Rasheed Sulaimon got the word from Coach Mike Krzyzewski this week that he will return to the starting line up against Albany in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia. Check out what Sulaimon had to say to the media today -
New polls have Duke #3 in the Nation
The new polls came out this afternoon and while it was inevitable they would fall from the top spot with the loss to N.C. State, the Blue Devils still have a lot of respect amongst voters. Duke still received 14 first place votes, and is rated #3 in the nation. Louisville, a team Duke beat earlier in the year, climbed to the top spot, while N.C. State vaulted to #14. Duke is 3-1 against teams currently in the top 25. With the weekend loss, Duke is now 213-32 in games played as the #1 team in the land.
A needed break
Duke will next take to the hardwood on Thursday evening against Georgia Tech in Cameron Indoor Stadium. It is never a bad thing for a team to have several days rest after a loss, especially the first loss, which can shake a team's confidence. Duke will undoubtedly work on their transition defense and study film to see where they can get better as they adjust their line up with Ryan Kelly's absence. Duke will get another six-day break after the Georgia Tech game before having to travel to Miami on January 23rd in what will be another stiff ACC road challenge. Duke will play three of their next five ACC contests on the road, so needless to say this will be an important stretch for the team.
Ryan Kelly injury
Seth Davis stated the other day that Ryan Kelly could be out for the season. Maybe so, but I wouldn't read too much into his comment. Most unsubstantiated rumors have said it'll be 2.5 to 4 weeks, but the reality of the situation is that it will be kept quiet. This is not an uncommon thing because teams do not want to allow their opposition to prepare differently, so sometimes what you are hearing is a form of disinformation. The bottom line is nobody will leak anything on this one, so it is best to just assume Kelly will be out for an extended period of time. While we often deal with what is termed inside information, we stop short of sharng anything we might learn if it could be remotely considered detrimental to the team; additionally, in my opinion they deserve some privacy. We all clearly wish for a return to the court for Ryan Kelly and continue to wish him the best in his recovery.
Silver lining of sorts
While the immediate impact from Ryan Kelly's injury is not positive for a team that had perfect chemistry, the long-term effect could be the development of some additional players. Duke needs players to step up right now and Amile Jefferson did just that against the Wolfpack. While Jefferson may not be physically ready for the ACC grind, he plays smart and has length and he grabbed hold of the opportunity afforded him vs N.C. State, posting 10 points. On the other hand, Duke got three minutes each from Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee, and their box scores read zeros across the board. Trust me when I say this: these brief minutes are looked at for production, and for either player to play more, those minutes, no matter how brief, need to show something positive in the box score. Josh Hairston played a career-high minutes and played well as a starter, his third such opportunity in his Duke career.
Sulaimon slumping on the offensive end
Surely you have heard the phrase "Hitting the freshman wall," and it is real. Adjusting to the speed and frequency of the games at the college level is a difficult thing. Throw schoolwork into the equation -- and we all know you have to attend class at Duke -- and it can be a lot to handle. Rasheed Sulaiumon has connected on just 9 of his last 40 shots in his last four games, including 0-10 against the Wolfpack on Saturday. In the four games prior to the last four, Sulaimon went 25 of 50 from he field, which is more of what the Blue Devils need from him. Hopefully, he can find that rhythm to his game again -- and fast -- as Duke needs its scorers to score. Sulaimon likely needs to just re-discover his feel for the speed of the game on the offensive end, where he can be aggressive but not playing as if expecting contact. I fully expect he will find that game flow, and Duke fans will be happy when that happens.
It took a half for Duke to adapt to the physicality of the game, but adjust they did, and that resulted in a 73-68 victory over Ohio State in a rollicking Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Duke guards came alive in the second half and that, combined with another herculean effort from Mason Plumlee, led Duke to its seventh win on the young season, helping the #2 rated team remain undefeated.
Mason Plumlee now All-Time Dunk Leader at Duke
With four dunks, Mason Plumlee has more flushes than anybody in the history of Duke Basketball, surpassing Robert Brickey for that honor. His play prompted Jeff Goodman to tweet that Mason is now the front-runner for National Player of the Year. Plumlee scored a game-high 21 points to go with 17 rebounds in yet another outstanding performance, one which may finally earn him overdue ACC Player of the Week honors. Plumlee has started in 58 of his last 61 games at Duke and has an ACC-leading four double-doubles this season. He became the 17th player in Duke history to reach 700 rebounds tonight as well. When asked about the Blue Devils' early season success, Plumlee stated, "We love it. The schedule at Duke is part of the reason you come here and I think this team has embraced the schedule and the challenges we've had."
Rasheed Sulaimon erupts in the 2nd half
Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon earned high praise from Coach Krzyzeswki in the post-game press conference. On a night when Seth Curry struggled with his shot, Sulaimon's 17 second half points were vital in the Duke win. Sulaimon is quite cool under pressure and never seems to let anything get to him, including a first half where he did not score. He's hit at least one three-pointer in each of the Blue Devils' seven wins. "Coach told me to step it up (at the half). My teammates just trust in me. I wanted to step up for my teammates, and when he called my number I was just very aggressive and delivered," said Sulaimon.
Quinn Cook has another solid effort
At the half Quinn Cook had 2 points and 2 assists. He ended the game with 12 points, including 6 of 7 free throws down the stretch with the game on the line, as well as totalling 8 assists. But his biggest stat was his six defensive rebounds. Cook also hit players like Mason Plumlee for huge momentum-changing buckets, including the ESPN Play of the Day, a thuderous one-handed dunk on the break. "Quinn played a great game. He was up against one of the best point guards in America (Craft). An amazing stat for Quinn was his six defensive rebounds," said Krzyzewski when asked about Cook. Quinn has turned a corner with his play of late, and he's stepped up to the plate for good this go round. The Blue Devils have turned over the keys to Cook this season, and he seems to be relishing the role of being the starting point guard at Duke.
Ryan Kelly knocked down 3 of 5 three-pointers and those came at big moments in the game for Duke, and he finished with 15 points. Krzyzewski praised Kelly in the post-game as well, saying it was his best game of the season. Kelly's back-to-back three-point shots in a 40 second span brought the Crazies to their feet and helped swing the momentum in the Blue Devils' favor after they had trailed for almost the entire game.
Mental toughness and resolve helped Duke win this game. The Blue Devils weathered a first half performance where they struggled to get shots off and in the second half locked down much more on the defensive end. Mason Plumlee was the best player on the court and he imposed his will at times, and that was needed on a night when Curry was a bit off or possibly hurting from his shin issues. Duke is Final Four material on November 29th and they can get even better. They have games coming up where they can develop their bench, which scored just four points against Ohio State, and will soon get Marshall Plumlee back from his foot injury as well. Duke has gone up against the nation's best and has passed all tests with flying colors, having defeated three of the four teams from last year's Final Four already. Add to that wins over Minnesota and Virginia Commonwealth and this team is more than a little battle-tested. And the most recent four wins have come in just seven days. More importantly, the team chemistry is as good as it's ever been, and for that to happen this early in the season is a testament to the staff's off-season adjustments.
- Duke has now won 97 consecutive non-conference home games.
- The Blue Devils have now defeated three top five teams this season.
- Duke improved to 12-2 all-time in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
- The Blue Devils have started 7-0 for the third straight season, and have won 56 of their last 57 games played in November.
- Duke improved to 111-16 when ranked in the #2 position in the national polls.
- Against Ohio State, Duke trailed at the half for the first time this season. Four Blue Devils score in double figures and the game marked the fifth straight in which Duke has used the same starting lineup.
Let me start by saying that Cameron Indoor Stadium was a shadow of itself in the Blue Devils' 69-45 exhibition win over Winston Salem State on Thursday evening. And that atmosphere helped provide a backdrop for one of the worst three-point shooting performances by a Mike Krzyzewski coached team, as Duke shot a collective 1 of 17 from the three-point stripe.
The Blue Devils simply were not getting clean looks or, as Krzyzewski put it, players were not ready to catch and shoot. But the program that some feel can win only by hitting the three ball showed that defense could carry them as well. Leading just 18-9 in the first half, Duke went on a 16-1 run to take a commanding 36-13 lead into the locker room.
Duke coasted from there, but the visitors -- who won their conference a season ago -- played them even in the 2nd half, and that raised some eyebrows. Duke struggled finishing off some easy opportunities, and the fastbreak was less efficient than it normally is.
Before you push the panic button, keep in mind that Krzyzewski said his team was tired and would now take three days off before preparing for the season opener against Georgia State next Friday night. With successive games in the Battle of Atlantis just around the corner, it makes sense that he would have practiced his team hard in an effort to see how they'd respond on tired legs -- which may have contributed to the 3-point shooting woes.
The bottom line is that this was an exhibition game, and the staff wanted to start pushing certain buttons as the season nears. And Krzyzewski made sure Seth Curry got some PT in an effort to shake the rust and see how he responds to his nagging injury.
There were two other things which caught my eye as well after viewing the Blue Devils for a second time this season. One was the fact that the true freshmen are ahead of where I thought they'd be. Rasheed Sulaimon has wasted no time getting acclimated at this level, averaging 16.0 ppg in the two contests. And then there is Amile Jefferson, who is at a 13.0 ppg and 4.0 rpg.
Sulaimon is a very active player who is playing within himself and not forcing the issue, committing just 2 turnovers per game. He has a good handle and can guard out front or as the lead pressure. Of Sulaimon, Krzyzewski said, "He is going to be a good player. Not a good one, a really good one." And that bodes well for a team which lost Austin Rivers off of last year's squad.
Jefferson has been very consistent in his play, prompting Krzyzewski to say, "Amile is that guy who doesn't have a position. When he comes in the life meter goes up."
But the most consistent player on the court for Duke was senior captain Mason Plumlee, who went 7 for 7 from the field against Winston Salem State. In the two exhibition games, Plumlee leads the Blue Devils in scoring at 20.5 ppg, while grabbing 10.5 boards per game.
When alluding to Mason's stats in the post-game and reflecting on the win over Western Washington, Krzyzewski commented, "That's who we think he is. (Plumlee). I think that is the norm, and I think he has the chance to have the pop in his game and go for more, so we like where he is."
Plumlee has the potential to be an All-American this season, and his numbers in the exhibition games showed this to be a real possibility. Plumlee was very efficient near the bucket and his free throw shooting is better than a season ago, as so far he has hit 11 of 17 from the line.
All in all, this team is about where it should be as Krzyzewski has used the games to try various lineups while two of his players (Curry and Marshall Plumlee) are on the mend. History shows us that making too much out of any one game, especially an exhibition game, is fruitless. While the win last evening was not especially thrilling, it was just that -- a win.
Duke defeated Winston Salem State tonight in their final exhibition tune up of the season and BDN caught up to Rasheed Sulaimon after the game to get his thoughts. Sulaimon ended the game with 12 points and 2 assists. Note - Our game recap will be up late night or in the morning.