Tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge Main Event: Previewing Duke at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, ACC and Big Ten microsites writers Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins have teamed up to break down the match-up between Wisconsin and Duke, the main event on the final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Frontcourt

Alex Moscoso: Duke has a special player in center Jahlil Okafor, the likely #1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But as far as the best frontcourt in basketball, I submit there’s no unit with a better combination of talent and experience than the Badgers’ group of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker. All three will play in the Association and are familiar with one another’s tendencies from a full year together on the floor. For the season, they’re combining to average 42.9 PPG (57.5 percent of the team’s output) and 20.6 RPG. While Kaminsky and Dekker are likely to be Naismith finalists, Hayes has also garnered widespread acclaim for his improved play as a sophomore – specifically, his newfound ability to hit the deep ball on occasion (35.7%) and better defensive play in the post. His transformation from talented prospect to contributing factor has made this frontcourt almost invulnerable. The trio will certainly have its hands full with the athletic duo of Okafor and Justise Winslow, but the Wisconsin big men should wear these young Blue Devils out by hitting some threes and forcing them to guard the entire half-court – from the rim out to the three-point line.

Frank Kaminsky (yes, it's true) exploded for 43 points on Tuesday. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky  and the Badgers “are coming” for Duke on Wednesday night, in what is one of the best non-conference games this season. (Getty)

Brad Jenkins: To say this is a match-up of Duke’s young talent versus Wisconsin’s veteran frontcourt is an oversimplification. The Badgers’ big guys are not only experienced but they are extremely skilled and more athletic than most realize. Duke’s two freshman starters up front, Okafor and Winslow, are both considered one-and-doners, and they play the game with a physical and mental maturity rarely seen in college rookies. On the one hand, Okafor has good footwork around the basket that should force Wisconsin into more double-teaming than normal. On the other hand, Winslow is a bit of a wild card in this game, as the Badgers don’t have a player who can match his combination of size and athleticism on the wing. The veteran Dekker, a tall forward with decent lateral quickness, will probably get the assignment, but he has been nursing a nagging ankle injury and may not be at 100 percent. Look for Winslow to aggressively attack the Badgers off the dribble as a way to create offense when the Blue Devils are otherwise stymied. Wisconsin normally protects the defensive glass as well as any team in the country, but watch out for Amile Jefferson on the weak side if Okafor demands major attention. So far this season, the 6’9” junior ranks third nationally with a 21.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Duke’s Defense: Much Better This Year, But Good Enough?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 1st, 2014

Sunday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski won the 990th game of his career, 93-73 over Army. This game was a matchup of the only two schools that Krzyzewski has coached, and he was proud of both of them afterwards. In the postgame press conference, the veteran coach heaped praise on the Black Knights, and talked about how impressed he is with the job Army’s coach Zach Spiker is doing at West Point, where Krzyzewski played in the 1960’s and coached for five years before coming to Duke in ’80. Army came in to the game undefeated (5-0) and hung with the Blue Devils well into the second half before freshmen Jahlil Okafor (21 points) and Tyus Jones (16 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers) helped push the game out of reach. Duke has now won its first seven contests, all by 10 or more points, and along with the highly touted freshmen class, the improved Blue Devil defense has been the story so far.

Matt Jones (#13) and Amile Jefferson (#21) are part of an improved Blue Devil Defense. (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Matt Jones (#13) and Amile Jefferson (#21) are part of an improved Blue Devil Defense.
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Krzyzewski has long been lauded as a great defensive coach, and he has won many conference and national championships with stellar play on the defensive end, but that was not the case at all in 2013-14. Last year the Blue Devils ranked #116 in adjusted defensive efficiency, easily their worst finish since Ken Pomeroy started tracking the metric in 2002. There were many reasons cited for that weak performance: youth; not enough interior size; and a general lack of team toughness. Although they are still relatively young, Duke seems to have solved the size and toughness issue, at least so far. Last season, the problems surfaced early, giving us an indication that something was amiss with Duke on the defensive end. First there was the 94 points scored by Kansas in an 11-point Champions Classic Jayhawk win, and then even more troubling, Vermont hung 90 on the Blue Devils in a narrow one-point loss to Duke in Cameron. Duke went on to a fine 26-9 season but was plagued all year by having such an unreliable defense. Now after seven games in 2014-15 let’s look at how some of Duke’s defensive numbers compare to the first seven games from 2013-14 and with last season’s final stats:

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Duke Gets a Passing Chemistry Grade… So Far

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2014

Duke has been very impressive so far this season, winning handily over Presbyterian on Friday and stomping Fairfield on Saturday. Both of those games were played in the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, but before the Blue Devils face their first stiff challenge of the young season against Michigan State tonight in the Champions Classic (ESPN 7:00 ET), let’s look at what we have learned about Duke so far.

Freshman Justise Winslow Has Been Aggressively Attacking the Basket in Duke's Early Games. (Mark Dolejs - USA Today Sports)

Justise Winslow Has Been Aggressively Attacking the Basket in Duke’s Early Games. (Mark Dolejs – USA Today Sports)

  • Jahlil Okafor is the real deal, but so is Justise Winslow. Okafor has been every bit as good as everyone expected. In the first two games of his career, the Chicago big man has averaged 18.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game while making an outstanding 17-of-20 shots from the field — these proficient numbers earned him the first ACC Freshman of the Week award this season. In the future, Okafor’s primary competition for that honor may be his teammate Winslow, who is also playing very well on both ends of the floor. He has scored on frequent aggressive drives and shown a better than advertised outside shooting touch, going 3-of-5 on three-point shots. He also gives Duke an athletic lockdown wing defender, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Durham since Nate James. A great thing about being on press row in Cameron Indoor is how close you are to the action — up close, the maturity of Winslow in both physique and focus in his eyes is obvious when he’s in a defensive stance. That’s why he’s already been showing up in a handful of 2015 NBA mock drafts as a first-rounder. In fact, the whole freshmen class has an impressive level of maturity. Point guard Tyus Jones is off to a solid ball-handling start — passing for 12 assists while only committing three turnovers — and Grayson Allen is excelling in Duke’s up-tempo style with his great athleticism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Preview: Duke’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Duke’s veterans adapt to, and excel in, new roles?

All of the pre-season talk, and rightfully so, concerning Duke has been focused on the incoming freshman class Mike Krzyzewski has assembled. Jahlil Okafor, the most dominant incoming true center the Blue Devils have procured in some time, has garnered numerous accolades already in being named pre-season ACC Freshman of the Year by the ACC media and even the Associated Press pre-season Player of the Year. Freshman Tyus Jones, part of a “package deal” recruitment with Okafor, looks to be the starting point guard when the season begins this week. And wing Justise Winslow showed the defensive prowess expected of him, along with the scoring acumen, in the exhibition season to also merit a spot in the starting lineup.

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

While the freshman class is a sterling one, this team still maintains a number of veterans who will be familiarizing themselves with new roles. Senior Quinn Cook, one of the team’s two captains, was the starting point guard for most of last season and surely thought he’d seize the reins this year prior to Jones’ commitment. He’s now likely relegated to a spot coming off the bench and occasionally playing off the ball when he and Jones are on the court together. Cook, to his credit, has said all the right things about occasionally deferring to a freshman, but it’s still going to be a challenge to acclimate to the mindset of providing offense off of the bench, oftentimes from the off-guard position.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #7 Duke 63, Clemson 62

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Brad Brownell showed us he knows a thing or two about coaching this season.

Brad Brownell showed us he knows a thing or two about coaching this season.

  1. Don’t trust Duke in the NCAA Tournament. This is admittedly a harsh assessment, and the Blue Devils certainly deserve to be listed among the contenders for the title. When they’re hot, they’re borderline unbeatable. And they have a deep rotation of skilled offensive players. But their defense has serious issues. Duke gave up points on nine straight possessions after going up by 13 points in the second half. They scored some too, so it didn’t look like a dominant Clemson run by any means, but what should have been the time Duke put the Tigers away became the time Clemson held on to challenge for the game. Clemson’s offense is mediocre. Those kinds of runs can’t happen, but they’re beginning to seem like standard second half occurrences with this Duke team.
  2. On the other hand, Duke rebounded really, really well. Unlike defense, many concerns people have with Duke don’t make a lot of sense. This is a very good rebounding team, especially when shots aren’t falling like on Friday night. Amile Jefferson is both a capable offensive player — benefitting from not being the focal point of opposing defenses — and a force on the glass. His and Jabari Parker‘s post games mean Duke has no trouble scoring down low. Jefferson has grown a lot over the course of this season. Remember, during the first half of this season, Josh Hairston was playing comparable minutes to Jefferson (and Marshall Plumlee wasn’t playing at all). As a side note, Quinn Cook’s development has flat-lined — for whatever reason he can’t find much consistency. Offensively, I think point guard play is Duke’s biggest concern going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Heading into March, Duke Much in Need of Its Upcoming Break

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2014

After dispatching Virginia Tech 66-48 on Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke will get a much-needed week off. Going into this break, the Blue Devils have played five games in the last 11 days. It was already going to be a tough stretch in the schedule, but it became even more so when a rare Triangle winter storm forced the postponement of the game with North Carolina, originally set for February 12. The rivalry tilt was rescheduled for play on February 20, the only available date that made sense for both schools, but it created a situation where Duke has basically been playing every other day for the last week and a half. Now with a clear schedule until next Wednesday at Wake Forest, it’s a good time to assess how this Blue Devils’ team is currently playing and their prospects moving forward.

Rasheed Sulaimon's Playing Well On Both Ends Of The Floor. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Rasheed Sulaimon Is Playing Well On Both Ends Of The Floor.
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Perhaps the best thing to happen for Duke lately is the emergence of Marshall Plumlee. After spot duty and inconsistent play for most of the season, the redshirt sophomore has developed to the point that he is now clearly the top frontcourt reserve. Plumlee had shown some flashes of talent previously, most notably in a home game against Florida State in which he achieved career highs in points and rebounds (seven each). That outing was followed by a total of two points and seven rebounds in Duke’s next four games. But in his last three outings, the youngest of the Plumlees has shown much more consistency. In 47 total minutes combined, he has scored 11 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. He has also had an impact on the defensive end, blocking five shots over that period. Earlier in the year, Plumlee was very weak at defending the high pick-and-roll and was often late in help situations. That part of his game has improved enough so that Duke can now take advantage of Plumlee’s size to help with it’s biggest issue on defense – protecting the basket. That weakness was on display again in the Virginia Tech game. The Hokies’ trio of big men, hardly an imposing bunch, converted 16-of-22 field goals against the Blue Devils’ interior.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Akil Mitchell‘s offense is starting to come around. His defense has been elite all season, but his offense has taken a major step back from last year. His numbers still don’t match the double-double machine he was, but his shooting splits (not counting the free throw line) are almost identical to 2012-13. The good news is that his rebounding is back at an elite level. This year the Cavaliers don’t need him to shoulder nearly the same offensive load, but he’s absolutely critical for the Cavaliers on the boards.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: So the ratings are back from Syracuse-Duke and it’s safe to say the ACC will want these two schools to play multiple times a year. ESPN’s broadcast on Saturday night outdrew Lebron versus Durant two nights earlier, making it the highest rated sports event of the week (on cable). It also nearly doubled the ratings for North Carolina-Duke last Thursday night, which were admittedly split between ESPN and the local networks. Also, please enjoy more Jim Boeheim memes in the bottom slideshow.
  3. Charlotte Observer: Tyler Lewis finally has the starting point guard job at NC State. When Cat Barber started earlier this season, it looked like Lewis might be destined to become a role player coming off the bench. But as Barber’s freshman mistakes mounted, Mark Gottfried started going to Lewis more often. Lewis still can’t keep opposing guards in front of him, but there’s no denying that the Wolfpack’s offense looks best when he’s at the helm. He needs to improve his defense to keep the job in the long term because Barber will assuredly improve his consistency as he gets older.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Don’t look now but Marshall Plumlee is looking like a talented basketball player. It’s weird to say that there weren’t high expectations for a McDonalds All-American, but Plumlee never got much attention last season or for much of this one. Plumlee isn’t likely to see a huge boost in minutes next year (unless the Blue Devils want to go massive with him and Jahlil Okafor on the floor), but he already looks like a totally different player. He’s become much more confident, and therefore, effective. His shot-blocking and rebounding could end up being the Zoubekian post presence many have suggested that the Blue Devils need to make it to the Final Four.
  5. Blogger So Dear: Wake Forest showed some fight last night, playing spoiler at a sparsely attended game in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons beat Clemson, probably putting the Tigers on the wrong side of the bubble for good (barring a miraculous ACC Tournament run). Most importantly Jeff Bzdelik’s team showed a spark in the second half that had been missing the last couple of games. His team hasn’t quit yet, and still has an outside shot of finishing .500 with winnable games against Boston College and Miami (though that’s on the road) coming up.
Share this story

ACC Big Men Have Bright Futures: Will Their Teams Follow?

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 22nd, 2014

It is often bandied about that guards win games (along with defense) because they have the ball in their hands most often and thus affect the action more than other positions. While this is certainly a valid viewpoint, interior post players can often mean the difference between a championship team or a bubble team. The popular mindset is that big men take longer to develop in the college ranks because of the learning curve required to manage their combination of power, size and dexterity. Most post players come to the Division I ranks with a limited post game but raw with athleticism and length, prized characteristics that NBA GMs in every professional franchise covet.

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

The ACC this season is rich in young frontcourt talent that is likely to stay for more than a year in the collegiate ranks. North Carolina is a great example of the conference’s youthful exuberance in the post, sporting a terrific breadth of versatility in that regard. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are the tip of the iceberg, both terrific rebounders with vastly different approaches.  At 290 pounds, Meeks is a strong and sturdy freshman who isn’t a terrific leaper but uses his body and angles to score and rebound the offensive glass very well. He also possesses one of the nation’s best outlet passes, a perfect conduit for guards Nate Britt and Marcus Paige to start Roy Williams’ break. Johnson, on the other hand, is a long beanpole of a forward who has had a breakout sophomore year for the Tar Heels, ranking fourth in ACC field goal percentage at 54.5%. UNC’s frontcourt depth doesn’t completely end there, though, as the Heels also have 6’10”, 280-pound sophommore Joel James, who is a load in the paint but hasn’t found consistent playing time this season. Freshman Isaiah Hicks too has a bright future ahead of him at UNC; the McDonald’s All-American recorded seven blocks and pulled down an insane 30 rebounds in his state’s high school championship game last year. But the ACC’s young frontcourt brigade of talent doesn’t end in Chapel Hill.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Amile Jefferson Channels His Inner Zoubek

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 4th, 2014

He knew he had it within him all along. The skinny 6’9” “power” forward from Philadelphia had always played with an infectious sense of energy — the quintessential ‘hype man’ for Duke. But in Amile Jefferson’s freshman season, he primarily logged spot duty minutes at a clip of about 13 minutes per game. Stuck behind senior frontcourt leaders Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, Jefferson struggled to get into a groove and find a defined role in Duke’s system. Coming into this year, the 2012 McDonald’s All-American made it his business to add weight to his frame so he could take advantage of a vacuum of low-post talent in the frontcourt.

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K's lessons to heart

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K’s lessons to heart

Without a true post presence on the floor but all his other pieces aligning, Mike Krzyzewski needed either Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee or senior Josh Hairston to anchor the post while flanked by perimeter-oriented forwards Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Given that the Parker/Hood tandem is a highly efficient scoring duo, the center role in Duke’s scheme this year primarily requires competent rebounding, post defense, and communication while anchoring the back line of the defense. While Jefferson will never be the kind of defensive shot-blocking presence as Kansas’ Joel Embiid or Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski, he can arguably check the boxes that Duke desires in a big man.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Duke Dominates Florida State in Coach K’s 900th Win at Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 26th, 2014

After a little over eight minutes of play Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke held an 11-10 lead over Florida State, but their coach was not pleased. During the second media timeout, Mike Krzyzewski ripped off his jacket and then proceeded to rip into his team. The Blue Devils responded by outscoring the Seminoles 32-15 during the remainder of the half and maintained a double-figure lead throughout, winning 78-56. It was a milestone win for Krzyzewski, who joined Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim as the only coaches with 900 career wins at a single school.

Mike Krzyzewski Fires up Duke During First Half versus Florida State. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Mike Krzyzewski Fires up Duke During  the First Half versus Florida State.
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Here’s what had Coach K so upset. Duke had executed the defensive game plan well early, forcing Florida State into seven turnovers before that second media timeout, but the Blue Devils had wasted that effort with otherwise casual play – four turnovers of their own, 3-of-16 shooting, and only two free throw attempts. Perhaps even more troubling was the four consecutive fast break opportunities that his team had allowed Florida State during that time. Duke was fortunate that the Seminoles only converted on two of those chances with Ian Miller missing a wide-open three and Robert Gilchrist misfiring on those two attempts from the line. From that point on, Duke was much more aggressive. Even though the Blue Devils struggled to make shots — as most teams do against the tall and athletic Seminoles — the Blue Devils found other ways to score. Duke dominated the boards, grabbing more offensive rebounds (27) than Florida State did in total (24), and repeatedly attacked the basket, shooting 43 free throws compared to 18 for the Seminoles. Duke also had a huge edge in bench points (42-11) but part of that was because Rodney Hood (18 points) was unable to start the game due to an interesting uniform issue that required him to borrow shorts from a teammate.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Duke Looking to Run Early and Often With This Year’s Roster

Posted by Chris Kehoe on October 26th, 2013

Duke’s roster this season is merely a shell of its former self. Gone is the backbone of the team, gone are the three seniors, gone are the leaders, gone are 47.9 PPG. You get the point. Duke lost its three leading scorers and a huge part of its 30-win Elite Eight team. Yet people are excited about the prospects of this team, even perhaps more excited than last season. Duke returns both its junior floor general, Quinn Cook, and its sophomore shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American, Rasheed Sulaimon. Another two McDonald’s All-Americans return in sophomore forward Amile Jefferson and redshirt sophomore center Marshall Plumlee. Where Duke changes up the offensive schemes and flips the script is with the two future NBA swingmen on the roster, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and blue-chip freshman Jabari Parker.

Quinn Cook calls Duke's new offense 'a point guard's dream' (USA Today)

Quinn Cook calls Duke’s new offense ‘a point guard’s dream’ (USA Today)

Don’t be mistaken, though, Duke is still Duke. They will continue to have shooters spotting up around the arc for open looks: postgraduate sniper Andre Dawkins, freshman Matt Jones, Sulaimon, Cook, and even senior perimeter stopper Tyler Thornton all can and will fire away with a green light from deep. But as ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan pointed out in a recent excerpt about Duke, Mike Krzyzewski above all adapts to his team’s strengths. And with a team full of athletic and versatile players like Parker, Sulaimon, Hood, and Jefferson, Krzyzewski has this year’s team poised to run early and often. “Last year’s team couldn’t run like this team can now,” senior captain Thornton exclaimed.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Who Won the Week: Duke, UC Irvine and Texas (sorta) …

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 21st, 2012

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Duke

Mason Plumlee has led Duke in rebounding 10 times in 11 games as the Blue Devils are 11-0 while ranked third in strength of schedule. (AP Photo)

Mason Plumlee has led Duke in rebounding 10 times in 11 games as the Blue Devils are 11-0 while ranked third in strength of schedule. (AP Photo)

The week couldn’t have gone much more perfectly for the Blue Devils than it did. Achieve top ranking? Check. Land a top recruit? Check. Win both games handily? Check and check. Yes, Duke should probably send some flowers to Butler for knocking off preseason favorite Indiana, but who would have looked at the two teams before Saturday and thought the Hoosiers were better? Outside of the state of Indiana, I’m guessing few would. The Blue Devils (11-0) have the nation’s best body of work, and have dominated it in such a fashion that they look to be the nation’s top team convincingly, and this is before prized prospect Jabari Parker picked Mike Krzyzewski’s squad over Michigan State and BYU. On the court, Mason Plumlee, who has led Duke in rebounding 10 times so far, carried his team to an 88-47 win over Cornell with 18 points and nine rebounds Wednesday and followed that up the next night with 21 points and 15 boards in a 76-54 win over Elon. And as an added bonus, the youngest Plumlee, freshman Marshall, already made a brief return to the court against Cornell coming back from a foot injury.

(Related winners: Mason Plumlee, Butler. Related losers: Indiana, Michigan State, BYU, Cornell, Elon, and especially North Carolina – more to come.)

LOSER: Eastern Kentucky

The Ohio Valley’s Colonels started their season off hot, winning nine straight games before a weekend matchup at also-undefeated Illinois. The major-conference team expectedly pulled Eastern Kentucky apart, winning 66-53, but it was what happened next that wrapped up a bad week in Richmond, Ky. On a rare road trip to a MEAC school, the Colonels were tripped up by North Carolina A&T, who pounded the ball inside while shooting 55 percent from the field and stifling Eastern Kentucky’s guard-oriented offense by holding it to 40 percent shooting. The Bulldogs also nearly doubled up the Colonels on the glass, sealing the game. So much for a hot start.

(Related winners: North Carolina A&T, the 457 Bulldogs fans who watched the game in person. Related losers: Murray State and the Ohio Valley Conference, which both need every break they can get come March.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story