It may not have been as pretty or by as a big of margin as fans wanted, but the Duke Blue Devils came away with a big opening game victory against Belmont. I tried to warn everyone about just how good this Belmont team is. I think some fans will look at this game as a disappoint and precursor for a tough season. However, I believe this was a great win over a really good team and a precursor of some great things to come by the end of the season.
Belmont is really good people, if you don’t believe me, then believe Coach K and what he said after the game. I strongly believe that as long as the selection committee doesn’t screw Belmont over with a bad draw, then they will advance to the Sweet 16. I also believe, as of today, Belmont is a better team than Michigan State and would beat Michigan State on a neutral court (by the end of the season I think Michigan State is going to be very good and will be better than Belmont).
Defensively, I think it was an up and down performance. There were times where their rotations were terrific and times when they were a little slow or premature. What I mean by the rotations being premature is that sometimes ball handlers will get around defenders, but their drive is not on a good angle to the basket, or the defender has an angle to cut off the ballhandler. On numerous occasions these types of drives occurred and Duke brought too heavy of help and that’s when some of the bigs got some easy lay ins and in the second half when they were able to work the ball around for open 3’s. The on ball defense from the guards still needs work, still too much penetration. I think the bigs did a real nice job defensivley, other than a couple of help rotations.
When this team slows down and starts playing to their strengths will be a huge problem for defenses to try and solve. It seemed that everyone was a little to jazzed up and forced the issue at times. Like I said after the pre season games, I’d like to see them push the ball more in transition. If nothing is there, you can pull it out and setup half court offense. The reason I think more transition offense is a great idea for this team is because you have athletic, fast big men that can finish above the rim, to go along with shooters. I love the improvement from the Plumlee’s so far, but let’s play to their strengths of running and jumping. It is really tough for the defense to matchup in transition, leaving shooters open, like Curry and Dawkins. How many times in the past did we see teams leave JJ Redick wide open in transition. Mixing our athletic bigs and shooters with someone like Rivers who can get to the rim and it just becomes nearly impossible for the defense to contain. My guess is that Coach K doesn’t trust the team’s decision making yet and will pick up the tempo a little more once everyone settles in a little bit.
Seth Curry- I thought Curry did some good things and some not so good things. I loved how he mixed in his mid range jumper along with the 3’s. I would like to see some more of his floaters and ball fakes when he is inside the foul line. He seems to be a little uncomfortable in that area of the court. As far as running the team goes I felt like he was pressing a little bit, but at the end of the day he had 4 assists to 3 turnovers. I still firmly believe that he is Duke’s best option at the point and will play the role like Jon Scheyer. Defensivley he has to back off his man a little bit. He just isn’t quick enough or strong enough to be too close to the ball handler. I am not saying Seth can’t play good D, because I think he can, but being a step or two off the ball handler will allow him to keep the ball in front of him, and still apply some pressure.
Austin Rivers- A tale of two halves. Thought he was spectacular both defensively and offensively in the first half and wasn’t very good in the second. Rivers drew 6 fouls on the Belmont defense in the first half and then only 1 in the second. A lot of that has to do with Belmont playing way more help towards him. I was disappointed in that with the help being gauged toward him, he didn’t look to make plays for others. I would have loved to see him attack towards the help and dish to the open man. Rivers is still learning and in time will understand this and be able to do it. I also think his defense lagged in the second half, which may have been an effect of his frustration on the offensive side. Overall, Austin played well and let’s remember it was his first game. He is going to keep getting better and better and eventually be one of the toughest matchups in all of college basketball.
Andre Dawkins- A relatively quiet and uninspiring first 20 minutes for Andre Dawkins, but boy did he make up for it with his final minute. With the shot clock under five and Seth Curry losing his dribble and with no where to go he kicked out to Andre Dawkins. Dawkins had a hand in his face and was behind the NBA 3 point line, but was still able to sink the biggest shot of the game. Andre Dawkins is the key to how good this Duke team will be. I have a feel for what Curry and Rivers are and what they can be. The same goes for the big men. I have no idea what Andre Dawkins is going to do night in and night out. One night he’ll give inspired defense and be very active offensively, and wind up with 20 points. The next night he’ll look lost, get benched and finish with 3 points. Andre Dawkins needs to be consistent, he is the key piece to the puzzle. He has to guard that wing position where there is so much talent in college basketball. He needs work hard to get open off the ball and use ball fakes and the dribble to get off 3’s, pull up 2’s and most importantly get in the lane and use his athleticism to score or get fouled. We got 20 minutes of bad Andre and 1 incredibly important and amazing minute from him tonight.
Mason Plumlee- Mason was awesome tonight. He was very active and like Doris Burke said, he was calling for the ball and asking for ball reversal so they could get it to him in the post. When Mason is confident and assertive, just like when Andre is, they are terrific. The difference is Mason is still going to pound the glass and get garbage baskets on his lackadaisical nights. Mason also has two other productive bigs to pick up the slack for him. I really can’t say enough about how well he played tonight. His post moves, passing, defense, rebounding were all superb. He did make a couple of bonehead plays, but other than that he was just awesome. If Mason can keep this up, then Duke has a top 10 center in the country. Another thing, it’s not like Mason was going up against chopped liver in Belmont’s bigs. Saunders and Hedgepeth were both 1st team all conference last year and anyone who watched the game could see that they can play.
Miles Plumlee- I thought Miles was solid. Didn’t play a ton of minutes, which I think was more indicative of how Mason played. I don’t think you’re going to see a ton of both the Plumlees on the floor together this season, just because the lane is going to be really clogged with both of them in. 4 points and 6 rebounds in about 15 minutes of play is pretty solid, and he should have had 6 points but blew that one dunk. My biggest pet peeve with Miles is his help defense at times. He seems to always fall for that neutral penetration I was talking about and if he was just a little more on his toes and had his hands up a little more could really improve his help side defense.
Ryan Kelly- Ryan was just rock solid, and I think we can really bank on him being that way for the rest of the season. He’s just so smart on both sides of the ball. Always in the right spot defensivley and so opportunistic offensively. Ryan is going to play big minutes with one of the Plumlee’s every game. It just makes the offense so much better, because the defense has to stretch so much more. I think Coach K not starting Kelly could be for two reasons. First, this gives him a chance to see which of the Plumlee’s is playing better and more deserving of more minutes next to Kelly. Second, I think the Plumlee’s are a little more fragile and starting both of them is a great boost to their confidence. Loved how Ryan hit those big free throws at the end of the game.
Tyler Thornton- As Mark Watson of BDN said “Thornton, best game of his career tonight.” Tyler reminds me so much of Junior and Senior Sean Dockery, especially after he showed he could hit the open three. Like I’ve said he is definitely the teams best off ball defender and his on ball defense is improving. Tyler has figured out to step off the handler just a little bit and use his strength to keep him in front of them. Thornton just injected so much energy into the team tonight. It is important going forward theTyler be able to knock down those open shots because defenses will sag off of him.
Quinn Cook- Quinn only played 8 minutes, but I saw some positive signs from him. His defense was so poor in the exhibition season and tonight I thought it was pretty solid. Other than one play Quinn kept his man in front of him while still applying good pressure. I liked how Quinn stepped into both of his jumpers even though they didn’t fall. Quinn can shoot, if he is open I want him to take those shots.
Michael Gbinije- Only played one minute
Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee, Josh Hairston did not play
– Ray Horn. Follow me on Twitter @R_Horn21
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