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Jayson Tatum shines as No. 18 Duke knocks off No. 8 North Carolina at home

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Grayson Allen scored 25 points and Jayson Tatum chipped in with 19 points, all of which came in the second half, nine boards and five assists as No. 18 Duke knocked off No. 8 North Carolina, 86-78, in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday night.

Luke Kennard chipped in with 20 points of his own as Duke moved to within a game of first place in the ACC regular season standings.

Justin Jackson led the way with 21 points for North Carolina, but he was quieted down the stretch. Joel Berry II finished with 15 points for the Tar Heels, who got Theo Pinson back but played this game without one of their starting big men, Isaiah Hicks.

Duke is now 4-0 since fully embracing small-ball by playing Tatum at the four, while UNC suffered their first loss with Pinson in the lineup.

Here are five things that we can take away from this game:

1. This was the Jayson Tatum break out game: The second half on Thursday was the first time all season long that we’ve had a chance to see Jayson Tatum take over a game.

After going scoreless in the first half – he didn’t actually play poorly, more on that in a second – Tatum exploded for all 19 of his points after the break. A potential top three pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Tatum hasn’t really looked comfortable on the offensive end of the floor this season. Some of it is that he doesn’t seem to know where his shots are coming from, when he’s supposed to attack and when he’s supposed to keep the ball moving, where the help-side is coming from.

All of that disappeared in the final 20 minutes, as Tatum was hitting threes and beating bigger defenders off the dribble and overpowering smaller guards that tried to guard him. Should I mention the poster he put Kennedy Meeks on?

But it wasn’t just his offensive arsenal that was on display. We knew that was going to come with time. It was the team-high five assists that he had, four of which came in the first half. It was the team-high nine rebounds he finished with, spending much of his 32 minutes of the floor dealing with Meeks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye, UNC’s oversized front line. He even blocked a couple of shots for good measure.

Duke is quite clearly going all=in on small-ball, and the only way that can be effective is if Tatum is able to hold his own on the defensive end of the floor against bigger players, and that’s exactly what he did Thursday and what he’s done for the last four games.

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2. It’s funny what happens now that Duke has had everyone healthy for a little while: Duke has now won four straight games. All four of those games have come with Tatum at the four. Coach K is back. Everyone on the team is, for the most part, healthy; at least healthy enough to suit up every night. This is the first time all season long where the Blue Devils have been able to play, and practice, with all of their key pieces available.

Guys are learning their roles. They’re figuring out where in the offense they can get shots. They’re getting more comfortable playing with one another.

It really shouldn’t surprise you that having everyone available has led to things starting to come together for this group.

3. North Carolina is a different team when Theo Pinson plays: The thing to keep in mind about this loss for North Carolina: They were playing without one of their starters – the guy that was a key to counteracting Duke’s small-ball lineup – on the road in one of the toughest environments in college basketball, and they had a chance to win this thing down the stretch.

Put another way, the Tar Heels are really, really good, and nothing about this loss should impact your opinion on that.

The difference for them on Thursday was the return of Theo Pinson, who is a difference-maker for this group. Jackson is clearly UNC’s star and Berry is the guy that makes this offense tick, but Pinson provides something that no one else can. For starters, at 6-foot-6, he’s the best perimeter defender on the roster, a guy that’s athletic enough to guard twos and big enough to defend small-ball fours like Tatum, Josh Jackson and Dillon Brooks. Beyond that, he’s a tough rebounder, a playmaker and a guy that can stick a jumper when he’s left open.

There’s no one else on the roster that can play the role that he plays, and it’s not a coincidence that this is the first game UNC has lost with him available.

And when Pinson is playing, North Carolina may not have the highest-ceiling of anyone in the country, but I’m not sure if there are many elite teams that have a higher floor.

Theo Pinson
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

4. Depth is an issue for Duke because they have a lot of guys that just aren’t ready: For a team that has roughly 6,000 McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster it’s surprising just how much issues Duke has with depth. The reason why is pretty simple: Some of those youngsters they have just are not ready to play at this level yet.

The most glaring example is Marques Bolden, who played quite a few minutes on Thursday after managing all of just four minutes in his previous three games. He’s just a mess defensively, a guy that has no idea where he’s supposed to be and when he’s supposed to be there. Chase Jeter, when healthy, isn’t much better. Javin DeLaurier isn’t either. What that means is that Duke’s rotation is, essentially, limited to the five starters, Frank Jackson and Harry Giles III, who is still clearly dealing with the after-effects of the three knee surgeries that he’s had already.

He’s getting closer, but he still doesn’t have the strength, explosiveness or endurance that he needs.

5. The ACC title race is going to be nuts: We already knew that was going to be the case coming into the season, and it sure it living up to its promise. As it stands today, after Duke’s win, North Carolina is tied with Florida State for first place in the league with Virginia sitting a half-game off the pace. Syracuse is a game behind the Seminoles and the Tar Heels while Duke and Louisville sit a game-and-a-half back, just one game back in the loss column.

Throw in Notre Dame and Miami, and there are eight teams currently within two games of first place in the ACC.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.