Know the opponent: Cincinnati Bearcats

Duke faces Cincinnati in the 2012 Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Thursday.
Duke faces Cincinnati in the 2012 Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Thursday.

The Blue Devils are bowl-bound for the first time since the 1994 season, and have invaded Charlotte as they prepare for their Belk Bowl matchup against a tough Big East opponent. The Cincinnati Bearcats put together a 9-3 season under Butch Jones, who has since left for Tennessee. Steve Stripling will serve as interim head coach for the Bearcats, who will look to grind it out against the Blue Devils with an imposing rushing attack and stout defense.

With the Bearcats’ program in a state of flux, BDN welcomes in veteran Cincinnati reporter Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer to give insight into the Blue Devils’ opponent. Bill is an award-winning sports writer, a life-long Cincinnati resident, and a Cincinnati alumnus. His work can be found online via the University of Cincinnati Blog, and on Twitter. With the Bearcats opening the season undefeated on the hardwood, and with the Bengals headed to the playoffs, his plate is certainly full, and we appreciate his time in answering our questions. Thank you!

With the resignation of Butch Jones, hiring of Tommy Tuberville, and uncertainty surrounding the future of the Big East conference, what is the mood of those within and around the Cincinnati football program? How much interest is there in the upcoming Belk Bowl match up?

It’s not something you hear people talking about a lot. The big news in Cincinnati as I write this is that the Bengals finally knocked off the Steelers and will be in the playoffs for the second straight year. Last week, the basketball game between UC and Xavier took center stage, especially after the fight that took place last year. And on the UC football front, there’s been more talk about Tommy Tuberville and the school’s decision to renovate Nippert Stadium than there has about the bowl game.

Senior RB George Winn, who averages over 100 yards per game, highlights a potent Cincinnati offense that led the Big East in scoring in 2012. Despite that success, there was some unrest at the quarterback position, where senior Brendon Kay took over for struggling junior Munchie Legaux down the stretch of the regular season. With Kay listed as the starter heading into Thursday’s matchup, can you give us a brief scouting report on Kay and the Bearcats’ offense?

Munchie Legaux struggled to throw the ball accurately all season long. Butch Jones stuck with him as long as he could but it was clear as soon as Brendon Kay replaced him that Kay was a much more accurate passer and a much better runner than people realized. But this is first and foremost a running offense behind George Winn, Ralph David Abernathy IV and solid offensive line and I suspect it will remain that way for the bowl game.

Led by 1st team All-Big East members DE Dan Giordano and LB Greg Blair, the Bearcats’ defense was dominant at times this season, holding opponents to just 17 points per game. It appears that if there is a weakness to this unit, it might be in the secondary, where they allowed 243 yards per game through the air. What are the keys to moving the ball consistently against this tough Cincinnati defense?

The UC defense lost its best player midway through the season when defensive end Walter Stewart was diagnosed with a chronic neck injury that ended his career. Without Stewart, the defense doesn’t have the edge presence it once did, but remains strong against the run. The secondary, which has been the biggest defensive weakness the past few years, is actually improved this year. Strong safety Drew Frey, who was first-team all-Big East last year, is a solid player and middle linebacker Greg Blair has been a godsend for a team that lost JK Schaffer, one of the best linebackers in school history, to graduation after last season. The strength of the defense is the line but if Duke’s offensive line can give its quarterback time throw it should be able to move the ball through the air.

The Bearcats and Blue Devils have never faced each other on the gridiron, and had only one common opponent in 2012 in Virginia Tech (Cincinnati won 27-24, while Duke lost 41-20). What do you expect to see in the matchup between the Bearcats and Blue Devils in Charlotte?

I can’t really answer this one…I really don’t know enough about Duke to speak with any authority on the specifics of the matchup. But I do think the fact that the UC program is in a state of flux could be important. The last time this happened in 2009 after Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame, the UC players were not well prepared and got blasted by Tim Tebow and Florida. It will be interesting to see how these players handle a similar situation.

 

Mason Plumlee has another ACC leading double-double

12Duke Senior Mason Plumlee continues his consistent play scoring 21 points to go with 14 rebounds in the Blue Devils 76-54 win over Elon.  He recorded an ACC leading seventh double-double on the season and he has scored at least 16 points in his last 12 games at Duke.  BDN caught up to Plumlee after the win -

Duke drops Elon – Coach K talks the game and Marshall Plumlee’s injury

8DURHAM, N.C. – After a sluggish start, the undefeated and number one ranked Duke Blue Devils used a couple of second half runs to defeat Elon by a 76-54 score.  The Blue Devils will go into the holiday break with an 11-0 record before returning to the court against Santa Clara on December 29th.

Duke was once again led by senior standout Mason Plumlee who scores 21 points to go with 15 rebounds.  Plumlee leads the ACC by a wide margin for double-doubles on the season, but he still feels he can get better.  “I left a few points on the floor, so I can play better,” said a humble Plumlee in the post game locker room.

But there is more than one key to the Blue Devils early success where they’ve taken on all comers.  And the most prominent reason is team chemistry, something every player touched on.    While Duke was inconsistent on the evening in perhaps one of their least pretty efforts of the year, they came around as the game went on, wearing down Elon which drops to 6-5 on the season.

Tyler Thornton helped break the game open with successive three-point shots in the second half and the Blue Devils never looked back and he totaled 8 points in the game,  Ryan Kelly added 14, Rasheed Sulaimon 13 and Quinn Cook 10 and a career high 8 rebounds from the guard spot.

Coach Krzyzewski also addressed the aforementioned team chemistry in the post game, saying this team was as tight as any since Kyrie Irvings freshman season.  Check out what Krzyzewski had to say via BDN Video where he addresses Marshall Plumlees injury and more -

 

Duke lands Jabari Parker

Peach pics 012
On an overcast and rainy December afternoon, Jabari Parker, a soft spoken and measured young man from the South Side of Chicago, saw the light, committing to Duke University on ESPNU. After a three year pursuit of the reigning National Gatorade Player of the Year, the Blue Devils’ staff’s persistence and message won the day, culminating in, perhaps, Duke’s best small forward prospect since Grant Hill roamed the Gothic Wonderland in Durham, North Carolina.

6’8″ Jabari Parker has led Simeon Academy, a vocational high school deep in the south side of Chicago, whose alumni includes four NBA players (most notably former NBA MVP Derrick Rose), to state titles in each of his three seasons in the highly competitive state of Illinois. This past season, after averaging over twenty points, nine rebounds, five assists, and three blocks, Parker was named Gatorade’s National Player of the Year, a rare distinction for an award that has traditionally been designated to players in their senior class. In addition to seeking out excellence in a given field of play, the award takes into account a player’s performance in the classroom, where Parker is in the top five percent of his class, and in the community, where Jabari has worked on behalf the Salvation Army, Operation PUSH, and the Hyde Park ward of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Giving back to the community has been something that his father, Robert “Sonny” Parker, a six-year NBA veteran with the Golden State Warriors, ingrained in his children, including his youngest, Jabari. In 1990, he began the Chicago-based Sonny Parker Youth Foundation, a non-profit which seeks to offer year-round recreational and educational after-school programs for Chicago kids in grades K-12, in order to provide alternatives to gang and drug-related violence that still plague parts of the Windy City.

Although there already was projected to be quality depth on the wings in Durham next season, the addition of Parker, a 6’8″ skilled, cerebral, and versatile wing, provides the Blue Devils with the opportunity to add an instant impact freshman who is a constant threat, on or off of the ball, and to create mismatches in a manner similarly devised by Coach Mike Krzyzewski in the 2012 Olympics in London. In terms of international experience, Jabari has been an integral part of USA Basketball at the junior level winning a gold medal both at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Cancun, Mexico, where he won the tournament’s MVP, and with the United States U-17 team at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship in Kaunas, Lithuania this July, during which he broke his right foot.

For the past several months, Jabari has been recovering from the fracture in his right foot, but he made his return to the hardwood in order to compete against future Duke teammate 6’5″ Matt Jones and his DeSoto (TX) HS in Texas on a nationally televised game. The return was premature and Parker demonstrated a shell of his potential as his explosiveness and timing were off. Following the trip, Parker has decided to take further time off in order to allow his foot to fully heal and his timing to recover.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University and his staff have consistently been recruiting the Simeon star for the better part of three years, including twice within the past ten days. Coach K and his staff have seen Jabari compete for three-time defending state champion Simeon Academy and the robust Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, where Parker formed a potent one-two punch with 6’11″ Jahlil Okafor, his close friend, fellow Duke recruit, and USA Basketball teammate. Jabari Parker, for his part, twice visited his future campus: once on an unofficial visit during his sophomore season along with Shabazz Muhammad for a game against Virginia and, most recently, for his official visit during Duke’s split-squad Blue-White game with his mother, Lola, and father, Sonny, while utilizing crutches.

Parker provides the Blue Devils with a skilled 6’8″ wing that offers the staff the versatility of being able to play inside or out with his mixture of skill, athleticism, and basketball acumen. At Simeon, he’s dropped some of his baby fat through cardio work and an increased focus on his diet. Though his father has been largely hands-off in Jabari’s development, he’s been there to offer advice through the prism of a former high-flying professional wing. The Celtics fan enjoys watching and playing “team ball” and has tried to watch game film of prior NBA greats, including Julius Erving and Larry Bird, in order to incorporate aspects of their games into his own. With a blue chip piece the caliber and position of Parker, there are hopes in the Blue Devil fan base of Jabari Parker delivering for Duke in a manner similar to current Knick Carmelo Anthony when he joined a talented returning Orange core in his masterful season at Syracuse University. Although Jabari is not publicity-seeking, he was the May cover story of a Sport Illustrated article declaring him the best high school basketball player since LeBron James and focusing on the role of his Mormon faith. Parker has learned to embrace the high expectations, while using his platform to remain socially conscious.

For a young man who appreciates both history and selfless people, his recruitment was run in a very straightforward, “old school” approach. In the end, the Blue Devils staff was able to edge out two coaching staffs, Michigan State Spartans and the Florida Gators, with national championships on their resume, a school that had strong religious ties, BYU Cougars, and an up-and-coming coach at arguably the top university on the West Coach, Stanford Cardinal. With Jabari Parker, the most talented incoming Duke recruit since the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, along with Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones, Coach K and his staff have worked hard to corner the market on high-quality wings with slightly different core strengths in the 2013 class.

Preview: Duke vs. Elon

elonOK, OK, Blue Devil fans everywhere are going to be focusing a lot of attention and energy on a little announcement to be made this afternoon in a high school gymnasium on the south side of Chicago.  But there is the little matter of a real live game to be played tonight by this year’s Duke squad.  Isn’t there?

After dispatching Cornell last night in its return from an 11-day layoff, the Blue Devils get right back into it on Thursday night as they host the Phoenix of Elon University.  This is the first time in 17 years that Duke has played games on consecutive days when neither game was part of either a pre-season or post-season tournament.

Duke was sluggish at the outset against Cornell, allowing the Big Red to hang around until about the 4 1/2 minute mark of the first half, when the Blue Devil lead was just 28-26.  Duke was actually moving the ball pretty well and working it in nicely to Mason Plumlee, but the defensive intensity was not there and the rotations were poor, enabling Cornell to get a number of good looks, several of which they knocked down.  The Big Red also did a nice job of exploiting Duke’s failures to get back on defense, resulting in some transition hoops.  That was not expected, but it happened.

But when the inevitable came, it came big.  The Blue Devils turned up the defensive intensity in a big way, turning Cornell over time after time, leading to all sorts of easy hoops.  On offense, the ball was moving well; the shots were falling.  Everybody got into the action.  Duke’s two point lead at the 4 1/2 minute mark of the first half ballooned thanks to a run of epic proportions.  It was 32-4 over the next 10 1/2 minutes of action; it was a 48-6 run over 14 minutes.  48-6.  Those are the sorts of numbers I don’t think I’ve ever seen in almost 30 years of watching Duke basketball.

The big moment for many Devils fans was the debut of Marshall Plumlee.  The redshirt frosh, coming off a stress fracture in his foot, only played two minutes, but he played.  Plumlee was active and aggressive out there, and his body looked more developed than some might have expected.  Unfortunately, there was some sort of a problem with the orthotic insert in his sneaker that caused some discomfort, and the staff held him out the rest of the night as a precautionary measure.  His status for tonight’s game against Elon is up in the air.

Elon, a member of the Southern Conference, is coached by Matt Matheny, now in his fourth season after spending 16 assisting Bob McKillop at Davidson.  Matheny compiled a record of 38-56 coming into this season, including 15-16 last year.

Elon has had a nice year so far.  They were invited to play in the Maui Invitational, and acquitted themselves quite well.  They opened with a 15 point loss to Butler, in Indianapolis.  Nothing to be embarrassed about there.  I think everyone has figured out by now that Butler is pretty good.  But the Phoenix followed that up with a win over Bridgewater (never heard of them? Me either.) and then two more in the “Regional Winners Bracket” over Colgate and Florida Atlantic.  Then came Elon’s best performance of the year, a 12 point win over South Carolina of the SEC, on the road.  Since then, the results have been a bit uneven, as Elon lost to VMI, beat Georgia Southern, lost by a bucket to Charleston, blew out Dartmouth, and lost to UMass in OT.  So they sit at six up and four down.

Coach Metheny uses up to nine guys as part of the regular rotation, meaning they get at least nine minutes, and even the tenth man gets seven.  But six players eat up the bulk of the minutes.  6’2″ junior guard Jack Isenbarger leads in minutes and also is the team’s leading scorer at 14.7 ppg, but he’s been an inconsistent shooter.  Right behind him is Lucas Troutman, a 6’10″ 220 pound junior, scoring 14.6 ppg.  Troutman is the best shooter among the guys getting most of the minutes, and is also the top board man on the squad, as he grabs 6.4 per game.  He also blocks 2.4 shots per game — including seven against Colgate.  But those two are the only ones averaging double figure points.  The other starters are 6’7″ Ryley Beaumont, who averages 9.5 points and 5.9 rebounds, 6’8″ German guard Sebastian Koch, who scores 8 and gets 5 boards per game, and 5’10″ Austin Hamilton.  Depending on the matchups and who’s playing well, 6’4″ freshman Tanner Samson, 6’7″ soph Ryan Winters, 6’7″ frosh Tony Sabato, 6’3″ soph Kevin Blake, and 6’7″ 235 pound junior Egheosa Edomwonyi may get some run off the bench.

Elon has not shot the ball well very often.  On the season, the team is at 39% from the field and 69% from the line.  But they are averaging about eight made 3-pointers per game.  Isenbarger has broken the 20-point barrier twice, but nobody else has done so.  The team only averages 69 ppg, but on the flip side is only giving up 63.  They have not been strong on the boards, and average getting outboarded by about three per game.

Duke may be fatigued playing back-to-back, especially after the layoff, but learning to play while tired is one of the points of scheduling games in this manner.  While Elon is a nice team having a successful season, Duke’s talent, length, quickness, size, and intensity are certain to overwhelm the Phoenix.  Hopefully, Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson can build on their performances last night and continue to gain confidence as well as the trust of the staff.  It would be great if Marshall Plumlee can get back on the floor too.  But as with many games against this level of opponent, the primary goals (besides winning the game of course) are for the heavy minute guys to continue to learn to play together, to get used to playing defense with the type of intensity they showed during last night’s big run, and to maintain our health.