I had the pleasure of watching both games at Madison Square Garden over the break, and it was great watching the Blue Devils beat two very capable teams on their way to capturing the NIT Season Tip-Off title.
Unfortunately Duke's trip to NYC was also costly, as sophomore DeMarcus Nelson suffered a hairline fracture early in the first half against Drexel. Nelson had surgery yesterday and will be out 6-8 weeks.
He is clearly the team's premier athlete, and although his loss won't be felt hard in any one particular area, the team will not be the same without him. Duke loses a great defender and a body to fill the lanes in transition, among other things.
The injury does allow for more playing time for young blood in the backcourt. Greg Paulus started in place of Nelson against Memphis and delivered a very solid performance.
Paulus' obvious strengths are ball handling and passing, but I think his jump shot is further ahead than most people think. His form is fundamentally sound, and defenses seem to be willing to sag off and let him shoot 19 footers, similarly to the way they play Sean Dockery.
Paulus went 1-for-3 from long distance against the Tigers, and he should be looking to step up and take open threes when defenses collapse on J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams.
Martynas Pocius should also be expecting increased playing time in Nelson's absence. Against Drexel, Pocius was dazzling. In 13 productive minutes he scored seven points, including a three-pointer, and recorded a steal and an assist.
I heard little about him before the season, but he is basketball savvy and his overall athleticism and court awareness have me jumping on the Pocius bandwagon.
He's got flair and he's got the raw skill set. He is a better on- and off-the-ball defender than either Redick or Paulus, and he is very effective shooting off the dribble on a team full of set shooters.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski only gave him five minutes of action against Memphis, but in my opinion he deserves at least 15 minutes a game.
Aside from the key injury this weekend, it was painful to see senior captain Lee Melchionni struggle. He's an important player for this team, but when he plays passively and poorly on offense-he shot 1-for-7 from the field in 37 minutes of action over the two games in New York-something is not right with him.
It's got to be something upstairs with Melchionni-he was in such a deep psychological funk he even missed two key back-to-back free throws late in the Memphis game. It's too early in the season to really panic, but don't forget how many times Melchionni caught on fire last year and carried the team through tough stretches against the nation's best competition.
Facing a tough team like Memphis early in the season and beating them without Nelson, despite a cold night shooting is only a sign of good things to come for the Blue Devils.
The only drawback to winning these games is that you'll likely have to put up with fellow Chronicle columnist Alex Fanaroff's Train column for yet another week.
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