Duke Weekly Review & ACC Roundup

Remember when I said it wasn't time to panic about Duke?

Well, it's still not quite that time yet, but it sure is getting closer.

Following their loss to Notre Dame in their conference opener, the Blue Devils returned home to face Georgia Tech.

Much of the first half looked like Duke's previous game against the Irish: the Blue Devils scored at a high rate on offense, but were beaten on the glass and in the paint. As a result, Coach K's squad led by just one at the half.

However, Rodney Hood got hot in the second half - scoring 15 of his 27 points in the second frame on 5-5 shooting from long range - and the Blue Devils rode that to a convincing 79-57 victory.

Duke fans took a collective sigh of relief after that second half against the Yellow Jackets, as Duke got back to looking like the dominant team we all saw earlier in the season.

Unfortunately, the team appeared to do the same.

Saturday, on the road against Clemson, Duke got off to a hot start behind Jabari Parker, who scored 10 points in the game's first seven minutes. Alarmingly, the Tigers managed to hang around thanks to some strong play down low and a sizable rebounding advantage.

In the second half, the Blue Devils went stone cold from the field, shooting 25% (8-32) and failing to hit a shot in the final 6:20 of regulation after cutting Clemson's lead to 59-57.

The result was a 72-59 loss, dropping Duke to 1-2 in ACC play. Blue Devils fans have started to get frustrated and a little impatient with this team, but those feelings are warranted. The problems plaguing the Blue Devils are the same problems that were there at the beginning of the season.

This isn't a great defensive team. They're terrible in the paint. They aren't good at rebounding. They rely too much on jump shots falling.

Fortunately, all these problems are fixable. Duke doesn't have a lot of size - Amile Jefferson, Josh Hairston, and Marshall Plumlee are their only players 6'9" or taller - but playing more lineups with two of their big men on the court should help with their rim protection and rebounding woes. Playing Plumlee, the tallest of the three, for more minutes could help as well, but he's a liability offensively.

But what these problems essentially boil down to is effort. A large part of rebounding is about desire, boxing out your man, and simply wanting the ball more than the opposition.

With so many shooters on the roster, falling back on jump shooting is easy to do, but the Devils have to make a conscious effort to drive, get into the paint, get easy shots, and/or get fouled. Getting into the paint will make scoring much easier, which would in turn help with defense by forcing opponents to run more half-court sets.

This team is the most athletic team Coach K has had in a decade, and he probably thought (like the rest of us) they could be really good defensively without necessarily working as hard as some of his past teams have had to. But the realization has (hopefully) set in that they still need to do SOME work on that end of the floor.

Too often, you'll see a Duke defender staying with his man for a step or two, but then getting out of his stance and standing up, letting his man turn the corner towards the basket. This is a big no-no for any team, but it's especially devastating for a team like Duke that has no rim protectors - big guys who are threats to block shots or can alter them, making them more difficult.

All that boils down to effort and intensity. Duke has it at home where they can feed off the Cameron Crazies, but they've yet to bring with them on the road, as they haven't won a true road game yet this season.

Both games this week are at home, first against Virginia on Monday and against NC State on Saturday, and both should be wins.

In order for that to happen, however, Duke needs to play hard, focused, intense basketball, which they haven't done consistently to this point.

ACC Roundup

1) #2 Syracuse - 3-0 (16-0 overall)

Last Week: 72-52 win @ VT, 57-45 win vs UNC

Next Week: Jan. 13 @ BC, Jan. 18 vs Pitt

There's not much to say about the Orange - they're really, really good - as shown by their No. 2 national ranking. Their offense has struggled lately, averaging 59.3 points over their last three contests, but they've been a defensive juggernaut, only giving up 70 points twice in their 16 games so far this season.

Next weekend's matchup versus Pittsburgh will be their toughest ACC matchup yet (it's still weird to me that it's an ACC game), but Syracuse has already beaten good competition in Baylor and Villanova by over 11 points in each game.

Additional Reading: Syracuse Poised To Cruise Through The ACC in 2014

2) Pittsburgh - 3-0 (15-1 overall)

Last Week: 79-59 win vs MD, 80-65 win vs Wake

Next Week: Jan. 14 @ GT, Jan. 18 @ 'Cuse

Pitt isn't an overly athletic or talented team, but they play that patented tough, ugly, Big East-style basketball that's worked well against everyone they've played.

Then again, they've only played NC State, Maryland, and Wake Forest so far in conference play, so we're not sure yet just how good they are. Their game with Syracuse on Saturday will tell us that.

3) Virginia - 3-0 (12-4 overall)

Last Week: 74-51 win vs Wake, 76-45 win at NCSU

Next Week: Jan. 13 @ Duke, Jan. 18 vs FSU

Virginia's played the same way since Tony Bennett became their head coach - slow, tough defensively, and balanced on offense. This season's version might be the most true-to-form team Bennett's had.

Senior Joe Harris is the Cavaliers' leading scorer with 10.7 points per game, and they've held opponents under 60 points 12 times. They look like a NCAA Tournament team, but their offense has to become more consistent and effective for them to move from being a good team to a really good team.

4) Clemson - 2-1 (11-4 overall)

Last Week: 56-41 loss vs FSU, 72-59 win vs Duke

Next Week: Jan. 15 @ VT, Jan. 18 vs Wake

The Tigers are on cloud nine following their upset win over Duke, and they made it happen with stingy defense. They've yet to give up 70 points in a game, and have held opponents under 50 four times.

Clemson has a great opportunity to build on their momentum this week with two winnable games, and once a team gets hot, you never know what they can do or who they can beat, especially when they're great on defense.

5) Florida State - 2-1 (11-4 overall)

Last Week: 56-41 win @ Clem, 85-61 win vs MD

Next Week: Jan. 15 @ Miami, Jan. 18 @ UVA

Did you know that Florida State already has two wins over top-25 teams, and lost another two games to top-25 teams by a combined three points? Pretty amazing, huh?

The home loss to Virginia in their conference opener was disappointing, but the Seminoles will be a team to be reckoned with in the ACC and will compete for a tournament bid. Head coach Leonard Hamilton has this team playing good defense (they've held opponents to under 60 points in five of their last six games) and getting good shots (47.4%, 53rd in the country). They also rank highly in rebounding (69th in country), grabbing over 38 per game, making FSU one of the most complete teams in the nation.

6) Maryland - 2-2 (10-7 overall)

Last Week: 79-59 loss @ Pitt, 85-61 loss @ FSU

Next Week: Jan. 15 vs ND

The Terrapins' last season in the ACC has been one marked by consistency. The only problem with that is the team isn't overly talented. They've beaten teams they should be beating, but have lost to everyone they were expected to lose to.

The blowout loss to Pitt was especially disappointing for head coach Mark Turgeon and Maryland fans, but their offense has become too reliant on players creating their own shots. The Terps average just over 12 assists per game, which is 236th in the country.

7) #16 Duke - 1-2 (12-4 overall)

Last Week: 79-57 win vs GT, 72-59 loss @ Clem

Next Week: Jan. 13 vs UVA, Jan. 18 vs NCSU

I pretty much said everything there is to say already.

Just show some heart, guys.

8 ) NC State - 1-2 (11-5 overall)

Last Week: 77-70 win @ ND, 76-45 loss vs UVA

Next Week: Jan. 15 @ Wake, Jan. 18 @ Duke

NC State is the sort of team that's decent at everything, but not great at anything. Sophomore guard T.J. Warren leads the ACC with 22.2 points per game, and has been the only consistent part of the Wolfpack's season up to this point.

State is extremely young, sporting a roster with only one senior and eight underclassmen (five freshmen). They play like it at times, but their biggest weakness is their lack of shooting - they've hit just 30% of their shots from distance as a team. Their youth will likely lead to another roller-coaster season for fans and head coach Mark Gottfried, but they have the potential to upset some of the conference's top teams on the right night.

9) Wake Forest - 1-2 (11-5 overall)

Last Week: 74-51 loss @ UVA, 80-65 loss @ Pitt

Next Week: Jan. 15 vs Wake, Jan. 18 @ Clem

What do we make of Wake Forest? They got a big upset victory at UNC, but were blown out in each of their last two contests. Unfortunately, I think we saw the real Deacons this week.

They're a great rebounding team, grabbing 40.3 a game (24th in the nation), but that's all they have to hang their hat on. The Deacons simply aren't that good offensively, and don't have the firepower to pull any more major upsets. I think this will be head coach Jeff Bzdelik's last season at Wake.

10) Georgia Tech - 1-2 (10-6 overall)

Last Week: 79-57 loss @ Duke, 74-69 win vs ND

Next Week: Jan. 14 vs Pitt, Jan. 18 vs Miami

Georgia Tech is the definition of an average ACC team. They looked good for a half against Duke, but don't have the talent to hang with the league's better teams.

Point guard Trae Golden, a transfer from Tennessee, hasn't been the player the Yellow Jackets were hoping he would be. The Jackets really struggle offensively at times, and rank 222nd in the country in points per game. The good news is that Tech does have a young roster with eight underclassmen (including four freshmen), so they can look at this season as building block for next year.

11) Notre Dame - 1-2 (10-6 overall)

Last Week: 77-70 loss vs NCSU, 74-69 loss @ GT

Next Week: Jan. 15 @ MD, Jan. 19 vs VT

The Irish looked like they had turned a corner after beating Duke, but the blow of losing Jerian Grant (19 points, 6.2 assists per game) for the rest of the season seems to be setting in.

Notre Dame does rank in the top 10 in the country is assists and top 50 in points, and has the talent on the rest of their roster to turn things around. They have two winnable games this week, and that should tell us if the Irish have the capability to be a viable threat without Grant.

12) Miami - 1-2 (9-6 overall)

Last Week: 63-57 win @ UNC

Next Week: Jan. 15 vs FSU, Jan. 18 @ GT

Quite frankly, Miami hasn't been good this year, and we didn't expect them to be. The team that won the ACC last year lost their top six players from that squad, including ACC Player of the Year Shane Larkin, now with the Dallas Mavericks.

They're young, and rank 331st in the country in points per game (there's 350 teams in all of Division 1, so that's pretty atrocious). Just consider this a rebuilding year, Miami fans. But hey, at least you beat UNC again! Then again, isn't everyone doing that nowadays?

13) Virginia Tech - 1-2 (8-7 overall)

Last Week: 72-52 loss vs 'Cuse, 62-59 loss vs BC

Next Week: Jan. 15 vs Clem, Jan. 19 @ ND

The Hokies are another team that just don't have the talent to be competitive in the ACC. They've lost to USC-Upstate and UNC-Greensboro already this season, both at home.

Last year, Tech was the Erick Green show. Now that he's graduated, they just have a bunch of guys who aren't very good. Senior Jarell Eddie has been a bright spot with 16.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, but that's it. Second-year head coach James Johnson was dealt a bare cupboard, and stocked it with eight underclassmen (five freshmen), so it might take a while for the Hokies to become relevant again.

14) Boston College - 1-2 (5-11 overall)

Last Week: 62-59 win @ VT

Next Week: Jan. 13 vs 'Cuse, Jan. 18 @ UNC

I was really high on Boston College before the season started, but their record is just terrible. However, they might have played the toughest schedule in the country so far. Their losses? Providence (tourney team), UMass (ranked), Toledo (bad loss), UConn (ranked), Purdue (eh), USC (eh), Maryland (toss up), Auburn (eh), VCU (ranked), Harvard (tournament team), and Clemson (beat Duke).

Could they have won a few more of those games? Absolutely. But you recognize all those teams. That schedule will help them in ACC play, but unfortunately will likely keep them out of the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore Oliver Hanlan (19.5 ppg) and Junior Ryan Anderson (15.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) can play with anyone in the conference.

They won't do anything special this year, but they should be good for a major upset or two.

15) North Carolina - 0-3 (10-6 overall)

Last Week: 63-57 loss vs Miami, 57-45 loss @ 'Cuse

Next Week: Jan. 18 vs BC

Where to start with UNC...they were on top of the world after beating Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky, but they've now lost to Wake Forest, Miami, Belmont, and UAB.

Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige (17 ppg, 4.3 apg) has been the Tar Heels' one consistently good player, but everyone else has just been 'meh'. People have figured out that junior forward James Michael McAdoo - once a projected lottery pick - doesn't have any skills other than his athleticism, and really no one on this team can shoot.

I want to say UNC will turn it around because it's almost blasphemous to think they won't, but the Tar Heels could be looking at another NIT berth. They aren't the most talented team in the world, and I don't think Roy Williams - who's a very good coach but not a great coach - can completely turn them around.

But, that's why they play the games, right?

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