Tag Archive | Mason Plumlee

My All-ACC Ballot

FIRST TEAM

Erick Green, Virginia Tech

Mason Plumlee, Duke

Shane Larkin, Miami

Richard Howell, N.C. State

Joe Harris, Virginia

This was pretty straightforward, with respect to Seth Curry and Reggie Bullock, both of whom I thought deserved a spot. Ultimately, there wasn’t enough space. 

SECOND TEAM

Seth Curry, Duke

Reggie Bullock, North Carolina

Kenny Kadji, Miami

Akil Mitchell, Virginia

Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State

THIRD TEAM

P.J. Hairston, North Carolina

Devin Booker, Clemson

Ryan Anderson, Boston College

Quinn Cook, Duke

Michael Snaer, Florida State

Toughest omissions: Durand Scott (Miami), Dez Wells (Maryland), C.J. Harris (Wake Forest), C.J. Leslie (N.C. State), James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina), Alex Len (Maryland).

Full disclosure: I’m a big believer in tempo-free stats, and those omissions came from a combination of those and, you know, the eye test. I watched a lot of ACC games this year. Consistency also played a role, and defense. 

ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM

Olivier Hanlan, Boston College

T.J. Warren, N.C. State

Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke

Marcus Paige, North Carolina

Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech

Toughest omissions: Devin Thomas (Wake Forest), Robert Carter Jr. (Georgia Tech), Joe Rahon (Boston College).

ALL-DEFENSE

Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech

Julian Gamble, Miami

Durand Scott, Miami

Michael Snaer, Florida State

Tyler Thornton, Duke

Toughest omissions: Reggie Bullock (North Carolina), Jontel Evans (Virginia), Akil Mitchell (Virginia), Rod Hall (Clemson). 

This was the most difficult category for me, and I don’t have a problem admitting that some of those picks might have been wrong.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

Freshman of the Year: T.J. Warren, N.C. State.

Consistency and efficiency won the day here, as Warren edged Hanlan of BC. Sulaimon has recently hit the freshman wall, as most freshmen tend to, but he was taken out of the starting lineup and has generally looked frustrated while the other two are closing strongly. Warren was very good most of the year and is starting to hit his stride as a starter, which is part of what put him over the top for me. 

Defensive Player of the Year: Julian Gamble, Miami.

I honestly had no idea what to do here, but Gamble has done a great job bothering opposing big men all year and has been very difficult to score against. And considering how much Miami’s defensive numbers have dropped since Gamble left the starting lineup/saw his minutes decrease in favor of Reggie Johnson only helped solidify that opinion. But I am very willing to admit I might have been wrong.

Coach of the Year: Jim Larranaga, Miami.

This seemed like a no-brainer until very recently, when it looked like Miami might not win the outright ACC regular-season title. Still, a weak ending to the season doesn’t take away from the body of work. And he has had this Miami team playing defense at a very high level, believing in each other and being unselfish. They’ve been very tough to beat most of this year, and he’s a big reason for that. Sure, they’re older, and experienced. But Frank Haith had older, tough-minded teams at Miami. They didn’t play like this. 

(Side note: Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Tony Bennett also did some nice things this season.)

Player of the Year: Erick Green, Virginia Tech.

A lot of my case was made for Green here, but I’ll add this: the ACC Player of the Year award is not the Most Valuable Player. If it were, I would have gone with Shane Larkin. Green averages nearly double the amount of points as Larkin, is more efficient and has a higher assist rate despite having MUCH worse teammates. Larkin’s a better defender, but not significantly.

I tend to err on the side of picking a POY from a winning ACC team, preferably a team that wins the league (or at least a top-five team). It takes a very strong effort from a guy on a last-place team (or close to last) to even merit consideration, much less win it. He has to be significantly ahead of the pack. And Green was that guy to me, based on a combination of statistics and my judgment from watching him.

He did all he could to make his teammates better (compared to another high-volume scorer from last year, about whom his coach said “I can’t coach him”). That, combined with no one else on the top-five teams jumping up to grab the award (at least in my estimation), led to my vote. Reasonable minds can disagree, of course.

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Jan. 2 ACC Previews

No. 1 Duke (11-0) vs. Davidson (7-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN3 (Charlotte)

Wrong North Carolina team, but close enough.

What to watch: Duke’s three-point defense. Duke’s had some dicey moments in the past two games against Elon and Santa Clara, and all those moments have come courtesy of their opponents hitting three-pointers. Those teams combined to make 16-of-45 (35.6%) over the last two games after Duke held opponents to 29.7% in the first nine games. Davidson will have to hit three’s (a lot of them) to keep this game close, and the Wildcats are making 38.8% from beyond the arc this year.

Mason Plumlee. Not many teams have anyone that can guard the 6-10 big man, who’s playing as well as anyone in the country right now, but Davidson certainly doesn’t have more than one (6-10 Jake Cohen). Duke needs to feed Plumlee early and often and exploit that advantage. If there’s anything to nitpick with Plumlee’s game recently, it’s that he’s made just 21-of-37 free throws (56.8%) over the last four games, but he’s shooting so well from the field that it really hasn’t mattered much, and Davidson only has so many fouls to give anyway.

Random Davidson facts: Davidson earned the Wildcat nickname back in 1917 when just 22 football players traveled to Atlanta to play Auburn, a team that had outscored its first six opponents 141-6. Davidson was just 2-4, but somehow they won 21-7. Atlanta sportswriters dubbed them the Wildcats because of their “ferocity”. Davidson had a live wildcat until the late 1960s, and they used to feed it by putting live chickens in its cage. Can’t imagine why that wouldn’t fly today.

Prediction: Duke, 87-72. Davidson might keep it close for awhile – it’s pretty clear the Blue Devils are ready for ACC play at this point, and Bob McKillop is a good coach – but Duke should win this one relatively comfortably.

UT-Chattanooga (5-8) at Georgia Tech (9-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Don’t be fooled: this mockingbird will eat your face off.

What to watch: Robert Carter, Jr. The freshmen was inconsistent to start the year and had just two double-digit scoring games in the first seven. But he’s averaging 13.8 points on 63% shooting in the last four games to go with 7.8 rebounds. Carter gives Georgia Tech yet another good post player, but he can shoot from three and his diverse skill set is something Georgia Tech doesn’t really have right now anywhere else on the floor. The Yellow Jackets need all the offense they can get.

Random UT-Chattanooga facts: Now, this is how you transition from an offensive Indian mascot to a real one. Chattanooga was known as the Moccasins, but in 1996, they had to change their name. They shortened it to “Mocs” and a mockingbird is their mascot. The mockingbird head is shaped like the state of Tennessee. Yeah, it’s kind of a lame mascot. But hey, at least it makes sense and preserves the history of the old one.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 77-54. The Yellow Jackets are starting to click, and Chattanooga is awful.

Xavier (6-5) at Wake Forest (6-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Um…..what? This is the Xavier Blue Blob.

What to watch: The Wake Forest defense. To say Xavier has been struggling offensively as of late would be putting it mildly, but the Musketeers have the talent to be able to turn it around. And Wake has had issues of its own defensively. Wake’s opponents are shooting 44% from the floor, and the Deacons have allowed 48% shooting in five losses.

The foul line. Wake’s free-throw rate, per Ken Pom, is second-best in the country. And it’s a good thing, too: the Deacons score over a quarter of their points from the foul line. But Xavier isn’t letting opponents get to the line much. Wake Forest has won just two games this year when it hasn’t made at least 20 free throws.

Random Xavier facts: Yes, Xavier has a Musketeer mascot named D’Artagnan (so creative). But the most famous mascot is the Blue Blob, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s beloved around campus despite having absolutely no meaning whatsoever.

And then Xavier head coach Chris Mack involved the Blue Blob in this very regrettable “Call Me Maybe” parody:

Prediction: Xavier, 65-59. Wake has struggled offensively against athletic opponents this year, and this game should be no different.

Florida State (8-4) at Auburn (5-7), 7:00 PM, Fox Sports South

Get some rest, Aubie. You deserve it.

What to watch: How far has Florida State’s defense come? Because Auburn’s offense is terrible. Florida State is so young that head coach Leonard Hamilton hasn’t been able to install all the defensive looks he usually uses. (This great piece by Michael Rogner from the Run The Floor blog takes a look at how gradually, Hamilton has trusted this team more and more defensively.) After holding just three of its first seven opponents to below 40% shooting, three of its last four opponents have shot below 40% (FSU has won four straight).

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Auburn isn’t great defensively, but they force a decent amount of turnovers (23%) and Florida State will turn it over against teams that aren’t good at forcing them. FSU has averaged 13.3 turnovers during this four-game winning streak after averaging 17 turnovers in the first eight. FSU tends to turn it over in bunches when it does happen, and they can’t do that in a road game against an opponent that won’t go away.

Random Auburn facts: The War Eagle has been explained before, so we’ll look at Aubie the Tiger’s origins. He was only around as a cartoon on the cover of the game programs for nearly 20 years starting in 1959. In 1979, they made him a real costume based on the older game programs and it’s been winning mascot national titles ever since. Auburn may or may not have had a live tiger mascot for at least one game.

Prediction: Florida State, 73-62. It would be way too predictable for Florida State to inexplicably lose this game for the second time in the last three years, right?

La Salle (9-2) at Miami (8-3), 9:00 PM, RSN

I have come to discover the New World! (And I’ve brought communicable diseases!)

What to watch: Can Miami beat a decent team without one of its starters? Before the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas, Miami’s one loss – early, to Florida Gulf Coast – was explained away by the absence of guard Durand Scott. Then, just before the Christmas tournament began, center Reggie Johnson broke his thumb and he will miss six weeks. The Hurricanes promptly lost both games. They’re going to be without him for a good chunk of ACC play and may lose some games during that time. After losses to Arizona and Indiana State (the former a blowout), they can’t afford to drop a home game to La Salle at this point if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.

Random La Salle facts: The Explorers are so named because of a Philadelphia sportswriter’s mistake (yeah, yeah): he thought the university was named after french explorer Sieur de La Salle. It’s named after St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. Well, at least they have a cool mascot anyway. And you can’t think of explorers without thinking of conquering indigenous peoples, which is at least a little intimidating. Recently, though, they did try to make the explorer look like a superhero instead.

Prediction: Miami, 66-58. At some point, Miami’s going to have to win without some of its players in the lineup. Their other players are good enough to do it.

 

Last week: 10-4

Overall: 117-30

Dec. 19 ACC Previews

Clemson (6-3) at Coastal Carolina (3-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Chauncey the Chanticleer. His pride was his undoing in Canterbury Tales. Lesson seemingly not learned.

What to watch: Clemson’s offense. Coastal Carolina is not very good defensively, allowing nearly 44% shooting. But more importantly, the Tigers need to get going offensively. The Tigers actually started out the year doing pretty well in that department, but after averaging 74.5 points in their first two games, they averaged 59.3 in their next six (three losses). They seemingly got back on track against Florida A&M, scoring a season-high 80 points and shooting nearly 53 percent. Clemson is taking good care of the ball this season and playing pretty good defense – they just need to knock down a few shots.

Random Coastal Carolina facts: Does it seem odd that two South Carolina-based schools have a rooster for a mascot? It’s not a coincidence! Coastal Carolina is an affiliate of South Carolina, so it decided to pick a somewhat similar mascot: the Chanticleer, made famous in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Unfortunately, things don’t end so well for that rooster.

Prediction: Clemson, 73-58. It could be ugly – with Clemson, it too often is – but it should be a win.

Cornell (4-6) at No. 1 Duke (9-0), 7:00 PM, ESPNU

Just wait.

What to watch: Marshall Plumlee. It’s been widely reported that the redshirt freshman big man, whose older brother Mason is having a breakout season, could make his Duke debut tonight. He had a stress fracture in his foot that has sidelined him until now. It will be difficult for him to permanently crack the rotation at this point in the season barring an injury to someone already in the rotation. But he has a lot of talent, and Duke could really use some depth in the frontcourt.

Random Cornell facts: Cornell is known as the Big Red, but their unofficial mascot is the Big Red Bear. It’s been around since 1905. Cornell is a pretty intelligent school, and unlike some, it only took them until 1939 to realize having a live bear is not a good idea. Touchdown I was the craziest – he climbed the goalposts, ran amok in an Atlantic City taffy shop and knocked the Penn mascot out with his paw.

Prediction: Duke, 92-59. Cornell has been competitive against everyone except Wisconsin and Stony Brook. But the Big Red is awful on offense, and not much better defensively.

Morgan State (3-4) at Virginia (8-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: A sneaky test for Virginia’s defense. The Bears aren’t a great team by any stretch, but they have some nice numbers this year. They rebound the ball offensively very well, get to the foul line a lot and make a lot of two-pointers. UVa has been getting better and better defensively all year, and that needs to continue for Virginia to go from being an okay ACC team to a very good one. (And by “very good”, I mean “has a legitimate chance to make the NCAA Tournament”).

Random Morgan State facts: Morgan State’s mascot is a bear. And it’s kind of insane.

How many bear mascots can do this?

Prediction: Virginia, 79-59. As UVa’s freshmen continue to get comfortable and their upperclassmen step up, the Cavaliers are getting better and better as the season goes.

No. 23/19 North Carolina (8-2) at Texas (6-4), 9:00 PM, ESPN2

Why even add a costumed Bevo when you have a real one?

What to watch: North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels have been stagnant at times offensively, and even though Texas has looked downright awful at times, their defense has been fairly consistent. They have the No. 1 effective field goal defense in the country per Ken Pomeroy, and they’re No. 3 in three-point defense (22.3% allowed) and fifth in two-point defense (37.6%). Carolina is shooting nearly 37% from the three-point line, but they’ve been a bit streaky. Against Butler, Carolina had three different droughts of three or more minutes where they scored two or fewer points. At Indiana – one of two true road games for Carolina this year – the Tar Heels were outscored by 23 points in 12:41 (a stretch that spanned both halves) and hit just two field goals in that span. Carolina shot 2-of-24 from the floor.

Forcing turnovers. North Carolina’s going to have to do this: Texas is turning it over on over a quarter of their possessions this year, and it’s a big reason the Longhorns have struggled so much. The Tar Heels have done a pretty good job of that this year, but when they haven’t – two games so far – the results were an Indiana loss and a close win over ECU. Forcing turnovers is also the one area where Texas hasn’t been dominant defensively as well. North Carolina can’t afford to give the ball away when Texas isn’t forcing a ton of turnovers as it is, especially since Texas’ defense seems to be making it difficult enough to score in the half-court already.

Random Texas facts: The live Longhorn mascot Bevo is bred to be docile, but he hasn’t always been. He once attacked an SMU cheerleader who tried to fend him off with his megaphone. In 1999, after Texas beat Nebraska, he was led across the field and did this:

Prediction: North Carolina, 63-54. Difficult to predict this one, especially since Texas head coach Rick Barnes always seems to find a way to beat North Carolina, even when the Tar Heels are arguably the better team. Last year, Carolina thumped Texas at home though. Neither team is remotely the same right now, but Carolina has looked like the better team thus far. Mostly because they haven’t lost to Chaminade.

 

Last week: 12-1

Overall: 93-22

Dec. 8-9 ACC Previews

Cleveland State (6-2) at No. 25/24 NC State (5-2), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

When they were known as Fenn College, Cleveland State’s mascot was a Fox.

What to watch: NC State’s three-point defense. NC State’s opponents are scoring nearly 32% of their points from behind the arc, even if they aren’t hitting a high percentage (33.1%). But in the last four games (all either close wins or losses), opponents have hit nearly 38 percent. UConn hit the lowest percentage (34.8%), but NC State also fouled UConn on a three-pointer twice in the final 3:09 (UConn hit four of those six free throws). Counting those, UConn scored over 43% of their points on three-point attempts. Cleveland State is hitting 36.7% of its three’s, and the Vikings are a solid team. If NC State doesn’t guard the three-point line, Cleveland State could keep the game close the same way UNC-Asheville did.

Random Cleveland State facts: Cleveland State was known as Fenn College from 1923-64, and when it was Fenn College, they were the Fenn Foxes. Now, they’re the Vikings. Boo. More teams besides Marist should be named “Fox”.

Also, look at these pranksters!

Prediction: NC State, 82-64. NC State won a tough game against Connecticut that they might not have a year ago. After some early tests, the Wolfpack is ready to win a game like this convincingly against a decent team at home.

South Carolina State (4-4) at Maryland (7-1), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: Pe’Shon Howard. Howard has had a great season in terms of assists (49) and turnovers (15), but the junior point guard hasn’t made a shot since November 20th. He’s shooting just 3-of-21 this season. He played just nine minutes in the rout of UMES, but head coach Mark Turgeon said he was dealing with a stomach issue. Turgeon’s lineup tweaks seem more experimental, but Howard ideally needs to become a scoring threat. Freshman Seth Allen and even starting guard Nick Faust ran the point some against UMES. Howard is the best option, but if injury or illness keeps him out – as it has before – he could get Wally Pipped.

Random South Carolina State facts: Bulldogs? Not a great mascot. But the South Carolina State band/dancers/whatever brings it, always. I’m not sure they’ll bring these girls with them, which is probably for the best if Maryland doesn’t want to get distracted.

And this is officially my favorite band ever. Pretty Brown Eyes!

Prediction: Maryland, 95-63. The best team South Carolina State has played so far is Albany.  They lost by 25 points. Also, Ken Pomeroy ranks 347 D-I schools. UMES is 345th. South Carolina State is 343rd.

St. Francis (NY) (2-4) at Boston College (3-5), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

Cutest mascot ever?

What to watch: Boston College’s defense. Just, any defense would be fine. Harvard was pretty anemic offensively before hosting BC, when they put up 79 points and shot 55% from the floor. BC isn’t forcing many turnovers, so the least the Eagles have to do is guard the ball better. Or, just, at all. Or they’ll lose, even a game like this one.

Random St. Francis (NY) facts: I couldn’t find the reason that the school chose the Terrier mascot in 1933. So instead, I give you this:

In case y’all haven’t heard, though, the Terriers are coming. Or they were in 2010-11.

Prediction: Boston College, 71-65. The only team that has made easy work of St. Francis so far is Illinois. Army, Norfolk State and Albany beat St. Francis by a combined 18 points. This won’t be an easy one for BC. But then again, what game is?

No. 2 Duke (8-0) vs. Temple (6-0), 3:15 PM, ESPN (East Rutherford)

What to watch: How elite has Duke’s perimeter become? Mason Plumlee has been terrific this season, but the reason Duke has been great is because he has help. Last year, Duke lost to Temple and the Owls had five in double figures (led by two-guard Khalif Wyatt’s 22 points). Duke saw 33 of its 73 points scored by Mason and Miles Plumlee, who had 16 and 17, respectively. But no Blue Devil could slow down any of Temple’s guards, who did whatever they wanted offensively. All five of Duke’s guards had 28 points on 9-of-30 shooting.

This year, Duke has balance on both ends of the court. Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook have taken a lot of pride in defending on the perimeter, and Seth Curry has gotten better at it but is still limited physically. If Duke is going to be one of the nation’s best teams – which they look like right now – they’ll have to handle yet another tough test.

Random Temple facts: We’ve highlighted the Owl mascot in this space before. Fortunately for Temple’s mascot, it doesn’t live in Colombia. Or else it would have been kicked by this soccer player.

Hooter the Owl does celebrate its birthday every year, and other mascots come to join. There are some weird mascots out there.

Prediction: Duke, 81-70. This is just another stop on the Duke basketball revenge tour.

Mississippi Valley State (0-4) at Virginia (7-2), 4:00 PM, ESPN3

A Delta Devil, which evidently means it has a green head.

What to watch: The UVa freshmen. While they helped carry the team early, they haven’t been as efficient of late and as a result, haven’t played as much. Evan Nolte and Justin Anderson combined to average 14.3 points in 48.3 minutes in UVa’s first six games, but in the last three, they’ve combined for 6.7 points in just 25.3 minutes. Mike Tobey has played a total of 20 minutes in the last three games (after averaging 13.3 in the first six) and has just five points. Really, only backup point guard Teven Jones has seen consistent minutes, and that’s only because of the injury to starter Jontel Evans. This is the type of game that can allow the freshmen to get back on track, because UVa will need them going forward.

Random Mississippi Valley State facts: South Carolina State isn’t the only school with a great band/dancers.

Known as “The Mack of the SWAC”, Mississippi Valley State’s band even did a halftime performance blindfolded.

Prediction: Virginia, 73-47. Mississippi State is 0-4 this year and their closest loss was by 13 to Northwestern. It’s that bad. Although for some reason, the Delta Devils aren’t giving themselves a break – they’ll face Virginia Tech next, and won’t play a game they’re expected to win until early 2013, which will also be their first home game. Ouch.

Virginia Tech (7-0) at West Virginia (3-3), 4:00 PM, ESPN2

How cute.

What to watch: Virginia Tech on the defensive glass. West Virginia retrieves nearly 41% of its available missed shots, while Virginia Tech is allowing opponents to get just 27.6% of their misses. Against their last two opponents, Virginia Tech has a defensive rebounding percentage of 75.3%, which is excellent. They’ll have to keep that up against the Mountaineers, who don’t often make their first attempt.

Erick Green. Can he keep carrying the Hokies? He was in foul trouble early against Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech trailed as a result. In 26 minutes, he had 28 points and seven rebounds, picking up just one more foul the rest of the way. He’s been phenomenal. But is it asking too much of him to continue being this brilliant? We’ll find out.

Random West Virginia facts: In 1998, a University of Miami assistant coach announced he was suing West Virginia for a 1996 incident where he was hit on the head with a trash can. He alleged that the university failed to adequately protect the visiting team. The injury was reported originally as a bruise, but the lawsuit said he was “severely and permanently” injured. He and West Virginia settled. That assistant coach? Randy Shannon.

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 71-65. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I think the Hokies – should they still healthy – can beat anyone they play this year. West Virginia is a tough place to play, but the Mountaineers have not looked very good so far.

Seton Hall (6-2) at Wake Forest (4-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Groucho Marx, the Pirate.

What to watch: Seton Hall’s three-point percentage. The Pirates are making 38.9% of their three-pointers, 39th in the country, and scoring 36.6% of all their points from three. Wake Forest has been mediocre at best defending the three, but they’ve been better lately: Wake’s last four opponents have made 29.2% of their three’s. If Seton Hall goes crazy from three, Wake will be in danger of being blown out at home. But what else is new, I guess?

Random Seton Hall facts: As usual, the original nickname is often better than the current one: Seton Hall was known as the Villagers for awhile. And as usual, a sportswriter’s random naming of the team is the one that stuck.

Prediction: Seton Hall, 72-59. Seton Hall doesn’t have any great wins or awful losses, but Wake Forest has no good wins and some awful losses.

UNC Wilmington (4-4) at Georgia Tech (5-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

So basically a sailor version of Big Bird with some green was UNC-Wilmington’s mascot back in the day.

What to watch: Can Georgia Tech score? The Yellow Jackets are fantastic defensively yet again, but at some point, they’re going to have to put up points. They finally started hitting some three-pointers against Georgia, which is a good sign. But they only hit 7-of-27 two-point attempts, which is beyond terrible, and had just ten points in the paint. They’re going to have to develop something consistent on offense that ensures they won’t be in any 40-point affairs this year.

Random UNC Wilmington facts: The sea hawk mascot has gone through a lot of changes over the years, but the late 80’s version (see above) was probably my favorite. Although this one is also strong:

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 79-52. They’re hitting three-pointers now – the rest will come.

East Tennessee State (2-4) at No. 20/16 North Carolina (6-2), 7:30 PM, ESPN3

The tired Pirate.

What to watch: North Carolina’s defense. UAB is an up-tempo squad that presented some matchup problems for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels still allowed the Blazers to score 84 points, the most they have allowed this year. UNC’s last four opponents have combined to shoot 45-of-106 (42.5%) from three and average 0.89 points per possession. In Carolina’s first four games, opponents shot 24% from three and averaged 0.65 points per possession. Obviously, the caliber of opponent was significantly different in the first four games than in the last four. But if this UNC team – which will be hot and cold offensively all year – doesn’t make defense a priority, they’re going to lose some games they shouldn’t. Not this one, but prioritizing defense starts in games like this.

Random East Tennessee State facts: It makes perfect sense that a pirate would be the mascot of a land-locked school in Tennessee. After all, an old pirate supposedly hid some of his gold there in a creek once. A creek that went all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a new pirate in town, and he has a blue face.

Prediction: North Carolina, 82-59. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, East Tennessee State is pretty bad offensively. They’ve had a week off, and while they may be rusty at first, they should still play good, hard-nosed defense.

No. 8 Arizona (6-0) at Clemson (5-2), ESPN2, 8:00 PM

RIP, Rufus.

What to watch: Clemson’s three-point defense. Arizona is scoring 33.7% of its points from three and making 41.7% of its three-point attempts, and they take a lot. Clemson is allowing just 30% shooting from three, but they haven’t played a great-shooting team so far. Still, Brad Brownell’s teams traditionally play very good defense, but Purdue went to Clemson and made 8-of-18 three’s (44.4%) in one of Clemson’s two losses. They’ll have to at least contest Arizona’s three’s to have a chance to knock off the Wildcats at home.

Clemson’s changing roster. Starting guard T.J. Sapp decided to transfer earlier this week. Will freshmen Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper be able to step up and fill that role, since they had already been getting the majority of Sapp’s minutes? Milton Jennings is expected to return to the lineup after a suspension. Will he be able to have an impact?

Random Arizona facts: Rufus, the first wildcat mascot, came to campus in 1915. The freshman football team raised the money ($9.91) to buy him. A little over a year later, though, this happened:

…while endeavoring to perform gymnastic stunts in the limbs of a tree to which he was tied, Rufus Arizona… fell and was hung.

Welp.

Prediction: Arizona, 79-64. The Wildcats haven’t really beaten anyone good yet, and they’ve only played one team away from home. But they’ve beaten most opponents fairly handily and been incredibly efficient offensively. It would take quite the effort by Clemson to knock off Arizona, and they’re not nearly ready enough to do that.

DECEMBER 9

Maine at Florida State (4-4), ESPNU, 4:00 PM

‘Sup. (I will pretend this is a Maine black bear and that I didn’t just Google “funny bears”).

What to watch: FSU giving up extra possessions. Charting possessions using offensive rebounds as a possession (as I do), over 36% of FSU’s opponent’s possessions have come off of FSU turnovers or opponent offensive rebounds. Opponents have turned those into 0.96 points per possession. Florida scored 0.59 points per possession on possessions not off an FSU turnover or a Florida offensive rebound, but turned their offensive rebounds and FSU turnovers (35 total) into 46 points (1.3 per possession). Giving up a lot of opportunities to opponents has really hurt FSU so far, even against bad teams.

Random Maine facts: The Maine fight song was a No. 1 hit in 1930!

Prediction: Florida State, 84-61. No, seriously FSU. You need to win this one big.

 

Last week: 14-2

Overall: 71-20

Duke: Alex Murphy Adjusting to a New Role

It hasn’t been easy for Alex Murphy to adjust to life on the bench. His limited playing time has been somewhat of a surprise, because the redshirt freshman was a preseason starter and someone who Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski compared favorably to former Duke star Kyle Singler.

He has been a healthy scratch twice this year, including in the season-opener against Georgia Southern. He had played a total of 14 minutes all season in five games, and never more than six minutes. His first game action was against Kentucky. The most noteworthy event of his two minutes in that game was Kentucky’s Alex Poythress dunking on him.

The short stints started to wear on him. “For me, it was just a mental thing, just going out there and playing as hard as I can as soon as I get out there,” Murphy said. “It’s not coming in the game worrying about, all right, I have to hit a three or I have to get a shot off. The little things like deflecting a ball, taking a charge grabbing an offensive or defensive rebound: focusing on those things has helped me sort of play looser and not worry about having to hit a shot or something like that.”

But he saw 21 minutes of action against Delaware on Saturday, scoring a career-high ten points to go with seven rebounds, a steal and an emphatic block. At first, every moment seemed to be a make-or-break for him. In the first half, he played eight minutes, missed two three-pointers and got one rebound. On his first touch of the second half, he was whistled for a travel. He looked at his feet and back at the referee in disbelief, crestfallen.

The crowd was on edge waiting for him to make a play. Some of the Cameron Crazies screamed out spontaneously, “Hit Murph!” or “Get Murph a shot!” Whenever a shot would miss, or he’d turn it over, one would yell, “It’s all right, Murph! Keep your head up!” But he scored his first points as a Blue Devil with 11:21 remaining to give Duke a 38-point lead, and the roof over Cameron Indoor Stadium nearly ripped clean off.

And the Crazies aren’t his only advocates. Point guard Quinn Cook has never been reluctant to talk on or off the court, and he’s been in Murphy’s ear constantly, along with junior guard Tyler Thornton. “You always want to let him know that he’s big for us. We need him,” Cook said. “When we’re not telling him that, his confidence could go down or anything could happen, or he could probably doubt himself.

“Me and Tyler especially have been on him: just keep working, we really need you. We’ve been his biggest cheerleaders. It’s good for him to really get his confidence up this game. … Just to get him out there and get him showing a glimpse of what he can do every day is a big thing. He’s leaving this game better.”

It’s still worth pointing out that Krzyzewski is not going to manufacture depth. He has about seven guys that he feels are ready to play – his normal starters, Josh Hairston and Thornton – and that’s about it. Murphy and Amile Jefferson, a freshman who also saw 21 minutes (and had 12 points), both had nice games against Delaware. But for Krzyzewski it doesn’t mean anything beyond that at this point.

Duke’s remaining non-conference schedule will have some games like this Delaware game where those two could, in theory, see some playing time. But that’s not necessarily going to be the case. “For me, the main guys to develop are Mason (Plumlee), Ryan (Kelly), Seth (Curry). This is not like an AAU team or whatever. You have to make sure your group understands its role,” Krzyzewski said.

“Mason’s role this year is different than last year. He has to get a lot of minutes. To see Alex and Amile and Josh (Hairston) play so well today, that’s great. But it doesn’t mean that we’re going to get this wave of substitutions and stuff like that.”

Krzyzewski said that all of his players follow a different developmental path, but that he is always honest with all of them about where they are. “They all have development to go through, and they have to develop under people that they trust. And if you tell them the truth all the time, they have a better chance of trusting you,” Krzyzewski said.

“Each guy is on his own race of becoming better. They’re running their individual races while we’re collectively running a race. The collective race is much more important than your individual race, and you can’t compare your race with another guy.

“Ryan Kelly hardly played his freshman year. Ryan Kelly is a heck of a player right now, and has been. So the example of doing it that way, making sure that they know that we believe in them and we do believe in the kid.”

His approach seems to be working. Jefferson, who has never shown the visible uncertainty of Murphy during his minutes, said that neither player has let it affect them. Both knew that because Seth Curry missed the game with an ankle injury, they might see more time. And both were ready.

“We’re both two confident guys. I don’t think we’ve lost confidence,” Jefferson said. “We might have been a little frustrated at times, but we kept our heads and we know that when our number’s called, we can get out there and make things happen. We’ve just got to keep working and keep knowing that one day, your number will be called and you’ve got to be ready.”

____

It’s difficult to properly capture the biting, acerbic wit of Krzyzewski because it’s impossible to transcribe the dryness of his humor. (The background needed for some of this exchange was this question asked earlier by a reporter: “How hard is it, even for a legendary coach, to get players that have been told since they probably were in junior high that they’re destined for greatness to become role players and to respond?”)

Reporter: How would you assess your team’s defense?

Krzyzewski: Good, real good. How would you do it?

Reporter: I think real good.

Krzyzewski: Yeah, me too. So we’re in agreement. You have no conflict with a legendary coach. Was it easy for you accept that from me?

Reporter: Absolutely.

Krzyzewski: Then it was easy for me to have this talk like this in front of everybody. I’m just trying to show you, that’s how I would do it. I go in and say, ‘Do you realize you’re playing for a legendary coach?’ (Laughter.) No, I don’t do that.

And Krzyzewski, now feeling it, kept rolling.

Reporter: You were talking about Alex Murphy.

Krzyzewski: You were talking about him.

Reporter: (Runs through Murphy’s numbers.) If you could maybe describe a little bit about how you feel about his play.

Krzyzewski: No, I feel good about everybody’s play. Everybody played well today. Everybody. Everybody. Not one guy played less well than another guy. They were terrific together.

The good times continued to roll, one after the other.

Reporter: Touching on the subject of Mason Plumlee and his development into his senior season, over the past couple of years, there’s been some criticism on (big man coach Steve Wojciechowski) Wojo. Do you feel like getting his due of credit for his development?

Krzyzewski: (Laughs.) Well, Wojo’s one of the best coaches in the world. You can ask – for the seven years that we’e worked with all the best players in the world, ask any of those guys if they wouldn’t want Wojo to coach them.

Reporter: Oh, and I’m not criticizing.

Krzyzewski: No, I’m just saying. So when somebody doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about and says something, why would you pay attention to it? Why would I pay attention to it?

Reporter: Do you feel like he’s getting his due credit?

Krzyzewski: He’s getting credit from me. I don’t know how if his wife feels good about him, what their relationship – I don’t know about that. He’s getting great credit from me. We’re a program that is scrutinized closely, and we’re okay. We’re big boys.

Nov. 13-14 ACC Previews

NOVEMBER 13

No. 9/8 Duke (1-0) vs. No. 3 Kentucky (1-0), 9:30 PM, ESPN (Atlanta, GA)

Should have guarded the inbounds pass, Rick.

What to watch: Who runs the point? NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will miss this game for Kentucky with the flu, so it looks like walk-on Jarrod Paulson will see a lot of time again. Against Maryland, he was great. But can he do it again? And for Duke, Quinn Cook is not listed as a projected starter and didn’t start the opener. Tyler Thornton takes better care of the ball than Cook generally, but he’s not as much of a potential game-changer. It will be interesting to see how that rotation develops.

Is Mason Plumlee ready to assert himself? Kentucky’s bigs are inexperienced, and Maryland’s frontcourt dominated them on the backboards last Friday. Nerlens Noel was the No. 1 recruit in the country, but Plumlee is athletic enough and certainly savvy enough to get the better of that matchup. He’s “the guy” this year for Duke, and this is his time to show why.

Will Alex Murphy play? This question speaks for itself. And if the redshirt freshman – who was a healthy scratch from Duke’s opener due to “match-ups”, per Krzyzewski – does play, where will his confidence level be?

Random Duke-Kentucky facts: They’ve played just five times in the Coach K era, and Duke is 4-1 in those games. And yet this is being billed as a rivalry game. It’s a bit one-sided in that Kentucky fans still have a lot of bitterness towards Duke stemming from the 1992 Elite 8 loss. A lot of the hatred from Kentucky fans stems from the fact that Christian Laettner didn’t miss a shot, including hitting this game-winner…

…but it didn’t help that this moment came earlier.

Chris Farley as Christian Laettner. No, seriously.

This guy hates Duke almost as much as he loves Jagermeister. But a Duke football shirt?

Prediction: Duke, 67-61.

Delaware (1-1) at Virginia (1-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3 (NIT Season Tip-Off)

Blue Hen, or Gray Hen? You be the judge.

What to watch: Joe Harris. Joey Hoops has literally accounted for 30% of Virginia’s scoring so far this season. He’s going to need some help at some point, but he’s been very efficient. Can he keep carrying that load until Malcolm Brogdon and Jontel Evans come back?

Random Delaware facts: According to the Delaware website, the Fightin’ Blue Hen comes from the Revolutionary War, when the Delaware regiment started putting on cockfights with the Kent County Blue Hen.

Prediction: Virginia, 57-49.

Florida Gulf Coast (0-1) at Miami (1-0), 7:05 PM (Fort Myers, FL)

What to watch: Miami’s defense. Allowing 79 points to Stetson on 44% shooting (42% from three) to go with 20 assists on 28 field goals for the Hatters? Yeah, that’s not very good.

Random Florida Gulf Coast facts: Florida Gulf Coast’s mascot is an eagle, because – per the University website – “The Eagle serves to identify not only the physical environment of Southwest Florida but also the University’s relationship with it.” Okay. He did hit a halfcourt shot and win free books for a year:

Prediction: Miami, 91-68.

NOVEMBER 14

Presbyterian (0-1) at Georgia Tech (1-0), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

This guy played football for Presbyterian, and he was on “The Bachelorette” this summer.

What to watch: Presbyterian’s turnovers. It could have just been a fluke, but Georgia Tech forced Tulane into just four turnovers on Friday.

Random Presbyterian facts: One of their former football players was on “The Bachelorette”. He got in a a bit of trouble for saying he wanted a “trophy wife”.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 81-57.

Last week: 11-1

Overall: 16-1

ACC Basketball 2012-13 Season Previews, Part 1

The ACC is as underrated as a conference as Arrested Development was a television show. Okay, maybe not. But since Arrested Development was brilliant in making fun of its characters, the most appropriate way to preview a league we all love is by making fun of it.

BOSTON COLLEGE

2011 record/results: 9-22 overall, 4-12 ACC. All four ACC wins came by a combined 12 points. But one of those wins was over Florida State. (Never forget.)

Lucille Austero: Today at lunch, you were ashamed to be with me.

Gob: No. I was ashamed to be seen with you. I like being with you.

_____

Lucille: Buster. Thank God you’re back. There’s no shame in being a coward.

Buster: A coward? I’m not a coward. Would a coward have THIS?

[holds out a stuffed seal]

Lucille: What the hell is that?

Buster: These are my awards, Mother. From Army. The seal is for marksmanship and the gorilla is for sand racing.

We all secretly love Boston College. A team that played almost all freshman last year managed to defy the odds and…okay, they didn’t defy the odds. Their non-conference losses last year were embarrassing, but they’re still the plucky underdogs.

Reason for optimism: It can’t get any worse, right? BC returns 75% of its scoring and 70% of its minutes played, even with the transfers of Matt Humphrey and Gabe Moton. The Eagles were really young last year, but all of their freshmen got experience. Big men Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford had some nice moments, particularly Anderson. As usual, BC will have a plethora of guards that will shoot plenty of 3’s. Maybe they will even make some!

Reason for pessimism: The Eagles are still young with just one junior (the rarely-used Danny Rubin), eight sophomores and four freshmen. And though those freshmen got a lot of playing time, they weren’t a super-talented group anyway. At times, they were physically overwhelmed by their ACC foes. And unless Boston College has a weight room filled with miracles, that’s not likely to change much.

CLEMSON

Gob: Is that George Michael’s girlfriend? What is she funny or something?

Michael: I’m sure Egg is a great person.

George Michael Bluth: It’s… it’s Ann.

_____

George Michael: Uh, Uncle GOB, the $20?

George Oscar ‘Gob’ Bluth: A magician never reveals his secrets.

George Michael: I don’t need the secret, I need…

[GOB is gone]

George Michael: Wow, that’s so much like stealing.

Clemson can beat you and leave you scratching your head wondering how exactly that just happened, and where your $20 went. There’s nothing particularly attractive about Clemson’s style, but sometimes it simply works. Clemson is still the ACC’s equivalent of George Michael’s plain girlfriend, Ann.

2011 record/results: 16-15 overall, 8-8 ACC. The Tigers beat two of the ACC’s better teams (Florida State and NC State) at home in spite of going 8-6 in the non-conference with losses at home to Charleston and Coastal Carolina. ACC! ACC!

Reason for optimism: Under head coach Brad Brownell, Clemson’s defense makes it hard on even some of their much more talented opponents to score. Seniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings have all the physical skills to take that next step forward, and sophomores like K.J. McDaniels and T.J. Sapp showed flashes.

Reason for pessimism: Clemson lost two of its most important pieces from a year ago in Andre Young and Tanner Smith, and last year’s freshmen, in limited minutes, certainly didn’t prove they could fill that void. Clemson is relying on two mercurial big men in Jennings and Booker to carry the offensive load with an inexperienced point guard in sophomore Rod Hall trying to get them the ball.

DUKE

[Tobias has painted himself blue]

Tobias Funke: I blue myself.

Michael Bluth: There has got to be a better way to say that.

_____

[Tobias creating buzz around the water cooler]

Tobias Fünke: That Funke is some kind of something. Boy, this Funke is all anybody’s ever talking about. So sick and tired of hearing about how brilliant that Funke is. Overrated.

_____

Lucille: Oh, George, I should have never doubted you. Even when you slept with my sister it was for a good reason.

George Sr.: Got her to stop drinking, didn’t it?

Duke was picked to finish second in the league, but the Blue Devils are fine with lower expectations – in fact, they’ll gladly let NC State carry the load of preseason hype for once, rather than just them and North Carolina. But doubt Mike Krzyzewski at your own peril – he always seems to get it done. Even some of the worst Duke teams under Coach K (since the 80’s) have gone on to at least make the NCAA Tournament.

2011 record/results: 27-7 overall, 13-3 ACC, No. 2 seed in NCAA Tournament, First Round (L to 15-seed Lehigh). According to Ken Pomeroy’s final rankings, five of Duke’s seven losses were to teams outside the top 20 (three to teams ranked 46 or worse). It’s no coincidence that Duke finished 70th in defense per Pomeroy, its worst finish since 2009 (20th).

Reason for optimism: Coach K is a pretty good reason. But another? Senior big man Mason Plumlee is ready to take the next step and become a dominant player, versatile forward Ryan Kelly is healthy, and they have two freshmen – shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon, and forward Amile Jefferson – ready to inject a shot of energy and talent into the program.

Reason for pessimism: Even if Duke’s defense is improved, they still have to score. There’s a lot of young talent on this team, but no one is as good a scorer as Austin Rivers was last year. Senior Seth Curry is dealing with a foot injury, and Krzyzewski said he likely won’t be fully healthy all year. Sophomore Quinn Cook will take over the point guard duties, and he’s talented but unproven.

FLORIDA STATE

Gob: Zero hour, Michael. It’s the end of the line. I’m the firstborn. I’m sick of playing second fiddle. I’m always third in line for everything. I’m tired of finishing fourth. Being the fifth wheel. There are six things I’m mad about, and I’m taking over.

_____

Lucille Austero: Do you like ham?

Carl Weathers: No.

[pause]

Carl Weathers: I love it.

_____

Narrator: Michael was having brunch with Sally Sitwell at a restaurant called Skip Church’s Bistro. In addition to brunch, the restaurant was known for an item on the menu called the “Skip’s Scramble”, an omelet that contained everything on the menu. Do not order the Skip’s Scramble.

Florida State won the ACC tournament last year for the first time in program history. It was just the second time in 19 years that a team from outside North Carolina won it. FSU has been picked in preseason polls below its actual finish for four straight years now, and the Seminoles are tired of it. At ACC Media Day, Michael Snaer said that if FSU were Duke or North Carolina, everyone would assume they would be good this year instead of picking them fourth. Head coach Leonard Hamilton brings in a plethora of long, athletic players that need some work offensively. But at times, FSU’s rotation has been more of a “Skip’s Scramble” – everyone plays at least ten minutes, only one player scores more than 10 points and everyone gets at least one turnover.

2012 record/results: 25-10 overall, 12-4 ACC, No. 3 seed in NCAA Tournament, Second Round (L to 6-seed Cincinnati). Seven of FSU’s losses were to Pomeroy top-50 teams. But three were to No. 93 Princeton, No. 76 Clemson and No. 259 Boston College.

Reason for optimism: Snaer is great, and point guard Ian Miller can be when he wants to be. It was only two exhibition games, but forward Okaro White appeared ready to be the complementary scorer to Snaer. Junior forward Terrance Shannon is finally healthy. There are some exciting young players. With all the scoring options (four of their top five scorers from a year ago return), the offense is much less likely to go into one of its patented droughts.

Reason for pessimism: As usual, FSU has a lot of big bodies (including three seven-footers), but they’re projects. The Seminoles have always struggled with turnovers and outside shooting, and they don’t have anyone on the roster that has proven they can do either one reliably. Miller doesn’t always defend as well as he needs to, and White has been unreliable at best. A hodgepodge of scoring options hasn’t mattered in past years when FSU’s offense has bogged down: why should this year be any different?

ACC Basketball Preseason Ballot

Okay, I went through and actually predicted this game by game because I’m either insane or…no, just insane. My ACC ballot was based on those predictions.

1. Florida State (14-4)*

2. Duke (14-4)*

3. NC State (13-5)**

4. UNC (13-5)**

5. Miami (13-5)**

6. Maryland (9-9)

7. Clemson (7-11)

8. Wake Forest (6-12)

9. Virginia (5-13)

10. Boston College (5-13)

11. Virginia Tech (4-14)

12. Georgia Tech (3-15)

*Duke and Florida State only face off against each other once, and I have Florida State winning. Ergo, Florida State wins the ACC regular-season. (But not the Tournament. I think NC State will win that. Since that’s the actual ACC winner, I figured I might as well go ahead and call that one, too.)

**Those 3-4-5 teams finish with the same record, so I just sort of arbitrarily ordered them because I didn’t feel like going back and looking at tiebreakers.

ACC Player of the Year: Michael Snaer, Florida State. NC State’s Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie and maybe even Richard Howell will make a run at this. I think Miami’s Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji might also have something to say about this. But Snaer is a man on a mission, and while those other teams will be more offensively balanced, Snaer will be FSU’s best player on both ends of the floor.

ACC Rookie of the Year: T.J. Warren, NC State. Call it a hunch.

All-ACC First Team:

Michael Snaer, Florida State

Lorenzo Brown, NC State

Erick Green, Virginia Tech

Reggie Bullock, North Carolina

Mason Plumlee, Duke

 

(Honestly, they said “last call for ballots” and I panicked, writing down the first five or so names I could think of that I had been considering. But in hindsight, I think it’s a good list.)

Mason’s Moment

Duke senior forward Mason Plumlee is ready for this to be his team.

Mason Plumlee could have easily entered the NBA Draft last April. The Draft Express website predicted he would have gone 12th overall. The agile, athletic and strong 6-11 big man can run the floor well, and showed last season that he’s capable of scoring with his back to the basket as opposed to on tip-ins and fastbreak dunks.

But under his weaknesses, Mike Schmitz of Draft Express wrote in his evaluation video: “shooting range, scoring prowess, consistency and lateral quickness.” Two of those – scoring prowess and consistency – have been the biggest knock on the talented Plumlee since he got to Duke.

Under consistency, Schmitz wrote: “Lacks a great feel for the game…Can disappear in games and isn’t always a consistent presence…Duke needs him to be a major factor….Can he be relied on as a No. 1 guy?” We’re about to find out. During head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s preseason press conference, he declared that Plumlee would be the key to Duke’s 2012-13 season.

“It’s his time to be the key guy. He’s the key guy. Ryan (Kelly) and Seth (Curry) are also key guys, but Mason is the key guy,” Krzyzewski said. “I love when a guy wants that. He owns it. … He’s not making predictions or anything – he’s just saying, ‘I’m going to be there for you and let’s see what the heck is going to happen.’

“I just think he’s one of the best players in the United States. He having that type of year will be key for us. i’m very anxious to see how that will turn out. I’m excited for him. … You’ve got to be in their moments. I’m anxious to be in his moment and see what it produces.”

High praise from one of the best basketball coaches of all time. When Plumlee made the decision to return to Duke for his senior year, though, he committed himself fully to the program. “I think that showed (Krzyzewski) that it was more than just talk. It was like, I’m back. I’m here. (Krzyzewski) was the one that really sat down and convinced me this is where I needed to be,” Plumlee said. “There’s more to be gained this year and we could do something special this year.”

Kelly, a fellow senior forward, has seen a different Plumlee in the off-season. “He’s definitely on a mission. There’s no question about it,” Kelly said. “He’s in the gym more than anybody else. That’s what you want out of a guy who could have been a first-round NBA draft pick. He came back and said, ‘We’ve all got something to prove.’”

Krzyzewski’s ability to adapt his offense each year depending on his personnel is well-known, and this year will be no different. Last year, Austin Rivers took the lion’s share of Duke’s shots. But he entered last year’s NBA draft, and someone will have to step up to fill that void. It will be a big change for Plumlee, who attempted ten or more shots in a game just nine times last season. He got to the foul line ten or more times just four times.

But Krzyzewski all but said this would be a more post-oriented offense, without a lot of the pick-and-roll types of sets that Duke has run so much of over the last few years. “I think we’re going to be more of a team that helps each other get shots. In the last 12 years, except when J.J. (Redick) was here, we’ve done a lot of stuff with the pick-and-roll or ball screen because we had breakdown guys,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re not really that type of team. I think we can score inside really well this year. The balance will be better.”

Plumlee shot 57.2% from the floor but attempted just 13.1% of Duke’s shots on the season (12.5% of the team’s shots in ACC play). That’s going to need to increase significantly, and Plumlee is going to need to be more assertive, too. To Krzyzewski and Plumlee’s teammates, that’s been the most encouraging part of Plumlee’s offseason development. Krzyzewski said that Plumlee was calling him often – “not texts or tweets…but actually voices” – to let him know how workouts were going.

“In the time I’ve been coaching, I’ve been lucky to have so many good players. The great ones are the ones who grab you and say, ‘Let’s do this together. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ You form a bond with those players,” Krzyzewski said. “I really love where he’s at. If we do something special this year, a big thing will be because of him. I don’t think that puts pressure on him. I think he wants that.”

His teammates read the news, too. They know how high Plumlee would have gone in last year’s draft. They respect his decision to come back, and his fellow seniors have fed off of Plumlee’s newfound intensity, and it has trickled down to the rest of the team. Last year’s Duke team got along with each other fine and played hard. But this year’s Duke team appears to already have something extra behind it, a little bit more energy, a little bit more of an edge.

“(Plumlee) ready to take on that role and you can definitely see it in the workouts, in the weight room. He just attacks everything. HIm, Seth and Ryan really have assumed that leadership role that we need with our seniors and everybody else has pretty much followed,” Tyler Thornton said. “You can just feel the energy in the gym and we just feed off those guys. We really want to do something special for those guys because they put in a great amount of work in the past three years. We just want to have fun for them their senior year.”

Duke at Maryland

Duke (16-3, 4-1) at Maryland (12-6, 2-2), 9:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3

Mason Plumlee (right) needs for touches for Duke's offense to run smoother.

Poor Maryland. There’s nothing their fans would like more than to knock off Duke. It was unlikely before last Saturday; now, the Terrapins have almost no shot. They’re facing an angry Duke team coming off a close loss. Maryland hasn’t been blown out this year, especially at home (their biggest home loss was by nine to Illinois). If they can keep it close against Duke, it will be great for their confidence going forward in a ridiculous stretch that includes trips to Miami, Duke and at home against North Carolina in their next five. And if Duke manages to only squeak by another mediocre ACC team, there may be reason for further concern. But the Terrapins will be fired up on the night that the court is being named in honor of former head coach Gary Williams.

Stat to watch: Each team’s two-point percentage. Both teams have shot well from three at times, but this game will likely be decided by which team can get more easy baskets. Duke’s two-point offense (54%) is 18th nationally and Maryland’s two-point defense is 217th (allowing 49 percent). Maryland has done better in conference, allowing just 48.3%, but so has Duke (shooting 54.3%). But the Duke defense is dead last in two-point defense in conference, allowing 49.5% and Maryland’s two-point offense is 11th (41.4 percent).

Duke made just 15-of-40 two-pointers (37.5%) against Florida State, their lowest percentage since shooting 35.5% against Kansas, a game they won narrowly. They hadn’t shot below 48% from two since that game. Duke’s not getting as many easy baskets: they haven’t had more than eight fastbreak points since December 30th. Five of Maryland’s last seven opponents have shot 50% or better from inside the arc. But they did hold their last two ACC opponents to a combined 39-of-87 (45%) from two. Still, the Terps let Temple shred the nets for 54% from two (Duke allowed Temple to shoot 58% from two).

The Blue Devils are struggling to contain dribble penetration and are letting quick guards in particular get to the basket seemingly at will. It’s pretty simple for Duke: they’re 16-0 when allowing less than 50% shooting and 0-3 when allowing 50% or higher. In Duke’s three losses, opponents have shot 58% from two (they’ve allowed 46% in wins). Florida State shot 54% overall and 56% from inside the arc. Three of Duke’s ACC opponents have shot 50% or better from two.

Maryland had struggled from inside the arc to start ACC play but have shot 37-of-65 (57%) in the last two games. They managed 19-of-33 shooting (58%) from two against Florida State on the road. Duke had better be vigilant on defense; they can’t let the Terps gain confidence at home on what will already be an emotional night.

Most important players: Terrell Stoglin, Maryland and Mason Plumlee, Duke. Plumlee can’t score without someone getting him the basketball, and for him to take just four shots in an ACC home game seems unacceptable. He had four field goal attempts (making two) and attempted three foul shots (making three) against Florida State. His six points were his fewest since December 30th. Against Temple in Duke’s last non-conference game, he had 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting. In the five games since, he has 43 points (9.8 per game) on 16-of-29 shooting (5.8 attempts per game). After making just 2-of-10 foul shots against Virginia, he spent hours in the gym and has shot 10-of-13 (77%) in the three games since. Plumlee has been such a consistent force for much of the year and maybe he needs to work harder to get open, but he’s so efficient that it seems he needs to be more involved.

Terrell Stoglin has been spectacular this year, and he appears to have listened to head coach Mark Turgeon’s request that he get more assists (he’s averaged 2.7 in the last three games to go with 20.3 points in that span). The streaky sophomore has been on lately, shooting 14-of-30 (47%) in the last two games and 7-of-17 from three (47%). He’s also making 50% of his two-point attempts in ACC play and 54% in the last two games, which is a great sign for the Terps because Stoglin made just 43.7% of his attempts out of conference. Duke’s defense has struggled to stop dynamic guards like Stoglin. But Stoglin and Sammy Zeglinski should have a therapy session about dealing with the Duke defense: in three games against Duke last year, Stoglin shot 4-of-24 (16.7%) and 0-of-7 from three. He also has 11 assists and ten turnovers. If he does that again, Duke wins by 30.

Random stat: Since 2008, Duke’s overall record is 141-26 (54-15 in the ACC regular-season) and 26-18 (22-12 ACC) in road games. The Blue Devils take a lot of ribbing about not wanting to play true road games, not playing well on the road, etc. But looking at the last five seasons (including this one), road success hasn’t predicted postseason Tournament success. Their best road record in that span was 8-2 in 2008. Duke lost in the second round of both the ACC and NCAA Tournament. Their worst road record? Yep, the 2010 team (5-5). Even just looking at ACC road records, the 2009 team had the worst one (4-4) and they made the Sweet 16.

Prediction: Duke 85, Maryland 74

 

Last week: 7-5

Season: 79-31 (17-12 ACC)

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