etc. And the Devils responded: we blocked eight shots and grabbed 52 rebounds, led by Zoubek’s 11. So much for being “unathletic.”

The players of the game were Tournament MVP Scheyer (19 points) and local Jersey boy Lance Thomas, coming up big with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Lance was especially energetic—a lot of people underestimate his value to this team. Lance went after every loose ball and played above the rim all night, blocking three shots and altering several more. It was a good homecoming for the former St. Benedict’s Prep star.

Kyle Singler was conspicuously absent from the flow of the game. Hounded all night by Robinson, one of the Big East’s best defenders, Kyle was held to 6 points on 2-12 shooting. A silly third foul cost him the last 4:30 of the first half (ironically when Duke extended their lead).

Without the pre-season All-American on form, freshman Andre Dawkins stepped up once again to fill the scoring void. In an efficient 16 minutes, Dawkins dropped in 11 points, with two momentum shifting threes in the first half. Dawkins is looking like the fourth scorer on this team; his beautiful stroke caught the eye of Jason Williams, who tweeted “Dawkins has such a sweet jumper!” (@RealJayWilliams, for those interested).

Overall, the experienced core of this team produced the season’s first title. With the return of Mason Plumlee in a few weeks, Coach K has reason to look forward to several more championship runs this season.

Crazie Notes:

  • Duke moves to 5-4 in the series history with UConn. We’d have liked to win the Final Four games in ’99 and ’04, but hey, this one feels good nonetheless.
  • The Blue Devils out-rebounded a huge Connecticut team, 52-48. Plumlee and Zoubek are each averaging over 8 per game. It’s a luxury to have active big men like this—something we’ve missed for several years.
  • Dick Vitale was raving about UConn’s Ater Majok, who is eligible to play in a few weeks. Majok, who famously declared for the ’09 draft before playing a single game, is a 6’10” forward that should contribute, per Coach Calhoun. The complexion of the game may have changed a bit if Majok, as well as Mason Plumlee, could have played.
  • Smith joined Scheyer on the all-Tournament team, along with UConn’s Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker, and ASU’s senior PG Derek Glasser. Nolan has a edge to him this year that is key to our success.
  • Zoubek has never developed touch around the basket. He had eight offensive boards, but couldn’t convert them, finishing with just a single field goal. He did have three nice assists, including two kickouts for perimeter jumpers. However Zoubek can contribute, we’ll take it. He’s had a less than stellar career, but as my uncle says, “He just tries so hard…”
  • The commentators would have us believe that if UConn had knocked down more threes, the game would be different. But they only took four of them. Their gameplan was to penetrate with the quickness of Walker and Dyson, and pound the glass with Robinson and Edwards. Three-point shooting just isn’t a focus for the Huskies this season.
  • The ACC and Big East are typically two of the top conferences in the country. With the win, Duke shows that not all ACC teams are apt to embarrass themselves in the Garden.
  • Walk-ons Jordan Davidson and Steve Johnson got in the game late. Inconceivable!
  • 2010 target Roscoe Smith is considering both Duke and UConn. Hopefully the title game performance helps him make the winning choice.
  • Stanley Robinson post-game comment: “They’re not very athletic. We’re more athletic than they are. They were just smarter than we were.” Kiss the trophy, pal.
  • With all the chatter about Duke being unathletic, Nolan Smith had this to say about the Devils when Mason Plumlee returns: “[We’ll be] Even more athletic than people don’t think we are.” Gotta love this kid.
  • If you missed it, check out our LiveBlog of the UConn game. Colorful commentary and in-game analysis included…

Duke returns to action on Wednesday at Wisconsin for the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Crazie-Talk wishes a retroactive Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers. Go Duke!

Section 17: Public Service Announcement

‘Section 17’ is Crazie-Talk’s weekly feature that lets you, the readers, take a look at what we see from Section 17 of hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Allow him to reintroduce himself; his name is Nolan ‘Mr. Buckets’ Smith.

nolankyle

Photo courtesy of Duke Photography.

It was showtime in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night, and Duke put on quite the performance in Smith’s return to the lineup on Tuesday. Nolan led all scorers with a career high 24 points, while Jon Scheyer added 20 points, no turnovers, and threw in an absolutely ridiculous rejection. Miles Plumlee also had career highs in points (15) and rebounds (11). Brian Zoubek joined the party as well, collecting a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with 9 points.

The win booked the Blue Devils a trip to New York City for Thanksgiving, where they will face Arizona State in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off next Wednesday.  Should they win, Duke would set up a potential final matchup with UConn.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After three games in the past week, we’ve learned a few things about this 2009-2010 Duke squad.

The first is obviously the importance of Nolan Smith. After serving a two-game suspension for playing in an unsanctioned summer league, Smith’s effect on this team was remarkably visible on Tuesday night. Smith showcased a myriad of skills – the runner, the stroke beyond the arc, the midrange jumper, and most importantly, the ability to break down defenders and get to the rim. His presence allowed the Blue Devils to utilize the on-ball screen and roll with great success.

But perhaps the most important element that Nolan brought  to Cameron on Tuesday was an air of confidence. He’s certainly been outspoken about having been “in the lab” all summer, but he brought swagger and intensity to the team that hasn’t been seen at Duke in recent years. That intensity affected the entire team, especially on the defensive end. Duke forced 17 turnovers  – an increase from each of the previous two games. By playing long and getting in the way of passing lanes (especially when playing zone), Nolan and Jon were able to push the tempo and get easy buckets to the big guys  on numerous occasions.

Which brings us to a third point. Against Charlotte, Duke’s big man rotation of Thomas, Zoubek, Kelly, and the elder Plumlee produced a whopping 30 points and 27 rebounds. As mentioned before, Miles had a career night down low, and has emerged through three games as Duke’s most legitimate post threat since the days of the Landlord, Shelden Williams. For the first time in a long, long time, Duke will have a rebounding edge over most teams in the country. With Miles seemingly getting better and better by the game, we can only imagine what his talented younger brother will be able to do when he recovers from injury.

While other Top 10 teams (cough cough) have struggled in their opening games, Duke’s solid performances in the early going should be an indication of this team’s potential. This is a very different team from years past, and there are quite a few question marks. We’re not sure how logging heavy minutes will affect Kyle, Nolan, or Jon come March. We’re not sure if our newfound depth in the frontcourt can match up with the best post players in the ACC. But there is one thing we can be sure of: with veteran leadership, talent, and depth, we’re in for one hell of a ride.

Moving On…

After a long roller coaster ride of a recruitment, Harrison Barnes chose North Carolina.

It’s over. And it’s time to move on. Duke fans have every right to be disappointed, angry, indignant—but there’s nothing we can do here.

The good news is our committed class of 2010 is excellent. We all know about Kyrie Irving. Josh Hairston’s move to Montrose Christian is paying dividends, a storied program which will prepare him for the college ranks. Tyler Thornton is getting ready for another season in the competitive DC Catholic League, preparing to lead his Gonzaga squad to a league championship.

And we have an opportunity to add to the class with the ongoing recruitment of top 30 small forward Roscoe Smith, a talented wing player from Oak Hill Academy. Roscoe is down to a final three of UConn, Duke, and Georgetown, and plans on waiting until the spring signing period to make his choice. Despite the miss on Barnes, we have an excellent group of recruiting coaches, and have a great chance at bringing Smith in. He has noted an antagonistic relationship with Barnes, and he would relish the opportunity to match up with him in the ACC.

Harrison is a great player, and we wish him a long and healthy career.

But he’s a Heel now, and the only thing we can say to Heels is:

Go To Hell, Carolina.

Check out the video below for highlights of Roscoe Smith. Enjoy.

ACC Rundown: Duke

The 2009-2010 basketball season is slowly drawing closer. Every Tuesday and Thursday this fall, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order of conference standings – from the bottom up.

Finally, the one we’ve all been waiting for: our very own Duke Blue Devils.

nolan

Nolan Smith will be an integral part of the success of this year's team. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

2008-2009 Record: 30-7 (11-5 in ACC)

Postseason Record: 3-0 in ACC tournament (Defeated Florida State in ACC Tournament Finals), 2-1 in NCAA tournament (Lost to Villanova in Sweet Sixteen)

Projected Starting Lineup: Jon Scheyer (Sr.), Nolan Smith (Jr.), Kyle Singler (Jr.), Miles Plumlee (So.), Mason Plumlee (Fr.)

Returning:

[TABLE=40]

Departing:

[TABLE=41]

Incoming:

[TABLE=42]

The Good: This is Duke’s biggest team of the decade. Boasting a starting lineup with an average height of 6’7″, Coach K finally has a legitimate froncourt. This will allow Preseason ACC Player of the Year and First Team All-American Kyle Singler to finally move to his natural position on the wing. Zoubek and the brothers Plumlee will rotate at the 5, with Thomas and Kelly filling in as combo forwards. Lance and Ryan are solid ballhandlers; LT showed the ability to drive baseline and finish in the Findlay game, a new skill in his arsenal. Scheyer is a sublime player, possibly one of the most trustworthy leaders Coach K has ever had.  He’s calming, even when flashing the Scheyerface. Nolan Smith’s improvement appears to be substantial, and he should step into his central role with confidence. He’s been in the lab, creating that monster.  His legendary Twitter says so.

The Bad: We’re not going to buy into the “lack of a true point guard” spiel – but we should talk about the relative dearth of ballhandlers. Scheyer has proven to be extremely efficient at the point, averaging nearly a two to one assist to turnover ratio last year. But depth in the backcourt may prove to be an issue.  The early departures of Henderson to the NBA and Williams to Memphis obviously hurt. While Singler can handle himself on the perimeter, only having three scholarship guards in Scheyer, Smith, and Dawkins on the roster may haunt Duke when it counts the most. Coach K noted in a talk with the Crazies that this team’s length is much more pronounced that its quickness, a complete reversal from the guard-heavy teams of the past few years. Can this bigger and longer squad adapt to zone play? Will they be able to contain quick guards for 40 minutes? We’ll have to wait and see.

The Crazie: Many fans have focused on “what could have been” this season. The departures of Gerald Henderson and Elliot Williams sting, and many YouTube aficionados lament the miss on John Wall. But look: we will finally see what Kyle Singler can do in the spotlight. He is the clear star on this team, and if the exhibition games are any indication of his play this year, Kyle will be a statistical monster—points, rebounds, and three point shooting in particular. Expect Singler to have a breakout year, and perhaps put himself in position for a high pick in next year’s (loaded) NBA Draft.

The Bottom Line: This is certainly a talented team. Coach K called it the best group of guys he’s had since the ’04 Final Four squad. (Ah, Daniel Ewing, come back!). But the lack of guards leaves us in a precarious position, and this squad can’t afford injuries or bad stretches of play from the “big three” of Scheyer, Smith, and Singler. The first two games without Nolan will test Andre Dawkins, but hopefully he’ll come into his own à la Elliot Williams as the year progresses.  Coach K will have legitimate scoring threats down low in the Plumlee brothers for the first time since Shelden Williams. If all parts work in concert, and we avoid the injury bug (knock on wood), look for Duke to get beyond the round of 16, and squash the rumors that our program is slipping.

Let’s Go Duke!

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Crazie Talk’s ACC Rundowns:

Georgia Tech | Virginia | NC State | Virginia Tech | Miami (FL) | Maryland
Boston College | Clemson | Florida State | Wake Forest | North Carolina | Duke

ACC Rundown: North Carolina

The 2009-2010 basketball season is slowly drawing closer. Every Tuesday and Thursday this fall, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order of conference standings – from the bottom up.

Today, we’ll take a look at the North Carolina Tar Heels.

kylehansbitch

We're glad one of these guys is still around. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

2008-2009 Record: 34-4 (13-3 in ACC)

Postseason Record: 1-1 in ACC tournament, 6-0 in NCAA tournament (defeated Michigan St. for the National Championship)

Projected Starting Lineup: Larry Drew II (So.), Marcus Ginyard (RS Sr.), John Henson (Fr.), Deon Thompson (Sr.), Ed Davis (So.)

Returning:

[TABLE=35]

Departing:

[TABLE=36]

Incoming:

[TABLE=37]

The Good: Carolina will boast its deepest frontcourt in years. Leading the charge will be sophomore and ACC Player of the Year candidate Ed Davis and senior Deon Thompson, who seems like he’s been in college forever. Henson, the highly touted freshman, will play on the wing but will also see his fair share of time on the blocks. Seven-foot tree Tyler Zeller will look to rebound from last year, when he was forced to miss 23 games with an injured wrist.

The Bad: Losing Hansbrough, Green, and Ellington hurts, but Roy Williams’ biggest challenge lies in replacing Ty Lawson at the helm of the offense. Roy Williams’ primary option at the point is Larry Drew II, who was far from impressive in relief work last season(Quentin Thomas?). Williams could be forced to turn to Leslie McDonald or Dexter Strickland—both freshmen—if Drew II can’t fill in satisfactorily.

The Crazie: We all have heard of salary albatrosses, but is “scholarship albatross” an uncoined term? You heard it here first—Roy Williams will regret signing David and Travis Wear, two lumbering, unimpressive twin forwards from California. There were rumors that the UNC staff was encouraging them to de-commit, but the Wears didn’t bite. That’s two lost cause scholarships for four years. Cheers!

We Love To Hate…Marcus Ginyard, who apparently doesn’t like Duke’s style of play. What, does he expect an apology? Sad, Ginyard appeared to be respectable at some point.

The Bottom Line: We’d be foolish to say that UNC will fall from grace after their dominant run to the 2009 title—the 2006 team taught us that much. UNC will probably struggle early due to youthfulness, but Roy will find a way to pick up the pieces for a solid run in March. If the guard play is serviceable, Ed Davis and Co. will provide the firepower to win a lot of games. We expect another tussle at the top of the ACC between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels.

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Crazie Talk’s ACC Rundowns:

Georgia Tech | Virginia | NC State | Virginia Tech | Miami (FL) | Maryland
Boston College | Clemson | Florida State | Wake Forest | North Carolina | Duke

ACC Rundown: Wake Forest

The 2009-2010 basketball season is slowly drawing closer. Every Tuesday and Thursday this fall, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order of conference standings – from the bottom up.

Today, we’ll take a look at the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

The Blue Devils will not return to Winston Salem until 2011

The Blue Devils will not return to Winston Salem until 2011.

2008-2009 Record: 24-7 (11-5 in ACC)

Postseason Record: 1-1 in ACC tournament, 0-1 in NCAA tournament (lost to Cleveland State in First Round)

Projected Starting Lineup: Ishmael Smith (Sr.), L.D. Williams (Sr.),  Al-Farouq Aminu (So.), Tony Woods (So.), Chas McFarland (Sr.)

Returning:

[TABLE=32]

Departing:

[TABLE=33]

Incoming:

[TABLE=34]

The Good: The Demon Deacons return preseason All-American and ACC player of the year candidate Al-Farouq Aminu, who, after averaging 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds in a solid freshman campaign, will be the offense’s #1 option in his second year. Aminu will have a supporting cast comprised of a trio of serviceable seniors: point guard Ishmael Smith, shooting guard L.D. Williams and center Chas McFarland. These three will surely provide leadership on the court for coach Dino Gaudio. In addition, four-star recruit Ari Stewart will look to contribute right away with his athleticism on the wing. Wake Forest is a team that has a balance of youth and experience.

The Bad: The Demon Deacons’ two best players and two leading scorers from last season now reside in the NBA. First-round draft picks Jeff Teague and James Johnson, who combined for 33.8 points per game last season, would be juniors now if they had stayed at Wake Forest. Even though the team has solid seniors, the Demon Deacons will be hard-pressed to replace the talent they lost to the NBA.

The Crazie: Once the #1-ranked team last year after upsetting North Carolina, the Demon Deacons lost to unranked Virginia Tech at home, quickly losing place atop the NCAA. Then they were silenced by Maryland in the first round of the ACC tournament, where they were seeded #2. Finally, the Demon Deacons bowed out quietly to an upset-minded 13th seed in Cleveland State. Even with two NBA first-rounders on their team (and a third in Aminu), Wake Forest never played up to their talent level after defeating UNC, mercifully ending what had been a promising season.

We Love to Hate… Ishmael Smith, who averaged 6.0 assists per game but also 3.6 turnovers as a freshman playing for a horrendous team two seasons ago. Quick as a cat but sometimes out of control, Smith will be the full-time point for the Demon Deacons. Playing behind Teague the last two years allowed him to pick his spots. He might have been able to do this, but he still turned the ball over way too much for a point guard. Forget the play of the potential All-American in Aminu, because Wake Forest will need Smith to be much more efficient, especially with the loss of so much talent to the NBA.

Bottom Line: Even with the loss of Teague and Johnson, this team should remain in the top half of ACC. I guess that simply tells you how good the Demon Deacons could have been last season. The senior leadership is there along with the young, talented big men in Aminu and Tony Woods. No one on this team will remind anyone of the Chris Paul or Tim Duncan days, but Dino Gaudio should lead this team back to the NCAA tournament. And this time, they should get out of the first round.

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Crazie Talk’s ACC Rundowns:

Georgia Tech | Virginia | NC State | Virginia Tech | Miami (FL) | Maryland
Boston College | Clemson | Florida State | Wake Forest | North Carolina | Duke