Monday, January 31, 2011

Post-weekend notes: Is Duke ACC's best?

NEW YORK - Following No. 3-ranked Duke’s humbling, 93-78 loss to St. John’s on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, reporters understandably were quick to pounce on the significance of the win for the ACC and the Big East.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked what it meant when a middle-tier Big East team defeated the best team in the ACC.

“We’re not necessarily the best team in the ACC,” Krzyzewski replied.

Is Duke the best team in the ACC? Here are some thoughts on a weekend that was big for North Carolina and Harrison Barnes, Clemson and St. John’s (at Duke’s expense):

1. Duke’s flaw exposed. The Blue Devils didn’t look like the best team in any conference Sunday, but they must be considered the ACC’s best until some other team proves otherwise.

Duke is 6-1 in the ACC, one game in the win column ahead of North Carolina in a conference with an unbalanced schedule. In Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, Duke has a pair of senior leaders the equal of whom no other team in the conference possesses, and that counts for a lot.

But St. John’s did expose a weakness on Duke’s part. Although the Blue Devils’ big guys are improving, Duke’s backcourt without Kyrie Irving lacks an abundance of quick, confident, experienced players.

Point guard Smith is obviously one of the best in the nation, but sophomores Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins and freshman Tyler Thornton need to develop quickly for Duke to get where it wants to be in March.

2. Barnes, UNC emerging. Barnes, the sometimes-maligned freshman forward who came to North Carolina with huge expectations, is beginning to live up to the hype.

Last week Barnes made two key baskets to give North Carolina a win over Miami, and then dominated N.C. State with 25 points on 10-for-16 from the field in an 85-65 win at the Smith Center.

If Duke is not the best team in the ACC, the Tar Heels probably are at this point. Tyler Zeller and John Henson give North Carolina two strong scorers and rebounders in the low post.

“They’re very long,” an admiring N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said last week, before the Tar Heels outrebounded the Wolfpack 53-39.

Zeller and Henson are difficult for opposing big men to shoot over in the low post. If Barnes can continue to play better than he did early in the season, the Tar Heels have a chance to win the ACC in the regular season.

The team still is inexperienced enough to pull a real clunker, as it did earlier this month in a 78-58 loss at Georgia Tech. But as Duke demonstrated Sunday, every team in this league is capable of a clunker.

3. N.C. State can forget about the NCAA tournament.

The Wolfpack (12-9, 2-5 ACC) has played 21 games and doesn’t have a single win that would impress the Division I men’s basketball committee on Selection Sunday.

N.C. State’s poor nonconference results and the relative weakness of the ACC meant that the Wolfpack would have to go 10-6 or at least 9-7 in conference play to have a serious shot at the NCAA tournament.

With games still remaining against Duke and North Carolina, that doesn’t appear likely even though N.C. State’s second-half ACC schedule is a bit easier than the schedule for the first half.

4. Brad Brownell was a good hire for Clemson.

After Oliver Purnell left for DePaul, athletic director Terry Don Phillips, who’s not the most popular guy in Clemson right now, hired Brownell from Wright State.

It wasn’t the sexiest hire. But soon after Brownell got the job, word started getting around from coaches who had faced him when he was at UNC Wilmington that Brownell was an excellent X’s and O’s coach.

Those coaches were right, it seems. Brownell last week knocked off N.C. State and Florida State with a roster that consisted of a couple solid seniors (Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant), an underachieving McDonald’s All-American (Milton Jennings) and a bunch of spare parts when the new coach arrived.

Jennings has improved immensely under Brownell, and Stitt, Grant and guard Andre Young are playing to their strengths. And role players such as Bryan Narcisse are making huge contributions.

Now Clemson is 15-6 overall and 4-3 in the ACC. It remains to be seen whether Brownell can recruit at the ACC level, but he sure can handle the game management in this conference.

Ken Tysiac


Dwayne said...

Good post. I think an argument can be made that this Duke team isn't equipped to win a national title. Maybe even with Irving. But, in my opinion, they are clearly the best team in the ACC. One road conference loss and the worst loss in 15 years to a non ranked team, doesn't mean that UNC is now better than them. That blow out to State was less about how great UNC is now, and more about how disasterously bad NC State is. They still have PG issues. They still lack a go to crunch time scorer. Although, Barnes is improving. All that said, good post. I enjoyed the read.

Shane P said...

Ken, what have you been smoking? I think it's clear your're a tarheel fan because they are the only people who talk like that, you should be tarred and feathered! How soon we forget that the same thing happened to Duke last year when they played Georgetown up there and they still won the ACC and NCAA championships. After that game you sportswriters buried Duke and said they were soft and overated and crowned the Big East the kings of all of basketball. We played their representative in the Final Four and can anybody tell me the result of that game? I can, it was never close, Duke trounced them in front of the whole country. Duke shot the ball horribly and turned the ball over for 30 minutes before the light came on yesterday. It was a weird day for them, nothing more. SJ were world beaters for one day, we'll see if they can make it to the big dance. Hopefully that loss to Fordham doesn't come back to bite them.

Anonymous said...

Duke is fine, people need to chill. 19-2. This loss was Duke's annual anomaly. Gtown in D.C. last year, Clemson in Littlejohn the year before. I recall Duke winning the ACC both of those seasons (with tougher in-conference competition).

Anonymous said...

1. Duke, 2. FSU, 3. UNC, 4. BC......

Tar Heels best in ACC? LOL! Let's see how the pretty 5-1 conference record looks after they play FSU and Duke twice each.