Well, after a lengthy hiatus from the blogosphere, we return for some serious Duke basketball talk in August, which is freaking awesome, but also strange. As an aside, it’s good to be back and hopefully there are still a few folks out there who are interested in reading this thing.
Once every four years, NCAA rules permit college hoops teams to travel abroad and soak up some international experience before the school year begins. In the Georgetown Hoya’s case, part of that experience involved getting into a full-fledged donnybrook with the Chinese team they were playing yesterday; a melee that involved hurled chairs, water bottles, and, doubtlessly a bevvy of bi-lingual insults. My guess is that we had a situation where ( what I will generously call ” not contact friendly”) Far East basketball met (what I will generously refer to as “physical”) Big East basketball with the end result of boiled-over frustrations and a horribly emabarrassing incident for everyone involved. The foul discrepancy in that game (and in both Duke games, for that matter) was effectively 3-1 in China’s favor, evidencing a)how physical the international game isn’t and b) the amount of home cooking served up by the refs (who were really, REALLY terrible in the game I watched yesterday). The Hoyas should remember as they continue their trip, that not everyone on that side of the planet thinks the best use for a dog is a pet.
On the Duke side of things, the Devils managed to win both of their games this week by nearly identical scores ( 77-64 and, yesterday, 78-66) and without incident ( unless you consider the near explosion of Coach K’s head an incident, as his mounting frustration at the ineptitude of the Chinese refs could only find partial release through a series of repeated and angrily mimed gestures of the calls they were missing). The Chinese Junior National Team was well coached and organized, but seemed to be operating with too much of an athletic deficit to ever feel like a serious threat. Here are some observations from Game # 2
- Partly ( I’m sure) due to jet lag, partly due to playing with the unfamiliar 24 second shot clock, partly due to craptastic officiating, partly due to the fact that Duke has to learn how to replace over 50 ppg, and partly due to the fact that it’s August for God’s sake, the offense was, to be kind, disjointed. We have not yet rounded into pre-season form…
- Welcome Austin Rivers! And welcome to all of the jaw-dropping awesomeness and forehead slapping not-so-awesomeness that your arrival portends! This guy can attack the rim with the best of them, but has a wee bit of “I’m-the-man” syndrome which is both an asset and a liability. A big part of his learning curve is going to be figuring out how not to force things and figuring out how to play with comparably talented individuals. In the first game he was Duke’s leading scorer and added 5 assists. In the second contest he looked like a freshman decision maker, with some really bad turnovers amonst his 7 total. He compounded them with, what for him will be a steeper part of the curve, by not hustling back on defense and being lacsadaisical on the defensive end in general. It will be interesting to see, going forward, how his playing time is meted out, as his innate talents as a scorer are weighed against his defensive attentiveness, or lack thereof.
- Ryan Kelly appears to have turned a corner. After dropping 14 points and pulling down 13 rebounds in the first game, he was nothing short of spectacular in the second contest, hitting 9 of 11 shots from the field for 20 points and grabbing 8 boards. Many in Duke nation have been focused on Mason Plumlee as the go-to big man going in to this season, and his low-post development is critical to be sure, but Kelly is demonstrating early an ability to score from all over the court and is going to be hard to keep of the floor if he keeps playing at this level.
- Miles Plumlee could be this year’s Zoubek. He finished with 14 and 9 in this game after pulling down 10 boards before fouling out in the first game. His energy level was great as was his aggressiveness on defense. Mason, conversely looked out of synch and unfocused, but there are simply too many mitigating variables here at this early stage to start drawing conclusions. Suffice it to say that it’s a solid 3 man rotation at the 4 and 5 spots for Duke this year.
- Whatever combination(s) Coach K uses in the backcourt, it’s going to be pretty potent. It’s hard for me to see anyone getting more minutes than Seth Curry at the point ( though we have yet to hear form the injured and talented Quinn Cook). We’re talking about a lot of interchangeable parts here, all of whom bring a little something different : Tyler Thornton - toughness and defense, Quinn Cook - distribution, Andre - range, Austin - attacking the rim, and Seth - a little bit of everything. Good times.
- Outside of Austin, the freshmen were used pretty sparingly, and it’s hard to imagine any of them ( with the possible exception of Cook) breaking through for significant minutes