Late Night Snacks: Joe Harris leads Virginia past No. 3 Duke

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Game of the Night: Morehead State 101, Tennessee State 100 

There wasn’t much on the line in this one (besides seeding for next week’s OVC tournament) but the Eagles and Tigers played a classic in Nashville, with Morehead State needing to hang on despite shooting 61.7% from the field and 60.0% (15-of-25) from beyond the arc. Angelo Warner led five Morehead State players in double figures with 23 points, but the Eagles finished the game with as many turnovers (20) as assists (20). Kellen Thornton scored 29 points and Robert Covington added 23, eight rebounds and four steals for Tennessee State, who dropped into third place in the OVC East Division with the defeat.

Important Outcomes

1. Virginia 73, No. 3 Duke 68

The result is more about the Cavaliers than the Blue Devils, who didn’t play their best but Ryan Kelly was dressed (he did not play) and that could open the door to the possibility of him playing on Saturday against No. 5 Miami. Joe Harris scored 36 points and Akil Mitchell added 19 and 12 rebounds for Virginia, who picked up a much-needed win for their resume.

Virginia’s final three regular season games are against Boston College, Florida State and Maryland, which makes their win over Duke all the more important. Duke’s loss is the 19th time this season in which a team ranked in the Top 5 has lost to an unranked opponent this season.

2. Temple 83, Detroit 78 

Originally scheduled to be played on December 28 as part of the Gotham Classic (Detroit was unable to travel due to inclement weather), the Owls and Titans played one of the more entertaining games of the night in Philadelphia. Khalif Wyatt scored all 20 of his points in the second half and knocked down two huge three-pointers late to push Temple past Detroit.

An unsung hero for Temple on this night was forward Jake O’Brien, who scored 16 points off the bench to help keep the Owls afloat when Wyatt was struggling. Ray McCallum Jr. led Detroit with 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but they would have been in need of the Horizon League’s automatic bid regardless of the outcome.

3. No. 2 Gonzaga 70, BYU 65 

Gonzaga is now just one win away from the fourth undefeated WCC campaign of the Mark Few era…and possibly the top spot in the national polls for the first time in school history. Kelly Olynyk scored 19 points and Gary Bell Jr. added 15, but if the Bulldogs are to be successful in March Kevin Pangos can’t shoot as poorly as he did in Provo (2-of-13 FG, 1-of-12 3PT).

Tyler Haws led four BYU players in double figures with 19 points, and they need a win at Loyola Marymount on Saturday night to clinch the three-seed in next weekend’s WCC tournament. A loss combined with a Santa Clara win would drop them to fourth, which would mean a possible meeting with Gonzaga in the semifinals as opposed to the title game.

Starred 

1. G Damion Lee (Drexel) 

Lee was hot in the Dragons’ 81-77 win at Old Dominion, scoring a career-high 34 points on 11-of-14 shooting and grabbing ten rebounds.

2. G/F Joe Harris (Virginia) 

No. 3 Duke had no answer for Harris, who scored a career-high 36 points (12-of-20 FG) and grabbed seven rebounds in the Cavaliers’ 73-68 victory.

3. G Omar Strong (Texas Southern)

Strong was part of CBT’s #shootmore campaign during non-conference play due to his ability to get hot from beyond the arc. In the Tigers’ 79-66 win over Southern, which gave them sole possession of first place in the SWAC, Strong shot 7-of-13 from three and scored 34 points.

Struggled

1. Grambling

The Tigers (0-27, 0-17 SWAC) are down to their final shot when it comes to picking up a regular season victory. Grambling shot 32.8% from the floor in a 74-47 loss to Alabama A&M.

2. G Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke) 

Sulaimon had a tough night in Charlottesville, scoring four points on 2-of-10 shooting and committing three turnovers in the 73-68 loss to Virginia.

3. G Jarred DuBois and C Jason Washburn (Utah) 

If the Utes were to have any chance of beating California in Berkeley they needed their seniors to have good nights. That didn’t happen, as they combined to shoot 3-of-17 from the field and score 11 points in the 64-46 loss.

Three Facts

1. Three teams locked up the top seed in their respective conference tournaments and the automatic bid to the Postseason NIT (should they need it) that comes with the honor on Thursday: Stony Brook (America East), Robert Morris (Northeast) and South Dakota State (Summit League).

2. Dominic Artis returned to the floor for No. 24 Oregon after missing nine games due to a foot injury, playing 12 minutes and scoring six points in the Ducks’ 85-75 win over rival Oregon State. Oregon retains sole possession of first in the Pac-12, and Artis has a week of rest before the Ducks visit Colorado and Utah to end the regular season.

3. Florida Gulf Coast kept its hopes of winning a share of the Atlantic Sun title alive with a 60-57 win over first-place Mercer, and the win also guaranteed the Eagles of their first 20-win season as a Division I member. Mercer will look to win the regular season title outright on Saturday with a win at Stetson.

Top 25 Scores

No. 2 Gonzaga 70, BYU 65
Virginia 73, No. 3 Duke 68
No. 16 Ohio State 63, Northwestern 53
No. 24 Oregon 85, Oregon State 75
No. 25 Louisiana Tech 84, Utah State 61

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.