Sunday, February 27, 2011

Breaking Singler out of slump a delicate job

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.

Ken Tysiac

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tickets going fast for Charlotte NCAA games

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 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 crowd numbers still strong

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.

Ken Tysiac

Emerging Curry, Thornton boost Duke

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.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

J.C. Smith's Parks named CIAA Player of Year

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.”

A defense of Duke's No. 1 ranking

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.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

UNC's Zeller named first-team Academic All America

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

Krzyzewski says Singler will shake off slump

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski compared senior forward Kyle Singler today to a baseball player in a batting slump.

Singler shot 5-for-14 from the field during Sunday's 79-57 defeat of Georgia Tech and is 20-for-61 over his last five games.

Krzyzewski said that although Singler is struggling to make shots, he is performing well in other phases of the game and playing with enthusiasm.

"We won’t win a really important game unless Kyle is playing with that spirit," Krzyzewski said on the ACC teleconference. "And if he hits his shots, then we’re a lot better. It’s kind of a phase during a season, kind of like a hitter who is a .320 hitter but is hitting .250. We think he will hit .320 and balance out for the season."

Krzyzewski said Singler did let his shooting struggles frustrate him at Virginia on Wednesday, when he tied a career low with two points. Singler fouled four times and committed five turnovers in that game.

But he grabbed nine rebounds Sunday and has had at least seven rebounds in four of his last five games. Krzyzewski said Singler also has defended well, particularly in holding Georgia Tech's Glen Rice Jr. to 4-for-14 from the field.

"He’s really one of the great defenders in the country," Krzyzewski said of Singler. "And he still has the spirit and whatever. I think you just have to work your way out of the shooting thing and just don’t let it affect the other aspects of your game." 

Ken Tysiac

Duke returns to No. 1 in both polls

A six-game winning streak has propelled Duke back to the top of The Associated Press' and the coaches' rankings today.

The Blue Devils (25-2, 12-1 ACC) moved from No. 5 last week to No. 1 after all four teams ranked ahead of them lost in the past seven days.

In The Associated Press' poll, Duke is followed by No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Kansas, No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Texas.

The coaches' rankings have No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 San Diego State and No. 5 Pittsburgh behind Duke.

Duke was ranked No. 1 in the first 10 polls by the coaches and The AP, but dropped after losing Jan. 12 at Florida State.

North Carolina (20-6), which is No. 19 in both polls, is the only other ACC team in the current rankings.
Ken Tysiac

Krzyzewski sounds alarm on state of ACC

Mike Krzyzewski, the longest tenured of ACC basketball coaches, sounded an alarm about the conference Sunday night after directing No. 5-ranked Duke to a 79-57 defeat of Georgia Tech.

There were thousands of empty seats for some sessions at the ACC tournament last year, and there may be more of the same next month in Greensboro. Teams from N.C. State, Boston College, Miami and some other ACC schools should be used to that, because they often play in front of arenas that aren’t close to being full.

After Duke played a Sunday game – and Krzyzewski despises Sunday games – he wondered aloud whether playing on Saturdays would be better for the ACC’s sagging attendance figures.

“You know, we have three straight games starting at 3:30 [Sunday] in the ACC,” Krzyzewski said. “Those would have been better on Saturday from 3:30 on. That’s when fans want to be out. Then we wonder why attendance is dipping. Have you noticed attendance has been dipping? Everywhere, not so much here, but we’ve got to figure that whole thing out.”

Krzyzewski indicated that decisions at the upcoming ACC spring meetings will be critical for the future of the conference. The ACC will debut a new TV contract with ESPN and partner Raycom in 2011-12, and Krzyzewski wants the structure for basketball studied carefully.

“I think this is a very important spring for our league to really concentrate on basketball and the future of basketball in our league, and just how all these things are positioned,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ve taken for granted the golden goose for a long time. You have to look at the old goose and see if it’s still golden, and if not, how to get it there, because this is still the best conference. It’s a classy, classy conference, and people love basketball in this conference. We just have to make sure it’s done properly.”

The coach’s comments on basketball in the ACC came after he was asked about scheduling. Krzyzewski said Sunday games are bad for everybody.

A prominent Sunday package televised nationally on Fox Sports Net gets ACC teams exposure from coast to coast. But Krzyzewski, playing Sundays creates problems. This week, the Blue Devils will play three games in seven days.

“It’s not a good thing,” Krzyzewski said. “We shouldn’t have ‘em. And it puts us in a position this week to play three games in six days without really a day off. But again, we’re not the only team that goes through it. It’s just our turn. But I’m not complaining. I would not want that for anybody in our league. I don’t think it helps our league.”

Ken Tysiac 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Duke to visit China, Dubai in August

Duke will play basketball exhibition games in China and the United Arab Emirates on an August trip, the school announced today.

The team will leave on Aug. 14 and play Aug. 17 in Kunshan, China, a suburb of Shanghai and the location of a new Duke-affiliated campus expected to open in 2012. Duke will play Aug. 19 in Shanghai and Aug. 22 in Beijing, where coach Mike Krzyzewski led the United States to an Olympic gold medal in 2008.

On Aug. 26, the team will end its tour with a game in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The team will conduct youth basketball clinics in China and the United Arab Emirates and visit historic sites suxh as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall China.

“We are excited about the opportunity for our team to compete internationally and be exposed to so many significant historical and cultural landmarks,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “From my experience in China with the United States Olympic Team in 2008, I know that this is a nation that absolutely loves basketball. I am thrilled that our players will have the chance to experience a country so rich in tradition first-hand. It should be a trip they remember for the rest of their lives.”

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One rough night for Duke's Singler

Duke senior forward Kyle Singler is a quiet guy to begin with.

On the rare night when he doesn’t perform well, he looks as if he dreads the questions that he knows are coming.

“Just couldn’t get going,” he explained Wednesday night after tying a career low with two points in the No. 5-ranked Blue Devils’ 56-41 win at Virginia.

He said it so quietly that a reporter who wasn’t sure he heard it asked Singler to repeat himself.

The big question surrounding a Duke team that has won five in a row is whether Singler is in a slump. He had an awful night against the Cavaliers, with five turnovers, four fouls and a 1-for-5 effort from the field.

He also was held to 10 points on 3-for-17 from the field in a win over North Carolina a week earlier. Through 22 games, Singler was averaging 18.1 points.

Over the last four games, he has averaged 10 points. When that statistic was relayed to Mike Krzyzewski, the coach downplayed it, saying a performance like Singler had against the Cavaliers would bring anybody’s average down.

Krzyzewski said Singler was doing other things well before Wednesday.

“He wasn’t scoring well, but he was playing great defense the other three games,” Krzyzewski said. “Tonight, the foul trouble, it looked like he got frustrated. And then he got that fourth foul – anyway, strange night. I’m not saying he didn’t foul. It was just a strange night. Thank goodness we won on a night we had a strange night.”

Krzyzewski acknowledged that the Virginia game was a poor all-around night for Singler, but said it didn’t mean he wasn’t ready to play. Krzyzewski said he was OK with Singler and joked that the senior was trying to give his teammates an opportunity to step forward.

“Who knows?” Krzyzewski said. “He may be doing things in a strange way in trying to develop our team as one of the co-captains and trying to put his team in a position to help us. And it will be interesting if he’s doing that. I’ll talk to him. He doesn’t have to do that. I’ll think of ways while he’s playing really well.”

The numbers show that it’s probably too soon to say Singler is in some kind of a slump. At Miami on Sunday, he was held to 14 points but shot 6-for-12 from the field, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out three assists.

On Feb. 9 against North Carolina, Singler was 3-for-17 but Krzyzewski said he sacrificed his offense for defense in order to hold hot Tar Heel freshman Harrison Barnes to nine points.

In the previous game against N.C. State, Singler had 14 points on a not-awful 5-for-13 from the field and grabbed nine rebounds. So it may be too soon to say Singler is in a slump.

“I’m getting good shots,” he said. “I’m just not knocking down shots.”

The good thing for Duke is that while Singler’s production has been down, the Blue Devils have won, with guard Seth Curry and center Mason Plumlee emerging as bigger factors in the scoring column.

“I think we’re getting better as a team,” Singler said.

And if it is just one bad game and not a prolonged slump that Singler has experienced recently, he has demonstrated the ability to bounce back before. He was held to five points on 0-for-10 from the field in the NCAA tournament regional final win over Baylor last season.

At the Final Four, he totaled 40 points over two games to win most outstanding players.
Last season Singler was held to nine points on 2-for-13 from the field at Georgia Tech, but scored 30 when the Yellow Jackets visited Duke later in the season.

Duke’s next game, on Sunday, is at home against Georgia Tech. It’s another big opportunity for the Blue Devils, and especially for Singler.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Q&A with UNC signee James McAdoo

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.

In an exclusive telephone interview, McAdoo discussed which player he patterned his game after, his recent game against fellow UNC signee at the Smith Center, and why he decided not to graduate from high school early in 2010 to join the current Tar Heel team.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Was Michael Jordan your idol growing up?

A: He was never really my idol. My idol was definitely Dirk Nowitzki and just his game as a big man with the skill set of a guard, he’s a pioneer. I like to pioneer my game after him.

Q: How close are your skills to Nowitzki’s?

A: They’re similar. He is in the NBA, so he can definitely shoot the ball better than I can, but I’m just really trying to work on my overall game and not have any weaknesses. Whereas I know later on I may have to play more of a guard spot, or when I’m at North Carolina I may have to post up a lot more. I’m just really trying to be as versatile as I can be.

Q: What is the biggest thing you need to work on before you get to UNC?

A: I would say just my strength. Just knowing that helps with my rebounding and my ability to jump higher. I know at the college level everything is going to be faster. I just really have to be able to adapt to that quickly. That way I can make a quick impact while I’m there.

Q: Last weekend you had a chance to play against P.J. [Hairston, a fellow UNC player] at the Smith Center [when Norfolk Christian met Hargrave Military Academy]. I guess you put 33 points and 15 rebounds on them, but you lost the game. Tell me about that experience.

A: That was a big time, getting to play in the Dean Dome, where I’ll be playing next year, against one of my future teammates. We did lose the game, but everybody knows how good they [Hargrave] are. They’re not really a high school, they’re more of a prep school. So they have, I don’t know, five, six guys [who are extremely talented]. That was definitely a challenge I took on myself trying to go out there and win. But we fell short and lost by 13.

Q: How did playing on the USA Select team last summer help you?

A: It helped me out in a lot of ways. Learning how to play with other guys that are so good, where you really don’t have a lot of pressure on yourself and you don’t have pressure on your back, necessarily. It was definitely a great opportunity. USA Basketball is definitely top notch. They gave us an opportunity to go to see the world, go to Europe and build friendships from guys from all over the country who will be playing for different teams next year but hope to play together later on.

Q: You considered going early to UNC and skipping your senior high school. Why ultimately did you decide to stay, and are you happy with your decision?

A: I’m extremely happy with my decision. It’s something I haven’t thought about ever since I made the decision early in the summer. It really just came down to what I had to do myself. It’s something I prayed about a lot. I just focused on God, my family and friends. It felt like the right thing to do, to come back and be a senior. Of course, anybody, if you took their regular life away you would love to play basketball for UNC as a 17-year-old kid. But I just had to think about it, there was so much I would be missing out on that I could never get back. I’d miss my senior year, and the dances and the all-star games. These are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I’m looking forward to taking advantage of that I would have missed out on.

Ken Tysiac

ESPN to devote camera to Duke's Smith

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 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, 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.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, February 14, 2011

Duke learns, grows in Miami

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.

Ken Tysiac

ACC football schedule released

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

Pack healthy, lineup intact for Wake

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

Duke's Marshall plan...and other notes

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.

Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

UNC builds 14-point halftime lead at Duke

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

5 critical factors for Duke-UNC

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.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tudor: UNC's Marshall the new Phelps?

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

UNC's 3rd-best ballhandler? Right now, a 6-10 forward

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

No sign of early UNC entry for Paige

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.

Ken Tysiac

Poll: UNC favored over Duke by NC residents

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.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beating Duke a 'monumental task,' UNC's Williams says

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

What Has Caused Davidson's Change Of Direction?

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.

Backcourt rebounding.

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."

Improving Mason Plumlee a key for Duke vs. UNC

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."

Ken Tysiac

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Irving improving, but not expected back

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."

Ken Tysiac

Devils embarrassing N.C. State at half

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

N.C. State's Leslie suspended; won't play against Duke

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

Thornton Gives Duke Another Backcourt Option

   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.