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.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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