By Stewart Mandel
January 30, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Different season, same story.

Every year, it seems, we're led to believe the Duke Blue Devils have transformed themselves back into a legitimate Final Four contender. Some years, it's because of their tough perimeter defense. This year, it's purportedly because they've finally got some size and a legitimate point guard.

But take them out of the familiar confines of the ACC, put them in a rowdy venue like the grayed-out Verizon Center on Saturday against an elite non-conference foe like seventh-ranked Georgetown, and you find out real quickly that not much has changed about Mike Krzyzewski's team.

They're still not that athletic. They're still limited up front. And, despite what that No. 8 ranking before their name would indicate, they're still not ready for a run to Indianapolis. Not after the Hoyas (16-4) -- five days removed from their own humbling blowout at Syracuse -- controlled Saturday's showdown from nearly the opening tip, outrunning, outshooting and generally outclassing their touted visitors in an 89-77 rout.

"They just did everything better than us," a forlorn JonScheyer lamented afterward. "They shot the ball better, made better passes, moved better on offense. Give them a lot of credit."

In front of a sold-out, revved-up crowd of 20,039 -- including two particularly notable courtside spectators, President Barack Obama and Vice President JoeBiden (they shared a bag of popcorn) -- the Hoyas shot a staggering 71.7 percent from the field, their highest mark in 30 years. Guards ChrisWright (8-of-9 for 21 points) and AustinFreeman (8-of-11 for 20 points) continually sliced the lane for uncontested layups and forward GregMonroe (7-of-11 for 21 points) treated Blue Devils counterpart KyleSingler like his own personal plaything.

"This group, with each game, is getting a heightened sense an understanding that we don't have to take a bad shot," said coach John Thompson III. "With the offensive players we have, we know where our shots are coming from and they're doing an outstanding job night-in, night-out to help each other get shots."

A year ago, a young Hoyas team sat 12-3 when it visited Cameron Indoor Stadium for a similar midseason matchup. Duke's 77-67 win marked the beginning of a downward spiral that saw the Hoyas lose 11 of their last 15 and finish just 16-14.

Following last Monday's game at the Carrier Dome, in which Georgetown jumped to a 14-0 lead only to watch the fourth-ranked Orange come screaming back in a 73-56 rout, it seemed fair to wonder whether the Hoyas had hit a similar wall.

Forget that.

"[Last year] is over, its done. This is a much different team," said Thompson. "I think this team can beat anyone in the country if we do what were capable of, and they know that."

On Saturday, Georgetown's dominance began with its defense, which blocked nine shots and notched nine steals. Duke's big three -- Singler (18 points), Scheyer (17 points) and Nolan Smith (19 points), shot just 15-of-43 (34.9 percent) from the field.

All those clunkers led to a myriad of transition opportunities for the Hoyas, an inordinate number of which seemed to end with uncontested layups.

"Last year when we played [at Duke], we noticed they weren't getting back [on defense] as fast as we thought they would," said Wright. "This game, we wanted to push the ball and get as may transition baskets as possible."

Two such plays helped the Hoyas build their first double-digit lead of the game. With just under eight minutes left in the first half, they converted consecutive Duke turnovers by Smith and BrianZoubek into transition layups by JasonClark and Freeman to go up 31-20, forcing Krzyzewski to call a 30-second timeout.

Georgetown built its lead to 46-33 at the half.

Duke (17-4) showed initial signs of a potential comeback to start the second half, with Scheyer and Smith hitting a pair of treys to cut the lead to 46-39 and keeping the margin in single-digits for the first seven minutes of the half. But then Hoyas freshman HollisThompson -- one of the limited backups Georgetown desperately needs to produce down the stretch -- drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to go up 57-46.

Before long the rout was on, with Monroe, Freeman, Wright and guard JulianVaughn seemingly taking turns feeding each other layups en route to a 20-point lead with 5:39 remaining.

"They were able to do whatever they wanted," said Singler.

As splendid as Georgetown looked Saturday, it would be easy to forget that the same group of players looked outclassed themselves five nights earlier at Syracuse. It's been that kind of season for the Hoyas, which have followed up each of their four losses with a confidence-boosting victory. Following their previous defeat, an 82-77 heartbreaker at then fourth-ranked Villanova on Jan. 17, Georgetown went to Pittsburgh three days later and ended the then ninth-ranked Panthers' 31-game home winning streak.

In the top-heavy Big East, its easier to write off a bad night like the Hoyas had at Syracuse. Their Duke demolition gives reason to believe they're capable of sticking around the Top 10 the rest of the way.

"Monday we did not play well," said Thompson. "Tonight, we played well."

Krzyzewski offered much the same assessment of his own team's implosion following a solid home 70-56 home win over Florida State three nights earlier.

"[The Hoyas] are really, really good," he said. "I think we're good, too, but we weren't good today."

It's starting to sound like a broken record.

On this same court two years ago, in an NCAA tournament second-round game, underdog West Virginia team knocked off No. 2 seeded Duke 73-67 in much the same fashion, with Mountaineers forward JoeAlexander manhandling Singler and guard JoeMazzulla continually beating Blue Devils guards off the dribble.

Last year, Kryzewski's team made it one round further before falling to another athletic Big East squad, Villanova.

This year's squad has its share of quality victories: a 68-59 win over UConn and 76-41 blowout of Gonzaga, both at Madison Square Garden; a season sweep of Clemson -- but Saturday's debacle dropped the Blue Devils to 1-4 on the road. Duke hasn't posted a losing road record in seven years. Just 10 days earlier, mediocre N.C. State produced its own offensive explosion in an 88-74 upset.

"We're not a powerhouse," said Krzyzewski. "I don't think Georgetown's a powerhouse, either. We're both really good teams."

That sounds about right. The admittedly thin Hoyas haven't reached powerhouse status yet, but they're heading in the right direction.

The Blue Devils, on the other hand, seem stuck in neutral.

You May Like