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No. 4 Arizona overcomes 19 point deficit, proves defense is how they’ll win games

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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 — No. 4 Arizona came out like they were more concerned with where they were going to eat Thanksgiving dinner than the Drexel Dragons on Wednesday night.

Thanks to the hot hands of Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat, the Wildcats found themselves in a 27-8 hole 13 minutes into the game. They were 2-for-17 from the floor with six turnovers at that point, finishing without a single assist in the first half. That’s about as ugly as it gets.

“It’s easy to say Arizona was overlooking Drexel but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said after the game. The Wildcats knew what they were getting into, and while it took some time, the Wildcats would eventually wake up, cranking up their defense and holding Drexel to just four points over the next 12 minutes of game time. Arizona finally took a 33-31 lead — a 25-4 run — with 15 minutes left in the game. The Dragons fought for as long as they could, but Kaleb Tarczewski was too much in the post and Nick Johnson made a number of big plays down the stretch en route to a well-earned, 66-62 win.

Johnson would finished with 20 points, five boards and four assists while Tarczewski chipped in with 15 points, 13 coming in the second half, and 10 boards. Aaron Gordon added 10 points and 13 boards.

Drexel may not have earned the win, but they sure did provide future opponents with a blueprint as to how to beat Arizona.

The Wildcats are a talented group, but much of that talent manifests itself in length and athleticism. In other words, Arizona’s potential is off the charts, but this is not the most skilled offensive team that we’ve ever seen.

Think about it. Who scares you in a half court set on this roster? Who do the Wildcats give the ball to at the end of a clock? T.J. McConnell is a terrific facilitator and defender, but he’s not a break-down-the-defense kind of point guard. Gordon will be a star one day, but he still has a ways to go to realize that potential. Gabe York is a jump-shooter. Do you run your offense through postmen Brandon Ashely and Tarczewski? As good as Nick Johnson as played this season, he’s more of a secondary option, a complimentary piece, than he is a primary scorer.

And Drexel is one of the toughest, most physical defenses teams that you’ll come across. They control the pace, they control possession in the half court and they make trying to run offense miserable against them. In the first half, Arizona’s offensive rhythm was non-existent, as they finished the half shooting just 6-for-23 from the field. In the second half, the Wildcats started pounding the ball into Tarczewski, who Drexel was guarding 1-on-1, and that began to loosen things up. It also helped that Drexel’s big three — Fouch, Massenat and Damion Lee — cooled off after a sizzling start.

When the Wildcats get themselves into trouble is when they get away from moving the ball and running their offense.

“For the first time I think it was our offense,” Johnson said of Arizona’s struggles in the first half. “We just had to calm down. We know we could play with anyone in the country, just don’t get fancy on offense.”

“We were much more willing too share the ball and pass it [after halftime],” Miller said. “No team is going to function at the highest level when individuals try to force plays.”

As Johnson noted, Arizona had to “stick to their identity”. And for all the hype and attention that Arizona will get this year, their bread and butter will be on the defensive end of the floor. That’s where they will win games. “We have to defend,” Miller said. “We have to be an elite rebounding team.” They just don’t have the offensive weapons that a team like Duke does.

And after getting punched in the mouth for 13 minutes, that’s precisely who Arizona was. All that length and athleticism will look good on the fast break and in Sportscenter highlight packages, but where it will really have an effect on the game is defensively. Nick Johnson is a sensational on-ball defender, and T.J. McConnell isn’t bad himself. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon are both playmakers on that end, while Kaleb Tarczewski is the physical rim-protector and low block presence that can anchor a defense.

Perhaps more impressive is that Arizona has as much lineup versatility as anyone in the country. If they play a team that goes small against them — like, oh I don’t know, Duke? — the Wildcats can go with three guards and put Gordon at the four, or even the five if needed. But against a bigger team? It’s not ideal, but Arizona has used a lineup that featured the 6-foot-9 Gordon and the 6-foot-6 Hollis-Jefferson on the wing with Ashley and Tarczewski up front.

College basketball is all about style of play, matchups and taking advantage of mismatches, and there aren’t many teams that will have a mismatch against the Wildcats.

What’s that mean?

You may be able to stifle Arizona on the offensive end of the floor, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to score on them.

POSTERIZED: Kentucky’s Derek Willis drops a hammer on Florida

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It’s worth noting here that Derek Willis is not left-handed, yet he dunks this with his left hand.

UNC clinches share of ACC title in one of the top coaching jobs of Williams’ career

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after his 800th career victory with a 85-68 win over the Syracuse Orange at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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No. 8 North Carolina knocked off Pitt on the road on Saturday afternoon, picking up an 85-67 win that clinched at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the Tar Heels this season.

It’s the second straight season and the eighth time in the 14 years that Roy Williams has been the head coach of the Tar Heels that they can make such a claim. For comparison’s sake, Mike Krzyzewski and Duke have won just three ACC regular season titles in those 14 years and they haven’t won one since 2010.

So this is a pretty good run that Roy Williams is on, and that’s before you consider the two national titles — plus a third national title game — that he’s won during that stretch.

And this year may be as impressive as any job that he’s done during his career.

This UNC team is different than past UNC teams in the sense that it’s the first time that one of his great teams doesn’t have a front line anchored by a future first round pick that is a killer on the block and a stallion running the floor in transition. There’s no Brice Johnson or Tyler Zeller or Tyler Hansbrough or Sean May. Joel Berry II is a really good college guard, but he’s not Kendall Marshall or Ray Felton or Ty Lawson, and his inconsistency is one of UNC’s bigger question marks heading into the tournament. Justin Jackson has turned into a killer this season, which is not something we would have said about Justin Jackson in any other year.

Put another way, this team is not a team that you can look at and know will be a title contender.

But they are.

They hold a two-game lead over an ACC that might get 10 teams into the NCAA tournament with two games left. If they win at Virginia next week, they will be playing for pride and for seeding when they take on Duke in the season finale.

I’d go as far as to say that the Tar Heels are as good, or better, than anyone in college basketball this season. They’ll probably end up as the No. 1 seed in the south and could very well make another run to the Final Four this season.

Considering just how good Williams has been throughout his career, and particularly during his tenure in Chapel Hill, you can understand what it means to say that this may very well be the best coaching job of his career.

Grayson Allen out for Duke against Miami

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Florida Gators in the first half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Duke will be without star junior guard Grayson Allen on Saturday.

According to a report from Greg Gumbel of CBS Sports, Allen will miss the Blue Devils’ road game at Miami with an ankle injury.

The 6-foot-5 Allen is averaging 15.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season as he’s battled a few different injuries as well as getting suspended for another tripping incident. Duke is used to playing without Allen and the Blue Devils should still have enough to stay in this one against Miami but it is going to be a tough game to win on the road.

Duke is coming off of a road loss to Syracuse earlier this week as the No. 10 Blue Devils are trying to finish out a tough regular-season schedule these next three games.

VIDEO: Parents fly from Denmark to surprise Drake’s Jacob Enevold on Senior Day

DES MOINES, IA - DECEMBER 19: Center Jacob Enevold #11 of the Drake Bulldogs grabs a rebound in the first half away from forward Dom Uhl #25 of the Iowa Hawkeyes on December 19, 2015 during the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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Drake senior center Jacob Enevold received a special surprise on Saturday afternoon as his parents flew all the way from Denmark to surprise him for Senior Day.

The 7-foot-1 Enevold appeared perfectly content to take part in the Senior Day celebrations when his parents appeared on the floor and he ran to greet them.

De’Aaron Fox out for Kentucky against Florida

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 21:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on December 21, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Starting freshman guard De’Aaron Fox will be out for Kentucky on Saturday as the Wildcats host Florida in an important SEC showdown.

The 6-foot-3 Fox has a knee contusion, and without him, the Wildcats will start senior Mychael Mulder. Fox is averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game as he’s been one of the country’s best two-way freshmen this season.

Kentucky and Florida both enter Saturday’s game at 13-2 in SEC play but the Gators took the first matchup by 22 points between these two teams in Gainesville on Feb. 4.