Duke men's basketball kicks off season with open practice

Duke men's basketball kicks off season with open practice

Six months removed from capturing the program's fifth national title in April, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils officially kicked off their 2015-16 season Friday afternoon with an open practice available to the public. The squad that took the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday looked very different from the one that cut down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis—gone were the likes of Quinn Cook, Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, and in their places stood Brandon Ingram, Chase Jeter, Luke Kennard and Derryck Thornton.

The team will kick off its regular-season slate Nov. 13 at home against Sienna as part of the 2K Classic benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project. Before that, Duke will host a pair of exhibition contests—against Florida Southern Oct. 30 and Livingstone Nov. 4—and will scrimmage itself during the annual Countdown to Craziness showcase Oct. 17.

Here are some observations from the open practice:

  • Freshman Antonio Vrankovic dressed but did not practice due to a walking boot he was wearing on his right foot. The 7-foot center appeared to be able to walk around without too much trouble and participated in stretching drills, but did not partake in any of the individual or team drills on the court.
  • During a segment in which the coaching staff split up perimeter and post players to work on finishing at the rim, swingman Brandon Ingram was grouped with the other guards on the roster. Thornton is the Blue Devils' lone true point guard on the roster, though shooting guards Kennard, sophomore Grayson Allen and Matt Jones could see time handling the ball. Ingram stands at 6-foot-9, 190 pounds, and it remains to be seen if his frame can withstand the pounding required to play at the three or four spots at the college level.
  • Physicality could be an issue for this Duke squad. In addition to Ingram, the 6-foot-10 Jeter and 6-foot-2 Thornton seemed small for their positions. Without the physical presences of Okafor and Winslow, redshirt senior Marshall Plumlee is the biggest physical threat the Blue Devils have. The wild card here is redshirt sophomore Sean Obi—a 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward who sat out last season due to transfer rules but can be a bruiser down in the post if he proves himself ready to take on a significant role.
  • Matt Jones was the star of the day for the Blue Devils, as the junior captain nailed several treys from behind the arc—albeit with no defense around him—and looked comfortable asserting himself within the flow of the offense. After starting at the three spot during last season's national championship run, Jones did more ball-handling in the open practice and functioned as a more traditional two guard. The DeSoto, Texas, native has made his biggest impact on the defensive end of the court in his first two years in Durham, but he looks as if he is poised to make some big contributions offensively this season as well.

Chronicle Postgame: Duke 9, Boston College 7

The Chronicle's Brian Mazur and Meredith Cash break down Duke's 9-7 win Saturday against Boston College, moving the Blue Devils to 2-0 in the ACC and 4-1 overall. Duke did not find the end zone against the Eagles, but Ross Martin's three first-half field goals were enough for head coach David Cutcliffe's squad to survive as the Blue Devil defense got stops when it needed to down the stretch.

After a 3-1 homestand, Duke will head back on the road Saturday at Army in its last nonconference game of the season.

Making the Grade: Duke football vs Boston College

Making the Grade: Duke football vs Boston College

The Blue Devils were able to survive a tough challenge from Boston College with a 9-7 victory Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium. This was the last game of a four-game stretch at home during which Duke finished 3-1 with only a loss to No. 16 Northwestern. Although both teams struggled on offense and the game was far from pretty, the Blue Devils (4-1, 2-0 in the ACC) built an early 9-0 lead and hung on late to stay atop the ACC Coastal Division.

Offense: C

Pass: It was a tale of two halves for the Blue Devils’ passing attack. Through the first half, quarterback Thomas Sirk looked solid and completed 10 of his 18 passes for 138 yards. Sirk was stepping up in the pocket and using his agility to evade defenders and throw downfield as needed. But after halftime, the Glen St. Mary, Fla., native struggled against the Eagle secondary. The redshirt junior had difficulty stretching the field and hitting open receivers, with passes either ending up too low or behind his intended man. Sirk finished the game 18 of 26 for 195 yards and did not record a turnover for the first time since week two. With wide receiver Johnell Barnes sitting out the first half due to a penalty from a week ago, freshman T.J Rahming was Sirk’s go-to receiver and finished with five receptions for 75 yards.

Rush: Throughout the game, Duke struggled to get going on the ground. The Blue Devils were held to 33 rushing yards on 35 attempts and had trouble finding room to run on a Boston College defense ranked number two in the nation. Center Matt Skura and the rest of the offensive line struggled to create running lanes against the Boston College defensive line and the combination of Shaquille Powell, Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson struggled to break free from the Eagle defenders all evening. There was perhaps no clearer example of Duke's struggles on the ground than when the Blue Devils could not get into the end zone with four consecutive rushes from first and goal on the one-yard line. Duke's struggles running the ball allowed Boston College to control time of possession in the contest by a 31:50–28:10 margin and did not make life easier for Sirk.  Read more »

Extra Point: Duke football vs Boston College

Extra Point: Duke football vs Boston College

Duke never found the end zone against Boston College, but three Ross Martin field goals were good enough to support another excellent performance by the Blue Devil defense in a 9-7 victory. After jumping out to a 9-0 halftime lead, Duke missed several opportunities to put the Eagles away and had to survive a nerve-wracking finish. With the win, the Blue Devils improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in ACC play, cementing their status as a Coastal division contender.

Revisiting the three keys to the game:

  • Put up points in all three areas of the game: Duke didn't put up many points in any area of the game, let alone all three. The offense did just well enough to set Ross Martin up for three field goals but could not break through for a big play. Duke's special teams unit did make a big play in the third quarter when Johnell Barnes recovered a muffed punt at the Eagles' 15-yard line. But the turnover did not result in any points as Boston College stopped the Blue Devils on four straight runs at the goal line to force a turnover on downs. The Duke defense forced the Eagles to punt time and time again, but could not force a turnover for only the second time all season. 
  • Force the Eagles to take to the air: Boston College ran the ball 41 times for 164 yards in the contest, averaging four yards per carry. Although this average is slightly higher than what the Blue Devil defense allowed last week against Georgia Tech, the Eagles' longest run was just 25 yards and the Duke generally contained the run on early downs. This forced Boston College quarterbacks Jeff Smith and Troy Flutie to make plays through the air. Flutie did find receiver Thadd Smith behind Duke cornerback Breon Borders for a 66-yard touchdown—the Eagles' only score of the game—but this one play accounted for almost half of Boston College's 141 passing yards. Flutie and Smith combined to complete just 8 of 21 passes as Devon Edwards and Alonzo Saxton both had strong games—alongside the always spectacular Jeremy Cash—in Duke's secondary.
  • Start fast and build on momentum: The Blue Devils took the early lead just as they have in every game this season, but could not build on their momentum and put the game out of reach. At times in the fourth quarter, Saturday's game felt like it would play out just like the Northwestern game two weeks ago, with Duke going quiet on offense and allowing its opponent to get back into the game. But the Blue Devil defense did not let this game slip away and recovered from a defensive lapse on Boston College's touchdown to keep the Eagles off the scoreboard the rest of the way. 

Three key stats:

  • 3/3 on field goals for Ross Martin: Duke's All-American kicker came through when he was needed, drilling all three of his field goal attempts to score all nine of Duke's points. With 3:40 left in the first half and the Blue Devils holding a 6-0 lead, Martin made a long, 53-yard kick into the wind to give his team its last points of the game and a two-possession lead that would prove to be critical.
  • Zero turnovers for Duke: Duke's offense didn't make any great plays in this game, but it didn't make any disastrous plays either. After coughing up six turnovers in their last two games, the Blue Devils returned to playing mistake-free football on offense. Thomas Sirk threw the ball away multiple times when he couldn't find an open man and made more accurate passes when he did throw into coverage by putting the ball where only his receivers would be able to come down with it. Playing a turnover-free game prevented the Eagles from opening drives with great field position and helped the team hold an opponent to single-digit scoring for the first time since Week two.
  • 75 receiving yards for T.J. Rahming: Losing Jamison Crowder to the NFL left a void in Duke's receiving corps that has been obvious through the Blue Devils' offensive struggles in their first four contests. But freshman T.J. Rahming provided some hope with one of the biggest games of his young career against the Eagles. The Powder Springs, Ga., native reeled in five passes for 75 yards and emerged as a downfield option for an offense that has been overly reliant on screen passes and short check-downs thus far this season.

Three key plays: Read more »

HALFTIME: Duke 9, Boston College 0

Saturday's Homecoming game was touted as a battle of defenses, and so far Duke has done its part to live up to those expectations.

The Blue Devils lead Boston College 9-0 at Wallace Wade Stadium after two quarters of play. The Eagles entered the game with the best pass defense in the country, but Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk completed 10-of-18 passes for 138 yards to help the Blue Devils move the ball effectively through the air on a couple of long drives.

Boston College and Duke traded quick three-and-outs on their first four possessions of the contest. After the Blue Devils’ second stalled drive, punter Will Monday was able to pin the Eagles on the 15-yard line, where the defense held Boston College to yet another three-and-out. Eagle quarterbacks have yet to complete a pass, as Troy Flutie and Jeff Smith are a combined 0-of-9.

The Duke offense finally found success on its third possession, as Sirk found true freshman T.J. Rahming through the air for a 26-yard gain. Sirk followed that up with a quick 18-yard pass to redshirt junior Jela Duncan to put the Blue Devils in the red zone, where Ross Martin hit a 36-yard field goal to put the Blue Devils up 3-0 late in the first quarter. Read more »

Chronicle Pregame: Duke football vs. Boston College

The Chronicle's Ryan Hoerger and Brian Mazur preview Saturday's Homecoming game between Duke and Boston College at Wallace Wade Stadium. A pair of 3-1 teams boasting strong defenses will collide in the wet conditions in Durham, with the Eagles needing to replace the lost production of starting running back Jon Hilliman and quarterback Darius Wade.

Stay with the Blue Zone for all your pregame, in-game and postgame coverage of the Blue Devils and Eagles. Read more »

Week 4: Quick Hits from Lunch with Cut

Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe held his weekly press conference Tuesday, addressing Duke’s 34-20 victory against Georgia Tech and the upcoming matchup against Boston College. The head coach touched on several topics including the Blue Devil’s defensive success and Johnell Barnes’ ejection from the Georgia Tech game. Duke (3-1) faces the Eagles (3-1) Saturday at 3:30 p.m at Wallace Wade Stadium. Here are some of the more notable sound bytes from Cutcliffe’s press conference:

The Eagles’ biggest strength is their defense. Boston College leads the nation in fewest yards surrendered and ranks second in points allowed. Led by defensive lineman Harold Landry, the Boston College defenders are athletic and show many different looks and disguises to confuse oppose offenses.

“This Boston College team…is really something to watch. They’ve only given up two touchdowns in four games. They’re big. They’re a well-oiled machine. They do a lot of things on defense. They defend every aspect. They have great run defense, but they also have a great pass defense. We’re coming off a game that was physical. We’re going into another game that’s physical. They’re a very very well-coached football team.”

Towards the end of the Georgia Tech game, junior wide receiver Johnell Barnes was called for a targeting penalty and ejected, forcing him to sit out the first half against the Eagles. The Blue Devils will look for redshirt freshman Chris Taylor, true freshman T.J. Rahming and junior Ryan Smith to fill the void. Cutcliffe is optimistic that his squad can benefit from Barnes’ absence in the first half. Read more »

Behind Enemy Lines: Duke football vs Boston College

Before every football game this year, The Blue Zone will sit down with a football writer from the opposing school’s student newspaper to get the scoop on their team and season.

This week, The Chronicle’s Nick Martin spoke to the The Heights’ sports editor Michael Sullivan about this Saturday’s clash between Boston College and the Blue Devils.

The Chronicle: In reviewing Boston College, it doesn’t take one long to realize just how good the defense has been for this team. Although the offense couldn’t manage to score, the Eagles held No. 9 Florida State to 14 points and currently rank No. 2 in the nation in points allowed. That being said, we’re still at the point in the season where it’s hard to tell whether or not an unit is elite or not. Having watched them play real games against a top-10 team and a mediocre Northern Illinois squad, tell me: is this Boston College defense for real?

The Heights: They’re real, and they’re spectacular. It’s important to note how BC has given up its points, too. Against Florida State, one of those touchdowns came off a fumble recovery—against NIU, traditionally one of the country’s best mid-majors, one touchdown came off a kickoff return and another came following an 80-yard interception return that put the Huskies at BC’s 4-yard line. Defensive coordinator Don Brown has coached up this defensive front-seven, led by sophomore Harold Landry and senior Steven Daniels, to the point where it has become almost impossible to run on them. Read more »

XFactor: Duke football vs Boston College

XFactor: Duke football vs Boston College

After rebounding from their first loss of the season with a 34-20 victory against Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils look to continue their winning ways Saturday when they take on Boston College at 3:30 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Eagles enter 3-1 on the season with their lone blemish being a hard-fought loss against No. 11 Florida State. Every week throughout the football season, we will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest:

Duke: wide receiver T.J. Rahming 

The freshman has been one of the team's top offensive options thus far this season having recorded 14 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown. Rahming has shown the ability to excel in the flats and make people miss on screen and bubble passes. On occasions, the freshman has also flashed his game-breaking speed and beat defenders deep. 

The Powder Springs, G.A., native will have an even bigger role Saturday as Johnell Barnes—the team leader in receptions and receiving yards—will be forced to sit out for a half due to his targeting penalty and ejection a week ago. Rahming has appeared to be the target quarterback Thomas Sirk has the most rapport with, but expect that to be tested this weekend. The Eagles boast one of the top defenses in the country and have allowed only an average of 72 yards through the air per game. But if Rahming can begin to find space on the edges and possibly open up the game for fellow wide receivers such as senior Max McCaffrey, the Blue Devils stand a strong chance of using their passing game to set up the run.  Read more »

Third and Goal: Duke football vs Boston College

Following last weekend’s victory against previously-ranked Georgia Tech 34-20, Duke looks to close out a strong four-game homestand at Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Boston College. The homecoming matchup will provide unique challenges for an up-and-down Duke squad. Although the Blue Devils have shown flashes of defensive brilliance against two ranked opponents, they have struggled mightily on offense which could make them vulnerable against a strong Boston College defense. Here are three vital keys to the conference battle:

Put up points in all three areas of the game 

In three victories this season, the Duke offense has hung big numbers against their opponents,  averaging 42 points per game and nearly 488 yards of total offense. But quarterback Thomas Sirk and the rest of the Blue Devil passing attack has struggled at time this season. With the Eagles' defense ranking as one of the country's best and allowing a little more than one touchdown per game so far, Duke will likely have its struggles moving the ball Saturday. Expect for the Blue Devils to continue to pound the ball on the ground with Shaquille Powell—who registered three touchdowns against the Yellow Jackets—and Jela Duncan who has returned from an early season injury. 

If Duke's defense or special teams unit can help put the offense in scoring territory or even put up some points of their own, the Blue Devil offense will have much less of a burden Saturday. Duke has already received two kickoff return touchdowns from safety DeVon Edwards this season and will look for their dynamic return man to help flip the field for them on special teams. Defensively, the Blue Devils have averaged nearly a turnover per contest and will look to force more Boston College miscues to support the team's offense.  Read more »