Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

A happy New Year to all of you out in ACC-land. In lieu of full season previews this year, we're going through the ACC to look at some New Year's Resolutions for teams as they head into 2008.

Boston College: More shots for Corey Raji. The 6'5" freshman has been an extremely efficient scorer in his 20 min/g this year, shooting an astounding .742 efg% behind 70.8% from 2 and 57.1% from 3.
Will it be kept? No reason why not. Ty Rice and Rakim Sanders will still take a lot of shots, but there's not really any other option better than Raji. Raji's effectiveness will almost certainly go down some as the season wears on, but if it stays even close to this level, he'll be a very valuable offensive threat for the Eagles.

Clemson: Pretend the ACC opponents are not in the ACC. Over the last 3 years, Clemson is 37-3 in the non-conference season, but it hasn't translated into ACC success or a tournament bid. Clemson has again put itself in good position with a strong non-conference performance, but needs to follow through in conference play this year to get back into the NCAAs.
Will it be kept? Maybe. Clemson gets a big test early - 3 of the first 4 conference games are against UNC, NC St, and at Duke. The conference schedule is again not kind to the Tigers, and there's a greater than zero chance that if they struggle early, they may not be able to recover and get the 9-11 conference wins they can. But this Clemson team certainly has the talent to succeed and return to the tournament for the first time in years.

Duke: Take the damn ball! Duke's success on defense this year has been most strongly correlated to its ability to turn its opponents over. The only three games that Duke allowed about a point per possession are also the only three games that the opponent didn't cough the ball up more than 20% of the time. Duke's return to a more fast-breaking style of basketball has generally meant that these turnovers turn into easy offense for the Devils, so turning the opponent over has benefits for both the offense and the defense.
Will it be kept? Highly likely. The Devils have a disruptive perimeter defense and lots of ACC teams are not particularly adept at holding onto the ball.

Florida State: Get healthy. Ryan Reid, Casaan Breeden, and Julian Vaughn are all hurt, resulting in FSU starting former walk-on Matt Zitani against Georgia Tech. The Noles are down to seven players, 5 of whom are guards, and four of whom are 6'3" or smaller.
Will it be kept? I actually don't know - I can't find what the injury status of Reid, Breeden, and Vaughn are. But if they don't get them back, it's going to be a long season for FSU.

Georgia Tech: Play some defense. The Jackets have been very generous on the defensive end, giving up more than a point per possession in 8 of their 12 games, and letting opponents shoot extremely well from the floor.
Will it be kept? Not likely. None of the players are defensive stalwarts, and not having Dickey inside has really hurt. Tech appears to be in for some serious defensive struggles all season.

Maryland: Fix the offense. Maryland's offense has had serious problems so far this year. They're worst in the ACC in turnovers, second to last in shooting, and second to last in offensive efficiency. The defense has been solid, but the offensive inability is going to keep Maryland losing.
Will it be kept? Doubtful, although there is some precedent for it. Last year the offense came on like gangbusters at the end of the season after struggling early. Of course, last year they had DJ, Jones, and Ibekwe, who, as Rick Pitino would say, aren't walking through that door.

Miami: Keep hitting the glass. Miami's offensive success rests primarily on its ability to gather offensive boards. It gives them easy second chance opportunities, and also helps them get to the line, both of which they do as well as anyone in the conference.
Will it be kept? Absolutely - it was their one offensive strength last year and with the return of Anthony King this year in addition to Graham and Collins, they have three frontcourt studs to vacuum up the offensive boards.

North Carolina: Teach QT to hold onto the ball. With Bobby Frasor hurt, Thomas is the only true point guard the Heels have to back up Ty Lawson. Thomas has been extremely turnover prone in his 4 seasons with the Heels. If they can't rely on him to take care of the ball, it'll be hard for the Heels to sit Lawson down for any meaningful periods of time, and given his frenetic pace of play, he could get gassed late with too many minutes.
Will it be kept? Hard to say. Thomas has done nothing to inspire confidence over his career. Of course, if Lawson can play 34 minutes and/or Ellington can handle the point well enough, it may not matter.

North Carolina State: Run Costner and McCauley through the wayback machine. Neither Brandon Costner nor Ben McCauley has played as well this season as in '07, and their drop-off has contributed to some of State's early struggles. They need to round back into last-season's form for the Pack to be the top flight team that many thought they would be. This is particularly true now that Farnold Degand is down for the season with a torn ACL.
Will it be kept? More likely for Costner than McCauley. Coach Lowe clearly views Big Ben as the odd man out in the post rotation with Costner and Hickson, and he may just be the kind of guy who is less effective when his playing time is limited.

Virginia: Find a rotation. Virginia has played 12 guys at least five minutes per game, and that doesn't include Solomon Tat or Tunji Soroye (a starter last year) who played their first minutes of the season against Hartford. While it's nice to have this many usable players, being able to settle into a predictable rotation is necessary for the team to develop consistency on the offensive end. Singletary, Diane, and Joseph are a good three to build around, but Leitao needs to figure out which of his other guys will actually be contributors come conference play.
Will it be kept? Starting to look like it. Mike Scott has earned himself a spot in the starting lineup (although Soroye's return may displace him) and both Calvin Baker and Jeff Jones will get consistent minutes. But I don't know if Leitao has sorted out who he wants from the group of Jamil Tucker, Will Harris, Tat, Soroye, Laurynas Mikalauskas, Ryan Pettinella, and Jerome Meyinsse, and there just aren't enough minutes to go around for Virginia to be playing all 7 on a regular basis.

Virginia Tech: Get help from the bench. No team lost as much as Virginia Tech between last season and this one, and the Hokie bench is thin. Backups Hank Thorns, Terrell Bell, Lewis Witcher, and JT Thompson do not contribute much - collectively just 13 points and 8 rebounds each game. This has left Deron Washington, Jeff Allen, and AD Vassallo with too big a burden to shoulder.
Will it be kept? There is some small hope. Dorenzo Hudson, not used at all in the first 9 games, has given the Hokies nearly 10 points a game over the last 3. But it's doubtful that any of the others will step up as big scorers.

Wake Forest: Stop shooting 3s. Wake is under 30% from beyond the arc, but devote nearly 38% of their shots to the 3. Their most accurate outside shooter is Ish Smith, and that is not a good sign. Particularly problematic have been James Johnson (who has had an otherwise fantastic freshman season thus far) and LD Williams, who are a combined 19 for 83.
Will it be kept? Probably not. The Deacons have some guys who love to shoot the long ball - Harvey Hale, Jamie Skeen, Williams, Johnson - and so the attempts are likely going to stay near the current average of 22.75/game. Wake can only hope that Skeen, Williams, and Hale all see their percentages rise to where they were last season.

This Writer: Work less, post more.
Will it be kept? Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quick Update

Sorry for the lack of communication, but I've been having internet issues at home, and been working 12-14 hours a day for the past week, so I've lacked both the time and the ability to get things updated. I'm hopeful that both of these situations will be resolved soon (although I'm much more optimistic about the internet) and that I'll get back to posting on a semi-regular basis. ACC conference play team previews are coming soon.

For tonight, you can read my thoughts on Pitt a couple posts down. In short, Fields will be tough to contain, Blair is a load down low, and they play disciplined offense. Their defense is not up to Pitt teams of old, particularly around the perimeter, and their guards can be a little on the small side, so Duke should have a perimeter size advantage (or at least height advantage, particularly if you don't give Ronald Ramon height credit for his 'fro). I'm hopeful that we can bring home another win tonight in Cameron North.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

ACC Weekend Update

After the long, dark teatime of the soul that is finals week, a handful of ACC schools swing back into action this weekend. Let's take a look at the matchups:

It's a matchup of the red-headed stepchildren of the state university systems in the Carolinas (well, sort of). The Pack is coming off back to back losses and the story everywhere is what in the h-e-double hockey sticks happened to Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley. Last year McCauley had a 1.20 PPWS and a .584 EFG, and dished the ball as well, to the tune of a 20.29 A/B%. Costner shot 53.7% from 2 and 37.9% from 3 on his way to putting in 27.5% of the Pack's points. This year, McCauley's minutes have fallen from 2nd to 6th on the team, and he's at just 0.88, .400, and 14.11 in the stats mentioned above. Costner's shooting has been terrible - 33.3% from 2 and 26.9% from 3, and his turnover percentage is very high at 7.35%. I find it hard to believe that JJ Hickson could mess both of these guys up this much, and still believe that they'll get it all sorted out in the end. Perhaps playing a patsy like SC St will help (although I would have been inclined to say the same thing about playing ECU last weekend).

FSU v. Butler:
A win here would give the 'Noles two impressive non-conference pluses (Florida, Butler) to counter their two ugly minuses (Cleveland St., South Florida). The hot shooting guards have led FSU both inside - Toney Douglas is 61,9% from 2 - and outside - Isaiah Swann, Jason Rich, and Ralph Mims are all at 39.4% or better from 3. Easy prediction for today's game - there will be lots of 3s. Butler takes over 50% of their shots from beyond the arc, and the Noles check in at 35.4%.


UNC @ Rutgers:
Tennessee Tech, North Dakota State, NCCU, Dartmouth, Princeton, Lafayette, NJIT. That's the list of worldbeaters that Rutgers has collected its 7 wins against. My not-so bold prediction for the Scarlet Knights: they won't win seven more all season. Regardless, they certainly won't win on Sunday. If there's one thing the Heels know how to do, it's beat bad teams. This one's a pick-your-margin game.

Bucknell @ Wake Forest:
After running out to a 4-0 record with a win at Iowa, I thought Wake might be a little frisky in conference play this year. Even the losses to Charlotte and Vanderbilt were very close (and on the road). Then they got dismantled by Georgia, and suddenly they looked very much like a 12-win team overall. They still have a lot of the same problems as last year, only without Kyle Visser to help out. Ish Smith still can't shoot - he's at a you-can't-be-serious 17.6% from the line - but neither can the rest of the team. They have the worst team shooting in the conference, and it's dragged them down to an ugly 95.4 offensive efficiency, which checks in at 216th in the country and last in the ACC. Bucknell still has some name cache from their tournament years, but this year's Bison are not the same team, losing to Wagner, Marist, and St. Francis (PA). Deac fans - savor this win. You won't see too many come ACC play.

Virginia Tech @ Old Dominion:
The Hokies have simply annihilated their last two opponents on the defensive end. UNCG put up just 39 points for a 65.49 ORating. GW was even worse, scoring just 36 points on its way to a mind-boggling 56.29 ORating. The Hokies work against GW is likely to be the best single game defensive performance (at least statistically) by an ACC team this year. VT has seen upper class leadership from Washington and Vassallo, stud play from freshman Jeff Allen, and a very capable point guard rotation between Hank Thorns and Malcolm Delaney, who collectively average over 7 assists a game. ODU has run hot and cold on offense, struggling against Clemson, Louisville, and Georgetown, but torching UNC (in a losing cause) and lesser opponents like Iona, Georgia State, and UMES. If they run cold against Virginia Tech, look for the Hokies to win another ugly, low-scoring affair.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Duke 95, Michigan 67

The Devils looked a little rusty at the start of the game, and neither team could hit anything from the field early in the first half. Duke started 4-17 from 2, and Michigan started 3-18. Duke got hot earlier than Michigan did, putting together a quick 11-0 run over 5 possessions that essentially put the game away. From that point on, the game played a little bit like a shootout - Michigan scored 51 points in its last 42 possessions, only to be out-gunned by Duke's 61 points over that same stretch.

King and Smith both had big games to lead the way for the Devils, with Nolan playing easily his best and most assertive game of the season. His continued growth will be a huge asset for Duke as ACC play rolls around. Another great sign for Duke was the lack of turnovers - only 8 in a 76 possession game, which is just excellent. The Devils put together a stretch of 18:12 of turnoverless basketball spanning the last half of the first half and most of the early second half. Paulus and Nelson combined for 9 assists without turning the ball over once.

From the lineup front, this was Coach K's least active game by a long shot as far as substitutions go. He changed lineups only 20 times during the game, and let almost every group play at least 3 possessions together before making a change. Duke went small (neither Zoubek nor Thomas on the court) quite a bit against Michigan with good success - 38-19 over 22 possessions, including the aforementioned 11-0 run. Not surprisingly, Taylor King was on the court for almost all of our spurts - an early 8-2 burst and the 11-0 run. He's been Vinnie Johnson-esque in his ability to provide instant offense off the bench.

Here's the HD Box from the game:

O. Poss D. Poss +/- Pts 2PM-A 3PM-A FTM-A FGA Ast TO STL BLK ORB DRB
Nelson 51 49 +30 10/66 2-7 2-3 0-0 10/51 3/20 0/51 3/49 0/45 1/29 4/31
Paulus 46 45 +28 8/62 1-2 2-5 0-0 7/45 6/20 0/46 2/45 0/39 0/24 1/26
Scheyer 54 53 +20 10/72 2-4 1-2 3-4 6/52 3/25 0/54 1/53 0/48 2/27 2/30
Singler 34 32 +18 9/43 2-3 1-3 2-2 6/32 0/14 2/34 0/32 0/27 1/16 3/18
King 37 37 +14 18/50 4-4 3-8 1-2 12/37 1/12 2/37 0/37 2/32 3/20 2/20
Henderson 53 53 +11 12/60 4-12 1-2 1-2 14/47 4/18 2/53 0/53 1/44 0/34 7/26
Smith 35 35 +11 17/44 6-6 1-3 2-2 9/34 0/11 1/35 0/35 0/32 1/17 4/22
Zoubek 26 24 +10 7/31 3-5 0-0 1-2 5/25 0/9 0/26 1/24 0/20 3/15 2/15
Davidson 4 4 +1 0/6 0-0 0-1 0-0 1/4 1/3 0/4 0/4 0/5 0/1 0/4
Thomas 28 30 -1 2/26 1-4 0-0 0-0 4/27 1/10 1/28 0/30 0/25 2/16 0/15
McClure 12 13 -2 2/15 1-1 0-0 0-0 1/13 0/6 0/12 0/13 0/13 0/6 2/8
Duke 76 75 +28 95 26-48 11-27 10-14 75 19/37 8/76 7/75 3/66 14/41 29/43

0.542 0.407 0.714
51.35 10.53 9.33 4.55 34.15 67.44

Around the ACC - Welcome Conference Play!

Boston College and Maryland opened up ACC play against each other for the third straight year, with BC pulling out a tight one at the Comcast Center, 81-78. I did not get to see the game (the Sonics are broadcast on FSN, and it blacks out ACC Sunday Night Hoops when there's a conflict), but from the box score, I can imagine there is much terping going on in Gary-land tonight. BC won the game at the line, taking 41 trips to the Terps' 16 and fouling out Milbourne and Vazquez in the process. The Eagles have made a habit out of getting to the free throw line - Coach Skinner has always made it a priority for his teams to draw contact and get free points from the stripe. BC led the league in both FT Rate and %points from FTs by a wide margin last year, and this game puts them off to a good head start in both categories. Tyrelle Blair posted a points/blocks double-double, Tyrese Rice played a full 40 (with 12 trips to the line on his own), and Corey Raji poured in 17 points in just 18 minutes off the bench. Hayes and Vazquez racked up 7 assists a piece for the Terps, and James Gist put up a double double (the more traditional points/rebounds variety).

Special Live Scouting Report

The Pitt Panthers traveled up to the Emerald State this weekend to take on the Huskies, and yours truly hit up the Hec to take in the contest. It was an excellent game that Washington would have won if the game clock went to 40:01, but Justin Dentmon's game winning runner at the buzzer was still in his hand as the red light went off. There were a couple of things that were impressive about Pitt. First was Levance Fields. The point guard has the ball in his hands all the time, can create for both himself and others off the dribble, and hits shots from anywhere on the floor, including some with a high degree of difficulty. He's short but strong, and Washington's smaller guards couldn't do much to stop him. Stopping him will be top priority for Duke - look possibly for Nelson to check him on defense. Second, and this plays off Fields a bit, Pitt executes its favorite offensive play very well. They start in a flex set with Fields at the top of the key, a guard on each wing, and a post on each baseline. Fields penetrates on one side of the court or the other, and the guard on that side comes towards him. There's a hand-off option to the cutting guard, or Fields can continue to penetrate. On the hand-off, Fields gets a little bit of a screen on the defender, and the guard can get into the line, drawing help from the baseline. If the help comes, the ball is kicked to the baseline post for either a wide open 10-footer or a layup or dunk. If the help doesn't come, the guard has an easy ten footer in the lane, or can drive for the layup. All of Pitt's guards move the ball very well, and they put pressure on defensive rotation to come up with stops. Washington's rotation was not so hot - Duke's will need to be good to prevent Pitt from getting a lot of open looks. Finally, Pitt's young center is an absolute load. He attacks the glass with reckless abandon, and goes to the hole hard. His style of play makes me think he could be foul prone (although he didn't get in trouble on Saturday), but if he stays on the court, he will be a handful for whoever Duke has in the post.

The good thing is, he's the only inside scoring option. Also, Fields is the only guard for Pitt who can really break you down off the dribble. Pitt's defense, much vaunted in past years, was not terribly impressive, particularly on the perimeter. The Huskies got open looks from 3 just about whenever they wanted, and it was UW's perimeter shooting that made this contest close. Look for Duke (which has taken over 100 threes in the past 4 games) to try to exploit this weakness in Pitt's D.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Duke 79, Davidson 73

I unfortunately did not get to watch this one - no ESPNU at the house, and no sports bars in the greater Seattle area open at 9am (why 9am is too early to enjoy a beer and a ballgame is beyond me). It sounds like it was an excellent contest, with Davidson employing the pick-and-roll especially well (note: very few teams do this well - it will likely only be a problem again this year if we play Georgetown in the tournament). Duke kept Davidson at bay throughout the game, getting spurts at key moments to ensure that the lead was never relinquished. Henderson and Paulus both played excellent games - both seem to be willing to take a shot at key moments, and both made some big defensive plays (a highlight reel block for Henderson, a key steal for Paulus) in the second half to help keep the spread.

Close games are probably 70% luck and 30% execution. Last year, we lost a lot of close games because we relied entirely on the luck component - the '06-'07 Devils were not a team that executed very well down the stretch. This season's team has executed substantially better, and that has helped swing the luck back in Duke's favor a little bit. That's not saying that Duke was lucky to have won either this game or the Marquette game - only that this year's team is better suited for the late-and-tight situations than last year's team (which lost almost every late-and-tight game after Dec. 1).

Here's the HD Box:

O. Poss D. Poss +/- Pts 2PM-A 3PM-A FTM-A FGA Ast TO STL BLK ORB DRB
Henderson 60 58 +16 21/66 7-14 1-3 4-5 17/42 4/14 4/60 0/58 3/51 1/25 7/33
Thomas 48 47 +10 4/50 2-2 0-0 0-0 2/35 0/16 0/48 0/47 0/49 2/21 0/38
Paulus 60 59 +7 11/66 1-1 3-6 0-0 7/46 4/19 3/60 1/59 0/54 0/28 4/33
Singler 56 57 +3 14/58 3-5 2-5 2-4 10/43 3/16 3/56 0/57 1/52 1/27 11/34
King 22 20 +1 3/25 0-2 1-4 0-3 6/20 1/7 1/22 0/20 0/17 3/14 0/7
Zoubek 7 8 +1 0/11 0-0 0-0 0-0 0/6 0/3 0/7 0/8 0/7 0/3 0/3
Smith 14 16 -1 0/13 0-0 0-0 0-0 0/11 0/4 1/14 1/16 0/14 0/8 1/10
Scheyer 48 48 -2 15/55 2-4 2-4 5-5 8/41 2/14 1/48 1/48 0/43 0/27 4/22
McClure 0 1 -2 0/0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/1 0/1 0/0 0/0
Nelson 55 56 -3 11/51 1-4 2-3 3-6 7/41 3/15 2/55 0/56 1/52 3/27 2/35
Duke 74 74 +6 79 16-32 11-25 14-23 57 17/27 16/74 3/74 5/68 10/36 30/43

0.500 0.440 0.609
62.96 21.62 4.05 7.35 27.78 69.77

It's tough to say without having seen the game, but these numbers suggest that Thomas had the most success of all our bigs defending the pick-and-roll. It was Davidson's bread and butter offense, and the fact that they scored just 40 points in the 47 possessions while he was on the court at least raises the possibility that his presence helped cut down those easy baskets. Also, notice the assist distribution among the Duke players - two with 4, two with 3, and four others with at least 1 assist. The Devils may not have a dominant assist-man this year, but the team as a whole moves and shares the ball well.

Duke team and player stats and lineup stats are updated through today's game. For ACC stats, I've decided to drop my coverage, and refer you here for player stats, and here for team stats. Once the conference slate gets started, I'll likely resume the team conference-only stats, but I doubt I'll have time to maintain the player leaderboard.