Monday, January 31, 2011

Krzyzewski's daughter recovering from mild stroke

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s daughter, Debbie Krzyzewski Savarino, has been recovering for the past several weeks from a vertebral artery dissection that resulted in a mild stroke, a school spokesman said in a statement released Monday.

Savarino has returned to her job as the assistant director of the Legacy Fund and director of external relations for the Duke basketball office. She is expected to make a full recovery.

“Her recovery is progressing extremely well,” Duke associate athletic director for university and public affairs Jon Jackson said in the statement.

Savarino is the oldest of Krzyzewski’s three daughters. She has fundraising responsibilities within the Legacy Fund, which was established to ultimately endow the entire basketball program.

She also is the main liaison for Duke basketball with organizations such as Duke Children’s Hospital, the Emily Krzyzewski Family Life Center, the Jimmy V Cancer Research Foundation and the K Lab.
The Krzyzewski family appreciates all the support provided by family and friends, according to Jackson’s statement.

Savarino also is grateful for the care of Duke team doctor Jeff Bytomski, Duke Hospital's Neurosurgery staff headed by Allan Friedman and Duke Executive Health led by Kevin Waters.

Ken Tysiac

UNC loss 'bad' and 'weird' for N.C. State

Two days later, N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe still doesn't know what to make of his team's 20-point loss to North Carolina on Saturday.

Lowe used the adjectives "weird" and "bad" to describe the 84-64 loss to the Tar Heels, the ninth straight in the series for Lowe and the Pack.

"That was just a game, I don't know, it was a weird game," Lowe said. "The guys seemed to be ready to go and excited and I think initially when we don't hit a few shots early our defense suffered and our energy went down.

Senior forward Tracy Smith said after the loss that the players didn't fight as "hard as we could."

Lowe said the players have played hard this season and "will play hard" going forward but stopped short of repeating Smith's claim.

"It was just a bad game," Lowe said. "We picked the wrong time to do that."

Lowe said effort hasn't been an ongoing problem but there have been lapses.

"What we haven't done is to play a full 40 minutes," Lowe said. "We put together 30 minutes, 25 minutes but we haven't put together 40 minutes of tough, tough basketball."

Lowe noted the strength of State's schedule, particularly in the league, where it has had to play at UNC (5-1), Florida State (5-2), Clemson (4-3) and Boston College (4-3) and lost all four games.

The schedule doesn't ease up with Virginia Tech on Wednesday followed by a trip to Duke on Saturday.

"There's a lot of time left," Lowe said. "We still have nine games. We won six of our last eight last year so there's still time left."

-- J.P. Giglio

Once mighty hoops programs now struggle

St. John's 93-78 win over Duke on Sunday was an uplifting event for a former national power that has lost a lot of steam. The Red Storm hardly is an isolated case on that front.

Whatever happened to:

UCLA (last title '95, last Final Four 2008): John Wooden retired and Pauley Pavilion went out of style, but the level of West Coast high school talent began to slip in the 1990s, too. Perfect storm. Ben Howland began with a bang but the momentum has now sagged. The Bruins (11-6) are in danger of missing the NCAA for a third straight season.

N.C. State (last title and Final Four '83): UNC stayed strong, Duke hired Mike Krzyzewski and State hasn't been able to find a decent strategist who can also find, sign and groom talent. Sidney Lowe's fifth team will have to pick up the pace just to get a NIT bid.

St. John's (last Final Four '85): The Big East growth explosion stripped the school - Providence, too - of its basketball soul. Both need to leave and join in a league that makes some sense. Even after getting Duke with ease, Steve Lavin's team is 4-5 in the conference.

Indiana (last title '87, last Final Four '02): The Bob Knight Curse really might have something to do it. Nasty divorces can damage the spirit as much as the heart. In his third season, Tom Crean has signed some name recruits, but the record is 11-10 after 16-46 in his first two seasons.

Houston (last Final Four '84): Dean Smith ('82) and Jim Valvano ('83) put a stake in the program's heart and 275-pound John Thompson ('84) stomped on it. The program hasn't won an NCAA game since that '84 run.

Michigan (last title '89, last Final Four '93):  The program has reached six Final Fours. But compared to football, the passion's never been geuine. And now, there's the Tom Izzo factor.

Florida (last title and Final Four '07): The Michigan of the South. First Lon Kruger and now Billy Donovan can't really steal the fans' hearts. It'd take an indoor Tim Tebow for that.

UNLV (last title '90, last Final Four '91): High rolling recruiter Jerry Tarkanian was great for business but eventually bankrupted the school's image account.

Arkansas (last title '94, last Final Four '95): Even Nolan Richardson had better pure athletics than pure players. Now, dozens of teams are athletic enough to play that tune. John Pelphrey won 23 games in his frist season as coach ('07-'08), but leveled off quickly.

-- Caulton Tudor

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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Irving's cast comes off this week

Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving is scheduled to have a protective boot removed from his right foot late this week, but coach Mike Krzyzewski still is downplaying the possibility that Irving will return this season.

Irving has been out since suffering an injury to his right big toe on Dec. 4 against Butler. Krzyzewski said removing the cast will merely trigger another long-term stage of Irving’s rehabilitation.

Krzyzewski said Irving is getting better and will have more tests on the toe after the boot is removed. But Duke’s biggest concern, Krzyzewski said, is what’s best for Irving’s career and not getting him back this season.

“We’re not looking for him to come back,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re looking for him to get well.”

Ken Tysiac

Friday, January 28, 2011

UNC's Williams calls State a 'tough matchup'

CHAPEL HILL -- The rivalry between North Carolina and N.C. State always makes for a challenging game, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. But add the Wolfpack's talent and frustrating losses of late, he added, and "they're a tough match-up for us."

"We're catching them probably at a bad time, good time - it depends on the way that you look at it,'' Williams said today. "I always would rather catch somebody where they're fat and happy, as opposed to mad where Sidney [Lowe, N.C. State coach] has been beating them with a witch stick all week, or something like that."

Indeed, while UNC is coming off a come-from-behind victory at Miami, the Wolfpack is trying to bounce after letting Clemson overcome a 19-point deficit to win.

Williams has been impressed by Pack players Ryan Harrow, Scott Wood, Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie (who he called "as talented as you can be"). But forward Tracy Smith is always the biggest concern.

"Tracy is a tough matchup for anybody,'' Williams said. "And he's just a skilled scorer in the post, gets your guys in foul trouble, and that's one of our biggest weaknesses is depth up front. And without Justin Watts [a UNC reserve who will be sidelined because of a sprained right ankle], it's even moreso in this game."

UNC has beaten State eight straight times.

-- Robbi Pickeral

UNC freshman's 'Black Falcon' nickname came from ESPN

CHAPEL HILL -- How did North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes get 'The Black Falcon' as a nickname? Credit ESPN.

"When I was at the Jordan Game, myself, [Ohio State's] Jared Sullinger, and [Duke's] Kyrie Irving, we had to go up three days earlier than everybody else, and we got a tour of ESPN,'' Barnes said today. " They ...gave us [each] nicknames. ... I think Jared's was 'Big Smooth' and Kyrie's was 'Time,' because he said he couldn't be stopped."

But why a bird?

"I said I wanted mine to be an animal, because Michael Jordan was the 'Black Cat' and Kobe was the 'Black Mamba,'" Barnes said. "And they just gave me the 'Black Falcon.'

-- Robbi Pickeral

Tar Heels may want to peek ahead

No one preaches that good ol' one-at-a-time sermon with more emotion than North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams.

But even with longtime rival N.C. State on the Smith Center doorstep for a Saturday test (2 p.m.), the Tar Heels might be wise to take into account that their next game already has the markings of ambush.

At Boston College (14-7 overall, 4-3 ACC) on Tuesday (9 p.m.), the Heels (14-5, 4-1) can just go ahead and make book on confronting a motivated, wounded opponent that's overdue to have a hot shooting night.

Having played the league's most physical two teams -- Duke (19-1, 6-1) and Florida State (15-5, 5-1) -- back to back and on the road, new coach Steve Donahue and his players were in a foul mood by the time they left Duke Thursday.

The Eagles lost both by wide margins --67-51 at FSU and 84-68 at Duke -- largely as a result of poor shot selection, loose passing and slack rebounding.
Donahue didn't start top scorer Reggie Jackson and surprising freshman Danny Rubin at Duke.

"I think we're going to get better," Donahue said, the "or else" clearly implied.

The Eagles, for now, are just another average team. But they haven't lost three straight under Donahue and although their Conte Forum crowds don't always provide a big home-court edge, the Heels will walk into a dicey situation.

It's very much like what UNC encountered at Georgia Tech in a 78-58 loss on Jan. 16. The Yellow Jackets had dropped two straight on the road, Paul Hewitt was upset and the crowd responded.

-- Caulton Tudor

Smith shines for Duke

DURHAM - If you look at Duke senior guard Nolan Smith's numbers from Thursday night, you'd never guess he was struggling with his jump shot.

Smith scored 28 points, handed out eight assists and committed just one turnover in No. 3-ranked Duke's 84-68 defeat of Boston College at Cameron Indoor Stadium. He leads the ACC in scoring and assists and was matched with the Eagles' Reggie Jackson, who ranks second in the conference in those two categories.

Their personal matchup wasn't even close. Jackson was held to seven points - 12 below his average - and six assists.

"I definitely took it personally, because he's been great all year in scoring and assists," Smith said. "I really just wanted to make it a personal thing to try to hold him down. But it was a team [effort]."

Smith shot 10-for-20 from the field, and all but two of his field goals came from within five feet of the basket. He attempted just three 3-pointers, making one.

"My jump shot wasn't falling early," he said. "I started to just penetrate and kick. When they were making it tough inside, it eventually started opening up the drives and more creativity with the ball at the finish."

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Smith was "spectacular." Boston College coach Steve Donahue praised Smith's confidence.

"He is such a catalyst for them," Donahue said. "[He] makes others better, just has a great presence about him. [I] just admire the way he goes about his business and plays the game and makes everybody else better.”

If Smith's jump shot had been falling, he could have easily scored eight or 10 more points. That's a scary proposition for opponents as Duke continues to hold on to a spot atop the ACC standings.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Singler a finalist for award

Duke forward Kyle Singler has been named one of the 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior Class Award.

To be elibible for the award, a senior must have notable achievements in the areas of community, classroom, character and competition.

Singler is averaging 18.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and ranks seventh in school history with 2,110 career points.

The other finalists are: Northern Colorado's Devon Beitzel, Bradley's Dodie Dunson, Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette, Butler's Matt Howard, Northern Arizona's Cameron Jones, Wisconsin's Jon Leuer, Ohio State's David Lighty, Purdue's E'Twaun Moore and Kansas' Tyrel Reed.

Voting of fans on the Lowe's Senior Class Award website, plus coaches and the media, will determine the winner.

Ken Tysiac

Lowe explains collapse at Clemson

After N.C. State's 60-50 loss to Clemson on Tuesday night, coach Sidney Lowe explained some of the things that caused the Wolfpack to collapse after leading by 19 points in the first half.

Lowe said the N.C. State players had a lot of open shots that they just missed. He said Clemson center Jerai Grant took away some of the Wolfpack's low-post game by blocking shots.

He said he used a lot of his timeouts in the first half trying to break the run that got the Tigers back into the game and was trying to hang onto his remaining timeouts in the second half.

Here is a transcript, provided by Clemson's sports information office, of some of Lowe's comments:

“After we had a good start, Clemson just became more aggressive. They
turned up the defense and started going for the ball a lot more. They got
more physical with us. We stood around too much; we didn’t come around and
get the ball from the dribbler like we talked about. They just turned up
the intensity. It’s a game of runs. We made a run at the beginning and
then they made runs that we just couldn’t stop. We talked about not giving
them the game by not taking bad shots or turning the ball over and making
them play defense. I thought we took a couple of questionable shots, but
we had a lot of open shots that we just missed inside. Some were
questionable (whether they got hit or not) but we just didn’t do our job

On Clemson’s comeback:
“They don’t have a clear cut superstar, but they know how to play hard.
This isn’t a young team; they have plenty of guys that have been here
before. They know what type of effort they needed to give to get back in
the ballgame. It showed a lot of character and a lot of toughness. They
did whatever they had to do to win the game. I saw one guy body-block
Scott Wood. They did what they had to do to get back in the game. When
you’re down like that, you do whatever you have to do, and they did it.”

On today’s game compared to Sunday’s game vs Miami:
“We made shots Sunday. We were able to score. When Miami made a run, we
were able to make a shot to keep ourselves in it. Today, we had trouble
scoring. Their defense was good and they took some things away. Jerai
Grant was on the inside, taking that away and blocking shots. Once again,
we had five shots on the inside and he blocked at least two. We just
couldn’t get that one basket we needed to break the momentum and I was
running out of timeouts. I used them all in the first half, trying to stop
that run, and I was trying to hang on to them in the second half.”

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

UNC's Roy Williams retracts criticism of radio show callers

UNC coach Roy Williams says he should not have criticized his radio show callers last week who phoned in to criticize his team.

"I wish I had not said one word," Williams said during this week's radio show on Monday night, according to a transcript on

Last Tuesday after UNC's win over Clemson, Williams was trying to defend his players when he said during the post-game news conference: "My radio call [show] last night stunk; everybody was talking about how they were Carolina fans for 9 million years and how bad we are. I don't give a damn how long you're a Carolina fan, those are kids in the locker room, and they played their buns off tonight. ... Don't call me next week and say how good we are; keep your damn phone calls to yourself."

Monday, however, he said he should have kept his mouth shut.

-- Robbi Pickeral

UNC's McDonald, Bullock practice, should play Wednesday

North Carolina reserves Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock both practiced Monday and Tuesday, and should play Wednesday at Miami, a team spokesman said.

Reserve Justin Watts, however, still hasn't practiced since he sprained his right ankle last Tuesday against Clemson, and is doubtful against the Hurricanes.

McDonald, who is averaging 7.7 points off the bench, has been sidelined since the Jan. 16 game at Georgia Tech, when he bruised his back and sustained a lung injury.

Bullock, who scored a career-high 18 points against Clemson, did not practice for five days because of swelling in his left knee.

-- Robbi Pickeral

All indications are 'go' for UNC aircraft carrier game this fall

Although the contract has not been signed, "all indications are that all systems are go," for an aircraft carrier game between North Carolina and Michigan State next Veterans Day, UNC senior associate athletics director Larry Gallo said Tuesday.

The game, which has been discussed for years, is slated to be held on Nov. 11, 2011 in San Diego. It's still not clear on which aircraft carrier the game would be played. Coach Roy Williams also confirmed the game on his Monday night radio show.

"We have not received a contract yet, and there are a lot of parties involved," Gallo said. "We've got ourselves and Michigan State, the U.S. government and a promoter-type person. So we're still sitting tight. ... All indications are that all systems are go, although contractually, nothing has been finalized, yet."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Tigers gradually improving at the line

They backslide occasionally, but Clemson’s basketball players slowly have stopped shooting their toes off at the free-throw line.

Once a notoriously errant foul-shooting program, the Tigers (13-6 overall, 2-3 ACC) are creeping toward the 70-percent conversion rate as they await N.C. State (12-7, 2-3) tonight for a 7 o’clock game.

With regulars Demontez Stitt, Milton Jennings, Devin Booker and currently injured Tanner Smith (knee) all at or above 71.2, the Tigers are shooting 67.8 percent as a team after a few shaky showings in early season.

That’s up from last season’s 66.1 percent and an impressive increase over 2007-08 (62.3 percent), 2006-07 (57.3 percent) and 2005-06 (61.2 percent). The team’s high-water mark in recent history was 68.1 in 2008-09.

Stitt, a senior guard, credits the improvement to a concerted practice routine that began after ‘06-’07 by previous coach Oliver Purnell and was emphasized by his replacement, Brad Brownell.

“We want to become a team that wins games at the line, not lose games there,” Stitt said.

The ACC leader, at 75.8 percent, is Duke, followed by Wake Forest (74.7).At the bottom are Maryland (63.3) and North Carolina (64.2). The Wolfpack (70.7) is eighth among the 12 teams.

But miss for miss, Clemson probably has suffered more self-inflicted damage over the past few seasons than any team in the league.

After that ’06-’07 season, Purnell said his team (7-9, ACC, 25-11 overall) would have won 30 games simply by shooting 60 percent at the line.

But as their last two outings prove, the Tigs still have a few miles to go. In a 75-65 loss at Carolina on Jan. 18 and a 79-77 loss at Maryland on Saturday, they combined to miss 11 of 26 chances.

Caulton Tudor, Staff Columnist

Monday, January 24, 2011

Marshall will stay in UNC's starting lineup; no other changes expected

North Carolina freshman point guard Kendall Marshall will remain in the starting lineup for Wednesday's game at Miami "unless something weird happens between now and Wednesday night,'' coach Roy Williams said during today's ACC conference call.

But don't expect any other changes, at this point, to the opening five.

Forward Justin Knox - who Williams had thought about starting last Tuesday, in place of Tyler Zeller - will miss today's practice because of a class. Meanwhile, guard Leslie McDonald - who the coach had pondered starting in place of Dexter Strickland - is expected to return to practice today, after missing Tuesday's game because of a back bruise and lung injury, but he will be limited.

In addition, freshman Reggie Bullock is expected to practice today, after sitting out since last Tuesday because of swelling in his knee. Junior Justin Watts, who sprained his right ankle in the game, will be limited to going through dummy offense, at best, today, Williams said.

Williams said it was a difficult decision, inserting Marshall into the starting five in place of junior Larry Drew II. But it worked. Marshall jumpstarted the offense, finishing with five points and five assists in 22 minutes. Drew, the better defensive player of the two, played one of his most complete games of the season, finishing with eight points and a career-high four steals in 23 minutes.

"If you look at my track record over the years, most of the time when I get the group that starts, I stick with it,'' Williams said. " In '06, I took Marcus Ginyard out and stuck Wes Miller in the lineup, and that was really big for us. It gave us another outside shooter and it got us going; I think we had lost two out of three or three out of the four in the ACC, and we go down to Florida State, and Wes makes a few 3s for us that were big for us.

"I don't do it [change the starting lineup] a lot, but it was hard to do, especially because Larry was trying so hard defensively. But we were just a little stagnant offensively, and we can still get him to be extremely important to us, just like he was in the Clemson game."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Big guys boosting Duke

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski opened the ACC conference call Monday by praising the Blue Devils' big men, and it's easy to see why.

Forward Ryan Kelly has averaged 15.5 points over the last two games and has made 13 straight field goal attempts. Center Mason Plumlee has 50 rebounds over his last four games with at least 10 rebounds in each game. His older brother, Miles Plumlee, has averaged 9.5 points per game off the bench over the last two games.

"The big guys, Ryan Kelly had a really good week, and I think Mason continues to rebound well, and Miles gave us energy," Krzyzewski said.

Meanwhile, senior forward Kyle Singler continues to shine for Duke. He has been a bit overshadowed on this team because Blue Devil senior guard Nolan Smith leads the ACC in scoring and assists.

If there's any way to do this quietly, Singler quietly averaged 21 points and eight rebounds in two ACC road wins last week.

"The thing that is so impressive about Kyle is how hard he plays," said Boston College coach Steve Donahue, whose team visits Duke at 8 p.m. Thursday. "And you watch the things he does away from the basketball defensively, getting in the passing lanes and then going to rebound, and he plays all these minutes. . .it's pretty incredible. His motor is just a notch above everybody else on the court."

Ken Tysiac

ACC recap: Howell, Kelly and FSU surging

N.C. State eked out a win to at least temporarily take the heat off Sidney Lowe. Duke had a new scorer emerge, and Florida State made a case for itself as the second-best team in the ACC.

These were the headlines from an eventful weekend in the ACC:

1. Richard Howell needs to play more for N.C. State.

The sophomore forward scored a team-high 17 points in 27 minutes after entering the starting lineup for C.J. Leslie, who was ill.

Coach Sidney Lowe said 10 days ago that Howell was the top player in the Wolfpack’s plus-minus ratings. After Howell’s performance in Sunday’s 72-70 win over Miami, Lowe may have found himself a key to stringing together some wins.

The question is, how will Lowe fit talented freshman Leslie into the rotation if Howell plays more?

2. After going 4-for-4 from the field for 11 points on Wednesday against N.C. State, Duke sophomore forward Ryan Kelly was 6-for-6 from the field with 20 points Saturday at Wake Forest.

Kelly already was doing a lot of the little things right – defending, rebounding and spacing properly in Duke’s offense. Now that he’s hitting shots, Kelly is emerging as one of the Blue Devils’ most well-rounded players.

He concedes that he’s not going to go 6-for-6 every game, but he obviously is gaining confidence in his shot. If he emerges as a serious, consistent scoring threat, Duke’s chances of returning to the Final Four will improve significantly.

3. Florida State’s 67-51 defeat of Boston College kept the Seminoles tied atop the ACC with Duke – which lost 66-61 in Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 12.

Coach Leonard Hamilton’s team, as usual, is getting it done with defense, having won 55-53 at Miami earlier in the week. Florida State’s loss to SEC also-ran Auburn is absolutely inexplicable, but with point guard Derwin Kitchen playing a more active role on offense, this team is well on its way to securing an NCAA tournament bid.

4. Georgia Tech hasn’t turned it around, after all.

After blowout wins at home over North Carolina and Wake Forest, the Yellow Jackets fell 72-64 at Virginia, which had lost three in a row.

The Cavaliers shot 10-for-15 from 3-point range against a defense that had suffocated North Carolina and Wake Forest. Coach Paul Hewitt can’t afford many more losses like this.

5. Wake Forest may not go 0-16 in the ACC.

The Deacons fell to 0-5 in the conference with an 83-59 loss at home to Duke. But led by guard C.J. Harris, Wake Forest competed with a fire it hadn’t shown in weeks.

If coach Jeff Bzdelik’s team keeps playing as well as it did against Duke, it will defeat somebody in ACC play.

Ken Tysiac

Saturday, January 22, 2011

UNC's Breland out for Maryland game after surgery

North Carolina senior Jessica Breland had arthroscopic surgery on her left knee on Friday and will not travel with the Tar Heels to Maryland on Sunday.

Breland, who played sparingly in UNC's victory over Wake Forest on Thursday, had "two loose bodies" in her knee removed, according to a release from North Carolina officials. She had surgery at UNC Hospitals.

Breland, who is the team's second leading scorer with 12.6 points per game and 7.5 rebounds, is listed as day-to-day.

After starting against Wake, Breland left the game midway through the first half. She returned to the bench, though did not re-enter. She later left the bench for the locker room.

UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said on Thursday that the injury did not happen in Thursday's game. She did not comment about any other details about the injury. It's uncertain how Breland injured the knee.

Breland, a redshirt senior, returned to the team this season after missing the 2009-10 campaign while recovering from Hodgkins' lymphoma. She underwent chemotherapy and slowly worked back into playing condition.

She has averaged 22.1 minutes per game this season, starting in 19 contest.

The No. 10 Heels face the No. 15 Terrapins, their second top 25 opponent in the past three games. The Heels dispatched Wake 71-56 after falling to No. 2 Connecticut on Monday.

-- Edward G. Robinson III

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chennault back for Deacons

Freshman point guard Tony Chennault will return from a broken foot tonight in a reserve role for Wake Forest.

Team spokesman Scott Wortman said Chennault will play about 10 minutes off the bench as the Demon Deacons play in a 7 p.m. game at Georgia Tech that will be televised by ESPNU.

Chennault broke his foot in a season-opening loss to Stetson on Nov. 12. He recently returned to practice, but coach Jeff Bzdelik said Monday that it hadn't been decided for sure whether Chennault would return for the remainder of the season or redshirt.

Bzdelik said Monday that a Chennault return would help the Demon Deacons because it would allow sophomore C.J. Harris to move from point guard to his more natural position on the wing.

Robbi Pickeral and Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pack has surprise plus-minus leader

RALEIGH - N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe likes to track the plus-minus ratings of his players.

The plus-minus is the difference between how many points the Wolfpack scored and how many points the opponents scored when the player was on the floor.

It's not the most important statistic Lowe keeps. But he does use it to try to figure out which combinations work well for the team.

On Tuesday, Lowe revealed the identity of N.C. State's plus-minus leader so far this season. It probably was a bit of a surprise.

Richard Howell, a sophomore reserve forward, is the team plus-minus leader.

"When he's been in the ballgame, he's played well for us, defensively, offensive rebounds," Lowe said. "Most of the time when he's in there, the team is going good. So it doesn't really surprise me."

Howell is averaging 7.8 points and 6.8 rebounds and shooting 54.7 percent from the field.

Ken Tysiac

N.C. State's Lowe looking for a leader

RALEIGH - N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe had a conversation about leadership with senior forward Tracy Smith on Tuesday morning.

Lowe said the Wolfpack isn't getting enough leadership on the floor from his players. He said for some reason, a lot of players these days are hesitant to speak up with their teammates.

"He understood what I was talking about," Lowe said of Smith, "so we'll see."

Heading into Wednesday night's home game against No. 4-ranked Duke, N.C. State has limited options for leadership on the floor. Three of the starters in the most recent game at Florida State - C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow - were freshmen.

That limits their leadership ability, according to Lowe.

"As a freshman, you just want those guys going out and playing as hard as they can, as smart as they can, and helping the team win," Lowe said.

Smith, then, as a senior who's the team's leading scorer, may have to speak up even if he is naturally more soft spoken.

"We still haven't had that to where I think we need it," Lowe said of the team's leadership. "We still need someone to do that. Right now it's me."

Ken Tysiac

Monday, January 17, 2011

Duke falls from No. 1 spot in polls

As expected, Duke fell from the No. 1 spot in the college basketball polls Monday after dropping a 66-61 decision Wednesday at Florida State.

The Blue Devils had been ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press' media poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll in each week so far this season.

Duke (16-1) fell to No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 5 in the coaches' poll. Ohio State (18-0), Kansas and Syracuse were No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in each poll.

The AP ranked Duke at No. 4, with Pittsburgh at No. 5. The coaches' poll had Pittsburgh at No. 4, one spot ahead of the Blue Devils.

Syracuse was 18-0 heading into Monday's 7:30 p.m. at Pittsburgh. Kansas was 17-0 before a game at Baylor at 9:30 p.m. Monday.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, while not referring to the rankings specifically, said Monday that the Blue Devils are not as formidable as they were before freshman point guard Kyrie Irving suffered an injured right big toe eight games into the season. Irving is out indefinitely, and Krzyzewski has often said Duke isn't the same without him.

"I shared those concerns publicly," Krzyzewski said. "No one wanted to listen. We’re a good team trying to get better and Florida State played a great game against us."

Ken Tysiac

Tudor's take: Clemson coach isn't counting on UNC's help

First-year Clemson basketball coach Brad Brownell doesn't necessarily think that his team's ballhandling will be the key to Tuesday's trip to North Carolina, but statistics and recent trends seem to indicate otherwise.

Four different Tigers -- Andre Young, Tanner Smith, Jerai Grant and Demontez Stitt -- have at least 19 steals this season.

Coupled with Carolina's habit of committing turnovers in bursts, the error totals could give the Tigers a rare area of advantage in the series. Clemson (13-4, 2-1 ACC) has never defeated the Tar Heels (12-5, 2-1) in Chapel Hill.

"We always want to pressure the ball, but Carolina puts unbelievable pressure on your defense, too," Brownell said today. "They attack from the first five seconds of every possession, so it's very important to get back fast and establish your basic defense."

The Tar Heels have committed 244 turnovers, including 35 in the past two games. They had 18 in Sunday's 78-58 loss at Georgia Tech, when UNC was held to 26 points in the second half.

Three Carolina players -- John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Larry Drew II -- have a combined 105 turnovers.

But as much as the law of averages shout that Clemson eventually has to win a game at North Carolina, it's important to remember that the Tar Heels' habitually sloppy 2001-02 team (8-20, 4-12) routed the Tigers, 87-69, in the Smith Center.

-- Caulton Tudor

Plumlee hitting boards for Duke

Mason Plumlee's recent rebounding surge has earned him high praise from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Plumlee, a sophomore center, tied his career high Wednesday with 14 rebounds at Florida State, then set a new career best with 16 rebounds Saturday against Virginia.

Duke hadn't had a player grab 16 or more rebounds since Brian Zoubek had 16 on Feb. 21, 2010 against Virginia Tech.

"Honestly, in the last two ballgames his rebounding has been sensational," Krzyzewski said of Plumlee on today's ACC teleconference call with reporters.

Krzyzewski also said Plumlee's scoring output will improve as he becomes more accustomed to the physicality of play in the ACC. He was held to five points Saturday by Virginia on 2-for-5 from the field.

"He just has to finish," Krzyzewski said.

Ken Tysiac

Henson, McDonald practice despite injuries

North Carolina forward John Henson and wing Leslie McDonald both are practicing today despite injuries, school sports information director Steve Kirschner said in an e-mail today.

X-rays this morning on Henson's left arm came back negative. He crashed to the floor after being bumped while trying to grab a rebound late in Sunday's 78-58 loss at Georgia Tech, and has a sprained arm.

McDonald has a back contusion.

Kirschner explained that Tar Heel coach Roy Williams missed his scheduled 10-minute segment on the ACC coaches' teleconference with the media this morning because he was conducting practice.

Practice was scheduled for the morning rather than the afternoon because students had the day off from classes because of the Martin Luther King holiday. Kirschner said the ACC was informed late last week that Williams had a conflict, and the missed interview opportunity had nothing to do with the fact that the Tar Heels lost Sunday night.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt also was not available for the conference call.

Ken Tysiac

Wake Forest faces decision on Chennault

Freshman point guard Tony Chennault has returned to practice for Wake Forest, but coach Jeff Bzdelik said it hasn’t been decided whether Chennault will play this season.

Chennault suffered a broken foot in the season opener and has not played since. Bzdelik said on today's ACC teleconference that he is trying to figure out whether it would be best for Chennault and the program to have him return this season or redshirt and have four seasons of eligibility left.

Bzdelik said that a return by Chennault would help on the court because it would allow sophomore C.J. Harris to move from point guard to his more natural position on the wing. But even if it’s decided that Chennault will return this season, he will have a lot of catching up to do.

“His foot is getting stronger every day,” Bzdelik said, “but at the same time we have to remember that this [Monday] will be the third complete practice only of the year for him, so he has a lot of catching up to do from his conditioning standpoint and his knowledge of what we’re doing.”

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blue Devils missing an inside game

TALLAHASSEE, Fl. - Duke guard Nolan Smith sounded the alarm Wednesday night after a tenacious Florida State defense frustrated the No. 1-ranked Blue Devils in a 66-61 win at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

"Teams are going to watch this tape and see, 'This is how to get them.' " Smith said.

Duke (15-1, 2-1 ACC) saw its 25-game winning streak dating back to last season broken because it shot a season-low 31.1 percent from the field and recorded a season-low point total.

You didn't even have to see the game to know what's wrong. The box score tells the tale.

The Blue Devils attempted 35 3-pointers, making 11. They tried just 26 two-point shots, connecting on just eight.

"We couldn't help off any of the shooters, because they're awesome shooters," said Florida State forward Chris Singleton.

So Duke needs to develop some kind of offense in the lane to force the defense to collapse. Smith, who was 3-for-10 on two-pointers Wednesday, said he needs to be more patient in the lane. He wants to use more shot fakes and draw more fouls.

And the Blue Devils need some kind of a low-post scoring presence from their big guys. In 53 total minutes, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Miles Plumlee combined for five points. They shot a combined 2-for-8 from the field.

Although the players were disappointed Wednesday, coach Mike Krzyzewski took a more patient, longer view. He said Duke now has a chance to be a good team, when it had a shot to be a great team with freshman point guard Kyrie Irving out indefinitely with an injury to his right big toe.

"You just learn from the experience," Krzyzewski said. "We have a long way to go, and we have to keep getting better from these experiences."

Other teams will watch tape to see how to stop Duke. And Krzyzewski and his staff will try to come up with counter moves. It's part of the ebb and flow that could make this an interesting season over the long haul for the Blue Devils.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, January 10, 2011

Williams proud of UNC's tenacity

Considering all of the problems during last year's 17-loss campaign, it's hard not to compare this season's North Carolina team to last season's.

But coach Roy Williams -- who was guilty of it after Saturday's win at Virginia, when he said he hadn't seen that kind of toughness out of his team in a long time -- said today it's time to give these Tar Heels their due, sans comparisons.

"This year's team didn't fold their tents, this year's team kept competing, kept trying to make a play, kept trying to find a way, and I think that's a credit to this year's team -- and that's the way I've got to talk about them, instead of making reference to last year, and I hope everyone else will get to that point, too," Williams said during the weekly ACC coaches teleconference.

"This year's team, as all of them, are unique in their own way, their own personalities, their own character, and I was just proud of how things were ugly, things weren't smooth, things weren't going well, but we kept plugging along, plugging along, making a basket every now and then, making a basket every now and then, and then putting ourselves in a position to win at the end. So I was really proud of them."

Williams said that sometimes you have to win ugly to have a great year. And that victory certainly qualified as homely, considering UNC went about nine minutes without a field goal, and both teams shot worse than 30 percent in the second half. The Tar Heels came back from 11 points to win their ACC opener.

"We didn't shoot the ball well, we didn't defend as well as we wanted to … there were a lot of things that weren't going well for us, but we kept plugging along," Williams said. "And I think the tenacity, the stick-to-it-tiveness … that is something I was really proud of. And I wish I could tell you what it takes to get to that point, but this year's team did have it on Saturday, and we're going to need to have it throughout the course of the season."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Wolfpack hits the road looking for wins

N.C. State has won six ACC road games in the past four years. Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe hopes his fifth team can improve its road record this week with trips to Boston College (Tuesday) and Florida State (Saturday).

State's winless in two true road games this season, at Wisconsin and at Syracuse with a win over Elon at the Greensboro Coliseum, which counts as a road win.

"Hopefully we got a taste of it, being at Wisconsin and Syracuse," Lowe said Monday. "Hopefully we'll be able to handle it."

State won ACC games at FSU and Miami last season. The Wolfpack, 1-0 in the ACC, has some momentum heading into Tuesday's game at BC. State has won five straight and posted two of its best performances of the season in handling Elon 87-72 and Wake Forest 90-69 last week.

Boston College (12-4, 2-0 ACC) has been the surprise of the ACC under first-year coach Steve Donahue. The Eagles have already beaten Maryland and Georgia Tech in the league and own impressive nonconference wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina. They also have a pair of home losses to Ivy League teams (Yale, Harvard).

Lowe expects the "good" BC to show up for Tuesday's 9 p.m. game at Conte Forum.

"They're a very good team, they have great experience," Lowe said. "[Reggie] Jackson and [Joe] Trapani have been around. Jackson has played as well as anyone in the conference."

Jackson and Trapani are two of seven scholarship players Donahue inherited from former coach Al Skinner. His up-tempo, 3-point system has been a boon to Jackson (18.9 ppg) and senior guard Biko Paris (11.1).

State beat BC 66-54 in Raleigh last March, one of the games that led to Skinner's ouster. This is the only regular-season meeting between the two teams and an important one for State.

At No. 40 in the RPI, BC is one of four ACC teams ranked in the top 50. State's 0-4 against top 50 teams this season.

Note: The threat of snow/ice in Raleigh pushed up the team's departure time from Raleigh by about three hours, Lowe said. The team hopes to beat the weather to Boston for Tuesday's game.

-- J.P. Giglio

No change in Irving's status for Duke

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said today that there is no change in the status of freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who may be out for the rest of the season with an injury to the big toe on his right foot.

Irving continues to proceed with a non-surgical plan for the toe in hopes that he can return. If he should decide to have surgery, it would put him out for the entire season.

On the ACC coaches' teleconference today, Krzyzewski declined to give specifics about Irving's injury. Duke has only said Irving has an injured toe and is out indefinitely.

"It’s too complicated to talk about, and actually it’s not anyone’s right to know that," Krzyzewski said. "It’s his toe. The thing we’ve been very straightforward about is what his status is. We still think there’s a good chance he’s out for the whole year, but he’s progressing well."

Irving was averaging 17.4 points and 5.1 assists per game when he was injured Dec. 4 against Butler in the Blue Devils' eighth game of the season.

Doctors are scheduled to re-evaluate his toe in another week, Krzyzewski said.

"His is a serious injury and it’s coming along well," Krzyzewski said. "But we’re prepared to play the rest of the season without him."

Ken Tysiac

Friday, January 7, 2011

Maryland rivalry is special to Duke's players

DURHAM - As a senior guard, Duke's Nolan Smith has been around long enough to know what the Blue Devils' rivalry with Maryland means.

As a native of the Washington, D.C., area, Smith has a personal stake in the rivalry as top-ranked Duke (14-0, 1-0 ACC) prepares to play host to the Terrapins (10-4, 0-1) at 8 p.m. on Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"The Maryland games, they’re a rivalry game," Smith said this afternoon. "Their fans hate us. Our fans hate them. Being from Maryland, I can’t go to College Park. They’d say bad things to me. It’s personal."

Although some N.C. State fans might say otherwise, Maryland has emerged as the Blue Devils' second-biggest rival after North Carolina. The Terrapins are one of the two teams on Duke's schedule every season, in part because the Duke-Maryland game is one of the more highly sought television properties in college basketball.

Since 2002, Maryland has defeated Duke eight times in 20 games. Only North Carolina (also 8-12) has that many wins over the Blue Devils during that period.

A 79-72 Terrapin win on March 3 of last season marks the last time Duke has lost. The Blue Devils have reeled off 24 straight wins since then, the second-highest total in their history.

"We know that’s the last team to beat us," said Duke sophomore guard Andre Dawkins. "And we want to get them back."

Tactically, Duke's two biggest concerns appear to be Maryland's fast break and the half-court prowess of sophomore center Jordan Williams. He leads the ACC in field goal percentage (.576) and rebounding (11.8 rpg) and is averaging 17.6 points per game.

"We're going to find ways to keep the ball out of his hands or get it out of his hands," said Duke forward Ryan Kelly.

The fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium would expect nothing less. Duke's students will be back from winter break just in time to aim their "Sweat Gary, sweat" chants at one of their favorite targets, Maryland coach Gary Williams.

"It’s a game where Coach Williams always has them ready to play," Smith said. "We get fired up for them. We have a lot of preparation time for them to get ready, and we’re going to be ready to play them."

Ken Tysiac

Terps, as always, a challenge for Duke

At the time, it was the furthest thing from Duke's players' minds.
They were reminded Wednesday night after defeating Alabama-Birmingham that the last team to defeat them was Maryland, which visits Cameron Indoor Stadium at 8 p.m. Sunday. The Terrapins downed Duke 79-72 on March 3 to help secure a share of first place in the final ACC standings last season.
"I never thought of that," senior forward Kyle Singler said Wednesday.
"We don't remember any of our losses from last year since at the end, we got the ultimate prize," said senior guard Nolan Smith. "Any loss before that has been out my head, but now that you mention it, now I do remember. That'll be in the back of my mind that they were the last team to beat us, they stormed the court on us."
After that loss to Maryland, the Blue Devils won 10 in a row to capture the ACC tournament and NCAA tournament titles. They have opened this season with 14 straight wins. Their 24-game streak spanning two seasons is the second longest in school history, trailing only the 32-game streak from Dec. 2, 1998 to March 27, 1999.
But Maryland and coach Gary Williams have been one of the more successful programs against Duke in recent years, with eight wins in 20 games since 2002. Smith, who's from the Washington, D.C., area, knows what kind of challenge the Terrapins will bring.

"Coach Williams always gets his team ready to play us," he said.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

ACC banners important at Duke

One day before Duke defeated Miami in its ACC opener, coach Mike Krzyzewski summoned his players into Cameron Indoor Stadium and asked them to look at the banners there.

Twelve times in the past 14 seasons, the Blue Devils have placed first in the ACC in the regular season, won the ACC tournament, or accomplished both of those objectives.

“Now it’s your turn,” Krzyzewski said he told the players. “And you don’t win one of those without showing up every day in our conference. And you don’t play for your total record. You play for your ACC record.”

Even though his teams have captured four NCAA titles, Krzyzewski still savors the opportunity to win championships in the ACC. If you grew up in an old fashioned neighborhood, as Krzyzewski did in Chicago, there’s something special about competing against your local rivals even if you’ve gone on to national (or international) acclaim.

Although Duke won the NCAA title just last season and owns the No. 1 ranking in the polls, Krzyzewski is taking care to explain each step of the journey to his current team.

Despite the Blue Devils’ talent and last season’s experience, just two starters – seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler – are back. The other players are developing their roles and finding their way.

And Krzyzewski’s message Saturday – that an ACC banner is something to be cherished – brings important perspective to a growing team.

“That’s the way we’ve approached it, especially since the mid-90s,” Krzyzewski said. “And I think we get better as a result of doing that. There’s just a different level of intensity by everybody [in ACC play]. It means a lot.”

Ken Tysiac

Monday, January 3, 2011

N.C. State, ACC down in RPI rankings

With one game left on its nonconference schedule, N.C. State sits No. 111 in the RPI. Normally, the strength of the ACC schedule would boost that number but half of the ACC teams rank 111 or lower in the latest RPI.

The Wolfpack went 0-4 against the major conference teams on its nonconference schedule and Wednesday's game with Elon (No. 227) is unlikely to help the Pack's computer cause.

N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe noticed the sagging RPI numbers for the ACC but said his team can't worry about that.

"We have to just concentrate on what we're doing and win as many games as we can," Lowe said. "I know earlier [this season], our RPI was pretty good, and now it's gone down. If we do what we're capable of doing, then that will take care of itself."

State's first ACC game is Saturday against Wake Forest, which ranks No. 270 in the RPI. The good news for the Pack is it has nine games against the six teams ranked in the top 100.

Lowe said despite only one ACC being ranked in the top 25 polls and with four ACC teams in the top 30 of the RPI, the league is still formidable.

"[ACC] games are still important," Lowe said. "Our conference is still tough."

ACC in the RPI:

7. Duke

25. BC

26. Miami

29. UNC

59. VT

86. FSU

111. N.C. State

117. Maryland

123. Virginia

136. Clemson

176. GT

270. Wake Forest

Rankings from

-- J.P. Giglio

Similar record, different attitude as UNC prepares for ACC play

CHAPEL HILL -- No coach ever thinks his team is "ready" for ACC play, North Carolina's Roy Williams says.

But in the case of the Tar Heels, they appear to be in a lot better shape than a year ago.

Last January 5, UNC had a similar record - 11-4, compared to 10-4 now - but a different outlook.

Back then, starter Marcus Ginyard already was sidelined, and at least three other teammates were shuffling on and off the injury report. Now, freshman Reggie Bullock is the only player to have missed a game, while sophomore John Henson continues to play through a thumb injury.

Back then, the Tar Heels were coming off an overtime upset loss at Charleston, a confidence-shaker from which they never really rebounded. Now, they prepare for Saturday's game at Virginia on a three-game, double-figures win streak.

Back then, Williams was already concerned about his team's work ethic and focus.

Now: "We are getting better; the work ethic has been there, the desire has been there, the efficiency of our work has gotten better, the intensity of our work has gotten better, the concentration of our work has gotten better," Williams said today. "So as long as you've got those things, you've got a tremendous opportunity to improve throughout the course of the year."

Sophomore Dexter Strickland said a big difference has been confidence, which stems from everyone knowing their roles. Junior Tyler Zeller has become the go-to guy in the post; Henson has become a force on the boards and one of the league's top shot-blockers; reserve Leslie McDonald has become the team's best outside shooter ... and on and on it goes.

"Everybody knows how to play with each other, and I think that's very important, recognizing who you're on the floor with," Strickland said.

Granted, there are still plenty of improvements that need to be made if UNC - which didn't make the NCAA tournament last season - wants its turnaround to continue in ACC play. Although the Tar Heels were able to finish out and beat then-No. 10 Kentucky last month, Williams wonders if the memory of then No. 22 Texas' game-winning shot earlier this month still lingers. He still wants the defense to improve. The frontcourt is still vulnerable, considering the team boasts only three players 6-feet-9 or taller. And although outside shooting has improved, will it be consistent?

"I don't like to compare anything to last year; it wasn't a very good year," Williams said Sunday. "But I do think that the kids are coming along; they enjoy each other. ... Right now, they feel pretty good about themselves. Are we ready to play an ACC schedule at the ACC level? We'll find out real quick."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Smith, Singler getting big minutes for Duke

DURHAM - The question was inevitable after seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler played 40 minutes each in Duke's 74-63 defeat of Miami in its ACC opener Sunday night.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked if it should be expected that Smith and Singler will play 40 minutes on a lot of nights.

"Yeah," Krzyzewski said. "They want to. There’s not a player who doesn’t want to play. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of timeouts, and I pretty much know what to do with guys in practice."

The amount of minutes Krzyzewski gives his top players has been an issue for years with Duke fans. They wondered whether J.J. Redick's shooting numbers dropped in the NCAA tournament because he was tired.

Last season, the amount of minutes Singler, Smith and Jon Scheyer played was a constant topic of discussion. Each of them averaged more than 35 minutes per game. The only other ACC players to do so were Wake Forest's Ish Smith and Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney.

Yet Duke still won the NCAA title. Can a player get tired late in the season if he's already playing 40 minutes in the first conference game of the season? Sure.

But Singler played 40 minutes in Duke's ACC opener last season against Clemson and still was fresh enough to earn most outstanding player honors at the Final Four.

"Guys don’t get worn out with just games," Krzyzewski said. "They get worn out by playing the games you play sometimes between games. And you’ve just got to be careful with what they’re doing. Dawkins and Amaker and all those guys, they played a lot of minutes."

Ken Tysiac

More tests for Duke's Irving this week

DURHAM - Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving will have a scan performed on the injured big toe on his right foot Tuesday or Wednesday, coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Irving missed his fifth straight game Sunday night and remains on crutches. Krzyzewski has said Irving might be out for the season, but his status at this point in uncertain.

"As long as no surgery is needed, or it appears that it might not be needed, we're going with this action," Krzyzewski said after top-ranked Duke's 74-63 defeat of Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

On Sunday, Irving's foot was placed in a new cast, and his toe was placed in a position that will aid its healing, Krzyzewski said.

Ken Tysiac