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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College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Championship Preview: #6 Virginia vs. #7 Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins & Matt Patton on March 16th, 2014

It’s the game that we all expected when the ACC Tournament brackets came out last weekend. Duke vs. Virginia. Let’s preview the ACC Championship game by answering the key questions headed into this one in Greensboro.

Joe Harris gets a second shot against Duke this season with an ACC title on the line (credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today).

Joe Harris gets a second shot against Duke this season with an ACC title on the line (credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today).

1. Can Virginia’s balanced scoring offset the star power of Duke’s Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood?

Yes and no. The Cavaliers can’t get in a shootout, but I don’t think they’ll try. Virginia is an experienced team that plays to its strengths. I’ll be very surprised if Duke can push them out of their comfort zone. That said, if Hood and Parker are both firing on all cylinders, I’m not sure how Virginia will put up enough points to win. Look for them to try to make Parker into a jump shooter or to force things against multiple defenders since he’s struggled passing out of double teams when he gets head full of steam. Hood is a little more difficult to contain (since he’s really a second option), but I expect to see a lot of Justin Anderson hounding him. Neither of these teams will quite be at 100 percent, playing their third game in three days, but I think that favors the more balanced team.

2. Duke hasn’t been hitting as many threes lately. Who do you expect to help keep the offense going if shots aren’t falling?

If the outside jumpers aren’t falling — and by playing the third straight grueling game in as many days, there’s a good chance they don’t — then Duke will have to rely on its two future NBA forwards to make plays. Jabari Parker makes plays that are almost unstoppable, even by great defenses like Virginia’s, so he figures to be the best candidate. Rodney Hood’s conditioning will be tested after chasing T.J. Warren all over the court yesterday. Rasheed Sulaimon has had success in the tournament with his penetration, so he may also try to create scoring chances that way.

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The Unofficial RTC ACC Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 11th, 2014

While the more official hardware is beginning to be handed out, like Player and Coach of the Year and the All-ACC team’s, it’s worth looking at some more under-the-radar superlatives that players and coaches have earned through the course of the regular season on the precipice of ACC Tournament time in Greensboro.

Here are five awards that RTC found to be equally as important as some of their more official brethren:

Most Selfless Upperclassman: Joe Harris, Virginia.

His scoring dipped more than four points a game from a year ago as he watched Malcolm Brogdon become the go-to scorer and clutch player on the team, plummeting from preseason ACC Player of the Year prognostications seemingly from the first game’s opening tip. Nonetheless, Harris’ willingness to play team ball and enlarge his leadership role helped Virginia to their first outright ACC Title in 33 years and a current two-seed projection in the NCAA’s. Harris is a senior, so it’s rare for a player to back off in his final season and allow team success to trump personal statistics. Harris is still a force, but now knows he can operate in the background to help his team’s season become even more special.

Joe Harris' selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Joe Harris’ selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Best Coaching Job Outside of Charlottesville: Roy Williams, North Carolina.

Tony Bennett absolutely deserved the COY award for his unbelievable reclamation job with Virginia, but no one dealt with more adversity this year than Williams. Between the PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald saga, the academics issues brought to light by a former adviser, and the up-and-down start to the year with no set rotation and inconsistent effort, Williams had a ton on his plate in trying to get this team into postseason play. The Tar Heels won 12 conference games in a row, including a split with rival Duke, and own possibly the best non-conference wins of any team in the country. It’s arguably Williams’ best coaching job in Chapel Hill to date. 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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Duke’s Quest For Tempo-Free History Rolls Through Chestnut Hill

Posted by Matt Patton on February 9th, 2014

Since Ken Pomeroy first rolled out his ratings for the 2002-03 season, no team has finished with an offensive efficiency above 124.0 (a record set by Chris Paul and Wake Forest’s 2004-05 team). After trouncing Boston College on the road with its second most efficient game of the season, Duke’s adjusted offensive efficiency for this year is now an astounding 128.9 points per 100 possessions. The Blue Devils steamrolled a small Eagles team with an unbelievable performance from Jabari Parker, who finished with 38 points on 17 shots (leaving five points at the free throw line). They did it with an opening 32-9 run in the first 11 minutes of the second half. They did it dominating points off turnovers (15-3) and second chance points (22-7).

Jabari Parker was a force of nature against Boston College. (credit: Stephan Savoia / AP)

Jabari Parker was a force of nature against Boston College. (credit: Stephan Savoia / AP)

Admittedly, Boston College’s defense leaves a lot to be desired. Good defense doesn’t give up nearly 70 percent shooting over the course of a half at home. But Duke’s offensive polymathy is what makes them so dangerous. Duke normally has four three-point shooters on the floor at any given time. Once entirely ignored by Seth Greenberg, Tyler Thornton is shooting nearly 53 percent from three-point range (mostly wide open spot-ups). Five truly dangerous shooters (not counting Thornton despite his gaudy percentage) makes Duke a lot less susceptible to “dying by the three,” instead riding the night’s hot hands up the scoreboard.

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ACC M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 6th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Fayetteville Observer: Rasheed Sulaimon has been one of the more interesting players to follow in the conference this season. He was a presumed star in Duke’s rotation after a strong freshman campaign before spending much of the start of the season on the bench. Then he became the go-to player for Duke’s second rotation as the Blue Devils righted the ship. Now, he’s tentatively taken over the starting point guard role while Quinn Cook is struggling through a slump. As a freshman Sulaimon showed a knack for finding the open man, so his new role fits. Suddenly Duke is less reliant on Cook to run the offense, which only makes the team more dangerous over the next couple of months.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: This article really surprised me. I know Syracuse‘s 22-game winning streak is a big deal, but I had no idea that it ranked so highly among unbeaten starts in league history. Syracuse is already tied for the third-best start ever in the ACC. The rest of the list? 1980-81 Virginia started 22-0 on its way to the Final Four (Ralph Sampson’s sophomore campaign); 1972-73 NC State’s unbeaten season on probation (David Thompson’s sophomore year); and 1956-57 North Carolina unbeaten year, which won the national title, 54-53 (in three overtimes!), over Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: I’m on board with Jerry Ratcliffe’s general premise that the ACC isn’t getting its due (thanks to a horrible bottom of the conference), but let the record show that Florida State isn’t underperforming. They’ve played a hellacious league schedule and still have a reasonable chance for an at-large bid. It’s tough to expect better than that after last year’s disaster. Go ahead and add Clemson (tentatively), Pittsburgh and Miami to the list of ACC teams playing better than expected. North Carolina, Maryland and Boston College are certainly on the wrong side of expectations, but as a whole the ACC’s chronicles of woe are mostly thanks to overzealous preseason expectations.
  4. WRAL Sports Fan: Put me down as a second to Adam Gold’s idea for an ACC double-header of Duke-Syracuse and North Carolina-Louisville during the weekend of next season’s Super Bowl. Hell, why not throw in Virginia and Pittsburgh for those who prefer a slower game. While you’re at it, put me down for whatever it takes for the Blue Devils and Orange to face off twice a year while they have their respective Hall of Famers still at the helm.
  5. Bleacher Report: Here comes another interview with PJ Hairston. He’s learned a valuable lesson: Don’t read message boards. Probably the most interesting quote in this piece was from Hairston’s assistant coach, Hollis Price, after Hairston dove for a loose ball in practice: “That’s a credit to Roy Williams and the things he instilled in him,” said Price, laughing. “But I told him, ‘P.J., you’re not in college anymore. You’ve got to protect your money, especially in practice.” And you wonder why elite college coaches don’t always pan out at the next level?
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Amile Jefferson Channels His Inner Zoubek

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 4th, 2014

He knew he had it within him all along. The skinny 6’9” “power” forward from Philadelphia had always played with an infectious sense of energy — the quintessential ‘hype man’ for Duke. But in Amile Jefferson’s freshman season, he primarily logged spot duty minutes at a clip of about 13 minutes per game. Stuck behind senior frontcourt leaders Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, Jefferson struggled to get into a groove and find a defined role in Duke’s system. Coming into this year, the 2012 McDonald’s All-American made it his business to add weight to his frame so he could take advantage of a vacuum of low-post talent in the frontcourt.

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K's lessons to heart

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K’s lessons to heart

Without a true post presence on the floor but all his other pieces aligning, Mike Krzyzewski needed either Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee or senior Josh Hairston to anchor the post while flanked by perimeter-oriented forwards Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Given that the Parker/Hood tandem is a highly efficient scoring duo, the center role in Duke’s scheme this year primarily requires competent rebounding, post defense, and communication while anchoring the back line of the defense. While Jefferson will never be the kind of defensive shot-blocking presence as Kansas’ Joel Embiid or Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski, he can arguably check the boxes that Duke desires in a big man.

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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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ACC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 17th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Roanoke Times: I entirely overvalue Cadarian Raines‘s performance. I can admit it. I’ve seen flashes of potential — usually glimpses of a remarkably well-developed post game. It appears Aaron McFarling is on the bandwagon with me, but James Johnson isn’t as he’s sat Raines for the last two games. The question is why? Johnson claims it’s the players “ahead” of Raines, and that could be true but I think it has to be Raines’ attitude. Johnson knows he’s not going to win 20 games this season, with or without Raines, but  he also knows the culture he wants to build in Blacksburg. This just feels a lot like Coach K’s early season benching of Rasheed Sulaimon.
  2. Sporting News: Speaking of Rasheed Sulaimon, Mike DeCourcy does a great job in this profile of the Duke sophomore. Sulaimon pointed to becoming the third “break down the defense” option this year, instead of last year when he was arguably the first. It’s interesting that Mike Krzyzewski appears to be meeting Sulaimon somewhere in the middle. A side product of his recently instituted “line changes” are some odd lineups. One includes Marshall Plumlee and Tyler Thornton, which leaves Sulaimon as the go-to player in those situations.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: Come for the brief profile of Arnaud William “Bill” Adala Moto; leave with an awesomely awkward Bzdelikian analogy.

    “I kind of likened it the other day to a bunch of chicken eggs. Some of the eggs start cracking, and the little chick pokes its head out and looks. Some of these guys have completely gotten out of their shell. Some of them, the shell is cracking, and their head is poking out. Some of them are still in it, playing. But my point is, they’re all starting to hatch — at different times — and slowly breaking out of that shell.”

    Clearly, Jeff Bzdelik has been working on his PR game. But seriously, Moto is a guy who plays like a great teammate. He just outworks opponents.

  4. Tar Heel Blog: Speaking of PR game, North Carolina needs to up its version in a serious way. The university hasn’t looked good at all in its dealing with Mary Willingham’s allegations, and the fine bloggers at Tar Heel Blog have done a tremendous job covering the story. The interesting possible spin going on right now is that North Carolina claims 97 percent of admitted athletes during the past two years were above the testing levels that CNN and Willingham cited. What’s interesting is that Willingham’s numbers covered 2004-12. Does that mean her numbers are right and North Carolina has fixed its problems, or was the most recent data the most accessible? Good move by the administration to question the media (which is likely at fault anyways) instead of Willingham here.
  5. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Virginia has played well but lost all (three) of its games against Top 25 opponents this season. But I’m not sure there’s much to be drawn from the Duke loss. Had the Cavaliers rolled over and lost by 15 instead of mounting a comeback in the last three minutes, I would be more concerned. By the end of the year Virginia will knock off at least one team in the national rankings assuming no one gets hurt.
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Duke’s New Starting Lineup Pays Dividends

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 8th, 2014

Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Mike Krzyzewski gave another chance to a starting lineup that had started four consecutive games back in November. Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon replaced Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton, playing well enough to earn a combined 64 minutes in Duke’s 79-57 win over Georgia Tech. After an evenly played first half, Rodney Hood’s second straight 27-point game and the Blue Devils’ energy level rolled past a Yellow Jackets team trying to adjust to playing without Robert Carter, Jr., in the wake of his meniscus injury.

Rodney Hood Scores 27 Again As Duke Beats Georgia Tech (photo: www.goduke.com)

Rodney Hood Scores 27 Again As Duke Beats Georgia Tech
(photo: www.goduke.com)

The last Duke game featuring sophomores Jefferson and Sulaimon as starters turned out to be the worst defensive Duke performance in at least a dozen years, a narrow 91-90 home win over Vermont in the sixth game of the season. After that contest, in an effort to establish a tougher defensive identity, Mike Krzyzewski inserted seniors Hairston and Thornton into the starting lineup. The Blue Devils made measurable progress defensively after the change, but for Duke to reach its full potential as a team this season, the more talented sophomores will need to be on the court more than the solid but offensively limited role players.

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