This week on Twitter, we used our account @dukebasketball to ask people if they had any questions they would like the Chronicle’s men’s basketball beat writers to try and answer before the ACC tournament beginning Thursday in Atlanta.
We thank everybody for their questions, and here are three questions and our responses.
@ortizaphit asked, "@dukebasketball #askchron why does it seem that they're trying to shoot their way out of trouble with 3s? Are they timid to take it inside?"
I don't think there's any doubt that this team lives and dies by the 3-pointer. The team openly talks about their focus on outside shooting and how integral it is to their game. Just look at Duke's two games against North Carolina. In the 85-84 win in February, the Blue Devils shot 14-of-36 from beyond the arc, right around their season percentage from beyond the arc of 38.7, which led the ACC by over two percentage points. In their second game against the Tar Heels, however, Duke shot just 6-of-21 from deep in the 88-70 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
'Timid' might not be the perfect word to describe this team's attitude toward the post, but post play is certainly not central to the team's offense. And, after watching games like that blowout for the conference title, it's time for the team to reevaluate how much they include Mason and Miles Plumlee within the offense. Although Duke is the best 3-point shooting team in the ACC, that game shows how it can run cold. In that game, the brothers combined to shoot 14-of-22 from the field while pulling down a combined 15 rebounds. Mason notched 17 points despite playing just 24 minutes. Even if the guards just begin working the ball inside more to open up the outside game, good things will happen by broadening the offense.
The team's priority is clearly having Ryan Kelly available for the NCAA tournament, already having said he won't play in the ACC tournament due to a sprained right foot he suffered in practice yesterday. The reality, however, is that this injury happened yesterday. Until the team announces something one way or the other it is difficult to know his status for the big dance. The severity of sprains can vary widely, and nobody seems to definitively know how serious this injury is yet.
His injury will truly challenge Duke's frontcourt depth. Mason and Miles Plumlee will need to step up without Kelly, who has been starting alongside Miles recently. The likely scenario would appear to be that the Plumlee brothers will start next to each other in the ACC tournament, but the game(s) in Atlanta will also test Josh Hairston, who is coming off an injury and has seen his minutes fluctuate all season. After suffering a head injury against Virginia Tech, Hairston sat out against Wake Forest and then played just one minute against North Carolina Saturday. Assuming his health has continued to improve, he should see a big role while Kelly is sidelined.
Furthermore, with Kelly out, the team will have much more traditional paint-oriented forwards on the court. It will be interesting to see how that affects the offense. Of all the post players, Kelly is the only one who is a threat from outside on offense. Although he adds that dimension to the offense, he has not been as productive a rebounder as either of the Plumlee brothers - if they can stay out of foul trouble, Duke could feature a lot of physical post play in the ACC tournament.
No - winning the ACC tournament does not guarantee the Blue Devils a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Currently No. 1 and No. 2 in the rankings, respectively, Kentucky and Syracuse are seemingly guaranteed top seeds with one loss apiece. But the other two are up for grabs according to most pundits.
Duke needs to win this weekend in order to have a chance at a No. 1 seed, but it also might matter how they win. After eking by North Carolina by just one point when the teams met in February and then getting crushed by 18 points Saturday, I would bet the selection committee wants to see Duke not only win, but win convincingly. Part of that would be defeating North Carolina, and not another team, in the championship game. Other parts of it would be winning the other games with ease, against the winner of Clemson-Virginia Tech in Duke's opening game and the same thing in the potential semifinal matchup against Florida State. But, a top seed is currently in the equation for Duke this weekend.