December 2, 2009

Behind enemy lines: Duke

MADISON - For the first time ever, Duke, one of the premier and most recognizable college basketball programs in the nation, will be on the Wisconsin campus to take on the Badgers at the Kohl Center. The game will be played as part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an event the Blue Devils have never lost in.

Looking to learn more about Duke, BadgerBlitz.com went straight to the source, DevilsIllustrated.com publisher Brian McLawhorn, who provided some insights from behind enemy lines.

Read McLawhorn's thoughts about the Blue Devils here…

1.) Obviously Duke is one of the more highly regarded programs in all of college basketball and that is undeniable. From an outsiders perspective, how does the team view the program Wisconsin has established under head coach Bo Ryan?

McLawhorn: Duke absolutely respects what Wisconsin has done under Bo Ryan, and what it is continuing to do. Mike Krzyzewski is well aware of Ryan's coaching abilities, and considers him to be one of the better head coaches in college basketball.

In ACC country, there's not nearly as much talk about head coaches outside of the conference, but within the coaching circles of the league, Ryan's reputation is well noted and they all understand that if they face off in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge or otherwise, he and his team are not to be taken lightly.

2.) The Badgers went down to Cameron Indoor two years ago and got thumped by the Blue Devils. Now, for the first time ever, Duke comes to UW and will play in the Kohl Center. Obviously Duke plays in some pretty hostile environments in ACC play, but what has been said about playing in the Kohl Center?

McLawhorn: They are excited to go to a new venue, particularly one that is lively and energetic like the Kohl Center has a reputation for being. Aside from that, the atmosphere or setting will not be a big deal to the Blue Devils.

For the most part, this is a veteran basketball team, and they play in some of the toughest settings in college basketball on a regular bases, so they truly do not get caught up in where they are playing, or how hostile the crowd is.

Coach K does a great job of simply focusing them on the task at hand, which is trying to defeat a tough Wisconsin team, and the rest they are pretty good about putting it out of their minds.

3.) Would it be fair to say that the Duke frontcourt and team in general is bigger than it was two years ago when the Badgers played them?

McLawhorn: Absolutely. In fact, Krzyzewski stated this is probably the biggest team he's ever had at Duke. The Blue Devils start two players that are 6-foot-8 (Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas), and one that is 6-foot-10 (Miles Plumlee).

Off the bench, Duke will bring in 7-foot-1 Brian Zoubek, 6-foot-10 Ryan Kelly and is expected to play 6-foot-10 freshman Mason Plumlee for the first time this season. Out of the nine regulars in the rotation, Duke only has two players under 6-foot-5-Andre Dawkins, who stands 6-foot-4, and Nolan Smith at 6-foot-2.

The size has certainly changed the way Duke approaches the game, and has given them a new look, but the intensity and effort remains. They will not press as much as they have in the past, and will not look to push the tempo, but the inside out game will be quite prominent. Duke's approach is still predicated on making good decisions with the basketball and creating open shots on the perimeter.

4.) What can you attribute Jon Scheyer's hot start to? I believe he has 32 assists to only four turnovers. Those are pretty incredible stats, particularly early in the season.

McLawhorn: It really comes down to one thing and that is his basketball IQ. He understands the game so well, and fully aware of where his teammates are on the floor, and where the defenders are.

He plays extremely smart basketball and does not try to do things he is not capable of. He is probably one of the best in the country at staying within himself and not trying to force anything. He makes great decisions with the basketball and simply does not put his team in tough situations.

How deep is the Blue Devils bench? Who is the go-to man off the pine and how effective has the been scoring been for Duke early on in the season?

McLawhorn: With Mason Plumlee expected to return tonight from a broken wrist, Duke will play four guys off the bench. Prior to the start of the season, Plumlee was penciled in as a starter, so his addition will be huge for Duke. However, having sat out for the first part of this season, and still looking to grow comfortable with his injury, it's hard to say what Plumlee will bring to the table.

Fellow freshman Andre Dawkins is a different story, though. He has been outstanding for Duke off the bench and leads all reserves in scoring with 10.8 points per game. He is deadly from long range, shooting 50 percent (16-of-32) on the year, but can attack the basket quite effectively as well.

Brian Zoubek will not wow anyone with his offensive skills, but he has been tremendous on the offensive glass, where he's averaging five boards each night out and 8.5 overall. He is also giving Duke 6.3 points off the bench.

Freshman Ryan Kelly will not light up the stat sheet, but gives Duke all of the intangibles and smart play that Coach K loves.

6.) Kind of another broad question, but Duke has never lost in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. What has been the key to success for the Blue Devils over the years in this event? Is it just their style of play that catches team's off guard?

McLawhorn: No, I don't think it's style, because Duke isn't going to throw anything at opponents that is out of the ordinary. Not to simplify it, but I think opponents outside of the ACC are truly surprised at how hard Duke goes every second of every single play.

A lot of coaches tend to overuse the "they play hard" cliché when talking about opponents, but any team that has ever faced Duke will understand playing hard can be considered an understatement for a Mike Krzyzewski coached team. He demands his players to give it all they have every minute they are on the floor, and they take this responsibility very seriously. I feel like that is one area that teams underestimate Duke, and often times it comes back to haunt them because they get outworked.

If there is anything style-wise it would be the exceptional team defense Duke plays. The Devils are known for tight, smothering defense, and that has proven to be a problem for opponents.

7.) With Kyle Singler playing the three, how has he been more effective this season? Does the team go as he does?

McLawhorn: Singler is a natural three, but has spent most of his career at Duke playing in the post out of necessity. Consequently, he took a beating, and to be quite honest it impacted his game down the stretch.

Now that he's not battling guys much bigger than him in the post, and is allowed to roam on the perimeter, Singler has found a different kind of comfort level. It allows him to do what he does best and that's shoot the ball, and create mid-range opportunities for himself.

Now, in regards to the second part of the question-had this been asked of me prior to the last two games I would have said yes, but the performance his teammates put on against Arizona State and UConn leads me to believe Duke can be successful even if Singler is not on his game.

In those two contests, Singler connected on just 7-of-28 shots, scoring 20 combined points, yet Duke still managed to win those games, and did it quite convincingly over UConn.

Obviously, Duke would much rather have Singler on his game, but it can win without him playing at his best if necessary. It's certainly not as easy as it is with him playing well, but it's possible.

8.) Finally, how do you see this game going down?

McLawhorn: I feel like Wisconsin's guard play will be a tremendous challenge for Duke, as depth and athleticism is not in abundance at the position. Having said that, the Blue Devils responded to an ultra athletic UConn team, dominated by the exceptional guards, and almost completely took them out of the game.

I believe this will be a battle for the majority of the game, and likely won't go down as a one-sided rout as it did two years ago, but I expect the Blue Devils to pull away late in the second half. In the end, I think Duke simply has too much and wins by as many as 12 points.


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