It's now confirmed: his basketball skills are not limited to television. He's an actual human who plays on real courts and can make shots. He exists in three dimensions.
Also: he looks at you funny if you ask for a simple hug.
My pal Andrew and I drove out to Raleigh yesterday to see the game, and were treated to a rare ACC road win. Home teams in intra-conference games are now 19-6, but I'm happy to report that Duke owns one of the six. And it wasn't that tough, either. But this was a strange game. Before I get to grades, though, a couple thoughts on the RBC Center and the N.C. State atmosphere.
-I guess it's kind of cool that they have a huge arena with a big capacity (19,000), but I'm not sold on playing basketball games in a hockey venue. I know I said this yesterday about the Dean Dome, but I mean it even more so now: I felt the detachment I'm used to experiencing at an NBA game. It's hard to create an intense environment in such a cavernous space.
1) Also, I understand the need for a lot of seats, but what I don't understand is why anyone would go to a game and sit in the highest level. We bought scalped tickets for $25 apiece in the parking lot, and they were nosebleeds.* After we got stonewalled in the lower sections, we had to sit up high for the first half. And it is zero percent better than watching on tv, in my opinion. Maybe not on this particular occasion, since I hadn't seen a live Duke game in like 5 years and was loving it, but in general those seats get a big "NOT WORTH IT" stamp from this dude.
*The Patriots defense couldn't stop these seats.
I am probably a ticket snob. I'm definitely one of those d-bags who always buys cheap tickets and then sneaks into lower sections. I get this jittery feeling if I'm too high up, like I'm missing out on the action, and I can't sit still until I've improved my lot in life. But live sports are so catered to television now that the only way it's worthwhile to go in person is to sit close enough that you get a sense of the human proportions. Luckily, we were able to move to the first level at halftime, and the second half was great.
2) This is the first time I've been to the RBC Center, and also the first time I've ever seen a metal detector in use for a college sporting event. Really, guys? Is it necessary to hold everyone up for ten minutes so you can confirm there are no knives or guns? State fans and Duke fans may hate each other's teams, but they've been living in peace for many years now. I think we can forgo the airport ritual.
3) N.C. State fans in the student section wear red shirts that say "Red Terrors: Pride of the Wolfpack." Oh, nice. You guys are in a club? That's cool. And you're pretty crazy, huh? I can tell how crazy you must be by the fact that you all wear the same t-shirt. Hey, come here for a second, I have to whisper something to you. No, it's cool, come here, I just don't want everyone else to hear...
BAM! THERE'S A HEADBUTT FOR YOUR NOSE, WOLFPACK! THAT'S RIGHT, MOTHERFUCKER, I'M A GODDAMN MOODY BLUE! I DON'T NEED A T-SHIRT TO KNOW I'M THE BADDEST SON OF A BITCH ON THE PLANET! I JUST GO AROUND ROOTING FOR DUKE AND KICKING PEOPLE'S ASSES! T-SHIRTS?! PLEASE. I ONLY WEAR PANTS BECAUSE SOCIETY REQUIRES IT AND I ALREADY DID MY TIME. NOW WIPE YOUR NOSE AND GO COMPLAIN ON THE INTERNET, YOU FUTURE HOUSE HUSBAND!
AND OH, LOOK, DUKE IS RUNNING OUT THE CLOCK, WE WON IN YOUR HOUSE AGAIN. THIS IS REAL LIFE, BITCHES- WELCOME TO THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN.
(This is a loose description of what happened last night. Also, respect to the house husbands out there. I'm still hoping my girlfriend gets rich and I can join you.)
4) Tangential: My search for a picture of the red terrors t-shirt failed, but I found this, which is truly awesome:
People with Che shirts su-uck.
5) I did not get a single comment from the State faithful about my Duke hat, other than a single old lady who gave a comic look of disapproval and then smiled to show me she wasn't serious.* There were a lot of Duke-clad folks in the crowd, so maybe they're used to it, but it still surprised me. And even though I wasn't an overbearing idiot in the crowd, I wasn't shy about cheering when Duke scored. So, kudos to the Wolfpack. You are gracious hosts.
*Don't get me wrong, I still headbutted her. She made her choice.
Alright, to the game. What a strange one. When the game was over, I couldn't believe we ran up 92 points. It never seemed like we went on a true flurry, but I guess it was just quiet, consistent scoring throughout. Both teams scored 50 in the second half, which is sort of nuts. There was some intensity with about 13 minutes left, when Scott Wood hit back-to-back threes to pull State within 5, but it never really seemed that the outcome was in jeopardy.
Still, we also never asserted ourselves, right? It was a completely solid offensive performance, but I kept waiting for the death blow that never came. But again, a win on the road in ACC play is hard enough, and I will absolutely take it. Let's give out some grades.
Plumdog Millionaire: A-. Credit where it's due. I give this guy enough shit when he struggles, so it's only proper to give him praise when it's earned. He had a nice, solid game. He even had one very nice post move when he made a turn-around bank shot in the first half. It was very un-Plum-like. He was an integral part of Duke out-rebounding State 42-32, and his 11 points did not, surprisingly, come on easy dunks. He had to work. He's played less than 10 minutes in his last two games, and part of me thought the season was over for Plumblebum the Lesser. And believe me, I'm not stupid enough to hope that his performance is an indication of what's to come. But I'm happy for him, and I have no criticism of his performance.
Knowlan Springs: A. His 22 points, including a basket whenever momentum looked to be turning the other way, cements Nolan as the frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year. Not only is he a great scorer and completely unshakable under pressure, but he always has one move per game that drops jaws. You can see last night's in the ESPN highlight video linked above, when he dices through the defense and makes a reverse lay-up with extreme english. Those moments are great at Cameron, because everyone goes nuts, but it's almost more fun to watch them on the road and hear that first deflated moment of complete silence followed by mumbled, grudging admissions of greatness. I love Nolan Smith. Only 1-6 from three keeps him from an A+.
Boom Radley: B-. It just seems like he's forcing it quite a bit. He's still the player we can always count on in the big moments, and he didn't let us down last night, but overall he was only 6-18, and it felt like he was kind of bottled up on defense a lot. I've always thought he gets just a little too much national credit, and nothing has changed my opinion this year. He's a great shooter and an extremely hard worker, but he needs picks to score, and too often he tries a one-on-one style that doesn't suit him and is rarely successful. But hey, he grabbed 9 board and scored 18 points, so maybe we can't complain. If you look at his numbers compared to the last two years, though, his assists are down by 1 per game, and his assist-to-turnover is lower as well. That may just be an indication that he's shooting more on a team that needs him to shoot, and his field goal percentage definitely isn't suffering, so I'll reserve any final conclusions for now. I think what it amounts to is that Singler just doesn't move like an elite basketball player, and I have to get used to the fact that he gets the job done anyway.
StumblePlum the Taller: C. He has got to stop shooting that long-range jumper. I know it only happened twice last night, but good God, STOP. He looked terrible. The one play that really annoyed me was when he defended the alley-oop by emphatically swatting the ball back into play. He could easily have caught that ball, and instead Tracy Smith got the ball at the top of the key and converted a three-point play. That's the kind of idiocy that costs points and possessions. He also had a terrible night in defensive rotation, and I've completely given up hope that he'll ever box anyone out. He had 10 boards last night, but he should have had about 20. To pile misery upon misery, I'm now convinced his hands are made of vasoline and ice. Frustrating to watch.
The White Raven: A-. This is the kind of game I wish we could always get from Kelly. 24 minutes, 8 boards, 2 big threes, 11 points, and decent defense. He filled his role almost to perfection. When Kelly plays like that, he lifts the whole team.
Tyler Thornton: B. He's a total pest. He's the kind of guy you would absolutely hate if he were on the other team. I love him. His three in the first half was one of my favorite moments of the game.
Young Threezy: C. Still waiting for him to break out. I thought we'd seen evidence that he was on the cusp, but it hasn't materialized yet. Rough game for him last night; 0-4 from three, two turnovers, 8 points. I still think he needs to start driving to the basket when he's not open. He'll create more shots for himself that way, and defenses will stop seeing him as a one-trick pony.
Seth Curry: C+. To be completely fair, he got screwed by the refs on a couple early fouls. At least it looked that way from where I was sitting. People watching at home can confirm or overturn that notion, but I think the zebras gave him little chance to find any rhythm. Contrary to Dawk, I think Seth is on the rise. I expect him to have a 16-20 point game real soon. I'm eyeballing the Wake game on Saturday, actually.
Team Defense: C+. Coach K was losing his cool near the end because we kept fouling, and because State would not stop scoring. It's very rare for this team to allow an opponent to score more second half points than first half points, and it's even rare for anyone to put up 50 on us in a half. In fact, it hasn't happened yet this season. And State isn't that good. I don't see this as much more than an anomaly of good shooting and bad luck, but it's definitely one of our worst performances of the season.
-Man, Wake Forest is pretty bad. 39 points? Saturday could get ugly.
-Virginia continues to be the team that can almost put it together, but seems to perpetually wind up on the losing side. It's hard to know what to make of this team. As of now, they don't seem like a tourney-bound squad, but they certainly have stretches where they play quite well. Puzzling.
-FSU gets a road win at Miami. Everyone wants to talk about how "down" the ACC is this year, but we've seen time and again how conference evaluations mean exactly nothing when the big dance rolls around. Last year's Big East meltdown is the classic example, but it happens every time. So here's a bold prediction: the Seminoles are going to make the Elite 8. They have everything you need to raise hell in March: great defense, height, strong rebounders, and guys who can score in streaks.
-In his quest for a Rafa slam, my hero is through to the second round. It was easy, too. His first two cupcake matches bode well for his stamina when the tough matches arrive. You can see his post-match interview here. Apparently, he plans to go to the aquarium. TELL ME YOU DON'T LOVE THIS GUY!
Pick Six and Wake Forest Hot Potato tomorrow. Pretty sure I'm going to pick a Plumlee.