KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few quickly scribbled, semi-cogent thoughts from what has been an entertaining and well-played first half of basketball at the Sprint Center thus far:
Curtis Kelly didn't take long to show why his talents are so highly regarded. In the first 10 minutes, Kelly had a pair of good turnaround jumpers following solid post moves, a pretty 15-footer and a presence on nearly every potential offensive rebound for Kansas State. He also showed why, despite all that talent, Frank Martin gets so frustrated with him. After making that 15-footer in front of Duke's bench, Kelly turned to the bench and nodded in a "Yeah, stop me," sort of motion. It's relatively innocuous stuff, but it's that kind of immaturity that's gotten Kelly in trouble with his head coach so frequently. (For the record, Martin made his thoughts on the half-taunt clear for Kelly in an ensuing timeout. Kelly quieted down after that.) Kelly finished the half with 11 points and four rebounds.
Kyrie Irving has been awfully great, too. The Duke guard has led a handful of lightning-quick breaks for easy Duke buckets, and in the half-court, Kansas State has struggled to stay in front of him on dribble penetration. Even Pullen -- as quick a guard as there is in college hoops -- wasn't up to the task.
Speaking of Pullen, this was not a half for his senior scrapbook. Unlike the Virginia Tech game, he's avoided foul trouble (though he did pick up a charge call on a fast-break pass nearly identical to the one that drew him his third foul against the Hokies). But in addition to his defensive struggles on Irving and company, he was held scoreless all the way until the 2:46 mark, when he finally got on the board with a corner 3. Pullen also had three turnovers, a couple of which were self-inflicted.
If you're looking for the difference between each team's offensive output, you won't find it in the rebounding category, where Kansas State has been good on both ends of the floor. Nor will you find it in shooting line; both teams made 15 buckets (and three 3-pointers each) and Duke only attempted two more field goals than K-State. No, the key has been turnovers. Duke isn't making them, and Kansas State is. The Wildcats committed 12 turnovers in the first half; the Blue Devils committed three. Combine that number with all of Duke's open looks and easy drives to the lane -- we've mentioned Irving already, but Nolan Smith has had plenty of open paths to the bucket, too -- and you've got a recipe for disaster. There's a reason Duke's on pace to score 94 points Tuesday night. They're shooting well, sure, but more importantly, they're not wasting any of their possessions.
This is crucial for Kansas State's offense, too. Without turnovers, and with Duke taking so many good shots -- layups, open jumpers, and so on -- it's very difficult for Pullen to get the ball and get into Duke's defense as quickly as the Wildcats would like. They've been forced into way too much half-court offense in the first half. They can still get points there, but Duke's defense is much, much better when they're able to help with double-teams, hedge ball screens for Pullen and rotate to shooters like Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving in a controlled setting. K-State needs to introduce a little chaos into this game, and the best way to do that would be to start forcing Duke into some giveaways.
You have to hand it to the Sprint Center technical staff: They pulled out all the stops for this one. And by "all the stops," I mean they turned the lights off and splashed a few spotlights around during pregame introductions. Maybe everyone was way too jacked up for this game to realize whether this was actually that cool -- it was basically an NBA introduction -- but it certainly felt cool at the time.