Somewhere along the way for teams hoping to play deep into March, you have to prove you can win a grinder style game against a good team and the Duke Blue Devils did that today.
While it is certainly too early to say how they'll look come March, Duke has surely showed they are up to the task against a challenging early season schedule where they continue to have success. Duke beat a solid Virginia Commonwealth team 67-58 to advance to the championship game of the Battle for Atlantis.
The Blue Devils did so and have won games to date with much improved defensive play and that side of the ball held the Rams to 32% shooting from the floor and chased them off the three point stripe after half time adjustments.
But the key adjustment was getting Mason Plumlee involved more in the post and Krzyzewski seemingly tapped the right buttons for he came out a different player scoring two early inside baskets while rebounding better. Plumlee finished the game with another double-double with a team high 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Another reason Duke will head to the championship game has been the play of Quinn Cook who entered the starting lineup three games ago.
Cook combined with Rasheed Sulaimon to fend off the Rams defense which is appropriately named "Havoc," from constant pressure and traps. Cook scored 9 points but more importantly dished out 9 assists and got his teammates the ball in the right position against a tough defense.
The aforementioned Sulaimon also helped the Blue Devils with 7 rebounds from his guard position and those were nig on a night when Duke struggled a bit on the glass. Sulaimon added 12 points and the Blue Devils ended the game with four players in double figures.
One of those players was senior Seth Curry who 15 points and knocked down 9 of 10 free throws. In fact, the prowess Duke showed from the free throw line was a difference maker where they went 24 of 27 which translates to 88.9%, a coaches dream.
Duke also benefited from 5 blocked shots produced by Ryan Kelly and one of those came at a most key momentum that killed a VCU run. Kelly finished the game with 11 points and 4 rebounds.
Another key stat for Duke was their ability to protect the ball against pressure. Few teams will commit just 8 turnovers against VCU this season and Duke was able to weather the storm.
Duke also dished out 14 assists to the Rams 4 and closed the rebounding deficit to 6 with many of those coming down the stretch.
While this might not have been the prettiest of wins, it was a solid one for Duke who goes to 5-0 on the season.
Krzyzewski and Duke made good half time adjustments and implemented their will to get to the fre throw stripe and get Plumlee going inside. They played VCU style ball in the 1st half but Duke ball in the second and that flip was the difference.
The Blue Devils will need a lot of rest before they play either Missouri or Louisville, two deep and active teams tomorrow. Duke played just seven players in their win over the Rams and the starters got the bulk of the minutes.