Virginia v Duke

No. 23 Duke wins, but their struggles are still evident

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source: Getty Images

If you’re No. 23 Duke or you’re Mike Krzyzewski, it doesn’t really matter how ugly it was.

At this point, coming off of road losses to Clemson and Notre Dame in the span of a week, winning ugly means, quite frankly, that you won, and at this point, that’s something the Blue Devils are going to take. For them, the 69-65 win over Virginia is just as effective as a 100-0 win.

Coach K pulled out all the tricks in his playbook. shuffling the starting lineup (Matt Jones started at the off-guard spot) and rolling through five-man line changes for the first ten minutes or so of each half. In total, 11 guys got minutes for the Blue Devils, including seldom-used reserves Semi Ojeleye and Marshall Plumlee.

And on a night where Coach K is trying to wake up his team, it would only make sense that the heroes were, in one case, a season-long conundrum and, in the other, of the unsung variety.

Rasheed Sulaimon has spent the entire season working his way in and out of Coach K’s doghouse. He took the dreaded DNP-CD against Michigan (I wrote about it here) before finally seeming to break back into the rotation against Arizona in the Garden (I wrote about that here). But it wasn’t until tonight that we really saw Sulaimon look like the guy that many had pegged as a potential lottery pick entering the season.

He scored 21 points off the bench, providing a massive first half spark to snap Duke out of an offensive funk while hitting a fluky game-winner — his corner three bounced high off of the back of the rim and in — in the final minute. He was active defensively and aggressive offensively, something we haven’t seen Sulaimon do much of this season.

The other hero was Amile Jefferson, Duke’s blue-collar, undersized junkyard dog inside. Jefferson finished with 10 points, 15 boards, two assists, a block and two steals, one of which came when he picked off a cross court pass when Virginia had the ball down just two points with 10 seconds left. He proceeded to get fouled and, as a 41% free throw shooter, step to the line and ice the game.

But as good as those two were, Duke’s issues were still quite evident.

Virginia isn’t the kind of team that has explosive penetrating guards, but the were able to get penetration into the paint way too easily. They struggled finishing around the rim, which is why Duke was able to maintain a double-digit advantage for much of the game. Offensively, the Blue Devils still don’t look quite right. They rely far too much on isolations in the half court and have simply looked out of sync in recent games. Jabari Parker is slumping. Rodney Hood struggled at times Monday night. Quinn Cook, as a result, has tried to force things offensively to try to make up for that lacking scoring punch.

The good news? The body language tonight was better. The Blue Devils had more energy. They may have blown a lead down the stretch playing “prevent offense”, but they still beat a good Virginia team that’s been peaking of late.

And they have Coach K.

If anyone can figure out a way to cure what ails Duke, it’s the man that has the most wins of any college basketball coach.

He better get started on it.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.