Mailbag: NCAA Tournament Edition

We had to much fun with our last mailbag, we figured we’d just have to do it again. The NCAA Tournament is our favorite time of the year, so we’re here to answer all your questions about Duke and March Madness.

The Blue Devils prepare for their first round game with an open practice in Greensboro (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

First, let’s take a look at a couple questions about Duke’s chances in the tournament this year.

Q: How far can Duke go this year?@jameezy9
Q: After now seeing the brackets, what’s CT’s honest expectations of the Duke team?@mrgoodvar

Our most honest assessment is that this is going to be a very tough road for Duke this year. The selection committee was not kind to the South region this year, which is by far the hardest of the four. This is particularly perplexing because the top seed in this year’s tournament, Kentucky, resides in the South. Typically the selection committee would seek to reward the top overall seed with the easiest road to the Final Four, but apparently this year that is not the case. The South region is stacked full of talented teams- other than Kentucky teams like Baylor and Indiana appear to be particularly dangerous. Luckily for Duke and Kentucky, two of the other biggest threats in this region, Wichita St. and UNLV both went down on Thursday.

As for Duke, this is a team that came off of a difficult stretch late in the season. After the first round none of these games will be easy, regardless of their opponent. Our predictions for the South region had Duke advancing to the Elite 8 before falling to Kentucky, but to even get there will be a challenge. We hope that Duke will find its form and be able to accomplish this. Luckily for us, Duke has proven all year that it will play up or down to its competition, so having other tough teams in the region could actually be beneficial for the Blue Devils. Our predictions have Duke defeating #10 seed Xavier in the second round and #6 seed UNLV in the Sweet 16. We already know the latter will not be happening. There simply isn’t another team in this region that will be able to compete with Kentucky, unfortunately. They are too talented and Anthony Davis will give this team fits inside.

We received quite a few questions about Duke forward Ryan Kelly and his availability.

Q: So what’s the update on Ryan Kelly? I feel we need him to make a deep run.@dukesjayash
Q: Will Ryan be back for the NCAA Tournament?@bryan_williams2
Q: Is Ryan Kelly going to play Friday? And if he does at 100%?@Dukeallday24

Losing Ryan Kelly will hurt Duke for sure. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

We learned yesterday that Ryan Kelly would not be available to play in Duke’s first round contest against Lehigh. His availability beyond then remains to be seen. Rumblings around campus have been that Kelly’s sprain was fairly severe, and it appears the team has been rushing to try and get him back on the court as soon as possible. I would say they will probably be cautious in doing so as to not jeopardize his ability to play later in the tournament and train during the offseason. At the moment, I would say that it is doubtful that you see very much of him this weekend, and if you do he will be far from 100%.

As for Kelly’s importance to this Duke team, it is unquestionable. When Ryan Kelly plays well, this team wins basketball games. Duke is 17-1 in games where Ryan scores 10 points or more. It was clear that this team was missing something while playing without him in the ACC Tournament. Not only do they lack a big body that eats up space in the paint, they lose one of their better shooters and most versatile matchup problems. Let’s all hope for a speedy recovery, because it will be hard for Duke to be successful beyond the first weekend without Ryan Kelly.

Q: If Duke & UK meet in the Elite 8, we’ll all start having 1992 flashbacks. What does Duke need to make it happen?@jstorm64

First thing’s first- Duke is going to have to make it to the Elite 8 to face Kentucky. But in order to make it to the Elite 8 and to knock off Kentucky, the Blue Devils will have to follow the same gameplan. First and foremost, they’ll need to shoot the lights out. They cannot afford to have a game where they don’t knock down their long range shots against any opponent in this region, let alone Kentucky. They will need to get the Plumlee brothers involved early and often inside. Throughout the season, the Miles and Mason have been Duke’s two most efficient options on the offensive end. But more than anything, this team will need to defend the hell out of any team they face, especially on the inside. They’ll need to lock down the opposing team’s big men- for Kentucky this would mean Anthony Davis- and crash the board relentlessly. If these two meet in the Elite 8 we’ll have many flashbacks about the greatest college basketball game ever played 20 years ago. But fact of the matter is, Duke was the more talented team in that game. This year, they won’t be, so there is a much slimmer margin for error when going up against a power like Kentucky. Unfortunately, to make a long story short, they will need to be nothing short of perfect.

Q: Heard anything on Amile Jefferson and what are our chances in your mind on Shabazz?@dukefan6190

Amile Jefferson’s situation continues to be a mystery to us. It was our understanding that Amile would be prepared to make a decision this past weekend, but it appears he has chosen to wait a bit longer and weigh his options. This indicates that the competition for Amile between Duke and NC State is a bit closer than we originally thought. Our best guess is that he is waiting until the offseason to see whether certain players from Duke or NC State will decide to leave early and go pro before making his decision. It is unclear, however, whether that decision will be motivated by playing time or whether he is waiting to see if certain players he wants to play with will have left school before he arrives. Hopefully more on this situation becomes clear to us soon.

As for Shabazz Muhammad, he continues to weigh his options. My gut feeling is that Duke’s chances to land Shabazz are fairly good, but only time will tell at this point. If this season has showed us anything, it’s that we need a player like him to come here.

Q: How could anyone pick Missouri to get past the Elite 8 with Frank Haith as their head coach?@Mark_Jessup

Well, it’s pretty easy. We picked Missouri to get to the Final Four in our preview of the West region. Although Haith’s reputation as a head coach is suspect due to his past endeavors, you’ve have to hand it to him and his team because Missouri is playing some fantastic basketball right now. Other than Michigan State, who many consider to be the weakest and most vulnerable of the #1 seeds, there isn’t much other competition in the West region for them to face. Other than that, it’s just a case of a hot team playing great ball. They’ve proven to be an offensive juggernaut, and we believe that will at least get them through one of the weaker regions in this year’s tournament.

Q: Most memorable tourney game prior to being in college?@Caroline12White

Great question. As for my most memorable Duke game, it would have to be Duke coming back from 22 points down in the Final Four against Maryland in 2001. I remember staying up late and watching that game with my parents when I was just nine years old. That was probably one of the most exciting basketball games of my childhood and really got me hooked on the NCAA Tournament.

As for my most memorable non-Duke game, I’m going to have to go with the 2008 national championship game: Kansas 75, Memphis 68 in OT. That’s definitely one of the most underrated tournament games of the past decade, and Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer to send the game into overtime is definitely one of the most underrated clutch shots ever hit. Derrick Rose showed glimpses of the brilliance we would watch in the NBA for years to come, but good triumphed over evil as John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers choked the game away with poor free throw shooting and ineligible SAT scores.

Thanks to everyone for submitting some great questions. Hope you enjoyed the mailbag, and enjoy the basketball this weekend. This is the best weekend in sports.

Section 17: Clean Slate

Miles addressing the crowd on Senior Night (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

No, the regular season did not end the way Duke wanted it to. There was no celebration, there were no championship banners, just Miles Plumlee standing at center court thanking the Duke faithful on senior night. Good news is, starting today, none of that matters. Duke saw its first action in the ACC tournament Friday night when it dispatched the 2nd-seeded Blue Devils dispatched of 10th-seeded Virginia Tech by a score of 60-56 at Atlanta’s Phillips Arena. Many call this tournament the Duke Invitational- Duke has been crowned champions of the ACC tournament in 10 of the last 13 seasons.

However, this year, the road to another ACC tournament championship would be a little bit tougher. Just as the regular season ended on a bad note with a loss to Carolina, the first days of the postseason were not favorable for the Blue Devils as well. On Tuesday the team received news that Ryan Kelly would be unable to play in the ACC tournament due to a sprained right foot that he suffered during practice. Kelly was not only a crucial piece of the Blue Devils offense due to his size, versatility, and ability to hit from outside, but he was also a part of Duke’s thin frontcourt rotation. While typically utilizing a three guard attack, Duke normally only uses Kelly along with Miles and Mason Plumlee at its forward spots. Especially with the Plumlees finding themselves in foul trouble during Duke’s last few games, this meant that the Blue Devils would have to attack Virginia Tech with an undersized lineup.

Duke will have to win the ACC tournament this year without Ryan Kelly (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)


The Duke team that we saw on the court against Virginia Tech was different from the team we’d been watching all season. This was both good and bad. Unlike the team we’d seen knock down shots from long distance all year, Duke was not stroking it from deep against the Hokies. They only shot 5-for-26 on the game- just a 19.2% clip, half of their season average. Meanwhile, Duke played far scrappier basketball than I’d seen them play all year. They were getting it done with defense, and although they only forced 10 Hokies turnovers on the game, a little bit of hustle went a long way for Duke. It seemed as though they were everywhere on the defensive end. They were timing their switches perfectly and their help-side defense was working to perfection. It seemed as though nearly every Virginia Tech shot was a contested one, and although the Blue Devils struggled on the glass in the game’s opening minutes, they were able to pull down crucial rebounds when it counted the most.

Yes, this was an ugly game. A very ugly game. The first half was close throughout, and even when Duke started to knock down shots and pull away in the second half, Virginia Tech was able to find its way back into the contest. But personally I’m willing to sacrifice some style points for fighting out a gritty win. I’d much rather win a close game by playing sound defense and hustling than by shooting the lights out and running away by 30. The shots will start to fall, but this is the type of basketball we need to be playing regardless of whether or not we’re knocking down jumpers. As we progress farther into postseason play, we’ll need to do both to beat some of the best teams in the country. But for now, I am perfectly content with playing lockdown defense while we wait for this shots to start falling.

Kelly’s absence meant more playing time for Josh Hairston, who stepped up admirably off the bench and contributed 17 quality minutes. This was the most Hairston has played in a game since December 30. Although he only contributed four points and three rebounds, Hairston was a huge part of Duke’s defensive presence throughout the game. His ability to hustle on defense and body up in the paint was huge when playing with an undersized team. Especially when Miles Plumlee had to head to the bench in the first half after picking up two early fouls, Hairston’s effort was crucial to Duke’s success in this game. After not seeing very much action in most of his team’s biggest games this year, props to Josh for stepping up when Duke needed him the most.

13 is a lot of 3-point attempts, but how can you not shoot them when you're this wide open? (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Tyler Thornton was the MVP of this game. He contributed a career-high 13 points, adding four rebounds, two assists, and three steals. But it was what he added that doesn’t show up on a box score that was most important. Tyler emerged as a floor general tonight, similar to what we saw from him earlier in the season. He controlled the pace of the game, and embraced the fact that his team would have to grind out a win. He was constantly vocal on both ends of the floor, which was crucial to Duke’s success, especially on the defensive end. Although he only registered three steals, he completely changed the game on the defensive end, knocking down many passes, providing constant pressure, and getting in the face of Virginia Tech’s star guard, Erick Green, and making him fight for every shot. Tyler was also not afraid to step up and take big shots. He knocked down Duke’s opening bucket of the game with a 3-pointer, and little did we know but that would set the tone for the rest of the game. Thornton would go on to take 16 shots, including 13 from beyond the arc, which would be too many for him, if not for the amount of open looks he was getting. For some reason Virginia Tech felt very free to rotate off of him to supply double teams, leaving him open for a lot of looks. He’ll need to knock down a few more of those open threes moving forward, but he was definitely a presence that changed the outcome of this game.

Seth was a warrior in the second half, fighting to contribute until the shots started falling (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

This game highlighted a huge difference between Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry- Curry can still contribute when he does not score. Both of these players did not have very good games, each entering halftime without getting on the scoreboard. Dawkins was unable to bounce back, while Curry was able to fight through and make a difference. Andre finished 0-for-5 from the floor in 14 minutes. He looked lost on both ends of the floor. Seth turned it on in the second half, knocking down a huge three to get on the board and finished with nine points, six rebounds, and five assists. The Blue Devils had missed their previous 10 3-point attempts before Curry hit that shot. That kind of mental toughness is something that all of Duke’s players can take a lesson from moving forward.

We've come to expect these sorts of games from Mason Plumlee (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Mason Plumlee was his usual man-child self, but with an added twist. Not only did he manage yet another efficient game with 12 points and 10 boards on 4-of-6 shooting, he went 4-for-5 from the free throw line. He’s shooting 79% from the charity stripe in his last three games, and has made a conscious effort to improve his free throw shooting during the second half of this season. Ever since his terrible 2-for-10 fiasco against Virginia, he’s been a different free throw shooter. I know it sounds a bit scary to say it, but I actually felt confident watching Mason Plumlee step to the line against Virginia Tech. Hopefully he’s able to carry this forward- he’s definitely getting hot at the right time.

It wasn’t pretty, it was very scrappy, but I think there are a lot of positives to pull out of a game that overall was not a very positive one. We showed that we could win without Ryan Kelly (keep in mind that we don’t know how long it will be until he is 100% again), we showed that we can win without hitting long range shots, and we showed that we can win by defending, not simply by outscoring our opponents. It’s a little disheartening to play inferior teams and consistently find ourselves in close game, but let’s face it, it’s tournament time. The only type of postseason game is a close game. By playing in high pressure situations throughout the season, we’re putting ourselves at an advantage over teams like Kentucky that are blowing their opponents out every night. Regardless of whether or not the other team is good enough to be playing us that tightly, learning how to win gritty, tight contests is how you have success in March. It’s time to put that to the test.

Wake Forest: What to Watch For

After a four day layoff following their victory over Clemson on Sunday, Duke is back in action this evening as they square off with Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils remain the only undefeated team in the ACC, and look to push their record in conference play to 4-0 with a victory over the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest is 1-2 in ACC play this season, with their lone win coming in an upset of Virginia Tech. The Demon Deacons then lost two close battles to Maryland and North Carolina State. This matchup should not prove to be a particularly close one, but we know that anything can happen in conference play, so let’s take a look at Duke’s three keys to the game:

1. The First Eight Minutes
Though they have come away with three tough wins in their first matchups in conference play, Duke has not made it easy on themselves. The Blue Devils controlled the game’s opening minutes against Georgia Tech only to surrender a large run to end the first half and make the game close. They struggled to do so in their matchups with Virginia and Clemson, allowing both teams to take leads in the early going, forcing Duke to fight an uphill battle for the remainder of the first half. Though they were able to tough it out and seize control of the game later on, this is certainly not a habit they want to get into.

Duke should plan to look for Miles Plumlee early against Wake (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2. Go Inside Early And Often
If Duke is going to jump out to an early lead against Wake Forest, they’ll need to think long and hard about how they approach the beginning of games. Although the Blue Devils have typically relied on outside shooting to put teams away, they have struggled from deep as of late, shooting just 29.2% from beyond the arc in their past three wins. This is one of the reasons why Duke has fallen behind early in its last couple of contests- they start the game taking difficult shots that are not falling and quickly fall behind. The Blue Devils have been saved in conference play by the Plumlee brothers, who have continually asserted themselves as forces on the inside. Mason has been a go-to guy for the offense all season, and Miles has been coming on strong the past few games, so why not feed them the ball in the games opening minutes and let them get some easy points? This will allow Duke’s guard to get into the flow of the game before they start shooting long-range shots. Attacking the inside early will open up the perimeter for their shooters to knock down shots later in the game for a knockout blow.

3. Make Someone Other Than C.J. Harris or Travis McKie Beat You
Wake Forest is not a very good team. They’re not a very deep team, either. But they do have two of the top scoring threats in the ACC, and will rely on them heavily throughout the game. Junior C.J. Harris and sophomore Travis McKie average 17.3 and 17.1 points per game for the Demon Deacons, respectively. Both of them are capable of knocking down shots from anywhere on the floor. McKie, in particular, presents the most difficult defensive matchup for Duke. At 6-foot-7, he is a bit too big to be marked easily by Austin Rivers or Andre Dawkins, but may propose issues for one of the Plumlee brothers with his speed. If Duke can shut down both of these players, Wake Forest won’t have anyone else to turn to. Only seven players on the Demon Deacons roster average more than 11.1 minutes per game. They won’t go more than eight or nine deep very often, and this team is simply not talented enough to beat you if both of these players are not on their game.

Any conference game at Cameron is a good game, so tonight should be a lot of fun. Stay Crazie, my friends, and as always, go Duke!

Math 9314: Into the Trenches

Two hard-fought conference victories later, Duke sits atop the ACC as the only undefeated team. Despite trailing throughout the first half against both Virginia and Clemson, the Blue Devils were able to rally and overcome the adversity they faced. As Duke continues to grind out close victories and its top non-conference foes continue to win and rise in the rankings, the Blue Devils’ strength of schedule this year continues to look even more remarkable. Let’s take a look back at Duke’s past two victories using our motion chart and advanced metrics and see what the box scores from these games did not tell you:

Mason put his running hook to the test against Virginia (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Virginia:
Duke was able to eek out a close win against Virginia, but its safe to say that they were letting the Cavaliers play their game. Virginia slowed down the tempo of the game and kept the pace steady in half-court sets, and it showed for Duke statistically. The Blue Devils’ 61 points accounted for Duke’s lowest scoring output of the year, and it was just the first time all year they had won a game when scoring fewer than 68 points. The highest GameScore for Duke against Virginia was a mere 8.6 for Mason Plumlee, who shot an efficient 5-of-6 from the field but left quite a few points at the foul line, shooting just 2-for-10 on the game. With 12 points, Plumlee was Duke’s leading scorer, accounting for the lowest point total for Duke’s leading scorer since Tom Emma and Vince Taylor led the way with 12 apiece in a Duke loss to Maryland on January 9, 1982 in Mike Krzyzewski’s second year as the Blue Devils’ head coach. The final score of the game was 40-36. Duke scored 10 points in the second half. However, Duke’s consistency showed through against Virginia, with four players scoring in double figures the GameScores were reasonably consistent. Six of the eight Duke players that saw the floor against Virginia had GameScores between 5.1 and 8.6. It wasn’t pretty, but it was definitely a team effort out there.

You'd probably find this picture in the dictionary under "swag". (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Clemson:
Although it took a little time to get started up, Duke returned to its usual form in a 73-66 win over Clemson. Andre Dawkins led the way for the Blue Devils with 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 5-for-9 from behind the arc. With a tremendous GameScore of 20.0, this was the first time Dawkins had scored above 6.9 in a game in nearly a full month. The last time he accomplished that was in Duke’s win over UNC-Greensboro on December 19. But while Dawkins success was quite visible through his scoring output, some might argue that he was nearly overshadowed by the play of Miles Plumlee. Miles scored just six points, but pulled down 14 rebounds, six of them on the offensive end, in just 23 minutes. This accounted for an Oreb% of 29.81%, which statistically speaking is practically off the charts. As he continues to come on strong in the midst of his senior year, Miles can’t help but remind us of another Duke player from not too long ago. And in case you don’t remember, things turned out quite wellfor that team. Meanwhile, against Clemson Mason Plumlee played his usual Mason Plumlee game, scoring 12 points and adding seven rebounds on just an 18.55% Usage%. Mason’s performance was good for a GameScore of 9.8 as he continues to show consistency on the offensive end.

Can you say "dunk face"? (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

What We Learned:
Andre Dawkins is back in an upswing-After struggling for most of December and the beginning of January to the point where he often looked invisible on the floor, Dawkins is beginning to find his form again. After playing what Coach K called “his best defensive performance of the season” against Virginia, Dre exploded against Clemson in one of those classic “Andre Dawkins can’t miss a shot” games. Dawkins is playing some of the quality basketball we saw from him in the early part of the season, and at this point we just hope he can keep it up. He has the potential to be one of the greatest weapons in the ACC off the bench.

This team continues to fade in and out, but at some point it just has to click- It seems as though every player on this team has gone through its fair share of ups and downs this season with the exception of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. Though that is not ideal, it is good to see who is stepping up at this point in the season. The beginning of the season was all about Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly and then Austin Rivers began to take over in December, but now with Seth and Austin struggling Miles Plumlee, Quinn Cook, and Andre Dawkins are picking up their slack. You have to think that sometime soon Rivers and Curry will get back on top of their games, and if everyone else can continue to produce this team has the potential to be very scary down the stretch.

Duke and Virginia: What to Watch For

A few weeks ago we took a look at Virginia in our ACC preview, and now it’s time for the Cavaliers to come to Cameron to take on Duke. Although the Blue Devils have been the victors of their last 39 games at home, this is not an opponent to take lightly. Virginia comes into the game with a stellar 14-1 record, won the first conference game, and are ranked 16th in the AP top 25. This should be the toughest test Duke faces at home all season before the Tar Heels come to town on March 3rd. The Blue Devils have struggled in their past two outings, so let’s see what they’ll need to do to beat the Cavaliers tonight.

1. Push the tempo
Virginia is a team that likes to play slow, and when I say slow, I mean slow. They are at their best when they grind out defensive games (The Hoos are ranked ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Duke is ranked fiftieth). Duke needs to do everything it can to keep Virginia on its toes and uncomfortable as possible, and that means push the ball. Inserting Quinn Cook into the starting lineup recently should help that. Cook’s quickness and playmaking ability allows Duke to move at a faster pace on the floor than when Tyler Thornton or Seth Curry are running the point. When it all comes down to it, Duke scores 82.1 points per game and Virginia allows 50.5 points a game– something’s gotta give. Duke has only won one game this year when it scored fewer than 70 points, so they are going to need to keep the game moving and push Virginia to do the same.

Mike Scott will be a tough matchup for the Blue Devils (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2. Lock down Mike Scott
In a year where Duke and North Carolina are considered to be the upper echelon teams in the ACC, it’s hard to think the Conference Player of the Year will be anyone but a Blue Devil or a Tar Heel. But right now it seems as though Virginia’s Mike Scott is one of the frontrunners for the award. Scott is the go-to-guy in Virginia’s offense, averaging 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season. Most recently he paced the Cavaliers with 23 points and eight rebounds in their 52-51 victory over Miami on January 7th. Scott is a dangerous scorer and will look to take advantage of the Blue Devils inside. Duke has struggled with interior defense at times this season. If they want to enhance their chances of winning tomorrow, they need to make someone other than Mike Scott beat them.

3. Jump out to an early lead
There’s no better way to make Virginia play a more up-tempo game than forcing them to play from behind early. This was one area where Duke succeeded against Georgia Tech (though they would later relinquish the large lead they had built up in the early stages of the game). The first eight minutes of the game will be crucial ones for the Blue Devils, and will set the tone for the remainder of the contest. If Duke can knock down its shots and jump out to an early lead, it will put Virginia on its toes, but if the Cavaliers stay with the Blue Devils early or jump out to an early lead of their own, we could be in store for a long night in Cameron.

The Plumlee brothers have excelled in the paint as of late (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

4. Control the paint
There’s no two ways about it- Virginia is not a very big team. They have a 7-foot center in their starting lineup, but they have just one other player on their roster that is larger than 6-foot-8. At 6-8 himself, Mike Scott can play like a big man, but the size differential remains nonetheless. Duke needs to take opportunities to feed the ball down low to Miles and Mason Plumlee, who have played fantastic basketball while Duke has struggled as of late. The unsurprising chemistry between the brothers has really started to kick in, and facing a smaller Virginia lineup, they need to assert themselves early and often.

5. Austin Rivers needs to step up
Big players step up in big games, and after struggling in his past three contests you feel like Rivers might be due to break out tonight. It would certainly be a coming-out party for him to explode in a game in front of the home fans against another top 25 team. You can talk about Austin Rivers’ ego all you want, but fact is he is one of the hardest working basketball players in the country, so you know that after three straight subpar performances he is chomping at the bit to show the country what he can really do. If Duke can get the Austin Rivers we saw in December, they will be tough to take down on their home floor.

 

 

Bold Prediction:
The best homecourt advantage in college basketball will rear its head tonight. Duke keeps Virginia at a distance for much of the game, with Mason Plumlee pacing the Devils between the blocks.

Duke 75, Virginia 65

Math 9314: Conference Play Gets Underway

As we enter the new year, January brings us many things. It brings us hopes and dreams, resolutions both kept and unkept, and college basketball. Lots of college basketball. January marks the beginning of conference play, where the intensity ramps up and every game is a test for a team’s NCAA tournament resumè. The young Blue Devils seemed like they weren’t quite ready for this transition, enduring two difficult road games in the past week. As we know, Duke was upset by Temple in Philadelphia but rebounded in its ACC-opener with a hard-fought victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Let’s take a quick look behind the numbers using our advanced metrics and see what that box scores from these games did not tell you:

Temple:
This game was all about the brothers Plumlee, but it was Miles, not Mason, who got it going early and often for Duke. Miles poured in 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting in just 19 minutes for his most productive game of the season. Miles’s GameScore of 16.6 was his season-high and was only outdone by younger brother Mason, who posted a GameScore of 18.2. Though he struggled early, Mason finally got it going down the stretch and finished with 16 points on 7-of-13 from the floor. But Mason’s biggest contribution was on the glass, posting an Oreb% of 30.17% and leading Duke with seven offensive rebounds. This means that when Mason was on the floor and Duke put up a shot, he would pull in an offensive rebound on 30.17% of these rebounding opportunities. Miles added three more offensive rebounds and recorded an Oreb% of 21.78% on the game. Unfortunately, other than the Plumlees’ performance, it was Terrible, Terrible, Terrible at Temple. Our advanced metrics actually reveal to us that Duke’s performance against Temple was even worse than it looked. The Blue Devils next highest GameScore came from freshman Michael Gbinije with 5.7- keep in mind that Gbinije only played eight minutes in the game. Gbinije was productive when he was on the floor, knocking down both of his shots for five points. After Mason Plumlee, the next highest GameScore from a Duke starter was Austin Rivers’ 3.5, thanks to his 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting. Rounding out Duke’s starting lineup was a 3.1 GameScore from Ryan Kelly, a 2.8 from Seth Curry, and a whopping 0.3 from Tyler Thornton. At risk of making myself (and I’m sure many readers) physically ill from these statistics, I’m going to slowly back away from the Temple game and pretend it never happened. But rest assured, when your team has three players with efficiency ratings over 3.5 and one of them played just eight minutes, yeah you’re in trouble. With this bad a performance, it’s surprising that Duke only lost by five points and actually had a chance to win this game.

Kelly's 21 points was his highest scoring effort this season (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Georgia Tech:
Duke’s hard-fought victory on the road against Georgia Tech served as a small step in the right direction. The Blue Devils were paced by Ryan Kelly, who scored 21 points on just four shots from the floor, posting an impressive GameScore of 20.9. Kelly’s GameScore was the highest posted by a Duke player since Quinn Cook’s21.8 against Western Michigan. Kelly’s Usage% of 20.94% was hardly indicative of his role in Duke’s half-court sets, however, as 14 of the 18 shots he took on the day came from the foul line. Mason Plumlee added another solid game, achieving a GameScore of 12.5 thanks to his nine points and eight rebounds. Curry added 15 points but was hardly efficient in doing so, taking 12 shots from the floor and posting a Usage% of 31.11%. His high usage reflected poorly in his GameScore of 8.7. In his first career start, Quinn Cook recorded a respectable GameScore of 7.5 thanks to his 10 points and five assists. Tyler Thornton, who was replaced by Cook in the starting lineup, had posted a GameScore above 7.5 on just one occasion in his six starts. Thornton’s GameScore was just 2.9 against Georgia Tech.

Mason's consistency might be the most surprising of his improvements this year (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

What We Learned:
Mason Plumlee is a workhorse— This is something that most of us already knew, but his consistency has been a great surprise this year. Plumlee has posted GameScores above 10 in eight of his last nine games. He finds ways to be a productive contributor even when he is not scoring, averaging 10.1 rebounds per game over that stretch. The Plumlees have had a history of showing flashes of brilliance but being dreadfully inconsistent, but it appears they are finally beginning to break that mold. Mason’s GameScores of 12.5 and 18.2 in the Blue Devils two most recent games, games in which the team did not play particularly well, shows that he is becoming a player Duke can rely on to produce night in and night out.

Rivers has struggled in Duke's past three games and has forced some tough shots (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Austin Rivers is struggling once again– Scoring just 20 points on 6-of-21 shooting in his last two games combined, Rivers is just not feeling it out there. We are seeing glimpses of November’s Austin Riverswho would drive the lane and force tough shots. He also hasn’t had his usual shooting touch from beyond the arc as of late, shooting just 2-of-8 from deep in Duke’s past three games. Rivers’ GameScores have been 3.9, 3.5, and 3.3 in the Blue Devils last three contests against Pennsylvania, Temple, and Georgia Tech respectively. These are his lowest totals since Duke faced Kansas in the final of the Maui Invitational six weeks ago. This seems to be the latest in a series of ups and downs this season for Rivers, but there doesn’t seem to be a larger issue here. It simply appears he’s been a bit off his game. We hope he’s due for a breakout performance very soon, especially with a tough Virginia team coming to Cameron for Duke’s ACC home opener on January 12th.

Georgia Tech was a great test for Duke, who will have to grind out many more close games in tough environments as the conference schedule continues. Hopefully the Blue Devils continue to make the right adjustments moving forward. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Later this week, Crazie Talk will have its first-ever mailbag where our writers answer Duke basketball questions submitted by our readers. Have any thoughts or questions? Submit them to us by sending them to crazietalk@gmail.com or tweet them @crazietalker with hashtag #askCT.

2011: A Year In Review

2011 held a little bit of everything in store for the Duke Blue Devils. There were triumphs and defeats, comings and goings, and a record that will stand the test of time. As the year winds to a close let’s take a look at Duke’s 2011–the good, the bad, and the Crazie.

Unsure when Kyrie would return, Duke fans remained op-toe-mistic. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

January 1: 2011 kicked off for the Blue Devils without freshman sensation Kyrie Irving, who was sidelined with turf toe after suffering the injury in Duke’s victory over Butler on December 4, 2010. Irving, the team’s leading scorer after Duke’s first eight games, would miss the Blue Devils’ next 26 games with the injury. The Blue Devils were forced to carry on without Irving, and in some ways the results were positive. Kyrie’s absence allowed for the emergence of Nolan Smith as the leader of this team. Smith elevated his play to average 20.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists for his senior season.

St. Johns had its way with the Blue Devils inside in a blowout victory. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

January 30: Duke suffered its worst loss of the season, falling 93-78 to St. John’s at Cameron North Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils seemed lost from the start, as St. John’s dominated Duke and used the normally Duke-friendly Garden crowd to their advantage. The Red Storm led by as many as 24 points in the second half before Duke made a small run late to keep the score somewhat respectable. Nolan Smith led the Blue Devils with 32 points in a losing effort, but Duke was doomed from the start by its long-range shooting, converting five of their 26 shots from deep. The Blue Devils had not lost to St. John’s since March 2, 2003- at that time Austin Rivers was just 10 years old. Duke would recover and win its next seven contests.

Curry's incredible second half is now stuff of Duke legend. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

February 9: The fifth-ranked Blue Devils knocked off the 21st-ranked Tar Heels 79-73 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Smith led the way with a career-high 34 points, but this was Seth Curry’s coming out party. Curry added 35 quality minutes off the bench in which he scored 22 points–his highest scoring output since he transfered to Duke. Carolina was in complete control of this game in the first half, taking a commanding 43-29 lead going into halftime. Duke came out with a different energy in the second half. They had not one, but two “Patented Duke Runs” of 18-6 and 13-1 in them to erase the 14-point halftime deficit. The second of these runs was nearly all Seth. He posted seven points in just over a minute before Ryan Kelly’s huge three-pointer gave Duke its first lead of the game. Smith added a three-point play to extend the Duke lead to five on the next possession. Curry also posted six rebounds and five assists on the night. UNC would get the best of Duke at the Dean Dome on March 5 with a convincing 75-58 win.

Duke celebrates in style after a second victory over Carolina. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 13: Duke wins its 19th ACC tournament championship in school history with a satisfying 75-58 victory over North Carolina at the Greensboro Coliseum. Smith led the team with 20 points and 10 assists and earned tournament MVP honors. This was just the eleventh time in school history that a Duke player had posted 20 points and 10 assists in the same game. The victory gave Duke its 10th championship in the last 13 ACC tournaments. The victory over North Carolina was Duke’s 30th in the 2010-2011 season, and would ultimately earn the Blue Devils a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament’s West Regional.

After three full months without him, Kyrie Irving returned just in time for the tournament. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 19: Possibly the most talked about appendage in Duke history had finally been mended. After 26 games on the bench and becoming a Twitter and internet sensation, Kyrie Irving’s toe had finally healed and he was ready to play once again, just in time for the NCAA tournament. Irving played 20 minutes in Duke’s first NCAA tournament game, an 87-45 victory over 16th-seeded Hampton. He had 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting as Duke took a large step toward a deep tournament run, playing with a full roster for the first time since December. Irving would contribute 11 points off the bench in Duke’s 73-71 win over Michigan in the next round. He struggled from the floor, shooting just 1-of-4 from the field in 21 minutes.

Irving was out-dueled by Arizona's Derrick Williams in Duke's Sweet 16 loss. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 24: Duke falls 93-78 to 5th-seeded Arizona in the Sweet 16, bringing the Blue Devils’ 2010-2011 season to a close. It was a matchup of the two players who would eventually become the NBA’s top two draft picks. Future #2 overall pick Derrick Williams led the Wildcats with 32 points and 13 rebounds, dominating Duke on the inside. Future #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving led the Blue Devils with 28 points of his own, coming off the bench in his final Duke game. The Blue Devils held a 44-38 lead going into the half, but Arizona came out firing after the break. It seemed as though they couldn’t miss in the second half, shooting 58.3% from the field. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils cooled down significantly, shooting just 9-of-24 in the second half.

Though he only played 11 games for Duke, it was enough to make Kyrie Irving the NBA's #1 pick. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

June 23: Three members of Duke’s 2010-2011 team are drafted into the NBA. Despite a short college career and injury-plagued season, Kyrie Irving was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nolan Smith was also selected in the first round, 21st overall, joining former Duke guard Elliot Williams as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Kyle Singler was drafted with the third pick of the second round, number 33 overall, by the Detroit Pistons. Irving and Smith have both begun their NBA careers, but spent a lot of time in Durham the following fall during the NBA lockout. Singler, who played for Alicante in Spain during the NBA lockout, elected to remain in Spain for this season. He now plays for Real Madrid. They were not the only Duke players to start their careers in the NBA, however. Lance Thomas, who went undrafted after he graduated in 2010, played his way into a training camp invite from the New Orleans Hornets after a strong showing in the 2011 Pan American Games. He made the Hornets roster on December 24 and appeared in two games before he was waivedon December 31.

Duke basketball's class of 2015: Quinn Cook, Alex Murphy, Austin Rivers, Michael Gbinije, and Marshall Plumlee. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

July 10: It didn’t take very long for the Blue Devils to get back at it, opening practice less than four months after the 2010-2011 season ended. For a year where “Duke Basketball Never Stops” has been the motto, the early start was quite fitting. The first practices brought much change for the Blue Devils, as they said goodbye to their three NBA draft picks and welcomed five new freshmen to the Duke family. This year’s freshman class included silent-but-deadly Michael Gbinije, prep-school star Alex Murphy, the youngest and goofiest of Perky Plumlee’s children, Marshall Plumlee, Nolan Smith’s god-brother Quinn Cook, and Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Duke’s newest players were welcomed to the fold with open arms, and received a fairly large gift when they entered the ranks–a trip overseas.

Only thing that's bigger than the Plumlee brothers? The Great Wall of China. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

August 15:The Blue Devils embarked on a 12-day tour, playing two games in China and one game in Dubai. The team visited Beijing and Shanghai, saw the sites in China, and made a trip to Kunshan with university officials to promote Duke’s new Kunshan campus that is currently under construction. The team used the trip as a bonding experience, and an opportunity for this young team to get some extra practice and playing time. The Blue Devils then traveled to Dubai to promote Duke’s new Dubai campus and face the UAE’s national team. They won all three games they played, and the trip concluded with a trek to the top of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. The trip spanned seven countries and 21,188 miles.

The end of an impressive introduction at Countdown To Craziness. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

October 14:The 2011 Blue Devils make their Cameron Indoor Stadium debut at Countdown to Craziness. The energy in the building was electric as the Cameron Crazies welcomed the team home from their trip abroad and got their first glimpse at all five freshmen. The game was competitive, as Austin Rivers’ White squad came out firing and held a 13 point lead at halftime. The Blue team made a run in the second half behind the play of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Curry had a game-high 28 points as Rivers struggled down the stretch and the experience of the Blue team was the difference maker in a 56-53 win. Miles Plumlee defeated younger brother Marshall in the final of the postgame slam dunk contest, sealing the victory when he jumped over 6-foot-11 Marshall and slammed it home.

The two winningest basketball coaches in Division I history, as Coach K passes Bob Knight. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

November 15:The Blue Devils defeat Michigan State 74-69 at Madison Square Garden for Mike Krzyzewski’s 903rd career victory, passing his mentor Bobby Knight for most all-time in Division I basketball. Knight was in attendance at the game, and the two shared a long embrace immediately following the win. Andre Dawkins scored a career-high 26 points on 6-of-10 from three-point range. Coach K now has 911 career victories.

Duke celebrates its fifth Maui Invitational championship. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

November 23:Duke wins its fifth Maui Invitational championship, defeating Kansas in the final 68-61. Duke improved to 15-0 at the Maui Invitational all-time as it faced the most competitive field in the history of the tournament. Duke defeated Tennessee in the quarterfinal and Michigan in the semifinal in tight contests. Tyler Thornton came up clutch in the tournament’s final game, knocking down two three-pointers in the last two minutes of the game to give Duke the championship. Ryan Kelly earned tournament MVP honors with 17 points in the final.

A happy and healthy 2012 to our readers from all of us here at Crazie-Talk. 2011 was a fantastic year, and hopefully 2012 will be better (and hopefully the world doesn’t end, that would be nice). As always, stay Crazie, my friends.