Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 66, #2 Gonzaga 52

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is in Houston this week for the South Regional semifinals and final.

Three Key Takeaways.

Both Jones' -- Tyus And Matt -- Were Instrumental In Duke's Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

Both Jones’ — Tyus And Matt — Were Instrumental In Duke’s Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

  1. Offenses Fail To Get Going, Again. In Friday night’s regional semifinals, four teams that began the night among the 65 most accurate three-point shooting teams in the country combined to shoot 23 percent from long-range. Much was made of the clumsy dome setup inducing the offensive malaise, but the forecast for Sunday was still for efficient offense by the bucket-load, given the firepower Duke and Gonzaga brought to the table. The two teams got off to a fast start – 22 points in the first five minutes – but things settled down significantly from there on out. Gonzaga and Duke combined to shoot 41 percent from the floor, including just 38 percent for the victorious Blue Devils. Duke did do two things extremely well offensively: shoot the ball accurately from three-point range (8-19) and maximize possessions (an amazing three total turnovers for the game). Gonzaga was less proficient in each category, making only two of 10 three-point attempts and turning the ball over 13 times. There were glimpses of the offensive brilliance we witnessed from both these teams all season, but this regional final never escalated into the explosive matchup many expected.
  2. Matt Jones, Who? Matt Jones. The Duke sophomore supplied the game of his life in this Regional Final. Jones, who entered Sunday averaging just 5.9 points per game, finished with 16 points (one shy of his season and career highs) and converted four of Duke’s eight made three-point field goals. With Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones again struggling to find the range from deep (combined 2-8 on three-point attempts), Jones’ unexpected scoring was crucial in getting the Blue Devils into the final minutes with a lead. Mark Few said afterwards that concerns about guarding Justise Winslow had led to Gonzaga to do a significant amount of cross-matching with Kyle Wiltjer defending Jones, a reasonable coaching decision that devolved into a disastrous result for the Zags. Jones, Duke’s fifth starter and a Texas native (like Friday night hero Justise Winslow) playing in his home state, was as important as any of his more acclaimed teammates Sunday afternoon.
  3. Wiltjer-Winslow Matchup. This was the matchup many fixated on in advance of Sunday afternoon, and with good reason: Winslow was coming off a scintillating Friday night performance, while Wiltjer has been arguably the Zags best player all season. Mixing and matching by both coaches saw both players spend a good deal of time defending elsewhere, but Wiltjer kept Gonzaga close in the first half, scoring 13 points on 5-7 field-goal shooting. Meanwhile, Winslow forced the action early and managed just five points in the opening frame, missing five of his six field-goal attempts. Things changed dramatically after intermission, however. Wiltjer struggled to get touches and was a virtual non-factor in the second half, while Duke’s freshman swingman found his Friday night form, pumping in 11 second-half points. Among the 11 was the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and less than three minutes to go that put Duke up nine. Both players finished with 16 points, but Winslow’s big second-half was a key differentiator for Mike Krzyewski’s team.

Star of the Game. Tyus Jones, Duke. None of Duke’s big four – Jones, Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook – played anything close to a perfect game today. Heck, they combined to shoot 15-45 from the field. Still, it was Jones that catalyzed Duke’s quick start, scoring seven points as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 17-10 lead. The South Region’s Most Outstanding Player finished the day with 15 points, six assists and no turnovers, helping Duke to that minuscule turnover total of three. Matt Jones’ unexpected scoring was a huge boost Sunday afternoon, but it was the more familiar Jones on the Duke roster who dictated this game’s flow from the outset. His ball-handling and all-around savvy will now be put to use in Indianapolis.

Quotable. “It’s meant everything. Best team I have ever been on talent-wise and the best group of guys. We can look back and be pretty happy with what we have been able to do.” –Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga senior point guard, on what this Gonzaga season has meant to him.

“It’s a shot he makes. It’s a shot he makes 499 times out of 500.” –Mark Few, on Kyle Wiltjer’s missed layup with 4:51 to go that would have tied game. Duke went on a 13-1 run to close the game after the miss.

“Our defense the last 16 minutes was spectacular — not (just) good. I love these guys and they came through.” –Mike Krzyewski, Duke head coach

“This team is eight guys. There is not someone hiding in the locker room that is going to come out and appear.” -Krzyewski.

Sights & Sounds. Whether it was the Sunday afternoon time slot, a Final Four bid on the line, or just the anticipation of the region’s top two seeds meeting, there was an urgency in NRG Stadium that never existed Friday night. The Duke faithful significantly outnumbered Gonzaga supporters (rough estimate — 5:1 ratio of Duke to Gonzaga fans), but enough folks from the Pacific Northwest made the journey South to create a back-and-forth feel to the cheering. In the end, however, the final image of NRG Stadium was all too familiar: Thousands of contented Duke fans standing in acknowledgment of a Blue Devil team advancing to face their next challenge.

What’s Next?  Duke advances to the program’s 16th Final Four, where it will take on Tom Izzo and Michigan State in Indianapolis. The fourth overall meeting between Mike Krzyewski and Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament will double as the second time they have met in a National Semifinal. Duke has won two of those three prior matchups, which includes a Sweet 16 game two seasons ago. On the other side, the loss to Duke ends what will likely go down as the greatest season in Gonzaga history. The Zags, now 0-2 all-time in the Elite Eight, will finish the year at 35-3. Mark Few loses Byron Wesley, Gary Bell and WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos to graduation after an undeniably special year in Spokane.

 

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 63, #5 Utah 57

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Justise Winslow Starred In Duke's Sweet Sixteen Victory Friday Night (USA Today Images)

Justise Winslow Starred In Duke’s Sweet Sixteen Victory Friday Night (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke’s Dominant Defense. The Blue Devils made their way to Houston largely on the backs of a prolific offense but it was a disruptive defensive effort that fueled Friday night’s victory. In the Utah backcourt, Duke extended pressure and forced 15 Utes’ turnovers; when Utah managed to settle into the half-court offense they found the going no easier, as they made just 34.6 percent of their field goal attempts, including only 4-of-16 from behind the arc. Over the course of the last two months, an improving Duke defense has often gone unnoticed while the hyper-efficient offense has whizzed on the other end. Today, however, there is no chance it goes overlooked — this was a varied and dynamic defensive effort against a good offensive team that earned Duke a trip to the Elite Eight. If similar efforts continue, that defense could take them even further.
  2. Delon Wright Never Gets Going. Utah’s indispensable senior star was whistled for an extremely questionable third foul with 4:59 to play in the first half, relegating him to cheerleading duties for the remainder of the period. In 13 first-half minutes, he managed only two points (on 1-of-5 field-goal shooting) without an assist. Wright was far more involved in the second half – he finished with 10 points, six rebounds and three steals – but his final contributions were still insufficient for the Utes to seriously challenge Duke. He missed 10 of his 14 field goal attempts, turned the ball over as many times as he set up teammates for buckets (two), and generally failed to penetrate the Duke defense. In totality, Wright’s senior season was spectacular – he was THE catalyst for Utah’s revival. But on Friday night, much like he was in other games down the stretch, Wright just didn’t measure up to the lofty standards his early brilliance helped set.
  3. Okafor Was Contained, But No Problem For Duke. Utah did a good job containing Duke’s freshman All-American, limiting Okafor to 3-of-6 shooting from the field while forcing him into four turnovers. Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski took turns as the primary defender on Okafor, but the Utes also brought a double-team immediately upon any Okafor touch, which served well in minimizing his impact. The good news for Duke: The Blue Devils learned they could win without a standout performance from Okafor. The bad news: Future opponents could replicate the Utes defensive plan of attack to make life difficult for him. Thinking to Sunday: Will Gonzaga leave Karnowski and Sabonis to battle Okafor one-on-one?

Star of the Game. Justise Winslow, Duke. Winslow’s stellar first-weekend play carried over to tonight as the Duke freshman again stuffed the stat sheet. His final line: 21 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. It wasn’t all good for Winslow – Brekkott Chapman beat Winslow for a layup while he was celebrating a made three-point field goal, much to the chagrin of Coach K – but the versatile wing again proved his immense value on Friday night. In an unusual twist, it was Winslow who hit all three of the Duke three-point field goals, finding the range on a night where teammates Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones could not. Fearing his athleticism, Utah dared him to shoot perimeter jumpers – Winslow made them pay.

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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: South and East Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 27th, 2015

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Tonight the Sweet Sixteen moves to Syracuse and Houston, so let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the East and South Regions.

South Storylines

1. Is this finally Gonzaga’s year? Mention Gonzaga to a casual college basketball fan, and more often than not, the word ‘overrated’ pops into his head. The Bulldogs have had some really impressive regular seasons under Mark Few, making the NCAA Tournament every year since he took over in 1999. But time after time, the Zags have come up short in March. Few has never taken Gonzaga past the Sweet Sixteen as a head coach, but this could be the year that the drought ends. This year’s team is more complete and well-rounded than most previous editions, and the final hurdle on the path to the Elite Eight is a #11 seed — albeit a strong one — in UCLA. A program-first Final Four might also be within reach, but let’s not put the cart before the horse just yet — for many reasons, the Zags need to win tonight.

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

2. Duke’s recent Tourney hiccups. Since winning the 2010 National Championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s postseason record has actually been pretty lackluster. He came into this year 5-4 in the NCAA Tournaments from 2011-14 and he has been on the wrong end of some stunning upsets — losses to #15 seed Lehigh in 2012 and #14 seed Mercer a year ago. Even the 2011 Sweet Sixteen loss to #5 seed Arizona was unexpected. It’s exactly that kind of loss that Duke will be hoping to avoid this time around against a dangerous Utah squad.

3. Back aboard the Utah bandwagon? The Utes faded from the spotlight late in the season. They lost three of their last five games and exited the Pac-12 Tournament by losing to Oregon for the second time in less than a month. But they were businesslike last weekend in handling Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown, and come into tonight’s contest as only a five-point underdog against Duke. Utah has been a top 10 KenPom team since early January, and after a methodical but strong second half dispatching of the Hoyas, it seems like everybody has fallen back in love with the Utes as a Final Four sleeper. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The Sweet Sixteen continues with four more compelling games tonight in Houston and Syracuse. Here are this evening’s previews.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA – South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Houston, TX) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday's matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday’s matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Nobody forgets the tears. Nine years and three days ago, UCLA induced a very public display of emotion from Adam Morrison. The circumstances that led to the devastation were far from ordinary – the Bruins erased a 17-point second half deficit and scored the final 11 points to down the Zags and advance to the Elite Eight – but it’s the singular image of Morrison, keeled over on the floor with blue Gonzaga jersey pulled over his face, that has persisted longest in the memory banks of March. Now, almost a decade later, the two teams renew March pleasantries for the first time since Morrison’s college career came to that tearful end. The differences between this matchup and the last are too numerous to list, but there is one key similarity: Gonzaga again has a team widely perceived to be capable of winning a national title.

Mark Few’s team has made just one Sweet Sixteen since 2006, and that team (in 2009) needed only to beat a #12 and a #13 to get there. Needless to say, Gonzaga Final Four prospects haven’t been this bright since Morrison was in uniform. This Bulldog team is nearly as explosive as the ’06 bunch (emphasis on nearly: that team was #1 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency), but points now originate from a wider variety of sources. Six Zags average at least eight points a game, and every Gonzaga regular owns an offensive rating in excess of 110. In the first two rounds, Gonzaga averaged 86.5 points per game and posted points per possession marks of 1.23 and 1.30 against North Dakota State and Iowa, respectively. Unlike in past years, the Zags we see this March look remarkably similar to the ones we watched all season. Good news for Mark Few; bad news for UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 68, #8 San Diego State 49

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Krzyzewski leads Duke into the Sweet Sixteen for the th time. (Sporting News Photo)

Mike Krzyzewski leads Duke into the Sweet Sixteen for the 22nd time. (Credit: Sporting News Photo)

  1. Duke got a great draw for a second round opponent. While we all know how potent the Blue Devils are offensively, there have been games in which opponents have exposed some weaknesses in Duke’s defense this year. But those teams had characteristics that San Diego State just does not possess, namely capable perimeter shooting, and guards that excel at penetration. Many times this season, opponents have made 50 percent or better from behind the arc against Duke, often because guards got into the lane easily before kicking out to open shooters. Without a penetrating guard at its disposal, San Diego State was unable to break Duke’s pressure effectively and even when they got free, they missed – going 2-for-13 from distance.
  2. San Diego State just doesn’t have enough offense. That’s been the Aztecs’ Achilles’ heel all year. In each half today, San Diego State went through long stretches of cold shooting that kept them from hanging around. The killer came in the middle of the second half, after they had cut Duke’s lead to seven with just under 13 minutes to go. Over the next nine minutes, San Diego only scored two points as Duke built an insurmountable 25-point lead. You have to give them credit though for hustle, as the Aztecs grabbed 13 of their misses and turned them into a big (+16) advantage in second-chance points. But the overall lack of offensive skill was wholly evident as San Diego State couldn’t keep up with Duke’s firepower.
  3. Talent Matters. San Diego State has a good, deep team but probably lacks any future NBA players on its roster. On the other hand, Duke probably has several, including the likely overall #1 pick in this year’s draft – Jahlil Okafor. The big freshman displayed his advanced skill package against a tough defensive interior, scoring 26 points on a smooth 12-of-16 shooting performance. Justice Winslow looked like a top-5 pick himself, with a terrific all-around game. When he grabs a defensive rebound he immediately looks to push the pace, often going coast-to-coast a la Lebron James. That was big today as the Blue Devils were able to often avoid the rugged Aztec half-court defense, finishing with 18 fast break points in the game.

Star of the Game.  Justice Winslow, Duke. It appears that the Houston native really wanted to go back home next week for the South Regionals. Winslow has shown a knack this season for getting off to energetic starts that propel Duke to big early leads. That was true today as well, with Winslow setting the tone by grabbing nine rebounds and dishing four dimes before intermission. He finished a great all-around performance with a double-double (13 and 12) to go with five assists, four steals, and three blocks.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 85, #16 Robert Morris 56

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Jahlil Okafor and Duke were too big for Robert Morris to handle in the paint. (AP Photo)

Jahlil Okafor and Duke were too big for Robert Morris to handle in the paint. (AP Photo)

  1. Duke says “not this year.” After well-documented Second Round clunkers in two of the last three years, Duke came out blazing tonight — hitting nine of its first 10 shots on the way to a 17-point halftime lead. The Colonials made a run midway through the second half to cut the Duke lead to 10, but after a Mike Krzyzewski timeout, the Blue Devils responded with a run of its own to put the game away. When Duke’s balanced offense is clicking, it’s very hard to stop. Tonight they made threes and dominated inside with a +12 rebounding edge. The only negatives were a 50 percent performance at the foul line, and the tendency to get casual with the ball, as Duke committed 11 mostly unforced turnovers.
  2. Robert Morris looked like a #16 seed tonight. The Colonials were impressive in their First Four win over North Florida on Wednesday but looked physically overmatched against Duke tonight. While few teams can match up with freshman All-American Jahlil Okafor, the Colonials’ overall lack of size anywhere in the lineup gave them virtually no chance. Even Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee were too much for Robert Morris to handle in the post. For the game, Duke outscored its opponent in the paint by a huge margin (+24) and the undersized Colonials only got to the free throw line four times.
  3. Duke’s freshmen performed well in their NCAA Tournament debut. Part of the worry for Duke fans coming into today’s game was that those two Blue Devils squads that suffered recent early NCAA exits were so reliant on freshman stars. With this year’s team suiting up a trio of great rookies, the question of experience in an NCAA Tournament setting was on everyone’s minds. It didn’t seem to matter. Okafor had his way inside, going 9-of-11 from the floor and suffering some sharp scolding from Krzyzewski after missed a reverse dunk in transition. Tyus Jones ran the team well, finishing with 10 points, seven assists and committing only one turnover. Justise Winslow came alive in the second half and was the player who facilitated Duke fighting off Robert Morris’ second half surge. After the lead was cut to 10, Winslow hit a three, grabbed a rebound and took it coast to coast for a layup, and then grabbed another board that he turned into an assist on a Tyus Jones three. Ballgame.

Star of the Game. Quinn Cook, Duke. Duke’s senior leader made sure that his team got off to a great start with his early play tonight. He hit four first-half threes on the way to 16 points and finished the game with a team-high 22. Cook also dished out five assists and had three steals in a very good all-around performance.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 74, Duke 64

Posted by Matt Patton on March 14th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the first half. The Irish hit some unbelievably tough shots and made Jahlil Okafor try to beat them on his own. As a result, Duke’s other players went 4-of-16 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Notre Dame may be the only team in the country with five guys who can consistently hit shots (although Duke has some lineups that also fit that description). The Irish smothered Duke by forcing the guards to play deeper than usual and fronting Okafor. They also hit shots, lots of them. Mike Brey’s team had a total of five and-ones in the first half alone. Five. When Duke went to its zone, Bonzie Colson just crushed the Blue Devils from the high post. When they went back to man, Demetrius Jackson got to the rim with incredible ease. Even in the second half when Duke started making its eventual run, Notre Dame’s ability to get to the rim (and the free throw line) felt like the reason Duke never got it back to a single-possession game.
  2. Demetrius Jackson is destined for great things. This may be an obvious statement (Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American, after all), but Jackson is a fantastic young player. He brings an athletic dimension to Mike Brey’s team that has been somewhat missing over the years. Jackson frequently broke Duke’s three-quarter court pressure like no one was there with his quick bursts of speed and playground dribbling moves in traffic. He also got to the rim with ease, finishing the evening with five assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes of action. If there’s a reason to still be bullish on the Irish next season without Jerian Grant, it’s because the sophomore Jackson is ready to take over the team.
  3. Mike Krzyzewski was remarkably calm. Coach K has a reputation of being curt and snippy in his pressers after Duke losses, but other than a defensive response to a question about last year’s team not meeting expectations, he was remarkably measured. I have a few theories on this attitude. The most likely idea is that he felt like Duke would have won the game if Quinn Cook hadn’t been gassed (Krzyzewski said on Thursday that Cook had been fighting off an illness). Cook went 1-of-10 from three on mostly good looks (0-of-8 in the second half) and he did a good job defending Jerian Grant, but it just looked like he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. The other theory is that Krzyzewski really liked the way Justise Winslow and Okafor fought back after horrible first halves.

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ACC Regular Season Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 9th, 2015

The ACC regular season has come to a close, which means it’s time for conference tournament play and postseason dreams that stretch deep into March. For now, though, it’s a great time to look back at the standout performers and performances of the regular season that was. Here are your 2014-15 ACC superlatives:

RTC All-ACC Team

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Okafor lived up his immense preseason billing and single-handedly turned a dangerous Duke team into a dominant one. Okafor was the conference’s second-leading scorer (17.6 PPG), third-leading rebounder (9.2 RPG) and top shooter by field goal percentage (66.8%). His ability to make the team a dual threat instead of the perimeter-reliant teams of yore means these Blue Devils have a very high ceiling come NCAA Tourney time.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. The remarkable year that the Fighting Irish enjoyed can be traced to the return of Grant from a suspension related to academic improprieties. In addition to his highlight-reel dunks and numerous clutch baskets, Grant was a stat-sheet stuffer for a vastly improved Notre Dame team, logging 16.8 PPG, 6.7 APG and 1.8 SPG on the season. He also shot an outstanding 49.4 percent from the field.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. The Orange ultimately had little to play for because of their self-imposed postseason ban, but they may have produced the best on-court individual success story of the year. Christmas’ amazing improvement from his junior to senior season (17.5 PPG, +11.7; 9.1 RPG, +4.0) proved he could flourish as the team’s primary option. He served as the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season for Syracuse hoops and has positioned himself for a bright future in the professional ranks.
Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Brogdon’s inclusion on this list speaks to his ability to play whatever role Tony Bennett asks of him. With Justin Anderson stealing the early headlines, Brogdon was content to act as the team’s best on-ball defender and late game shot-maker. When Anderson fell to injury, Brogdon resumed his role as a primary offensive weapon. He averaged nearly 14 points per game while shooting 34 percent from three and 86 percent from the line. Traditional statistics never do Virginia players much justice, though, but Brogdon’s intangible ability to meet the demands made of him showed his true value to the ACC regular season champs.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College. Hanlan played on a mediocre Boston College team but his offensive prowess was rivaled by none in this year’s ACC. The conference’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, he remained a deadly offensive weapon despite playing the point guard position for the first time in his career. He scored 30 or more points four times, including a stellar 39 points on just 20 shots against Pittsburgh.

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ACC M5: 03.05.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 5th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse Post-Standard: Whatever the Post-Standard is paying Patrick Stevens, it isn’t enough because here’s his exhaustive list of ACC Tournament seeding scenarios. Some of those are simple (notably, the bottom four teams). Pittsburgh has the most to prove in its last two games with a possibility of a seed anywhere from sixth to tenth depending on what happens around the league. The most important battle, though, is for the last double-bye. Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia are already locked in, but Louisville and North Carolina are battling for the final spot. The Cardinals control their own destiny (North Carolina’s only remaining game is home against Duke), but they also have to beat Virginia this weekend or get some help from around the league.
  2. Fox Sports: Of course I ran an article on Wake Forest’s Danny Manning yesterday and a better one shows up today. Assistant coach Randolph Childress gives Lauren Brownlow some gems for quotes on Manning’s move to a folding chair if he doesn’t like the effort he’s seeing from his team. Childress is the side of the story that Brownlow really brings to her profile. Manning wanted to keep the Deacon legend on staff because of his connections to the school and the area. None of the Wake Forest players or Childress have anything bad to say about Jeff Bzdelik, which suggests that the biggest problem with Bzdelik was his ability to associate with fans. This is worth a read.
  3. Boston Herald: Olivier Hanlan has been really flying under the radar this season, and of course it helps that Boston College is abysmal. Through eight games in February he averaged over 27 points per game and he’s at the top of the league in minutes per game as well (tied with Jerian Grant). Hanlan hasn’t quite put up Erick Green’s efficiency from Virginia Tech a couple of years ago, and I think Green’s recency will bias voters against the Eagles’ star. But Hanlan has to be first team All-ACC and he really should be in the conversation for ACC Player of the Year too. I think it’s reasonable to say that Grant’s and Jahlil Okafor’s raw totals were held back by being surrounded by so many weapons (give me Grant right now just because he’s so versatile), but not considering Hanlan shows that the voter didn’t watch him play at all this season.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: In light of Syracuse‘s self-imposed postseason ban, Derrick Coleman won’t be going to Greensboro to be a part of this year’s ACC Legends class. This just highlights how dumb postseason bans are because they punish the current team for issues with former players. It’s weird that we haven’t heard anything from the NCAA on Syracuse yet, but hopefully it gets resolved quickly and it doesn’t also hold next year’s team accountable for past grievances.
  5. Miami Herald: Jim Larranaga is optimistic about Miami‘s chances at making the NCAA Tournament, but it’s clear the Hurricanes still have a lot of work to do. They’ve got a great win (at Duke) and took Virginia to double-overtime (that’s the game that may end up hurting them more than their losses). In addition to a strong finish to the regular season (the game at Pittsburgh was probably an elimination game), Miami is going to need at least one upset in the ACC Tournament to have a shot at celebrating Selection Sunday. And who knows, if Angel Rodriguez gets hot for a few games, maybe Miami walks away with a trophy in Greensboro.

EXTRA (via Washington Post): It wasn’t much of a mystery anyway, but apparently Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is the only player listed on the ballot the ACC media were sent for rookie of the year.

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ACC M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 4th, 2015

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  1. BC Interruption: I’m hoping we get the full breakdown of possibilities from Patrick Stevens later this week, but Brian Favat does a good job projecting the ACC Tournament bracket (along with a look at where things stood on Tuesday night). Virginia is locked into the top line and Duke has clinched a double-bye. Tuesday’s games are already set with Wake Forest, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech squaring off. The middle is a little more interesting, but where the drama will play out over the next four days is with the last team to get the coveted double-bye to Thursday. One of Notre Dame, North Carolina or Louisville will lose the double-bye and have to play on Wednesday. Currently the Fighting Irish are in the safest position, but they still have two games to play.
  2. Greenville News: A couple of weeks ago, Clemson trustees approved a $63.5 million renovation to Littlejohn Coliseum. It needed to happen, as the depths of the old arena are aging poorly. New and improved practice facilities and locker rooms are sure to be hits with recruits, and I’m sure Clemson hopes the reduced seating attracts more fans. Personally, Littlejohn is one of the diamonds in the rough in terms of collegiate atmosphere. Even with modest attendance, it is one of the louder arenas in the league. Hopefully these renovations don’t change that (or put the student section farther from the floor).
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: Danny Manning is setting examples in the hope that it will change the culture at Wake Forest. In the Deacs’ recent ugly game against Virginia, he sat the starters early in the second half. He didn’t offer much of an explanation other than “they weren’t doing anything,” but his other comments make it clear these maneuvers are about remaking the program. The Demon Deacons have a long way to go, of course, but assuming they have a couple more strong performances to finish out the year, they should crack the top-100 in Ken Pomeroy’s final rankings. That would best anything during Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure and Austin Johnson points out that the situation is analogous to what Mark Gottfried was able to do at NC State his first year (although with less talent on the roster than when he arrived in Raleigh).
  4. Backing the Pack: Stat nerds rejoice! Now there’s a little circular logic to the “total impact” stat (since Ken Pomeroy’s data is adjusted for strength of schedule, it should be built into the numbers already). I would probably have used Basketball Prospectus‘ raw numbers for team output and Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted numbers for opponent expectations, but that’s a trivial difference. What’s interesting is that Duke and Virginia are so close when John Gasaway’s conference efficiency ratings have them at such different levels. NC State also appears to be underperforming based on its record, so the Wolfpack might be a team to watch closely next week.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: We got a little more comment from the Duke athletic department on the Monday allegations from the Duke Chronicle. Athletic Director Kevin White emphasized that the Duke coaching staff satisfied their legal responsibilities and followed university protocol, implying that their information about the case was reported immediately to the proper administrators. That’s not the reading a lot of people took with the original article, so it was smart for White to come out and clarify that position (even if we won’t ever get a detailed timeline). This article won’t satisfy everyone, so here are a couple of alternatives:
    1. If you’re looking for a candidate for hot take of the year, look no further than Art Chansky’s piece on the situation at Chapleboro.com.
    2. If you’re already sick of the story, the Los Angeles Times did a piece on Jahlil Okafor (the Lakers will be in the running for the first overall pick in the NBA Draft this year).
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ACC M5: 02.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2015

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  1. Orlando Sentinel: Let’s start with our game of the night. Florida State almost came back to knock Miami right out of any NCAA Tournament talk thanks to Xavier Rathan-Mayes turning into a video game character for four minutes. Rathan-Mayes scored 26 points in just 3:36 of action (h/t to Michael Rogner). I’m calling it right now: We’re seeing a serious shakeup in the ACC next year. I think Florida State and NC State are both going to be really, really good. Duke needs Tyus Jones to return and Virginia needs Justin Anderson to do the same. North Carolina will be good with most of its players returning, but the Heels desperately need a shooter. Notre Dame and Louisville will both take steps backwards. That leaves plenty of room for a team or two to jump in from the periphery.
  2. SBNation: In our other game of the night, Duke managed to stave off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Duke’s defense looks awful (if you had the Hokies putting up an offensive efficiency of over 130.0 — easily the worst Duke has given up this year — please take your lies elsewhere), and while Jahlil Okafor will get the press (and his 30 points that easily could’ve been 35 if he had made some free throws), Quinn Cook is what kept Duke from being blown out of the gym. The Hokies couldn’t miss a three but Cook answered every volley with a shot of his own (including a dagger in overtime). This game highlighted the weird conundrum that is Duke this year: When they’re on, they can beat anyone (and badly); but when the Blue Devils’ defense is struggling, they’re quite average. Nick Fasulo does a good job pointing out how overlooked Cook has been this year, as he’s quietly been one of the most efficient players in the country. His usage doesn’t merit a first team All-ACC selection, but Cook deserves more credit for this team’s success.
  3. Washington Post: Moving on to a less competitive game, Wake Forest forgot to show up against an undermanned Virginia team in Winston-Salem last night. It looked like Tony Bennett’s squad was out for blood (the Demon Deacons should have bested the Cavaliers in Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago), and this is a good story on Virginia’s eraser in the paint, senior Darion Atkins. He’s a huge reason why the Cavaliers’ defense is still one of the best in the country even after losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. He’s also a quiet part of why Virginia hasn’t fallen off too much in Justin Anderson’s absence.
  4. CBSSports.com: Sam Vecenie took a look at the ACC Player of the Year race, and it’s pretty amazing. You have the National Player of the Year candidates (Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant); the stat machines without the accompanying team success to make the national spotlight (Olivier Hanlan and Rakeem Christmas); and you have the awesome players who struggle because a teammate is so good (Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson; Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell). That doesn’t even get us to guys like Trevor Lacey or Tyus Jones who have been unreal in the clutch this year. Pretty awesome problem to have.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: As we approach bracket season, it’s important to not only think about the bubble but also how personnel losses will affect teams’ seeds. It’s unlikely that Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal will have any bearing on Duke’s line (the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Virginia and North Carolina since he was dismissed), but Louisville without Chris Jones is another story. This is a really thorough look at Louisville’s current profile (along with some explanations of the bracketing rules).

EXTRA (via Will Brinson): Abdul-Malik Abu promised two of the Chapel Hill shooting victims that NC State would beat Duke and North Carolina this year (as a wedding present), and with the win over teh Heels he made good on the gift.

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