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

Vanderbilt lands five-star forward Simi Shittu

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Vanderbilt continues to build a monster recruiting class under head coach Bryce Drew as five-star 2018 forward Simi Shittu pledged to the Commodores on Wednesday.

The second five-star commitment for Vanderbilt in the Class of 2018, Shittu joins top point guard prospect Darius Garland to form one of the best freshman combinations in the country for next season. The Commodores also have a top-150 forward in Aaron Nesmith.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Shittu is coming off of a monster summer in which he became a major problem and top-ten recruit. The No. 8 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, Shittu is a huge get and an instant starter for Vanderbilt next season.

By landing prospects like Garland and Shittu, Drew is also becoming a major player in a short amount of time as a high-major coach. Always a noted recruiter at the mid-major level at Valparaiso, now Vanderbilt is seeing Drew’s hiring workout as he’s bringing top talent to the program.

If Drew can continue to recruit like this then Vanderbilt could be in position to be in the top half of the SEC as the league has seen some of its rebuilds go poorly over the last few years.

Kansas still without freshman Billy Preston

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Kansas freshman Billy Preston has yet to make his debut for the Jayhawks and it appears he’ll have to wait a bit longer before that happens.

Head coach Bill Self met with media earlier this week to discuss the Preston situation, saying that nothing has changed about his status quite yet. Preston was previously suspended for violating a team rule when he missed the game against Tennessee State. Before Preston was set to debut against Kentucky in the Champions Classic he was also withheld from the contest after the revelation that Preston had been in a single-vehicle accident the previous weekend.

“I have actually been out, until I just pulled back in, so as of this morning, there was no movement. The last time you guys asked me was Friday and so you don’t work on Saturday or Sunday, so there is nothing new on that situation,” Self said.

“Sure, I’m worried,” Self also added. “I’m concerned and I do think that it can work itself, based on what I’ve been told. I also think that it obviously hadn’t happened yet.”

It’s uncertain when the next step in any of this will play out but Self doesn’t appear to be too concerned over it. Kansas has won without Preston so far but they could definitely use his size, scoring punch and overall depth to a team that isn’t very deep right now.

A matchup nightmare, Preston could help the Jayhawk offense while also giving Udoka Azubuike additional help on the glass and protecting the rim.

(H/t: Jesse Newell, Kansas City Star)

Brian Bowen not allowed to play at Louisville

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Louisville announced on Wednesday that freshman wing Brian Bowen will not be allowed to play at the school. The former McDonald’s All-American will be allowed to remain on scholarship but he can’t participate in any team activities.

Bowen was tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball this fall as an adidas company executive is alleged to have been part of a scheme to deliver $100,000 to Bowen’s family, according to court documents.

Bowen hired attorney Jason Setchen to fight the case and seek reinstatement as Setchen had experience dealing with college basketball scandals before. When DeQuan Jones was suspended from Miami after the Nevin Shapiro case in 2011, Setchen helped Jones re-gain his eligibility as Miami.

With this case, Bowen was not allowed back at Louisville as the school has fired head coach Rick Pitino and most of his previous staff. Athletic Director Tom Jurich also lost his job, so the Cardinals are definitely cleaning house and trying to detach themselves from anyone involved.

It will be interesting to see what Bowen opts to do in light of this news. He’s talented enough that other schools could want him, if he’s eligible, but he’s also a former five-star prospect who could have pro aspirations. But since Bowen won’t be playing this season, he also hasn’t had a chance to spotlight his game to potential pro suitors.

 

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

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LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.