Devils defense | College Basketball | Indy Week
Pin It

Devils defense 

Two nights before Thanksgiving, Duke's freshman point guard Kyrie Irving made his proper ESPN debut in front of a sea of royal purple in Kansas City's Sprint Center. The stage was the championship of the annual O'Reilly Auto Parts College Basketball Experience Classic, with the top-ranked Blue Devils facing their first ranked team of the season, the No. 4 Wildcats of Kansas State. Duke didn't take long to dominate the regional favorites, limiting Kansas State's star guard to just one made field goal and securing a 10-point-plus lead by the third television timeout.

The first half in the Midwest was good to Irving, a sprightly freshman—"arguably as good as any guard who's played in New Jersey," his high school coach once said, putting him alongside Duke great Bobby Hurley. In the 17 minutes he played in the opening half, he scored 12 points with two steals and four assists and only one turnover. He beat Kansas State's guards off the dribble and drew fouls in the paint, making each of his six free throws in the first half. Athletic and assured, he looked like a star. "Oh, they're going to love him in Dure-ham," perennial Duke booster Dick Vitale proclaimed perhaps a half-dozen times from the sidelines, early and often.

Mispronunciation excepted, Vitale is right about Irving and the Blue Devils as a whole this year when he notes that if college basketball fans learned anything from the downfall of the UNC Tar Heels last season, it's that national champions (even with returning starters and an abundance of ballyhooed freshmen, all coached by a legend) are fallible. But in front of their biggest audience yet, Duke—freshman guard, rotating pool of big men, suffocating defense and all—gave Duke's Mike Krzyzewski his 800th win at Duke. The Devils looked like the sort of team that could become only the second to win back-to-back NCAA titles since Duke did it in 1992—ready for the nation, ready for a repeat, ready to make Krzyzewski the most winning Division I coach in college basketball history.

But they're not perfect, not yet. Just before the end of the first half, Irving was looking for one last defensive stand. He backpedaled near half-court, where he came to a sudden stop and drew contact from one of Kansas State's three starting guards. Irving picked up his second foul of the game with an obvious errant block. It was a mistake of freshman zeal, an energetic mishap that gave Kansas State an unnecessary point from the free-throw line. Perhaps that seems like a pittance, especially with a nine-point lead, but Irving's silly foul continued to cost his team. With six minutes left in the second half, Irving spent three minutes on the bench with four fouls, leaving the backcourt in the plenty capable hands of senior Nolan Smith. The Devils remained in control, maintaining their lead around 13 points. But they didn't stretch the gap until Irving returned.

Those are the sorts of relatively minor growing pains Duke will have to handle throughout the season if a trophy is in this team's future. Duke lost three senior starters after last season's national championship victory against Butler; if they've got a foible, it may be inexperience. Indeed, Duke is more talented this year than it was last year. A healthy Mason Plumlee has stepped into his role as Duke's versatile big man, nabbing 12 rebounds and 25 points in a tough win over Marquette. He can dribble, pass and shoot the three, and so far this season he's behaving as if he knows where he needs to be on both ends of the floor. Plumlee fouled out early during Duke's dismantling of Colgate, and that actually seemed like a good sign: Plumlee is finally ready to play physical, intense, relentless basketball as a Blue Devil. His older brother, Miles, has struggled early this season, now serving as Duke's sixth man—as much a comment on Duke's squad depth as his own low numbers.

This Duke backcourt is essentially a faster, sleeker version of Schmingler, the triumvirate of Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler that romped through the NCAA Tournament. Irving has stepped assuredly into Scheyer's starting position with added agility. National Player of the Year candidate Singler looks stronger in the chest, too, as proven by how he's bullied through the lane several times early this season.

What's more, sophomore backups Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry look ready to score this season; in just six games, they've combined for 26 three-pointers, nearly half of the Devils' total. Ryan Kelly seems not only to have gained muscle in the offseason (as in, he looks mostly like a different person than the gawky, inconsistent freshman we saw last year), but he seems to have gained confidence, too. He's started every game but the first this season; with that decision, he's bolstered both his outside shot (five of seven from beyond the arc) and his ability to recirculate the ball out of the paint.

Starting with their domination of Princeton in Durham in early November and ending with a fifth Duke title at Reliant Stadium in Houston on April 4, Duke has the capability and capacity to win 40 games this year—a feat that would require them to be the first undefeated team since the 1975–76 Indiana Hoosiers. But Duke doesn't have to remain undefeated or win any championship for this season to be a historic one. After last week's win against Oregon, Krzyzewski had won 874 games as a college basketball coach—two fewer than Adolph Rupp, five fewer than Dean Smith and 28 fewer than all-time leader Bob Knight. A disappointing season for Duke would end in the Sweet 16 after a few regular-season losses and an ACC championship (because those, as any demonstrative UNC fan will tell you, are the kind Duke wins best). That might still be enough to give Krzyzewski the career victories title, but don't expect the call to be so close. Michigan State and radical improvements by several ACC schools might be the only things left standing between Duke and a No. 1 seed in late March. And those opponents seem to be nothing a few of the Plumlee Brothers' alley-oops that have been so common this season can't handle.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in College Basketball

  • Will N.C. State basketball return to its glory days?

    Will N.C. State basketball return to its glory days?

    The Wolfpack's disappearance from the upper echelon of ACC basketball has been long, painful and in some ways surprising. Now, as the 2012–13 season gets under way, the world seems to have turned again.
    • Nov 21, 2012
  • Hang on to the good days of the ACC

    Hang on to the good days of the ACC

    With Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski entering their golden years and a changing competitive landscape, it's time to be nostalgic for the present.
    • Nov 23, 2011
  • NBA lockout? We've got your pro basketball right here

    NBA lockout? We've got your pro basketball right here

    The rules are written to make college players perform as vassals in a system that pays everyone but them. Instead, the system should start with the players and write the rules to be fair to them.
    • Nov 23, 2011
  • More »


Twitter Activity

Comments

Good article, though I'll say that Herb's mediocrity could be seen in his ACC record. One contributing factor could have …

by macheek on Will N.C. State basketball return to its glory days? (College Basketball)

I have to agree completely. That the Duke-State and UNC-Wake rivalries have been diminished since conference membership hit double digits …

by Mike Potter on Hang on to the good days of the ACC (College Basketball)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

Good article, though I'll say that Herb's mediocrity could be seen in his ACC record. One contributing factor could have …

by macheek on Will N.C. State basketball return to its glory days? (College Basketball)

I have to agree completely. That the Duke-State and UNC-Wake rivalries have been diminished since conference membership hit double digits …

by Mike Potter on Hang on to the good days of the ACC (College Basketball)

about time someone calls roy out about starting Drew, he doesnt owe any player playing time, he owes the school …

by tarheelfan1224 on Healing the Heels (College Basketball)

Great article Rob!

by jjonczak on Healing the Heels (College Basketball)

Nice, fair commentary and assessment. Kentucky game is huge for trajectory of season. A home blowout L would be really …

by Thad Williamson on Healing the Heels (College Basketball)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation