Tuesday, November 27, 2007

These Blue Devils are scary good


DURHAM — First off, let me just say that there is no experience akin to watching a game inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. Not only is the product on the floor usually good, the atmosphere is unbelievable. Fellow writers weren't kidding when they described the noise level inside Cameron as "earsplitting" at times during Duke's 82-58 route of 20th-ranked Wisconsin Tuesday night.

And now (read: segue) to the basketball.

This year's Duke team is not just good. Not just an NCAA Tournament team. No, it's a national title contender. Seriously.

There were questions prior to Tuesday's game about how Duke's undersized lineup would handle Wisconsin's trio of 6-foot-10-plus trees. The resounding answer is, just fine.

Offensively, Duke decimated the Badgers in several ways. In the first half, the Blue Devils shot a lot of 3-pointers ... and made a lot of 3-pointers. Using dribble-drive penetration against the slower Badgers, the Blue Devils found open shooters early and often to connect on 9-of-16 triples and build a 48-25 halftime advantage.

Freshman Taylor King was especially efficient, knocking down four of his five 3-pointers in the half. He has unlimited range and, at 6-foot-6, can shoot over most defenders. He's quickly allowing Duke fans to forget about J.J. Redick, the school's all-time leader for 3-pointers.

In the second half, with Wisconsin closing out more on Duke's outside shooters, the Blue Devils spread the floor and drove right by the Badgers. Senior captain forward DeMarcus Nelson, who stands just 6-4, made a couple of nice, twisting drives to the hoop.

And he made the loudest statement of the night, slamming down a one-handed dunk over 6-7 Marcus Landry on a fastbreak.

The play was indicative of how the Blue Devils soared above the Badgers all night. Despite its size advantage, Wisconsin held just a 42-40 rebounding edge. Smaller Duke players rose up to reject five Wisconsin shots.

And most importantly, Duke came away with nearly every loose ball. It was quicker than Wisconsin and, often times, it was stronger as well, stripping the ball from the grasp of a Badger.

All this adds up to a team that doesn't have any noticeable weaknesses.

Duke has great depth (no player regularly plays more than 30 minutes). Duke has balanced scoring (after Greg Paulus' game-high 18 points, five players have led the Blue Devils in scoring during their 7-0 start).

Duke loves to run, and can finish on transition. But as we saw in the second half Tuesday, it can also slow the game down and score in the halfcourt. It has several players capable of getting to the basket and scoring or creating for their teammates.

Defensively, Duke — with its playing rotation of at least eight players — can tirelessly pressure its opponents up and down the 94 feet, causing turnovers and generally keeping opponents from getting comfortable in their offenses.

The Blue Devils forced Wisconsin into 18 turnovers, which they turned into 31 easy points. Ten of those miscues were steals by Duke.

And, as witnessed by Nelson and 6-5 guard Jon Scheyer leading Duke with nine rebounds apiece (a career-high for Scheyer), everyone helps out on the glass, alleviating any disadvantage Duke faces because of its lack of a formidable player taller than 6-8.

What does all of the above add up to? Well, did you see the game?

If so, you know that Duke is back near the top of the college basketball ranks. There will be no No. 6 seed this season, and there more than likely will not be a first-round loss.

What there will be is plenty more craziness inside Cameron.


Sportsattitude said...

Agreed. Coach K has evaluated his talent and made some adjustments both on offense and defense. It's hard to verbalize it other than Duke just looks different this season. They look more fluid, in tune, athletic than in recent years. Absolutely a Top Ten team all year long.

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