If Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook continue to co-exist, Duke will be tough to contain

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source: AP

INDIANAPOLIS — Entering the 2014-15 season, it was known throughout college basketball that Duke would rely heavily on its talented incoming freshmen.

But the unanswered question remained how Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski would handle his dueling point guards in senior Quinn Cook and freshman Tyus Jones? The 6-foot-2 Cook had a bevy of experience and started 22 games last season, but his inconsistent play at the end of the campaign made it seem as though a position battle was brewing. And although the 6-foot-1 Jones entered Durham as a highly-touted, slick-passing floor leader with a solid jump shot, questions about his ability to defend at the college level didn’t make him a definitive starter like a few of his fellow freshmen.

So far this season, though, Cook and Jones have both started, and thrived, in the same backcourt during Duke’s 3-0 start. Monday night’s combined effort against Michigan State in the Champions Classic was particularly noteworthy. The duo put up 36 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers in the Blue Devils’ 81-71 win over the Spartans. They were also efficient as shooters, combining to go 11-for-17 from the field and 5-for-7 from three-point range

After the game, Coach K had plenty of praise for the two McDonald’s All-American point guards that helped Duke maintain a comfortable lead despite foul trouble to freshman center Jahlil Okafor and an illness to reserve guard Rasheed Sulaimon.

“Quinn’s presence was really, really big for us,” Krzyzewski said. “He and Tyus have really developed a great relationship and I thought Tyus took off in the second half. You get 36 points from the two of them; ten assists, no turnovers, good defense.”

It wasn’t always supposed to be this easy of a decision. In the preseason, it looked like Jones was winning the “battle” over Cook after the freshman started both preseason games and Cook came off the bench. But the two point guard look has given Duke a major lift in its starting line-up.

Having two steady ball handlers is a nice perk for Duke’s offense, but Cook also looks very comfortable as a spot-up shooter off of feeds from Jones and the freshman is also enough of a threat as a perimeter shooter to space the floor if Cook takes the ball up himself.

The duo is also showing a tremendous amount of poise and leadership under pressure. When Okafor went down with his fourth foul of the game with 8:54 left in the second half against Michigan State, it was Jones who stepped up and hit the big four-point play a minute later to push the Duke lead back to double digits.

Jones spent much of the first 30 minutes of the game deferring on offense and setting up his teammates, but he and Cook became leaders for a unit that would not wilt without its star big man.

“I was proud of Tyus, personally, not scoring the ball and trying to get everyone involved in the first half. He took his shots with confidence and he played big for us,” Cook said. “When Jah went out with the fourth foul, we didn’t panic, we came together. We wanted to get some rebounds because we were smaller out there and everybody stepped up.”

That kind of leadership was lacking at times for Duke last season. If Jabari Parker or Rodney Hood struggled to make plays, it was difficult to identify a consistent third option that would step up in key moments. But with Okafor off the floor against Michigan State, Cook and Jones helped Duke keep its head above water.

The praise from Jones about his “big brother both on and off the court” was high on Monday night as the two point guards sat together smiling in the press conference after the Champions Classic win.

“He’ll pull me aside on the court and tell me to look for something different or to try to approach things a different way. But at the same time, he’s given me confidence by telling me to believe in myself because he knows what I can do on the court,” Jones said of Cook. “He welcomed me with open arms and it’s been really easy to adjust.”

Cook’s selfless attitude and “off-the-charts leadership,” as Krzyzewski put it, is making a huge difference for Duke this season because it’s allowing Jones to stay comfortable playing his own game while also letting Cook be effective with his strengths. The two are meshing well together and Duke’s offense is limiting turnovers and shooting high percentages.

The immediate need for Okafor was fairly obvious. The Blue Devils had a tough time rebounding, getting stops at the rim and achieving positive post touches on offense in 2013-14, so the No. 1 incoming freshman in the country entering the starting line-up was a foregone conclusion. Losing Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to the 2014 NBA Draft meant Krzyzewski had a need for a scoring wing who could play both sides of the floor so the starting line-up also had a hole that freshman Justise Winslow fit nicely.

But who could have predicted the tremendous lift that this new backcourt would be giving Duke? Krzyzewski could have opted to go with Option 1A or 1B as the starting point guard but the unexpected Option C is working out fine. Okafor and Winslow are looking like the new go-to guys to replace Parker and Hood this season but the combination of Jones and Cook is giving the Blue Devils a much more reliable third option than last season while also limiting turnovers and spacing the floor around Okafor.

Questions will continue to arise if Cook and Jones can defend a high-scoring backcourt featuring a bigger guard, but for now, the Blue Devils are happy to have steady leadership, an efficient offense and a more hopeful outlook on the future after last season’s embarrassing early exit.

2018 NCAA TOURNAMENT: Fans guess location of Sweet 16 schools

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People in Times Square were quizzed on the location of the schools in the Sweet 16 and some guesses were pretty entertaining.

Another offseason of NBA talk begins for stunned Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari will take a few days before having a series of offseason meetings with his young team about their futures after an earlier-than-expected exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Calipari said he isn’t sure whether many of his talented freshmen and sophomores might return next season, or declare for the NBA draft.

“Until I sit down with all the guys, talk and see where they are with things and where their families are, I have no idea,” Calipari said.

They’re conversations Calipari knew were upcoming, just not this soon.

The fifth-seeded Wildcats could not take advantage of a clearer path to the Final Four paved by early round upsets of the South Region’s top four seeds. Kentucky fell 61-58 to No. 9 seed Kansas State in a Thursday night regional semifinal in Atlanta.

The disappointing season-ending defeat in which the Wildcats struggled to make shots typified the season for Calipari’s youngest group since his 2009 arrival in Lexington.

Kentucky (26-11) began the season ranked fifth in the Top 25 before dropping and eventually falling out. An up-and-down final month included four consecutive losses, the longest skid in Calipari’s nine-year tenure with the Wildcats.

They responded by playing some of their best basketball, winning four of their final five regular season games and rolling to a fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference Tournament championship as the No. 4 seed.

Kentucky’s quick improvement stoked hopes of a deep NCAA Tournament run and perhaps playing for a ninth national championship next weekend in San Antonio, Texas. That expectation will remain as long as Calipari continues recruiting highly touted prospects.

Despite the early tournament exit Calipari said he took satisfaction in getting the Wildcats to play their best in the postseason.

“Individually and collectively, this was a rewarding year for me,” Calipari said. “I wish it could have ended in another week, but for me to see how individual players got better, for me to see how this team came together, for me to see (forward) Jarred (Vanderbilt) in, Jarred out, all the stuff that went on with injuries, they hung in there and played a bunch of freshmen. I thought they really performed.”

Calipari now moves on to offseason discussions to see which freshmen return and to what extent he must retool — again.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are projected as first-round NBA draft choices and possible lottery selections. Forward PJ Washington has also generated first-round consideration.

Hamidou Diallo — a redshirt freshman guard who nearly entered last year’s draft pool despite not playing at Kentucky — improved his prospects in the tournament and has been mentioned as a first-round possibility. Jarred Vanderbilt made his Kentucky debut in January after missing 17 games with a left foot injury and showed promise as a rebounder, only to sustain an ankle injury that sidelined him for the postseason.

Sophomores Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones improved but could return along with guard Quade Green and forward Nick Richards. Freshman guard Jemarl Baker recently began working out after having left knee surgery last fall. Sophomore forward Tai Wynyard played sporadically before being suspended for the second half of the season.

As he routinely does, Calipari will encourage his entire roster to work out with NBA clubs to explore their options. Then the coach will explore his options.

Dan Hurley calls coaching UConn a dream and destination job

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STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Dan Hurley says he has landed at his dream coaching destination.

Hurley was introduced Friday as the University of Connecticut’s 19th men’s basketball coach, replacing Kevin Ollie, who was fired earlier this month amid an NCAA investigation and after a second consecutive losing season.

The 45-year-old Hurley, who left Rhode Island after six years and two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, has agreed to a six-year incentive-laced deal. He will have a base salary of $400,000 but will make at least $2.75 million in his first season, with supplemental income from media fees, speaking appearances and other perks. He could make up to $3.5 million in the contract’s final year.

He also has a chance to earn up to another $1 million a year for reaching certain athletic and academic goals.

But Hurley said the decision to come to UConn was not about money. It was about the opportunity to take the helm of a “storied program” that has won four national championships over the past 20 years.

“It’s a place that I always hoped I’d have a chance to coach and it’s like a dream come true,” he said.

Hurley, who played against the Huskies at Seton Hall in the 1990s, regaled the media with stories of being schooled on the court by the likes of Ray Allen and Chris Smith. Hurley said he modeled his coaching style in large part after UConn’s former Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, and plans to bring back that hard-nosed “championship culture.”

“For me, that centers around being the hardest working, hardest playing team in the country,” he said. “That’s our goal from when you see us opening night in November. The product you see on the court, there’s not going to be a more connected team. There’s not going to be a harder playing team. There’s not going to be a team in the country that is more committed to winning.”

Hurley said he shared that vision earlier Friday in a meeting with UConn’s players. He said he hopes to have most of them back next season, telling them they can leave behind a much different legacy than they have now.

The Huskies went 14-18 this past season and 16-17 in 2016-17 after going 30 years without a losing season.

Junior guard Jalen Adams said he hasn’t made a final decision about his future, but was impressed with Hurley and happy with the hire.

“I know a lot of guys at URI and all of those guys rave about him, talk about how he’s a great guy and a great coach and he pushes you to the limits,” Adams said. “I think that will be great for me personally and I think it will be even better for our whole team. I think our team just needs to be pushed and needs someone who will demand them to be a champion.”

David Benedict, UConn’s athletic director, said there was never a question of whether the school would have the resources to hire a top head coach, and said it did not have to raise additional money from donors to fund Hurley’s contract.

He said there was a brief conversation with Hurley about the NCAA investigation, but it never became a roadblock to the hire. Hurley has the right, under the deal, to extend his contract by an additional year if the school receives sanctions such as a reduction of scholarships.

Benedict declined to discuss Ollie’s decision to appeal his firing “with cause,” which could impact whether UConn will have to pay more than $10 million left on the former coach’s contract.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t have done something that we didn’t feel was within our right to do,” Benedict said.

Former Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore, who was a longtime assistant of Calhoun’s at UConn and was on Hurley’s staff at Rhode Island is expected to join Hurley in Storrs. Kevin Freeman, UConn’s director of basketball administration, was the only member of Ollie’s staff to attend the news conference.

Hurley said he plans to fill out his staff with a diverse group of coaches who can help him recruit in the mid-Atlantic region.

Hurley is the son of Hall of Fame New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. and the brother of Arizona State coach Bob Hurley. He said his last name has always been a recruiting asset in the Northeast.

“Coaches, families trust us with their kids because of the legacy my father has left as a Hall of Famer, but also as a community person who stands for the right things,” Hurley said. “I think nationally with the brand and our name, we could do a lot of good things.”

LaSalle parts ways with longtime head coach Dr. John Giannini

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La Salle announced on Friday that they are parting ways with head coach John Giannini.

Giannini had been the head coach of the program for 14 seasons, amassing a record of 212-226. Before taking over at La Salle, he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Rowan and eight seasons coaching at Maine.

“Today Bill Bradshaw and I mutually agreed that La Salle University could benefit from a new voice in leading the program,” said Dr. Giannini. “It is difficult to admit this but I have given every effort possible for success and I have received nothing but support and encouragement from Bill and President Hanycz. Greater things may be accomplished for this storied program and great university with the approach of a new coach. I am forever grateful, especially to my loyal staff and dedicated student-athletes. I look forward to my next challenge and La Salle’s future success.”

Kentucky clarifies ‘false reports’ they did not shake Kansas State hands after loss

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After Kansas State knocked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16, the purple Wildcats alleged that the blue Wildcats did not shake their hands after the game.

“They didn’t shake our hands,” Kansas State junior guard Amaad Wainright told ESPN last night. “It’s sorry.”

“They know what they did.”

Kentucky bristled at the allegations.

“They were turned and celebrating, so I walked off,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “There was no disrespect for anything. It’s just that they were celebrating, and I was happy for them.”

“My team’s not like that. There’s no disrespect in any way. They beat us. They deserved to win the game.”