Evaluating the Blue Devils at the Quarter-Pole Mark

By Jack Drapkin

Before I even discuss how the team has fared, what has gone right and wrong for them in the early going, I want to say how much fun it’s been to watch these guys play. Not since the 2015 title team, granted that was only three years ago, has a Duke team been this much fun to watch. Just like that team, they are never out of a game and always seem to save their best basketball for late. Now at 10-0, can the Blue Devils maintain this style of play and continue escaping with close victories after playing to the level of their competition? Well, if their play against South Dakota is any indication those days may be behind us sooner than we thought.

While we have spent a ton of time early-on this season marveling at Grayson Allen’s shooting prowess and Marvin Bagley III’s innate ability, the Blue Devil defense is still going to be the difference maker for this unit. Defense is a five-man responsibility unlike the offensive end of the court. The Blue Devils have struggled to defend consistently, particularly in the first half of games. 

The difference between good and great teams, but also young and old ones is the ability to play with a consistent level no matter the opponent. For these Blue Devils thus far, it seems no matter who the Blue Devils play the first half is going to be close. Much of this is a result of a lack of communication at the defensive end of the court to start games. However, while they gave up a trio of early treys against South Dakota, the defense looked much better in the first half, limiting them to only 30 first-half points. A sign that the defense may be improving in these first half situations.

There is another factor that I would like for you to consider as to why they have struggled to guard in the first half, Coach K. You see, has been experimenting much more often with the man-to-man defense in the first half before switching over to the 2-3 when its needed in the second half. This is not to be misconstrued as a bad thing either. It is essential that the Blue Devils can play at least some man-to-man when they get to ACC play. They will need to play it in case a team gets hot shooting beyond the arc and they need to mix up the look for example. Anyways, Coach K hasn’t had much practice time recently with all of the travel and early games, so look for the man-to-man defense to improve after the first handful of ACC games.

In short, while it’s been fun star-gazing over the early offensive returns of this prolific group, don’t overlook the defense, it may just be the difference between them raising a banner in April or not.

Nick Saban Wants It Both Ways

By John Camera

Alabama is a good football team. A damn good football team. But after their embarrassing 26-14 loss against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, it is clear that they are not the best team in the nation. That argument is certainly up for debate but is best left for another article. Simply put, Alabama doesn’t deserve to be in the playoff this year and Nick Saban’s whining shouldn’t change that.

To be fair to him, Saban is being a good coach when he said post-game that his guys deserved a shot at the playoff. There are a lot of talented players on his roster, guys who are Seniors and guys who will go to the NFL after their Junior season. This is their last chance to win a championship and Saban, like every other coach in America, wants to deliver that to them. But his words ring hollow, especially after his comments following the Crimson Tide’s 27-19 win over Texas A&M back on October 7.

“It’s like taking poison. Like rat poison.”

That was what Saban said in regards to the hype sports pundits had placed on Alabama. The head coach heaped blame on the media for inflating his team’s ego and affecting their performance against Texas A&M, a game that Saban thought shouldn’t have been as close as it turned out.

“I’m asking them (the players) are you going to listen to me or are you going to listen to these guys (the media) about how good you are?” Saban continued in his postgame press conference. The coach is telling his team to remain humble, as any coach would, but is reminding them they are not as great as the media has dubbed them.

Up until their near-loss against Mississippi State, two weeks before the Iron Bowl, the Tide seemed unstoppable in the regular season yet again. Even with a great Georgia team wrapping up the SEC East and an emerging Auburn team, Bama still seemed like the favorite to finish 13-0 and earn the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. Things obviously did not turn out this way and Alabama will both finish the year 11-1 and without being able to play for the SEC Championship. If they hope to make the playoffs, they will have to do so as a team that is not a conference champion. This would be the first time that a team would make the playoff without at least a stake in its conference championship.

If Alabama had lost to a team like LSU or Mississippi State earlier in the season, it would’ve diminished their record and ranking but would not have had the same affect as losing to Auburn. Losing to LSU or Mississippi State and then beating Auburn would’ve guaranteed Alabama a spot in the playoff as long as they beat Georgia for the SEC Championship. But losing to Auburn on the last week of the regular season and missing out on a chance to play in the Championship has doomed Bama barring a series of upsets this coming weekend.

If Alabama does indeed miss out on the playoff, it would be the first time in the tourney’s history that the Tide won’t be in it. But when Nick Saban declares that his team is not as good as the media says and then argues that his team is good enough to be in the playoff despite failing to take care of business against Auburn, he cannot be able to have it both ways. This is an Alabama team that has big wins over bad squads like Tennessee, Arkansas and Mercer. They also have played average teams very close, like Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State. The best team they faced all year, Auburn, decidedly bested them by 12 points and dominated almost the entire game.

Alabama is not the same juggernaut they have been in past years, Saban is right about that much. And for that reason, they do not belong in the College Football Playoff this season.

 

Duke’s Blue Collar Worker… Gary Trent Jr.

By Jack Drapkin

If the Duke Blue Devils were to succeed this year, it was to be on the backs of senior guard Grayson Allen, point guard Trevon Duval and/or the freshman frontcourt tandem of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Gary Trent Jr., was expected to have a prominent role, however there were no guarantees that he would even start at the beginning of the season. While everyone has had the spotlight at times, Trent Jr. has been bringing his lunch pale to work and getting it done while no one is watching.

I’ll be the first to admit, I was worried about Gary. After a promising exhibition campaign and first two games of the season, Trent Jr. could not buy a bucket from the outside. However, despite his shooting struggles he remained active and engaged on the defensive end of the court. He seems to be okay doing his work out of the spotlight and is comfortable not receiving the credit. Not only does this help tremendously with this Duke team, but it also allows Gary to show NBA teams that he can do the same things for them too.

As a defender, Gary Trent Jr. moves his feet well and has active hands. It’s not as though Gary has had a tremendous number of steals or blocks either. He just is always in the right spots on the court, and that kind of accountability is what a coach is looking for. This is part of the reason why Trent Jr. is averaging over 31 minutes a game for Duke, Coach K can trust him.

On offense, Gary Trent Jr. has a diverse repertoire of moves and can score from all three levels of the court when he has it going. He has a great three-point stroke and will need to knock them down more consistently in ACC play. While not the most explosive athlete, his heady play allows him to find openings in the defense and get a step on defenders, like his game-tying and-one drive against Texas.

Look for Trent Jr. to be wearing his hard hat all season long, doing the dirty work while no one is watching.

 

Wendell Carter Jr. | A 5 Game Synopsis

By Jack Drapkin

Let’s take a look at the freshman’s big start to most likely his only season in Durham. Outside of the opener against Elon, where he placed himself in early foul trouble, he has scored in double figures each game this season. With per-game averages of 13 points, nine rebounds, two assists and three blocks, Carter has been filling up the stat sheet early on in his freshman campaign. So what has made Carter Jr., so effective early on in his career? Two words size and relentlessness.

While Carter Jr. does possess a quality basketball IQ his early success has been based on his ability to establish himself in the paint. In a situation where plays are rarely run for him, Carter Jr. and his frontcourt counterpart Marvin Bagley III have managed to score their points in a variety of manners. Some via screen and roll, others via post but Carter Jr. has scored a bunch of his points just cleaning up the offensive glass. He has a great righty jump hook, that he uses once he establishes himself in the low block. In addition, if left open behind the three-point line he is able to connect from long range though it’s still an area that needs development.

On defense, Carter has been a shot-blocking machine. With almost three blocks per game and a six-block performance against Southern, it’s safe to say Carter has been comfortable on this end of the court. He displays great timing when it comes to his shot-blocking instincts and knows when to get off his man to for the weak-side opportunity. Playing the center position in the Duke defense provides ample opportunity to contest shots at the rim. One area to note, the teams have been much smaller on average than Duke to start the season, outside of Michigan St. Let’s see if this trend continues as we move into conference play.

While Carter Jr. has gotten off to an outstanding start, there are a couple of areas of concern to keep in mind as we move further into the season. Primarily, the aforementioned foul trouble is an area young bigs tend to struggle with in addition to ball security as he has turned it over two times a game. Finally, how he responds to size will be a question mark as he had some struggles to score in the paint against the size of Michigan St.

There is no question Wendell Carter Jr. is a good player, his play in conference and overall consistency will determine if he is a great player.

Kansas City Forgot What Made Them Great

By John Camera

The Chiefs find themselves drifting further away from contender and closer to pretender following an embarrassing 12-9 loss in overtime against a 2-8 New York Giants team that had all but quit on its coach. Make no mistake, the Kansas City team that has dropped four of its last five is not the same team that started 2-0 against the Patriots and Eagles respectively, arguably the two best teams in the league right now. Kansas City has very much lost its way.

The Chiefs are not yet in danger of missing out on the playoffs thanks in large part to an AFC West full of underachievers. The Chargers look average, although have rebounded well from a 0-4 start, the Broncos can’t find any offensive momentum to break a six game losing streak and the Raiders looked especially listless in an embarrassing 33-8 loss against New England. This has allowed the Chiefs to remain on top, two games ahead of everyone else, at 6-4. But the most concerning thing is not their ability to take home an AFC West title, it is their place in the AFC hierarchy of power.

After racing out to a 5-0 start, Kansas City looked like the best team in the league, especially after trouncing the defending champion Patriots in Foxborough on opening night. They did it with a potent offense, a QB in Alex Smith that seemed reborn without the shackles of being a game manager and a running game led by rookie Kareem Hunt. They lost WR Jeremy Maclin but it seemed to be addition by subtraction with the way the passing game soared in his absence. Smith was more confident and took deeper, more aggressive shots against defenses with speedy and talented WRs like Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, Marcus Robinson and Chris Conley. Travis Kelce remained their number one target and thrived in the role, the big, athletic TE able to stretch the field and be equally effective both short and deep down the seam.

Alex Smith’s performance in the first five game compared to the last five are stark and telling of the struggle that the offense has had. Smith has had less chances to do what made the Chiefs so surprisingly dominant in their passing game; attack downfield. Smith’s yards per attempt went from 8.71 to 7.35, indicative of the more conservative approach that the air attack has been relegated to and has used in past seasons. His other passing stats have dropped as well. Passing yards are down from 278 per game to 257, TDs are down from 2 to 1 and completion percentage from 76.5% all the way down to 62.3%. And after throwing zero interceptions in the first five games, Smith has thrown three in the past five.

While the running game has also struggled in the Chiefs four losses, it’s been the passing game’s sudden impotency that has ultimately made Kansas City fall from the top of the league to the third or fourth best team in it’s own conference. The Chiefs will absolutely need to get back to a downfield, deep-shot, aggressive passing game if they expect to make a significant playoff run. Reverting back to the check down, conservative passing game and trying to win with a running game behind an average offensive line and a defense that has looked weaker than usual is not going to get it done for Kansas City.

Its not surprising that fans and media want to sound the alarm after that embarrassing loss to a Giants squad that looked lost. I don’t think its that time, at least not yet. The Chiefs still have a solid lead in the AFC West and can essentially make the playoffs just by taking care of business against their divisional opponents. However, they will need to recover their early season form in the passing game if they can expect to challenge the Patriots or Steelers and be considered true title contenders.

I Was Wrong About Carson Wentz and Jared Goff: Here’s Why

By John Camera

If you’ve seen my draft profiles on Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, you’ll know that my opinions on them as the top two quarterbacks in the 2016 draft were very strong. Yes, I agreed they were probably the best of the bunch, but still, I thought that wasn’t saying much. To me draft media was hyping up these two because the narrative behind the NFL Draft is so much more interesting when franchise QBs are involved. In addition to the media, my thinking was that General Managers who felt the need for a young QB who can guide their team to success would artificially inflate the value of those who are the closest thing to that.

I thought Wentz and Goff were both second round picks, guys who would need significant time before a team got their return on investment. And there was nothing wrong with that; Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo were second round picks and Teddy Bridgewater was picked 32nd overall. I believed that taking them early in the first, much less numbers one and two overall, was a huge mistake. And their rookie seasons proved me right more or less. Wentz started hot with a lot of easy reads and simple throws and cooled off quickly once defensive coordinators figured out how to stop him. Goff was terrible as soon as he got into the lineup, unable to get the ball downfield and lacking good pocket presence. In their sophomore seasons, a lot has changed, and while it is still early to say what their career path will be, Wentz is 24 and Goff is 23, we are getting a firm idea of they are capable of.

Starting with the number one overall pick, I felt Goff would be woefully unprepared to make a switch from a college spread system to a more conservative NFL attack, especially one under someone so notably unimaginative as head coach Jeff Fisher. More importantly, I had major concerns with his accuracy. On his throws more than 10 yards downfield, I did not see consistent touch and accuracy. Goff threw wide of his targets quite often at Cal, making his receivers work extra hard to grab his passes and sometimes getting them killed when throwing them into coverage, like throwing them directly into the path of a safety coming downhill. I also thought his footwork and pocket presence left something to be desired. All of these issues were prevalent in his rookie year, where Goff struggled to do anything positive and talk of Sean Mannion replacing him was no longer a whisper in the 2017 offseason.

Rookie Head Coach Sean McVay has a lot to do with Goff’s development into a competent Quarterback this year, as the Cal product has gotten significantly better in the all the areas that I had issues with previously. His accuracy in particular has take a huge step forward that is simply unusual for most QBs. Accuracy is a big thing to try and change and for Goff to be able to do so should earn him a lot of credit. The addition of weapons like Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Gerald Everett was also critical but no acquisition was more offense-changing than Left Tackle Andrew Whitworth. Look no further to the success of Goff as compared to Andy Dalton, Whitworth’s old QB. It goes to show what a real, effective coach and a retooled offense can do for a young QB who experiences turmoil in his first season.

Wentz on the other hand had a rookie season with a lot of promise. He looked pretty good despite a limited preseason and an offense that was largely devoid of weapons at WR and RB. I was largely skeptical of Wentz because of how defensive coordinators were able to shut him down in the second half of the season when they adjusted to the Eagles’ somewhat conservative offense. However, it is foolish to deny Wentz’ ability and play-making acumen any longer. He is clearly an excellent young QB and could be the next great star at the position. He is having an MVP caliber year so far, guiding the Eagles to 9-1 while putting up the most passing TDs in the league. Wentz has improved in every area from his rookie to sophomore year; decision making, pocket presence, accuracy at all levels of the field, timing and footwork. Coming out of North Dakota State, I feared that Wentz’ poor footwork, inconsistency in reading through his progressions and especially his uneven pocket presence (noting how badly his accuracy degraded under pressure and his penchant for holding the ball too long) could be his undoing at the next level.

All of these weakness cropped up in Wentz’ first season and while not a reason to call him a bust, I was not ready to consider him undeniably and eventually great. This season, however, he has been great, issues coming up here and there but more often than not Wentz has been simply spectacular. And just like Goff, an influx of weapons like Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffrey has also helped make Wentz a better and more consistent QB.

It’s important to remember that we can’t account for everything when scouting players, especially a complex position like QB. We don’t know what the player’s work ethic is like, their film study acumen, how well they respond to coaching, and how well the team they will go to coaches’ are. Scouting as an outsider can very much be a “best guess” based on what is seen on tape and scouting reports that end up erroneous are impossible to escape. As long as the reason why they were wrong is understood, we can learn from past scouting mistakes and make better judgments in the future.

Business is Boomin’ for the Blue Devils

By Jack Drapkin

The Blue Devils led by Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval looked fantastic in the Champions Classic matchup against Michigan State on Tuesday night. Much of the talk prior to the game had been about the frontcourts of the two teams but the Duke backcourt stole the show. Between Grayson’s 37 points and Duval’s 10 assists, the Blue Devils backcourt was dominant.

Let’s talk about just how great Grayson Allen was in this game. He may have finished with 37, but he led all scorers with the quietest 14 points in the first half as well. He connected on SEVEN three-pointers, not even including the two times he was fouled beyond the line and connected on all six free throws. He hit huge shots, namely the big threes at the end of the first half and the pull-up from the top of the key. Most importantly like Duval, he remained composed throughout the game.

Speaking of Trevon Duval he was absolutely tremendous. The fact that he can’t shoot *yet* speaks volumes to how good he is right now. His ability to explode and get to the basket is reminiscent of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. But how many freshman point guards can put up 30 assists and 4 turnovers?!? He has exceeded expectations early on in the 2017-18 season and with his poise I fully expect it to continue.

Lastly, and this is mostly for myself, but I figure some of you will enjoy this..get you a teammate like Jordan Goldwire. Goldwire is somehow consistently more excited than the person who makes the given play.

The Blue Devil backcourt is going to be a ton of fun to watch this season.

2017 Midseason NFL Award Races

By Alexander C. Lawrence

It’s that time of the year again and that’s midseason NFL awards! We all love them and let’s be honest, it’s always fun to look back at and see how right or wrong we were come seasons’ end. This season of candidates for each award is like no other year. There is no shortage of talent, just some familiar faces missing such as Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr and Matt Ryan, all of whom were seen as potential MVP candidates. I’ll take us through some MVP, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year choices.

MVP

1) Carson Wentz – The Eagles are off to a great start as Wentz and Co. are 8-1 now and in firm control of the NFC East. A big reason for this is Carson Wentz, who has played out of his mind in his second full-season in the NFL. It’s crazy to think during  Wentz’ rookie season there was talks of Chase Daniel starting over him.

Wentz is pacing the NFL with 23 touchdown passes. The duo of Wentz-to-Alshon Jeffrey is becoming more and more dangerous and it’s time to consider the Eagles a serious playoff threat. He has the Eagles with the best record in the NFL. He is second in passing yards and third in passer rating among QBs. Not to mention all the tight coverage throws he has completed and made look easy all season.

Wentz is having the type of season that makes you check the record books. That’s just how good he is right now. For example Donovan McNabb has the club record with five games in a season with four or more touchdowns passes. Wentz is currently at three. The most touchdown passes by an Eagles’ QB in a single season is 32. The North Dakota State product is on pace to have a staggering  41 TD passes. Wentz is seemingly re-writing the Eagles record book and well on his way to breaking a few of them.

2) Alex Smith – Mr. Efficiency himself is now in the MVP conversation as the Kansas City Chiefs started off the season red-hot. And who was behind this great start? Not the defense, but Smith and rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who himself is on the verge of having a rookie of the year campaign (see below). Alex Smith has been known as the conservative QB who doesn’t attempt to throw down the field that often and is more of a check-down guy. You might be surprised to know he leads the NFL this season with 8.4 yards per pass attempt. He also leads the NFL in passer rating with 115.4.

3) Tom Brady – Every year Brady plays it seems like he’s in the conversation for MVP and until he stops playing I don’t see that stopping. He has the Patriots atop the AFC East right now; clearly father-time hasn’t impacted his playmaking ability. He’s won the award before and he’s always the team’s MVP, but this season he has some deadly weapons, even with Julian Edleman out for the year. Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks are proving to be very reliable targets which are keeping Brady’s numbers on pace to warrant the MVP talks. Where Brady separates himself from the rest is how he performed with the Pats’ poor defensive play in the first half of the season and being forced to keep pace with other offenses. Still, he’s picking apart opposing team’s defenses to win games and managing to supplement a bad defense. Tom is very much in this race each and every year until proven otherwise.

4) Russell Wilson – People were disappointed with Russell Wilson’s play last season, but a strong season in 2017 has put Wilson firmly back in the MVP race. The Seahawks just traded for Duane Brown, one of several great trade deadline moves, who will only help Wilson feel more comfortable and less pressured during games. If you saw that epic 41-38 win over the Houston Texans you know why everyone may believe the hype around Wilson and what this offense can achieve. I don’t believe all their cards have been dealt and I can see the Seahawks being a sleeper candidate to make an appearance in the Super Bowl. Wilson has to carry the load of the team and put it on his back much like Tom Brady. He’s showing he can be up to the task to shoulder the offense and as long as he continues to put up points, Wilson will be in MVP talks.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

1) Deshaun Watson – Okay before you tell me Watson is out for the year just hear me out for a minute. Since becoming the starter in his short stint with Houston, the rookie has helped the offense put up 13, 33, 57, 34, 33, and 38 points during the games he did start. That is more than enough offense to win some games which he did. He went 3-4 as a starter, but he was tied (with Carson Wentz) for passing TDs with 19 up until his ACL injury. The talent was there and I see no reason why he couldn’t have continued to be a rookie revelation, even if his numbers eventually fell back to Earth. He’s a good candidate nonetheless since he proved he can tear a defense a part. He threw for 402 yards against a Seahawks D in Seattle and kept the game going back and forth. Anyone who can put up that much offense should be seriously looked at. He is everything we’d hope he would be when he came into the league.

2) Kareem Hunt – The Toledo product who most saw as no more than an afterthought quickly became a break-out rookie. His top tier production has been boosted by the injuries in the Kansas City Chiefs’ backfield. He leads the NFL in rushing yards though Zeke Elliott and Le’Veon Bell are quickly approaching behind him and with 32 receptions he has made an impact through the air as well. He came onto the scene quickly and is already a critical piece of that offense. He’s averaged over a 100 yards from scrimmage, no easy feat to achieve. Look at what he’s done for Alex Smith and helping Smith balance out his game with an effective and consistent run game.

3) JuJu Smith-Shuster – There’s something in the air in Pittsburgh. Much credit goes to the coaching staff, since it seems the Steelers are always developing wide receivers well; JuJu Smith is just the latest. Among the rookie receiver class he doesn’t have too much competition at this moment. Watch out as he already does have over 400 receiving yards and averages 17.7 yards per reception. Regardless of how many targets he is given, he should continue to be one of the most electrifying rookies this year.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

1) Marshon Lattimore – It’s clear why many scouts viewed him as the top CB prospect in the draft and the New Orleans Saint were more than happy when he fell to them. It was a match made in heaven and Lattimore is proving it every week. Lattimore’s impact has made the Saints a surprisingly good defense which we haven’t seen for quite a while now. He tackles well and is outstanding in coverage. For last decade the Saints have typically been awful on defense and the playmaking ability he brings to that team is enough to outshine most other defensive rookies.

2) Marcus Maye – Talk about getting your own “Legion of Boom” version for Gang Green when they drafted Jamal Adams (1st round) and Marcus Maye (2nd round) in the 2017 NFL draft. Marcus Maye has performed well to this point and has been a real leader for that Jets defense and looks to be a cornerstone for years to come. He is tied with the team lead in interceptions with two and his nose to get to the ball and make plays this season can’t be ignored.

Defensive Player of the Year

1) Jalen Ramsey – No need to really explain this one as Jalen Ramsey has quickly made his mark in the NFL and is perhaps the best Cornerback in the league. He has made a huge difference with the Jaguars defense and stepped up to be a leader. He should be an obvious candidate and maybe a favorite to win DPOY if he can continue to play at such a high level with amazing consistency. He controls the defense and how he has helped transformed that secondary is well deserving of the award. I do realize that Calais Campbell is leading the NFL in sacks and destroying opposing offenses in his own right so while both are deserving of the award, I have to give the nod to Ramsey.

3 Keys to Watch in this Weekend’s Tune up Games

By Jack Drapkin

Look we all know Duke’s real season begins every year with the Champions Classic. It is a great measuring stick for the team to see where they are at in relation to the other great teams in the country. This year is no different, as they will go in as the #1 team against #2 Michigan State. Besides the fact I think Michigan State and Tom Izzo deserve the #1 ranking, they are a more experienced team with all of a top-5 recruiting class from last season including the electric Miles Bridges, returning. Michigan State is also one of the few teams who will be able to match Duke’s size, with their combination of Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson, and Gavin Schilling. But before getting too carried away with the excitement of this matchup I wanted to give you guys a couple of things to pay attention to in this weekend’s matchups against Elon and Utah Valley.

Shooting

I can’t seem to stress this enough, this is the first time in the last five seasons at least, where I have legitimate question marks about how the team will shoot. We know what Grayson Allen is capable of, but he will be the lone shooter who teams have to respect. Despite shooting 49 times from behind the arc in the first two games, Duke has only made 15 of those attempts or 30%. Even more concerning is the fact that Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. have accounted for 12 of those makes alone. Speaking of Gary Trent Jr., he has looked outstanding in the exhibitions, knocking down 64% of his looks on a variety of shots. If Duke is going to have success as we move deeper into the season, Marvin Bagley III and/or Wendell Carter Jr. will need to be at least respected from beyond the arc.

Defense

I have the loved the defense I have seen from the Blue Devils early on this season. They have been aggressive, active and in-sync on that end of the court. If this continues this weekend look for the bigs to continue leading the charge. The athleticism and ability to switch has been a real difference maker and could be a key for Duke in the matchup against Michigan St.

Rotation

Pay attention to the minutes distribution in the 1st half, it will be a good indicator of who will play in the Michigan State game. Since I am expecting both of these games to be under wraps by the 2nd half, who plays in the first half will be the true indicator. In particular, see how many people come off the bench in the first half and what is the order. In particular, the minutes of freshmen point guards, Trevon Duval and Jordan Goldwire will be key as the Blue Devils will want to keep Grayson Allen at the two as much as possible.

I’ll be back early next week to recap these two games and preview the Michigan State in detail. Until then check out our great content on the Youtube page, Dealing with the Devils!

Winners & Losers of the NFL Trade Deadline

By Alexander C. Lawrence

Going into this deadline I didn’t believe there would be many, if any, blockbuster deals. The NFL typically doesn’t have the most active teams making trades right up until the deadline and with big names involved. I was very wrong. In fact this may be one of the most arguably active deadlines in history. Some pretty big names were moved and we could be witnessing some teams pull away and prove they are true contenders. Like any NFL fan I enjoy to see trade action, especially big names on the move to new teams. Here’s a look at some of the best and worst deals that were made at the deadline.

WINNERS

1) Jay Ajayi – He was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the Philadelphia Eagles for just a fourth-round pick! There was a lot of mixed reactions about his snap count in Miami and that he’d be reduced to a part-time role in Philly with LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement and Wendall Smallwood lurking in the backfield. However, I’m not too concerned about his ability to make an impact with that impeccable offensive line.

It’s no secret that Ajayi through the first half of the season didn’t live up to expectations after breaking out in 2016 with Miami. I don’t understand why Miami didn’t ask for more in compensation for him, but nonetheless he is an Eagle now and I believe he was the missing piece to help the Eagles soar and compete in the playoffs with the way Wentz and that offensive have already performed this season. I see nothing but improvement in that offense coming as Ajayi has too much talent not to do so.

2) Duane Brown – Brown was a big part of the reason Deshaun Watson succeeded so quickly in his rookie year prior to a devastating ACL injury. The Seahawks got a proven offensive linemen who will make Russell Wilson much happier in Seattle. The potential of the production that Wilson and can put up with a significantly now upgraded offensive line is exciting.

Left Tackle is one of the most important positions and sometimes that’s forgotten in the mist of all these touchdowns being scored. This trade is one of the best things Seattle could’ve done. To put this in perspective Seattle’s production from the left tackle position has had Wilson under pressure 84 times. Brown has given up less than half the amount of pressure in the last 17 games he’s played.

3) 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo – A second rounder is what it took for the Patriots to move the prized back-up of Tom Brady and hand him over to the 49ers, the team Tom Brady grew up rooting for. After sitting and learning behind Brady for four years all eyes are on Jimmy to see what he can do. He is in a contract year so, the ball is now in the 49ers court to evaluate him in their facilities, and not the few snaps he got with the Pats, and determine if he is indeed their franchise QB worthy of a contract that matches that.

The Browns offered a trade to the Patriots six months ago during the 2017 NFL draft. Cleveland would deal a second rounder in exchange for Garoppolo. The question remains; what changed six months later? We may not ever find out that answer, but I do expect Jimmy Garoppolo to suit-up for the 49ers soon and I think this may play out well for San Fran. A second rounder for your highly regarded back-up who was seemingly the heir to the Patriots throne once Brady hung it up is not a bad price. But the time is now for Jimmy Garoppolo to make his NFL mark.

4) Tom Brady – At 40-years-old a lot of people were wondering what the job security of arguably the best QB of this generation was like. The Jimmy Garoppolo trade shed some light on the situation as it seems the Patriots are okay with the age of Tom Brady and his ability to continue playing at an elite level. There’s no question Garoppolo would’ve commanded massive money to remain a back-up and then there’s the issue of a highly paid back-up QB and wasting that money for someone to ride out the bench. Brady’s fight with father time continues and don’t be shocked, based on their history, if they draft a QB in the 2018 NFL draft.

5) Rashard Robinson – A week ago he was one of the worst teams in the NFL (49ers) but he has since moved to the New York Jets who sit at 4-5 (last place in AFC East). Coming into the season people thought the Jets would be getting a top three pick in the 2018 NFL draft, but now that seems highly unlikely. This move indicates the Jets are not giving up, and improving themselves on defense with the addition of this defensive back. Don’t expect big things, but no one can deny the Jets are playing significantly more competent football than what was expected heading into the 2017 season.

LOSERS

1) The Jaguars trading for Marcell Dareus – To say Dareus has been a bust in Buffalo would be an understatement. He experienced success when he recorded 19 sacks between 2013 and 2014, but other than that all he’s done is wind up with a few suspensions and headaches for the Bills front office. There is risk, but that’s why he was traded for a sixth-rounder. The potential is there for Dareus to be an impactful defender for the Jags but he doesn’t always give it a 100% on the field. If the Jaguars can change his training habits and mature him he could very well be an excellent addition to an already-talented defense that features Calais Campbell and Jalen Ramsey.

2) Kelvin Benjamin – When I heard about this trade I was partly confused as most people wrote the Bills off after they traded away Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, and Reggie Ragland. It made me wonder what the Bills’ organization was doing. And then it turned out their team played better without them.

Benjamin was never a #1 receiver in Carolina in my opinion and I still don’t like him in Buffalo, but the Bills are making their team work as they are 5-3 (second in the AFC East), which most fans did not expect coming into 2017. Bills fan it is time to start believing this team can end their lengthy playoff-drought, but temper expectations for Benjamin. He won’t be a #1 receiver here either with the likes of Jordan Matthews and rookie Zay Jones around. The move just doesn’t seem poised to work out and the Panthers were getting the most out of Benjamin with Cam Newton so Tyrod Taylor may not do much better for his real life or fantasy value.