Duke is Embracing Its Quasi-Point Guard Situation

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 16th, 2016

There’s a common misconception that every successful offense needs a primary ball-handler. Certainly at the collegiate level, some teams do. But Duke is not one of those teams, especially not this season. Point guards serve two critical roles in traditional offenses: 1) breaking pressure defense, and 2) initiating half-court offense. But in an era where wings and even forwards spend so much time developing “guard skills,” it’s no longer uncommon to see multiple initiators on the offensive end. Whether by choice or by circumstance, Duke has embraced this movement.

Frank Jackson is Duke's Point Guard, But the Devils Really Operate the Position by Committee (USA Today Images)

Frank Jackson is Duke’s Point Guard, But the Devils Really Operate the Position by Committee (USA Today Images)

Following the departure of the team’s last true playmaker, Tyus Jones, in 2015, the Blue Devils have since employed an amorphous offense that lacks a true lead guard. Derryck Thornton attempted to claim this role last season, but the offense ran more efficiently through others and eventually stayed that way. Duke’s motion-heavy offense this season revolves around numerous backcourt scoring threats that are equally capable of creating for teammates. “The Chris Pauls, there aren’t as many,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski recently said. “He’s the old-fashioned point guard, the leader. Now you have a lot of lead guards that score and could run a team, but they may not be the guy that runs the team.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Duke Successfully Coping With Early Injuries… For Now

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 14th, 2016

Duke’s lofty preseason #1 ranking was largely based on the outstanding freshman class set to join Mike Krzyzewski’s squad this fall. But two games into the young season, three of those newcomers — Marques Bolden, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum — are sidelined with various lower body ailments, with no scheduled return in sight. The short-handed Blue Devils managed to dominate two inferior teams over the weekend (94-49 over Marist; 96-61 versus Grand Canyon), but things won’t be nearly as easy in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic meeting with Kansas at Madison Square Garden or the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off later this week. A Saturday matchup with Penn State will be followed by a Sunday meeting with either Rhode Island or Cincinnati — two Top 25 squads.

Three Potential NBA Lottery Picks are not currently on the court for Duke. (Juan Bermudez / The Chronicle)

Three Potential NBA Lottery Picks are currently unavailable for Duke. (Juan Bermudez / The Chronicle)

In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Mike Krzyzewski said about his roster: “Right now, we have to be this team and we can’t think about who we could be. And our complete focus has to be how to win, right now, with this team. I can’t give you a time. I don’t anticipate [Bolden, Giles and Tatum] to play on Tuesday. They may not play the whole week. So we have to prepare the way we have our team right now with nine guys.” The remaining roster still has plenty of firepower, but it is not nearly as balanced with a clear focus on the perimeter. Preseason All-American Grayson Allen was going to be a major focus of the attack anyway, so logging big minutes and high possession numbers won’t be foreign to him. Likewise, Luke Kennard and Matt Jones are comfortable in their supporting roles — Kennard has a complete offensive game, while Jones gives the Blue Devils great versatility on defense. Coming off the bench is Frank Jackson — Duke’s remaining five-star freshman. Jackson had an impressive outing on Saturday (21 points in 25 minutes) and already looks more mature than his age. That’s a solid four-man rotation in the backcourt, but what about up front? Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Burning Questions: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 2nd, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will injuries stand in the way of Duke’s run at history and a sixth National Championship for Mike Krzyzewski? 

A large part of the charm and allure of college basketball is its unpredictability. Grand proclamations and bold predictions made in October rarely see themselves all the way through, and the well-heeled equity a team builds up during an elite regular season isn’t worth a darn when getting pushed to the brink in the NCAA Tournament. That said, with the roster that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has assembled in Durham, there is very little doubt that his Blue Devils are the odds-on favorite to cut down the nets next April in Phoenix. And while a random one-game sample could derail the team in its quest for a second title in three seasons, it is a mortal lock that this squad will finish a tad higher than fifth place in the ACC standings last year. By its own astronomical standards, Duke’s 2015-16 campaign was a disappointment. Losers of 10 or more games for the first time since 2007, the 25-11 Blue Devils were unceremoniously extinguished by #1 seed Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen. And while Duke found its defensive deficiencies too difficult to overcome, the team returns a tremendous amount of perimeter firepower from the fourth most efficient offense in the country.

Grayson Allen led the way for Duke with 29 points. (Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash)

Grayson Allen, one of the nation’s top returnees, will be bolstered with the nation’s top recruiting class. (Getty)

Grayson Allen is the headliner. The junior burst into our consciousness during the 2015 Final Four and translated that momentum into an explosive sophomore season. In averaging an impressive 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Allen earned first-team All-ACC and third-team All-American accolades. Combining with freshman star Brandon Ingram to form one of the country’s most dangerous offensive duos, Allen was college basketball’s 44th-rated offensive player, according to KenPom. His rare combination of elite athleticism with dead-eye shooting make him a consensus preseason All-America selection heading into his third campaign in Durham. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 10.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 24th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse tipped off its season on Friday night with Orange Madness in the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim may be in the twilight of his great career, but the way his school renews the basketball year is not old-school at all. Much like Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, the event attracts celebrities and is all about entertainment — making sure that players, fans and recruits enjoy the festivities. Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon is expected to have a breakout season for the Orange, but this week he experienced a different sort of breakout — a rash caused by poison oak which caused him to miss two days of practice.
  2. Unlike the light-hearted action at Syracuse, Duke‘s players really got after it during their 20-minute scrimmage that wrapped up Countdown to Craziness in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night. The intensity of the game was good from a competitive perspective, but it almost backfired when Grayson Allen awkwardly barreled into Amile Jefferson‘s legs while aggressively pursuing a loose ball. After an anxious minute on the floor, Jefferson got up and appeared to be sore but not injured. In other news from the practice, freshman Jayson Tatum showed why he is considered a top-5 NBA Draft pick by pouring in 18 points to lead all scorers.
  3. North Carolina got some bad news over the weekend when it announced that junior Theo Pinson will be out indefinitely with a fracture of the fifth metatarsal on his right foot. Pinson is expected to replace the departed Marcus Paige — who, ironically, also missed the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign with a foot injury — in the Tar Heels’ starting backcourt. Roy Williams has the luxury of good perimeter depth this season, although senior Nate Britt is the only other player with much experience. In the meantime, Britt should get the nod as Joel Berry’s starting running mate, but expect sophomore Kenny Williams and freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson to gain some extra early playing time as well. Pinson will probably not return until mid-January at the earliest, and sadly this continues his historical pattern of being prone to injury.
  4. After years of struggling to advance deeply in the NCAA Tournament, Mike Brey has now guided Notre Dame to the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons. Two key players that played on both of those teams are now missing — point guard Demetrius Jackson and center Zach Auguste. As the Irish’s only viable post threat, Auguste may be the more difficult player to replace, and it seems that is what Brey had in mind when he started talking up seldom-used Martin Geben back in the spring. Under Brey, it’s not uncommon for big men to make a leap in productivity as upperclassmen, but we would be shocked if Geben approaches anything close to what Auguste posted during his last two years in South Bend.
  5. After having to play its home games in Greenville, South Carolina, last season, Clemson is looking forward to playing in a remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum this year. Everyone around the program seems very pleased with the new facility, but head coach Brad Brownell has the right perspective when he said, “The building doesn’t win you any games. A better office, nicer TVs and couches doesn’t win any games. Hopefully it brings guys together in an environment where they spend more time together and become closer and that bond wins games.” The other hope is that the updated facilities help the Tigers in recruiting – Brownell has proven he can compete with the big boys in the ACC when he has decent talent.
Share this story

ACC Afternoon 5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 15th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  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.

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 01.13.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 13th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  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.

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 18th, 2015

morning5

  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.
Share this story