Commentary

Duke getting it done with defense

Originally Published: December 23, 2009
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Duke DefenseJeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesThe 9-1 Blue Devils have turned in some impressive defensive displays so far this season.

Favorite: Duke
How's this for a day of pack separation? On the same afternoon that North Carolina was beaten handily at its own game by Texas, the Blue Devils were embarrassing Gonzaga by 35 points. Still talented on the perimeter, this Duke team has established its defense as its calling card.

Most surprising team: Florida State
The Seminoles have bolted to a strong start once again despite losing leading scorer and team leader Toney Douglas. The Seminoles, with just one senior in Ryan Reid, ousted Georgia Tech in the conference opener and have nothing to be ashamed of in their losses -- a November decision to Florida and a December loss to Ohio State.

Most disappointing team: Maryland
The Terrapins don't have any awful losses. There's no shame in losing to Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Villanova but those really are the only three tough teams Maryland has played. I thought this season the Terps wouldn't leave their NCAA tournament status down to the wire. That doesn't look likely right now.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Favors
AP Photo/Stanley LearyCan Derrick Favors lead Georgia Tech back to the NCAA tournament?

Mystery team: Georgia Tech
Are the Yellow Jacket rookies as good as advertised? Hard to say just yet. Tech has played just two teams of any real caliber -- Dayton and Florida State -- and lost to both of them. It's early, especially for a squad relying so heavily on rookies Derrick Favors, Mfon Udofia and Brian Oliver, but the question is whether this class is good enough to get the Jackets to a winnng league record for the first time since 2003-04. That remains to be seen.

Best player: Kyle Singler, Duke
It is more than just the 15.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists that make Singler special; it's how he plays. When his shots don't fall, he rebounds. When teams ignore him, he scores. He is the pivotal cog in the Blue Devils' machine, the player every team worries about and few can contain.

Top performance: Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech
Pick a game. The junior had 27 against Penn State, 32 against Temple and 31 against Georgia. No surprise. The guard leads the ACC in scoring.

Strangest score: Duke 76, Gonzaga 41
Talk about an eye-opener. Anyone who wondered if the Blue Devils really belonged in the national conversation received their answer with an exclamation point when Duke all but humiliated the Zags. It was the fewest points Gonzaga had scored since 1984.

What you might not have realized: Jon Scheyer, whose coach says doesn't really have a so-called position, is playing the point better than anyone in the country. Scheyer leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and is 18th in assists, averaging 5.9 per game.

Reason to brag: The ACC has won seven games against ranked nonconference opponents this season. Only the Big East (nine) has won more.

Reason to worry: The ACC has lost seven games against ranked opponents this season. Among BCS conferences, the SEC (eight) and the Pac 10 (12) have lost more. And honestly this season, the Pac-10 has rescinded its Pac-10 basketball rights.

Who's going dancing: Duke, North Carolina and Clemson are in. Georgia Tech isn't in awful shape. Florida State, Virginia Tech and Miami look good but could use some statement wins. Maryland sits on its usual bubble seat.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball