NCAA Basketball Tournament - Lehigh v Duke

Top 25 Countdown: No. 16 Duke Blue Devils

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-7, 13-3 ACC (2nd)

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Key Losses: Austin Rivers, Miles Plumlee, Andre Dawkins

Newcomers: Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy

Projected Lineup:

G: Quinn Cook, So.
G: Seth Curry, Sr.
F: Alex Murphy, Fr.
F: Ryan Kelly, Sr.
C: Mason Plumlee, Sr.
Bench: Rasheed Suilamon, Fr.; Amile Jefferson, Fr.; Marshall Plumlee, Fr.; Tyler Thornton, Jr.; Josh Hairston, Jr.

Outlook: This Duke team is really quite intriguing to me, and I think there is some merit to the line of thinking that the Blue Devils — and not UNC or NC State — are actually the favorite to win the ACC. I know what your reaction to that will be: ‘Duke always is hyped up in the preseason and never performs’. Fair, but keep in mind that we have them ranked 16th nationally. I’m not exactly predicting a Final Four here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that there was some potential on this roster.

The way I see it, there are three keys to Duke’s season:

  • Mason Plumlee: Like both of his brothers, Mason Plumlee has the kind of physical tools that can make him a star. He’s 6-foot-11 with long arms, broad shoulders and athleticism. On paper, he’s a lottery pick. The problem is that he’s never made that jump as a player from elite potential to elite production. He can score on the block and he can finish around, and above, the rim, but he’s never been considered a go-to scoring option or a guy that you can feed in the post and allow to operate. He blocks shots and he rebounds, but he’s never consistently dominated the paint. In other words, you build a game-plan for Mason Plumlee. You build a game-plan around Jeff Withey. There’s a difference. Plumlee needs to make a leap in that direction.
  • Alex Murphy: Murphy was originally in the Class of 2012, but when he committed to Duke in February of 2011, he made the decision to speed up his enrollment. Instead of spending last season as a fifth-year high school student, Murphy redshirted at Duke, spending a full season practicing, working out and getting better in the program. Before he reclassified, Murphy was a top 15 recruit nationally. Murphy is very skilled and quite athletic in the open floor. At 6-foot-8, he can shoot from beyond the arc, makes plays with the pass and handle the ball. Is he ready to be an impact player for the Blue Devils, or does he still need another year or two to develop?
  • Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon: Duke had two major issues in their back court last season: they didn’t have anyone that could penetrate a defense and create other than Austin Rivers, and they didn’t have anyone outside of Tyler Thornton who wanted to play any defense. Cook should end up being the answer at the point. He’s a very talented play maker and a willing passer that finally had a healthy summer to work out and improve. I’m expecting a big season out of him.Sulaimon, a top 15 recruit, enters the program with quite a bit of hype as a perimeter scorer, and that will certainly help offset the loss of Rivers, who, despite the bad press, did do some good things for Duke last year. But at an athletic 6-foot-4, where Sulaimon’s most important contribution may end up being is on the defensive side of the ball. Duke needs a perimeter stopper, a guy they can put on a go-to scorer and trust that he’ll make getting open looks difficult.

    The other issue to think about here is Seth Curry. I can see a situation arising where Duke’s best lineup is without him on the floor. The same thing happened to Greg Paulus his senior season, when Nolan Smith proved to be a better player, and Paulus took the demotion in stride. Will Curry be willing to do the same?

Duke has other pieces as well. I’m not the biggest fan of Ryan Kelly, but he is a stretch-four that is very capable at spreading the floor. He averaged 11.8 points and shot 40.8% from three last season. When Kelly’s outclassed athletically, Coach K will be able to bring in guys like Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston. Duke does have pieces this season, but there are a lot of things that have to fall into place for those pieces to truly end up fitting together.

Predictions?: The ACC may end up being the most entertaining conference race to watch unfold. The way I see it right now, NC State is the favorite, followed by Duke and then UNC. But all three of those programs have question marks and youth at key positions. I think the baseline expectation for Duke fans should be 14 or 15 league wins and a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, but if everything breaks the right way, the Blue Devils could end up being a top two seed in the Big Dance.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.

Jim Boeheim’s Melo comments are evidence of why athletes hate the media

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States poses with Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has a habit of creating headlines that are not all that flattering, to himself or to the people that he’s commenting on, which is why it wasn’t much of a surprise that a quote he gave to Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard has been making the rounds this week.

The quote in question?

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said of his former star and now three-time Olympic champion Carmelo Anthony. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title.”

That sounds bad, doesn’t it?

But … I mean, he’s right, isn’t he?

Melo is 32 years old and title-less. He’s been to the conference finals once and gotten out of the first round of the playoffs just twice, and now he’s on the downside of his career. Athletes don’t get better as they exit their early 30s unless they’re taking whatever it was that turned Barry Bonds into a cyborg. Adding the remnants of Derrick Rose and a 31 year old Joakim Noah is helpful, but unless those contracts can teleport the Knicks back to 2011, Rose will be the only person calling this group a Super Team.

So yeah, Boeheim is right. You probably think so, too. Melo is probably never going to win an NBA title unless he finds a way to get to the Cavs.

But here’s the thing: focusing on that one line totally ignores the point that Boeheim was making in the interview. As always, context is critical, and if you read the story that Waters wrote, it’s pretty obvious the message that Boeheim was trying to get across. Melo is not going to leave a legacy in the NBA beyond being a guy that got a lot of buckets. It just didn’t work out for him that way. Ask Karl Malone how that feels.

But by going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, by becoming the first men’s basketball player to win three Olympic gold medals, Melo did solidify himself a legacy.

He’s the most accomplished and, arguably, the best player that Team USA has ever had. That’s not going to make up for the rings that are missing on his fingers, but it does cement his place in the history of the game.

That was Boeheim’s point, and it was a salient, intelligent point, one that complimented Melo for the success that he had in international play.

But if you scroll through your favorite blogs and see that headline, it looks like he was taking a shot at the player that brought him his only national title.

And given how twisted that quote has gotten, is it any wonder why athletes and coaches hate the media?

UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): Boeheim has weighed in:

Oregon wins their opener on Spanish tour

Oregon forward Elgin Cook, from left, forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey react after a play against Washington during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Las Vegas. Oregon won 83-77. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Oregon won the opener of their tour in Spain 109-88 on Tuesday night, as the Ducks knocked off a team of all-stars in Madrid.

Tyler Dorsey had 19 points to lead the Ducks while Kavell Bigby-Williams and Dylan Ennis, who is coming off of a season derailed by foot injuries, both added 16 points. Chris Boucher, who was terrific at the Nike Skills Academy in July, had 12 points.

While Ennis’ health was noteworthy, it is also worth pointing out that Oregon’s star Dillon Brooks did not play on Monday and will not be playing on the trip. I know this because, in every photo posted by the official Oregon team accounts, Brooks is in a chair with a boot on his left foot.

The rising junior, a potential all-american, had surgery on the foot earlier this month.