In the world of college basketball, the ‘one-and-done’ players are a very common occurrence. For the University of Kentucky, the basketball team is typically filled with these players. There is nothing wrong with this strategy as long as you can keep reloading every year, which Kentucky does, and as long as you have an adequate coach who can turn the team into a cohesive unit in just a few months, which John Calipari has proved numerous times he is capable of doing. The main problem with this strategy, however, is that the teams composed primarily of these young players typically tend to struggle in the early stages of the season. With the boatloads of inexperienced talent all coming into one lineup, the cohesiveness and chemistry of the team often struggles.
This would prove to be Kentucky’s Achilles’ heel tonight, as Duke rode their experienced and senior-filled lineup to a 75-68 victory over the Wildcats.
Duke did a lot of things right tonight: they played tough defense, shot well from beyond the arc, and limited their turnovers after a rocky start, finishing the game with eight. However, when one asks what the defining aspect of the game that gave Duke the victory was, you can look at them and, with the enthusiasm of every little league, peewee, and youth league coach you’ve ever had, say, “teamwork.” The chemistry of this team is undeniable. During the summer, Seth Curry stated that the team was more like a family now than it was a year ago, and that showed on the court against a very talented Kentucky team.
The Blue Devils were rarely caught out of position on either ends of the court, and they played with a type of cohesiveness that you’d expect from a starting lineup that featured three seniors and a junior. They picked each other up, they didn’t picker when things started to go wrong, and above all else they stuck together for the whole forty minutes. Last year, the team didn’t look like this. It looked like a group of individuals who all happened to be wearing the same jersey running around on a court. This year, there is a feeling of a calm and collective togetherness throughout this entire team, and it was fun to watch it come together on such a big stage against such a good team.
Now, let’s move on from the touchy-feely crap and get on with the analysis, shall we?
-I wondered in my last article how well Mason Plumlee would perform on the offensive end, stating that he would undoubtedly dominate the boards. Well, so much for my analysis. Plumlee was a monster on the offensive end, scoring 18 points on 7 of 8 shooting and a perfect 4 of 4 from the free throw line. It was a very good performance, but his most shocking stat came in the rebound department: three. 6’10 Mason Plumlee pulled down three rebounds in twenty-nine minutes of game-time, including only one in the first half. The even stranger thing about this is, despite Duke’s best rebounder being non-existent on the boards, Duke tied Kentucky in the rebounding-department, 27-27.
-Rasheed Sulaimon is a special player. Sulaimon showed he doesn’t need to have a big scoring game in order to make an impact. The freshman went 3-14 from the field, but collected six rebounds, five assists, and zero turnovers in thirty-three minutes. When Sulaimon did make shots though, they were huge, with all of his buckets coming from beyond the arc at crucial points in the game. When this kid starts figuring out how to score on a consistent basis, he is going to be one of the more complete Duke players in recent memory.
-Seth Curry put together probably his best game as a Duke Blue Devil. The senior showed that he has come all the way back from a shin injury that plagued him for so long, scoring 23 points and making a significant amount of crucial plays late in the game.
-Josh Hairston was forced into action early on in this game after Kelly and Plumlee both got in foul trouble, but the Junior Forward performed admirably, using his non-stop motor to create opportunities for the Blue Devils on offense by collecting four offensive rebounds in fourteen minutes. Hairston also provided five points, with four of those coming on put-backs that pumped the Blue Devils up. While he has performed better in other games, I think this was my favorite Hairston game since his arrival at Duke.
-Neither Quinn Cook nor Tyler Thornton emerged as the best option for the starting point guard position today, but both played well enough to get Duke the win. I’m still not convinced that either Cook or Thornton deserves the job, but I would like to see Cook start and finish a game at the position, just to see how he performs with the first team over an extended period of time.
-Alex Murphy entered the game, but only played two minutes, leaving with a completely empty stat sheet. No one is entirely sure why Murphy hasn’t seen much playing time so far, but it is probably safe to assume Coach K doesn’t think he is ready for this level of competition quite yet. Here is hoping he manages to get some playing time against Florida Gulf Coast.
-That is it from Ball Durham. Duke’s next game will be on November 18th against the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles, who are coming off a twelve-point victory over Duke’s ACC-foe, the Miami Hurricanes.
Great win today, Blue Devils.