1.) How has Duke adjusted to Kyrie Irving's absence?
It has looked easy against subpar competition and not so easy against the ACC squads the team has faced. On offense, it's impossible to replace the Irving's ability to drive, draw, and dish, as well as his innate ability to finish at the rim in traffic. There just isn't another player in the country who was able to command so much of a defense's attention and still score as efficiently as he did (1.81 PPS). Collectively, the team has turned to senior guard Nolan Smith to replace his scoring, but the offense doesn't have nearly as much flow as it did when Kyrie was on the floor. The team is less interested in pushing the ball up the court, and more dedicated to set plays, which gives the defense a much greater chance to hold the Devils down in points. They'll need Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, and Mason Plumlee to step up and provide more scoring in order to keep the defense honest. On defense, Tyler Thornton has stepped up as a sparkplug off the bench. In the last game, Duke started the second half with Thornton at the 1, and it seemed to help. We'll see if that occurs tonight as Ryan Harrow will need to be contained.
2.) What is it that's helped them force more turnovers at the defensive end? Are they pressing more or are they just more disruptive in the halfcourt?
Because the guard depth last year was three games, Duke played a more constrained man-to-man defense with a lot of zone defense sprinkled in. This was both to conserve energy and fouls. Now that guard depth is a premium for Duke, they have been taking a few more chances in the passing lanes. Although they're not pressing a lot, you do see more of a halfcourt trap and 3/4 pressure being instilled. This can leave Duke vulnerable to the backdoor cut though, as the Wolfpack and Georgetown showed so well last season. I'm sure the guys will be ready for those plays more this year than they were last although the Plumlees have been known to give up defensive positioning in favor of the highlight reel block. They'll need to keep their feet in order to contain Smith and Richard Howell. I know they can't stop them, but I hope they can contain them.
3.) Nolan Smith is really thriving this season--what's he doing better now than he has in the past?
Nolan was a very high scorer last year, increasing his PPG from the previous year by almost 10. He has that scorer's mentality, and the coaching staff have put him in positions to attack the basket and get open off of screens and curls. When he's playing mad, there aren't too many guys better at getting their own shots than the senior leader.
4.) How do you expect Duke to attack State's defense? Is the gameplan similar to what it was last season?
I hope the gameplan is more successful than it was last season, even though I doubt it will change too much. I think for Duke playing against a young team like State, their best offense is a strong defense. I think you'll see Duke pressure State's guards and hope to force them to commit turnovers, giving the Devils easy baskets. I can't really see either Plumlee being effective against the Wolfpack's bigs offensively so we should see a lot of outside shots (surprise!) and the guards and wings handling more of the offensive load. Hopefully those shots are falling...