Section 17: K Rising

Coach K rose above Dean Smith in the win column Wednesday (Photo DukeBluePlanet)

K-r-z-y-z-e-w-s-k-i.

While the name might be hard to spell, the accomplishments of the man himself are equally hard to ignore. On an historic night in front of a “friendly” road crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum, Duke’s own Mike Krzyzewski tallied his 880th victory in 36 years of coaching D1 college basketball at the US Military Academy and Duke University. Although the game on the court between Duke and UNC-Greensboro was a mismatch in terms of talent, the Blue Devils paid homage to their legendary coach by playing as intensely as they have during the 2010-11 season. After the game, Coach K said he was honored that his team played with such passion, but he has come to expect nothing less. After all, he has instilled in each of his 31 Duke teams his own relentless drive to win for the last 31 years.

Of course however, the bigger story surrounding Coach K’s 880th victory is that of him surpassing the University of North Carolina’s own legendary coach, Dean Smith, in total victories. This just affirms that in the greatest rivalry in all of college sports, one team constantly serves as a measuring stick for the other. The Dean of Tobacco Road had an impressive tenure at UNC, tallying 2 national championships, 879 career victories, and yes, a few too many wins over the Blue Devils. After 36 years with the Tar Heels, all of us drinking the royal blue Kool-Aid were very happy to see him go. This is partly because the years following Smith’s retirement, most notably the DOH! years, were freaking awesome. But if we put down the Kool-Aid for a second and approach Smith’s legacy from the perspective of a college basketball fan, we’ll have to admit that it is pretty astounding. Smith played and coached under the University of Kansas’s revered coach, Phog Allen, who himself was coached by the dude who invented the game. Very cool stuff. Smith was no doubt a great coach and ambassador for the game of college basketball. But now, please excuse me as I take a sip of my royal blue Kool-Aid…

Dean Smith just ate Coach K’s dust.

Yeah, how does THAT feel, Tar Heel fans? Awww, I’m sorry, does it break your little hearts to know that your Golden Boy, the Great Innovator, the Granddaddy of Carolina basketball, your IDOL has now been eclipsed by the one man who you so dearly love to hate? This one man, who has instilled in you for 30+ years a soul-crushing hatred for anything Duke blue, who has elevated your rival’s basketball program into the stratosphere, has finally surpassed your beloved hero. Oh and don’t worry. Pretty soon, he’s going to single-handedly surpass you in the only number that matters: titles. And no, Carolina fans, this does not count as a national title. Now, go cry yourselves to sleep and wipe your tears with your third place NIT banner and your pictures of Jordan wearing short shorts. Good riddance.

…Ahem. Right. Gonna put down that Kool-Aid now.

There was a whole lot of this going on against UNC-G. (DukeBluePlanet photo)

But I digress. As Coach K and Dean Smith would both say, a number like 880 wins really has no meaning if you’re looking at the here and now. We all know that a win is a win, regardless of the circumstances, and any victory like tonight’s sound win over UNC-G is certainly a positive for this Duke team. Some things we can take away from this lopsided annihilation of the UNC-Greensboro Spartans:

  • Duke shot lights out in the same arena that will be the site of the 2011 ACC tournament. The Blue Devils shot 61% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc. Also, although we are pretty solid from the charity stripe, Duke is (as of yet) not the exceptional free throw shooting team that we were last year. This is in large part due to the absence of one Jon Scheyer.
  • This game was one of the few instances this year in which Duke torched the nets right from the start. I’m sure that Coach K noticed our slow starts from earlier games and sought to improve this aspect of the first half. @NdotSmitty was in attack mode from the get-go, and Duke started the contest on a 15-2 run and 6-8 shooting from the field.
  • …Speaking of Nolan Smith, it appears as though he is much more comfortable at the PG spot this year than he was two years ago, and he finished the game with a near-career high 26 points. Now, I realize that this might be in part due to the lackluster competition we have faced ever since Kyrie Irving went out with his unfortunate toe injury. But, it could also just mean that Nolan is a much improved player since the first point guard experiment that Coach K tried during Smith’s sophomore year. Additionally, this year Nolan has a few more backcourt friends with whom he can share the ball-handling duties.
  • …Speaking of Nolan Smith’s ball-handling backcourt friends (pause), Seth Curry showed some real poise with the rock in his hands. He made some great decisions with the ball and utilized the shot fake to near perfection. Tyler Thornton also got some burn in this contest, and although he might not fill up the stat sheet, Thornton played imposing defense, forced turnovers, and as usual, was quite vocal on the court.
  • Kyle was Kyle. He tallied a quiet 27 in part because a certain big man was being quite loud…
  • Miles Plumlee was DESTRUCTIVE around the rim tonight, throwing down two catastrophic tomahawks and a Plumlee Reverse Slam™. “Please sir, may I have another,” indeed.
  • If there is one negative to take away from this game, it has to be the rebounding. Duke was outrebounded by 4 boards tonight, but most concerning has to be UNC-G’s 12 offensive rebounds compared to Duke’s 7. Against teams with truly imposing bigs, such a discrepancy will certainly be a killer.

Aside from all that, this was a fun game to watch from start to finish. Cupcakes sure are tasty around this time of year. Thanks for reading! Congrats again to Coach K for reaching this newest milestone: 880 wins and a spot as the second winningest coach in D1 history. Only his mentor, The General, remains ahead of him…

The Beat Goes On

Hello, Crazie-Talkers.

Yes, it’s been a while since our last entry, and for that we apologize. The collective insanity during finals period on Duke’s campus submerged our staff in a heap of exams, papers and presentations. This writer endured European blizzards and faulty airlines before finally making it back to the United States from a semester abroad. Lamentably—but necessarily—Crazie-Talk had to take a hiatus. Now that the holidays are culminating in days of college football and snow blankets the East Coast, we have returned to provide some more fun-filled coverage of the team we all freak out about.

But enough idle chitchat. The nation’s best college basketball team has produced loads of news in the normally dull period of mid-December, and here I am to recap it:

  • Kyrie Irving—whose 31 points felled Michigan State—fell himself against Butler, and the Duke nation stood up in support of his mysteriously injured toe.
  • In his absence, Nolan, Kyle and Andre have stepped up to lead the team to home court annihilations of Bradley, St. Louis and Elon. Nolan is putting up All-American numbers and looks prepared to build his point guard resume in the coming months.
  • Our legendary coach stands poised to win his 880th game against a winless UNC-Greensboro team on Wednesday, which will move him into second place on the all-time wins list. In the process, Coach K will pass Dean Smith, his former Tobacco Road nemesis—an event that has reignited the rivalry discourse months before Duke and UNC meet on the floor (at least Roy approves!).
  • Our 2011 recruiting class has shined in early season action. Austin Rivers is putting up absurd numbers, including several huge statistical performances in the City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers. And now that Rivers has gotten the Dick Vitale seal of scintillation, I guess we can officially get excited about him (even if his team only managed fourth place). Austin was a celebrity at the tournament that he’s dominated throughout high school, and the national hype is growing to levels normally reserved for people like Greg Oden. Freshman scoring records, prepare to fall.
  • Marshall Plumlee won the dunk contest at City of Palms with some basketball/soccer hybrid tricks reminiscent of his brother’s work in the CTC Dunk show. The Perky Plumlee Big Man Academy should be opening soon.
  • Quinn Cook took home the MVP at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii, as his Oak Hill Warriors defeated Monteverde 58-44 in a battle of high school hoops powerhouses. Quinn had 22 points in the defensive grinder, and knocked down three of his team’s four triples.
  • Mike Gbinije looks fundamentally sound in these highlights from the Chick-fil-A Classic in South Carolina. (MG comes in at 1:22 in the video).

So December has been kind to Duke in all things not involving toes. The speculation about Kyrie’s potential return to the team is already turned to eleven; another “serious” prognostication would just add to the chatter. But what we do know is that our remaining regular season schedule looks horrible on paper. Of our opponents, only Maryland is listed on Ken Pomeroy’s current Top 25, and Duke is the only ACC team in the ESPN or AP polls. If we can stay afloat on the road—which is never easy, regardless of the conference’s weakness this year—Coach K should rack up a bunch of wins in January and February. The Irving Question will persist until a real answer is given, but we have a lot of ACC hide to tan until that day arrives.

Anyway, Happy Holidays, everyone. C-T will be back in force when the crew returns for the spring semester. Until then, enjoy the smooth sounds of Kyrie, Josh and Tyler singing Christmas music next to the locker room tree.

Section 17: The Fall of Sparta

We’ve got a special guest column today coming from Nick Schwartz, a friend of Crazie-Talk and a fellow Cameron Crazie. Nick hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to the Michigan Wolverines. In other words, he had twice as many reasons to see the Spartans fall to the Duke Empire on Wednesday night.

Tom Izzo and the Spartans fraternized with the enemy Wednesday afternoon. It didn't help their cause. (Photo property of Crazie-Talk)

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo led his team through KVille on Wednesday to show his guys that the Crazies are just normal human beings.  It apparently did not impress Spartan forward Draymond Green, who tweeted that KVille failed to impress him more than the campout done by the aptly named MSU student section, the Izzone.  Nonetheless, MSU came out looking about as intimidated as any team I’ve seen in Cameron.  The Spartans gave new life to the term “throwing the ball away.”  Thanks to a combination of great Duke ball pressure and likely some Spartan nerves, MSU repeatedly passed the ball to the sidelines without one of the other four Spartans touching it.

Yet Duke was not a whole lot better, committing its own fair share of turnovers and failing to convert many opportunities on the offensive end.  It looked like the headlining game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge might be a long, laborious affair.

Until a certain freshman took over the game.

Kyrie Irving rose to the occasion Wednesday night. (Photo DukeBluePlanet)

As you are probably well aware, Kyrie Irving poured in 31 points, breaking his previous career-high of 17 with an 18-point first half, which included many key 3-point plays.  While Nolan Smith likes to claim Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” as his theme music, on Wednesday night, Smith took backseat to Kyrie “introducing himself” to America on ESPN.

And I couldn’t have been more pleased with what I was watching.

Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, for most of my life I’ve had the opportunity to watch consistently solid MSU teams pummel over my beloved Michigan Wolverines.  Like many other Michigan fans, I have developed a love-hate relationship with the teams led by MSU head coach, Tom Izzo.  Izzo was born, went to school, and has almost exclusively coached in Michigan.  From his reign at MSU, beginning in 1995, the Spartans have managed an 18-8 record against Michigan (counting 5 of Michigan’s wins which were later vacated). Going back to the “Flint”stones era of Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and Charlie Bell, Izzo has almost always managed to attract the state of Michigan’s top players.  Yet, it is hard to not to root for his teams.  Aside from some of the extracurricular activities of Zach Randolph, Izzo has managed to run a clean and consistent program, attracting and graduating many commendable student-athletes, standing in opposition to many of his peers.  And how can you argue with the style of play?  MSU has developed a reputation for playing strong man-on-man defense, relentless rebounding, and pushing the ball up the court after made baskets.  Izzo has been known have his players perform rebounding drills in shoulder pads.  If only Rich Rodriguez would borrow the idea for his defense.

Izzo’s ability to get the most of his players is astounding.  Pistons fans who remember Cleaves’ brief stint in the NBA can certainly attest that some of Izzo’s most successful players did not get by simply on talent (who does that NOT remind you of, cough, Calipari, cough).  While many Tarheels often jibe at Duke’s lack of stars in the NBA, MSU is much less heard come the All-Star game.

This year’s Spartan team has many similarities to those of the past.  In the likes of Cleaves and Drew Nietzel, point guard Kalin Lucas assumes a leading role.  After a junior year that ended with a ruptured Achilles, the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2009, the same year the Spartans unfortunately fell short in the National Championship, returned and is leading the team in scoring while hitting almost half his shots.  If there is a more established and talented point guard in college basketball than Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen, it is Lucas.  That’s why all signs pointed to this game as a litmus test of Irving’s current status as a very good guard or one of the premiere guards in America.  And unlike most science experiments, the results are without question.

To be fair, for most of the game, Lucas did not even look like the best point guard on his team.  Lucas was overshadowed by his backup, if you can reasonably call him that, Korie Lucious, who led the Spartans with 20 points.  Lucious matched every bit of Irving’s quickness and threw in a barrage of jump shots, drives, and 3-pointers to ensure that the game never got out of hand.

But he's only a freshman, right Kalin? (Photo DukeBluePlanet)

While any win at any time over Michigan State is certainly impressive, the Blue Devils can take some things away from this game.  First of all, the perimeter defense needs to improve.  Korie Lucious and Kalen Lucas were able to penetrate at will and get into the lane.  Fortunately, MSU mostly took advantage of this late in the second half when Duke was in command of the game.  Furthermore, the interior defense could see some improvement.  The Spartans outrebounded Duke, grabbing 15 offensive boards.  The Plumlees often looked lost on defensive switches, leading to some easy baskets by Garrick Sherman, who otherwise did not appear capable of creating his own shot.  Miles will continue to have to focus on stop committing soft fouls if he wants to play a greater role on the team.

On the offensive end, there were times when the Blue Devils shot selection was questionable.  Most notably, Kyle Singler went 5-14 from the field, and seemed to force many jump shots with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock.  At this point in his career, Kyle has essentially earned the right to shoot when he sees fit, but with an offense full of so many options on a night when the running game was relatively quiet, I would hope he remains patient on nights when others are shooting better.

Nevertheless, a win is always win, and against MSU and the second best active coach in college basketball, always a great win.  I was glad when Izzo turned down the opportunity to potentially coach LeBron James in Cleveland, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting the opportunity to see the Coack K and the Blue Devils soundly defeat Izzo’s Spartans.

And who knows, they might find themselves battling it out once again come March.

Thanks again to our friend Nick for writing up this article. Up next, the Blue Devils travel to New Jersey on Saturday to face a familiar foe from last year’s national championship game…