tennessee%20duke%20basketball-845691075_v2_320w

It’s far too early to rule on Duke’s Austin Rivers

Leave a comment

There’s one thing that needs to be made clear: Duke’s Austin Rivers is a very skilled basketball player.

You don’t become the number one-ranked player in the nation, get named a McDonald’s All-American, and become the ACC’s Freshman of the Week in your first seven days on the job if you’re not skilled.

And following Rivers’ performance in the first two rounds of the Maui Invitational, games in which he averaged 19 points in two Blue Devil victories, the 6’4” freshman guard has become an interesting case study in how the flashiness and athleticism of a high school star can mesh with the controlled, calculated system of head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Through the first six games of Rivers’ college career, his straight statline looks good: 15.1 points, 2.5 assists per game. It’s a deeper look, though, and a dissection of what doesn’t show up in the box score that reveals the struggles of this Florida native.

Take a look: he had five turnovers in Duke’s 77-76 win over Belmont. He shot 1/7 from the field against Michigan State. It took him 15 shots to get his 18 points against Tennessee and another 14 shots to get 20 points against Michigan.

The flashes of brilliance that have shown themselves in Rivers’ first six games have been tempered by some harsh freshman realities that, many times, plague star freshman guards.

Rivers is undoubtedly Duke’s best weapon to attack off the dribble, slashing to the basket, collapsing the defense, and getting to the free throw line.

But for every hopstep into the lane that ends with a shifty layup at the basket, Rivers has a rushed, out-of-control floater that leads to a run-out and easy points for the opponent.

From high school, his strong handle and quickness have translated. He can still get by defenders and get into the lane. What Rivers still needs to understand is twofold: 1) there are big men who will step up to defend in the paint 2) there are other viable options on the floor who can be relied on to score the basketball, those whose names are not “Austin Rivers.”

With outside threats in Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, along with the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly inside, Rivers’ ability to find the open man after he gets into the paint will mark his growth and maturity during his freshman year.

As his ill-advised and forced shots decrease, his lightning-quick first step and deceptive moves in the lane will become more effective, as defenses will have to compensate for his court vision.

In the first half of Duke’s win over Tennessee in Maui, Rivers drove into the lane and came to a jump stop. Defenders converged and he found Mason Plumlee for an alley-oop slam. Well done.

Not two possessions later, he drove into the lane, spun, and threw a hard layup off the glass that led to a run-out and transition points for the Volunteers. Freshman mistake.

The struggles are partly amplified by Coach K’s system at Duke.

Rivers is accustomed to a fast-paced, one-on-one style game, where defenses are spread out in transition and he can wreak havoc.

Krzyzewski’s system slows everything down, manufactures shots, and is devoid of the flashiness Rivers typically brings.

Take a look at recent Duke point guards: Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving, and even Rivers’ classmate from 2011, Quinn Cook.

What do they all have in common? None are exceptionally athletic, but they fit well into Duke’s system and, within it, have and will thrive.

Rivers is different.

Would he have been more immediately effective at North Carolina or Kansas, two other schools he was considering? Perhaps.

But Rivers’ time at Duke could prove to be a blessing in disguise, as growing his game in the half-court is like a tough medicine to swallow; something that may be difficult to adjust to in the short-term, but beneficial in the long run.

To his credit, he has the overwhelming confidence to work through difficult stretches, so long as it doesn’t become his downfall.

After the aforementioned out-of-control layup against Tennessee, Rivers came back with two rise-and-fire, no-doubter three-pointers, part of his 11 first-half points, and 18 total, for the game.

There will be overreactions on both sides. Some will call him overrated. Some will venture to call him the best Duke guard since Jay Williams.

Both, for now, are unproven.

For now.

No. 18 Virginia collapses in stunning overtime loss to Miami

643268792
(Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Freshman Bruce Brown knocked down the go-ahead three-pointer with under 30 seconds left on Monday night as Miami captured a key ACC road win over N0. 18 Virginia with a 54-48 overtime win.

Miami used a 9-2 run in the final minutes of regulation to force overtime as they looked dead for most of the game on offense. The Hurricanes only managed to shoot 36 percent from the field and 21 percent from three-point range but they were bailed out by going 20-for-22 from the free-throw line. Brown only had two field goals but finished with a team-high 14 points while Kamari Murphy (10 points, nine rebounds), Dejan Vasiljevic (10 points) and Davon Reed (nine points) also provided offense.

The Hurricanes (19-8, 9-6) entered this game having only two top-50 wins this season so this is a huge NCAA tournament booster for them as it should give Miami a lot more confidence heading into the home stretch. Miami still has a tough schedule the last weeks of the regular season but it also gives them more opportunities to get quality wins and grab a better seed.

For Miami to also win this one — and go 3-0 — without starting point guard Ja’Quan Newton during his suspension is also a testament to how much this team has improved. Newton’s offense should help the Hurricanes quite a bit and they get another test against Duke on Saturday.

Virginia (18-9, 8-7) lost for the fourth consecutive game as they continue a recent freefall that has exposed its offensive issues. For a team that has competed for the ACC regular season title lately, they are now just one game over .500 in the ACC entering the final stretch of the regular season.

Senior point guard London Perrantes (2-for-15, four points) struggled to find his shot on Monday as Devon Hall led Virginia’s offense with 15 points. For awhile it looked like Virginia would be able to win just by holding Miami in the 30s but the Hurricanes generated enough late offense to creep back in.

On a night when Malcolm Brogdon was in the house to get his number retired, this Virginia team once again showed how badly they miss having a go-to scorer like him from last season. They don’t have a closer, and although Perrantes has hit some big shots, he needs help setting them up if he gets crowded by a defender.

This year’s Virginia team can sometimes still manage wins just by slowing things down and trying to get stops. That means they are also susceptible to getting run out of the gym against good offensive teams because this team really struggles to put up points right now. It also means they have a difficult time closing teams out as we saw on Monday night with Miami’s late comeback.

ACC teams might be more familiar with Virginia’s scheme and personnel than normal programs and it will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers look during the quick turnaround of the NCAA tournament.

Maryland big man Michal Cekovsky out for the season

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Michal Cekovsky #15 of the Maryland Terrapins is defended by Zedric Sadler #2 of the Rider Broncs during the first half at Xfinity Center on November 20, 2015 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Maryland big man Michal Cekovsky will be out for the rest of the season with a fractured ankle, the school announced on Monday.

The 7-foot-1 junior went down with the injury late in the second half of Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin. He had recently rejoined the Terps’ rotation and had started to get more comfortable, scoring 10 points against the Badgers before leaving the game.

Cekovsky appeared in 17 games this season and averaged 7.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game

“I feel badly for Ceko as he has endured a number of injuries throughout the season,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said in the release. “It felt like he was really starting to turn the corner and his best basketball was ahead of him. We anticipate a full recovery for next season and we will be there to support him through the rehabilitation process.”

Without Cekovsky in the lineup, more pressure will be put on Damonte Dodd to stay out of foul trouble while staying productive. Sophomore Ivan Bender also figures to see more minutes now as he has already seen double-figure minutes off the bench for the Terps the last three games.

This loss will hurt Maryland’s frontcourt depth but they should still be able to withstand this injury with the firepower they have on the perimeter. Junior Melo Trimble is still playing fantastic ball while the team’s freshmen have also been solid for most of the season.

Maryland finishes the regular season with three out of four games at home as the one road game comes at Rutgers.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim isn’t pleased when asked by reporter if Syracuse is ‘impatient’

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jim Boeheim has never been a man that’s shied away from saying what he feels, even if that results in him going after a reporter during a press conference.

On Sunday night, Boeheim did just that, when he was clearly unhappy about being asked whether or not his team was ‘impatient’:

Boeheim had reason to be upset beyond that particular line of questioning: Not only did his team lose a tough road game thanks to a pretty bad call in the final 20 seconds, but that loss might be what costs them a spot in the NCAA tournament.

With Demarcus Cousins in New Orleans, it’s time for John Calipari-to-the-NBA to heat up

1 Comment

With Demarcus Cousins ending up on New Orleans – I hesitate to call that fleecing a “trade” – to join forces with another former Kentucky Wildcat, it only makes sense for the dots to get connected: John Calipari to the Pelicans!

Dan Patrick didn’t waste any time diving right in on Monday morning, opening his interview with Coach Cal with: “Can I have permission to start a rumor about you?”

Before Patrick even had a chance to define said rumor, Cal hit him with a, “Not. Happening.” He doubled down on his denials later on that morning by telling a teleconference of reporters, “that’s not going to happen.”

This is what Cal has to say. When you’re the head coach at Kentucky, an incredibly high-paying job and arguably the best in the college basketball business, you cannot be publicly campaigning for another position, even if it is an NBA gig with two of the league’s top 12 players. And while Cal isn’t exactly forthcoming when it comes to what he reveals in the media – his name gets mentioned with an NBA job roughly every six months, and he has the same answer every time – I think I believe him here.

Why?

Because I don’t think he gives up his lucrative seat as the celebrity overlord of college basketball for anything less than the perfect job: One where he can win immediately, avoiding the indignity of another NBA flameout like the one he had with the Nets 17 years ago, and one where he is given total and complete roster control. He wants to be the coach and the GM, and I’m not sure New Orleans is in a position where they would get rid of GM Dell Demps, who orchestrated The Fleecing Of Sacramento, or head coach Alvin Gentry, who was hired prior to the start of last season and could feasibly get this group back to the Playoffs this year, for a guy that last coached in the NBA in 1999 after getting fired 20 games into a season.

And all of that is before you consider that Cousins still needs to ink a long-term deal with New Orleans at some point for this theory to truly be viable, although finding a way to bring in Cal could certainly help Cousins make this decision.

I also get it.

Cal, better than anyone else since Cousins first touched a basketball, found a way to channel Cousins’ immense talents. If anyone can find a way to get Boogie to shed his baggage, it’s probably Cal. Then factor in the chance that he would find a way to be able to reel in, say, John Wall, and those are dots that are just screaming to be connected.

A Kentucky reunion in the Big Easy. Big Blue Nation would buy every ticket available at the Smoothie King Center. Who wouldn’t love that?

Maybe it happens. But at this point, I have a hard time seeing Coach Cal giving up his throne atop Lexington.

Coaches Poll: Gonzaga remains atop the top 25, Baylor and Virginia tumble

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 10:  Head coach Mark Few of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts to a call in the second half of the game against the Akron Zips at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 10, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Akron 61-43.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
William Mancebo/Getty
1 Comment

Once again, undefeated Gonzaga finds themselves sitting al alone atop the Coaches Poll. The Zags are also No. 1 in the NBC Sports top 25 and the AP Poll.

Villanova and Kansas are two and three again, while Arizona and UCLA round out the top five.

Here is the full poll:

1. Gonzaga
2. Villanva
3. Kansas
4. Arizona
5. UCLA
6. Louisville
7. Oregon
8. North Carolina
9. Baylor
10. Kentucky
11. Duke
12. Florida
13. West Virginia
14. Purdue
15. Wisconsin
16. Cincinnati
17.Notre Dame
18. Saint Mary’s
19. Virginia
20. Florida State
21. SMU
22. Butler
23. Creighton
24. Maryland
25. Wichita State