The senior leadership and steady play of Chris Duhon was simply priceless on this night. Duhon kept the offensive flow in tact and routinely hit the open man inside, which led to the big nights from Williams and Randolph. Chris was also attacking the Michigan State defense at every opportunity, which led to a lot of easy looks off passes. On the night Duhon finished with 10 points, six assists, and four rebounds.
Duke also started the big lineup that many predicted to be the most effective in the preseason with Shelden Williams at the center slot, Shavlik Randolph at the power forward, and Luol Deng manning the wing forward. The duo of Williams and Randolph responded to the nod with Williams finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds, and five blocks and Randolph ending with 11 points, and seven rebounds.
When you throw in Deng's relatively quiet, though extremely versatile night of six points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals, you have a front line that is among the best around if this is to be any indication.
Continuing the idea of Deng's role on the team, tonight it seemed as though both Luol and his teammates figured out how to play with him and just not on the same court as him. With Michigan State hounding him all night long, Deng worked on contributing in other ways including dishing, defense, and getting to loose balls. This got other weapons involved, even if the jumpers weren't falling.
Also for a relatively young team, and this Duke team isn't exactly what you can call veteran with three of tonight's starters being new to the top of the rotation (Dockery, Randolph, Deng), the Blue Devils held their composure in what many consider to be one of the premiere home courts in the country. Despite starting slow and Michigan State rallying to tie at 13, Coach K's troops didn't back down and actually delivered a knock out blow with the big run.
Perhaps the best thing tonight was Duke's total defensive performance, which was among the best we've seen since the days of Shane Battier. In total the Devils forced 20 turnovers (17 in the first half), including 16 steals to go along with six blocks, and all while out-rebounding the Spartans 31-21 on the night. With the offense still trying to figure itself out, it is a big positive to see such hard nosed, high pressure defense on display.
Finally it was great to see Duke return to the Blue away jerseys – it had been way too long.
What went wrong:
Though it is hard to argue with anything in a 22-point win over a top five team, there are some minor points of concern showing their ugly heads at this point. For starters Duke continues to struggle at the free throw line (aside from Redick). Against MSU they were just 9-18, which is just 7-16 when you take out the automatic Redick. That's got to improve and Coach K will likely point to that in practice this week.
Speaking of Redick, the Roanoke sharpshooter continues to struggle with his shot this season, converting just three of his nine perimeter attempts on the night. As Krzyzewski has mentioned in the past, Duke is trying to teach JJ to catch the ball in transition and pull up for the three. He did that four times tonight, and missed all four attempts, while drilling the attempts he that were a direct result of getting open for a set shot on the perimeter. Moving forward it seems that likening Redick to a time bomb is fairly accurate as Duke fans wait for him to find his range.
Player of the Game:
While it's tough to overlook the performance of Shelden Williams tonight in the post, it's fair to say that without the leadership and overall game of Chris Duhon, this game would have been much closer and Duke would have been in trouble. Duhon's statline (10 pts, 6 asts, 4 rbs, and 3 steals) doesn't begin to tell how well he played, but for his efforts he is TDD's Player of the Game.
Tonight was a big change from the finals in Alaska as Duke seems to be finding out just what kind of team they are this year. In other words, they are playing to the strengths which seem to start with inside play and then feeds the perimeter attack. If the kind of shots were are used to seeing were falling for the Bleu Devils tonight, the scoring would have been in the upper 80s instead of the lowers 70s.
This team has the potential to be one of the more balanced squads in recent memory if they continue to establish Williams and Randolph inside and then allow Redick and Ewing to beat opponents from the outside. It'll also take some pressure off Deng, which will allow him to really showcase his versatility—especially when he figures out his role in the offense.
Next up is a St. John's team that, on paper, shouldn't be as much of a challenge as either Purdue or Michigan State. Then again the Red Storm always seems to play tough while never being intimidated by Duke or Cameron as the case may be. Look for Coach K to keep his team fired up and hungry when they meet the Johnnies this weekend, and look for them to go for the early knockout punch.
Hopefully tonight was the start of this team coming together for what could be a very entertaining ride.