Tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge Main Event: Previewing Duke at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, ACC and Big Ten microsites writers Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins have teamed up to break down the match-up between Wisconsin and Duke, the main event on the final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Frontcourt

Alex Moscoso: Duke has a special player in center Jahlil Okafor, the likely #1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But as far as the best frontcourt in basketball, I submit there’s no unit with a better combination of talent and experience than the Badgers’ group of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker. All three will play in the Association and are familiar with one another’s tendencies from a full year together on the floor. For the season, they’re combining to average 42.9 PPG (57.5 percent of the team’s output) and 20.6 RPG. While Kaminsky and Dekker are likely to be Naismith finalists, Hayes has also garnered widespread acclaim for his improved play as a sophomore – specifically, his newfound ability to hit the deep ball on occasion (35.7%) and better defensive play in the post. His transformation from talented prospect to contributing factor has made this frontcourt almost invulnerable. The trio will certainly have its hands full with the athletic duo of Okafor and Justise Winslow, but the Wisconsin big men should wear these young Blue Devils out by hitting some threes and forcing them to guard the entire half-court – from the rim out to the three-point line.

Frank Kaminsky (yes, it's true) exploded for 43 points on Tuesday. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky  and the Badgers “are coming” for Duke on Wednesday night, in what is one of the best non-conference games this season. (Getty)

Brad Jenkins: To say this is a match-up of Duke’s young talent versus Wisconsin’s veteran frontcourt is an oversimplification. The Badgers’ big guys are not only experienced but they are extremely skilled and more athletic than most realize. Duke’s two freshman starters up front, Okafor and Winslow, are both considered one-and-doners, and they play the game with a physical and mental maturity rarely seen in college rookies. On the one hand, Okafor has good footwork around the basket that should force Wisconsin into more double-teaming than normal. On the other hand, Winslow is a bit of a wild card in this game, as the Badgers don’t have a player who can match his combination of size and athleticism on the wing. The veteran Dekker, a tall forward with decent lateral quickness, will probably get the assignment, but he has been nursing a nagging ankle injury and may not be at 100 percent. Look for Winslow to aggressively attack the Badgers off the dribble as a way to create offense when the Blue Devils are otherwise stymied. Wisconsin normally protects the defensive glass as well as any team in the country, but watch out for Amile Jefferson on the weak side if Okafor demands major attention. So far this season, the 6’9” junior ranks third nationally with a 21.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Duke’s Defense: Much Better This Year, But Good Enough?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 1st, 2014

Sunday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski won the 990th game of his career, 93-73 over Army. This game was a matchup of the only two schools that Krzyzewski has coached, and he was proud of both of them afterwards. In the postgame press conference, the veteran coach heaped praise on the Black Knights, and talked about how impressed he is with the job Army’s coach Zach Spiker is doing at West Point, where Krzyzewski played in the 1960’s and coached for five years before coming to Duke in ’80. Army came in to the game undefeated (5-0) and hung with the Blue Devils well into the second half before freshmen Jahlil Okafor (21 points) and Tyus Jones (16 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers) helped push the game out of reach. Duke has now won its first seven contests, all by 10 or more points, and along with the highly touted freshmen class, the improved Blue Devil defense has been the story so far.

Matt Jones (#13) and Amile Jefferson (#21) are part of an improved Blue Devil Defense. (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Matt Jones (#13) and Amile Jefferson (#21) are part of an improved Blue Devil Defense.
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Krzyzewski has long been lauded as a great defensive coach, and he has won many conference and national championships with stellar play on the defensive end, but that was not the case at all in 2013-14. Last year the Blue Devils ranked #116 in adjusted defensive efficiency, easily their worst finish since Ken Pomeroy started tracking the metric in 2002. There were many reasons cited for that weak performance: youth; not enough interior size; and a general lack of team toughness. Although they are still relatively young, Duke seems to have solved the size and toughness issue, at least so far. Last season, the problems surfaced early, giving us an indication that something was amiss with Duke on the defensive end. First there was the 94 points scored by Kansas in an 11-point Champions Classic Jayhawk win, and then even more troubling, Vermont hung 90 on the Blue Devils in a narrow one-point loss to Duke in Cameron. Duke went on to a fine 26-9 season but was plagued all year by having such an unreliable defense. Now after seven games in 2014-15 let’s look at how some of Duke’s defensive numbers compare to the first seven games from 2013-14 and with last season’s final stats:

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Duke Gets a Passing Chemistry Grade… So Far

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2014

Duke has been very impressive so far this season, winning handily over Presbyterian on Friday and stomping Fairfield on Saturday. Both of those games were played in the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, but before the Blue Devils face their first stiff challenge of the young season against Michigan State tonight in the Champions Classic (ESPN 7:00 ET), let’s look at what we have learned about Duke so far.

Freshman Justise Winslow Has Been Aggressively Attacking the Basket in Duke's Early Games. (Mark Dolejs - USA Today Sports)

Justise Winslow Has Been Aggressively Attacking the Basket in Duke’s Early Games. (Mark Dolejs – USA Today Sports)

  • Jahlil Okafor is the real deal, but so is Justise Winslow. Okafor has been every bit as good as everyone expected. In the first two games of his career, the Chicago big man has averaged 18.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game while making an outstanding 17-of-20 shots from the field — these proficient numbers earned him the first ACC Freshman of the Week award this season. In the future, Okafor’s primary competition for that honor may be his teammate Winslow, who is also playing very well on both ends of the floor. He has scored on frequent aggressive drives and shown a better than advertised outside shooting touch, going 3-of-5 on three-point shots. He also gives Duke an athletic lockdown wing defender, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Durham since Nate James. A great thing about being on press row in Cameron Indoor is how close you are to the action — up close, the maturity of Winslow in both physique and focus in his eyes is obvious when he’s in a defensive stance. That’s why he’s already been showing up in a handful of 2015 NBA mock drafts as a first-rounder. In fact, the whole freshmen class has an impressive level of maturity. Point guard Tyus Jones is off to a solid ball-handling start — passing for 12 assists while only committing three turnovers — and Grayson Allen is excelling in Duke’s up-tempo style with his great athleticism.

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ACC Preview: Duke’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Duke’s veterans adapt to, and excel in, new roles?

All of the pre-season talk, and rightfully so, concerning Duke has been focused on the incoming freshman class Mike Krzyzewski has assembled. Jahlil Okafor, the most dominant incoming true center the Blue Devils have procured in some time, has garnered numerous accolades already in being named pre-season ACC Freshman of the Year by the ACC media and even the Associated Press pre-season Player of the Year. Freshman Tyus Jones, part of a “package deal” recruitment with Okafor, looks to be the starting point guard when the season begins this week. And wing Justise Winslow showed the defensive prowess expected of him, along with the scoring acumen, in the exhibition season to also merit a spot in the starting lineup.

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

While the freshman class is a sterling one, this team still maintains a number of veterans who will be familiarizing themselves with new roles. Senior Quinn Cook, one of the team’s two captains, was the starting point guard for most of last season and surely thought he’d seize the reins this year prior to Jones’ commitment. He’s now likely relegated to a spot coming off the bench and occasionally playing off the ball when he and Jones are on the court together. Cook, to his credit, has said all the right things about occasionally deferring to a freshman, but it’s still going to be a challenge to acclimate to the mindset of providing offense off of the bench, oftentimes from the off-guard position.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Duke 63, Clemson 62

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Brad Brownell showed us he knows a thing or two about coaching this season.

Brad Brownell showed us he knows a thing or two about coaching this season.

  1. Don’t trust Duke in the NCAA Tournament. This is admittedly a harsh assessment, and the Blue Devils certainly deserve to be listed among the contenders for the title. When they’re hot, they’re borderline unbeatable. And they have a deep rotation of skilled offensive players. But their defense has serious issues. Duke gave up points on nine straight possessions after going up by 13 points in the second half. They scored some too, so it didn’t look like a dominant Clemson run by any means, but what should have been the time Duke put the Tigers away became the time Clemson held on to challenge for the game. Clemson’s offense is mediocre. Those kinds of runs can’t happen, but they’re beginning to seem like standard second half occurrences with this Duke team.
  2. On the other hand, Duke rebounded really, really well. Unlike defense, many concerns people have with Duke don’t make a lot of sense. This is a very good rebounding team, especially when shots aren’t falling like on Friday night. Amile Jefferson is both a capable offensive player — benefitting from not being the focal point of opposing defenses — and a force on the glass. His and Jabari Parker‘s post games mean Duke has no trouble scoring down low. Jefferson has grown a lot over the course of this season. Remember, during the first half of this season, Josh Hairston was playing comparable minutes to Jefferson (and Marshall Plumlee wasn’t playing at all). As a side note, Quinn Cook’s development has flat-lined — for whatever reason he can’t find much consistency. Offensively, I think point guard play is Duke’s biggest concern going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Big Men Have Bright Futures: Will Their Teams Follow?

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 22nd, 2014

It is often bandied about that guards win games (along with defense) because they have the ball in their hands most often and thus affect the action more than other positions. While this is certainly a valid viewpoint, interior post players can often mean the difference between a championship team or a bubble team. The popular mindset is that big men take longer to develop in the college ranks because of the learning curve required to manage their combination of power, size and dexterity. Most post players come to the Division I ranks with a limited post game but raw with athleticism and length, prized characteristics that NBA GMs in every professional franchise covet.

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

The ACC this season is rich in young frontcourt talent that is likely to stay for more than a year in the collegiate ranks. North Carolina is a great example of the conference’s youthful exuberance in the post, sporting a terrific breadth of versatility in that regard. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are the tip of the iceberg, both terrific rebounders with vastly different approaches.  At 290 pounds, Meeks is a strong and sturdy freshman who isn’t a terrific leaper but uses his body and angles to score and rebound the offensive glass very well. He also possesses one of the nation’s best outlet passes, a perfect conduit for guards Nate Britt and Marcus Paige to start Roy Williams’ break. Johnson, on the other hand, is a long beanpole of a forward who has had a breakout sophomore year for the Tar Heels, ranking fourth in ACC field goal percentage at 54.5%. UNC’s frontcourt depth doesn’t completely end there, though, as the Heels also have 6’10”, 280-pound sophommore Joel James, who is a load in the paint but hasn’t found consistent playing time this season. Freshman Isaiah Hicks too has a bright future ahead of him at UNC; the McDonald’s All-American recorded seven blocks and pulled down an insane 30 rebounds in his state’s high school championship game last year. But the ACC’s young frontcourt brigade of talent doesn’t end in Chapel Hill.

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Renewing The Rivalry: Previewing Duke vs. North Carolina

Posted by Brad Jenkins & Lathan Wells on February 12th, 2014

After the first week and a half of ACC conference play, Duke and North Carolina were struggling with a combined 1-5 record and fans had to wonder if the ACC’s two flagship programs were headed for disaster. Just four weeks later, these are two of the hottest teams around. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels are a combined 13-2 over that stretch, with the only losses for Duke at Syracuse and at UNC at Virginia. Of course that means that we could be in for another Duke vs. North Carolina classic in Chapel Hill tonight (9:00 PM ET – ESPN). In many ways this game should resemble most of their contests – intense, fast-paced, with several swings of momentum. Also as usual, it looks like it will be a match-up of Duke’s quickness and three-point marksmanship versus North Carolina’s size and inside power. Duke will look to extend an odd trend where the Blue Devils have won the last seven times the team’s first meeting of the year is at the Smith Center, and the road team has won 11 of the last 20 regular season meetings.

Roy Williams and Coach K bring contrasting squads together tonight in renewing their rivalry (credit: gettysports)

Roy Williams and Coach K bring contrasting squads together tonight in renewing their rivalry (credit: gettysports)

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key questions for tonight’s game, as RTC’s Brad Jenkins and Lathan Wells go back and forth on what each team needs to do to win.

Brad Jenkins: Given North Carolina’s lack of perimeter depth and the fact that Duke is second in the country in three point shooting (42.0%), featuring six different players who have made at least 20 threes this season, how can the Tar Heels keep the Blue Devils from shooting them right out of their own gym tonight?

Lathan Wells: North Carolina’s perimeter defense has been impressive in conference play, and it really starts with J.P. Tokoto and Marcus Paige.  Tokoto often draws the team’s best or most versatile perimeter threat, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shadowing Rodney Hood in this contest. Paige will be tasked with guarding whoever is at the point, presumably Quinn Cook. The Tar Heels have done a good job of rotating to and closing out on shooters, but foul trouble would doom their ability to combat the multitude of outside options Duke will run at them. The backcourt starters will have to play a lot of minutes to keep Duke’s long-range attempts heavily contested. While North Carolina is trying to figure out how to stymie Duke’s perimeter game, how are the Blue Devils going to slow down a reinvigorated James Michael McAdoo?

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Amile Jefferson Channels His Inner Zoubek

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 4th, 2014

He knew he had it within him all along. The skinny 6’9” “power” forward from Philadelphia had always played with an infectious sense of energy — the quintessential ‘hype man’ for Duke. But in Amile Jefferson’s freshman season, he primarily logged spot duty minutes at a clip of about 13 minutes per game. Stuck behind senior frontcourt leaders Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, Jefferson struggled to get into a groove and find a defined role in Duke’s system. Coming into this year, the 2012 McDonald’s All-American made it his business to add weight to his frame so he could take advantage of a vacuum of low-post talent in the frontcourt.

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K's lessons to heart

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K’s lessons to heart

Without a true post presence on the floor but all his other pieces aligning, Mike Krzyzewski needed either Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee or senior Josh Hairston to anchor the post while flanked by perimeter-oriented forwards Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Given that the Parker/Hood tandem is a highly efficient scoring duo, the center role in Duke’s scheme this year primarily requires competent rebounding, post defense, and communication while anchoring the back line of the defense. While Jefferson will never be the kind of defensive shot-blocking presence as Kansas’ Joel Embiid or Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski, he can arguably check the boxes that Duke desires in a big man.

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Duke’s New Starting Lineup Pays Dividends

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 8th, 2014

Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Mike Krzyzewski gave another chance to a starting lineup that had started four consecutive games back in November. Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon replaced Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton, playing well enough to earn a combined 64 minutes in Duke’s 79-57 win over Georgia Tech. After an evenly played first half, Rodney Hood’s second straight 27-point game and the Blue Devils’ energy level rolled past a Yellow Jackets team trying to adjust to playing without Robert Carter, Jr., in the wake of his meniscus injury.

Rodney Hood Scores 27 Again As Duke Beats Georgia Tech (photo: www.goduke.com)

Rodney Hood Scores 27 Again As Duke Beats Georgia Tech
(photo: www.goduke.com)

The last Duke game featuring sophomores Jefferson and Sulaimon as starters turned out to be the worst defensive Duke performance in at least a dozen years, a narrow 91-90 home win over Vermont in the sixth game of the season. After that contest, in an effort to establish a tougher defensive identity, Mike Krzyzewski inserted seniors Hairston and Thornton into the starting lineup. The Blue Devils made measurable progress defensively after the change, but for Duke to reach its full potential as a team this season, the more talented sophomores will need to be on the court more than the solid but offensively limited role players.

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Has Duke Found the Answer on Defense?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 28th, 2013

Back in late November we wrote about Duke’s historically bad defense. At the time, the Blue Devils were coming off their worst defensive effort of the last 12 years, having given up 90 points on 1.38 points per possession in their home squeaker against Vermont. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski was extremely upset and vowed that great improvement must be made on the defensive end of the floor. Five games later, it’s now a good time to see how much progress Duke’s defense has made in the intervening month of action.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski Was Pleased With Duke's Defense In Win Over UCLA (Photo: Mark Dolejs - USA TODAY Sports)

Coach Mike Krzyzewski Was Pleased With Duke’s Defense In Their Win Over UCLA
(Photo: Mark Dolejs – USA TODAY Sports)

Let’s take a more detailed look at the team’s defensive numbers from the first six Duke games through that dreadful Vermont performance on November 24. Then we will compare those statistics to what the Blue Devils have done in their last five games heading into the Christmas break. Here are the key defensive statistics from the first six games:

  • 1.07 – Opponents’ Avg Points Per Possession for All Games
  • 1.08 – Opponents’ Points Per Possession vs. Duke

By applying Ken Pomeroy’s principle of adjusting for competition, we come up with an Adjusted Defensive Rating of 1.05 PPP for Duke’s first six games. That number would currently put Duke’s defense at around #200 in the nation in Pomeroy’s ratings – lousy defense indeed. Now that’s look at the same metric for Duke’s last five games:

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ACC Team Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2013

Duke had a successful 2013-14 season but it will be remembered as three seasons in one. Led by the senior trio of Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, Duke got off to the best start in the country, winning its first 15 games against a very tough schedule. Then Kelly went down with a foot injury and the Blue Devils dropped to merely a good team, going 9-4 without him in the lineup. Kelly’s dramatic return in a 79-76 win over eventual ACC champion Miami gave hope to Duke as a national title contender, but they couldn’t quite get there, losing to a superior Louisville team in the Elite Eight.

Duke Preview 2013

Ordinarily, losing three quality starting seniors would indicate a worse season to come, but thanks to a pair of highly regarded new forwards, Duke is expected to remain a national contender. Mike Krzyzewski has also made it clear that a change in style is coming. Duke will not have the veteran post players it had last year, but it will be a much more athletic and deeper team so look for the Blue Devils to push the tempo on both ends of the court. It’s been said that the makeup of this team is similar to Coach K’s 2012 USA Olympic team. That team lacked a true post scorer and was built around versatile play-making forwards on offense and a switching pressure defense. Look for Krzyzewski to use that experience to build this Duke team in the same fashion.

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Duke Looking to Run Early and Often With This Year’s Roster

Posted by Chris Kehoe on October 26th, 2013

Duke’s roster this season is merely a shell of its former self. Gone is the backbone of the team, gone are the three seniors, gone are the leaders, gone are 47.9 PPG. You get the point. Duke lost its three leading scorers and a huge part of its 30-win Elite Eight team. Yet people are excited about the prospects of this team, even perhaps more excited than last season. Duke returns both its junior floor general, Quinn Cook, and its sophomore shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American, Rasheed Sulaimon. Another two McDonald’s All-Americans return in sophomore forward Amile Jefferson and redshirt sophomore center Marshall Plumlee. Where Duke changes up the offensive schemes and flips the script is with the two future NBA swingmen on the roster, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and blue-chip freshman Jabari Parker.

Quinn Cook calls Duke's new offense 'a point guard's dream' (USA Today)

Quinn Cook calls Duke’s new offense ‘a point guard’s dream’ (USA Today)

Don’t be mistaken, though, Duke is still Duke. They will continue to have shooters spotting up around the arc for open looks: postgraduate sniper Andre Dawkins, freshman Matt Jones, Sulaimon, Cook, and even senior perimeter stopper Tyler Thornton all can and will fire away with a green light from deep. But as ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan pointed out in a recent excerpt about Duke, Mike Krzyzewski above all adapts to his team’s strengths. And with a team full of athletic and versatile players like Parker, Sulaimon, Hood, and Jefferson, Krzyzewski has this year’s team poised to run early and often. “Last year’s team couldn’t run like this team can now,” senior captain Thornton exclaimed.

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