Duck Basketball

by Frank Baldwin March 23, 2016

Breaking down Duke with Blue Devils beat reporter Laura Keeley

ANAHEIM -- Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer was kind enough to answer some questions about Duke heading into Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup with Oregon.  The questions and answers are below. But make sure to check her out on Twitter or head over to the Observer's Duke page for coverage from that side of the matchup. 

  1. It's Duke, so those who haven't followed the Blue Devils closely this year aren't surprised to see them in the Sweet 16. It's expected with that program. But they've struggled at times. How did they get from the stretch of losing four of five games in January back to the Sweet 16? 

This Duke team has probably overachieved by advancing to the Sweet 16. Yeah, that's not typically the case with the Blue Devils, but this hasn't been a typical year. In many ways, Duke is still paying the bill from the 2015 title season this year—the one-and-done talent necessary to win last year created a ton of roster turnover for this year, and the 2015 recruiting class nationally was relatively weak, so it wasn't an ideal time to have to reload on the fly. There is a ton of high-level talent coming again in the 2016 recruiting class (the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the country in Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum), so this year was always going to be a bridge year.  Any sane person would take this "off year"—which features Duke in the Sweet 16—as a trade-off for the national title. 

Anyway, this wasn't a deep team to begin with, and it became a team with absolutely no post depth when starting forward Amile Jefferson broke his foot diving for a loose ball in practice on Dec. 12. Jefferson was averaging a double-double when he went out, so this was a massive loss on its own. Then add in the fact that Krzyzewski was left with one post player he trusted—Marshall Plumlee—and losing Jefferson was a huge, huge blow.

So the Blue Devils had to remake themselves on the fly, moving skinny 6-foot-9 Brandon Ingram to the 4 and playing with a four-guards-and-one-post look. It took some time to rework the offense and defense, as evidenced by those losses to Clemson, Notre Dame and Syracuse. Eventually Duke developed offensively  into a spread-the-floor and run isolations for Ingram and Grayson Allen group, and the defense continues to be a work in progress (man-to-man, 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones have been used to varying levels of effectiveness at times). 

  1. Before Oregon's game against Saint Joseph's, Hawks' coach Phil Martelli made our (reporter's) lives easy with his quote about how nobody on his team knew anything about Oregon. Duke is out on the East Coast, do you get the sense that they're in the same boat? As a reporter based out there, how often have you been able to catch an Oregon game on TV? 

Thank you, Phil Martelli, for giving the honest answer about that (I, too, pulled that quote for a getting-to-know-Oregon blog). I would guess the Blue Devils are not overly familiar with the Ducks, but we haven't had any availability since the postgame locker room after the win over Yale (which was the day before Oregon-St. Joe's). But hey, there's a chance that the Blue Devils caught at least some of Oregon just by virtue of watching basketball late at night. I would doubt the staff had caught much Oregon before this point, but rest assured that they have been up around-the-clock catching up for lost time in that department.  And I, like, Martelli, won't lie to you—I'm an early-riser East Coaster, generally running before 7 a.m. six days a week. I don't stay up late—which means I don't watch any Pac-12 basketball, really. As an AP voter, I do a bunch of highlight watching and reading, but I had not watched the Ducks live until I watched the game against St. Joe's Sunday night. 

  1. Oregon really turned the corner against Saint Joseph's when it started to press and trap on defense. Duke doesn't have a traditional point guard. How do the Blue Devils get past that? 

That's a great question. The Blue Devils struggled against Yale's press in the second half—like struggled immensely, throwing the ball out of bounds and such. Duke turned it over eight times in the second half, and even when the Blue Devils weren't turning it over, they didn't look great breaking the press. Obviously Oregon will be at a completely different level than Yale athletically, making the idea of breaking that press much more daunting.  There's no doubt that Duke's lack of a true point guard hurts. During the preseason, there was a hope that Derryck Thornton would fill that role, but that hasn't happened. Thornton reclassified and bypassed his senior year of high school to come to Duke this year, but he didn't arrive on campus until late August, and missing the summer development time definitely hurt. Thornton does play 26.1 minutes per game, but even when he's in, he's not what you would call a true point guard.  I fully expect to see a lot of the Oregon press Thursday. 

  1. If a team is going to beat Duke, who is it more important to limit: Grayson Allen or Brandon Ingram? 

Tough question. Allen has been the more consistent player all year—he was never held to fewer than 15 points in any ACC game. And he does have that reckless abandon, never-say-die attitude when he drives to the basket, which is helpful when a team just flat-out needs to score. He has a higher shooting percentage from 2, 3 and the free-throw line than Ingram. However, at the end of big games (Louisville, North Carolina), Krzyzewski has opted to put the ball in Ingram's hands, telling him to either get to the basket or kick it out to an open teammate.  If I had to pick one, I'd say Allen, just because it would be, in theory, harder for Duke to replace production that is just a given at this point in the year. 

  1. OK, what's it like covering Coach K? He's probably dealt with hundreds of beat reporters over the years. What's your experience been like? 

So I like Mike. He's extremely intelligent and will generally give you a thoughtful answer if you ask a good question.  I don't like the fact that he is probably available on fewer occasions than probably any other college coach. Since the season started, we have had a grand total of ONE press conference with him outside of the obligatory postgame pressers. Just one. Typically he does two during the regular season—before both North Carolina games—but the past three years one of those has been cancelled due to what Duke deemed bad weather conditions. Typically Krzyzewski does a pre-ACC tournament press conference on campus and a presser before each weekend of the NCAA tournament, but those have disappeared this year.  Obviously, as a beat writer, the lack of availability is frustrating—especially because he is so good when you get him. But overall, I have enjoyed my dealings with him (when they happen). 

-- Tyson Alger





Kavell Bigby-Williams, 4-star JC Power Forward, could be next Chris Boucher; Oregon Ducks lead

By Andrew Nemec

In the class of 2015, the Oregon Ducks turned to a Wyoming junior college to pluck out an elite talent with 247Sports four-star forward Chris Boucher. During his final year at Northwest College, Boucher averaged 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game. Dana Altman may be at in again in the current recruiting cycle. 247Sports four-star big man Kavell Bigby-Williams, out of Gillette College (Wyoming), is rated the No. 1 power forward in the country and in his final season averaged 16.8 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.8 blocks per game.

The good news for Oregon fans? The 6-foot-10, 223-pound big man calls Oregon his current leader over an offer from Texas and a host of other schools with growing interest. "Out of all the schools Oregon is the my No. 1 choice on my list," he said. Bigby-Williams, who averaged a double-double for England in the FIBA U20 European Championships, is fully aware of Boucher's impact on the Ducks' roster this season and is part of the reason Oregon feels like a good fit. "Well, I've seen how impactful Boucher has been, and we are similar in terms of how we play," he said. "I've spoken to coach (Dana) Altman and (coach Kevin) McKenna and they plan on playing both of us at the same time, which could be really exciting and a problem for other teams if I committed to Oregon."

But naming Oregon the favorite isn't just an early proclamation, Bigby-Williams feels comfortable making his choice official soon. "I'm pretty close to my decision, as I kind of know where I want to go, but other schools are still coming into the mix and contacting me, so I'm (going to) sit down with my people in the next couple of weeks and see where I'm at," he said. Oregon's 2016 recruiting class is currently rated No. 12 in the country by Rivals, thanks to commitments from point guard Payton Pritchard (West Linn, Oregon), wing Keith Smith (Seattle, Washington) and power forward M.J. Cage (Santa Ana, California). Adding Bigby-Williams, who has two years of eligibility remaining, would almost certainly guarantee a top-10 class for the Ducks. 



Everyone hates Duke: Here's why (VIDEO)


By Oregon Live Sports

Duke is one of college basketball's most well-known, and most successful, brand names. And after five national championships, it's one of the most reviled.

The top-seeded Oregon Ducks will get an up-close look at the No. 4 Blue Devils' mystique Thursday in the NCAA Tournament's West Regional Round of 16 played in Anaheim, California.

Duke haters have many reasons why, some of which revolve around the privilege at the elite, private university considered among a "Southern Ivy."

But even on the court alone, the Blue Devils draw more ire than most. 

Watch the video above to see the reasons why and check out the Sweet 16 schedule including when Oregon plays Duke here.



Frank Baldwin
Frank Baldwin


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