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Guard play sparks Duke basketball's offensive explosion amid foul trouble

(11/11/13 1:11pm)

____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Duke's performance Friday night was nearly perfect.The No. 4 Blue Devils shot 70.4 percent from the floor en route to a 111-77 win against Davidson—the team's best single-game shooting performance since 1985. Four players eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the first time in program history. The team committed just four turnovers all night, and starting point guard Quinn Cook registered an 8:0 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Blue Devils (1-0) connected on 13 3-pointers, shooting at a 61.9 percent clip.But nearly is the operative word.Some of the preseason concerns with Duke's personnel manifested themselves early against the Wildcats (0-1)—namely foul trouble. Starting big Amile Jefferson was the first culprit, picking up two fouls in four minutes, which relegated him to the bench for the final 16 minutes of the first half.

Duke basketball 2013-14 schedule breakdown

(11/08/13 1:58pm)

____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>As part of The Chronicle's 2013 college basketball preview, we previewed each of Duke's 31 regular season opponents.Nov. 8 vs. Davidson, 7 p.m.Nov. 12 vs. Kansas (Champions Classic in Chicago), 10 p.m.Nov. 15 vs. Florida Atlantic, 7 p.m.Nov. 18 vs. UNC-Asheville (Preseason NIT), 7 p.m.Nov. 19 vs. East Carolina/Norfolk State (Preseason NIT), 6 p.m.Nov. 24 vs. Vermont, 6:30 p.m.Nov. 27 vs. Alabama (probable opponent, Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden), TBANov. 29 vs. Arizona (probable opponent, Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden), TBADec. 3 vs. Michigan (ACC/Big Ten Challenge), 9:15 p.m.Dec. 16 vs. Gardner-Webb, 7 p.m.Dec. 19 vs. UCLA (CARQUEST Auto Parts Classic at Madison Square Garden), 7:30 p.m.Dec. 28 vs. Eastern Michigan, 2 p.m.Dec. 31 vs. Elon (in Greensboro), 1 p.m.Jan. 4 @ Notre Dame, 4 p.m.Jan. 7 vs. Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.Jan. 11 @ Clemson, 2 p.m.Jan. 13 vs. Virginia, 7 p.m.Jan. 18 vs. N.C. State, 2 p.m.Jan. 22 @ Miami, 7:30 p.m.Jan. 25 vs. Florida State, noonJan. 27 @ Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.Feb. 1 @ Syracuse, 6:30 p.m.Feb. 4 vs. Wake Forest, 9 p.m.Feb. 8 @ Boston College, 6 p.m.Feb. 12 @ North Carolina, 9 p.m.Feb. 15 vs. Maryland, 6 p.m.Feb. 18 @ Georgia Tech, 9 p.m.Feb. 22 vs. Syracuse, 6 p.m.Feb. 25 vs. Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.March 5 @ Wake Forest, 7 p.m.March 8 vs. North Carolina, 9 p.m.Click here for more features and analysis from The Chronicle's 2013-2014 ACC Basketball Preview.

Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye are turning heads early for Duke basketball

(11/08/13 1:43pm)

____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Two players who have never played a single minute of Duke basketball are already making headlines before the season even starts. No, not Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. The two players are freshmen Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye.The Blue Devils' 2013 recruiting class drew high marks coming into the season, but that was mostly due to Parker, who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 2 player in the class. Jones and Ojeleye were much less ballyhooed upon arriving on campus, ranked 36th and 40th, respectively. Adding a consensus star and two less-heralded players is nothing new for Duke, however. “The three guys that we had come in this year kind of remind myself of my freshman class," senior forward Josh Hairston said.Hairston, the No. 19 recruit in his class, was joined by Kyrie Irving—No. 3—and Tyler Thornton, who was not in ESPN's top 100. Coming to the team following a championship season, the trio joined a deep and talented roster, leaving Irving the only one of the three who was expected to play a significant role for the 2010-11 Blue Devils. Jones and Ojeleye were similarly penciled into minor roles by pundits this season—until their play dictated otherwise.“It’s even to start," Ojeleye said of the opportunity afforded to himself and the other freshmen. "[Head coach Mike Krzyzewski] doesn’t say, 'He’s a freshman, he can’t play,' but you have to prove yourself, everyone has to prove himself.” Both Ojeleye and Jones have done just that in their limited time with the program. Jones, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard out of DeSoto, Texas, came to camp drawing Ray Allen comparisons for his sweet 3-point stroke. But it wasn't Jones' jumper that drew rave reviews this offseason and preseason—it was his defense.“Coming out of high school, I always thought I was a good defender," Jones said. "I guess my shooting overshadowed that.... I’m just glad everyone else realizes it as well. It’s kind of a good feeling knowing that you’re a good defender and everybody knows it now.” Jones' defense has played a big role in his surprising inclusion in the starting conversation as Duke careens toward its first game of the season. Jones said that final white jersey is still being shared in practice, meaning the right to start next to Parker, Hood, Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson is still up for grabs. Incumbent Rasheed Sulaimon is still adapting to playing with Parker and Hood, graduate student Andre Dawkins is still getting back in his rhythm after sitting out last season and Thornton, a senior, is more of a point guard than a shooting guard. That leaves Jones—a player with a high ceiling on both sides of the ball—very much in the mix to crack the starting lineup at some point this season. Ironically, it is the very players Jones is competing against that may be helping him the most in his bid to earn the starting nod."They’ve definitely taught me a lot," Jones said. "It’s great to just go against those guys every day knowing that those are the type of caliber guys you’ll have to face every night, so it’s definitely a great opportunity for me to show my skill as a defender and on offense as well.”Unlike Jones, Ojeleye's main skill set was no surprise to anyone when he stepped onto the court. Ojeleye is already one of the top athletes in the country. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward is of the Andre Iguodala and Kenneth Faried ilk in the way his athleticism can completely change the way a team plays the game. “It’s definitely a blessing," Ojeleye said of his natural gift. "It helps me defensively and offensively, as a rebounder, to guard somebody. Coach has told me to use it however I can. I’m still young and learning the game and the system and what he wants, so I have to use that first and then let everything else fall into place.” The high-flying Ojeleye, who has been dunking since the summer before high school, has already put his prowess above the rim on full display. He competed in the dunk contest at Countdown to Craziness—though he says he's not a contest dunker and didn't do much advance planning. Ojeleye has also already made an appearance on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays, despite never playing a regular-season minute, with a dunk in practice that sent shockwaves through the college basketball world. His leaping ability should translate to strong rebounding, which would give him a leg-up on earning playing time ahead of other forwards considering the expected rebounding deficiencies that accompany Duke's undersized frontcourt.Parker may be the crown jewel of this recruiting class, as a player who is projected to be a top-five pick in this June's NBA Draft, but it appears that the Blue Devils' two unsung freshmen have bright futures in the program."The great thing is they came here to work, they didn’t come in here feeling entitled," Hairston said. "They knew that they needed to prove themselves, and they definitely have.”

Duke favored to win the ACC and Parker, Hood named Preseason All-ACC in the preseason polls

(10/17/13 1:44am)

____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>With the college basketball season right around the corner it is time for preseason polls to start making their way into the news cycle. Monday, at the ACC media day, the ACC preseason poll results were released.With 50 of 54 first place votes, Duke finished atop the ACC preseason poll. This marks the 13th time in the Mike Krzyzewski era that Duke earned the top spot in this poll. Newcomer Syracuse finished second in the poll with three first place votes, followed by perennial ACC powerhouse North Carolina, who earned the final first place vote. Virginia and Notre Dame finished out the top five. Other teams of note included No. 6 Pittsburgh, No. 7 Maryland, No. 9 Florida State, No. 10 N.C. State and No. 12 Miami. Both Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood were named to the Preseason All-ACC Team. Though neither have played a single minute of Blue Devil Basketball, the two forwards are projected to be the focal point of the Duke offense this season. Aside from the young Blue Devil players, the rest of the All-ACC team was comprised of seniors—Syracuse forward C.J. Fair, Virginia guard Joe Harris and Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant. Fair averaged 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game for the Orange as a junior, also adding more than a steal and a block per game. Harris was one of the top players in the ACC last season, scoring 16.3 points per game while grabbing 4.0 rebounds. Grant scored 13.3 points and added 5.5 assists per game as a junior for the Fighting Irish.Parker and Fair earned other honors as well. Parker earned 52 of 54 votes for ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year, with the only dissenting vote going to Syracuse's Tyler Ennis—one ballot was left blank. Fair was named ACC Preseason Player of the year, receiving one more vote than Harris for that title. Hood finished third in the Player of the Year vote with seven votes, and Parker was fourth with five.

Brooklyn Nets GM and former Blue Devil Billy King speaks about his team

(10/02/13 10:04pm)

____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>On the second day of training camp, Nets GM Billy King walked out onto the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium and proudly pointed out his 1988 Final Four banner. Back on his former home court, King answered questions about this year's Nets team, his offseason acquisitions, head coach Jason Kidd and holding training camp in Durham.On being back at Duke:

Mason Plumlee returns to Durham with Brooklyn Nets

(10/02/13 8:57am)

____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Seeing Mason Plumlee putting up shots at the Michael W. Krzyzewski Center has been a normal occurrence for the past four years. But Monday, Plumlee traded in his Duke blue for black and white.With the Brooklyn Nets' training camp being held at Duke, Plumlee was awarded the opportunity to start his NBA career back at the school where he averaged 17.1 points and 10.0 rebounds as a senior in 2012-13. Although he's back at his old stomping grounds, the new Brooklyn forward is in Durham to work. His first challenge is catching up to players who already have a familiarity with each other and the coaching staff, all while adjusting to a quicker pace at the professional level. “It’s a lot of talking through things, terminology, picking stuff up," Plumlee said. "Especially with [Nets assistant coach Lawrence] Frank—some of the guys played with him in Boston, so some guys have a feel for him. I have to be sharp mentally and pick up what they’re saying."The forward also understands that there are things he can learn off the court that will help him stick in the NBA. Brooklyn's veteran-laden roster includes eight players with eight or more years of NBA service, including six with 10-plus years and two with more than 15 years in the league."Watch how they take care of their bodies," Plumlee answered when asked how he'll learn from the big men on the Brooklyn roster. "Watch what Kevin [Garnett] would do after workouts, before workouts, even before the season got going. Picking up what they do is valuable."Plumlee said that during his rookie season, he knows he will not be the focal point of the offense like he was during his collegiate career. Instead, his role will be running, rebounding, bringing energy and playing defense. Though Plumlee has much to learn about the NBA game, he's already impressed some of his teammates."He’s very athletic, alert and energetic—and that’s what we need from him—flying around, blocking shots, rebounding and making it tough on the opposing team," Nets guard Joe Johnson said.One of Plumlee's biggest fans thus far is a guy he hopes to spell frequently on the court this season—starting center Brook Lopez."He’s been great," Lopez said of Plumlee. "One of his goals personally is to be coachable, you know, get out there and bring energy off the bench and do what’s required of him. He’s definitely done that in spades so far. He’s a great athlete, moves well for a big man, has a good motor and obviously his basketball IQ—being from Duke and being a smart player—is through the roof."Although reviews of Plumlee have been positive so far, he is still a rookie on one of the most veteran squads in the NBA. After selecting Plumlee with the 22nd pick in June's NBA draft, Brooklyn did not have a second round pick. The only other rookie even on the team's training camp roster is guard Jorge Gutierrez, a roster long shot who went undrafted out of California in 2012 before playing last season with the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League.Regardless of how many rookies are on Brooklyn's roster, being a 6-foot-10 kid with a multi-million dollar contract makes you a pretty easy target for some rookie hazing. Even though Plumlee was quick to point out that he was kind to the freshmen when he was an upperclassman at Duke, his new NBA teammates don't seem to care."[The veterans] are giving me a hard time," Plumlee said. "Kansas plays Duke this year so I was hearing it from [Tyshawn Taylor] and Paul [Pierce]."Chatter about alma maters was the least of Plumlee's worries this week, however—he has been presented with a list."He is a rookie, and unfortunately he is one of the few rookies on this team, so he has to carry that list," Brooklyn head coach Jason Kidd said. "I heard it was an expensive list too."Plumlee may be the lowly rookie right now, but as a Blue Devil, he has achieved something that all of his teammates, new and old, strive for each and every day."I have seen him on a lot of championship pictures around here," Lopez said. "It makes me a little jealous in that regard."

Duke basketball captains revealed

(09/27/13 11:52pm)

____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>In his season-opening press conference, Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski was a wealth of knowledge, but perhaps the most interesting nugget Krzyzewski provided was who the two captains are for this season: Tyler Thornton and Rodney Hood.Thornton, a senior, was not a surprising selection. The 6-foot-3 guard has been a mainstay in the Blue Devil rotation for two years—he's topped 20 minutes per game in each of the past two seasons. Thornton also does the little things on the court that often earn the respect of teammates and coaches alike, such as playing gritty defense.Hood's selection was not as obvious. The redshirt sophomore has never played a regular-season minute of Duke basketball. After transferring from Mississippi State a year ago, Hood earned the respect of his teammates and coaches on the practice court. Krzyzewski was in favor of Hood's nomination for captain, admitting to voting for Hood himself and calling Hood the best player on the team at times last season, even though he didn't play under the pressure his teammates dealt with.There was speculation that junior Quinn Cook or senior Josh Hairston could be named captains this season. Both players are expected to play major roles for the Blue Devils this season.

Defensive inconsistency defines Duke football's loss to Pittsburgh

(09/23/13 9:59am)

____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>For Duke's defense, it was a tale of two halves Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium."We fought, we battled, and that’s the most encouraging thing," redshirt senior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. The Blue Devils' defensive unit had a trying first half against Pittsburgh (2-1, 1-1 in the ACC), allowing 37 points and 468 total yards in the opening 30 minutes. For comparison's sake, Georgia Tech accrued 469 yards and scored 38 points in a blowout victory last week. The Panthers could have had 41 points in the first half, but Duke (2-2, 0-2) blocked a 24-yard field goal, and Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt missed an extra point. But despite its slow start, the team did not feel that a lack of intensity was the problem."We can't work harder," Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. "That team was about as cranked up as you could get. They were about to knock the locker room doors down."With intensity and energy ruled out as culprits for the disastrous first half, the only remaining explanation was that the Panthers simply outplayed Duke, a realization that both the players and coaches came to after the game. One of the biggest problem areas for the Blue Devils was matching up with Pittsburgh's size up front, which allowed true freshman James Conner to rack up 144 rushing yards in the first half."It was definitely frustrating," redshirt senior defensive end Kenny Anunike said. "It was just pound the football, and just try to pound it down your throat. I think in the first half, we just came out a little bit slow."Although the defense was outplayed in the first half, the second half was a completely different story. Duke's defensive unit allowed just 130 yards of total offense and 14 points, with all of the points coming in the third quarter. Pittsburgh's only points in the fourth quarter came via a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Anthony Gonzalez.The Blue Devil unit that looked outmatched in the first half turned into the aggressors in the second, and helped pull the team within three points in the game's closing minutes.Cutcliffe was quick to laud the team for their resiliency in coming back in the second half, but argued that the team's physical capabilities were the reason for the turnaround, not effort."You saw our defense in the second half," Cutcliffe said. "[We] stymied them pretty well. There was something there, and we’ll look at it. And it will be something—not just rah-rah energy. It will be something physical, something we’re doing better."Though the defense looked strong in the second half, the first half of action was not an anomaly. The Duke defense has struggled more often than not of late. In the last eight games the Blue Devils have played against FBS opponents—dating back to last season—Duke has allowed more than 550 total yards of offense in five of those contests. Two of the three games in which Duke allowed fewer than 550 yards came against Georgia Tech, who racked up 918 yards in the two contests combined, still a lofty total. The third game was a convincing defensive performance against a hapless Memphis offense that mustered 237 yards.Duke showed Saturday the best and worst its defense has to offer, but the road ahead could be difficult. Linebacker Kelby Brown and safety Dwayne Norman both left the game against Pittsburgh with injuries, and fellow starting safety Corbin McCarthy did not play. Norman's injury could be problematic, the prognosis for Brown's ankle injury is less clear.A silver lining for this defensive unit is the play of freshmen defensive backs Breon Borders, Bryon Fields and Deondre Singleton, who all played significant minutes as Duke's defense came to life in the second half."They bring a lot of athleticism, a lot of energy," Cockrell said. "They can make plays, and that’s what we need in the secondary. We need to force turnovers, and we need to make tackles."Defense has been a problem for the Blue Devils of late, but an end to the struggles could be on the horizon if Duke can harness the magic they found in the second half of Saturday's contest and put it forward to the remaining eight games of the season."If you have players who are going to give up, who stop giving effort, then you have a problem," Cockrell said. "But as long as everybody is going to battle and fight and continue to play as hard as they can, then I think we can do a lot of good things this year."