ACC M5: 02.23.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 23rd, 2017

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  1. Syracuse Post-Standard: Before I get started, I hope you caught that SyracuseDuke game last night. The big home win probably puts the Orange on the right side of the bubble for now (although this is far from assured), and John Gillon‘s contested three that banked through was the team’s second game-winner of the month. Duke only has its second half defense to blame for the loss. The Blue Devils played plenty well enough on offense, but allowing Syracuse to go a blistering 18-of-26 from the field in the second half was more than a good night on the glass could overcome. But back to the story at hand: Apparently an upset Syracuse fan called Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner to complain about fans chanting “air ball” at Gillon. Thankfully, Gillon’s 26-point, six-assist performance last night shows he wasn’t too impacted by the vitriol.
  2. Roanoke Times: Clemson may have sold its soul for a football championship (and its fans are likely at peace with that). After Tuesday night’s loss to Virginia Tech, the Tigers are now 1-7 in games decided by five p0ints or fewer in ACC play (they lost another game by six points). That gives Brad Brownell’s club a slight edge over Wake Forest in ranking lowest in ACC “Luck,” according to Ken Pomeroy (the Demon Deacons, by contrast, are 3-4 in ACC games decided by five points or fewer). If in fact Clemson still has its soul, that would imply some regression (or progression) to the mean, which could mean an exciting week in Brooklyn for the Tigers.
  3. Sports Illustrated: This is your annual reminder that the ACC will likely be replacing four Hall of Fame coaches in coming years, not to mention Miami’s Jim Larranaga. The only obvious choice is Jeff Capel almost certainly getting the chance to succeed Mike Krzyzweski at Duke (although given enough time, Chris Collins may have too much success at Northwestern to ignore). It remains to be seen whether North Carolina learned its lesson from hiring Matt Doherty, or whether the Tar Heel Way will take precedence over a surer pick. I don’t see the Tar Heels hiring Texas’ Shaka Smart, but Arizona’s Sean Miller would have a tough time saying no. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin makes perfect sense at Louisville (and he’s criminally underrated nationally). Replacing Jim Boeheim at Syracuse looks simultaneously the easiest and most challenging. There’s a successor already in place (Mike Hopkins), but there’s been no evidence of any momentum to hand over the keys.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Try to avoid the unnecessary aside about North Carolina’s academic scandal (the Raleigh News & Observer covered it better than any paper in the country and was relentless in uncovering new facets of the case). Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly with Al Featherston’s description of the NC State job. It’s a good but not elite job. Hiring Sidney Lowe (and the media narrative following Herb Sendek’s ousting) put the program in a really tough long-term spot. Mark Gottfried dug out of the hole but his team looked totally lost this year. Featherston’s best point is that a lot of luck goes into hiring a basketball coach. NC State could make a great hire (and that includes many people other than Archie Miller — UNC Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts and North Carolina Central’s Levelle Moton both come to mind). They could also make another hire that’s a band-aid, or worse.
  5. WRAL Sports Fan: Props to the ACC for ending the asinine process where anyone who contributed $15 could vote for postseason awards. That led to a huge advantage for North Carolina schools. Now each team will be represented by an equal number of people. In a league the size (both in terms of number of teams and geographic area) of the ACC, this makes the most sense.
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Jayson Tatum’s Move to Power Forward Sparked Duke

Posted by Charlie Maikis on February 22nd, 2017

Duke entered this season with high expectations in large part because of several highly-regarded incoming freshmen. Among those touted newcomers was forward Jayson Tatum, a game-changing talent who is poised to become a high-lottery selection in June. Tatum was expected to contribute immediately, in much the same way that recent star Duke freshmen Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Brandon Ingram have done. The beginning of his tenure in Durham, though, was anything but smooth. Because of Duke’s abundance of more traditional big men like Amile Jefferson, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, Tatum often found himself on the floor with two other interior players. For a player with legitimate perimeter capabilities but also a preference for operating around the rim, the cramped spacing and clogged driving lanes resulting from this arrangement inhibited both his production as well as Duke’s offense.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum had 19 points and seven rebounds in the Blue Devils’ 99-94 weekend victory over Wake Forest. (Associated Press)

Since a January 23 Big Monday home loss to NC State, Duke’s season has completely turned around. Tatum became the starting power forward alongside Jefferson and a three-guard backcourt in the very next game against Wake Forest, and Duke has won seven straight entering tonight’s game at Syracuse (including six victories against KenPom top-40 units). Tatum followed up his ascent to the starting five with the best game of his young career against Notre Dame a few days later, contributing a double-double of 19 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. The Irish had considerable trouble defending the freshman, as he proved too strong for VJ Beachem and too quick for Bonzie Colson. Many of his looks came from isolations. With the guards spotting up in positions around the perimeter, Tatum was able to utilize a mid-range post-up and bully his way to the rim without fear of help defense recovering quickly enough. Per Synergy Sports, he scored six points on six isolation plays in that game, a solid number for a relatively inefficient play type.

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Brad Brownell’s Days May be Numbered at Clemson

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 14th, 2017

It’s been six long years since Clemson has been invited to the Big Dance, and based on recent history, we are likely witnessing Brad Brownell’s farewell ACC campaign. Just six weeks ago, the prospect of the Tigers ending their NCAA drought looked promising — a 10-2 mark in non-conference play included four wins over Power Five schools. After a comeback road win over Wake Forest to begin ACC play, however, the bottom has since dropped out. Clemson now rests near the bottom of the ACC with a conference record of 3-9. Saturday’s 64-62 loss at Duke was a typical outcome, as six of the Tigers’ ACC defeats have been by five points or fewer. Now holding an overall record of 13-11 going into tonight’s rematch against Wake Forest, Clemson faces a steep uphill climb to earn an NCAA bid and save Brownell’s job.

Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers suffered yet another close defeat at Duke on Saturday.
(Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

There was considerable discussion of Duke’s emotional state entering Saturday’s meeting with Clemson, tipping off just 38 hours after the Blue Devils’ draining win over rival North Carolina. But Clemson was also dealing with negative vibes stemming from its own gut-wrenching last second loss to Syracuse. In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Brownell commented, “You know, give our kids a lot of credit; we took a major punch in the gut this week on that loss against Syracuse. We’ve been a little snake-bit, but at the end of the day we’ve got to figure out ways to make the winning plays to change these things.” Mike Krzyzewski echoed Brownell’s view by saying, “I feel bad for Brad’s team because I have watched six of their games. Five that I watched, they could have won easy with one possession. This was another one, and that is the heartbreak of our league.”

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Media Timeout: If It Bleeds, It Leads – Especially If It’s Duke

Posted by Will Tucker on February 7th, 2017

College basketball places huge emphasis on individual games — showdowns between top-ranked teams, annual rivalry clashes, single-elimination tournaments — but it’s important from time to time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The Media Timeout considers how fans and journalists watch, follow and talk about the sport.


For the second time in as many seasons, Duke entered February with five or more losses. Four of those have come in conference play, where Duke sits in the middle of the ACC log jam. What began as a National Title march went way off course over the winter break. First, the Blue Devils lost to Virginia Tech for the first time since 2011, with their best player riding the pine after losing his captaincy. Then they lost head coach Mike Krzyzewski to back surgery and a lengthy recovery. Then they lost access to their own locker room after falling to NC State in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time since 1995.

Jeff Capel III

Assistant Jeff Capel presided over a rocky 4-3 stretch in Mike Krzyzewski’s absence (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s safe to say Duke has staunched the bleeding after winning back-to-back ACC road games and escaping last-place Pitsburgh over the weekend with Krzyzewski back on the bench. But with plenty of questions remaining ahead of a date with North Carolina this week, it’s also too early to claim that the Blue Devils have righted the ship. In spite of Duke’s undistinguished resume and erratic play, the preseason #1 team remains a fixture in national headlines and ESPN segments. Why? The obvious answer is Grayson Allen, the embattled preseason Player of the Year pick whose volatile play and widespread criticism has delighted those who can’t stand his petulant and, at times, dangerous behavior on the court. But Allen obviously isn’t the first high-profile college player to behave badly, and the gleeful spectacle around his slow unravelling speaks to greater forces at play. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 02.07.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 7th, 2017

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  1. Syracuse Post Standard: Apparently (and unsurprisingly, really) Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called Jim Boeheim to congratulate him on his 899th* win (*just kidding, he has 1,000 wins). But more important than his USA Basketball colleague was the reception that Boeheim received from Orange fans. I’m a little worried, though, that he NCAA’s sanctioning of Boeheim will mean that he and Krzyzewski retire sooner than if there was still a reasonable chance of the former catching the latter.
  2. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville probably would have lost to Virginia last night regardless of their presence, but the absences of Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel made their odds even lower. The real story here, though, was Rick Pitino‘s reaction when asked about Mathiang’s missing rebounding. After a standard graciousness in losing interview, Pitino then sniped: “I don’t even… Don’t mention his name to me.” Then he ended the interview. It’s certainly possible that Pitino was simply fed up with reporters at that point, but it’s more likely he’s livid with his captain for violating curfew. Pitino needs to strike the right balance, though, because the Cardinals have a chance to cut down some postseason nets if they can get reasonably healthy.
  3. Raleigh News & Observer: Even for a Mark Gottfried team, NC State‘s defense is atrocious. It’s unfortunate that StatBroadcast no longer exists, as it would be interesting to see non-adjusted efficiency ratings for the Wolfpack. The saddest part of this analysis is that NC State isn’t even the least efficient team in the ACC in conference play. That honor goes to Pittsburgh, which has allowed its conference opponents to shoot 42.5 percent from three and 53.7 percent from inside the arc. Either way, expect Gottfried hot seat chatter to reach fever pitch if this team doesn’t turn things around very quickly.
  4. Orlando Sentinel: My goodness, Florida State put the beatdown on Clemson this weekend. The 48-point victory was so lopsided that the Tigers’ FanSided blog went on a rant about needing better recruiting. I agree fully with the statement that head coach Brad Brownell needs to recruit more talent — that said, the question with this particular coach was always going to be about his ability to attract talent. The Clemson program, when viewed through an impossibly optimistic lens, looks like a sleeping giant. They have plenty of money and national publicity (with even more coming after the CFP National Championship); and they have an awesome, intimate basketball arena. But viewed more realistically, Clemson is awful more often than it is good. It’s a football school, through and through.
  5. Slap the Sign: This article is more than a little dramatic. Notre Dame certainly didn’t have a very good week, but the Irish are a long way from missing the NCAA Tournament. They rank among the top 30 in projected RPI, among the top 30 in KenPom, and are a consensus #6 seed in Bracket Matrix. Notre Dame can’t continue on its current path (1-5 in their last six games), but there’s no reason to think the Irish will either. Against Florida State and at Louisville will be really tough games, but the remaining five should all be wins (with the possible exception of NC State in Raleigh).
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Duke’s Lineup Change: Beginning of Something Special?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 23rd, 2017

With Duke down 11 points after a listless first half against Miami on Saturday night, acting head coach Jeff Capel decided some personnel changes were in order. Starters Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles began the second half on the bench as Duke turned around the game — and maybe its season — with an overwhelming comeback performance to beat the Hurricanes by 12 points. Capel is now 2-2 in his new role, and it already appears that he is willing to shake things up to get his team’s attention. Capel was asked about the lineup change afterward, saying, “We just went with guys that we felt were going to give us energy.” It was something of a gamble for the interim coach — benching two of the team’s three top scorers and an elite freshman — but the results, both from a viewers’ as well as a statistical perspective, were dramatic.

Senior Matt Jones led Duke in its big comeback win over Miami. (Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

To begin the second half against Miami, regular starters Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum were joined by senior Matt Jones and freshmen Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. As a result, the tone of the game immediately changed. Over the first five minutes of the half, the Blue Devils converted five steals into 12 points, the beginning of a 20-0 run that shocked the confident Hurricanes and ultimately finished off the game. Jones was the catalyst, setting the pace defensively and scoring all 13 of his points in the first eight minutes. Jackson was also effective in finishing with 10 points and four assists versus zero turnovers. And with eight points, four rebounds and some impressive defense against Miami’s guards on the pick-and-roll, it was the breakout game from Bolden that Duke has been waiting for. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Jefferson back (especially on the defensive end) after missing the last two games with a bruised foot.

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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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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 22nd, 2016

In Part I of this series published earlier this week, we examined the latest stylistic change in college basketball: a substantial surge in three-point shooting. Players in both the NBA and college basketball are hoisting and making more long-range shots than ever before, a trend we expect to continue growing into the future. With that in mind, we decided to gauge how the 15 current ACC head coaches may be willing to adapt to such a shift in style of play. To make that assessment, we must first look at recent history.Coaches3s-ImportanceThe graph above shows the relative importance of three-point shooting for ACC coaches over the past five seasons, both offensively and defensively. This rating is simply an average of how a coach’s team has ranked nationally in three areas concerning three-point shooting: three-point accuracy; three-point attempt percentage; and the percentage of points derived from three-point baskets. With only one exception — Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has only four years under his belt — we used data from the last five seasons for each coach, including seasons at other schools (i.e., Josh Pastner at Memphis and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2016

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Tire Pros Invitational: Clemson (#25) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action a bit later this morning, taking on Davidson (#74) in the first round of the Tire Pros Invitational (ESPNU – 11:00 AM). This may look like a brand new event, but it’s actually a relocation, as the tournament previously known as the Puerto Rico Tip-off moved to Orlando because of concerns with the Zika virus. Clemson has a chance to pick up some impressive wins here, especially if the Tigers draw Xavier (#12) in the second round. Three more top-100 schools are on the opposite side of the bracket so, no matter what happens, the Tigers’ non-conference strength of schedule should get a healthy boost.
  2. Charleston Classic: A key for Wake Forest (#69) this year will be the development of its young post players, and sophomore John Collins has already answered the bell by averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the Deacons’ first two outings. Danny Manning hopes his young frontcourt holds up well as his team opens with UTEP (#217) this afternoon (ESPN3 – 1:30 PM) in the Charleston Classic. A win today would likely set up a meeting with mighty Villanova (#2) in one of Friday’s semifinals. The rest of the field in this event is not very strong, with host Charleston (#76) the favorite to come out of the other side of the bracket. The tournament finals will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM).
  3. 2K Classic: Pittsburgh (#53) heads to Madison Square Garden tonight for the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The field is extremely balanced, with all four schools rated within 22 spots (KenPom) of one another. The Panthers face SMU (#34) in tonight’s opener (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM) with Marquette (#31) and Michigan (#37) squaring off in the nightcap. The two winners will meet in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM). Pitt is guaranteed to play two high-caliber teams here, but it needs to register at least one win to make this trip a true resume-builder.
  4. Paradise Jam: Unfortunately for Mark Gottfried, N.C. State (#46) will not be taking freshman forward Ted Kapita with it to the U.S. Virgin Islands. This makes the Wolfpack very thin up front heading into their Paradise Jam opener versus Montana (#172) on Friday night (CBSSN – 6:00 PM). If the Wolfpack can get past the Grizzlies, N.C. State would likely get Creighton (#33) on Sunday evening. Two other top-100 squads — St. Joseph’s (#88) and Mississippi (#84)  — are on the other side of the bracket, so this is a decent all-around field. The event’s championship will be contested on Monday night (CBSSN – 8:30 PM)
  5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Duke (#1) will try to shake off its first loss of the year — Tuesday’s buzzer-beater versus Kansas in the Champions Classic — by heading to Connecticut for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. The Blue Devils are likely to still be without their three injured star freshmen forwards, but they will meet Penn State (#103) on Saturday regardless (ESPN3 – 12:30 PM) followed by either Cincinnati (#22) or Rhode Island (#35) on Sunday afternoon (ESPN – 1:00 PM). In its current form, Duke could be vulnerable to tough-minded teams like the Bearcats and the Rams, so don’t be shocked if Sunday’s game is another nail-biter for Mike Krzyzewski‘s squad.
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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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