Duke topped Miami in Cameron Saturday, but it wasn't easy, and Miami pretty clearly came ready for a fight. Fortunately, they got one.
Last year, the 'Canes were devastated by injuries, losing most of their frontcourt. This year, they're deep and big and hard to deal with, as Duke learned in the first half, when all their baskets came from behind the three point line until Kyle Singler grabbed a rebound and hit the follow with 3:45 left.
As it turned out, it didn't matter, but it really underscored Duke's reliance on the perimeter game. If they hadn't been hitting the threes, it would have been a really long half.
Miami let it be known early that it was going to be a physical game: Jack McClinton poked Greg Paulus with a sneaky elbow, then pretended it was all part of a head scratch. A few minutes after that, Paulus took a shot to the nose which left him on the ground (fortunately he was okay and continued to play after a break).
Later, DeMarcus Nelson got cut under his left eye.
It was a physical game, but not dirty. Apparently Miami coach Frank Haith learned a few things from former boss Rick Barnes, whose Clemson teams used to play a similar style, much to the irritation of former UNC coach Dean Smith, who at one point dared Barnes to hit him.
Duke had a lot of trouble with Jimmy Graham, who came off the bench for 13 points and seven boards. Fellow big man and Durham native Anthony King only scored four points but also grabbed seven boards.
Perhaps the best Miami stat, from Duke's point of view, was the dismantling of McClinton by DeMarcus Nelson. McClinton has periodically been a devastating weapon, but Nelson held him to 10 points on 5-14 shooting, and no three pointers.
The weird thing about the lack of inside scoring for Duke was the number of easy opportunities missed, whether dunks or follow-ups. Duke actually had a solid rebounding half, but for whatever reason, either from the floor or the line, the shots weren't falling.
But for the third straight game, Duke picked it up in the second half. They didn't abandon the three point shot, but they did get a lot more points off of transition defense, and those were by definition inside shots.
Duke also outrebounded the much larger Hurricanes 41-36, continuing a remarkable trend. For a team with no traditional post presence, this bunch manages to hold its own on the boards against just about anyone.
What Duke didn't do as well as they have in some games was to force turnovers: Miami only let it go 14 times, about one over their average.
Miami's physical game was revealed in the boxcore: the very rambunctious Jimmy Graham fouled out, and Dwayne Collins, Lance Hurdle, James Dews, and Raymond Hicks all finished with four. King and McClinton had three each.
For the second game in a row, Kyle Singler ended up in serious foul trouble at the end, picking up his fourth with 9:56 left to go.
So ends a rugged stretch for the Blue Devils. Duke has survived the first half of the ACC schedule, with UNC still to come, in great shape. The wins have been impressive: 22 over UVa, 13 over FSU and Clemson, 17 over Virginia Tech, nine over Maryland, 20 over State, and 15 over Miami, for an average conference victory margin of 15.5 ppg (UNC's by contrast and for what it's worth, is 14)
Duke is now 19-1, and given the youth of the team, and the lack of significant size, and the teams they've played, you have to put this down (so far) as one of Krzyzewski's better coaching jobs. If you remember back a few months to the really short-sighted ESPN article with the crumbling bust of Coach K on the cover, it's almost laughable.
There are no guarantees in basketball, of course, anymore than there are anywhere else, but what Duke's accomplished so far this season is remarkable.