Five ACC Storylines to Watch this Offseason

Posted by Matt Patton on April 11th, 2016

With the long offseason ahead of us, let’s take a look at five key ACC storylines to keep an eye on over the summer.

  1. NCAA Sanctions: After investigations that surrounded both programs in different ways this season, there should finally be some closure for Louisville and North Carolina. Louisville is still trying to get in front of NCAA sanctions by self-imposing its own (in addition to this year’s postseason ban, the program also recently added recruiting penalties). This strategy has worked well for other schools, but predicting eventual NCAA punishments is an exercise in futility. North Carolina is the more interesting case — the Tar Heels may not receive any sanctions or they may get the book thrown at them. What remains unclear is whether there will be administrative fallout from either scandal. I would not be shocked if Rick Pitino ends up stepping down from his post — especially if the NCAA deems the Cardinals’ self-imposed penalties insufficient. But I would be shocked if Roy Williams did.

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

  2. Coaching Carousel: This is a slow year for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover. Pittsburgh lost Jamie Dixon to his alma mater, TCU, and Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory. The Yellow Jackets were initially spurned by Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel and Bryce Drew (who went to Vanderbilt instead), and after reports that Cal’s Cuonzo Martin was their top candidate, athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Josh Pastner away from Memphis. Pastner is far from a sure thing in this spot, but he should be able to put more talented teams on the floor. Whether those teams will have more success than what Gregory mustered (two teams with winning records; no NCAA Tournament appearances) remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh, many fans were upset with the hiring of Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt (ironically, the response from Commodores’ fans mirrored Dayton fans after Georgia Tech hired Gregory). Stallings will have his work cut out for him in the Steel City, but he was a solid coach with several very good teams in Nashville. Like Jamie Dixon, he may have stuck around the same place a little too long, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do reasonably well there. Read the rest of this entry »
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Notre Dame Upends Duke; Tobacco Road Rematch Denied

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2016

Midway through the second half of Thursday afternoon’s second ACC quarterfinal, a Duke-UNC rematch looked like destiny. Duke led Notre Dame by 16 with 11 minutes to play. To that point, the game had strongly resembled North Carolina’s earlier win over Pittsburgh: Notre Dame and Duke were matched in strengths (offense); Duke struggled out of the gate but Grayson Allen kept the game close; and a second half Fighting Irish drought looked fatal. And then the Blue Devils ran out of gas.

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame's win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame’s win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

The Notre Dame comeback began in earnest with just under eight minutes left when Notre Dame grabbed three straight offensive boards before scoring. Soon after VJ Beachem rediscovered his shooting stroke, while Zach Auguste continued his relentless assault of the backboards. Auguste would finished with 22 rebounds on an afternoon when he was easily the best player on the floor.

Make no mistake about it: The story here is Notre Dame, not Duke. The Blue Devils are very much who we thought they were — a flawed but extremely capable offensive team who will have a chance to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. But on the other side, this game was a reminder that Notre Dame is still built around the foundation of last year’s ACC title squad that almost knocked off Kentucky in the Elite Eight. It’s a team with veterans like Auguste, Demetrius Jackson (who struggled en route to a 13 point, four assist afternoon) and Steve Vasturia (12 points, six assists) who are ready for another shot at an ACC title. Despite wins over North Carolina, Duke (now twice), and Louisville, the Fighting Irish are still looking for national respect. The guy at the helm certainly has a good deal of that, as Mike Brey is now 5-1 in his last six games against Duke and his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski.

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What’s Trending: Tackles, Tempers, And More!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 18th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

If College Basketball’s Tripping Epidemic Wasn’t Enough…

Then we have this item for you, as Maryland’s Diamond Stone took it up a notch. At the end of the first half, with Maryland down big to Wisconsin at home, the freshman phenom briefly lost his temper, tackling Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown after the whistle. To make matters worse, Stone pushed Brown’s head back into the ground as he was getting up. Take a look:

Stone was given a flagrant 1 for his actions, and subsequently suspended for a game by coach Mark Turgeon. Though Stone was apologetic after the game, it’s a shame to see any player lose his temper like that. Oh, and Wisconsin snapped Maryland’s 27-game home winning streak.

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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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ACC Stock Watch: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 1st, 2015

As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.

Trending Up

Jim Boeheim has his Orange playing at an extremely high level right out the gates. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (syracuse.com)

  • Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.

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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 Preview: Duke’s Burning Question

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

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

Can Mike Krzyzewski lead another freshmen-heavy team to the Final Four?

Talk about a tough act to follow. After a season that saw Mike Krzyzewski win his 1,000th career game and capture his fifth NCAA title at Duke, it’s hard to imagine a coach ever having a better year. More than that, after spending years and years as the most hated program in the sport, it seems that Duke has achieved a measure of “coolness” lately, especially in the recruiting world. Perhaps it’s a result of Coach K’s decade-long tenure as coach of the USA senior national team and the success of coaching NBA stars to gold medals. Maybe it’s the perception (and reality) that Krzyzewski has embraced the one-and-done era of college basketball. Either way, it’s interesting to see the Duke coach get praise for adapting to the new way of winning in college hoops, yet the inventor of the model, Kentucky’s John Calipari, has been regarded in a much more negative light (as a system manipulator) over the last six years. Each coach has now won a national championship with a starting lineup of mostly freshmen. There were productive veterans around to guide the young stars in both programs’ title runs, and the three main freshmen on both squads were unusually mature — mentally and physically. That’s why it would be unfair to expect Duke’s latest highly acclaimed group of newcomers to match the success of their predecessors. It’s just not ‘normal’ to do what Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow accomplished in their first year, just as it wasn’t for the 2012 Wildcats’ super-frosh — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague.

Mike Krzyzewski hopes this year's vaunted freshmen class at Duke can approach last season's frosh accomplishments. (Jim Dedmon-USA Today Sports)

Mike Krzyzewski hopes this year’s vaunted freshmen class at Duke can approach the exploits of last season’s group of Blue Devil newcomers. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for last year’s Blue Devils, especially on the defensive end. The low point of the year came when Duke suffered back-to-back double digit losses to unranked teams, N.C. State and Miami. They were so bad defensively at that point that Krzyzewski, in a desperate and out-of-character decision, implemented a zone defense that Duke would go on to use more often than ever before in the Coach K era. Eventually, the freshmen learned to execute the man-to-man principles that the great Blue Devils of the past were known for, and the result was one of the best defensive performances we’ve seen in recent NCAA tournaments — Duke’s six opponents only managed to score .93 points per possession, and four of those teams boasted top-21 offenses according to Ken Pomeroy. The experience of last year’s team reminds us of a couple of things when considering the future defensive prowess of this year’s squad. For one, don’t expect the Blue Devils’ freshmen to immediately grasp Duke’s man-to-man principles, which may result in another year of a decent diet of zone mixed in;. Secondly, the possible early struggles of the freshmen on the defensive end don’t mean that dramatic improvement over the course of the year can’t happen again.

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ACC M5: Exhibition Edition 1

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

morning5_ACC

  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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Seven Sweet Scoops: Derryck Thornton & Duke’s Big Night, DeAndre Ayton, Thon Maker & More

Posted by Sean Moran on February 26th, 2015

http://rushthecourt.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/7sweetscoops.png

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Duke Attracts Five-Star Recruits For Rivalry Game

It was a great last Wednesday night in Durham. Not only did Duke notch a thrilling comeback victory against their Tobacco Road neighbors from Chapel Hill, but it also did so in front of a few high-profile recruits from the classes of 2015 and 2016. From this year’s senior class, five-star senior power forward Caleb Swanigan (No. 11) was in Cameron Indoor Stadium on an official visit along with Luke Kennard, a five-star shooting guard who has already committed to the Blue Devils. Last week we touched on some of the schools interested in the 6’8” Swanigan, but since then the Indiana native has taken in Purdue’s victory over Nebraska in addition to the UNC game. The Duke coaching staff is looking to add another big man to the mix to replace the expected loss of freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor. So far Duke has 6’10” Chase Jeter, a five-star power forward, locked up in addition to Rice transfer Sean Obi, who is currently redshirting after averaging 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game at Rice. In addition to Swanigan and Kennard, the Blue Devils also hosted Harry Giles, the No. 1 prospect in the junior class, as well as the top two point guards in the junior class in Derryck Thornton (No. 5 – 2016) and Dennis Smith (No. 6 – 2016). Giles and Smith are both local North Carolina products and have offers from both Duke and UNC in hand. Giles noted, “I’ve been to every Duke and UNC game at both places, and this was the craziest and best game,” he said. “I plan on attending the March 7th game at UNC, too.” It could have turned out to be a somber ending for Duke and its prized recruits in attendance, but instead they were treated to another Duke home win and a raucous celebration.

2. Derryck Thornton and Reclassification

While senior Caleb Swanigan was taking his official visit to Duke, junior point guard Derryck Thornton was making an unofficial visit all the way from Nevada. After the game, ESPN’s recruiting staff caught up with the two propsects with the most noticeable quote coming from Thornton. “They want to know if I would consider going to the class of 2015 because Tyus Jones could be leaving,” he said. “I believe I could take that step both academically and on the court. It’s something I definitely have to think about and discuss with my family.” That quote sticks out for a few reasons. While Tyus Jones was a top 10 recruit coming out of high school, his NBA stock wasn’t nearly as high due to concerns about his height and athleticism. Right now, DraftExpress lists him at No. 26 in the draft, but with his recent play Jones could be getting more serious about his draft potential. Duke has not recruited a point guard in the 2015 class yet, and given the aforementioned quote, Coach K is most likely trying to prepare his program for a possible departure. Thornton is one of the top point guards in his class and might be considered the best “pure” point as well. He has strong interest from Kentucky in addition to Louisville, California, and Miami. Will he think about re-classifying? Read the rest of this entry »

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