c.j. wilcox

Washington’s talented, but they need massive defensive improvements

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — At this point in the season, Washington still deserves the benefit of the doubt. They are playing with Desmond Simmons, whose knee injury has kept him out for a month, and Jernard Jarreau, who is done for the year with a torn ACL.

Those are Lorenzo Romar’s two best big men. Losing them makes a difference, that fact undeniable.

But even with Simmons and Jarreau healthy and on the court, the Huskies don’t look like a team capable of competing in the Pac-12 thanks to a defense that, at best, is atrocious. Entering Friday night’s 2K Sports Classic consolation game, U-Dub was 181st in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. They haven’t allowed less than 1.00 points-per-possession (PPP) in their four games this season, and got lit up by Indiana for 102 points in just 76 possessions on Thursday night.

Then came Friday, when Boston College beat the Huskies 89-78 in a game that featured just 64 possessions.

On the weekend, Washington allowed a total of 191 points on 140 possession. Do the math, and that’s 1.364 PPP. I’m not Ken Pomeroy, but I can tell you that is not good. At all.

“We have to get better defensively. Much better,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game. “Right now, we’re just having to many breakdowns.”

The biggest issue for the Huskies right now is dribble penetration. Their guards are not great on-ball defenders in the first place, and it certainly doesn’t help when they lose any semblance of a rim protector, but the bottom line is that Washington simply will not be able to compete with any tournament caliber team if they don’t find a way to get better on the defensive end of the floor.

“We’re still trying to learn this whole thing,” C.J. Wilcox said after scoring a career-high 30 points. “We’re playing a lot of new guys. They’re being thrown into the fire. We’re still trying to learn our rotations. If one guy misses a rotation, it throws everything off.”

“We tell our players all the time how important team defense,” Romar added. “Four guys can be out on the floor playing stellar man to man defense and one guy is out of position and it looks like you didn’t play it at all. I thought there were times when we were playing really good position defense and one guy blew. In the first half we were back in transition, but we weren’t as organized as we should have been and they got a few open shots that got them going.”

The good news is that Washington can score. They have a number of weapons on their perimeter and they are pretty effective when they get out in transition. But without a massive improvement on the defensive end of the floor, the Huskies are going to have a long season in a good Pac-12 conference.

Macura, Gaston lead No. 13 Xavier over Utah 77-69

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 29:  J.P. Macura #55 of the Xavier Musketeers shoots the ball during the game against the North Dakota State University at Cintas Center on November 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) J.P. Macura emerged from his shooting slump by scoring 18 points, and RaShid Gaston helped No. 13 Xavier get the edge up front against the nation’s top rebounding team on Saturday, leading the Musketeers to a 77-69 victory over Utah.

The Musketeers (8-2) were coming off back-to-back road losses that featured long scoring droughts. Xavier’s balanced offense built a 15-point lead in the first half, and the Musketeers stayed ahead the rest of the way.

Gaston had 11 points and 14 rebounds, helping Xavier to a 33-28 edge on the boards. The Utes (6-2) came in averaging 47.7 rebounds per game. Gaston had nine points and 10 rebounds – one less than Utah’s total – in the first half.

Macura was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc after going only 2 of 16 in his last three games. Trevon Bluiett also scored 18 points.

Freshman Devon Daniels had a career-high 19 points for the Utes, whose two losses have been against ranked Big East teams. They also lost to Butler.

BIG PICTURE

Utah: The Utes’ top two scorers – Kyle Kuzma and Tyler Rawson – were a combined 2 of 10 for five points in the first half as Xavier took control.

Xavier: The Musketeers went through long second-half scoring droughts during their losses. Utah opened the second half with an 11-4 spurt but couldn’t get any closer.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Musketeers figure to slip in the Top 25 based upon their 68-66 loss at Colorado on Wednesday, but limited the damage with their win on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Utah hosts Prairie View A&M next Saturday, and then closes nonconference play the following week in Hawaii as part of the Diamond Head Classic.

Xavier plays the first of four straight home games leading into Big East play, hosting Wake Forest next Saturday in the Skip Prosser Classic.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

No. 5 Duke routs UNLV 94-45

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils smiles during a game against the UNLV at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) Grayson Allen shot 75 percent from the field – including a perfect 7 of 7 in the second half – en route to a career-high 34 points to lead No. 5 Duke to a 94-45 victory over UNLV on Saturday in the first college basketball game ever played at T Mobile Arena.

Luke Kennard had 16 points and five rebounds for the Blue Devils (10-1), while Jayson Tatum had 13 points and five rebounds, and Amile Jefferson contributed with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Duke, which is 4-1 on a neutral court, jumped out to a 20-3 lead in the first 7 minutes and never looked back, as it outscored the Runnin’ Rebels 52-19 in the second half.

The Rebels (5-4) tried to make a couple of runs to challenge Duke, getting as close as 38-26 late in the first half after an 8-0 spurt. The Blue Devils answered with their defensive prowess and proved to be too much for an outmatched UNLV team that committed 13 turnovers a little more than 14 minutes into the game, and shot just 34 percent (10 of 29) in the first half.

Though UNLV was competitive on the glass, outrebounding the Blue Devils 20-17 in the first half, Duke outscored the Rebels 26-10 in the paint while opening a 42-26 halftime lead.

Jalen Poyser had 16 points for UNLV.

The Blue Devils shot 58.7 percent (37 of 63) from the field, including 10 of 22 (45.5 percent) from 3-point range. UNLV, meanwhile, shot 29.6 percent (16 of 54) from the field.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Jefferson came into Saturday’s game leading the ACC in field goal percentage, converting at a rate of 67 percent for the season. He is a career 63 percent shooter from the field.

UNLV: After opening the season 5-2, the Runnin’ Rebels have lost their last two after allowing an average of 95.5 points per game. UNLV lost at Arizona State 97-73 last Saturday.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Tennessee State on Dec. 19

UNLV: Hosts Incarnate Word on Wednesday

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

VIDEO: Lonzo Ball caps crazy first half with 30-footer

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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No. 2 UCLA and Michigan are stuck in the middle of an absolute shootout.

At halftime in Pauley Pavilion, the score is tied at 50 after the two teams combined to shoot 22-for-30 from three.

Seriously.

The highlight?

Ball capping the first half with a three from the logo:

PHOTO: Bryce Harper visits the Duke locker room

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 19, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Duke embarrassed UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon.

Not only did they beat the Runnin’ Rebels 94-45, but they made sure that UNLV was on the receiving end of what will probably go down as the best dunk of the college basketball season.

(No, seriously, you need to see what Grayson Allen did.)

After the game, Duke had a special visitor in their locker room: soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper, who seems destined to break the hearts of Washington Nationals fans when he leaves D.C. for the Yankees. I’m sure this will only boost his popularity in a city that loves the Maryland Terrapins:

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via @DukeMBB

No. 15 West Virginia struggles early, beats VMI 90-55

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25:  Tarik Phillip #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers talks with head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers against the Temple Owls in the second half during the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center on November 25, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) It took nine games for West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. to start to find a rhythm.

Miles scored a season-high 20 points and the 15th-ranked Mountaineers overcame an early lull to beat VMI 90-55 on Saturday and give coach Bob Huggins his 799th career win.

Miles missed the first three games with an unspecified illness and was ejected for throwing an elbow in the first half of a close win over Virginia last Saturday. The lack of court time set him back on a team where a dozen players are getting extensive minutes.

Against VMI, the junior went 6 of 9 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.

“It feels good,” Miles said. “I just had to get back into the basic of things, and just whatever it takes me to do. Did I feel like it was my time? No. Everybody has roles and we all kind of know what each other likes to do.”

West Virginia (8-1) followed up a 53-point win over Western Carolina on Wednesday night with a lackluster first half to finish its final exams week.

VMI (1-7) accomplished what no other mid-major opponent has done in the first half this season – handle West Virginia’s full-court pressure defense and keep up in scoring for a while.

The Keydets lost by 18 points at home to Gardner-Webb in their last game but were scrappy out of the gate against the often-substituting Mountaineers.

After falling behind by 16, the Keydets were within 22-17 before Miles made two 3-pointers, and Elijah Macon’s free throw with 4 minutes left until halftime put the Mountaineers ahead by double digits for good, 32-22.

“I thought we competed, especially for the first 25 minutes,” VMI coach Dan Earl said. “I give West Virginia a ton of credit. They come at you for 40 minutes. They wore us down a little bit.”

Esa Ahmad added 12 points and Brandon Watkins had a season-high 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for West Virginia.

QJ Peterson scored 17 points for VMI, which was limited to three field goals over the final 12 minutes of the game.

BIG PICTURE

VMI: The Keydets might win more games if they match the intensity that they had midway through the first half, when they went on an 11-0 run, including seven points by Peterson, who led West Virginia’s Hedgesville High School to a state championship in 2012.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers lead the nation in forced turnovers with 26.5 per game, including at least 34 turnovers in two of their last three games. Two years ago VMI committed 36 against them. But the defensive effort wasn’t there from start-to-finish Saturday for West Virginia, which forced 22.

“Twenty-two forced turnovers to most people is good,” Huggins said. “And we’re looking at it like we should’ve had some more.”

ADRIAN SLUMPING

The Mountaineers haven’t gotten much production lately out of Nathan Adrian, who no longer is the team’s top scorer after getting two points each against Western Carolina and VMI.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

West Virginia should move up in the AP poll after No. 12 Saint Mary’s and No. 13 Xavier lost earlier in the week.

CHARITY CLANK

West Virginia isn’t going to win many games at the free throw line. The Mountaineers are shooting 66 percent from the line this season and went 26 of 42 (62 percent) on Saturday. They fared better from 3-point range, going 10 of 19.

UP NEXT

VMI: Hosts Charleston Southern on Tuesday.

West Virginia: Can give Huggins his 800th win when it hosts Missouri-Kansas City next Saturday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.