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Five Things We Learned This Week: Duke’s back, Creighton might be OK, and can UCLA win a title?


1. Jeff Capel’s gamble paid off: For the first time in more than a month, Duke looked like Duke again, and it all came from a roll-of-the-dice by interim head coach Jeff Capel.

With the Blue Devils down 36-25 at the half at home against Miami, he benched Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles III to open the second half, and it worked. Matt Jones scored all 13 of his points to sparked a 31-4 run that turned what should have been Miami’s first marquee win into a moment in Duke’s season that we have to highlight.

The specific turning point came less than two minutes into the half. Duke was finally playing with energy defensively, but they couldn’t quite get things going on the offensive end of the floor. After another missed shot from the Blue Devils, Jones picked off an outlet pass and rattled home a three that sent Cameron Indoor Stadium into hysterics. The crowd went nuts. The bench went nuts. Capel went to go chest bump Jones at half court after Miami called a timeout and nearly truck-sticked his veteran leader.

And it was more than just Jones hitting shots. Frank Jackson looked the part of an all-american for the first time since his more-heralded freshmen counterparts returned from injury. Marques Bolden played what was by far his best game as a collegian, too. They were brimming with confidence, but perhaps more importantly, it was the first time that Duke looked to be having fun playing basketball since the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 10th.

I don’t know what the future holds for Duke’s season.

But I do know that if they make a run now, Matt Jones rattling home a three will have been the turning point in their season.

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2. Creighton might be OK without Mo Watson Jr.: Creighton got smoked by Marquette at home on Saturday afternoon, losing 102-94 in a game that wasn’t really that close in the second half. That’s not exactly the most reassuring thing to have happen for a team trying to figure out how to survive without their all-american point guard, but there is something important to note about the result: Creighton lost because they decided not to defend.

Marquette has one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country. They currently rank 7th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. They have loads of guards to spread around Luke Fischer in the post, and head coach Steve Wojciechowski has them running and gunning like some of those old Duke teams he played on. They made 12 threes against Creighton, shot 60 percent from the floor and scored 1.275 points-per-possession.

That’s atrocious defense from the Bluejays.

But they also put up 94 points. Marcus Foster went for 30. They were 11-for-24 from the floor and shot 49.3 percent on the game despite missing 23 of their first 34 field goals. Davion Mintz, playing the point in Watson’s absence, finished with 17 points and eight assists. Their offense, overall, looked fine.

Part of that is because Marquette is a bad defensive team. Part of that was likely because they were chasing the game late, able to get a flurry of points down the stretch against a defense that was trying not to foul. And it’s not like we can ignore the 11-for-34 start to the game.

That said, when you combine this performance with the fact that the Bluejays were able to hold on and win at Xavier after Watson’s first half injury, there is reason to be optimistic that Greg McDermott will figure this thing out. Creighton no longer has the same upside without Watson – he was awesome, let’s not forget that – but this weekend showed us the Bluejays aren’t dead yet.

OMAHA, NEBRASKA-NOVEMBER 26: Marcus Foster #0 of the Creighton Bluejays take s a break during their game against the Loyola (Md) Greyhounds at the CenturyLink Center on November 26, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Marcus Foster (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

3. Indiana isn’t dead yet, either: We were all ready to bury the Hoosiers after they lost O.G. Anunoby to a knee injury that will require surgery and end his season, but someone forget to tell Indiana.

Four days after James Blackmon Jr. hit a buzzer-beating three to give Indiana a win at Penn State, the Hoosiers smacked around Michigan State at Assembly Hall on the strength of 33 points from Blackmon. All of a sudden, Tom Crean’s club is sitting at 4-3 in the Big Ten, two games out of first place, having won four of their last five, the only loss coming by three points at league leader Maryland.

That’s impressive, but it doesn’t get any easier for the Hoosiers. This week, they visit both Michigan and Northwestern, who is currently 5-2 in the Big Ten. Winning at home in front of a raucous crowd is one thing. Taking care of teams that they should be able to beat on the road is another.

4. Can we still take UCLA seriously as a title contender?: At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, UCLA’s defense has gotten to the point where it’s difficult to picture them winning six games in a row against quality competition. They rank 125th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric after giving up 1.315 points-per-possession. Arizona routinely obliterated UCLA off the dribble, getting into the paint at will and exposing Bryce Alford as a defensive liability. Arizona also pounded the offensive glass, getting 34 percent of their own misses, and the cumulative effect was that the Bruins were unable to get their transition game into high gear.

As the saying goes, the easiest way to keep a running team from running is to make them take the ball out of their own net.

The Bruins are still the most dangerous team in the country. When they play their best, when they are banging threes and getting out in transition and Lonzo Ball is doing Lonzo Ball things, they can beat anyone else’s best. Their ceiling is the highest ceiling in the sport.

But we’re just not going to see that ceiling for six straight games.

So while Arizona proved themselves a Pac-12 favorite and a threat in March on Saturday, the more telling issue was that UCLA may not be quite as good as we thought they were.

5. Is West Virginia’s press broken?: One of the knocks we had on Baylor entering Big 12 play was that once they began playing teams that knew how to attack that funky zone they run their defense would take a hit. For the most part, that hasn’t been the case for the Bears.

It has, however, for the Mountaineers.

The blowout win over Baylor aside, West Virginia has not been impressive in Big 12 play. They lost to Texas Tech in overtime. They barely beat Big 12 bottom-feeder Texas. They lost at home to Oklahoma in overtime. They lost at Kansas State by four. In all four of those games, the Mountaineers had more turnovers than they forced. West Virginia leads the nation by forcing turnovers on 31.1 percent of their defensive possessions. In those four games, they forced turnovers on 20.3 percent of their possessions.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts against the Temple Owls in the second half during the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center on November 25, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Head coach Bob Huggins (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Penny Hardaway to be named the next Memphis head coach

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The worst-kept secret in college basketball no longer appears to be a secret: Penny Hardaway is going to be the next coaching at the University of Memphis.

ESPN is reporting that a deal has been agreed upon. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal is reporting that Penny was waiting for his season to end with East High School before he made anything official. NBC Sports can confirm that an announcement is expected to be made early this week, likely as soon as Tuesday, to introduce the former Memphis and NBA star as Tubby Smith’s replacement.

The truth, however, is that we all knew this was what would be happening the second that Memphis formally fired Tubby Smith. Hell, we knew it a month before that decision was made final. This was always how it was going to play out.

What’s interesting to me is now the discussion of whether or not Penny will be able to handle being a Division I head coach, because it’s been hit or miss with basketball programs hiring legends of their past. Chris Mullin and St. John’s hasn’t exactly gone to plan but Fred Hoiberg was quite successful at Iowa State. Kevin Ollie won a title with UConn then fell off a cliff. Patrick Ewing’s start wasn’t great, but he was better than expected.

Where does Penny fall on this scale?

Well, let me just drop this section of a column from Geoff Calkins in here:

Hardaway isn’t a guy who woke up one morning and decided he’d like to be a Division I head coach. He’s not a former player who got bored with retirement and decided he’d like to do something other than play golf.

Hardaway started coaching at middle school. Middle school! Because an old friend needed some help.

Then he built one of the best AAU programs in the country. Then he spent years coaching a high school team.

Does that sound like someone who doesn’t want to roll up his sleeves and do the work? Does that sound like someone who is just in it for the glory and the glitz?

The truth is, if it weren’t for Hardaway’s iconic stature, he might be characterized as a grinder, as a guy who worked his way up from the lowest levels of basketball on the strength of his relationship with the kids.

I think that this is going to work out for both Penny and Memphis, especially if Penny hires a staff that can help him with the intricacies of running a college basketball program.

2018 NCAA Tournament: The All-First Weekend Team

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PLAYER OF THE WEEKEND: Jevon Carter, West Virginia

So Carter’s numbers themselves were ridiculous this weekend. He had 21 points, eight assists, six steals and five boards in a first round win over Murray State. He followed that up with 28 points, five assists, five steals and four boards in a win over in-state rival Marshall to advance to the Sweet 16. For the weekend, he shot 54 percent from the floor and 63 percent from three.

But perhaps the more telling state in regards to what Carter did this weekend are the numbers that the Murray State and Marshall stars put up this weekend. Jon Elmore — whose averages of 23 points, seven assists and six boards matched what Markelle Fultz averaged a season ago — was 4-for-12 from the floor with eight turnovers in Marshall’s second round loss. Jonathan Stark, who entered the tournament averaging 22 points, had nine points on 1-for-12 shooting in Murray State’s first round loss.

On Friday night, we get Jalen Brunson squaring off with Carter.

Buckle up.


  • ROB GRAY, Houston: Gray is the only guy on this list that didn’t reach the Sweet 16 — blame Jordan Poole for that — but he did put together one of the most memorable and impressive first round NCAA tournament performances I can ever remember when he dropped 39 points and a game-winner on San Diego State.
  • KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Evans averaged 22.5 points in this weekend’s two games, but what got him on this list was that he averaged 16.5 points in the second half of those two games, closing out a come-from-behind win against Stephen F. Austin with drive after drive and hitting the go-ahead three in the win over Florida.
  • ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga: Not only did the Zags freshman averaged 21.5 points in two games — including a career-high 28 points, a career-high 12 boards, a career-high six threes and his first career double-double against Ohio State — but he hit the dagger in both of those games; a game-winner in the final minutes against UNCG and a three to put the Zags up six in the final two minutes against Ohio State.
  • SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER, Kentucky: We spent the entire season talking about how Kentucky didn’t have a star this year. That may not be true anymore. SGA averaged 23 points, 7.0 boards, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals as the Wildcats reached the Sweet 16 as the highest remaining seed in the South Region.
  • THE MARTIN TWINS, Nevada: Caleb was the hero in the come-from-behind win over Texas, doing bonkers in overtime, while Cody had 25 points, seven assists and six boards in the come-from-behind win over Cincinnati. But mostly they were both awesome all weekend.

The most memorable moments from the first weekend of the 2018 NCAA Tournament

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Contrary to what people that were caught up in the moment are going to try and tell you, this was not the craziest first weekend of the NCAA tournament of all time.

We may have had the single-craziest moment ever — we’ll get to that — and we did lose a number of the top teams in the bracket, but the insanity of this weekend wasn’t quite clinical. 

That said, we did get left with a number of memorable moments through out the first four days of the greatest sporting event in America. Here are the 12 that will stick with us for the longest time:


We’ve been trying to let you know about this guy all season long. The Texas Tech star averaged 22.5 points and 3.0 assists through the first two weekends of the event, and 33 of the 45 points that he scored came in the second half of two close wins. He hit the go-ahead three to beat Florida with just over two minutes left and made all the big plays in the come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the first round. He is a killer.

The best moment, however, might have been this lob that elicited memories of Kobe-to-Shaq:


If you’re not a gambler, you may not have noticed that the final, seemingly meaningless shot in Kansas’ win over Seton Hall in the second round had all kinds of weight behind it. Powell hit a running 30-footer as time-expired, cutting the Kansas lead to 83-79. Kansas was favored by 4.5 points in that game. The shot that he hit meant that the Pirates covered the spread. Millions of dollars — that’s not an exaggeration — changed hands as a direct result of that shot going in.


You may not have known who he was before this event started but you probably know who he is now. The Gonzaga freshman scored 15 points and hit the game-winning three as the Zags beat UNC Greensboro in the first round of the NCAA tournament, following that up by going for a career-high 28 points, a career-high 12 boards, a career-high six threes and his first career double-double in a second round win over Ohio State. He’s scored at least 14 points in each of his last six games. He will be the next superstar in Spokane.


Jim Boeheim, man. You have to give him credit. For the second time in three seasons, his Orange team has snuck into the NCAA tournament with a resume that didn’t deserve a bid and proceeded to make everyone seem like an idiot for saying they didn’t belong. The Orange are in the Sweet 16 after starting in the First Four and failing to score more than 60 points in any of their three games. Boeheim just packs in that 2-3, puts as many long and athletic people on the floor that he can and lets Tyus Battle go make plays. And it works. Sometimes basketball is an easy game, I guess.


One thing that I never thought that I would see in this event is a team with Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson getting run out of the gym. Those two dudes are so good and so tough and been through so much that I expected them to be in a dogfight every time they set foot on a court for all of eternity. Then Sunday happened, and Texas A&M — who spent four months flirting with the idea that maybe living up to their potential was a possibility — absolutely trucked them. They won by 21 points, and the outcome never really felt in doubt after the final TV timeout of the first half.


Remember when we all thought that this was going to be the most memorable upset for the first weekend?

Hahaha. That was fun.

But just because Virginia happened to go full Virginia and exactly one half of the top three seeds in the tournament were knocked out before the start of the second weekend doesn’t mean that what Buffalo did should be swept under the rug. The Bulls eviscerated an Arizona team that looked like they were ready to quit on this utterly forgettable season by the middle of the second half.


Xavier, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, looked like they were going to be able to cruise into the Sweet 16, as they led the Seminoles by 12 points with under 10 minutes left in the game. But that did not last, as they were outscored 18-4 to close out the game while Florida State reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.

It’s the first time since 2004 that we head into the Sweet 16 with two of the nation’s No. 1 seeds sitting at home.


Eric Musselman and the Wolf Pack managed two thrilling wins in the span of three days. First, they came from way behind to beat No. 10-seed Texas in the opening round of the event before erasing the second-largest deficit in NCAA tournament history when they came back from 22 points down in the final 11:43 to second No. 2 Cincinnati back to the Queen City.


This shot, to beat Houston in the second round, will be the most memorable shot from this first weekend:

While this image is one that will forever epitomize what makes March Madness so special:

( Jeff Gross/Getty Images)


The shame in Poole’s shot going in was that it ended the tournament run of Houston star Rob Gray, who put together one of the best first weekend’s in tournament history as well as a performance that should have been iconic. In the first round, against No. 11-seed San Diego State, Gray finished with 39 of his team’s 67 points, including the game-winning bucket with 1.1 seconds left on the clock.

That game-winner capped one of the wildest finishes to a game that I can ever remember seeing. Check this out:

And that led directly to this:


I don’t even know where to start with this.

Twice in the span of three days, Loyola trailed 62-61 with less than 10 seconds left and twice in the span of three days they made a game-winner to advance to the next round of the tournament.

Sister Jean loves it.

1. UMBC!

Could it be anything else?

For the first time in the history of the world, a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament as the Retrievers knocked off Virginia to get their shot to play their way into the Sweet 16. They lost to Kansas State on Sunday, but who cares? It would have been terrific theater to see them get their shot in the Sweet 16, but it was not meant to be.

We’ll have to simply settle for UMBC truck-sticking the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

2018 NCAA Tournament Conference Breakdown: ACC, Big 12 make up half of the Sweet 16

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With a crazy first weekend of the 2018 NCAA tournament in the books, it is time to examine the field’s conference breakdown heading into the Sweet 16.

While some multi-bid leagues like the AAC, Atlantic 10 and Pac-12 were shut out of the second weekend after miserable tournament showings, other leagues like the ACC and Big 12 lived up to the hype.

Here’s a look at the tournament’s conference breakdown before the Sweet 16.

4 — ACC

  • No. 2 Duke
  • No. 5 Clemson
  • No. 9 Florida State
  • No. 11 Syracuse

Notes: It’s not surprising to see the ACC with four teams in the Sweet 16 after getting nine teams in the Field of 68. What is surprising is that Clemson, Florida State and Syracuse are three of the four teams still left. The ACC could have dominated the field if No. 1 seed Virginia and No. 2 seed North Carolina held up their end of the bargain. Both were upset in blowout fashion. No. 6 seed Miami, No. 8 seed Virginia Tech and No. 9 seed N.C. State were all dropped in the first round as well. It’s also worth noting that three of these four teams (sorry, Florida State) reside in the Midwest Regional as the ACC will be guaranteed at least one Elite Eight team from Duke and Syracuse’s Sweet 16 matchup. The Blue Devils won the regular season matchup, 60-44, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in February as they’re looking like the best Final Four contender left from the bunch.

4 — Big 12

  • No. 1 Kansas
  • No. 3 Texas Tech
  • No. 5 West Virginia
  • No. 9 Kansas State

Notes: Many people considered the Big 12 the best (and toughest) top-to-bottom conference in America this season. By tying the ACC with the most teams still left in the field, the Big 12 backed up that sentiment with its first-weekend performance. Getting 40 percent of your conference into the Sweet 16 is a major accomplishment. It’s also notable that the top four teams in the Big 12’s regular season standings are all still playing basketball. The regular season results actually stayed true-to-form during the tournament. The league’s only disappointments stem from No. 6 TCU’s upset loss to No. 11 seed Syracuse, Trae Young and No. 10 seed Oklahoma falling in overtime to No. 8 seed Rhode Island and No. 10 seed Texas blowing a double-digit lead No. 7 seed Nevada.

2– Big Ten

  • No. 2 Purdue
  • No. 3 Michigan

Notes: This is a decent showing for the Big Ten as all four tournament teams won in the first round while two of the teams advanced to the second weekend. Purdue lost big man Isaac Haas to an elbow injury but the No. 2 seed Boilermakers still beat No. 10 seed Butler for the second time this season. Amidst all of the chaos on the left side of the bracket in the South and West Regionals, No. 3 seed Michigan is the highest remaining seed among that group of eight teams. It was stunning to see No. 3 seed Michigan State get bounced by a double-digit seed for the second time in three years as they fell to No. 11 seed Syracuse. The Spartans were a credible national title threat, as their early exit does tarnish some of the Big Ten’s success. No. 5 seed Ohio State also finds themselves out after losing to No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the Round of 32. The Big Ten was certainly down this season. Michigan State’s loss is a major letdown. But it could have been much worse. At least the Big Ten might have a dark horse Final Four contender pan out in red-hot Michigan and Purdue is still dangerous without Haas.

2 — SEC

  • No. 5 Kentucky
  • No. 7 Texas A&M

Notes: The SEC finally might have showed its true colors after a bizarre regular season that nobody could have predicted. Only two of eight NCAA tournament team are still left as the SEC was gutted after losses. After both failing to live up to preseason projections for most of the season, No. 5 seed Kentucky and No. 7 seed Texas A&M are both peaking at the right time. It’s hard to believe, but the Wildcats are now the favorite in the South Regional now that the top four seeds have all been eliminated. And after the Aggies earned a blowout win over defending champion and No. 2 seed North Carolina, they should also be taken seriously. It’s the rest of the SEC that is hard to take seriously after this weekend. Co-conference regular season champions No. 4 seed Auburn and No. 3 seed Tennessee were both ousted — the Tigers were flat-out embarrassed by No. 5 seed Clemson. No. 6 seed Florida and No. 9 seed Alabama both won openers before bowing out in the second round. No. 7 seed Arkansas and No. 8 seed Missouri both exited the event after the first round. With only two of eight teams left in the field, this wasn’t what the SEC had in mind after a resurgent season for basketball. The two remaining teams could still salvage the SEC’s season with a deep tournament run. Both of those inconsistent teams could implode at a moment’s notice.

1 — Big East

  • No. 1 Villanova

Notes: The 2018 NCAA tournament has been brutal for the six-bid Big East. The Wildcats have shot the ball at an extremely high level for two games. The rest of the conference was a disaster. Xavier, the league’s second No. 1 seed, was upset by No. 9 seed Florida State. No. 8 seed Seton Hall and No. 10 seed Butler were both bounced in the second round as well by No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 2 seed Purdue, respectively. Creighton and Providence couldn’t even make it out of the first round after losses to No. 9 seed Kansas State and No. 7 seed Texas A&M. This was a year to forget for the Big East.

1 — Missouri Valley Conference

  • No. 11 Loyola

Notes: The Ramblers advancing to the Sweet 16 is important for the Valley because it signifies that the league can still make noise in March without Wichita State. It probably feels even better for the Valley knowing that the Shockers also lost in the first round to No. 13 seed Marshall. One Valley head coach even made sure to mention all of that on Twitter.

1 — Mountain West

  • No. 7 Nevada

Notes: The Wolf Pack are in the Sweet 16 for the second time in program history (2004) as the tournament’s comeback kids are a dangerous bunch. With two double-digit second-half comebacks already, Nevada is a team that you can never count out. No. 11 seed San Diego State, the league’s only other tournament team, got Rob Grayed against No. 6 seed Houston in the first round, but the Aztecs at least made a respectable second-half comeback before losing.

1 — West Coast Conference

  • No. 4 Gonzaga

Notes: Back in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season, Gonzaga has remained one of the tournament’s most consistent teams in recent years. Even after losing multiple pieces from last season’s national runner-up, the Zags managed to be the last Final Four team from last season still in the 2018 field.

Sweet 16 betting lines, point spreads, over-unders

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Here is the full TV schedule, with spreads, over-unders and betting lines, for every game for final day of the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Odds via



  • 7:07 p.m.: No. 11 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 7 Nevada (-2.5), CBS (143.5)
  • 9:37 p.m.: No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Kentucky (-5.5), CBS (138.5)


  • 7:37 p.m.: No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Michigan (-3), TBS (134)
  • 10:07 p.m.: No. 9 Florida State vs. No. 4 Gonzaga (-5.5), TBS (154.5)



  • 7:07 p.m.: No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 1 Kansas (-4), CBS (143)
  • 9:37: No. 11 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Duke (-11.5), CBS (133.5)


  • 7:27 p.m.: No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Villanova, TBS
  • 9:57 p.m.: No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Purdue (-1.5), TBS (137.5)