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Michigan’s offensive struggles in 79-69 loss to Duke a major concern

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DURHAM, N.C. — Caris LeVert is a good basketball player.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that there aren’t five players in college basketball that are more improved than No. 22 Michigan’s 6-foot-6 sophomore, and nothing about the 24 points he had against No. 10 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night changes that opinion.

He was awesome, sparking a stagnant Michigan offense and keeping the Wolverines within striking distance as the Blue Devils slowly but surely vented their frustration stemming from last Friday’s tough loss to Arizona at Madison Square Garden. He beat Duke to the rim time and again in the second half, enough so that Duke’s defense changed who they were keying in on.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski agreed.

“He was terrific,” Coach K said. “Instead of just shooting outside, he drove it. He gave them a huge lift. They were having a hard time scoring and he just put them on his back.”

But LeVert’s performance touches at the heart of just what ails this Michigan team. When your roster includes names like Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III and a kid that was supposed to be a redshirt last season is the focal point of your offense, that’s a problem.

Looking over the box score of Duke’s 79-69 win over the Wolverines, it wouldn’t be difficult to assume that the Blue Devils have officially cured the defensive woes that nearly cost them wins over East Carolina and Vermont. They held the Wolverines to 30.8% shooting and just 22 points in the first half. With 1:59 left in the game, before Michigan’s late flurry, the Wolverines were shooting 39.1% from the field and had all of 50 points. Two of their three threes came in the final 1:59, when the game was already decided. Simply put, Duke executed their game-plan to perfection.

But that only tells half the story. John Beilein is an offensive mastermind. I never saw him coach when he was at the NAIA or the Division II level, and I never saw him when he was the head coach at Canisius, but I watched him at Richmond and West Virginia before he made his way up to Michigan, and I think it’s safe to say that he’s never had a team that had this much trouble running offense.

“We didn’t get a lot of easy shots,” Beilein said. “We did get a few early that we missed that could have kept it where it wanted to me.”

“We had a couple turnovers there from young players. They learn from it. It’s difficult, I don’t care if you’re home or away, you’re playing a really good team. They’re guarding you, and you’re going to make some mistakes. We made some mistakes in areas where you don’t get those possessions back.”

We knew this would happen, but the degree to which Michigan misses Trey Burke this season cannot be overstated. Losing a player Burke’s caliber, the National Player of the Year and a lottery pick, would hurt any team and any program in the country. Players with that kind of ability don’t come around often, and it doesn’t matter whether you reside in Ann Arbor or Lexington or Durham, taking a piece like that out of the equation is not an easy thing to overcome.

But Burke was so much more to the Wolverines. He was their go-to guy and their primary ball-handler. He was the leading scorer, the guy that initiated the offense and the guy that every offensive possession ran through. He was an excellent pick-and-roll point guard playing in an offense built around the pick-and-roll. And most importantly, he made each and every player on the floor better, whether it was by getting McGary open looks at the rim or Robinson wide-open rhythm threes.

They don’t have a replacement for that this season.

Derrick Walton is the guy that was expected to take over for Burke, and he is talented. He wasn’t ready for this kind of atmosphere. He needs more seasoning than a well-done steak from Costco. Robinson’s supremely athletic, but he either doesn’t have the confidence or the ability to be more than a spot-up shooter and a finisher in transition. He disappears on the offensive end far too often for a guy that is supposed to be a lottery pick. McGary is a double-double waiting to happen, but he’s not the kind of low-post scorer that commands a touch every possession; he’s not Julius Randle or Joshua Smith, and that’s a problem for a guy that’s essentially a below-the-rim player.

The most talented player on Michigan’s roster, the guy that they need to run their offense through, is Stauskas, but between being hobbled by a bad ankle and the kind of defensive pressure that he faced from Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones all night, he was completely ineffective.

“We were missing Nik’s normal game,” Beilein said of his star guard who finished with four points and three turnovers on 0-for-2 shooting from the floor in 34 minutes. “We had trouble scoring points without him.”

Stauskas clearly wasn’t at 100%, but he’s going to have to find a way to be effective when defenses are keyed in on him. He’s going to be the focal point of every opposing coach’s game plan going forward, and if he can’t be a playmaker, if the offense can’t run through him, than we should be very concerned about the Wolverines.

UCLA to honor Kareem for Presidential Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 22:  U.S. President Barack Obama (C) pretends to 'skyhook' over National Basketball Association all-time leading scorer and social justice advocate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom to  during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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UCLA announced on Wednesday that they will honor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during Saturday’s game against Arizona in Pauley Pavilion.

Jabbar was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama this past November, the highest honor that a civilian can receive. He was presented with the medal not only due to his ability on the floor, where he is still the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, but because of his contributions to society since he retired.

“The reason we honor Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the sky hook,” Obama said in November. “He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy and wasn’t popular. He’s as comfortable sparring with Bruce Lee as he is advocating on Capitol Hill or writing with extraordinary eloquence on patriotism.”

Specifically, the White House honored him for advocating for civil rights,social justice, cancer research and science education.

“Physically, intellectually, spiritually — Kareem is one-of-a-kind,” Obama said. “An American who both illuminates our most basic freedoms and our highest aspirations.”

Father of former Kansas forward Jamari Traylor receives clemency

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 11:  Jamari Traylor #31 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots a free throw against the Baylor Bears the Baylor Bears during the semifinals of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 11, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The father of former Kansas forward Jamari Traylor has had a life sentence commuted by soon-to-be ex-President Barack Obama.

The story of Jessie Traylor has been told many times over. In 2008, he was arrested when he was caught with a kilo of cocaine in a backpack. He was working as a drug courier, taking the coke from Chicago to Decatur, Illinois, but since this was his third drug-related offense – he had already been arrested on two non-violent drug offenses – Jessie was sentenced to life in prison.

As the Kansas City Star detailed last week, Jessie had exhausted all of his appeals, but he reached out to the President from clemency. It took awhile for Obama to get to Traylor’s case, but eventually he had his life sentence reduced to 20 years. With time off for good behavior, Jessie could be out as soon as 2024.

Fox leads No. 5 Kentucky over Mississippi State 88-81

Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon (11) gets into a scuffle with Kentucky'sp Isaiah Briscoe (13) and De'Aaron Fox (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Weatherspoon and Fox were both charged with offsetting technical fouls. Kentucky won 88-81. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Malik Monk, Kentucky’s leading scorer, was struggling and so was star guard Isaiah Briscoe. So when the Wildcats needed some clutch baskets late, coach John Calipari turned to freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox and gave him some simple instructions.

“We just said, `Here you go De’Aaron, go and do your thing,”‘ Calipari said.

Fox responded with two clutch baskets on drives to the basket in the final minutes to thwart a final Mississippi State rally and lead the fifth-ranked Wildcats over the Bulldogs 88-81 on Tuesday night.

Fox finished with 21 points while Monk had 14. Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis both scored 13 points and Briscoe added 12.

“A lot of teams have a go-to person, but we don’t have that right now,” Fox said. “So whoever has the hot hand that game is the one that does it.”

Kentucky (16-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) looked like it would cruise to the win after building a 66-49 lead midway through the second half, but Mississippi State responded with 13 straight points to make things interesting down the stretch.

Calipari said he was frustrated with his team’s inattention to detail. He was especially irritated when Monk got a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk on an alley-oop pass.

“We go into the AAU mode when we’re playing all freshmen and sophomores,” Calipari said. “There’s a point in the game where they just think `OK, watch this.’

“You’re never going to be that team if that’s what your mindset is.”

In the end, the Wildcats were too potent offensively. The 6-foot-3 Fox was especially impressive, shooting 8 of 15 from the field and adding five rebounds and five assists.

Kentucky also got plenty of production from its forwards. Willis scored all 13 of his points in the first half, stepping out to make three 3-pointers. Gabriel was 5 of 5 from the field, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range.

Mississippi State (12-5, 3-2) was led by freshman Lamar Peters, who scored a career-high 25 points. Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 15 points and Mario Kegler added 13 points and eight rebounds.

Mississippi State shot 32 of 59 (54.2 percent) from the field. The Bulldogs were hurt by 19 turnovers.

“You can’t knock Kentucky – they’re one of the best teams in the country,” Peters said. “But when you look at the talent on our team, I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country, too. We can hang with anybody. And it’s frustrating because we knew we could have won that game.”

It was an emotional game that featured four technical fouls – two on each team.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats continue to put up big numbers on offense, scoring at least 87 points for the sixth straight game. Monk, who leads the team at nearly 22 points per game, wasn’t at his best on Tuesday, but his teammates were more than capable of picking up the slack.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were able to hang with one of the nation’s best teams for most of the game, but an inability to stop Kentucky on the defensive end proved costly.

QUITE AN ATMOSPHERE

Mississippi State announced a crowd of 9,768, which was its largest of the season. The traffic was so bad before the game outside Humphrey Coliseum that the Bulldogs’ pep band barely made it to their seats on time because its bus was stuck on the road.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: The Wildcats return home to face No. 24 South Carolina on Saturday.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs travel to face Tennessee on Saturday.

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

Motley powers No. 6 Baylor past Texas

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) reacts to a play against Texas in first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 74-64. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)
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WACO, Texas (AP) — Johnathan Motley really couldn’t explain that feeling he had when he kept scoring points and grabbing rebounds. Baylor’s big forward just knew he wanted to play better than his last couple of games.

“You don’t really remember what you do, you’re just kind of out there going through it,” Motley said after career highs of 32 points and 20 rebounds in No. 6 Baylor’s 74-64 victory over Texas on Tuesday night. “I can’t really tell you the moves I made. I just forgot. It just goes away.”

Coach Scott Drew then smiled and said he liked that attitude of focusing on the next play.

“It’s just a crazy rhythm you get as a basketball player,” Motley added. “You can’t really explain it.”

Nuni Omot, the junior college transfer playing in only his eighth game for Baylor (17-1, 5-1 Big 12), had a season-high 14 points. He scored seven in the half-ending 16-4 run that put the Bears ahead to stay.

Texas (7-11, 1-5) led by as many as eight points early, and was still up by five before Omot’s dunk with just over 5 minutes left in the first half. Al Freeman , who finished with 10 points, and Jake Lindsey followed with consecutive 3-pointers to put Baylor ahead for the first time.

Jarrett Allen had 17 points for the Longhorns, while Andrew Jones had 15. Shaquille Cleare scored 14 before his fifth foul.

About halfway through the second half, the 6-foot-10 Motley had a one-handed putback dunk , though he got a technical foul after an elbow into a defender following the play.

With about 5 minutes left, Motley rebounded his own miss and made a tough jumper over the defender.

“The thing that he keeps getting better with is his motor, and that’s how he got a lot of those rebounds,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said.

In Baylor’s two road games last week, Motley was 6-of-18 shooting for 15 points and 14 rebounds combined. He fouled out after playing only 19 minutes Saturday at Kansas State.

“I wasn’t too happy with myself,” Motley said. “And I tried to do everything I could to be better than I was.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas: Without a true point guard, the Longhorns just can’t seem to get into any flow on offense. They do have impressive stretches during games that give them hope, but Smart’s team seems stuck in a down year that starts to look worse when playing in Big 12 games.

Baylor: The Bears have matched their best start at 17-1, which they also did in 2011-12 when they had a school-record 30 wins and an Elite Eight appearance. The 6-9 Omot could give Baylor a big boost. He sat out last season after transferring from a Minnesota junior college, then was academically ineligible to play in the fall semester.

30-20 RARIETY

Motley joined Jerry Mallett (1957), Darrell Hardy (1966) and Rico Gathers (2015) as the only Baylor players with 30-20 games. The last 30-20 game in a Big 12 game had been by Blake Griffin in 2009 with Oklahoma.

AND THEN IT WAS OVER

Smart liked the mentality his players had to start the game. “The way they were connected, the way they tried to guard was very, very good,” he said. “And then there was a point with about 6-8 minutes left (in the first half) where you could just kind of feel our defensive energy was not as good.” And they never got it back.

IMMORTAL TEN

Baylor players honored the 90th anniversary of the Immortal Ten team. The Bears were headed to Austin, Texas, for a game on Jan. 22, 1927, when 10 players, coaches and fans in the travel party were killed when the bus was hit by a train. There were 10 vacant chairs near the Baylor bench, and players had the names of the Immortal Ten on the back of their game jerseys.

UP NEXT

Texas will play its third consecutive Top 10 opponent, and second straight on the road when the Longhorns play at No. 2 Kansas on Saturday.

Baylor plays three of its next four games away from home, though the Bears only have to go about 100 miles Saturday to play at much-improved TCU.

No. 21 Purdue dominates Illinois

Illinois forward Michael Finke and Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan (50) vie for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — When Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas are in sync, it’s difficult trying to name a better power forward-center combination in college basketball.

No. 21 Purdue’s two interior players certainly were in sync on Tuesday night against outmanned Illinois.

Haas had 24 points and six rebounds, and power forward Swanigan added 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Boilermakers’ dominating 91-68 victory.

Haas scored 13 points in the second half when the Boilermakers (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten) led by as many as 27. Swanigan had a four-point first half but was almost unstoppable during the second half, accounting for 18 points and five rebounds.

“It was Illinois’ game plan not to double us,” Swanigan said. “You could hear their coaches yelling to them to pressure the ball. That was their game plan, and we had success with it.”

Purdue placed five players in double figures, also getting 14 from freshman guard Carsen Edwards, 11 from forward Vince Edwards — no relation — and 10 from point guard P.J. Thompson.

“We have to have balance, and we did that tonight,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “When Isaac got the ball deep like he did tonight, that’s hard to stop. When Isaac is good and efficient, it really puts the other team in a bind.”

Illinois (12-7, 2-4) got 15 points from Maverick Morgan and 12 from Malcolm Hill but had no answer for the Boilermakers’ two post players, each of whom had his way around the basket.

With this victory, Purdue leads the all-time series with Illinois, 100-87.

Purdue made 9 of its first 14 field goal attempts, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, built a 19-5 lead with 13:01 to play in the first half and led 44-30 through 20 minutes, shooting 60 percent from the field (15 of 25).

“With that team, you kind of have to pick your poison,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “They have two great post players, and then they surround them with good shooters. We let them get loose from 3 early, and the 3-point line got them out front and eventually into a double-digit lead.”

Haas was grateful for the 3-point help.

“I don’t think the 3-point success made the game easy, but it gave us confidence and definitely let us get our heads up,” Haas said. “It wasn’t like we were taking contested 1-on-1 shots. We were moving the ball and getting open looks.”

Carsen Edwards had 12 first-half points for Purdue, and Haas had 11. The two were a combined 9 of 10 from the field before halftime. The Boilermakers outrebounded Illinois 20-13 during the opening 20 minutes, although they did not get a single offensive rebound.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini never recovered from the early 19-5 deficit and fell to 0-4 in games against Top 25 competition. Illinois had trouble coping with Purdue’s size and watched as the Boilermakers made five 3-pointers during the first 7 minutes. If Illinois loses Saturday at Michigan, it will be 2-5 in the Big Ten.

Purdue: As the Boilermakers have done every time after a regular-season loss in the past two seasons, they won the next game, getting a nice balance of perimeter play from Carsen Edwards and Haas.

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE

With 22 points and 10 rebounds, Swanigan has nine double-doubles in the past 10 games, missing only this past Thursday with 17 and eight in an 83-78 loss at Iowa.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

If the 21st-ranked Boilermakers beat Penn State on Saturday in Mackey Arena and improve to 16-4, 5-2, chances are solid that they will move up a bit in the AP Top 25.

ROAD WOES

Including Tuesday’s loss, Illinois is 0-3 in Big Ten road games, losing by 25 at Maryland, by 16 at Indiana and by 23 at Purdue.

“It’s a lot about being inconsistent,” Groce said.

UP NEXT

Illinois: The Illini travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday to play Michigan.

Purdue: The Boilermakers are at home again Saturday for a game with Penn State.