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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.”

VIDEO: Jay-Z’s nephew posterizes nation’s No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley III

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Nahziah Carter is an unsigned 6-foot-6 wing in the Class of 2017.

He’s also Jay-Z’s nephew, and he just so happened to posterize Marvin Bagley III — the clearcut No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018 — while Hova was in the stands watching him.

NCAA denies extra-year request by NC State guard Henderson

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The NCAA has denied North Carolina State guard Terry Henderson’s request for another year of eligibility.

Henderson announced the decision Friday in a statement issued by the school.

The Raleigh native played two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to N.C. State and redshirting in 2014-15. He played for only 7 minutes of the following season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

As a redshirt senior in 2016-17, he was the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and made a team-best 78 3-pointers.

Henderson called it “an honor and privilege” to play in his hometown.

SMU gets transfer in Georgetown’s Akoy Agau

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SMU pulled in a frontcourt player in Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Agau is immediately eligible for next season as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau started his career at Louisville before transferring to Georgetown after one season. Spending two seasons with the Hoyas, Agau was limited to 11 minutes in his first season due to injuries. He averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.

Coming out of high school, Agau was a four-star prospect but he’s never lived up to that billing in-part because of injuries. Now, Agau gets one more chance to make a difference as he’s hoping to help replace some departed pieces like Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye.

South Carolina loses big man Sedee Keita to transfer

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South Carolina big man Sedee Keita will transfer from the program, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 Keita was once regarded as a top-100 national prospect in the Class of 2016, but he never found consistent minutes with the Gamecocks for last season’s Final Four team.

Keita appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 27 percent from the field.

A native of Philadelphia, Keita will have to sit out next season before getting three more seasons of eligibility.

Although Keita failed to make an impact during his only season at South Carolina, he’ll be a coveted transfer thanks to his size and upside.

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.