Thursday, October 28, 2010

Duke No. 1, UNC 8th in AP hoops poll

Duke, the reigning national champion, begins this basketball season where it ended the last one: No. 1 in the Associated Press basketball poll, released Thursday.

North Carolina, which failed to make the tournament last season, is back in the top 10 – at No. 8.

And it looks as if N.C. State, with its new crop of freshmen, will have to play its was in – because although the Wolfpack received 10 votes, Virginia Tech, at No. 21, was the only other ACC school to make the top 25.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whoseBlue Devils now have ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll seven times since 1961-62, told the AP that being atop the poll again is an honor. But he also said he doesn’t think it’s fair to say Duke trying to repeat since there have been so many changes since his team beat Butler for its fourth national title.

"To repeat is a bad word [to use]]," he told the AP. "... What you want to do is have the same result, of winning the national championship, but figure out what journey you're going to be on along the way. And so ‘pursue’ is a good word for me, and ‘develop’. We're going to be a developing team throughout."

The same holds true for the Tar Heels, who will try to bounce back from a disappointing season that saw them lose in the NIT championship game.

“I did think last year’s prognostications on that team were very unrealistic,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said last week, before the poll was released. “I think this year’s [are] a little unrealistic too. For me, I think we have a chance to be better and we’re working at it each and every day.”

The preseason AP order:

1. Duke

2. Michigan State

3. Kansas State

4. Ohio State

5. Pittsburgh

6. Villanova

7. Kansas

8. North Carolina

9. Florida

10. Syracuse

11. Kentucky

12. Gonzaga

13. Illinois

14. Purdue

15. Missouri

16. Baylor

17. Butler

18. Washington

19. Memphis

20. Georgetown

21. Virginia Tech

22. Temple

23. Tennessee

24. BYU

25. San Diego State

Other ACC teams receiving votes were Florida State (28 votes), N.C. State (10), Miami (4), and Georgia Tech (1)

-- Robbi Pickeral

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Duke basketball focuses on defense

DURHAM -- When Ryan Kelly got caught at halfcourt trying to double team and gave up a dunk, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski corrected him.

"Fake that and pick up your man," Krzyzewski said.

When a Duke defender got caught on a screen that he didn't see, Krzyzewski instructed Josh Hairston to communicate better.

"Josh, talk him through," Krzyzewski said.

Duke opened basketball practice Tuesday to the media and participants in the Fuqua Business School's leadership conference. Krzyzewski explained his plan to the spectators.

He believes this team's strength is its scoring ability, and he wants the players to focus on an area that's not as big a strength.

"It's sometimes hard to do," Krzyzewski said.

That area, as Krzyzewski's comments to Kelly and Hairston illustrate, is defense. The team spent a lot of time working on closeouts and positioning. After losing defensive frontcourt stalwarts Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas from last season's NCAA championship team, developing those defensive skills will be a big area of emphasis for Duke.

Here are some other observations from the open practice:

-- Junior center Miles Plumlee has hit the weight room hard during the offseason.

He's bulked up and toned to the point where he'll be one of the physically strongest centers in the ACC this season. He will need to get up and down the floor quickly at his new weight with the team running a more fast-paced system, but that didn't seem to be a problem in practice.

Plumlee ran the floor and still was able to physically dominate in the lane.

- The most interesting competition for playing time probably will be between sophomores Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry for the opportunity to be the first guard off the bench.

Both players have sweet shooting touches. Curry, who's older, seems to have a better understanding of the game, but Dawkins is more athletic. If you had to choose the player who has greater potential, it would probably be Dawkins.

- Freshman point guard Kyrie Irving is everything he's built up to be.

Krzyzewski has said that Irving had a bit of difficulty getting used to the intensity Duke demands during its first practice, but he appears to have adjusted nicely. He can score off penetration and from the perimeter, and his speed truly adds a new dimension to Duke's offense.

- Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are exactly what you'd expect.

Smith is getting out on the fast break more for easy scores in the faster-paced attack. Singler, who's 10 pounds heavier than at the beginning of last season, seems more effective in the lane as a result.

- Duke's post players are more gifted on offense than last season.

Krzyzewski seemed particularly pleased with how Miles and Mason Plumlee, Kelly and Thornton looked for one another on high-low feeds and posted up for easy baskets. Last season's team was extremely dependent on the perimeter for scoring.

This season, Duke should get more scoring from its big guys.

The defense and rebounding of Zoubek and Thomas will certainly be missed, and that's one reason why Krzyzewski is emphasizing defense so much. But the tradeoff is that Duke shouldn't bog down on offense if an opponent figures out how to shut down the perimeter scorers.

-- Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Duke's new pace may benefit Plumlees

CHARLOTTE - A year ago, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, the Blue Devils' system was tailor made for starting post players Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek.

Duke's physical, half-court style fit Thomas and Zoubek, who were best known for defending and rebounding. When reserves Mason and Miles Plumlee came off the bench, though, they didn't quite fit in as well because their skills are more suited for an uptempo game.

At the ACC's operation basketball media day tipoff this afternoon, Krzyzewski said the Plumlees are better off in a fast-paced system like the one Duke will use this season now that 2009-10 seniors Thomas and Zoubek are gone. Krzyzewski plans to pressure in the full court or three-quarters court on defense after baskets, and play at a fast tempo on offense.

"The way we use our perimeter this year is really good for the Plumlees," Krzyzewski said.

The Plumlees' strength is running the floor and scoring on quick-hit plays rather than post-ups.

Sophomore Ryan Kelly, a Raleigh native, also figures prominently in Duke's plans in the post. Kelly has bulked up from 206 pounds in the 2009 preseason to 234 pounds now, Krzyzewski said.

Other highlights from Krzyzewski's media appearance:

- Krzyzewski was disappointed that Seth Curry, who redshirted as a transfer student on last season's NCAA title team, wasn't able to get a ring celebrating the championship along with his teammates.

An NCAA rule prevented Curry from getting a ring, even though he was a member of the team who participated in practice.

"Any scholarship player should be able to get that [a ring]," Krzyzewski said.

- The goal of forward Kyle Singler to be named national player of the year met with Krzyewski's approval. (Singler also said his team goal is to win as many games as possible).

Krzyzewski said he appreciates Singler's fearlessness and willingness to answer questions honestly, without some hidden motive or agenda. The coach said Singler possesses an innocence and earnestness that is refreshing.

"I admire who he is," Krzyzewski said. "My goal is to have him be great as a player and not change."

- Sophomore guard Andre Dawkins has been working on developing disciplined mechanics for his jump shot so that he shoots with the same motion every time.

Krzyzewski said Dawkins has matured physically and is growing up.

"In practice right now, he's guarded a lot by Kyle [Singler]," Krzyzewski said. "He's going to be better if he can get his shot off [against Singler]."

Ken Tysiac

Duke tops ACC poll, but it's not unanimous

CHARLOTTE - The media that cover the ACC picked Duke to finish atop the conference, but the vote wasn't unanimous.

Duke received 61 of a possible 62 first-place votes in the annual preseason poll, which was released this afternoon at the ACC's operation basketball event. North Carolina, which was picked third overall in the poll, received the other first-place vote.

It wasn't immediately clear which media member selected the Tar Heels No. 1.

Virginia Tech was picked No. 2, and N.C. State was No. 4.

The media also selected Duke's Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney, N.C. State's Tracy Smith and Florida State's Chris Singleton to the preseason All-ACC team.

Singler was picked as the player of the year, and North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes was voted rookie of the year.

Here is the complete voting, with first-place votes in parentheses:

1. Duke (61) 743; 2. Virginia Tech 632; 3. North Carolina (1) 622; 4. N.C. State 526; 5. Florida State 496; 6. Maryland 432; 7. Clemson 335; 8. Miami 305; 9. Georgia Tech 274; 10. Boston College 173; 11. Virginia 164; 12. Wake Forest 134.

Ken Tysiac

UNC freshman Barnes impresses Williams

CHARLOTTE - It didn't take freshman forward Harrison Barnes long to impress North Carolina coach Roy Williams during preseason practice.

After North Carolina's "Late Night" season-opening public practice last week, Barnes met with the media, then headed back to the practice gym to get up more jump shots. That's not something that often happens with any player, let alone a freshman.

Williams is mentioning Barnes in the same breath as one of the program's most dedicated players, Tyler Hansbrough, whose work ethic became legendary as he led the Tar Heels to a 2009 NCAA title as a senior.

"Harrison at this age is even more focused and more driven than Tyler was," Williams said today at the ACC media tipoff.

Hansbrough's willingness to work increased as he spent more time in the program, and Williams said it remains to be seen whether Barnes continues on the same upward track. But Barnes, who was rated the No. 1 recruit in the nation by, is off to a good start.

Williams said Barnes is showing the ability to score off the dribble, from the perimeter and on offensive rebounds. And Barnes is doing it while still instinctively getting the ball to open teammates.

"He'll be able to get some shots up and do some things without dominating the basketball," Williams said.

Other news and notes from Williams' media availability:

- Williams said he has scaled back the intensity of practices because he only has 10 players on scholarship, and four of them have been dinged up with minor injuries.

Tyler Zeller (calf), John Henson (leg muscle), Larry Drew (ankle sprain suffered in April) and Reggie Bullock (bruised hip) all are OK to practice, but are bothered by aches and pains.

Because of the low numbers in the program, Williams has been using his scholarship players five at a time against eight JV players during practices.

"I can't push like I've done in the past," he said.

- The dismissal of senior Will Graves because of an unspecified violation of team rules was "a big loss," according to Williams.

Graves had trimmed down to 228 pounds, his lowest weight since seventh grade, according to Williams. He had emerged as a team leader during the offseason. And Williams had planned to use him almost exclusively at power forward to draw opposing big guys away from the basket.

"Think of what pressure that would put on the opposing four man to have to come out and guard Will as far as he could go," Williams said.

- Former Alabama forward Justin Knox, who is playing his senior season for the Tar Heels under the graduate student transfer rule, has made an immediate and positive impact in Graves' absence.

Knox's transfer bolstered the numbers in the program after the sudden transfer in the spring of Travis and David Wear, which caught Williams by surprise.

"He's a man," Williams said. "He's 22 years old. . . .That experience, it shows."

Ken Tysiac

Virginia's Zeglinski out eight weeks

CHARLOTTE - If Sammy Zeglinski's rehabilitation goes well, Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, he could be back for most or all of the Cavaliers' ACC schedule.

Zeglinski had surgery Tuesday to fix cartilage on his left knee, according to a school news release. He is out approximately eight weeks.

"We were really young with him," Bennett said. "And now we're extremely young without him."

Zeglinski, a junior, averaged 8.9 points and 3.8 rebounds a game last season.

Ken Tysiac

Singler, Duke face expecations

CHARLOTTE - The question was inevitable.

Duke forward Kyle Singler was asked at the ACC media tipoff this morning whether this season will be a disappointment if the Blue Devils don't win the NCAA title.

The Blue Devils return Final Four most outstanding player Singler and second-team All-ACC guard Nolan Smith as seniors from last season's NCAA championship team. Two experienced and capable post players, Mason and Miles Plumlee, also are back.

Kyrie Irving, one of the nation's most heralded point guard recruits, joins the team as a freshman. And Seth Curry, the nation's leading freshman scorer in 2008-09, becomes eligible at the start of the season.

In other words, the Blue Devils are loaded, which left Singler facing a loaded question.

Although winning the NCAA title is Duke's goal, Singler said the team can't base the entire season, every step of the way, on winning the championship. He said there is pressure on the Blue Devils, but they try not to put pressure on themselves.

"Every year I've been here, there's been pressure," Singler said.

Singler touched on several other topics:

- Curry's skills complement the other players on the Duke team well. Singler was asked if Curry shoots the ball as well as Stephen Curry, the former Davidson standout who's with the Golden State Warriors.

"On any given night, you never know who's the better shooter in the family," Singler said. "It would be a fun competition."

- Singler began training camp at 230 pounds. He said he started last season at 220, but finished at 230 and played better at that weight.

"I think I carry myself better when I'm 230," he said.

- Although Singler has watched video of the Blue Devils 61-59 win over Butler in the NCAA title game, it's not quite the same watching it.

He said nothing could match the feeling he had as Butler's final, desperate shot barely missed the mark.

"That was probably the most thrilling [moment], and, I don't know what the word is, panicked," Singler said.

- Singler is not shying away from talk that he could be national player of the year, although he puts the team's goals first.

"I do want to be national player of the year, along with as many wins as possible," he said.

As for the most difficult question of the day, though, Singler didn't let himself get boxed in. Will the season be a disappointment if Duke doesn't win it all?

He said he just doesn't know.

"You just have to understand that we have to be ourselves," Singler said, "and things will take care of themselves."

Ken Tysiac

Pack's Smith facing up

CHARLOTTE - One of the ACC's most significant position changes this season will occur at N.C. State, where senior Tracy Smith is moving from center to power forward.

Smith, who ultimately decided to come back to school after initially entering the NBA draft, said he appreciates coach Sidney Lowe's support in allowing him to explore a position Smith expects to play as a future pro. Smith is listed at 6-foot-8, which is big enough to play center in college, but not in the NBA.

At the ACC's media tipoff event today, Smith said he spent the offseason preparing for his new position. Throughout his career, he has been effective as a low-post scorer. He averaged a team-high 16.5 points per game last season.

"This whole summer, I've been working on my face up, working on my jump shot," Smith said.

Smith said the development of sophomores DeShawn Painter and Jordan Vandenberg at center has helped make the move possible. Smith said Painter particularly has improved his shooting and blocking out on the boards, and Vandenberg has become a better defensive player and shot blocker at 7-foot-1.

Ken Tysiac

Zeller says turnovers a focus for UNC

CHARLOTTE - North Carolina junior center Tyler Zeller said he notices differences in coach Roy Williams after the Tar Heels' disappointing, 20-17 finish last season.

At the ACC's basketball media tipoff event this morning, Zeller said Williams is using the same system, but is more intense in this preason. According to Zeller, Williams also is honing in with sharper focus on some of the technical aspects of the game, and turnovers in particular.

The Tar Heels ranked last in the ACC in turnover margin last season at minus-1.5 per game.

"Turnovers are a big thing, and he's always harping on, 'You've got to take care of the ball,' " Zeller said.

Zeller also said losing senior Will Graves, who was dismissed from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules, was "tragic." Zeller said Graves' ability to score from the perimeter and make big players try to guard him outside will be missed.

"It's a great loss for us," Zeller said, "but at the same time, we'll be able to recover."

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, October 14, 2010

UNC's Williams: No reason to believe NCAA probe has ties to hoops

CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina coach Roy Williams said the school has researched his players, and reviewed their emails – as well as those of the team’s academic advisor. So as his Tar Heels prepare to open basketball practice Friday night, he has no reason to believe that the NCAA probe into agent benefits and possible academic misconduct on the football team spills over to his program.

“I know that they’ve [the school] told me we’re in great shape and I know they haven’t requested any meetings with me, or any meetings with any of our players,’’ Williams said at his team’s media day Thursday. “I’ve got enough things to worry about, and with the Chancellor and with Dickie [Baddour, the athletics director], I think we’ve got great guidance and they’re doing everything they have to do to not be surprised.

“And so I would feel like if there was anything negative, I would know about it – and I haven’t heard one thing whatsoever.”

Reached Thursday evening, Baddour said he had nothing to add to Williams’ comments.

Williams first said about a month ago that none of his players had academic ties to the former undergraduate tutor (who worked for both the school, and football coach Butch Davis) who possibly gave too much help to athletes on papers for class. Monday, Baddour that the agent benefits that led to wide receiver Greg Little to being ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA were received after his 10-game stint with the basketball team in 2008. In all, 14 football players have missed at least one game as part of the probe.

Williams acknowledged that contact between agents and his players is always concern, and he goes out of his way to personally try to monitor it in his program.

“I can’t imagine anybody in the country that worries about, and tries to keep their eyes and ears open on that more than I do,’’ Williams said. “I cannot imagine. I check every ticket list – personally check every ticket list. I’m the guy that stuffs the envelopes [with tickets] in every road game. I want to know who it is hanging around the locker room; I want to know who that guy is. We start from the first day, talking about it.”

NCAA bylaws don’t prohibit players or their families from meeting with agents, as long as they don’t agree (orally or in writing) to be represented by the agent or accept benefits. And while the NFL Players’ Association forbids agents from contacting football players until after their junior seasons (when they are first allowed to turn pro), there is no similar rule for basketball (where players can turn pro after their freshman season).

That’s one of the reasons forward Ed Davis’ biography ended up posted for a brief period of time on PTA Sports Management's Web site last February -- making it appear as if the then-sophomore was ready to give up his remaining eligibility for the NBA. (He eventually did, signing with another agent.) Vincent Porter, founder of the Chicago-based agency, said then that he had been in contact with the Davis family on several occasions, having met them through a mutual friend.

Williams on Thursday made it clear, though, that he thought there was little agents could do for basketball players while they were still in school – especially because NBA rookie contracts are already set.

“There’s really nothing they [agents] can do for you; you can either frickin’ play or you can’t,’’ he said. “ … I don’t like the guys, even the guys that are good, I don’t like them. I tell them, ‘You’re the best in a terrible profession.’ And I’ve got some guys that I’ve had two or three of my guys stay with, and I say, ‘I still don’t’ like you.’”

Williams re-iterated that he can’t imagine that anyone tries to monitor his players’ interactions more than him or his staff. But he also acknowledged that it’s a difficult job for the school.

“We have 800 student-athletes on this campus,’’ he said. “That means we have 1,600 parents. That means we have 2,400 people, and there is no way in Hades you can monitor what they do all the time. The only thing you can do is educate them, and plead, and beg, borrow and steal, and get them to come around to your line of thinking – and that’s exactly the way I feel.

“… You have no way of monitoring everything they do, every second of the day. And yet, that’s what you want to do, and that’s what you’re held accountable for in some cases. But it’s not an easy deal. … The bottom line is, people have to make decisions, and the bottom line is, people should know right from wrong.”

-- Robbi Pickeral

Kryzyewski: 'It can happen to anybody'

DURHAM -- Mike Krzyzewski never mentioned North Carolina’s football team, not once. He didn’t have to. The context of the Duke basketball coach’s comments on agents and their influence was abundantly clear.

“I don’t think it’s easy to prevent a kid, whether you have one kid or a dozen kids, from doing something that’s wrong,” Krzyzewski said today, in response to a question about whether it is easier to keep track of 12 scholarship basketball players than 70 or 80 scholarship football players.

“I think it takes … you have to develop a family culture, a team culture, that doesn’t accept that. Because obviously, if something happened, somebody knows about it. And you would hope that somebody in your culture, not necessarily just a coach, would stop that. Hopefully you would hire people that would not become a part of another culture which would subvert the culture you’re trying to build.

“I don’t know what the answer to that is, when you trust somebody and that trust is not warranted. These things can happen to anybody. Just like something can happen socially or academically. It can happen to anybody, and you just have to do as much as you can to reduce the chance of that happening, whether you have 12 or 80 or 100 … I don’t know what’s easier. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to try to stop it. Including the agents. Including everybody involved.”

Three North Carolina players have been dismissed from the team and associate head coach John Blake resigned as a result of the NCAA’s ongoing probe into the UNC football program, part of which focuses on improper benefits received from agents.

Krzyzewski said he feels confident in the way his program handles agents, relying heavily on Duke law professor Paul Haagen and Krzyzewski’s personal relationships with many agents, but that it requires commitment from players and their parents to do the right thing.

-- Luke DeCock

Monday, October 11, 2010

Woods parts ways with Wake Forest basketball

WINSTON-SALEM - Junior center Tony Woods has received a release from the Wake Forest basketball program.

The school said Monday that Woods asked for a release so he could pursue other options.

Woods was suspended indefinitely from the program last month after he was arrested on assault charges. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeamor charge of assaulting a female and was given a suspended 60-day sentence.

Coach Jeff Bzdelik in a statement says that he met with Woods "a number of times and we felt this was the best course of action for him."

Woods averaged about five points and three rebounds in 31 games last season.

-- Associated Press

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Graves dismissed from UNC basketball team

Fifth-year senior forward Will Graves has been dismissed from UNC’s basketball team for failure to comply with team rules, coach Roy Williams announced in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“This is 100 percent not related to any NCAA matters on campus,” Williams said in a prepared statement. “I hate this for Will. He worked extremely hard this summer to get himself physically in the best shape he’s been in years, but he did not do everything he needed to do to be a part of our basketball program. This is a huge blow to our team, but an even bigger blow for Will. Playing for the Tar Heels meant so much to him.”

Graves red-shirted in 2006-07 then played in 92 games over the past three seasons – although he suspended mid-way though the 2008-09 NCAA title season for breaking team rules. A team spokesman would not say whether his dismissal was for the same reasons as his previous suspension.

Graves, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward from Greensboro, has scored 513 points at UNC, including 353 last year, when he averaged 9.8 points per game and was the Tar Heels’ third-leading scorer.

Robbi Pickeral