Duke doesn’t need Rasheed Sulaimon if they have three guys that fit into a role

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DURHAM, N.C. — The story of No. 10 Duke’s 79-69 win over No. 22 Michigan on Tuesday night was some combination of the Blue Devils’ defensive prowess and the Wolverine’s offensive struggles.

Whether you believe that Michigan’s horrendous night, which saw them score 50 points and shoot 39.1% from the floor in the first 38 minutes, was evidence that the Blue Devils have turned a corner on the defensive end or is proof-positive that the Wolverines aren’t going to be a factor in the Big Ten title race probably depends on what shade of blue you’re wearing.

But what’s inarguable is that Duke put a thorough whooping on Michigan.

It was the best game that Duke has played this season.

“Definitely,” Rodney Hood said after the game. “Especially defensively.”

Which is interesting when you consider the fact that Rasheed Sulaimon took the dreaded DNP-CD: Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision. Remember, we’re talking about a guy that averaged 11.6 points as a freshman, a guy that many expected to be an explosive No. 3 scoring option for the Blue Devils this season. He was supposed to be another weapon is what is a lethal offensive attack for Mike Krzyzewski.

Except he hasn’t been.

Sulaimon scored 33 points in his first two games this season, but has been a non-factor over the course of the six games leading into Monday night. He was 6-for-28 (21.4%) from the floor during that stretch, hitting just 1-for-9 from three and averaging just 4.0 points. “He has to play better than the guys who played tonight,” Krzyzewski in his press conference last night.

“As a man, he has to step up and accept what he needs to do,” Tyler Thornton said to Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer. “We need him. That’s all I can really say about that.”

“He knows what he needs to do, I don’t really want to speak on that. He has a week and a half until our next game. We have a lot of practice time. Hopefully we can get what we need out of him in that span.”

“It’s basketball,” senior guard Andre Dawkins said. “Everybody who plays shooting guard has had a DNP already this year. It’s what happens when you have this deep of a team, sometimes guys just aren’t going to play. It doesn’t mean we don’t need him to be good or to help us out.”

Dawkins’ answer is interesting.

He’s had his own trials and tribulations as a member of the Blue Devils. He was essentially told to take last season off by the Duke staff as he dealt with the grief of losing his sister. He returned this season, posting some big numbers in games against teams like UNC-Asheville, Vermont and Florida Atlantic. But he didn’t play against Kansas. He managed all of 12 minutes in two games at the Garden last week. He’s been pushed way down the bench this season, but he also stepped up and made the two biggest shots of the game last night.

Michigan had chipped the lead all the way down to 46-40 and had the momentum midway through the second half. You could feel it in the building; the Wolverines were going to make this a game. And then, BOOM, Dawkins comes in cold off the bench and buries a three on his first touch. On the next possession, BOOM, he drills another three to put Duke up 12. He added a running layup a minute later, which all but sealed Michigan’s fate.

Those were the two biggest shots of the game.

Without question.

Duke’s other two off-guards, Thornton and freshman Matt Jones, finished with just eight points in 38 combined minutes, but they were just as valuable as Dawkins. Duke’s game-plan defensively was to take away Nik Stauskas first and foremost, worrying about the rest of Michigan’s roster after they ran the Canadian gun-slinger off the three-point line and limited his driving lanes at the rim.

Thornton and Jones drew that assignment. Stauskas played 34 minutes and finished 0-for-2 from the floor.

Coach K can’t ask for much more out of his off-guards, and that’s a massive problem for Sulaimon.

The bottom-line is that Duke’s offensive is going to run through Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. That’s not changing. Quinn Cook has proven that he’s more than capable of being a third-option offensively. Don’t believe? Last night, with Parker and Hood struggling, Cook exploded for 24 points and nine assists, doing most of his damage after halftime.

Quite frankly, Duke doesn’t need Sulaimon to be “Rasheed Sulaimon”. They need an off-guard willing to guy into a role. They need a lockdown defender that can knock down threes. If Sulaimon is unwilling to buy into that role, the three-headed monster of Thornton, Jones and Dawkins have proven themselves to be more than capable.

If he doesn’t want to play that role, then he doesn’t want to play.

Duke looks like they’ll be just fine.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: