Tobacco Road Turnover

The Final Four has finally arrived, but for the second staight year, no team on Tobacco Road will be vying to cut down the nets this Monday. Instead, both Duke and UNC have shifted into offseason mode, which means a ton of chatter about early entry, recruiting, and projecting what next season’s squads will look like.

It’s safe to say that the top of the ACC next year will look very, very different.

On Monday, Duke officially said goodbye to Austin Rivers, ending an up-and-down season that, for better or for worse, revolved around Rivers. He became the stuff of legend on February 8th in Chapel Hill, but Duke struggled down the stretch and bowed out in Coach K’s first Round of 64 exit since 2007. Junior center Mason Plumlee still has yet to make a decision. This past season was Mason’s best yet, but he will likely not be a lottery selection in this year’s class. His decision will likely influence the decisions of recruits, like Amile Jefferson and Tony Parker. But until Mason chooses to go pro or not, we’ll have little to no idea what this Duke team will be like next year.

But Duke isn’t the only school with uncertainty lying ahead in 2012-2013. This afternoon, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Kendall Marshall announced their intentions to join Tyler Zeller as potential lottery selections in this year’s NBA draft.  Sophomore Reggie Bullock is the only remaining member of Carolina’s starting five who will be returning next year. It has been rumored that freshman James Michael McAdoo is also considering leaving early for the draft as well.

Many Duke fans are glad we'll never have to see these guys again. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

As you can imagine, these losses will be a great loss for the Tar Heels in the team’s efforts to repeat as ACC regular season champions next year. Barnes, Marshall, Henson, and Zeller accounted for just over 68% of North Carolina’s scoring last season. Barnes, Henson, and Zeller also combined to form arguably the nation’s most formidable frontcourt. The three accounted for 54.9% of the Tar Heels’ rebounds in 2011, and were much of the reason why North Carolina was the top rebounding team in the country at 45.2 boards per game. You also can’t forget about the role Marshall played as a distributor, setting the ACC assists record while averaging 9.8 per contest. With Kendall gone and Stilman White headed on a religious mission for the next two years, Huckleberry Hound will probably look to senior Dexter Strickland and freshman Marcus Paige to take up point guard duties.

This decimation of Carolina’s roster is an interesting twist in what has been an eventful offseason for the ACC thus far.Even with a recruiting class of four players coming in next season, North Carolina is essentially starting from scratch. As Carolina looks to rebuild (or as the national media will say ad nauseum, ‘reload’) and with Duke’s roster in flux, N.C State seems primed for a run to the top of the league. The Wolfpack, fresh off of a Sweet 16 run, will add three McDonald’s All-Americans as freshmen (T.J Warren, Rodney Purvis, and Tyler Lewis) next season – with the possibility of adding a fourth in Amile Jefferson. The only current N.C State player considering the draft is C.J Leslie, but regardless of his decision, State will be very, very strong next season. If Plumlee does indeed enter the draft and Duke misses on its three remaining targets, it won’t be unexpected to see the balance of power shift away from the blues next year.

This is just the beginning to what looks to be an eventful offseason. We’ll know more and more about what the Blue Devils will look like in the coming weeks.

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P.S. Remember November 13, 2009, when Harrison Barnes promised to leave a legacy at UNC? That ‘legacy’ will include zero championships of any kind, zero Final Fours, and a losing record against Duke. That’s really something to Skype home about.

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Trey Zeigler Visits Duke

Central Michigan shooting guard Trey Zeigler is on Duke’s campus Friday, according to team sources. Zeigler announced he was transferring from Central Michigan on Wednesday after his father and head coach, Ernie Zeigler, was fired after the Chippewas went 11-21 last season. In two years at Central Michigan, Zeigler played a huge role in the Chippewas’ offense. He led the team in both scoring and rebounding last season, averaging 15.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He will have two years of college eligibility remaining after he transfers.

The Blue Devils are very interested in the prospect of Zeigler joining the team. Although he did not receive an offer from Duke as a high school senior, Zeigler, a native of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. Despite not receiving an offer from Duke, he did receive interest from the coaching staff and was very interested in playing for Duke during his high school career. He received scholarship offers from Arizona State, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and UCLA before ultimately deciding to play for his father at Central Michigan.

He is exactly the type of player that Duke needs. Zeigler is a long and versatile wing player, something that the Blue Devils severely lacked last season. He has the ability to handle the ball and can play point guard, shooting guard, or small forward. He can finish at the rim with the best of them, and matches up much better on the defensive end with many of the ACC’s current stars. This news comes as a bit of consolation for Duke fans, as signs are currently pointing to both Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee departing early for the NBA. We are still waiting on official announcements from both of them as to their future plans.

Duke has a great record with recruiting transfers, and rarely has one who has visited campus not ended up playing for the Blue Devils. Notable Duke transfers from the past include Roshown McLeod, Dahntay Jones, and current Duke guard Seth Curry. Curry was the last player to transfer to Duke, coming from Liberty University after the 2009 season. He sat out the entirety of 2010 before becoming eligible to play.

Wake Forest: What to Watch For

After a four day layoff following their victory over Clemson on Sunday, Duke is back in action this evening as they square off with Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils remain the only undefeated team in the ACC, and look to push their record in conference play to 4-0 with a victory over the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest is 1-2 in ACC play this season, with their lone win coming in an upset of Virginia Tech. The Demon Deacons then lost two close battles to Maryland and North Carolina State. This matchup should not prove to be a particularly close one, but we know that anything can happen in conference play, so let’s take a look at Duke’s three keys to the game:

1. The First Eight Minutes
Though they have come away with three tough wins in their first matchups in conference play, Duke has not made it easy on themselves. The Blue Devils controlled the game’s opening minutes against Georgia Tech only to surrender a large run to end the first half and make the game close. They struggled to do so in their matchups with Virginia and Clemson, allowing both teams to take leads in the early going, forcing Duke to fight an uphill battle for the remainder of the first half. Though they were able to tough it out and seize control of the game later on, this is certainly not a habit they want to get into.

Duke should plan to look for Miles Plumlee early against Wake (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2. Go Inside Early And Often
If Duke is going to jump out to an early lead against Wake Forest, they’ll need to think long and hard about how they approach the beginning of games. Although the Blue Devils have typically relied on outside shooting to put teams away, they have struggled from deep as of late, shooting just 29.2% from beyond the arc in their past three wins. This is one of the reasons why Duke has fallen behind early in its last couple of contests- they start the game taking difficult shots that are not falling and quickly fall behind. The Blue Devils have been saved in conference play by the Plumlee brothers, who have continually asserted themselves as forces on the inside. Mason has been a go-to guy for the offense all season, and Miles has been coming on strong the past few games, so why not feed them the ball in the games opening minutes and let them get some easy points? This will allow Duke’s guard to get into the flow of the game before they start shooting long-range shots. Attacking the inside early will open up the perimeter for their shooters to knock down shots later in the game for a knockout blow.

3. Make Someone Other Than C.J. Harris or Travis McKie Beat You
Wake Forest is not a very good team. They’re not a very deep team, either. But they do have two of the top scoring threats in the ACC, and will rely on them heavily throughout the game. Junior C.J. Harris and sophomore Travis McKie average 17.3 and 17.1 points per game for the Demon Deacons, respectively. Both of them are capable of knocking down shots from anywhere on the floor. McKie, in particular, presents the most difficult defensive matchup for Duke. At 6-foot-7, he is a bit too big to be marked easily by Austin Rivers or Andre Dawkins, but may propose issues for one of the Plumlee brothers with his speed. If Duke can shut down both of these players, Wake Forest won’t have anyone else to turn to. Only seven players on the Demon Deacons roster average more than 11.1 minutes per game. They won’t go more than eight or nine deep very often, and this team is simply not talented enough to beat you if both of these players are not on their game.

Any conference game at Cameron is a good game, so tonight should be a lot of fun. Stay Crazie, my friends, and as always, go Duke!

Math 9314: Into the Trenches

Two hard-fought conference victories later, Duke sits atop the ACC as the only undefeated team. Despite trailing throughout the first half against both Virginia and Clemson, the Blue Devils were able to rally and overcome the adversity they faced. As Duke continues to grind out close victories and its top non-conference foes continue to win and rise in the rankings, the Blue Devils’ strength of schedule this year continues to look even more remarkable. Let’s take a look back at Duke’s past two victories using our motion chart and advanced metrics and see what the box scores from these games did not tell you:

Mason put his running hook to the test against Virginia (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Virginia:
Duke was able to eek out a close win against Virginia, but its safe to say that they were letting the Cavaliers play their game. Virginia slowed down the tempo of the game and kept the pace steady in half-court sets, and it showed for Duke statistically. The Blue Devils’ 61 points accounted for Duke’s lowest scoring output of the year, and it was just the first time all year they had won a game when scoring fewer than 68 points. The highest GameScore for Duke against Virginia was a mere 8.6 for Mason Plumlee, who shot an efficient 5-of-6 from the field but left quite a few points at the foul line, shooting just 2-for-10 on the game. With 12 points, Plumlee was Duke’s leading scorer, accounting for the lowest point total for Duke’s leading scorer since Tom Emma and Vince Taylor led the way with 12 apiece in a Duke loss to Maryland on January 9, 1982 in Mike Krzyzewski’s second year as the Blue Devils’ head coach. The final score of the game was 40-36. Duke scored 10 points in the second half. However, Duke’s consistency showed through against Virginia, with four players scoring in double figures the GameScores were reasonably consistent. Six of the eight Duke players that saw the floor against Virginia had GameScores between 5.1 and 8.6. It wasn’t pretty, but it was definitely a team effort out there.

You'd probably find this picture in the dictionary under "swag". (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Clemson:
Although it took a little time to get started up, Duke returned to its usual form in a 73-66 win over Clemson. Andre Dawkins led the way for the Blue Devils with 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 5-for-9 from behind the arc. With a tremendous GameScore of 20.0, this was the first time Dawkins had scored above 6.9 in a game in nearly a full month. The last time he accomplished that was in Duke’s win over UNC-Greensboro on December 19. But while Dawkins success was quite visible through his scoring output, some might argue that he was nearly overshadowed by the play of Miles Plumlee. Miles scored just six points, but pulled down 14 rebounds, six of them on the offensive end, in just 23 minutes. This accounted for an Oreb% of 29.81%, which statistically speaking is practically off the charts. As he continues to come on strong in the midst of his senior year, Miles can’t help but remind us of another Duke player from not too long ago. And in case you don’t remember, things turned out quite wellfor that team. Meanwhile, against Clemson Mason Plumlee played his usual Mason Plumlee game, scoring 12 points and adding seven rebounds on just an 18.55% Usage%. Mason’s performance was good for a GameScore of 9.8 as he continues to show consistency on the offensive end.

Can you say "dunk face"? (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

What We Learned:
Andre Dawkins is back in an upswing-After struggling for most of December and the beginning of January to the point where he often looked invisible on the floor, Dawkins is beginning to find his form again. After playing what Coach K called “his best defensive performance of the season” against Virginia, Dre exploded against Clemson in one of those classic “Andre Dawkins can’t miss a shot” games. Dawkins is playing some of the quality basketball we saw from him in the early part of the season, and at this point we just hope he can keep it up. He has the potential to be one of the greatest weapons in the ACC off the bench.

This team continues to fade in and out, but at some point it just has to click- It seems as though every player on this team has gone through its fair share of ups and downs this season with the exception of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. Though that is not ideal, it is good to see who is stepping up at this point in the season. The beginning of the season was all about Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly and then Austin Rivers began to take over in December, but now with Seth and Austin struggling Miles Plumlee, Quinn Cook, and Andre Dawkins are picking up their slack. You have to think that sometime soon Rivers and Curry will get back on top of their games, and if everyone else can continue to produce this team has the potential to be very scary down the stretch.

Duke and Virginia: What to Watch For

A few weeks ago we took a look at Virginia in our ACC preview, and now it’s time for the Cavaliers to come to Cameron to take on Duke. Although the Blue Devils have been the victors of their last 39 games at home, this is not an opponent to take lightly. Virginia comes into the game with a stellar 14-1 record, won the first conference game, and are ranked 16th in the AP top 25. This should be the toughest test Duke faces at home all season before the Tar Heels come to town on March 3rd. The Blue Devils have struggled in their past two outings, so let’s see what they’ll need to do to beat the Cavaliers tonight.

1. Push the tempo
Virginia is a team that likes to play slow, and when I say slow, I mean slow. They are at their best when they grind out defensive games (The Hoos are ranked ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Duke is ranked fiftieth). Duke needs to do everything it can to keep Virginia on its toes and uncomfortable as possible, and that means push the ball. Inserting Quinn Cook into the starting lineup recently should help that. Cook’s quickness and playmaking ability allows Duke to move at a faster pace on the floor than when Tyler Thornton or Seth Curry are running the point. When it all comes down to it, Duke scores 82.1 points per game and Virginia allows 50.5 points a game– something’s gotta give. Duke has only won one game this year when it scored fewer than 70 points, so they are going to need to keep the game moving and push Virginia to do the same.

Mike Scott will be a tough matchup for the Blue Devils (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2. Lock down Mike Scott
In a year where Duke and North Carolina are considered to be the upper echelon teams in the ACC, it’s hard to think the Conference Player of the Year will be anyone but a Blue Devil or a Tar Heel. But right now it seems as though Virginia’s Mike Scott is one of the frontrunners for the award. Scott is the go-to-guy in Virginia’s offense, averaging 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season. Most recently he paced the Cavaliers with 23 points and eight rebounds in their 52-51 victory over Miami on January 7th. Scott is a dangerous scorer and will look to take advantage of the Blue Devils inside. Duke has struggled with interior defense at times this season. If they want to enhance their chances of winning tomorrow, they need to make someone other than Mike Scott beat them.

3. Jump out to an early lead
There’s no better way to make Virginia play a more up-tempo game than forcing them to play from behind early. This was one area where Duke succeeded against Georgia Tech (though they would later relinquish the large lead they had built up in the early stages of the game). The first eight minutes of the game will be crucial ones for the Blue Devils, and will set the tone for the remainder of the contest. If Duke can knock down its shots and jump out to an early lead, it will put Virginia on its toes, but if the Cavaliers stay with the Blue Devils early or jump out to an early lead of their own, we could be in store for a long night in Cameron.

The Plumlee brothers have excelled in the paint as of late (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

4. Control the paint
There’s no two ways about it- Virginia is not a very big team. They have a 7-foot center in their starting lineup, but they have just one other player on their roster that is larger than 6-foot-8. At 6-8 himself, Mike Scott can play like a big man, but the size differential remains nonetheless. Duke needs to take opportunities to feed the ball down low to Miles and Mason Plumlee, who have played fantastic basketball while Duke has struggled as of late. The unsurprising chemistry between the brothers has really started to kick in, and facing a smaller Virginia lineup, they need to assert themselves early and often.

5. Austin Rivers needs to step up
Big players step up in big games, and after struggling in his past three contests you feel like Rivers might be due to break out tonight. It would certainly be a coming-out party for him to explode in a game in front of the home fans against another top 25 team. You can talk about Austin Rivers’ ego all you want, but fact is he is one of the hardest working basketball players in the country, so you know that after three straight subpar performances he is chomping at the bit to show the country what he can really do. If Duke can get the Austin Rivers we saw in December, they will be tough to take down on their home floor.

 

 

Bold Prediction:
The best homecourt advantage in college basketball will rear its head tonight. Duke keeps Virginia at a distance for much of the game, with Mason Plumlee pacing the Devils between the blocks.

Duke 75, Virginia 65