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Finding time for Paulus

At a corner booth in an Indianapolis sports bar last Friday, I sat in front of the lone television showing Duke's ACC Tournament quarterfinal game-a spot for which, I might add, I had to beg, borrow and deal in the middle of Big Ten country in the middle of the Big Ten Tournament.

From my tiny pocket of Dukedom amid the throng of Purdue fans, I watched in frustration as the Blue Devils trailed Boston College by seven at the half.

I then watched in exasperation as Duke eked out a one-point victory to advance.

And all the while, I wondered: Where is Greg Paulus?

Paulus clocked one minute in the 66-65 win over the Eagles. One minute. He went on to play just nine minutes in the next two games as the Blue Devils won the conference crown.

With that in mind, I told one of my friends I'd be dedicating this week's column to the defense of Paulus.

"Who's attacking Greg?" she asked.

The answer to this is complicated because from my perspective-one of a total outsider-it seems that, at once, the answer is everyone and no one.

No one is explicitly attacking the senior captain, but then again, Paulus played a grand total of 10 minutes over the course of the ACC Tournament last weekend.

Since Duke's loss at Boston College Feb. 25-which triggered Mike Krzyzewski to replace Paulus with Elliot Williams in the starting lineup-the senior guard has played a mere 8.2 minutes per contest.

Unless Paulus is on double-secret probation or has a mysterious undisclosed injury, he should play more minutes this week and as Duke presumably goes deeper in the NCAA Tournament.

I know there are a lot of Paulus haters out there as of late and that most everyone seems to have jumped on the Williams bandwagon to Detroit. But playing time for both of these players is not mutually exclusive, and instead, could prove essential to the Blue Devils' success.

There are two reasons why I believe this to be the case-one from a micro, Paulus-in-the-NCAAs perspective, and the other from a macro, teams-who-win-the-national-title one.

Paulus has played and started in six NCAA Tournament games in his Duke career, averaging 35 minutes in those contests.

His highest-scoring performance was in his sophomore year against Virginia Commonwealth, when he dropped 25 points (three more than the much-heralded Eric Maynor) and converted on 3-of-6 3-point attempts. In his career, he has averaged 12.5 points per NCAA Tournament game.

I'm not trying to say Paulus should start or even that he should play the kind of minutes he did freshman through junior years.

What I am saying, however, is that he should play more like 10 minutes per game, rather than 10 minutes per tournament.

Paulus is the only player on this team with significant postseason experience, and he is the only player to have guided a top-seeded team in the past. And ultimately, it would be beneficial for Duke to have another option in the backcourt rotation of Williams, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith.

Of Williams, Smith and Paulus, the senior is the one with the deadliest shot. And sure, Scheyer, Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler are the players you would like to see shooting the ball, but it can't hurt this team to have an additional guy who can challenge defenders.

I've heard a lot about Paulus' ability to defend and how that might explain his relegation to the bench. Although Paulus might not be as good of an on-ball defender as, say, Williams, there is also something to be said about giving your star players a rest so they can have fresh legs at crunch time.

And Paulus has proven himself to be a more-than-serviceable alternative through the duration of his career at Duke. His role as senior captain shouldn't just be to call out the counts in warmups.

It seems like just yesterday that Paulus got the starting nod against North Carolina in Cameron and went 3-for-5 from the field, including two energizing 3-pointers in the first half. Or when he scored 18 points in an overtime win against Miami and head coach Mike Krzyzewski made a point of calling him this team's leader.

Plus, a deeper rotation is key to a deep run in the Tournament. Of the last four national champions-North Carolina, Florida twice and Kansas-all four played at least eight players. Paulus or Brian Zoubek, depending on the opponent, should be that eighth member of the rotation.

The depth of this Blue Devil squad could be one of its greatest assets, if it is actually utilized. The Achilles' heel of the last highly-touted Duke team-in 2006 with J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams-was the lack of a rotation and the sheer number of minutes Redick clocked that year.

In the ACC Tournament, Singler played 40 minutes in all three Duke wins, and Henderson and Scheyer were right behind in terms of time on the court.

But there are several All-Americans on the bench who, particularly in the early rounds, can fill in and provide a break for Duke's stars and even a spark on the court.

When you're planning for a run all the way to April, going to the bench for a few minutes, particularly to your senior captain, might not be such a bad idea.


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