Jabari Parker (AP) and Rodney Hood (GoDuke.com)

Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker make for a new-look Duke offense in romp over Davidson

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In what has become a nice non-conference game between these two North Carolina schools since the Stephen Curry days at Davidson, Duke had little problem with the Wildcats in the season opener for both teams winning 111-77.

The Duke offense was clicking on all cylinders, and seemingly everything they threw up found the bottom of the net. The hot shooting and 100+ points aside though, make no mistake about it, Duke has a new look this season.

Last year it was the brute physicality of Mason Plumlee in the paint and the shooting prowess of Seth Curry on the outside. The 2012-13 Blue Devils were one of the most efficient and top offensive teams in the country, but they operated primarily in the half-court.

With Rodney Hood eligible after sitting out last season after transferring from Mississippi State and the addition of freshman phenom Jabari Parker, Duke will have no reservations of getting out in the open floor and running. Hood and Parker both stand at 6-foot-8, but move like nimble guards.

Coach K always has one of the top offensive teams in the country, but it has been some time since he’s had a squad that can get up and down the floor like this. One can point to guards like Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers on recent Duke teams who were some of the quickest in the country, but what makes the 2013-14 Blue Devil team move are their forwards. The guards will always be quick, but the forwards on recent Duke teams have forced the pace of play to slow, especially last year with Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly — both very talented players, but not the most fleet of foot guys.

ESPN color commentator Doris Burke, who called the Duke vs. Davidson game tonight, made a very astute observation when she stated that both Hood and Parker were “positionless.” The two have the ability to play in the paint comfortably, but can also step outside on the perimeter — total nightmare for opposing defenses. Their handle and shooting is as good as most shooting guards.

While Hood and Parker were no doubt the focal points of the night, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon combined for 41 points on 13-18 shooting. In fact, as a team, Duke shot a blistering 70.4% from the field (38-54).

A shooting performance like that is an aberration and won’t continue — Davidson is hardly a defense-first team, which was the case even last year when they nearly upset Marquette in the NCAA Tournament — but we saw a glimpse of what Hood and Parker will do for the offense. Scoring points in transition will become much more commonplace this season, and ample scoring opportunities will be made available for a guy like Amile Jefferson, along with the preceding two players (Quinn and Sulaimon).

Duke’s next game comes against Andrew Wiggins and Kansas next Tuesday in Chicago. We’ll find out much more in this game just how different and fast-paced Duke’s offense is this season.

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Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.