First of all, I apologize to my loyal fans for a writing hiatus. I know you may not be out there now, but when this blog is famous and people start going through the archives, I am sorry. My plan is to use my twitter account more often for news-like posts (twitter.com/xingtheli), and I will blog a couple times a week on more extended subjects, a-la Bill Simmons.
Anyway, this was a beautiful game. Patience. Ball movement. Good defensive fundamentals. Good decisions on the break. I love these two coaches, and I love seeing their teams play. Ultimately, no one besides Johnson and Jackson could get hot, and part of that was Minnesota not doubling and staying at home, and that was the difference in the game. But the coaches got some beautiful basketball out of their players and put them in the right positions to make great plays. I don't know that many of these players will go to the NBA, but they are foxhole guys and who knows, maybe these teams will be dangerous come madness time.
I know, I know, you all are expecting an article on the Duke loss. This is what I think (and Michael Wilbon agrees). This means something, but not much. What it shows me is that Duke still struggles in the interior, and that losing Lance Thomas/Brian Zoubek may have been bigger than losing Jon Scheyer. I think Nolan Smith has advanced enough that he can take over the point role, and Dawkins/Cury are quality starting 2's/guard of the bench for a title squad. But losing the toughness inside, especially on the offensive glass, is hard. Is Hairston going to show up? I was expecting bigger things out of him. It is clear that without Irving, this team needs to be able to get more shots, and they did not do that tonight.
On the other hand, this loss isn't huge. Duke wasn't going to go undefeated without Kyrie. And I am much more interested in how the team plays in the last two weeks in February than now. I think the guys understand that the goal isn't to crush every opponent, it's to prepare for tournament time, and I think that this is part of the learning experience (how to cope with an energetic and well-prepared defensive squad). Bottom line: I want to see the Devils improve, and that will be the determination of their tournament success, not some conference game in January. But you can call me a homer, so you make the call.