Duke defies narrative vs. Michigan State

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michigan State is physical.

Michigan State is tough.

Michigan State is athletic.

That's the three-verse mantra Duke players heard for the past week, the implication obvious in what was left unsaid: Namely, that the Blue Devils were not any of those things.

Perhaps now that Duke is in the Elite Eight, perhaps now that it's won back-to-back games not on the beauty of its offense but on the back of its defense, and perhaps now that Duke has disposed rather handily of the more physical, tougher and more athletic Spartans, 71-61, people will write another verse to this old, tired song.

Or not.

From Laettner to Hurley to Battier to Singler to Plumlee to Curry, the narrative on the Blue Devils never changes, even if the tale becomes more and more fictionalized over the years. Certain teams are bequeathed with certain adjectives, and to the popular (and misguided) way of thinking, Duke will never be confused with the Spartans.

"I don't really care what people say about us,'' Ryan Kelly said. "As long as we're winning, people can say whatever they want.''

That's partially true -- the not caring bit -- but only partially. A breath earlier, Kelly talked about how his team was much maligned -- and rightly so -- for its lack of defensive presence last season and how that tag really stung the Blue Devils.

Over the summer and through the season, he said, Duke made defense a priority -- not to conjure up the slap-the-floor version, but the sort that pays attention to little things.

Duke does have some deficiencies. Kelly, for example, agreed with the assessment that the Devils aren't as athletic as other teams. But they vowed to overcome their shortcomings with hard work and proper game planning. Those two things met in a beautifully brutal intersection for Duke on Friday night.

For Dana O'Neil's full column, click here.