BDN catches practice #12 of the season (updated)

The Duke Blue Devils held practice #12 today in the Mike Krzyzewski Center for Athletic Excellence Practice Facility.  The Blue Devils were coming off a hard fought scrimmage where they had ACC refs come in the previous days.

Since the start [private] of the season, Duke has had just two days off.  So today they decided to run no contact drills, working on several aspects of their shooting.  Coach K and the staff watched on as his team went through free throw drills, where Marty Pocius beat Jon Scheyer to face off with Elliot Williams for the most accurate of the day.

Despite those two ending up the drills, Miles Plumlee hit more than 18 in a row in one stretch.  Plumlee looks as good in the drills as he did in the season opening exhibition games and he is a pleasant surprise for those unfamiliar with his game.

Coach K said that his team had been getting better all preseason, but they had plateaued of late.  He stressed the importance of backing off at times like this, but said they will go full throttle tomorrow and that he wanted to see how his team responded.   He also mentioned that his team was nursing some minor injuries from going at it so hard of late.  Despite that, nobody looked but so hobbled to the naked eye.

The HOF Coach said it should be obvious that his team would be deep and that was easy to see.  He mentioned that Duke would have a chance to win against anybody, anytime, anywhere if they played to their abilities.

David McClure looked healthier than ever and showed some solid hops which I hadn’t seen before.  In fact, the whole team is athletic and all can dunk with authority with the exception of Paulus.  Before you get on Paulus, he showed tremendous leadership, egging on his teammates, saying to Olek with fire, “Come on, you have to finish that off, after he missed a dunk on a drill.

Singler looks solid and Henderson is primed to fulfill his potential.  Miles Plumlee continues to impress with his athletic ability.  All in all, this is as K said, a very deep and talented team.  After tomorrow, I will have seen 5 practices, the Blue-White game and the Virginia Union game.  Now that I have had several viewings of the 08-09 team, I will begin to tell you my thoughts on each player.

Josh Hairston’s father also attended today’s practices with AAU coaches from his daughter’s team.  Coach K’s family was also present, or at least his wife, two of his daughters and five grandchildren.  The kids were dressed in their Halloween outfits and there was as always a family atmosphere.

I will report on two practices tomorrow and you are sure to hear something you like.  Check back in tomorrow night.[/private]

Duke looking to win back-to-back road games

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Duke travels to Winston-Salem this Saturday for an afternoon showdown with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Wake enters the game as a 7.5 point favorite despite coming off back-to-back losses to Maryland and Miami. The Demon Deacons have lost three of their last four games after opening the season with three victories. Wake Forest has been ranked as high as number 15 in the USA Today poll this season, but fell out of the top 25 after their Week 8 loss to Maryland. Duke will be attempting to win back-to-back road games for the first time since the 1994 season.

Both teams enter the game with four wins and three losses, and they have played two common opponents: Navy and Miami. Duke beat Navy, 41-31, in Durham, while Wake Forest lost, 24-17, at home in Winston-Salem. Both teams lost to Miami. Duke dropped a 49-31 decision at home, while Wake Forest lost, 16-10, in Coral Gables. In discussing the game, Duke Coach David Cutcliffe said, “The challenges continue to get bigger – we’re playing a Wake Forest team that’s very talented, a very experienced team. They can beat you a lot of ways, they can beat you with their defense, they can beat you with their kicking game, and they can certainly beat you with their offense.”

Wake Forest is struggling on offense and is currently last in the ACC in scoring at 17.4 points per game. The Demon Deacons are ranked 10th in total offense averaging 303.7 yards per game. Like Duke, they have struggled to run the football. Wake is 10th in rushing offense averaging 109 yards per game on the ground. Over their first six games, Wake Forest ran out of the spread offensive set, but against Miami they shifted to the Power I and rushed the ball 52 times for 195 yards. Tailback Josh Adams ran for a career high 111 yards on 21 carries. This complicates Duke’s defensive preparation for the game as they must be prepared to defend both offensive sets on Saturday.

The Wake Forest players held a players only meeting this week to discuss the recent tough losses and ensure everyone was focused toward the five remaining games. At Tuesday’s press conference, Coach Jim Grobe discussed the meeting, “Our seniors are running out of time. We’ve got five games left. I think they feel a little bit of pressure right now to perform down the stretch.” Coach Grobe also discussed the spread offense saying it hurt them against Navy and Maryland, and then stated the offense wasn’t diverse enough in the loss to Miami. “A little bit of balance would be good.”

Duke has allowed opponents to score 21.1 points per game while gaining 341 yards. They have given up an average of 193 yards through the air and 148 on the ground per game. Duke’s defense gave up over 200 yards on the ground to Georgia Tech (224) and Navy (207), but was much stingier in their other five games by allowing an average of 122 yards rushing per game. Shutting down Wake’s rushing game will be a priority so Duke can win the Time of Possession battle and keep the defense rested and effective through the Fourth Quarter.

Linebackers Michael Tauiliili and Vincent Rey are number one and three in the ACC, respectively, for tackles. They will need big games this weekend to ensure the Demon Deacons continue to struggle offensively. Duke has 11 interceptions on the year but injuries are starting to take a toll on the secondary. Leon Wright aggravated a hamstring problem against Vanderbilt and Lee Butler is banged up. Defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk recorded two quarterback sacks in the Vanderbilt game and he and the rest of the defensive line are going to have to apply pressure to Wake Forest Quarterback Riley Skinner. Duke has recorded 13 sacks on the season.

Duke has struggled in the Red Zone this year and must improve in this area to be successful in November. Over the first seven games of the season, Duke is last in the ACC in red zone offense scoring 18 times out of 29 opportunities. Coach Cutcliffe has stated this team will be defined by their performance in November and if Duke is going to win games against ACC opponents in November they must take better advantage of scoring opportunities. Last week Duke blocked a punt and took possession on Vanderbilt’s 13 yard line and ended up with zero points after a missed field goal. Earlier in the game, Michael Tauiliili intercepted a pass in Vanderbilt territory, but Duke failed to convert the turnover into points.

In an earlier interview with Blue Devil Nation, Duke Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis discussed the game, “I think consistency and execution will be the key in this game and the team that has the fewest mistakes will win.” It might be more accurate to say the team that takes advantage of their opponent’s mistakes will win.[/private]

Boynton, Knight, Smith updates up on Blue Devil Nation Premium (updated)

The Kenny Boynton watch was in effect this past weekend.  Boynton visited the Gators on his official visit and despite some [private] pressure by Donovan to get him to commit, Boynton came away saying he would take his other visits.  In short, this means he will be in Durham.  I suppose a little excitement may ensue when he comes to town on November 8th.  ***Breaking – Despite the rumors, I have not confirmed any of them with those who really count.  While it looks as if he is a bit of a UF lean, I will wait for confirmation from legitimate sources.

ADDENDUM – Kenny has made a decision to forgo his visit to Texas this weekend and will choose his school live on ESPNU at 6:30 EST.  As of last evening, he had told the Duke staff, he’d be making the visit to Durham.  As of noon today, he had not told the coaches it was Florida for sure.  However, the prevailing feeling among those who count is that Florida is the choice.  The Duke coaches felt very good about Kenny up until last night.  So, they are allowing him to have his day in the sun whether it’s good for them or not.

A lot of you are wondering about Brandon Knight.  Well, he’s a huge priority, but is somewhat on hold until the Blue Devils finish up with Boynton.  If KB chooses elsewhere, Duke puts on the full court press.

Harrison Barnes had a nice visit and left with a good idea of what Duke was about.  He will certainly consider the Blue Devils who are a lock to make his final five or less.  Duke will stay in close contact with Barnes until the time he decides.

I talked to Josh Smith Sr. the Father of Josh Smith Jr. while setting up an interview.   Coach James just so happened to have talked with him earlier that evening.  When asked which teams were the most active Duke, Georgetown and UNC came up with of course UCLA.  He said his son would make a decision by the end of this summers AAU season.  He also mentioned that he could decide early, but that he expected they would visit the Triangle before a decision.  He grew up watching Michael Jordan at UNC, but also mentioned he loves Coach K. [/private]

Quick Hitter – Thaddeus Lewis talks Vandy win and Wake looming

[private]What do you think about what happened two years ago at Wake Forest?

Heartbreaking.  We thought we had it in the bag.  As a freshman, I didn’t think much of it because I knew I had three more years.  It probably hurt those seniors that year, but looking back on it – it hurt going down the stretch that season.

Do you consider Wake a rival?

I would think so.  Going back to the last two games we played against Wake Forest – losing by one point and losing by five … I remember all that.

With the two bye weeks, Duke hadn’t tasted a victory in a month going into the Vanderbilt game.  Was this on the team’s minds or did you see any sign that the team could get back to their old way of thinking with concerns to confidence?

Not at all.  Coach Cut is not going to let you get back to your old ways.  The first thing he said was we are not going back to the old ways around here.  One thing he said was emphasizing how we came out of the tunnel against James Madison – believing we could win.  He told us to go back to that moment and we came out that same way against Vanderbilt.  He also told us to remember what it felt like to go back in with a victory.  We have some seniors stepping up and they want to go out with a bang,

Is the team thinking bowl at this point?

Not at all.  You know, coach always says it’s a one game season and we focus on that team.

Wake has got off to a good start against Duke in the past.  Is there an emphasis on coming out of the gate quick this week?

It’s not about just getting off to a good start, but staying hot the whole game.  We got off to a good start my freshman year, but we ended the game poorly.  We had to come back the next season.  I think consistency and execution will be the key in this game and the team which has the fewest mistakes will win.

You had a couple of receivers missing, did that effect the game plan versus Vanderbilt?

Not at all.  We expect that if one person goes down, that another steps up.  So, we didn’t alter the game plan or anything like that.

You suffered a few sacks in the Vandy game.  Was that the line, the receivers routes … a combination of things?

The line was doing what it had to do.  Me knowing my protection and knowing where I’m hot (apt to take hits) came in to play.  I moved out and I have to be accountable for that.  It was a learning experience because we haven’t faced a team that blitzes that much.  I’m pretty sure teams will watch the film and incorporate all those things, but we watched films to and I know what’s coming and that I will have to be accountable for those things if the protection breaks down.[/private]

Harrison Barnes talks to BDN about his visit to Duke in an in depth interview

So, you just got back from a visit to Duke.  Can you tell me a little bit about the visit?

I thought it was great to down there and get a full feel of just what Duke University is all about and what the basketball team was like and how the players were treated.

What was the atmosphere like?

I would say that they act in a very professional manner.  Academically?  It rates really high for them and that the players there are treated with a lot of respect from Coach K and the staff as a whole.  I thought the practice facility was very impressive.  They had two gyms in there and that was nice.  They also had a very large weight room.

I understand you sat with 2010 commitment Andre Dawkins during the game …

[private] Yes, I met Andre during the LeBron James Camp.  So, we’ve had a chance to become friends for awhile now.

He told me during a recent interview that he gave you a call after Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton became future Blue Devils …

(laughing) Yes, it is.  He wanted me to join in with them as well.  I told him that I was going to take my time.

Do you know Tyler and Josh?

Yes, I got a at the chance to meet Tyler at the Nike Hoop Jamboree and I met Josh there as well and the NBA Players Association Camp this year.

I understand it was parents weekend and that the Cameron atmosphere was far from what it normally is during your visit.  Did that bother you that the Crazies were a bit scattered and not up to their usual standards?

Andre actually explained most of that to me.  I have not seen the Duke Atmosphere in a full game.  But it was nice with the community repore and the little sections that were there to see how excited they were.  So, it gave me a good idea of what a game would be like.

Man, he’s quite the recruiter, isn’t he?

Yes, he is. (laughing)

Did you talk with any other prospects or commitments?

Ryan Kelly and I talked a bit.

Your family payed out of pocket to come on an unofficial visit which was probably pretty expensive.  What was your reasoning for visiting Duke as one of just two unofficial visits? 

Duke has been very consistent in their recruiting of me.  I felt that it came to a point in our recruitment that they deserved a visit, so I went down there.  I just wanted to get a feel for what the university was about and to see Duke University up close.  What they had been telling me on the phone was what the university was actually like.

What are your thoughts on Coach K?

I think he is very humorous as well as very personable.  I think he’s easy to talk to (it was his first face to face discussion with K) and that overall he’s just a really good guy with very good morals.   I felt that it was very team oriented both on the basketball court and off.  I felt that Duke had a very good family environment where they all watched out for each other.

Who has been the primary contact person from Duke?

Coach K has been the primary recruiter.

Did your Mom and sister enjoy the visit to Duke?

Yes, they thoroughly enjoyed it as well.  We all felt it was a great time to meet the team and coaches and get to know one another.  We’re just getting to know each other now and then we’ll see where this all goes.

Is there a timeline on your decision?

I’m not in any rush.  After the high school season I will get back into the process.  Right now, I’m in no hurry to make a decision.

What stood out on your Kansas visit?

It was just a great experience to see a sold out arena and the support they get in general. 

How far is Aimes, Iowa from KU?

I live about three and a half hours away.

Will proximity come into play?

Right now, distance is no factor.

Let me make sure I have this right.  When are you likely to make a decision?

After my official visits

… and will you take all five allotted officials?

I have not determined how many I will take yet

Which schools have been the most proactive in your recruitment?

Duke, Kansas, Iowa State, Florida, Oklahoma are the ones that come to mind right now.

What impressed you the most about Duke?

Mostly the academics

How important is academics to Harrison Barnes?

It’s a key for me because I want to go to a university that will set me up after my career.

I appreciate your time and wish you the best of luck in the process.

Thank you.

According to sources close to the team, Harrison Barnes spent two full days at Duke.  The visit went very well from the staffs standpoint and the feeling is that he enjoyed himself enough to make Duke one of the favorites in the race for his services.  He was able to attend class rooms, talked with K extensively and play a litlle pick up among other activities.  Members – talk about this on the BDN Premium (members only) message board.  If you are not registered, you need to do so in order to get the full effect of BDN Premium. [/private]

Cutcliffe talks win over Vanderbilt, injuries and preparation for Wake Forest

[private]Cutcliffe’s opening statement - It’s easier to recruit after a win, I can tell you that!  I’m real proud of our team.  We made a lot of errors and I will take the credit for those which good football teams never make.  I think if you ask our players though, the game was never in doubt.  We played with tremendous grit and determination.  Whatever adversity we might have faced – they were up for it.  The kicking game was off the charts, the defense tremendous and some very timely offense.  Again, if we hadn’t of had the errors it could have been a really well played game – it should have been a very well played game.

 You talked about recruiting … can you elaborate a little bit on what this means for recruiting?  (Mark Watson, BDN)

I think people that are out there in general, whether it’s high school coaches or prospects understand that things are changing and that it’s going to continue to change.  It means I’m proud of this team and what it’s doing.  There is a lot of work left to do, we all know that, but I think people can see that we are going to have success here at Duke and that encourages a lot of people that want to see this program do well.

How important was it in terms of taking steps and progressing for those guys to be able to win that game on the road after back to back losses?  (Heather Dinich, ESPN)

I think it refers to everything we preach.  The more difficult it is, the better the opportunity.  We kind of take that approach in practice in that it’s difficult to get through it.  There was never a doubt in mind that we were ready to play.  They took the challenge.

With injuries to Wright and Butler, did you have enough players to go to a Dime (defense) if you needed to? (Lucie Chavez, News and Observer)

We were really limited to five (defensive backs) that we have to play with .  We are looking into adjustments with concern to the rest of the season.  There are a lot of circumstances we have where we are thin.  We are thinning as the season progresses.

Are you getting any idea of how the injuries …

We’re getting some images on Leon (Wright) and Lee (Butler) That’s all still day to day.

Are there other position groups where you are in that groove now?  (Brian Strickland, Herald Sun)

Well, we didn’t take two receivers to Nashville, Chestnut and Kelly.  We have a few bumps and bruises there as well.  You just hope people stay well.  Eron has a torn ligament in his thumb and we are just going to be thin in a few places.  It’s that time of the year.  I just told our team a little while ago that this is when we are all defined in college football.  Every team has injuries and some of the other kids don’t feel great. This is the time of year where you have to be at your best.  Whatever teams that have some backups step up in key roles – that’s the team that will be successful down the stretch.  Chris Rwabukamba did that for us on Saturday and he got a standing ovation for doing so.

On relationships with the media … (Ben Cohen, Duke Chronicle)

I’ve had a good relationship with most of the media.  You get a lot of good people, intelligent people that you work with and I admire talented people.  The only thing I don’t like is sarcasm.  I think people that are consistently sarcastic probably don’t have much else to say in their life.  That’s just a real negative way to do business.

These kids haven’t won this many games in their entire career.  How long do you let them enjoy this win before you move on to Wake Forest? (Mark Watson, BDN)

We’ve already moved to Wake Forest.  We had a team meeting and I visited with them about that game.  We watch a tape on offense and defense.  After that’s put to bed, it’s 100% Wake Forest.  We’ll go out tonight and work on Wake exclusively.  We might correct some mistakes where we are working on Duke tonight, because we had a number of them.  We are going to jump start into the kicking game and some situations with Wake tonight and then we will do a few two minute drills.  I want them to enjoy the win and hopefully they did it the right way.  Today should be a little bit upbeat.  They should have a little bounce in their step.  They’ve worked out with weights already.  I think we’ll run them tonight … I think after we run them that they’ll move forward.  They’re always looking forward to moving on after a Sunday night run.[/private]