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JohnTDD on Duke’s sophomore slump.

Here’s a snippet:

When the recruiting class of 2005 signed with Duke, analysts debated on if the five prospects comprised the nation’s #1 or #2 class. Expectations immediately cemented themselves at a very high level. Now, as sophomores, many Duke faithful are waiting for the second year players to take a critical step.

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UNC’s star sophomore Tyler Hansbrough was profiled yesterday in the New York Times, a story that concentrated on UNC’s recent loss to Gonzaga, and struggles against Winthrop.

It didn’t paint the rosiest picture of the budding power forward prospect.

Roy Williams said his players — 11 of them are underclassmen — were “not country bumpkins.” Yet at this early stage of the long season, there might be something about Hansbrough and the other young Tar Heels that even strangers sense.

Hansbrough and Bobby Frasor, a sophomore guard, told of walking through Times Square on their first night here. Hansbrough said he was gawking at the buildings and at the guy who stands around holding a guitar and wearing a cowboy hat, boots, his undershorts and not much else.

“I’m kind of blown away by the size of the city,” Hansbrough said. “I’m used to fields and trees.”

The group of players next happened upon two opinionated fellows sitting in a car who checked out their Carolina clothing before offering a Manhattan welcome.

“Go back to Carolina,” the men advised them, according to Frasor. “This is New York.” Frasor said the men persisted in “talking trash.” Although the players outnumbered their hecklers by 10-2, Frasor said: “We were still kind of scared. We kept walking. We didn’t want to get in any scuffling with some New York people.”

Speaking of the Garden the day before the game, Hansbrough said: “It’s got a lot of tradition. Not a lot of people can say they played at the Garden. It’s something that you definitely can talk about later.”

So much for walking the walk and talking the talk.

Seth Davis, a Duke graduate and current writer for Sports Illustrated, has a piece up on college basketball programs that hire assistant coaches explicitly in order to lure recruits to campus.

If you perused the list of the top-rated high school players who signed letters-of-intent earlier this month, one entry may have caught your eye: James Harden, a 6-foot-5 guard at Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif., signed to play for Arizona State. It’s been a long time since the Sun Devils inked a top-flight player from southern California (RISE’s No. 28 player in the class of ’07), so Harden’s commitment is no small matter for first-year coach Herb Sendek.

Look a little closer, however, and you’ll discern some rather connectable dots. Last June, Sendek hired Artesia’s head coach, Scott Pera, to be his director of basketball operations. Sendek also offered a scholarship to Derek Glasser, Artesia’s point guard who had previously planned to walk on at USC. Then, on Aug. 9, Harden gave Sendek his oral commitment.

Bob Huggins famously acted similarly upon arriving in his new job at Kansas State, and plenty of other coaches have done the same.

Davis opines a bit:

Now, I’m not saying Sendek hired Pera and signed Glasser solely for the purpose of convincing Harden of coming to ASU. That, of course, would be against NCAA rules. What I am saying is, if Sendek hired Pera mostly for the purpose of landing Harden, there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, you could argue it would have been foolish for Sendek to have done otherwise. Because if he didn’t hire Pera, someone else might have, and that someone could have landed Harden as a result.

I must confess, I have come a long way on this issue. When I first broke into covering college basketball more than a decade ago, I was shocked that these types of package deals went down. It seemed coaches everywhere were giving jobs to high school coaches, AAU/summer coaches, fathers, uncles, distant cousins, best buddies and the like for the express purpose of recruiting a player. I knew this had to be unethical because nobody ever admitted to what they were doing.

But the more I’ve covered this sport, the more I’ve come to understand just how common these package deals are. Given all the other nefarious activities taking place in the underworld of recruiting, the package hire actually looks quite tame by comparison.

Read the whole thing.

He’s no Chris Collins, but this is amusing nonetheless.

Yes, we’re linking a story from IC. But it’s about Duke, so we’ll post portions of it here so you don’t have to give them hits. How’s that? 😉

“This could be the first (Duke) senior class to capture the Victory Bell twice since the early ’80s,” said an optimistic Ted Roof, referring to the four-wheeled trinket possessed by the winning school.

There will be dark blue spray paint on hand if indeed the Blue Devils can grab a win over arch-rival Carolina in John Bunting’s final game as coach. But they are catching the Tar Heels at a bad time – although UNC will have to string together back-to-back victories for the first time this year in order to prevail.

“We definitely don’t want to lose the bell to those guys,” Jesse Holley said. “Just like with N.C. State, Duke is just as big a rivalry for us.”

As is often the case in major intra-sectional standoffs, the stats, the past and the prophecies mean little once the contest is underway. And its regional importance always transcends the two teams’ current won-loss tallies.

“This is not a game that passes,” Roof said. “You think about it from the time it’s over with until you meet again the next year. It means a lot to both schools. It certainly means a lot to Duke. There’s a lot riding on it for us.”

Despite underdog status in almost every game, Duke has played Carolina tough. Bunting is 4-1 versus Duke, but two of the four victories were decided by less than a field goal and the Blue Devils won 30-22 in 2003.

“When you play Duke, nothing else matters,” Holley said. “They are not going to play like an 0-11 team – I guarantee that. You put all the records aside. It’s going to be a hard-fought football game.”

No doubt it will be hard-fought. But will Duke have enough fight to pull the minor upset?

One can only hope. UNC has Butch Davis to look forward to–Duke needs some encouragement for 2007.

A season of woe can’t completely come in a single victory…but it can go a long way in assuaging the frustration of a season that has been as disappointing as any in recent memory.

After last-night’s 23-point performance from junior DeMarcus Nelson, the muscle-bound Californian had this to say:

I’m very confident in my shot. We have five unselfish guys. My play might be to take the shot or to make the extra pass.

This is the most encouraging news to come out of Durham since Josh McRoberts opted to stay at Duke for his sophomore season.

To this point, Coach K has been very public about the fact that he was still waiting for a player to emerge who would be willing and able to take the big shots game in and game out, someone who would lead by example and take the young Blue Devils through the fire.

After just four games, Nelson appears to be that leader.

Better yet, his outside game has improved, his endurance and strength are second to no one at his position, and his confidence is taking his play to heights that we’ve only seen glimpses of up until this point.

The Blue Devils still need Greg Paulus to find a steady hand, and still need Josh McRoberts to assimilate to his new role in the offense…but our defense appears to be ahead of schedule. Granted, after overcoming one big test against Air Force last night, a more formidable one awaits this evening against Marquette. So any conclusions we might want to arrive at now are essentially premature.

Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to say that we have more reason to be optimistic about this team’s chances now than we did four games ago.

Perhaps the biggest concern from yesterday’s game was the lack of depth indicated by our dearth of bench scoring. Just four points came from non-starters, an anomalous statistic compared to the first three games of the year.

Let’s see what happens tonight, and we’ll go from there.

Until then, take solace in the fact that our team’s identity is slowly coming together, and Nelson’s more than pulling his own weight.

I guess you can be a little sarcastic when your team is off to its best start in franchise history, and your best player is putting up Malone-like numbers.

Carlos Boozer scored 35 points in 33 minutes Monday, sure, but where was his pro-forma double-double? Undone by a mere nine rebounds, the slacker. And is it too nitpicky to point out he missed two of his 16 shots? Give him a pass this time – it was his 25th birthday.

Boozer’s having as good a start to 2006-07 as anyone in the league. Wouldn’t it be funny if he were somehow able to beat out LeBron James for the MVP award, and if his Jazz took out the Cavs in the playoffs?

Long way off…but fun to dabble in the possibilities, nonetheless.

From Duke Sports Information:

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For the second year in a row, Duke University senior Rachel-Rose Cohen of the Duke University Women’s Soccer team has been selected ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America, which was released on Tuesday by the College Sports Information Director’s of America (CoSIDA).

Last season, Cohen earned third team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors and this year she was named to the second team.

A product of San Diego, Calif., Cohen led the Blue Devils on the defensive end starting all 21 contests, while leading the Blue Devils to nine shutouts. Over her four years with the Blue Devils, Cohen led Duke to 41 shutouts and 52 victories.

The 5-4 defender owns a 3.81 grade point average and is majoring in biological anthropology and anatomy. Cohen is a three-time ACC Honor Roll selection and has made the Dean’s List at Duke five different times.

This announcement comes in the same week that the captain of the men’s cross country team was named one of 32 Rhodes Scholars, an unbelievable feat, and something for which everyone to be proud of.

Originally posted in the Hoops Forum:

This is just from ONE article… ESPN’s Daily Dime for today.

On Grant Hill

Grant Hill has experienced devastating injuries, having appeared in more than 30 games only once in his first five seasons in Orlando.
Most would have retired long ago.

But it’s a testament to his strength of will, and sense of loyalty to his team, that he’s back again, giving his top effort for the Magic.

Now 34 and healthy again, he’s shown shades of the Hill of old, sending Orlando off to a 7-4 mark, including Monday night’s 95-86 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s leading the team in scoring at 16.1 ppg, out on the court for about 30 minutes per game.

I wish more young guys would have watched Hill’s example in this case. He could have just taken the money; instead, he gave them more than what they could have reasonably expected.

Of course, when you’re talking about the Magic, you’re talking about the game’s next great big man. And Dwight Howard is their best player — that was 24 points and 23 boards he put up against Memphis. He’s got the fierce will like we saw with a young Tim Duncan in San Antonio.

But I see Hill as their leader, totally irreplaceable. I think his tenacity has led this young Orlando team that had been struggling much of last year. The team’s start is direct result of his example. To weather as much as he did, I think his teammates owe him their best effort every night.

Often, teams struggle with considerations of whether to take a team in a younger direction, or rely on veterans. But I think Brian Hill has done tremendous job blending these elements in Orlando — too often we forget the coach is vital to making this all work. I thought the Magic were smart in bringing him back — sometimes, a team makes a coaching change because it needs a new voice. His voice is welcome once again.

His team’s interior defense is tremendous. Heck, they even have Hedo Turkoglu playing D. In the game against Memphis, you saw Darko Milicic have one of his lesser outings.

He’s had some good ones, too. Milicic is a guy who has been through the ringer — the pressures of the NBA can be a shock to system for a lot of players. I think it’s going to take a while to recover, and learn where his place is in the league. He’s a good player, but he needs to be strong-willled about these adjustments. Very difficult.

I see the Magic becoming a playoff team this year. They’re still some players away from becoming a championship team, and in going for those players, they’ve got to keep the identity of a tough-minded team.

Much has been made about the kind of salary cap room the Magic will have when Hill’s number comes off the books. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make. I’d love to see Grant Hill have, finally, at long last, a positive outcome in Orlando.

His basketball story won’t stop when his playing days are over. Grant Hill would be a great coach — he’s a leader, with a strong understanding of the game. On the court now, he’s obviously not player he was in Detroit, but he still has a lot to offer.

The Magic are getting that rare chance to see it. It’s a great thing to see.

On Carlos Boozer

On his 25th birthday, Carlos Boozer had 35 in Utah’s win over Toronto. “We’re having fun. I think you could see that out there in the fourth quarter with the fans going crazy,” said Boozer.

Monday’s Best
Jazz forward Carlos Boozer: Sinks 14 of 16 shots en route to 35 points in Utah’s 101-96 win over Toronto. Had nine boards too. That’s a 10-1 start for your Utah Jazz.

On Shane Battier

Even Shane Battier noticed [David] Lee’s fight, singling him out as the young Knick he was most impressed with — a high compliment coming from Mr. Intangible himself, a player Lee says he looked up to in college. “At one point in the game,” Lee said. “I went up to (Battier) and I was like, ‘You have zero points and your team is still winning.’ He found other ways to impact the game.”

• Shane Battier’s final line: 6 points on 2 of 4 shooting (one of those buckets coming on an accidental tip-in by Quentin Richardson), seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, three blocks. Not to mention the three charges he took, the crosscourt passes he made when he was double teamed in the post and the reckless dive he took to recover a loose ball that may well have been an Eli Manning fumble.

Then, of course there’s this week’s ESPN Power Rankings. That’s FIVE of the top TEN teams, folks.

Man, this is a fun season so far… both on the NBA and college side!

Crossposted here.

How They Got Here:
Duke advanced to the CBE Classic title game with victories over Columbia, Georgia Southern, and Air Force. Marquette advanced with wins over Idaho State (59-56 OT); Detroit (87-45); and then last night’s 87-72 victory over Texas Tech.

Series History:
This will be the sixth overall meeting between the two programs, and the first since Duke won 59-49 in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament in 1994 behind Grant Hill’s 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. Marquette’s only victory came with an 80-77 victory on February 10, 1980.

Duke currently holds a 98-40 overall record against teams from the Big East Conference. Meanwhile Marquette has played only one team during Crean’s tenure – that game resulted in a loss to North Carolina.

Great Backcourt Play Keys Crean’s Team:
The Golden Eagles’ backcourt trio of point guard Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews is among the nation’s best groups. The three sophomores have combined to average 39.6 of Marquette’s 79.3 points per game. Against Texas Tech in the semifinals, the three hit for 55 points while holding the Red Raiders’ Jarrius Jackson to just 14 points.

James is the most visible of the three based on preseason hype, and for good reason. As a freshman he stepped in and put together a statline worthy of former Golden Eagle turned NBA Finals MVP Dwayne Wade with 15.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists – good enought to take home Big East rookie of the year honors. This season James was a unanimous choice for the Preseason All-BIG EAST team and was named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list.

James has been nearly as good this year, though classmate McNeal has done his best James impression, averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds, and four assists. Matthews was limited last season after suffering a stress fracture that sent him to the side lines for nearly a third of the season and relegated him from starter to sixth man. This year, however, he’s back and has been as good as ever.

Inside Presence a Question mark:
The Golden Eagles don’t have a lot of size in their rotation, but they do have a good number of mid sized athletes (6’3-6’6). The biggest member of the rotation is 6’10, 235 pound junior Ousmane Barro, a Senegal native who has struggled with consistency throughout his career. This season he’s been better, scoring at a consistent pace of 7 points per game, while topping 7 or more rebounds in 3 of the team’s five games.

Both Teams Ranked in Latest Poll:
Both the Blue Devils and Golden Eagles appear in this week’s AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. Duke checks in as the nation’s eighth ranked team, a position they have been in many times. Over the 102 years of Duke basketball, the Blue Devils are 60-13 overall (.822) when ranked as the nation’s #8 team. The Golden Eagles are rated as the nation’s #17 team. Duke has an all time record of 10-8 (.556) against teams ranked 17th.

Upperclassman Leadership:
Against Air Force, DeMarcus Nelson set a new career high with 23 points while hitting on 7-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-4 from behind the arc, and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. Nelson added six rebounds and three steals to his performance. Nelson became the first active player to record a 20 point game. For the season Nelson is the team’s leading scorer (15.3) and steals (2.8), while ranking third on the team in rebounding (5.5).

Fellow captain Josh McRoberts recorded nine points, six rebounds and five assists for the Blue Devils Monday night. On the young season, the versatile McRoberts is averaging 9.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.5 blocks per game while hitting on 15-of-23 (.652) from the field.

Lance’s Turn To Shine:
Freshman power forward Lance Thomas seemed to win the raffle for freshman impact against the Falcons. The 6-foot-8 Thomas logged a career best 15 points while hitting 7-of-11 from the field and added three rebounds. Thomas hit double figures for the second time in four games this season. Classmate Jon Scheyer added 12 points including 4-of-4 from the line down the stretch and 2-of-5 from behind the arc. Scheyer is averaging 10.7 points per game and has hit 9-of-16 (.563) from behind the arc.

Continued Domination Inside and Defensively:
Duke has changed its offensive focus this season, concentrating on attacking the basket off the dribble and going inside against opponents. So far the Blue Devils are out-rebounding their opponents by a 38.0-25.5, a + 12.5 margin. Against Air Force, Duke held the Falcons to just 8 total rebounds over 40 minutes, while shooting a remarkable 61.0% from the floor.

For the season Duke is shooting 55.4% from the field, while holding opponents to 34.1% and just 48.8 points per contest.

Prediction:

Duke 74
Marquette 69

~~

Other previews:

> Associated Press

> Duke Chronicle (more of a game recap than a preview, really)

> The Marquette Tribune

And if you’d like to read up a bit more on Marquette, here’s a game story from the Kansas City Star on the Eagles’ dismantling of Texas Tech yesterday. And from Marquette’s home-town paper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.