SDBB: The ACC Conference Season is Over: So … NOW, What Do We Think ???

Thinker w_Cloud

Tonight, with the ACC Conference Season over, Rowan Shiell and Bermuda Bob discuss their impressions of the Duke team 

… and …

Look forward to the ACC Tournament

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Query #1:

Do you have any reflections on this year’s ACC Conference Season ???

Bermuda Bob:        

After the unfortunate injury of Amile in practice on the 12th of December, Duke was never the same.  They went 4 & 4 in January.  They went 6 & 2 in February, but, they only beat Virginia by one (1) Point on an acrobatic buzzer beater by Grayson Allen, and only by one (1) more Point due to a coaching error at UNC.  They swapped wins with Louisville and got embarrassed at PITT.  They went 1 & 1 in March.  This was not the team anyone expected after the highlighted recruiting.

Rowan: 

The conference was pretty competitive, this year. Duke finished with an 11-7 record but they were in every game except one (1) and that was the 14 point loss to PITT.  Duke may have finished middle of the pact, or 4th with Louisville’s “dislodgement,” but they were one or two moves away from the top.

Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram have played some exceptional games.  With the injury to Amile it is a wonder they didn’t lose much more.  These guys have proven to be very resilient and it was a pleasure to cheer for them.

Marshall Plumlee has been a revelation at times.  Derryck Thornton has probably lost all confidence in his go-to mid-range shot, but there is no better ball hound on Defense, than he in the conference.

Matt Jones got injured, yet even though he is still visibly hobbled, he is still competing.  There is no doubt that Luke Kennard will set some records at Duke, but right now his Jekyll and Hyde act is limiting him.  The more he plays, the more confidence he will have in his abilities.

Query #2

What’s your biggest question about what you saw this conference season ???

Bermuda Bob:        

The biggest question loomed around why Coach K insisted that he had a “short Bench” when he had a full accompaniment of 3 replacements to, at least, ameliorate Amile’s absence.  He had:

(A) Chase Jeter, who turned out to be a highly over-rated faulty flop.  His hands were terrible, he averaged a Personal Foul every 4.34 minutes or 1.74 per game.  He was a hot mess, but Coach K played him 204 minutes in 27 games.

(B) Former proven Rebounder, Sean Obi but inexplicably only played him 21 minutes in only 9 games.

(C) Frosh Antonio Vrankovic played 14 minutes in 5 games.

When I put the question to Duke two (2) “beat reporters” my replies were:

Steve Wiseman:   “OBJECTION Asked and answered counselor.  He’s not ready to compete at this level in staff’s opinion.  The end.” and then he blocked us on Twitter.

Laura Keeley:   ” … they’re not good enough.  Move on from that …”  

Obviously, both are afraid to ask a follow-up question to clarify such a ridiculous assertion, especially when …

Duke was getting killed in the Paint game after game after game.  Sunday’s season finale against UNC was the worst, as Duke was out-rebounded 58 to 26.  One Carolina Player pulled down 21 Rebounds while the Duke Starters only had 22 !!!   If there is anyone out there who doesn’t think my questions are valid, then we’re not watching the same Duke team …

Rowan: 

Yes it is baffling that one of the best coaches in the business couldn’t find some minutes off his Bench.  Duke’s biggest weakness was in the Front Court and they just happen to have 3 guys 6’8″ or taller on the Bench, but couldn’t get anything out of them.  One was given numerous opportunities to prove himself, while they didn’t even bother with the other two.

I guess this is hard to comprehend because the days of stashing players on the Bench for later development seems to be well and truly behind us with Coach K fully invested in the ‘one and done’ culture.  As fans, we have come to expect each scholarship recruit to earn his spot from day one.

We expected Sean Obi to be a beast on the glass but from the moment the season started he was on the outside looking in when Coach K designated him a “9th player” in a matter of fact way, at the season opening Press Conference.  Since then Obi has clearly been out of favour and we can safely write him off for this season.

Just before the UNC game I spent half an hour watching Duke’s layup lines and while all the players used every opportunity to practice game shots, coupled in with a few show time dunks (they are all kids after all!) all Jeter did was try impress with his dunks.  We may have been told that Obi and Antonio were not ready, however Jeter has proven he isn’t.

 Query #3:

Do you have any thoughts about Duke, going into their 2nd Round game on Wednesday at 2PM EST ???

 Bermuda Bob:

I do not hold out much hope for this team to move very far forward. Duke has had a very obvious stamina problem all season long.  It is because Coach K has played his Starters, or his 5 hottest players without a “blow” throughout conference season.  The result has been that around the 10 minute mark in the 2nd Half, Duke shows tired legs.  Shots are left short or carom wildly off the back of the Rim. Duke has struggled especially in the Paint, often leaving “Plums” triple teamed, regardless of his best efforts.  He was given no help from the Bench. I simply don’t see them playing 4 days in a row against teams they have lost to.

If they win their first match, they draw Notre Dame … should they win there, they play either ‘Cuse or UNC … I don’t see it happening.  The only variable would be playing Obi and Antonio about 10 minutes a game, but unless Coach K is playing the ACC version of “lopelee” it’s not in the cards.

Rowan: 

I think that Duke can go far in the ACC Tournament, and they would need to if they are to retain that projected #4 seed in the NCAA tournament.  All 5 Players just need to hit those boards. Playing only 2 or 3 outside, and not 4 players on the perimeter, with Plumlee inside.  Mix up the Offense.  Duke is too good a Free Throw shooting team to be settling for 3 Pointers.

Also, whenever Thornton makes a mistake he gets yanked but other players are not beholden to that process.  He is a “score-first” Point Guard that needs the shackles to be removed.  Let him lose a la Nolan Smith !!!  Especially when the other team plays man-to-man, because not many Guards can keep up with him.

Query #4:

Are you happy with the Post Season Awards ???

Rowan:

On the face of it I thought Allen deserved to win most improved player but when I looked at the statistics closer for Jaron Blossomgame it appears his playing time increased minimally while his scoring and shooting percentages improved drastically. A deserved win.

Bermuda Bob:

I was happy with where everyone landed. At first, I was curious about Grayson Allen not being named #1, but upon seeing that Malcomb Brogdon won it, I could not question it. Hopefully, Grayson will come back next year to win it !!!

BTW: The GoDuke claims that Grayson & Jaron were names co-most improved … maybe an afterthought, eh ???

Query #5:

Anything else you would like to add ???

Rowan:

Eight (8) years of Plumlees came to an end in Cameron Indoor with the loss to UNC last week.  I challenge you to find another set of brothers in the last two decades who has been more productive than the Plumlees.  The O’Bannon brothers won a Championship for UCLA while the Plumlees won 2 for Duke.

Marshall will probably not be an All American like Mason but without him (Marshall) Duke probably would not be looking at a bid this season.

Marshall has come a very long way from his Freshman season, and if Duke is to go far in the tournament they will need him to be very productive.

Bermuda Bob:

When I first heard that all 3 Plumlee brothers were going to play at Duke, I nick named them the “PlumTrees” as an homage to what looked like 3 wonderful boys, and, instead of trying to remember who was who, I named them #1 = Miles, #2 = Mason, and #3 = Marshall.   WOW, over a millions dollars of tuition saved by their parents, but moreover, they were kids any parent would be proud of !!!

I have said it before, so I might as well say it one more time … I do not believe that either #1 or #2 fulfilled the reason of their recruitment.  Both were not major role players in their Championships, but interestingly, both became much better players in the NBA.  That might go to the knock on Coach K that he has really never known how to play/coach “Bigs” … well, until he got “Oaks” last year.

I think #3, or “Plums” as I came to call him, benefited greatly from having been the practice partner to “Oaks” and it showed on plenty of occasions this season.  I think he was by-far a tougher player than his big brothers.  He always hustled, never gave up trying to score until he was fouled, and played both sides of the Court.   I think he became much more important to this team than his brothers before him.  Unfortunately, he very rarely had enough help down low, or he might have sparkled even more.

I applaud Marshall for his patriotism, but I will always wonder what would have become of him in the NBA. Maybe someday …

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@SimplyDukeBB

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SDBB – Is It Time To Wonder About Those Asking “What if …” ???

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SDBB – Is It Time To Wonder About Those Asking “What if …” ???

by  Bermuda Bob

 

Saturday, I watched the Louisville game while interacting on Twitter, instead of texting on Viber with my partner here, Ro Shiell.  

After the game was over, Twitter seemingly exploded in a barrage of “What if …” speculations, so I thought I’d discuss some of them and add a few of my own.

Here goes:

#1 – “What if Amile were able to play ???”

OK folks, it time for a little “tough love” and to get real. Amile might not come back this season. He might actually accept an “Injury Red Shirt” as he only played a handful of games.

Even if he came back in this game today, he wouldn’t be game ready and able to pick up where he left off. No amount of therapy and exercise can replicate playing time.

He could also suffer from the very common and understandable instinct to protect his foot from re-injury.

Personally, I prefer the “Injury Red Shirt” route … if he is unable to be 100%, then get him into Business School, give him another year of eligibility, and make next year’s team his in Captaincy !!!

 

#2 –  What if Amile Never Got Injured ???

Simply put, I believe that this would be a very different Duke team, one that would be atop of the ACC Conference, or close to it.   It would also have a rather different comportment on both Offense and Defense.   They would have another Captain on the floor, and they would not have the tired legs they do now, with most of the Starters playing almost the whole game.

I do believe that Amile going down forced the rest of the team to change their chemistry and excel in different ways, not always positive ones.   Freshmen make foolish Fouls, especially when they are trying to overcompensate for a lack of experience on the Court.

 

#3 – What if Chase Jeter turned out to be the Top Pick player we expected ???

Well, the loss of Amile might not have been seen as serious.   Coach K’s infinity for continually playing this kid instead of giving Sean Obi a chance to prove himself is simply mindboggling.

Is Coach trying to validate his recruiting of Jeter ???   I simply don’t get it.   This Louisville game allowed Jeter to prove the old axiom: “… even a busted clock is right twice a day …” !!!   I gather that if Jeter is not advised to consider a transfer, he might be Coach K’s project player, now that there are no Plumlee kids enrolled at Duke.

 

#4 – What if Coach K played ALL of his eligible players ???

This might be the $64,000 question that not one member of the Press has had the gumption to ask of Coach K.   You see, I totally agree with Dick Vitale, who, I believe was sending Coach K a veiled piece of advice.   He said that: “… and player good enough to be recruited ought to be good enough to contribute 10 minutes a game …”    Of course Dickie V is absolutely correct, especially for a programme like Duke.

As of late in each and every game, around the 10+/- minute mark, the team’s legs go to rubber. This happens because I do not believe that any conditioning programme could prepare kids for playing the type of minutes they are being asked to … not in one of America’s best and most physical conferences.

The idea Vitale was trying to convey is one I agree with, but will put a bit less diplomatically and much more emphatically.

I believe that if you put a jersey on a kid’s back, then you MUST first believe that he can be called upon at anytime to contribute.   I’m not talking about being a “practice player” …   I’m talking about in circumstances as Duke found themselves against Louisville.   Having Amile and Matt down, “Plums” did a great job of pulling down 14 Rebounds, but sure could have used a sidekick in Obi to help handle the “Bigs” of Louisville.   Obi never removed his Warm Up.

Two years ago Coach K recruited Sean Obi, who as a Frosh at Rice, averaged 11.4 points and a Conference USA-leading 9.3 rebounds per game (2nd in the NCAA among freshmen).   He transferred, to Duke after the coach who had recruited him was fired.   So, he sat out last year in his dapper duds, and sits in his Duke #34 uniform to this very day.   He has been only allowed to play 21 minutes in 26 games !!!

If you have ever believed in Coach K’s “Dog House,” he’s in inexplicably deep.   I don’t believe a kid ought to be in any coach’s “Dog House” !!!   There ought not be a “Dog House” at all !!!

The problem is that while Obi perfecting his splinter pulling technique, he’s not contributing.   More succinctly, he’s not being given an opportunity to contribute, and that’s simply wrong. Have you seen Obi’s his body language lately ???   His head is down and disengaged because the Coach he put his faith in has no faith in him, even though he’s a proven product.   It’s wrong to bring in a kid and not allow him to prove himself, to contribute to his team, give some other players a needed “blow,” and insulate the team from Foul trouble.

Duke also has a guy who is an even bigger “Big” than Obi … Antonio Vrankovic …  He has played in 14 minutes in 5 games.   How can he be ready to contribute if he only sees the Court during Warm Ups ???   He was recruited, given a jersey, and now just flounders in Coach K’s version of “Never-Never Land.”   The burning question is why, why, why !!!

Why would the greatest active coach in College Basketball History be willing to waste a pair of “bigs” … albeit one proven and one not, when his Starters are depleted and suffering from extremely tired legs ??

 

#5 – What if Duke never signed a deal to use Nike products ???

OK, you caught me sliding one in here.   I’m not a fan of Nike because I am one of those fans who openly wonder if:

  • The plethora of foot injuries in recent years were directly accountable to the products Phil Knight has provided …
  • I also wonder if another manufacturer would have essentially forced Duke into wearing those god-awful BLACK uniforms.   Uniforms that have nothing to do with Blue Devils, named after the legendary “Les Diables Bleus” …

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Point/CounterPoint – Installment #2 … Michigan State Tonight

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Tonight, Ro Shiell & Bermuda Bob talk about this past weekend’s games and look to tonight’s meeting with Michigan State at the State Farm Champion’s Classic in Indianapolis … 

Here we go:

Query #1

What was your biggest takeaway from the weekend ???

Rowan:

Duke won big over opponents that did not measure up. That may seem like a trivial point, but over the last few years, the Blue Devils have a tendency to play to the level of their opponents.

Bermuda Bob:

I saw a very impressive bunch of kids who were very poised. I think that Coach K might actually have his most complete squad yet. By that I mean that they are cumulatively capable of completing his vision. They have so many different “looks” that they will be able to keep the competition on their heels all game long. They also look like they truly enjoy working with each other with none of what we’ve seen the past few seasons.

Query #2:

Do you think he will go further than the 7-8 normal rotation, or will Coach K K employ Platoons like he did over the weekend ???

Rowan:

You learn nothing in a blow out.  The true test will be against Michigan State on Tuesday night.  Then we shall see where Coach K’s mindset for the season will be. Grayson Allen has surely forced his hand though.  I see Sulaimon is being employed as a back-up Point Guard, but as the best perimeter defender he should get some burn when playing bigger back courts. We know Marshall Plumlee will be playing, come what may, because the front court is thin.  Matt Jones has shown that he can be a knock down shooter. Semi Ojeleye still needs to work on his handles, or nerves, but his athleticism should help on the boards. I don’t think Platoons will be used that much though.

Bermuda Bob:

Platoons are a nice idea to mix things up, but good coaches will always have their opponent well scouted and have their kids prepared for such moves.

It is very obvious that when Coach K platoons, he has two completely different squads. The Okafor anchored squad will keep the opposition on more of an alert because of his varied skills, from shooting to dishing. “Jah” facilitates the shooters. “PlumTree” #3 not so much, even though he has an impressive increasing skill set.

As for the others, I think they are interchangeable to a greater or lesser extent. So Substitutions based on foul trouble, nightly performance, injuries (God forbid), etc. will be helped by this depth.

My wish would be to see Coach K break from his traditional 7-8 deep rotation, and use each and every one of his 10 scholarship players.

Query #3

Who do you prefer as the starters ???

Rowan: 

I have no issues with the current starters of Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Amile Jefferson and Justice Winslow. I would prefer to see Sulaimon as the starting “2” Guard because I like his defence. Even Coach K has admitted that Sulaimon “applies the best ball pressure” on the team. Also, Cook always plays well, mostly against weaker teams especially in November and December, but we will see if that changes this season.

Bermuda Bob:

There present Starters are fine with me. I like Rasheed being the firm 6th Man, ready to step in, or being swapped into the Starter’s spot for an especially adroit opponent for the night.   I worry about Quinn’s ability to maintain his level of concentration when things go askew, like his shooting. I have already noticed that he still does not shoot well with a Defender in his face. All of his Trifectas have been gorgeous, but they were hardly contested.

Amile gave up his Starting position quickly in Game #1 to foul trouble. He corrected his mistakes in Game #2. A good sign, but he will surely need to stay out of foul trouble to be most effective. If not, the “look” of the squad is forced to change depending on who Coach K decides is his best Sub.

Query #4

Which player impressed the most ???

Rowan:

Coming into this game, Justice Winslow was hailed as a shaky shooter, but he has shown that he can knock down the open Three Pointer (he is 3-of-5 at the moment) and mixes it up nicely by driving to the hoop, finishing with or without contact, however, the most impressive was Jahlil Okafor.

I have a feeling that he hasn’t even scratched the surface on his potential. Fairfield and Presbyterian were so worried about the big Freshman, Duke was getting open looks from the Three Point Line.

Bermuda Bob: 

Shucks, Mate … You stole my 1st Choice, so I will only add that I saw a guy who was a wonderful blend of Kyle, Lance, Shane, and Grant. The sky is the limit for him. I doubt if many teams have answer for his versatility on both ends of the Court.

I enjoyed seeing Grayson not be afraid to take charge and penetrate. He may find some of the competition a bit more stellar during the season, and all too willing to knock him around. He proved why he was recognized by ESPN as one of Top 10 Reserves this year, described as: “… players (who) might not start, but that doesn’t mean they won’t contribute.”

As a rule, I rarely see incoming Frosh, so to state the obvious that everyone else forecast, Jahlil Okafor is the real-deal and a very special player. His personal link with Tyus will pay plenty of premiums all season long.

Query #5

Did any other player stand out in a less obvious way ???

Rowan:

I love the composure of Tyus Jones, he probably didn’t stand out as much as the other Freshmen, but he scored 21 points and dished out a dozen Assists in his first two collegiate games. He registered three Turnovers. One was a steal he lost due to being out of bounds. The other was a great pass that missed it’s sleeping target on the baseline.

Bermuda Bob:

I was happy to see Matt Jones shoot the way everyone expected him to coming in last year. I think he was put in a different role last year. He will be called on to balance the shooting attack giving nothing away on the defensive side.

The same could be said for Semi, except that he saw such little action last year that I joked that I never needed to learn how to spell his surname. That won’t happen this year. He ought to get minutes this year and prove he deserves them.

Query #6

What is your prediction for the Michigan State game ???

Rowan:

When two legends meet it is always a very good game. If Duke wants to win this they have to let Okafor touch the ball on Offense all the time. That’s their best point of attack.

Bermuda Bob:

Tom Izzo has gotten more teams to the Final Four than anyone else. That’s because his teams always play tough with purpose and focus. This year they come in with a paltry #19 ranking in both Polls, without the familiar names of the past four (4) years. Worry not, as I expect they will still prove a formidable test to the defensive mettle of Duke.

This will be an excellent test for the Frosh, who will then get a few more tests later in the week in Brooklyn, but don’t look past the Spartans, boys !!!

Introducing … “Point/CounterPoint”

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Today, we begin a periodic installment here at Simply Duke Basketball.  We call it “Point – Counter-Point” after the many great TV and radio shows that have entertained a thoughtful debate about the topics of the day.  Now Bermuda Bob and Ro Shiell step up and apply the idea to Duke Basketball as the season formally begins.

Please join us by dropping us a comment, give us your opinion for just one question, or all of them !!!   Here we go …

Query #1         

Can Platoons work for Duke this season ???  

Do you think Coach K will use them ???

Rowan:

Platoons won’t work because this team needs Okafor to be on the court for as long as possible if he is going to live up to his Pre-Season Player of the Year nomination!

Bermuda Bob:  

Platoons have worked for some coaches who have deep benches.  Sometimes it’s an expression of displeasure, other times it’s to screw up the opposition.  The downside is that it breaks up continuity and momentum.  I think it’s an in-game decision and always an option, but Coach K has only used it sparingly.  I think that’s the best guess of what will happen this year …

 Query #2

Who do you think is Duke’s X-Factor Player for the coming season and why ???

Rowan:   

An X-factor is described as a variable in a given situation that can have the most significant impact on an outcome. In all the pre-season hype, we know what the Freshman, three of them currently included in CBS Sports Top 100 players, are expected to bring to the table. Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, Rasheed Sulaimon, and maybe Matt Jones, are all known quantities.

Therefore, my X-Factor can be one of two players. They both have qualities that, if exploited properly, will make Duke a much better team. Marshall Plumlee brings size to the equation and Semi Ojeleye shot 57% of his Field Goal Attempts and 90% of his Free Throws, in limited minutes, last season. The ceiling is very low for these two guys who, more than likely, will be marginalized in the coming season. If Plumlee can either pair with Okafor, or back him up effectively, and if Semi can prove that his scoring numbers weren’t a fluke, then Duke will be a much better team.

Bermuda Bob:

If an “X-Factor” is the pivotal person, I’d say it was Okafor, but if you’re looking for a guy who has changed his game to best serve the team, I’d say it was Amile.  He has been adjusting to his body and his incredible wingspan since coming to Duke, but has gotten into Foul trouble often.  If he can control everything, he will be the team’s X-Factor.

Query #3

 Is Coach K trying to compete with John Calipari ???

Rowan:

They are two big fish in the same little pond. They are trying to recruit the same players and they are trying to win the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis. So, in that sense, there is some competition. All D-1 coaches are competing against each other in some way. Having said that, I don’t think Coach K wakes up every morning and works out to “Eye of the Tiger” with Calipari in mind! It’s not on that level for him.

On the other hand, I do think that Calipari does set out to challenge Coach K. If you are building a legacy you have to go through the guy who has already established himself.

Bermuda Bob:

You are trying to compare apples and oranges.  The only similarity they have is their “Head Coach” title.  My long-time nickname for Calipari has been “Cal-the-Lip”  because he is a great recruiter, but only a mediocre coach.  His championship proves the old adage that “… even a busted clock is correct twice a day …_”

Query #4

What is Duke’s biggest weakness going into the season ???

Rowan:

Defense.  Sure, they are generally a “new” team but as Mike Tyson famously says, “… everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”  I want to see this Defense under pressure before I can rule it out. Plus, you can’t discount the fact that the backbone of this team couldn’t get a stop against Mercer in the last NCAA Tournament.

The Front Court has many questions because it is anchored by a guy who fouled out of one of his most anticipated high school games – against, Cliff Alexander.

Added to that, with Okafor being lauded as a dominant force,” one can imagine many an opponent’s game plan would be to attack him offensively. That is not to mention the disparity between the Block/Charge on the other end that young big men have to face. If that succeeds then Duke is stuck with Jefferson and Plumlee, two players who are magnets for Fouls themselves.

All this boils down to is that the traditional man-to-man defense might be a struggle.

Bermuda Bob:

I do not see a weakness right now because Duke is deep at all positions.  They all seem to have accepted Coach K’s vision for each of them, so, it’s a matter of how he uses them.  Otherwise, it’s execution, reaction, and how they evolve together.

Query #5

What do you think is Duke’s biggest strength ???

Rowan: 

Depth in the Back Court. There isn’t much difference between Sulaimon, Matt Jones, Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen. When you add Semi Ojeleye, and to some extent Justice Winslow, to the mix, things get very interesting.

Bermuda Bob:

Coach K has admitted: that You can’t compare him (Okafor) to anyone in the past … maybe Elton Brand, but he’s bigger.”  The real question is if Coach K can coach a player with as many dimensions.

 

Query #6        

Can Rasheed Sulaimon return to his previous form ???

Rowan:

Sulaimon had a strong Freshman season and played well sporadically last season. Who remembers that shot to send the Syracuse game into overtime? At this point, we must conclude that he serves Duke playing big minutes from start to finish.

Will he start this season ? Now that is the million-dollar question.

Bermuda Bob: 

I certainly hope so.  I never quite understood what Coach K was doing with him last season, but, as the Syracuse game proved, he is capable … It really breaks down to the question of if Coach K gets him playing time.

 

Query #7

What is the ceiling for Duke …

Final Four, Elite 8, or somewhere else  ???

Rowan: 

This Duke team is very balanced and if they can play as a team, no one player taking on too much, then they have a shot at redemption for last season.

Bermuda Bob: 

Barring injuries, Duke could win the ACC and be a Final Four team.  I think we will have a better idea in December as they are on the cusp of the conference season.

 

So, there you go.  Our first installment of “Point – CounterPoint.”  

Have you got a question you’d like us to tackle for our next installment ???  

Want to add your thoughts to what we’ve discussed here ???   Please drop us a line here and we will include it in the next round.