2014-15: ACC Year in Review

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

The 2014-15 season will go down as one of the most successful campaigns in the ACC’s long and illustrious history. It was the kind of year that commissioner John Swofford must have envisioned when the conference completed its last round of expansion. It was also important for the league to have this kind of performance after an extremely disappointing run last season, its first as a giant 15- team group featuring some of the biggest names in the sport. Before we put a bow on the season, let’s take a quick look at how the season played out with a review of some of the highlights and lowlights.

Highlights

Notre Dame celebrates its first ever conference tournament championship. (Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame celebrates its first ever conference tournament championship.
(Evan Pike/USA TODAY Sports)

Regular Season Excellence. The ACC began the year with four schools ranked in the preseason AP top 10 and the league maintained a strong presence at the top of the rankings all season long, finishing with five of the final poll’s top 17 teams. In addition to Duke’s fine year – which included Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career win, Virginia was also a mainstay at the top of the rankings, getting off to a 19-0 start on the way to the Cavaliers’ second straight ACC regular season title. Perhaps the Cavaliers would have joined Duke in Indianapolis at the Final Four if not for an untimely late season injury to Justin Anderson. The ACC’s surprise team was clearly Notre Dame, as Mike Brey’s program won its first conference tournament in school history in only its second year as an ACC member. The Irish’s near-upset of undefeated Kentucky in the Elite Eight may have been the best game of the entire NCAA Tournament. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mike Krzyzewski Keeps Up With the Times (and Titles)

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

With Monday night’s fifth career NCAA Championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s legacy took another long stride into the history books of the college game. In what he has called the most enjoyable season of his 40-year coaching career, Kryzyzewski showed his versatility as a head coach by leading Duke to the greatest of heights by utilizing a makeup unlike any of his previous champions. The 68-year old deserves all the credit he has received for his prolonged success, winning in three completely different eras of the sport by adapting to the standards of the times. His first two title teams (1991 & 1992) were won when programs could be built around long-term stars like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill. When his 2001 team, led by Shane Battier, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy, Jr., won Krzyzewski’s third championship, the lure of the NBA had gutted much of the young talent from the college game. The last decade has brought the one-and-done rule to college basketball, and at least initially, Duke did not seem to be an interested party — Krzyzewski’s 2010 national champs featured five upperclassmen starters.

It was a year of milestones for Coach K - 1000th win and fifth national title. (AP Photo)

It was a year of milestones for Coach K — his 1,000th win and fifth national title.
(AP Photo)

Since that fourth national title, the Blue Devils had crashed and burned with their last two high-profile freshmen — Austin Rivers (2012) and Jabari Parker (2014) were unwilling participants in huge NCAA Tournament upsets of Duke by Lehigh and Mercer, respectively. Theirs were the reference points going into a campaign when Coach K welcomed the nation’s top recruiting class of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen by signaling that he was all-in with the modern recruiting strategy focusing on one-and-dones. Krzyzewski masterfully molded the young Blue Devils around an elite offense and a gradually improving defense all the way to another championship run.

We attended a private scrimmage session in Cameron Indoor Stadium back in October and shared our observations on what we witnessed here. While the freshmen’s raw talent was obvious, we came away from the practice session concerned with how the two Blue Devils’ veterans would handle the robust attention and acclaim that the newcomers were already getting. Quinn Cook was one of the players who didn’t play well that day, but he soon morphed into exactly what the Duke coaching staff wanted him to be — a big brother, supporter and go-to teammate for the four rookies. As a result of Cook’s deference, Krzyzewski called the senior “as good a leader as I’ve had in my 35 years at Duke.” Think about what that means from a guy who has coached the likes of Laettner, Ferry, Hurley, Battier and Dawkins. Rasheed Sulaimon, the other veteran who struggled in that October scrimmage, was ultimately kicked off the team, an event that seemed to bring the eight remaining players together down the stretch of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Column of Enchantment: Offseason Blues, Man

Posted by Joseph Nardone on April 9th, 2015

That was fun. We got to experience college basketball in its best form during the NCAA Tournament. We had upsets, fun stories, and a slew of hyperbole (my personal favorite). The season even ended with the vampire known to the public as Coach K winning his fifth national title. It couldn’t have gone better, really. I mean that. The ratings were good; people used those ratings to blindly ignore glaring issues within the sport; and the world is a better place for it… or something — likely something, but whatever.

This man scoffs at your criticism. (AP)

This man scoffs at your criticism. (AP)

It is over, though. Sad days are upon us. Grab a box of tissues if you will, but (spoiler alert) the college basketball season is over. Dead. Murdered by the final buzzer going off in the championship game. The 2014-15 season is history. Ancient history if you hate Duke and just a rumor of a season that will join other urban legends if you are a Kentucky fan. Regardless, it is over and it isn’t coming back unless George Carlin shows up at your doorstep with a gosh slam phone booth (under 28 year-olds, Google it). If my mom taught me anything — well, anything other than knowing I am the greatest, ever — it is the past is in the past for a reason. It is time to move on. I mean, we gave the Duke fan base a full three days to relish in their victory. Time is up now. Seriously, Duke, what have you done for me lately? Not to mention that Coach K’s acceptance (all the sarcasm) of the one-and-done philosophy being used as a way to further elevate his standing is as laughable as it is to look in the mirror. What, just me?

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition, Part Two

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 8th, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Duke

Coach K Addressed the Home Fans on Tuesday in Durham (USA Today Images)

Coach K Addressed the Home Fans on Tuesday in Durham (USA Today Images)

  • Coach K had a response for Bo Ryan’s “rent-a-player” remark that the Wisconsin head coach made after his team’s loss to Duke on Monday. “Duke doesn’t rent a player,” Krzyzewski said. “We have one of the great schools in the world, and when we recruit a young man, we recruit a young man because of three things: One, he has the academic potential to do well at Duke; two, he has the talent to do well; and three, he has great character. All the guys on my team fit that description 100 percent.”
  • Duke‘s freshmen led the Blue Devils to this season’s National Title, but things may not be looking so bright in Durham next season if they all — particularly Tyus Jones, considering Duke’s lack of a point guard option behind him — head to the NBA.
  • Announced as a package deal when the duo committed to Duke as high school seniors, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones share a friendship that “goes beyond basketball.” After the final buzzer sounded on Monday night, the two were found embracing at half-court. “We told each other we loved each other,” Okafor said. “This is what we dreamed of.”
  • Jahlil Okafor may be the consensus All-American, but is teammate Justise Winslow the better NBA prospect?
  • Though Mike Krzyzewski is an old school coach, his ability to adapt was in large part responsible for Duke’s fifth National Championship. From starting three freshmen to playing zone defense to winning the finale without major contributions from Okafor or Winslow, this season was arguably the greatest coaching job of the Duke legend’s illustrious career.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Bo Ryan Has Gotten Progressively Closer to the Ring (USA Today Images)

Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan Has Gotten Progressively Closer to the Ring (USA Today Images)

  • Wisconsin will be expected to fall in the Big Ten pecking order next season but the Badgers may end up better than most expect. With the emergence of point guard Bronson Koenig, the Badgers actually look to be in “good hands.”
  • Though he was never expected to leave for the NBA, power forward Nigel Hayes officially confirmed that he will be back next season. “I’m nowhere near good enough to do anything else besides come back,” Hayes said.
  • Many are pressing Sam Dekker for a decision on whether he’ll turn pro this spring, but Dekker first wants to get the bad taste of Monday’s game out of his mouth. “I can’t really worry about it. I’m going to get home, cool down with the guys, do what I need to do, talk to who I need to talk to make an educated decision,” he said.
  • Frank Kaminsky‘s ride in college hoops is over, but the National Player of the Year has a new challenge on his hands with the NBA.
  • Lost among Kaminsky and Dekker’s excellent seasons was the equally outstanding play of senior Josh Gasser. Although he didn’t put up the same numbers as his counterparts, his defense and leadership will be sorely missed.
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 68, #1 Wisconsin 63

Posted by Naveen Reddy on April 6th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Once again, Duke is on top of the college basketball world. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Once again, Duke is on top of the college basketball world. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  1. Who needs Kentucky? This isn’t meant to play down what the Wildcats accomplished, which was spectacular, but coming into the final there seemed to be a feeling that the story of the Final Four would be about Kentucky not going undefeated. It is hard to judge these type of things in the moment, but after tonight’s incredible final we doubt that will be the case. The overnight CBS ratings might argue otherwise in the morning, but we cannot imagine how this game could have been any better with the Wildcats in it. You can argue all you want about the historical significance of having an undefeated season on the line, but at the end of the day tonight would have been about a national championship game. What these two teams delivered tonight was the sport played at its highest level. Now if we could only find a way to fix this sport.
  2. Duke’s freshmen came up huge tonight just not the ones you expected. Most of the season the media lavished its praises on Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow, but it was a pair of freshmen who got them to the finish line. Okay, maybe we could have seen Tyus Jones doing this, but there is no way anybody could have foreseen Grayson Allen dominating stretches of a national title game. Plenty of people will point out that he was a McDonald’s All-American, but there are different forms of McDonald’s All-American–those that are going to be immediate stars and those that take a while to develop–and Allen was definitely the latter. Okafor (10 points) and Winslow (11 points and 9 rebounds) both contributed, but were limited by foul trouble. Instead Jones (23 points and 5 rebounds) and Allen (16 points in 21 minutes) led the way. Overall the freshmen scored 60 of the team’s 68 points including all 37 points in the second half.
  3. Wisconsin was a phenomenal team. Let’s be clear about one thing: Its win over Kentucky on Saturday night was no fluke. This was a phenomenal team that outside of two losses to Duke only lost two games all season (one a loss at Rutgers that we are going to write off as an aberration with Kaminsky out since we can’t comprehend it otherwise) and had an incredible run nearly being the first team to beat 16-8-4-2-1-1 seeds (the toughest possible route for a #1 seed) en route to a title. It was a remarkable team with Frank Kaminsky being absolutely deserving of his multiple player of the year awards and Sam Dekker finally putting together the complete game we all had been waiting for since he set foot on the Wisconsin campus.

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Final Four Previews: Wisconsin/Duke Will Win If…

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2015

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Championship Monday is always bitter sweet for college basketball fans. On the one hand, it means the two best teams in the country will finally play for the ultimate crown and go down in the history books. On the other hand, it also means that the college basketball season is finally coming to an end. For this particular 2014-15 season, however, what an ending this is set to be. While the nation didn’t quite get the “dream” finals matchup, tonight’s contest is not a bad consolation prize by any means as arguably the best offensive basketball team in recent memory goes up against arguably the most traditional of traditional powers that the sport has ever seen. We’re just a couple hours away from tip-off, but in the meantime …

No shock here - Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight's National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

No shock here – Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight’s National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Wisconsin Will Win If

  • It continues to play like the greatest collegiate offense in recent history, which it most assuredly is. For the year, Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 128.5, equivalent to 128 points per 100 offensive possessions against an average defense, the best by a rather significant margin. In the NCAA Tournament, with higher stakes and tougher opponents, the Badgers are still averaging 128 points per 100 offensive possessions, even after playing two of the season’s best three defenses in their past two games. While Duke’s is playing its best defensive basketball of the season (they’re allowing 87 points per 100 defensive possessions in the tournament), at this point doubting the effectiveness of the Wisconsin offense is questionable at best.
  • Frank Kaminsky gets the better of the Jahlil Okafor. The key matchup to watch, of course, will be Kaminsky vs. Okafor (the only two unanimous RTC All-American choices) although of course, it won’t always be a mano v. mano type of thing. However, it is a fascinating matchup. Okafor may be the best post-up big man since Tim Duncan, while Kaminsky’s ability to be equally effective inside or out gives him a great advantage. Much of Wisconsin’s offense is predicated on the ability of its talented big men to step away from the hoop, open up the floor and create opportunities for clean looks. Okafor is in no way foul prone, but if the relatively inexperienced freshman gets frustrated by Kaminsky’s veteran wiles, the Blue Devils could be behind the eight-ball. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 81, #7 Michigan State 61

Posted by Naveen Reddy on April 4th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Talk about a bounce back performance - Jahlil Okafor was outstanding against the Spartans. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Talk about a bounce back performance – Jahlil Okafor was outstanding against the Spartans. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

  1. Michigan State was simply overmatched. We don’t want to take away anything from the Spartans’ remarkable run. They went from a team that at times this season made us wonder if they would make the NCAA Tournament to one that made the Final Four. The truth is they were not anywhere near the level of the other three teams here. The fact that they got here is a testament to just how good of a coach Tom Izzo is and how tough this team was, but they just didn’t have the talent to compete. Their early hot start (going 5-of-7 from the field including 4-of-4 from three) made things interesting when they jumped out to a 14-6 lead, but then they regressed the mean and reality set in. They proceeded to hit just 3 of their next 20 shots and go 0-of-5 from three to end the half to fall behind 36-25. Denzel Valentine (19 points and 9 rebounds), Branden Dawson (12 points and 7 rebounds), and Travis Trice (16 points and 5 assists) all had solid performances, but it wasn’t enough. While an 11-point lead at halftime is far from insurmountable, when you are this overmatched it essentially is. Once Michigan State cooled off, you knew this one was over.
  2. Duke just took care of business. Nobody on Duke played out of their mind, but everybody chipped in from Jahlil Okafor (18 points and 6 rebounds) to Grayson Allen (9 points including an emphatic dunk in the second half that served as an exclamation mark even if it was early in the second half). It was a total team effort from Duke in a victory that was never in doubt. Coming into tonight we didn’t really see a way that Michigan State could win, but a lot of people have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Tom Izzo in such situations. Justice Winslow was simply dominant and while we is too good and consistent to be considered an X-factor when he is truly “on” he takes them to another level. While Duke is far from a one-man team, he will need to be at his best on Monday night if they are going to win especially against Kentucky.
  3. Monday night is going to be crazy. We normally save this for the last section of these posts, but honestly we can barely contain ourselves right now. We know that Duke-Kentucky is the game that every CBS executive wants (ok, it’s not just them), but Duke-Wisconsin wold be fascinating in its own right with Okafor facing Frank Kaminsky in what essentially will be a head-to-head workout that every NBA executive with a top-5 pick will be keeping track of. On the perimeter, you could potentially have Winslow and Sam Dekker (potentially two of the top perimeter picks in this year’s NBA Draft if they decided to leave) going against each other. If it ends up being Duke-Kentucky, you would have lottery picks all over the court (and for Kentucky some coming off the bench) in a game that might be the most highly anticipated game in college basketball history (we aren’t exaggerating).

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Final Four Storylines: Duke Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on April 3rd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The Final Four is set. This week we’ll continue our NCAA Tournament Storylines series focused on each of the remaining four teams. We kicked things off with Kentucky on Tuesday, and followed with Wisconsin yesterday. Today, it’s Duke‘s turn.

Coach K's 12th Final Four (USA Today Images)

Coach K’s 12th Final Four Ties Him With the Legendary John Wooden For Most All-Time (USA Today Images)

Coach K in the record books. It’s been a pretty special year for Mike Krzyzewski, highlighted by his 1,000th win and an NCAA Tournament run resulting in his 12th Final Four appearance, tying former UCLA legend John Wooden for the most of all-time. And Coach K might not be done. He has a chance to improve his impressive 8-3 record in National Semifinal games this weekend in Indianapolis, the best such record of any coach. And with two more wins, he is poised to move into sole possession of second place in all-time national championships with five (his current mark of four is tied with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp). Coach K’s long career means that he’s also experienced his fair share of postseason disappointments, but those exits more than anything speak to just how tough it is to win in March. The consistency with which Krzyzewski’s teams have gone deep into the second and third weekends of the Big Dance is astounding.

Duke is here because of its defense. Much has been made of Duke’s struggles on the defensive end of the court this season. The Blue Devils had an especially rough stretch in January and February during which they gave up more than a point per possession in eight of 10 games. Conventional wisdom suggests that it was Duke’s offense that carried it to a sterling 28-3 regular season record. But since the onset of the NCAA Tournament, Duke’s defense has been the driver behind its Final Four run. The Blue Devils have held all four of their opponents to fewer than 0.90 points per possession and, as a result, have now cracked the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Their performance in crunch time of the Elite Eight win over Gonzaga exemplified that improvement. Duke held the Zags to a single Byron Wesley free throw over the final 5:43 of the game. There hasn’t been a discernible difference in Krzyzewski’s philosophy — he’s always stressed the importance of team defense — but perhaps Duke’s young players have developed a better understanding of his defensive principles and it is translating now more than ever, a dangerous proposition for the rest of the Final Four.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2015

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After a week of hype surrounding the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: We’ll start with Duke and finish the day with Kentucky. Wisconsin and Michigan State were published yesterday.

How Duke Got Here

South Region Champions. During the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend in Charlotte, the Blue Devils used friendly surroundings to coast by #16 seed Robert Morris and #8 seed San Diego State; Coach K’s team led the Colonials and Aztecs by double-figures in all 40 second-half minutes of those two games. Advancement was tougher at the South Regional in Houston, but Duke managed to break open close games against #5 seed Utah in the Sweet Sixteen and #2 seed Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, landing the Blue Devils a trip to Indianapolis this weekend.

Coach K And Duke Cut Down The Nets In Houston; Is The Indianapolis Twine Next? (USA Today Sports)

Coach K And Duke Cut Down The Nets In Houston; Is The Indianapolis Twine Next? (USA Today Sports)

The Coach

Mike Krzyewski. Like the other three coaches in this year’s Final Four, you already know Mike Krzyzewski. Unlike the other three coaches in the Final Four, there is no college basketball coach you know better than Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K’s list of accomplishments — 1,016 career wins, 12 Final Fours, four National Championships – leave him with little to prove. Can the longtime Duke head coach, in the twilight of his career, outmaneuver two of college basketball’s best (Izzo and either Calipari or Ryan) this Saturday and Monday nights?

Style

For the seventh season in a row, Duke has an offense that ranks among the top 10 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. However, unlike most of those other attacks, this year’s version works from the inside out. Krzyzewski-coached teams have classically thrived from beyond the arc and this group certainly doesn’t struggle there either (39 percent), but Jahlil Okafor has transformed the Duke interior. The freshman All-American is the major reason why the Blue Devils made 56 percent of their two-point field-goal attempts this year (fourth-best nationally) and remains the clear focus of the offense. Defensively, Duke remains a man-to-man team. Midseason struggles in stopping penetration prompted a brief flirtation with a zone (which wasn’t necessarily unsuccessful), but Quinn Cook has spearheaded a significantly improved man-to-man approach during the latter half of the season.

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Elite Eight Storylines

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 28th, 2015

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As we move into a loaded Elite Eight this weekend, here are five storylines to keep an eye on over the next 36 hours of action. Enjoy!

Elite Eight Storylines

Duke, Along With Kentucky, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan State, Gonzaga... It's a Loaded Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

Duke, Along With Kentucky, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan State, Gonzaga… It’s a Loaded Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

Bluebloods. Last year, when Dayton went to the Elite Eight as a #11 seed, it was a nice story. But the Flyers’ regional final game against Florida was no contest. It wasn’t as if Dayton had no shot to win, but it was clear from the opening tip that the Flyers were overmatched. It’s fun to romanticize about underdogs making a long run in the NCAA Tournament, but the reality is that they usually run face first into a reality check (and thus a fairly dull game). For some, it happens later than others — see 2011 Butler, which lost in the national championship game to Connecticut — but it eventually happens. This year there’s no Dayton. There’s not even a Butler or a VCU. We’ve done away with the little guys. The likelihood of one team getting completely overwhelmed from a pure talent perspective is unlikely. There is still a #7 seed on the board, but Michigan State is anything but a plucky upstart. There is also a double-digit point spread in one of tonight’s games, but that says more about Kentucky than the ACC champs. So while it would have been cool to see Xavier knock off Arizona, we have what we want in the end: a bunch of bluebloods and some outstanding matchups.

Coaching Superstars. It’s often said that great coaching triumphs in March, so think about the eight coaches who are still remaining: the least successful of the eight is probably Mike Brey – yes, the same Mike Brey who’s been to 12 NCAA Tournaments and just won an ACC Tournament title in his second year in the league. Statistics aside, everybody knows that Brey is just a darn good coach. He finds himself in quite the elite company this weekend. The aggregate tenure of all eight coaches at their respective schools is 126 years, and between them, they have exactly 4,400 Division I wins. The coaching matchups on the right side of the bracket are especially compelling. Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino are statistically the two best NCAA Tournament coaches of the modern era, and Mark Few and Mike Krzyzewski have combined for 49 conference regular season or tournament titles. Wow.

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

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: South and East Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 27th, 2015

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

South Storylines

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

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

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

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

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

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