Duke loss shows how quickly tournament performance can shift perceptions

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The NCAA Tournament is great at distorting reality.

While it’s the greatest playoff system in all of American sports, you must at least concede that the best team does not always cut down the nets.

To cap off a wild early-evening slate of games, Duke suffered what some may call the most embarrassing and unexpected loss in the history of the Coach K’s tenure in Durham.

A country rejoiced as C.J McCulloum led Lehigh through to the next round,  pulling off an improbable win that embodies what makes this tournament so unique.

But with the loss, one question must be raised:

How different, really, was this Duke team from many of their recent squads? More specifically, was this team really any less talented than the 2010 NCAA Championship winning Blue Devils team?

On the surface, the obvious answer is that, yes, the 2010 Blue Devils were a far better team.

They won the National Championship, so this should be a no brainer!

Yes, I understand that, but depending on how you interpret “better” and “team” in this context is important, so let’s  run some numbers on the two clubs so we can maybe get some good perspective here.

In 2010 the Blue Devils entered the post-season at 26-5 overall, 13-3 in the ACC.

The 2012 Blue Devils? They were 26-6, and also 13-3 in conference play.

Additionally, both teams went 7-4 in the regular season against the RPI top 50.

Basically, these teams had accomplished virtually the same. They had roughly the same number of good wins and bad losses, and everyone in the world hated them equally.

The similarities continue in some statistical areas as well.

This year’s Blue Devils team actually shot the ball better from the floor, with an 53 eFG percentage, a  few points better than in 2010 when they shot 50.5 percent.

Why?

While the 2010 team shot a bit better from the three-point line, you’d be surprised to know that this year’s team actually was better from inside the arc, with a 51 2pt percentage, compared to 47 percent in 2010. You can thank Austin Rivers’ dribble penetration for that.

Overall, the Blue Devils 2010 team were the game’s best in adjusted-offensive efficiency (123.5), which was a KenPom.com stat Duke apologists desperately held on to in March, arguing that their team was worthy of a number one seed based primarily on this figure.

Good for eighth best this season, the 2012 Blue Devils had an AdjO rating of 117, which actually ranks higher than top seeds Syracuse and North Carolina.

Defensively, things start to break up a bit, but not to the point where you could confidently say that this year’s Duke team should be placed on upset alert against a 15-seed. 2012 Duke allowed exactly one point-per-possession on 43.3 FG percentage, while 2010 Duke just 0.92 on 40 percent. Both teams were average and nearly identical in defensive rebounding.

Even without the numbers, I’m sure you’ve gathered that the difference between the 2010 Duke Blue Devils and 2012 Duke Blue Devils is rather negligible, or about 50 percent C.J McCollum and 50 percent the fate of a number of other championship contending teams.

Remember that in 2010 the Blue Devils peeved a number of people by grabbing the fourth number one seed. Nobody believed they were deserving,  but then Kansas got Ali Farokhmanesh’ed by Northern Iowa, Butler came out of the West, and West Virginia upset Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

Suddenly, the Blue Devils were the only one-seed in the Final Four, and it became their tournament to lose. They didn’t really have a star (although Kyle Singler assumed that role as best he could), played with a point-guard by committee (remember Jon Scheyer), and relied on a 7-0 Brian Zoubek to anchor the middle (a career four-point, five-rebound guy).

If anything, this year’s Duke Blue Devils team had more weapons, and were built at least get out of the first weekend. Guard oriented with a freshman that could create his own shot if the rest of the team was struggling, Rivers, in theory, could single-handedly save his team offensively when needed.

Last night Rivers tied for a team high 19-points. He shot only 5-14 from the floor, but it’s this type of player the Blue Devils did not have in 2010. They were far more reliant on offensive execution – a sustainable plan to win a National Championship, but oddly what can leave you susceptible to an early round exit if shots simply are not falling or match-ups do not work in your favor.

If Duke were to get past Lehigh, a trip to the South Regional final was perfectly within reach. Assuming they would meet Kentucky, it’s likely the run would end in Atlanta for this team, but even then we’d be talking about how respectable the Blue Devils season was, one that ended in only their second trip to the Elite Eight in seven years.

The tournament can be cruel and terrible for historical perspective, but these are the breaks in a field of 68.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

N.C. State lands second transfer of day with Utah’s Devon Daniels

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A big recruiting day for N.C. State continued on Saturday afternoon as Utah transfer and guard Devon Daniels pledged to the Wolfpack.

Earlier in the day, N.C. State and new head coach Kevin Keatts landed another quality transfer in UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce.

The 6-foot-5 Daniels just finished his freshman season with the Utes in which he put up 9.9 points 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Just like Bryce, Daniels will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations before he has three more seasons of eligibility.

N.C. State now has two potential starters on the perimeter for the 2018-19 season with the addition of Bryce and Daniels as it will be interesting to see what kind of talent the Wolfpack can get around them.

 

UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce follows Kevin Keatts to N.C. State

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N.C. State landed an impact transfer on Saturday as UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce will be following former head coach Kevin Keatts to the Wolfpack, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com

The 6-foot-5 Bryce averaged 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season as he helped the Seahawks to an NCAA tournament appearance. Bryce will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, but he’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out one season.

With N.C. State getting center Omer Yurtseven back for next season, and with the addition of Bryce, it means that Keatts has retained, or added, some talented players for the next few seasons. The Wolfpack still have to fill a lot of roster spots from last season’s team, but Keatts seems to be having a really good week.

Seven identified after threats made against referee John Higgins following Kentucky Elite Eight loss

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College basketball referee John Higgins received threats to his home and business in late March after some controversial calls in North Carolina’s win over Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Seven people have now been identified for making threats against Higgins, according to an Associated Press report. The FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska field office said that information on the seven people will be referred to authorities in their jurisdictions.

An investigation over the last few months helped find the culprits, as the Omaha-based Higgins received emails, phone calls and voicemails to his personal home and roofing company following Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament departure. Wildcat head coach John Calipari might have ignited some of the anger in Kentucky fans by criticizing the officiating following the North Carolina loss.

“Based on the investigation’s findings, our office has determined that no local charges will be filed and that pursuit of any criminal charges would be best served by deferring to authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The length of the investigation was drawn out due in part to the large volume of potential evidence requiring analysis, and the multi-jurisdictional issues arising from the multiple states in which the communications originated.”

Polikov also said that at least two media outlets were exposing and promoting Higgins’ contact information.

“This information has been referred to the Federal Communications Commission for further investigation of the potential violations related to applicable federal communications regulations,” Polikov said.

Higgins received about 3,000 phone calls at his office in the two days following the game. Sheriff’s investigator Matt Barrall told the AP that an estimated 75 percent of the calls were from Kentucky area codes.

The roofing business that Higgins owns was also flooded with bad online reviews and negative star ratings, causing his Google rating to fall while also forcing Higgins to take down the Facebook page for his business.

Beilein still upbeat after Michigan loses another to NBA

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — For a major program, Michigan is a somewhat unlikely candidate for this kind of NBA-induced attrition.

The Wolverines have fielded some very good teams under John Beilein, but they haven’t been relying on prospects expected to jump to the pros as soon as they can.

“We’re not depending all our success on one-and-dones,” Beilein said. “Given that, our numbers right now are extraordinary.”

Beilein was referring to the number of players Michigan has sent to the NBA, particularly as early entrees. The Wolverines lost D.J. Wilson to the draft this offseason with two years of eligibility remaining, and now they’ll go through the familiar process of trying to replace a key player who turned pro.

The most significant early exodus occurred in 2013 and 2014, when Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all went pro before their eligibility was up. Michigan won a lot of games with those players, reaching the Final Four and Elite Eight those two years, but their development made them attractive to NBA teams and shortened their college careers.

Wilson’s rise followed a similar pattern. He averaged only 2.7 points per game in 2015-16, and then increased to 11.0 this past season and became Michigan’s leading rebounder. His efforts helped Michigan win the Big Ten Tournament and reach the Sweet 16, and now he’s off to the NBA draft. The entire sequence of events would have seemed highly improbable a year ago.

The Wolverines won’t receive much sympathy from their Big Ten opponents, especially since Michigan will still have big man Moe Wagner, who tested the NBA waters but ultimately decided to stay in school. The 6-foot-11 Wagner averaged 12.1 points last season and shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range, showing huge improvement in much the same way Wilson did.

After losing senior point guard Derrick Walton, it will be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense operates if Wagner becomes even more of a focal point. When Beilein was at West Virginia, the Mountaineers achieved success behind center Kevin Pittsnogle, whose skill set and 3-point shooting ability was at least somewhat similar to Wagner’s.

“We’re not going to put him in that category yet,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say, having a big man who can shoot the ball like that changes a lot of things.”

Michigan was also able to add a new point guard recently in Jaaron Simmons, a graduate transfer from Ohio. Simmons is eligible immediately in 2017-18 and will move up from the Mid-American Conference to the Big Ten.

“A lot of the mid-majors are having this happen to them, and I don’t like it at all, but the fact is if Jaaron doesn’t come here, he ends up probably somewhere else in the Big Ten,” Beilein said. “He’s just fundamentally so sound. He’ll be here this summer. Just as a person, I just wanted to coach the kid after spending an hour with him — just the leadership, the desire to win.”

Simmons could help the Wolverines withstand the loss of Walton, and Beilein indicated he could serve as a bit of a mentor to players like point guard Xavier Simpson, who is entering his sophomore season.

“We went all-in with (Simmons), knowing we had that scholarship,” Beilein said. “We felt that was a huge need for us, is to just have a little bit more experience in the backcourt next year.”

Follow Noah Trister on Twitter @noahtrister

LaVar Ball having ‘zero’ interaction with UCLA team bodes well for next season

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With the NBA Draft looming in less than a month, the biggest talking point has been just how much of an impact LaVar Ball is going to have on his son, Lonzo’s, NBA career.

It’s a question worth asking given the, ahem, outspoken nature of the eldest Ball.

But in the collegiate ranks, that’s a question that’s been asked about UCLA regarding next season. While Lonzo and LaMelo, who is finishing up his sophomore season in high school, are the stars that get the majority of the attention, there is another Ball brother that will be enrolling at UCLA next season: LiAngelo.

LaVar has already said that he expect Gelo to be a one-and-done player, which may not jibe with how good Gelo actually is. He’s not Lonzo and he’s not LaMelo. He’s not a dynamic athlete or a lead guard. He’s a 6-foot-5, 200 pound shooter with limitless range but limited upside. There’s a reason Rivals ranks him as a three-star prospect.

What’s going to happen when UCLA, a top 15 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, doesn’t give Gelo Lonzo-esque minutes or shots next season? How will LaVar handle it if his second son is coming off the bench for the Bruins?

Steve Alford doesn’t seem concerned about it, telling a reporter from the LA Times that LaVar was “never at practice, never called me” and was around the team “zero.”

“I think all parents probably should know that moving on to the collegiate level anyway,” Alford said. “It’s not high school, it’s not AAU. Your son’s on scholarship; your son’s at UCLA getting an incredible opportunity academically and athletically.

“Playing time, shots, that kind of stuff — we don’t entertain some of those phone calls anyway. I never had any issues at all with LaVar.”

It will be interesting to see if that continues next season.

The Bruins have a chance to be pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as last season, maybe not a Pac-12 title favorite or even the best team in LA — USC is loaded — but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them end up as a top four seed in the NCAA tournament with Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh returning and Jaylen Hands headlining the recruiting class.

Will LaVar be able to handle UCLA’s success if it comes at the expense of his son’s?