Section 17: Road Block in Blacksburg

As the ESPN College GameDay crew cast their game predictions moments before Duke and Virginia Tech tipped last night, Bob Knight—clad in his trademark v-neck sweater—said one word. “Duke.” And proceeded to stare into space.

Duke held a six point lead with eight minutes to go, but Virginia Tech simply wanted it more down the stretch. (Photo: DukeBluePlanet.com)

The General was so close to being right. But the Hokies prevailed 64-60 in a game VT guard Malcolm Delaney called “the biggest of my life.” Delaney didn’t deliver on his promise until 2:02 left in the second half, when he hit his first 3 pointer to give his team a lead it didn’t relinquish.

In lieu of focusing on the heart of the home team, which was considerably large last night, let’s see what we can gather about our performance in our penultimate ACC road game.

  • Without Irving in the lineup, Duke’s post players are ineffective. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are a particular breed of player—winners. But while each of them are usually comfortable taking (and making) big shots, it didn’t happen last night, as the seniors combined to shoot 15-37 from the field. Nolan only had two assists against VT’s stifling perimeter defense. So what does this have to do with Kyrie? Well, Irving made this team great by getting everyone involved, including the Plumlees. Remember Mason’s 25 point performance against Marquette? You can credit Irving’s 7 assists for much of that, as he knows how to set up big men. Nolan and Kyle didn’t demonstrate that skill last night, and our interior play suffered. Particularly when the Plumlees would rather try to tip dunk misses than get an easy putback and Ryan Kelly is bricking threes.
  • It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish…Not just advice from this guy. With 7:33 left in the game, Duke was up 53-47. Greenberg called a timeout, VT settled down and outscored Duke 17 to 7 the rest of the way. How did this happen? Well, our free throw woes didn’t help—Nolan and Mason went 1 for 3 with under 30 seconds to go. But that was after Miles boneheadedly missed a dunk, Kyle missed some tough contested “hero shot” jumpers, and the Hokies somehow outfought Duke for every loose ball. It was a grueling game, and the pressure was certainly more on the home team to win and (maybe) make the Big Dance for the first time in however long. But at Duke, our expectations are higher. When we play teams like VT in the Tournament, we have to step on their throats in the final 8 minutes. That ruthlessness has gotten Coach K the second most wins of all time. And it will get Duke back to the Final Four if we learn it now.
  • We must have a third scorer. Again, the Big 3 would be intact if Irving were in action. Since December, our offensive strategy has been “The Big 2″—Kyle and Nolan—plus whomever felt like stepping up that game. It’s been Curry and Kelly on the offensive end, and Mason and Thornton on defense. We’ve put together some ramshackle wins with Irving on the bench in a cast. Last night, though, it was just the Big 2—Kyle had 22 and Nolan 18. But with the seniors’ inefficient shooting and Seth Curry nowhere to be found, the offensive attack sputtered. This will not do.
  • A number one seed is still possible, no matter what ESPN tells you. Congrats to BYU for winning on the road and all, but I’ll still match our resume with theirs. A top line seed is still within our reach. Texas laid an egg at Colorado yesterday, which is a much more embarrassing loss than ours. Kansas has been inconsistent and could easily lose in the competitive Big 12 Tournament. Ditto Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney, and Pitt in the Big East. Duke? Well, we play in the pitiful ACC. We should beat Clemson, and we have a good shot at North Carolina. If we win those two, we’ll sit at 28-3 and will have won the ACC regular season. We have owned the conference Tournament as well, and nobody takes that more seriously than K. With our out of conference wins looking better with the resurgence of Michigan State, Kansas State and Marquette, our Strength of Schedule will likely climb. And don’t be surprised if Jimmer Fredette somehow shoots 8-35 (gasp!) and BYU drops a game to some West coast rando.
  • Save the Toe. All said and done, we certainly hope Kyrie can come back for the Dance. At least one local yokel writer “wouldn’t be surprised” if he does. Everyone has been rumbling about it on the Twittersphere, including the man himself. Yeah, Kyrie. We’re op(toe)mistic about your comeback too. Mostly because opponents will quake in their Kobes when they think that the 26-3 Duke Blue Devils won 18 of those games without the nation’s best point guard. More importantly, the team would be complete again for the best month of the year.

That’s all from me. I always get wired after losses, and would love for some soothing words from our readers. Leave your thoughts about our beloved Blue Devils in the comments section, or give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook.

Let’s go Duke. Let’s keep working harder.

P.S. Vote for Nolan to win the Cousy Award!

Section 17: Owls Caged

On the day that a national campaign was launched for Nolan Smith to win the National Player of the Year, Kyle Singler—himself a preseason favorite for that award—decided he wanted some of his own press. Singler had a monster night in Duke’s 78-61 victory over the visiting Temple Owls and reminded Duke fans just how much he loves to get buckets.

On a night that Duke needed to prove it deserved its new top ranking, Kyle delivered, making 10 of his 19 shots in a vintage workman’s performance. The ever-observant Bob Knight pointed out on the broadcast that Kyle was looking to get his shots closer to the basket, as his outside shooting had been cold recently. Singler demonstrated his tremendous basketball IQ on most of his buckets, finding the seams in the Temple D to get easy layups or get past his man. And I haven’t seen anyone in the NCAA who utilizes the shot fake as well as he does, particularly when facing up in the midrange. So pretty.

Of course, Kyle didn’t do it all himself. There was a lot to take away from tonight’s win, which Duke secured by outscoring the Owls 47-37 in the second half. Here are some thoughts and observations about what this late season test will mean going forward.

  • Tyler Thornton is something of a secret weapon. When the Duke offense was sputtering in the opening half, TT added an unexpected spark, picking up 6 points on two pretty drives and two free throws. He hounded Temple star Juan Fernandez all night, picking up four fouls but helping hold Fernandez to just 8 points. One benefit of Irving’s absence is the tremendous experience Tyler has gotten in his stead. With or without Kyrie, our postseason chances have improved with Tyler’s steady play since January.
  • Is Andre “Young Threezy” Dawkins back? Dre has been obscured in Seth Curry’s growing shadow over the past 5 games, in which he’s scored a paltry 9 combined points. K seems understandably wary to give him big minutes, and Dre only played 7 tonight. But he capitalized on his opportunities, knocking down two threes—including a NBA ranger in the final minutes. Our partner-in-blogosphere  Seth Curry Saves Duke! has been critical of Dre’s lack of oomph over the past month, and for good reason. He has plenty of talent, and let’s hope he builds off of this encouraging performance moving forward.
  • Mason Plumlee shook off a rough first 10 minutes to post a 6 point and 13 rebound line. We could argue that any points that Mason scores is a bonus. His post game is still underdeveloped, but he works hard on the glass and usually knows how to finish open looks. He’s also become a Zoubek-esque vacuum on the glass, averaging just under 9 caroms on the year. On ESPN the other day, Doug Gottlieb wisely pointed out how important Mason’s contributions are going forward. He’s our only true center and will draw some tough defensive assignments in the Big Dance. He will need to be fierce.
  • Meanwhile, Miles Plumlee is still on the lam. I heard he was spotted in the Yukon Territory over the weekend. We’ll keep you posted.
  • Curry and Kelly are our acting third and fourth options on offense these days. Kelly displayed some nice post moves en route to a 8 point, 7 rebound night, while Curry drilled 3 triples. Nolan and Kyle rightfully take the lion’s share of our shots, but it’s good to see White Delight and Seth make the most of their looks.
  • Hey, we shot 16-17 from the line!
  • Hats off to Temple for a gritty first half, but their depleted roster really showed in the second period. Lavoy Allen, who played with Singler and Smith on the USA Select Team this summer, was a beast in the paint. Apparently he’s Temple’s all-time leading rebounder, and he picked up 13 to go with 17 points in a hostile Cameron environment. And Fran Dunphy can really coach, as evidenced by their excellent offensive efficiency in the first half. I wouldn’t want to see these guys in the Dance, especially if Fernandez wakes up and learns how to shoot again.

Now that the dust has settled, Duke is 26-2, and we look ready for the grueling final stretch. Senior night against Clemson is sandwiched between two road tests at Virginia Tech and UNC. If Duke and the Heels win out, the final matchup could determine whether we have to share the ACC crown. Bring it on. As Geico reminds us, it takes two to tango.

Let’s Go Duke.

Enjoy the final stretches of this topsy-turvy season, Crazie-Talkers. Enjoy the below video we made for NdotSmittyPOY.com along with TheDevilWolf.

Behold! The Future.

It’s not everyday that you get the chance to see two of the top 40 high school basketball teams in the country face off at Cameron Indoor on national TV. It’s an even rarer occurrence when two future Duke stars are leading those two squads. Fortunately for us, we managed to catch the action Friday night as Quinn Cook and the perennial prep juggernaut, Oak Hill Academy, faced off against Marshall Plumlee and a local North Carolina powerhouse, Christ School. Check out our court side highlights below:

As you probably know by now, Quinn Cook is the god brother of one Nolan Smith (you might have heard of him). Quinn, like Nolan, is an extremely quick point guard from the class of 2011 who possesses excellent court vision. Cook could be viewed as a pass-first point guard who still isn’t afraid to take the ball to the bucket if need be. In fact, Quinn led all scorers today with 26 points, the majority of which were in transition. Quinn has already stated that he’d like to inherit the #2 jersey from his god bro, provided that it’s still available next year (hint, hint).

Marshall Plumlee, aka MP3, is the youngest of the 3 Warsaw, Indiana natives. He, like his brothers, will don the Duke blue next year in 2011-12. Thus, Duke University will have successfully harnessed the athletic talents of all three 6’10″+ high-flying big men prior to the end of the world. At least we’ll have graduated by then (hopefully). Unlike his older brothers, however, Marshall is more of a pure, back to the basket center with variety of low post moves at his disposal. We haven’t seen Marshall take as many outside shots as his brothers, and we’re pretty sure that he’s not going to be attempting a Mason Plumlee OMGWTF-Three-Pointer anytime soon. Additionally, Marshall has definitely put on some muscle since the last time we saw him play over the summer. Speaking of which, here are some old highlights from the 2010 Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions featuring 2011 commits Marshall Plumlee and Quinn Cook (when we last saw them), along with some footage of 2012 Duke commit Alex Murphy:

Rasheed Sulaimon to Duke!

Rasheed Sulaimon, Scout.com’s 4th-ranked shooting guard in the Class of 2012, has committed to Duke just a day after witnessing one of the greatest comebacks in the storied Battle of Tobacco Road.  Sulaimon represents the 2nd 5-star recruit Duke has nabbed this week, joining other 2012 phenom Alex Murphy.  There were some rumors last weekend that Sulaimon was going to commit soon, and all of us at C-T were hoping they were true.  We are more than excited to have him join the crew in 2012.

Here’s what he says he has to offer, taken from an interview with Adam Zagoria just prior to his visit:

“I’ll just bring a guy who’s hardworking, who can play pressure defense and is willing to do whatever coach asks me,” he said. “Be a great teammate and a great leader.”

Just like Murphy, Sulaimon is drawing comparisons to two players who have donned Pantone 287: Daniel Ewing and a certain @NdotSmitty.  He is a 6’4’’ smooth-shooting combo guard who possesses both great range and the ability to finish at the hoop.  He brings a ton of energy to the floor and utilizes his quickness and athleticism when getting to the rim.  As ESPN.com describes, he “has all the tools to be a special college player.”  We certainly think so, too.

Sulaimon, who hails from Houston, TX, had also been considering UNC, Texas, and Baylor, among other schools.  Check out some of his highlights below, courtesy of Hardwood Elite.

Once again, another top recruit has committed to play for Coach K and his staff.  As we mentioned in the Murphy article, high school players all over the nation think Duke is hot right now, and rightfully so.  Let’s only hope our success continues into the future.

Five Questions on Duke vs. UNC

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s finally that time of the year again.  After a Super Bowl weekend full of national anthem gaffes, provocative Groupon commercials, and a whole lot of Greg Jennings puttin’ the team on his back, we can finally focus on what really matters in the world of sports (at least to us). It’s finally time for us to shift our focus back to the hardwood as we approach what arguably is the greatest rivalry in sports: Duke versus UNC.   In anticipation of tonight’s matchup, Crazie-Talk compiled our own “Top 5” questions surrounding the game:

Mason Plumlee, showing off his post game against the Wolfpack (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

1)   Will the real Mason Plumlee please stand up?

One of the keys to a Duke victory is how well Mason Plumlee plays on both sides of the ball.  In Duke’s two losses thus far, the Sophomore Forward has combined for a measly 5 points, coming off of only one made field goal.  The volatile play, coupled with his 38% free-throw rate, remain key challenges that Duke must overcome if they expect to make a deep run in the tournament.  I expect Mason to have a solid shooting performance on Wednesday, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of those baby hooks he pulled against NC State.  But if he doesn’t show improvement in his shooting by mid-March, expect the “Hack-a-Plumlee”  to become a defensive staple among opposing teams.

2)   Can Duke hit free throws?

Though problems at the line primarily involve Duke’s big men, this year’s squad has uncharacteristically underperformed from the charity stripe.   Duke shot 53% from the line while missing 15 free throws in their last game against NC State, a stark contrast from the usually reliable teams of the past.  While the team successfully masked its free-throw deficiency against State, don’t expect for that trend to continue as conference play begins to heat up.  One can simply rewind back to the Derrick Rose-led 2007-2008 Memphis Tigers (or any Clemson team of the last 10 years) to see a prime example of how a talented squad can cripple under lackluster free-throw ability.

After weeks of tenting, K-Ville residents are finally ready for the biggest game of the year (photo courtesy of DukeBlue Planet.com)

3)   Will the three ball drop?

I know, I know—this entire article seems to revolve around shooting.  But on a team without the senior leadership of Zoubek and LT, it’s time to accept the fact that this squad will ultimately rely on its perimeter play.  It’s no secret that this team, similar to previous Blue Devil squads, relies heavily on the 3-point shot.  A good shooting night can lead to a blowout, but a poor performance can plague an entire team into defeat (see: St John’s game).  If Duke wants to beat a talented Carolina team tonight, they’ll need to find a balance in their offense if the 3’s don’t start falling.

4)   Does UNC’s return to the Coaches Top 25 mean anything?

It seems that John Henson and Co. took the “making other peoples’ lives relevant” concept to a whole new level.  As UNC re-enters the top 25,  The Tar Heels coincidentally have finally made themselves relevant again.  Sarcasm aside, this team has improved tremendously from the beginning of the season. Carolina has won three straight ACC games by 20+ points, the first time that has happened since the 05-06 season.  The recent success, which occurred in the midst of Larry Drew II’s sudden departure (validating the concept of ‘addition by subtraction’), hinges on the strong play of Henson, Barnes, and Drew’s replacement, Kendall Marshall.  They are coming into the tonight’s rivalry game with a lot of momentum, so expect a strong performance from UNC.

Larry Drew II, and his turnovers, will be sorely missed on Wednesday (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

5)   Who wins the game?

Had I written this post at the beginning of the year, I would’ve easily given the nod to Duke in this matchup.  The Blue Devils simply had more experience, offensive firepower, and coaching than their counterparts at Chapel Hill.  However, after the world’s most famous toe—no, not you Mrs. Rex Ryan—took away the nation’s most dynamic point guard, the two teams should enter tonight’s game on much more equal footing.  I expect for this game to be much closer than most may predict—a Duke victory with a margin of around 3-5 points.  At the very least, UNC will play much better than they did in last year’s epic fail (see video below).  Watch for the Cameron Crazies, as usual, to push the Blue Devils past the Tar Heels in a very physical matchup between the two rivals.

Prediction: Duke wins 73-70

BONUS QUESTION:

What will Rashad Mccants’s father post on Facebook after the game?

Analysis: Alex Murphy to Duke

Duke fans woke up to some terrific and unexpected news on Monday morning, just two days before the Tar Heels visit Cameron for the first Battle of Tobacco Road of 2011.

2012 Alex Murphy got comfortable in Cameron Indoor over the summer. (Photo property of Crazie-Talk

Alex Murphy, a highly touted 6’8” small forward from St. Mark’s in Southborough, Mass., gave the Blue Devils a verbal commitment, picking Duke over scholarship offers from Kansas, Florida, Villanova, and yes, North Carolina. Murphy is the first player in the high school class of 2012 to choose Duke, and his commitment helps keep Coach K’s recruiting hot streak going strong.

Conveniently for Blue Devil fans who don’t pay much attention to the rest of college basketball, Murphy’s most appropriate basketball comparisons come from inside the family. Two of his favorite players are Kyle Singler and Mike Dunleavy, Jr.—lanky small forwards with shooting range, high basketball IQ, and deceptive athleticism—and Murphy emulates them on the court.

Recruiting guru Bob Gibbons even gave Murphy a slight nod over Singler in terms of rate of development:

“[Murphy’s] not as physically strong and advanced right now,” Gibbons said, “but compare them at the same level as juniors in high school, I think Alex might get a little higher mark than Kyle.”

When C-T saw him play last summer in the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions, we noted Murphy’s fearlessness in going to the hoop with either hand, activeness on defense, and ballhandling abilities. Add to that list the ability to dunk over seven footers and posterize Indiana commitments and you have an inkling of what Murphy will bring to Duke. While it’s clear that he needs to improve his strength (which he admits himself), Alex has all the natural talent required for big time college basketball. He’s ranked in the top 20 by most recruiting services, and it’s likely he’ll continue to improve in the next year.

That Murphy chose the Blue Devils over several other big name programs is also heartening. His brother Erik, once a Duke target himself, is now a forward at Florida. The Gators went after little brother hard, but after visiting Duke for the home game against Maryland, Murphy knew where he wanted to play:

“As soon as I got back from there I knew that is where I wanted to be…I didn’t make the call right away, but I knew it was something I needed to discuss with my family and the important people in my life. I just knew that was where I wanted to be.”

If there’s any lingering feeling that Coach K is slipping on the recruiting trail, Murphy’s choice—which came pretty early in the game—should put those fears to rest. After picking up blue chippers Austin RiversQuinn Cook and Marshall Plumlee since the 2010 National Championship, it is clear that high school players—ever trend followers—think Duke is hot right now. Our continued dominance of the ACC and another big run in March will help solidify our rep. The 5-stars will come running.

Enjoy the filthy highlights of Alex Murphy from One Entertainment below. Welcome to Duke, Alex.

It’s Heel Week, everybody. Check back tomorrow for the sequel to the legendary “10 Questions for Ed Davis and Co.” YEEHAW!