NC State guard Cat Barber was taken out of Thursday night’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal loss to Duke after being leveled by a screen from Amile Jefferson.
The concern was that Barber, the team’s third-leading scorer, had suffered a concussion. On Friday afternoon, the program announced that was not the case and he will be able to appear in NC State’s next contest. The official release states he suffered spasms in his neck.
“He just didn’t see it,” Jefferson said when asked about the play, via Joe Gigilo of the News Observer. “I knew it was going to be a tough hit for him. That’s why after that timeout, I went to check on him, make sure he was all right.”
Even with the loss NC State remains in the projected tournament field as a No. 9 seed. The quarterfinal loss to Duke could serve as a blessing in disguise for Barber, who will have the rest of the week to recover before the NCAA tournament begins on Thursday afternoon.
In each of their first eight games of the season No. 2 Duke managed to take good care of the basketball, committing no more than 12 turnovers in any game and tallying more assists than turnovers in each of those contests. However in the last two games the Blue Devils have committed a total of 36 turnovers, with 19 coming Thursday night in their 66-56 win over UConn at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Duke was able to hold off a formidable UConn team by taking care of business in other areas, most notably the offensive glass. Despite the best efforts of Kentan Facey (14 points, nine rebounds) the Huskies could not keep Duke off of the offensive glass, as the Blue Devils managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds.
Duke corralled 40 percent of its missed shots Thursday night, and while the Blue Devils enjoyed just a three-point edge in second-chance points (13-10) the work of Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor (seven offensive rebounds combined) took its toll on a team that played most of the game with its most imposing interior player (Amida Brimah) saddled with foul trouble. The second chances may not have paid off in the form of points but they did affect the foul count, as UConn committed 24 personal fouls and Duke attempted 34 free throws.
What’s also taken its toll on Duke’s opponents this season is the task of defending Okafor, who through ten games has cemented himself as a national Player of the Year candidate.
With Okafor in the middle Duke has a big man their other four pieces can play off of, as he’s proven to be an adept passer out of double teams. Okafor finished Thursday’s game with just two assists, but there were also occasions in which his pass out of trouble made it possible for the Blue Devils to make the next pass for a solid look. And with there being few big men in college basketball capable of defending him without help, that’s an important attribute for Okafor moving forward.
Classmates Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were also key figures against UConn, with Jones accounting for 21 points, five rebounds and three assists on the night. His ability to work together with senior Quinn Cook has been one of the biggest stories of the season to date, as Cook has performed well off the ball and Jones has played his best basketball in Duke’s most important games (Michigan State, Wisconsin and UConn). Cook was solid defensively for the Blue Devils, defending Ryan Boatright for much of the night with UConn’s leader committing five turnovers to go along with his 22 points and seven rebounds
As for Winslow his versatility as a defender allows him to defend multiple positions, which is something opponents have to account for in planning for Duke. Duke’s starting five was productive against UConn, but even with that being the care there are areas in which they can stand to improve.
As noted above Duke hasn’t taken good care of the basketball in their last two games, and at times they struggled when UConn ramped up the pressure defensively. Duke’s also going to need more production from their bench than the zero points they received, with Rasheed Sulaimon accounting for five turnovers in 17 minutes of action. Duke has players capable of contributing off the bench, but consistency will be key for the reserves moving forward.
Thursday’s win wasn’t the prettiest for Duke, but even with the turnovers and 37.5% shooting from the field the Blue Devils found a way to take advantage of other areas. And that’s something they can build upon as the start of ACC approaches.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 4 Duke.
They’ll be good because … : The Blue Devils have has much talent on their roster as anyone in the country, and that includes Kentucky. The Wildcats have nine McDonalds All-Americans on their roster, which just so happens to be the same number that Coach K has collected in Durham. Jabari Parker is no longer with Duke, but the team is headlined, once again, by freshman from Chicago that is expected to compete for All-American awards this year. Jahlil Okafor is the best low-post player to come through the high school ranks in a long time, and he’ll be the anchor for this group offensively. Don’t be surprised to see him average somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 points and 10 boards.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Duke’s back court is absolutely loaded this year. Quinn Cook is a two-year starter at the point for the Blue Devils, and he may not even be the best point guard on the roster. Tyus Jones, who came to Duke in a package deal with Okafor, is expected to have the ball in his hands the majority of the time this season. Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones are back as well, and they’ll be pushed for playing time by Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen, two more burger boys. Don’t be surprised to see Duke play with four guards at times this season, using Winslow at the four, in order to get their five best players on the floor at the same time.
But they might disappoint because … : There are two real question marks with this Duke team, the biggest of which has to do with how some veterans are going to accept a younger generation. Quinn Cook is a senior and has been the starting point guard for the Blue Devils for the past two seasons, but he may end up ceding that role to Tyus Jones this year. That doesn’t mean that Cook won’t see significant minutes — he actually would be a pretty good fit playing off-guard — but it will be a very different role. And he won’t be alone, either, as freshmen Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen are going to be pushing the like of Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones — and Cook — for minutes. How will the vets handle it if their minutes are taken away? Will Sulaimon be able to bounce back from a rough sophomore season?
The other issue is front court depth. Jahlil Okafor is going to be a star. You won’t find anyone willing to argue that fact. But beyond that, there are question marks. Amile Jefferson had a better-than-expected sophomore season, particularly with his work on the glass, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an undersized four that is limited offensively. He won’t be spreading the floor and creating space for Okafor on the block. Marshall Plumlee, another seven-footer, won’t be doing that, either. And Ojeleye? He wasn’t much more than a dunker as a freshman. That’s it when it comes to front court players. It will be interesting to see just how much of a supporting cast Okafor has there.
Outlook: It’s going to be interesting to see how Coach K uses this roster this season. I’d expect them to look similar to the Ohio State team from 2010-2011, back when Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft were freshman. Thad Matta surrounded Sullinger, another phenomenal low-post scorer, with four guards that could all hit open threes and dared teams to try and double-team the big fella. I could see Duke doing something similar with Jahlil Okafor, using Justise Winslow or even a guy like Rasheed Sulaimon or Grayson Allen at the four.
The difference between that Ohio State team and this Duke team is that those Buckeyes could grind defensively with the best of them. Duke is going to get out and pressure the ball in their man-to-man this season, the way that they always have done under Coach K. They’re not going to let you run your sets. But I’m not sure how many really good on-ball defenders they have in their back court. The ACC is absolutely loaded at the top this season, with North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville all capable of winning a league title. For my money, Duke is the favorite. But it will, by no means, be a cakewalk. They might make a Final Four despite finishing fourth in their conference.