Tag Archives: Duke Blue Devils

Gonzaga vs. Duke, 11-21-18: In-game report

A November contest between two Top 5 teams had the feel of a Final Four game in Hawaii.  Gonzaga defeated Duke, 89-87, to remain undefeated and handed the Blue Devils its first loss of the season. DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in game report:

1 Zion Williamson (6’7 285) Duke forward-Freshman 

Williamson is a highlight reel waiting to happen. The freshman’s motor coupled with his athleticism stands out.  So far this season, Williamson has been able to separate himself with his work on the glass and his finishing ability in transition.  For the season, the Spartanburg, South Carolina, native is averaging 20 points per game and nine rebounds.  Williamson should be a top three pick in the upcoming draft.  As the season goes on, look for head coach Mike Krzyzewski to find creative ways to get Williamson involved without the ball. 

23 Zach Norvell, Jr. (6’5, 205) Gonzaga guard-Sophomore 

Norvell, Jr. is one of the best guards in the country at getting in the lane, slashing and finishing at the rim. The Chicago native used a crossover against Duke forward RJ Barrett and up-and-under finish to avoid Williamson from blocking the ball in the first half.  Norvell, Jr. can also run the fast break and initiate the half court offense with his ability to pass on the perimeter and into the post. The Gonzaga guard is shooting 42-percent from the field and 37-percent from beyond the arc.  Standing 6-foot-5, he will have to answer questions about which position he will defend at the next level but the combo guard skill-sets are evident in the sophomore. 

21 Rui Hachimura (6’8, 230) Gonzaga forward-Junior

Hachimura has doubled his point production from last season. Through six games he is averaging 22 points per game after averaging 11 points a year ago.  The junior forward was one of the more experienced players on the floor against Duke and it made a difference.  Hachimura showed his ability to be a threat in the screen and roll game by either rolling to the rim or fading to the three point line. The junior also impressed with his face-up game from the pinch post.  Like Norvell Jr., he is a bit undersized and will have to find a home defensively at the next level.  When switched onto quick forwards like RJ Barrett, Hachimura wasn’t quick enough to stay in front defensively.  Hachimura showed enough offensive skills to continue to intrigue NBA scouts.

5 RJ Barrett (6’7, 202) Duke forward-Freshman

Barrett has the most polished, NBA-ready game of any of the players who saw the floor in Wednesday’s game. The freshman forward is quick enough to blow by taller guys and can also handle the ball in pick-and roll.  On the season, he is averaging 22 points per game, five rebounds and four assists. Barrett did struggle when forced to go right, missing two layups in the last minute of the game when driving in this direction.  Coach Krzyzewski runs a free-flowing offense and relies on his players making plays one-on-one.  More times than not, Barrett will make a better decision in crunch time but so far the freshman has impressed in limited action.

2018 Season Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

 Season outlook

Larry Fedora will have to make do without 13 suspended players to begin the season. Nine of the 13 players including sophomore quarterback Chazz Surratt will miss four games. Since multiple players share the same positions, Fedora will have the option of staggering the suspensions. However, even with a fully equipped roster, it will be an uphill climb for the Tar Heels, who finished 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the ACC. The Tar Heels will be able to hang their hat offensively on their skilled positions. The trio of sophomore running back Michael Carter (5'9, 195), junior tight end Carl Tucker (6'2, 255) and junior wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams (6’1, 205) will be the core of the offense. Defensively, the position most hurt by the suspensions will be defensive end. Sophomore Tomon Fox (6'3, 250) and senior Malik Carney (6'3, 245) will both miss four games apiece. Junior defensive back Myles Dorn (6'2, 210) is one player Fedora will be able to count on. Dorn finished last season with two interceptions and 71 tackles. Dorn has the skill to join fellow former defensive back M.J. Stewart in the NFL one day.

Troy's player to watch

17 Anthony Ratliff-Williams 6’1 205 WR-Junior

"Do it all" is the best way to describe junior wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams. Ratliff-Williams, a former quarterback, has made the transition to wide receiver and kick returner over the past two seasons.  In 2017, Ratliff-Williams averaged 26 yards per kick return and returned two kicks for scores.  He added 35 receptions for 630 yards and six touchdowns.  Look for Ratliff-Williams to once again be featured early and often on special teams and as a receiver in 2018.

Game of the season 

October 20th at Syracuse

The Tar Heels won just one game last season in the ACC. Games against Virginia Tech and Miami could be tough, but North Carolina has to be able to win games against teams that finished with similar records as them last year. Syracuse finished with two wins in the conference a year ago. Both teams will need every victory to become bowl-eligible. Their midseason matchup could decide the postseason fate of both teams.

DraftNasty's Prospect Watch

36 Cole Holcomb 6’1 215 LB-Senior

Holcomb, pictured, posted a career-high 115 tackles in 2016.

Holcomb has always impressed in the weight room and he can notably squat nearly 600 pounds.  He has decent foot speed and has even been used off the edge to rush the quarterback.  In 2017, he turned in his second-best season and that produced 93 tackles and 2.5 tackles for losses.  Equally adept in coverage, he has gotten his hands on a number of balls.  While only adequate taking on lead blockers, he still needs to add slightly more mass.  He injured his right shoulder in 2017.

 Prediction: 5-7

DraftNasty's Troy Jefferson is predicting a slim improvement over last season. Fedora's team will win five games and narrowly miss out on bowl eligibility. The Tar Heels will fall to Miami, California, UCF, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Duke.

DraftNasty spotlights Duke PF Wendell Carter, Jr: 2018 NBA Draft

Wendell Carter, Jr. averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for the Duke Blue Devils in his freshman campaign. The 6'10, 251-pound power forward has a good chance to hear his named called in the 2018 NBA Draft lottery later this month. We go inside his game in our video spotlight.

Tuesday Throwback Report: Party Crasher in San Diego

There are a multitude of names that come to mind when one contemplates the prospects of elite NCAA basketball teams each season. Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Connecticut, Kentucky, North Carolina and Syracuse are just a few that break through the conscious initially. But San Diego State?

Laughably, one could have been locked away from all things hoops related for nearly a decade and still log that the likes of the Blue Devils and company would have a formidable presence in the midseason rankings. It’s simply that predictable sometimes.

But there are wrinkles. Just as easy as one might be on point in expecting the Jayhawks to be in early contention, one might also blunder and find that the Tar Heels are nothing more than average this season.  And in spite of this type of blunder being less likely, there have been times when North Carolina has found itself mending its wounds.

But San Diego State?

Amazingly, the Aztecs provide a wrinkle that is as much surprising as it is refreshing.  As it stands, San Diego State sits at the head table with top-ranked Duke and the usual suspects such as Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh and the Orangemen, who round out the top-five in the AP poll.

Head coach Steve Fisher’s Aztecs are a polished 17-0 and remain as one of only five teams in Division I with an undefeated mark. This in itself is not surprising.   It started three seasons ago when the Aztecs finished with a 20-13 mark and landed an NIT berth. A year later, San Diego State improved to a 26-10 record, advancing to the NIT semifinals.

The development didn’t hit a snag last season when the Aztecs ran off an impressive 25-9 record and emerged in the NCAA Tournament, where it fell short in the first round to Tennessee. Despite the early exit, San Diego State proved that it had promise, pushing the Volunteers in that contest before narrowly losing 62-59.

So no, that the Aztecs have torn through the season thus far is not startling.  That they are being given credit for doing so this early is a different story. Typically, a team like the Aztecs wouldn’t even be on the radar until March - two, three games into the Big Dance. Butler, for example, wasn’t even ranked at this point in the season a year ago. They, of course, went on to play for the national title against Duke.

And no, the rankings aren’t usually built with the San Diego States, the Butlers, the Davidsons, or George Masons in mind. But here the Aztecs are, boasting a higher ranking than powerhouses such as Connecticut (10th), Kentucky (13th), Louisville (18th) and Georgetown (22th). And here they are, 17 games into the season, demonstrating more staying power than elite programs like Michigan State, North Carolina, and Florida, who after opening the season ranked second, eighth, and ninth respectively in the nation, are now out of the top-25 altogether.

The picture cannot be painted that San Diego State came into the year as a dismissed program. After all, they were ranked a modest but respectable 25th in the country in the preseason AP poll. But Fisher’s squad wasn’t comfortable with modest and quickly launched a stone at the pollsters when it toppled then 11th-ranked Gonzaga 79-76 on November 16th.

Critics who devalue San Diego State’s schedule strength thus far should factor in that the Aztecs also knocked off Pac-10 stalwart California handily, 77-57, on December 8th, less than two weeks after the Bears had beaten then 20th-ranked Temple.  And those who condemn the Aztecs for competing in the Mountain West Conference should consider that Brigham Young also hails from that conference.

And the Cougars are as well off to a fast start, sitting at 16-1 with a No. 11 AP ranking. This not only bodes well for the Conference, having two highly ranked clubs, but it also means that the attention of the college basketball world should be captured when San Diego State and Brigham Young face off on January 26th and February 26th. What’s equally intriguing is that the highly touted Aztecs defense will get an opportunity to slow down NBA prospect Jimmer Fredette, who is averaging 24.9 points per game.

“This league is very good,” Fisher noted in a press conference this week. “We said last year of those teams that went in that it might have been the best ever. I think the depth is genuine; the disparity between 1 and 9 has shrunk significantly.”

Before matching wits with the Cougars, San Diego State will have their perfect record tested in the Mountain West. One such obstacle, for example, will come Wednesday, when the Aztecs takes on a potent 13-3 UNLV team.  Nevertheless, Fisher is as much excited about his team’s possibilities as he is its current place.

“We are pleased obviously with the undefeated mark, but I am happy that we appear to be getting better physically,” he stated.

One sign of this improvement is the recent Mountain West Player of the Week honor that was bestowed upon star forward Malcolm Thomas. It’s the third of such honors this season for the senior who earned the award after averaging 17.5 points per game, 12 rebounds, and two blocks, in wins over Utah and TCU. For the season, the 6’9’’ San Diego native is pumping in 12.3 points per contest, complimented by 7.6 rebounds. As well, Thomas is shooting a precise 59 percent from the field.

“It’s good to receive an award like that,” Thomas said Monday in the Aztecs weekly press conference. “But I have to give credit to my teammates. They give me the confidence to score, rebound, block shots, or do whatever I need to do to win. I really feed off their energy and that is why I get player of the week.”

The energy Thomas speaks of comes from what has thus far been a balanced act. Sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard leads the team in scoring and rebounding, pouring in 15.9 points per game and pulling in 9.6 rebounds. And senior guard D.J. Gay chips in with 11.8 points per contest.

Gay, for one, credits several factors for his team’s play so far.

“I think it has a lot to do with our condition, our athleticism, our ability to turn it up on the defensive end,” the senior professed. “We start to press and create havoc for the other teams and that’s just taking it to another level. Our ability to do that is the reason we are having the success we’re having now.”

And thanks to an anomaly in the national rankings, the basketball community at large is able to witness this striking success in January, rather than postponing credit until March. By then, the Aztecs are being asked to be great twice, as March Madness is a separate season in itself.

Assuredly, the Aztecs haven’t been overly dominant this year, but they’ve been consistent and resilient. Their unblemished mark could be broken Wednesday against the Running Rebels or sometime between now and their meeting against Brigham Young. And even then, it won’t change the fact that the Aztecs have been one of college basketball’s best teams this season.

What this team will or will not do in the NCAA Tournament is irrelevant. Most certainly, a team’s failure in the Big Dance does not undo what perhaps was gained during the regular season. Some will be quick to hold San Diego State to this standard, discrediting this run if Fisher’s crew folds early in the NCAA tourney, forgetting that at this point in the season a year ago Texas was ranked No.1 with a 15-0 mark. Kentucky was ranked second, also with an undefeated record (14-0).

As most recall, neither the Longhorns nor Wildcats played for the national title. In fact, none of the top five at that point even made the Final Four. Duke, the eventual champion, was ranked eighth. It is apparent that the rankings are not a forecast of who will win the national title; what they do provide is a glance at who is playing well. And without question, San Diego State fits the bill.

Gay, who Fisher calls his most important player, admits to recognizing this accomplishment, even while still trying to build upon it.

“We do take each game one at a time, but sometimes you have to realize the situation that we are in and be able to enjoy it,” he acknowledged. “To sit down and reflect on what is going on now and know that we are in a situation a lot of people would dream of being in, you have to be appreciative of that. We take time to think about it but we know that we still have a lot of work that needs to be done.”

-          Patrick Green, DraftNasty.com staff writer, has been writing professionally for more than a decade. He is the author of two novels, Josie’s Missing Syllabus and Son Down; and while both works deal with topics beyond the athletic landscape, each exposes a social scope involving sports as an underlying theme. Green has covered high school, college, amateur, and professional football during his career, having written for newspapers in Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, South Carolina. To learn more about Patrick Green, visit www.greeninkpub.com.