Duke’s not unbeatable. But they’re close.
The No. 1 Blue Devils dominated No. 4 Kansas State 82-68 Tuesday night in nearly every facet of the game. They shot well (50 percent overall and an eFG% of 61.5), got to the free-throw line 31 times, hit the boards, forced turnovers and showed poise throughout.
And it’s not like Duke was playing in the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Purple-clad fans filled the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Technically it was a neutral site game, but that’s only because the Devils’ play negated the would-be home-court edge for K-State.
For the first seven minutes or so, the Wildcats were their usual tough, aggressive selves and even held a 13-12 lead, mostly because forward Curtis Kelly couldn’t miss. But a 9-0 Duke run during the next two minutes opened a 21-13 Devils lead.
And the game was officially over.
K-State didn’t play poorly, either (for the first 35 minutes). It’s just not on Duke’s level. Then again, no team is this season.
The Wildcats hovered around 50 percent shooting for much of the game, outrebounded Duke and limited the effectiveness of Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith (though Smith did finish with 17). But Jacob Pullen’s shooting woes (K-State’s leading scorer was just 1-for-12 for the game) and too many turnovers (21, nearly twice as many as Duke) did them in. Give credit to the Duke defense, which was just as physical and as imposing as K-State’s rugged unit.
The other thing that hurt K-State? Duke’s really, really good. No matter what a team does, the Devils have an answer for everything. They have quickness, size, shooters, depth, spiffy uniforms, loads of TV coverage, blah, blah, blah. You name it, they got it.
Point guard Kyrie Irving drives to the basket and scores. Smith gets into the lane, dishes to Seth Curry or Andre Dawkins for a 3-pointer. Singler grabs a rebound, dribbles out for a 3 or a mid-range jumper. The Plumlee brothers, Mason and Miles, and Ryan Kelly roam the lane, blocking shots, grabbing rebounds and getting put-back buckets.
Opponents will have an easier time naming all 345 D-I schools.
Marquette provided a decent blueprint Monday night of how to hang with Duke – work for good shots, hit the boards and get to the free-throw line – but Tuesday was an example of what happens when Duke’s entire roster contributes.
So who can take down Duke? Michigan State gets its shot on Dec. 1, but given how poorly the Spartans fared against Kemba Walker in Tuesday’s loss, it seems unlikely they’ll slow down Irving. Butler on Dec. 4? No chance. The Bulldogs may keep it close because of their style, but they don’t have the perimeter defense. The only other non-conference foe with a reasonable shot is Temple, but that game’s in Durham.
That leaves ACC play, where Duke’s lost at least two conference games every year since 2003. Whether it’s Maryland, North Carolina, Florida State or N.C. State, an ACC team will find a way to beat Duke. It’ll take a fabulous game – particularly on defense – but it’ll happen.
I think. Right now, Duke’s as good as it gets in college hoops.
Want more? I’m also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller.