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.

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