ACC Basketball Tournament - Wake Forest v Maryland

Maryland’s Alex Len may be ready to breakout thanks to his english?

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Maryland’s seven-foot Ukranian Alex Len is a kid whose name you’ll probably see pop-up on some breakout players lists heading into the 2012-2013 season.

There are a number of reasons for that. First and foremost, Len has apparently put on 30 pounds of muscle while managing to keep his conditioning up, which was the most important part of his development. Calling him a twig last season would have been an insult to twigs worldwide. He’ll need that mass to handle the physicality in the paint of high-major college basketball.

He’s also had a year to adjust to the American basketball, which is an under-appreciated aspect of the adjustment that European players have to make when they come stateside. It’s not just the style of play, either; there are differences between FIBA rules and NCAA rules. All that comes before you factor in the fact that Len had to sit out the first ten games of the season due to eligibility issues involving his time with a club team back home. Hopping on a team as a freshman in a new country midway through the season is not an easy task.

Between that and the culture shock that comes with living in College Park, a short drive on the parking lot known as 495 away from our nation’s capital, and I think we can all understand that Len had to adjust to more than just basketball.

But more than anything, Len needed to learn how to effectively communicate.

“The first three months was the hardest because I didn’t know the language — I knew a little bit, but it wasn’t good enough to communicate with teammates,” Len told Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times. “I think after the first three months, I started adjusted to the culture, to people and food.”

Sometimes we take for granted just how difficult it is to assimilate into a different culture. Len uprooted his life and moved to a completely different continent to chase a dream of being a basketball player. Just because it’s something that he wanted to do doesn’t mean that it’s something that will be easy.

Imagine if the tables were turned? How long would it take you to feel comfortable if you moved to the Ukraine? How long would it take you to learn the language?

With a season under his belt and some help in the front court thanks to a couple of talented recruits, Len might just be ready for a big year for the Terps.

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

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.