- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
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LAHAINA, Maui -- The Duke Blue Devils are 5-0 after a hard-fought win against Tennessee in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. Mike Krzyzewski now has a historic 905 wins and counting.
But for Krzyzewski's star freshman, Austin Rivers, things are still a work in progress. Rivers led all Duke scorers with 18 points Monday in Maui. But it was an inefficient 18. He shot 6-for-15 from the field, made critical turnovers and passed on wide-open jump shots for contested shots at the basket.
Four games into his career, he sometimes looks like the star he was billed to be. Other times like a former high school stud who suddenly finds himself in over his head at the next level.
Rivers' inconsistency was on display for a huge contingent of NBA GMs and scouts to see. He started the game by missing five of his first six shots. He drove wildly into the teeth of the defense. He looked to shoot every time he touched the ball.
And just as quickly, as scouts started to shake their heads and jot down derogatory notes in their iPads, Rivers exploded. First it was a pair of 3-pointers toward the end of the first half. Later, in the second half, he hit a couple of beautiful floaters in the lane.
So is he a future NBA All-Star or overrated?
It's too early to tell. It was about this time last year that hoops fans began wringing their hands about UNC's Harrison Barnes, who went 0-for-12 from the field in the third game of his career against Minnesota. He followed it up with a 4-for-12 performance against Vandy. People screamed "overrated." Scouts dropped him on their Big Board. But by February, Barnes had found his groove and is, once again, considered one of the top-three prospects in the 2012 draft.
Rivers came in with similar hype -- in part because he's related to Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers. But neither the recruiting gurus like ESPN's Dave Telep nor NBA scouts who watched him in high school have had the same expectations about Rivers that they did with Barnes or freshman Anthony Davis. He's always been projected as a late lottery to mid-first round guy. A good player ... just not elite. The expectations he faces are more related to blood than scouting hype.
Coach K says he's encouraged by the adjustments that Rivers is making, but admits he still has a ways to go.
"He ended the half pretty well for us," Krzyzewski said after the game. "The main thing for Austin, as any freshman, is to learn to play defense and offense. He can be a great defender. When you're a freshman, you start evaluating what you're doing and sometimes you're a step slow to the next thing and that's because you care. You want to be good. You just have to get through it. We played a really tough schedule. This is our fifth game in about 10 days and he's learned a lot. He came through. He's not afraid. He's going to be a terrific player for us."
Some more observations from my notebook:
Mason Plumlee is starting to carve out a niche for himself as an elite rebounder. He now has three games in which he's grabbed 13 or more boards for the Blue Devils. He's still a major work in progress on the offensive end unless he's on the receiving end of an alley-oop. But he has the ability to be one of the top two or three rebounders in college basketball if he stays aggressive on the boards.
Ryan Kelly had a really impressive game. He's clearly most valuable as a big who can spread the floor. But Kelly did a little of everything Monday. He worked on the block in a couple of isolating situations, crashed the glass and even had a great alley-oop bucket for the Blue Devils. He's the perfect sort of "Moneyball" player that a certain type of NBA scout falls in love with.
Tennessee plays hard, there's no doubt about that. New coach Cuonzo Martin has his team playing at a frenzied pace. The Vols actually outrebounded the Blue Devils on Monday despite having a pretty big size disadvantage. The team's best player, Trae Golden, was solid once again and Jeronne Maymon grabbed 12 boards. Earlier on Monday, Michigan proved that talent isn't everything. A well-coached team can beat a team that relies more on athleticism than execution. After seeing what the Vols did with Duke, I think they'll give Memphis all it can handle Tuesday.