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.

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.

Section 17: Almost Stung

Looking to rebound from a terrible, terrible, terrible loss to Temple in Philadelphia, Duke headed to Atlanta to open their ACC regular season schedule against Georgia Tech. We projected the Yellow Jackets, who were coming off of three consecutive losses to Mercer, Fordham, and Alabama, to finish 8th in the conference in our ACC preview. Despite Georgia Tech’s recent woes, there is no such thing as an easy road game in the ACC, and this game was the perfect example. The Blue Devils were able to come away with an 81-74 victory against the Yellow Jackets, but it appears Duke still hasn’t hit its stride after a hard-fought and competitive contest.

Mike Krzyzewski tends to make lineup changes after tough losses, so it was no surprise that Coach K shook up the starting lineup for Duke’s ACC opener. Miles Plumlee re-entered the starting lineup for the first time since November 15 against Michigan State after a very strong showing against Temple. He replaced Ryan Kelly, who was an absolute non-factor against the Owls, playing just 19 minutes and scoring five points. But the real story of the game was the long-awaited first career start for point guard Quinn Cook. Cook was chosen over Tyler Thornton, who had started Duke’s previous six games but whose production had diminished as of late.

If you were a little worried about Duke coming into this game, you weren’t after the first 12 minutes against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 31-14 lead thanks to a quick start from Cook, Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly. This fast start from Duke simply seemed to rattle the hornet’s nest, if you will, and the Yellow Jackets came alive. With the Blue Devils facing foul trouble early on, Georgia Tech stormed back, ending the half on a 21-8 run to pull within five.

The second half was tight throughout, and with each passing minute that Duke failed to pull away, the pressure continued to mount. The Blue Devils struggled to hit shots from beyond the arc, knocking down just 6-of-22 for the game. Glen Rice Jr., who was relatively quiet in the first half, absolutely took over the last nine minutes of the game. It was as though he couldn’t miss a shot, shooting 6-for-7 down the stretch for 15 of his game-high 28 points. Georgia Tech was able to pull within two with 2:58 to go and had an opportunity to tie the game, but Mfon Udofia missed both of his shots from the foul line. After an Austin Rivers steal and layup pushed Duke’s lead back up to four, Rice had his own opportunity from the charity stripe, but he too missed both shots. Seth Curry added an exclamation point to the win, putting the game out of reach with a lob to Mason Plumlee for an emphatic finish. The Yellow Jackets’ failure to capitalize from the line combined with fantastic foul shooting from the Blue Devils sealed this tough road victory.

Ryan Kelly didn't shoot much from the floor, but made his living from the line (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Kelly was undoubtedly the man of the afternoon for Duke, with one of the most interesting stat lines we’ve seen in quite some time. Kelly, who got off to a hot start early in the game, shot just 3-of-4 from the field, but thanks to a perfect 14-for-14 from the free throw line led the Blue Devils with 21 points. He did not attempt a field goal for the last 16:12 of the game. Kelly’s free-throw shooting was stellar, to say the least, and it led an excellent all-around performance by the Blue Devils at the line. Duke, who has struggled with foul shooting all season, shot 29-of-36 from the free throw line on the afternoon. Although Kelly’s foul shooting preserved the win for the Blue Devils, he was not much of a factor other than the beginning and the end of this game. His first nine points came within the first 10 minutes of the game, and he scored just two points between the 10:29 mark of the first half and the 4:09 mark of the second half. Clearly this is a picky analysis of Kelly’s play, as he took advantage of his opportunities down the stretch and made sure Duke would not drop a second consecutive game, but you’d like to see him recognize when he’s the hot hand on the floor and continue taking shots. But overall it was nice to see Ryan bounce back after his worst showing of the season against Temple.

Cook took control of the offense in his first career start for Duke (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Cook played quite well in his first start for Duke, adding 10 points and five assists in 27 minutes. He commanded the floor with confidence in his first ACC contest, slashing to the bucket in the game’s early minutes and setting up teammates with crisp passes. One of the highlights of the game was his phenomenal behind-the-head dishto Austin Rivers, which placed third on DukeBluePlanet’s top plays of the game. It was a strong all-around effort, though he did take a few ill-advised shots from beyond the arc. He shot 1-for-4 from 3-point range on the afternoon and has shot just 30% from deep on the year. With five assists in the game, Cook’s assist-to-turnover ratio now sits at 4.43:1, which is the best in all of college basketball. Quinn will continue to grow into his role as this team’s starting point guard throughout Duke’s ACC schedule, but in the past few games we’ve already caught glimpses of the type of playmaker he can be.

Rivers has not had his typical shooting touch in Duke's past three games (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Rivers struggled yet again, scoring just eight points on 3-of-10 from the floor. This continues to be a season of ups and downs for Rivers, but you hope he is due for a breakout game relatively soon. It just wasn’t working for Austin against Georgia Tech- his shots weren’t falling and he was torched by Glenn Rice Jr. on the defensive end. He even missed two crucial free throws down the stretch that could have come back to haunt the Blue Devils. Luckily the Yellow Jackets had much larger issues from the free throw line on their hands.

Although it is great to get a first ACC victory on the road, we need to address the elephant in the room here- this team is having trouble closing out games. We saw similar issues against Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan, and Washington, where Duke allowed double digit leads to evaporate late in the game. The Blue Devils had Georgia Tech on the ropes early, jumping out to a quick 17-point lead. That should have been it right there. They should have been able to coast into halftime with a 20-point lead and let the second half play out for an easy blowout win, but they let the Yellow Jackets back in the game and suddenly had a tight second half on their hands. Luckily Duke was able to hold on, but heading into their ACC schedule the Blue Devils need to learn how to put teams away.

A statistical analysis of the Temple and Georgia Tech games is coming later today. 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.

Math 9314: Another Day at the Office

Another week, another two victories for Duke. Putting their difficulties against Ohio State behind them, it was business as usual for the Blue Devils in non-conference matchups last week, easily dispatching of Colorado State in Cameron and Washington at Madison Square Garden (aka Cameron North). Let’s take a quick look behind the numbers using our advanced metrics and see what the box scores from these games did not tell you:

Miles Plumlee recorded 14 points against Washington, matching his brother Mason (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Colorado State:
This game was pure and utter Duke domination from start to finish, as the Blue Devils shot 56.4% from the floor, their highest clip this season against an opponent that wasn’t named Presbyterian College. Mason Plumlee poured in one of the best all-around statistical performances of this season, posting 14 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and four steals on 6-of-7 shooting. What is most remarkable about this stat line is that he was able to achieve such a high efficiency rating with only a 22.6 Usage%, which clearly shows that he was not demanding the ball on offense but made the most of his opportunities. His GameScore of 20.9 marks the second-highest efficiency rating by a Duke player this season, and the highest since the Blue Devils’ last game at the Garden. We all remember that game as the day when Andre Dawkins played the game of his life, pouring in 26 points against Michigan State to give Coach K career victory number 903. Speaking of Dawkins, his GameScore of 11.7 does not completely tell the tale, as he added 15 points in his new role off the bench on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc in just 12 minutes on the floor. Meanwhile, Miles Plumlee took a step out of his younger brother’s shadow and took on a greater offensive role, scoring 14 points while adding five points and three blocks en route to a season-high GameScore of 16.1.

Ryan Kelly rebounded from consecutive subpar offensive performance against Washington (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Washington:
Against a young and athletic Huskies team, the Blue Devils were able to maintain control throughout and hold of a late run to secure an 86-80 victory that was not nearly as close as the score indicates. Ryan Kelly recovered from consecutive rough games to put up a team-high GameScore of 13.6 as a result of 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Kelly and Miles Plumlee controlled the offensive glass, posting OReb% of 17.7 and 13.1, respectively as Duke held a rare rebounding advantage over the Huskies. Who knows if it’s the NBA three-point line of maybe if it’s just the soothing aroma of ridiculously overpriced contracts that will never buy the New York Knicks a championship, but Andre Dawkins loves playing at Madison Square Garden. Dawkins posted another solid GameScore of 12.1 thanks to an effort of 17 points off the bench, while Miles Plumlee did not miss a shot from the field and recorded his second consecutive double-digit game score. Fun fact for all you stat junkies out there, since November 22nd Miles has shot 82% from the free-throw line (he shot 59% from the line last year). Mason Plumlee turned in a typical 12 points and nine rebounds, but only shot 2-for-11 from the free throw line, which is reflected in his 10.6 GameScore.

What We Learned:
Andre Dawkins and Miles Plumlee are here to play—Both Dawkins and Plumlee found themselves in the starting lineup for the season-opener and have since been relegated to roles off the bench. They have also both responded to this change extremely well in the past week, as each put up two of their better offensive performances of the season. Dawkins, who has stayed true to his streaky nature, looks as though he is just starting to heat up and find a more consistent stroke. Miles, who had a very promising preseason tour in China, fell out of touch at the beginning of the year but is finally beginning to assert himself as an offensive presence down low. Expect to see both of them playing significant minutes off the bench as long as their improved play continues.

Josh Hairston's minutes might be in jeopardy as Coach K seems to be thinning out his rotation (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

This team’s rotation is shrinking—Although Duke’s victory of Colorado State showcased 10 Blue Devils playing 10 minutes or more, the Washington game was a very different story. Krzyzewski’s rotation was significantly shorter against the Huskies, as it was essentially limited to seven players. My apologies to Josh Hairston and Michael Gbinije, but this should be the trend moving forward into conference play. Quinn Cook will see increased minutes as he continues rehabbing from his injured knee, and in all honesty should have seen more time against Washington while Tyler Thornton struggled offensively and the Huskies rallied in the second half. Otherwise expect to see a more compact rotation of Cook along with Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Miles and Mason Plumlee, and Andre Dawkins. Hairston will more likely be seen as the team’s emergency big man in case the team gets into foul trouble or one of their bigs is getting absolutely lit up on defense. Gbinije has shown signs of improvement but while most likely take on the role of a situational player as he continues to develop during his freshman season.

Thanks for bearing with us slightly falling out of touch during finals week, I promise there will be lots more exciting content coming in the next few days, including the beginning of our comprehensive team-by-team ACC preview. As always, stay Crazie, my friends.

Looking Back To Move Forward

Good teams win games, but great teams can bounce back from a tough loss, and I’ll speak for the entire Crazies community by saying we can file last week’s game in Columbus under the “tough loss” category. Taking 20-point defeats is not something that the Duke Blue Devils are used to, but luckily for us, Colorado State is coming to town tonight.

We can take away many negatives and a few positives away from the Ohio State game, some of which I discussed in my post yesterday. But there is one thing I’m sure we can all agree on—in order to get back to form and elevate itself to the next level, this Duke team needs a change. Luckily for us, the guy calling the shots for this team knows just a few things about basketball. Although he has not found himself in this situation many times throughout his illustrious career, Coach K has a knack for responding to a blowout loss with an adjustment that alters the identity of the team, and when Coach K responds, the team responds as well. Let’s take a look back to some similar situations Duke teams have found itself in over the last few years to examine the adjustments we might see tonight against Colorado State.

Nolan Smith shot 1-for-7 against Clemson and was subsequently pulled from the starting lineup (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: February 4, 2009—Clemson 74, Duke 47
What Went Wrong: In a word…everything. Duke couldn’t throw a shot into the ocean during this game, shooting a miserable 30.8% from the field. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer, who would eventually lead the Blue Devils to a national championship the next season, shot a combined 4-23. Meanwhile, Duke had no answer for Clemson’s Trevor Booker, who shot 8-for-10 from the floor en route to 21 points and eight rebounds.
How Coach K Adjusted: Finding themselves in a similar situation as this year’s Blue Devils, with no true point guard to speak of, Greg Paulus assumed the role in Duke’s next game, starting in favor of Nolan Smith. Krzyzewski also used a significantly smaller rotation in this game, with only six Blue Devils playing more than 7 minutes in the contest.
The Result: Despite going in down 32-19 at the half, Duke came back to win an overtime thriller at Cameron by a score of 78-75. Miami’s Jack McClinton scored a game-high 34 points in a herculean effort, while Paulus added 18 points in his first game at point guard. Duke’s shooting woes continued, however, as Kyle Singler scored 17 points but at the expense of a 5-for-23 shooting effort. Overall, Duke would go on to lose its next two games following Miami, but was able to finish 8-1 down the stretch en route to an ACC Tournament championship. The team would fall earn a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and fall in the Sweet 16 to #3 seed Villanova.

Kyle Singler's 18 points were not enough against the Hoyas (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: January 30, 2010—Georgetown 89, Duke 77
What Went Wrong: Georgetown shot an obscene 71.7% from the field as Lance Thomas and Miles Plumlee’s shoddy interior defense allowed the Hoyas’ Greg Monroe, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman to attack the rim and score at will. Duke once again relied too heavily on its outside shooting and was only able to muster 9-of-29 from three-point land. President Obama watched on at the Verizon Center as Georgetown pushed its lead to 23 late in the second half, before a mini Duke run allowed the final score to look slightly more respectable.
How Coach K Adjusted: Brian Zoubek, who played only two minutes against Georgetown, saw his playing time increase to 13 minutes in Duke’s next contest, an 86-67 victory over a ranked Georgia Tech squad. Zoubek continued to put in quality minutes in the team’s ensuing games and replaced Miles Plumlee in the starting lineup three games later, when he played the best game of his Duke career with 16 points and 17 rebounds in a 77-56 rout of Maryland.
The Result: We all know how this story ended, as Zoubek started for the rest of the season, playing a crucial role as Duke went on to win 18 of its final 19 games en route to its fourth national championship.

St. Johns had its way with the Blue Devils, but Duke got the last laugh come March (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: January 30, 2011—St. John’s 93, Duke 78
What Went Wrong: Playing at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm certainly had a home court advantage and didn’t waste any time, jumping on the Blue Devils early and often. As the lead ballooned to 21 points at the half, the Johnnies continued to coast, not allowing Duke to cut the lead to less than 13 for the rest of the game. The Blue Devils were too reliant on their three-point shooting early in the game, and fell behind as the shots were not falling. Faced with a large deficit, Duke had to rely on long range shooting in the second half in hopes of a comeback, but its struggles continued from beyond the arc, knocking down just 5-of-26 three-point attempts on the afternoon.
How Coach K Adjusted: Tyler Thornton replaced Seth Curry in Duke’s next game at Maryland as the Blue Devils sought to shift their focus from three-point shooting to defense and efficiency in their half-court sets.
The Result: Duke held firm control over an inexperienced Maryland team throughout the contest, coasting to an 80-62 win. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith led the team with 22 and 21 points, respectively, while Mason Plumlee added an impressive 12 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting. Duke would go on to post an 11-2 record to close out the season with yet another ACC Tournament title before falling in the Sweet 16 to Arizona.

And here we are. Following a performance in Columbus that couldn’t even qualify as subpar, Duke faces yet another critical juncture in its season. If there is any time for new life to be breathed into this Blue Devils team, it is now. Despite minor tests against Temple, Florida State, and upstart Virginia over the ensuing weeks, Duke certainly won’t be considered an underdog in any game it plays before its February 8th matchup with “the-team-who-must-not-be-named” in Chapel Hill. Although following last week’s beatdown at the hands of the Buckeyes this year’s matchup at Carolina looks especially daunting, if this team can make the necessary adjustments and hit its stride, we could be looking at one of the games of the year in college basketball.

Michael Gbinije saw increased playing time against Ohio State, scoring these two points on a fast break (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The only question now is, what will be Krzyzewski’s adjustment this time around? It almost certainly will include some sort of a change in tomorrow night’s starting lineup, though it is not particularly clear as to who will be inserted. The most likely to be pulled from the starting lineup following last week’s debacle appear to be Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins, both of whom played quite poorly and sat nearly the entire second half. Although Kelly has not always been reliable defensively (which is where Duke clearly got burned against Ohio State), I think the clear choice is to pull Dawkins. If you’ve been keeping up with our statistical analyses using advanced metrics, you’ll see that despite his weak showing last week, Kelly has been the most consistent offensive weapon on this year’s Duke team. Who is inserted into the starting lineup is a bit more up in the air, however. What Duke is lacking right now is the presence of a big wing player who can defend on the perimeter. As of now the only person on the roster that fits that role is Michael Gbinije, who saw more minutes against Ohio State than he had all year and put forth a decent effort. But I still question whether at this point in the year Gbinije is ready to take on a starting role, so I would say the more likely option is to see Quinn Cook or Tyler Thornton tomorrow night. Putting a true point guard out there will provide more stability on offense, and Thornton’s defense would surely be appreciated to make sure nobody can ever replicate Aaron Craft’s performance from last week again. If I were a betting man, I would say Thornton starts in place of Dawkins, but I would not be surprised to see any of these three in the starting lineup tonight.

Luckily for the Blue Devils, Colorado State does not pose a particularly tough test, so it should have plenty of opportunities to try different combinations of players and work to improve on some of the weaknesses from last week. Let’s hope history repeats itself and the adjustments pay off. Stay Crazie, my friends.