Posted: 12:59 a.m. Saturday, March 23, 2013
PHILADELPHIA – There was nothing particularly memorable about Duke’s opening NCAA victory over Albany.
The Blue Devils never exploded and seized control of the game as Syracuse did against Montana or Miami did against Pacific. But Duke never lost control of the game either, so that it was never thrilling – or dangerous – such as Gonzaga’s narrow with over Southern or Marquette’s victory over Davidson.
Or Duke’s opening game a year ago versus Lehigh.
Indeed, after that nightmare, Friday’s modest 73-61 victory over the University at Albany was a welcome snoozer.
“What every coach wants is to win,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said when asked if he was disappointed that his team didn’t blow the outmanned Great Danes out. “If he gets the win, he’s happy, no matter how he gets it … and if he says differently, he’s lying.”
Krzyzewski admitted that he was quite pleased to take the first step towards another championship, modest though it might be. Before the tournament started, he revealed that his plan is to treat every game along the way as a championship game. Friday, the Blue Devils won their first championship game against Albany. Sunday, the Blue Devils will try to win their second championship game against Creighton.
The opponent will be more talented, but it won’t fight any harder than the Great Danes did Friday.
“We didn’t bow down to Duke,” Albany guard Mike Black said. “We just wanted to hang around and maybe make a play or two at the end. But they kept making plays to hold us off.”
Duke took a 3-0 lead when Seth Curry hit a 3-pointer on the Devils’ first possession. Duke never trailed after that and was up double figures much of the game. Every time the Danes made a surge, either Curry or Mason Plumlee would answer. The two senior standouts combined for 49 points and 19-of-25 shooting from the floor.
Curry made the play that sealed the game, according to the Albany players. With Duke leading 64-56 and just more than four minutes left, Quinn Cook missed a short jumper as the shot clock wound down. The ball was loose for a seeming eternity, before Curry popped out of the pack with it, driving to the basket for a layup that stretched Duke’s lead back to 10.
“I thought we had the numbers coming out with the ball,” Brown said. “The crowd was ready to explode. Instead of coming down with a chance to cut it to five, they go back up 10.
The half-filled Wells-Fargo Arena was heavily weighted against the Blue Devils. Even the Albany players understood what Duke faces every time the Devils take the floor.
“They play games like that all the time,” Jacob Iati, who started his collegiate career at High Point before transferring to Albany, said. “For us, it was the game of a lifetime. For them, it was just another day at the park.”
In terms of the program’s history, Iati was right … it was a relatively forgettable victory. But in terms of Duke’s recent postseason struggles – 1-2 in the ACC Tournament since winning the 2011 title; a two-game NCAA Tournament losing streak – the modest victory was very welcome indeed.
‘Every game we play is a huge game,” Krzyzewski said. “We almost always get an opponent’s best shot. We’ve been fighting that for 25 years.”
But he also said that it’s fun to win, even a tough game like against Albany.
“It was very competitive today,” he said. “We had to fight like crazy. I don’t know if it was fun so much as a sense of accomplishment.”
The Albany win will only mean something if the Blue Devils can build on it.
“It doesn’t matter to us what people talk about,” Mason Plumlee said. “We’re very confident.”
CREIGHTON AND MCDERMOTT
Creighton, the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Regional, will offer a quite different test in the round of 32.
The Blue Jays, who edged Cincinnati in the Wells Fargo Arena just after the Duke-Albany game, don’t present the athletic challenge that the Bearcats would have offered, but Coach Greg McDermott’s 28-win team is a better all-around team than Cincinnati and features one of the nation’s most dangerous players.
The fascinating thing about 6-8 junior Doug McDermott (the coach’s son) is that he played on the same Ames, Iowa, school that produced the much heralded Harrison Barnes. While the UNC-bound Barnes was rated the No. 1 player in the class and was the object of an intense recruiting war between Duke and UNC, nobody paid McDermott much attention. He was all set to attend Northern Iowa, until his father – until then an assistant at Iowa State – got the Creighton job.
Yet, from day one in college, the unheralded McDermott proved to be the better player than the heralded Barnes – much better at the college level. He averaged 15 points and more than seven rebounds as a freshman, while shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent from 3-point range. He upped those figures to 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds as a sophomore, improving his shooting to 60.1 percent from the floor and 48.6 percent from 3-point range.
As a junior, McDermott is up to 23.1 points a game. His overall shooting is down to 56.1 percent, but his 3-point shooting is up to 49.7 percent.
Those are numbers his ex-teammate never dreamed of – Barnes averaged 43.7 percent from the field in his two seasons at UNC and just 36.3 percent from 3-point range, while scoring less points and grabbing less rebounds.
McDermott made the difference against Cincinnati in Friday’s game, leading the Blue Jays with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
He’s going to be a tough matchup for the Blue Devils. Earlier this season, Duke’s Ryan Kelly – who will probably draw McDermott – posted some impressive defensive performances against star forwards, but he has not demonstrated the same defensive excellence since returning from his foot injury.
McDermott is pumped up to play the Blue Devils.
“We’ve been working for this moment since we lost to North Carolina last year,” the junior forward said. “I think it’s every kid’s dream to get a chance to play against Duke in the NCAA Tournament. It really doesn’t get much better than that. They’re a great team, especially with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. We know it’s going to be a huge challenge, but it’s what it’s all about. We’re going to get ready, have a good practice tomorrow, and I know our coach will put together a good plan, and we’ll be ready to go.”
McDermott is not the only problem for the Blue Devils. In the middle, Creighton starts 6-9, 260-pound Greg Echenique, a powerful Venezuelan who started his college career at Rutgers back in 2008-9. Duke actually tried to recruit Echenique (who was in the same class with Miles Plumlee and Elliot Williams).
The Creighton big man is not a huge scoring threat, but he’s a solid defender down low and could be a force on the boards.
“Gregory Echenique was huge for us,” Coach Greg McDermott said after the Cincinnati win. “His ball screen defense, his ability to protect the paint, and then I think he had the basket of the game when it was tied at 54 out of that time out. He made a tough man type play to get us two points to regain the lead there.”
While the two big men are Creighton’s top weapons, Coach McDermott has other threats.
“We’re built on our ability to shoot it, and we’ve got a lot of guys that can do it, and generally if one guy is not having a great night, somebody else will,” he said. “But the combination of Doug and Gregory inside with some of the guys that we have that can shoot the ball gives us some pretty good weapons.”
During the season, Creighton had some rough moments – losing five of eight in conference at midseason. The Blue Jays also lost a bracket-buster game with St. Mary’s. Overall, Creighton was 2-2 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament – the best win probably a neutral court victory over Wisconsin.
Duke would easily be the best win for the Blue Jays.
“You know, I’ve watched some film, not a lot, because my focus was on Cincinnati and I watched part of the game today,” Coach McDermott said. “Obviously they’re very versatile. You could argue that they may be the best team in the country since Ryan Kelly has come back. He gives them another weapon in a stretch four that can do what he can do. There are not a lot of weaknesses there. Plumlee inside is as a good front line player as we’ve faced.”
But in Echenique, Creighton has a weapon to challenge Duke’s big man.
“Gregory gives a team like us a chance,” Coach McDermott said. “Most mid-major teams don’t have the body that he has.”
Creighton was in Greensboro a year ago when Duke was taken down by Lehigh. The Blue Jays were in the other pod, losing their second-round game to top-seeded UNC. That’s been their motivation going into this season.
“It’ll be a heck of a challenge for us but I know it’s something our guys are really excited about,” Coach McDermott said. “It’s been our goal to get back to this game and see if we can’t kick that door down. It’ll be a challenge, but we’re going to enjoy every second of it.”
THE ROUND OF 32
Duke is 23-7 in round of 32 games – 20-5 under Krzyzewski.
That figure is actually a bit distorted because Coach K’s first two NCAA teams (in 1984 and 1985) both lost in the round of 32. Since that poor start, he’s won 20 of 23, losing in:
– 1993 to California 82-77 in the Rosemont Horizon. That Duke team was crippled by the loss of center Cherokee Parks late in the first half. That was a No. 3 seed losing to a No. 6 seed
– 1997 to Providence 98-87 in Charlotte. That was a No. 2 seed losing to a No. 10 seed.
– 2008 to West Virginia 73-67 in Washington, D.C. That was a No. 2 losing to a No. 7 seed.
Those 20 round of 32 victories include some dramatic games. Perhaps most memorable was the 69-64 victory over Kansas in Winston-Salem, when junior Shane Battier turned in one of the greatest defensive performances in basketball history. Officially, he was credited with eight blocks and two steals – but he altered dozens of other shots (Kansas shot 36 percent), took three charges and had a lot to do with the Jayhawks’ 17 turnovers. He also led Duke with 21 points and added eight rebounds.
There was a hard-fought victory over Mississippi State in Charlotte – the game where UNC fans dominated the crowd and stayed to cheer for MSU against the Devils. There was another hard-fought win over Texas in 2009 – a very welcome win after the team’s quick exits in 2007 and 2008.
MISSING THE BEARCATS — AGAIN
It’s odd that Duke and Cincinnati have met so rarely on the basketball court.
The two schools were basketball powers in the 1960s, yet never faced each other in that decade. Oh, there was a near meeting in the 1963 NCAA title game, but No. 2 Duke was knocked off by Loyola of Chicago in the semifinals – just before the Ramblers upset No. 1 Cincinnati in the championship game.
Their paths did cross occasionally on the recruiting trail. Long Island schoolboy superstar Art Heyman once claimed that he was offered a suitcase full of money to play for the Bearcats. But he choose to follow his heart and committed to UNC instead … winding up at Duke after his stepfather got into a knockdown argument with Tar Heel coach Frank McGuire.
Duke and Cincinnati have met three times in basketball.
The first came in December of 1979, when No. 1 ranked Duke had to go to overtime to beat the unranked Bearcats in Cameron. It took 25 points and 16 rebounds from Mike Gminski and 21 points and 12 rebounds from Gene Banks to save the Devils at home.
The other two meetings came in distant locations. No. 13 Duke blitzed Cincinnati in the semifinals of the 1989 Rainbow Classic in Honolulu as Christian Laettner and Alaa Abdelnaby combined for 35 points and 16 rebounds. And No. 15 Cincinnati upset No. 1 Duke in the finals of the Great Alaskan Shootout in December of 1998, despite 30 points by William Avery. That loss was the last for the 1998-99 Blue Devils until the national championship game.
The two teams were in the 1992 Final Four together, but the Bearcats lost to Michigan in the semifinals.
Obviously, there was the potential for a matchup Sunday in Philadelphia, but as so often happens when Duke and Cincinnati appear on a collision course, something always seems to happen to derail it. Even last fall, when the ACC was scrambling for a football/basketball power to replace Maryland, Cincinnati moved heaven and earth to join the ACC. Unfortunately (for the Bearcats), the ACC deemed Louisville a better fit.
In the most recent case, it was Creighton which prevented a rare Duke-Cincinnati meeting by knocking off the Bearcats Friday.
For the record, Duke and Creighton have never met on the basketball court.