Round of 32: AtTACKOing Fall

No. 1 overall seed Duke took care of business on Friday against 16-seeded North Dakota State; they will look to make quick work of UCF on Sunday but it will be no easy task. One of those main reason will be UCF’s inside presence on defense as well as offense, mostly comprised of a growingly famous name in college basketball: Tacko Fall.

Fall, as I’ve mentioned before, is a 7-6 (not a typo) center with mobility. He’s something few have seen in this game before. Not only that, he’s also one of the tallest living people on the planet. Try to wrap your head around that. He racks up the rebounds and blocks for the Golden Knights, as well as dunks (pretty much his only offensive weapon). Again, few even in the NBA have faced this kind of player before. It’s not only his height; Fall is mobile unlike most players of heights even somewhat smaller than his. He’s going to make Duke’s inside game much less straightforward.

Well, luckily for us, Fall won’t be the only player on the court of the likes rarely seen before; in fact, this one is most likely more uncommon. You’ve probably never heard his name before. Oh, wait. Zion Williamson. If you think Tacko Fall is mobile, Zion will blow your mind. That may just be the key to getting around Fall in the paint: ball movement, quick footwork. Nobody does that better than Zion and RJ Barrett, so hopefully they can put it to work and not allow Fall to clog the paint.

Fall is an excellent shot blocker and surprisingly only averages 2.8 personal fouls per game. If you can get fouls on him, though, you take out a major part of the Knights’ defense. That’s certainly something that RJ Barrett can do as well as Zion Williamson. If Cam Reddish does not lower the shoulder, he is also capable of forcing fouls on big men. We’ll need to adjust shots to get around him, as he’s an excellent shot blocker. Fall averages 2.6 blocks per game.

Another solution could be outside shooting, but that isn’t exactly our strength. This year’s Blue Devils are shooting barely over 30% from beyond the arc, good enough for 340th in Division I. Jack White (hamstring), one of the shooters, is likely out tomorrow so he will not be an option, though Cam Reddish is reliable if he can get hot, as well as RJ Barrett. Zion can also shoot from deep, but doesn’t do so as commonly as the previous. Could Joey Baker see some action? It’s a possibility, as Joey got his first points as a Blue Devil last night with a three.

The key to controlling him offensively would surely be to not let him get too close to the basket where he can just catch the ball over the head of his defender and slam it. Additionally, Fall shoots a dismal 36 percent from the charity stripe, which would be something to watch. He averages 11 points per game.

Bleed blue.

NCAA Tournament: Duke vs. NDSU Game Notes

As we all learned last year, Round of 64 games are never to be overlooked. Never. Duke takes on North Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, as the Bison defeated the NCCU Eagles on Wednesday in the First Four. The good news is that Marques Bolden, injured in the second Duke-UNC matchup, will return; however, Jack White will not. Jack injured a hamstring, apparently during practice, and is unavailable. Again, these games are never to be taken for granted: the Bison are no easy walk. However, it will be interesting to see how NDSU reacts to seeing players like Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, the likes of which they’ve surely never seen before.

Game Notes

Duke Blue Devils vs. North Dakota State Bison

Date: Friday, March 22, 2019

Time: 7:10pm*

TV: CBS

Radio: The Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; CBS Sports Radio; NCAA Tournament Radio

Bleed blue.

SELECTION SUNDAY: Duke Takes #1 Overall Seed in the East

Though it seemed to be an open race, the committee has decided that Duke will be at the top spot as we begin the most important three weeks of the season. As the top seed, Duke will face the winner of North Carolina Central and North Dakota State. Were NCCU to win, it would be an all-Durham Round of 64 as the Eagles are in closer proximity than even UNC and share the Bull City with the Blue Devils.

The other teams in the East are #2 seed Michigan State, #3 LSU, #4 VA Tech, #5 Mississippi State, #6 Maryland, #7 Louisville, #8 VCU, #9 UCF, #10 Minnesota, #11 Belmont and Temple (First Four), #12 Liberty, #13 Saint Louis, #14 Yale, and #15 Bradley. There are quite a few under-the-radar teams in this bracket: for example, for weeks Virginia Tech has been without star Justin Robinson but will regain him for the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, UCF has something virtually no one but the American Conference has seen before— Tacko Fall, the 7’6” yet mobile center. Like essentially any other, this bracket is no cakewalk to Minneapolis.

Bleed blue. Duke will play one of the two #16’s on Friday at 7:10pm, and as we all learned last year, that game cannot be overlooked.

All-ACC and Awards

Nobody’s surprised here. With its high-performing freshmen, it was a Duke party at the ACC awards. All four were awarded in at least one category (five categories for Zion).

Let’s start with Tre. We all know the lockdown defense he’s played. Naturally, he made All-ACC Defensive team but was snubbed for DPOY. That instead went to UVA’s De’Andre Hunter, despite the number of nationally prominent point guards Tre Jones has shut down this season (Shamorie Ponds, Chris Lykes, literally all of Texas Tech because they didn’t want to face him but he figured it out). Despite the snub, Tre got All-ACC Defensive as well as All-Freshman.

This is the one I’m mad about. Cam Reddish was selected for NOTHING. Not even third team. Yes, he plays with the two best players in the country but that shouldn’t allow the omission of his name from these awards with all his accomplishments. Has anybody forgotten this?

https://twitter.com/espn/status1084199481774616577?s=21

Come on. Give him some respect.

On to RJ Barrett. RJ got 21 votes for ROY and 16 votes for POY, though those numbers would have been much larger had Zion not been there. He obviously was on the All-ACC team (almost unanimously) and All-Rookie team.

Now to Zion. Zion Williamson was awarded in ALL of these categories:

1. All-Freshman Team.

2. All-Defensive Team.

3. All-ACC Team.

4. ACC Rookie of the Year

5. ACC Player of the Year

All deserved. All having missed 6 games (minus thirty-six seconds, but be honest with yourself). All rewarding one of the greatest college players of our time.

The ACC tournament begins today. The winner of today’s BC-Pitt game will go on to compete for a spot in the quarterfinal against Duke. Remember, anything can happen in this tourney as the 2017 Blue Devils, a five-seed team having to play four days in a row, won it all.

Some big news pertaining to Selection Sunday: #1 Gonzaga was shocked by St. Mary’s in the WCC Tournament. How far do they fall for the committee? It’s not as though St. Mary’s pulled a fluke as it was a gritty 60-47 win (yeah, the #1 team put up 47). If the committee puts them at a one-seed, though, that two-seed is the most jubilant in the history of this sport.

Bleed blue.

Duke Survives Wake Forest in a Heart-Stopper, 71-70

What a game. What a crazy game. Duke came into the first half with little energy; Coach K described the guys as “giddy” afterwards but simply were outplayed by the Demon Deacons. However, with some crazy events and a bit of good fortune, Duke held on for a 71-70 win on Senior Night. Hats off to Wake Forest for by far the best game they’ve played in a really rough season. The defense wasn’t awful or something; Wake made some very difficult shots and we didn’t have our night but both teams just played their tails off. RJ Barrett was magnificent again and had 28 points.

As previously said, we were hit with a gut punch early on. The first half was played with very little energy; excluding RJ Barrett our team was 6-for-17 from the field. Jack White had two awesome three-pointers (he’d made 5 straight following the 28-streak before missing one) and RJ was getting double teamed and fouled hard (still had 15 points at intermission, though) and that was just about it, save a few plays, for the offense. Wake Forest, on the other hand, played very well and forced us to turn over the ball nine times in the first period of play. Cam Reddish was very limited during the game as 3 offensive charges took him out in the first period after just 8 minutes and a foul with about 9 minutes remaining kept him on the bench for much of the competition. He did contribute 6 points on a night it which he also struggled to put the ball in the basket.

Coming out of halftime, it wasn’t (at first) a patented Duke run but instead a Wake Forest one. Duke went up three on a Tre Jones layup, but Wake Forest immediately went on a 13-0 run. Duke was forced to take a timeout. Finally, that patented run was back and we scored 10 straight. Finally, some life in the building.

It was back-and-forth from there. The end of the game was a heartstopper but so was the injury to Tre Jones, who left for the locker room in the second half for a few very stressful minutes with a knee issue; he would, however return. Marques Bolden did not play for much of the second half because of a hip injury.

I don’t think that I breathed through the last few minutes. Tied 62-62, Alex O’Connell hit a three, a turnover was forced, Tre hit two free throws, and RJ and Brandon Childress traded buckets to give us the 5-point advantage with 1:24 to play. RJ missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Wake immediately responded with four free throws (all by Chaundee Brown). At 69-68 Duke, RJ made a shot that you just cannot teach from the paint to give us the three-point advantage.

This is where your heart rate goes up if you’re a Duke fan. Brandon Childress makes the layup to make a one-point game with seven seconds on the clock, and then something “inexcusable”, as Coach K put it, happened: Jack White, in attempting to change the inbounder, stepped over the line and turned the ball over right there, underneath the basket. Wake Forest had a shot to win it, and… well, I’ll just let you watch.

Oh. My. Goodness. That was too close.

It should be brought into consideration the number of injuries that we faced throughout the competition. Tre Jones took the energy in the building with him en route to a brief locker room visit in the middle of the second half, of which he would miss relatively significant minutes. Marques Bolden was unavailable (yet another post presence gone) for much of the game with a hip injury. Zion Williamson was yet again unavailable.

But it shouldn’t have been that close. Hopefully, a few days’ rest will get the Blue Devils ready for the upcoming rivalry rematch at UNC on Saturday.

Speaking of UNC and Zion Williamson, it’s been 5 (4.9999) games since we last saw Zion Williamson. UNC is yet to face him. Coach K said in his press conference that he “doesn’t think” Zion will be ready for UNC but later backtracked and said the decision will be made around Friday. Zion began “basketball activities” on Wednesday, but is yet to participate in full contact practice.

Bleed blue. The greatest rivals in basketball will meet again on Saturday. That’s must see. Look for my preview in the upcoming days.

Duke vs. Wake Forest Game Notes and a Zion Update

Before we get to anything else, today is absolutely in celebration of two guys:

Our seniors, Brennan Besser and Antonio Vrankovic. This is their final game in Cameron for two guys who don’t play as much but are as valuable or more than players with all the talent in the world. They’ve both given so much to our program and we’re so incredibly happy for them as they give a final farewell to the Crazies and, in May, to the University. Thank you, seniors.

Now, for the Zion update. It’s good news! Coach Krzyzewski said this in the ACC Coaches’ Teleconference:

There’s been no decision, he’s still day-to-day Zion Williamson is in phase 4 of the 4-phase program and it’s just a matter of how long he stays in it and we feel comfortable

Coach Mike Krzyzewski

Coach K is obviously not at all going to rush it but there’s no decision on whether Zion will play tonight. If he were to play– which means he’s 100%– I’m sure he’d not play the whole time but even if he doesn’t, he’d really ought to suit up. That article by Matt Giles is great, by the way.

Now, we want to get him back for the seeding implications. We’re supposedly in danger of losing that top seed– don’t ask me why, as we have owned Virginia all season, but I suppose that’s where we’re at right now. However, with a fully healthy squad, we all know who’s #1 overall (the team that hasn’t lost since November when fully healthy).

On to Wake Forest. They’re– well– they’re just bad again. The numbers don’t lie: they do have two good players in Brandon Childress (yeah, he’s still there) and Jaylen Hoard, as well as another double-digit scorer in Chaundee Brown but they’re not yet averaging just 70 PPG and allowing 75. Duke on the other hand averages 85 PPG. The Deacs are 11-17, though four ACC wins are better than last.

When these two teams met in Winston-Salem, Zion Williamson had a 30-point stat sheet stuffer, but with his status uncertain we’ll certainly rely on other guys to pick up the pieces. Alex O’Connell has played his best all season during Zion’s absence, which we hope will continue. Additionally, Marques Bolden has been just magnificent of late.

Game Notes

Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Duke Blue Devils

Date: Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Time: 7:00pm

TV: ESPN

Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; ESPN Radio

Bleed blue. “Teach them how to say goodbye, to say goodbye…”

Duke Obliterates Miami, 87-57

No Zion? No problem, at least for today as Duke took care of business at home against the Miami Hurricanes. RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish led a rejuvenated Blue Devil squad with 19 apiece; however, it was a more balanced attack today as Marques Bolden continued his excellent play with 15. Alex O’Connell had 11 points on 30 minutes; he’s certainly performed exceptionally in Zion Williamson’s absence.

One of the biggest highlights of this game was Tre Jones. He’s struggled offensively of late and completely botched a dunk but he certainly made up for it with his defense. He skipped lunch and instead feasted on Chris Lykes, the 5-7 (not a typo) Miami guard. Despite what he lacks physically, Lykes is one of the best guards in the ACC and before the game averaged 17 PPG, making him a top-10 lead scorer. Not anymore. Lykes failed to score until almost halfway through the second period and finished with four to go along with 2 assists. Additionally, the Miami point guard turned the ball over four times, most of them having to do with Tre Jones’ career-high 6 steals.

Another big highlight? Jack White not only broke his streak (28 straight misses from deep); he went 3-for-3 and the Crazies went absolutely nuts. Jack has struggled tremendously but his teammates never left his side and that’s what counts. He’s due to get very hot currently.

Sadly, it’s looking less and less likely that Zion Williamson plays again in Cameron. With the final home matchup with Wake Forest approaching quickly (two days from now) and Zion having been “not close” to playing Miami according to Coach K, it feels very unlikely. However, take a look at this video:

RJ’s dancing, he’s having fun. Zion looks downright angry. We all know that he wants to play; he loves the game as much as life itself and he’s anxious to get back but it all has to do with how he progresses. I’m all for him suiting up to play the last minute for his last game in Cameron. Just an idea.

Bleed blue. I’m so, so sad that I have to say this, but I do: the 2018-2019 Duke Men’s Basketball team will play *one last time* in Cameron tomorrow.

You’re welcome, Queen Bee. (it’s a Hamilton thing, I’m a total Hamilton nerd)