ACC Afternoon 5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 15th, 2016


  1. Duke Basketball Report: If you’re behind at all on ACC play, read this outstanding piece from Al Featherston. If you’re not behind, read it anyway. I agree with him wholeheartedly that Notre Dame has the most likely path to the top seed in Washington, DC. North Carolina is the better team, but there are a lot of traps in the final few games of its conference season. But what I hadn’t considered was all the tiebreaker scenarios (most of which give Notre Dame the advantage). Either way, ACC play has some great games ahead of it in the final month.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Will Duke’s Amile Jefferson redshirt? On one hand, he is eligible for a redshirt year and his veteran leadership could be the x-factor in whether next year’s stacked Blue Devils’ roster wins a championship. On the other hand, Duke is bringing in two elite 6’9″ freshmen and Chase Jeter might transfer if he’s relegated to the bench next season (not to mention Duke is still recruiting five-star center Marques Bolden). The bottom line is that Duke is a Final Four contender with Jefferson this year. That’s why I think he returns.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Virginia lost a heartbreaker in Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday on a controversial buzzer-beater from Grayson Allen. (Note: I don’t think this was an example of a Duke bias, just the tendency of referees to swallow their whistles in the final seconds to focus more on the clock.) Before the wild ending, though, it was an awesome game. It looked like Virginia would run Duke out of the gym in the first half before Brandon Ingram rescued the Blue Devils, at one point scoring 16 straight points for his team. Then Tony Bennett locked Ingram down with Malcolm Brogdon (who in response put the Cavaliers’ offense on his shoulders), opening the game up for Allen.
  4. Syracuse Post Standard: Tyler Lydon has turned out to be quite a diamond in the rough for Jim Boeheim this season. Lydon has looked like a totally new player during the Orange’s five-game winning streak, using an average of 23 percent of possessions compared with a season usage of less than 16 percent. That’s a big difference. He’s Syracuse‘s most efficient player, mostly thanks to excellent shot selection and stroking nearly 45 percent of his three-point attempts.
  5. CBS Sports: NC State’s Cat Barber finally started getting some national love last week, as he’s scored more than 30 points five times in the last seven games. In those same seven games, head coach Mark Gottfried has let him sit for a total of three minutes. So why has it taken so long for him to get noticed? Part of it is a disconnect. Generally the national media loves underdogs, but Barber doesn’t fit that mold. He’s on a major conference team, and his team is generally viewed as disappointing (unlike former Virginia Tech star Erick Green, whose team was expected to be horrendous). That’s a perfect recipe for getting ignored. Still, it’s nice to see Barber getting some shine, even if it is belated. Also, here’s to him putting on an Olivier Hanlan-esque performance at the Verizon Center next month.

EXTRA: The ACC released its schedule of conference opponents for the next two seasons. Just in case you want to start complaining about unbalanced schedules a little earlier than usual.

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Is Duke Ready For Its Most Difficult Four-Game Stretch?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 8th, 2016

Duke has experienced multiple runs of success so far in conference play. The Blue Devils started ACC action with three straight victories, and are now on a two-game win streak. But in between those five wins came a stretch where Duke lost four times in five contests, which is why there are still major doubts about Mike Krzyzewski’s team heading into the final four weeks of the regular season. Can the Blue Devils play good enough defense to compete with the nation’s (or even the ACC’s) best teams? Are two of the freshmen (Derryck Thornton and Chase Jeter) making enough progress to be solid contributors in big games? Will a lack of depth eventually wear out the Blue Devil core? Many of those questions may be answered, for better or worse, in the coming two weeks, when the Blue Devils’ schedule gets downright brutal. This week features home games with Louisville (tonight) and Virginia (on Saturday). The following week will see the Blue Devils travel to North Carolina and Louisville. That’s four consecutive games against the league’s top three teams.

Derryck Thornton's return to the starting lineup has given Duke a boost defensively. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Derryck Thornton’s return to the starting lineup has given Duke a boost defensively. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Let’s look at those questions one by one:

Can the Blue Devils play good enough defense?

Currently Duke ranks ninth in the ACC in defensive efficiency, allowing 1.09 points per possession in league play. Led by star Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils only trail Notre Dame in ACC offensive efficiency, meaning they have generally been winning by outscoring the opposition. That feat will get harder in the next four games, as Duke will face the top three rated defenses in the conference. To have success against the league’s best, Krzyzewski needs his team’s man-to-man defense to be good enough to use as a viable alternative to the zone that Duke has often employed this season. Duke’s performance in its last two games may give its veteran coach some hope. Using man-to-man exclusively, Duke held Georgia Tech to 0.84 points per possession in the second half of last Tuesday’s road win. In Saturday’s victory over N.C. State, the Blue Devils played man-to-man for the entire first half, holding the Wolfpack to 0.95 points per possession.

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The Devils’ Doldrums: Could Duke Miss The NCAA Tournament?

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2016

After Duke‘s 11 point loss at Miami, Seth Davis tweeted: “It is time to acknowledge the possibility that Duke will not make the NCAA tournament.” Some context for that tweet: Duke has lost four of its last five, including two games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Since losing Amile Jefferson to a foot injury, the Blue Devils are 7-5 with exactly one win against the KenPom top 100. That’s not exactly a resume that screams NCAA Tournament. On the other side of the equation: Duke is still 20th in KenPom‘s ratings, its RPI projects to remain in the 20s according to RPI Forecast, and there’s evidence Jefferson’s condition is improving. Perhaps most importantly, losing by 11 to a really good Miami team shouldn’t be a cause for concern, and really it was just a two possession game with less than a minute left.

Duke didn't have the legs to hang with Miami. What does that mean going forward? (photo: Chuck Liddy/News & Observer)

Duke Didn’t Have The Legs To Hang With Miami. What Does That Mean For The Blue Devils Going Forward? (Photo: Chuck Liddy/News & Observer)

Maybe the most amazing factoid about Duke’s current start (courtesy of Patrick Stevens): If the ACC Tournament started tomorrow, Duke and Virginia would face off as the ninth and eighth seeds on Wednesday. So then, the ultimate question: Will Duke miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the infamous Pete Gaudet season? There are three ways this might play out.

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ACC M5: 01.13.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 13th, 2016


  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Kennedy Meeks is back for North Carolina. He’s not 100 percent yet, but it’s a good sign that he’s back and in stark contrast with those of Amile Jefferson (Duke) and Terry Henderson (NC State). The Tar Heels need the junior big man in the lineup to meet their National Championship aspirations. It also looks increasingly clear that North Carolina is the team to beat in the ACC this season. Miami doesn’t appear far behind, but the road to a conference title will go through Chapel Hill.
  2. Slap the Sign: This is a decent Notre Dame primer, as the Irish are still searching for a leader after the departures of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Demetrius Jackson is very talented but his best games have come in losses rather than wins. The most damning statistic working against the Irish may be that of “good wins.” — their only one so far came against Iowa. All of its other top-50 opponents have resulted in losses. That’s something Mike Brey will have to change to avoid a disappointing conference finish.
  3. Boston College Heights: Dennis Clifford is starting to look like his old self at Boston College. He’s still not consistent (he turns the ball over too much to be efficient), but he’s moving better and will likely be the reason the Eagles beat a team they shouldn’t. Boston College is horrid this season (the only two worse major conference teams worse are St. John’s and Rutgers), but its defense will give it a fighting chance a few times during conference play.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Amile Jefferson’s injury has made Duke worse in the short run because the team has no depth. Mike Krzyzewski has been using a six-man rotation (sometimes seven by playing Chase Jeter for a few minutes) since Jefferson went down. But Duke isn’t known for playing large rotations to begin with, and it’s unlikely that either Luke Kennard or Marshall Plumlee would have seen this sort of time without the starting center’s absence. It’s still hard to tell if this Duke’s team is fool’s gold thanks to nearly all of its recent opponents being helplessly outclassed, but all of that will change at the end of the month when the team travels to Coral Gables.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Why is Pittsburgh getting no love from the national media? The Panthers’ only loss came against a very good Purdue team that’s frankly a nightmare matchup (size plus shooting). Sure, Pitt’s non-conference schedule was nothing to write home about, but it’s odd that Jamie Dixon’s group isn’t getting a little more publicity. Even if they go into the Yum! Center and beat Louisville later this week, many people may blame the inconsistent Cardinals.

EXTRA: GIF power rankings??? Don’t mind if I do. If you only look at one, look at NC State. It’s perfection.

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Depth and the Devils: The Worries of Duke’s Shrinking Rotation

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 23rd, 2015

Over the last decade, Mike Krzyzewski’s teams at Duke have shifted toward the new era of college basketball. Duke brings in NBA-bound one-and-done players at a much higher rate than it once did, possibly even surpassing John Calipari — the recent king of transcendent freshman — at his own game. Including this season, the Blue Devils have spent the last three years among the 100 youngest teams in America in terms of college basketball experience.

duke experience

This year’s team includes three freshman receiving a heavy dosage of minutes yet appears to rely on more veterans than last year’s group. That would imply that these Blue Devils returned a reasonable amount of production from last year’s National Championship squad, but a little digging reveals that’s not really the case. The four Blue Devils who played the highest percentage of the team’s available minutes last year departed after the season. This year’s team may be slightly older, but the experience they bring is somewhat misleading. Of the seven players to log time in Duke’s most recent game versus Utah, only one player, Matt Jones, received more than 25 percent of Duke’s available minutes last season.

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Morning Five: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 18th, 2015


  1. With this being finals week at most schools we expected this to be a quiet week with the exception of injuries and transfers, but that all came to an end on Tuesday night when Bo Ryan announced that he would be retiring immediately. Prior to the season Ryan had discussed his plans to retire at the end of the season, but there were some reports that he was considering staying longer. Ryan’s decision to leave his team during the season led to many questions about the timing: Was it because this is his worst Wisconsin team ever? Was he quitting on his team or helping long-time assistant Greg Gard get a chance to prove himself when the school probably would have not if Ryan had retired at the end of the season? Going through Ryan’s achievements, legacy, and potential successors is much too involved for this column (we have other posts about it on the site) so we will just say that Ryan might be as responsible for the development of an elite program as anybody in the sport today.
  2. Iowa State‘s national title hopes took a big hit earlier this week when they announced that senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long will seek a medical redshirt as he continues to recover from nagging issues with his hips. Long, who had arthroscopic surgery on both hips over the summer, was averaging 12 points per game, but felt that the pain was too great to play through at this point. Fortunately for the Cyclones they do have help in the form of mid-year transfer Deonte Burton, but Long’s absence will keep them at a seven-man rotation. There were also couple of notable injuries to big men on Tobacco Road. The more significant of the two injuries is the one to Amile Jefferson, who will be out indefinitely after fracturing a bone in his right foot. Given Duke‘s lack of depth on the inside a prolonged absence by Jefferson or even worse any lingering issues for Jefferson (averaging 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds this season) would severely limit Duke’s upside in March. The injury to Kennedy Meeks appears to be less severe as he is expected to be out at least two weeks with a bone bruise on his right knee. Meeks is also a key part of North Carolina‘s rotation, but the Tar Heels have enough depth on the inside that they should be able to survive his absence without missing too much.
  3. Christmas break is always a popular time for players (sorry, student-athletes) to decide to transfer. As we seem to state every year the biggest reasons are likely that they head home and hear from everybody about how they should be playing a bigger role and that the coaching staff isn’t putting them in position to succeed. So we are not usually surprised to see transfers at this time of year, but as you can see by the transfer list that Jeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello are keeping there are already quite a few who have decided it is time to move on. Most of these transfers won’t raise many eyebrows, but a few like Texas A&M freshman Elijah Thomas, a top 30-/50-recruit depending on which rating agency you follow, are notable and will probably attract a substantial amount of interest from programs around the country.
  4. When the NCAA issued its rules changes before the start of the season it was met with quite a bit of criticism, but now that we are approaching the start of conference play we think that most people have to be happy with the results so far. As Mike Lopresti notes scoring is up by more than 10 points per game from this time last year with most of that apparently being driven the increased pace of the game. However as some coaches note there is concern about a regression particularly with freedom of movement and foul calls. While we think it is too early to reach any conclusions about the impact of the changes it seems like a good start.
  5. It seems like we hear about different models to pay student-athletes, but it is pretty rare to see an idea get an article on it in The New York Times so we were pretty surprised to see them write about a site that proposes to use crowdfunding as a means of payment. The idea that is being proposed allows fans to donate money to a student-athlete (less a 5% fee the site takes) with a note possibly encouraging them to attend a school with the donation period closing once an individual commits to a school. The student-athlete would be able to collect the money after their college career was over regardless of where they went to school. Even before the NCAA’s lawyers rip this to shreds there are a couple of key things that bother us: the monetary donations when a player hasn’t committed seems like a not-so-subtle way of buying a player to come to a school, issues with fans getting upset of having spent their money on a recruit who goes somewhere else, and finally the issue with a company/trust holding the money until their college career is over seems like a recipe for corruption.
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For This Year’s Crop of Duke Freshmen, Patience is a Virtue

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 19th, 2015

What last season’s iteration of Duke basketball made us forget, this season’s version reminded us quite vividly during the Blue Devils’ loss to Kentucky at the Champions Classic — which is that the adjustment from high school to high-level college basketball isn’t all that easy. After a pair of tune-up tilts in Durham last week, Duke took the floor in Chicago boasting the most discussed player in the country in Grayson Allen along with the nation’s top-rated crop of incoming rookies. After a sound humbling at the hands of the hungry Wildcats, what they left with were a bunch of question marks and a better appreciation of the special nature of last year’s special freshman class.

Coach K will have to exercise some more patience with this class of rookies than was required a year ago. (AP)

Coach K will have to exercise some more patience with this class of rookies than was required a year ago. (AP)

Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Allen made up the Duke’s incoming class of 2014, and while the the holdover sophomore initially struggled to adjust, the others seamlessly transitioned to the college game. In last year’s Champions Classic win against eventual Final Four participant Michigan State, the trio had their handprints all over a 10-point victory. Jones played with the poise of a point guard well beyond his years, scoring 17 points and committing no turnovers in his 31 minutes of action. Okafor showed the dominant form that would define his only season at Duke, making eight of his 10 attempts from the field. And Winslow proved to be a whirling dervish of controlled aggression, scoring 15 points of his own and grabbing six boards in a team-high 36 minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Evaluating Duke’s First Two Games

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2015

It’s always premature to form ironclad opinions based on a team’s first two games of the regular season, especially when the team in question is as young as Duke‘s 2015-16 squad. Throw in the fact that the competition the Blue Devils faced over the weekend was far from stellar, and we still have most of the same questions about Mike Krzyzewski’s current edition that we had before the season began. Nevertheless, here are some observations from Duke’s two home wins over the weekend, a 92-74 victory over Siena on Friday and a 113-75 demolition of Bryant on Saturday night.

Grayson Allen has picked up right where he left off in the 2015 Final Four, averaging 27 points in Duke's opening two games. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Grayson Allen has picked up right where he left off in the 2015 Final Four, averaging 27 points in Duke’s opening two games. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

There were two major questions for Duke coming into this season. First, could this year’s highly-touted freshmen class approach the spectacular success achieved by last year’s rookies? And secondly, were Duke’s four returnees capable of elevating their games after mostly exclusive use in the past as role players? To the first question, the newcomers played much better collectively against Bryant than they did in Friday’s opener. Krzyzewski spoke about the differences in their performances between the two games:

“I didn’t think they talked well last night. Part of that, I think it’s your first game at Duke, your first real game. For Brandon [Ingram], it’s his first start. I reminded them that it’s Grayson [Allen]’s first start last night too. It was Marshall [Plumlee]’s first start in two years. We have a lot of young guys. Grayson and Marshall [Plumlee] weren’t into themselves last night, they were trying to help everybody. When you’re young, sometimes your thoughts are just with you instead of talking. Tonight, they talked well. They were consumed with Duke. We saw that they played better. That’s just a learning process that they have to go through.”

Individually, Brandon Ingram scored 15 and 21 points, respectively, in the two games, and exhibited much better shot selection in his second college start on the way to making 4-of-6 threes (he was just 1-of-9 from deep in the opener). He also used his length well to act as a disruptive defensive force, with a combined four steals and three blocks over the two outings. Ingram was also often employed by Krzyzewski as a ball-handler from the top of the arc, a set that will make him even more of a match-up problem for most collegiate forwards. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Exhibition Edition 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 4th, 2015


  1. Duke opened its exhibition season last Friday by beating Florida Southern, 112-68, in a match-up of the 2015 Division I and Division II national champions. This is the seventh consecutive year that the Blue Devils have played the defending Division II champion, a tradition that Moccasins’ head coach Mike Donnelly greatly appreciated. He said, after the game: “This game was a lot of fun for us. It is terrific for college basketball at our level, and for the kids it is a great experience. I hope that they [Duke] keep doing it because it is great for everyone involved.” As for Duke’s high-profile group of incoming freshmen, they were led by Derryck Thornton, who notched 22 points and shot 4-of-7 on threes. The Blue Devils’ veteran bigs also had their way with the smaller Mocs, as Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson combined for 27 points (on 11-of-13 shooting) and 21 rebounds in 39 total minutes.
  2. Defending ACC champion Notre Dame also tipped off its preseason schedule with an 87-56 victory over the NAIA’s Saint Francis (IL) last Friday. Twelve different players saw at least 10 minutes of action for the Irish, which dominated the boards (+22 rebound edge) in this game. Mike Brey was particularly happy with the way his team defended, saying, “Yeah we should be able to guard, we got more wingspan in there in the starting group and ball pressure. It’s unbelievable what it does and we’ve got guys who can get out in the passing lanes and do things.” The Irish forced 18 turnovers and held the Fighting Saints to 36.5 percent field goal shooting.
  3. It’s been a rough preseason off the floor for Louisville, so Rick Pitino probably enjoyed having a chance to concentrate solely on basketball for a change, as his Cardinals defeated Bellarmine (KY), 71-55, on Saturday afternoon. The Knights, ranked No. 4 in the preseason Division II NABC Poll, only trailed Louisville by six at the half and drew high praise from Pitino after the game. Louisville’s defense was a pleasant surprise, leading Pitino to comment that he “learned we are further along defensively than I thought. Holding a great shooting and passing team to 32 percent from the field and 22 percent on three-point shooting is excellent for the initial outing.” Sophomore point guard Quentin Snider came off the bench and was impressive with eight assists versus only one turnover in 27 minutes of action.
  4. Syracuse fans can’t be criticized for holding their breath whenever the Orange takes on Division II Le Moyne in an exhibition game. It was just six years ago that the Dolphins pulled the stunner, knocking off a preseason ranked Syracuse squad in the Carrier Dome. There were no such worries on Monday evening, as the Orange took care of business against the small crosstown school in a convincing 97-58 win. Michael Gbinije, who got the start at point guard over Kaleb Joseph, led the way for Jim Boeheim’s team with 21 points and four assists. All eyes in the building were on returning center Dajuan Coleman, suiting up for his first game since January 2014. The big guy delivered an encouraging performance, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 23 minutes of action.
  5. Florida State was also in action on Monday night and looked rather impressive in its 114-68 blowout of Lynn University, a good Florida-based Division II program. Seven Seminoles scored in double figures, led by senior guard Devon Bookert, who tallied 19 points and made three of his five attempts from three-point range. The four newcomers on the perimeter — JuCo transfer Benji Bell and freshmen Dwayne Bacon, Terance Mann and Malik Beasley — combined for 49 points on 20-of-30 shooting from the floor. This could be Leonard Hamilton’s deepest and most athletic team in many years, which may translate into a group that plays the kind of stingy defense that Florida State was known for during its four-year stretch of NCAA appearances from 2009-12. The Seminoles held Lynn to a frigid 29.3 percent shooting from the field.
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Mike Krzyzewski Keeps Up With the Times (and Titles)

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 10th, 2015

With Monday night’s fifth career NCAA Championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s legacy took another long stride into the history books of the college game. In what he has called the most enjoyable season of his 40-year coaching career, Kryzyzewski showed his versatility as a head coach by leading Duke to the greatest of heights by utilizing a makeup unlike any of his previous champions. The 68-year old deserves all the credit he has received for his prolonged success, winning in three completely different eras of the sport by adapting to the standards of the times. His first two title teams (1991 & 1992) were won when programs could be built around long-term stars like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill. When his 2001 team, led by Shane Battier, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy, Jr., won Krzyzewski’s third championship, the lure of the NBA had gutted much of the young talent from the college game. The last decade has brought the one-and-done rule to college basketball, and at least initially, Duke did not seem to be an interested party — Krzyzewski’s 2010 national champs featured five upperclassmen starters.

It was a year of milestones for Coach K - 1000th win and fifth national title. (AP Photo)

It was a year of milestones for Coach K — his 1,000th win and fifth national title.
(AP Photo)

Since that fourth national title, the Blue Devils had crashed and burned with their last two high-profile freshmen — Austin Rivers (2012) and Jabari Parker (2014) were unwilling participants in huge NCAA Tournament upsets of Duke by Lehigh and Mercer, respectively. Theirs were the reference points going into a campaign when Coach K welcomed the nation’s top recruiting class of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen by signaling that he was all-in with the modern recruiting strategy focusing on one-and-dones. Krzyzewski masterfully molded the young Blue Devils around an elite offense and a gradually improving defense all the way to another championship run.

We attended a private scrimmage session in Cameron Indoor Stadium back in October and shared our observations on what we witnessed here. While the freshmen’s raw talent was obvious, we came away from the practice session concerned with how the two Blue Devils’ veterans would handle the robust attention and acclaim that the newcomers were already getting. Quinn Cook was one of the players who didn’t play well that day, but he soon morphed into exactly what the Duke coaching staff wanted him to be — a big brother, supporter and go-to teammate for the four rookies. As a result of Cook’s deference, Krzyzewski called the senior “as good a leader as I’ve had in my 35 years at Duke.” Think about what that means from a guy who has coached the likes of Laettner, Ferry, Hurley, Battier and Dawkins. Rasheed Sulaimon, the other veteran who struggled in that October scrimmage, was ultimately kicked off the team, an event that seemed to bring the eight remaining players together down the stretch of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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