Valiant in defeat, No. 17 Duke hurt by lack of interior options

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The hype for Saturday’s game between No. 17 Duke and No. 2 Syracuse was immense, and in situations such as this one it seems near impossible for the matchup to live up to the pre game chatter. But the Blue Devils and Orange lived up to the hype and then some, playing the most exciting 45 minutes of basketball we’ve seen to this point in the season.

C.J. Fair scored the last of his career-high 28 points with a free throw just over five seconds remaining in overtime, giving Syracuse the 91-89 victory and moving the Orange to 21-0 (8-0 ACC). Duke, with its capable three-point shooters, attacked the Syracuse zone in a way that most teams are dissuaded from doing. While they did manage to work the ball inside, scoring 32 points in the paint, the Blue Devils did much of their damage from beyond the arc.

Of Duke’s 72 field goal attempts half of them were three-pointers, with the Blue Devils making 15 of those 36 shots. Those long shots resulted in rebounding opportunities for a Duke team that isn’t deep inside and they took advantage, rebounding nearly 41% of their misses and scoring 22 second-chance points.

Much of that was done by Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson, who grabbed 11 of those offensive rebounds and proved once again to be the best that Duke has inside when it comes to front court “muscle.” So with this being the case, obviously it was a big deal when both fouled out late in regulation. With those two unavailable head coach Mike Krzyzewski went with his shooters in hopes of getting a mismatch in his favor on the offensive end of the floor.

The problem with this move: there was no one on the floor capable of guarding Jerami Grant.

Grant converted multiple dunks in overtime, with Duke ultimately being forced to bring in Marshall Plumlee for a defensive possession. Plumlee played a total of ten minutes, grabbing two rebounds, as neither he nor Josh Hairston have been able to do enough over the course of ACC play to earn a spot in the rotation. And therein lies the problem for this Duke team when it comes to considering their prospects not only within the ACC but also in regards to their national hopes.

Jefferson’s been very good for Duke over the last 14 games, and against Syracuse the sophomore accounted for 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists. At this point it seems safe to assume that he and Parker (15 points, nine rebounds) will be Duke’s most productive front court players for the remainder of the season. But if this team is to entertain any thoughts of climbing back into the ACC race (remember, they get Syracuse at home in three weeks), they need someone else in the front court to step up and earn minutes.

However with this being the case, do they have a third player capable of doing so? Even with this dilemma Duke nearly left the Carrier Dome with a win, so they clearly can make adjustments. But against teams with the ability to exploit this deficiency, Duke will continue to have issues if a Plumlee or Hairston (or both) doesn’t step up in the coming weeks.

In a game as entertaining as this one, it’s tough to pinpoint an area in which the losing team cost itself the game. But there’s no doubt that Duke’s lack of interior depth impacted their strategy in overtime.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

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“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.