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On To Monday!

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The 78-57 win over West Virginia ought to settle a few things. First, both teams were seeded correctly. Duke was unquestionably better and deserved the number one seed it got, particularly if West Virginia was the alternative. Second, it should argue against the idea that Duke had an easy path. Duke has done well in this tournament because they have played well, not because they were given anything. Third, despite Bob Huggins' smug comments in the pregame conversation with CBS about how the superiority of the Big East would prepare West Virginia for Duke, that just wasn't the case. Big East, big game, big deal.

Fourth, it also tends to argue against the idea that Duke is on the decline. This team has had one of the better tournament runs of any Duke team ever and it's not over yet.

Of course, success at Duke is measured by iconic names like Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Williams, Dunleavy and Battier. But barring disaster on Monday night, this team has in some ways outperformed the 1999 team and is not too far from the 1986 team. We think it's reasonable to argue that the 1986 team came closer to its potential than did 1999. Using that as a measuring stick, this team may have exceeded everyone except '91, '92, and 2001 -- the title teams, in other words, and you could make an argument for '78 because that team truly played to its potential as well.

The clinic they put on against West Virginia was highly impressive. Obviously, the offense was performing a very high-level: Duke shot 52.7% for the game and 52% from three-point range. That's pretty sensational. They also had 20 assists for the 29 made shots, had just five turnovers with none from the guards, outrebounded West Virginia 27 to 24 overall and 11-9 offensively. Brian Zoubek led the way again with 10, but Kyle Singler had nine as well.

As solid as the offensive performance was, the defense may have been better. Before he left the game with a knee injury, Da'Sean Butler was just 2-8 from the floor. Joe Mazzulla, who reveled in ridiculing Duke at the end of the 2008 matchup, finished with 2-5 from the floor for just four points. Devon Ebanks finished with 11, Kevin Jones with six, and Wellington Smith led his team with 12 -- but shot just 40%.

West Virginia probably didn't expect to play Duke again, and surely so no harm in talking a little smack after the last game. However, it may be a while before Huggins allows his guys to behave like that again because Duke paid them back with the most physical game they've been in all year.

Mazzulla had to leave the game in the first two minutes after getting banged by Singler. He had to replace his jersey because his old one was torn. Later, he got his bell wrung.

This was all in the first half.

Duke thoroughly outplayed West Virginia, a fact which no one can deny, but more importantly, after being ridiculed in 2008, after seeing Mazzulla slapped the floor in glee and listening to former star Joe Alexander brag about how West Virginia manhandled Duke and a six-point win, the tables were decisively turned. At the end, West Virginia players were reduced to tears with one, peering through his fingers, appearing to have trouble believing what he saw.

Duke was better, and they were so much better that it's not even in dispute. This game has some echoes of the 1978 regional final against Villanova. The Villanova coach was quoted as saying that Duke was as slow as a herd of elephants.

Bad move: Duke blew Villanova away, in a game which was as ecstatic in its way as was last year's blowout win over Maryland in Cameron.

This game wasn't as much of a joyride as either of those, but there was still a sense of settling a score. We're just guessing, but early in the week, when someone asked Mazzulla if he planned on slapping the floor again, his answer was basically that depends on how the game is going -- kind of a snide answer, a little smart alecky, and another opportunity for Duke's coaches to say to their team: look, they didn't respect you in 2008 and they don't respect you now. Are you going to put up with this?

Apparently not.

We're not even sure who single out. The Big Three could've won the game if no one else had scored, but Zoubek's contributions were huge - he's given Duke an aggressive backbone they haven't had in years -- and Thomas continues to defend wonderfully. The Plumlees played well off the bench again, despite a couple of bone-head plays by Miles, who hung on the rim, drawing both a technical and Coach K's wrath.

In our pre-game comments, we pointed out that no one has yet hit more than five treys against Duke (West Virginia hit five to match Baylor's output), and that "if they allow West Virginia to shoot freely from three point range, don’t defend the drive, miss half their free throws and allow Mazzulla to penetrate at will, they won’t win and won’t deserve to."

Duke succeeded on all points and, significantly, totally shut down West Virginia's swaggering, tough-guy personality.

The pleasure Duke fans felt was somewhat muted when Butler injured his knee: attempting to drive to the basket, he encountered the human wall known as Zoobs and they both fell down, with Zoubek drawing a charge. Butler's agony was remiscent of some terrible previous injuries, including James Worthy's awful rookie knee injury and the horrifying hit Lawrence Taylor put on Joe Theismann, so bad that it even freaked him out. You can google them if you have the stomach, but don't do it on a full stomach.

Next up of course are the remarkable Bulldogs of Butler, a team which has caught everyone's imagination. They're smart as hell, mentally tough, and they haven't lost since December 22nd. They did lose early to Minnesota, 82-73, Clemson, 70-69, Georgetown, 72-65, and UAB, 67-57.

Quick reference points: Clemson went down by 12 before coming back. They shot 57.7% and were 6-13 from three point range. Butler had 13 turnovers against their press. Hayward finished with 18/12.

Georgetown: Greg Monroe finished with 24/15, Georgetown won the rebounding war 43-30, and had 20 turnovers.

Michigan State: the Spartans have only themselves to blame as they made barely more than half of their 18 free throws. Otherwise: 16 turnovers, 4-11 from three point range, 42.9% from ten floor (Butler managed just 30.6%), and just six offensive boards. After the game, Tom Izzo said he had no idea Butler was so physical.

Obviously the first job against Butler is to hang on to the ball because they love to take it away.

We'll get more into that Sunday and Monday.

In the meantime, what a remarkable team this has turned out to be. There are no guarantees for Monday, but win or lose, this team has more than lived up to expectations, exceeded them in fact.

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