9. The defense has been really good, for the most part, and is forcing turnovers. Although our defense was good the last few years (including the first half of last year), it wasn't an attacking kind of defense like this year's version. I just love it when opposing guards get that deer in the headlights look.Duke is 20-1 and ranked #2 in the country. We are a gutsy three pointer away from being undefeated and possibly #1 in the country. We just beat our arch rival convincingly on their home floor. I doubt there are very many rational people who would have expected any of this to be true when the season started. How did we get here?
1. Coach K took what he learned from Mike D'Antoni and taught/implemented a significant new offensive scheme, and our team is perfectly suited to run this kind of offense. The team bought into the system and everything meshed as well as could be expected as discussed below. If Coach K isn't, at this point in the season, coach of the year ACC and nationally, I don't know how he can ever win those awards.
2. Our depth materialized. McClure came back healthy enough to make significant contributions, particularly on the defensive end and in the post. Nolan Smith proved to be more talented and ACC-level ready than some expected, as well as more capable of running the point. He has done so in a manner that provides an excellent complement to the skills of Greg Paulus. Taylor King, besides being the most unconscious (meaning he will jack it up any time and from any spot beyond the half court line) 3 point shooter I've ever seen, has played, intermittently, spectacularly and provided solid minutes off the bench, including proving capable of defending inside at times and rebouding. Jon Scheyer willingly accepted a 6th man role and thrived in that capacity.
Consequently, we are consistenly the fresher, more energetic team in the second half and our top players are playing less minutes than they have in previous seasons - likely to make us a tougher team in March and April.
3. Nelson has pulled a Carrawell. We all knew he had it in him but we didn't know whether it would come out during his senior season. He is doing it all, leading us on offense and defense and I stress LEADING. He has proven to be an outstanding captain, a warrior who locks down point guards and wings, creates offense off his defense, rebounds, at times looks unstoppable driving to the basket, gets to the free throw line and can hit the 3. Without Hansbwiklfwec, he is the leading contender for ACC player of the year.
4. Henderson and Scheyer took the necessary freshman to sophomore leap. Both elevated their games to the point where several times they have had stretches where they were the best player on the court. And they are steadily improving as the season goes on, albeit with some peaks and valleys for both.
5. Paulus has emerged. After a beginning of the season that included some ups and downs, Paulus has really come to life in the last 3 or 4 games, showing himself to be the player we knew he could be when we recruited him and from watching him the McDonald's All-America game: fiery, tough, confident and passionate like we expect from Duke point guards (extensions of Coach K on the court), a great outside and FT shooter, providing leadership and stability, controlling the tempo of the game - pushing when appropriate and pulling back when necessary, not forcing action and committing bad turnovers.
6. SINGLER. Period. Singler has been everything advertised and I'd argue more. He seems to hit big shots in every game and never seems to make a mistake. He plays outstanding defense even when guarding players much bigger, takes charges, rebounds, makes great passes, can score from anywhere on the court and has the best court awareness (spacing, movement without the ball, help defense, etc.) and basketball IQ of any freshman I've ever seen (including Battier).
7. Thomas has established himself as a solid post player. And he seems to only be getting better, which would make this team really scary. As he has recovered from his mid-season illness, he shows signs that he is making the freshman to sophomore leap as well. We need to give him some more time because he's missed some games, but I think his improvement will be "linear (plagiarizing Jumbo) as the season continues.
8. The team chemistry has been right. It's an impossible thing to create or predict, but it just appears that these guys love playing with one another. You can win without it (see the 1977 Yankees) but it really helps when you have it.
Feel free to add to this in the spirit of WHAT'S GONE RIGHT as I am sure there's more. I think we have a lot more to look forward to the second half of the season.