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 Weekend Review: 02.08.16 Edition

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

After Friday afternoon’s bombshell announcement that Louisville was self-imposing a postseason ban, the attention returned to the play on the floor for fourteen ACC schools this weekend. In a rarity, five league road teams were favored in the seven matchups, but only three managed to extract victories. In the marquee contest, Notre Dame continued its recent run of superiority over the ACC’s two most storied programs, as the Irish rallied for a big upset win in South Bend over North Carolina in ESPN’s prime time game on Saturday night. Earlier in the day, Virginia Tech also pulled off a mild surprise as the Hokies edged Clemson in Blacksburg, significantly damaging the Tigers’ postseason hopes in the process. In other action, the ACC’s two leading scorers dueled in Durham, with Grayson Allen and Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber putting on a show as Duke defeated N.C. State for the second time this year. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste celebrate Notre Dame's upset win over North Carolina. (Getty Images)

Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste celebrate Notre Dame’s upset win over North Carolina. (Getty Images)

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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 Weekend Review: 01.25.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 25th, 2016

Once again, it wasn’t exactly a weekend of mega-matchups in the ACC. Going into Saturday’s action, the league had seven teams rated in KenPom’s top 38, yet none of them faced each other over the weekend. Some of the games were affected by winter storm Jonas, which caused the rescheduling of two games. On Sunday afternoon, North Carolina continued its undefeated ways in the ACC by holding off a feisty Virginia Tech squad in a game that was moved from Sunday night due to travel concerns in Blacksburg. Syracuse probably faced the toughest travel adversity, finally arriving in Charlottesville less than seven hours before Sunday night’s tipoff. In a game that had been originally scheduled for Saturday night, Virginia pulled away in the closing seconds to hang on against an Orange team that is suddenly playing well. Saturday, three road teams were successful in tight contests; Duke snapped its three game losing streak by beating N.C. State in Raleigh; Louisville gave Georgia Tech another tough home loss; and Pittsburgh rallied from a big halftime deficit to overtake Florida State. In other Saturday action, Miami broke open a tight game late to defeat Wake Forest, and Notre Dame blasted Boston College even though the Irish lost point guard Demetrius Jackson to injury just minutes into the game. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend in the ACC.

Tony Bennett and Virginia earned a hard fought win over Syracuse on Sunday night. (Stephen D. Cannerelli/syracuse.com)

Tony Bennett and Virginia earned a hard fought win over Syracuse on Sunday night.
(Stephen D. Cannerelli/syracuse.com)

  • Best Win: Since we didn’t have any blockbuster matchups or big upsets this weekend, we will declare Virginia‘s home 73-65 victory over Syracuse as the best ACC win of the weekend. The Cavaliers came into the contest with a disappointing 3-3 ACC record and were facing one of the hottest teams in the league. After dropping their first four league games, the Orange had ripped off three straight wins, including two on the road. The Syracuse surge looks to be directly related to the return of Jim Boeheim, who had to serve a NCAA mandated nine-game suspension that included the school’s first three ACC games. The Cavaliers led most of the way but couldn’t shake the Orange, who made 13 three-pointers, until the end. Tony Bennett‘s big three led the way as usual; Malcolm Brogdon scored 21 points; Anthony Gill had 16 points and eight rebounds; and London Perrantes finished with 16 points and seven assists.
  • Worst Loss: After 20 minutes of play, Florida State was looking good against Pittsburgh. The Seminoles were at home, leading by 10, and playing a team coming off a confidence killing home loss to NC State earlier in the week. But two weaknesses from the past came back to haunt Leonard Hamilton‘s team, who let the Panthers come back to take an important 74-72 win in a matchup of NCAA Tournament hopefuls. Somehow, Florida State managed to lose despite outshooting Pitt from the field by a wide margin (53.7 percent to 39.3 percent). Pitt won as a result of having more chances to score, thanks to a +6 edge in both offensive rebounds and turnovers. Those two areas have long been an issue for the Seminoles during Hamilton’s tenure, but hadn’t this year until conference play began. Currently, Florida State ranks 13th in the league in turnover margin and last in defensive rebounding percentage in ACC games.
Grayson Allen had a strong all-around game to help Duke end its losing streak. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer)

Grayson Allen had a strong all-around game to help Duke end its losing streak.
(Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Few Duke teams have needed a regular season win as desperately as this team needed this win on Saturday against rival N.C. State. The Blue Devils had lost three consecutive ACC games coming into the day, all of which had been winnable in the final minute of play. Grayson Allen made sure the Blue Devils’ losing streak came to an end with an excellent all-around performance. The sophomore guard led all scorers with 28 points, shooting 11-17 from the floor and 5-5 from the line. Allen also dished out seven assists and helped out on the glass, finishing with seven rebounds – six of them on the defensive end. Allen is making a strong case for first team All-ACC honors, as he currently ranks second in the ACC in scoring. He’s also fifth in both field goal percentage and assists in ACC games.
  • Unsung Heroes: The most obvious choice here is sophomore big man Anas Mahmoud of Louiville. The native of Cairo, Egypt more than doubled his previous career high, finishing with 15 points in the Cardinals’ road win over Georgia Tech. Mahmoud has been gaining more confidence and playing time from Rick Pitino lately, averaging close to eight points and six boards in his last four outings. Pitt’s Jamie Dixon was glad to see Sterling Smith snap out of his slump, as the graduate transfer tied his season-high with 16 points, including four three-pointers. Smith was much more aggressive than he was in his three prior contests, when he only attempted a total of four shots in 56 minutes of play. Finally, Miami’s Ja’Quan Newton deserves recognition. Newton helped break open a tight game with Wake Forest by scoring 13 of his 18 points in the second half. The aggressive sophomore has been solid off the bench all year for the Hurricanes – he’s second on the team in both scoring and assists, and leads the team in free throw attempts despite playing less than 22 minutes per game.
  • Most Efficient Offense/Least Efficient Defense: At half-time of Saturday’s game in Raleigh, Duke trailed by seven, which was due in great part to a soft Blue Devil zone defense that allowed N.C. State to shoot 56.7 percent from the field. But according to Mike Krzyzewski after the game, despite the deficit and defensive struggles, the zone at least allowed his thin Duke team to be much fresher for the second half than they had been in their previous three losses. The strategy worked (at least for one game) as Duke scored 52 points on 31 second half possessions. For the game, the Blue Devils averaged 1.33 points per possession. Duke shot the ball well in all areas: 65 percent on two-pointers, 40 percent on threes, and 78 percent from the foul line.
  • Most Efficient Defense/Least Efficient Offense: We don’t expect to see Notre Dame’s defense win this honor very often, but when the opponent is Boston College, even the Irish’s normally generous defense can look good. The Eagles managed only 0.74 points per possession on Saturday in South Bend and rank 338th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. You can safely expect to see them in this category a few more times this season. The biggest issue for BC in this game was two-point shooting, as the Eagles made just eight of their 38 two-point attempts.
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Evalutating the Midseason National Player of the Year Candidates

Posted by Andy Gripshover on January 1st, 2016

In the spirit of the New Year and the start of conference play, this post will count down the top candidates for National Player of the Year to this point in the season. It’s a diverse list that features a couple players who are putting up strong traditional numbers for low-major teams, a couple of teammates who are putting up fantastic efficiency numbers on one of the top teams in the country, and a few of the standouts that you’ve already heard so much about this season.

10. Jameel Warney, F, Stony Brook — Warney gets the Keenan Reynolds career achievement spot on this list. He’s a four-year starter for the Seawolves who has led the team in scoring each year, going from the America East Rookie of the Year in 2013 to an honorable mention All-American last year while leading the nation in double-doubles with 24 of them. He’s back at it again this season, averaging 20.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and contributing a third-best nationally 3.5 blocks per game.

Fighting among the "Big Boys" - Kahlil Felder has been spectacular this season. (Oakland Athletics)

Fighting among the “Big Boys” – Kahlil Felder has been spectacular this season. (Oakland Athletics)

9. Kahlil Felder, G, Oakland — The kid known as “Kay” is the nation’s second leading scorer (26.6 PPG) and its leading assist man (9.3 APG). He’s a classic little man (5’9″) doing big things for the Golden Grizzlies. He exploded for 37 points and nine assists in last Tuesday’s overtime loss to No. 1 Michigan State and put up 30 on Wednesday night against Virginia’s vaunted defense. Greg Kampe’s breakneck offense (12th in adjusted tempo) allows Felder to get what he wants when he wants, and he can both score and set up teammates from anywhere on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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Drawing Battle Lines, Day Three: Making a Case for Wednesday’s Games

Posted by Brendan Brody and Matt Patton on December 2nd, 2015

After two days worth of games, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is deadlocked at four games apiece with six games left tonight. Michigan, Purdue, and Northwestern picked up wins for the Big Ten last night, while North Carolina, Virginia, and Miami notched wins for the ACC. To prepare for the final night of play, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the leagues they cover. Brendan Brody (Big Ten) and Matt Patton (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Penn State at Boston College (7:15 PM, ESPNU)

  • Matt: The Eagles are coming off a disastrous trip to California which they ended getting pummeled by Santa Clara. How the team responds is the x-factor. On paper this looks like a fairly even matchup, which should give the advantage to the home team. Additionally, Jim Christian’s team has the pieces to be a better offensive team than they’ve shown thus far.Expect Christian to throw a few different defensive looks at Brandon Taylor to try to keep him uncomfortable, but the Eagles will win or lose this on the offensive end. Boston College has to make shots, and will need a strong performance out of freshman Jerome Robinson and transfer Eli Carter.
  • Brendan: When they’ve won, Penn State has only given up 56.7 ppg. When they’ve lost, it’s because they’ve given up an obscene amount of three-pointers. Boston College has some shooters, but their two leaders in three-point attempts (Carter, and AJ Turner) are both shooting below 30 percent from deep. Look for the Nittany Lions to make sure they guard on the perimeter, and look for them to squeak out a close win in a low scoring game.

Wisconsin at Syracuse (7:15 PM, ESPN2)

Jim Boeheim (US Presswire)

Jim Boeheim Will Stay in New York For Another Game Tonight (US Presswire)

  • Brendan: Syracuse has been one of the biggest surprises nationally after starting the season 6-0. Wisconsin has struggled to a 4-3 mark, but have showed some flashes of getting things together despite playing a tough schedule. The key aspect that they can exploit in this game is in getting extra possessions on the glass. They rebound 41.0 percent of their misses, while the Orange struggle to close out possessions by snagging a defensive rebound (308th nationally in defensive rebounding rate). Look for the Badgers to take advantage of these extra possessions to get the road win here.
  • Matt: Raise your hand if through six games you thought Trevor Cooney would be the least efficient Orange player. Syracuse has totally reinvented itself, and it hasn’t needed Dajuan Coleman to do so. Michael Gbinije has been outstanding running the offense (with Cooney’s help). If the Orange can keep their starting five on the floor most of the game, they’ll be in good shape. Neither team will be interested in running the floor, so that’s an achievable goal. Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon can’t let Wisconsin’s ball movement hurt the Orange inside, though the Badgers have not had a banner year offensively to date.

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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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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 19th, 2015

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Miami (#23) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action later today, taking on Ben Howland’s rebuilding Mississippi State (#133) squad in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (ESPN2 – 5:00). With an otherwise less than challenging non-conference schedule, Jim Larranaga’s team could pick up some quality wins here, with potential meetings against Utah (#20) in the second round and Butler (#31) in Sunday’s finals (ESPN2 – 7:30). This trip was arranged in no small part to give senior guard Angel Rodriquez a homecoming. A native of Cupey, Puerto Rico, the senior will be highly motivated to lead the Hurricanes to the tournament title on his home island.
  2. Charleston Classic: Tony Bennett will try to get Virginia (#4) back on track after Monday’s upset loss at George Washington. The 73 points that the Cavaliers gave up were the most they have allowed in regulation since an 87-52 blowout loss to Tennessee in December 2013. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of problems ahead for Bennett’s vaunted defense, which was whistled for 24 fouls against the Colonials. The competition at the Charleston Classic this weekend is not of the highest caliber, however, as the Cavs open with Bradley (#272) tonight (ESPN2 – 9:30) and could face a couple of the three non-top 50 major conference schools also in the event — Oklahoma State (#56), Mississippi (#64) and Seton Hall (#73). This tournament’s championship game will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30).
  3. Paradise Jam: If the first two games of the year for Florida State (#35) are any indication, Leonard Hamilton will have his highest scoring team in years. The Seminoles are averaging 103.5 points per game after registering two beatdowns over weak competition and freshman Dwayne Bacon has been a star, scoring 23 and 27 points in back-to-back games. Florida State is the co-favorite in the Paradise Jam along with a Tulsa (#41) squad which upset Wichita State earlier this week. If the two favorites meet in the finals, it will be on Monday night (Nov. 23 – CBSSN – 10:00). The Seminoles will face Hofstra (#95) in Friday’s opening day of play (CBSSN – 4:30) and could meet up with an interesting South Carolina (#47) team in the next round.
  4. 2K Sports Classic: Another team looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss earlier this week is Duke, which travels to Madison Square Garden for the 2K Sports Classic this weekend. Mike Krzyzewski’s perimeter corps had a difficult time finding good looks against the quicker Kentucky backcourt in Tuesday’s loss at the Champions Classic, and the Blue Devils’ transition defense was carved up to the tune of 14-point deficit in fast break points. Individually, sophomore Grayson Allen will look to bounce back after a miserable 2-of-11 shooting performance and just six points against Kentucky. The opponents in New York will not be of Kentucky’s ilk, but they will still be a challenge for this young Duke squad. Friday’s (ESPN2 – 7:30) opponent will be VCU (#51) and Sunday will bring either Georgetown (#44) or last year’s NCAA title game opponent, Wisconsin (#24).
  5. Brooklyn Hoops Holiday InvitationalLouisville (#22) has already begun play in this event, which is not a traditional tournament in any form. Every game has predetermined matchups and Louisville gets to host the first three games, including Tuesday’s 87-52 win over Hartford (#312). Also visiting the KFC Yum! Center as an exempted game will be North Florida (#100) on Saturday (November 21) and St. Francis (NY) (#239) next Tuesday (November 24). In the Cardinals’ only game of the event away from home, they will meet St. Louis (#152) in Brooklyn on Saturday, November 28. Collectively, these games will not be much of a boost to an already weak non-conference schedule that Rick Pitino has lined up for his inexperienced squad this season.
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Evaluating the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon: 29 Takeaways From 29 Hours of Action

Posted by Andy Gripshover on November 18th, 2015

My name is Andy Gripshover (@apgripsh) and I watched the entire ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. All 29 hours of it, from start to finish. Here are 29 takeaways from the proceedings.

Denzel Valentine Was the Star of Stars to Finish Off the Marathon (USAT Sports)

Denzel Valentine Was the Star of Stars to Finish Off the Marathon (USAT Sports)

  1. I actually like the Oregon court. I really do. It’s unique; it’s fitting for the area; and everyone wastes too much time hating on the brightness in the middle when it’s actually a perfect contrast to the shade of brown used inside a three-point arc that doesn’t get NEARLY enough love. But that court plus the Ducks’ all-neon yellows PLUS Baylor’s forest greens with the neon green lettering? Yeah, that was a little much. Or perhaps a secretly evil way of starting off the Marathon.
  2. As for the game itself, Baylor was flat most of the way, trailing by double figures for the first 10 minutes of the second half before making a push late. Oregon put four starters in double figures plus Dwayne Benjamin doing his thing off the bench, and Chris Boucher and Elgin Cook thoroughly outplayed Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince.
  3. Now the Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State is a court that I think we can ALL agree is beautiful. Very light and easy on the eyes, and those palm trees….
  4. The offenses in that game between the Beach and BYU were anything but beautiful, though. The Cougars were 26-of-62 from the field, including 5-of-21 from three and an utterly ghastly 8-of-21 from the free throw line. Was that bad? Because Long Beach was worse: 22-of-71 (!!!) from the floor, including 7-of-24 from three. The 49ers had a 22-2 run midway through the first half and held on for dear life in the second to knock off an NCAA Tournament team before heading to Charleston this weekend.
  5. As for the Cougars, Kyle Collinsworth looked at less than 100 percent in going 4-of-9 from the field…. and also 4-of-9 from the foul line. Chase Fischer took five threes and made none of them. It was a nightmarish offensive performance for BYU, and yet, the Cougars almost stole a win at the end anyway.
  6. There’s a certain feeling you get when you see the Stan Sheriff Center court at Hawaii for the first time and realize you’ve made it that far in the Marathon.
  7. Nevada made its first 17 free throws before missing and losing on a Roderick Bobbitt layup with 1.4 to go on the island despite an inspired 34 (!) for Marqueze Coleman. Quality Hawaii game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Keys to Kentucky’s Success Against Duke

Posted by David Changas on November 17th, 2015

The college basketball season may only be a few days old but that doesn’t mean we have to wait long for a matchup of true heavyweights. Unlike its gridiron counterpart, teams don’t risk a shot at a national championship with an early-season loss, which is why fans will be treated to a clash of the titans when Kentucky battles Duke in Chicago at the Champions Classic. It’s a matchup of schools — wearing the same jerseys but with many different faces — that appeared destined to play each other for last year’s national title, a fate that was ultimately derailed by the undefeated Wildcats’ stunning loss to Wisconsin in the national semifinals. In the absence of Calipari’s crew on the floor during championship Monday in Indianapolis, the Blue Devils captured a crown that for so many months appeared Kentucky’s to lose. The Wildcats will get a shot at some measure of redemption tonight, despite the fact that this game will include only a few of the players who participated in last year’s Final Four.

Kentucky will have to control Duke's Grayson Allen, who is off to a hot start. (Getty).

Kentucky will have to control Duke’s Grayson Allen, who is off to a hot start. (Getty)

Let’s take a quick look at three keys to Kentucky’s chances of earning a mid-November win that will ultimately look very good come March:

  1. Control Grayson Allen. The bouncy sophomore guard enjoyed his coming-out party at last season’s Final Four, making the all-tournament team after being little more than a bit player for most of the season. Now, acting as one of the new leaders of Mike Krzyzewski‘s squad, Allen has started the season with a bang, averaging 27 points per game in wins over Siena and Bryant. Clearly the confidence that he gained last April has carried over to this season. Kentucky will have to neutralize his slashing and shooting game — the Wildcats can use a combination of athletic players, including Jamal Murray, Derek Willis, and Alex Poythress to slow him down. With many of the other Blue Devils still learning their offensive roles, Duke could be in for a long night if Kentucky can limit his production. 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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