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Duke wins the ACC tournament, may end up as fourth No. 1 seed

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BROOKLYN — Before Duke’s season began, before the injuries to the three star freshmen and before Grayson Allen tripped his third opponent in a year and before the patriarch of the Duke program missed a month of the season to undergo back surgery, head coach Mike Krzyzewski coined a phrase that would become the motto for this group team: ‘Uncommon Winning.’

He had no way of knowing just how prescient that phrase was.

On Saturday night, Duke became the first team in the history of the ACC tournament to win four games in four days and take home trophy. They did it by erasing an eight-point second half deficit against Notre Dame, winning 75-69, the third-straight night that the Blue Devils turned a loss into a win with a scintillating second half run. Against North Carolina on Friday night, Duke used a 29-9 surge to turn a 13-point deficit into a seven-point lead. On Thursday, in the quarterfinals, Duke erased a 12-point deficit in the final 12 minutes of the game.

Everything about that is uncommon.

Everything about the Duke season has been uncommon.

And yet here they are, less than 24 hours before the bracket is to be released, and Duke is right where we thought they would be: Champions of the ACC and in line to get a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

Uncommon Winning indeed.

I know people don’t want to hear it, but the fact of the matter is that Duke is in line for a No. 1 seed.

The Blue Devils have more top 50 wins than any other team in the country with 13, and eight of those 13 wins came away from home. They have eight top 25 wins — six of which came away from home — and four top ten wins — with three of those away from home. They are 26-8 on the season. They have beaten North Carolina, the team that just about everyone thought was a lock to be the No. 1 seed in the South, in two out of the three matchups between the two teams, including in Brooklyn on Friday night.

Does that mean the Blue Devils are a lock for the No. 1 seed?

Of course not.

It’s foolish to speak in absolutes when talking about the Selection Committee and the decisions that they make, especially in a year where there is so much uncertainty on that top seed line. Will Gonzaga, at 32-1, get a No. 1 seed? What about Arizona, the Pac-12 tournament champion and regular season co-champion? North Carolina has a résumé that, in a vacuum, is deserving of a No. 1 seed. When you win a league as tough as the ACC by two full games, you have to get put into that conversation.

And then there’s Duke.

The Blue Devils have an argument that is as valid as anyone, and the fact that they have gotten to this point given where they were midway through ACC play is incredible. Jayson Tatum missed the first six weeks of the season with a foot injury that kept him from being himself until much later in the year than anyone expected. Harry Giles III’s third knee surgery has ensured that he will likely end his college career as a shell of the player he once was and, hopefully, can still be. Coach K missed a month after back surgery, a stretch where the Blue Devils went 4-3 on the season. Grayson Allen has been a shell of himself thanks to foot and ankle injuries and the scorn that comes with being The Villain Of Durham.

“I’ve had a lot of years,” Coach K said. “They’ve been through more than anyone group has been through that I’ve coached.”

“It was not like anything I’ve been through. That’s pretty cool, when I’ve been through more than anybody. And I’ve been lucky to be successful, but for them to take me through a journey that I’ve never been through before, it’s amazing.”

To a man, everyone in that Duke locker room credits Coach K with being able to keep this team together throughout everything that they’ve dealt with. “He is such a good leadership coach,” Allen said. “It’s way more than x’s and o’s. He teaches us how to be together as a group, all that cliché stuff, that, it sounds really cliché, but that’s what we try to do.”

How did he make it work?

Simple, really.

Live in the moment. Instead of worrying about what is going to happen two or three weeks in the future, focus on doing what you have to do to win the next game.

“We live in a world of predictions, expectations and a very shallow analysis of what a player or team does, because it’s instant,” Coach K said. “I just try to stay deep. We’re concentrating on us. Just like this tournament, we didn’t come here to win it, we came here to win the next game. Having that approach throughout the year.”

“‘What’s this next week going to be like? When can we get this kid healthy?’ Instead of looking at the whole thing and saying, ‘Poor us’, it’s, ‘No excuses.'”

“All that stuff brought us together as a team,” Allen said. “I think that’s what’s showing.”

I don’t think he’s wrong.

The incredible part about Duke’s tournament win was how easy it would have been for them to quit. They trailed by 12 points and were getting run off the floor by Louisville, but they made the switch to a zone that they never practice and it changed the game. Duke won. Against North Carolina, the Blue Devils were getting manhandled on the interior, but then Joel Berry II picked up his fourth foul, UNC’s transition game stalled and Duke took advantage, using a 29-9 run to win the game. On Saturday night, it was Amile Jefferson that prompted the change.

He stepped up and slowed down Bonzie Colson, who finished with 29 points. He stepped up and took away the ball-screen action that Notre Dame had been eviscerating the Blue Devils with. He stepped up and scored a series a big buckets in the post in the final 10 minutes.

And in those final ten minutes, Duke didn’t run one single play.

“The last ten minutes, we didn’t call a play, we just said you play, take ownership, and you could see out guys just make plays,” Coach K said. “When you give ownership to a team, they don’t get tired. Because they’re not playing for you.”

“They’re playing for them.”

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.