Okay, sorry...sorry Coach K. I'm chilling out. I promise. First things first- Duke scored 97 points against a team that gave up 53 per game last season. Lift-off didn't come immediately, but the rocketship was smoking and hissing from the very beginning. I am delighted by this quote from Coach K:
"We had too much energy on the offensive end in the first half. We just wanted it so badly that I think we screwed up about five fast breaks," Krzyzewski said. "We didn't attack the zone right because ... I don't know. We were a little bit whacked out with all the energy. In the second half, we combined energy and poise."
Seriously, when is the last time a Duke team was "whacked out with all the energy"?* I was in a live chat with the good folks at Crazie-Talk, and though Duke's sloppy first-half play kept Princeton within sniper's distance, I think we all realized the good guys were one click away from destruction mode. When it happened, starting at the end of the first half and continuing into the second, it was beautiful to watch.
*Answer: 1896, when Johan Applebaum electrified crowds with his reverse set-shot and Tyroleus "Deer Blood" MacKooning would often be ejected for biting other players.
The bottom line: We turned the ball over 14 times, played helter-skelter for almost an entire half, gave up a few easy back-door baskets, faced a team who tries to use up all 35 seconds of every shot clock, and still almost scored 100 points.
It was thrilling. The way the team moved and ran kept me at the edge of my seat up to the last second. If Duke can cohere and start to fire on all cylinders come January and February, the ceiling is absolutely a national championship. It will take some time, and there will be frustrations along the way, but the second half showed our capabilities. At our best, nobody can hang.
Let's grade it up:
Kyle Singler: A+. I wondered how he'd gel in a newer, faster offense, and the answer is 'perfectly.' He stayed within himself, picked his spots, and lifted the team when they needed a boost. He finished 7-10 from the floor, and he integrated seamlessly into a newer, speedier style. And I shouldn't have expected any less- he's the ultimate no-ego guy, as the NYTimes pointed out in an article yesterday.
“I just kind of feel like people get in trouble when they’re not themselves and they don’t act like who they really are as people and even as a basketball player.
“I’m not going to change as a basketball player,” he continued. “I’m going to act the same way I always acted, and I think people do respect that. I guess that might be a reason why I’m not that hated as a basketball player.”
On the record: anyone who hates Kyle Singler is a terrorist and a pedophile.
Nolan Smith: A. I mean...did you guys see some of those drives?? He was slicing and dicing like Jason Williams out there. You could almost sense his exuberance playing in the faster offense, too. Some of his early miscues were what I'm choosing to call 'optimism turnovers,' borne of an excited, the-possibilities-are-endless type of mindset. He had one pass to Singler, on a fast break, that had absolutely no chance of succeeding. It ended with Sing vaulting into the students, but it showed how much belief Nolan has in his team. Nothing is off limits. Nolan is even better than last year on the offensive end. It's almost frightening. I think this emotion I'm feeling is part fear. But it's the fun, anticipatory kind of fear, like just before you lose your virginity (uh-oh, getting weird, let's please move on).
Kyrie Irving: A-. He's everything I expected. No disrespect to the Schey-guy, one of my favorite Dukies of all time, but it is damnnnn nice to have a fast point guard again. It opens up entire realms of offensive potential. And good God, why didn't anyone tell me how sick he is on defense? He's like a little glove out there, and every point he conceded to his man was some prayer of a fadeaway jumper. Also: 9 assists in 25 minutes? We will effing take it. Ditto the 6-6 free throws. His shooting was a little off in the first half, but I think that can be chalked up to a dose of nerves. And it didn't really matter, since he utterly changed the complexion of our team. Kyrie Irving is the new truth. He's begging for a good nickname. What about "the Jersey Score"? (hold for applause) No? Not quite right? "Grease Lightning"? "Poach K"? I'll work on it.
Miles Plumlee: F. Plumblefuck the Elder looked lost out there. In this type of offense, a big man needs to be either a total brute enforcer (Zoubs and LT style) or fast enough to keep up. Miles is stuck in between, and he's basically useless. I mean, seriously: this guy is a junior, and he still can't make a basic move to the basket without traveling? Really, Miles? What have you possibly been doing all offseason? It was frustrating to watch, because he slowed us down. The best Duke 5 all game came in the 4-guard offense: Kyrie, Nolan, Kyle, Mason, and Dawkins/Curry. Which is cool, because it's fast and furious, but we sacrifice a lot in rebounding. It'd be nice to have 2 bigs you could count on to not totally fuck up the rhythm.
Mason Plumlee: D+. At least Plumblefuck the Younger has a chance to earn back his positive nickname: Plumdog Billionaire. He made a couple good passes and had one or two brief flares of athleticism. But again, it was mostly awkward. At some point over the offseason, I forgot how much I hate the Plumlees. I saw a clip here and there of them doing some cool dunk at a kid's basketball camp, and gradually my subconscious tricked me into believing they'd be fast cogs in the 10-11 Duke machine. Well, yesterday was a rude awakening, and an unfriendly snap back to reality. They're still the same goofballs, and we still lack a good big man. Mason took ill-advised shots, failed to rotate on defense, and committed at least two stupid fouls. Does anyone else get the sense that the Plumlees are the kind of guys who are content to get a few alley-oops and a few monster blocks without every really trying to improve?
Andre Dawkins: B+. He could start, as far as I'm concerned. I thought he came out looking aggressive and strong. I almost didn't recognize him from last season. And I still think he would have been a key ingredient for us even then if his season wasn't derailed by the awful car accident that killed his half sister. This year, he looks really great. Strong D, the same great shooting touch, and more confidence. Baby Dawk is shaking his rattles, world- he's got a case of the terrible twos!
Seth Curry: B-. The problem here will be reconciling his natural instincts- great shooter, residual one-on-one instincts from Liberty- with the needs of the system. Early in the game, he had a couple possessions where he played with an individual style that seemed out of place on the court. I think nerves played a part, but it's worth noting that in pressure situations he reverts to old habits. Later, after he calmed down, he showed exactly what he brings to the table- hot shooting, an ability to drive, and competent defense. I have big expectations here, but he'll definitely have to grow into his role over the season.
Ryan Kelly: B+. With him in the game instead of Mason Plumlee, you lose shot-blocking and some rebounding, but you gain speed and athleticism. It's an interesting trade-off. For short bursts, combining Kelly with Kyrie, Nolan, Kyle, and Dawk/Curry is a formula for electricity. I don't think it's sustainable over a long period, but I'm willing to be wrong. So, so willing.
Josh Hairston: B. Would like to see more, Coach K. What about he and Kelly as the starting bigs?
Team Defense: A-. A total swarm. Give us the honey! Bzzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzz.
This was a nice, fast start to the season. With our guard rotation, we will give teams nightmares in the second half all season. We've got Miami (OH) tomorrow and Colgate Friday to gear up for a potential showdown with K-State next Tuesday. My enthusiasm level, hovering around 99 before the season, is now registering at 115.
And that's out of 10.