Duke’s defense, lack of size won’t prevent them from contending

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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. 6 Duke entered the semifinals of the Preseason NIT 5-1, the lone loss coming to No. 2 Kansas at the Champions Classic. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood were living up to their Preseason All-American hype. The Blue Devils were scoring points at a prolific rate, ranking No. 1 in Kenpom’s offensive efficiency ratings as their lineup featuring five perimeter players proved impossible to matchup with.

But offense is only going to get you so far if you can’t stop anyone, and Duke had been downright atrocious on the defensive end over the course of the first two-and-a-half weeks of the season.

As of Wednesday, the Blue Devils were 179th in the country in defensive efficiency rating, according to Kenpom, a number that is obscenely low for a team coached by Mike Krzyzewski. For all the stereotypes out there about the Blue Devils, their best teams have always been able to defend.

The issue for this group?

Their front court. Duke doesn’t have a dominating interior presence. They have the undersized Josh Hairston, the out-of-position Amile Jefferson and the overmatched Marshall Plumlee. It’s The best player in that loss to Kansas? Power forward Perry Ellis, who finished with 24 points. Duke also likes to pressure out on the perimeter, but that opens them up to getting beaten off the dribble where they lack a rim protector. Vermont — Vermont — was 21-for-24 on shots in the paint against Duke, the majority of which came off of dribble penetration.

(MORE: Aaron Gordon is better than what the box score says.)

Simply put, Mason Plumlee ain’t walking through that door.

“We’re not a pro team,” Coach K said. We can’t get a guy on a ten-day contract or from the D-League. This is who we have.”

To their credit, the Blue Devils were much, much better defensively the past two days. Both Alabama and Arizona really struggled getting anything going in the half court. The Wildcat’s three big guys — Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski — were good in Friday night’s 72-66 win in the NIT title game, but they weren’t overpowering. The trio finished with a combined 33 points and 18 boards on 12-for-18 shooting, numbers that are going to be common for opposing front lines, especially when they are as big as Arizona’s.

But Duke certainly wasn’t dominated on the interior despite the fact that Arizona made it very evident that their goal throughout the game was to get the ball inside. Duke scouted well and stuck to their game-plan. Every post touch, the Blue Devils double-teamed on the dribble, rotating well enough that they cut off penetration from Arizona’s back court. They were daring Arizona to shoot threes, and the Wildcats obliged, missing nine of their first 11 attempts.

It wasn’t until Nick Johnson hit a tough three at the end of a shot clock, which was followed by a deep three from Aaron Gordon, that the Wildcats went on their game-changing, 20-5 run. A 43-37 Duke lead turned into a 57-48 deficit, but that wasn’t the front court’s fault.

“We played really well on the defensive end,” Krzyzewski said. “We were playing our hearts out. They’re difficult to defend.”

“I have no fault for my team.”

The bottom-line is this: Duke has a small front court. We all know they have a small front court. That’s not going to change unless Jahlil Okafor somehow finds a way to enroll in college for the spring semester.

That ain’t happening, so the Blue Devils are going to have to find a way to compete — to defend — despite their size deficiencies.

On Friday, they did. Just like they did against Alabama on Wednesday. Think about it like this: Duke lost to a very, very good Arizona team by six points on a night when Jabari Parker was 7-for-21 from the floor and didn’t hit a field goal in the second half until there was less than three minutes on the clock.

“There’s no shame in losing to Kansas,” Coach K said. “Or Arizona.”

Perhaps the best news for Duke fans is that there aren’t many elite teams out there with overpowering front lines. Arizona is as good as anyone, and this was a very winnable game for Duke.

Every team has issues they have to overcome. Friday night was evidence that Duke is, at the very least, trending in the right direction.

Size is not an excuse anymore.

Greg Kampe’s ‘Coaches Beat Cancer’ event is unique and awesome

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe has come up with a unique way to raise money for the fight for cancer: By allowing fans to bid on him.

Technically, he’s not the main attraction. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, or Fox Sports’ Bill Raftery, or South Carolina’s Frank Martin probably qualifies as such, but that’s not really the talking point here.

What Kampe is doing, for the second time, is hosting a golf outing called Coaches Beat Cancer where fans can bid on weekend golf outing with some of the biggest names in hoops. There are 11 participants this year: Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, Butler head coach Chris Holtmann, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, Oakland head coach Greg Kampe, Fox Sports’ Steve Lavin, South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, Fox Sports’ Bill Raftery, Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, or Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard.

It’s actually a really cool deal. Here’s how it works: You got to this link and bid on one of the 11 participants. The price starts at $15,000 with a buy-it-now option of $24,000, with the money going directly to the American Cancer Society. What do you get for all that money? A private dinner with the coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club.

That’s a lot of money to spend.

But it’s also an incredible chance to do something very few people get to do with the money going to a very, very good cause.

Five-star Brandon McCoy commits to UNLV

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After the season that UNLV had, the Runnin’ Rebels desperately needed some good news, and this certainly qualifies: On Tuesday night, five-star center Brandon McCoy announced that he had committed to head coach Marvin Menzies.

McCoy is a five-star prospect and a top 15 recruit that hails from San Diego. He picked the Rebels over Arizona, Oregon and Michigan State, among others.

UNLV went 11-21 a season ago as Menzies took over a program that was a shambles after the majority of the roster transferred out following Dave Rices dismissal.

2017 NBA Draft official early entry list

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On Tuesday, the NBA announced the early entries for the 2017 NBA Draft. More than 130 student-athletes have filed early-entry paperwork to enter the upcoming draft. That doesn’t include the dozens of international prospects who will also be eligible for the upcoming draft.

Players wishing to maintain their NCAA eligibility must withdraw from the draft by May 24.  The 2017 NBA Draft will take place on June 22.

Here is the current list of early entrants:

Shaqquan Aaron, USC Soph.
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure Jr.
Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky Fresh.
Deng Adel, Louisville Soph.
Jashaun Agosto,LIU Fresh.
Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s Jr.
Rawle Alkin, Arizona Fresh.
Jarrett Allen, Texas Fresh.
Mark Alstork, Wright State  Jr.
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA Fresh.
OG Anunoby, Indiana Soph.
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State Soph.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA Fresh.
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas Jr.
Jordan Bell, Oregon Jr.
Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont Jr.
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana Jr.
Antonio Blakeney, LSU Soph.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Jr.
Bennie Boatwright, USC Soph.
Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech Jr.
Tony Bradley, North Carolina Fresh.
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky Soph.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon Jr.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana Soph.
Rodney Bullock, Providence Jr.
Jevon Carter, West Virginia Jr.
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA) Jr.
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham Soph.
Donte’ Clark, Massachusetts Jr.
Chris Clemons, Campbell  Soph.
David Collette, Utah Jr.
John Collins, Wake Forest Soph.
Zach Collins, Gonzaga Fresh.
Chance Comanche, Arizona  Soph.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall Jr.
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky Fresh.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon  Soph.
PJ Dozier, South Carolina Soph.
Vince Edwards, Purdue Jr.
John Egbunu, Florida Jr.
Jon Elmore, Marshall Jr.
Obi Enechionyia, Temple Jr.
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State Soph.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State Soph.
Tacko Fall, Central Florida Soph.
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX) Soph.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky Fresh.
Markelle Fultz, Washington Fresh.
Harry Giles, Duke Fresh.
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU Jr.
Donte Grantham, Clemson Jr.
Isaac Haas, Purdue Jr.
Aaron Holiday, UCLA Soph.
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky Soph.
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State Jr.
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State Fresh.
Frank Jackson, Duke Fresh.
Josh Jackson, Kansas Fresh.
Justin Jackson, Maryland Fresh.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina Jr.
Alize Johnson, Missouri State Jr.
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge Jr.
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville Jr.
Robert Johnson, Indiana Jr.
Andrew Jones, Texas Fresh.
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State Fresh.
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan Jr.
Luke Kennard , Duke Soph.
Braxton Key, Alabama Fresh.
George King, Colorado Jr.
Kyle Kuzma, Utah Jr.
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma Jr.
TJ Leaf, UCLA Fresh.
William Lee, UAB Jr.
Zach Lofton, Texas Southern Jr.
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse Soph.
Daryl Macon, Arkansas Jr.
Marin Maric, Northern Illinois Jr.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Fresh.
Yante Maten, Georgia Jr.
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State Soph.
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State Jr.
Eric Mika, BYU Soph.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville Soph.
Malik Monk, Kentucky Fresh.
Matthew Morgan, Cornell Soph.
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State Jr.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor Jr.
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas Jr.
Divine Myles, Stetson Jr.
Derick Newton, Stetson Soph.
Austin Nichols, Virginia Jr.
Semi Ojeleye, SMU Jr.
Cameron Oliver, Nevada Soph.
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah Jr.
Justin Patton, Creighton Fresh.
L.J. Peak, Georgetown Jr.
Theo Pinson | North Carolina Jr.
Ivan Rabb, California Soph.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State Jr.
Devin Robinson, Florida Jr.
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay Jr.
Martavius Robinson, Lewis & Clark CC (Illinois) Soph.
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State Soph.
Corey Sanders, Rutgers Soph.
Victor Sanders, Idaho Jr.
Kobi Simmons, Arizona Fresh.
Fred Sims Jr., Chicago State Soph.
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State Fresh.
Zach Smith, Texas Tech Jr.
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State Soph.
Edmond Sumner, Xavier Soph.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue Soph.
Jayson Tatum, Duke Fresh.
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State Jr.
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan Soph.
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State Soph.
Trevor Thompson,  Ohio State Jr.
Melo Trimble, Maryland Jr.
Craig Victor II, LSU Jr.
Moritz Wagner, Michigan Soph.
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso Jr.
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA) Soph.
Thomas Welsh, UCLA  Jr.
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan Jr.
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan Jr.
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga Jr.
Kam Williams, Ohio State Jr.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga| Jr.
Christian Wilson, Texas-San Antonio Jr.
D.J. Wilson, Michigan Jr.
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State Fresh.

CBT Podcast: Breaking down the NBA Draft early entry list

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On the podcast today, I am joined by Sam Vecenie to break down all of the NBA Draft early entry decisions. Who are the key returnees? Who are the most important names still testing the waters?