Remember, it’s a long way to March
Duke have been here before. Hostile title game against an effective home crowd. No this wasn’t like playing Butler in Indianapolis for the NCAA Championship but the Blue Devils showed they have stepped up a level since winning the title in April. They dominated fourth ranked Kansas State from the start of Tuesday’s CBE Classic Final en route to an easy 82-68 victory, Mike Krzyzewski’ s 800th win as Duke coach.
The Wildcats looked like boys against the defending national champions and Duke showed they will be the team to beat, at least in the first half of the season, with Tuesday’s composed performance. Five players hit double-digits as the Blue Devils played a clinical game, forcing the Wildcats to take desperate three-point attempts. Kansas State went just 3 of 17 from beyond the arc as Duke closed every outlet. The Blue Devils silenced a sold-out house in Kansas City as they methodically dispatched the Big 12 school.
Nothing important gets won in November but Duke have hit the ground running. Now we’ll see if anyone can catch them.
CSKA Moscow need a wake-up call
Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow have made the Euroleague Final Four in 9 of the last 10 seasons, including the last 8 in a row, picking up 2 titles in that span. For all that success they stand on the verge of missing the Top 16 phase due to a horrible start to the first round. CSKA dropped to 1-4 in the 10 game opening phase with a 86-72 loss to Efes Pilsen last Thursday.
The biggest problem facing the Russian club is their appalling lack of defence this season. Nowhere was that better exploited than in last Thursday’s loss. Efes Pilsen’s players were under little pressure when making outside and mid-range shots. Part of this was due to the excellent performance of Igor Rakocevic but the Serb’s brilliance does not excuse the Moscow players who repeatedly missed assignments.
It’s not a complete cause for panic just yet. Despite the dismal start, CSKA are just one win away from fourth place. With only two of the group’s six teams going out in this round, a couple of good results would be enough to put the Russians into the next phase. They get a huge opportunity tonight when they hit the road to take on Armani Jeans Milan. The Italians stomped CSKA 88-73 in Moscow in the first round of games but have just one win since. Defeat for CSKA would move them two games out of fourth, staring elimination in the face.
Revitalised Spurs impress
They have only played 13 games but given they have won 12 of them it isn’t too soon to say this year’s version of the San Antonio Spurs is a step up from the edition that fell in the first round of the playoffs last spring. Monday’s 106-97 victory Orlando, who led the Eastern Conference before this game, demonstrated just how much fresher the Spurs look this year.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Spurs’ surge has been their ability to spread the load. Tiago Splitter had 18 points in 26 minutes in San Antonio’s previous game, against the Celtics, but played just 10 seconds of this game. Instead the Spurs looked to Matt Bonner to contribute big from the bench, with 15 points including 4 of 4 from three-point range, while Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker combined for 49 points and 19 assists between them.
With the Lakers continuing to impress, including a 98-91 win over the Bulls on Tuesday, and New Orleans still streaking the top end of the Western Conference is starting to stretch out in the early part of the season.
Big news: Next week we will have a special edition from College Basketball’s NIT Season Tip-off in Madison Square Garden.