Will Sheehey

No. 2 Indiana survives Northwestern, but bench play is still a concern

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When talk begins about how the Big Ten is the nation’s toughest conference, Northwestern doesn’t typically come up.

Sunday afternoon, though, the Wildcats were very much so in the conversation, giving Indiana a road test before ultimately falling to the Hoosiers, 67-59, in Evanston, Ill.

Indiana had little trouble with the Wildcats in the first half, leading at the break by 14 points, 31-17. Christian Watford came out aggressive from the opening tip, knocking down a three-pointer on the Hoosiers’ first possession.

But Northwestern’s zone began to take hold in the second half. The Wildcats extended out well away from the basket and, for an eight-minute stretch over the course of the middle of the second, Indiana was held without a field goal.

In that time, Northwestern ripped off a 14-4 run. Integral to that run was the Wildcats spreading the ball around. Four different players scored during that stretch.

Northwestern pulled the game to as close as five points with just over 90 seconds remaining, but a Jordan Hulls floater in the lane pushed the Indiana lead back to seven points.

But one enduring point of emphasis for the Hoosiers is the play of their bench.

Will Sheehey came into Sunday’s game having not scored in the past two games, going a combined 0-of-7 from the floor in 33 minutes. He broke that drought with six points and four rebounds, but that is still off his season average of 10.5 points per game.

Outside of Sheehey, guard Remy Abell went scoreless for a second straight game vs. Northwestern. He now has one combined point in his last three games. Jeremy Hollowell also went scoreless.

Against deeper teams in Big Ten play, Indiana will need more from Sheehey, Abell, and Hollowell.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.