The Absolute Champions

Coach K, the seniors and Nolan Smith look on as "One Shining Moment" plays on the big screens in Lucas Oil Stadium (courtesy DukeBluePlanet.com)

Before we discuss Duke’s incredible run to the National Championship this past weekend, let’s rewind a month to March 6th. Moments after defeating rival UNC 82-50, seniors Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and fifth year player Jordan Davidson held court in front of a rabid audience of Cameron Crazies. Donning the fresh ’17-0′ t-shirts designed by Kyle Singler, our seniors recounted favorite memories from their illustrious Duke careers. Lance and Zoubek highlighted the ACC championship last season, and Davidson spoke of how fortunate he was to be on this team at all.

Jon Scheyer, however, took a different approach in his brief speech—he said his best moment was still to come. Would it be the 2010 ACC Tournament? Beating a fantastic Baylor team to reach the Final Four? Making it to the National Title game?

None of these. The Duke Blue Devils won the 2010 National Championship in a thrilling game over Butler—the best final game since Kansas-Memphis ’08 and perhaps one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking championship games of all time. Jon Scheyer’s best moment—and indeed, the best moment for each player on this special team—came on the latest possible date of his career: April 5th, 2010. Almost precisely a month after the victory over UNC.

It was indeed a banner year for Duke. Some of the statistics don’t appear on paper, but they are staggering: 31-0 in our home white jerseys, 35 victories overall and the trophy from every tournament we entered. We took home the Preseason NIT (UNC almost won the actual thing! Almost.), the ACC regular season and tournament crown, the South Regional championship, and the hardwood plank of the National Championship.

Here are some things to think about in remembering this tournament, this team and the young men who made it happen:

  • Jon Scheyer is one of the greatest Blue Devils of all time. Scheyer finished his career in the only appropriate manner—with a national title. His 15 points against Butler gave him 2,077 for his career, putting him at ninth all-time at Duke behind Jason Williams and Gene Banks, who each scored 2,079 points. We have lauded Jon all year on this website. He is the consummate leader by example, doing everything the coaching staff asks of him and quietly exuding the Duke way. In his career, he has been magnificent against UNC in both winning and losing efforts. Jon’s 2009 transition from shooting guard to point guard was so seamless and successful that he was a finalist for the prestigious Bob Cousy Award this season, which honors the nation’s best floor general. Somehow Greivis Vasquez took home that honor over Scheyer (and John Wall and Sherron Collins…). Nonetheless, Jon got the ultimate prize: the National Title, and in his senior season to boot. It’s been quite a ride for Scheyer, who has factored in K’s strategy from the first. Four years after taking a shot to the face from VCU’s Eric Maynor in the NCAA first round, Jonny gets the last laugh over all his detractors. We wish him luck moving forward from this pinnacle of basketball accomplishment. If his nearly flawless leadership, perfect jumper and proclivity to protect the pill doesn’t earn him a bench position on an NBA team, there is something wrong with American pro basketball.
  • Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek developed so much this year. It’s obvious at this point—we could not have won

    this championship without these two senior big men. LT and Z bore the brunt of extreme criticism from Duke fans over their first four years, and many predicted that Miles and Mason would bump them from the starting rotation this season. For the first few weeks of the season, these two still looked lost on the offensive end. But in the past semester, something clicked. We won this championship with rebounding and defense, and Lance and Brian were key in making those statistics the fundamentals of Duke’s success. Zoubek particularly has emerged and become the nation’s best offensive rebounder. His final rebound of Gordon Hayward’s miss was fitting—how else could his career have concluded? Thomas’ contributions this season have also been invaluable. As our best on-ball defender, LT has guarded future pros like Stanley Robinson, Craig Brackins, Ekpe Udoh and Devin Ebanks this season. A few of his plays have been absolutely crucial: his tip dunk and-one against Baylor (pictured at right) was particularly memorable. Unlike Scheyer, Lance and Brian haven’t always been a crucial part of Duke’s gameplan. But this year, when our frontcourt had to step up to support the 3 S’s, these two men answered the call. Without the toughness, selflessness and desire of Brian and Lance, Duke would have stopped dancing long before Indianapolis.

  • Coach K is the G.O.A.T. (of the modern era). Alright, so this is Duke’s fourth national title, all of which have been won by the architect Michael William Krzyzewski. It is presumptuous to call him the greatest basketball coach ever, but I think it’s fair to say that K is the greatest postseason coach since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Coach has led to Duke to 11 of our 15 overall Final Fours, taking the crown in four of them and falling just short numerous times (1999 and 1986 come to mind most clearly). Moreover, K just doesn’t lose when he reaches that critical juncture: he is 11-1 in regional finals, with the Baylor win sealing Duke’s trip to Indianapolis. Although John Wooden is the rightful pharaoh of the college game (and one of the most amazing people in sports history), the Wizard of Westwood only had to win three games to win most of his championships in the 1960s and 70s. It’s safe to say that winning six games over a month is a tougher feat. The New Jersey Nets are right to offer Coach all of their riches. K’s resuscitation of the Duke program in the early 80s, the amazing run in the early 90s and his astounding consistency since is something to hold in awe. Fittingly, the best veteran and the best young coach faced off in the title game—will Brad Stevens be the next Coach K? Steep comparison, of course. Regardless, K has set the standard of coaching success in college basketball. Even if ridiculous publications like the Indy Star denigrate him, all he has to do is open up the Duke trophy case and say “kiss the rings.”
  • It’s nice to win the right way, isn’t it? How cathartic, as true basketball fans, was it to watch two honorable programs play for the national title? In a year where powerful but troubled programs like Kansas and Kentucky were favored to take the championship, it seems like a dose of karma that Duke and Butler—two squeaky clean programs led by no nonsense coaches—were on the game’s biggest stage in April. I don’t want to delve into the nitty gritty details about why those other programs are corrupt (although The Onion did a nice job with Kentucky). But Duke and Butler represented the Platonic ideal of college basketball: two programs that develop players over four years, play team basketball within a system, and think of their teammates as much as they think of themselves. We cannot say enough about the grit and fortitude of the Butler Bulldogs, particularly the unflappable Gordon Hayward. We won the game, but Butler proved that hard work and persistence are just as important as flashy dunks and 5-star recruits.
  • Next year? It might be too early to start buttering ourselves up about next season, but at Duke we like to believe that

    championships come in twos. Although ‘predictions’ about next season are largely unimportant, the Blue Devils will absolutely factor in the title hunt next year. Returning Nolan Smith is a definite, and we await Final Four M.O.P. Kyle Singler’s verdict on his future. The Plumlees will be back, as will Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly. Seth Curry sheds the redshirt next season and he may be the most surprising player of all. Nolan said that one major factor in his incredible improvement this season has been playing against Seth in practice. With a year of practice under his belt, I think that he will be ready to contribute right away, and earn starter’s minutes after Christmas. There’s also no need to belabor our excitement for next season’s incoming recruits: Kyrie Irving, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton were an excellent class even before Carrick Felix committed several weeks ago. Smith, Irving, Curry, Dawkins and Thornton on paper look like Duke’s best backcourt in a decade; it will be up to the Plumtrees, Kelly and Hairston to provide enough bulk down low to keep the Duke train rolling full steam ahead.

But lest we get too excited about next year…here’s Duke’s One Shining Moment. We will never forget this team, this season and the incredible run to a fourth National Title.

GO DUKE.

Appetite for Destruction

Shortly following Duke’s 82-50 decimation of North Carolina on Saturday, injured Tar Heel big man Ed Davis tweeted a single word: “Unreal.” Unfortunately for Ed, Roy Williams and the silenced legions of sissy blue, the game was very real. And it was beautiful.

Dan Shulman noted in the ESPN broadcast that the game was a 2 hour party for the Cameron Crazies. We had a lot to celebrate: senior night for Jon, Brian and Lance, a share of the ACC Championship, recruits watching in the stands, and so much more. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started.

A Fond Farewell on Senior Night

I think a lot of people teared up as Jon Scheyer was introduced before the game. For four years, Jon has been a consummate leader at Duke. An uncommonly intelligent player, Jon always has his game under control and is able to make the right decision. The fact that he was recruited as a shooting guard and is now a finalist for the Cousy Award, which honors the nation’s best point guard, speaks for itself. Jon is an extension of the coaching staff, a true team captain, and should be an All-American this season. I love the guy and wish Duke could keep him forever.

On Saturday night, Jon made his statement for ACC Player of the Year, finishing with 20 points and 7 assists (all of the helpers came in the first half). When he came out in the final minutes, his parents were emotional, particularly his mother. They are fan favorites and come to nearly every game. After three years of home losses to UNC, I’m glad the team gave Jim and Laury something to cheer for.

Lance and Brian played fewer minutes than Jon—with 16 and 20 respectively—but each made his presence felt. Zoubek is making me so sad; his play in the second half of the season has been such an improvement over the rest of his career. He had 8 points and 13 boards, and even had a little Dream Shake and jump hook on the baseline. Lance contributed two points and six rebounds before fouling out with about six minutes left to a rousing “LT! LT!” chant from the student section. His tough D, which earned him a spot on the All-ACC defensive squad, was once again stellar (although, what UNC player did he really have to shut down?) Lance may have the regal tattoo, but both he and Zoubs were Kings of New Jersey Saturday night.

ACC Champs!

In our ACC preview of the Tar Heels, we figured that it would be a race between UNC and Duke for the regular season title. Well, we were right about Duke at least. The victory put us at 13-3 and tied with Maryland for another regular season championship, our 12th. Although it’s tough to share anything—especially with the insane Turtle nation—it’s always good to hang a deserved banner.

Once again, the three (All-ACC) S’s led Duke to victory; Nolan, Kyle and Jon scored 65 combined points. So essentially, K could have thrown them out there with two mannequins and they would’ve beat the defenseless Holes by 15. (Also, Duke could have gone scoreless in the second half and still won 53-50.) Nolan crossed so many people that I lost count. In the first half, he left Larry Drew cemented to the floor and drove for a thunderous dunk. Kyle had 19 in the first half alone and was beating UNC by himself for several minutes. The Big Three came to play, and UNC was left cowering on the bench.

Having three legitimate 20 point scorers is a luxury that could translate to more postseason success. And as Coach K has repeatedly stated, even at the expense of a certain Chronicle sportswriter, our stars are not tiring out—and their continued dominance proves it. Earth, Wind and Scheyer (copyright!) will lead us deep into March.

The Crazies respond to Roy's equation (UNC's Season=Haiti Earthquake) with a little humor. (Courtesy DukeBluePlanet.com)

Coach K>Roy

With UNC’s season becoming more disastrous every game—even more so than Haiti, per Roy—attentive basketball fans have started to doubt Williams’ ability as a strategist. The guy can definitely recruit and is a great salesman of the powder blue program. And he has one great system predicated upon speedy point guards and forwards who can get up and down the floor. But this year, UNC has neither of these things. And Roy simply hasn’t adjusted.

Nor he has been particularly supportive of his players in this difficult season, a point this blog has made several times. Coach K, on the other hand, is still one of the game’s best in-game coaches and motivators. Early in the first half against UNC, he ripped into the Plumlee brothers for a poor defensive effort. After replacing them with Z and Lance, Coach K turned and told Miles and Mason—’that’s how you get a rebound!’ When Miles returned to the floor, he made a fantastic defensive play, stealing the ball and advancing it to Scheyer in transition. K rewarded him with more playing time. Miles came through again late in the game, when he flushed Duke’s final two points off a perfect alley-oop pass from Nolan. He nearly tore the rim off on that one—see the pictures for evidence.

The thing to take away from this exchange—no matter how ordinary it seems—is the way K uses anger and frustration to motivate his players. Instead of throwing them under the bus as Roy does, Coach K rewards his players for improvement and celebrates it with them when they perform better. Miles had a lot to say on this point after the game: see the video from WRAL here.

The Future Meets the Present

Several recruits and committed players witnessed our embarrassment of UNC. In addition to 2010 commits Kyrie Irving and Josh Hairston, several players visited to get a better look at Duke’s program. ’10 forward Michael Haynes, ’11 wing Michael Gbinjie and ’12 shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad took in the action from behind Duke’s bench. The latter two are both top 10 players in their classes, and Michael Haynes may be another option for next year along with JuCo recruit Carrick Felix. It’s too early to offer any judgments on our chances with Gbinjie or Muhammad, but Duke’s dominance surely made an impression.

Kyrie Irving, along with his St. Patrick’s classmate and Twitter stalwart blank908, had a great time in the first row. Irving and Hairston jumped up several times during exciting plays and cheered like mad. You can tell that these guys are itching to get to Duke next year and join this team. Kyrie had this to say after the game: “Hard to say goodbye…but I’ll be back in the summer…” We can’t wait to see what Irving, Hairston and Thornton bring to next year’s team, which has an opportunity to be one of Duke’s best in several years.

Tough Weekend for John Henson

John Henson was easily the best player on the floor for Carolina on Saturday night, finishing with 14 points on 5-10 shooting, including some improbable buckets in the post. However, Henson was the Crazies’ primary object of scorn, drawing catcalls like “Eat A Hamburger” and “Gumby! Gumby!” Nor did John improve his lot with his attitude; after dunking in the general vicinity of Miles Plumlee, Henson got a little too pumped up and talked trash while running back up the court. Perhaps he didn’t realize his team was still down by 30 points. Roy quickly pulled him out of the game and Henson was left looking like a sad version of Lil’ Twist from Young Money. (thanks to “bmorecity_bear” for the spot-on comparison).

But the weekend got worse for Henson, in a way. His sister Amber, a top-5 recruit in the class of 2011, committed to Joanne P. McCallie and the Duke Women’s basketball program on Sunday. Amber had considered joining her brother in Chapel Hill, but Duke’s medical program was too attractive. (Yes! Academic superiority is paying off!) Henson conceded his ‘defeat’ in having Amber choose Duke on his already legendary Twitter. I don’t mind him coming to “dook” to watch his sister, but I hope Cameron is always hostile to him when he suits up.

John Henson promises to be one of North Carolina’s better players for the years that he stays in Chapel Hill. Hopefully his sister is just as talented and can lead Duke Women’s basketball to its elusive first national championship to go with the conference tourney title they won on Sunday. What a great few days for Duke fans, and what an awful stretch for Gumby.

Nearly every bench on West Campus was burned in celebration of Duke's first home victory over UNC in five years. (property of Crazie-Talk)

Onward!

With all the joy following this weekend, it might seem alluring to curl up and watch the game replay over and over again on ESPN360. But as the seniors vehemently said in post-game speeches, this season is far from over. Duke has the tools to accomplish a lot more this year—an ACC tournament title, a number one seed, and a run at the Final Four.

And for once, I am more optimistic in March than in January. I can’t wait to see how high this team can fly.

Crazie-Talk was present for some serious pyromaniacs on Saturday night as benches burned on West Campus. One guy even tried to climb up on one of them! We do not suggest that, even if it was hilarious to see his buddies pull him off (“No, man, that’s a huge fire, not a jungle gym.”)

Check C-T later this week for our review of the ACC Tournament! Go Duke, and may UNC always lose by 30+.

Here’s a little video from the end of the game. Enjoy.


Section 17: Public Service Announcement

‘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.

Allow him to reintroduce himself; his name is Nolan ‘Mr. Buckets’ Smith.

nolankyle

Photo courtesy of Duke Photography.

It was showtime in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night, and Duke put on quite the performance in Smith’s return to the lineup on Tuesday. Nolan led all scorers with a career high 24 points, while Jon Scheyer added 20 points, no turnovers, and threw in an absolutely ridiculous rejection. Miles Plumlee also had career highs in points (15) and rebounds (11). Brian Zoubek joined the party as well, collecting a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with 9 points.

The win booked the Blue Devils a trip to New York City for Thanksgiving, where they will face Arizona State in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off next Wednesday.  Should they win, Duke would set up a potential final matchup with UConn.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After three games in the past week, we’ve learned a few things about this 2009-2010 Duke squad.

The first is obviously the importance of Nolan Smith. After serving a two-game suspension for playing in an unsanctioned summer league, Smith’s effect on this team was remarkably visible on Tuesday night. Smith showcased a myriad of skills – the runner, the stroke beyond the arc, the midrange jumper, and most importantly, the ability to break down defenders and get to the rim. His presence allowed the Blue Devils to utilize the on-ball screen and roll with great success.

But perhaps the most important element that Nolan brought  to Cameron on Tuesday was an air of confidence. He’s certainly been outspoken about having been “in the lab” all summer, but he brought swagger and intensity to the team that hasn’t been seen at Duke in recent years. That intensity affected the entire team, especially on the defensive end. Duke forced 17 turnovers  – an increase from each of the previous two games. By playing long and getting in the way of passing lanes (especially when playing zone), Nolan and Jon were able to push the tempo and get easy buckets to the big guys  on numerous occasions.

Which brings us to a third point. Against Charlotte, Duke’s big man rotation of Thomas, Zoubek, Kelly, and the elder Plumlee produced a whopping 30 points and 27 rebounds. As mentioned before, Miles had a career night down low, and has emerged through three games as Duke’s most legitimate post threat since the days of the Landlord, Shelden Williams. For the first time in a long, long time, Duke will have a rebounding edge over most teams in the country. With Miles seemingly getting better and better by the game, we can only imagine what his talented younger brother will be able to do when he recovers from injury.

While other Top 10 teams (cough cough) have struggled in their opening games, Duke’s solid performances in the early going should be an indication of this team’s potential. This is a very different team from years past, and there are quite a few question marks. We’re not sure how logging heavy minutes will affect Kyle, Nolan, or Jon come March. We’re not sure if our newfound depth in the frontcourt can match up with the best post players in the ACC. But there is one thing we can be sure of: with veteran leadership, talent, and depth, we’re in for one hell of a ride.

ACC Rundown: Duke

The 2009-2010 basketball season is slowly drawing closer. Every Tuesday and Thursday this fall, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order of conference standings – from the bottom up.

Finally, the one we’ve all been waiting for: our very own Duke Blue Devils.

nolan

Nolan Smith will be an integral part of the success of this year's team. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

2008-2009 Record: 30-7 (11-5 in ACC)

Postseason Record: 3-0 in ACC tournament (Defeated Florida State in ACC Tournament Finals), 2-1 in NCAA tournament (Lost to Villanova in Sweet Sixteen)

Projected Starting Lineup: Jon Scheyer (Sr.), Nolan Smith (Jr.), Kyle Singler (Jr.), Miles Plumlee (So.), Mason Plumlee (Fr.)

Returning:

[TABLE=40]

Departing:

[TABLE=41]

Incoming:

[TABLE=42]

The Good: This is Duke’s biggest team of the decade. Boasting a starting lineup with an average height of 6’7″, Coach K finally has a legitimate froncourt. This will allow Preseason ACC Player of the Year and First Team All-American Kyle Singler to finally move to his natural position on the wing. Zoubek and the brothers Plumlee will rotate at the 5, with Thomas and Kelly filling in as combo forwards. Lance and Ryan are solid ballhandlers; LT showed the ability to drive baseline and finish in the Findlay game, a new skill in his arsenal. Scheyer is a sublime player, possibly one of the most trustworthy leaders Coach K has ever had.  He’s calming, even when flashing the Scheyerface. Nolan Smith’s improvement appears to be substantial, and he should step into his central role with confidence. He’s been in the lab, creating that monster.  His legendary Twitter says so.

The Bad: We’re not going to buy into the “lack of a true point guard” spiel – but we should talk about the relative dearth of ballhandlers. Scheyer has proven to be extremely efficient at the point, averaging nearly a two to one assist to turnover ratio last year. But depth in the backcourt may prove to be an issue.  The early departures of Henderson to the NBA and Williams to Memphis obviously hurt. While Singler can handle himself on the perimeter, only having three scholarship guards in Scheyer, Smith, and Dawkins on the roster may haunt Duke when it counts the most. Coach K noted in a talk with the Crazies that this team’s length is much more pronounced that its quickness, a complete reversal from the guard-heavy teams of the past few years. Can this bigger and longer squad adapt to zone play? Will they be able to contain quick guards for 40 minutes? We’ll have to wait and see.

The Crazie: Many fans have focused on “what could have been” this season. The departures of Gerald Henderson and Elliot Williams sting, and many YouTube aficionados lament the miss on John Wall. But look: we will finally see what Kyle Singler can do in the spotlight. He is the clear star on this team, and if the exhibition games are any indication of his play this year, Kyle will be a statistical monster—points, rebounds, and three point shooting in particular. Expect Singler to have a breakout year, and perhaps put himself in position for a high pick in next year’s (loaded) NBA Draft.

The Bottom Line: This is certainly a talented team. Coach K called it the best group of guys he’s had since the ’04 Final Four squad. (Ah, Daniel Ewing, come back!). But the lack of guards leaves us in a precarious position, and this squad can’t afford injuries or bad stretches of play from the “big three” of Scheyer, Smith, and Singler. The first two games without Nolan will test Andre Dawkins, but hopefully he’ll come into his own à la Elliot Williams as the year progresses.  Coach K will have legitimate scoring threats down low in the Plumlee brothers for the first time since Shelden Williams. If all parts work in concert, and we avoid the injury bug (knock on wood), look for Duke to get beyond the round of 16, and squash the rumors that our program is slipping.

Let’s Go Duke!

* * *

Crazie Talk’s ACC Rundowns:

Georgia Tech | Virginia | NC State | Virginia Tech | Miami (FL) | Maryland
Boston College | Clemson | Florida State | Wake Forest | North Carolina | Duke

Deviled Eggs 9/21/09

Every Monday morning, Crazie Talk culls Duke basketball news, articles, and videos into a half dozen of the best “Deviled Eggs” on the interwebs.

Here are this week’s best:

kylejon

A tremendous tandem. Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com


1. Captain Jon Scheyer breaks down 2009-2010

Jon is unbelievably valuable to this team. He’s calm, collected, and really understands the game and his role in the system. Let’s hope its a season to remember for him and fellow senior Captain Lance Thomas.

2. Mason Plumlee is a BEAST.

If Mason can play like this in the ACC, things are looking really, really good down low for Duke this year and beyond.

3.Recruiting Update: Kyrie, Harrison, and Austin Rivers

These next few weeks could be incredibly exciting for Duke basketball. On Friday, Kyrie eliminated Indiana from his list – a school previously thought to be in contention. With his official visit coming up this weekend, Duke is sitting pretty with a player who may be “the next Jason Williams“.

4. Harrison Barnes…what more is there to say?

Yeah, Harrison’s pretty good at basketball.

5. Duke students don’t know how good they have it…

A surprisingly positive take from The Dagger on Duke’s decision to allow graduate students to sit behind both baskets in Cameron this season.

6. Cameron Indoor Gets a Facelift

Check out our Photos page to see what the hallowed arena will look like this year!

BONUS:

Countdown to Craziness: Be There.

Lo and behold, college basketball season is almost upon us. On October 16, Coach K and the team will open the season with “Countdown to Craziness” in Cameron. Follow the jump for everything you need to know about what looks to be a hell of a weekend. Thanks to DBP once again for the link.