Another great win by Duke, and now I'm heading back to North Carolina on a 6:20am flight to give the team some pointers before they play Maryland on Sunday. Among them:
1) Throw crisp bounce passes.
2) Keep your center of gravity low on defense.
3) Pat your teammate affectionately after a made basket.
4) Keep your hair in a disciplined buzz cut.
5) When the referee isn't looking, use your finger to poke an opponent in his eye. Constantly swing your arms so you can 'accidentally' hit him in the testicles. Call his family repeatedly before the game from a pay phone to make disturbing threats. Dress up like his father and tell him he's worthless.
Just some basic basketball fundamentals.
So, the UAB game. It went almost exactly how we thought. UAB was ridiculously small, just as Pomeroy said. They managed to finish with a respectable 35 boards to our 39, but it seemed like they got most of their 9 offensive boards in garbage time. They also shot pretty well to keep the game from being a total laugher. Coming in, they were supposed to be the 5th best team in the country at defending the 3, but that supposed strength didn't materialize. Against Duke, you can't really defend the 3. Not in my opinion, anyway. You just have to hope they miss. In the beginning, we didn't miss. Even a very good team couldn't come back from 26-4 deficit against Duke, and UAB had no chance.
Bottom line: you beat Duke because your big men are tough and awesome, not because your little men are. Pick any team in the country. Go ahead, pick one. Our guards are better. And that includes the NBA.
-As predicted, Coach K gave Mason Plumlee a lot of playing time, though my prediction that he'd start was wrong. In 26 minutes, he scored a quiet 14 on 6-9 from the field, grabbed 8 boards, and blocked 2 shots. Over the past couple of days I've had debates with a couple people on the Miles vs. Mason question. To me, it's a no-brainer. I don't think Miles is capable of that kind of stat line, at least not very often. Whatever Mason's faults, and there are many, he's just a better option. He can score, he can block, and he can rebound better than his brother. He played far more when we went through the tough part of our schedule early, and I think he's going to see the same minutes now that things are getting serious again. As for Miles, I think he's a 20 minute guy tops. At least against strong teams. He wasn't as awful tonight as against Miami, but in his 11 minutes he certainly didn't show much.
-All that being said, we're weak at the bigs. It's time to face facts. I wish we could get a game against a team like Syracuse just to see exactly how weak we are. In other words, how debilitating is our lack of inside presence? Can our guards overcome it? With Kyrie, I think that answer was yes. Now, it's a question mark.
-I'm real sick of announcers pointing out that Duke's offensive production hasn't gone down since Kyrie left. When he was in, we played two top-10 teams and some other quality opponents. Since he left, we've played nobody. Of course our offensive production won't go down. But the implication is what really kills me. They show those stats as if to say it somehow benefits Duke for Kyrie to be out. Which, really, is ridiculous. Yes, he was young and still learning how to integrate into the system. Yes, the lines of communication weren't completely open between he and Nolan. But that was still falling into place, and he was getting better with each passing game. And nobody seems to remember how he completely owned Jacob Pullen, one of the best guards in the country and an All-American, against Kansas State, or how he stepped up and knocked down the big shots against Michigan State when things got close.
We can absolutely win a national title without Kyrie. But to maintain that the challenge won't be more difficult, or that it'll in fact be easier, is some old fashioned silly talk. And I know old fashioned silly talk when I see it; that was the name of my first band.
-I'm more impressed all the time with Ryan Kelly. If he can just figure out how to score a bit more, we'll be in good shape. He grabbed 8 boards last night (granted, against a small team) and filled up the rest of the stat line with 2 steals, a block, and 2 assists. And that's all in 23 minutes. He's probably a still year from being able to completely assert himself in an aggressive way in the paint, but after last year I definitely didn't expect this kind of improvement. Also, fun stat, his points per shot are up to 1.39 from last year's .91, while his FG % has soared to 52% from 36%. All hail the White Raven.
-What can you say about Nolan Smith? Finally, finally, a television network mentioned him in the discussion for national player of the year. Singler was everyone's candidate up until now, but after Nolan's latest scoring binge, he can't be ignored. By my rough math, last night's 33 points will bring him up to about 19.6 ppg on the year. Throw in almost 6 assists and 5 boards, and there's your nominee from Duke. I love Singler, but he's just a little too hot-and-cold to be truly in the discussion.
-I hesitate to even bring this up, because there's a very good chance that I'm over-analyzing for no good reason. But to play devil's advocate to the point above, did it strike anyone else that Nolan Smith took a ton of shots? It even seemed like he was forcing it sometimes. It was a successful strategy, yes, but I thought that maybe he could have spread it around a bit more. Against Bradley he picked up 10 assists and only scored 2 points, and the coaches rightly set him straight. He had to be a primary scorer. But last night I thought he might have been teetering on the other edge of that scale. If I'm being stupid, please slap me in the face in the comments.
-The mystery of Andre Dawkins continues. How does a guy who can score that well take only 3 shots, especially against a team that's not very good? Maybe UAB put their best 3-point defender on him? Hard to say, but his absence from the offense was my least favorite part of the game.
-Ditto for Seth Curry, though he hasn't had break-out games like Dawkins and isn't quite the same natural scorer. Still, only 3 field goal attempts? And it wasn't like he or Dawk were directing traffic or setting people up or anything. They barely even touched the ball. Did Singler really need to shoot 18 times? Maybe part of the unspoken deal with he and Nolan staying is that they'd get their shots so they could up their draft value. It's hard to say. Maybe Kyrie's injury is a conspiracy to do just that. Maybe they threatened to leave after the start of the season, and Coach K was forced to bench Kyrie to assuage them for a few games.
Because, come on, a toe injury? A toe injury? YOU KNOW EVERYTHING I'M SAYING IS TRUE!
Okay, those are my Duke thoughts. I'll leave you now with a story from my birthday dinner, and tomorrow I'll be back in North Carolina for the first installment of Pick Six, Volume 3.
I got to choose where we went to dinner before the Duke game last night, because it was both my birthday and my last night in New York. I picked a sushi place I've never been before and took my mom and step-dad with me.
Before I go any further, let me just say that they're both very intelligent, cultured people. I grew up in the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York, and I have my mother to thank for taking me out of the boonies once in a while so I could experience nice parts of the world at large before being thrust into its cruel bosom at age 18. My upbringing was progressive and fun and by some standards lucky.
That being said, holy shit, you'd think I asked them to eat the raw cerebellums of foreign children last night. My mother refused to order any sushi (she claimed she didn't like fish, but COME ON, sushi is awesome), and from the moment she walked into the restaurant she had this tentative, hesitant bearing like I was dragging her into some kind of Cambodian black market to pick out lamb eyeballs from a racketeer named Lu Kung Sook.
My stepdad was gamer, but he wouldn't eat the rice with the sashimi. When he ventured to the sushi rolls, he even broke them apart to get at the inner contents despite my continued urgings for him to eat the rice and fish together. He was also annoyed that California rolls had no fish or meat. We ordered a two-person sushi and sashimi platter (called, no joke, "The Love Boat," which was kind of hilarious to order for myself and an older man), and it came out in this giant wooden canoe-type structure. At that point, my mother wanted to take a photo. Of the sushi boat.
At that point, I almost disowned them. If I had known the legal and procedural intricacies a disowning entails, I'd have requested the proper paperwork at the moment a picture was suggested. Instead, I felt it necessary to go into a long monologue in a hillbilly voice (as low as possible so as not to offend the other patrons) pretending to be fascinated by all the crazy Japanese things in the restaurant. I managed to crack Tom up, but my mother shot daggers at me with her eyes.
Like I said, I have the least embarrassing parents ever. My mom and Tom have done a lot of traveling, and they're not idiots, and blah blah blah. I feel the need to emphasize all this stuff so people don't think I'm piling on a couple simpletons. But yikes, take them to a sushi restaurant and they're like Jed Clampett and Daisy May Moses riding their wagon into the big city. Is sushi less normal than I imagined? Is there a percentage of America that's still uncomfortable with the exotic fish/rice combination? What's the story?
Then I remembered something I discovered earlier, when they'd just moved downstate. Out on the deck, there's a strange pattern in the middle of the wooden barrier. Take a look:
Look closer at the center where the slanting wood meets. What do you see?
That's right: a swastika.
Their deck has a Nazi symbol for the world to see.
So, does their fear and awe at Japanese cuisine stem from the fact that they're secret white supremacists? Is there any kind of connection? Are they card-carrying members of the Aryan Race? If so, have they forgotten or betrayed their old allies the Japanese?
I don't know what to think, but I just finished reading the second book of the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, so I'm positive there's something sinister afoot. I'll keep you updated if they don't brainwash me before I can leave.
-Check out this kid. I hope he plays for Duke.
-Here's a nice article on Nolan's adjustment since Kyrie went down.
-Here's Part 3 of the great Coach K triple feature from the Fayetteville Observer's Dan Wiederer. I highly recommend the whole series if you haven't read it yet. This last one is kinda propaganda-ish, though, but still worth the read.
Again, Pick Six tomorrow and then I'll be back Sunday morning for a special pre-Maryland post. Dylan is currently DYLANquent in his Hot Potato score updating duties (he'll receive a stern note with this week's paycheck), so I'll post the new standings Sunday as well. See you then.