Final Four Storylines: Duke Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on April 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2015

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

How Duke Got Here

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

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

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

The Coach

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

Style

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

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Elite Eight Storylines

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 28th, 2015

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

Elite Eight Storylines

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: South and East Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 27th, 2015

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

South Storylines

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

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

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

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

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

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 23rd, 2015

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Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcsouthregion for reporting from Houston this week. You can find all four regional resets here.

New Favorite: #1 Duke. The Blue Devils are well-positioned to make their first Final Four since 2010. Two wins in Charlotte (by an average of 24.0 PPG) did little to diminish their status as the South Region favorite, even with Gonzaga and Utah also impressively advancing en route to Houston. Duke, 31-4 and trending upwards, has made clear the crown will go through them.

Quinn Cook And Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise By San Diego State And Into The Sweet 16

Quinn Cook and Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise by San Diego State and into the Sweet Sixteen. (Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #11 UCLA. The only double-digit seed left standing in this NCAA Tournament is the South Region’s darkest horse, despite that double-digit seed owning more national titles than any program in the history of college basketball. UCLA’s serendipitous March has been well-documented, but 80 minutes of solid basketball earned the Bruins a trip to Houston and the second weekend. The impediment to advancement (Gonzaga) will be significantly greater in Houston; can UCLA’s mutation into Cinderella maintain itself for another weekend?

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Iowa State. It was the quick departure of a pair of #3 seeds from the Big 12 that supplied this year’s NCAA Tournament an early jolt on Thursday afternoon. Baylor’s demise on the other side of the bracket was surprising in its own right, but Iowa State’s loss to UAB was legitimately shocking. Fresh off a takedown of Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game, the Cyclones had entered this tourney with engines revving. The draw was favorable in the South – many believed a Final Four run was in the cards. At worst, a second round victory over 14-point underdog UAB felt like a certainty. But the impossible becomes possible very quickly this time of year; before anyone knew it, Iowa State had become the first casualty of the Madness of March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 68, #8 San Diego State 49

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Krzyzewski leads Duke into the Sweet Sixteen for the th time. (Sporting News Photo)

Mike Krzyzewski leads Duke into the Sweet Sixteen for the 22nd time. (Credit: Sporting News Photo)

  1. Duke got a great draw for a second round opponent. While we all know how potent the Blue Devils are offensively, there have been games in which opponents have exposed some weaknesses in Duke’s defense this year. But those teams had characteristics that San Diego State just does not possess, namely capable perimeter shooting, and guards that excel at penetration. Many times this season, opponents have made 50 percent or better from behind the arc against Duke, often because guards got into the lane easily before kicking out to open shooters. Without a penetrating guard at its disposal, San Diego State was unable to break Duke’s pressure effectively and even when they got free, they missed – going 2-for-13 from distance.
  2. San Diego State just doesn’t have enough offense. That’s been the Aztecs’ Achilles’ heel all year. In each half today, San Diego State went through long stretches of cold shooting that kept them from hanging around. The killer came in the middle of the second half, after they had cut Duke’s lead to seven with just under 13 minutes to go. Over the next nine minutes, San Diego only scored two points as Duke built an insurmountable 25-point lead. You have to give them credit though for hustle, as the Aztecs grabbed 13 of their misses and turned them into a big (+16) advantage in second-chance points. But the overall lack of offensive skill was wholly evident as San Diego State couldn’t keep up with Duke’s firepower.
  3. Talent Matters. San Diego State has a good, deep team but probably lacks any future NBA players on its roster. On the other hand, Duke probably has several, including the likely overall #1 pick in this year’s draft – Jahlil Okafor. The big freshman displayed his advanced skill package against a tough defensive interior, scoring 26 points on a smooth 12-of-16 shooting performance. Justice Winslow looked like a top-5 pick himself, with a terrific all-around game. When he grabs a defensive rebound he immediately looks to push the pace, often going coast-to-coast a la Lebron James. That was big today as the Blue Devils were able to often avoid the rugged Aztec half-court defense, finishing with 18 fast break points in the game.

Star of the Game.  Justice Winslow, Duke. It appears that the Houston native really wanted to go back home next week for the South Regionals. Winslow has shown a knack this season for getting off to energetic starts that propel Duke to big early leads. That was true today as well, with Winslow setting the tone by grabbing nine rebounds and dishing four dimes before intermission. He finished a great all-around performance with a double-double (13 and 12) to go with five assists, four steals, and three blocks.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Sunday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 22nd, 2015

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For the majority of programs around the country, making the Sweet 16 is the start of what would be considered a “successful” season. While many of the programs set to participate in today’s Third Round have aspirations that extend well beyond the final 16, making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament has always been a mark of accomplishment. After today, eight teams will punch their ticket to next week. Here are eight preview’s of Sunday’s games.

#2 Virginia vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 12:10 PM ET on CBS

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

The good news for Virginia is that Justin Anderson – still recovering from a broken finger – looked more like his old self against Belmont on Friday, scoring 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting and earning several trips to the free throw line. The bad news is that its vaunted defense allowed the #15-seeded Bruins to shoot 59 percent from two-point range and hang around for most of the afternoon. Michigan State, meanwhile, made relatively easy work of Georgia. Which makes one wonder: Is an upset a-brewin’ in Charlotte? Belmont found success by using its three-point barrage to spread out the Cavaliers’ Pack-Line defense, then exploiting the resultant lanes. The Spartans – while not quite as deep-ball oriented – attempt over one-third of their shots from behind the arc and hit nearly 39 percent of the time. On top of that, Tom Izzo’s club is very effective on both the offensive and defensive glass, led by rejuvenated forward Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9 RPG). If Michigan State can stretch the defense, penetrate those openings and create second-chance opportunities, it might be able to find success against America’s second-most-efficient defense. Unfortunately, if Anderson takes another step forward, that might not be enough. With the 6’6” wing knocking down perimeter jumpers and attacking the lane on Friday, Virginia scored 1.22 points per possession – its most since February 28th – and looked much closer to the patient-but-efficient offense that dominated opponents in December and January. No matter how well the Spartans spread the floor, they are never going to score at will against Tony Bennett’s defense – no one does – so their ability to get stops will become crucial. But if Anderson is earning trips to free throw line and scorching from behind the arc, I’m not sure Izzo’s bunch can get enough stops to win this game. Expect Michigan State to stay within striking distance for 35-plus minutes, but count on Anderson to make the difference in the end.

The RTC Certified Pick: Virginia

#1 Duke vs. #8 San Diego State — South Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 2:40 pm ET on CBS

Steve Fisher is Leading This Year's Aztecs to Unexpected Success (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Steve Fisher vs. Coach K? Sign me up! (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Duke and San Diego State will play for the first ever in what highlights as an extremely intriguing matchup. The Aztecs were clinical in discarding St. John’s Friday night, even showing an unusual accuracy from three-point range (9-of-22 on threes). When Steve Fisher’s team can find ways to score the basketball – from three-point range or elsewhere – they become a difficult team to beat. There is little inconsistency to the Aztecs’ efforts on the defensive end, where they regularly cause intense trauma to opponents. That defensive activity is what should have Coach K’s attention right about now. Duke guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones stand 6’2” and 6’1”, respectively; no Aztec guard is shorter than 6’3”, and wings like Winston Shepard (6’8”) and Dwayne Polee (6’7”) will also take turns harassing Duke’s pair of star guards. The Blue Devils did manage well against Virginia and their bigger group of guards, but San Diego State presents a longer, more athletic challenge than even the Cavaliers. Of course, the question on the flip side is one that has long plagued the Aztecs: How will SDSU score points? Duke’s defense has taken nights off this year, sure, but there should be some trust that Coach K can devise a game plan capable of removing easy-bucket opportunities. The Aztecs’ best bet may be a continuation of the long-range prowess they displayed Friday night. There are guys on the roster who can knock down those deep shots – Quinn, Shrigley and Polee prime among them. Can they hit enough to complement the terrifying SDSU defense?

San Diego State would be a more appealing pick to pull the stunner if this game were not being played in Charlotte. As is, they are faced with defeating a #1 seed in a virtual road game, a proposition that even the strongest of stylistic matchups can fail to enact. Duke should be scared – the Aztecs are a truly scary matchup in this spot – but expect San Diego State to fall a shot or two short of swinging the upset. Duke will leave the home cooking behind in advancing to Houston.

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 74, Duke 64

Posted by Matt Patton on March 14th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the first half. The Irish hit some unbelievably tough shots and made Jahlil Okafor try to beat them on his own. As a result, Duke’s other players went 4-of-16 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Notre Dame may be the only team in the country with five guys who can consistently hit shots (although Duke has some lineups that also fit that description). The Irish smothered Duke by forcing the guards to play deeper than usual and fronting Okafor. They also hit shots, lots of them. Mike Brey’s team had a total of five and-ones in the first half alone. Five. When Duke went to its zone, Bonzie Colson just crushed the Blue Devils from the high post. When they went back to man, Demetrius Jackson got to the rim with incredible ease. Even in the second half when Duke started making its eventual run, Notre Dame’s ability to get to the rim (and the free throw line) felt like the reason Duke never got it back to a single-possession game.
  2. Demetrius Jackson is destined for great things. This may be an obvious statement (Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American, after all), but Jackson is a fantastic young player. He brings an athletic dimension to Mike Brey’s team that has been somewhat missing over the years. Jackson frequently broke Duke’s three-quarter court pressure like no one was there with his quick bursts of speed and playground dribbling moves in traffic. He also got to the rim with ease, finishing the evening with five assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes of action. If there’s a reason to still be bullish on the Irish next season without Jerian Grant, it’s because the sophomore Jackson is ready to take over the team.
  3. Mike Krzyzewski was remarkably calm. Coach K has a reputation of being curt and snippy in his pressers after Duke losses, but other than a defensive response to a question about last year’s team not meeting expectations, he was remarkably measured. I have a few theories on this attitude. The most likely idea is that he felt like Duke would have won the game if Quinn Cook hadn’t been gassed (Krzyzewski said on Thursday that Cook had been fighting off an illness). Cook went 1-of-10 from three on mostly good looks (0-of-8 in the second half) and he did a good job defending Jerian Grant, but it just looked like he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. The other theory is that Krzyzewski really liked the way Justise Winslow and Okafor fought back after horrible first halves.

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ACC Regular Season Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 9th, 2015

The ACC regular season has come to a close, which means it’s time for conference tournament play and postseason dreams that stretch deep into March. For now, though, it’s a great time to look back at the standout performers and performances of the regular season that was. Here are your 2014-15 ACC superlatives:

RTC All-ACC Team

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Okafor lived up his immense preseason billing and single-handedly turned a dangerous Duke team into a dominant one. Okafor was the conference’s second-leading scorer (17.6 PPG), third-leading rebounder (9.2 RPG) and top shooter by field goal percentage (66.8%). His ability to make the team a dual threat instead of the perimeter-reliant teams of yore means these Blue Devils have a very high ceiling come NCAA Tourney time.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. The remarkable year that the Fighting Irish enjoyed can be traced to the return of Grant from a suspension related to academic improprieties. In addition to his highlight-reel dunks and numerous clutch baskets, Grant was a stat-sheet stuffer for a vastly improved Notre Dame team, logging 16.8 PPG, 6.7 APG and 1.8 SPG on the season. He also shot an outstanding 49.4 percent from the field.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. The Orange ultimately had little to play for because of their self-imposed postseason ban, but they may have produced the best on-court individual success story of the year. Christmas’ amazing improvement from his junior to senior season (17.5 PPG, +11.7; 9.1 RPG, +4.0) proved he could flourish as the team’s primary option. He served as the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season for Syracuse hoops and has positioned himself for a bright future in the professional ranks.
Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Brogdon’s inclusion on this list speaks to his ability to play whatever role Tony Bennett asks of him. With Justin Anderson stealing the early headlines, Brogdon was content to act as the team’s best on-ball defender and late game shot-maker. When Anderson fell to injury, Brogdon resumed his role as a primary offensive weapon. He averaged nearly 14 points per game while shooting 34 percent from three and 86 percent from the line. Traditional statistics never do Virginia players much justice, though, but Brogdon’s intangible ability to meet the demands made of him showed his true value to the ACC regular season champs.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College. Hanlan played on a mediocre Boston College team but his offensive prowess was rivaled by none in this year’s ACC. The conference’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, he remained a deadly offensive weapon despite playing the point guard position for the first time in his career. He scored 30 or more points four times, including a stellar 39 points on just 20 shots against Pittsburgh.

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ACC M5: 03.09.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 9th, 2015

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  1. Syracuse.com: By now, most people know that Jim Boeheim skipped the postgame press conference after Syracuse wrapped up their 2014-15 season with a loss at North Carolina State on Saturday. Instead, the embattled coach sent out long time assistant Mike Hopkins to face the media rather than have to personally take questions in public for the first time since the NCAA announced their findings and punishments for the Syracuse program after a lengthy investigation. Most basketball media viewed Boeheim’s refusal to appear as cowardice, but this article claims that Syracuse’s administration told him not to attend. Perhaps they recognize that Boeheim has a tendency to be confrontational and defiant when faced with harsh questions about how his program is run, and sometimes says more than he should – like his initial reaction to the Bernie Fine situation.
  2. Stateoftheu.com: If Miami can get past the winner of Wake Forest/Virginia Tech they would be a formidable match-up for third-seeded Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. The Hurricanes and the Irish are similarly constructed as both are perimeter oriented offensively. So that game could come down to who makes the most 3-pointers, and don’t be surprised if that team is Miami, after they drilled 15-of-25 from deep against Virginia Tech in Saturday’s regular season finale. This article wonders if the Hurricanes are actually better off without injured point guard Angel Rodriguez, who has been in an icy shooting slump for quite a while. While it’s true that his replacement, Manu Lecomte is clearly the superior shooter, the Hurricanes probably still need Rodriguez’s defense and creativity to beat elite teams.
  3. Fox Sports Carolinas: In this piece, Lauren Brownlow has a pretty good take on the current status of North Carolina State, as the Wolfpack head into Greensboro as a very dangerous 7-seed. As she points out, sophomore center BeeJay Anya is a big key to the Wolfpack’s success. When he is playing well – protecting the rim, grabbing offensive boards, and finishing alley-oops, N.C. State has shown they can compete with elite teams. When Anya is not as aggressive, or in foul trouble, the Wolfpack is more vulnerable in the paint to teams with good interior players. Another interesting factoid presented here is that Mark Gottfried and N.C. State have amassed an impressive 4-and-1 record this season in games against teams with active Hall-of-Fame coaches.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: Probably the most surprising hero in college basketball this past weekend has to be Louisville‘s Mangok Mathiang, who knocked down the game-winning jumper to take out Virginia. Afterwards, Rick Pitino joked that “Mangok was the 64th option” on the play, but when the Cardinal’s Terry Rozier got trapped and passed him the ball, Mathiang calmly knocked in only his second field goal in the last month. Unlike the first meeting between the two teams – when Virginia only committed two turnovers – this time the Louisville pressure defense forced 13 Cavalier miscues. That defensive effort, and a big game from Montrezl Harrell were enough to send the Cardinals into postseason on a much higher note than seemed possible just two weeks ago, when Chris Jones was dismissed from the squad.
  5. USA Today: It certainly has been the season of good will in what is widely acknowledged as the best rivalry in college basketball: Duke and North Carolina. First came the moving tribute to Dean Smith in the first match-up in Durham in mid-February, when the coaches/players locked arms and knelt together in a moment of silence. Then before Saturday’s rematch in Chapel Hill, Roy Williams and his team captains – Jackson Simmons and Marcus Paige – met Mike Krzyzewski at midcourt to honor him for becoming the first coach to reach 1000 career wins. In his postgame press conference, Krzyzewski discussed the uniqueness of the rivalry with the level of respect between the two programs. By comparison, think how laughable it is to imagine Nick Saban being honored by Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, or Urban Meyer receiving a standing ovation at the Big House.
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ACC M5: 02.24.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 24th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. WDRB: It didn’t take long for Louisville’s Chris Jones to go from indefinitely suspended to reinstated to dismissed in what felt like a blink of an eye. The details certainly aren’t pretty and they’re made worse by what we don’t know yet. According to a police report, Jones allegedly threatened to hit his on-and-off girlfriend after she “messed up his room” after he stood her up. That’s a really bad look. What we don’t know yet is the other incident that Louisville Public Safety is looking into. Hopefully Jones can get the help he needs because it will be nearly impossible to get his career back on track if he doesn’t. His absence probably spells long-term trouble for Louisville, which only managed 17 first half points against Georgia Tech before coming back to win by a single point at the end.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: More bad news out of Chapel Hill, as Andrew Carter sat down with an ailing Bill Guthridge. If you don’t recall the name, Guthridge was Dean Smith’s right hand man for 30 years before taking over the program in the three years following Smith’s retirement (1997-2000). Sadly, Guthridge’s mental health is suffering because of a serious heart condition: “I’m not up with it,” he said while trying to recall his head coaching stint. Carter writes the hell out of this story, but it’s a really tough read.
  3. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Virginia got even more banged up when London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon smashed their heads together against Florida State (a game that’s been incredibly physical in recent years). Brogdon ended up with a pretty ugly bump while Perrantes came away with a broken nose and “concussion symptoms.” The injury also led to some rather grisly pictures of Perrantes’ bloody jersey. Virginia has struggled mightily on offense since Justin Anderson’s injury, so losing Perrantes for any extended time will only exacerbate the situation. Wake Forest has a real shot at a marquee win when the hobbled Cavaliers come to town this week (recall that the Deacs only lost by one on the road).
  4. Charleston Post and Courier: Gene Sapakoff has some pretty strong words about the state of the ACC and Brad Brownell‘s legacy. “Clemson head coach Brad Brownell in particular has an easier ACC path than Cliff Ellis or Rick Barnes had, and ought to be graded accordingly.” I agree with him that win totals are a little inflated these days, but I think that undersells the job Brownell has done with this year’s team. That said, if he keeps fielding teams with low expectations, that’s a problem of its own.
  5. Slap the Sign: Here’s a case for Mike Brey to win ACC Coach of the Year. Here are my cases for Mike Brey to come in third: Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Weirdly, the last time Coach K won this award was way back in 2000. That’s stupid (he probably should have won in 2010) and reflects the way (most of) the media votes for this award: How much does your team overachieve based on the preseason expectations that we set? The only slightly better voting dogma is to always vote for the coach of the team that wins the conference, which is inexcusable with an unbalanced round-robin schedule. If Virginia finishes with two or fewer losses or if Duke finishes with three losses, one of those two head coaches deserves the award (I would lean towards Krzyzewski, but Bennett’s case is strong too). Brey has had a great year and well exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, but that has as much to do with undervaluing Jerian Grant as it does with Brey’s coaching acumen.

EXTRA (via NJ.com): Whew boy, Roy Williams certainly let the North Carolina fan base have it. After a very cool opening four-corners set (shown below) that didn’t get enough love from the Tar Heels’ faithful, Williams lit into the crowd saying that “they were asleep most of the day anyway.” Feels like Williams almost slipped into a frustrated vulgarity, but that’ll have to wait for next time.

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