The Miami located in Ohio not Florida is the kind of mid-major that periodically flares onto the consciousness of the larger college-basketball public.
Miami has been to 17 NCAA Tournaments and advanced as far as regional semifinals in 1958, 1969, 1978 and 1999. They knocked defending NCAA champions Marquette out of the 1978 tournament, while Wally Szczerbiak became a household name when he led Miami to wins over Washington and Utah in the 1999 tournament. Miami had Kentucky on the ropes early last season but fell on a John Wall buzzer-beater. You've probably heard of Ron Harper and those of us who remember the '60s, remember Wayne Embry.
So, Miami does have some experience dancing with the big boys. Or maybe big bears is more accurate. When asked over the summer about a schedule that also includes Ohio State, Dayton and Kansas, veteran Miami coach Charlie Coles said his team would be "hunting bears with a switch."
After meeting the biggest bear in the woods, Coles wishes he had a much bigger switch. "I was glad when the game ended. My first thought was "they're beating us.' My second thought was 'they're beating us pretty good.' My third thought was 'uh, oh, are we going to set any records tonight?' "
Duke's 79-45 thumping of Miami was never in doubt. Miami did actually lead once, at 1-0 but the downhill slide began shortly afterwards.
Coles did make an interesting strategy choice. Miami essentially conceded Duke's defensive boards, rarely sending more than one man to their offensive boards. Coles said "We weren't going to get any offensive rebounds anyway. If anybody second guesses that, I'll stay here for two days and argue with you."
Mike Krzyzewski agreed, calling Coles' strategy " a good game plan."
Miami got one offensive rebound in the first half but did slow down Duke's fast break. Kyrie Irving picked up two fouls in the game's first two minutes, while Nolan Smith scored all of six points in the first half.
Thus wounded, Miami kept Duke's first-half lead to 21 points. That's what happens when your opposition won't let you rebound, shoot or handle the ball.
Several themes emerged. The first is that Duke is playing defense at a pretty high level. Coles said his team just couldn't get anything going on offense. When asked if nerves were a problem for his team, Coles came back to the bears analogy. "Nerves had everything to do with it. Are you scared of a bear? Now you understand why they were fumbling the ball."
Another theme is the depth of Duke's offensive arsenal. The Blue Devils got all of 18 combined points from Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler and never missed a beat. Duke has had some great sixth men over the years. Think David Henderson, circa 1984 and 1985, Billy McCaffrey in 1991 and Jon Scheyer in 2008. But the early returns suggest that Duke has two candidates for that distinction. Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry combined for 26 points off the bench, knocking down 5 of 9 3-pointers.
At a time when opponents are substituting lesser players, Duke is coming in with don't-miss-a-beat players like Curry and Dawkins. Dawkins' ability to guard bigger players gives Duke a versatility it lacked last season. He says that after guarding Kyle Singler in practice every day, he's not much worried about what he's going to face from other small forwards.
Witness what happened when Irving sat down with those two early fouls. Nolan Smith slid over to the point. Krzyzewski said "Nolan can handle anything." Smith scored on a drive, Singler hit a jumper, Dawkins buried a three. It was 19-6 by the mid-point of the first half.
Miami's disinclination to compete on its offensive boards gave Mason Plumlee free rein to dominate inside. The 6-11 sophomore pulled down a career-high 14 rebounds in 24 minutes. Plumlee says hitting the boards was a point of emphasis. "Getting four rebounds, like I did against Princeton, is just unacceptable. Being aggressive on the boards is just so important for us. "
Krzyzewski expects more of the same from Mason. "We needed somebody on the boards. This was a huge step forward for Mason. He has great hands, he's big, he's a good athlete, he's smart."
There's a relentless quality about this team. Nolan Smith says "We have so many guys that can play and produce, we can keep fresh guys in the game, keep going at people, keep playing defense, keep running."
The Miami dam broke in the middle of the second half. Irving stayed on the court long enough to make some highlight- reel plays, as Duke just wore down Miami. When Ryan Kelly scored on a lay-up off an inbounds play, Duke had completed a 28-3 run in less than nine minutes to go up 73-29. That's 29 points in 34 minutes for Miami.
Krzyzewski called off the dogs, giving the first minutes of the season to walk-ons Casey Peters and Todd Zafirovski and Miami hit some late buckets. But the message had been sent. Big bear in the woods. Beware.
Ryan Kelly scored seven points in his first career start, getting the nod over Miles Plumlee. Krzyzewski refused to make a big deal of it, noting that Kelly's 16 minutes were about what he would have played off the bench. "We'll try some different things. We have a bunch of possibilities and we wanted to try that one tonight."
Miles Plumlee suffered an apparent dislocated finger on his right hand late in the game. Krzyzewski says the finger was quickly put back in place and Plumlee will be fine.
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