Duke puts unbeaten record on line
Perfect in every test this season, No. 1 Duke puts its extended holiday break in the past to begin a more regulated schedule of games.
The Blue Devils play Santa Clara today (noon, ESPN2) in their first game since beating Elon 76-54 on Dec. 20. This game marks only the fifth Duke has played in December, a month sparsely populated with games because of breaks for final exams and holidays.
But with today’s game, the Blue Devils (11-0) will settle into a routine that, for the next two months plus a week or so, will include two games per week. After today’s game with Santa Clara (11-2), Duke travels to Charlotte to face Davidson on Wednesday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
After that, the Blue Devils start their 18-game ACC slate of games on Jan. 5 at home against Wake Forest. Duke won’t go more than six days between games until postseason play begins with ACC Tournament.
Given how Duke has played so far, the Blue Devils should be in position to make a run toward the school’s fifth national championship.
“We have been a really good basketball team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the win over Elon. “That’s what I told our guys. Tonight was about looking at the last 11 games, not looking at one game and are we proud of that? We are very proud of that.”
One area the team particularly is proud of is defense, which is a big reason why Duke moved up to the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls earlier this month.
Only two teams have scored more than 70 points against Duke, and both are ranked among the top 11 teams in the country. Louisville (11-1), now No. 4, lost to Duke 76-71 on Nov. 24. Minnesota (12-1), ranked No. 11 this week, lost to the Blue Devils 89-71 on Nov. 22.
Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils have been effective at making it difficult for teams to pass the ball to set up high-percentage shots. Statistics show teams have garnered assists on baskets only 38.1 percent of the time against Duke this season.
“I think our defense has been good this whole year,” Krzyzewski said. “We don’t give up any easy shots. That is why we are not assisted a lot.”
Duke’s foes are shooting 38.1 percent on all field goal tries and 30.7 percent on 3-pointers.
Two people who are helping make it so difficult for opposing guards to maneuver the ball are sophomore point guard Quinn Cook and freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon. The newcomers to Duke’s starting lineup — which includes seniors Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry, Cook and Sulaimon — have been impressed with their defense.
“I think we are more athletic, especially on the perimeter,” Plumlee said. “I think Rasheed’s quickness and his length are key. I think Quinn is picking up the ball a lot better than he did last year, and his aggressiveness is great because that’s really the first thing they see coming down (the court).”
Santa Clara, looks like a team that will offer that Duke defense a serious challenge. The Broncos shoot 45.1 percent as a team on all field goal tries and have made 36.5 percent of their 3-pointers.
While Duke has allowed opponents to hit an average of 4.9 shots from 3-point range per game, Santa Clara has made 8.4 per game.
That shooting ability as Santa Clara, from the West Coast Conference, at No. 113 in the Ratings Percentage Index.
But the Blue Devils already have vanquished eight teams that are currently among the RPI’s top 100. They are confident they can stymie any foe.
“We’ve played 11 great teams,” Cook said, “and I feel like we’ve executed all the game plans that Coach (Krzyzewski) wanted.”
If Duke keeps it up, the final 20 regular-season games and the postseason will be quite enjoyable for its rabid fans.