Quinn Cook

College Hoops Team of the Week: Duke Blue Devils


Team of the Week: Duke Blue Devils

This is my opportunity to riff a little bit on the season that Duke has had thus far. Simply put, there is no way that Duke can be ranked any lower than second in your ballot, and they probably deserve quite a few first place votes. Why? Well, they’ve now beaten two of the top three teams heading into the season — Kentucky and Louisville — and supported that with quality wins over VCU and Minnesota. I still think Indiana is the best team in the country, and they’ve done nothing to prove otherwise so I’ll keep them there for now, but the Blue Devils have made a strong case for the top spot.

That said, three of their four wins have an asterisk. Kentucky was without Ryan Harrow and playing their second game of the season. Louisville was without Gorgui Dieng, who broke his wrist against VCU. Minnesota was playing with half of Trevor Mbakwe. There’s nothing Duke can do about that, they can only beat the team that’s on the floor in front but it is worth noting.

Now let me be clear: this isn’t meant as a shot at Duke. They’ve been much more impressive than I thought they would be this season. Mason Plumlee has looked like a top five pick. Seth Curry’s toughness and leadership is invaluable. Quinn Cook has been a revelation at the point, and Rasheed Sulaimon is one of the most underrated freshman in the country right now. Seth Davis made a great point over the weekend that Duke is a veteran team that has roles established early in the season, meaning that they are more prepared to play in November than a team like Kentucky.

It’s too early to make any conclusions other than this: the Blue Devils are playing the best basketball in the country as of November 26th.

Teams Deserving of a Shoutout

Cincinnati: The Bearcats had a strong showing out in Vegas this weekend, as they beat both Iowa State and Oregon, who was fresh off of an upset of UNLV in the Thomas & Mack Center. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright look like they might be the best back court duo in the Big East outside of Louisville.

Colorado State: So the Rams are now 4-0 on the season, with wins over Big Sky favorite Montana at home and WAC contender Denver and Washington on the road. Not many teams anywhere in the country, regardless of conference affiliation, can boast three wins of that caliber. More importantly, Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson is averaging 16.5 points and 10.3 boards. Watch out, MWC.

Illinois: The Illini almost blew their impressive performance out in Maui, needing to be saved by a last-second Tyler Griffey three against Gardner-Webb, but I’ll gladly chalk that game up to jet-lag and the distraction that comes with missing holiday time with family. On the island, Illinois beat USC by 30 and, after rolling over Chaminade, beat down a Butler team that was fresh off of a blowout win over North Carolina. This looks like a different team under John Groce.

Wichita State: VCU looked terrific despite going 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, to the point that they may be the best 3-3 team that I can remember. The other loss the Rams have? To Wichita State. At home. And after the Shockers rolled through the Cancun Challenge, capped off by a win over an improved Iowa team, this looks like a group that could end up legitimately challenging Creighton in the Missouri Valley.

Alaska Anchorage: For the seventh time in the history of the program, UAA finished in fourth-place at the Great Alaska shootout. How did they manage that? By beating both UC-Riverside and Loyola Marymount. The win over UCR isn’t a major surprise, but LMU is one of the better teams in the WCC with one of the best point guards on the west coast in Anthony Ireland. Impressive work from the Seawolves.

Who else was good?: Cal, Gonzaga, Oregon

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

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.