"Duke" In the Heart of Texas


Wow, what a freaking four days of basketball. I’m exhausted. with Kansas going down and with so many lower seeds advancing to the Sweet 16, it certainly has been the best four days of basketball that I’ve seen in a long, long time. I was planning on doing a whole write up about the first two rounds, but I need a break. I’ll jump on it by Wednesday.

Did I forget to mention Duke? I did, didn’t I? What can I say, the Blue Devils continue to fly under the radar after an impressive win against the PAC-10 regular season champ, California.

With so many upsets, with so many big performances by players from small schools, with so many last seconds shots going in or just missing, with Kentucky and Syracuse blowing away the competition, the Devils just did their job this week and it barely registered.

They were never threatened, there was never any doubt, yet I’ll be willing to bet you’ll barely hear a word about your Devils.

And I think that’s exactly how we all want it.


Two days after Nolan Smith struggled against Arkansas-Pine Buff, Duke’s junior guard dominated. He dominated on offense. he dominated on defense. Let’s start with the latter.

The Bears were known for their run-and-gun offense. A roster loaded with guys who were willing and able to shoot from almost anywhere past the mid-court line. For Duke, the man who needed to be stopped was diminutive point guard, Jerome Randle.

After hitting three of his first four shots tonight, Nolan Smith locked down on Randle, holding him to 2-8 the rest of the way. He was 2-6 from three and never sniffed the free throw line.

Of course none of this should be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Smith’s D has been a pleasant surprise all season and will be key to any deep run by Duke.

On the offensive end, the thing about Nolan is, you’ll know right away if he’s going to have a stud game or not. He just has a tendency to start burning hot or ice-cold and he doesn’t change throughout the game. Tonight, he scored 20, on 9-18 shooting.

Shots get missed. That’s basketball. Any team would feel blessed if they hit 50% of their shots. The trick is to make sure to get a second chance. That’s how Duke is winning these games. And I’m not just talking about offensive rebounds. Duke only won that 11-8. It’s about producing with those rebounds.

The Blue Devils shot a decent 48% from the floor. That’s a good number, but it gets better when you dig deeper. They missed a total of 30 shots. Yet thanks to our big men, Zoubek, Thomas, Plumlees and even Singler, Duke got a second chance on 36% of their misses.

The Blue Devils pulled down 11 offensive rebounds against California and managed to score eight times for 15 total points. The Bears grabbed eight offensive rebounds, but only manage to score three times for six points.

It’s what all future opponents will have to do. For almost the entire season, all opposing coaches had to do was focus on the big three. Don’t sweat the inside stuff. Zoubek though, who looks like a new man now that he’s healthy, has to be dealt with.

For most of the night, Zoubek was Duke’s second leading scorer. He finished with 14 tonight, including, dare I say it, a dunk. Think about it, when was the last time you saw Brian Zoubek dunk? I’m seriously asking, I have no clue. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him dunk.

Heading into the Sweet 16, Duke will have another size advantage, as Purdue will roll with four guards. However, they do have a big man in JaJuan Johnson. He’s tall and a bit skinny, and he does have the ability to score. The Devils will need to contain him, while Johnson will need to find a way to get on the boards against Duke.

A) Jon Scheyer’s worst shooting performance of the season. It was bad. He was only 1-11 from the floor. Early on he missed some w  i  d  e  open threes and later, he missed some bad shots. it was ugly. He can do this against Cal, but he can’t do this anymore or his college career will be over sooner than he hopes.

B) An ability to land a three. The Devils only shot 3-17 from three. No one was able to get anything going deep. It was a true team effort to not hit three-point shots.

C) Multiple stretches without hitting a shot. Twice in the second half, Duke had a four-minute stretch without scoring a basket. The first time, the Bears went on a 8-0 run. The second time Duke held them to a 3-2 run (Duke’s two points coming on free throws).

So how did they still win this thing?

A) Inside scoring. Zoubek and Thomas are both scoring more now than the have al season long. They’re finding the open spots on the floor for passes from the big three and they’re getting put backs off rebounds. Also, both Smith and Singler are driving to the lane and creating points. Smith is doing it with quickness, while Singler uses muscle.

B) Defense. The Blue Devils are playing great D. Nolan is taking care of the point, while the big boys inside are clogging up the lane. The Plumlee brothers have also done a better job of defending when they’re in there. Speaking of…

Prior to the tournament I had said that Duke won’t win this thing. Yet, I said they could win if a handful of things happened. One of those things was if a backup stepped up and started to play like a starter. So far, Miles Plumlee has done that.

In only 34 total minutes in the tournament, he has scored 12 points (6-10 shooting) and grabbed 11 rebounds (three offensive). He really has stepped up to the point where when he and his brother come in and Zoubek/Thomas come out, there is little drop off.

STAT OF THE GAME: Duke only turned the ball over five times. In fact, during a 30:29 stretch during the game, Duke turned the ball over only once.

Anyhow, great game. So far, Duke remain the favorite in the south region. I’m actually disappointed that Villanova is gone. I would rather play them than Baylor. The reality was, I wanted to avoid the Texas two-step, i.e. playing both Texas A&M and Baylor deep in the heart of Houston, Texas (something I pointed out every time someone said Duke had the easiest road to the Final Four).

Luckily, Purdue took care of the Aggies. That doesn’t mean I think Purdue is not as good as A&M, in fact I think the opposite. I just didn’t want to face A&M in what would have been a true road game for the Blue Devils.

As for the other side of the bracket, don’t assume Baylor will beat St. Mary’s. That Sasquatch the Gaels have, Omar Samhan, is a beast in the middle. So big, so polished. He has owned this tournament. His numbers are so good, he could not play another game and still earn first-team All Tournament. He is 24-32 from the field, 13-21 from the line, grabbing 19 boards and blocking three shots. Oh and he did all that will foul trouble.

Of course if Duke and St. Mary’s end up in the Elight Eight, there would be times when you’ll see nine white players on the floor at any given time. Strange days indeed.