The Kings of November

November 29, 2012

Duke Basketball has had an unbelievable start to the season.  They have gone 7-0 against an impossibly difficult schedule including three top-5 teams.  After an exhausting start to the season Duke steps back now and plays a markedly easier schedule until ACC play starts.  This is the perfect time to look back on the season so far and what it means for Duke going forward.


1.  Duke owns November

Duke has been consistently excellent in November for as long as I can remember.  Coach K schedules numerous hard non-conference games early in the year to simulate NCAA tournament conditions, and has done remarkably well.  Duke has not lost a preseason tournament since 2006.  This is a staggering statistic considering the talent levels that the upper tier tournaments attract.  I have no idea what Coach K does differently than everybody else but Duke teams are consistently better at the beginning of the year than everybody else.  This advantage does not always continue until March, but it is still enormously valuable.  Duke gets a head start on a high NCAA tournament seed that proves important if they lose a game or two in ACC play.  Take this year for example.  After running the early season gauntlet Duke could lose at least 4 and maybe 5 conference games and still be essentially guaranteed a #1 seed.

2.  Seth Curry’s injury is the weirdest thing ever

Seth Curry is suffering from an undisclosed, and apparently undiagnosable, lower leg injury.  The current prognosis is that Curry can play, but will be dealing with pain all year.  It has consistently been described as the kind of injury that cannot be treated and won’t get better with time.  My question is a simple one.  What the fuck kind of injury is that?  This is 2012.  I thought we were past the “Just deal with it bro” phase of medicine.  How can the resources of the Duke sports medicine department not figure this out.

Many people have speculated that Curry is dealing with a stress fracture. (Jay Bilas harped on this last night.)  These people are wrong.  Firstly, stress fractures heal with time.  If Curry really had one he would sit out a month or two and be ready to roll by the spring.  Secondly, I had a stress fracture in high school and could barely walk.  There is no way someone with a broken leg could consistently play 30+ minutes per game.

(Regardless of the exact nature of the injury, Curry is showing serious balls by gutting it out.)

3.  Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon are the truth

Duke came into the season with big-time question marks in the back court.  Sulaimon and Cook have played exceptionally well however, and turned a weakness into a strength.  Cook was the MVP of the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and has made the whole team better with his play as a pure point guard.  Sulaimon has provided much needed perimeter defense and even flashed some serious offensive game last night against Ohio State.  Unfortunately, Sulaimon suffers from what many call the Zoolander disease.  He is not an ambi-turner and just cannot go left.

4.  Mason Plumlee learned how to shoot free throws

Plumlee’s horrendous free throw shooting was a big hole in his game.  He shied away from contact (a big problem for a center) and had to be taken out late in games.  Now that Plumlee can shoot free throws, he is over 80% for the year, he is unstoppable.  It’s like when Happy Gilmore learned to putt.  No one else stands a chance.

5.  Ryan Kelly has the best nickname in college basketball.  Maybe the world.



6.  Duke needs to develop some depth

The start to the season has been an unmitigated success for Duke, but there have been some causes for concern for those of us looking hard enough.  Namely, the complete lack of useable players after the starting 5.  Tyler Thornton is the sixth man and is a decent, but limited player.  He works hard and is a competent defender and ball handler but cannot create his own shot or even reliably make open ones. (Side note: if Thornton was white he would set the record for most times being called a gym rat.)

Beyond Thornton the bench has been disastrous.  The issue is not a lack of talent, but rather a lack of playing time and production.  Forwards Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson in particular were highly recruited and should be able to help the team if given the chance.  It is possible that Coach K will use the easier December schedule to work Murphy, Jefferson, or injured center Marshall Plumlee into the rotation. (Yup.  There is another Plumlee brother.  By all accounts he is the most Plumlee of the three.)  If not then this Duke team is in trouble.  Eventually foul trouble or fatigue is going to force Duke to go to the bench, and if Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton are the first two guys off it then the Blue Devils will fall short of their goals in March.


One Response to “The Kings of November”

  1. Davis said

    No one who reads your column can afford MGM resorts, tell these advertisers to get their shit together.

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