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At Least It’s Not Football: Duke faces Bama

12At this point, some Duke fans would probably rather take our chances in football against the Crimson Tide rather than see a repeat of the Blue Devils’ performance against Vermont when they face Alabama in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT.  Tipoff is 9:30 EST on Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden.

Obviously, things are going to have to change, in particular at the defensive end, if the Blue Devils want to beat a team most would expect to be far stronger than East Carolina or Vermont.  Of course it’s easy right now to forget how well this team played against top-5 Kansas on a neutral floor, but still, I doubt there were many thoughts of the Kansas game during Duke’s practices the last couple of days.  The Blue Devils simply have to get better at moving their feet and staying in front of penetrators; they have to get better at switching, at hedging and recovering, at stepping up to cut off drivers, at challenging midrange shots in the paint.  If they’re going to continue to pressure the opponents’ guards hard, they’re going to have to start to see some results — meaning forcing some turnovers.  Vermont ran a layup drill, and when they weren’t shooting layups in the second half, they had open 10-12 footer drill instead.  All the talk coming into this year was about how we were going to defend against opposing bigs, given our shortness and/or skinniness inside.  That hasn’t been the problem at all, even against Kansas.  It’s been lousy perimeter defense, an inability to cut off dribble penetration and then all the bad results that follow from that that has been Duke’s undoing.  And it’s going to have to improve if the Blue Devils want to have the kind of season everyone envisioned for them.

That’s not to say that the changes in the defensive rules and the way the games are being officiated have not been a factor.  They have.  But the refereeing hasn’t been unfair to Duke at all.  We just haven’t adjusted to the changes, at least not yet.  Maybe Duke will dial back its pressure, maybe Duke will play some zone.  But I doubt it.  I think Duke’s coaches are going to first try to coach this young team up, in particular at the defensive end, coach them how to defend without fouling, how to play help defense without fouling, how to properly hedge and recover, and all the other skills that are needed to play defense the way Coach K wants to play it.  He’s not going to throw in the towel on the type of defense he’s preached and taught for 30+ years just based on a couple of games worth of bad results from a young team at the beginning of a new season.  But what it does mean is that we may be in for some more rough days and nights in our immediate future, including perhaps Wednesday night against Alabama.

So what do the Tide bring to the table?  Last year Coach Anthony Grant’s squad narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, primarily due to a weak out of conference schedule.  Playing Duke should help the old RPI just a bit.  They made a nice run in the NIT, reaching the quarterfinals, finishing with a 23-12 overall record.  OK, fine.

Alabama's fifth-year coach Anthony Grant
Alabama’s fifth-year coach Anthony Grant

This year’s leading returning scorer is 6’0″ senior guard Trevor Releford, and he again leads the Tide in scoring at 18 ppg.  He’s shooting 59% from the field and 80% on 3’s.  He’s a player.  Releford is joined in the backcourt by 6’1″ 205 lb. soph Retin Obasohan, who is at 15.5 ppg on 52% shooting, though his 3-ball has been off so far this year.  Obasohan is the leading assist man, at 2.5 per game.  Levi Randolph is a 2-year starter who came off the bench the first few games of this year due to a knee injury in October, but he’s back in the starting lineup now.  The 6’5″ 205 pound junior is at 11 ppg and 4 rebounds.  Rodney Cooper, at 6’6″ and 215 pounds, is the Tide’s leading rebounder at 6.8 per game.  He’s not much of a shooter or scorer though, getting 7 ppg but on 30% shooting.  The fifth starter is big man Jimmie Taylor, a 6’10” 240 pound freshman.

The Tide is going basically nine deep.  JUCO transfer Algie Key, 6’4″ 195 lbs is the first guy off the bench, and he’s averaging over 10 ppg and shooting a how-is-he-doing-that 79%.  The other three guys off the bench that see time are all big.  Nick Jacobs is a 6’8″ 245 pound junior, who is at 7 ppg and 4.5 rebounds, and then there’s 6’8″ Shannon Hale and 7’1″ 265 lb junior Carl Engstrom.

Alabama sits at 3-1 on the season.  They opened in Dallas against Oklahoma, played well for most of the game before fading and dropping a 9 point decision.  Key, playing his first game in a Crimson Tide uniform, led the team in scoring with 20.  The Tide was really hurt by Releford’s foul trouble all night long.  Alabama followed that up with a win over Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech squad at home by 12.  This was a Big 12/SEC Challenge game.  Releford was on fire, hitting for 29 points on 11 of 14 shooting, and the whole team shot well, ending at 55%.

In the Pre-Season NIT, Bama began with a 102-65 blowout over Stillman College.  I know, I haven’t heard of them either.  They’re a D-II school located literally just down the road in Tuscaloosa.  That one’s not going to help the RPI much.  Randolph led the way with 17.  Then the Tide handled Georgia State by 17 to reach the semifinals.  Releford had 19 and the Tide really manhandled Georgia State on the boards, 40-24, to win easily.

So there we have it.  Before ECU and Vermont, this is the kind of team that most Duke fans would’ve said, “OK, nice team.  BCS conference team, good coach, some nice players.  But we’re not losing to those guys on the big stage in Madison Square Garden.  Na ga happen.”  Anybody saying that today?  I didn’t think so.

If Duke can create some turnovers with their pressure, stop dribble penetration better, and play defense inside and out without fouling, they could blow Alabama out.  But if they play the same kind of D they have in the last week, well, these aren’t the Catamounts of Vermont walking through that door, fans.  Sure, we could still outscore them 95-90.  Or we could get a far worse result than that.

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Duke releases All ACC Candidate Hopeful list

The following is a press release from GoDuke.com and Duke Sports Information.  The release is for the Blue Devils they feel are worthy of All ACC consideration to voters.

Kenny Anunike, Duke

Defensive End

6-5, 260, R-Sr. (6)

Galena, Ohio (Olentangy)

** 61 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 2 PBUs

** Ranks 2nd among ACC DEs in total tackles behind Kareem Martin of UNC

** In the ACC, ranks 6th in tackles for loss per game (1.23) and 12th in sacks per game (0.55)

** ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week following win over N.C. State

Kelby Brown, Duke

Linebacker

6-2, 230, R-Jr.

Matthews, N.C. (Charlotte Christian)

** 94 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 caused fumbles, 6 QB pressures, 1 PBU

** Leads the ACC in tackles per game in league games

** Three-time ACC Linebacker of the Week

** National Defensive Player of the Week following 14-tackle, 1-INT outing in win over No. 16 Virginia Tech

Jeremy Cash, Duke

Safety

6-2, 210, R-So.

Miami, Fla. (Plantation)

** 91 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 4 PBUs, 2 caused fumbles, 2 QB pressures & 1 fumble recovery

** In the ACC, ranks 5th in tackles per game, 4th in interceptions per game and 9th in fumble recoveries per game

** Recorded 5+ tackles in all 11 games and 10+ tackles in four weeks

Ross Cockrell, Duke

Cornerback

6-0, 185, R-Sr.

Waxhaw, N.C. (Latin)

** Two-year team captain and unquestionably the leader of a 2013 Duke team that has already tied the school record for most wins in a season (9) while clinching at least a share of the ACC’s Coastal Division championship

** 35 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 sack, 3 INTs & 12 PBUs

** Leads the ACC in both total passes defended per game (1.50) and PBUs (12)

** Has directed a Duke five-man secondary that has had four first-time starters around him while playing two additional true freshmen in key reserve roles

** During Duke’s current 7-game winning streak, has had crucial plays & games:

>> Interception of Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas in the end zone to preserve a 3-0 Duke lead in the 13-10 victory over the No. 16 Hokies

>> Career-high FIVE PBUs in Duke’s 48-30 win over No. 24 Miami

>> Sealed Duke’s 28-21 road win over Wake Forest with a game-clinching interception of Deacon QB Tanner Price with 2:30 left in the fourth period

** Is Duke’s all-time leader in total passes defended with 53 (12 INTs & 41 PBUs)

** 2012 First team All-ACC (by both coaches & media) and HM All-America (Sports Illustrated)

Jamison Crowder, Duke

Wide Receiver

5-9, 175, Jr.

Monroe, N.C. (Monroe)

** 83 receptions, 1,077 yards, 5 TDs

** 23 punt returns, 362 yards, 15.7 avg., 2 TDs

** In the ACC, ranks 1st in receptions per game (7.5), 2nd in receiving yards per game (97.9), 2nd in all-purpose yards per game (136.4) and 2nd in punt return average (15.7)

** Two-time ACC Receiver of the Week

** Two-time ACC Special Teams Player of the Week

** Has matched the school’s single-season record with six 100-yard receiving games

** Sits just two catches shy of the school’s single-season record of 85 set last year by Conner Vernon

** One of just two players in Duke history with multiple 1,000-yard receiving seasons

Braxton Deaver, Duke

Tight End

6-5, 250, R-Jr.

Charlotte, N.C. (Providence)

** 29 receptions, 402 yards, 4 TDs

** Among ACC TEs, ranks 2nd in TD receptions, 3rd in receptions and 3rd in receiving yardage

** Top game (3 receptions, 96 yards & 2 TDs) came vs. Virginia as Duke rallied from 22-0 deficit to win, 35-22

** Has caught 2+ passes in all 11 games to date

Ross Martin, Duke

Kicker

5-9, 185, So.

Solon, Ohio (Walsh Jesuit)

** 75 points on 9-12 FGs & 48-48 PATs

** Set school single-season record for PATs

** ACC Specialist of the Week after booting two 50+ field goals in 13-10 win over No. 16 Virginia Tech

** Field goal opportunities decreased as Duke is one of two teams nationally to convert 100% of Goal-To-Go chances into TDs (22-of-22)

Will Monday, Duke

Punter

6-4, 210, R-So.

Flowery Branch, Ga. (Flowery Branch)

** 56 punts, 2,409 yards, 43.02 avg., 18 inside 20 vs. 4 touchbacks

** Ranks 3rd in the ACC in punting average

** Ranks 2nd the ACC in punts downed inside the 20 yardline-to-touchback ratio

Perry Simmons, Duke

Offensive Tackle

6-5, 300, R-Sr.

Raleigh, N.C. (Sanderson)

** Has started 47 consecutive games at right tackle – the longest active streak in the ACC

** ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week following 35-7 win over Navy

** Duke ranks 2nd in the ACC in sacks allowed per passing attempt in league play

** Duke is one of just two teams nationally to have converted 100% of its GOAL-TO-GO opportunities into TDs

** Helped protect QBs Anthony Boone & Brandon Connette, who have combined to complete 223-of-346 (.645) passes for 2,631 yards with 21 TDs & 15 INTs while rushing for an additional 503 yards & 17 TDs

** All four of Duke’s RBs average 5.0+ yards per carry and have combined for 1,442 rushing yards

** All-ACC selection in 2012

** Academic All-America selection in 2012

Laken Tomlinson, Duke

Offensive Guard

6-3, 320, R-Jr.

Chicago, Ill. (Lane Technical)

** Has started 35 consecutive games at right guard

** Duke ranks 2nd in the ACC in sacks allowed per passing attempt in league play

** Duke is one of just two teams nationally to have converted 100% of its GOAL-TO-GO opportunities into TDs

** Helped protect QBs Anthony Boone & Brandon Connette, who have combined to complete 223-of-346 (.645) passes for 2,631 yards with 21 TDs & 15 INTs while rushing for an additional 503 yards & 17 TDs

** All four of Duke’s RBs average 5.0+ yards per carry and have combined for 1,442 rushing yards

NOTING THE 2013 DUKE BLUE DEVILS

** 9-2 Overall, 5-2 ACC

** Ranked No. 24 in both the Associated Press & USA Today/Coaches national polls

** Cracked the BCS standings for the first time in program history this week – No. 24

** Current 7-game winning streak – Duke’s longest since winning the first seven games of the 1994 season

** Matched school record for victories – standard set by the 1933, 1936, 1938 & 1941 teams

** Clinched at least a share of the ACC’s Coastal Division championship – has the opportunity to win the title outright with win at UNC this week

** Division crown will mark the first for Duke football since the 1989 squad tied Virginia for the conference title

** Duke has rallied from double digit deficits to win three times this year: Virginia (trailed 22-0), Miami (trailed 17-7) & Wake Forest (trailed 14-0)

** Will play in consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history

** Duke has won 4+ home games and 4+ away games in a season for just the third time in school history, joining the 1939 & 1941 teams

** Cracked the Associated Press national top 25 poll for the first time since 1994

** Won multiple games over ranked opponents for the first time since 1971

** Won a road game over a ranked opponent for the first time since 1971

** Won a road game over a ranked ACC opponent for the first time since 1959

** Under Coach Cutcliffe, Duke won just 1 of its first 20 games in November (2008-12) — Duke is 3-0 in November in 2013

** Team was picked to finish 7th (last) in the Coastal Division at the annual ACC Kickoff media event in July

** Other preseason projections:

>> Athlon Sports: 5-7 overall, 2-6 ACC … Last (7th) in Coastal Division … National rank: 73rd

>> Lindy’s: ACC pick: Last (7th) in Coastal Division … National rank: 82nd

>> USA Today: 4-8 overall, 1-7 ACC … Last (7th) in Coastal Division

NOTING THE BLUE DEVIL OFFENSE

** QBs Anthony Boone & Brandon Connette have combined to complete 223-of-346 (.645) passes for 2,631 yards with 21 TDs & 15 INTs while rushing for an additional 503 yards & 17 TDs – both have missed game action due to injury in 2013

** First Duke offense to compile 20+ rushing TDs and 20+ passing TDs in a season

** WR Jamison Crowder has caught 83 passes for 1,077 yards while four Duke receivers – including Crowder – have caught 4+ TD passes

** All four of Duke’s RBs average 5.0+ yards per carry and have combined for 1,442 rushing yards

NOTING THE BLUE DEVIL DEFENSE

** Allowed a total of 34 points in the 4th quarter through 11 games this season

** Allowing 22.8 points per game (5th-best in the ACC) – down from an ACC-worst 36.0 last year

** After ranking LAST in the ACC in red zone defense (.913) in 2012, currently ranks 4th in the ACC this year (.765)

** Allowing 390.4 yards per game – down from 469.2 a season ago which ranked 11th out of 12 teams in the ACC

** LBs David Helton (9.5) and Kelby Brown (9.4) rank 1-2 in the ACC in tackles per game

** CB Ross Cockrell leads the ACC in total passes defended per game (1.40)

** Has had two National Defensive Player of the Week selections by the Walter Camp Foundation in LB Kelby Brown (14 tackles & 1 INT vs. Virginia Tech) and S DeVon Edwards (10 tackles & 2 INTs for TDs vs. N.C. State)

NOTING THE BLUE DEVIL SPECIAL TEAMS UNITS

** One of two teams with Miami to rank among the ACC’s top 5 in Net Punting, Punt Return Average, Kickoff Coverage & Kickoff Return Average

** Jamison Crowder is averaging 15.7 yards per punt return and has two returns for TDs this year

** DeVon Edwards is averaging 29.9 yards per kickoff return and has one return for a TD this year

** In Duke’s 13-10 win at No. 16 Virginia Tech, Ross Martin booted two field goals of 50+ yards (51 & 53)

NIT: Duke vs Alabama Game Notes

2Duke vs. Alabama – NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinal

Nov. 27, 2013 • 9:30 p.m.

New York, N.Y. • Madison Square Garden (19,812)

TV: ESPN • RADIO: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network, Westwood One

The Opening Tip

• Duke takes on Alabama in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden Wednesday (9:30 pm – ESPN).

• The Blue Devils are playing their 219th straight game as a top-10 team in the AP poll. Duke is 181-37 (.830) in that span.

• Duke is ranked No. 6 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches’ Polls. The Blue Devils are 112-30 all-time when ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll.

• Duke is 27-15 all-time with a 22-7 mark under Mike Krzyzewski at Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils have won 14 of their last 16 games at MSG.

• The Blue Devils have won 26 consecutive regular-season tournament games and are 77-15 in regular-season tournaments under Coach K.

• Duke is 19-2 in the NIT Season Tip-Off with 13 consecutive victories. Duke’s last Preseason NIT loss came on Nov. 29, 1996 against Indiana.

The Last Time Out

• Jabari Parker scored 19 points in the second half and Rodney Hood hit the game-winning free throw with five seconds left to push Duke past Vermont 91-90 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

• Parker and Hood combined to score 48 points, including a game-high 26 from Parker and 22 from Hood.

• Duke allowed Vermont to shoot .648 (35-of-54) from the floor for the highest shooting percentage the Blue Devils have allowed since 2010, while the 90 points were the most Duke has allowed in a win since Feb. 22, 2009.

• Quinn Cook and Andre Dawkins also scored in double figures with 14 and 16 points apiece. Cook added eight assists – and just one turnover – while Dawkins hit three three-pointers.

• Parker scored at least 20 points for the sixth straight game, while Hood reached that mark for the fourth time.

By The Numbers

• The Blue Devils are 24-2 all-time in the NIT Season Tip-Off claiming championships in the event in 1985, 2000, 2005 and 2009.

• Jabari Parker has scored 20 or more points in each of the first six games of the season, marking just the second time a Duke player has accomplished that feat. Art Heyman opened the 1961-62 season with 10 straight 20-point games. Parker is also the third Division I freshman in the past 10 years to open his career with six straight 20-point games and the first since Indiana’s Eric Gordon (2007-08).

• Jabari Parker (23.0 ppg.) and Rodney Hood (21.8 ppg.) are the top scoring tandem in the ACC (fourth in the NCAA) at 44.8 points per game. The duo has combined for 10 20-point scoring games, while shooting 91-of-148 (.615) from the field and 21-of-39 (.539) from three-point range. Duke is one of only six teams in the nation with two players averaging at least 20.0 points per game.

• Duke has scored 90 or more points in four of its first six games and ranks sixth in the NCAA in scoring at 92.7 points per game. The Blue Devils are 272-8 under Coach K when scoring 90 or more points in a game.

• Duke (5-1) has not lost more than one game in the month of November since the 1999-00 season. The Blue Devils are 79-4 in the month over the past 14 seasons.

• Duke has seven players shooting better than 50.0 percent from the field. Three – Rodney Hood (.667, 40-of-60), Amile Jefferson (.792, 19-of-24) and Semi Ojeleye (.714, 5-of-7) – are shooting over 60.0 percent. The Blue Devils lead the ACC and rank fourth nationally in field goal percentage.

• Junior Quinn Cook leads the ACC and ranks eighth nationally in assists (7.2 apg.) and leads the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.4:1). Cook has eight or more assists in four of six games this season and has had more than two turnovers just one time this season.

• Sophomore Amile Jefferson has hit 79.2 percent (19-of-24) of his field goal attempts this season to rank fifth nationally in field goal percentage. Jefferson has made six consecutive field goals.

• Duke has had a double-figure scorer off the bench in five of six games this season. The Duke bench averages 23.3 points per game with graduate student Andre Dawkins averaging a team-high 9.6 points per game off the bench.

Duke wins, but it’s a forgettable Blue Devil effort

Rodney Hood being instructed by Duke HC Mike Krzyzewski.
Rodney Hood being instructed by Duke HC Mike Krzyzewski.

The Duke Blue Devils held on for dear life as a much less talented Vermont team pushed them to the brink in their own house.  Cameron Indoor Stadium was in shock as the Catamounts almost pulled off what would have been quite possibly the biggest upset in the hallowed buildings long history.

The Blue Devils defense struggled mightily on the evening allowing 90 points to a team that was averaging a mere 63 ppg coming in.  The effort obviously upset the team and coach for the locker room doors stayed closed much longer than usual and you could hear a pin drop when they finally opened.

In fact, the first thing you would have seen entering is Rodney Hood  who scored 22 points and grabbed 7 rebounds with his head stuck in his hands.  It was clear that Krzyzewski had given the team a piece of his mind and that they knew they had almost blown a game that would have been devastatingly embarrassing to the hallowed program.

Perhaps even more disturbing was the fact that this game resembled the close win over East Carolina with concern to competitiveness and that begs the question has this team had its confidence shaken?

Cut it any way you want to, but Duke was quite simply supposed to have defeated Vermont going away and instead they had most of the crowd pinching themselves to make sure what they saw on the court was actually real.

Granted, it’s early in the college basketball season and games in November will soon be long forgotten.  But there is a lot of talent on this team and their communication is simply lacking.

“We got lucky.  We didn’t deserve to win this game,” said Rodney Hood

A few moments later a beleaguered Krzyzewski took to the podium and one could see that he had no real answers as to the lack of communication.

The bottom line is Duke escaped with a 1 point win at home against a team that is now 1-5.

That is not the Duke Basketball that anyone involved expected to see and it certainly raised some red flags.

Another mildly odd stat was the fact that Duke outrebounded the Catamounts, but not by much and this is a team ranked beyond 300th in that category.

The good news is that Duke will have a chance to save a little face and soon with a much tougher Alabama team on the horizon but if Duke plays as it did against East Carolina and Vermont and they allow them to gain confidence by not taking advantage of their patented runs, we’ll be talking of the second loss on the young season.

The one thing that is clear after tonight is that Duke is most definitely a team that is a work in progress.

And the one thing that is most fortunate for all involved with Duke is that they managed to win a game that would have been an absolute disaster of a loss.  It would have been a monumental upset, the kind that some teams would struggle to ever bounce back from.

Here is what Jabari Parker had to say in the post game.