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Five things we learned: Duke’s a mess, Gonzaga’s a controversy, Baylor’s back

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1. The ‘Is Gonzaga a No. 1 seed?’ controversy is coming whether you like it or not: Gonzaga improved to 17-0 this week, meaning that the Zags are now exactly halfway to entering the NCAA tournament undefeated on the season. The statement was made on Saturday night, when No. 5 Gonzaga hosted No. 21 Saint Mary’s and won by 23 points.

The game was much closer than the final score – a late-run from the Zags and foul trouble for Jock Landale were the culprits in the end – but it was a statement nonetheless. Saint Mary’s is really good, and Gonzaga dispatched them with little trouble. It more or less confirms what we already knew: there is a very real chance that the Zags can go undefeated during the regular season, and it is a virtual certainty that ‘Is Gonzaga really a No. 1 seed?’ will be one of the biggest talking points on Selection Sunday.

Think about it: How many more games will the Zags actually lose? Their trip to Saint Mary’s is going to be tricky, BYU is certainly dangerous and they’ll likely face one of those two teams in the WCC title game. Throw in the fact that every road game they play is the biggest game of the year for their opponent, and I’ll set the over/under for Zag losses at 2.5; worth noting: KenPom projects Gonzaga to be favored in every game they play.

Let’s think about this in a best-case scenario: The Zags will enter Selection Sunday with neutral site wins over Iowa State, Arizona and Florida, but a clean sweep of Saint Mary’s. That will, in all likelihood, be the totality of their top 50 wins. The Selection Committee is going to have to compare that profile to the profiles of Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky and the eventual ACC champion, not to mention fellow west coast powerhouse UCLA.

If Gonzaga ends up going 34-0, they’ll be an automatic No. 1 seed, or at least they should be. But if they lose a game or two?

That’s when this will become interesting.

And even if the Zags don’t lose a game, there will still be people saying they don’t deserve to get a top seed.

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2. Duke is a total mess right now: Twice in the last week and for the third time this season, Duke went on the road in ACC play and took a loss in a game that never felt like it was all that much in doubt. On Tuesday, the Blue Devils lost by 16 at Florida State in a game where they gave up 88 points. On Saturday, they lost by nine at Louisville, giving up 78 points to the offensively-challenged Cardinals.

And that’s where their issues begin. On defense, particularly in ball-screen defense. Harry Giles III just doesn’t look like he quite understands where he has to be and when he has to be there yet, while Marques Bolden, in Amile Jefferson’s absence, is playing behind both Chase Jeter and Javin DeLaurier. Offensively, the issues they’ve had with point guard play are really coming to the forefront, as Grayson Allen, for all his ability, is an attacker, not a facilitator, at heart. Jayson Tatum is a super-skilled scorer, but he lacks a feel for the game to the point where Duke has actually looked like a better team with him on the bench.

The Blue Devils lack toughness. They lack a killer. They get pushed around. And their leaders – Coach K on the bench and Jefferson on the floor – are both currently on the mend.

At what point do we start questioning if, not when, Duke can turn this thing around?

3. Xavier has their own problems: The Musketeer’s issues have less to do with ability than they do with the fact that this team lacks résumé wins. As of this moment in time, Chris Mack’s club may not have a win over an NCAA tournament team. They beat Clemson who can’t beat anyone in the ACC. They beat Utah before Utah had David Collette and Sedrick Barefield eligible. They beat Wake Forest (whatever) and Northern Iowa twice (they stick this year).

There are still plenty of good wins left for them to get – Creighton twice, at Cincinnati, Xavier at home, Butler at home, the Big East tournament – and this team is good enough to get some of them, but it’s worth noting that, as of today, Xavier’s tournament profile is not good.

4. Maybe Baylor wasn’t the best team in the country after all: It was fun while it lasted for the Bears, as No. 1 Baylor went into Morgantown and learned what Press Virginia is all about. They committed 29 turnovers in a 21-point loss. And frankly, if you were paying attention, the result shouldn’t have been all that surprising. Yes, Scott Drew’s club got beaten worse than we thought, but they were also a team that earned that No. 1 ranking because of the way that the voting is done, not necessarily because they were the best team in the country.

WACO, TX - JANUARY 7: Johnathan Motley #5 and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. #0 of the Baylor Bears celebrate after defeating the Oklahoma State Cowboys 61-57 on January 7, 2017 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

5. New Mexico and Colorado State do not like each other: New Mexico and Colorado State got into a couple of different altercations on Saturday in UNM’s win at Colorado State. It started in the pregame, where a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal reported that CSU players were talking trash to UNM players about the job status of the Lobo coaches. During the game, a hard-screen set by a UNM player resulted in a near-brawl, one where UNM assistants Chris Harriman and Terrence Rencher were ejected for leaving their bench.

After the game is when things really got interesting. The Journal reporter published video of a verbal altercation outside the arena between Rencher and CSU player Emmanuel Omogbo. Omogbo, who was held back by CSU head coach Larry Eustachy, claimed that Rencher started the altercation, and Eustachy’s wife, Lana, accused him of laughing when he was told of the tragedy Omogbo has lived through; his parents and two two-year old sisters died in a house fire last year.

UNM strongly denied that those allegations were true, and their account was supported by the Journal reporter. It turned into a big deal this weekend, largely due to the fact that it was a coach and a player that got into it …

… and because it was on video.

And that was where the real damage was done.

Dust-ups like what happened in and around that building on Saturday happen more than you think, particularly in the gyms where both teams have to leave the floor through the same tunnel. In this incident, a 22-year old coming off of a chippy home loss lost his temper. It happens. Rencher didn’t raise his fists or raise his voice, essentially responding to the player by saying, “Keep it moving, you don’t want these problems.”

Neither man covered himself in glory, and neither of them did anything that was all that bad.

It was a situation that was diffused pretty quickly, never escalated into any type of violence and only became ‘a thing’ because it was captured on video.

These two teams play again in mid-February. Hopefully this will be the last time we have to talk about it until then.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 at the Hoopseen Best of the South at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.

Appalachian State freshman shooter to transfer

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A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.

Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”

“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”

Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will  be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.

If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Iowa State adds graduate transfer Zoran Talley

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Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.

Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.

“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”

Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.

He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.

Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.