The days of getting an easy game against Davidson are long gone, so it was no great surprise that Davidson and Duke battled to a 29-29 first-half tie. The second half, though, was a very different story.
Duke took over quickly, not allowing Davidson to score until the 13:53 mark and by that made it 41-31. Some teams can surmount that, but Davidson is a program based on patience. Being down 10 to a team like Duke basically means three pointers are your only way back. They are solid in every aspect of the game, but not overwhelmingly talented.
Still, as expected, they didn't make life easy for Duke.
Davidson did the best job anyone's done on Mason Plumlee this season, holding the POY candidate to 10 points and seven boards.
Kentucky couldn't do it. Minnesota couldn't. Louisville, Ohio State and Temple failed to do that.
He also had half of Duke's 12 turnovers.
They also did a solid job on Seth Curry, who, perhaps pressing a bit considering his brother's career at Davidson, that the game was in his hometown and perhaps wanting to underscore again to Davidson that they made a mistake in not recruiting him, was just 3-11 (correction: Davidson did in fact recruit him)
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On the other hand, though, Ryan Kelly had an excellent game. There were the 18 points of course and the seven rebounds, but more than that was his overall command of the game. He made some absolutely gorgeous passes, he blocked a shot and discouraged several others. He was assertive when he shot or passed or drove. And he was a major pain for Davidson from beginning to end.
Like most of the team, Quinn Cook had some trouble with Davidson's defense in the first half, but in the second, he was in control and at the end, he reminded us a bit of Phil Ford running the Four Corners.
It wasn't the Four Corners, or Ford, but the way he was cutting in and out, passing, then periodically driving really did remind us of Ford.
For those who were too young to remember it, Ford in the Four Corner offense was just about impossible to deal with.
Rasheed Sulaimon had a forgettable game offensively. He had trouble penetrating and Davidson's physicality clearly got to him.
For just the third time since he joined the team Sulaimon failed to score in double figures (the other two were Temple and Santa Clara).
The rookie was just 1-6 from the floor and 6-6 from the line. However, he did answer the call for rebounding, grabbing seven.
Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston provided most of the depth, with Thornton scoring 10, nearly matching his season high (13 against Georgia State).
Hairston provided his usual mix of defense, rebounding and physical play.
At one point during the game we found ourselves thinking that if we could pick one guy who got to stick around indefinitely, we'd be tempted to pick Thornton.
He's never going to be a dominant scorer and probably wouldn't necessarily ever be a starter.
But the kid has impact. He came in against Santa Clara and reset the game almost immediately. On one play against Davidson, he missed a fast break and the Wildcats moved the ball downcourt in a hurry. Thornton still showed up at the end of the play and nearly got his hands on the ball.
He's just wonderfully gutty and relentless. Actually, come to think of it, he'd probably be an excellent coach if he chooses to pursue basketball after Duke.
So ends the prelims; on Saturday, Wake Forest comes to Cameron. Wake has been down and they are very young, but there is some real talent in Winston-Salem now, probably more than Davidson has. You can't take anyone for granted. We've argued for a couple of years now that the ACC is in a sort of rebuilding mode and everyone is more talented, deeper, and better coached. Yes, Wake too: we'll take Jeff Bzdelik over Dino Gaudio, who recruited well but who struggled to control and direct his players.
As for Davidson: we'll be shocked if they don't make the NCAA tournament. The Southern Conference, though, has only one automatic bid, and you have to win the conference to get it. So you never know.
We could see them as a 10-14 seed. Let's just arbitrarily sub them into a couple of scenarios, using Jerry Palm's latest as our bracketology of choice.
As the #14 in the West, they'd play #3 Minnesota in the opening round. As the #13, Michigan State. And as #12, it'd be Wyoming.
In the Midwest, they'd get a rematch with Gonzaga at #14, State at #13 and Georgetown as #12 (for the purposes of this exercise we are ignoring the play-in game).
In the South, they'd get Syracuse at #14, Florida at #13 and Creighton at #12.
And in the East, #14 would get Illinois, #13 Butler, and #12 Ohio State.
Some of those opponents would be very tough, but we have no doubt that Davidson would be competitive and could beat several. They're a nightmare for an early opponent.