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Five things we learned this week: Oregon’s peaking, Kentucky’s struggling and Gonzaga’s statement

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1. Gonzaga may not be the best team in the country, but they’re the most consistent among the elite: I don’t think there is a “best team in college basketball” because I don’t think there is any team in the country that is without noticeable and exploitable flaws. Kansas has no depth on the interior and can’t guard anyone. Kentucky can’t score in the half court and lacks a measure of toughness inside. UCLA can’t guard anyone. Baylor’s guard play and been shaky in recent weeks. Arizona is heavily reliant on inconsistent freshmen. Duke is Duke.

You get the point.

The only possible exception to that is Gonzaga, the last remaining undefeated team in the country. The knock on this team earlier is the season was that they didn’t have a go-to guy. They didn’t have someone that could take a game over, that could be relied upon to demand the ball and make a play at the end of a clock or to quell another team’s run.

But isn’t that exactly what Nigel Williams-Goss has been doing? Take Thursday night, for example. Williams-Goss had 33 points as Gonzaga went into the Marriott Center and knocked off BYU. That many point is always going to come in an impressive performance, but perhaps what stood out the most is that he always had an answer. The Zags took control early and held a pretty significant lead for much of the game, but every time BYU made a run and looked like they were ready to make this thing interesting, Williams-Goss had an answer. BYU isn’t great, but they’re talented and play in one of the rowdiest environments in the country; 19,000 screaming Mormons pack that building every game.

The Zags are balanced, they are deep, they are big, they defend and they have their go-to guy. They also have yet to put together the kind of ugly performance we’ve seen out of every other title contender this season.

Saturday’s trip to Moraga to take on No. 18 Saint Mary’s can’t get here soon enough.

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2. Kentucky is going through growing pains: Right now, Kentucky is a mediocre basketball team loaded with talented basketball players. Part of it is that Malik Monk has been struggling with his shooting stroke the last two weeks, and when Monk is off, the Wildcats simply cannot score in the half court. Part of it is that De’Aaron Fox has been battling a bum ankle and an illness that held him out of a game and seemingly sapped him on injury in another. Part of it is that Bam Adebayo just isn’t the kind of force on the block that Kentucky needs him to be.

The biggest reason for their recent struggles, however, is that teams are starting to figure out how to have success against them. Keep Fox from turning the corner going left, stay attached to Monk as much as possible, get physical in the paint, attack the glass, limit transition. That’s exactly what Florida did in their 88-66 win over the Wildcats on Saturday.

Most good teams go through something like this. The issue isn’t midseason struggles, the question is what the response will be. When teams figured out they could beat up Kansas in the paint, Kansas started playing zone. When Duke struggled playing lineups with two big men, they moved Jayson Tatum to the four. In 2014, John Calipari famously “tweaked” his offense to get his 10-loss team to the national title game. What will this year’s tweak be?

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Isaiah Briscoe #13, Edrice Adebayo #3 and De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrate on the bench against the Hofstra Pride in the second half of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center on December 11, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

3. Oregon’s best can beat anybody’s best: I’m not sure Arizona fans can be all that upset about what happened in Eugene on Saturday, because I’m not sure that any team in the country could’ve gone into Matthew Knight Arena and beaten Oregon that day. Hell, I’m not sure anyone could’ve kept it close.

At one point in the first half, Oregon had made 10 threes and Arizona had scored 11 points. The Ducks hit 16 of their first 21 long-range bombs. Their defense, which has been underrated all season long, held Arizona to one tough spot per possession, and the Ducks were able to beat Arizona down the floor in transition when they secured the rebound.

I say all that to say this: When Oregon is playing like that, they are damn-near unbeatable. They aren’t always going to play that way – hell, two days earlier, they needed Dillon Brooks to score 12 straight points in the final minutes to avoid losing at home to Arizona State – but Saturday served the rest of the nation with notice: The Ducks belong in the conversation with the rest of the nation’s elite as national title contenders.

4. Duke is all-in on small-ball: The Blue Devils got Coach K back on Saturday in a win over Pitt, but that wasn’t the story of their weekend because what the Blue Devils did on Saturday didn’t differ all that much from what they did on Monday, or last Saturday. Duke has fully bought into the idea of playing small-ball, of rotating Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones and Frank Jackson through the three back court spots while allowing Jayson Tatum to spend as much time as possible at the four.

This is the best lineup that Duke can put on the floor. It allows Tatum to take advantage of mismatches against bigger defenders while keeping the floor spread for Allen and Kennard, who can create off the dribble and help to nullify Duke’s point guard issues. The issue is going to be how the Blue Devils adjust to the fact that it is going to cut into some player’s minutes. Harry Giles III is going to struggle to crack 10 minutes a game if Amile Jefferson isn’t in foul trouble. Marques Bolden is going to be firmly planted on the Duke bench.

And if that’s what it’s going to take for the Blue Devils to win, they’re just going to have to live with it.

5. The Big 12 title race is going to be a roller coaster ride: On Wednesday night, Kansas beat Baylor in Phog Allen Fieldhouse which, essentially, gave the Jayhawks the inside track to their 13th straight Big 12 regular season title … until they went and they lost in that same building on Saturday to Iowa State. That loss opened up the door for Baylor to pull even with the Jayhawks, which was massive because the Bears still get to host Kansas later on this season … but then Baylor lost at home to Kansas State. That meant that the big winner of the day in the conference was West Virginia, who could pull within a game of first place and draw even with Baylor in second place in the conference … until they lost at home to Oklahoma State.

I don’t expect this ride to slow down.

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 04: Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks greets Monte Morris #11 of the Iowa State Cyclones during a break in their game on February 4, 2017 at Allen Field House in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images)
Head coach Bill Self (Photo by Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images)

Seven identified after threats made against referee John Higgins following Kentucky Elite Eight loss

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College basketball referee John Higgins received threats to his home and business in late March after some controversial calls in North Carolina’s win over Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Seven people have now been identified for making threats against Higgins, according to an Associated Press report. The FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska field office said that information on the seven people will be referred to authorities in their jurisdictions.

An investigation over the last few months helped find the culprits, as the Omaha-based Higgins received emails, phone calls and voicemails to his personal home and roofing company following Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament departure. Wildcat head coach John Calipari might have ignited some of the anger in Kentucky fans by criticizing the officiating following the North Carolina loss.

“Based on the investigation’s findings, our office has determined that no local charges will be filed and that pursuit of any criminal charges would be best served by deferring to authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The length of the investigation was drawn out due in part to the large volume of potential evidence requiring analysis, and the multi-jurisdictional issues arising from the multiple states in which the communications originated.”

Polikov also said that at least two media outlets were exposing and promoting Higgins’ contact information.

“This information has been referred to the Federal Communications Commission for further investigation of the potential violations related to applicable federal communications regulations,” Polikov said.

Higgins received about 3,000 phone calls at his office in the two days following the game. Sheriff’s investigator Matt Barrall told the AP that an estimated 75 percent of the calls were from Kentucky area codes.

The roofing business that Higgins owns was also flooded with bad online reviews and negative star ratings, causing his Google rating to fall while also forcing Higgins to take down the Facebook page for his business.

Beilein still upbeat after Michigan loses another to NBA

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — For a major program, Michigan is a somewhat unlikely candidate for this kind of NBA-induced attrition.

The Wolverines have fielded some very good teams under John Beilein, but they haven’t been relying on prospects expected to jump to the pros as soon as they can.

“We’re not depending all our success on one-and-dones,” Beilein said. “Given that, our numbers right now are extraordinary.”

Beilein was referring to the number of players Michigan has sent to the NBA, particularly as early entrees. The Wolverines lost D.J. Wilson to the draft this offseason with two years of eligibility remaining, and now they’ll go through the familiar process of trying to replace a key player who turned pro.

The most significant early exodus occurred in 2013 and 2014, when Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all went pro before their eligibility was up. Michigan won a lot of games with those players, reaching the Final Four and Elite Eight those two years, but their development made them attractive to NBA teams and shortened their college careers.

Wilson’s rise followed a similar pattern. He averaged only 2.7 points per game in 2015-16, and then increased to 11.0 this past season and became Michigan’s leading rebounder. His efforts helped Michigan win the Big Ten Tournament and reach the Sweet 16, and now he’s off to the NBA draft. The entire sequence of events would have seemed highly improbable a year ago.

The Wolverines won’t receive much sympathy from their Big Ten opponents, especially since Michigan will still have big man Moe Wagner, who tested the NBA waters but ultimately decided to stay in school. The 6-foot-11 Wagner averaged 12.1 points last season and shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range, showing huge improvement in much the same way Wilson did.

After losing senior point guard Derrick Walton, it will be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense operates if Wagner becomes even more of a focal point. When Beilein was at West Virginia, the Mountaineers achieved success behind center Kevin Pittsnogle, whose skill set and 3-point shooting ability was at least somewhat similar to Wagner’s.

“We’re not going to put him in that category yet,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say, having a big man who can shoot the ball like that changes a lot of things.”

Michigan was also able to add a new point guard recently in Jaaron Simmons, a graduate transfer from Ohio. Simmons is eligible immediately in 2017-18 and will move up from the Mid-American Conference to the Big Ten.

“A lot of the mid-majors are having this happen to them, and I don’t like it at all, but the fact is if Jaaron doesn’t come here, he ends up probably somewhere else in the Big Ten,” Beilein said. “He’s just fundamentally so sound. He’ll be here this summer. Just as a person, I just wanted to coach the kid after spending an hour with him — just the leadership, the desire to win.”

Simmons could help the Wolverines withstand the loss of Walton, and Beilein indicated he could serve as a bit of a mentor to players like point guard Xavier Simpson, who is entering his sophomore season.

“We went all-in with (Simmons), knowing we had that scholarship,” Beilein said. “We felt that was a huge need for us, is to just have a little bit more experience in the backcourt next year.”

Follow Noah Trister on Twitter @noahtrister

LaVar Ball having ‘zero’ interaction with UCLA team bodes well for next season

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With the NBA Draft looming in less than a month, the biggest talking point has been just how much of an impact LaVar Ball is going to have on his son, Lonzo’s, NBA career.

It’s a question worth asking given the, ahem, outspoken nature of the eldest Ball.

But in the collegiate ranks, that’s a question that’s been asked about UCLA regarding next season. While Lonzo and LaMelo, who is finishing up his sophomore season in high school, are the stars that get the majority of the attention, there is another Ball brother that will be enrolling at UCLA next season: LiAngelo.

LaVar has already said that he expect Gelo to be a one-and-done player, which may not jibe with how good Gelo actually is. He’s not Lonzo and he’s not LaMelo. He’s not a dynamic athlete or a lead guard. He’s a 6-foot-5, 200 pound shooter with limitless range but limited upside. There’s a reason Rivals ranks him as a three-star prospect.

What’s going to happen when UCLA, a top 15 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, doesn’t give Gelo Lonzo-esque minutes or shots next season? How will LaVar handle it if his second son is coming off the bench for the Bruins?

Steve Alford doesn’t seem concerned about it, telling a reporter from the LA Times that LaVar was “never at practice, never called me” and was around the team “zero.”

“I think all parents probably should know that moving on to the collegiate level anyway,” Alford said. “It’s not high school, it’s not AAU. Your son’s on scholarship; your son’s at UCLA getting an incredible opportunity academically and athletically.

“Playing time, shots, that kind of stuff — we don’t entertain some of those phone calls anyway. I never had any issues at all with LaVar.”

It will be interesting to see if that continues next season.

The Bruins have a chance to be pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as last season, maybe not a Pac-12 title favorite or even the best team in LA — USC is loaded — but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them end up as a top four seed in the NCAA tournament with Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh returning and Jaylen Hands headlining the recruiting class.

Will LaVar be able to handle UCLA’s success if it comes at the expense of his son’s?

NCAA: Former USF assistant provided extra benefits, lied to NCAA investigators

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The NCAA has alleged that former South Florida assistant coach Oliver Antigua provided roughly $500 in impermissible benefits and initially lied to NCAA investigators about it, according to the Tampa Bay Times, who obtained the NCAA’s summary disposition report.

Oliver Antigua is the younger brother of Orlando Antigua, who was the head coach at USF until he was fired in January. Now an assistant on Brad Underwood’s staff at Oklahoma State, Orlando was not alleged to have committed an NCAA violation in the report.

Oliver is alleged to have provided the extra benefits to two student-athletes while they were being tutored by the sister-in-law of Gerald Gillion, a special assistant to Orlando who resigned last fall, four months after Oliver did. USF has already self-imposed a $5,000 and reduced their scholarships from 13 to 12, according to the report.

“The University of South Florida and the NCAA continue to work together to resolve the inquiry into violations of NCAA bylaws and university standards by a USF intercollegiate athletic program,” according to a statement released by the school. “USF anticipates having a final resolution with the NCAA sometime this fall. Until the process concludes and the matter is fully resolved, USF cannot provide further comment.”

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.