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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ACC M5: 01.13.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 13th, 2016


  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Kennedy Meeks is back for North Carolina. He’s not 100 percent yet, but it’s a good sign that he’s back and in stark contrast with those of Amile Jefferson (Duke) and Terry Henderson (NC State). The Tar Heels need the junior big man in the lineup to meet their National Championship aspirations. It also looks increasingly clear that North Carolina is the team to beat in the ACC this season. Miami doesn’t appear far behind, but the road to a conference title will go through Chapel Hill.
  2. Slap the Sign: This is a decent Notre Dame primer, as the Irish are still searching for a leader after the departures of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Demetrius Jackson is very talented but his best games have come in losses rather than wins. The most damning statistic working against the Irish may be that of “good wins.” — their only one so far came against Iowa. All of its other top-50 opponents have resulted in losses. That’s something Mike Brey will have to change to avoid a disappointing conference finish.
  3. Boston College Heights: Dennis Clifford is starting to look like his old self at Boston College. He’s still not consistent (he turns the ball over too much to be efficient), but he’s moving better and will likely be the reason the Eagles beat a team they shouldn’t. Boston College is horrid this season (the only two worse major conference teams worse are St. John’s and Rutgers), but its defense will give it a fighting chance a few times during conference play.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Amile Jefferson’s injury has made Duke worse in the short run because the team has no depth. Mike Krzyzewski has been using a six-man rotation (sometimes seven by playing Chase Jeter for a few minutes) since Jefferson went down. But Duke isn’t known for playing large rotations to begin with, and it’s unlikely that either Luke Kennard or Marshall Plumlee would have seen this sort of time without the starting center’s absence. It’s still hard to tell if this Duke’s team is fool’s gold thanks to nearly all of its recent opponents being helplessly outclassed, but all of that will change at the end of the month when the team travels to Coral Gables.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Why is Pittsburgh getting no love from the national media? The Panthers’ only loss came against a very good Purdue team that’s frankly a nightmare matchup (size plus shooting). Sure, Pitt’s non-conference schedule was nothing to write home about, but it’s odd that Jamie Dixon’s group isn’t getting a little more publicity. Even if they go into the Yum! Center and beat Louisville later this week, many people may blame the inconsistent Cardinals.

EXTRA: GIF power rankings??? Don’t mind if I do. If you only look at one, look at NC State. It’s perfection.

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ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Week 1 Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 8th, 2016

With the first full week of conference play now in the books, results have mostly held to form thus far (Virginia falling in Blacksburg notwithstanding). The presumptive favorites appear to be as good as advertised, and perhaps even a little better in some cases (see: Brice Johnson’s 39-point, 23-rebound exercise in absurdity in Tallahassee). In fact, Johnson doesn’t even make this week’s Stock Watch because that kind of performance can’t be defined by any sort of trajectory — it’s off the graph entirely.

Trending Up

Buzz Williams continues to clean house as he turns around Virginia Tech's basketball program. (Michael Shrayer - USA TODAY Sports)

In just his second year, Williams has Hokies’ fans buzzing earlier than expected in Blacksburg. (Michael Shrayer/USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia Tech: Even after an 11-22 campaign a season ago, few seemed to doubt that Buzz Williams would eventually build Virginia Tech into a competitive ACC program. After an inauspicious start in this year’s non-conference season (nobody forgets that opening night loss to Alabama State), the Hokies probably shocked even themselves with their opening week of ACC play. An overtime win over struggling NC State is one thing, but following that up with a win over intrastate bully and two-time defending league champion Virginia is quite another. The victory put a halt to the Hokies’ seven-game losing streak to the Cavs and shows that Williams might actually be ahead of schedule in generating some excitement in Blacksburg. With his trademark passion and intensity, it is only a matter of time before Virginia Tech becomes a consistent winner.

Jordan Roper: The senior guard from Clemson proved there is more than one way to skin a cat in leading his team to a pair of impressive victories last week. On Saturday, Roper connected on a career-best seven three-pointers en route to a team-high 23 points, boosting the Tigers to a nine-point win over Florida State. His shots weren’t falling on Wednesday — Roper was unable to manage a single made field goal — but he set a career-high of 10 assists in an impressive overtime victory at Syracuse. Roper is averaging career-bests in points, rebounds and assists for the 2-1 Tigers, which next host Louisville in a game on Sunday where his steadiness will be critical.

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Depth and the Devils: The Worries of Duke’s Shrinking Rotation

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 23rd, 2015

Over the last decade, Mike Krzyzewski’s teams at Duke have shifted toward the new era of college basketball. Duke brings in NBA-bound one-and-done players at a much higher rate than it once did, possibly even surpassing John Calipari — the recent king of transcendent freshman — at his own game. Including this season, the Blue Devils have spent the last three years among the 100 youngest teams in America in terms of college basketball experience.

duke experience

This year’s team includes three freshman receiving a heavy dosage of minutes yet appears to rely on more veterans than last year’s group. That would imply that these Blue Devils returned a reasonable amount of production from last year’s National Championship squad, but a little digging reveals that’s not really the case. The four Blue Devils who played the highest percentage of the team’s available minutes last year departed after the season. This year’s team may be slightly older, but the experience they bring is somewhat misleading. Of the seven players to log time in Duke’s most recent game versus Utah, only one player, Matt Jones, received more than 25 percent of Duke’s available minutes last season.

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For This Year’s Crop of Duke Freshmen, Patience is a Virtue

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 19th, 2015

What last season’s iteration of Duke basketball made us forget, this season’s version reminded us quite vividly during the Blue Devils’ loss to Kentucky at the Champions Classic — which is that the adjustment from high school to high-level college basketball isn’t all that easy. After a pair of tune-up tilts in Durham last week, Duke took the floor in Chicago boasting the most discussed player in the country in Grayson Allen along with the nation’s top-rated crop of incoming rookies. After a sound humbling at the hands of the hungry Wildcats, what they left with were a bunch of question marks and a better appreciation of the special nature of last year’s special freshman class.

Coach K will have to exercise some more patience with this class of rookies than was required a year ago. (AP)

Coach K will have to exercise some more patience with this class of rookies than was required a year ago. (AP)

Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Allen made up the Duke’s incoming class of 2014, and while the the holdover sophomore initially struggled to adjust, the others seamlessly transitioned to the college game. In last year’s Champions Classic win against eventual Final Four participant Michigan State, the trio had their handprints all over a 10-point victory. Jones played with the poise of a point guard well beyond his years, scoring 17 points and committing no turnovers in his 31 minutes of action. Okafor showed the dominant form that would define his only season at Duke, making eight of his 10 attempts from the field. And Winslow proved to be a whirling dervish of controlled aggression, scoring 15 points of his own and grabbing six boards in a team-high 36 minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Evaluating Duke’s First Two Games

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2015

It’s always premature to form ironclad opinions based on a team’s first two games of the regular season, especially when the team in question is as young as Duke‘s 2015-16 squad. Throw in the fact that the competition the Blue Devils faced over the weekend was far from stellar, and we still have most of the same questions about Mike Krzyzewski’s current edition that we had before the season began. Nevertheless, here are some observations from Duke’s two home wins over the weekend, a 92-74 victory over Siena on Friday and a 113-75 demolition of Bryant on Saturday night.

Grayson Allen has picked up right where he left off in the 2015 Final Four, averaging 27 points in Duke's opening two games. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Grayson Allen has picked up right where he left off in the 2015 Final Four, averaging 27 points in Duke’s opening two games. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

There were two major questions for Duke coming into this season. First, could this year’s highly-touted freshmen class approach the spectacular success achieved by last year’s rookies? And secondly, were Duke’s four returnees capable of elevating their games after mostly exclusive use in the past as role players? To the first question, the newcomers played much better collectively against Bryant than they did in Friday’s opener. Krzyzewski spoke about the differences in their performances between the two games:

“I didn’t think they talked well last night. Part of that, I think it’s your first game at Duke, your first real game. For Brandon [Ingram], it’s his first start. I reminded them that it’s Grayson [Allen]’s first start last night too. It was Marshall [Plumlee]’s first start in two years. We have a lot of young guys. Grayson and Marshall [Plumlee] weren’t into themselves last night, they were trying to help everybody. When you’re young, sometimes your thoughts are just with you instead of talking. Tonight, they talked well. They were consumed with Duke. We saw that they played better. That’s just a learning process that they have to go through.”

Individually, Brandon Ingram scored 15 and 21 points, respectively, in the two games, and exhibited much better shot selection in his second college start on the way to making 4-of-6 threes (he was just 1-of-9 from deep in the opener). He also used his length well to act as a disruptive defensive force, with a combined four steals and three blocks over the two outings. Ingram was also often employed by Krzyzewski as a ball-handler from the top of the arc, a set that will make him even more of a match-up problem for most collegiate forwards. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Preview: Duke’s Burning Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Sean Moran on February 26th, 2015

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

Note: used for all player rankings.

1. Duke Attracts Five-Star Recruits For Rivalry Game

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

2. Derryck Thornton and Reclassification

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

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Duke and Florida Going All Out For Recruits On Saturday, Arizona Adding 7’1″ Dusan Ristic?

Posted by Sean Moran on March 7th, 2014

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

Note: used for all player rankings.

1. Big Saturday Night in Durham

In the last weekend of regular season hoops, Durham, North Carolina, will be the center of attention on Saturday night. Between a visit from archrival UNC, Senior Night festivities, and ESPN Gameday in attendance, there will be quite the buzz going on in Cameron Indoor Stadium. In order to take advantage of the big night, Duke has invited a plethora of big name recruits and top targets to campus. The biggest name on the list is five-star center Myles Turner. The 7’0” center is the top unsigned target in the 2014 class and the No. 2 prospect overall, and the Blue Devils are trying to add him to their already No. 1 ranked recruiting class. From the junior class, five-star power forward Chase Jeter (#18 – 2015) will make his official visit, as will five-star guard Luke Kennard (#14 – 2015). In addition, Coach K will have several players on campus for unofficial visits, including top sophomore Harry Giles, five-star wing Josh Langford (#15 – 2016), and four-star point guard Junior Smith (#26 – 2016). Several of the players noted above, including Jeter, Kennard, Giles, and Smith, are also considering North Carolina. With a win, the Blue Devils will look to continue their recruiting momentum with more five-star signatures. A loss, however, could certainly be devastating. Last year, UNC was in the exact same spot and brought Andrew Wiggins and five-star shooting guard Rashad Vaughn (#13 – 2014) to Chapel Hill. Duke jumped out to a 15-0 lead and the recruits quickly lost interest in the game they were brought in to see.

Myles Turner is visiting Duke on Saturday. Will the Blue Devils impress him enough to join No. 1 Jahlil Okafor?

2. Florida Celebrates SEC Championship

Florida has the SEC Championship locked up, but they will be looking to end the season with an 18-0 conference record. Going against rival Kentucky on Saturday afternoon, Billy Donovan is bringing in his 2014 commitments along with plenty of other recruits for 2015 and 2016. While not on the level of Duke’s haul, Florida will play host to 11 players in total. Four-star Devin Robinson (#24 – 2014), Chris Chiozza (#44 – 2014), and Brandone Francis (#37 – 2014) will all be suiting up for the Gators next year, and they will be joined by a pair of four-stars who are receiving strong interest from the Gators. Guard Antonio Blakeney is one of the Gator biggest targets in the class, ranked No. 39 in the country. He will be joined by 6’3” four-star guard Austin Grandstaff (#47 – 2015), who recently de-committed from Oklahoma State, and 6’8” Noah Dickerson (#49 – 2015). Alonzo Mourning’s son, Trey, will also be in attendance, as will four-star wing KeVaughn Allen (#84 – 2015) while on an official visit. The Gators will be celebrating their regular season accomplishments and will try to impress a few more players who will help them continue the tradition.

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