The Big Three, Plus One

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Coach K wanted a “tournament” type game and he certainly got one from Tulsa Thursday night…at least for 31 minutes he did. The Duke Blue Devils put away the pesky Golden Hurricanes with a 18-3 run at the 19 minute mark in the second half.

The game felt like a second-round game, which is where a team like Tulsa would meet a team like Duke. A tight game, with the underdog riding the emotion, getting psyched by some shoots falling and loos balls going their way. But then in the second half, the better team takes over, gets all the breaks and wins the game easily.

SO WHAT DID I SEE?

THE DEVILS HAVE A CENTER
Who is this legitimate center that’s taken over the body of Brian Zoubek? Seriously, when was the last time you’ve seen someone just click this deep into the season? Zoubek continued his surprising play, with another-double (10 points, 11 boards).This one though, may have been his most impressive.

You see, this is the first time (since he’s been hot) that he’d be up against a better center. A faster, more athletic seven-footer, Jerome Jordan. Don’t get me wrong, Jordan’s no Greg Monroe, but he’s one of Tulsa’s “big three” and the all-time block leader in Conference USA.

To put it mildly, Zoubek owned him. Not only did he out rebound him (11-8, including 4-1 on the offensive glass), but Zoubek did something he’s never done…he created his own shot. The Duke faithful have been waiting five freaking years for this to happen.

Tulsa decided not to double down on Zoubek and he made him pay, four times (4-5 from the floor). He took passes down low with his back to the basket, made a move, pumped faked and drained his shots. Duke’s final four hopes get a big boost if this is the new norm from Brian Zoubek.

SCHEYER & TIRED LEGS SYNDROME?
While we’re sure everyone is going to rush to judgment and declare that Scheyer is in a slump because he’s tired from playing 36ppg (after another 5-16 shooting night), but I’m going to disagree. In fact, we’re going to dedicate a whole post to it after this one, so hang tight.

However, I’ll give you a hint…when a shooter is tired, what’s the first thing to fail him? You should know the answer. Now go look at Scheyer’s stats and tell me if they add up…or you can just wait to my next post, I already added it all up and figured it all out. I’m just that good.

NOLAN, MR. CONSTANT
I just realized that, despite the fact that Nolan has played well all season long, I’ve barely mentioned him on this blog. What’s the deal? I blame him. He’s just been too damn consistent. While players like Scheyer and Singler have had their huge high’s and low low’s (i.e. slumps), and players like Zoubek, Thomas, Dawkins and the Plumlee’s have all had their moments in the sun, Nolan just keeps on hitting his shot and playing good defense over and over again. And while he usually doesn’t lead the team in scoring, rebounds or assists, he’s always top two or three in the first two categories.

Basically, he’s been the one constant on this Duke team. Sure he’s had some rough patches in some games, but the thing about Nolan is, he’s matured now and he’s catching himself when things aren’t working and adjusting. Example…

Tonight, Nolan had a couple tough shots blocked. Both involved him diving too deep into the lane. So what’s the mature Nolan Smith do? The next time he takes a shot, it’s a beautiful mid-range jumper that tastes nothing but the bottom of the net, thus ending his mini-slump.

SINGLER OWNS THE LINE
While Kyle’s numbers from the floor won’t impress your girlfriend (4-12 from the floor), he abused Bishop Wheatley for most of the night, but especially in the second half. He was consistently driving to his right (from Gerald Henderson’s old spot) towards the rim. All Wheatley could do was foul, which he did often. Singler was 9-11 from the foul line tonight.

DON’T FORGET LANCE
Because of Zoubek’s amazing play of late, it’s easy to forget about Thomas. He himself grabbed a nice 10 boards, hitting a near-three pointer tonight.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ROTATION
Duke’s bench isn’t going to come into any game and dominate. But if they can play solid ball and let the starters get some quality time on the bench, then they’re doing their job. In fact, all we need is some good defense and for one of the bench players to do a little scoring.

Tonight, Miles caught the scoring bug (2-3 from the floor), including one night catch and lay up and a even better sky-hook, although it didn’t really sky too much. It was more of a laser-hook shot. For good measure, he grabbed six boards in only 17 minutes.

It’s become clear that Mason is not going to get any better this year. I hate writing that sentence because he’s going to be a great player real soon for the Devils. The fact is, he’s still struggling to finish plays (even after nice moves to the basket) and when he makes a mistake or misses a shot, he usually produces another bad play by fouling.

Dawkins shooting slump also continued. Since his two DNP’s, he’s hit only one shot…that’s 1-14 from the floor. It’s become clear the kid has lost his confidence (shooting is so much about confidence in your shot). I am glad that coach keeps getting him some minutes.

In the end, I understand why Coach K wanted to schedule Tulsa here, but I’ll be straight with you, I don’t agree with it. In fact, Duke should have not scheduled anyone. With the Big Three logging so many minutes, the fact is, they probably deserved a break. A nice rest, with a few fundamental practices thrown in is what this team needs.

No matter how good Tulsa may or may not be, you’re never going to be able to simulate a second-round tournament game playing on your home floor. Seriously, Duke has won like 400-straight (give or take a couple games) at home against non-conference foes.

In the future, a break would help the team more. At the very least, it gives me a few days of rest from blogging. When will Coach K start thinking about me?

WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?

With Robbie Hummell out for the season, Purdue might be in trouble. Just imagine if Duke lost one of its big three? In fact, don’t. It’s too painful of a thought. This should open up a No 1 seed for Duke, assuming Purdue drops a game or two. Of course this means Duke needs to win out, including the ACC tournament.

I’d love to land a No 1 seed and avoid Kentucky, Kansas and the winner of the Big East (which I assume it will be Syracuse) before the Final Four.

Speaking of winning the ACC, last night when Maryland was finishing off Clemson, the Terps fans were chanting, “We Want Duke!” Don’t worry, you’re going to get them real soon. However, don’t be naive. Maryland still has to go on the road to Virginia Tech and they must win (assuming Duke doesn’t lose to either Virginia or North Carolina).

Sure the Hokies have dropped two in a row, but they’re 14-0 at home this season, while Maryland is 2-3 on the road in the ACC.