The World Celebrates 903

The buzzer sounds, Duke beats Michigan State, and Coach K is the true G.O.A.T. (photo courtesy BluePlanetShots.com)

Last night, we all watched as Coach K surpassed his former coach and mentor Bobby Knight to become the winningest coach in men’s Division I basketball history. It was an exciting game, a global stage, and a special moment for a man who is always more concerned with his players and his community than with himself.

Perhaps we will reflect on 903 in a more extensive essay at a later date. However, for today, I have collected some of the best coverage of this historic moment from around the internet. Enjoy perusing these links instead of working or studying.

1. Coach K infographic from DukeBluePlanet

Duke basketball’s marketing masterminds are back with this phenomenal infographic detailing Coach K’s accomplishments at Duke. Most astounding figure I saw: Duke has been a top 10 team for 75% of Coach K’s games and in the top 5 for over half.

2. Jay Bilas and Grant Hill reflect on what Coach K has meant in their lives

Two of the most erudite former Dukies hold forth on ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated about how Coach K helped them grow as athletes and as human beings. (warning: Bilas looks kind of like a gremlin in the photo)

3. Seth Davis on the unique relationship between Coach K and his mentor, Bob Knight

Davis can be an idiot sometimes, but he’s put together an incredible story on the relationship that these two legendary coaches share.

4. GoDuke breaks down the 903 wins

The official Duke athletics site charts K’s course as a head coach, from the rough-and-tumble early years to the modern day throne. I have a feeling they’ve had this in the works for a while.

5. Dana O’Neil on Coach K’s career being “so much more” than the wins

O’Neil knows how to pull at our heartstrings.

6. An interesting perspective on the meaning on milestones from NBC Sports

“…[Brad] Stevens will need 27 seasons in which he averages 29 wins per year starting after Coach K retires to catch him, something that doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon.” Coach K’s got this one tidied up for a long time.

7. Shane Ryan on Grantland (save the best for last)

Our Duke sportswriting idol blends personal narrative and spot-on game analysis (Plumlees: ugh) in this near-great piece on the game.

Also glad to see Jay Bilas and all the former players had a good time on the town after the game:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/JayBilas/status/136794571135926273″%5D

 

 

And enjoy an excellent tribute video from DukeBluePlanet to America’s Best Coach.

你好! Around the World in 13 Days and other Shenanigans

Before you ask, yes, we know we’ve been on hiatus for an eternity. Internships, all of us being away from Duke for so long, and life in general does that to you sometimes. Forgive us…pleeeeeeaaase? We’ll do our best to keep you updated with happenings once the school year starts up again! Remember when we brought you this? And this?

Duke hopes to build team chemistry while taking an incredible excursion to China and Dubai. (Photo DukeBluePlanet.com)

In the meantime, as you all know, Duke is currently in the midst of a worldwide tour, stopping in China and Dubai. I can’t say that I’ve been to Kunshan, Shanghai, or anywhere else in China for that matter. But, I did stop in Dubai’s airport once for an 8 hour layover, which pretty much makes me a citizen, right? It sure seemed like forever…that place is straight BALLIN though, and Duke’s gonna have a great time checking out the sights there. Duke as a university is really committed to internationalizing their brand, and what better way to do it than through our most prominent product: Duke Basketball. This is a venture years in the making, starting with Coach K’s own trip to China with the 2008 US Olympic Team. We’ve also done our best to promote Duke basketball to Chinese audiences by broadcasting games in Mandarin (CT’s own John Sheng was the Mandarin play-by-play announcer for Duke’s home game against UVA last year). And of course, we’re building a beautiful new campus in Kunshan.

Anyways, we’re all anxious as ever to see how the Duke basketball team is going to turn out during the 2011-2012 season. While we could simply mope about what could have been in 2011 IF IT WEREN’T FOR A #&!@$&@ TOE, I’d prefer to take the high road and look to the future with hope. In my opinion, this year’s Duke team is among the most unproven in recent memory. That’s sure to generate a lot of anxiety but a lot of eager anticipation and excitement as well. What’s more fun than watching yesterday’s role players grow into tomorrow’s superstars?

Don’t answer that question.

Hard to believe that these guys are all gone. (DukeBluePlanet.com photo)

I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that Duke has lost a ton of legendary scoring, leadership, and talent over the last few years. Losing the entire lawfirm of Singler, Smith, and Scheyer not only set us back legally, but we’ve also lost somewhere around eleventy bajillion points of career scoring. And then, this guy left. And then “that dude” stayed. Seth Curry Saved Duke against UNC but couldn’t save us against Arizona (for the love of God, please don’t click on that Arizona link. It just hurts too much).

Alas, that’s how the college basketball gods are sometimes. One day, they put you on the pinnacle of the mountain, and the next, they Sparta Kick you off the edge. Additionally, it’s incredible how quickly momentum can shift in this one-of-a-kind rivalry of ours. Just at the beginning of last season, Duke fans (myself included) felt practically invincible. We had just won a national title in a whirlwind, near-perfect season, while UNC was licking the bottom of rock bottom.

…But then, these guys went back to sweet home California, started rapping, surfing, and whatever else you do in that damned beautiful state. Kendall Marshall quickly rose to prevalence following Larry Drew’s exodus, and the UNC juggernaut was quickly revitalized. To be completely honest, this seems like deja vu all over again. It really does almost seem like our freshman year (2009), when Duke was unproven and UNC returned all of their star power. I just hope it doesn’t turn out like freshman year did. Don’t click that link either.

Somewhere in China, Duke’s returning players probably feel like slapping me. I wouldn’t blame them, because certainly I haven’t yet given them their due. But again, who on our current team has proven himself? Don’t get me wrong, the potential and talent is certainly there, and we’ve seen flashes of it at times. Like I said, ultimately that’s what this worldwide tour and new season is all about: watching 2010-11’s role players ascend into 2011-12’s stars. Off to China we go!

Subzero finishes him. (DukeBluePlanet.com photo)

As a warning, we as fans must learn not to take TOO much out of exhibition games abroad in August. To start with, Duke’s first game against the Chinese Junior National Team took place after a delayed flight, surely leading to lingering jetlag taking its toll. As someone who has made cross-continent trips to nearby India many, many times as a kid, I want you to trust me on this one: Jetlag. Sucks. Nonetheless, the guys played pretty well against a team with some serious size and aggressiveness, winning the first game in Kunshan 77-64. Festivities shifted to Shanghai the following day with similar results, Duke winning 78-66. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll focus my analysis on the individual performances themselves. Keep in mind, however, that there was some seriously delicious Chinese home-cooking going on, complete with rice, dumplings, and extremely questionable calls.

Great. Now we’re gonna get censored over there.

Austin Rivers: Let’s start off with Duke’s newest superstar frosh. He’s the son of Doc Rivers, the high school player of the year, yada yada…you’ve already heard it all. In a nutshell, he’s about where we expect him to be right now. He’s a prolific scorer, and that crossover of his is straight up disgusting. As a slasher, the kid is nearly unstoppable, and he was our leading scorer during the first game with 18. Judging from his first couple of games, though, he’s also making some very freshman-esque mistakes, especially in terms of decision making and on the defensive end. We’ve seen him play before, and when he’s on from long range, he’s on. But, he’s got somewhat of a tendency of wanting to jack threes to shoot himself out of slumps, and in that regard, he needs to work on shot selection. Defensively, he’s also got to learn that if he’s going to shoot those ultra long-range threes, there’s going to be long rebounds that result. Long rebounds lead to opposing fast breaks, and he needs to be the first guy back if he’s the one chucking that long shot. Besides that, he’s certainly got big-time potential and will be one of our top scoring options this year. The force is strong in this one.

Seth Curry: We’ve constantly heard that @sdotcurry’s been the man to beat in Duke’s pre-China practices. His strengths are evident: he’s a Curry. That means you’re going to get an offensive weapon and a crisp jump shooter night in and night out. What we want to see more of is Seth working off the dribble, trying to create his own shot. He showed flashes of brilliance in this regard last year, especially against the Baby Blue, and it would be good to see him maintain it. In the first couple of games, we’ve seen some streaky shooting but also a few pretty teardrop floater moves off the dribble. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to being Duke’s primary PG.

Will he become "that dude"? (DukeBluePlanet)

Ryan Nowitzki Kelly: It’s absolutely way, way, WAY too early to be making that comparison, but from what we’ve seen so far, this kid has straight up stepped up. Yeah, it’s only been two games, but just by looking at Ryan, you can tell that he is a different player. And it’s not just the Zoubeard. RKelly is stronger, faster…smarter? And he’s playing with a certain confidence and edge to his game. During the first couple of games in China, Ryan displayed a vast repertoire of turn around jump shots, fadeaways, post moves, and drives to the bucket. He finished with 21 points on 9-11 shooting against a big, aggressive Chinese front line. His rebounding has improved, too. I don’t think it’s unfair to use Dirk as the very distant, extreme upper limit for this guy. I mean, purely physically, how different are they really? I hope that he can maintain the momentum going into the rest of the exhibitions and into the season, but the potential is there for him to be one of our top offensive options this year. The obvious big question will be how he does against UNC’s imposing frontline of Zeller and Henson. Everything comes down to the rivalry, right?

Andre Dawkins: It seemed like an eternity ago that Dre came in to save the day his freshman year. I mean think about it, what would we have done without this kid in 2009-10? Apparently, Jon Scheyer had a bigger lung capacity and VO2 max than Lance Armstrong or some crap like that, but what would we have done with a two guard rotation that year? I’ll tell you one thing we wouldn’t have done: win the national championship. We’ve all been waiting for Dre to take the next step in his game. Twitteratti and forumites alike have put his ceiling somewhere near Gerald Henderson. The two are both freaky athletes, that’s for sure, with Dre being perhaps a better shooter at this stage and G a better slasher/creator. G made the leap to the league after his breakout junior year…could Dre do anything remotely close to that? I certainly hope so, and as is the case with a lot of the other players on this team, we’ve seen flashes of brilliance in the past. I remember when he nearly single-handedly brought us from the brink against Wisconsin in 2009, hitting 4 threes in the span of a minute or something. He’s also had some vicious dunks and OMFG moments, like when he scored 28 against Bradley last year. From what we’ve seen so far in the exhibition games, that potential is starting to seep through. Andre’s always been known as somewhat of a one-trick pony (three point shooting), so it was nice to see him make some drives to the bucket against China. Defensively, he’s been a liability in the past, but so far, he’s looking pretty good laterally and help-wise. And of course, the dude lost his braces. Trust me, it’s a good feeling to get rid of those damn things. Keep doing your thing, Dre.

Plumlee the Elder needs to have a Zoubekian year. (Photo DukeBluePlanet.com)

The Plumlees: I really shouldn’t lump Miles, Mason, and Marshall together like that, but now with three of them being on the team, it sorta is inevitable. For the past three years, we’ve had our share of #wow moments and #facepalm moments with these high-flying bros from Indiana. The worst thing that could have happened for them last year was Mr. Irving going down with his now-infamous injury, as they really thrived off his oops and trick dribbles. You know what you’re bound to get with these guys, with their rebounding, leaping, and shot blocking ability. We at CT have got some extra pride in Miles, being that he’s the only member of the class of 2012 at Duke these days. In terms of his potential for this year, I think it can be summarized in one word: Zoubekian. As long as he plays to his strengths and avoids fouls on the perimeter, Miles has the ability to become a rebounding and defensive force. Anything offensively is a plus, and from the first couple of exhibition games, we’ve started to see Miles resorting to a few go-to post moves. As for Mason, like almost everyone else on this roster, we’re just waiting for him to “break out” this year. I know I sound like a broken record, but the potential and athleticism are there. Mason just has to be a bit more aggressive and assertive offensively, and if he can work in a few hooks of his own, well, then that’s just peachy. And then there’s Marshall, who hasn’t seen much burn so far in China, but we’ve seen what he could do down the road. He’s probably the best pure post player of the Plumlees, but he seriously needs to be put on a Michael Phelps 8 million calorie diet (minus the illegal substances). Dude’s Henson-esque right now. So far in China, Miles has been the best of the three brothers and has been active on the offensive and defensive ends, getting into double figure scoring too. But guys, for the love of God, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep working on those free throws!

Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton: Josh and Tyler are the remnants of the former Trio, now that Kyrie’s gone. It will be interesting to see how Josh’s role turns out this year, with Duke having a very deep post rotation, just like 2010. From the playing time he’s gotten during the China trip, we can see that he’s bulked up and has worked on his rebounding. I think that Lance Thomas would be a good potential comparison for Josh, since they’re both of similar build and could be labeled as “energy guys.” For Tyler, well, the one and only @ndotsmitty has said that the PG spot was his to lose this year. We’ll see how that goes, since the position is still very much up for grabs, in my opinion. Tyler was surprisingly steady defensively last year as a freshman, and I remember how his defense basically won the home game against Maryland a few months ago. Let’s see if he can keep improving offensively, too.

Mike Gbinije, Alex Murphy, Quinn Cook: The rest of Duke’s strong, five-man freshman class hasn’t seen very much burn during the China trip, especially during the second game. For Quinn Cook, the reason is obvious: he’s still nursing a knee injury suffered in high school. But, it’s cool to see him take over @ndotsmitty’s role as DukeBluePlanet’s lead reporter. All fun aside, Quinn’s a very talented point guard, and we’ve already seen him play in Cameron. He’s a very, very good passer and an excellent scorer too. We wish him the best in his recovery, which should be complete sometime before the beginning of the actual season. Silent G and Alex Murphy are our wings of the future. Gbinije is long, athletic, and has the gifts to be a talented defender someday, along with a solid offensive option. Murphy is our latest Dunleavy clone, following in the footsteps of Singler and wearing his number too. Can’t make too much judgement on these guys, since we’ve only seen Murphy play once a couple of years ago, but the future seems bright.

Todd Zafirovski: What a guy.

The torch has been passed on to these guys. What will their legacy be? (DukeBluePlanet.com photo)

Potential, potential, potential. That’s the theme for this year. So much that’s unproven, so much to look forward to. Unfortunately, we’ve also been dreading this year: it’s our last as undergraduate Crazie-Talkers. College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, and without a doubt, I can say that it definitely has been. I’ll take so many wonderful memories away from my time here at Duke, with basketball of course being near the very top. Who knows what will happen next year and where we will be…but one thing’s for sure:

We’ll stay Crazie forever.

More to come during our senior year! Stay tuned to Crazie-Talk for more Duke goodness from the student section


Au Revoir, Kyrie

Kyrie Irving has announced his decision to enter the NBA draft and forego his final three years of eligibility at Duke.

 

Kyrie's last game against Arizona was one of his best in a Duke uniform. (courtesy of BluePlanetShots.com)

Kyrie leaves behind a difficult-to-digest legacy, as he only competed in 11 of Duke’s games this season. This writer, having been abroad in the fall semester, never got to see Kyrie play in Cameron, or in a live game at all. Although it’s incredibly disappointing to see him go, we cannot blame Kyrie for chasing his dream of playing professional basketball. He is still a Blue Devil, and always will be.

We wish him a great and healthy career wherever he ends up playing, and we hope he comes back to Durham to cheer on his team, as he did throughout his difficult injury.

UPDATE: Kyrie talks about his decision in this video from GoDuke.com:

Enjoy these highlights from Kyrie’s first huge performance on a national stage–31 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists against Michigan State.

And then maybe this video on Duke’s upset of UNLV in 1991 will help ease your aching spirits. Yes, it was an upset, Seth Davis.

 

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:

Section 17: Next Play

Duke got back to its winning ways on Saturday, with a 76-60 victory over a scrappy Virginia squad in Cameron Indoor Stadium, as 2012 stud Shabazz Muhammad and 2011 commit Austin Rivers looked on from behind the bench.

The Devils played a lifeless and inconsistent brand of basketball for the first 25 minutes of the game —we were still hung over from Wednesday night’s loss against Florida State. The Crazies were lukewarm at best as Nolan, Kyle, and company struggled to find rhythm on offense and failed to get stops on defense.

Faced with a 44-39 deficit early in the second half, top gunners Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins—who finished with 7 and 14 points, respectively—sparked a Duke Run™ that would allow the Devils to close out the game outscoring the Cavaliers by 19.

The game changed on a Dawkins steal and vicious breakaway dunk by @NdotSmitty that literally brought the house down (Yes, our own Scott and Arun are among the only survivors). Smith finished with 29 points, 7 boards, and 6 assists in yet another dominant performance. Ryan Kelly also had a respectable game inside, scoring 8 points in the paint, while Mason Plumlee collected a career high 16 rebounds – the most by any Duke player this season.

Despite cold shooting and uninspired defense for much of the game, Duke pulled out a gritty, hard-fought win against an underrated Virginia team. There’s obviously a lot to improve, but a win is a win. This team will continue to grow as Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Andre Dawkins, and Seth Curry become more and more comfortable with their roles. There will be growing pains, but this team is still pretty damn good. All in all, it was a fun game this afternoon in Cameron.

We’ll be back in action next Wednesday in Raleigh to face the Wolfpack of N.C. State.

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…

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…