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Duke 81, Cal Poly Pomona 60: Don't Crown 'em Yet, Folks...

You know, a whole lot of different headers for this article scrolled through my head during the first half of tonight’s scrimmage vs. last year’s D-2 champion Cal - Poly Pomona, and none of them were especially complimentary of our beloved Blue Devils’ effort.This was much like, I imagine, the many things that scrolled through Coach K’s head as he thought about what he was going to say at halftime. I don’t think many of those things were complimentary either.

First off, let me pay tribute to the CPP Broncos, who, most definitely, do not suck. They are extremely disciplined and well coached on defense ( playing mostly zone) and run a very efficient offense. They have a tall and athletic backcourt, and while they lack interior size, their frontcourt is fairly skilled, especially on the offensive end. What I don’t know about Division 2 Bball could fill several books, but it’s hard for me to believe that these guys won’t be the favorite to repeat as champions, rather like another team I know. The difference on this night was that Duke demonstrated that it may have a little more work to do to make its dreams of repeating a reality in the highly competitive world of D-1 hoops. This game never looked like a preseason ‘scrimmage’ at any point, which is a credit to the visitors.

It is my contention that the linchpin to Duke’s success this year can be summed up in one word : Plumlees. There’s been all kinds of talk for all kinds of time about their athleticism, which is deserved, but at some point that all becomes so much yaddayaddayadda and these guys need to be basketball players, not just athletes. With all of the backcourt potency the Devil’s boast this year, the brothers Plumlee don’t have the pressure of needing to provide tremendous offensive punch, they just need to REBOUND THE BALL, play tough D, and have their hands ready to catch passes from Kyrie Irving. One would suppose that all of that height and athleticism would serve them well on the rebounding front against a team that boasts no player taller than 6’6”, but against the Broncos Duke was outrebounded by 6 in the first half and allowed them to pull down 11 offensive boards. Not good. Overall, the Blue Devils initially looked like a team that had been reading a lot of its own press ( like this gush from Dukie Seth Davis)  and thought they would roll over an overmatched opponent based on talent alone, but CPP set the tone early by stealing the opening tip for a layup and playing Duke even for the first 8 minutes of the game. Duke didn’t move the ball well against the zone, and ended up relying on a lot of individual effort on offense as evidenced by their small number of 3 point attempts, which , for a team with the shooting talent that Duke possesses , doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.In fact, for the game, we shot horribly from 3 ( 2-15) after making 16 of them against St. Augs.Of particular note also, was the fact that Kyle Singler took only 4 shots in the half ( hitting only one of them) evidencing that a) he wasn’t looking for his shot nearly enough and b) his teammates weren’t looking for him nearly enough. Duke managed to push the lead to twelve, but gave most of that right back in the final 3 minutes of the half with lackluster defense and rebounding, leaving the Cameron crowd befuddled at a mere 6 point halftime lead.

Assuringly, the first five minutes of the second half showed a reversal of all of these negative trends, as Kyle scored the first five points of the half ( after switching to the 4) and the Duke defense stepped up the intensity, holding the Broncos to 7 points in the first 6 minutes, pressuring the Broncos into live ball turnovers and creating easy transition buckets. The defensive rebounding improved dramatically as well. The lead was nearly 30 when Kyle and Nolan departed, leaving the reserves to handle to remainder of the game, which, unfortunately for the viewers, turned into something of a late-game foul-fest, as they weren’t unable to maintain much in the way of continuity from the starters’ effort.

The thing that this game highlighted for me was that the two game elements that were by far the biggest reasons for our success last year, team defense and rebounding, are the two things that this team will have to rebuild as the season progresses. The loss of Zoubek on the glass and the defensive unity and communication that last year’s seniors had developed can not be overstimated. No one wonders where the offensive production is going to come from on this team, but it takes more than that to be an NCAA champion.

Game Notes:

  • Miles had a pretty unimpressive effort overall. He was out to lunch on the defensive end and on offense, appeared to have a penchant for turning seemingly good opportunities at the rim into unmakeable circus shots. By contrast, Ryan Kelly made a lot more of his time on the court, despite fouling out, and , frankly, the skills gap between these two guys didn’t seem all that great to me.
  • I love Josh Hairston’s game. He combines the right-place-right-time qualities of Dave McClure with the intensity of Lance Thomas and already has a greater offensive skill set than either. His head is in the game at all times and he plays with a lot of confidence.
  • Kyrie is everything everybody says he is. He has the the most wicked crossover the ACC has seen…ever?? He is going to make a lot of people look foolish. I will say that he suffers a little from Gerald Henderson-as-a-freshman syndrome, in that his athleticism and speed sometimes get him into situations he can’t find a reasonable way out of.
  • Mason was a steadying force on the blocks, playing his role ( rebounding and interior defense) to a ’ T’
  • Nolan wasn’t the presence he should have been, in general. He and Kyle both are going to learn a lot about on-the-court leadership this year.
  • The new PA announcer is teh.ruh.bull. He yells into the mic at the slightest provocation in his best let’s-get-ready-to-rumble voice. Ugh.