Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 66, #2 Gonzaga 52.

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is in Houston this week for the South Regional semifinals and final.

Three Key Takeaways.

Both Jones' -- Tyus And Matt -- Were Instrumental In Duke's Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

Both Jones’ — Tyus And Matt — Were Instrumental In Duke’s Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

  1. Offenses Fail To Get Going, Again. In Friday night’s regional semifinals, four teams that began the night among the 65 most accurate three-point shooting teams in the country combined to shoot 23 percent from long-range. Much was made of the clumsy dome setup inducing the offensive malaise, but the forecast for Sunday was still for efficient offense by the bucket-load, given the firepower Duke and Gonzaga brought to the table. The two teams got off to a fast start – 22 points in the first five minutes – but things settled down significantly from there on out. Gonzaga and Duke combined to shoot 41 percent from the floor, including just 38 percent for the victorious Blue Devils. Duke did do two things extremely well offensively: shoot the ball accurately from three-point range (8-19) and maximize possessions (an amazing three total turnovers for the game). Gonzaga was less proficient in each category, making only two of 10 three-point attempts and turning the ball over 13 times. There were glimpses of the offensive brilliance we witnessed from both these teams all season, but this regional final never escalated into the explosive matchup many expected.
  2. Matt Jones, Who? Matt Jones. The Duke sophomore supplied the game of his life in this Regional Final. Jones, who entered Sunday averaging just 5.9 points per game, finished with 16 points (one shy of his season and career highs) and converted four of Duke’s eight made three-point field goals. With Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones again struggling to find the range from deep (combined 2-8 on three-point attempts), Jones’ unexpected scoring was crucial in getting the Blue Devils into the final minutes with a lead. Mark Few said afterwards that concerns about guarding Justise Winslow had led to Gonzaga to do a significant amount of cross-matching with Kyle Wiltjer defending Jones, a reasonable coaching decision that devolved into a disastrous result for the Zags. Jones, Duke’s fifth starter and a Texas native (like Friday night hero Justise Winslow) playing in his home state, was as important as any of his more acclaimed teammates Sunday afternoon.
  3. Wiltjer-Winslow Matchup. This was the matchup many fixated on in advance of Sunday afternoon, and with good reason: Winslow was coming off a scintillating Friday night performance, while Wiltjer has been arguably the Zags best player all season. Mixing and matching by both coaches saw both players spend a good deal of time defending elsewhere, but Wiltjer kept Gonzaga close in the first half, scoring 13 points on 5-7 field-goal shooting. Meanwhile, Winslow forced the action early and managed just five points in the opening frame, missing five of his six field-goal attempts. Things changed dramatically after intermission, however. Wiltjer struggled to get touches and was a virtual non-factor in the second half, while Duke’s freshman swingman found his Friday night form, pumping in 11 second-half points. Among the 11 was the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and less than three minutes to go that put Duke up nine. Both players finished with 16 points, but Winslow’s big second-half was a key differentiator for Mike Krzyewski’s team.

Star of the Game. Tyus Jones, Duke. None of Duke’s big four – Jones, Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook – played anything close to a perfect game today. Heck, they combined to shoot 15-45 from the field. Still, it was Jones that catalyzed Duke’s quick start, scoring seven points as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 17-10 lead. The South Region’s Most Outstanding Player finished the day with 15 points, six assists and no turnovers, helping Duke to that minuscule turnover total of three. Matt Jones’ unexpected scoring was a huge boost Sunday afternoon, but it was the more familiar Jones on the Duke roster who dictated this game’s flow from the outset. His ball-handling and all-around savvy will now be put to use in Indianapolis.

Quotable. “It’s meant everything. Best team I have ever been on talent-wise and the best group of guys. We can look back and be pretty happy with what we have been able to do.” –Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga senior point guard, on what this Gonzaga season has meant to him.

“It’s a shot he makes. It’s a shot he makes 499 times out of 500.” –Mark Few, on Kyle Wiltjer’s missed layup with 4:51 to go that would have tied game. Duke went on a 13-1 run to close the game after the miss.

“Our defense the last 16 minutes was spectacular — not (just) good. I love these guys and they came through.” –Mike Krzyewski, Duke head coach

“This team is eight guys. There is not someone hiding in the locker room that is going to come out and appear.” -Krzyewski.

Sights & Sounds. Whether it was the Sunday afternoon time slot, a Final Four bid on the line, or just the anticipation of the region’s top two seeds meeting, there was an urgency in NRG Stadium that never existed Friday night. The Duke faithful significantly outnumbered Gonzaga supporters (rough estimate — 5:1 ratio of Duke to Gonzaga fans), but enough folks from the Pacific Northwest made the journey South to create a back-and-forth feel to the cheering. In the end, however, the final image of NRG Stadium was all too familiar: Thousands of contented Duke fans standing in acknowledgment of a Blue Devil team advancing to face their next challenge.

What’s Next?  Duke advances to the program’s 16th Final Four, where it will take on Tom Izzo and Michigan State in Indianapolis. The fourth overall meeting between Mike Krzyewski and Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament will double as the second time they have met in a National Semifinal. Duke has won two of those three prior matchups, which includes a Sweet 16 game two seasons ago. On the other side, the loss to Duke ends what will likely go down as the greatest season in Gonzaga history. The Zags, now 0-2 all-time in the Elite Eight, will finish the year at 35-3. Mark Few loses Byron Wesley, Gary Bell and WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos to graduation after an undeniably special year in Spokane.

 

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

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 85, #16 Robert Morris 56

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Jahlil Okafor and Duke were too big for Robert Morris to handle in the paint. (AP Photo)

Jahlil Okafor and Duke were too big for Robert Morris to handle in the paint. (AP Photo)

  1. Duke says “not this year.” After well-documented Second Round clunkers in two of the last three years, Duke came out blazing tonight — hitting nine of its first 10 shots on the way to a 17-point halftime lead. The Colonials made a run midway through the second half to cut the Duke lead to 10, but after a Mike Krzyzewski timeout, the Blue Devils responded with a run of its own to put the game away. When Duke’s balanced offense is clicking, it’s very hard to stop. Tonight they made threes and dominated inside with a +12 rebounding edge. The only negatives were a 50 percent performance at the foul line, and the tendency to get casual with the ball, as Duke committed 11 mostly unforced turnovers.
  2. Robert Morris looked like a #16 seed tonight. The Colonials were impressive in their First Four win over North Florida on Wednesday but looked physically overmatched against Duke tonight. While few teams can match up with freshman All-American Jahlil Okafor, the Colonials’ overall lack of size anywhere in the lineup gave them virtually no chance. Even Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee were too much for Robert Morris to handle in the post. For the game, Duke outscored its opponent in the paint by a huge margin (+24) and the undersized Colonials only got to the free throw line four times.
  3. Duke’s freshmen performed well in their NCAA Tournament debut. Part of the worry for Duke fans coming into today’s game was that those two Blue Devils squads that suffered recent early NCAA exits were so reliant on freshman stars. With this year’s team suiting up a trio of great rookies, the question of experience in an NCAA Tournament setting was on everyone’s minds. It didn’t seem to matter. Okafor had his way inside, going 9-of-11 from the floor and suffering some sharp scolding from Krzyzewski after missed a reverse dunk in transition. Tyus Jones ran the team well, finishing with 10 points, seven assists and committing only one turnover. Justise Winslow came alive in the second half and was the player who facilitated Duke fighting off Robert Morris’ second half surge. After the lead was cut to 10, Winslow hit a three, grabbed a rebound and took it coast to coast for a layup, and then grabbed another board that he turned into an assist on a Tyus Jones three. Ballgame.

Star of the Game. Quinn Cook, Duke. Duke’s senior leader made sure that his team got off to a great start with his early play tonight. He hit four first-half threes on the way to 16 points and finished the game with a team-high 22. Cook also dished out five assists and had three steals in a very good all-around performance.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 77, N.C. State 53

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 12th, 2015

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ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Marshall Plumlee provided a big lift off the bench in Duke's win.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

Marshall Plumlee provided a big lift off the bench in Duke’s win. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  1. Duke came to Greensboro with a purpose. The Blue Devils haven’t won the ACC Tournament since 2011, a fairly long drought by Mike Krzyzewski’s standards. Based on the Blue Devils’ first game of this year’s tournament, though, it looks like they are focused on ending that streak. N.C. State was expected to be a tough matchup since the Wolfpack came in as a hot team that had beaten Duke handily in their only prior meeting. But that was a long time ago, and Duke is obviously a better team than it was back in early January. Even Duke’s weakness has been much improved lately, as the Devils have held four out of their last six opponent under 0.97 points per possession. Krzyzewski used a three-quarter court zone press that fell into a matchup zone against the Wolfpack to slow down and confuse their potent guards.
  2. N.C. State can play with anybody, just not always. The Wolfpack found out the hard way that you have to be ready from the tip against elite teams or you can get buried early. They have wins this year over Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina — two of those coming on the road — and they came very close to beating Virginia and Notre Dame. That means that N.C. State has either beaten or almost beaten all five of the ACC’s heavyweights this year. Combine that kind of tough-game performance with their explosive perimeter and you have a team that could cause problems in the NCAA Tournament. They won’t last long at the Dance, however, if they start games as passively as this one.
  3. Duke’s bench is really playing well. Much has been made about Duke’s relative lack of depth with only eight scholarship players, but while the quantity isn’t high, the quality certainly is. Freshman Grayson Allen in particular has given the team a huge boost lately. Allen had 11 points, three boards, three assists, two blocks and multiple floor burns in 21 minutes of action tonight. Marshall Plumlee has also improved to the point that Duke doesn’t suffer a dramatic dropoff when he replaces Jahlil Okafor on the floor. Plumlee successfully converted all six of his shot attempts against N.C. State and blocked three shots in 21 minutes.

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Justise Winslow’s Recent Play Has Duke Surging Again

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 11th, 2015

Like many talented freshmen, Duke forward Justise Winslow has experienced some ups and downs in his rookie campaign. He started the year with a flurry of impressive games, scoring at least 14 points in each of the first five games of the season. After that came a less productive three-game stretch in which Winslow scored seven points or fewer each time out. Things then seemed to level off going into January, as he started ACC play strong before hitting the freshman wall and the entering a mini-slump. It now appears that slump is over, as Winslow has returned to playing well and aggressively, giving the Blue Devils a much-needed boost on both ends of the floor.

Justise Winslow attacks the basket in Duke's blowout win over Notre Dame. (Photo: Bernard Thomas / The Herald-Sun)

Winslow attacks the basket in Duke’s blowout win over Notre Dame. (Bernard Thomas/The Herald-Sun)

In last Saturday’s 90-60 rout over Notre Dame, Winslow was often the best player on the floor. Duke’s 81 percent shooting was the story of the first half — including a sizzling 7-of-8 performance from three — and Jahlil Okafor was the story of the second half, as the star big man finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Winslow, however, was consistently good all afternoon, scoring 19 points, grabbing 11 boards, and recording two blocks — one of which was quite impressive. Mike Krzyzewski is both aware and appreciative of the recently improved play of his third star rookie, who has now recorded double-figure rebounds in three of his last four outings. In the postgame, Krzyzewski said, “Justise [Winslow] has just played so well. He has really learned to play through his injuries. That’s the sign of a guy [who is] really growing up and becoming an outstanding player. You’ve got to play a little bit sore without talking about it and that is what he is doing.”

Monday night’s game at Florida State was not nearly as productive for Winslow, but he still found ways to help his team hang on for a tough road ACC win. After missing his first five field goal attempts, he hit an important three with just under seven minutes left to give the Blue Devils some breathing room. He also got to the foul line frequently, where he made 7-of-10 attempts that resulted in double-figure points for the fifth straight contest. The chart below shows just how dramatically different Winslow’s production has been before, during, and after hitting the “wall” in conference play.

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ACC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 6th, 2015

Another week, another slate of terrific basketball from the ACC. While some teams seemingly riding high got a dose of reality this week (hello Virginia and Notre Dame), others showed their ability to overcome adversity (Duke), while others flew under the radar entirely (Clemson). This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils showed the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon was not going to be a distraction for them, as they went into John Paul Jones Arena Saturday and knocked off previously unbeaten Virginia. Avoiding a letdown after that big win in knocking off Georgia Tech at home was nice to see from such a young squad, too.
  • Louisville. The Cardinals had an impressive week, exacting revenge on North Carolina in an impressive comeback fashion at home and emerging victorious from a road trip at Miami. The offense is coming around, making Rick Pitino’s team look as if it may be peaking at the right time.
  • Clemson. How many casual ACC fans realize that the Tigers have reeled off four straight wins? Their demolition of NC State in Raleigh was particularly impressive on January 28th, but taking care of two teams they should defeat in Boston College and Florida State this week showed the team is still battling for a ticket to the Dance for Brad Brownell.
Sidy Djitte and Clemson smothered NC State on their way to another solid week (AP Sports)

Sidy Djitte and Clemson are riding a four-game winning streak in the ACC. (AP)

  • Wake Forest. Danny Manning’s team, so close in so many defeats this year, had a nice week in dispatching of Virginia Tech and defeating a talented (but hard-to-figure out) NC State team. More importantly than that is that the Demon Deacons may be regaining some of the home-court edge they lost during Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure.
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville. Rozier has four straight 20-point games, but his matching 22-point performances this week were huge for Louisville in overcoming the Tar Heels in overtime and winning the tough road test against the Hurricanes. He and Chris Jones continue to make life easier for Montrezl Harrell down low, and some argue Rozier is the Cardinals’ most dangerous offensive threat.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke. Whether or not it was accurate that Winslow was hitting the “freshman wall,” he broke out of it in fine fashion this week. With Jahlil Okafor hounded by Virginia’s double teams, Winslow willed the Blue Devils to victory with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance. He matched that effort with another stat-stuffer against the Yellow Jackets: 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals. Some believe he’s the key cog in the Duke machine going forward.

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ACC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

This week was an eye-opening one for ACC teams, with several marquee match-ups that shed greater light on the haves and have-nots of the conference race. Now moving into February, the teams with staying power are starting to emerge and those that are disappointing are showing their true colors as well. This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish keep beating good teams and are a stellar 8-1 in ACC play at the turn. They withstood a 10-point deficit from Duke on Wednesday night and never lost their composure. This is starting to look like a team that has major potential come NCAA Tournament time.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ six-game winning streak has put them in the thick of the conference race through four weeks. Marcus Paige seems to have regained some of his missing star power, and some timely shots falling for Justin Jackson and Nate Britt make the team more dangerous from the perimeter. Don’t forget Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are expected to return before year’s end, too.
  • Virginia Tech. Hokies’ fans had been waiting to see some early returns on Buzz Williams’ hiring, and this may have been the week they got a glimpse of what he’s building. Virginia Tech nearly knocked off undefeated Virginia last weekend before bowing out by just three points, then procured an overtime win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday for Williams’ first ACC win. Progress, people.
Adam Smith's game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams (USATodaySports)

Adam Smith’s (far left) game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams and reason for hope in the future (USATodaySports)

  • Nate Britt, North Carolina. After learning of the emotional state Britt was in prior to North Carolina’s ESPN Big Monday match-up with Syracuse, his performance became that much more admirable. Britt set a career high with 17 points, but perhaps more importantly for Roy Williams’ team was his 4-of-5 shooting from three. Could he finally be the long-range complement to Paige the Tar Heels desperately need?
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. No need to talk too much about how outstanding Grant’s season has been as the national media has that pretty well covered, but anyone who watched his performance live against Duke had to be amazed. He was the best player on the court in that game (yes, including Jahlil Okafor) en route to a stat line of 23 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, three steals and two blocks. Yes, he’s for real.
  • Louisville’s Backcourt. The much-maligned Cardinals’ offense has shown signs of life, largely because of the clearly improved shooting of their guards. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones had an especially dominant week in wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College on the road; combined, they scored 94 points in the two contests on 65 percent shooting from the field and 67 percent from three.

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Rasheed Sulaimon’s Dismissal is Shocking For Several Reasons

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

Yesterday’s news that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had dismissed junior Rasheed Sulaimon from the team came as a shock on a multitude of levels. First, Krzyzewski had never dismissed a player from the program during his entire tenure in Durham. Second, the Blue Devils had just played the night before, a hard-fought loss to an excellent Notre Dame team in which Sulaimon played 12 minutes off the bench, with a trip to undefeated Virginia on the docket Saturday. Third, it capped a remarkable fall from grace for the once-promising Sulaimon that no one outside of the program saw coming.

Sulaimon's (left) ouster qualified as shocking news and further depleted a now-thin Blue Devils roster (USAToday)

Sulaimon’s (left) ouster qualified as shocking news and further depleted a now-thin Blue Devils roster (USAToday)

Reports have surfaced suggesting that the decision to dismiss Sulaimon was a culmination of a multitude of events and that last season’s benching when the Blue Devils battled Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge should serve as a starting point. Sulaimon was benched for simply not doing what was asked of him in that instance, but body language has always been an issue for the Houston native as well. He often pouted on the court when whistled for fouls and has at times been seen restraining himself from celebrating his teammates on the bench. Still, because Sulaimon had never been otherwise suspended or even publicly chastised by Krzyzewski, it’s reasonable to wonder what happened in the aftermath of Wednesday’s loss in South Bend to make life without Sulaimon a necessity.

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ACC M5: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 13th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse.com: The Orange received crushing news yesterday that freshman Chris McCullough will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. While his season had been inconsistent to this point, there’s no denying that this is a huge loss for Jim Boeheim’s team. His potential has been well-documented and he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of at times this season. Perhaps the biggest development from this news, however, is how much his loss further depletes Syracuse’s depth. Syracuse may be the rare ACC team with an easier start to the conference slate, but its overall chance of a promising season took a big blow with this injury.
  2. ESPN.com: North Carolina’s thrilling victory over Louisville on Saturday had to do wonders for the team’s confidence, and more importantly, may have finally given the Tar Heels the early signature win they needed. One of the more interesting items from this article, though, is that Marcus Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot for several weeks. This could help shed some light on the reason for his inauspicious start to the season, and also lend some credence to how impressive his heroic second half against the Cardinals really was.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: NC State’s pummeling of Duke on Sunday is one of the biggest headlines of the young ACC season to date, but what the Wolfpack accomplished in the paint may be the real storyline here. While it has been Mark Gottfried’s perimeter players who have gotten most of the corresponding attention, Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya were the keys to the big upset win. NC State’s post players’ abilities to hold their own against Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow bode very well for the Wolfpack as the season progresses. This is a team that has been on a roll since conference play started, and it looks to continue its hot start in another rivalry match-up with North Carolina on Wednesday.
  4. Streaking The Lawn: A suddenly vulnerable-looking Kentucky team is no longer a unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, as Virginia wrested two votes from the Wildcats in this week’s rankings following its big win at Notre Dame over the weekend. The Cavaliers appear to be a legitimate title contender and threat to capture the ACC crown despite all the preseason hype about Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. According to KenPom, Virginia is the only team in the country ranked among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (sixth-best offense; fourth-best defense).
  5. ESPN.com: Duke’s loss to NC State could be attributed to a number of different things — namely defensive lapses and poor three-point shooting — but C.L. Brown keeps it simple: They’re led by freshmen. Despite Okafor’s big game, there were many signs that the youngsters leading this Blue Devils’ team still have much to learn about life in the ACC. Point guard Tyus Jones has not contributed nearly the gaudy numbers he posted prior to conference play, and Okafor and Winslow did little to slow the Wolfpack’s frontcourt (with Winslow eventually fouling out). It’s probably a good time for everyone to remind themselves that they’re watching a Duke team that hasn’t started three freshmen since 1983 for a reason.
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Tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge Main Event: Previewing Duke at Wisconsin

Posted by Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, ACC and Big Ten microsites writers Alex Moscoso and Brad Jenkins have teamed up to break down the match-up between Wisconsin and Duke, the main event on the final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Frontcourt

Alex Moscoso: Duke has a special player in center Jahlil Okafor, the likely #1 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But as far as the best frontcourt in basketball, I submit there’s no unit with a better combination of talent and experience than the Badgers’ group of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker. All three will play in the Association and are familiar with one another’s tendencies from a full year together on the floor. For the season, they’re combining to average 42.9 PPG (57.5 percent of the team’s output) and 20.6 RPG. While Kaminsky and Dekker are likely to be Naismith finalists, Hayes has also garnered widespread acclaim for his improved play as a sophomore – specifically, his newfound ability to hit the deep ball on occasion (35.7%) and better defensive play in the post. His transformation from talented prospect to contributing factor has made this frontcourt almost invulnerable. The trio will certainly have its hands full with the athletic duo of Okafor and Justise Winslow, but the Wisconsin big men should wear these young Blue Devils out by hitting some threes and forcing them to guard the entire half-court – from the rim out to the three-point line.

Frank Kaminsky (yes, it's true) exploded for 43 points on Tuesday. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky  and the Badgers “are coming” for Duke on Wednesday night, in what is one of the best non-conference games this season. (Getty)

Brad Jenkins: To say this is a match-up of Duke’s young talent versus Wisconsin’s veteran frontcourt is an oversimplification. The Badgers’ big guys are not only experienced but they are extremely skilled and more athletic than most realize. Duke’s two freshman starters up front, Okafor and Winslow, are both considered one-and-doners, and they play the game with a physical and mental maturity rarely seen in college rookies. On the one hand, Okafor has good footwork around the basket that should force Wisconsin into more double-teaming than normal. On the other hand, Winslow is a bit of a wild card in this game, as the Badgers don’t have a player who can match his combination of size and athleticism on the wing. The veteran Dekker, a tall forward with decent lateral quickness, will probably get the assignment, but he has been nursing a nagging ankle injury and may not be at 100 percent. Look for Winslow to aggressively attack the Badgers off the dribble as a way to create offense when the Blue Devils are otherwise stymied. Wisconsin normally protects the defensive glass as well as any team in the country, but watch out for Amile Jefferson on the weak side if Okafor demands major attention. So far this season, the 6’9” junior ranks third nationally with a 21.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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Duke’s Defense: Much Better This Year, But Good Enough?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 1st, 2014

Sunday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski won the 990th game of his career, 93-73 over Army. This game was a matchup of the only two schools that Krzyzewski has coached, and he was proud of both of them afterwards. In the postgame press conference, the veteran coach heaped praise on the Black Knights, and talked about how impressed he is with the job Army’s coach Zach Spiker is doing at West Point, where Krzyzewski played in the 1960’s and coached for five years before coming to Duke in ’80. Army came in to the game undefeated (5-0) and hung with the Blue Devils well into the second half before freshmen Jahlil Okafor (21 points) and Tyus Jones (16 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers) helped push the game out of reach. Duke has now won its first seven contests, all by 10 or more points, and along with the highly touted freshmen class, the improved Blue Devil defense has been the story so far.

Matt Jones (#13) and Amile Jefferson (#21) are part of an improved Blue Devil Defense. (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Matt Jones (#13) and Amile Jefferson (#21) are part of an improved Blue Devil Defense.
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Krzyzewski has long been lauded as a great defensive coach, and he has won many conference and national championships with stellar play on the defensive end, but that was not the case at all in 2013-14. Last year the Blue Devils ranked #116 in adjusted defensive efficiency, easily their worst finish since Ken Pomeroy started tracking the metric in 2002. There were many reasons cited for that weak performance: youth; not enough interior size; and a general lack of team toughness. Although they are still relatively young, Duke seems to have solved the size and toughness issue, at least so far. Last season, the problems surfaced early, giving us an indication that something was amiss with Duke on the defensive end. First there was the 94 points scored by Kansas in an 11-point Champions Classic Jayhawk win, and then even more troubling, Vermont hung 90 on the Blue Devils in a narrow one-point loss to Duke in Cameron. Duke went on to a fine 26-9 season but was plagued all year by having such an unreliable defense. Now after seven games in 2014-15 let’s look at how some of Duke’s defensive numbers compare to the first seven games from 2013-14 and with last season’s final stats:

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ACC Stock Watch – Week Two

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 28th, 2014

We here at RTC hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, we kept on our eye on ACC hoops for you while you were eating and possibly dabbling in the football-viewing arena. It’s only week two in the season, but there continue to be teams and players who are continuing to excel or providing disappointing early returns. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

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  • Duke. Sure, they’re obliterating lesser competition, but their win over Stanford in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was a great sign because Jahlil Okafor was not dominant and yet the team was composed and beat a good Cardinal team. Tyus Jones (roughly five-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio through six games) and Justise Winslow (14 points per game on 45% shooting thus far) continue to show that they are beyond their years as freshmen and can help cover for a game where Okafor doesn’t play up to his standards.
Trevor Lacey had a sensational second week to keep the Wolfpack undefeated on the year (APPhoto)

Trevor Lacey had a sensational second week to keep the Wolfpack undefeated on the year (APPhoto)

  • Trevor Lacey, NC State. Lacey was billed as an impact freshman, and he certainly had an impactful week for the Wolfpack. Lacey averaged 23.5 points per game in NC State’s two wins over South Florida and Richmond this week, and even spent a large portion of the time handling the ball in lieu of Cat Barber. Lacey has hit the ground running, and has presented a great second option for Mark Gottfried at the point if Barber is playing erratically.
  • Justin Anderson, Virginia. As discussed here after last Friday’s win over George Washington, Anderson has tied for or been the lead man in scoring for this team in every game this season. Last year’s Sixth Man of the Year followed up a solid start to the season last week with a perfect shooting night against Tennessee State (7-7 from the field, 5-5 from three) to notch 20 points. Anderson might be the hottest player in the conference right now not playing in Durham.

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