Duke's win against Wake Forest was probably inevitable, as the Deacs, also a terribly young team, are not really cohesive enough to challenge a rugged defense. That's not to say they're not talented. They have some promising players. But somewhat like Duke when Dawkins & company were freshmen, they won't begin to approach their potential for a while yet. Duke, on the other hand, just might.It wasn't a pretty game, but there were some significant developments. First, Greg Paulus is doing exactly what Al Featherston suggested he might, which is to embarrass the folks who have been arguing he couldn't be effective.
What a lot of people don't realize about Paulus is just how hard he worked to get ready for this season. He was quoted earlier this year as saying he was inspired by J.J. Redick and how he transformed his game, and his body, and he took Redick - and his work ethic - as his role model.
Then of course he suffered from injuries and illness, and had a tough start to the season. But he's a hardnosed kid and one way or another, he's going to have a big impact on this team. He showed it again tonight, as he went 5-10 from three point range and really helped Duke build a lead. He also only had one turnover in 38 minutes, which is a big improvement.
Generally speaking, it was an off-night offensively, with Duke shooting only 44.4% from the floor, and a poor 53.3% from the line. But while they didn't shoot well, turnovers in general were down (to 14), and Gerald Henderson showed some real improvement and may be ready to step up a level. He only scored nine points, but some of them were spectacular - and assertive. And that's really good news.
Josh McRoberts had a quiet game in some respects, but he scored 11 points, grabbed eight boards and had six assists, and that's a pretty good game by most any standard. DeMarcus Nelson also had a quiet game, and Lance Thomas got in foul trouble again, which limited his time to 15 minutes. Jon Scheyer continues to impress with his feel for the game, but his shooting was off (3-9). And Dave McClure had another solid rebounding game, pulling down six boards in 23 minutes and shooting 3-3.
As we said, the offense wasn't that impressive, but the defense was the story of the game anyway. Wake's "Call me" Ishmael Smith is a blur with the basketball and much, much faster than Greg Paulus. Yet Paulus (with help from his teammates) tied the kid in knots. Smith finished the game with eight turnovers and no assists. This from a kid who has been on track to be one of the best passing freshman guards in ACC history.
Wake to a large extent was reduced to one-one basketball, and it wasn't at all effective: The Deacs only shot 33.3% from the floor and were worse than Duke from the line at a truly wretched 41.7%. Wake's odds were not good to begin with, but after Kyle Visser picked up his third foul with 3:25 left in the first half, and with their point guard out of it, that was pretty much the game. Wake did manage to cut the lead to 12 with 7:51 left in the game, but that was a last gasp. Wake Forest only hit six field goals in the second half, and only a last-second shot even got them to 40 points.
Wake fans will have to be patient this season, but as we suggested earlier, they have some reasons for optimism: David Weaver had a couple of highly athletic moves. He's still raw, but he has a lot more ability than most 6-10 players. Guards Smith, L.D. Williams, and Anthony Gurley are also guys with some real potential. Kevin Swinton, Cameron Stanley, and Jamie Skeen could also become real assets for Wake, and we've been fans of Harvey Hale because the kid works hard and always seems to give his all. And that description reminds us of freshman Chas McFarland as well. He's got a lot of catching up to do, but he's willing to bang heads with anyone.
First they're going to get knocked around for a while, unfortunately for the Deacs and their fans.
For Duke, though, things are looking up. In the last three games, their point guard has found himself (and yes we know he was better against Miami than he was at Tech, but if you watched his demeanor, you saw something special: a kid who got benched was totally focused on the game and his team and didn't spend a moment sulking or showing the slightest sign of discontent.
Their big man has an unusually well-rounded game; their leading scorer is learning to play with emotion; and their two freshmen guards are both elevating their games.
The schedule is favorable to Duke as well: after beating Wake, the Devils stake a claim to fifth place in the conference. If they can beat N.C. State this weekend, they'll be tied (at worst) for fourth. If Clemson loses to B.C. this weekend, and Duke beats State, they'll be in fourth place alone. The schedule is relatively favorable in the short term, with B.C., Virginia, and Florida State coming up. None are sure victories, but if Duke manages to win them all - and that's certainly possible - they'd be 6-2 heading into a home matchup with UNC.
There are no guarantees, of course, but Duke is in a pretty good spot. Now all they need to do is to capitalize.