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November 24, 2010, 11:41 AM ET
Duke’s hot even though Singler’s cold

by John Gasaway

I’m a little surprised by the degree and intensity of Duke awe I’m seeing from my fellow pundits in the aftermath of the Blue Devils’ 82-68 win last night over Kansas State at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. I’ll agree, of course, that Mike Krzyzewski’s team is a legit No. 1 in the nation right now. Still, this is the same team that beat unranked Marquette by all of five points night before last. I guess what I mean by a “legit No. 1″ is that Duke looks better than anyone else in a year where no one looks much like Kansas 2008 or North Carolina 2009. Yet.

To me the most impressive thing about the Devils this season is that they’ve done what they’ve done without much in the way of efficient production from Kyle Singler. In theory that should matter, because this offense clearly revolves around Singler and fellow senior Nolan Smith.

Two stars on the No. 1 team  
Duke shot percentages, through games of November 23

               %Shots
Nolan Smith      26.8
Kyle Singler     25.3
Kyrie Irving     21.0
Mason Plumlee    21.0

In five games Singler’s made just 47 percent of his twos and 29 percent of his threes. (There were two AP preseason All-Americans in action in KC, Singler and K-State’s Jacob Pullen, and neither made the all-tournament team. Pullen went 1-for-12 from the field against Duke.) Good thing for Coach K that pretty much everyone else on his roster has exhibited varying degrees of hot shooting, from “moderately” (Smith’s made 61 percent of his twos while struggling outside the arc) to “insanely” (looking at you, Andre Dawkins).  

As for freshman sensation Kyrie Irving, he gives every appearance of being the real deal at the point guard position. Perhaps most ominous for future ACC opponents is the fact that he’s already getting to the line at will and knocking down those freebies at a 91 percent rate. (The college game has no NBA-like breaking-in period where newbies don’t get foul calls. I like that.) He’s also taking care of the ball and dishing 13 assists for every 100 possessions he plays for a fast-paced team. And, unlike some other point guard sensations we’ve seen come and go quickly, Irving looks like he’ll be able to make threes (42 percent so far). In a few short weeks I’ll be unveiling my third annual Basketball Prospectus Top 25 Freshmen list and the competition for the coveted No. 1 spot is already shaping up as a really interesting race.

The Blue Devils arrived in Kansas City having forced three overmatched opponents (Princeton, Miami OH, and Colgate) to commit turnovers on an incredible 30 percent of their possessions. That number came down to earth (Marquette and Kansas State combined gave the ball away on 23 percent of their trips) but Duke’s perimeter D still looks like it’s going to be very good. Over the course of 153 possessions played against major-conference opponents at the Sprint Center, Coach K’s men held the other team to 7-of-37 shooting on their threes. I may not be in awe of Duke but this is a really good team, one that can be even better if Singler starts being Singler. 

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