It was a very busy day Thursday and we didn't get a chance to comment further on the Ohio State game so forgive us for catching up a bit. Here are some further thoughts on the win.
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Not every Big Ten team typifies the stereotype of physical Big Ten basketball like Ohio State does, but man: that's one physical team. You know who they bring to mind?
Not on a competitive level - Clemson is not there yet. But playing Brad Brownell's team is similar. We remember watching Nolan Smith being shoved around like a pinball machine and raising his hands in frustration to the refs.
The first half was like that as Duke had a tough time adjusting to such a phsyical, talented opponent, and Duke is not a bunch of shrinking violets. Coach K has always preached toughness.
Actually, come to think of it, it brings to mind a Michigan visit with one of the funniest things we've seen in Cameron, though it came at our cost: at the end of the game, with the game on the line, the late and massive Robert Traylor drove the lane and every single defender got the hell out of the way.
You would have too; the guy was as thick as the Berlin Wall and was, in Clif Ellis's wonderful phrase, agile, hostile and mobile.
But we're pretty sure Coach K was disgusted by it.
So surely he wasn't happy that Duke was taken aback by Ohio State's toughness.
But near the end of the first half, something clicked. It reminded us of the point in Rocky (the original good one) where Rocky got mad at Apollo Creed and told him "you ain't so bad!"
And the fight changed.
At that point, in the waning minutes of the first half, Duke got mad and the game changed.
It took a while to catch up - Duke didn't actually catch up until the 6:15 mark and didn't take the lead until 5:16.
For all the (deserved talk) about how much Mason Plumlee has improved, and for the (justified) excitement over Quinn Cook's quantum leap, Ryan Kelly has gotten relatively little attention. But here's something remarkable to consider.
For a guy who is routinely described as non-athletic and who, it is regularly pointed out, is not necessarily shooting that well, Kelly is doing something we honestly never thought he would be able to do, and that's to guard smaller, more athletic forwards.
One should point out, perhaps, that he's paying a price in fouls, but nonethless, in the last four games - Minnesota, VCU, Louisville and Ohio State, Duke's faced potential mismatches. Almost no one has pointed out (other than Kelly that is) that he has certainly held his own.
The fouls are somewhat of a concern - he had four against Minnesota, three against VCU and fouled out against Louisville and Ohio State.
But he's averaging 31.1 minutes per game and in those games he played 28, 38, 31 and 29 minutes, so it's not like he's way off his average.
The other thing we saw in this game which was interesting to watch and probably infuriating for Aaron Craft, was how Tyler Thornton subtly, steadily and consistently irritated the crap out of him. We didn't see it, but at one point, our neighbor said Thornton "goosed" him. That's actually pretty funny.
Some guys are masters of the game-within-a-game. Bill Russell talked about a game where someone kept running by and smacking him when he wasn't looking. It infuriated him and he went off on the opposing team.
It wasn't until later that he realized that it was K.C. Jones who was doing it in an attempt to elevate Russell's game.
Russell himself was a master of this. He regularly bought dinner for Wilt Chamberlain before games and softened him up.
Anything to gain an edge.
We've consciously avoided making the comparison, but it's time to discuss how Duke is playing with Rasheed Sulaimon vs. when Austin Rivers had the spot.
It's important to be fair to Rivers. Plumlee wasn't playing at his current level and Cook was a spot player. Rivers was the only guy who could make his own offense and Duke depended on him to score. That's a lot to ask of any freshman, and he did as well as he could. It would've been interesting to see how he developed.
But as talented as he was, Sulaimon fits this team better than Rivers fit his.
He's really solidified the perimeter defense, although, again, Rivers didn't have a healthy Cook to help.
All that said, Sulaimon is a much, much better freshman than Rivers was, much more of a complete player. He doesn't have Rivers ability to get to the basket - who does? - but in almost every other area he's superior. You can take a quick look at Sulaimon's stats vs. Rivers' - through seven games anyway vs. Rivers' full year - and get an idea.
But what you can't see here is the impact he's had on his team, nor can you quantify his impact on the defense.
Rivers improved tremendously during his year at Duke; Sulaimon has arrived as a complete player. As you've probably read by now, Coach K challenged him at halftime to step up and he did, scoring all 17 points in that half.
Finally, although he's had a tough stretch, Seth Curry has given his all to this team. His leg is making it hard on him and the Atlantis tournament wasn't easy for him, but at the same time, he's clearly elevated his game. Despite his lingering issue, or possibly because of it, he's become a much more sophisticated player. We hope that he's able to rest a good bit during December.