Hopefully not the only Championship we get this year (Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)
A Win is a Win
Looking for their first road win of the season, the Duke Blue Devils packed their bags for the O’Reilly Auto Parts/Reese’s Cups/Progressive Insurance CBE Classic in Kansas City, MO. But besides having a floor that resembles a Nascar vehicle, the Sprint Center also provided the boos, the heckling, and general Duke hate that accompanies most road games. What many thought would result into another Duke rout turned into a fierce battle that included all the makings of an NCAA Tournament game. The Marquette Golden Eagles, at the time a perfect 4-0, came into the game with an upset-minded focus that resonated immediately following tip-off. Though Duke jumped out to a 23-9 lead, the Eagles relentlessly chipped away at the Blue Devils and eventually tied the game at 57 in the second half.
Throughout the game, Duke’s main offensive weapon was the talented Mason Plumlee. The sophomore forward, who seemed due for a breakout game, relied heavily on his athleticism to score 25 points—14 of which came after the Eagles tied the game at 57. Though he probably won’t be pulling any dream shakes soon , Plumlee finally displayed a decent postgame to complement his freakish athleticism. With the addition of 12 rebounds (6 offensive) and 5 blocks, Mason clearly notched the best game of his young career.
Besides Plumlee, Duke saw most of its offensive production coming from Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. The two captains combined for 32 points and 15 rebounds, a solid outing that helped push the Blue Devils to a tough win. Nolan (along with Kyrie to a lesser extent) continues to have turnover issues—he had six in this game and four against Colgate. With Kyrie emerging as Duke’s primary ball handler, a high turnover margin for a scorer like Nolan may mean more playing time for Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, particularly if the two sophomores continue to shoot well from the perimeter.
Another “Neutral” Site Win
Coming off of a tough battle with Marquette, the Blue Devils suited up the next day to face third ranked K-State. In addition the game’s significance as a battle against another title contender, the matchup marked Coach K’s first opportunity to win his 800th game.
Kyrie owned Pullen almost as badly as Harrison Barnes owned himself against Minnesota. (DukeBluePlanet.com)
Though the Blue Devils looked sluggish and lethargic against Marquette the day before, the crew dominated Kansas State throughout the entire game. Irving, the game’s star, showed the entire country why exactly scouts labeled him as the second coming of Jay Williams. His statline of 17 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals does not nearly provide enough credit to the sheer ease with which he managed the game. He attacked the rim at will and led a defensive effort that held Preseason All-American Jacob Pullen to a measly 4 points on 1-12 shooting.
Apart from Irving, the Blue Devil offense manufactured their points through a strong shooting performance from the free throw line and from 3. Duke converted 50% of its threes vs. K-State’s 17.3%, but more importantly they notched a +13 differential at the free throw line. The Blue Devils also found reason to cheer with the performance of Andre Dawkins. Baby D and Seth Curry complete the most lethal backcourt in the country. The two continue to shoot well from beyond the arc, but more importantly they play relentless defense—Curry showed flashes of Ed Reed with his five steals. I should probably also mention that neither player regularly starts, highlighting just how deep this Blue Devil roster is.
As we move forward, I see three areas of improvement for the Blue Devils:
Interior Defense: Though Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee have filled in nicely for Lance and Zoubek, the duo needs to play with more toughness on both ends. This Wednesday’s match against Michigan State should provide a better gauge of Duke’s strength up front, but the Blue Devils will run into trouble come tournament time if they draw the likes of an Ohio State (Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale)or a Syracuse (Fab Melo and Kris Joseph).
How Nolan adjusts to playing with Kyrie: I have no worries about his scoring or leadership capability, but what I do notice is an increased tepidness in halfcourt sets when he plays with Irving. Nolan’s turnover numbers are up, and he took several ill-advised shots in the 2nd half of the K-State game. He doesn’t seem comfortable playing with Kyrie yet, but I do think that his shot selection will improve over time. Tom Izzo’s veteran backcourt should test Nolan’s offensive game, so make sure to watch how MSU’s guards defend him next Wednesday
Mason’s Free Throw Shooting: Could the “Hack-a-Plumlee” turn into a college basketball staple this year? Probably not, but it is disconcerting to see how poorly Mason’s shooting from the charity stripe. His FT shooting percentage currently stands at 43%, a Shaq-like figure that screams second half liability on paper. Mason seems to be struggling with depth on his foul shot, with many of his misses falling short. Hopefully the poor shooting does not turn into a recurring trend, as Plumlee will continue to visit the line more as he develops into a low-post threat.
The Singler Showdown
In the final leg of the Devils’ road trip, the team traveled all the way out to the Great Northwest for Kyle Singler’s homecoming matchup against the Oregon Ducks and his younger brother, E.J. The game was scheduled in large part as a “thank you” gift for Singler staying all 4 years at Duke, in the classic Coach K senior tradition. As for the game itself, it unfortunately didn’t quite match up to the hype level set up by the advertising companies (see 100 foot tall poster of the Singler Bros in Portland). But, perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, as the Devils are in the midst of a hellishly tough stretch of games requiring travel around the country.
Big brother bullied little brother all night. #12 tallied 30 points. (Photo DukeBluePlanet.com)
Duke cruised to a 27 point victory Saturday afternoon, despite some sluggish first half play. The game started off with a Mason Plumlee block party while Kyrie simultaneously robbed the Ducks blind by recording 3 steals in just under 3 minutes of play. OUR Singler started off hot, and ended up torching the nets for a 30 point career high-tying night, all in the face of lil’ bro E.J. The only real troublesome aspects of this afternoon’s game were in the 2nd 10 minutes of the 1st half, when Oregon switched to a 3/4 court press with some success. Until Duke collectively calmed down (with some help from a Coach K “inspirational” chewout timeout), the Devils were having trouble breaking the press and were forcing a few too many turnovers for comfort. In the second half, however, all that changed. Duke snipers Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry did some serious duck hunting from long range, scorching the nets and putting the game out of reach once and for all.
We saw a very, very scary second half run this afternoon, demonstrating the damage that our offense can do in a very short period of time. Specifically, Duke’s lead ballooned from 13 to 30 in under 5 minutes with help from Kyrie, Seth, Andre, and Kyle launching bombs from deep. If we shoot that well consistently…wow.
All in all, it was a successful road trip for your Blue Devils, and we managed to bring home the first of hopefully many pieces of hardware this season. Next up is a wounded but still dangerous Michigan State team. But this time, we’ll be facing them in the cozy confines of Cameron. A billion game non-conference home win streak is on the line here, but with the Crazies raucous and the team hungry, we look forward to taking down Sparty.
Home sweet home, indeed.
Congrats to our Blue Devils for a successful road trip, and for bringing home the first title of this young year. Next up is Michigan State, and Crazie-Talk and friends will be lining way too early for front row spots to Wednesday’s game. Arun bought a sleeping bag this Black Friday for a reason…