Happy Thanksgiving, Duke Fans!

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Crazie-Talk!

Enjoy your holiday, we’ll be back soon with a recap of last night’s thrilling win over Kansas and thoughts on our upcoming game against #3 Ohio State. Until then, enjoy another photo of Tyler Thornton and the highlights from GoDuke.com.

This man is a surprise assassin. Don't be fooled, Jayhawks. (Photo via GoDuke.com)

Math 9314: Volunteering An Explanation

Note: If you need a refresher about what all this advanced metric mumbo jumbo really means, see yesterday’s post to turn yourself into an all-knowing wizard of basketball statistics.

Let’s take a look at yesterday’s 77-67 victory over Tennessee, shall we? On the motion chart below, you currently see GameScores on the x-axis, the eFG% on the y-axis, and the size of each player’s bubble is determined by his Usage% from last night’s game. Press the ‘play’ button or scroll to the right to observe metrics from last night’s win. With this motion chart you can see all four metrics charted against one another in whatever manner you’d like for every game Duke has played this season. You can also isolate each individual player to track his performance. The first thing that jumps out at you upon examination of the metrics from the Tennessee game is where the bubbles are positioned on the chart. Unlike a much more statistically efficient game against Davidson, Duke only registered three players with GameScores above 10 last night. Only Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly were able to break double digits. However, you will also notice that despite the low GameScores, six out of the nine Blue Devils that played last night had above a 40% eFG%. This indicates that despite the fact that Duke shot well (48.1% from the field and 38.9% from 3-point range), the Blue Devils were extremely inefficient thanks to sloppy offensive execution, 13 turnovers, and 18 team fouls.

Upon examining individual performances from last night, some interesting trends arise.

Austin Rivers nails a floater against Tennessee (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Look Past The Scoring
Austin Rivers sticks out like a sore thumb. Although he was able to turn around a rough start to finish with a team-high 18 points, Rivers only registered the third highest GameScore on the team with 10 (the definition of average in terms of GameScore). Meanwhile, his 39% Usage% was a team-high as well, besting his next closest competitor, Quinn Cook, by 14%. This means that while Austin was on the floor, he accounted for 39% of his team’s shots. Although a Usage % this high would not be uncommon for an elite player, Rivers has yet to play like one. 14.2 points per game along with 40.4% shooting from the floor and 68.0% free throw shooting are not perfect numbers, and don’t warrant 39% of the possession. Rivers has shown flashes of brilliance this season, especially in the second half of last night’s game, but needs to become more efficient in his play. If he wants to take his game to the next level, he’ll need to slow down his thought process and break out of his tunnel vision. Sometimes splitting double teams and taking on big men is not his best option. Duke will take his scoring production, but not at the cost of 6/15 shooting. For more on Rivers, check out Sebastian Pruiti’s most recent article for Grantland for some excellent analysis.

No Surprise
After showing what he can do during the stretch run of ACC play last season, Seth Curry has been the Blue Devils’ greatest scoring threat, and is doing so in an efficient manner. His 12.9 GameScore was second on the team against Tennessee, and he was able to do so with a 55% eFG% and only a 22% Usage%. Over the team’s five games, Curry has registered a low GameScore of 10.2 with a high of 20.6 against Michigan State, all the while shooting with an eFG% above 54% in each contest. Meanwhile, his Usage% has been considerably lower than Rivers’, and has been less than 23% in four of Duke’s five contests. Though last night was not Curry’s best statistical performance of the season, the Blue Devils will take 17 points and four assists on 5/10 shooting from Seth any day. They’ll just consider his 1 of 4 shooting from beyond the arc an anomaly.

Ryan Kelly pulls up for three in the Blue Devils' victory over Tennessee (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Duke’s Unsung Hero
Curry and Rivers have received much of the credit for Duke’s early season success, but arguably Duke’s most consistent player this season has been junior Ryan Kelly. In five games this year Kelly has posted GameScores between 9.4 and 15 each time, while registering above a 58% eFG% and below a 24% Usage% in four of his five games this year. Kelly has been a consistent scoring threat, and his promotion into the starting lineup in place of Miles Plumlee, whose play has been lackluster this season, was well deserved. Ryan’s 17 points and six rebounds on 5/9 shooting in just 27 minutes last night earned him a GameScore of 14 to go along with his 67% eFG%. This earned him the title of Duke’s most efficient player and second most efficient shooter in their victory over the Volunteers.

A Blast From The Past?
All advanced metrics aside, this year’s Duke team appears to be a significantly more talented version of the 2007-08 Blue Devils, who fell in the second round of the NCAA tournament to West Virginia. Much like the current Duke team, the ‘07-08 team had only one senior and a crop of juniors to lead a relatively inexperienced squad. The team also struggled with an identity crisis throughout the year, failing to recognize who their star was and scoring by committee. Both the ’07 team and today’s Blue Devils had five players averaging double figures in scoring, and it was unclear who would lead the team on a given night. However the main difference we see between these teams is that the 2007 team’s roster didn’t have players that could single-handedly take over games. DeMarcus Nelson, Greg Paulus, and Gerald Henderson along with Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer in their early years were never going to put the team on their back and carry them to victory. However, Curry, Rivers, and Andre Dawkins have proven this year that they can score in bunches and Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee have provided some much needed consistency inside that Duke teams have not had since Shelden Williams roamed the paint in Cameron.

We hope this look behind the box score has been an enlightening one, and look forward to bringing you more data as the season presses onwards. Be on the lookout for our live blog of the Maui Invitational semifinals against 15th ranked Michigan later this evening along with game and statistical recaps tomorrow. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Section 17: Duke Trumps Volunteers, Set Up Rematch with Michigan

Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

Austin Rivers d's up. He had 18 points in the game. (Photo via BluePlanetShots.com)

Through four games, Duke looked like a talented team without a fixed identity. We escaped against Belmont by one point at home, and many fans in Cameron gaped in bewilderment. We looked ready to roll against Michigan State before the Spartans cut a double digit lead to 5 by the buzzer. Davidson had a fantastic first half before the Plumlee connection overcame the Wildcats in the second half. Blue Devil fans, including the Crazie-Talk cadre, were never sure of victory despite the high level of talent on this team.

And so we went to Maui, where we faced off against upstart coach Cuonzo Martin’s Tennessee Volunteers in the quarterfinals. The Vols have had their fair share of scandal in the past year, with formerly lauded coach Bruce Pearl dismissed at the end of last season. The new look Tennessee squad never truly backed down; their lack of organization and a tendency to take bad shots doomed them against Duke, but they were athletic and feisty through Monday’s 40 minutes. Duke finally got it together in the final eight minutes of action, pulling away to a 77-67 victory in the Lahaina Civic Center, where we have never lost in four previous Maui Invitationals.

Here are some of my observations from the night.

  • Our three point defense against the Vols was fantastic. Tennessee took eight shots from beyond the arc and connected on none of them. I attribute this to our ball-hawking perimeter defense. This facet of our defensive strategy is both a gift and a curse: we often pressure shooters at the expense of dribble penetration. The Vols were more keen on taking shots closer to the bucket anyway–they shot 50 times from within the arc and collected 10 offensive rebounds. However, Tennessee is not a bad outside shooting team. Even after tonight, the team shoots threes at a 49.1% clip. If Coach K is comfortable funneling shooters to the paint and protecting the three point arc, let’s hope our big men can handle it against better teams in the future.
  • Ryan Kelly is our most consistent offensive player. The White Raven has proven his mettle this year, quietly of course. The Raleigh native doesn’t burn up in a blaze of glory, he simmers like a tender pot roast (Thanksgiving metaphors!). Against Tennessee, he had 17 points and six rebounds–a ho hum night for a star player, but a testament to Kelly’s skill at taking what comes to him. Yesterday, we wrote about Kelly’s incredible effective field goal percentage, and he continued that trend against the Vols. Kelly shot 5-9 from the field, made five of six free throws and two threes. His buckets came at important times in the game, too. With about four minutes to go, Kelly was on the finishing end of a Seth Curry alley oop that permanently shifted momentum in the game to the Devils. As Curry recovered the loose ball, Kelly saw the play developing and made the smartest possible play: a cut to the basket and a call for the ball. It’s no secret that Kelly is one of the smartest players on the Duke team–he had extremely high SAT scores and studies in the demanding Sanford School of Public Policy. As a junior captain, he has shown his ability to lead Duke to wins in competitive games. I’m glad the White Raven is flying with Duke.
  • Mason Plumlee and Austin Rivers showed flashes of offensive brilliance, but just flashes. Mason and Austin are the most hyped players on the team this year, mostly because of their NBA potential (never mind that Curry and Kelly are the most productive, of course). Monday night was up and down for each of these studs. Rivers took several boneheaded shots in the first half, killing Duke momentum and allowing Tennessee easy transition opportunities. Plum2 was 3-5 from the field, but showed a tendency to dribble himself into trouble with his back to the basket. In the second half, each player had fantastic finishes: Mason’s left handed finish and one and Rivers’ many floaters come to mind. Both Mason and Austin have oodles of ability, and since K is the master of November, he will find ways to help each player grow as the season progresses, even when making mistakes. Certainly both will have to be more efficient if we plan to go deep in March. Luckily, March is months away.
  • Free throw shooting needs work. 18-27 will not cut it when we start conference play. Oh wait, the ACC still sucks. Still, though.
  • The backup PG duo of Thornton and Cook were up and down, but I believe in them. Thornton, our requisite defensive stopper, bodied up against Tennessee’s best player, Trae Golden. He fouled out. Cook posted a eclectic line of two points, two boards, a steal, a block and an assist. He did seem a little bit out of control, though, and only was on the floor for eight minutes. Many have made the observation that “Duke plays better” with Thornton on the floor, and that is usually true of the sophomore. Cook is still recovering from a knee injury and will surely grow as a guard as the season goes on. So, let’s just wait to see what happens for these two guys.
  • Rebounding can be better. Chalk some of it up to Tennessee’s wildly inconsistent shot selection, but they had 10 offensive boards to our eight, and outrebounded us 34-33 overall. This should not happen when we have three upperclassmen 6’10” or taller.

Tonight, we face off with a surging Michigan Wolverines squad who handily beat favored Memphis yesterday. Duke-Michigan carries heavy historical connotations, which were reignited last season by Jalen Rose’s foolish “Uncle Tom” comments about Duke legend Grant Hill. Then we barely escaped from Michigan in the NCAA second round, saved only by Kyrie Irving’s late game floater. Michigan has already beaten Duke once this year by securing the commitment of coveted high school senior Mitch McGary. The Wolverines, true to their mascot, will be out for blood against Duke for all these reasons. There shall be fireworks.

We’ll be back with another liveblog of tomorrow’s action; tipoff should be around  7 PM on ESPN. Thanks to all of those who participated in last night’s liveblog, by the way.

See you at 7PM. Go Duke.

Bonus footage: Highlights from Duke’s most recent Maui championship from DBP in 2008. Whoa, remember Greg Paulus?!? Whoa, remember Taylor “2 packs a day” King? Well, we are now 13-0 in the event.

Correction appended 11/23/11: Tyler Thornton is a sophomore, not a junior. Whoops. 

 

Section 17: Kicking Off 2011 With A Double Dose of Craziness

Tyler Thornton drains a three against Belmont (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Every Duke student has a definitive first game experience, and mine surely did not disappoint. Duke’s surprisingly competitive win against the Belmont Bruins felt like a matchup of NCAA tournament-bound teams in late February, not a matchup of Maui-bound teams in early November.

Most of my fellow students had not properly scouted our opponents and understood how good of a team Belmont actually is. For those of you who don’t know, Belmont won 30 games last year en route to an Atlantic Sun conference championship and an NCAA tournament berth. They also were extremely experienced, returning 9 of the 11 players who averaged double digit minutes last season. They also weren’t exactly flying under anyone’s radar. Belmont received votes in the Associated Press preseason basketball polls. Though they were not ranked in the preseason top 25, with the votes they had received the Bruins would have been considered the 31st ranked team in the country.

Coach K unveiled his first starting lineup of the year, beginning the game with Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, and Andre Dawkins in the backcourt with Miles and Mason Plumlee up front. This was, in some ways, surprising —I personally would have opted for the much more consistent Ryan Kelly in favor of Miles and the Tyler Thornton, who has had a fantastic preseason instead of the shaky Andre Dawkins. Then again, there is a reason why Coach K is tied as the winningest coach in Division I history (more on that later) and I am not.

The game began and Duke didn’t seem to jump too quickly out of the gate. The team struggled to find its footing as Krzyzewski tinkered with a few lineups throughout the first half. Strong play from Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee helped to put the team in front. Although freshman Austin Rivers did not shoot very well from the floor in his first regular season outing as a Blue Devil, he was able to create penetration and convert on many opportunities from the foul line en route to a team high 16 points on the night. On the other hand, Rivers also committed a team-high five turnovers on the game, a statistic that will certainly need to come down as the season wears on.

Although Duke shot fairly well from the floor and extremely well from beyond the arc, they just couldn’t seem to put Belmont away in the first half. One of the main reasons for this was the Blue Devils’ inability to hold onto the ball. Duke turned the ball over 19 times over the course of the game, a statistic that will not hold up against most viable regular season opponents. These turnovers along with some shoddy play on the defensive end led to many open shots for the Bruins—shots that a good Division I basketball team will not miss if they are given. Belmont converted on these opportunities, and the Blue Devils held a slim, but mildly comfortable 39-30 lead heading into halftime.

This was the type of game where you expected Duke to allow its opponent to hang around for the first half before returning to form and dominating the rest of the game. Last night that did not happen. Belmont came out on a 7-2 run to start the second half, trimming Duke’s lead to four. No one on the Duke sideline seemed content with this performance, and the crowd most certainly seemed out of it. Duke continued playing cat and mouse with Belmont, maintaining a 10-point lead with 9 minutes to go in the game. With desperation setting in, Belmont began draining threes, cutting the lead to six with 8:37 to play, forcing Duke into a timeout.

Mason Plumlee shows off his low post moves against Presbyterian (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

This was the “moment of truth” type situation we had been questioning all off-season. With the game on the line, who was going to step up lead this team? The answer was surprising, and most certainly was not how you’d have thought of this team a year ago.

The first key was the play of Mason Plumlee. For the first time in his Duke career, Mason’s offensive game was not purely physical; he showed true signs of a refined post game. He was able to create down low en route to 13 points, 14 rebounds and a team high six assists on the game. He was a sure bet on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, and he made one of the plays of the game with a huge block in the waning minutes of the game.

When Mason was unable to create down low, Ryan Kelly was there to pick up the slack. Kelly showed his improved post game as well, finishing down low, including a crucial three-point play with Duke holding a slim one-point lead. He finished the game with 12 points and six rebounds, but the key to his contribution was a perfect six of six from the charity stripe.

In the final six minutes of the game, the subdued Cameron Crazies finally started to come alive. In a string of events that included Kelly’s three-point play, a Belmont travel, Mason’s huge block, a Mason Plumlee put-back dunk, and a Tyler Thornton steal that led to an Austin Rivers dunk, the student section caused the building to shake. Ironically, standing in as close quarters as humanly possibly to my Crazie brothers and sisters and going absolutely crazy during an intense moment, I realized that there is absolutely no other way I could possibly take in a Duke basketball game. Being packed in together creates a bond and an electricity that is unexplainable.

The true key of the Blue Devils holding onto their lead late in the game was the play of Tyler Thornton, who turned in the game of his life against Belmont. He shot perfectly from the field, including two of two from beyond the arc, turning in 10 points to go along with two rebounds, two assists, and three steals. On both the offensive and defensive ends, when there was a big play to be made, Thornton was there to make it. Tyler’s performance gained him significant recognition from Duke’s student section, who were extremely appreciative of his inspired play in such a crucial moment.

With Duke’s lead down to one, it was neither of these three crucial players who would step up and drain the big shot. After Duke watched a six-point lead evaporate in the last 1:23 of the game, Duke held just a 72-71 advantage and the ball with 51.0 seconds remaining in the contest. After an inability to create in their offensive set Krzyzewski called a timeout with 27.8 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down and Duke’s sideline play seemingly broken, it wasn’t Seth Curry or Austin Rivers or Tyler Thornton but Andre Dawkins who flashed off a screen and had no fear in his eyes nailed an NBA-range three, only his second field goal in a contest where he did not shoot or play well at all. After a quick layup by Belmont, Ryan Kelly knocked down two more free throws to put the game out of reach, free throws that meant much more after the Bruins nailed a desperation three at the buzzer, giving Duke a mere one-point victory.

Though there were definite areas with room for improvement, it was a hard fought win for the Blue Devils. The team most certainly struggled out there, but at least it was good to watch the team struggle and overcome the obstacle. In my experience watching Duke basketball, the difference between the Duke teams that have been very good and the Duke teams that have been national championship teams were their sense of resilience. Duke’s greatest teams have always been able to bounce back, even when they do not play their best game; they will bend and not break. The Blue Devils showed a bit of that spirit in this game.

After an emotional win the Blue Devils had a quick turnaround for their next home game, facing Presbyterian College the following afternoon. The Blue Hose (let’s get all Blue Hose jokes out of the way please, we like integrity around here) proved to be little match for Duke, as the game signaled a much needed return to business as usual. The Blue Devils dominated Presbyterian from start to finish, while fixing their turnover woes, only committing 10 in the game. Duke shot an incredible 61.4% from the field on the afternoon, with stellar inside contributions from both Miles and Mason Plumlee, both of whom registered 13 points. They also added 11 and 8 rebounds respectively as the team’s top two rebounders. Both Miles and Mason added huge dunks off of baseline drives about three minutes apart midway through the second half. No one in the building was happier to see this than younger brother Marshall Plumlee, who was up and out of his seat on both occassions and could not contain his brotherly excitement. Austin Rivers played a much-improved contest, shooting five of eight from the field en route to 15 points and a team-high six assists. Rivers also played tenacious defense, recording three of Duke’s six steals.

The Blue Devils also received stellar performances off the bench from Ryan Kelly, who added 17 points and another evening of perfect free throw shooting, and freshman Quinn Cook, who in his first extended action of the season played some electrifying point guard, recording 10 points in just 18 minutes of action. It was great to see Josh Hairston get some action off the bench after his inconspicuous absence against Belmont, recording a solid nine points and six rebounds while playing fantastic defense throughout. Even junior Todd Zafirovski got into the action in the game’s final moments. In my limited Cameron Indoor Stadium experience, it hasn’t taken long for me to figure out that Zafirovski is certainly a fan favorite around here, receiving high praise for his 0 for 1 shooting performance and lone rebound off the bench in three minutes of action. Despite only shooting 18 of 31 from the free throw line as a team, a stat that will need to improve in the next few games, the Blue Devils rolled to an easy 96-55 win over the Blue Hose. Although it seemed like a mundane victory over an inferior opponent, this win most likely marks one of the more significant wins I will ever see in my time at Duke.

The Blue Devils’ victory marks win number 902 in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career, tying him with his mentor, Bob Knight, for most career wins in Division I history.

Coach K embraced by his team after his 902nd career victory (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Section 17: Ringing the Bell(armine) on a New Year

Walking into Cameron Indoor Stadium last night, you might have mistaken it for a regular season game. The arena was packed to the brim, a chill in the air gave the evening a wintery feel, and the excitement was palpable. Then the game and the harsh reality sets in—this was an exhibition, and at times Duke looked a bit more like a Division II team than their opponents did.

Seth Curry drives baseline against Bellarmine (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Now let’s keep this all in perspective. Although there were many negatives to dwell on, Duke overcame a rocky start to cruise to an 87-62 victory over defending Division II national champion Bellarmine Saturday night.

The game hadn’t even started yet before the Cameron faithful had their first shock of the season, as freshman Alex Murphy was announced as a starter over experienced junior Andre Dawkins. Murphy had been highly acclaimed by head coach Mike Krzyzewski throughout their first weeks of practice for his defensive abilities, but he contributed essentially nothing on the offensive end.  Zero points, one rebound, one assist, and two steals in 13 minutes of action. Those don’t sound like starter numbers. Meanwhile, Ryan Kelly, the team’s greatest offensive weapon from their summer tour overseas, came off the bench scoring ten points.

The offense started out slow and out of sorts, while Bellarmine shot 39% from 3-point range in the first half. Duke shot terribly from beyond the arc, converting on just 14% of three point attempts for the game, going without a three for the game’s first thirty minutes. For a team that in the past has lived and died on 3-point shooting, this is a terrifying statistic. Duke also struggled to maintain possession, turning over the ball 19 times over the course of the game, including 12 in the first half. Keep in mind that Duke only had 19 turnovers in a game three times last year. Granted, they won all three of those games, but you get the point. This lackadaisical effort combined with mediocre perimeter defense led to many open transition jumpers for the Knights. When shots were raining down near the end of the first half, for just a split second fans had a legitimate reason to question whether or not Duke would win this game at all, let alone do so comfortably.

The Blue Devils were able to correct many of these issues in the second half to an extent, shooting 64% from the field to pull away to a 25-point victory. Seth Curry led Duke with 18 points on 7 for 17 shooting while freshman Austin Rivers added 13 points.

Mason Plumlee dunks against Bellarmine (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Mason Plumlee played a very impressive game for the Blue Devils, shooting a perfect 8-8 from the field for 16 points, and adding 9 rebounds on the game. Following a poor showing at Countdown to Craziness where the athletic Plumlee appeared to be in great shape but played out of control, Mason looked as though he found the perfect balance against Bellarmine. Older brother Miles Plumlee added 14 points and 8 boards, but was exploited defensively on a few occasions. Whether or not all of their options play consistently, Duke will always have at least one option on the low block this coming season.

A huge question entering the year was who would run the point with Duke’s starting lineup. While both Seth Curry and Austin Rivers split time taking up the ball, as expected, the biggest surprise of the evening came from Duke’s true point guards, Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook. Thornton provided five points and three assists in 24 minutes while exhibiting his usual lockdown defense, and he was crucial in controlling the flow and tempo of the offense. Thornton, who drained one of Duke’s two three pointers with less than nine minutes remaining in the second half, garnered great praise from Krzyzewski in his postgame press conference. Meanwhile, Cook provided us with the most impressive performance of the game, scoring four points while adding two rebounds and five assists in just seven minutes of action. From the second he stepped on the floor, Cook was absolutely electric. He was quick off the dribble, feeding his teammates for easy buckets and navigating the lane like he had played quite a few games in Cameron before this one.

Though he saw moderate playing time, Andre Dawkins was strangely absent from this game. Dawkins did not receive the start as Krzyzewski opted for freshman Alex Murphy. Meanwhile in Dawkins’ 15 minutes he only shot 1 for 6 from the floor, a worrying performance following a 3 for 10 shooting night at Countdown to Craziness. Dawkins was expected to start as Duke’s third guard along with Curry and Rivers, but he has not played like a starter. This should open the door for freshman Michael Gbinije, who showed some flashes of brilliance in limited action.

Marshall Plumlee was strangely absent from this game—in fact he never even took his warm-up off. In an exhibition situation such as this, many would have thought that Marshall would see some playing time to get adjusted to the speed and physicality of the college game against a weaker opponent. However, he remained on the bench, raising questions of his future in the Blue Devils’ rotation.

All in all, it was a performance that was to be expected of Duke’s first exhibition game of the year. There were definite signs of rust in execution on both ends of the floor, but there were many distinct positives that provide hope for the future. Coach Krzyzewski tested out a variety of lineups and offensive sets, and although the game was at many times ugly, Duke remained firmly in control. Now everybody’s got their feet wet in this 2011-12 season, and it’s time to iron out the kinks.

Crazie Notes: Although the Duke crowd brought the noise like any Duke crowd would, the student section was a bit subdued as it was occupied by many parents for Duke’s parents weekend…Duke honored the parents of its basketball players with a ceremony at halftime, with NBA coach Doc Rivers and former NBA player Dell Curry in attendance…Duke hosted Lithonia, Georgia center Tony Parker for his official visit…Parker sat near former Duke players Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith…Parker was hosted by freshman guard Quinn Cook for his visit to campus…the crowd chanted for Parker to commit to Duke multiple times throughout the game, but Parker was generally unresponsive…UCLA and Ohio State remain among the top teams to land Parker, who intends to commit during the first signing period beginning November 6…it was an exhibition for all, and Coach K used it as an opportunity to practice winning over officials, giving them quite an earful following a charge call on Seth Curry in the second half.

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


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!