So Far, So Good For Duke

Through eight games the Blue Devils have passed every test presented by one of, if not the toughest slate of opponents in the country.

The Blue Devils have picked up where they left off after winning the 2010 national championship. The top-ranked team at the start of this season has been strong from the beginning.

That should be of little surprise considering that seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are on board along with highly touted freshman guard Kyrie Irving, who coach Mike Krzyzewski heaped heavy praise on even before the season began.

The Blue Devils want to be more fast-paced than they were last season and that appears to be panning out across the first few games. There are so many offensive weapons that the Blue Devils intend to use them all.

"We're not looking to be good," Irving said. "We're looking to be great. It's not going to come right away."

But Duke is off to a good start in that regard. Krzyzewski, though, has cautioned that this team won't be perfect and he wants to take care of the details necessary for the Blue Devils to progress.

"We need to develop like our team last year developed," Krzyzewski said. "We need to give them a chance to grow in a system."

Two games into the season, six Duke players had already produced a double-figure scoring outing and two other players hit the nine-point mark in the third game.

"I think that more possessions in a game will help our group," Krzyzewski said. "We're going to try to play more up-tempo. (This team) has more ways of scoring."

The Blue Devils went 6-0 in November, using an array of combinations on the court along the way. But when it comes down to crucial situations, expect Smith and Singler, who's a preseason All-American, to be at the core of what the team does. Krzyzewski said it will be rare when those players are off the court as he's comfortable with the experience the duo possesses.

-- Coach Mike Krzyzewski reached another milestone when he hit the 800-win mark at Duke with the team's fifth victory this season. He's the fifth coach in NCAA history to post 800 wins at the same school. As 2010 winds down, it has been a special year for Krzyzewski, who directed Duke to the national title and guided the U.S. national team to winning gold in the World Championships.

-- The Blue Devils have won 28 consecutive games in November. Their last loss in the opening month came in the 2006 CBE Classic in a setback against Marquette. The teams matched up again this year in the same event and Duke won. In 31 seasons under coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils have lost only 10 games in November.

KEEP AN EYE ON: F Mason Plumlee might be ready to emerge as a top-notch player. A wrist injury last fall stunted his development as a freshman when he missed the start of the season and then was mostly a reserve the rest of the way after being pegged as a starter in the preseason. But this season he began it on time and he looks more than ready to bolster his contributions as a sophomore.

STRENGTHS: The backcourt is loaded with freshman guard Kyrie Irving fitting in right away, joining senior Nolan Smith. And with senior Kyle Singler playing on the perimeter as well, the Blue Devils have all sorts of scoring options among primary ball handlers. They've also added depth on the outside, with sophomore Andre Dawkins and transfer Seth Curry, also a sophomore, more than ready to launch an outside shooting attack. Curry, the younger brother of NBA player Stephen Curry, was the country's leading freshman scorer two seasons ago at Liberty.

WEAKNESSES: The Blue Devils need to concentrate on rebounding at times because they're certainly anxious to head in the offensive direction on fast breaks. There's enough size that this shouldn't be an issue, but they were outrebounded 31-29 in the opener against Princeton. Coach Mike Krzyzewski was quick to emphasis the rebounding in one game, making a substitution immediately upon seeing a rebound bounce off the floor before the ball was grabbed.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We take pride in our defense. We love to play defense. It's going to be scary when we really get it together and get our chemistry and talk to where it needs to be." -- G Nolan Smith on the Blue Devils' commitment to defense, which is expected to include more full-court pressing than a year ago when the team concentrated more on half-court defensive alignments.


RECRUITING RETURNS: The Blue Devils didn't miss a beat with the early crop of signees who'll arrive in 2011. They signed four players, perhaps most notable being Austin Rivers, who's the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Rivers is a guard out of Winter Park, Fla., ranked No. 1 in the class by some recruiting services.

Duke filled most of its recruiting needs, with the addition of Rivers considered critical in case current freshman Kyrie Irving ends up being a one-year college player.

Duke's recruiting haul also includes Quinn Cook, Michael Gbinije and Marshall Plumlee.

Cook is a high-scoring player, averaging 20 points per game as a junior at DeMatha High School in Maryland.

Plumlee's older brothers are Miles Plumlee and Mason Plumlee, both already members of the Duke team. Marshall Plumlee is another inside player as he stands 7-foot and when he joins the Blue Devils the three brothers will be on the team at the same time.

-- G Kyrie Irving was a starter in his first college game and he made an impact right away. His nine assists against Princeton in the opener were the most for a freshman in his first game in school history. The total also tied for the fourth-highest for any Duke player in a season opener.

-- F Kyle Singler's homecoming game was a huge success when he scored 30 points against Oregon as the Blue Devils won a game at Portland, Ore. The site was about 275 miles from his hometown of Medford, Ore., but it had lots of family flavor. His younger brother, E.J. Singler, plays for Oregon. Singler followed last season's homecoming success for then-senior Jon Scheyer, who produced a huge game in Chicago against Iowa State.

-- F Ryan Kelly ended up in the starting lineup by the second game of the season, replacing C Miles Plumlee in that role. Kelly has packed on considerable weight this season and so he's apt to find more playing time in the post. His natural position is that of the so-called 3-spot (or small forward), but that's the position that's generally occupied by F Kyle Singler, so it was best for Kelly to be given other responsibilities.

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