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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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 23rd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcsouthregion for reporting from Houston this week. You can find all four regional resets here.

New Favorite: #1 Duke. The Blue Devils are well-positioned to make their first Final Four since 2010. Two wins in Charlotte (by an average of 24.0 PPG) did little to diminish their status as the South Region favorite, even with Gonzaga and Utah also impressively advancing en route to Houston. Duke, 31-4 and trending upwards, has made clear the crown will go through them.

Quinn Cook And Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise By San Diego State And Into The Sweet 16

Quinn Cook and Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise by San Diego State and into the Sweet Sixteen. (Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #11 UCLA. The only double-digit seed left standing in this NCAA Tournament is the South Region’s darkest horse, despite that double-digit seed owning more national titles than any program in the history of college basketball. UCLA’s serendipitous March has been well-documented, but 80 minutes of solid basketball earned the Bruins a trip to Houston and the second weekend. The impediment to advancement (Gonzaga) will be significantly greater in Houston; can UCLA’s mutation into Cinderella maintain itself for another weekend?

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Iowa State. It was the quick departure of a pair of #3 seeds from the Big 12 that supplied this year’s NCAA Tournament an early jolt on Thursday afternoon. Baylor’s demise on the other side of the bracket was surprising in its own right, but Iowa State’s loss to UAB was legitimately shocking. Fresh off a takedown of Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game, the Cyclones had entered this tourney with engines revving. The draw was favorable in the South – many believed a Final Four run was in the cards. At worst, a second round victory over 14-point underdog UAB felt like a certainty. But the impossible becomes possible very quickly this time of year; before anyone knew it, Iowa State had become the first casualty of the Madness of March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 74, Duke 64

Posted by Matt Patton on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the first half. The Irish hit some unbelievably tough shots and made Jahlil Okafor try to beat them on his own. As a result, Duke’s other players went 4-of-16 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Notre Dame may be the only team in the country with five guys who can consistently hit shots (although Duke has some lineups that also fit that description). The Irish smothered Duke by forcing the guards to play deeper than usual and fronting Okafor. They also hit shots, lots of them. Mike Brey’s team had a total of five and-ones in the first half alone. Five. When Duke went to its zone, Bonzie Colson just crushed the Blue Devils from the high post. When they went back to man, Demetrius Jackson got to the rim with incredible ease. Even in the second half when Duke started making its eventual run, Notre Dame’s ability to get to the rim (and the free throw line) felt like the reason Duke never got it back to a single-possession game.
  2. Demetrius Jackson is destined for great things. This may be an obvious statement (Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American, after all), but Jackson is a fantastic young player. He brings an athletic dimension to Mike Brey’s team that has been somewhat missing over the years. Jackson frequently broke Duke’s three-quarter court pressure like no one was there with his quick bursts of speed and playground dribbling moves in traffic. He also got to the rim with ease, finishing the evening with five assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes of action. If there’s a reason to still be bullish on the Irish next season without Jerian Grant, it’s because the sophomore Jackson is ready to take over the team.
  3. Mike Krzyzewski was remarkably calm. Coach K has a reputation of being curt and snippy in his pressers after Duke losses, but other than a defensive response to a question about last year’s team not meeting expectations, he was remarkably measured. I have a few theories on this attitude. The most likely idea is that he felt like Duke would have won the game if Quinn Cook hadn’t been gassed (Krzyzewski said on Thursday that Cook had been fighting off an illness). Cook went 1-of-10 from three on mostly good looks (0-of-8 in the second half) and he did a good job defending Jerian Grant, but it just looked like he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. The other theory is that Krzyzewski really liked the way Justise Winslow and Okafor fought back after horrible first halves.

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ACC M5: 02.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Orlando Sentinel: Let’s start with our game of the night. Florida State almost came back to knock Miami right out of any NCAA Tournament talk thanks to Xavier Rathan-Mayes turning into a video game character for four minutes. Rathan-Mayes scored 26 points in just 3:36 of action (h/t to Michael Rogner). I’m calling it right now: We’re seeing a serious shakeup in the ACC next year. I think Florida State and NC State are both going to be really, really good. Duke needs Tyus Jones to return and Virginia needs Justin Anderson to do the same. North Carolina will be good with most of its players returning, but the Heels desperately need a shooter. Notre Dame and Louisville will both take steps backwards. That leaves plenty of room for a team or two to jump in from the periphery.
  2. SBNation: In our other game of the night, Duke managed to stave off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Duke’s defense looks awful (if you had the Hokies putting up an offensive efficiency of over 130.0 — easily the worst Duke has given up this year — please take your lies elsewhere), and while Jahlil Okafor will get the press (and his 30 points that easily could’ve been 35 if he had made some free throws), Quinn Cook is what kept Duke from being blown out of the gym. The Hokies couldn’t miss a three but Cook answered every volley with a shot of his own (including a dagger in overtime). This game highlighted the weird conundrum that is Duke this year: When they’re on, they can beat anyone (and badly); but when the Blue Devils’ defense is struggling, they’re quite average. Nick Fasulo does a good job pointing out how overlooked Cook has been this year, as he’s quietly been one of the most efficient players in the country. His usage doesn’t merit a first team All-ACC selection, but Cook deserves more credit for this team’s success.
  3. Washington Post: Moving on to a less competitive game, Wake Forest forgot to show up against an undermanned Virginia team in Winston-Salem last night. It looked like Tony Bennett’s squad was out for blood (the Demon Deacons should have bested the Cavaliers in Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago), and this is a good story on Virginia’s eraser in the paint, senior Darion Atkins. He’s a huge reason why the Cavaliers’ defense is still one of the best in the country even after losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. He’s also a quiet part of why Virginia hasn’t fallen off too much in Justin Anderson’s absence.
  4. CBSSports.com: Sam Vecenie took a look at the ACC Player of the Year race, and it’s pretty amazing. You have the National Player of the Year candidates (Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant); the stat machines without the accompanying team success to make the national spotlight (Olivier Hanlan and Rakeem Christmas); and you have the awesome players who struggle because a teammate is so good (Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson; Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell). That doesn’t even get us to guys like Trevor Lacey or Tyus Jones who have been unreal in the clutch this year. Pretty awesome problem to have.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: As we approach bracket season, it’s important to not only think about the bubble but also how personnel losses will affect teams’ seeds. It’s unlikely that Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal will have any bearing on Duke’s line (the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Virginia and North Carolina since he was dismissed), but Louisville without Chris Jones is another story. This is a really thorough look at Louisville’s current profile (along with some explanations of the bracketing rules).

EXTRA (via Will Brinson): Abdul-Malik Abu promised two of the Chapel Hill shooting victims that NC State would beat Duke and North Carolina this year (as a wedding present), and with the win over teh Heels he made good on the gift.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 23rd, 2015

With no match-ups between the ACC’s elite teams this weekend, the focus instead was on two important road contests for teams trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Miami let a big lead slip away to lose at Louisville on the game’s final possession, and Pittsburgh improved its resume in completing a season sweep of Syracuse. Around the rest of the league, both Duke and North Carolina were able to put Wednesday’s emotionally draining overtime epic behind them and score comfortable home wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively. The Blue Devils played without star center Jahlil Okafor, who is still nursing an ankle injury suffered in that win last Wednesday. At the start of North Carolina’s game, Roy Williams paid homage to Dean Smith by running Smith’s famed Four Corners offense on the Heels’ first possession. In other weekend action, Virginia outlasted Florida State in a defensive struggle; Notre Dame cruised to victory at Boston College; and N.C. State took care of business by beating Virginia Tech in Raleigh. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Pittsburgh's Chris Jones came off the bench to score 19 as the Panthers keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh’s Chris Jones came off the bench to score 19 as the Panthers keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive.
(Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Pittsburgh plugged a gaping hole in its NCAA Tournament resume by getting its first road win of the season versus an RPI top-100 team at Syracuse. The Panthers’ win at the Carrier Dome featured yet another productive offensive performance by Jamie Dixon’s squad against the vaunted Syracuse zone. Pittsburgh scored 1.18 points per possession on Saturday after posting 1.22 in its earlier win over the Orange, giving the Panthers the two highest totals allowed by Jim Boeheim’s squad all year long. A look at previous meetings over recent years suggests that Dixon may have cracked the zone’s code. In the teams’ last 10 meetings dating back seven years, Pittsburgh has averaged 1.08 points per possession against a Syracuse defense that annually finishes among the nation’s best. If they haven’t already done so, perhaps ACC coaches around the league should study and emulate that strategy (easier said than done).

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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 Stock Watch – New Year’s Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 2nd, 2015

As we welcome 2015, the ACC’s 15 teams have all concluded their non-conference seasons. In the New Year’s edition of this week’s ACC Stock Watch, we’ll examine the league’s trending players and teams based on how they were predicted to finish in conference play (you can view the preseason ACC media projections here) and how they’re playing now.

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils are on fire to start the season. Their veterans have ceded major roles to the star freshmen without complaint or drop-off in production. Their 12-0 start includes good wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Temple and Stanford.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke. Taking over the reins of a national championship contender is difficult enough, but unseating a senior in Quinn Cook and maintaining harmony on the floor is really something else. Jones has emerged as a true revelation and has made the Duke offense (the most efficient in college basketball) hum. Even his high school coach didn’t think he’d be this good so fast.
Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he's been a revelation for Duke (Lance King)

Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he’s been a revelation for Duke (credit: Lance King)

  • Virginia. Everyone knew the Cavaliers would be good again, but possibly better than last year? They’ve already held two teams to single-digit points in a half, and Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris have been capably replaced. Hopefully the recent defensive showing against Davidson was an aberration (72 points allowed by a Virginia team that had holds opponents under 50 per game on the year).
  • Notre Dame. A 13-1 start is great and this team is rolling on the offensive end. The Fighting Irish currently rank third in the country at 86.0 points per game and are shooting an otherworldly 55.4 percent from the field (best in the country). However, questions exist about the strength of Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule.

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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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ACC Stock Watch – Week One

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 21st, 2014

Each week here at the microsite we’ll take a look at which ACC teams and players are trending up, down, or remaining flat. It’s still very early in the season, but there are some trends to be gleaned from the first week of opening games. Let’s take a look below:

Trending Up

  • Duke. Despite all of the preseason hype placed on Duke’s freshmen (Jahlil Okafor in particular) and speculative questions about overall team chemistry, the Blue Devils have looked the part of a title contender thus far. Their blowouts over Presbyterian and Fairfield may not have convinced anyone, but their wire-to-wire victory over Michigan State showed that Duke is already in top form.
  • Miami. The Hurricanes’ early returns on their big-name transfers have been outstanding. Sheldon McClellan (from Texas) is putting up 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game through two contests, and former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez is not only averaging a team-high 18.3 points per contest, but he also hit the game-winning three over rival Florida that ended the Gators’ 33-game home winning streak. Pretty solid start for Jim Larranaga’s newcomers.
Angel Rodriguez has brought pleasant early returns for Miami (USA Today Sports)

Angel Rodriguez has produced pleasant early returns for Miami (USA Today Sports)

  • Virginia Tech. Why are the Hokies trending up when they only have wins over Maryland-Eastern Shore and Liberty? Well, go back in time one year ago and Virginia Tech had just lost its season opener to South Carolina Upstate. At a minimum, Buzz Williams has his team beating the teams it should beat, something last year’s group couldn’t boast. Freshman Justin Bibbs’ solid start to the season has been a pleasant surprise as well.

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Duke Gets a Passing Chemistry Grade… So Far

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2014

Duke has been very impressive so far this season, winning handily over Presbyterian on Friday and stomping Fairfield on Saturday. Both of those games were played in the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, but before the Blue Devils face their first stiff challenge of the young season against Michigan State tonight in the Champions Classic (ESPN 7:00 ET), let’s look at what we have learned about Duke so far.

Freshman Justise Winslow Has Been Aggressively Attacking the Basket in Duke's Early Games. (Mark Dolejs - USA Today Sports)

Justise Winslow Has Been Aggressively Attacking the Basket in Duke’s Early Games. (Mark Dolejs – USA Today Sports)

  • Jahlil Okafor is the real deal, but so is Justise Winslow. Okafor has been every bit as good as everyone expected. In the first two games of his career, the Chicago big man has averaged 18.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game while making an outstanding 17-of-20 shots from the field — these proficient numbers earned him the first ACC Freshman of the Week award this season. In the future, Okafor’s primary competition for that honor may be his teammate Winslow, who is also playing very well on both ends of the floor. He has scored on frequent aggressive drives and shown a better than advertised outside shooting touch, going 3-of-5 on three-point shots. He also gives Duke an athletic lockdown wing defender, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Durham since Nate James. A great thing about being on press row in Cameron Indoor is how close you are to the action — up close, the maturity of Winslow in both physique and focus in his eyes is obvious when he’s in a defensive stance. That’s why he’s already been showing up in a handful of 2015 NBA mock drafts as a first-rounder. In fact, the whole freshmen class has an impressive level of maturity. Point guard Tyus Jones is off to a solid ball-handling start — passing for 12 assists while only committing three turnovers — and Grayson Allen is excelling in Duke’s up-tempo style with his great athleticism.

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ACC Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by mpatton on November 14th, 2014

Over the last two weeks, we have previewed each team individually to go with several more articles to get you ready for ACC basketball (first tip: 6:00 PM ET in Durham). Links to the previews can be found in each of the preseason power rankings listed below. Also look for our preseason conference awards which will publish later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Duke Blue Devils 1. Duke (58): Everyone knows about the freshmen, and they are sensational. But are Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon ready to put together a consistent season from start to finish? That answer may determine whether the Blue Devils are Final Four-bound or facing another early departure from the Tourney.
Virginia Cavaliers T2. Virginia (53): Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell didn’t light up the scoreboard in Charlottesville, but their leadership and savvy was key in Virginia’s magical run last year. Can Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson assume larger roles and keep Tony Bennett‘s team in the national limelight?
North Carolina Tar Heels T2. North Carolina (53): Everyone knows about Marcus Paige, and the Tar Heels should be better at the line and from three with the addition of some talented freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have to bring it every night in the paint for this team to reach its potential.
LouisvilleLogo 4. Louisville (52): The Cardinals probably have as good a shot as any of the top four. While they will have to learn how to play a new set of conference opponents in unfamiliar arenas, the ACC will have to adjust to Rick Pitino’s style of pressure defense with multiple schemes. Most of the key contributors are now gone from the 2012-13 National Championship squad, but the program brings a culture used to winning at the highest level.
Syracuse Orange 5. Syracuse (42): There are a lot of questions about the Orange after Tyler Ennis’ and Jerami Grant’s early departures. Jim Boeheim has a talented team that won’t be an easy out, but there are a lot of questions about how the offense will run with another freshman, Kaleb Joseph, at the helm.
Florida State Seminoles 6. Florida State (38): The Seminoles haven’t been their usual defensive selves the past two seasons, but this year Leonard Hamilton has three experienced big men along with a cadre of long perimeter players. Aaron Thomas may be the most underrated player in the ACC, which bodes well for things in Tallahassee this year.
Pittsburgh Panthers 7. Pittsburgh (37)Jamie Dixon has a tradition of replacing departed stars with veterans. For Pitt to win games against the ACC’s elite, Cameron Wright and James Robinson must continue that trend and get some help, maybe a year earlier than the norm, from the talented sophomore class. One would think they are due for a healthier year than last, when midseason injuries really set the team back.
NC State Wolfpack 8. NC State (34): T.J. Warren is gone, so this team has to find its offense by committee. Tyler Lewis is too, so Cat Barber will have to be efficient and also seek his own shot. The maturation of a young frontcourt will be key. Mark Gottfried has historically impressed with low expectations.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9. Notre Dame (32): It won’t be a surprise if Zach Auguste makes a big jump in production as a junior, but beyond that is nothing but unproven post players. With the perimeter filled with talent and experience, keeping Auguste healthy and out of foul trouble may be the key as the Irish try to make a dramatic jump in the standings. Jerian Grant is a contender for ACC Player of the Year.
Miami Hurricanes 10. Miami (25): Arguably the best coaching job in the country last year happened in Coral Gables. If Jim Larranaga gets this team to improve, the Hurricanes will be significantly better than many expect. Manu Lacomte needs to make the leap and lead a young team in a very tough conference.
Clemson Tigers 11. Clemson (18): Brad Brownell showed that even without a ton of obvious roster talent, the Tigers will be competitive — especially on defense. This season he has to prove that again without K.J. McDaniels. It’s unclear who the go-to player will be, so Clemson’s offense could hold this team back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 12. Wake Forest (17): Wake may be ready for a solid rise in the ACC standings as early as next year. This year will be a challenge, but momentum could be built towards a good 2015-16 season. Juniors Devin Thomas on the inside and Cody Miller-McIntyre in the backcourt will dictate how good this team is.
Boston College 13. Boston College (12): A year and coach removed from last year’s disappointing effort leave a lot of questions in Chestnut Hill. Olivier Hanlan will always be worth the price of admission, but he may not have enough supporting cast to escape the dregs of the ACC unless Dennis Clifford can finally stay healthy.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (10): It’s really hard to see Brian Gregory surviving as coach here if the Yellow Jackets don’t make the postseason this season. It’s also hard to see this Georgia Tech team finishing in the top half of the ACC, which is what it would probably take to get that NCAA bid — or even a trip to the NIT. The odds of Gregory being in Atlanta after March 2015 are not very good.
Virginia Tech Hokies 15. Virginia Tech (6): Virginia Tech will again be among the cellar-dwellers in the ACC, but at least it has come cachet with the hiring of Buzz Williams. They’ll be serviceable in the backcourt with Devin Wilson returning, but it will be a year or two before we can evaluate the viability of the Hokies as competitive in the conference.

Miscellaneous Power Rankings Notes:

  • Coach K reloadsDuke was the top choice again this year with another one-and-done big man, but the Blue Devils weren’t the unanimous pick. Virginia and Louisville both got a first place vote.
  • Clear Contenders: North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia (in some order) rounded out everyone’s top four, marking a distinct upper tier in the conference.
  • Media/Microsite solidarity: For the second season in a row, no teams differed from the preseason media poll by more than two spots.
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