WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
The Duke Blue Devils improved to 7-0 on the season, including a 2-0 record against top-10 teams with a solid win over the Michigan State Spartans. While the win wasn’t what I would call a “convincing” win, they don’t have to be against a Tom Izzo coached team.
With the win, Duke won their 81st straight game at home against non-conference foes. A streak that won’t be in any kind of jeopardy until maybe Temple shows up in late February.
THE GAME WAS OVER WHEN…
Kyler Singler put back a blocked shot with 2:55 to play. Let’s set it up for you. Duke is up five with the ball. The Blue Devils were up nine, but Michigan State’s Durrell Summers scored back-to-back baskets. This possession was key. The Spartans needed the stop.
The Devils go into slowdown mode. Nolan Smith has the ball high up top. Mason is trying to set a screen, but it’s not happening. Nolan looks stuck. The shot clock is ticking down. Suddenly, he goes left, Irving streaks to the basket. Nolan throws him a perfect bounce pass with three seconds on the shot clock. It’s a thing of beauty, but suddenly Draymond Green comes out of nowhere and blocks the shot. Shit! Shot clock violation…but wait, no…Kyle Singler swoops in and patiently puts a shot up (and yes, the ball was out of his hand before it hits zero). Two points!
The put back was huge. If Duke doesn’t make a basket, Michigan State has the ball, they’ve scored four straight and can now get back within three or even two with plenty of time on the clock. Instead, Duke goes back up by seven and the Spartans miss their next four shots.
WHO DESERVES MAD PROPS?
This one is too damn easy. Kyrie Irving had a career game (and to think it’s only game number seven). The kid simply took over. In the first half, Duke was struggling. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith were 1-9 from the floor. Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry were missing shots and turning it over. The brother Plumlee’s scored some, but foul trouble was taking them out of the game. Yet, the freshman simply put this team on his back.
For a good 10-minute stretch in the first half, he was unstoppable. Just like with Jacob Pullen a week ago, there was nothing senior guard, Kalin Lucas could do.
In the second half, the rest of the Duke squad finally jumped on board, but in the end, Irving again decided he was going to be the finisher. When the Spartans made a good basket, Irving took it upon himself to take it all the way down and respond. At the end of the game, he wanted to be at the free throw line to finish the game.
All told, Kyrie finished with 31 points, four assists, six rebounds and three blocks. He shot 8-12 from the floor (the rest of the team was just 17-41). He was 13-16 from the free throw line. That’s just unfair. Could it be…best basketball player in college? Too early to say, but Harrison Barnes, eat your heart out.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT…
…Mason Plumlee in the middle. He finished with his fifth double-double of the season, producing 10 points and 10 rebounds. Seven of those 10 boards were offensive, although it would help if Duke could do a better job capitalize on some of those offensive rebounds. Of those, Duke only managed to produce points twice (five total points). Twice Mason grabbed the rebound and then immediately turned it over…which brings me to one last point.
There are times when Mason looks like he has cement for hands. What can the coaching staff do to soften those puppies up? Without a doubt, the middle Plumlee is a superior athlete for a man his size. His understanding of the position and his role on this team are outstanding. He’s a lot better than he was last year, but he still struggles to finish plays and he turns the ball over (without the ball being stolen from him) way too much. Just look at the stat sheet…Mason had five steals tonight, great…but he also turned it over five times.
His ability to finish strong at the basket is key, especially when teams are fouling him. When you’re 40% from the free throw line, you need to force that ball into the hoop.
LOSERS NEED LOVE TO:
Korie Lucious came off the Spartans’ bench and was unstoppable in that first half. While the rest of the Michigan State guards struggling, he was flaming. He hit his first six shots, including three three-pointers before finally missing his last one with three seconds to go in the first half. He had 15 of the Spartans’ 34 points.
The Blue Devils did do a much better job handling him in the second half. He hit only one of his last five shots, but he did managed to dish out seven assists in the final 20 minutes (eight overall). This was the best performance by a guard against Duke so far this season.
GOD I LOVE STATS: To the dismay of Kentucky’s Coach Calipari, free throws is how you win championships. Hit them, you’re golden. Don’t…well, you know. With about a minute left and Duke up seven, it was foul and free throw time. The Blue Devils delivered. Duke hit eight of their last nine free throws, which were actually huge when you consider the Spartans scored 10 points in the final sixty seconds.
THREE FROM THE TOP OF THE KEY:
WIN THE BACK COURT BATTLE, WIN THE GAME
As I pointed out in my last post, Duke’s guards, particularly Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith, have become lock-down, shut-down defenders. They have made some pretty damn good guards look pretty damn average. Heading into this contest, The starting guards who have faced Duke have shot 30-percent from the floor, 20-percent from three and turned the ball over 40 times to just 22 assists.
While Korie Lucious did have a solid first half off the bench tonight, senior starting guards, Kalin Lucas and Durrel Summers did not. In fact, I would argue they were non-factors for most of the game.
Overall, the pair hit 10-24, including 2-5 from three. They had only two assists and two turnovers. Those aren’t terrible stats, but they don’t tell the whole story. Summers took only three shots in the first half, hitting only one. At times I had to find him on the court to make sure he was playing. Hell, with 36 minutes gone by, Summers still had only made two baskets. He did manage to hit three of four over the next couple minutes, but that was it.
As for Kalin Lucas, Irving owned him and Lucious when Duke had the ball. There was little Lucas could do to defend Irving. Lucas especially struggled to get around screens. By the time he got around Duke’s big men, Irving was halfway in the lane by then.
On offense, the Spartans leading scorer didn’t even take a shot until about the 6:40 mark in the first half. He didn’t hit his first shot until three minutes into the second half. He got hot during a three-minute stretch in the second half (about halfway through). He hit three shots in a row, but after that, he disappeared again.
WHO NEEDS A BENCH?
In the first half, Coach K rolled out with his typical rotation. Miles Plumlee came in early, followed by Dawkins and Curry. However, with Miles picking up quick cheap fouls and Seth Curry pressing way too much, Coach K basically decided to give up on the bench (except for Dawkins). Miles only saw eight minutes of action and Curry only got seven minutes on the floor.
Duke basically played a six-man rotation against the Spartans, who played 11 different guys tonight. This is even more amazing when you consider that both Irving and Mason missed some time to injury, plus all the foul trouble Duke was having.
In the end, playing time comes down to trust. If Miles can’t stay out of foul trouble, he’s not going to play. If Curry is going to throw up bad shots and travel, he’s not going to play…at least not in these big games.
However, this does bring up a good point. Early in the second half, Duke was running into some series foul trouble. They picked up seven quick ones six minutes into the second half. Now the Spartans also picked up four fouls early, but they are a much deeper team and can withstand foul trouble better.
Anyhow, Nolan Smith got the foul ball rolling with a cheap reach in one minute in (it was Duke’s second). That was his third. Most coaches pull Nolan there. You know Izzo is going to attack him and try to get him his fourth. Coach K though keeps him in and suddenly Smith, who has been struggling all game, finally gets involved. He would come down and hit a three, then follow that up with a circus layup.
Still though, the foul troubles added up. At the 16:15 minute mark in the second half, Duke picked up three fouls (Singler, Dawkins and Mason) in the span of 17 seconds (has to be a record). A minuter later, Ryan Kelly would pick up his third.
With fifteen minutes to play, the Spartans were in the bonus, while Duke was trying to hold a five-point lead. Some teams would have cracked here. Duke though showed that they are not only talented, but smart. The team would go 10 minutes without committing a foul. In fact, they would commit only two fouls the rest of the way, keeping the Spartans off the free throw line. For the game, Duke had 38 free throw attempts to Michigan State’s 15.
MICHIGAN STATE, SEE YOU IN APRIL
Despite the loss, the Spartans have plenty to be happy about. They came into a tough environment, they never backed down, they kept it close, they had their chances and just came up short. Hell, if this game had been played in East Lansing instead of Durham, we probably would have saw a different result.
The Spartans still have plenty to work on to get better, but you can see why some feel this is a Final Four team. Their two big issues coming into the game were turnovers on the offensive end and stopping the dribble penetration. Both were huge problems against Duke. The Spartans had 20 turnovers for the game, but they all came in the first 30 minutes. As for stopping the dribble drive, well we already discussed Irving up top.
FINAL DEEP THOUGHTS:
Duke won. While it wasn’t an ass-kicking, it was a good win against a good team. It was the second game in Duke’s brutal three-game stretch against Kansas State, Michigan State and Butler (yes, I’m ignoring Oregon).
Of course people are ready to start talking about an undefeated season. I’m not going to touch it. Yes, Michigan State is most likely the best team Duke will face all year, however, this will not be Duke’s toughest game.
The Blue Devils’ toughest games will be on the road in the ACC. I know the conference looks like shit right now and Duke will probably be the favorite in every game from this point on (even the ACC away from Cameron), but there is still something about playing on the road against teams that are familiar with you. Yes, Ohio State just beat Florida State in Tallahassee and Purdue beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, but none of this matters coming January and February. The same goes for North Carolina State and even North Carolina. When we travel to their home arenas, these teams will be improved and Duke will be challenged.