Rasheed Sulaimon Crescendos While Quinn Cook Spirals

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 7th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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Amile Jefferson Channels His Inner Zoubek

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 4th, 2014

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

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K's lessons to heart

Amile Jefferson has taken Coach K’s lessons to heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Duke and North Carolina Making Adjustments After Slow ACC Starts

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

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

Duke

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

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

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

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

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Impact of Transfers on the ACC Narrative

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on January 9th, 2014

There has been a multitude of change in the college basketball landscape this season and the ACC is no exception. Incoming teams Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame have had good to great success in their inaugural ACC seasons, with the Orange and Panthers looking like two of the conference’s most elite teams. Even Notre Dame, likely the weakest of the three after losing star guard Jerian Grant, has had its shining moment in defeating Duke last weekend. While the ACC has taken some hits and cannot lay claim as one of even the best two conferences in the nation, those three teams have done their fair share to elevate the overall profile and are not to blame. And as the college basketball landscape shifts, so too do the tactics and strategies used by coaches and programs to keep up with competitive trends. The utilization of transfers was once something of a rarity among power conference teams and an equalizer for mid-major programs, but it is now becoming a more widespread commodity. The ACC is not unique in that regard, as the league has its fair share of transfers playing major roles on its teams this year.

Rodney Hood drives past two Kansas defenders (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Rodney Hood drives past two Kansas defenders (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Transfers can often be viewed as damaged goods, and some people tend to shy away from them as a result. But with many young athletes bouncing between high schools for various reasons, it has become more of a collegiate trend in recent years for players to seek instant gratification elsewhere. Coaches have learned that some transfers can bring an instant dose of maturity to a team and provide leadership and experience to propel a team to the next level. Many successful programs today have used that to great effect, including 14-0 Iowa State and 13-1 Oregon. It is difficult for a coach bring in new players and get them to mesh properly, and sometimes it backfires. UMass senior guard Chaz Williams is a great example of a successful transfer on an Atlantic 10 contender who has played a large role in turning Derek Kellogg’s program around. While the ACC doesn’t have any of those this season, the seven ACC transfers listed below have been meaningful contributors and are not too shabby in their own right.

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Duke’s New Starting Lineup Pays Dividends

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

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 80, UCLA 63

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 20th, 2013

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey filed this report after Duke’s win over UCLA on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke Used a Superb Second Half Effort to Run Past the Bruins

Duke Used a Superb Second Half Effort to Run Past the Bruins

  1. Duke is getting better defensively. After a so-so defensive first half, Duke held UCLA to 26 points on 34.5 percent shooting in the second stanza. In particular, Rodney Hood did a terrific job containing Jordan Adams and keeping him out of any kind of rhythm. The Blue Devils also frustrated Zach LaVine into a number of bad shots that fueled Duke’s transition attack. Holding the nation’s third-leading scoring team to 63 points is a feather in Duke’s cap and it appears Mike Krzyzewski’s much-maligned defense is starting to come together. If the Blue Devils can defend at this kind of level, they will be the clear favorites in the ACC.
  2. Rasheed Sulaimon may have found his role. Sulaimon had a terrific freshman season for Duke in 2012-13 but his second go-around in Durham has been anything but smooth sailing. After being benched against Michigan and playing only five minutes against Gardner-Webb, Sulaimon gained a lot of confidence in 18 minutes of action tonight. While he was only 3-of-7 from the floor, Sulaimon grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists. On a team with so many options, he needs to carve out a role for himself without trying to do too much. He did just that tonight and his teammates and coaches noticed. This should serve Sulaimon well going forward and get him out of Coach K’s doghouse.
  3. UCLA needs to figure it out defensively. UCLA entered the game allowing opponents to score 70.2 points per game but allowed 80 Duke points on 48.4 percent shooting. We knew defending the three-point line was going to be key for the Bruins tonight but they did not do a good job. Duke shot a lukewarm 34.4 percent from beyond the arc but it bombarded UCLA with 32 attempts and 11 makes. This has been a recurring issue for Steve Alford’s team this season and until it figures it out, there will be a ceiling to how far it can go. Offense can take you a long way but against top competition such as Duke and the kind they will face in the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins must do better.

Star of the Game:  Jabari Parker, Duke. The stud Blue Devil freshman shined once again under the bright lights. Parker put together a double-double, tallying 23 points and 10 rebounds on an efficient 7-of-13 shooting night. The 6’8” forward also recorded five assists in the win. UCLA had a difficult time matching up with Parker and it showed. He basically got what he wanted on any part of the court whether it was from long range or around the basket.

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Three Questions Previewing Duke and UCLA Tonight

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2013

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

Steve Alford, UCLA

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

1. Can UCLA guard the three-point line?

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

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

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ACC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on December 13th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Gobbler Country: Excellent interview with Virginia Tech alumnus Malcolm Delaney. Delaney is currently playing basketball in Europe with Bayern Munich. It’s very interesting to hear about his strategy for making a career out of basketball. To this point he’s only had one-year contracts in order to play his way into better leagues, but Delaney is looking to sign for longer now that he’s in a more stable league. He obviously sees his basketball career from a business perspective, and reading this piece you definitely get the feeling he won’t run into some of the bankruptcy issues many former athletes experience.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Mike Waters calls any advantage the new rules afford Syracuse because of its zone defense “overstated” and “misguided,” and statistically, he’s correct. However, I think playing zone is an advantage with respect to the new rules. Sure, Syracuse’s zone is about attacking and getting in passing lanes, and the Orange are only slightly above average in  how often they send opponents to the free throw line. But essentially — compared to the rest of college basketball, at least — Syracuse has the same free throw rate it did last year (because free throw rates went up with the new rule changes). But the responsibilities in a man-to-man defense are more likely to result in arm bars or hand checks when a defender gets beat, whereas in the zone there’s more help waiting. Waters is right that these advantages are being overblown.
  3. Backing the Pack: Apart from the horrible pun on Cat Barber’s name, this is an interesting article on NC State‘s improved defense this season. Only there’s one issue — I’m not sure where they got the team data, as rough calculations using Ken Pomeroy’s numbers shows the Wolfpack with a worse defensive efficiency than last season. It is notable that TJ Warren has improved his defensive rebounding percentage by nearly 50 percent compared to last season. This may be a product of not playing with Richard Howell as much as anything.
  4. Indianapolis Star: Mike Brey is sticking to his guns. After a disappointing loss to North Dakota State where the Bison scored nearly 1.1 points per possession against his team, Brey pointed to needing “to find that rhythm again on the offensive end.” What context we get makes it sound like he was disappointed that his team didn’t score more efficiently, not that he thought his defense was impeccable. But it’s still refreshing to see a coach, whose historical success comes mostly on one end of the floor, recognize his strengths.
  5. Sports Illustrated: Rodney Hood, who most considered a late first-round pick (or second-rounder), has jumped up several mock drafts and big boards around the web. Chad Ford has him at #11, while Sports Illustrated and Draft Express both have him at #14. Hood needs to establish more consistency, especially in the marquee games, to solidify his chance at the lottery.
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Duke Trying to Strike a Balance With Its Perimeter Defense

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 15th, 2013

Everyone knew Duke would be a very different team this season compared to 2012-13. Last year’s team was built around three seniors — Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, and Seth Curry. Plumlee was an athletic big man, but the other two relied on a high skill level to make up for a lack of elite athleticism. That team was clearly better offensively than defensively and had a very good year with a run to the Elite Eight and a loss to eventual national champion, Louisville. With the addition of some quicker and more athletic players, the expectation for this season was that Duke would get back to the effective pressure defense that Blue Devil championship teams of the past had shown. That was clearly not the case in Tuesday’s Champions Classic loss to Kansas. The offense was good, scoring 83 points in a 75-possession game, but the defense was not, allowing Kansas 1.25 points per possession and matching the worst performance Duke’s defense had in any game last year.

Duke could not stop Kansas down the stretch. (Photo: Getty images)

Duke could not stop Kansas down the stretch. (Photo: Getty images)

So what went wrong? There could be multiple reasons. but they may not all be fixable this season. The first explanation is that this is still a young and developing Duke team and it was only the second game of the year. Perhaps the ease with which the red-hot shooting Blue Devils dispatched Davidson in their opener gave the Blue Devils a false sense of where they really were as a team. That mentality seemed to be at issue down the stretch against Kansas. In his postgame interview, Mike Krzyzewski lamented the fact that his team just couldn’t get stops when they needed to, as if they were in a mindset that they could just outscore Kansas.

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Champions Classic Provides Kansas With an Early Opportunity To Improve

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2013

It’s very early in the college basketball season. Before you continue reading the rest of the preview for tonight’s showdown between Duke and Kansas, read that sentence again. Now read it again one more time, just for good for measure. I’ll wait here.

Now that we have that important housekeeping item out of the way, it’s now acceptable for everyone to lick their chops in anticipation of the nightcap of tonight’s Champions Classic in Chicago. It’s everything we could want in an early-season match-up: Two of the nation’s best programs, coaches and freshmen on a neutral court, with their biggest recruiting target in the house to take it all in. While both teams won their season openers Friday night, Kansas needs to change a couple of things if it wants to leave the United Center with arguably its biggest non-conference win since topping the defending champion Florida Gators in 2008:

Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins Needs to Work to Get Open More Often

  • Work To Get Andrew Wiggins Open: In Friday’s victory over Louisiana-Monroe, the Jayhawks struggled at times to get their freshman sensation open looks. Wiggins eventually finished with 16 points on nine shot attempts, and while that was hardly a bad game for someone criticized as passive, it won’t fly against better competition. Naadir Tharpe, who will make his season debut after being suspended for Friday’s opener, isn’t an elite passer – at least not yet. For Kansas to avenge a 2011 loss to the Blue Devils, Wiggins has to either meet his floor general halfway and work harder to get open, or his big-bodied teammates need to free him up — ideally, some combination of the two would occur. While Wiggins has the athleticism to create his own shot off the bounce, odds are he’ll fare better if he makes his defender (likely Rodney Hood) keep up with him from one possession to the next.

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Preseason ACC Microsite Awards: Joe Harris Preseason POY

Posted by Matt Patton on November 9th, 2013

The ACC microsite is happy to announce our preseason Player of the Year and all-ACC teams, as selected by the five writers contributing this season.

Preseason All-ACC

Some Notes:

  • Seven of 15 teams had at least one selection to the teams. Virginia and North Carolina led the way with two selections each.
  • Virginia’s Joe Harris received three of five votes for preseason ACC Player of the Year. Jabari Parker and CJ Fair received one vote each.
  • Harris and Fair were unanimous selections for the first team.
  • Duke’s Rodney Hood actually tied Virginia’s Akil Mitchell for votes, but Mitchell’s one first-team vote put him over the top in a tie-breaker.
  • Ryan Anderson, Quinn Cook, Travis McKie, Rasheed Sulaimon and Okaro White each received one second-team vote.
  • The first team has two seniors (Harris and Fair), two sophomores (Olivier Hanlan and TJ Warren) and one freshman (Parker).
  • The second team has more experience than the first team with three juniors and two seniors.
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