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Duke advances past Louisville in ACC quarters, to face North Carolina

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BROOKLYN — The story of Thursday afternoon’s ACC semifinal between fifth-seeded Duke and fourth-seeded Louisville is going to be Grayson Allen.

Allen — the Preseason National Player of the Year who has simultaneously been the most scrutinized player in college basketball, one of the biggest disappointments in the sport and a guy who is as banged up physically as he’s been in the media this year — broke out of a month-long slump in emphatic fashion. He scored 18 points in 28 minutes off the bench as the Blue Devils erased a 12-point deficit in the final 13 minutes to knock off Louisville, 81-77.

Over the course of the previous eight games, Allen had averaged 6.9 points and shot 26 percent from the floor as he battled an ankle injury that kept him out for a game and a lack of confidence that sent him to the bench. It came to a head on Wednesday, as Duke was able to beat Clemson despite the fact that Allen contributed no points and one technical foul in just 12 minutes. As a team, the Blue Devils were just 5-3 in those eight games.

“He wasn’t ready to play as well last night,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Thursday’s win. “Look, I love Grayson. Grayson, I got his back all the time. And everyone in our program has his back all the time. It’s just, the public eye on our program is a blessing and can be a curse. So we have to be able to deal with all of it.”

The game changed during a 24-9 run midway through the second half, one that turned a 61-49 deficit into a 73-70 lead for the Blue Devils. That run was sparked by three straight threes that Luke Kennard, who scored 16 of his 24 points in the final 13 minutes, made. But during that stretch, Allen and Louisville sub David Levitch got into a minor altercation. On one possession, Levitch was whistled for two fouls for crowding Allen, the latter of which came as Allen shot a three-pointer. Allen his all three of his free throws, cutting the Louisville lead to three.

Coach K pulled Allen from the game after that sequence and proceeded to give him a hug while driving home his happiness with the effort by enthusiastically smacking Allen on the butt.

“I believe in him. I love him,” Coach K said. “And I thought what he did today was sensational. I loved it. I loved it. He was himself today.”

The Duke team let him know, Kennard said, that on Wednesday, “he wasn’t himself.” He didn’t play the way they knew he could play. He didn’t do the things he’s capable of doing. Everyone saw it, and his teammates made sure to let him know about it.

“There’s no need to coddle him because he doesn’t need it,” senior Matt Jones said. “It’s basketball. You have your ups and you have your downs. G knows everyone in this locker room has his back.”

That’s the narrative that you’re going to get on Thursday, that Allen’s back and healthy and confident, just in time for the Blue Devils to square off with North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament on Friday night.

In the Barclays Center.

On national television.

I’ll admit, I’m extremely fired up for that game. If that’s the narrative, it’s a damn good one.

But it’s not the reason that Duke made their comeback on Thursday against Louisville.

That can truthfully be credited to two things: Kennard’s takeover and Duke’s 2-3 zone, which caught Louisville completely off-guard. The zone was thrown on with Duke down 12, and it totally changed the rhythm of the game.

“Any port in a storm, so to speak,” Coach K said. “We could not stop them in transition in man. And they missed some shots. It’s not like we played a great zone, but it changed a little the tempo.”

That change in tempo was all the difference. Instead of Louisville getting stops and easy points in transition, they were settling for threes and trying to drive against a packed-in zone defense that was designed to dare the three-point deficient Cardinals from firing away.

“Coach had that in his back pocket,” Jones said. “We just got competitors and we want to win. We don’t work on it in practice.”

That surge coincided with Kennard’s game-changing trio of threes. A couple of possessions before Louisville took their biggest lead of the game, Kennard, who missed seven of his first ten shots from the floor, threw up three bricks from beyond the arc on the same possessions. He made the next four shots he attempted, three of which came from beyond the arc, and that’s what launched the run and the comeback.

Getting Grayson Allen right was huge for the Blue Devils. Their ceiling is significantly lower when he’s not playing well, and he hadn’t played well since going for 25 points in a win over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium in early February.

That’s important.

But the reason Duke won on Thursday was because Kennard got hot at the right time and Duke’s defense made the plays they needed to make.

And at the end of the day, the reason Duke can win a national title is because, on any given night, the Blue Devils have three guys that can be the best player on the floor in any game they play.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.

Alabama loses Nick King, Brandon Austin to transfer

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Alabama is losing a pair to transfer as junior Nick King and sophomore Brandon Austin are planning to transfer, according to a release.

The 6-foot-7 King is expected to graduate and be eligible to play anywhere right away as a graduate transfer while the 6-foot-5 Austin will likely have to sit out a season before playing.

King started his career at Memphis but transferred to Alabama. A former starter at small forward, King played the first seven games of the season until a lung infection shut down his season. He averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before shutting it down.

A former top-50 recruit from the Class of 2013, King will look to jumpstart his career elsewhere during his final season of college basketball.

Austin only appeared in six games and played a total of 44 minutes this season as he also dealt with injuries like an early bone bruise.

The Crimson Tide are bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country next season as their freshmen could see a lot of playing time. So it comes as no surprise that players like King and Austin would transfer to assure more playing time.

Candidates Georgetown could target for head coach

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Georgetown moved on from head coach John Thompson III after 13 years at the helm on Thursday as the move sent shockwaves throughout college basketball.

The Thompson family has been a major institution for Georgetown basketball, dating back to the ’70s when John Thompson Jr. was head coach. So this new hire for the Hoyas will be a fascinating process.

Here’s a list of some early names that could be involved with Georgetown.

Tommy Amaker, Harvard — With a successful tenure at Harvard that at one point included four NCAA tournament bids in a row, Amaker has won at his latest job while coaching at an elite academic institution.

Put together with previous stops at Seton Hall and Michigan and Amaker has run a big-time program while also winning at an Ivy League school. Leaving Harvard might be tough though when Amaker is beginning to recruit at a national level at the program.

Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary’s — Five years at Mount St. Mary’s has produced two NCAA tournament appearances for Christian as the 34-year-old would represent a bold, young hire for Georgetown.

Also an assistant coach for a season at VCU under Shaka Smart, Christian has recruited in that area before and he’s regarded by many as one of the bright, young head coaches in a low-major league. Coming from Smart at VCU, it should come as no surprise that Christian plays an uptempo system and presses on defense.

It would be a bit risky for Georgetown to hire someone as young as Christian but he also has the kind of enthusiasm to lead the tough rebuild that the Hoyas potentially face.

Nathan Davis, Bucknell — After leading Bucknell to the NCAA tournament in only his second season as a Division I head coach, Davis is someone to keep an eye on for the future.

The Washington D.C. native has quickly established himself as a potential young star in the coaching ranks but he also might be too inexperienced to take one of the Big East’s prestige positions. As a Division I head coach for only two seasons, Davis hasn’t faced the pressure of the high-major level at any of his previous coaching stops. Davis certainly deserves credit for his Division III coaching success and Final Four appearance with Randolph-Macon (Bo Ryan was pretty good in DIII before moving to Division I) but that’s a long way from the Big East.

Davis would have to prove that he’s capable as a coach and recruiter at the Big East level and he would be a risk if hired by the Hoyas.

Patrick Ewing Sr., Charlotte Hornets assistant  — The Hall of Fame center and Georgetown alum would be an intriguing name. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that the Hoyas are considering Ewing as a potential head coach.

This wouldn’t just be a Chris Mullin at St. John’s type of scenario where Mullin had no coaching experience before taking the job. Ewing has been grinding as an NBA assistant coach for the past 15 years in the hopes of getting an NBA head coaching job. Georgetown represents an unique opportunity for Ewing to rebuild his former program and his son, Patrick Ewing Jr., would potentially work for him.

Recruiting would obviously be a major question mark but Ewing has the playing and coaching pedigree to be a wild card in this.

Dan Hurley, Rhode Island — The Rams finally broke through and made the NCAA Tournament in Hurley’s fifth year as head coach this season as Rhode Island made the second round before falling to Oregon in a close game.

Of the coaches on this list, the Rams have recruited a lot of top-100 prospects and futures pros like E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, so we know that Hurley knows how to navigate elite recruiting.

As the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley and younger brother of Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, Dan Hurley comes from a long line of basketball coaches. He’s made Rhode Island one of the premier programs in the Atlantic 10. Although he’s only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons as a head coach, Hurley has things trending in the right direction.

Shaka Smart, Texas — This isn’t likely going to happen but Georgetown is at least going to call. Since Smart was so successful at nearby VCU before taking the Texas job, the Hoyas are going to see if he’d be interested in returning to the area after this season’s disappointing last-place Big 12 finish.

If this Georgetown coaching position had been made available two years ago, before Smart had taken the Texas job, then it would have been intriguing to see where things might stand between the two. But now that Smart has at least four, four-star prospects entering Texas next season, while returning most of the current roster, he has a chance to build from this season’s last-place finish.

VIDEO: Why did the NCAA ban dunking in 1967?

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With UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, it’s a fitting time to bring up the story of the time that the association banned dunking.

It was in 1967, and it was because there was a kid named Lew Alcindor (who would change his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar) at UCLA who led the Bruins to a 30-0 record and a national title.

And just think, that rule change, which lasted until 1976, kept some of the game’s greatest dunkers from showing what they could really do in college. Imagine David Thompson rattling rims, rather than his assortment of finger-rolls and layups. Dr. J soared at UMass, but never like Dr. J really could. And so on.

So as you’re watching the rest of the NCAA tournament, thank the rule-makers who brought the dunk back. We’re better for it.