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Different cast, same character
CHICAGO -- The names on the backs of the jerseys are mostly the same, and the athletic, overpowering game looks pretty familiar, too. Even the No. 1 ranking is back.
But don't mistake Duke for some updated video game. These Blue Devils aren't simply the 2001-02 version of the team that won the NCAA title last year -- and not just because Shane Battier is gone.
"This team is not in competition with last year's team. This team has to run its own race," coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday after his Blue Devils beat No. 7 Iowa 80-62 in the first night of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
"This team has to go through its own process and handling the mantle of being No. 1," Krzyzewski added. "They have a lot of pressure on them."
Make no mistake, this Duke squad is good. Very good. Despite playing its fifth game in nine days -- not to mention logging a few thousand air miles -- Duke brushed aside the Hawkeyes with little trouble.
Even with their experience and talent, though, the Blue Devils are still learning, still growing. Just look at their last two games. After a 104-62 rout of Portland on Sunday night, Krzyzewski ripped his team, saying it lacked cohesiveness and didn't communicate well enough on the floor.
Part of that is the loss of Battier. The player of the year last season, Battier was a tenacious defender and an offensive threat. He also had the kind of maturity coaches only dream of having, running the team like he was part of the coaching staff.
"We were all spoiled last year," Krzyzewski said. "Twenty years from now, you'll think back that Battier was one of the great, great players to ever play college basketball. And everyday I learn more and more about what he did that I didn't know last year, because there's things we're making up for right now."
But Battier's not coming back -- he's got a full-time job with the Memphis Grizzlies these days -- so the Blue Devils have no choice but to adjust.
They're quick studies, judging by the Iowa game. Chris Duhon finished with 11 assists, one more than the entire Iowa squad. He kept the Blue Devils offense running smoothly, rarely allowing it to sputter or break down.
Jason Williams was on the receiving end of most of Duhon's feeds, scoring a team-high 25 points.
"Duhon's trying to lead the team on the court," Krzyzewski said. "That gives Jason more freedom to score. That's one of the adjustments we have to make."
Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy did their thing, too. Boozer had his third double-double in a row, scoring 22 and grabbing 14 rebounds. Dunleavy scored 18.
Duke also played with an intensity usually reserved for tournament time. When Williams appeared to get knocked over by an Iowa player early in the second half, he jumped up with a scowl on his face. There were hard fouls on each side the rest of the game.
Even when Duke had a 19-point lead midway through the second half, it kept up the frenzy. The starters were still in the game at the end, racing up and down the court as if they were the team trying to stage a rally.
Not even the rowdy Iowa fans -- the crowd at the "neutral" United Center was three-quarters black-and-gold -- could rattle the Blue Devils.
"We need to play with a high level of emotion because teams that play against us play with a high level of emotion," Krzyzewski said. "We need to match that or beat it."
Still work to do
The Blue Devils do still have some holes, though. They were just 7-of-22 (32 percent) from 3-point range against the Hawkeyes, with Williams making only one of his six tries. They got off to a sluggish start, turning the ball over early and getting outrebounded by Iowa in the first half.
But with a little work, those things should come together.
"This was a big win for us," Krzyzewski said. "For our guys to play this well against a team that has played the best against us this season is very satisfying."