As it turns out, the Battle4Atlantis is likely to propel Duke into the Top Five, for whatever that's worth in November, replacing Louisville. And make no mistake, Louisville was a worthy opponent. Toss in Gorgui Deng and the outcome might have been different. We've always believed that backcourts are indispensable in the NCAA tournament, and Louisville's can definitely take them deep.
But Duke's is pretty good too. Even though Seth Curry is playing on a chronically sore leg, he's been key, and the younger guys, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, have been really good too and to a large extent, Duke owes the Atlantis title to Cook.
Not only did he get a key breakaway late, but he also hit a remarkable shot in the lane with :29 left and then nailed all four foul shots in the closing seconds.
Scoring the last eight points for your team against the #2 team in the country? That's big time.
Coming into the VCU game, remember, there were plenty of skeptics who figured VCU would eat Cook alive, and if not the Rams, then the Cardinals.
Those doubters have been silenced. With two remarkable performances against two highly regarded defenses, Cook will now be widely regarded as one of the best point guards in the country.
No matter how you look at it though, basketball is a team game which requires talent and cohesion and Louisville is an opponent which requires both to win.
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What's interesting to us is how well the roles have fallen into place. Tyler Thornton started a lot last year; he seems fine with his role as an off-the-bench aggressive defender and gadfly. Mason Plumlee, who Coach K said was exhausted after the VCU game (and how often do we overlook such basic things when we criticize performance?) has stepped his game up dramatically. There's no more hesitation on shots, no more second-guessing on the line. Ryan Kelly has morphed into a guy who plays outside-in, but who has also developed some nifty moves in the lane. He could always shoot under the basket, but his driving ability has improved a lot. Curry, though playing with a painful shin, is showing enormous heart and has compensated to an extent by playing smarter. He didn't have the best game against Louisville, but three games in three days is probably pushing his current limits.
And if you notice, he did hit a critical three and his foul shots: when needed, he was there.
By the way, you know when we worried in this one? When Kelly fouled out. He did such a great job inbounding in this tournament that we figured maybe Louisville could take advantage of his absence. Didn't happen though; Duke did fine on inbounds without him.
At this point, the only question we have is the bench. Josh Hairston is a happy warrior; plug him in and he's good to go. He'll do whatever he can to help. Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy have farther to go, but they're both talented players. And of course Marshall Plumlee hasn't played yet He'll help, particularly since both his brother and Kelly, who fouled out against Louisville, have each had foul trouble at different times.
But still, what more do you want at this point in the season? Duke is well ahead of expectations. They've seen Mason Plumlee turn into a truly impressive player. They've plugged in an elite point guard. And they have a freshman guard who is mature beyond his years.
The only thing we'd wish for is a fully healthy Curry, but there's nothing more to do than wish, and as Fred Goldsmith used to say, if Ifs and Buts were wishes and nuts, oh what a Christmas we'd see.
Or something along those lines anyway.
After this, after Kentucky, Duke's confidence is bound to soar. Next test is Ohio State on Wednesday. If they pass that test, well, what can you say? Things are looking pretty good at this point. Pretty good indeed.