As postseason arrives, Blue Devils feeling good

March, 9, 2009
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Forget for a minute the loss to North Carolina.

The Jon Scheyer-Elliot Williams experiment is working so well that Duke is quite pleased with its progress going into the postseason.

"The lineup we've had the last few games is a good look for us," Scheyer said. "Elliot is doing a good job for us as a ball defender."

Duke's Kyle Singler said the Blue Devils "are at a good spot right now." He added that Williams has helped the Blue Devils' ball pressure.

The Blue Devils made the move to use Williams more often and put Scheyer as the lead guard after losing at Boston College on Feb. 15. Duke won five straight before falling at Carolina on Sunday. The wins came at St. John's, Maryland and Virginia Tech and against Wake Forest and Florida State at home.

It's hard to argue with those results. Williams was just a better defender than what Duke had put on the ball. He's also a more productive scorer, with an 11.6 ppg average in those five games. He struggled against the Tar Heels, going 3-of-11 for eight points, but he clearly is an upgrade. With his hand on the ball, Scheyer has found his groove, too. He was 0-of-6 on 3s, 3-of-12 against BC. Since then, save for a struggle against Maryland, he has been solid with 17 3s, 16 assists and five turnovers.

"I just think we are a better basketball team than we were a month ago," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I'm good with where my team is at."

The Blue Devils might get even deeper on the perimeter if point guard Nolan Smith can return from the lingering effects of a concussion suffered against Maryland on Feb. 25. Krzyzewski said there is no timetable for Smith's return, but that he had finally had a good day during which he felt good without any side effects.

The Blue Devils should feel good about themselves. Duke was three key North Carolina plays away from being in position to beat the Tar Heels. Duke got the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament by virtue of Wake Forest beating Clemson and winning the tiebreaker with Duke. (Wake beat UNC once and Duke lost to UNC twice, while the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons split their two games).

Duke would play the winner of Boston College-Virginia in the quarterfinals Friday and then possibly Wake Forest, if the Demon Deacons get by Maryland or NC State, in the semifinals in Atlanta.

• Memphis coach John Calipari knows the Tigers can't lose in Conference USA and get a No. 1 seed. He doesn't think it's fair.

"One of the reasons we keep winning in our league is that we're not allowed to lose," Calipari said. "What if we lose? Then we drop a seed. We're not allowed to lose. The other teams can lose in their league. We haven't been allowed to lose for weeks now."

Calipari said impressing that point upon his players will keep them motivated this week in the Conference USA tournament in Memphis. He said he has told his players that the Tigers can't lose and still get a No. 1 but "Oklahoma, Pitt and Connecticut can all lose and still be No. 1 seeds."

Calipari is also banking on the selection committee dissecting their résumé and seeing that the three nonconference losses to Xavier in Puerto Rico, at Georgetown and at home to Syracuse were before Calipari moved freshman Tyreke Evans to the point.

"The committee also looks at who you chose to play, not who you are forced to play [in your conference]," Calipari said. "We chose to play at Tennessee. We chose to play at Gonzaga."

The pressure on Memphis to win is also more palpable than that for any other elite team. "We have to win every game in our league; no one else has to do that," Calipari said.

• Enough with the talk that Calipari could be leaving for Arizona or any other job. Just look at the recruiting class he's putting together. He got one-time UAB recruit 6-foot-9 center DeMarcus Cousins from Alabama to commit Sunday. The Tigers are putting together a monster recruiting haul, with shooting guard Xavier Henry from Oklahoma to go with shooting guard Nolan Dennis from Texas and a pair of JC forwards: Will Coleman and Darnell Dodson. They're still in the mix for the top remaining lead guard, John Wall from North Carolina. Get used to seeing Memphis steamroll through Conference USA and as a high seed. For Calipari to leave Memphis, it's going to take a mega-offer from the NBA or a college that he can't refuse. There probably isn't a deal like that out there.

• The Tigers will load up once again on scheduling in anticipation of this recruiting class. They will play Kansas in St. Louis, host Gonzaga and Tennessee, play at Syracuse, UMass in Boston and are trying to get Louisville interested in a game in Nashville.

• Davidson will sweat out Selection Sunday after losing to the College of Charleston in the Southern Conference semifinals. Not having Stephen Curry in the NCAA tournament is a shame, but this shows that the selection committee isn't sentimental. If the Wildcats don't deserve a bid, they won't get one, regardless of any ratings names for CBS.

• New Hampshire couldn't hold onto a lead against America East leader Binghamton. That's too bad. It would have been quite a scene had the Wildcats held on and then hosted an America East final against UMBC after the Retrievers upset host Albany.

• Santa Clara's John Bryant ended his career Sunday night in a blowout loss to Gonzaga. Bryant went out in style in the first round of the WCC tournament, grabbing a total of 27 rebounds. He was also 12-of-12 at the free-throw line in the win over San Diego. The WCC Player of the Year was held down by the Zags, though, with a pedestrian 13 points, 10 boards and a 3-of-5 mark from the line in the 94-59 loss to Gonzaga in the semifinals in Las Vegas.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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