College Basketball Nation: Miles Plumlee

Last Thursday night was, all things considered, a pretty huge night for Duke.

One-and-done guard Austin Rivers, the subject of much draft consternation and discussion, was chosen No. 10 overall by the New Orleans Hornets, where he will team with No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis. If you can’t find your assist gene playing with a guy who pretty much dunks everything, you’ll never find it. Rivers landed in a great spot.

Somehow, it was an even better night for Miles Plumlee, who was selected in the first round of the draft to the surprise of pretty much everyone. On Thursday night, I got off a plane just in time to learn the Pacers chose Plumlee ahead of Perry Jones III, Draymond Green, Quincy Miller, Arnett Moultrie, Marquis Teague, Festus Ezeli, Jeffrey Taylor, Will Barton, Doron Lamb, Kim English, Darius Miller, Kris Joseph, Darius Johnson-Odom, Robbie Hummel … the list goes on.

Shocking stuff, but it was all pleasantly surprising for Duke and its fans. The two selections gave coach Mike Kzryzewski another milestone: He has now produced the most first-round picks of any coach in ACC history.

Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood would very much like to be one of those draft picks. Later in the weekend, Hood, a 6-foot–8 wing who was ranked No. 31 overall in the 2011 ESPN 100, told ESPN.com’s Dave Telep that he would eschew Ohio State, Memphis and Florida State in favor of a transfer move to the Blue Devils:
Hood said Krzyzewski touched a nerve and connected with him during his recruitment process.

“He was pretty honest with me,” Hood said. “He told me what he saw for my future. He was up front and he didn’t just tell me anything. He was specific and to the point. He said he can make me a better basketball player and one of the best in the country. His track record speaks for itself. I could tell he believed in me as a player.”

Hood will have to sit out a year, as is tradition, but the move is nonetheless more good long-term news for Coach K & Co., whose next two classes should ensure the program bounces back from last year’s ugly first-round loss to Lehigh in relatively short order. The 2012 class landed late commitment Amile Jefferson, the No. 4-ranked power forward, earlier this summer; he joined No. 3-ranked shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon. The 2013 class already includes one five-star recruit, No. 6-ranked shooting guard Matt Jones. Adding Hood is essentially like adding a more seasoned and physically ready five-star recruit to that group.

Say what you want about the Indiana Pacers’ draft strategies -- I’m going to abstain and allow you to fill in the blanks in the comments, because I don’t like to start my Monday mornings off mean. But all in all, it was a rather excellent weekend for former and future Duke players.

NBA draft's biggest surprises

June, 29, 2012
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Andre DrummondJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Pistons drafted Andre Drummond with the No. 9 overall pick, mostly based on potential.
For college hoops/NBA nerds like me, the NBA draft is an event.

Chinese food. High-def TV. A comfortable chair. An iPad/laptop to follow Chad Ford’s “Matrix”-like draft coverage. (When I logged off, he was teasing his 2025 mock draft, which will likely feature the children of D-Wade and LeBron.)

I anticipated more trades. And I had no idea David Stern would take on the hostile crowd the way he did. Fascinating stuff.

And there were certainly some surprises with the various selections. Some good. Some bad. Some baffling.

The Good ...

Jared Cunningham to Dallas at No. 24: I think Cunningham is a major sleeper. It’s nice to see a guy get credit for defensive prowess. He’s a versatile guard. His defensive skills (2.5 spg) will make him a valuable player on Day 1. He’s big (6-foot-5), too. This pick may have turned a few heads, but Cunningham is legit. Nice sleeper.

Royce White to Houston at No. 16: I figured some team was hiding its interest in White, a high-level passer and ball handler trapped in a power forward’s body. Some called his anxiety disorder a red flag prior to the draft. But the concern was so over-the-top, I started to think that some NBA squad probably wanted that. Let everyone assume he’s not top-20 and then grab him. The Rockets did that. He has NBA strength right now. And the best part about White’s game is he’ll facilitate an offense and not worry about buckets. Just wants to win.

Austin Rivers to New Orleans at No. 10 : Some booed this pick. Rivers couldn’t escape the haters at Duke. He either did too much or too little. Here’s the thing. He played within an offense that didn’t have a true point guard. He had to run the offense and create shots. Now, he can focus on the latter. Rivers has an NBA game. He’s not going to face the zones and traps that teams needed to lock him up his freshmen season. He’ll have the freedom to roam. This is how he learned the game. The son of Boston Celtics and former NBA standout Doc Rivers will be a different player at the next level. Might not make sense right now. But give it a year.

The Bad ...

[+] EnlargeDion Waiters
Mark Konezny/US PresswireDion Waiters, a guard drafted by Cleveland, averaged 12.6 points per game at Syracuse last season.
Dion Waiters to Cleveland at No. 4: So NFL officials aren’t the only ones who fall for athletes after one or two workouts. Based on reports, Waiters had a few amazing auditions in Vegas and the Cavs fell in love with him. The former Syracuse star is a great athlete who attacks the rim. He’ll push the pace and get buckets in transition. But Harrison Barnes is more polished. Thomas Robinson, too. Big risk for the Cavs here. And Barnes and Robinson could have better careers.

Andre Drummond to Detroit at No. 9, Meyers Leonard to Portland at No. 11: Plenty of potential with both players. Drummond has the gift to form a potent frontcourt with Greg Monroe. In stretches, Leonard was a stud. One of his biggest challenges at Illinois was the limited touches he received. They didn’t feed him enough.

But I can’t justify taking these two over North Carolina’s duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Henson blocked 2.9 shots per game last season with few fouls (1.6). So many knocks against his limited strength. How about the fact he’s a pure shot-blocker who plays the ball and not the body? Few possess that skill. Milwaukee should be happy with that pick. Zeller, who was traded to the Cavs, was the ACC’s player of the year. He averaged 16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.5 bpg. He’s 7 feet tall. Both Drummond and Leonard have had some motor issues. Can’t say that about Zeller and Henson. Drummond and Leonard were drafted on potential. Zeller and Henson produced. I just don’t get it.

Miles Plumlee to Indiana at No. 26: Over Draymond Green? Over Arnett Moultrie? Over Perry Jones III? At this point, you’re not necessarily drafting according to need. You just want a good player. Plumlee is big (7-foot), but he averaged just 6.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a senior at Duke. I just think Indiana had a chance to pick multiple players with more talent and higher ceilings.

More surprises ...

• Barnes fell to No. 7, but he might average 15.0 ppg for the next decade. Might not be a star, but he could have the most consistent career in the entire draft.

• I don’t know about Jared Sullinger’s back. But if he’s healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in this draft. He faced bigger, more athletic players in college. High school, too. Yet he keeps winning. That should count for something, too.

• Perry Jones III slipped all the way to 28th? Just ... wow. Read more of my take on this here.

• Not sure why so many teams passed on Draymond Green, who fell all the way to No. 35. He played point guard in the NCAA tournament. He’s a strong rebounder. Knows how to be a leader. Not the most athletic forward in the draft, but he’ll surprise people next season. The Warriors made the right move when they took him in the second round.

• Maurice Harkless is very athletic. Not to mention he was one of the best athletes in the draft. I’m just not sure what else he has to offer Philly right now. He might develop into a stud (15.3 ppg for St. John’s). But there’s a lot of work to do.

• I think the Grizzlies made a great pick at No. 25 when they grabbed Tony Wroten (16.0 ppg last season). The confines of college basketball were not suited for this guard’s strengths. He’s a free spirit on the floor. And the NBA’s flow will really enhance his game. He’ll be a different (better) player at the next level.

• This isn’t surprising, but it’s ironic. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Purdue’s Robbie Hummel at No. 58. Two years ago, Hummel tore his ACL for the first time during a matchup against the Gophers in Minneapolis. That was the beginning of a tough road for Hummel, who tore his ACL again about eight months later. I wouldn’t count him out. He could stick with the Wolves and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in Friday’s evening games in Greensboro.

No. 15 Lehigh (26-7) vs. No. 2 Duke (27-6), 7:15 p.m. ET

If there’s one constant in the NCAA tournament -- other than Duke and North Carolina playing really close to home -- it’s the Blue Devils winning their opening-round games.

Under coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils have won 25 of their 27 opening-round games and they’ve taken most of them by lopsided scores. Duke won 14 of the past 15 by an average of 26.9 points, including an 87-45 rout of No. 16 seed Hampton in the 2011 NCAA tournament.

“At Duke, our coaches are great at preparing us for games,” Blue Devils forward Miles Plumlee said. “Regardless of the opponent, we respect each and every one, and we’re just ready to play the game.”

Krzyzewski and his assistant coaches are working a little harder to prepare the Blue Devils for Friday night’s South Region second-round game against No. 15 seed Lehigh at Greensboro Coliseum.

The Blue Devils will probably be without starting forward Ryan Kelly, the team’s third-leading scorer (11.8 points per game) and rebounder (5.4), for the third consecutive game. Kelly, a 6-foot-10 junior from Raleigh, N.C., still hasn’t fully recovered from a sprained right ankle he suffered in practice March 6.

Without Kelly in the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils defeated Virginia Tech 60-56 and lost to Florida State 62-59 in the semifinals at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

“He will not be able to play like any type of rotation minutes,” Krzyzewski said. “In other words, you’re not going to see a Plumlee go out and Kelly come in. He might be available for some spot duty and we’ll know more about that [Friday]. Like an end-of-game situation, end of half or some type of specialty thing, but no more than that for this game.”

Kelly has become especially valuable because he’s a big man who shoots 40.8 percent on 3-pointers.

“It’s not a shooter,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s the fact that he’s a big guy who can shoot. We can put another shooter out there, but then we’re real small. So it does have an impact because you might get a few more open looks or a little bit more time to shoot the ball. There’s more space. There are a variety of things that happen as a result of him being out there.”

Kelly’s injury has also left Duke’s bench even thinner. Against the Seminoles, only three Duke reserves combined to play 47 minutes and were outscored 18-9 by their FSU counterparts.

“They would all love Ryan to be able to play,” Krzyzewski said. “But we’re fine. You play with who you got and you play; there’s no excuses for anything. Our guys are ready to go. We love to have Ryan because when he comes into ballgames, he’s different than the other two [big men, brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee]. It makes the other team have to adjust more during the course of a game.”

Who to watch:

Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum: The junior was the country’s sixth-leading scorer with 21.9 points per game. He was named MVP of the Patriot League tournament, scoring 29 points with five assists and three steals in the Mountain Hawks’ 82-77 victory over Bucknell in the championship game.

Duke’s Miles Plumlee: With Kelly sidelined with a sprained ankle, Miles Plumlee -- the oldest of three Plumlee brothers from Warsaw, Ind. -- will have to shoulder an even bigger load. The 6-foot-10 forward scored nine points on 3-for-6 shooting in the FSU loss. He was Duke’s leading rebounder over the past nine games, averaging 10.8 boards.

Duke’s Austin Rivers: Rivers, a freshman from Winter Park, Fla., and son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, was sensational in his first season, leading the Blue Devils with 15.4 points per game. He was named ACC Rookie of the Year and is adept at driving to the basket for points, or kicking the ball back out to his teammates for open shots on the perimeter.

What to watch: Duke’s shooting. The Blue Devils tend to live or die by the perimeter shooting and they struggled in their last three games, making only 16 of 67 3-point attempts (23.8 percent). Rivers made only 3 of 20 3-point attempts in his past four games. Top reserve Andre Dawkins, a career 40.4 percent shooter on 3-pointers, was 1-for-12 in the past five games, after a 6-for-9 performance in a 74-66 victory at FSU on Feb. 23. If the Blue Devils are going to advance beyond this weekend, Rivers, Dawkins and guard Seth Curry are going to have to heat up again.

No. 10 Xavier (21-12) vs. No. 7 Notre Dame (22-11), 9:45 p.m. ET

About the time Xavier was trading punches with Cincinnati in the most frightening moment of the college basketball season, Notre Dame was just beginning to fight through its own troubles.

In mid-January, neither team looked like an NCAA tournament contender. On Friday night, the Fighting Irish and Musketeers will play in a South Region second-round game at Greensboro Coliseum.

“I don’t know if some people seem to have memories of elephants, that they don’t want to ever forget that,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “But for our kids it is a chance to go out on the biggest stage of college basketball and advance. And I truly believe that the only games that people remember are the ones you play in March.”

For a while, it seemed like neither the Fighting Irish nor Musketeers would be playing in March.

The Musketeers, who were ranked No. 8 in the country when they routed the Bearcats 76-53 on Dec. 10, lost five of six games after four of their players were suspended for their roles in an ugly brawl in the closing minutes of the Crosstown Shootout. After an 85-72 loss at Temple on Feb. 11, Xavier was 16-9 overall, 7-4 in the A-10.

“If I was being very, very honest, it was extremely difficult,” Mack said. “I don’t think there’s a manual for a coach, for a program, for your players, in how you respond. But the one thing I never questioned about our kids is their desire to compete and want to get better. We stepped in a lot of venues where we heard about the incident, but Xavier basketball is much bigger than 10 bad minutes on a Saturday. This program has done so much good for so many years that we can define ourselves with who we truly are.”

Xavier senior center Kenny Frease, whose face was left bloodied from the fight, said the aftermath of the brawl seemed to bring the Musketeers closer together.

“It was difficult just because of the pressure that was put on us from the outside world,” Frease said. “I think that as a team we always knew that if we were able to come together that we would be where we are today. And in the locker room it really brought us closer together just having gone through that type of adversity. The adversity that you’re going to see in the NCAA tournament, we have been through all that. We have been through a lot more than that. So I think that as a team we’ll be ready for anything we see.”

The Fighting Irish had their share of adversity, too. Notre Dame started 4-2, but then lost senior forward Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending knee injury in practice Nov. 25. Without him, the Irish lost six of their next 13 games and were 11-8 after a 65-58 loss at Rutgers on Jan. 16.

“I feel like it was two different seasons almost before Tim got hurt, and the way we prepared, and the way we game planned and stuff,” Notre Dame guard Scott Martin said. “And then after Tim, we kind of had to figure things out again and regroup and go from there. So I think it was just a lot of hard work and dedication out of us that paid off.”

After the loss at Rutgers, Notre Dame won nine consecutive Big East games (the longest conference winning streak in school history), including a 67-58 upset of then-No. 1 Syracuse on Jan. 21.

“You have to have great, great leadership,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I don’t know if I have been more proud of a captain like Scott Martin. Because his partner in leading was supposed to be Tim Abromaitis and he kind of lost him. So for him to lead through a crisis early in the season, I think really helped us. And we had our young guys we committed to them and got them playing time. They needed to play, they needed to get reps. Even if we’re losing games, they needed to get in there and get reps and I think they grew from that.”

Both teams will find out how much they’ve matured Friday night.

Who to watch:

Xavier’s Tu Holloway: Holloway, a senior, led the Musketeers in scoring (17 points per game) and assists (5.1) and was the only Atlantic 10 player in the top five in both scoring and assists. He also leads Xavier in steals (1.5) and foul shooting (86.6 percent). Holloway averaged 19.7 points and 5 rebounds in three Atlantic 10 tournament games.

Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley: Cooley, a bruising 248-pound forward, averaged 12.4 points and 9 rebounds. Cooley, from Glenview, Ill., had a career-high 27 points with 17 rebounds in a 75-69 victory over Providence on March 2, one of his seven double-doubles in the past 10 games.

Xavier’s Mark Lyons: A junior guard from Schenectady, N.Y., Lyons averaged 15.5 points with 2.7 assists. A third-team All-Atlantic-10 selection, Lyons is a potent 3-point shooter, making 39.6 percent of his attempts.

What to watch: Defense. Notre Dame turned its season around with defense, limiting opponents to only 59.2 points per game, which was second-fewest in the Big East. Notre Dame held its opponents to 60 points or fewer in 15 games, including 11 against conference foes. Five opponents were held to fewer than 50 points by the Irish.

Video: Duke's Miles Plumlee

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
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After Duke's 60-56 victory over Virginia Tech, Robbi Pickeral caught up with Blue Devils forward Miles Plumlee.


DURHAM, N.C. -- This is what everyone expected North Carolina to be right about now: the ACC regular-season champion, the top seed in next week’s league tournament, in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

It’s just not quite the way everyone expected the Tar Heels to achieve it all.

Dismissed as lacking heart after losing by 33 points at Florida State on Jan. 14, overlooked as focusless after losing a 10-point lead (and the game) to Duke in the final three minutes Feb. 8, sixth-ranked UNC finally showed what all the ballyhoo was about in the first place during its 88-70 victory over the third-ranked Blue Devils on Saturday night.

For only the second time this season, all five starters finished in double figures.

For the first game since December 2003, three Tar Heels finished with double-doubles.

They dominated the backboards (45-28), held a perimeter-reliant opponent to worse than 30 percent 3-point shooting (6-for-21), and never trailed.

All against a top-five foe.

“One thing that we talked about is people are going to put you on a pedestal to knock you down,’’ said point guard Kendall Marshall, who finished with 20 points and 10 assists. “That’s what happens. We weren’t going to be perfect unless we went out and won every game by 30. That’s not what happened … we learned from our mistakes, we continued to get better. And now it’s all starting to come together.”

In beating the Blue Devils (26-5, 13-3 ACC) by their largest margin at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1989, the Tar Heels (27-4, 14-2) showed what they had learned from their previous four losses:

  • How to dictate tempo and energy (via UNLV and FSU).
  • How to keep a lead after building one (via Kentucky and Duke the first time).

Marshall was already annoyed about seeing Duke guard Austin Rivers’ game-winning shot from the first meeting seemingly every time he turned on the TV. So he grew downright hostile when he saw it replayed as part of a highlight montage on Cameron’s video board before pregame introductions.

“I told my teammates that was disrespectful, and we’ve got to go out here and prove a point,’’ Marshall said. “Obviously they feel like they have that edge, that swagger over us right now, being that they won in our gym. It left a bad taste in our mouth, and we wanted to be able to come out and win today.”

Thus, they “played angry,” as UNC forward John Henson (13 points, 10 rebounds) put it, using an early 18-1 run to build a 22-5 lead within the first eight minutes.

By halftime, they pushed their advantage to 24, holding the ACC’s best 3-point shooting team to 2-for-11 from behind the arc in the first half while shooting better than 52 percent themselves.

[+] EnlargeKendall Marshall
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireKendall Marshall swoops in for two of the 20 points he recorded Saturday to go with 10 assists.
“We were overwhelmed in the first half,’’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They just played beautiful basketball. They were so efficient. They are a great team -- they are not a good team, they are a great team.”

Of course, Duke rallied. In this rivalry, what else would you expect?

And when Blue Devils forward Miles Plumlee (16 points) cut the lead to 75-64 on two free throws with 6:01 left, no one could help but remember that game three weeks earlier, when Duke also came back.

“We were up 14 with three minutes and something left … and I told everyone during a timeout, basically, to remember what happened last time, and don’t let it happen again,’’ said senior forward Tyler Zeller (19 points, 10 rebounds).

They didn’t.

After Duke's Seth Curry missed a jumper, UNC forward James Michael McAdoo extended the lead to 15 with 3:03 left on an offensive rebound and layup. Sophomore Harrison Barnes followed with a 3-pointer to give his team an 18-point cushion with 2:04 left.

Zeller -- who missed two free throws, accidentally tipped in a Duke shot and was the defender on Rivers’ winning 3 in the previous meeting -- scored five more points before he fouled out with 51 seconds to go. But he actually felt comfortable enough with the lead, he said, to enjoy the final seconds from the bench.

Ah, sweet vengeance.

“I think this game was definitely just recalling everything that we’ve been through this whole season, everything we learned to build up to this,'' said Barnes (16 points).

The key now, the players agreed, is to keep building -- and keep exceeding the outside expectations that were downgraded after their losses this season.

“My team has had to bounce back all year long,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We go down to Florida State and lose by 3 million, everyone’s jumping off the bandwagon and saying no team is going to lose like that and be that good of a team. And our team kept playing. We lose to Duke and everyone’s got a great opinion about how stupid we are and how bad we are, and my team kept playing.

“The best thing about my team is they’re pretty tough. I mean that’s some pretty big plays they’ve had to bounce back from, and I think they’ve done a nice job. Right now they’re regular-season ACC champions.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.


DURHAM N.C. -- A quick look at sixth-ranked North Carolina's 88-70 victory over No. 3 Duke on Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium:

What it means: For the Tar Heels, their 29th regular-season ACC title, the No. 1 seed in next week’s ACC tournament, and some vengeance after allowing the Blue Devils to rally from a double-digit deficit in the final minutes to win Feb. 8 in Chapel Hill.

Duke, which had its seven-game winning streak snapped, lost its third ACC game at Cameron this season.

How it happened: North Carolina led 48-24 at halftime (yes, you read that correctly) as the Tar Heels dominated from the outset. With the scored tied 4-4 about a minute into the game, they shot on an 18-1 run before the Devils made another field goal, a Seth Curry 3-pointer. But it was only one of two 3s for Duke in the first half -- a sharp departure from the teams' previous meeting. Duke managed an Austin Rivers-led 8-2 mini-run to cut the deficit to 24-13. But it didn’t last, as the Devils shot 26.5 percent in the first half and the Tar Heels dominated the boards 32-15.

Duke, as was to be expected in this rivalry series, made a run early in the second half, outscoring UNC 11-4 to cut its deficit to 52-35. UNC weathered that one, but the Blue Devils put together another rally, cutting their deficit to 75-64 with about six minutes left on two Miles Plumlee free throws.

But unlike Feb. 8, when the Tar Heels squandered a 10-point lead in the final three minutes, point guard Kendall Marshall hit a jumper with about four minutes left. Freshman James Michael McAdoo then put back a Marshall miss to give the Tar Heels a 79-64 cushion with about three minutes left. And with about two minutes left, Harrison Barnes made a 3 to give the Tar Heels an 82-64 advantage.

Marshall led the Tar Heels with 20 points and 10 assists.

Mason Plumlee led Duke, which shot 58.6 percent in the second half, with 17 points.

Hubbub: The Cameron Crazies cheered for UNC forward Tyler Zeller -- the senior who missed two free throws, accidentally tipped in a Duke bucket, and was defending Rivers on the game-winning 3 during Duke’s double-digit comeback the previous time these two teams met – when the 7-footer was introduced. He fouled out with less than a minute left, but got the last laugh, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

What’s next: The ACC tournament at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Both team have Thursday byes, but top-seeded UNC will play at noon ET on Friday, and No. 2 seed Duke will play at 7.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

UNC-Duke: What to Watch

March, 3, 2012
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For a while, North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall saw so many replays of Duke freshman Austin Rivers’ Feb. 8 game-winning 3-pointer that it got annoying.

[+] EnlargeAustin Rivers
Chuck Liddy/Getty ImagesFrom despair to exhilaration -- it all happened so quickly for the Duke Blue Devils.
“I understood, watching ACC games the next week, they would show the shot. I was like, ‘OK,’” said Marshall, whose team gave up a 10-point lead in the final 2:38 of the rivalry loss. “Then they’re showing ACC games that we’re not even playing in, and I was like, ‘Well, that was a big shot.’

“Then I was watching Big Ten games, and they’re showing the shot, and I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got to get away from college basketball.’ So I watch a Boston Celtics game, and sure enough, they showed the shot again."

Marshall understands that it was a great shot; but now he and the sixth-ranked Tar Heels hope they can file away that negative memory by creating a positive one -- with a win over the third-ranked Blue Devils on Saturday night.

The game will decide the ACC regular-season champion and could determine whether either team earns a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Neither squad has lost since that game.

A few things to watch:

3-POINT SHOOTING

Duke attempted a season-high 36 3-pointers – and made 14, including the game-winner -- the last time these teams met.

UNC, in contrast, went 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

“There is not a magic number, but I want us to make some more 3s,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said. “… We need to make more, they need to make less. I guess that’s probably the best way to put it."

The Blue Devils lead the ACC in both 3-pointers (352) and 3-point percentage (.390), but Rivers said the game will come down to more than his team’s outside shooting.

“You can’t win just by shooting 3s,’’ he said. “I think that’s the thing people are saying right now, that we’re only going to win by shooting 3s. I think we’re only going to win if we keep them off the boards, if we can slow them down in transition, and if we can just score, period. If we’re in attack mode, things work. We don’t necessarily have to be jackin’ and making 3s.

“Shooting 3s is a big part of our game; we’re going to take them, we’re going to shoot our bullets … but we really have to be a presence inside on rebounding. If we can do that, we can win the game.”

HARRISON BARNES

Barnes, UNC’s leading scorer, recorded 19 of his 25 points in the second half the last time these teams played.

“They did a good job of denying me touches [in the first half],’’ Barnes said. “… And then in the second half, my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball, and giving me enough space to operate, and that’s why I was able to play better in the second half.”

The 6-foot-8 wing is a tough matchup for the Blue Devils’ smaller perimeter -- and frankly, Barnes seems due for a big game. He’s scored only 17 points his past two outings, shooting 6-for-23 and missing all seven of his 3-point attempts.

HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE?

It will be Senior Night at Duke, but home court hasn’t been quite as kind to the Blue Devils as years past. Florida State and Miami both won at Cameron Indoor Stadium this season, while Virginia Tech took Duke to overtime there.

Meanwhile, UNC has won six straight ACC road games since losing at FSU by 33 points. And Duke senior Miles Plumlee knows playing on the road can have its advantages -- so his team must still beware of the Tar Heels, even in the comfy confines of home.

“I feel like when you’re going into an opponent’s arena, there’s less pressure -- it’s you against them, they’re supposed to win,’’ Plumlee said. “… The crowd makes you rally together, you play more together on the court. And I’m sure the same thing goes for them when they come here, so we really have to be ready for a fight.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

Weekend recap: Plumlee cleans the glass

February, 13, 2012
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Player of the Weekend -- Miles Plumlee
Plumlee came off the bench to haul in 22 rebounds in Duke's win over Maryland. It's the most rebounds in a game in the Mike Krzyzewski era at Duke, and most for a Blue Devil since Randy Denton's 25 in 1970. The last player with more rebounds off the bench? North Carolina's Sean May had 24 on Senior Night against Duke in 2005 (a pair of Tar Heel seniors started and played one minute).

Freshman of the Weekend -- Tony Mitchell
Mitchell had 22 points and 20 rebounds, but North Texas fell short of Florida Atlantic in double overtime. Mitchell is the first freshman with a 20-20 game since Michael Beasley. With six blocks and five assists, Mitchell is the first freshman with 20 points, 20 rebounds, five blocks and five assists since Seton Hall's Eddie Griffin in 2000.

Scoring Star -- Jamal Olasewere
Olasewere went 11-for-11 from the field and scored a career-high 32 points as Long Island beat St. Francis (NY). That matched Vermont’s Luke Apfeld for the most field goal attempts without a miss this season. Olasewere is the first player to score 30 or more while going at least 11-for-11 from the field since Oklahoma State’s Marshall Moses last season.

Stat Sheet Stuffer -- Scott Machado
With 10 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds, Machado notched the second triple-double in Iona history in an 83-74 win over Marist. The previous triple-double came from Nakiea Miller in 2000. Machado is on track to be the first player to average double-digit points and assists since 1988 when Avery Johnson and Anthony Manuel did it.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend -- Jared Sullinger
The good news? Sullinger had a triple-double in Ohio State’s 58-48 loss to Michigan State. The bad news? One of those categories was turnovers. Sullinger had 17 points and 16 rebounds, but his other numbers stick out more: 10 turnovers and a 33 field goal percentage. Of course, the rest of the Buckeyes shot just 24 percent. Sullinger is the first Big Ten player with 10 turnovers in a game since Evan Turner in 2009.

Behind the box scores: Saturday's games

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
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A scan of the college basketball box scores each night guarantees all kinds of statistical oddities and standout performances. Here are some we found from Saturday.

Indiana State 78, Southern Illinois 68
Indiana State made all 12 of its 3-point attempts Saturday, the most 3-pointers without a miss in a single game in NCAA history. The previous record for most 3s without a miss was nine, done by Minnesota against Penn State on Jan. 11, 2009.

Lipscomb 99, Stetson 91 (OT)
Lipscomb scored 25 points in the extra session, one shy of the NCAA Division I record for points in an overtime period. The record of 26 was done by Vermont on Jan. 24, 1998, against Hartford.

Duke 73, Maryland 55
Duke’s Miles Plumlee had 22 rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench, the most rebounds by a bench player since Sean May had 24 against Duke on March 6, 2005 (May did not start that game because it was North Carolina’s Senior Day). Plumlee is the first player this season with at least 20 rebounds in fewer than 30 minutes of playing time.

Michigan State 58, Ohio State 48
Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger had 17 points, 16 rebounds and 10 turnovers in the Buckeyes’ loss Saturday. It’s the first "triple-double" using points, rebounds and turnovers in Division I this season. Jerrell Williams of La Salle had the last one on Jan. 19, 2011, against Duquesne.

Kansas 81, Oklahoma State 66
The Jayhawks’ Jeff Withey had 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks in the win. He’s the first player to reach all three of those levels in the same game since VCU’s Larry Sanders put up the exact same line on March 9, 2009, in the CAA championship game against George Mason.

Texas 75, Kansas State 64
Texas attempted 48 free throws to Kansas State’s 12. That free throw differential of 36 is the largest in a game involving a Big Six team this season and the third-largest overall. Texas’ 48 free throw attempts are the second most by a Big Six team on the season (Washington attempted 59 on Jan. 10 against Seattle).

Texas Tech 65, Oklahoma 47
Oklahoma scored just six points in the paint, the fewest points in the paint in a game by a Big Six team this season.

St. Bonaventure 69, Duquesne 48
Florida Atlantic 86, North Texas 81 (2OT)
St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson scored 21 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in the Bonnies’ win, and North Texas’ Tony Mitchell scored 22 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the Mean Green’s double-overtime loss. They became just the sixth and seventh players this season to record a 20-20 game. Nicholson’s 23 rebounds are the second most in a game this season, trailing only UAB's Cameron Moore, who had 24 on Dec. 28.

Seattle 100, Longwood 99 (OT)
Seattle’s Chad Rasmussen was 6-for-17 from the field in the Redhawks’ win, with all of his attempts coming from 3-point range. That is the most 3-pointers attempted in a game without attempting a 2-point field goal.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff 64, Southern 58
Trillion of the Night: Jamar Harris of Arkansas-Pine Bluff played 12 minutes without accumulating a single stat in his team’s 64-58 win over Southern.

Tougher Duke can play defense, too

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
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DURHAM, N.C. -- Amid all of his postgame questions about rotations and adjustments and tempo, Duke coach Mike Krzyewski might have summed up the importance of the sixth-ranked Blue Devils' 61-58 victory over No. 17 Virginia on Thursday night with five little words:

“We can play defense, too.”

Maybe not great defense, not yet. Probably not even as consistently good as the Cavaliers, who entered the game allowing foes to score a mere 50.5 points per game and make only 38 percent of their shots.

But good enough to hold Virginia linchpin Mike Scott, who looked like he was en route to career night in the first half, to 3-for-9 shooting after halftime. Good enough to stymie Virginia into 29.4 percent shooting in the second half. Good enough to survive two potential game-tying 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds (and prevail despite making only a quarter of its 3-pointers and 42.1 percent of its free throws).

Good enough to prove that the Blue Devils still know how to play tough.

“It was really a terrific win for our kids because they had to fight for 40 minutes against an outstanding team,” said Krzyzewski, whose team snapped Virginia's 12-game winning streak, and has now won 44 in a row at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

There had been some budding questions about Duke’s grit, particularly because of how it was – or wasn’t – making stops.

The Blue Devils entered the game ranked an uncharacteristic second-to-last in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing foes 69.4 points per game; and dead last in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 44.3 percent.

Players had admitted those numbers smarted, especially in a program that has always prided itself on hard-nosed, floor-slapping, game-changing D.

“Part of our culture at Duke is great defense,’’ forward Miles Plumlee said. “Looking at our team, we knew our defense wasn’t where it needs to be.”

Early on, it wasn’t where it needed to be, either, as the Cavs shot 51.9 percent in the first half thanks to 16 points from Scott (who finished with 23, and who has to be a leading contender for ACC Player of the Year because of the impact he’s had on his team).

But after halftime, Miles and Mason Plumlee (12 points) buckled down on the fifth-year senior forward, trying to push him out of his comfort zone by staying on his hip.

[+] EnlargeMason Plumlee
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMason Plumlee helped lead Duke's vigorous defense against Virginia.
“They were physical with him,’’ Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “… He actually got some good looks, he just missed some.”

Meanwhile, Duke started making some.

With the score knotted 38-38 with 15:47 left, Blue Devils guard Seth Curry buried a 3-pointer. Then he blocked Sammy Zeglinski’s 3-point attempt, which led to a Tyler Thornton layup – one of Duke’s first transition buckets of the game. Scott’s baseline jumper wiggled out, leading to a transition dunk by Miles Plumlee. An Austin Rivers 3-pointer eventually stretched the breakaway to 10-2 and the Blue Devils’ lead to 48-40.

“We got on a little run when we were making shots and playing good defense,’’ Devils forward Ryan Kelly said. “And when we do that, we’re really good.”

Virginia scrapped back in the final minute, though, closing to within three points after Kelly – 14-for-14 from the line last weekend at Georgia Tech – missed two free throws, and Cavalier Akil Mitchell answered with a dunk.

But after Curry missed a jumper, Scott and teammate Jontel Evans missed two potential game-tying 3-pointers as time ran out.

“You can’t complain about getting two clean looks at the rim to extend it to overtime,’’ said Bennett, whose team allowed the Devils to shoot 60.9 percent in the second half.

Although Duke, which “broke down a little bit” on defense in those final seconds, Kelly said, will probably have something to say about it once they see it on tape. Which might be a good thing, because it reinforces the fact that the Blue Devils are not a great defense, not yet.

Although they’re getting better. And tougher.

“I don’t think that game came down to that last shot,” Duke guard Rivers said. “I think that game came down to rebounds, and the big stops we made, and the defensive stops we made, and the emphasis we had on Scott in the second half.”

Said Krzyzewski: “You can play defense a variety of ways. They played it well, and I thought we played it well tonight.”

Robbi Pickeral can be reached at bylinerp@gmail.com. Twitter: @bylinerp.
Meyers LeonardDavid Banks/Getty ImagesIllinois nipped Northwestern on Wednesday despite big man Meyers Leonard getting limited looks.
It’s an epidemic that’s plagued the national college basketball scene for far too long. Too often, this issue is overlooked or dismissed.

But it’s time to address the madness that’s rocking programs throughout the country. I’m referring to Starving Big Man Syndrome.

Perhaps your favorite team suffers from this silent season-killer. Well, it’s time to identify the victims in hopes of rectifying this growing challenge.

  1. Meyers Leonard -- Why won’t the Illini feed the big man? He took four shots in Saturday’s loss to Purdue. Just eight in a Dec. 17 loss to UNLV. He’s capable of duplicating his 20-point effort against Minnesota last week and his 21-point performance in the Illini’s Dec. 3 win over Gonzaga. He should get the ball more often. He was 4-for-9 in a one-point win over Northwestern Wednesday, but his teammates failed to find him multiple times when the Wildcats weren’t doubling.
  2. Patric Young -- Florida’s big man has a 63 effective field-goal percentage, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. He took 20 shots combined in Florida’s past two games. But he’s only cracked double digits in field-goal attempts four times this year. And he’s only responsible for 12.7 percent of his squad’s shots this season. Sure Florida is stocked with perimeter talent. But the SEC is a hotbed for talented bigs. Anthony Davis, Arnett Moultrie, Festus Ezeli and JaMychal Green anchor the league in the post. So the Gators will need Young even more in league play. It’s time to toss the ball inside.
  3. C.J. Aiken -- The 6-9 forward is ranked sixth in the Atlantic 10 in John Hollinger’s NCAA player efficiency ratings (23.59 PER). But prior to Wednesday’s 84-82 win over Duquesne (he was 5-for-10), Aiken had taken 11 shots combined in two previous games. The Hawks -- like Temple and St. Louis -- are going to make the Atlantic 10 race interesting, especially with Xavier’s recent struggles. Aiken is a key part of St. Joseph’s NCAA tourney hopes due to his defensive prowess (his 4.5 blocks per game lead the nation). But he’s more than a shot-blocker as his performance in the Duquesne victory proved.
  4. Anthony Davis -- Finding the best use for Davis’ expansive skill set isn’t simple. He’s 6-10 but he’s certainly not a traditional big man. And Kentucky is stocked at every position. But it never hurts to have an additional offensive weapon, especially one who’s shooting 65 percent from the field. But Davis’ offensive game might become a significant factor in March and April, despite the talent around him. Prior to his 22-point performance (9-for-11) against Arkansas Little-Rock Tuesday, Davis had taken seven shots or less in seven games.
  5. [+] EnlargeUConn's Andre Drummond
    David Butler II/US PRESSWIREPerhaps a loss to Seton Hall on Wednesday might have UConn emphasizing getting the ball to center Andre Drummond much more often.

  6. Andre Drummond -- Every legit mock draft board I’ve read places the UConn forward in the top five of this summer’s draft. Why would a lottery pick take five shots and score four points … EVER? That was Drummond’s stat line in Wednesday’s upset loss to Seton Hall. It just doesn’t make any sense. It was his second five-shot outing in three games. He shot two free throws combined in those matchups.
  7. Arsalan Kazemi -- He leads the nation in rebounding. And he’s on top of Conference USA in steals and field-goal percentage. But he’s averaging 7.7 field-goal attempts per game for Rice, despite boasting a 61.2 effective field-goal percentage, per Ken Pomeroy. But he’s been responsible for just 13 percent of Rice’s field-goal attempts so far this season.
  8. Eli Holman -- Detroit has lost three of its past five games with Holman in the lineup. The 6-10 presence missed multiple games due to an indefinite leave at the start of the season. He’s shooting 62 percent from the floor and averaging 12 ppg. Ray McCallum Jr. and Chase Simon handle the scoring load for the Titans. But Holman can be an offensive difference-maker in conference play. Detroit nearly knocked off nationally ranked Mississippi State when Holman went 6-for-8 from the field.
  9. Alex Len -- He’s only played three games after missing time because of an eligibility issue (he’d previously signed with a pro team overseas). But Len is living up to the hype for ACC sleeper Maryland. I know Terrell Stoglin (21.2 ppg, sixth in the nation) likes to eat. But Len is hungry, too. He’s taken 10 shots in his team’s past two games (he was 10-for-14 from the charity stripe in those contests). He’ll probably become a more viable part of Maryland’s offense in the ACC, where John Henson, Mike Scott and the Plumlee Clan lurk. He’s a dangerous addition for the rest of the league.
  10. James Haarsma -- UW-Milwaukee’s 6-7 forward has hurt himself with foul trouble in multiple games. But the Panthers could use an offensive boost that Haarsma should be able to provide. He had three points in a Tuesday loss to Western Michigan. According to Hollinger’s ratings, he’s No. 22 in the Horizon League in player efficiency with a 15.76 PER. Milwaukee won a slice of the Horizon last year, but the Panthers have lost three of their past four games. In two of those matchups, Haarsma only took four shots, even though his team shot under 30 percent from beyond the arc in those games. Might be time for UWM to look inside.
  11. Royce White -- He’s surrounded by shooters at Iowa State. And right now, there’s really nothing to complain about regarding his role because the Cyclones have won six in a row, including a solid victory over Texas Wednesday night. But the Big 12 is a big league. And White is capable of offensive fury. The league’s eighth-ranked player in Pomeroy’s offensive ratings has taken 16 shots in his team’s past four games. He still leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. So it’s not like Fred Hoiberg’s offense has ignored him. But White’s 22 points and 13 rebounds in a Dec. 3 loss to Michigan weren’t flukes. He’s that good. And he’ll get better with more scoring opportunities inside.

If your favorite team suffers from Starving Big Man Syndrome, please call 1-800-FEED-HIM. That’s 1-800-FEED-HIM. Or just call Bill Walton.


PHILADELPHIA -- Temple took the subway to its basketball game on Wednesday night, hopping a ride on the Broad Street Line from North Philly to South, home of the Wells Fargo Center.

The ride was more symbolic than playful to head coach Fran Dunphy, a throwback homage to the university’s roots as a commuter school built for people who spent their days on campus and their nights holding down part-time jobs to pay their tuition.

Dunphy didn’t take the next step, comparing Temple to its blue-blooded opponent, Duke. But as he spoke with genuine reverence about his good friend Mike Krzyzewski and appreciation for a program that he considers the gold standard in college basketball, it was hard not to make the simplistic leap for him.

Temple is the lunch-pail team once personified by its wily old coach, John Chaney, and now embodied in its no-nonsense new boss. The campus is plopped on the edges of a tough Philly neighborhood and the program long has had to succeed with scrappers.

Duke is Krzyzewski, the wildly respected head coach who rarely looks ruffled, a campus with old, storied buildings and a program that long has had its pick of the basketball litter.

But if college basketball is nothing else, it is the great class equalizer. Privilege has its place ... it’s just not on the basketball court.

Temple upset the third-ranked Blue Devils on Wednesday, calling on its deepest reserves of grit and toughness to outmuscle and outhustle Duke, 78-73.

[+] EnlargeTemple's Khaliff Wyatt
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIREKhaliff Wyatt contributed 22 points and five steals as Temple celebrated a win over No. 3 Duke.
“We just had to play tough and we did,’’ said leading scorer Khalif Wyatt, who finished with 22 points and 5 steals for the Owls.

The loss puts the skids on Duke’s modest five-game win streak, a streak in which the Devils appeared to have found their defensive rhythm after a debacle against Ohio State on Nov. 29.

Krzyzewski wasn’t quite sure what to make of this game. He didn’t want to undersell what Temple did to his team, but also had to acknowledge that the team on the court wasn’t the one he’d seen in recent weeks.

“Come on, if I saw it coming I would have faked an illness instead of getting ill during the game,’’ Krzyzewski joked. “Whenever that happens, to me, the other team has the most to do with it. But we obviously didn’t play very well.’’

Meantime, the win gives Temple a signature victory to hang its at-large hat on. Now 10-3, the Owls had a good win against Wichita State and another versus struggling rival Villanova, but headed into a muddled and muddied Atlantic 10 season -- across town, Xavier continued its slide by losing to La Salle -- Temple needed something to distinguish itself.

This does that, plus it gives a team that sorely needed it a huge confidence injection. TU has been playing much of the season without two starters. Guard Scootie Randall hasn’t played at all and is likely to take a redshirt; big man Micheal Eric has appeared in only four games, though he’s expected back soon.

So it’s been a hodgepodge lineup for Dunphy. He’s had to ask players to play out of position, but has offered them little in the way of condolences.

“We’ve talked about how tough we have to be,’’ said Dunphy, whose team was coming off three straight close wins against the likes of Rice, Buffalo and Delaware. “We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. I know guys are playing against guys four inches bigger than them, but you know what? That’s the way it is.’’

And the way it was against Duke was simple to explain: Temple’s mix-and-match team played harder. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson poured in a season-high 17 points, Anthony Lee chipped in 11 plus three blocks and the three guys asked to do it all -- Wyatt, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez -- did the rest.

The three guards controlled the tempo and the pace, using their advantage off the dribble to score at the rim or keep Duke off balanced on the perimeter.

Temple built a 55-45 lead midway through the second half when Wyatt drained a 3, but minutes later, the Blue Devils sliced that advantage to just three points, 60-57. The Owls had no answer for Miles and Mason Plumlee, who scored nine in that pivotal stretch and finished with 17 and 16 respectively.

“The Plumlee brothers were a handful,’’ Dunphy said. “They were terrific inside and they were just a little bit too much for us to handle on a 40-minute game basis.’’

But on the next possession, Miles missed a jump shot, allowing the Owls to push. Moore set up for a 3-pointer on the wing, but just before he could launch it, Wyatt called out to him. The off-balance Moore somehow found Wyatt in the corner and Wyatt’s swished 3 sealed the deal for the Owls.

“I was open,’’ Wyatt said of his willingness to interrupt Moore midshot.

It was vintage Wyatt, a player who may personify this Temple team as much as Chaney did back in the day.

“He’s got huge ...’’ Dunphy said, pausing to find the proper, family-friendly word, “courage.’’

He’s also got a nonblinking green light from his coach, and that unwavering faith allows Wyatt the freedom to shoot fearlessly.

“A lot of coaches don’t let you play that way,’’ Wyatt said. “But he’s real generous and that lets you have that mindset to keep playing. As long as you're tough on defense, he lets you do what you want. Well, not exactly, but you know what I mean.’’

Temple fans stormed the court after the game, enjoying their fourth win against a top-10 team in as many seasons.

That’s what happens, Dunphy explained, when you’re Duke. You exist in such rarefied air that other schools celebrate wildly when they beat you.

And then they grab their lunch pails, hop the subway and go back to work.

“Coach came into the locker room after the game and said, ‘Good win, but I’m worrying about Dayton now.' That’s the way it is,’’ Wyatt said.

Video: Duke's Miles Plumlee

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
1:13
PM ET


Andy Katz with Duke senior forward Miles Plumlee at ACC Media Day in Charlotte.

CBE Preview: Duke vs. Kansas State

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
2:13
PM ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sometimes, everything goes according to plan.

Sure, Gonzaga and Marquette fans -- who watched their teams lose to Kansas State and Duke, respectively, Monday night -- might not be feeling the pre-ordained big-game love. (Gonzaga fans in particular are likely feeling a dearth of enthusiasm at this point. Tough start for the Zags, huh?) But pretty much everyone else will, because the Wildcats' and Blue Devils' wins in the CBE Classic semifinals set up the best early-season tournament matchup in recent memory.

When you looked at the holiday tournament schedules -- and if you're like us, you scoured those things like a "Lost" fan hunting for dead-end clues to whatever silly plot twist that show threw at you next -- it was the prospective matchup that stuck out most, and now it's here: Tuesday night, we get to watch No. 1 Duke and No. 4 Kansas State, two of college hoops' most serious national title contenders, play in front of a raucous Kansas State crowd in a gleaming new arena in downtown Kansas City. Short of March Madness, college hoops doesn't get much better than this.

You know what that means. Preview time! Let's go to the tape:

[+] EnlargeMason Plumlee
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelMarquette didn't have an answer for Mason Plumlee Monday night.
CBE Championship: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Kansas State, 10 p.m. ET

Pullen no stranger to Blue Devils, Coach K

Monday night, Kansas State coach Frank Martin said he'd always admired Duke's program from afar, but that he didn't know Coach K as well as some of his contemporaries. (Like, for example, former Kansas State coach Bob Huggins, who Martin almost always refers to as merely "Huggs.")

That's not the case for Jacob Pullen. For a Big 12 player who's never faced a Duke team in his career, the Kansas State guard is plenty familiar with these Duke Blue Devils. That's because he played alongside two of them -- Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler -- when the USA Select Team, a batch of the best college players in the nation, visited Las Vegas to help prepare the Mike Krzyzewski-coached USA Basketball program for the FIBA World Championships this summer.

After the Duke coach found out that Pullen also hailed from Chicago -- Coach K is nothing if not proud of his hometown -- Pullen struck up an unlikely relationship with Krzyzewski.

"After that, he was always keeping an eye on me," Pullen said. "Even though he was busy coaching the NBA players, he was always talking to me, Kyle, and Nolan. I kind of felt like a Dukie at one point.

"I just hope he doesn't have Nolan guard me," Pullen said, laughing. "I'm tired of guarding Nolan, and I'm sure he's tired of guarding me."

Good luck with that, Jake. Whether he likes the idea or not, Smith is likely to guard Pullen for much of the game Tuesday night, which is just one of the many intriguing matchups on hand in the CBE final.

What to watch for: Backcourt freshmen, frontcourt depth

By this point, you know what you're going to get from Pullen and Smith. Less obvious are the contributions each team's freshmen -- Duke's highly touted Kyrie Irving, KSU's pleasantly surprising Will Spradling -- will bring at the point guard spot. Irving is a difficult matchup for anyone, but Spradling has earned big minutes early in his career with heady offensive play and solid defense, and he'll need to play a major role if Kansas State's plan to rush Irving into bad decisions is going to work out.

[+] EnlargeWill Spradling
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIThe play of freshman Will Spradling has been a pleasant surprise for Kansas State.
These teams' backcourts get the majority of the attention -- and for good reason, because they're two of the best in the country -- but if there's one key to Tuesday night's title game, it's likely to come in the frontcourt. Mason Plumlee was monstrous for Duke Monday night -- 25 points, 12 rebounds (including six offensive boards) and five blocks; that kind of monstrous -- flashing signs of the potential he showed as a highly touted recruit and future NBA lottery pick. Plumlee also answered, at least for one night, the biggest question about this Duke team: Without Brian Zoubek, could it grab enough of its own misses to mask mediocre shooting efforts? That's what won Duke its title last March; no stat was more important to Coach K's fourth NCAA title team.

But Plumlee's breakout game came against an overmatched Marquette interior that doesn't have the personnel to keep up with athletic big men in the post. That's not the case with Kansas State. Martin has a bevy of post players -- five of whom saw significant time in Monday night's win -- and none of them represents much of a drop-off in skill or athleticism. All of them can defend, all of them can rebound and all of them are efficient scorers around the basket when Pullen and company create easy looks in their uptempo transition offense.

Here again, then, is another test for Duke's frontcourt. Can Mason (and Miles) Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Singler do enough against such a deep and talented front line? Or does Kansas State simply have too much? Conversely, can Kansas State get stops against Singler, the best off-ball shot-creator in the college game? Or is the loss of defensive stopper Dominique Sutton in the offseason still a glaring weakness for an otherwise loaded Wildcats team?

At this point in the season, everyone loves to say they're "learning about their team." Rarely are those lessons so applicable to the national title picture. Rarely do two teams this good, with hopes this high, get to test themselves so early in the season. Rarely do those tests come in front of an insanely partisan "neutral" crowd, a crowd that will empty the Kansas City bars and descend on the Sprint Center in manic droves Tuesday night.

In other words, it's going to be a good one. Best of all -- and true to clichéd form -- we're going to learn a lot.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are back. Kyrie Irving, perhaps the best point guard prospect in the country, has arrived. Your backcourt is loaded, your coach is a legend, your program is one of the best in college sports, and seven months ago, you won a national title.

What else do you need to know?

That kind of talent doesn't exactly lend itself to doubts. There's a reason, after all, the Blue Devils are the No. 1 team in the country, not to mention any rational observer's odds-on favorite to win the national title. They're really, really good. Breaking news, right?

Despite all that, the Dukies still came with qualifiers attached, the biggest of which was this: Which big man would step up? Could Duke replace the rebounding -- especially the ever-crucial offensive rebounding -- it lost when center Brian Zoubek and forward Lance Thomas graduated this spring? If so, who would it be? And if not, could the Blue Devils, even with all that perimeter talent, dominate as effortlessly as everyone expected?

[+] EnlargeMason Plumlee
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelMason Plumlee seemingly did it all Monday: 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks against Marquette.
There's still plenty of season left, and plenty of time to test the theory, but for now, Duke looks like it found an answer. His name is Mason Plumlee.

"What he did tonight was huge," Singler said. "He was just huge for us when we needed it most."

Huge is one word for Plumlee's performance Monday night. Dominant is another. The sophomore scored 25 points on 12-of-15 from the field and added 12 rebounds and five blocks in a performance that powered Duke past a scrappy Marquette squad 82-77.

The Golden Eagles were even better than advertised, fighting off an early Duke run and pulling even at 53-53 with 11:21 left in the second half. That's when -- and if you thought I'd be writing these words in a Duke recap this early in the season, I would like to hire you as my personal financial adviser, because you can see into the future -- Mason Plumlee took over.

With just less than 11 minutes remaining, the 6-foot-10 forward grabbed an offensive rebound and finished for a three-point play. On the next possession, Plumlee grabbed another offensive board and -- in classic "get a rebound and find an open shooter immediately" Zoubekian fashion -- found Smith for an open look that the senior guard promptly drained. At the 9:24 mark, an Irving steal led to a thunderous breakaway Plumlee dunk. At 8:46, Plumlee worked his way inside for another bucket.

Three minutes after Marquette tied up the game, Plumlee had almost singlehandedly built Duke's sudden 66-57 lead. Marquette would never get so close again.

It was an impressive performance in its own right, but the larger implications are the real story. This season's Duke squad is a much different team than the last one -- more guard-oriented, more up-tempo, less methodical in the half-court offense -- but no matter how free-flowing a team's style, it's hard to be a national title favorite if you can't lock down the glass. That's why Plumlee's 12 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end, mean so much to Duke.

They also mean a lot to Plumlee, a prospective lottery pick who arrived in Durham last summer with loads of hype attached but failed to contribute much once Mike Krzyzewski narrowed his rotation in the team's 2009-10 stretch run. If Plumlee couldn't, at the very least, cut into Zoubek's minutes, how good was he, really?

"I'm so proud of him and so happy for him," said Miles Plumlee, Mason's older brother, after the game. "I know what he's capable of, we see what he can do in practice, and it was great for him to show it in the game."

The Blue Devils didn't seem all that surprised by the younger Plumlee's performance, but that doesn't mean they weren't thrilled.

"Mason is a really talented basketball player," Singler said. "Late in the game, he just dominated on both ends of the floor. If he can do that, he can get some confidence, and he can keep that sort of thing going.

"We're still a work in progress," Singler said. "But I think we already have some good things happening, and now we just need to keep it up."

Translation: If Mason Plumlee is this good -- and there's still plenty of basketball to be played before we can definitively make that statement -- then Duke could be even better than we realized. That is a scary thought.

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