Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 66, Connecticut 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey filed this report from the Duke-Connecticut game at the Izod Center on Thursday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke and Connecticut (USA Today Images)

Duke and Connecticut Battled Out in an Ugly Game in New Jersey Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke found a different way to win. On a night when the shots did not fall at anywhere near the rate they have for most of this season, the nation’s top team in adjusted offensive efficiency won with defense and rebounding. The Blue Devils held the Huskies to 40.7 percent shooting in the second half, snuffing out any possibility of an extended Connecticut run. Duke also turned the ball over much more than usual (19 times), leading to plenty of extra UConn possessions. With Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor combining for 21 rebounds, however, Duke was able to negate the Connecticut advantage in shot attempts. Getting to the free throw line was also key, as the Blue Devils attempted 34 free throws to Connecticut’s 13. Kevin Ollie refused to take the bait from the assembled media after the game, instead placing the onus on his players for committing too many fouls.
  2. It can’t just be the Ryan Boatright show. While Boatright scored 22 points, he was bothered by Quinn Cook for much of the evening. When he did get free, usually through screening action along the three-point line, Boatright knocked down some impressive three-pointers with a quick release. With Shabazz Napier no longer around, though, opposing defenses can key in on the UConn guard and contain him to a degree. You also see that when Boatright gets frustrated, his shot selection suffers greatly. That can’t continue to happen because it results in a wasted possession and can lead to a long rebound and a runout for the opposition. Kevin Ollie touched on it a bit in the postgame press conference, so he knows that his team must find another reliable scoring option besides Boatright.
  3. Jahlil Okafor is not normal. We know this by now, but it deserves to be repeated. From his post-up moves to defense and court vision, Okafor has the complete package. What is most impressive is his ability to immediately recognize a double-team and find an open man in an instant. In a way, his passing reminds you of a good NFL quarterback under pressure. Okafor threw a couple of lasers to teammates tonight, usually resulting in points for Duke. One nice thing about Okafor’s game is he actually “plays big,” so to speak. When he receives a post entry pass, he usually makes a strong move to the basket or keeps the ball in an elevated position where it cannot easily be stolen. Should he decide to make the move and shoot, Okafor has tremendous awareness. He knows when and where to make the move, and it often results in a bucket. Having the presence of mind to know where to go with the ball is one thing, but combing that with the touch and skill level Okafor possesses puts him far and away above any other college big man. I’m sure a few NBA bigs are below his level too.

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Otskey’s Observations: On Duke’s D, Florida’s Struggles & Best Conference…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 2nd, 2014

Throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from across the nation.

Duke’s Defensive Hiatus Is Over

If you’re a Duke basketball fan, you have to be encouraged by your team’s 7-0 start to the 2014-15 campaign. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s top-ranked recruiting class has made, as expected, an immediate impact. Point guard Tyus Jones has been outstanding, averaging a six to one assist to turnover ratio in 27 minutes per game. When you have a steady floor general like Jones who can set up an offense with boatloads of talent, anything is possible offensively for Duke. But what I’d like to discuss is the Blue Devil defense, an area where we have seen the most change since last year’s Duke team was upset by Mercer back in March. Duke’s adjusted defensive efficiency has improved a whopping 101 spots year over year, from No. 116 in 2013-14 to No. 15 so far this year. The Blue Devils are back to being an elite defensive team, a staple of Coach K’s 34-plus year run in Durham. The biggest reason why is the roster turnover. Last year’s team had a non-traditional lineup, starting two 6’8” players and one listed at 6’9”. Specifically, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker were primarily offense-oriented players who liked to drift out to the perimeter and provided little on the defensive end of the floor. Once opponents were able to get by Duke’s guards, there was little to resist them in the paint. Without a strong front line to defend the basket, the Blue Devils’ interior defense suffered mightily. Duke allowed opponents to shoot 50.3 percent from two point range last season.

Duke's roster turnover has made it better defensively. (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Duke’s roster turnover has made it better defensively.
(Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Fast forward to the current season and that number has dropped to 45.9 percent as we enter December. That one category is still not elite by any means, but Duke makes up for that by fouling considerably less than it did last year and forcing more turnovers. The result is an overall defense that is night and day from last year. While Jahlil Okafor is more known for his offense, he does provide a more traditional presence in the middle and that alters shots. Duke’s frontcourt that runs 6’6”, 6’9” and 6’11” this season as opposed to last year’s non-traditional lineup makes a big difference defensively. This group has a lot of room still to grow defensively and I expect them to become even better on that end of the floor as the season moves along. You have to have a strong defense to win a national championship and Duke is back to being a contender this year because of it. Last year, we could not say the same despite garnering a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Florida’s Early Season Struggles

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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:

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 21st, 2014

morning5_ACC Note: To gauge relative team strength, we are using current Kenpom ratings.

  1. Charleston Classic: Fresh off Monday’s big upset over Florida, Jim Larrañaga‘s squad is looking to make some more noise in the Gildan Charleston Classic. On Thursday afternoon, Miami (#40) topped Drexel (#161), 66-46, with its defense, holding the Dragons to 31.4 percent shooting from the field. Next up for the Hurricanes will be this afternoon’s semifinal game (2:30 ET – ESPN2) with Akron (#181), a team that beat USC (#169) yesterday in a mild surprise. It looks like Miami’s only chance for a quality win here would be in Sunday night’s championship game (9:00 ET – ESPN2) against a team from the more competitive side of the bracket. The tourney’s pseudo-host, South Carolina (#81), will meet Charlotte (#87) in today’s other semifinal, so either way Miami will face its toughest opponent in the event on Sunday, with another pretty good opportunity for a resume-building win.
  2. Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Boston College (#147) rebounded from its first loss of the year with a somewhat surprising opening round win on Thursday over New Mexico (#55), 69-65, in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Olivier Hanlan came up big down the stretch with 10 points in the last 7:03 to clinch the win. A look at the bracket shows a tough road ahead for the Eagles with today’s semifinal matchup (5:00 ET – ESPN2) against West Virginia (#47) followed by a game with either Dayton (#50) or defending national champion Connecticut (#18). If Boston College wins one or two more games here, it will be good news for the ACC. Last year, after a terrible non-conference performance, the Eagles became a drag on the entire ACC’s RPI, but this year they may actually be helpful in that regard.
  3. 2K Sports Classic: California (#63) shocked Syracuse (#12) by a score of 73-59 on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden to advance to tonight’s championship game of the 2K Sports Classic, where they will take on Texas (#15). Syracuse, who will face Iowa (#24) in the consolation game (5:00 ET – ESPN2) trailed by 12 at the half and never threatened the Bears the rest of the way. California got a measure of revenge, though, as the Orange beat the Bears in last year’s Maui Invitational on the way to that event’s championship. Jim Boeheim’s Orange saw their hot streak in these type of early tournaments come to a halt, after winning five such events in a row over a six-year period. The last time Syracuse came up short was back in the 2007 NIT Tipoff, also held at the same New York venue, where they settled for third place.
  4. Paradise Jam: This afternoon, Clemson (#91) will kick off the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands with a matchup (1:30 ET) against Gardner-Webb (#191). Here’s a look at the bracket for this event, and it’s clearly not full of top-notch programs compared to many of the other early tournaments. Still, if Clemson were to win this tournament — the championship game is Monday night (9:00 – CBS Sports Network) — beating Seton Hall (#75) and LSU (#77) along the way, it would be a slight boost to the Tigers’ resume and the ACC’s conference RPI. Of course, the opposite is true as well. With a bad home loss to Winthrop (#188) already on its ledger, Clemson can ill afford to drop another game to an opponent outside of the top 100.
  5. Coaches vs. Cancer Classic: Coming off its Champions Classic victory over Michigan State on Tuesday, Duke (#2) is in Brooklyn tonight (9:30 ET – TruTv) to take on Temple (#109) in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Former Blue Devils player and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins leads Stanford (#52) against UNLV (#98) in the other semifinal game. As a player, Dawkins is widely regarded as the most important recruit in Mike Krzyzewski’s illustrious career in Durham, and later he spent 11 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater. If the two meet on Saturday night (Finals: 9:30 ET – TruTv), it would be the first time Dawkins would get to match coaching wits with his mentor. Now in his seventh year at Stanford, Dawkins needs another solid season to stay off the hot seat. He finally got his team to the NCAA Tournament last March, when the Cardinal upset Kansas before losing to Dayton in the Sweet Sixteen.
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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.

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Back And Forth: And So It Begins…

Posted by Judson Harten on November 14th, 2014

Each week, RTC columnist Judson Harten will profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history relating to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.

The wait is over. Tonight, Division I college basketball teams will begin taking on other Division I basketball teams in games that actually count. Admittedly, the Friday slate isn’t exactly full of marquee match-ups, but all the top teams will start play this weekend. With that in mind, Back And Forth reviewed some of the best early season games among schools in the preseason top six over the past 20 years. One caveat: I did my best to avoid preseason tournament games (with one program, given the circumstances, I made an exception.) I think you’ll be surprised at some of these, both good and bad, and how they either affected each team’s eventual season outcome.

No. 1 Kentucky — 2014-15 season opening game – vs. Grand Canyon, Friday, 8:00 PM EST

THE GAME:  72-70 win vs. Miami (Ohio), 11/16/09

Despite all the success of the John Calipari Era, the start to his tenure in Lexington wasn’t easy. A loaded roster featuring future #1 pick John Wall along with first round picks DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson had trouble with the Redhawks in just their second game of the season. In the end, Miami’s Kenny Hayes hit a three-pointer to tie the game with six seconds left, but Wall – playing in his Kentucky debut after being suspended by the NCAA for acccepting extra benefits – gave Big Blue Nation a glimpse of his talent, hitting a stepback jumper with 0.5 seconds left to avoid the upset. The Wildcats finished the 2009-10 season at 35-3, losing in the Elite Eight to West Virginia but setting into motion the revival of Kentucky basketball

No. 2 Arizona – 2014-15 season-opening game – vs. Mt. St. Mary’s, Friday, 8:00 PM EST

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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.

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Assessing Coach K’s Evolving Position on One-and-Done

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 7th, 2014

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is never one to shy away from his opinions on the state of college basketball. In fact, just last year, Coach K voiced his concerns about college basketball’s current era of the “one-and-done,” the highly touted freshmen who dominate the sport for a year before advancing to the NBA Draft mere months after arriving on campus. Krzyzewski stated just last year that he was “worried that that is always becoming a thing,” referring to the idea of elite freshmen overshadowing established upperclassmen. He has also made it clear that he is in favor of a two-year draft rule, and has backed this notion as recently as the end of October. All of this makes it surprising that the Blue Devils head coach admitted on Thursday that he fully expects his latest freshman phenom, Jahlil Okafor, to be Duke’s latest one-and-done player.

Jahlil Okafor Headlines Three ACC Players Selected to the Preseason AP All-America Team

It Appears That Jahlil Okafor Will Reside For About Nine Months in Durham

“We won’t have him long,” Krzyzewski said, implying that Okafor is more of a short-term rental than a centerpiece for years to come. This shouldn’t surprise anyone should the big man leave school — since 2007, only a single player who was named #1 on the ESPN 100 recruiting rankings stayed in school for more than one year (Harrison Barnes, North Carolina 2010-12). The freshman is going to be closely observed by NBA scouts from the second he touches the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and, barring some kind of strange collapse, he is almost guaranteed a spot in next year’s NBA Draft Lottery.

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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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Morning Five: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 5th, 2014

morning5

  1. It was less than a five days ago that everything seemed calm at Indiana. Then early on Saturday morning, sophomore Devin Davis was run over by freshman Emmitt Holt, who was charged with driving under the influence. Davis, who was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and now appears to be on his way to recovering, was cited in the police report as being primarily responsible for the accident. Not much after news broke of Davis’ recovery, Tom Crean announced that sophomores Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson had been suspended for four games each in what has been reported as being the result of multiple failed drug tests. These incidents combined with a couple of earlier arrests for alcohol use led some individuals including former Hoosier guard and coach Dan Dakich to question Crean’s job security. We agree that Crean’s job shouldn’t be that secure after all these off-the-court issues, but doubt that this would be the primary reason for his dismissal as schools have shown on many occasions that they care more about the bottom line than the optics of their school.
  2. With yesterday being election day across the country, there were plenty of political pundits voicing their opinion to anybody who would listen (and many who wouldn’t). What we did not expect was for Mike Krzyzewski to voice an opinion–that President Obama was mismanaging the ISIS crisis–that would make national headlines. To be fair to Krzyzewski, the comments were made last month in front of an audience of military officers, defense contractors, and others in reference to the President’s pledge to not use ground troops in the fight. This is not the first time that Krzyzewski has been critical of President Obama as he has chided Obama for spending time on a NCAA Tournament bracket (that doesn’t pick Duke to win) instead of focusing on fixing the economy. While those comments were more in jest we would be interested to see the interaction Krzyzewski and Obama have if the Blue Devils win the NCAA title this year and are invited to the White House.
  3. It turns out that North Carolina might have more than just the NCAA to worry about in the wake of its recent academic scandal. While some UNC fans have been worried about the NCAA handing down its version of the death penalty, they (at least the ones who care about the institution more than just the sports programs) should probably care more about an upcoming review by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges. The group that does not deal specifically with sports had already issued a report about the academic scandal in 2012 suggesting that the school offer courses to make up for the fraudulent one many students took. Now with the findings of the Wainstein report public they are taking another look given the findings of the unprecedented scope. The sanctions can range from a warning (essentially a slap on the wrist) to removal of accreditation (a real death penalty that means a school can no longer receive accreditation). We are not sure how often the group has decided to remove accreditation, but it would typically lead to a school having to shut down. Now we doubt that the group would do something that would make such an institution as significant as UNC essentially die, but as the group noted the scope of the scandal is unprecedented.
  4. With the season about to get started we will start hearing more from people like Ken Pomeroy since they will have new data to analyze, On Monday, we mentioned how useless preseason polls were. It turns out that we were only partially right. Looking back at the AP preseason poll since 1990, Pomeroy found out that the order of teams ranked above 15 matters to a degree, but below that the order is essentially meaningless in terms of its predictive value. The analysis compares a team’s preseason ranking to its NCAA Tournament seed, which is probably more reflective of the quality of their season overall than just how far they advance in the NCAA Tournament. So while we still question the degree of interest in preseason polls it turns out that they do have some value.
  5. The hits just keep coming for Hawaii. Fortunately for the school’s athletic director and everybody associated with it they are still located in Hawaii. Less than a week after the school fired head coach Gib Arnold and assistant coach Brandyn Akana, star forward Isaac Fotu announced that he was leaving the school to play professionally after the school had ruled that he was ineligible to play pending the results of a NCAA investigation. Given how slowly the NCAA typically works on these matters we do not necessarily fault Fotu, a first team All-Big West player who averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, for leaving rather than wait for the NCAA to hand down its judgement and look forward to playing for an interim coach if he was even cleared to play. We are not privy to the details of what Fotu is being investigated for (reportedly impermissible benefits), but Fotu has stated that he has hired an attorney to clear his name, which at this point is somewhat inconsequential since he will be off somewhere getting paid to play basketball.
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Notes From Duke’s Closed Practice: Freshmen Shine, Veterans Lethargic

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 22nd, 2014

Duke opened it’s 11th practice of the year to media and guests from the Duke Children’s Hospital yesterday, and based on their performance during the semi-closed practice at Cameron Indoor Stadium, its highly regarded freshmen class may just live up to the hype. While far from finished products, each of Mike Krzyzewski‘s four newcomers showed enough positive play to suggest that they might make up the core of this year’s Blue Devils squad. ACC referees officiated the scrimmage portion of practice, which was broken into four 10-minute segments with limited rest between each session. Some players switched teams after the first two quarters but the last two sessions featured the same lineups. We will use this space to analyze the play of each of the new Blue Devils and make some other general observations about the team, knowing that this represents only a one-day snapshot and the start of the regular season is still three weeks away.

Freshman Jahlil Okafor has Great (Big) Hands (rushthecourt.net)

Freshman Jahlil Okafor has Great (Big) Hands
(rushthecourt.net)

FRESHMEN

  • Jahlil Okafor – Reports of Okafor’s improved body and conditioning appear to be true. His feet were quick; he ran the court well; and he did not noticeably tire during the entire 40 minutes of scrimmage play. The most impressive thing with him, though, is his hands, which he uses in a similar manner to the great Tim Duncan. Passes and rebounds stick to Okafor’s mitts like glue. While at the free throw line, it was especially noticeable that the ball looks like a grapefruit in his hands. He mostly had his way inside, but there were times when he struggled to finish at the rim with Marshall Plumlee bodied up against him.
  • Tyus Jones – The touted young point guard played almost exactly as his reputation indicated — he wasn’t flashy with the ball but he was very efficient in running the team. He will have to adjust to playing hard defense over extended periods of time, and like most youngsters, Jones will need to become more vocal on both ends of the floor. But the greatest measure of a point guard is always the scoreboard, and in that respect Jones was outstanding, with his team winning each 10 minute session by around 10 points.

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Morning Five: 09.16.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 16th, 2014

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  1. Louisville‘s banner 2015 recruiting class just took a big hit as Antonio Blakeney announced (sort of) that he would be reopening his recruitment after committing to play at Louisville less than two weeks ago. The reasons for his decision were not disclosed, but at least one analyst went on record saying that the decision was related to shoe company affiliation. Although it is uncommon for a recruit to go back to a school after reopening his commitment there have been a handful of high-profile cases in recent years. If Blakeney decides to move on, the smart money would be on one of his other five finalists: Florida State, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Oregon, and USC. We will let you take a look at that list and do the math on which one is not like the others.
  2. With the United States winning the World Cup of Basketball we expected much of the talk following the event to focus on the dominant performance by this team and possibly calls for the United States to return to playing with either college players or at least to field a younger team. That thought was turned on its head with Adrian Wojnarowski’s column essentially saying that the only person benefiting from the current situation was Mike Krzyzewski. While we do agree with some of the points in the article–particularly the nice recruiting benefit that Krzyzewski gets as the coach of a variety of NBA superstars–the idea is not much different than many of the other college coaches who coach international teams including some who coach foreign countries even when they have no known prior association with that country. Overall, the column feels a little bit too much like a hit piece and as many have pointed out the situation certainly benefits Krzyzewski, but it has helped some NBA players further their games and Krzyzewski would hardly be alone in using someone else’s platform to lift him and his program up another level.
  3. It has been a rough few days in Pauley Pavilion. Just a few days after incoming Australian freshman Jonah Bolden a partial qualifier unable to play this year, according to reports UCLA denied admission to transfer point guard Jon Octeus. A graduate transfer from Colorado State, where he averaged 13.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, Octeus was expected to help replace the output the Bruins lost with Kyle Anderson’s departure. Unfortunately for Octeus, who left Colorado State to go to UCLA to help his prospects of playing in the NBA in what he described as “a business decision” (so much for the academic transfer), the Rams already filled their roster. Octeus had been looking at Tennessee, Missouri, and Cincinnati prior to committing to UCLA so there is a chance he could end up there although we are not sure the mechanics of how quickly a graduate transfer would work especially since many schools would have already started. As for the Bruins, they are left to try to piece together what should be a disjointed backcourt that would have been held together by Octeus’ presence.
  4. After taking a four-month medical leave of absence, Alan Major has returned to his position as head coach. Major, who underwent a pair of surgeries for glaucoma as well as a procedure for an arrhythmia, had taken a leave of absence in May so he did not miss any games. In the interim, three assistants managed the day-to-day operations and will probably handle some of that responsibility as Major eases back into his job. In his four seasons at Charlotte, Major has compiled a 61-63 record, but has shown steady improvement going from a 10-20 his first year to over .500 the past two years.
  5. In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal there has been increased interest around the issue of domestic violence (something that should have been a bigger issue long ago). In general we don’t see too many issues in college basketball, but it does happen occasionally as it occurs to have happened with Texas guard Martez Walker, who was suspended indefinitely after being charged with assaulting his girlfriend. Walker, who averaged 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last season, will have to deal with the legal system in much the same way that others before him have, but based on public sentiment after the Ray Rice elevator assault video was released as well as the victim’s report that this was not the first episode we doubt that we will see Walker in a Longhorn jersey anytime soon.
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