Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Georgia Tech Preview

Duke, meet the Jackets. Jackets, meet Duke. It's February 27th and you're playing each other for the first time. But hey, enjoy that ACC football championship game check.

All snarkiness about expansion and the unbalanced schedule aside, this is the first and only meeting of the season for Duke and Georgia Tech. The Jackets set themselves up with a non-conference schedule that assumed the presence of Javaris Crittenton and (possibly) Thaddeus Young. Both became first-round draft picks. The schedule also assumed the presence of Ra'Sean Dickey, who promptly became injured and out for the season. In case you're scoring at home, that's 3 starters Georgia Tech expected back who suddenly were no longer there. A lineup of Crittenton, Morrow, Young, Smith, and Dickey would have been formidable. A lineup of Miller, Clinch, Morrow, Lawal, and Smith is, well, 11-14.

Things haven't been all negative for Coach Hewitt's squad. For a six game stretch, they played as well as anyone in the ACC, winning 4 and losing the others by just 1 (against UNC) and 2 (against Maryland). Since then, the wheels have fallen off (or, if you were looking to make a bad pun about last Thursday's non-game, the roof has started to cave in). The offense stalled out in losses to Clemson, UCon, and Miami, and the defense rolled over against Virginia Tech - it is a really, really poor performance to give up 92 points to the Hokie offense.

So the Jackets hit the road to take on Duke as losers of four straight. Although their ACC road record of 3-3 beats their home record of 1-4, they're not really a better road team - the Jackets have outscored their opponents at home despite the record, and have been outscored on the road. Tech will likely go at least nine deep - in addition to the 5 mentioned above, Zach Peacock, DeAndre Bell, Alade Aminu, and Matt Causey are all likely to see significant playing time, and Lance Storrs may get in on the action as well. The Jackets are a thoroughly average offensive team and a poor defensive team, in the bottom third in the country in three defensive categories (efg%, orb%, and FT rate). The Jackets have been very generous both in letting teams put the ball in the basket and in giving them second chances when they miss. This should be another game where Duke's offense can shine. When Georgia Tech has the ball, its point guards (Miller and Causey) are very turnover prone, especially on the road. It's a bit of a sloppy offense. To beat Duke in Cameron, Causey needs to hang on to the ball and create opportunities for himself and others, Morrow needs to have a hot shooting game from outside, and Lawal needs to play dominantly in the post (this has been trouble for him, for while he's shown flashes of brilliance in his freshman season, he picks up fouls like Lance Thomas).

Around the ACC

Virginia Tech inches one step closer to a berth. It's far from a sure thing, even if they finish 10-6. And I firmly believe they would be the worst at large team in the NCAA tournament - AD Vassallo and Jeff Allen are really the only guys on the team who know how to play offense. But the defense is shut-down good, and when you play D like they do (excepting the UNC game) you'll always have a chance to win.

In other action tonight, Miami and Clemson meet up in a game that Clemson really needs. Miami's remaining schedule is easy enough that they can still finish 9-7 even with a loss tonight. But Clemson has two potentially tough road games (at Maryland, at Georgia Tech) before finishing at home to the Hokies. Lose tonight, and the Tigers are staring 8-8 (or even 7-9) in the face. Although this Tiger team is highly regarded, it simply couldn't feel comfortable at 8-8, even with a "20" in the win column. And "20" is the other point at stake tonight - the winner becomes the third ACC team with 20 wins this season.

Also, FSU and NC State play. It's pretty much a meaningless game.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Duke 86, St. John's 56

After the Johnnies opened up the game on a 7-0 run, a collective "uh oh" likely rang out among Blue Devil fans. The Storm, whose offensive ineptitude all season was documented hear in the preview, scored 4 times in their first 5 possessions, and Duke missed its first 4 shots from the field. When Duke still trailed by 5 after the game's first 5 minutes, it looked like it could be another underwhelming performance. Of course, those were really the only 5 bad minutes Duke played. From that point on, it was 80-45 in 35 minutes of basketball. That's a good, old-fashioned blowout, that came from good, old-fashioned Duke basketball.

Duke hit 3s (40%) and 2s (50%), and turned over their opponents (18 in 75 possessions). 5 players scored in double figures, and another fell just short with 9 points. 7 players recorded assists, including 3 with 3 or more. And there were several individual performances for Devils' fans to be excited about - Henderson looked assertive for the first time since injuring his wrist, Scheyer had his shot again, and Brian Zoubek turned in an 11 and 13 double-double, the first of his career. And the defense was back - only 3 of the 12 Johnnies to see action shot 50% from the floor (and one of those went 1-2). The starters shot 11-38, including 2-9 from 3, and turned the ball over 12 times.

This was step 1 to righting the ship. To really overdue the nautical analogy, the Devils have plugged all the holes in the hull and rebuilt the mast. Now we've got four games to see if it's ready to sail into the post-season (and that will officially be the last nautical analogy on this site - at least this season).

Around the ACC

Let's talk tournament turkey - Duke and UNC are in, and (barring disaster for either team) will both be on a 1 or 2 line. Clemson seems to be locked, but they keep looking less than impressive. The question is who else joins them in the tournament. Maryland went from very safe to somewhat up in the air. With games at Wake, against Clemson, and at Virginia, there's suddenly a very real chance of the Terps finish 7-9. That would leave them on the outside looking in. Wake needs to win 3 of the last 4, which means holding serve at home and picking up a win at either of the Techs (actually, 4 in a row is a decently strong possibility for the Deacs). And then there's Virginia Tech, who still won't go away.

The way I see it, Maryland is in if they finish 9-7, but VT and Wake would have to sweat with the same record. Wake definitely holds an advantage over the Hokies with the win over Duke (and I still think they get a Prosser bump). Worst case scenario is Wake and Virginia Tech finishing at 9-7, Maryland at 8-8, and all three lose their ACCT first-rounders. While I don't really think there could only be 3 ACC teams in the tournament, that result would make it very, very hard to choose a 4th (or 5th).

However it plays out, the Terps, Hokies, and Deacons need to play with a sense of desperation over the last 2 weeks. All have the opportunity to play their way in (and it's feasible all 3 could), and have a similar opportunity to play their way out if they can't get the job done.

[Edit: Duh, Miami. Don't know how they slipped my mind last night. Miami might be in the best shape of everybody, with a good RPI and good computer rankings, a quality non-conference road win (something all three of the above teams lack), and a marquee win over Duke. Not to mention a favorable schedule - 3 of the last 4 games are against Virginia, BC, and FSU, and two of those are at home. They might be the likeliest team to make the tournament if everyone is stuck in the 9-7 neighborhood.]

Finally, I've started the process of trying to rebuild my database (I got a new computer on Saturday). My goal is to meet the same schedule I kept last year - season wrap-up and awards and an ACCT preview March 10-13, and NCAA previews March 17-19. But I make no promises.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

St. John's Preview

It occurred to me as I thought about writing this preview that I couldn't name a single player on St. John's roster. Then I looked at their roster, and I understood why. 1 senior, 2 juniors, 1 sophomore, and 6 freshmen. Only Eugene Lawrence and Anthony Mason, Jr. were names I even recognized.

Understandably with that kind of youth, the Johnnies have had some growing pains this season. The offense is simply not good - they score just 0.94 points per possession on the season, and have had 11 games this season where they failed to score 0.90 points per possession. The Johnnies are both generous with the ball (turnovers on 22.7% of possessions) and utterly incapable of putting it in the basket (313th in the country in EFG%). No one shoots close to 50%, and sophomore Larry Wright is the only real threat from beyond the arc. The offense, or what offense there is, centers around Wright, Mason, and freshman Justin Burrell. This should be a chance for Duke's defense to get back on its feet. If the Devils can't stop this squad, there's reason to worry about the defense.

St. John's has won games this year on the defensive side of the basketball. Their defense is in the top 50 in the country in adjusted efficiency, although they don't excel in any particular category. They defend the three point line reasonably well, and do a decent job keeping teams off the glass. One big problem the Johnnies have had is fouling - opponents shoot a lot of free throws (although this may be related to the fact that they tend to be trailing at the end of games).

Sometimes playing games against bad teams can be as useful a barometer of where a team stands. Duke should win this game. How they win this game will say a lot about what we can expect from the team going forward. Duke's last two games have been flat - lots of turnovers (and really careless turnovers) on the offensive end, and lack of energy on the defensive end resulting in too many easy baskets. That can't become a trend, and this game provides an excellent opportunity for the Devils to reverse the trend.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Around the ACC in 96 Points

1) Tough week for the top 4 in the ACC - after all the talk of how stratified the conference was, Duke, Clemson, and Maryland all dropped contests against "lesser" opponents.
2) Welcome to the NCAA conversation Miami and Wake Forest. We're very, very happy to have you a part of this.
3) Vaya con dios from the NCAA conversation NC State - it's a tribute to your pre-season expectations that you remained in the conversation this long.
4) Clemson's conference record is (somewhat) misleading - they're 7-2 against teams not named Duke or UNC.
5) That being said, losing by 9 to FSU?
6) Great game for Jason Rich - 10-13 from the floor on his way to 22 points.
7) Less great game for Toney Douglas, but he did overcome 7 turnovers to lead the Noles with 23.
8) FSU's assist to turnover ratio was 5:21. And they won by 9.
9) Number of 3's missed by KC Rivers.
10) Number of shots missed by James Mays (he was 0-10 from the floor and scored just 1 point)
11) Clemson's 3-point shooting percentage. 3 for 27 is not going to win any games.
12) Number of rebounds for Tyler Hansbrough in the win over NC State
13) Number of free throw attempts for Hansbrough (as Bilas said during the broadcast, he averages a triple double in points, rebounds, and FTAs).
14) Approximate number of minutes NC State played defense. I drank the Kool-Aid on this team all-season, convinced they were always just a game away from turning the corner, despite numbers that placed them at Virginia's level of futility in conference play. No longer. This is, quite simply, the worst and laziest defense in the conference.
15-36) (What, you thought I would actually have 96 items?) Hansbrough added 32 points to his 12 boards and 13 free throw attempts. The next time someone tells you Lawson is more important to this team than Hansbrough, ask yourself whether Lawson would be averaging over 30 points in Hansbrough's absence. Hansbrough's ACC season started slowly, but he has come on like gangbusters in February. As much as it pains me to say this, if he returns for his senior season (and plays like he has the past 3 years), he will be involved in the "greatest players ever" discussion for the ACC and the NCAA.
37-38) Minutes played by Hansbrough and Ellington, respectively. One as-yet unmentioned aspect of Lawson's absence has been the sharp increase in minutes for these two. So far it hasn't taken a toll, but we'll have to see if the heavy usage in February leaves just a little less gas left in the tank when March rolls around.
39) Scoreless bench minutes for the Terrapins. It's the equivalent of having one guy on the court at all times during the game who provides you with no offense.
40) Maryland has a propensity for laying eggs on offense, and last night was one of those nights.
41) Deron Washington is the least efficient scorer in the conference. Last night's shooting (4-10, 1-3 from 3) was one of his best performances of the ACC season.
42) Landon Milbourne's sudden offensive surge hit a bit of a speedbump. His ability to chip-in as a third option will be critical to Maryland's success in the NCAAs
43) The Hokies with Gus Gilchrist would have been a certain NCAA team.
44) Maryland next year with Gus Gilchrist will be a certain NCAA team.
45) Combined wins for Duke and UNC.
46) Combined conference wins for the 6 teams at or above .500 in conference play.
47) Days left in the college basketball season. Seriously. Check a calendar. It's kind of depressing.
48-73) 26 points for Dwayne Collins. Seriously. Check the box score. It's kind of depressing.
74) If you want proof that Gerald Henderson's wrist is bothering him, look no further than his number of attempts. Previously the player who took the highest percentage of shots while on the court, he's taken just 11 in his last 3 games (and made just 2).
75) 45 turnovers in the last 2 games for Duke - very out of character for a team that had been the toughest to turn over in conference play.
76) Duke let Miami put up an EFG of around 63%. By far the worst defensive performance of the season. In brief, in the last two games, Duke has played its 2nd worst offensive game of the year, and followed it up with its worst defensive game of the year.
77) But at least they hit their free throws - 77 percent for the game.
78-92) Duke made 15 threes last night (on 37 attempts). Miami attempted just 14 (and hit 7)
93) Duke opponents, who had been shooting under 30% from 3 in conference play, have hit 22 of their last 51 attempts.
94) I'm not sure I've ever been happier to see the words "St. John's" on our schedule.
95) Can't really blame the offense for the loss last night (although they turned the ball over too much). 95 points in roughly 85 possessions is good numbers. And while we shot better late than early,the Devils did score 45 points on their 37 three point attempts, which is a better point-per-shot number than the 30 points they scored on their 29 two-point attempts. But...
96) 96 points! In a regulation game? To Miami? Duke is still forcing turnovers at its season's pace - 23% for Wake, 25% for Miami. But they're not getting stops in the non-turnover possessions like they used to. Miami last night scored 96 points in roughly 64 non-turnover possessions - exactly 1.5 points in every possession where Duke didn't take the ball away (or equivalent to making a layup three out of every four possessions). That number needs to come back down to the season average (which is somewhere around 1.3). Time to re-commit on the defensive end, and it starts Saturday against St. John's.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Of Break-ins and Basketball

So my house got broken into yesterday while I was at work, and while the filthy little punk who did it managed to leave most of my things behind, I am no longer in the possession of my personal laptop. This obviously sucks for me, but it especially sucks for purposes of this site, because it means that I no longer have any of my handy-dandy statistical information. Thanks to having the work computer, I can still post, but don't expect much in the way of numbers. And expect increased sarcasm and bitterness.

As an aside, whoever broke into my house is a complete idiot. He (or she) walked into a room filled with sports memorabilia - signed baseballs, basketballs, and pictures - and took nothing but two pairs of leather gloves. He (or she) opened up my roommate's backpack, saw his laptop, camera, and iPod, and took none of it! And yet for some reason the little robber decided to grab my cell phone charger, of all things. Being robbed is one thing; being robbed by a moron is out and out depressing.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Duke and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Game

When I was a little kid, I used to read a book called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I thought of that book yesterday at the end of the Wake game, when I'm sure more than a few Blue Devils contemplated their own moves to Australia (ok, enough children's book references for today). Duke had its 2nd worst shooting game of the season, its 2nd worst game turning the ball over, its 3rd worst game getting shots blocked, its 2nd worst game sending opponents to the free throw line, and to cap it all off, the worst performance from the free throw line all season. All of these things contributed to the Devils dropping their first conference game and their second game overall.

From the start, the Devils looked flat. They turned it over in 5 of the first 9 possessions, and consistently looked a half-step slower than Wake on both offense and defense. They let Wake push the tempo up the court, often letting Teague or Smith all the way into the lane before turning them around, at which point open shooters scattered around the perimeter. And there were several mental lapses - stupid passes, stupid fouls, defensive breakdowns, etc. Nonetheless, Duke was in a position to win the game. They led with 8:21 to play, and were within 6 as late as 2:02 left. But both the offense and the defense let down - from the time that Duke led 60-55, they finished 4-22 from the field with 7 turnovers in 11 minutes. That's not going to win any ballgames, let alone against a team that played as well as Wake Forest.

For the Deacs, Jeff Teague and James Johnson served serious notice on the league that Wake has turned the corner. The last two seasons (post-Chris Paul) have been ugly, but Wake seems to have the pieces in place to get back into contention. Not to mention they have some serious recruits coming to town in Al-Farouq Aminu, Ty Walker, and Tony Woods. But leave next year for next year - Wake now has a great chance to get back in the NCAAs this season. If they just hold home court, they'll be 18-11, 8-8 with wins over Duke and Maryland. If they can steal one on the road against either of the Techs, they're probably golden. Also, I know the committee says it doesn't look at conferences, only teams, but the ACC is the top conference in the RPI, and it would be odd if the ACC still got fewer teams than the Pac-10, Big East, Big XII, and as many as the SEC and Big 10. Wake is an appealing 5th team, not the least because the post-Prosser success is a compelling story.

For Duke, the task is to bounce back at Miami this week. They need to regain their confidence on offense and tighten up the defense to get the win.

Oh, and as an aside, if you have any no-hitters, winning streaks, or just anything else you'd like jinxing, I'm available. I bill my time in 6 minute increments.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wake Forest Preview

Duke and Wake are similar teams in a lot of ways. Both like to shoot the three ball. Both are very average inside in terms of rebounds and shot-blocking. Both do a generally good job hanging on to the basketball, and both are positive in turnover margin in conference play (Wake is +16, Duke is +69). The difference comes primarily in the ability of the two teams to put the ball in the basket. Duke is tops in the conference in shooting, while Wake is 7th, and only a recent string of really hot shooting has propelled them that high.

Two freshmen are leading the way for the Deacs this year, James Johnson and Jeff Teague. Johnson's a do it all kind of player - he can score inside and outside, he rebounds well, and plays solid defense, generating a healthy percentage of both steals and blocks. Teague is a guard who prefers to shoot inside than outside, and picks up a healthy number of assists as well.

Wake has been a very good team at home this season. They're 4-1 in conference play, with the only loss coming against Georgia Tech when the defense decided to take the night off. In conference, they have a +9.43 efficiency margin at home, so they play like the third best team in the ACC at Lawrence-Joel.

The way I see it, this game comes down to three keys. First is turnovers. On the whole, Wake is good at hanging on to the ball - 3rd fewest turnovers in conference play. But they've struggled against the teams that focus on turning the opponents over - 22 TOs against Clemson, 20 against Georgia Tech, and 20 against Florida State. Last year in Cameron, Ish Smith was hounded into a 0 assist, 8 turnover performance, and although he's cut down on turnovers this year, he's still vulnerable (he had 17 in the three games listed above). Duke likes forcing turnovers, and this could be a problem for the Deacs.

Second is three point shooting. As a team, Wake had been awful from outside until the last three games. Over their first 20 contests, they took 21 3s a game, and hit fewer than 30% of them. Over the past three games, however, they've found their stroke - 30 for 61, including 8 of 13 at Florida State. I've always thought Wake was a better shooting team than their early season performance, but they're not as good as they've been recently. Duke is excellent at defending the perimeter, leading the conference in opponent's 3pt FG%. If Wake reverts to early season form, it will be a long afternoon for them.

Third is Chas McFarland. McFarland had a career game against Florida State (apparently getting socked in the face jump-started him a bit) - his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 boards. If he can continue to be a force inside for the Deacs, he can force Duke to double down and potentially open up the perimeter for some of Wake's shooters. But McFarland is the only inside threat Wake has - like Duke, the Deacs rely on slashing from the wing for most of their inside scoring. McFarland's ability to control the glass and score inside could provide a big boost to Wake Forest as they seek to knock off the Devils and improve their tournament resume.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

ACC for the Weekend

UNC @ Virginia Tech - So there's a distinct possibility that the Heels will be 6 deep for this game - Thompson, Hansbrough, Ginyard, Ellington, Thomas, and Graves. We could even get a Mike Copeland or Greg Little sighting. I think Green, Stepheson, and Lawson are all technically questionable, but last I heard, they weren't playing. The question is, will it matter? The Hokies are not a fast team, they don't have good point guard play, and Jeff Allen can't contain the inside all by his lonesome. AD Vassallo will need to have a big, big game to keep the Hokies in it. It may be a lower scoring game than the Heels are used to, but when push comes to shove, they're still the better team (even missing three guys)

Clemson @ NC State - The Pack is now 4-6, and entering the must-win part of their schedule. They have home games remaining against UNC, Duke, and Clemson (and FSU). Their road schedule is relatively easy (at Virginia and at Wake). If any of the teams outside of the top-4 can make a run at the NCAAs, it's the Pack. They have a chance for 3 marquee wins. Realistically, they need to go 5-1 - NC State has been sufficiently underwhelming that 8-8 is not going to get the job done. Beating both Duke and UNC seems unlikely, so the win over Clemson becomes essential. Unfortunately, the Pack got slaughtered by the Tigers in the last meeting, losing by 16 and turning the ball over 36% of possessions. Cliff Hammonds has taken a much larger role in the offense recently, to good results. I like the Tigers in this one.

FSU @ Maryland - Maryland just has to avoid losing the games it's supposed to win, and their dance card will be locked up. They've won 6 of 8, and will likely be favored in no fewer than 5 of their remaining games. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Terps run the table - they have FSU, VT, and Clemson at home, and Virginia, Miami, and Wake on the road. They'll have every opportunity to play themselves into the #3 (or even #2 - since they hold the tiebreak with UNC) spot in the ACC. As for FSU, Matt Zitani played 20 minutes on Thursday night. That pretty much tells the story of FSU's season - attrition through injury (Alabi, Swann), transfer (Breeden), and idiocy (Reid).

ACC Sunday

Miami @ Georgia Tech - It's a shame Paul Hewitt couldn't have played Miami's schedule - they might have 18 wins right now instead of 11. He got snakebitten by scheduling for a team that would include Crittenton (and perhaps Young) and playing that schedule without both guys. At 11-12, they need to win out. Miami is in pretty much the same boat, but could possibly get it done with 6-1. Their problem is a very tough schedule - the next four games are @ Georgia Tech, Duke, Maryland, and @ Clemson. Ouch. Winning three of those four games would give the Canes both momentum and quality wins, both of which the team desperately needs. In this game, Georgia Tech has to avoid getting killed on the glass, and needs to turn Miami over. The latter is something they do very well at home. The last game Miami won at the free throw line - if they're as cold from outside as they were in the first game (2-19), they'll need to get back to the line to do some damage.

Virginia @ Boston College - I think this is a game the Cavs can win. BC is on at outside shooting streak that probably won't last - just under 50% from 3 in the last 3 games. John Oates is particularly ridiculous - he's hit 18 of 25 threes in conference play - that's 72.2%. That kind of performance is unsustainable, and bound to change at some point. And the teams actually match up very well - excellent point guards who can score and distribute, decent play from the wings, and no offense at all from the post. This could turn in to Singletary v. Rice, which would just be fun to watch. There's a legit chance that the two combine for 50+ points and 15+ assists.

Duke @ Wake Forest - tune in tomorrow.

Friday, February 15, 2008

6 To Go

At the risk of jinxing what has been, to this point, an exceptional conference season for Duke, it's time to talk about what is suddenly the very real possibility that Duke turns the Sweet 16 again in ACC play. That's right, 16-0. It certainly won't be easy - of the six remaining games for Duke, four are on the road, and another is against UNC. Here are the six hurdles left to jump, in order of degree of difficulty:

1) UNC, 3/8, Durham - duh.

2) NC State, 3/1, Raleigh - yes, I've been hard on NC State this year. Yes, they've laid gi-normous eggs in their games against top opponents (first half UNC, second half Duke, Clemson). Yes, they looked awful on defense against BC (as they have all year). But talent is still talent, and the Wolfies will be looking for any kind of silver lining on their season by this point. It also says a lot about what I think of Duke's prospects for going 16-0 that this is the second most difficult game left.

3) Wake Forest, 2/17, Winston-Salem - Wake has been on a bit of a roll because their 3-point shots have started falling - nearly 50% over the last three games. That's obviously unsustainable, but their average in conference play is now at 34.5% (tells you how bad their outside shooting had been before), which is about right for this team. A lot of people see this weekend's game as a trap game for Duke. I'll have more detail on Sunday, but there's one reason why I'm less worried than others. This is Ish Smith's line from last season's meeting: 9 points (4-11 shooting), 0 assists, 8 turnovers. He may do better than that this time around (hard not to) but he's still going to struggle mightily against Duke's perimeter D.

4) Georgia Tech, 2/27, Durham - This game would have been a lot tougher at Georgia Tech. On the road, they're a thoroughly mediocre team. And rookie point guards (Mo Miller, Matt Causey) do not have a history of performing well in Cameron.

5) Miami, 2/20, Miami - Duke won rather comfortably in Cameron, and Miami is not all that imposing. Contain McClinton, and it will be very hard for the rest of the team to score enough points to keep up. Duke did that on Feb. 2, and it took four guys having exceptional shooting days for the Canes to even keep it close. I doubt that Hicks, Asbury, Graham, and Dews will combine to shoot 19-29 in the rematch.

6) Virginia, 3/5, Charlottesville - Virginia has an interesting habit of mailing in games against "unimportant" opponents, and getting super-jacked for when the big boys come to town (witness Tuesday's performance against UNC). So despite the fact that UVA is very, very bad this year, it's still a potential trap game. That's especially true given that it's just 3 days before the UNC game. Nonetheless, UVA is still a bad team. There's even less likelihood that someone outside of Singletary can carry the team than there is that someone outside of McClinton could pick up the slack for Miami.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Duke 90, BC 80

Very weird game to watch. In the first half, I thought Duke thoroughly outplayed BC. They turned them over a ton, grabbed a bunch of offensive boards, and forced BC into several highly contested shots. Of course, BC hit many of the highly contested shots (some were just ridiculous) and walked away with a 1-point halftime lead (thanks in large part to Duke's inability to hit uncontested 15 footers with the clock stopped). In the second half, aside from two quick spurts (one to start the half and one with about 7 minutes to play), I thought BC thoroughly out-played Duke. The press got about a half-step slower, leading to more open looks for the Eagles. And yet, Duke walked out of the building with a 10 point win. Just goes to show you can't always believe your eyes.

In the bigger picture, Duke's defense must now be considered a point of some concern. Still statistically tops in the conference, it has been very up and down. 5 teams have put up better than a point per possession, and Duke has allowed opponents to post EFG%'s of .565 or worse 4 times in the last 7 games. At the same time, they held the Heels to just .93 points per possession on .428 shooting, so what do I know.

Around the ACC

Things are starting to shake out a little in the ACC. Virginia has officially mailed in its season before the postage gets hiked to 42 cents. Miami, FSU, and BC are each about a loss away from starting to make doe-eyes at the NIT selection committee. NC State and Wake are together at 4-5 - I know I'm in the minority, but I like Wake's chances a lot more than NC State's. In games against the top 4 teams in the conference, NC State is almost -30!! in efficiency margin. I haven't seen anything (other than 20 minutes against Duke - which, by the way, would look not at all impressive if you flipped the two halves of that game; in fact, it would look an awful lot like the Pack's second half against the Heels after dropping a giant stink-bomb in the first) to suggest that this NC State team is markedly improved from the squad that lost to New Orleans and ECU.

Georgia Tech dropped their last golden opportunity for a marquee non-conference win. They pretty much have to go 7-1 or 8-0 (or win the ACCT) to play in the NCAAs. They finished hot down the stretch last year - can they do it again? Virginia Tech is all alone in 5th, but is none too comfortable after dropping consecutive games to NC State and Miami. The Hokies still have to go to UNC, Maryland, and Clemson. Lose all three of those and it's time to start selling NIT tickets at Cassell Coliseum.

Whereas the bottom 8 teams can't seem to do much of anything right for any extended run of games, the top 4 have really set themselves apart from the pack. Yes, Clemson is 5-4, but after seeing their two games against UNC, I refuse to believe they aren't one of the 20 best teams in the country. If they just hold court at home and take care of the winnable road games (FSU, NCSU), they'll be sitting pretty at 10-6. But let's be honest, they're fine even at 9-7. Maryland's offense has been firing on all cylinders since struggling early against VT and Wake. It helps that they've hit 40.4% of their 3s over the last 6 games. Turnovers are still the Achilles heel.

And UNC and Duke are, well, UNC and Duke (although I hear the Heels are petitioning to have Phil Ford suit up at PG against Virginia). A get well soon from this site to Marcus Ginyard and Ty Lawson (and, for that matter, Bobby Frasor, although we know he won't get well soon enough to help the Heels this year) - it's always fun to beat Carolina, but it's even more fun to do it when they're all healthy. I for one hope the rematch can pit both teams at full strength - it will be a heck of a game to watch.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Carolina Recap and BC Preview

Much has already been said about Duke's win at Carolina on Wednesday, so I'm sure nothing I have to add will be particularly original. A lot of people stuck this game on their calendar as the barometer game for Duke. Much of Duke's early season performance was "yes, but..." Yes they're undefeated in conference, but they haven't played particularly well against lots of those teams. Yes their only loss was by 1 in overtime, but who have they played? The Carolina game was the test game - a chance to see if this young, talented team could step up against one of the supposed juggernauts in college basketball this season.

Well, step up they did. Duke played a very good game in a hostile environment against a talented team (albeit one without its all-American point guard). The Devils dictated the pace and style of play on both sides of the ball. Carolina got very few break opportunities (either primary or secondary) and had a lot of trouble getting the ball into Tyler Hansbrough. Duke harassed the perimeter and forced UNC into 20 turnovers. On offense, the spread worked almost to perfection. Duke got almost any open look they wanted from outside the 3-point line, and also generated many one-on-one opportunities for layups or mid-range shots. Every Devil except Thomas and McClure was given the ball at the top of the key and allowed to break down their defender for either a layup or a pass-off for 3. And the Heels couldn't do anything with the high screen, pick-and-pop plays.

So it's fair to say that the Devils are back in the national picture and on the short list of teams that can compete for the championship. I think popular perception has them behind Memphis, Kansas, and UCLA in a group that includes Georgetown, Tennessee, and UNC, and I happen to think that's about right.

Of course, the worst thing that could happen is that everyone starts patting everybody's back and getting a little complacent. Duke still needs to play like they have something to prove. I'm not too worried about a Krzyzewski coached team getting complacent.

Today they jump right back on the horse against Boston College. BC is a terrible defensive team. They got torched by both UNC and Clemson on the road. If you take out the early season blowout of Wake, their efficiency margin over the remaining games would place them as the worst team in the ACC. The Eagles haven't held any of their last 5 opponents under 1.12 points per possession. Long story short, Duke should score a lot of points. I believe BC is without Shamari Spears, their starting power forward. On a team that barely went 8 deep before, his loss has hurt (although Josh Southern has played well in his newly increased role). When BC has the ball, it will stay mainly in the hands of Ty Rice. He's in the top 5 in the conference in both scoring and assists, and has been a one-man show for most of the season. Aside from Rice, only Rakim Sanders and Corey Raji are particularly interested in shooting the ball. The Eagles are also very vulnerable to turnovers - 22% as a team, with each player about equally generous with the ball.

All in all, the recipe is in place for a blowout, and while it's always dangerous to predict blowouts, I see no reason why one won't occur.

Around the ACC

Virginia is very bad. Singletary just has no help, and Leitao still can't figure out what his ideal rotation looks like. Clemson absolutely ate them alive on Thursday night. Virginia is now last in the league both in the standings and by the numbers. A win at Wake today would be nice, but their season is done for all intents and purposes. Even an NIT bid could be tough to come by.

Georgia Tech has a huge opportunity for a statement win today at Connecticut. Unfortunately, the Huskies are a terrible matchup for the Jackets, who don't do a lot of scoring from the perimeter and don't do particularly well on the glass. But this is probably a game that Tech needs to win if they want to stay in the NCAA conversation.

Miami has a must-win game at Va Tech. They've shown that their early season success was largely a result of schedule, as their performance in conference has been less than stellar, particularly on the defensive end. Virginia Tech needs this game too. Still left on the schedule are trips to Maryland, Clemson, and UNC. They can lose those three and still go 9-7 - any other loss and they're staring .500 in the face.

NC State travels to a Maryland team that is trying to prove it's the third best team in the conference. They're probably not - Clemson's e-margin in conference play is actually above UNC's right now, and substantially better than Maryland's (which is even with Georgia Tech). NC State is in the middle of the pack at 4-4, but it's a somewhat deceptive record. They've been killed by the good teams they played - Duke, UNC, and Clemson beat the Pack by an average of 22.3 points, and until this week, their conference wins were by 2, 3, and 2 points. Maryland is a good team, and I think they'll run over the Pack at home.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Duke 55, NC State 26

What's that you say? The score above is incorrect? There was a first half to this game? Bah!

Duke won the game with the most impressive half of offense we're likely to see all season. Duke scored 55 points in just 31 possessions, for an astounding 177.42 offensive rating. 21 of the 31 possessions ended in a made field goal, with an additional 3 possessions ending with Duke converting 2-for-2 at the stripe. The Devils shot an excellent .766efg%, and when they did miss, they got the ball right back, gathering up 10 of the 13 misses. NC State's offense in the second half wasn't terrible, although they turned the ball over too much and missed some free throws. But there was just no keeping up with the Devils in the second half - Duke's offense clicked in a way it hasn't since JJ Redick last played Texas.

NC State took the lead in the first half by doing all the things it had not been able to do all season long. They kept Duke off the offensive glass (and picked up some offensive boards of their own). They forced turnovers. They hit threes. And they scored points - 46 in a half for a team that averages in the 60s. But when the second half started, it was back to the old habits - no rebounding, no takeaways, no threes, and generosity in returning the ball to Duke. In the second half, the Devils were +14 in attempts, +12 in makes, +21 in points from 3, +5 in turnovers, and +12 on the glass (+6 on each end). All those pluses added up to a second half rout, and another disappointing performance for the Pack.

Greg Paulus kept himself on the floor last night with his best game of the season, exploding for 22 points with 6 assists, no turnovers, and three steals. Coach K didn't mess around too much with the lineup in the second half - only 7 lineup changes over the course of the half. He likely didn't want to mess with the offensive chemistry and momentum his starting lineup was showing, and it certainly worked. It was as little as Duke has used the bench all season, but it was also the right call - last night the depth was not needed.

Duke has a quick turnaround with a 3:30 et Saturday tilt against Miami before The Rivalry next week. After seeing the relative ease with which both Duke and UNC dispatched their foes tonight, it doesn't look like either team is looking ahead. But Duke/UNC is now just 6 days away, and I'm positively giddy - the way both teams have played so far this season, the rivalry matchups should be classics.