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FILM SESSION: Duke’s defensive tweak and what it means as they take on North Carolina

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The outlook of Duke’s season is significantly different today than it was three weeks ago.

That’s when the Blue Devils went down to Coral Gables and got dissected by Miami, losing 80-69 in a game where they gave up 1.27 points-per-possession (PPP) to a good, not great, offensive team. The Blue Devils had lost four of their last five games at that point, and they were a mess defensively. Amile Jefferson’s injury had sapped them of any interior depth they had, which forced them into playing Brandon Ingram exclusively at the four, and the coaching staff was still trying to figure out how to deal with that.

Playing their trademark, half court man-to-man defense created too many mismatches and resulted in too much foul trouble for a team that couldn’t afford to have any of their key players — they essentially use a six-man rotation with freshman Chase Jeter spelling Marshall Plumlee at times — sitting on the bench. The Blue Devils tried different variations of zone, but that has been an outright disaster; according to Synergy, Duke’s giving up 0.972 PPP when they play zone, which is in the 25th percentile nationally.

Over the course of the last two weeks, however, Duke has started to make some strides on that end of the floor, and it stems from a subtle tweak that they’ve made in their defensive philosophy: They’re not switching anymore.

Typically, in head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s half court man-to-man defense, the Blue Devils switch whenever possible. Sometimes it’s just like-to-like screens — when a guard screens a guard or a big screens a big — but generally speaking, they’ve switched all exchanges 1-through-4; from the point guard to the power forward, if two players screen for each other, run by each other or even just switch sides of the floor, Duke will switch. The theory behind this is that, while it creates mismatches at different spots on the floor, it also makes it a nightmare for the offense to run their sets and initiate actions where they want to on the floor.

This was quite prevalent the last two games, and it worked. Last Monday, Louisville scored just 24 points in the first half and Duke, in total, gave up less than 1.000 PPP, the first time they’ve done that against tournament-caliber opponent since they lost to Utah on Dec. 19th. They followed that up by holding Virginia — who, believe it or not, is the nation’s 12th best offensive team, according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric — to 1.052 PPP, which is nearly a 0.1 PPP off their season average.

That doesn’t sound like much, but in a 65 possession game, that’s a 6.5 point difference. It’s probably worth noting here that Duke is a 6.5-point underdog tonight against North Carolina.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

In this first example, Duke is trying to switch on a double ball-screen set by Indiana’s three and four, but for some reason three Blue Devils end up chasing the ball. The resulting confusion results in Marshall Plumlee trying to guard Troy Williams one-on-one.

Layup:

Here, you’ll see Ingram switch onto Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson when Jackson, after making the pass to initiate offense, runs off of a flare screen. After Jackson receives the ball on the opposite side of the court, Ingram is too slow in trying to ice a side ball-screen — “icing” a screen means the defender guarding the ball doesn’t allow the ball-handler to go over the screen, keeping the ball pinned on the sideline — which allows Jackson to get into the teeth of the defense.

After some horrid help defense … layup:

Now watch this possession from the win over Virginia. Not only does Duke not switch a single screen or exchange, but Plumlee camps out in the lane much the way that he would if he was the middle of a 2-3 zone:

The other major difference during this four-game winning streak is that the Blue Devils are actually starting to get on the glass a little bit.

On the season, Duke is 279th in defensive rebounding percentage, allowing opponents to grab 32.3 percent of their available offensive rebounds. In ACC play, that number is 33.6 percent, with the problem coming to a head against Syracuse, when the Orange grabbed an insane 26 offensive rebounds. But again, the last four games — and particularly the last two — have been a different story. Duke is getting more than 70 percent of the available defensive rebounds — which would be fourth in the ACC at this moment — despite three of the four opponent during that streak sitting in the top six in offensive rebounding in the league.

Against Louisville and Virginia last week?

Duke allowed a total of just 15 offensive boards.

Now, part of this is due to their scheme. When you’re playing a straight man-to-man, it’s a lot easier to protect the defensive glass. In zone, it’s difficult to find someone to box out. In a switching man-to-man, mismatches abound; bigs have to try and box out quicker guards on the perimeter while Duke’s little guys are forced to try and keep some of the ACC’s best big men from getting to the glass.

In a straight man-to-man? It’s all about effort, pride and understanding the angles. Can I keep my man from beating me one-on-one to the loose ball? Do I know where the ball is going to bounce off the rim? There’s a reason, when you talk to scouts at any level, you’ll hear them say, “rebounding translates.”

It’s a skill, one that North Carolina has in abundance.

This is where Wednesday night’s game will be won: on the glass.

More specifically: Will Brandon Ingram be able to hold his own on the glass against North Carolina’s NBA-caliber front line?

Ingram is the ultimate matchup problem. At 6-foot-9, Ingram is a natural small forward, with a sweet shooting stroke, a smooth mid-range game and enough handle to both initiate offense and beat a slower defender off the dribble. He gets the opportunity to do the latter quite often for Duke, as he spends all of his time playing the power forward spot in the same way that Justise Winslow did last season and Jabari Parker did before him.

The problem is that where Winslow was an elite defender, Ingram is more like Parker when it comes to being a defensive stopper, particularly in the post. He’s thinner than Taylor Swift and, for much of the season, was probably just as physical as her in the paint. Can he keep Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks off the offensive glass? Can he handle Kennedy Meeks or Joel James in the post?

And in the end, I think that’s what this game is going to come down to.

Who forces whom to make a change?

Against Virginia, after digging themselves an 11 point first half hole, Duke for Virginia to go small when Ingram made seven straight shots and scored 18 consecutive Duke points while Virginia’s bigs were trying to guard him. Tony Bennett was forced to put Malcolm Brogdon on Ingram and play a four-guard lineup, which took away from what UVA likes to do offensively.

Can Ingram do the same against North Carolina?

Or will the Tar Heels simply be able to overpower him inside?

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

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For the fourth time in the last five years, Duke is tapping into that Minnesota pipeline to mine talent.

Following in the footsteps of Tyus Jones, Gary Trent Jr. and Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 forward and a top ten prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on Friday that he will be playing his college ball for the Blue Devils.

Hurt ultimately picked Duke over Kansas, but he was also pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Minnesota. He joins Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

Hurt is the perfect compliment to Carey, a powerhouse low-post force, and Moore, who is a talented wing. He has size and is extremely skilled, with the ability to stretch the floor out to 25 feet and the potential to be a dangerous face-up scorer, both in the mid-post and on the perimeter. He needs to get stronger and tougher, but that will come with time. As it stands, he’s the piece to the puzzle that Duke needed to add.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

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The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

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Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

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Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.