One of the most delicate tasks a coach can handle is that of trying to help a shooter break out of a slump.
That’s the challenge Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski faces as the Blue Devils prepare for the final week of the regular season.
Duke senior forward Kyle Singler has missed 28 of his last 36 3-point attempts. Over his last four games, Singler is 1-for-11 from 3-point range.
He had three crucial misses on wide-open 3-point attempts late in the Blue Devils’ 64-60 loss Sunday that might have finished off Virginia Tech before the Hokies rallied late to win.
A coach can yell at a player for failing to box out, setting wimpy screens or neglecting to run back on defense at full speed. But if a player squares up in good rhythm to take jump shots that just don’t go in, yelling at him isn’t going to do any good.
How do you help a shooter who’s struggling? You watch tape carefully to see if there’s something mechanically wrong with the shooting motion in hopes of finding something to fix.
If not, you have a delicate psychological job on your hands. You don’t win four NCAA titles, as Krzyzewski has, if you don’t know how to do this job. Just last season, senior guard Jon Scheyer went through a late slump that Duke survived on the way to the national championship.
But make no mistake about it, Singler needs to get his shot together soon. The Blue Devils won’t easily get back to the Final Four or win the ACC regular season or tournament titles if that critical part of their offense is missing.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
One of the most delicate tasks a coach can handle is that of trying to help a shooter break out of a slump.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Fewer than 3,500 tickets remain for the NCAA basketball tournament second- and third-round games March 18 and 20 at Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena. Fans are encouraged to buy now rather than wait until after pairings are announced on Selection Sunday (March 13).
Tickets for the tournament games -- hosted by UNC Charlotte -- are available at www.ncaa.com/mbbtickets or by calling 704-688-9011.
There will be open practice sessions -- with free admission to the public -- at the arena on Thursday, March 17. -- David Scott
Thursday, February 24, 2011
N.C. State’s eye-popping attendance figure from Wednesday night’s game with North Carolina should serve as a reminder to those who are criticizing Wolfpack fans.
Attendance was announced at 19,700 at the RBC Center. There was a significant minority of Tar Heel blue in the arena, but Wolfpack fans showed up in force to watch an N.C. State team that lost for the 10th consecutive time to its rival.
That increased N.C. State’s season attendance average for 14 home dates to 13,587. With two home games to go, that’s an increase of 403 over last season’s average of 13,184, which ranked 24th in Division I.
Even though there are a lot of empty seats at the RBC Center, Wolfpack fans still are giving top-25 support to a team that’s barely sniffed the top-25 in the polls and hasn’t made the NCAA tournament in five seasons under coach Sidney Lowe.
With N.C. State (14-13, 4-9 ACC) struggling to stay in contention for the NIT, Lowe’s days as coach appear numbered. Because of that, many national and local columnists have weighed in on whether the N.C. State job is attractive to coaches.
Many seem to believe it’s a difficult job. When asked about this subject by a fan in a live online chat two weeks ago, I agreed.
The local competition, with Duke and North Carolina nearby, is stiff. And fans have high expectations because they understandably prefer to remember NCAA titles that happened 37 years and 28 years ago rather than the last 20 years of mostly mediocre basketball.
Nonetheless, to many of the players N.C. State is recruiting, 28 years ago might as well be the Dark Ages.
But if Lowe doesn’t return next season, N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow will be able to make a different point to coaching candidates about the Wolfpack fans. If N.C. State can average 10,321 fans for its final two home dates against Georgia Tech and Florida State, it will show an increase over last season’s top-25 attendance mark.
That demonstrates a loyalty and a passion among N.C. State fans that isn’t equaled at many schools nationally. Wolfpack supporters still are delivering strong numbers.
It would be interesting to see what they would do if they had a team that held up its end of the bargain.
In each of the past two games, Duke’s final shot of the half has been attempted by one of the Blue Devils’ first-year guards.
Freshman Tyler Thornton delivered a runner for a basket 18 seconds before halftime against Georgia Tech on Sunday. On Wednesday, sophomore Seth Curry, a transfer from Liberty, hit a 3-pointer with one second left in the half that increased Duke’s advantage to seven points and deflated No. 24-ranked Temple in a 78-61 Blue Devil win.
“The last three at the end of the half kind of hurt us,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “I thought the momentum then swings back to them.”
The improved play of Curry and Thornton has been an important factor in Duke’s seven-game winning streak. The inexperience of both players showed early in the season, but now they seem comfortable in their roles.
Curry has started four straight games since he scored 22 points off the bench in a Feb. 9 win over North Carolina. He seems to have a knack for making 3-pointers in transition that stagger an opponent that’s struggling to stay in the game.
He did it on Jan. 27 against Boston College and Wednesday against Temple with a shot early in the second half that helped Duke extend its lead to double digits.
Thornton has sparked the Blue Devils’ offense with six first-half points in each of the last two games off the bench. Each player has improved significantly on his previous weaknesses.
A defense-first point guard, Thornton has become more confident with the ball and creates scoring opportunities for himself and teammates. Curry, who was the nation’s leading freshman scorer in 2008-09 at Liberty, has gotten better defensively to the point where he is bothering opposing ball handlers.
Curry scored nine points on 3-for-6 from the field and added three assists against Temple. He has played at least 34 minutes in five straight games and appears to be a steadying influence in the backcourt now.
Their emergence gives Duke stability in the backcourt. The big question now is whether sophomore Andre Dawkins is ready to add to it.
He totaled nine points over the previous five games before hitting a pair of 3-pointers for a six-point night in seven minutes against Temple. Sooner or later, the Blue Devils are bound to need big plays from Dawkins in the postseason.
Even last season as a freshman, Dawkins made a couple 3-pointers in the regional final against Baylor to help steady the team when forward Kyle Singler had a poor shooting performance.
But even if Dawkins continues to struggle, the Blue Devils are fortunate to have a couple guards in Curry and Thornton who are ready to play prominent, productive roles opposite ACC scoring and assists leader Nolan Smith.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Johnson C. Smith sophomore guard Trevin Parks was named CIAA men's basketball player of the year by the conference's coaches association, the league announced on Wednesday.
He is the first Golden Bulls player ever named CIAA Player of the Year.
Parks, who leads the CIAA in scoring at 22.4 points, ranks ninth in Division II. Three times this season he scored more than 30 points in a game, and enjoyed a game-high of 36 points. He also averages 4.6 assists.
Parks joined the Golden Bulls this season after spending his freshman season with Division I Charlotte. He played in 10 games and scored 16 points for the 49ers.
Parks averaged 24 points and five assists as a senior at Hickory High.
“Trevin has been a pleasant surprise for us this season,” J.C. Smith coach Stephen Joyner, Sr., said. “He has stepped in and showed leadership ability. He’s always concerned about doing the right thing by his coaches and teammates. This is a tremendous honor for Trevin and our program.”
The e-mails from fans criticizing the current Duke team typically latch onto one area where the Blue Devils unquestionably are lacking.
Fans of other schools question how Duke (25-2) can be ranked No. 1 after playing just two teams ranked in the current top 25 (No. 19 North Carolina and No. 23 St. John’s).
As Duke prepares to meet No. 24 Temple (21-5) at 7 p.m. tonight (ESPN2), that’s a fair and legitimate question.
The ABD (Anyone But Duke) crowd wants to know, if Duke was in the Big East, what would the Blue Devils’ record be? That’s an impossible question to answer.
When Duke lost at St. John’s on Jan. 30, the defeat appeared to expose a serious flaw for the Blue Devils and the ACC. At the time, first-year coach Steve Lavin’s team appeared to be on its way to a finish in the lower third of the Big East standings.
Now, though, St. John’s owns Big East wins over No. 4 Pittsburgh, No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 14 Connecticut. So it’s not accurate to say that Duke’s loss at Madison Square Garden proves that the Blue Devils would be roadkill in the Big East.
Here’s a better question to ask. Let’s imagine that the future of the planet depended on the NCAA tournament.
An invading alien army from another galaxy would spare the earth if you could correctly pick the one team that would win the tournament. Would anybody – even the most fervent North Carolina fan - pick a team other than Duke?
Let’s consider some other options:
- No. 2 Ohio State might have the best big man in the land, but Jared Sullinger is just a freshman and Thad Matta’s Buckeye teams (except for the one that had Greg Oden) have notoriously underachieved in the NCAA tournament.
- Except for 2008, No. 3 Kansas has performed below expectations under Bill Self in the NCAA tournament. The Jayhawks also just had their point guard, Tyshawn Taylor, suspended indefinitely for an unspecified team rules violation.
- No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Texas also have coaches who haven’t performed well in the NCAA tournament when you consider how much talent they’ve had.
- Regarding No. 6 Brigham Young and No. 7 San Diego State, do you really think the NCAA tournament winner is coming from the Mountain West Conference?
You get the picture. In the final analysis, nobody has two seniors who are as accomplished as Duke’s Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, and you need only look back to the last two seasons (with champions Duke and North Carolina) to see how important high-quality seniors are in the NCAA tournament.
Duke also has a coach in Mike Krzyzewski who has proven time and again that he knows how to win in March and April. Krzyzewski has enough talented pieces in place along with Smith and Singler to make a run in the NCAAs, as Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly all are contributing regularly. And the Blue Devils are defending and rebounding well, as they did at the end of last season.
The final four games of the regular season will test Duke more. The Blue Devils play at home tonight against a No. 24-ranked Temple team whose strengths also are defense and rebounding.
On Saturday, Duke visits a Virginia Tech team that also has veteran talent in Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen and is desperate for a high-profile win to enhance its NCAA tournament resume.
Duke’s home finale on March 2 will be against a well-coached Clemson team that also has NCAA tournament aspirations. And in the regular season finale, the Blue Devils will visit an extremely talented North Carolina team that gets better every week.
The schedule over the next 11 days will tell us a lot about whether Duke really is the No. 1 team in the nation. But as it stands now, it’s difficult to pick a team that’s more likely to win the NCAA tournament, even if injured freshman point guard Kyrie Irving doesn’t return for the Blue Devils.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
CHAPEL HILL - When UNC coach Roy Williams was recruiting Tyler Zeller, he told the 7-footer that becoming a first-team Academic All America should be one of his goals.
Today, he met it. Carolina's leading scorer was named to the team - along with Butler's Matt Howard, Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis, Northern Colorado's Devon Beitzel and Kansas's Tyrell Reed - by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
"I'm very proud of him, he's very happy about it,'' Williams said. "He said, 'That just shows I'm a big nerd.'
"...He's so good on the court, in addition to in the classroom, you can't just put him in a little pigeonhole and say he fits because he is so versatile at what he does."
Zeller is the eighth Tar Heel to earn first-team Academic All-America honors and the first since Eric Montross in 1994.
Other Tar Heels to win first-team Academic All-Americahonors include Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in 1965, Charles Scott in 1970, Steve Previs and Dennis Wuycik in 1972, Tommy LaGarde in 1976, Steve Hale in 1986 and Montross in 1994.
-- Robbi Pickeral
Monday, February 21, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Norfolk (Va.) Christian forward James McAdoo, a North Carolina signee rated the No. 5 player in the Class of 2011 by ESPNU, was announced Tuesday as a participant in the 2011 Jordan Brand Classic, scheduled for April 16 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
ESPN is trying something new with Duke’s game tonight at Virginia, which will be televised on ESPN2.
The network will train a camera exclusively on Blue Devils guard Nolan Smith and run that video feed live on the Internet on ESPN3.com. At times during the regular broadcast on ESPN2, the regular game will be shown in split screen, with the camera on Smith as part of the action.
It’s part of a weeklong initiative of utilizing different production techniques and enhancements to show fans different perspectives on games.
Other experiments included:
•Isolated cameras on Connecticut’s Maya Moore and Baylor’s Brittany Greiner in women’s games Monday.
•Placing analysts Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery in opposite corners of the court for West Virginia-Syracuse on Monday.
•A miked referee during the Michigan State at Ohio State game Tuesday.
•An all-female announcing crew with Beth Mowins on play by play and Doris Burke on analysis for DePaul at Providence on Thursday.
ESPN spokesman Michael Humes said watching special players move with and without the ball can provide a different perspective.
“Nolan Smith is one of those kinds of players,” Humes said. “It’s pretty interesting when you focus on that one star player.”
The new techniques haven’t met with rave reviews from some viewers, though. According to the Hartford Courant, an informal poll on courant.com, showed that 462 of 619 visitors to the website did not like the split-screen technique that included the isolated camera on Moore during the Connecticut-Oklahoma game.
Humes acknowledged that ESPN received some viewer feedback on the isolated camera technique, but said the split screen technique will be more limited for Smith and the Duke game.
Monday, February 14, 2011
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - In losing one of its best players – albeit only for 11 minutes of the first half Sunday night at Miami – Duke might have found some answers in an 81-71 win.
With ACC scoring and assists leader Nolan Smith sidelined for more than half of the first half with an eye injury and foul trouble, Duke needed to get offense from elsewhere.
After the game, much of the credit for weathering the storm was given to sophomore guard Seth Curry, and rightly so. He scored 13 of his 16 points before halftime, taking over many of Smith’s ball handling and shooting duties.
And senior forward Kyle Singler provided his usual, steadying presence with nine of his 14 points in the first half. But other players emerged, too, while Smith was in the locker room getting treatment.
Miami didn’t guard sophomore forward Ryan Kelly in the high post in the first half, and he flashed to the elbow to hit four turnaround jumpers. Sophomore center Mason Plumlee hit for six of his 12 points in the first half, including 2-for-2 from the foul line for a player who’s in a protracted free throw slump.
On Duke’s final possession of the first half, Plumlee grabbed an offensive rebound and whipped a pass to brother Miles for a basket and a 42-37 halftime advantage. Although Mason Plumlee remains principally a rebounder and defender, he is slowly working his way into a more prominent role in the offense, with at least 12 points in three of the last four games.
What it all means for Duke, though, is uncertain. No. 1 Ohio State’s fall from undefeated status with a loss at Wisconsin on Saturday had reporters asking players and coach Mike Krzyzewski if the Blue Devils (23-2, 10-1 ACC), who were ranked No. 5 last week, for the No. 1 spot again.
Smith seemed surprised by the question and said Duke still is just trying to get better each day. Krzyzewski indicated that the team is still a couple months behind schedule because it practiced for the entire preseason and through December with freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who was lost Dec. 4 to a toe injury and might not play again.
“I don’t know,” Krzyzewski said when asked about the state of his team. “I think we’re good. I’m not even thinking anywhere like that. Because we’re more into a December or early January [stage] with this team because of everything that happened with Kyrie. But we’re good. We’re a good team. We just have to use the regular season to keep getting better.”
Irving isn’t the only reminder of how fleeting a team’s delicate balance can be. Krzyzewski often says Irving was the best point guard in the nation when he was injured.
On Saturday, Florida State forward Chris Singleton, who’s probably the ACC’s best defender, suffered a broken foot that could cripple his team as it fights for a possible NCAA tournament berth.
“Look at what happened to Florida State,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re a play away from having your season change, and we know that.”
Smith’s absence Sunday, however brief, was yet another reminder. It also was an opportunity for other players who stepped forward and showed they are ready to make big contributions when needed.
The composite ACC football schedule, as released by the league today:
Thursday, September 1st
Western Carolina @ Georgia Tech
Saturday, September 3rd
Northwestern @ Boston College
Troy @ Clemson
Richmond @ Duke
Louisiana‐Monroe @ Florida State
James Madison @ North Carolina
Liberty @ NC State
William & Mary @ Virginia
Appalachian State @ Virginia Tech
Wake Forest @ Syracuse
Monday, September 5th
Miami @ Maryland, ESPN, 8 pm
Saturday, September 10th
Boston College @ UCF
Wofford @ Clemson
Stanford @ Duke
Charleston Southern @ Florida State
Georgia Tech @ Middle Tennessee
Rutgers @ North Carolina
NC State @ Wake Forest
Virginia @ Indiana
Virginia Tech @ East Carolina
Saturday, September 17th
Duke @ Boston College
Auburn @ Clemson
Oklahoma @ Florida State
Kansas @ Georgia Tech
West Virginia @ Maryland
Ohio State @ Miami
Virginia @ North Carolina
South Alabama @ NC State
Arkansas State @ Virginia Tech
Gardner- Webb @ Wake Forest
Thursday, September 22nd
NC State @ Cincinnati, ESPN, 8 pm
Saturday, September 24th
Massachusetts @ Boston College
Florida State @ Clemson
Tulane @ Duke
North Carolina @ Georgia Tech
Temple @ Maryland
Kansas State @ Miami
Southern Mississippi @ Virginia
Virginia Tech @ Marshall
Saturday, October 1st
Wake Forest @ Boston College
Clemson @ Virginia Tech
Duke @ FIU
Georgia Tech @ NC State
Towson @ Maryland
Bethune‐Cookman @ Miami
North Carolina @ East Carolina
Idaho @ Virginia
Saturday, October 8th
Boston College @ Clemson
Florida State @ Wake Forest
Maryland @ Georgia Tech
Miami @ Virginia Tech
Louisville @ North Carolina
Central Michigan @ NC State
Saturday, October 15th
Clemson @ Maryland
Florida State @ Duke
Georgia Tech @ Virginia
Miami @ North Carolina
Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest
Saturday, October 22nd
Boston College @ Virginia Tech
North Carolina @ Clemson
Wake Forest @ Duke
Maryland @ Florida State
Georgia Tech @ Miami
NC State @ Virginia
Thursday, October 27th
Virginia @ Miami, ESPN, 8 pm
Saturday, October 29th
Boston College @ Maryland
Clemson @ Georgia Tech
Virginia Tech @ Duke
NC State @ Florida State
Wake Forest @ North Carolina
Thursday, November 3rd
Florida State @ Boston College, ESPN, 8 pm
Saturday, November 5th
Duke @ Miami
Virginia @ Maryland
North Carolina @ NC State
Notre Dame @ Wake Forest
Thursday, November 10th
Virginia Tech @ Georgia Tech, ESPN, 8 pm
Saturday, November 12th
NC State @ Boston College
Wake Forest @ Clemson
Duke @ Virginia
Miami @ Florida State
Notre Dame vs. Maryland (FedEx Field; Landover, MD)
Thursday, November 17th
North Carolina @ Virginia Tech, ESPN, 8 pm
Saturday, November 19th
Boston College @ Notre Dame
Clemson @ NC State
Georgia Tech @ Duke
Virginia @ Florida State
Maryland @ Wake Forest
Miami @ South Florida
Saturday, November 26th
Boston College @ Miami
Clemson @ South Carolina
Duke @ North Carolina
Florida State @ Florida
Georgia @ Georgia Tech
Maryland @ NC State
Virginia Tech @ Virginia
Vanderbilt @ Wake Forest
Saturday, December 3rd
Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game, Bank of America Stadium‐ Charlotte, NC
Friday, February 11, 2011
For the first time in six games, N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe expects to have a full, healthy lineup for Sunday's game at Wake Forest.
The Wolfpack (12-11, 2-7 ACC) hasn't had a complete lineup since Duke's visit to the RBC Center on Jan. 19. Since then, freshman forward C.J. Leslie has been sick, then suspended for one game, and freshman guard Ryan Harrow has been sick.
Leslie was sick for the Miami and Clemson games and then missed last Saturday's loss at Duke with the suspension. Harrow did not play against UNC or Virginia Tech and was a step slow at Duke recovering from a viral illness. The Wolfpack has gone 1-4 during that stretch.
Lowe hopes the return of Leslie and improved health of Harrow will spark a run by his flailing team.
"There's still some time, we just have to make it happen now," Lowe said Friday.
State enters the most manageable stretch of its league schedule starting with Sunday's trip to Wake (1-8). The Pack has three of four at home after the Wake game and then a trip to Virginia (3-6).
State's flickering NCAA hopes depend on getting to seven wins, like Georgia Tech did last year, and then winning at least two games in the ACC tournament.
-- J.P. Giglio
Thursday, February 10, 2011
DURHAM - North Carolina freshman point guard Kendall Marshall has seen the first adjustment teams are going to make against him.
On Sunday, Marshall handed out 16 assists, a school freshman record, in a defeat of Florida State. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski watched that film and devised a fairly simple game plan for the Blue Devils’ 79-73 win on Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We were able to make Marshall more of a shooter than a passer,” Krzyzewski said.
In other words, when Marshall drove the lane, Duke’s defenders weren’t supposed to leave their men on the perimeter to help out. Marshall is not a proven finisher yet, so Duke preferred to have him try to finish shots in the lane instead of kicking out to wide-open 3-point shooters.
The strategy worked to a large extent. Marshall had a game-high six assists with just one turnover, but didn’t pick apart the Blue Devils the way he did Florida State.
And he shot 3-for-11 from the field, missing many times on layup attempts. So now it’s time for Marshall to make the next adjustment.
He needs to spend time in the gym working on finishing his drives with scores. When he does, he will be a considerably more potent player than he is after making just his sixth start.
Singler off target. Duke senior forward Kyle Singler had his worst shooting night of the season in terms of percentage.
He was 3-for-17 from the field as Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Reggie Bullock guarded him.
“You know, Kyle’s not going to go 3-for-17 very often,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
Krzyzewski attributed Singler’s shooting struggles to the effort he was putting forth on defense. He was challenged to stop Barnes, who had scored 25, 26 and 17 points in his last three outings.
Barnes scored nine points on 3-for-8 from the field, so Singler did his job defensively.
“Kyle sacrificed a lot to do that, and I thought it affected his shot,” Krzyzewski said.
So in a much-anticipated, head-to-head meeting, freshman Barnes and senior Singler virtually neutralized each other.
Williams shows class. Fans of opposing teams – including Duke fans – enjoy poking fun at Roy Williams for some of the things he says.
After a second straight classy postgame news conference following a loss at Cameron, though, it’s time to give Williams the credit he deserves.
A year ago, after an 82-50 loss at Duke that must have embarrassed Williams, he heaped praise on seniors Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas, who would lead the Blue Devils to the 2010 NCAA title.
On Wednesday night, he complimented seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.
“You watch Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith play basketball, and it’s a refreshing look to see two extremely talented seniors still playing college basketball,” Williams said. “I didn’t like watching them tonight. But we better enjoy those guys while we have them around, because that’s not going to happen very much anymore. They’re fantastic players.”
Sportsmanship is alive and well in the biggest rivalry in college basketball, even after the most difficult defeats.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
DURHAM - With big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller dominating on both ends of the floor, No. 20-ranked North Carolina scored the first eight points Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium and led throughout the first half, posting a 43-29 lead at the intermission over No. 5-ranked Duke on the Blue Devils’ home floor.
Duke’s low post players were no match for Henson (10 points, six rebounds) and Zeller (13 points, nine rebounds). Zeller added three blocked shots as the Blue Devils were held to 33.3 percent from the field in the first half with nine turnovers.
Blue Devil senior guard Nolan Smith, who leads the ACC in scoring and assists, had his typical strong effort with 12 first-half points. Senior Kyle Singler added seven points, but he was just 3-for-10 from the field. Aside from Smith (5-for-12) the rest of the Blue Devil team was just 7-for-24 from the field.
Despite starting two freshmen and sophomores, North Carolina wasn’t intimidated in a raucous environment that was highly charged with first place in the ACC on the line.
Duke missed its first five field goal attempts as the Tar Heels rushed out to an 8-0 lead. A Smith 3-pointer later cut the deficit to 14-12, but Zeller hit a 12-footer and two free throws as North Carolina scored the next six points and continued adding to its lead.
-- Ken Tysiac
After a pair of double-digit Duke wins last season, the No. 5-ranked Blue Devils and No. 20 North Carolina appear to be heading toward a meeting worthy of the storied rivalry at 9 p.m. today at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
First place in the ACC is on the line. The Tar Heels (17-5, 7-1 ACC) have won five in a row. Duke (21-2, 8-1) remains the team to beat in the ACC until some other team can knock the Blue Devils from their perch.
Here are five critical factors to watch in the game tonight:
1. Nolan Smith on the drive. Much of Duke’s offense relies on senior guard Smith’s ability to create offense on drives into the lane. The Blue Devils set ball screens for Smith, and he slices through defenses for easy layups against most opponents.
But North Carolina is not like most opponents. In John Henson and Tyler Zeller, the Tar Heels have two big guys who will make it difficult for Smith to finish over them even when he gets a step on his defender and maneuvers into the lane.
Smith will have to rely on ball fakes, pull up jumpers and kick-out passes to create offense if Henson and Zeller take away his path to the rim.
2. The Marshall plan. Duke guards Smith and Tyler Thornton made no secret of their plan to rattle North Carolina freshman point guard Kendall Marshall, who handed out 16 assists on Sunday against Florida State.
The Blue Devils plan to try to rattle Marshall before he can get the Tar Heels into their offense. Thornton has gotten the best of Marshall before when they met in high school, and the crowd at Cameron should assist in that effort.
If Marshall doesn’t get rattled, there is a chance he will get fatigued without a true backup behind him in the wake of Larry Drew II’s sudden departure. You can be sure that Duke is counting on wearing down Marshall with pressure unlike anything he has faced.
3. Wing men. Both teams have wings coming off the bench who are capable of having huge nights from 3-point range.
Sophomore Leslie McDonald and freshman Reggie Bullock will have a chance to make a difference for North Carolina. Sophomores Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins have hit many big threes for Duke this season but also have disappeared at times.
Whichever pair gets hot in this game will have a huge impact on the outcome.
4. Board meeting. Each of these teams excels in rebounding.
Duke hasn’t been outrebounded since a Jan. 2 game against Miami. North Carolina last was outrebounded on Dec. 18 in a loss to Texas in Greensboro.
Mason Plumlee has emerged as one of the top rebounders in the ACC for Duke, but the Tar Heels have two solid big men on the boards in Henson and Zeller. Whichever team imposes its will on the boards will have a significant advantage.
5. The Cameron factor. Marshall and Barnes, the freshmen in North Carolina’s starting lineup, can’t possibly imagine how highly charged the environment in Cameron will be for this game.
Tar Heel sophomore starters Henson and Dexter Strickland will have unpleasant memories of last season’s 82-50 loss at Duke. Somebody with a bit more maturity will have to steer North Carolina in the right direction emotionally.
By virtue of being the most experienced player in the starting lineup, junior center Zeller might have to fill that role.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams sees a few differences, but there are some similarities between former Tar Heels playmaker Derrick Phelps and current starter Kendall Marshall.
It goes beyond the fact both are left-handers.
Like Phelps, who directed Dean Smith's club to the 1993 NCAA title and a 78-68 Final Four win over Williams' fifth Kansas team in the process, Marshall shows an uncanny knack for knowing exactly how and when to detect soft spots in opposing defenses.
"He really does see the whole court at once," said UNC junior center Tyler Zeller. "He's got that feel for who's open and who's not."
An example was Marshall's no-look, overhead flip-back pass to John Henson with about 13 minutes left in the first half of Sunday's 89-69 win over Florida State in Chapel Hill. Marshall finished with 16 assists.
Phelps showed the same traits as a freshman in 1990-91, but there was far less first-year pressure on him to produce with senior King Rice at the point.
By the start of the '92-'93 season, the 6-foot-4 Phelps, now on the Fordham staff, was among the best passers in the ACC and nationally.
"Kendall's not as athletic as [Derrick] was," Williams said. "We're going to try to run a set play before Kendall's career is over to see if he can dunk it.
"Derrick was a little quicker and was a really intelligent player.
"That's what Kendall is. It's the best part of his game, but it's just not his brain. He's got great vision and he can shoot the ball. His shooting is going to get to the point that it's really good because he'll work at it.
"I'd like for him to play at a faster pace and that's something he has the time to work on. Then, it'll be really hard to guard him."
If it means anything, Phil Ford had a virtually no jumping ability and couldn't come remotely close to dunking. But for sheer foot speed as a player, Ford still ranks among the quickest players in ACC history.
-- Caulton Tudor
CHAPEL HILL --So who is North Carolina's third-best ballhandler?
Right now, it's 6-feet-10 forward John Henson, believe it or not.
After junior point guard Larry Drew II's surprising transfer last week, UNC held a good-natured competition in practice to find another ballhandler, since freshman Kendall Marshall and sophomore Dexter Strickland (the starting shooting guard) are the only two left with experience.
"We had a one-possession trial between Z [Tyler Zeller], John Henson, Harrison [Barnes], Leslie [McDonald], Justin Watts - we didn't get Justin Knox in there, he has a class on Monday and misses practice on Monday,'' coach Roy Williams said. "And after that trial, John Henson is the leading candidate."
Henson admits that Barnes and Reggie Bullock, both wings, knew how to handle the ball, "but they didn't know the play,'' Henson said, grinning. "So I think Coach was impressed with me and Z for knowing it."
Henson does have some experience at the point. The sophomore from Tampa, Fla., played it in eighth grade, before his growth spurt turned him into a forward.
"So that maybe will play in a decision sometime down the road,'' he said, laughing.
All kidding aside, Williams does admit the team needs to spend some time figuring how who its third ballhandling option would be, just in case of foul trouble or injuries. Without Drew, the team is down to nine scholarship players.
-- Robbi Pickeral
It has become common in basketball for college teams in a personnel bind to ask players to graduate from high school a year early to fill a roster spot at a position of need.
In 2009, Andre Dawkins enrolled a year early at Duke after Elliot Williams transferred to Memphis. James McAdoo considered graduating early to join North Carolina after David and Travis Wear suddenly bolted for UCLA last summer, but McAdoo eventually decided to stay in Norfolk, Va., for his senior year of high school.
With North Carolina suddenly in a predicament at point guard, it made sense to ask if junior Marcus Paige of Linn-Mar High in Iowa, who's committed to the Tar Heels for the Class of 2012, has any plans to graduate early to help replace the departed Larry Drew II.
Linn-Mar coach Chris Robertson said he knows of no such plan.
"As far as I know, his plan is to finish his next year and then be on the way out [to North Carolina]," Robertson said.
Drew's sudden decision last week to leave the team left the Tar Heels short-handed at point guard. Freshman Kendall Marshall is the only true point guard on North Carolina's roster, and the Tar Heels don't have a point guard committed from the Class of 2011.
North Carolina could look for a junior college transfer, a prep school player or a player who gets released from his scholarship at a school where a coach is fired or resigns this spring. But the remaining prospects in the Class of 2011 don't appear to be an option for the Tar Heels.
"At this moment in time I don’t see a recruitable guy on the board for them," said ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep.
Paige, meanwhile, is having a strong junior season for Linn-Mar. He is averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game and leads his conference with about five assists per game.
"He's our leader on the floor, makes great decisions and like all the coaches saw in the recruiting process, he has a great feel for the game," Robertson said.
North Carolinians who will be cheering for Duke on Wednesday night will be outnumbered nearly 2 to 1 by residents of the state cheering for North Carolina, according to Public Policy Polling's annual poll.
Thirty-seven percent of the people in the state will cheer for the Tar Heels, 22 percent will support Duke, and 41 percent are indifferent. The teams meet at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The poll shows that Duke's popularity has not increased in North Carolina after winning the 2010 NCAA champion. The 2010 version of the poll found North Carolina favored by 35 percent to 21 percent.
North Carolina's support is especially strong among Democrats, who prefer the Tar Heels by 43 percent to 21 percent. Among Republicans, Duke trails only slightly, 31 percent to 26 percent.
Public opinion of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is slightly higher in the state than a year ago. He is viewed favorably by 47 percent and negatively by 14 percent. A year ago, his rating was 44 percent favorable and 13 percent negative.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams is rated favorably by 38 percent and negatively by 10 percent, numbers nearly identical to those from last year.
Public Policy Polling surveyed 575 North Carolina voters from Jan. 20-23, and states the margin of error at plus- to minus-4.1 percent.
For more on this poll, visit Public Policy Polling's website.
Monday, February 7, 2011
After losing at Duke in embarrassing fashion last season - 82-50 - North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Monday he's "scared to death" about Wednesday's return trip, "because I know what it felt like over there."
"But at the same time, I feel more comfortable with my team," he said during the ACC conference call. "I feel more comfortable with the way we're playing. It will be a monumental task, there's no question about that. But I think our guys will try extremely hard, and I think everybody will be together."
The No. 20 Tar Heels enter the rivalry showdown a half-game behind fifth-ranked Duke for first place in the conference standings. Last year, Carolina -- which went 20-17 and failed to make the NCAA tournament -- entered the game beaten up, both mentally and physically. This time around, UNC has won five in a row, and continues to play its best basketball of the season despite the sudden transfer of point guard Larry Drew II last week.
Williams said the loss of the junior might linger more for the coaches than the players, who say they have pulled together more than ever.
"Kids get over things so much easier and quicker; they don't hold those feelings in, it doesn't last with them as long," Williams said. "... xIt's not a negative about kids, by any means. At the end of the season, they can let go of those losses a lot easier than the coaches can. It was a tough 48 hours for all of us."
Beating Duke will be a challenge, Williams said, because his team -- which now boasts only nine scholarship players -- will have to play a complete game.
"You can't have a great night shooting the ball and play poorly on the defensive end of the floor, or you can't just play great defense and not shoot the ball in the hole," he said. "You have to do everything you can to do a good job defensively; you've got to get some easy ones on the break, and you've got to be able to make open shots, you've got to be able to play without turning the ball over, you've got to try to not put them on the free throw line very often.
"They're going to make a bunch of 3s, you've got to guard them and try to cut that percentage down. You really do have to play the complete game because they're really a phenomenal club."
-- Robbi Pickeral
There are several reasons why Davidson has been able to reverse course and will take a four-game winning streak into an important Southern Conference match-up Wednesday night at Wofford.
The Wildcats are obviously playing with more confidence, having shaken off the hesitation that seemed to hold them back when they were losing seven of eight games.
Freshman De'Mon Brooks energizes them at the offensive end as does guard Nik Cochran; Brendan McKillop has been terrific hitting 3-pointers, especially early to get the Wildcats going; and, JP Kuhlman has been on his best roll of the season.
Those are just some of the reasons.
Another one jumped out at Davidson coach Bob McKillop Saturday after his team's victory over physical Chattanooga.
It's the kind of thing coaches notice but it was hard to ignore against the Mocs, who are probably the most physical team in the Southern Conference.
Against Chattanooga, Kuhlman had seven rebounds, McKillop had five, Tom Droney had four, Cochran had four, Jordan Downing had two and A.J. Atkinson, who doesn't get many minutes, had a pair of rebounds.
"A friend told me once that a man who enjoys life is an enjoyable man," Bob McKillop said. "Well, a team that enjoys playing is an enjoyable team and these guys are enjoying this right now."
Duke often uses a play where guard Nolan Smith inbounds from under the opponent's basket to center Mason Plumlee, then immediately runs to the corner for a quick return pass and a look at a 3-point shot.
Opposing coaches watch film. They know it's coming. And lately they've had Smith's defender and Plumlee's defender cheat toward the perimeter to prevent the 3-point shot.
In the past two games, Plumlee has anticipated this. Once against Maryland and again vs. N.C. State, he has faked the pass to Smith and attacked the basket for a dunk.
The subtle adjustment is just one more sign that Plumlee is maturing as a sophomore and becoming a reliable starting center for Duke.
"Mason has led with his strengths during this last month, being a rebounder and a runner and a shot-blocker," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "He's helped us tremendously with that. We just felt that, along the way if you keep playing to your strengths, your scoring will come. That hasn't been a strength for him, but it'll come."
In the last two games, Plumlee has made strides as a scorer. He has continued to struggle with his free throws (2-for-10; he is at 38.8 percent for the season), but he scored 12 points with 11 rebounds at Maryland and had 16 points and 12 rebounds against N.C. State.
"I feel like I'm taking more shots and they're going for me," Plumlee said. "I'm not fading away as much, trying to attack the basket more. I feel like guys are looking for me more and I'm converting. If you convert, they'll keep looking for you."
Plumlee is getting baskets by beating opposing centers down the floor for dunks in transition. He is scoring off offensive rebounds. In the second half against N.C. State, he even scored twice on a right-handed jump hook that he has been developing in practice but hasn't used much in games.
His emergence is significant as Duke (21-2, 8-1 ACC) prepares to play host to North Carolina (17-5, 7-1) at 9 p.m. Wednesday with first place in the ACC on the line. North Carolina has two outstanding low-post starters in Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
Duke needs at least one player who can match them in the low post, and Plumlee is the best candidate to do that. In fact, he made a huge contribution last season as a freshman in the first game between the two rivals in Chapel Hill.
The score was tied 43-43 when Plumlee entered the game with 10 minutes, 9 seconds remaining. Over the next 3:06 he grabbed four rebounds, including three on the offensive end. After one of those rebounds he jammed home a reverse dunk to put Duke ahead for good in a 64-54 win.
There's a theory that Plumlee performs his best when matched with outstanding post players. That will have to hold true Wednesday night if Duke is going to hold its own against a strong front line.
"The last couple of games, he's had to go up against some really good post players, and I think that's raised his competitiveness and just his game," said Duke senior forward Kyle Singler. "When you're going up against [Jordan] Williams from Maryland and [Tracy] Smith, I think that helps him get into a different mode. If he can keep that going, it'll be good for our team."
Saturday, February 5, 2011
There were encouraging signs for Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving after he had the cast removed from his foot Friday.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said there has been some healing of the right big toe injury that has sidelined Irving since Dec. 5. Irving will undergo therapy and in a few weeks will have an MRI and a CT scan.
But Krzyzewski said he still doesn’t expect Irving back this season.
“We still feel he’s not going to play, and we have to go forward with that,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a long way from playing.”
Krzyzewski has made the point that because Irving was in a cast for such a long time, his entire foot is going to be weakened for a while.
"Just because you're out of a cast, you have to be 100 percent before you come back, and he's a ways from that," Krzyzewski said Saturday night. "It's progressing well for his career. It's being done the right way and he's got to be honest with us about how he's doing."
The seats on the visiting bench at Cameron Indoor Stadium haven’t been this uncomfortable for a visiting coach since North Carolina sat there in a blowout loss last season.
Guard Nolan Smith and No. 5-ranked Duke overwhelmed an unprepared, lethargic N.C. State team in the first half this afternoon to take a 53-24 lead into halftime.
Smith scored 18 points and added six assists the Blue Devils forced 12 turnovers in their highest scoring first half of the season. Mason Plumlee and Kyle Singler each added 10 points for Duke.
Richard Howell’s 10 points led N.C. State, which has lost three in a row and could be trailing by a larger margin. Duke was just 7-for-15 from the free throw line.
The Wolfpack had more turnovers than field goals (11), and is playing without freshman forward C.J. Leslie. He is suspended for violating team rules.
-- Ken Tysiac
DURHAM - N.C. State freshman C.J. Leslie has been suspended indefinitely for breaking an unspecified team rule. Leslie, the Wolfpack's leading rebounder, will miss today's game at Duke.
Leslie, a McDonald's All-American from Holly Springs, has had an up-and-down freshman season with the Wolfpack. He put up big numbers when senior forward Tracy Smith missed 10 games earlier this season but his production has been inconsistent since.
He led the Pack with 18 points in Wednesday's home loss to Virginia Tech. He averages 10.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Richard Howell or C.J. Williams will likely take his place in the starting lineup today.
-- J.P. Giglio
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Something figured to change after Duke's ugly loss Sunday to St. John's and it did.
Freshman Tyler Thornton made his first career start Wednesday night against Maryland and played 28 minutes in the Blue Devils' 80-62 victory, earning praise from his teammates and his coach.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said two factors played into the decision to start Thornton in the hostile environment of Maryland's Comcast Center. One was Duke's lackluster defensive effort against St. John's and the other was Thornton's solid play against Maryland in the Blue Devils' win over the Terps in Durham last month.
"He's been so tough. I thought in the first Maryland game, he was the difference maker," Krzyzewski said of Thornton.
By starting Thornton, it allowed Nolan Smith to play off the ball on defense, giving him more freedom and making it less likely he would wear down against Maryland's rotating point guards. It doesn't mean Thornton will stay in the starting lineup, Krzyzewski said it was based largely on the match-up against Maryland, but it another step in the freshman's development.
It's important, Krzyzewski said, for his team to continue to develop individual confidence. It helped that Miles Plumlee started the second half and that Thornton got his first start.
"We're trying to build our players' egos. They're still young guys," Krzyzewski said.