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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Postcards from Duke's two-game road-stretch

Posted by on Sat, Feb 2, 2013 at 7:08 AM

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You would have never guessed it, but Wednesday night’s Duke/ Wake Forest game was, in fact, Duke’s toughest game of the year. The Demon Deacons—led by Travis McKie and Devin Thomas—never lost control of the game, but lost absolute control of Mason Plumlee, who put up a career-high 32-points. The game was close the entire time, and most of it was comprised of the Blue Devils sticking to a plan to spoil Plumlee with in-the-paint service. It worked, and Plumlee repayed the team on the defensive end by coming up with a couple of big blocks for Duke.

Next, the Blue Devils head to Tallahassee for their first and only regular-season, ACC match against Florida State. Before they get there, here are some ideas for postcards we might expect from Duke’s visit to the Sunshine State. Alex Murphy looks like he may have the best handwriting, so just imagine these cards written in his most impeccable cursive.

The “Wish you were here” postcard—This postcard is addressed to Ryan Kelly, the Cameron Crazies, and Rodney Hood. Even though he’s sitting several seats down on Duke’s bench; and this is more like a “wish you were in the game” note to Kelly. Ever since he injured his foot against Clemson Coach K still hasn’t found a sufficient replacement(s) and because of it, the Blue Devils lost at N.C. State, and lost by a lot at Miami (not even Kelly could have changed the outcome of that game).

Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood would have been Duke’s perfect fill-in for Kelly on the road; it’s a good thing that Hood—who’s redshirting—isn’t allowed to travel with the team, because it’s so much more painful to see him sitting on that bench, just as helpless as Kelly.

It’s painful to watch Josh Hairston out there, juggling every pass Quinn Cook hands him and occupying dead space just the sake of taking a charge. Marshall Plumlee’s performance has been equally torturous. Most of his touches are graceless and rushed. With older brother Mason, averaging almost 35 minutes per game and staying in foul trouble, and Kelly out, Marshall needs to be more of a defensive pillar. Go in there, hack a few guys, then, have a seat, little bro.

The “sense of humor” e-postcard—These are those annoying Pinterest postcards, and I don’t doubt that folks have been printing them off and sending them as snail-mail postcards. There are a couple of Duke-related ones, but none as good as this year’s real sound-bytes. It’s almost impossible for Coach K to get through one of Duke’s post-game press conferences without a smart-aleck response to a reporter’s question or a funny anecdote about the game—he told one reporter that he would need a 5-foot-tall basket to try Mason Plumlee’s spectacular reverse follow-up dunk against Maryland. He asked one young reporter, “What would you like?” following a question about the coach’s starting lineup for the next game, then he told him to post his ideas on Twitter.

Then there was the time he responded to a reporter asking him how he dealt with helping players make the transition from high school superstars to college-level role players. He jokingly said, “I go and I say ‘Do you realize that you’re playing for a legendary coach?'"

As long as you’re not on the receiving end of one of these quips, it’s usually a funny thing to witness. Nothing, however, could be more humorous than Mason Plumlee’s recent comment about how he “felt like a sissy sometimes” during Wednesday night’s game against Wake Forest, where his foul trouble ultimately forced him to play softer defense than normal. So, don’t be surprised if this comment backfires on him in one of Duke’s next six road games when some hostile fans break into a “sissy” chant everytime Mason gives up an easy bucket. It’s a great postcard from the opposing team, but no one from the Demon Deacons’ peanut gallery has any business calling someone a sissy after their big men deserted the paint and let Plumlee shoot 12-15 from the floor.

The “Greetings from...” postcard—Florida wasn’t the land of sunshine for Duke when Miami dampened the Blue Devils’ spirits in the 90-63 loss back on Jan. 23. Earlier this week, the No. 14 Hurricanes doled out a similar punishment, to in-state rivals, Florida State in a 71-47 victory. When the Seminoles (12-8, 4-3) and the No. 5 Blue Devils meet on Saturday. Rasheed Sulaimon will have his hands full with keeping Michael Snaer’s shot selection limited to challenged jumpers—especially if this game comes down to the wire.

While Duke’s big men might have some trouble with Okaro White’s athleticism, Mason Plumlee could put him in some foul trouble if Coach K’s game plan is to keep feeding Plumlee down low for a repeat of his 32-point performance against Wake Forest. White, however, won’t be giving up as many buckets as the rim, and Mason will need more than his overused hook shot to attack him. Both teams have allowed most of their opponents to grab a bunch of offensive rebounds, so, this might be a great opportunity for Duke to chase their own missed shots harder than normal for some easy put-back points. The Blue Devils must operate on the “no sissies” rule if they want to win.

There’s a postcard out there that doubles as a Coach K-endorsed advertisement for American Express. On the card, he writes that his biggest challenge is “Changing Limits (Mine and others)”. Duke should return to Durham coming off a 2-0 road stretch. It’ll be no huge accomplishment, but on Feb. 7, when N.C. State visits Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Crazies will be welcoming back their road-tested Blue Devils. Kelly might not be ready, and Duke might not need him, but Coach K will have to inspire Amile Jefferson, Josh Hairston, Alex Murphy to change their limits so that Duke has more options than just the usual Plumlee-Curry sure shots.

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