ACC Preview: Duke’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Duke’s veterans adapt to, and excel in, new roles?

All of the pre-season talk, and rightfully so, concerning Duke has been focused on the incoming freshman class Mike Krzyzewski has assembled. Jahlil Okafor, the most dominant incoming true center the Blue Devils have procured in some time, has garnered numerous accolades already in being named pre-season ACC Freshman of the Year by the ACC media and even the Associated Press pre-season Player of the Year. Freshman Tyus Jones, part of a “package deal” recruitment with Okafor, looks to be the starting point guard when the season begins this week. And wing Justise Winslow showed the defensive prowess expected of him, along with the scoring acumen, in the exhibition season to also merit a spot in the starting lineup.

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

While the freshman class is a sterling one, this team still maintains a number of veterans who will be familiarizing themselves with new roles. Senior Quinn Cook, one of the team’s two captains, was the starting point guard for most of last season and surely thought he’d seize the reins this year prior to Jones’ commitment. He’s now likely relegated to a spot coming off the bench and occasionally playing off the ball when he and Jones are on the court together. Cook, to his credit, has said all the right things about occasionally deferring to a freshman, but it’s still going to be a challenge to acclimate to the mindset of providing offense off of the bench, oftentimes from the off-guard position.

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15 Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 29th, 2014

The ACC’s Operation Basketball on Wednesday experienced the prevailing theme of putting last season in the rearview mirror and starting anew. This included the teams with successful campaigns just as much as those who had disappointing ones. It was clear after speaking with and listening to players and coaches that everyone is eager to make the 2014-15 ACC a more powerful entity than its predecessor of a year ago. Here are some takes on each team, in no particular order, gleaned from the Westin in Charlotte.

Duke: Much of the discussion centered on the Blue Devils’ newcomers, especially Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. Both Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson were quick to point out that no rotation is set and that there is a ton of competition and talent in practice. Cook said as much when asked about practice: ” Yeah, we don’t have a starting lineup yet.  Different guys, we have like a white and blue team; different guys are put on the white team, different guys are put on the blue team.  So we’ll know soon, but whatever coach wants us to do, I think everybody will buy in because he obviously knows what he’s doing.  We all have to buy in and just put personal sacrifices aside.”

ACC Op BB

Wake Forest: Even when discussing their new coach, it was easy to tell that the Demon Deacons’ players still see him as a former National Player of the Year who enjoyed a long professional career. Manning, however, spoke mostly about his expectations for the team, which he put simply as “win every game.” The Demon Deacons, coming off the uninspiring Jeff Bzdelik era, better not spend their time in awe of their new coach, as they have a lot of ground to make up in order to compete in the ACC.

Miami: Transfers Sheldan McClellan and Angel Rodriguez representing the Hurricanes at this event was emblematic of a new Miami team that has put last year’s lackluster season behind it. Reverence for Jim Larranaga’s paternal style was obvious in listening to the two players discuss their coach. Larranaga immediately referenced them in his comments as well, showing that while the Hurricanes return some holdovers from last year, they will go as far as his two Big 12 transfers take them.

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Notes From Duke’s Closed Practice: Freshmen Shine, Veterans Lethargic

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

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

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

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

FRESHMEN

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

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What’s on the Mind of the 15 ACC Programs Right Now

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 17th, 2014

With the start of the ACC college basketball season rapidly approaching, allow us to put on our psychoanalyst’s hat to determine what’s on the mind of each of its 15 member programs right now. Some are of the optimistic variety, while others are fearful at what they see lying ahead. All of them, though, are hoping to contribute to discussions lauding the ACC as the nation’s preeminent college basketball conference this year. Let’s jump into each program alphabetically.

  • Boston College: Blind optimism. The reality is that the Eagles, even with an all-ACC caliber star in Olivier Hanlan, are likely one of the three worst teams in the conference. But there’s a new coach around in Jim Christian, and thanks to the usual roster turnover, few remaining pieces to recall the 8-24 debacle of a year ago. Buying in to a new coach and system may not be a problem, but production on the court will continue to be.
  • Clemson: Loss. That loss is a huge one, in the departure of NBA draft pick K.J. McDaniels, who was their best player on both sides of the ball last year and led the team in four statistical categories. A 10-win improvement from the year before earned Brad Brownell a six-year contract extension, but how will this team score enough to win even if it replicates its defensive success of a year ago?
Jim Christian's hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC's fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

Jim Christian hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC’s fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

  • Duke: Motivation. Not just because of a stellar recruiting class that includes their first dominant center in some time in Jahlil Okafor and the overall potential to be in the mix for a championship. There’s also the internal motivation for Quinn Cook to keep a hold on the starting point guard role in light of the arrival of stud freshman Tyus Jones, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s motivation to show that an early-season slump last year (temporarily earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse) was an aberration. Oh, and that first round NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer could light a fire of some sort, too.

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2013-14’s All-Underappreciated Team

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 17th, 2014

We’ve seen All-American list after All-American list over the past few weeks, and the familiar names are all deserving: McDermott, Parker, Smith, Wilbekin, and so on and so forth. But what about the players who are nowhere to be found on any of these honor rolls, yet still deserve mention for their valuable contributions this season? Below is a team of five players – none of them All-Americans, or really anything especially close – who all played important but overlooked roles for their successful teams.

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

  • PG: Quinn Cook, Duke – If you are a McDonald’s All-American and seek a successful but unheralded college career, Duke would seem like as good a destination as any. Somehow, Cook has avoided plaudits from most observers during his time in Durham, and at times has even been seen as the weak link for the Blue Devils. His play isn’t always as consistent as Coach K would like, but after a season in which he posted a 120.2 Offensive Rating (better than more heralded teammates Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood) and an assist rate of 27.7 percent, it’s time to appreciate Cook for what he was this year — one of the best point guards in the country.
  • SG/SF: Tekele Cotton, Wichita State – We heard plenty about Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker this season, but what about the Shockers’ unsung hero, Cotton? The 6’3” junior was the best defensive player on the 12th most efficient defensive team in the country, and shot 37 percent from three-point range en route to a gaudy Offensive Rating of 118.2. Not everyone missed Cotton’s value to WSU; he was one of four Shockers to receive a first-place vote for MVC POY, and was awarded the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Read the rest of this entry »
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Heading into March, Duke Much in Need of Its Upcoming Break

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2014

After dispatching Virginia Tech 66-48 on Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke will get a much-needed week off. Going into this break, the Blue Devils have played five games in the last 11 days. It was already going to be a tough stretch in the schedule, but it became even more so when a rare Triangle winter storm forced the postponement of the game with North Carolina, originally set for February 12. The rivalry tilt was rescheduled for play on February 20, the only available date that made sense for both schools, but it created a situation where Duke has basically been playing every other day for the last week and a half. Now with a clear schedule until next Wednesday at Wake Forest, it’s a good time to assess how this Blue Devils’ team is currently playing and their prospects moving forward.

Rasheed Sulaimon's Playing Well On Both Ends Of The Floor. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Rasheed Sulaimon Is Playing Well On Both Ends Of The Floor.
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Perhaps the best thing to happen for Duke lately is the emergence of Marshall Plumlee. After spot duty and inconsistent play for most of the season, the redshirt sophomore has developed to the point that he is now clearly the top frontcourt reserve. Plumlee had shown some flashes of talent previously, most notably in a home game against Florida State in which he achieved career highs in points and rebounds (seven each). That outing was followed by a total of two points and seven rebounds in Duke’s next four games. But in his last three outings, the youngest of the Plumlees has shown much more consistency. In 47 total minutes combined, he has scored 11 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. He has also had an impact on the defensive end, blocking five shots over that period. Earlier in the year, Plumlee was very weak at defending the high pick-and-roll and was often late in help situations. That part of his game has improved enough so that Duke can now take advantage of Plumlee’s size to help with it’s biggest issue on defense – protecting the basket. That weakness was on display again in the Virginia Tech game. The Hokies’ trio of big men, hardly an imposing bunch, converted 16-of-22 field goals against the Blue Devils’ interior.

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Renewing The Rivalry: Previewing Duke vs. North Carolina

Posted by Brad Jenkins & Lathan Wells on February 12th, 2014

After the first week and a half of ACC conference play, Duke and North Carolina were struggling with a combined 1-5 record and fans had to wonder if the ACC’s two flagship programs were headed for disaster. Just four weeks later, these are two of the hottest teams around. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels are a combined 13-2 over that stretch, with the only losses for Duke at Syracuse and at UNC at Virginia. Of course that means that we could be in for another Duke vs. North Carolina classic in Chapel Hill tonight (9:00 PM ET – ESPN). In many ways this game should resemble most of their contests – intense, fast-paced, with several swings of momentum. Also as usual, it looks like it will be a match-up of Duke’s quickness and three-point marksmanship versus North Carolina’s size and inside power. Duke will look to extend an odd trend where the Blue Devils have won the last seven times the team’s first meeting of the year is at the Smith Center, and the road team has won 11 of the last 20 regular season meetings.

Roy Williams and Coach K bring contrasting squads together tonight in renewing their rivalry (credit: gettysports)

Roy Williams and Coach K bring contrasting squads together tonight in renewing their rivalry (credit: gettysports)

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key questions for tonight’s game, as RTC’s Brad Jenkins and Lathan Wells go back and forth on what each team needs to do to win.

Brad Jenkins: Given North Carolina’s lack of perimeter depth and the fact that Duke is second in the country in three point shooting (42.0%), featuring six different players who have made at least 20 threes this season, how can the Tar Heels keep the Blue Devils from shooting them right out of their own gym tonight?

Lathan Wells: North Carolina’s perimeter defense has been impressive in conference play, and it really starts with J.P. Tokoto and Marcus Paige.  Tokoto often draws the team’s best or most versatile perimeter threat, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shadowing Rodney Hood in this contest. Paige will be tasked with guarding whoever is at the point, presumably Quinn Cook. The Tar Heels have done a good job of rotating to and closing out on shooters, but foul trouble would doom their ability to combat the multitude of outside options Duke will run at them. The backcourt starters will have to play a lot of minutes to keep Duke’s long-range attempts heavily contested. While North Carolina is trying to figure out how to stymie Duke’s perimeter game, how are the Blue Devils going to slow down a reinvigorated James Michael McAdoo?

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Rasheed Sulaimon Crescendos While Quinn Cook Spirals

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 7th, 2014

Rasheed Sulaimon came into this season with high expectations for himself, as did most all of college basketball and Duke fans. Sulaimon had averaged 11.6 PPG in 29 minutes per game as a freshman and was coming back better than before, surrounded by even more talent. The shooting guard position seemed to be Sulaimon’s to lose as well, with freshman and fellow Texas native Matt Jones the only other true shooting guard on the roster. Sulaimon was riding an extreme high after his very successful freshman campaign and his gold medal winning summer on the U-19 USA Team, making him a back-to-back gold medal winner. There were even whispers of the 6’4” Texan making the leap to the NBA, but his draft stock never firmly solidified itself in the first round.

Rasheed Sulaimon rises up to send it to OT versus unbeaten Syracuse (Footbasket.com)

Rasheed Sulaimon rises up to send it to OT versus unbeaten Syracuse. (Footbasket.com)

Unfortunately for Sulaimon, this type of performance didn’t materialize and surrounded by talented offensive threats like Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, he wasn’t having the ball in his hands as much as he would’ve preferred. Sulaimon made his living as a slasher his freshman year, darting into the lane and creating his own shots. With shooters and primary offensive options like Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly spotting up, this worked well for last year’s Duke team. But with Parker doing exactly that at a much higher clip, those lanes were shut down and a lot of touches for Sulaimon were disappearing. Instead of adapting to a new style of play and efficiently playing alongside Hood and Parker, Sulaimon resisted and was thrown into Coach K’s doghouse where he stayed up until recently, even chalking up a dreaded DNP-CD in December against Michigan. Sulaimon didn’t exactly “break out” immediately after that game versus Michigan, playing only 5 minutes versus Gardner Webb. But since the December 19 game versus UCLA, Sulaimon has been improving and playing with a newfound sense of confidence, outside of two outliers at Clemson and Pittsburgh. Read the rest of this entry »

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Duke Dominates Florida State in Coach K’s 900th Win at Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 26th, 2014

After a little over eight minutes of play Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke held an 11-10 lead over Florida State, but their coach was not pleased. During the second media timeout, Mike Krzyzewski ripped off his jacket and then proceeded to rip into his team. The Blue Devils responded by outscoring the Seminoles 32-15 during the remainder of the half and maintained a double-figure lead throughout, winning 78-56. It was a milestone win for Krzyzewski, who joined Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim as the only coaches with 900 career wins at a single school.

Mike Krzyzewski Fires up Duke During First Half versus Florida State. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Mike Krzyzewski Fires up Duke During  the First Half versus Florida State.
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Here’s what had Coach K so upset. Duke had executed the defensive game plan well early, forcing Florida State into seven turnovers before that second media timeout, but the Blue Devils had wasted that effort with otherwise casual play – four turnovers of their own, 3-of-16 shooting, and only two free throw attempts. Perhaps even more troubling was the four consecutive fast break opportunities that his team had allowed Florida State during that time. Duke was fortunate that the Seminoles only converted on two of those chances with Ian Miller missing a wide-open three and Robert Gilchrist misfiring on those two attempts from the line. From that point on, Duke was much more aggressive. Even though the Blue Devils struggled to make shots — as most teams do against the tall and athletic Seminoles — the Blue Devils found other ways to score. Duke dominated the boards, grabbing more offensive rebounds (27) than Florida State did in total (24), and repeatedly attacked the basket, shooting 43 free throws compared to 18 for the Seminoles. Duke also had a huge edge in bench points (42-11) but part of that was because Rodney Hood (18 points) was unable to start the game due to an interesting uniform issue that required him to borrow shorts from a teammate.

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Duke and North Carolina Making Adjustments After Slow ACC Starts

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2014

After the second weekend of conference play, the ACC’s historically best two programs were in trouble. North Carolina was all alone at the bottom of the standings with an 0-3 record, and Duke wasn’t in much better shape at 1-2. Since then, both schools’ Hall of Fame coaches have made some changes to try and turn things around. At least for one week, each coach has managed to stop the bleeding. Duke has now won two straight games — over Virginia (69-65) and N.C. State (95-60) — since Mike Krzyzewski made some lineup and style changes; and North Carolina got its first ACC win Saturday over Boston College (82-71) in the Tar Heels’ only game of the week, featuring a starting lineup change from Roy Williams. Below we will look at the problems that each team was confronting, what the coaches did to address those issues, and consider the results and future expectations as a result.

Duke

Problems. The Blue Devils’ defense simply has not been good enough, ranking outside of Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 in adjusted efficiency for much of the season. Opponents were scoring easily in the paint — perhaps not surprising with Duke’s lack of interior size. But even worse was Duke’s inability to counter that deficiency with good perimeter pressure, and the lack of player communication and teamwork in defensive help situations. Offensively, the Blue Devils were not playing well as a unit, often falling into the habit of one-on-one play with little ball movement.

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(Photo:cbssports.com)

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(Photo:cbssports.com)

Adjustments. Krzyzewski and his staff decided to not only make a change in the starting lineup — inserting freshman Matt Jones – but they adjusted the entire rotation. As the TV commentators noted in each game, it was as if Duke was making hockey-style line changes in the first half. Both games followed the same pattern. About three minutes after the tip, five new Blue Devils checked in. A few minutes later, all the starters returned. Soon after that, it was another complete change. At that point in each contest — roughly 10-12 minutes in — all 11 scholarship players had logged at least three minutes of action. While the five-at-a-time substituting did not continue into the second half, Krzyzewski kept using his bench, with no player seeing more than 30 minutes in either contest. There was also a subtle stylistic change on each end of the court. The Blue Devils extended their defense further out than they had been, and they played more of a motion offense instead of mostly using set plays.

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Three Questions Previewing Duke and UCLA Tonight

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2013

When Duke and UCLA lock horns for the first time in 11 years tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York City (7:30 PM EST, ESPN), plenty of offensive fireworks figure to be on display. These teams are elite offensively with UCLA ranking third nationally in points per game at 89.1 and Duke not too far behind at 86.0. For as potent as these teams are offensively, their defenses leave a lot to be desired. What we have is a recipe for an up-tempo game, lots of points, and a fun viewing experience. There are also plenty of intriguing match-ups in this game when you look at each squad’s style of play. While their statistics are similar, the teams are constructed very differently. Let’s take a look at three key questions that will decide the result of this contest.

Steve Alford, UCLA

Steve Alford Brings His Bruins to MSG to Face Duke Tonight (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

1. Can UCLA guard the three-point line?

Much has been made of Duke’s defensive issues but defense has also been a problem for Steve Alford’s Bruins, especially when it comes to guarding the all-important three-point line. The Bruins’ 2-3 zone was torched by Missouri in their only loss of the season back on December 7. Missouri made 10 threes which proved to be the primary difference in the game. As a whole, Duke shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc and 45 percent of all Blue Devils’ field goal attempts are triples. Mike Krzyzewski’s team features four lethal perimeter threats and that may be too much for the Bruins to handle. While UCLA’s zone may help contain Duke’s versatile forwards from cutting to the basket, it opens the door for a Blue Devil three-point bombardment. Alford may be forced to extend the zone but his team’s performance will come down to the effort of guards like Norman Powell and a pair of freshmen (Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford) getting out to cover Duke’s shooters.

2. Will Duke be able to prevent UCLA from getting into the paint?

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ACC M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on December 19th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Bleacher Report: Good profile of Quinn Cook from Jason King. Cook’s offense took a small step back as he saw a big increase in minutes last season, but this year, he’s having his best season yet from both the lenses of efficiency and per game statistics. He’s also the emotional leader of Duke’s team, and sets the tone on offense and defense. While he’s trying to keep the negative emotions at bay during games, you can always tell when he’s fired up. Cook still has areas that need improvement (mostly defensively), but this is likely his only year to really run Duke’s offense. The word on Tyus Jones is that he’s good enough to immediately take the reins upon arrival, and Cook is a good enough shooter to play off the ball (but he needs NBA scouts to see him running the offense).
  2. Greenville News: Jordan Roper had a stroke last spring. While leaning over to pick up a phone, he realized he couldn’t feel his hand. Assuming the numbness was just due to fatigue, Roper continued his daily business until strength and conditioning coach Darric Honnold (which is an awesome name for strength coach) sent him to get checked out by the training staff. Amazingly, he recovered and was back with Clemson in a matter of weeks, but the experience has given him a new appreciation for his health.
  3. Syracuse Post-Gazette: Jason Murray produced a number of shot charts for the Syracuse rotation. Two of the three main findings weren’t surprising: “Trevor Cooney is extremely efficient in his shot selection,” and “The big men should get the ball more.” But he also found that Michael Gbinije is much better from three than the paint. A lot of that has to do with shot selection (and small sample size), but for a team that struggles from behind the arc, maybe more plays looking for Gbinije spotting up from deep would help the spacing for the bigs. The other definitive thing is that BJ Johnson should probably avoid threes for a little while.
  4. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Solid piece from Norm Wood on London Perrantes, Virginia’s freshman starting point guard. That said, the questions comparing Perrantes to Magic Johnson feel a little forced, but there’s some good tidbits from Tony Bennett on what he’s looking from Jontel Evans’ replacement. Mostly Bennett wants Perrantes to keep defenses honest while valuing the basketball, but he’s at least planted the seed of growing into a “dual threat” guard.
  5. Pulsefeedz: Not our normal fare, but Maryland‘s statue of Testudo (the Terrapin mascot) somehow caught fire recently. It has since been deemed an accident, but that seems like a pretty serious fire. No one (including the statue) was injured in the event.

VIDEO EXTRA: Roy Williams wasn’t happy after North Carolina’s home loss to Texas.

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