The Morning Mix

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Did you feel it yesterday? Wednesday had that crisp mid-November buzz to it. Yesterday felt like a real, true, college hoops day. There were media days held, tv specials were aired and the news cycle was in hyper drive.

Time to hit the links.

– The Kentucky Wildcats were the big winners on Wednesday. John Calipari was in Bristol, CT going through the ESPN “Car Wash” and the ESPN All-Access special on Kentucky debuted last night. Unfortunately, coach Calipari struggled to make his free throws. But Calipari did state that Nerlens Noel is eligible to play this season. On top of that, highly touted former-Indiana target Marcus Lee committed to Kentucky on Wednesday afternoon. Oh did I mention that the facilities connected to Rupp Arena got a facelift? Yeah, Kentucky owned Wednesday

– Your #ReadoftheDay comes from Mike Lopresti of The USA Today. He details the triumvirate that he expects to dominate the polls the entire season

– The Big East Conference held their media day yesterday, so strap in for a bunch of notes: Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino exchanged some rather colorful, umm “pleasantries”. Vince Brazeau, the former NBA Vice President of Basketball Operations, has been hired by the Big East to replace Dave Gavvitt as Senior Associate Commissioner for Men’s Basketball. The conference also reached a new multiyear extension with Madison Square Garden in order to keep the Big East Tournament in New York City

– Of course there was much discussion about Syracuse’s impending departure to the ACC, and specifically, the last Big East game ever played by the Orange, against their hated rivals Georgetown

– Louisville was the prohibitive preseason favorite to win the Big East conference this season. The Cardinals have the returning talent, depth and experience needed in order to make a return trip to the Final Four

– Ben Howland wants his team to run the floor this year. But with the status of Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad still undetermined, the Bruins might not be able to run

– Miami big-man Reggie Johnson has been busting his tail this off-season in order to shed some excess weight. The center is currently tipping the scales around 290 pounds, which is significantly less than what he weighted 12 months ago

– A bizarre paperwork oversight will force Xavier’s Isaiah Philmore to miss the Musketeers first three games

– La Salle finds themselves wedged squarely in the middle of an extremely deep Atlantic-10 Conference this season. College Chalk Talk explains what the Explorers can expect from sophomore rising star Jerrell Wright

– The Colonials of Robert Morris have had a very strong last half-decade in the NEC, but with senior team leader and leading scorer Velton Jones set to graduate in May, it will be interesting to see what direction the program heads in

A nice video recap of Maryland’s Midnight Madness event last Friday

– You’d be very intrigued to see which programs have amassed all-time records below .500 (I’m looking at you Clemson and Ole Miss)

– Minnesota Lynx (Yup, I’m going WNBA on all y’all) head coach Cheryl Reeve summoned her inner-Bobby Knight during last night’s WNBA Championship game. Yes, I am telling you to click this link and voluntarily watch a WNBA video

 

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

 

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.