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.

Duke vs. Michigan State: Better Lace ‘Em Up

Duke v Michigan StateMichigan State.  Tough, physical, hard-nosed, defensive minded, board-pounding Michigan State.   Big 10 football, but in short pants.  Everyone has the same image of the Spartans under Tom Izzo.  On the other hand, many have a quite different image of Duke:  finesse, highly skilled but reliant on outside shooting, weak rebounding, not what they used to be defensively.  Not exactly winning with smoke and mirrors, but the type of team that will have great difficulties with a pound-it-out squad like the Spartans in the post-season.

Many Duke fans have very bad memories of the last time the two teams met in NCAA Tournament play, in the Sweet 16 in 2005.  The fifth-seeded Spartans outmuscled junior J.J. Redick and Duke in the second half, and broke away from a halftime tie to upset the top-seeded Blue Devils 78-68 in Austin, Texas.  The Spartans forced 22 turnovers that night, held Redick to 13 points, and outrebounded Duke 16-9 on the offensive glass in what would be the last game in a Duke uniform for Daniel Ewing and Shavlik Randolph.

The memories are better of the last overall meeting.  That was early last season, in November, in Madison Square Garden, when Coach K set the all-time Division I wins record as Duke beat MSU 74-69. The Blue Devils went on a 20-1 run to take a 20 point lead in the second half and, though the Spartans made the final score respectable, the outcome was never in doubt from the midway point of the second half.

What is the history of this series, and how does this Michigan State team compare to some of the others that Duke has faced?

The record shows that Duke has had great success against the Spartans in the K vs. Izzo era.  The teams have met seven times, and Duke is 6-1 in those meetings, with the only defeat of course being that 2005 tournament loss.  The Blue Devils, with an absolute powerhouse team, beat the Spartans twice in the 1998-99 season.  Once was in the “Great Eight” in Chicago in the earlygoing, by six, and then again by six in the Final Four in Tampa/St. Pete.    The teams met in the Big 10/ACC Challenge in both 2003 and 2004, with Duke winning in the Breslin Center by 22 in 2003-04 and in Cameron by seven the following year.  The teams met in the Challenge again in 2010-11, when Duke prevailed by five in Cameron, and then came last year’s duel in Madison Square Garden.  So K is 6-1 vs. Izzo, 1-1 in the tournament.

How does this Michigan State team stack up, at least statistically, to the two teams that most Duke fans probably remember best – the 2005 team that eliminated the Devils in Austin, and last year’s team that Duke took care of in New York?  The short answer is that defensively, this year’s edition is similar in many respects to last year’s, and both are clearly better than the 2005 squad that throttled Duke in the tournament.  Last year’s and this year’s teams are a little better on the defensive boards too.  This year’s Spartans get steals and block shots more frequently than either of those previous teams we’re looking at. Gulp.

Offensively, though, Izzo’s team this year is inferior to both his 2005 and 2012 teams.

First, as defense is always first in East Lansing, the defensive numbers:




Points per game




Points per possession








3 pt FG made/game




3 pt FG%




Effective FG%




Def Reb %




Off Reb % surrendered




Steal %




Blocked Shot %




Turnover %




So this defense is obviously going to be very tough on the Blue Devils.  The good news is:  Duke is a more efficient team than they were in either 2005 or 2012; we shoot it better, both overall and from 3 point land; we’re less reliant on the 3 for our points than we were in either of those prior years.  We get more assists than we did in those years, we turn it over less, and therefore our assist to turnover ratio is much, much better. On the other side of the ledger, our offensive rebounding is far off the standard set in 2005 (thanks to a guy named Shelden Williams) and significantly off of last year’s numbers as well.

Last year’s Michigan State defense was much more similar to this year’s than was the 2005 defense.  We scored 74 points on just 43.6% shooting in that win last year.  Those shooting numbers were aided greatly by Andre Dawkins banging home 6 of 10 3-pointers, and dragged down by Austin Rivers going just 1 of 7 from the field.  Our season averages were 77 points on 45.6% shooting.  This year, Duke averages just shy of 78 points per game.  If we play at about the same level as we did last year against the Spartans, and of course the makeup of the team is different and there are all sorts of other variables, but if we play at about that level, we should be able to get up into the upper 70’s in points, which would force MSU to have a really big game offensively, for them, in order to beat us.


OK so what about Michigan State’s offense?




Points per game




Points per possession








3 pt FG made/game




3 pt FG%




Effective FG%




Off Reb %




Assist %




Asst/TO ratio




Turnover %




So this team is not as good, statistically speaking, on offense as either the 2004-05 team or last year’s squad.  They don’t shoot it as well, they don’t succeed as often on the offensive boards, their assists are down, their assist-to-turnover ratio is down, and consequently their scoring is down.  They’re operating at a level closer to last year’s team than to their 2005 team.  Last year, Duke held MSU to 69 points on 44% shooting.  And like I said, they’re not as good offensively as they were last year.

Moreover, defensively, Duke is better than they were in 2012.  We are giving up less total points this year than last, less points per possession, fewer total FG, a full 2% less in overall FG%, a lower 3 point FG%, fewer assists, a worse assist-to-turnover ratio, we’re getting more blocks and forcing more turnovers.  The only thing we’re not doing as well is preventing offensive rebounds, but really the difference from last year to this is very minor, statistically speaking.  Of course if we play anywhere near as well defensively as we did against Creighton on Sunday night, the Spartans are going to have a very hard time keeping up with us.  But even if both teams play close to their averages this season, Michigan State may have a hard time outpointing the Devils.

Duke v Michigan StateBut before just leaving it at that, a little closer look at last year’s game may provide some insights into what we may see on Friday night in Indianapolis.  Again, both teams have lost key players off of last year’s squad, and gained important new contributors.  That’s always the case in college hoops.  How did the game really play out last year?

The first half was a see-saw affair.  MSU took a 6 point lead midway through the first half, Duke reclaimed the lead, the Spartans took it back, Duke regained it, and after Branden Wood hit a jumper in the last second, Duke went into the locker room with a one point lead.  Duke endured two long stretches without a made field goal in the first half, one of five minutes, and then the last four minutes as well.  Michigan State was getting a lot done with Draymond Green inside, and a number of other layups and tip-ins by the likes of Branden Dawson, Adrien Payne, and Derrick Nix, all of whom are back for the Spartans this year.  Andre Dawkins’ four three-pointers en route to 14 first half points were the heart of Duke’s offense.  Seth Curry chipped in with nine, but Austin Rivers only managed three free throws.  On the inside, Duke was stifled.  Mason Plumlee had one hoop and a couple of free throws, and Miles just a single free throw.

Duke opened up a seven point lead in the first four minutes of the second half, aided by two more three-pointers by Dawkins and one by Ryan Kelly.  MSU was continuing to work the ball inside, but weren’t able to keep up with Duke’s shooting, as they missed a number of close-in opportunities.  When Seth Curry hit another three, and Dawkins a layup, Duke had extended its lead to 13.  Timeout Spartans.  Two more MSU turnovers followed the timeout, but Duke couldn’t add to its advantage, and Keith Appling finally broke a 4 ½ minute drought with a free throw.  But the Blue Devils continued to extend the lead from there, reaching a high of 20, at 61-41, at the 9:22 mark, as Duke really was hitting on all cylinders.  Outside shooting by Dawkins and Kelly, Curry and Kelly getting to the line, Duke running off of Michigan State turnovers.  All of it was working.

Duke did cool off, but the damage was done.  Green continued to work hard, and with some success down low.  The Blue Devils got a little sloppy with the ball, and Michigan State narrowed the gap all the way to five, with Keith Appling getting the bulk of his 22 points late – including nine in the last minute alone.  But it was too long a row to hoe for the Spartans, and Duke prevailed, allowing Coach K to bask in the celebration with Coach Knight and the many other well-wishers in attendance at The World’s Most Famous Arena.

The Blue Devils played well overall in the game against a quality opponent, but nevertheless there were some areas of concern.  Duke got almost nothing inside against big bodied Green and Nix.  Mason Plumlee was 1 of 3 from the field for 7 points, and he had no offensive rebounds in 32 minutes.  Miles had 1 point and 4 rebounds in just 14 minutes.  For the Spartans, Green muscled inside but just didn’t convert nearly enough, going just 4 of 15 from the field, and Nix was worse off the bench, 1 for 7.  Payne had 12 rebounds and Green 7, but MSU only out-rebounded Duke overall 31-28.

Mason has struggled against burly wide-bodies like Nix.  He has had a hard time against Reggie Johnson more than once, and Gregory Echinique caused problems as well.  Against a guy like Nix, who goes 6’9” and 270 pounds, rather than trying to move him off a spot, Mason would be wise to use his superior athleticism and go around him or over him, not through him.

Appling is a streaky shooter and ballhandler and may be susceptible to pressure.  He’s the leading scorer, but only shoots 41% and 31% on 3’s. The guy who worries me is Adreian Payne.  The 6’10” 240 pound junior is an inside/outside threat, shoots 55%, and is athletic.  He also leads the team in rebounding with 7.5 per game.  Great matchup with Ryan Kelly.  Gary Harris is one of the top freshmen in the nation, scoring 13 a game on 42% 3 point shooting, and he has good size at 6’4” and 205 pounds.  Sounds like an excellent challenge for Rasheed Sulaimon to take on.

All in all, should be a great ballgame.  Hopefully it won’t be called quite as tightly as was the Creighton game and the Devils can establish some kind of offensive flow.  If they can, and if they can play defense approaching the level they did against the Blue Jays, Duke will stand an excellent chance of surviving and advancing to the Elite Eight.





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.