Time to take Duke seriously as a Final Four contender

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All we’ve talked about all season long is No. 5 Duke’s flaws.

They don’t have a play-making point guard. They don’t have enough of an interior presence. They don’t defend. Austin Rivers will never fit into a team concept.

Its been incessant. And I’m not innocent.

And through all that negativity, the Blue Devils have just kept on winning basketball games. Barring a collapse down the stretch, Duke has an inside track at taking one of the two No. 1 seeds that won’t be going to Kentucky or Syracuse. It may not be that close, either. Seriously, take a look at who the Blue Devils have beaten this season outside of the ACC: No. 6 Michigan State, No. 4 Kansas, No. 11 Michigan, Washington, Colorado State, Davidson, Belmont, Penn, Tennessee. That’s an insanely good non-conference resume.

Their two non-conference losses? At No. 8 Ohio State in early November when the Buckeyes played one of their best games of the season and at Temple, who is as under the radar as any team in the country right now.

And thanks to an impressive, 74-66 win over No. 15 Florida State in Tallahassee — fitting revenge for the three that Michael Snaer hit to beat Duke at the buzzer in Cameron — Duke is tied with North Carolina for first place in the conference and hosts their battle on the final day of the regular season. There is a very real chance that a sweep of the Tar Heels can be added to that resume.

Even if the Tar Heels knock off Duke on March 3rd and even with the flaws that this group has, the Blue Devils have to be considered a threat to make the Final Four after tonight’s performance.

Playing without a point guard like a Phil Pressey, a jitterbug that can get into the paint at will and make any pass to any player at any given time, the Blue Devils still managed to manufacture open looks from three all night against one of the best defenses in the country. Duke went 13-28 from beyond the arc against Florida State, with Andre Dawkins (22 points and 6-9 from three) and Austin Rivers (20 points, 4-8 from three, four assists and four boards) leading the way.

I’ts also worth mentioning that the Blue Devils, who were overmatched inside before being forced to play small as the Plumlees dealt with foul trouble throughout the game, were able to hang with the Seminoles inside. Bernard James got his — 13 points, nine boards, and five blocks — and the Seminoles did grab 16 offensive rebounds, but those are the kind of numbers you expect from FSU.

The fact that Duke held their own with one of the biggest frontlines in the country despite getting just one point and five boards from Mason Plumlee in 17 minutes is a good sign.

We can break down all of the stats we can get our hands on and watch film of every single possession of Duke basketball this season, and while it all may tell us that Duke is an inherently flawed basketball team, there is something to be said for winning. I may be in the minority here, but I firmly believe in advanced statistics and new and improved metrics to evaluate basketball at the same time that I believe in players and teams being “winners” or “clutch”.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: winning is a skill. The confidence to execute in late-game situations and the mental capacity to perform under pressure is a trait that isn’t found in every player or team. Think about it like this: how many players that are good jump-shooters struggle from the free throw line? Its not always about technique. Confidence plays a role, too.

Its the same thing for executing under pressure.

They came back from 10 down in the final two minutes to beat North Carolina. They came back from 20 down in the final 11 minutes to beat NC State. They erased a 17 point deficit to force overtime in their loss to Miami. Most importantly, they are 24-4 on the season and 11-2 in ACC play.

While the reasons behind those big deficits are quite clear, you cannot talk about the Blue Devils without saying unequivocally that this group has put together as many impressive wins as anyone in the country.

And in a season where the field after the top two teams is about as easy to figure out as “Memento” on your first viewing after drinking a six-pack, we need to started talking about Duke as a legitimate Final Four contender.

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

Five-star Brandon McCoy commits to UNLV

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After the season that UNLV, the Runnin’ Rebels desperately needed some good news, and this certainly qualifies: On Tuesday night, five-star center Brandon McCoy announced that he had committed to head coach Marvin Menzies.

McCoy is a five-star prospect and a top 15 recruit that hails from San Diego. He picked the Rebels over Arizona, Oregon and Michigan State, among others.

UNLV went 11-21 a season ago as Menzies took over a program that was a shambles after the majority of the roster transferred out following Dave Rices dismissal.

2017 NBA Draft official early entry list

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On Tuesday, the NBA announced the early entries for the 2017 NBA Draft. More than 130 student-athletes have filed early-entry paperwork to enter the upcoming draft. That doesn’t include the dozens of international prospects who will also be eligible for the upcoming draft.

Players wishing to maintain their NCAA eligibility must withdraw from the draft by May 24.  The 2017 NBA Draft will take place on June 22.

Here is the current list of early entrants:

Shaqquan Aaron, USC Soph.
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure Jr.
Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky Fresh.
Deng Adel, Louisville Soph.
Jashaun Agosto,LIU Fresh.
Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s Jr.
Rawle Alkin, Arizona Fresh.
Jarrett Allen, Texas Fresh.
Mark Alstork, Wright State  Jr.
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA Fresh.
OG Anunoby, Indiana Soph.
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State Soph.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA Fresh.
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas Jr.
Jordan Bell, Oregon Jr.
Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont Jr.
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana Jr.
Antonio Blakeney, LSU Soph.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Jr.
Bennie Boatwright, USC Soph.
Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech Jr.
Tony Bradley, North Carolina Fresh.
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky Soph.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon Jr.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana Soph.
Rodney Bullock, Providence Jr.
Jevon Carter, West Virginia Jr.
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA) Jr.
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham Soph.
Donte’ Clark, Massachusetts Jr.
Chris Clemons, Campbell  Soph.
David Collette, Utah Jr.
John Collins, Wake Forest Soph.
Zach Collins, Gonzaga Fresh.
Chance Comanche, Arizona  Soph.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall Jr.
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky Fresh.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon  Soph.
PJ Dozier, South Carolina Soph.
Vince Edwards, Purdue Jr.
John Egbunu, Florida Jr.
Jon Elmore, Marshall Jr.
Obi Enechionyia, Temple Jr.
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State Soph.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State Soph.
Tacko Fall, Central Florida Soph.
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX) Soph.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Fresh.
Markelle Fultz, Washington Fresh.
Harry Giles, Duke Fresh.
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU Jr.
Donte Grantham, Clemson Jr.
Isaac Haas, Purdue Jr.
Aaron Holiday, UCLA Soph.
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky Soph.
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State Jr.
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State Fresh.
Frank Jackson, Duke Fresh.
Josh Jackson, Kansas Fresh.
Justin Jackson, Maryland Fresh.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina Jr.
Alize Johnson, Missouri State Jr.
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge Jr.
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville Jr.
Robert Johnson, Indiana Jr.
Andrew Jones, Texas Fresh.
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State Fresh.
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan Jr.
Luke Kennard , Duke Soph.
Braxton Key, Alabama Fresh.
George King, Colorado Jr.
Kyle Kuzma, Utah Jr.
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma Jr.
TJ Leaf, UCLA Fresh.
William Lee, UAB Jr.
Zach Lofton, Texas Southern Jr.
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse Soph.
Daryl Macon, Arkansas Jr.
Marin Maric, Northern Illinois Jr.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Fresh.
Yante Maten, Georgia Jr.
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State Soph.
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State Jr.
Eric Mika, BYU Soph.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville Soph.
Malik Monk, Kentucky Fresh.
Matthew Morgan, Cornell Soph.
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State Jr.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor Jr.
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas Jr.
Divine Myles, Stetson Jr.
Derick Newton, Stetson Soph.
Austin Nichols, Virginia Jr.
Semi Ojeleye, SMU Jr.
Cameron Oliver, Nevada Soph.
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah Jr.
Justin Patton, Creighton Fresh.
L.J. Peak, Georgetown Jr.
Theo Pinson | North Carolina Jr.
Ivan Rabb, California Soph.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State Jr.
Devin Robinson, Florida Jr.
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay Jr.
Martavius Robinson, Lewis & Clark CC (Illinois) Soph.
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State Soph.
Corey Sanders, Rutgers Soph.
Victor Sanders, Idaho Jr.
Kobi Simmons, Arizona Fresh.
Fred Sims Jr., Chicago State Soph.
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State Fresh.
Zach Smith, Texas Tech Jr.
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State Soph.
Edmond Sumner, Xavier Soph.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue Soph.
Jayson Tatum, Duke Fresh.
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State Jr.
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan Soph.
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State Soph.
Trevor Thompson,  Ohio State Jr.
Melo Trimble, Maryland Jr.
Craig Victor II, LSU Jr.
Moritz Wagner, Michigan Soph.
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso Jr.
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA) Soph.
Thomas Welsh, UCLA  Jr.
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan Jr.
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan Jr.
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga Jr.
Kam Williams, Ohio State Jr.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga| Jr.
Christian Wilson, Texas-San Antonio Jr.
D.J. Wilson, Michigan Jr.
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State Fresh.

CBT Podcast: Breaking down the NBA Draft early entry list

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On the podcast today, I am joined by Sam Vecenie to break down all of the NBA Draft early entry decisions. Who are the key returnees? Who are the most important names still testing the waters?

Joel Berry to return to North Carolina for senior season

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A little more than a day after North Carolina Joel Berry II — along with Tony Bradley and All-American Justin Jackson — announced they would enter the 2017 NBA Draft, Berry reversed course decided to forgo the draft process and will return to Chapel Hill for his senior season.

“After speaking to my family I have decided to withdraw from the 2017 Draft and will return to Carolina next season,” Berry said in a statement released by the university on Tuesday evening. “I know I can continue to improve my game and be better prepared for the NBA after another year playing against the best college competition in the country. There’s no reason to rush leaving school. I love being a Tar Heel and love playing for Carolina and Coach Williams.

Berry, the Most Outstanding Player from this season’s Final Four, averaged 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 rebounds per game as a junior.

The 6-foot floor general will likely open next season as not only a preseason All-American but perhaps a favorite for national player of the year. Berry will join Theo Pinson as the returning starter for the Tar Heels. North Carolina was pegged as a top-5 team in an early preseason poll by NBC Sports. While Berry’s anticipated return is a big reason why, that ranking also hinges on the decision of Bradley, a 6-foot-10 forward who will be projected as a breakout player if he chooses to return for his sophomore season.

Prospects have until May 24 to withdraw from the NBA Draft.

2017 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who is staying and who is going?

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RETURNING TO SCHOOL

Jalen Adams, UConn
Grayson Allen, Duke (story)
Tyus Battle, Syracuse
Joel Berry II, North Carolina (story)
Marques Bolden, Duke
Mikal Bridges (story)
Miles Bridges, Michigan State (story)
Bruce Brown, Miami
Jalen Brunson (story)
Jeffery Carroll, Oklahoma State (story)
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas (story)
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Shake Milton, SMU
Chimezie Metu, USC
Elijah Stewart, USC
Allonzo Trier, Arizona (story)
Robert Williams, Texas A&M (story)

DECLARING, SIGNING WITH AN AGENT

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky (story)
Jarrett Allen, Texas (story)
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA (story)
O.G. Anunoby, Indiana (story)
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State (story)
Lonzo Ball, UCLA (story)
Jordan Bell, Oregon (story)
Antonio Blakeney, LSU (story)
John Collins, Wake Forest
Zach Collins, Gonzaga (story)
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon (story)
P.J. Dozier, South Carolina (story)
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State (story)
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (story)
Markelle Fultz, Washington (story)
Harry Giles III, Duke (story)
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky (story)
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State (story)
Justin Jackson, North Carolina (story)
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville
Luke Kennard, Duke (story)
T.J. Leaf, UCLA (story)
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse (story)
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona (story)
Malik Monk, Kentucky (story)
Austin Nichols, Virginia
Justin Patton, Creighton (story)
L.J. Peak, Georgetown
Ivan Rabb, California (story)
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
Devin Robinson, Florida
Kobi Simmons, Arizona (story)
Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State (story)
Edmond Sumner, Xavier (story)
Jayson Tatum, Duke (story)
Melo Trimble, Maryland (story)
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga (story)

DECLARING WITHOUT AN AGENT

Shaqquan Aaron, USC
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure
Deng Adel, Louisville
Jashaun Agosto, LIU-Brooklyn
Rawle Alkins, Arizona
Mark Alstork, Wright State
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
James Blackmon, Indiana
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Tony Bradley, North Carolina
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Thomas Bryant, Indiana (story)
Rodney Bullock, Providence
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Jevon Carter, West Virginia (story)
Jason Chartouny, Fordham
Donte Clark, UMass (story)
Chance Comanche, Arizona
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky (story)
Vince Edwards, Purdue
John Egbunu, Florida
Jon Elmore, Marshall
Obi Enechionyia, Temple
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State
Tacko Fall, UCF
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Aaron Holiday, UCLA
Chandler Hutchinson, Boise State
Frank Jackson, Duke (story)
B.J. Johnson, La Salle
Darin Johnson, CSUN
Robert Johnson, Indiana
Andrew Jones, Texas
Kerem Kanter, Green Bay
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan
Braxton Key, Alabama
Kyle Kuzma, Utah
William Lee, UAB
Daryl Macon, Arkansas
Yante Maten, Georgia
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Eric Mika, BYU
Johnathan Motley, Baylor (story)
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas (story)
Semi Ojeleye, SMU
Cam Oliver, Nevada
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah
Theo Pinson, North Carolina
Maverick Rowan, N.C. State
Corey Sanders, Rutgers
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio
Jaren Sina, George Washington
Zach Smith, Texas Tech
Elijah Stewart, USC
Caleb Swanigan (story)
Stevie Thompson, Oregon State
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
Mo Wagner, Michigan
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso
Thomas Welsh, UCLA
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan
Johnathan Williams III, Gonzaga
D.J. Wilson, Michigan
Omer Yurtseven, N.C. State
Craig Victor, LSU
Donte Grantham, Clemson

YET TO DECIDE

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Jacob Evans, Cincinnati
Matthew Fisher-Davis, Vanderbilt
Jessie Govan, Georgetown
Donta Hall, Alabama
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M
Justin Jackson, Maryland
V.J. King, Louisville
Dedric Lawson, Memphis
Anas Mahmoud, Louisville
De’Anthony Melton, USC
Jerome Robinson, Boston College
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Khadeem Latin, Oklahoma
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State
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