ACC Morning Five: 02.08.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 8th, 2012

  1. Tallahassee Democrat: Ira Schoffel hits a home run with this profile on Leonard Hamilton. It’s lengthy, but totally worth the time it takes to read. It’s really unfortunate that it will be buried by Duke – North Carolina previews today. Schoffel spent time with many of Hamilton’s friends and family from his days in Gastonia, North Carolina. He may not look it, but Hamilton is the second oldest coach behind Mike Krzyzewski in the ACC. The FSU head coach has had a really inspirational journey from Gastonia to Tallahassee. Even above and beyond the high school story, Hamilton’s coaching resume is very impressive too. Before the year I said Bernard James might have the best story in college basketball, but I might have been wrong. His coach may have him beat.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Lame title aside, this is a terrific piece on Austin Rivers from Jack Daly. Rivers went from being a walking cliche — the talented but selfish son of an NBA coach — when he arrived at Duke to something far more compelling once he took the court. Sure, he’s made mistakes. But he’s also Duke’s best offensive weapon. His critics jumped on his early season struggles and have tended to alter the criticisms instead of the narrative as his game improves. It’s clear he has a chip on his shoulder, but I haven’t heard that chip really expressed openly until this piece. He talks about trying to succeed in the shadow of Doc Rivers and the wealth of expectations and dearth of praise (at least at the college level) for his achievements. Daly finishes the piece with a perfect quote from Rivers:

    People always ask what makes me hungry now: I haven’t done anything yet. I haven’t done anything yet. I had a great high school career, I was No. 1 – I don’t care. No one cares about that anymore. At Duke, I haven’t won a national championship, I haven’t won an ACC Tournament, I don’t play in the NBA. I haven’t done anything. I have everything that can motivate me.

  3. Continuing the DukeNorth Carolina rivalry trope, Brett Friedlander sat down with several former and current Tar Heels to talk about why they chose the school in Chapel Hill over the one eight miles south in Durham. Former Tar Heel big man Eric Montross seems to hit the nail on the head, calling the decision a “gut feeling” of one school over the other. Whether it’s North Carolina’s adjacent museum, the banners, or meeting Michael Jordan — Tar Heel players walk away from visits just knowing… On the flip side I suspect many players who choose Duke feel the same about Cameron Indoor and its many banners overhead as well. The atmospheres are undeniably different, but the two team’s histories share an excellence.
  4. Chicago Tribune: Miami is quietly building an NCAA Tournament resume now that Reggie Johnson is back in the line-up. The Hurricanes have won five of their last six games and four straight including the overtime win at Duke. That said, the “surprise” part of Miami’s bid foundation (for me) is that it’s taken this long to take hold. Certainly Johnson’s injury didn’t do Jim Larranaga any favors, but if you asked me which new coach was doing the worst job at the start of conference season, I wouldn’t have hesitated calling out the former George Mason coach. Miami still has a lot of work to do. I think it splits with Florida State and avenges a home loss to NC State. If the Hurricanes take care of that business, they’ll have 11 conference wins with the disclaimer that the ugly first half of the season was without Johnson (really 10 wins and a solid performance in the ACC Tournament could do the trick, but better safe than sorry).
  5. Fayetteville Observer: In honor of Duke and North Carolina, Stephen Schramm sat down with @thedevilwolf, one of the best trollers in the business. If you follow ACC basketball much on Twitter, you probably know his handle (but not his name). In addition to timely trolling, he’s also good for insightful comments during games and over on Duke Hoop Blog. Schramm also mentioned another mysterious Tobacco Road Twitter celebrity, @TarHeelWire, who disappeared suddenly after nearly two years of constant tweeting on North Carolina athletics when more and more people sought the identity of the man behind the handle.

EXTRA: Troy Machir over at Ballin’ Is A Habit put out his 2011-12 All-Hair-Team, and the list starts with Mike Scott and his many cornrow designs. No other ACC players make the cut (though Miles Plumlee‘s high and tight makes a defensive cameo).

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ACC Morning Five: 01.30.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 30th, 2012

  1. Gregg Doyel hits the nail on the head in this column (by the way, Doyel covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer before going to and wasn’t exactly close with Mike Krzyzewski over the years) on Duke‘s Cameron Crazies. The one caveat is that he didn’t really offer a solution to the boredom and lack of ownership. For comparison’s sake Coach K offered his thoughts (courtesy of Duke Hoop Blog):

    “Our crowd sometimes becomes fans instead of part of the game. Overall, our crowd has been part of what we’ve done. They haven’t come there to watch us play. They’ve come there to compete with us. I think this year it’s more of watching us play and cheering us on. When you do that you don’t really understand the game situations as well. You don’t have a feel for the game. You can’t be as on point. That doesn’t mean we don’t love them. But, this team needs it more and would benefit from that support.”

    I think both Doyel and Krzyzewski are probably right. The Cameron atmosphere was developed as Duke got more talented. It gradually became more and more controlled in the 1990s and eventually morphed to its present state. Other than big games (I’m thinking of Maryland and North Carolina recently) and big-time players, the Crazies don’t seem as connected with the game as in the past. It has started to feel like more of a show. Basically, I think Coach K describes the current issue that led to the problem brought up by Doyel.
    Author’s Note: As a side note, Coach K gave a pretty scathing press conference after Duke beat St. John’s at home. It’s worth a watch.

  2. ACC Sports: Adrian Atkinson (normally our North Carolina defensive-charting connoisseur) took a look at Duke’s most used lineups this season. Remember, he’s only using Duke’s conference games so the sample size is fairly small, meaning you should take the efficiencies with a grain of salt. That said, I think his overall conclusions are fairly interesting. Duke’s most effective lineup is Tyler Thornton, Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. It’s a little surprising to me that this lineup isn’t used more often given the fact that its defensive efficiency is so outrageous. It’s also worth noting that Duke’s defense drops off dramatically by just replacing Thornton with Andre Dawkins. Even worse than that (shockingly) is replacing Ryan Kelly with Miles Plumlee (which leads me to believe that both Plumlees are good defenders at the five, but horrid defenders at the four). Anyways, these numbers are fascinating and worth a look.
  3. Fox Sports South: Apparently, Harrison Barnes isn’t a fan of pink shoes. At halftime against Georgia Tech Sunday, Barnes switched from the team’s pink kicks to the normal ones. Andrew Jones makes it sound like Barnes really struggled in the pink footwear, but Barnes was 4-8 from the field with 11 points at the half. More interestingly, Barnes shared his pregame soundtrack and meal. Tunes: John Legend. Food: “I always eat mashed potatoes, rice, spaghetti, chicken and steak […] Two pieces of chicken, one piece of steak, [and the] steak’s cooked medium.”
  4. Palm Beach Post: If you told me one ACC coach would get a midseason contract extension I wouldn’t have been surprised. Pretty much all but two coaches appear to be doing strong jobs; Jeff Bzdelik and Jim Larranaga are the outliers (I also would probably hold my horses on Steve Donahue and Brian Gregory until I see them recruit, but that’s different). But it was Larranaga who got himself a three-year extension through 2019. Larranaga looks older than many of his coaching brethren, but he’s only 62. My guess is that the extension came (at least in some part) indirectly associated with the current NCAA investigation of Miami athletics.
  5. Charleston Post and Courier: It’s not directly related to the ACC, but former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins is taking a short medical leave that will probably last until the end of the season. Cremins did a terrific job putting College of Charleston on the map the last few years, though his trip to the Final Four at Georgia Tech stands as his career’s crowning achievement. Assistant coach Mark Byington will take over in his stead. The details of Cremins’ medical issues weren’t announced, though it’s reportedly not life-threatening and may be sleep-related.

EXTRA: Dan Wolken thinks college basketball should push its season back to January (moving March Madness to May) in order to shirk college football and the NFL, attempting to keep casual sports fans from ignoring the regular season. It may be in the NCAA’s best monetary interest, but I can’t see something this drastic happening without a big push. Still it’s an interesting piece.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.25.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 25th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are no Top 25 matchups or truly ‘great’ games on tonight’s schedule, but it is another packed Wednesday of important conference battles so there will be plenty of action worth monitoring.

Villanova at Louisville – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN (***)

Peyton Siva Looks to Get Louisville Back on Track Tonight Against Another Top Point Guard (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

  • In what would have been billed as a big-time matchup at the beginning of the season, this game now features two unranked teams (Louisville is still #25 in one poll) with a combined 6-9 record in the Big East. But this will still be a fun game to watch, and the away team is playing its best basketball of the season. Nova has won two straight games and lost by only four points at Cincinnati in the game before, as Maalik Wayns has finally taken his game to the next level. His averages over the past three games are an insane 30.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. He’s also gone 30-33 from the free throw line in that stretch. He’s second in the conference in scoring (18.7 PPG) and leads the Big East in free throws made. Nova needs other players to be strong with the ball against Louisville’s high-pressure defense, as the Wildcats average a terrible 17 turnovers in conference games, worst in the Big East. If Jay Wright’s team can take care of the ball and get to the rim instead of settling for outside shots, they have a chance in this game. Jayvaughn Pinkston will play a key role as an emerging threat (18 points, 11.5 rebounds in his last two) at the forward position that can attack the rim.
  • If Louisville wants to get back into consideration as a ranked team, they must win this game at home. The Cardinals continue to deal with injuries but have all of their key cogs healthy in this one, as leading-scorer Kyle Kuric (13.4 PPG) returned from an ankle injury to score 21 points against Pittsburgh in their last game. Louisville has the advantage on the wings with Kuric, Russ Smith (12.5 PPG), and Chris Smith (10.1 PPG) and they will try to swarm Villanova defensively, who only has one true ballhandler in its lineup. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have tough matchups with Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, respectively, that are worth watching to see who has the edge on the perimeter and in the paint. Overall, Louisville’s depth and defensive pressure should prove too much for the Wildcats.
  • Louisville is a nine-point favorite at home in the KFC Yum! Center and cannot lose this game if it wants to be taken seriously in the Big East. The 10-10 Wildcats come in with some confidence and will look to play the role of spoiler as Wayns tries to prove he’s the best point guard in the conference. Expect the Cardinals to wear out Villlanova in the second half and come out with the win.

#8 Duke at Maryland- 9:00 PM ET on ESPN (***)

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Maryland Refuses To Feed The Post

Posted by KCarpenter on January 24th, 2012

Being a big man is tough. Your job is to set screens, battle for position, and when you get it, hopefully your guards will get you the ball so that you have a chance to score. Failing that, you can always hope to grab an offensive rebound from a missed shot for a putback. Good coaches of course get their big men to do more complicated things than that, but boiled down to the bare essentials: This is the life of a forward or center.

If you have a big man who is skilled on offense, you want him to get as many touches of the ball as possible to give him plenty of chances to score. In general, this is the easiest way to score in college basketball (provided you have a skilled offensive big man). For some reason, Maryland has decided to ignore this principle. The Terrapin forwards and centers take a good number of shots, but it’s mostly due to their own skill at getting offensive rebounds. Outside of that facet of the game, the Terrapin big men barely get a chance to score. At least, that’s what my eyes kept telling me after watching Maryland play against Temple and Florida State. So I decided to go to the numbers and check.

Poor Maryland Bigs

Sure enough, outside of super role-player Miles Plumlee, the main three Terps in the frontcourt rotation have fewer field goal attempts per game than any of the other talented rebounding forwards in the ACC once offensive rebounds per game are subtracted. This is odd, because though Maryland has the near-magical scoring power of Terrell Stoglin, this is a team that often has trouble on offense. While Sean Mosely is a very capable offensive player, Pe’Shon Howard and Nick Faust have not provided any kind of offensive efficiency from the guard position, posting offensive efficiency ratings of 80.0 and 83.9, respectively. That’s ugly. Meanwhile, touch-starved James Padgett, Ashton Pankey, and Alex Len are posting offensive efficiency ratings of 108.4, 113.4, and 96.5, respectively. Padgett and Pankey’s ratings are easily the second and third best on the team after Stoglin, and Len’s lower rating (caused by turnovers) hides the fact that he leads the team in true shooting percentage with an incredibly solid 63.0% mark.

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Night Line: Duke Looks Vulnerable Heading Into ACC Play

Posted by EJacoby on January 5th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Over the past month, Duke had won five straight games and quietly risen to #3 in the AP Poll and #2 in the RPI without skipping a beat. But home victories over the likes of Western Michigan and UNC Greensboro won’t make fans forget about the Devils’ embarrassing 22-point loss at Ohio State earlier in the year, and it would take a strong road performance to erase those memories. Wednesday night showed the Blue Devils get thoroughly outplayed by unranked Temple in downtown Philadelphia, confirming the suspicion that Mike Krzyzewski’s team could be vulnerable both defensively and on the road heading into conference play. Coach K will need to refine his rotation and strengthen his team’s defensive intensity if they want to realistically compete with North Carolina for another ACC title.

Duke Had Major Trouble Defending Temple on Wednesday Night (AP/T. Mihalek)

Perhaps no team played as difficult a non-conference schedule as Duke, which would suggest that they are well prepared for their old familiar foes when conference play begins this weekend. The Blue Devils played Michigan State, Ohio State, Belmont, Michigan, Kansas, Davidson, Tennessee, and Washington as part of one of the most challenging schedules in the country. But Wednesday’s game against Temple was just their second road game (although it was played on one of Villanova’s two home courts, not Temple’s), and they were dominated in both. At Ohio State on November 29, Duke allowed the Buckeyes to shoot 60% on two-pointers and 57% on threes, amounting to a horrendous 130.8 efficiency rating for the Buckeyes. On Wednesday night, Temple shot 58% on twos and 50% on threes for a 114.7 efficiency. Considering that Missouri’s 126.5 offensive efficiency is the best in the country, it goes without saying that Duke is allowing its opponents to score way too easily in hostile environments.

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Night Line: Duke Resembling Its 2010 Championship Team?

Posted by EJacoby on November 25th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

The Maui Invitational finals played to an instant classic last night, with Duke leaving the island as champions yet again. Coach K and the Blue Devils are now a perfect 15-0 in their five trips to Maui. Duke has won the first seven games of this season, and a team that nearly lost its season-opener at home to Belmont is starting to establish an identity. Upon further review, the 2011-’12 Blue Devils might just begin to resemble the 2009-’10 team that cut down the nets as NCAA Tournament champions. Just to be clear — no, this is not to say that Duke is the title favorite this season — teams like Ohio State, Kentucky, North Carolina, and UConn may be better built for long-term success. But the 2010 Blue Devils were a surprise champion, and this Duke team has a similar make-up.

Duke Doesn't Look Like a National Champ, But It Didn't in 2010 Either (Kemper Lesnik/B. Spurlock)

Duke started five upperclassmen (Smith, Scheyer, Singler, Thomas, Zoubek) in 2010 and turned to their bench for youth and energy. This year’s team starts four upperclassmen (Curry, Dawkins, Kelly, Mason Plumlee) and brings sophomore Tyler Thornton and freshman Quinn Cook off the bench, along with senior Miles Plumlee, to provide a spark. The biggest difference here is that freshman Austin Rivers is starting on the wing where the 2010 team had a junior leader, Kyle Singler, filling that role. But Rivers (14.4 PPG) is so far having a similar scoring impact on the game that Singler (17.7 PPG) did, and the rookie will no doubt continue to improve as the season goes along. While this year’s backcourt of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins are not the big-name stars or volume scorers that Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer were, the two have seen tremendous improvements from last season and are playing at a very high level. This year’s team makes up for the small backcourt-scoring gap with Mason Plumlee’s offensive contributions down low. Plumlee averages 11.4 points per game so far, while no inside player averaged more than 5.6 PPG for the champions.

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ACC Game On: 11.22.11 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on November 22nd, 2011

ACC Game On will periodically review recent games involving ACC teams and take a look forward to key upcoming matchups.

It’s going to be a long season for Boston College. I thought that maybe the dismal performance against Holy Cross could be explained away by the absence of Patrick Heckmann, but I was wrong. Massachusetts has the makings of a very talented team, but make no mistake: Boston College is bad. There is no reason to be surprised, but there is also no reason to expect Boston College will not improve. The Eagles with a few exceptions are a team of freshmen. The difference between a freshman in November and a freshman in March can be huge, especially in terms of shooting. Just ask Harrison Barnes. This team shouldn’t go winless this year even though it might feel like it today.

North Carolina State, on the other hand looked excellent in a spectacular comeback against Texas. Richard Howell was neutralized by foul trouble but C.J. Leslie and a healthy Scott Wood came off the bench to deliver a much-needed scoring punch from the Wolfpack. Being able to win on a neutral court with your best big sitting on the bench seems like a pretty good omen  for a team with a challenging schedule over the next month.

Even Without Ryan Harrow, C.J. Leslie And Lorenzo Brown Have Started To Deliver On The Promise They Showed As Freshmen

Duke coasted to the finish after being challenged early on by a persistent Tennessee team that was ultimately simply over-matched. One thing to note early this season is the tight Blue Devils rotation. While Miles Plumlee came off the bench for some effective minutes and Tyler Thornton has been offering his customary amount of foul-happy pressure defense, the starters are seeing the bulk of the minutes so far. This line-up is far from solidified, but the reliance on the starters is something to keep an eye on.

Virginia beat Drake rather unimpressively and Jontel Evans was the least impressive of them all. He played 33 minutes and managed to log a stat line of one point, one assist, one steal, three turnovers, and three fouls. If he doesn’t improve, Virginia might need to shake up its starting line up.

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RTC Live Recap: #6 Duke 74, Michigan State 69

Posted by nvr1983 on November 16th, 2011

We aren’t going to go into some deep analysis of Mike Krzyzewski picking up win #903 of his career because we already did it and there are some pretty cool graphics about it online. Instead, we are going to focus on the actual game, which many people decided to gloss over last night.

Krzyzewski Had a Great Night, But His Team Still Needs Some Work

For Duke:

  1. They aren’t very good right now. This game was not as close as the final score indicates, but the lead that Duke had at one point — 20 points with 9:22 left — also does not indicate how well they played. For most of the game the Blue Devils looked lost against a Michigan State team that only returned two players (Keith Appling and Draymond Green) who played more than 20 minutes per game last season. The Blue Devils were bailed out by some phenomenal shooting from Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly, who combined for 40 points on just 18 field goal attempts, and some sloppy play by the Spartans, who had 21 turnovers.
  2. Austin Rivers is not ready for prime time. Every year we hear about some talented perimeter player who is a sure thing and will dominate college basketball from day one. To be fair to Rivers, he never had the expectations that Harrison Barnes had last year, but many people figured that the son of a former NBA star and “current” NBA head coach would be able to adjust to the college game and the pressures that come with it. We saw the first signs of weakness in his game during Duke’s trip to Dubai and China, but figured that he just needed to get used to his new teammates. We will not say he is a bust because as Barnes proved last season some players just take a little while to get going, but the line for Rivers last night — five points on 1-7 shooting, one rebound, one assist, one steal, two turnovers, four fouls, and a seat on the bench late in the game — are not comforting. Rivers will come around eventually, but for right now we don’t see him playing a major role in the rotation late in games.
  3. Duke has some big bodies on the inside. For all of their faults (and there are many) the Plumlees are big. They may drive some of their fans crazy, but they battle on the inside and as tonight showed they can even get chippy as they got physical with one of the more rough teams they will see all season. Ryan Kelly can also be a factor down low, but his real utility is battling a big man under the basket on the defensive end then taking him out to the perimeter on the offensive end. The reality is that the Plumlees need to play better if Duke is going to do Duke things like challenge for a Final Four appearance. At this point every Duke fan has to admit Miles is essentially a big body who will play physical, get rebounds and frequently get confused for his two younger brothers. Mason, on the other hand, has to do much more offensively. We are not expecting him to put up 25 points and 12 rebounds like he did against Marquette last season, but he should be a focal point of the Duke offense and should be able to create good looks for the perimeter players when he kicks the ball out.
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Set Your TiVo: Marathon of Hoops Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on November 15th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Twenty-four straight hours of college hoops is the dream scenario for those of us who are diehard fans of the sport.  Fortunately, it’s not a dream as ESPN brings back its Tip-Off Marathon for the fourth consecutive season.  Games got started at 12:01 AM EST this morning and go all the way till approximately 1:00 AM EST later tonight.  If you can’t sit in front of your TV for all twenty-four plus hours, then make sure you at least watch these four games.

Belmont @ #14 Memphis – 12:00 PM EST on ESPN HD (***)

Expectations are high for Memphis and Josh Pastner

  • Memphis brings high expectations into the 2011-12 season (Coaches Poll #9).  They return all five starters from last year’s team, several key reserves, and add McDonald’s All-American Adonis ThomasJosh Pastner has put together an incredible amount of talent that is going to get a stiff test in its first game of the season against an experienced Belmont team.  The Tigers need to greatly improve their turnover percentage (21.9% in 2010-11), three point shooting (32.9% in 2010-11), and defensive rebounding percentage (34.3% in 2010-11) in order to live up to those lofty expectations this season.  Pastner’s squad showed promise on the defensive end last year ranking 23rd and 25th in block percentage and steal percentage, respectively.  They need to maintain that defensive toughness while still trying to improve on the offensive end.
  • Belmont gave Duke all it could handle last Friday night in the opener at Cameron Indoor Stadium, losing 77-76.  Turnovers (17), missed threes (6-19), and the Blue Devils’ Mason Plumlee’s great work on the defensive glass (10 defensive rebounds) proved to be the difference.  Still, the Bruins showed excellent offensive balance in the loss with five players scoring in double figures.  Although the FedEx Forum is another difficult place to play, it’s a bit closer to home for Rick Byrd’s team and they have already experienced the ruckus of the Cameron Crazies.  Belmont needs to get off to a better start from the three-point line and limit turnovers to have a chance in this one.
  • This game will hinge on turnovers and second-chance points.  Belmont forced Duke to turn the ball over 19 times in the first game and ranked second in the nation last season in defensive turnover percentage.  As previously mentioned, Memphis turns the ball over a lot.  Memphis guard Joe Jackson in particular turned the ball over on 29.1% of his possessions last season.  Look for the Bruins to put all kinds of pressure on a still-young Tigers team to create easy baskets.  At the same time, Belmont relies heavily on second chance points.  The addition of the 6’7” Thomas to the Memphis lineup should certainly improve their defensive rebounding percentage.  If Thomas and the rest of the team can hit the glass hard in his first game, it will limit Belmont’s chances to pull an upset on the road.

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Belmont at Duke: An Upset Special?

Posted by KCarpenter on November 11th, 2011

Belmont is good. This is no secret. In years past, Duke opening it’s season by hosting Belmont wouldn’t be a big deal: just another ceremonial squashing of a mid-major to inaugurate the season. But this year, Belmont seems to be designed explicitly for the sole purpose of shocking the Blue Devils. Duke is a good team and Mike Krzyzewski didn’t become the legendary Coach K by overlooking opponents. Duke will be ready to deal with Belmont trying to leverage their strengths against Duke’s weaknesses. That said, what exactly are Belmont’s strengths?

Does Rick Byrd Have The Ingredients Needed To Cook Up An Upset?

The Bruins squad is deep. Last year, they played eleven men for more than ten minutes a game. None of their players averaged more than twenty-five minutes a game. This depth is a necessary part of the Bruin’s clever, but physically taxing, pressure defensive scheme. This team plays fast (though not faster than Duke did last season) and tries to force turnovers with tough man to man pressure and trapping schemes. Last year, the Bruins were fairly successful, forcing turnovers on a remarkable 27.5% of defensive possessions, good for second best in the entire nation. Kerron Johnson actually managed to lead the nation in steal percentage, taking away the ball on 6.3% of posessions. No one in the nation even really came that close to matching that per-possession mark. Combine that with an old-school protect the paint mentality and the Bruins managed to successfully limit opponents field goal percentage (though admittedly at the expense of fouling a lot). Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency statistics rated the Bruins as the twenty-third best defense in the country, which is not too shabby. With the relatively inexperienced Duke backcourt, it seems very possible that Belmont should be able to have some success in forcing turnovers.

On offense, the Bruins could take down Goliath with the same tactic that countless mid-majors use: shooting a ton of threes. Belmont, last year, has no problem leaning on the three: 42.3% of all of the Bruins field goals came from behind the arc. Only seventeen schools in Division I shot more from three. Not only does the team take a lot of threes, but they make a lot. As a team, they made 37.8% of their three-point attempts, 33rd best in the nation. Surprisingly, the team rated even better on two-pointers, making 52.2%, the 19th best in the nation. While many teams pick their spots when they shoot threes, going to the long ball relatively sparingly, Belmont moves in the opposite direction, picking their spots on inside shots and only shooting high percentage shots created from keen ball movement. While the Bruins will certainly miss senior Jordan Campbell and his insane 45.8% three-point shooting, Belmont is well-positioned to maintain last year’s highly successful attack.

The irony of Belmont’s strengths is that they play into areas that are usually Duke’s strengths. The recent hallmarks of a Blue Devil team are an experienced back court that can apply excellent perimeter pressure and rarely turns the ball over on offense. With this year’s personnel, it’s unclear if Duke will be able to match previous year’s marks in this era. Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, and Austin Rivers are all skilled players, but their ability to play effective perimeter defense is largely unproven. In this year’s exhibitions, Duke had a hard time stopping dribble penetration and often found it’s guards getting beat by opponents. While Curry and Dawkins had relatively low turnover rates this year, it’s unclear if they will be able to maintain these rates when both players will be handling the ball more an expected to create their own shots.

Still, despite Belmont’s seeming match-up advantages, Duke still has what might be an effective trump card: size. Ryan Kelly, Miles Plumlee, and Mason Plumlee are big guys that are (usually) talented interior defenders. While Belmont goes inside less than most teams, it’s still an important part of their offensive game plan. If their is one statistic that bodes well for the Blue Devils, it’s that last year Belmont got blocked on 13.0% of all their offensive possessions, the third worst mark in all of college basketball. Mason Plumlee and Kelly both shared a real flair for blocking shots last year and if they get the chance, they have the potential to make things really miserable for Belmont whenever they look to score inside.

Still, it’s easy to see that Belmont has all of the pieces to pull off an upset. Will they? It’s the home opener for Duke. The home opener in a surely loud and rocking Cameron Indoor. If Belmont managed to catch Duke somewhat off-guard, maybe in the middle of the season or after another tough opponent, I’d like their chances better. I don’t think they pull it off tonight, but, at least on paper, the Bruins certainly look capable of shocking Duke.

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