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.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: