Operation ACC Basketball (the official name of ACC media day) came and went Wednesday and there were plenty of interesting storylines. Sifting through all of the coach and player interviews can be overwhelming so here are my takeaways on the stories that should interest Duke fans.
The projected standings and All-ACC votes are always the story that dominates the headlines, especially nationally. This year is no different and the story is getting even more play due to the fact that for the first time in eight years neither Duke nor UNC is picked to win the conference. I put very little stock in preseason predictions, especially after the 2009 Operation ACC basketball when eventual NIT runner up UNC was picked to finish first over eventual national champion Duke. Here is how the fifty-three media members who had a vote ranked the teams:
I wasn’t surprised to see NC State lead the way in the preseason poll. The ACC coaches picked NC State to win the league a few days earlier and most national pundits have the Wolfpack ranked the highest out of the ACC teams. Preseason polls are all about group-think. While I don’t agree that NC State is the best team in the ACC this year you can definitely make an argument for them so I have no problem with them ranked number one. Truth be told I was a little shocked that Duke finished as close to first as they did. The one thing that did find shocking was that not only was Florida State ranked ahead of Miami (the ACC coaches had Miami 4th and FSU 5th) but that they received six(!) first place votes. I know they won the ACC tournament last year but they were the third best team in the conference and they lost six seniors. Michael Snaer is great and Leonard Hamilton can coach but I can’t think of any rational argument to have FSU higher than third. The preseason All-ACC Team, Harrison Barnes ACC Preseason Player of the Year Award, and Harrison Barnes ACC Freshman of the Year award also came as no surprise.
Harrison Barnes ACC Preseason Player of the Year Award –CJ Leslie Harrison Barnes ACC Preseason Freshman of the Year Award – Rodney Purvis The All-ACC Team went exactly the same way I picked it for the Duke Hoop Blog writer’s predictions. I think you pretty much have to put Leslie, Snaer, McAdoo, and Plumlee on the team. I had a hard time deciding on the fifth spot. There are a lot of decent candidates like Erick Green, Reggie Johnson, Durand Scott, CJ Harris, Kenny Kadji, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly but in the end I think Brown is the choice because of the team around him and to have a point guard on the team. I really don’t think you can make an argument for anyone other than CJ Leslie for HB ACC PPOY as the junior not only has all the physical tools to be great but also a good attitude and a great team around him. He is no lock to win the award at the end of the season though as anyone who remembers the first eleven games of the 2010-2011 basketball season knows just how good Mason Plumlee can be with a good point guard(what could have been, sigh). As far as the HB ACC PFotY goes I have no problem with Purvis getting that recognition. It was the obvious choice. It wasn’t the right choice but I am not surprised to see Purvis get the votes. People seem to forget that Alex Murphy is a freshman (and after seeing him at Fort Bragg he certainly doesn’t look like a freshman.)
Duke Points of Interest
Preseason predictions were far from the only thing to come out of ACC Operation Basketball. I usually assume the day will be full of coach-speak and early season clichés of optimism but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong about that this year. Here are a few of my takeaways.
- Injuries - The preseason injury situation may be worse than I originally thought. We already knew Seth Curry has been limited in practice due to a leg injury but Coach K indicated that it may be something that bothers him all season. If Duke is to reach its potential (a Final Four ceiling) Curry has to be an All-ACC caliber player at shooting guard. Rasheed Sulaimon will be a nice player but he is nowhere near ready to play thirty minutes a game. It will be hard to rest the leg with Duke’s brutal schedule. The good news is that Curry is a fifth year senior so he doesn’t need a whole ton of practice time to be ready for the season. The foot injury to Marshall Plumlee is also disconcerting. Coach K said Baby Plumlee (as my wife calls him) is one of Duke’s six best players. Unlike Curry, Plumlee needs all the practice time he can get. We all saw what a preseason injury can do to a young player’s potential when Quinn Cook hurt his knee last summer and never quite caught up. All things considered, Duke is fortunate to not have any serious season ending injuries but these two minor ones aren’t to be taken lightly.
- Defense – Duke certainly is not afraid to admit or hide from last year’s defensive struggles. What I took away from the player and coach interviews though is that Duke was embarrassed by their defense last year and is making it a point of emphasis this year. Here are three quotes which I found interesting:
- ”We weren’t a good defensive team at all last year, when we were able to win, we just outscored people. But when it mattered most, when we really needed to stop someone, we weren’t able to do that. We were one of the worst defensive teams, statistically, Duke has had in a long time.” –Mason Plumlee
- “We’ve got to have our principles down early on. We’ve got to have our defensive mindset. Last year, we thought about scoring first. This year, we’ve got to think about getting stops.” - Seth Curry
- “Nobody had a complete grasp of what we all were doing (on defense last season). It was like, I think I’m supposed to be doing this, but what is he doing?”– Coach K
Duke could have done nothing and been a better defensive team this year. Having more depth and having a bigger player guarding opposing wings would have been an instant improvement but by making it a point of emphasis and having the seniors buy-in you will see a trickledown effect and Duke will be much better on defense this year. I realize Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry are never going to be defensive juggernauts but having that mindset and better team chemistry (more on that in a bit) will go a long way. I expect to see Duke in the top twenty nationally in defensive efficiency. Coach K said not to expect the press except for extreme situations so we won’t see a whole lot of turnovers but Duke should defend the half-court and rebound well.
- Chemistry – Another point of emphasis seems to be team chemistry. The more you hear talk about this year’s team chemistry the more you get the impression that, like defense, this is another area where Duke will improve over last year. Earlier this summer a reporter asked Curry what the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s team and he responded by saying that “we like each other”. Wednesday Coach K had the following quote: “The ability to teach this team is easier. It’s just easier. It had nothing to do with a bad attitude (last year). It had leaders off the court, but it didn’t have a leader on the court. We have a chance to have some leaders on the court.” Don’t get me wrong, Miles Plumlee did a good job as captain last year but the leadership is much stronger this year with MP2, Kelly, and Curry. Leadership, coupled with two polarizing players no longer on the team (Austin Rivers and Andre Dawkins) will improve the overall team chemistry which is really important.
Duke Quick Hitters
- Coach K spoke out about the transfer rules and thinks that transfers, among other things, should not have to sit out a year. Reading between the lines my takeaway there is that Rodney Hood is really, really good and Coach K would LOVE to have him on this year’s team.
- The Lance Thomas situation was addressed. ACC Commissioner John Swofford was asked about it pretty early on in his press conference and Coach K also was asked about it. Neither of them said anything of note other than Duke is cooperating and they can’t really comment further on it. It bugs me that the Lance Thomas issue makes people forget about the whole UNC mess. I guess I understand why a reporter would ask about it, but I really don’t know what kind of answer he was expecting. It just came off as a troll job by the reporter.
- Speaking of troll jobs, Coach K trolled John Calipari and the Kentucky fan base when he said that he thinks the next US Olympic basketball coach should be an NBA coach.
- Coach K seems to be flip-flopping on this a bit (he said the opposite at Fort Bragg) but he said Quinn Cook is the starting point guard and Tyler Thornton is the backup.
ACC Quick Hitters
- I get the feeling Notre Dame may join the ACC in basketball sooner than expected. Swofford indicated that they could join with Pitt and Syracuse next year but the window for letting the ACC know is closing soon. Either way Swofford said that the ACC has contingency plans for whenever they decide to join and if they ever do join in football then the ACC would look to add a sixteenth member at that point for all sports. Nothing groundbreaking there but I never thought there was a chance to see Notre Dame in the ACC for basketball in 2013-2014 but according the Swofford it’s a remote possibility “So you’re telling me there’s a chance”
- I was really impressed with CJ Leslie and Mark Gottfried. Even though they are getting all this preseason hype they aren’t bringing it on themselves and not letting it go to their head. They seem really humble about it. The media is totally setting them up to fail and I feel a bit bad for them but they are handling it well.
- Roy Williams doesn’t want increased academic standards for his team until the NCAA forces it saying, “I’m not trying to criticize my chancellor here, because I love him to death, but there are some things that can’t be done. It’s just not right and not fair. You’re not giving someone time to prepare. I think North Carolina is always going to have high standards and I’m not against those, but I don’t see us just jumping out of the window and doing something crazy now.
- Both Duke and UNC were asked a lot of questions about NC State as the league favorites and the responses were striking. Duke players brushed it off and didn’t make much of it, content to fly under the radar while UNC players seemed offended.
- “That’s just added motivation, because at the end of the day, we’re still North Carolina basketball. Coach Roy, he coaches championship teams, and that’s what we are this year.” – James Michael McAdoo
- “I’m not accepting the underdog role because I know I’m a great player and I’m on a great team. North Carolina is still North Carolina basketball. I feel like we still have the bull’s-eye on our back.” -Reggie Bullock
- The ACC tournament will be in North Carolina most years. It won’t be going to Madison Square Garden as MSG wanted a multi-year commitment, which the ACC obviously would not agree to. It may go to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn or other areas outside North Carolina but they are under contract with the Greensboro Coliseum through 2015 and Swofford said he foresees the tournament having a home base in Greensboro/Charlotte with other locations hosting twice a decade or so.
It’s hard to believe the season is right around the corner. With Duke Football (GTHC, GTH) doing so well I haven’t totally switched my mindset over to basketball but ACC Operation Basketball was definitely interesting and I can’t remember an ACC season that I was more excited about. Having NC State compete with UNC and Duke makes things more fun, especially when you live in the Research Triangle area like I do. Hopefully the injury situation gets better and Duke truly has bought in to being a better defensive team. We won’t have to wait much longer to find out.
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