Sunday December 20th, 2009

NEW YORK -- Three things we learned from No. 7 Duke's 76-41 blowout of No. 15 Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden:

1. Jon Scheyer is an All-America candidate ... and the new front-runner in the ACC Player of the Year race. It feels strange saying those things about the Duke senior who had, up until recently, always been thought of as a complementary player. I imagine a large number of non-Duke fans will begin drafting angry e-mails immediately after seeing "Scheyer" and "ACC Player of the Year" in the same sentence, and not even read the rest of this article. But in this case the numbers back up the argument.

Scheyer played his standard, tidy game against the Zags, scoring 20 points while dishing out eight assists against just two turnovers -- and his season assist-to-turnover ratio actually went down. He entered the game with a 6.4-to-1 ratio, third-best in the nation (according to and best amongst ACC players. His season splits are now 59 assists against 10 turnovers, decent numbers for someone who also leads the Blue Devils in scoring at 18.2 points per game, didn't start playing point guard until the latter half of his junior season, and still isn't called a point guard by his coach. "Jon's just a really smart, good player," said Mike Krzyzewski. "He doesn't have a position."

Scheyer, who came to Duke four years ago as a shooting guard, and shares the team's ball-handling duties with another capable scorer, junior Nolan Smith (who had 24 points against the Zags), doesn't mind being label-free. "Call me whatever you want," Scheyer said in the locker room, where three former Duke point guards were milling about: Chris Duhon, now of the New York Knicks, Jay Williams, now of the ESPNU studio, and Greg Paulus, most recently of the Syracuse Orange football team. Scheyer said it was nice playing in front of that trio, but added, "I'm none of those guys."

He's not Williams, a Wooden and Naismith winner. Scheyer probably won't match Duhon's NBA career, but Duhon's senior-year averages were 10.0 points and 6.1 assists, and Scheyer's are currently 18.2 and 5.9, so at the college level, he's being more effective. And Paulus ... well ... his assist-to-turnover ratios in four campaigns as a Blue Devils point guard were 1.6, 1.2, 2.0 and 1.7.

Scheyer is the steadying influence at the point that Duke had long lacked, and he has legitimate offensive skills to go with his risk-free style as a distributor. After scoring 36 points (on 11-of-13 shooting) in the previous game against Gardner-Webb, his offensive rating of 147.9 coming into Saturday was -- just like his assist-to- turnover ratio -- ranked third-best in the nation. Kentucky point guard John Wall, the current leader in the national player of the year race, has similar per-game averages to Scheyer in points and assists, but Wall's offensive rating is significantly lower, at 115.2, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is just 1.6. Scheyer is no John Wall, but of the two, the Blue Devils' senior is the more efficient floor general.

"Jon does everything for our team," said Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski. "If he's not an All-American, I'm not sure what one looks like."

2. Duke is a study in successful role-changing. A year ago at this time, Smith was a point guard, Scheyer was a shooting guard and power forward Kyle Singler and small forward Gerald Henderson were their lead offensive options. Now Scheyer is a point guard, Smith is a shooting guard who can handle the ball, and if defenses decide to key on Singler, a first-team preseason All-American who's now playing on the wing, the two guards become offensive options Nos. 1 and 2.

That's how it worked out on Saturday: Singler scored nine points (and just two in the first half) but the Blue Devils still ran away with the game.

3. The Gonzaga team that showed up at MSG is not even close to the one you'll see in March. "This was an aberration," said Bulldogs coach Mark Few of a game in which his team was atrocious, shooting 27.8 percent from the field, 47.6 percent from the line and 10.0 percent from long range. "I don't want to take anything out of it. I want to forget it as soon as possible."

Duke's defense certainly deserves some credit for what happened to the Zags on Saturday; Smith and Singler paired up to lock down senior guard Matt Bouldin, who's been their best playmaker for the past two seasons. But Bouldin also sat out the Zags' previous game against Davidson due to a head-on-head collision he suffered in their meeting with Augustana on Dec. 9. He'd been dealing with headaches and nausea, and although the issues subsided enough for him to take the court against the Blue Devils, Bouldin didn't look like himself.

With Bouldin at full strength and freshman Elias Harris -- a German import who's their most explosive and exciting player -- given a couple of more months to develop, the Zags should be a decent force in the NCAA tournament. Their main concerns should be with junior shooting guard Steven Gray and sophomore point guard Demetri Goodson. Gray is an immense talent, but was a total no-show against the Blue Devils, missing all four of his three-point attempts and fouling out. Goodson, meanwhile, seems to be less effective with the ball as a starter than he was last season as a reserve. He scored 22 points against Davidson while Bouldin was out, but had just two on Saturday, and seems to be struggling to offensively coexist with Bouldin and Gray. Like Scheyer and Smith eventually did at Duke, Goodson needs to settle into a comfortable role in the Zags' backcourt.

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