Can Duke Still Put Together a Special Season?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 13th, 2017

Before this college basketball campaign tipped off back in November, recall that Duke was the near-consensus choice as the nation’s best team. With a nice blend of established veterans and ultra-talented newcomers entering the program — along with the Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski at the helm — it appeared as if the Blue Devils were in position to dominate (remember some of the 40-0 chatter?). Now, as we approach mid-January, things look a lot different in Durham. It feels like Duke has battled almost nothing but injuries and controversies since practice began. The conventional wisdom has been that the Blue Devils will eventually get healthy and begin to achieve some of those lofty expectations, but is the more likely scenario quickly becoming something far less than anticipated?

With multiple injuries and distractions, Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Capel have had to coach through major adversity in 2016-17. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

As far as all the injuries, suffice it to say that, among Duke’s top 10 players, only Luke Kennard and Matt Jones have been available for every game. Blue-chip freshmen Harry Giles (who missed the first 11 games), Jayson Tatum (eight) and Marquise Bolden (eight) sat out for most of the early going, putting Duke in the difficult position of building rotations and chemistry on the floor without its full roster. Initially, the Blue Devils played well with Kennard and Amile Jefferson emerging as upperclassmen stars. When Tatum joined the starting lineup in early December and preseason All-American Grayson Allen once again looked healthy and happy, things appeared to be coming around. After the Blue Devils destroyed UNLV in Las Vegas on December 10, many observers thought they were well on their way. Then the bottom fell out.

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Specter of Harry Giles Still Looming Over Duke

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 7th, 2016

Mike Krzyzewski is accustomed to unexpected roster transformations. After all, when you spend over four decades on the college basketball sidelines, it is inevitable that injuries, suspensions and other roster-wreaking circumstances will occasionally arise. This season’s Blue Devils are still an early version of what they eventually will become, but Tuesday’s night’s 84-74 Jimmy V Classic win over Florida revealed a group steadily evolving into the team many expected before all the injuries began. Star freshman Jayson Tatum contributed 22 points and eight rebounds in his second career game, while fellow freshman blue-chipper Marques Bolden saw a couple minutes off the bench. The presence of each was important in dispatching a good Florida team, but even the added production of Tatum could not fully obscure the continued absence of the most decorated of Duke freshmen, Harry Giles. The Blue Devils may already have the pieces in place to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament — consider that they just beat a Top 25 team by double figures on a night where presumptive NPOY Grayson Allen went 2-of-10 — but the roster won’t feel complete, the upside not fully explored, until Giles makes his debut.

Harry Giles' Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Harry Giles’ Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Ten days ago, moments after Duke had dispatched Appalachian State in a post-Thanksgiving tilt at Cameron Indoor, Krzyzewski identified just how different this season had been than expected. “We had this unbelievably deep team, supposedly,” Coach K said. “And really the past month, we’ve been back to what we’ve done the last two years, where there’s no practice, you are in therapy…it’s frustrating, but you do what you need to do.” In the days since, of course, the Blue Devils have regained some degree of health. Tatum and Bolden are back in action, although Giles, who has been going through pregame warmups since a November 23 game against William & Mary, remains on the shelf. After last night’s win, Krzyzewski added, “We’re hoping before Christmas, those two games,” when asked about Giles’ potential debut. Those two referenced games are December 19 and December 21 match-ups with Tennessee State and Elon, respectively. Some have suggested that Giles’ best course of action may be to sit out the entire season, but it appears Duke expects him to be on the court sooner than later. Given Giles’ prodigious prep reputation, that development has large potential ramifications for the Blue Devils. But no matter how significant his ultimate impact becomes, Krzyzewski will also find solace in a playable and complete roster.

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ACC M5: 12.05.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 5th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. For Duke this season, the injury bug giveth and the injury bug taketh away. After missing the first eight games of their freshmen campaigns, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden made their season debuts in Saturday’s blowout win over Maine. Given the new additions to his lineup, head coach Mike Krzyzewski decided it was a good time to rest two other ailing Blue Devils: guards Grayson Allen (toe) and Frank Jackson (foot). Afterward Krzyzewski also mentioned that Harry Giles is also close to full health, perhaps as soon as exams are over in two weeks. Luke Kennard took full advantage of the extra possessions, posting a career-high 35 points in the easy win. If the Blue Devils get healthy, it may not be wise to reduce the role of a player sporting an offensive rating of 130.9 on the season.
  2. Speaking of injuries, North Carolina suffered one of its own in Sunday’s rout of Radford in the Smith Center. Star point guard Joel Berry sprained his ankle early in the second half and did not return to the game. In the press conference afterward, Roy Williams said he hopes Berry can return to practice soon: “We’ll have to see what they say tomorrow, but I’m encouraged about it right now.” The next two games for the Tar Heels are at home against Davidson (Wednesday) and Tennessee (Sunday), both of which are winnable games even without their junior point guard. That will be followed by a six-day break, so hopefully Berry can return to full strength when North Carolina clashes with Kentucky in Las Vegas on December 17. In other injury news, Theo Pinson may be getting close to returning from his preseason foot injury.
  3. After bursting out of the gate with six impressive victories, Virginia quickly climbed all the way to the top of KenPom’s national ratings. Following a lackluster week that included squeaking by Ohio State and losing to West Virginia at home, however, the Cavaliers have slipped back to sixth. The Mountaineers came into Charlottesville on Saturday and handed Tony Bennett‘s team its first loss of the season — perhaps a sign of things to come when the competition gets consistently tough once ACC play begins. Great defense alone will not be enough to beat talented squads.
  4. At the other side of the spectrum we find North Carolina State. Mark Gottfried‘s team can score but are not very good on the other end of the floor. The Wolfpack are 6-2 on the year, with the two losses coming to the only two KenPom top-100 teams on the schedule to this point. Even more disturbing is the margin of victory against those inferior foes — three of their six wins came by four points or fewer. This is shaping up to be a very similar NC State team to last year’s version. Freshman guard Dennis Smith looks just as dynamic as Cat Barber was a year ago, but the Wolfpack’s defense looks just as porous as well.
  5. At first glance, Pittsburgh‘s loss to crosstown rival Duquesne on Friday night looks like a classic letdown game against a highly motivated opponent. The Panthers were coming off their most impressive win of the year — easily handling Maryland on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — and the Dukes hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh since 2000, a streak of 15 consecutive losses. It also didn’t help that senior star Jamel Artis was serving a one-game suspension for what Kevin Stallings said was a failure to “meet our high standards.” The Panthers’ offense struggled mightily without Artis in the lineup, posting a miserable 0.80 points per possession. Even ACC leading scorer Michael Young was off his game — he finished with 19 points on 8-for-21 shooting. So much for an easy transition for new head coach Kevin Stallings.
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Duke Successfully Coping With Early Injuries… For Now

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

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

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

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

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

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 10th, 2016

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

1stteam

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ACC Burning Questions: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 2nd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ACC M5: 10.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 24th, 2016

morning5_ACC

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

Posted by Sean Moran on March 30th, 2016

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season 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.

The 39th McDonald’s All-American game is set to take place tonight at 9PM ET (ESPN) at the United Center in Chicago. Each year this All-Star game gives the college basketball fan a sneak peak into the up and coming stars of next season. It also usually gives fans a first look at the top NBA draft picks for 2017.

Last year, the top two projected draft picks of 2016 competed in the game. Duke freshman Brandon Ingram scored 15 points after a breakout week in practice, while LSU freshman Ben Simmons scored seven points to go along with 10 rebounds. Five-star recruit Cheick Diallo was named MVP after he recorded an 18 point, 10 rebound double-double. After dealing with an early-season NCAA investigation, Diallo managed to score only 81 points on the whole season at Kansas before declaring for the NBA Draft.

The stars will be out tonight in Chicago. Below is a primer on who and what to watch for during the game:

1. Top Individual Matchup

Small forwards Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson are arguably the top two players in the country. The 6’8” Tatum will wear #22 for the East while the 6’7” Jackson will suit up as #11 for the West. Tatum is headed to Duke and has a smooth and skilled offensive game. He has the ability to play point forward and loves to emulate Kobe Bryant with a fade-away repertoire. Jackson is still undecided and set to choose from a list that includes Kansas, Arizona, and Michigan State. The Michigan native is an explosive wing with NBA athleticism who will surely be good for a highlight reel dunk or two.

2. Most Unique Player

Keep an eye out for 6’5” point guard Lonzo Ball (#2). Just last week the best passing guard in high school finished a spectacular senior season with a California state championship. His #1 ranked Chino Hills team went 35-0 on the year, breaking 100 points on a near-nightly basis in the process. High hopes and expectations await Ball at UCLA, as the Bruins are coming off a disappointing 15-17 season. Ball has an unorthodox outside shot, but he is still plenty capable of finding the bottom of the net from NBA range. He’s also been known to throw pinpoint three-quarter court passes just as often as does a fundamental bounce pass to a teammate on a look that few other players would see. Ball’s razzle-dazzle game is made for an All-Star event. Read the rest of this entry »

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Who’s Got Next? HoopHall Preview, Kobi Simmons & Rechon Black Make Decisions

Posted by Sean Moran on January 18th, 2016

whosgotnext

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated 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.

The final day of the famed HoopHall Classic takes place today with ESPNU giving college basketball fans a chance to get a head start on watching some of the top freshmen in the 2016-17 season. Here is a primer on 5 players to watch:

Jayson Tatum (11am) – Tatum is a 6’7” wing headed to Duke and has been one of the top players in his class (#3 overall) from the time he entered high school at Chaminade (MO). The future Blue Devil has the most advanced offensive game in the class of 2016 and likes to show off his Kobe Bryant fade-away.

Markelle Fultz (11am) – As a sophomore, the 6’4” Fultz was playing junior varsity for DeMatha. Now, he is the #7 prospect in the country and will head across the country to play at Washington next season. Fultz is a combo guard that can score in unorthodox ways. He excels at getting to the basket off the pick and roll and is a strong 3-point shooter.

Lonzo Ball (5pm) – The oldest of the Ball brothers is the best passer in high school and is the quarterback of Chino Hills, the top team in the country. The future UCLA Bruin is a 6’5” point guard that can hit pin-point three-quarter court passes and also knock down a three from the NBA three point line. Chino Hills is one of the most entertaining teams to watch as well.

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Sweet Seven Scoops: Andrew Jones Playing for 5-Star Status, Shoe Rivalries, & More

Posted by Sean Moran on December 9th, 2015

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season 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. Andrew Jones Makes a Play for 5-Star Status

Shooting guard Andrew Jones was one of the hottest names on the summer AAU circuit and his rise is still going strong with the tip of the high school basketball season. The wiry point guard from Texas recently averaged 33.0 points and seven rebounds over two games in the prestigious Thanksgiving Hoopfest against two of the top guards in the country. In his first game, Jones dropped 37 points against 2017 guard Trae Young and then in a mano y mano battle against future Kentucky guard De’Aron Fox, he scored 29 more. When offers started pouring in last summer, it looked like Jones’ recruitment was going to end quickly with official visits to Arizona and Louisville. Now, Jones is also considering SMU, Baylor and he has an official visit next weekend in Austin when Texas takes on North Carolina. The Irving, Texas, native is currently ranked No. 30 in the 2016 class and will make a strong push for McDonald’s All-American status as his senior season progresses.

2. Shoe Wars: Getting Ready for 2016

All eyes will be on New York City come the weekend of April 15-17. That weekend marks the first live recruiting period for college coaches and both Nike and Under Armour will be hosting their inaugural AAU events in the basketball mecca. This will be Nike’s first foray into New York City since the company kicked off its Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) and will coincide with the Jordan Brand Classic, an All-Star event at the Barclays Center for some of the top players in the class of 2015. Last year, Under Armour had one of their AAU weekends just outside of New York City, but two of the main players in grassroots basketball are raising the bar this year. You can certainly bet that all of the college coaches that will be out on the road in April will appreciate both rivals hosting their events within easy driving distance of each other. Read the rest of this entry »

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