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.

Tales From The Tent: Day 1- Welcome to K-Ville

My fellow Crazies, after a long wait it is finally that time of year- it’s tenting season. I will be bringing you a step by step account of my tenting experience for the next six weeks to give you an inside look at the most sacred tradition at Duke University- tenting.

Tent, rope, tarp, and other supplies…$400
Tickets to the Carolina game (if you play your cards right)…$0
One incredible freshman tenting experience…priceless

The day had finally arrived. After weeks of preparation, it was time to pitch our tent and move into K-ville. Now I know what you’re thinking- it’s just pitching a tent, how hard can it be? Well let me tell you, it’s not nearly as easy as you think. We weren’t preparing for some family overnight campout where you find a spot that has only a couple of rocks in it, plop your tent on the ground, and call it a day. No, we were getting ready to build a tent site that would be able to stand against the mighty wind on a cold and muddy tundra and protect us from an onslaught of North Carolina rain (and possibly snow) for the next six weeks. Keep in mind, I talked to black tenters that had been out there for just one week already and said their tents were trashed. So bright and early (and by bright and early I mean 1:00 in the afternoon, bear in mind that we are college students) we set out to construct the most serviceable structure possible.

We loaded up in two of my friends’ cars and headed over to West campus to set up for that evening, but believe it or not the first place we went was not K-ville. I kid you not, to begin our tenting process we scavenged for wood. Very few tents actually sit directly on the ground in K-ville, and those that do often suffer the consequences when the rains come. The grass in K-ville slopes just about every which way, resulting in frequent drainage issues during storms, which as you can imagine wreaks havoc on tenters. Most people will try to build platforms under their tent to counteract this, putting their tents on higher ground and out of the way when floods occur. So off we went to find our wood.

"Stealing" free wood from underneath McDonalds has never been so easy (photo property of Crazie-Talk)

We struck gold at our first location- a loading dock underneath the McDonalds in the Bryan Center. There they had discarded of many pallets that would be perfect to support our tent. Students typically can find pallets like this strewn all over campus, including at the Duke Hospital and even on East campus, but luckily for us there were just about as many pallets as we needed. We began to carry the wooden supports up the hill toward K-ville, which proved to be a long and arduous process. Keep in mind, the tent we are using is very large, as it has to fit six people in it every night. It measures 14 feet by 10 feet (which is close to the average size of a room in Blackwell), so we needed to bring about 13 pallets. After pausing for a starstruck moment as Tyler Thornton walked by, we discovered a fantastic cart that was left unchained on the loading dock, so of course we borrowed it for our personal use. We were relieved to load up the rest of our pallets at once, and began to push the giant load up the hill toward our destination.

We were very content with our tent location as we began to set up shop (photo property of Crazie-Talk)

We finally reached K-ville, and it was time to stake our claim. The search was on for the perfect spot to pitch our tent, one that would not flood easily and was accessible without having to weave through other tents. After about 15 minutes of searching we arrived at a consensus on a spot. It seemed to be the best spot available at the time of our arrival. As you can imagine, most of the prime real estate was taken up by the black tenters, but this spot was a very good one. It was right next to a sidewalk where we would not encounter too much traffic and the door of our tent would be easily accessible. It was also one of the dryer spots after some significant rainfall in the past couple of days. So a few of us began to set up shop and lay our pallets out while others went to Home Depot to pick up more supplies.

Resident Boy Scout Nathan hard at work on the plywood (photo property of Crazie-Talk)

It didn’t take too long to get our pallets laid out. We were able to set up a nice spot for our tent and in the process meet some of our newest neighbors. Many black tenters that we knew came over to greet us and offer advice while we negotiated this new process. Two additional groups of freshmen were in the process of pitching their tents directly on either side of us, so there was a bit of negotiating to do in terms of space. By the time we had finished with this, the rest of our tent members had arrived back from Home Depot with about 150 square feet of plywood. We were ready to strengthen the pallets we had gotten (a few of which were in less than pristine shape to begin with) by nailing the fresh plywood down on top. We laid the wood out over top of the pallets, and with two hammers and a set of nails began banging away. About an hour and a half, 50 or so nails, and quite a few sore thumbs later, we had secured the layer of plywood on top of our pallets and were ready to construct our actual tent.

If actually pitching the tent was our last step, it would have been a quick and easy day (photo property of Crazie-Talk)

The pitching of the actual tent did not take that long. Luckily we had a few diligent outdoorsmen and a former boy scout in our tent crew, so this is one of the parts of the process that came the easiest to us. After the tent was constructed, we moved the tent from the sidewalk onto the platform. But the process was nowhere near over. We worked to secure the tent down and cover it with our rainfly. After this was done, we conferenced as a group and discovered that we needed a couple more supplies. One of our friends went to run and pick those up while the rest of us took a much needed dinner break. By 6:00 p.m. we were most of the way done.

But there was much more still to be done. After a quick dinner most of us took the time to catch up on some rest or do some schoolwork (some of us had forgotten that we are still taking classes), the tent reassembled in the Giles common room at 9:00 p.m. to discuss the schedule for that week and divide up tent hours. A few of us had worked to divide up the daytime hours in advanced (considering our class schedules do not change from week to week), but we sought to divy up evening and weekend hours on a weekly basis. We met for about 40 minutes and discussed scheduling, final plans to complete our setup, weekly meetings, and general tent rules to follow. I unveiled to the group the master schedule a few of us had been working on for the very first time, which was just about the most intense Google Doc you had ever seen. It had contact info and class schedules for every member of the group, including everyone’s availabilities during the week at any given moment, along with the schedule we would follow during daytime hours and slots for the evening and weekend schedules. We then divided up the hours and sleeping schedules for the rest of the week and were ready to press onward. With the 11:00 p.m. deadline to start tenting looming, the six members that were sleeping in the tent that evening prepared to head back over to K-ville for the night. Two more of us including myself volunteered to head over and put the finishing touches on the tent. Around 10:40 p.m. we pushed off and made our final descent upon K-ville to begin our tenting season.

Our tent just needed a couple of finishing touches after sundown (photo property of Crazie-Talk)

We arrived outside Cameron Indoor Stadium a few minutes before the 11:00 deadline. There were just a couple of things we needed to take care of before our tent was fully operational, but they would prove to be rather time consuming. Our mission was simple, we needed to adorn our tent with two tarps- one that would go underneath the tent above the plywood and one that would drape on top of the rainfly- to protect our tent from the elements. After speaking to countless experienced tenters, they all agreed that the worst possible thing that would happen to you in K-ville was for your tent to flood, so we took every step possible to make sure we would never encounter that situation. Getting the first tarp down underneath was no problem at all, but the second tarp was another story. One of our tent members had run out to the store around dinnertime to pick up this tarp and was struck with a dilemma- the store did not have sizes that accommodated us very well. One tarp was too small to fully drape over our tent, and one was a bit too big.

Yeah...this tarp was really big (photo property of Crazie-Talk)

He told me that it was bigger than what we needed, but clearly I didn’t understand how much bigger he was talking about. When we unfurled the glorious tarp on the field at K-ville, it nearly covered half of the makeshift tent city. Turns out that although our tent was 14 feet by 10 feet, we had bought a tarp that was 50 feet by 30 feet. That’s right- the tarp was 50 feet long. We considered a myriad of possible solutions, including folding the tarp over completely in both directions, draping the full tarp over both our tent and our next-door neighbors, and building some sort of complex irrigation system out of the massive tarp that was 10 times the area of our tent. We ultimately settled on folding the tarp in the way that best suited the size of our tent, using nature’s jack of all trades, duct tape, to secure the crease. After about an hour of figuring out the best way to drape this monstrous tarp over our tent, we staked it into the ground and our preparation was complete.

It was now time for my friend Nathan and I, who had been enjoying our “day off” messing with the tarp, to say our goodbyes and head back to Giles. We left the remaining six members of our tent in K-ville to endure their first night as blue tent FF. We were able to make it back to our dorm by 12:45 a.m., finishing the setup process in a swift 12 hours. Not too shabby for some first timers.

I’ll continue to keep you posted in the coming days on how my tent is doing. I hope you enjoyed reading about the beginning of our journey. Feel free to tweet at us to wish luck! As always, stay Crazie, my friends.

Finally all done! Tent, sweet tent. (photo property of Crazie-Talk)

 

Be sure to check out the rest of Dan’s tenting diary! Links galore below:

Pre-tenting: It Begins
Day 1: Welcome to K-Ville
Day 2: From Dusk ‘Til Dawn
Day 4/5: Into The Storm
Day 7: Losing Momentum
Day 9: The Other Side of Duke Basketball
Day 12/13/14: You Win Some, You Lose Some
Day 15: The First Taste
Day 18: Insanity
Day 26: When One Comeback Isn’t Enough
Day 29/30: I’ve Been Dreaming Of A White Tenting
Day 35/36: Taking Out The Trash
Day 40: It Gets Personal
Day 41: One Force, One Fight
Day 42: Go To Hell Carolina

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.

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.

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #2 Duke

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected ACC runner-up, the Duke Blue Devils.

The high-flying Blue Devils are greatly improved from the beginning of the season, and look to silence their critics. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 12-2

Key Wins:
November 22- Duke 82, Michigan 75
November 23- Duke 68, Kansas 61

Tough Losses:
November 29- Ohio State 85, Duke 63
January 4- Temple 78, Duke 73

Starting Lineup:[table id=27 /]The Good: This team is full of offensive weapons. Duke boasts the seventh-best scoring offense in the country at 82.8 points per game. They can hit shots from all over the floor and are shooting 50.5% from the floor on the year, good for fifth in the nation. The Blue Devils have arguably the best backcourt in the country, and their guards account for one of the best shooting trios in recent Duke history. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins are shooting a combined 42.3% from beyond the arc this year. Their frontcourt is also significantly improved and has been dominant in recent games, headlined by junior Mason Plumlee, who has averaged 11.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on the year thanks to a new array of post moves. The Blue Devils have also played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. They’ve faced three opponents that are ranked in the top 16 of the AP Top 25, defeating two of them. This was a great test for this young team, and will serve them well as they head into conference play.

The Bad: Though they are much improved on the offensive end, Duke has struggled at times with interior defense this season. This was most evident against Kansas and Ohio State, when they allowed Kansas’s Thomas Robinson to go for 16 points and 15 rebounds and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger went for 21 and eight boards. To make matters worse, the Blue Devils have had lapses inside against some of their weaker opponents. Even when the game is out of reach, this is not something you like to see a talented team make a habit. The Blue Devils have also struggled from the free throw line this season, something they cannot afford to continue as they enter their ACC schedule. Duke has shot 67.9% from the foul line this season, which is significantly below their typical standards. The Blue Devils have been one of the better free throw shooting teams in the country in years past, and haven’t shot below 68% from the line on a season since 1997-1998. Duke’s woes from the lines this year have been headlined by Mason Plumlee, who despite making significant improvements in the post this season, is shooting an abysmal 38.5%. Austin Rivers didn’t seem to get the memo that Duke guards don’t miss free throws, shooting just 69.6% from the stripe. He has vowed that he will be shooting 80% from the line by the end of the year.

The Crazie: The craziest thing about this year’s Duke team is that it is continuing to come together before our very eyes. The Blue Devils lost three huge pieces of last year’s team, and has had to rebuild on the go thus far. This team was able to win at the beginning of the year based on talent alone, but in the last few games you’ve been able to see them really getting into a rhythm. It appears this team is not done making adjustments, either. When they were struggling earlier in the season, they opted for Tyler Thornton to start over sharp shooter Andre Dawkins, and now it appears that relatively soon freshman Quinn Cook will take over for Thornton as the team’s starting point guard. This is a team that is still building its image and getting comfortable playing together, but it’s remarkable how quickly they’ve gotten to this point.

Player We Love To Hate: This is a Duke blog…we’re going to skip this one.

The Bottom Line: Everyone knew the ACC was going to come down to Duke and North Carolina this year. Overall, the Tar Heels are a more experienced team and will ultimately take the regular season crown, but it should be much closer than many people expect. Duke will give North Carolina a significant challenge, and they should split their games this year, with each team winning on its home floor. The Blue Devils shouldn’t have much trouble handling the rest of the ACC competition, though they might drop a tough road game or two. They drew one of the more difficult road schedules in the conference this year, playing away at Florida State, Maryland, and Virginia Tech, which are likely the three toughest road games in the ACC outside the state of North Carolina. Although they seem to be written off by many of the “experts” for this year, this young and inexperienced team should surprise some people and contend as with Cook at point guard they continue to gel.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina