Duke defeated Tennessee 77-67 in Maui Monday night, to be sure, but as we suspected, the Vols are a very different team under Cuonzo Martin.
Under Bruce Pearl, the Vols were running and gunning at every opportunity. It was entertaining (until things fell apart), but it wasn't a consistent formula.
Martin, who learned his craft from Purdue's former coach Gene Keady, has kept his mentor's defensive intensity and wisely adapted a more dynamic offense. As a result, Tennessee has, very quickly, become a more formidable program.
But though they basically kept up until the last 1o minutes or so, they weren't up to beating Duke.
Ultimately, Duke was deeper, bigger and better defensively than Tennessee.Â The Vols had trouble containing Duke's big men.Â Ryan Kelly and both Mason and Miles Plumlee all had spectacular plays on both ends.
Kelly ended up with 17 points and six rebounds, Mason finished with eight points and 13 boards, while Miles collected five points and six rebounds.
The Plumlee Daily Double: 13 points and 19 boards.Â Add Kelly to that and Duke's big men put up some nice numbers: 30 points and 19 rebounds.
But the backcourt also had a solid night.Â Andre Dawkins, who previously had distinguished himself purely as a shooter, is becoming more and more of a well-rounded player.Â His defense and his overall court awareness has really improved.Â He still has a deadly three point shot, but now he can score from midrange or drive.Â He's had games where he'll rip off three or four threes in a row; now he can still do that, but his value is greatly increased.
Seth Curry at this point is a known commodity, and his greatest accomplishment may be simply carving out his own identity. His brother Stephen is a brilliant basketball player, but Seth is forming his own identity.Â You hear less and less about Stephen when Seth is brought up. He's still getting better, and fast.
And then there's Austin Rivers.
Rivers has been criticized more than most freshmen. Partly this is because he was hyped as an extraordinary talent (fair), and partly because people tend to compare him to Kyrie Irving (unfair).
Where Irving came in with an unbelievably mature game, Rivers still has some adjustments to make to the college game.Â He has occasionally tried to drive too deep and to force plays, and the coaching staff has yanked him at times for not playing defense aggressively enough.
Some of the criticism is fair, but some of it is not. He's 18 and adapting to a new level and just finished his fifth game in college. And his game is expanding.
Against Tennessee, he tried a few times early to force shots, but in the time-worn cliche, he began to let the game come to him.Â We saw his mid-range game on several forays and his back-to-back threes in the second half were a serious blow to Tennessee.
Although on one occasion he didn't really get back on defense (and left rather quickly for a few minutes), for the most part he played as hard on that end as he did offensively.
In short, Rivers is coming on and improving rapidly. With several solid three point shooters on the roster (himself included), and three big men, developing a keener sense of discretion is going to open up a lot of possibilities for Rivers.
Speaking of three point shooting, Duke shut UT out of that part of the game for the first time in many years.
And by the way, through five games, Duke is shooting 46.4% from three point range.Â Curry is shooting a superb 58.8%, Kelly 44.4%, Dawkins 42.9%, Thornton is shooting 40% and Rivers 30%, though we expect that will rise as his discretion improves.
Also worth mentioning: to date, Mason Plumlee is shooting at a 64.5% clip, Kelly clocks in at 58.3% and Miles Plumlee at 52.6%.
We have a lot of respect for Tennessee and how far they've come in a very short period with some exceptional challenges (losing most of their starters and their coach chief among them).Â However, Michigan Tuesday night is a very different kettle of fish.
Under John Beilein, the Wolverines have developed a really nice balance between the outside game and the inside cut.Â You can generally limit one but not both, at least not very easily. Michigan, as much as any college team, uses the three pointer like a European team: they match you three for two, especially at crucial, pressure-filled points in the game.
Duke has seen this several times in the past, most recently in last year's tourney, when they were very fortunate to escape Beilein's trap.
This year, some of the same actors return for an encore - Tim Hardaway, Jr.(6-5), Evan Smotrycz (6-9), Jordan Morgan (6-8) and Stu Douglas (6-3), and a promising new point guard in Trey Burke (6-1), who Beilein values highly as a passer.
Needless to say Duke will test him. Coach K said in his presser that he hasn't watched any Michigan footage at all, but he knows the system and the returnees.Â If they can rattle Burke, the job will be easier. Don't be surprised if Tyler Thornton turns out to beÂ key player in this game.
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