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!