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Strong profile aside, is No. 16 Wisconsin a national title contender?


Three weeks ago, on Saturday, February 1st, we were all ready to write off No. 16 Wisconsin.

The Badgers had lost to Ohio State in the Kohl Center, their fifth loss in six games and their third-straight defeat at home, something that simply never happens.

They were overrated. Their record was boosted by the fact that they had won a bunch of games early in the season against good-but-not-great teams, some of whom were dealing with injuries at the time.

Fast forward to today, Saturday the 22nd. After a 79-74 win over No. 15 Iowa, the Badgers have now won five straight games, which includes a two-point win over Michigan State and, in the past six days, road victories against both Michigan and Iowa.

Just like that, the Badgers are back.

And with one of the strongest overall profiles in the country, don’t be surprised to see Bo Ryan’s club with a a top three seed come Selection Sunday.

Is this Wisconsin team an actual national title contender? Well, I’m not sure. There have been a number of things that have factored into this recent resurgence, not the least of which is Frank Kaminsky rediscovering the Frank the Tank form that allowed him to put up 43 points on 19 shots earlier this season. He had 21 points and seven boards in the win over Iowa, following up a dominating, 25-point, 11-rebound effort against Michigan. In the last four games — wins over MSU, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa — Kaminsky is averaging 18.3 points and 7.5 boards while shooting 27-for-44 (61.4%) from the floor.

He’s been dominant.

But it’s not just Kaminsky. Sam Dekker is a stud. Nigel Hayes has made himself an obvious pick for every national media outlet’s Breakout Players list next fall. Even Bronson Koenig is making his presence known, finishing with 12 very important points for the Badgers on Saturday.

This team is balanced, they execute as well as anyone offensively, they shoot very well from three and they make big shots.

But their issue was never how well they can score. It’s whether or not they can get stops.

They’ve improved on the defensive end of the floor, there’s no doubt about that. But in three of their last four games entering Saturday, they allowed more than a point-per-possession. Iowa scored 74 points in 64 possession, or 1.156 PPP.

The reason Wisconsin won this game was Iowa’s inability to get stops when they went man-to-man, both in the first half and on the Wisconsin’s game-winning possession. And while they might be getting more stops now than a month ago, that doesn’t necessarily make the Badgers a good defensive team.

You have to win six games to win a national title, the last three or four of which are legitimate Final Four-caliber basketball teams. Can the Badgers do that while avoiding the kind of performance they had against Northwestern?

Knee injury temporarily sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.

Duke figuring out approach for this season

Duke University head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski speaks with the media about the Blue Devils' 2013-14 basketball season, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Durham, N.C. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
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Duke is coming off of a national championship but the roster will look almost completely different for the 2015-16 season. That means last season’s approach to things on the offensive and defensive end will have to change and head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned to reporters on Friday how the Blue Devils are still figuring some things out.

“We’re putting in a different offensive system, to personalize it for these guys,” Krzyzewski said to reporters. “And a different defensive system so that we can max out on the talents that they have.

“We’re really proud of our team. I think we’re going to be a really good team.”

Without Jahlil Okafor in the middle, Duke’s offense could shift to a mostly perimeter-oriented team, as the wing and guard depth is superior for this year’s group.  Coach K and his staff making adjustments to schemes to fit personnel is a nice move from the Hall of Famer, as he’s done a better job in recent years of making adjustments like this after his stint with USA Basketball.

As the program moves on from Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook, it’ll be intriguing to see who emerges as a potential go-to offensive player early in the season and how Duke’s offense potentially evolves as the season wears on.