Duke Solves Butler Riddle


The No. 1 ranked Duke Blue Devils are 8-0 after beating the Butler Bulldogs in New Jersey Saturday afternoon. It took some time, but Duke need nearly 30 minutes before pulling away from the pesky Bulldogs.

The win ended a brutal two-week stretch that saw Duke go 3-0 against teams that were ranked in the top-1o to begin the season. While Butler wasn’t in the top-25 anymore after losing twice, they sure played like a team capable of being a contender again.

…at the 13:04 mark when Ronald Nored picked up his fourth foul. The pesky point guard is the defensive and emotional catalyst for this Butler team and when he sat down with that fourth foul, the Blue Devils were finally able to make their typical second half run.

Starting with Nolan Smith’s three free throws, Duke would go on a 12-0 run, turning a two-point deficit into a 10-point lead. the Bulldogs would continue to fight, getting back within four a couple of times, but Duke would never relinquish the lead again.

Kyrie Irving was again the most important player on this team. For the first 18 minutes, he was non-existent though. He was 0-1 from the floor, with three turnovers. More importantly, he had two fouls, limiting his time on the floor.

The Bulldogs implemented the triangle and two. This defense really prevented Irving (and Smith) from penetrating into the paint. It also helped Butler to have Ronald Norad on Irving. He’s one of the nation’s best on-the-ball defenders.

However, Irving is a great player and great players learn to adjust and make great plays. Once Kyrie figured out the defense, he went off. Over the next sixteen minutes, Irving would score 21 points with a combination of patient Irving drives (to his left) and three-pointers.

His most important points came with about 7-8 minutes to play. Butler was fighting to get back into the game, thanks mostly to Shawn Vazant’s scoring barrage. However, Irving matched him point for point. Vazant scored eight straight in a two-minute span, but so did Irving.

Andre Dawkins, who is becoming the official six-man on this team. Nolan Smith certainly deserves some props for leading the team in scoring with 23, but overall, Dawkins was everywhere. Dawkins played 32 minutes (a season high) and for a time was the only Blue Devil capable of hitting a three. He played great defense and actually grabbed eight rebounds.

His ability to defend and rebound is what will get him his playing time. With Kyle Singler stuck on the bench in foul trouble (he eventually fouled out), Dawkins will need to be more than just a spot-up three point shooter.

Butler’s Shawn Vanzant, Butler’s reserve guard, nearly willed his team to victory when all seemed lost. With about 10 minutes left, the Bulldogs were in trouble. Not only were they down 10, but half their starters were either injured or in foul trouble. Yet, Vanzant did the one thing that no guard has been able to do this season against Duke…score. He scored 12 0f his fourteen points in the final 10 minutes of the game.

GOD I LOVE STATS: Mike Krzyzewski won his 876th career game, tying him with Adolph Rupp. He’s currently 26 behind Bob Knight. So when is Coach K going to pass up his mentor? Obviously this depends on how many loses Duke gets and how far they advance in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, but I can give you some numbers.

If Duke was to go undefeated (don’t count on it), he would tie Knight in the ACC championship game and pass him in the NCAA Tournament’s first-round. If Duke loses let’s say two games (and wins the ACC), then you’re looking at Coach K getting to 903 in the Sweet 16.


Obviously a ton of props should be given to Brad Stevens of Butler. His decision to go with a triangle-and-two really frustrated Duke for a good 30 minutes. This defense was designed to stop Irving and Irving alone.

The idea is, you have one guy guarding him (another person playing man on Duke’s other guard), while the three other players form a triangle in the paint. If and when Irving would try to penetrate, the player at the top of the triangle would be there to double him up.

However, it’s not like there wasn’t enough chances to score. The Blue Devils had a ton (and I mean a ton) of open shots and they missed so many. They had their worst shooting performance on the season, particularly from the outside. The Blue Devils were just 8-26 from three. Seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith were especially bad, hitting hist 2-12 from deep.

The reality is, Butler did do a nice job of limiting Duke’s best player (Irving), but let’s be honest, Duke hits just half of those open jumpers and the game is a rout. I guess you could argue that it was great defense because instead of letting Duke do what they wanted to do, they turned them into a jump shooting team.

Kyle Singler’s overall stats aren’t terrible. He scored 13, hitting half of his 10 shots. He grabbed four boards, three offensive and he produced a couple of steals. However, he fouled out for the first time since losing to Georgetown last year.

However, I just felt like he missed a great opportunity to dominate this game. In Butler’s triangle and two, Brad Stevens typically had a big man at the top of the triangle. This left 6’1 Zach Hahn on the 6’8 Singler. When you have a seven-inch advantage over your defender, you have to take advantage of it…that’s why they call it a “seven-inch advantage.”

Not once did Singler try to take advantage of his size. After getting to the free throw line on his first attempt, he just seemed passive. He would take only two more shots in the game’s first 14 minutes and both were three pointers. This was a game that Kyle should have owned.

Again and again the Blue Devils have done a fine job of hitting their free throws, especially at the end. Overall, the team is hitting 73-percent of their free throws. Now Mason’s 42-percent is driving that number down, but Duke’s guards (i.e. the guys handling the ball at the end of the game) have been great.

Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith, Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry and even Kyle Singler are hitting 84-percent of their shots (109-130). In the final two minutes of Duke’s games, they are 26-33 from the FT line. In the final important minute, they are 16-20, but keep in mind, three of those four misses all came against Marquette.

The game was a battle, but I’m excited about the win. First and foremost, I refuse to be a spoiled Blue Devils fan. Second, they beat a good team by 12. Back when I did the preseason prediction, I actually penciled in a loss for this game. It’s not that I felt that Butler was better than Duke, I just felt after beating two top-five teams (K-State, Michigan State) with a trip to Oregon sandwiched in between, I could see Duke being a little worn out. Don’t believe me, I’ll quote myself:

"While I don’t think the Bulldogs are as talented as they were last year, I actually think this is a trap game. By this point, Duke would have played two huge games against two top teams. For Butler, this is the game they have circled on their Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders calendar. Would anyone fault the Devils if they let this one slip away?"

This game did end up being a battle. The Blue Devils were sluggish out of the gate. Butler had all the energy at the beginning of the game. However, in the end, Duke’s talent took over and the game was won.

Of course some will point to the fact that Duke missed a ton of jumpers, thus they can be beaten. However, I point to the fact that this team did have a tough time shooting, yet they still pulled out the win. The fact is, Duke can play bad and win.

The tough non-conference part of this schedule is done. Right now, there isn’t another ranked team on Duke’s schedule (although someone from the ACC will get back into the top-25 at some point).

Kyrie Irving strained his toe at the end, but there is plenty of time to heal. The Blue Devils will only play three more games the rest of this year. The toughest will be against Saint Louis, before ending the year with home games against cupcakes Elon and UNC Greensboro.