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Duke lands come-from-behind win over North Carolina

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BROOKLYN — Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard combined for 62 points and Frank Jackson chipped in with 15 points of his own on Friday night as Duke erased a double-digit second half deficit for the second straight game, knocking off top-seeded North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, 93-83.

The Blue Devils trailed 61-48 with just over 13 minutes left on Friday, using a 29-8 run that coincided with Joel Berry II’s fourth foul to take a 77-70 lead that North Carolina never recovered from. On Thursday night, in Duke’s win over Louisville, the Blue Devils erased a 12-point deficit — that score was 61-49, coincidentally — to knock off the Cardinals.

Here are four things to take away from Duke’s win:

1. Get ready for the Duke love affair to begin anew: Because it’s going to happen.

The Blue Devils were the consensus favorite to win the national title before the season began. Throughout November and December, every story about Duke read, in part, “just wait until they get their guys healthy.”

Well, guess what: their guys are healthy. Allen’s ankle looks as good as it has looked all year long, Tatum looks like the best isolation scorer in the country and Luke Kennard is still capable of putting up 20 points on a night where he didn’t play all that well. The Blue Devils have their flaws — they are never going to be a great defensive team, their depth is an issue, North Carolina’s bigs absolutely beat the crap out of the Blue Devils for the first 30 minutes on Friday — but this team is more talented than anyone else in college basketball.

And they are now coming off of wins over a pair of top ten teams on back-to-back nights where they trailed by double-digits in the second half of both games.

The love affair is about to begin again.

2. You got a glimpse of the real Harry Giles III: Giles’ story doesn’t need to be retold at this point. An elite prospect during the early years of high school, Giles suffered a torn ACL in both knees and, prior to the start of practice, underwent a procedure on the first knee he injured. He spent 14 months not playing basketball.

That’s not easy for anyone to overcome, let alone a freshman that has never played basketball at this level before, and it showed during the season. Giles struggled with everything: the physicality, the speed of the game, defensive rotations, his endurance, his explosiveness. He just wasn’t the same guy.

On Friday night, however, we saw a little bit of what made him so special as a high schooler. Late in the second half, with Amile Jefferson on the bench with four fouls and Duke in a physical battle with the Tar Heels, Giles had a pivotal stretch where he blocked a shot at one end, beat Tony Bradley down the floor for a dunk at the other end, stole an entry pass on the ensuing UNC possession and, after Duke scored at the other end of the floor, snagged a rebound in between two of North Carolina’s big, physical dominating front court pieces.

That’s the guy that we’ve been waiting all year to see, and this was another step towards Giles being that guy.

3. North Carolina is damn good when they have everyone on the court: Duke won on Friday, but North Carolina showed just how dominant they are capable of being when all their guys are on the floor.

Berry went to the bench with 15 minutes left. Duke’s run came entirely with him out of the lineup, and coincided with UNC’s inability to get anything done offensively. We all know how important Berry is to the Tar Heels — if you didn’t, I think today proved it to you — and that loss is a by-product of one of those things that happens in hoops.

Berry isn’t in foul trouble often, however.

And when he’s on the floor, Theo Pinson is healthy and Isaiah is both healthy and not in foul trouble, the Tar Heels are as good or better than just about anyone.

Put another way, North Carolina-Duke Round 4 in the Final Four is not something that should shock anyone.

4. Where are these teams going to get seeded?: I think North Carolina is probably going to be safe as a No. 1 seed, but they’ve now lost two games in the last week. With Gonzaga going 32-1 and, in all likelihood, one of the three elite teams in the Pac-12 winning that conference tournament, might their be two West Coast teams that earn a No. 1 seed?

I don’t think so, but it’s possible.

Perhaps more interesting, however, will be where Duke is seeded. They just added two top ten wins to a résumé that looked good enough to be in contention for a No. 3 seed. With a win on Saturday night, can they climb into the No. 2 seed line?

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.