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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2011-2012 ACC Preview: #1 North Carolina

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected ACC regular season champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels.
2011-2012 Record: 13-2

Key Wins:
November 11- North Carolina 67, Michigan State 55
November 30- North Carolina 60, Wisconsin 57

Tough Losses:
November 26- UNLV 90, North Carolina 80
December 3- Kentucky 73, North Carolina 72

Starting Lineup:[table id=28 /]Last Year Against Duke:
February 9, 2011 at Duke- Duke 79, North Carolina 73
March 5, 2011 in Chapel Hill- North Carolina 81, Duke 67
March 13, 2011 at ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC- Duke 75, North Carolina 58

This Year Against Duke:
February 8, 2012 in Chapel Hill
March 3, 2012 at Duke

The Good: There’s no two ways about it. Whether you’re a North Carolina fan or a Duke fan or an anybody else fan, you must admit that North Carolina is an offensive juggernaut this season. The numbers don’t lie- first in the country in scoring at 88.1 points per game, first in the country in rebounding at 47.1 per game, second in assists with 19.7 per game. These numbers are absolutely absurd. The Tar Heels have scored less than 80 points in a game on just three occasions this season. They outrebound their opponents by 11.8 boards per game. North Carolina has gone at least nine deep in every game this season, and 15 players on their roster have played at least 11 games. This team has dominated the paint this year thanks to the play of John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Kendall Marshall is very difficult to stop in transition, dishing out 10 assists per game. Love them or hate them (and believe me, I hate them with a burning passion) this team is pretty damn talented.

The Bad: You can put this team on the line as much as you want and have little consequence. North Carolina is shooting a lackluster 64.0% from the foul line this season. In fact, only four players on the entire North Carolina roster are shooting above 70% from the free throw line on the year. This is a glaring weakness for a team with such an efficient offense. In the Tar Heels’ loss to UNLV, they shot just 20-for-33 from the line. Their woes from the line could certainly come back to haunt them if they get caught up in some tight games during their conference schedule. The question is, on how many occasions is their poor free throw shooting really going to matter? If they continue to build up 20 or 30 point leads on teams, not too much.

The Crazie: This team is almost perfectly put together, with five seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and five freshmen on North Carolina’s roster. This provides them with the perfect blend of experience and youth. Their tournament experience is fairly extensive as well. North Carolina’s seniors were a part of their last national championship team during their freshman year, and all players excluding the freshman made a run to the Elite 8 last season. It’s hard to think that just two years ago the Tar Heels went 20-17 on the year, finishing 10th in the ACC with a 5-11 conference record, and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time under Roy Williams.

Player We Love To Hate: Well considering they play basketball for Roy Williams, wear that ugly shade of blue, and call Chapel Hill, North Carolina their home, we love to hate every single player on that team. But if I had to pick, I couldn’t narrow it down to fewer than three players we love to hate the most. You have to start with sophomore Harrison Barnes. Not only is he the most talented player on the team and therefore the biggest target (see Redick, J.J.), but he also chose North Carolina over Duke after the consensus was that Duke had Barnes all but wrapped up. If going to the University of North Carolina doesn’t make you a big enough villan at Duke, that’s a good way to up your street cred. We also love to hate John Henson, who averages 15 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks per game and is one of the most efficient big men in the country. He’s given us fits on defense in the past, and is one of those “you hate him because you can’t stop him” players. Luckily for us, Henson’s younger sister Amber made the right choice and is playing basketball at Duke. And we can’t talk about hating on North Carolina without mentioning Kendall Marshall. You may also know him as @KButter5, or as we like to call him, the most ridiculously obnoxious guy in the entire Twitterverse. Though his tweets do often provide a fair amount of comedy, ranging from the fairly ridiculous to the…fairly more ridiculous. Not to mention he’s also a fantastic point guard, and Duke has had some pretty big problems with North Carolina point guards in the past (see Lawson, Ty). Oh and honorable mention for Tyler Zeller, whose brother Cody at Indiana is simply better at basketball than he is. What you mean you didn’t expect the “Player We Love To Hate” section to be the longest section of the UNC post?

The Bottom Line: This is a very complete basketball team with only one glaring weakness. It shouldn’t lose more than a couple games in the ACC regular season, and will more than likely split its matchups with Duke like it has in years past. They more than likely won’t win the ACC tournament, because typically Roy Williams doesn’t seem to care too much about that. Though I don’t think they’ll win it all, this very easily could be a Final Four year for these guys. Biased or not, anyone that says North Carolina isn’t the best team in the ACC is kidding themselves.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

Five Questions on Duke vs. UNC

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s finally that time of the year again.  After a Super Bowl weekend full of national anthem gaffes, provocative Groupon commercials, and a whole lot of Greg Jennings puttin’ the team on his back, we can finally focus on what really matters in the world of sports (at least to us). It’s finally time for us to shift our focus back to the hardwood as we approach what arguably is the greatest rivalry in sports: Duke versus UNC.   In anticipation of tonight’s matchup, Crazie-Talk compiled our own “Top 5” questions surrounding the game:

Mason Plumlee, showing off his post game against the Wolfpack (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

1)   Will the real Mason Plumlee please stand up?

One of the keys to a Duke victory is how well Mason Plumlee plays on both sides of the ball.  In Duke’s two losses thus far, the Sophomore Forward has combined for a measly 5 points, coming off of only one made field goal.  The volatile play, coupled with his 38% free-throw rate, remain key challenges that Duke must overcome if they expect to make a deep run in the tournament.  I expect Mason to have a solid shooting performance on Wednesday, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of those baby hooks he pulled against NC State.  But if he doesn’t show improvement in his shooting by mid-March, expect the “Hack-a-Plumlee”  to become a defensive staple among opposing teams.

2)   Can Duke hit free throws?

Though problems at the line primarily involve Duke’s big men, this year’s squad has uncharacteristically underperformed from the charity stripe.   Duke shot 53% from the line while missing 15 free throws in their last game against NC State, a stark contrast from the usually reliable teams of the past.  While the team successfully masked its free-throw deficiency against State, don’t expect for that trend to continue as conference play begins to heat up.  One can simply rewind back to the Derrick Rose-led 2007-2008 Memphis Tigers (or any Clemson team of the last 10 years) to see a prime example of how a talented squad can cripple under lackluster free-throw ability.

After weeks of tenting, K-Ville residents are finally ready for the biggest game of the year (photo courtesy of DukeBlue Planet.com)

3)   Will the three ball drop?

I know, I know—this entire article seems to revolve around shooting.  But on a team without the senior leadership of Zoubek and LT, it’s time to accept the fact that this squad will ultimately rely on its perimeter play.  It’s no secret that this team, similar to previous Blue Devil squads, relies heavily on the 3-point shot.  A good shooting night can lead to a blowout, but a poor performance can plague an entire team into defeat (see: St John’s game).  If Duke wants to beat a talented Carolina team tonight, they’ll need to find a balance in their offense if the 3’s don’t start falling.

4)   Does UNC’s return to the Coaches Top 25 mean anything?

It seems that John Henson and Co. took the “making other peoples’ lives relevant” concept to a whole new level.  As UNC re-enters the top 25,  The Tar Heels coincidentally have finally made themselves relevant again.  Sarcasm aside, this team has improved tremendously from the beginning of the season. Carolina has won three straight ACC games by 20+ points, the first time that has happened since the 05-06 season.  The recent success, which occurred in the midst of Larry Drew II’s sudden departure (validating the concept of ‘addition by subtraction’), hinges on the strong play of Henson, Barnes, and Drew’s replacement, Kendall Marshall.  They are coming into the tonight’s rivalry game with a lot of momentum, so expect a strong performance from UNC.

Larry Drew II, and his turnovers, will be sorely missed on Wednesday (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

5)   Who wins the game?

Had I written this post at the beginning of the year, I would’ve easily given the nod to Duke in this matchup.  The Blue Devils simply had more experience, offensive firepower, and coaching than their counterparts at Chapel Hill.  However, after the world’s most famous toe—no, not you Mrs. Rex Ryan—took away the nation’s most dynamic point guard, the two teams should enter tonight’s game on much more equal footing.  I expect for this game to be much closer than most may predict—a Duke victory with a margin of around 3-5 points.  At the very least, UNC will play much better than they did in last year’s epic fail (see video below).  Watch for the Cameron Crazies, as usual, to push the Blue Devils past the Tar Heels in a very physical matchup between the two rivals.

Prediction: Duke wins 73-70

BONUS QUESTION:

What will Rashad Mccants’s father post on Facebook after the game?

Appetite for Destruction

Shortly following Duke’s 82-50 decimation of North Carolina on Saturday, injured Tar Heel big man Ed Davis tweeted a single word: “Unreal.” Unfortunately for Ed, Roy Williams and the silenced legions of sissy blue, the game was very real. And it was beautiful.

Dan Shulman noted in the ESPN broadcast that the game was a 2 hour party for the Cameron Crazies. We had a lot to celebrate: senior night for Jon, Brian and Lance, a share of the ACC Championship, recruits watching in the stands, and so much more. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started.

A Fond Farewell on Senior Night

I think a lot of people teared up as Jon Scheyer was introduced before the game. For four years, Jon has been a consummate leader at Duke. An uncommonly intelligent player, Jon always has his game under control and is able to make the right decision. The fact that he was recruited as a shooting guard and is now a finalist for the Cousy Award, which honors the nation’s best point guard, speaks for itself. Jon is an extension of the coaching staff, a true team captain, and should be an All-American this season. I love the guy and wish Duke could keep him forever.

On Saturday night, Jon made his statement for ACC Player of the Year, finishing with 20 points and 7 assists (all of the helpers came in the first half). When he came out in the final minutes, his parents were emotional, particularly his mother. They are fan favorites and come to nearly every game. After three years of home losses to UNC, I’m glad the team gave Jim and Laury something to cheer for.

Lance and Brian played fewer minutes than Jon—with 16 and 20 respectively—but each made his presence felt. Zoubek is making me so sad; his play in the second half of the season has been such an improvement over the rest of his career. He had 8 points and 13 boards, and even had a little Dream Shake and jump hook on the baseline. Lance contributed two points and six rebounds before fouling out with about six minutes left to a rousing “LT! LT!” chant from the student section. His tough D, which earned him a spot on the All-ACC defensive squad, was once again stellar (although, what UNC player did he really have to shut down?) Lance may have the regal tattoo, but both he and Zoubs were Kings of New Jersey Saturday night.

ACC Champs!

In our ACC preview of the Tar Heels, we figured that it would be a race between UNC and Duke for the regular season title. Well, we were right about Duke at least. The victory put us at 13-3 and tied with Maryland for another regular season championship, our 12th. Although it’s tough to share anything—especially with the insane Turtle nation—it’s always good to hang a deserved banner.

Once again, the three (All-ACC) S’s led Duke to victory; Nolan, Kyle and Jon scored 65 combined points. So essentially, K could have thrown them out there with two mannequins and they would’ve beat the defenseless Holes by 15. (Also, Duke could have gone scoreless in the second half and still won 53-50.) Nolan crossed so many people that I lost count. In the first half, he left Larry Drew cemented to the floor and drove for a thunderous dunk. Kyle had 19 in the first half alone and was beating UNC by himself for several minutes. The Big Three came to play, and UNC was left cowering on the bench.

Having three legitimate 20 point scorers is a luxury that could translate to more postseason success. And as Coach K has repeatedly stated, even at the expense of a certain Chronicle sportswriter, our stars are not tiring out—and their continued dominance proves it. Earth, Wind and Scheyer (copyright!) will lead us deep into March.

The Crazies respond to Roy's equation (UNC's Season=Haiti Earthquake) with a little humor. (Courtesy DukeBluePlanet.com)

Coach K>Roy

With UNC’s season becoming more disastrous every game—even more so than Haiti, per Roy—attentive basketball fans have started to doubt Williams’ ability as a strategist. The guy can definitely recruit and is a great salesman of the powder blue program. And he has one great system predicated upon speedy point guards and forwards who can get up and down the floor. But this year, UNC has neither of these things. And Roy simply hasn’t adjusted.

Nor he has been particularly supportive of his players in this difficult season, a point this blog has made several times. Coach K, on the other hand, is still one of the game’s best in-game coaches and motivators. Early in the first half against UNC, he ripped into the Plumlee brothers for a poor defensive effort. After replacing them with Z and Lance, Coach K turned and told Miles and Mason—’that’s how you get a rebound!’ When Miles returned to the floor, he made a fantastic defensive play, stealing the ball and advancing it to Scheyer in transition. K rewarded him with more playing time. Miles came through again late in the game, when he flushed Duke’s final two points off a perfect alley-oop pass from Nolan. He nearly tore the rim off on that one—see the pictures for evidence.

The thing to take away from this exchange—no matter how ordinary it seems—is the way K uses anger and frustration to motivate his players. Instead of throwing them under the bus as Roy does, Coach K rewards his players for improvement and celebrates it with them when they perform better. Miles had a lot to say on this point after the game: see the video from WRAL here.

The Future Meets the Present

Several recruits and committed players witnessed our embarrassment of UNC. In addition to 2010 commits Kyrie Irving and Josh Hairston, several players visited to get a better look at Duke’s program. ’10 forward Michael Haynes, ’11 wing Michael Gbinjie and ’12 shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad took in the action from behind Duke’s bench. The latter two are both top 10 players in their classes, and Michael Haynes may be another option for next year along with JuCo recruit Carrick Felix. It’s too early to offer any judgments on our chances with Gbinjie or Muhammad, but Duke’s dominance surely made an impression.

Kyrie Irving, along with his St. Patrick’s classmate and Twitter stalwart blank908, had a great time in the first row. Irving and Hairston jumped up several times during exciting plays and cheered like mad. You can tell that these guys are itching to get to Duke next year and join this team. Kyrie had this to say after the game: “Hard to say goodbye…but I’ll be back in the summer…” We can’t wait to see what Irving, Hairston and Thornton bring to next year’s team, which has an opportunity to be one of Duke’s best in several years.

Tough Weekend for John Henson

John Henson was easily the best player on the floor for Carolina on Saturday night, finishing with 14 points on 5-10 shooting, including some improbable buckets in the post. However, Henson was the Crazies’ primary object of scorn, drawing catcalls like “Eat A Hamburger” and “Gumby! Gumby!” Nor did John improve his lot with his attitude; after dunking in the general vicinity of Miles Plumlee, Henson got a little too pumped up and talked trash while running back up the court. Perhaps he didn’t realize his team was still down by 30 points. Roy quickly pulled him out of the game and Henson was left looking like a sad version of Lil’ Twist from Young Money. (thanks to “bmorecity_bear” for the spot-on comparison).

But the weekend got worse for Henson, in a way. His sister Amber, a top-5 recruit in the class of 2011, committed to Joanne P. McCallie and the Duke Women’s basketball program on Sunday. Amber had considered joining her brother in Chapel Hill, but Duke’s medical program was too attractive. (Yes! Academic superiority is paying off!) Henson conceded his ‘defeat’ in having Amber choose Duke on his already legendary Twitter. I don’t mind him coming to “dook” to watch his sister, but I hope Cameron is always hostile to him when he suits up.

John Henson promises to be one of North Carolina’s better players for the years that he stays in Chapel Hill. Hopefully his sister is just as talented and can lead Duke Women’s basketball to its elusive first national championship to go with the conference tourney title they won on Sunday. What a great few days for Duke fans, and what an awful stretch for Gumby.

Nearly every bench on West Campus was burned in celebration of Duke's first home victory over UNC in five years. (property of Crazie-Talk)

Onward!

With all the joy following this weekend, it might seem alluring to curl up and watch the game replay over and over again on ESPN360. But as the seniors vehemently said in post-game speeches, this season is far from over. Duke has the tools to accomplish a lot more this year—an ACC tournament title, a number one seed, and a run at the Final Four.

And for once, I am more optimistic in March than in January. I can’t wait to see how high this team can fly.

Crazie-Talk was present for some serious pyromaniacs on Saturday night as benches burned on West Campus. One guy even tried to climb up on one of them! We do not suggest that, even if it was hilarious to see his buddies pull him off (“No, man, that’s a huge fire, not a jungle gym.”)

Check C-T later this week for our review of the ACC Tournament! Go Duke, and may UNC always lose by 30+.

Here’s a little video from the end of the game. Enjoy.