Duke passing the test of being Duke
Posted December 1, 2012
With exams coming up on college campuses this time of year, there are usually a few things that are understood. Students are cramming caffeine, cold pizza and whatever notes they have into their skulls, and the Duke Blue Devil basketball team will be ranked in the top ten and, more often than not, undefeated.
However, coming off this past season, the Blue Devils weren’t expected to be one of the powerhouse Duke squads and their bruising schedule would show their blemishes. Part of the reason behind the lowered expectations was the unusual amount of discourse surrounding the program.
The high school coach of Mason Plumlee questioned how the Blue Devils had used the big man, a first round knockout in the NCAA tournament by Lehigh, the incoming freshman talent seemed to be landing in Raleigh not Durham and the overriding thought that there was a schism in last year’s locker room didn’t have people raving about Duke.
Sure, Mike Krzyzewski’s team would be good and many people thought good enough to win the ACC but as far as the usual national pedestal, this wasn’t supposed to be that type of team. It’s early, very early, but the early returns of this team have people putting Duke right back on that pedestal.
Mike Krzyzewski‘s crew is undefeated after eight games following a 88-50 dismantling of Delaware. Duke blasted the Blue Hens just a few days after a physical game against the number four ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and running through one of the toughest gauntlets to start a college basketball season in recent memory. Duke has knocked off the second, third and fourth ranked teams in the nation, and have done so in different ways with new and old players on the team finding their niche. This isn’t a cream puff 8-0, it is a battle tested record.
Krzyzewski said after the Delaware game he understands that his team has its top dogs, but everyone has to come along, “For me the main guys to develop are Mason, Ryan and Seth. This is not like an AAU team or whatever; you have to make sure that your group understands its role.”
Mason Plumlee has played like a national player of the year so far, leading the Blue Devils in points and rebounds. Quinn Cook has emerged as the point guard Duke needs and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon has been a spark to the line-up and defender that the team was without during the 11-12 campaign. Ryan Kelly has been healthy and has been a match-up problem for most teams. On Saturday, freshman Amile Jefferson provided energy and dropped in a season high 12 points in 21 minutes. Tyler Thornton had ten assists and the Blue Devils offense rolled without its second leading scorer Seth Curry, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
“The kid who goes unnoticed is Tyler. We can plug him in anywhere,” Coach K said of Thornton.
The answer to why Duke has been 'Duke' so far isn’t a mystery, it is Mason Plumlee. He had 13 points and 9 rebounds at the half Saturday, on his way to a double-double of 18-11 in just 24 minutes of work.
“We’re just trying to get better, we’ve always said we don’t want to peak early in the season, we know we have a long way to go," Plumlee said following the game.
Not since Elton Brand wore Duke blue, has the offense run through the post in Durham. Plumlee has been the number one option on offense, averaging three more attempts per game this season than last year and just a touch over 11 rebounds. The Blue Hens had no answer for him as he added to his totals in the Devils win. This Duke team it appears has the parts that understand the sum total is more important than individual numbers. A trait that many of Coach K’s best teams displayed, the top players get theirs and the role players get wins.
A blowout win over Delaware shouldn’t cause for too many heads to turn, but after the OSU game the Devils showed no signs of fatigue or letdown. Despite holding the Blue Hens to just 19 points in the first half, it was the second half effort that impressed Krzyzewski.
“It is the end of an energy cycle, the eight games, and we have enough to win, but they (referring to his team) continued to play really hard,” Krzyzewski said.
Duke’s early season schedule was set to test the Blue Devils mettle and with wins over Kentucky, Louisville, VCU and Ohio State, the results have shown that the team has studied well. The way that roles have been defined from those games might have positioned Duke for the big exams the mid-term of ACC play and the final exam in March.