This article is by three guys, Justin Cates, Mike McDaniel, and myself. I was too lazy to create a three-headed monster log-in. But you’ll be able to tell that we all contributed our hearts and souls to this project equally. Watching six games of ACC basketball in six hours is going to be a challenge, but we’ll be able to give varying perspectives.
So, there are mainly three of us who handle the hoops around here, me, Mike McDaniel, and Justin Cates. If you haven’t read our stuff, we recommend you check it out. It’s comprehensive and you can get a lot of what you need to know in one place, it leads to great work procrastination when you read a 6,000 word power poll that could have been 7,000. We’ve been happy to make it a month and a half, and to have some of you regular readers get us started here. Today we’re going to watch six games and talk about some of the things we’re seeing so far this year. You’ll get to watch the game through our eyes, and we welcome you to comment below so we can all get a handle on this thing!
Anyway it’s Chuck, Cates, and Magic Mike. We’ll be starting this email thread and updating it periodically. If you have questions below, we’ll be discussing all matters of most things! We’re going to start with Duke and Louisville at 12 p.m. just like you, and we’re going until the games end, sometime around 6:15. We hope you join us, but even if you don’t, it should be entertaining to read and most importantly of all: informative. OK, I’m gonna lead off with the potential for a Dukepocalyse.
Chuck: High stakes for Duke today gentlemen. A third loss in a row, even if it’s to highly-regarded Lousville, is going to cause some panic in Durham. Freshman Tyus Jones has been struggling, and the pairing of Quin Cook and Tyus Jones has been toxic in general on defense, and Sulaimon off the bench has been little relief. They have allowed NC State and Miami to make 20-of-36 three point shots in back to back double digit losses over the last two games.
Jones has only scored 10 points in the last two games, and seen an uptick in turnovers; his assist to turnover ratio regressing as league play has begun. Coach K was quoted as saying that he had felt the team was off since Christmas. They’ve certainly been beatable the last two games. That was a historically bad loss at home to anyone, let alone a bubble(ish) Miami squad, and it broke a long-standing win streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Both the Hurricanes and Wolfack have been unranked, though both have good enough records at this point to harbor NCAA aspirations. As the league susses itself out both Miami and NC State end up in the top half, and it won’t be as humiliating as it feels right now for people who bleed black and blue.
Another manner of concern is that opposing PGs have just torched the Blue Devils lately. Against Miami the two diminutive guards Angel Rodriguez and Manu Lecomte utilized ball screen after ball screen, and Jones and Rasheed Sulaiman went through the wrong door on the screen repeatedly. And it’ll never be said here that Quin Cook is an elite defender, or at least an elite effort defender. He’ll make a play or two, but he isn’t a veteran leader that leads by example on that end, and I think that the perimeter defense is something that may nag at them this year. Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner are NC State’s veteran backcourt and they used the same tactics to get clear looks from deep. Allowing 10+ threes a game isn’t always a death sentence, it’s when you can’t protect the rim either. NC St was 23 of 44 from two, with many good looks in the painted area, Beejay Anya helped clear space and managed 14 points in just 19 minutes. Okafor got his, and Cook did a little damage, but the perimeter and transition D was so lacking it was surprising to see Coach K allow that to lapse.
They are going up against a pair in Chris Jones and Terry Rozier this afternoon who are not afraid to shoot it from deep or try to get in to the painted area. Who do you think makes the difference today Justin? I personally think it’s Wayne Blackshear, if you expect Okafor and Harrell to play to a draw. Jefferson and the Louisville power forward will both be liabilities offensively, and the Cardinals have been very upset with their center play, particularly the starter Onanu. I think it comes down to the Justise Winslow/Wayne Blackshear matchup (and I suppose Anton Gill, if Blackshear gets into Coach Pitino’s doghouse).
So many subplots surround this game. Duke hasn’t lost 2 regular season games in a row since February 2009 (UNC-BC). 2007 was the last year Duke lost as many as three regular season games in a row. A weird league campaign that saw UVA and VT finish 2nd and 3rd. Duke finished 8-8 and in 7th that year. They narrowly lost to Eric Maynor and VCU in the first round. Louisville has been playing in spurts lately also, losing a game to UNC that they led by 13. Pitino seems frustrated with his group. He has been trying everyone out lately. You guys take a look at that throughout the game. Can Chris Jones play within himself against a Coach K team? Or will he and Pitino bicker throughout a sporadic performance? Will Blackshear be a wallflower? Will Jones fight thru the high screen the Louisville bigs will present him with? I’ve asked a ton of questions here…do your best my friend.
Cates: It’s not in dire straights by any means, but the Duke program is slipping just a touch. I consider it the “one-and-done” effect finally taking a bit of a toll. The program simply isn’t dominant like it once was because of all the roster turnover. In the last decade Duke has exited the NCAA Tournament three times in the first round and once in the second. Duke made similar exits just twice in the previous decade taking us all the way back to the lost season of 94-95 when Krzyzewski missed most of the season due to back surgery and the Blue Devils missed the tourney all together. Duke hasn’t won the ACC regular season or conference tournament since 2010-11 and it’s only going to get harder with the new schools on the ACC block and the growing resurgence of Virginia and to a lesser extent NC State.
The constant influx of youth seems to drive coach K nuts because it’s hard for freshmen, no matter how talented, to go from high school and the wide open “look at me” AAU circuit to running disciplined sets and playing tough defense.
If you think Pitino is frustrated Chuck, can you imagine the things Krzyzewski is saying behind closed doors? He looked like he gave up late in the Miami game because he knew they just had to wear that one. Who do you think is more annoyed with his group right now Mike?
Side note: It drives me nuts that black has become such a dominant part of the Duke motif. The official school colors are blue and white. It says it right in the fight song! I blame Nike for homogenizing everything about sports to the point where schools all wear the same warm-ups just with different colors. It’s a direct affront to the uniqueness and traditions of each institution. /uniform rant
UPDATED 12:51 Chuck: Nothing would fall for Louisville in the first half, 7-of-31 overall, 2-of-13 from three and just 5-of-18 from two. Very lightly officiated game, as only 10 free throws have been attempted. Vegas gamblers who took the over are very likely already showing surrender cobras, and seconds away from tearing up their tickets.
The difference has been Amile Jefferson with his 10 pts and 6 boards. He has been feasting on whatever flotsam Louisville has been throwing at him from the five spot. Louisville needs to move the ball more, pure and simple. Not settle for weak, first looks early in the shot clock.
Cates: Jefferson has been playing out of his mind this week. His 14 points and 12 boards against Miami were impressive, but today he was really the only spark for Duke in the first half. He just has a knack for being in the right spots when he needs to be.
I can’t understand why Louisville is still cranking threes. They’re 3-of-18 (16.7%) with 10:13 remaining. Duke isn’t much better at 4-14 (28.6%) but they’re getting good production inside. The Cardinals are trying to be something they aren’t for some reason today. They’re still in the game, but they can’t continue to have empty possessions.
Updated 1:45 Chuck: Well, as we approach the 4:30 mark here in the 2nd half and Louisville challenged to score 50 for the game at this point, it appears that Coach K devised a great defensive game plan, and Pitino didn’t watch tape of the last two games. That said, Louisville ranks below 300th nationally in 3-point shooting as do four other ACC teams. If they insist on shooting them, Duke was going to let them have the shot. What a difference four days can make. Now we dial it down a notch with NC St/Florida St. Let’s see if losing Anthony “Cat” Barber sets the ‘Pack back.
Updated 2:02 Cates: I’m a little surprised Louisville didn’t start pressing sooner, of course it’s tough to set up when you can’t make shots. Strong showing from the Blue Devils and definitely a win to build on for a young team.
NC State-Florida State is underway with the Wolfpack up 27-12 near the eight minute mark in the first half. State is without the services of Cat Barber today but it hasn’t slowed down the offense. Trevor Lacey has nine points and Ralston Turner has seven so far.
Virginia-Boston College is about to tip off as well. Can BC score more than 25 against the packline defense?
Updated 3:06 Cates: There’s some terrific action in the 2 p.m. games. Miami leads No. 12 Notre Dame 30-29 at the half in South Bend. The Canes are playing with tons of confidence after that Duke win (#Swagger). Zach Auguste is back for the Irish but he’s been quiet with just two points and two rebounds. Jerian Grant has looked terrific with 10 points.
Boston College is giving UVA all they handle with the ‘Hoos up just 27-24 at halftime. BC is playing patiently against the stifling Virginia defense. A point total in the low 50s suits both teams just fine and we’re right on pace for it.
NC State has let FSU fight its way back but the Pack leads 52-49 just under 10 minutes to go in Tallahassee. Ralston Turner hasn’t scored in the second half (or at all since the first mention above) and Trevor Lacey has cooled off as well. State’s bench is playing big with 27 points to just 11 for FSU’s subs.
UPDATED 3:40 Mike: Just under 10 minutes to go in South Bend, and Mike Brey’s patented drive and kick system has finally begun to wear down the Hurricanes in the second half. Notre Dame is picking up stops and pushing the pace, allowing Jerian Grant to begin to get going. Connaughton and Beachem started the run with a series of 3-point field to spark the run and get the crowd back into it. Meanwhile, with just under two minutes to go in Tallahassee, the ‘Noles have fought back behind Montay Brandon, who has carried the team in the second half back into the game. The Cat Barber loss for N.C. State didn’t seem to have an effect much of the first half, but may finally be wearing down the ‘Pack.
I really like the way Boston College has defended in this game, especially with the way they have guarded Justin Anderson, who is becoming visibly frustrated. He’s now 0-7 from the floor and 0-4 from deep after his last miss, and at only 2 points in the game, which is well below his season average of 15 points per night. The ‘Hoos continue to cling to a narrow lead behind their obvious talent advantage, but BC seems to be keen on keeping this contest interesting down to the wire at home.
UPDATE 4:00 Chuck: Notre Dame got it done with smoke and mirrors today at home vs Miami, who couldn’t build on that strong road win at Duke. Notre Dame closed them out nicely in the second half by getting into the high percentage areas, converting 18-of-27.
UVA slept-walk through that BC game, still won by 15 points. This team is pretty bullet-proof. I have yet to see a team in the ACC that can play 40 minutes with them. Justin Anderson even came back to earth for an afternoon, and didn’t shoot 60% from distance. Guess the margin would have been 30 points had UVA been sharp.
UPDATE 4:10 Mike Virginia didn’t play their best game today, but continued their dominant defense against BC, allowing only 51 points against the Eagles. The ‘Hoos are glad that they had Malcolm Brogdon, as he poured in 20 points to pace the win. Meanwhile, N.C. State made their free throws down the stretch to pull away from a hasty Florida State effort, as they clearly could have used Anthony “Cat” Barber in this one to ease the effort. Finally, you have to be impressed with how Notre Dame played from about the 12 minute mark on in the second half, as the veteran leadership of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton helped the Irish survive against a good Miami team.
UPDATE 4:34 Cates: UVA is really impressive. Even in a game like today when they just played okay, suddenly you look up late and they’re up 15. I’m really not sure who will beat them in the ACC at this point. Everyone else has ups and downs while the ‘Hoos are just slow and steady. BC is entirely reliant on Olivier Hanlan. He left the game for two minutes and the Eagles looked completely lost and couldn’t run anything. He’s a good player but they’re running him into the ground.
Clemson is off to a strong start against Syracuse up 27-11 with just under five minutes until halftime. Rakeem Christmas has nine early for ‘Cuse, but Clemson is eating them alive on offense in the post. Jaron Blossomgame has eight points and six rebounds so far. The Ornge are shooting just 19% from the field and the Tiger faithful are fired up.
Update 4:52 Mike: Ugly first half for the Syracuse zone defense. They better tighten up the 2-3 look, especially at the top of the key, where Clemson has had no trouble getting the ball in the high post and executing offensively from that point. Rakeem Christmas had a productive half on offense for the Orange, but he seems to be the only player that has really been able to get on track. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech is neck and neck heading into the half, with neither team in a hurry to pull away from the other. Georgia Tech did a nice job early in the half of keeping Panthers leading scorer Michael Young in check, but in the waning minutes of the first half, he has begun to exert himself positively as he now has nine points and four rebounds.
Update 6:23 Chuck: Well the clock finally struck midnight on Syracuse in the worst way. All these close wins over weaker opponents came back to bite them today at Littlejohn Coliseum, a place where good fundamental offensive basketball goes to die. Not that Syracuse is really doing those things well this year anyway. Yes, Rakeem Christmas was good for his usual double-double, and is cementing his run for ACC POTY with his play this week, but it’s simply not enough to cover for an offensively inefficient backcourt.
Syracuse shooting guard Trevor Cooney shot 0-7, and 0-5 from deep. His numbers since ACC play began: 24-71 overall, 18-49 from 3, and a woeful 6-of-32 inside the arc. That is inexcusable for such a volume shooter. He is also pressing at the foul line, 14-of-24 in ACC play. The Orange desperately need a 2nd reliable scoring option, and Chris McCullough looked like he could be that option before he tore his knee up last week. All credit to Clemson for matching Christmas inside and dominating the rest of the game with their perimeter defense. They also got a third offensive contributor themselves, which may allow the Tigers to surprise down the stretch if they can make that a consistent part of their repertoire.
Grantham's fourth 3 follows, Tigers up 57-38. He's got a career high 16 in the game. Having fun yet guys? pic.twitter.com/aIkeDemsjH
— Clemson Basketball (@ClemsonMBB) January 17, 2015
Georgia Tech and Brian Gregory are not long for each other. His continued poor performance in games decided by five points or less is jaw-dropping. His record has moved to 18-41 in games decided by five points or less. He is 0-4 this year alone. This has reached the marrow of the program. With a lot of coaching talent looking for jobs, this Dayton overachiever has turned into an underachiever in Atlanta. Paul Hewitt was abysmal in his final years, and Brian Gregory is choking on the fumes remaining from the chemical spill left in his wake. With an 0-5 start, and a loss to USC-Upstate, I have Brian Gregory as my #1 candidate on the coaching hot seat in the ACC. With a series of recent hires, and some buyouts still to be paid to ex-coaches, there aren’t many candidates for termination. The talent in the cupboard and the same style of play under Gregory leads many Jacket fans to wonder how things are changing. And the fact is that they are not. And when you frame the team’s football success vs their hoops struggles in the same season, it makes it incumbent upon AD Mike Bobinski to figure out what the longterm goals of this program are, and find a leader to keep all this burgeoning ATL AAU talent at home. This used to be a premier team in the ACC under Bobby Cremins. But that has largely been an oasis in decades of basketball sublimating to the football program. This school can be both a football and basketball school, it already has a rich baseball pedigree. Answers aren’t around the corner, but big decisions are.
As we wrap this up, who were your votes for MVPs of the day going to? I’m taking Brogdon, who dragged a struggling UVA team to an uninspired victory that expanded to margin of 15. Co-MVP to Jerian Grant who put up 23 and 8 assists in the home win over an overconfident Miami squad, who sported a noticeable size advantage. 3rd star:
Anti-players of the week: Angel Rodriguez went 1-of-10, following up his 24 pts at Duke this week with just four points. Wayne Blackshear who shot 2-of-10 in another passive performance, when U of L could have used some versatility. And finally: Justin Anderson, in likely his one appearance here for UVA all year. He went 0-8, 0-4 from deep but contributed at the line with 8 pts. XRM of FSU went 4 of 15 in a losing effort against a more veteran backcourt. Tough matchups for FSU shooters, but they put up less fight at home than Coach Hambone would be looking to see.
I’m interested in your guys LVPs and MVPs before we wrap this thing up!
Cates: Good calls on those superlatives. I’ll go Amile Jefferson for MVP after his sneaky performance today. He scored a game-high 19 points and pulled in seven rebounds helping Duke to a big road win. Jefferson went 6-of-7 from the field and 7-of-9 at the free throw line which is crucial for a big. Honorable mention for Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame who scored 15 points to go along with 12 rebounds in the upset win over Syracuse. That dude is a walking double-double.
— Duke M. Basketball (@Duke_MBB) January 17, 2015
Least valuable goes to the Georgia Tech starting backcourt. Guards Corey Heyward and Josh Heath played 44 total minutes and combined for just three points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field and dished out just three assists. You’re not going to win many games with that kind of production.
Update 9:00PM Mike: Simply texted me that he liked Brogdon from UVA providing All-ACC play in order to lead his team to a comfortable win. He also liked Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor who mastered a veteran U-of-L squad, with a sturdier front line. He also gave a game ball to Clemson’s Blossomgame. He registered his least valuable players as Trevor Cooney.
And that’ll do it for our first coast-to-coast edition. We hope to hear from more of you throughout the day. And we hope you enjoyed this live look-in.
Justin can be followed @bestcates; and Mike @mikem92. I handle the site feed at ITA. We love hearing from you guys. So please reach out, we love the discussion.
Have a great Sunday. Enjoy the football games, and don’t miss our running diary tonight during the VT/UNC game as Mike, Justin, Chuck, and Justin Morgan will all be sitting around riffing on their Hokies, as they try to steal a game from a very confident UNC squad.