First Take: Duke Cruises Again
And the best big man NOT getting any attention.
Good morning hoops nation! You’ll have to excuse my over exuberance this morning, a late night coupled with several cups of coffee already today and I’m bouncing around like a Cameron Crazy.
Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils were in action for the first time in ten days after breaking for final exams, but they showed no signs of rust as they stomped former giant killer Gardner-Webb 113-68. I say former giant killer because it was only two years ago that the Runnin’ Bulldogs knocked off Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Despite having another game against a “blue-and-white team and since it was on television again” as Gardner-Webb coach Rick Scruggs put it, Duke was not to be deterred as they posted their highest scoring total since 2001.
You knew it was going to be a good night at Cameron Indoor when Jon Scheyer had already eclipsed his previous career-high point total before halftime. The crafty, sharpshooter scored 24 before the break and finished with 36 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in brilliant performance. As much flack as the senior takes from opposing fans, it was hard not to be blown away by his game last night – everything he did was perfect, from the 11-13 shooting from the floor, to his crisp passes. Once Kyle Singler’s ankle is 100 percent, Scheyer will return to the role of Robin to his Batman, but last night was the type of performance that will get replayed on more than a couple of year end highlight tapes.
I have to say this of Duke – even as an alum from another ACC school, so my natural instinct is to curse the Blue Devil name – they win the games they are supposed to. Even in the midst of their recent string of postseason struggles, Coach K always manages to get the most out of his team during the regular season (which strengthens my theory that he has built a team that can only win during the regular season), something that often gets overlooked with elite teams. Other than the Blue Devils first round loss to VCU in the NCAA Tournament in 2007 – which is hardly an upset since so many people projected that win for the Rams anyway – when is the last time you remember Duke getting upset by a non-conference opponent? It’s been a while.
Coach K and Co. have won 74 consecutive games at home against non-conference teams, the longest streak in the nation. In addition to that, they have 34 in a row at home against unranked teams and 47 straight home games in the month of December. Long story short, we don’t typically see Duke losing to teams they aren’t supposed to. Again, that is the part of being an elite level team that is taken for granted. As a Maryland grad it has pained me in recent years to see my beloved Terps dropping these kinds of games to teams that they used to trounce in the early part of the decade. Consider that in my final two years in College Park I witnessed home losses to Ohio and Morgan State – tough ones to swallow.
Is this Duke team going to end the dry spell of Final Four appearances in Durham? My money would be on no, in fact I’m betting the house on it. But there is something to be said about winning games when everyone is expecting you to.
Elsewhere in the wide world of the top 25, Texas put on the kind of show that gets them very little ink in this column. They whooped Texas-Pan American 104-42, not much to be said there. Eight-ranked Tennessee found itself in a first half battle with Wyoming though, eventually pulling away from the Cowboys 77-58. This game definitely lived up to the anticipation in the first half with the run-and-gun, pressing styles of each team making for some fun basketball, that came to a halt after the break when Wyoming ran out of gas and couldn’t stop giving the Vols the basketball. Tennessee helped cause a whopping 29 turnovers and pulled away to improve to 8-1 on the year. UNLV was the only other ranked team in action and used a 20-4 run early in the second half to pull away from Southern Utah, led by junior guard Tre’Von Willis who netted 16 points and has the most well placed apostrophe in America.
The best game of the night wound up being a 62-55 win for Florida State who was hosting the CAA conundrum Georgia State. I call the Panthers a conundrum because of their lack of major success after a rare influx of talent from bigger conferences. Remember when GSU was the talk of their conference a couple of years back when they brought in a pair of transfers from Mississippi, one from Wake Forest, one from NC State and another from South Florida? No you probably don’t, but I remember hearing the buzz from CAA media day that this was going to be a major turnaround for the program. Well, it hasn’t exactly gone as planned, but that Wake Forest transfer Joe Dukes has become the Panthers go-to scorer – even if he is an inconsistent one.
The redshirt-senior dropped 22 on the ‘Noles as he maddening streak of inconsistency continues. Dukes has one more single-digit scoring performance this season (4) than he does 20-point outbursts (3), but two of those three have come against quality opponents. FSU for their part got an efficient 22 points from 7-footer Solomon Alabi – one of my good friend’s favorite player in the country period – who will have his hands full on Sunday against Georgia Tech’s frontcourt duo of Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors.
Rutgers was taken to overtime by Rider last night, but then preceded to shutout the Broncs in overtime 10-0. This has to be at least a somewhat comforting win for the Scarlet Knights who will be without big man Gregory Echenique for an extended period of time due to injury. Transfer players James Beatty (21 points, 4 assists) and Jonathan Mitchell (17 points) were big contributors, and Beatty in particular looked sharp, something the former JuCo star has yet to do since putting on a Big East uniform.
Two games of note from out on the Left Coast. Saint Mary’s hammered Portland State 101-80, reaching triple digits for the third time this season and improved to 8-1. Somehow, some way, since Patrick Mills has left the Gaels are getting almost no attention and as a result, everyone is missing out on the monster season that senior center Omar Samhan has put together. In last night’s game the 6-11 behemoth dropped 31 and 17 and has the gaudy averages of 21 and 12, making him the biggest double-double machine this side of Luke Harangody. What’s the moral of the story here kids? When ESPN brings Big Monday back in the new year and those midnight WCC games are back on, stay up late and watch, it’s well worth needing an extra cup of coffee in the morning. Also worth noting, UCLA won a game, in convincing fashion. The Baby Bruins blew out New Mexico State 100-68 for just their third win of the season. This was the first time really all season that Ben Howland got solid production out of more than one youngster, as Malcolm Lee dropped 20, with Jerime Anderson, Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson all reach double figures as well.
Tonight’s slate is a mixed bag depending on how much you appreciate small time college basketball. I highly recommend taking in Wright State at Mississippi State at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The Raiders are a balanced team that has been a major player in the Horizon League each of the last few years and can certainly make life difficult for Butler once again in conference play. The Bulldogs, though not nearly as fun to watch without Renardo Sidney yet to play a game, are still a quality team and you’ll get to see Jarvis Varnado swat a ton of shots.
Oklahoma State and Stanford hook up for a late one out west on FSN and for those of you daring enough, you can take in Arkansas-Little Rock visiting South Alabama on ESPN2 just after 9 p.m. ET. It’s always a good thing to watch teams like the Jaguars early in the season that way you aren’t completely shocked if they destroy your bracket in March.