e Final Four
the chronicle | 11
primed for NCAA title run
Duke in the Final Four
Now preparing to face West Virginia for the first time since that 2008 loss, the Blue Devils say the Mountaineers’ comments don’t matter. A team playing in the Final Four, after all, does not need extra motivation. “You ignore that, and you just really go out there and play basketball,” Nolan Smith said this week. “The thing you think about from that game is that they played tougher than us. They did a lot of tougher things than us on that night. And as players that played in that game, that’s all we’re going to remember, is that they wanted it and played harder than us.”
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This year’s Blue Devils, though, bear little resemblence to the 2008 edition.
Alexander that mericans on its ord: “Who?”
It was Alexander, in fact, who led the postgame assault on ke. The forward, who scored 22 points and played almost entire contest, took several shots at the Blue Devils. “We don’t care that they’re Duke,” he said. “That doesn’t an anything to us. People look at West Virginia like we’re mid-major school playing all these big schools and upsetg them. That’s not the case at all.” “We knew that coming in—that they were just going to nd around and not rebound,” Alexander also said. “So we e ready to exploit that.” And Alexander, like Thoroughman, was unimpressed h the Blue Devils’ bevy of McDonald’s All-Americans. A orter told him Duke had eight such players on its roster. His retort was a single word: “Who?”
A different team The Blue Devils’ stance on West Virginia’s postgame reactions is understandable. Many of the 2008 Mountaineers, such as Alexander, have left the program. A few, like Thoroughman, remain. Others, such as senior Da’Sean Butler, have stepped into larger roles. Duke, meanwhile, has undergone an evolution of its own. Greg Paulus and Gerald Henderson, two of the three Blue Devils who scored double-digit points that day, are gone. So are DeMarcus Nelson, David McClure and Taylor King. With them goes the old Duke: the Duke that got outrebounded 47-27, the Duke that missed 15 consecutive 3-pointers, the Duke that had no chance of overcoming that kind of cold shooting. In its place stands a taller Blue Devil team, with Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Miles and Mason Plumlee comprising one of the most effective frontcourts in the country. They have helped Duke become one of the nation’s leaders in offensive rebounding. The Mountaineers dominated the 2008 Blue Devils on the boards. West Virginia remains a great rebounding team—it is second nationally in offensive rebounding percentage—but an advantage on the glass similar to two years ago would be shocking. “That’s our plus this year,” Smith said. “We know that our defensive rebounding is going to be there. We’re not worried about that. That’s how they hurt us [in 2008], [so] it gives us a lot of confidence.” Duke’s prowess on the offensive glass has been a big reason why it has not been victimized by poor perimeter shooting this season. Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler struggle with their shot at times, but the forwards corral their misses and kick the ball back out to them for extra scoring opportunities. Two years ago, those second and third chances were “the story of the game,” Krzyzewski said—for West Virginia. The Mountaineers had 19 offensive rebounds to the Blue Devils’ seven. The contrast couldn’t have been greater: While Duke clanged individual attempts off the rim, West Virginia gathered its misses and converted. Now, the Blue Devils have an answer for the Mountaineers. “When we have bad shooting nights, we definitely have won games with our rebounding and our toughness,” Zoubek said. “I think that is the difference this year, that when we do have bad shooting nights and stuff isn’t going well for us, the simple things—they might not be simple—but rebounding, offensive rebounding, See west virginia on page 19
• 1963: National semifianlist • 1964: Lost to UCLA in national title game • 1966: National semifinalist • 1978: Lost to Kentucky in national title game • 1986: Lost to Louisville in national title game • 1988: National semifinalist • 1989: National semifinalist • 1990: Lost to UNLV in national title game • 1991: Defeated UNLV for first national title • 1992: Defeated Michigan for second national title • 1994: Lost to Arkansas in national title game • 1999: Lost to UConn in national title game • 2001: Defeated Arizona for third national title • 2004: National semifinalist
e’s route to the South Regional championship and to the Final Four in Indianapolis
DUKE 70 - PUR 57
DUKE 78 - BAY 71
The Boilermakers, missing their leading scorer due to injury, were expected to bow out early, but provide Duke with a tough test in the Sweet 16. Purdue stays right with the Blue Devils until late in the game, when Kyle Singler’s outside shot and quality freethrow shooting put the gloss on the scoreline.
The Blue Devils survive an 0-for-10 shooting effort from Kyle Singler largely thanks to a career performance from guard Nolan Smith. Smith scores 29 points, including a clutch 3-pointer off of his own missed free throw, to lead Duke over a game Baylor squad and into its first Final Four since 2004.
Duke in the Final Four
12 | FRIDAY, APRIL 2, 2010
Substitute brothers energize Duke by Scott Rich THE CHRONICLE
michael naclerio/The Chronicle
Sophomore Miles Plumlee isn’t Duke’s top scorer, but his hustle and energy have made him an integral member of the Blue Devil front line.
Mason Plumlee doesn’t try to hide the fact that he enjoys dunking. A lot. You can see the gleam in his eyes when he spots an open lane and the exhilaration on his face while he flies through the air. You can hear the primal scream that erupts after his successful return to earth and the instinctive outpouring of energy and emotion it encompasses. But he also realizes that the boost a highlight-reel dunk gives his team is not necessarily unique; in fact, there are many other less glamorous, but equally paramount, ways he can energize the Blue Devils off the bench. “Big plays like that [create energy], but [head coach Mike Krzyzewski] always talks about coming off the bench with energy, even if it’s just talking on defense,” Plumlee said. “I mean, obviously everybody wants to make a play
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like that, and I think [I] have the ability to do that, so when we do, it’s great and it gives our team a lift. But there’s other ways—if you get a loose ball, that’s huge.” And if Duke is to be successful in Indianapolis this weekend, that energy off the bench, both from Mason and his older brother Miles, could be critical. It has admittedly taken some time for the Plumlees to adjust to their new roles as sparkplugs off the bench, especially when they both expected to be in the starting lineup as the season opened. But an early wrist injury derailed the start of Mason’s career, and the emergence of Brian Zoubek late in the season sent Miles to the bench, as well. “It was a struggle for me at first to find my role,” Mason said. “But now that I know where I am, I just have to make sure that when I come off the bench, I bring energy.” Indeed, energy has come to epitomize the play of both Mason and Miles just as it does their senior mentors in Zoubek and Lance Thomas. While neither Plumlee is defined by his scoring ability, thanks to the proficiency of Duke’s “Big Three,” the pair has proven to be consistent both on the glass and on the defensive end. Combined, they averaged more than eight rebounds a game on the season, while each accounts for nearly a block a game. But as the calendar turned to March, the Plumlees’ production truly began to match their effort and intangibles. In Duke’s second-round matchup against California, for example, it was Miles’s acrobatic reverse alley-oop that spurred a decisive Blue Devil run. What’s more, in a bruising contest against a tall Baylor front line, the Plumlees combined for six points and 12 rebounds in just 35 minutes of action. It is the ability to bring two athletic, 6-foot-10 forwards like Miles and Mason off the bench that differentiates Duke from any other team in the Final Four. But beyond their individual production, having the Plumlees as a safety net minimizes the pressure on Zoubek and Thomas. “What they’ve done has really been great, being able to come in for me and Lance and not have a drop off and provide a little bit of a different look,” Zoubek said. “It allows me and Lance to play all-out and not pace.” That different look also creates nightmares for opposing coaches, who must prepare not only for a bruising, more traditional center in Zoubek, but also for the hyper-athletic Plumlees. “You just got to play hard when you come in, just have an edge, bring energy,” Mason said. In short, both Miles and Mason accentuate what makes this Blue Devil team different than previous incarnations— depth down low and a plethora of rebounders. But more than anything, it is their ability to reenergize the team off the bench—either with a rim-rocking putback dunk or simply a solid screen—that makes the Plumlees so crucial to Duke’s title hopes.
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Freshman Mason Plumlee’s wrist injury early in the year set back his progress, but his dunking ability still sets him apart from Duke’s other bigs.
Duke in the Final Four
FRIDAY, APRIL 2, 2010 | 13
zoubek and thomas
Senior big men peaking at perfect time by Felicia Tan THE CHRONICLE
They’re the Other Two. Last Sunday, facing a formidable Baylor frontcourt in the Elite 8, those Other Two made two of the biggest plays of the game with the clock ticking steadily toward zero. Brian Zoubek drew a charge on the Bears’ Quincy Acy, allowing the Blue Devils to go on a 15-3 run and take the lead for good. Three minutes later, Lance Thomas followed a Kyle Singler 3-point attempt, finishing with a tipdunk-and-one that gave Duke an even larger cushion in the contest. Jon Scheyer stopped just short of calling it the biggest play of the game.
And now, Thomas and Zoubek have the Final Four they came for. Much has been made of the Blue Devils’ five-year absence from the Final Four. Fair or not, when measured by the Duke standards of the last couple decades, those five years seem like a bona fide drought. With their crucial play in the final minutes against Baylor, though, the two seniors secured the Blue Devils a trip to Indianapolis, and the national championship now hangs in the balance for Duke. “We feel great about what we’ve done so far, but as I’ve said many a time, we don’t want it to end,” Zoubek said Tuesday, a little more than 24 hours before taking off for
Indiana. “Winning against West Virginia and having a chance to play for a national championship—that’s what you dream of as a basketball player your entire life.” Thomas and Zoubek are often overshadowed by the “Big Three,” the trio of Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith who snag the lion’s share of Duke’s points. The two big men have faced more than their fair share of adversity and animosity during their Duke careers after coming out of high school as highly rated prospects. And both have truly found their place on this year’s Blue Devil squad. While setting screens, playing solid defense and rebounding will never garner
quite the attention that alley-oops and back-breaking 3-pointers do, Duke simply would not be where it is, playing for a berth in the NCAA championship game, without those very contributions from a certain two seniors. “I think people [on this team] have grown into knowing the value of their roles,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Like, for Brian, he knows even if he scores four points, it could be because of him that we win the game. Lance, the same way.” Much of their contribution in the NCAA Tournament has come in the form See zoubek/thomas on page 17
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Duke in the Final Four
14 | FRIDAY, APRIL 2, 2010
michigan state from page 5 They allowed a fierce Terrapin comeback in the final minutes but won the game on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Korie Lucious, Lucas’s replacement. Two wins later, after victories over Northern Iowa and Tennessee, they’re back in the Final Four for the sixth time in the past 12 years. “[The injury] part of it has been a little more unnerving than some Final Four runs,” Izzo said. “It’s made it more satisfying, too. I think it’s what I look at now and say, ‘Wow, you know, our guys really did do what you asked them to do.’ They’ve handled some adversity, and they’ve sucked it up and toughed it out. And we’re heading to Indy, and that’s awesome.” Michigan State did it by patching together a point guard rotation consisting of Lucious, former walk-on Mike Kebler and even 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward Draymond Green. It hasn’t been easy—the Spartans’ four wins have come by an aggregate total of 13 points—but so far, Michigan State has been able to get enough production from the point guard position to keep on winning.
“We’ve had good success during the years, and I think we’ve just been fortunate in these Final Fours,” Izzo said. “You’ve got to be good and you’ve got to be lucky, and we’ve been a little bit of both.” That has certainly been true in this year’s Tournament. As well as the Spartans have played, they have also caught a few breaks. A last-minute lane violation helped seal their first-round win over New Mexico State. Perhaps more importantly, they did not have to play any of the top three teams in the Midwest Region: No. 9 Northern Iowa knocked off top seed Kansas in the second round, No. 6 Tennessee defeated No. 2 Ohio State in the Elite 8 and No. 3 Georgetown lost to 14-seed Ohio in the first round. But Michigan State will take it, and now the Spartans are off to Indianapolis, where they are a perfect 7-0 in NCAA Tournament play. They will face a Butler team that should have a decided home court advantage, but after everything the Spartans have endured this season, don’t expect them to be fazed. “We’re going to stick together,” Green said. “We still
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have a goal. We still are playing for ourselves, the program, but we’re still playing for Kalin Lucas as well. He carried us through a game and a half, and he carried us when we he was in there, when he went down. So we know we have to keep carrying him.” So far, the Spartans have found a way to carry Lucas to Indianapolis, where he will watch from the bench as his teammates compete in their second consecutive Final Four. Last year’s run, with Detroit as the host city, was heartwarming. This season’s is improbable. “I appreciate each one,” Izzo said of his many trips to the Final Four. “Sometimes things come—like the year after we went to the first one, it seemed like we should’ve got back to the next one, and we did. And then there’s years like 2005 or maybe this year, where you say, ‘Where did it come from?’” If the past 12 years have taught college basketball fans anything, it’s that they should never react that way to a Final Four that includes Michigan State. And they shouldn’t be shocked if somehow, some way, Izzo and Co. manage to cut down the nets in Indy.
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Duke in the Final Four
zone defense from page 8
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face a zone defense for the bulk of the game. “They have such length when Devin Ebanks or Da’Sean Butler are at the top of that 1-3-1,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. Indeed, the focus of the West Virginia zone will be to put pressure on the ball above the key using the athleticism of Butler, Ebanks and Joe Mazzulla. The Mountaineers hope to force turnovers and keep Duke away from the paint, where West Virginia only has one body in the low post. As with the game against Baylor, the Blue Devils’ backcourt will have to deal with intense defense as soon as it steps over the halfcourt line. “You really need to watch out for those two wings because they come up really high,” Jon Scheyer said. Fortunately for Duke, several elements of the team’s success this year, namely solid guard play and offensive rebounding, are effective weapons against the zone. Scheyer is one of the best in the nation in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio, and Nolan Smith has proven himself to be a solid secondary ballhandler. As for the frontcourt, Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Miles and Mason Plumlee not only make Duke the biggest team remaining in the Tournament, but also gives it a significant advantage when it comes to grabbing missed shots. The foursome grabbed 18 offensive rebounds against Baylor, and a similar domination of the glass is crucial for success against West Virginia, especially if the shots aren’t falling. But with any luck, the Mountaineer zone won’t be enough to kick the Blue Devils out of Indy.
Durham in 10 years. Duke blew leads against N.C. State and Virginia Commonwealth in the postseason that year, with both games coming down to the final few possessions. The players never blamed those losses on bad luck at the time, but Tuesday, with just one weekend left in his college career, Scheyer acknowledged the hardships from his first year. “We had four or five games where we lost in overtime or at the end of the game where we caught some bad breaks,” he said. “Beating Duke is a big thing—that’s something you know coming to Duke, but I still had to face that freshman year.” The talent was certainly there sophomore year to be good—new arrivals Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith added an offensive burst, and the Class of 2010 had nowhere to go but up. But the busts continued in disappointing fashion—in March, a rumored team-wide flu seemed to sap Duke’s energy. Only a miracle coastto-coast layup by Henderson kept the Blue Devils from being embarrassed by Belmont in the NCAA Tournament’s first round, but that merely staved off the inevitable when West Virginia stomped them in the second half by roughhousing Duke at every opportunity. Then came junior year, and while the Blue Devils finally seemed to create their own luck with their win against Texas, they didn’t know how to sustain it and bowed out rather unceremoniously against Villanova. Tel: (919) 490-0229
FRIDAY, APRIL 2, 2010 | 15
But now, Scheyer, Zoubek and Thomas know how to make victories happen on a consistent basis. In previous years, there’s no way this team could break away from a dogged Purdue squad after being knotted up for basically the entire contest. Before this season, there’s no way this team could withstand Baylor’s athleticism and crash the boards as effectively as they did Sunday. But now, Scheyer always believes he’s going to win, and backs it up with 3-point daggers and a refusal to make mistakes. Zoubek believes it by setting brutal screens on perimeter defenders and drawing critical charges. Thomas believes it by getting position on guys several inches taller and much more athletic to get rebounds an average player his size wouldn’t come close to. “I’m stronger… for going through those experiences I had as a freshman and a sophomore,” Scheyer said. “Baylor made some runs at us, but I was confident the whole way. I had doubts freshman year, but I’ve been through a lot of games, and just being through it helps you more than anything.” The result is that the seniors have a chance to exorcise one last demon—a rugged West Virginia foe that dealt them arguably the most physically exhausting and overpowering defeat of their careers. “Everybody doubting us in my younger years—all that’s in our heads right now,” Zoubek said. “While we believe we don’t have to make up for anything, we want to show everyone how good we are.” And now, Scheyer, Zoubek and Thomas have shown how wrong their classmates were for thinking a Final Four opportunity had passed them by.
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Before rejoining the program as an assistant coach, Nate James (left) started 29 games for the Blue Devils’ national championship team in 2001.
duke 2001 from page 6 “No one really gave us a chance,” Battier said at the time. As a No. 1 seed for the fourth consecutive season, Duke swept through the East Regional and into the Final Four on the identical Greensboro-to-Philadelphia-to-Minneapolis itinerary as the 1992 championship team. Boozer returned to the team in a reserve role in the regional semifinals. Still, the Final Four presented a new set of challenges, beginning with the fourth installment of the heated rivalry that season with Maryland. The Terrapins had not only won in Cameron Indoor Stadium two years in a row, but had also held doubledigit leads in their two losses to Duke that season. After 13 minutes, Maryland led by 22 points, 3917. On press row, the murmurs were audible. On the floor, Krzyzewski tried to loosen up his players. “You’re losing by so much, you can’t play any worse,” he told them during a timeout. “So what are you worried about—that we’re going to lose by 40?” At halftime, Duke still trailed by 11, and no team had overcome a halftime deficit that large in an NCAA Tournament semifinal game. Then, after the Blue Devils had finally edged in front late in the game, Duhon lunged for a steal, collided with Maryland’s point guard and landed flat on his back and head. While Duhon was laid out for several minutes with his second concussion in a month, Battier told his teammates, “The time is now.” The 95-84 win that night was one of the most dramatic comebacks in Final Four history. Two nights later, Duke was the national champion. Battier went on to be picked sixth in that year’s NBA Draft, and Williams and Dunleavy followed as the second and third picks one year later. That national championship was not won with talent alone, though. As Krzyzewski told the assembled press corps after winning his third national title, his team did it with heart and with courage, game after game, giving all of us at Duke a true team for all seasons.
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