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No. 6 Duke escapes but has some serious defensive issues to address

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After having trouble defensively in their 83-74 win over East Carolina on Tuesday night, No. 6 Duke had their hands full with the Vermont Catamounts on Sunday evening. Thanks to a Rodney Hood free throw with five seconds remaining and Vermont not attempting a shot in time on the ensuing possession the Blue Devils escaped with a 91-90 victory. But with the amount of talent on Mike Krzyzewski’s team, with freshman Jabari Parker (26 points, nine rebounds) leading the way, beating Vermont in late-November isn’t the standard for this group.

And that’s what makes their performance on the defensive end so concerning as they prepare for a trip to New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals.

Vermont shot 64.8% from the field for the game, with Pepperdine transfer Hector Harold (24 points) and starting forward Clancy Rugg (20) leading four Catamounts in double figures. Through the use of proper spacing Vermont was able to find quality looks throughout the night, and during much of the second half Duke looked ill-equipped to get the stops needed to win the game.

Vermont finished the game with an offensive efficiency of 142.4 and an effective field goal percentage of 68.9%, but Duke won in the end because of Hood’s ability to attack the basket on the game’s deciding play and their overall ability to go “shot for shot” with the upstarts from America East. But in order for the Blue Devils to be a true national title contender they have to get better at keeping teams out of the paint.

Some may say that the Blue Devils need a “rim protector” of sorts to emerge, but where is that player coming from? 7-footer Marshall Plumlee, who didn’t see any action on Sunday night, is averaging just five minutes per game and neither Josh Hairston nor Amile Jefferson fits the “rim protector” role. That’s why Duke has to improve defensively in regards to both individual and team defense. There’s no “last line of defense” at present time, and it’s difficult to see such an option developing based upon the available options.

The Blue Devils are good enough offensively to beat most teams regardless of their issues on the defensive end. But in order to be one of the nation’s elite and challenge for a national title, the current effort being given defensively won’t cut it. Duke may not have lost on Sunday, but it became even more evident that the Blue Devils have a lot of work to do when it comes to stopping the opposition.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.