This year’s Duke team is not a perfect team. Then again, neither was last year’s.
The Blue Devils taught us once again last year that you don’t have to be flawless or even the strongest team on paper to win a national title. This year’s team is carrying a similar vibe early on as a talented-but-still-growing young squad.
It sure must feel good to be in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s shoes right now, though, and have a team so good even as it figures things out. Duke showed it is jelling quite nicely as it easily handled Indiana last night 94-74 led by a mix of the old and the new.
Freshman Brandon Ingram had a breakout game with 24 points while Matt Jones added 23. The Blue Devils singed the Hoosiers’ once-again soft D with 52.9% shooting and also yanked down 19 offensive rebounds.
Only seven players saw significant action for Duke Wednesday night, so the question of depth will almost certainly come up at some point. Then again, it may not matter when the seven playing are so capable.
Besides Ingram, Jones and another quality outing from Grayson Allen (16 points, 7 of 11 shooting), Amile Jefferson contributed in a myriad of ways. The senior had just eight points but added 11 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks, dominating inside against the Hoosiers.
Duke has shown noted improvement since a loss to Kentucky two weeks ago, and it still has significant upward mobility. Luke Kennard (3-for-10 shooting) still is struggling for consistency, and one can imagine Jones becoming among the most valuable players in the country-if he isn’t already-as his steady veteran presence continues to build as the season goes on.
Overall, it’s an almost new team from last year, and there will be some bumps still during the regular season. By the end of the year, though, the Blue Devils could easily wind up where they usually so often do, playing deep into March.
- Despite Duke’s win, the Big Ten still finished with an 8-6 advantage in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The deciding vote was cast in an overtime game as homestanding Iowa outlasted Florida State 78-75. Other important results saw Michigan State recover from a horrid start to get by Louisville 71-67, a game that showed some real character for the Spartans. Also, Wisconsin won at Syracuse 66-58 in overtime. The Badgers are not pretty right now, but the Orange weren’t in this one either, shooting just 35.7%. Freshman Ethan Happ completely outplayed Syracuse inside with 18 points and 15 rebounds.
- Roosevelt Jones has hit floaters at the buzzer before, and he did it again for Butler as the Bulldogs got a huge road win at Cincinnati 78-76. This was a terrific straight-up non-conference game-no tournament, no extra games in some exempt event. Bravo to both for scheduling this one and playing it at such a high level.
- LSU defeated North Florida 119-108, a score reminiscent of Chris Jackson’s days on campus some 25+ years ago. Deflecting mild critiques of him being too passive after the Tigers’ three previous losses, Ben Simmons scored 43 points and added 14 rebounds and seven assists. His stat line included 15 of 20 field goals plus 13 of 15 from the line. Crazy as that sounds, Simmons was just one of three players to score at least 30 in the game, as the Ospreys’ Dallas Moore and Beau Beech both scored 31 each. We’re seeing it time and again this year: it’s amazing what offenses are able to do when fouls and the threat of fouls are there and when coaches choose to loosen the reins.
- The seeds of at least a three-man national player of the year race are already being planted. While Simmons blew up scoring for LSU, Providence’s Kris Dunn made it look easy with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists in the Friars’ 89-66 win over Hartford.
- Late into the night, Gonzaga won at Washington State 69-60 and now can get ready for its biggie at home against Arizona on Saturday. Also, Utah jumped all over BYU early, taking a 23-point halftime lead and cruising to an 83-75 win.
- George Washington improved to 7-1 with a 72-64 win over Seton Hall. Wake Forest transfer Tyler Cavanaugh continues to be huge for the Colonials-16 points and seven boards in this one.
- Tulsa earned a big road win, taking down in-state rival Oklahoma State on the road 66-56. Terrific stat from Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World, noting TU is one of just six schools to beat the Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena in a non-conference game since 1987.
- Houston is now 5-0 after a 93-78 win over Murray State. Northern Illinois is also 7-0 now after easily handling Chicago State 80-58.
- Finally, some ultra-tight rivalry games: SMU won at TCU 75-70 behind 26 points from Nic Moore; Tulane got a layup by Dylan Osetkowski in the final minute to defeat city rival New Orleans 64-62, and Portland beat Portland State 78-72.
- The Ivy League may be on its way to adding a conference tournament, per CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish yesterday. Per Parrish’s story, Ivy presidents are expected to vote on this next month. As many know, the Ivy is the lone holdout among Division I conferences that does not hold a conference tourney. There’s always been something admirable about the Ivy League not bending to the impulse to go for theater over quality in determining its champion. Looking at this from the long view, with so many national sports cable networks now plus so many viewing options, one has to wonder how long the appeal of smaller leagues being a part of ESPN’s Championship Week is going to be what it is now, especially with the network’s increasing commitment to a select few conferences. Would not be a surprise at all if more conference championship games start sliding over to other networks, and then the question is if there will be the same excitement as there once was when all were at a central gathering place? Maybe, maybe not.
- Some news from Tennessee on Tuesday, where guard Robert Hubbs is out indefinitely after arthroscopic knee surgery and redshirt freshman forward Jabari McGhee is transferring. Hubbs is averaging better than 15 points per game and may be back very soon-he’s listed as doubtful right now for the Volunteers’ game Dec. 12 against Butler. McGhee was playing 10.8 minutes per game off the bench, averaging 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Tonight’s menu: A light schedule of games
- The heavy hitter is Kentucky on the road at UCLA in one of those matchups that would be a big deal in any decade. Rare that such games take place mid-week. You can bet the Bruins have been waiting for this since their infamous seven-point first half last season against UK.
- Belmont and Valparaiso are playing a home-and-home in December, with the first game at Valpo tonight. The Crusaders are the better team but also are dealing with a fair share of injuries at the moment.
- Once upon a time this one would’ve been SW Louisiana at NE Louisiana, and somehow Louisiana-Lafayette at Louisiana-Monroe doesn’t have the same ring, but these are two solid teams nonetheless.
- Western Michigan at James Madison includes a pair of what should be upper-division teams in the Mid-American and Colonial, respectively.
- The next stop on Long Beach State’s annual non-conference gauntlet is at Colorado State.
- USC is at the Thunderdome to take on UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos have another chance at a Pac-12 team after letting one slip away Sunday at Arizona State.
Have a great Thursday.