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

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.

The Evolution of Austin Rivers

The Duke basketball program is used to bringing in highly touted freshmen. In any given year, odds are that Duke has landed at least one of the top five high school players in the nation. The Blue Devils have been represented in every single McDonald’s High School All-American game since 1993. Last season, super-freshman Kyrie Irving needed only 11 games to take the NCAA by storm and earn the #1 overall pick in the draft. But although he’s stepping directly into the shadows of Irving, I think we all can agree that there hasn’t been more hype for a Duke freshman than for Austin Rivers.

Rivers’ story is already well known. The Winter Park, Fl. native is the son of former NBA guard and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Doc spent the first nine of his fourteen NBA seasons as a player with the Atlanta Hawks (he also played for Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and San Antonio Spurs.) Living up to a father who played in the NBA is no easy task (and not an uncommon one in the Duke program, just ask Seth Curry, Gerald Henderson or Chris Collins). But being the son of a former NBA player and one of the top coaching minds in basketball means much more than that. Not only do you have to be physically gifted, you’re expected to have excellent basketball instincts.

Rivers was on display from the beginning in the Friendship Games (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Every fall at Duke is special thanks to the arrival of 1700 new Cameron Crazies, but more importantly it means the arrival of a handful of new campus “gods”: the freshman basketball players. As one of the most heavily hyped freshmen in the country, I can assure you that it didn’t take very long for Rivers to attain celebrity status on campus. Not only had we heard our favorite college basketball analysts raving about this kid and seen endless highlight reels of him on YouTube (my personal favorite being this one of him crossing up 2010 NBA #1 overall pick John Wall), but we were able to catch a glimpse of him playing with the rest of his Blue Devil teammates at the Friendship Games in China and the UAE over the summer. When the season finally started, however, the “Austin Rivers legend” and the 18 year-0ld player were not exactly identical.

Our first glimpse of Rivers at Cameron was at Duke’s annual Countdown to Craziness. Though the general excitement surrounding the event was the kick-off to this team’s run toward a fifth national championship, there wasn’t a soul on campus that didn’t walk into Cameron that day wondering what this kid could really do. Austin was well received by the Duke crowd- as the first player introduced, he received the loudest ovation of the entire evening. Rivers came out on fire, knocking down shots from all over the floor as his White team jumped out to a double-digit lead by halftime. In the second half, the wheels started to fall off a bit. Rivers’ shots were not falling and he became visibly frustrated, affecting his play on both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, the Blue team led by veterans Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins came storming back and eventually took home the victory.

Another month of hard work and fine tuning went by, and the Blue Devils were finally ready to start their 2011 season. Even in just 11 games this year, you can examine Rivers’ season in three distinct phases. Here’s a look at Rivers’ performances to date, game by game.

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Rivers' worst performance of the season was against Michigan State (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

As you can plainly see, the first few games of the year for Austin Rivers didn’t go so hot. In fact, he looked downright out of sync with the rest of the Duke team. Part of Rivers’ struggles in the opening games of the season resulted from increased pressure for him to step into his team’s vacant role of point guard. When Austin was bringing up the ball more often, he felt more pressure to create and facilitate the offense. This combined with a slightly naïve sense of invincibility left over from his high school playing days resulted in a lot of forced shots and turnovers, and the Duke offense struggled.

Rivers earned his chances at the rim when he was the centerpiece of the offense (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Following a dreadful performance at Madison Square Garden against Michigan State, Rivers finally started to slow down and trust in his teammates. In turn, he allowed other players to set him up for open looks and made sure not to waste his opportunities. The point guard responsibilities shifting toward Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton only made matters easier for Rivers, who was able to roam the perimeter in search of open threes when he was off the ball and split double teams to drive down the lane when he was on the ball. However, Rivers’ transformation into the offensive force that he now is was not complete. There were still moments where he would revert back to his old bad habits and force a bad shot or turn the ball over. This second phase of his season was still extremely important, as Duke was able to get quality wins over difficult opponents like Michigan and Kansas. Duke’s drubbing at Ohio State marked the last game of this phase. Rivers put forth one of his better offensive outputs of the season, netting a career-high 22 points while pulling off some dazzling drives.

A more patient Austin Rivers has blended into the Duke offense splendidly (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The third phase of Austin’s season was an intriguing one. Rivers stepped back from his role as the team’s primary scorer and once again the Blue Devils scored by committee. However, this is when he began to play his best basketball of the year. It seemed as though the less Rivers had to do, the more he could do. In Duke’s past three games, Rivers hasn’t had to take as many shots, but has converted as a higher percentage and has not stuck out as an individual entity wearing a Duke jersey, but rather a contributing member of Duke’s fluid offensive set. This is a role he has thrived in- his scoring has not dropped whatsoever and he is contributing more to the team. I’ve watched every single Duke basketball game this year and wrote about most of them, and I’ll still contend that the Austin Rivers moment that got me the most excited had nothing to do with a steal, dunk, or 3-pointer, but rather when I got home from the Colorado State game on December 7, checked a box score and realized he scored a beautifully quiet and efficient 17 points, and then rewatched the game and witnessed how incredibly he flowed within the offense for the first time all year.

Our mission at Crazie-Talk is to bring you all aspects of Duke basketball: the good, the bad, and the Crazie. Ironically, that is exactly the way to sum up Austin Rivers’ young freshman season–the first part was bad, in the second part he became the focus of the offense and went a bit Crazie (not necessarily in a good way), and the third part has been very, very good. Let’s take a look at Austin’s averages from his three phases of this season, “The Bad” being the year’s first three games, “The Crazie” being from Davidson to Ohio State, and “The Good” being Duke’s past three games.
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So which of these would you rather have? Obviously we’re getting rid of Austin at the beginning of the year where he wasn’t playing well overall, but I’d rather have the Rivers that plays fewer minutes and shoots less, while making more, and doesn’t disrupt the flow of the offense. It sounds almost like a no-brainer.

Just like last season, the Blue Devils enter the ACC regular season headlined by a stud freshman as their leading scorer. Unlike last season, this year’s stud freshman is not sidelined by an injury that will cost him 20 or so games. Just like any first-year player, the ACC  season will be another transition for Austin Rivers, so don’t go jumping off the bandwagon if he has a tough game or two, especially as he gets accustomed to the intensity of ACC road tests. But over the course of this young season, we have learned a lot about who Austin Rivers really is–he is developing, he is learning quickly. He has become an integral member of this offense and he is earning the hype. At this point in his freshman year, Rivers is nowhere near the “finished product” that Kyrie Irving was in December, but he is improving at a scary pace. And we get to watch. We see these glimpses of greatness that a year ago were only reserved for our computer screens on YouTube, as game by game the greatness begins to take over.

It will be something special to witness.