Section 17: This Ain't Our First Rodeo

Hopefully not the only Championship we get this year (Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

A Win is a Win

Looking for their first road win of the season, the Duke Blue Devils packed their bags for the O’Reilly Auto Parts/Reese’s Cups/Progressive Insurance CBE Classic in  Kansas City, MO.  But besides having a floor that resembles a Nascar vehicle, the Sprint Center also provided the boos, the heckling, and general Duke hate that accompanies most road games. What many thought would result into another Duke rout turned into a fierce battle that included all the makings of an NCAA Tournament game.  The Marquette Golden Eagles, at the time a perfect 4-0, came into the game with an upset-minded focus that resonated immediately following tip-off.   Though Duke  jumped out to a 23-9 lead, the Eagles relentlessly chipped away at the Blue Devils and eventually tied the game at 57 in the second half.

Throughout the game, Duke’s main offensive weapon was the talented Mason Plumlee.   The sophomore forward, who seemed due for a breakout game, relied heavily on his athleticism to score 25 points—14 of which came after the Eagles tied the game at 57.  Though he probably won’t be pulling any dream shakes soon , Plumlee finally displayed a decent postgame to complement his freakish athleticism. With the addition of 12 rebounds (6 offensive) and 5 blocks, Mason clearly notched the best game of his young career.

Besides Plumlee, Duke saw most of its offensive production coming from Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.  The two captains combined for 32 points and 15 rebounds, a solid outing that helped push the Blue Devils to a tough win. Nolan (along with Kyrie to a lesser extent) continues to have turnover issues—he had six in this game and four against Colgate.  With Kyrie emerging as Duke’s primary ball handler, a high turnover margin for a scorer like Nolan may mean more playing time for Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, particularly if the two sophomores continue to shoot well from the perimeter.

Another “Neutral” Site Win

Coming off of a tough battle with Marquette, the Blue Devils suited up the next day to face third ranked K-State.  In addition the game’s significance as a battle against another title contender, the matchup marked Coach K’s first opportunity to win his 800th game.

Kyrie owned Pullen almost as badly as Harrison Barnes owned himself against Minnesota. (DukeBluePlanet.com)

Though the Blue Devils looked sluggish and lethargic against Marquette the day before, the crew dominated Kansas State throughout the entire game.   Irving, the game’s star, showed the entire country why exactly scouts labeled him as the second coming of Jay Williams. His statline of 17 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals does not nearly provide enough credit to the sheer ease with which he managed the game.  He attacked the rim at will and led a defensive effort that held Preseason All-American Jacob Pullen to a measly 4 points on 1-12 shooting.

Apart from Irving, the Blue Devil offense manufactured their points through a strong shooting performance from the free throw line and from 3.  Duke converted 50% of its threes vs. K-State’s 17.3%, but more importantly they notched a +13 differential at the free throw line. The Blue Devils also found reason to cheer with the performance of Andre Dawkins. Baby D and Seth Curry complete the most lethal backcourt in the country.  The two continue to shoot well from beyond the arc, but more importantly they play relentless defense—Curry showed flashes of Ed Reed with his five steals.  I should probably also mention that neither player regularly starts, highlighting just how deep this Blue Devil roster is.

As we move forward, I see three areas of improvement for the Blue Devils:

Interior Defense: Though Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee have filled in nicely for Lance and Zoubek, the duo needs to play with more toughness on both ends.  This Wednesday’s match against Michigan State should provide a better gauge of Duke’s strength up front, but the Blue Devils will run into trouble come tournament time if they draw the likes of an Ohio State (Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale)or a Syracuse (Fab Melo and Kris Joseph).

How Nolan adjusts to playing with Kyrie: I have no worries about his scoring or  leadership capability, but what I do notice is an increased tepidness in halfcourt sets when he plays with Irving.  Nolan’s turnover numbers are up, and he took several ill-advised shots in the 2nd half of the K-State game.  He doesn’t seem comfortable playing with Kyrie yet, but I do think that his shot selection will improve over time.  Tom Izzo’s veteran backcourt should test  Nolan’s offensive game, so make sure to watch how MSU’s guards defend him next Wednesday

Mason’s Free Throw Shooting: Could the “Hack-a-Plumlee” turn into a college basketball staple this year?  Probably not, but it is disconcerting to see how poorly Mason’s shooting from the charity stripe.  His FT shooting percentage currently stands at 43%, a Shaq-like figure that screams second half liability on paper.  Mason seems to be struggling with depth on his foul shot, with many of his misses falling short. Hopefully the poor shooting does not turn into a recurring trend, as Plumlee will continue to visit the line more as he develops into a low-post threat.

The Singler Showdown

In the final leg of the Devils’ road trip, the team traveled all the way out to the Great Northwest for Kyle Singler’s homecoming matchup against the Oregon Ducks and his younger brother, E.J. The game was scheduled in large part as a “thank you” gift for Singler staying all 4 years at Duke, in the classic Coach K senior tradition. As for the game itself, it unfortunately didn’t quite match up to the hype level set up by the advertising companies (see 100 foot tall poster of the Singler Bros in Portland). But, perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, as the Devils are in the midst of a hellishly tough stretch of games requiring travel around the country.

Big brother bullied little brother all night. #12 tallied 30 points. (Photo DukeBluePlanet.com)

Duke cruised to a 27 point victory Saturday afternoon, despite some sluggish first half play. The game started off with a Mason Plumlee block party while Kyrie simultaneously robbed the Ducks blind by recording 3 steals in just under 3 minutes of play. OUR Singler started off hot, and ended up torching the nets for a 30 point career high-tying night, all in the face of lil’ bro E.J. The only real troublesome aspects of this afternoon’s game were in the 2nd 10 minutes of the 1st half, when Oregon switched to a 3/4 court press with some success. Until Duke collectively calmed down (with some help from a Coach K “inspirational” chewout timeout), the Devils were having trouble breaking the press and were forcing a few too many turnovers for comfort. In the second half, however, all that changed. Duke snipers Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry did some serious duck hunting from long range, scorching the nets and putting the game out of reach once and for all.

We saw a very, very scary second half run this afternoon, demonstrating the damage that our offense can do in a very short period of time. Specifically, Duke’s lead ballooned from 13 to 30 in under 5 minutes with help from Kyrie, Seth, Andre, and Kyle launching bombs from deep. If we shoot that well consistently…wow.

All in all, it was a successful road trip for your Blue Devils, and we managed to bring home the first of hopefully many pieces of hardware this season. Next up is a wounded but still dangerous Michigan State team. But this time, we’ll be facing them in the cozy confines of Cameron. A billion game non-conference home win streak is on the line here, but with the Crazies raucous and the team hungry, we look forward to taking down Sparty.

Home sweet home, indeed.

Congrats to our Blue Devils for a successful road trip, and for bringing home the first title of this young year. Next up is Michigan State, and Crazie-Talk and friends will be lining way too early for front row spots to Wednesday’s game. Arun bought a sleeping bag this Black Friday for a reason…

Crazie Talk Live! Duke vs. Marquette

Fresh off of a refreshing victory against Colgate on Friday night, the Blue Devils headed to the City of Fountains for their first road trip of the season on Saturday. Tonight, they’ll face off against Buzz Williams and the Marquette Golden Eagles in the semifinals of the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic.

Despite losing their leading scorer in Lazar Hayward, Marquette is a solid team with experience (Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler) as well as young talent (Vander Blue, who played with Kyrie and Josh on the USA U-18 team earlier this year).

Join us at 7:15pm EST tonight as we call the action as we see it! The more the merrier!

Section 17: Oop City (Duke vs. Colgate)

Well, it IS true. (Courtesy DukeBluePlanet.com)

Duke devoured its third straight cupcake last night, beating the Colgate Raiders 110-58 in front of a sold-out Cameron crowd. Our courtside highlights are below.

The starting guard duo of Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith was once again impressive in the blowout win. Irving and Smith racked up 9 assists apiece, to go with 13 and 16 points respectively. In the fast break, each player understands when to push it to the basket and when to wait for the secondary break (i.e. shooters like Curry or Dawkins) to swoop in on the wings. That they put up these numbers in just 25 minutes of action is…scintillating.

Our post players had an up and down night. Rarely did we establish position in the paint—most of the combined 18 points of Miles and Mason Plumlee came off of alley oops or fast breaks. We also can’t have these guys foul out regularly. Hopefully, as the level of competition rises (and it’s about to), our bigs will recognize the importance of securing rebounds instead of swatting at shots.

Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins continue to be dynamite off the bench. Dawkins was an efficient 4-7 from the field last night, including 3 triples, to finish with 16 points. Curry was only 1-7, but demonstrated a knack for getting to the foul line, where he drained 8 of 9. These guys are instant offense, and that we can throw a lineup on the floor with three to four outside assassins is quite a luxury. Zonebusters!

But now, all the indulgence and sweets are over. Next week, real basketball begins. On Monday we face off with the Marquette Golden Eagles, an overlooked Big East squad that has opened the season 3-0. The last time we faced off? In the CBE final of 2006, when Dominic James scored 25 points to help Marquette “shock” Duke, 72-63. That was a rough year, we all remember. I prefer to call it “The Dark Time.” And Marquette was the first of our 11 defeats.

Now, we’re once again the hunted. Complacency? It doesn’t exist. Let’s get after it and add this CBE trophy to the overflowing case.

Edit: Duke actually beat Marquette the next year in the Maui Invitational title game, 77-73. Selective memory favors anger, I guess. Thanks to commenter Raul for the tip.

Section 17: Duke a Lot, Miami a Little

Duke trounced the Ohioans of Miami last night, 79-45. While some of us liveblogged, Crazie-Talk video master Arun was in Cameron enjoying the victory firsthand. Check out the video highlights below.

Seth Curry led the way with 17 points, knocking down 3 of 4 triples. Kyrie Irving overcame some early foul trouble to finish with 13, while Nolan Smith had an an efficient 10 point, 7 dime night. Smith’s passing was outstanding: several of his dimes are on display in DBP’s Top 5 plays video.

Kyle Singler struggled from the perimeter—missing all four of his 3’s—but finished with an admirable 8 points and 5 boards. Singler aka Buckets also picked up 2 of Duke’s 10 steals on the night.

Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly started in the forward positions. MP2 performed much better than he did against Princeton, patrolling the glass for 14 caroms and chipping in 10 points. Kelly, who added 7 points and 3 boards, looks much improved from last year. “White Delight” demonstrated a knack for position on rebounds and made intelligent reads all night, even connecting for an inbound alley oop in the final minutes (a la Scheyer to Singler in last year’s title game). Kelly’s added body muscles makes him a factor in the post—a veritable vacuum area with the departure of Zoubek and Thomas.

Miles Plumlee continues to struggle offensively, and may have injured a finger late in the game. We await further details on that injury, and hope that the elder Plumlee makes strides before next week’s showdowns with Marquette and Gonzaga/Kansas State. I think he needs that beard back.

Enjoy our highlights, and leave comments below! We will be back in action liveblogging and videotaping for Friday’s game against the Toothpaste U.

Section 17: Scary, Scary Good (Duke vs. Princeton)

The regular season officially started Sunday night as the Devils faced the Princeton Tigers, one of the favorites to win the Ivy League this year, in the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic.  After a bit of a slow start, Duke pulled ahead and won by a final score of 97-60.  To see some of our coverage from the game, be sure to check out our live blog, led by the Jake himself, all the way from Ireland.

Arun is really proud of his artwork. (Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

The two senior captains, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler (who gets buckets, as mentioned above), led the way for Duke tonight, finishing with 22 and 16 points, respectively.  Nothing unexpected there.  Singler and Smith combined to shoot a very solid 17 of 25 from the field.  Kyrie Irving, in his first regular season game donning a Blue Devil jersey, had an impressive 17 points and 9 assists (not to mention a quite a few crossovers and trick dribbles).

The Devils struggled offensively in the first half but combined to shoot 67% (20-30) after the intermission.  Joining Singler, Smith, and Irving in double digit scoring were sharpshooters Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry, who scored 13 and 14 points, respectively.  Dre and Seth combined for six three pointers and a bevy of pretty jumpers and floaters. The team as a whole shot 53.8% from beyond the arc, going 14 of 26.  Princeton switched from a man-to-man to a zone midway through the first half, and the boys in royal blue took full advantage.

Though the game ended in a blowout, this team still has a bit of work to do on the interior.  No frontcourt player reached double figures, and no player had more than four rebounds for the entire game. For the second week in a row, Duke was outrebounded in the first half.  Luckily, that didn’t factor too much into the final score, but I’m sure it’s something Coach K will focus on in the coming days.  Too many times did the Duke big men allow a smaller opponent to get the rebound.  Before we get too critical though, let’s remember the season’s only just begun, and this was an incredible way to kick it off.  Check out highlights straight from Section 17 below.

On Sunday night, the Cameron Crazies wore Viking helmets in memory of Line Monitor Drew Everson, who recently tragically passed away.  Everson could always be found wearing his Viking helmet in Cameron.  Duke is not the same without him, and he is truly missed.  Rest in peace, Drew.

Crazie-Talk Live! Duke vs. Princeton

…and here we go.

Duke opens its season today at 5 PM in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Our opponent? The Princeton Tigers, upon whose campus in New Jersey Duke’s West Campus was modeled. Thanks, guys.

Princeton is coming off an encouraging OT victory over Garden State rival Rutgers on Friday night. Although the Scarlet Knights of unfortunately named Piscataway, N.J. are certainly rebuilding under new coach Mike Rice, it’s always cool to see a Big East team go down to an Ivy. Right, MidMajority?

Princeton is no longer the class of the classiest group of American U’s, Cornell and Penn having usurped that role several years ago. Nonetheless, they managed a second place finish in conference play last season, and return their top 5 scorers from a team that won 22 games.

For our side, we’re less worried about the outcome of this game—we should win this one, yeah?—than with how we go about winning. Several top teams have struggled in opening games thus far, including the eighth ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, who eked out a win against Lipscomb Friday night. I don’t want to see an iota of struggle. Not an iota!

Coach K is not in the habit of overlooking anyone, and hopefully he can instill a sense of purpose in this team from the opening tip against Princeton. With senior leaders like Smith and Singler in the starting lineup, Duke should be hungry to start pursuing another great season. Let’s get after it, Devils.

As I did for the Cal Poly Pomona game, I will be monitoring a liveblog of the game right here on the website starting at 4:45 EST. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN3.

Stop by C-T for a lively and (hopefully) focused discussion of the game. Let’s get this season off to blistering start.

Crazie-Talkers inside Cameron will also be updating our Twitter throughout tomorrow’s game. If you’re not already following us, please do, sirs and madams.