First, much of the chatter this morning is about John Calipari’s petulance. That’s old news. That’s Kentucky’s problem and no one else’s. You ignore the people that chirp and you pay attention to the guys that do their job, and the guys that do their job did it well last night in defeating the latest free agents from Kentucky. Calipari’s puerile antics must not distract–well, any further–from Duke’s terrific team win over an otherwise impressive WWWildcat team.
Some quick postgame thoughts, as I must scurry off to work:
(1) This was a game of halves for Duke’s offense. As expected, everything ran through Mason Plumlee early on, and Plumlee showed why, going 7 of 8 and racking up a number of rebounds and altering a number of shots as Duke took a (surprising?) lead into the locker room. He quickly picked up his third and fourth fouls, however, and the guards took over, notably Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon. It’s easier to understand why Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson are having a hard time getting playing time at this earliest of stages once you see those two guards operate with Cook in at the point. Alex and Amile both bring a lot to the table, but neither has shown (or had the opportunity to show) the sort of polish that Curry and Sulaimon clearly have.
(2) You knew Kentucky was going to make a big run despite being down for double digits for a considerable chunk of the second half. When it came, slicing the lead to three from twelve, Duke did not panic in an environment that was pro-Big Blue Nation. That’s a positive sign, and precisely why games like this can be very beneficial down the road.
(3) I must eat some crow. I anticipated that this would be a very sloppy game. Instead, the teams committed just three turnovers in the final, what, ten minutes of the game? Awfully impressive.
(4) Mason’s free throw shooting, while not the most aesthetically pleasing in all the land, is clearly improved. He’s more comfortable in the post, has a few new moves, and seems like he finally believes he’s the best big man on the court.
(5) I spoke briefly with Airowe of DukeHoopBlog after the game, and he made the extremely insightful remark that last year, Duke needed to lose a game early to stay humble; this team needed a big win early to get confident. No better team to beat early on than UK on national television.
(6) Poythress is an excellent basketball player. Noel will become an excellent basketball player. UK will go as far as Harrow can take them, I suspect, and while I think this is the least capable team Calipari’s had in Lexington, it’s still probably a top-5 squad. But not yet.
(7) Duke belongs in the upper echelon once again, and ensures its continued place in the top 10 of the rankings. We’ve been there for a (modern) record of 94 weeks. UCLA’s Wooden-era teams have the record of 150-something weeks.
Helluva win. Now it’s back to work (for the team…I’m leaving in a minute, I swear). Things to look for:
(1) Did Cook earn back the starting spot? Is that the Cook we’ll see for the rest of the season? He was good last night…
(2) Can Plumlee and Curry be that steady and excellent night in and night out?
(3) Will Murphy and Jefferson work their way into the rotation?
(4) There was a chance Marshall could play last night. What will the youngest Plumlee bring, and how will that added depth/length change how we play?
(5) How quickly will Sulaimon grow? He’s awfully good as is–confident on offense and capable on defense. His ability to attack the rim and dish is going to be invaluable, I suspect, moving forward in the top-heavy ACC.
(6) Speaking of the conference, we’ve got three powers again with N.C. State returning after a long hiatus, UNC and of course Duke. But we also have facepalmers in Virginia and Miami bringing up the rear. The conference must continue improving. A decade ago, the Big 10 was floundering in basketball and elite in football. My how times have changed. Sustaining excellence as a conference is tough, but it’s time for the ACC to get back on top where it belongs.