Lacking athleticism, Duke falls in Sour 16 once again

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One of the most consuming moments in an NCAA Tournament game is the tipping point of an upset special. The favorite absorbs a few blows and either maintains its balance and provides a wire-to-wire finish with the underdog, or squabbles to the mat as the upstart prizefighter feeds off the emotion of the moment. The “This is Actually Happening” crescendo created amongst the crowd and announcers is incredible.

We got that tonight with Duke-Arizona.

But if you’re not one for poetic analogies, you could also just classify this as men beating boys, as the Wildcats throttled the Blue Devils 93-77 with one of the most impressive second-half offensive performances in recent tournament memory. It was a lesson in effective emasculation; one that may propel Arizona’s basketball program back to the forefront of college basketball for years to come.

A recurring issue with Duke players is that their often times exceptional basketball players, but comparatively marginal athletes. Tonight, we saw that glaring deficiency in Coach K’s kids, as his team unraveled at the seams in the second half during a 19-2 Wildcats run, highlighted by a handful of dunks from Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne, which will be YouTubed ad nauseum for years to come.

Duke has struggled mightily in the Sweet 16. Certainly it’s a problem few programs even have the opportunity to sniff, but for such a pristine program that measures success in Final Fours and national championships, we have a severely disconcerting issue at hand. Not only does Duke lose in the Sweet 16 on the regular, they get embarrassed in them. Surely leaving a sour taste in their fan’s mouths.

Consider that Duke has been eliminated in the Sweet 16 five times in nine years:

  • 2009: Villanova 77 – Duke 54
  • 2006: LSU 62 – Duke 54
  • 2005: Michigan State 78 – Duke 68
  • 2003: Kansas 69 – Duke 65
  • 2002: Indiana 74 – Duke 73

That is a lot. Even more bothersome if you’re a Cameron Crazie, is that the Blue Devils are only 2-5 in their last seven Sweet 16 games, a stat that reeks of everything that is not elite.

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For Arizona, they’re peaking at just the right time. Calling on a team that recently eliminated Duke in the true third round, the Wildcats are writing a similar arc to the 2005-2006 LSU Tigers. Young and ferocious, it took a few months for that Tigers team to find themselves, but they knocked off Duke and advanced to the Final Four because they were supremely athletic and had a pair of horses down low (Glen Davis, Tyrus Thomas) that could step out and pose significant match-up problems for opponents.

It’s pretty clear that the Sean Miller Era at Tucson is way ahead of schedule. I know hindsight is always 20/20, but this should have been everyone’s dark horse Final Four pick.

Swanigan to stay in draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.