Thursday January 13th, 2011

Five thoughts on Florida State's 66-61 upset of No. 1 Duke on Wednesday night, which was the Blue Devils' first loss since March 3, 2010 ...

1. Coach K wasn't surprised. We've all seen postgame news conferences in which the coach of a dethroned-from-No. 1, no-longer-undefeated team appears devastated. Mike Krzyzewski was the opposite of devastated when he took the podium after Wednesday's loss. He smiled as he answered questions. When a reporter's iPhone -- doubling as a digital recorder -- began vibrating and interrupting some effusive praise of Seminoles forward Chris Singleton, who scored 18 points and hit clutch free-throws down the stretch, Krzyzewski refrained from pulling a Mike Sherman. The Duke coach merely picked up the phone, read its screen, and announced that there was a message from "coach" to meet at Jake's, a Tallahassee tavern. "I told him not to call me on someone else's phone," Krzyzewski joked. This was not the behavior of someone who expected the Blue Devils to run the table in the regular season. Kryzewski seemed at peace with his team losing in its 16th game of 2010-11, and spoke of it as an educational experience. "We have not been in a game like that all year," he said. "They knocked us back."

Duke was capable of going undefeated when it had freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who looked like a first-team All-America before suffering a turf-toe injury against Butler on Dec. 4. There's been plenty of chatter, in the past few weeks, about the Blue Devils looking beatable, and apparently no one was more aware of their vulnerability than Krzyzewski. "I've said all along that we're not a great team since Kyrie's injury," he said, "but we've got a chance to be a good team, and we have to learn what this team can do."

2. Duke is still going to win the ACC. And the Blue Devils will do it handily, but they do have some issues. In a Jan. 4 article for Basketball Prospectus, Drew Cannon made the Devils-are-beatable case by pointing out that in their ACC-opening win over Miami, they'd been dominated when the Hurricanes' giant power forward, Reggie Johnson, was on the floor. Foul trouble kept him from impacting the final result, but it was evident, Cannon wrote, "that if Duke runs into a team with a true big man and a supporting cast that can simply hold its own in the backcourt, it could lose even when playing well."

On Wednesday, Florida State's trio of oversized forwards -- the 6-foot-9 Singleton, who's regarded as the college game's most versatile defender; 6-10 Bernard James and 6-8 Terrence Shannon -- dominated the interior. They made the Plumlee brothers invisible on offense; Miles was 0-for-1 from the field for zero points, and Mason was 1-for-3 for three points. The 'Noles walled off drivers, particularly point guard Nolan Smith, holding Duke to 8-of-26 shooting (30.8 percent) from inside the arc, nearly 17 percent below its season average on twos. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils struggled to defend Singleton late in the game, especially in the final minute, when Mason Plumlee fouled out because he couldn't move his feet fast enough to cut off a drive. Singleton stepped to the line with 33.1 seconds left and a 61-58 lead, and hit both free throws to put the game nearly out of reach.

Watching Duke's futility inside made you wonder -- would it fare any better against Kansas' Morris twins and Thomas Robinson, or Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Dallas Lauderdale and Deshaun Thomas? Some serious re-evaluation of the Blue Devils' national-title chances is necessary based on their interior weakness. Brian Zoubek was far from the star of last season's championship run, but he was its unsung hero for controlling the paint.

3. Florida State could be the ACC's second-best team. Before you say, "How could Duke lose to a team that just got beat by AUBURN?" take a look at FSU's defensive statistics, and you'll come to the conclusion that this is a dangerous team when a few of its scorers are clicking. The Seminoles' inconsistency is maddening -- there is absolutely no excuse for them losing to Auburn, one of the worst teams in Division I, after beating Baylor in their previous game -- but they still ranked fourth nationally in two-point field goal defense (at 39.2) before facing Duke.

They played their standard D -- "I don't think they did anything tricky," Krzyzewski said -- and benefitted from a monster offensive night from guard Derwin Kitchen, who went 9-of-13 from the field for 22 points (and grabbed 10 rebounds). It's amazing to think that the last time he faced Duke, on Jan. 27, 2010, Kitchen attempted just two shots in 34 minutes of a 70-56 loss. If he and Singleton can score like this on a regular basis, Florida State has as good a shot as anyone at finishing second in the ACC.

4. Why did the Blue Devils look shell-shocked? One reason is this was their first tough, true road game of the season. Krzyzewski tested his team in non-conference play with "semi-road" games against Kansas State (in Kansas City) and Oregon (in Portland), but the only time the Blue Devils set foot in an opponent's home arena was at UNC-Greensboro on Dec. 29. The crowd there, as you'd expect, was hardly hostile to the visitors. While Duke's rotation (everyone who saw major minutes other than Seth Curry) has been through the ACC wringer before, this served as a re-introduction to life on the road. The two realistic candidates for the No. 1 spot in the next AP Top 25 poll, it should be noted, played multiple true road games outside their leagues: Ohio State won at Florida and Florida State, while Kansas won at Cal and Michigan.

5. So who should take over at No. 1? When my Power Rankings come out on Thursday afternoon, the Buckeyes will be at the top. The gap between them and the Jayhawks is minimal, but OSU has a better road resume, a 4-0 record in the nation's best conference, and doesn't seem to be in need of as much fine-tuning as Kansas does. The Buckeyes' rotation is set, their star (Sullinger) is well-defined, and they have three heady seniors (David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Lauderdale) surrounding him in the starting lineup. They may not be nearly as deep as KU in able bodies and NBA talent, but at the moment, they look like the proper, new No. 1.

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