Section 17: Reality Check in D.C.

Georgetown did most of the swarming Saturday, forcing 15 Duke turnovers, many of which led to open layups. (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

After banging out a home win against Florida State on Wednesday, Duke faced a tough test on Saturday afternoon. Seventh ranked Georgetown. 20,000 Hoya fans packing the seats of the Verizon Center. Coach John Thompson III going for his 200th win. And then President Obama decides to show up, sweater-clad VP Biden in tow.

Georgetown came out swinging, and we came out dull.

The Hoyas put on a statistical show en route to an 89-77 win, a margin that could have been 20 had the Hoyas applied defensive pressure in the last minute. The numbers are staggering: nine blocked shots, nine steals, 20 assists, and a ridiculous 74% field goal percentage. The Hoya ‘Big Three’ came to play: Greg Monroe (21 points), Austin Freeman (20 points) and Chris Wright (21 points) dominated Duke with the outside shot, off the dribble and in the paint.

Of those three, Greg Monroe was the absolute star. A former recruit of Coach K, Monroe abused our interior defense in the second half. He showed a variety of moves, including two spin moves with either hand for an easy layup. This seemed to be a statement game for Monroe, who had a horrid showing last season when the Hoyas lost in Cameron. Monroe proved his mettle on the big stage, and got his revenge against Duke.

So what can Duke learn from this difficult loss? Here are some of my thoughts.

1. Defense, Defense, Defense. A graphic popped up late in the CBS broadcast that 89 points was the most Duke has allowed all season. Moreover, it was 17 points above Georgetown’s average offensive output. For a team that is perhaps seven deep, Georgetown’s offense flowed like melted wax over a branding iron. Duke won the previous two games with their defense. We held Clemson to 47 points, its lowest home total in seven years, and prevented Florida State from getting into any offensive rhythm.

So what happened in Washington? Coach K told the media before the game that Georgetown had had a week to prepare, while Duke had played on Wednesday. That’s a good point: Georgetown certainly looked fresher. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Georgetown runs a Princeton style offense, predicated upon quick backdoor cuts and precise passing. Each Hoya is capable of making those passes, and Duke didn’t adapt its on ball defense. We were beat backdoor over and over again. When Coach K went to a zone in the first half, the Hoyas shot over it, nailing five of their six total three pointers. At that point, I considered them to be on a hot streak that would eventually cool. Hardly.

Shooting 75% may seem lucky, but our defense allowed Georgetown to dictate the tempo and get easy shots. Coach K is all about collective responsibility. Accordingly, that was a team losing effort on defense. In order to compete in March, we must be ready for the fast-paced, physical style of teams like Georgetown (and basically any Big East team). In the disaster that is this year’s ACC, we may win despite playing poor defense. But I’d rather hold every team under 60 points, wouldn’t you?

2. Road Woes Continue

As Duke fans, we always expect the other team’s best shot. My parents often lament our losses to normally inferior teams, offering the justification that

Georgetown2

Team defense is the key to wins on the road. (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

“The Duke game is always their national championship.” In a way, this is true. The four blue letters across our jerseys inspire a hatred and passion that no other program can evoke. Teams (and their fans) want to beat Duke—knock us off our pedestal, if you will.

So nearly every road game will be a fight for Duke; we will get the other team’s best shot. Nonetheless, we usually win anyway. John Roth pointed out in an Jan. 2009 article that Duke had won 77% of their ACC road games since 1998, a mark 14 percentage points better than the ACC’s home winning percentage in that period. Despite the pressure and hatred, Duke usually wins. That is, until this year.

All four of our losses have come in true road environments: Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Colosseum, NC State’s RBC Center (wtf?), and this weekend at the Verizon Center in Washington. Each of these games we have looked tired and sluggish on offense. Our defense—and Nolan Smith’s heroic scoring—beat Clemson in Littlejohn. We only scored 60 points, hardly an offensive juggernaut.

At home and at neutral sites we are one of the most efficient and dynamic offenses in the country. With three legitimate scoring threats in Earth, Wind and Scheyer, Duke can beat teams in a variety of ways. The point production of our Big Three is pretty consistent, with each averaging over 16 points per game.

Scheyer, Smith and Singler need to continue to get their shots on the road. But these games must be a team effort—the comfort of Cameron cannot always be there to bolster the team during bad stretches. One of the main sufferings during the Georgetown game was our apparent greenness with interior defense. Miles and Mason Plumlee got into early foul trouble, leaving Lance Thomas with the burden of trying to contain Greg Monroe without any backup. Zoubek, unable to guard anyone even mildly mobile, only played two minutes. Ryan Kelly also looked like the freshman that he is on the defensive end.

Past Duke teams won road games due to a commitment to team defense. We cannot rely on our three stars entirely away from home. Until Duke learns to play as a seamless unit on offense and defense, the road will continue to be rocky terrain.

3. A Bad Loss?

I had reservations about Saturday’s game, although C-T cautiously predicted a Duke victory (don’t call us homers, we didn’t write the Odyssey). This was a huge game for Georgetown, and you know that Obama’s special appearance sent all those future lawyers and government lackeys into a frenzy. I did not expect to lose—I hardly ever do—but I was prepared for the possibility.

What I was not prepared for was how badly we lost. Coach K said in his post-game comments that Georgetown was “electric”—the team, the fans and the ‘grayed-out’ stadium. As Coach said, we couldn’t match the intensity the Hoyas brought—they played with urgency for 40 minutes.

So what can we take from a game that most Duke fans will want to wipe from their memory?

For one, I was pleased to see the freshmen get some experience playing in a big out of conference road game against a powerful team. None of them ‘lit it up’—Dawkins missed several open threes he would knock down in Cameron, Kelly looked flustered, and Mason was overpowered by Georgetown’s Monroe and Julian Vaughn. But unlike in past years, they stayed on the court. Obviously, the quick whistles of the refs put Miles and Lance on the bench, necessitating more minutes out of Mason and Ryan, and Andre has proved his road worthiness at Wisconsin. Nevertheless, the experience of playing in that pressure-cooker of a stadium will greatly benefit our three first-years in the long run. I was happy to see Coach K use his bench in a more than nominal fashion.

It was also reassuring to watch our guys fight for loose balls to cut a 20 point deficit to 12 in a final run capped off by Mason’s emphatic dunk. Although Georgetown had all but sung the fight song at that point, our guys did not hang their heads and walk toward the locker room. They preserved their dignity and tried to make it at least look like a competitive game.

What did we learn in D.C.? That we have a lot to learn. Let’s rebound this week with a vengeance victory versus Georgia Tech, and get ready to face those bottomfeeders down in Chapel Hill.

Crazie-Talk thanks our readers for sticking with us in these tough times. That’s how Duke fans are. Let’s not start pining for Kyrie Irving just yet, we have a lot of season left to play. Go Duke.

Sizing Up the Hoyas

This weekend, the Devils will take to Washington, DC  to pay a visit to the Hoyas of Georgetown. Word on the street has it that President Obama (and his bodyguard, former Devil Reggie Love) will be in attendance.  It should be a dandy.

This week, we got to speak with Andrew of CasualHoya.com, a pretty cool Georgetown blog, to get a feel of what to expect as the Devils face their toughest matchup of the year. Naturally, Andrew and his crew at CH have an unnatural and unfounded hatred for all things Duke, but that’s hardly uncommon. What makes it funny is that we don’t really hate Georgetown at all…we just don’t care.
If you’re interested, we answered some of their questions as well. You can check them out here. Our interview is below.

Crazie Talk: The ‘Big Three’ of Scheyer, Singler, and Smith have been integral to the success of this Duke team. The big three for Georgetown, statistically, is Wright, Freeman, and Monroe. How do they function together on the court? What are their main strengths?

Casual Hoya: Monroe, Freeman and Wright function very well together on the court.  Wright and Freeman have been roommates throughout college, grew up in the same area, and have known one another since they were kids.  They worked out all summer together and have a very good understanding of one another’s games.  Monroe fits in very well with them because he is such a good passer and facilitates John Thompson III’s offense from the high post.  It is nice that he can take a complementary role to Wright and Freeman, but also frustrating because he will go 10 possessions without touching the ball.

Main strengths are abundant with all three.  Wright has vastly improved his shot, and is strong going to the hole. Sometimes he can be completely out of control, as we have named him The Wrecking Ball over at Casual Hoya with his reckless drives into the lane taking on four defenders.  That said, he has cut down on turnovers, improved his assists, and is playing very strong defense.  Freeman has been our best player this year.  He lost 30 pounds over the offseason, regained his shot, and has shown explosive athleticism.  He is also the calming force to Wright’s sometimes dimunitive behavior.  Monroe has all the talent in the world, is the best big man passer in the country, and finishes with ease.  His biggest issues are between the ears, where he can sometimes seem disinterested and passive.

CT: Talk about Greg Monroe. He picked Georgetown over Duke two years ago. How important is he to this squad? Do you think he’ll go pro after this year?

CH: Even though Monroe is the object of national attention, the centerpiece of Georgetown’s success has been the play of point guard Chris Wright.  In games where Wright has scored in double-digits, the Hoyas are an impressive 14-0.  On the flip side, the Hoyas are just 1-4 when he scores under 10 points in a game.  That being said, Monroe is clearly the player that Duke needs to concentrate on, since he can carry the team on his back for stretches and dominate the paint.   As far as picking Georgetown over Duke, I can’t find any fault in that.  I mean, I did the exact same thing.  As far as him going pro after this year, I would suspect that he would because he will be a top 10 pick and there just comes a time when getting paid millions takes precedence over sticking around and playing St. John’s again.  I don’t think many Hoyas fans expect Greg Monroe to be on the team next season, which is a shame because Georgetown would be a serious contender for a National Championship next year with him.

CT: Like Duke in recent years, Georgetown has had a ridiculous number of transfers since John Thompson III became head coach in 2004. Vernon Macklin, Tay Spann, Marc Egerson, Josh Thornton, Cornelio Guibunda, Ray Reed, Omar Wattad, and Jeremiah Rivers all seemed to find that they were a better fit somewhere else. Why do you think that is? Do you see any linkages between Duke and Georgetown on this issue?

CH: Tremendous Google research by you all. A few of those are wildcards as Ray Reed, Cornelio Guibunda, and Octavious Spann were all Escherick era recruits who were clearly not good enough to play at Gtown and basically showed they weren’t ready for the high D1 level following their transfers to other schools (Cal State Fullerton, American, and Marshall, respectively). CasualHoya has been none too kind to Jeremiah Rivers or Vernon Macklin, both of whom were highly regarded coming out of high school though each showed a distinct lack of basketball ability at Gtown; of course, each made a poor decision to transfer to a high level program, where they’ve largely showed that they can’t compete. Marc Egerson and Omar Wattad are in their own categories – first, Egerson went to a notoriously shady high school and never seemed to be the type of player who was cut out for Gtown to begin with; Wattad, on the other hand, was a laughable last minute recruit who clearly never had the talent to play at Gtown but became something of a fan favorite for hitting a few threes and being wildly theatrical after dropping them.

Thompson has been a very solid recruiter at Gtown over his career – highlighted with the three stars on this year’s team: Wright, Freeman, and Monroe. He’s also had some real missteps. It’s a little different from Duke, where K will clearly recruit over kids (and I understand that he makes that clear to them from day one). Both Duke and Gtown target only a handful of kids a year and that makes things difficult – when the top level drops out, they are left scrambling and that can have bad consequences, when it’s a kid like Wattad, or great ones when it’s someone like Benimon. The name of the game is recruiting as the better your players, the better the coach looks and in spite of the missteps and hurt feelings, K and Thompson are getting the kids they need to compete at the highest level.

CT: Georgetown hasn’t quite been the same powerhouse it once was under the elder John Thompson. Will JTIII ever approach the renown of his father? It that a realistic expectation? Would you consider this Georgetown program one of the elite, as it was back in the 80’s?

CH: Georgetown hasn’t been the same powerhouse it once was because we suffered under the oppressive tyranny of Craig Esherick between 1999-2004.  I don’t think JTIII wants to “approach the renown” of his father; Big John was more than a coach – he used basketball as a means to fight for social justice, whether by walking off the court in opposition to Proposition 42, taking on racism in the media or fighting drug lords within DC.  Georgetown is making its way back to the top of the heap for basketball programs, they won back-to-back Big East titles in 2007 and 2008 and went to the Final Four in 2007.  What happens in the next few seasons will determine if it was a fluke or not.

CT: Two years in a row, the Hoyas have lost to Old Dominion at home. Georgetown is 0-3 all time against the Monarchs…in their own gym (which looks pretty small – and that’s something coming from Cameron Crazies). Georgetown has certainly stepped up in bigger games against better opponents (in bigger arenas) this year, but is there some kind of psychological issue with ODU or the on-campus gym?

CH: EVERY SINGLE GAME we get this ridiculous question, so I can’t say I am surprised that someone who went to college in the Dumpster of the Carolinas (Durham) would ask the same kind of question as the guy who went to college in the Dumpster of the Earth (the kid from Rutgers).  Anyways.  Remember Georgetown’s Magical Run to the Final Four?  No, of course you don’t, you guys got owned by VCU in the first round of the tournament.  Well, when you were back at the Dumpster eating Double Stuff Oreo’s and waiting for Lacrosse season (too soon?) we were on said Magical Run to the Final Four.  And where did that start?  An on-campus loss to ODU.  I guess what I am saying is, see you in Indianapolis (well, not you, Duke will probably get a home NIT game before calling it a March).

CT: Georgetown has always attracted phenomenal big men, from Zo and Ewing back in the day to Hibbert and Monroe recently. What allure do the Hoyas have for this type of player? How does JTIII’s Princeton style offense prepare these stars for the NBA?

CH: You’re really comparing 2 wildly different eras between the JT2 and JT3 regimes but JT2’s tremendous run with bigs obviously stemmed from Ewing, who dominated his 4 years in a way that has rarely been seen at the college level and that paved the way for Mourning and Mutombo – but let’s be honest, in today’s game, each of them would have been gone after 1 year. Hibbert was a local kid and not hugely recruited, aside from our mustachioed hero, Craig Escherick. He played with the Hoya legends over the summers but one of the keys to each of the bigs who dominated the Hilltop was their personal work ethic – something Hibbert displayed from being an awkward freshman to a dominant player his junior and senior years.

The Princeton style offense demands a lot of bigs and Monroe is really well suited for it, given his scoring ability from inside and 15 feet and his passing – definitely moreso than was Hibbert. The biggest difference between the NBA and college game is the speed with which each is played, and although Princeton often yields some long possessions, players react to the defense and are forced to make quick reads and quick passes. Monroe’s just starting to round into form with the offense (though we’d like him to be far more aggressive) but this will likely be his last year at Gtown, following in the upside footsteps of Jeff Green and the downside footsteps of DaJuan Summers.

CT: You guys have two solid 2010 recruits in Nate Lubick and Markel Starks. Do you think Thompson will go after anybody else for this class, or move onto 2011?

CH: I would love to give you more info on who we are going after but I have no doubt that Coach K and his sniveling little assistants will read your board and try to woo our targets, like they are doing with Austin Rivers.  Stay away Wojo – go back to your doghouse.

But in all seriousness, we are looking at a couple of targets for the spring signing period who can add height to our bench.  Starks and Lubick will be able to make immediate impacts off the bench next year.

CT: How will this game play out? Prediction?

CH: I suspect this game will play out much like the first half of the game last year played out before the team self-destructed at halftime and tanked the rest of the season.   In 2006 when an unheralded Georgetown defeated the then-unbeaten Devils, the Hoyas were able to backdoor the crap out of Duke when Coach K decided it was a good idea to play man to man.  At some point in that game and for most of last year Duke played zone, and Georgetown was still able to compete due to consistent outside shooting and deft interior passing.  Though our players are generally still the same as last year, the makeup of the team is much different due to the departures of malcontents DaJuan Summers (12thman, Detroit Pistons) and Jessie Sapp (starting guard for some team in Scotland).  JT3 has this group firmly committed to his style of play, and with Monroe inside, Freeman outside, and electric bugaboo Chris Wright heading the point, the Hoyas have the weapons to cause Duke serious problems.  Kyle Singler will be the key on Saturday since I suspect the Hoyas can contain Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer.  If Singler can emerge as a reliable third scoring option, it will put more pressure on the Hoyas defensively, lead to some fouls, and then Duke can get into our bench, which is horrendous.

Final score: Hoyas 78 – Duke 71.

*     *     *

While their hatred for Duke is more than obvious, we’d like to extend our thanks to Andrew and his crew at CasualHoya for their time. This should be a fun game to watch.

Section 17: Trip to the Zoo

The Week that Was in 30 words: a rough loss to an inferior team put Duke’s road woes under the microscope, but the team rebounded with a convincing win in an arena where they were thrashed last year.

Coach K was certainly pleased after the contest in Littlejohn on Saturday night. All photos courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

Wolf-Smacked

Searching for their first true road win of the season, the Blue Devils left the cozy confines of Cameron on Wednesday and took a short drive up to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack of NC State. What many thought should have been an easy road win against a team picked to finish 11th in the ACC was anything but, as the Wolfpack blitzed Duke early and often, shooting well over 60% from the field in the first half. NC State junior Tracy Smith was a load inside, tying a season-high with 23 points on 10-12 shooting. Smith, who consistently got to the rim with ease, was too strong for Lance Thomas and too quick for Brian Zoubek. Also key to the Wolfpack victory was the performance of senior Dennis Horner, who scored 20 points. Horner was a mismatch offensively for the Blue Devils, as his perimeter-oriented game caused problems for whichever Duke big man guarded him.

What a difference a game makes: the Plumlee brothers were nowhere to be found on Wednesday. After combining for 30 points and 21 rebounds against Wake Forest last Sunday, brothers Miles and Mason scored a grand total of 2 points. Just as it looked like they were making huge strides down low, this performance was a giant step backwards against a team with a front-line less imposing than Wake Forest. Furthermore, while Smith and Horner gave their team 43 points, Duke’s four big men combined for only 13 points. And they say the game is no longer important from the foul-line down.

Duke’s big three combined for 61 points, but Kyle Singler seemed bothered by his wrist injury, as he missed several easy shots in the paint. However he was aggressive all game and got to the free-throw line 12 times, suggesting his wrist should not be a big problem going forward. Jon Scheyer was wild at times and made some poor choices after getting into the lane, missing 11 of his 16 field goal attempts. Nolan Smith, on the other hand, had an efficient night with 18 points and remained Duke’s most consistent player this season.

Tigers Caged

As inept as the Duke defense looked last Wednesday, that was how impressive it was on Saturday against Clemson, when they went into hostile Littlejohn Coliseum and delivered their best Siegfried and Roy impersonation. The Blue Devils tamed the Tigers to the tune of 37.5% shooting from the field to go along with 16 turnovers and only 6 assists, notching their first true road win of the season. I’ll be honest – I did not expect us to win this game because of Wednesday’s brutal defensive performance. But to give our team credit, the road bleeding eventually had to stop and they were hungry to prove the doubters wrong.

Duke has looked thoroughly impressive in sweeping Clemson this year, with the road win being even more impressive than the home win when they held the Tigers to 12 first-half points. Nolan Smith was absolutely dynamic, getting into the paint and finishing with an array of layups, floaters and mid-range jumpers. Lance Thomas had his best performance of the season with a season-best 13 points and 7 rebounds, all while doing a solid job against Clemson star Trevor Booker. Booker, who scored 22 points, got his, but no one else on the Tigers got any. Most importantly, the Blue Devils showed poise in handling the full-court press that completely flustered them last season, turning the ball over just once in the second half. The Blue Devils made a statement in South Carolina on Saturday, showing that they are still the team to beat in the ACC.

Some thoughts going forward:

  • Saturday’s game at #7 Georgetown will be Duke’s biggest regular season game all year. Yeah, I said it. That includes the games against UNC, because let’s be honest: with all due respect, a game against an unranked team can’t be that big, can it? The Hoyas, who will be looking to rebound from a Monday loss at #4 Syracuse, have a big three to match Duke’s big three: Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe.
  • In our nation’s capital on Saturday, Duke will run into the team that may have even less depth than themselves. John Thompson III’s rotation goes only six deep, as no one else on their roster averages more than 10 minutes a game. Their big three and guard Jason Clark all average more than 32.7 minutes per game.
  • Duke’s depth may indeed be a problem in the long run, especially for our trio of scorers who are playing more than 34 minutes a game. No bench points were scored against Clemson, as Coach K has noticeably shortened the rotation in the new calendar year. In fact, Andre Dawkins has hit zero threes in only 55 minutes of ACC play, a inconceivable thought only a month and a half ago, when he made four big threes down the stretch in Madison during our attempted comeback against Wisconsin.
  • As big as Saturday’s tilt against Georgetown is, the team should definitely not look past tomorrow’s home game against Florida State. The Blue Devils may have problems with the size of Chris Singleton and Solomon Alabi, both of whom are a year older and more experienced. Combined with their impressive size and considerable talent, these two create mismatches for a lot of teams.
  • We can say the NC State loss was an aberration after our performance at Clemson. However, while the losses at Wisconsin and at Georgia Tech can be somewhat excused, the truly elite teams do not lose games to teams picked to finish 11th in their conference. Perhaps the coaching staff should schedule some TRUE non-conference road games (sorry, Madison Square Garden) early in the season to test our mettle.

Five Recruiting Stories to Follow

On January 8, top 30 small forward Roscoe Smith shocked no one in committing to the Connecticut Huskies, the program that made him a priority from day one. While eliciting groans from Duke fans who had cautiously hoped that Smith would choose the Blue Devils, it was far less devastating than Harrison Barnes’ unexpected choice to be one of Roy’s Boys. I personally expected Smith to be the final target, and if he chose elsewhere, for our already stellar three-man class to be finalized.

Luckily, Coach K’s new (and welcome) “wide-net” recruiting strategy is craftier than I thought. 2010 is still wide open. Here are some players and stories to follow this spring and beyond.

1. Carrick Felix: Out of Nowhere

Felix is a super-athletic small forward at the College of Southern Idaho. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s a junior college (and it’s in Idaho). Duke’s staff, particularly assistant Nate James, has been in touch with Felix for several weeks now about visiting Duke this spring. Recruiting JuCo players is new territory for Coach K, and may seem dangerous to the casual observer, as many kids end up at these schools due to academic issues. Felix reportedly has no such issue with grades. He comes from a military family and apparently is very disciplined and hard working. As it stands, his only official offers come from Kent State and Idaho, although bigger names have been knocking of late. Making the jump to a national powerhouse like Duke would be a dream come true for Felix, and would help improve his skill set to match an NBA-level athleticism. Moreover, his size (6’6”) and defensive prowess could earn him playing time immediately on a team lacking at small forward—particularly if Kyle Singler goes pro.

If all goes well with admissions,  I think Felix is the player most likely to join Irving, Thornton, and Hairston in this class.

2. Terrence Ross: Villain to Hero?

Terrence Ross, scout’s number 21 shooting guard, had committed to ACC foe University of Maryland in April 2009. But the New Year brought Ross’ decision to re-open his recruitment. Since then, several high major programs (Kansas and Kentucky join Duke) have offered Ross in an attempt to provide a last-minute boost to their recruiting classes. In a recent interview with HighSchoolHoop, Ross stated that he felt he had made he decision too soon and jumped at the opportunity to play in the ACC. At the time, Maryland was the only conference squad to offer him. Now that that’s changed, Duke could possibly be his final destination.

Unlike Carrick Felix, a relatively off the radar player, Ross’ talent has been well documented as a rising star at Rockville, Md.’s Montrose Christian, a perennial powerhouse. He’s extremely explosive and possesses a sweet, Dre-like jumper from 3-point land. Ross decided to take the ’09 summer off from AAU play to focus on personal improvement—a mature decision not always made by other high schoolers. This extra work, along with a a stellar senior season at Montrose should pay off and move him up  in the final rankings.

So what are Duke’s chances? The X-factor here could be Josh Hairston, Ross’ teammate at Montrose and longtime member of our 2010 class. Ross mentioned that Hairston has been talking to him about Duke for a while now. Moreover, our success in recruiting DMV-area players has been staggering over the past several years—Smith, Dawkins, Hairston and Thornton all hail from that area. Ross could provide instant offense with his shotmaking ability and athleticism. Let’s hope Maryland’s loss is our gain.

3. What’s up with Quincy Miller?

In the past few months, rumors have floated freely about 2011 star power forward Quincy Miller, many fueled by his often hilarious and rarely serious Twitter account. Most of the college-related content boils down to a heap of praise for two schools: Duke and Kentucky (although my favorite comes during UNC’s recent loss to Georgia Tech: “Haha so UNC is getting blasted again? Wow”).

Miller has visited both Kentucky and Duke for games—including an appearance behind the bench on Sunday night for the Wake blowout. (side note: a certain C-T member made a sign for Q: ‘We Want the Young Truth,’ which is Miller’s nickname. He liked it.)

Some Duke fans anticipated an early commitment from Miller. He’s established a legitimate relationship with the coaching staff and has a world of respect for Coach K. But he is also enjoying the attention of many high major programs, especially Coach Calipari’s hype machine at Kentucky. In an era of Skyped commitments and unreal expectations, it’s actually refreshing for me to see a player enjoy the recruiting process and explore his options. I expect Miller to hold off on making a decision for a while. He’s a terrific player, and one worth waiting for. Hopefully he chooses the right, um, shade of royal blue when that time comes.

4. The Rivers Runneth to Durham?

Austin Rivers just seems like a Duke kid. Good hoops genes? Check: his father coaches a certain Boston professional sports dynasty and his brother Jeremiah is a starter at Indiana. Penchant for the big stage? Check: he dropped 46 to lead Winter Park over 16th ranked Wheeler in December. A solid writer (think Redick’s poetry)? Yep. He writes a diary for HighSchoolHoop.

As most recruitniks know, Rivers verbally committed to the homestate Florida Gators over a year ago. But at the suggestion from Doc he decided to check out other schools. Well, just one school actually. And that was Duke.

The thought of Austin teaming up with Irving, Dawkins, Curry, and Thornton in our 2011-12 backcourt makes me salivate. At 6’4” Austin has the size to dominate smaller guards coupled with the quickness to blow by taller players. He has an unconventional but effective jumper that he releases snappily, making it almost impossible to guard. Sometimes he looks like a more disciplined And-1 star. He’s the real deal and a unanimous top-5 recruit in 2011. See video evidence here.

This is one of the best recruiting stories of the year, and of particular interest to people who have followed Duke recruiting for a while. Many fans felt stunted by current Florida freshman guard Kenny Boynton chose the Gators over Duke two years ago. While Boynton was never committed to Duke, the general consensus was that he favored the Devils until Billy Donovan made an excellent sales pitch (that may or may not have included Nerf guns) and wooed him to Florida.

If Rivers decides to come to Duke, it would certainly feel like vindication for the Boynton fiasco. Rivers plans to be at the UNC game in Cameron—let’s show him that the best basketball is played in the ACC.

Side-note: Rivers recently injured his ankle in a game against Gonzaga and Tyler Thornton. We wish him a full and speedy recovery so he can be back dunking on people (see the video).

5. Or could it be Zeigler?

The aforementioned “wide net” strategy is in full effect at Duke. The recruitment of Trey Zeigler, a standout shooting guard from Mt. Pleasant, Mich. is further evidence that the coaching staff is no longer content targeting a handful of players per year.

Like Felix and Ross, Zeigler would provide a boost in the middle. He has size at 6’5,” a powerful body, and a solid outside jumper. He is also taking over point guard duties this high school season, which will improve his ballhandling and leadership—two qualities valued at Duke.

Assistant coach and former physical glue guy Nate James is taking the lead on Zeigler’s recruitment: he and Coach K visited Zeigler last week. Zeigler could play a similar role as James, a key component of our 2001 National Championship squad.

Zeigler may be the longshot of this group—he is very keen on Michigan, UCLA, and Michigan State. If he chooses Duke, he’d likely contribute in his first season. And we’d have another ‘Z’ to cheer for. Win win.

To Conclude…

Wow, doesn’t if feel nice to be optimistic this late into a recruiting process? As crushed as we all were about Barnes’ choice—which was difficult to say the least—it seems to have lit a fire under the coaching staff. The competitive fire that smolders in Coach K has erupted, and our recruiting will only benefit. Adding one or more of Felix, Ross or Zeigler will boost next year’s already loaded squad to even further heights. Watch out, Roy.

One more thing: I can’t get enough of Irving. K1 is a future superstar.


Crazie-Talk aspires to cover all aspects of Duke Basketball, including recruiting.  If you have any news you’d like us to cover in more depth, send us an e-mail at email@crazie-talk.com.







Section 17: Sweet Thunder

Wow. It’s been quite a week in Durham, North Carolina. The Cameron Crazies returned to see two emphatic victories over two conference foes that showcased just about everything that this Duke squad can do.

The art of the dunk shot. (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Classes resumed on Wednesday, and students came back just in time for a primetime clash with Boston College. After a seesaw first half that ended with Duke holding a three point lead, the Devils came out firing in the second half with a scintillating array of steals, layups, alleys, and oops that left erstwhile-Devil Gerald Henderson (sporting a Kanye West Mohawk) impressed with his old team.

From the heart of Section 17, the atmosphere against Wake Forest was the best it’s been all season.   With no classes today, the Crazies were out in full force in anticipation of a battle that could match the intensity of last year’s 101-91 victory in Durham. Once again, the first half was a back and forth affair, with the refs very much in control of the game. Wake was in the double bonus at the 10:44 mark in the first half, although Duke would earn the right to shoot two after every foul shortly after. In the second half, Wake sprinted out of the gates to tie the game at 55. But the Devils would finish on a 35-15 run as Duke simply played the Deacons off the floor by beating them in every aspect of the game.

In both games, Duke combined to shoot 5-25 from three point land.  For a Duke team, that’s simply absurd. Jon Scheyer had relatively quiet nights in both games (12 points, 4 assists against BC, 9 points, 6 assists against Wake) against defenses focusing specifically on him. So, how exactly did we average 84.5 points and win both games by a 20 point margin?

A New Shampoo

On Wednesday morning, many a Duke student opened The Chronicle’s sports section to see the headline: “It’s Time to Bench Singler”. Citing Singler’s poor play in the road loss to Georgia Tech, the author asserted that Singler should be “benched” for a few games. Naturally, it was met with ridicule by students, fans on message boards, and Coach K himself. He had a few choice words for the author, who rest assured won’t be writing too many inflammatory editorials anytime soon.

He's just a warrior. (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

But let’s get back to Shampoo. Remember the guy who was named a Preseason First-Team All American, touted to be the frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year, and a candidate for National Player of the Year? Yeah, he’s back. And he’s a warrior. He put together what Coach K called a ‘hell of a game’ with 14 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday against BC, and followed it up with his best overall performance of the season against Wake with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Instead of settling for his jump shot, he returned to the slashing post game that made him so deadly for the past two years. In the second half against Wake, Kyle was fouled hard going up to the basket and fell straight to the ground, landing on his wrist. Instead of taking a moment to recover, he bounced up off the floor, jogged around half court, faced the Crazies, and screamed, “LET’S GO!”

Cameron erupted. I lost my voice in the process. In that moment, he showed everyone in the country that despite the shooting struggles, transition to a new position, and criticism from the media and school newspaper alike, Kyle Singler is still an absolute beast. Always has been, always will be.

Ripe Plum Trees

These two are just flat-out amazing. Miles put together his best performance in a Duke uniform to date on Wednesday, only to register career highs in minutes (32), points (19), and rebounds (15) three days later. Mason came off his best game as a Devil against Georgia Tech only to one-up himself on Sunday as well, finishing with 11 points and 7 rebounds against an extremely physical Wake Forest frontcourt.

Alarmingly athletic. (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

When Earth, Wind, and Scheyer (pardon my arts and crafts skills) can’t get their jumpshots to fall, the brothers Plumlee add a completely new dimension to Duke’s offense with their ability to dominate the offensive glass and dunk with authority. The incredible improvement that the Plumlees have had in just the past few weeks, coupled with vastly improved play from Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas truly give Duke a formidable and deep frontcourt that will compete with the best of them.

It’s been a while since Duke could boast two legitimate post threats, each with a swagger reminiscent of a young Christian Laettner. Both Mason and Miles are walking highlight reels, and both had their fair share of “Oh, baby!” moments on Sunday night. Miles had a ridiculous number of offensive boards and put-back dunks, while Mason showcased his fancy footwork and athletic ability as he aggressively attacked the basket, capped off by his absolutely ridiculous reverse jam off of an offensive rebound. The two brothers bring a fresh mean streak to this team, taking the court with full intentions of dominating anyone standing in their way.

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While we can revel in victory now, this team will be facing a tall task in the next few weeks. This year, the ACC will be won on the road, where Duke has yet to register a win. But this team is as talented, experienced, and balanced as Duke has had in the past five years. They will most certainly be making some noise come March. For Crazies everywhere, that success will sound like sweet, sweet thunder.

Section 17: Are We There Yet?

‘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.

Matt Bouldin is scared. (courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Following Duke’s blowout of Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden, some may have feared of a temporary lull in the Blue Devils as they segue into ACC play.  Luckily, this past week’s schedule brought two teams to Cameron that even the New Jersey Nets could beat.

On Tuesday, Duke welcomed the Long Beach State Bulldogs to the lovely confines of a relatively quiet Cameron Indoor.   With classes out of session, the student section definitely did not pack the same enthusiasm that’s become an expectation at home games.  Nevertheless, Duke’s impressive 84-63 victory allowed the fans plenty to cheer about.

On New Year’s Eve, Duke played host to the Ivy-Leaguers from the University of Pennsylvania.  Penn, which came into the matchup with an 0-8 record, never really stood a chance as the Blue Devils easily dismantled the Quakers 114-55.

Some key takeaways from these games:

  • Jon Scheyer has emerged as Duke’s best, and most important, player over the past 5 games.   Over that stretch, he’s shot lights out from behind-the-arc (50%), and that has opened up driving lanes as defenders play him tighter.  This, in turn, has allowed him to become much more aggressive, as he increasingly looks to attack the rim.  Over the past 5 games, Jon has averaged 8.2 assists and 6 free throw attempts per game, both of which mark an upswing from previous career averages.
  • The big men– I never thought I’d say this, but Brian Zoubek will serve as an integral part of this team’s success as it eases into ACC play.  Zoubek, along with the Plumlees and Lance Thomas, has created a defensive force inside the paint, as evidenced by the 10 team blocks in the Long Beach State game (at one point, Duke had more blocks than LBSU had field goals).  More importantly, Zoubek has averaged around four offensive rebounds a game, providing Duke with much needed second chances.   He’s even become somewhat of an offensive threat, with his height allowing him easy access on tip-in opportunities.   With the ongoing development of the Plumlee brothers, Coach K holds the key to developing a strong frontcourt for years to come.
  • Nolan Smith has definitely been in “The Lab,” creatin’ that monster (also known as a 3-point shot).  He’s shooting 49% from behind the arc, and he’s emerged as a consistent scoring threat in Duke’s three-headed offensive attack.   What impresses me about Nolan is his shot selection- he’s allowing Scheyer to run the point, which in turn affords Nolan with plenty of wide-open jumpers.  As Duke begins to size up against ACC foes, the team will increasingly rely on Nolan’s scoring ability to win games.
  • Not everything’s good news, as Kyle Singler continues to struggle offensively. While he notched 20 points against an overmatched Penn team, the preseason All-American has been overshadowed by Smith and Scheyer on the offensive end. Some might blame the difficulties on his position switch, while others might point to other defenses putting more of a focus on stopping him.  Whatever it is, Singler is clearly not performing like a first-team All-American.   Singler has been trying too hard to create his own shot and oftentimes disrupts the flow of the game.  His position switch also doesn’t help, as opposing teams now usually match him up with a quicker small forward (whereas Singler used to oftentimes play with power forwards).  Though he certainly has the capability to score on anyone he likes, I believe the team would benefit more if he allowed the guards to create shots for him.
  • Ryan Kelly‘s woes continue, as he oftentimes looks lost on the court.  Kelly doesn’t seem as polished as his two classmates, even though he holds an extremely diversified portfolio of offensive tools.  Hopefully, Ryan will find his niche on this year’s team and gain some confidence as the season progresses (much like Elliot Williams did last year).

So what can we take away from these two wins?   To be honest, not much.   We played two teams that we should have beat, and we simply took care of business.  However, we still managed to close out the decade in style, all while preparing for our first ACC game against Clemson.

Here’s to another successful decade of Duke Basketball!