Thursday, February 14, 2008

Duke Blue Devils are for real

After Duke beat both of their biggest rivals, Maryland and North Carolina, pretty handily in the last week and a half, the Blue Devils have proven themselves as one of the best teams in the country and put themselves on the short list of contenders for a 1 seed in the tournament. They are the last undefeated team in the ACC (and have not won a game by less than 9 in league play), and if it weren't for a last second, step-back three by Levance Fields of Pitt, the Blue Devils would be undefeated.

The most impressive part of Duke's team is that they have been doing all of this winning without a true big man - 6'8" Kyle Singler is a natural three, 6'9" Taylor King is a three point specialist, 6'8" Lance Thomas is all of 216 lbs and plays like it, and 7'1" Brian Zoubek is the next in line of Duke's big stiffs. The reason they have been able to survive is that they play stifling D on the wings. DeMarcus Nelson, Gerald Henderson, and Nolan Smith are all phenomonal on the ball defenders, and Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus can more than hold their own. The perfect example of this in the UNC game. Duke let Hansbrough go one on one in the post when he got it, just trying to avoid fouling him, and allowed the All-American to go off to the tune of 28 points and 18 rebounds. But they held Wayne Ellington and Danny Green to 4-24 from the floor, and forced PG Quentin Thomas (starting in place of injured Ty Lawson) into 6 turnovers.

The Devils have also turned into one of the best shooting teams in the country. For the season, they are shooting 39% from deep and hit just under 10 3's per game. With the exception of Thomas and Zoubek, everyone player on this team can step out and knock down a three, which opens up the floor for penetration. In the last month or so, Duke has been very effective at getting into the paint and drawing defenders. When they kick the ball back out, it creates open jump shots and close-out situations, and with the number of guys they have with perimeter skills, especially their bigs in Singler and King, this is exactly the style Duke needs to play to be effective.

A big part of Duke's recent success's has been the emergence of Gerald Henderson and Greg Paulus. Paulus, the much-maligned point guard, has played great, especially the last six games (16ppg, 4apg, 2.5spg, 23-44 3's). He has done everything that the Blue Devils have needed out of him - knock down open shots, get in the lane and create looks, and cut down on his turnovers. Henderson has been all over the court for Duke. He is an outstanding athlete and can make plays both offensively and defensively. His versatility also allows him to defend four positions, which is important for a team like Duke that relies on mismatchs offensively.

In the last six or seven years, Duke has earned a reputation for being a great regular season team, but struggling in the NCAA tournament, partly because they were not balanced enough and were not tough enough. This team has 5 players averaging double figures, and is as tough a team as Duke has put on the floor since the '99 team that had Elton Brand and Shane Battier. Don't be surprised if they make a run this year.

1 comment:

Andy McKenzie said...

Could I be more miserable after reading this post? Duke is so wack.