Pontificating on Pundit Picks

Duke fans, if you were hoping to see an avalanche of experts pick the Blue Devils to win it all, don’t scroll down. Of 39 college basketball experts/commentators/ pundits, only ONE picked Duke to even make the Final Four. We salute you Scott Gleeson of USA Today..


Jay Bilas – Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, Indiana
Eamonn Brennan – Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Indiana
Rece Davis – Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Indiana
John Gasaway – Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Indiana
Seth Greenberg – Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas, Indiana
Andy Katz – Louisville, Gonzaga, VCU, Miami
Jason King – Louisville, New Mexico, Florida,Indiana
Myron Medcalf – Louisville, Ohio State, Georgetown, Indiana
Dana O’Neil – Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, Indiana
Digger Phelps – Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgetown, Miami
Robbi Pickeral – Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas, Miami
Dick Vitale – Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana
Jay Williams – Michigan State, Ohio State, Kansas, Miami
Joe Lunardi: Louisville, Georgetown, Florida, Miami


CBS Sports

Gary Parrish – Louisville, Wisconsin, VCU, Indiana
Gregg Doyel – Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana
Jeff Goodman – Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Indiana
Jeff Borzello – Louisville, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Indiana
Matt Norlander – Louisville, Gonzaga, Michigan, Miami
Jerry Palm – Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse
Dennis Dodd – Louisville, New Mexico, Georgetown, Miami
Mateen Cleaves – Louisville, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Miami,
Wally Szczerbiak – Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas, Miami
Pete Gillen – Louisville, Gonzaga, VCU, Miami



Jeff Eisenberg – Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas, Indiana
Brad Evans – Louisville, Ohio State, Georgetown, Miami
Pat Forde – Louisville, Ohio State, Georgetown, Indiana
Dan Wetzel – Louisville, Gonzaga, Kansas, Indiana


USA Today

Mike Lopresti – Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas, Miami
Scott Gleeson – Duke, New Mexico, Kansas, Miami (Kansas Over Duke)
Eric Prisbell – Louisville, UNM, Kansas, Miami
Nicole Auerbach – Louisville, Gonzaga, VCU, Indiana
Eddie Timanus – Louisville, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Indiana


Sports Illustrated

Seth Davis – Louisville, New Mexico, Kansas, Miami
Luke Winn – Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Indiana
Stewart Mandel – Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Miami
Pete Thamel- Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, Miami
Andy Glockner – Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Miami



Ken Pomeroy: Louisville, UNM, Florida, Miami


DrKlahn’s ACC Tourney Breakdown

12. Clemson. Brutal team going nowhere. They can’t blow anyone out meaning that Snaer would beat them even if they keep it close. Next coach, please.

11. Virginia Tech. Worst team in the league, but #12 seeds seem to have some crazy juju in the ACC Tournament. Plus they’re playing State.

10. Georgia Tech. I have no idea how their offense suddenly became good the last two weeks of the season. I’m writing it off as a statistical blip. If I’m wrong then I’m underrating them a little bit. Then again, does it matter if they’re the best sucky team or the 4th best sucky team?

9. Boston College. The Tech-BC game should be pretty interesting in that there will be about 15 fans there, meaning that both teams will feel at home.

8. Wake Forest. Gets a bump from playing close to home, where they’re virtually unbeatable. It’s not at all crazy to think they will beat Maryland, especially if enough North Carolinians show up to create a hostile environment. Then again, they are a threat to lose by 35 every time they take the court.

7. Maryland. Got a brutal draw as obvious retribution for their departure to the B1G. Potentially may have to beat all 4 North Carolina teams in Greensboro. Not happening.

6. Florida State. My god, how is the Pomeroy #114 team my 6th favorite to win this thing?

5. Virginia. The bye helps, but assuming that State can keep it together long enough to get to the quarterfinals, I favor State’s talent over Tony B’s methodical approach in a quasi-home game for State. If Virginia gets by State, then by all means I think they can get to the finals, where their chances improve if Duke is not also in the finals.

4. Miami. I just don’t like what I’ve seen from them at all in the last 3 weeks. They’ve shown absolutely nothing, other than the ability to exploit Duke’s defense with high screens. Every other coach has adjusted to them. They’ll have about 50 fans there. Only hope is to eke out two close wins and draw Duke in the final.

3. NC State. I know State is a hot mess, but this program tends to find a way to be less craptacular when it’s playing in the ACC Tournament. Much worse State teams than this have found their way to the semis or the final. It helps that they are the clear home team unless they are playing Duke or UNC, and both of those teams are in the other half of the draw. Gun to my head, I pick State to be in the final from the top half.

2. UNC. Last night’s shitshow aside, UNC has played very good ball ever since they moved their best player into the starting lineup. And I think their draw is favorable. They have handled FSU just fine. Then they get Duke on Saturday, before their team is worn out, rather than Sunday as is usually the case. And if they win that, their fans will have the run of the building on Sunday so long as State is not the opponent. That’s enough to make them second favorite for me.

1. Duke. K is the best 3-day tournament coach of all time, and they were the favorites even before the events of the last two Saturdays happened.

Play the Process

It was a warm, Thursday night when I figured it out. I was an arrogant kid that prided myself on being better than others at the game. A subtle check-raise. Trapping friends after flopping the nuts. Chasing draws for just the right price until I hit.

I used to play cards (Stud, Omaha, Razz, Hi-Lo, Hold ‘Em) with a friend in a dingy pool hall in a backwoods town in Johnston County. The table was typically filled with the owner, his friends, townies, and a couple of high school punks like myself. This wasn’t some high stakes situation like the end of Rounders or anything. I was just a kid trying to pay for his school lunches, his dates, and gas.

Each week, we had about $150 in the pot in a winner take-all game. Each week, I funneled all my competitive frustration into that game because I couldn’t live with myself if I lost. What would that say about me? That these rejects, addicts, and hicks were better than me? I couldn’t live with that definitive truth.

So I studied the game to pick out betting tendencies in different levels of play. A modest bet after the flop had a variety of meanings from a variety of players and I was determined to know them all. I studied tells, deciphered odds, dived into my own psyche to prevent myself from betraying myself to other players searching for these same truths.

I looked at every aspect of the game to give myself the best preparation possible so that when that card hit the plywood, I was capable of making the correct decision, with excellent efficiency.

Then the cards came out. The dealer bounced my hole cards off my chip stack, shorter than I would have liked but better than I had deserved at that point in the game.

I peered at them, imitating so many of the poker pros I’d seen on TV, and found an Ace and a Queen, both clubs. A strong hand to open with, I raised the bet from $2 to $6. Everyone folded except for the guy to my right, who tossed his chips in with a casual “Sure.”

The dealer slapped the first three cards down in his uniquely dumb way: Jack of Clubs, Ten of Hearts, Three of Clubs.

I had a flush draw and about a 30% chance of hitting it plus about 20% of chance of pairing either my Ace or Queen on the turn or river plus about 15% chance of hitting a King to give me a straight. While I had nothing yet, odds were in my favor of landing something big.

My opponent was first to act and he modestly bet $5. The math was correct for me to call so I did and added my $5 to the now $25 pot.
The fourth card was slapped down: Ten of Spades.

My odds of landing a hand beyond Ace high were just cut in half. Only an Ace, King, Queen, or Club would give me a hand worth betting with and its no guarantee its good enough.

What does John Bob have here? Another bet of the same size would tell me he has a good hand and wants to keep me in the hand. However, every time he’s had a draw, he doubles his next bet. If he was outright bluffing, he’d probably bet around $15 to appear strong. That’s his arsenal and that’s all he has.

He bets. $7. What the fuck, man?

Who does this asshole think he is, changing his betting pattern?

Well now, the bet means I’d be risking $7 to win #32, basically 4.5:1 betting odds to my (at reasonable best) 4:1 odds of hitting my flush.

The math indicates the right choice is for me to call and in the event I miss, I might be able to push him off the hand by a big raise.

So I toss my money in and the dealer slaps down the last card: King of Clubs.


I hit my flush, the best flush possible to be exact, and anticipate my opponent’s bet. He earnestly reaches for some chips and counts out a bet of $15. I’m absolutely raising, the question is only how much. I have $56 left in my chip stack, if I’m going to raise it basically has to be all of it. A minimum raise to $30 would force him to call (unless he’s bluffing) but limits the return on a big hand. I need to capitalize on this moment because he’s been betting like he has another Ten.

I posture for a moment or two to show how tough this decision is for me and poor me just doesn’t know what to do with this terribly average hand.

“I’m all in.” The three words every poker player wants to hear when their holding the nuts and my opponent was gleeful. He called me and flipped over the pair of Kings in his hand with the gappiest-toothed grin I’ve ever seen. The King on the river gave him a full house (three Kings, two Tens) as well as giving me the flush. The card that made me was the card that slayed me.

I left, with nothing but my thoughts of what I could have down to avoid tucking my tail between my legs in fifth place. I replayed the hand over and over on the way home and couldn’t find a place where I would have changed my action. I made the correct play, given the information at the time, at each step in the hand.

And that just happens sometimes.

See, we can’t always know what’s going to happen to us each and every day but we can prepare ourselves for each reasonable outcome and put ourselves in the best position to succeed.

In life, and sports, what we do is a collection of decisions, small and big, that lead to an ultimate definition. The greatest people in the world make bad decisions but their good decisions far outweigh the bad or at least the bad are typically with the smallest risk.

In college basketball, there is enough randomness thrown into a season that more often than not, the best team DOESN’T win the championship. No one would say Duke was the best team in the 1990-1991 season, UNLV was. But Duke won the game that mattered.

Over a large sample size, the better team will win more often than not. That reveals a large flaw and a redeeming greatness in the sport we have today in that it builds our suspense. It gives us cinderellas, it allows for boys to become legends. We should love sports for what that gives us but we also shouldn’t forget that winning one game doesn’t mean that team is better.

I shouldn’t have to hammer home this point as we all know teams lose games to inferior opponents when they shouldn’t. This season, UCLA lost to Cal Poly but I don’t think anyone is going around saying that Cal Poly is absolutely a better team.

This is key to remember for this season’s Duke squad. For so far this season, Duke has shown it is one of the best teams in the country when healthy and should be a favorite to climb the ladders, scissors in hand, the first Monday in April.

And if the season were played 100 times, Duke would probably do just that more than any other team. Alas, it is not.

We often see Duke fans tear down the village when Duke suffers one of its inevitable losses. Why? I’ve never known. This loss almost always indicates to fans that lineups need to be changed, players need to be benched, other players need to start, the coaches need to throw out the playbook, coaches need to overhaul the defense (or offense), switch to zone, change player’s positions; all of this must be done in order for Duke to ever dream of a championship.

These same people would tell me I played the hand wrong and that I should have folded here or there. And just as I know I was a better player than that toothless hick, we know that Duke is a better overall team than NC State.

Fact of the matter, Duke has one of the more potent offenses in the country (when Ryan Kelly is healthy) and one of the more impregnable defenses. At this point in the season, we know Duke is a below-average rebounding team and that isn’t going to change very much if we (stupidly) play Amile with Kelly, when he comes back.

Duke has built a team that understands “the process” better than perhaps any team in the country (shout out to VCU for the way Smart employs a defensive system to play off his teams strengths by generating more possessions to add more weight to the tempo of a game). Duke has an efficient offense that is based around a “4 out, 1 in” formation that creates matchup problems, terrific spacing, and isolation chances for its high usage seniors.

See, as better players play inferior players, they can lose. Over time, their strengths will shine through the anomalies and be evident in efficiency numbers and shooting percentages and rebounding rates etc. The greater the sample size, the clearer the picture of where Duke stands.

So, with ACC play grinding away, it’s important for Duke fans to understand that merely losing games now will largely have no effect on whether Duke is a championship team. It is how they play, how the offense is able to generate points without the spacing Kelly brings, that will be the indicator.

Through two games without him, Duke is scoring about 1.04 points per possession. That number is down from the 1.18 area when Kelly was healthy. Over an average game played at Duke’s tempo, that equates to about 8 or 9 points per game. A considerable dip that should have Duke fans worried.

Until Kelly comes back. When he does, trust in the process and be proud Duke is one of only two teams with a top ten offense and top ten defense at full strength.


Wake Forest Pt. I – Post-game Reaction

How do you criticize an undefeated team that hasn’t won a game by less than 13 points since Ohio State came to town? You can’t really. I’ve looked over the team since that run of taking down five of the top 12 teams in the country (according to Z-rating) and there is little to squabble about other than rebounding (improving) and focus (hardly costing us games).

Instead of saying how this team can improve, which is quite obviously one area that isn’t going to be fixed, let’s just move on from that and look at what Duke is; at this point, 14 games deep in the season, we’ve developed a strong framework for examination.

In the Wake game, Quinn Cook had what will probably be the worst shooting night of his entire career. 0 for 11 from the field isn’t going to happen often for a kid that came into the game shooting 46% from the field and nearly 50% from long range.

Regardless of his career-worst shooting night, the kid was cooking on offense dishing 14 assists to just one turnover. Cook has been tremendous in generating the offensive sets and using his awareness to make smart, efficient passes.

Last year, Cook turned the ball over at tremendously low rate. However, the manner in which he turned the ball over came from forcing the envelope too much and outside the frame of the offense. This year, Cook has scaled that aspect of his game back and allowed himself to flow within the offense more but more importantly, he has also instilled his skill set into the DNA of the sets.

Without a doubt, he’s the most improved player on the team and will take down Hurley’s single game assist record before the season is out.

Now, some of you might say that Mason is the most improved player and while you certainly have an argument, something is up with the kid. Rather, he’s starting to be figured out and game-planned for. Early in the season, Plumlee was being isolated and was able to feed off his mismatches and was able to convert more efficiently, specifically that two-handed lay-up of his.

Strangely, he’s still getting the same number of touches each game, roughly 15, but it’s how he’s getting the touches. In the Kentucky game, he got 6-8 touches inside eight feet from the basket. Now, the number is starting to dwindle towards 5 per game. Not a huge drop until you consider this: each touch in the low block Mason gets, he more often than not draws a foul or hits a lay-up. 3 low block touches per game less equates to 4-6 points Duke isn’t getting in those situations.

Ryan Kelly continued his brilliance against Wake Forest. If only UNC could get black jerseys, Kelly may just shake his weird kryptonite-like weakness to the Heels. Kelly remains the most important player to our team in that he brings a huge mismatch on offense, gives the offensive set a ridiculous amount of spacing, and is frankly one of the best interior defenders in the country.

According to kenpom.com, Kelly blocks 5.8% of all shots while he’s on the floor, good for a team high. Plumlee may block with more style but Kelly does a great job of altering shots and shutting down his man. Paired with his top 20 low turnover rate and he’s made himself the most useful and indispensable player on our team. Nowhere can you find a player with his range, ball control, and defense packaged in a 6’10” forward.

Something that has been of varied and intense discussion is the use of the bench. Specifically, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy. The former I believe to be a great player that simply lacks the composure and smarts to play a lot right now. As he learns and develops his strength over time, Jefferson has the potential to be great. However, right now he’s basically a garbage man on the boards and offers great length on defense that is negated by his iffy awareness. Really like what I see in him but he’s got some growing still to do.

Murphy is a weirder case. Like Mike Gbinije last season, Murphy has showed flashes of being a solid ACC player right now. However, for every play you say “Hey, that was actually really impressive,” he gives you a “Dude, what the fuck?” He’s been a great rebounder when he’s gotten minutes, which sadly hints that if he ever gets his confidence he could be a valuable missing piece. As he is, his wide-eyed approach seems to be more of a hindrance right now.

Still, the fact that both of the these guys only seem to be mentally behind is encouraging as we know that can be developed and worked on over time. If K can work on their psyches and get them to even a passable level, Duke could potentially go 10 deep.

As is, the bench is a heavy work in progress. My one fear is that Curry’s injury somehow worsens in a game during ACC play and one of our bench players (most likely Murphy) gets thrust into heavier minutes than he is prepared for and sets our team back.

Overall, Duke has built quite the formidable top 7 that bring different skill sets and compliment each other’s strengths. That is emphatically the biggest difference from last season.


Discuss this article on the Duke Forum here:  http://www.duke-forum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=209


Cornell – Post-game Reaction

Cornell vs Duke was an obvious mismatch, but it was oddly interesting to me, so I wanted to do a post game write up. The main reason I wanted to do a write up was because this was the first Duke game I had seen in person in 29 years.


It seems incredible to me as I write it, because 29 years ago, long before Coach K became Coach K, Duke was becoming relevant in the ACC again after being a doormat since the departures of Bill Foster, Jim Spanarkel, Bobby Bender, Mike Gminski, Gene Banks, Kenny Dennard, et al. And the Cornell team that took the floor last night was oddly reminiscent of the Duke teams of the early 80’s. Those Duke teams generally had two or three legit D1 players on them, but they played their asses off in epic beat downs versus loaded, and I mean loaded, squads from UVA, UNC, State, Wake and Maryland. This Cornell squad had three legit D1 players and frankly Duke looks as imposing as they ever have. Let the last half of that statement sink in for a minute.

On to the game. Cornell came out aggressive both offensively and defensively in the first half and actually exploited a match up that tilted in their favor–Shonn Miller vs. Ryan Kelly. To say that Duke lacked intensity from the get go would be an understatement. Cornell ran effective offense through Miller in sort of a point-forward role, even running iso’s for Miller who really took it to Kelly. Kelly appeared winded early, and I wondered if he might have been sick. Kelly was the first sub out of the game, as Josh Hairston was at the scorer’s table before the 4 minute timeout.

Cornell also got out in transition early, beating the Blue Devils down the floor off Duke misses and scoring effectively at or close to the rim, and also getting to the line.  At one point Mason actually tipped in a Cornell miss into Cornell’s basket!  Duke was flat.

Then, an enormous moment happened, just prior to the 8 minute timeout, and it was Coach K inserting Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee in the game in tandem.  At the time, I thought it might be a risky or over confident move on the part of K and the coaching staff, but the result was an immediate change in the energy level of the team.  There is no question, that removing Mason and Ryan from the lineup simultaneously creates offensive challenges for Duke. But the on ball pressure and the level of defensive tenacity was incredible.  The game clearly changed from that point in the first half.  The message was received loud and clear.

And what happened in the next 20 minutes of basketball might be one of the most dominant performances in Duke history. Duke just simply would not let Cornell score. It was actually not obvious at first. Duke was only ahead by 2, 28-26 at the 16 minute TV timeout, and ending the half up 11 was really somewhat less than expected.

At the start of the second half, Duke’s guards, especially Cook, Sheed and Tyler, just would not let Cornell get into it’s offense. It was incredible to watch. I counted at least four non-turnover possessions where Cornell never actually got the ball inside the three point line. Many of Cornell’s possessions ended in turnovers, but nearly as many ended in very difficult and highly contested shots as the shot clock was expiring. Duke was working it’s ass off on defense. I haven’t seen this type of wilting, demoralizing on ball pressure since Jay Will and Battier were exerting their will on the opposition.

Then there was a point where I looked at the scoreboard, and I was like, “man, Cornell hasn’t scored yet.” Cornell finally got on the board at the 13:30 mark (or thereabouts) in the second half, and by that time, it was 60-32. Nearly four more minutes went by before they scored again, and by my tally, Duke had been on a 32-2 run at one point. The interesting part about it, Duke never looked like they were burying Cornell. It was just methodical destruction, a coupling of stifling defensive pressure and precise offensive execution. Duke never let up.

All in all, it was a very satisfying game for Duke. The bench got a ton of burn, and everyone on the team made meaningful contributions. The latter part of the second half was basically an exhibition of what Duke Basketball will look like next year, and suffice to say, Duke’s going to be OK.

On to the players:

Ryan Kelly– Kelly was very efficient on O, but he was definitely off overall tonight. It was a lackluster defensive effort on his part. I’m not even joking when I say he needs to get his act together.

Mason Plumlee– Mason did pretty much whatever he wanted against an over matched Cornell interior, going 8-8 from the floor, but his FT shooting looked awkward again. It’s hard to understand how large Mason is until you are in the same building he is in. He is a large, large man. When he is mentally in the game, he is amazing. I still feel like he doesn’t understand how capable he is.

Seth Curry**– Seth was extremely efficient last night, a great shooting night and no TO’s. Seth is definitely hurting though. After the game, he was limping visibly off the court with his shoes removed. Seth’s on ball defense is not as tight as a result. Overall though, big night for Seth, who’s offensive arsenal seems to diversify with every game.

**FWIW Duke, did a great job of rubbing Seth off baseline screens last night which forced Cornell into a lose-lose proposition: If the screener’s man hedged out on Seth in the corner, Quinn or Tyler hit the screener for a dunk or lay up. If the screener’s man did not hedge out, Seth hit a three. This appears to be a new set for Duke, and it is very effective.

Quinn Cook– I am extremely impressed with Quinn. His defensive game is light years beyond last year, hell it’s light years beyond Battle for Atlantis. He also makes some amazing passes, and he looks like a great teammate. He gets everyone involved, and puts the ball in places where his teammates can succeed. He is getting better and better.

Sheed– I love Sheed’s game. He was a little sloppy in the first half, actually appeared to be having some footing issues on the court, but he hounds his defensive assignment, and he attacks the rim on offense. He really reminds me of Kobe. I know it’s crazy. He’s not the athlete that Kobe is, but his attacking style of play, and his fearlessness are translating very well right now. I hope he stays. He very quietly scored 16 points.

Tyler**– I am really impressed with TT’s team first approach. There were long stretches where he played along side Quinn last night, and there is no weirdness on the floor. Tyler is going to be one of those 4 year players who doesn’t score much, and who the fans don’t appreciate, who will just play his ass off on D, make all the right decisions and win games without the slightest concern for anything other than the well being of the team.

**Interesting note about Tyler. When Quinn and Tyler are on the floor together, Quinn is obviously the PG. However, in team huddles, Quinn defers to Tyler, which I think shows the character of both of these young men.

Jiggy– Josh had a rough night, but you can’t deny his hustle and energy. He missed a lot of bunnies, but he actually helped stem the bleeding the in the first half, and he is a competent player at this point. Apparently, Josh has the green light this year.

Alex– Alex got his longest burn of the season, and there is a lot to be excited about. He has a pretty nice set shot from the three point line, and he is a fluid athlete. He looked composed and confident on the floor last night.

Marshall– What an animal. Yeah he only played for two minutes, but the guy is in constant motion. Fiercely defended the basket, blocked a shot and grabbed a board. He’s going to be OK.

Amile– Amile defended exceptionally well last night. He really bothered Miller. Amile is also really creative around the rim. He gets his shot off quickly, and takes unusual angles to the basket and uses the glass. He’s going to be great. He will end up being much better than Lance, IMO.

Zaf– I will say this, the team really respects Zaf. They ran a play late in the game, and it was a concerted effort to get Zaf a good look, which he connected on. Zaf is all effort, proud of him.

That’s it.


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Champion Watch

What does it take to be a champion? Guts, heart, will, other inspirational cliches to describe immeasurable intangibles?  More often than not it is a combination of a specific set of skills that would make even Liam Neeson in “Taken” impressed.

Typically, teams have to have one of the top 20 efficient offenses coupled with one or another outstanding qualities.  For instance, the 2010 Duke squad rode upper echelon offensive rebounding to multiple offensive chances as Brian Zoubek of all people keyed the Blue Devils to a title.

But let’s say your favorite team sucks at rebounding.  The natural way to compensate for it is to force a lot of turnovers to balance the possessions.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that typically, the team that takes the most shots, wins the game.

First, if you look at Turnover %, you’ll notice that national champions have come from all walks of life in this category.  For instance, the 04 UConn squad with Emeka Okafor was TERRIBLE at forcing turnovers, easily the worst if only by a narrow margin over (surprise!) 2011 UConn.

Only two teams turned the ball over more than they forced (04 UConn and 07 Florida) however both of those teams were aided by outstanding performance in other areas (more on that shortly).

The best performers here were 2010 Duke and 09 UNC, both of whom also had top offenses those seasons.  Duke, led by Jon Scheyer, played as a team that prided itself on efficient possessions as it turned the ball over the fewest of the champions and had the second highest offensive rebounding rate.  UNC was modeled in the same way with a similarly high offensive rebounding rate.

I find it interesting that Florida actually stopped forcing as many turnovers from 06 to 07.  Their turnover rate remained the same but experienced a 4% drop in forcing them. Billy Donovan’s squad made up for this by rebounding much better during the title defense.

Speaking of, rebounding rates were a mixed bag as well.  If teams weren’t elite rebounders, they made up for it on either dTO% or dFG%.  Last years UK team was pretty average at turnovers and slightly above average rebounding. However, they were one of the best defensive teams of the last ten years.
Only 09 Memphis, 07 UConn, 05 Boston University, and 04 UConn were better.

That 04 UConn team was also the best offensive rebounding team of the champions which allowed it to negate its terrible turnover ratios.

While Kansas and 07 Florida were pretty weak on the offensive glass, they made up for it on the defensive end by grabbing over 71% of defensive rebounds.

Looking at the defensive numbers, after Kentucky and 04 UConn, every team resided in the 43.6 to 46.4 range.  Based on a cumulative average over the last ten years, that would place every team in the top 50 at dFG%.

So, thats a lot of words and numbers to tell us what? Well, it means that aside from having a top offense (a staple of every champion) they must also do one of these at an elite level.

While this all seems fairly obvious, it allows us to build a profile for the top teams of the season.  Currently, here are the teams that fall within the profile created by those champions for the 2012-2013 season:
[top 20 offense + (dTO% > 20) or (oTO% < 17) or (off Reb% >40) or (defReb% >70) or (dFG% < 45)]

Florida – 4
Minnesota – 3
Indiana – 4
Ohio State – 5
Pittsburgh – 4
Gonzaga – 2
Michigan – 2
Duke – 3
Creighton – 1
St. Mary’s – 1
Notre Dame – 3
Arizona – 3
Syracuse – 4
Wisconsin – 4
Kentucky – 3
Kansas – 3
Belmont – 1
Lehigh – 1
Baylor – 1

That is 19 of the top 20 offenses (oh..sorry NC State) that fall into one of the other categories.  The number beside each team is the number of categories they fall under.

Now, something to keep in mind is that as the season progresses, these teams will fall off as the numbers start to regress to the mean.

For example, Minnesota’s offensive rebounding percentage is about five percentage points higher than the next closest team in the last ten years and right now about 12 teams are slated to break that record so either its the best offensive rebounding year ever or they haven’t evened out yet.

Notably absent you might say is Louisville.  The Cardinals actually fit four of the five categories but lay outside the top 20 in offensive efficiency at #23.  I’m assuming they will join the ranks shortly but they currently do not meet that criteria.  Still, they will absolutely be a final four contender.

By the end of the year, this fellowship of nineteen should be whittled down to only a few strong contenders for their one shining moment.

My early expectations are that Florida, Indiana, Ohio State, Louisville, and Duke are left standing in this group.  I’ll monitor this list going forward in our monthly Champions update at duke-forum.com.


Raw Data:

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Delaware – Post-game Reaction

After a historically tough start to the season, Duke had its easiest win by far against an overmatched Delaware team. No one expected Duke to struggle in this one – they were favored by 20+ in the Vegas books – but it was still nice to see no diminishment in intensity as Duke rolled to an 88-50 victory. Not only did they easily beat the spread, they did so without one of their best players, starter Seth Curry. Curry is resting off an ankle tweak as well as lingering shin issues.

AP – Broome

How much of a pushover was Delaware, really? Not as much of a pushover, according to Kenpom, as Duke’s first opponent of the season, Georgia State. Duke won that game by 19, but didn’t quite cover the spread, so it’s safe to say this was a better performance. More important than the final score, perhaps, is that the margin was big enough to get Duke’s bench quality minutes. Alex Murphy got on track after not playing much at all in the first seven games. While Coach K quickly shot down questions about the importance of the bench, insisting that it was more concerned with developing the starting five, it can’t hurt to have players ready to contribute, especially if Seth’s injury(ies) cause him to be out for more important games. Even in that scenario, I would expect junior Tyler Thornton to be ahead of Murphy in the rotation, but it’s reassuring if Murphy, Jefferson, and Hairston are all ready to contribute. Hairston has shown he can be a factor, getting key baskets both against UK and OSU. Jefferson has exhibited a knack for scoring in exhibitions, and that was on display again today as he had 12 points on quick and crafty finishes around the basket.

Games against “cupcakes” are not only good for bench development, they are fun for fans. While the payoff may not be as much as a tight, come-from-behind victory against OSU, cupcake games are also relatively stress-free, especially when the team looks as cohesive as they did against Delaware. TT had maybe his best performance of the season, with 10 assists, three steals and six rebounds (though a different box score I checked had it as 8/3/7). He continues to show why he is Coach K’s preferred sixth man, despite the strident protests of many Duke fans. Sheed was his usual, precocious self, making crisp passes off the drive for six assists and finishing tough shots through contact on several occasions. Kelly was a marksman, burying midrange jumpers and three-pointers to finish with an extremely efficient 18 points. Mason also had 18 in just 24 minutes. Cook struggled shooting a little bit, but had six assists to just one turnover, including his usual dose of highlight-reel finds to Mason Plumlee on the break.

Duke as a team had 23 assists on 35 made baskets while committing just 11 turnovers. Delaware on the other hand had only three assists to 15 turnovers, which speaks to the level of defensive play from Duke. Add in the quality play from the bench and this was pretty much the perfect “comfort” game for a fan. Though it will not mean much in terms of RPI and maybe doesn’t tell us much about who Duke is as a team, games like this are a nice change of pace after November’s gauntlet. Up next, however, is Kenpom-ranked #56 Temple, a team good enough to beat Duke if Duke does not come out focused. Based on their performance against Delaware, however, it doesn’t look like this team will be taking any games off.

– rome8180

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Ohio State – Post-game Reaction

Duke Chronicle
I used to have a small stone basketball with an inscription on the base of it that read: “There is nothing less important than the score at halftime.”As a kid, I agreed with this, convincing myself of all those fantastical sports cliches like “It ain’t over til it’s over.” or anything about fat ladies singing. I regarded this marble sphere as a motivational tactic to convince myself to never give up until you are beaten. This kind of inspiration led me and the orange team to a 6-0 record in the U11 division (Suck it, Purple!)However, as last night’s game against Ohio State showed, my blind eye to the halftime score was a trick of the youth in me. If I had been cleverer, like the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history, I might have understood that the halftime score can be the best stimulant to a team.Watching Duke plod along in the first half without any idea how to crack the shell of the Buckeye defense was almost insufferable. Trip after trip, possession after possession, Duke was denied entry passes, denied drives, denied open shots, denied offensive rebounds, and denied hope that they could score. The Blue Devils looked either timid or fatigued and their aggression was only rewarded at the free throw line where they netted 10 of 12 to account for nearly half of their 23 points.

From 14:38 to 4:12 in the first half, Duke couldn’t get a bucket even if they came in a Spotify email telling you that your friend Maggie added Imagine Dragons to her playlist. The best offense Duke had was the rare dump down to Plumlee which led to a drawn foul. This ten minute draught between made field goals was due in part to incredible defense by the Buckeyes but also, to me, seemed like hesitation and over thinking. Every time Duke attacked and was denied, Quinn Cook reset the offense. This happened at least twice per shot clock set on almost every possession of that stretch.

Duke wasn’t pulling the trigger and it showed as Duke was doubled up in field goals attempted at one point during that bucket famine. This was due in large part to the offensive boards that the Buckeyes were crashing like cars at the IIHS. A typical sequence in that game went like this:

9:13 Seth Curry missed Jumper.
9:13 Amir Williams Defensive Rebound.
8:58 LaQuinton Ross missed Three Point Jumper.
8:58 Amir Williams Offensive Rebound.
8:53 Shannon Scott missed Three Point Jumper.
8:53 Mason Plumlee Defensive Rebound.
8:26 Foul on LaQuinton Ross
8:26 Ryan Kelly made Free Throw.
8:26 Ryan Kelly made Free Throw.
8:11 Aaron Craft missed Jumper.
8:11 Aaron Craft Offensive Rebound.
8:07 Lenzelle Smith, Jr. missed Three Point Jumper.
8:07 LaQuinton Ross Offensive Rebound.
8:02 LaQuinton Ross missed Jumper.
8:02 Mason Plumlee Block.
8:02 Shannon Scott Offensive Rebound.

One shot attempt, two made free throws, and one rebound from Duke. Five shot attempts, five rebounds, four offensive for Ohio State. As Duke learned in 2010, when you are presented with consistent second and third chances, the more effective the offense becomes. It’s the biggest indicator as to why Duke finally took that big step forward when Brian Zoubek turned into a rebounding mountain.

So, Duke went into recess down eight. Undoubtedly getting an ass-chewing for their lazy play and tentativeness that built that deficit. There was probably some play diagramming by K, clapping and face-contorting by Cook, and squirrel-pondering by Rodney Hood. Whatever happened in there, the Duke that came out brought focus and aggression back to the game. They also brought out Rasheed Sulaimon.

The freshman was a non-factor for the first half, playing strong on ball defense but brought nothing offensively. After the break, Sulaimon started to attack the rim and suddenly realized he was a 41% shooter from outside and that he had a green light.

Repeatedly, as Duke would chip away at the lead, OSU would go down and get another bucket. The eight point lead remained until the 15:00 mark where Sulaimon put it into fifth gear. Rasheed scored 11 of the next 21 points for the Blue Devils, inspiring the play of his brethren. Along with him, Duke’s best defender (yeah, I said it) Ryan Kelly found his excellent mid-range game again and by the 6:00 mark, the game was tied at 53.

It wasn’t your typical Duke 10-2 run but the circumstances in the game leave it nonetheless impressive. Consider this: Duke scored just 12 points in the last 13 minutes of the first half on 2-11 shooting. In the second half, from the 16:00 mark to the 6:00 mark, (when Duke tied the game at 53) Duke shot 11-15 for 26 points.

The fire and heart in this team is evident and spearheaded by the emotional leader of the team, Quinn Cook. The 1 guard was fantastic against arguably the best on-ball defender in the country finishing with just 3 turnovers (only one forced by Craft) to his 8 assists. Craft did “hold” Cook to 3-10 shooting but that’s including two wide open missed threes and two missed layups altered by Evan Ravenel and Deshaun Thomas.

On a side note, I texted a buddy of mine about Cook last night and told him, I feel more comfortable with Cook as our lead guard than I have with anyone since Jason Williams. Kyrie basically doesn’t count because I’m 87% sure I dreamed his playing time at Duke and I love Duhon but his production regressed as the lead ball-handler when Williams left.

Now, Ohio State very much proved that Duke isn’t invincible by any means and has a very serious flaw. The fact that the Buckeyes were able to get 16 offensive boards is a huge red flag. Duke often left Plumlee to fend for himself for rebounds (after all, he grabbed HALF of Duke’s team boards in the game, 32.7% on the season) and when Plumlee wasn’t outnumbered 3 to 1 fighting for rebounds, he was getting properly boxed out and sealed.

This needs to be fixed and a lot of hopes are being pinned on Marshall Plumlee as a remedy for this flaw. I’m not sure he’s a definite fix but if he’s not, Duke will need to get more out of the team in boxing out and crashing the defensive glass (at the expense of transition defense, though) to help Mason out. Otherwise, it is a very vulnerable weakness in an otherwise imposing title contender.

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VCU/Louisville – Reaction from Atlantis

Courtesy US Presswire

Poor Quinn Cook.
No one told him that VCU’s vaunted “Havoc” defense was supposed to turn him into a whimpering puppy.

No one told him that Louisville’s experienced back court was supposed to reduce him to the mistake prone freshman we saw last season.

Nope, everyone just decided to let Cook figure it out for himself. So the much-improved and often maligned sophomore played his game like only he can. An instinctive and intuitive ball-handler, Cook often found himself facing some of the better on-ball defender’s in the country and used his increasingly-effective spin move to create space, beat defenders into space, and open up his teammates for free points.

Last season, Cook showed flashes of this brilliance but rarely anything more than that. We all saw the future in him against Colorado State but unfortunately that was merely a lightning strike. This year, the flashy point guard has been able to string together consistent ability to lead the offense. In fact, only his awareness on ball screens and recovery seems to be severely lacking.

That’s not to say the Battle 4 Atlantis MOP has no room to improve, he obviously needs to work on his rotation defense, positional awareness against traps, and other finer details. Still, the key traits Duke needs from him to go far; dribble penetration, outstanding facilitating, consistent shooting, and leadership, are all vastly improved.

Poor Quinn Cook, only scratching the surface of his potential.

As for the rest of the team, its hard not to be over-confident about this group going forward. The balance displayed in that ballroom showed (captain obvious alert!) Duke isn’t relying on just a couple players to score the ball.

Now, there were times against the Ville that Coach K was forced to trot out small ball lineups of Jefferson, Hairston, Thornton, Cook, and Sulaimon (In some cases, Murphy was subbed in for Sulaimon). These lineups basically served to steal minutes as Duke was unable to score effectively in the half-court set. Surprisingly, while this lineup was in, Duke actually only surrendered 4 points to the Cardinals.

This highlights the known importance of Ryan Kelly to the team as not only a scorer but a spacer. Everyone knew Duke wasn’t about to run that offense through Jefferson or Hairston. So Pitino knew that any scoring had to come from Sulaimon penetrations or open jumpers from all the guards. In order for Duke to add that extra dimension to their team, and frankly relieve some pressure off the senior bigs, they need one of Hairston or Jefferson to become even somewhat reliable as a scorer in the post.

I, personally, have more faith in Jefferson in that regard as he’s a more efficient scorer around the rim. What would be an ideal scenario? Jefferson adds strength over the season, becomes a reliable scorer in spurts, Hairston perfects that 13 foot jumper of his, they all become nasty in ball denial and help take Duke past a variety of offensive and defensive schemes.

The fact that Louisville was missing their defensive center, Gorgui Dieng, is important. Dieng wouldn’t have been much of an impact on the offensive end as I’m iffy on how his limited offensive skills would work against Mason Plumlee and Dikembe…I mean Ryan Kelly. Defensively, I was expecting Dieng to alter a lot of dribble penetration but frankly, Duke made most of their points off of fast breaks and jump shots with about 15% coming from drives in the half-court. I, for one, look forward to playing what I believe is the second best team in the country again.


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Minnesota – Post-game Reaction

Photo: Associated Press

It’s hard to find much to criticize in Duke’s 89-71 to win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Coming into the game, Kenpom and Vegas both had the game as a relative wash. But any nervousness this might have caused Duke fans was quickly alleviated by extremely efficient shooting, balanced scoring and pesky defense.

And Duke did all this despite officiating that was inconsistent to say the least. When one of the announcers said at the end of the game that it had been a closer game than the margin reflected, he just as easily could have said the opposite. Duke might have won by 30 if there had not been several head-scratching calls in the first half. At one point a Minnesota player slid across the floor with the ball, a play that almost always is called a travel, but in this case no call was made. Minutes later, Ryan Kelly dived after a loose ball and was called for a travel – despite the fact that, unlike the Minnesota player, he did not have possession of the ball at the time. In another instance, a Duke pass was clearly deflected out-of-bounds, but Minnesota was awarded possession by the referee with the worst angle on the play. The list goes on. Most of these bad calls resulted in Minnesota points or, what amounts the same thing, lost Duke points.

But this was not enough to stop a team that shot 54% from the floor, 80% from three (!) and nearly 81% from the line. All five starters scored in double figures, and if some Duke fans worry about limited bench production – Amile Jefferson scored the first and only bench points late in the second half – it’s hard to be overly considered when your starting lineup plays like this. Mason Plumlee had another monster game, with 20 points and 17 rebounds. Seth Curry was lights out from everywhere on the court, twice beating the shotclock with plays created out of nothing, to finish with 25 pts on 8-11 shooting. If he can stay healthy, he is headed for a first-team all-conference season. Cook had perhaps his best game as a Blue Devil, scoring 17 points and dishing out four assists to go along with five (!) steals. Maybe his finest moment came when he hit a buzzer-beating three to give Duke some nice momentum going into the second half. Kelly, meanwhile, had a quietly efficient Kelly-like game, recording 14 pts, six rebounds and three blocks. And last but not least, freshman Rasheed Sulaimon continued his precocious play by adding 11 pts, including three tough finishes through contact. Considering that Sheed has been shooting better from three-point range than inside the arc so far, Duke fans should be encouraged by his newfound ability to finish through contact.

About the only thing that marred a near perfect performance from Duke was the inability of the bigs and Tyler Thornton to stay out of foul trouble. For Thornton, a defender who makes a living bodying up opposing guards, this is nothing new and something that, given Cook’s improved play and Duke’s abundance of competent ball-handlers, Duke can probably live with. But with both Mason and Kelly both hampered with fouls most of the second half, the team’s already somewhat suspect rebounding took a big hit. The Golden Gophers were able to get several offensive boards, sometimes more than one in a possession, which either led to baskets or free throws. Neither Mason nor Kelly showed a huge propensity toward foul trouble last year, fouling out just once a piece, so maybe this is nothing to be concerned about. But last season Miles Plumlee was part of the rotation, and his departure means that Mason and Kelly both have to carry heavier loads defensively and on the glass.

Fortunately for Duke, there is still the return of Marshall Plumlee to look forward to, a player Coach K has called “the sixth best player on the team.” Even if this proves to be somewhat of an exaggeration, MP3’s 7’0” presence, his rumored workhorse attitude, and his natural Plumlee athleticism should help tremendously to spell Mason and provide extra defense and rebounding.

As with every season, I’ll probably be banging my head against the wall in frustration soon enough, maybe as soon as later today if Duke cannot handle VCU’s “40 minutes of havoc.” But for now it’s hard not to be very excited about this team. They have great shooting, good ball-handling, senior leadership, and most refreshing of all, a potential NPOY player on the inside.

– rome8180

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