This Weekend in the ACC: January 21

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 21st, 2017

Here are a few things you should be keeping your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Have We Reached the Point Where Syracuse Begins to Save Its Season? (USA Today Images)

  • 12:00 PM: Syracuse (11-8, 3-3) at Notre Dame (16-3, 5-1). The Orange, which desperately need some quality wins to get on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, will have a big opportunity this afternoon against the ACC-leading Fighting Irish. The problem for Jim Boeheim‘s club is that this game is in South Bend. In Syracuse’s six (yes, just six) games away from home this season, the Orange are 0-6, having lost those games by an average of nearly 13 PPG against questionable competition (i.e., St. John’s, Connecticut and Boston College). Most teams experience significant home and road shooting splits, but the Orange’s numbers away from home — 37.4% from the field, including just 31.2% from three — have been downright dreadful. Keep an eye on point guard John Gillon. In his six games away from the Carrier Dome, he’s made just 9-0f-37 shots (24.3%) and 3-of-17 (17.7%) from beyond the arc. If Gillon can knock down a few shots to relieve some of the pressure from Andrew White III and Tyler Lydon, Syracuse might be able to hang with Notre Dame long enough to have a chance to pull the upset. If not, it could be a very long afternoon in South Bend.
  • 2:00 PM: Louisville (16-3, 4-2) at Florida State (17-2, 5-1). In our Stock Watch that published earlier this week, we noted the recent terrific play of Louisville wing Donovan Mitchell and how important it will be for the sophomore to maintain his high level of play with starting point guard Quentin Snider on the shelf. Mitchell was once again terrific in the Cardinals’ win over Clemson on Thursday night, but the story of the game was Snider’s replacement, freshman V.J. King. Prior to Thursday night’s game, King had scored just 21 total total points in five ACC contests; his debut as a starter resulted in 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Now that he’s a known commodity, keep an eye on how King performs against the array of talented athletes that Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton will throw at him. In order to walk out of Tallahassee with a victory, the Cardinals will need King to knock down shots as well as remain physical with the Florida State guards.

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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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Duke is Embracing Its Quasi-Point Guard Situation

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 16th, 2016

There’s a common misconception that every successful offense needs a primary ball-handler. Certainly at the collegiate level, some teams do. But Duke is not one of those teams, especially not this season. Point guards serve two critical roles in traditional offenses: 1) breaking pressure defense, and 2) initiating half-court offense. But in an era where wings and even forwards spend so much time developing “guard skills,” it’s no longer uncommon to see multiple initiators on the offensive end. Whether by choice or by circumstance, Duke has embraced this movement.

Frank Jackson is Duke's Point Guard, But the Devils Really Operate the Position by Committee (USA Today Images)

Frank Jackson is Duke’s Point Guard, But the Devils Really Operate the Position by Committee (USA Today Images)

Following the departure of the team’s last true playmaker, Tyus Jones, in 2015, the Blue Devils have since employed an amorphous offense that lacks a true lead guard. Derryck Thornton attempted to claim this role last season, but the offense ran more efficiently through others and eventually stayed that way. Duke’s motion-heavy offense this season revolves around numerous backcourt scoring threats that are equally capable of creating for teammates. “The Chris Pauls, there aren’t as many,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski recently said. “He’s the old-fashioned point guard, the leader. Now you have a lot of lead guards that score and could run a team, but they may not be the guy that runs the team.”

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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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The ACC’s 15 Unsung Heroes

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 11th, 2016

Casual ACC fans know the stars. But on any successful basketball team, there is always at least one unheralded player who helps his team by contributing in any number of different ways. Perhaps a scorer who brings energy to a second unit; a defensive stopper who anchors the back line of the defense; or a newcomer claiming a role for the future. Who are those guys in the ACC this season? We’re glad you asked.

  • Boston College: Connar Tava. Tava had a terrific junior year in 2014-15 at Western Michigan when he averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 52.1 percent from the field. After suffering a season-ending foot injury early last year, he redshirted and transferred to Boston College in the offseason..
  • Clemson: Marcquise Reed. When you have a player as talented as potential All-American Jaron Blossomgame, he is going to attract a lot of attention from opposing defenses. The best way to take advantage of that? Surround him with players who can knock down the three-point shot. Reed, a transfer from Robert Morris hit 41.3 percent of his shots from long distance last season.
Matt Jones is the key to Duke's defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Matt Jones is the key to Duke’s defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • Duke: Matt Jones. It’s tough to make a case for a Duke player being relatively unknown, but Jones is the best option here. He averaged 10.4 points per game for the Blue Devils last season, but he won’t be asked to score nearly as much this year. Rather, what he will be asked to do is guard the opponents’ best perimeter players, especially during the home stretch of tight games. He is a terrific on-ball defender and versatile enough to adequately defend both guards and wings.

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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: 11.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 1st, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke kicked off its ACC exhibition season on Friday night with an easy 90-59 win over Division II Virginia State. Sophomore Luke Kennard exploded for 30 points, but the bigger story of the evening was Duke’s ongoing injury woes. Already playing without the services of injured super-freshmen Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum, Mike Krzyzewski lost two more starters to minor ailments within the first six minutes of the game. Senior wing Matt Jones left with a sore hamstring after just three minutes, and junior guard Grayson Allen went to the locker room after taking some shots to his shoulder. Allen later returned to finish with 13 points in 22 minutes, but he sat out the last eight minutes of the contest. Krzyzewski admitted afterward that he may consider toning down the intensity level of practice rather than risk more preseason harm.
  2. The saga of the North Carolina academic scandal has taken many twists and turns over the past several years, and news last week contributed to the fun when we found out that the NCAA may not actually be backing down nearly as much as we previously had thought. Things seemed to be looking more positive for the school after many of the NCAA’s initial charges went missing from the revised Notice of Allegations — including no statements about the men’s basketball program — and North Carolina’s bold retort claiming that, irrespective of that, the NCAA has no jurisdiction over the case anyway. If this were a George Lucas movie, we might say that The NCAA Strikes Back. In a release made public by the university last week, the NCAA sent UNC a harshly worded response rejecting the school’s position, and both sides met in a procedural hearing on Friday. Stay tuned for more information on this case — and there’s always more information.
  3. North Carolina State learned on Monday that Turkish freshman Omer Yurtseven must sit out the first nine games of the season because of eligibility issues. Additionally, two other ACC schools took disciplinary action against a pair of upperclassmen. Virginia confirmed that junior transfer Austin Nichols will miss all basketball activities for the next two weeks, including the Cavaliers’ season opener against UNC Greensboro. Georgia Tech also reported that senior point guard Josh Heath will miss the Yellow Jackets’ first four games of the season. In each case, the catch-all ‘violation of team rules’ was the reason given for the suspensions.
  4. The ACC is well-represented in KenPom’s preseason team rankings, with 12 league schools placed among the 51 best in the nation. Top-ranked Duke is joined in the top 10 by North Carolina (#5), Virginia (#7) and Louisville (#9), which looks very similar to the other preseason polls that have been released so far. The ACC appears to be the conference to watch for efficient scoring this year, with 12 league squads rated 34th or better in offensive efficiency. Pomeroy also lists three ACC teams that excel at the other end of the floor, with Virginia, Louisville, and Syracuse all ranked among his top five in defensive efficiency.
  5. CBSSports.com recently released its annual preseason top 100 (and one) player rankings, and the ACC, with 22 players listed, notched seven more slots than any other conference. We found it interesting that the ACC media seems to value proven performance over potential, as this national ranking from Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander clearly does not. For example, veteran guards London Perrantes and Joel Berry are rated as the 11th and 12th best ACC players according to the CBS list, but each was named to the Preseason All-ACC First Team and both were among the top four vote-getters.
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Top Quotes and Moments from ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

Coaches, players and members of the media all gathered in Charlotte on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of ACC Operation Basketball. It was a long day for all and a fun day for most. We camped out in Salon I in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and witnessed press conferences for all 15 coaches – yes, after staying home last year Rick Pitino came too. We also heard from 30 players — two from each school — and observed commissioner John Swofford’s ‘State of the League’ address. What follows are a smattering of some of our favorite quotes and quips from the day.

PLAYERS

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

One of the interesting parts of the morning session was hearing various players’ responses when asked to describe their head coaches.

  • Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame – On Mike Brey: “He brings energy to practice every single day. He keeps the guys loose, which I think is really a benefit for us, and helps us play loose on the court.”
  • Sheldon Jeter, Pittsburgh – On his impressions from his reunion meeting with Kevin Stallings: “It was just kind of like the same stuff I did my first time meeting him at Vanderbilt. A very genuine guy. Very truthful.”
  • Matt Jones, Duke – On the annual adaptability of Mike Krzyzewski: “It’s been different each year. Coach K does a really good job of figuring out what guys respond to and how well they respond to it.”

Of course there were some light-hearted moments as well, and here are three player comments that brought laughter to the room.

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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 M5: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 22nd, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Paul Zeise’s theory about Pittsburgh‘s problems against NC State is that the Panthers struggle with size. He’s wrong that in it wasn’t a rebounding issue (the Panthers had a bad rebounding night against NC State, but were fine against Purdue and Louisville), and NC State’s shot blocker also weren’t a huge factor. The common thread in the losses is unsurprisingly poor shooting. Pittsburgh isn’t a good enough defensive team to win when it shoots poorly. Either way, this trend is worth looking out for when the Panthers play other tall opponents (ahem, Florida State).
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: North Carolina is shooting more than four percent better on free throws this season than last year (74.4 vs. 70.2, respectively). When questioned about the dramatic improvement, Roy Williams was on point: “Everybody thinks that your bad free-throw shooters would get into a room and get some candles out and do a seance and everything.” Just how good are the Tar Heels from the charity stripe this season? Marcus Paige is the the third-best free throw shooter on the team, with Isaiah Hicks hot on his tail. So far North Carolina is 0-2 in games decided by five points or fewer, but the improved free throw shooting will continue to paid dividends in stretching leads.
  3. Syracuse Post Standard: This is a good look at Michael Gbinije and his evolution – one somewhat forced upon him – into a point guard. Interestingly, Duke (where Gbinije transferred from) would love to have Matt Jones complete a similar transformation, but Jones still looks a little lost running the offense. Syracuse’s road to the NCAA Tournament is challenging but achievable. It becomes near impossible if Gbinije can’t play consistently like he did against Duke.
  4. Richmond Times Dispatch: This is the first story of the year on an ACC team holding a players-only meeting. That team was Virginia, slotted by many as the best team in the league before messing around and losing three of their first five ACC games. Clemson coming to Charlottesville didn’t look like a test before the season, but with the teams trending in opposite directions, the seniors chose to take matters into their own hands.
  5. CBS Sports: Not going to lie, this is being posted mainly because of the vine of Donovan Mitchell‘s dunk. But it’s worth mentioning that the one team that might be better than North Carolina in the ACC is Louisville. Their strength of schedule was so bad in non-conference that it’s still tough to get a good read on the Cardinals, but they’re terrific defensively and are undefeated at home this season.
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