BDN’s Duke NCAA Notebook #1

A lot has happened on the Duke Basketball front since I was on the road to Indy yesterday. Chris Collins was named the new head coach of Northwestern University and Nate James was promoted to an assistant coach role for the Blue Devils.

Collins more than ready

Collins has been ready to be a head coach in my opinion in that he eats, sleeps and drinks basketball, always watching the NBA or college games and always ready to talk about the game. Northwestern gained a new head coach who has a lot of energy on and off the court but the thing which has impressed me most about Collins was his ability to work on strategy or X's and O's if you will. The high energy he brings to the Wildcats' program should rejuvenate their fan base and here is to hoping they are patient as he builds that program as I feel he will.

James familiar with his role

SONY DSCIn the case of James, he's tutored under the best and he will hit the road running, knowing his role from his experience there before. James is popular with both the team and staff and relates well with the players. His work with PG Quinn Cook has proved vital in the sophomores growth this season and his toughness from when he was a player enables him to pass on his experiences.

A return to Indy

As I walked up to Lucas oil Arena this morning, I could not help but be reminded that I have returned to the scene where I saw Duke defeat Butler for the National Championship. From a fan perspective it was as special experience as I have had covering the Duke program and ghosts abound in the arena which help me relive that cherished title run. Many of you will remember our tweets from press row and coverage from Indy and we hope to bring you up close and personal as the games unfold. At some point I may discuss that amazing 2010 team in the next several hours as my goal will be to blog and talk to you in a straight forward manner. As a follower of Blue Devil Nation this weekend, you will see player interviews, pictures and real-time information direct from Indianapolis, so check back often. Our twitter sit is listed as BlueDevilNation and our Facebook open group is under the same name.



Duke will hold their open practice at 3:10 p.m. Coach K will conduct interviews with Dial global, Turner/CBS and the news room today as will selected players.  Mason Plumlee was named 2nd team  All American by the NABC.

Nate James promoted to Duke Assistant Basketball Coach

coach-Nate-300x224DURHAM, N.C. – Duke Men’s basketball special assistant Nate James will be promoted to assistant coach on the Duke staff, head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced.

"This will be a seamless transition for the Duke Basketball program,” Krzyzewski said. “Having served in an assistant coaching role previously, Nate is the perfect choice for this position. He has been a valuable member of our program since his playing days and he has certainly earned this opportunity.”

James has spent the past six seasons as a member of the Duke basketball staff, serving as an assistant strength and conditioning coach during the 2007-08 season and an assistant coach from 2008-11. James will begin his second stint as a Duke assistant coach following the departure of associate head coach Chris Collins, who was announced as the new head coach at Northwestern Wednesday. Collins will coach Duke through the remainder of the 2012-13 season.

A four-year letterwinner and two-time team captain at Duke from 1996-2001, James helped lead Duke to the 2001 NCAA Championship and was an All-ACC third team selection in 2001. During his first stint as an assistant coach at Duke, the Blue Devils won three straight ACC Championships, the 2010 NCAA Championship and compiled a 95-17 record.

Bench key as Blue Devils grind it out over Creighton

Amile JeffersonPHILADELPHIA, PA. - Going into Duke's round of 32 game against Creighton, the question came up about Duke's depth. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's predilection for a short post-season rotation is well known, but did this year's Duke team have bench players who could step up if needed?

"Yep, we have enough guys," Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel said. "And we've proven that all year. Guys have stepped up and done a good job. You know we had a crisis in the middle of the year when Ryan went out, and not many teams have had a guy that's that important that's gone out and that's missed that many games, and we had guys that stepped up during that time. So if it comes to that, we'll have guys that are ready to step up and help us."

Boy, did it come to that. Duke's Ryan Kelly, who drew the assignment to guard Creighton's national player-of-the-year candidate Doug McDermott, was whistled for a foul 43 seconds into the contest, a harbinger of things to come.

The game was billed as a matchup of two of the best five offenses in the country. Creighton led the nation in field goal percentage and three-point percentage this season, and was fifth in the country in assists per game (while also coming in tenth in the country in assist to turnover ratio). Pomeroy rated the Blue Jays as the fifth most efficient offense in the land, while Duke ranked third.

"They're very difficult to guard," Capel said before the game. "They put a lot of pressure on your defense, with how well they execute, with their talent, and with how well they shoot the ball."

And the linchpin of that offense was Doug McDermott. Kelly hounded him for eight and half minutes, forcing the Creighton star to miss four of his first five shots, but the Duke forward drew his second foul with 11:29 to play in the first half and took a seat on the bench. Josh Hairston came in to check McDermott but fouled him on his very first possession thereafter. Less than a minute later, Mason Plumlee picked up his second foul.

Kelly checked back in but couldn't challenge McDermott inside. The Creighton forward began to get hot, hitting three of four shots and adding a couple of free throws. Creighton inched into the lead.

With 3:19 to play in the half, Kelly helped on a driving Austin Chatman and picked up his third foul. Duke fans let out a collective groan. Freshman Amile Jefferson, who gave up 30 pounds to McDermott and who'd played a mere eleven minutes in Duke's previous three games, came off the bench for Kelly.

"All I wanted to do was come in with tremendous energy and try to use my length," Jefferson said.

Creighton led, 21 to 20, when Jefferson entered the contest. It looked like Duke would have a challenge just keeping the game close until intermission.

Except that's not how it worked out. Rasheed Sulaimon hit a key three pointer with 2:47 to go in the half, giving the freshman a Duke-leading ten points and giving Duke a two point lead. McDermott and Seth Curry each hit two free throws, and then Curry stripped McDermott of the ball with 53 seconds remaining in the opening period. Krzyzewski called a timeout.

Instead of milking the clock, Duke went for a "two for one," attempting a quick score in the hope of getting the last possession of the half. It worked. Sulaimon was fouled on a drive and hit one of two free throws. Jefferson and junior reserve Josh Hairston checked in. Jefferson stuck to McDermott like Gorilla Glue, not allowing him a look at the basket. Creighton's Jahenns Manigat forced up a prayer three point attempt as the shot clock expired. Hairston ripped down the rebound and outletted to fellow bench player Tyler Thornton, who hit an off-balance three at the buzzer to give Duke a six point lead at the half, 29 to 23.

IMG_0443With Kelly burdened by his three fouls, Duke opened the second period trying Mason Plumlee on McDermott. Plumlee picked up his own third foul just thirty seconds into the half and Kelly had to switch back onto the Creighton foul magnet. The experiment cost Duke dearly when Plumlee made contact with Creighton center Greg Echenique and was whistled for his fourth foul with 17:48 to go and Duke clinging to a 31 to 27 lead.

Hairston re-entered the game but fouled McDermott and Creighton forward Ethan Wragge on consecutive plays. Now Mr. Hairston had four fouls as well. Kelly joined his frontcourt teammates by picking up his fourth with 13:25 to play.

In the meantime, Seth Curry made a great cut and layup to give Duke a nine point edge, 39 to 30, but it certainly didn't feel secure with Duke's entire regular frontcourt rotation saddled with four fouls each.

It was time for the reserves to shine.

"Our bench came through for us," Krzyzewski said afterwards. "Tyler, Josh, and Amile were outstanding contributors for us tonight."

Krzyzewski went out of his way to praise junior guard Tyler Thornton. "I really can't say enough about [Thornton] on the defensive end of the court tonight.... I especially thought Tyler helped us defensively in that second half when we were in all the foul trouble, when Amile and Josh were in, he was able to kind of orchestrate us and made the switch on top so McDermott didn't get it, and then he had to move a little more to get it. Communication was huge for us, and I thought Tyler was outstanding in getting us together and doing that."

Indeed, Thornton made some big plays, including flying in for an acrobatic steal just seconds after Kelly's fourth foul and drawing a critical charge on McDermott with 3:20 to play.

But the most unlikely contributions came from Amile Jefferson. He hit his only shot on a snazzy pick and roll play to give Duke a 43 to 32 lead, and then came up with a huge offensive rebound which led to a Curry layup maintaining Duke's cushion at 45-34. But more importantly he stuck with McDermott to the end, even snuffing one of the Creighton star's shots with just over nine minutes left in the contest.

"I love playing defense," Jefferson said afterwards. "And it's something I've been working on in practice. Guarding a wing now, with Ryan back I've been able to do a lot of that. And just learning from all these seniors, I've been able to get better. It's been real fun."

Hairston fouled out on the scramble after Jefferson's blocked shot, and Plumlee garnered his fifth with 2:45 to play.

But Doug McDermott didn't hit a field goal after Jefferson checked in, late in the first half.

"He's such an amazing player, it's tough," Jefferson said of McDermott. "He can shoot the ball, he's great off the dribble, he can post and he has great size. So I just wanted to try to bother him with my length and make him take tough, contested shots."

And that he did. The Creighton star shot just 4 for 16 for the game (along with 12 free throws) for 21 inefficient points. It was enough to give Duke a 66-50 win and a ticket to the Sweet 16.

"It's the best defense we've played all year," Krzyzewski said, noting communication is critical in games like this. "It was the best we talked on defense."


-- Rasheed Sulaimon led Duke with 21 points on 5 for 9 shooting (3 for 5 from three), plus 8 for 10 from the line.

-- Quinn Cook added 6 assists against 2 turnovers, giving him 17 assists and only 3 turnovers in the Philadelphia pod. That's an average of 8.5 apg and a 5.7 assist to turnover ratio.

-- Seth Curry, playing on an injured leg with a short turnaround, started slowly, hitting only one of his seven first half shots. But he heated up in the second period, shooting 4 for 8 (2 for 5 on threes) in the last twenty minutes. Perhaps more importantly, his leg held up. "I felt great, for the most part," Curry said.

-- Philadelphia native Amile Jefferson enjoyed shining in front of his hometown fans. "I was tremendously excited about [coming home and playing in Philly]. I had my family here, a lot of friends, my AAU coach, my head coach, so it was really fun to be out there and see them cheering me on, once again, like it was back in the old days. So I was really happy about that."

-- Ryan Kelly scored just 1 point, but Coach K praised him for his overall play. "I love that we won and [Ryan] scored one point.... He knows he played a heck of a game."

-- This weekend's games marked the third time under Coach K that Duke has played NCAA tournament games in Philadelphia and Duke is 6-0 in those games. The two other seasons Duke played in the City of Brotherly Love? That would be 1992 and 2001.

That's quite a precedent.

Coach Capel talks Duke/Creighton

jeff capelBlue Devil Nation spent a lot of time today discussing a disciplined, upperclass laden team that plays a three guard lineup and features a versatile stretch four who can score both inside and out. Very efficient on the offensive end, the team shoots a lot of threes and shoots for high percentage -- one of the highest percentage shooting teams in the nation. Along with that great shooting, this team distributes the ball very well, assisting on more than half its made baskets. Rebounding is not this team's biggest strength, but Pomeroy nevertheless ranks its offense in the top five of the country. The defense isn't quite where the coaching staff wants it yet, but it's much improved over last season.

Sound familiar? Well, believe it or not, the above paragraph was written not about Duke but about Duke's next opponent, the Creighton Blue Jays. Duke will be playing a team that seems to be pretty much a mirror image of the Blue Devils. So is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, Blue Devil Nation spoke to Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel and asked him just that, along with several other questions. Here's what he said:

BDN: Creighton appears to be somewhat of a mirror of Duke. They're a disciplined offensive team, efficient three guard offense, high volume three point shooters, good percentage. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Coach Capel: Well it is who they are. They are a very good team, they are very efficient offensively, I think number one in the country in offensive efficiency. They have one of the premier scorers in all of college basketball in McDermott -- in Doug McDermott. They shoot the ball really well and they do a great job executing. They're very difficult to guard. We feel like at times we've been a very good offensive team, a team who can put a lot of pressure -- they put a lot of pressure on your defense, with how well they execute, with their talent, and with how well they shoot the ball.

BDN: Obviously, Doug McDermott is the star there. Is Ryan going to have the primary responsibility to guard him?

Coach Capel: You can't guard a guy like McDermott with one guy. So, Ryan will be matched up with him but our team has to guard him. We have to do a really good job, we have to have an awareness for him all the time. He puts so much pressure on your defense because of how he's in constant motion and he's a very, very hungry scorer.

BDN: With Ryan still recovering from his injury and presumably working on his conditioning, is that going to affect how he can defend a guy like McDermott?

Coach Capel: Well, again, that's why we have to have everyone, it's not just going to be Ryan. It has to be everyone, we have to guard him. And knowing that he's going to still get points. The thing that we don't want him to do is score a lot of points in a very efficient manner. We have to do a really good job of trying to take away his three point shot and trying to take away his free throws, trying to play him without fouling. But, again, that's going to be a collective group effort from all of us.

BDN: OK, do you expect Greg Echenique to defend Mason one on one?

Coach Capel: Well, it's something that they've done in the past. He's very physical, big, and a very good defender. He's a really good player. I would think they would look at that and hopefully Mason's able to score and maybe they'll make some changes. But from watching them on film, with a lot of the guys they've played, they have played straight up one on one in the post.

BDN: As big as he is, do you think he'll be able to push Mason off the block? Is that going to be a thing?

Coach Capel: Well, we hope not, we'll see. He is big, he's very physical. But again we have to do some things to help Mason as far as screening and Mason has to do some things moving off the ball, in moving without the ball and get in good position.

BDN: Duke is obviously at its best when Seth Curry is "on." It has seemed in the past that with short rest he sometimes gets a little tired, I guess because he isn't practicing, perhaps. How do you feel that's going to affect this game?

Coach Capel: I think he'll be fine. You know, we had a situation earlier in the year when we were in the Bahamas where he played three games in a row, and he played pretty well in all three games. And Seth has progressively, his injury has progressively gotten better as the season has gone on. And so we think he'll be fine. It probably helps that it's a later game on Sunday. But we do need him to be on and we need him to play well. As we need all of our guys to play well.

BDN: Have he and Ryan been practicing this week, I mean most of the time?

Coach Capel: Yeah. They've practiced.

BDN: I guess against an efficient offense like Creighton, Duke's going to have to play very efficient team defense. Before Ryan got hurt, according to computer websites, Duke was a top ten defense. We're getting back there with Ryan, now he's played five games, how close do you think we are to being as tough a defensive team as we were before he got hurt.

Coach Capel: Well, we have to be better, certainly. I think we've been pretty good throughout, even when Ryan went out. We don't pay much attention to what a computer says. We try to pay attention to the results, and we've been able to win a lot of games this year because our guys have done a pretty good job and stepped up and done some good things defensively, and especially at key moments in the games we've been able to get stops. We think, especially as we have our full roster, we've been a pretty good defensive team. But, again, Creighton is the kind of team that they challenge you, they really challenge and put a lot of pressure on your defense. I liken them a little bit to a North Carolina, with the way they spread the floor out, Carolina does, and they shoot the ball so well. Creighton does that, and they have a dynamic player, as dynamic as there is in the country, in McDermott, and so they put a lot of pressure on your defense. Our defense is going to have to be really good tomorrow night.

BDN: Let me ask you about Quinn Cook. The first twenty or so games of the season, he was a great distributor, he was really leading the offense, he was a sparkplug. And then he started hunting his shot more, it seemed like. And then yesterday he came out with eleven assists against one turnover. Which Quinn Cook are we going to see moving forward? Are we going to see the dynamic playmaker or the guy who's hunting his shot?

Coach Capel: Well, we need to see both. Quinn needs to score, and that's the bottom line. Even in those early games, those twenty games you're referring to, he still scored the ball. Quinn's had a heck of a year, and he's had a heck of a year because he's been able to find the right balance with both. He needs to be ready to shoot, and take his shots, he needs to be ready to attack off of ball screens and read what the defense gives. But also, he's been very good this year in distributing and in running our club, and he needs to do that. He needs to find the right balance between both, which is something that he's done at a pretty good level all year.

BDN: Creighton plays at a slower pace than Duke. Does Duke have any plan for taking control of that aspect of the game, for making them uncomfortable?

Coach Capel: We want to play the game at our pace, we want to try to control the tempo. Again, we have to do a really good job defensively. We have to get back. They actually push the ball, on makes and misses. They get out in transition, and McDermott does an excellent job in transition of early posts. And so we have to do a good job in transition defense, getting back and setting our defense. And then we have be smart with how we defend them. Who we pressure, how we pressure, where we pressure, help. Our talk has to be excellent, all night long. Our ball screen defense, we're going to be playing a lot of ball screens on those guys and that's something we have to have an awareness for.

BDN: Historically, Duke has done very well in these short turnaround games. How do you prepare for a team you haven't seen on one day's notice. I mean, how do the players get that preparation.

Coach Capel: Well, it's easy, to be honest with you. Last night, we talked about, first of all we talked about us, we watched some clips from our games. And then we introduced our guys to Creighton. They watched, probably the second half of that game, back at the hotel. Look, our guys watch basketball all year long, so they probably had a good feel, a little bit, some knowledge of Creighton. And then last night, we watched them and we talked about them. So we started our preparation last night with our guys. And then today. We had a good practice, a spirited practice. We went over them some more this morning. Some more of their personnel, went through some of their stuff on the floor. We'll do it again tonight. We'll do it again tomorrow, because we have such a long day. But our guys are used to this. Again, in the Bahamas, it was back to back to back. We had three games in a row and we played three different styles. You play Minnesota, where you have a few days to prepare for, but then you play a VCU team that is very unconventional with how they play. And our guys did a heck of a job then we played an incredibly talented Louisville team. And so in some respects we've been at our best when we haven't had as much time to prepare, and hopefully that can carry over tomorrow.

BDN: Do the players feel like they got a little bit of a monkey off their back, with yesterday's game?

Coach Capel: I don't think it was a monkey. I can't speak for them. We certainly didn't approach it that way. This program is bigger than one game last year.

BDN: I'm sure. It's just that they seemed a little bit nervous at first. Are they going to be more relaxed moving forward?

Coach Capel: That's something you're going to have to ask them. I can't speak for them.

BDN: OK, that's fair.

Coach Capel: I thought we did some really good things yesterday. Albany played out of their minds. They played great so you have to give them a lot of credit. They hit nine threes, which is something they hadn't done. A lot of those threes were contested threes. So you have to give them credit. But our guys showed a lot of resolve at times, where maybe last year we would have wilted, and given up a lead. But we made some big plays and maintained a comfortable lead throughout the game.

BDN: I've heard that in the past few years, Duke has adopted the mindset of "every post-season game is a championship game," and that's apparently subtly different from what the mindset used to be. Is that true, and if so, why the change?

Coach Capel: You know, that's probably something you have to ask Coach. I haven't been here long enough to know what the philosophy was before and what it is now.

BDN: OK, my last question. A lot of fans and commentators seem to equate depth with game experience. But I've heard a lot of coaches say that it really is if you have players on the bench who can step up when they're needed. Do we have eight, nine, and ten guys here at Duke who are going to be able to step up if needed if something comes up against Creighton?

Coach Capel: Yep, we have enough guys. And we've proven that all year. Guys have stepped up and done a good job. You know we had a crisis in the middle of the year when Ryan went out, and not many teams have had a guy that's that important that's gone out and that's missed that many games, and we had guys that stepped up during that time. So if it comes to that, we'll have guys that are ready to step up and help us.

BDN: Right, thank you very much, Coach.

Coach Capel: Hey, no problem, man.