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.

 *     *     *

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.

Follow us on Twitter @crazietalker!

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?