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.

Bill Self on Cheick Diallo: ‘It may be a couple of more weeks’

2015 McDonald's All American Game
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Cheick Diallo is currently practicing with Kansas, but his eligibility still remains in question.

On Monday, Kansas head coach Bill Self appeared on “The Border Patrol” on WHB-AM 810 and was asked to update the status of his freshman big man.

“He’s been cleared to practice,” Self told hosts Steven St. John and Nate Bukaty. “(His status) is depending on what they find throughout from the information we submit to them whenever we get it all together.

“A lot of people think, ‘Well, why wouldn’t it all be together?’ Well there’s a lot of reasons why. It’s because they told us recently some things that they just wanted. Instead of just throwing it to them piece by piece, they requested we to just submit it all together, so it may be a couple of more weeks before we’re able to submit everything when you’re talking about getting information from schools in Mali and everything like that.

“But we hope in two weeks, maybe three weeks, before we have a definite answer. But right now, Cheick is like everybody else. He’s practicing.”

Diallo, a 6-foot-9 forward from Mali is allowed to practice with the Jayhawks, but has been waiting to be cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center despite enrolling in classes over the summer and earning six credits. Self anticipated this would be a long process, but has remained confident Diallo, the top-5 recruit in Class of 2015, will eventually be cleared to play this season.

For three years, Diallo attended Our Savior New American School in Centereach, New York, which is currently under NCAA review. In September, Pitt freshman Damon Wilson, Diallo’s teammate at OSNA, was cleared to play.

Kansas opens the season on Nov. 13 against Northern Colorado.

Albany’s Peter Hooley accepts Inspiration Award

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Last week, Albany senior Peter Hooley accepted the Inspiration Award at the Coaches vs Cancer Basket Ball in Troy, New York. The Albany athletic department uploaded his entire speech on Monday afternoon.

Hooley had one of the most uplifting moments of March after months and months of heartache.

The junior guard missed three weeks of the season to travel back home to Australia to be with his mother, who was battling colon cancer. She passed away in January. Hooley returned to the team in February and the following month, the Great Danes had a shot at an NCAA tournament berth. In the America East Tournament championship, Hooley sunk a game-winning shot with 1.6 seconds to go.

Hooley, who graduated in May, was selected to give the commencement speech.