Morning Five: 04.30.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 30th, 2013

morning5

  1. In today’s corporate age it seems like just about everything for sale and as Illinois pointed out that includes the name of college basketball’s iconic sites–Assembly Hall. Yesterday, the school announced that its Assembly Hall will now be called the State Farm Center. The deal is scheduled to last for 30 years and generate $60 million so we can certainly understand the financial rationale behind the decision particularly as it gets a facelift. Illinois’ Assembly Hall may not resonate with individuals who are not big-time college basketball fans (more people probably think of Indiana’s Assembly Hall), but we wonder how high up the college basketball arena food chain corporate sponsors can go before they start getting rejected in naming right deals.
  2. Creighton fans who are still on a high following Doug McDermott’s decision to return for his senior and now they may get an added bonus of another year of Grant Gibbs. According to reports, Creighton has a law firm looking into filing a petition that would grant Gibbs to obtain a sixth year of eligibility. Based on the information that we have seen–Gibbs redshirted one year at Gonzaga and sat out for a transfer year–it seems like Gibbs would have a pretty good case so we are not quite sure why this is still in the investigation phase (we will admit we have no idea on the mechanics of applying for an extra year or two of eligibility). If Gibbs is able to play for the Bluejays next year they should be competing for the Big East title.
  3. With the early entry deadline behind us (you can expect to see an updated top 25 from us shortly), Andy Glockner breaks down the winners and losers of the early entry deadline. Most of Glockner’s winners and losers are about what you would have expected before the season ended with a few notable exceptions particularly Oklahoma State and Marquette. The early analysis of who won and lost this period is certainly interesting, but it may be more interesting to revisit this topic in December when we have had a chance to see how teams and players play with or without the early-entry players.
  4. The Maui Invitational has become one of the premier early-season tournaments, but do not expect to see Kentucky travelling out there any time as John Calipari appears to have no interest in playing there. Kentucky and Calipari last made the trip in 2010 (you may remember it as the period when Terrence Jones was briefly projected to be the #1 overall pick), but it appears that is it just too far for Calipari and given his success in recruiting (How many top recruit has Hawaii produced?) we cannot really fault him. The lure of travelling to Hawaii or other exotic locations will certainly appeal to some players and coaches, but with the way that Calipari sells his program as a path to a career in the NBA his decision to forgo Maui certainly makes sense.
  5. With Chris Collins leaving the Duke sidelines on his way to Evanston, a new spot opened up on the Blue Devil bench and after a chain reaction of promotions the newest member of the Duke staff will be Jon Scheyer, who like Collins was a high school legend in Illinois. Scheyer will serve as a special assistant in place of Nate James, who was promoted to the position of assistant coach when Collins left. Honestly, we have no idea what all of these “special” titles mean, but realistically it is just another way for Mike Krzyzewski to build on his coaching tree, which to this point has been underwhelming.
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ACC Morning Five: 03.30.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on March 30th, 2012

  1. Wilmington Star News: Yet again we’ve got good and bad news out of Chapel Hill. Let’s start with the good: Kendall Marshall won the Bob Cousy Award for the country’s top point guard. It’s tough to argue with the pick, as Marshall’s ACC-record 351 assists helped lead the Tar Heels to the ACC regular season title before the team crumbled in his absence in the Elite Eight. Marshall continues the recent streak of North Carolina point guards to win the award, following the likes of Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: North Carolina’s roster next season will have at least five players missing from this year’s team, as Marshall, John Henson and Harrison Barnes all announced their intentions of entering the NBA Draft (factor in Tyler Zeller and Justin Watts graduating to get to five). Assuming the Tar Heels keep James Michael McAdoo, they’ll still have a solid interior presence and a wealth of perimeter players to go next to Marcus Paige, who will likely run the point with Dexter Strickland. Still, don’t underestimate the magnitude of losing four All-ACC guys (and Caulton Tudor — the writer of this article — should know, as he had all four on his first team).
  3. From The Rumble Seat: First, how old will Miami be next year if everyone comes back? Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson will be 22, while Kenny Kadji will be 24. Wow. I think the author touches on a pretty important point for Georgia Tech‘s conference success next year in wondering about the unbalanced schedule. If the Yellow Jackets get shots at the bottom tier of the conference (which should be better), they’ll be closer to the middle of the pack. However, unless someone really picks up the scoring load, it’s tough to project them outside of the bottom four.
  4. Baltimore Sun: Matt Bracken sat down with Mark Turgeon’s first Maryland recruit Seth Allen. Allen is a combo guard out of Virginia who hopes to contribute right away in Maryland’s backcourt by helping Terrell Stoglin with the scoring and Pe’Shon Howard with running point. The Terrapins could certainly use another consistent scoring threat (though I’d keep my eyes on Nick Faust to gain some confidence), so it will be interesting to watch Allen whose senior year was tough to evaluate because of nagging injuries.
  5. CBSSports.com: The first edition of Jeff Goodman’s transfer list is out with eight ACC names so far: Nate Hicks (sophomore, Georgia Tech), Glen Rice Jr. (junior, Georgia Tech), KT Harrell (sophomore, Virginia), Allan Chaney (freshman, Virginia Tech), JT Thompson (senior, Virginia Tech), Tony Chennault (sophomore, Wake Forest), Carson Desrosiers (sophomore, Wake Forest) and Anthony Fields (freshman, Wake Forest). I’m sure there will be more to come.

EXTRA: Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle does a great job in this article on Jon Scheyer coming back to the United States looking for a chance at the NBA. Scheyer got hurt during summer league after going undrafted following his senior season (the buzz was he would sign with the Miami Heat), so he went to play in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Scheyer received limited playing time, which ultimately led to his return to the US (rumors also surfaced about Scheyer being forced to complete Israel’s mandated military service, but he did not comment on that). I think Scheyer will get invited to the NBA’s summer league.

EXTRA EXTRA: Apparently, Tyler Hansbrough‘s nose is still attracting Duke elbows even in the NBA. Last weekend Mike Dunleavy elbowed Hansbrough in the face, breaking his nose and facial bone.

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ACC Morning Five: 12.27.11 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on December 27th, 2011

  1. Washington Post: The big news this weekend comes from Virginia as K.T. Harrell and James Johnson have both decided to transfer.  Johnson was a redshirt freshman who saw very little playing time, but Harrell was a key rotation player who waged a fairly successful freshman campaign, routinely knocking down big shots from beyond the arc and starting 15 games. Harrell, however, has struggled on offense this season and has seen his minutes drop. Both players cited a lack of playing time as the reason for transferring. Coach Tony Bennett doesn’t seem very concerned with these decisions, noting that transfers are becoming more common and that he’s had at least one player leave his program every year that he’s been a head coach. While Bennett might be unworried, at least one player transferring every year probably seems too high for Virginia’s fans.
  2. Fayetteville Observer: Bret Strelow has some interesting speculation about the rapid fire re-commitment and then de-commitment of Torian Graham. Apparently, while Graham definitely wants to play for North Carolina State, someone else is preventing him from doing so. He brings up the oft-discussed possibility that the Wolfpack is waiting to make sure that Graham meets the necessary academic qualifications to play college basketball, but he also brings up a more insidious theory where a relative, hanger-on, or handler is pushing Graham to sign with a more high-profile program. While this theory doesn’t yet have any hard confirmation, it’s an intriguing story. Hopefully, it’s not true.
  3. Washington Times: On Friday, Pe’Shon Howard made his season debut for Maryland. Howard has been out with a broken foot,  but played 30 minutes against Radford. The return of the talented guard is a huge boost for the Terrapins who haven’t yet seen the kind of stellar play they had been expecting of freshman guard Nick Faust. The Saturday reinstatement of freshman big man Alex Len is expected to be another significant gain for Maryland. Len has been serving an NCAA suspension related to his time playing with a professional club in the Ukraine.
  4. Soaring to Glory: It’s been a rough year for Boston College fans, and it doesn’t look like things are going to get any easier. Soaring to Glory breaks down the remaining Eagles schedule and tries to predict how may games this team can actually win. Spoiler Alert: Not many.
  5. Tobacco Road Blues: Chanukkah is nearly over, but it’s not too late to acknowledge the proud tradition of Jewish basketball at Duke and North Carolina. While Jon Scheyer gets the first spot on this list, the great Lennie Rosenbluth is probably the greatest son of David to play in the rivalry: In case you’re unfamiliar with the name, Rosenbluth averaged 28 PPG during the Tar Heels’ undefeated 1957 season, capped off by a triple-overtime victory over Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas team.
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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 Team Preview: Duke

Posted by mpatton on November 2nd, 2011

And then there were two.

Duke is a very tough team to project this season. The Blue Devils lost their top three players (Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Kyrie Irving) from last season, but there’s still plenty of talent and a Hall of Fame coach on the sideline in Durham. Thoughtful preseason rankings slot Duke anywhere from fourth to ninth nationally, which seem very reasonable for where Duke could finish the season — not necessarily where it should start.

The team’s two major questions are, “who will run the offense?” and “will any of the frontcourt players finally live up to his potential?” Duke’s relative success depends almost solely on these questions. Of course, one thing we forget is that both questions also faced the Blue Devils when Kyrie Irving went down after the Butler game last year. To that point Nolan Smith had not played much point guard since the first half of the 2009-10 season. During Duke’s National Championship year Mike Krzyzewski moved Smith to the off-ball position, ceding the point guard spot to Jon Scheyer. If not for Brian Zoubek’s miraculous ascension from unproductive bench-warmer to one of Duke’s most important pieces, the guard switch would have garnered much more attention. Smith excelled while working off the ball and Scheyer limited Duke’s turnovers to the absolute minimum.

Duke Needs Seth Curry to Take Over as Floor General This Year.

But once Kyrie Irving’s foot problem arose last season, Duke was again left without a quarterback. The best choice was to move Smith back to the point, although Krzyzewski experimented with Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry there briefly as well. The result was Smith leading the ACC in scoring and nearly leading the conference in assists. Of course Smith was a special player. His career arc only answers the question that it’s possible for Seth Curry to step up and lead Duke. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Nolan Smith

Posted by nvr1983 on June 4th, 2011

Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.

Player NameNolan Smith

SchoolDuke

Height/Weight6’4, 190 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard/Shooting Guard

Projected Draft RangeLate First to Early Second Round

Overview: After spending much of the first three and a half years of his time at Duke in the shadows of more prolific scorers, Smith stepped up in the second half of his senior season to become the Blue Devils’ leader while picking up some pretty significant individual hardware — AP 1st team All-American and ACC Player of the Year — along the way. The son of the late Derek Smith, a star at Louisville in the early 1980s, Smith started to show signs of becoming a potential first round pick as a junior when his production jumped from 8.4 points per game as a sophomore to 17.4 the next year while seeing his playing time increase significantly. However, even at that point he was often in the shadows of All-American Kyle Singler and senior Jon Scheyer. He started to show signs of becoming the team’s leader with a series of scintillating summer league performances a year ago that had the nation buzzing, but found himself in a secondary role when the season started thanks to the arrival of Kyrie Irving, the likely #1 pick in this year’s draft. To his credit, Smith continued to play well while not creating too much attention even when Irving dominated the ball. Smith finally got to show his full repertoire when Irving went down with a toe injury early in the season against Butler. From that point forward, he asserted himself as one of the premier guards in recent years and has turned himself from a player that many considered a fringe NBA candidate to one who has a legitimate shot at being a first round pick.

Smith Will Face a Difficult Transition at the Next Level

Will Translate to the NBA: Smith is a prototypical combo guard. He probably won’t become a star, but should be a solid role player for years because of his ability to score in spurts and fill in as a point guard in spots. Smith will struggle to start in the NBA because he isn’t quite a good enough scorer (mainly due to his erratic outside shooting) to compensate for his lack of size as a shooting guard and isn’t a good enough distributor to be a starting NBA point unless he winds up in a situation like Miami where a ‘point forward’ is dominating the ball and distributing. Smith’s solid defense should be effective when defending point guards, but his lack of size will become an issue when he is forced to defend taller shooting guards; that might be ameliorated by the fact that most NBA shooting guards have an annoying tendency not to take smaller guards into the post, preferring to stay on the perimeter despite their obvious advantage.

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Cupcakes Wanted: Inquire Within

Posted by nvr1983 on April 15th, 2011

Every March the topic of scheduling rears its ugly head as fans and analysts rip teams for their soft non-conference schedules. Did you ever wonder how teams come up with those schedules? Surely it involves putting together the team statistician, the chairman of mathematics, and the chairman of computer sciences at the university to crunch the numbers to come up with the optimal schedule to allow their school to appease that all-important Selection Committee on Selection Sunday, right? It turns out that it really isn’t that advanced. In some ways, it comes down to a representative of the basketball program putting up a request and basically announcing “call me if you are interested”.

 

It's cupcake city, baby!

As John Ezekowitz noted it is basically “NCAA Basketball’s Craigslist” where teams try to figure out how to fill their schedules and potentially offer monetary incentives in what are commonly known as “guarantee games”. Essentially a guarantee game is one in which a lesser team is paid (often rather handsomely) to travel to a better team’s arena for a game (read Kyle Whelliston’s account of one such game for more details). These games have often been derided as being against the spirit of the game. Obviously the financial incentive for the proverbial “sacrificial lamb” is a little unseemly and viewed by some as unsportsmanlike. Then there is the competitiveness issue as these games often are blowouts. Some coaches, including Lefty Driesell in our interview with him before this season, have expressed unhappiness at the fact that it does not allow for the traditional home-and-home match-ups that could generate a lot of buzz and ticket revenue for the smaller program, but the bigger program does not want to do so because frankly there is nothing in it for them. If they go on the road and win, who cares? They beat a team that means nothing on the national level and they lost the ability to sell themselves in front of a major recruit. And if they lose on the road? The world ends for a few days as boosters and fans call for the coach’s head and the players have their Facebook walls and Twitter accounts bombarded by all sorts of profane messages.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XIV

Posted by jbaumgartner on March 7th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball. This week, Jesse digs a rout out west and credits the Thompson men in their handling of Klay’s mistake, and tells the Longhorns and Hokies what he thinks of ‘em.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED..…Rick Pitino saying that there were no hard feelings about the Louisville cheerleader who gave Pitt a chance to tie the game last Sunday by running onto the court and hurling the ball skyward, earning a technical. He went on to say that the overzealous student should “enjoy your moment of glory.” But while Rick might have been all chummy the next day, that frankly was not the case after the game. Click this link and listen to the audio of his press conference: “I’m sure it was unintentional, but you could actually lose a game that way …. But hopefully he’ll learn the rules of basketball next time.” Pitino might have been in his happy-go-lucky PR mood after taking 24 hours to calm down, but his gut reaction is pretty hilarious – don’t EVER touch my ball.

Pitino Showed His Mellower Side During Cheerleadergate

I LOVED……a subconscious admission of a classic Duke flop tactic (P.S., I’m neutralizing the upcoming Duke hate by giving Nolan Smith mad props for single-handedly keeping the Devils in the game against UNC this weekend). While watching the UK/Vanderbilt game this week, I saw a guard draw a three-shot foul by sticking out his legs on a jumper and acting his way into the call. The side announcer (I want to say it was Jimmy Dykes) proceeds to say, “Over the years, Duke’s shooters. You go back to even guys like J.J. Redick. So good and so clever. (Jon) Scheyer. Nolan Smith right now…just enough of a foot out when you’re in the air to draw contact.” THREE Duke players, NO ONE ELSE! It was quite humorous, and come on – you’ve got to give credit first and foremost to Best Actor nominee Reggie Miller, who invented that move long ago.

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The Perfect Storm Leads to St. John’s Rout of Duke and Raises Questions About the Blue Devils

Posted by nvr1983 on January 31st, 2011

It was a game with a result that was shocking not so much for the fact that St. John’s beat Duke, but the manner in which they did so. Coming into the game on Sunday afternoon, the Red Storm had lost five of six after raising expectations with a win over Georgetown at the beginning of an unprecedented stretch of eight consecutive games against top 25 teams. That skid had threatened to put a damper on all the hype that had accompanied Steve Lavin‘s arrival in New York City and his much-ballyhooed incoming freshman class, but for one afternoon all of that was forgotten as the Red Storm put on as dominant of a performance against such a high caliber opponent as any St. John’s team has had since the days when they were still called the politically incorrect Redmen, Lou Carnesecca roamed the sidelines, and Walter Berry and Chris Mullin donned the uniform. Today, the newest generation of St. John’s players turned in a performance that certainly made Carnesecca and Berry (both in attendance today) proud.

St. John's Brought Back Ancient Memories This Afternoon

Behind a full court press than left Duke looking sloppy and some hot shooting, the Red Storm ran away with a 93-78 victory that was not as close as the 15-point final margin indicates. In front of a sellout crowd of 19,353 at Madison Square Garden that was nearly 50-50 in terms of allegiance to Duke or St. John’s, the Red Storm played their best basketball of the season and took advantage of the Blue Devils playing their worst. Even though Mike Krzyzewski seemed to imply in his post-game press conference that this game was an isolated incident, it does raise questions about the defending champions. On one hand we can probably discount Duke’s 5-for-26 shooting from 3-point range (and 1-for-19 before a late hot streak after the game was out of reach made the final numbers more respectable) as an aberration, but there were several other aspects of the game that should not be dismissed as easily.

  • Duke’s lack of athleticism: Last season Doug Gottlieb caught some heat from Coach K for calling the Blue Devils “alarmingly unathletic.” While it may not have been the politically correct thing to say, there was some truth to the statement. Outside of perhaps Mason Plumlee, none of the current Blue Devils will amaze any NBA scout with their athleticism. This doesn’t mean that Duke isn’t athletic enough to win the title (their biggest losses from last year’s championship team are Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek, who were probably the two least athletic players in last year’s starting line-up), but it does mean that this Duke team isn’t going to blow any elite team off the court with their athletes, and, in certain situations like today when their shots are not falling, they are vulnerable to inferior teams.
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That’s Debatable: Impact of Kyrie Irving’s Injury on Duke

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2010

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude.  Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people.  We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season.  We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at rushthecourt@yahoo.com

This Week’s Topic: News was released yesterday that Duke superstar point guard Kyrie Irving could be out from a month to the rest of the season with a toe injury.  How will this impact the nation’s #1 team and its team chemistry?  Does this mean that the way-too-early undefeated season talk is now ludicrous?  Give us your thoughts.

Andrew Murawa, RTC contributor

An injury to the starting point guard of the best team in the nation? Yes. That matters. The argument could be made that Kyrie Irving had been the best player on the Duke team in the early going, and now without him for the near future, or potentially the whole season, the Blue Devils will have adjust their roles on the fly. Luckily for Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has a couple of excellent guards in reserve – look no further than sophomore Andre Dawkins’ excellent first performance in the absence of Irving – but while the loss of Irving in the short term could be dealt with, the potential loss of Irving for the season would be a blow to their national title hopes. Sure, Duke still has enough talent on that roster to remain the favorite for the national title, but anytime you lose one of the most dynamic players in the country, that’s an awful blow. Until more is known, the Devils will need to plan for the rest of their season as if Irving will be unavailable, with their backcourt taking on new roles and new minutes, but if there is anywhere around the country where the potential loss of such a player is manageable, it is in Durham.

Matt Patton, RTC contributor

The way-too-early undefeated talk was always ludicrous, but that’s why it’s fun.  The truth is: Duke is a very good, arguably great, team that’s won eight good games.  To go undefeated they’d have to win 32 more in a row.  That alone is ludicrous.  Talk shouldn’t get serious until February.  I don’t think Irving’s injury will hurt “undefeated” chances unless he’s out for longer than a month.  Right now Duke is looking at cupcake city until Miami (home) on January 2.  Miami is a pretty good, although inconsistent, team, but I don’t think they’re good enough to go into Cameron and win with or without Irving.  He seamlessly integrated into the offense to start the season, and I think he can do it again.  If anything this could help Duke’s team mature: especially guys like Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry and Miles Plumlee.  Curry especially could see a lot of extra time at the point spot, which should make the team run better without Irving (so far they’ve struggled at times without his presence).  Duke won’t be better without Irving, that’s ridiculous.  But the time without him could really help some of the role players improve with in-game experience.

Brian Otskey, RTC contributor

It doesn’t matter much if he’s out for a month or two. If Kyrie Irving is out for the entire season, the primary impact will be on Duke’s NCAA title chances. They’ll still win the ACC and probably get a top seed in the tournament but the loss of Irving will be felt in the later rounds when they run into similarly talented opponents. The schedule between now and the end of January isn’t tough at all, even without Irving. The toughest games are road trips to Florida State and NC State, two games in which the Blue Devils will still be strong favorites. As has been pointed out by many, Duke does not play a currently ranked team for the rest of the season though I have a feeling North Carolina and possibly Temple will find their way back into the rankings at some point. In all likelihood, Coach K will turn to Andre Dawkins as his fifth starter and shift Nolan Smith over to point guard. That shouldn’t be a problem for the experienced Smith, already averaging five assists per game. As for the undefeated talk, I’ve maintained it has been ludicrous from the beginning. Duke is not some otherworldly team. They are the best but they’re going to lose at some point during the regular season. I don’t know who will beat them but it’s going to happen. This is college basketball where anything can happen on any given night.

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Behind the Numbers: New Duke, Same As the Old Duke?

Posted by KCarpenter on November 17th, 2010


Kellen Carpenter is an RTC contributor.

Last year, as you are probably aware, Duke won it all. They enter this season as the easy top pick in all the national polls and the consensus favorite to cut down the nets in the early spring of 2011. With Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith sticking around for one last hurrah, a sensational recruiting class starring the incredibly skilled Kyrie Irving, and Coach K masterminding things as usual, picking Duke as the best team in the country is pretty easy. Duke is going to be very, very good this year. Here’s the real question, though: Will this year’s incarnation of the Blue Devils be as good as last year’s? The consensus seems to be yes, but there is reason to  lend an ear to dissenting voices crying out from the wilderness.

The reason has to do with offensive efficiency and may need a little explaining. Last year Duke was easily the most efficient team in the land on offense. They did this not by shooting the lights out (though they shot well), but by each player making sure they did other things to help their team on offense. Let me clarify: when I talk about “offensive efficiency,” I am talking very specifically about the Dean Oliver conception of it, which is a simple measure of how well a team scores per possession given a key Four Factors. The Factors are effective field goal percentage, turnovers per possession, offensive rebounding, and free throw rate. So while Duke was only moderately good at shooting the basketball last season (#92 in D-I), they made their opportunities count by rarely turning over the ball (#15 in D-I) and rebounding their misses at an astounding rate (40.3% of misses, good for #7 in D-I). The low turnovers and superb offensive rebounding are what made Duke’s offense so efficient and deadly, despite good-but-not-great shooting and a very average rate of getting to the free throw line (#158 in D-I for those who care).

Duke May Miss This Big Guy More Than Expected This Season

So, here is where we get to the trouble: Duke’s success at preventing turnovers and getting offensive rebounds, which strongly drove Duke’s overall success, depended largely on the efforts of two players. Those players, in case you can’t guess, are the departed Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek, to whom the Blue Devils are probably more indebted to than they realize.

Obviously, while Scheyer was the team’s leading scorer and his scoring contributions will be missed, his value to Duke went far beyond points. Scheyer was the team’s primary ball-handler and play-maker and did this ball-handling and play-making virtually mistake-free, which is astonishing. Despite having the most opportunities for a turnover, Scheyer coughed up the ball less than any other player on the team. Now while Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler should rightfully be credited for their skill at taking care of the ball, let’s be clear: Scheyer’s mistake-free play-making will be missed, and as good as Kyrie Irving is, it’s highly unlikely that a freshman point guard will be able to match Scheyer in this regard. It’s in fact very likely that the Blue Devils will turn the ball over a lot more than last season.

And if it’s very likely that turnovers will go up, it’s almost certain that offensive rebounds will go down. The incredible success of Duke at offensive rebounding is almost entirely owed to Zoubek, who not only led the ACC in having a name that sounds the most like a Pokemon but also was the best offensive rebounder in college basketball. By way of example: Duke had eleven offensive rebounds in the championship game against Butler, and Zoubek had six of those. This type of performance from the 7’1 big man was the norm. Now, Zoubek is gone, and his heirs in the frontcourt have yet to display anywhere near his level of skill at yanking down misses. While Zoubek grabbed 21.4% of the Blue Devils’ misses, the next best rebounder, Miles Plumlee, managed to grab only 11.1%. Mason Plumlee’s 9.1% and Ryan Kelly’s astonishingly poor 2.9% don’t offer much cause for hope either. These numbers considered, it seems very unlikely that Duke will be able to match last year’s incredible effort on the offensive boards.

Turnovers will probably increase and offensive rebounds will probably decrease, which means offensive efficiency is facing a drop, even if Duke somehow manages to keep up its world-class defense and replace all other lost offensive production. Now, am I saying Duke is going to be bad? No, I’m not. Duke will be very good, but unless a couple things happen, they won’t be in the same class as the national champion 2009-10 team. What we are probably looking at is something closer to  the 2007-08, or 2008-09 vintage Duke, which is good for about the same regular season record but with a few more particularly surprising losses and a much shorter postseason. That said, here are some other things that could happen: Duke’s shooting this year could be so good that drops in offensive rebounding and a rise in turnovers could be totally offset. Kyrie Irving and the other rookies could be even better than John Wall and the Kentucky freshmen were last year, making everyone forget  about Scheyer and Zoubek. Either of those things could happen. The conclusion is this, though — lots of things go right for Duke and I never count Coach K out, but the improbable is improbable, the unlikely remains unlikely, and “could” isn’t the same as “will.” That’s as true in Cameron Indoor as anywhere else in America, so let’s pack up our laurel wreaths and anointing oils until 2011.

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RTC Live: Princeton @ #1 Duke

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2010

Game #10RTC Live is pleased to make our first trip into the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University this afternoon.

The Duke home opener is always a special day in Durham, but today’s game commands even more attention than usual. An extra banner hangs from the ceiling of Cameron Indoor Stadium, and this team enters with pressure its predecessor didn’t have: expectations of another national title. Questions do exist for Mike Krzyzewski’s team, though. Can Kyle Singler improve, or was last year his ceiling? How do Duke’s young guards fill in for Jon Scheyer? Will Seth Curry live up to the hype? How much playing time will Coach K give freshman Kyrie Irving? And was Brian Zoubek one of the most underrated players in college basketball in 2009-10? The preseason #1 Duke Blue Devils will have their first opportunity to answer those questions against the unranked Princeton Tigers. Princeton enters today’s game after an overtime win against Rutgers to open the season on Friday. The Tigers’ first win against a major conference opponent since 2004 was largely the work of senior Dan Mavraides, who had 26 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in 41 minutes of play. Princeton’s 6’11 center, Brendan Connolly, added 7 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists, and needs to replicate that performance if the Tigers hope to keep Duke’s big men in check. If you can’t be in Cameron for the game, join up here and let RTC Live be there for you.

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