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Duke 89, Minnesota 71: Weighing In

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The Blue Devils put on a solid performance against a Gophers team that is expected to contend for an NCAA bid. But that bench? It's looking like the Thanksgiving table... after the meal is over.


Watching the game last night, I couldn't help feeling a little uneasy. Due to family and food considerations I wasn't able see the game live, and I already knew the outcome as I fired up the DVR. I had gorged myself only to the point of contentment instead of button-busting at Thanksgiving dinner, so I was in a perfectly blissful state so see a Duke victory. So why was the basketball meal so... unsatisfying? The day after I'm still not sure.

The opening half featured a lot of ragged play from both teams - perhaps a function of too much early morning turkey or perhaps it was playing in a 'gym' that looked a bit more like a futuristic, reality-tv, death-match film set. Mason Plumlee came out of the gate showing a lot of offensive bounce and all five Duke starters had scratched in the box score as the Devils opened a 10 point lead midway through the half. But even though Duke maintained a reasonable margin most of the game (the Gophers never got closer than 5 but mostly were down 8-10) it never felt like the Bue Devils were in control per se. Which is an even more curious feeling given I knew Duke was going to win.

Rodney Williams Jr's athleticism, some good bench production, and hard-nosed D kept Minnesota in the game in the second half. But Duke just kept making shots when they needed to (54% FG for the game and a sparkling 8-10 from distance). I imagined distressed Gophers fans several times throwing their hands in the air as another tough shot went down at the end of what would otherwise be a great defensive possession. In complete opposition to so many Duke games of the last couple of years, the Devil's actually managed to blow the game open in the last five minutes instead of their usual late game clock-burning/lead-burning offense. It's probably too much to hope for to never see that again, but I was definitely THANKFUL to not see it.

Returning, if I may, to this 'uneasiness' for a moment: Let's do a little investigation and see what we can make of it.

+Plus Side: All five starters finished with double figures and each had flashes of great play.
-Minus Side: Two, count em, two bench points and no real 'impact' from the bench beyond Tyler's 3 steals.
Verdict: Coach K says we don't need our bench to score, but can that be true?

+Plus Side: Mason crushed it again with 20 and 17. Whoda' thunk "Another great FT showing by Mason Plumlee" would like... be a phrase you could say... non-sarcastically?
-Minus Side: When MP2 goes to the bench, Rebounding is a serious problem and Duke is just not very dangerous offensively.
Verdict: Keep Mason on the floor. A lot. The Kentucky game showed Duke can weather the storm when he is in foul trouble, but better not to count on that.

+Plus Side: Seth had another great shooting night: FG 8-11 (3-3 from distance) and FT 6-7
-Minus Side: What is with this leg injury? Can he maintain this season?
Verdict: Might find out tonight as Duke plays 3 games in as many days.

+Plus Side: Duke's defense is markedly better than last year especially on the perimeter. 12 steals yesterday, 5 for Quinn.
-Minus Side: There is no real minus side here. Defensive rebounding is still an issue, but then again it usually is for Duke.
Verdict: I should be happy really.

+Plus Side: There has been a lot of demonstrable growth of all five starters from last season: Mason is beasting, Seth is lights out, Ryan seems much more mentally determined, Quinn is the point guard we've hoped he could be,and Rasheed is supremely confident for a freshman.
-Minus Side: And after those five...
Verdict: To be griping about only having five players who all seem to be playing really well is probably silly.

So there's not truly a whole lot to be worried about I guess. Maybe it was indigestion after all. I suppose I just need to change my rooting mantra from one Han Solo quote to another: less "I've got a bad feeling about this..." and more "Let's keep a little optimism around here!"