So we have another guest blogger this week, as Julian from the Duke Basketball Report has agreed to answer some questions about the Blue Devils in advance of Friday's game. I've answered some questions for him that will be posted later this week, but for now, here is what Julian has to say.
Hammer & Rails: Do you think Purdue is the toughest defensive team you have faced this year? How do you think Duke will handle Purdue's physicality even with the size advantage?
Duke Basketball Report: Well that's a really good question. Not sure who's the best, but certainly Florida State was very tough, and Clemson and Maryland are always challenging. Duke also played Arizona State, and whatever flaws Herb Sendek has they aren't on defense. Virginia Tech has been a real challenge for Duke specifically because they play such a physical brand of defense. You know you'll be in for a war against them.
In the ACC tournament, Georgia Tech showed they could be a really good defensive team. Between Lani Gawal and Derrick Favors, their interior defense was ferocious.
Personally, I have to say I really do admire the way Purdue plays. It's a world of difference, and welcome difference, from what Gene Keady did. I thought Purdue had gotten really stale under his leadership and lost some of that Hoosier state flair. Your defense is a lot of fun to watch but not a lot of fun to play against.
H&R: How much of a mental edge do you think Duke has after winning handily last year at Purdue with Robbie Hummel?
DBR: Well, if there's an advantage it might be to Purdue. That must've been a pretty deflating loss. Getting a chance to avenge it probably works to your advantage perhaps more than ours.
H&R: What scenario scares you the most about facing the Boilers?
DBR: I would say probably the fact that your defense is capable of dictating a lot of things. Anyone who comes unprepared for it will be in trouble. Also, it would be nice if Jon Scheyers shot came around. Duke really hasn't had a game yet where Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith have all clicked offensively at the same time.
H&R: Some of my readers are comparing this game to the 2002 game in which Indiana upset Duke in the Sweet 16. Do you think it is a similar scenario?
DBR: Not exactly. First of all, Duke was the defending national champions. That is an entirely different kind of pressure. By the time you get to the tournament, typically the defending national champion has had a bull's-eye on it's back for the entire season. It wears you down and I think that happened in that game. Plus as we learned later, one of Duke's players was having a serious personal issue which affected his play.
Secondly, I'm not sure I see the parallel. Purdue at this point is a more solid program than Indiana was then. I see Purdue emerging, more so than they already have, as one of the dominant programs in the Big Ten.
And if you'll allow me a digression, as a fan from a distance, I have the image of Purdue basketball and football as both being wide open. I never thought make sense for Purdue not have an aerial attack in football, and with the legacy of Rick Mount among others, I like the idea of Purdue not being such a staid program. I know a lot of people like Keady and what he did for Purdue, but I thought it was the equivalent of 3 yards and a cloud of dust.
Around here, the same thing happened to North Carolina State when Sendek was in control. A lot of your fans may not know this or may have forgotten, but ACC basketball has it's roots in Indiana: when Everett Case moved here, he brought a very exciting brand of fast-break basketball from Indiana. That's always been what State loves, and what excites the rest of us about State basketball. Sendek disconnected with that.
I think the same thing happened at Purdue in a different way, and personally, I'm very happy to see them playing an exciting brand of basketball again. (Ed. Note: An ACC fan saying the Big Ten is exciting? Isn't that media blasphemy?)
H&R: Finally, do you think Purdue has a serious shot even with the obvious physical differences between the teams?
DBR: Well I have to say this: I admire your program great deal as I said. I think Purdue's defense is about as good as anybody's. Having said that, I am not as familiar with the personnel top to bottom as I will be. Hummel is obviously the guy everybody knows best. Kramer is remarkable, and personally and Moore and Johnson are both very solid players.
But the thing about basketball is that the best talent doesn't always win. It's usually the talent that plays best together. As a Duke fan, this team is a lot of fun to watch because they do that as well as anybody.
It's been doubly fun to watch because this year UNC has not done it so well. Consider it a bonus I guess.
Your coach has done I think a great job of teaching team basketball. I don't think for a minute that this is going to be an easy game. I thought everybody picked Siena over Purdue was pretty stupid. I did think Texas A&M would win, and if Kramer hadn't come through, they certainly would have.
When you have a team that plays together and certainly a team that plays great defense like Purdue does, you always have a chance.
This is a pretty different Duke team than Purdue saw a couple of years ago. In that game, in my opinion, the defining play was a spectacular block by Gerald Henderson. That seems to me like turning point in the game when they realized they were outmatched (by coincidence as I type this I'm watching Kramer's magnificent drive).
We don't really have that sort of stud athlete right now, although both the Plumlees are remarkably athletic and are emerging as really fine young big men (side note: the big buzz over the summer was that Miles Plumlee when Vince Carter over Zoubek, clearing him completely on a dunk. That's pretty phenomenal for 6-11 kid). This team has to play defense a higher level than they did a couple of years ago.
One of the big surprises has been the play of Brian Zoubek. He's been pretty solid in a lot of ways although he struggled with injuries, but in February, he emerged as a top-flight player. For all the talk about Duke's Big Three, the three big guys are really important. Lately, Miles Plumlee has really elevated his game, and Mason is widely regarded as the more talented of the two.
And while I'm not sure Andre Dawkins will be a key factor in this game, he is as deadly a three-point shooter as there is in the country. Ask Wisconsin. He's capable of ripping off three or four in a row at any point.
Having said that, defense can keep you in, and I expect Purdue's will. Here's something to watch: if Lance Thomas is in serious foul trouble, Duke may have a real problem. He doesn't get a lot of attention, but he can probably defend for your starters, possibly five, and is essential for Duke. I don't think for instance that he would've fallen for the fake that Kramer put on Texas A&M.