The to-do list for Duke, Pack, Heels
Posted February 7
With approximately a month of regular-season basketball remaining, the three Triangle teams are in position to accomplish most of their preseason goals. But Duke, N.C. State and UNC all have liabilities. Here’s to-do item No. 1 for each of the camps.
Duke: Interior defense/rebounding
Syracuse is No. 1 in the ACC and the nation, but Duke (7-3 ACC, 18-5) still likely has the highest ceiling of any team in the league.
After Saturday’s trip to Boston College (2-7, 6-16) and the Feb. 12 trip to UNC, the Blue Devils’ only remaining road games will be at Georgia Tech (Feb. 18) and Wake Forest (Feb. 25).
The rematch against Syracuse will be in Durham (Feb. 22). Duke almost certainly will be favored and probably by at least five or six points.
The key from here to the end will be trying to rule or at least stay even in the defensive interior. Thanks to a lot of help from Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee, the Devils aren’t nearly as vulnerable as was the case in early-season losses to Notre Dame, Kansas, Arizona and Clemson.
But defending the lane and limiting opponents to one shot will remain two of Mike Krzyzewski’s primary concerns any time the foe has above-average size and interior depth.
Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood will play bigger than most 6-8 natural wingmen, but this Duke team just isn’t big and physical enough to take the low post for granted, especially during those games when the 3-pointers aren’t dropping on offense.
N.C. State: Point guards
Entering Saturday’s game at Miami (2-7, 11-11), the Wolfpack (4-5, 14-8) has a chance to get even in the league and stay there. All of the remaining home games – Wake Forest, UNC, Miami and Boston College – are winnable, and two of the road games after Miami are at Virginia Tech (1-9, 8-14) and Clemson, which is 6-3 in the league but struggling more by the moment on offense.
At worst, 10-8 should be within State’s grasp if T.J. Warren can stay healthy and point guards Cat Barber and Tyler Lewis can pick up the pace.
It’s understandable that Barber gets overwhelmed at times. That happens to most freshmen. But for a player with so much quickness, he just doesn’t seem to be developing as an offensive traffic director. In several games, the Pack had done a lot of standing around on offense. That’s usually is a result of diffident point-guard direction. He had only one assist in the Feb. 1 loss at UNC and four in a Jan. 29 win over Florida State.
The best point guards seem to have a natural gift for court vision and tempo feel. Barber was billed as such a player, but maybe it’s just going to take a while.
With Desmond Lee and Ralston Turner contributing more offense of late, Barber doesn’t necessarily need to do a ton of scoring. But he has to start making better decisions in transition and engage the gears quicker when in half-court sets.
And remember that the current point-guard crop in the ACC is one of the league’s most mediocre ever. Lewis is undersized and a step slow but probably needs to play more. That's certainly so unless Barber gets more efficient.
UNC: Free throw shooting
The Tar Heels have won four straight and five of the past six to even their ACC record at 5-5 (15-7 overall) entering Saturday’s game at Notre Dame (3-7, 12-11). That run looks good on paper, but four of the wins were in Chapel Hill and the five victims were Boston College, Georgia Tech, State, Clemson and Maryland. Among that group, only Clemson has a winning league record.
Against a remaining schedule that includes four more road games after Notre Dame and visits from Duke (Feb. 12) and Pitt (Feb. 15), the Heels will have to find a way to dramatically improve at the free-throw line to continue their surge. The numbers at the line are dreadful. Only Marcus Paige (90.3 percent) and sub Nate Britt (71.7) are dependable.
James Michael McAdoo alone has missed almost 100 free throws, many of which were the front end of one-and-ones.
The group of McAdoo, Leslie McDonald, Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks are shooting a combined 54.5 percent, missing 183 times on 440 chances and, again, a lot of front-enders.
UNC is playing above-average defense, dominating the boards against some foes and has improved its once-shaky ball-handling. But teams that convert only 62 percent at the line usually have more losses than wins in conference play.
A lot of big men struggle at the line, but there’s no excuse for McDonald missing 18 of 44 and Tokoto missing 32 of 62.
Right now, the Heels would land an NCAA bid. But if they have a losing conference record entering the ACC tourney (March 12-16), there’s going to be a lot of pressure to win two or three in Greensboro.