No. 5 Duke’s inability to adjust to a zone a concern moving forward

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In the grand scheme of things, No. 5 Duke’s 74-66 loss at North Carolina on Thursday night isn’t going to mean all that much.

The Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country, they’ve proven they can beat anyone this season — just ask Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville — and they were playing on their home floor two days after Duke played at Georgia Tech and two days before the Blue Devils host No. 1 Syracuse.

Duke’s chances of winning the ACC regular season title have been slim since they lost to Clemson and Notre Dame, and losing at UNC isn’t going to drastically alter their perception when it comes to seeding by the selection committee.

By Sunday morning, this loss will be nothing more than another chapter in one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.

But that doesn’t mean this loss wasn’t concerning for the Blue Devils.

Marcus Paige was terrific down the stretch for the Heels, closing out this game in a manner that would make Tyler Ennis blush. Leslie McDonald played his best game of the season, scoring 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting and hitting a number of clutch buckets down the stretch. The Heels pounded the offensive glass and got some key second chance points from their front court.

What changed this game, however, was Roy Williams throwing a couple of different zone looks at the Blue Devils.

I’ll have to go back and watch it to figure out what, exactly, they were playing, but midway through the second half, Williams switched to a zone. At times, when the Heels extended, it looked like a 1-3-1 and at times it looked like a point zone, which is essentially a 1-2-2 matchup zone that was invented by Dean Smith. Regardless of what it’s called, the effect it had on the Blue Devils is the reason North Carolina won.

Duke’s high-powered offense was suddenly stuck in the mud. When they weren’t taking quick shots they were forcing contested jumpers at the end of a possession. When they got open looks, they missed them.

How does that happen?

According to Synergy, North Carolina plays zone on roughly 8% of their defensive possessions. I know they have length and I understand that they are athletic, but when you play that little zone, you aren’t going to move that well in it. A couple passes, some dribble penetration, a touch in the high-post. That’s all it should take to be able to get a good shot, but Duke went almost nine minutes in the second half without making a field goal. In that time, the Heels cut 51-40 lead to just 53-51.

Duke did not prepare for that zone, and while they will be playing Syracuse on Saturday, what the Orange do in their zone is very different from what UNC was doing on Thursday. When you’re not expecting a defense, it can be tough for a team to react to a change that is that drastic.

So it’s understandable that the Blue Devils had some trouble.

But that doesn’t make it any less concerning.

Duke is not a good defensive team. Their best player is an atrocious defensive player. They have to put up a lot of points if they are going to be good teams.

They cannot afford to struggle making adjustments when junk defenses get thrown at them.

Felder no longer part of South Carolina basketball program

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina point guard Rakym Felder is no longer part of the Gamecocks basketball team.

Felder, a key freshman reserve for South Carolina’s Final Four team two years ago, was dismissed from the program by coach Frank Martin on Monday.

The 5-foot-10 Felder, from Brooklyn, New York, was suspended last summer after his second arrest in less than a year. Felder was not enrolled last fall. He was allowed to return in the spring semester although he did not play.

Martin said there were guidelines Felder had to follow upon coming back “and unfortunately, he has not met those expectations.”

Martin has not detailed those guidelines for Felder’s return to the court.

Felder had 15 points in South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament win over Duke in 2017

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.