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Don’t jump to conclusions after Ohio State’s beatdown of Duke

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Aaron Craft hit a three. Then William Buford and Craft made layups on back-to-back possessions. Buford followed that up with another layup of his own, and after Duke used their second timeout of the half less than three minutes into the game, Jared Sullinger hit a short jumper.

It was only 3:38 into the much-hyped battle between two of the teams ranked in the top four, but with the score already 11-0, they may as well have called the game at that point.

Duke was able to get within a point on two separate occasions in the next five minutes of game time, but the Blue Devils never tied the game and they never took the lead as they watched — almost literally, based on the lack of effort Duke displayed on the defensive end — Ohio State carve up their defense like a Thanksgiving turkey, taking a 47-28 lead into the break and cruising to an 85-63 win.

The loss was equally embarrassing and impressive, depending on what colors your favorite team wears. Ohio State looked every bit as good as last year’s team. They played like a team that deserves to have their name mentioned with North Carolina and Kentucky when talking about this year’s national title contenders. Blowing out a team ranked in the top four will have that effect on people.

And Duke? Well, all of the flaws that this team possesses were exposed on a national stage. They lack playmakers. Their bigs aren’t physical enough. Their defense would struggle to stop good high school teams.

But how much perspective does the 40 minutes that the Blue Devils and the Buckeyes shared a court give on the season as a whole?

How much weight can we put into a win like this?

Frankly, not a ton.

Look, games like this happen. Don’t believe me? Last year, Duke went into Garden and got pasted by St. John’s 93-78, a game where the final score didn’t indicate just how badly they had been beaten down. That Duke team lost the ACC regular season title on the last day of the regular season, but got their revenge on North Carolina by winning the ACC Tournament. The year before, Duke went into the Verizon Center and got worked by Georgetown, trailing by as much as 21 in the second half, just 10 days after losing to NC State by 14. That Duke team won the national title.

Still need more evidence? Last season, Ohio State, who went into the NCAA Tournament as the favorite to win the national title, beat Wisconsin and Purdue in Columbus by a combined 51 points. The Buckeyes lost to Purdue by 14 at Mackey Arena and blew a 15 point second half lead to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. The year before, Ohio State lost by 22 at Wisconsin before avenging that loss at home and going on to win a share of the Big Ten regular season title and the Big Ten Tournament title.

Like I said, games like this happen.

The same way that players can be on fire or ice cold, teams have off nights and teams have great nights. And when the visiting team is having an off night while the home team, especially a home team as talented as Ohio State, is having a great night, blowouts happen.

So take this result with a grain of salt.

Ohio State is not as good as they looked on Tuesday. And Duke is not as bad as they played.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from this game:

Ohio State:

– On nights when the Buckeyes have their Big Four going, they are going to be extremely difficult to beat. Jared Sullinger had 21 points and eight boards. Aaron Craft went for 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds. DeShaun Thomas had 18 points — including a stretch where he scored 12 straight. And William Buford went for 20 points, five boards and four assists.

– William Buford is as good as any shooting guard in the country. And he’s an NBA player. He comes off of screens so well and he has become a lethal three-point shooter. He’s also a much better passer than anyone gives him credit for.

– While we’re on the subject of passing, what makes Ohio State so dangerous is how well they move the ball offensively. They space the floor and swing the ball incredibly well for a team that has so many quality offensive weapons. They give up good shots to get a great shot as well as any team in the country because they know that on the next possession, their teammate will make the extra pass to get them a wide-open look.

Duke:

– The Blue Devils are going to go as far as Austin Rivers takes them. He’s the only player on the roster than is capable of creating his own shot, and he’s as good as any player in the country — regardless of age — at using his dribble to create space for himself. He still has plenty to learn, however, and he has to get better at finishing the looks that he creates. That will come with time. But for Duke to be a top ten team, Rivers has to have the kind of impact that Nolan Smith had last season. Rivers finished with 22 points, but he needed 18 shots to do so and finished with just three assists.

– Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins cannot disappear like they did tonight. There’s nothing else to add here. Those two have to be offensive weapons, because they bring very little to the table on the other end of the floor.

– Mason Plumlee continued his excellent play from Maui and looks like he may be the first Plumlee to come close to living up to his potential. But Duke is in trouble is Ryan Kelly is their best option at the four. He’s not physical enough to battle in the paint and he hasn’t shot the ball well enough to be effective as a face-up four.

– The biggest issue with Duke, however, is on the defensive end of the floor. I don’t think its unfair to say that the only starter they have that can even be discussed an above-average defender is Mason Plumlee. If they are going to win, they are going to have to beat teams with a powerful offense based on their three-point shooting. They won’t be doing much of that if Kelly, Curry and Dawkins play the way they did tonight.

– Duke is ranked way to high as the No. 4 team in the country. But don’t ignore who they have already beaten this season — Belmont, Kansas and Michigan. This is still one of the 10 or 15 best teams in the country, and when their threes are falling and Austin Rivers is playing like the all-american he was in high school, they are going to be a tough team to beat.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Creighton’s Mo Watson Jr. has a torn ACL

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Greg McDermott of the Creighton Bluejays talks with Maurice Watson Jr. #10 during the team's game against the Massachusetts Minutemen during the championship game of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Creighton won 97-76.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Mo Watson Jr.’s Creighton career is over.

The star point guard for the Blue Jays had an MRI on Tuesday to determine the damage suffered in his left knee, and it revealed a torn ACL. Watson entered Monday’s game at Xavier averaging 13.4 points and a nation’s-best 8.8 assists on the season. He was the engine that made Creighton’s high-octane offense work.

“Devastated for [him],” head coach Greg McDermott said. “His impact on our program has been incredible. His leadership will continue to be vital to our success.”

With Watson, who was having an all-american season and was seventh in our Player of the Year Power Rankings as of Tuesday, Creighton was a team with Final Four upside. Their defense was a concern, but their ability to score in transition and to get easy looks from three – both of which were largely due to the ability of Watson – ensured that teams were going to have to score in the 80s to beat them.

Without Watson, Creighton was able to hang on to beat Xavier in Cincinnati, but it’s unclear what the future will hold. Isaiah Zierdan replaced Watson at the point down the stretch, and Greg McDermott does have a number of talented guards on his roster, but that doesn’t do much to mitigate was is a devastating loss for this team.

Watson released a statement on twitter on Tuesday:

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Mason, Hart, Lonzo. Who ya got?

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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas
2. Josh Hart, Villanova
3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: At this point in the year, I feel pretty comfortable making the guarantee that the National Player of the year is going to be one of these three players for three reasons:

  1. All three of them are not just an important piece but the critical component to their team’s success.
  2. The team’s that they play on could very well be the three best teams in college basketball, and I’ve always been of the mindset that winning matters when it comes to Player of the Year and all-american honors.
  3. Their numbers alone are good enough to get them into the conversation even if they didn’t happen to be the best player on one of the best teams in the country.

Frankly, the more that I think about it, labeling this a two-horse race was probably wrong. I’ve had Lonzo Ball third in these rankings for more or less the entire season, but there’s always been a gap between him and the two guys slotted above. Ball’s numbers are ridiculous – 14.6 points, 8.0 assists, 5.5 boards, 1.8 steals, 2.3 turnovers – but it’s what he’s done to that UCLA team that I’ve under-valued. Ball is a talent, and so is T.J. Leaf, but on paper, the difference between this team and last year’s team shouldn’t be as stark as going from a 15-17 season to a year where they are a buzzer-beating three at Oregon away from being undefeated on Jan. 17th. Ball’s presence did that.

The other difference?

I have Frank Mason III as the current leader for the award. Part of that is because Josh Hart has had a couple of bad games in a row and Mason, in the three games since we last convened here, led comebacks at Oklahoma and against Oklahoma State before guiding Kansas to a win at Iowa State. But there is also an argument to be made that Josh Hart has been somewhat figured out in league play. Teams can key in on him and he isn’t quite to the point where he has a response. Big 12 opponents haven’t been able to do that against Kansas.

That, however, is the definition of picking nits, but that’s what we have to do to differentiate these three at this point.

Because when the chips are down, those three players, at this point in the season, have all been sensational, and I would have no issue with someone picking either of the three to win the award.

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4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: In Purdue’s only game last week, Swanigan had “just” 17 points and eight boards, but he had a late turnover, missed a critical, point-black shot with less than a minute left and then watched a ball bounce out of bounds that was ruled – probably incorrectly – to be off of Purdue. It wasn’t the greatest finish we’ve seen out of a player this year.

5. Luke Kennard, Duke: In the first 14 games of the season, Luke Kennard averaged 13.9 shots per night and consistently churned out enough terrific performances that he deservedly has been the only Duke player considered for a spot on all-american teams all season long. In the last four games, however, Kennard is averaging just 9.8 shots, which can be attributed to a couple of different things. I don’t think the issue is defenses being more focused in on stopping him, mainly because I think the issue is Jayson Tatum.

Tatum has led the Blue Devils in field goal attempts in six of the last seven games. His usage rate (the percentage of possessions that end with him while he’s on the floor) is 27.8 on the season despite posting an offensive rating of 105.1, meaning he scores 1.051 points-per-possession. In the last seven games, he’s only had an offensive rating better than 109 in home games against Georgia Tech and Boston College.

Kennard, on the season, has an offensive rating of 133.5, which is third nationally for players that with a usage rate above 20, but his usage rate is stuck at 21.7. In other words, the numbers back up what our eyes have been telling us – that Duke’s offensive isn’t as good when the offense flows through Tatum instead of Kennard.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07: De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

6. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox is the most important player on Kentucky, and I don’t understand people that argue otherwise. Malik Monk can win games with his ability to score, but Fox ‘s ability to defend and to turn defense into offense is why the Wildcats are in a position for Monk to win games with his scoring alone.

7. Mo Watson Jr., Creighton: It looks like Creighton dodged a bullet on Monday. There has yet to be an official diagnosis, but what initially to be a non-contact knee injury for Watson, it appears that there is no ligament damage. A torn meniscus will not be an easy thing to recover from, but a bone bruise would be. Here’s to hoping he’s OK, but Watson is the engine that makes Creighton’s high-powered offense run.

(UPDATE: Watson’s career is over. He tore his ACL.)

8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry has been fantastic this season, and there’s a very strong argument to be made that he’s the ACC’s Player of the Year as of today. He is everything we wanted Marcus Paige to be over the course of the last two seasons.

9. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss has been terrific this season, and I’m not sure how many people have noticed. After posting 19 points and six assists in a 23-point win over No. 21 Saint Mary’s, he’s averaging 15.2 points, 5.8 boards, 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals with shooting splits of 49.5/41.1/89.5. This is the best Gonzaga team Mark Few has ever had, and Williams-Goss is the best player on the roster.

10. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Luke Kennard is third nationally in offensive rating for players with a usage rate that’s better than 20. No. 1 on that list? Lauri Markkanen, who is quietly having a terrific season for the Wildcats.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Malik Monk, Kentucky
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Josh Jackson, Kansas
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Melo Trimble, Maryland

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Athletics
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Athletics

CBT Podcast: Luke Winn joins to talk Kansas and their unorthodox backcourt

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Frank Mason III #0 after making a three-pointer during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, Mr. Power Rankings himself, joined the podcast this week to talk about something other than the Power Rankings.

Luke wrote a long feature on Kansas’ back court of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, a serendipitous pairing of former mid-major recruits that have turned into arguably the nation’s best pair of guards and the next great two-point guard back court. You can read that story here. You can listen to the podcast below.

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VIDEO: Mark Gottfried on Sunday’s N.C. State performance: ‘It’s embarrasing’

CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Mark Gottfried of the North Carolina State Wolfpack reacts during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at State Farm Center on November 29, 2016 in Champaign, Illinois. Illinois defeated North Carolina State 88-74. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Mark Gottfried is probably the happiest man in the world that his N.C. State team played – and lost – a home game against Georgia Tech on Sunday night, overlapping with the end of the thrilling Green Bay-Dallas NFC Playoff game.

No one was talking about it.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Joe Giglio of the News & Observer was there and, like he did after last weekend’s loss at Boston College, he took Gottfried to task for his team’s performance.

The biggest issue? Gottfried’s nonchalance at the way that a team with the talent to finish in the top six of the ACC and get to a Final Four is playing. The Wolfpack should not be sitting at 1-4 in the ACC having already played BC and Georgia Tech. Gottfried told the media after on the loss to Boston College that his team “got better,” which was as laughable then as it is now.

On Sunday night, he certainly did not try and view his team through rose-colored glasses:

That’s about as mad and emotional as you’ll see Gottfried get.

And he’s got every right to be mad, because the Wolfpack – who count a future top five pick, another future first rounder and at least three more guys that will get a shot on NBA Summer League teams – currently sit at the bottom of the ACC standings and third-to-last in KenPom’s ACC rankings.

The biggest issue is on the defensive end of the floor, which Gottfried made so clear Sunday.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “We’ve got to decide if we want to play some defense. I can talk about it for 2 hours every day at practice, at some point, they better make a decision. Right now, we struggle to guard anybody.”

The numbers back it up. N.C. State is dead last in the ACC in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and the only high-major programs that are worse than them defensively are Michigan, Washington State, DePaul, LSU, Washington and Arizona State. The Wolfpack are by far the most talented team out of that group, and probably the most athletic as well. They should be good defensively, but, if you talk to coaches in the league and NBA scouts that have watched that team play, the most consistent knock on them is, simply, that they don’t play hard.

And that may be more worrying than any of the results the Wolfpack have posted this season.

“I don’t want to paint the picture that I walk in there every night, even after a loss, it’s Pollyanna inside my locker room,” Gottfried said. “I think it’s time they understand, they need to understand. I can coddle them, I can baby them, but they have to take ownership.”

VIDEO: Roy Williams gets customized shoes from Michael Jordan

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels is presented with a gift as he celebrates after his 800th career victory with a 85-68 win over the Syracuse Orange at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Roy Williams became the second-fastest coach to get to 800 career wins last night, and to honor him, UNC did things like put together a video presentation, give him a jersey with the number 800 and bring him to the center of the Dean Dome floor to get cheered by everyone in attendance.

But it was Michael Jordan whose gift floored everyone.

Literally.

Because MJ got Ol’ Roy a pair of customized shoes, and it just about killed Brandon Robinson:

Here’s a closer look at those kicks: