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Thoughts from Indy – Duke vs Michigan State

SONY DSCINDIANAPOLIS - As you walk up to Lucas Oil Arena the banks are still covered in snow and that alone makes one realize you are not in North Carolina, but as my stroll continued I started to see the ghosts of games past.

I have returned to the scene of the 2010 National Championship Game and it's hard not to relive those moments where Gordon Haywards' shot caromed off the rim just before the court was filled with joyous Blue Devils who had just won their fourth title under the watch of Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

I can still see Kyle Singler laying on the floor before being mobbed by his teammates after a vicious pick by Matt Howard, an illegal one at that, but a no-call nobody cared about in royal blue, for Duke had just won that wonderful crystal trophy.

My memories from that magical 2010 season are numerous and the only thing that has really changed in the arena are the pictures of Andrew Luck where Peyton Manning used to be. Well, there is a shortened court as well and less seats but the venue is still one of the best out there and Indy is a true basketball town through and through.

Oddly, in a good way for Duke fans, the 2013 Blue Devils are in the exact same locker room as before. But tonight's game reminds me more of  that seasons Baylor game, than it does the Final Four in that Duke will face a tough and athletic team in an early game that can on paper go either way.

In a sense, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo is due. Coach Krzyzewski owns a 7-2 record over the Spartans and none of those match ups featured a weak team. The "due," bit scares the fan side of me the most here, but on the court itself I feel confident in the Blue Devils ability to win this one.

If one were to conduct a straw poll of media types, Michigan State seems to be the popular pick. Even Dick Vitale who gets unfairly blasted and called "Dukie V," has picked the team in the green shade.

I say unfairly blasted in the case of Vitale because he is one of the few talking heads who recognizes the Duke success under Coach Krzyzewski has been and should be impressive enough to harp about, no matter who you are.

Still, the talking heads are strongly leaning towards Michigan State and that is another reason which could point to a solid effort and win for Duke in that being considered an underdog when you are a slime 2 point favorite in Vegas can sometimes motivate.

Oddly, when Duke wins, they are labeled the team to beat but when there is a bad loss, they suddenly become vulnerable. And there last loss to Maryland was obviously a bad loss if for no other reason than getting stuck in what I have dubbed the "Final Four," regional where one could make a case teams left in the region could have made it to Atlanta had they been blessed with different paths.

At this point and time, Duke will in no way waste any thought process on what could have been. Instead, they will prepare as they always do and show up this evening no matter how to tough the opponent.

While I am very impressed with the Michigan State starting line up, I see their bench as being a little weak and most consider Dukes' weak as well.

That means the game will come down to the starters and Duke features three seniors in Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry. But Sparta features some experience as well, just not quite as much as Duke does and that is one of the reasons I think Duke will find a way to win tonight, but in a close game, one which could test ones nerves until the very end.

In all likelihood, the game could hinge on the way the game is called. There have been games where phantom calls were made to date, limiting Duke to play aggressively, while other tournament games have let the teams play.

It's hard to figure out which way the game is called would benefit Duke in that allowing them to play seems to favor the athletic Spartans but that kind of game may keep Mason Plumlee out of foul trouble.

If the game is called close, Duke may get to the line a lot and such, but as odd as it seems I favor letting the teams play and I think that's what we'll see.

So, I am picking the Blue Devils to advance and make some new memories, ghosts be darned, but it'll be after midnight to know if I am right.

Just throw the ball up already and let's get it on. The game pits to solid teams playing a round too early in my humble opinion, but as they say, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

As for  Duke?  They simply want to go to practice the next day or in this case, the same day the game will end.

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.

Duke Basketball Notebook – March Madness begins

RCP_9020It's time of year again when every team in America (well, those that are still playing) is in the same boat.  You win, you advance or you lose and you go home.  The stark reality of that  makes for a bundle of emotions and nerves.  Thankfully for Duke fans, Coach K is at the helm and this obviously will not be his first dance.  But the road will be a tough one.  BDN starts our tournament coverage today with the latest edition of our Duke Basketball Notebook.

Insanely loaded Midwest

The last thing I wanted to do was whine about the Blue Devils' seeding yesterday, but once the pairings were announced, I was like, "you've got to be kidding me." But it's not worth a lot of time at this point, because there are no words or actions that will change a thing and to get too caught up in it will serve no purpose moving forward. The Midwest field is loaded.  I could point to all the teams and All American players in the region, but you've probably already heard all of that. So let me just say that a Louisville vs Duke matchup, should it happen, is a Final Four quality game at worst. In fact, in my opinion Midwest #3 seed Michigan State could feasibly beat all four of the top seeds in the West Regional on a neutral court and none of them would be an upset. In short, the committee did Duke no favors.  While they claimed to look at a lot of factors in making their seeding and bracketing decisions, is seems their criteria were only loosely applied when it came to Duke. Over the course of this season, Duke faced a brutal schedule.  Yet when at full strength, the Blue Devils lost a single game. Where is the reward for that?  Why should this team have to play a rematch with a Louisville team which is the overall #1 seed, just to get to the Final Four, if Duke gets that far?  Ridiculous.

They're a team to beat ... no, they'll go out fast

I wouldn't give you a wooden nickel for the various talking heads' predictions this time of year. I have never been one to give too much weight to the "What have you done for me lately" bit. I didn't pick N.C. State, the pre-season favorite, to win the ACC as the media did, nor will I make too much over Duke's one untimely loss to Maryland in the ACC Tournament. Now that the parings have been announced, none of the so-called experts are giving Duke a chance, which Coach Krzyzewski may use as a motivator heading to Philly. But before the loss the Maryland, those same talking heads were close to naming Duke one of the teams to beat for all the marbles. Well, guess what? They still are a team to beat and their body of work shows they are capable of beating anybody anywhere.  The fan part of me is loving the Blue Devils flying below the radar in a world which seems to think you're only as good as your last game.

Albany and the next game if you win, forget about the rest

It would not shock me if there were some grumblings within the program when you compare the Midwest bracket to the West, but you can bet that Krzyzewski and company are only focused on Albany and the winner of the Creighton vs. Cincinnati game. First things first for Duke. The Blue Devils should handle Albany and I am not taking them lightly, but I do not expect a Lehigh upset here. The next game will be very competitive and both Creigthon and Cincy offer different challenges, each a stiff one. We'll talk more about that later in the week.

Miscellaneous notes

- Duke has never played Albany in the NCAA Tournament.

- Duke is undefeated at 4-0 in the state of Pennsylvania in NCAA play.

- Duke is 79-24 in th NCAA Tournament under Mike Krzyzewski. This will be the Blue Devils'  37th overall appearance in the tournament.

- Looking for a Duke player to blow up on the offensive end? Don't.  Danny Ferry went for 34 points in 1989 against Seton Hall. Jason Williams also scored 34 against UCLA in 2001 and Bobby Hurley dropped 32 against Cal in 1993.  Duke is 1-2 in those games.