Mitch McGary leads Michigan past Syracuse, into the title game

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ATLANTA — That vaunted Syracuse zone, the one that held Indiana and Marquette to a combined 89 points last weekend, did it’s job, at least on the perimeter. Michigan’s star point guard Trey Burke — that’s National Player of the Year Trey Burke to you — finished with seven points, shooting 1-8 from the floor.

Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn’t much better despite leading Michigan in scoring with 13 points; he needed 16 shots, hitting just four of them, to get those 13 points.

Nik Stauskas, the guy who went 6-6 from beyond the arc last Saturday while lighting up Florida to the tune of 22 points, was 0-5 on this Saturday night and finishing without a single point.

And Michigan won.

No. Seriously. They won. 61-56.

That’s what happens when Mitch McGary, who has been the breakout star of the 2013 NCAA tournament, decides to channel his inner John Stockton. The Chesterton, IN, native finished with 10 points and 12 boards. He set the tone for the Wolverines defensively with two highlight reel blocks in the first minute of the game. He threw down a couple thunderous dunks. But where he made his real mark on this game was as a zone-buster.

McGary finished with six assists on Saturday night. That in and of itself doesn’t sound all that impressive, but think about this: McGary had 18 assists all season long prior to setting foot on the court at the Georgia Dome. He didn’t have a single assist in the first four games of the season. He had all of four assists when Big Ten play began on January 3rd.

It wasn’t just the fact that he made the passes, either. He was throwing no-look touch passes with his right hand. (He’s lefty, by the way.) He grabbed a rebound and led a 3-on-1 break, dropping off a pretty little bounce pass to Tim Hardaway Jr. for a layup.

How many people knew that he was capable of that?

“It was very … intriguing as we were developing the game plan against the zone,” Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander said after the game. To breakdown the Syracuse zone, you need to somehow get the ball into the high post. It can be via dribble penetration or it can be the result of a pass into the foul line area. It doesn’t matter. The ball just has to get there because it will either create an open 15-footer from the foul line or a high-low pass for a layup. The key? Having a big man versatile enough to be able to make that pass or make that shot. Why do you think Otto Porter was so successful against Syracuse this season?

Mitch McGary isn’t Otto Porter, or so we thought.

“When the ball gets in the high post, there was two things happening,” Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said after the game. “We weren’t active enough from the guard position to keep it out of the high post, and then when it was getting in there, we werent active enough with the forwards to take away the dump pass.”

McGary made those dump passes. Maybe he is like Otto Porter after all.

“Did you ever think,” Alexander said, “that Mitch McGary would lead Michigan in assists over Trey Burke?” Not in a game that the Wolverines won. “I’m shocked.”

As are the rest of us, but the development is evidence of a point that the Wolverines made on Friday: the game is slowing down for McGary. He’s beginning to learn that basketball isn’t simply a game that has to be played at 100 mph. Nothing about the way McGary plays is nuanced; I don’t think he’s ever even heard the word ‘finesse’. But his understanding of Michigan’s system — the way that he can read the defense and know what is the right play to make — is where he has made the biggest strides this season.

“I consider myself a good passer,” McGary said.

McGary is still a bully. Michigan’s defense on Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland is what won them this game. The tone on that end was set by McGary’s blocks at the beginning of the game. He still grabbed five offensive rebounds. He still was the most physical presence in the paint.

But more proof that he’s beginning to learn how to play the game is bad news for the Wolverines.

While it may win them a national title, it’s looking increasingly less likely that they’ll have McGary for another season.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Marvin Bagley III’s 34-point outburst carries No. 1 Duke to overtime win vs. Texas

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What was billed as a matchup between potential No. 1 picks Marvin Bagley III and Mo Bamba turned into a showcase for the talents of the former, as MB3 went for 34 points and 15 boards to lead No. 1 Duke to an 85-78 overtime win over Texas in the semifinals of the PK80 tournament in Portland.

The Blue Devils had dug themselves a 43-31 hole and trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, but that changed once Duke figured out that Texas had no way to stop their big freshman. His 34 points tied him with J.J. Redick for the Duke freshman record.

Gary Trent Jr. added 17 points for the Blue Devils, who lost senior Grayson Allen to fouls with two minutes left in the game. Coach K played the final two minutes and overtime with five freshmen on the floor.

Texas was led by Dylan Osetkowski, who finished with 19 points. The 6-foot-9 Tulane transfer played well, but a couple of questionable decisions and a missed dunk cost Texas some points; their 16-point lead should have been closer to 25. Bamba finished with nine points and 10 boards, but he fouled out in regulation and struggled to make as much of an impact as the other three big men that were on the floor.

Duke will play the winner of tonight’s No. 7 Florida vs. No. 17 Gonzaga game in the final of the PK80’s Motion bracket.

Here are five things we can takeaway from the game on Friday night:

1. Grayson Allen fouling out was the best thing that could have happened to Duke: Duke is an exceptionally young team. We’ve been this before, but it bears repeating because they youth showed up on Friday afternoon. There are six freshmen in the rotation. There are two sophomores in the rotation, neither of whom played a big role as freshmen. And there is Allen.

That’s it.

That’s Duke’s entire rotation.

On Friday, Allen played all of 25 minutes due to foul trouble. He fouled out with two minutes left in regulation. He was on the bench in overtime. And what that meant was that Duke’s youngsters got thrown into the fire in a nationally-televised tournament game. They were forced to be the ones to make winning plays, and for 20 of the 45 minutes that were played on Friday, they were not able to rely on Allen to be the one to do it for them.

Trevon Duval looked up to the task once again. Bagley, despite taking a stupid 23-footer with five seconds left in regulation, was totally dominant down the stretch. Gary Trent Jr. scored a critical and-one with a minute left that gave Duke their first lead since the first possession of the game. Wendell Carter made some important plays. Alex O’Connell was probably the biggest beneficiary. He played 29 minutes and made one of the most important plays of the game, chasing down a loose ball that eventually wound up in Allen’s hands for a three that sparked Duke’s comeback.

Those guys needed that, and it will help Duke in the long run.

2. Duke’s defense is a major problem once again: It was terrible on Friday night. No wonder Coach K is becoming reliant on a 2-3 zone. Defense rotations were slow. Guards were getting beaten one-on-one. Big men were lost defending the pick-and-roll. Their transition effort was, frankly, terrible. The thinking before the start of the season was that the presence of Bagley at the four and Duval at the point would make this group more efficiency defensively, but through two weeks that does not appear to be the case.

3. Texas gave this game away: This one is going to sting for Shaka Smart and the Longhorns, because they should have had this game won. Texas was up by 16 points in the middle of the second half, and frankly, they weren’t even playing that well. As good as Dylan Osetkowski was, he settled for far too many jumpers, missed a dunk and turned the ball over trying to throw a lob to Mo Bamba when he should have just laid the ball in. Bamba fired up two ill-advised threes of his own, while Matt Coleman shot 1-for-12 from the floor and Andrew Jones made some poor decisions.

Put another way, Texas had Duke on the ropes and couldn’t finish them off. Instead, they let Duke hang around close enough to put together a second-half run that salvaged what was an otherwise underwhelming performance. If the Longhorns find themselves on the bubble come March, they are going to regret failing to land a win over the No. 1 team in America.

4. Mo Bamba has insane tools, but his motor is a question: The potential that Bamba has as a defender is unreal. He’s 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-9 wingspan and has the footspeed to be able to, in theory, hedge ball-screens and even switch when he needs to. He’s a unicorn prospect on the defensive end of the floor, and his offensive repertoire is, at the very least, intriguing. He’s got a soft touch and has shown enough as a three-point shooter that he wasn’t taken out on either of his misses on Friday.

But there are some issues with his motor. It’s not that he’s soft, and it’s not that he isn’t competitive, but there is just something about the way that he plays. He’s nonchalant. The word that Mike Schmitz of ESPN uses is “casual”. He has a habit of coasting, and it will be interesting to see if spending the rest of the year being coached by Shaka Smart can break him of that habit.

5. Coaching freshmen is hard: This should be the biggest takeaway from Friday night. Duke was a mess on the defensive end of the floor. Texas wasn’t much better. Coleman was a trainwreck offensively. Bamba fouled out in 20 minutes. There’s a reason that the saying goes, ‘the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.’ Coach K has learned that the hard way in recent years. Shaka Smart is in the middle of the crash course.

After win over No. 15 Xavier, is Arizona State the Pac-12’s best team?

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On a day that the Pac-12 desperately needed some good things to happen for the league, Arizona State provided it.

Tra Holder popped off for 40 points and Bobby Hurley’s four-guards provided a total of 91 points as the Sun Devils erased a 15-point first half deficit before running No. 15 Xavier out of Las Vegas, 102-86. It was the second time this season that Holder has scored more than 35 points, and after adding four assists, four boards and three steals, he’s now averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 boards, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals.

Hurley also has Shannon Evans on this team, and after putting up 22 points on the Musketeers, Evans is averaging 19.5 points and 5.3 assists on the season. Kodi Justice, who had 28 points in a win over Kansas State in the opener of the Las Vegas Invitational, is averaging 15.5 points this season, and that doesn’t even factor in Romello White, De’Quan Lake or Remy Martin, who are all capable of putting up 20 points on a given night.

Put another way, Arizona State has scored at least 90 points in every game that they’ve played this season.

There may not be a more potent scoring team in college basketball this season.

And it begs the question: Is Arizona State actually the best team in the Pac-12?

We wrote about it this morning. The Pac-12 has had a rough go of it this week. Arizona lost twice in the Battle 4 Atlantis. UCLA lost their opener to Creighton in the Hall Of Fame Classic. Oregon got beaten by UConn. Cal was blown out by Chaminade. Oregon State fell to St. John’s and Long Beach State. It’s been rough out west.

Unless you hail from Tempe, where the Sun Devils are now 6-0 on the season with a blowout win over a Xavier team that, despite pooping the bed on Friday night, look like a team that could legitimately test Villanova in the Big East.

If you want my take on Arizona State, it’s really pretty simple: On the nights where Tra Holder and Shannon Evans get it rolling, there isn’t going to be much anyone can do. They’re nearly impossible to guard. They make tough threes off the dribble, they can get into the lane and finish amongst the trees, and if you try and help on a drive or trap a ball-screen, they are both willing a capable passers. We saw it on Thanksgiving, when Kansas State held them in check while allowing Justice to hit for 28 points and White and Lake to combine for 30 points and 11 offensive rebounds.

Put another way, on their best night Arizona State is going to be able to beat just about anyone in college basketball this season.

The question is what happens on the nights when those two don’t look like a back court made up of Steph Curry and Allen Iverson.

They beat Kansas State when Evans and Holder combined to shoot 6-for-23 from the floor, but I’m not exactly sure that beating Kansas State is all that impressive.

At the very least, we know that there is going to be a fifth team in the mix at the top of the Pac-12 standings, and that if Arizona, UCLA and USC don’t figure out their issues, there will be someone there to take advantage.

POSTERIZED: Texas guard Kerwin Roach throws down Dunk of the Year candidate on Duke (VIDEO)

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Kerwin Roach is one of the best dunkers in college basketball, and he was at it again on Saturday afternoon in the PK80, as he went soaring in to throw down a dunk in the face of Duke forward Javin DeLaurier:

Luke Maye’s career-high 28 paces No. 9 North Carolina past Arkansas

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In hindsight, maybe we were a little too concerned about Luke Maye’s ability to anchor North Carolina’s front court.

In the toughest test that the Tar Heels have faced to date this season, Maye turned out the game of his life. He finished with career-highs of 28 points and 16 boards while tying a career-high with five assists and knocking down four threes as the No. 9 Tar Heels took care of Arkansas, 87-68, in the semifinals of the PK80.

The Tar Heels will advance to face the winner of this evening’s No. 4 Michigan State-UConn game.

But the story here is Maye, who became the first North Carolina player since Antawn Jamison to post 100 points and 50 boards in a season’s first five games. On the season, he’s averaging 20.8 points, 10.8 boards and 2.8 assists. He’s shooting better than 50 percent from three and nearly 60 percent from the floor. On a team that features a potential first-team all-american and the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player in Joel Berry II, it’s been Maye who has been the star of UNC’s season to date.

And there’s no reason to believe that this is a fluke, either.

Maye had 26 points and 10 boards in a win over a Northern Iowa team that just beat SMU and N.C. State. He had 20 points, nine boards and four assists against a good Bucknell team. He had 12 points, nine boards and five assists in a win at Stanford. And, of course, there was Friday afternoon’s performance.

What makes Maye’s development so important is the reliance of big men in Roy Williams’ system. He is one of the only high-major coaches that still builds his team around two big men. He values rebounding above all else. He runs his offense through post touches. The crux of his transition offense is the ability of his big men to beat their defenders down the floor.

Maye not only can do all of that, but his ability to make threes helps to space the floor.

After the year that he had last season, it’s not all that surprising that Maye was able to step in and have success this year.

But if you’re going to tell me that you thought Luke Maye would be doing this, I’m going to need to see the receipts.

No. 25 Alabama tops BYU in Barclays Center Classic

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NEW YORK (AP) — John Petty scored 16 points to spark No. 25 Alabama to a 71-59 win over BYU in the second game of the Barclays Center Classic on Friday.

Dazon Ingram added 15 for Alabama, which improved to 5-0, the best start for the Crimson Tide since 2012-13, when they began 6-0. Donta Hall had 12, and Collin Sexton finished with 10.

BYU fell to 3-2 with its second loss in its last three games. Yoeli Childs led the Cougars with 21 points.

In his third season, coach Avery Johnson is attempting to build Alabama into a program that can compete on a national level. And the matchup against BYU displayed why the Crimson Tide could be an intriguing team this season.

Alabama was able to build a 15-point lead in the second half following Riley Norris’ layup layup with 10:43 left. Part of that was because of the Crimson Tide’s ability to pressure BYU defensively. Alabama recorded six blocked shots and forced 11 turnovers.

But program building does mean growing pains. And the Crimson Tide’s youth also revealed itself in the second half. Following Petty’s 3 with 7:35 left, which gave Alabama a 61-47 lead, BYU outscored the Crimson Tide 8-2 in a span of 1:21 to cut the deficit to 63-55. Dalton Nixon made two free throws and Zac Seljaas made consecutive 3s for the Cougars in that stretch.

BYU got back into the game in part because of questionable shot selection in the second half from the Crimson Tide, who made 18 of 30 shots from the field before halftime.

Eight points was as close as BYU would get. Ingram knocked down two free throws, and Hall’s tip-in in the final two minutes gave the Crimson Tide the margin of victory.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: Size matters. At least it does to the Crimson Tide. Alabama has 11 players 6-foot-5 or taller. That size and length allowed Alabama to create turnovers and contest shots, leading to fast breaks.

BYU: It may not be fair to say as Elijah Bryant goes, so does BYU. But Bryant, who entered the game averaging 21.5 points, was limited to three points in the first half and five for the game.

NOTES

The Crimson Tide entered the game having won their first four by an average of 18 points per game. Moreover, Alabama was holding opponents to .411 shooting from the field and .338 shooting from 3-point range, while blocking 6.8 shots and forcing 7.3 steals in those games. … The Cougars fell to 0-2 all-time against the Crimson Tide. In the only other meeting, BYU dropped a 77-74 decision on Dec. 30, 1957.

UP NEXT:

Alabama: Will play No. 14 Minnesota Saturday in the Barclays Center Classic.

BYU: Will play Massachusetts Saturday in Brooklyn.