College Basketball Nation: Kyel Singler

Duke continues quiet excellence

January, 6, 2010
CHICAGO -- It's not often you hear the words "Duke" and "underrated" used in the same sentence.

After all, this is Duke. If there is a polar opposite from perennially slept-on programs, Duke is it. The Blue Devils' games are on national TV with consistent frequency. Their student section is the most famous in the country. When not busy shilling for a credit card company, their coach is winning gold medals and recruiting top-tier talent. Duke gets plenty of love, and fans -- many of whom rightly or wrongly see some sort of East Coast bias inherent in the Dukies' popularity -- are all too aware of it.

Which is why this feels so weird to write, even though it's true: Duke -- or at least this 2009-10 iteration of Duke -- is underrated.

[+] EnlargeJohn Scheyer
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDuke guard Jon Scheyer had 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting during a homecoming of sorts.
Now that the Blue Devils have beaten Iowa State, no slouch itself, 86-65 in Chicago Wednesday night, maybe that changes. Maybe Duke starts to catch on nationally, starts to gain the same sort of love bestowed upon Kansas and Texas and Kentucky and Purdue and West Virginia. If so, it's only fair; Duke is statistically better than all of those teams but one. (That one team is Kansas, who barely beat Cornell at home Wednesday night.) Maybe the "Duke is underrated" meme becomes so widely accepted that it starts to get annoying. If so, I apologize for abetting such an annoyance. But it's just true: Duke is better than most people think, and Wednesday night showcased why.

Duke shot 15-of-40 in the first half against ISU and still took an eight-point lead into the half. The Devils followed that minor bit of impressive play -- they usually doesn't shoot so poorly, you know? -- with a torrid 15-of-25 second half. The Cyclones are the seventh-best team in the country at disallowing opponents' free throws; Duke went to the line 11 times in the second half and never missed a shot. It was almost as Mike Krzyzewski's team decided to flip the "Let's be awesome" switch, and no matter what Iowa State could have done -- and this was probably not Iowa State's best performance anyway -- it wouldn't have mattered.

The visual reasons for this dominance are clear. Jon Scheyer is ruthlessly efficient at the point guard spot; his 31 points came on 10-of-19 shooting and 7-for-7 from the free throw line. Kyle Singler is one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the country. Nolan Smith is an emerging star. And freshman role players like Miles and Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins and give the Devils a well-rounded, balanced, and deep team capable of playing uptempo or grind-it-out.

All of that was evident Wednesday night. You didn't have to look too hard. That's usually the case with Duke, as prominent a college basketball program as the United States of Hoops has. If the Devils keep playing like this, the secret won't last long. The 2009-10 team will be just as famous as the rest.

Miscellaneous postgame notes before the blizzard hits:

1. It was a Chicago kind of night at the United Center. Mike Krzyzewski attended Weber High School in Chicago before his early-70s days at West Point under Bob Knight. Jon Scheyer was a preps legend at Glenbrook North High School in Chicago's north suburbs before attending Duke. And Iowa State's Chris Colvin went to Whitney Young High School in Chicago, where, alongside Marcus Jordan, Colvin won an Illinois state championship in 2009.

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