Previewing Duke


We are finally in the real ACC season. Feels nice, doesn’t it? No more cupcakes until Longwood (besides two games against Wake and one against Georgia Tech). But there’s no messing around, Maryland is thrown right into it – a game at Duke.

The Blue Devils are the unanimous No. 1 team in the country, and haven’t done anything to give anyone an argument otherwise – they’re 14-0, have defeated two top 25 teams (Kansas State, Michigan State, and defending runner-up Butler, who is among “others receiving votes”), and haven’t won a game by less than ten since December 1 (against Michigan State).

The story of Duke’s early season was that of freshman sensation Kyrie Irving. Irving averaged 17.4 points and 5.1 assists per game through the first eight games of the year and was an early ACC Player of the Year candidate, but was sidelined by a ligament injury and hasn’t played since.

Since Irving’s injury, seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler have taken over. Smith, a guard from Upper Marlboro, Md., is averaging a team-high 19.6 points per game with 5.6 assists and 4.9 rebounds, up from his 2009-10 averages of 17.4 points, 3.0 assists, and 2.8 rebounds. His field goal percentage has increased by nearly 10%, he is shooting over 40% from three this year, and has been generally unstoppable, scoring at least 20 points in five straight games. I’m not sure if Maryland has any answer on defense for Smith – we’ll see if they try Bowie, Howard, or Mosley.

Singler, a 6’8″ forward from Medford, Ore., is doing the same thing he does essentially every year – averaging around 17 points with 6-7 rebounds, shooting around 45% from the floor, 80% from the line and 40% from three. He is the epitome of consistency, and Dino Gregory is probably the best matchup for Maryland against Singler defensively. Problem is, Duke usually has two guys on the floor bigger than him, so that creates matchup problems right there.

Andre Dawkins joins Smith in the starting backcourt. The 6’4″ sophomore from Chesapeake, Va. didn’t get much playing time last season (averaging 4.4 points in 12.6 minutes per game), but is averaging 11.9 points per game this season in a starting role. Dawkins has been on fire from three, hitting 35 of 65 attempts, and scored a season-high 28 points (with 8-14 shooting from deep) against Bradley in early December.

The two big men that have been starting recently for Duke are Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. Plumlee, a 6’10” junior, is averaging 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, and has only scored in double digits twice this year (against Bradley and UNC Greensboro). He has also only played in 18.1 minutes per game, although that number has been going up. Kelly, a 6’11” sophomore, is averaging 5.9 points per game with 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. He is also only averaging 17.0 minutes per game, but has consistently been reaching 20 lately.

Miles’ brother, Mason Plumlee, has also started some games at forward, and gets a lot of playing time. In 24.1 minutes per game, Plumlee is averaging 7.9 points and 7.7 rebounds with 1.6 blocks. He has three double-doubles on the year, all against teams starting with an M – Miami (OH), Marquette, and Michigan State. However, he scored only two points against Miami, so I’m not worried about that streak continuing. Against Marquette, Plumlee dominated, with 25 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks, three assists, and three steals.

One of the Blue Devils’ key contributors off the bench is 6’2″ guard Seth Curry. There are a few reasons to know Curry – he is the son of Dell Curry, brother of former Davidson superstar and current Warriors starter Stephen, and he spent a year at local Liberty University, breaking the Big South freshman scoring mark and averaging 20.2 points per game (tops among freshman in the nation). This season, his first with Duke, he is averaging 7.4 points per game in 20.8 minutes per game. He is shooting 44.7% from three, and has scored in double digits six times this season.

Duke has two more role players that come off the bench – Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton. Hairston, 6’7″, is a freshman forward averaging 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. He scored 12 points with four rebounds against Saint Louis. Thornton, 6’1″, is a freshman guard from DC who is averaging 1.3 points and 1.5 assists per game.

This is undoubtedly the toughest opponent Maryland has faced all year (sorry, Pitt). Prediction time – Duke 88, Maryland 72. The Terps keep it closer than last year thanks to the loss of Brian Zoubek on the inside and the improvement of Jordan Williams, but ultimately it’s not enough at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In terms of matchups, what do you think? Do you put Gregory, the best interior defender Maryland has, on Singler, putting Williams on either Kelly or a Plumlee and hoping Mosley (or someone) can hold their own against someone far taller than them? Or do you put Mosley on Singler and stick with the matchups that make the most sense heightwise?

Also, any predictions for the actual game?