Smart Kids Beat Really Smart Kids…By Many

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WHAT JUST HAPPENED…
The Duke Blue Devils crushed the Princeton Tigers, 97-60 in Duke’s opening game of the season. Now Duke’s 37-point whipping was impressive, this was far from a perfect game for the Blue Devils. That just goes to show you how good this team really could be and how high the expectations will be this year.

THE GAME WAS OVER WHEN
…the Blue Devils went on a 8-0 run to end the first half. With 18 and a half minutes gone, Duke actually only led by six. Of course it was the two seniors, Singler and Smith, who hit back-t0-back threes that got the mini-run going. With the 14-point cushion, the Blue Devils looked more comfortable coming out of halftime and quickly pulled away.

WHO DESERVES MAD PROPS
Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith both established quickly that this was their show. While the rest of the team struggled in the first-half, Smith and Singler were flaming. The two seniors shot 10-15 from the floor in the first 20 minutes, while the rest of the team was just 4-18. For the game the pair was 17-25 (68%). Nolan Smith also ran the point when Irving took a break. He dished out six assists.

BTW, when was the last time Kyle Singler sat down in a game for a full seven minutes (which he did in the second half when he picked up his third foul)?

DON’T FORGET ABOUT
…the rookie sensation Kyrie Irving. The freshman quickly showed you and I his dazzling quickness and ability to stop on a dime (why a dime, I never figured that out?). His only fault was finishing. He missed an easy breakaway layup and a couple of floaters in the paint. Yet after a 1-5 start, he shot 3-5 in the second half.

More importantly though, he dished out nine assists to only one turnover. A nine-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio would even make John Scheyer blush. Of course any great point guard knows how to butter up his bread and his butter is knowing to get the ball into the hands of Singler and Smith. If my math is right, seven of his nine assists went to the two seniors.

LOSERS NEED LOVE TO
Dan Mavraides, who put up 26 against Rutgers early this week, actually had a nice shooting night in Cameron. He hit 6-8 from the floor, including 4-5 from three. He finished with 16 points. However, he had zero assists, only one board, turning it over five times.

GOD I LOVE STATS, PT 1: Duke scored 36 points off of 27 turnovers.

GOD I LOVE STATS, PT 2: The 97 points given up by Princeton is the most points they’ve allowed since 1968…yes, 1968 when they lost to North Carolina, 103-76.

THREE FROM THE TOP OF THE KEY:

Learning their roles – Listen, we all knew what to expect from Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. The big question heading into the season was, how long will it take others to figure out their roles on this team?

Obviously I already talked about Irving. While he needed some time to get the ball to go through the hoop, overall the kid looked like a seasoned point guard. He didn’t try to do too much, playing to his strengths.

Coming off the bench, Seth Curry seemed to be pressing at first. He threw up a couple of bad shots. I can’t really blame him though. He’s been waiting over a year for this moment. I’m sure that five minutes it took for him to get into the game, felt like two hours. However, like everyone else, he really settled down in the second half and when the game was in hand, he started nailing threes. He finished with 14, hitting 3-5 threes.

Andre Dawkins really impressed me tonight. He really looked confident. Like Curry, his first shot, about five-feet beyond the three-line, was a bad shot, but after that, he looked sharp. He nailed his threes and he looked cool driving that ball into the lane.

Princeton owned the paint – Actually, that’s a lie. The Tigers did not “own” the paint. However, Duke had a huge size advantage, thus they should have dominated the paint. Duke won the rebounding edge by one (28-27). Yet, they only got ahead in garbage time. The Tigers actually lead 18-14 at the half.

Overall, it was a team effort along the glass. Four players had four boards, while two others had three. Still, the brother Plumlees missed a handful of opportunities. Sometimes they were out of position, sometimes they had the ball in their hands, but had it knocked away (both Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston had the same problems). Our forwards need to grab those boards with some authority.

Mason Plumlee actually did some good things. He only took four shots, but he did a nice job passing the ball tonight. He finished with four assists and could have had more if some guards didn’t miss open threes. Most importantly though, was his outlet pass. On the defensive end, when Mason was able to get the board, he was able to always quickly find the point man (usually Irving) and get the fast break rolling. No hesitation.

Miles Plumlee clearly struggled tonight. He tried to have a back-to-the-basket game, but he’s still not in sync yet. He was once called for traveling on a move to the basket and was called for hooking a second time. He looked frustrated and he only played 17 minutes.

Coach K prefers his lineups small – When Duke first rotated players off the bench, Coach Krzyzewski first brought in the guards. And when things started to get tight, coach clearly was most comfortable with three guards, one Plumlee and Kyle Singler on the floor.

This of course is not unexpected. Singler had put on muscle knowing there would be some heavy minutes at power forward again. Time will tell though if small is the right answer. Andre Dawkins can handle the SF spot against a smaller team like Princeton, but when Duke faces size, I believe two Plumlee’s on the floor is still better than one.

FINAL DEEP THOUGHTS:
When it was all said and done, there was a lot to be happy about. Duke scored 97 points against a good defensive team. This teams strengths were really on display tonight. Their defense was aggressive from start to finish. They forced a ton of turnovers and pushed the ball well. Finishing plays should be a key talking point leading up to their next game.

Also, do not discount the impact of the zone had on this team, especially early.

When Princeton went with the zone, Duke was up 13-6, hitting four of their first five shots. After that, Duke just needed some time to adjust. They turned it over a few times and missed some wide open threes.

The coaching staff did do a nice job adjusting to it in the second half. In the first half, they tried to deflate the zone by passing the ball inside to the big man (usually Mason or Singler flashing to the top of the key). However in the second half, Duke broke down the zone with drives to the lane by Irving, Smith, Curry and Dawkins.

I’m also willing to forgive the low stats by the big men because of the zone. The 2-3 zone is not friendly to big men. Instead of posting up or screening, the big men were forced to live outside the paint, off to the side, almost below the basket. Their only chance to get the ball was flashing to the top of the key.

I think it will become clear to most teams that zoning this Duke team will be a bad game plan. The Blue Devils had no issues with launching threes, as they hit a solid 53% of them (14-26). Opponents will be forced to play man and they’ll have to play it up high. This should open things up inside for the big guys.

AS FOR MY PREDICTION: I said Duke would cruise to an easy 83-54 win. Clearly they did do some cruising, but just like when it comes to girls willing to sleep with me, I clearly underestimated how much scoring there would be.