ACC M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 28th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Notre Dame Insider: Mike Brey calls it “downshifting” to describe when teams put in a smaller lineup to match up with Notre Dame (whose forwards are an odd combination of 6’10” and 6’5″), but that strategy will get put to a real test tonight with Duke‘s Jahlil Okafor and Amile Jefferson scoring with such great efficiency. I’m not sure what Mike Krzyzewski calls it when Duke allows opposing guards to get to the rim undeterred, but I’m very sure that I cannot print it here. That too will get put to test this evening at the Joyce Center, thanks to Jerian Grant and a supporting cast that can shoot the ball from distance at a 40 percent clip. All I know? It should be a fun game to watch.
  2. Miami Herald: A guy who should be in the running for the ACC Most Improved Player award is Miami junior Tonye Jekiri (although it probably should go to Virginia’s Justin Anderson). Jekiri hasn’t played basketball for very long, but the seven-footer is starting to get the hang of things for the Hurricanes. He’s turned into an elite rebounder and a low usage scorer, which reminds me a little of Miles Plumlee during his senior year at Duke. Don’t be surprised if he eventually gets drafted — it’s still true that you can’t teach size.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: You wouldn’t have been alone if you had predicted North Carolina would struggle to score on Monday night against Syracuse, but you would have been wrong. Bret Strelow (with the help of Marcus Paige) took a stab at figuring out why. Paige pointed out that most of the Tar Heels’ penetration in that game came through passing into the high post. It also helped that the normally poor-shooting Tar Heels (33% on the season from three) found its jump shot (9-of-16 against the Orange). Don’t think that North Carolina’s hot shooting was just an impressive performance because Syracuse is a little undermanned this year — that was the best shooting percentage against the Orange by any team since 2012.
  4. Tomahawk Nation: I’m not the only one on the Xavier Rathan-Mayes bandwagon right now. Michael Rogner does a good job examining how the freshman has improved as the year has progressed. He’s gone from a decent, inefficient scorer to become one of the most dangerous offensive players in the ACC. There’s not much hope for this year’s Florida State team, but if he extends his range he could be the ACC’s next 20 PPG scorer.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: When will Jim Boeheim get to 1,000 wins of his own? The safe bet is 2016-17, but Michael Burke makes the case that it’s not unreasonable for him to get there next year with a little luck on his side. With a disappointing team 14-7 team this season, there’s some reason to be cautious, but with more talent coming to town and a history of success, there’s ample reason to be optimistic about his chances as well.
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ACC M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2015

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  1. Sporting News: Even before Duke manufactured an impressive comeback for Mike Krzyzewski‘s 1,000th win on Sunday, Mike DeCourcy made the case that Coach K is the best coach ever in college basketball. Specifically, DeCourcy makes the case for the ACC legend over John Wooden and his 10 national titles. The problem is (and this is part of his argument) that the game is simply incomparable now to that of UCLA’s heyday. Truthfully, it’s totally different than it was even 15 years ago. And that’s the best argument in favor of Coach K (if you’re one to compare apples and oranges), as he’s succeeded over a huge range of time. He’s easily the most accomplished coach of the modern era, but I’m not ready to sharpie him in over the likes of Bob Knight, Dean Smith or John Wooden in the history books. Each ruled an era and changed the game in their own images. That’s good enough for me.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Jim Boeheim got a little salty (and rightfully so) that big man Rakeem Christmas was left off the Wooden Award watch list, calling him “probably the best center in the country.” That’s a pretty bold statement with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor playing in the same conference, but it’s true Christmas hasn’t been getting the national credit he deserves for putting up nearly identical numbers to Okafor (marginally fewer points and a little lower percentages, but better defense). Christmas is averaging 18/9 on 60 percent shooting this season, nearly doubling his usage without seeing much of a hit in his efficiency (although his block percentage is down). Here’s to hoping ACC voters give Christmas his due come all-ACC voting season.
  3. Soaring to Glory: So this article is both weirdly pessimistic and optimistic. About Boston College’s current players, it’s very pessimistic. That’s fair considering last season’s dumpster fire, but there’s more talent on this year’s team than say… Virginia Tech. But the roster is pretty thin thanks to Steve Donahue signing no one of consequence and a couple of transfers out of the program. But it’s at least tentatively optimistic on the prospects of first-year head coach, Jim Christian. This year’s group is playing with more heart than last year’s squad, but it’s hard to say how much of that comes from the top and how much comes from the change in player personnel. I think the Eagles are likely better off in the long run with Christian, but until we see what sorts of players he’ll bring to Chestnut Hill, it’s tough to get overly optimistic. In addition to offensive Xs and Os, Donahue excelled at finding “diamonds in the rough” (like Olivier Hanlan); he just couldn’t fill out an ACC-quality roster. Christian isn’t the type of guy who will be in the running for many four-star players, so he’s got to have good evaluation skills to succeed there.
  4. Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes is starting to live up to his high school scouting report and fill up the scoring column. He’s still not a good shooter from long range, but he’s averaging 18.5 points a game in ACC play and was lethal against North Carolina over the weekend. Rathan-Mayes is apparently very open to coaching, which is good because he’s also prone to heat checks. You get the feeling that he’s got a chance to be a very special player in Tallahassee if he keeps on this trajectory.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: North Carolina is starting to pile up injuries on the wings that could make running challenging. Theo Pinson broke a bone in his foot, so he’s now sidelined along with Joel Berry and Stilman White. The good news for Tar Heels faithful is that the injury bug has mostly avoided the starters (although Marcus Paige is a little banged up). The bad news is that Berry and Pinson need the playing time to improve (and to give Roy Williams the rotation he likes).
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ACC M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 23rd, 2015

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  1. ESPN: Dana O’Neil penned a must-read profile of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski by talking with many of his longtime friends and family. It’s a long but great read. With Coach K getting a shot at 1,000 wins this weekend, there are plenty of profiles to go around. Pat Forde took a look back at Coach K’s first win, and in more normal M5 fare, Marshall Plumlee will be sworn in to the US Army today.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Tributes to Coach K are everywhere, including Winston-Salem, as Danny Manning told Dan Collins that the Demon Deacons aren’t a zone team and would stick to man-to-man even if they struggle with it. But the real reason Collins’ article is worth the click is for all the Wake Forest historical nuggets he hides inside it. I’ll side with Manning on his defensive trademark, though. Assuming a style of play that isn’t totally ludicrous, it’s good to work on molding your players into the type of team you want to coach. If he chose to play all zone, Manning might get a different type of player at Wake in the future (NBA teams often complain about prospects that play too much zone defense in college).
  3. Syracuse Post-Standard: Were we just talking about zone? Well, Syracuse plays a lot of zone. And is under NCAA investigation. If (and only if) the NCAA hands down or the Orange self-impose a postseason ban, they wouldn’t be allowed to compete in the ACC Tournament. That seems like a remote possibility at this point, but you’ll have better luck winning six-figure scratch-off prizes than predicting NCAA punishments. The other wrinkle is what a 14-team ACC Tournament would look like. If such a serious a punishment is coming, I’d expect more details to leak out first.
  4. Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia looks like it will run away with the ACC this season. You don’t want to put too much stock in games against Georgia Tech, but the Cavaliers held Brian Gregory’s squad to a ridiculous output of 28 points, while the Cavaliers scored at least 28 points in both halves. Accompanying Virginia’s rise is something of a bandwagon effect. Apparently Cavaliers fans showed up in force at Boston College (which is common for Duke and North Carolina, but both programs have national followings). Tony Bennett has done something really special in Charlottesville. The questions now are: How far can this team go? And can it beat the 76ers hold on to its head coach when the next really big job opens?
  5. Card Chronicle: More details on the Montrezl Harrell situation. Apparently Harrell pulled himself out of the position after Rick Pitino rode him about being more positive. This is plausible and is probably the best-case scenario from a chemistry perspective, but I wouldn’t start celebrating just yet. In more tangible analysis, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson gave an honest and somewhat critical scouting report on Harrell to Lauren Brownlow.

EXTRA: He’s not in the ACC anymore, but Chris Collins joined the tribute to Coach K and absolutely lost it after a questionable no-call from the officials at last night’s Northwestern-Ohio State game.

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ACC M5: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 22nd, 2015

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  1. Duke Basketball Report: Good read from Al Featherston on Coach K and his new zone defense. I have a theory that Krzyzewski’s views on using the zone have softened somewhat because of his close friendship with Jim Boeheim. I also agree with Krzyzewski’s observation that Duke‘s defense is tied to its offense. The notion makes sense for a couple of reasons: most importantly, making shots allows a team sufficient time to set its defense (either through a press or in the half-court); but secondly, making shots also keeps players’ confidence high. Zone will not win Duke a championship. This is still a really young team and the head coach needs to figure out how to keep things under control when adversity hits (my guess is that it starts and ends with the team’s All-American center).
  2. Orangeburg Times and Democrat: This article reads a little like a bitter coach’s presser, but Clemson does have an attendance problem, which is really unfortunate because Littlejohn Coliseum is one of the best arenas in the ACC (and it might just be the loudest when at capacity). While I agree that some impetus has to be put on the students and fan base, Clemson also currently plays an ugly style of basketball. KJ McDaniels provided Top 10-worthy dunks and blocks on a regular basis, but this year’s team doesn’t have that must-watch player. Combine that lack of star power with a sluggish and inefficient offense, and you have a recipe for general apathy.
  3. Orlando Sentinel: Jim Larranaga threw his entire Miami team out of practice earlier this week in an effort to find the right message for a team that struggles with consistency. Part of Miami’s roller coaster tendency is because Angel Rodriguez is such a mercurial player, but some part of it may also lie with the team’s overall effort. Miami is in good shape as far as NCAA Tournament consideration is concerned (assuming the Selection Committee continues to reward strong wins), but it’s far from a lock for the Big Dance thanks to some head-scratching losses. Someone on this team needs to step up and become a steadying force down the stretch.
  4. South Bend Tribune: The ACC needs to rework its broadcasting contract. In expanding the conference (from numerical and geographic perspectives), the TV deal hasn’t caught up. Sure there are plenty of options to watch ACC teams play under the lights on ESPN, but it’s the third-tier games that are still frustratingly hard to find. Having a dedicated network (instead of the piecemeal “ACC Network” across local stations) would help, but I think they should keep the web of local networks in addition to the games shown on any future network.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: There may be some trouble brewing in Louisville, as junior All-American Montrezl Harrell is no longer a team captain. The school hasn’t yet released anything else on the matter, but such a move doesn’t make me confident in where the team stands. In order to make a run in March, Harrell needs to be a vocal leader on this team. Maybe Rick Pitino is trying to send him a message, but the move is more than likely punitive. Don’t expect much more to come out about this, but the Cardinals’ team chemistry and Harrell’s engagement are a couple of things to keep an eye on over the Cards’ next few games.
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Morning Five: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 22nd, 2015

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  1. In hopes of lessening potential NCAA penalties from an investigation into what happened during the Donnie Tyndall era, Southern Mississippi has decided to self-impose a postseason ban for this season. As you may remember from a few months ago, the allegations around the program reportedly involve how tuition and other expenses were paid for recruits who signed with the school, but were not yet eligible for scholarships. While the school says “this self-imposed penalty was painful” in reality the team is 5-11 this season under new coach Doc Sadler having lost eight straight including their first five in Conference USA so all they are probably missing out is an opening round loss in the Conference USA Tournament at most since only 12 of the 14 teams in the conference even make the conference tournament. Meanwhile, Tyndall is having an impressive season at Tennessee and probably will not get much more than a slap on the wrist from the NCAA.
  2. It turns out that North Carolina might not be alone in its academic misconduct. According to a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education, the NCAA is currently investigating 20 programs for allegations of academic misconduct. The names of the programs–18 of which are Division I schools–were not released, but a few schools are named including UNC (obviously). Our key takeaway from this is not that there are plenty of issues with academics in NCAA programs, but instead the enormity of the task facing the 60 individuals tasked with reviewing these programs and monitoring every other program within the purview of the NCAA. So while the amount of time it has taken the to make a ruling on North Carolina (we’re still waiting…), it becomes much more understandable when you look at everything they have to watch over.
  3. You may have heard that Mike Krzyzewski is approaching his 1000th career win (ESPN has been mentioning it on occasion), which has led to several retrospectives on his career. Most of them have been talking about the sheer enormity of the accomplishment of being that good for that long, but Mike DeCourcy decided to take it a step further declaring Krzyzewski the greatest college basketball coach ever. While Krzyzewski is obviously in the discussion (and you can make a very strong case for him being the best), we are a little more reluctant to be quite as dismissive of what John Wooden did and note that Krzyzewski’s peers had to deal with the same nuances of the time as he did. In the end, it is an interesting debate albeit one that we might tend to take the easy way out of by simply saying that each is the best of his era.
  4. We have heard about the antics of many mascots over the years (Sebastian the Ibis nearly getting arrested for using a fire extinguisher on Osceola’s burning spear and West Virginia’s mascot killing a bear with the school’s musket), but it has been a while since we heard about one getting fired. So when we heard that Oklahoma had fired one of the people who dressed as their mascot for taunting Oklahoma State fans we figured it had to be for something fairly amusing. Instead, it turns out the mascot was blocking the view of the fans and poured popcorn on some of the fans including Heather Ford, the wife of Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. While it is certainly a fireable offense (the individual had been told multiple times to stop), we would have hoped the mascot could have gone out in a more memorable way.
  5. We aren’t sure how we missed this before, but Zach Helfand has an excellent story on the only hotel we know of that is dedicated to a college basketball figure (at least a current one): the Steve Alford All-American Inn located in Alford’s hometown of New Castle, Indiana. As you might expect it isn’t exactly a luxury hotel, but according to Helfand it seems like a decent hotel, which is about all you can expect for around $60/night. We can’t necessarily make a recommendation for something we have never seen, but this certainly seems like the type of thing that is worth checking out as one of the more unique basketball experiences around particularly if you are in the area even if it is just to stop by as you are passing through.
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ACC Weekend Review: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2015

In the headline match-up of the weekend, Duke ended its two-game losing streak with a surprisingly comfortable win at Louisville on Saturday. But the bigger surprise was how the Blue Devils did it, going almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone defense that was incredibly effective against the cold-shooting Cardinals. Notre Dame rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Miami in South Bend on Saturday, keeping the Irish in second place in the league standings behind undefeated Virginia. The Cavaliers also had to mount a second half comeback to overtake Boston College Saturday afternoon in Conte Forum. In other games over the weekend, Syracuse dropped its first league game of the year at Clemson; N.C. State picked up a road win versus Florida State; and North Carolina and Pittsburgh each won home games against a pair of conference winless clubs, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Notre Dame's Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday's win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday’s win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Jerian Grant had scored a total of only 26 points in his previous three games, but the senior guard broke out of his mini-slump with a huge effort against Miami on Saturday. The ACC Player of the Year candidate finished with an efficient 25 points that came on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. He also passed out eight assists and was part of a perimeter defense that held Hurricanes’ guard Angel Rodriguez in check. Rodriguez had torched Duke in his previous game with 24 points, but only managed four points on 1-of-10 shooting Saturday. Grant was also the difference down the stretch as his three broke a tie with 6:19 left and he also scored a layup and blocked a shot in the last minute to seal the win.
  • Best Win: After looking nothing like a championship contender in its two prior outings, Duke got back on track with a mild upset at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. After an all-night coaches’ meeting following Duke’s home debacle versus Miami, Mike Krzyzewski abandoned the Blue Devils’ trademark pressure man-to-man defense to instead play a 2-3 zone against the Cardinals. While it was a big surprise to most of us, the zone was not totally unexpected by Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who said afterwards, “Duke is a team that never plays zone… and that’s what I would have done if I were in [Mike Krzyzewski’s] shoes.” Pitino is no doubt referring to his team’s lack of perimeter shooting, which finished a chilly 4-of-25 on three-pointers against the Devils. Ironically, Duke looked a lot more like a recent-vintage Syracuse team, with the Blue Devils playing deliberately on the offensive end to go along with the newly-installed zone defense.

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Duke Heads to Louisville Looking for Confidence

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

One week ago, the storyline surrounding Duke‘s visit to Louisville was that Mike Krzyzewski would most likely be going for win #1,000 in his illustrious coaching career. How quickly things change in the world of college basketball! Today, after two discouraging beatings by unranked teams, the Blue Devils head into a Noon ET (ESPN) showdown wondering if they can beat just about anybody right now. So what’s going on with the team that won each game handily on its way to a 14-0 start, including that huge early December win at Wisconsin that seems like ages ago?

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday's Loss to Miami. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday’s Loss to Miami.
(Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Whenever a team goes through a bad stretch, there are invariably multiple reasons for the slump. In Duke’s case, much has been made of the team’s poor defensive play and with good reason — both N.C. State and Miami torched the Blue Devils with over 1.2 points per possession. Duke’s defense struggled in almost every area in both games: off the dribble; perimeter shooters; poor rotation; transition; at the rim. That’s too many areas to fix with strategic adjustments alone. On offense, the team that has ranked first nationally in offensive efficiency for most of the season has suddenly gone ice cold. Senior Quinn Cook is the only perimeter player who can make a jump shot right now, which allows defenses to concentrate on surrounding Jahlil Okafor without paying the price. Consider this: Cook has made 8-of-14 shots from three-point range in the two losses, but the rest of the team is 6-of-35. Perhaps all of that cold shooting is a big reason for the defensive meltdowns that took place in the second half of each loss (see tables below).

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ACC M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 6th, 2015

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  1. Tar Heel Blog: As you certainly know by now, ESPN legend Stuart Scott passed away Sunday after a very public fight with cancer. He was one of the most recognizable voices at the Worldwide Leader for his catchphrases and hip-hop references, but also for his unabashed Tar Heel fandom. Scott often made his way back to Chapel Hill for Late Night with Roy until very recently. If you’ve got fifteen minutes, ESPN also put together a great tribute to Scott.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Barry Jacobs, as per usual, is a must-read on Coach K making changes to his career following the infamous 1995 season. Other Triangle fans often sneer when the season is brought up (not at the injury but the attribution of the team’s 4-15 record following Krzyzewski’s departure to Pete Gaudett), but that time off may have been more important than many previously thought. It’s impossible to get through a Duke game without an announcer talking about how important family is to Mike Krzyzewski; and it took an ultimatum from his wife Mickie–along with weeks of chronic pain–to get Krzyzewski to finally go to a doctor and eventually take time off.
  3. Backing the Pack: NC State looked really, really impressive against Pittsburgh. This breakdown also looks forward to the mini-murderer’s row facing the Wolfpack (at Virginia, against Duke and against North Carolina). Mark Gottfried turned his team around after an ugly loss to Cincinnati, but he really needs to keep them sharp in Charlottesville and against Duke. Getting those two teams back to back is a recipe to kill a team’s confidence, but it also is a great chance at a marquee win to hang your hat on come Selection Sunday. I like the Wolfpack’s chances to keep the games close if they keep their wits about them (and play defense). Regardless of the outcome, Gottfried has a team in decent shape. Jamie Dixon should start sweating though.
  4. Blogger So Dear: If you missed Wake Forest‘s game against  Louisville, you missed one of the guttiest performances of the season–especially from Devin Thomas who made the vaunted Cardinal front line look outmatched. Danny Manning has his team believing, and it’s getting him some national credit. The Demon Deacons won’t be a frontrunner in the ACC this season. However, this game shows why the Manning hire may be exactly what the doctor ordered. As long as this team continues to play hard, they’ll stick around games they have no business in and Manning may bring some big-time recruits into town.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: King Karl Hess is in the news! A former Wake Forest trustee Mit Shah tweeted that Hess yelled, “When I’m older, I want to sit in your seat and watch your Egyptian ass referee a game.” Beyond that we don’t have much information, but this could spell trouble for Hess. Refs can’t ever engage with fans (even if Shah was being obnoxious). There are three ways this could go: (1) Hess apologizes and is likely suspended by the league; (2) Hess apologizes for engaging with a fan but claims he didn’t say anything racial; (3) Hess and/or the league deny he said anything and go about their business. It’s hard to believe the ACC would let Hess continue working if evidence comes out (even with an unspoken agreement like they had with NC State), but it’s also possible that Shah and Ron Wellman have better things to do than pursue an internal investigation.

EXTRA: So… Jerian Grant‘s dunk from last weekend was awesome. And after nearly looking past Georgia Tech, the Fighting Irish got a very good win at North Carolina.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 66, Connecticut 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2014

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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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