Section 17: Clean Slate

Miles addressing the crowd on Senior Night (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

No, the regular season did not end the way Duke wanted it to. There was no celebration, there were no championship banners, just Miles Plumlee standing at center court thanking the Duke faithful on senior night. Good news is, starting today, none of that matters. Duke saw its first action in the ACC tournament Friday night when it dispatched the 2nd-seeded Blue Devils dispatched of 10th-seeded Virginia Tech by a score of 60-56 at Atlanta’s Phillips Arena. Many call this tournament the Duke Invitational- Duke has been crowned champions of the ACC tournament in 10 of the last 13 seasons.

However, this year, the road to another ACC tournament championship would be a little bit tougher. Just as the regular season ended on a bad note with a loss to Carolina, the first days of the postseason were not favorable for the Blue Devils as well. On Tuesday the team received news that Ryan Kelly would be unable to play in the ACC tournament due to a sprained right foot that he suffered during practice. Kelly was not only a crucial piece of the Blue Devils offense due to his size, versatility, and ability to hit from outside, but he was also a part of Duke’s thin frontcourt rotation. While typically utilizing a three guard attack, Duke normally only uses Kelly along with Miles and Mason Plumlee at its forward spots. Especially with the Plumlees finding themselves in foul trouble during Duke’s last few games, this meant that the Blue Devils would have to attack Virginia Tech with an undersized lineup.

Duke will have to win the ACC tournament this year without Ryan Kelly (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)


The Duke team that we saw on the court against Virginia Tech was different from the team we’d been watching all season. This was both good and bad. Unlike the team we’d seen knock down shots from long distance all year, Duke was not stroking it from deep against the Hokies. They only shot 5-for-26 on the game- just a 19.2% clip, half of their season average. Meanwhile, Duke played far scrappier basketball than I’d seen them play all year. They were getting it done with defense, and although they only forced 10 Hokies turnovers on the game, a little bit of hustle went a long way for Duke. It seemed as though they were everywhere on the defensive end. They were timing their switches perfectly and their help-side defense was working to perfection. It seemed as though nearly every Virginia Tech shot was a contested one, and although the Blue Devils struggled on the glass in the game’s opening minutes, they were able to pull down crucial rebounds when it counted the most.

Yes, this was an ugly game. A very ugly game. The first half was close throughout, and even when Duke started to knock down shots and pull away in the second half, Virginia Tech was able to find its way back into the contest. But personally I’m willing to sacrifice some style points for fighting out a gritty win. I’d much rather win a close game by playing sound defense and hustling than by shooting the lights out and running away by 30. The shots will start to fall, but this is the type of basketball we need to be playing regardless of whether or not we’re knocking down jumpers. As we progress farther into postseason play, we’ll need to do both to beat some of the best teams in the country. But for now, I am perfectly content with playing lockdown defense while we wait for this shots to start falling.

Kelly’s absence meant more playing time for Josh Hairston, who stepped up admirably off the bench and contributed 17 quality minutes. This was the most Hairston has played in a game since December 30. Although he only contributed four points and three rebounds, Hairston was a huge part of Duke’s defensive presence throughout the game. His ability to hustle on defense and body up in the paint was huge when playing with an undersized team. Especially when Miles Plumlee had to head to the bench in the first half after picking up two early fouls, Hairston’s effort was crucial to Duke’s success in this game. After not seeing very much action in most of his team’s biggest games this year, props to Josh for stepping up when Duke needed him the most.

13 is a lot of 3-point attempts, but how can you not shoot them when you're this wide open? (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Tyler Thornton was the MVP of this game. He contributed a career-high 13 points, adding four rebounds, two assists, and three steals. But it was what he added that doesn’t show up on a box score that was most important. Tyler emerged as a floor general tonight, similar to what we saw from him earlier in the season. He controlled the pace of the game, and embraced the fact that his team would have to grind out a win. He was constantly vocal on both ends of the floor, which was crucial to Duke’s success, especially on the defensive end. Although he only registered three steals, he completely changed the game on the defensive end, knocking down many passes, providing constant pressure, and getting in the face of Virginia Tech’s star guard, Erick Green, and making him fight for every shot. Tyler was also not afraid to step up and take big shots. He knocked down Duke’s opening bucket of the game with a 3-pointer, and little did we know but that would set the tone for the rest of the game. Thornton would go on to take 16 shots, including 13 from beyond the arc, which would be too many for him, if not for the amount of open looks he was getting. For some reason Virginia Tech felt very free to rotate off of him to supply double teams, leaving him open for a lot of looks. He’ll need to knock down a few more of those open threes moving forward, but he was definitely a presence that changed the outcome of this game.

Seth was a warrior in the second half, fighting to contribute until the shots started falling (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

This game highlighted a huge difference between Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry- Curry can still contribute when he does not score. Both of these players did not have very good games, each entering halftime without getting on the scoreboard. Dawkins was unable to bounce back, while Curry was able to fight through and make a difference. Andre finished 0-for-5 from the floor in 14 minutes. He looked lost on both ends of the floor. Seth turned it on in the second half, knocking down a huge three to get on the board and finished with nine points, six rebounds, and five assists. The Blue Devils had missed their previous 10 3-point attempts before Curry hit that shot. That kind of mental toughness is something that all of Duke’s players can take a lesson from moving forward.

We've come to expect these sorts of games from Mason Plumlee (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Mason Plumlee was his usual man-child self, but with an added twist. Not only did he manage yet another efficient game with 12 points and 10 boards on 4-of-6 shooting, he went 4-for-5 from the free throw line. He’s shooting 79% from the charity stripe in his last three games, and has made a conscious effort to improve his free throw shooting during the second half of this season. Ever since his terrible 2-for-10 fiasco against Virginia, he’s been a different free throw shooter. I know it sounds a bit scary to say it, but I actually felt confident watching Mason Plumlee step to the line against Virginia Tech. Hopefully he’s able to carry this forward- he’s definitely getting hot at the right time.

It wasn’t pretty, it was very scrappy, but I think there are a lot of positives to pull out of a game that overall was not a very positive one. We showed that we could win without Ryan Kelly (keep in mind that we don’t know how long it will be until he is 100% again), we showed that we can win without hitting long range shots, and we showed that we can win by defending, not simply by outscoring our opponents. It’s a little disheartening to play inferior teams and consistently find ourselves in close game, but let’s face it, it’s tournament time. The only type of postseason game is a close game. By playing in high pressure situations throughout the season, we’re putting ourselves at an advantage over teams like Kentucky that are blowing their opponents out every night. Regardless of whether or not the other team is good enough to be playing us that tightly, learning how to win gritty, tight contests is how you have success in March. It’s time to put that to the test.

Around the ACC: Week 2

ACC action is now in full swing, and we just capped off the first full week of exciting games. We’ll be examining Duke’s victory over Clemson later today, but for now let’s look into the best games in the past week of ACC action.

January 10- Florida State @ Virginia Tech
Florida State 63, Virginia Tech 59
The Hokies dropped their second straight conference game with a 63-59 loss at home against Florida State. Bernard James led the way for the Seminoles with 18 points and 15 rebounds while Ian Miller added 15 points of his own off the bench. Erick Green carried the load for Virginia Tech, scoring a game-high 21 points but shooting just 5-of-14 from the floor. The Hokies were able to rally from a nine-point halftime deficit, but were ultimately doomed by their poor shooting. Virginia Tech shot just 30.5% from the field on the game. With the score at 61-59 with 17.8 seconds to play, the Hokies had a chance to tie the game, but Green was unable to convert. Two Florida State free throws sealed the victory, rebounding from a crushing 79-59 loss on the road to Clemson to open their ACC schedule.

January 11- Wake Forest @ Maryland
Maryland 70, Wake Forest 64
The Terrapins jumped out to an early lead, going into the half up 40-24, but Wake Forest was able to make a game of it in the second half. Guard Terrell Stoglin, who is the ACC’s leading scorer, came off the bench for just the second time this year and led Maryland with 20 points. However, these points came at a cost, as he shot just 6-of-18 from the field on the night. Travis McKie led the way for the Demon Deacons, tying a career-high 25 points. Wake Forest was able to pull within six at 60-54 with 5:35 remaining in the game, but could not get the deficit to any less than four in the game’s final moments as the Terps escaped with a win.

Mason Plumlee added this electrifying jam to this season's highlight reel against Virginia (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

January 12- Virginia @ Duke
Duke 61, Virginia 58
Despite a slow start and a late Virginia surge, Duke utilized a balanced scoring effort to knock of the 16th-ranked Cavaliers by a score of 61-58. Mason Plumlee was the Blue Devils’ top scorer with just 12 points, as Duke had four players in double figures on the game. After falling behind early, Duke was able to rally back and take a four-point lead into the half. Virginia controlled the pace throughout the game, employing its typical slow and steady half-court sets. The Blue Devils came out firing in the second half, expanding their lead to 53-42 with just under 10 minutes to play. Virginia hung around, as Mike Scott led all scorers with 23 points and added nine rebounds. Scott was significantly less effective in the second half than he was in the game’s opening minutes, scoring just seven points after halftime. Duke shot 52.2% from the floor on the game against the toughest defense in the ACC. Meanwhile they held Virginia to just 39.3% shooting from the field. Although Duke led throughout the second half, the Cavaliers were able to pull within three in the game’s waning moments and actually had multiple chances to tie the game, but could not convert on their long-range shots. The loss snapped Virginia’s previous 12-game winning streak.

January 12- Clemson @ Boston College
Boston College 59, Clemson 57
Many thought that Boston College wouldn’t win a game in ACC play this season. They proved the critics wrong in just their second ACC contest, winning a hard-fought home game 59-57 over Clemson. The Eagles were able to pull off the upset despite turning the ball over 15 times and getting out-rebounded by the Tigers 32-21 for the game. Dennis Clifford scored a game-high 15 points for Boston College. Guard Lonnie Jackson added 14 points of his own for the Eagles while Andre Young led Clemson with 12. The game was tight throughout, with both sides jockeying for position through the second half. Clifford broke the 56-56 tie when he nailed a jumper with 42 seconds remaining. Milton Jennings had a chance to tie the game from the free throw line for Clemson with just 8.7 seconds remaining, but he missed one of his two free throws and the Tigers did not earn another chance.

January 14- North Carolina @ Florida State
Florida State 90, North Carolina 57
We wrote a little bit on this game here immediately following its conclusion, but it was so nice we just had to write it twice. Florida State absolutely manhandled North Carolina in Tallahassee en route to a 90-57 win. The Seminoles had the upper hand from the opening tip as the Tar Heels shot just 37.3% for the game. Deividas Dulkys, who was averaging just 6.2 points per game for Florida State, ripped off a career-high 32 on 12-of-14 from the field, including 8-for-10 from beyond the arc. With the Seminoles holding a 30-point lead for most of the second half, this game was no contest to say the least.

January 14- Virginia Tech @ Boston College
Boston College 61, Virginia Tech 59
Did I mention that Boston College wasn’t supposed to win an ACC game this year? Well they didn’t win just one last week, they won two. The Eagles pulled off the second-biggest upset of the week in the conference, going on the road to Blacksburg, one of the toughest places to play in the ACC, and knocking off the Hokies by a score of 61-59. Virginia Tech dropped to 0-3 on the year in the ACC with the loss, and it looks as though their NCAA tournament chances are already beginning to fade. Dennis Clifford scored a game-high 15 points for the Eagles while Virginia Tech was without its leading scorer, Erick Green. Forward Victor Davila picked up some of the slack, leading the Hokies with 14 points. The game close throughout, but Boston College was able to open up a 57-47 lead with just 3:40 to play. Virginia Tech was never really able to cut back into the lead, drawing to within two on Jarell Eddie’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. With the Eagles second-straight conference victory they improved to 7-10 on the season.

[table id=30 /]

Around the ACC: The Opening Weekend In Review

ACC conference play is finally underway, and every single game is crucial. Every ACC team was in action over the weekend for their first conference tilt, and the games did not disappoint. Let’s take a look back at the results from the first two days of the regular season contests:

Duke @ Georgia Tech
Duke 81, Georgia Tech 74
The Blue Devils hit the road for their first game of the ACC regular season, facing a well-coached Georgia Tech squad. Duke jumped out to an early 31-14 lead but the Yellow Jackets stormed back to within five at the half. The game was tight for the entirety of the second half as momentum shifted back and forth and Georgia Tech drew to within two points with less than four minutes to play. Glen Rice Jr. was huge down the stretch for the Yellow Jackets, converting shot after shot en route to his game-high 28 points. It was the Blue Devils, however, who were able to pull away in the end. Thanks to a stellar 14-of-14 from the line from Ryan Kelly, Duke was able to escape with a seven-point victory. (Note: Further analysis of this game can be found here and statistical analysis can be found here)

Boston College @ North Carolina
North Carolina 83, Boston College 60
The Tar Heels had little trouble handling the Eagles, who dropped to a miserable 5-10 on the year with the loss. North Carolina had their way with Boston College inside, dominating the Eagles on the offensive end and controlling the glass. The Tar Heels held a 41-27 rebounding advantage over Boston College. Harrison Barnes led the way for North Carolina with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting in only 27 minutes. Tyler Zeller added 20 points and eight rebounds and Kendall Marshall distributed the ball throughout the game to open teammates for a game-high 11 assists. North Carolina was also impressive on the defensive end, forcing Boston College to turn the ball over 19 times on the evening.

Miami @ Virginia
Virginia 52, Miami 51
The Cavaliers improved to 14-1 on the season with a tight one-point victory over the Hurricanes. As always, Virginia controlled the tempo and slowed the game down, turning it into a defensive struggle. The Cavaliers took a 26-17 lead into halftime, but Miami came storming back and took back the lead with 3:57 to play. Sammy Zeglinski hit a huge 3-pointer to put Virginia up by two and they would never relinquish their lead again. Mike Scott led Virginia with 23 points and eight rebounds while the Hurricanes relied on Kenny Kadji, who put up a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Miami had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds but Virginia’s defense held tight to make the final stop.

Florida State @ Clemson
Clemson 79, Florida State 59
There is no such thing as an easy road game in the ACC, so it’s not hard to believe that Clemson was able to protect its home floor against the Seminoles, but I don’t think anyone believed they could beat Florida State in emphatic fashion. The Tigers jumped out to an early lead, using a 20-0 run to catapult them to a 32-10 advantage. The Seminoles missed 10 straight shots from the field as Clemson built its early lead, and the rest was history. Clemson took a 14-point cushion into the half and coasted the rest of the way. Clemson’s Andre Young led all scorers with 18 points, thanks to 10-of-12 from the line, but the Tigers’ catalyst on the floor was Milton Jennings. Jennings shot 7-for-10 from the floor en route to 15 points and eight rebounds on the night. Florida State’s early-season struggles continue with yet another puzzling loss against a weaker opponent.

Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest
Wake Forest 58, Virginia Tech 55
Wake Forest provided the biggest surprise of ACC play’s opening night, knocking off Virginia Tech on its home floor. With the win, the Demon Deacons matched its ACC win-total from all of last season. This game was a back-and-forth struggle from the beginning. Wake Forest took 32-24 lead into the locker room at halftime, but Virginia Tech came storming back to take its first lead of the game at 53-52 with 1:18 to play. Wake Forest would respond, as C.J. Harris hit two 3-pointers in the game’s final minute to give Wake Forest a huge conference victory. Travis McKie paced the Demon Deacons with 12 points and 15 rebounds, while Virginia Tech was led by Erick Green’s 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. This loss could prove crucial to Virginia Tech come tournament time, as they are expected to be a bubble team yet again this season.

Maryland @ North Carolina State
North Carolina State 79, Maryland 74
In yet another tight contest, NC State knocked off Maryland by five points in Raleigh. The Wolfpack were led by C.J. Leslie’s 20 points and 11 rebounds. Leslie received ample support from guard Lorenzo Brown, who added 11 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists. NC State held a narrow three-point lead over Maryland with 8:09 to play, but an 11-0 run by the Wolfpack gave the Terrapins an uphill battle in the game’s final five minutes. Maryland was able to claw back into the contest thanks to the scoring ability of Terrell Stoglin, the leading scorer in the ACC. Stoglin’s 25 points led all scorers on the evening as the Terps were able to pull within four points with 26 seconds to play. It would be too little too late for Maryland, as NC State emerged triumphant.

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ACC play takes the day off on Monday and resumes tomorrow night when Miami travels to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina and Florida State and Virginia Tech both look to rebound from tough losses in Blacksburg.

The Truth About ACC Schedules

Here we sit, just days away from the beginning of the ACC’s regular season schedule. At Crazie-Talk we’ve done quite a bit of pondering about the ACC over the course of the last three weeks, going team by team around the conference and projecting the regular season standings come March. During this process something intriguing has jumped out at me, something I haven’t given much thought to until now- just because everyone is playing their ACC conference schedule doesn’t mean their schedules are all the same.

Allow me to elaborate. Unfortunately, not all ACC schedules are created equal. There once was a time when this was a case. The ACC expanded to nine teams in 1991. With the addition of Florid astate, the ACC was comprised of Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, and Wake Forest. These teams still played a 16 game regular season, a grueling round-robin that would pit every team against one another on two occasions, once at home and once on the road. These days are long gone. They ended in 2004, when Miami and Virginia Tech joined the conference from the Big East. The following year Boston College made the same jump.

There are currently 12 teams in the ACC, and the ACC conference schedule is still 16 games. Now I’m no math major, but there is no way to have 12 teams play a 16 game schedule where every team plays every other team in the conference the same amount of times. The way it is divided up, out of the 11 possible opponents in the conference (last time I checked a team cannot play itself), an ACC team will play five of them twice in a home and home format and six of them just once during the year (the ability to play a basketball game in two places at once has not been figured out yet, either). This will all change with the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse into the ACC in either 2013 or 2014, depending on the negotiation of their buyouts with the Big East. Following their entrance into the conference, the 14 teams in the ACC will all play 18 regular season games, further diluting the scheduling scenarios within the conference.

Some of these mascots will have a much harder time than others when conference schedules begin. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Now if each team plays roughly half of its opponents just once and the other half twice, wouldn’t that make some teams’ schedules harder than others? The answer is yes, but it’s something that often gets overlooked when breaking down the conference. Using our ACC preview as a roadmap, we were able to break down every team in the conference’s schedule and figure out who has the toughest test this year, and we thought we’d share the results with you. By taking the rankings we assessed to the 12 ACC schools and giving additional weight to the schools a team plays twice, we were able to figure out the difficulty of each team’s schedule. For good measure, because a team cannot play itself, we weighed it against a team’s toughest possible schedule (lowly Boston College would theoretically be at a disadvantage because it cannot play itself twice like other schools can). Each team is linked to its respective preview, so feel free to take a look at those if you haven’t already (spoiler alert: we’ve already done 11 previews so by process of elimination and common sense, North Carolina, whose preview will be published tomorrow, is our projected #1 team). The teams are listed in reverse order, from least difficult schedule to most difficult schedule.

12. Georgia Tech
Projected ACC finish: 8th
Who they play once: Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Who they play twice: Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, North Carolina State, Wake Forest

11. Boston College
Projected ACC finish: 12th
Who they play once: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia
Who they play twice: Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

10. Wake Forest
Projected ACC finish: 10th
Who they play once: Florida State, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Who they play twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State

9. North Carolina State
Projected ACC finish: 6th
Who they play once: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Who they play twice: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Wake Forest

8. Clemson
Projected ACC finish: 10th
Who they play once: Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State
Who they play twice: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

7. Miami
Projected ACC finish: 9th
Who they play once: Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Boston College, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State

6. Virginia Tech
Projected ACC finish: 5th
Who they play once: Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Virginia

5. Florida State
Projected ACC finish: 4th
Who they play once: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Clemson, Duke, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech

4. Duke
Projected ACC finish: 2nd
Who they play once: Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia
Who they play twice: Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

3. North Carolina
Projected ACC finish: 1st
Who they play once: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Duke, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia

2. Virginia
Projected ACC finish: 3rd
Who they play once: Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech

1. Maryland
Projected ACC finish: 7th
Who they play once: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia

Disagree with the order? Don’t think it’s a big deal? Have a better idea for a way to set up conference schedules? Let us know. Stay Crazie, my friends.

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #5 Virginia Tech

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 5th-place finishers, the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Hokie Nation should have something to cheer about this season (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 11-3

Key Wins:
November 25- Virginia Tech 59, Oklahoma State 57

Tough losses:
November 23- Syracuse 69, Virginia Tech 58
November 30- Minnesota 58, Virginia Tech 55
December 4- Kansas State 69, Virginia Tech 61

Starting Lineup:[table id=24 /]Last Year Against Duke:
February 26, 2011 in Blacksburg- Virginia Tech 64, Duke 60
March 12, 2011 at ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC- Duke 77, Virginia Tech 63

This Year Against Duke:
February 2, 2012 in Blacksburg
February 25, 2012 at Duke

The Good: This is one of the best defensive teams in the ACC, allowing just 59.3 points per game. They pose matchup problems with their size, especially in the backcourt. The Hokies’ entire starting lineup is between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8. Their length helps them to defend against teams that shoot from deep- opponents are shooting a staggering 22.8% from beyond the arc against Virginia Tech this season. This team has also endured a few tests in its non-conference schedule, playing competitively against top-ranked Syracuse while suffering close losses to power-conference teams Minnesota and Kansas State. They’ve handled the rest of their lesser competition quite easily, winning each game by an average of 12.2 points per game this year.

The Bad: Although their starters have size in the backcourt, this is not a very big team and could get hurt inside. The presence of a player who isn’t even on the Hokies roster could hurt them the most. 6-foot-9 power forward Allan Chaney had transfered from Florida and was slated to start this season for Virginia Tech, but was not cleared to play by team doctors due to a heart condition. Virginia Tech only has one player in its normal rotation larger than 6-foot-8 in 6-foot-9 sophomore Cadarian Raines, and Raines only averages 15.2 minutes per game. This could pose a problem against some of the larger teams in the ACC, who will look to dominate them inside, especially because the Hokies play tight perimeter defense.

The Crazie: This is a team built to play with a lead, not only thanks to their ability to play tight defense and lock down the perimeter, but due to their ability to convert from the line. Virginia Tech is shooting an ACC-best 74.0% from the line this season, so it will be difficult to claw your way back into a game late if your team is forced to foul. Their starting five is shooting 76.4% from the charity stripe on the year, or two Mason Plumlees, depending on which way you think of it.

Player We Love To Hate: Look out for Jarell Eddie this year, this guy is a walking matchup problem. He has the length at 6-foot-7 to play inside and crash the boards, averaging 5.0 rebounds for game, good for second on the team. But that will be the least of your worries- hope you keep this guy inside because he will shoot the lights out. When he steps outside, Eddie is shooting a 52.6% clip from beyond the arc on the year. He is also shooting a lights-out 90% from the line, so he is definitely not the person to foul with the game on the line. His athleticism alone makes this guy one dangerous player.

The Bottom Line: Virginia Tech will be fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament this year, so conference play is a crucial stage. Although this is a team with only a few experienced players, my guess is that they will be one of the last few teams to get a bid this year. People are talking about it being a down year in the ACC, but I don’t think five teams is too many. They will play the ACC tough this year, and playing North Carolina only once while playing Boston College and Clemson twice can’t hurt either. Plus, playing in Blacksburg in front of Hokie Nation is one of the ACC’s toughest road tests.

* * *

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

Section 17: Road Block in Blacksburg

As the ESPN College GameDay crew cast their game predictions moments before Duke and Virginia Tech tipped last night, Bob Knight—clad in his trademark v-neck sweater—said one word. “Duke.” And proceeded to stare into space.

Duke held a six point lead with eight minutes to go, but Virginia Tech simply wanted it more down the stretch. (Photo: DukeBluePlanet.com)

The General was so close to being right. But the Hokies prevailed 64-60 in a game VT guard Malcolm Delaney called “the biggest of my life.” Delaney didn’t deliver on his promise until 2:02 left in the second half, when he hit his first 3 pointer to give his team a lead it didn’t relinquish.

In lieu of focusing on the heart of the home team, which was considerably large last night, let’s see what we can gather about our performance in our penultimate ACC road game.

  • Without Irving in the lineup, Duke’s post players are ineffective. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are a particular breed of player—winners. But while each of them are usually comfortable taking (and making) big shots, it didn’t happen last night, as the seniors combined to shoot 15-37 from the field. Nolan only had two assists against VT’s stifling perimeter defense. So what does this have to do with Kyrie? Well, Irving made this team great by getting everyone involved, including the Plumlees. Remember Mason’s 25 point performance against Marquette? You can credit Irving’s 7 assists for much of that, as he knows how to set up big men. Nolan and Kyle didn’t demonstrate that skill last night, and our interior play suffered. Particularly when the Plumlees would rather try to tip dunk misses than get an easy putback and Ryan Kelly is bricking threes.
  • It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish…Not just advice from this guy. With 7:33 left in the game, Duke was up 53-47. Greenberg called a timeout, VT settled down and outscored Duke 17 to 7 the rest of the way. How did this happen? Well, our free throw woes didn’t help—Nolan and Mason went 1 for 3 with under 30 seconds to go. But that was after Miles boneheadedly missed a dunk, Kyle missed some tough contested “hero shot” jumpers, and the Hokies somehow outfought Duke for every loose ball. It was a grueling game, and the pressure was certainly more on the home team to win and (maybe) make the Big Dance for the first time in however long. But at Duke, our expectations are higher. When we play teams like VT in the Tournament, we have to step on their throats in the final 8 minutes. That ruthlessness has gotten Coach K the second most wins of all time. And it will get Duke back to the Final Four if we learn it now.
  • We must have a third scorer. Again, the Big 3 would be intact if Irving were in action. Since December, our offensive strategy has been “The Big 2″—Kyle and Nolan—plus whomever felt like stepping up that game. It’s been Curry and Kelly on the offensive end, and Mason and Thornton on defense. We’ve put together some ramshackle wins with Irving on the bench in a cast. Last night, though, it was just the Big 2—Kyle had 22 and Nolan 18. But with the seniors’ inefficient shooting and Seth Curry nowhere to be found, the offensive attack sputtered. This will not do.
  • A number one seed is still possible, no matter what ESPN tells you. Congrats to BYU for winning on the road and all, but I’ll still match our resume with theirs. A top line seed is still within our reach. Texas laid an egg at Colorado yesterday, which is a much more embarrassing loss than ours. Kansas has been inconsistent and could easily lose in the competitive Big 12 Tournament. Ditto Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney, and Pitt in the Big East. Duke? Well, we play in the pitiful ACC. We should beat Clemson, and we have a good shot at North Carolina. If we win those two, we’ll sit at 28-3 and will have won the ACC regular season. We have owned the conference Tournament as well, and nobody takes that more seriously than K. With our out of conference wins looking better with the resurgence of Michigan State, Kansas State and Marquette, our Strength of Schedule will likely climb. And don’t be surprised if Jimmer Fredette somehow shoots 8-35 (gasp!) and BYU drops a game to some West coast rando.
  • Save the Toe. All said and done, we certainly hope Kyrie can come back for the Dance. At least one local yokel writer “wouldn’t be surprised” if he does. Everyone has been rumbling about it on the Twittersphere, including the man himself. Yeah, Kyrie. We’re op(toe)mistic about your comeback too. Mostly because opponents will quake in their Kobes when they think that the 26-3 Duke Blue Devils won 18 of those games without the nation’s best point guard. More importantly, the team would be complete again for the best month of the year.

That’s all from me. I always get wired after losses, and would love for some soothing words from our readers. Leave your thoughts about our beloved Blue Devils in the comments section, or give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook.

Let’s go Duke. Let’s keep working harder.

P.S. Vote for Nolan to win the Cousy Award!

ACC Hoops Schedule Released…Go Get 'Em

Thank you sir, may I have another? (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

The Atlantic Coast Conference finally released the 2010-11 men’s basketball schedule today on their official website. And for those of you bored by our conference’s football offerings before the season has even begun, this is big news.

The ACC brass are stoked that the conference will be on television a record 182 times this upcoming year. Fans of the Big East and other power conferences complain that the ACC gets preferential treatment despite being a “weak” league. Right, a conference that has won five of the last ten natty champers is pitiful.

Here are some of the highlights of what promises to be another exciting year in ACC basketball. As the season draws closer, we will be back with full team previews. But for now, check out five of the best non-conference matchups before the New Year.

NOVEMBER 15: Miami at Memphis

Young Memphis Tigers coach Josh Pastner breathed a big sigh of relief when the best recruit of his short tenure, Will Barton, was declared eligible on August 20. I’m really impressed with what Pastner has been able to do in Calipari’s stead (how much he “learned” from the former Memphis coach remains to be seen). Miami’s sparkplug Durand Scott nearly beat Duke by himself in last year’s ACC Tournament, and young big man Reggie Johnson will fill in nicely for departing beast Dwayne Collins, who finally graduated. Look for Memphis to come out on top on sheer talent, but I’m impressed that Frank Haith has the cojones to schedule this type of game.

DECEMBER 1: Duke v. Michigan State

This game continues to lose its luster, as the Spartan guards are dropping like flies. First it was the transfer of Chris Allen to Iowa State after being kicked off the team in East Lansing. More recently, the twenty-year-old Korie Lucious, hero of the Maryland game, was caught over the legal limit while driving. Tom Izzo is probably my second favorite NCAA coach, mostly because he doesn’t put up with stuff like this. Lucious will likely be suspended for the first half of the season at the least. That leaves more of the burden on Kalin Lucas, who is rehabbing his torn ACL, and 2010 Big Dance star Durrell Summers. Yet this will be billed as the best game of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Look for Kyrie Irving to get after it against Lucas—a player to whom he has been compared in the past. I had hoped Duke would face MSU at full strength; nonetheless, Izzo is a gamer and this could be the highlight of Duke’s early season schedule.

DECEMBER 1: Virginia Tech vs. Purdue

Perhaps this is the year that Virginia Tech lives up to expectations. Many pundits think it’s a battle for second place in the conference between the Hokies and the Heels. Much of that advance praise for VT rests on do-it-all guard Malcolm Delaney, who wisely chose to return for his final year. Meanwhile, Purdue returns everyone but hard nosed point guard Chris Kramer. Pat Forde even put them ahead of Duke in his preseason rankings (but he has a hard time with such predictions). This would be a statement game for Seth Greenberg’s program—which returns everyone—and until I see Robbie Hummel play as well as he did pre-torn ACL, I think the Hokies have a good shot. Just don’t let Jeff Allen loose on JaJuan Johnson…that won’t end well.

DECEMBER 4: North Carolina vs. Kentucky

In a battle of the teams I hate the most, UNC and UK face off yet again in this home and home series. Recently, ESPN’s sometimes knowledgeable college hoops blogger Eamon Brennan stated that UK has a slight edge in this matchup. It’s tough to say. Both teams have the same problem: a lack of proven size. Kentucky’s frontline is thin: 6’8” frosh Terrence Jones, Florida transfer Eloy Vargas, and perhaps Turkish semi-pro Enes Kanter, if he is ruled eligible. UNC has the sometimes healthy Tyler Zeller, the “wet noodle” John Henson, and Mr. Barnes, who’s supposed to be a guard anyway. I think the game hinges on Kanter’s eligibility. If he plays, he will be too much to handle down low, and combined with UK’s superior guard play led by Brandon Knight, I think Kentucky squeezes this one out. Look for UNC’s season to be a reverse of last year’s: a slow start with a more productive second half.

DECEMBER 4: N.C. State at Syracuse

The ‘Cuse shocked a lot of people last year by reaching #1, but that’s mostly because people weren’t familiar with Wes Johnson and/or didn’t have respect for the Orange’s experience. Now most of that depth is gone, and for once in his life, Sidney Lowe has something to be excited about in Raleigh. All the hype has been loaded on CJ Leslie, but we think incoming point guard Ryan Harrow will determine State’s success as much as anyone. The frontcourt favors the ‘Cuse (remember the name Fab Melo), but the Wolfpack have an early chance to prove that they belong in the same breath as Duke and UNC for the first time since, I don’t know…Julius Hodge?


Look for our ACC Rundowns as the season draws closer. And be sure to follow us on Twitter.